Kajillionaire (2020): Crime / Drama

Petty crime runs in the family so, when an attractive outsider joins them, everything goes.

Can something be funny and depressing at the same time? I was about to say other than Kajillionaire which is funny and depressing at the same time but it is not really funny. Or, is it? I am not entirely convinced how or if it was meant to be funny but I didn’t get it. In a way, and don’t quote me on that, it felt like it was borderline mocking mental illness. And whatever that was, the whole family had it!

Once that was established, it just dragged. I think in an attempt to switch genre? Or, maybe, in an attempt for the audience to experience Old Dolio having a change of heart? Whatever the reason might be, Kajillionaire fails to find meaning but, ultimately, piles up all the eccentricity it can get. For a crime/drama – as per IMDb anyway – the plot is less believable than Independence Day (1996). Other than the family’s mental state, there is no chance on Earth a girl like Melanie leaves the plane with such people and go along with their plans. Yes, she seemed like having a dead-end job, no friends or girlfriend, but, personally, I don’t know anyone who would leave that plane with them. But then, nothing really makes sense in the film so, I think that trying to rationalise surrealistic characters and situations is the wrong approach. Which begs the question, what is the right one?

Writer/Director Miranda July is a magnificent indie filmmaker but I cannot (also) understand how she approached so many producers, among others Brad Pitt, and A-List actors such as Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachael Wood, and Gina Rodriguez and got them onboard. What was the selling point? For the actors, I guess, is to try something different that not too many people will watch and be as awkward as they want. For the producers? They know they will lose whatever penny they put in and they still do it. And the recognition is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s just me not getting it and you find it far better than I think it is. I didn’t know how to feel throughout the whole film even though all I wanted was for Old Dolio and Melanie to find the love they deserved. And that is, at least, the film’s payoff.

Stay safe!

1BR (2019): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

A young woman, new to Los Angeles, ends up renting a place in a block of flats where the neighbours are not what they seem.

Not knowing anyone from the cast or crew or anything about the film itself, I gave it a shot just for that. I love indies, especially when I know nothing about them and feels like I should have. 1BR was meant to be one of them…

What starts as too coincidental, convenient, and questionable, such as the single, good looking, and kind neighbour, is followed by an interesting first plot point and a second act that promises something extremely sinister. That promise will get your undivided attention… but will almost instantly let you down as it doesn’t live up to it. Here’s the tricky part, though. If you wanted, that promise to be kept, it means that, one way or another, you are into some torture porn or similar so, this film is not for you. If, on the other hand, you were glad that that promise was not kept, it means that even the idea of the concept appalls you so, this film is not for you either. So, who is this film for then? Maybe, you can find a third category.

From where I stand, no half measure ever brought any decent results hence, no one likes them. You either go for it or you don’t. Any reservations on the script will be enormously amplified on the screen. To put it plainly, 1BR is not daring. It teases you with something that, eventually, does not offer. Nicole Brydon Bloom’s acting is more than decent but David Marmor’s script and directing fall into the half measure category. Two, respectively, “full measure” films that didn’t hold back were: The Invitation (2015) – review to follow, and Martyrs (2008): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/24/martyrs-2008-horror/. While it could have been The Invitation meets Martyrs, it isn’t. Too many variables should have been different for that to happen.

We can’t really have it both ways in life, and the same applies to films. What also applies to both is that we are free to choose but not free of the consequences.

Stay safe!

Redemption Day (2021): Action / Thriller

After his wife is kidnapped by terrorists, a war hero races against time to get her back.

I’ve written before about opening sequences and protracted shots and I’ve said that they raise the bar high for what comes next. In Redemption Day what comes next is, unfortunately, too American and too cliché for my standards so, it becomes the exception to the rule. Regarding the narrative, everything you are expecting to happen, does happen, the time you expect it to happen. There are no twists or no difficulties in completing the mission, really. The characters are forgettable, with the “good” ones being highly skilled, and the “bad” ones highly incompetent and stupid which makes an extreme disanalogy. The dialogue is worse than the “bad” ones mentioned above so, no further comment. Then, directing, acting, choreography, and editing, are mediocre, at best.

My distaste for the film has nothing to do with anything I’ve mentioned so far though. People do what they can, with what they have. My distaste is because of its propagandistic intentions. The film’s oversimplification of who is “good” and who is “bad” is borderline insulting. The world doesn’t work this way and Islam, or any other religion for that matter, has nothing to do with the monstrosities the human species is capable of. That is something that the film is trying hard to show but fails to do so.

I would prefer if co-writer/director Hicham Hajji made a film on the two innocent, young, female, Scandinavian hikers who were found beheaded in Morocco two years ago. That would be a challenge, wouldn’t it? No superfluous heroism, no formulaic scripts, no childish gunfights, no need for constant background music to dictate to the audience how to feel, and no goddamn propaganda that nobody needs. Filmmaking should be, among others, challenging, intriguing, and innovating. As fun and entertaining the days of Commando (1985) may have been, they are long gone and all of us have moved on. I hope some studios do the same.

Stay safe!

P.S. Andy Garcia has no place in this film.

The Mist (2007): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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When a mist out of nowhere brings with it monsters beyond anyone’s imagination, a diverse group of people in a supermarket must do whatever they can to protect themselves from the monsters or from each other.

Probably an unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations. The film cuts right to it when at the same time develops the characters and brilliantly builds up the suspense. And when the mist covers the city and everyone’s trapped in the unknown… that is the calm before the storm. A calm that cuts your breath short only to take it entirely when the storm unleashes, gradually, what is beyond everyone’s imagination. Admittedly, the visual effects are not what they should have been but, please, see past their mediocrity.

The narrative is astonishing. It feels like the world’s schools of thought are gathered in a supermarket and argue realistically as you and I would have if we were stranded, surrounded by such extra-dimensional calamity. Every character in the store is relatable. Love them, loath them, side with them, or mock them… they constitute society as we know it. They form the mob, they become demagogy. See how the tide changes, how easily everyone shows their true colours when the sh*t hits the fan. Where would you stand – or think you would?

Frank Darabond, after masterfully adapting The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) adapts yet another Stephen King novel, delving into the human nature while toying with the idea of hellish dimensions and man playing God. Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Melissa McBride, and Alexa Davalos, most of them frequent Darabond collaborators, side with each other or go against one another and offer you an unforgettable thrill.

As I said, stick to the psychological side of it, turn the blind eye to the digital VFX, and place yourself in that supermarket. As for the end, I have written an article on soundtracks and powerful cinematic moments so, feel free to check it out only after watching the film as it gives away the one of a kind Greek-tragic-irony-like twist: http://theworldofapu.com/powerful-sequences-soundtracks/

Stay safe!

Asylums: Factual Mental Illness vs Artistically Deranged Projection

Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle, after shedding some new light on why kids are portrayed in certain ways in horror films, is coming back to talk about asylums and their portrayal in favourite, or not so favourite, horrors. The interview takes an interesting turn as she is pointing out that reality can be scarier than fiction as none of us is as free as we think we are. Regardless, the origins of asylums as the, arguably, scariest places a horror film can take place at is explained and so is the believability behind their projection.

Mental Health Act 1983 where people can be sectioned as “danger to self or others”.

Marie Jahoda (1958) “Ideal Mental Health” including six criteria; autonomy, self-actualisation, positive attitude to self, resistance to stress, accurate perception of reality, and environmental mastery.

Ethical guidelines originated from Nuremberg code (1947), later developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the British Psychological Society (BPS).

R.D Laing (1965) created a “safe heaven” for patients with Schizophrenia. This has been made into a film; Mad To Be Normal (2017). 

Rosenhan (1973) carried out three experiments titled; ‘Insane in sane places’ of pseudo patients being diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Both Laing and Rosenhan were part of the 1970s anti-psychiatry movement.

Thomas Szasz questions how mental health is defined and how it’s been ‘constructed’. In 1961, this was published as the “Myth of Mental Illness”. Then in 2011, released the “Myth of Mental Illness”, Revised 50 years later.

Valentine Douglas (2016) The CIA as organised crime. This covers “Project MK Ultra”.

Weindling (2016) looked at victims and survivors of Nazi human experiments.

Ken Kesey author of One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest claims to have received LSD as part of CIA study as a student; https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2020/09/23/cia-took-lsd-twisted-experiments-inspired-ratched/amp/

The World Health Organisation (1977) said “no culture is free from Schizophrenia”.
Shamanism and Schizophrenia similarities.

Taijin Kyofusho (TKS) as a Japanese culture bound phobia.

Individualist (independent) Western cultures versus Collectivist (interdependent) Eastern cultures can affect diagnoses and disorders. 

Homophobia was seen as a mental health issue up until 1972 and DSM II edition (Diagnostic Statistical Manual reviewed by the APA). The depathologising of homosexuality; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4695779/

International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) was published in May 2019 and is used by the WHO in the UK and Europe. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM 5) published in May 2013 is used by the APA in America.

1 in 4 adults with Mental Health and 1 in 10 young people according to NHS and mental health charities; www.mind.org.ukwww.time-to-change.org.ukwww.rethink.org.uk

1 in 8 young people in the UK with a mental health issue, found in research from MHCYP (Mental Health in Children and Young People) published by NHS in 2017. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2017/2017

P.T Barnum of Greatest Showman fame would parade “oddities” one such case was that of Phineas Gage who had a metal rod through his frontal lobe and his personality changed. https://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/the-curious-case-of-phineas-gage

Trepanning refers to drilling holes in the skull to release demons. http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160826-why-our-ancestors-drilled-holes-in-each-others-skulls

Extra sensory perception (ESP) usually conducts ‘bad science’ also known as ‘pseudo science’ https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-22/edition-7/extra-sensory-perception-controversial-debate

White Knight and Savior Complex; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-white-knight-syndrome

Why are we fascinated by women who kill; https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/20/women-who-kill-female-murderers-killing-eve

Parsons (Functionalist) suggested youth is a time for storm and stress. Eisenstadt (Functionalist) saw youth as a time to let off steam. 

Rogers Client Centred Therapy uses unconditional positive regard; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/therapy-types/person-centered-therapy. Uses positive psychology see www.actionforhappiness.co.uk

BBC Mental a History of the Madhouse, available here; https://youtu.be/oswUssXzFlY

“Time to Talk” day in February and World Mental Health Awareness in October celebrate diversity and try to remove stigma. #HelloYellow campaign for young people to promote positive mental health.

Powerful Sequences, Defining Soundtracks

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on soundtracks that have played a catalytic role in constructing powerful cinematic sequences. Some are well known, some not so much, and others, potentially unnoticeable to the vast majority.

Stay safe!

Welcome the Stranger (2018): Drama / Mystery

The unexpected arrival of a young man’s sister in his mansion will make both siblings express feelings they have been suppressing for years.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people mistakenly calling experimental films or films with nontraditional narrative “artistic” as if traditional, formulaic narrative, namely Hollywood’s, isn’t. Narrative is narrative regardless of what you think of it or call it. Either way, it can be both effective and ineffective. And what might be ineffective for you can be really effective for someone else. Objectivity finds no application in art.

Welcome the Stranger follows, definitely, a nontraditional narrative where nothing is directly explicated (spoon-fed) but rather subliminally implied. In such storytelling, the director, who most of the times also happens to be the writer, is meant to explain their vision to the actors/actresses who, in their turn, are meant to transgress that vision and be part of something that will be, ultimately, interpreted in numerous ways. For example, see what happens at 00:31:50. Is there an explanation given? Is there an explanation needed?

Producer/writer/director Justin Kelly has created a performance-driven mystery/drama where the drama is caused by an unknown or unimportant to the viewer source hence, the mystery and the lack of our understanding regarding their paranoid acting. Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones, and (also producer) Riley Keough play their parts extremely well, giving justice to Kelly’s vision and offering uneasy entertainment for the audience.

Trivial over-dramatization, unnoticed importance, involuntary(?) incestuous attraction, reality’s disillusionment, and oneiric time/space convolution are nothing but a few elements that, combined, they pay tribute to David Lynch’s legacy in the 21st century, and synthesise a nano fragment of our minds’ filmic projection.

Stay safe!

P.S. Abbey Lee and Riley Keough appeared in Mad Max: Road Fury (2015), and Caleb Landry Jones and Abbey Lee appeared the same year in To the Night (2018).

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

The Midnight Sky (2020): Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

A dying scientist, based at a remote arctic research centre, needs to warn a satellite’s crew members not to return to Earth due to a mysterious cataclysmic disaster.

People sent me a lot of negativity about it, negativity that bore a lot of resemblance to Ad Astra (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/12/05/ad-astra-2019-adventure-drama-mystery/. Now, I’m not saying that that was a perfect film but it wasn’t remotely as bad as they made it to be. How about this one, then? Does it worth your time?

Producer/actor/director George Clooney has put his heart and soul to it. He might not be appearing enough lately – his last feature film was Money Monster (2016) – but in front of the camera he is as great as he meticulous behind it. Suspense’s favourite narrative technique is “delay of resolution”. The journey of Augustine and Iris to the weather station will make your heart skip a lot more than a beat as will the meteor shower’s sequence in space. Extra credits go to the sinking container scene. Both the journey on Earth but also in space, go through various tribulations and the dramatic parts in between will give you the time to bond with the characters. Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and introducing Caoilinn Springall, give amazing performances and enhance both the drama and the suspense.

But I believe the film’s strongest suit is the narrative structure where the fabula and the shyuzet are organised in such manner that reveal only what you need to know, when you need to know it. Keep postponing what you want to know. What has happened will not be revealed to you that easily and will you definitely need to read between the lines. The levels of knowledge vary throughout the film. You don’t know exactly what Augustine knows but you still know a lot more than the crew does. On the other hand, you know almost everything that is happening on the satellite when Augustine knows nothing but you know as much as they do when it comes to the global disaster. No matter what the narration remains restricted at all times and you are not the omniscient spectator you would like to be.

After most of it is said and done, it all comes down to what your expectations are prior to hitting ‘play’. It is not an action film. It is a cosmic journey to finding a place to start anew and it an esoteric journey to remorse, redemption, and our deepest regrets. Yet, people found the ending… unfulfilling.

It is not the ending that is unfulfilling. It is the connection with ourselves, and, consequently, the connection with the people we love and they love us back.

Stay safe!

Honest Thief (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

Having met love, a bank robber decides to quit, turn himself in, and cut a deal but nothing goes according to plan.

My issues with the film started with the first act as everything happens too fast, too conveniently. The character development is not even minimal. It jumps straight into it not having shown us how good he is in what he does or anything really about him. Then, he just happens to move into a new town and, right off the bat, he finds a single, attractive woman around his age who, cut to a year later, she decides to move in with him. And then he wants to surrender. I found it like no rapport is build whatsoever. It feels as if no investment in character or story development has been made.

Past the interesting first plot point though and moving into the second act, I must say that things get a lot more… engaging. The action is solid, the explanations given are adequate even convincing, the acting is just about right, and the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh appealing. The story is still not very factual but well shot and well edited, and entertaining nonetheless. With them, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, and Robert Patrick complete the film’s interesting cast. Of course, the one that steals the show is none other than… Tazzie!

Finally, most of what you think would happen, does actually happen, leaving nothing much to talk about past the end credits. Regardless, give it a go. For the type of action it is, and in times like these, Honest Thief will keep you entertained and make you forget for a couple of hours how many new cases were announced today.

Stay safe!

The Cured (2017): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

The once-infected world by a disease that was turning people into zombies has now been cured, but those who had turned face now society’s discrimination and wrath for all the things they did.

Reinstatement, remorse, forgiveness, redemption, tolerance, stigmatisation, and family are the exceptional qualities that separate The Cured from the mainstream Hollywood post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak calamity.

I have to thank my mate Gary for reminding me of this one, commenting on #Alive (2020) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/12/12/alive-2020-action-drama-horror/. Acting as a social commentary and fragile post-postapocaliptic metaphor for the real world we currently live in, without getting into historical or sociological analyses, The Cured is indirectly associated with the Irish modern history but also the whole world’s rehabilitation system and the stigma one carries trying to reinstate.

Writer/director David Freyne has done a brilliant job behind the camera, and Sam Keeley gives the justice broken Senan deserves. Actor/producer Elliot Page has always been amazing in everything he’s been in and his acting is a force to be reckoned with.

The (North and South) Irish film school of horror is making huge steps over the last few years, rightfully earning its stripes in the industry. If you are not familiar with Sea Fever (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/ make sure you spend some time to get around them.

The film’s title would have worked equally well as The Cur(s)ed.

Stay safe!

Come to Daddy (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

A letter from his estranged father requesting a visit will make a young man go to his remote cabin in an attempt to reconnect with him.

I always find it intriguing how does one pitch films like this. Right off the bat, Come to Daddy gets you acquainted with two profound quotes:

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” – William Shakespeare

“There is no one else like my daddy” – Beyoncé

Go figure… Then, you get to experience Norval (Elijah Wood) with an atrocious haircut, sporting a pedo-tash, paying a visit to his… eccentric, and profoundly disturbed dad, Gordon (Stephen Mchattie). I’ll tell you this, both of them are awkward, their dialogues are awkward, their father/son relationship is awkward, the sheriff is awkward, the coroner is awkward, everyone is awkward, and the whole film is awkward… until the twist. Then it gets even more awkward.

Throughout the film, I didn’t know whether be ready to get scared or laugh or… And while thinking about it, Dandy shows up pooing, getting off the crapper, and picking up a brutal fight with goofy Norval, unrolling the toilet paper stuck in his bumhole while at it – admittedly, the most enjoyable scene. Eventually, I didn’t get scared but I did laugh out loud with the occasional, inventive, and anything but inspirational, surrealistic tragicomedy.

Inspired by Ant Timpson’s dad’s passing, the story is a mixed bag that, in the end, you’ll just either turn it off and go to bed, say “that was fun!”, or facepalm sighing and wondering why you did that to yourselves. Personally, I like unpredictability, absurdity, and mixed genres. I just prefer it when there is something in the end to take away.

The reason I decided to watch it was the leading duo. Mchattie and Wood are very versatile actors and I have enjoyed them in most films they’ve been in. Wood, having been in numerous Hollywood films in the past, has left most of it behind him and has started focusing on roles like Norman. Wilfred (2011-2014) and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017) are two previous examples of the kind of people he portrays with great success.

Anyway, Come to Daddy is highly recommended if you are really confused with your life, feeling lost, or having daddy issues.

Stay safe!

My Blueberry Nights (2007): Drama / Romance

A heartbroken young woman leaves everything behind her and goes on a journey across America in search of finding herself.

I was waiting for the whole year to write about this film. Almost no one knows about My Blueberry Nights and it saddens me.

Like a modern Odysseus, Elizabeth sets off for a journey of self-discovery where every stop is an experience and every encounter a new turning point in her life. That’s why with every “Ithaca”, what matters is not the destination but the journey itself.

First feature English-language film for director Wong Kar-Wai, and feature debut for Norah Jones who was the only option for the leading role in the director’s mind. Jude Law makes an excellent addition to the cast and the chemistry between him and Jones is fascinating. Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, and Natalie Portman complete the A-list cast of this unknown indie that, if you are not aware of it, it will make you ask yourselves how come you didn’t. Based on a short film that was made by Wong Kar-Wai in the beginning of his career, My Blueberry Nights is a pilgrimage of life, exploring our life’s decisions, our choices, and the way we let fear control both. Furthermore, redemption and find actual meaning and trust in people that are truly worth it and move us forward in life will leave a sweet taste in your mouth, almost as sweet as that long-anticipating for the denouement blueberry pie.

Thirteen years ago, in New Year’s Eve, I watched My Blueberry Nights at the cinema’s last screening of the day, with the girl working there. My last film of 2007. My last film review of 2020.

Stay safe and Happy New Year!!!

Sweet November (2001): Drama / Romance

A self-absorbed workaholic runs into a woman that her proposal will ultimately change his life.

Meet Nelson Moss! America’s typical self-aggrandizing yuppie asshole you wish he didn’t breathe the same air that you do. Well, don’t cast your stones just yet, Sara Deever is here. She comes into his life like an angel and, against all odds, sets the wheels of metamorphosis in motion.

Keanu Reeves, somewhere between The Matrix installments, gives a very convincing performance as that dude you wish you never become in your life and Charlize Theron is that angel you hope you one day meet. Now, here’s a fact: Sweet November, the remake of the homonymous 1968 film, got three nominations: worst actor, worst actress, and worst remake or sequel. John Wilson, the founder of the Razzie awards, lists the film as one of the 100 most enjoyable bad movies ever made.

Two things save the film. Firstly, the Keanu/Charlize chemistry; they were amazing in The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and they are very enjoyable here. By the way, Jason Isaacs is pretty awesome. Secondly, the film’s honest message: Seize the day, and make the most out of your life. Contrary to popular belief, life is a lot shorter than we think. But it can be sweet. That depends on the choices we decide to make.

No filmmaking technique stands out really and the story is quite flawed but, hey, watch it around this time of the year and forget about film theory for a couple of hours. It’s New Year’s Eve. Drink it in while thinking about your new year’s resolutions.

Stay safe!

In the Middle of the Night (2020): Horror / Thriller / Drama / Short

A son calls his parents in the middle of the night, but his gradual disorientation gets them really worried.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language and violence, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short horror script, In the Middle of the Night.

© 2020 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

Click (2006): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

An ambitious architect who thinks that everything is an obstacle to his success finds a remote that, allegedly, can solve all of his problems.

Honestly, I never thought this would be one of my favourite comedy/dramas – especially with Adam Sandler in it. But the story resonated with me for more than one reason. Let me get the pleasantries out of the way though.

Adam Sandler is funny, he is made for roles like these. The exaggerated tragicomedy surrounding a remote that controls your life could be a bunch of different films in the hands of different writers. Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe wrote a condensed comedy (for the first part) about a guy who just wants to succeed in life as he had enough looking at the greener grass next to him. He finds this remote and, as probably most of us, uses it exactly as a child would. With Sandler always being a man-child, it is guaranteed that the remote’s uses will be definitely inappropriate. Changing colour of himself or the shape of others, muting them, dubbing them in different languages, and so much more, deems Click, admittedly, a funny comedy. Until it turns into drama…

The dire long-term effects of the remote’s use are seen halfway into the film and the realisation of what has happened, is happening, and will be happening from that point on is also the unfortunate time of one’s life where they realise that… Time. Does. Not. Go. Back. No matter how hard we wish it did, it does not. Click is paying close attention to that fact and sugarcoats it with humour but still manages to make your eyes wet. I’ve written some mediocre reviews on other Sandler films, but in this instance he is good. The balance between comedy and drama is maintained very well by director Frank Coraci in the second part of the second act and hits you a bit harder than you expected as you never saw it coming when you initially put the film on.

Regarding the rest of the cast, Kate Beckinsale brightens up every shot she’s in, David Hasselhoff is hilarious, Julie Kavner is amazing, and Henry Winkler deserves a special reference. The sequence where he looks at Sandler and says: “I love you son” and then turns around to leave, is a tearjerker. If you think otherwise, you are not human. Winkler significantly contributes to the dramatisation of the film and his performance is out of this world.

Oh, you also get the film’s full force for another reason. Michael Newman (Sandler) reminds you of you. Reminds you of these times you said: “Can’t wait to be done with this…”, “Can’t wait for this project to end…”, “Can’t wait to finish…”. Newman is all of us who don’t appreciate the present, the today, the “now”. Newman represents all of us who don’t appreciate the beautiful person next to us, the fact that we and our people are in good health, and how much “love” can enrich us with everything money or fame can’t. Careful what you wish for…

Stay safe!

P.S. As per IMDb, R.L. Stine, in 1995, in his “Tales To Give You Goosebumps” wrote something similar and almost sued Sandler for plagiarism but it was all considered in the end… a coincidence. After all, they could both be based on the old French tale, “The Magic Thread”.

Powder (1995): Drama / Fantasy / Mystery

Born to a mom who was hit by lightning while she was pregnant with him, a kid grows up and shows abilities and IQ like anyone has ever seen.

The year draws to a close and, as always, I choose to watch films that, at some point in my life, they meant something to me. Powder is one of them.

From narrative’s point of view, it’s all about a boy who’s special and the physical and mental differences between him and the rest of the world make him a loner. Very well written and directed by Victor Salva, excellent performances by Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Lance Henriksen, and Jeff Goldblum, and brilliantly composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Setup, confrontation, and resolution are meticulously developed, offering moments of self-realisation in regard to what we know and what we think we know and how we deal with it. After everything is said and done, in the last scene, just ask yourselves this: where does Powder return to?

From sociology’s point of view, it tackles quite a few aspects… Our schools are incapable of handling different and, consequently, incapable of teaching anyone how to handle different. Our society is still in the dark ages, on an ongoing witch-hunt with modern torches and pitch forks. Our level of understanding about what is going on around us or what lies ahead is laughable – Yes, that includes especially the people we entrust to guide us. Finally, our inability to comprehend the fact that we are not on the top of the food chain and we should stop acting like it and respect nature as much as we should be respecting one another despite our so many differences, quirks and foibles. You wanna make a change but you don’t where to start? I follow Michael’s advice: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”…

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe the film would have performed better if the director Victor Salva hadn’t been convicted for child molestation a few years prior to the film’s release. Thus, much of the “touching” in the film was misinterpreted or interpreted, after the wrap, in an inappropriate way. But, please, don’t see it that way because it has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how much that affected Salva’s career as he kept writing and directing.

P.P.S. It is not mentioned why Doug is not speaking to his estranged son. Why don’t you all take a guess…

Legends of the Fall (1994): Drama / Romance / War

In the early 1900s, in Montana’s vast wilderness, the retired colonel Ludlow and his three sons stand united in war but are torn apart by their passions.

There are people out there, academics or otherwise, who think too little of Hollywood or nothing at all. Personally, I don’t like labeling cinema or seeing it as black and white, i.e., world cinema, good – Hollywood, bad. Having reviewed numerous Hollywood films, I can tell you with certainty that powerful storytelling knows neither indie or studio level nor language or cultural differences.

Legends of the Fall is the undeniably captivating Hollywood style of storytelling that pins you to your seats and sucks you into its world. John Toll’s gripping, Oscar-winning photography stands out from the opening sequence, foreboding the magnitude of what lies ahead. Brad Pitt, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas, and the late Gordon Tootosis give Oscar-worthy, memorable performances with Hopkins’ been shockingly emotional.

Producer/Director Edward Zwick took seventeen years to get this project off the ground and the wait was definitely worth it. Based on the novel by Jim Harrison and written for the big screen by Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff, the chronicle of the Ludlow’s family sees the father suffering while his boys fall apart from what’s meant to be sticking them together but offers the closure the story needs, without necessarily being the one that the vast majority would want. James Horner’s music enhances those vigorous emotions and Steven Rosenblum’s masterful editing puts the non-chronological footage together, maintaining the continuity illusion but also creating montage sequences that travel us through time.

Definitely one of my favourite dramas growing up! Legends of the Fall is a dramatic Odyssey of love, a tale of revenge, a family’s legendary journey of courage, loss and sorrow…

Stay safe!

A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

It’s Christmas Eve, and five interwoven stories reveal the dark side of Christmas.

A Viking-looking Santa who is about to face something evil, a radio host who wants to lift your spirits, a student film crew that investigates a violent ritual school crime, a family who just wants a Christmas tree, and an Anti-Christmas spirit that is released, chasing wicked people.

Very promising and original opening sequence that will most definitely get your undivided attention. Every story unfolding is a treat and, despite their flaws, they are still dark, eerie, and enjoyable for, admittedly, mostly millennial horror fans but not exclusively. Surely not for the whole family, each and every one of them, twists the meaning of Christmas and explores the darkness within us in days that our light is meant to shine. The ending is a real twist that, unfortunately, is no fantasy and our world has seen similar in numerous variations. For the avoidance of spoilers, I cannot elaborate further and, personally, I feel like I shouldn’t do it anyway.

The stories unfold in the fictional town of Bailey Downs. The same town where the Ginger Snaps franchise takes place but also, partially, Orphan Black (2013-2017). Filmmakers behind both projects collaborated for this one.

Last Christmas film review for this year! Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): Comedy

The extended Griswold family gets together on Christmas Eve, and everything that can go wrong does.

It used to be one of the funniest Christmas family comedies of its time. The “Griswold House” became a term for the overly decorated houses in the US and Australia and so did the huge, awkward family gatherings. 30+ years later numerous R-rated movies that were influenced by the National Lampoon’s franchise have gone to greater lengths so, chances are that you will not find it as far-fetched as it used to be back then. That said, this merely means that the film has lost its value as, in reality, these extended family gatherings can still be awkward and difficult to handle and, for us who grew up with the franchise, this film comes always to mind.

Like with the rest of the Griswold family films, the amazing John Hughes pens the script and Chevy Chase leads the way. By his side, the gorgeous Beverly D’Angelo shines brighter than their house, and with them, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Randy Quaid, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and so many more Emmy, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominees and winners join the cast.

Still definitely worth watching, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation will always be a classic and will keep the smile on your face from start to finish.

Stay safe!

Fatman (2020): Action / Comedy / Fantasy

When a rich boy is let down by Santa, he hires an eccentric hitman to kill him.

Well, isn’t that a Christmas film… A pistolero Santa who has a dodgy contract with the government of the United States of America ends up in a gunfight with an assassin.

How can I put it… it’s like a Christmas western shot in the North and Santa is the wanted man on the bullet hole poster. While the hitman tries to track down Santa, here’s what you get: the military outsourcing elves to produce more weaponry and the logistics behind Santa’s operation on Christmas Eve. You know what you get when the hitman actually tracks down the Republican, training-like-Rocky-Balmoa Santa? That’s something you need no commentary on. Writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms know exactly the kind of film they want to make and the final cut’s tone and pace give justice to their cause. Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste understand their vision and offer nothing but pure entertainment.

Feeling stuck in your own house on Christmas day? Fatman is your unconventional Christmas movie that will keep you company for an hour and a half. Can you take it seriously? No. Is it meant to be taken seriously? No. So, sit back, relax, and digest the turkey.

Stay safe!

A Christmas Carol (2019): Drama / Fantasy

On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge gets three visits from spirits that show him the error of his ways.

Unarguably, the darkest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale to date. Right off the bat, poisonous truths are coming out of Ebenezer’s mouth, almost impossible to argue with. Why be nice to each other only once a year, indeed… But its darkness doesn’t solely lie in the writing’s truths. It lies in the acting, and above all, the haunting photography. A constant darkness from the opening sequence to the end credits. Keep these elements in mind for what comes next.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him on a journey that leaves some… eerie details to the imagination. Excellent storytelling that will get your undivided attention in an attempt to process if the story you’ve read and watched repeatedly in the past is currently taking the direction you suspect it does. And it does, indeed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the consequences of that past; a past that seems ostensibly irredeemable. It picks on nineteenth century’s socioeconomic problems that could not be a better fit for the present day (massively pounding on capitalism!). The emphasis on that family’s love and what he had been deprived of, and consequently never knew it existed, smoothly shape Ebenezer to what the spirits hope he will become.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is meant to be the real treat; the relentless. But here, unfortunately, the TV adaptation starts losing ground and the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future is cut short. The mini-series becomes too explanatory for an audience that is by now clear is not kids. Thus, certain explanations are not needed, but they are given nonetheless. Then, everything happens too fast as if the filmmakers suddenly realised that the mini-series’ runtime is coming to an end and they must hurry. But then, more explanations are given, forgetting the “show, don’t tell” rule. Furthermore, in the end, the story feels incomplete as the denouement does not address certain issues, i.e., “redemption” from his nephew or the coal miners’ families.

Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng, Johnny Harris, and Charlotte Riley are but a few of Britain’s finest actors who perform brilliantly in front of the camera. Joe Alwyn and Vinette Robinson make excellent additions to that cast and play a significant role to the story’s development. Behind the camera. Steven Night, Ridley Scott, and Tom Hardy, among others, put on the producer’s hat and – in my humble opinion – must have done some serious pitching to the BBC to take on such distribution. I guess, if you are about to adapt a classic that has been adapted numerous times before, you may as well do it in a way that it has never been done before.

Stay safe and… Merry Christmas!!!

One Magic Christmas (1985): Family / Fantasy

A mother who lacks the Christmas spirit gets a visit from an angel who shows her what the meaning of this season is.

Remembering Mary Steenburgen in Christmas films, and more particularly in Elf (2003): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/24/elf-2003-adventure-comedy-family/ I remembered One Magic Christmas. You see, I may not fan of Elf that much but this is a different kettle of fish. Director Philip Borsos invests in both story and character development and, if you are watching it for the first time, you won’t really know what to expect, or, at least, when to expect it. It takes forty five minutes for the inciting incident to happen but, until then, poverty, especially during the festive days comes to the foreground and that can be a film on it’s own. Countless of families were struggling then as much as they do now. They have been ripped apart while the vast minority is having a laugh. Destitution sucks the joy out everything and replaces it with misery and downright cynicism. Working from paycheck to paycheck, not being able to afford a decent meal – much less to dream… Can love be enough?

Well, that’s what the film is about. We all have the right to laugh and we all need hope. And Steenburgen, even though her reactions are watered down due to the nature of the film is absolutely thrilling. You might be watching a Disney film but don’t underestimate the harsh realities it dares to show. Do you know when you are watching a good film? When is full of plotholes, makes little sense, but still sucks you into it and evokes the emotions it was meant to.

Hey, it’s Christmas season so, turn the blind eye to the horrible reality out there and remember how you used to feel this time of the year as a kid. It will make a lot more sense then…

Stay safe!

P.S. Film debut of the amazing Sarah Polley.

P.P.S. Despite his ongoing battle with leukemia, Philip Borsos kept directing till his last breath, at the age of 41.

Elf (2003): Adventure / Comedy / Family

Raised by elves, one day, a man realises he belongs to the humans’ world and goes to New York on a quest to find his real father.

Elf is the huge box office Christmas success that offered a lot of smiles. First leading role for Will Ferrell, who does what Will Ferrel does best in a comedy. He is really funny to be fair, it’s just Elf is not really my cup of tea. I know that Christmas films are meant to be implausible, cliched, and “tacky” but a man acting… the way he does, finding a girl like this, single, who falls in love with him, and with a dad like this who just manages to love him back… I know, it’s a Christmas comedy/fantasy but maybe not for my age or, simply, not for me.

Jon Favreau’s tributes to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are very obvious and understood – see, that’s an amazing Christmas film (the best of all time) – but I prefer other films of him from before and after the MCU or the Star Wars spinoff. Until Elf, he was a great indie yet, unknown director. At least, the film opened a lot of doors for him, making one of the biggest grossing directors of all time. Admittedly, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen are very much enjoyable so, it’s just maybe not particularly liking it.

By all means, please do enjoy it. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. We all need a good laugh these days. It’s been pretty miserable and depressing out there so, Elf, will do nothing but cheer you up with its silliness.

Stay safe!

Dead Poets Society (1989): Comedy / Drama

A group of students of the most prestigious boarding school in the country forms a secret poetry society after meeting their eccentric but inspiring teacher, Mr. Keating.

What makes Dead Poets Society such a memorable film? Peter Weir’s directing? Tom Schulman’s writing? Robin Williams and his teaching of “Carpe Diem”? Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and the rest of the gang?

Dead Poets Society will always be a classic due to the aforementioned reasons individually, collectively, but for so much more. If you ask ten people what the film is about you’ll probably receive eleven different answers. Is it about poetry and its meaning? About questioning authority? Consequences? About parents who have kids only to tell them what to do and how to do it so they can feel “big”? Is it about love? How about seizing the day as the first step to pursuing your life’s dream?

The “O Captain! My Captain!” scene is the film’s narrative epiphany. Every step and every risk those kids take is meant to lead to that moment. But the way you will have perceived the film until then, what the film will mean to you until then, it will evoke different emotions inside you. It might be seen as a “white-rich-boys-problems” movie nowadays, but, for a couple of hours, pretend it’s you in that age and wonder what your dream was back then, how hard did you try to achieve it, and, ultimately, where are you now?

It is not a Christmas film but this time of the year I always flashback to inspiring films that made me fall in love with cinema as a kid. A film like this needs not my review. Just a reminder that it still exists and it still inspires.

Stay safe!

P.S. “O Captain! My Captain!” was sorely remembered again by the media in 2014 amidst the unfortunate death of the acting giant Robin Williams.

P.P.S. Robert Sean Leonard who was the leading actor (next to Christian Bale) of another favourite film of mine while growing up, Swing Kids (1993), never became the A-list actor he deserved to be like Bale and Hawke did. Shame really…

The Night Before (2015): Comedy / Fantasy

Three lifelong friends who are about to spend their last Christmas together, get tickets to a party that will put their lives into perspective.

Vulgar language, anecdotal situations, surreal characters… anything you can expect from a Rogen/Goldberg production. Co-writer/director Jonathan Levine teams up again Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after 50/50 (2011) and with the amazing Anthony Mackie joining the crew… the fun has started already. On a second thought, more or less, everyone has worked with someone else more than once in the past. And, of course, James Franco pops up! Oh, did I mention Michael Shannon, Lizzy Caplan, and Mindy Kaling? This is quite the gang.

This is a trippy journey that, in its vast majority, it is very much to the bone. References to Die Hard (1988), Home Alone (1990) and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, make it a great buddy, Christmas film, especially, in times like these. Ultimately, it’s very predictable but you wouldn’t expect anything else from a Christmas movie, even an R-rated one. In all honesty, the church sequence is hilarious and the confession moment at Caplan’s front door is quite funny. Then, the amount of improvisation by almost everyone is also admirable.

Love it or loathe it, that is the kind of comedy you sign up for. Should you decide to watch it, just go along. We all deserve a laugh these days.

Stay safe!

Driving Home for Christmas (2020): Horror / Thriller / Drama

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After a long day’s work, on Christmas eve, a man calls his family on the way back only for a stranger to pick it up.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language and violence, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short horror script, Driving Home for Christmas.

© 2020 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): Drama / Romance

A lonely freshman befriends two seniors and gets to experience life for what it really is.

The epitome of modern American indie cinema! Watching it again eight years later, I realised the film hasn’t aged a day. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller make an incredible acting trio and their chemistry lies in the details. Just pay attention to the simplistic beauty when a “baked” Charlie unintentionally tells Sam about his best friend or when Patrick dances on Charlie’s lap during The Rocky Horror Picture Show scene. Even though not saying or doing much, Paul Rudd is inspiring and great addition to the cast.

Author of the book, screenwriter, and director Stephen Chbosky shocks his audience with his character-driven achievement. Each sequence amalgamates with the next and all of them masterfully compose an introvert teenager’s stepping into a life he once only dreamed of. If you’ve watched it, did you even notice that they have no cell phones or that they are not talking about social media? Did you wonder what the date is? Since the first time I watched it, I have learned how to “read” films in a more concise manner. Pay attention to the editing, for example. How much does it give away throughout the film about the ending? In the end, how much do you get to see and how much is left to your imagination during the shockingly culminating scene?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have been an entirely different film in the hands of the late John Hughes but, as it stands, it is a must-watch and a reminder that some times, less is more. Its powerful narrative does not try impress anyone. It just captivates everyone.

Stay safe!

P.S. Charlie is an older freshman. I totally missed it the first time as I haven’t read the book but pay attention to the cake’s candles and liaise it later on to the conversation he is having with his brother.

P.P.S My beloved Ioanna, you know this one goes out to you 🙂

#Alive (2020): Action / Drama / Horror

A sudden zombie outbreak will find two youngsters trapped in their flats opposite each other, making an escape plan.

I’m a sucker for build-up. You know, character and story development. Think of Train to Busan (2016) in this instance; patiently and suspensefully builds the narrative up before everything goes sideways. So, for horror fans who have watched countless zombie films, the opening sequence does not feel original or anything at all. I believe, the most impressive scene throughout the first thirty minutes is the police officer scene.

Things start getting interesting after the hero’s breakdown and big exodus. The action and thrill for the battle of survival pick up the pace and gradually get your attention. The pace is about to die out soon after though but is saved by the presence of Park Shin-hye’s character (Kim Yoo-bin). If you haven’t seen her in anything else, you should definitely try the same year’s and also Netflix’s production, The Call (2020) https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/06/the-call-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

But then, pace, rhythm, suspense, and action all die out together faster than the film’s outbreak. It manages to pick up again, but the effort was nothing new. Shame really, I wish the filmmakers had decided what kind of film they wanted to make. It seems like the genres are cancelling one another. If it’s any consolation, the film was a shockingly huge commercial success!

RIP Kim Ki-duk  (20.12.1960 – 11.12.2020)

Stay safe… and alive!

P.S. Challenge: Try to count how many times the word ‘alive’ is said.

Superhero Movie (2008): Action / Comedy / Sci-Fi

A low self-esteemed and constantly bullied teenager gets bitten by a radioactive dragonfly and develops superpowers.

There are two reasons why I watched it… again. Leslie Nielsen, and the Aunt Lucille farting sequence! Other than that, what can I say? It is an hour and fifteen minutes of that kind of humour that was washed up even twelves years ago. I think it is the first time that I tried to analyse what makes it funny – if written and executed properly. That kind of humour has several components. It requires:

  • Some pre-existing knowledge on the films been parodied,
  • Exaggerated and utterly disjointed scenes,
  • The heroes’ reactions to the superfluous, anecdotal stimuli causing the disjointed scenes, but their immediate forgetfulness straight after until something else happens.

I was not planning to make a review, and if I’m being honest, I haven’t really. I just wanted to put in my two cents about the particular comedy sub-genre. I wish there was something else to say, really. Even though it’s silly, to say the least, a couple of sequences will make you laugh – such as the Aunt Lucille farting sequence! And, hey, we do need some laugh. Especially, these days.

Stay safe!