The Night Of: A Case Study of Realism in HBO’s Cinematic World

What is ‘real’? According to the Cambridge dictionary: ‘existing in fact and not imaginary’i. Therefore, one could argue that what you watch in cinema or on TV is not real, but realistic: ‘seeming to exist or be happening in fact’ii. This article’s aim is not linguistics and most definitely not an in-depth, intricate and eye-bleeding Lacanian psychoanalytic approach on how to perceive what you watch and why. These are never-ending academic debates that don’t mean much outside the Academia, replace the art with science, and, to a certain extent, convolute the moviegoers’ cinematic experience. Yet, I will very briefly – I promise – combine the absolute basics with my experience of watching the HBO/BBC joint project, The Night Of (2016). Minor spoilers are included, but I will deliberately leave certain details and the ending out. My goal is, mostly, to emphasise on the first episode and what it achieves to do and how it does it. If you have watched it, it may offer you a different perspective, and, if you haven’t, to prepare you for a yet another existential HBO achievement. Get comfy…

Logline: After spending a debaucherous night with a woman he had never met, a young man wakes up finding her stabbed to death, and charged with murder.

‘The Beach’ is, arguably, one of the most slow-burn and intense first episodes in a series or miniseries. It is also one of the biggest investments in both character and story development and I would consider it a masterclass in the narrative/editing relationship. What we get to know about Nasir, how people perceive him, the way he wants to be perceived by his peers and, especially, women are all parts of him that need to carefully develop before the inciting incident takes place. And after the alleged establishment of who he is, it happens! The girl he instantly falls for and cares about is stabbed to death, Nasir loses it, everything he can do wrong, he does it, and, ultimately, he gets caught accidentally for something else that he also did wrong. All this wrongdoing creates so many questions in the audience’s mind that, inevitably, places them into Nasir’s shoes and that is the realism I was referring to earlier. ‘What happened?’. ‘What would I have done?’. ‘How is he going to prove he is not guilty?’ All these questions are created while, at the same time, Detective Dennis Box and his future lawyer John Stone are also introduced.

For anyone who is not familiar with, I’d like to introduce a couple of terms from Warren Buckland:

Restricted and Omniscient Narration: In restricted narration, the audience and the character share the same information whereas in omniscient narration the audience has access to more information than the character(s) separately. Regardless, the director is the one that, at any given point, decides how much the spectators need (not want) to knowiii.

Everything you know so far, or you think you know, comes through Nasir’s eyes. As much as you would like to know a lot more about what is going on, you don’t. What you do get to know very well though is what is happening in Nasir’s head and the editor is solely responsible for that. Before I go into it, always keep in mind this: Every sequence you watch on the screen comprises of carefully selected and trimmed shots, picked from numerous reels of that very sequence that has been filmed in numerous ways, numerous times. Even though the following is merely an example, it encapsulates the meaning that editing creates and how that particular meaning builds up the suspense while moving the story patiently, and cautiously forward.

While being caught for something minor and waiting at the police station, Nasir realises that this is his last chance to sneak out (yet another wrong decision). Not a single word is said, yet, through the extremely effective editing, the audience can ‘read’ his thoughts. And that becomes a paradigm of how ‘show, don’t tell’ works.

Nothing needs to be said because everything has been shown. The pace and rhythm that define the suspense build-up, ultimately pays off and, by the end of it, creates the perfect cliffhanger, preparing the ground for the suspense’s prolongation. Before he ultimately gets caught with incriminating evidence, as you can see from the last shot, the Detective who plays a significant role later on shows up at the police station, and after a series casual events and incidents, only then the audience realises that now it is too late for Nasir to do anything. Buckland would say that: any sequence that does not directly contribute to the conflict’s resolution is a ‘Delay of Resolution’iv.

If it wasn’t for these delays, any film or series would have been significantly shorter and the audience would get, potentially, the desired results the moment they wanted them. Fortunately, not getting what we want when we want it is part of this cinematic experience that mirrors life itself – excludes people who always got what they wanted.

The Night Of is not just the brilliant first episode though. Everything that happened, happened to lay the foundation for the next episodes to build on. The legalities, the charges, the transport, the detention… Through the eyes of a young man who has never experienced anything like it, but never even had such a horrible nightmare, you, the audience, get to live this nightmare with him as you go through every step of the process. And it is excruciating. And to make it even more horrible, as if that was possible, you become omniscient and you get to experience his parents’ agonising pain too. The Paradigmatic Narrationv: each segment introduces a new story, location or character(s)… introduces new faces as it unfolds and gets scarier by the minute. The series seems to be changing direction and becomes more and more of a case study on ‘what will happen to you if you end up in jail’. At the same time though, two questions flare up: If he hasn’t done it, who has? And, how will his innocence be proved? What has been achieved so far is the plot to stay in focus and the sublots to amalgamate with the sole purpose of supporting it and, consequently, advancing the story. And one of the many paths the story leads to is what was invested in the first episode; the hero’s metamorphosis. A metamorphosis that will, gradually, raise unexpected questions that will pile on the already unanswered ones and will make, especially, one rise to the top: Is he actually innocent?

As mentioned in the beginning, my goal is to bring this miniseries to your attention as it, instantly, got mine with its diverse techniques but also its realism. And to be perfectly clear with what I mean by saying ‘realism’, and not get caught into respectable theoretical arguments, I have summarised it the best possible way I could:

Susan Hayward, analysing realism and realism in cinema, states:

The term realism comes from a literary and art movement of the nineteenth century which went against the grand tradition of classical idealism and sought to portray ‘life as it really was’. […] Film as cinema makes absence presence, it puts reality up on to the screen. It purports to give a ‘truthful’ view of the ‘real world’ through the presentation it provides of the characters and their environment. […] There are, arguably, two types of realism with regard to film. First, seamless realism, whose ideological function is to disguise the illusion of realism. Second, aesthetically motivated realism, which attempts to use the camera in a non-manipulative fashion and considers the purpose of realism in its ability to convey a reading of reality, or several readings evenvi.

Andre Bazin claims that the arguments surrounding realism derive from a ‘misunderstanding’, a bewilderment between these two types: the aesthetic (aesthetically motivated) and the psychological (seamless). He refers to the former as true realism: ‘the need that is to give significant expression to the world both concretely and its essence’, and the latter as: ‘pseudorealism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye (or for that matter the mind); a pseudorealism content in other words with illusory appearances’vii.

Film theory has no immediate applications to the average viewer who wants to enjoy a film or a series. Personally, regardless how much I have studied or worked in film, I try to ‘live’ the moment when I watch something. And The Night Of felt like a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ to me. Towards the end, see what happens with the suspects. Think about their motives. Think about how they act and if you like them or not. Even though, does it matter? Have you made up your mind already? Are you more confused? Such narrative is meant to deceive you and editing is the best tool to do so. Every ‘whodunit’ is meant to be misleading, and the right combination of narratives needs to get you engaged while, purposefully, misguide you but not insult you by feeding you with lies. I find intriguing the difference between withholding the truth, and lying.

A couple of personal notes… The Night Of is presented like a dramatised documentary on how the American wheels of justice work. The people’s apathy, the system’s autopilot, the lawyers’ rivals… all that become the charade behind the scales that leans between a doomed life eternally ruined and an ambitions life where hope is still alive. What I found very interesting from the very beginning is the police officers’ attitude towards crime but also criminals. At first, it strikes as indifference which is somewhat annoying, but give it some time, the truth is much worse; it is habit. There is nothing they have not seen. They take crimes and criminals as a matter of course. Detective Box is called as a witness in court and the lawyer tries to corner him:

Chandra

I am not saying that you consciously thought about it.

I am wondering if, maybe, it was subconscious. If you

were having doubts about his guilt from the beginning.

Detective Box

Subconscious?

Chandra

Mm-hmm.

Detective Box

Well, if one could describe what goes on in their

subconscious mind, then it wouldn’t be subconscious,

would it? So, there is no way for us to know. Unless, you

got Freud out there waiting to be called.

HBO productions, among others, have always paid attention to the character development, and dialogue has been a big part of it: Every series they have produced has numerous lines that one can only wonder how they come up with that stuff, in so many different levels. The Sopranos (1999), The Wire (2002), The Leftovers (2014), True Detective (2014) Westworld (2016), Big Little Lies (2017), Sharp Objects (2018), Chernobyl (2019), The Outsider (2020)… all these are prime examples of how to make a series; of how to start, develop, and finish it in a way that will not only meet the audience’s expectations, but will by far exceed them1.

Even though is not part of the article, before I conclude, I would like honorary mention that none of the realism or narrative techniques that I mentioned earlier would be effective if the acting was not solid. Riz Ahmed, John Torturro, Bill Camp, Payman Maadi, Poorna Jagannathan, Amara Karan, Jeannie Berlin, Paul Sparks, and Michael Kenneth Williams give astonishing performances, engaging you, and leaving you with no choice but to empathise with them, love them, loathe them, and/or truly feel for their suffering. It is a shame that the late James Gandolfini passed a month after putting the producer’s hat on and never saw how brilliant his project ended up being.

Maybe, one day, I will write about why Hollywood keeps casting British actors portraying Americans when very rarely the opposite ever happens and what are the criteria behind casting specific actors for specific roles. Again, not really part of this article, but what got me thinking (further) was casting Glen Fleshler, and Adam LeFevre as Judges; juxtapose their current position to previous roles of theirs. But this is yet another story for another time – just saying.

To conclude, I am not here to dictate to you how to interpret films and series, but I would like to give away signs that will help you interpret them yourselves, and see for yourselves that a captivating narrative encompasses numerous techniques to irreversibly appeal to you, stimulate your senses, and make you question what you know or you think you know. As the story develops, chances are that you will pick on details here and there (i.e., the prison environment, Chandra’s choices and unknown future) and you even, maybe, build an argument on why this was not your cup of tea. Be it as it may, this is the way The Night Of articulates the story, evoking certain feelings that you might find confusing. Upon watching it though, honestly, swear that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, you have figured out how the cogs of life work.

Thank you kindly for reading.

Stay safe!

References

1Just in case you picked on True Detective, season 2, please, read my counterarguments here: http://theworldofapu.com/true-detective-2014-2019/

i(Anon) (2021). ‘Real’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/real>

ii(Anon) (2021). ‘Realistic’. [Online]. Available: <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/realistic>

iiiBuckland, W. (2006). Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. New York: Continuum, pp. 44-51

ivBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vBuckland, W.,pp. 44-51

vi Hayward, S. (2006) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. Third Edition. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 334

vii Bazin, A (2005) What is Cinema? Vol. 1. University of California Press Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. p. 12

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 2

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Tonight, I’m releasing the second part of the interview with Michelle Satchwell. Michelle analyses Martyrs and its contribution to the horror genre but she also uses it as a reference for the role of women in torture horrors. Moreover, she talks about advertisements and gender roles in the 80s, and how females have been portrayed, could have been portrayed and how that has affected the present. Last but not least, she talks about the representation of ethnic minorities and non-binary people in the film industry and what potentially the future holds.

Feminism References
Evolutionary Psychologists (no specific names), they focus on reproductive success in mate selection in humans.

Tuchman (1978) Symbolic annihilation (narrow range of roles for females).

Glascock (2001) Leading female characters (e.g. Lara Croft).

Bristol Fawcett Society (2008) Imbalance in media representation.

Ferguson (1983) Forever feminine; focusing on womens’ magazines and the cult of feminity.  Women focus on “him, home and looking good (for him)”.

Johnson and Young (2002) Impact of advertising on children.

McRobbie and Garber (1976) Bedroom culture.

Heidensohn (1985) Social Control of women and crime.

Westwood (1999) Transgression and Gender. “Transgressive female roles that go beyond gendered expectations”.

Gauntlett (2008) The representation of gender roles in the media. “Do the traits of the characters challenge conventional masculinity?”

Julia Kristeva (1980) Powers of Horror: An essay on Abjection.

Freud (1905) Psychosexual stages of development (Pre-Oedpial stage). 

Frieda-Fromm-Reichmann (1984) Schizophrenogenic mother theory.

Further References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woke

https://revisesociology.com/2019/09/02/media-representations-women/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette

https://www.waterstones.com/author/sallie-westwood/8084

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_homogenization#:~:text=Cultural%20homogenization%20is%20an%20aspect,but%20customs%2C%20ideas%20and%20values.

Sociological key terms:

Liberal

Marxist

Radical

Black Feminists 

Desensitised

Patriarchy

Agency

Power and Control

Malestream Criminology

White Knight / Saviour Complex

Male Gaze

Vicarious Reinforcement

Toxic Masculinity

Myth of Male Power (Strong)

Halo Effect

Heteronormative

Social Norms

Interactionism

Pluralist View (Reflects Taste of Audience)

Gatekeepers (Stakeholders)

Double Deviant

Takers of Shit

Dual Burden

Idealised Mother

Myth of Motherhood

Chivalry Thesis

Meritocracy

False-class Conscious

Ageism

Fatphobic

Cultural Homogenisation (of Western Individualist Views)

Cross-Cultural Research

Transgressive Sociology

The Contribution of Heroines, and the Role of Feminism in the Horror Genre – Part 1

Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle is coming back on the show to talk about the role of women in horror films. Class, gender, and race will also be analysed as to how they have been portrayed over the decades and if and how nowadays things have changed. Michelle analyses classic female-led horror films through sociopolitical theories and practices, and sheds light on how psychology examines these filmic portrayals.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjection

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_actions

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactionism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex

https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-15877-8_482-1#:~:text=Introduction,the%20illness%20(Hartwell%201996).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_social_control#:~:text=Informal%20social%20control%2C%20or%20the,such%20as%20citizen%20patrol%20groups.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/evolutionary-theory#:~:text=Evolutionary%20theory%20highlights%20the%20adaptive,%2C%20health%2C%20or%20physical%20size.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slut-shaming

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Bandura

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_girl#:~:text=Clover%20argues%20that%20for%20a,the%20part%20of%20a%20male.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-white-knight-syndrome/200905/white-knight-commonalities#:~:text=White%20knights%20often%20have%20a,be%20hurt%20easily%20by%20others.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism

Prisons: Depravity and Decadence in Horror / Sci-fi… and in Real Life

Tonight, I’m interviewing Dr. Neni Panourgia. Dr. Panourgia is Affiliated Faculty at the Program in Hellenic Studies. She is an anthropologist, Associate Professor at the Prison Education Program, Psychology Department, and Academic Adviser at the Justice in Education Initiative at Columbia University. Tonight, she is talking about the prison system in the US and how that has affected their current but also futuristic cinematic depiction. Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Biography

https://hellenic.columbia.edu/people/profile/388

Books

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011): Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.

Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!

There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.

Stay safe!

Score Composition for Dark and Eerie Sequences

Tonight, I’m interviewing Aris Lanaridis. Aris is a film & media composer, sound designer and music producer. Tonight, he is talking about how music affects and enhances the suspense in horror films and what principles dictate how and what kind of music is used.

About Aris

https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/aris-lanaridis

https://tagg.org/teaching/mmi/filmfunx.html

https://www.linkedin.com/in/arislanarides/

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zofia_Lissa

The House That Jack Built (2018): Crime / Drama / Horror

The life of a serial killer through the major incidents that made him and the examination of his psychosynthesis.

Welcome to the world of a psychopathic murderer! Look at it through his eyes. See how it makes sense to him. Feel how he perceives it, in the scariest possible way, as you and I do. Welcome to the world that Lars von Trier and Matt Dillon built!

Watch back to back Trier’s The House That Jack Built and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). The former views the world through the nihilistic eyes of a killer who tries to make sense of our world’s identity, and the latter views it through our ‘existential’ eyes, which try to make sense of the killer’s identity. Regardless of the antithetical points of view and budget, both films’ theme is regarding a serial killer yet, they share no similarities. Not really, anyway. The striking differences in writing, acting, editing, and cinematography – all overseen by the director – are held responsible for creating films worlds apart and confuse film theorists (even more) in regard to ‘What is Cinema?’. Fincher’s meticulous mise-en-scène and precise cuts become an example to avoid for Trier who, in a mockumentary-style of filmmaking shakes his camera as much as he possibly can and cuts wherever it seems not right, ignoring continuity and paying tribute to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Is there ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? No, there is not! The narrative always dictates how the story will unfold and in which way. And Trier’s filmmaking choices of saying the story the way he wants to create one of the most realistic serial killer films you have ever watched. Pay extra attention to the humorous side of the murders. Yes, there is a humorous side to it. Don’t judge it though, remember whose point of view this film is from. Even I smiled at Dillon’s reaction to the body’s melted face that had been dragged on the streets for miles. The film’s scariest parts though are not the murders themselves, but the justification of Jack’s actions and the sick and perverted way they somehow make sense.

My issue is not with the way the story unfolds, but with where it is heading. After an hour and a half of balanced nihilistic philosophy, deranged psychology, and monstrosities, Trier turns the film into a pseudo-sophisticated paradigm that, in my humble opinion, does not any more explain Jack’s actions, takes over the narrative, and expresses how Trier views art, politics, history, war, and anything that comes into his mind. Why do I think of that? Because I’m sure that Jack didn’t commit these murders creating a montage of Trier’s previous films in his head. I know he made a statement about, potentially, not directing another feature, but, in the name of art, he managed to lose the narrative’s focus and turned it into a confusing mess.

In Cannes, some people left the theatre and others gave it a six-minute standing ovation. Some condemned it on social media for its violence and point of view, and others praised it. See for yourselves how parts of ‘The Divine Comedy’ and ‘Faust’ work within the narrative and how the allegories and the history lessons work for you. Love it or loathe it, be it Trier’s last film or not, The House That Jack Built is a must-watch, and whatever I say, nothing will give justice to Matt Dillon’s remarkable performance. If none of the aforementioned sounds appealing or appalling enough, watch it just for Dillon!

Stay safe!

My Friend Dahmer (2017): Biography / Drama / Horror

A high school student finds it really difficult to blend in, isolating himself from friends and family, while doing things that no one should be.

My Friend Dahmer invests in Jeff Dahmer’s character development while stealthily exposing the American society. School and home, the two environments that play a catalytic role in a kid’s physical and emotional growth become a case study for writer/director Marc Meyers who adapts John Backderf’s homonymous book. Shot in the same town where Dahmer was raised, the film leaves its mark for the spine-chilling realism it offers, covering  the raw brutality of loneliness, the harshness of bullying, the fear of coming out – even to one self – and, ultimately, society’s success in… creating monsters.

Furthermore, Jamie Kirkpatrick’s editing patiently builds up the suspenseful narrative and Daniel Katz’s photography very accurately captures the 70s. As for the cast, Ross Lynch gets into character and nails his performance, as does the rest of the cast that very successfully supports his effort. I’d like to seize this opportunity and state something that should have been obvious but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Anne Heche is a wonderful and dynamic actress. Not only that, but she’s also a real-life heroine. I hope we get the chance to see her in more amazing roles like this one, as she still has so much more to offer to both the small and the silver screen.

Every joke made me sadder. Every prank made my heart skip a beat. Every time the parents didn’t care about Jeff’s isolation from everyone, but also himself, I felt like giving up. In the end though, you step back and everything becomes clear. What you have in front of you is all the ingredients you need to… “make a murderer”. I have not read the book, but I’d love to know what the author’s self-criticism would be. How does he describe himself looking back?

Share your feelings. Respect one another. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

Stay safe!

P.S. In a way, it reminded me Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997/2007). Nothing to do with the content, but in regard to the absence of on-screen violence. I think it’s amazing.

In the Fade (2017): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having nothing else to lose, a woman seeks revenge after the bomb attack that killed her husband and son.

With the camera mounted on the shoulder, Fatih Akin fully explores the act of “The Family” and hugely invests in Katja’s bereavement in a shocking political, documentary-style crime/drama that will cut your breath short. Diane Kruger’s powerhouse performance will bring tears to your eyes and most definitely adds to the narrative’s realism.

“The Trial” is immense. The disgusting defense lawyer, the remorseless couple, and the prosecutor’s speech, and Katja’s reactions throughout it, compose an excellent court thriller that will, even temporarily, question your beliefs regarding taking justice in your own hands. If that doesn’t bring out “The Punisher” in you, I don’t know what will.

“The Sea” needs to be divided into two segments: “The investigation” is the thrilling part as no one knows what she really has in mind and also no one knows what will happen if she gets caught. That keeps the suspense building up. The second part, “the revenge”, is quite shallow. It feels like Akin is not sure of how he wants to proceed or what he wants to say. Meaning, he doesn’t know what kind of ending he wants the film to have, making it a “semi-revenge” film, in the end. “The Sea”, as a total, makes an enormous contrast to “The Trial” where utterances matter the most. That means that actions should matter here the most, and unfortunately, this is not the case.

To sum it up, In the Fade is a must-watch and, no matter where you are in the world, you can translate the film’s hate to what is happening in your neck of the woods. I hope it gives you some perspective. Among others, Golden Globe Winner (2018) Best Motion Picture: Foreign Language, and Cannes Film Festival Winner: Best Actress- Diane Kruger.

Now… a little a background information. Makris, the Greek guy who appears in court, is a supporter of the, once upon a time, political party called “Golden Dawn”. For those who don’t know, that Neo-Nazi party and its supporters had always been the disgrace of Greece but also humanity’s. The party has been taken down and its members have been sent to jail, where the rest of us hope that they rot there forever. As for the actor who plays Makris, Yannis Economides, he is one of the most prolific Greek / Greek-Cypriot directors of his time, and one that I personally highly admire. Johannes Krisch, the defense lawyer, is nothing like his character in real life so, for portraying himself in such manner so effectively, he also deserves a round of applause.

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!

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 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!

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!

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!!!

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!

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 🙂

Cold War (2018): Drama / History / Music

During the 50s, in Poland, a music director and a leading singer fall in love but after they agree to defect to France they part ways.

What a year for cinematography! First time in Oscar history that three out of five film nominations were foreign films. There are so many production details that could turn my review into an analysis. My contribution here though is not encyclopedic but merely an alert on why you should watch it (if you haven’t) and not miss out.

Shooting in chronological order and changing the filmmaking style over the (screen) years respectively, writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski makes the second film in his native language, after the amazing Ida (2013) – which I admired watching in a beautiful theatre in London – he recasts Joanna Kulig and Agata Kulesza but also numerous members of the crew. Needless to say that Tomasz Kot breaths his role. An amalgamation of Pawlikowski’s parents story and a real-life folk dance group, Cold War explores love, lifestyle, ambition, inflated ego, self-aggrandisement, and, in times like these, the inevitable involvement of goddamn politics in everything we do and say in our lives. Cold War is a chronicle of this perplexity called life, seeking the long-lost happiness within us, bringing to the surface our inability to always miss it when it was in front of us.

Other than photography, the acting too deserves a standing ovation – the film got an 18-minute one in Cannes Film Festival. And before I go… “It’s not a film until it’s edited” – Michael Kahn. Like the aforementioned Ida (review to follow), Cold War is masterfully put together, teaching when not to cut. Even though more obvious in Ida, here as well, Jaroslaw Kaminski meticulously cuts between action and reaction shots and builds both narrative and character, setting the pace and rhythm of the film. Ask yourselves this: how long after does the editor cut when the scene’s action is completed? Respectively, how long does the editor keep the reaction shot, where there is one?

Contrasting Hollywood cinema, Cold War wins the impressions with its simplicity, developing relatable, everyday characters, living in political and social unrest that inevitably become victims of their own desires and passions; their human nature.

Stay safe!

The Psychology of Horror: Preparedness and Purpose

Tonight, I’m interviewing Dr. Mathias Clasen. Mathias, among other things, is Associate Professor at Aarhus University, teaching at the School of Communication and Culture, director of Recreational Fear Lab, and Associate Editor of Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture. Literary Darwinism, Gothic, Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Apocalyptic and Post-apocalyptic Texts, but also Cognitive and Evolutionary Theory are only but a few of the research areas he specialises in. Tonight, he is talking to me about a very interesting research of his on the pandemic and horror films but also explains what it is that attracts us to the genre.

https://pure.au.dk/portal/en/engmc@hum.au.dk

https://au.academia.edu/MathiasClasen

http://horror.dk/mathias/

https://esiculture.com/

Goddess of Love (2015): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Having found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, a drug addict and mentally unstable woman starts losing sense of reality.

I find it intriguing when people ask me about films I am not aware of and then I wonder, “why don’t I know it”? Well, I don’t want to brag too much but, most of the times, there is a good goddamn reason. Of course, then, I have found myself being oblivious to films I should have known hence, I watch more or less, many of the films people suggest I should “definitely” watch.

Goddess of Love is a pseudo neo-noir that I should not definitely watch. Playing around with words, I could have said that it’s a film that I should definitely not watch. But I’m not gonna put it that way. I just found it awkward, meaningless, and boring. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone from the cast or crew so, I can’t comment on their past work. What I do know though for sure is that if I had a girlfriend like Alexis Kendra, I wouldn’t cheat on her (even with Elizabeth Sandy).

In all fairness, I have never cheated and if haven’t done it so far, I will most definitely not do it in the future. The film touches on infidelity, abandonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and eroticism but doesn’t explore any of it, approaching seriously epidemically the human relationships, making every character unlikable, unrelatable, indifferent, pitiful, and I’ll dare to say hateable. Even Venus – not the cat, luv…

I know, there is a twist. But by that point, for the viewer, it is a bit too late. Just to finish on a positive note, Kendra and Sandy are playing their parts quite well.

A Ghost Story (2017): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

A white-sheeted, nostalgic ghost, permanently resides in its home and everything that, in the passage of time, becomes after that.

A friend of mine called me, laughing at IMDb’s reviews on this one. So, even though I don’t really look at reviews before I watch a film, I only read the titles. I’ve seen cases before where reviews are either 1 or 10 and nothing in between, and since the titles were entertaining, I decided to give it a shot.

Let me be clear from the beginning. A Ghost Story is not for everyone! What we are dealing with here is an interesting yet peculiar storytelling with protracted steady medium and long shots that initially make little sense. The narrative unfolds though and life, linearly or not, moves on with just a few edits. Be patient with these shots and think that your life does’t have cuts either. It would also help if you perceived the narration as omniscient – being everywhere simultaneously. During this journey, I couldn’t help but feel the ghost’s loneliness and entrapment. The ability to manoeuvre in time and the inability to do nothing about it. Imagine yourself seeing the world spinning, confined by your questionable existence. An existence that is unknown to everybody as much as it is to you. But still you wait for someone to finally acknowledge this questionable existence you have become. Admittedly, after the ghost’s free fall, the convolution becomes also questionable. But please remember what I said earlier about the non-linear.

Have you ever wondered what the origins of déjà vu are? Cinema is a form of expression. That’s why it’s art. The aforementioned protracted shots make sense somewhere halfway through the film while understanding the narrative and David Lowery’s subjective perception of time and space. Let the mise-en-scène inaudibly “speak” when the silence is deafening. You may be wondering where is she? Has she become a ghost too? Has she gone to a final destination? Is there a final destination? But then think of something that you can, potentially, answer. Who is waiting for you?

Stay safe!

P.S. A few days after I watched it, it came to light that one of the producers was accused of raping one of the film’s young girls. Hollywood’s depravity spreads like pestilence!

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!

Burning (2018): Drama / Mystery

A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.

The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.

Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.

False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.

Stay safe!

P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

A young female detective starts suffering from a dream-reality confusion while investigating a series of ritualistic murders.

Right, I’ll be quick. I couldn’t take it seriously from the opening sequence. It’s meant to be ‘horror’ but the British humour overshadowed every chance there was to scare me – and I’m talking slim to none. Writers/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian are obviously David Fincher fans, but the budget, story and character development, photography, editing, acting, but also the profound understanding of a serial killer’s psychosynthesis are hardly evident in the film.

But hey… Charismata is a British low budget indie horror that took time, money, and effort to get made and had no intention to fool you or undermine your intelligence. Should you decide to watch it, it’ll take your mind off things for just over an hour and a half, and actually, entertain you a little. Plus, it does have a couple of impressive shots.

Stay safe!

Logan (2017): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

In 2029, where the X-Men are gone and mutants are on the verge of extinction, an elderly and slowly dying Logan must lead Charles Xavier and a young mutant to safety when an evil corporation goes after them.

I don’t write about superhero films, really. As much as I’ve watched them all and as much as I’m a graphic novel collector, I prefer to keep a distance. But I intend to write about my top 5 (to date) as I truly think they are powerful films and, in my humble opinion, the best of their kind. And, after watching it for the third time, Logan most certainly still remains in that top 5.

First and foremost, because of Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart. Secondly, due to (co)writer/director James Mangold. The trio makes a combo that brings to life an unprecedented, R-rated, existential drama/fiction, no one expected to see. Mangold’s genius lies in synthesizing the narrative; the character and the story development. Such synthesis requires a thorough understanding of who the Wolverine was and what he had accomplished, while never managing to make peace with his nature and never overcoming his loathing for his nurture. And that, respectively, requires a thorough understanding of the difference between thinking of knowing what an antihero is and the unfathomably harsh reality of having to live with yourself and everything you have done, for almost two centuries, to become that wrong perception.

Officially, the film is a standalone and it follows neither the original X-Men’s timeline and its prequels nor the franchise’s prequels. However, Charles Xavier is mentioning the Statue of Liberty incident, and he reminds him that he found him in a time that he was a cage fighter. This, by itself, does not mean that the franchise prequels’ timeline is not followed either. In fact, the Samurai sword from Wolverine (2013) can be briefly seen as well. I think that the only one that has been left out of the canon is X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) but Kinberg’s film has already been forgotten and left out of every timeline ever existed right after it hit the big screen.

From Wolverine (2011) to… Old Man Logan, the hero’s journey has had its ups and downs but this is the best denouement a cinematic (anti)hero has ever seen.

Stay safe!

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Spoilers!

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Deep down I knew The New Mutants (2020) would take the torch after Logan. I knew it! “New Mutants” is brought up as a concept in Logan and the The New Mutants trailer was reeking of Essex Corporation. It is a bloody shame that, after waiting for so long, with a unique trailer for the X-Men franchise, and so talented new actors it was such a disappointment. Not only that but it had a huge plothole too. The film takes place after Logan – so after 2029, but we don’t know exactly when. By then, the X-Men were long gone, yet one of the new mutants speculates that the doctors’ bosses are the X-Men, non-verbally implying, specifically, Charles Xavier. One of them, at least, should have got their facts straight.

Jungleland (2019): Drama

Two brothers, in an attempt to score big, travel across the country for a bare-knuckle boxing match, but the way they see their journey end gradually gets in the way.

Jungleland… the type of American indie that makes your heart race, wondering from the opening sequence what on earth will go horribly wrong. That said, Jessica Barden (who for some reason reminded me of Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the magnificent duo Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell are all British doing a great job posing as Americans – how about producer Ridley Scott?

Despite the great acting though, Jungleland‘s strong suit is the blur line that doesn’t distinguish ambition from greed. Writers Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith, and writer/director Max Winkler (son of legendary Henry Winkler) bring to life a beautiful story that will make you wonder, how far would you go to make your dreams come true? And make you think how far you have gone so far…

Does it actually go horribly wrong though? That is for you to decide. The long-awaited moment has finally arrived and Hunnam with O’Connell are on screen together and reveal about their lives whatever you need to know and not necessarily what you want to. Would I prefer to see them in a British film as a Northerner and a Midlander respectively? Sure. Does it matter though that they put an accent and they are overseas? Not really. Remember, a film that lets you in halfway through and lets you out at a not expected point in time is a reminder of Ithaca; it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself.

Stay safe!

P.S. On a personal note, as I have been living for years in the city that Jack O’Connell and Michael Socha were born, I have met them both, and I must tell you that, other than great actors, they are both great human beings.

Take Shelter (2011): Drama / Horror / Thriller

Haunting apocalyptic visions will make a man doubt himself, face his family, confront society, and build a shelter for what he thinks is coming.

One of my favourite underrated, films of all time. A visually stunning film that gives the opportunity to actors to unleash their talent, the suspenseful narrative to naturally and patiently unfold, and the viewer to unconditionally absorb what cinematic experience really means. And that shows right off the bat from the opening sequence.

If you haven’t watched it, writer/director Jeff Nichols will get you wondering all the way: Is it? Is it happening? Is it in his head? But that’s not just it. Think about it… How much “different” can society tolerate? How many times were you sure you were right and no one believed you? But… how many times were you sure you were right and how did you feel when you realised you weren’t? Also, how many times have you truly followed your gut no matter what everyone else thought or said?

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain do a wonderful couple on screen, expressing all these doubts and beliefs and transgress the rules. Shea Whigham is always underrated and I hope one day a major festival acknowledges his talent and award him respectively. Last but not least, from beginning to end, pay attention to Adam Stone’s cinematography; it is absolutely thrilling.

Take Shelter does leave the viewer with some unanswered questions but that’s part of the journey’s mystery and the reason why a film’s flavour lasts way past the scrolling end credits.

Stay safe!