Luce (2019): Drama

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Luce, a black kid adopted from war-torn Eritrea by a white couple, becomes an excellent school student and a political statement but a series of obscure and ostensibly unrelated events gradually reveal everyone’s true colours.

I think that IMDb got it wrong here. They put ‘Drama’ under the title when they should have described it as ‘Thriller/Drama’. Let me explain… What’s at stake in Luce is the portrayal of the American educational system as a business. The selective promotion of an ethnic minority’s minority to the outside world, solely benefiting the system, labeling this person or group as a brand, and making them the poster child of what the system allegedly represents. That hypocritic notion is Luce‘s dramatic aspect. But this notion is wrapped by its thrilling development – by J.C. Lee – into a script. Character-wise, everyone – but one – is guilty. Everyone throughout the film either reveals or gets obvious that has lied at least once or has been withholding crucial to the story information. Something that Julius Onah’s directing and Madeleine Gavin’s editing unfold very meticulously. The music carefully dictates the film’s tone, adding the eerie atmosphere of an A-class thriller. DOP Larkin Seiple with surgical precision frames everything, including only what you need to see – and not what you would like to. Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Octavia Spencer, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. shine in front of the lens, creating amazing chemistry, and make you love them and then loathe them, even love them and loathe them at the same time. But… the (not guilty) one holding no punches whatsoever and steals the spotlight is none other than Marsha Stephanie Blake. Hair-raising performance!

For better or for worse my role is to do film analysis and not politics even though most of the times I can’t help myself. Watch it and jump to your own conclusions regarding what is wrong with the US educational system, one of America’s most sore points. Interesting is also the subplot; the fear of expression due to the pushed and rushed political correction imposed nowadays and the questionable movements all around the world that aim to skin you alive if you dare to offend anyone – even unintentionally.

Don’t miss this one out. Don’t let it go under the radar.

You can find it here:

US: https://amzn.to/2FzFMsd / https://amzn.to/36I1feA

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Adopt a Highway (2019): Drama

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A man is released from prison after many years and while trying to figure out how the modern world works, he stumbles upon a baby dumped in the trash.

I’ll start with the fact that this is a drama from Blumhouse – the king of low budget-that always-turns-a-profit horrors. A quite insightful and existential I might add, surprising in the nicest possible way. My next stop is Logan Marshall-Green, who put on, for the first time, the director’s hat after having penned the script as well. Did that come as a surprise? Not at all. Why? Because the guy is a natural. Marshall-Green is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors – now turned director/screenwriter. His talent needs to be finally acknowledged and get the spotlight he deserves. Then, Ethan Hawke… is something else. Always has been, always will be. He’s one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors and a man who very thoroughly chooses his next project. Since Dead Poet’s Society (1989), he hasn’t stopped to amaze. Last stop, the sound department where its work in this instance stands out for its perfection. From the opening sequence’s ‘voices montage’ to the letter’s reading.

Not everyone is made for this modern world. The full of emoticons, fast-typing, communication, the online slang that ‘infiltrated’ our every-day vocabulary, the mass behaviour that, should one decides not to adopt will become a pariah, and so much more make people who step out of the crowds to develop case studies. Adopt a Highway looks life in the eye and gives us a bittersweet hope with a twist and says… ‘Through every dark night, there is a bright day after that’ – 2Pac.

Well, my heart goes out to the ones who only got to experience the darkness…

You can find it here:

US: https://amzn.to/2ZYHqgi / https://amzn.to/2N6AVTp

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019): Action / Comedy / Horror

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Ten years have passed since the zombocalypse and Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock must now face dumb, smart, stealthy, and rough zombies, deal with domestic issues and ally with lookalikes, hippies, and a bimbo.

Double Tap, is the sequel I was reasonably afraid it will have nothing more to offer when it comes out. Having seen numerous sequels over the years flopping due to franchise fatigue or been outshadowed by their predecessors, can you blame me? Well, ten years later, Double Tap did come out, proved me wrong, and it was more than I was hoping for. Director Ruben Fleischer, intentionally influenced/inspired by George A. Romero and Edgar Wright, manages to find new creative ways to either put a smile on our face or make us laugh out loud. The script is solidly inundated with comedic additions and alliances, and horrifically funny villains, offering the well-known by now group of four an arsenal of punchlines, perfectly fit for every occasion. Out of the A-list star cast, which does a brilliant job in front of the lens, Woody Harrelson and Zoey Deutch unequivocally stand out for being surrealistically funny.

I’ll seize this opportunity to say this as I’ve been holding it for some time now… Abigail Breslin seems like she doesn’t want to act anymore. Is it the burden carrying from her mesmerising performances in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and My Sister’s Keeper (2009)? Is it the ‘curse’ of the child actor/actress? Is it personal or professional obstacles that we are not aware of? I still believe that given the right role she can ‘shine’ again and I really look forward to that day.

Definitely worth the just over hour and a half in front of the telly as it will make you forget your problems and send you to bed. And next day is always a new day… with a new film!

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/37KajzG / https://amzn.to/2T2rS9Q

US: https://amzn.to/2FpIikE / https://amzn.to/36xp1tw

Marriage Story (2019): Comedy / Drama / Romance

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A married couple with a little kid decides to break up and both parties reveal their best and worst hidden sides of themselves.

Even though ‘it takes a village to make a film’ and every department plays a significant role in a film’s success or failure, five major ones (not in a particular order) need to become a solid one to guarantee Marriage Story‘s success: Directing, cinematography, editing, writing, and acting. Writer/Director Noah Baumbach, cast actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson during the script development and all three of them put the ‘FADE OUT’ in the end. As all three of them had been or were going through divorces, the film is largely based on their real-life experiences, and it is that kind of realism that is translated to the big screen and the film’s final cut. Everyone poured their souls in it and, as per IMDb, this is what happened: Top Rated Movies #171, nominated for 6 Golden Globes, and another 81 wins & 177 nominations.

The way editing controls the film’s pace and rhythm is remarkable. Without saying it’s right or wrong, the cuts during the dialogue – cutting from the person talking/crying/exploding to the other person’s reaction – make an interesting case as, me personally, I would expect maybe less reaction. I bet the drafts were endless though and, since the final cut works, I just take it as it comes. The mise-en-scène is flawless and Baumbach with director of photography Robbie Ryan have captured and framed only the essential to the story elements. Last and most certainly not least, Johansson and Driver purely unleash their thespian talents and, arguably, deliver the most hair-raising performances of their lives. Forgetting the high budget tentpoles they are currently in – Avengers and Star Wars respectively – they become part of a love story wrapped in self-absorption and insecurities. Interesting background production details can be found here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7653254/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

The labyrinthine nature of a human being knows no limits. When two human beings come together, the stakes and unpredictability are doubled and when a family is created a small society is born under the same roof. Hundreds of millions of these societies form bigger societies that constitute the world as we know it. And its intricacies and complexities can only be matched with the Universe’s mysteries.

Men in Black International (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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Men in Black, the secret government organisation with the cream of the crop agents and the advanced technology from all over the known Universe is now having a mole who threatens to destroy the Earth.

The reasons are obvious as to why it didn’t perform well. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Men in Black I (1997), Men in Black II (2002), and Men in Black III (2012) gave MIB an appealing character to men, women, and children of all ages. F. Gary Gray and the studios decided it’s a wise choice to ‘devote’ Men in Black: International to millennials and, as a result, it was turned into something unfulfilling for everyone else – even them evidently. To be more specific:

  • Online childish slang (?) such as ‘you had one job’ and ‘that happened…’ were only put there just to have these lines heard by their favourite actors/actresses.
  • Both men and women, we acknowledge that Chris Hemsworth is attractive. Fair enough, but to make him look like he just finished a fragrance photoshoot or an underwear ad throughout the whole film kills the vibe, throws the fans of MIB off, and ultimately depreciates the franchise’s value.
  • I know it’s an action/comedy/adventure but the main hero comes to realise something he never expected about himself (no spoilers). Do we feel like he is really affected by it? No. That kills the drama. And as a whole, I didn’t really feel anything about anyone as it was all…
  • Fun! Comedy works in mysterious ways and what makes people tick varies. BUT… having a punchline for everything that happens for almost two hours creates one emotion for every situation.

Men in Black: International became a lose-lose situation for studios and audiences alike. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (even Josh Brolin) became MIB by earning their stripes. F. Gary Gray is an amazing director. Friday (1995) and Straight Outta Compton (2015) are brilliant examples of his work but Matt Holloway’s and Art Marcum’s script didn’t do any favours to anyone. If you also want to admire Chris Hemsworth as a presence but also a thespian, watch Rush (2013), In the Heart of Sea (2015), Bad Time at the El Royale (2018), and of course, the Thor/Avengers franchise.

I’m not even gonna go into production details and I feel sorry for not having something good to say (except that Tessa Thompson is always mesmerising).

If you still feel fancy watching it, you can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2trujIs / https://amzn.to/37vNKP1

US: https://amzn.to/2QnHbs7 / https://amzn.to/35n7iDR

Wounds (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A world of obscurity and darkness gradually surrounds a bartender after finding a phone left at his bar.

At first, everyone’s merry. People ‘necking’ life in shot glasses seems like the way to go in a world full of worries. Then, different people who don’t belong to that world leave behind this phone which carries… wounds that people from neither world can possibly comprehend. And then, no one’s merry anymore. And then everyone discovers their dark side…

Friends of mine were calling me over the last few months asking me if I have watched Wounds. My response was ‘no, should I watch it?’ and their reply was something along the lines of ‘no, coz it sucks balls!’. What can I say? I’m a bad listener. Or am I? So, I watched it. And so should you. Wounds is based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella ‘The Visible Filth’ which I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t read so I can’t comment on the adaptation, compare, or contrast it. As a film in itself though, Wounds will get your undivided attention. Do not try to rationalise it. Do not try to give meaning to every word spoken or the staccato editing choices rapidly presented to you. Just watch it looking towards every corner of your screen as the mise-en-scène meticulously frames what you need to know. When, out of the blue, the end credits appear, give it a minute or two to move past the ‘WTF just happened’ feeling, try not to go apeshit as well, and only then start putting things into perspective. And even then, good luck!

Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, and Zazie Beetz do a brilliant job in front of the camera. Behind it, Babak Anvari, director of the eerie, paranormal Iranian horror Under the Shadow (2016), shakes hands with Netflix, defies canon and Hollywood’s jumpscares and goes for long tracking shots and slow editing to haunt New Orleans and unify two worlds that should have never been brought together.

 

Black and Blue (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A rookie, black, female police officer becomes the target of three corrupt cops after witnessing them murder a bunch of young drug dealers.

It seems that there are three sore points Black and Blue addresses. Two of them are included in the film’s title but wait until we get to the script. Its cinematography, Naomie Harris and Frank Grillo are the film’s best attributes. The mise-en-scène is almost flawless; what you need to see within a shot is there and the colours are as dark as the heroes and the antiheroes themselves. Harris deserves all the spotlight as, first of all, you wouldn’t tell she’s a Londoner, and secondly, she’s entirely different from her 007 character and anything you have seen her in before. She’s like a windwhirl sucking you into the film’s action and thrill. Grillo, as always, is as tough as they come. What I would like to see more is Tyrese Gibson as a non-action character, Reid Scott’s (Kevin) guilt building up to justify his action in the end, and Mike Colter’s (Darius) fury explode over the murder of his nephew. Finally, the editing is ‘invisible’, guaranteeing the film’s continuity and pacing the film appropriately.

Peter A. Dowling’s script has a few holes. That means that, on more than one occasion, if one asked ‘why didn’t s/he do that?’ the answer would be ‘because that is a plot hole’. I’m not gonna go into details though. I’ll leave it up to you to spot them and make up your own mind. The focus shifts towards the obvious on this occasion: Stereotyping! Harris is burdened with the film’s emphasis on being a woman, black, and police officer in a world that undermines the first, degrades the second, and hates the third. And as aforementioned, she’s brilliant. But the real world isn’t really like that. And filmmakers need to be very careful not to turn it like that. See what happened at the cinema in Birmingham, UK whilst showing Blue Story (2019): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-50541204

It seems that nowadays everyone is looking for an excuse to accuse someone of saying or doing something inappropriate. To the person offended about a ‘sensitive’ issue, whoever dares to have a different opinion is… racist. And as if that’s not enough, the perpetuation of ‘all cops are pigs’ is very backward-thinking, old, and cliché (and that comes from a guy who has been arrested quite a few times in his youth). If you think otherwise, when you get robbed or attacked, by all means, feel free not to call the police… they are pigs. Even though they are quite well known, I have attached two videos just in case you haven’t watched them, urging for generalisations to stop.

In case you forgot my third sore point mentioned above, that is none other than the echoing stigmata that Katrina hurricane has left to the people and city of New Orleans to this very day. I have an eerie feeling that in the future will have more films delving into the hair-raising details of the suffering of August 2005. Say, for example, a film on what the doctors had to do…

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2uaJ6HO / https://amzn.to/2FfVtEw

US: https://amzn.to/39p2nVY

Code 8 (2019): Crime / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A power enabled construction worker teams up with the wrong people in an effort to save his dying mother.

Canada strikes back! Only three months after Freaks (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/11/30/freaks-2019-drama-mystery-sci-fi/, Code 8 makes an appearance and leaves a lasting impression. Take the superpowers out and you are left with a strong existential drama about working-class people who try to survive one day at a time and a son who would do anything wrong under the Sun for his dying mom. Great performances from the cousins Stephen and Robbie Amell but also Kari Matchett, Laysla De Oliveira, Greg Bryk, Kyla Kane, and Vlad Alexis. Directing, editing (great opening sequence montage), photography, production design, visual and sound effects are of Hollywood standards, proving that the studios don’t need hundreds of millions to make a decent sci-fi. Also, the music nails it and it is not used as a means to tell you how to feel at all times. It is minimal as it is emotional. Through the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, the producers managed to gather over two million dollars from 28,400 backers. Both Freaks and Code 8 come from the Canadian film school and leave a different flavour to the one left to us by the X-men franchise. A round of applause for all cast and crew!!!

Code 8 spinoff series has already been announced by the film’s director Jeff Chan and writer Chris Paré. Really looking forward to it as there is still so much to unfold in terms of both story and character development.

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2steelj / https://amzn.to/2skNgfO

US: https://amzn.to/2ry5ObM

 

Bad Santa 2 (2016): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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Having never left the rock bottom, Willie follows again his angry sidekick and puts the Santa suit once more only, this time, to rob a Chicago charity.

Still hilarious, still politically incorrect, still Thornton and Cox! Once more, the starting monologue followed by the alley vomiting, mirror the same reality Willie still lives on, highly indicating that he learned nothing for his past mistakes and that his life never took off. Thankfully for us, this is the case and consequently, he accepts Marcus’ next job… alongside his mother. The dysfunction in the family shows straight away, and we, as the audience, get to enjoy the results.

Even though not as funny as its predecessor, Bad Santa 2 is a must-watch during the Christmas period and the perfect antidote against… soppy, yawnsome, dead-boring romance/comedies which you’d rather watch paint dry. Thornton and Cox are still the Willie and Marcus we love and Cathie Bates is a great addition to the cast! Extra round of applause deserves Brett Kelly for getting Thurman Merman’s physique to match his old self. Oh, and Christina Hendricks is as seductive as always…

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Qlgina

6 Underground (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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Six highly, uncommonly skilled – each in their own way – men and women have formed an anonymous team for the sole purpose of… making the world a better place.

Michael Bay does what Michael Bay does best. What do you expect from 6 Underground? Slo-mo? You got it. Slow-mo with car chases? But with also faster than you can blink cuts? You got it. Shots with choppers? You got it. From within choppers? Over the choppers? Against the sundown? With whirring blades (slo-mo of course)? Shots with men and women throwing punchlines at the brink of death, swapping to superficial drama, killers looking like they came out of underwear or fragrance ad? You. Got. It. All!

At a budget of $150 million, Netflix urges Bay to just destroy everything – preferably with explosions. Everything nice you see in the film will get destroyed. Simple as. Story-wise, the high levels of implausibility, improbability, and impossibility run through the film’s veins from the opening to the closing credits, making the Fast & Furious (2001- ) franchise look like a based-on-a-true-story. Meaning: The operations and the decisions taken throughout the operations are purely laughable, the chances of survival having suffered certain wounds are zero (much less keep running and jumping around, shooting, and kicking ass), the access to whatever they need, whenever they need it, the warp speed of getting from one country to the next… I can go on forever here! But… I have a favourite one: The brother’s speech causing the fastest revolution ever started in a film!!! The revolution started before even the speech ended. And, cinematically, guess how? Accompanied by pop, hybrid music, or whatever the hell it’s called nowadays, with lyrics calling to arms. I think I’m gonna stop here, you got the gist.

Here’s my two cents. Don’t take 6 Underground seriously for a minute. Know what you sign up for, sit down, relax, surround yourself with great company and horrible food, and enjoy the Bay style of filmmaking that makes all your problems disappear for two hours. This way, you’ll get to enjoy:

  • High octane, multiangular action sequences,
  • The destruction of everything looking fancy,
  • Entertainingly gruesome deaths,
  • Buildings and surroundings that are meant to be in one country but are shot in another,
  • Ryan Reynolds blatantly advertising his Gin,
  • Ryan Reynolds as an endless punchline machine,
  • Funnily foul language,
  • The “magnet sequence”,
  • “Rebellious” heroes and heroines who just came out of a Christian Dior and Calvin Klein photoshoot,
  • Transformers sound effects,
  • And an awesome soundtrack!