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.