Extraction (2020): Action / Crime / Thriller

Extraction

A self-destructive, black market mercenary signs up for a deadly mission where allies and enemies are difficult to tell apart.

I’m gonna start with the bad news: The script, unequivocally, has more holes than Swiss cheese. Something that, unavoidably, leads to clichés. Without wanting to decimate both the story and the plot, know what you sign up for! Two hours of standard Hollywood, action narrative, seriously lacking plausibility, and character depth.

Now for the good news: As a representative example of cinema of attractions, Extraction‘s mid-fighting sequence, where everyone is after Tyler and the kid, the seemingly almost-12-minute, protracted shot is brilliantly made. This type of filmmaking is challenging as hundreds or thousands of people put their magic touch to look as impressive. A lot of people are getting injured in front of the camera, and a lot of people are working endlessly day and night behind it. What’s more, Chris Hemsworth nails his part as the tough as nails guy who suffers internally more than he suffers when he gets run over and shot. Sam Hargrave’s directorial debut who has come a long way from a stunt double (Chris Evans’ as Captain America), to stunt choreographer to here. And been produced by the Russo Brothers, I can assume that MCU is indeed… a family. I admire people like Hargrave. He reminds me of other successful stunts turned directors and producers such as Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and Zoë Bell. It is a hopeful sign that talent and hard work pay off.

So, who is this film for? For everyone who wants to forget our deeply damaged reality, consisting of shameless hypocrites and cowards who found themselves in power – or represent it. Turn off reality for a bit and see how popcorn entertainment can serve its purpose. My heart goes out to the people suffering. But remember:

“[…] Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out, keep ya head up…. and handle it.” ― Tupac Shakur

Stay safe!

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The Last Fare (2020): Short / Drama

The Last Fare

An angry taxi driver’s last fare will make him reevaluate his own life.

Camera over the shoulder and off to a tour around the city… just until sunset. Directorial debut for Anil Bajaj who pens the script alongside Jeff Etheridge, sits on the director’s chair, and jumps straight to his cab to give one last fare. Low budget existential drama, anchored in the essence of time, surrounded by the concepts of respect, understanding, appreciation, and the importance of knowing where we stand in this world. Surely, with a bit of extra funding, Bajaj would have unfolded a longer ride, and I for one would love to watch what could have been the denouement of a feature film, fully unfolding Sonny’s rage and frustration, hoping to lead to catharsis (watch and see for yourselves).

The mise-en-scène is meticulous and the editing carefully controls the pace and rhythm. Selectively, the piano accompanies and emotionally invests in the narrative, without dictating how the audience should feel. Last but definitely not least, Sherri Eakin becomes the relatable heroine and personification of loneliness that puts us in Maggie’s shoes, reassessing all the could haves, the should haves, and would haves of our life.

Become the omniscient passenger and take the ride with them. After all, as Ithaca teaches us, it is rather the journey that matters and not the destination.

Stay safe!

The Roads Not Taken (2020): Drama

The Roads Not Taken

How things are and how things could have been, happen at the same time in a man’s head, making his daughter carry the burden.

The power of independent cinema. The delivery of a beautiful yet heart-wrenching story told by relatable heroes, suffering like you and me. Ella Fanning tries desperately to follow Javier Bardem’s torture, costing her more than he will ever understand. With them, two brilliant actresses and women, Salma Hayek, and Laura Linney complete the ensemble, putting their final touch. Second collaboration between composer / editor / writer / director Sally Potter and Fanning after Ginger and Rosa (2012) with the former proving she is still evolving and the latter still promising a successful career.

When you get confused in the end, ask yourselves, whose story was it? And that will answer whose story it became. There is also a subtle message. You never know where, when, why, or by who you will find kindness so, be kind to everyone. Regardless of how they look or how they sound.

Stay safe!

Sea Fever (2019): Horror / Sci-Fi

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A doctoral student joins the crew of a trawler that encounters an unknown species which infects their water supply.

The photography is the first thing that will get your attention. Dark, with a claustrophobic mise-en-scène, it will captivate you, as well “trap” you in that trawler and “force” you to take the journey with the crew. The editing’s brilliant match cuts connect very interesting visuals that move the story forward keeping only what is necessary and leading you to the third act’s suspenseful denouement. Hermione Corfield is the right choice for the awkward, antisocial, doctoral student whose acting adds extra believability to the film’s scientific, yet realistic horror. The rest of the cast also deserves a massive “BRAVO” as they make their respective roles utterly relatable. Writer / director Neasa Hardiman brings to life an excellent Irish horror/sci-fi and, I for one, look forward to watching more of her future endeavours.

Yes, you’ve probably seen films like Ghost Ship (1980), Virus (1999), or Triangle (2009) but Sea Fever has it’s own story to tell and it’s highly recommended. It escapes (for the most part) the Hollywood standards and cliches in both character and story development and creates an intriguing premise that will keep you on the edge of your seats.

Unfortunately, our dramatic and devastating reality makes Sea Fever very timely and adds even further realism to its horrific theme and our even more horrific reality.

Stay safe!

Fantasy Island (2020): Adventure / Fantasy / Horror

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An island that has the power to grant your greatest wish, welcomes a group of people who have no idea what they signed up for.

I’ll start with the good news: I didn’t know what to expect so, you would never guess… I had no expectations! Now, for the opposite of good news: The amazing story behind Fantasy Island is inundated with nothing but American clinches, that ruin the aforementioned amazing story.

The American cliches include, but are not limited to: stereotypical characters, stereotypical punchlines, stereotypical resolutions and revelations, and stereotypical editing and redirecting. Hands down, the dramatic fantasy that stands out is Maggie Q’s (Gwen) who, by the way, is a brilliant actress and an astonishing woman. But the genres are too mixed and so are the viewer’s feelings towards everything that’s happening. It is not a disservice to the Fantasy Island (1977) series but it has nothing much to do with it either. If you want to watch a great blend of such genres, The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is what you need to watch!

A real shame as Fantasy Island stresses two important facts of life:

  • Careful what you wish for!
  • Your so-called liberties in life have a limit; where your fellow human beings’ begin…

Stay safe!

 

Underwater (2020): Action / Drama / Horror

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Following an inexplicable, devastating earthquake, the crew of an oceanic drilling company must find a way to the surface while their whole facility collapses and creatures they have never seen before are after them.

This is the first time I watch a film, feeling like starting with the second act. I mean, as if the first act has been completely edited out. I would really like to get the shooting script and see if the script faded in this way or this “innovation” took place in the cutting room. Anyway, that’s the first strike right off the bat. The film’s main problem starts before that… in Hollywood. The vast majority of Hollywood producers never truly understood H. P. Lovecraft’s vision. They never grasped what the Cthulhu Mythos is. I might be wrong here but, as kids, they never really turned the lights off and scared themselves sh*tless with his cosmic horror. As adults, they only saw his stories as the cash cow; a means to make money! And that’s why the results are such.

Lovecraft’s stories are meant to inspire fear. His creatures cannot be fought. They hunt you and they haunt you and there is nothing you can do about it other than run and pray. And even then, the denouement will most likely not favour you. My second-best Lovecraftian adaptation is Color out of Space (2019) – https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/02/07/color-out-of-space-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and even though there were unresolved issues, director Richard Stanley managed to conceptualise his vision. But my number one old-time favourite adaptation still remains John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/. Only if you watch it (or if you have) you will know what I am talking about. Having said that, the visual and sound effects teams did an amazing job with the creature(s). I must admit that that was really impressive. As Jessica Henwick always is. This isn’t William Eubank’s fault. He is a brilliant director and I look forward to watching his next couple of upcoming projects – I loved The Signal (2014).

In the world of Lovecraft, there is no action. Only struggle to remain sane while desperately trying to find any way out of it.

Stay safe!

The Rhythm Section (2020): Action / Drama / Mystery

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After losing her family in a terrorist attack, a young woman goes to extreme lengths to find and confront the people behind it.

I was really looking forward to this one but when it was released all hell broke loose. I will assume that that was the case for thousands of people and, mainly, that that was the reason for “one of the worst box office openings in history” – Bad Boys for Life (2020) though was released a fortnight prior to it and triumphed.

So, as that cannot be the only reason, I’m trying to get the full picture here. The story itself is not original but there is no such thing anyway so, my guess is that there are two problems. One, lies with the low level of espionage and the information surrounding it. People are found just… easily. Secondly, Stephanie was taken in… easily. “B” thought she caused big trouble with her actions, he didn’t believe in her skills, yet, he started training her straight away. That didn’t really make much sense.

Having said that, the film is well shot. The photography is dark, the editing advances the story and drives it forward, Reed Morano’s directing is challenging, to the point where I would say exceptional, and Blake Lively proves to be the up and coming mercenary / assassin. The car chase is the film’s trademark and will get you on the edge of your seat. Also, the realistic fight sequences add extra believability to the heroine’s journey.

The film’s challenges are understandable but with James Bond‘s producers behind it, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get made. Again, my humble, unsolicited opinion is that the problem was the script. More time should have been spent on her acceptance, her training, and the difficulty to acquire the targets. Morano and Lively put a tremendous effort and that needs to be recognised.

Stay safe!

The Outsider (2020): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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When solid, undisputed evidence points at a man committing a despicable crime, family, friends, and law enforcement try to determine how he could have done it… when he wasn’t there.

One of the best Stephen King adaptations with the HBO guarantee! Ben Mendelsohn and Jason Bateman work brilliantly both in front and behind the camera and with them, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Mary Winningham, Paddy Considine, Yul Vazquez, Julianne Nicholson, Marc Menchaca, and Cynthia Erivo fight against an… asymmetric threat! A threat that only HBO would build up so much and so meticulously that you have no other option but to actually believe in it eventually as much as the series’ biggest “Doubting Thomas”.

The acting is gripping and the episodes’ cliffhangers, phenomenal. The screen will suck you in while trying to establish what would you do, how could you explain it, and the ways in which you would have acted. The formation of the aforementioned unlikely alliance will take you to a journey where you’ll be constantly craving for more as the deeper they dig, the darker and eerier the rabbit hole turns.

Even though it can’t get scarier than watching the news, turn the lights off, forget our soul-sucking reality, and enjoy the horror that is meant to entertain you rather than harm you.

Stay safe!

Unorthodox (2020): Drama

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Without saying anything to anyone, a young American, Orthodox Jewish woman leaves her husband and her community to find her own path as far as possible.

Who would know that religion can liberate as much as it can oppress? Well, everyone did! Yet, here we are. Proudly marching through the 21st century, forcing people to abide by what, potentially, non-existing people, over two thousand years ago, claimed, dictated, established, and then legislated in the name of God.

Because, what a sin to want to make your own mistakes in life. To see the world for what it really is. To regret things you’ve done but also things you haven’t. I mean, what a disgrace to like someone of the same sex. To be of a different colour or simply have different beliefs that you haven’t imposed on anyone. For it is an anomaly to consider “your people” the people who have your back in life and they choose to be there for and with you, accepting you for the person you really are.

Esty’s story is a heart-wrenching one. It is a story that will make you doubt, rethink, and/or reevaluate your decisions, your choices, your fears and insecurities, your freedom. A huge BRAVO to Netflix for creating this mini-series. A huge BRAVO to all cast and crew for working so hard to such detail and especially to Deborah Feldman and Maria Schrader. And a huge BRAVO to Shira Haas, whose gripping performance shocked us to the core.

Wake up, chase, and materialise your own dreams. No one else will do it for you coz no one else can. This is Esty’s story. The everyday heroine who developed the most amazing superpower; the ability to become who she always wanted to be.

Stay safe!

Bloodshot (2020): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A soldier comes back from a mission, gets murdered, but is brought back to life with superpowers and now he seeks revenge.

I’m not going to slay it. The film suffered irreparable damage from the pandemic but was not going to perform well anyway. Director Dave Wilson is a VFX director and it showed straight away on his feature debut. The film’s narrative doesn’t flow and the editing, probably for production reasons, is trying to pick up the pieces and put them together. It didn’t even mimic or attempt to better the à la The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) repeat mode part to enhance and engage the audience with Bloodshot’s “nightmare”. Toby Kebbell’s and Guy Pearce’s charisma didn’t get the chance to shine at all as, once again, the narrative didn’t do anyone any favours.

Films like Bloodshot work as reminders that even if the original source is a best selling graphic novel (Valiant’s in this instance), this merely means that the respective film will be as successful. “Don’t judge a book by its film”, I read somewhere. It’s a shame, the film was doomed to take a big hit either way.

I would like to conclude by taking my hat off to the VFX department as they couldn’t have done it better and the result of their work is highly impressive.