Relic (2020): Drama / Horror

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Mother and daughter visit the grandmother in her remote house but her suspected dementia’s sinister effects will make them question their own sanity.

One of the best psychological horrors with one of the most WTF endings in recent years. The moment I realised it’s Australian – huge fan of the Australian film school – I thought to myself: “That’s gonna be heavy.” Guess what? It was!

It all starts with Natalie Erika James’ and Christian White’s amazing script and ends with James’ exceptional directing. Charlie Sarroff’s claustrophobic cinematography will cut your breath short and the hair-raising performances by Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote will make you feel how they feel. Nevin, especially, makes one hell of a scary grandma that will crawl under your skin.

The film’s gut-wrenching psychological horror is the outcome of the fictional paranoia which directly derives from a real-life, agonising drama. It is the terror of what happens to so many people when they grow old while all of us wish that it is not us that it will happen to. And you would never guess who’s wearing the producer’s hat on this one. Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo Brothers. Who would know…

Relic is a bone-chilling, metaphorical horror/drama, following (thankfully) no Hollywood narrative, offering no easy way outs, no glorified, ephemeral pseudo-heroes, and no cheap jump-scares. It is the proud representation of Australia’s film school. A school that teaches how to think outside the box and make films as harsh as life itself.

Stay safe!

The Old Guard (2020): Action / Fantasy

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A group of immortal mercenaries is been set up and hunted down, but together they’ll take down anyone who stands in their way.

Well-shot! Good job by Gina Prince-Bythewood as international films, especially of that magnitude, can never be easy. Too many locations, too much cast and crew, too many permissions to shoot, and too many visual effects. I believe it’s her most ambitious film to date so, well done! Charlize Theron and her multinational/multiracial team of mercenaries create great chemistry in front of the camera, offering plenty of action but also laughter when they take out and wield their weapon of choice.

Now, I would say that the film’s score is not a perfect match. Maybe I kept having the graphic novel in mind while watching, and, while reading the comic back in the day, that’s not the music I had in mind. I can understand that the film’s target audience is not me so, for younger people maybe it makes more sense. It is very well edited though (on that music), so the rhythm and pace compensate.

Before hitting “play” remember: This is a Skydance & Netflix production. The Old Guard follows the standard, New Hollywood narrative, aiming at an audience that has no interest in Italian neorealism. It is entertaining though and I enjoyed all the effort put from everyone in front and behind the camera. I hope you do as well.

Stay safe!

The Way Back (2020): Drama / Sport

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A man is offered to coach the high school basketball team that he used to play twenty-five years ago, but personal suffering and alcoholism will only exacerbate his problems.

I watched The Way Back based on assumptions. I thought it would be a Disney-like film about a man who struggles and through the kids’ basketball team finds redemption where, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after, the family watching it turns off the TV, and everyone goes to bed with a smile. Without revealing too much, I will tell you that this is not the case. Not really. Watching it, I found the lines were blurring between the plot and the subplot. Is it him and the basketball team the plot and his suffering the subplot? Or the other way around? I’ll leave this one with you, food for thought.

The Way Back has many strengths. Ben Affleck, who has faced himself several personal issues, alcoholism included, is always mastering roles such as this. Roles such as this made him famous and films like these are the reason his presence in front and behind the camera is still holding strong. Director Gavin O’Connor does a brilliant job making it an existential drama and I guess his experience from his previous drama/sport Warrior (2011) helped a lot. Then, all kids from the team deserve a round of applause as their performance is astonishing. A very well-executed film with an ultimately dramatic soundtrack.

The Way Back took a huge hit at the box office as every film did that premiered in March 2020. And it may not be Warrior, but it definitely deserves your attention. Yes, there are Disney elements in it when it comes to the basketball team and their effort to climb to the top. But when it comes to daily waking up to an “intolerable reality”, an HBO-esque feeling knocks the walls down, revealing you that in real life there is no easy way out. And, some times, unfortunately, not even a way back…

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Capone (2020): Biography / Crime / Drama

Capone

Having spent 10 years in prison, Capone gets to spend the last year of his life at his mansion, suffering from dementia and visions of a violent past.

A few people asked me to watch it and tell them what I think. Well, here it is…

There are four (4) different points that need to be looked at rather than overlooked: The most obvious is Tom Hardy who, no matter who he portrays, he portrays them with effortless artistry. So, don’t pick up the stones yet. My next point is the A-list cast who supports him equally well and poses no threat to the film whatsoever. Then, it’s the makeup. Now, here I can see that you are looking at the stones again. If I had started watching the film ten minutes into it, I would think it’s a zombie or vampire Capone. The problem escalates and climaxes with the fourth point which is the writing that is all over the place. It seems like it parodies Capone’s end, and I can understand how this can be somehow offensive even if it’s regarding a criminal like him.

Writer/editor/director Josh Trank thought it would be a good idea to combine approaches taken by David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick and portray the well-known Italian-American as if he’s walking between two worlds. In such light, a major issue becomes the main genre that officially characterises the film and, consequently, the viewers’ expectations. As someone who doesn’t know much about Capone’s last year, I didn’t see it as biographical as I didn’t see any crime either (that one shooting doesn’t count).

Trank was somehow lucky – even though that might be an inaccurate term. Should the film had a theatrical release, chances are that it would have suffered a similar or worse fate than his last film five years ago. My humble opinion is that he is a great independent director who faces a lot of issues when it comes to collaborating with major studios. Chronicle (2012) is a solid proof of that.

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Da 5 Bloods (2020): Adventure / Drama / War

Da 5 Bloods

Four African American veterans return to Vietnam for the first time after the war ended to find their fallen brother and leader and claim something they consider rightfully theirs.

The opening sequence hits the nail! Right off the bat, you know exactly Spike Lee’s angle on this one. From Ali’s heroic statement to the historic footage that follows, Da 5 Bloods promises to be yet another Lee’s film way ahead of its time. But it isn’t. It most certainly is not. So what happened?

The story is quite an adventure. A sweet and sour and powerful one. The heroes are relatable and so is their background. Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Jonathan Majors deliver powerful performances. Furthermore, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is gripping. So, again, what happened? I’ll start with the music. For a film that mocks Rambo, it surely shares a similar score that accompanies it throughout most of its moments, killing the emotion. Then, there are two major problems. The lesser problem is the editing which can make or break every film. And in this case, it is at least mediocre. So, what can be worse than mediocre editing? The script! The one too many weak subplots overshadow the main plot that has one too many gimmicks. The gold’s and body’s discovery, and the team arriving at the right place at the right time are just the tip of the iceberg. Before and after that, it just remains unreasonably and purposelessly convoluted. Shame really. Real shame. Should you decide to watch it, enjoy Lindo not holding back one bit! The best parts of the film.

Stay safe!

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!

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!