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 Art of My Scars (2016): Documentary / Short

The Art of My Scars

The chronicle of a girl who decided to become a transgender man and learned to express himself and overcome his tribulations through art.

Show me a person who claims they have no skeletons in their closet and I’ll show you a liar.

Writer/director James Land follows his fellow Devonian Kay Jane Browning who got mocked, bullied, and beaten up as a little girl only to grow up a proud young man who transcended both genders’ limitations, and became a person of his own; an artist.

It doesn’t take money to tell your story. It takes to be truthful to it. It takes to say it out loud to feel liberated. Let haters laugh at you, among others, they are only shameful, dishonest, and deceiptive. Because the rest of the world will follow you, engage with you, and give you a standing ovation for who you really are. Hats off to both James and Kay for bringing this story to the surface. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/TheArtofMyScars/

Watching Kay’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it our generation who’s gonna put an end to discrimination? Against people who just look different than we are. Against people who are physically and/or mentally attracted to whoever they choose to? Against people who just happen to believe in something different than we do? Is it gonna be us who’s gonna make this world welcome to EVERYONE?

Show me a person who found the courage and strength to reveal their skeletons in their closet and I’ll show you a hero.

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!

Forgotten (2017): Mystery / Thriller

Forgotten

Things take an unexpected turn for a family after a young man sees his older brother getting abducted and comes back days later with no memory of what happened, acting like a different person.

Narrative like only the Koreans know how to develop. Dramaturgy that knows no boundaries and is unconditionally unleashed to shock you to your core. Huge comeback from writer/director Hang-jun Jang who seems like not taking particular interest in the film industry. Regardless of the reasons, and even though it flew a bit under the radar, Forgotten is the type of film that will get your undivided attention. You cannot miss a thing otherwise you’ll have even more questions. Very intricate with numerous twists and turns, Forgotten does not hold any punches. It might not be Oldboy (2003) but it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

The South Korean film industry (Hallyuwood, informally) is a dominant player in the market. Partially, yes, because the government is heavily investing in it but also due to the produced films’ impact globally. Money might open a plethora of doors but it is the sheer talent that walks such filmmakers through them, stirring the focus once more towards the beautiful artistic side of the industry and taking it away from the ugly scandalous one that we have all had enough with.

P.S. I didn’t know it was a Netflix film until I accidentally stumbled upon the information on IMDb – no logos in the opening or closing credits.

P.P.S. That’s for you cuz! Thanks for the recommendation!

P.P.S. Jiyoung, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. If you have, why didn’t you tell me about it??? 🙂

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!

The Lodge (2019): Drama / Horror / Thriller

The Lodge

Two children are snowed in at a remote lodge with their soon-to-be stepmom who, when strange occurrences start happening, her dark past resurfaces.

Where did that come from?! The Lodge skipped the radars and out of the blue appeared to catch you off guard and restore your faith in the horror genre. The first act’s inciting incident will move the story forward by taking your breath away (I wish I could tell you more). The claustrophobic mise-en-scène will give you no choice but to get trapped in the lodge with them. No cheap jump scares here. Just pure psychological horror! A must-watch for every horror fan!

The amazing Riley Keough has exceptional chemistry with Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh, delivering bone-chilling performances. I just wish Alicia Silverstone had more screen time. A huge round of applause goes also to writer Sergio Casci and writers / directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz who brought us the also shocking horror Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Gary, mate… you’re gonna love this one!

Ioanna mou, I wish I was there to watch it with you.

Stay safe!

The Hidden Face (2011): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

The Hidden Face.jpg

Strange occurrences start happening when an orchestra conductor decides to move on with his life after his girlfriend ostensibly split up with him and suddenly disappeared.

Before I start saying anything, I want you to know that I was skeptical for the first half an hour. A skepticism that faded away past the first act.

It’s been years since I wanted to watch it and I’m glad I finally got the time. I’ll start with the acting which is shockingly convincing. Excellent job by all actors and actresses who convey the drama, the thrill and the horror portrayed, especially Clara Lago. Director Andrés Baiz handles the story cautiously through very restricted narrative so he doesn’t reveal the inciting incident until the time is right. And when he does, he makes sure that, through the editing, all information is very tightly revealed for what is about to happen. Of course, the round of applause starts with Hatem Khraiche’s suspenseful story.

If you are wondering why I was skeptical in the beginning of the film, I will only say that if past events are integral to the story and will be revealed to us anyway, we are accustomed to flashbacks opposed to getting the whole story at once and distract us from the main plot. Only later on it made sense from the editing’s point of view. It might sound incoherent as a sentence now but please watch it – without knowing anything – and think about it.

Stay safe!

Angel of Mine (2019): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

Angel of Mine.jpg

Years after losing her daughter in a fire, a woman’s mental state takes a turn for the worse when she starts thinking that she is still alive.
Have you ever started watching a film not knowing anything about it other than something, down the line, somewhere is going to really go sideways and you just don’t know what that is?

Well, Angel of Mine happens to be one of them. A constant agony of what Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) is gonna totally screw up to the highest degree. The success of the film relies on that and it does indeed achieve it. Part of the reason is because kids are involved and part of it is because adults like her are involved.

As the slow-burn escalates, while nothing really substantial happens, you won’t stop wondering how far is she gonna take it?! And then it’s the ending… but I’m gonna leave that up to you. My only comment is that Fatal Attraction (1987) was that successful because of that kind of escalation; that climax. Anyhow, congratulations to both Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski for their remarkable performances.

Over the years I have convinced myself that a film should not have a single mood from the beginning till the end. Angel of Mine is unsettling and dead creepy throughout. And even though that’s not a plus, the abyss of the human mind, the vastness of its capabilities, the infinite goodness, but also its unfathomable limits to cause pain in any shape or form can be terrifying.

Stay safe!

The Corridor (2010): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

The Corridor.jpg

A group of friends gathers to spend a typical “cabin the woods” weekend in a remote area but they discover a phenomenon that will make them descend to paranoia.

Film Industry: One of the most rewarding yet inconsistent industries out there. See director Evan Kelly, for example. After directing The Corridor, his feature debut, he vanished. And the film did actually well. So, why? Shame, whatever the reason may be.

About the film now… A just over an hour and a half Canadian, indie, low-budget, slow-burn thriller which takes half of that time to kick in. Something that begs the question, how much patience do you have? If you do have it, and you watch past the pleasantries at the bonding part, it becomes realistically suspenseful. Everyone reacts to “the corridor” the way you and I, potentially, would have. Until paranoia takes over!

You will not encounter any Hollywood conventions here, something that increases the unpredictability and, consequently, the suspense. The acting though is not favouring the film and, in the end, it looks like the script is losing track of how it started or where it wanted to go. Unfortunately, the photography doesn’t help much either whereas the editing is doing its best to stitch it together.

I know… I started by praising it and then my review went down the hill. I really did like the story but the script’s and the film’s development in the Production stage came out a lot poorer than it was probably intended in Preproduction. So, does it worth your time? I’m not saying you will definitely like it but if you are up for a different cinematic rhythm, cliche-free, then this might be the one you are looking for. Or not. I for one, I’m glad I gave it a chance despite its flaws.

Stay safe!

Castle Freak (1995): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Castle Freak.jpg

After inheriting a castle in Italy, a man moves there with his family to start anew, only to face unimaginable horrors created by an eerie and sinister presence.

Fancy watching a loosely-based-on-a-Lovecraft’s-short-story-B-movie? And by B-movie, I mean following-all-the-80s-conventions-kitschy-as-hell! Damn, that film took me back years… Castle Freak is exactly what you would and should expect from the poster above. Yes, it is that enjoyable and it’ll take you down the memory lane or will introduce you to the 80s and early 90s horror era where plotholes do not matter and mean nothing. Third collaboration between writer/director Stuart Gordon, and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton after Re-aninator (1985), proving how well they perform together in front and behind the camera – all three based on Lovecraft’s stories. Crampton is a veteran in Lovecraftian adaptations and, consequently, one of my favourite actresses.

It is definitely not the best adaptation – I’ve elaborated extensively on that issue – but you may as well just watch it as a standalone. It will definitely take your mind off things and… horrifically entertain you.

Stay safe!