Shadow in the Cloud (2020): Action / Horror / War

A young, female WWII pilot boards on a fighter aircraft, but everything escalates when a creature infiltrates it.

The animation, in the beginning, is well-made but it shouldn’t be there. It has no place within the film and it gives away what is going to come next. I can’t guess its purpose for the life of me. There is a difference between foreshadowing an event and ruining the suspense. It’s like a self-mockery.

Straight after, like it started from the second act, the film’s visuals promise a horror that will raise more questions than answers but definitely, still, deserves the benefit of the doubt. There are two things that stand out positively immediately: Kit Fraser’s claustrophobic cinematography and Chloë Grace Moretz. Rumour has it that writer/director Roseanne Liang heavily rewrote Max Landis’ script (and removed him from the production) due to the latter having been accused of sexual misconducts. Regardless of the allegations, the heavy rewrites, kept the humongous plot holes, did nothing to favour the script, and heavily damaged the film with implausibility and charade. The best part of the film is from the moment the animation ends to the moment the gremlin gets inside the plane. From then on, everything goes to sh*t. Furthermore, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s electronic, new-age, ambient, space, cyberpunk music is beautifully composed but, in my humble opinion, is way out of context in a WWII movie. But then, everything else is anyway so, I don’t even know why I bother.

Films such as Hidden Figures (2016) empower women and honestly portray human kind’s fortitude. The rest is just Hollywood’s moronic way to try and milk the cow and, thankfully, gets nada in the end. Moretz is an amazing actress, Liang seems to have a spark for innovation, and I for one, bet that I will see them both in something extraordinary soon again.

Stay safe!

Kajillionaire (2020): Crime / Drama

Petty crime runs in the family so, when an attractive outsider joins them, everything goes.

Can something be funny and depressing at the same time? I was about to say other than Kajillionaire which is funny and depressing at the same time but it is not really funny. Or, is it? I am not entirely convinced how or if it was meant to be funny but I didn’t get it. In a way, and don’t quote me on that, it felt like it was borderline mocking mental illness. And whatever that was, the whole family had it!

Once that was established, it just dragged. I think in an attempt to switch genre? Or, maybe, in an attempt for the audience to experience Old Dolio having a change of heart? Whatever the reason might be, Kajillionaire fails to find meaning but, ultimately, piles up all the eccentricity it can get. For a crime/drama – as per IMDb anyway – the plot is less believable than Independence Day (1996). Other than the family’s mental state, there is no chance on Earth a girl like Melanie leaves the plane with such people and go along with their plans. Yes, she seemed like having a dead-end job, no friends or girlfriend, but, personally, I don’t know anyone who would leave that plane with them. But then, nothing really makes sense in the film so, I think that trying to rationalise surrealistic characters and situations is the wrong approach. Which begs the question, what is the right one?

Writer/Director Miranda July is a magnificent indie filmmaker but I cannot (also) understand how she approached so many producers, among others Brad Pitt, and A-List actors such as Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachael Wood, and Gina Rodriguez and got them onboard. What was the selling point? For the actors, I guess, is to try something different that not too many people will watch and be as awkward as they want. For the producers? They know they will lose whatever penny they put in and they still do it. And the recognition is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s just me not getting it and you find it far better than I think it is. I didn’t know how to feel throughout the whole film even though all I wanted was for Old Dolio and Melanie to find the love they deserved. And that is, at least, the film’s payoff.

Stay safe!

1BR (2019): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

A young woman, new to Los Angeles, ends up renting a place in a block of flats where the neighbours are not what they seem.

Not knowing anyone from the cast or crew or anything about the film itself, I gave it a shot just for that. I love indies, especially when I know nothing about them and feels like I should have. 1BR was meant to be one of them…

What starts as too coincidental, convenient, and questionable, such as the single, good looking, and kind neighbour, is followed by an interesting first plot point and a second act that promises something extremely sinister. That promise will get your undivided attention… but will almost instantly let you down as it doesn’t live up to it. Here’s the tricky part, though. If you wanted, that promise to be kept, it means that, one way or another, you are into some torture porn or similar so, this film is not for you. If, on the other hand, you were glad that that promise was not kept, it means that even the idea of the concept appalls you so, this film is not for you either. So, who is this film for then? Maybe, you can find a third category.

From where I stand, no half measure ever brought any decent results hence, no one likes them. You either go for it or you don’t. Any reservations on the script will be enormously amplified on the screen. To put it plainly, 1BR is not daring. It teases you with something that, eventually, does not offer. Nicole Brydon Bloom’s acting is more than decent but David Marmor’s script and directing fall into the half measure category. Two, respectively, “full measure” films that didn’t hold back were: The Invitation (2015) – review to follow, and Martyrs (2008): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/24/martyrs-2008-horror/. While it could have been The Invitation meets Martyrs, it isn’t. Too many variables should have been different for that to happen.

We can’t really have it both ways in life, and the same applies to films. What also applies to both is that we are free to choose but not free of the consequences.

Stay safe!

Redemption Day (2021): Action / Thriller

After his wife is kidnapped by terrorists, a war hero races against time to get her back.

I’ve written before about opening sequences and protracted shots and I’ve said that they raise the bar high for what comes next. In Redemption Day what comes next is, unfortunately, too American and too cliché for my standards so, it becomes the exception to the rule. Regarding the narrative, everything you are expecting to happen, does happen, the time you expect it to happen. There are no twists or no difficulties in completing the mission, really. The characters are forgettable, with the “good” ones being highly skilled, and the “bad” ones highly incompetent and stupid which makes an extreme disanalogy. The dialogue is worse than the “bad” ones mentioned above so, no further comment. Then, directing, acting, choreography, and editing, are mediocre, at best.

My distaste for the film has nothing to do with anything I’ve mentioned so far though. People do what they can, with what they have. My distaste is because of its propagandistic intentions. The film’s oversimplification of who is “good” and who is “bad” is borderline insulting. The world doesn’t work this way and Islam, or any other religion for that matter, has nothing to do with the monstrosities the human species is capable of. That is something that the film is trying hard to show but fails to do so.

I would prefer if co-writer/director Hicham Hajji made a film on the two innocent, young, female, Scandinavian hikers who were found beheaded in Morocco two years ago. That would be a challenge, wouldn’t it? No superfluous heroism, no formulaic scripts, no childish gunfights, no need for constant background music to dictate to the audience how to feel, and no goddamn propaganda that nobody needs. Filmmaking should be, among others, challenging, intriguing, and innovating. As fun and entertaining the days of Commando (1985) may have been, they are long gone and all of us have moved on. I hope some studios do the same.

Stay safe!

P.S. Andy Garcia has no place in this film.

The Mist (2007): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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When a mist out of nowhere brings with it monsters beyond anyone’s imagination, a diverse group of people in a supermarket must do whatever they can to protect themselves from the monsters or from each other.

Probably an unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations. The film cuts right to it when at the same time develops the characters and brilliantly builds up the suspense. And when the mist covers the city and everyone’s trapped in the unknown… that is the calm before the storm. A calm that cuts your breath short only to take it entirely when the storm unleashes, gradually, what is beyond everyone’s imagination. Admittedly, the visual effects are not what they should have been but, please, see past their mediocrity.

The narrative is astonishing. It feels like the world’s schools of thought are gathered in a supermarket and argue realistically as you and I would have if we were stranded, surrounded by such extra-dimensional calamity. Every character in the store is relatable. Love them, loath them, side with them, or mock them… they constitute society as we know it. They form the mob, they become demagogy. See how the tide changes, how easily everyone shows their true colours when the sh*t hits the fan. Where would you stand – or think you would?

Frank Darabond, after masterfully adapting The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) adapts yet another Stephen King novel, delving into the human nature while toying with the idea of hellish dimensions and man playing God. Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Melissa McBride, and Alexa Davalos, most of them frequent Darabond collaborators, side with each other or go against one another and offer you an unforgettable thrill.

As I said, stick to the psychological side of it, turn the blind eye to the digital VFX, and place yourself in that supermarket. As for the end, I have written an article on soundtracks and powerful cinematic moments so, feel free to check it out only after watching the film as it gives away the one of a kind Greek-tragic-irony-like twist: http://theworldofapu.com/powerful-sequences-soundtracks/

Stay safe!

Welcome the Stranger (2018): Drama / Mystery

The unexpected arrival of a young man’s sister in his mansion will make both siblings express feelings they have been suppressing for years.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people mistakenly calling experimental films or films with nontraditional narrative “artistic” as if traditional, formulaic narrative, namely Hollywood’s, isn’t. Narrative is narrative regardless of what you think of it or call it. Either way, it can be both effective and ineffective. And what might be ineffective for you can be really effective for someone else. Objectivity finds no application in art.

Welcome the Stranger follows, definitely, a nontraditional narrative where nothing is directly explicated (spoon-fed) but rather subliminally implied. In such storytelling, the director, who most of the times also happens to be the writer, is meant to explain their vision to the actors/actresses who, in their turn, are meant to transgress that vision and be part of something that will be, ultimately, interpreted in numerous ways. For example, see what happens at 00:31:50. Is there an explanation given? Is there an explanation needed?

Producer/writer/director Justin Kelly has created a performance-driven mystery/drama where the drama is caused by an unknown or unimportant to the viewer source hence, the mystery and the lack of our understanding regarding their paranoid acting. Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones, and (also producer) Riley Keough play their parts extremely well, giving justice to Kelly’s vision and offering uneasy entertainment for the audience.

Trivial over-dramatization, unnoticed importance, involuntary(?) incestuous attraction, reality’s disillusionment, and oneiric time/space convolution are nothing but a few elements that, combined, they pay tribute to David Lynch’s legacy in the 21st century, and synthesise a nano fragment of our minds’ filmic projection.

Stay safe!

P.S. Abbey Lee and Riley Keough appeared in Mad Max: Road Fury (2015), and Caleb Landry Jones and Abbey Lee appeared the same year in To the Night (2018).

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

The Midnight Sky (2020): Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

A dying scientist, based at a remote arctic research centre, needs to warn a satellite’s crew members not to return to Earth due to a mysterious cataclysmic disaster.

People sent me a lot of negativity about it, negativity that bore a lot of resemblance to Ad Astra (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/12/05/ad-astra-2019-adventure-drama-mystery/. Now, I’m not saying that that was a perfect film but it wasn’t remotely as bad as they made it to be. How about this one, then? Does it worth your time?

Producer/actor/director George Clooney has put his heart and soul to it. He might not be appearing enough lately – his last feature film was Money Monster (2016) – but in front of the camera he is as great as he meticulous behind it. Suspense’s favourite narrative technique is “delay of resolution”. The journey of Augustine and Iris to the weather station will make your heart skip a lot more than a beat as will the meteor shower’s sequence in space. Extra credits go to the sinking container scene. Both the journey on Earth but also in space, go through various tribulations and the dramatic parts in between will give you the time to bond with the characters. Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and introducing Caoilinn Springall, give amazing performances and enhance both the drama and the suspense.

But I believe the film’s strongest suit is the narrative structure where the fabula and the shyuzet are organised in such manner that reveal only what you need to know, when you need to know it. Keep postponing what you want to know. What has happened will not be revealed to you that easily and will you definitely need to read between the lines. The levels of knowledge vary throughout the film. You don’t know exactly what Augustine knows but you still know a lot more than the crew does. On the other hand, you know almost everything that is happening on the satellite when Augustine knows nothing but you know as much as they do when it comes to the global disaster. No matter what the narration remains restricted at all times and you are not the omniscient spectator you would like to be.

After most of it is said and done, it all comes down to what your expectations are prior to hitting ‘play’. It is not an action film. It is a cosmic journey to finding a place to start anew and it an esoteric journey to remorse, redemption, and our deepest regrets. Yet, people found the ending… unfulfilling.

It is not the ending that is unfulfilling. It is the connection with ourselves, and, consequently, the connection with the people we love and they love us back.

Stay safe!

Honest Thief (2020): Action / Crime / Drama

Having met love, a bank robber decides to quit, turn himself in, and cut a deal but nothing goes according to plan.

My issues with the film started with the first act as everything happens too fast, too conveniently. The character development is not even minimal. It jumps straight into it not having shown us how good he is in what he does or anything really about him. Then, he just happens to move into a new town and, right off the bat, he finds a single, attractive woman around his age who, cut to a year later, she decides to move in with him. And then he wants to surrender. I found it like no rapport is build whatsoever. It feels as if no investment in character or story development has been made.

Past the interesting first plot point though and moving into the second act, I must say that things get a lot more… engaging. The action is solid, the explanations given are adequate even convincing, the acting is just about right, and the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh appealing. The story is still not very factual but well shot and well edited, and entertaining nonetheless. With them, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, and Robert Patrick complete the film’s interesting cast. Of course, the one that steals the show is none other than… Tazzie!

Finally, most of what you think would happen, does actually happen, leaving nothing much to talk about past the end credits. Regardless, give it a go. For the type of action it is, and in times like these, Honest Thief will keep you entertained and make you forget for a couple of hours how many new cases were announced today.

Stay safe!

The Cured (2017): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

The once-infected world by a disease that was turning people into zombies has now been cured, but those who had turned face now society’s discrimination and wrath for all the things they did.

Reinstatement, remorse, forgiveness, redemption, tolerance, stigmatisation, and family are the exceptional qualities that separate The Cured from the mainstream Hollywood post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak calamity.

I have to thank my mate Gary for reminding me of this one, commenting on #Alive (2020) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/12/12/alive-2020-action-drama-horror/. Acting as a social commentary and fragile post-postapocaliptic metaphor for the real world we currently live in, without getting into historical or sociological analyses, The Cured is indirectly associated with the Irish modern history but also the whole world’s rehabilitation system and the stigma one carries trying to reinstate.

Writer/director David Freyne has done a brilliant job behind the camera, and Sam Keeley gives the justice broken Senan deserves. Actor/producer Elliot Page has always been amazing in everything he’s been in and his acting is a force to be reckoned with.

The (North and South) Irish film school of horror is making huge steps over the last few years, rightfully earning its stripes in the industry. If you are not familiar with Sea Fever (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/ make sure you spend some time to get around them.

The film’s title would have worked equally well as The Cur(s)ed.

Stay safe!