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.

Mara (2018): Crime / Horror / Thriller

A female psychologist who assists the police in a series of murders comes across an ancient myth of a demon who causes sleep paralysis.

Hollywood… more often than not, it can be seen as a meat grinder. You put the meat into the funnel, and thin stands of that meat come out. There is no chance you put the meat in and something else comes out. Mara is that expected outcome. You know what is going happen, when is going to happen and there are no twists. The, whatever, attempt to surprise the viewer is simply doomed. Because both character and story development are based on clichés, and so is editing and sound – hence, the unfortunate jump scares. Don’t blame these departments though. It’s always the narrative that dictates the techniques.

I know there are reviewers who love annihilating films like Mara. I don’t. So, in a respectful manner, I will share with you my humble opinion, in one sentence: Mara is disjointed from possible every aspect. Olga Kurylenko has come a long way and her acting skills are remarkable so really look forward to seeing her in something like… what Andre Basin considered as cinema. Craig Conway delivers a powerful performance but he does’t have much to work with, really. Extra credits go to James Edward Barker and his impressive original score that finds no place in any of the epidermic attempts to scare or sensitize.

Stay safe!

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!

Spell (2020): Horror / Thriller

A family of four land crashes over the Appalachian mountains but when the man wakes up prisoner, injured, and alone in a sinister house, he’ll do everything in his power to rescue his family.

Has there ever been a comedy about the Appalachian mountains? Other than it was a horror, I didn’t really know anything about Spell. I thought was going to be about white inbred people who do… what white inbred people do, but boy was I wrong. Imagine a lovely Southern African-American, Christian community except that they are not lovely and they are not Christians. Kudos though to Loretta Devine for her amazing performance.

I think it started off decently and then it became somewhat pointless. Actually, now that I have watched it, I feel like I need to know more about why both black and white are depicted in such manner in these places. On second thought, how do the locals feel knowing that the rest of the world knows nothing about them but the Hollywood version of them?

Regardless, the film has many weak points. Without spoiling it to you, specifically, if I had just realized what I was eating, the film would have played out differently straight away. Overall, everything is laid out for you; nothing is left unexplained. Something that wipes out the mystery and, even worse, undermines the audience’s intelligence. Shame for the film, but also both the Caucasian and Afro-Appalachian people. One day, maybe they’ll make a film on Hollywood based on what they have heard about it. That’s gonna be a comedy/horror I’ll definitely enjoy. I might even kickstart it for them…

Stay safe!

P.S. Must say that my fellow Midlander Lorraine Burroughs looks, as always, absolutely stunning and look forward to watching her in Muscle (2019).

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.

Jungleland (2019): Drama

Two brothers, in an attempt to score big, travel across the country for a bare-knuckle boxing match, but the way they see their journey end gradually gets in the way.

Jungleland… the type of American indie that makes your heart race, wondering from the opening sequence what on earth will go horribly wrong. That said, Jessica Barden (who for some reason reminded me of Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the magnificent duo Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell are all British doing a great job posing as Americans – how about producer Ridley Scott?

Despite the great acting though, Jungleland‘s strong suit is the blur line that doesn’t distinguish ambition from greed. Writers Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith, and writer/director Max Winkler (son of legendary Henry Winkler) bring to life a beautiful story that will make you wonder, how far would you go to make your dreams come true? And make you think how far you have gone so far…

Does it actually go horribly wrong though? That is for you to decide. The long-awaited moment has finally arrived and Hunnam with O’Connell are on screen together and reveal about their lives whatever you need to know and not necessarily what you want to. Would I prefer to see them in a British film as a Northerner and a Midlander respectively? Sure. Does it matter though that they put an accent and they are overseas? Not really. Remember, a film that lets you in halfway through and lets you out at a not expected point in time is a reminder of Ithaca; it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself.

Stay safe!

P.S. On a personal note, as I have been living for years in the city that Jack O’Connell and Michael Socha were born, I have met them both, and I must tell you that, other than great actors, they are both great human beings.

His House (2020): Drama / Horror / Thriller

A refugee couple escapes Sudan in a time of war, they arrive in England, only to have to adjust to a whole new reality and face a ghost that followed them all the way to their new house.

Welcome to a journey that no one is welcome. A soul-wrenching and haunting experience that no one should ever have. Yet, hundreds of thousands, unknown to us people do. To this very day. His House, feature debut for Remi Weekes, is a drama with horror elements whose natural drama is more horrifying than its supernatural horror. Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku carry the film on their shoulders and manage to pass on to the viewer all the survivor’s guilt and immigration’s hostility but also the sense of having nothing left! Matt Smith always adds flavour to everything he’s in.

It is not a “haunted house” horror film. It is a haunted conscience film and an introduction to a different set of beliefs and norms to the “civilised” world. Well written and brilliantly shot. Jo Willems’ cinematography deserves an extra credit.

Keep your mind open and expect nothing beforehand. Brave attempt from both Netflix and BBC Films that gives a taste of how it feels like to be a stranger and struggle into a world that sees you as a piece of s*it or a laughing stock at best.

Safe safe!

P.S. You can enjoy a lot more of Dirisu in Gangs of London (2020) and Mosaku in Lovecraft County (2020).

Take Shelter (2011): Drama / Horror / Thriller

Haunting apocalyptic visions will make a man doubt himself, face his family, confront society, and build a shelter for what he thinks is coming.

One of my favourite underrated, films of all time. A visually stunning film that gives the opportunity to actors to unleash their talent, the suspenseful narrative to naturally and patiently unfold, and the viewer to unconditionally absorb what cinematic experience really means. And that shows right off the bat from the opening sequence.

If you haven’t watched it, writer/director Jeff Nichols will get you wondering all the way: Is it? Is it happening? Is it in his head? But that’s not just it. Think about it… How much “different” can society tolerate? How many times were you sure you were right and no one believed you? But… how many times were you sure you were right and how did you feel when you realised you weren’t? Also, how many times have you truly followed your gut no matter what everyone else thought or said?

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain do a wonderful couple on screen, expressing all these doubts and beliefs and transgress the rules. Shea Whigham is always underrated and I hope one day a major festival acknowledges his talent and award him respectively. Last but not least, from beginning to end, pay attention to Adam Stone’s cinematography; it is absolutely thrilling.

Take Shelter does leave the viewer with some unanswered questions but that’s part of the journey’s mystery and the reason why a film’s flavour lasts way past the scrolling end credits.

Stay safe!

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020): Adventure / Comedy

Borat is released from prison in Kazakhstan under the condition that he will go to the US to offer his 15 y/o daughter as a bribe to Vice President Mike Pence during the pandemic and the 2020 Presidential election.

I don’t know what to say, really. It’s been a while since I dropped a film in less than thirty minutes into it. Simply put, I found it appalling, indifferent, pointless, horrendous, boring, ridiculous, and above all, absolute waste of money… and my less than thirty minutes.

It is funny as much as it is provocative. Which is not at all! Sasha Baron Cohen just managed to piss, again, some more Americans off. The first Borat (2006), not a fan at either, was at least… somewhat… funny and provocative… but… I’ll be damned, it had that uncensored naked men “brawl” who left everyone thinking how on earth are they shooting this, and, more importantly, why the f@ck am I watching it? This… subsequent film has nothing to it. Borat speaks in Hebrew, Tutar (Maria Bakalova) speaks in Bulgarian, the Kazakh premier speaks in Romanian, and the vast majority cannot tell, once more, the difference. If you managed to watch it all, by all means, prove me a liar. I thought it was… well, check the second paragraph. Cohen is a great actor and he has proved it time and time again, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is the latest proof – review is on the way. Plus, I so much admired him going against Facebook.

If you really want to watch a proper funny mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap (1984) is the one! What an original comedy!!! Trust me on this one…

Stay safe!

P.S. Cheerio Trump!