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.

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Knowing (2009): Action / Drama / Mystery

Knowing

A fifty-year-old list of numbers prophesying every major catastrophe that took place ever since will make a professor of astrophysics, and a single parent, to race against time to prevent the ones that are yet to happen.

Is pessimistic optimism a term? Does it make sense? It doesn’t, does it? Be it as it may, that’s the oxymoronic feeling you get out of Knowing. But first things first…

“Randomness vs Determinism”, from a philosophical and/or scientific point of view, will become the setup’s foundation, and your mind’s internal debate while watching the confrontation unfolding. One of my favourite Nicolas Cage movie from the noughties where, back then, I couldn’t find many flaws. Watching it now for a second time, eleven years later, I spotted certain plot holes and gimmicks but I didn’t let them get in the way. Yet, it answers all the questions it raises halfway there (not even in the end), and that feels a bit spoonfed for my taste. Regardless, Cage is the right man for the job, Rose Byrne delivers a great performance, the kids are surprisingly convincing, and Ben Mendelsohn, be it in a leading or supporting role, always nails it. Once again, it’s a shame that the film answers everything for you.

The man in the director’s chair is Alex Proyas, a director whose niche is dark fantasy/sci-fi. My personal bests are: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), and I, Robot (2004). Unfortunately, he has not been involved in many projects and some of them, I believe, were beneath him. I look forward to watching something of his ’90s style soon.

(Not)Fun fact: The film predicted the BP’s oil spill in the Mexican gulf the year after.

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Silence (2017): Short / Drama

Silence

The impending apocalypse finds a mother and her autistic daughter spending their last moments together.

Silence is one of these short films that you watch and the first question that comes to your mind is: “What is happening?”. Upon establishing that, the question that follows is: “Why is this happening?” The answer to that lies in the hands of the filmmakers and their effort to get the funding they need to turn it into a feature. Official selection at the Los Angeles Film Festival, so I keep my fingers crossed to be seen by the right people who can add a solid setup and confrontation. Something along the lines of Knowing (2009)?

While discontinuous editing has proved to be innovative and effective in the past – see Breathless (1960) – in Silence this is not the case. I believe though that the strong message, the impressive photography (observe the changes as the doom is nearing), and the great performances by both Louise Rhian Poole and Riann Mutlow will win the impressions and writer Rachael Howard, director Lee Burgess, and producer John Ninnis will come out of the festival with a signed deal that will answer the “why”. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16Gwlb2-gw0

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Mohamed (2001): Short / Drama

Mohamed

In an attempt to save his life, a man enters an apartment building only to realise that his problems will only get worse.

First critical success for the – back then – young student, and writer/director Sergi Rubió who, despite the film’s little flaws, manages to clearly convey his message. It could be an excellent third act about a young man who has struggled his whole life because… he just looks different than the majority of the people around him. About a man who has so much love to give and no one to give it to. Unfortunately, there is so much hatred to get and everyone to get it from. You can watch it here: https://www.reelhouse.org/tropicanofilms/mohamed/4743014

Because some look like you or sound like you or have the same religion as you, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will or has to. No one can claim this world. We might be part of it, but it’s not ours. All of us can equally be a scourge on this planet or a blessing. Choose the latter. Mohamed did.

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The Vast of Night (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

The Vast of Night

New Mexico, 1948: A switchboard operator detects a frequency like anything she has ever heard before, a radio producer broadcasts it, and myth, reality, and paranoia start blending into one.

Act I: The phenomenal antithesis between fast-talking actors and protracted shots. To be more specific, we are talking about up to 10-minute dolly and steady-cam shots. Great set-up and character introduction along with made-up experiments that get you into the low budget sci-fi mood and make you chuckle with their “accuracy”.

Act II: Past the slow-burn intro, the clash between reality and storytelling of loneliness becomes as vague as the editing techniques pacing it. It takes yet another heroine of life to wind the pace down and get you comfy with another story from the “fortress of solitude”, the plot point that leads to…

Act III: A resolution with no twist, yet a worthy ending. An ending that the two previous acts promised and did not mislead you about.

Meet Andrew Patterson! The writer/editor/producer/director behind The Vast of Night. The filmmaker who is known for… The Vast of Night. I had never heard the guy before. Well, guess what? IMDb hadn’t either. So, here’s the question: Who cares?! The man made this film almost on his own (using three different names). An honest tribute to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953), and The Twilight Zone (1959) with suspenseful sequences accompanied by, among others, Cretan (Greek) music!

You watch the film, then you look at his picture and you can’t help but wonder: “Doesn’t he look like one of them alien conspiracy bloggers/vloggers”? Again, who cares?! Patterson is a talent! He got turned down by, I don’t know, 15 major film festivals? Few of them accepted him though and shared his vision. And I’m glad Amazon Studios did as well. I take my hat off to him. He’s a living, breathing, walking proof that all of us need to stick to our dream and keep it real. Andrew, cheers for that geezer!!! Much appreciated!

An extra, special bravo goes to Sierra Mccormick and Jake Horowitz for being true thespians and delivering Patterson’s dream.

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The Unknown Woman (2006): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

The Unknown Woman

A woman’s promiscuous past becomes a constant reminder in the present and a motive for every obscure step she takes.

Giuseppe Tornatore proves time and time again over the decades that his diversity knows no limits. I remember watching Cinema Paradiso (1988) in the theatres as a kid and even though there was a lot I missed back then (I caught up the second and third time I watched in the years that followed), I believe it solidified the foundation of my love about cinema. The Unknown Woman, one of the three films he made in the noughties – with Malena (2000) and Baarìa (2009) being the other two – is a suspenseful, dramatic, physically but also thought-provoking mystery/thriller about the search of hope. About a woman driven by her past sufferings, in the hopes that life will smile at her for once. Tornatore though doesn’t believe that the past should be left in the past. He believes it will always be part of us no matter how hard we try to run away from it.

Kseniya Rappoport and Clara Dossena steal the show on screen. Ennio Morricone (over the last 60 years!) fills the atmosphere with doubt with his tachycardic music, amplifying and constantly prolonging the suspense until the film’s denouement. But here’s the thing:

“It’s not a film until it’s edited” – Michael Kahn

Massimo Quaglia, Tornatore’s loyal editor, is the one who “stitches” the film together with artistry. The flashback’s metric montage invisibly permeates the present with extremely meticulous match cuts. Outstanding chemistry!

Most of the time, we think we’ve had it bad in life. Guess what? While sometimes life gives us the shortest straw, to others she gives nothing but pain. Why? Because she can. The pandemic but also the unfathomable, bottomless human buffoonery have proved, once more, that life is not to be taken for granted. Make the most of it and…

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A Case of You (2005): Short / Drama

A Case of You

A man’s mind is playing tricks regarding when and how his relationship took a turn for the worse.

Did you ever wake up one day asking yourself, “what happened”? Struggling to put together the where, who, why, what, and when? A Case of You is exactly that! John wakes up in his apartment one morning and, in real time, he wanders from room to room trying to figure out what went wrong between him and Emily. Why he is alone. What happened.

The one 18-minute shot is impressive. It takes a huge amount of preparation in preproduction where EVERYONE in front and behind the camera gets to know EXACTLY what they need to do when filming starts. The beauty though in Jack Davie’s creation is the marriage of his directing and writing which provides practical answers and raises existential questions. No spoonfed drama here. The mind works in mysterious and, more often than not, incomprehensible ways. Try to keep track of how John and Emily’s relationship deteriorated. It’s a non-linear jigsaw and every event, every utterance, and every action is part of it.

A standing ovation for writer/director Davies, actors Jamie Draven and Julia Hickman, and every member of the crew who made this film possible. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wxTj8ZBUEo

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Mummy Fell Asleep (2009): Short / Thriller

Mummy Fell Asleep

A mother and her little girl go on a picnic but the past resurfaces, bringing nothing but pain.

Vague yet intriguing development from writer/director John Ninnis whose inciting incident in the first act stealthily forewarns about the second act’s conflict and intensifies the denouement’s mystery. Mummy Fell Asleep falls under the category of shorts where filmmakers purely rely on solid script and acting as money is not an option. And in this case, both pay off. Ninnis’ narrative is a reminder of Sean Ellis’ intriguing first shorts – and brilliant later features. Speaking of, imagine a feature version where characters are fully developed and you get to know the preexistent, obscure events that lead to breaking the camel’s back.  Proud winner of:

  • The 2010 Heart of England Film Festival: Best Short film Internationally
  • The Irish International Film Festival: Best Short Film under 10 mins

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f_EpTPexqg

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Krisha (2015): Drama

Krisha

Having seen her family in years, Krisha returns for Thanksgiving to a seemingly idyllic reunion that couldn’t be more fragile.

Krisha is perception through the legacy of the lens that Hitchcock left behind. Directing, editing, acting, music, and sound mixing split the screen in half and let you into Krisha’s internal world. You will omnisciently follow her into the house, “hack” her cerebral cortex and see and listen through her what lies beneath the surface. Feature debut for actor, writer, editor, and director Trey Edward Shults who successfully pitched his concept to Kickstarter and adapted his own homonymous short Krisha (2014). Ever since the wheels have been set in motion and It Comes at Night (2017) – https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/02/02/it-comes-at-night-2017-horror-mystery – and Waves (2019) (review to follow) have become exceptional additions to the American independent cinema.

In the first act, from the opening shot (be it past or future) the tone is set. The protracted shots and the sound mixing add extra depth to the already relatable story and characters. The second act’s gradual escalation will patiently prepare the ground for what’s coming, and that is none other than an Aronofsky-esque confrontation and act three’s denouement. Watch it and make up your own mind as to what eventually happened. You can’t choose your family, they say…

Fun fact: In both the short and feature version of Krisha, Shults gathered his family members (and a couple of actors) and shot the films in his mother’s house. Yes, most of the people you see on screen are actually related.

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Uncut Gems (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Uncut Gems

A New York City jeweler is constantly trying to find ways to pay off his debts while dealing with a number of personal issues.

Greed makes people take the worst decisions and then they wonder why their lives seem like a bottomless flush down the toilet. This is the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) who represents the kind of people who believe that two wrongs make a right. The journey of a man who refuses to settle to what he has and constantly going for what he could have had, losing always more and more until… well, you’ll have to watch it!

Sandler’s comeback to the big screen is remarkable – since 2015 all of his films have gone straight to Netflix. I believe that if the Academy could take him seriously, he would have been nominated but, don’t worry Adam, we don’t take the Academy seriously anymore ourselves. Sandler has survived in the film industry for just over three decades and he’s not going anywhere yet. Actor and rapper LaKeith Stanfield stands by his side but also opposes him, still revealing his diversity as an actor and I for one, look forward to seeing him in as many mainstream and/or alternative projects as possible. Last but not least, Julia Fox is as impressive as they come. Brilliant appearance on screen no matter how you look at it.

And now the Safdie Brothers… After a number of shorts, and the impressive Lenny Cooke (2013) and Heaven Knows What (2014), they brought to us Good Time (2017) which followed their style and made a suspenseful story but… these… repeated… Pattinson close-ups couldn’t be more distracting. Robert Pattinson is a great actor but it was just too much. So glad we didn’t get many Sandler close-ups. That said, you might find the music a bit distracting but once you familiarise yourselves with their Safdie style of filmmaking, it will make more sense. Congrats to everyone in front and behind the camera. 2 hours+ just flew by.

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