End of Days (1999): Action / Fantasy / Horror

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It is the end of the millennium, Satan has taken a human form while looking for the woman who will bear his child, and it is up to a suicidal ex-cop to prevent the end of days.

Arguably, one of the best, darkest… and underrated films Schwarzenegger has ever been in. Brilliant fast-paced and edited realistic action with a just over fifties, sentimental Arnie been purely tough as nails. Great shooting scenes, great fight scenes, and great chase scenes that make two hours fly by. But the awesomeness doesn’t stop here. The slow-paced sequences testing the heroes’ and antiheroes’ ‘faith’, and the drama of a young girl standing in the midst of chaos, who never chose to be special, make the End of Days an unforgettable choice to put a close to this year and decade. The film’s highlight: Arnold fighting the Satanists and the Devil in the alley.

Arnold, having undergone a heart surgery two years prior to the film, comes back performing extreme action sequences and nailing the self-destructive, rock bottom, action antihero, taking as much as he can give back. Gabriel Byrne is evil as hell – pun intended – and brutally tortures everyone crossing his path with utter style. As for Robin Tunney, she’s magnificent and I can still see why I fell for her in my early twenties. My last ‘congratulations’ goes to the director and director of photography Peter Hyams who pulled this off and brought Andrew W. Marlowe’s solid, very dark yet optimistic script to life.

Again, arguably, Schwarzenegger’s last prominent film.

Enjoy, and have a healthy, happy, productive and creative new year. Be well!!

Mr. Destiny (1990): Comedy / Fantasy / Romance

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Leading a repetitive life, Larry Burrows, on his 35th birthday, wishes his life was different, more exciting… and this is exactly what he gets!

How many times have I watched this film is beyond me… And I think I’m gonna grow old and grey and I’m still gonna be watching it. Yes, it’s very similar to the classic masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), but since I was a kid when it first came out, I grew up with it, and I couldn’t help but stop thinking about… what if my life was different? As I kept growing up, till this very day, till this very moment, writing this review right now after just having watched it (again), I am wondering why does this film age so well? What is it that makes it so diachronic that I can’t stop having enough of it.

I guess I wouldn’t watch it any other period other than Christmas/New Year time. It is the time when, if not all of us, most of us contemplate a bit more about our new year resolutions. It is that time where we look back and ask ourselves, what could I have done differently? What do I lack? What do I have in abundance? Why would I want my life to be different anyway? It might be all these would haves, should haves, could haves that loop in our minds with warp f@£$%^& speed causing this effect. I think I’m digressing…

Anyway, Larry Burrows is John Belushi. And not like a film poster kind of way. I mean that I can’t imagine anyone else portraying him and I kinda don’t want either. Michael Caine is visual poetry. Linda Hamilton is to fall in love with and proves, once more, to be so diverse actress that I take my hat off to her and bow. Rene Russo always had been and always be lighting up the screen when appearing on it. As for Courteney Cox, she is… a killer! Last but lost least, it is an absolute shame that we don’t see the amazing Jon Lovitz in many films anymore – series mostly.

Mr. Destiny had a big impact on my life, and it has inspired my screenwriting in ways that I can’t begin to describe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the decades.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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An ambitious young man is put by the board of directors as president in a… convoluted company involved in a stock scam.

‘It takes a village to make a film’… and The Hudsucker Proxy is the living proof – and the best side of Hollywood. Joel and Ethan Coen write (alongside Sam Raimi), direct, and produce one of their best and underrated films to date, focusing on a man’s ambition, the crowd’s paranoia, the Media’s superfluous vanity, and the corporate greed! In addition, Carter Burwell’s music, Dennis Gassner’s production design, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography pay a true homage to the films of the ’30s and ’40s. Thom Noble’s meticulous and precise editing paces the film from beginning to end. Great montage sequences delivering passion, laughter, drama, and rhythmic film magic.

A naive Tim Robbins, an extremely articulate Jennifer Jason Leigh, a sexist Bruce Campbell, and the legend Paul Newman develop amazing on-screen chemistry and one cannot help but fall for them. The film’s brilliance is such where the devil’s in the details. For example, Robert Gallagher’s character ‘Vic Tenetta’ shows up for just a few seconds and the screen lightens up.

And now for the shocking facts: Not even one Oskar, Golden Globe or Bafta Nomination. 3 wins and 3 nominations all and all. And that’s not just it! It cost approximately $40M and made $2,816,518. I think, sometimes, it’s surprising what makes people tick and what doesn’t. But I know that, always, when it comes to the film industry, all bets are off!

Bad Santa (2003): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A miserable thief and his angry sidekick keep posing as Santa and elf to con people but their Christmas Eve job goes terribly wrong.

Watch the unrated version! Right off the bat, Billie Bob’s monologue! This is when you know exactly what you sign up for; ‘an eating, drinking, shi*ing, f*ing Santa Claus’! Billie Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and the always missed Bernie Mac make you laugh hard for an hour and a half. Plenty of foul language – with the word ‘f*ck’ and its permutations (over 170 times) ruling at the top, ‘sh*t’ (74), ‘ass’ (31), ‘bitch’ (10), and 1 use of ‘bastard’ plenty of political incorrectness, and plenty of actual booze… for Thornton… acting himself. The Cohen brothers and director Terry Zwigoff have done a brilliant job refining Glenn Ficarra’s and John Requa’s script. Excellent mix of Christmas and classical music!

Despite its hilarious profanity and misery, Bad Santa sets off as a dark, dark comedy, ending up being an emotional journey of a lonely, broken man who finds a reason to live.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy

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In times of war and reason, Baron Munchausen shows up to inspire with a story of a lifetime that bypasses reality and goes down the rabbit hole of evocative fantasy and mythical adventure.

From Constantinople to the moon, to the centre of the Earth, to the belly of the beast, and back, Baron Munchausen travels towards fabled worlds encountering heroes and deities. Nostalgia, love, dreams, childhood innocence and hope rise up through Munchausen’s escapades. A social commentary inspired by the Odyssey… delineated in a British aristocratic manner.

As one of my first cinematic experiences, Terry Gilliam makes me reminisce about my childhood years and the way I used to see the world. Where, like in the film, reality and imagination blend into one and shape a harmless world where even the abhorrent tragedy of war can be a lot easier to swallow and man’s cruelty be tolerable.

John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams (unpaid and uncredited) and the rest of the cast shared Gilliam’s vision of a better world than ours and supported him to see it through as the unfathomably humongous production complications wouldn’t stop appearing.

But reality’s misfortunes were defeated by prevalent, mythical will that projected it eventually to the silver screen.

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

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Living on the top of a hill, Edward, having scissors for hands, is at first welcomed but then abominated by a conservative society.

Potentially, Tim Burton’s greatest fairy tale. One of Danny Elfman’s best film scores. Stefan Czapsky’s most wondrous cinematography. The film that showcased Johnny Depp’s true thespian skills. The film that Winona Ryder made me fall in love with an actress for the first time. Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin are amazing as gullible and naive parents and both the visual and sound departments deliver a truly mesmerising result.

As for the story and its development, please keep in mind that it is about Edward Scissorhands who is… different. And through his eyes, we recognise isolation, we seek self-discovery, and we find love. Similar, yet more sensitive than the story of Frankenstein, “Edward Scissorhands” could be more of a different take on the Beauty and the Beast through German Expressionism enhanced with Gothic constituents.

Try not to ask too many “whys”. Try not to rationalise actions and reactions. Try not to get too political or too scientific diagnosing Edward with autism. This is one of the best modern, love stories Hollywood has to offer. It is a magical love story…

Scrooged (1988): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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A cold-hearted, spiteful TV executive, hell-bent on ruining everyone’s Christmas around him is paid a visit by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.

A modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Funny, emotional, didactic, “Scrooged” will make you laugh but also mist your eyes. You’ll love every second of it. Bill Murray goes over the top and exceeds everyone’s expectations. Karen Allen is a beauty and makes you smile every time she does. Alfre Woodard is amazing as always. Danny Elfman was, is, and always will be the master of Christmas scores. And last but not least, the incredibly versatile Richard Donner who orchestrates this brilliant film giving it the befitting, illustrious style it deserves. Shame that he and Murray didn’t work well together. A massive round of applause to all cast and crew for making this film a classic for us to enjoy to this very day and encourage us to… put a little love in our heart!

I take my hat off to Richard Donner and everyone in the production team where, in the most festive period of the year, in one of the most troubled years of South Africa, in their way, they offer their support against the atrocity of apartheid.

Filth (2013): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A mentally unstable, crooked, alcoholic, drug addict cop stops at nothing to get the promotion he is so passionately after while fighting his inner demons.

I’ll start this way… Until “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), James McAvoy was not my cup of tea. By far not! After “X-Men: First Class”, I started changing my mind. After “Filth” I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. Or, actually, I had been wrong that much once more. With Leonardo DiCaprio after “Gangs of New York” (2002). But then all of us men were. So, I apologise to both.

James McAvoy in “Filth” gave the best performance of his life in 2013. And John S. Baird directed the best film of his career – Even though “Cass” (2008) was pretty amazing too. “Filth” will make you laugh and it will make you cry, and it will make you laugh and cry again and again until you don’t know how to feel anymore about anyone. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, “Filth” is one of the best Scottish films since “Trainspotting” (1996), yet another novel by Irvine Welsh. Changing genre every five minutes, “Filth” is a dramatically funny, surrealistically twisted cinematic journey through the paranoia of a corrupted, deranged, bipolar cop that will drive you bonkers. It’s worth mentioning that Jim Broadbent, in the hallucinatory world, is scarily hilarious.

McAvoy’s psychedelic performance here will prepare you for his cringing performance in “Split” (2016) and the upcoming “Glass” (2019). See how it all started…

Fun fact: “Trainspotting” and “Filth”, potentially, coexist in the same universe.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994): Family / Fantasy

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Christmas Version:

An old man who fits the Santa Claus profile becomes a symbol for a company, a family, and a nation alike.

Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Mara Wilson give a great performance in a film for the whole family. Legendary John Hughes behind the production and director Les Mayfield remake the 1947 version of the homonym film with humour, fantasy, great photography, camera work, and editing. Gather the family and enjoy!

Non-Christmas Version:

An old chap found on the street, who has not been vetted whatsoever and officially claims he is Santa is trusted by a family, a major company, and a nation to be near kids.

My, oh, my… Folks gather round! A major company whose CEO’s last name is “Cole” hires a guy for its representative Santa Claus who looks like the 1930’s Santa Claus, property of Coca Cola – “Coke”. And all of us… worldwide… to this very day… religiously… still pass the same torch from generation to generation.

But our generation is evolutionary! We keep walking while texting towards the third decade of the 21st-century with our wireless headphones on because seeing and listening in life is for the backward-looking.

Merry – Coca Cola’s – Christmas!