21 Bridges (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A drug robbery goes horribly bad, police officers get killed, and a hard as nails cop shuts down Manhattan in order to get them.

It feels like anything positive I have to say about the film is going to be generic and everything that is wrong will be thoroughly detailed. So, I’ll try to balance it out. The corruption in the police is old news. One man fighting against the system, too. The fact that racism is left out is hopeful. And shutting down Manhattan to achieve a bust is… innovative. 21 Bridges is definitely entertaining and will make you forget your problems for an hour and forty minutes. But implausibility becomes a major issue.

It’s giving me the sense that a third of the film is missing. A third of the film has been left in the editing room. In an hour and forty minutes, we don’t get enough character development. ‘Trigger’ doesn’t earn his name and yet it shows towards the end that he has skills. Ray (brilliantly played by the always brilliant Taylor Kitsch), the guy that is not to be messed with no matter what does not get the time (or opportunity) to go against ‘Trigger’ and give us, the audience, a spectacle. So, their brief encounter is anticlimactic. Then, the four hours script-time (the timeframe in which the cop killers need to get caught) must be squeezed into less than an hour screen-time with action that happens way too fast and disillusions the magic. To cut the long story short, the parallel action is at warp speed, jumping from one clue to the next, leading to resolution, leaving us with no absorption of any information. With the Russo Brothers putting on the producers’ hat, I would expect more detail, especially with character development.

To finish up on a good note, the robbery in the opening act is meticulously shot, with the editing offering clean cuts and, coincidentally, clean action. Also, Chadwick Boseman is the right man for the role and if you want to see him properly unfolding his action skills, watch Message from the King (2016).

The Other Me (2016): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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A criminology professor is invited to provide his insight into a series of meticulously planned murders that blur the lines between legality and morality.

Not having watched a Greek film in years, I’ll admit that this one was a pleasant surprise. Sotiris Tsafoulias writes and directs a cerebral but also existential ‘whodunit’ film where the protagonist (Pigmalion Dadakaridis) races against time to find clues about murders that wake up demons of his own. Very interesting story with an, inevitably, convoluted development. Maybe too convoluted though on this occasion. Being spoiler-free, I’ll try to be as less vague as possible.

To me, it becomes a major issue the fact that the killer has not the relevant background to perform the murders in such a manner. Either I missed it or it is not explained properly how such knowledge has been gained. When you do watch it, please let me know if I missed it somehow. Secondly, and this has been an ongoing problem in the Greek cinema, the acting is quite stiff or flat. But this is not necessarily only the actors’ fault as directing, to a certain extent, dictates the thespians’ acting. For example, Ioanna Kolliopoulou (Sophia) – 2018 Winner of the ‘Melina Merkouri Theater Award’ – is a very expressive young theatrical actress who could have served as the protagonist’s ‘driving force’. Something that here is not obvious at all. Thirdly, and this is again a major one, the editing. The editing, among other things, defines the film’s pace and rhythm and, especially in films like The Other Me, carefully reveals not the information the audience wants to know but the information they need to know when they need to know it. Here, the editing is reasonably misleading – as it should have been, but the film’s rhythm and pace are monotonous. Something that heavily reflects on the film’s mood.

Actors Pigmalion Dadakaridis, and Giorgos Chrysostomou (Manthos Kozoros) stand out for their performances. Director of Photography Giorgos Mihelis creates an excellent noir atmosphere and an also excellent mise-en-scène. Last but not least, I give a round of applause to the Makeup Department; spot-on job!

I definitely recommend you to watch it as I know very well how hard it is in Greece to make a film and trust me when I say that The Other Me is an achievement. Money shortage, production companies lacking the know-how, and a series of governments who couldn’t give two s%#@& about the Greek film industry prevent the artists from unfolding their true talents. On a final note, I hope the Greek cinema develops an identity, mixing the influences coming from the world cinema with genuine Greek elements that one day will lead to a wider distribution.

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSmArtOew08

Black and Blue (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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A rookie, black, female police officer becomes the target of three corrupt cops after witnessing them murder a bunch of young drug dealers.

It seems that there are three sore points Black and Blue addresses. Two of them are included in the film’s title but wait until we get to the script. Its cinematography, Naomie Harris and Frank Grillo are the film’s best attributes. The mise-en-scène is almost flawless; what you need to see within a shot is there and the colours are as dark as the heroes and the antiheroes themselves. Harris deserves all the spotlight as, first of all, you wouldn’t tell she’s a Londoner, and secondly, she’s entirely different from her 007 character and anything you have seen her in before. She’s like a windwhirl sucking you into the film’s action and thrill. Grillo, as always, is as tough as they come. What I would like to see more is Tyrese Gibson as a non-action character, Reid Scott’s (Kevin) guilt building up to justify his action in the end, and Mike Colter’s (Darius) fury explode over the murder of his nephew. Finally, the editing is ‘invisible’, guaranteeing the film’s continuity and pacing the film appropriately.

Peter A. Dowling’s script has a few holes. That means that, on more than one occasion, if one asked ‘why didn’t s/he do that?’ the answer would be ‘because that is a plot hole’. I’m not gonna go into details though. I’ll leave it up to you to spot them and make up your own mind. The focus shifts towards the obvious on this occasion: Stereotyping! Harris is burdened with the film’s emphasis on being a woman, black, and police officer in a world that undermines the first, degrades the second, and hates the third. And as aforementioned, she’s brilliant. But the real world isn’t really like that. And filmmakers need to be very careful not to turn it like that. See what happened at the cinema in Birmingham, UK whilst showing Blue Story (2019): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-50541204

It seems that nowadays everyone is looking for an excuse to accuse someone of saying or doing something inappropriate. To the person offended about a ‘sensitive’ issue, whoever dares to have a different opinion is… racist. And as if that’s not enough, the perpetuation of ‘all cops are pigs’ is very backward-thinking, old, and cliché (and that comes from a guy who has been arrested quite a few times in his youth). If you think otherwise, when you get robbed or attacked, by all means, feel free not to call the police… they are pigs. Even though they are quite well known, I have attached two videos just in case you haven’t watched them, urging for generalisations to stop.

In case you forgot my third sore point mentioned above, that is none other than the echoing stigmata that Katrina hurricane has left to the people and city of New Orleans to this very day. I have an eerie feeling that in the future will have more films delving into the hair-raising details of the suffering of August 2005. Say, for example, a film on what the doctors had to do…

Code 8 (2019): Crime / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A power enabled construction worker teams up with the wrong people in an effort to save his dying mother.

Canada strikes back! Only three months after Freaks (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/11/30/freaks-2019-drama-mystery-sci-fi/, Code 8 makes an appearance and leaves a lasting impression. Take the superpowers out and you are left with a strong existential drama about working-class people who try to survive one day at a time and a son who would do anything wrong under the Sun for his dying mom. Great performances from the cousins Stephen and Robbie Amell but also Kari Matchett, Laysla De Oliveira, Greg Bryk, Kyla Kane, and Vlad Alexis. Directing, editing (great opening sequence montage), photography, production design, visual and sound effects are of Hollywood standards, proving that the studios don’t need hundreds of millions to make a decent sci-fi. Also, the music nails it and it is not used as a means to tell you how to feel at all times. It is minimal as it is emotional. Through the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, the producers managed to gather over two million dollars from 28,400 backers. Both Freaks and Code 8 come from the Canadian film school and leave a different flavour to the one left to us by the X-men franchise. A round of applause for all cast and crew!!!

Code 8 spinoff series has already been announced by the film’s director Jeff Chan and writer Chris Paré. Really looking forward to it as there is still so much to unfold in terms of both story and character development.

 

Bad Santa 2 (2016): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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Having never left the rock bottom, Willie follows again his angry sidekick and puts the Santa suit once more only, this time, to rob a Chicago charity.

Still hilarious, still politically incorrect, still Thornton and Cox! Once more, the starting monologue followed by the alley vomiting, mirror the same reality Willie still lives on, highly indicating that he learned nothing for his past mistakes and that his life never took off. Thankfully for us, this is the case and consequently, he accepts Marcus’ next job… alongside his mother. The dysfunction in the family shows straight away, and we, as the audience, get to enjoy the results.

Even though not as funny as its predecessor, Bad Santa 2 is a must-watch during the Christmas period and the perfect antidote against… soppy, yawnsome, dead-boring romance/comedies which you’d rather watch paint dry. Thornton and Cox are still the Willie and Marcus we love and Cathie Bates is a great addition to the cast! Extra round of applause deserves Brett Kelly for getting Thurman Merman’s physique to match his old self. Oh, and Christina Hendricks is as seductive as always…

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 Irishman (2019): Biography / Crime / Drama

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A retired mob hitman remembers the old days and how everything started; the Italian mafia, the Kennedys, doing what he had to do to become who he is, as well as befriending Jimmy Hoffa.

Only twenty minutes shorter than Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Irishman, based on Charles Brandt’s book and Steven Zaillian’s script is the three hours and thirty minutes thrilling memoirs you’d expect it to be. Scorsese’s directing and Schoonmaker’s editing tell, once more, after 52 years of collaboration, a story that not many collaborators can. The fabula and the syuzhet form a non-linear, character-driven narrative that will take you back and forth in time, making you witness the fall from grace of the Italian-American mafia.

Facts or figments of imagination, truth or based on actual events, it is up to you to decide. Regardless, The Irishman travels you back in time in an era of gangsters with morals, principles, and ideals a lot different from what you and I are used to. Last but not least, I would like to say that there are no words to describe the emotion watching Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel in the same film, all as gangsters.

Earthquake Bird (2019): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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A translator in Japan becomes a prime suspect after her friend goes missing and her utterances and actions only worsen the situation for her.

Enigmatic, slow-burn, awkward. Mystery surrounds not only what Lucy Fly says and does but what everyone says and does. Interestingly enough, there is no character development as all characters are already developed. The amazing is how we get to wonder throughout the film how everyone got there. As for the story itself, the fabula and the syuzhet create a storyline that balances between the generic – the life as an ex-pat in Japan, and the specific – Lucy Fly’s paranoia in her world of sadness. If, eventually, the ending is to your liking or not this is up for you to decide.

Meticulously written, brilliantly acted, masterfully directed, and very carefully and patiently edited. Last but not least, this is arguably the best photography of the year. Netflix keeps the surprises coming, firstly because its Marketing is non-existent (I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it), and secondly because it dares once more to invest in diversity, quality, and the different.

Let the ‘mystery’ bring out the best of the genre. Let the film fill the gaps whenever it’s ready. Let your mind work it out in its own way.

 

For Ben! How could this not remind me of you mate? 🙂

Avengement (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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After years of imprisonment, a man manages to escape and heads straight for the people responsible that made his life inside a living hell.

Fifth collaboration between Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins with this one and Savage Dog (2017) being my favourite ones. Originally from Sutton Coldfield, only a few miles away from where I live, Adkins is the man for the job. He trains hard and, once in front of the camera, he pours his soul out for us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I have a recommendation though and I address it to Johnson: With the protracted tracking shots being used more and more all over the world, I would really love to see Adkins in longer, uncut shots doing what he does best. Films like Ong-bak (2003) and Yip Man (2008) have raised the bar sky-high and I have the ultimate confidence that the Brits can do it as well. I really want to see it happening; longer shots = less editing = more continuous action. Avengement has these gritty fights that Johnson’s previous films lacked and Adkins, regardless, always delivers. Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose, Nick Moran, Kierston Wareing, and Leo Gregory are, as always, brilliant.

I hope The Debt Collector 2 (2020) adds something even more to the equation and that their successful collaboration keeps improving. Adkins needs more spotlight as he has the talent that makes martial artists half his age weep.

Joker (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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Before Joker became the infamous criminal, he was Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed aspiring comedian who cracked under the pressure of an even more disturbing city called Gotham.

It feels like psychological studies could be written on Joker. As I only do short film reviews though, I’ll keep it to the point. Todd Philips has delivered a purely cinematic experience. Everything works like a swiss watch with all the cogs serving their purpose. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is on an Oscar level and, possibly, in the audition, eliminated the competition without a sweat.

But this is the obvious information, and I will skip the technical and trivia production details, to write from the heart. Joker wouldn’t be that successful if it wasn’t for its astonishing character development and an unexpected accomplishment through that. Joker, from DC’s most disturbing criminal personality with deranged followers, was turned into a symbol for the oppressed antihero. Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix take all the time in they need to unfold the antihero’s journey and idolise him in a similar way that “V” was (V for Vendetta). And how is that achieved? By creating a relatable, everyday man who wakes up in the morning with a sole purpose: To make this world a little bit better; to make people laugh. And somewhere down the line, to make the people they love, and they love them back, proud of them for doing so. Take that from someone and what are they left with? Arthur Fleck is the product of that part of society that constantly sinks you under the surface; the haves that don’t give and the have nots that don’t want you to have either. But Joker springs from that product and becomes the one who will readjust the scale, and for the first time, will give the opportunity to the underdogs who “…haven’t been happy one minute of their entire fucking life” a chance to do that. And that feeling that, even for a couple hours, you root for someone like Joker… causes heart palpitations.

This is why Joker is that successful.

For you Ioanna!