Pieces of a Woman (2020): Drama

After losing her baby, a woman is trying to put her life back in order, but the intolerable suffering keeps damaging her and the people around her.

A protracted tracking shot in the opening sequence always raises the bar and expectations. The second one comes right after, and its twenty-four-minute realism and intensity stealthily build up to the point that will cut your breath. The preexisting knowledge that the sequence will end in the worst possible way, the attention to detail, and the meticulous preproduction planning will make you feel as ill as Martha does. Director Kornél Mundruczó mounts the camera over the shoulder, magnificently depicting the moment of tragedy, and Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, and Molly Parker bring his vision to life by doing an excellent job in front of it.

The film is not just that sequence though. The torn couple’s journey, understandably, goes down the mourning path anyone can expect, but the destination is unknown. And this is where Kata Wéber’s tight and focused script builds up next. The narrative is restricted to what everyone knows at the specific time you are watching. So, your guess is as good as everyone else’s. There are numerous external forces, i.e., the mother, the sister, the lawyer, the media, everyone in the surrounding environment, that can play a significant role in what might happen next. Can you feel Martha’s pain while sensing that the midwife did as best she could? The ending is fulfilling for everyone but Sean and, since I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will just say that he will unfairly pay the unbearable price, till the very end, on his own. And that is really unfair.

Two more people are worth mentioning at this point: Martin Scorsese, who is wearing the producer’s hat on this one and Ellen Burstyn who, despite her age, is still giving her 100% every time she stands in front of the lens. Interestingly, Burstyn won the Oscar for her performance in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) which was directed by Scorsese.

When such unfathomable pain takes over, it feels like passing it on to everyone, especially the ones we love, as absorbing it all, will completely consume us. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Whatever the intolerable pain might be, expressing it to and sharing it with our beloved ones, but also professionals, will help the healing process. Oh, and there is another underlying message in the film: Be kind to everyone, everywhere! We can never know what lies underneath the surface.

Stay safe!

In the Fade (2017): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having nothing else to lose, a woman seeks revenge after the bomb attack that killed her husband and son.

With the camera mounted on the shoulder, Fatih Akin fully explores the act of “The Family” and hugely invests in Katja’s bereavement in a shocking political, documentary-style crime/drama that will cut your breath short. Diane Kruger’s powerhouse performance will bring tears to your eyes and most definitely adds to the narrative’s realism.

“The Trial” is immense. The disgusting defense lawyer, the remorseless couple, and the prosecutor’s speech, and Katja’s reactions throughout it, compose an excellent court thriller that will, even temporarily, question your beliefs regarding taking justice in your own hands. If that doesn’t bring out “The Punisher” in you, I don’t know what will.

“The Sea” needs to be divided into two segments: “The investigation” is the thrilling part as no one knows what she really has in mind and also no one knows what will happen if she gets caught. That keeps the suspense building up. The second part, “the revenge”, is quite shallow. It feels like Akin is not sure of how he wants to proceed or what he wants to say. Meaning, he doesn’t know what kind of ending he wants the film to have, making it a “semi-revenge” film, in the end. “The Sea”, as a total, makes an enormous contrast to “The Trial” where utterances matter the most. That means that actions should matter here the most, and unfortunately, this is not the case.

To sum it up, In the Fade is a must-watch and, no matter where you are in the world, you can translate the film’s hate to what is happening in your neck of the woods. I hope it gives you some perspective. Among others, Golden Globe Winner (2018) Best Motion Picture: Foreign Language, and Cannes Film Festival Winner: Best Actress- Diane Kruger.

Now… a little a background information. Makris, the Greek guy who appears in court, is a supporter of the, once upon a time, political party called “Golden Dawn”. For those who don’t know, that Neo-Nazi party and its supporters had always been the disgrace of Greece but also humanity’s. The party has been taken down and its members have been sent to jail, where the rest of us hope that they rot there forever. As for the actor who plays Makris, Yannis Economides, he is one of the most prolific Greek / Greek-Cypriot directors of his time, and one that I personally highly admire. Johannes Krisch, the defense lawyer, is nothing like his character in real life so, for portraying himself in such manner so effectively, he also deserves a round of applause.

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!

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).

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!

My Blueberry Nights (2007): Drama / Romance

A heartbroken young woman leaves everything behind her and goes on a journey across America in search of finding herself.

I was waiting for the whole year to write about this film. Almost no one knows about My Blueberry Nights and it saddens me.

Like a modern Odysseus, Elizabeth sets off for a journey of self-discovery where every stop is an experience and every encounter a new turning point in her life. That’s why with every “Ithaca”, what matters is not the destination but the journey itself.

First feature English-language film for director Wong Kar-Wai, and feature debut for Norah Jones who was the only option for the leading role in the director’s mind. Jude Law makes an excellent addition to the cast and the chemistry between him and Jones is fascinating. Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, and Natalie Portman complete the A-list cast of this unknown indie that, if you are not aware of it, it will make you ask yourselves how come you didn’t. Based on a short film that was made by Wong Kar-Wai in the beginning of his career, My Blueberry Nights is a pilgrimage of life, exploring our life’s decisions, our choices, and the way we let fear control both. Furthermore, redemption and find actual meaning and trust in people that are truly worth it and move us forward in life will leave a sweet taste in your mouth, almost as sweet as that long-anticipating for the denouement blueberry pie.

Thirteen years ago, in New Year’s Eve, I watched My Blueberry Nights at the cinema’s last screening of the day, with the girl working there. My last film of 2007. My last film review of 2020.

Stay safe and Happy New Year!!!

Sweet November (2001): Drama / Romance

A self-absorbed workaholic runs into a woman that her proposal will ultimately change his life.

Meet Nelson Moss! America’s typical self-aggrandizing yuppie asshole you wish he didn’t breathe the same air that you do. Well, don’t cast your stones just yet, Sara Deever is here. She comes into his life like an angel and, against all odds, sets the wheels of metamorphosis in motion.

Keanu Reeves, somewhere between The Matrix installments, gives a very convincing performance as that dude you wish you never become in your life and Charlize Theron is that angel you hope you one day meet. Now, here’s a fact: Sweet November, the remake of the homonymous 1968 film, got three nominations: worst actor, worst actress, and worst remake or sequel. John Wilson, the founder of the Razzie awards, lists the film as one of the 100 most enjoyable bad movies ever made.

Two things save the film. Firstly, the Keanu/Charlize chemistry; they were amazing in The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and they are very enjoyable here. By the way, Jason Isaacs is pretty awesome. Secondly, the film’s honest message: Seize the day, and make the most out of your life. Contrary to popular belief, life is a lot shorter than we think. But it can be sweet. That depends on the choices we decide to make.

No filmmaking technique stands out really and the story is quite flawed but, hey, watch it around this time of the year and forget about film theory for a couple of hours. It’s New Year’s Eve. Drink it in while thinking about your new year’s resolutions.

Stay safe!