Do The Right Thing (1989): Comedy / Drama

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The day’s unprecedented heat brings out everyone’s worst side in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn’s diverse neighbourhood. 

31 y/o and Do The Right Thing couldn’t be more relevant! The absolute comedy/drama on hysteria and bigotry could as well be a case study on human behaviour. Inspired by a true event (Howard Beach), it manages through ‘love and hate’ and laughs and tears to serve as a reminder that it is up to us to either move forward or stagnate into primitive notions about who we are, where we belong, and what our rights but also obligations in this world are. It is also a wake-up call as the gravitas of our utterances and actions really matter, affect and profoundly shape the society we live in. Finally, it is Spike Lee’s testament to the fact that the problem doesn’t lie in someone else’s skin colour but in front of the mirror.

Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Lee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Joie Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence (film debut) and so many more deliver one of the most vivid and memorable performances of their lives. The actors’ numerous improvisations throughout the film make it one of a kind and everyone in front and behind the camera deserves a round of applause. An extra standing ovation deserves Kim Basinger for acknowledging the film in the 1990 Oscar ceremony, and Thomas Philip Pollock, the Universal President at the time, who genuinely understood and truly believed in Lee’s vision and distributed it without interfering with the creative process.

13 years before Edward Norton’s [25th Hour (2002)] infamous monologue against every race under the sun, there was Do The Right Thing. See how it all started and wonder what the right thing to do is…

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Jojo Rabbit (2019): Comedy / Drama / War

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A young boy who struggles in Hitler’s Youth finds out that his well-respected by the Nazi party mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.

Unwillingly, I was informed that an archipelago of 10/10’s swarm across IMDb about JoJo Rabbit. So, I thought to myself, ‘interesting…’ Having been familiar with the plot, I thought that it would be The Pianist (2002) meets Top Secret! (1984) – weird, I know! Well, it wasn’t. So, I am partially to blame for this as I prepared myself for something that was simply not. The first hour or so made me smile on a couple of occasions but I struggled to find it funny. Then, due to the particular type of satire, I struggled to find it dramatic. 30 wins and 142 nominations, including Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I couldn’t make my mind until about an hour into the film whether I like it or not.

But then the last half an hour the film found a balance that, me personally, I think it lacked before. And Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Sam Rockwell made this last half an hour a proper gem. This last half an hour got my undivided attention. If you’ve watched it or if you intend to watch it, let me know what you think. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchand are brilliant additions to the cast. Scarlet Johansson’s two Oscar nominations this year must have a put a yet greater smile on her (lovely) face. In the Marriage Story (2019) she definitely deserved that nomination. Here, once again, I struggle to see why. Shame that Sam Rockwell wasn’t heard much, he makes all the difference in the world.

Regardless of what I think of the film, Taika Waititi is a true artist so, I really hope you enjoy it.

 

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

In The Blink of An Eye (2019)

Being an Anthology of the Further Legends of Ellicott City’s Blink Man

Edited by K. Patrick Glover

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In January 2019, I watched and reviewed Erik Kristopher Meyers’ Butterfly Kisses (2018) – https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/30/butterfly-kisses-2018-documentary-horror/. Myers’ documentary/horror became a fresh approach to the kind of horror that has faced a lot of ups and downs over the decades. His fresh approach proved that the genre is not dead yet and that, in the right hands, it has still a lot of scares to offer.

The mystery of Peeping Tom/Blink Man and the Ilchester Tunnel has become an urban legend. From Hagerstown to Ellicott City, his story has ‘travelled’ through hearsay, horrifically realistic imagination and utterly nonsensical descriptions. Regardless, when K. Patrick Glover met one day Myers, the two of them gathered some incredibly descriptive authors and put these stories together. Will you manage to tell which story is based on (un)substantial evidence and which one isn’t? No. Will you recognise the truth when you read it? No, you will not. The real question is, does it matter? No, it does not. Because you will allow yourself to live the suffering, the horror, and the agony that these (non)fictional people endured. ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ is the blurry line between two worlds. One of them is real, and one isn’t. Turn off the lights while reading, and your inevitable human curiosity in finding out which one’s which will inadvertently become a descent to folkloric paranoia.

Highly recommended for the horror fans and not only as it generates a lot more questions than it aims to answer. ‘Blink Man’, the legend under the microscope, turns the tables and the observer becomes the observee. Humans turn into a case study themselves as he brings out the murky and obscure ways the human mind creates realities. Man’s unprecedented archetypal fears take over reason and interpret what we sense – or we truly believe we sense – through an unbeknownst to us chaotic, ghastly prism.

Doctor Sleep (2019): Drama / Fantasy / Horror

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Dan Torrance, years after the horrific events of The Shining, a disheveled adult now, must overcome his fears and protect a young girl with a similar ‘shine’ from a cult that feeds on gifted children.

Imagine you are a young and successful director granted permission to write and direct the sequel to a film adaptation famously hated by the author of the book on which it was based, and that that same author will be your producer. Let’s make it more intricate by saying that the previously adapted film became a horror landmark, but the author – who hated it – made his own mini-series version that was… unremarkable. More interestingly, both the author and the director were Grandmasters in their departments respectively; the author is called Stephen King and the director Stanley Kubrick. Which adaptation is your sequel based on?

As a lifetime fan of both Kubrick and King, and a recent fan of the young and successful writer/director Mike Flanagan, this review hurts more than anything I have typed so far. Flanagan did a lot of things right: He recreated the sets of the Overlook hotel with surgical precision, the ’80s characters as he supposed to, cast the right actors for the right roles, and a sequence that truly pays homage to The Shining (1980): The moment between Danny entering the Overlook Hotel and Rose arriving.

Unfortunately, these positive aspects are overshadowed by the script. A script that was written in such a way as to satisfy both King and the true Shining fans. A recipe for failure. The risks start accumulating automatically the moment you decide to pick up from where Kubrick left off. Steven Spielberg, one of the best directors of our time, sat at the director’s seat and finished off A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) after Kubrick sadly passed, and even he faced backlash for doing so. The script here faces a lot of issues in terms of both character and story development. Indicatively (no spoilers), just to get an idea, the characters have an undetermined level of shines both in terms of quantity and quality. Incidentally, that causes serious issues with the strategies followed by both heroes and villains before, during, and after the standoff.

The Shining is a psychological horror that turns into a paranormal horror in an invisible and inexplicable to the viewer way. Stanley Kubrick directed it with mastery, Jack Nicholson delivered a breathtaking performance (Shelley Duvall paid a heavy price), and we, the audience, jumped from one kind of horror to the other with our jaws on the floor. Doctor Sleep is an amalgamation sequel of two incompatible versions that are heavily undecided as to whether to be psychological or paranormal, ending up being neither.

Despite the tempting references to other King films as well, I would suggest that you didn’t consider it a direct sequel. Instead, you should watch the series Castle Rock (2018 – Present) which has finally managed to do what other productions have failed to do in the past (no spoilers) and does so with great success.

Gemini Man (2019): Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

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A highly trained hitman decides to retire but the organisation he works for sends… a younger version of him to execute him.

Watching the trailer, I couldn’t see how there is going to be a mind-blowing twist somewhere. There isn’t. More or less, what you see is what to be expected: Will Smith vs Will Smith. For a film that started been developed in the ’90s, with so many different names attached over the years, with the torch been passed on from studio to studio… the script is poorly developed. IMDb couldn’t care less with a logline that gives away the plot. Script-wise, there is nothing really fascinating at all. I think this is the first Ang Lee film I have ever watched that I was wondering why he signed up for this. Meaning, the film has two impressive sequences: the motorbike chase (Smith vs Smith) and the hand-to-hand combat (Smith vs Smith). All the credits should be shared amongst the visual effects department for coming through with some ground-breaking visuals, the sound effects department, and the frequent Ang Lee editor, Tim Squyres. His editing is immaculate and stitches Lee’s most difficult shots together with delicacy and finesse, creating incredible unity and continuity.

I’m really being nice here. One of the film’s six (6) nominations is from St. Louis Film Critics Association, US for… Worst Film of the Year! Anyway, to cut the long story short, and just in case you haven’t figure it out by now, this is Smith vs Smith film. I must admit, at some point, this eerie feeling took over me that it was Deadshot fighting The Fresh Prince

Luce (2019): Drama

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Luce, a black kid adopted from war-torn Eritrea by a white couple, becomes an excellent school student and a political statement but a series of obscure and ostensibly unrelated events gradually reveal everyone’s true colours.

I think that IMDb got it wrong here. They put ‘Drama’ under the title when they should have described it as ‘Thriller/Drama’. Let me explain… What’s at stake in Luce is the portrayal of the American educational system as a business. The selective promotion of an ethnic minority’s minority to the outside world, solely benefiting the system, labeling this person or group as a brand, and making them the poster child of what the system allegedly represents. That hypocritic notion is Luce‘s dramatic aspect. But this notion is wrapped by its thrilling development – by J.C. Lee – into a script. Character-wise, everyone – but one – is guilty. Everyone throughout the film either reveals or gets obvious that has lied at least once or has been withholding crucial to the story information. Something that Julius Onah’s directing and Madeleine Gavin’s editing unfold very meticulously. The music carefully dictates the film’s tone, adding the eerie atmosphere of an A-class thriller. DOP Larkin Seiple with surgical precision frames everything, including only what you need to see – and not what you would like to. Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Octavia Spencer, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. shine in front of the lens, creating amazing chemistry, and make you love them and then loathe them, even love them and loathe them at the same time. But… the (not guilty) one holding no punches whatsoever and steals the spotlight is none other than Marsha Stephanie Blake. Hair-raising performance!

For better or for worse my role is to do film analysis and not politics even though most of the times I can’t help myself. Watch it and jump to your own conclusions regarding what is wrong with the US educational system, one of America’s most sore points. Interesting is also the subplot; the fear of expression due to the pushed and rushed political correction imposed nowadays and the questionable movements all around the world that aim to skin you alive if you dare to offend anyone – even unintentionally.

Don’t miss this one out. Don’t let it go under the radar.

You can find it here:

US: https://amzn.to/2FzFMsd / https://amzn.to/36I1feA

Adopt a Highway (2019): Drama

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A man is released from prison after many years and while trying to figure out how the modern world works, he stumbles upon a baby dumped in the trash.

I’ll start with the fact that this is a drama from Blumhouse – the king of low budget-that always-turns-a-profit horrors. A quite insightful and existential I might add, surprising in the nicest possible way. My next stop is Logan Marshall-Green, who put on, for the first time, the director’s hat after having penned the script as well. Did that come as a surprise? Not at all. Why? Because the guy is a natural. Marshall-Green is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors – now turned director/screenwriter. His talent needs to be finally acknowledged and get the spotlight he deserves. Then, Ethan Hawke… is something else. Always has been, always will be. He’s one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors and a man who very thoroughly chooses his next project. Since Dead Poet’s Society (1989), he hasn’t stopped to amaze. Last stop, the sound department where its work in this instance stands out for its perfection. From the opening sequence’s ‘voices montage’ to the letter’s reading.

Not everyone is made for this modern world. The full of emoticons, fast-typing, communication, the online slang that ‘infiltrated’ our every-day vocabulary, the mass behaviour that, should one decides not to adopt will become a pariah, and so much more make people who step out of the crowds to develop case studies. Adopt a Highway looks life in the eye and gives us a bittersweet hope with a twist and says… ‘Through every dark night, there is a bright day after that’ – 2Pac.

Well, my heart goes out to the ones who only got to experience the darkness…

You can find it here:

US: https://amzn.to/2ZYHqgi / https://amzn.to/2N6AVTp

Marriage Story (2019): Comedy / Drama / Romance

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A married couple with a little kid decides to break up and both parties reveal their best and worst hidden sides of themselves.

Even though ‘it takes a village to make a film’ and every department plays a significant role in a film’s success or failure, five major ones (not in a particular order) need to become a solid one to guarantee Marriage Story‘s success: Directing, cinematography, editing, writing, and acting. Writer/Director Noah Baumbach, cast actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson during the script development and all three of them put the ‘FADE OUT’ in the end. As all three of them had been or were going through divorces, the film is largely based on their real-life experiences, and it is that kind of realism that is translated to the big screen and the film’s final cut. Everyone poured their souls in it and, as per IMDb, this is what happened: Top Rated Movies #171, nominated for 6 Golden Globes, and another 81 wins & 177 nominations.

The way editing controls the film’s pace and rhythm is remarkable. Without saying it’s right or wrong, the cuts during the dialogue – cutting from the person talking/crying/exploding to the other person’s reaction – make an interesting case as, me personally, I would expect maybe less reaction. I bet the drafts were endless though and, since the final cut works, I just take it as it comes. The mise-en-scène is flawless and Baumbach with director of photography Robbie Ryan have captured and framed only the essential to the story elements. Last and most certainly not least, Johansson and Driver purely unleash their thespian talents and, arguably, deliver the most hair-raising performances of their lives. Forgetting the high budget tentpoles they are currently in – Avengers and Star Wars respectively – they become part of a love story wrapped in self-absorption and insecurities. Interesting background production details can be found here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7653254/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

The labyrinthine nature of a human being knows no limits. When two human beings come together, the stakes and unpredictability are doubled and when a family is created a small society is born under the same roof. Hundreds of millions of these societies form bigger societies that constitute the world as we know it. And its intricacies and complexities can only be matched with the Universe’s mysteries.