Fantasy Island (2020): Adventure / Fantasy / Horror

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An island that has the power to grant your greatest wish, welcomes a group of people who have no idea what they signed up for.

I’ll start with the good news: I didn’t know what to expect so, you would never guess… I had no expectations! Now, for the opposite of good news: The amazing story behind Fantasy Island is inundated with nothing but American clinches, that ruin the aforementioned amazing story.

The American cliches include, but are not limited to: stereotypical characters, stereotypical punchlines, stereotypical resolutions and revelations, and stereotypical editing and redirecting. Hands down, the dramatic fantasy that stands out is Maggie Q’s (Gwen) who, by the way, is a brilliant actress and an astonishing woman. But the genres are too mixed and so are the viewer’s feelings towards everything that’s happening. It is not a disservice to the Fantasy Island (1977) series but it has nothing much to do with it either. If you want to watch a great blend of such genres, The Cabin in the Woods (2011) is what you need to watch!

A real shame as Fantasy Island stresses two important facts of life:

  • Careful what you wish for!
  • Your so-called liberties in life have a limit; where your fellow human beings’ begin…

Stay safe!

 

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The Lighthouse (2019): Drama / Fantasy / Horror

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Two lighthouse keepers are left stranded in a small island of New England in the late 19th century where, every day that goes by, they sink into paranoia.

Willem Dafoe vs Robert Pattinson in an amazing psychological horror that ends up not being one(?) First things first… The story is loosely based on an actual event where two Welsh lighthouse keepers, Thomas and Thomas, were left stranded on a lighthouse during a severe storm and they went berzerk – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smalls_Lighthouse#Smalls_Lighthouse_Tragedy

The extreme and adverse weather conditions seen in the film are real! Cast, crew, and equipment suffered big time from the freezing temperatures and the strong winds and, only for finishing it, they deserve a big round of applause. For, ultimately, creating a masterpiece they deserve an even bigger one. Especially, the Egger Brothers who researched and studied everything you see on screen: From how to make a lighthouse, to the 19th century New England sailors’ dialect, to how the mermaid genitals would probably look like (and the sound department which… naturally and practically created Dafoe’s farts). The film cost approximately $4M, it made just over $17M, and a tiny part of that budget was given to create fake seagulls. So, no seagull (nor human) got killed while filming.

26 wins, 96 nominations, and 1 Oscar nomination for the photography which gave the film an astonishing early photography look. Dafoe and Pattinson go against each other’s throats and deliver performances you wouldn’t believe. We all know that Dafoe is an incredible actor. Here, (after a series of brilliant performances), Pattinson establishes himself as one of the best actors of his age, and we all try to simply erase The Twilight Saga franchise from our minds. I take my hat off to both of them. Robert Eggers, in an interview, stated that: “Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus”. Their performances prove him wrong (wink).

As a huge Lovecraftian fan, I was happily shocked when the psychological horror started taking a turn towards… Sorry, no spoilers! See for yourselves and try to piece together the one-eye crow, the mermaid, the… something else keep vaguely appearing and last but not least, how does the light connect everything and what it might hide…

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.

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!

Clown (2014): Drama / Fantasy / Horror

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A father tries to please his kid on his birthday by dressing up as a clown only to get stuck in the suit, start losing his mind, and transform into… something else.

This is not another clown film! Clown cuts straight to the point, gets you to feel the hero’s pain, introduces you to the origins of what once was and what it came to be, and all hell brakes loose.

Released three and a half years after the date’s wrap, the film managed to get a limited release. Producer Eli Roth once more proves he owns the throne of twisted horror as his investment definitely satisfies secret, depraved pleasures and needs. Jon Watts, believe it or not, the director of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), co-writes and directs the distorted, kid-eating-blood-and-gore version of what most kids love and some fear the most, making everyone who watches the film not want to see or hear about a clown ever again.

The psychological horror is, unfortunately, replaced by some kind of humour and cliches, ruining the film’s ending and, ultimately, its full potential. Regardless, should you decide to watch it, make sure you know what you sign up for. If you are a horror fan like myself, you’ll enjoy the thrill of an underrated, sadistic hero’s journey.

Dean… thanks for the recommendation. This one’s for you mate.

The Crow (1994): Action / Drama / Fantasy

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A man, after been brutally murdered, comes back to life to avenge his and his fiancée’s death by killing the ones responsible one by one.

Even though deeply stigmatised and remembered as the film that Brandon Lee was killed, The Crow still remains Lee’s legacy and a ’90s goth, revenge, Halloween classic. One of Alex Proyas’ finest films that unfortunately spawned sequels that should have never been made. Ranked 37th in IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, the film has significant differences to the graphic novel but, proudly growing up with it, I can reassure you that, despite its flaws, it will be admired by every future generation to come.

The production details vary from ground-breaking VFX to complete the film after Lee’s death, to sets getting destroyed, to numerous people getting injured, and to cast and crew constantly abusing cocaine from the set to the toilets. Regardless, if you grew up with it as well, it will take you for a stroll down memory lane and if you were too young or not born yet, it will travel you to an analog world before the digital era took over.

Both father and son will always live in our hearts.

Sleepy Hollow (1999): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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An eccentric constable is sent to a village called Sleepy Hollow to investigate three mysterious murders but he gets more than he bargained for when he encounters The Headless Horseman.

Twenty years later and it’s still captivating. Tim Burton adapts for the silver screen the legendary Celtic and German folklore and creates one of the most atmospheric, period gothic fairytales you will have ever watched. Sleepy Hollow is purely a masterpiece. The perfect balance of horror, comedy, and fantasy with an equally “magical” and intense subplot. Like Shakesperean thespians, all actors deliver amazing performances that enhance the film’s genre. Danny Elfman’s eerie score gets your undivided attention from the opening scene and Emmanuel Lubezki’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography may have lost the Oskar to American Beauty (1999) but this merely means anything as you will probably have never encountered anything like it in any other fairytale adaptation [Maybe, Edward Scissorhands (1991) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)]. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” Oskar was well earned for building the Sleepy Hollow from scratch within three months. As the and crew stated: “The feeling one had walking around Sleepy Hollow’s sets, and in particular the town at Lime Tree, was almost as if you were walking around the inside of Tim Burton’s head.”

Sleepy Hollow is the best side of Hollywood. A side that is often forgotten by the studios but should be a reminder that quantity (the $100M budget) can be indeed spent wisely and increase the film’s quality. A reminder that visual effects are meant to be used as a means to advance the story, and not dominate the film overshadowing its narrative. Words cannot beautify Tim Burton’s classic. A must-watch not only for the Haloween period but also for times of classical storytelling nostalgia.

Sucker Punch (2011): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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After losing her mother and accidentally killing her sister, a young girl gets institutionalised, mentally withdrawing to an alternate reality, to produce an escape plan.

There is no real need for yet another review on Sucker Punch but, stumbling upon a horrible critique the other day, I felt like watching it again and writing about it. Directing, acting, cinematography, visual & sound effects, editing, music, casting, costume design, makeup, art direction, stunt coordination, choreography… get 10/10.  The opening sequence alone could be a landmark for montage in the 21st century’s Hollywood.

As for the script, this is an excruciatingly dramatic story written and uniquely developed by Zack Snyder. A more symbolic logline could be: A fragile, young girl descends into madness after reality hits her harder than she could ever imagine, not even giving her the time or arsenal to defend herself. Possibly the most artistic way of examining the mind’s coping mechanisms in multiple layers. Read between the lines; there is a huge amount of information waiting to be discovered. For more spoilers, have a look at this one. Very interesting: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978764/trivia?item=tr1610675

It’s always easy to cast stones and judge from the comfort of our couch. To go out there and actually do though is what takes real “cojones”. You don’t have to like it. Whoever thinks s/he can do a better job, by all means, give it a shot – and write about your experience. The number of hours and amount of effort put to bring such a film to life is beyond understanding. If you are passionate about German expressionism, Italian neorealism, experimental/avant-garde, or even art-house cinema and you still decide to watch it and don’t like it… at least don’t attack it.

They say words are mightier than the sword. Unfortunately, in this case, it proved to be true.