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!

Outside the Wire (2021): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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A disgraced rookie drone pilot and a prototype android officer are sent to enemy territory to stop a nuclear attack.

Very bad from the very beginning! Having served in the special forces, let me put it this way: There is NO WAY you can get away with what Harp did! You are done! Finished! In and outside the army! From thousand of miles away, eating gummy bears, chilled, while marines in the battlefield drop like flies, and then you kill your own! NO. WAY.

I would say that from then on the film goes downhill but this would require for it to have started from a certain height. It starts from the bottom and stays there. It miserably fails to evoke any emotion at any level in all three acts. No suspense, no drama, no humour, no relatable action, no relatable characters, and then, no science, no reason, confused moral compass, and confused geographic compass. All the confusions and the no’s are nothing but the result of a bad production that is the result of a terrible script. It is like John Wick (2014) meets Terminator 2 (1991) meets Lord of War (2005) that finally meets none of the above and fosters a two-hour, old-fashioned, American, propagandistic, nonsensical, pedantic mashup of nothingness.

I do value Netflix, director Mikael Håfström, and Anthony Mackie and I hardly speak like that about the films I review. This one though undermines human intelligence and has immoral and dishonest intentions so, I’ll pretend I never watched it and move on. I suggest you do the same, and if you haven’t watched it, don’t!

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!

Shadow in the Cloud (2020): Action / Horror / War

A young, female WWII pilot boards on a fighter aircraft, but everything escalates when a creature infiltrates it.

The animation, in the beginning, is well-made but it shouldn’t be there. It has no place within the film and it gives away what is going to come next. I can’t guess its purpose for the life of me. There is a difference between foreshadowing an event and ruining the suspense. It’s like a self-mockery.

Straight after, like it started from the second act, the film’s visuals promise a horror that will raise more questions than answers but definitely, still, deserves the benefit of the doubt. There are two things that stand out positively immediately: Kit Fraser’s claustrophobic cinematography and Chloë Grace Moretz. Rumour has it that writer/director Roseanne Liang heavily rewrote Max Landis’ script (and removed him from the production) due to the latter having been accused of sexual misconducts. Regardless of the allegations, the heavy rewrites, kept the humongous plot holes, did nothing to favour the script, and heavily damaged the film with implausibility and charade. The best part of the film is from the moment the animation ends to the moment the gremlin gets inside the plane. From then on, everything goes to sh*t. Furthermore, Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s electronic, new-age, ambient, space, cyberpunk music is beautifully composed but, in my humble opinion, is way out of context in a WWII movie. But then, everything else is anyway so, I don’t even know why I bother.

Films such as Hidden Figures (2016) empower women and honestly portray human kind’s fortitude. The rest is just Hollywood’s moronic way to try and milk the cow and, thankfully, gets nada in the end. Moretz is an amazing actress, Liang seems to have a spark for innovation, and I for one, bet that I will see them both in something extraordinary soon again.

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!

Redemption Day (2021): Action / Thriller

After his wife is kidnapped by terrorists, a war hero races against time to get her back.

I’ve written before about opening sequences and protracted shots and I’ve said that they raise the bar high for what comes next. In Redemption Day what comes next is, unfortunately, too American and too cliché for my standards so, it becomes the exception to the rule. Regarding the narrative, everything you are expecting to happen, does happen, the time you expect it to happen. There are no twists or no difficulties in completing the mission, really. The characters are forgettable, with the “good” ones being highly skilled, and the “bad” ones highly incompetent and stupid which makes an extreme disanalogy. The dialogue is worse than the “bad” ones mentioned above so, no further comment. Then, directing, acting, choreography, and editing, are mediocre, at best.

My distaste for the film has nothing to do with anything I’ve mentioned so far though. People do what they can, with what they have. My distaste is because of its propagandistic intentions. The film’s oversimplification of who is “good” and who is “bad” is borderline insulting. The world doesn’t work this way and Islam, or any other religion for that matter, has nothing to do with the monstrosities the human species is capable of. That is something that the film is trying hard to show but fails to do so.

I would prefer if co-writer/director Hicham Hajji made a film on the two innocent, young, female, Scandinavian hikers who were found beheaded in Morocco two years ago. That would be a challenge, wouldn’t it? No superfluous heroism, no formulaic scripts, no childish gunfights, no need for constant background music to dictate to the audience how to feel, and no goddamn propaganda that nobody needs. Filmmaking should be, among others, challenging, intriguing, and innovating. As fun and entertaining the days of Commando (1985) may have been, they are long gone and all of us have moved on. I hope some studios do the same.

Stay safe!

P.S. Andy Garcia has no place in this film.

The Mist (2007): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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When a mist out of nowhere brings with it monsters beyond anyone’s imagination, a diverse group of people in a supermarket must do whatever they can to protect themselves from the monsters or from each other.

Probably an unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations. The film cuts right to it when at the same time develops the characters and brilliantly builds up the suspense. And when the mist covers the city and everyone’s trapped in the unknown… that is the calm before the storm. A calm that cuts your breath short only to take it entirely when the storm unleashes, gradually, what is beyond everyone’s imagination. Admittedly, the visual effects are not what they should have been but, please, see past their mediocrity.

The narrative is astonishing. It feels like the world’s schools of thought are gathered in a supermarket and argue realistically as you and I would have if we were stranded, surrounded by such extra-dimensional calamity. Every character in the store is relatable. Love them, loath them, side with them, or mock them… they constitute society as we know it. They form the mob, they become demagogy. See how the tide changes, how easily everyone shows their true colours when the sh*t hits the fan. Where would you stand – or think you would?

Frank Darabond, after masterfully adapting The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) adapts yet another Stephen King novel, delving into the human nature while toying with the idea of hellish dimensions and man playing God. Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Melissa McBride, and Alexa Davalos, most of them frequent Darabond collaborators, side with each other or go against one another and offer you an unforgettable thrill.

As I said, stick to the psychological side of it, turn the blind eye to the digital VFX, and place yourself in that supermarket. As for the end, I have written an article on soundtracks and powerful cinematic moments so, feel free to check it out only after watching the film as it gives away the one of a kind Greek-tragic-irony-like twist: http://theworldofapu.com/powerful-sequences-soundtracks/

Stay safe!

Asylums: Factual Mental Illness vs Artistically Deranged Projection

Tonight, I’m interviewing Michelle Satchwell. Michelle, after shedding some new light on why kids are portrayed in certain ways in horror films, is coming back to talk about asylums and their portrayal in favourite, or not so favourite, horrors. The interview takes an interesting turn as she is pointing out that reality can be scarier than fiction as none of us is as free as we think we are. Regardless, the origins of asylums as the, arguably, scariest places a horror film can take place at is explained and so is the believability behind their projection.

Mental Health Act 1983 where people can be sectioned as “danger to self or others”.

Marie Jahoda (1958) “Ideal Mental Health” including six criteria; autonomy, self-actualisation, positive attitude to self, resistance to stress, accurate perception of reality, and environmental mastery.

Ethical guidelines originated from Nuremberg code (1947), later developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the British Psychological Society (BPS).

R.D Laing (1965) created a “safe heaven” for patients with Schizophrenia. This has been made into a film; Mad To Be Normal (2017). 

Rosenhan (1973) carried out three experiments titled; ‘Insane in sane places’ of pseudo patients being diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Both Laing and Rosenhan were part of the 1970s anti-psychiatry movement.

Thomas Szasz questions how mental health is defined and how it’s been ‘constructed’. In 1961, this was published as the “Myth of Mental Illness”. Then in 2011, released the “Myth of Mental Illness”, Revised 50 years later.

Valentine Douglas (2016) The CIA as organised crime. This covers “Project MK Ultra”.

Weindling (2016) looked at victims and survivors of Nazi human experiments.

Ken Kesey author of One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest claims to have received LSD as part of CIA study as a student; https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2020/09/23/cia-took-lsd-twisted-experiments-inspired-ratched/amp/

The World Health Organisation (1977) said “no culture is free from Schizophrenia”.
Shamanism and Schizophrenia similarities.

Taijin Kyofusho (TKS) as a Japanese culture bound phobia.

Individualist (independent) Western cultures versus Collectivist (interdependent) Eastern cultures can affect diagnoses and disorders. 

Homophobia was seen as a mental health issue up until 1972 and DSM II edition (Diagnostic Statistical Manual reviewed by the APA). The depathologising of homosexuality; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4695779/

International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) was published in May 2019 and is used by the WHO in the UK and Europe. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM 5) published in May 2013 is used by the APA in America.

1 in 4 adults with Mental Health and 1 in 10 young people according to NHS and mental health charities; www.mind.org.ukwww.time-to-change.org.ukwww.rethink.org.uk

1 in 8 young people in the UK with a mental health issue, found in research from MHCYP (Mental Health in Children and Young People) published by NHS in 2017. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2017/2017

P.T Barnum of Greatest Showman fame would parade “oddities” one such case was that of Phineas Gage who had a metal rod through his frontal lobe and his personality changed. https://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/the-curious-case-of-phineas-gage

Trepanning refers to drilling holes in the skull to release demons. http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160826-why-our-ancestors-drilled-holes-in-each-others-skulls

Extra sensory perception (ESP) usually conducts ‘bad science’ also known as ‘pseudo science’ https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-22/edition-7/extra-sensory-perception-controversial-debate

White Knight and Savior Complex; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-white-knight-syndrome

Why are we fascinated by women who kill; https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/20/women-who-kill-female-murderers-killing-eve

Parsons (Functionalist) suggested youth is a time for storm and stress. Eisenstadt (Functionalist) saw youth as a time to let off steam. 

Rogers Client Centred Therapy uses unconditional positive regard; https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/therapy-types/person-centered-therapy. Uses positive psychology see www.actionforhappiness.co.uk

BBC Mental a History of the Madhouse, available here; https://youtu.be/oswUssXzFlY

“Time to Talk” day in February and World Mental Health Awareness in October celebrate diversity and try to remove stigma. #HelloYellow campaign for young people to promote positive mental health.

Powerful Sequences, Defining Soundtracks

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on soundtracks that have played a catalytic role in constructing powerful cinematic sequences. Some are well known, some not so much, and others, potentially unnoticeable to the vast majority.

Stay safe!