Lifeforce (1985): Action / Horror / Mystery

An alien vampire race is found in space and brought to a lab in London but, upon escaping, chaos and doom threaten to destroy our planet.

Ask anyone why they remember Lifeforce… And as much as I understand why, this is the reason why the film bombed! An alien sexbomb wreaking apocalyptic havoc in London sounds peculiar to say the least. The film didn’t even make half of its production cost back because a naked Mathilda May and her astonishing beauty stole the show and left everyone uninterested in its shallow science. BUT…

Lifeforce has become a classic and watching it 25 years later, I must say that it is case study of how to deconstruct a B-movie. I don’t think I’ve ever read more production details on a film such as this. What’s more, the vast majority of these details revolve around May’s backstage nudity or how the film’s failure showed during the early stages of principal photography.

Despite how my review sounds so far, especially in times like these, Lifeforce is the form of escapism that will truly entertain you (I mean, read the logline). Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, “The Space Vampires” and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film offers a lack of seriousness and superficiality that harms no one and, if anything, reminds us the cinematic, low-budget, sci-fi era that, once upon a time, was as believable as today’s advanced CGI. The practical effects, the make-up, the effort given not to be rated pornographic, the budget restrains, to name but a few, constitute it a very hard film to make. No words can describe the satisfaction you will get though while watching it. So, forget reality for a couple of hours…

Stay safe!

Saint Maud (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young religious nurse moves to a remote town to treat a housebound terminal patient, making her mission to save her soul.

Feature debut for writer/director Sophie Glass who, so far, directs only what she writes. Using a flashback in the opening sequence is not uncommon but Glass’ shots are, admittedly, impressive. The first half-hour is spent on Maud’s character development and her relationship with Amanda. The confrontation with Carol and Joy’s comment indicate how much we don’t know about Maud but should have suspected in the first place.

The moment she cannot pretend anymore… the moment she unleashes her true self… Glass’ lens pays tributes to Hitchcock and DePalma, while adding her own personal touch. She infiltrates Maud’s mind, dissects her martyrdom / schizophrenia, and restricts the narrative to only to her interpretation of signs. Consequently, this raises the question: How should I interpret those signs? Religion and mental health had been interchangeable terms for centuries, something that Glass manages to sink her teeth in, but mostly provoke, in less than an hour and a half.

Saint Maud is a phenomenal psychological horror that aims to shock you to your core and, Morfydd Clark, fully understanding Glass’ vision, goes the extra mile with a breathtaking performance. Jennifer Ehle plays also her part beautifully, resembling a younger Meryl Streep. Extra credits go to A24 that invested in the film, Ben Fordesman for the haunting cinematography, Mark Towns for perfectly controlling the pace and rhythm, Adam Janota Bzowski for his hair-raising soundtrack, and every member of the cast and crew who strived for perfection.

Saint Maud becomes a proud addition to the British horror genre where you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. Turn off the lights, throw the phones away, and get ready to be blown away.

Stay safe!

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011): Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.

Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!

There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.

Stay safe!

Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, The Myth, His Legacy

Tonight, I’m interviewing Pantelis Tsibiskakis. Pantelis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He studied languages and art both in the UK and the US. Tonight, he is talking about one of his favourite poets, and admittedly mine too, Edgar Allan Poe, his writings, the adaptations, his personal tribulations, but also his legacy.

I’ve used three of Pantelis’ poems in my short story The Last Route (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/04/the-last-route-2020-horror-thriller-drama/

You can find more about him, but also all of his work at the link below: https://ziti.gr/syggrafeas/tsimpiskakis-pantelis/

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).

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

Come to Daddy (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

A letter from his estranged father requesting a visit will make a young man go to his remote cabin in an attempt to reconnect with him.

I always find it intriguing how does one pitch films like this. Right off the bat, Come to Daddy gets you acquainted with two profound quotes:

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” – William Shakespeare

“There is no one else like my daddy” – Beyoncé

Go figure… Then, you get to experience Norval (Elijah Wood) with an atrocious haircut, sporting a pedo-tash, paying a visit to his… eccentric, and profoundly disturbed dad, Gordon (Stephen Mchattie). I’ll tell you this, both of them are awkward, their dialogues are awkward, their father/son relationship is awkward, the sheriff is awkward, the coroner is awkward, everyone is awkward, and the whole film is awkward… until the twist. Then it gets even more awkward.

Throughout the film, I didn’t know whether be ready to get scared or laugh or… And while thinking about it, Dandy shows up pooing, getting off the crapper, and picking up a brutal fight with goofy Norval, unrolling the toilet paper stuck in his bumhole while at it – admittedly, the most enjoyable scene. Eventually, I didn’t get scared but I did laugh out loud with the occasional, inventive, and anything but inspirational, surrealistic tragicomedy.

Inspired by Ant Timpson’s dad’s passing, the story is a mixed bag that, in the end, you’ll just either turn it off and go to bed, say “that was fun!”, or facepalm sighing and wondering why you did that to yourselves. Personally, I like unpredictability, absurdity, and mixed genres. I just prefer it when there is something in the end to take away.

The reason I decided to watch it was the leading duo. Mchattie and Wood are very versatile actors and I have enjoyed them in most films they’ve been in. Wood, having been in numerous Hollywood films in the past, has left most of it behind him and has started focusing on roles like Norman. Wilfred (2011-2014) and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017) are two previous examples of the kind of people he portrays with great success.

Anyway, Come to Daddy is highly recommended if you are really confused with your life, feeling lost, or having daddy issues.

Stay safe!

Powder (1995): Drama / Fantasy / Mystery

Born to a mom who was hit by lightning while she was pregnant with him, a kid grows up and shows abilities and IQ like anyone has ever seen.

The year draws to a close and, as always, I choose to watch films that, at some point in my life, they meant something to me. Powder is one of them.

From narrative’s point of view, it’s all about a boy who’s special and the physical and mental differences between him and the rest of the world make him a loner. Very well written and directed by Victor Salva, excellent performances by Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Lance Henriksen, and Jeff Goldblum, and brilliantly composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Setup, confrontation, and resolution are meticulously developed, offering moments of self-realisation in regard to what we know and what we think we know and how we deal with it. After everything is said and done, in the last scene, just ask yourselves this: where does Powder return to?

From sociology’s point of view, it tackles quite a few aspects… Our schools are incapable of handling different and, consequently, incapable of teaching anyone how to handle different. Our society is still in the dark ages, on an ongoing witch-hunt with modern torches and pitch forks. Our level of understanding about what is going on around us or what lies ahead is laughable – Yes, that includes especially the people we entrust to guide us. Finally, our inability to comprehend the fact that we are not on the top of the food chain and we should stop acting like it and respect nature as much as we should be respecting one another despite our so many differences, quirks and foibles. You wanna make a change but you don’t where to start? I follow Michael’s advice: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”…

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe the film would have performed better if the director Victor Salva hadn’t been convicted for child molestation a few years prior to the film’s release. Thus, much of the “touching” in the film was misinterpreted or interpreted, after the wrap, in an inappropriate way. But, please, don’t see it that way because it has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how much that affected Salva’s career as he kept writing and directing.

P.P.S. It is not mentioned why Doug is not speaking to his estranged son. Why don’t you all take a guess…

A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

It’s Christmas Eve, and five interwoven stories reveal the dark side of Christmas.

A Viking-looking Santa who is about to face something evil, a radio host who wants to lift your spirits, a student film crew that investigates a violent ritual school crime, a family who just wants a Christmas tree, and an Anti-Christmas spirit that is released, chasing wicked people.

Very promising and original opening sequence that will most definitely get your undivided attention. Every story unfolding is a treat and, despite their flaws, they are still dark, eerie, and enjoyable for, admittedly, mostly millennial horror fans but not exclusively. Surely not for the whole family, each and every one of them, twists the meaning of Christmas and explores the darkness within us in days that our light is meant to shine. The ending is a real twist that, unfortunately, is no fantasy and our world has seen similar in numerous variations. For the avoidance of spoilers, I cannot elaborate further and, personally, I feel like I shouldn’t do it anyway.

The stories unfold in the fictional town of Bailey Downs. The same town where the Ginger Snaps franchise takes place but also, partially, Orphan Black (2013-2017). Filmmakers behind both projects collaborated for this one.

Last Christmas film review for this year! Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

Run (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

An ambitious disabled young girl starts getting an eerie feeling that her mother is not who she thinks she is.

Dark, dramatic, and promising opening sequence that sets the tone of Aneesh Chaganty’s suspenseful horror. A huge Stephen King admirer, Chaganty pays numerous tributes to him and co-writes and directs a down to earth, psychological horror about the strongest love in the world, a mother’s love, and juxtaposes it to a mother’s greatest suffering and its inconceivable effects.

Very well shot, very well edited, and very well acted! Sarah Paulson and real-life wheelchair-user Kiera Allen give quite the performances and should be highly praised. What’s more, the bold and provocative twist meets the expectations of the first act’s horrific drama and the second act’s build-up.

Run is yet another film whose world wide release dates were postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet, even though it doesn’t really reinvent its kind, it definitely deserves a watch, and it does not disappoint! Some plotholes could be spotted throughout the story’s development but don’t let them get in the way as the film means well. I liked it better than Chaganty’s previous feature Searching (2018) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2018/12/06/searching-2018-drama-mystery-thriller/ whose target audience was for the… TikTok generation.

Stay safe!

The Call (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Two women from a different time, living in the same house, manage somehow to communicate and befriend each other over the phone; a friendship that will soon become torture.

Korean narrative does not fail. Ever! The Call is a drama first, and a mystery/thriller second. The heroine’s background is as heavy as they come and the current paradoxical pain only builds onto it. Remember The Lake House (2006)? Well, not a bad film to be fair but… this is better! This is actually the psychotic, gruesome version of it! Where the tables turn more than once and the drama matches the suspense and the agony.

The film explores the unpredictability of human nature but also the consequences of our utterances and actions – especially, when we don’t know what we are dealing with. Time travel, in all its variations, is only scientific school of thoughts that clash with each other. Coincidentally, this is the third film I’m watching the last couple of months that explores the time travel implications. Tenet (2020): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/29/tenet-2020-action-sci-fi/ and Primer (2004): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/26/primer-2004-drama-sci-fi-thriller/ were the other two.

The Call is by far not an original concept. Frequency (2000) was the first, I think. But it is the perfect example of”old wine, new bottle” with a non-Hollywood denouement. If I’m being honest, the twist in the very end is nonsensical and should have been left out. Lastly, Jeon Jong-Seo and Park Shin-hye are just incredible!

Therefore, turn the lights off, sit back, relax and for a couple of hours just forget the word “pandemic”.

Stay safe!

P.S. Watch the trailer! One of the best trailers I’ve seen in a long time.

Come Play (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A creature called Larry, which uses mobile devices as portals, seeks to take an autistic kid back to the world it comes from.

The logline is not promising. We are talking about a creature that manifests itself through phones and tablets if one reads its illustrated story, blows fuses, and it’s called “Larry”. If that is not a millennials’ thing, I don’t know what is…

Where do I begin here…

  • Coming out of phones and tablets?! And a bit of a spoiler here, through TV programs chooses films to speak! I wish I knew what to say…
  • Who, how, and why wrote that illustrated that story? How did it circulate to other devices? And why now?
  • The “fuses” part is somehow explained but… called “Larry”?! Larry?!?!

Script aside, the filmmaking style is a pure homage to Tob Hooper (or Steven Spielberg) and Poltergeist (1982) and it’s a great feel seeing the low angle dolly shots, the protracted shots, the Dutch Angles, to say but a few, in a house that could have been haunted or include an old-fashioned monster. The experience of the horror through a kid’s eyes, especially autistic, would be something that would get my undivided attention in the blink of an eye. Young, Azhy Robertson is really great! Writer/director Jacob Chase does a brilliant job with the camera even though not with the typewriter. He adapts his own homonymous short horror Larry (2017) – which I haven’t watched – and, apparently, quite a lot of people liked it. Fair enough. Gillian Jacobs, other than obviously being an incredible woman, she’s an also incredible actress. If you haven’t watched Gardens of the Night (2008) you should definitely do so: https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

To conclude, the directing is impressive, the acting is brilliant, the jump-scares not always necessary, and the script for people who never knew life without a phone.

Stay safe!

P.S. What about Spongebob, right?

Goddess of Love (2015): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Having found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, a drug addict and mentally unstable woman starts losing sense of reality.

I find it intriguing when people ask me about films I am not aware of and then I wonder, “why don’t I know it”? Well, I don’t want to brag too much but, most of the times, there is a good goddamn reason. Of course, then, I have found myself being oblivious to films I should have known hence, I watch more or less, many of the films people suggest I should “definitely” watch.

Goddess of Love is a pseudo neo-noir that I should not definitely watch. Playing around with words, I could have said that it’s a film that I should definitely not watch. But I’m not gonna put it that way. I just found it awkward, meaningless, and boring. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone from the cast or crew so, I can’t comment on their past work. What I do know though for sure is that if I had a girlfriend like Alexis Kendra, I wouldn’t cheat on her (even with Elizabeth Sandy).

In all fairness, I have never cheated and if haven’t done it so far, I will most definitely not do it in the future. The film touches on infidelity, abandonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and eroticism but doesn’t explore any of it, approaching seriously epidemically the human relationships, making every character unlikable, unrelatable, indifferent, pitiful, and I’ll dare to say hateable. Even Venus – not the cat, luv…

I know, there is a twist. But by that point, for the viewer, it is a bit too late. Just to finish on a positive note, Kendra and Sandy are playing their parts quite well.

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!

Burning (2018): Drama / Mystery

A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.

The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.

Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.

False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.

Stay safe!

P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

A young female detective starts suffering from a dream-reality confusion while investigating a series of ritualistic murders.

Right, I’ll be quick. I couldn’t take it seriously from the opening sequence. It’s meant to be ‘horror’ but the British humour overshadowed every chance there was to scare me – and I’m talking slim to none. Writers/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian are obviously David Fincher fans, but the budget, story and character development, photography, editing, acting, but also the profound understanding of a serial killer’s psychosynthesis are hardly evident in the film.

But hey… Charismata is a British low budget indie horror that took time, money, and effort to get made and had no intention to fool you or undermine your intelligence. Should you decide to watch it, it’ll take your mind off things for just over an hour and a half, and actually, entertain you a little. Plus, it does have a couple of impressive shots.

Stay safe!

Hubie Halloween (2020): Comedy / Fantasy / Mystery

A man who has always been mocked and bullied in his hometown takes it upon himself to save this year’s Halloween.

I hadn’t watched an Adam Sandler film in a while but I watched Uncut Gems (2019) last year, I was happily surprised, and I said “why not”? Well… now I’m saying “why”?! Hubie Halloween‘s audience is very, very, very, very restricted. The film’s level of humour barely scratches the bottom from start to finish but that’s not what bothered me the most. Hell, it wasn’t even Sandler’s voice.

The film’s theme is walking on thin ice. 99.7% of an American town, with a dark history of hunting down people with pitchforks and torches, in 2020, is making fun of and is brutally bullying someone having a mental illness – whatever that is. It gets worse though… That town’s once most beautiful woman – Julie Bowen, who still is that town’s most beautiful woman – happens to be that very same town’s nicest girl and part of that 0.3% that actually likes him; with the 0.2% being her nerdy son and the girl he wants to get who also happens to be as merciful and that town’s most good looking high school girl. The rest of the characters are just caricatures. Seriously messed up characters in regard to their role in society, sank at the dark pit of Hollywood’s cliché.

Sandler and Bowen worked together in Happy Gilmore (1996) and admittedly they are A-list actors. Ben Stiller, June Squibb, Michael Chiklis, Maya Rudolph, Shaquille O’Neal Rob, Schneider, Ray Liotta, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, for better or for worse, become part of it. Almost everyone from Grown Ups 1 and 2 but also other films too. Sandler is a great collaborator and top-shelf comedian. Sometimes though, he just seems to be signing for everything under the sun, and Netflix seems to constantly condone such mentality. The movie is dedicated to the late Cameron Boyce who was meant to be part of it. It’s shuttering he’s not with us…

For films that can easily get misconstrued or go under the radar, I always advise to spend a couple of hours forgetting about the real world’s real problems and enjoy these films regardless of their flaws. This is not the case here. Go for all-time horror classics instead. The film’s message seems dumb, but deep down is actually mean-spirited, and I’ll dare to say harmful.

Stay safe!

Books of Blood (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A man looking for a priceless book, a young girl looking for redemption, and a mom looking for answers cross paths in a dark journey, leading to the unknown.

Have you ever wondered what distinguishes a film from a TV movie? Is it the narrative; the way the story is told? Is it the photography? The editing? The acting? Something else? Despite of what I believe or I may know, give it some thought while watching this one.

Books of Blood has the 80s scent, and how could it not? It is from Clive Barker after all. Well, the source anyway… The first story is ultimately all over the place. It seems that there is no beginning middle or end. And what disguises as an end does not give enough justice to what could have been a true Barker story on screen. The sound somewhat annoyed me. I know it was meant to be disturbing for Jenna but literally, on occasion, it was getting on my nerves. The night terror is, arguably, the best sequence even though the tribute to The People under the Stairs (1991) was quite suspenseful.

The second story is a lot tighter. No one deserves to die from cancer, much less a young kid. So yea, a single mom having to deal with that qualifies it as a strong drama. But strong is also the horror of what happens at the end of it. Shame that digital visual effects take away the atrocity it was meant to deliver. Regardless, think of the punishment’s gravity, especially, in regard to what he says afterwards. Did he deserve it?

The third story smartly stitches everything together and while watching it you might realise that my review as misleading as the stories themselves, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or not. As I said, it is from Clive Barker after all…

Enjoy Halloween and stay safe!

P.S. You would never think to see Seth MacFarlane sitting at the producer’s chair next to Barker’s. It must be 2020…

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young traumatised American au pair is hired to look after two orphan kids living in a mysterious manor, in the English countryside where reality is nothing but deceitful.

As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think ‘how am I supposed to write about it without giving away spoilers’? I have tried to avoid hearing or reading anything about it but sporadic negative whispers managed to find their way to me. I would presume that the audience that has, is, and will be watching the Bly Manor is the same audience that has already adored the Hill House. Thus, a line must be drawn between the two.

Mike Flanagan, who once more proves to be a great filmmaker, as well as Amblin Entertainment and Netflix are still behind the mini-series – even though, past the first episode, Flanagan is not wearing the director’s hat. The same applies for most of the cast who we get to see in different roles. Also, both of them are parts of the same anthology, marking Bly Manor’s 35th adaptation for the film or TV of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw – Flanagan pays a lot of tributes to The Innocents (1961). Due to the similarities, please don’t think or try to find connection between the two. The producers have announced more series and they have stated that there is no link whatsoever – if they go down the American Horror Story (2011- ) road or not, that is a different story.

Bly Manor’s directing, photography, editing, costume design, and make-up department win the impressions from the first episode and you’ll get no grief about their quality. The Newton Brothers have also done an excellent job with the film’s score and I guarantee you, you won’t be able to shake off the “O Willow Waly”; it will be humming in your ears for days. Furthermore, all actors deliver top-notch performances that will knock your socks off. All of them get enough screening time to unfold and develop their characters and make sure that each and every one of them will make your heart, one way or another, skip a beat. I mean, how can Amelie Bea Smith act this way is totally beyond me.

The narrative is left deliberately for the end because it is the source of comparisons, contrasts, controversies, and contradictions. I can understand all four of them but imagine if the Bly Manor was like Hill House. What would be the point? Some might prefer the latter because behind the ghosts there is a strong family drama that pins you down. And Flanagan’s protracted shots are giving that drama the justice it deserves (that’s why I missed his directing on this one). But here’s what I think it happened…

Convoluted narrative that will end up to a mind-blowing resolution requires hiding clues and overall information BUT, even while misleading with the fabula and syuzhet’s timeline, the filmmakers need to make sure they don’t leave their audience completely bamboozled. Because this is where they lose interest and even when something big happens in the end, they will have already missed a lot and, eventually, will not understand it or not care about it. That’s my two cents anyway. I highly recommend it and look forward to the next haunting.

Oh, before I go, there is actually something connecting the two; love or the lack thereof…

Stay safe!

P.S. Victoria Pedretti shone as Nell Craine, shines as Dani Clayton, and she very much reminded me of Piper Perabo when I first watched her in Coyote Ugly (2000).

P.P.S. My beloved Ioanna, as promised, this one goes out to you!

Death of Me (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

After a night they don’t remember anything, a vacationing couple finds a video of them where the husband kills the wife.

The Hangover (2009) meets The Wicker Man (2006). Yes, the Nicholas Cage version.

Death of Me… a film where everyone aimlessly is running around. I’ll cut straight to the point, there are significant issues with the story development but also the editing. The story itself is more than decent but then the project collapses by the minute as it unfolds. The acting is also decent – considering, but the film is beyond saving. I think the intentions were good but the execution was bad. I mean… bad! I don’t want to slag it off more because, regardless, a lot of people put in a lot of effort and work. It just didn’t come out right, unfortunately. Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth are really good actors so, don’t let that film define their skills.

Stay safe!

Antebellum (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Slaves at a confederate quarter during the American civil war experience a horrendous reality, but nothing is what it looks like.

One of the most meticulous and intriguing opening shots I’ve seen in a while. Music, photography, and powerful acting set the tone for what is about to come. Unfortunately though, as we go through despicable times, for more than one reason, it is hard to focus purely on the artistic part and neglect the atrocious side of the human soul.

Leaving momentarily the politics and the comparisons with today’s depressing reality aside, I’ll go on with a disclaimer: I had no idea what I was signing up for. So, almost 40′ into the film, I started scratching my beard… I really wanted to see where the story was heading. And this is when my excitement disappeared. The story dragged and became so political that characters lost their interest. Janelle Monàe’s character became snobbish and everyone else indifferent. Nothing like the acting or story development of the first forty minutes. Politics were so forced into the film that became unwatchable. Whatever was not political, it was pure boredom. I’m particularly fond of both Jena Malone and Gabourey Sidibe and here their characters were, again, as snobbish and indifferent as Monàe’s – or worse. The reason I cannot relate to such characters is because I could never and I have never hanged around with so self-righteous and pompous people that like themselves that much and think of themselves so high, like they are Derek Zoolander. I am sure the people who value their ticket’s money feel the same way.

Half an hour after that, and having watched a particular film in 2004 (no spoilers), I kind of saw where the story was heading. But directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz just made it too obvious with the only difference that they over-politicised it. And that’s how the second part of the second act was doomed to fail. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever and undermined the audience’s intelligence. And the filmmakers should always keep in mind that the horror fans are extremely savvy. Ι can see how appealing it is to make a 12 Years a Slave (2013) meets Get Out (2017) but Steve McQueen and Jordan Peele have their own distinctive and unique style that it would be best to be left to them and not copied. Speaking of copying, did I mention the irrelevant reference to The Shining (1980) and the inexplicably identical poster with The Silence of the Lambs (1991)?

Stay safe.

Valley of Shadows (2017): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Valley of Shadows.jpg

After his dog ran away, a little boy’s quest to the unknown leads him to a forest where urban legends and reality blend into one.

The obvious achievement is Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen’s cinematography. And by that, I mean Oskar-level cinematography. Young Adam Ekeli plays the part exactly as he should be and for that, other than his skills, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s directing is to praise. The amazing Zbigniew Preisner’s music adds the final touch with his mesmerising and atmospheric composition. The very slow-paced rhythm and the lack of action should not put you off. Valley of Shadows is the definition of a hero’s journey told in a Scandinavian (Nordic) way. 

I stumbled upon the film completely by accident and I am so glad I did. The narrative is extremely restricted, making you experience the aforementioned journey through the kid’s eyes alone. Travel back to that age and try to remember how you perceived reality when you were little. Then, and only then, come back and interpret the events the way you see fit. I repeat, do not expect action. Pretend you are that kid having been lost in that eerie, yet dazzling forest, knowing nothing about conscious or unconscious elucidations.

Stay safe!

The Initiation (1984): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

The Initiation.jpg

A college student who suffers from a recurring nightmare and her sorority sisters decide to break into a mall one night while a serial killer is out for blood.

One of the best mediocre 80s, slasher, nonsensical, American horrors made back then. Brilliant for American millennials to get educated on how their parents acted – and what they were wearing – during their college/Uni years. Well, up until blood starts splattering everywhere.

The acting is almost as funny as the haircuts; almost. The storyline is the perfect motive to stick popcorn in the microwave and put your feet up, the music and sound effects will make you laugh out loud, choking on that popcorn, and the editing will finish you off.

Have a friend around or a couple of good ones. Share your problems, concerns, and thoughts, and when you’re done, hit play, forget our horrible reality, and enjoy just over an hour and a half of unintentional fun. I know I did.

Stay safe!

Happy Death Day 2U (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

Happy Death Day 2U.jpg

Once she thought that she had fulfilled her purpose and closed the loop, Tree finds herself waking up once more on her birthday… but nothing is the same. 

Here’s an analogy for you. The first one was kinda scary and kinda funny. Now, this one is not scary and very funny. So, what do you think? Does that make it a better sequel? There is also an upgrade: The mixture of Groundhog Day (1993) and Back to the Future (1985). The good news is that there is no bad news. What you think you sign up for, it is exactly that. There is some suspense, the science is laughable but no one is trying to convince you otherwise, the editing adds to the film’s quality and creates the desired emotions, and everyone is playing their part as they should be. Speaking of, there is one surprise; a happy one…

Jessica Rothe! The film’s source of hilarity is also the cause of the heart-warming drama that will cut your breath short even for those tiny given moments. Director Christopher Landon does an excellent job directing the mother/daughter sequences so, congratulations are also in order for the actress Missy Yager.

Very enjoyable! It will definitely make you forget our miserable reality even for that hour and a half. 

Stay safe!

Knowing (2009): Action / Drama / Mystery

Knowing

A fifty-year-old list of numbers prophesying every major catastrophe that took place ever since will make a professor of astrophysics, and a single parent, to race against time to prevent the ones that are yet to happen.

Is pessimistic optimism a term? Does it make sense? It doesn’t, does it? Be it as it may, that’s the oxymoronic feeling you get out of Knowing. But first things first…

“Randomness vs Determinism”, from a philosophical and/or scientific point of view, will become the setup’s foundation, and your mind’s internal debate while watching the confrontation unfolding. One of my favourite Nicolas Cage movie from the noughties where, back then, I couldn’t find many flaws. Watching it now for a second time, eleven years later, I spotted certain plot holes and gimmicks but I didn’t let them get in the way. Yet, it answers all the questions it raises halfway there (not even in the end), and that feels a bit spoonfed for my taste. Regardless, Cage is the right man for the job, Rose Byrne delivers a great performance, the kids are surprisingly convincing, and Ben Mendelsohn, be it in a leading or supporting role, always nails it. Once again, it’s a shame that the film answers everything for you.

The man in the director’s chair is Alex Proyas, a director whose niche is dark fantasy/sci-fi. My personal bests are: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), and I, Robot (2004). Unfortunately, he has not been involved in many projects and some of them, I believe, were beneath him. I look forward to watching something of his ’90s style soon.

(Not)Fun fact: The film predicted the BP’s oil spill in the Mexican gulf the year after.

Stay safe!

The Vast of Night (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

The Vast of Night

New Mexico, 1948: A switchboard operator detects a frequency like anything she has ever heard before, a radio producer broadcasts it, and myth, reality, and paranoia start blending into one.

Act I: The phenomenal antithesis between fast-talking actors and protracted shots. To be more specific, we are talking about up to 10-minute dolly and steady-cam shots. Great set-up and character introduction along with made-up experiments that get you into the low budget sci-fi mood and make you chuckle with their “accuracy”.

Act II: Past the slow-burn intro, the clash between reality and storytelling of loneliness becomes as vague as the editing techniques pacing it. It takes yet another heroine of life to wind the pace down and get you comfy with another story from the “fortress of solitude”, the plot point that leads to…

Act III: A resolution with no twist, yet a worthy ending. An ending that the two previous acts promised and did not mislead you about.

Meet Andrew Patterson! The writer/editor/producer/director behind The Vast of Night. The filmmaker who is known for… The Vast of Night. I had never heard the guy before. Well, guess what? IMDb hadn’t either. So, here’s the question: Who cares?! The man made this film almost on his own (using three different names). An honest tribute to The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953), and The Twilight Zone (1959) with suspenseful sequences accompanied by, among others, Cretan (Greek) music!

You watch the film, then you look at his picture and you can’t help but wonder: “Doesn’t he look like one of them alien conspiracy bloggers/vloggers”? Again, who cares?! Patterson is a talent! He got turned down by, I don’t know, 15 major film festivals? Few of them accepted him though and shared his vision. And I’m glad Amazon Studios did as well. I take my hat off to him. He’s a living, breathing, walking proof that all of us need to stick to our dream and keep it real. Andrew, cheers for that geezer!!! Much appreciated!

An extra, special bravo goes to Sierra Mccormick and Jake Horowitz for being true thespians and delivering Patterson’s dream.

Stay safe!

The Unknown Woman (2006): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

The Unknown Woman

A woman’s promiscuous past becomes a constant reminder in the present and a motive for every obscure step she takes.

Giuseppe Tornatore proves time and time again over the decades that his diversity knows no limits. I remember watching Cinema Paradiso (1988) in the theatres as a kid and even though there was a lot I missed back then (I caught up the second and third time I watched in the years that followed), I believe it solidified the foundation of my love about cinema. The Unknown Woman, one of the three films he made in the noughties – with Malena (2000) and Baarìa (2009) being the other two – is a suspenseful, dramatic, physically but also thought-provoking mystery/thriller about the search of hope. About a woman driven by her past sufferings, in the hopes that life will smile at her for once. Tornatore though doesn’t believe that the past should be left in the past. He believes it will always be part of us no matter how hard we try to run away from it.

Kseniya Rappoport and Clara Dossena steal the show on screen. Ennio Morricone (over the last 60 years!) fills the atmosphere with doubt with his tachycardic music, amplifying and constantly prolonging the suspense until the film’s denouement. But here’s the thing:

“It’s not a film until it’s edited” – Michael Kahn

Massimo Quaglia, Tornatore’s loyal editor, is the one who “stitches” the film together with artistry. The flashback’s metric montage invisibly permeates the present with extremely meticulous match cuts. Outstanding chemistry!

Most of the time, we think we’ve had it bad in life. Guess what? While sometimes life gives us the shortest straw, to others she gives nothing but pain. Why? Because she can. The pandemic but also the unfathomable, bottomless human buffoonery have proved, once more, that life is not to be taken for granted. Make the most of it and…

Stay safe!

Forgotten (2017): Mystery / Thriller

Forgotten

Things take an unexpected turn for a family after a young man sees his older brother getting abducted and comes back days later with no memory of what happened, acting like a different person.

Narrative like only the Koreans know how to develop. Dramaturgy that knows no boundaries and is unconditionally unleashed to shock you to your core. Huge comeback from writer/director Hang-jun Jang who seems like not taking particular interest in the film industry. Regardless of the reasons, and even though it flew a bit under the radar, Forgotten is the type of film that will get your undivided attention. You cannot miss a thing otherwise you’ll have even more questions. Very intricate with numerous twists and turns, Forgotten does not hold any punches. It might not be Oldboy (2003) but it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

The South Korean film industry (Hallyuwood, informally) is a dominant player in the market. Partially, yes, because the government is heavily investing in it but also due to the produced films’ impact globally. Money might open a plethora of doors but it is the sheer talent that walks such filmmakers through them, stirring the focus once more towards the beautiful artistic side of the industry and taking it away from the ugly scandalous one that we have all had enough with.

P.S. I didn’t know it was a Netflix film until I accidentally stumbled upon the information on IMDb – no logos in the opening or closing credits.

P.P.S. That’s for you cuz! Thanks for the recommendation!

P.P.S. Jiyoung, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. If you have, why didn’t you tell me about it??? 🙂

Stay safe!

The Hidden Face (2011): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

The Hidden Face.jpg

Strange occurrences start happening when an orchestra conductor decides to move on with his life after his girlfriend ostensibly split up with him and suddenly disappeared.

Before I start saying anything, I want you to know that I was skeptical for the first half an hour. A skepticism that faded away past the first act.

It’s been years since I wanted to watch it and I’m glad I finally got the time. I’ll start with the acting which is shockingly convincing. Excellent job by all actors and actresses who convey the drama, the thrill and the horror portrayed, especially Clara Lago. Director Andrés Baiz handles the story cautiously through very restricted narrative so he doesn’t reveal the inciting incident until the time is right. And when he does, he makes sure that, through the editing, all information is very tightly revealed for what is about to happen. Of course, the round of applause starts with Hatem Khraiche’s suspenseful story.

If you are wondering why I was skeptical in the beginning of the film, I will only say that if past events are integral to the story and will be revealed to us anyway, we are accustomed to flashbacks opposed to getting the whole story at once and distract us from the main plot. Only later on it made sense from the editing’s point of view. It might sound incoherent as a sentence now but please watch it – without knowing anything – and think about it.

Stay safe!

Angel of Mine (2019): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

Angel of Mine.jpg

Years after losing her daughter in a fire, a woman’s mental state takes a turn for the worse when she starts thinking that she is still alive.
Have you ever started watching a film not knowing anything about it other than something, down the line, somewhere is going to really go sideways and you just don’t know what that is?

Well, Angel of Mine happens to be one of them. A constant agony of what Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) is gonna totally screw up to the highest degree. The success of the film relies on that and it does indeed achieve it. Part of the reason is because kids are involved and part of it is because adults like her are involved.

As the slow-burn escalates, while nothing really substantial happens, you won’t stop wondering how far is she gonna take it?! And then it’s the ending… but I’m gonna leave that up to you. My only comment is that Fatal Attraction (1987) was that successful because of that kind of escalation; that climax. Anyhow, congratulations to both Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski for their remarkable performances.

Over the years I have convinced myself that a film should not have a single mood from the beginning till the end. Angel of Mine is unsettling and dead creepy throughout. And even though that’s not a plus, the abyss of the human mind, the vastness of its capabilities, the infinite goodness, but also its unfathomable limits to cause pain in any shape or form can be terrifying.

Stay safe!