The Other Me (2016): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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A criminology professor is invited to provide his insight into a series of meticulously planned murders that blur the lines between legality and morality.

Not having watched a Greek film in years, I’ll admit that this one was a pleasant surprise. Sotiris Tsafoulias writes and directs a cerebral but also existential ‘whodunit’ film where the protagonist (Pigmalion Dadakaridis) races against time to find clues about murders that wake up demons of his own. Very interesting story with an, inevitably, convoluted development. Maybe too convoluted though on this occasion. Being spoiler-free, I’ll try to be as less vague as possible.

To me, it becomes a major issue the fact that the killer has not the relevant background to perform the murders in such a manner. Either I missed it or it is not explained properly how such knowledge has been gained. When you do watch it, please let me know if I missed it somehow. Secondly, and this has been an ongoing problem in the Greek cinema, the acting is quite stiff or flat. But this is not necessarily only the actors’ fault as directing, to a certain extent, dictates the thespians’ acting. For example, Ioanna Kolliopoulou (Sophia) – 2018 Winner of the ‘Melina Merkouri Theater Award’ – is a very expressive young theatrical actress who could have served as the protagonist’s ‘driving force’. Something that here is not obvious at all. Thirdly, and this is again a major one, the editing. The editing, among other things, defines the film’s pace and rhythm and, especially in films like The Other Me, carefully reveals not the information the audience wants to know but the information they need to know when they need to know it. Here, the editing is reasonably misleading – as it should have been, but the film’s rhythm and pace are monotonous. Something that heavily reflects on the film’s mood.

Actors Pigmalion Dadakaridis, and Giorgos Chrysostomou (Manthos Kozoros) stand out for their performances. Director of Photography Giorgos Mihelis creates an excellent noir atmosphere and an also excellent mise-en-scène. Last but not least, I give a round of applause to the Makeup Department; spot-on job!

I definitely recommend you to watch it as I know very well how hard it is in Greece to make a film and trust me when I say that The Other Me is an achievement. Money shortage, production companies lacking the know-how, and a series of governments who couldn’t give two s%#@& about the Greek film industry prevent the artists from unfolding their true talents. On a final note, I hope the Greek cinema develops an identity, mixing the influences coming from the world cinema with genuine Greek elements that one day will lead to a wider distribution.

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSmArtOew08

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Wounds (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A world of obscurity and darkness gradually surrounds a bartender after finding a phone left at his bar.

At first, everyone’s merry. People ‘necking’ life in shot glasses seems like the way to go in a world full of worries. Then, different people who don’t belong to that world leave behind this phone which carries… wounds that people from neither world can possibly comprehend. And then, no one’s merry anymore. And then everyone discovers their dark side…

Friends of mine were calling me over the last few months asking me if I have watched Wounds. My response was ‘no, should I watch it?’ and their reply was something along the lines of ‘no, coz it sucks balls!’. What can I say? I’m a bad listener. Or am I? So, I watched it. And so should you. Wounds is based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella ‘The Visible Filth’ which I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t read so I can’t comment on the adaptation, compare, or contrast it. As a film in itself though, Wounds will get your undivided attention. Do not try to rationalise it. Do not try to give meaning to every word spoken or the staccato editing choices rapidly presented to you. Just watch it looking towards every corner of your screen as the mise-en-scène meticulously frames what you need to know. When, out of the blue, the end credits appear, give it a minute or two to move past the ‘WTF just happened’ feeling, try not to go apeshit as well, and only then start putting things into perspective. And even then, good luck!

Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, and Zazie Beetz do a brilliant job in front of the camera. Behind it, Babak Anvari, director of the eerie, paranormal Iranian horror Under the Shadow (2016), shakes hands with Netflix, defies canon and Hollywood’s jumpscares and goes for long tracking shots and slow editing to haunt New Orleans and unify two worlds that should have never been brought together.

 

The Room (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A young couple moves into a house with many secrets and a room that… grants wishes.

I’ve been told that in Los Angeles, everyone has an idea about a great film. Do you know why almost no one makes it? Because no Industry Professional cares about any kind of idea. The Room is based on a brilliant idea: What would you do if all your wishes could come true… inside your house! Very thrilling idea. Especially, if you ask for a kid.

Its development though irreparably ruins it. Noël Carroll, in “Toward a Theory of Film Suspense” analyses suspense, its development, and its potential outcomes. Highly recommended read. Here, Matt is looking for the room’s key, he finds it. He wants to find that man, he finds him. The man calls at the house and the kid picks up the phone, he knows exactly what has happened and explains everything.

I don’t want to be more negative about this one. Feel free to watch it and make up your mind. The film’s intentions are noble, it just lacks of… almost everything! Very unfortunate.

Death Ship (1980): Adventure / Horror / Mystery

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A Nazi ghost ship rams a cruise ship, sinks it, and then comes back only to get the survivors on board and make them descent into madness.

Act I: Chessy ’70s editing, accompanied by cheesy ’70s music. Get to know who everyone is and what everyone is like. You see them having fun and then you see them sink.

Act II: Get to know the ship… and what it can do to its passengers. Or, even better, what it can make the passengers do to each other.

Act III: Standard, hiding no major surprises.

Death Ship could as well be the B-movie version of The Shining (1980), on the sea. After all, they came out the same year. Also, the same year, the same producers brought you the Terror Train (1980) – I assume you can see the connection. Anyhow, Death Ship may not be well known but I would call it the father, the instigator of every other ghost ship movie out there. So, if the three acts are as described above, do I recommend it? I do indeed. But before I say why please pay attention: You must watch it with untrained, ’80s eyes! Where a good B-movie was as entertaining. Forget the New Hollywood, the 21st century, and how the digital era advanced the filmmaking techniques (or did it?). Keep the Italian Giallo horror films in mind. Not knowing too much about films in the mid-nineties, I first watched it with my brother and we crapped our pants! Is it now outdated? It sure is, but let it trip you down the memory lane. Through an era that you were either too young or not even born. In a time where ‘Intermission’ appeared halfway through the film… Damn, I’m getting nostalgic!

Anyway, if it doesn’t scare you, let it amuse you. Cinematically, the ‘omniscient’ handheld shots are the film’s biggest asset. Crenna and Kennedy are brilliant and so is the cinematography. Last but not least, the first act’s cheesy editing becomes the second act’s conveyor of paranoia…

That one’s for you bro. Remember the scare we got that night (dog manically barking outside / grandma appearing out of nowhere)???

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/366QDFz

Don’t Let Go (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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After his family gets murdered, a disheveled cop receives a phone call from his… dead niece as if nothing has happened.

Jason Blum regained his senses after The Gallows (2015) and The Gallows Act II (2019) and does a comeback with a not so unusual plot but with great execution. Directed by Jacob Estes, Don’t Let Go resembles the plot of Frequency (2000) and The Lake House (2006), adding some fast-paced action. Great acting by all cast but the spotlight belongs to the wonderful Storm Reid.

Come to think about it, the script will never make any sense whatsoever so, don’t think about it, just watch it, and enjoy it. Well-directed, edited and acted, Don’t Let Go will keep you entertained on a night in, therefore get the company you prefer (including your own), sit back, relax and… let go!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/365Ngig

Ad Astra (2019): Adventure / Drama / Mystery

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After a series of cosmic power surges threaten to wipe out life as we know it, an astronaut undertakes a space mission in the hope of stopping them but also finding his father who was considered long gone.

I might not be reading reviews before writing mine but I happened to read Ad Astra‘s on a Sunday night, right after the film came out. They were horrible. I mean shockingly bad, claiming that film fails on every front. The titles alone were… hilarious. So, what did I do? I packed it up on the spot, went to the last screening, and watched it. I hadn’t even watched the trailer. So…

The film itself is not near as bad as people make it to be. Potential issues might include the following: Us, the audience, do not really experience neither the surges nor their aftermath. Through the news, we can see a number that thousands have died and this is it. Therefore, the actual reason why Brad Pitt goes to space heavily focuses on his issue with his father and partially due to his ex leaving him. He doesn’t seem to care at all about the fact that thousands have died and that the future of the Earth but also the rest of the solar system solely burdens him. The second act, yes, it is slow but this merely means anything. To me, the biggest problem of the film lies in the third act. I could thoroughly elaborate as to why but my reviews are spoiler-free so, you are more than welcome to comment when you watch it. Sources claim that director James Gray had to compromise his ending in order for the studio to give the green light. It makes me wonder how his finale would be.

None of these issues though justify the horrendous reviews. I watched the trailer afterwards and looked into a few production details. As with the film’s ending, the studio caused the biggest damage. The trailer had no idea how to promote the film. Subsequently, people thought that they are going to the movies to watch this year’s Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), or The Martian (2015) – which again would pose an issue as not too many people would want to watch another Matt Damon rescue. To cut the long story short, the audience was given the wrong impression and went there with false expectations. Maybe if it had been marketed as Solaris (2002) things would have been different. See the poster above as well. As if seeing close-ups of Brad Pitt for two hours is not enough, he has to be staring at us even before we enter the theatre. Oh, and read the tagline and weep.

I would like to conclude by saying that the slow editing paces the film’s rhythm as it was initially intended, Max Richter’s music is superb, Brad Pitt expresses Roy’s emptiness perfectly, and last but not least, Ruth Negga, as always, every time she makes an on-screen appearance, mesmerises.

I don’t regret being on my own in the whole theatre watching it. Knowing nothing beforehand, I perceived Ad Astra as an existential journey to the vast loneliness of space which can only be outmatched by the vast loneliness of our soul.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2skmG6u

Freaks (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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With the excuse that people will want to hurt her, a girl, locked insider the house since birth by her insanely overprotective father, manages to escape only to realise that he was right all along.

Push (2009) meets Stephanie (2017) made in Canada. A great narrative accompanied by great cinematography. The compelling atmosphere and the very persuasive acting – a standing ovation for the young actress Lexy Kolker – examine thoroughly, even create a case study, on the philosophy of the masses in regard to what it’s like to be different, to stand out, to be able to perform miracles, to feel like a freak and alone…

Turn the lights off, get your other half, your friends, or just a nice drink and enjoy it!  I was thinking of writing that films like Freaks need our support so we can have a lot more of them but, truth to be told, we need eye-opening films like Freaks so we can reevaluate, the norms of the societies we live in but also, as André Bazin would ask, ‘What is Cinema?’.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q1Tav7

Earthquake Bird (2019): Crime / Drama / Mystery

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A translator in Japan becomes a prime suspect after her friend goes missing and her utterances and actions only worsen the situation for her.

Enigmatic, slow-burn, awkward. Mystery surrounds not only what Lucy Fly says and does but what everyone says and does. Interestingly enough, there is no character development as all characters are already developed. The amazing is how we get to wonder throughout the film how everyone got there. As for the story itself, the fabula and the syuzhet create a storyline that balances between the generic – the life as an ex-pat in Japan, and the specific – Lucy Fly’s paranoia in her world of sadness. If, eventually, the ending is to your liking or not this is up for you to decide.

Meticulously written, brilliantly acted, masterfully directed, and very carefully and patiently edited. Last but not least, this is arguably the best photography of the year. Netflix keeps the surprises coming, firstly because its Marketing is non-existent (I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it), and secondly because it dares once more to invest in diversity, quality, and the different.

Let the ‘mystery’ bring out the best of the genre. Let the film fill the gaps whenever it’s ready. Let your mind work it out in its own way.

 

For Ben! How could this not remind me of you mate? 🙂

Midsommar (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A young couple and their two friends decide to fly to Sweden and visit an isolated community’s midsummer festival only to experience events they never expected they would.

Ari Aster knows how to portray death. He has mastered the art of perfectly shooting people die – one way or another – and then how to cut to either their beloved finding out or straight to their reaction after it happens. That said, I can see why the film critically and financially disappointed. Did I like it personally? Yes, I did. Would I recommend it? Before I answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I would ask myself ‘who would I recommend it to’? Horror fans are disappointed already – is there such a thing as mystery or drama fans? I’m not going to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but I would hint the following:

  • The film is unnecessarily two and a half hours long and Aster promised (threatened?) that the director’s cut will be thirty minutes longer!!! For a horror film, the first duration is too long, and the second is tooooo long.
  • About an hour into the film and I wanted it to end and go on IMDb to find out if there is such a Swedish or Scandinavian paganistic/folklore festival. As much as this is a good sign, I couldn’t help but wonder that if there it’s shocking, but if there isn’t why on Earth would he go to such great lengths to elaborate/analyse/delve into something that doesn’t exist. Wondering that, I missed a third of the film and then wanted to cut to what the trailer had promised; some thrill.
  • As stated above, the deaths taking place in the film are definitely worth watching.

Now that you know, it’s up to you to realise if it’s going to float your boat or not.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2SBlUwu

The Gallows (2015): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after a kid’s accidental death, four kids get trapped in a school and tortured by a sinister supernatural force.

I would like to be clear once more and I will be every time I am forced to make a review such as this. I never judge a film itself. I judge the intentions behind it. As with The Nun (2018), the ghost in The Gallows is nothing but a clichéd plot device that does whatever is convenient and wannabe impressive to just… I don’t know… take them out? Story and dialogues are horribly written and the camera work is plainly bad! The acting is mediocre (with Cassidy Gifford being the exception) and the VFX… plainly bad again.

I try to be lenient and I’m definitely holding my punches here but it is really difficult as there is nothing positive I can say about the film other than the semi-decent opening scene followed by a freefall to the rock bottom. The scariest thing is that Jason Blum jumped on board. What is even scarier is that there is a sequel out there and Blum is behind that too – The Gallows Act II (2019).

I’m an avid supporter of indie, low budget films and praise them every time they achieve what Hollywood blockbusters can’t. It’s admirable that two directors did everything they could to make this film but please, do not undermine your audience’s intelligence. And this is why the intentions behind The Gallows are not noble. And this is why my review is bitter.

P.S. The poster’s tagline: “Every school has its spirit”. No comment…

If you still fancy watching it, you can find it here: https://amzn.to/2tceEwg