Stowaway (2021): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

A series of dilemmas and decisions divide a crew on its way to Mars when they discover a passenger who shouldn’t have been there.

Very well-written and shot first act, paying extra attention to the orbital mechanics’ math but also the heroes’ reactions during the launch. The discovery of the stowaway passenger intensifies the thrill and the agony regarding who this person is and why he’s there begins… Well, not immediately!

The second act starts off a bit slow, not interested in providing crucial information straight away. Don’t be put off by that though, pace yourselves. Everything slowly and steadily is falling into place. When the dilemma is presented, questions such as: What would I do… How would I do it… What if I were him… How the hell did it come to that… and maybe more, will get you engaged.

Writer/producer Ryan Morrison and co-writer/producer/director Joe Penna wrote and directed respectively a very claustrophobic drama / thriller / sci-fi full of moral decisions and dilemmas and XYZ Films, as always, made sure to invest in the film’s technological realism for a heartbreaking, yet – kinda – believable outcome. Speaking of believability, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson, and Toni Collette give very decent performances and have good chemistry with each other.

The denouement is, arguably, over-dramatised but it still serves the narrative’s purpose. I believe that the lukewarm reviews derive from the desire for more action something that the film somewhat lacks. Don’t be discouraged though, its other qualities compensate and, while in lockdown, having nothing much more creative to do, Stowaway becomes the escapism we potentially need/want.

Stay safe!

Red Dot (2021): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

In an attempt to heat up their relationship, a couple travels to the north of Sweden only to become a target and fight for their survival.

I have to thank my good friend Shiying for suggesting this one to me, and I’m so glad she did. The film’s strong suit is hands down, the narrative. The script is solid and its two protagonists, Nadja and David totally relatable. Its horror works in two levels: survival against the forces of nature and survival against the forces of unnatural (?) human evil. As the story unfolds, the difference, not that is really needed, is broken down for you so you can reconstruct it yourselves in the end. But, please, let me for argument’s sake humour you. When we distant ourselves from nature, it is not nature to blame if it does what it has been doing way before we stepped foot on this planet that we ended up looking down on as if we owned it. Then, there is the other threat; us. The detached from nature beings who developed, amongst other things, ideology, philosophy, and politics and used them against one another, as well as… nature.

Leaving my ecological concerns out of the equation, Red Dot steps on these characteristics of ours and very manipulatively deceives you. The twist is well designed and the editing, of course, selectively discloses what it requires for you to fall into the trap. The second part of the second act could be easily analysed in terms of how the restricted narrative led to the moment of truth, but that would ruin it for you so I’m not gonna do it. Watch it and decide for yourselves whether you saw it coming and how ‘smart’ or not you thought it was. My major objection, and that’s the only thing I’ll tell you, is that the third act’s harshness would be far more breathtaking if the verbosity levels were dropped, even to zero. But that’s just me.

Have a go at it! It’s well worth it. From beginning to end, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis lead the way with their incredible performances. What also stands out is Oscar-worthy cinematography. Before everything goes tits up, see how it starts at the petrol station. My initial thought was: ‘As if they don’t have enough on their plate, them two… it’s just what they needed’. And that’s what makes Nadja and David totally relatable, as I said in the beginning. You are going somewhere with your boyfriend/girlfriend and they show up. How would you react? What would you have done differently? How would you cope with the consequences? It is how every good thriller/horror starts…

Stay safe!

P.S. Shiying, that’s for you! Thank you, luv!

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!

The Midnight Sky (2020): Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

A dying scientist, based at a remote arctic research centre, needs to warn a satellite’s crew members not to return to Earth due to a mysterious cataclysmic disaster.

People sent me a lot of negativity about it, negativity that bore a lot of resemblance to Ad Astra (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/12/05/ad-astra-2019-adventure-drama-mystery/. Now, I’m not saying that that was a perfect film but it wasn’t remotely as bad as they made it to be. How about this one, then? Does it worth your time?

Producer/actor/director George Clooney has put his heart and soul to it. He might not be appearing enough lately – his last feature film was Money Monster (2016) – but in front of the camera he is as great as he meticulous behind it. Suspense’s favourite narrative technique is “delay of resolution”. The journey of Augustine and Iris to the weather station will make your heart skip a lot more than a beat as will the meteor shower’s sequence in space. Extra credits go to the sinking container scene. Both the journey on Earth but also in space, go through various tribulations and the dramatic parts in between will give you the time to bond with the characters. Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and introducing Caoilinn Springall, give amazing performances and enhance both the drama and the suspense.

But I believe the film’s strongest suit is the narrative structure where the fabula and the shyuzet are organised in such manner that reveal only what you need to know, when you need to know it. Keep postponing what you want to know. What has happened will not be revealed to you that easily and will you definitely need to read between the lines. The levels of knowledge vary throughout the film. You don’t know exactly what Augustine knows but you still know a lot more than the crew does. On the other hand, you know almost everything that is happening on the satellite when Augustine knows nothing but you know as much as they do when it comes to the global disaster. No matter what the narration remains restricted at all times and you are not the omniscient spectator you would like to be.

After most of it is said and done, it all comes down to what your expectations are prior to hitting ‘play’. It is not an action film. It is a cosmic journey to finding a place to start anew and it an esoteric journey to remorse, redemption, and our deepest regrets. Yet, people found the ending… unfulfilling.

It is not the ending that is unfulfilling. It is the connection with ourselves, and, consequently, the connection with the people we love and they love us back.

Stay safe!

#Alive (2020): Action / Drama / Horror

A sudden zombie outbreak will find two youngsters trapped in their flats opposite each other, making an escape plan.

I’m a sucker for build-up. You know, character and story development. Think of Train to Busan (2016) in this instance; patiently and suspensefully builds the narrative up before everything goes sideways. So, for horror fans who have watched countless zombie films, the opening sequence does not feel original or anything at all. I believe, the most impressive scene throughout the first thirty minutes is the police officer scene.

Things start getting interesting after the hero’s breakdown and big exodus. The action and thrill for the battle of survival pick up the pace and gradually get your attention. The pace is about to die out soon after though but is saved by the presence of Park Shin-hye’s character (Kim Yoo-bin). If you haven’t seen her in anything else, you should definitely try the same year’s and also Netflix’s production, The Call (2020) https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/06/the-call-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

But then, pace, rhythm, suspense, and action all die out together faster than the film’s outbreak. It manages to pick up again, but the effort was nothing new. Shame really, I wish the filmmakers had decided what kind of film they wanted to make. It seems like the genres are cancelling one another. If it’s any consolation, the film was a shockingly huge commercial success!

RIP Kim Ki-duk  (20.12.1960 – 11.12.2020)

Stay safe… and alive!

P.S. Challenge: Try to count how many times the word ‘alive’ is said.

His House (2020): Drama / Horror / Thriller

A refugee couple escapes Sudan in a time of war, they arrive in England, only to have to adjust to a whole new reality and face a ghost that followed them all the way to their new house.

Welcome to a journey that no one is welcome. A soul-wrenching and haunting experience that no one should ever have. Yet, hundreds of thousands, unknown to us people do. To this very day. His House, feature debut for Remi Weekes, is a drama with horror elements whose natural drama is more horrifying than its supernatural horror. Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku carry the film on their shoulders and manage to pass on to the viewer all the survivor’s guilt and immigration’s hostility but also the sense of having nothing left! Matt Smith always adds flavour to everything he’s in.

It is not a “haunted house” horror film. It is a haunted conscience film and an introduction to a different set of beliefs and norms to the “civilised” world. Well written and brilliantly shot. Jo Willems’ cinematography deserves an extra credit.

Keep your mind open and expect nothing beforehand. Brave attempt from both Netflix and BBC Films that gives a taste of how it feels like to be a stranger and struggle into a world that sees you as a piece of s*it or a laughing stock at best.

Safe safe!

P.S. You can enjoy a lot more of Dirisu in Gangs of London (2020) and Mosaku in Lovecraft County (2020).

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!

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!

The Devil all the Time (2020): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Dark, interweaving stories about faith, chance, innocence, and corruption that spring from the most corrupted part of the human soul.

West Virginia… WWII is over, the soldiers are back, and the Willards, not from West Virginia, have trouble adapting. As if the war hadn’t done enough damage, the understanding of Lord’s mysterious ways led people to be… set in their own ways. A result that brings irony and nemesis, a rhetorical device and a goddess respectively, from ancient Greece, that civilisations have been stumbling upon, in numerous shapes and forms, for millennia.

Almost an hour into the film, the new generation takes over the torch and builds on that wretched foundation, paving the path for and giving birth to menace and hypocrisy, two human “qualities” that the ancient Greeks “saw”chewing up man’s soul like locus. And there is only one offspring that can come out of such a sorrowful family tree… Tragedy!

Writer/director Antonio Campos, co-writer Paulo Campos, and editor and wife of the former Sofía Subercaseaux put their heart and soul into the film. The Devil all the Time has two strong suits. One, is the narrative. The exchange between the omniscient narrator who speaks people’s minds and connects interweaving stories, and the interchangeable restricted narration between the heroes and villains, and the audience.

The second one is the phenomenal casting: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennet, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, and Robert Pattinson. And guess what, most of them are not even Americans. Excellent chemistry between the actors and amazing work with the dialect coaching. Most of the cast and crew have worked together in other films before, with the most notable collaboration being Holland, Stan, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s wearing the producer’s hat – MCU. Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the homonymous novel, gets a special reference for voicing his first ever narration in the film.

I guess, in life, what goes around comes around. And The Devil all the Time is no short of literature on screen, believing, and strongly indicating it in the denouement, that we are trapped in an indissoluble delusion that we can run away from ourselves.

Stay safe!

13th (2016): Documentary / Crime

The astronomical rise of the prison population in the US throughout the decades, through victimization of ethnic minorities and partnerships between correctional facilities and private corporations.

A brave new world! Well, not so new really. Well, not so brave either I guess. Writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay hits the nail on the head with a revealing documentary on the, once inexplicable, rise of the prison population and its deep connections to the racial inequality, the capitalist system, and their common denominator which is none other than the continuously manipulative governments.

I am pretty convinced that DuVernay’s footage was dozens of hours long and she could probably have had about three documentaries like 13th. While evaluating her footage, she decided to narrow it down and tell the story the way she did. The documentary’s strong suit is the information it provides on the connection between the era of slavery to the media and cinema and The Birth of a Nation (1915) to the present era, and how is all connected to the rise of the correctional facilities industry. I for one, and not being American, I didn’t have the foggiest so that was, while unpleasant and disheartening, an eye-opening experience. The research was also solid and the archive footage was strong and extremely effective, it literally put a lot into perspective.

And even though I learned loads about the disgusting, filthy companies that profit from human suffering, I didn’t get around why the poor who can’t get out of prison have been incarcerated to begin with. I got an idea, don’t get me wrong, but instead on spending some time to expand on it, it expanded on movements and actions that were not related to the rise of the prison population.

The editing in documentaries such as 13th plays a catalytic role in narrative formation. Documentary is research. The filmmaker does not really know where it will lead or how it will really lead them where it will. It is a journey. O.J.: Made in America (2016) is a perfect example of that. 7 hours and 47 minutes, after editing, that focuses on the chronicle of O.J. Simpson, the anchor of the documentary, and only expands to the events that surround his case.

Regardless, 13th is a must-watch as is DuVernay’s previous work Selma (2014), and the biographical When They See Us (2019) – reviews to follow.

Panagiotis, this one’s for you mate. Thank you for the recommendation.

Stay safe!

The Old Guard (2020): Action / Fantasy

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A group of immortal mercenaries is been set up and hunted down, but together they’ll take down anyone who stands in their way.

Well-shot! Good job by Gina Prince-Bythewood as international films, especially of that magnitude, can never be easy. Too many locations, too much cast and crew, too many permissions to shoot, and too many visual effects. I believe it’s her most ambitious film to date so, well done! Charlize Theron and her multinational/multiracial team of mercenaries create great chemistry in front of the camera, offering plenty of action but also laughter when they take out and wield their weapon of choice.

Now, I would say that the film’s score is not a perfect match. Maybe I kept having the graphic novel in mind while watching, and, while reading the comic back in the day, that’s not the music I had in mind. I can understand that the film’s target audience is not me so, for younger people maybe it makes more sense. It is very well edited though (on that music), so the rhythm and pace compensate.

Before hitting “play” remember: This is a Skydance & Netflix production. The Old Guard follows the standard, New Hollywood narrative, aiming at an audience that has no interest in Italian neorealism. It is entertaining though and I enjoyed all the effort put from everyone in front and behind the camera. I hope you do as well.

Stay safe!

Da 5 Bloods (2020): Adventure / Drama / War

Da 5 Bloods

Four African American veterans return to Vietnam for the first time after the war ended to find their fallen brother and leader and claim something they consider rightfully theirs.

The opening sequence hits the nail! Right off the bat, you know exactly Spike Lee’s angle on this one. From Ali’s heroic statement to the historic footage that follows, Da 5 Bloods promises to be yet another Lee’s film way ahead of its time. But it isn’t. It most certainly is not. So what happened?

The story is quite an adventure. A sweet and sour and powerful one. The heroes are relatable and so is their background. Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Jonathan Majors deliver powerful performances. Furthermore, Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is gripping. So, again, what happened? I’ll start with the music. For a film that mocks Rambo, it surely shares a similar score that accompanies it throughout most of its moments, killing the emotion. Then, there are two major problems. The lesser problem is the editing which can make or break every film. And in this case, it is at least mediocre. So, what can be worse than mediocre editing? The script! The one too many weak subplots overshadow the main plot that has one too many gimmicks. The gold’s and body’s discovery, and the team arriving at the right place at the right time are just the tip of the iceberg. Before and after that, it just remains unreasonably and purposelessly convoluted. Shame really. Real shame. Should you decide to watch it, enjoy Lindo not holding back one bit! The best parts of the film.

Stay safe!

Extraction (2020): Action / Crime / Thriller

Extraction

A self-destructive, black market mercenary signs up for a deadly mission where allies and enemies are difficult to tell apart.

I’m gonna start with the bad news: The script, unequivocally, has more holes than Swiss cheese. Something that, unavoidably, leads to clichés. Without wanting to decimate both the story and the plot, know what you sign up for! Two hours of standard Hollywood, action narrative, seriously lacking plausibility, and character depth.

Now for the good news: As a representative example of cinema of attractions, Extraction‘s mid-fighting sequence, where everyone is after Tyler and the kid, the seemingly almost-12-minute, protracted shot is brilliantly made. This type of filmmaking is challenging as hundreds or thousands of people put their magic touch to look as impressive. A lot of people are getting injured in front of the camera, and a lot of people are working endlessly day and night behind it. What’s more, Chris Hemsworth nails his part as the tough as nails guy who suffers internally more than he suffers when he gets run over and shot. Sam Hargrave’s directorial debut who has come a long way from a stunt double (Chris Evans’ as Captain America), to stunt choreographer to here. And been produced by the Russo Brothers, I can assume that MCU is indeed… a family. I admire people like Hargrave. He reminds me of other successful stunts turned directors and producers such as Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and Zoë Bell. It is a hopeful sign that talent and hard work pay off.

So, who is this film for? For everyone who wants to forget our deeply damaged reality, consisting of shameless hypocrites and cowards who found themselves in power – or represent it. Turn off reality for a bit and see how popcorn entertainment can serve its purpose. My heart goes out to the people suffering. But remember:

“[…] Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out, keep ya head up…. and handle it.” ― Tupac Shakur

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!

Unorthodox (2020): Drama

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Without saying anything to anyone, a young American, Orthodox Jewish woman leaves her husband and her community to find her own path as far as possible.

Who would know that religion can liberate as much as it can oppress? Well, everyone did! Yet, here we are. Proudly marching through the 21st century, forcing people to abide by what, potentially, non-existing people, over two thousand years ago, claimed, dictated, established, and then legislated in the name of God.

Because, what a sin to want to make your own mistakes in life. To see the world for what it really is. To regret things you’ve done but also things you haven’t. I mean, what a disgrace to like someone of the same sex. To be of a different colour or simply have different beliefs that you haven’t imposed on anyone. For it is an anomaly to consider “your people” the people who have your back in life and they choose to be there for and with you, accepting you for the person you really are.

Esty’s story is a heart-wrenching one. It is a story that will make you doubt, rethink, and/or reevaluate your decisions, your choices, your fears and insecurities, your freedom. A huge BRAVO to Netflix for creating this mini-series. A huge BRAVO to all cast and crew for working so hard to such detail and especially to Deborah Feldman and Maria Schrader. And a huge BRAVO to Shira Haas, whose gripping performance shocked us to the core.

Wake up, chase, and materialise your own dreams. No one else will do it for you coz no one else can. This is Esty’s story. The everyday heroine who developed the most amazing superpower; the ability to become who she always wanted to be.

Stay safe!

The Platform (2019): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

The Platform.jpg

An unconventional prison with unknown underground levels called The Hole, starting from top to bottom, provides food for inmates through a platform that is always consumed disproportionally… as no rules apply.

Do you remember Cube (1997)? Welcome to the 21st-century, Spanish Netflix version of it. Brilliantly produced, directed, edited and acted, The Platform will “brutally” entertain you and keep you on the edge of your seat. The photography offers the claustrophobic environment that, on occasion, it will suffocate you as much as the inmates.

The weak link here is the writing though. There are at least two obvious plotholes that, unfortunately, no department spotted – or cared to fix.

1. The levels’ inexplicable temperature rise/drop: It wouldn’t be a plot hole if there was a visible source causing it.

2. The inmates’ transfer from level to level. It wouldn’t be a plot hole if, once again, we saw some kind of gas coming out of… somewhere that knocks them out. Also, swapping everyone, from every level, at the same time, having only the platform as a way of accessing each level increases the implausibility.

I’m a huge fan of the “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story”. How can you ignore the facts though when no one bothers to disguise them? Please, do watch it! I highly recommend it. The above-mentioned plotholes are spoilers-free. It is tempting to analyse the film’s message as well but I can’t do it without giving away the plot so, I’ll just leave it with you. I hope you enjoy this Spanish achievement as much as I did.

 

P.S. My warm-hearted wishes to the Spanish people – but also the rest of the world – who suffer great losses.

Bloodride (2020): Horror

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A driver enters his empty bus, sits behind the wheel, and through his rear-view mirror, sees passengers with dark past and evil stories to unfold, waiting to be carried across…

Do you remember Creepshow (1982)? Welcome to the third decade of the 21st century, Norwegian, Netflix version of it… wait a minute… this is how I started The Platform (2019) review (https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/03/24/the-platform-2019-horror-sci-fi-thriller/)… Damn! Well… it seems that Netflix is taking the “old wine, new bottle” approach. I would complain if the result was a fake or bad copy but, to my surprise, it isn’t. And this time comes from Norway.

The purposefully vague and convoluted logline is there to not disclose anything at all. Six half an hour, authentic, Norwegian, obscure stories, incredibly made and delivered, are waiting for you to sit in front of your TV in times of isolation, take your mind off our sad reality – even for a while, and enter… an evil one (six actually). So, sit back, relax and enjoy it either as a film or mini-series.

Be safe!

Point Blank (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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A male nurse and a crook have to team up against corrupted cops and gangsters to protect their families.

Entertaining Netflix action flick with two amazing actors, buddies from Gangster Squad (2013) and the MCU. Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo unite once more as hero and antihero respectively and spend 24 unforgettable (screening) hours together to get theirs and their families’ lives back. Netflix knows the recipe very well and does it once more. The addition of humourous elements adds to the joy and the fast-paced thrill makes your hour and twenty minutes fly by. Joe Lynch deserves the spotlight and I hope one day he really gets it as that’s the third film I’ve seen from him and I must say that his films are highly enjoyable. Worth mentioning are also: Everly (2014) and Mayhem (2017) – Good opportunity to re-watch them and review. Very well acted by both Mackie and Grillo who make an incredible duo.

Don’t fall for the negativity. Especially, in unfortunate and difficult times that all of us are facing at the moment, films like Blank Point make us forget how gloomy and nasty it is out there. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. And always stay safe!

The Silence (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-fi / Thriller

 

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When a team of excavators accidentally releases an ancient species into the world, a family does whatever it takes to survive the apocalypse.

It seems that films where creatures that attack when one makes noise or just looks at them are high in demand. The Silence is one of them films and starts off very strong. It seems down the line though that it holds its punches, only to release them afterward. A (Netflix) film unfolding such an apocalyptic disaster though shouldn’t be undecided. Once it takes that road, it may as well go all the way. Anyway, the film is rated PG 15 so the limitations in language, gore, and to a certain extent, plot and character development are understandable. If you are a fan of the noise/sight restriction kind, you’ll get to enjoy it. It doesn’t bring anything to the table other than a sense of realism about human nature under extreme circumstances.

With the number of viruses we have faced in the last couple of decades, the coronavirus definitely gets the cake for making us think twice about what we might wake up to or taking life for granted. At the end of the day, whatever the nature of any pandemic calamity, our goal will always be to save ourselves and the people around us whatever means necessary. And that’s what The Silence is all about. Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t give it any justice whatsoever.

P.S. A major plot hole can be easily spotted so if you do find it, ignore it and enjoy an hour and a half of your escapism.

P.S.S. Damn, that scene where they let the dog go…

Marriage Story (2019): Comedy / Drama / Romance

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

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

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

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

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.

 

6 Underground (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

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Six highly, uncommonly skilled – each in their own way – men and women have formed an anonymous team for the sole purpose of… making the world a better place.

Michael Bay does what Michael Bay does best. What do you expect from 6 Underground? Slo-mo? You got it. Slow-mo with car chases? But with also faster than you can blink cuts? You got it. Shots with choppers? You got it. From within choppers? Over the choppers? Against the sundown? With whirring blades (slo-mo of course)? Shots with men and women throwing punchlines at the brink of death, swapping to superficial drama, killers looking like they came out of underwear or fragrance ad? You. Got. It. All!

At a budget of $150 million, Netflix urges Bay to just destroy everything – preferably with explosions. Everything nice you see in the film will get destroyed. Simple as. Story-wise, the high levels of implausibility, improbability, and impossibility run through the film’s veins from the opening to the closing credits, making the Fast & Furious (2001- ) franchise look like a based-on-a-true-story. Meaning: The operations and the decisions taken throughout the operations are purely laughable, the chances of survival having suffered certain wounds are zero (much less keep running and jumping around, shooting, and kicking ass), the access to whatever they need, whenever they need it, the warp speed of getting from one country to the next… I can go on forever here! But… I have a favourite one: The brother’s speech causing the fastest revolution ever started in a film!!! The revolution started before even the speech ended. And, cinematically, guess how? Accompanied by pop, hybrid music, or whatever the hell it’s called nowadays, with lyrics calling to arms. I think I’m gonna stop here, you got the gist.

Here’s my two cents. Don’t take 6 Underground seriously for a minute. Know what you sign up for, sit down, relax, surround yourself with great company and horrible food, and enjoy the Bay style of filmmaking that makes all your problems disappear for two hours. This way, you’ll get to enjoy:

  • High octane, multiangular action sequences,
  • The destruction of everything looking fancy,
  • Entertainingly gruesome deaths,
  • Buildings and surroundings that are meant to be in one country but are shot in another,
  • Ryan Reynolds blatantly advertising his Gin,
  • Ryan Reynolds as an endless punchline machine,
  • Funnily foul language,
  • The “magnet sequence”,
  • “Rebellious” heroes and heroines who just came out of a Christian Dior and Calvin Klein photoshoot,
  • Transformers sound effects,
  • And an awesome soundtrack!

The Irishman (2019): Biography / Crime / Drama

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A retired mob hitman remembers the old days and how everything started; the Italian mafia, the Kennedys, doing what he had to do to become who he is, as well as befriending Jimmy Hoffa.

Only twenty minutes shorter than Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Irishman, based on Charles Brandt’s book and Steven Zaillian’s script is the three hours and thirty minutes thrilling memoirs you’d expect it to be. Scorsese’s directing and Schoonmaker’s editing tell, once more, after 52 years of collaboration, a story that not many collaborators can. The fabula and the syuzhet form a non-linear, character-driven narrative that will take you back and forth in time, making you witness the fall from grace of the Italian-American mafia.

Facts or figments of imagination, truth or based on actual events, it is up to you to decide. Regardless, The Irishman travels you back in time in an era of gangsters with morals, principles, and ideals a lot different from what you and I are used to. Last but not least, I would like to say that there are no words to describe the emotion watching Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel in the same film, all as gangsters.

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? 🙂

Fractured (2019): Thriller

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Following an accident at a pit stop, a man’s wife and daughter go missing at a remote hospital, leading him to go to extreme lengths to find them.

Act 1: An unsettling feeling takes over that cannot be shaken off. From the opening scene to the plot point, an unspecified wrongdoing causes uncertainty as to why this unsettling feeling applies pressure against your chest.

Act 2: The “what on Earth is happening?” thought glues you to your seats as you unsuccessfully try to put the pieces together, wondering if you have missed something, or you have watched something similar before, or if this is a conspiracy vs paranoia.

Act 3: Everything becomes clear until…

Brilliant job from Brand Anderson who brought you Session 9 (2001), The Machinist (2004), Transsiberian (2008), and Stonehearst Asylum (2014), to name but a few, and manages once more to blow our minds away. Read nothing, watch it knowing nothing, and I’m most certainly saying nothing! Turn the lights off, put your phones on silent, and descent into madness!

P.S. Oh… uh… yeah… it’s written by Alan McElroy, the guy who wrote the 5 Wrong Turns! (and yet another remake?!)

P.P.S. Gaz, Thanasis, and my beloved Ioanna, that’s a must-watch for you!!!

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019): Action / Drama

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After Breaking Bad finale’s massacre, Jesse Pinkman, the sole survivor and now Albuquerque’s most wanted, goes to extra lengths to gather money and flee the country.

It’s only natural to have the highest expectations after having finished Breaking Bad (2008–2013). That’s right, 9 years ago! But El Camino is closure for Pinkman and not for the series. It is important to realise that it doesn’t settle any scores. It is about a man, doing everything in his power to get away and start clean. That’s what El Camino is about. The combination of Netflix announcing it and pitching it the last minute, and people not even wanting to watch the trailer to avoid any kind of spoilers created false expectations, hence the mixed reviews and feelings.

On a final note, Aaron Paul proves to be a brilliant actor once more. And my last sentence is a farewell to the great, astonishing, mesmerising, and colossal human being and actor… Robert Forster! RIP!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2MR69xZ

In the Tall Grass (2019): Drama / Horror / Thriller

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A boy’s cry for help lures a pregnant woman and her brother into an endless field of tall grass where an ancient force dwells among its blades.

You know it’s a Stephen King novella when there is an endless field in the middle of nowhere and mazes – Children of the Corn (1984) and The Shining (1980) respectively. If I had to pitch it to someone it would be Coherence (2103), meets Triangle (2009). It is neither though. Coherence is written in such a way to just blow your mind away after insinuating that a comet’s passing will cause… anomalies. Triangle, on the other hand, is very meticulously written, providing the right amount of explanation should one read between the lines. In the Tall Grass provides insufficient information about the element causing this horror, the reason, or the way it does it. The directing and editing deserve the applause here for maintaining the suspense of a film that 90% of it takes place… in tall grass. It definitely deserves a watch. Patrick Wilson is scary as hell and Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, and Harrison Sloan Gilbertson deliver brilliant performances.

If you are a Stephen King fan this is definitely your year as it marks the third out four films adapted this year, three of which one behind the other; Pet Sematary (April), It: Chapter 2 (September), In The Tall Grass (October) and Dr. Sleep (November).

Enjoy it!

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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Three unexplained, identical murders in the city of Philadelphia will make a police officer devote his life to finding the mysterious serial killer behind them.

It piqued my interest from the opening scene. By the end of ‘1988’ – a very well structured and powerful first act –  it already had my undivided attention. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about the plot. If you know nothing, keep it that way. In the Shadow of the Moon is a must for sci-fi, mystery, and crime lovers as well as lovers of intricate, non-linear narrative that needs exploring and thought aplenty past the end credits.

I will say that one thing that bothered me though without going into details and spoiling it for you. I can’t remember last time I watched a film… having such a convoluted, mind-bending narrative… keeping a great pace up to the revelation of a brilliant twist… and delivering it in such an anticlimactic way… Shame…

I will conclude by applauding all thespians believing in the project, giving such amazing performances.

I Am Mother (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

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Years after the extinction of mankind, a girl, born in an underground facility and raised by an android she calls “Mother”, discovers one day that the outside world is not what she was taught it was.

Very interesting feature directorial debut from Grant Sputore. I Am Mother is a small budget, one-location sci-fi that definitely worths your time. Many questions are raised with some of them answered and, purposefully, some of them not. Read between the lines. Information is carefully revealed and spread throughout the three acts, and that is what paces the story brilliantly.

Excellent performances by Clara Rugaard and Hilary Swank. A huge congratulations to Rose Byrne for providing her voice for Mother but also Weta Workshop for creating her. Last but not least, kudos to all producers and Netflix who spent every penny wisely, proving (once more) that low budget films have as much or more to offer than Hollywood mega-budget blockbusters.

Hint: Who is the woman that inexplicably shows up knocking…

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/37iBUrn