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.

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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.

 

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