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!

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Mummy Fell Asleep (2009): Short / Thriller

Mummy Fell Asleep

A mother and her little girl go on a picnic but the past resurfaces, bringing nothing but pain.

Vague yet intriguing development from writer/director John Ninnis whose inciting incident in the first act stealthily forewarns about the second act’s conflict and intensifies the denouement’s mystery. Mummy Fell Asleep falls under the category of shorts where filmmakers purely rely on solid script and acting as money is not an option. And in this case, both pay off. Ninnis’ narrative is a reminder of Sean Ellis’ intriguing first shorts – and brilliant later features. Speaking of, imagine a feature version where characters are fully developed and you get to know the preexistent, obscure events that lead to breaking the camel’s back.  Proud winner of:

  • The 2010 Heart of England Film Festival: Best Short film Internationally
  • The Irish International Film Festival: Best Short Film under 10 mins

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f_EpTPexqg

Stay safe!

Uncut Gems (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Uncut Gems

A New York City jeweler is constantly trying to find ways to pay off his debts while dealing with a number of personal issues.

Greed makes people take the worst decisions and then they wonder why their lives seem like a bottomless flush down the toilet. This is the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) who represents the kind of people who believe that two wrongs make a right. The journey of a man who refuses to settle to what he has and constantly going for what he could have had, losing always more and more until… well, you’ll have to watch it!

Sandler’s comeback to the big screen is remarkable – since 2015 all of his films have gone straight to Netflix. I believe that if the Academy could take him seriously, he would have been nominated but, don’t worry Adam, we don’t take the Academy seriously anymore ourselves. Sandler has survived in the film industry for just over three decades and he’s not going anywhere yet. Actor and rapper LaKeith Stanfield stands by his side but also opposes him, still revealing his diversity as an actor and I for one, look forward to seeing him in as many mainstream and/or alternative projects as possible. Last but not least, Julia Fox is as impressive as they come. Brilliant appearance on screen no matter how you look at it.

And now the Safdie Brothers… After a number of shorts, and the impressive Lenny Cooke (2013) and Heaven Knows What (2014), they brought to us Good Time (2017) which followed their style and made a suspenseful story but… these… repeated… Pattinson close-ups couldn’t be more distracting. Robert Pattinson is a great actor but it was just too much. So glad we didn’t get many Sandler close-ups. That said, you might find the music a bit distracting but once you familiarise yourselves with their Safdie style of filmmaking, it will make more sense. Congrats to everyone in front and behind the camera. 2 hours+ just flew by.

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!

Sleep Tight (2011): Drama / Horror / Thriller

Sleep Tight

A janitor of a luxurious apartment building is hell-bent on ruining a young, happy, female resident’s life.

Jaume Balagueró! The director who brought us horrors such as Darkness (2002), Fragile (2005), and [REC] (2007), this time, brings to life something neither paranormal nor gory. Pure. Psychological. Horror. Man’s most disturbing and dark side comes to the surface and that is more terrifying than any zombie or paranormal evil. The amazing Luis Tosar (César) becomes one of the most hated men you have ever seen on your screen and the brilliant Marta Etura (Clara) one of the most beloved girls next door. This extreme divergence will make your heart skip a lot more than a beat as you will be getting this constant urge to warn Clara, stop César, wake her up, get him caught… an urge to intervene somehow anyway!

Sleep Tight is not a film where you are scrolling down on your social media and it just plays in the background. Turn off the lights, put your phone on silent or away, enjoy some good company (including your own), and question your own safety at home.

Now… Do you like odds? I have a good one for you. As per IMDb, 10 days after Sleep Tight was released, Paramount released The Resident (2011) a film with IDENTICAL plot and Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the leading roles. Both are exceptional actors but The Resident is a watered-down, non-daring, Hollywood version of Sleep Tight. Go for the one that does not hold any punches.

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 Lodge (2019): Drama / Horror / Thriller

The Lodge

Two children are snowed in at a remote lodge with their soon-to-be stepmom who, when strange occurrences start happening, her dark past resurfaces.

Where did that come from?! The Lodge skipped the radars and out of the blue appeared to catch you off guard and restore your faith in the horror genre. The first act’s inciting incident will move the story forward by taking your breath away (I wish I could tell you more). The claustrophobic mise-en-scène will give you no choice but to get trapped in the lodge with them. No cheap jump scares here. Just pure psychological horror! A must-watch for every horror fan!

The amazing Riley Keough has exceptional chemistry with Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh, delivering bone-chilling performances. I just wish Alicia Silverstone had more screen time. A huge round of applause goes also to writer Sergio Casci and writers / directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz who brought us the also shocking horror Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Gary, mate… you’re gonna love this one!

Ioanna mou, I wish I was there to watch it with you.

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!

About Elly (2009): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

About Elly.jpg

A group’s picnic takes a turn for the worse when a kid almost drowns and a woman mysteriously disappears.

Have you ever wondered what makes a film a good film? How about a brilliant film? Anyway, About Elly‘s brilliance lies in the simplicity of the story and the unfolding’s convolution. The common denominator for both is human nature and our unique ability to perplex our lives so we can give them meaning. There is an underlying beauty behind things we don’t fully understand, such as the intentions behind one’s utterances and actions and About Elly explores such notion to its core. What it also explores is the subjective perception of happiness and the false assumption that everyone finds it or experiences it the same way; something seemingly insignificant that can have incalculable consequences. The perfect storm is created when… the truth behind the intentions and happiness is revealed. And that’s what I’m gonna leave you with, story-wise.

Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has been phenomenal since the beginning of his career and I’ll follow up with more of his achievements. This is the first Iranian film to be submitted for an Oskar, and even though it didn’t make it, Farhadi’s next film did and won – A Separation (2011). This is Golshifteh Farahani’s last film before she got banned from Iran [for leaving her country and working with Riddley Scott in Body of Lies (2008)]. It is not my place to judge the policies behind the country’s decisions but she’s a heroine in my eyes and I hope one day I get to meet her. Until then, I take my hat off to all cast and crew who brought to the world cinema this masterpiece.

They say that truth is liberating, that it can set you free. Well, among others, it depends on how you find out or when you speak it.

Stay safe!