Saint Maud (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!

The 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!

The Cured (2017): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

The once-infected world by a disease that was turning people into zombies has now been cured, but those who had turned face now society’s discrimination and wrath for all the things they did.

Reinstatement, remorse, forgiveness, redemption, tolerance, stigmatisation, and family are the exceptional qualities that separate The Cured from the mainstream Hollywood post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak calamity.

I have to thank my mate Gary for reminding me of this one, commenting on #Alive (2020) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/12/12/alive-2020-action-drama-horror/. Acting as a social commentary and fragile post-postapocaliptic metaphor for the real world we currently live in, without getting into historical or sociological analyses, The Cured is indirectly associated with the Irish modern history but also the whole world’s rehabilitation system and the stigma one carries trying to reinstate.

Writer/director David Freyne has done a brilliant job behind the camera, and Sam Keeley gives the justice broken Senan deserves. Actor/producer Elliot Page has always been amazing in everything he’s been in and his acting is a force to be reckoned with.

The (North and South) Irish film school of horror is making huge steps over the last few years, rightfully earning its stripes in the industry. If you are not familiar with Sea Fever (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/ make sure you spend some time to get around them.

The film’s title would have worked equally well as The Cur(s)ed.

Stay safe!

A Christmas Carol (2019): Drama / Fantasy

On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge gets three visits from spirits that show him the error of his ways.

Unarguably, the darkest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale to date. Right off the bat, poisonous truths are coming out of Ebenezer’s mouth, almost impossible to argue with. Why be nice to each other only once a year, indeed… But its darkness doesn’t solely lie in the writing’s truths. It lies in the acting, and above all, the haunting photography. A constant darkness from the opening sequence to the end credits. Keep these elements in mind for what comes next.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him on a journey that leaves some… eerie details to the imagination. Excellent storytelling that will get your undivided attention in an attempt to process if the story you’ve read and watched repeatedly in the past is currently taking the direction you suspect it does. And it does, indeed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the consequences of that past; a past that seems ostensibly irredeemable. It picks on nineteenth century’s socioeconomic problems that could not be a better fit for the present day (massively pounding on capitalism!). The emphasis on that family’s love and what he had been deprived of, and consequently never knew it existed, smoothly shape Ebenezer to what the spirits hope he will become.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is meant to be the real treat; the relentless. But here, unfortunately, the TV adaptation starts losing ground and the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future is cut short. The mini-series becomes too explanatory for an audience that is by now clear is not kids. Thus, certain explanations are not needed, but they are given nonetheless. Then, everything happens too fast as if the filmmakers suddenly realised that the mini-series’ runtime is coming to an end and they must hurry. But then, more explanations are given, forgetting the “show, don’t tell” rule. Furthermore, in the end, the story feels incomplete as the denouement does not address certain issues, i.e., “redemption” from his nephew or the coal miners’ families.

Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng, Johnny Harris, and Charlotte Riley are but a few of Britain’s finest actors who perform brilliantly in front of the camera. Joe Alwyn and Vinette Robinson make excellent additions to that cast and play a significant role to the story’s development. Behind the camera. Steven Night, Ridley Scott, and Tom Hardy, among others, put on the producer’s hat and – in my humble opinion – must have done some serious pitching to the BBC to take on such distribution. I guess, if you are about to adapt a classic that has been adapted numerous times before, you may as well do it in a way that it has never been done before.

Stay safe and… Merry Christmas!!!

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

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

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

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

Stay safe!

Jungleland (2019): Drama

Two brothers, in an attempt to score big, travel across the country for a bare-knuckle boxing match, but the way they see their journey end gradually gets in the way.

Jungleland… the type of American indie that makes your heart race, wondering from the opening sequence what on earth will go horribly wrong. That said, Jessica Barden (who for some reason reminded me of Maggie Gyllenhaal), and the magnificent duo Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell are all British doing a great job posing as Americans – how about producer Ridley Scott?

Despite the great acting though, Jungleland‘s strong suit is the blur line that doesn’t distinguish ambition from greed. Writers Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith, and writer/director Max Winkler (son of legendary Henry Winkler) bring to life a beautiful story that will make you wonder, how far would you go to make your dreams come true? And make you think how far you have gone so far…

Does it actually go horribly wrong though? That is for you to decide. The long-awaited moment has finally arrived and Hunnam with O’Connell are on screen together and reveal about their lives whatever you need to know and not necessarily what you want to. Would I prefer to see them in a British film as a Northerner and a Midlander respectively? Sure. Does it matter though that they put an accent and they are overseas? Not really. Remember, a film that lets you in halfway through and lets you out at a not expected point in time is a reminder of Ithaca; it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself.

Stay safe!

P.S. On a personal note, as I have been living for years in the city that Jack O’Connell and Michael Socha were born, I have met them both, and I must tell you that, other than great actors, they are both great human beings.

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).

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Horror

When Count Dracula comes to London from Transylvania, a series of ungodly events follow him, and a group of men unites to stop him from claiming his future bride.

Which Dracula is your favourite? I guess your answer depends on how old you are. I grew up with Francis Ford Coppola’s and, admittedly, it is my favourite. And how could it not be… Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant, and Tom Waits. The late Michael Ballhaus’ haunting photography and the team’s meticulous editing synthesize one of the greatest Gothic fairy-tales of the 90s. Two years before that there was Edward Scissorhands (1990) – once again with the one and only Winona Ryder. See how shadows are cast, how the match-cuts stitch the sequences together, and how the narrative patiently unfolds. Also, what is not to be discounted is the amazing costume design and the brilliant makeup (Oscar winners).

There is an enormous amount of information regarding the film’s production, revealed at the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD audio commentary. One of the most interesting information is the fact that, other than the blue inferno, NO digital visual effects were used in post production. Coppola was adamant and his vision paid off (it also paid for his production company’s debt and saved it from bankruptcy).

In all honesty, of course, I am not posting this to actually review the film. I am doing it for two reasons: Its brilliance lies in the storytelling and I really want to bring it to the newer generation of moviegoers or film lovers’ attention; to appreciate and understand that visual effects should be used only as a means to enhance the narrative rather than overshadow it or compensate for the lack of it. Also, to remind mine but also older generations that films such as Dracula still exist and, hey… it’s Halloween time, why not dust the old scary DVD’s and enjoy something from the past. For nostalgia…

Enjoy Halloween and 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!

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having recently lost her husband, a young mother is trying to protect her children from poverty and her little town’s underworld.

Goddamn poverty! Goddamn misery! Goddamn drugs! Regardless which triggers which and in what order, the defining opening shot somehow is immediately understood by the shots that follow it. Or is it?

Writer/director of Road Games (2015), Abner Pastoll, directs a gritty Irish thriller with a realistic plague, a surrealist villain, and a down to Earth heroine that has to put up with both while protecting her children. And what a heroine’s journey that is…

Pastoll creates a dark for the audience yet healthy for the actors environment to showcase their chemistry and shine in front of the camera. Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, and Andrew Simpson lead the way but the rest of the cast follows and supports them as they should to create this thrilling crime/drama. Much respect for the whole crew that managed to bring this low budget, indie film to life.

Now… I cannot not comment on the dildo… probably the weirdest use(s) I’ve seen outside comedy. One is, unintentionally funny. Or dramatically funny – is there such a thing? Stealing your kids’ batteries from their toys to put them in your vibrator because you are a recently widowed young mum with urges isn’t funny… just funnily portrayed. Come on, I mean, I am sure they knew the mixed reactions the scene would stimulate. On the other hand, stabbing someone’s eye with the same vibrator you satisfy yourself to save yourself from rape is nothing but ironic (but relieving nonetheless).

Despite your feelings towards it, at least, you’ll witness a security system that uses VHS, and you’ll learn what a metaphor is…

Stay safe!

The Old Guard (2020): Action / Fantasy

The Old Guard.jpg

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!

Silence (2017): Short / Drama

Silence

The impending apocalypse finds a mother and her autistic daughter spending their last moments together.

Silence is one of these short films that you watch and the first question that comes to your mind is: “What is happening?”. Upon establishing that, the question that follows is: “Why is this happening?” The answer to that lies in the hands of the filmmakers and their effort to get the funding they need to turn it into a feature. Official selection at the Los Angeles Film Festival, so I keep my fingers crossed to be seen by the right people who can add a solid setup and confrontation. Something along the lines of Knowing (2009)?

While discontinuous editing has proved to be innovative and effective in the past – see Breathless (1960) – in Silence this is not the case. I believe though that the strong message, the impressive photography (observe the changes as the doom is nearing), and the great performances by both Louise Rhian Poole and Riann Mutlow will win the impressions and writer Rachael Howard, director Lee Burgess, and producer John Ninnis will come out of the festival with a signed deal that will answer the “why”. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16Gwlb2-gw0

Stay safe!

A Case of You (2005): Short / Drama

A Case of You

A man’s mind is playing tricks regarding when and how his relationship took a turn for the worse.

Did you ever wake up one day asking yourself, “what happened”? Struggling to put together the where, who, why, what, and when? A Case of You is exactly that! John wakes up in his apartment one morning and, in real time, he wanders from room to room trying to figure out what went wrong between him and Emily. Why he is alone. What happened.

The one 18-minute shot is impressive. It takes a huge amount of preparation in preproduction where EVERYONE in front and behind the camera gets to know EXACTLY what they need to do when filming starts. The beauty though in Jack Davie’s creation is the marriage of his directing and writing which provides practical answers and raises existential questions. No spoonfed drama here. The mind works in mysterious and, more often than not, incomprehensible ways. Try to keep track of how John and Emily’s relationship deteriorated. It’s a non-linear jigsaw and every event, every utterance, and every action is part of it.

A standing ovation for writer/director Davies, actors Jamie Draven and Julia Hickman, and every member of the crew who made this film possible. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wxTj8ZBUEo

Stay safe!

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!

The Art of My Scars (2016): Documentary / Short

The Art of My Scars

The chronicle of a girl who decided to become a transgender man and learned to express himself and overcome his tribulations through art.

Show me a person who claims they have no skeletons in their closet and I’ll show you a liar.

Writer/director James Land follows his fellow Devonian Kay Jane Browning who got mocked, bullied, and beaten up as a little girl only to grow up a proud young man who transcended both genders’ limitations, and became a person of his own; an artist.

It doesn’t take money to tell your story. It takes to be truthful to it. It takes to say it out loud to feel liberated. Let haters laugh at you, among others, they are only shameful, dishonest, and deceiptive. Because the rest of the world will follow you, engage with you, and give you a standing ovation for who you really are. Hats off to both James and Kay for bringing this story to the surface. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/TheArtofMyScars/

Watching Kay’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it our generation who’s gonna put an end to discrimination? Against people who just look different than we are. Against people who are physically and/or mentally attracted to whoever they choose to? Against people who just happen to believe in something different than we do? Is it gonna be us who’s gonna make this world welcome to EVERYONE?

Show me a person who found the courage and strength to reveal their skeletons in their closet and I’ll show you a hero.

Stay safe!

 

Vivarium (2019): Horror / Mystery / Sci-Fi

Vivarium.jpg

Trying to find their ideal home, a young couple is lured and trapped in a suburban neighbourhood where every house and street is identical and seemingly no way out.

Entirely allegorical, Vivarium joins the club of independent mind-bending films such as Triangle (2009) and Coherence (2013). Does it hit the mark though? It starts by trying to but halfway there it seems that it abandons the idea itself. Based on the short film Foxes (2012), also written and directed by Garrett Shanley and Lorcan Finnegan respectively, its feature adaptation gives the impression of “surrendering”, flattens out until the end of the second act, then it picks up until the end… but the viewer is already “gone” by then. Third collaboration between Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, showcasing once more the undeniable on-screen chemistry between them.

Personally, I did like it and it did kill some time but when it comes to “Sisyphusean” films, killing some time is just not enough. The end of the second act is worth watching so the toughest part is to try and keep track until then. Maybe not the best film during the quarantine days but if, like me, you are a fan of one-location allegorical thrillers, don’t have any high hopes and give it a shot. You might find yourselves relating to the protagonists more than you expect.

Stay safe!

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90

This is England.jpgThis is England '86 '88 '90.jpg

“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on Shane Meadows’ film and miniseries This is England. A drama based on his childhood experiences, consisting of everyday heroes who share the story of a lifetime.

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90

Jojo Rabbit (2019): Comedy / Drama / War

Jojo Rabbit.jpg

A young boy who struggles in Hitler’s Youth finds out that his well-respected by the Nazi party mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.

Unwillingly, I was informed that an archipelago of 10/10’s swarm across IMDb about JoJo Rabbit. So, I thought to myself, ‘interesting…’ Having been familiar with the plot, I thought that it would be The Pianist (2002) meets Top Secret! (1984) – weird, I know! Well, it wasn’t. So, I am partially to blame for this as I prepared myself for something that was simply not. The first hour or so made me smile on a couple of occasions but I struggled to find it funny. Then, due to the particular type of satire, I struggled to find it dramatic. 30 wins and 142 nominations, including Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I couldn’t make my mind until about an hour into the film whether I like it or not.

But then the last half an hour the film found a balance that, me personally, I think it lacked before. And Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Sam Rockwell made this last half an hour a proper gem. This last half an hour got my undivided attention. If you’ve watched it or if you intend to watch it, let me know what you think. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchand are brilliant additions to the cast. Scarlet Johansson’s two Oscar nominations this year must have a put a yet greater smile on her (lovely) face. In the Marriage Story (2019) she definitely deserved that nomination. Here, once again, I struggle to see why. Shame that Sam Rockwell wasn’t heard much, he makes all the difference in the world.

Regardless of what I think of the film, Taika Waititi is a true artist so, I really hope you enjoy it.

 

Men in Black International (2019): Action / Adventure / Comedy

Men In Black_International.jpg

Men in Black, the secret government organisation with the cream of the crop agents and the advanced technology from all over the known Universe is now having a mole who threatens to destroy the Earth.

The reasons are obvious as to why it didn’t perform well. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of Men in Black I (1997), Men in Black II (2002), and Men in Black III (2012) gave MIB an appealing character to men, women, and children of all ages. F. Gary Gray and the studios decided it’s a wise choice to ‘devote’ Men in Black: International to millennials and, as a result, it was turned into something unfulfilling for everyone else – even them evidently. To be more specific:

  • Online childish slang (?) such as ‘you had one job’ and ‘that happened…’ were only put there just to have these lines heard by their favourite actors/actresses.
  • Both men and women, we acknowledge that Chris Hemsworth is attractive. Fair enough, but to make him look like he just finished a fragrance photoshoot or an underwear ad throughout the whole film kills the vibe, throws the fans of MIB off, and ultimately depreciates the franchise’s value.
  • I know it’s an action/comedy/adventure but the main hero comes to realise something he never expected about himself (no spoilers). Do we feel like he is really affected by it? No. That kills the drama. And as a whole, I didn’t really feel anything about anyone as it was all…
  • Fun! Comedy works in mysterious ways and what makes people tick varies. BUT… having a punchline for everything that happens for almost two hours creates one emotion for every situation.

Men in Black: International became a lose-lose situation for studios and audiences alike. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (even Josh Brolin) became MIB by earning their stripes. F. Gary Gray is an amazing director. Friday (1995) and Straight Outta Compton (2015) are brilliant examples of his work but Matt Holloway’s and Art Marcum’s script didn’t do any favours to anyone. If you also want to admire Chris Hemsworth as a presence but also a thespian, watch Rush (2013), In the Heart of Sea (2015), Bad Time at the El Royale (2018), and of course, the Thor/Avengers franchise.

I’m not even gonna go into production details and I feel sorry for not having something good to say (except that Tessa Thompson is always mesmerising).

Event Horizon (1997): Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Event Horizon.jpg

Having gone missing for seven years, spaceship ‘Event Horizon’ reappears having come back from a darkness beyond human understanding.

One of the best psychological, sci-fi horrors you have ever watched: Alien (1979) meets Hellraiser (1987)! The ‘tragedy’ with Event Horizon is, as usual, the studio. When uncreative people in high places interfere with art, art always suffers the consequences. Paul W.S. Anderson’s 130′ original, ‘graphically violent’ cut forced Paramount to cut 30′ and water it down. Both the studio and Anderson regretted doing it! Twenty years later (2017), Anderson stated that the year after the film’s release he and a producer started looking for footage that due to bad archiving had gone missing. Most of it was destroyed, some of it was of poor quality and some of it was found as far as a Transylvanian salt mine!

From cruciform shapes to spinning tunnels and rotating interlocking circles, Event Horizon marries the antithesis between religion and science, showcasing the man-playing-God hubris, and offering us the results in an entertainingly, bloody way. The film has become a cult for both sci-fi and horror fans alike. The Making of ‘Event Horizon’ (2006) is a documentary that whoever liked the film MUST watch. The production details give away the great lengths Anderson went to, to bring this film to life.  Philip Eisner’s script is solid,  Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill are brilliant, and the Production Design is Oskar-worthy. Unfortunately, the studio forced the editing to damage the film’s unimaginable potential. It is wishful thinking that the series in development will live up to the film’s expectations and include the ‘Old Testament Speech’ and the ‘Dimension of Pure Chaos’ analysis.

The detailed, infamous captain’s log ‘orgy of death’, the ship’s return, and the extended black hole’s Bosh-influenced ‘visions from hell’ have made all our imagination run wild over the years, hoping that, one day, the film’s re-release will re-surface missing footage, and will re-appear to us to reveal what it has seen…

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

 

Official Secrets (2019): Biography / Drama / Romance

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A British Intelligence whistleblower decides to leak information about an illegal NSA spy operation that would force the UN Security Council to authorise the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Based on the book by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion”, the script of Sarah and Gregory Bernstein, and the directing of Gavin Hood (also co-writer), make Official Secrets as one of the most realistic espionage films of its time. The fiasco of the “weapons of mass destruction” that led to hundreds of thousands of people dying is seen through the eyes of Katharine Gun, showcasing her enormous courage and the incredible risk she took (both personally and professionally) to disclose the truth to the public. Subsequently, it stirs the focus towards the brave journalists and lawyers who backed her up, reinstating our faith that not all of them are government puppets and leeches respectively. All of us who served in the army at the time or were glued to the television, and saw the live footage were disgusted by both the war itself, but also our governments. I feel sorry for the ones who were actually there – fighting for either side. Here is an interesting fact: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5431890/trivia?item=tr4849190

The story is solid and the editing is beautifully crafted. Every actor pours their soul into their characters and Hood, side to side with cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister do a brilliant job behind the camera. Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, MyAnna Buring, Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma, Rhys Ifans, Conleth Hill, and all cast and crew deserve a round of applause for their achievement in front and behind the lens.

Highly recommended for all filmgoers as it will definitely rock your boat. Especially, in times like these where both the US and the UK suffer from the twin buffoons. Apologies for delving into politics.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2t9OISd

 

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? 🙂

Avengement (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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After years of imprisonment, a man manages to escape and heads straight for the people responsible that made his life inside a living hell.

Fifth collaboration between Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins with this one and Savage Dog (2017) being my favourite ones. Originally from Sutton Coldfield, only a few miles away from where I live, Adkins is the man for the job. He trains hard and, once in front of the camera, he pours his soul out for us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I have a recommendation though and I address it to Johnson: With the protracted tracking shots being used more and more all over the world, I would really love to see Adkins in longer, uncut shots doing what he does best. Films like Ong-bak (2003) and Yip Man (2008) have raised the bar sky-high and I have the ultimate confidence that the Brits can do it as well. I really want to see it happening; longer shots = less editing = more continuous action. Avengement has these gritty fights that Johnson’s previous films lacked and Adkins, regardless, always delivers. Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose, Nick Moran, Kierston Wareing, and Leo Gregory are, as always, brilliant.

I hope The Debt Collector 2 (2020) adds something even more to the equation and that their successful collaboration keeps improving. Adkins needs more spotlight as he has the talent that makes martial artists half his age weep.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q2MEo2

 

The Raid 2 (2014): Action / Crime / Thriller

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Straight after the raid’s massacre, Rama goes undercover to expose the corruption within the police force, no matter how deep the rabbit hole goes.

There have not been many sequels that were expected to be better than the first installments. Especially, when the ones that spawned the sequels were shockingly good. Well, “The Raid 2” is one of these exceptions with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais pushing the bar to the limit.

Starting two hours after “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), ending up two years later, “The Raid’s 2” uncut violence almost tripled the body count, got banned by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, was censored in the US, got an audience member faint at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere, and mesmerised millions of martial arts fans, and action junkies all over the world.

With the first cut being around three and a half hours long, the final cut is still almost 50 minutes longer than the first “Raid”. 150 minutes of gory deaths, phantasmagoric car chases, extreme martial arts, over 60 types of guns, police corruption, mob hits, Rama going berzerk, and… “Hammer Girl”, “Baseball Bat Man”, and “The Assassin”.

Directing, Editing, DOP, Choreography, Stunt coordination, and all cast and crew deserve a standing ovation. An amazing opening sequence, with a stunning second act, and a grand finale fight scene which took 6 weeks to prepare and 8 days to film. An ABSOLUTE MUST!!!

P.S. If you are interested, this is how Gareth Evans shot the “how-the-f@!#-did-they-do-that” car chase scene: (IMDb, 2019)

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/360gdvX

The Raid: Redemption (2011): Action / Thriller

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When a S.W.A.T. team raids a 30-storey building run by a drug dealer and his army, the tables turn and the hunter becomes the prey.

After Merantau (2009), Indonesian-born Iko Uwais collaborates for a second time with Welsh-born Gareth Evans and a low budget action/thriller turns into a high octane, brutal, fast-paced, bloody massacre. The Indonesian, indigenous martial art style Pencak Silat faces numerous other martial arts from all over the world. Combining fists, elbows, knees, kicks, ground techniques, locks, and more, people fly down the stairs and go through doors, walls, and windows. To top it up, they get chopped up by knives, machetes, and swords, and have their brains blown up by pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and grenades in “30 floors of chaos”. Another day in the office…

Highly recommended for the action-packed film lovers and example to follow for the big-budget, nonsensical blockbusters. Also, Yayan Ruhian and Joe Taslim will make your jaw hit the floor!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q53brC

Triple Threat (2019): Action / Thriller

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Mercenaries unite in order to protect the daughter of a billionaire who becomes the target of an elite assassins’ group.

Triple Threat is NOT, I repeat is NOT to be compared, contrasted, or associated in any way with Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003), the Undisputed franchise (2006-2016), The Raid: Redemption (2011), The Raid 2 (2014), The Night Comes for Us (2018), or any other film of that level.

It’s a real shame to have names such as Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Tiger Hu Chen, Scott Adkins, Celina Jade, Michael Jai White, and Michael Bisping in one film and get that result. But the film’s duration warned me even before watching it. So, I was pretty sure this was going to be a disappointing one, I just didn’t know how badly disappointing.

In about an hour and a half, we have:

  • Undeveloped characters that no one really cares about.
  • Bad acting / No chemistry between the actors.
  • Obvious difficulty from the non-native English speaking actors to express themselves.
  • Mediocre action / inconsistent fighting skills.
  • And the biggest problem that begets all problems: Horrible writing! I mean… Horrible!!!

As it is not in my idiosyncrasy to write negative comments just for the fun of it or to attract an audience so, I’ll stop here. Prachya Pinkaew, Gareth Evans, and Timo Tjahjanto have raised the bar to a level that newer directors and even themselves will have to go the extra mile to keep delivering the jaw-dropping action/thriller films they have been delivering so far.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/363KrOx

Papillon (2017): Adventure / Biography / Crime

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Convicted for a murder he didn’t commit, Henri Charriere is sent to the Devil’s Island where, along with a fellow inmate, they plan an escape of a lifetime.

Based on Charriere’s memoirs, directed by Michael Noer – “R” (2010) and “Northwest” (2013) – and written by Aaron Guzikowski, “Papillon” didn’t get the publicity it deserved. Was it because people (or critics) thought that Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek couldn’t replace Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman respectively? Was it because the story wasn’t known to today’s era audience? Or is it maybe because classic films should be left alone and be remembered for what they achieved when they were made?

Directing, Acting, Script, Photography, Soundtrack, Costume Design, all work as one and fulfill their purpose. The editing is disruptive though which unfolds the story intermittently. There must be an “Editor’s Cut” or “Director’s Cut” version, surely. It seems as if scenes, even sequences, have been omitted from the final cut. Crucial to the story elements that would make the audience engage more with “Papillon’s” suffering.

Overall, it is a very decent, intense, and gritty remake and cast and crew deserve to be recognised for this effort.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Q6aRcQ

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy

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In times of war and reason, Baron Munchausen shows up to inspire with a story of a lifetime that bypasses reality and goes down the rabbit hole of evocative fantasy and mythical adventure.

From Constantinople to the moon, to the centre of the Earth, to the belly of the beast, and back, Baron Munchausen travels towards fabled worlds encountering heroes and deities. Nostalgia, love, dreams, childhood innocence and hope rise up through Munchausen’s escapades. A social commentary inspired by the Odyssey… delineated in a British aristocratic manner.

As one of my first cinematic experiences, Terry Gilliam makes me reminisce about my childhood years and the way I used to see the world. Where, like in the film, reality and imagination blend into one and shape a harmless world where even the abhorrent tragedy of war can be a lot easier to swallow and man’s cruelty be tolerable.

John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams (unpaid and uncredited) and the rest of the cast shared Gilliam’s vision of a better world than ours and supported him to see it through as the unfathomably humongous production complications wouldn’t stop appearing.

But reality’s misfortunes were defeated by prevalent, mythical will that projected it eventually to the silver screen.

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

Exam (2009): Mystery / Thriller

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Eight chosen contenders competing for the same position are locked in a highly respectable company’s exam room for the final test which is nothing like they have seen or experienced before.

A one-location, British psychological thriller that delves into the human psyche, and infiltrates man’s darkest thoughts. A prime example of a low-budget thriller that keeps the viewer wondering from the opening scene to the end credits what is the meaning of this test, what the question is, who truly everyone is, why were they chosen, and what is the company getting out of it.

Mysterious, entertaining, and claustrophobic, “Exam’s” storytelling relies on actual character study experiments and utilises Hitchcockian approaches that go back as far as “Lifeboat” (1944). Low budget / high standards! Hats off to cast and crew.

I say no more. Lights and phones off, and pay attention to the details. Enjoy!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/39k34Qs