Jojo Rabbit (2019): Comedy / Drama / War

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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

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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

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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…

 

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.

 

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.

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)

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!

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.