Ad Astra (2019): Adventure / Drama / Mystery

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After a series of cosmic power surges threaten to wipe out life as we know it, an astronaut undertakes a space mission in the hope of stopping them but also finding his father who was considered long gone.

I might not be reading reviews before writing mine but I happened to read Ad Astra‘s on a Sunday night, right after the film came out. They were horrible. I mean shockingly bad, claiming that film fails on every front. The titles alone were… hilarious. So, what did I do? I packed it up on the spot, went to the last screening, and watched it. I hadn’t even watched the trailer. So…

The film itself is not near as bad as people make it to be. Potential issues might include the following: Us, the audience, do not really experience neither the surges nor their aftermath. Through the news, we can see a number that thousands have died and this is it. Therefore, the actual reason why Brad Pitt goes to space heavily focuses on his issue with his father and partially due to his ex leaving him. He doesn’t seem to care at all about the fact that thousands have died and that the future of the Earth but also the rest of the solar system solely burdens him. The second act, yes, it is slow but this merely means anything. To me, the biggest problem of the film lies in the third act. I could thoroughly elaborate as to why but my reviews are spoiler-free so, you are more than welcome to comment when you watch it. Sources claim that director James Gray had to compromise his ending in order for the studio to give the green light. It makes me wonder how his finale would be.

None of these issues though justify the horrendous reviews. I watched the trailer afterwards and looked into a few production details. As with the film’s ending, the studio caused the biggest damage. The trailer had no idea how to promote the film. Subsequently, people thought that they are going to the movies to watch this year’s Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014), or The Martian (2015) – which again would pose an issue as not too many people would want to watch another Matt Damon rescue. To cut the long story short, the audience was given the wrong impression and went there with false expectations. Maybe if it had been marketed as Solaris (2002) things would have been different. See the poster above as well. As if seeing close-ups of Brad Pitt for two hours is not enough, he has to be staring at us even before we enter the theatre. Oh, and read the tagline and weep.

I would like to conclude by saying that the slow editing paces the film’s rhythm as it was initially intended, Max Richter’s music is superb, Brad Pitt expresses Roy’s emptiness perfectly, and last but not least, Ruth Negga, as always, every time she makes an on-screen appearance, mesmerises.

I don’t regret being on my own in the whole theatre watching it. Knowing nothing beforehand, I perceived Ad Astra as an existential journey to the vast loneliness of space which can only be outmatched by the vast loneliness of our soul.

Clown (2014): Drama / Fantasy / Horror

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A father tries to please his kid on his birthday by dressing up as a clown only to get stuck in the suit, start losing his mind, and transform into… something else.

This is not another clown film! Clown cuts straight to the point, gets you to feel the hero’s pain, introduces you to the origins of what once was and what it came to be, and all hell brakes loose.

Released three and a half years after the date’s wrap, the film managed to get a limited release. Producer Eli Roth once more proves he owns the throne of twisted horror as his investment definitely satisfies secret, depraved pleasures and needs. Jon Watts, believe it or not, the director of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), co-writes and directs the distorted, kid-eating-blood-and-gore version of what most kids love and some fear the most, making everyone who watches the film not want to see or hear about a clown ever again.

The psychological horror is, unfortunately, replaced by some kind of humour and cliches, ruining the film’s ending and, ultimately, its full potential. Regardless, should you decide to watch it, make sure you know what you sign up for. If you are a horror fan like myself, you’ll enjoy the thrill of an underrated, sadistic hero’s journey.

 

Dean… thanks for the recommendation. This one’s for you mate.

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.

Freaks (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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With the excuse that people will want to hurt her, a girl, locked insider the house since birth by her insanely overprotective father, manages to escape only to realise that he was right all along.

Push (2009) meets Stephanie (2017) made in Canada. A great narrative accompanied by great cinematography. The compelling atmosphere and the very persuasive acting – a standing ovation for the young actress Lexy Kolker – examine thoroughly, even create a case study, on the philosophy of the masses in regard to what it’s like to be different, to stand out, to be able to perform miracles, to feel like a freak and alone…

Turn the lights off, get your other half, your friends, or just a nice drink and enjoy it!  I was thinking of writing that films like Freaks need our support so we can have a lot more of them but, truth to be told, we need eye-opening films like Freaks so we can reevaluate, the norms of the societies we live in but also, as André Bazin would ask, ‘What is Cinema?’.

Good Boys (2019): Adventure / Comedy

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Drugs, alcohol, obsessive teenage girls, bullying, and a sex doll are in the way of three schoolboys that are ready to party.

Yes, the guys who brought you Superbad (2007), Neighbors (2014) and Sausage Party (2016) brought you this. But what is this? This is a film that some people were telling me that I’ll be laughing through my tears and some others that it will insult my intelligence. That there would be nothing in between. So, I watched it. And there is nothing in between…

I probably counted around five to six funny moments and I’m not sure about a couple of them. It got too American for my standards on more than one occasion, but that is not the film’s major issue. The major issue is the forced, scripted humour and the forced five dozen times the kids “have to” say the word “f*ck” and its derivatives. I’m a big fan of R-rated films in all genres as there is a lot more freedom of expression both visually but also verbally but Good Boys is just too scripted and its message is clear: Provoke by having the kids swear as much as possible while getting into inappropriate situations.

It doesn’t matter really. The film cost around $20M and made over $110M so, who cares what me, you, or anyone else is saying. Hopefully, the team will do a come back with something equally provocative but naturally funny, and there won’t be any either-or; just narratively funny.

P.S. OK, the kids are brilliant!

Alita (2019): Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

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A dismantled cyborg found in a scrapyard is put together by a rather unconventional doctor but when she wakes up with no memory and hell-bent on discovering who she is, she goes against anyone who stands in her way.

Amazing visuals! Director Robert Rodriguez, producer James Cameron, and the visual effects department perform magic with the film’s visuals. A lot of credits goes also to Junkie XL for the soundtrack and the sound department for sound effects, sound editing, and sound mixing. Actually, almost all departments do a brilliant job in the film. I guess now you are waiting for the “but”…

In a $170M film the “but” is the story! Inundated with cliches, no twists, predictable character development, and no suspense whatsoever it makes all the A-list actors yawning while performing. Rosa Salazar and Ed Skrein do the best they can though as heroine and villain respectively. Shame really. With Rodriguez and Cameron in the credits, one would expect at least an extraordinary story, something along the lines of the films both of them have given us over the last four decades. Alita, unfortunately, is not one of them…

Angel Has Fallen (2019): Action / Thriller

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Having been framed for the attempted assassination of the President, Mike Banning is on the run trying to uncover the conspiracy behind the attack.

I’ll start with the good news, they are less. Endless shooting accompanied by foul language, and big-time clobbering is the recipe to forget all of your problems for two hours; Angel is entertaining. What’s more, there are plenty of explosions with propelled, dead bodies flying all over.

Now for the bad news… The writing and directing of Angel are unoriginal. There are no twists. At all! There is no suspense, there is no character development but fear not there is cliche aplenty. Have you ever heard before “He knows all of our moves”? Yet, it made decent money globally. The whole “Has Fallen” trilogy is that side of Hollywood that sacrifices quality without blinking. It is the side of Hollywood that doesn’t appreciate the cinema experience, bins the narrative, mocks logic, defies continuity montage, disregards human intelligence, and solely focuses on M.O.N.E.Y. I could write a thesis on what the film has failed at but as my film reviews are meant to be short, I’ll stop here. Plus, I would get depressed halfway.

The one and only Morgan Freeman is there for the money, Gerald Butler is always the right man for the job, and so is the amazing Piper Perabo. If you want to see Gerald and Piper at their absolute best though, RocknRolla (2008) and Coyote Ugly (2000) are what you need to watch.

Ostinato (2019): Short / Horror

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A chef finds himself getting killed over and over by anyone he knows.

Completed through the 48 Hour Film Project in Shanghai, and winner of GOLD BEST MICROSHORT, SILVER BEST HORROR SHORT, SILVER BEST DARK COMEDY at the OCTOBER 2019 edition of Independent Shorts Awards (ISA), Ostinato marks the narrative debut for Luke Luoh. As I point out in most of my reviews, the intentions of the film are what I am always aiming at and Ostinato, even though it knows exactly where it stands, it doesn’t disclose its intentions from the start. Sets off as a comedy/horror, ostensibly, with the sole purpose of entertaining you but towards the end of Act II, it gets your mind to start thinking in reverse.

From a narrative point of view, Luoh follows the paradigmatic narration – each segment introduces a new story, location, character, etc. So, it can be viewed as short films within the short film, with every story having a beginning, a middle, and an end. The way editing contributes to this narration enhancement is by making the sum bigger than its parts. Something that you will eventually get at the film’s second plot point – the bridge between Act II and III. Be it as it may, this cerebral film wouldn’t be the same if all actors and especially the Makeup and the Special Effects Makeup artists wouldn’t have done the AWESOME job they did. Last but not least, pay attention to Kaunas’ photography and his interesting choice of “red”.

Leaving no one out, all cast and crew deserve a round of applause for the film’s final cut. If you are not adept at music terminology or just happen not to know what the title means, watch the film first and only then ask yourselves, how many times can one die? Well, in this case, as many times as one can…

Anna (2019): Action / Thriller

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Having hit rock bottom, Anna gets a visit from KGB who offers a way out by training her to become an assassin.

“Luc Besson: Making Assassins Since 1990”. And after Anna, I think the business comes to an end. Let me step back a bit though… Anna has nothing to offer to the genre. It has nothing to add to the numerous films on assassins out there neither from a narrative point of view nor from a filmmaking point of view. Actually, from any point of view. The story remains exactly as it was 30 years ago, and so does the character, but the film doesn’t. The film deteriorates. It becomes repetitive with less and less to offer while other films such as John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) dominate the critics’ reviews and box office alike.

But this is not why the business is going down. After the Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) fiasco, EuropaCorp took a major blow. Anna was meant to make the company recover but Besson’s unsubstantial personal shenanigans came out, studios backed down, distribution got axed, and Anna rubbed salt to the already existing, massive wound.

EuropaCorp may not recover from this hit. I just hope Sasha Luss finds the life jacket in that sinking ship as she has been, unfortunately, in both films. She’s a successful international model and her acting skills have proved to be solid. I wish her all the best as I wish to Besson. I grew up with his films and I still believe he has a lot more to offer to the industry.

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? 🙂