The Wrestler (2008): Drama / Sport

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An aging professional wrestler, with an unsuitable for him part-time job, is forced to quit wrestling, forget his past glory, and find a way to cope in a world outside the ring.

You know why reviews can be harsh sometimes? Because of films like this one. Shot with a micro-budget of $6,000,000, “The Wrestler” is almost a perfect film. So when you watch unbearable films costing ten times more, it can be infuriating. With Darren Aronofsky believing in and fighting for Mickey Rourke, and both of them believing in and dedicating themselves to the project like their life depends on it, “The Wrestler” could only be a masterpiece.

In a form of a docudrama, Aronofsky “cuts loose” Mickey Rourke letting him write and improvise his character and Rourke, in his mid-fifties, shines like never before (Oscar nomination / Golden Globe win). Both of them debunk the myths of WWF, and old wrestlers either “break down and cry” or characterise it a “dark misinterpretation”. Be it as it may, it certainly gives a perspective and sheds some light on the professional wrestling world’s backstage.

Then, Evan Rachel Wood proves once more she possesses the Midas Touch of acting, turning all her performances into gold. And last but definitely not least, the always magnificent actress Marisa Tomei, in her mid-forties, puts women half her age to shame. Their short appearance in the film creates the perfect subtext that leads the story to the direction it was inevitably meant to be led.

“The Wrestler” is about a man facing the consequences of doing what he always thought he was destined to do. And kept on doing despite everyone else’s disapproval or discouragement. External influences that come out of envy, kindness, hate, or pure love. But sheer will to succeed and remain at the top and blind dedication blur the lines and don’t leave time to distinguish which is which. And I guess if you only possess them both you ignore the influences and aim at your destiny regardless of the consequences.

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It Comes at Night (2017): Horror / Mystery

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A dark, malevolent threat has plagued the world and a man with his wife and son, barricaded into their house living under strict rules, are challenged by a young family seeking refuge.

Post-apocalyptic, slow burn and edgy at the same time, “It Comes at Night” plants the seed of doubt, of what is really happening in the world, who is to be trusted and who isn’t, who is indeed carrying the infectious disease, and who has sunk into paranoia…

A psychological horror by Trey Edward Shults, with no cheap jump-scares, formulaic way of writing, standard character development, spoon-fed answers to epidermic questions, and Hollywood-like utterances, actions, and reactions. There are plenty of films like that out there but this is not one of them. You’ve been warned, proceed with caution. And if the story doesn’t really terrify you, the astonishing performances of Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. definitely will.

It’s really hard to analyse it, even briefly, without giving anything away so, I’ll try to draw a picture for you. Think of it as a parable. As a symbolic interpretation of four major “entities”: the fortified house, the infected outside world, the family living under an uncompromising domestic order, and the night itself. Try to place them accordingly as the story, admittedly, slowly unfolds and only then ask yourselves…

What is it that comes at night? And why?

Widows (2018): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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Four women who are left with nothing but debt after their husbands died in a heist are pulling a heist of their own to reclaim their lives.

Based on the homonymous 1983 British series, “Widows” (2018) takes the fight from London to Chicago. Astonishing performances from the ensemble cast with Viola Davis and Robert Duvall standing out. Then, the powerful opening chase sequence promises an action-packed drama to keep you on the edge of your seats. A promise that doesn’t deliver though…

It is not first and certainly will not be the last when a European or an East Asian director goes to Hollywood. See, for example, actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz and “Babylon A.D” (2008) or Jee-woon Kim and “The Last Stand” (2013). One way ticket back… Even though “Widows” is nowhere near as bad as the aforementioned films (by brilliant directors) or the reviews surrounding it, it lacks the Steve McQueen, fine art training, personality, and idiosyncrasy.

It lacks the suffering of “12 Year a Slave” (2013), “Shame’s” (2011) internal struggle, and “Hunger’s” (2008) realism. Maybe his first cut (around 3 hours long) offered all of the above and more. Regardless, I really look forward to McQueen’s next film, European, American, or otherwise.

 

Butterfly Kisses (2018): Documentary / Horror

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A filmmaker puts together a bunch of old tapes he found in a basement that belonged to two students and does a documentary on them and their research on an urban legend called Peeping Tom.

Erik Kristopher Myers writes, directs, and takes to the next level a “found footage” horror on a story that we have watched before but he is doing it his way. As the late Wes Craven did in 1996 with “Scream”, Myers puts under the microscope and questions the cinematic taboos that regulate the subgenre:

  • Using handheld shots, he avoids and criticises the nauseous shaky camera.
  • He shows an understanding and endorses the public’s reaction towards something they don’t understand doing what Doubting Thomas did in the Bible.
  • He, somehow, manages to market his film on IMDb as documentary/horror with certain characters portraying allegedly themselves.
  • He adds extra layers and depth by jumping onboard himself making a film on a documentary that researches a documentary on a student project (very “Inception”).
  • Last but not least, among others, he interviews Matt Lake and Eduardo Sanchez; author of Weird Maryland and writer/director of Blair Witch Project respectively, deconstructing the “found footage” and urban legends.

Don’t try straight away to focus on or attack its originality. Romantic comedies (which I find appalling) are all more or less the same but people watch them. “Slasher” horrors have been out there for a lot more decades than the “found footage” ones yet people still watch them. And still “alien” films dominate the sci-fi genre. Anyway, you get the gist.

Is “Butterfly Kisses” flawless? Definitely not. Has Myers utilised his nano-budget the best possible way? Definitely yes. Also, “Blink Man” doesn’t make it to the level of other urban legends such as “Candyman”, “Boogeyman” or “Babadook” for example. All three of them got a decent budget and distribution and we can only hope that Myers started something that will get noticed by the right people who will hire him to scare the s%!% out of us in the future.

Orson Wells (on the radio), Dean Alioto, Eduardo Sanchez, Oren Peli… all of them have offered and contributed to the “found footage” horror their way. Erik Kristopher Myers takes the torch now and, I for one, look forward to watching his next film.

P.S. Panasonic DVX 100 was also the camera I was using in 2005 as a cameraman.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018): Action / Crime / Drama

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The infamous computer hacker Lisbeth Salander teams up again with journalist Mikael Blomkvist but also NSA agent Ed Needham to take down cybercriminals and Stockholm’s worst called “The Spiders”.

When the trailer was initially released, the first comment was: “The film no one asked for…”. Sony, to secure the rights for the film, acquired the rights for the fourth book which was not written by the late Stieg Larsson. A direct sequel to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), the film bypasses two books and here’s what happened to both character and story:

Salander here is not a victim anymore but a vigilante. If there was a batsuit anywhere you would be watching “Batgirl”. She knows how to fight and how to shoot, and race on a WRC level. She knows how to hack your phone, your computer, and your car from a Nokia 6110 while beating chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. She can find in time dozens of dildos and use them to turn an airport upside down to free an NSA agent that she doesn’t know where he is. What can I say? Makes me look my uselessness in the eye, and jump out of the window.

Story-wise, it gets better… Wanting to keep a low profile she steals a brand new Lamborghini. She deals with a computer program that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. All clues are placed conveniently in plain sight where they can be found by anyone, yet no one finds them except the right person at the right time (it’s called gimmick). The villain doesn’t show any qualities to match Salander’s (superhuman) level. Other than she has suffered, we never find out anything about her capabilities other than she can put together and lead the toughest and remorseless criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to chop off your face.

Clare Foy is an extremely charismatic and diverse actress that does a brilliant job here. The story though and the character development don’t give her much to work with. If you are Lakeith Stanfield’s fan, watch “Sorry to Bother You” (2018). As for Fede Alvarez, I highly recommend “Evil Dead” (2013) and “Don’t Breath” (2016). Gory!

RocknRolla (2008): Action / Crime / Thriller

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A gang of lowlife crooks called the Wild Bunch, with the help of an accountant, steal money from a Russian developer that was meant for a London mob boss who has a drug addict, troubled stepson.

What could go wrong, right?! Storytelling like Guy Ritchie only knows how to deliver! “RocknRolla” makes it to my list of the top 3 Guy Ritchie films, followed by “Snatch” (2000) and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998). The editing controls the information exactly as it should have and enhances the humorous side of a British action/crime. Gerald Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Toby Kebbell work brilliantly together and clash with each other adding 100% A-list British quality acting.

In a different context now… What could go wrong, right?! People! People didn’t bother. I can only assume that one reason is “seen it all before”. But it isn’t. It is snappy, surrealistic, stylish, quirky, Cockney, and adds to the formula. Yet, what was meant to be a trilogy will never be. Our loss. Favourite scene: Robbing the Russians for the second time. Priceless!

Join me in filing a petition for the “Real RocknRolla”!!!

Replicas (2018): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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After losing his family in a car accident, a synthetic biologist breaks every physical law and ethical barrier to bring them back.

I’ll get right to the point… One of the early debates in the film is between Will Foster – the scientist – and his wife Mona about the existence or not of the “soul”. I don’t know about humans but “Replicas” definitely lacks it. Writer Chad St. John seems to know about the tech side of the film but he, director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and the production team seem to neglect the emotional side; the feeling of desolation that absolutely ruins a man upon losing his family, the feeling of joining them, the feeling of lying down and not getting up ever. Much less, not lying down at all and have the clarity to apply science levels you have never applied before. Especially from Chad St. John I would expect more as he also wrote “Peppermint” (2018) where he emphasised a lot on the assassination of Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) family and the soul-crushing aftermath.

And from an, allegedly, thought-provoking sci-fi/drama turns into action… I don’t want to keep on going, you got the gist. “Replicas” is a messy, soulless film that cast and crew, from pre to postproduction, didn’t believe in. It could have been a lot more. Shame.

Polar (2019): Action / Crime

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An aging assassin, just before retirement, gets double-crossed and becomes the job.

How much do you want to forget your problems? If the answer is “I can’t put it into words”, this one is for you! In two hours of shooting, killing, torturing, f@#!$%, and cursing, “Polar” recruits every cliche under the sun that every a film of that magnitude has delivered over the past four decades. Now, the funny thing is that it is absolutely enjoyable. Probably not the best way to adapt Dark Horse’s homonymous graphic novel “Polar: Came from the cold”, as it doesn’t really take itself seriously – which is fine – but, on occasion, it resembles a humorous parody. Oh well… from the opening scene, you know exactly what you are getting into.

Mads Mikkelsen was one of the three reasons why I watched it, and with Katheryn Winnick and Vanessa Hudgens being the second and the third, I got a bit disappointed as they were highly underused. Winnick is an extremely talented martial artist who could have been the main villain and give Mikkelsen a good run for his money. As for Hudgens, she needed a lot more screen time as she is an extremely talented actress and amazing woman that must have taken a tremendous effort to make her look like an ordinary girl. And even then, it is impossible not to stand out.

That kind of storyline has been beaten to death. Only a few weeks ago, I watched and reviewed “Asher” (2018) and straight away I thought it was the same but more surrealistic and brutal version of that. And then Richard Dreyfuss shows up in the exact same role!!!

If you want to watch an equally graphic but way much more realistic action/crime adaptation, go for Marvel’s series “The Punisher” (2017). Hands down!

Okja (2017): Action / Adventure / Drama

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A little girl is trying to prevent a sketchy multinational company from kidnapping Okja, her genetically modified pet and best friend.

It would be great if “Okja” was “R” rated. To properly reveal what humans and animals alike mean to most multinational companies and organisations. Bong Joon Ho behind the camera, holds back to a certain extent but captures the essence nevertheless. Brad Pitt and Netflix in the production back him up, and Seo-hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano in front of the lens, support a vision that all of us need to stop turning the blind eye to. I salute cast and crew and pay my respects to them as they all give us a mild lesson on the paranoia behind a colossal company’s beautiful facade, its fancy logo, and its unfathomably brainless slogan.

The Animal Liberation Front exist, they are a real, leaderless organization, fight for animal rights all around the globe, and they are not as funny as they are portrayed in the film. Even so, “Okja” should be for everyone to watch and get an idea of how filthy and disgusting the mammoth food corporations are.

Booed at least three times at the Cannes Film Festival just for being Netflix, “Okja” itself does not deserve booing. This is the political side of cinema that I’m staying out as, whoever gets in the middle, gets caught in the crossfire of the Industry Giants’ war for money and power. Streaming vs Theatre and which productions deserve to go to which festival and why is not for us to decide and has nothing with us anyway.

You wanna see the real “R” rated version of “Okja”? Watch “Earthlings” (2005) and feel free to be ashamed. And cry your eyes out. I quit meat that very same day and wholeheartedly apologised for being human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrlBSuuy50Y

 

 

Close (2019): Action / Thriller

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With no one to turn to and no one to trust, a female bodyguard must protect a rich, young heiress in Casablanca when kidnappers go after her.

A female version of “Man on Fire” (2004) taking out most of the Hollywood aspects in regard to character and story development. With no cheesy lines or slow-mo for dramatic effect, “Close” is loosely based on Jacquie Davis, a world-class bodyguard who, in the last 30 years, has been “stabbed, shot at, and thrown through a window”  protecting from the Beckhams to the royal family.

The editing controls the pace, balances action and drama, moves the story forward, and reveals the information when it needs to be revealed. Also, amazing cinematography and Vicky Jewson’s directing gives the opportunity to Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nélisse to unfold their amazing acting skills. Needless to say that given the right training, project, and budget, Rapace can prove herself being top-notch action heroin as (among others) Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman have in “Atomic Blonde” (2017) and “Kill Bill” (2003) respectively.

Netflix productions can go either way. “Close” went the right way and we can only hope that they produce more heartfelt action/thriller films and humanised heroes and heroines like this one.