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!

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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.

Glass (2019): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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A security guard with extraordinary abilities tracks down a dangerous man with twenty-four personalities while the mastermind patiently awaits.

Nineteen years later, “Glass” finally makes it to the big screen only to give some answers and raise more questions. M. Night Shyamalan’s heroes and villains from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) are brought together, unite, believe and doubt themselves and each other, and eventually clash. Here’s what happened straight after the film was released: It was pounded by the critics and deified by the audience. I guess the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.

The pace is the main issue. The two hours seem significantly longer as the first act seems a bit rushed whereas the second, due to the lengthy psychotherapeutic verbosity that ostensibly leads nowhere, drags and feels like a marathon. As for the third act, since it’s a Shyamalan film, I can’t say anything without giving away spoilers. What I can say is though is that there are certain concerns regarding the unbelievability of certain events, and events that give the trilogy a whole new direction you will either love or hate. Bold move but, at the end of the day, that’s Shyamalan for you.

Mr. Glass’s character development is another issue. He has become as intelligent as the script needs him to be. And that is partially why the story is led to a certain direction that, on occasion, lacks common sense. Then there is the when and how everything is happening; the timing, the understaffed hospital, the low security, the underdeveloped final clash…

BUT… don’t go in there with your own expectations of how you would like it to begin, develop, or end. Remember that with Shyamalan’s films one can only wonder if what they are watching is the end or merely the beginning. If it helps, focus on the acting which is breathtaking. The, once again, meticulously chosen hero colour pattern. The directing and the photography which makes it a world-class thriller. And keep in mind that the characters from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) belong to two different studios which collaborated for the first time (and according to Shyamalan probably the last) to bring this project to life. So, a lot of Industry Professionals truly believed in it.

Think of “Glass” as a confrontation of a man’s ultimate altruism against another man’s monstrosity, orchestrated by a third man who believes that humans would be physically and mentally capable of everything… if they only knew how to trigger their true identity.

Or don’t think of any reviews or critiques, just go and watch it, and see for yourselves…

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90: Crime / Drama

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“Combo: Men have laid down their lives for this. For this… and for what? So people can stick their fucking flag in the ground and say, “Yeah! This is England (pointing to the ground). And this is England (pointing to the heart)! And this is England (pointing to the mind)!”

Danny Cohen’s ’80s grainy cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s heartbreaking soundtrack accompany Midlander Shane Meadows, who creates a tear-jerking, life drama based on his childhood experiences, that debuted and elevated actors who were introduced to the world. Thomas Turgoose, Joseph Gilgun, Jack O’Connell – whose part was written specifically for him, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure who, as the years pass by, she turns into a more and more magnificent actress and woman, Rosamund Hanson, Chanel Cresswell, Michael Socha, and Andrew Ellis get into the role and truly become the everyday heroes you see on camera. The both amazing Stephen Graham and Johnny Harris need no introductions.

Straight from the kick-off, the opening credits, archive footage, montage spanning from the Falklands war to the “Knight Rider” (1982) pretty much sums up the story of the sociopolitical situation in England but also the world in the ’80s. Shaun, Milky, Lol, Woody, Smell, Gadget, Trev, Kelly, Lenny, Pukey, and Bully all go through a rite of passage; the inescapable process of becoming men and women. And share the story of a lifetime. The references are from both the film and the mini-series and start from ’83 until ’90. I believe I’ve kept all spoilers out. If you haven’t watched it, I hope they pique your interest. If you have, I hope you see where I’m coming from.

“Woody (to Milky): You are a fucking snake in the grass… We were brothers… I would have died for you… I would have fucking died for you… I fucking loved you!!!”

“This is England” is a state of mind that divides a what would have been an otherwise carefree, bonded, random ragtag bunch of skinheads and ska lovers living in ‘Thatcherland’. A mentality that consists of politics, economy, race, generation gaps, and religion and can be may as well translated as “This is [YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN]”.

There are some astonishing cinematic moments that make both the film and mini-series be a league of their own.

  • The detestable Combo whose brutal, cowardice attack leaves a young, black kid half-dead.
  • Mick (the brilliant Johnny Harris) who, whenever shows up, make your guts twirl.
  • The dramatic moment where Lol confronts Mick.
  • Combo’s brass balls, ultimate sacrifice for love.
  • The intense moment when Woody confronts Milky and the gang on the street.
  • Woody reuniting with the repentant Combo upon the latter’s release.
  • The house dinner’s revelation (Chanel Cresswell is simply mesmerising).
  • Milky putting the final nail on the coffin facing, the hero in our eyes, Combo who strives to keep a stiff upper lip.

“This is England”…

Is the domestic violence that knocks on the door of every single household that has faced it.

The decency of everyday people you probably have never met and maybe you never will who always had next to nothing, yet were always wealthier.

The pride of every English football fan has over the national team making it to the World Cup.

The genuine British humour that has always been part of but also characterised the British society.

The vast diversity of accents that make this island unique.

It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water.

It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water and, against all odds, somehow, find the courage to move on.

It is the English responses, reactions, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms that you’ll find nowhere else, exhibiting England to the world with the purpose of understanding rather than judging.

It is the forgiveness some people never gave and some people never received.

“Combo: I forgive you… I just hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me…”

“This is England” pointing to the ground, to the heart, to the mind starts off as a racist interpretation at the beginning of the journey only to become the harsh realization of life when it remorselessly pins you against the wall. Combo’s (Stephen Graham) monologues and outbursts are phenomenal and his path is the cornerstone of this journey. You will hate him with a passion in the beginning only to feel for him wholeheartedly in the end.

There are innumerable moments of English realism throughout the film and series where you will find yourselves confused as to which utterances, actions, and reactions are a scripted, and which ones aren’t. “This is England” could as well be a sociological docudrama on Thatcherite England and life itself.

An unknown journey of happiness drowning in sorrow…

Suspiria (2018): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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Berlin 1977: A girl arrives at a world-renowned dancing school only to discover obscure entities harbouring haunting secrets.

“Suspiria” is a prime example of the endless highbrow/lowbrow “battle”. The reviews escalate from 1/10 to 10/10 and back in the blink of an eye. It is not for everyone! Expel the Hollywood narrative prior to entering into this world of darkness. Know the kind of films you like, and the kind you don’t. Have you ever seen me reviewing a comedy/romance? I would come back and slate every frame of it. But I’ve said before, I’m not here to slate films. I’m reviewing their parameters and examine their intentions. Pick a narrative you like and should you choose to go for something different, which I highly recommend every now and again, don’t rip it apart straight after.

Even though a remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977), Luca Guadagnino’s homonymous paganistic world runs almost a full hour longer than the original, acting more as exploration or expansion, and preparation for the “Three Mothers” trilogy (Make sure to stay for the post-credit scene).

If you like watching a film and paying attention to details at the same time, then directing, photography, and certain montage sequences, i.e. Susie dancing and Olga… suffering, will blow your mind away. If you are into experimental cinema as well, you’ll love the storytelling too and consequently the film as a whole.

I knew Dakota Johnson has had her big breakthrough with the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy but, as I really tried and failed to watch even the first one, I was not familiar with her acting skills. Here, she definitely commits to the project and proves herself more than worthy. She completes 2 years of ballet training prior to taking this role, excels at her diversity, and I take my hat off to her.

Then there is the one and only Tilda Swinton who, like the amazing Kate Blanchet, can master any role as a woman as much as a man of her age, younger, older, or really freaking old. In this instance, she is three entirely different characters. I couldn’t admire her more. Plus, she just doesn’t get old! She is like a female Keanu Reeves!!!

Split (2016): Horror / Thriller

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A man with 23 personalities kidnaps three girls who must find a way out before the 24th is unleashed.

Sixteen years after “Unbreakable” (2000), and only just before the end credits started rolling down, we all found out that this was actually a (first) sequel. M. Night Shyamalan managed to keep us at the edge of our seats and once we said the first ‘WOW’, we realised what the marketing had managed to do. Then the second followed. Not included in the shooting script, and omitted from the test screenings, the last scene was kept under wraps, and is the tie-in between the two films. Kevin Crumb was written originally for “Unbreakable”, only to be seen in this one.

Based on a real-life person who actually had 24 personalities, “Split’s” Kevin Crumb suffers the same problem even though we get to see 9 of them on screen. Interestingly enough, “Unbreakable’s” David Dunn is based on a real-life person as well. Hmmm…

“Split”, as a standalone, is a brilliant psychological horror/thriller, with James McAvoy doing all the heavy lifting and the extremely talented Anya Taylor-Joy giving him all the support he needs. You feel for him as much as you hate him, depending on the personality that takes over. I have praised him and his talent in a previous review so feel free to see what I thought of him then and what I think of him now: https://kgpfilm.reviews/2018/12/26/filth-2013-comedy-crime-drama/

Experts on the Psychology field could argue on how much M. Night Shyamalan knows about the dissociative identity disorder, and the compartmentalization and segregation of the personalities but don’t let that distract you. Remember that it’s a psychological horror/thriller and not a documentary or a docudrama. I’ve watched documentaries propagandising inconceivable political and religious nonsense parroting biased and fallacious “facts”. “Split” is meant to give you the chills and that’s exactly what it does.

Wildlife (2018): Drama

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The role of a mother in her son’s life changes unexpectedly after the father takes a dangerous job.

I must have missed something here… The directing was great. The photography stupendous. The score fantastic. The set decoration traveled me back to the ’60s. Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal clash on a “Revolutionary Road” (2008) level. So…

I’ll be honest with you. I missed the point. I just don’t know why I watched it. And I didn’t feel a thing in the end. Maybe the plethora of symbolisms passed me by? If the third act was different maybe? If you do get to watch it, please throw a comment regarding why this story is worth telling.

Paul Dano and, his other half, Zoe Kazan work brilliantly together. Watch “Ruby Sparks” (2012) and you’ll see what I mean. I haven’t read the book so I can’t tell with certainty why I don’t get it but the former’s directorial debut shows the potential of a great director who has already proven to be an amazing actor.