Joker (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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Before Joker became the infamous criminal, he was Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed aspiring comedian who cracked under the pressure of an even more disturbing city called Gotham.

It feels like psychological studies could be written on Joker. As I only do short film reviews though, I’ll keep it to the point. Todd Philips has delivered a purely cinematic experience. Everything works like a swiss watch with all the cogs serving their purpose. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is on an Oscar level and, possibly, in the audition, eliminated the competition without a sweat.

But this is the obvious information, and I will skip the technical and trivia production details, to write from the heart. Joker wouldn’t be that successful if it wasn’t for its astonishing character development and an unexpected accomplishment through that. Joker, from DC’s most disturbing criminal personality with deranged followers, was turned into a symbolic for the oppressed antihero. Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix take all the time in they need to unfold the antihero’s journey and idolise him in a similar way that “V” was (V for Vendetta). And how is that achieved? By creating a relatable, everyday man who wakes up in the morning with a sole purpose: To make this world a little bit better; to make people laugh. And somewhere down the line, to make the people they love, and they love them back, proud of them for doing so. Take that from someone and what are they left with? Arthur Fleck is the product of that part of society that constantly sinks you under the surface; the haves that don’t give and the have nots that don’t want you to have either. But Joker springs from that product and becomes the one who will readjust the scale, and for the first time, will give the opportunity to the underdogs who “…haven’t been happy one minute of their entire fucking life” a chance to do that. And that feeling that, even for a couple hours, you root for someone like Joker… causes heart palpitations.

This is why Joker is that successful.

 

For you Ioanna!

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Climax (2018): Drama / Horror / Music

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Talented and diverse dancers from every walk of life gather in a remote, empty building to rehearse but a hard day’s work goes really awry while celebrating as their drinks get spiked and the hallucinations take over them.

Writer/director Gaspar Noé, well known for making his audience feel uncomfortable, helms Climax with bravery aplenty. Forget classic narratives, forget Hollywood morals and standards, forget scripts written in detail. Get into Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009) mode and just let go.

The largely improvised monologues and dialogues in the beginning and middle of the film respectively could have been trimmed a tad as the audience don’t need this large amount of information to establish a point of view about each and every one of the characters. Of course, the turn the celebration takes, creates the colossal contrast between the first and the second act.

Excellent camera work, amazing photography, powerful soundtrack, divine choreography, and brilliant performances. Especially, given that, other than Sofia Boutella, no one has had any acting experience prior to the film. The protracted shots will fascinate you as the uncut surrealism reveals in real-time the escalating paranoia reaching its… climax!

Mesmerising! Sensual! Hallucinatory! Enchanting!

 

Parasite (2019): Comedy / Drama / Thriller

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Father, mother, daughter, and son – all unemployed – con a wealthy family into giving them jobs and manage to get access to their house… that is more than meets the eye.

Joon-ho Bong… the writer/director that brought you Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), Tokyo! (2008), Snowpiercer (2013), and Okja (2017), to name but a few, strikes back with a comedy, drama, thriller that makes you laugh, cry, and hold your breath, and not necessarily in that order. Avoid spoilers at all costs. Parasite deserves to be watched with an “uninfected” mind. Then, and only then jump to conclusions about its metaphors, Bong’s thematic similarities with previous films, the clash of classes, and how similar concepts have been filmed in ways that yield entirely different results. Bring to your mind a new or an old film, one that had an impact on you or simply became popular. I still can’t stop comparing it and contrasting it to the same year’s Us (2019). Enough said…

Parasite is the first-ever Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes and I can only imagine how Bong fell during the prolonged standing ovation it received. Hats off and congratulations to all cast and crew.

In the Tall Grass: Drama / Horror / Thriller

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A boy’s cry for help lures a pregnant woman and her brother into an endless field of tall grass where an ancient force dwells among its blades.

You know it’s a Stephen King novella when there is an endless field in the middle of nowhere and mazes – Children of the Corn (1984) and The Shining (1980) respectively. If I had to pitch it to someone it would be Coherence (2103), meets Triangle (2009). It is neither though. Coherence is written in such a way to just blow your mind away after insinuating that a comet’s passing will cause… anomalies. Triangle, on the other hand, is very meticulously written, providing the right amount of explanation should one read between the lines. In the Tall Grass provides insufficient information about the element causing this horror, the reason, or the way it does it. The directing and editing deserve the applause here for maintaining the suspense of a film that 90% of it takes place… in tall grass. It definitely deserves a watch. Patrick Wilson is scary as hell and Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, and Harrison Sloan Gilbertson deliver brilliant performances.

If you are a Stephen King fan this is definitely your year as it marks the third out four films adapted this year, three of which one behind the other; Pet Sematary (April), It: Chapter 2 (September), In The Tall Grass (October) and Dr. Sleep (November).

Enjoy it!

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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Three unexplained, identical murders in the city of Philadelphia will make a police officer devote his life to finding the mysterious serial killer behind them.

It piqued my interest from the opening scene. By the end of ‘1988’ – a very well structured and powerful first act –  it already had my undivided attention. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about the plot. If you know nothing, keep it that way. In the Shadow of the Moon is a must for sci-fi, mystery, and crime lovers as well as lovers of intricate, non-linear narrative that needs exploring and thought aplenty past the end credits.

I will say that one thing that bothered me though without going into details and spoiling it for you. I can’t remember last time I watched a film… having such a convoluted, mind-bending narrative… keeping a great pace up to the revelation of a brilliant twist… and delivering it in such an anticlimactic way… Shame…

I will conclude by applauding all thespians believing in the project, giving such amazing performances.

Crawl (2019): Action / Drama / Horror

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During a category 5 hurricane, a young woman attempts to save her trapped, estranged father from his flooding and inundated with alligators basement.

An action, drama, horror flick that will make you forget your problems for about an hour and a half. Alexandre Aja makes Crawl a tad more serious than Piranha 3D (2010), adding a pinch of a background story to the characters that is very early washed away by the flood and replaced by gimmicks and cliches. Unfortunately, it is easily forgettable. It leaves you with nothing to talk or think about once the end credits start scrolling down. Kaya Scodelario is definitely the right actress for the role and one day we’ll get to watch her in a film that will leave us with our jaw dropped. She’s an extremely talented actress and she deserves all the spotlight she can get. I’ve been a Barry Pepper fan for years but Crawl is not the reason.

Alexandre Aja will, one day, find the way back and direct a horror that will take your breath away. The horror genre needs him and his unconventional ‘eye’ desperately. He is way better than jump scares and yawnsome sequences that solely rely on sound effects. Haute Tension (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) are an original and a remake that beats the original respectively which speak volumes of his talent and skills. I don’t know what Space Adventure Cobra (announced) is, but I hope the one after that makes me indeed, once again, forget to breathe.

P.S. I hope Sam Raimi comes back to horror as well. He’s been sorely missed…

Annabelle Comes Home (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Annabelle, Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most dangerous artifact, becomes the beacon, attracts and brings to life all their other possessions when their daughter, her babysitter and her friend accidentally unleash her.

Following my previous mediocre reviews on the conjuring universe after Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle comes home, we get to watch her, and here we are… Having been disappointed, frustrated and in the end infuriated with The Nun (2018) I will admit I was kind of biased. The strong opening sequence though got my attention straight away, and the whole duration of the first act and beginning of the second started proving me, thankfully, wrong. I can’t remember last time I watched a paranormal horror taking place in broad daylight and have this effect on me. By now, Annabelle has my undivided attention. Then, the sun goes down… and so does the story! And I’m screaming “why?!?!”. Once again, the cliches take over and degrade the film and all its potential. I’d like to be fair here though so I’m gonna give you two ghost pros and two cons. Then you watch it if you haven’t already and make up your mind.

Pros:

  • The Ferryman is innovatively portrayed and everyone involved deserves a round of applause.
  • Daniela’s sequence in front of the TV is hair-raising.

Cons:

  • The dismantled by the guitar and reassembled foggy Werewolf. That’s right…
  • The incredible misuse of the samurai.

I never spoil a film but the following deserves mentioning. Apologies, but I can’t help it. My greatest disappointment in the film is Daniela’s dead father. So. Much. Potential. Wasted! Daniella is the only one who blames herself for her father’s death and he shows up accusing her! Big mistake as there are bad and good ghosts (as they point out). A mistake which gets even bigger when he doesn’t save her when she needs him the most, and which is blown out of proportion when Lorraine shares with her in the end that he told her to tell Daniella that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. I’m not saying anything else. If you disagree, by all means please let me know. Apologies once again for the spoilers but I felt like it could not be left unsaid.

I’ll finish up with a positive. Congratulations to all three girls for their stupendous performance. Shockingly believable!

Brightburn (2019): Horror / Sci-Fi

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A young couple who struggles to have a child adopts an alien boy who crash-lands on their farm and proves to be anything but a blessing in disguise.

I’m gonna give it a shot in the dark here. I will speculate within reason but I couldn’t think of it any other way. The film’s origin is common knowledge: DC’s Injustice timeline. DC belongs to Warner Bros. The question that arises is how was Brightburn able to get made without getting a colossal lawsuit from Warner Bros? Here’s where my speculation comes into play. James Gunn asked to produce it only after he signed for The Suicide Squad (2021) – Warner Bros/DC. Which was after he was fired from Disney (and before he was hired back). Warner had no plans for that timeline, they gave it up disguised as an independent project to Sony, there will be no prequel nor sequel, and everyone will be talking about the ending.

Keeping that in mind, the film is brilliant. It cost approximately $6,000,000, it made $32,893,421, and David Yarovesky and the Gunns gave birth to a child that will never grow up to… (watch it to find out). Brightburn is a horror/sci-fi and the haters/doubters should understand that the project has never had a future; neither dark nor bright – pun intended. For both genre fans, the film is a must! Well acted, well directed and edited, and great visuals. Enjoy the gore!

 

Light Of My Life (2019): Drama

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In a dystopian future, where half of the world’s population has been wiped out due to a pandemic, a father is doing everything in his power to protect his kid and their secret from people who will hurt them if they find out.

Slow burn indie, thriller/drama in which Casey Affleck, both in front and behind the camera, showing without telling, goes the extra mile to realistically portray a world that whole societies and morals are on the brink of extinction or have already totally collapsed. In that world, where no one is to be trusted, father and daughter need at all times to carefully approach everyone they come in contact with, always assuming the worst.

Be it as it may, one of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that, simultaneously, you trust some people as much as the kid does but you are as suspicious and cautious as much as the father is.

You need to take your time with this one. The little action that takes place is definitely worth it. Think of Light of my Life as if you are envisaging a book you are reading out loud. In the meantime, place yourself in the father’s shoes and wonder… Could I possibly make it?

The Curse of La Llorona (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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A mother and her two kids are haunted by a malevolent, supernatural presence that turns their lives into a fight for survival.

So… here is my review on The Nun (2018) https://kgpfilm.reviews/2018/11/27/the-nun-2018-horror-mystery-thriller/. La Llorona is not as bad. The great photography provides the viewer with an eerie atmosphere and the acting is convincing. The same major problem exists though. The messy, inundated with gimmicks and cliches story. I cannot stress enough that the script’s problems cannot be covered by visual or sound effects. In this day and age, jump scares alone don’t make a horror scarier. Only more marketable.

On one hand, I’m glad the film did well as Linda Cardellini needs and deserves that spotlight. She’s a really good actress and we need to see her in major roles more often. It was good to see Raymond Cruz in a film as well. It’s been too long. On the other hand, as long as films like that do well, the producers will keep producing them and the rest of us will run out of horrors to watch (that is, other than real-life horrors).

The Conjuring universe has turned into a bloody “borefest” that one just can’t stop snoozing. I haven’t watched Annabelle Comes Home (2019) yet so, I’ll let you know when I do.

Damn, I hope it’s better…