City of God (2002): Crime / Drama

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Through the eyes of a young, aspiring photographer, the “favelas” of Rio unfold stories of drugs, guns, kingpins, and gang wars where always the innocent paying the price.

4 Oscars nominations, 66 wins, another 38 nominations, top rated movies #21 (IMDb, 2019). If it wasn’t for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) – which was nominated for 11 Oscars and won them all – it would have definitely won the “Best Editing” category. Fair enough. One of the best-edited films of the 21st century, “City of God”, tells the city’s true crime stories during the ’60s and the ’70s, in Fernando Meirelles’ brutally realistic documented way. Fear, insecurity, and despair spread throughout the streets of the slum overshadowing the beauty of people who have nothing to do with the gangs’ territorial issues.

Masterfully and non-linearly narrated, “City of God” delves into the poverty-stricken society of all Rio’s undesirables, digs deep into the characters’ soul and chronicles the rise and perseverance of violence.

Feature debut for the amazing Alice Braga.

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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.

 

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!

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…

Crash (2004): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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People from every walk of life, dealing with loss, racism, and life itself, collide with each other in the city of Angels.

Find the one you hate the most. You’ll like them later on. Find the one you relate with the most. You’ll hate them in the end. Welcome to a world where all East Asians are Chinese. All South Americans are Mexicans. All Middle Easterners are “Osama”. All blacks are criminals. And all whites are rednecks.

Racism, bigotry, misanthropy… passed on from one to the next, by white to brown, to black to yellow, to another shade of skin colour and back to where it started, in an endless spiral of hatred that has no beginning but hopefully one day an end. Wait, there is more! Colour is not enough. Where do you stand in this world? Are you educated? What is your financial and societal status? You work for the government or against the government? Either way, you are criminal. You have principles? How much?

“Crash” includes an amazing ensemble cast and explores in depth all the aforementioned, yet its message focuses on how to overcome the notion that everyone is a victim, whoever is different is the enemy, and it is always someone else’s fault. People’s interconnectedness extends to their feelings too; loss, love, pride, shame, isolation, belonging, loneliness, redemption and regret… all blend into one making it easier to accuse everyone we don’t know for ostensibly having everything we always longed-for. Until we realised we want more…

Change will not happen miraculously. A legend said it once best: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror…”

Filth (2013): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A mentally unstable, crooked, alcoholic, drug addict cop stops at nothing to get the promotion he is so passionately after while fighting with his inner demons.

I’ll start this way… Until “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), James McAvoy was not my cup of tea. By far not! After “X-Men: First Class”, I started changing my mind. After “Filth” I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. Or, actually, I had been wrong that much once more. With Leonardo DiCaprio after “Gangs of New York” (2002). But then all of us men were. So, I apologise to both.

James McAvoy in “Filth” gave the best performance of his life in 2013. And John S. Baird directed the best film of his career – Even though “Cass” (2008) was pretty amazing too. “Filth” will make you laugh and it will make you cry, and it will make you laugh and cry again and again until you don’t know how to feel anymore about anyone. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, “Filth” is one of the best Scottish films since “Trainspotting” (1996), yet another novel by Irvine Welsh. Changing genre every five minutes, “Filth” is a dramatically funny, surrealistically twisted cinematic journey through the paranoia of a corrupted, deranged, bipolar cop that will drive you bonkers. It’s worth mentioning that Jim Broadbent, in the hallucinatory world, is scarily hilarious.

McAvoy’s psychedelic performance here will prepare you for his cringing performance in “Split” (2016) and the upcoming “Glass” (2019). See how it all started…

Fun fact: “Trainspotting” and “Filth”, potentially, coexist in the same universe.

Game Night (2018): Action / Comedy / Crime

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A game night between a group of friends goes awry when one of the participants gets kidnapped by gangsters.

It is exactly what you expect from a Jason Bateman comedy: Foul language, surreal characters, brilliant chemistry between the actors, non-realistic, yet comedic and graphic twists and turns, and shameless jokes. And, as there are a lot of game references, a really clever and befitting idea is the use of “tilt-shift” lens which gives the aerial shots the miniaturized look of the board game “Game of Life”.

You loved “The Switch” (2010), “Horrible Bosses” (2011), “Bad Words” (2013), and the like? You’ll love “Game Night” too.