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.

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? 🙂

Avengement (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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After years of imprisonment, a man manages to escape and heads straight for the people responsible that made his life inside a living hell.

Fifth collaboration between Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins with this one and Savage Dog (2017) being my favourite ones. Originally from Sutton Coldfield, only a few miles away from where I live, Adkins is the man for the job. He trains hard and, once in front of the camera, he pours his soul out for us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I have a recommendation though and I address it to Johnson: With the protracted tracking shots being used more and more all over the world, I would really love to see Adkins in longer, uncut shots doing what he does best. Films like Ong-bak (2003) and Yip Man (2008) have raised the bar sky-high and I have the ultimate confidence that the Brits can do it as well. I really want to see it happening; longer shots = less editing = more continuous action. Avengement has these gritty fights that Johnson’s previous films lacked and Adkins, regardless, always delivers. Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose, Nick Moran, Kierston Wareing, and Leo Gregory are, as always, brilliant.

I hope The Debt Collector 2 (2020) adds something even more to the equation and that their successful collaboration keeps improving. Adkins needs more spotlight as he has the talent that makes martial artists half his age weep.

 

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!

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.

Cold Pursuit (2019): Action / Crime / Drama

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After his son gets murdered, a snowplow driver tracks down and goes after everyone responsible for his death.

Hans Petter Moland, writer/director of films with a unique character such as Aberdeen (2000) and his latest Out Stealing Horses (2019), impresses this time by remaking his own film In Order of Disappearance (2014) – all three led by Stellan Skarsgård. The film was shot in early 2017 but was released only recently. I guess it would have done better had it been released before a controversial interview Liam Neeson gave earlier this year.

Politics aside, Cold Pursuit is enjoyable adding some dark comedy to the aforementioned genres, resembling Fargo (1996) and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999). Julia Jones, Emmy Rossum, and Tom Bateman stand out. A lot of similarities can be found with the original film, especially in tone and rhythm, and both of them make one wonder who was Nels Coxman before…

Destroyer (2018): Action / Crime / Drama

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A broken LAPD detective follows a lead on an old case that got her to the decadent state she currently is.

Brilliant concept and even more brilliant execution! Karyn Kusama and Nicole Kidman shine behind and in front of the camera respectively. Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, and Scoot McNairy provide amazing support, completing a film – a masterpiece I’ll dare to say – that will keep making you question what you know and what you think you know. NOT a Hollywood recipe, and NOT for an impatient audience. An existential, slow-burn, dark, indie cop-drama set in two timelines, holding no punches.

A definite must-watch! You can like it or dislike it afterwards.

Dragged Across Concrete (2018): Action / Crime / Drama

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Two suspended cops descend into the criminal underworld as they both struggle financially.

Third feature film from writer/director S. Craig Zahler who amazes once more. Cast: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Udo Kier.

After “Bone Tomahawk” (2015) and “Brawl in Cell 99” (2017), “Dragged Across Concrete” is not the shock to the system his previous two films were but lands on screen in a time that “political correctness” has reached its peak. A slow-burn action/crime/drama which infuriates but also entertains with solid acting, writing, cinematography, editing and directing. Realistic and surrealistic dialogues which make one think, in either case, how on Earth did he come up with that (or why on Earth didn’t I think of that first)?!

With reviews as low as 0 and high as 10, you won’t find much in between. Don’t listen to anyone though (yes, not even myself)! Watch it and see where you stand in this world of violence, corruption, rights but no obligations, and opinionated masses that no matter what you say or do will offend… someone.

The world is what we make of it. I vote for communication and respect.

True Detective: Reflections on Narrative and Character Development

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“The World of Apu” is a bimonthly, diverse, and multilingual online film magazine which explores film cultures from around the world.

Below you can find my analysis on the True Detective series (2014 – 2019), and my reflections on its narrative and character development.

http://theworldofapu.com/true-detective-2014-2019/

The Raid 2 (2014): Action / Crime / Thriller

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Straight after the raid’s massacre, Rama goes undercover to expose the corruption within the police force, no matter how deep the rabbit hole goes.

There have not been many sequels that were expected to be better than the first installments. Especially, when the ones that spawned the sequels were shockingly good. Well, “The Raid 2” is one of these exceptions with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais pushing the bar to the limit.

Starting two hours after “The Raid: Redemption” (2011), ending up two years later, “The Raid’s 2” uncut violence almost tripled the body count, got banned by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, was censored in the US, got an audience member faint at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere, and mesmerised millions of martial arts fans, and action junkies all over the world.

With the first cut being around three and a half hours long, the final cut is still almost 50 minutes longer than the first “Raid”. 150 minutes of gory deaths, phantasmagoric car chases, extreme martial arts, over 60 types of guns, police corruption, mob hits, Rama going berzerk, and… “Hammer Girl”, “Baseball Bat Man”, and “The Assassin”.

Directing, Editing, DOP, Choreography, Stunt coordination, and all cast and crew deserve a standing ovation. An amazing opening sequence, with a stunning second act, and a grand finale fight scene which took 6 weeks to prepare and 8 days to film. An ABSOLUTE MUST!!!

 

P.S. If you are interested, this is how Gareth Evans shot the “how-the-f@!#-did-they-do-that” car chase scene: (IMDb, 2019)