Chernobyl (2019): Drama / History

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In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, causing the most calamitous nuclear disaster in history.

How outstanding this five and a half hour TV film/mini-series is, is outrageously beyond comprehension. Directing, acting, editing, writing, direction of photography, visual effects, music, art direction, stunt coordination, sound design, costume design, makeup department, and every other department get a lengthy standing ovation… HBO once more proves that the sky is anything but the limit. Released halfway through the last season of Game of Thrones (2011) – HBO again, Chernobyl, at first, went under the radar and once the former came to an end, it shone like no other mini-series shone ever before.

Chernobyl will grip you as much as it will terrify you. You won’t even care why the actors speak in their native accent. You won’t even notice. It’s a hauntingly, flawless HBO production which perfectly blends history, politics, science, and drama! Behold the atrocious side of human nature unfolding side by side with its oxymoronic, boundless grace.

If you don’t know the facts, it will lay them out for you. If you no longer remember what happened, it will all come back. If you were in any shape or form affected by the horror, now you will live it once again.

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I Am Mother (2019): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

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Years after the extinction of mankind, a girl, born in an underground facility and raised by an android she calls “Mother”, discovers one day that the outside world is not what she was taught it was.

Very interesting feature directorial debut from Grant Sputore. I Am Mother is a small budget, one-location sci-fi that definitely worths your time. Many questions are raised with some of them answered and, purposefully, some of them not. Read between the lines. Information is carefully revealed and spread throughout the three acts, and that is what paces the story brilliantly.

Excellent performances by Clara Rugaard and Hilary Swank. A huge congratulations to Rose Byrne for providing her voice for Mother but also Weta Workshop for creating her. Last but not least, kudos to all producers and Netflix who spent every penny wisely, proving (once more) that low budget films have as much or more to offer than Hollywood mega-budget blockbusters.

Hint: Who is the woman that inexplicably shows up knocking…

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…

The Perfection (2018): Drama / Horror / Thriller

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Leaving one of the best music academies as a kid, Charlotte, with a twisted plan in mind, seeks now her old mentor and the younger girl who replaced her.

Daring, perverted, gruesome, and brilliant at parts, The Perfection utilises De Palma’s split diopter shots, Hitchcock’s shower scene ‘staccato’ editing, and Aja’s unsettling way to convey paranoia. Netflix’s new horror avoids cliches, scares, amuses, entertains, and gives you a good run for your money. Allison Williams and Logan Browning, accompanied by operatic music, hold no punches, seduce one another, but also ourselves, and steal the show. Excellent directing by Richard Shepard who masterfully orchestrates everyone and everything. Two things though:

Interesting but quite ironic for Miramax to choose such a theme to produce. Also, I wish it didn’t get that explanatory. It doesn’t leave much to think about once the end credits start rolling. Editing should have left certain information out or carefully reveal some of it at the end of the third act.

Regardless, a definite must-see for the Horror fans.

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 Story of 90 Coins (2015): Short / Drama / Romance

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Love and aspiration battle in a young fashion designer’s head when the time comes to making the decision of her life.

If there is anything worse than something preventing you from achieving your dream, that is someone preventing you from doing so… 90 coins, in 90 days that will glue you to your seats for 9 minutes. Directorial debut for Michael Wong who hits the nail with a short drama portraying the gut-wrenching feeling of slowly losing love to an idle, utopic, pseudo-promising dream.

Brilliantly directed, edited, and acted, “The Story of 90 Coins” serves as a memory which comes and goes in waves blending two peoples’ lives the way they would like to remember them, and the way they actually were. A memory that will lead them to find eternal love or lose themselves forever.

Escape Room (2019): Action / Adventure / Drama

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For a chance to win $10,000 finding their way out of a challenging escape room, six strangers must work together for, ultimately, a chance to save their lives.

Right… So… If you are under 15 y/o: Enjoy the dynamic of the characters, the kind of far-fetched yet enjoyable riddles, and the brilliant production design, art direction, and set decoration.

If you are over 15 y/o: Still watch it if you want to but I would go for something more… extravagant: “Cube” (1997), “The Experiment” (2001), “Identity” (2003), “Exam” (2009), “Triangle” (2009), “The Killing Room” (2009), “Coherence” (2013), “The Belko Experiment” (2016).

And these are just on the top of my head. There are dozens more. Two things about “Escape Room”: On one hand, when the producers imply that there will be more, they shouldn’t be giving away so much information in the end. It destroys the mystery by answering most of the burning questions. On the other hand, if I had to recommend it that would be for… Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll!

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018): Drama

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A kindergarten teacher – and aspiring poet – becomes obsessed with one of her students who possesses a unique gift.

“The Kindergarten Teacher” is not just another film about a child prodigy but rather a film about a caring and sensible adult who sees, and wants to act upon, everything that is wrong about today’s world. Unfortunately, in the process, she loses the battle as she becomes obsessed with a kid that is everything she would like to be.

Strong suit: The meticulous character development that builds up, escalates and justifies the teacher’s fascination, and the line that draws and gradually oversteps turning it into fixation and borderline pedophilia – Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible.

I’m not an expert in poetry but I think it’s the film’s weakest point. In films such as “Good Will Hunting” (1997) or “Gifted” (2017), the charisma itself speaks volumes in regard to why that particular kid or young adult is special. Here, (once again I’m not an expert) I found the kid’s poems… nothing much. And when an adult poetry class finds them extraordinary, I can’t help but wonder why. I have a feeling that if I walked into a poetry class reciting those poems, I would look around me next only to see faces staring at me with a “wtf” expression. But I might be entirely wrong so don’t quote me on that.

I admire Netflix for its diversity which proves time and time again that it’s not afraid to expand its horizons, pleasantly surprise its subscribers, and give them value for their money.

 

P.S. I can’t remember last time I watched a Maggie Gyllenhaal film that she didn’t have sex in it. #justsaying