Escape Room (2019): Action / Adventure / Drama

Escape Room.jpg

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!

Advertisements

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018): Drama

the-kindergarten-teacher-1-e1553717962497.jpg

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

Serenity (2019): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

Serenity.jpg

A struggling fisherman, obsessed with catching a particular fish, finds a new purpose when a mysterious woman suddenly shows up in his little island.

Difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. Acting and cinematography are “Serenity’s” strong suits. Directing and editing do their best to reveal the right information at the right time, keep the suspension at the highest level, and the viewer constantly engaged. Does it work? Not for the majority of it. Why?

I have the suspicion that by reading the script, the film’s good intentions would be revealed. On screen, this is not the case. The story itself is all over the place and that heavily affects character development. The film is definitely not as bad as some claim it is but with A-list cast and crew certainly one would expect more.

As with any other film, watch it and shape your own opinion. You might like it, you might not. At least, you’ll know the reason(s) why.

Scenic Route (2013): Drama / Thriller

Scenic Route

Two lifelong friends decide to go on a journey following the scenic route but their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere and surfacing suppressed feelings of a lifetime.

Indie, low budget, and absolutely stunning! The Goetz Brothers’ Drama/Thriller, penned by Kyle Killen, disguises itself as a dark comedy and makes you laugh out loud with its sheer brutality, and Josh Duhamel’s and Dan Fogler’s raw, natural talent. Laugh out loud and, admittedly, think to yourself “Damn, I wish I had said that when…”. The thought-provoking and carefully written story, the meticulous mise-en-scene, and the profound acting create a highly entertaining and compelling journey of self-discovery.

Beware though! As much as the journey itself is a reward, this one’s destination is a spine-chilling thrill. With a jaw-dropping twist that glues you to your seats, the grand finale, accompanied by Mike Einziger’s mesmerising soundtrack, takes your breath away and stays imprinted long after the end credits scroll down.

Don’t miss out!

Hollow in the Land (2017): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

Hollow in the Land.jpg

While their father is facing time for his notorious crime, two siblings, just for having his name, have to face society.

Dark, existential, real, and made in Canada! Low budget, indie film that went under the radar due to, mostly, negative reviews. The depiction of a small society can be negative for numerous reasons but it can also be, unfortunately, painfully realistic. Every character plays a role that moves the story forward, towards a path that human perception of love, bigotry, reputation, and family values counts and shapes society as we know it.

Feature debut of the very promising writer/director Scooter Corkie with Dianna Agron, Shawn Ashmore, and Jared Abrahamson leading strong. Daring and thought-provoking, “Hollow in the Land”, deserves your attention as it opens the door to the kind of cinema that impresses with its simplicity while portraying something so intricate… Us!

Creed II (2018): Drama / Sport

Creed II.jpg

Ivan Drago has a son… and they are coming to claim the heavyweight title from Balboa’s tutelage, Adonis Creed.

Is it enjoyable? It is. Is the training inspiring? It is. Is the acting convincing and the editing pacing the film as it should? Definitely. Is Tessa Thompson amazing? Hands down. Then what seems to be the issue?

I would put my finger on a few issues:

  • The first one is obvious, “Creed II” looks like a remake of “Rocky IV” (1985). But it’s a continuation based on “Rocky IV”, which makes it… repetitive?
  • Other than repetitive, the story is also quite predictable and formulaic.
  • As with every other “Rocky” franchise and “Creed” (2015), there is at least one training montage sequence. “Creed II” montage, as amusing as it may be, doesn’t add anything to the equation.
  • Lacks the strong verbal confrontation between Rocky and Ivan after more than three decades.

The aforementioned issues weaken “Creed II”. But there is one last issue which is more intricate and challenges the film… Before the first fight, Adonis doesn’t know what he is fighting for. Then, he figures it out, trains really hard, and goes again. The reason he decides to fight him is not as compelling as Viktor’s. Adonis has a much better life. Viktor’s life (and Ivan’s) is more dramatic and we, as an audience, feel the need to see him stepping into the ring and winning. Adonis’ reason is ego-driven. Simple as. Remember why he stepped into the ring in “Creed”? To prove that he’s not a mistake! Which made the audience get the goosebumps, even shed a tear, and root for the underdog which conquered the world.

The film financially did well. The devil is in the details though and these details could have made it a valuable addition both to the franchise and the spin-off.

Contact (1997): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

Contact.jpg

A scientist who has devoted her life to discovering extraterrestrial life form not only has her breakthrough but also uncovers a secret message.

Carl Sagan:  “The astronomer of the people”. Astrophysicist, author, researcher, and controversial figure regarding his scientific, political, and religious views.

Robert Zemeckis: The enormously talented director of films such as the “Back to the Future” franchise, Forrest Gump (1994), and “Cast Away” (2000).

Two and a half hours of lessons about life… on this planet or the next. And Carl Sagan was there since day one to make sure that everyone got the science right. And that everyone got a glimpse of what he “saw”. Of what he envisioned. Unfortunately, halfway there, cancer beat him and left his last breath. He was 62.

Fortunately, his adaptation, his vision, was left in the brilliant hands of Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis grasped Sagan’s concept of the “Encyclopaedia Galactica” which is based on the science fiction novel “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and delivered a heartfelt drama about a girl who turned into a woman with the brightest of minds and who wouldn’t stop until she discovered the truth.

The truth that science should be seeking. And not at the expense of people. The same truth that faith in something higher than ourselves should be doing. And again, not at the expense of people. “Contact” is a sci-fi/drama that doesn’t patronise, exploit, manipulate or try to impress with fake, non-coherent, uneducated scientific jargon. It takes its time to find a middle ground between science and religion and make it about not who is right and who isn’t but about respecting the fellow human being who just happens to have a different view of the “cosmos” than ourselves.

It is amazing how the real-life discovery of an arctic meteorite from Mars coincided with the film’s shooting and how Zemeckis grasped the opportunity and adapted Bill Clinton’s actual interview which looks like it is custom-tailored to the film’s discovery. Luck and talent are beyond understanding here.

Lastly, I find it really interesting how in a film that is primarily sci-fi, having so much to offer to our way of thinking, the best shot (my opinion anyway) is a young Ellie running up the stairs, after having found her dad lying on the floor, to get his medicine.

“Contact”… One of the best political, social, humane science fiction you will ever get to watch.

The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018): Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi

The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot.jpg

An aged American war veteran is sent to the Canadian wilderness to kill… the Bigfoot.

I had no idea this film existed until I came across the title. And then I said… “Damn! Now I have to know how Hitler and Bigfoot co-exist in the same sentence”. I’ll tell you this, ostensibly, the film makes no sense whatsoever and one would think that writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski smokes way too much. But this is not the case!

This is purely my interpretation of what the film is about so, feel free to have your own should you decide to watch it. An old man who once achieved so much and a nation owes him is left with nothing but his dignity and loneliness in a world he does not understand anymore and no one to share it with. And when he is just about to bite the bullet, the government knocks on his door to assign him with an unfathomable mission, and the opportunity to once more save the world.

Did I say too much? Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin Barr respectively and Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine deliver subtle yet powerful performances making this film with the confusing title an existential drama on the painful feelings of loss and regret. So, what is the rest all about? That’s up to you to figure out.

P.S. The last flashback scene is heartbreaking…

Ashes in the Snow (2018): Drama / History / Romance

Ashes in the Snow.jpg

In 1941, as Stalin’s army marches through Lithuania, a 16-year-old girl, her family, and thousands of men, women, and children who have been accused of treason, and are deported to Siberia.

A heartbreaking and soul-crushing story about a nation we know little and the same nation’s suffering that we know even less. A powerful drama based on Ruta Sepetys’ book “Between Shades of Gray” (Don’t you dare mix it up!), directed by Marius A. Markevicius, and with two actors leading strong: Bel Powley and Martin Wallström.

Shot on a moderate budget, it lacks the Hollywood flamboyance but the message is coming across straight through and expands to the rest of the Baltic people and whoever else faced the Russian atrocities. Shamelessness and misanthropy add to the film’s drama, history, and romance and clash the two forces that, in abhorrent times like this, are battling over the human soul: hope and despair.

A massive round of applause to Sorrento Productions, Tauras Films, Twilight Merengue Studios, and Vertical Entertainment which produced and distributed the film for the world to know. And then another one to the Lithuanian government for allowing it and supporting it.

People are often wondering how the descendants of the Nazis feel nowadays about their ancestors. How about the Russians’ ancestors? How about the current followers of the same regime that still exists and still oppresses, has surpassed the deaths caused by the fascist regimes, and competes with the deaths caused by theocratic ones?

Boy Erased (2018): Biography / Drama

Boy Erased.jpg

A boy is sent by his parents to a church-supportive gay conversion program after revealing to them that he has “impure” thoughts about men.

Joel Edgerton proves time and time again that he was born and destined to be both in front and behind the camera. A fine addition and a major representative of the Australian film school.

The film: Garrard Conley’s heartfelt memoir is masterfully adapted for the big screen with nothing but emotion, sensitivity, honesty, and courage. Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, and Lucas Hedges give amazing performances, become mother, father and son, and open their house’s door for you to experience the suffering of their family’s drama. Non-linearly narrated, “Boy Erased” seems to be slightly holding its punches but delivers a clear message and puts the situation into perspective, establishing the backward, medieval, and shameless position of the church in the 21st century.

Life: “Boy Erased” is a drama that countless families across the globe face every year and, in their despair, they rely on a higher power to give them an answer to a natural, conscious choice that poses no question. The diversity of homosexual personalities, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and foibles extends as far as the heterosexuals’, the “normal”. And to this very day, men of science try to contextualise the “gay gene” – good luck isolating it from the “straight” one! And certain men of the cloth, and followers of an organisation, whose knowledge of the world is summarised in a fictitious book that is divorced from reality, want to cast out the “demon of homosexuality”.

Do we believe in God or do we believe in what others interpret of what God is? I remember being taught Jesus saying “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”. But for the life of me, I can’t remember been taught about Him condemning homosexuality. We are soon entering the third decade of the 21st century, and by now, the State and the pharisaic Church should have been distinctively separated.

God is not to be blamed here. He Himself (is it ‘him’?) is the victim and sad creator of our decadent species. But there is still faith that the minorities in this world, who strive to make a difference, regardless of their age, gender, IQ, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs will one day grow more… and more… and more… and will dethrone archaic establishments, status quos, and organisations that have been ruling since the dawn of time. And “issues” such as homosexuality will stop being treated as “witch hunt”, will become accepted and, hopefully, soon after, will be taken as a matter of course where no one could care less.

And to quote the late Curt Cobain: “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes”.