The Crow (1994): Action / Drama / Fantasy

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A man, after been brutally murdered, comes back to life to avenge his and his fiancée’s death by killing the ones responsible one by one.

Even though deeply stigmatised and remembered as the film that Brandon Lee was killed, The Crow still remains Lee’s legacy and a ’90s goth, revenge, Halloween classic. One of Alex Proyas’ finest films that unfortunately spawned sequels that should have never been made. Ranked 37th in IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, the film has significant differences to the graphic novel but, proudly growing up with it, I can reassure you that, despite its flaws, it will be admired by every future generation to come.

The production details vary from ground-breaking VFX to complete the film after Lee’s death, to sets getting destroyed, to numerous people getting injured, and to cast and crew constantly abusing cocaine from the set to the toilets. Regardless, if you grew up with it as well, it will take you for a stroll down memory lane and if you were too young or not born yet, it will travel you to an analog world before the digital era took over.

Both father and son will always live in our hearts.

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Sleepy Hollow (1999): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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An eccentric constable is sent to a village called Sleepy Hollow to investigate three mysterious murders but he gets more than he bargained for when he encounters The Headless Horseman.

Twenty years later and it’s still captivating. Tim Burton adapts for the silver screen the legendary Celtic and German folklore and creates one of the most atmospheric, period gothic fairytales you will have ever watched. Sleepy Hollow is purely a masterpiece. The perfect balance of horror, comedy, and fantasy with an equally “magical” and intense subplot. Like Shakesperean thespians, all actors deliver amazing performances that enhance the film’s genre. Danny Elfman’s eerie score gets your undivided attention from the opening scene and Emmanuel Lubezki’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography may have lost the Oskar to American Beauty (1999) but this merely means anything as you will probably have never encountered anything like it in any other fairytale adaptation [Maybe, Edward Scissorhands (1991) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)]. The “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” Oskar was well earned for building the Sleepy Hollow from scratch within three months. As the and crew stated: “The feeling one had walking around Sleepy Hollow’s sets, and in particular the town at Lime Tree, was almost as if you were walking around the inside of Tim Burton’s head.”

Sleepy Hollow is the best side of Hollywood. A side that is often forgotten by the studios but should be a reminder that quantity (the $100M budget) can be indeed spent wisely and increase the film’s quality. A reminder that visual effects are meant to be used as a means to advance the story, and not dominate the film overshadowing its narrative. Words cannot beautify Tim Burton’s classic. A must-watch not only for the Haloween period but also for times of classical storytelling nostalgia.

Sucker Punch (2011): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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After losing her mother and accidentally killing her sister, a young girl gets institutionalised, mentally withdrawing to an alternate reality, to produce an escape plan.

There is no real need for yet another review on Sucker Punch but, stumbling upon a horrible critique the other day, I felt like watching it again and writing about it. Directing, acting, cinematography, visual & sound effects, editing, music, casting, costume design, makeup, art direction, stunt coordination, choreography… get 10/10.  The opening sequence alone could be a landmark for montage in the 21st century’s Hollywood.

As for the script, this is an excruciatingly dramatic story written and uniquely developed by Zack Snyder. A more symbolic logline could be: A fragile, young girl descends into madness after reality hits her harder than she could ever imagine, not even giving her the time or arsenal to defend herself. Possibly the most artistic way of examining the mind’s coping mechanisms in multiple layers. Read between the lines; there is a huge amount of information waiting to be discovered. For more spoilers, have a look at this one. Very interesting: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978764/trivia?item=tr1610675

It’s always easy to cast stones and judge from the comfort of our couch. To go out there and actually do though is what takes real “cojones”. You don’t have to like it. Whoever thinks s/he can do a better job, by all means, give it a shot – and write about your experience. The number of hours and amount of effort put to bring such a film to life is beyond understanding. If you are passionate about German expressionism, Italian neorealism, experimental/avant-garde, or even art-house cinema and you still decide to watch it and don’t like it… at least don’t attack it.

They say words are mightier than the sword. Unfortunately, in this case, it proved to be true.

 

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy

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In times of war and reason, Baron Munchausen shows up to inspire with a story of a lifetime that bypasses reality and goes down the rabbit hole of evocative fantasy and mythical adventure.

From Constantinople to the moon, to the centre of the Earth, to the belly of the beast, and back, Baron Munchausen travels towards fabled worlds encountering heroes and deities. Nostalgia, love, dreams, childhood innocence and hope rise up through Munchausen’s escapades. A social commentary inspired by the Odyssey… delineated in a British aristocratic manner.

As one of my first cinematic experiences, Terry Gilliam makes me reminisce about my childhood years and the way I used to see the world. Where, like in the film, reality and imagination blend into one and shape a harmless world where even the abhorrent tragedy of war can be a lot easier to swallow and man’s cruelty be tolerable.

John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams (unpaid and uncredited) and the rest of the cast shared Gilliam’s vision of a better world than ours and supported him to see it through as the unfathomably humongous production complications wouldn’t stop appearing.

But reality’s misfortunes were defeated by prevalent, mythical will that projected it eventually to the silver screen.

Mortal Engines (2018): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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Hundreds of years from now, the world as we know it has been destroyed, the remaining cities have been mobilised, the major cities are hunting down the smaller ones, and two youngsters do everything in their power to change the status quo.

I’ve spoken before about budget and creativity as I have spoken before about the transferrable problems of a script to the big screen. I guess it was meant to be a saga but chances now are slim to none. Remember the “Golden Compass” (2007)? I’m not surprised. “Mortal Engines'” visuals are stunning. Hands down. The cast does a pretty decent job too; that is not a problem either. What was it then and it bombed?

Every time I watch a film, I’m always looking for that shot. The shot that will make me say “damn”! And then I’ll have to rewind and so can watch it again. What I’m also going for is a good line. Something that will make me say “I wish I have thought of that”! So, when independent films with 1/50 of “Mortal Engines'” budget have both, and “Mortal Engines” has none, it is only natural not to be impressed. To add insult to the injury, the same applies for the editing. Not only is there not even one good montage sequence, but the whole film feels rushed. It feels as if it got “chopped” fast to flush you non-stop down the FADE OUT.

Just “From the Producer of…” won’t cut it. Because as a household name, if you bring it up, you have to live up to your expectations and the reputation that precedes you. Shame really. Not for the money thrown away really, but mostly for the actors who want to catch a big fish, they let the small ones go, and they end up catching a boot.

Suspiria (2018): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

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Berlin 1977: A girl arrives at a world-renowned dancing school only to discover obscure entities harbouring haunting secrets.

“Suspiria” is a prime example of the endless highbrow/lowbrow “battle”. The reviews escalate from 1/10 to 10/10 and back in the blink of an eye. It is not for everyone! Expel the Hollywood narrative prior to entering into this world of darkness. Know the kind of films you like, and the kind you don’t. Have you ever seen me reviewing a comedy/romance? I would come back and slate every frame of it. But I’ve said before, I’m not here to slate films. I’m reviewing their parameters and examine their intentions. Pick a narrative you like and should you choose to go for something different, which I highly recommend every now and again, don’t rip it apart straight after.

Even though a remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977), Luca Guadagnino’s homonymous paganistic world runs almost a full hour longer than the original, acting more as exploration or expansion, and preparation for the “Three Mothers” trilogy (Make sure to stay for the post-credit scene).

If you like watching a film and paying attention to details at the same time, then directing, photography, and certain montage sequences, i.e. Susie dancing and Olga… suffering, will blow your mind away. If you are into experimental cinema as well, you’ll love the storytelling too and consequently the film as a whole.

I knew Dakota Johnson has had her big breakthrough with the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy but, as I really tried and failed to watch even the first one, I was not familiar with her acting skills. Here, she definitely commits to the project and proves herself more than worthy. She completes 2 years of ballet training prior to taking this role, excels at her diversity, and I take my hat off to her.

Then there is the one and only Tilda Swinton who, like the amazing Kate Blanchet, can master any role as a woman as much as a man of her age, younger, older, or really freaking old. In this instance, she is three entirely different characters. I couldn’t admire her more. Plus, she just doesn’t get old! She is like a female Keanu Reeves!!!

Constantine (2005): Action / Fantasy / Horror

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Occult detective John Constantine teams up with a policewoman when her sister allegedly committed suicide, and all hell brakes loose.

Now, that’s how you adapt a graphic novel! Before Warner Bros and DC started getting those shockingly dreadful reviews, there was “Constantine”. Hardly a superhero, definitely an antihero, John Constantine exists in the DC Universe and kicks demonic and angelic ass in his own blunt, cynic, and supernatural way.

Behind the camera, Francis Lawrence and his team, write, edit, and direct an action/fantasy (although not horror really) with a lot of humour, amazing photography, and great visual effects that help the story advance. If there were any gimmicks, flaws, or holes you wouldn’t bother finding them and, even if you did, you would turn the blind eye as it is that enjoyable.

In front of the lens, Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Shia LaBeouf, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tilda Swinton, and Peter Stormare stand together and clash against each other throwing countless punchlines and keeping you entertained for two solid hours. Well, if you are too religious maybe not that entertained.

Anyway, I give my permission to Warner Bros to hire Francis Lawrence and his crew back to rebuild DCCU.

Sorry to Bother You (2018): Comedy / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

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In a parallel universe, in Oakland, a telemarketer goes from having nothing to having everything to losing it all over again when in reality he had it all, lost it, and then tries to gain it again.

Is it perplexed? So is the film… Before I write any review, I make sure not to read other reviews or critiques so I know for a fact that I am stating my point of view and my point of view alone. “Sorry to Bother You” is “Comedy”, is “Fantasy”, but it is not “Sci-Fi”. It looks like a fresh take on Charlie Kaufman’s way of thinking, topped up with Boots Riley’s unique approach. Before watching it, the range of comments I had heard spanned from “genius” to “moronic” and from “amazing” to “horrendous”. So, chances are that you will either love it or loathe it. Here’s what I think…

Cassius Green represents the number of times you have asked yourself “Why does no one see how wrong the world is”? At first, he sees it. Then he becomes part of it. And then he wakes up, gets out, and does something about it. Lakeith Stanfield is brilliant as Cassius who lives in a surrealistically psychedelic world, like ours, just more artistically – Kaufman-esque – portrayed. Well, in our world, Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America, a laughable joke from “The Simpsons” (1989), so not that much more…

Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) represents the system that feeds off greed. And our ambition to do something more with our lives, and become something better, and change that system, can fool even ourselves and become that very same greed that feeds it.

“Sorry to Bother You” parodies our world not because it wants to undermine it. Boots Riley comprehends the “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” (George Bernard Shaw) mentality, and through a respectful, meaningful, and didactic parable, makes you laugh but also “see” how much work needs to be done so our world can be a tad more understood.

Last but not least, Detroit, who is none other than the one and only, breathtaking, and always dazzling woman and actress Tessa Thompson represents love. In a subtle and artistic form, she has always been the one to prevent us from going astray and make us become the people that we always hoped we would be.

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

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Living on the top of a hill, Edward, having scissors for hands, is at first welcomed but then abominated by a conservative society.

Potentially, Tim Burton’s greatest fairy tale. One of Danny Elfman’s best film score. Stefan Czapsky’s most wondrous cinematography. The film that showcased Johnny Depp’s true thespian skills. The film that Winona Ryder made me fall in love with an actress for the first time. Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin are amazing as gullible and naive parents and both the visual and sound departments deliver a truly mesmerising result.

As for the story and its development, please keep in mind that it is about Edward Scissorhands who is… different. And through his eyes, we recognise isolation, we seek self-discovery, and we find love. Similar, yet more sensitive than the story of Frankenstein, “Edward Scissorhands” could be more of a different take on the Beauty and the Beast through German Expressionism enhanced with Gothic constituents.

Try not to ask too many “whys”. Try not to rationalise actions and reactions. Try not to get too political or too scientific diagnosing Edward with autism. This is one of the best modern, love stories Hollywood has to offer. It is a magical love story…

Scrooged (1988): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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A cold-hearted, spiteful TV executive, hell-bent on ruining everyone’s Christmas around him is paid a visit by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.

A modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Funny, emotional, didactic, “Scrooged” will make you laugh but also mist your eyes. You’ll love every second of it. Bill Murray goes over the top and exceeds everyone’s expectations. Karen Allen is a beauty and makes you smile every time she does. Alfre Woodard is amazing as always. Danny Elfman was, is, and always will be the master of Christmas scores. And last but not least, the incredibly versatile Richard Donner who orchestrates this brilliant film giving it the befitting, illustrious style it deserves. Shame that he and Murray didn’t work well together. A massive round of applause to all cast and crew for making this film a classic for us to enjoy to this very day and encourage us to… put a little love in our heart!

I take my hat off to Richard Donner and everyone in the production team where, in the most festive period of the year, in one of the most troubled years of South Africa, in their way, they offer their support against the atrocity of apartheid.