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? ūüôā

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Midsommar (2019): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A young couple and their two friends decide to fly to Sweden and visit an isolated community’s midsummer festival only to experience events they never expected they would.

Ari Aster knows how to portray death. He has mastered the art of perfectly shooting people die – one way or another – and then how to cut to either their beloved finding out or straight to their reaction after it happens. That said, I can see why the film critically and financially disappointed. Did I like it personally? Yes, I did. Would I recommend it? Before I answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I would ask myself ‘who would I recommend it to’? Horror fans are disappointed already – is there such a thing as mystery or drama fans? I’m not going to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but I would hint the following:

  • The film is unnecessarily two and a half hours long and Aster promised (threatened?) that the director’s cut will be thirty minutes longer!!! For a horror film, the first duration is too long, and the second is tooooo long.
  • About an hour into the film and I wanted it to end and go on IMDb to find out if there is such a Swedish or Scandinavian paganistic/folklore festival. As much as this is a good sign, I couldn’t help but wonder that if there it’s shocking, but if there isn’t why on Earth would he go to such great lengths to elaborate/analyse/delve into something that doesn’t exist. Wondering that, I missed a third of the film and then wanted to cut to what the trailer had promised; some thrill.
  • As stated above, the deaths taking place in the film are definitely worth watching.

Now that you know, it’s up to you to realise if it’s going to float your boat or not.

The Gallows (2015): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Years after a kid’s accidental death, four kids get trapped in a school and tortured by a sinister supernatural force.

I would like to be clear once more and I will be every time I am forced to make a review such as this. I never judge a film itself. I judge the intentions behind it. As with The Nun (2018), the ghost in The Gallows is nothing but a clich√©d plot device that does whatever is convenient and wannabe impressive to just… I don’t know… take them out? Story and dialogues are horribly written and the camera work is plainly bad! The acting is mediocre (with Cassidy Gifford being the exception) and the VFX… plainly bad again.

I try to be lenient and I’m definitely holding my punches here but it is really difficult as there is nothing positive I can say about the film other than the semi-decent opening scene followed by a freefall to the rock bottom. The scariest thing is that Jason Blum jumped on board. What is even scarier is that there is a sequel out there and Blum is behind that too – The Gallows Act II¬†(2019).

I’m an avid supporter of indie, low budget films and praise them every time they achieve what Hollywood blockbusters can’t. It’s admirable that two directors did everything they could to make this film but please, do not undermine your audience’s intelligence. And this is why the intentions behind The Gallows¬†are not noble. And this is why my review is bitter.

P.S. The poster’s tagline: “Every school has its spirit”. No comment…

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.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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On Halloween, three friends and a mysterious drifter end up in a haunted house, discovering a dead girl’s notebook that contains deadly stories that come true.

Are you a Halloween fan? Are you a ‘scary stories’ fan? Then look no further! Based on the ’80s homonymous book series written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen, Gammell Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a¬†nostalgic, coming of age horror which builds on the historic events of Nixon’s elections and the effects of the Vietnam War through the eyes of teenagers living in a small town. Is it too scary? No. Is it flawless? Definitely not. But don’t rationalise it and don’t be too harsh on it. Like any scary campfire story, the couple of plot holes do not matter a bit as the film, in its own right, is thoroughly enjoyable and a perfect fit should you decide to stay in and turn the lights off.

Great storytelling to keep you entertained, and how could it not be? With Andr√© √ėvredal [Troll Hunter (2010), the Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)] behind the camera and Guillermo del Toro behind the script and the production, it could be nothing but a perfect mix of reality and fantasy. Also, first-class acting by all kids, and very well edited. Look forward to watching more Halloween films like this one which creates the right atmosphere to ward off the ghosts and, whatever issues loop in your mind, take the back seat until the end credits start scrolling down.¬†Highly recommended!

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.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Annabelle, Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most dangerous artifact, becomes the beacon, attracts and brings to life all their other possessions when their daughter, her babysitter and her friend accidentally unleash her.

Following my previous mediocre reviews on the conjuring universe after Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle comes home, we get to watch her, and here we are… Having been disappointed, frustrated and in the end infuriated with The Nun (2018) I will admit I was kind of biased. The strong opening sequence though got my attention straight away, and the whole duration of the first act and beginning of the second started proving me, thankfully, wrong. I can’t remember last time I watched a paranormal horror taking place in broad daylight and have this effect on me. By now, Annabelle has my undivided attention. Then, the sun goes down… and so does the story! And I’m screaming “why?!?!”. Once again, the cliches take over and degrade the film and all its potential. I’d like to be fair here though so I’m gonna give you two ghost pros and two cons. Then you watch it if you haven’t already and make up your mind.

Pros:

  • The Ferryman is innovatively portrayed and everyone involved deserves a round of applause.
  • Daniela’s sequence in front of the TV is hair-raising.

Cons:

  • The dismantled by the guitar and reassembled foggy Werewolf. That’s right…
  • The incredible misuse of the samurai.

I never spoil a film but the following deserves mentioning. Apologies, but I can’t help it. My greatest disappointment in the film is Daniela’s dead father. So. Much. Potential. Wasted! Daniella is the only one who blames herself for her father’s death and he shows up accusing her! Big mistake as there are bad and good ghosts (as they point out). A mistake which gets even bigger when he doesn’t save her when she needs him the most, and which is blown out of proportion when Lorraine shares with her in the end that he told her to tell Daniella that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. I’m not saying anything else. If you disagree, by all means please let me know. Apologies once again for the spoilers but I felt like it could not be left unsaid.

I’ll finish up with a positive. Congratulations to all three girls for their stupendous performance. Shockingly believable!

The Curse of La Llorona (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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A mother and her two kids are haunted by a malevolent, supernatural presence that turns their lives into a fight for survival.

So… here is my review on The Nun (2018) https://kgpfilm.reviews/2018/11/27/the-nun-2018-horror-mystery-thriller/.¬†La Llorona¬†is not as bad. The great photography provides the viewer with an eerie atmosphere and the acting is convincing. The same major problem exists though. The messy, inundated with gimmicks and cliches story. I cannot stress enough that the script’s problems cannot be covered by visual or sound effects. In this day and age, jump scares alone don’t make a horror scarier. Only more marketable.

On one hand, I’m glad the film did well as Linda Cardellini needs and deserves that spotlight. She’s a really good actress and we need to see her in major roles more often. It was good to see Raymond Cruz in a film as well. It’s been too long. On the other hand, as long as films like that do well, the producers will keep producing them and the rest of us will run out of horrors to watch (that is, other than real-life horrors).

The¬†Conjuring¬†universe has turned into a bloody “borefest” that one just can’t stop snoozing. I haven’t watched¬†Annabelle Comes Home¬†(2019) yet so, I’ll let you know when I do.

Damn, I hope it’s better…

True Detective: Reflections on Narrative and Character Development

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‚ÄúThe World of Apu‚ÄĚ 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/

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

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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.