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

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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.

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Velvet Buzzsaw (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Hauntingly dark and beautiful drawings are found at a dead man’s apartment and upon their unlawful exhibition for personal profit, a price for greed comes along.

Fancy words, filthy words, art critique jargon, shiny dress code, and over the top personalities, to name but a few, characterise a snotty world that most of you, and most certainly myself, have never visited and probably never will. Hard to tell where writer/director Dan Gilroy stands and how he feels about this world he brilliantly depicts or why he chose such a sexual term for a title and that is pure magic.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, and last but not least, John Malkovich give Gilroy’s surrealistic world flesh and blood and don’t hesitate to blow their performances out of proportion.

Gilroy was asked about the meaning of his film and in a cryptic manner, he responded that he would like people to perceive art differently. As we have proved time and time again that we can be a horrible species, I would say that I see where he is coming from and I’ll throw in my two cents. Instead of truly trying to appreciate and see art through the artists’ eyes, we make it all about ourselves, either by showing up at an illustrious museum just to be seen there or by benefiting from someone else’s expression. How? Most likely by fancily writing about it so we can look knowledgeable and special or by monetising it, upgrading our status at the same time. One way or another, we purely exploit it and try to hide the fact that we couldn’t do it ourselves.

Meaning aside and changing the subject, having watched numerous Netflix productions, once again, I would like to throw in my two cents. I think there is a resounding statement here that has been repeatedly given for quite a while now. By Netflix. “We don’t give a s#@% !!! Is your film thought-provoking? We’ll make it! Is it bizarre? Bring it! Is it something no one wants to produce? We will! We don’t give a s#@% which festivals accept our submissions! We couldn’t care less which studios alleviate our success! We spend billions and we make even more! And we do everything! We just… Don’t. Give. A. S%#@.

Exam (2009): Mystery / Thriller

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Eight chosen contenders competing for the same position are locked in a highly respectable company’s exam room for the final test which is nothing like they have seen or experienced before.

A one-location, British psychological thriller that delves into the human psyche, and infiltrates man’s darkest thoughts. A prime example of a low-budget thriller that keeps the viewer wondering from the opening scene to the end credits what is the meaning of this test, what the question is, who truly everyone is, why were they chosen, and what is the company getting out of it.

Mysterious, entertaining, and claustrophobic, “Exam’s” storytelling relies on actual character study experiments and utilises Hitchcockian approaches that go back as far as “Lifeboat” (1944). Low budget / high standards! Hats off to cast and crew.

I say no more. Lights and phones off, and pay attention to the details. Enjoy!

It Comes at Night (2017): Horror / Mystery

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A dark, malevolent threat has plagued the world and a man with his wife and son, barricaded into their house living under strict rules, are challenged by a young family seeking refuge.

Post-apocalyptic, slow burn and edgy at the same time, “It Comes at Night” plants the seed of doubt, of what is really happening in the world, who is to be trusted and who isn’t, who is indeed carrying the infectious disease, and who has sunk into paranoia…

A psychological horror by Trey Edward Shults, with no cheap jump-scares, formulaic way of writing, standard character development, spoon-fed answers to epidermic questions, and Hollywood-like utterances, actions, and reactions. There are plenty of films like that out there but this is not one of them. You’ve been warned, proceed with caution. And if the story doesn’t really terrify you, the astonishing performances of Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. definitely will.

It’s really hard to analyse it, even briefly, without giving anything away so, I’ll try to draw a picture for you. Think of it as a parable. As a symbolic interpretation of four major “entities”: the fortified house, the infected outside world, the family living under an uncompromising domestic order, and the night itself. Try to place them accordingly as the story, admittedly, slowly unfolds and only then ask yourselves…

What is it that comes at night? And why?

Replicas (2018): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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After losing his family in a car accident, a synthetic biologist breaks every physical law and ethical barrier to bring them back.

I’ll get right to the point… One of the early debates in the film is between Will Foster – the scientist – and his wife Mona about the existence or not of the “soul”. I don’t know about humans but “Replicas” definitely lacks it. Writer Chad St. John seems to know about the tech side of the film but he, director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and the production team seem to neglect the emotional side; the feeling of desolation that absolutely ruins a man upon losing his family, the feeling of joining them, the feeling of lying down and not getting up ever. Much less, not lying down at all and have the clarity to apply science levels you have never applied before. Especially from Chad St. John I would expect more as he also wrote “Peppermint” (2018) where he emphasised a lot on the assassination of Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) family and the soul-crushing aftermath.

And from an, allegedly, thought-provoking sci-fi/drama turns into action… I don’t want to keep on going, you got the gist. “Replicas” is a messy, soulless film that cast and crew, from pre to postproduction, didn’t believe in. It could have been a lot more. Shame.

Glass (2019): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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A security guard with extraordinary abilities tracks down a dangerous man with twenty-four personalities while the mastermind patiently awaits.

Nineteen years later, “Glass” finally makes it to the big screen only to give some answers and raise more questions. M. Night Shyamalan’s heroes and villains from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) are brought together, unite, believe and doubt themselves and each other, and eventually clash. Here’s what happened straight after the film was released: It was pounded by the critics and deified by the audience. I guess the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.

The pace is the main issue. The two hours seem significantly longer as the first act seems a bit rushed whereas the second, due to the lengthy psychotherapeutic verbosity that ostensibly leads nowhere, drags and feels like a marathon. As for the third act, since it’s a Shyamalan film, I can’t say anything without giving away spoilers. What I can say is though is that there are certain concerns regarding the unbelievability of certain events, and events that give the trilogy a whole new direction you will either love or hate. Bold move but, at the end of the day, that’s Shyamalan for you.

Mr. Glass’s character development is another issue. He has become as intelligent as the script needs him to be. And that is partially why the story is led to a certain direction that, on occasion, lacks common sense. Then there is the when and how everything is happening; the timing, the understaffed hospital, the low security, the underdeveloped final clash…

BUT… don’t go in there with your own expectations of how you would like it to begin, develop, or end. Remember that with Shyamalan’s films one can only wonder if what they are watching is the end or merely the beginning. If it helps, focus on the acting which is breathtaking. The, once again, meticulously chosen hero colour pattern. The directing and the photography which makes it a world-class thriller. And keep in mind that the characters from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) belong to two different studios which collaborated for the first time (and according to Shyamalan probably the last) to bring this project to life. So, a lot of Industry Professionals truly believed in it.

Think of “Glass” as a confrontation of a man’s ultimate altruism against another man’s monstrosity, orchestrated by a third man who believes that humans would be physically and mentally capable of everything… if they only knew how to trigger their true identity.

Or don’t think of any reviews or critiques, just go and watch it, and see for yourselves…

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!!!

Unbreakable (2000): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A comic book gallery owner discovers that the lone survivor of a horrible accident has an amazing ability.

It is only befitting to review this one at this point in time and… you know which one is going to be next! Now that “Glass” (2019) has been heavily promoted as the third part of an otherwise stealthy trilogy, “Unbreakable” has been given a lot more gravitas.

When it was first released in 2000 some people loved it, some people laughed at it, some people were just left scratching their head. I will avoid major spoilers about the ending just in case someone hasn’t watched it yet. As a standalone, there was really no closure. When it comes to ‘Mr. Glass’, justice was served. But what about David Dunn? He finally found his calling, and then what? Was that the end of the hero’s journey? To discover an ability and do nothing with it with it afterwards?

As part of a trilogy, the scope changes. It makes you now want to go back and watch it again, get to know the characters once more, and see how they can potentially be connected to the 24 personalities of Kevin Crumb in “Split” (2018) before you go to the cinema and watch “Glass” (2019). Remember the scene at the football stadium when David Dunn heads for the drug dealer? What if you suspected that the mother and child he brushes past and senses child abuse just before, is believed to be little Kevin with his mom? Hmm…

Anyway, “Unbreakable” is arguably M.Night Shyamalan’s most innovative and resourceful directing, Eduardo Serra’s darkest cinematography, and one of the best James Newton Howard’s score. It marks the fourth collaboration between Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson who are both irreplaceable. Memorable moments:

  • The hooded rain poncho obscuring Dunn’s face.
  • Long tracking shots and high and low camera angles to create the illusion we are in a graphic novel.
  • Repeatedly seeing Mr. Glass through or around glass to remind us of his connection with it but also his weakness.
  • Respectively, the raincoat David Dunn wears in most scenes to “protect” himself from the rain (water).
  • The graphic novel’s colour patterns; Dunn wears green and Glass purple.
  • Speaking of, the saturated colours over the muted colours at the station.

“Unbreakable” is not a superhero film, yet it follows the hero’s self-discovery path. And even though it is not a graphic novel adaptation, is most definitely made that way to “beam us up” to the narrative storytelling of the world of pictures.

The Village (2004): Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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A late 19th-century, isolated Amish-like community lives by strict rules in a valley surrounded by forest, inhabited by creatures that don’t let them enter it.

Box office-wise it didn’t disappoint. M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation was not what it used to be after “Signs” (2002) but he was still the golden goose of Hollywood and people were still fascinated by his third act’s twists. It was the reviews that didn’t do it any favours.

I’ve blamed marketing before, and I strongly believe that this is one of them cases too. Getting the crowd intrigued and messing up with their expectations are two different things, separated by an indistinct, fine line. In the end, it can go either way which is why marketing’s job is so crucial.

The photography is haunting, the score is Oscar-worthy, and the chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard electrifying. I will say nothing about the plot as… it is up to you to figure that out.

Watch it as you would watch “The Twilight Zone” (1959) having no expectation whatsoever, knowing though that nothing is what it seems.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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A cynical insurance investigator is hired by a publishing company to find a disappeared, renounced horror writer while global psychosis starts plaguing his readers worldwide.

I was a kid when I first watched it in the cinema. And then a young adult when I watched it in VHS. And here I am now, an adult, watching it in Blu-ray and feeling like a kid all over again. “In the Mouth of Madness” is one of John Carpenter’s best works, one of Sam Neil’s best performances, Michael De Luca’s best script, and, without a doubt, one of the best psychological horrors you will ever watch in your time. Fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity, pronoia and paranoia… all blend in to “bring to life” and pay tribute to H.P.Lovecraft’s horror fiction. Probably the best film that has captured the essence of the abstruse and horrifying Cthulhu Mythos. I say nothing more. Turn the lights off and get sucked into madness!

H.P.Lovecraft died in poverty and only posthumously he and his works were recognised. “In the Mouth of Madness”, a homage to Lovecraft, was not a commercial success, yet today, it is a critically acclaimed horror; a classic. I am so perplexed by what makes people tick most of the times. I guess, like almost everything else in life, we only learn the hard way and only when it’s too late – if that! Because it’s so hard to see what’s in front of our eyes the whole time and appreciate it while it’s there. Same with people…

You know what? I’m gonna write the sequel and send it to New Line Cinema. F@!% it!