Avengement (2019): Action / Crime / Thriller

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After years of imprisonment, a man manages to escape and heads straight for the people responsible that made his life inside a living hell.

Fifth collaboration between Jesse V. Johnson and Scott Adkins with this one and Savage Dog (2017) being my favourite ones. Originally from Sutton Coldfield, only a few miles away from where I live, Adkins is the man for the job. He trains hard and, once in front of the camera, he pours his soul out for us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I have a recommendation though and I address it to Johnson: With the protracted tracking shots being used more and more all over the world, I would really love to see Adkins in longer, uncut shots doing what he does best. Films like Ong-bak (2003) and Yip Man (2008) have raised the bar sky-high and I have the ultimate confidence that the Brits can do it as well. I really want to see it happening; longer shots = less editing = more continuous action. Avengement has these gritty fights that Johnson’s previous films lacked and Adkins, regardless, always delivers. Craig Fairbrass, Thomas Turgoose, Nick Moran, Kierston Wareing, and Leo Gregory are, as always, brilliant.

I hope The Debt Collector 2 (2020) adds something even more to the equation and that their successful collaboration keeps improving. Adkins needs more spotlight as he has the talent that makes martial artists half his age weep.

 

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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 clichéd 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…

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 André Øvredal [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!

Fractured (2019): Thriller

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Following an accident at a pit stop, a man’s wife and daughter go missing at a remote hospital, leading him to go to extreme lengths to find them.

Act 1: An unsettling feeling takes over that cannot be shaken off. From the opening scene to the plot point, an unspecified wrongdoing causes uncertainty as to why this unsettling feeling applies pressure against your chest.

Act 2: The “what on Earth is happening?” thought glues you to your seats as you unsuccessfully try to put the pieces together, wondering if you have missed something, or you have watched something similar before, or if this is a conspiracy vs paranoia.

Act 3: Everything becomes clear until…

Brilliant job from Brand Anderson who brought you Session 9 (2001), The Machinist (2004), Transsiberian (2008), and Stonehearst Asylum (2014), to name but a few, and manages once more to blow our minds away. Read nothing, watch it knowing nothing, and I’m most certainly saying nothing! Turn the lights off, put your phones on silent, and descent into madness!

P.S. Oh… uh… yeah… it’s written by Alan McElroy, the guy who wrote the 5 Wrong Turns! (and yet another remake?!)

P.P.S. Gaz, Thanasis, and my beloved Ioanna, that’s a must-watch for you!!!

Joker (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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Before Joker became the infamous criminal, he was Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed aspiring comedian who cracked under the pressure of an even more disturbing city called Gotham.

It feels like psychological studies could be written on Joker. As I only do short film reviews though, I’ll keep it to the point. Todd Philips has delivered a purely cinematic experience. Everything works like a swiss watch with all the cogs serving their purpose. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is on an Oscar level and, possibly, in the audition, eliminated the competition without a sweat.

But this is the obvious information, and I will skip the technical and trivia production details, to write from the heart. Joker wouldn’t be that successful if it wasn’t for its astonishing character development and an unexpected accomplishment through that. Joker, from DC’s most disturbing criminal personality with deranged followers, was turned into a symbolic for the oppressed antihero. Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix take all the time in they need to unfold the antihero’s journey and idolise him in a similar way that “V” was (V for Vendetta). And how is that achieved? By creating a relatable, everyday man who wakes up in the morning with a sole purpose: To make this world a little bit better; to make people laugh. And somewhere down the line, to make the people they love, and they love them back, proud of them for doing so. Take that from someone and what are they left with? Arthur Fleck is the product of that part of society that constantly sinks you under the surface; the haves that don’t give and the have nots that don’t want you to have either. But Joker springs from that product and becomes the one who will readjust the scale, and for the first time, will give the opportunity to the underdogs who “…haven’t been happy one minute of their entire fucking life” a chance to do that. And that feeling that, even for a couple hours, you root for someone like Joker… causes heart palpitations.

This is why Joker is that successful.

 

For you Ioanna!

Parasite (2019): Comedy / Drama / Thriller

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Father, mother, daughter, and son – all unemployed – con a wealthy family into giving them jobs and manage to get access to their house… that is more than meets the eye.

Joon-ho Bong… the writer/director that brought you Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), Tokyo! (2008), Snowpiercer (2013), and Okja (2017), to name but a few, strikes back with a comedy, drama, thriller that makes you laugh, cry, and hold your breath, and not necessarily in that order. Avoid spoilers at all costs. Parasite deserves to be watched with an “uninfected” mind. Then, and only then jump to conclusions about its metaphors, Bong’s thematic similarities with previous films, the clash of classes, and how similar concepts have been filmed in ways that yield entirely different results. Bring to your mind a new or an old film, one that had an impact on you or simply became popular. I still can’t stop comparing it and contrasting it to the same year’s Us (2019). Enough said…

Parasite is the first-ever Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes and I can only imagine how Bong fell during the prolonged standing ovation it received. Hats off and congratulations to all cast and crew.

In the Tall Grass: Drama / Horror / Thriller

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A boy’s cry for help lures a pregnant woman and her brother into an endless field of tall grass where an ancient force dwells among its blades.

You know it’s a Stephen King novella when there is an endless field in the middle of nowhere and mazes – Children of the Corn (1984) and The Shining (1980) respectively. If I had to pitch it to someone it would be Coherence (2103), meets Triangle (2009). It is neither though. Coherence is written in such a way to just blow your mind away after insinuating that a comet’s passing will cause… anomalies. Triangle, on the other hand, is very meticulously written, providing the right amount of explanation should one read between the lines. In the Tall Grass provides insufficient information about the element causing this horror, the reason, or the way it does it. The directing and editing deserve the applause here for maintaining the suspense of a film that 90% of it takes place… in tall grass. It definitely deserves a watch. Patrick Wilson is scary as hell and Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, and Harrison Sloan Gilbertson deliver brilliant performances.

If you are a Stephen King fan this is definitely your year as it marks the third out four films adapted this year, three of which one behind the other; Pet Sematary (April), It: Chapter 2 (September), In The Tall Grass (October) and Dr. Sleep (November).

Enjoy it!

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!

Light Of My Life (2019): Drama

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In a dystopian future, where half of the world’s population has been wiped out due to a pandemic, a father is doing everything in his power to protect his kid and their secret from people who will hurt them if they find out.

Slow burn indie, thriller/drama in which Casey Affleck, both in front and behind the camera, showing without telling, goes the extra mile to realistically portray a world that whole societies and morals are on the brink of extinction or have already totally collapsed. In that world, where no one is to be trusted, father and daughter need at all times to carefully approach everyone they come in contact with, always assuming the worst.

Be it as it may, one of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that, simultaneously, you trust some people as much as the kid does but you are as suspicious and cautious as much as the father is.

You need to take your time with this one. The little action that takes place is definitely worth it. Think of Light of my Life as if you are envisaging a book you are reading out loud. In the meantime, place yourself in the father’s shoes and wonder… Could I possibly make it?

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…