Exam (2009): Mystery / Thriller

Exam.jpg

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!

Advertisements

Widows (2018): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Widows.jpg

Four women who are left with nothing but debt after their husbands died in a heist are pulling a heist of their own to reclaim their lives.

Based on the homonymous 1983 British series, “Widows” (2018) takes the fight from London to Chicago. Astonishing performances from the ensemble cast with Viola Davis and Robert Duvall standing out. Then, the powerful opening chase sequence promises an action-packed drama to keep you on the edge of your seats. A promise that doesn’t deliver though…

It is not first and certainly will not be the last when a European or an East Asian director goes to Hollywood. See, for example, actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz and “Babylon A.D” (2008) or Jee-woon Kim and “The Last Stand” (2013). One way ticket back… Even though “Widows” is nowhere near as bad as the aforementioned films (by brilliant directors) or the reviews surrounding it, it lacks the Steve McQueen, fine art training, personality, and idiosyncrasy.

It lacks the suffering of “12 Year a Slave” (2013), “Shame’s” (2011) internal struggle, and “Hunger’s” (2008) realism. Maybe his first cut (around 3 hours long) offered all of the above and more. Regardless, I really look forward to McQueen’s next film, European, American, or otherwise.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018): Action / Crime / Drama

The Girl in the Spider's Web.jpg

The infamous computer hacker Lisbeth Salander teams up again with journalist Mikael Blomkvist but also NSA agent Ed Needham to take down cybercriminals and Stockholm’s worst called “The Spiders”.

When the trailer was initially released, the first comment was: “The film no one asked for…”. Sony, to secure the rights for the film, acquired the rights for the fourth book which was not written by the late Stieg Larsson. A direct sequel to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), the film bypasses two books and here’s what happened to both character and story:

Salander here is not a victim anymore but a vigilante. If there was a batsuit anywhere you would be watching “Batgirl”. She knows how to fight and how to shoot, and race on a WRC level. She knows how to hack your phone, your computer, and your car from a Nokia 6110 while beating chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. She can find in time dozens of dildos and use them to turn an airport upside down to free an NSA agent that she doesn’t know where he is. What can I say? Makes me look my uselessness in the eye, and jump out of the window.

Story-wise, it gets better… Wanting to keep a low profile she steals a brand new Lamborghini. She deals with a computer program that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. All clues are placed conveniently in plain sight where they can be found by anyone, yet no one finds them except the right person at the right time (it’s called gimmick). The villain doesn’t show any qualities to match Salander’s (superhuman) level. Other than she has suffered, we never find out anything about her capabilities other than she can put together and lead the toughest and remorseless criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to chop off your face.

Clare Foy is an extremely charismatic and diverse actress that does a brilliant job here. The story though and the character development don’t give her much to work with. If you are Lakeith Stanfield’s fan, watch “Sorry to Bother You” (2018). As for Fede Alvarez, I highly recommend “Evil Dead” (2013) and “Don’t Breath” (2016). Gory!

RocknRolla (2008): Action / Crime / Thriller

b1be63242a3aab64ce442b5d4c63bded.jpg

A gang of lowlife crooks called the Wild Bunch, with the help of an accountant, steal money from a Russian developer that was meant for a London mob boss who has a drug addict, troubled stepson.

What could go wrong, right?! Storytelling like Guy Ritchie only knows how to deliver! “RocknRolla” makes it to my list of the top 3 Guy Ritchie films, followed by “Snatch” (2000) and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998). The editing controls the information exactly as it should have and enhances the humorous side of a British action/crime. Gerald Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Toby Kebbell work brilliantly together and clash with each other adding 100% A-list British quality acting.

In a different context now… What could go wrong, right?! People! People didn’t bother. I can only assume that one reason is “seen it all before”. But it isn’t. It is snappy, surrealistic, stylish, quirky, Cockney, and adds to the formula. Yet, what was meant to be a trilogy will never be. Our loss. Favourite scene: Robbing the Russians for the second time. Priceless!

Join me in filing a petition for the “Real RocknRolla”!!!

Close (2019): Action / Thriller

Close.jpg

With no one to turn to and no one to trust, a female bodyguard must protect a rich, young heiress in Casablanca when kidnappers go after her.

A female version of “Man on Fire” (2004) taking out most of the Hollywood aspects in regard to character and story development. With no cheesy lines or slow-mo for dramatic effect, “Close” is loosely based on Jacquie Davis, a world-class bodyguard who, in the last 30 years, has been “stabbed, shot at, and thrown through a window”  protecting from the Beckhams to the royal family.

The editing controls the pace, balances action and drama, moves the story forward, and reveals the information when it needs to be revealed. Also, amazing cinematography and Vicky Jewson’s directing gives the opportunity to Noomi Rapace and Sophie Nélisse to unfold their amazing acting skills. Needless to say that given the right training, project, and budget, Rapace can prove herself being top-notch action heroin as (among others) Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman have in “Atomic Blonde” (2017) and “Kill Bill” (2003) respectively.

Netflix productions can go either way. “Close” went the right way and we can only hope that they produce more heartfelt action/thriller films and humanised heroes and heroines like this one.

This is England ’83 / ’86 / ’88 / ’90: Crime / Drama

This is England.jpg          This is England '86 '88 '90.jpg

“Combo: Men have laid down their lives for this. For this… and for what? So people can stick their fucking flag in the ground and say, “Yeah! This is England (pointing to the ground). And this is England (pointing to the heart)! And this is England (pointing to the mind)!”

Danny Cohen’s ’80s grainy cinematography and Ludovico Einaudi’s heartbreaking soundtrack accompany Midlander Shane Meadows, who creates a tear-jerking, life drama based on his childhood experiences, that debuted and elevated actors who were introduced to the world. Thomas Turgoose, Joseph Gilgun, Jack O’Connell – whose part was written specifically for him, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure who, as the years pass by, she turns into a more and more magnificent actress and woman, Rosamund Hanson, Chanel Cresswell, Michael Socha, and Andrew Ellis get into the role and truly become the everyday heroes you see on camera. The both amazing Stephen Graham and Johnny Harris need no introductions.

Straight from the kick-off, the opening credits, archive footage, montage spanning from the Falklands war to the “Knight Rider” (1982) pretty much sums up the story of the sociopolitical situation in England but also the world in the ’80s. Shaun, Milky, Lol, Woody, Smell, Gadget, Trev, Kelly, Lenny, Pukey, and Bully all go through a rite of passage; the inescapable process of becoming men and women. And share the story of a lifetime. The references are from both the film and the mini-series and start from ’83 until ’90. I believe I’ve kept all spoilers out. If you haven’t watched it, I hope they pique your interest. If you have, I hope you see where I’m coming from.

“Woody (to Milky): You are a fucking snake in the grass… We were brothers… I would have died for you… I would have fucking died for you… I fucking loved you!!!”

“This is England” is a state of mind that divides a what would have been an otherwise carefree, bonded, random ragtag bunch of skinheads and ska lovers living in ‘Thatcherland’. A mentality that consists of politics, economy, race, generation gaps, and religion and can be may as well translated as “This is [YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN]”.

There are some astonishing cinematic moments that make both the film and mini-series be a league of their own.

  • The detestable Combo whose brutal, cowardice attack leaves a young, black kid half-dead.
  • Mick (the brilliant Johnny Harris) who, whenever shows up, make your guts twirl.
  • The dramatic moment where Lol confronts Mick.
  • Combo’s brass balls, ultimate sacrifice for love.
  • The intense moment when Woody confronts Milky and the gang on the street.
  • Woody reuniting with the repentant Combo upon the latter’s release.
  • The house dinner’s revelation (Chanel Cresswell is simply mesmerising).
  • Milky putting the final nail on the coffin facing, the hero in our eyes, Combo who strives to keep a stiff upper lip.

“This is England”…

Is the domestic violence that knocks on the door of every single household that has faced it.

The decency of everyday people you probably have never met and maybe you never will who always had next to nothing, yet were always wealthier.

The pride of every English football fan has over the national team making it to the World Cup.

The genuine British humour that has always been part of but also characterised the British society.

The vast diversity of accents that make this island unique.

It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water.

It is the everyday struggle to keep the head above water and, against all odds, somehow, find the courage to move on.

It is the English responses, reactions, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms that you’ll find nowhere else, exhibiting England to the world with the purpose of understanding rather than judging.

It is the forgiveness some people never gave and some people never received.

“Combo: I forgive you… I just hope one day you’ll be able to forgive me…”

“This is England” pointing to the ground, to the heart, to the mind starts off as a racist interpretation at the beginning of the journey only to become the harsh realization of life when it remorselessly pins you against the wall. Combo’s (Stephen Graham) monologues and outbursts are phenomenal and his path is the cornerstone of this journey. You will hate him with a passion in the beginning only to feel for him wholeheartedly in the end.

There are innumerable moments of English realism throughout the film and series where you will find yourselves confused as to which utterances, actions, and reactions are a scripted, and which ones aren’t. “This is England” could as well be a sociological docudrama on Thatcherite England and life itself.

An unknown journey of happiness drowning in sorrow…

Never Let Me Go (2010): Drama / Sci-Fi

Never Let Me Go.jpg

Three kids who grew up together in a posh, strict, and ostensibly ordinary boarding school, become young adults and face the life they were destined to have.

How would you feel if you found out your whole life is already chosen for you? How about both chosen for you and a lie? Once I thought that sci-fi without visual effects is like a lift without a mirror. How wrong was I?! “Never Let Me Go” is not the only film that makes it to that list. But it makes it to the top – my humble opinion anyway.

Its strongest suits:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s powerful existential drama diving into the human psyche.
  • Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley delivering electrifying performances.
  • Rachel Portman’s enthralling and spellbinding score.
  • Mark Romanek’s best film yet.

The film’s pace might put the average viewer off. It is a slow burn but it is of great importance not only to understand the characters but to become them. See life how they see it. Experience pain how they do. Be there for them when they curse the day they were brought to life.

The book goes into deeper depths analyzing or emphasizing characters and situations, and that way, everything becomes clearer in the end. The film doesn’t and therefore it raises more questions than answers.

Be patient and pay attention to the details. With acting that brings tears to your eyes and soundtrack that adds “hope, humanity, and heartbeat” in an alternate, seemingly heartless reality, “Never Let Me Go” is a depressingly beautiful, cinematic adaptation that strikes a chord.

Filth (2013): Comedy / Crime / Drama

Filth.jpg

A mentally unstable, crooked, alcoholic, drug addict cop stops at nothing to get the promotion he is so passionately after while fighting with his inner demons.

I’ll start this way… Until “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), James McAvoy was not my cup of tea. By far not! After “X-Men: First Class”, I started changing my mind. After “Filth” I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. Or, actually, I had been wrong that much once more. With Leonardo DiCaprio after “Gangs of New York” (2002). But then all of us men were. So, I apologise to both.

James McAvoy in “Filth” gave the best performance of his life in 2013. And John S. Baird directed the best film of his career – Even though “Cass” (2008) was pretty amazing too. “Filth” will make you laugh and it will make you cry, and it will make you laugh and cry again and again until you don’t know how to feel anymore about anyone. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, “Filth” is one of the best Scottish films since “Trainspotting” (1996), yet another novel by Irvine Welsh. Changing genre every five minutes, “Filth” is a dramatically funny, surrealistically twisted cinematic journey through the paranoia of a corrupted, deranged, bipolar cop that will drive you bonkers. It’s worth mentioning that Jim Broadbent, in the hallucinatory world, is scarily hilarious.

McAvoy’s psychedelic performance here will prepare you for his cringing performance in “Split” (2016) and the upcoming “Glass” (2019). See how it all started…

Fun fact: “Trainspotting” and “Filth”, potentially, coexist in the same universe.

Franklyn (2008): Drama / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Franklyn.jpg

Loss and despair connect four troubled souls in two intermingled, alternate realities.

I have spoken of underrated films before but “Franklyn” definitely gets the cake. I watched it almost ten years ago and so much I wanted to talk about it with someone who had watched it as well. But no one had. And to this very day, hardly anyone still has.

Gerald McMorrow, possessing the exceptional intellectual ability, is the artistic mind behind the camera, who writes and directs something unique as “Franklyn”. Despair, escalating to delusion, paranoia, and schizophrenia, all fester the human mind and soul, shape people’s fate, and twist (?) the concept of religion. In front of the camera, Eva Green, Ryan Phillippe, Sam Riley, Bernard Hill, and the late Susannah York will hold you spellbound with their performances.

Two strong elements in the film that I feel like sharing: Perception’s immense power and a father’s unconditional love.

“Franklyn” is art. And like any other form of art, it examines the world through its own prism. I guess it is up to us to examine our world through our own life’s prism.

Bonded by Blood (2010): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Bonded by Blood.jpg

Third film on the Essex Boys murders after the “Essex Boys” (2000) and the “Rise of the Footsoldier” (2007). And is absolutely brilliant! Gruesome violence, prison, dodgy deals, backstabbings, drugs, guns, vulgar language, and Vincent Regan, Tamer Hassan, Kierston Wareing, and Adam Deacon performing magic on camera. Brilliant year for Michael Socha as well who jumped from this one to “Shank” (2010) and “This Is England ’86” (2010).

According to many (beyond my area of expertise), Essex wasn’t like this in the 90’s, something that was held against the production design. Also, the massive script liberties annoyed certain people as it, allegedly, deviated from what really happened (which is still uncertain anyway).

For all its quirks and foibles, “Bonded by Blood” is very enjoyable and for its budget, it gives you one hell of a ride.