Creed II (2018): Drama / Sport

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Ivan Drago has a son… and they are coming to claim the heavyweight title from Balboa’s tutelage, Adonis Creed.

Is it enjoyable? It is. Is the training inspiring? It is. Is the acting convincing and the editing pacing the film as it should? Definitely. Is Tessa Thompson amazing? Hands down. Then what seems to be the issue?

I would put my finger on a few issues:

  • The first one is obvious, “Creed II” looks like a remake of “Rocky IV” (1985). But it’s a continuation based on “Rocky IV”, which makes it… repetitive?
  • Other than repetitive, the story is also quite predictable and formulaic.
  • As with every other “Rocky” franchise and “Creed” (2015), there is at least one training montage sequence. “Creed II” montage, as amusing as it may be, doesn’t add anything to the equation.
  • Lacks the strong verbal confrontation between Rocky and Ivan after more than three decades.

The aforementioned issues weaken “Creed II”. But there is one last issue which is more intricate and challenges the film… Before the first fight, Adonis doesn’t know what he is fighting for. Then, he figures it out, trains really hard, and goes again. The reason he decides to fight him is not as compelling as Viktor’s. Adonis has a much better life. Viktor’s life (and Ivan’s) is more dramatic and we, as an audience, feel the need to see him stepping into the ring and winning. Adonis’ reason is ego-driven. Simple as. Remember why he stepped into the ring in “Creed”? To prove that he’s not a mistake! Which made the audience get the goosebumps, even shed a tear, and root for the underdog which conquered the world.

The film financially did well. The devil is in the details though and these details could have made it a valuable addition both to the franchise and the spin-off.

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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.

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.

The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018): Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi

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An aged American war veteran is sent to the Canadian wilderness to kill… the Bigfoot.

I had no idea this film existed until I came across the title. And then I said… “Damn! Now I have to know how Hitler and Bigfoot co-exist in the same sentence”. I’ll tell you this, ostensibly, the film makes no sense whatsoever and one would think that writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski smokes way too much. But this is not the case!

This is purely my interpretation of what the film is about so, feel free to have your own should you decide to watch it. An old man who once achieved so much and a nation owes him is left with nothing but his dignity and loneliness in a world he does not understand anymore and no one to share it with. And when he is just about to bite the bullet, the government knocks on his door to assign him with an unfathomable mission, and the opportunity to once more save the world.

Did I say too much? Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin Barr respectively and Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine deliver subtle yet powerful performances making this film with the confusing title an existential drama on the painful feelings of loss and regret. So, what is the rest all about? That’s up to you to figure out.

P.S. The last flashback scene is heartbreaking…

Boy Erased (2018): Biography / Drama

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A boy is sent by his parents to a church-supportive gay conversion program after revealing to them that he has “impure” thoughts about men.

Joel Edgerton proves time and time again that he was born and destined to be both in front and behind the camera. A fine addition and a major representative of the Australian film school.

The film: Garrard Conley’s heartfelt memoir is masterfully adapted for the big screen with nothing but emotion, sensitivity, honesty, and courage. Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, and Lucas Hedges give amazing performances, become mother, father and son, and open their house’s door for you to experience the suffering of their family’s drama. Non-linearly narrated, “Boy Erased” seems to be slightly holding its punches but delivers a clear message and puts the situation into perspective, establishing the backward, medieval, and shameless position of the church in the 21st century.

Life: “Boy Erased” is a drama that countless families across the globe face every year and, in their despair, they rely on a higher power to give them an answer to a natural, conscious choice that poses no question. The diversity of homosexual personalities, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and foibles extends as far as the heterosexuals’, the “normal”. And to this very day, men of science try to contextualise the “gay gene” – good luck isolating it from the “straight” one! And certain men of the cloth, and followers of an organisation, whose knowledge of the world is summarised in a fictitious book that is divorced from reality, want to cast out the “demon of homosexuality”.

Do we believe in God or do we believe in what others interpret of what God is? I remember being taught Jesus saying “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”. But for the life of me, I can’t remember been taught about Him condemning homosexuality. We are soon entering the third decade of the 21st century, and by now, the State and the pharisaic Church should have been distinctively separated.

God is not to be blamed here. He Himself (is it ‘him’?) is the victim and sad creator of our decadent species. But there is still faith that the minorities in this world, who strive to make a difference, regardless of their age, gender, IQ, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs will one day grow more… and more… and more… and will dethrone archaic establishments, status quos, and organisations that have been ruling since the dawn of time. And “issues” such as homosexuality will stop being treated as “witch hunt”, will become accepted and, hopefully, soon after, will be taken as a matter of course where no one could care less.

And to quote the late Curt Cobain: “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes”.

Prospect (2018): Drama / Sci-fi / Thriller

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Father and daughter land on a planet’s remote, exotic moon to harvest precious gems and get rich but between merciless people and dangerous forest dwellers, escaping becomes the ultimate goal.

Directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl shoot the feature version of their homonymous short, on a $3.9m budget. And the result pays off. Well directed, well paced and well acted, “Prospect” invests in a claustrophobic opening sequence and amazing shots from space. While on the ground, intentionally or unintentionally, the film can be pitched or could have been pitched or maybe it was as “Mad Max in an alien moon”.

Films like “Prospect” make me more optimistic. It is an indie, low budget sci-fi that pays respect to the genre and the art of cinema with cast and crew fully supporting and believing in it. And so did the fans who applauded its minimalism at the festivals and didn’t care if props and costumes were handmade by, among others, cosplayers!

Inspirational! Well done!

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%#@.

The Wrestler (2008): Drama / Sport

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An aging professional wrestler, with an unsuitable for him part-time job, is forced to quit wrestling, forget his past glory, and find a way to cope in a world outside the ring.

You know why reviews can be harsh sometimes? Because of films like this one. Shot with a micro-budget of $6,000,000, “The Wrestler” is almost a perfect film. So when you watch unbearable films costing ten times more, it can be infuriating. With Darren Aronofsky believing in and fighting for Mickey Rourke, and both of them believing in and dedicating themselves to the project like their life depends on it, “The Wrestler” could only be a masterpiece.

In a form of a docudrama, Aronofsky “cuts loose” Mickey Rourke letting him write and improvise his character and Rourke, in his mid-fifties, shines like never before (Oscar nomination / Golden Globe win). Both of them debunk the myths of WWF, and old wrestlers either “break down and cry” or characterise it a “dark misinterpretation”. Be it as it may, it certainly gives a perspective and sheds some light on the professional wrestling world’s backstage.

Then, Evan Rachel Wood proves once more she possesses the Midas Touch of acting, turning all her performances into gold. And last but definitely not least, the always magnificent actress Marisa Tomei, in her mid-forties, puts women half her age to shame. Their short appearance in the film creates the perfect subtext that leads the story to the direction it was inevitably meant to be led.

“The Wrestler” is about a man facing the consequences of doing what he always thought he was destined to do. And kept on doing despite everyone else’s disapproval or discouragement. External influences that come out of envy, kindness, hate, or pure love. But sheer will to succeed and remain at the top and blind dedication blur the lines and don’t leave time to distinguish which is which. And I guess if you only possess them both you ignore the influences and aim at your destiny regardless of the consequences.

Widows (2018): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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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.

 

Butterfly Kisses (2018): Documentary / Horror

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A filmmaker puts together a bunch of old tapes he found in a basement that belonged to two students and does a documentary on them and their research on an urban legend called Peeping Tom.

Erik Kristopher Myers writes, directs, and takes to the next level a “found footage” horror on a story that we have watched before but he is doing it his way. As the late Wes Craven did in 1996 with “Scream”, Myers puts under the microscope and questions the cinematic taboos that regulate the subgenre:

  • Using handheld shots, he avoids and criticises the nauseous shaky camera.
  • He shows an understanding and endorses the public’s reaction towards something they don’t understand doing what Doubting Thomas did in the Bible.
  • He, somehow, manages to market his film on IMDb as documentary/horror with certain characters portraying allegedly themselves.
  • He adds extra layers and depth by jumping onboard himself making a film on a documentary that researches a documentary on a student project (very “Inception”).
  • Last but not least, among others, he interviews Matt Lake and Eduardo Sanchez; author of Weird Maryland and writer/director of Blair Witch Project respectively, deconstructing the “found footage” and urban legends.

Don’t try straight away to focus on or attack its originality. Romantic comedies (which I find appalling) are all more or less the same but people watch them. “Slasher” horrors have been out there for a lot more decades than the “found footage” ones yet people still watch them. And still “alien” films dominate the sci-fi genre. Anyway, you get the gist.

Is “Butterfly Kisses” flawless? Definitely not. Has Myers utilised his nano-budget the best possible way? Definitely yes. Also, “Blink Man” doesn’t make it to the level of other urban legends such as “Candyman”, “Boogeyman” or “Babadook” for example. All three of them got a decent budget and distribution and we can only hope that Myers started something that will get noticed by the right people who will hire him to scare the s%!% out of us in the future.

Orson Wells (on the radio), Dean Alioto, Eduardo Sanchez, Oren Peli… all of them have offered and contributed to the “found footage” horror their way. Erik Kristopher Myers takes the torch now and, I for one, look forward to watching his next film.

P.S. Panasonic DVX 100 was also the camera I was using in 2005 as a cameraman.