Welcome to her Jungle – Tomb Raider (2018), dir: Roar Uthaug

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Amazing, thrilling and exciting is this Lara Croft reboot from the Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and his lead, Alicia Vikander. The movie taps into well-known themes (adventure, metaphysical mystery, father/ daughter relationship) and is imbued with the classic action feel of the likes of Indiana Jones. Needless to say, Tomb Raider celebrates a brand-new attitude towards its heroine compared to the previous two films starring Angelina Jolie, bringing the inspiring achievement of Wonder Woman (2017) in mind with regard to the representation of women in contemporary cinema.

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Vikander is different in that she is an athlete, an elegant and yet impressively powerful presence on screen thanks to her ability in conveying both physical strength and emotional vulnerability. It is very empowering for women, and I imagine even more so for young girls to see Vikander’s Croft running through the forest, drawing her arrows, falling down and getting back up again without a second thought, being afraid and yet, bravely facing danger and outwitting her opponents (and specifically, intimidating men).

Vikander brings acting quality in the movie and elevates Croft’s persona to an extraordinary and yet, realistic character (as much as such a type of movie allows her, of course). The weaknesses of the movie are not destructive and do not diminish it to a mediocre viewing. Let us not forget that this is the first film of the franchise and therefore, allocates a considerable time in introducing Lara to us and as introductions go, it rarely keeps up our interest for long, as action is more appealing.

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The most pivotal influence in Lara’s psyche has been her father so we’d expect an impeccable chemistry between the two. However, despite the filmmakers’ evident intention for the opposite, I found the scenes between Lara and her father (Dominic West) flat in tension, and her one-to-one scene with Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) too long and poor in flow. In my opinion, Dominic West although ideal for the role on paper he didn’t match Vikander’s generous emotional narrative ability.

Also, admittedly there is a repetitive “hanging” and unreasonably too far jumping patterns but somehow, Vikander makes it work by employing physicality and acting talent. Perhaps, loyal players of the video-game might see this as a humble attempt to stay loyal to the game…

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In contrast, Tomb Raider’s strongest elements revolve around its lead and entail series of chases, fights and emotionally tense moments. The introduction to Lara is in itself an exciting, dynamic affair as her attitude towards giving up in a box match clearly signals her feisty character. The “fox hunt” that follows is an electrifying bicycle chase in the streets of London that shows off her comic ability and joyous nature. She becomes instantly likeable and interesting and that is not such an easy an accomplishment!

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Other memorable, good scenes are when she finds herself into a river (soon to be waterfall) and manages to cling to an old plane, when she hunts down the small thieves who took her back bag, when she commits her first murder and when she faces Vogel in a brutal combat.  There are beautifully executed choreographed action sequences where we can admire Vikander’s dedication to giving us a realistic Lara, empathic, funny, traumatised but also, determined, brave and physically able for jaw-dropping exploits. She conveys drama without becoming banal, she instills complex emotions into a performance that is also physically demanding.

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After the film you might feel an intense need to run, throw an arrow or do bungee jumping. You might feel like experimenting in your next vacation by choosing a creepy, remote island as your destination, or you might fantasise about the discoveries you’d make if you ever decided to give up your conventional life and become an archaeologist (hat and whiplash are compulsory of course!). Finally, you might acknowledge how refreshing and urgent it is to see more women like Vikander’s Croft on-screen, women of remarkable physicality, brilliant wit and emotional integrity.

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Innocent and the Damned – You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir: Lynne Ramsay

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With her fourth film director Lynne Ramsay delivers an immersive, hypnotic thriller deplete with imagery of emotional pain and dreamlike visual lyricism enhanced by a powerful, throbbing score. No wonder she won herself the award for Best Screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix received the award for Best Actor in 2017 Cannes Festival.

The film was conceived and executed with evident influences from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). It introduces as to Joe, an unimaginably hurt creature able to spread monstrous, gore terror but also experience fear, guilt, love and tenderness.

I can’t recall a similar introduction to the main character before. Several minutes go by until we actually see his face but first, we get a glimpse of a habit of his, that of putting a plastic bag around his head, asphyxiating and reaping it off just in time. My instinctive association was that of sexual fetishism but Joe is more complicated than that.

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We later see him leaning off the edge of a train platform when a woman with a bruised face is peeping behind a pillar; she recognises the pain perhaps… or has indulged in similar thoughts herself? Joe has suicidal fantasies daily; hanging off the edge of train platforms, asphyxiating, playing with knives over his open mouth, trying to drown himself after a severe loss and in a climaxing diner scene towards the ending he fantasises shooting himself point blank.

As a child he remained powerless against the menace of an abusive father. His legacy however passed on as Joe hasn’t dismissed his father’s appetite for violence, nor his favourite weapon, the hammer. Is the hammer empowering him as by representing his worst childhood fear, it turns him into the ultimate terror, or is it perhaps a joke on his father, now that his son is liberating abused kids with the same tool that once served his old man’s perversion?

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Joe still suffers the aftermath of the abuse under his skin but thanks to his line of work (he is a hitman but also, retrieves kids that were abducted for sex slavery), every victim he saves may represent an attempt to save his younger self. However, in spite of acting in retribution this doesn’t amount to a cathartic, healing process that could grant him his freedom from past nightmares, instead he carries them around with him every moment.

In a particular scene where he lies beside his mother’s killer, holding his hand you see he is embracing a brother’s journey to the other side and making it almost his own. For all his hypnotising fantasies involving death, he is able to make that connection with the afterlife through a fellow hired gun or keeping company to him as a substitute experience to the one he would like to have had with his mother.

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Joe is capable for love, compassion and sacrifice. He is caring for his mother and showing his affection by cleaning her fridge, seating by her bedside until she falls asleep and helping her polish the silverware while accompanying her in their favourite song. Later on, he will launch on a risky, vengeance mission to save Nina.

Joaquin Phoenix is sensational and shows great skill and capacity to creatively adopt an overly used persona and make it his own. His piercing eyes alone tell a complex, scary story and his ability to violently shake you and remind you that you know nothing of torment is astonishing. Towards the ending, during the mansion scenes in the absence of lines his talent radiates as he employs physicality to take us through Joe’s crisis. I believe that Phoenix’s performance elevates the character to the cult pantheon next to personas like Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976), Dae-su (Oldboy, 2003), the Bride (Kill Bill, 2003-04), Léon Montana (Léon, 1994) to mention a few.

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Ramsay abandons linear narrative for a more rich and interesting approach that embraces flash-backs and quick-fired visions. In essence, she is throwing a few pieces of Joe’s psyche puzzle here and there and are not enough for us to construct an elaborate, clear storyline. They suffice however to spot his most recurrent, haunting visions and the initial trauma that marked his later life. She also indulges us with extreme close-ups to transmit his extreme pain and loneliness.

She likes to shoot through surfaces for instance standing on the other side of the platform we observe Joe through the passing train or when engaged in a gory fight, we enjoy dizzying shots through the glass ceiling. In a remarkable, dreamlike scene where his mother’s body is drawn to the bottom of the lake, we see her hair floating in a slow-motion capture, in the same way a few scenes back the camera focused on Nina’s hair. That is a beautifully-poetic connection between the two characters, followed by a vision that more clearly associates the two in Joe’s mind and will push him to emerge from his passivity.

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Lynne Ramsay’s visual poetry is dressed with a shrill, muddy score, where electronic, polyphonic pieces intertwine with chilling, high dynamic range compositions, able to cause vertigo and despair. In particular, the “Dark Streets” track encompasses haunting, electro abyss. Jonny Greenwood’s work is always excellent and unique and earlier this year earned him an Academy Award nomination for composing the score for his lifelong collaborator’s latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (he has also composed the score for Inherent Vice and The Master, both films featuring Phoenix).

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After the film you might check Lynne Ramsay’s previous work (it’s only three films so there’s no excuse not to…), similarly delve into Greenwood’s compositions and admit that Joaquin Phoenix has a raw quality about him and a capacity to convey pain that only few of his colleagues have. Also, you might feel ready to engage more actively with the pain of others, or perhaps your very own despair. Finally, you might try to capture the feelings you would experience if you led a life where you could disappear and leave no traces behind, as if you were never really here at all.

An Amphibian Affair – The Shape of Water (2017), dir: Guillermo del Toro

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Guillermo del Toro named The Shape of Water his best film so far and he might be right to think so. Admittedly, the film represents a distinct and mellow fairy tale that not only is masterfully shot but also, carries important symbolism and commentary on human nature.

The characters that surround the two unlikely lovers are unique caricatures; the sensitive gay neighbour, the chatty, good-hearted colleague, the spy doctor with a conscious, the cocky, brainless General and the cruel racist and sadist Colonel. In an imaginary world, replete with villains and heroes, were find our outwardly couple, a mute woman and an amphibian creature with special powers. Although a romance like this pushes the boundaries of our tolerance to imagination, their relationship is approached so delicately and sensitively that becomes smoothly integrated into our soft fantasy circle.

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The opening scene is a miraculous entrance to Elisa’s world and introduces us to the blue and green shades that colour the film. In that first glimpse of our heroine, floating in her sleep in Alexandre Desplat’s melancholic score she strikes as an underwater Amélie. The circular movement of the del Toro’s camera feels almost like a dancing sequence that familiarises with the space and the characters by also enabling a feeling of visual cosiness, warmth and comfort.

In Elisa’s kingdom where silence reigns, so does loneliness until she makes a new friend in the secret government laboratory where she works. That new friend is a male humanoid amphibian that succumbs under daily torture and is soon to be terminated. If there is one thing we can say about the monster is that it looks gorgeous, powerful and fragile all at once.

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The first half of the film can definitely be considered its best part, its most romantic and dreamy compared to the slightly disjointed, out-of-tone action of the second. The courtship and establishment of trust is the most exciting and captivating state we find our protagonists in. Sally Hawkins assumes a demanding role that relies completely on physicality and she does a great job. Elisa’s sensitivity and independence are radiating, her courage and determination make her glow. Her soulful eyes transmit her sweetness and capacity for love but also her painful loneliness and unbearable sentiment from the upcoming separation. She seems delicate and soothing while a fire is burning inside her.

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Richard Jenkins is superb as the sensitive, reality-avoidant friend. His struggle to find companionship has left him with a fridge filled with hopeless unsavoury, green pies and a handful of life lessons. Michael Shannon is haunting as the impersonation of pure evil and draws a thick, dark energy into the film. Octavia Spencer gives a funny and distinctive performance, and Michael Stuhlbarg is remarkable in conveying his moral struggle.

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As a child Guillermo del Toro was marked by the cruelty and injustice done to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and now he has finally made cinema do right by him. A team of experts assisted him in his vision, creature designer Mike Hill, Legacy Effects Supervisor and co-creature designer Shane Mahan, and visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi brought the “Asset” to life and Doug Jones employed his acting skills to complete the task.  The team managed to give us an attractive figure with a perfectly-shaped mouth, expressive, wet eyes and an impressively impeccable body with cyan details on his forehead.

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The Shape of Water is a film created with meticulous care and passionate cinematic love. Its details and unique fabric comprise del Toro’s masterful vision and place the film among the classics with a several scenes amounting to perfection. The dreamy opening scene, the man seating on the bus stop bench holding four balloons and a cake, the first time Elisa and the Creature gaze into each other’s eyes, Giles opening the flooding bathroom door to find the couple sharing a glowing hug, the camera following two rain drops becoming one and the magnificent lightening of the ending scene are the most memorable gems for me. However, despite its beauty and profoundness, the film doesn’t render the hypnotic fairy tale that is promised by its riveting opening.

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After the film you might feel like going to the nearest beach for a swim, bring to mind other unlikely love stories from both art and life and contemplate whether Giles’ advice to his younger self (“Take better care of your teeth and fuck more”), no matter how superficial could actually leave no room for future regrets if acted upon. Finally, you might embrace the film’s argument about loving the “otherness” as experience has taught us that the greater the difference between two individuals, the more fascinating are the discoveries in on another and in oneself while sharing a loving relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Survive “Whore School” And Tangle A Mission – Red Sparrow (2018), dir: Francis Lawrence

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Cold War spy thriller from the “Hunger Games” director Francis Lawrence is a mediocre film with many weaknesses but nonetheless, enriched with interesting performances and a numbingly dark tone that compensate the viewer for all of its’ absurdities and banalities.

A story we have come across numerous time before, a woman in need (to help her sick mother…yep, this is the extent of the clichés here!) is asking for help from a trusting family member when she finds herself implicated into a dangerous situation and her only way out is to succumb to the wishes of the people in control. She is a survivor however and pulls through when the deathly pressures are constantly rising.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, the unlucky ballet dancer (has a sick mother dependent on her, a dastard and vicious dancing partner and an unscrupulous, pervert uncle) gives an excellent and meticulous performance. She portrays a woman in a desperate turn of her life; after having had her greatest passion stripped away from her with malice, she is put under an ordeal of sequential physical, psychological and mental abuse. Her face is the canvas of her emotional intensity and captivates with ease, and her role’s physicality allows her to mark her character’s evolution from the weak position of the victim to that of a strong, cunning warrior.

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Her accomplice and love interest is a solid Joel Edgerton and in the face of her villainous and highly immoral uncle we see the charismatic Matthias Schoenaerts. We find Charlotte Rampling in a part that was executed with apathy and strictness but left no particular impression other than its’ uselessness. In the same tone, Mary-Louise Parker’s performance seemed to be out of tone with the rest of the film. Jeremy Irons, although he has clearly refused to put himself into the failed accents attempt that was going on in the film, he has a powerful presence as a Russian general and adds a certain profoundness to his few lines.

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Red Sparrow is a spectacle of violence and cruelty that are mostly mere exhibitionism. Our heroine’s time in the Sparrow School in particular is filled with episodes of meaningless humiliations, always implicating sex of course… In fact, although I haven’t been recruited for a Sparrow myself, I would expect a more professional and effective approach in teaching those pretty faces how to be spies and master psychological profiling, while also breathing life into their victim’s sexual fantasies. Except for having them watch BDSM videos and get naked in front of the class (let alone how the only other useful skill was running, shooting and opening locks), the other main “educational” session focussed on teaching them to separate their bodies from their minds. This however was taking the form of sadistic games that in addition the recruits were refusing to play which ultimately, defeated the purpose if you ask me…

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There has been discussion around whether the film is indeed empowering women or simply pretends to do so. The question is perhaps whether the explicit violence and the use of sexuality in the film serve a narrative purpose or they exist only to perpetuate a distorted and harmful depiction of women. Approaching this, we shouldn’t forget that this survivor’s tale is set in an environment that encouraged misogynistic oppressiveness, especially in relation to Dominika’s new identity (Sparrows have long been considered as the State’s whores). Therefore, it is only expected that women are expendable and treated cruelly both by the Sparrow School and the State.

On the other hand, we can observe that inappropriately disproportionate time has been allocated to acts of humiliation and torture against women when these should have been shared with men. In the Sparrow School we only see female recruits being tested in front of the class, with only exception that one act of sexual embarrassment of a male recruit. It could be argued that Red Sparrow is exploiting misogynistic stereotypes to excite the audience’s curiosity and appetite for grotesquery and only masquerades itself as a feministic tale.

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It might be that the intention of the filmmaker is to intensify the cathartic experience of the female audience by succumbing them into witnessing representatives of their own sex succumbing into violence. In other words, the graphic imagery can shock and amplify the joyous victory of the film’s ending that celebrates the strength and wits of its’ heroine. In essence, the goal might have been to provoke our disgust and enable identification with the character only to prove that despite the worst possible conditions, our Sparrow outsmarted the domineering male assemble and used her sexuality as she saw fit in the process because that is her right after all!

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Leaving aside the elements that hurt the film’s credibility like the bad American/ British-turned Russian accents, the old-fashioned approach to the spy genre, the predictability and banality of the story, Lawrence’s directing is subtle, almost discreet and has solid flow. This can be more appreciated when we bring to mind the recent Tomas Alfredson’s thriller The Snowman (2017), whose overly stylised directing harmed irreparably its cohesion. Also, the refreshing choice of dialogue over action sets Red Sparrow apart from comparable films like Atomic Blonde (2017) where the imbalance between the two hurt the overall experience.

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Regarding the few memorable scenes that are beautifully-executed, I would probably list the steam room scene among them as it’s brutality and aesthetics are quite unique for a conventional modern Hollywood film. Also, there is a particular torture scene towards the end that builds up tension quite nicely and although hard to watch, it is one of the most realistic executions in the film. This should be highly attributed to the acting discipline and focus aligned with the director’s smart shots.

The brilliant James Newton Howard is signing the haunting, obscure and mysterious score that adds to the film’s cold and raw atmosphere. Francis Lawrence is indulging us with a plethora of close-up shots that convey the intended claustrophobic tone and its’ characters’ emotional torment. However, the darkly sexual atmosphere that Red Sparrow wants to bear is not entirely achieved but its’ perversity and nastiness set it apart from its kind and manage to arouse our curiosity until the very end.

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After the film you might try to recall what was the last American film you saw that included full-frontal nudity, explicit torture, hinted incest, the art of classical ballet, graphic rape, several murders, unconventional military sexual training and a serious amount of travelling. You might contemplate whether the film acts as a tale of female empowerment or as false manumission, replete with misogynistic tropes. Finally, you might contemplate whether the extent of grotesquery involved in Red Sparrow cancels the atmosphere of dark sexuality it so hard wishes to convey.

Poisonous Collusion of Rival Lovers – Phantom Thread (2017), dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

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It is incredible how immersive is the experience that Anderson gifted us with his incredible, precious creation that resembles an elegant poem. A film that is as dramatic as anecdotal and funny by highlighting the comedy that thrives in uncomfortable and absurd moments of hyperbole. Excellent angles, stills and shaking shots, portraits and landscapes, a plethora of gazes at a beautiful time and space. An unconventional film about extraordinary people that engage in a challenging relationship. Anderson delivers a film so beautifully shot and crafted that lures you into the obsessive control of the couturier, the rebellious passion of the muse/waitress, and the struggling influence of the sister.

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Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral score is truly magnificent and elegant as it intertwines with instrumental classical pieces that enable our transportation into 1950’s London. Don’t be surprised if you feel the pavement under your feet, your fingertips sliding over the fabrics, if you can notice every line on the protagonists’ expression and sense every breath they draw. Anderson constructed a robust world with such impeccable performers embedded that each moment gradually intensifies the cinematic experience and delves you deeper into the soul of its personas.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has been carrying a devastating burden throughout his life, calling it a curse and has yet to get over his mother’s death. It seems that by experiencing the loss of his first and most intense love, his mother, who taught him generosity and giving has by admittedly, tragic irony caused him to stubbornly refuse to love anyone ever again. He is not lost completely though to the darkest misery of a loveless existence, his relationship with Alma inevitably restructures his life and mindset.

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The genius of the film lies in the powerful and genuine characters that even in prolonged silence reveal layer by layer the complexity of their psyche. Reynolds in his stillness and persistent gaze, dressed with an overly sweet smile unveils a sickening desire to control every detail in his environment and within him of course by banishing his instincts and feelings. From the first date with Alma, it becomes apparent how desperately he needs to grasp onto his rules and firm convictions.

Reynold’s sister (Lesley Manville) acquires a haunting presence over his life. He seems not to bear life without her, even her absence for a few hours disorients him, however she constitutes a constant reminder of his fears and self-limiting lifestyle. Alma is portrayed with ample naturality and piercing expressiveness by Vicky Krieps who proves herself a charismatic partner to Daniel Day-Lewis as they share with both talent and chemistry.

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There are stunning scenes that elevate Phantom Thread to a classic. For instance, the scene where a jealous Reynolds seeks Alma in despair at the colourful and tacky New Year’s party is breathtakingly intense and dramatic. There are no words in this scene but the performances have an emotional transparency that spurs various thoughts around love, relationships and introspective analysis. The surprise dinner scene is a delicious game involving the power of will, comical exaggerations and a deep sadness. Towards the end, again the dinner scene is terrific as the game continues between the two until the climactic moment of surrender occurs, layered with the release of their passion.

In Phantom Thread we witness two diametrically opposed individuals fighting in their own unique ways to stay together while maintaining their selves intact. Reynolds’s way is to provoke with his spoilt, childish manner and to violently persist in his absurdities. It appears that his ultimate goal is to find a worthy rival that can earn his respect and trust, both necessary to enable his surrender. Alma’s way is an initial submissive stance that is later replaced with a fierce and brave confrontation and declaration of independent will.

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Their conflict has a personality of its own and spreads over the different stages of their relationship, from their first encounter to their cohabitation, to their marriage and finally, to their utter openness and mutual understanding. Unorthodox and peculiar, the resolution is made possible by the accidental discovery that one can fulfil the other’s desire and experience pleasure simultaneously.

Reynolds seems to have no control over his obsessiveness but Alma seems to have come up with a… creative way to disarm him and return him to the infant stage where he can always revive the experience of having a mother figure taking care of him. Alma on the other hand perceives love as the absolute closeness and craves to bring her strong-looking partner to a state of weakness and total physical and emotional dependence on her thus, to fulfil her need to be a nurturer and the centre of his world.

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Are these characters troubled? Certainly! But so are we all, trapped in our shortcomings and subconsciously, if not purposefully seeking the people who can cater to our needs. This scandalous conflict resolution brought La sirène du Mississipi (1969) in mind, where Julie (Catherine Deneuve) and Louis (Jean-Paul Belmondo) experience the same oxymoron contradiction that marries lust and loss.

To leave yourself entirely defenceless in the care of the one you love by embracing the dangers but also admitting to the dark hedonism of this state is a powerful experience to convey through storytelling and as Truffaut did in 1969 so does Anderson in this spellbinding ghost story. In the history of cinema, we can find love stories underpinned by seemingly harmful acts, like in Suspicion (1941) or My Cousin Rachel (2017) however in Phantom Thread the act becomes a mechanism for catharsis and we suspect, a tactic for bringing harmony into the relationship, a remedy almost.

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After the film you might feel spellbound and mesmerised by Anderson’s vintage world and its’ captivating performances, you might immerse into Greenwood’s score, indulge yourself with some delicious pastry for breakfast while contemplating about how obsessive you can become with your cyclical habits. You might also place yourself in this unorthodox couple’s shoes by reconsidering the value of seemingly absurd or dangerous acts and by acknowledging the risk of initiating or/and admitting the darkest side of one’s sexuality.

Labour of love – God’s Own Country (2017), dir: Francis Lee

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Francis Lee’s directorial debut is a raw, realistic, and sensual love story between a miserable farmer and his newly hired worker. In an attempt to present the harsh realities of the farming life in addition to not fitting in as he’s experienced it himself, Lee gives us a story so impactful and true to human nature that is impossible to leave one apathetic.

The material is tough but the lead performances are superb, with both Alec Secareanu (Gheorghe) and Josh O’Connor (Johnny) enjoying a captivating chemistry and being exceptional in delivering the emotional depth of their characters. Ian Hart (Martin) and Gemma Jones (Deidre) are brilliant and crudely affective as Johnny’s disabled father and firm grandmother.

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Our first image of Johnny is that of a lonely alcoholic, trapped in a torture of a life. He is not enjoying the company of friends, lovers, or his family and his work is in fact, forced labour. He has no control over his demise and that leads his family to treat him with contempt, pushing him even further to the road of alienation and anger. Johnny’s idea of human contact is so distorted that he is not able to tolerate being touched or kissed, resembling that of a scared animal that first attacks and then runs off.

Gheorghe on the other hand, is calm, grounded, confident and tender. Being an immigrant, he employs sensibility and discipline which comes in complete contrast to Johnny’s carelessness and indulgence. It is remarkable how piercing and emotive is Secareanu’s expression opposite to O’Connor’s tormented look. Johnny’s cry for help is answered in the most compassionate and loving way, granting him acceptance and leading him to a precious connection with a fellow man. The cathartic scenes that follow his surrender to Gheorghe’s affection are disarmingly affective. As Johnny opens up little by little, we witness his life’s shape changing as well.

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Apart from the great scenes between the two leads, there is another I truly loved between Johnny and his father. The particular scene brought East of Eden (1955) in mind, where Cal (James Dean) and his father (Raymond Massey) have a similar purifying exchange marked by those two little words, “Thank you” that seem able to wipe clean years of harshness and bitterness in seconds.

Experiencing the film, it felt as a sensational piece of reality, a precious lesson on the transformational power of love and on the strength necessary to seek a better life by being truer to oneself. In God’s Own Country the silence and loneliness of the Yorkshire countryside is beautifully captured and the relentless and yet, rewarding labour of its people is explicitly presented with honesty and realism. The romantic story that is born and evolves in those landscapes has an impressive intensity and passion that fits the absoluteness of its surroundings.

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After the film you might feel like praising the power of love, experience compassion for the lonely, avoid eating lamb or any livestock for a while, take a trip to the countryside, contemplate about how your surroundings reflect upon your mood and behaviour and finally, you might judge whether you’d be brave enough to oppose to your family’s expectations regarding your work, love life, etc. by following your own path.

A ‘Good’ Beat Story by the ‘Poker Princess’ – Molly’s Game (2017), dir: Aaron Sorkin

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Molly’s Game is a woman’s psychography with juicy incidents and legal repercussions embedded in it. Sorkin’s script never disappoints as characters fire their brilliant and profound lines to each other with great velocity and precision and thus, amaze and impress us while also, saving the slightly overlong film from feeling tiring. Daniel Pemberton’s score dresses the film in energetic, upbeat tones, melancholic pieces and thrilling bursts as we’ve seen in his previous works Steve Jobs, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Counselor, etc.

The opening scene serves as a dynamic introduction to the competitive, distinguished and smart character of Molly Bloom, a true survivor and determined fighter. Molly is a sassy, impetuous and charming woman with a one-of-a-kind story and so, represents a symbol of both femininity and feminism. Jessica Chastain’s voiceovers are guiding us through Molly’s experiences and life lessons while the film bounces back and forth in time between her childhood, her career steps and the present-time lawsuit.

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The incredibly talented Chastain employs the body language signs and the smooth, thin voice that help her pass for the 22 year-old Molly (when she is in fact 40). To witness her transformation is tremendously exciting, as Chastain’s captivating confidence achieves a magnificent connection with the audience. By staying true to the fiery and sexual real-life persona, she executes a powerful female role beautifully, with precision and absolute focus and makes it impossible to take our eyes off her.

The scenes between Chastain and Idris Elba (her lawyer) are remarkably well-acted and resemble the quickest ping pong game of witty lines. The stories of the players involved keep up the interest; the eerie and villainous ‘Player X’ (Michael Cera), the listless and silly-looking ‘Bad Brad’ (Brian d’Arcy James), the tragic figure of Harlan (Bill Camp) and the mumbling caricature of Douglas (Chris O’Dowd) give the film its’ unique poker flavour.

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After having experienced admittedly traumatising events Molly seems powerless and passive when defending herself against the prosecution. To her rescue comes of course, her lawyer and a demonstration of his conviction of her innocence and – despite having broken the law – integrity escalates to an intense argument. Although I recognise the necessity of the scene, it slightly bothered me that Molly’s independent and unapologetic demeanour had to be diminished toward the end of the film and that she should be passionately defended by someone else. I recognise however, that showing Molly defeated and humiliated enhances the story’s credibility, as even the toughest fighters can reach the end of their rope.

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A genuinely funny and emotional scene is that of Costner (Molly’s father) and Chastain, taking the form of a humorous hubris against psychotherapy and shedding light to the unspoken sorrows that drifted them apart. The first argument her father makes is that her subconscious motive behind running the high-stakes games was to control powerful men, having being supressed by his demanding attitude as a child. He soon revokes this as it was only meant to provoke her and set her tongue loose regarding the main pain between them.

It got me thinking however, whether this argument could in fact, stand. Looking at the film and how Molly used her sexuality, to simply manipulate players and preserve her position, I’d say that she wanted power, period. Reigning over a male-dominated industry certainly granted her an even greater pleasure for going against the unwritten rules but overall, she was not aiming to control powerful men but simply, powerful people.

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After the film you might give poker a try, google Molly Bloom, explore Chastain’s filmography to the last, be reminded of how decisive our style choices are in shaping people’s opinion of us. You might imagine whether you’d have pleaded guilty or not, had it been you in Molly’s place. Also, the film might bring forth concerns about your risk love or aversion, whether you’d have the grit to go against the law, or how deeply corrupted you’d end up being by greed for money and power. Finally, you might reconsider the realistic distance between success and failure.