Unanimously piercing satire – The Death of Stalin (2017), dir: Armando Iannucci

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Men in power can be outrageous and Iannucci seems to know that well. Not only does he know but he is also brilliant at conveying this on screen in the form of sharp satire, with the contribution of extremely talented individuals.

The canvas is the Soviet-era, and particularly the days after the death of the Union’s great leader. Naturally, his comrades start playing dancing chairs first in complete shock, and moments later mad for the opportunity to replace the tyrant, they start plotting and exchanging creative swearing with poisonous ease.

The characters are caricatures of a different time and yet, alarmingly familiar. The ensemble cast is exceptional and admittedly one of the two most unique elements of the film, the other being Iannucci’s pen.

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Speaking of which, I was particularly surprised that the film embraced the ugliness of realism, in the sense that the atrocities taking place under the Stalin’s rule – kidnapping, torture, rape, executions – were bluntly displayed and blended into social satire and farcical scenes. Personally, I felt this horrific background reduced the film’s comical effect significantly in spite of them being given the minimum possible screen time.

Political amorality is depicted in the faces of the comrades that pass quickly from antagonising to plotting the elimination of one another.  The chief of Soviet security, Beria is a figure of satanic appetite and monstrous efficiency in pulling the strings and pushing his rivals to the edge. Simon Russell Beale is such a powerful performer that makes this cartoonish character feel upsettingly real.

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Michael Palin is superb as Molotov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; a pitiful, passive and self-sacrificial man with a comical devotion to the Stalinism. Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev, the head of the Party and sets the great plan of de-Stalinizing the country with nervous anticipation and dramatic gestures that entertain. Jeffrey Tambor is a ridiculous, vain and extravagant Malenkov. From Secretary of the Central Committee he rises to Chairman when the short, foul-mouthed, corrupted leader is put into his red-ribbon box and he is such a delight while doing so. Malenkov’s naivety and asinine gaze makes us almost pity him despite his crimes.

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Jason Isaacs is outstanding as the uncouth war hero with the heavy accent and preposterous collection of metals on his chest. Isaacs is an extremely gifted actor and is also responsible for intense laughter, cracking us up simply by the way he bears himself as the pompous Military Commander with the signature scar. As Stalin’s offspring, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend are given their fair amount of funny lines and neurotic weirdness. Let’s not forget Paddy Considine who opens the film as Andreyev, the panicky radio producer who needs to find a way to satisfy the leader under time pressure.

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The film moves fast and has an intense, almost neurotic pulse as stinging exchanges full of meaning take place. In the comical ridiculousness of this conception reality is deeply entrenched and although, it reduces the power of comedy it adds to the intertemporal social and political satire attempted here. For instance, there are scenes like the decision-making/ voting one, the absurdity of which touches upon our most basic human flaws and so do all lines/ jokes betraying the thirst for power.

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After the film you might drink Vodka while re-watching Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”, revisit a Dostoyevsky’s novel, fantasize upon what role you’d assume in such an unholy Commission, think about a time when you desperately wanted to fill someone else’s shoes and how far you ended up going to see it happen, you might also delve into the work of Russian classical composers while contemplating the extend of corruption in your country’s political scene and then you might end up drinking more Vodka to forget….

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Tears in rain find peace on snow – Blade Runner 2049 (2017), dir: Denis Villeneuve

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Ah, this opening shot… I absolutely adored this tribute and allegorical connection – revealed only towards the end – to one of the most iconic cinematic scenes of the past century and the epilogue to a monologue that touched the heart of millions.

However, it is crucial to recognise that Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t follow the line of a typical sequel and is not infested with nostalgia to keep fans interested but on the contrary, it is an original and intensely philosophical piece of sci-fi cinema.

The burning question of Blade Runner (1982) remains in 2049, as it has not yet been sufficiently answered outside the films’ universe either. What it means to be human and how can you trace the existence of a being’s soul? Touching upon profound existential and self-defining concerns is one of the film’s greatest strengths, along with the stunning cinematography and the plot secret and mysteries.

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There is a rare atmosphere in the film; it feels distant, neon-infested, visually magnificent, big in scale but also, bizarrely intimate and warm. There is a certain familiarity in its beautiful setting and its city dirt, confusion and social turbulence.

You feel as if there is an infinite peace and quiet where all beings stand still, frozen in time. Simultaneously, you experience constant movement mingled with underlying sounds, as if there is a unanimous pulse in the Blade Runner universe.

The visuals are impressive and measure up to the iconic 1982 original, without replicating its narrative style.  The lens moves slow and lays before us the surface of the cold, grey and torn landscape but also, plants us into a yellow vision of dryness and desertion accompanied by hollow sounds, like the awakening of distant memory.

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The plot twist is a manifestation of the most reliable psychological trick when one needs to fully comprehend another; that is through placing oneself in the shoes of another human (or not) being. It assumes the structure of a Greek tragedy where characters are lied to or by chance, misled. Later, they feel victorious as they approach to the resolution of their personal crisis, only to ironically come to the realisation of the deceitful game luck played on them. The tragedy ends in a cathartic transcendence from ignorance to the truth that is only achieved though painfully difficult decisions. It is an admirable achievement to dramatically transfer the viewer from the safety of one’s “definite” conclusions to the confusion and surprise of having fallen into a glossy trap.

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Jared Leto is the secluded creator Niander Wallace, who philosophises and bears himself around as a semi-god with a firm and austere voice. His intonation signals urgency, his eyes are unforgettable and he only emerges under an eerie, wavy light.

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Sylvia Hoeks stands out in the role of Luv, with her penetrating eyes projecting cruelty and simultaneously, immense pain for the slavery of her kind. She is powerful and focused, and attributes an emotional depth to the character that thankfully, is designed to have multiple layers, unlike a simplistic villainous caricature.

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Harrison Ford gives a heart-breaking and dynamic performance as he delivers some of the most emotional and memorable scenes of the film. His figure is oozing unconfessed pain and unhealed traumas whose were sculpted by loss and sacrifice. And that dog… how were they able to find this gorgeous animal to match so perfectly the wretchedness of his companion?!

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Ryan Gosling has the stature and intense energy of the soldier whose life rules are suddenly challenged. There is an economy of words with this actor that is always an incredible gift to the audience, as this invites us to be more attentive to the little movements, the fixing of his eyes, the pauses, etc. All in all, to all the elements that make the performance so unique and entirely his own. Also, the vulnerability that lies under his tough-looking personas elevates them to iconic and contributes to their credibility.

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It is impressive how Denis Villeneuve made a film of such a large scale without compromising its artistic value. He maintained the balance between staggering visuals, worthy of a block buster and the exploration of heartfelt issues by delving deep into existentialist ethics and meaning. Blade Runner 2049 is an atmospheric cinematic piece that overly stimulates the viewer; personally, I left the theatre overwhelmed by the impeccable visuals, the imposing and nostalgic score, and the piercing performances.

The scenes in the hotel in particular, are masterfully directed; the setting is so original and vintage at the same time. In the same way, the film is an amalgam of past memories, present concerns and philosophical queries, and future achievements and possible punishments.

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After the film you might stay put for a re-watch, listen to the score of the 1982 film, drink scotch while contemplating about the origins and the meaning of your soul, or even whether you’d be better off without one, you might ask yourself whether you’d ever leave the world behind to be left alone and enjoy the company of a drunk dog and projections of your favourite artists, or whether you’d be brave enough to join a revolution and finally, you might be entirely stricken by Deckard’s words, “Sometimes when you love someone, means to be a stranger”.

Nightmare of an allegorical invasion – mother! (2017), dir: Darren Aronofsky

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Shocked from the abuse and panic in Darren Aronofsky’s allegorical piece I left the cinema and have been gazing into the void ever since. It is a difficult film but also brilliant and refreshingly unique.

I stand with owe in front of Aronofsky’s cinematic achievement because mother! is visually impressive and paradoxically original. Who could have imagined that such an old, biblical (literally) tale could be retold through a metaphorical narration of that sort. Aronofsky’s genius as a writer is revealed in the story’s structure and as a filmmaker in the film’s horrifying and yet deeply emotional effect.

Jennifer Lawrence (Mother) is a passive, understanding, affectionate creature of immense patience and love for her poet husband, the Creator (Javier Bardem). The cracks in their relationship are evidently deep and irreversible, as it is soon confirmed. His wife’s company is not enough to keep him motivated and inspired so he invites a Man in (Ad Harris), and the next day, surprise surprise, here comes knocking his audacious, absurdly rude wife (Michelle Pfeiffer).

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These two are followed by their Cain and Abel offspring, and more uninvited guests that are bearers of filth and destruction to the beautiful home Mother has been building with love and effort. But the poet, as goes for every artist is thirsty for admirers and would sacrifice anything to keep them close. Whether you are the types that enjoy a full house or the ones that perceive their house as a sacred refuge from the world, I guarantee you will feel disturbed by the home invasion depicted here.

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From this point on is when my immersion into the story began, as questions multiplied and observation gave place to confusion and identification. The entire story unfolds in the interiors of a house but claustrophobia is achieved through the tight shots of the actors’ faces, especially Lawrence’s, being the film’s beating heart. And it is a brave performance she delivers here so she can be rightfully considered a truly gifted actress. There’s an array of intense emotional states she undergoes and she takes us through each one of them with admirable effectiveness. Initially she seems constantly confused, later on, she gets frightened and hurt, then immensely terrified and by the end, when the limits of sanity are by far surpassed, she embraces the cleansing destruction.

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Horror is not my cup of tea but mother! takes fear and repulsion to an existential level. Mother’s vulnerability faces an appalling degree of violence towards the end and that can be a challenging spectacle, despite having recognised the metaphors of her abuse and torture. The rational part of your brain might coldly command “Oh, look that’s Mother Nature’s child, an allegory for Jesus that is being killed – no biggie” but the emotional part might feverously react to the horrendous spectacle. Perhaps that is the most effective way to empathise with something of entirely foreign nature to you.

How easily would we avoid so much as dig a hole, if we visualised earth as a human being, like us. Of course, that is not the film’s purpose, to convert us into responsible and respectful habitats of this planet and unite us into combating the ecological crisis. That is not to say though that the unapologetic exploitation of everything Mother creates and is, will not make evident our similarity to Bardem’s character and will not bring forth guilt and shame for our kind.

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Mother! is a surrealistic film that breaks the rules of evidence and pushes you to spot the allegories in order to solve the mystery of Mother’s unjustifiable torment. It transports you into apocalyptic, wild, grotesque scenes that will make you feel imprisoned into someone else’s nightmare that unfortunately, feels all too familiar and deeply personal. The film is gripping and atmospheric as Mother has an established connection to the house that comes in complete contrast with how she relates to other people.

The cathartic scene towards the end, where she transcends into a fierce destroyer of everyone and everything is the most coveted resolution of the vulgar attack against her. But as the Creator follows his usual ritual to commence the next big creation, we are left pondering about the limits of hope that every other time could turn out differently than the last…

The film certainly deserves a re-watch, if not for its masterfully rich visuals and strikingly ingenious narrative, then for all the details that might have been overlooked. Question is, are we daring enough?

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After the film you might feel emotionally abused, empty and existentially shocked, you might avoid having friends over for a few days, you might lean your head on the walls of your house, carefully assess whether you’re respectful to Mother Earth (energy efficiency, water consumption, recycling, etc.); you might also, think about people you know that resemble the Creator’s idiosyncrasy (aka the egomaniacs) and finally, about the occasions when you were more of a taker than a giver, demanding more than someone could possibly give you.

Eccentric personalities score thrilling points – Borg vs McEnroe (2017), dir: Janus Metz Pedersen

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Tennis is a wonderful sport that celebrates speed, precision, discipline and technique. The rival athletes whose glorious history in court inspired this film are two of the best players the sport has produced. Completely opposites for the spectators but strikingly similar in their core, Borg vs McEnroe sheds light to the experiences that shaped the players as well as to their emotional state upon the 1980 Wimbledon championship.

The film starts with an excited young Björn enjoying his favourite sport to quickly contrast him to his more mature self, hanging on the edge both literally and metaphorically. The visual narrative succeeds in creating a personal portrait of the protagonists through short, meaningful flash backs that hold the key to unlocking their psyche and also, breath air into an otherwise linear and emotionally claustrophobic route leading up to the final match.

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The cast is brilliant; the Icelander Sverrir Gudnason finds a remarkable way to communicate the inner struggle and the unconfessed pressure that the handsome king of tennis bares. An inability to accept himself and communicate his needs, the burden of not leading a freeing, private life in addition to his constant effort to repress and control his feelings are reflected with perfect clarity through Sverrir’s performance, who also happens to bear a resemblance with Borg.

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Shia LaBeouf on the other hand, who is older and physically dissimilar to McEnroe is doing an equally impressive job. He brings out emotional depth to the character whose outbursts and obsessive behaviour are the consequences of an austere and oppressive upbringing that didn’t seem to tolerate his occupying anything but the first place.

Stellan Skarsgård is by no surprise, again a joy to behold on screen as Lennart Bergelin, Borg’s coach who sculptured his mentality and game. As a father figure and the most sensible influence, he stands strong and emotionally generous to the much tormented and tormenting player. Tuva Novotny plays Borg’s fiancée, and delivers captivating, painful looks to express the helplessness and despair experienced due to her partner’s psychological challenges.

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It is exciting to uncover layers of the experiences that formed one’s character, especially when it comes to the greatest athletes of the sport to date. It is the truth that little do we see in the film from tennis as it is evident that the actors, as also mentioned in interviews, followed a choreography that assimilated the real matches so it is CGI and good editing we should thank for the natural, almost documentary-like feel.

What makes Borg vs McEnroe a good and gripping drama, a thriller about sport, victory and human psychology in other words are the powerful performances, the non-linear narrative and playfully short shots and the depth of the attempted character study. It is almost magnetic to witness the dynamic between these opposite poles of a man towards the end when they finally meet on court. The tension has been successfully built by that point as it’s made clear what their obsession with being the best and with one another truly means and where it can take them.

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The final scenes and the epilogue leaves you emotional as the determination and soul stretching that happened on court resembles more of a battle for self-preservation. And given the insight into our characters’ idiosyncrasy, they seem to acknowledge that their mental survival is preserved through these battles.

Borg has always been a private man of few words and ice-cold exterior, whereas McEnroe has been loud and provocative enough to disorient the public from the purpose of his outbursts. I particularly loved the close shots of Borg’s eyes while watching McEnroe’s game on TV. He sees through him, how he uses his rage strategically to reach concentration and fuel his stress, he shows signs of relief and warmth when he meets him outside the game, as if he finally found someone that has experienced the same struggle, he identifies with that misunderstood boy from Queens that was told by his parents that his 96% grade at school is missing 4 points to be acceptable.

In the same way, Borg had to find a way to fuel his anger and almost unbearable desire to win and followed the complete opposite strategy, that of shutting any emotion and thought out of his mind and relying on meaningless rituals to preserve a sense of control and discipline against his genuine impulses.

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After the film, you might watch the original 1980 match (if you haven’t already…), acknowledge that tennis is one of the most amazing, thrilling and elegant sports, pick your favourite tennis players (ehh… Federer will be your first choice I’m sure!), delve into your motives for wanting to win badly or for being a perfectionist and seriously assess whether it’s worth the effort, you might also contemplate about the limits of obsession, how deceiving appearances can be and finally, how complicated and fragile we all are.

 

And these are the gentlemen that inspired the film:

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The limp that mushroomed into a castration – The Beguiled (2017), dir: Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s new film tells the tragic story of eight people brought together by circumstances, or in other words tells the dark tale born by two opposing forces, the man and the woman, the sex drive and the suppression of instincts, the punishing control and the uncontrollable freedom.

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The Beguiled is an adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 film of the same name, both based on the Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil”. I strongly encourage you to watch the original film, starring Clint Eastwood only to perceive how unsimilar can be two stories drilling from one source (with many of the dialogues and scenes found in both). The tone of the films is so diametrically opposite and feels like two people told you the same story but saw its characters in an utterly different light. The first person saw a school of sexually frustrated young girls and lonely hugs that stage a porn play with a wounded soldier at the lead and the second person saw ladies, frustrated with their drained of pleasure and excitement lives whose most raw and vengeful instincts get triggered by the seductive presence of a wounded soldier.

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The original film is eccentric, crude and gripping as it strips (literally) the heroines and villainises them either through their admittedly cruel actions or through their manic claim of the Corporal’s attention. Coppola wouldn’t stand for such a simplistic depiction of sexual deprivation and carnal desire so she created an adaptation far more fair to the female psych and libido. Elle Fanning’s Alicia is a teenage girl bored to the death in this cage of a school and filled with hormones in her stage of sexual awakening and not a slutty and persistent little devil, acting with the confidence of a much older and experienced woman (Jo Ann Harris).

In addition, leaving out several controversial elements of the first movie help maintain focus on the central storyline, such as McBurney’s kiss to the 12-year old Amy after he reassures her that she’s “old enough for kisses” (eh, pervert alert right there…), or the fact that Miss Martha’s late brother was also her lover (eh, brotherly love took a wildly inappropriate turn…).

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It is no wonder Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award in Cannes Festival, as The Beguiled is a masterful cinematic piece that gently pulls you into the world of these women.  The images of the countryside with the misty landscapes and the  ghost-like whipping willows surrounding the school of white marble in classical architectural style alternate with the claustrophobic scenes that find  its inhabitants interacting under the mysterious candle light (choosing a shorter aspect ratio, resembling a box in order to transit the sense of entrapment).

The film tells the story laconically (94 minutes to be precise) and yet, achieves a deeper character analysis than the 1971 feature. The narrative develops in a perfect circle; Amy gathering mushrooms in the forest, McBurney being carried by the girls, the lens laid steady outside the main gate.

This version builds up a subtle tension in the atmosphere that facilitates our immersion into the era and the psych of those women. The stylised environment, the purity of nature and the beauty and innocence of the girls as demonstrated by their manners, their clothes and their lessons makes the unescapable decay even more painful.

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This adaptation of The Beguiled is elegant and flows with the ease of a fairytale on screen despite it being a dark and emotionally dry one. There isn’t enough drama stemming from the unfortunate sequence of events but the tension and tragic irony are effectively communicated. A great part in that plays the lack of a soundtrack, as the story is told in the silence of the Virginian countryside, with only the sound of nature (birds, wind, etc.) and the violent echo of cannons dressing the images.

There are comical elements dispersed into the narrative and the depiction of the characters too. For instance, Edwina in her silent torment and lazy movements may come across less tragic than intended and Miss Martha, being so self-conflicted and always pretending to be composed, blunt and austere might make you laugh. That is not to say that Nicole Kidman’s portrayal is a caricature of a religious, old maid. On the contrary, it is a flawless one and that’s why in her desperate state, we can perceive her repressed sensitivity as well as the ridiculousness of her behaviour.

Colin Farrell is an exceptional and gifted performer that can incorporate sensitivity, anger, pain and laughter in his act. His McBurney is particularly chivalrous and charming but also, a true chameleon that becomes instantly aware that his survival is strictly dependent on him choosing the right shades of colours to match the diverse expectations of his interlocutors.

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The scenes you’ll love…

The film is emotionally flat and visually delicate, leaving you with a sensation resembling the clean and soft taste of vanilla, enjoyable but not strong enough for your palate. Nevertheless, there are many intense scenes that anchor this period fairytale.

In fact, the scenes that draw the dynamic among the women in relation to their handsome guest are a pleasure to watch. One of my favourite scenes is the apple pie dinner scene where all of them strive to earn McBurney’s affections in the most naïve and foolish manner.

The scene where Corporal McBurney attempts to get closer to Miss Edwina by diving into her psychological portrait and giving flesh to her fantasy of an empathic and romantic lover. The trembling hands, the facial expressions betraying her agony and the shattered voice when admitting that her greatest wish is to be taken away from that soul-draining place are only a few elements of Kirsten Dunst’s performance that prove how incredible an actress she is.

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Another remarkable scene is the bizarrely erotic sponge bath Miss Martha gives to McBurney. Nicole Kidman’s careful pauses and heavy exhalations show how incredibly hard is to be a constant judge of one’s true self. I wouldn’t say that Miss Martha is facing a dilemma because unlike Edwina, she made the choice between duty and desire a long time ago. Of course, her cold masquerade is in fact transparent and underneath it defenseless lay her needs and desires, ready to be triggered by McBurney’s presence and deliberate charm.

Towards the end comes the scene where Jon confronts the “butchers” and it’s an impressive and painful act followed by Edwina’s meaningful and passionate apology.

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So who is the beguiled in this story?

I don’t believe that the ladies are deceived by McBurney. They are all certainly aroused and seduced by him but it happened due to his playful nature and not with a malicious intent.

It is perhaps McBurney who should be considered the beguiled character in this story because he was misled by the graceful women who welcomed and admired him, only to wake up one morning with no second leg, or their sympathy.

I bet that the majority of women watching the film will sympathise with McBurney on how cruelly he was treated. Jon is man that received great attention and an equal amount of temptation so he acted as nature intended. He is not a bad man or deceitful but simply playful and flirty. The ladies however, turned from innocent admirers to vicious and “vengeful bitches” when he became a threat. Nonetheless, at that time women had no power to display and many hazards to look out for, and it is well known that fear mixed with frustration make the deadliest cocktail.

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Some might argue that it is self-preservation that led them to murder but it is certainly more than that. They had the option of reconciliation but instead chose to complete his punishment and send him off for the long journey.

The turning point for the tragedy was the decision to deprive him of his limp and the reasons behind Miss Martha’s action and Edwina’s silent participation are ambiguous. The amputation could be a metaphor for the castration that women secretly desire to perform on men as the apogee of their punishment for having been oppressed by them physically, mentally, socially and sexually for centuries.

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In contrast, it could be a broader critic on the cruelty and menace that rejection brings out in every human being, irrespective of gender. Men could have performed a different but equally harsh punishment to the woman who after having toyed with their feelings choice the bed of a much younger man. Similarly, had it been a male school and a Joanna instead of Jon, the antagonistic, young boys would have conspired to get rid of her after her fall from their grace.

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After the film you might want to talk with a Southern accent, eat apple pie or/and mushrooms, admit it’s useful to know how to stitch nice & even, look up how many poisonous mushrooms exist (and naturally, avoid them for a while for no actual reason…), you might be extra careful when walking up & down the stairs and finally, imagine an alternative ending in which the heroines decide they definitely need a gardener and also, learn how to share.

Kill them, baby, one more time; Alien: Covenant (2017), dir: Ridley Scott

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Prepare yourselves to repeat the ritual of alien penetration in the fellowship of the space exploration or as is the case in Covenant, colonisation. You’ve surely being here before, even if you’ve only watched the first film of the Alien trilogy but that doesn’t mean you will leave the theatre unsatisfied.

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The film deals with the origins of creation and the creator-creation relationship parallel to raw and cruel scenes against humanity in an adventure where the stronger prevails. The Covenant consists the bridge between the end of Prometheus and the events in the original Alien, by diving into the origins of the alien blood-thirsty beasts that first appeared in theatres in 1979.  Good flow of scenes that are smoothly connected and executed with great performances and excellent directing from Scott who is a masterful expert on the sci-fi genre.

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In Covenant, Scott is using the cult cinematic myth of the Alien with no desire to innovate and invent. The film feeds upon the nostalgic feeling of the genuine scares of the original movie without adding something new or remarkable to the classic story. A smarter approach to the scenario would have saved me the disappointment provoked by certain scenes; such as the one where the Captain willingly looks into an opening Xenomorph’s egg when treacherous David  – who minutes before has flipped out when the Captain shot a Xenomorph that had just beheaded a member of the crew – suggests so, or the ending scene that shockingly reveals something we saw coming, if not since the beginning of the film, then by the moment David and Walter are left alone to fight and only one makes it back…

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However, it was a great choice to locate the story on a macabre-looking place, a planet with great vegetation that hides the city of the dead in its core. Aren’t these the perfect surroundings to prepare you for doom?!  And so the rain falls non-stop and the creatures wandering around seem to have made killing and impregnating our misfortunate travelers their life mission.

My favourite bits of the film are its real stars: the Xenomorphs. Similarly to their 1979 predecessors, the monsters in Covenant are more faithful to Giger’s original art and as elegant as the angels of death are a horrifying spectacle indeed. Although, Scott patiently prepares the viewer by slowly setting the atmosphere of terror for the time that the crew will fight for their lives in blood and naivety, the overall predictability of the structure fails this build-up. In an interview, Scott mentions that his goal is giving us time to identify with the characters and care for them but in the 45 minutes (almost the ½ of the film as it last 122 minutes) before the deathly action begins, I felt boredom instead of sympathy…

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However, it was only when Xenomorphs made their appearance that my stomach got tight and one thought governed my mind; had I been them, I wouldn’t last a minute! Oh wait… neither did they!

The choreographed attack by Xenomorphs in a field of tall grass in the first half and the visceral hunting that follows and sees blood and gore gush from every pore of the film are thrilling. Our very first scene of a Neomorph bursting out of a human and the subsequent panicking and killing is gripping and utterly transporting. I particularly loved the scene where David approaches the Xenomorph in an attempt to communicate and gain the creature’s respect.

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Xenomorphs have an elegant shape and a relentless appetite for screams, blood and human flesh, which makes their presence a menace of disproportionate dimensions for the poor, fragile humans. The fact that the opponents are so unfairly unequal made me loose interest when almost all heads dropped down and it was only Daniel’s character that reassured me for the upcoming – and single in the entire film – victory in the final battle. Katherine Waterston is a force of nature and an artful actress that takes you with her in her emotional pain at first, and then in her stubbornness for survival and escape.

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Michael Fassbender’s dual performance is the perk and the differentiating element of the Covenant compared to the other Alien movies.  He acts against himself and delivers an interesting performance. A good example is the scene where an ecstatic David attempts to prove his point to his look-alike Walter and manages to set scenery charged with homoerotic energy and ample narcissism that is actually – and I hope intentionally – rather funny.

The film failed to immerse me into the existential and religious Odyssey supposedly experienced by the characters. David despises his maker and the entire humanity in fact, considering them a weak and rightly dying bread. He resists to a servant’s life that was destined for him and thanks to his appointed talents and abilities David manages to do plenty of harm. David is technically and emotionally more evolved than Walter but suffers from a delusional fever of creation obsessiveness and a severe God complex. Although, he is not a relatable character he is admittedly the most interesting one.

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After the film you might wonder if you’d ever consider taking part in a space colonisation mission, think of the way you’d like to be killed by a Xenomorph (probably the least painful or the most eccentric..), pick which one you’d like best: being a human or an android, start appreciating the flute, never take a shower listening to loud music again and think how cool it would be to have a look-alike to take your place whenever you fancy!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales/ Salazar’s Revenge (2017), dir: Rønning and Sandberg

 

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Low expectations had already infested my mind when I entered the theatre to watch the fifth film of one my most beloved franchises. I fell in love with the first film in 2003, watched it countless time and dreamed of white shores, boats, rum and crazy, lowlife companions. I liked the second and third but they didn’t quite live up to the fun and the thrills of the original. As to the fourth film, we can all pretend it never happened. Coming now to the fifth time that Jack Sparrow’s adventures are brought to the big screen, I have to tell you it’s a film worth watching if like me, you follow the characters since the beginning. Being a loyal fan, you will be able to experience all the breadth of emotions, laughs and victories with the characters along the way. 

Salazar’s Revenge is directed by the Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, known for their Academy Award-nominated high sea film Kon-Tiki who managed to bring back some of our favourite elements of the first films, mostly their simplicity and humour. There were also many artful shots that reflected their expertise in using water as the perfect setting for creating engaging visuals.

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The plot lacks twists, the alliances formed are easily-followed and the ending although predictable is source of pure joy for fans. There is a new ‘couple’ of course, Elizabeth’s and Will’s son, Henry Turner, played by Brenton Thwaites and the accused-of-being-a-witch astronomer Carina Smyth, portrayed by Kaya Scodelario both of whom do a great job, being fresh, witty, and convincing by setting the right tone of romance, friendship and rivalry. 

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Captain Hector Barbossa, my personal favourite, is in a fantastic state of wealth and sea-domination when Jack’s past sins take a toll on him too, being a pirate and all… Geoffrey Rush is once more an absolute master of the art, and revives a character that has shown multiple layers through the series. In Dead Men, his devotion and protecting nature emerges once more and not only for his beloved Black Pearl. His signature laughter and scornful grimace can rightfully compete with Depp’s zigzaggy and rock n’roll persona. 

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Speaking of which, if there was one thing I didn’t feel as familiar here that was Jack Sparrow! Bizzarely, he felt heavy and tired, as if he was reluctantly awaken in the middle of a good dream and went along with the action only because there was no other choice (just like in his actual opening scene in the film). What I mean is that there wasn’t much passion in the performance that the teasing and cunning look he delivered every sentence with in the past is missing here. Perhaps it was intentional, as part of the character’s development and in order to reflect his downfall given that he hits bottom when in the absence of the Pearl, his crew and his rum, he trades his once most precious possession after his ship, his magic compass. 

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Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) is a dark, tormented and merciless figure that has been consumed by hate all his life and all his death! Salazar and his crew, who have fallen victims of a curse – just like Barbossa and his own in the Curse of the Black Pearl – that turned them into ghosts and kept them trapped in the Devil’s Triangle and we all guess who was the culprit… Having read reviews that accused the film of being overly surrealistic, I expected outrageous additions to the Pirates’ universe however; I found more similarities to the first film than contradictions. If surrealism and fantasy is not your cup of tea and you expect an accurate depiction of pirate life then I suggest you not to watch it or if you do, to not criticise the film for not being something that it has never pretended to be! The whole franchise is based on mythology, magic, curses and monsters. In my case, it was only the fish-like crew of the Flying Dutchman that seriously challenged my aesthetics and posed a threat to identification with the character of David Jones, as it was simply too hard to see the man beneath the mollusc. However, it didn’t feel far-fetched because I’ve embarked on the adventure with the Pirates on a ship of skeleton-looking fellas under the moonlight, admitting there were supernatural creatures in the unknown sea…

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Salazar’s Revenge is an entertaining vision with memorable bits, including the bank robbery attempt, finding the stunningly sparkly island where Poseidon’s trident lies, hearing the tale from Salazar’s mouth and all the ending scenes basically (yes I cried, so what?!). It is also rich in funny moments, like when Jack encounters the very French guillotine, when Carina is trying to explain to pirates that she is an astronomer and a horologist, when Jack is brought into a horrifying marital engagement etc. 

Love of many kinds is touched upon again in the franchise: the father – son/daughter bond and sacrificial nature of the relationship, friendship, romance, and of course the love for the sea/freedom and for the beauty that captured both Jack’s and Hector’s heart, the Black Pearl. 

The ending brought me tears because I’m soft, a sucker for romance, sacrifices, reunions, and that signature score of the Pirates of the Caribbean that is embedded in my brain and brings about strong emotions every single time it touched my ears without fail. 

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After the film, you might want to watch once more your favourite Pirates of the Caribbean film (chances are it’s The Curse of Black Pearl), start counting the stars, you might develop an interest about astronomy, have a drink with rum, say “hombre” with unprovoked hostility, call your dad to declare your love for him and fantasise that your next holiday will involve a boat.