LOVERS ON THE ROCKS – Beast (2017), dir: Michael Pearce

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There are films you know you’ll enjoy after the first few minutes and Beast is one of them as it sets off to a powerful and laconic prologue. Shots of the magnificent Jersey landscape set the canvas of this painful and crude story, and a pertinent metaphor about captive killer whales instantly draws an accurate psychological portrait of our heroine, Moll.

As the genres of drama, romance and crime thriller blend here, Michael Pearce tells an eerie tale where beasts feed from the ones closest to them or camouflage their monstrous nature with fake smiles and bounded heads, or prey on the weak when their passions are beyond control. The story is complex and smart and the performances impeccable and thrilling. The film has a dreamlike quality where Moll and Pascal experience their romantic love but takes a violent turn when deep inner confrontations occur in the face of the inevitable resolution of the tragedy.

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The two lovers give their first kiss on the edge of a rocky cliff, one wrong step and the fall is uninterrupted. It’s crystal clear right away that there are no half measures with this relationship, it is the kind that brings about radical change and reformation in one’s self. Jessie Buckley gives a haunting and magnetising performance that keeps you glued to the screen, and Johnny Flynn delivers a complicated character, an odd combination of a vulnerable rabbit and a cunning, lethal fox.

Moll’s evolution throughout the film is an ode to liberation but also a cautionary tale against the obsession of love. She rejects her suffocating family, and her overbearing and psychologically abusive mother thanks to the strength and encouragement she draws from Pascal, a man of animalistic presence and natural integrity.

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Pascal is the one who suggests that mistakes are for everyone and are better left in the past. However, up till the end Moll is bearing the guilt of a childhood mistake, which took immense dimensions due to her mother’s consuming fear. I couldn’t help but think that Moll is made to believe she is dangerous and wild when in fact, if she had been treated with more kindness, she would have thrived.  Her flaw is magnified and the daily humiliations she succumbs to compromise her ability to control her impulses and to think rationally.

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Beast brought in mind Wentworth Miller’s Stoker (2013), directed by Park Chan-wook. The relationship between India (Mia Wasikowska) and her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) bear similar elements to that of Moll and Pascal. Lead performances and cinematic style differ considerably but both films tell the story of two individuals who have always been lonely in a rejecting world and finally, find acceptance and a liberating push through their relationship. For India and Moll this takes the form of a sexual awakening and a journey of self-discovery that takes them in the darkest corners of their minds.

Another noticeable similarity is that of the ending, Moll and India set themselves apart from the madness of their “partners in crime” by acting as improbable avengers. The catharsis of both endings also proves that despite natural and primitive inclinations, it is the choices we make in critical moments that define us.

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After watching Beast, you might be numb by the amalgam of complicated emotions it evokes, feel like driving somewhere far and enjoying the view over a craggy peak. You might also contemplate upon the apocryphal realities we resort to, to crush the fantasy, or alternatively to protect it is a double-edged sword. Finally, you might admit the common belief that opposites attract and liked repel is true only when it comes to magnetism.

 

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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.

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.

Even Dickens’s Ghosts would have given up – All the Money in the World (2017), dir: Ridley Scott

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Being rich is the hard task, becoming rich can just as well be an idiot’s achievement. This is one of the few quotes delivered by Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty. Early on in the film we also get a mini lecture from Getty on how unnecessary and incorrect is the word ‘priceless’, as everything has a price.

Ridley Scott’s crime thriller explores the price of the human life, which here is that of the grandson of the world’s richest man at that time. Getty, the grandfather in question has made crystal clear from the beginning that he appreciates art over people, as in art there is the purity of transparency and straight-forwardness, in contrast to people’s duplicitous nature.

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Although he fantasises, quite comically, about having lived as a Roman Emperor in a previous life, it’s rather obvious he is the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, only ten times worse. His inconceivably cruel behaviour towards his daughter in law, Gail (Michelle Williams) and his 16-year old grandson (Charlie Plummer) when kidnapped, is the driving force of a real-life drama that stirs up our conception of love, family, power and greed.

The film’s rhythm fluctuates from quick transitions and fast progressions to a slower, more dramatic tone that better served the dialogues. The simple story is intertwined with the promise of complicated characters and minor twists that keep the viewer interested, despite the film’s general flat and quiet tone.

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For instance, young Paul changing hands as a hostage intensifies the thriller atmosphere, Gail’s discovery that her father-in-law has always been a cheap human being that even gave cheap gifts serves as a ungranted relief. Along with the member of the gang that felt for the boy and the doomed escape, these are all examples of what was done right here. The film might not succeed to immerse viewers completely but performances take you where you need to go to enjoy it.

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Michelle Williams didn’t bring enough energy to the part at first, seemed almost unfocussed but around the middle, she picked up by communicating the quiet pain and despair of a woman that had to put up with Getty’s obsession for negotiating prices (in this case ransom), his false pretences for not sparing a nickel and the intense pressure from the kidnappers. Indeed, as did a paparazzi in the film, I found myself wondering why she came across so calm and why even her sorrow and agony were moderately demonstrated. However, in a couple of scenes, when she finds out the price of the statue and when she discovers Getty’s bust, she is remarkable and piercing. Might have been part of Williams’s process but unfortunately, it didn’t work for me as it opposed to my innate belief that the situation asked for explosive and loud reactions.

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This sort of reaction is found in one particular scene delivered by Mark Wahlberg, here as the professional negotiator Fletcher Chase who was appointed from Getty to deal with the kidnappers’ unreasonable requests. The scene is a beautiful confrontation that results in a shocked and mentally defeated Getty. Worth mentioning here is how great Christopher Plummer was in a part that came to him unexpectedly and had to be executed then and there, without preparation within a month.

Although it might be unfair to judge without having seen the scenes he shot (nor will we ever…), I’m glad we got to see Plummer in a heavy, unapologetic and vicious version of Getty as I’m afraid that Spacey’s performance would have too much of Frank Underwoood in it. Plummer is excellent in his few scenes and manages to find the subtlest ways to demonstrate emotion, with his face assuming the role of the most precious tool.

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After the film you might feel more generous and giving, think about your grandparents, start feeling very protective of your ears, and contemplate how subjective are the value and price of our lives to the people around us. You might also, have long conversations about Getty’s psyche in order to explain his complete lack of compassion for a loved one but end up to the disappointing conclusion that accessing the source of cruelty will only provide evidence of how prone we are to it.

Sexual repression unlocks magnificent powers – Thelma (2017), dir: Joachim Trier

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Thelma opens with a mysterious, ice-cold act that introduces us to the character by posing a grave question. What is wrong with Thelma? What terrible things is she capable of that pushes her own father to the edge?

Thelma is a slow-burn existential thriller and a beautifully-shot supernatural Nordic tale that is uniquely scary, sexy and empowering. There is a dreamy, alluring and magical ambience that Trier orchestrates, especially through the exquisite slow movements of the camera, the indulging portraits and the sensuality of Thelma’s fantasies and dreams. The film presents an amalgam of drama, romance, coming-of-age adventure, thriller and mystery.

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There is a precious serenity and smoothness in the sequence of shots that are dressed with a cryptic, intense and rough soundtrack. It is impressive how a language contributes to the telling of a story, is almost a character in itself and fits perfectly the surroundings and idiosyncrasies of the protagonists. The Norwegian language, rich in musically intonated consonants, of the likes of F, S, L and R (at least to the ears of someone who doesn’t speak any of the Germanic languages) is sweet and hard at the same time, just like our heroine. Her face is perfect, like that of a porcelain doll but is also tormented and desperately emotional. Eili Harboe is excellent at conveying fear, confusion, lust and joy and so delivers a captivating and piercing performance.

Thelma is young, inexperienced and shy when she leaves home to study in the capital. Like a scared animal she slowly and carefully makes her first steps out in the world, which she has been taught is full of dangers and corruptive temptations. She takes little bites at a time and seems to surrender control and gradually lose herself, or to better put this, reinvent herself.

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Thelma is a victim of controlling parenting and that is a much relatable element of her story. She struggles to make her own decisions, to establish her limits and personal space and be the master of her mind and heart. Her catholic upbringing dictates her to feel shame for experiencing sexual attraction for her friend Anja (Kaya Wilkins). The pair has a beguiling chemistry that enrich their masterfully-directed scenes together.

This unprecedented passion for her friend sets off a vicious cycle of repression for Thelma and pills off her conditioned reservations by allowing her true self hesitantly immerge. Guilt and fear around homosexuality begins as her main trigger but later on, it is just the tip of the ice berg as she is called to trace the origins of her inexplicable powers and shed light on her complicated relationship with her parents. It is only through crisis and struggle that Thelma gets in contact with her original identity and instinctive desires that unlock her long-banished potential.

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Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt stage Thelma’s suffering, confusion and self-discovery with a brilliant script and Trier’s visual style is masterful and aesthetically compelling. Remarkable scenes unfold throughout the film such as the still of the broken glass of milk stained with blood, the frightening swim in the deep, blue pool, the reptilian erotic hallucination, the intense opera incident and towards the end, the flaming punishment in the lake.

The director collusively winks at the audience with the closing scene that addresses universal agonies, such as the ambiguity of liberty of choice, the exertion of one’s power over others and the strength needed to accept one’s true nature. We have witnessed Thelma go through fire and water to liberate herself from the ghosts of her past and the shadows of her present, so we naturally find ourselves on her side in her decision to embrace her powers. With the ending credits came a huge smile on my face because I have immersed into the story of a kind and loving survivor who has taken life by the horns and has found her place in the world, just the way she is. With the last seconds of the film came pouring ethical questions around Thelma’s choice but by that point I loved her too much to care.

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After the film you might crave a (forbidden) apple, bring yourself to recall the times you felt you had supernatural powers (might as well be when you were five…), think how you’d use your powers, would you be selfish or share them with the world? Also, you might think about your life choices up till now, be honest with yourself and count the ones that you made entirely on your own but then, you might think…are we ever free to choose when we are forever shaped from our environment?! Finally, you might have some weird dreams involving burning boats, birds, reptiles, thunders and beautiful but dangerous creatures lurking in the shadows.

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”.

Demon clown terrorises the fellowship of the sewer – IT (2017), dir: Andy Muschietti

It might not come as a surprise that clowns have always seemed disturbing to me. As years went by I’ve met a few people who share my natural repulsion.

Their image or even worse, presence seems to bring about terrible physical and emotional effects, elevated heart-beat, goose bumps, palm sweat, disgust and… well… some fear too. It is their appearance and attire; the carrot-coloured, curly hair, silly clothes and irrational make-up. What signals most clearly the danger is that fake, absurdly exaggerated smile pf theirs that seems to betray a sickening feeling underneath.

The new Pennywise Clown that Bill Skarsgård created for us ticks all the boxes. The front teeth, long as fingers that strive to reach the lower leap, which drugs low enough to touch the chin, the down-leaning head that reveals those yellowish, inner-crossing eyes and the cracked white forehead that exiles his red hair to the middle of his skull make him one of the most appalling clowns I’ve personally come across. At this point, I believe it’s only fair to congratulate the make-up department as they evidently envisioned and generated a living nightmare for people like me.

The film is a supernatural thriller obviously but it is to an equal extent, a coming-of-age story. The victory of the IT is its cast more than the mystery, the thrill, the directing, etc.

The Losers Club consists of extremely talented fellas that enrich the morbid theme with smart jokes and genuine sensitivity. They are a bunch of talented actors, with great chemistry and excellent in both comedy and drama. Each Loser assumes a different role in the Club, as being part of a group usually goes… Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) is the brave and sensitive, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the smart loner, Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is determined and fearless, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is the loud joker, Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is the survivor, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) the hypochondriac blabbermouth (and my personal favourite, he has a flare for comedy this kid…), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) the quiet, reasonable boy.

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The opening scenes put you straight under the gloomy, rainy streets of Derry to have you shocked and appalled shortly afterwards with how evil the clown in question can be, luring an innocent, sweet kid into the sewer with promises for candy and popcorn, which makes the whole business way more cruel…

Moving forward, the narrative is driven by the friendship of those kids as we are slowly being introduced to their lifestyle, characters and fears, naturally… Whether it is disease, burning buildings, clowns, a dead kid brother, an abusive father, a beheaded zombie, or a deformed portrait of a ghost-like lady, the real demon can bring all these fears to life and therefore, challenge the sanity of the poor souls who are haunted by them. There is a well-built tension throughout the film around Pennywise’s appearances, the forms it takes and the damage it inflicts.

It is a pity however, for films like IT that have been adapted from novels or have been previously presented on screen that the audience is strived from the element of surprise, which is crucial in horror, in particular. There isn’t one moment that we experience agony for the Losers’ fate or hope as a matter of fact, that Pennywise will be defeated.

Pennywise’s close ups are creepy enough to trigger the primitive instinct of running away but for the most part the clown is subdued to visual effects that give life to his other forms. The sequence of the scenes in the abandoned house on Neibolt Street where all his victims gather up to face him deliver gripping action and emotional intensity but fail to scare us. In reality, I believe the only time Pennywise was truly frightening was in that opening scene. Throughout the rest of the film, he became of secondary importance to me as my focus shifted on the group dynamic and the kids’ performance. I caught myself observing their reactions more than the source of their terror.

On the other hand, the dialogues are rich, quick and funny and the scenes satisfy visually as fear peppered with humour bring about a heart-warming result. IT showcases the limits of true friendship, the sacrifice and bravery of its youngsters who willingly assume the burden of saving their little town from the demon in order to safeguard its present and future inhabitants while giving justice to the Clown’s past victims.

They stand up to bullies, attempt to save each other from oppressive and manipulative adults, create a safe environment for expressing themselves freely and stand together against a threat that the adults deny facing. The grow stronger through this traumatising experience and preserve some sense of normality. They continue being themselves but one can barely see them as kids anymore. The last scene reassures us of the second chapter, set for 27 years later but also gives a heart-warming and tender epilogue to the first chapter.

After the film you might avoid the dark, repeat x times the quote “You’ll float, too”, look up how the modern clown persona came to be (find the culprit, in other words…), wonder why on earth would a demon who respects himself assume the form of a clown for eternity and to make things worse, address himself as Pennywise (can it get any tackier?!), you might recall a time when you believed that monsters exist, contemplate what are your worst nightmares and fears and finally, who are the friends you’d like by your side in case you needed to face a mortal threat.