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.

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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.

 

Obsession & Old Pearls; My Cousin Rachel (2017), dir: Roger Michell

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The world was on fire and no one could save me but you

It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do

I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you

And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you

 

A cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game (performed by Ursine Vulpine ft. Annaca) was chosen to dress the film’s trailer and I believe there couldn’t have been a more appropriate song.

The film is an adaptation of Daphne’s du Maurier 1951 novel of the same name, written and directed by the South African director, Roger Michell. I’ve previously watched the original 1952 film starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton so the instant comparison in my head favoured the most recent version. The film’s cinematography by Joseph LaShelle elevates the beauty and elegance of British countryside (the story unfolds in a Cornwall estate) and the excellent performances. In fact, My Cousin Rachel has a theatrical feel in its directing and acting, as the cast is responsible for thrilling scenes that focus on dialogue and atmosphere. Speaking of which, the lush score composed by Rael Jones designs a mysterious and gloom frame.

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Throughout the film I developed tension and discomfort that kept me company all the way through the end, which I welcomed like a breath of fresh air because it concluded my agony and sadness. The exquisite photography was enhanced by the film’s Victorian setting, where we meet a woman, Rachel who is suspected to have committed slow and well-calculated murder by poisoning her husband. Rachel, portrayed by the masterful and powerful in all her performances Rachel Weisz, is a unique specimen of her sex. She is astonishingly beautiful and cunningly seductive. Weisz brings a dark and tragic tone to her character that lies under her confidence and disarming sexuality.

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There is great mystery surrounding Rachel as not only the facts of her past are only speculated upon but also because her every sentence and full-of-meaning looks promise an insight into her soul while in contrast, they give ground to further confusion. Accused of having turned into a sinister and grasping wife who, as the cherry on top has viciously got rid of her husband, she starts a love affair with Philip, her late husband’s nephew.

Admittedly, Rachel is neither trustworthy nor frank but she should not be placed on the other tip of the scale either, in my opinion. It is wisely said that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. She’s passionate, sensitive and kind but also smart and shameless. She apparently has come to the realisation that only by achieving her financial and marital independence she can become her own person and enjoy a free life and thus, employs every mean to accomplish her goals.

It is often forgotten that in times when women were eternally dependent on their fathers and husbands, seeking independence took great courage and could trigger survival instincts similar to those of an animal who’s fallen into a deathly trap and fights for its life.

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Sam Claflin creates a magnetising and tormented Philip that falls unexpectedly in love and loses all reason. As Claflin mentions in an interview, Philip is a boy who believes he’s a man, and he successfully plays that part as a student and a loving nephew up until the point when his whole world crumbles: the man who raised him and considers his father, his Uncle Ambrose dies and leaves cues that incriminate his wife.

There is such childishness, innocence and naivety in Philip that turn him into an almost antipathetic character as he is perceived as a weak, google-eyed, untrained puppy and thus, idiotic in his altruistic acts of love. However, Philip doesn’t lack a darker side: he is possessive, impulsive and ill-tempered with violent outbursts that remind us that even the most gullible people can cause great harm. In his defence however, Philip who hasn’t interacted with women growing up is the most vulnerable prey for an experienced and manipulative woman that also happens to be his first love and sexual experience.

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In all his inner mess and outrageous, most eccentric and neurotic behaviour, he never loses one friend, the sweet and protective Louise (Holliday Grainger). Louise is not the opposite of Rachel but demonstrates another kind of strength and confidence. She is plainly in love with Philip and despite having to put up with his insults and a broken heart, she remains a loyal friend and gains our respect and admiration.

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Did Rachel poison them, or didn’t she?

She did! I believe that when Ambrose’s mental state was permanently affected by his brain tumor, she chose to poison him and set herself free from an abusive – despite it being none of his fault – husband. Later on, when Philip became asphyxiating, she had to bring back her poisonous herbs, only to regret it shortly afterwards – perhaps moved by his love and devotion, or feeling pity for his foolishness – and decide to see to his health.

The beauty in stories that leave you wondering is the complexity and sincerity attributed to the characters in the process. When a film achieves confusion to such extent then it has provided an interesting tale of mystery, deceit and complicated personalities.

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Finally, there were some incredible scenes beautifully-executed by Weisz and Claflin. Let’s take their first encounter for instance, where she offers him tea and cake, and he needs to lick his fingers from the melting butter. In the original film, it’s a comment lost between the lines and Burton’s sterile response is easily forgotten. In complete contrast, Michell and his performers take those lines and make an erotic, uneasy and utterly memorable scene out of them. The same stays true for the scene of whispers exchanged over a whipping Rachel, Philip’s outburst and many others.

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After the film you might want to read Du Maurier’s novel, listen to the lush and dark original score, remember a time when you were innocent and gullible in the matters of love, look up how many poisonous seeds exist in nature, debate whether Rachel is guilty or not, and finally make yourselves a hideous, healthy brew while pondering about the irresistibly seductive people you’ve met in your life so far.

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!

Erotic Thriller or A Tale of Sadistic Deceit; The Handmaiden (2016), dir: Park Chan-wook

Park’s recurrent themes are prevalent here as well as sadism, deceit, violence, sex, revenge and freedom intertwine, by weaving a thrilling and sensual tale of dramatic proportions.

For weeks I’ve been passing by the film’s poster and each time it caught my eye! I was curious but I remained stubbornly away from trailers and reviews until I finally visited the theatre this evening. I needed a genuine thrill for a change but as the Rolling Stones wisely mark, you can’t always get what you want….

I might not have had the most intense experience but I liked the film as a whole. It was engaging for the most part thanks to the stirring narrative and the surprising twists and revelations. The visual art of its photography, the aesthetically masterful shots and the purposefully created costumes are some of the strongest elements of The Handmaiden. The film is a psychological thriller with a sufficient character study and sparkling sensuality. The photography is amazing by praising landscapes and interiors and by indulging us with portraits and aesthetic sexual frames.

Although, I recognise that The Handmaiden is an artful creation I did not achieve immersion into the story, or identification with any of the characters. As a result, the end arrives and despite the classic conclusion where ”the good prevail, the evil are shattered”, I am not experiencing catharsis or satisfaction (with the exception of the destructive activities that take place in the library).

The acting style adopted in the film matched inappropriately overtone facial expressions with scenes that would have benefited of strict focus on sensuality and sexual tension. As a matter of fact, I believe the last sex scenes (that also happen to last the longest) did not add to the story or the character study. The film is ultimately sweet and romantic with scenes that spur laughter in the place of tension and focus, interrupting transportation into the narrative and disconnecting the senses.

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In contrast, I particularly enjoyed Hideko’s (the lady’s) theatrical readings of Marquis de Sade’s works. Her performance is spotless, stunning and gripping. Also, the bathtub scene where Sook-hee employs her amateur dentistry knowledge to smooth her lady’s tooth provokes titillation and excitement far more than the more graphic scenes that the protagonists share throughout the film.

Finally, the way Park chooses to deliver the story is brilliant and the three-part storytelling reveals the different perspectives and inner instincts of our two heroines (1. the handmaiden’s, 2. the lady’s, 3. the story’s epilogue). The first two parts consist of repetitions that enhance the cinematic experience instead of tiring viewers (an arguably rare thing!) as moments are revisited from different angles and previously concealed facts are revealed.

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After having watched  The Handmaiden don’t be surprised if you want to wear colourful gloves, have sex, visit South Korea, read a chapter from one of Sade’s scripts, or if you happen to have a nightmare about wet, dark basements and gigantic octopuses.