Thursday, September 9, 2021

"Replace" - a slow burn gem of mind & body horror

Greetings, commies!

Halloween is about 7 weeks away, but it's not too late to start prepping your watch list. Today's review is of Replace, a deeply rewarding and intelligent body horror film. 

Synopsis:

Afflicted with a dermatological disease, young and beautiful Kira discovers that she can replace her skin with that of other girls. Helped by her lover, she plots a murder and the victim becomes her donor, but when the disease returns, she is forced to find more victims.

My thoughts:

If you are looking for mindless scream fest with a linear plot, do not watch this movie. It has a challenging texture, and you will find yourself frustrated. You must be in the right frame of mind to appreciate this gem. The one-word title of the film doesn't tell you much until you actually watch the whole thing through. You have to be patient and open-minded as you sit through the initial scenes that don't appear to make sense. The payoff is worth it. If you have seen "Vanilla Sky" or "Dark City", you will appreciate the mind and body horror. The film examines the concept of self. Is there more to "self" other than long term memory and body tissue? 

Kira, the protagonist, is not very sympathetic from start. She comes across as a superficial brat and doesn't make you want to root for her. In fact, you get that "serves you right" reaction when she starts suffering physically. Again, resist the knee-jerk temptation to stop watching just because the main character annoys you. 

And of course, no body horror movie would not be complete without the incomparable Barbara Crampton. After a few horror staples of the 1980s, she has earned this role as a mad demoness who justifies her actions by her hunger for discovery and progress. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Warsaw 44: a ruined opportunity

 

Greetings, commies!

You can never have too many WWII films on your list. I am always browsing Amazon suggestions. Every few months new titles are added. Being of mixed Central European heritage, I am addicted to movies about the Eastern front. I encourage you to watch Warsaw 44. Let me know if you are bothered by the same things I was bothered by when I watched it. 

Synopsis:

The true story of a group of scouts called Szare Szeregi during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. The liberation of one of its members through maverick military action in broad daylight known as ''Action at the Arsenal," was the single biggest feat undertaken by a youth resistance organization in all of occupied Europe during WWII. Polish language with English subtitles.

My thoughts:

I really wanted to love this movie. The subject of Polish resistance, so dear to my heart, is so unfairly underrepresented in film and literature. It made me sad to see what would be a serious and poignant feature reduced to a war game ad. The most powerful WWII movies have minimal soundtracks. Nothing creates suspense like eerie lull. The loud, obnoxious, campy soundtrack in "Warsaw 44" detracts from the story. The slow motion kiss with bullets flying around evokes certain scenes from Chinese martial arts epics. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Nazi". I know there were many parties involved in sponsoring the production of this movie, and it shows. There is no single vision. Multiple creative influencers were locking horns about what the look and the atmosphere of the film should be. 

Stylistic faults aside, the casting was pretty decent. The depiction of the Polish resistance fighters is realistic. They are not professional soldiers. They are earnest, fearless, passionate, sincere amateurs who have no formal military training. They still rise to the face the enemy. These kids stand up, knowing they will be wiped out. Yes, you can be both patriotic and realistic. Now, if someone could re-edit the movie with a better soundtrack and get rid of the cartoonish special effects!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Where Hands Touch - an interracial love story during WWII


Greetings, commies!

You know my fondness for obscure historical occurrences that get ignored (unfairly) by writers and filmmakers. Where Hands Touch is the answer to my prayers, the treat for my hunger. The archetype of a tormented, conflicted, sympathetic Nazi soldier is not new, but in this film it's taken to a different level and given an additional layer of human complexity. I am grateful that there is a film highlighting the complicated plight of Afro-Germans during WWII. They were not exterminated en masse like Jews or gypsies, and they were given some protection under the Reich, but their position was rather precarious. 

Synopsis:

When the daughter of a white German mother and an African father meets a member of the Hitler Youth - compulsory for all Aryan boys in 1944 Germany, they must battle against the fates laid out before them during the most brutal of times.

My thoughts:

This film exceeded my already high expectations, from impeccable casting to authentic acting. A film like this could have been so easy to ruin with excessive sentimentality or righteousness. There were so many opportunities to throw in some 21st century righteousness and monologues about human dignity. Thankfully, the screenwriter did not tumble into that ravine. Humanist ideology is strategically rationed.

I will not commit the common crime and compare the main characters to Romeo & Juliet - that would be a lazy shortcut - but this is a story of two ideologically confused and conflicted lovers. Leyna and Lutz discover the difference between patriotism and allegiance to an absurd regime. I was a little surprised that Leyna was not more bitter towards her ... hm... "fatherland" after all the rejection and mockery she had faced there, after all the filthy things she had heard. She continues clinging to the idea of being German and loving Germany. She has a sort of Stockholm syndrome towards her country and her background.

Any time you have an international cast, the director has to decide which language they speak in and if they should have an accent. You have American and British actors faking German accent to various degrees of authenticity, but that does not detract from the movie.

The character who plays Lutz also has some moderate acne. I don't know if it was a deliberate move to not have it treated prior to shooting. Those teenage outbreaks give him an air of vulnerability. It's terrifying to see that scrawny, pale, pimply kid in an SS uniform. Makes you think of how many other German boys were cajoled into this hellish situation under similar circumstances.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Through a Different Lens: A Pride and Prejudice Variation


Greetings, commies and fellow Aspies!

This novel should have been reviewed in April - the autism awareness month. As a proud and vocal member of the neurodivergent community, I should really commit to reading and reviewing more works featuring characters on the spectrum. Through a Different Lens by Riana Everly is a yet another take on the classic Pride & Prejudice. It offers an actual clinical explanation for Mr. Darcy's behavior. What would it be like to be on the spectrum before the term autism existed? What social perils did autistic people face in Regency England?

Synopsis:

Elizabeth Bennet has disliked the aloof and arrogant Mr. Darcy since he insulted her at a village dance several months before. But an unexpected conversation and a startling turn of phrase suddenly causes her to reassess everything she thought she knew about the infuriating and humourless gentleman.

Elizabeth knows something of people who think differently. Her young cousin in London has always been different from his siblings and peers, and Lizzy sees something of this boy’s unusual traits in the stern gentleman from Derbyshire whose presence has plagued her for so long. She approaches him in friendship and the two begin a tentative association. But is Lizzy's new understanding of Mr. Darcy accurate? Or was she right the first time? And will the unwelcome appearance of a nemesis from the past destroy any hopes they might have of happiness?

My thoughts:

Let me begin by saying that I am not a huge fan of the original P&P. I never understood all the swooning around Darcy. Clearly, there are enough readers and writers fascinated by him to spawn a metastatic plethora of sequels and spinoffs. I picked this particular spinoff because I was intrigued by the original twist on Darcy's character. I commend the author for immersing herself in the world of Jane Austen and her characters, for reproducing their language and customs that may seem so foreign to 21st century readers. A truly titanic endeavor! It is so easy to ruin a novel like this with flippant anachronisms. You almost have to be on the spectrum yourself to become so obsessed by that era, by that social strata, to replicate scenes from their daily lives. 

If you disliked the Lizzie-Darcy pair in Austen's original, you are not going to like them in this particular novel. They have kept their most annoying traits from P&P - and that's what makes their interaction so intriguing and entertaining. The chemistry between them is mildly toxic. You keep wondering how high the toxicity levels will rise before an explosion occurs. 

I noticed that some reviewers criticize the novel as tedious, but the original itself is rather slow-paced. You enjoy this novel, you need to train your attention span and learn to appreciate the slow burn. Remember, the people of that class had plenty of time to reflect and ruminate. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

"The Life Before Her Eyes" - a man-hating anthem

Greetings, commies & screenwriters

If you want a lesson on how to create annoying, unsympathetic female protagonists that you cannot wait to strangle with your bare hands, check out The Life Before Her Eyes. It's on Prime now. 

Synopsis:

The Life Before Her Eyes is a 2007 American thriller film directed by Vadim Perelman. The screenplay was adapted by Emil Stern from the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name. The film stars Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood. It was released on April 18, 2008, and revolves around a survivor's guilt from a Columbine-like event that occurred 15 years previously, which causes her present-day idyllic life to fall apart.

My thoughts:

I watched this movie because it popped up in my suggestions. A good chunk of it was filmed in my area - Stamford/Greenwich, CT. I remember entire blocks barricaded for that purpose. What detracted from a potentially compelling story was the blatant misandry. There is not a single redeeming male character in the novel! They are either cheaters, or psychopath murderers, or cowards. Evan Rachel Wood plays the same character over and over again - a sarcastic, rebellions teenager. I am referring to "Thirteen", "Pretty Persuasion" and "Mildred Pierce". I am sure she is a fine actress with some range, but she keeps getting typecast in the same role. It's like the same character with different hopping from one movie into another. In "The Life" she does not come across as very sympathetic. At some point you just want to smack her. Her character Diane acts like she is the only teenager living with a divorced overworked mom. She does not become more sympathetic just because the men around her are dirt bags. I don't know whose shortcoming it is, the director's or the screenwriter's, but tooting misogyny is not the most effective way to create sympathetic female protagonists.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

"Saint Maud" - the "Bad Lieutenant" for medical workers


Greetings, commies!

I love a horror movie with a greater purpose. There are too many Exorcist knock offs. Saint Maud gets lumped with possession/exorcism movies, though it's anything but. 

Synopsis:

A newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient's soul - but sinister forces, and her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy calling.

My thoughts:

This movie is NOT about religion. It does not push Christian dogma, and it does not ridicule Christianity. You can enjoy it and get a lot out of it regardless of your position on organized religion. It does for the medical profession what "Bad Lieutenant" had done for law enforcement. Most medical workers struggle with guilt to some extent. Most of them can name that one incident that left them questioning their professional competency. "Saint Maud" features an extreme case of survivor guilt mixed with professional liability. Katie, a hospice nurse, who blames herself for the death of her patient, invents a whole new persona for herself, flip-flopping between asceticism and hedonism. To appreciate this movie better, you should watch it with "Bad Lieutenant" and "Black Swan". 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Russian Bride" - more gross than gritty

Hello commies,

A few weeks ago I reviewed another movie about the so-called immigrant experience. Here is another review of a movie featuring a foreign damsel in distress caught in the throes of her American nightmare, Michael Ojeda's The Russian Bride

Synopsis:

A Russian woman travels to America with her daughter to marry a reclusive billionaire, who turns out to be a psycho who sends their lives spiraling into a living hell.

My thoughts:

If you watch it as a straight up torture porn with implausible "deus ex machina" twists, you can give it 3 stars. Don't let the title fool you. This movie does nothing to educate the audiences about the plight of international marriages. This is not a story of a deceived mail order bride overcoming adversity. The movie does reinforce some unsavory stereotypes. If you are a Russian divorcee in your 30s with a kid corresponding with an American multi-millionaire, this is NOT a cautionary tale. Most American men are not sadistic sociopaths, as most Russian women seeking husbands oversees are not meek, accommodating lambs with angelic children. This is lazy character development and an insult to American audiences. So the fact that the female protagonist happens to be Russian is not crucial to plot development. Substitute Russian with any other nationality. She could have as well been Asian or Latin American. As for the plot itself, it tries to tackle some serious bio-ethical issues, but it does it in such a blaring, silly, over the top and unconvincing way, that you will find yourself rolling your eyes. I almost feel bad for the actors, trying to do their best with a flippant, immature script.