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Old | Dumb Fun in the Sun

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M Night Shyamalan’s creative career was cursed from the moment he was hailed ‘the next Spielberg’. Such a title was only going to be met with disappointment. His early films, The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were a trio of enticing, original supernatural thrillers that offered enough intrigue to match such a lofty title. Since then, the ride’s been a little rockier. In the late 2000s, a string of weaker offerings left a lot to be desired. Notably, Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008) were horrific for all the wrong reasons – and the less said about his ‘airbending’ effort the better.

Yet, a recent renaissance in his ability to tell original stories has sparked fresh excitement. And, next to maintain the thrills is Old. Although lacking the spine tingling bite of his earliest attempts it’s another example of why we should welcome his contribution to modern cinema.

Part horror, part thriller, part goofy comedy – the film depicts a rough day on a secluded beach for a group of characters who begin to age rapidly as the day progresses. Oh, and it goes without saying – they can’t escape. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, it is an adaptation in the sense that director and writer Shyamalan found a concept and went in his own twisted direction with it.

For all parents with young children a day on the beach can often be plagued by horror and heat, as screaming children, sticky sand and warm drinks provide more stress than serenity. After watching Old, I’m sure parents will be dreaming of crowded shores, as a family’s idyllic stop in paradise descends into disaster.

Anchoring the story is a family of four, the warring parents played by Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps). Both Bernal and Krieps have already carved a magnificent dramatic career and their acting chops offer the majority of the emotion and dramatic pull that the screenplay sorely lacks. A selection of actors take the role of their rapidly ageing children, Trent and Maddox. Perhaps the standout sequences are carried by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie – who harness their rapid growth and sudden hormones of teenagerhood with confidence and believability.

‘Ah, relaxing time in the shade’, Thomasin McKenzie (Left) Alex Wolff (Right), still courtesy of IMDB

With much to owe to the zany execution of the The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), much of the unique concept is delightful to watch on screen. A strong sequence in the middle of the film see’s the ageing effects of the beach in full effect, and this was a genuine treat. It felt like an early morning pitch meeting fuelled by caffeine, in which all plot possibilities were stuck to the storyboard and from that day, never left.

The physical and mental breakdown of the characters is exceptionally entertaining. Suspiria style, limb bending gore and Cronenbergian body horror take full advantage of the physical possibilities of this rocky trip to the shores. There is very little coherence, but this is where the film is at the height of it’s powers, as the often whiplash inducing shakey-cam captures the thrilling chaos and the silly set-pieces in equal measure. Darkly comedic and outrageously stupid, at times the concept clicked into place and captured the magic that Shyamalan is capable of.

It is this push for conceptual creativity that holds the film back just as much as it propels it, as plot direction takes precedence over depth and substance. Patchy doesn’t quite cover the expositional superficiality of the script. In an opening scene which mentioned ‘living in the moment’ and ‘enjoying youth’ a lot more than necessary – I could actually hear Mr Shyamalan screaming through the screen “have you got it yet? They are about to get Old!”

Particularly in the film’s final 15 minutes, where the screenplay crashes back to land with a bump – a studio driven, expositional ending of nightmares, which is probably the most horrific part of the whole thing. Old would’ve benefited endlessly if it tapped into the psyche of the experience – as the obsessive fixation on concept and plot see’s the weak dialogue get washed away in the sand.

 

Where the screenplay truly shines is on the surface. Go deeper into the waters of the writing and you’ll find there’s very little but coral and sand. Pushing the concept as far as the runtime will allow – it seems that Shyamalan is beginning to make his name as the fast-food Christopher Nolan. He takes the idea, extracts all the silliness and story he can find, ditching the style and substance in the process.

It simply succeeds as mindless fun. With more plot holes than grains of sand on the beach and moments that tiptoe into pastiche – we are welcomed into a world that is as paradoxical as it is parody. But, for the most part it stays on the right side of the shore, as many moments on the heat-soaked beach truly shine.

Forget McConaissance, it’s time for the Shyamasurgence – a true rejuvenation of original, silly big-screen entertainment. Perhaps the most typically Shyamalan film of all – the good, the bad and the cameo.

As Shyamalan as it gets – for better and for worse. Whose up for some dumb fun in the sun?

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‘UNDER THE GREY SKY’ Review | A Harrowing Tale of Courage and Resistance

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Under The Grey Sky
Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich as Lena in 'Under The Grey Sky' (Photo Credit: LOCO Films)

Over the years, we have seen a surge in movies that depict the political unrest around us. Earlier this year, we saw Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’ making viewers think about what the future might look like for us. Movies like ‘Civil War’ not only focus on how a regime can be so cruel to its people but they also shed light on how some people pay the price of exposing the government’s dirty schemes. One such person is Katsyaryna Andreeva, a Belarusian journalist, who was put behind bars for covering a protest against the corrupt Belarus government. She was labeled as a traitor by her government and sent to prison. Her inspiring, yet troubling story is masterfully captured in Mara Tamkovich’s debut feature film UNDER THE GREY SKY.

The film opens with Lena (Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich), an intrepid journalist, fearlessly livestreaming the brutal crackdown of a protest against the 2020 Belarusian election results. Her commitment to exposing the truth sets the stage for the intense drama that follows. The protest, which quickly turns violent, is captured in stark detail, showcasing the bravery of those who stand against tyranny. However, Lena’s defiance comes at a steep price; she is swiftly arrested, thrusting her husband, Ilya (Valentin Novopolskij), into a harrowing ordeal. Faced with relentless police raids and the grim possibility of Lena’s long-term imprisonment, Ilya is caught in a moral and emotional predicament. He must decide whether to continue supporting Lena’s cause or to seek a more secure path for himself. On the other hand, Lena is being forced to give a bogus confession and fight her inner demons to navigate through one of the darkest phases of her life. Her unwavering resolve becomes a focal point of the narrative, illustrating the resilience required to withstand oppressive regimes.

It is a poignant exploration of the intersection between technology and political activism in the 21st century. The film underscores how tools like the internet, drones, and social media have become essential in documenting human rights abuses and rallying global support. On the other hand, Tamkovich’s direction is unflinching in its depiction of state-sponsored violence, offering a visceral portrayal of the lengths to which authoritarian regimes will go to maintain control. Cinematographer Krzysztof Trela’s work is particularly noteworthy, as he skillfully captures the oppressive atmosphere of modern-day Belarus. The film’s muted color palette and claustrophobic framing capture the essence of the dark reality faced by those living under autocratic rule.

Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich delivers a riveting performance as Lena, capturing the journalist’s tenacity and vulnerability with remarkable depth. Her portrayal is both raw and nuanced, conveying the inner strength required to confront an inviolable enemy. Meanwhile, Valentin Novopolskij as Ilya is as brilliant as Aliaksandra. The chemistry between Vaitsekhovich and Novopolskij lends authenticity to the couple’s struggle, and making it a compelling viewing experience.

Overall, Mara Tamkovich’s directorial debut UNDER THE GREY SKY is a harrowing tale of political repression. Tamkovich’s narrative is an unflinching look at the personal sacrifices demanded by political activism. The movie’s tension is palpable, capturing the oppressive atmosphere through gritty, immersive cinematography. The film is an inspiring testament to the enduring fight for justice.

Under The Grey Sky premiered at this year’s TRIBECA FESTIVAL.

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Twisters: A Swooping Storm of Entertainment

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Twisters [credit: Warner Bros/Universal Pictures]

Twisters was on a lot of people’s most anticipated lists for the year, and rightly so given the cast and crew involved. We don’t see a lot of big-budget disaster movies in mainstream Hollywood these days. So the idea of a modern reboot of Twister although slightly strange and sudden, seemed like a breath of fresh air in this world of superhero flicks and silly action comedies. Everything about the project says that the studio was dead serious about this one and was going all in.

 

Universal’s modern adaptation of the classic is helmed by Lee Isaac-Chung and co-produced by Steven Speilberg. It has a story by Top Gun: Maverick helmer Joseph Kosinski and an ensemble cast that includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, David Corenswet, Sasha Lane, Maura Tierney, Kiernan Shipka, Daryl McCormack, Katy O’Brian, Brandon Perea among others. Basically, every young star that has the potential to be a movie star is in this movie.

 

The movie opens with a long action sequence, where we get introduced to some of the characters including Daisy Edgar-Jones. This tornado sequence sets the tone and expectations for what’s to come. It tries to start off with a bang, but it is a little rocky at the beginning and takes a lot of formulaic tropes. Someone who has seen a lot of blockbuster action movies or disaster movies would almost start to get worried in the first 20 minutes because some of the scenes feel half-backed and lackluster. But once Daisy’s co-lead is introduced, that’s when the movie really gets going.

 

Of course, I’m talking about a little-known actor called Glen Powell. His screen presence is arguably as strong as anyone in the industry right now. He plays a “tornado wrangler’ named Tyler Owens, and his character is as badass as his name. But most importantly, he brings a much-needed injection of energy into the screenplay. Then we go into some exposition and the story goes a lot deeper than one would expect. The characters are well-built and the viewer really starts caring about each one of them.

Twisters [credit: Warner Bros./Universal Pictures]

The movie is shot with 35mm, which works perfectly for the landscape that Isaac-Chung is trying to capture. This is just his second directorial and his first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and it shows in his style as he opts to play it safe. he rarely takes big swings or shows ambition in some sequences. Most of the action sequences are thrilling and the tornadoes keep you on the edge of your seat. The visual effect work is also commendable and justifies the massive budget.

 

While the story is effective, the screenplay can be a little up and down at times, mostly in the first half. Another negative is the music choices. While the sound design is splendid, the score and the song choices are not so much. Some of the songs that played in the background were extremely distracting and did not fit at all. The movie also underdelivers on its own standards of brutality that it sets very early on. It also lacks a bit of warmth and is a little lightweight on humor.

 

Twisters succeeds at being a fun, thrilling blockbuster cinematic experience anchored by a magnetic Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The visual aesthetic is on point and tornado sequences make you feel like you’re right in the eye of the chaos. The cast is charming and the characters are treated with care. It may lack warmth and ambition, but it makes sure to entertain you and makes for an exciting summer blockbuster. Definitely worth an IMAX watch.

Twisters will be released in cinemas on July 19.

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‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ Review (TRIBECA) | A Brilliant Fusion of Comedy and Social Commentary

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Julia Aks
Julia Aks in a still from 'Jane Austen's Period Drama' (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

We are in 2024 and sadly, the subject of periods or menstruation is still considered to be taboo in several cultures and societies. In cinema, we have seen a lot of titles talking about the issue with great sensitivity. However, none has been so effective and powerful as Julia Aks and Steve Pinder’s Jane Austen’s Period Drama. The short film, which is set against the backdrop of Georgian England, starts with a joyous moment of Miss Estrogenia receiving her much-awaited marriage proposal. However, things go upside down when she realizes that her period has arrived and her dress is drenched with blood. Upon seeing the blood, Mr Dickley takes Estrogenia to her home and calls for a doctor. Although Estrogenia has decided to tell Dickley about menstruation, her mother stops her from doing that because she feels that Mr. Dickley would drop the idea of marrying her daughter.

The movie’s narrative is clever, and witty, and intertwines traditional themes of love, social status, and marriage with contemporary issues of feminity and bodily autonomy. The unique mixture of both these elements creates a distinctive storyline that feels timeless and relevant at the same time. In this narrative, the unexpected period serves as a metaphor for the often unspoken aspects of womanhood that clash with societal expectations of decorum and propriety. This bold narrative allows viewers to be a part of Estrogenia’s life and how she navigates the balance between honesty and societal pressures.

Jane Austen Period Drama

A still from ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

The writing is quirky, yet thought-provoking and explores the subject with sensitivity. The direction by Steve Pinder and Julia Aks is skillful, balancing the film’s comedic elements with its more serious undertones. Another aspect that makes the film such a brilliant watch is its cinematography. The cinematography captures the elegance of the 18th-century setting and opulent interiors that take viewers to a time when things were pretty different. The costumes and period-accurate set designs enhance the movie’s authenticity. Acting-wise. Julia Aks steals the show with a mesmerizing performance. Her performance enhances the viewing experience, giving viewers a glimpse of her impeccable talent. Meanwhile, the supporting cast delivers strong performances, adding richness and complexity to the story. The dynamics between characters are well-developed, with each interaction contributing to the overall narrative.

Overall, Jane Austen’s Period Drama is a brilliant and charming take on the genre of period drama. The film masterfully combines humor, thought-provoking storylines, and heart most extraordinarily. Additionally, the film does occasionally lean into modern sensibilities but never forgets its true destination. Solid performances, engaging script, and beautiful cinematography make this film a must-watch for everyone who loves literature and contemporary comedy.

Jane Austen’s Period Drama had its premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

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