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Vivarium: An Intriguing Movie With An Exceptional Set-up

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Near enough.
And far enough.
Just the right distance.

 

During this Corona crisis, watching a movie was an impossible task for me. Let alone that I could write down a sensible word to form an opinion. But now three weeks later, the urge to watch a movie once again came back. And I could focus on the movie without my mind wandering off to some disaster scenarios. Apparently, my doom thinking disappeared. And hurray. Even the traditional formulation of an opinion was possible again. Only the choice of film was a bit unfortunate. “Vivarium” isn’t exactly a movie that’ll make you happy. It has many similarities with the situation people in the world are in today. Isolated and tied to one specific living space. No contact with others. And a feeling of powerlessness, fear, and despair. However, it’s not a deadly virus why Gemma (ImogenGreen RoomPoots) and Tom (JesseThe Social NetworkEisenberg) are in this situation.

 

Vivarium

It looks like a painting by Magritte.

Let me warn you first. “Vivarium” isn’t exactly an everyday film. It’s very confusing and probably boring to some. Not only because of the painfully slow pace. But also because of the repetitive character of the film. And mainly, because of the completely surreal and absurd theme of this film. To be honest, from the start I had the feeling that I was looking at a surreal painting by Margritte. Those artificial, unnatural looking perfect clouds against a clear blue sky. The identical row houses in a distasteful green color. Everything looks artificial and unreal. As insignificant and abstract as the name of the neighborhood itself: “Yonder”.

 

Vivarium

How do we get out of here?

Gemma and Tom, a young couple that wants to settle down and are looking for an affordable home, end up at a real estate agency one day. The eerie-sounding and unworldly-reacting real estate agent invites them to visit a house in a suburb that’s just been built. At first sight a well-kept neighborhood. But at the same time a frightening neighborhood where all houses and gardens look identical. While Gemma and Tom visit the house, with house number 9, they’ve actually made a decision already. While viewing the nursery, bright blue and therefore already intended as a boys’ room, they suddenly realize that the real estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) has vanished into thin air. And after a while they discover that they’re not getting out of this maze of identical houses in any way. They have to accept that they are forever trapped in this artificial world.

 

Vivarium

What an annoying and strange little boy.

From then on, “Vivarium” becomes an uncomfortable film. As a viewer, you feel the despair and watch the youthful and lively couple evolve into an apathetic and indifferent duo whose daily routine consists of eating tasteless astronaut food and caring for a bizarre child. They found the boy at their front door in a cardboard box. Raising this child would be an opportunity to escape, as the message reads on the box. Only this toddler creates a conflict between Gemma and Tom. Not only does the boy’s behavior create tension. Their relationship with this strange little boy is also different. The little fellow seems to be not of this world, as well. His growth pattern isn’t normal. His behavior and way of communicating (he speaks with the voice of Gemma and Tom) are both absurd and annoying. The psychotic shouting until he gets his way would make me go ballistic for sure. And that’s how Tom responds. While Gemma, as a kindergarten teacher, creates a stronger bond with the nasty little boy, Tom reacts hostile and turns to digging a bottomless pit. Probably to find a way out.

 

Vivarium

I thought it was a captivating movie.

Don’t expect a conclusive explanation at the end of the movie. To be honest, there were as many open questions at the end of the movie as there were at the beginning. The final message was not really clear to me. Is it about the colorless and monotonous, routine life that some of us lead? Is it an indictment of our modernist and materialistic society? Or a satirical view of that society? Or are aliens using humanity to breed their species in an infinite cycle? Like the cuckoo at the beginning. Maybe I expected a little more. But in the end I thought “Vivarium” was an intriguing movie with an exceptional set-up, kind of unusual images and yet some admirable acting. In particular Imogen Poots left a lasting impression. However, I fear that not everyone will share the same opinion.

 

My rating 6/10
Links: IMDB

Drama

Quien a Hierro Mata: This Is Not A Fast Paced Action Hollywood Film

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One harsh word or lack of respect for my father,
and I come here and raise hell.

 

Revenge movies. Nothing’s more fun than watching a blood-curdling film in which a victim, who has been beaten to a pulp or almost tortured to death, resurrects and ruthlessly and cruelly takes revenge on his or her assailants. Revenge films come in different variations and gradations. The only similarity they have is that those who are the cause of all the misery generally get the short end of the stick (except in “Eden Lake”). Revenge films have been in circulation for a long time and yet form a tasteful subgenre. Who remembers “The Toxic Avenger”? A hilarious and bloody film in which a nerd, constantly being bullied by local kids, mutates into a nasty chemical creature that takes revenge in a violent way. Or the controversial film “I Spit on Your Grave“? “Revenge“, “Hard Candy” and “John Wick“? The line is big and always has one outcome: mutilated perpetrator(s) and a victim who leaves the past behind with his/her head held high and determinedly faces a new, carefree future.

 

Quien a hierro mata

 

An avenging angel.

In “Quien a Hierro Mata” (aka “Eye For an Eye”), the protagonist Mario (Louis Tosar) cannot completely let go of the past. Images from that period haunt his mind and everything indicates that this nurse at a senior care facility can never settle for the injustice done to his family. The seemingly calm and easy-going caretaker nevertheless has a bright future ahead of him. His wife Julia (María Vázquez) is pregnant with their first child. Nothing seems to get in the way of happiness. Until one day Antonio Padin (Xan Cejudo), the notorious head of a drug cartel, has decided to exchange prison life for a stay in the retirement home where Mario is employed. Antonio Padin suffers from a terminal illness that slowly paralyzes him. And apparently, the relationship between him and his two sons Toño (Ismael Martinez) and Kike (Enric Auquer) is so sour that he opts for the retirement home rather than waiting for his end at home. By coincidence, there’s a link between Mario and this deteriorating old man that causes Mario to slowly transform from a good-natured person into an avenging angel with a dark plan.

 

Quien a hierro mata

 

Be warned. It’s a slow-burner.

Let me immediately warn the action movie fetishists. This is not a Hollywood film in which the action scenes follow each other at a shockingly fast pace. The film is a real slow-burner, with some violent scenes here and there in the first half. Just to demonstrate that the Padin family aren’t only hard-working entrepreneurs, operating a thriving crab-industry with associated culinary establishments. You’ll see that the traps on their fishing boats can also be used for other purposes. And when the two brothers visit their father in the retirement home, just to report to him about their future plans with Chinese customers, they make sure everybody knows that they are untouchable and feared individuals. Kike in particular is an annoying guy with a short fuse who, even without hesitation, questions his father’s mental health and treats him disrespectfully.

 

Quien a hierro mata

 

Dark and gripping.

Quien a Hierro Mata” is a dark and gripping thriller that excels thanks to its raw realism and the way in which various actors portray it. All credit to Louis Tosar for showing in a solid way how a tragic past (shown through a whole lot of flashbacks) determines how he judges over certain actions. The imposing beard hides every emotion. His character immediately reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in “You were never really here”. The ius talionis principle that he applies here (hence the film title) is what makes this film more unique compared to other revenge films. This vigilante ensures that the perpetrator undergoes the same treatment under the same circumstances. Let’s put the make-up department in the spotlight as well. Because, the way Antonio is slowly changing looks terrifying. I was just wondering if Antonio Padin noticed what was happening to him.

 

Quien a hierro mata

 

Worthwhile to give it a try.

I admit it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Spanish-language films several times already. After “Aterrados” and “El Hoyo” I also thought this was a successful film. Certainly not a disappointment, after I started watching it on Netflix without any prior knowledge. First of all, you think this is an average revenge movie with the same known storyline. But this soon changes due to the sudden twist and the shocking denouement. It’s wonderful to see how they’ve managed to change the tone of this film from ordinary to moderately chaotic aggressive. The film shows how deep-seated hatred can change a person. It’s not an exceptional film, but it’s relentless and definitely worth watching. I was just wondering one thing. How is it that this retirement home didn’t simply refuse the admission of a known and feared drug lord?

“Quien a Hierro Mata” is now available on Netflix

 

 

My rating 7/10
Links: IMDB

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Drama

The Way Back: Thanks To Ben Affleck This Movie Effortlessly Exceeds The Average

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I’m surprised you could keep him out of the bar
long enough to hold practice.

 

There are lots of similar sports movies like “The Way Back“. Moralistic stories about how a trainer manages to bring a floundering team to unprecedented heights. Preferably, the team consists of a few foul-mouthed hotheads who want to impress the others by acting tough. Usually, they have a talent for the sport they practice, but lack of discipline makes them miss constancy. To the annoyance of the appointed coach at that moment. Of course, they are allergic to any type of authoritarian behavior. Until the new coach comes up. Preferably an old sports star who can look back on a successful sports career and who comes to the rescue by using clever pedagogical techniques. First of all, he gives each of the team members a figurative kick in the butt. Suspends the most rebellious pain in the ass (who of course comes back crawling to ask if he can be re-included in the team because the sport is vital for him). Then the grueling training sessions begin in such a way that this bunch of misfits finally starts winning games and slowly propel them to stardom. You saw it in “Coach Carter”, “Slap Shot” and to a lesser extent in “Major League”. “The Way Back” follows this same scenario. Only here the coach is also struggling with his personal demons.

 

The Way Back

 

You’ll always find a reason to start drinking.

I’m not a real Ben Affleck fan. Not that I think he’s a bad actor. Maybe the movie choices he made were a bit unfortunate. With “Daredevil” as the most terrible career choice, in my opinion. But here Affleck shows that he does have acting talent. Perhaps personal life experiences are the reason why he was able to empathize with the role of coach Jack easily. A tormented person who lost everything after a tragic event and sought refuge in drinking. Something Affleck has experience with since he has already admired the inside of a rehabilitation center several times. Probably because of this that the scenes during which he carelessly drinks, look so realistic. As well as the way he behaves when he’s not in a bar. The manipulation, the sneaking around, and the search for excuses. Typical behavior of an addict trying to hide his weakness. “The Way Back” tries to portray this addiction meticulously. If you see the umpteenth beercan disappear from the fridge while a spare one is already put in the freezer to stay cold, you as a viewer know that Jack is not a social drinker but a problem drinker with a fixed routine.

 

The Way Back

 

Impressive acting in a not so impressive movie.

Like many other film productions, “The Way Back” has been disadvantaged by the Corona pandemic. Had the original release date not been shifted from late 2019 to March this year, the damage would have been limited. Hence Warner Bross’s decision to release this movie directly on various platforms such as iTunes and Prime video among others. Now, I myself don’t consider it a requirement to watch “The way back” in a cinema. Apart from the admirable acting of Affleck, this film is nothing more than an average film that doesn’t impress in terms of originality. It seems as if a pre-printed checklist has been used for this type of film. A group of young people with a wrong attitude and who, as a basketball team, wallows in the role of the underdog. Check! Ex basketball player whose life is in a downward spiral. Check! Miraculous revival of the despised basketball team. Check! Family tragedy that ruined the coach’s life. Check! Obviously a relapse happens. Check! Once again a miraculous resurgence leading to a happy ending. Check! It feels like a three-pointer every time a check is placed on this list.

 

The Way Back

 

Give it a try.

In short. The film won’t win a prize in the category of originality. The already well-trodden paths of previously released sports dramas are followed too carefully. But what Ben Affleck demonstrates here (and I know I’m repeating myself) makes that this movie effortlessly exceeds the average. Only the way and period in which he defeated his demons, felt romanticized. And finally, you should not confuse this film with the 2010 film of the same name about a Polish prisoner who could escape from a Russian gulag with some fellow sufferers. The only similarity the Ben Affleck film has with the latter is that the road followed by the group of young people is also full of obstacles. And giving up is also not an option. So if you run into it anywhere on a VOD channel, give it a try. It’s not really a waste of time.

 

 

My rating 7/10
Links: IMDB

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HORROR

Z: Its Presence Is Clearly Felt In Every Dark Grim Scene

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ZZ likes it dark.

 

Movies with creepy little boys. With “Z” you also have the feeling you are getting yet another horror in which such a demonic boy is in command. Only recently I saw “The Prodigy” where the son of the house slowly develops a deviating pattern of behavior. That movie was about reincarnation. In “Z” it’s about having an imaginary friend. When Joshua Parsons (Jett Klyne) introduces his friend “Z” to his parents, they don’t really worry at first. They think it’s probably just a phase their kid has to struggle through. They even think it’s cute, in a certain way. Until suddenly school friends don’t want anything to do with Josh anymore, Elizabeth (Keegan Connor Tracy) becomes aware of strange things and finally, Joshua is also suspended from school because of intolerable behavior. At that moment, Elizabeth starts to realize that this imaginary friend has a tremendous influence on her sweet son.

 

Z

 

Just an ordinary horror, I thought.

Until halfway through the film it seems like an ordinary average horror. Including, something terrible happening to one of Joshua’s school friends (with or without Z’s collaboration) and Joshua revealing a horrible drawing in his bedroom. Believe me. Draw a black top hat on the head of this scary creature and you have the twin brother of “The Babadook” in front of you. Now is the time for Elizabeth to sound the alarm, while dad Kevin (Sean Rogerson) is still in a phase of denial and suffers from utter blindness, and get in touch with psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) to present the problem. The well-known tricks from the horror genre are being used in “Z” of course. So again the shady spots with scary sounds. Toys that come to life. And nocturnal wanderings through the semi-darkness (while every sensible person would turn on the light anyway) with a few jump-scares as a result. Even a creepy bath scene couldn’t fail to come.

 

Z

 

Hey, it turns out to be completely something different.

And yet the film cleverly changes the mood and shifts the focus from a scary invisible friend to a long-forgotten childhood trauma that set the whole mechanism in motion. And before you realize it, the creepy horror story has given way to a sort of psychological thriller. From here, Joshua is no longer central, but the story focuses on Elizabeth. And frankly, the way Keegan Connor Tracy gives shape to this character was of exceptionally high level. An obviously confused person who slowly but surely sinks further into complete madness as a tormented soul. The father’s character contrasts sharply with that of his family members. In the end, I found it a meaningless person and quite implausible as a father figure. On the one hand, he said nothing about the red notes from school that exposed Joshua’s misconduct. On the other hand, he’s blind with anger when hearing that his son has been prescribed medication without his knowledge. Ah, as always in horror movies, it’s usually the fathers who navigate through the story carefree and never notice anything suspicious. It’s usually the mother figure who experiences strange sensations and concludes that disaster is imminent.

 

Z

 

It’s not such a scary movie.

I can’t say the film “Z” was really scary. Maybe deliberately not depicting the phenomenon “Z” explicitly, does cause some tension. A cleverly applied gimmick so the viewer’s imagination has to do most of the work (with a terrifying wall drawing as inspiration). Ultimately, it’s mainly the mood that’s essential in this film. In hindsight, the film covers different topics. Youthful growing pains and parental concerns. Nightmarish phantoms and unresolved trauma. As a parent, you expect your offspring to inherit some of your character traits or personal qualities. However, in “Z” this legacy is not something you’d expect. And even though this delusion isn’t excessively visualized here, its presence is clearly felt in every dark, grim scene.

 

 

My rating 6/10
Links: IMDB

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