VIFF2022: ‘Holy Spider’ Review

Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider is a masterfully crafted valuable film detailing the violent nature of the patriarchy.

Courtesy of Wild Bunch

8/10

It’s important to know as much about the world that we inhabit. We’ve convinced ourselves through years of being force-fed individualism that we should only care about what happens to us individually. It’s a culture that you find a lot of in the United States and some of the Western World. Why care about what happens in countries that you have nothing to do with? The answer is really simple. We are one collective of human beings and attacks on others should be met with solidarity because when the time comes who will be there to help us? At the moment, Iran is going through a social revolution after the murder of 16-year-old, Masa Amini. Denmark’s official submission for Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards, Holy Spider, is not based on these recent events but it offers a different lens at the violence caused by the patriarchy. I was already interested in this film since I make it a mission to watch as many submissions for this category as I can. Well, it’s safe to say that I have watched one of my favorite movies of this year.

Directed by Ali Abbasi (Border, Shelley) and written by Abbasi along with Afshin Kamran Bahrami. The film stars Zar Amir-Ebrahimi (The Survivors, Tehran Taboo), Mehdi Bajestani (These are the Things You Don’t Know), Arash Ashtiani (Only Sound Remains, The Tunnel), Forouzan Jamshidnejad (Miltra), and Sina Parvaneh (The Interpreter, Nocturnes). The film has been picking up a notable amount of steam since its premiere at Cannes where Amir-Ebrahimi took home the Best Actress award. The film received walkouts over the graphic nature of its sexual violence. One would think that this is a Lars Von Trier film after hearing about such acts. Yet the graphic nature is just as important as the tame parts of the film. You must not look away from the reality of the world Holy Spider is in.

The film follows a journalist who is trying to uncover the truth about Saeed Hanaei nicknamed the “Spider Killer” who is responsible for the murders of sex workers during the early 2000s. The acts happen inside Mashhad, the second most populated city in Iran. Throughout the film, we follow both perspectives of Rahimi and Hanaei as the thriller continues to uncover the truth behind the serial killer’s despicable actions. An important commentary on society that makes sure that its audience doesn’t look away.

Ali Abbasi’s film is one of the best I’ve seen this year. It’s woven together by a plot that you can’t look away from. The film’s tight visual language creates a tense atmosphere that the picture follows until the closing credits. It is Zar Amir-Ebrahimi and Mehdi Bajestani’s performances that stand out from the rest, providing some of the best actings this year alone. Hanaei’s motives are laid out and the corruption of the system is on full display. Yet the film reminds us that violent and oppressive governments will always work in their own interests. Holy Spider provides the necessary mirror to its intended audience and points it towards them to dissect how people like Hanaei can be bred in the underbelly of their society.

Watch Holy Spider during its continued festival run.

‘The Woman King’ Review

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic historical drama shines bright with fierce direction and stellar performances.

CREDIT: Sony Pictures

7.5/10

The days of epic historical dramas have truly come and gone. From early Hollywood classics like Ben-Hur to contemporary epics like the Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a genre that used to dominate the cultural zeitgeist and the box office prominently. Consumer patterns started to switch past it when the age of the superhero movie began to take shape, and a once-grand successful genre became rare on the silver screen. Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel even though a masterfully crafted film, bombed at the box office causing us to evaluate whether historical epics will ever be successful in this modern landscape of Hollywood. Maybe it’s the oversaturation of Western and Northern European-focused historical films that have turned off audiences. That’s where Gina Prince-Bythewood’s newest film, The Woman King, comes into play and reinvigorates a once dominating genre.

The Woman King’s script is written by Dana Stevens from contributions via the story by Stevens and Maria Bello. The film stars Viola Davis (Fences, Widows), Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad), Lashana Lynch (No Time To Die, Captain Marvel), Sheila Atim (Bruised, The Underground Railroad), and John Boyega (Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Force Awakens, Attack the Block). Gina Prince-Bythewood directs the film after her Netflix superhero film, The Old Guard. The Woman King made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and has since been playing in cinemas worldwide. The film is well on its way to making its 50 million dollar budget back at the box office at the moment.

The Woman King concentrates on the Agojie, an all-woman warrior unit responsible for protecting The Dahomey Kingdom in West Africa during the 17th to 19th centuries. The Dahomey Kingdom is led by King Ghezo (John Boyega) in 1823 who is looking to expand his kingdom but is met with challenges by The Oyo Empire and their roles in The African Slave Trade with the Portuguese as described within the film. Nanisca (Viola Davis), the general of the Agojie and responsible for training the next generations of warriors as impending war looms over them. The Agojie takes in a young woman who refuses to marry abusive men picked by her father, with who Nanisca may have a close history. The plot revolves around the historical atmosphere of this incoming war, honor, love, and the sacrifices women must make to satisfy power dynamics.

Wrapped in its fierce direction, stellar cinematography, and monumental performances, The Woman King, is a grand achievement from Gina Prince-Blythewood and her extraordinary team. Viola Davis steals the show with one of her best performances along with her counterparts Thosu Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega. The atmosphere and locale of The Kingdom of Dahomey are one of exquisite production design, sets, and rich costuming that is bound for Academy Award consideration. It is from the get-go that you are invested in this story and I found myself falling more in love with the aura of Prince-Blythewood’s picture. It feels like the epic it deserves to be with the help of some of the best-looking fight sequences I have seen this year. The Woman King is brutal jaw-dropping cinema that cements itself as one of the best films of this year. I eagerly anticipate the many nominations that will follow this marvelous piece of art. Polly Morgan’s cinematography paired with one of the best scores of the year by Terence Blanchard creates an environment like no other.

The film meanders a bit during its second act, but it recuperates with a masterful and emotional third act. There are not a lot of things to fault the film for other than its pace. It’s a film worthy of your trip to the nearest cinema to watch. I hope for nothing but success for this film once awards season starts to ramp up!

Bodies, Bodies, Bodies; A Detailed Review

Potential Spoilers Ahead. Score 8/10

TBH. YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS, ARE LIKE, SO TOXIC…

If you’re an A24 fanatic you probably saw all eight films currently released in 2022. The one you may recognize the most, and most talked about on the world wide web, would probably be Everything Everywhere All at Once. Of course, they also released Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Men, X, After Yang, and are planning to release many more by the time this article was written. All of which have hit home with majority of the audience that went to go view them.

In addition, Bodies Bodies Bodies is their latest release while also being the latest thriller they produced this year (Men). This film is not what you’d expect from a thriller to finish with, then again this is A24 we’re talking about. Bodies Bodies Bodies plays out like any other thriller/ horror film; it has a group of young adults hanging out in a location that will have zero contact to the outside world for the night due to weather, ultimately beginning with one of the members dying then the others follow only leaving 1 or 2 survivors by morning time.

OVERVIEW

Now, this film has a great cast including Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennot, Chase Sui Wonders, Myha’la Herrolds, Lee Pace, and Pete Davidson. They each bring their character to life for a film that adds a little millennial pizzaz and comedy to the mix ultimately paying off throughout the story and its climactic end of the film. If you’re like me, whenever you watch a film with ties to a murder mystery, you try your best to put the clues together before the end of the film. All I can say without spoiling is, this film throws you for a loop and if you’re a good detective it will leave you baffled by the end of it. Yet the film makes sure that it all makes sense. It’s a good murder mystery of sorts and although the pacing seemed a bit slowed and rushed at the same time in places, it has a nice flare that not a lot of other thrillers have. Let alone it also helped with its surprised twist ending. It was ultimately a nice watch for a Friday night, but kind of left me like “man… that’s it? They [the characters] had issues issues.” I still would say you should watch if you got an hour and 30 mins to spare; Bodies Bodies Bodies is a solid thriller/comedy nonetheless.

Bodies Bodies Bodies trailer provided by A24 on YouTube.

review

Like I mentioned, there’s good and there’s bad about this film. So to be fair, I’ll add the bad first as it’s fewer remarks than the good.

On the bad side, I do believe the pacing is a bit off leaving me feel like it went longer than its run time. It’s not entirely its fault, due to the film never completely revealing the big bad until the reveal at the end. It definitely left me feeling like the film was slow at times.

In addition to the pacing, I’m not saying the ending was bad since looking back at it, it’s not a bad reveal at all especially with how everything was said and done throughout the film, but definitely after the film I was internally asking myself “that’s it?” Even the group I went with agreed that the end of the film left us lowkey wanting more from it, but I have to say I love the switch from the classic one of the friends had a gripe against the group trope. Instead we see that honestly, this friend group (like a lot of friend groups I saw growing up and still see now) had issues and ultimately didn’t even like the people around them. Showing that with the way we millennials and Gen Z go about ways definitely adds bonus points to the thriller elements!

Now on the other hand, the film is definitely an A24 film as they tend to produce movies outside the box, sometimes a little TOO out of the box but honestly make for great watches. This film’s use of comedy and modern day jokes help it set the tone all around, especially poking fun at itself since the actors on the roster are of millennial age and probably also deal with similar scenarios or use some of these words or phrases. Nonetheless it’s a fun gag throughout the story, and having people like Pete Davidson add a little of their personalities into the character makes it all the better..

Davidson isn’t the only one that adds fun flares throughout the film. The other girls also add great fun and do an amazing job at showcasing mental health, people with serious problematic tendencies, and why some people may do the things they do.

I honestly enjoyed the film and although I see problems in certain things, it’s not enough to not recommend it to others who have yet watched it. So don’t just take my word for it, definitely have a peep at it. It’s only been out around a week or more since this article was published, so if you’re looking for your next weekend watch I’d recommend Bodies Bodies Bodies if you’re feeling a little twist murder mystery. Till next time, please, don’t silence me when I’m trying to speak.

Bullet Train; A Detailed Review

Potential Spoilers Ahead. Score 10/10

TODAY’S NOT HIS DAY; HE JUST WANTS HIS SUITCASE MAN!

With all types of films being released in the last two years since the pandemic’s quarantine period, we’ve received various genres of movies on streaming or in the theaters. While in the year 2022, I personally believe Everything Everywhere All At Once is the best to come of this year, it has also given us numerous blockbusters and Bullet Train is my second-place contender so far.

Brad Pitt has said he may or may not be retiring from the acting business soon, but he couldn’t leave 2022 without giving us an incredible film, of course with the help of his co-stars. Honestly, when I tell you the abbreviation for LOL is an understatement!

Overview

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was wishing August arrived earlier, as it just seemed like a blast to watch and all just from the trailer alone. I was expecting an action comedy, having it filled with little silly jokes here and there as well as cool enough action, but when I tell you I was surprised by the amount times this movie hit my funny bone. If you can imagine a story filled with lore (which may come from the actual book this was based on) and a fight sequence in Deadpool mixed with the jokes of your favorite stand-up comedy show you’d get Bullet Train. Brad Pitt does amazing as the lead but I have to be honest my favorite parts of the film had to be Brian Tyree Henry as “Lemon” and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “Tangerine.” Ultimately, this film had an ensemble cast that all had great chemistry for its comedy, otherwise, it could have been a film solely being sold to us because of who was in it. It’s my favorite pick for the month and I highly recommend it solely for its comedy. If you haven’t seen it yet then seek this film out!

From left; Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Source provided by Sony Pictures.

review

As I mentioned, this film has a variety of well-known names such as Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joey King, Sandra Bullock, Logan Lerman, Michael Shannon, Zazie Beetz, Karen Fukuhara, Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio (Bad Bunny), and many other familiar faces as surprise guests.

Usually, when you have such big names together in one film it could either make or break a movie, but in the case of Bullet Train, it really does make the film all that better, at least in my filmmaking opinion.

I wish I can write a 5-page essay about all of them but to save us some time I’ll talk about the important stuff. Seeing Brad Pitt do action and hearing his joke delivery really brings you to know a new Pitt compared to his earlier works in his career. He shows a side of him that I don’t believe we’ve seen yet like his comedic side. Not to forget to mention the quirky interaction between the twins that are Lemon and Tangerine. The chemistry between Henry and Johnson really feels like a sibling dynamic, and honestly, it reminded me of times I’ve called out my siblings for the dumb decisions they’ve made. In addition, we’ve growingly seen the range both Henry and Johnson have shown in other genres, and having Henry show more of his comedic side on the big screen really ties everything that is unhinged about this film together.

King, Shannon, Sanada, and Koji also share great work together in Bullet Train. Knowing the latter two have dealt with more serious roles, it’s nice to see them in this type of setting. Now, a lot of the Latino community that doesn’t go to movies but enjoys Bad Bunny’s music went to watch the film thinking that he’d be in it longer than the 5 minutes he’s in, but with all honesty, those 5 minutes served their purpose. Benito did a good job with his part even if it was a minimal role. The same goes for Shannon, Beetz, and Lerman’s performances.

I can say more things about Bullet Train but I’ll wrap it up with this. Bullet Train is a well-made action/comedy set in a relatively one-set location. It hits its marks on the action portion, as well as going above and beyond to hit its comedic punches (from my interpretation of “funny”). Brad Pitt does well, as he usually does, and the “twins” make the film all that better. I highly recommend it if you want a fun happy atmosphere movie night, but you don’t have to take my word for it, check it out for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Nope; A Detailed Review

Potential Spoiler Ahead. Score 10/10.

AS A BROWN SUPERSTITOUS MAN; AGREED, NOPE…

Jordan Peele’s newest film has finally arrived to theaters after much anticipation. We all know Peele’s films, produced or directed, always bring big buzz on the web as they are loved by fans all around the world, especially within the horror community. His last directed film was Us back in 2019, which brought out a heavy horror factor with having a evil doppelganger.

Nope is no exception, when all we were informed about when the trailer first came out was that it was alien oriented, we all collectively said “I wanna see it!”

OVERVIEW

As I mentioned, we as a collective agreed that we were going to go watch this film, and as soon as the tickets went on sale I booked my seat as well as two extra for my younger siblings. As we sat through, I genuinely felt fear before and after the film ended. A bit of that could have been since it was a midnight screening, we could not look up at the moon lit sky. I know many have already seen the film but for those who haven’t I strongly encourage you to go watch it. I recommend especially taking a friend or loved one who enjoys scary movies. Even if that person is easily scared take ’em, why not add another fear to life if it’s shot beautifully. The acting done by the entire cast is incredible, and the sibling chemistry between Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya is phenomenal to the point that I looked at my sister and said, “we have to do that hand shake when we complete things together.” Nope is definitely in my top 5 for the year, and I loved seeing and hearing it in Dolby Cinema at AMC.

Emerald Haywood ( Keke Palmer) in Nope, directed by Jordan Peel. Source; Universal Studios.

Review

Now, when we see a trailer for Peele’s movies we have to mention his choice of titles. His thing is having the title be very literal in a way relating to what the story can be about. We see it with Get Out and Us having to first deal with our main character, also played by Daniel Kaluuya, to essentially “get out” of a very horrific situation, and the second deal with the main characters’ doppelgangers or “us”.

Now Nope is basically, explained by Daniel Kaluuya on The Tonight Show, the phrase that a black person or a person of color expresses when dealing with horror scenarios. A simple spell but quite unbreakable. I can honestly say I relate with sharing that phrase when watching/experiencing supernatural or scary things in real life.

Although we know it’s directed by a good director, we also have to mention the amazing talent on screen. We already mentioned Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya, but we also get amazing performances from Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and Michael Wincott. All of these talented actors have great performances in other film roles and the first four mentioned have an amazing chemistry for comedic and suspenseful moments here. Throughout the entire film, I had a blast waiting for the beats to hit, and oh believe me do they hit, especially with the variety of its horror elements! I have to talk about the night scene in the barn when Kaluuya had to go investigate a whining horse, seeing those kids in the dark brought out a solid “NOPE” from me followed by a good “hell nah.”

I could continue talking about the best parts and indulging myself into explaining my favorite scenes or at least the ones that scared me, but this isn’t that type of article. Overall, the film does a wonderful job at exploring a horror aspect that a lot of other horror films released just seem to miss. It has comedy included and thrilling scenes but neither are too overwhelming, adding this film to Peele’s trilogy of horror. I know when it’s available on VOD, I’ll be re-watching it but in the meantime if you haven’t watched it do yourself a favor and head out to your local theater to catch a showing. If it is still available available in IMAX or Dolby Cinema, watching Nope in these formats is a must. Either way you are able to watch it, let me know what you think about the film!