The Hate U Give (2018)

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Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Country: USA

There’s a bunch of fictional films released this year, not to mention documentaries, with a focus on racial prejudice and related injustices in America. BlacKkKlansman, Sorry To Bother You, and Blindspotting are just a few examples of a big list now expanded with The Hate U Give, the new drama by African American director George Tillman Jr. (Notorious, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete).

Based on Angie Thomas’ novel of the same name and scripted by Audrey Wells, the focal point concentrates on Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old black student from the problematic Garden Heights neighborhood, who witnesses her longtime friend Khalil (Algee Smith) being shot dead next to his car, after has been pulled over by a nervous young white cop.

When she was nine, her father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), who just like every black man in that neighborhood had problems with the justice, gave her a very first lesson about how to behave in the case of a police officer tells her to pull the car over. The altercations with the King Lords, the gang that controls the neighborhood, starts when Starr mentions them on a TV interview arranged by lawyer/activist April Ofrah (Issa Rae). The latter encourages her to speak up with her own voice and denounce publicly the case.

Starr comes to the conclusion that discrimination exists even among her own people. And it's her uncle Carlos (rapper Common), a police officer, who reveals it.

Not everything clashes between black and white people and that’s a positive factor here. Starr has a courageous white boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa), who loves her with all his heart to the point of giving the first step to meet her belligerent father. On the other hand, her best friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), also white, starts acting in a provocative way after the traumatic episode. Incidentally, the scene that captures a quarrel between the two feels catastrophically artificial.

Besides didactic, the film carries the expected passion, objection, and anger to transform itself in something dramatically appealing. However, clichés in the storytelling as well as in the visual dynamics are a reality, while the surprises are few.

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Widows (2018)

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Directed by Steve McQueen
Country: USA

Widows, a tale of love and crime based on the 1983 British TV series of the same name, is undeniably the most commercial work by celebrated director Steve McQueen. By no means, this heist film is at the same level as his masterpieces Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years A Slave. However, he found intelligent ways to raise tension and let the nervousness of the unbreakable female characters penetrate our bodies.

When their criminal husbands get killed in the aftermath of an incompetent robbery in Chicago, three women - the self-assertive Veronica Rawlins (Viola Davis), clothing store owner Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez), and newly escort Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki at her very best) - are in imminent danger.

Having nothing in common apart from a life ruined by debt, they decide to join forces and steal five million grand to save their asses from incurring in further complications. The plan is not a product of their imagination, though. All the details were written in a notebook left by Veronica’s sly husband, Harris (Liam Neeson). The latter had stolen one million from Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a crime boss turned politician, who now wants to be paid by Veronica. He is running for alderman against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), also a powerful politician who’s trying to get things his own way, despite the disapproval of his authoritarian father, Tom (Robert Duvall).

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Aware of the necessity of a driver to carry out the plan accordingly, they add a fourth element to the team: beautician and part-time babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo). Even with a few unanticipated setbacks, the heist is consummated, but tranquility is still not guaranteed since villainous connections and pernicious schemes are disclosed in the final section.

Having the stellar cast putting his creative ideas into effect, Steve McQueen exalts feminine prowess in a story filled with political corruption, criminal violence, adultery, and tainted relationships. The well-founded script came from Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn.

Deftly mounted to please the crowds in obvious ways, Widows benefits from the organized structure of its storytelling and the ability to never slackening in tension or emotion. Although operating in a Hollywood-esque mode, McQueen offers the viewers consistent payoffs.

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The Wife (2018)

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Directed by Bjorn Runge
Country: Sweden / UK / other

Bjorn Runge’s The Wife is a mature, if reserved drama that evolves at a steady pace without that dramatic punch that would make it memorable. Jane Anderson (It Could Happen To You) wrote it based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, in a fair attempt to describe a few acerbic days in the life of an American couple shaded by a public lie and a mix of sacrifice, ego, and surreptitious resentment.

Joan Archer (Glenn Close) is a gifted writer discouraged by the prejudice of the editors against women. She has been dedicating all her life to her husband and former teacher, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), whose success depends exclusively on her skills. John is informed by phone that he is the new Nobel Prize in Literature. While he celebrates effusively like a child, she acts far more reserved and slightly distant, seeming a bit disturbed with the communication.

Through flashbacks, we learn the shocking truth. She was, in fact, the true author of all his novels. The narcissistic Joe becomes overwhelmed with the success, whereas Joan, devastated inside, tries to deal with the unbearable pain of living in the shadow for so many years. The couple heads to Stockholm, where the Nobel Prize ceremony takes place, accompanied by their son David (Max Irons), who also aspires to be a writer.

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Once there, things quickly become a nightmare with Joe flirting with a young photographer, and Joan being troubled by Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), an impertinent biographer who suspects she is the real talent of the household.

Despite the potentiality, this embittered love tale and domestic drama film never exploded because neither of its characters exploded when they needed and were supposed to. In a number of times, I wished the story were tempered with a bit more sarcasm. Showing some tackiness in the maneuvers, the Swedish director only gets the film flowing because of the mesmeric leading performances. Ms. Close, in particular, a six-time Academy Award-nominated actress, is irreproachable in the role of an emotionally hurt giver who refuses to play the supportive wife any longer. It is thanks to her that The Wife remains fairly acceptable.

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The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

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Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Country: USA

Taking short rides into the Wild West, the Coen brothers deliver six fabulous vignettes, equally rich in laughs, action, drama, and surrealism. All this is squeezed into their latest feature The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which portrays on the screen the sagas they keep reading in an old book. Entertaining me for more than two hours, the brothers fabricate unbelievable clashes between settlers and desperadoes in a stylistic intersection between Quentin Tarantino and John Ford.

Most of the stories have unhappy endings, including the first one and my favorite, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which features a grinning Tim Blake Nelson as a skilled pistolero, bragger, and country singer, literally turned into an angel by the ultra-fast The Kid (Willie Watson), who had recognized him as the most wanted man in the West.

The second story, Near Algodones, presents James Franco as a sly bandit who decides to rob a bank in the middle of a depopulated prairie. The plan goes wrong because the talkative bank teller (Stephen Root) was bold and surprisingly aggressive.

The saddest story is Meal Ticket, which broke my heart into pieces. It unfolds the appalling fate of Harrison (Harry Melling), a young declaimer with no arms and no legs, whose impresario (Liam Neeson) replaces him with a hen that does the math. It’s all about greed and contempt for human life.

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The following story, All Gold Canyon, is a pleasure to the eyes. An old prospector (a qualified Tom Waits) digs the soil for gold, finding his gratuity after a lot of work. However, an unscrupulous young cowboy (Sam Dillon) had sneakily followed him, waiting for the right moment to exterminate him and take the prize. Without disclosing more of this adaptation from Jack London’s short story of the same name, I must say you'll likely be smiling by the end.

The Gal Who Gets Rattled, an adaptation of the short story by Stewart Edward Wright, tackles romance between an Episcopalian young heiress, Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan), and a Methodist wagon train leader, Billy Knapp (Bill Heck), who helps her to overcome a financial imbroglio. By the end, there are furious Indian attacks and some spectacular images.

The sixth and last story of the collection, The Mortal Remains, is the most ambiguous as it carries a sort of supernatural predisposition that didn’t work so well for me.

This is cinema peppered with generally convincing acting and the superior visual sensibility of French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who had already worked with the Coens in Inside Llewyn Davis. It is original, brainy, and funny.

Zama (2018)

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Directed by Lucrecia Martel
Country: Argentina / other

Zama, a rugged yet rich period drama written and directed by Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl; The Headless Woman), offers you a smart, classy, sometimes philosophical storytelling that develops languorously. Its looks are eccentric and exotic, and there’s also a grim humor that makes it particularly attractive. Just out of curiosity, the long list of producers have included the names of Pedro Almodóvar, Gael Garcia Bernal and Danny Glover.

The film’s script, based on the novel of the same name by Argentine writer Antonio Di Benedetto, narrates the 18th-century misadventures of Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a magistrate of the Spanish Crown stationed in a remote Paraguayan town, who patiently waits for his long-promised transfer to the city of Lerma in Argentina.

The first minutes of the film attempt to elucidate for the personality of the title character, a voluptuous voyeur who doesn’t miss the chance to embark on forbidden liaisons. With no recent news about his wife and kids, who kept waiting for him in Lerma, Zama, a man of the law and pacifier of Indians, despairs with boredom.

While flirting with the seductive Luciana Piñares de Luenga (Lola Dueñas), a married yet independent woman despised by women and misunderstood by men, Zama ensures to adhere to an exemplary conduct so that the Governor acquiesces in writing a letter to the King asking for his transfer. Morose and bureaucratic, the process becomes obstructed and his expectations frustrated when a confrontational magistrate assistant, Ventura Prieto (Juan Minujín), becomes a direct rival in more than one front.

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The good times were clearly over for Zama, who falls in disgrace, becoming psychologically tormented due to the interminable waiting. Furthermore, just to complicate his miserable life, he crosses paths with Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele), a terrifying bandit with an awful reputation, who everybody thought was dead.

Mrs. Luenga made sure to announce that there is no place for elegance in that town. As compensation, there’s plenty of elegance in Ms. Martel’s ways, which enchants with a blend of sophistication and abstraction in an unimaginable crossing between Claire Denis, Manoel de Oliveira, and John Boorman. If the musical score is perhaps too soft for the incidents, then the visuals are outstandingly feverish, magnified by the contribution of Portuguese cinematographer Rui Poças (Tabu; The Ornithologist).

Filled with situations that mirror the social and racial preconception of the time, this hypnotic tale of punishment and atrocious colonialism is an engrossing experience, likely to be turned into a cult film.

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The Little Stranger (2018)

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Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Country: UK / Ireland / France

Esteemed director Lenny Abrahamson, the architect behind noteworthy films such as Garage, Frank, and Room, directed this gothic drama film from a script by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. Impeccably acted, the film boasts Ruth Wilson, Domhnall Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling in its cast, but it's governed with an unstable hand, developing inconsistently in pace and intensity.

Carrying something bizarre without never really scare, the story follows a country doctor, Faraday (Gleeson), who returns to the manor where he had been with his mother, a former maid, during the 1919 Empire Day party. Still vivid in his memory are some bitter instants of that day, but now he’s visiting as a doctor to treat the young maid Betty (Liv Hill), clearly influenced by disturbing episodes observed on the premises that nobody can explain. Faraday solves Betty’s problem, having the aristocratic Caroline Ayres (Wilson) calling him a wizard. He also meets her brother Roderick (Will Poulter), the disfigured owner of the manor and a traumatized Royal Air Force veteran, as well as their mother, Mrs. Ayres (Rampling), who admits with airy tones that the house works on people.

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Becoming a frequent presence in the house, Faraday, little by little, gets the fondness of the family members. On one hand, he offers to treat the psychologically fragile Roderick through an innovative process, on the other hand, he tries to conquer Caroline's heart, a laborious task. Soon, he detects a supernatural activity in the house, a virulent inhuman presence that Mrs. Ayres associates with the spirit of her deceased younger daughter, Suki.

I have to admit it was a bit shocking when Faraday’s intentions are disclosed. Yet, the reflexes of evil and struggle in the story were never sufficiently impactful to tantalize and satisfy. The romance and its wry twists provided us with the best moments of the film, whereas the ghost story remained sapless.

More inanimate than haunting, The Little Stranger is Abrahamson’s least interesting feature. Here, the ambiguity doesn’t work as a positive factor and not everyone will have the patience for a family tragedy that on several occasions felt apathetic and calculated. It should go down smoothly with fans of the genre, though.

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Support The Girls (2018)

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Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Country: USA

If American writer/director Andrew Bujalski had deserved my appreciation with the idiosyncratic comedy Computer Chess, then he destroyed a considerable portion of my belief in his style with Support The Girls, a misfire with some heart.

Regina Hall is Lisa Conroy, the committed, attentive, and super friendly general manager of Double Whammies, the 'sports bar with curves' ran by Cubby (James Le Gros), a thankless and erratic imbecile. The first rule to work in the bar was stipulated as ‘no drama’, but in the face of a series of difficulties, Lisa is about to burst into tears. In addition to the constant tension at work, where she does everything to protect the ‘girls’, her marital life is far from serene.

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With an undernourished plot and inefficient storytelling, Bujalski ends up portraying a reality that is poor in fascination. The stakes of the premise simply aren’t enough to carry this story, thus, the best you will get is Hall’s genuine performance, and Bobo (Lea DeLaria), a quite curious character who should have had more time to shine. And as if things weren't short enough, the film ends with an uninspired, sappy tone that feels more overwrought than liberating.

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Cold War (2018)

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Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Country: Poland / France

Cold War, the new drama from the acclaimed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, Ida), sets a painfully moving story about two musicians in love, whose relationship is curbed by the austere post-war regime of a Stalinist Poland. Bearing the stamp of a classic, the film is tinged with shades of Truffaut and enjoyable musical moments that range from local folk to jazz. The script was loosely based on the director's parents and the time frame of its narrative spans 15 years.

In 1949, while auditioning for the national ensemble, Zula (Joanna Kulig) amazes Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a talented pianist and musical director, not only with her pure voice but also with her natural beauty. They become secret lovers, engendering a plan to escape to France while in Berlin for a public performance. Wiktor actually makes his way to Paris, where he becomes a jazz musician and arranger, while the inflexible Zula deliberately misses the opportunity to join him and follow the dream.

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They reunite briefly in Yugoslavia years later, and then in Paris, time when she was already a married woman - “It didn’t count” she explains, because it wasn't made official by the church. Despite the bliss of the encounter and the productive musical collaboration, the two lovers had changed with the time, especially Wiktor, who became an inexorable businessman. In turn, Zula gets more and more insecure about their relationship. She makes the decision of going back to Poland, where they met once again in 1964 in strange circumstances. He is punished with prison for having betrayed the nation, a situation that forces her to marry the despicable Lech Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), the orchestra’s highly influential manager, who was always attracted to her.

Wrapped in deepest melancholy, Cold War has no idle or frivolous scenes since everything fits and flows under Pawlikowski's masterful direction. It is a simply told, beautifully composed piece of work in which the black-and-white cinematography by Lukasz Zal enhances the dramatic tones of a decadent and ultimately tragic romance. You will ask yourself if the mishap was created by personal choices or simply fate. It’s hard to judge, but I would say a bit of both.

Dogman (2018)

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Directed by Matteo Garrone
Country: Italy

Matteo Garrone is a compelling Italian director who always brings an authentic ‘mafiosi’ flavor to his thoughtful films, exception made to Tale Of Tales, an incursion into fantasy/adventure, which deviates from his habitually native topics. His bleak, lowlife crime drama Dogman is an excellent addition to a worthy filmography that also includes Gomorrah and Reality.

Co-written by Garrone and his frequent collaborators Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso, the story has Marcello (Marcello Fonte) at its center, a gentle and patient dog groomer whom everyone in the neighborhood is fond of. However, by looking at his smiling face and maladroit expression, you wouldn’t say he hides a dark secret. Marcello sells cocaine on the side in order to support his beloved daughter Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria).

Despite the worries of his closest friends - bar owner Francesco (Francesco Acquaroli) and gold jewelry proprietor Franco (Adamo Dionisi) - regarding Simone (Edoardo Pesce), an unruly, violent, addictive former boxer who terrorizes the neighborhood, he still wants to be his friend. Even when forced to join the thug in robberies without being paid. This sort of fascination for an ungrateful criminal who constantly takes advantage of his fragile posture and good nature is the film’s most difficult part to cope with.

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When Simone engenders a plan to rob Francesco’s gold from the inside of Dogman, Marcello’s store, the things change radically. The robbery is sloppily executed and Marcello is left in a very delicate position: he whether takes the responsibility for the infraction or denounces Simone to the police. The option of spending one year in prison for his ‘friend’ wasn’t surprising at all. Yet, it will make him tougher and resolute in his future decisions, which include demanding the respect of the beast he covered up.

Fonte gives a blistering central performance and is deservedly rewarded in Cannes, winning in the Best Actor category. Beautifully shot, this character study fascinates in an almost perverse way, building up adequate levels of tension throughout and bursting with disturbing scenes of violence. It is also a tale of solitude, equally tragic and funny, heavy and whimsical.

While the Italian cinema gives signs to come back to life, Dogman is a great choice if you’re sick of showy crime trifles that arrive from Hollywood on a regular basis.

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Damsel (2018)

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Directed by: David and Nathan Zellner
Country: USA

If the Zellner brothers did surprise me in a positive way with the humorous adventure depicted in “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”, then they sadly let me down with their newest story “Damsel”, a flimsy Western comedy with monotonous, thinly written characters, pointless dialogue, and unsatisfactory conclusions.

The film started with the right foot and set a lovely mood while capturing a long dialogue between Old Preacher (Robert Forster), a tired veteran of the West, and Parson Henry (co-director David Zellner), a drunkard who nurtures a sincere curiosity about Indians and needs a fresh start to make amends with his mysterious past. However, the film decays when the camera lens focuses on Simon Alabaster (Robert Pattinson - “Cosmopolis”, “The Lost City of Z”), a stranger in town awkwardly carrying a guitar and a rifle on his back and desperately looking for Henry. He convinces the latter to join him in a mission to rescue his pragmatic fiancé Penelope (Mia Wasikowska - “Stoker”, “Crimson Peak”, “Jane Eyre”) from the hands of Anton Cornell (Gabe Casdorph), her alleged kidnapper.

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Even with a bizarre public hanging and some animated shootings, the action scenes felt insipid, while the humor didn't improve with the frequent presence of a miniature horse called Butterscotch - was this supposed to be funny? The Zellner’s unconfident pacing and boring narrative remain unchangeable, even when Anton’s disoriented younger brother Rufus (co-director Nathan Zellner) and the amiable Indian chief Zacharia (Joseph Billingiere) join the adventure.

On its own, the beautiful cinematography by Adam Stone (“Take Shelter”, “Midnight Special”) wasn’t enough for us to recommend "Damsel".

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Thunder Road (2018)

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Directed by Jim Cummings
Country: USA

One must give credit to Jim Cummings for the tremendous effort put in “Thunder Road”, a comedy-drama based on his 2016 short film of the same name. Cummings not only wrote and directed the film, but also starred as a grieving decorated cop who has a meltdown after his mother’s death.

Officer Jim Arnaud (Cummings) embarks on a long monologue at his mother’s funeral without completely transpiring the turmoil that his soul is enduring at that painful moment. He almost laughs and cries at the same time, performing a hilarious theatrical number in front of the attendees who remain seated, quiet, and shocked.

Jim should be off the following week. However, and despite visibly disturbed, he presents himself at work, patrolling the streets in the good company of his partner and best friend Nate (Nican Robinson). Known for his over-zealous posture at work and extreme dedication, he starts having trouble concentrating to act efficiently in the most diverse situations. But this is insignificant when compared with his messy life. His wife, Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer), is divorcing him, while his young daughter Krystal (Kendal Farr) acts bored and cold whenever she’s with him. He does everything to please her, even if he has to stay awake the whole night to learn the [adj] games she likes. Acting super-protective, we get to know he reached an uncontrolled emotional peak when he physically threatens Krystal’s teacher as he informs him about her bad behavior at school.

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The last straw comes when he loses custody of his daughter due to the highly unorthodox behavior at the funeral, which became viral on the Internet. His humiliation continues when he is fired after a fight with his partner, who, according to him, should have seized the cell phone of the kid who shot the video.

More and more isolated, Jim seemed condemned to perish alone within his personal chaos if an unexpected accident wouldn’t have reconnected him with Krystal. As a consequence of that, he promises to be the best dad ever. In a delicate state, will he be able to succeed?

Pelted with tragicomic scenes, “Thunder Road”, an acceptably funny slice of comic drama, depicts anxious times by carrying a furious tone and bitter pathos. However, not everything shines here. Regardless of his capable acting skills, Cummings never touched me deeply, putting me out with his constant and invariable whining. I would have become more sympathetic to his disgrace if not slightly irritated with this periodic factor. Not good, not bad, just fair.

Sorry To Bother You (2018)

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Directed by Boots Riley
Country: USA

The fanciful story of Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (Lakeith Stanfield - “Short Term 12”) depicted on “Sorry To Bother You”, the first feature film by Boots Riley, deserves some attention. Set in Oakland, California, this cute, scruffy, and flawed sci-fi comedy entertains throughout, from its inaugural scene - an ordinary interview for a telemarketing job - to its clumsy, surreal conclusion, which takes us to a totally different realm without unbinding the previous ideas. In between, you can witness the ascension and fall of Green, a broke yet ambitious African American telemarketer, who, talking with the teasing ‘white voice’ suggested by his experienced co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), attains the worry-free life he had always dreamt of. However, that prosperity is fed at expense of human exploitation and obscure businesses carried out by the company he works for.

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Because of that, he left on bad terms with his artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and disconnected from his pals, Sal (Jermaine Fowler) and Squeeze (Steven Yeun), who are busy fighting the miserable work conditions through a labor union. Craftily manipulated by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the vicious CEO of the company, Green realizes he inhabits an insane world of transgression, iniquity, and debauchery.

Even if the deadpan humor doesn’t always triumph, there is some mordant social commentary expressed with a satirical posture, which sort of replaces it. Stanfield is a wonderful revelation, a crucial element for the film’s pulsation.

With “Sorry To Bother You”, Riley wants to alert people for something that goes beyond pure racism. He does in a showy, senseless, and ridiculous way, but this is all part of his strategy.

Burning (2018)

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Directed by Lee Chang-dong
Country: South Korea

The films of Lee Chang-dong (“Peppermint Candy”, “Oasis”, “Poetry”), one of the most esteemed filmmakers from South Korea, are usually layered in a way that requires some patience from the viewer. If you are able to cope with slow developments and dive in Chang-dong’s detached, breezy flow that gradually shapes his characters, it is almost certain you’ll be rewarded in the end. And that’s exactly what you get in the peaceful “Burning”, a skilled cinematic adaptation of a short story by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a confessed adept of William Faulkner, aspires to write his first novel short time after earning a degree in creative writing. He lives in Paju, on the border with North Korea, where he grew up practically alone, taking care of the family’s farm. His mother left when he was still a kid because of the stubbornness and irascible character of his father, a war vet who was sent to prison for physical aggression to an officer.

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One day, while working part-time in Seoul, Jong-su runs into Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), a former neighbor and classmate who secretly had a crush on him. Before Hae-mi’s trip to Africa, they sleep together, also agreeing that Jong-su will come to Seoul to feed her cat while she’s away. In her apartment, he masturbates looking at her picture, but his hope of having her in his arms again becomes questionable with the arrival of Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy man whom he calls ‘Great Gatsby’. This vague, unprincipled man likes to break the rules and doesn’t recall of crying at any stage of his luxurious life. He lives to entertain himself and provide amusement to his upper-class friends through recurrent social gatherings that take place in his apartment.

Combining the unruffled, quotidian spell of Hou Hsiao Hsien’s dramas with the pertinent observation of Jia Zhangke’s contemporary themes, the film burns slowly until the moment when Hae-mi vanishes without a trace. It then gains momentum, moving confidently toward a surprising climax. The resplendent soundtrack, which includes a Miles Davis’ tune, and the naturalistic performances make a significant contribution to the success of this achingly poignant meditation on passion, in its strangest forms.

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Hereditary (2018)

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Directed by Ari Aster
Country: USA

Technically remarkable and boasting a qualified narrative, “Hereditary” buzzes delirium and supernatural horror, becoming a serious candidate to win this year’s best film in its category. The film was inventively written and compellingly directed by debutant Ari Aster, a name to have in mind from now, whose work highly benefitted from the outstanding performances by Toni Colette, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, and Alex Wolff.

The film’s power comes from the tension build-up, the dollhouse-aesthetic scenarios and creepy imagery in a striking combination with light and music.

When Annie (Colette) and Steven Graham (Byrne) lost their 13-year-old daughter, Charlie (Shapiro) in a terrible car accident that also involved their older son Peter (Wolff), they didn’t blame the latter, which is admirable. However, in order to overcome grief, Annie opens unsafe, occult doors for herself and her family when she befriends Joan (Ann Dowd), a woman she met in a therapy group session. Both become spiritual mediums.

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The isolated house where the Grahams live already had shown signs of inhuman presences, but after Annie’s invocation of Charlie, the paralyzing terror invades their lives. Is there a way to revert the situation and gain the control again?

It’s all gloomy, anguishing, and strange, with some genuinely creepy and visually arresting scenes that can be violent, in its both psychological and physical forms. Besides references to ritualistic patterns and symbols, there are scary, furtive appearances, and characters airing guilt and resentment in an oppressive environment.

Hereditary” is not perfect but does what the good horror movies do, relying on suspense and tension to deeply involve the viewer. Hence, prepare to be disturbed.

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The Divide (2018)

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Directed by Perry King
Country: USA

“The Divide” marks the directorial debut of Perry King, a veteran actor who appeared in the 1977 morbid comedy "Andy Warhol's Bad”, the ludicrous disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow”, and the minor crime drama “The Class of 1984”. Yet, he is probably most known for television series.

King always dreamt of directing his own movie, and he did it with honesty, outside of the Hollywood circle, and with his own Californian ranch of El Dorado County as a backdrop.

The script began to take shape in 2012 after he had met writer Jana F. Brown a year before. It tells the story of Sam Kincaid, a forgetful, aging farmer, impersonated by Perry himself, who has perfectly conscious of his gradual memory loss. Sometimes he forgets the words for simple things or what he just said a minute before, often mixing people's names and identities. In addition to this, he has these terrible nightmares every night, which are linked to his past, and feels much more tired and debilitated than usual due to the persisting drought that affects his land. Luckily, he has Luke Higgins (Bryan Kaplan) working for him, a solitary ranch hand who cares about him.

Luke is also trying to make amends with a tumultuous past and never stays too long in the same place. However, he decides the opposite this time as he carefully observes the state Sam got into; at least, until speaking with his estranged daughter Sarah (Sara Arrington), a vet tech who arrives at the farm with her son, C.J. (Luke Colombero).

This good-natured, Western-themed tale was shot entirely in black-and-white, evoking Perry’s favorite films from the 30’s and 40’s. Its straight narrative includes some mystery, presenting flashes of conflict and discontentment throughout. Still, some of you might probably complain about the slow developments, hinged on the inflexible mood and pace, and for which contributes the melancholic country music composed by Molly Mason.

For a small independent film addressing guilt and trauma within a family, “The Divide” manages to stand on its feet. Despite the predictable ending and a bashful posture, there are emotions running steadily, and the hope of a happy future ultimately makes us enjoy a drama film that also serves as a showcase for King’s estimable acting capabilities.

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Border (2018)

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Directed by Ali Abbasi
Country: Sweden

The Swedish fantasy thriller “Border” is the sophomore feature from Ali Abbasi, who improved considerably in terms of thrills and tone when compared with his debut “Shelley”. After learning that the script had the stamp of John Ajvide Lindqvist on it - he authored the acclaimed vampire tale “Let The Right One In” - my expectations went high and, in fact, were never defrauded as I dug this noir fairytale drenched in Nordic folklore and delicious suspense.

The story's protagonist is Tina (Eva Melander), a singular customs officer with an uncommon chromosome flaw, rigid posture, and unfriendly face, who has the special ability to sniff trouble in the passers-by. Her infallible sense of smell can detect things like alcohol, drugs, weapons, and even SD cards with child pornography, as well as inner feelings like shame, guilt, and rage. She does this with such accuracy that, occasionally, the authorities seek her services to solve major criminal cases. The probability of failure while performing her task is tiny, however, she is challenged for the very first time when Vore (Eero Milonoff), a mysterious man with a weird obsession with maggots, is selected for inspection. She knows he hides something impure, but their instant physical chemistry turned into visceral, animal-like passion, made her lenient. Both have a lot in common, and not only physical. They have a strong, strange connection to nature and animals.

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The somber side of Vore is gradually exposed after he accepts Tina’s suggestion to move into her guest house, a situation that bothers her parasitical boyfriend, Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), a Rottweilers enthusiast. Tina’s greatest difficulty, besides accepting her own nature and realizing that, like Vore, she is not a creature of this world, was to understand the lies that populate her ‘human’ past.

While the talented director keeps the things flowing with the appropriate amount of tension, the lead actors respond with absolute brilliance. Well anchored in its unique conception, “Border” can be tender and liberating, furious and disgusting, and even polemic in its vision of decaying humankind. In this case, and for its arresting visuals and compelling narrative, it’s easy to conclude that this is no minor work.

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The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)

Directed by Sara Colangelo
Country: USA

Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher”, an American remake of the 2014 Israeli drama of the same name directed by Nadav Lapid, never really earned my admiration.

Staten Island dweller Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has been a patient and caring kindergarten teacher for nearly twenty years. She never had problems at work and her current concerns have to do with her two teenage children, Josh (Sam Jules), who is fed up with school, and Lainie (Daisy Tahan), who was caught smoking weed with a boyfriend. However, Lisa is experiencing an inexplicable unfulfillment, which leads her to attend poetry classes for adults, dispassionately tutored by Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal in low-key mode).

Open to something new, Lisa sleeps with Simon, an incident with a minimal emotional impact when compared with her new discovery: Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), a 5-year-old boy with an advanced ability to compose poems in the spur of the moment. Stunned with his rare gift and curious about his home environment, Lisa asks Becca (Rosa Salazar), the child’s nanny, more information about his inaccessible father, Nikhil (Ajay Naidu). Rapidly, Lisa nurtures a profound admiration for the kid, who she thinks meritorious of a special attention in this materialistic world we all live. However, and sooner than later, this admiration turns into an obsession.

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The daring teacher sort of kidnaps Jimmy to have him reciting his poems in a late-night session at Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. This causes Nikhil and Simon to be angry at her for disparate reasons. Nevertheless, she repeats the move later again, in the name of Jimmy’s innate talent, but the consequences won’t be the same as the first time.

Lisa got on my nerves as she reads her own poem to a disconnected Jimmy. She does these meek eyes at the same time that airs an exasperating expression that mirrors a frivolous profoundness. It's all by the sake of art but maybe what this kid really needs is to play with his little friends.

It is also hard to put up with the ending, which feels forced. Hence, the only reason to watch "The Kindergarten Teacher" is Ms. Gyllenhaal’s performance, whose quality makes us resist until it’s possible.

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Apostle (2018)

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Directed by Gareth Evans
Country: UK / USA

With the claustrophobic, medieval-esque, gory horror film “Apostle”, director Gareth Evans (“The Raid: Redemption”) attempts to offer us a bit more than just action sequences with insanely kinetic physical clashes. Indeed, the film tells a super dark story, set in 1905 and immersed in strong religious mysticism and fantasy.

Dan Stevens is Thomas Richardson, a traumatized former Christian missionary who travels to a remote Welsh island to rescue his innocent sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) from the hands of a religious cult headed by the fervent prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen) and his power-hungry right-hand, Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), a tyrant who deceptively looks for purity. These dark souls worship a mysterious, imprisoned goddess who feeds from the fresh blood of their ritualistic sacrifices.

Thomas is not willing to pay any ransom, concentrating all his efforts in finding Jennifer and set her free. When the rulers of the island realize there is an intruder, they contemptuously exhibit Jennifer publicly to attract his attention. Thomas is eventually entrapped and the success of the mission becomes dependent on Andrea (Lucy Boynton), the good-hearted daughter of Malcolm, who, in the meantime, loses ascendency for Quinn. Our hero is also guided by the young Jeremy (Bill Milner), son of another cult devotee, whose tragic fate is morbidly depicted in a disgusting scene that includes vile torture and men dressed in black KKK-style costumes.

The mise en scene, legitimately photographed by Matt Flannery, is representative of a disturbing combination of Kafkian fantasy, Bergman-like religious paranoia, and Chan-wook’s studies on brutality and torture, while also displaying sunless landscapes and dismal intramural scenarios.

The camera work is commanded with assuring preciseness, exhibiting a couple of glorious weirdly-angled shots that emphasize the bizarreness even more. As a violent, supernatural adventure, the film should attract both action and horror enthusiasts alike, yet Evans ends up slightly short of thrills and ambiguity, which are always valuable aspects of the genre. I’m convinced that this film would have benefited if told from a more psychological perspective instead of just relying on painful, physical horrors. “Apostle” has the proper mood but, regardless the different styles, couldn’t surpass the adrenaline infusion of The Raid installments, Evans’ true specialty.

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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Directed by Spike Lee
Country: USA

BlacKkKlansman”, Spike Lee’s second joint of the year and distinguished winner of the Palme D’Or, is a biographical comedy-drama whose story was considerably manipulated by the quartet of writers - Lee is included - to provide us with larger doses of dramatic weight and fun entertainment.

In the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was hired by the Colorado Springs Police Force, becoming the first African-American to ingress that department. Because of his stubbornness about doing something to help the oppressed black community fighting for civil rights, he is soon promoted from the records room guy to an undercover agent with a plan to infiltrate and denounce the racist brotherhood Ku Klux Klan. For that, he will have to use a lot of his improvisational skills and the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish officer, equally fluent in English and Jive, who borrows the identity of the investigation's mastermind.

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In the meantime, Stallworth falls for Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the dutiful president of Colorado College Black Student Union and a strong voice for the Black Power movement. If he plays his game with the K.K.K. with a relative comfort, relying on Zimmerman to do most of the ‘dirty’ job, then he couldn’t feel so comfortable about concealing his true profession from Patrice, creating a minor investigation-relationship conflict. While he flirts with Patrice, Zimmerman meets all the white supremacists, starting with Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), the president of the Colorado Springs branch, and ending with the leader of the organization, David Duke (Topher Grace). However, the most fanatical and dangerous militant is Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen) and his delirious wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), whose dream of killing ‘niggers’ is about to come true.

Lee vulgarizes the existence of the dreadful K.K.K. by infusing a quasi-absurdist humor in several scenes. If the final message is powerful and elucidative about current dangers, then the whole story - based on Stallworth’s 2014 memoir - is worth being told. The provocative attitude is expanded with references to D.W. Griffith’s silent yet polemic drama film “Birth of a Nation” and the final footage containing no fewer polemic declarations from Donald Trump regarding the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even though all these efforts are valid, the film could have been even more incisive with a few narrative adjustments and image filtration for sloppiness reduction. This is tough material Spike Lee is dealing with, and yet, he makes it an easy, pleasant watch.

A word of praise for the energetic performances from Washington and Driver and the awesome score by jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

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Searching (2018)

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Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Country: USA

Searching”, a low-budget, tech-based thriller directed by debutant Aneesh Chaganty, hinges on a catchy premise, advances with a so-so development, and waves bye-bye with a terrible resolution.

The gimmicky story, co-written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, is set in San Jose, California, and follows David Kim (John Cho), an over-controlling single father who freaks out when his 16-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La), goes mysteriously missing.

Within the first minutes of the film, through family videos, we learn that Margot’s mother, Pam (Sara Sohn), died from a lymphoma relapse. Two years have passed and Margot is now more independent, living her life without giving too much explanation to her dad. After the vanishing, David finds out she had canceled the piano classes six months before and made an unexplainable transfer of $2500 to a deactivated Venlo account. Managing to get several access codes and password recoveries, David dives in her Facebook page and gets in touch with her contacts, just to sadly realize they weren't exactly friends.

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The case is assigned to detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing - remember Grace Adler from “Will and Grace”?), who first considers the chance of a ‘runaway teen case’ before concluding it was abduction. In the meantime, David keeps digging deeper in Margot’s social media accounts, which leads him to Barbosa Lake, a place she kept visiting for five months, and to the only person who she really maintained contact lately: Hannah, a young Pittsburgh waitress who uses fish_n_chips as web identity.

The suspects change along the way, from Margot's colleagues to David’s own brother, Peter (Joseph Lee). Yet, to complicate things a little more, an ex-con confesses the murder before committing suicide. Do not worry, because the story doesn’t end here.

Chaganty wanted his film to look intelligently cryptic, but what he achieved was just completely muddled. Moreover, the storyline is naive, contrived, and ultimately nonsensical, all aggravated by the utterly unconvincing performances from Cho and Messing.

With my patience wearing thin, I remained seated just to confirm that “Searching” steeply declines as the mystery unravels. It's an emotionally parched, insubstantial drama thriller.

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