Hustlers (2019)

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Direction: Lorene Scafaria
Country: USA

Directed and scripted by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers is an inept, synthetic dramatization of a true-life story that intertwines the worlds of capitalism and erotic entertainment. The director sought inspiration in a 2015 article published in New York Magazine and written by journalist Jessica Pressler, describing the illicit practices of a group of New York lap dancers in order to extort large sums of money from their well-heeled Wall Street clients. Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez (who also produces), and Cardi B, and boasting an unnecessary appearance by R&B/pop singer Usher, this film employs wear out formulas to promote celebrity worship.

Stretching my patience for nearly two hours, Hustlers is the type of film that agitates very little the intellect, relying on endlessly replicated scenes to the point of making me want to scream: “Enough! I got the idea.” Terribly mounted, the narrative is simply discouraging, with practically every scene being coated with that superficial gloss that distracts us from any potential interest the story may have.

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The best this film has to offer is some well-choreographed pole dance moves, dexterously apprehended by Lopez in her pre-shooting classes with the professional dancer and choreographer Johanna Sapakie. Sadly, none of the performances stood out, with Wu being the biggest disappointment.

There is no originality, tension, or creativity in Scafaria’s account, which roundly fails to succeed in both the erotic and the drama departments.

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Blinded By The Light (2019)

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Direction: Gurinder Chadha
Country: UK

Unlike the central character in Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light, I’m not a huge fan of American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen. However, that wasn’t a relevant factor for my dissatisfaction regarding this film, a comedy-drama inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Mansoor. The latter co-wrote the script in accordance with his memoir Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.

Set in Luton, England, in 1987, the story follows 16-year-old Saved Khan (Viveik Kalra), an insecure British-Pakistani who is deeply into Springsteen’s music. This is the good part of his life, alongside the sweet romance with an activist schoolmate, Eliza (Nell Williams), and friendships with Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Roops (Aaron Phagura). Conversely, at home, Saved is consumed by the frustration of having his conservative, overbearing father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), which complicates even more the integration of the family in the British society. Moreover, the teenager is a recurrent target of racial discrimination. That’s when Springsteen’s powerful songs become an inspiration, an obsession, and a vehicle for him to expand ideas and develop his writing skills. Part of the encouragement came from his progressive teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell).

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The film is observant in terms of cultural differences and self-aware in the message to pass along. However, while Saved’s infatuation with the music of Springsteen becomes more and more annoying, the musical scenes, approached with an exuberantly theatrical posture and nostalgic vision, wanted so badly to impress that feel contrived. The soundtrack is wonderful, though.

Inspiring? Not to me. Lamentably, this bland exercise, cooked with euphoric floridness, never goes deeper than the surface.

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Paterloo (2019)

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Direction: Mike Leigh
Country: UK

Mike Leigh is a wonderful director who showed all his brilliance in titles like Secrets & Lies, Another Year, Naked and Vera Drake, among others. His directorial reputation is certainly not ruined with Peterloo, a historical account that recreates the 1819 massacre of the same name, even if the film doesn’t work for most of its duration.

Sir John Saxton (John Paul Hurley), a soldier known for his great achievements but with no time for politics, is promoted to commander of the Northern District and assigned to work in Manchester with the mission to locate and identify the insurgents who keep supporting radical campaigns against the government. The English nation became divided and people demand not only a Parliamentary reform but also voting rights extension and the repeal of the Corn Laws, which is responsible for the rising of poverty. Women also gather in protest.

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Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), an excellent orator and agitator, leads the radicals and becomes a target for the government spies as he organizes a crucial meeting at St. Peter’s Field. Other outstanding reformists are John Bagguley (Nico Mirallegro), an 18-year-old machinist with a penchant for powerful speeches, and the passionate Samuel Bramford (Neil Bell), who spearheads a group of supporters from Middleton but gets disappointed with the impossibility to speak publicly. Local magistrates trust the Manchester Yeomanry, a volunteer armed regiment, to put an end in the meeting and arrest Hunt, but the operation ended in a brutal attack against the vehement yet peaceful laboring-class protesters as well as innocent people, including women and children.

I classify this period chamber piece as a long, drawn-out journey in which every scene is overextended far beyond the interest of its content. Every radical phrase deserves a time-consuming cheer, which is despairing sometimes. The visual presentation is lyrical and luminous, impeccably controlled by the cinematographer Dick Pope, whose frames resemble Realist paintings. However, the dialogues, speeches, and ideas repeat to the point of making the progression of the film a burden. This is the type of film where no one in the cast really stands out, while Leigh’s linear narrative wasn’t particularly attractive this time.

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Wobble Palace (2019)

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Direction: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Country: USA

Starting promisingly, Wobble Palace combines post-mumblecore comedy and millennial romance but turns out more pathetic than astute. The film is slightly provocative, though, albeit the mind-numbness you may experience with the sexual rites and erotic fantasies of the one-dimensional leads. Even inevitably chuckling in the most ridiculous situations, I can’t pronounce it a funny experience.

The clear, crisp cinematography of Sean Price Williams (Alex Ross Perry and Safdie Brothers’s regular choice) became the most substantial aspect of a pretentiously artsy comedy written, starred, and directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko. In his fifth feature, he plays Eugene, a funny-haired native of Russia who lives in Los Angeles and goes through an experiential, still on-going breakup process with his girlfriend Jane, played by co-writer Dasha Nekrasova.

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While Eugene invites several women to the cute apartment he still shares with Jane, the latter actually starts something apparently more serious with her friend Ravi Gupta (Vishwam Velandy), a wealthy Indian guy and Trump-supporter with whom she has a strong chemistry. However, this trial phase goes awry for both of them and out-and-out separation seems the unavoidable next step.

The spirit and looks of the independent cinema are on display. Still, the plot is too flimsy and unconcerned, climaxing with a boring and despondent Halloween party where it’s hard to distinguish between what is meant to be funny. With a little more thought and less gaudy scenes, the film could have found a better outcome. Nevertheless, Wobble Palace is just an unorthodox trinket providing very limited enjoyment.

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Gloria Bell (2019)

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Direction: Sebastian Lelio
Country: USA

Julianne Moore is Gloria Bell, an independent divorcée and mother of two who tries to fill a gap in her life with a caring man who could meet her expectations and tastes. As a dance lover, she refuses social isolation and keeps looking for the perfect match in clubs around L.A. at the sound of funk, pop, disco, and R&B hits from the 70s and 80s.

The apparently bashful Arnold (a convincing John Turturro) becomes a candidate of choice when things work out well between them after the first encounter. Recently divorced, he is trying to change his life, but admits having two adult daughters who completely rely on him financial-wise. However, this man reveals to be more complicated and pathetic than he demonstrated in the first instance. On one hand, he needs all the attention he can get, and on the other, he provides everything his daughters and ex-wife demand from him, even stressing and complaining about it all the time.

After an unexplained disappearance when at Gloria’s son’s birthday party, they break up, but days later she gives way to his charm and insistent phone calls, giving him one last chance to redeem himself. A trip to Vegas reaches a climax that, unfortunately, we had already seen before.

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Reimagining his own 2013 film Gloria, whose story was set in Santiago and features Paulina Garcia in the leading role, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) copies himself in style, designing a similar story to fit the American soil. In fact, the whole film is unsurprising and drags tediously into obvious conclusions. I mean, who needs an American Gloria Bell when we had the wonderful Chilean Gloria? And I say this with all the respect Ms. Moore’s work deserves.

The American adaptation lacks the real free spirit, magic narrative pulse, and radiance of the original, taking this problematic romance to a minor key and making us pay the price. Regardless of the great performances from Moore and Turturro, I would call Gloria with a Spanish accent.

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Quien Te Cantara? (2019)

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Direction: Carlos Vermut
Country: Spain

Influenced by the Spanish pop culture and a few master directors, Madrid-born Carlos Vermut assembled his third feature, Quien Te Cantara?, with poetic, dramatic, and uncanny tones. Lamentably, the fine gothic tinge applied to the imagery couldn’t hamper the story, set in Rota, Andalucia, from feeling tediously monochromatic.

Lila Cassen (Najwa Nimri), the most celebrated pop star in Spain, inexplicably vanished from the stages for ten years. When she finally decides for a comeback tour, an accident steals her memory, putting all her fortune and high-end lifestyle at stake. The good news is that her amnesia seems to be partial since she was able to recognize herself and Shakira in pictures.

Her devoted agent and longtime friend, Blanca Guerrero (Carme Elias), is disquieted with the situation, realizing that touring is imperative for the artist's future. And that’s when she devises a weird plan to have Lila learning how to be herself again with the help of a staunch admirer and flawless imitator, Violeta (Eva Llorach), a karaoke performer who is manipulated and abused by her insolent 23-year-old daughter Marta (Natalia de Molina). Marked by an inner sadness, the two women become closer, sharing laughs and tears, and their past and present slowly blur into an opaque transference of identities.

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Laced with revelational yet laborious self-examinations, this is a sleep-inducing melodrama that never earns what it works so hard to accomplish. Except for the mother/daughter scenes, whose sudden emotional catharsis is reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman, the film lingers in a lethargic narrative, while probing, sometimes in the same scene, Fassbinder-like decadence and Hitchcockian mystery.

With occasional stiffness and an unattractive score getting in the way, Quien Te Cantara? is not as mesmerizing as Vermut’s previous neo-noir, Magical Girl (2014).

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Fighting With My Family (2019)

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Direction: Stephen Merchant
Country: UK / USA

British helmer Stephen Merchant brings family and wrestling to the forefront, propping up a crowd-pleasing comedy that feels as strenuously fraudulent as its topic. Expect a lot of stagy representation both inside and outside of the ring, in a fact-based story adapted for the big screen with a dramatic bait that is way too much contrived.

Siblings Zack (Jack Lowden) and Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh), were born in England, in a family of enthusiastic wrestlers. Their dream is to become professionals in the US and they have all the support of their liberal, hippie parents, Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), also fans of the sport. These youngsters are go-getters and their passion and effort lead them to compete for a place in the WWE.

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But whilst Saraya is picked among a bunch of candidates to participate in an intense training season in Florida, Zack, who is expecting a child, is left behind. Definitely separated from his childhood dream, he lets resentment undermine his soul and radically change his conduct. Meanwhile, Saraya, who changed her name to Paige and boasts an underground punk-ish style, is not adapting so well to the American ways, clashing with her three fellow colleagues, all former models and cheerleaders. Apparently, not even a change of look can make her swallow the strong pride and overcome the fact that she’s homesick and has no friends or motivation. Hence, the easiest way to end the pain is giving up. Will she?

Although making the experience a bit less painful through occasional funny lines about British/American divergences as well as contrasting postures between liberal and conservative families, the director makes this account feel too schematic in all its narrative. Energetic fights at the sound of hard rock music are intercalated with scenes soaked in melodramatic gimmick, which never worked for me. Already twisting in my seat, I was gladdened when, finally, the credits started to roll.

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The Tree of Blood (2019)

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Direction: Julio Medem
Country: Spain

Layered like a zigzagging soap opera and mounted with a pretentious artificiality, The Tree of Blood leads us to unexciting places. The story focuses on two lovers, Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) and Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó), who return to their hometown in the Basque Country, Spain, with the purpose of unveiling and writing the complex stories of their families. The generational secrets emerge slowly, giving them the pleasure of discovery and imagination. After a while, they realize that two brothers strangely tie their family trees.

Marc’s mother, Nuria (Lucía Delgado), married Olmo (Joaquín Furriel), a secretive man with connections to the Russian mafia. In turn, Rebeca discloses that Olmo’s brother, Victor (Daniel Grao), was the man who raised her after her mother has been admitted in a hospice for mental illness treatment. Unexpectedly, all the amusement of the young couple radically changes when their personal secrets start to be revealed.

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San Sebastian-born director Julio Medem mixes a tiny bit of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s surrealism, the tension of Alejandro Amenabar’s crime thrillers, and the eroticism that his own previous films had already shown, cases of Sex and Lucia (2001) and Room in Rome (2010). However, everything is sloppily glued-up, and the film becomes an abominable part-erotic, part-psychological pastiche.

Extra care was given to the cinematography, wonderfully controlled by Kiko de la Rica (the black-and-white of Blancanieves remains his best pictorial achievement), who rejoins the director after the disastrous Ma Ma (2015). The images of The Tree of Blood exhibit that sophisticated gloss worthy of a classy art-house film. However, under the surface, lies an empty soul. As opposed to transgressive and original, the film got stuck in stereotypes, becoming narratively ineffectual and dramatically unenjoyable. The nature of the script demanded focus as well as a taut, responsive execution, something that Medem was unable to enforce.

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At Eternity's Gate (2018)

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Direction: Julian Schnabel
Country: USA / UK / other

Julian Schnabel’s proclivity for biographical dramas about renowned artists - Basquiat (1996) renders the street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; Before The Night Falls (2000), the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas; and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), the French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby - is not so surprising if you think he is a painter himself, one who marked the Neo-expressionism artistic movement in the late 70s and 80s. However, his directorial effort have not always produce favorable outcomes, which is now the case of At Eternity’s Gate, a personal depiction of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh during his last years in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where he died at the age 37.

Even with Willem Dafoe deeply committed to his performance, the film doesn’t deliver the goods properly as it misses a consistent dramatization of the tormented artist. Less dragging scenes in nature together with a more expeditious storytelling that could facilitate emotions, would have been worked in its interest.

Van Gogh’s vulnerability feels exasperating while his dialogue with fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), an incompatible soul both in temperament and artistic style, was always monotonously oversimplified in tone and content.

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While the piano score is fatiguing, the cinematography of the French Benoit Delhomme guarantees a beautiful light at every shot, occasional blurring the frames to give them the aspect of an impressionistic canvas.

Even when addressing the painter’s mental illness, obsession, and anxiety, Schnabel struggled to do away with certain apathy. The film then succumbs to its own torpid developments and the indifference only abandoned me during a brief conversation between the painter and a priest (Mads Mikkelsen), a scene with a sharper dialogue and aggrandized by close-ups. At Eternity's Gate is a superfluous biopic and a tedious experience slightly elevated by Dafoe’s acting efforts.

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Climax (2019)

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Direction: Gaspar Noé
Country: France

Provocative French-Argentine helmer Gaspar Noé continues to show an alarming inability to write interesting or intelligent stories. Like in other previous polemic moves such as Irreversible (2002) and Love (2015), the only goal in Climax is to unconditionally shock, no matter how. Hence, this time he gathered a group of professional dancers, coming from different backgrounds, to rehearse in an abandoned school and embark on a party turned into unplanned LSD trip that quickly falls out of control. Be aware that this diabolical nightmare can upset sensitive stomachs and induce severe aches in weak heads. It’s all very artsy, though.

The necessity to call attention to himself starts right away when the final credits are exhibited at the beginning of the film, a prank that complies with the unnatural developments that come next. Human decadence and degradation are portrayed with the assistance of a palette drenched in super saturated colors, potentiating the hallucinatory vibes induced by images and music. Up in the first place, the protracted dancing scenes are just there to distract us. They are time-consuming, giving us some time to prepare ourselves for the repulsive avalanche of happenings that serve Noé’s darkest pleasures.

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The plot is shallow, assembled with no curves ahead. It’s an abhorrent cocktail of cruelty, violence, paranoia, sadism, unbridled libido, racism, abortion, sexism, suicide, hysteria, and incest. There is a vague allusion to a flag connected to a sect and regular black screens with pseudo-illuminating thoughts like: ‘life is a collective impossibility’ or ‘death is an extraordinary experience’. Genius!

The positive aspects of the film are limited to the eclectic soundtrack and the intrepid camerawork, suffused with oblique and high-angle shots as well as spinning movements meant to daze and confuse.

Insidiously vicious, Climax requires patience, a resistant stomach, an all-embracing sense of humor to deal with the nonsense, and lots of tolerance toward its intellectual emptiness.

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Mug (2018)

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Direction: Malgorzata Szumowska
Country: Poland

Watching Mug, the latest dramedy by Polish writer/director Malgorzata Szumowska (Body; In The Name Of), was a very cold experience. What should have been emotionally corrosive ends up in a sterilized pretense that impels us to pity a man dealing with acceptance and identity problems after a face transplant.

The story is set in a bucolic Polish town on Christmas time, where the heavy-metal devotee Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), lives calmly and happily among relatives. Right after proposing to his dancer girlfriend, Dagmara (Malgorzata Gorol), Jacek has a nearly fatal accident at work that makes him undergo several facial surgeries and reappear several months later with a completely new face. He also struggles with speaking, eating, and swallowing in such a way that his grandmother doesn’t recognize him anymore.

Fortunately, generous support comes from his sister, Iwona (Agnieszka Podsiadlik), who, despite strong and steadfast, was unable to help him get a disability pension from the government. What keeps hurting him the most is the fact that Dagmara left without a word, only to be dragged into a vortex of excesses where the emotional decadence is a serious threat.

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The jocular posture is often dark-tinged and extends to Christianity, mirrored in a few controversial confessions at church, the irony that stems from the largest statue of Jesus is being constructed nearby, and a sham exorcism that felt more ridiculous than impressive. With true emotions left in the lurch, Mug ended up a nuisance, never finding the right balance between laughs and tears.

Despite some accurate remarks about her native country, Szumowska couldn’t dissimulate the heavy-handedness in her processes, being less interested in giving a decent resolution to the tragedy than overtly mocking about it. Mug is uninspired and forgettable.

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Bird Box (2018)

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Directed by Susanne Bier
Country: USA

Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Brother; After The Wedding; The Things We Lost in The Fire; Love Is All You Need) is commonly associated with heavy dramas and light romantic comedies. Her first American blockbuster, Bird Box, is a supernatural drama thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a single mother of two children who desperately looks for a safe place to raise them while the planet is under an unfathomable alien threat. Assuming ghostly forms, the invaders urge their victims to commit suicide right after they make visual contact with them. Therefore, the solution is to become blindfolded while outside and never listen to their persuasive words, which are deceptively uttered through the voice of a loved one who passed away.

Expecting a child, Malorie Hayes (Bullock) sees her all-too-lively sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), succumb at the sight of the enemy and takes refuge in the house of Douglas (John Malkovich), a sinister and pragmatic man who didn’t seem much affected after witnessing the death of his wife in shocking circumstances. In the house, they not only welcome the innocuous Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), another pregnant woman, but also Gary (Tom Hollander), whose behavior and intentions are far more suspicious. After the kids are born, an attentive man, Tom (Trevante Rhodes), gains her trust and becomes her lover. But anyway, Malorie will have to make a perilous two-day journey alone with the kids, helplessly named Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). Blindfolded, they have dense countrified areas and a stirring river to be crossed. Is this practicable?

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Eric Heisserer (Arrival; Lights Out) penned the script according to Josh Malerman’s novel of the same name, having Bier directing exclusively in the US for the first time. Aiming to the senses without never really impress or startle, Bird Box adopts easy strategies, creating frivolous scenes and employing contrived tones as a result of the narrative fatuousness and cheap abstraction.

Ms. Bier, whose previous directorial efforts kept toggling between competent and sloppy, fully embraces Hollywood this time with dubious quality, and that comes with a price. Following impossible, far-fetched routes, Bird Box is a lumbering and quite incongruous mess.

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Colette (2018)

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Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Country: UK / USA

Colette is an insipid, occasionally colorful biographical drama about the gifted French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, here impersonated by the ever-charming English actress Keira Knightley, whose penchant for period dramas is mirrored in Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012). The script, co-written by director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, 2014) and his late husband Richard Glatzer, focuses initially on the author’s early years spent in her Burgundy’s rural hometown and then mostly in Paris in 1893, where she moves with her unfaithful, talent-thief Parisian husband, Willy (Dominic West), who pursues success in literature at any cost.

In a society dominated by men, Willy takes all the credit for his wife’s clever writing without sketching a single line. His first book, Claudine a Paris, is a massive success, but as a vainglorious and greedy literary entrepreneur, he wants more and doesn’t intend to stop there. In a rush to meet publishing deadlines, he abusively locks his wife in a room to force her writing a new novel. However, and for his uneasiness, Colette is not the submissive type, rebelling against her husband and the system, and venturing in lesbian affairs with the ardent American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the perspicacious boyish Missy (Denise Gough). The sudden revelation that Georgie also shares her bed with Willy becomes Colette’s inspirational source for her next literary success: Claudine en Ménage.

Despite some admirable period details, the interesting moments come and go in a perpetual intermittence, becoming increasingly scarce when the story reaches its final part. The director was unable to overcome the pallid storytelling, which could easily be turned into avant-garde eccentricity if he had had a bit more audacity. The competent cast could do nothing to help him in this department.

The film shares its art-theft topic with another recent drama film, The Wife, whose more attractive course of events was elevated by the splendid return of Glenn Close to a first-class role.

A lot was left behind in this depthless account of a disaffected ghostwriter who wanted to affirm her artistic gift, freely and publicly. She actually did it with bravery and conviction, but this film doesn’t do her justice. Hence, my suggestion is: save your ticket money and read Colette’s biography instead.

Lizzie (2018)

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Directed by Craig William Macneill
Country: USA

Craig William Macneill’s underpowered Lizzie offers a tedious perspective of the 1892 true-crime story set in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts, in which Lizzie Borden, here impersonated by the capable Chloe Sevigny, was temporarily arrested and tried for the murder of her father and stepmother. 125 years have passed and the case, publicly known as 'the axe murders', remains a mystery. However, any curiosity related to the macabre occurrence remains shallow throughout this dispassionate and often formulaic reconstruction of the events.

Bryce Kass’ script pictures Lizzie with a likable frontal personality, resisting as much as she can to the austerity and conservatism of her wealthy father, Andrew (Jamey Sheridan). Socially and intellectually repressed, Lizzie, who is also impelled to fight an avid uncle (Denis O'Hare) in order to protect her inheritance, engenders an evil plan in the company of a newly arrived housemaid, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), with whom she lives a lesbian relationship.

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There’s nothing particularly surprising or even appealing in this fictional account, where the flame of forbidden love is extinguished almost before it starts through an underlying static quality of the characters’ actions. This obstacle also narrowed any possibility of thrills.

Moreover, if Sevigny’s performance keeps us hoping for better, Stewart is maladjusted and never truly convinces in her role. With such a potential story in hands, Macneill had everything to create greater suspenseful moments with a stronger impact if he hadn’t a heavy hand. A thriller that is never unsettling soon becomes a triviality. And that’s exactly what Lizzie is.

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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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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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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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A Star Is Born (2018)

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Directed by Bradley Cooper
Country: USA

Actor Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”, “American Hustle”) makes his directorial debut with “A Star is Born”, a 21st-century remake of the 1937 classic of the same name directed by William A. Wellman. He co-stars alongside pop star Lady Gaga in her first theatrical appearance. With a score composed by Gaga and Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas Nelson, Cooper attempts to successfully combine the power of music with the sharp cinematography of Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky’s first choice), as well as the fluctuations of romance with the complications of personal/professional life.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, an alcoholic country-rock star who finds in nightclub-singer Ally (Gaga) a reliable partner in music and life, giving her the opportunity to make the leap to international fame and become a celebrity. However, his alcoholism doesn’t make things easy for her, becoming worse after she gets her first musical contract. From this point on, their relationship becomes arduous as Ally steps up toward stardom whereas Jackson keeps declining.

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This romantic if tragic musical drama achieves its climax when Ally is publicly embarrassed by Jackson’s behavior at the Grammy awards.

Gaga’s last song brings some emotion, which could never compensate for the absence of it during the rest of the film. Her performance was solid enough, while Cooper’s bloodshot eyes and general look are natural from a heavy drinker. However, the film didn’t touch me in the heart, presenting more inept than satisfactory moments, both drama and music-wise.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Directed by Jon M.Chu
Country: USA

One cannot deny the existence of a tireless vibrancy, flashy visuals, and versatile soundtrack in “Crazy Rich Asians”, a romantic Chinese-American adventure led by director Jon M.Chu (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”; “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”). However, these features weren’t enough to make the film stand out because, under the delusive, glossy surface, we find nothing consistent or memorable.

Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim co-wrote a shallow script based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. Basically, it comes jammed with clichés while maintaining that synthetic exuberance that usually serves to conceal the high predictability of a storytelling from the viewer.

Economics professor Rachel Wu (Constance Wu), a New Yorker of Chinese descent who is not afraid to pursue her passions, travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding). The reason for the trip is related to Nick’s best friend’s wedding, but the occasion is also an opportunity for Rachel to meet her sweetheart’s family, the wealthiest in the country. Sad to say: Nick’s glacial mother, Eleanor (fantastic Michelle Yeoh), doesn’t approve the relationship, basing her judgment on the social class differences between the two families. A tough posture that gains further repercussion when she discovers Rachel’s inaccurate story about her deceased father.

In addition to flamboyant bachelor/bachelorette parties, fancy family gatherings in luxurious spaces, and stereotyped dramatic threats against a gorgeous couple in love, this somewhat cheesy crowd-pleaser offers a great deal of neurotic gossip addressed with annoying pomposity and superfluous multi-cultural fashion.

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Tully (2018)

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Directed by Jason Reitman
Country: USA

In Jason Reitman’s slow-burning “Tully”, Charlize Theron plays Marlo, an exhausted mother of three who goes through a middle-age crisis related to her most recent conception. Moreover, her quirky son Jonah needs a one-to-one aid but the school doesn’t pay for that service and the complaints about him seem to increase every day. Depressed and overwhelmed, her life changes for the better when her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) gets her an efficient if weird night nanny. Her name is Tully (Mackenzie Davis), an extravagant creature that soon forges an atypical bond with her employer, which can be either reparative or destructive. 

All of a sudden, Marlo is calmer, less stressed and confident. She even hangs out with Tully in her old neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn; and weirder than that, she deviates her from the regular tasks to sexually stimulate her husband Drew (Ron Livingston), who has a fetish for women in 1950s diner waitress uniforms. 

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The night they go out starts with an amusing drive at the sound of Cindy Lauper, but becomes severely toxic when they arrive at an underground club and the drunk Marlo jumps in sync with clangorous heavy-metal rhythms and then endures pain due to engorged breasts. However, that pain was infinitesimal when compared to the afflicting news that Tully is quitting. 

This time, Reitman’s first-call writer Diablo Cody, who successfully penned “Juno” and “Young Adult”, couldn't guarantee him a favorable outcome. Playing with the tricks of the mind, “Tully” feels more contrived than astute, having the skilled group of actors working hard to avoid further damage. 

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