Ready Or Not (2019)

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Direction: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Country: USA

You can likely tell by its thrilling premise that Ready Or Not belongs to those restlessly dynamic films pervaded by gory action and mordant dark humor. In truth, we are before a deeply nuts fusion of comedy and horror that is something you should go for, even considering its final stage sillier than expected.

Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett worked from a simple yet effective script by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, populating the parody with funny characters. And I mean all of them, with no exception, since even the most evil ones are gorgeously shaped with deadpan drollness.

Samara Weaving is Grace, a happy newlywed who is anxious to be officially accepted by the wealthy family of her enamored spouse Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). As an orphan, having a permanent family now is of extreme importance to her. However, that could only occur after she plays a deadly hide-and-seek, the game at the base of an ancient wedding night ritual across generations of that lineage. In shock, but decided to survive, Grace hides in the huge mansion while her new relatives hunt her madly and ferociously with rifles, axes, and crossbows. Luckily, this girl has a temper!

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The only good soul who tries to save her is the devastated Alex, who couldn’t persuade his mother, Becky (Andie MacDowell), to help him, despite the affection demonstrated toward the bride. Becky’s husband, Tony (Henry Czerny), reveals to be the most fanatical of the hunters, while their daughter, Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), provides some of the most hilarious moments, motivated by her drug addiction and complete disorientation. The bitter Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) and Emilie’s treacherous husband, Fitch Bradley (Kristian Bruun), are equally worthy of mention.

Apart from the ludicrous consequences of a violated pact with Satan, this wickedly bold absurdity offers some memorable lines and scenes. The phrase “I want the divorce” never had so much meaning, while the final images of Grace relaxingly smoking a cigarette soaked in blood come into my head whenever the film is mentioned.

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The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

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Direction: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Country: USA

If you’re looking for a sprightly, heartwarming indie comedy replete of fun episodes, which you’re not required to think about too deeply, then The Peanut Butter Falcon should be a good choice. A product from the minds of writers/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, this is a silly enterprise whose twists are visible from afar, but the power of the performances and the positive attitude toward the hardships of life were capable of elevating the familiarity into something firmly entertaining.

It's a Mark Twain-inspired tale that follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a sympathetic, family-less 22-year-old Down Syndrome person, whose dream is to become a professional wrestler. After breaking out from the nursing home he was confined to, Zak befriends Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a crab fisherman on the run, who, on his way to Florida, promises to take him to a rural town in North Carolina, where the old wrestling school of Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) is located. The latter is Zak’s longtime idol and inspiration.

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Motivating each other, the pair of friends walks and navigates long distances, drinks together, has a special encounter with a blind man of faith, drives away Tyler’s chasers, and consolidates their bond and affection. Moreover, they convince the nursing home employee Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s guardian, to join them in an adventure that climaxes in the offbeat wrestling that opposes Zak, The Peanut Butter Falcon, to Sam (Jake Roberts), a giant veteran who rejects defeat.

Bolstered with Gottsagen’s natural sweetness, and advancing with a favorable propulsive élan, The Peanut Butter Falcon mixes cliched narrative with feel-good energy. There’s certainly a niche for this goofy adventure, where not everything has to be so sad and serious. Cinema has these things, and sometimes a big heart can even make us forget the lack of originality.

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Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019)

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Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Country: USA

Is Quentin Tarantino getting nostalgic at this phase? The answer is: likely yes, after we see his ninth feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a three-act mashup of love for the Hollywood film, melancholic hippy life in 1969, and cult-related tension.

If the entertainment levels and the powerful cast were expected, the sluggish developments and sort of leisure posture was certainly not on the agenda for a Tarantino movie. Packed with innuendos, classic film references, and even ideas from Tarantino’s previous movies, this extravagant comedy ultimately connects you with the fun and craziness of the film industry, for the better and for the worse.

The script follows a struggling TV actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), two buddies with different personalities trying to go along with the new adjustments and demands of Hollywood’s golden age. In parallel, it addresses the Manson Family Murders in a sardonic, carefree way, with Roman Polanski’s late wife, Sharon Tate, being happily played by Margot Robbie.

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The wildest moments of the film arrive at the end, in a way that felt intense and strategic, and there’s clever humor and quotable lines throughout, plus that memorable scene when a cool Cliff fights a proud Bruce Lee (Mike Moh).

The magic of the movies versus the frustrating reality, cult devotion and hippie culture, ferocious dog attacks and flamethrower barbecues, big joints and drinking sprees… there is a lot to experience here with that unpredictability that made Tarantino famous.

With all its ups and down, and definitely strained in terms of duration, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a worthy ride that never stumbles into vulgarity.

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Rosie (2019)

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Direction: Paddy Breathnach
Country: Ireland

The low-budgeted Irish indie drama Rosie addresses one of the biggest problems the world is facing today: gentrification. The situation mostly affects the bigger cities and can be seen as a new form of random human cruelty.

While her husband, John Paul (Moe Dunford), is working hard at a busy restaurant, Rosie Davis (Sarah Greene) is inside their parked car with her four children, making consecutive phone calls in an attempt to get a hotel for just a few nights. No, they are not planning vacations… the reality is much different and appalling; they became homeless after their landlord sold the house, a social injustice that is commonly disregarded by politicians who, many times, benefit themselves in the ‘ungovernable’ real-estate business. I’m so glad that New York gave some signs of progress recently regarding this matter, when a rent-reform package was approved to protect the frequently harassed tenants.

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The struggle is daily and the pressure is high. Fear and shame invade their lives, but they refuse to let frustration or panic take control. Besides the lack of stability and having to sleep in the car sometimes, the family was blessed by a strong loving bond. We never see these attentive, caring parents acting impatiently or aggressively toward their kids, even when they misbehave or rebel.

Despite some incautious hand-held camera movements, the director Paddy Breathnach (Viva) did a satisfying work in capturing a realistic scenario. He worked from a bold script by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), who was inventive enough to put Lady Gaga staying at one of the hotels while gigging in town and turn a serious, sad moment into a fun battle of fries.

Depicting 36 stressful hours in these people's lives, the film doesn’t grant a resolution. However, it’s a heartbreaking, accurate, well-acted ride that made me think about how easily things can be lost in a moment and how miraculous love can be when in the face of desperate situations.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

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Direction: Chad Stahelski
Country: USA

Thrilling, enigmatic, and impeccably shot, the third entry in the John Wick neo-noir saga is not for the fainthearted, standing above the mediocrity that keeps enveloping the action-thriller genre. Under stuntman Chad Stahelski’s sure-handed directorial style, Keanu Reeves embraces the title character with no smiles in a hectic performance at the physical level, but pretty relaxed in terms of lines.

Even though his life now worths $14 million, the ‘excommunicado' and former assassin John Wick manages to escape his avid hunters with the precious help of a bunch of old pals. While Wick runs desperately throughout the streets of Manhattan, experiencing uncanny encounters and trying to evade fierce opponents, the ones who helped him are severely punished by the obscure, authoritarian council of high-level crime lords called the High Table, here almost fully represented by The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a powerful female figure committed to track him down. She relies on Zero (Mark Dacascos), a relentless Japanese assassin hired to bring him down.

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However, through his valuable underground contacts, Wick reaches Casablanca, where he re-encounters a former colleague, Sofia (Halle Berry returns in big). She prudently accepts to help him find The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), the only man above The High Table that can set him free, but not without a little revenge to settle their sore past.

Violent images filled with shooting rampages, knife-throwing disarrays, and spectacular chases combine with flawlessly choreographed physical fights, rather provoking and entertaining than actually disturbing.

With a terrific score fitting hand-in-glove with the noir imagery and a top-notch supporting cast elevating this chapter into a fairly good position, Parabellum surprises with a mix of comic book angst and tricky escapism.

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Rocketman (2019)

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Direction: Dexter Fletcher
Country: UK/USA/Canada

Rocketman offers a trippy musical account of the early days of British pop singer/composer Elton John. It was passionately choreographed and flamboyantly directed from a script by Lee Hall (War Horse; Billy Elliot), becoming an agreeable surprise. Even more so, when we bear in mind that its director, Dexter Fletcher, was directly involved in Bohemian Rhapsody, where the life of Queen’s Freddie Mercury was not so fun to watch, revealing problems about historical accuracy and in its technical execution.

In the first scene, we see a wasted, emotionally devastated Elton John entering a group therapy session dressed in an exuberant winged costume to affirm: ‘my name is Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic’. He also admits to have problems with drugs and anger management, but the film really never explores in that direction. Fletcher makes it fascinatingly canny with risk-taking scenes that simultaneously inform and entertain without resorting to any sort of cheap sentimentality or manipulation. In addition to that, he needed an amazing performance for the film to succeed and he gets it from Taron Egerton, who enlivened the character almost to perfection with his acting skills.

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Sir John’s indelible songs were pretexts for unabashed choreographies and a small amount of uncontemplated surrealism, advantageously employed in key moments of the story. It was done smartly and briefly with no exaggeration. The period and milieu are also nicely depicted, while relationships with lyricist friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and abusive music manager and lover John Reid (Richard Madden) were never insipid. However, some scenes depicting the interaction with his cold, indifferent father (Steven Mackintosh) could have been more diligent and, perhaps, less formal in order to not clash with the strategy adopted for the rest. Moreover, the anger management mentioned in the beginning of the film was a mirage, being completely wiped out from the script.

Pompous in the presentation, Rocketman is not perfect, but had enough nerve to show Elton John flying during a performance at Los Angeles’ venue The Troubadour. He didn’t need any plumed pair of wings for that.

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Little Woods (2019)

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Direction: Nia DaCosta
Country: USA

Grounded, socially aware, and believable, Little Woods is the first directorial effort by New York-based writer/director Nia DaCosta, whose bleak yet stubbornly optimistic tale highly benefits with the lucid performances from Tessa Thompson and Lily James.

In the last eight days of her probation, Ollie (Thompson) is decided to do better than smuggling pills over the Canadian border. However, the economically fragile Little Woods in North Dakota is not a comfortable place to make a living. If everything pointed in the right direction, the death of her mother and the unexpected contact with her depressive and emotionally volatile sister Deb (James), makes her step on muddy territory again. Despite the opposite personalities and some antagonism that stems from the past, the sisters unite in a dramatic small-town thriller that rings true. In fact, and even depicting complicated situations, the plot line is solid and never derivative.

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Sombre as it may be, this low-budget film centers on a character that never stops searching for solutions in an extremely adverse environment. DaCosta’s personal vision brings out shades of Kelly Reichardt and Debra Granik and refuses to exclude the possibility of dreaming, which is a positive factor. If you enjoy a tightly wrought story with clear-cut characters, then Little Woods is for you.

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Grass (2019)

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Direction: Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Prolific Korean director Hong Sang-soo is known for little conversational diamonds of the modern cinema and Grass, lasting 66 minutes only, shows he still didn’t run out of narrative possibilities within the breezy, light fluency that characterizes his filmmaking style. Sang-soo keeps depicting unpretentious day-to-day situations with realism. Fortuitous encounters, actors, directors, booze, cafes, personal frustrations and peculiarities of the daily life are ubiquitous elements in his works.

The cast includes the same collaborators that join Isabelle Huppert in Claire’s Camera, namely, Kim Min-hee, the director’s muse, and Jung Jin-young. Their gracious performances feel so natural that viewers may feel like voyeurs of true-life episodes. It's true that the story produces little dramatic fireworks and doesn't conclude resolutely. However, it’s remarkable how Sang-soo manages to completely engross us in a tale that only exists for our cinematic pleasure.

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Grass, his 22nd feature film, centers in Areum (Min-hee), a silent, observant young woman who spends a few daily hours in a local café typing on her laptop. She seems to be writing stories inspired by the personal dramas and complicated relationships of the ones sit around her table. A young drinking couple exchange accusations over the death of a close friend; an older suicidal actor is looking for a room and asks his younger former lover if he could stay with her, now that she moved from a tiny apartment to a two-story building; a mature heartless man blames a woman of toying with an old professor and lead him to suicide; a vain director needs something to inspire him and persuades the staring Areum to enter in his new film.

Where the reality ends and fantasy begins is up to the viewer. Meanwhile, Areum shows her temperamental side while hanging out with her brother. According to him, she suffers from spinster’s hysteria.

The classical music is occasionally intrusive while the black-and-white cinematography is aesthetically appropriate for a type of fiction embroiled in a deceptively philosophical guise.

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Brothers' Nest (2019)

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Direction: Clayton Jacobson
Country: Australia

Led by powerful complementary performances from Clayton and Shane Jacobson, Brothers’ Nest is a resourceful blend of family drama, dark comedy, and infamous crime. An inordinately entertaining low-budget thriller galvanized by a Coenesque style and shrouded in a doomed atmosphere. Clayton directed it from a story by Jaime Browne and Chris Pahlow.

Taking place at a secluded old house in Victoria, Australia, the tale follows two frustrated brothers, Jeff (Clayton) and Terry (Shane), who resolve to murder their stepfather, Rodger (Kim Gyngell). The reason is clear: their mother (Lynette Curran) is dying of cancer and her inheritance is about to be delivered to her longtime partner.

Besides utterly obsessed, scrupulous, and manipulative, Jeff is an annoying smart-ass. As the mastermind of the plan, he has answers for everything and constantly rebukes Terry, who exhibits a more passive temperament. As a matter of fact, the latter doesn’t seem to take the plan too seriously, showing more concern about his ex-wife taking his kids away from him.

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As you’re probably guessing by now, the plan is altered last minute, becoming corrupted with both gut-wrenching anxiety and supplementary violence that ramps up for a tense and tragic finale with some good laughs in between.

Boasting a fantastic score by Richard Pleasance and his Pleasantville band, the film takes some time to build up, but the writing is effective, pointing out to a tough, unrelenting, and intense final part where the brothers’ loyalty is put to test.

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Shazam! (2019)

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Direction: David F. Sandberg
Country: USA

Shazam! is an unequivocally silly movie that happens to be ridiculously fun too. The jovial, unfasten posture adopted here provided some of the pure excitement I experienced when watched Back To The Future many years ago. Working from a screenplay by Henry Grayden, director David F. Sandberg did a sensational job, reinforcing that he has a better future shaping up puerile superhero adventures than mediocre horror exercises such as Lights Out (2016) or Annabelle: Creation (2017), his previous releases.

Asher Angel stars as Billy Batson, a 14-year-old orphan who was given the capacity of transforming into the title character after a mystical encounter with an ancient wizard. He becomes a muscular adult (Zachary Levi) whose initial challenge is to learn and understand his superpowers. Once that important aspect is resolved, Shazam is ready to assist people in trouble, yet sometimes he fools around with the newly discovered abilities and things may go a bit cuckoo.

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With full support of his foster brother, the bullied Freddie Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy navigates the Philadelphia skies, fighting the supervillain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a vindictive physicist who, as a kid, was not only abandoned by his wealthy family but also discarded by the wizard for not having a pure heart. I liked the fact that the latter character was not just presented as the bad guy; his story can be grasped and fully discerned from the beginning.

The nature of the dialogue oscillates between witty and imbecilic, which didn’t bother me at all in this context, while the fast pace and high-energy scenes help to project the attractive visual style. Destined to be a commercial success, Shazam! combines comedy, action, and adventure in a very entertaining way.

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Ash Is Purest White (2019)

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Direction: Jia Zhangke
Country: China

Ash is Purest White is the latest art-house period drama of gifted Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke. It’s also a tart love story that spans 18 years and overflows with precious details and a lot of references to the auteur’s previous films and themes.

Structured in three parts, the story begins in 2001 in Datong and follows small-time mobster Guo Bin (Liao Fan) and his loyal, quick-witted girlfriend Zhao Qiao (director’s wife and muse Zhao Tao). They spend time among friends, playing mahjong at the bar he owns and taking a good care of the illicit business that allows them to live comfortably. As members of the Jianghu, a word referring to the Chinese underworld, which also means trust, they act and react according to that lifestyle. “For people like us, it’s always to kill or to be killed”- he says. However, the Jianghu is not like in the old days anymore. Times are changing at a hasty pace. Whilst he enjoys living in the margins of the society, she opens up about wanting a stable life, in an attempt to coax him into the idea of family.

This dream becomes totally impracticable for Qiao after she was forced to shoot a gun to save Bin’s life from a violent ambush. While she is sentenced to five years, he does only one, after which he never visits her in prison. Immediately after her release, the disappointed Qiao heads to Fengjie, where Bin is now working. She obviously suspects of betrayal, but, self-reliant as she is, she just can’t let the hope dies and forget the case. Moreover, if something happened, she wants to hear it from him, not from anyone else. Is she prepared for the cruel truth?

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The misadventure includes a frustrating boat trip through the Three Ganges Dam and a lot of artfulness to survive. The repeated locations and comparable characters make us think of a combination between the social disenchantment of Unknown Pleasures and the austere transformations of modern China depicted in Still Life. In the same manner, a strong female character is at the center of the story, just like it happened in the director’s previous effort, Mountains May Depart. Still, Zhao Tao elevates Qiao as the most active and resolute of the characters, delivering a thoroughly engaging performance.

Preserving a detailed, intimate, and observant style, so reminiscent of Hou Hsiao Hsien, Zhangke provides us a culturally intense, consistently-told story with a noir sense of punishment, bitterness, and disillusion. This powerful look at an ever-transitioning Chinese society comes with plausible twists that indicate new times, new realities, and new postures.

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A Twelve-Year Night (2018)

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Direction: Alvaro Brechner
Country: Uruguay

The terror of solitary confinement with all its deprivations and consequent psychological effects is extensively depicted in Alvaro Brechner’s A Twelve-Year Night, a haunting account of 12 years of incarceration in the life of Jose Mujica (Antonio de la Torre), the one who, years later, would become the charismatic president of Uruguay, and his two Tupamaro compatriots, Mauricio Rosencof (Chino Darín) and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro (Alfonso Tort).

In 1973, Uruguay in taken by a military dictatorship. Members of a left-wing guerrilla group known as Tupamaros are considered subversive traitors of the country, being persecuted and destroyed without clemency. Some of them, the ones that couldn’t be annihilated on the spot, were incarcerated and subjected to inhumane treatment over the course of several years. In the case of this trio of heroes, they were targeted in a secret military operation and isolated, although, moving from cell to cell. No one could talk to them just as they were unauthorized to talk to anyone. This was a clear attempt to drive them insane. They couldn't exercise either and sometimes his movements were limited to a small square painted on the floor.

Claustrophobic cells with no toilet or sink were part of the strategy to affect them in the head. Occasionally, out of pity, the soldiers threw them the leftovers of meals with cigarette butts in the mix.

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But notwithstanding all these torments, they found a way to communicate with each other by knocking on the walls with their knuckles. They could even play virtual chess this way and keep their brains active. Mujica was the one struggling the most with delusional psychosis and not even his mother’s vehement appeal to resist seemed to work. In turn, Ruso, who was a writer, was granted some perks after helping a sergeant winning his lover’s heart. He was the one writing the love letters. On one of those occasions, the friends had a unique chance to see one another; an exceptionally conceded stretch in the open air.

Regardless of some familiar routines, the hostile atmosphere is depicted with rigor, with the scenes shot at the Montevideo’s Libertad Prison and Pamplona’s Fort San Cristobal - a former correction facility for over a decade - reinforcing that positive attribute. While cells like these continue to exist in many countries, we learn through this description that they should be brought to a close because acts of inhumanity can never win, whatever the circumstances they are perpetrated.

Brechner forgot to expose an important detail: the political background of the characters. Even so, it was hard to take my eyes off the screen.

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If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

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Direction: Barry Jenkins
Country: USA

If Beale Street Could Talk is Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, whose title refers to a 1916 blues song by W.C. Handy. To tell this sad tale of love, racial prejudice, and injustice, Jenkins (director of the three-Oscar winning Moonlight) reckoned on the acting skills of debutant Kiki Layne and the slightly more tested Stephan James, who appeared in Selma (2014) and Race (2016).

The story takes place in Harlem in the early ’70s, where the 19-year-old African-American Tish Rivers (Layne) informs her affectionate parents, Sharon (Regina King) and Joseph (Colman Domingo), as well as her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris), that she is pregnant from her fiancée Fonny (James), a childhood friend from her neighborhood who was put in jail without a trial for a rape he didn’t commit. A malicious white cop, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein), deliberately gave false testimony to frame Fonny, who now depends on the Puerto Rican victim, Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios), to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis), a religious fanatic, sees this pregnancy as an act of sin and curses Tish’s unborn child. In any case, the incident doesn’t dissuade her husband Frank (Michael Beach) to offer all his support. He starts working hard in cooperation with Frank in the interest of the child. A lawyer is hired, and Sharon travels to Puerto Rico in hopes that Ms. Rogers could change her mind.

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Jenkins exerted the expected sensitivity for each scene, yet some of them worked better than others. For several times I got the feeling that the atmosphere was touching the theatrical, while from a narrative point of view, some struggle was detected in keeping up a convenient pace, with a couple of redundant scenes breaking the initial fluidity. Regardless of what has been said, it’s admirable how a jittery tension installs throughout with the physical violence kept to a minimum necessary. In the end, it’s all too heartbreaking.

With Ms. Layne making a notable first appearance on the big screen, and Jenkins treating the borrowed material with cognizance, this film can be considered a valuable entry in the specific category of based-on-true-events drama. It was also great if people could learn from its message.

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The Heiresses (2018)

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Direction: Marcelo Martinessi
Country: Paraguay

Carrying everything with a flawless performance, first-time actor Ana Brun takes this drama film into another level. The Heiresses marks the directorial debut of Paraguayan writer/director Marcelo Martinessi, whose work received honorable praise in Berlin.

We are introduced to Chela (Brun), a depressed middle-aged woman who is part of the prosperous, elitist circles of Asuncion. However, she lives a delicate situation after losing all her inherited fortune and social status. Whenever possessed by fear, Chela manifests a mix of emotional fragility and bitterness, but at the same time, she can be cold and hostile, putting on airs of superiority when interacting with the new maid, Pati (Nilda Gonzalez).

She lives in the same ample house where she was born, in the company of her longtime girlfriend Chiquita (Margarita Irun), who soon will have to do time on fraud charges. Meanwhile, the couple keeps selling their inherited possessions in order to survive, starting with the silver cutlery and valuable chandeliers. Their wrecked financial situation is entrusted to Carmela (Alicia Guerra), an old friend who now would like to repay them the help she received in the past. As you can imagine, this is all very painful for someone who always lived lavishly.

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Surprisingly, Chela transfigures for the better as soon as Chiquita is thrown into jail, gathering all her courage to drive for the first time in many years. She makes use of her old, cherished Mercedes to provide local taxi service to her wealthy neighbor Pituca (María Martins) and her friends. As if that were not enough, she falls for a younger woman, Angy (Ana Ivanova), who makes herself available for new relationships after breaking up with her boyfriend. Would she be open to a romantic relationship with a woman? Chela feels rejuvenated. The fears suddenly evaporated and she even regained the sexual desire lost several years before. One incontestable fact is that her life will never be the same again.

Balancing the low-key tones that involve the story with the ever-present inner tension of the main character, Martinessi aims at Paraguayan society. Moreover, the slow developments suit the story well, which, working under the sign of authenticity, stirs up captive emotions. The Heiresses is an understated yet assured work.

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Transit (2018)

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Direction: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany / France

German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Barbara; Phoenix) shows a predisposition to structure his dramas in a ravishing, oblique way. His latest effort, Transit, is set in the port city of Marseille during the Nazi invasion.

The central character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German Jew on the run, who finds a viable way to flee the country without arousing the suspicion of the authorities. He is in possession of a document issued by the Mexican consulate to another man that can guarantee him a transit visa. In truth, he stole the identity of that man, Weidel, a celebrated poet who didn’t resist the Nazi pressure and committed suicide in Paris. Weidel’s charming wife, Marie (Paula Beer), is also stuck in Marseille, waiting anxiously for him, so they can depart to Mexico, the much desired safe harbor.

In the meantime, and before meeting Marie in strange circumstances, Georg visits the wife and son of a comrade who succumbed to the manhunt. The woman, Melissa (Maryam Zaree), is mute and was born in the Maghreb; her sweet kid, Driss (Lilien Batman), loves to play soccer, forging a strong bond with Georg, whom he gladly adopts as a father figure. Both are illegal refugees in the country, which becomes a terrible inconvenience when Driss gets sick. Opportunely, Georg offers himself to find doctor Richard (Godehard Giese), who is having an affair with Marie but is planning to leave her soon to embrace a bigger medical cause in Europe. Marie is visibly confused. She wants her husband so badly that, for a couple of times, she had mistaken him for Georg, the man who strategized about saving himself by impersonating him. However, Georg decides to alter his plans after falling for her.

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Georg can thank his lucky stars because in some cases, despair leads gradually to tragedy, especially if you are stranded and hopeless. In different situations, tragedies just come with fate. Ironically, “Road to Nowhere” by The Talking Heads plays during the final credits.

The extraordinary performances magnify the complexity of the characters, surrounding them with empathy. Still, you will find emotional pain in every each of them. It’s outstanding how quietly the director gets close to these people.

The plot, adapted by Petzold from Anna Seghers’ WW2 novel to fit the present-day, can be challenging sometimes, but the articulation of the scenes and that pleasurable ambiguity in the narrative turn the film into an interesting watching. Don’t expect many thrills, though, since the director is more interested in offering a wide tonal palette of emotional reflections than really shocking us directly through the images.

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Blaze (2018)

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Direction: Ethan Hawke
Country: USA

Better known as an actor, Ethan Hawke decided not to star in Blaze, a film he directed and co-wrote about the American country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Hawke may not make all perfect choices in this well-intended adaptation of Blaze’s ex-wife memoir, particularly in terms of duration and dynamics. However, he succeeds in enveloping the viewer with that same digressive sarcasm and melancholic torpor that got the musician, an alcohol-drenched, ZZ Top-like bearded man who died at the young age of 39. He once affirmed: “I don’t want to be a star. I want to be a legend". Real-life musician Ben Dickey played the character adeptly, in what was his first acting role.

On the gnarling inaugural scene, probably the most vivid of the film, a wasted Blaze and his junkie friend, the folk singer Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), drive a studio manager crazy. Blaze’s story, then unfolds as Van Zandt and Zee (Josh Hamilton), another musician, give an interview about the former's latest album.

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The flashbacks, filtered with yellowish monochromatic warmth, show the ups and downs of the long relationship with his supportive Jewish lover, Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), who would become his wife. After enduring disenchantment associated with Blaze’s drinking problem, she was forced to move on, leaving him in a pitiful state of decadence, playing songs about his life experiences for indifferent people in small, nearly empty southern pubs.

Capturing the emotional subterfuges of an artist you’ve probably never heard of, the film never felt less than thoroughly lived-in by a cast that was permanently in the care of making this small work a bigger achievement. It’s a lengthy, inebriating, and casually funny experience that didn’t fall into the usual traps of biographical films.

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Heavy Trip (2018)

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Directed by Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren
Country: Finland

The first directorial endeavor by the winning team Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren tells about an unheard Finnish heavy metal band that embarks on a crazy trip to Norway in a desperate attempt to perform in the Northern Damnation Festival. They are eager to make everyone proud in their rural little village, Taivalkoski.

The four members of the band are very peculiar, starting by the lead vocalist, Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a tranquil, introverted fellow who is easily transformed into a powerful roarer whenever holding a mic. Turo works in a mental institution and nurtures secret feelings for Miia (Minka Kuustonen), a childhood friend.

Pasi (Max Ovaska) plays the bass and might not be totally normal. He works in the local library and remembers every song he hears. Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) is extremely fast on guitar and efficient in slaughtering reindeers in his father’s farm, while the drummer, Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen), is considered the toughest guy in the band. However, he often faints while playing due to lack of oxygen in the brain.

These talented musicians never played live before, but envision their big opportunity when the manager of the cited Norwegian festival (Ville Tiihonen) made a traumatic stop by the village. Although upset with the sordid events of his short visit, he accepts a demo containing one sole brutal original inspired by the sound of a reindeer grinder.

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While waiting for a response of the manager, Turo tells Miia he’s heading to Norway with the band in order to impress her. They suddenly earn reputation, stepping up from losers to heroes, and even get to open a concert for Jouni (Ville Tiihonen), the swaggering vocalist of a soft-pop band who is flirting with Miia for quite some time. The concert becomes memorable, but for the worst reasons.

After being informed they wouldn’t be playing the gig, the quartet, now called Impaled Rektum, adopts the fearless attitude of true metalheads and rashly prepares for the trip. However, a last-minute incident forces them to recruit one of Turo’s intimidating patients, Oula (Chike Ohanwe).

They steal, commit profanation, and almost provoke a war between countries. Yet, nothing dissuades them from their goal, not even Miia’s super-protective father (Kai Lehtinen), a rigorous cop who, at the right time, decides to give a chance to Turo, the man he comically designates as the glue-sniffing criminal.

Heavy Trip is an absurdist, powerhouse folly, which feels spunky enough to honor the musical genre and comes filled with deadpan hilarity to please comedy addicts.

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The Sisters Brothers (2018)

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Directed by Jacques Audiard
Country: USA / France / other

This is a gratifying adaptation of Patrick deWitt's novel by French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone; Deephan), who commands an excellent cast with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in the leading roles, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as credible supporting actors. In his first English-language film, Audiard, who co-wrote the script with regular associate Thomas Bidegain, provides quite a bit fun as he depicts sequential reverses in the life of two criminal brothers, Charlie (Phoenix) and Eli Sisters (Reilly). The occurrences are incidental to a ravenous gold rush that starts in 1851 Oregon and ends in San Francisco.

While the younger brother, Charlie, is dangerously impulsive - he drinks and kills with equivalent zest, Eli is tired of being an assassin on the run. He actually lives to cover his brother’s misconducts. Both work for the Commodore (Rutger Hauer), a harmful man who assigned them to fetch Hermann Kermit Warm (Ahmed), a gold prospector and chemist who developed a secret formula to extract gold from rivers. Also in his tail is John Morris (Gyllenhaal), a patient detective with an intellectual posture, whose mission is befriending him before giving him away to the brothers. The plans change after Warm and Morris become true friends, which leads the former to make an irresistible proposition to the brothers. They promptly accept, also agreeing to part ways after this job. However, the unreliable Charlie puts everyone in danger after a terrible lapse. The ending is a pure nostalgic pleasure.

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With salient dark humor popping out from time to time and a great score by Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water; Argo; The King’s Speech), The Sisters Brothers provides proper entertainment even when things become a bit out of control. The strong performances by the leads help to shape curious characters with strong personalities, and Audiard plunges into the Western genre with conviction and panache, offering reasonably more than just the essential. It may be a passive film at times, but never exhausting.

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Claire's Camera (2018)

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Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: France / South Korea

I can understand why Claire’s Camera, the new drama film by Korean director Hong Sang-soo, may be considered a bit shallow for some viewers. At the first sight, the story feels somewhat underdeveloped, but a deeper look into its incidents made me appreciate it more. Shot during the 2016 Cannes film festival, the film is an insouciant 68-minute reflection on relationships and time, the transitory and the permanent.

The most delightful episode of the film happens during its first minutes, when Manhee (Kim Min-hee), a film selling person in Cannes, is forced to resign from work without an acceptable reason. Her boss, Yanghye (Chang Mi-hee), justifies the fact with a sudden loss of confidence after five years working together but contradicts herself during the explanation. She states she hired her because of her honesty, something you can’t change with time, but now is trying to convince her that it changed.

After a while, we learn that the true reason for the dismissal was jealousy. The 50-year-old filmmaker So Wansoo (Jung Jin-young), for whom they work, slept with Manhee while drunk. Nothing wrong with that if he wouldn't be maintaining a romantic relationship with Yanghye.

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The sadness of being without a job becomes attenuated when Manhee befriends Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a full-time Parisienne teacher and part-time photographer who is in Cannes for the first. She meets director Wansoo by chance, becoming a bit shocked by how much he drinks, and through her magical camera, encourages Manhee to figure out what she wasn’t capable to understand.

Fluctuating with slight temporal shifts, the narrative feels manifestly comfortable while the dialogues don’t measure up to other Sang-soo works, but feel naturally engaging nonetheless. Only some of the scenarios felt a bit too composed.

This is the second time that celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher; Elle) works with Sang-soo, following their auspicious collaboration in 2012 with In Our Country. In turn, Min-hee (The Handmaiden), after the polemic news regarding her real-life affair with the director, continues his muse, having participated in all his works since 2015.

Claire’s Camera is not among the director’s best efforts and yet, has the power to captivate us with its lightness, effortless spontaneity, and instinctive charm.

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Dede (2018)

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Directed by Mariam Khatchvani
Country: Georgia

Mariam Khatchvani’s feature debut, Dede, is an expansion of her 2013 short film Dinola. The story takes place in 1992 Georgia, in a remote mountainous Caucasian region, Svaneti, where the unalterable, long-established tradition consent men to prevail, relegating women to housework and silence. Not happy with this procedure, Dina (Natia Vibliani) refuses to marry David (Nukri Khachvani), who just returned from the war zone in the company of his good comrade Gegi (George Babluani). The latter is the man Dina fell in love with. Besides hurt in the feelings, David is also ashamed as the wedding is cancelled and he fears to become the laugh of the village.

Following a tragic incident, Dina and Gegi eventually run away to his village,  eloping and having a son. However, the happiness doesn’t last long since Gegi is killed and her children taken away by her strict father, who, according to the unwritten laws, has the right to claim the child. Dressed in black for an indefinite mourning period, Dina earns the reputation of a black widow. They say she killed two men already, but apart from the gossip or what the other villagers may think, Girshel (Girchel Chelidze) is decided to take her as a wife, once again using the male-centric power at his disposal. At least he is a good man and really loves her. What can he do to make her love him too?

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Impeccably photographed by Konstantin Esadze, the film impels us to ponder about how women are still mistreated in some regions, hampered from having an active role in any intellectual or creative affairs. It brings to view other pertinent aspects such as the absence of school or the belief in ancient rituals to heal, refusing medicine.

Inspired by her grandmother’s story, Khatchvani really dug into her roots, releasing a very personal, strongly feminist, and deeply felt film. The director addresses vital topics with a competent execution, which only failed in creating a bit more dramatic frisson in some essential parts of the story. I would say that, in this case and due to the power of the message, the whole is slightly more engrossing than the individual sections of the film.

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