Light Of My Life (2019)

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Direction: Casey Affleck
Country: USA

Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea; Gone Baby Gone; A Ghost Story) is a great actor, who sporadically makes a move into film direction. Light of My Life, his sophomore directorial feature, is now released, nine years after I’m Still Here.

The film is a survival tale and dystopian thriller, telling the story of an attentive widower, simply known as Dad (Affleck), who tries to protect his 11-year-old daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky), from the hands of unscrupulous predators. Years before, a plague had decimated most of the female population, including Rag’s mother (Elisabeth Moss), but for some unexplained reason, the kid was spared. The current situation forces Rag to dress like and pretend to be a boy whenever in the presence of strangers. Tireless in his travels and meticulous escape plans, for how much longer can Dad hide his princess from such a destructive world?

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Pointless flashbacks informing us about the difficult past moments lived in the family are part of a screenplay that isn’t especially inventive. The film is still able to capture an interesting vibe that comes from the strong bond and trust established by the two leads. Yet, regardless of this particular aspect and the persistent anxiety-filled scenes, there’s nothing new here to be remembered. Sadly, the promise of a thrilling story fades along the way.

Light of My Life was gorgeously shot, though. Virtuosity is identified in the well-composed frames captured by the lens of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Lore, Animal Kingdom), in particular of the interiors. Despite watchable, this is a trivial effort whose comparisons with John Hillcoat’s The Road are inevitable.

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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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Skin (2019)

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Direction: Guy Nattiv
Country: USA

Uneven but necessary, Skin is the fourth feature film from Israeli-born writer/director Guy Nattiv. This biographical drama, which is not related to his 2018 short film of the same name, tells the story of Bryon ‘Pitbull' Widner (Jamie Bell), a brutal white supremacist who decides to change life after meeting Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a qualified mother of three. However, Bryon doesn’t have the freedom to embrace a normal life. For that to happen, he would need to break all ties with his skinhead gang led by Fred (Bill Camp) and his wife, Shareen (Vera Farmiga). The couple often recruits, adopts, and brainwashes young kids from the streets, giving them some sense of belonging so they can join their filthy cause. The subversives are punished according to the rules.

Trapped between two antagonistic worlds, Bryon ends up getting married in secrecy, moving from one city to another to protect his family, and ultimately accepting a one-time deal with the FBI in order to dismantle the gang. To complete his radical transformation, he undergoes 162 days of painful tattoo removal, clearing both his skin and his soul.

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Some scenes intend to demonstrate the difficulty of dealing with fear, anger, and impulsivity at once. Nattiv succeeds in some disturbing ones, those that linger in the mind. Others, may feel a bit too rushed and contrived, though.

The excellent performance from Bell bolsters a film that is always interesting and, on occasion, compelling. The message has a vital importance in our days, and I just hope that the ones involved can learn something and change their lives by following Bryon’s example.

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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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The Mustang (2019)

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Direction: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre
Country: USA

Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s feature debut The Mustang is a drama with backbone but also with plenty of familiarities. Anchored by Matthias Schoenaerts’s sober performance, the film tells the story of Roman Coleman, an inmate, emotionally destructed by a crime committed within his own family. He finds redemption through an outdoor rehabilitation program that encompasses the training of wild, free-roaming horses, which will posteriorly be sold to the public in auctions. Clermont-Tonnerre, who co-wrote with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock, got the idea from the real rehabilitation program that exists in Carson, Nevada.

As he attempts to tame a horse as wild as he is, Coleman finds a valid opportunity to forgive himself, regaining confidence and easing the grief that has been consuming him for 12 years. This fact also allows him to reconnect with his daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon), who is expecting a child. He accomplishes the mission with the help of Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow convict who happens to be the best horse trainer in the facility, and under the guidance of Myles (Bruce Dern), a rancher who, despite sarcastic, believes in his capacities. On the other side, there’s the vicious Dan (Josh Stewart), Coleman’s cellmate, who gives everybody a hard time.

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The film is not devoid of weaknesses, presenting episodes whose repercussions are overlooked and then forgotten - the conflict with Dan is a blatant example. Simplistic, predictable, and visually unimpressive, the well-intentioned The Mustang discloses some aspects the majority of us don’t know about American prisons. However, it not only lacks genuine emotional force in several scenes but also structural stability to fully succeed.

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The Dead Don't Die (2019)

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Direction: Jim Jarmusch
Country: USA

In recent years, acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch showed his versatility by successfully changing the themes of his films. He cleverly explored the world of vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), documented the American punk band The Stooges in Gimme Danger (2016), and offered one of the smartest and most engaging stories from 2016 with Paterson. His new movie, The Dead Don’t Die is a George A. Romero-inspired zombie-comedy pastiche whose connection with the previous three films are the actors. Tilda Swinton is the character who fascinated me the most, yet Jarmusch also convened Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, and Iggy Pop, who makes a brief yet authoritative appearance as a zombie.

When radio signals repeatedly fail and the days become inexplicably longer in the small town of Centerville, the local police force - represented by the easygoing Cliff (Murray), the suspicious and cerebral Ronnie (Driver), and the super sensitive Mindy Morrison (Sevigny) - starts to think about Hermit Bob (Waits), an apparently aggressive caveman that lives in the forest for years without never hurting anyone. The cops immediately drop the suspect when an unexpected zombie attack takes place at the local bar (the pair of blood drinkers and flesh eaters are Iggy Pop and Sara Driver), leaving a general sense of fear in the air.

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If the apathetic police officers behave passively, a local gas station owner, Bob Wiggins (Jones), and the fearless Scottish sword master, Zelda Winston (Swinton), are pretty committed to fighting the walking corpses. The latter, even enjoys a close relationship, sort to speak, with the dead since she works as an undertaker at the Ever After Funeral Home. In the film’s most imbecilic scene, she is teleported into a UFO.

There’s nothing we haven't seen before in The Dead Don’t Die, with the aggravation that its course is predictable and slow, the deadpan humor only works intermittently, and its action scenes are dully bland. Jarmusch has definitely the passion, but he didn’t have the brains to take this caricatural experience to the next level. Unfortunately, that contagious, nightmarish side we hope to find in a film of this nature is missing.

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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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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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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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Booksmart (2019)

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Direction: Olivia Wilde
Country: USA

Teenage agitation and frantic ethos are back in this delicious coming-of-age comedy from actress Olivia Wilde, who excels in her directorial debut. Booksmart is the product of a jointly creative work authored by four female writers: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman. Unfolding at a hyperactive pace, this highly entertaining film also serves as a showcase for Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s acting capabilities.

After learning about their unpopularity among their school peers, two hugely smart graduating high school students and best friends, Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever), resolve to demonstrate the world that they are not one-dimensional A+ people and that brains are just a little part of their tremendously interesting selves. Consequently, they will do the impossible to stand out at Nick’s end-of-the-year party, but before reaching there, bizarre occurrences make the night impudently eventful due to the company of the eccentric Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and the frenzied Gigi (Billie Lourd).

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Expect a drug trip that ends up in obscene doll-related hallucinations, a first-time lesbian sex experience with disastrous results, a serious argument and subsequent poignant reconciliation, an emotional goodbye, and even a funny conversation promptly delivered in Chinese at their most convenience. Everything looks cute with the deft handling of script and camera by Ms. Wilde, whose directorial career starts auspiciously.

At once rebellious and charmer, Booksmart also displays strong technical aspects, including an effective soundtrack with an inclination for hip-hop. Actor/comedian Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (Vice; The Big Short) were summoned as executive producers, while the casting by Allison Jones (Lady Bird) is brilliant. Without the hypocrisy of its genre-related competitors, this is a refreshing teen movie that bounces with energy and tangy dialogue.

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A Vigilante (2019)

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Direction: Sarah Daggar-Dickson
Country: USA

Despite the interesting topic, Sarah Daggar-Dickson’s directorial debut didn’t exceed my expectations, becoming a minimally involving slow-burner set in upstate New York that essentially relies on Olivia Wilde’s convincing performance to elevate it slightly above the levels of mediocrity.

After a ruining past experience that made her endure physical abuses and lose a child at the hands of a violent husband, Sadie (Wilde) found the strength to abandon the depressive state she was immersed into. She resolved to turn her life from passive to active and act fiercely against domestic abusers. Although occasionally exposed to panic attacks that contrast with the ice-cold expression she evinces while in action, the skinny Sadie prepared herself physically to apply the same brutal violence that husbands and neglecting parents use against their frightened and weaker relatives. She still attends the support group meetings that set out a whole world of physically abused women, who, despaired, don’t know how to escape their aggressors. Sadie finds relief by making them pay for their misconduct.

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After a few rescues, including a devastated kid whose brother was violently harmed by their mother, Sadie faces the worst of her nightmares: the return of her cruel husband (Morgan Spector).

The idea in this classically suspenseful story sounds a lot better than its execution. The director cooks it slow and steady, balancing the tension throughout. Yet, she never provides that spine-chilling effect one constantly seeks in a film of this nature.

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Glass (2019)

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Direction: M. Night Shyamalan
Country: USA

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass marks the last part of the Unbreakable trilogy, launched with Unbreakable in 2000 and followed with Split in 2016. This new thriller tries to funnel the two precedent story threads into a conclusion, but the problem is that I was unable to feel excitement or have any type of reward along the way. Shyamalan, 48, had his biggest success in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, and since then has been giving signs of creative constraints. Examples that testify what was just said are The Village, The Happening, and Lady In The Winter, all nonsense mystery movies.

In truth, the final chapter of the trilogy is also its worst part, a clunky superhero film fabricated with worn out procedures, where the thrills are so scarce or practically nonexistent that we want it to end before long. During the first 20 minutes, the director sort of promised to take us somewhere, but instead, he let it all dribble away, remaining in a fog of apathy that has absolutely no pay off in the end.

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Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy reprise their roles from the previous installments as the indestructible vigilante David Dunn, the murderous mastermind Elijah Price, and the multi-personality criminal Kevin Wendell Crumb, respectively. All three are locked in a mental hospital and defied by an ambitious and skeptical young psychiatrist, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who undertakes the byzantine task of proving that they are just ‘normal’ people, totally devoid of superpowers.

Problems with this film: the ideas simply don’t breathe, the narrative is more viscous than fluid, the dialogue is stiff, the connections are simplistic and amateurish, and the performances have no room to shine. The fact of the manner is that the film is so anti-climax and preposterous that not even the action scenes with The Beast succeeded in capturing my attention. To summarize, Glass would need to be completely reconsidered, script-wise, and then redone from scratch.

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Triple Frontier (2019)

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Direction: J.C. Chandor
Country: USA

Triple Frontier, the fourth feature from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call; All is Lost; The Most Violent Year), is a bi-lingual action thriller that could have been much more interesting with less patterned behaviors. Co-written by Chandor and Mark Goal (mostly known by the invaluable contributions to Kathryn Bigelow’s films, including The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) from a story by the latter, the film is configured with some conscious twists, which doesn’t erase the trouble in the head of five retired first-class soldiers brought to life by Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal. The decent cast, with the exception of Affleck, who couldn't persuade me with his weak performance, was powerless to overcome some debilitations of a canny script.

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Five aimless former Special Forces operatives decide to embark on an illegal, self-prepared mission to bring down a powerful South American warlord and steal his millions. After doing it, they meet with the difficulties of transportation, given the absurd amount of $100 bills collected.

Mildly enjoyable, Candor’s platitude is pumped up by some good, if intermittent, thrilling scenes and the sharp duality that confronts amorality - in the face of greed - with the unselfishness that ensues redemption. Both the camerawork and the film’s pace are controlled with effectiveness, while the powerful soundtrack features Metallica, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
If you’re a fan of the heist genre, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. If not, skip it.

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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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Dragged Across Concrete (2019)

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Direction: S. Craig Zahler
Country: USA

American director S. Craig Zahler had left a very good impression in his debut feature, the adventurous western Bone Tomahawk, but was powerless in maintaining the positive vibrations in the inglorious, punishingly tedious Dragged Across Concrete. The film is a neo-noir crime thriller written by Zahler and starring Mel Gibson and Tory Kittles as a suspended cop turned outlaw and a relapsing criminal with nothing to lose, respectively.

Frustrated Bulwark police agents, Brett Ridgeman (Gibson) and his reliable partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are captured in a video, using excessive force in an uncomplicated operation involving cash and narcotics. After a complaint is made, the case gets the attention of the media and they end up with a six-week suspension and no pay.

The situation forces them to radically change positions and infiltrate in the underground crime world. Not for justice, though, but to chase the wealth their lives are asking for. Their destinies cross with a ferocious gang that includes Henry Johns (Kittles), an African-American ex-con, who just got out of the prison to realize that his mother became a drug addict and prostitute. He bills are six months behind and she doesn't pay enough attention to his physically disabled younger brother.

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The film incurs in a derivative minor subplot when Kelly (Jennifer Carpenter), an esteemed employee of the bank marked to be robbed by the ruthless gang, goes to work for the first time after her baby was born. On another note, swallowing a key was never so easy, while taking it out of the stomach was both coarse and repugnant. Apart from these details, the tale comes to a cop-gangster association enveloped in paranoia, mistrust, and suspicion.

There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before or better done. The uncharismatic characters and languid pace cut down any interest we might have in a story extended to 159 painful minutes where insensibility and banality reign.

Largely shot in lurid, gilded tones that serve to paint oppressive environments, Dragged Across Concrete is a tremendous misfire that even the most vehement fans of cop thrillers should have trouble to connect.

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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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Vice (2018)

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Direction: Adam McKay
Country: USA

Unfolding like a documentary, but adapted to the dynamic style of director Adam McKay (The Big Short), Vice tells the true story of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, whose quietness couldn't dissimulate a maniacal thirst for power. Encouraged by his controlling and super ambitious wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), Dick became one of the most powerful and shadowy leaders in American history. The character gains an interesting dimension thanks to Christian Bale (American Hustle; American Psycho; The Machinist), who put a lot of effort - he gained 40 pounds for this role - in another glorious appearance.

Structuring the film in a bold way, McKay uses a fictional narrator, an ex-war vet named Kurt (Jesse Plemons), who connects to the main character in an unthinkable way. This was sort of amusing during the first quarter of the film, especially since he puts forth some mordant lines. However, as the story advances, the facts become serious and the jokes lose their purpose. McKay showed indecision about which kind of tone to infuse, the critically informative or the inconsistently satirical. He simply didn’t give up any of them.

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After the introductory part, the story winds back to 1963, making us aware of Dick’s alcoholic problem when young, a deciding factor that hampered him from graduating at Yale. However, under the protective wing of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and following his own opportunistic instincts, he gradually becomes an influential political figure in several Republican administrations, working with presidents Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush. It was with the latter in command, between 2001 and 2009, that he took hold of the vice-presidency, enjoying unprecedented power in a position that is usually more figurative than active.

Even moderately bored with the adopted tones and unable to find real tension throughout, I never lost interest in knowing more about this calculating man, who, among health problems, sees his gay daughter Mary (Alison Pill) fall out. In fact, and after thinking for a bit, I found these people uninteresting in all their cynicism. McKay captures everything at an accelerated pace and doesn’t miss an opportunity to play with the viewer. He even mounted a fake ending with credits and everything, just to make the film proceed a minute after.

Vice informs galore as it attempts to make the humoresque narrative work in its favor. It doesn’t always succeed and the scenes lack the heebie-jeebies that make political dramas triumph. For these reasons, mixed feelings arise whenever it comes to my mind.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

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Direction: Marielle Heller
Country: USA

The director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller, surprises us once again with a charming biopic set in New York about the lonely and alcoholic celebrity biographer Lee Israel, here marvelously portrayed by Melissa McCarthy. The actress loads her performance with wittiness and dramatic instinct, finding an excellent ally in Richard E. Grant, who plays Lee’s homeless friend, Jack Hock.

Based on Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name, Can You Ever Forgive Me? brings favorable result through the vibrant screenplay by Nicole Holofcener (Please Give; Enough Said) and James Whitty, the silky vocal jazz standards, the warm colors of Brandon Trost’s cinematography, and the tridimensional characters, whose idiosyncrasies hook you in.

Known for her bluntness, discourtesy, and difficult temper, Lee, 51, is being avoided by her agent, Marjorie (Jane Curtin), who stopped returning her phone calls. Obviously, the agent is unenthusiastic with Lee’s idea of writing a book about the film/radio star Fanny Brice. Thus, all her attention and energy are now turned to the far more popular, if less skilled, biographer Tom Clancy.

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As a result of her dismissal from a part-time job, Lee finds herself in a complicated situation since she has been affected by writer’s block. Her rent is three months behind and her cat, which she likes better than people, is sick. That’s when she conjures up a brilliant, easy scheme that would allow her to make a living: to forge personal letters from deceased authors and selling them to book stores for a convenient price. She did it 400 times before being unmasked and her name put down on the bookshops’ alert list. Even under these circumstances, she refuses to give up from the easy life, relying on Jack to continue the stratagem.

In the end, it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for these disconsolate crooks, who contribute humor and sadness in equal measures for the sake of the film. Heller’s expeditious direction and consistent storytelling potentiate both the gravitas and the titillation of an amusing biopic.

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Suspiria (2018)

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Direction: Luca Guadagnino
Country: Italy / USA

Italian Luca Guadagnino, auteur of powerful films such as I Am Love (2009) and the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name (2017), makes his first move in the horror genre with a botched remake of Dario Argento’s 70s cult film Suspiria. Working from a screenplay by David Kajganich, who has previously worked with the director in A Bigger Splash (2015), Guadagnino had a gifted cast at his disposal, featuring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton as protagonists, and Mia Goth and Angela Winkler in strong supporting roles.

The fiction takes place in 1977 Berlin, to where Ohio-born Susie Bannion (Johnson) moves definitely in order to join the prestigious international dance academy headed by the sinister Madame Blanc (one of the three roles of the amazing Swinton). Two influential dancers, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Olga Ivanova (Elena Fokina), left the school psychologically affected with recondite occurrences. The former is missing; the latter was victimized by an invisible entity with virulent dance impulses. In the sequence of their absences, Suzie becomes the new protégé of the inscrutable, vampirelike Blanc. She can feel a dark force pushing her while working in the dance room and regularly affecting her dreams.

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Practically speaking, the school is under the orders of a witch society, a rare phenomenon that piques the curiosity of Dr. Klemperer (Swinton), an experienced psychotherapist who started to pay better attention to what his patient Patricia kept saying. He decides to visit the premises after meeting with the incredulous Sara (Mia Goth), one of the dancers and Patricia’s best friend. What he finds is as much bizarre as it is inextricable: esoteric rituals filled with magic, possession, and illusion.

The geometric architectonic configurations and muted colors that compose the 35mm-shot frames are relevant and propitious to the film’s ambitions; however, Guadagnino’s practices are overlong, stiff, and risibly gory in the final minutes. I got numb-brained while trying to understand why a director of this caliber would want to spoil the enchanting gothic tones previously created with a nasty sequence of human heads blowing up in blood.

Suspiria is mediocre at its best, presenting very little substance and lacking interesting character development. The songs by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke provide short moments of pleasure in a film to be quickly erased from memory.

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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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