Ad Astra (2019)

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Direction: James Gray
Country: USA

Ad Astra means ‘to the stars’ and that’s exactly where Brad Pitt, in the role of Major Roy McBride, is sent to save humanity and the Solar System from catastrophic power surges and search for his long gone father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a pioneer astronaut that vanished mysteriously in a delicate mission occurred 16 years before.

The highly classified mission to Mars and then Neptune might be narrated in a monotonous cadence, but there are attacks of raging monkeys in addition to ambushes and battles on the lunar soil that briefly make us disregard the Malick-ian slow-motions and resplendent effects.

Roy deals with anger, frustration, and apprehension in a tale that felt limited for the possibilities showed. By the halfway, this intergalactic journey starts to feel like a mere exercise, with the film never exceeding expectations.

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Directed and co-written by James Gray (The Lost City of Z; Two Lovers; The Immigrant), the film is an introspective tale of intergalactic loneliness and yearning, whose pragmatic approach brought some ambivalence in regard to its possible success. Moreover, and partly due to the nature of the plots, Pitt shines much less here than in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Far from mind-blowing in its hidden secrecies, Ad Astra is only modestly engaging, benefitting from the finely crafted visuals - great cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar and Dunkirk) - but failing to achieve dramatic grandeur.

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Joker (2019)

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Direction: Todd Phillips
Country: USA

Todd Phillips will be forever remembered with this stylish, bitter, and visceral Joker, a story set in Gotham City in the early 80’s that elucidates about how the downcast Arthur Fleck, magnetically played by Joaquin Phoenix, became the DC villain that we all know from the Batman saga.

Arthur, who struggles with a condition that makes him laugh compulsively during tense situations, is a punching bag of a society corrupted by money and power. Victim of severe childhood abuses, he earns a living by performing in parties as a clown or holding store signs on the streets. He lives with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), a fragile woman who ironically calls him Happy and lives obsessed with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), her wealthy former boss who is now running for mayor. The latter’s son is the young Bruce Wayne, who would become Batman in the future in order to avenge the death of his parents and fight the crime in the streets.

Heavily medicated to combat mental illness, Arthur still dreams in becoming a stand up comedian, a tough task with his condition. He is an innocent victim of a bleak world and is wounded both in the heart and in the head. It’s so, so weird to see one of the saddest persons in the world cackling without control whenever in trouble. It has a disquieting effect. The bitter circumstances of life deteriorate his fragile state to the point of making him commit murder and feel good with it. It’s his instinctive and emotionless response to a poisonous society, the dangerous chant of the displaced and the dispossessed. The malevolent act has the support of the miserable people of Gotham, who starts a revolution against the corrupt system.

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Arthur’s creepy side makes him unpredictable and his tortuous mind has lots of room for imagination. With a killer gaze and that broad smile in his face, he premeditates his next step: victimize Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), the popular host of a talk show who contributes to his downfall by making fun of him on the TV.

Simultaneously gripping and unsettling, Joker is a win for Todd Phillips, an unremarkable director until now, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver (The Fighter; 8 Mile) and had dedicated his directorial career to comedies such as the Hangover trilogy (2009,2011,2013) and War Dogs (2016). Without a hint of hesitation, he injects mordantly funny moments among the torrents of sadness and makes the film thrive both as a noir drama and a clever psychological thriller. Digging deep into his role, Phoenix was the secret weapon required to make us understand the human pain behind the Joker’s wickedness.

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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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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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American Factory (2019)

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Direction: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Country: USA

A Chinese factory in America operating the Chinese way with Americans on board. Would this be possible? This Netflix documentary, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, shows how these opposite cultures clashed in 2013, when a former General Motors plant located in Dayton, Ohio, was turned into an auto glass factory ruled by the Chinese company Fuyao. Initially seen as a blessing that would make 2,000 local families retrieve their jobs, the Fuyao Glass America revealed considerable safety gaps in its operations and a fierce opposition to any labor union that would defend workers from exploitation and unfair treatment.

The company, led by multibillionaire Can Dewang, employs a team of American and Chinese workers, whose incompatibility in the work is flagrant. An inner tension is felt all around, with the Americans being accused of being lazy and called foreigners in their own land, while the Chinese are kept in control, gladly working long shifts and weekends. Also, the wages were cut down on more than a half when compared with what General Motors was paying. At that time, workers could have a decent life, but not anymore.

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One of the most appalling sequences of the film shows a group of American supervisors visiting the Fuyong factory in China, in order to witness their gaudy ostentation, be brainwashed and learn their authoritative ways, meaning: military-like treatment, exhausting 12-hour shifts, and just one or two days off per month. Also curious is Cao's admitted dilemma: is he a contributor for the development or a criminal with no consideration for the environment?

There are no particular characters with whom I could really connect, but the film is globally demonstrative of how people let themselves be subjugated and enslaved due to fear of losing their jobs. They simply cease to stand up for their rights instead of remaining united to fight for the right thing.

Despite a slightly gradual decay as it progresses, the film is compelling and provocative, shedding light on the impacts of an abusive foreign investment.

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Mine 9 (2019)

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Direction: Eddie Mensore
Country: USA

West Virginia native Eddie Mensore didn’t base Mine 9, his sophomore feature film, on any particular true event but rather on several that have been happening over time. His realistic dramatization of an underground accident is felt like a plaintive ballad honoring the hard-working miners who, remaining long hours below the surface, expose themselves to a number of dangers.

Both the suffocating claustrophobia and continuous tension fuel this authentic depiction of a methane explosion inside a mine, in which nine Appalachian miners become trapped with limited oxygen and some painful wounds.

The controversial decision of going back to work when the safety is being questioned for a long time, weighs a lot here. On one hand, the unstable system that allows people in the dark tunnels is far from reliable, but, on the other hand, the workers don’t want the place to be shut down since they're in desperate need of their wages in a region that is economically vulnerable.

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Images, music, and acting contribute in equal measure to capture the atmosphere of a small mining community whose resilience to mishap is remarkable. The simple storyline and real-life backdrop (in addition to a warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, Mensore filmed in a real mining environment in Buchanan County, Virginia) were fundamental to success, in a drama equal parts tragedy and compassion.

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Long Shot (2019)

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Direction: Jonathan Levine
Country: USA

Jonathan Levine is a promising director whose work has been marked by hits and misses. If their earliest films - 50/50 (2011), The Wackness (2008) and Warm Bodies (2013) - were consistently entertaining, then the most recent - The Night Before (2015), Snatched (2017), and now Long Shot, a romantic comedy moved by political mordancy and starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, didn’t convince me.

The latter work still throws in some witty lines, but the situations created oscillate between the expected and the pathetic, failing to deliver solid punches in spite of the attempts to look and sound refreshingly subversive.

Levine directed from a screenplay by Dan Sterling, who also conceived the story, and Liz Hannah. The former had worked with Rogen before in The Interview (2014), while the latter got known after teaming up with Josh Singer and write the Oscar-nominated The Post (2017).

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Filled with the typical imbroglios this type of comedies likes to focus on, the film illustrates an unlikely romance between Fred Flarsky (Rogen), a brave if big-mouthed political journalist who suddenly gets unemployed, and his former babysitter and childhood crush Charlotte Field (Theron), now the charismatic and sophisticated Secretary of State, who happens to be in the run for the presidency of the United States.

While flirting with some disturbing political truths, the film sometimes mistakes fatuity for freshness. If anything, it works as a showcase for the actors. Rogen is equal to himself and Theron spreads charm throughout. On the screen, they seem to be having a lot of fun together, but the film is definitely not above the ordinary.

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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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