The Lighthouse (2019)


Direction: Robert Eggers
Country: USA

The Lighthouse is a super well crafted psychological thriller set in a remote island of West England in the late 19th century. The film stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers whose disturbed souls clash as their minds grow insane.

Directed by The Witch’s Robert Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max, this is a churning examination on isolation and derangement that moves tenaciously toward complete annihilation. It’s also an unparalleled showcase for the two actors, whose characters might cause a certain disturbance in unprepared viewers due to their graceless posture and crude behavior. The aptly tense dialogue is not devoid of humor and the salty, dreary landscape is expertly captured by the sharp lens of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was able to increase discomfort all around.

Dafoe is Thomas Wake, an old limping sea wolf whose prepotency is flagrant. He is in charge of the lighthouse and can’t help demeaning, screaming and sneering at his newly arrived aid, Ephraim Winslow, majestically interpreted by Pattinson. With the tediousness affecting the notion of time and the alcohol fueling their darker sides, are these men capable of regaining the control of themselves?


Secrets and torments, symbolism and omens, obsession and mystification are all ingredients of a cinematic invention that, at times, evoke the physical exertions of Kaneto Shindo’s The Naked Island, the unsettling surrealism of Luis Buñuel, and the dramatic severity of Ingmar Bergman.

Bolstered by the vigorous performances, a great sound design, and the mind-expanding black-and-white imagery, Eggers assembles a legitimate, weirdly fascinating pitch-dark horror picture that spirals beyond human comprehension.


Judy (2019)


Direction: Rupert Goold
Country: UK

Under the direction of Rupert Goold (True Story), Renée Zellweger (Nurse Betty; Chicago; Bridget Jones’s Diary) has a golden opportunity to catapult her acting gifts to a new high, playing the famous American singer/actress Judy Garland with determination. Tom Edge was in charge of the script, adapted from the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, which focuses in the months that led to Garland’s death in 1969.

Overwhelmed by substance abuse and the absence of her children, who decided to stay with their father - the businessman Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) - Garland heads to London in order to reissue a depreciating career with a five-week stint at the restaurant/nightclub Talk of the Town. Standing between an enormous talent and a crescent lack of confidence due to emotional instability, Garland’s shows toggled between brilliant and disastrous.


Despite her fifth marriage with the much younger Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), the star of The Wizard of Oz kept struggling with sadness and loneliness, to the point of inviting a male gay couple - complete strangers yet true devotees of her work - to dinner. Over the course of the narrative, there are multiple flashbacks that allow us to understand Judy’s traumatic childhood as a pills-fed vaudevillian under the wing of Metro Goldwyn Meyer’s intimidating producer Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery).

Typical biopic procedures are found in a film that, just like its main character, is emotionally wobbly. Despite giving an idea of Judy’s personality and late life difficulties, this compassionate dramatic piece never punches hard. In place, it merely caresses faintly. Zellweger is the one who saves the film from the most terrible defeat.


Woman At War (2019)


Direction: Benedikt Erlingsson
Country: Iceland

Icelandic-Ukrainian comedy Woman At War is another smart move, the second, from writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson, the one who conceived the memorable Of Horses and Men in 2013. He co-wrote this one with Ólafur Egilsson and also produced with a bunch of associates, including Lars Von Trier's regular choice, Marianne Slot. Besides peculiarly humorous, the film works as an environmental eye-opener and stands as a symbol of resistance to all the atrocities our planet is being subjected to.

Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a middle-aged choir conductor and a secretive activist on climate change, hides in the mountain as a true warrior when in environmental mission. Solely armed with bow and arrow, she causes a massive outage that puts on hold important negotiations for industrial development between the Icelandic government and the Chinese. This is her unorthodox way to oppose a dangerous expansion of the aluminum industry in the country. While in the run from the authorities, she fights chasing drones with primitive instinct and proud honor. These particular scenes are smartly handled with resonant detail.

Seen as a heroine for some and an impish saboteur for others, this brave, controversial woman also learns that her long-forgotten application to adopt a four-year-old Ukrainian orphan was accepted. Her positive twin sister, Asa (double role for the talented Geirharðsdóttir), a devoted yoga teacher, will play a crucial role in the adoption process, but Halla must find a balance between the new responsibilities and her illegal activism.

This wildly improbable yet utterly engrossing tale packed with political connotations is very much recommended. Fully embracing the adventure, the director does a great job in designing a solid narrative based on currently compelling topics that gain extra force through funny and entertaining moments.

The young Greta Thunberg is real, whereas Halla is unreal. It’s so refreshing to see these women in action, playing their roles with fierce determination in the real life and in the cinema, respectively. Halla, a fictional sympathetic heroin of our times, symbolizes the deep concerns of conscious individuals.


Firecrackers (2019)


Direction: Jasmin Mozaffari
Country: Canada

Consistently involving and skillfully sketched, Firecrackers gives a natural development to the 2013 short film of the same name written and directed by Canadian Jasmin Mozaffari, who demonstrates confidence in her feature debut. The story follows two best friends and frustrated teenagers, Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans), who are stuck in their small and isolated rural Ontario hometown. Dissatisfied, they dream to leave for New York, but the anxiety grows as they realize that all the arrangements to make that step become compromised by unexpected circumstances.

Both girls work as motel cleaners, saving all their wages for the planned road trip. Their environment at home is not inviting at all. Whereas Chantal almost never sees her parents and is trying to get rid of her possessive boyfriend, Lou seems more independent and confident, but often clashes with her mother (Tamara LeClair), a former drug addict turned religious devotee. Negligent toward her children, the latter focuses all the energy on her boyfriend Johnny (David Kingston), who has half her age.


Finely calibrated and charmingly low key, Firecrackers is an undoubtedly strong effort at many levels, even when its cinematic realism borrows elements from Andrea Arnold’s filmmaking style. The raw emotions sometimes take the proportions of an avalanche in the lives of the protagonists, whose unambiguous point of view and determination are paired with dangerous impulsive behaviors.

Praised with the Canadian Screen Award, Mozaffari doesn’t really innovate, but recreates known atmospheres and moods with new characters that constantly search for a way out in spite of the obstacles and pitfalls. Formidable performances from the young actresses.


Hard Paint (2019)


Direction: Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon
Country: Brazil

The Brazilian drama Hard Paint is set in Porto Alegre and tells the story of a taciturn young man with no mother, father, or friends, who lives apart from the real world, completely immersed in a gay-oriented chatroom on the Internet. The traumatized, anti-social character, Pedro, is terrifically played by the newcomer Shico Menegat, who makes a remarkably assured debut under the guidance of directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (Seashore, 2015).

The title comes from the fact that Pedro, who was expelled from school because of violent behavior, uses neon paint to cover his body during performances in front of a webcam. Under the name NeonBoy, he keeps waiting for monetary gifts from his devoted fans and voyeurs. However, his audience is being stolen by Leo (Bruno Fernandes), an extroverted college student who, using the identity Boy25, employs the same performing techniques. The two of them end up falling in love after meeting up and performing together, but Pedro has a difficult personality, heavily marked by long-term bullying, isolation, and abandonment. While learning with his own mistakes, he becomes more and more depressed, especially when he realizes that his supportive journalist sister, Luiza (Guega Peixoto), is moving to a new job in Salvador, a city located on the other side of the country. Moreover, there’s a chance that Leo might get a scholarship to study in Germany.


Pedro seems unable to get out of the darkness that enshrouds his life and starts panicking when both uncertainty and adversity knock on his door, making his personal little world to fall apart. The absorbing final section shows a somber, desolate, and disoriented person exposing himself to dangers and seeking consolation in his grandmother (Sandra Dani).

The writers/directors adopt a simmering, low-key approach delineated with a mix of tension and languidness that works incredibly well, and the film grows emotionally as it should. The story, evenly complex and meaningful, reflects honesty in all its magnitude and was handled with attention and gravitas.


Ad Astra (2019)


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.


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.


Joker (2019)


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.


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.


Hustlers (2019)


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.


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.


Ready Or Not (2019)


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!


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.


American Factory (2019)


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.


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.


Midsommar (2019)


Direction: Ari Aster
Country: Sweden / USA

After the large-scale success of Hereditary, 33-year-old American cineaste Ari Aster holds on to the horror genre and writes Midsommar, a foreboding story set in rural Sweden that comes impregnated with folklore, symbology, trauma, suicide, and slaughter. Leaving the supernatural behind in favor of the cult thematic, the filmmaker manages to get a satisfying outcome.

The film stars Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor as Dani and Christian, respectively, an American couple on the verge of breaking up, which, nevertheless, decides to go on a trip - previously planned without Dani’s knowledge - to Sweden, where they expect to attend a supposedly innocuous midsummer festival that only occurs every 90 years. The nine-day event, organized by the Harga ‘family’, hosts four more guests: Christian’s college mates Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter), who were also invited by Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a common friend and long-time member of the commune, and an English couple that arrived with the encouragement of Pelle's brother, Ingemar (Hampus Hallberg).

What should have been a relaxed time of cultural enjoyment becomes a creepy nightmare as the pagan cult uses the foreigners for their diabolical ritualistic practices and exceptional competitions.


Although the revelations are envisaged beforehand, the film still manages to counterpoint slightly disturbing conducts with familiar paranoia-induced passages. Everything is captured by Pawel Pogorzelski’s appealing lensmanship, which balances the scenic and the repulsive, while Aster maintains an unsettling atmosphere for the entire147 minutes through a deliberate pace and the help of a competent cast.

What Midsommar lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with offbeat moments adorned with gut-wrenching eccentricities. Nonetheless, it was merely entertaining, even occasionally funny, but never truly scary.


In Fabric (2019)


Direction: Peter Strickland
Country: UK

Stylized with a retro glamour and immersed in enigmatic tones, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is more than an exercise in style and mood. Already carrying a cult status for reviving the giallo genre, the British director, who previously released the groundbreaking Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy, gave wings to imagination and wrote a mesmerizing piece about a haunting, killing red dress. What we have here is a conscious, if surrealistic, satire about the unbridled consumerism of today’s world. Strickland stated in an interview that secondhand clothes from unknown provenience always fascinated him, and this idea was his inspiration for the film.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste stars as Sheila Woodchapel, a 50-year-old divorced bank teller who started dating again to fight loneliness. She lives with her son, Vince (Jaygann Ayeh), who frequently brings home Gwen (Gwendoline Christie),  his impolite and impertinent French girlfriend, without his mother's consent. Despite some little problems at work - so meticulous that could be included in any Kafka book, everything seems normal in the life of Sheila, until she buys a cursed red dress at Dentley & Soper, an exclusive fancy store with strict rules of conduct, presentation, and hygiene, where erotically fetishist  rituals occur on a regular basis between its employees. The pale Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed has been a constant, amazing presence in Strickland’s works), a persuasive store clerk, speaks with a hypnotic voice, alluding to fantasies and illusions while urging Sheila to buy the dress that will bring her happiness. 


This fatal garment causes nasty rashes on the skin, gives rise to eerie dreams, and motivates creepy accidents of various kinds. It seems to have a life of its own and literally disintegrates any washing machine it goes in. As you suspect by now, this is not your typical horror movie. It will be considered a nonsense for many, while others will praise it as a true spectacle for the senses.

The only thing with this story is that it gets slightly repetitive when the dress changes hands and enters the home of Reg (Leo Bill), an obsessive washing machine technician, and his future wife, Babs (Hayley Squires).

Glamorously surreal, darkly funny, and avidly maniacal, this effort is uplifted by a turbulent and surprising finale. The conjugation of sinister imagery with the unblemished music by the Berlin-based experimental/krautrock trio Cavern of Anti-Matter is absolutely delightful. After this, who wants to buy quality used clothing?


Mine 9 (2019)


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.


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.


Lords of Chaos (2019)


Direction: Jonas Akerlund
Country: UK/Sweden

This nauseating semi-fictionalized account, directed and co-written by Swedish Jonas Akerlund, is as dark and heavy as the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90s that it makes reference to. The focus isn’t exclusively on the musical genre but also on the sinister happenings and practices that led to the homicide of Oystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth, co-founder of the band Mayhem. The film was adapted from the 1998 book of the same name and stars Rory Culkin as the cited guitarist, Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes (founder of the one-man-band Burzum and Euronymous’ murderer), Jack Kilmer as the self-destructive Dead, and Valter Skarsgård as the homosexual-hater Faust.

There’s absolutely nothing interesting in the life of these satanic church burners; nothing valid or positive can be taken from their wild, yet miserable existence, which can be summarized as a mix of chaos, prepotency, and idiocy. Clearly pursuing fame through other forms that not just music, the members of this hidden ‘Black Circle’ had admitted: “we are not normal people”. I agree.


Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono was pointed out to direct the movie a few years ago. It would be his first English-language film, but knowing his ferocious work as I do, it’s hard to believe that his version could escape the super explicit and gratuitous violence shown here. In fact, Akerlund, who is a black metal drummer himself, seems only interested in shocking the viewer, whether through serial stabs or any other type of repugnant savagery. Lords of Chaos feels like a sick extravaganza rather than an accurate and substantial account of the story/case it claims to portray. To make everything more difficult, the ending is the dumbest part of the movie. Skip it.


Blinded By The Light (2019)


Direction: Gurinder Chadha
Country: UK

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

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


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

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


Long Shot (2019)


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).


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.


Parasite (2019)


Direction: Joon-ho Bong
Country: South Korea

South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong was meritoriously elevated to cult status due to masterworks such as Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), and Snowpiercer (2013). Two years ago, he made a shift in direction with the imaginative action-adventure film Okja, returning in big this year with another witty and gritty invention called Parasite, a virulent mix of crime thriller and black comedy that you won’t be able to forget for a long time.

This madcap satire delivers social class commentary and serves up thrilling moments enshrouded in slyness, erupting into explosive violence in its final segment. This way, Parasite can join Lanthimo’s Dogtooth and Miike’s Visitor Q as one of the most disturbing portraits of demented families.

The plot follows Ki-woo Kim (Woo-sik Choi), a broke young student turned English tutor, who starts working for the wealthy Park family. He had been recommended by his brave friend, Min (Seo-joon Park), who abandoned the position to go study abroad. Sooner than later, Ki-Woo takes advantages of the insecurities of Yeon-kyo Park (Yeo-jeong Jo), the amiable, if naive, lady of the house, and recommends an art tutor for her problematic younger son. He introduces this busy, highly qualified art teacher as his friend and colleague, but in truth, she is his sister Ki-Jung (So-dam Park). Propelled by an uncontrolled ambition, Ki-jung sets up the family’s driver to get her father, Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), employed again and filling the place. In turn, the latter recommends his wife, Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), for the housekeeping job, after they frame Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee), who was performing that task for years with distinction.


In no time, the injurious Kim family goes from folding pizza boxes to well-paid steady jobs. Yet, these charlatans face exposition as the former housekeeper threatens to unveil their secrets.

The jokes are as strong as the moments of suspense, and, if on one hand we see the Kim family drowned in whiskey and with their hands stained by blood, then, on the other, we have the Park family fighting for ramen. The final stage is a crazy intense rampage that grabs the audience with its turbulent atmosphere.

Brilliantly shot and photographed with Kyung-pyo Hong's distinctive palette, Parasite offers a lot of wicked pleasures, providing you with a delightfully insane cinematic experience. This is pretty strong filmmaking admittedly and one of the best films of the year in its genre. Most importantly, it testifies that Bong knows how to entertain a crowd of moviegoers better than anyone else.


Wild Rose (2019)


Direction: Tom Harper
Country: UK

Set in Glasgow, this heartfelt, if rudimentary, story about an aspiring country singer was played in a minor key for my ears. Jessie Buckley (Beast) is Rose-Lynn Harlan, a single mother of two, whose dream is to go to Nashville, Tennessee, and become what she thinks she was born to be: a country singer. She firmly believes she should have been born in America.

After spending 12 months in jail for attempting to smuggle heroin, Rose finds her place taken in the local bar band she was regularly performing. She is forced to take a full-time job as a housekeeper, working for a generous, wealthy woman called Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). It just so happens that the latter has the right connections to provide Rose with an opportunity to sing at London’s BBC Radio 1. A bumpy train ride almost thwarted the visit that served to teach this go-getter something important. It was put like this: “you have the voice, but what do you have to say to the world?”

In addition to all this, Rose does the best she knows to take good care of her estranged children and be in good terms with her critical mother, Marion (Julie Walters).


With all the doubts and emotional confrontations, Rose makes a decision, with the movie evolving into a typical melodrama pinched by a varnished production that removes everything it had created raw and rustic. The combination of rough edges and polished surfaces rarely produced satisfactory results here. This strategical tonal contrast leaned on the formulaic and ended up as a crowd-pleaser.

The film isn’t all bad and Buckley’s onscreen presence is significant; however, it just didn’t work out as an emotionally resonant tale, with director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor playing the easiest notes without risking something outside the scale. Wild Rose gives a perfect example of a fascinating start that gradually loses potentiality, failing to make a splash in the last instance.


Light Of My Life (2019)


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?


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.


The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)


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.


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.