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Life Itself (2018)
A quite sad, but nice movie about love, or at least one aspect of it
Young city couple goes from college romance to marriage and the birth of their child... and this should be enough to get you started.
The result is an ambitious sad drama that has enough of good stuff to win over some weepies' fans... but it did not save it from getting mauled by critics.
I understand what the reviewers don't like about it but personally, I still find the result compelling, and overall a solid job by by screenwriter and second time director, Dan Fogelman.
Essentially, "Life Itself" is about love, with all the necessary components that look real nice in such kind of a movie (good-looking people, big feelings, honest conversations etc).
Looking closer, though, it's most interested in a certain aspect or kind of love - this obsessiveness that comes from unfulfilled longing. One wants somebody or something from somebody more than the other one can not offer, and both suffer for that.
The story is playful - there are different threads that jump back and forth in time and place, from memories to real-life to meta-commentary (breaking the fourth wall and letting the characters talk directly to the viewer).
Also, the finale does an impressive job at stringing everything together, although I didn't appreciate the unnecessarily sugar-coated tone.
But despite the ambitious approach to building it all up, the story itself is actually quite shallow - more interested in showing off the actors and spreading Spirituality 101 slogans such as "power of love overcomes all" and "everything is connected" than going beyond the popculture mainstream views about what love is.
Having written that, the performances really are impressive all-around, and captivate with their passion and authenticity.
"Life Itself" is an ensemble work, so there are about 15 characters of importance, although many don't get much screen time.
I can't decide who to leave out, so I am just gonna list all that merit a mention: Oscar Isaac, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Antonio Banderas, Laia Costa, Olivia Wilde, Olivia Cooke, Àlex Monner, Mandy Patinkin, Annette Bening, Isabel Durant, Jean Smart, Samuel L. Jackson, and Lorenza Izzo.
Ensemble movies are relatively rare, especially those which really take the most of the big cast. I'd call "Life Itself" one of the more successful ones.
There's a lot of pleasure to be had just watching Isaac going through personal hell, or triangle of Peris-Mencheta, Banderas and Costa, or always solid Patinkin aka the human equivalent of a perfect comfort food, or even Jackson in unexpected but surprisingly humorous appearance in the beginning.
Oscar Isaac is one my personal favorite actors of the last five years or so, and "Life Itself" turns out to be a near-perfect showcase of his greatness.
The ease with which he adapts to the ever-changing first chapter really screams for the Oscar nomination - the volatileness, tenderness and playfulness all combined in one very f-d up young man... I loved it.
So. Despite its hidden shallows, this two hour journey has enough charms to keep the sad story lovin' audience invested.
Yes, the screenplay should dig deeper psychologically but even some "Facebook deep" is better than no deep at all.
Fogelman is still not quite the distinguished storyteller he'd like to be but this panorama of lives and loves is decidedly more heartfelt and inventive than any of his earlier work. Of which "Guilt Trip" and "Danny Collins" are the more noteworthy examples.
A decent children movie that attracts the fantasy fans
An orphan boy (Owen Vaccaro) aids his mysterious uncle (Jack Black) in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world. Also starring, Cate Blanchett, Kyle MacLahlan.
Ben Stiller-starred hit trilogy "A Night at the Museum" has spawned a new trend of kids' movies which mix horror, comedy, and adventure without pledging allegiance to any single specific genre.
The first star of this new trend is Jack Black who has already done 2015's "Goosebumps", and, at the beginning of this holiday season, appears in both its sequel and a brand new movie, "The House With a Clock in Its Walls". Wisely, they both come out before "Fantastic Beasts 2".
Black leading the wave does not come as a surprise. His biggest hits have always come in the form of adding some wackiness to essentially generic family-friendly entertainment ("Kung Fu Panda", 2017's "Jumanji").
"Clock" is a generic kids' movie too, but it's decidedly more action- than light comedy-oriented than "Goosebumps", even making a sort of a dashing action hero out of Black. He doesn't disappoint, too - he's has gravitas to carry it.
Blanchett is also more than fine, as always, and has surprising but surprisingly nice gray hair. Not much to talk here, she's more of a supporting player.
When "Goosebumps" feels like a fun-ner and trashier version of "Night at the Museum", "Clock" takes it rather more seriously. Of course, never forgetting its main intended audience (kids), it also offers silly little jokes here and there, but I'd still compare the result more to "Harry Potter".
The similarities are evident in plot (the young main character from ordinary family goes to study magic, his uncle's house is like a mini magic school etc) but the more important connection is that "Clock" has a strong sense of place.
The authors have not intended just to entertain us with a story but offer a whole unique gothic-style environment with its own inner logic, rules and characters.
Having said that, the world-building and storytelling efforts don't last, sadly. Like "Goosebumps", "Clocks" puts in some effort to captivate and build momentum, and then more or less just gives up in the final third. (The authors are not the same, by the way).
What follows is just a limp rush through all the intended plot points, which may satisfy children as the least demanding of viewers but leave adults less than amused. I mean - it's still watchable but the last third is notably weaker.
Family-friendly movie must have been an interesting departure for its director Eli Roth, once a wunderkind of indie horror cinema. Supported by the hefty budget, it looks way better and more Hollywood-ish in a way that his earlier stfuff has looked before, or even aimed at.
The production values are decent and while not offering "Night at the Museum" level of variety, still offer a decent amount of eye-candy.
"Clock" is a decent enough if lightweight effort for family entertainment. It's not inspired enough to be remembered for long but I had moderately good time watching it.
Unbelievable true prison escape story!
First, there was a true story of hope, endurance and daring escape from a tough prison in French Guayana in 1941.
Then came the controversial autobiography by the man who lived through it. Then we had a celebrated 1973's movie... and now there's a remake.
The original movie's stars Steve McQueen (the epitome of cool in 1960-70's Hollywood) of and Dustin Hoffman have been replaced by Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek which is surely an interesting choice.
Hunnam is in amazing physical shape but also a promising actor - a combo you don't see often -, while everybody likes Malek in "Mr. Robot" who's suitably nerdy counterpart for the other man's buffed-up torso.
Turns out, the new "Papillon" is much more action- and looking-cool-centered than the brainy original, so the new duo works out just fine.
To be precise, it's more of a Hunnam's one man show, giving him chances to both showcase the action man and the dramatic actor side of him, and he doesn't disappoint.
He really grabs the role by the balls and runs with it - grit, pain, unflittering instinct for survival, he made me buy all that.
He wouldn't look out of place among the next batch of male actor Oscar nominations, although "Papillon's" early showing in Toronto film festival in September 2017 may have ruined that (any wider release has followed only quite recently).
Anyway, the new "Papillon's" production values are great, everything looks downright amazing. The movie looks deliciously authentic even in smallest of details, from sweat-drops on characters' bodies to withered prison walls - not to mention 1931's Paris - a true movie lovers' dream.
Judging by IMDb, the Danish director Michael Noer seem has plenty of experience with screen stories about criminals, so the atmosphere is also appropriately macho and adrenaline-soaked.
So far, so good. Too bad it all doesn't stay that way. The movie achieves its high point somewhere around the middle point, when Papi gets out of the solitary confinement.
This section is pretty good in itself, making it psychologically hard to stomach both to hero and the viewer - no hope, no light, almost no words. But after that, one just can't ignore the fact that the story loses any real emotional punch it previously may have had.
The problem is that storytelling is sorely lacking some depth, regarding both any characters and the situation they are in.
Almost nothing they do is explained adequately, if at all. Why Papillon is so loyal to Louis Dega, for example? How does he survive the solitary so well, both physically and mentally? What keeps him going?
And we don't even get to know the basic facts about the intriuing prison environnment: what is the local hierarchy among prisoners? How do prisoners earn the money? For a 133 minute movie, it can really be surprisingly shallow.
In the end, we can only summarize that "Papillon" is a really cool-looking thriller about some cool-looking dudes. But it could have been something more.
The ingredients for making it all work are there - but the bar has been set just all too low.
My suggestion is to re-edit and expand the material to re-release it as a mini-series or something.
Surely the creative forces behind the camera have plenty of unused scenes and footage which wasn't used due to time restraints? Don't they always?
Something worth seeing! Look for it in the cinemas
A 16-year-old girl (Michelle La) goes missing and her dad (John Cho) starts his own investigation, searching the one place no one has considered yet - the girl's computer. Also starring: Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Sara Sohn.
"Searching" is an impressive debut by one Aneesh Chaganty who directed and co-wrote this multi-faceted story which works equally well as thriller and drama.
The storytelling is pretty straightforward but the unique thing is how it's done. Mostly everything is shown through picture within picture - the screen is filled with video chats, TV footage, home videos, security camera content, and various web app interfaces, such as Gmail and Facebook.
On paper, this sounds rather lifeless, and one surely is tempted to call the execution an one-trick pony - but the trick turns out to be impressive indeed.
Witnessing somebody's life on the screen (mostly we just see one guy using apps and web-services on phones or computers) can be surprisingly captivating.
The authors have found a variety of approaches to portray all that swiping, typing and clicking in a way that does not put the viewer to sleep, or at least make one disconnect mentally.
I have seen very few movies about modern digital technology which feel thought-provoking but also visually interesting, and "Searching" surely is the new benchmark of any work of this kind. The director surely deserves an Oscar nomination for pure inventiveness. It's amazing how much he makes the viewer relate to the main character emotionally just by showing him use the computer.
Here and there we even get some biting social satire about how (social) media can bring out the selfishness and shallowness of human nature but the authors don't hammer it home, and let the more sharp-eyed find it as small pleasure.
But buried underneath all the digital stuff, we also find a authentically moving human drama about parent and child relationships, and a man who just can't let go.
Soaked in fear and desperation, he never surrenders to bitter reality that there's seemingly nothing more to be done than wait and hope for the best.
John Cho is great in this role. Who knew the Asian dude from all these mainstream movies such as "Harold & Kumar" or "Star Trek" is actually that impressive an actor.
I especially loved how much of his internal struggles are conveyed by not words or facial expressions but just bodily positions: how he sits, stands etc.
Most of the time, he's the main or only actor on screen, and he commands this space like a master. Easily as worthy of an Oscar nomination as Chaganty's directing work.
The final chapter feels like a bit of a letdown, at least compared to what's happened before. But thanks to committed performances, the story never loses that critical amount of emotional heft that makes one care about the characters.
Destination Wedding (2018)
A laughably weak romantic comedy about grumpy middle-aged woman (Winona Ryder) and man (Keanu Reeves) who meet at a destination wedding, don't like each other... and then maybe do like each other a bit, or something.
Romantic comedy should actually be in quotes, because there's only a little romance and even less comedy (or sense of fun in general) in this middling effort of an entertainment.
The script is actually pretty OK, having witty lines here and there and everything, but the material and the overall format really need thespians with some actual range to make it work.
R+R can not really breathe life into this. Whoever said romantic comedy is an easy genre, lied. Anything worth anything is hard, and it's nowhere more evident than here.
Did I mention format? Yes I did, because "Destination Wedding" is not just a regular mainstream romantic comedy where a lot is happening at once, with several plotlines, physical comedy situations, colorful supporting characters and so on.
What we have is the challenging kind of rom com - both for the actors and the audience. It's just mostly Ryder and Reeves talking, in static sets, with nothing or little else happening around them.
The characters argue, grump about the world, life and relationships and otherwise show how they don't care for How Things Are. Neither of them is likable either.
With some good actors, it could work wonders. With R+R, it feels almost pathetic. At least Reeves is tolerable with his usual deadpan delivery, he has never claimed to be more than a dude lucky enough to make it in movies - and he's always been better as an action star anyway.
Ryder, on the other hand, is just overcooking it, making me wish to revisit her biggest movies from 1980's and '90s, just to make sure whether she has gotten worse with age, or she was always that lousy.
All this over-eager pantomime shows that she has really wanted to make it work, or at least to seem humorous, but the result is just artificial and unattractive.
A good director is sometimes an essential part of getting the best possible performances from the actors but the pacing of "Destination Wedding" is just too fast. There's too much dialogue in too little time for Ryder and Reeves to make it work.
At best, they make it sound like an audiobook but they never achieve this enjoyable rhythm and flow as surely envisioned by the people involved in the project. And fourth joint movie or not, R+R have no palpable chemistry either.
There's a golden rule to making movies - if the star is not that good of an actor, let's not give them a lot of text. "Destination Wedding's" screenwriter-director Victor Levin has ignored this piece of wisdom, and the result is as expected.
Watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm", it may seem that pessimistic comedy is pretty easy to do, life gives ample inspiration for that.
Watching "Destination Wedding", we have to admit that whatever one aims for in the screenplay for comedy, first one needs some good writers and/or improvisers to make it work. Otherwise it just falls flat.
It all gets slightly better after the obligatory sex scene, which takes place some 20 minutes before the ending. Or maybe I just imagined the shift for the better because the sex scene is so long and embarrassing. The best that can be said about it is that they have tried something a bit different.
The only scene I really quite liked was the very short one closing the movie. It has more sense of style than most of what's happening before.
Jennifer Garner comes to hurt the bad boys
In action cinema, there's something immensely satisfying about revenge stories (which we have seen a lot recently).
Revenge makes watching killing more meaningful. Every faceless evil henchman, every crunched bone, and bullet-scattered body is suddenly just a bit more personal, because we all know what it feels to have been done wrong and scream for justice.
Jennifer Garner must seem like an unexpected choice for tough action star ready to kick ass and shoot people in the face, for she's been mostly known for good looks, (co-)starring in mainstream comedies and dramas, and being married to Ben Affleck, of course.
But once upon a time, she starred in hit action series "Alias" (2001-2006), so it would make total sense to try and recapture some of that glory.
After all, revenge thrillers are a thing now, female action stars too, and Garner still in need of a that one hit that would make her a household name in Hollywood.
I am not sure that "Peppermint" turns out to be her saving grace - critics' reactions have been rather scathing - but the movie's alright.
She still looks good, all this rampage suitably adrenaline-filled, and at 102 minutes it's mercifully short so you will probably not get bored.
Why even think of getting bored? The story is weak, not to mention that we've seen this kind of thing many times before anyway.
Some of the key plot points are never given a half-solid explanation, such as how did the woman turn into such an effective killing-machine, and how no form of punishment is able to physically stop her. Even getting knifed in the ribs...
Of course, one should probably not expect much realism from Pierre Morel, the director of "Taken" - the 2008 hit that helped kickstart the current trend of bloody revenge movies.
Still, more fleshed-out story would add some cinematic meat to the bone, and make us relate more to characters and their world.
Maybe I am too choosy but in current form, the quality of content reminds of something straight outta (surprisingly bloody) teen TV series, not a hopeful start to the new action franchise.
There are action-filled revenge movies flourishing despite being made mostly of cliches, 2016's "In a Valley of Violence" springing to mind, but "Peppermint" is not among the lucky few.
Shallowness aside, the result looks awesome in general. Everything looks super film-y and, in this context, just right - from the dark atmosphere to countless badasses ready to take their well-earned bullet.
It's an action lovers' delight, just like your grandmother used to make - supposing she was known for modern action movies, of course.
Despite the lightweight approach to storytelling, it feels like a pretty solid addition to ever-growing revenge action genre.
It's not original but satisfies where it counts - always looks cool and knows how to party (i.e, showing bloodletting in visually exciting ways).
Mile 22 (2018)
Certainly not boring, but this kind of super-intense approach feels like overcooking it
An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohen, John Malkovich, Ronda Rousey.
There is a huge amount of "competence porn" type of movies and series - usually action or thrillers showing smart and tough people excelling at stuff that most of us can't. Those people usually work in secret organizations or units and deal with national security, acts of war etc.
One would think that it takes something special to stand out in such a crowded field, and one would be right. Peter Berg, the director of "Mile 22", is not, however, afraid to try.
He has succeeded in giving us something a bit different. The good news, the result is shorter than usual in the genre, only 94 minutes - thank heavens for some movies actually being satisfied with lasting less than two hours).
The bad news: being shorter and different have come at the expense of viewer-friendliness.
"Mile 22" is all action and almost nothing else. This is not a problem in itself but I have a troubke with the fact that most of the time, I could not really even quite understand what was happening on the screen.
It's this specific hectic style of producing and editing action scenes that can look cool when done right, but oftentimes just confuses and tires the viewer.
This trend is not new, it's been around since 2002's "The Bourne Identity" but this rarely gives great results. And "Mile 22" has achieved a new low.
Berg has taken this visual whirlwind approach to the max, making both action- and all other scenes difficult to follow. Most of the camerawork is from angles which don't give a satisfying overview of the place and people in it, and it gets worse when bloodletting starts.
The physical discomfort is also accentuated by sudden and creepy sounds, a trick usually more associated with horror movies.
Yes, the result feels original - but also hectic, and a bit mind-numbing. It's like a badly put together video-game with a sorely lacking camera system.
It doesn't help that there is no peaceful moments to let us rest compose ourselves here and there. The characters and dialogue are aggressive and intense too. Not that there's too much conversation - usually it's monologue or just barking orders.
Honestly, a flow like this feels more characteristic to documentary or trailer than a movie.
Even the leading man Mark Wahlberg, usually known for mild-mannered appearances, is pumped-up, biting, and in-your-face all the time, coming off as a weak personality rather than a true leader as probably intended.
Personally, I am sad that there's so little of Indonesian martial arts / action star Iko Uwais, known for "Serbuan maut" ("The Raid") and its sequel, "Star Wars: Episode VII" (as Razoo Quin-Fee), and "Man of Tai Chi". Maybe we see more of him later, "Mile 22" has been planned as a start to a trilogy.
It was refreshing to see major female characters - played by WWE/MMA star Ronda Rousey and "The Walking Dead's" Lauren Cohen - being ruthless and cold-blooded killers too. But they have relatively little screen time as well.
"Mile 22" is certainly not boring, and from what I was able to gather, the action looks cool too. But this kind of super-intense approach feels like overcooking it, even for an actioneer.
Many others have been even less generous than me, as evidenced by the critics' and users' scores at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (ranging from 23/100 to 5.3/10).
The the fact, that famous film-maker completes his passion project in 29 years, doesn't mean it was worth the wait
This is the shambling zombie godfather of all vanity projects, and a living testament to the notion that true magnum opus just can't be forced into existence, although a creative mind should always aim for his/her best.
Terry Gilliam tried to pull this project together for 29 (!) years, and while he succeeded in finally finishing and releasing it, the result sucks so hard that it took me considerable strength to just stay with it for more than 10 minutes.
The "Monty Python" legend - director and one of the two screenwriters of this misfire - has given life to his fair share of interesting movies. But none of them were released during current century, and this is definitely the new all-time low.
The best that can be said about the movie is that it's a sad, sad example of how people sometimes refuse to let go things that are clearly failing.
It is not mediocre or unpolished diamond in search of a better form. The movie just doesn't work, on any level - and to add insult to the injury, it looks and feels cheap and outdated, as if done ages ago and then forgotten until now.
The result is purposeless, obscure, dull, and way too long. And the limp, graceless attempts at humor are too obvious to be funny. I didn't even smile once.
In Gilliam's head, the concept for all this surely must have sounded intriguing. The blending of real life and fantasy, magic and mundane, literature and popculture, drama and comedy - what could go wrong, right? Well, almost everything as evidenced here.
There is no emotion, no proper story - only outlines of it - or fleshed-out characters.
To put it bluntly, "Don Quixote" is filled with cartoonish situations supposed to feel wacky and funny, and people used as pawns to move the scenes along, more decorations than real figures that we could somehow relate to.
We have some interesting actors here - Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgård, Jonathan Price - but they are not able to compensate for the material's obvious lack of wit and charm.
Like many failed comedies, the result might have worked as a sketch - or series of sketches -, but not as a coherent stroy lasting over two hours.
Actually, "Don Quixote" does not really work even in short doses. It takes about 45 minutes to see the first moments hinting at the creative chaos Gilliam has aimed at, but the content is never inspired enough to lift the veil of dullness and detachment which covers everything as a shroud.
Whoever's interested in this is probably better off just reading about the making of it, which is said to be one of the most cursed film projects in history.
By the way, Gilliam's old "Monty Python"-era colleague and co-fighter Terry Jones' latest is almost equally terrible and unfunny.
But compared to current fiasco, 2015's "Absolutely Anything" at least resembles a professionally put together movie.
John Travlota trying to make a comeback as a true story mafia boss
John Travolta should stay away from vanity projects. He has had to learn it the hard way due to 2000's colossal fiasco called "Battlefield Earth", he has to learn it again with "Gotti", thus far one of current year's worst-reviewed big projects.
There is at least one scientologist movie star who thrives on vanity projects and who we couldn't even imagine without always reaching high.
But Travolta ain't Tom Cruise. He has a lot difficulties with just finding audience for most of his movies, he doesn't need extra pressure.
What the man needs are quality screenplays and directors - both of which are not exactly the strong points of "Gotti".
Having said that, I am quite surprised by the critical mauling this mafia drama about New York's real-life godfather (played by Travolta, of course) has received.
Sure, it's no born classic, and having "that "Entourage" guy" as a director doesn't help - but the ride is smooth enough to grant the genre fans some easily digestible entertainment.
I predict the movie getting warmer reception on Netflix. There are countless other B-grade mob movies that are just so much worse and forgettable than "Gotti".
Taken by its own standards, the movie achieves its goal of portraying the life and times of major modern American crime figure.
The pacing is good, the attention to period detail sufficient, actors believe in the material, and there's enough violence to enliven the otherwise rather talky approach.
Then there are weak points which certainly don't kill the experience but make it more difficult to get favorable reviews.
For one, I am not fan of the visual style. Be it the fault of director or photopgraphy unable to find proper lighting conditions, or the restricted budget, or maybe just digital camera tehnology, but the movie looks rather dark and cheap.
Having most scenes in small and dark rooms doesn't certainly help. Based on all that, the result is reminiscent of a TV show episode, rather than high-profile crime drama. In 2018, we have higher expectations for this sort of thing.
The other problematic aspect is the storytelling. I don't mind the fragmented approach that often easily jumps between Gotti's family and business matters, contradicting the creative decision to offer a huge amount of slow dialogue.
But it's easy to notice how little depth the character and story development have. The whole 110 minutes go by without a clear message about what is so captivating about Gotti's life that we just have to see a movie about him.
It's feels like authors assumed that he was such an important man and Travolta is so exceptionally good at portraying him, that we don't need to go deeper than that. The emphasis seems to be more on "family" politics than the titular hero.
And yes, Travolta does give a good performance which may have Oscar chances come next winter. It's a physical, carefully measured performance, taking into consideration all the mannerisms and little physical quirks that Gotti may have had.
I was sold by this haughty, strangely unmoving face alone which doesn't need additional convincing that its owner is a coldblooded killer.
The cast is uniformly good, Pruitt Taylor Vince standing out as the godfather's best friend, but it's mostly Travolta's show, with not much room for anybody else. Just like in the man's life, I assume.
All in all, despite the flaws, I found "Gotti" to be slick enough to satisfy my mafia drama cravings for one sitting. It's not boring, to say the least.
I don't really understand the bad rep it has gathered so far. Let's see if the general opinion improves when the project reaches streaming sites such as Netflix.
The Happytime Murders (2018)
If you have a taste for raunchy comedies, it will give you something entertaining to chew on
The Muppets are not that well-known where i live, so I have to quote Wikipedia just to get us a proper introduction.
They are an ensemble cast of puppet characters known for their self-aware, burlesque, and meta-referential style of variety-sketch comedy.
Created in 1955, they have fueled a long-running media franchise encompassing TV, music, films, other media, and even theme park attractions.
"The Happytime Murders" is the Muppets' newest cinema outing - and the first raunchy one. Dirty jokes come hard and fast, so be warned if you thought that this would make a nice family viewing or something. The first minutes are not that crazy but it turns very "inappropriate" soon.
Puppets are controlled by real people. One may not understand the inventiveness needed to make a live action movie including puppets - they have used green screens, several people controlling one character, and other film tricks to make it all happen.
But before witnessing the making-of clips during the end-credits, most of the audience is probably not gonna be able appreciate the artistry on display.
I, for one, thought naively that they use midgets to create motion capture of (some of) the puppet characters. But first and foremost, it makes sense to judge the movie by its content anyway - not by how it was made - and I rather liked what I saw.
Basically, it's a 1988's classic "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" pastiche, a film noir which uses the genre cliches for comedic effect. Or "Toy Story" pastiche where the original story has been replaced with one out of cop drama.
I rather enjoyed the result in any case. The reviewers at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, on the other hand, seem to despise the movie... but I call it their loss.
As mentioned above, the result is very dirty - something one would not expect from a proper film noir, or classical American crime drama from 1940s and 1950s.
Also, the authors have decided to stay true to the Muppets' original variety-show approach which means relying much less on quality storytelling and more on satirical sketches about cops or social discrimination (in this case, puppets living among but being treated worse than regular people).
But somehow it all works. Even the trivial characters are captivating enough - at least in the context of the scene they appear in - and the general storyline about private eye and cop solving a series of murders is coherent enough to get one through 91 minutes of running-time.
I also really liked both the performances of puppets and real actors interacting with them.
Melissa McCarthy is one of the stars and offers her usual OK work - I've always considered her more of supporting player than actress able to carry the whole movie, but her growing list of starring roles proves that the producers see something in her that I don't.
Still, I would rather recommend the movie for seeing Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks. These sexy and colorful minor characters are nice change for the usual generic roles that they get offered all the time.
Also, Muppet veteran Bill Barretta is phenomenally good at voicing the central hero, a disgraced detective turned private eye.
The delivery of every line is so enjoyably spot-on, straight outta any cop drama worth its salt, and the puppet seems expressive too.
Steven Seagal would probably be proud to see how much can be done with pretty much one facial expression but different body positioning. I hope he will see this movie.
So, if you have a taste for raunchy comedies, "The Happytime Murders" will give you something entertaining to chew on. At least the quality is higher than in most projects McCarthy has chosen to star in.
Enough of Joaquin's face already...
Sometime during the first hour of watching this, I started feeling a distinct sensation of displeasure, and suddenly realized that I've fallen out of love with Joaquin Phoenix, the movie's star.
I used to really like the man. It's not that he appeared in interesting projects only, but he was, you know, really cool.
This unique and expressive face, this strange heaviness he always carried, how the first name is pronounced, the family history, inclination to method acting...
Then he decided he was done with acting. But knowing what one is sick of doesn't mean that one knows what to do instead, so he returned. But the magic was slowly but steadily declining.
He's still good actor but I just can't take any more of his pompousness; how seriously he seems to take himself as a true auteur; how the camera often centers on his face (because we should admire his method acting as close as possible?); the decision to do only "ambitious" roles now...
"Don't Worry..." is a perfect example of how too much of a good thing can be bad.
It actually has a lot of commendable stuff going for it. But the writer-director Gus Van Sant has turned the result into overlong tedious bore which prefers showing Phoenix's bloated mug to everything else, hoping this will mesmerize the viewer for two hours.
On paper, there is an intriguing real-life story of alcoholic seeking redemption and failing even after having a terrible accident because of drinking.
There's also semi-interesting subthread going on about the differences between art and craft - the central hero is a controversial cartoonist - but it's too fleetingly used to really make a mark. As a result, he seems much more annoying and much less inspiration as surely intended.
What's overused, on the other hand, are lazy monologues, sometimes disguised as dialogues. This is what the movie really has in abundance, in addition to the leading man's face.
Also, there's a cool supporting cast including Jonah Hill and Jack Black who have relatively little screen time but turn out to be way more captivating and colorful than the grumpy drunkard at the center of the story.
Hill has never looked cooler on screen, too, like a hipster Jesus. Black, on the other hand, showcases this delicious dynamic energy that his fans may remember from his earlier career, before all these mediocre projects that he has appeared in during 2010's.
To be fair, "Don't Worry's" s failing is not mainly Phoenix's fault. As a filmmaker, Van Sant has often veered dangerously close to getting too artsy for his own good.
This is not even the worst example of his work turning limp and lifeless as a result of it - that honor probably belongs to 2002's "Gerry" - but the situation is bad for sure.
So, I have had enough of Phoenix, and "Don't Worry..." turned out to be my breaking point.
Don't even know how it happened - I usually don't tire of favorites no matter how much similar crap they offer, even Nicolas Cage, Dwayne Johnson, or Adam Sandler.
All in all, I'd advise against seeing this movie. It's tedious and slow, not as smart or funny as the authors probably imagined.
The only project I have really liked after Phoenix's second coming is "Her" which is much less about him being such an amazing genius and relies on good old moviemaking qualities such as intelligent story and deft execution.
I am happy that I don't watch comic book based movies anymore, so I don't have to endure Phoenix as the next Joker when this plan bears fruit.
Spike Lee's perhaps most significant work after "Malcolm X"!
Legendary director Spike Lee has steadily made movies for some 35 years but it's been a good while since he was a true household figure.
Younger audiences may not even recognize the name although he was considered something of a wunderkind and pioneering black filmmaker way back in the 1980's and the first half of the 90's.
Having premiered at this year's Cannes festival and received six-minute standing ovation, "BlacKkKlansman" has turned out to be Lee's big comeback "joint", and deservingly so.
It's a timely and sharp overview of racism in the modern U.S. society but also a pretty damn fine intellectual comedy in its own right.
Despite the controversial topics such as racial inequalities and sticking it to Ku Klux Klan, what we have here is a long and talky movie mostly free of action, graphic violence or (er) real suspense.
Relying mostly on dialogue may sound like a weakness but Lee has really taken the most out of the both material and colorful cast led by promising newcomer John David "son of Denzel" Washington.
We also have this current hot indie star Adam Driver and also probably the most interesting movie performance by Topher Grace that you will ever see.
The social satire conveyed is Lee's usual but crisp indeed, including the horrifying and unexpected epilogue which kind of puts the central message in new, stronger perspective.
The dialogue is sharp and there's lots of it, the cast brave and committed - in fact, it's probably one of the better ensemble movies that one may catch in cinemas this year. The comedy is in the details - how the characters move, talk, and react to situations.
And last but not least, "BlacKkKlansman" is also a pretty cool period piece.
The true events have been moved from the end of the 1970's to the beginning, which enables to add "disco age" color to the atmosphere, from jeans, jackets and big afro wigs to blaxploitation movies to student marches, overt racism and police violence.
Lee is clearly nostalgic for these times, probably because of freshness of students being political and really trying to change the society.
Then again, the central themes used here are evergreen - such as readiness to stand up for what one believes in or how belonging to groups can change one's attitudes and perspectives
Based on the ambition and depth of social criticism it dares to offer, "BlacKkKlansman" feels like a true event movie, sort of Lee's new "Malcolm X" (starring Denzel Washington).
Luckily for us, the storytelling is more hip, and the movie itself shorter by a whole hour.
The most invincible 56-year old is back to kick some baddies a**
"Mission: Impossible" franchise is about presenting Tom Cruise as near-invincible hero Ethan Hunt who can pull off incredible stunts and seems impervious to pain and physical damage.
This time he's fighting a new threat to the world... blah blah blah... look, a bad guy!.... agents outwitting each other... what makes one a terrorist anyway?... blah... you get the picture. Something or other is happening and there's plenty of evil henchmen to kill and backstabbers to reveal, before taking on the big boss.
Also appearing, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Bridget Moynahan, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley.
The most interesting character is Vanessa Kirby's White Widow - if we can talk about characters in a story so thin, instead of roughly drawn sketches which have mostly decorative function in places where Cruise is supposed to come and kick ass.
And he does, and still very well, although he must have been 54 or 55 during the filming. It's safe to assume that there's another fight left in him to continue with "M:I" for at least five to ten years, and maybe also do "Jack Reacher 3".
And why not - the first five "M:I" chapters have brought close to 2.7 billion USD from box office, and the sixth one has also started strongly indeed.
If you are able to specifically remember some of the most physics-defyingly insane moments and setpieces of the "M:I" series, then you might conclude that it would be really difficult to top the previous highlights.
It seems that the producers and authors of "Fallout" have understood that and have not even tried to set new records, instead settling for just high-quality action scenes, most of which take place during the high-speed car and bike chases, or in the air.
As expected, the whole long movie is full of cool moments that make the viewers' palms sweaty - still very unreal but not as absurdly so as, say, "Fast and Furious" or "xXx". Still, a lot of quality action for one's time and money.
And so it goes, intrinsically not different from any other "M:I" movies, the first excluded. But no need to invent a wheel if the current wheel is rolling so nicely, is there?
If I can think of any real complaints, I'd make it shorter. 147 minutes is a lot of screen time for a story signifying so little. Still, it's the most captivating action movie released in 2018 that I've seen.
The Con Is On (2018)
I won't go on for long about this "con comedy" - the less said about this unfunny uninspired work, the better.
Tim Roth, Uma Thurman, Maggie Q, Sofia Vergara, Alice Eve, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Parker Posey... The cast is promising, the movie itself is not. In fact, it's kind of a bore.
Some in the audience seemed to like the movie and chuckled regularly, at least in the beginning. The others just sat and watched with silent expectance of something interesting to happen. Which never did.
The story doesn't even have much of a conning people game going on. At least not enough to truly justify the "con comedy" moniker.
The characters are promising, although they never do something watchworthy. Ultimately, everybody feels like a supporting character - kind of colorful by oneself and repeatedly doing one's schtick to add comic relief. Which means they are nice to have around but not really able to carry the story.
I am also not a fan of this theatrical style of acting which mostly seems to convey: I don't really feel connected with or inspired by the material but I am a professional, I want to work and will carry this through just relying on willpower.
Uma Thurman seems especially artificial, maybe because she has markedly more screen time than any other actress here.
Tim Roth as the male lead doesn't even need to hide his indifference because his character has given up also and prefers to just sit and drink all the time.
The producers even managed to make the title less striking before releasing the damn thing. I like the original title, "The Brits Are Coming", better. Why replace it with a weak wordplay?
BTW, the filming was completed in 2015, so it took the project three years to receive a theatrical release.
Billionaire Boys Club (2018)
Who would ever get rich doing an honest job? (especially in movies)
Glad to see that the studios have moved on from same-y YA (young adult) movies that dominated the cinemas for some 15 first years of current century.
It's not all something related to sci-fi anymore, we've had some good relationship dramas - "The Fault in Our Stars", "Wonder" -, and now there's a solid "greed is good" type drama in the form of "Billionaire Boys Club".
To be honest, it's a bit soulless and occasionally flatlining effort, but still very watchable, if only for the charm of leading men, Ansel Elgort (a revelation in 2017's "Baby Driver") and Taron Egerton (the "Kingsman" series).
There's also a deliciously nasty supporting turn from Kevin Spacey as modern version of Gordon Gecko. But let me clear - his performance, or the movie altogether, is not just a "Wall Street" lite kind of project. Both hold their own.
The project stands on its own feet and doesn't just borrow the "Wall Street" blueprint as countless greed dramas of the last 30 years.
James Cox, the director and one of two writers, is confident about how he wants to play it out - all dramatic tones, intense energy, lots of talking heads in close-up shots etc.
And it mostly succeeds... he just hasn't managed to dig out the most committed performances of his young stars. Which is not a surprise, considering the straightforward but shallow B-movie material they have had to work with.
It all would probably make a noteworthy teen drama series (or even the whole season) on TV, it's just that we've had lot of similar movies doing it better.
I didn't quite understand the ways the get-rich-quick boys earned their money - or pretended to do so. For most of the running time, it never is very clear, concentrating on their partying and boasting instead.
Maybe showing it this way is exactly the point of the story. Still, a bit more straightforward explaining would be nice.
Still, it's good for summer audience. There's enough captivating content to earn its place among top teen soap operas, if there is such a genre.
I had fun, even if I kind of wished it to be shorter by 15 to 20 minutes.
The Equalizer 2 (2018)
Denzel is back to kick-ass those who deserve it.
With 2001's "Training Day", Antoine Fuqua was the first director to utilize Denzel Washington as the thinking man's kick ass hero.
"The Equalizer 2" is their fourth joint venture into this territory, following 2014's original "The Equalizer" and 2016's "The Magnificent Seven".
In my opinion, Washington is one of the the most magnificent movie stars to ever grace the silver screen, and I love him to death, but there's a slight problem with action projects where his main aim is to kick ass and shoot people in the face.
Namely, it has long ago become a genre in itself, and genre offerings have a tendency to repeat exactly whatever made it successful in the first place. The same holds true here.
Washington is a powerful actor with a strong presence, so he has always chosen action projects with a bit more style and depth than usual. But only a few of them offer a decidedly unique or interesting story to support all the stylish mayhem.
This is certainly true with "The Equalizer 2" too. The movie is always the most gripping when showing individual little stories which always end with McCall dishing out revenge to the bad guys.
His own journey is intriguing on some general intellectual level, but is not really developed to any emotionally satisfying depth (or height).
It would probably help if the pacing was faster but the authors are in no hurry to get anywhere soon. They certainly know how to create moody and somber atmosphere, sadly there's not much character development to enrich the journey.
You come out pretty much knowing the same about the mysterious McCall as in the beginning. Lyft driver by day, crime-fighting superman at night...
The bad guys look cool but lack personality too. Nothing to dinguish them from all the other cool bad guys in Denzel's other actioneers.
To be fair, it always is and probably will be satisfying watching Denzel fighting and shooting his way through numerous evil men. He has become something of a jazz artist of revenge thrillers which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.
But after 17 years and many movies offering the same thing, it's just not exactly earth-shattering anymore.
Yes, I loved every action scene here but it was more difficult to stay excited about all the rest surrounding that.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
If you liked the "Mamma mia" before, you'll like this too, just a bit less.
2008's hit musical based movie "Mamma Mia" was a huge box office smash, taking 610 million USD from world's cinemas, so of course there was gonna be a sequel.
We didn't quite expect to wait for it for a whole decade, but whatever - it's here now and we can go watch and discover what happened next.
The original's stars are back but only in small-ish supporting roles, although promotional materials would surely like you to believe otherwise.
Amanda Seyfried's character has been pushed to the background too, actually. The story is about the adventures of Meryl Streep's character in her late teenage years instead, meeting the three important men of her future life and having a baby.
I must admit I am not a fan of mainstream musical movies, mainly because of the specific artificial style of acting they use, and never offering proper storytelling or actual suspense or surprises story-wise.
"Here We Go Again" is very much a mainstream musical movie, and a sequel aiming to just offer more of the same - both of which are OK in itself.
But the general lazy atmosphere doesn't do the movie any favors, especially evident on the uninspired but professional faces of the old stars back for fat paycheck. I'd even dare to say that all the good bits including the old generation can already be seen in the trailers.
The movie's probably good enough for fans of the original. The others will most like veer between somewhere mild boredom and mild amusement - the latter thanks to beautiful locations, visuals and the joy of witnessing famous actors performing evergreen ABBA songs, some of which were also used in predecessor.
The younger generation of actors led by Lily James - of "Downton Abbey" and "War & Peace" fame - feel a bit more soulful or at least fresh.
In any case, the material is what it is, not offering any suspense or real surprises nor a proper story-building, as stated above. At least the song and dance numbers look good if not terribly soulful or inventive.
Speaking of high-points, I liked the freshness of Lily James, the song and dance number on boat, Cher's appearance and still evident star power despite her age of 71 while filming. And the final song re-uniting two of the main characters is a delight, and worth the wait indeed.
As lazy and unnecessary sequels to hit musical movies go, "MM2" is totally acceptable, and it's made for fans anyway.
One can derive some lightweight pleasure form it as a piece of escapist entertainment - with all the scenic views, good-looking people and classic ABBA songs performed by famous faces.
(Speaking of lightweight, I don't appreciate some of the man-hating jokes they do. This kind of jokes shouldn't be part of mainstream movies in 2018.)
The movie as unambitious as this doesn't deserving serious critical bashing but it's not really that fun either. Then again, considering the strict criteria of how such project must look and feel, we can't blame the lacking creativeness of debuting screenwriter-director Ol Parker either... probably.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
Want a good movie recommendation?
Finally: a summer movie that doesn't suck donkey balls! Then again, "Soldado" is far from what one would actually call a summer movie.
I think the producers' decision of releasing it in the end of June, or middle of the major blockbuster season, was seeing it as an an antidote to the usual summer fare, and it has worked!
If you just can't take another mainstream comedy, feature-length animation or something to do with superheroes, then "Soldado" might be just what the combat medic ordered.
The movie's not so generic as to fit some general label - you might want to call it action, drama or thriller though - but it's captivating as hell if you like any of those three genres. But above all, it's well made in every way, gripping, and entertaining in some nihilistic sense.
So many posh words so far, but not one about what it's actually about, eh? It's about war. The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border (depicted at length in 2015's "Sicario") has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists into U.S. To fight it, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.
Original's stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are back for the second helping, but this time the gloves are off and there's much less talk and much more action.
This means that the audience has to also stomach a bigger amount of realistic bloodletting, which fills pretty much the whole story.
What I really enjoy about "Soldado" is how realistic and to-the-point its story feels in every aspect. There's no way I can evaluate the actual level of realness compared to the U.S's actual covert war against cartels, but it sure does feel competent on the screen.
The powerful laconic style preferred by director Stefano Sollima and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan works to a great effect. The central characters are all about business as they say, authentic warriors through and through.
They don't glamorize war and suffering, they don't go on wasting bullets or words even to celebrate (small) victories because they know from experience how finite and fragile everything can be. They just go and do what's needed, and look supercool doing it. Especially Brolin who feels even manlier than usual.
We don't even get to see the management side of the operations that much, which would only slow down and fragment the story, probably. This also saves the action-hungry part of the audience of the long-winding first half of the original "Sicario".
All in all, witnessing the "kitchen side" of life of organized crime (and fighting that) hasn't felt that realistic and captivating since, well, the first three seasons of HBO's classic "The Wire".
Of course, "Soldado" lasts only two hours, so they can't delve into the topic as deeply. But it really feels like experiencing this life first-hand. Well, without all the hardships such as getting killed, of course.
Special shout-out should go to composer Hildur Guðnadóttir whose dark ominous music perfectly fits and compliments the overall atmosphere.
"Soldado" is by far the best movie of 2018 I've seen so far, and the rare quality sequel that takes all that's good about the original, and then elevates it to another level.
Put shortly, I loved it. Please let there also be the third part of the proposed trilogy!
Loving Pablo (2017)
Javier Bardem playing a infamous drug lord. Do we need to say anything more?
The popculture's one of the more iconic real-life drug barons Pablo Escobar returns to screen, played by Javier Bardem.
The notorious man's rule and eventual fall are portrayed by the perspective of a journalist (Penélope Cruz) who was his long-time lover - the screenplay is based on the book that she published.
A real-life epic drama, starred by two of the Spanish cinema's biggest gifts to modern Hollywood? It is easy to imagine this being a vanity project with not much real depth or dramatic heft.
And you would be right to think that. "Loving Pablo" is more about the excitement of watching Bardem and Cruz re-enacting the great soap opera / crime story than giving intellectually exciting excursion to the mind and life of the great mr Escobar.
There's nothing markedly unique about the story, just more rehashing of popular "greed is good" and mafia cliches that we've witnessed in mainstream movies and series released in the last thirty years or so (since Oliver Stone invented them for "Wall Street").
The character- and relationship development in the centre of the story feel functional but overall shallow. Sometimes the narrator just conveniently mentions something to add important new information which one can't just deduce from seen events. For example that Virginia was afraid of Pablo too, and Pable often cheated on her also.
Maybe the new, 16 minutes shorter cinema cut is to blame? IMDb and some reviews suggest is should last 123 minutes instead of 107. The longer version's additional material may have made the story better.
But one can't argue with the movie's two biggest trumps which make it easily worth the ticket price or time spent.
Firstly, the adrenaline-soaked violence. Sure, there is a great number of movies and series out there that make killing and hurting people look cool, as opposed to real life where it seems much more horrifying and much less less picturesque.
But "Loving Pablo" is really in the league of its own, all this killing business looks amazing and visually inventive. R-rating well earned. Not that I condone violence in real life... but still.
Secondly, Bardem, great as always. Witnessing his mesmerizing performance as the drug lord is a pleasure indeed.
I do not especially care how realistic his approach to the real-life Escobar is - don't think it matters, really - but Bardem looks every inch as sly and dangerous human beast as the kingpin must have been in his lifetime. Lifeless, half-shut, lurking eyes, curled hair, pot-belly... he creates a powerful and memorable cinematic gangster for sure.
Also, I may be the only one to say this, but I'd like to see Nicolas Cage fill this role. Watching Bardem, I constantly felt that Cage would also be great as this character.
Cruz is good too but she's more of a supporting player, and her character is not fascinating in her own right. More like a decoration in the great big painting of Escobar's life.
"Loving Pablo" was first released in Venice Film Festival last September, but the distributors have made a wise choice to release it widely this summer instead.
Wise because it's entertaining cinema but a rather shallow movie, easily watchable and digestible on the go. In other words, good for summer season.
A summerly comedy. I kinda liked it.
Based on a true story. For one month every year, five highly competitive friends organize no-holds-barred game of tag they've been playing forever - risking their necks, jobs and relationships to take each other down with the battle cry "You're It!"
This time, the game coincides with the wedding of the gang's only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target...
Starring Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, John Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, Annabelle Wallis et al.
I mentioned all these people that may be hard to remember just by name, because "Tag" comedy is essentially a team comedy, an effort where the success depends very much on the flow and synergy between actors.
The good news is, since they're all professionals who do this kind of thing all the time, there's no trouble here. Basics are solid.
Even the best-known names, such as Helms, Hamm (of "Mad Men" fame), or Renner are here for the team, nobody's in star position.
Except maybe Helms, a versatile comedian offering his usual mix of sweet, sensitive and funny. The problem with him is that he does the same thing all the time, so any movie will feel a bit more generic just by having him.
But it's not just all comedy. "Tag" is also kind of an action movie, although in unusual way. There is only little amount of actual, you know, action, although the handbag fight is a standout part.
But the clever use of slow motion gives the scenes of grown-ups playing tag a distinct feel of an action movie, with all the amateur parkour and dangerous stunts to get away from being tagged. Nicely done.
For an R-rated adult comedy, "Tag" is also refreshingly obscenity-free. There's only character who has a bit of a foul mouth (a female, by the way) and the amount of dirty jokes is less than average.
We still have a constantly pot-smoking character but no modern comedy would be complete without drug-jokes.
In summary, "Tag" is more about atmosphere and flow than heavy on laugh out loud moments. You may not remember it that well in couple of day's time but it's breezy fun while it lasts.
For a bit of escapist entertainment released during summer season, I've seen a lot worse.
A dissappointment for me, but some horror fans are probably thrilled
After the grandmother passes away, a grieving family is haunted by disturbing occurrences, and it gets worse from there.
Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd et al.
"Hereditary" is a good example of why I only watch the most acclaimed of new horror movies, and still end up more or less disappointed.
I consider horror one of the most soul-numbingly generic of screen genres out there.
Even the best works tend to rehash the same storytelling, visual or scare tactics cliches, happily ignoring the fact that most good stories start from character- and world-building, so there would be a reason for us to actually care about what comes next.
The worldwide success of Stephen King's writing has proved it already almost half a century ago, although his works have been far more varied than his mainstream image as the "horror king" hints at.
(Yes, the movies based on his writing usually repeat said mistake too, but that's another topic.)
"Hereditary", as the recent good example "Ghost Stories", starts strong. The debuting screenwriter-director Ari Aster has invested enough time and care to properly building things up, so it really feels like a unique place and time, populated with real people as opposed to pawns on the board to help move the story along.
In the best King's novels traditions, the opening chapter takes it slow, letting the audience immerse themselves in the lives of the central characters. One could call it a family drama with supernatural elements few and far between, just for a taste.
So far, so good - at least for those who really care about quality storytelling. But brace yourself and, above all, prepare to be patient.
"Hereditary's" trailers - not to mention the overall image of horror movies as dispensers of cheap quick scares - will probably work against the authors' best intentions. If you are waiting for some cheap quick thrills, you may turn impatient before the horror arrives in full force.
It does happens but only in the middle of the long story, more or less, or after the first hour. This means that the less intelligent or committed part of the audience will be tired of waiting already - they will probably start checking the phones, laughing at random things, conversating loudly, etc.
Considering that one can't choose or control the fellow people in cinema, I consider "Hereditary" much better viewing at home or for selected audience. Otherwise there's a real chance of mouth-breathers ruining at least some of the experience for the others.
Anyway, the performances are committed and strong too, fully supporting the director's pursuit for building up the general atmosphere and suspense.
Aster has used quite a lot of long close-up shots here, to accentuate the characters' suffering and inner turmoil which helps make the result feel one of its kind and special.
Veteran thespians such as Collette and Byrne do their job very well as usual, but younger stars such as Wolff and Shapiro are deliciously watchable as well, commanding the screen whenever they are on it, like it was easy or something.
Milly Shapiro, the creepy little star of the trailer, plays actually a supporting character - which is a shame, really. I can't imagine anybody getting enough of her outlandishness before she has to give the central place to other characters.
So, the second hour starts, the horror arrives in full force... and that's it. All the qualities that make the first hour so strong and memorable (slow tempo, haunting style, character- and world-building) just vanish, making way to generic scare fest that you could easily get from any other cheap and fast horror movie.
Switching gears is not bad in itself but disgarding all the deliciousness that has come before makes the second hour very humdrum, at least for yours truly.
It's feels like a long unvaried ride in theme park's haunted house, without the original thoughtfully measured family drama adding some meat to the cinematic bones. The acting is still really good but it's not enough.
Later I read from IMDb that the original cut of "Hereditary" could have easily pushed over three hours, mostly consisting of more family stuff (which would have added depth to the second part). That's probably why the second hour feels more flaky and less coherent.
Ari Aster has done a series of shorts, but putting together a feature-length movie is much harder.
Or maybe the producers didn't let him realise his original vision, forcing to add more and more "scary stuff", until it started having desensitizing effect, making one feel just kind of "meh".
Having said that, many critics seem to really like the movie. Scores at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are sky-high. The users's scores are markedly lower but still higher than my 5/10. Go figure.
Ocean's Eight (2018)
Nobody likes people who steal... unless fancy movie stars do it!
A slick, generally entertaining all-girls-sequel to trio of slick, generally entertaining heist movies directed by Steven Soderbergh.
The man himself is only one of the producers now, and almost none of the major characters return - they are probably saving those for the inevitable "Ocean's 9".
But the franchise hasn't lost any of the original laid-back magic which rises from watching pretty people dexterously and confidently doing something that most of us just can't.
If anything, replacing the main cast has turned out to be a good thing. I mean, who beside the most ardent fans can remember much of the original "Ocean's 11's" sequels (which was actually a remake but that's beside the point).
The new one's about the sister of infamous Danny Ocean, gathering an all-female crew to pull a great diamond snatch.
We have Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and, er, some Asian girl called Awkwafina forming the eponymous eight.
All-girls takes on popular genres or movies usually suck - "Bridesmaids" being one of the brighter exceptions to the rule. "Ocean's 8" officially breaks the curse (once more), demonstrating that girls don't always just want to have fun, they can mean business too!
Most of the movie is exactly how one familiar with "Ocean's" series would expect it to be: cool people talking a lot, but also doing a lot of difficult planning which often rely on good luck but still will lead to amassing a great fortune. In other words, servicing all of your 'competence porn' needs for one sitting.
The style of storytelling is as lean and no-nonsense as before. The dialogue is crisp and to the point, the same about the action scenes and pacing in general, there's no filler content or lame humour for the dumber part of the audience...
Also, one is able to follow and understand the details of the "job" more easily than in predecessors, which is a good thing. So all's nice.
Speaking of the ladies, they are every bit as cool and fancy as expected. Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock have rarely looked more good-looking, cooler or glamorous on the screen, Hathaway seems to have enjoyed her "dumb but beautiful" character...
The other ones are mostly there for support, which is fine too, because eight major characters would be too much for 110-minute movie.
Having said all those good things, I have to add that "Ocean's 8" also suffers from the main flaw of the series, although "flaw" may be too harsh a word because many probably wouldn't object or even notice.
*IF YOU HATE SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW!!!*
Namely, all four "Ocean" movies are so laidback that there's barely any real suspense, or at least it's not rising throughout the story. You can already assume that the nobody will get caught and the plan will be a success and there will be no real hiccups during the operation.
A slick, generally entertaining all-girls-sequel to a trio of slick, generally entertaining heist movies directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Is it just me, or would you also ask for some additional character- and world-building to support and give weight to all the fancy and cool that "Ocean's" has to offer?
Love, Simon (2018)
Film about how it's ok to be gay.
One of the main lure of the movies is their ability to introduce us to magical lands and experiences that we'd never otherwise witness.
That's probably one reason why so many recent movies about gay people have found such a warm mainstream reception. It sure is fascinating to get a glimpse of lifestyle that most of us would never experience by oneselves (nor even want to, but that's another topic).
"Love, Simon" is a curious beast, a first mainstream Young Adult movie with a gay protagonist. It is very much a spiritual successor of John Hughes's popular teen movies of 1980's, only this time with the hero afraid to, you know, come out.
The Hughes blueprint has its downfalls, namely the story doesn't dare to venture outside the cute territory, never placing the hero in any real danger or conflict - mostly everybody is supportive of Simon, or at least doesn't care about his orientation, etc.
This makes the story always rather predictable. Yet the dialogue, relationships, and the characters still manage to remain fresh and charming, which saves it from becoming too pedestrian, despite the "middle of the road" approach and all.
Even when the movie comes dangerously close to becoming too sugary for its own good - Simon coming out to his family and the resulting conversations - it somehow manages to stay on the not embrarrasing side, keeping us engaged.
I would even argue that the second half of the movie is stronger because Simon's coming out adds purpose and authenticity to the story, which can sometimes feel a bit aimless during the first hour.
The cast is just lovely, their committed performaces are also an important part of the overall success.
We have Nick Robinson playing Simon, Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner as Simon's parents, and a motley crew of whatstheirnames playing his friends, including Jorge Lendebord Jr., Logan Miller, Alexandra Shipp, Katherine Langford, et al. I also quite enjoyed Tony Hale as the vice principal of the school.
There has been a number of really good and well-received movies about gay people in recent years, including "Brokeback Mountain", "Behind the Candelabra", ""La vie d'Adèle" ("Blue Is the Warmest Colour"), "Tom of Finland", and "Call Me by Your Name".
"Love, Simon" may not deserve a place among the best of them but it's sweet and well-realised in its own right. Plus definitely a trailblazing example of depicting LGBT+ community in mainstream Young Adult movies.
Hotel Artemis (2018)
Another reason to go to movies!
Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, the story follows the Nurse (Jodie Foster) who runs a secret, members-only hospital hotel for criminals.
Also appearing, Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate et al.
The recent months have seen quite a steady flow of movies that could be described being futuristic, high-concept, and action-centric if not terribly action-filled - such as "Ready Player One", "Anon", "Terminal", and now "Hotel Artemis".
All of the four attract because of how cool and slick they look, and all four turn out to be, above all, exercise in style - which makes them kind of shallow.
"Hotel Artemis" doesn't deviate from this in either good or bad way. There's no point writing about it in length, one just gotta see the intriguing underworld of high-class criminals and the hospital that becomes the clashing ground for many of them, with all the witty dialogue, shadowy but intriguing characters lurking around, and delicious mix of futuristic and something more fitting for 1930's.
I am bad at describing the visual style with mere words. The most immediate comparision that came to mind: witnessing the original "Blade Runner" from the street level, with some lovely art deco style of the first "BioShock" (the videogame).
It's a world where most everybody is dangerous, or at least has very useful skills to get around, so there is always some suspense about who gets to live and who dies. Nobody has markedly more screen time than others, so it's also kind of hard to guess too.
Special shout-out should go to the person who chose the principal cast. For example, movie fan can't help but be a little warmed about the idea of Jodie Foster returning to big screen after five years (just her second role in seven years).
There's also Dave Bautista, everybody's favorite hulk of man, or the new thinking man's action hero who has recently found more intriguing roles than Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson combined. Yes, the roles are often small but still.
Also, I very much enjoyed the transformation of Charlie Day to slick-talking backstabbing criminal. It's not often that a star comedian offers something so different from one's usual schtick.
So, "Hotel Artemis" is cool if shallow. It'd be hard to fault a summer movie based on that, so let's give a recommendation instead.
It's breezy and fun, and knows when to end before becoming too repetitive or otherwise tiring.
Youngsters at sea, hurricane attacking, things looking bleak...
Teenagers meeting the perils of real life is a well-established YA (young adult) movie subgenre, and Shailene Woodley may be one of its biggest stars, at least in the U.S.
Starting with surprisingly gripping Christian teen soap "The Secret Life of American Teenager", she has also appeared, among other stuff, "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Divergent" trilogy. "Adrift" is certainly a solid addition to her 'hard life on screen' theme.
A young couple (Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin) sailing on ocean get hit by hurricane, are left with damaged boat and have to endure a lot to get back to civilization.
It's quite common for YA movie to also be at least partly about survival but "Adrift" is also one of the few realistic ones. Meaning it's based on a true story from the beginning of 1980's.
Both leads, Woodley and Claflin, are very likable and authentic to make the audience care about their challenges.
I especially like how Woodley has covered up her natural prettiness to become adventurous spirit she's supposed to be. Instead of having perfect tan, she never looks her best in the movie, always sunburnt or physically suffering like the character's life dictates.
"Adrift" may be made for PG-13 crowd, but the overall quality should make it attractive choice for fans of survival tales of any age. There's nothing new exactly, considering the genre, but it's well made and honest enough to deserve a nod.
If one is not into sea and/or sailing, it's quite difficult to understand the charms of such endeavour.
As one of the main characters admits, most time will be spent sunburnt, sleep deprived, seasick or possibly all three at once, and always hungry. But watching the others suffer like is not the worst way to spend hour and a half, eh?
Those who haven't seen such kind of a screen story before - such as "The Mercy" starring Colin Firth released in March - may want to give "Adrift" a higher score. I, on the other hand, am good with 6 out of 10, deeming it solid but not caring about the whole thing as deeply as I'd like to.
The problem with 'sailers at great risk' movies is that it's really hard to build and maintain suspense here.
You already know what's gonna happen (they either die or survive), also there's not gonna be much interesting dialogue or character development to make one care deeply, and ultimately, there's not enough to form a deep emotional connection to.
Characters mope around on the deck, etc. Begs the question of how the actually pass the time, what do they eat, where they crap and piss - most of which is left unanswered because it would not make a great movie material.
And one of the big developments during the end seems rather ham-fisted, drifting apart from what really happened, diminishing the girl power message that the movie wants to convey, and conveniently happening just because story demands it right meow.
The scenes of ocean attacking the boat are awesome and easily the most gripping part of "Adrift".
Sadly they are rather short and scarce, leading the audience back to monotone existence of being on a boat. Or flashbacks of how the couple met and started the journey, which are fine by themselves but lack dramatic punch to add heft to the overall story.