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Super Troopers 2 (2018)
Here comes the sequel to 2001's cult comedy bringing loads of more of the same. This is probably not a bad thing, considering "Super Troopers 2" was crowd-funded at IndieGoGo - so there must have been a considerable number of fans asking for extra helping.
When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area. Writing and starring Broken Lizard comedy gang (of course), plus some other faces you'll be happy to see again, such as Brian Cox.
"Super Troopers 2" offers an eclectic menu of different kinds of humor, including stoner, raunchy, and obscure jokes, not to mention a distinct montypythonian vibe. So there's seemingly something for anybody with a taste for mainstream comedy.
The greatest thing about the movie is this unique vibe the gang has. Everyone has dived so eagerly into their character, embracing the "going everywhere and trying everything" kind of attitude, and the obscurity of it all...
At its best, it's so freeflowing and unpredictable - even able to go from "meh" to inspired lunacy during the same setpiece - that one can't help but be charmed a little.
There may be no one essential scene that would stick into mind like the original's "meow game". But the result is still markedly funnier and more watchable than many other recent cult comedy sequels we did not exactly need, including "Zoolander 2", "Anchorman 2", "Bad Santa 2" and "Dumb and Dumber 2".
What is bad, however, is the movie not having much of a screenplay.
Just dicking around is fine for a while, sure, but there will come a saturation point when all this constant mouthing off gets stale without a proper story or interesting characters.
Not to mention Broken Lizard's eager and tireless rehashing of the same jokes over and over again (cocky Canadians, stupid Americans, reckless cops).
"Super Troopers 2" may have enough fun moments to be worth of comedy lover's while. But even a mighty bridge can't stand without some proper base pillars.
Teenagers want to have sex, and their parents prevent them to do so. Story as old as humanity, but worth seeing.
As a movie fan, I don't care for "genre movies" - meaning, in general, any project done just because authors imagine this kind of thing being hot right now.
As a rule, such efforts lack depth because they rely on cliches but rarely concentrate on fleshing out the world and characters which are the basic building blocks of decent storytelling.
As a result, I don't usually watch musicals, superhero stories, or computer animations... but I still like raunchy comedies. Not that I have high hopes for them, it's just a guilty pleasure.
"Blockers" falls into the latter category so if this kind of thing is not your cup of tea, you can stop reading now. Watching this wouldn't change your mind about sex, genitalia, bodily fluid, or partying related jokes.
Having said that, "Blockers" feels like one of the best raunchy mainstream comedies around. Definitely one of my favorites since the current wave was kickstarted by Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" in 2005.
I mentioned the legendary comedy screenwriter-director-producer on purpose. Here we have one of the more successful attempts to use Apatow's particular blend of entertainment to a great effect.
You know - dirty jokes but also a lot of heart, laid-back stories about everyday people, improvisational but strong dialogue, enough room to let everyone's personal charm shine through.
Apatow's formula has been around for a while now - finding a thankful audience with the short-lived cult series "Freaks and Geeks", gaining worldwide attention with "Virgin". But there's only few comedies that have managed to use it to such a good effect as "Blockers".
It's even cooler that the successful imitators are not comedy pros or Apatow veterans but (judging by their IMDb's resumes) relatively inexperienced screenwriting brothers Brian and Jim Kehoe. Plus the director is a woman, called Kay Connon.
I don't consider myself biased but women's efforts to helm modern raunchy comedies don't seem too encouraging, as witnessed in "Rough Night" and "Bad Moms 2", two recent examples that just suck.
Connon, on the other hand, has experience with the genre, having co-written the whole of "Pitch Perfect" trilogy. And her achievement as a first time director is denifinitely a noteworthy one. "Blockers" is just chock full of committed and charming performances. This is always a sign of good director because memorable performances rarely just happen, even in the best of times.
I am not mainly talking about the three leads (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) as parents on a mission to cockblock their youngsters' prom night sexcapades. The overall coolness of the big cast is something to savour, including Miles Robbins who feels like a second coming of Russell Brand in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall".
The compatibility and impeccable comic timing of every major player is just great. Special shout out should go to John Cena - who knew that WWE star could be such an asset in comedy, and not in supporting role as used to, but as one of the leads.
Traditionally, the "Apatow formula's" weakness has been lack of strikingly interesting story which often brings an overreliance on mediocre dialogue.
"Blockers's" story is not that interesting either - and some section could be shorter, such as teenagers in hotel - but the result works even when it gets corny, offering enough energy and inspired mayhem to be worth of genre fan's time.
All in all, "Blockers" kind of reminds me of "Step Brothers", one of my modern comedy favourites from 2008. The story is not the strong point and suffers from staying "middle of the road", lacking the one great punch which would raise it to the leagues of insta-classics. But the result is greater than sum of its parts, and the charm of the cast puts it a league of its own.
There's one thing that I'm a bit sad about though. The trailers make it seem like a mindless mainstream offering although the movie is slower and a bit more thoughtful than usual.
If possible, please watch "Blockers" itself first and trailers later, otherwise you may feel that you have seen all the stand-out bits already, which may make you miss out on how nice the movie feels as a whole.
Just like any other epic rumble with Dwayne Johnson, just add another giant ape. And Wolf. And crocodile.
Here comes another generic yet watchable "major movie event" that you don't really need to see but kind of want to - because the blockbusters' world's favorite rent-a-hero Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock is starring in it.
Genetically modified giant ape, wolf and crododile arrive to beat up a city and it's up to the world's awesome-looking primatologist (Johnson) to find a solution - which also involves dealing with evil corporation responsible for creating the monsters in the first place. "American Godzilla" would be a proper title, really.
Also starring, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, and constantly scene-stealing Jeffrey Dean Morgan who's the only member of human cast able to lend the movie a bit of charm and playfulness it desperately needs more of.
You see, for an screen entertainment based on old video game, "Rampage" takes itself a bit too seriously. I believe it'd benefit from ditching any machoness entirely and go straight for the maximum fun factor.
Johnson as a leading man is nice as always but he gives the project little more than his usual buffed-up body and winning personality. He seems to be more or less just walking through the role, and we just know that he could do this sort of thing in his sleep.
Kinda makes you wonder why the big guy's never up for finding some actually intriguing projects for a change. Nothing wrong with the umpteenth sequel to "Fast and Furious" or "Jumanji" or what have you, but surely he's earned enough money to be secretly yearning for more than utterly generic action epics by now?
Say what you want, at least the destroying the city parts feel visually true to the original video game released in 1986 (you can watch the sessions in YouTube). Only amped up to the 11, of course.
Big powerful creatures annihilating cars, houses and other stuff never really gets old now, does it? Watching it feels like being a child again, feeling omnipotent. So, let's call it a successful game to movie adaptation if only sporadically exciting movie on its own.
To sum it up, "Rampage" is a'ight, if you can't get enough of Johnson, or screen epics with a strong me-too vibe. Others need not apply. There's nothing you haven't seen before, in countless superhero or catastrophe or big monster movies. I guess it does what it's supposed to - mildly entertain you for 100-some minutes - but nothing more.
The already mediocre screenplay is let down further by occasionally overly hammy acting (Jake Lacy is not really meant for this kind of role) and plot turns that seems to scream: we did not even care about it all, just typed that shit in our MacBooks and sent it to the producers.
As a sidenote: I don't like seeing (big) animals getting hurt because of the greediness and sheer brutality of humans. Seriously, ours supposed to be the enlightened age, why is there a steady flow of Hollywood epics about people being mean to animals recently, such as "King Kong" and "Planet of the Apes" series?
We all become old, and so have the becoming-old movies
Harry Dean Stanton was a venerable character actor with a career spanning over 60 years. He died last September being 91 years old, and "Lucky" is next to last movie that he got to star in.
It is a bittersweet story about an old man living alone who's actually is in great health and physical shape despite smoking and drinking alcohol regularly. He spends his time watching TV and just hanging around the little town that he lives in... and at one point starts worrying what exactly happens next.
Stanton is joined by wonderful supporting cast, including David Lynch (yes, the man more known as director of weird movies), Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Ron Livingston, Hugo Armstrong, Yvonne Huff, et al.
The problem with movies about being old is that there's been a number of them recently, most of them not adding anything unique or interesting to the topic.
I get it, the population of the developed world is getting older, and naturally many of the actors with it. They still need work to pass the time and find some purpose, but as a movie fan, I find it progressively harder to have enthusiasm for such projects.
In other words, "being old" has turned into a genre, and genre movies usually don't have enough personality or originality to justify basically watching the same thing over and over again.
That's why I tend to avoid CGI animations, superhero movies, and horror movies for example, even if the specific projects are commercially successful and highly praised by the fans.
Maybe I'm just being bored that almost every "old person movie" is about having lost purpose in life and/or rediscovering some of that during the course of the story.
I understand that for many, aging really may equal to losing active role in life, and just vegetating till one dies. But it's not the same for everybody, especially if one is a spiritual person and doesn't concentrate on mostly materialistic goals in life.
And, really, do we need movies - a powerful means of mass communication - constantly re-affirming that yup, this is what's waiting for us near the end?
If the reader was hoping that this rant will lead to stating that "Lucky" was different, then I have to crash one's hopes. It does not actually feel markedly more original or deeper than the usual.
What it does have, is a lot of charm, certainly more than the average. There's something instantly inviting about the laid-back atmosphere and simple but thoughtful approach, which consists mainly of a bunch of veteran actors hanging around, doing what they're goot at, talking about nothing at everything at once.
Even David Lynch is charismatic to watch, although most of us probably think of him as a director, not actor.
The first-time director John Carroll Lynch is actually a venerable character actor who's getting old, too. It would have been cool if he reserved a role for himself as well.
The great thing about "Lucky" is that it doesn't overstay its welcome, ending in 88 minutes.
Lynch the director has adequately understood that there's not enough content to carry the story longer and higher, so it wouldn't pay to reach for something more epic. It's just a little meditation on mortality, the general atmosphere being in priority, and the movie doesn't need more.
I like what Detroit News's critic has written about "Lucky": more than anything, it's a tribute to Stanton, who wore each of his 91 years in the deep crevasses on his long face, in his weathered voice and on his frail frame.
That's exactly how the project should be remembered: a moving tribute to the legendary thespian.
Le Fidèle (2017)
Two protagonists have enough chemistry between them to generate some suspense but not enough to make the movie truly worthwhile
Love story between a crime gang member (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a younger upper-class girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who happens to be a racing driver.
It's essentially a drama with a little action, with the enjoyment largely depending on how much you care about its leads, who have made name for themselves in mostly French (language) movies.
"Le Fidèle" essentially echoes the "Romeo and Juliet" story where the two star-crossed people are divided by background but try to overcome their differences in the name of love.
The story is too shallow and straightforward to make a lasting impression but the charm of its stars just might - although the girl can become a bit annoying with her tendency to hold her mouth open like she was a young. early 2000's Angelina Jolie.
The international English title highlights one of them being a racedriver - the girl, in fact. Estonian title, "Võidusõitja ja võllaroog", is a direct translation from that, with a nice old-fashined choice of words to make it stand out a bit more.
But the original title meaning "loyal" or "faithful" is much better because:
(a) it closely follows the plot and tone, whereas the new titles makes one think of old French action comedies starring Jean-Paul Belmondo or something,
and (b) driving is actually a minor and essentially unimportant part of the experience. There's not even a standout car chase which would make sense in a story about criminal and a race driver
Actually, there's not much to say about the whole thing, especially if one tries to avoid spoilers. The general tone is dark, the stars are handsome and good enough actors to make the most of the material.
They have enough chemistry between them to generate some suspense but not enough to make the movie truly worthwhile.
"Le Fidèle" was Belgium's bet to bag a best foreign language movie Oscar this year but didn't make it among the five finalists to get nominated.
The 15:17 to Paris (2018)
One of the most criticized well-known american movies of the year. But I kinda liked it!
Three American guys on European trip discover a terrorist plot aboard a train, and thwart it. Based on real events in 2015, and the three guys are actually played by themselves - Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone.
There's a lot of backstory depicting their friendship and lives from childhood through finding their footing in life, to the events leading up to the attack.
This is the 36th movie directed by the once iconic actor and Western legend Clint Eastwood. I have followed this part of his career since the beginning of the 1990's and find it satisying and full of variety in every aspect - genre, topics, approach, and level of depth.
I can think of only two generalizations to somehow summarize Eastwood's legacy as a director: many of his works are long and serious, not concerned with finding mainstream audience at all.
It's much easier to summarize the venerable veteran's last two directing jobs, 2016's "Sully" and "The 15:17 to Paris".
Both are based on actual events from recent history, involve American men achieving something heroic, and are mercifully short, clocking out under 100 minutes. Shortest that he has ever done, in fact.
Maybe the man has started to value time more now when he's nearing his 87th birthday. I wish that many others would follow his example as well.
Anyway, I liked both "Sully" and "15:17" - these are the only real-life based movies directed by Eastwood that I have had authentic interest in. Sadly, the same can't be said about the other critics who have mostly greeted this new one with serious mauling, as witnessed in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
I honestly don't understand it. I agree that "Sully" is a stronger effort but also find nothing wrong with "15:17". Just to be clear: I am not a patriotic person, pro-military, or old-fashioned thinker about what it means to be a man - all of which would explain my affinity for the movie.
Why do I like it, then? It's a simple story well told, the approach is humble in a good way, and the notion that it really happened AND is acted by the same men who lived through it, is just a bit mindblowing.
Some have found the guy's screen work clumsy but I strongly disagree here. They feel natural, and speak a lot too. Eastwood has not reduces their lines which hints that he was confident in them too.
You see, it's a common tactics to hide the insufficient acting by giving the person less lines and/or let others speaking instead, or just concentrate on the tone and mood.
Think Eminem in "8 Mile", or Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Aftermath", to give just a few random examples. Or do I need to remind how artificial many of the spoken parts sound in most Estonian movies?
My point is, the guys may not be the next De Niros or Pacinos or something, but they are more than able to get the job done on screen, just like they did in real life. There's nothing to be ashamed about the quality of those performances.
IF YOU DON'T LIKE TO SEE ANY POSSIBLE SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW BEFORE SEEING THE MOVIE!
The only theoretical problem that I see is the short duration of the train part. Based on promotional materials, the viewer will expect this to be the central piece of "15:17", although it is, in fact, only a piece of the bigger mosaic.
Most of the story is spent following the three guys from their childhood to adulthood, from school troubles to finding a place in life.
The promotional materials hide it for a reason, because "15:17" is experience that requires to be seen once in its entirety and then put to context in the end. Just like, say, the classic modern horror "The Sixth Sense", to give another random example.
Eastwood has certainly counted on this conceptual approach paying off, and imagines how the audience will understanding the big picture in the end - how every life is important because you never know what good deeds it may lead to later.
Based on the critical reception, the approach has failed horribly indeed. Maybe it's the modern audiences incompatibility to European art house style of movie making where there seems to be a whole lot of nothing going on, but the events will acquire more value and meaning in some larger context later.
Or maybe it's just me. I only know that I liked it, already during the watching, and after getting the big picture.
The movie with possibly the most colorful poster has arrived.
In Spanish-speaking countries, especially Americas, the slang word gringo means anybody who is not Hispanic or Latino.
In this case, the title refers to this black guy (David Oyelowo), a mild-mannered office worker who accompanies his bosses to Mexico. He finds himself in the middle of dangerous game involving local gangster, where the main prize is his life.
Essentially, "Gringo" is an action comedy, but it would be more precise to describe it as a mosaic picture of different players doing their own thang, which is more or less directly connected to the hapless man in the middle of all this.
Speaking about cast, we have Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, Yul Vasquez, Diego Cataño, Rodrigo Corea, Thandie Newton, Carlos Corona, and Paris Jackson. Director Nash Edgerton is the brother of the star Joel, by the way.
"Gringo" certainly has an attractive trailer but I can't say I cared that much about the movie itself.
There's nothing majorly wrong with it but the amount of second-rate or just filler content is so high that standout characters and moments are hard to come by.
As a whole, the story feels like a work of a content creator who is perfectly able to write stuff on demand and by agreed criteria but hasn't had a whole lot of creative juice flowing. (It's actually authored by two men, Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis.)
To put it bluntly, everything is presentable but little of it feels inspired.
The lack of inspiration could be somewhat compensated by interesting characters but I could find only two that really fit that description. Also, both have a little amount of screen time.
One is played by Sharlto Copley of "District 9" and "Elysium", who manages to bring out some depth and warmth in his mysterious character. The other is, to my surprise, Michael Jackson's daughter Paris. She was just doing her movie debut but comes across as a pro, adding coolness and charm to otherwise very limited role.
All the others are not that memorable, or have little importance. Or in Edgerton's and Theron's case, they are just not doing all they could do.
These two are certainly the biggest stars here but feel like just doing their job, not really adding some screen magic. Edgerton especially feels like a wrong man for his role, he just doesn't seem as evil as the character actually requires.
"Gringo" is watchable but instantly forgettable, lacking heart which is the worst that any self-respecting action comedy can do. Fans of the genre find some entertainment, the others feel mostly indifferent.
I know perfectly well the feeling of earnestly wishing to give one's best but somehow not being able to do that, so I don't want to batter the movie. It ain't bad. But the result is just not that captivating.
The Pirates of Somalia (2017)
It's chill way to spend two hours with a movie, and the acting is very human and natural
Ah, Somalia... where is it again? There's a new movie for every- or anybody willing to learn something about this African country famous for having been an major commercial centre in antique period, and, er, its pirates gaining international fame during the 2000's.
Or they might have been just local fishermen protecting their livelihood from illegal fishing by foreign trawlers, depending on who you ask.
As the title strongly suggests, "The Pirates of Somalia" is about those fishermen. It's based on actual events taking place mostly circa 2009, and actually has two stories in one.
The smaller story - mostly the beginning and the end - is about this American dude (Evan Peters) who wants to become journalist after college but can't get work. So he decides to do something noteworthy and travels to Somalia to write a book about its pirates.
This section plays out like typical youth comedy: dude fighting with parents who would like to see him doing something with his life, instead of living in their basement, smoking marijuana with friends, hanging out with this funny old man (Al Pacino) who likes cigars and drinks.
The dialogue feels pretty fresh and the general vibe is good. I enjoyed the unexpected little surprises such as the the character of pothead friend who's actually pretty smart, the foul language in TV news...
Also, Evan Peters is a likable leading dude, unpretentious but informed and eloquent, nerdish but charming. Think along the lines of Jesse Eisenberg and Emile Hirsch, and you might get the picture.
The bigger story is about him living in Somalia, socializing with the locals and trying to get interviews from pirates. All this is harder to describe because writer-director Brian Buckley has wanted to show life as it was, and not offer some packaged or ready-to-go entertainment connected to a specific genre.
He has dived right in the middle of Somalian everyday life and avoids typical cliches about Africa, as far as I can tell.
Yes, there are some goats walking on the streets, people living in slums, a lot of men carrying guns in public, etc. But the style is not hollywood-ish at all. People are just people, and most of the time, nothing big and exciting happens. Even the witty dialogue has been left back home at the U.S.
This simple and humane approach is "Pirates's" main strength but also it main weakness. Because for a near two hour movie, we see pirates but not exciting about them, and there's actually not much to learn about the local life too.
I did not get the general sense of what the people do all day every day, or even what the dude does (I can deduce he was writing for some of the time, and doing local drugs for fun, but then what?).
I know I am supposed to judge what the movie for what it is, not what it isn't. But it's still kind of funny that a story trying to give us deeper understanding about Somalia never really explores or explains what makes its people tick, or the pirates.
Well, it's still pretty chill way to spend two hours with a movie, and the acting is very human and natural, both by professionals and the locals, almost all of who are played by actual Somalian refugees.
In the central role is this Barkhad Abdi - nominated for Golden Globe and Oscar for 2013's "Captain Phillips" (where he played Somalian pirate). On American side, we also have some former stars like Melanie Griffith and Al Pacino.
Red Sparrow (2018)
Jennifer Lawrence wants to be a sexy spy. Of course we want to see it!
Jennifer Lawrence is certainly one fine young movie star but somehow her performances have always struck me as kind of lacking in heart - at least after becoming really famous in "The Hunger Games".
It's partly but not mainly about that she comes across as distant or emotionless (although some of her characters have asked for that). It just feels like something in her as an actress has not developed or opened up yet.
I like everything about her - the acting range, the role choices and how she looks - but then again I never feel like she's really authentic and putting herself out there for the movies. Maybe it's just me?
Nevertheless, Lawrence's constant state of guarded-ness works well for the role of Russian spy in "Red Sparrow". She's also not shy about sharing her "bodily charms" on screen which even helps make it more memorable than it is.
I'd argue that the physical attractiveness part is so important here than if the movie had been released 20 years ago, it would have become famous like Sharon Stone and "Basic Instinct". Too bad that it's 2018 when naked bodies and sex are everywhere, so Lawrence's confident and cool sexy role will not gather that much attention.
It's also difficult to gather much attention in spy movie world these days, because there's a high number of those being produced constantly, including action, thriller, drama and comedies.
If one has to place it somewhere, "Red Sparrow" would fall into thriller category, although it has some drama and action, and the action scenes turn surprisingly and stomach-churningly violent indeed.
Another relatively rare thing about the project is using Russian spies and spymasters as central characters and letting the known actors speak with light faux Russian accent all the time.
What would probably feel laughable with lesser cast and director turns out just such fine using actors as Lawrence, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Matthew Schoenarts.
(There are also solid supporters such as Joel Edgerton and Thekla Reuten, so not everybody sounds the same.)
Thanks to confident actors, this approach works well enough to avoid falling into camp category. There's no joking around, everybody means business both behind and in front of the camera, and you will buy it because they seem to believe in it themselves. Which is good enough.
There's only one notable problem with the movie - it's such a mainstream endeavour that doesn't really stand out from the crowd of all kinds of good enough modern spy movies which have been released during this decade.
Almost nobody in the genre wants to concentrate on proper character and world building, and the result is they all feel kind of same-y.
"Red Sparrow" would probably win by being a bit shorter too. There's not too much filler content (although almost the entire final act feels like one) but it's still long at 140 minutes. And we don't even get enough interesting backstory for the she-spy and the world she's living in, including the relationship with her powerful relative.
The biggest letdown is the titular heroin who remains beautiful but bland as any successful spy should. But anybody who has seen more than a couple of recent spy movies will probably yearn for some depth, realizing that there's not much point to care about her. Just watch and be moderately entertained.
The character development remains limited and whatever one might think of her during watching, the authors will try to twist it into something "surprising" in the final act, making the previous journey together matter even less.
Thus, the emotional stakes never reach particularly high and one can just hope for some passable entertainment. But there's a lingering potential to be more than that in this otherwise well-made thriller.
Tomb Raider (2018)
Video gamers' old favourite got new movie version. At least the lead actress was a good choice.
"Tomb Raider's" first two cinema outings were released 2001 and 2003, respectively, in the hopeful time when many dared to believe that movie versions of video games could be truly great.
They didn't justify this hope, being generic and largely forgotten by now. I, for one, only remember the random flashes of action and stupid look of the star Angelina Jolie always holding her lips open like she was a mouth breather or something.
"TR" is based on the long-running game series that had a commercially and creatively very successful reboot in 2013, hence the push to reboot the movie franchise as well.
Alicia Vikander is the new Lara the adventurous archeologist, and she certainly seems like a good choice for the role. She's a good actress - better than Jolie when she donned Lara's boots in 2001. She also has this interesting trait of appearing strong and fragile at once which makes her an intriguing candidate for an action hero.
She doesn't disappoint, and can certainly hold her lips together, but I gotta admit that I only liked the first half of the movie. The sections of ship in the storm and Lara escaping the baddies on the island are definite highlights, especially her in the crumbling plane over the waterfall.
These are successful not only for offering adrenaline-soaked moments but showing how games really can be successfully translated to movie format.
The environment feels alive and full of possibilities, we see places to climb, leap, hold on to - just like in games. It's not just gymnastics for its own sake either, it's essential part of action happening on screen.
I guess cinematic games of late - from David Cage's works to "Uncharted" to name a few - have given many good examples of how to find the common territory between movies and video games "Tomb Raider" is one of the first movies to exploit it in really memorable way.
I also love that the movie-Lara is not into shooting weapons. In games, especially the later ones, you get to shoot a big number of people and animals (I especially hated killing animals). Here she's rather timid when it comes to taking a life, which is cool.
So far, so good, but... By the time Lara's father re-enters the story, it lives through something very bad - I suspect an insult. The quality of writing takes a definite turn for the worse, and never recovers.
The lazily mixed hodgepodge of action adventure cliches and emotionally limp personal drama takes over, making even Stephen Sommers's "Mummy" films look like art in comparision. At least he knew how to use cliches effectively.
The father and daughter section of the "Tomb Raider" story is too hammy for its own good but can be pardoned by being short (although reducing it to bare minimum would actually be much better).
But everything that takes place in the tomb is just silly. I didn't buy any of it, nor enjoyed it as pure entertainment. Despite all these deadly puzzles and other dangers, there's no real sense of anybody being in danger - except some nameless henchmen of course.
And the number of moments when one wishes to just roll one's eyes and ask "really?" rises steadily. Even the widely-hated Tom Cruise's "Mummy" does this kind of tomb raiding thing in much more convincing and captivating manner.
The authors of "Tomb Raider" have done a typical mistake of trying to translate everything the games offer to movie format, but not improving the aspects that worked well only in games.
The main example is the underdeveloped story which tries to feel realistic but can only be endured by turning to blind eye to many unexplained or silly things.
Why is movie Lara is so strong, for example? She's seemingly unbreakable and doesn't even need time to recover from serious harm. Or how is she so adept at everything she tries, starting with cliff-climbing?
In gaming, mostly decorative story is not that big of a problem. You can become emotionally invested just by being a part of the world, moving around and exploring everything it contains.
In movies, you need reasons to care about what happens on screen, and that starts with proper storytelling which does not just try to throw everything from Indiana Jones type of movies together. And where things don't just happen because writers have lined them up like cheap sushi rolls in grocery store.
The Mercy (2018)
Drama about hobby becoming an obsession. Decent viewing.
A heart wants what it wants. It's the end of the 1960's, and this solid family man (Colin Firth) wants to take his Sunday hobby of sailing to the ultimate level, designing his own boat and travelling around the world in six months - alone, as part of the contest.
Also starring, Rachel Weisz as the man's wife, David Thewlis, and, well, a whole lot of ocean. Based on a true story, by the way.
The central part of "The Mercy" is watching Firth's character Donald Crowhurst defying dangers and both physical and psychological hardships of sailing the ocean, having to rely only on his hands, wits and hope that nothing critical breaks down because the contest won't allow making stops or having breaks during the world travelling tour.
A worn-down man sulking on a boat in the middle of nowhere might seem like a boring idea for a feature-length movie, but somehow the authors have managed to get it right, so it turns out to be quite a gripping.
What was essentially a exhausting and monotonous journey where the main activities were shovelling out the water and trying to keep the whole thing from drowning, is enriched by portraying the gradual mental eroding of Crowhurst.
Colin Firth is known as versatile actor and you can bet your sweet bottom that he does a wonderful job at conveying the depression, loneliness, exhaustion and general distress of his character, so he is able to command our attention whenever he's on screen.
And all that is his usual reserved and delicate way, living the character, not acting it.
It's easily an awards worthy performance although at this time it's way too early to predict his chances of getting an Oscar nomination.
The same goes, by the way, to Rachel Weisz who has created a a surprisingly soulful and charming supporting role from what surely must have been a mostly decorative one on paper.
She does not have much screen time actually, but it gets compensated by a powerful speech in the end. A true Oscar moment, as they would say.
Parallel to Crowhurst's journey, we see bits from the life of people who wait for his return, including the family - but also his promoter trying to earn him some money for the expensive trip that threatens to bankrupt the whole family.
This turns out to be the movie's weakness which, while not quite ruining the dramatic impact of the whole thing, does not actually expand or strengthen the main story in a meaningful way.
It's okay in short doses - if only for variety's sake - but its emotional "nutritive value" falls flat compared to what's happening on the sea.
The director James Marsh's previous project, "The Theory of Everything", suffers from the same deficiency. It's pretty and watchable but he should have trimmed the final act.
That's all I wanted to say about this one. "The Mercy" is pretty good but its shallower side holds it back a notch. I am happy to have seen it but it will not linger on memory for long. Although I did like the deeper message that with grandiose plans comes a danger of falling into prison of one's own ego.
We have seen many instances of at least two similar-themed movies released in the same period of time. It also happens here, with "The Mercy" preceded by premiere of "Crowhurst" by almost five months, although the latter got a proper cinema release in the U.K. a few weeks later.
Lady Bird (2017)
Another gem that impressed me much has arrived, and I want to give this sassy girl top marks!
Whaddayasay, this Oscar season just keeps giving and giving. Another gem that impressed me much has arrived in Estonian cinemas, and I want to give this sassy girl top marks!
It's a story of an artistically inclined girl calling herself Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) who doesn't know how to be a kid any more, and tries to search for purpose beyond the familiar confines on school, family, etc.
Also appearing, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Lois Smith, Stephen Henderson, Odeya Rush, making up a wonderful cast of characters among which I very much enjoyed spending some time with.
"Lady Bird" is not just authentic, sweet, funny, and well realised screen story about the pains of escaping the teenage-dom. It raises the bar for all movies about being young and trying to find yourself.
Your regular coming of age (growing up) movie is mostly about showing situations and events that lead to the character(s) realizing something about adult life. You know, partying, fooling around, heartbreaks and what have you.
"Lady Bird" reaches deeper and reminds how it exactly feels to be in that stage - if one has been able to escape this at all, of course.
I don't remember any other coming of age story so precisely mirroring this bleak no man's land of being able to realize that there's more to life than this but not really grasping the huge role of personal responsibility which comes with the adult life.
Including the notion that the change of scenery or any other external change doesn't equal to real change itself, because whereever we choose to go and whatever we do, we take our basic problems and perspectives along.
(It's exactly what I think the biblical story of Adam and Eve being forced to leave the paradise means, by the way. Or the story of Buddha, or Hero's Journey, if mentioning Bible would make you look at me funny or something.)
All this mirroring comes through the main character, of course, which makes her an intriguing character in herself, defying easy characterizations that would put her on the same level with most of the young persons searching themselves that we see in mainstream movies.
I am also very impressed by the creative style of the author Greta Gerwig, the writer-director of this joint. Many of the scenes are actually quite short but she has never failed to capture a lot of meaningful content in every snapshot that she offers about the characters' lives.
The dialogue, the acting, the atmosphere, the duration - everything is so sharp, precise, and to the point. I would say there's no filler material, like, at all. Everything is in its right place, carries enough meaning to justify being there and leaves its mark during watching. There's nothing that I would leave out. In this sense, I'd compare the result to good poetry. In a world full of 2+ hour movies which have only medium amount of meaningful content, we need more movies like this!
In addition to that, although the titular character is very much at the center of the story, Gerwig somehow has found enough empathy and ways to make everybody else on the screen live and breathe, too. They are not just figures to fill the scene and help make everything move along.
Everybody feels like their own person, no matter how little screen time or impact on the story s/he has. Many are used for comedic purposes, but this doesn't subtract from their intrinsic value.
For all this, I think that "Lady Bird" deserves the highest score available - because it's good and could not be better in any reasonable and meaningful way. Of course, nothing suits everybody, but the movie is perfect as it is. It felt so fresh that it made me feel as if this is the first coming of age movie I've ever seen.
As always with state of the mind movies - more interested in the psychological state of the mind the characters are in, than just events - you have to find some strong connection point to relate to, in order to fully enjoy the movie.
But if you manage to do that, you may be in for a real treat. If you don't, you will be bored because not much "happens". You know, the same way as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld" are shows about nothing.
The critics seem to agree, by the way: 99/100 and 94/100 from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively.
Based on what I heard eavesdropping the others leaving the cinema, I got a feeling that although "Lady Bird" is about the problems of growing up, it's much more suited to a bit more mature audience of movie lovers, who have already realized in their hearts that the burning question brought forth here - what's my purpose, anyway? - never really goes away.
I am not sure that teenager can truly appreciate how important this question will grow in time, and how much weight it can have on our personal secret lives.
All in all, "Lady Bird" is enjoyable and nuanceful movie, both able to lift you up with brightness that some are able to only compare with being young, and make you think about uncomfortable question that life brings if you are not able to just "belong to the herd".
In this regard, it has a lot in common with another of 2017's movie highlight, "Call Me by Your Name". Just replace the gay guys with straight girl and sunny 1980's Italy with economically shaky 2002's USA Sacramento.
I am proud to say that I've managed to see most of the key movies of this Oscar season by now, and the Oscar gala is still more than a week away. This fact has no real value at all, of course... but it's still nice.
"Lady Bird" is nominated for 5 Oscars: best picture, actress (Saoirse Ronan), supporting actress (Laurie Metcalf), director and original screenplay (both by Greta Gerwig).
Some claim that women in film industry should get more attention and praise. I don't give any filmmaker special attention just because s/he happens to be of fairer sex (or black, or Estonian, or member of LGBT community, or whatever). The work has to speak for itself.
"Lady Bird" is a great example of how "minority group" really deserves the awards and positive word-of-mouth - because it's jsut good enough. As opposed to grabbing attention for political reasons - here's looking at you, "Mudbound", nominated for 4 Oscars.
P.S. "Lady Bird" has already won Golden Globe awards for best actress (Ronan) and movie. It has 83 wins and 190 nominations altogether.
Decent movie, but "Loveless" and "Fantastic Woman" (which are also running for Foreign Langugage Oscar) were better
After an emotional exchange between a Lebanese man (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian refugee (Kamel El Basha) escalates, the two end up in a court case that gets national attention.
"L'insult" ("The Insult") is Lebanon's official submission for the best foreign language film in this year's Oscar race. They have tried to achieve getting nominated for 14 times in the last 40 years, and this is the first successful attempt.
I would call it a solid mix of social commentary and courtroom drama but can't find inspiration to write about the experience at length.
Maybe it's a brave movie by Lebanese standards, depicting the long-standing tensions between nationals and refugees, but it seems pretty mainstream work compared to the standards set by American or international movies.
The screenplay is certainly intelligent but doesn't feel especially original or deep - just a relevant topic and quite a simple story well told.
The clever part is showing how loaded issues start a life of their own fast and may travel far beyond the point that the instigators intended.
Still, the undoubtedly strongest point of it all is the captivating, understated acting by two leads which gives even the smallest events a hefty bunch of suspense. The performances feel more Oscar-worthy than the whole thing itself, really.
All in all, "L'insult" is an agreeable submission for Oscar race, but I'd rather vote for Russian "Loveless" or Chilean "Una mujer fantástica" ("Fantastic Woman"). Both feel stronger and more ambitious dramatically and artistically, also partially cover the same topics of irrational hate and possibility of redemption.
Of this year's five foreign language movie noms, I haven't yet seen Hungary's "On Body and Soul".
Phantom Thread (2017)
It's an exercise in style, story doesn't carry the same weight as the way everything is presented on screen
A tale of obsession and strange love set in the 1950s London. A dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister (Lesley Manville) are at the center of local fashion world, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses etc.
Women come and go through his life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and lover.
Confession time: I love the idea of screenwriter-director Paul Thomas Anderson making movies in general... but the last one of his that I enjoyed and thought I understood was 2002's "Punch Drunk Love".
The next four, including "Phantom Thread" are just... I don't know what. Exercises in style, that's for sure, and technically very well realized at that, but what style? What is he trying to achieve? Can't understand, nor relate.
Hoping to find out, I read some reviews after, from famous publications and everything, but they didn't seem to know the answers either. Everybody was using fancy terms such as "strange but mesmerizing" and writing about the plot at some length - always a sign that reviewer does not find much to say, even if s/he liked the film.
So... it's an exercise in style, mostly visually because story doesn't carry nearly the same weight as the way everything is presented on screen.
PTA wants to show how genius and madness (not being able to function in "normal" world) are often closely related, and there's an intriguing back story to dressmaker's life supporting that, but there's not enough content to achieve a real dramatic punch.
"Phantom Thread" would probably work well as a shorter work lasting about 15-20 minutes. But at 131 minutes, the endless mechanical repeating of the same situation, emotion, moment just wore me down. It was never boring or mediocre, it wasn't. It just mostly never evolves. Mostly.
The acting is great all around, simple, sure and elegant, always concentrating on the emotion of the moment. All three leads - Day-Lewis, Manville, and Krieps - would deserve an Oscar nom in principle but only the first two got it.
There's no point in discussing what makes the performances so great because they are closely tied to - or should I say, central part of - PTA's style, pieces in his great puzzle called "Phantom Thread". Let's just say it's a solid farewell for Day-Lewis who has announced retiring from acting (again).
There's a lot to be admired about how "Phantom Thread" was made: how it looks, how exactly it's shot, the acting. But I can't say I really liked the movie. The admiration stayed purely on the intellectual level. All in all, it feels just exhausting.
But I am in minority here. Critics at Rotten Tomatoes have given it 91/100, Metacritic 90/100. It's been nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, director, actor (Day-Lewis), supporting actress (Manville), music, costume design.
The Florida Project (2017)
Almost two hours of colorful nothing special
I read a lot of children's books when I was young, and one that has stuck to memory even many years later is by this Estonian author, Iko Maran, titled "Pikk päev" ("The Long Day").
It tells about one day in childrens' lives who spend it at their summer home with grandparents and parents.
One of the central messages of "Pikk päev" is to illustrate that time seems to move slower for a child, and seems to speed up considerably for adults. Just one day can seemingly stretch to forever and contain so many activities and adventures.
Here comes the movie which could be called American (mostly white) trash version of Marans's children's book. The central characters are children who live in two motels, and just hang around, trying to find something fun to do which usually involve annoying adults, especially the manager of one motel (Willem Dafoe).
As their parents and their friends are far from model citizens, the children - mostly two girls and a boy - shout and curse a lot, never back down from mischief if it promises to bring some fun, or just gladly help the parent do something legally or ethically questionable.
Come to think of it, a description such as this easily fits probably most children regardless of the background and social status. But this environment they inhabit is surely a colorful place to witness for couple of hours, especially portrayed as believably as in here.
"The Florida Project" is a social commentary in the form of fast-moving and often fun movie but first and foremost, I would say it's a modern ghetto movie - albeit with much less violence.
The characters belong to this enclave or separate bubble of "real world" that doesn't have that much contact with society at large.
Each day is either celebration of life and/or fight for survival, people don't much care - or even know - about what is considered ethical or acceptable among other parts of society. The life is not easy enough to spend energy thinking about what's good or right, or what the others think.
And for children, often left untended by parents, life can be like one day seemingly stretching out to forever. As the story takes place during the summer, there's not even school to consider with.
"The Florida Project" is certainly a movie dealing with important topics, and as a bonus, can both entertain and make one think, but there's one major thing that bugged me for most of the time watching it.
The authors have prioritized depicting this (way of) life as realistically as possible but care much less about showing something, you know, interesting.
Most of the time nothing really important happens, just hanging around, begging the question: does it really have to last nearly two hours? The movie could easily be 30 minutes shorter, and the viewer would still get everything there is to experience.
Maybe it's just me, annoyed by the fact that every movie needs to be last something close to two hours these days, even if the amount of meaningful content is (much) smaller.
But watching "Florida", this nagging feeling of emptiness became a problem. The scenes are cool individually but they don't really add up or lead to anything intense. At least there's something coming in the end, so the long period of doing little can be justified as preparing for it.
It could be argued that "Florida" is a state of the mind movie, concentrating on someone's psychological side, so the lack of "interesting" events is not necessarily a minus.
But there are no particularly interesting or deep characters here. The most intriguing thing is how they live (at least for those who don't share it), and what happens to them, not what they think about stuff or which state of mind they live in.
Having said that, acting is mostly, so the colorful motel people doesn't disappoint. The mostly inexperienced lead actors feel natural in their roles, if not particularly expressive.
There are also some known good actors around, mainly Willem Dafoe, who was nominated for supporting actor Golden Globe and Oscar for the role, losing on both counts to Sam Rockwell ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri").
I think that Rockwell truly deserved the awards, but it's kind of sad that veteran such as Dafoe is usually ignored by Oscars. Although the man is a great actor, his previous nominations came in 1987 and 2002, and he didn't win then either.
So, "The Florida Project" has something to offer. But there are at least two similar, better movies that come to mind, offering similar experience.
One is also 2017's "Lady Bird", masterful at depicting a young person's life in small moments, giving a lot of meaning to what could be called just an ordinary life. And the other one is 2009's "Fish Tank", with not-yet-famous Michael Fassbender, showing the "white trash" existence in UK.
A tough but spiritual western, which seems has slipped from the radar of the awards season
"Hostiles" is one of the great overlooked movies of this award season, a Western that gives us another great performance by one of the best screen actors of our time, the prince of intense, Christian Bale.
During 2010's, he's been nominated for Oscar three times already, so he's been unceremoniously cast aside this time, although "Hostiles" brings one of his finest achievements of this decade.
An Army Capten (Bale) and his team escort a dying Indian chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to his tribal lands. As one would expect, a lot of shooting and majestic vistas of great American wild stand on the way, before we reach the destination.
There's also a very fine and big big supporting cast. I would like to give credit to many of them but in fear of losing your attention, I'll just mention the more famous ones, including Rosamund Pike, Peter Mullan, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, and Timothée Chalamet (the young rising star of "Call Me By Your Name").
So, what's so special about another Western, haven't we seen enough of them, you might ask. Well, as much as I appreciate its qualities as violent and hard-hitting drama about tough people doing some tough shit, I view "Hostiles" as a spiritual movie first, reminding of two basic truths about life: growth is possible in all kinds of conditions, and the way may open up only if one has truly had enough of suffering.
The movie is a powerful and meditative study of violence and the possibility of redemption, showing both bad and good that being in war may bring.
The main character, the legendary Army Captain, is equally multifaceted. First, he seems just a tough as nails hero type but there are other aspects of him to shed light upon. He turns out to be surprisingly flexible mentally at times, choosing improving his survival chances over pride.
Also, just as the society of the U.S. of that time, he's begun to question his choices and mindset concerning natives, and started seeing the different sides of the life of war that he has chosen.
Here's where the acting madskillz of Bale come into play and have a chance to shine. He's totally captivating as Western hero type, an old school gunslinger that is all instinct and sharp aim first and being civil later - watching him begs the question whether the character is all human or part animal.
But there's also lifetime of war written in Bale's face, all the violence and death seen and done and left behind - and yet still somehow smouldering behind the surface - which is all the more impressive considering that he's most probably haven't seen most of it personally and had to dig the relevant emotions up from collective subconscious or something.
For me, witnessing his face alone made the quite long movie worth watching! It's a performance with depth, range, and presence that most actors would envy, and it deserves a place among the greatest war movie performances of all the time.
Think Sam Elliott who's spent his life killing people (instead of acting), and you may get the idea.
In short, "Hostiles" is great but not suitable for everybody. It's certainly too slow and depressing for some, and the last chapter is too long.
Personally, I'd have left out the last battle which doesn't really leave that strong of an effect after all the bloodshed we've already seen. It's like hammering home a point that the audience has already had time and chance to digest.
But still, it's another worthy addition to 2017's strong selection of best movies - not to mention its gorgeous-looking-ness briefly mentioned above. I am deeply disappointed to see "Hostiles" overlooked by award juries everywhere.
I hope that it will share the fate of 2002's Bale-starrer "Equilibrium" at least, a sci-fi that didn't impress critics upon its release but turned into cult classic soon.
By the way, "Hostiles's" director and co-writer Scott Cooper also did 2013's "Out of the Furnace" which is another of the Bale's best movies of this decade.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo Del Toro tegi seda jälle, seekord viisil, mis kõnetab ka kinosõpra, kes ei kuulu tema fännide hulka.
At a top secret research facility in the Cold War era America of 1960s, a lowly janitor (Sally Hawkins) forms a friendship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
Also playing, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Stevens, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, Nick Searcy et al.
Fairy tales are for children, right? Well, no. An adult life is so intricately intervowen with them that it gets difficult to say where the fairy tales end and "reality" begins.
I am not only talking about mass media, advertisement and promoting industry or such. Seemingly everybody has their own version of How Life Is and How It Should Be in their head which they try to distribute as far and wide as they think they can get away with.
Considering that fairy tales are everywhere, it is only suitable that one of this Oscar season's biggest and best reviewed movies, "The Shape of Water", is a fairy tale too. Movie industry has always been about selling us dreams, and this golden figure is its highest and most prestigious accolade.
It's rated R for sex, profanities and violence, and has quite a surprising amount of each, but aside from that, it would not go "over the head" of some younger viewers too. Because above all, it's a simple story well told, and for its delicious visual style, understandable and easily digestible for widest possible audience.
Not that I suggest this kind of sex and violence to children - but on the other hand, what exactly here would be new and shocking to them?
Given how delicious and majestic it all looks, it comes as a slight disappointment that the story is so straightworward.
The main author, co-writer and director Guillermo Del Toro, is playing with some powerful symbols - water, the sea, amphibian creatures, oppressing regime - but as usual, he's satisfied with how everything looks and fits together, not interested to guide us somewhere deep. He's always been a visual kind of storyteller, so here he delivers in spades.
Even the first scene depicting sunken apartment looks nothing short of breathtaking and makes one want to see him directing a possible "BioShock" movie (a loved videogame which begs to be translated on cinema screen). How "Water" looks would be such a great blueprint for it. Every frame looks like a painting, or something.
The only thing I really found lacking is the awful pronounciation of Russian language on screen. Given how many instructors and teachers work for movie industry to make things on screen look and seem more authentic, it's horrible to see some things still stay the same.
Or wouldn't the general audiences "buy" the Russian language which sounds like the real thing, just like Nigerian prince type of scam letters are supposed to be written in horrible English?
But it's not just all about pretty pictures. Luckily for us, whatever depth the story may lack, has been compensated with emotion encapsulated by the performances.
I see no need to talk about these in length, because every major player is doing his/her usual - Hawkins is quirky and lovable as always, Jenkins endearing and a bit eccentric as always, Shannon intense and towering tour de fource as always. You can be sure that they deliver. Which is great considering that many of the scenes were filmed in front of empty green screen, with digital objects added later.
But the amphibian creature motion capture acted by Doug Jones is the real star here - such an attention-grabbing mix of human and alien attributes, all these little sounds he makes and all. The movie would be poorer if the centre of the show was not as successfully realized as it is. I loved him!
In conclusion, it's a quite captivating fairy tale for adults, filled with dark themes as the fairy tales have always been. "The Shape of Water" celebrates all that we have always loved in mainstream cinema - emotion, visual artistry, mix of old-fashioned and modern - and as such is a perfect frontrunner for Oscar season indeed.
By the way, it's quite rare for a movie to get nominated for 13 Oscars as "The Shape of Water" did. It has only happened nine times before (there are also three movies that were nominated for 14).
I have a gut feeling that "Water" will get its awards mostly in "technical" categories such as best director, sound editing, sound mixing, production design, and cinematography - as opposed to best movie, original screenplay, or acting categories.
And this would be OK, because this year's nominations are a tough bunch indeed, and I'd be sad to see "Ebbing" lose for example.
The Meddler (2015)
Susan Sarandon, J.K. Simmons - seems like something great, right? Em... not so fast.
Rich and still reasonably young widow (Susan Sarandon) tries to find purpose. Her daughter (Rose Byrne) is tired of constant attention, so the woman looks for other ways to be useful to people.
Also playing, J.K. Simmons, Jerrod Carmichael, Lucy Punch, Cecily Strong et al.
Nothing to write home about, just another of those emotionally limp, wishy-washy "old but still kickin' it" type of drama-comedie-something-movies that the big stars of yesterday like to do so much.
The screenplay is as soulless as you would expect from such a project. The story is full of "done to death" stuff and outright cliches. There's no proper story development: things happen, end or just disappear fast without finding natural rhythm or reaching to meaningful conclusion...
Well, it's still marginally more watchable than, say, Morgan Freeman's latest "old people" movies such as "Just Getting Started", but it would take a special talent to create something even more vapid, no?
Caught in on Netflix, watched to see Sarandon and Simmons. Both are good as always, making every project just a bit more solid just by appearing in it.
Surprised to see that Metacritic's and Rotten Tomatoes's scores are pretty good, higher than mine. That's why you should only trust Kapten Video - because other critics have bad taste! Yes. I also dance better than they.
Happy End (2017)
Michael Haneke should retire. The movie is crap.
The much admired Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke has never belonged to my favorites but I was still surprised to discover that I do not enjoy his latest at all. No sir! Actually, it mostly sucks.
"Happy End" is essentially a family drama zeroing in on one of Haneke's regular topic of interest - estrangement experienced by individuals in modern society - but most of the time I could only relate to the experience by feeling estranged because of his style.
As both screenwriter and director, Haneke's goal this time must have been to make the viewer not connect to, or be part of, what's happening on the screen.
It's true that I just may not "get" this particular type of auteur cinema but if making a screen story intentionally as boring as possible is something to cherish, I'd gladly prefer mainstream entertainment.
Here are examples of approaches, stylistic choices, and methods Haneke has preferred to create "Happy End":
* every little action or sitution takes place or lasts seemingly as long as possible - I've heard that this approach used to be called a "Chinese movie";
* long static takes concentrating on very little happening, starting with the very beginning where we spend minutes watching a woman moving around in the bathroom and finally sitting down to pee - accompanied by the instant messages that reveal nothing about the situation;
* long static takes concentrating on very little happening, but through video calling app such as FaceTime instead of the regular cameras;
* 20 minutes before giving any explanation or context about what's exactly happening and who are those people - not that there's much happening;
* short, laconic dialogues about trivial topics, revealing nothing about the story, characters, or their relationships;
To be fair, after the first seemingly interminable 20 minutes of boring meaninglessness, "Happy End" changes shift and becomes something resembling a regular movie. One can finally perceive a purpose to all this, a story of sorts, relationship dynamics, natural suspense.
All this disappears soon, sadly, only to emerge occasionally during the whole experience and vanish again.
Most of the interesting content appears in the short but deliciously sharp final chapter which is about the grandfather and teenage girl discovering they have a lot in common. This probably saves "Happy End" even out-sucking Nolan's last Batman, "The Dark Knight Rises", which is my personal benchmark for boring movie from a famous director.
The one thing that impressed me about the whole thing was Haneke's dark sense of humor, even if it only appears in the finale. So let's end the review in the similar style: "Happy End" is a good example of why even creative minds should retire at some point, instead of continuing to work till they die.
The critics at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes seem to like "Happy End" quite a lot but it has only gathered 5 different movie award nominations and has won nothing. There's still some justice in the world, or something!
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned anything about the cast or their performances. This is because although we see several famous actors such as Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Toby Jones, their work in general fails to impress. You can't create a memorable role without a decent script, now can you?
Having said that, I quite liked Jean-Louis Trintignant as the grandfather and Fantine Harduin as the teenager mentioned above. Most of the interesting content is connected to their storyline. If only there was more of it.
At least the movie's title was appropriate. I sure was happy when the it ended.
I, Tonya (2017)
The season of good movies continues. Here's another one that I devoured with my eyes, and recommend!
Who needs traditional sports movies when there's a new mini-trend emerging to get ride of any old "classical" approach and concentrate on the actual pain and madness behind the life of the champions? I liked "Borg McEnroe" a lot, and I pretty much love "I, Tonya"!
Based on a true story, it's about an American figure skating star Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) of the 1980's and early '90s who's too white trash-y to be taken seriously by her peers, and her life choices turn out to be so damaging that she's banned from professional skating forever.
Robbie is nothing short of sensational as Harding but it's not just about her. "I, Tonya" is hands down one of the best ensemble movies that I've seen recently, and there's been quite a number of them.
You may remember the rising star Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn of "Suicide Squad" - the only memorable thing from this abysmal superhero effort -, but you wouldn't probably recognize any other name from the cast.
But there's so many incredibly enjoyable performances that I just have to give shout outs also to Alison Janney as Tonya's stone cold ever-hateful mother, Sebastian Stan as Tonya's impulsive and violent husband, and Paul Walter Hauser as Tonya's "bodyguard", one of the most brilliant comic relief type of performances that one could think of.
It's amazing how, on one hand, everybody feels like such a black and white cartoon figure, and on the other hand, like a real person.
There's also Bobby Cannavale - the only one besides Robbie whose face you might remember easily from other movies or series - but his contribution seems wasted by the creative team behind the project.
Cannavale has great presence and he's super charismatic as usual but the character has so little screen time and importance that it could have been replaced by voice-over or just let somebody mention him in passing. Sad.
In fact, not making the most of the material is the only thing that I would call the weakness of the movie - and why I wouldn't give it even higher score.
It's not that the storytelling is lazy but Cannavale is not the only thing that's been added to the story just to be thrown aside carelessly.
For example, I find it most curious indeed that Tonya has four siblings but they get mentioned once and otherwise have zero participation in the story. It would be reasonable to show at least something about their lives, even if they were not part of Tonya's life.
On the other hand, the storytelling is enriched by the inventive technique to sometimes speak directly to the audience even during the busiest of scenes, without losing the momentum or spoiling the atmosphere. Impressive use of breaking the fourth wall, as they say.
I also love the production design - how the 1980-90's lower working class American dream looks like. As period pieces go, this is great work in its own right.
All in all, I just loved "Tonya". There's a great number of movies aiming for sassiness and feeling energetic, but director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers have managed to raise these qualities to a new level, or at least to a league of its own.
Judging by this movie, the old spiritual observation that being poor can make you more alive - living in constant need will make good things more vibrant and enjoyabble - seems 100% true.
There's something irresistible about the atmosphere of "Tonya", all this mobile and restless energy just glues the attention on the screen.
"I, Tonya" is nominated for 3 Oscars: Robbie as the actress, Janney as the supporting actress (she already won the Golden Globe for this) and the editing. All three seem award-worthy on their own, although the competition is strong in each category.
So, I don't know what to tell you. Go see it, if you haven't already. It's captivating, always ertertaining and has a lot of punch. One of the more "alive" films of the year.
Just like Harding at her prime, the authors have made most of their strongest materials and left some other bits hanging. But who's to whine if the result is so winsome!
Una Mujer Fantástica (2017)
Chile's chance to get the foreign language Oscar. Strong movie about love and how we all are equal in it.
BIG SPOILER ALERT - "Una Mujer Fantástica" is Chile's submission to 2018's Oscar race in foreign language movie category. It's a sad but hopeful story about one woman's fight to be accepted for her choices, and to honor the love that she has lost.
I decided that I won't be able to write what I hope is adequate review without disclosing at least one important plot point, so if you care to see the movie, I strongly suggest to avoid reading about it in advance.
STILL READING? You are so naughty. Okay. This is a story about man suddenly dying and his much younger girlfriend (Daniela Vega) deciding to stand up to the angry family that he left to be with her.
It's what I call state of the mind experience, meaning the story is much more character- than event-based and focuses on the psychological state the central character stays in.
Perhaps in order to emphatize that, the director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio has even chosen to show Vega often up-close, the cameras centering on her face. And this approach brings awesome results because there's something very vivid about her face.
The actress herself gives a superb performance, always able to reveal a lot without being too obvious. It felt impossible to not be won over by Vega, and to not relate to her pain.
I don't belong to a sexual minority group as she does - both the actress and the character - but her journey is essentially a human one, and thus very relatable. Who hasn't felt the pain of being cast out and ignored because how they are.
I also know from personal experience how difficult it can be to accept a person after this kind of life change, even having no problem with the whole idea of it.
In short, Vega won me over completely and this kind of brave and committed, not to mention soulful and haunting, performance really deserves a best actress Oscar nom - which she did not receive.
But it's so much worthier than, say, Streep getting her zillionth nom for usual standard work in "The Post", or even Jared Leto getting the award for similar role in "Dallas Buyers Club".
But leaving the politics of giving awards aside, "Una Mujer Fantástica" is essentially a powerful movie about love and hope for the more demanding cinema fans who are also open-minded enough to see the human being behind the sexuality.
In 2017, we had at least three great films about love and hope. Depressingly bleak "Loveless" shows how living without love leaves one without hope. Joyous and uplifting "Call Me by Your Name" is about how finding love brings hope.
And "Una Mujer Fantástica" fits in somewhere between them, showing finding hope through love and losing it again - living in both joy and pain, just as great love might bring.
"Una Mujer Fantástica" is a evocative and strong movie and I'd be happy to see it win foreign language movie Oscar.
So far, I could only imagine "Loveless" receiving it but Lelio's artistic achievement is valuable enough to challenge that. Not to mention that it does not include unnecessary content and thus has a shorter running time.
So far, I have seen only three of the five nominationed movies, so Lebanon's and Hungary's offerings also have a chance to win me over yet.
When Finns do a movie like they do it in Hollywood
2017 is the year that I started following Finnish movies too. Aki Kaurismäki's latest, "Toivon tuolla puolen", and "Tom of Finland" proved to be great starting points.
"Ikitie", on the other hand, reminds me that no matter how good it can get, there are always gonna be mediocre efforts as well.
It's a prestige project belonging to Finland 100 program - which celebrates a century of independence, and includes 13 Finnish movies largely funded by private sector.
It's all about a man (Tommi Korpela) forced to leave family and Finland to start a bitter new life in Soviet territory. He's always in trouble, not having a chance to return to his family, not being able to live peacefully as well.
This is connected to bigger if relatively forgotten part of history of early Soviet era. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, great father Stalin called American people to relocate to Soviet Union - to build a better world behind the iron curtain. Nearly 10,000 followed the call; their community is where Jussi ends up.
"Ikitie" was surely made for international attention and maybe foreign language Oscar in mind, so the makers have found it important to create a Finnish epic which looks like Hollywood project.
This has resulted in roaring success on visual side - production values are great, the movie looks truly beautiful -, but failure on creative side.
I am not familiar with the true story, or novel by Antti Tuuri, that the screenplay is based on, but the storytelling is just weak.
The events are not very varied, interesting or connected too, bringing us just a series of moments from one man's journey. The result is too shallow to have a natural fluidity or be able to address any complex issues contained in the story.
Sadly for a movie concentrating on the state of mind (and life) of the main character, it is not able to create a strong emotional connection with neither him nor any around him.
The characters are paper-thin which is neither a great start for building rapport with audience nor offering great performances, leaving us with exactly one semi-intriguing person on screen.
And this intriguing figure is not the central hero but his nemesis, played by Hannu-Pekka Björkman, who is able to surprise with some devilish charm and uncertainty, like a trickster figure.
The lack of development for Tommy Korpela's much-suffering main character leaves him mostly with a chance to look sad or remorseful.
So they have spent more energy playing with his appearances through time (beard, haircut, etc) rather than character development. Think Brad Pitt in "Legends of the Fall", only with more straight and much more good-looking version of Hillar Kohv.
The main character's life choices may also seem infuriating to modern audiences, especially as his behaviour and motifs are understandable mainly for those familiar with a history of Red Russia's oppression. The background needs some additional explanation to strike a chord with wider, maybe international, circle of movie lovers.
Also, "Ikitie" suffers from too much "acting", resulting in some unnatural-sounding dialogue, resembling a play rather than a movie. The usual problem with Estonian movies too.
The project has other connections to Estonia as well, including the shared history under Russian regime, filming locations (Sillamäe, Tallinn, Haapsalu, and Varangu) and some Estonian actors used, such as Hendrik Toompere Sr. and the late Lembit Ulfsak. But their roles are small.
Based on his resume so far, Antti-Jussi Annila is an interesting director for sure, but "Ikitie" is simply a disappointment, and not a very interesting disappointment at that.
By the way, the screenplay was written by A-J Annila and other famous Finnish filmmaker, Aku Louhimies, who was supposed to direct it but had to honor other commitments instead. Which is directing and co-writing a war drama "Tuntematon Sotilas" ("Unknown Soldier"), another famous movie from the Finland 100 program.
Basmati Blues (2017)
Musical movie, where West meets India. How origi(yawn)...
A musical about westerner discovering the joys of life in India, what a great idea, eh? Who thinks of such an original thing?
A promising young scientist (Alison Brie) is plucked out of the company lab and sent to India to sell the genetically modified rice she created - which she doesn't realize will destroy the farmers she thinks she's helping.
Also starring, Saahil Sehgal, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Scott Bakula, Donald Sutherland, Tyne Daly et al.
I don't dig musicals, so if you kinda like them, you can stop reading this and just assume that "Basmati Blues" has enough good **** to warrant at least one viewing.
Still here? Good, because my rant is only starting.
Honestly, why are the musical movies so popular? Many of them are so conventional that the cliches and generic approaches could strangle us if they had hands.
And don't even get me started on the acting and quality of storytelling - compared to the "usual" movies, they seem just artificial, or stupid at worst.
The only exceptions that I know of seen are HBO's series "Flight of the Conchords" and, maybe, "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" and "Team America". Many would not even call them musicals.
One could argue that there's some freshness to be found in "Basmati Blues" because although it is a musical movie AND takes place in India, they have not maybe used all the most common cliches that immediately spring to mind. There are even some scenes that felt original and unexpected, including "violence is
There's a chance that you can't predict every single event and turn that the story offers. Sadly it still does not save the result of being lazily written and lacking in charm or authentic humour overall.
I know your next question. Why did I watch it in the first place, if I find musicals boring? Well, it happens to star Alison Brie who's one of the best young-ish actresses around, and I was intrigued by the idea of watching her sing and dance or something.
She can certainly sing, and has memorised the dance moves adequately if not captivatingly, but I am sad to conclude that this must be her weakest performance on screen that I know of. And I've seen almost all of her movies since the breakthrough role in "United States of Tara" series.
The problem is not only with her boring character - because let's face it, boring, one-note characters are gold standards in musical movies anyway.
It's that Larson is not really into the material, although it must have probably felt like a cool project and nice break from the usual.
But one can tell from the very first scene that she's not 'feeling' it, although she does her best to 'grow' into it, and the performance does get more relaxed and natural later.
Also, she tends to "act" too much at times, which I have never witnessed before, but let's be generous and assume that it's a stylistical choice because "Basmati Blues" is a conventional musical after all.
The last nail in the coffin is the lack of chemistry with Utkarsh Ambudkar playing Larson's character's love interest. There's some friendly energy going between them, but there's no way I'd buy something more happening between these two.
Also, the screenplay is remarkably lazy on explaining how the attraction starts and develops - weak even for a musical.
I hope that I will get to see Brie Larson in interesting projects again soon. She's gonna start appearing as Captain Marvel in superhero movies pretty soon, so there may be not much time for her to do something respecting her acting talent in the near future...
I also hope that Aziz Ansari's sometimes-near-genius Netflix series "Master of None" will have a slow but sure impact on wiping away the cliched approach that the mainstream western movies rely on portraying Indians. I mean, haven't we had enough of those, really?
"Basmati Blues" feels like an overlong, 106 minute mediocre sitcom pilot: it has some moments, but one can easily get by without it.
24 Hours to Live (2017)
Surprisingly rich and layered action movie, but the end dissapoints
Brian Smrz, what a name for an action movie director, eh? The man is a seasoned movie stunts veteran, coordinator, second unit director and whatnot. Many stunts pros have turned to directing action movies, with good results (at least visually).
This is actually mr Smrz's second directing job after, er, 2008's "Hero Wanted" starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
I gotta say, "24 Hours..." starts stronger and has more to offer than the reviews or trailers may suggest.
It's an uncommonly varied, multifarious action movie that has it all - adrenaline, good acting, trashy but otherwise solid story. If they only were able to hold the quality til the end...
I don't see much point describing the quality of action scenes with words, but I assure that "24 Hours..." doesn't disappoint. Great hand to hand fighting, shooting and driving.
Bullets and punches have visceral force that is almost felt by watching it. And the ghetto battle may be one of my favorite action setpieces of 2017, or maybe even recent times.
The central hero is assassin (Ethan Hawke) seeking redemption after being given a second chance at life. But - surprise - every major character actually feels like a person, despite there being little room for character development.
You get to know the people, and get reasons to root for them, not only for the main man. This is one of those rare action movies that make you feel that the world the characters move in is not just a series of locations where somebody kicks ass or whatnot.
There are pasts, relationships, circumstances that are maybe only hinted at - there is only so much you can show with 93 minutes - but they are there, and make you feel like you belong somewhere, not just passively swallow entertainment
There's also some twists and turns that help give the characters a bit more dramatic weight. Situations change, and people and their relationships change with it. In this sense, "24 Hours..." is a good example of how to introduce little surprises without overdoing it. 99% of the action or horror movies could learn from that.
Also appearing: Paul Anderson, Qing Xu, Rutger Hauer, Liam Cunningham, Tyrone Keogh, Hakeem Kae-Kazim et al.
For an actioneer, it relies surprisingly much on performances. Starting with Ethan Hawke who really puts his heart into the assassin character ripped apart by regrets, hesitations, and emotional flatlining.
This diverse actor of a man has done a lot of action movies by now, and he always finds little ways to add to his character, making them more interesting than usual expected from the genre.
There's something poetic and moving about professional hitmen carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, and this is one way "24 Hours..." gets under the skin. Well, until the heavy-handed last third of the story kicks in, which takes itself too seriously and almost sinks the movie as a result. But I'm in a good mood and wish to concentrate on the positive, so let's leave it at that.
I find it sad that many big empty action movies (i.e most superhero movies) get so much attention, but more indie-minded smaller projects like "24 Hours to Live" - or recent "Renegades" - often get none.
Critics actually don't like "24 Hours", calling it just silly and poor man's "Crank". But what do the critics know, eh? Yes, the final third is noticeably weaker than the rest, but there's still an uncommonly rich action movie experience waiting.
A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
Seems that Bill Murray is inspired by Christmas just as little as me
What better way to start christmas than Bill Murray's special, with lots of famous guests playing themselves or somebody else, directed by Sofia Coppola, made for Netflix?
Actually, there must be many better ways, because "A Very Murray..." feels just lazy in the worst possible sense.
The idea is great, of course, but the result is neither witty nor inventive. You get mostly Bill Murray's performing variety-ish renditions of known holiday classics, and sometimes letting other grab the lead too, notably Miley Cyrus.
There are some sketches to try and add some excitement but they fail to ignite and stop appearing long before the end.
The only aspect that disappoint is involving famous friends, although they don't do anything interesting, including George Clooney, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, Amy Poehler.
At least it's not too long, only 56 minutes, barely classifying for feature-length movie. If you want to call this half-assed lazyfest a movie at all.