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Widows (2018)
7/10
What would you do if a loved one suddenly dies and leaves behind a debt that gets collected by criminals?
7 December 2018
Steve McQueen was one of the old Hollywood's icon of cool, starring in a range of born classics from adventure to dramas.

Now there's a black British director with the same name, offering different yet equally memorable work - long and slow but intelligent dramas about enduring extreme human conditions and dealing with it.

McQueen's so methodical - or maybe bad at finding financing - that he only releases a new movie after every five years (so far).

What extreme conditions? "Hunger" is about voluntary hunger strike and being ready to die for your causeman, "Shame" is about sex addiction, and "12 Years a Slave" about a freed slave caught and brought back to slavery. As the title suggests, "Widows" is about grief and how different people overcome it.

The fourth feature project is somewhat of a departure for McQueen - not just a drama but an action movie of sorts, features a lot of characters, plus all of the central ones are women (played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, respectively).

The story is about women with not much in common, except a dangerous debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, and one of the widows cooks up an elaborate plan to remedy the situation.

Intelligent action drama for adult audience is something of an achievement in itself but "Widows's" most impressive achievement is definitely its grand scope.

There are several storylines which sometimes interwine - including one depicting a contemporary American politcis -, with many different people demanding your time and attention.

A comparision with quality TV series would not be out of place - which is a sign of quality these days - but somehow all this fits into about two hours. The 1983's miniseries it's based on ran nearly five hours, and the rough cut of the movie close to three.

Just to give a sense of the proportions, I will name all behind the more important characters: Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Jackie Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Brian Tyree Henry, Molly Kunz, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Michael Harney.

The performances are real good all-around, so I won't bother going into details this time, especially because the movie is more story-oriented than interested in letting individual players be a star and stand out.

Just gotta say it was especially unexpected but very nice surprise to see "Get Out's" softie lead man Kaluuya as a stone cold killer here.

On the whole, McQueen has done a solid job putting all the content and players together. On the other hand, there's so much going on that the project's strong points tend to start working against themselves at times.

For example, the markedly slow tempo works well for immersing the viewer in the setting and lives of the characters, giving everybody and everything important (including dialogue) necessary room to "breathe" and evolve naturally.

Then again, sometimes it gets so slow that one might lose track of the main mission (dealing with the dead men's legacy) and the movie seems to grind to a halt and go nowhere for a while. Or one might forget some detail that comes suddenly up later.

And despite the care taken by McQueen, some of the more interesting supporting figures - played by Neeson, Bernthal, Dillahunt - deserve more screen time than they get. Or at least better-written scenes that they get to appear in.

"Widows" is not for one in search for quick thrills. But it's always cool to get some quality TV in cinema format, so the mainstream movies can be more adult-orientated too.

It may not be a born classic that you remember clearly a few days after (I do not) but it's mostly good while it lasts.
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Wildlife (2018)
8/10
Liked it! If your Oscars-season didn't start with "Bohemian Rhapsody", this could start it.
7 December 2018
Ho ho, the cold-weathered Oscar season is getting into gear, and Sundance graduate "Wildlife" is a nice little gem to satiate your drama needs, or at least offer a quality alternative to the big-budgeted entertainment epics usually ruling the christmas time.

It's about a teenage boy (Ed Oxenbould) watching his beloved father (Jake Gyllenhaal) and mother (Carey Mulligan) drifting apart.

If you have seen the trailer, then you might think you more or less know what it's about - but the whole thing is a somewhat different beast altogether. More multilayered and deep, to be exact.

Above all, it's not a mainstream project but suitable for more intelligent and dedicated movie fans in search of something "serious".

Not only is it a tight and gripping family drama and a true actors' movie chock-full of memorable performances -, it's also a splendid achievement by an admired indie actor Paul Dano debuting as director and screenwriter (shared with two others, including partner/colleague Zoe Kazan).

And it's not even an easy project to start with. "Wildlife" concentrates on the emotional state of its characters, not so much on events.

This means there can be no simple ways to stand out, such as big emotional moments and shouting matches that could be added to any family drama.

Dano is much more interested in the slow-burning tension between the people, the quiet scorn and accumulating rage that can sprout from enduring the several types of stress the characters come to contact with (social, interpersonal, unability to work through the issues on spiritual level).

There's lot to like about his double job behind the camera. Everything in "Wildlife" is so sharply and elegantly measured and put together that best original screenplay or director Oscars shouldn't be out of the question.

Refreshingly, everything shown is to the point - no extra fat, nothing unimportant to fill the time. Even seemingly trivial details effectively serve the story or its main themes of isolation, anger, and wordless pinching discomfort of being in a bad place emotionally.

I also loved how the makers have subtly brought out the many little ways of how parents may use the children as allies, targets, and weapons in a quest to hurt each other.

The emotional stress can make us regress to an earlier, less mature states of psychological being, and this we can see in the parents who oftentimes remind more teenagers than adults. This makes "Wildlife" an uncommonly multifaceted achievement even in the long bitter history of family dramas.

And although it's never the focus, the movie even works as a period piece of sorts, recreating the struggling working-class life in 1980-90's USA. The general look seems authentic and believably worn-in.

The extraordinary lead trio - Mulligan, Oxenbould, Gyllenhaal - are a great help illuminating the different shades of familial discomfort and all that.

Dano has carefully made ensured that they would not compete for screen time, so everybody gets enough to stand out in their own day (that goes for the most important supporting character too).

This makes it rather difficult to say which actor deserves the most kudos but I'd very much like to see Mulligan nominated for best actress, and Oxenbould for best supporting actor Oscars.

Mulligan is simply phenomenal as a young woman and mother in search of a new stable ground both mentally and financially.

Although her character is mostly angry and thus maybe somewhat uncomfortable to watch, she gives a masterful, nuanceful performance of a woman in a downward spiral - and almost totally commands the movie.

All in all, she's given her best acting performance yet, and fully deserves another Oscar nom (after breakout role in 2009's "An Education").

I am also quite fond of Ed Oxenbould as the teenager between the domestic guerrilla war. Curiously looking like a younger Dax Shepard, he's the one child/teenage actor that really deserves attention and more roles.

His naturalness and humble but self-assured acting is yet another good thing about the movie. You should also check him out in little-known 2015's thriller "The Visit" which may actually be the finest M. Night Shyamalan movie of this decade.

Gyllenhaal is in fine form too but he's more of a supporting player, so let's not make the review even longer, and conclude with the thought that "Wildlife" is a sharp piece of filmmaking.

It has enough personality, confidence and quiet charm to compensate for somewhat small-scale or trivial story - just like its author Dano.

And so what if you don't feel like you probably wouldn't see it twice? How many movies do you really have time and commitment to repeatedly watch anyway?
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Bel Canto (I) (2018)
5/10
The most boring hostage movie I've seen.
7 December 2018
A wealthy man (Ken Watanabe) throws a house party for important people, also inviting a world-renowned opera singer (Julianne Moore) to perform.

Sadly, the places turns into a hostage zone, and there will be no easy solutions to end the conflict.

Also starring, as internationally diverse supporting cast of actors as possible. The only name most would recognize is Christopher Lambert. Yes, the original "Highlander". But the only really noteworthy performance comes from Sebastian Koch as the hostage negotiator.

Anyway, the Oscar season is ready to start soon, so "Bel Canto" is sneakig in early to get some attention before the possible heavy-hitters arrive.

I am surprised that, according to IMDb, it's not a festival movie finally arriving cinemas - because everything about it shouts "made for festivals", adding "Look how tasteful I am, surely you can not NOT admire me, now can you?".

Tasteful approach is a good idea because despite it being hostage drama, "Bel Canto" actually hides a comment on modern times' most controversial topic - the migrants flooding to Northern America and Europe.

Sadly, the mastermind behind the movie, the co-writer and director Paul Weitz has not been able or willing to add something interesting to ongoing discussion.

He is good with generic messages such as "can't we all just get along" or "let's give love a chance" which frankly aren't personal or intellectually intriguing enough to match the otherwise ambitious nature of the project.

There are people who certainly could pull this off, turning essentially banal messages into something grand thanks to heartful execution - somehow Michael Jackson with his over the top epic mid-1990's and 2000's ballads springs to mind. Maybe cuz "Bel Canto's" underlying theme is also how the power of music can unite people.

But Weitz is not such a crafty man. In his quest to create something serious and tasteful, he has also avoided anything that would make the watching, you know, exciting. "Bel Canto" is easily the most tedious hostage story that I can recall. (Except the surprisingly powerful finale.)

Following the story, it seems like the authors are striving for something "European" or by all means not "American", so there is almost no action or otherwise intense scenes which would create some suspense.

What we basically have is two groups of people hanging around in this big house, waiting for some resolution, and exchanging a dialogue or two here and there instead.

The restrained approach is not problematic in itself but there's not anything much deeper happening neither. We don't see different characters wrestling with messy feelings which would seem like an expected thing in a life-threatening situation; we don't see them going through emotional crisis; we don't see exactly how the captives' relationships with captors actually develop over time (although we see what they turn into).

Hell, we don't even see much of their everyday life, nor get the sense of how long the whole thing goes on, exactly. There's just a bunch of people hanging around, some of them pointing guns at others.

In short, the "tasteful" detached approach makes the forming of emotional bond with someone or the events in general difficult. I get it, every hostage movie doesn't have to have Samuel L. Jackson to up the "cool" factor... but there really should be more than this.

I have a gut feeling that Paul Weitz was just tired of being known for just lightweight entertainment but ambition to do something memorable doesn't necessarily translate to movie gold. Despite good intentions, "Bel Canto" doesn't satisfy.

Sure, the man is surely capable of offering something beyond lightweight entertainment ("Being Flynn", anyone?) but honestly, he was at his best with early, unambitious efforts "American Pie" and "About a Boy".

His brother and former creative partner Chris Weitz has had a somewhat better run becoming more "serious" filmmaker, with co-writing 2017's "The Mountain Between Us" and directing "Operation Finale" fresh in Netflix.
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Replicas (2018)
5/10
Keanu Reeves in a sci-fi movie! Sorry, this movie can't be indroduced more excitingly.
7 December 2018
What if all those nearest and dearest to you happened to suddenly die but you had a way to bring them back?

By which I mean copying the essential part of themness - what makes them them exactly - into freshly cloned biological bodies.

Sounds intellectual? This is where this new psychological thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve starts but don't worry about it getting all too intellectual and thus boring.

I have just managed to summarize it in more interesting way than it actually is. Truth is, "Replicas" gets to turn boring in good old-fashioned way - via hammy storytelling and acting.

In fact, "turn" is an entirely wrong word here. "Replicas" doesn't turn boring. It is quite limp and unexciting from the start, then at several points hints at possibility of evolving into something... but then just coils into fetal position on the floor and starts sucking its thumb.

Reeves's character - the modern Frankenstein - takes the central place, and his performance is appropriately lifeless and uninspired, just as the story.

Which doesn't come as a surprise, for he's always had a limited range as an actor, thus fitting better into action than anything dramatic (such as this role where he has to mourn the death of closed ones).

Then again, it's hard to tell what exactly gets Reeves going in front of the cameras. There are other comparably badly written movies where he seems perfectly adequate, such as 2016's "The Whole Truth" to offer a recent example.

But "Replicas" is not one of those successful projects. The material doesn't ignite, and neither does the leading man.

Alice Eve, on the other hand, gives a convincing and relatable performance as a good wife wrestling with doubts and difficulties to forgive her husband for certain terrible deeds.

But she doesn't have much screen time, so she's does not get nowhere near a chance of rescuing the movie.

The problem is that despite the movie's eagerness to imitate other, better sci-fi stories, most of what happens goes by without any adequate explanation or logical progression.

One minute the hero does not know how to move the human consciousness between bodies without horrible results, very soon he already succeeds at first try, and several times in a row. One minute we learn that the security chips can't be taken out of clones bodies, the next they do just that without any problem, etc.

In a story like that, there is also always an intriguing question of whether the clones would turn bad or fail in some major way.

The wait for something along these lines gives the movie some suspense but... let's just say that the authors have not searched for or found meaningful ways to explore that topic.

The coolest thing about "Replicas" may be the fact that us Estonians get to see it in cinemas full two months before the US. Doesn't sound that cool? Sorry, that's all I've got...

Oh well. Let's hope it's not gonna be successful, so the producers are not tempted to clone this into a franchise or something.
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Overlord (2018)
5/10
Everything you could expect from a horror action flick about Second World War - minus the thrill
7 December 2018
With only hours until D-Day, American paratroopers drop into Nazi-occupied France to carry out a mission that's crucial to the invasion's success.

But in the little village they find something far more mysterious and disturbing than anticipated.

Starring a bunch of young talent that you have probably never heard before: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell (the son of Kurt), Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro et al. Bokeem Woodbine makes a nice but trivial appearance too.

Do you remember the old saying, jack of all trades, master of none? "Overlord" is a good example of that. It definitely looks good, and the authors have dared to mix different genres such as action, horror, war drama - which is nice in itself.

But the result is best suited for people who approach horror or B-films just as your truly approaches Adam Sandler's comedies: just happy to be there, the actual quality is somewhat less important.

There's nothing irreparably wrong with the whole package, and it can certainly be enjoyable based on its yummy World War II-era period piece looks alone.

But for a movie which success depends on offering cool-looking action scenes and creating suspense, I gotta it feels a bit empty on both departments.

Action is not the main problem here. The opening setpiece on the plane is adrenaline-fuelled, surely one of the best parts of the movie. And we get some tasty bloodletting along the way, although after prolonged waiting.

But what the story is sorely lacking, is suspense. Both raising and holding it.

And how can there be suspense, if the story doesn't respect the very rules that it's based on? There is a very limited amount of time to complete the difficult mission on the enemy-filled playground... but after the opening setpiece and landing in France, there's never an actual sense of the central characters being in danger.

They are in completely unknown territory but always seem to know where to go, or are followed by amazing stroke of luck which tilts the situation in their favor.

Even shooting guns near Nazis - in a little Nazi-occupied village - is not a problem because miraculously nobody hears it. Or running around in a secret underground science lab where you have no chance of knowing where to go, or who can spot you where? Done and done!

And because the screenplay says so, the characters' amazing luck just suddenly disappears in certain moments to introduce a place or scene that wouldn't otherwise fit - or somebody does something so unexpectedly ham-fisted that it seems unbelievable.

Even worse, this awful time shortage mentioned right in the beginning never seems to be a concern. People have time to do whatever they feel like at any given moment.

Less than half an hour before the mission must be completed, and we don't know how to do it yet, nor know the exact place we need to do it at? It's OK, I have other stuff to do anyway!

Look, I get it. One shouldn't expect A-level storytelling from every movie, no matter how good it looks visually. But this doesn't mean that the viewer should accept any kind of solutions to major problems following the main characters.

There are some great examples of B-movies being successful and able to keep the suspense despite what is essentially crappy storytelling.

From what I've seen recently, "Mechanic: Resurrection" springs to mind. "Overlord", sadly, just pretty much fails in this aspect.

So... if you like B-movies and/or noisy but empty horror, then "Overlord" is a good way to spend 102 minutes in front of the screen. For others, it may be just a bit too B, noisy, or empty.

Oh well. At least we get a hint of how the long-rumored "Wolfenstein" movie could look like.
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9/10
We are the champignons! A lot!
7 December 2018
Ah... "Bohemian Rhapsody". A movie about legendary and flamboyant rock group Queen and its even more legendary and flamboyant lead singer Freddie Mercury. Color me excited!

Queen is one of the best bands that I know of but almost never listen (I don't even know why not). And "Mr Robot's" quirky leading man Rami Malek as rock god is irresistible, just based on trailer alone.

There's somebody about his fragile body, rodent-like (or maybe even vampire-like) face and mysterious gaze that screams "genius casting".

It is said that when Malek was contacted about playing Mercury, he had only a casual knowledge of Queen. To become the rock god, he had to work many intense sessions with a movement coach (as well as learn to talk with prosthetic teeth). And the result just blew me away. A total transformation worthy of Oscar the next February.

Malek seems so haunted and soulful, and yet has such a strong physical presence on screen, that I totally buy him as a performer who just mesmerized the audiences around the world.

Queen fans and others who know stuff have criticized the authors' decisions to change a number of facts about the band's history.

I, on the other hand, knew little about it, and was able to concentrate on the actual movie. And you know what? "Bohemian Rhapsody" is an absolute joy, a triumphant example of what musical or music-filled movies can be! I loved it!

The screenplay is not perfect - in addition to errors mentioned above, the story just rushes through the many years and key events that made Queen and Mercury what they were.

As a result, some of the things may seem strange if one is not familiar with the history, for example Mercury's sudden lust for men soon after finding the love of his life with a woman, or how he was so confident about his performing style already the first time on stage with Queen.

But all these little niggles are compensated by the awesome atmosphere the movie has. Everything about it feels big and immediate - like an epic should - and the performing scenes really immerse the audience with their power and energy.

Which owes a lot to Malek's great acting work, of course. He doesn't impersonate Mercury, he is him! It's probably even better than having attended the concerts in person - the physical closeness and the best viewing angles you can ask for.

And despite rushing through the story, there's still somehow always enough room for characters and what they live through. You can see total commitment from all involved, these are not just characters saying stuff to move the story along. Everybody feels like a real person.

In addition to Malek, there's another total transformation by a famous actor. Did you notice Mike Myers? He is truly a human chameleon, he is.

By the way, the famous comedian Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat", "Bruno", "Ali G" etc.) was once considered to play Freddie but Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor were seriously against it, and also had a final say.

They deemed him not serious enough to do the part. But still... would have loved to see Cohen's version too. He's also known for method acting (of sorts) which give him a potential to do a good job embodying this unique rock god.

Most of the director Bryan Singer's 11 movies have been noteworthy for some reason or other but I consider "Bohemian Rhapsody" his most glorious achievement to date.

Which is easy for me to say because most of his past works are superhero movies - a genre I have zero entusiasm for. But "The Usual Suspects", "Apt Pupil", and "Valkyrie" are cool too, no doubt about that!

Having written that, it should be noted that Singer was fired before completing the work, due to his clashing with cast and crew, and erratic behavior which saw him routinely showing up late to set or disappearing altogether.

So it may not even be thanks to him that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is such a fine movie as it is! Dexter Fletcher directed the last 16 days of filming and oversaw post-production. And he is currently busy with Elton John's biographical movie too!

We recently also had a chance to see "A Star Is Born", another great movie filled with music, great concert scenes and performances to die for. But I dare to say that "Bohemian Rhapsody" was even a bigger thrill for me altogether.

Both are amazing movies, of course, but "Bohemian" has Queen's music which stands a test of time. "A Star Is Born's" music, on the other hand, is more derivative and works best only in the context of the movie.

Which is fine too. But... you know, just saying.
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5/10
Pooh is back sharing the life wisdoms. Movie itself however, is like like soggy cake from the fridge.
7 December 2018
There's something about bears... After "The Revenant", "Ted" with sequel, and "Paddington" with sequel, I can see a bear movie trend emerging.

Now it seems to be good old Winnie the Pooh's and his creator's turn - in family friendly sauce, naturally.

Last year, there was "Goodbye Christopher Robin" which gives "a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children's author A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin, whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh".

This year, then, we have "Christopher Robin", about the Pooh's human friend as a "working-class family man whose childhood friend helps him to rediscover the joys of life".

So, after more than half a century of Pooh's shorts and features, why do we need two movies about his human friend?

Well, there has been a new little wave of literature-flavored and writers' biopics inspired movies recently, and a new wave of Disney live action movies, and Disney execs in the mood for reviving the classics anyway. Very soon they release "Mary Poppins's" long-awaited true sequel too.

The powers behind "Christopher Robin" also seem to have a hidden agenda of releasing something "magical" before the holiday season coming into full force.

In its own quiet way, it wants to be an extra kiddie-friendly alternative to this restless era where the studios search frantically for the heirloom for the "Harry Potter" franchise, the place of which seems to belong to "Fantastic Beasts".

Pooh & Co don't offer larger-than-life narratives, eye-catching setpieces or mind-blowing effects to really earn its place among magical epics. But the wish to be at least an agreeable sidekick is evident - in the structure of the story but also how the movie looks quite similar to first "Beasts".

"Christopher Robin" is kind of interesting visually - situated somewhere between grim and psychedelic Soviet animation version, and sunny and gleeful Disney's vision of Pooh's world.

I did like how it all looks and feels: all those faded, gloomy colors and incessant pursuit to pressure the audience's nostalgia bone.

This is helped by the occasional mixing of the live action and the old Pooh books' illustrations, but even more by the talking animals who look just like old, tired, and forgotten toys. Or maybe something from "The Fantastic Mr. Fox".

If it does not bring out some bittersweet urge to somehow relive or revisit the past, then you are not probably very attached to your personal past. But many are.

Now to weaknesses. Marc Forster has directed lots of movies, and he is quite crafty visual director, but usually not that good with emotional content. "Christopher Robin", too, looks better than tastes.

The story is so safe and generic, and the performances so professional but sparkless, that I couldn't help but drift away while watching.

The lack of inspiration is especially evident in dialogues that don't even sound much like dialogues, rather than different characters' spoken lines in a row.

Well, at least they have closely emulated the spiritual content of Pooh's tales, which will surely be missed by young audience but offers some nice bits of Tao-like wisdom. (Lines such as "People say nothing is impossible... but I do nothing every day!" are thrown around often and casually.)

It's good that the adult Robin is played by ever-reliable Ewan McGregor who can easily carry any kind of movie, include saccharine-filled family fare such as this, but the viewer must be mighty lenient to appreciate such a dull and slogging story.

Simply put, there is just no real life in this production, everybody seems to be in it mostly for the paycheck.

The only really fresh and inspired section comes in the middle of closing titles, when Pooh & friends gather to the beach to hear Disney legend and composer Richard M. Sherman sing and play "Busy Doing Nothing". Simple but great.

I understand that I am not exactly the intended audience here but even the children can easily find many more exciting entertainment titles anywhere from TV, web, or cinemas.

"Christopher Robin" is a three-days-old birthday cake from the fridge, still edible but satisfying only when you happen to be in a favorable mood.
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4/10
If "50 Shades" was a sexless rom-com with Asians instead of Caucasians...
27 October 2018
How I wanted to like this movie! I am partial to American mainstream comedies in general, and the idea of adding rich Asians twist to this type of mayhem seemed liked a great idea.

"Crazy Rich Asians" does add that twist but as it turns out, it's not exactly a comedy we have here. Yes, the trailers and other promotions present it as such but in reality, if we're to talk about genres, it's not exactly anything.

Many recent TV/web series and movies have taught us that not clinging to a genre may be a good thing, helping to achieve extra authenticity and relatability.

In this case, however, the result would probably improve by having a clear vision of what it wants to be. As it is, I can only call the movie numb and perplexing, and overall rather off-putting.

The general storyline is straight outta mainstream rom-coms. A boy and a girl are happy together, then something bad happens and the pretty facades crumbles, until they find a way to deal with it.

The problem is the boy's family who turn out to be super rich living in their own glamorous bubble, and they don't like the idea of some nobody stealing their precious son who's supposed to continue building on everything they represent.

I know, judging by this summary, there seems to be no serious problem with the whole thing. It's an entertainment after all, etc.

But the actual level of writing is so cliched, basic, and lacking anything remotely interesting that stretching it all over two hours seems unbelievable, at least in hindsight.

The actual experience is like a pale shadow of some soap opera, with plenty of beautiful things and glamour but lacking any of the emotion, suspense, or passion.

The tone is so heavily sugarcoated that it drains away any chance of bonding with or relating to any of the characters. There's never a real conflict to build some interest on.

Also, "Crazy Rich Asians" may be the most uneffective mainstream movie ever in using supporting characters as comic relief.

There are at least four characters meant specifically for that but the jokes are so seldom, lifeless and/or charmless that it feels a bit embarrassing to watch.

What's so hilarious about Asian woman fast talking like a high-pitched black man, for example? The actress doing this has an awesome artist name, though: Awkwafina.

During the two hour movie, I only laughed once - when somebody compared somebody else's colorful clothing to clown's tampon.

Honestly, "Crazy Rich Asians" doesn't even feel like a proper movie but rather a pilot for unsold TV comedy series. It's all about introducing the setting and characters rather than giving anybody something interesting to do or say.

But despite all this, I had a strong feeling that the movie works pretty well for some - as a kind of fast food entertainment product.

The late director Garry Marshall did something similar with his "Valentine's Day" / "New Year's Eve" / "Mothers Day" trilogy... only this time there's even more saccharine and mind-numbing niceness, if you can believe that.

Picturing it as not a movie but comfort food, it's easy to imagine there's a grateful audience for "Crazy Rich Asians" which will lap everything up greedily, and is equally happy with inevitable sequels offering exactly the same.

This could basically be the same audience that loves "50 Shades of Grey" (the books, the movies, or both) but can do without the "sensuality" the E.L. James-created series is famous for.

Excluding the sex-related stuff, the basic building blocks are exactly the same. There's a cool guy who also looks good, adores the girl in every way possible, can't get enough of her, and can't even think of living without her - even if the viewer can't actually see what's so extra special about said girl. And of course he turns out to be super rich as well.

If THIS doesn't have an effect on a small princess living in you, regardless of your age or sex, then nothing will.

The princess in me has left for a vacation or something, so it didn't work for me. I find "Crazy Rich Asians" too ham-fisted, boring, and sparkless to anything more than a waste of perfectly good two hours.

But judging by high scores at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, I suspect I'm in the minority here.
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Colette (I) (2018)
6/10
Middle of the road girl power!
27 October 2018
For a 33-year-old British film star, Keira Knightley has had a superb career. She has already starred in a number of well-received and/or successful movies, from indie hits to pure popcorn to dramas.

But still, after 20+ year career and near 100 nominations, there's still no major acting awards. No Oscars, Globes, BAFTAs... even Alliance of Women Film Journalists and British Independent Film Awards have left her cold.

What gives? Everybody knows she can act but maybe she needs to find more remarkable characters to truly make her mark?

These may be the questions Knightley and her agent have faced, because "Colette" seems to be a movie tailored to address these issues.

Above all, it gives her a chance to appear as a strong female figure - historical one, no less, a scandalous sensual writer of 19th century who left his good-for-nothing famous husband, began dressing as a man and sleeping with other girls.

It's also a prestige picture, made for awards season, both looking very glamorous and carrying the always-important topic of girl power. And it's a period piece which Knightley has a lots of experience with anyway. So, win-win from every angle, right?

And it starts strong, it does. Keira looks gorgeous, the whole end of the 19th century Parisian and French life looks fabulous - although it was actually filmed in Hungary. This movie is a looker for sure, Oscar noms for set/art design and costumes seem certain.

Knightley also has a great support in the form of Dominic West as Colette's husband, a party-loving, women-seducing famous author who doesn't actually pen much which is published under his name.

This is untypically flamboyant character for West, and he takes the most of it, becoming the life of the party both in his life and in the movie.

The screen veteran doesn't overshadow or steal Knightley's central place but the result would be much less fun to watch if there was less of him.

Speaking of fun, it should be mentioned that despite its awards aspirations and women's lib theme, "Colette" doesn't take itself very seriously.

It's best described as soap opera with big budget - like a fairy tale for adults, offering some snacks for thought but mainly made for easy watching.

The good thing is that authors have found just a right balance between serious and entertaining, so the movie never drags or gets bogged down by some of its heavier themes such as women's sexuality or position in the society.

The bad thing is that despite its enjoyable performances and intriguing characters, it never delves anything deeper either, not philosophically, not on story level.

Even worse, the authors have had trouble accomodating everything they wanted to show about Colette's life.

Because there's so much content and so little time, the story picks up the tempo at some point and just starts rushing from one important "moment" to the next, not giving anything proper room or time to evolve naturally.

After a while, it gets hard to sense there are real conflicts in heroine's life, because everything always just smoothly falls in its right place, or falls away. Honestly, it would work much better in a longer mini-series or something, with more time to work with.

So, "Colette" may have been devised as Keira Knightley's career's next defining moment but what we get is something rather tame and easily digestible for the YA (young adult) crowd, probably for those who liked "Suffragette" and "Wonder Woman".

So if you like the idea of "strong" female figures but actually care more about their looks, or movie looking beautiful, then you may have found your next favorite eye-candy.
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7/10
Be afraid! The bad boy of European movie industry, Von Trier is back in movie theatres after 5 year hiatus.
27 October 2018
The story follows Jack (Matt Dillon), a highly intelligent serial killer, over the course of 12 years, and depicts the murders that develop his inner madman.

Also starring - Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Riley Keough, Jeremy Davies.

This doesn't happen often: I watched the whole movie, the two and a half hours of it, and still couldn't say whether I find it good or bad, or even whether I liked it or not. Didn't find it boring, that's for sure - although I wouldn't call it exciting either, exactly.

One reason are the short but vivid scenes of extreme violence, which make one take a mental step back from the experience, and even think about not writing a review at all. Just in case that some reader would think that I condone violence or something.

The second reason is, of course, Lars von Trier himself, the co-writer and director of this joint. He doesn't seem extreme in interviews, but when it comes to work, the notorious film-maker likes to provoke and divide audiences without hesitation.

And "The House That Jack Built" might just be one of his crowning achievements in that.

Critics are divided as well. Many see the movie as empty provocation, or just tedious. Some see it as a something more. One is certain: it's not a mainstream entertainment. Not only for the overall creepiness and length, but also for how it's been put together.

You see, Von Trier has been more interested in making a point than making a movie with audience-friendly flow or tempo.

Compared to the "regular" movies, there's no clear structure - yes, Jack's story is divided between five cases but what happens during each is never easily anticipated - or for how long.

This is one of those rare movies which keep you guessing for the most time, never knowing what can happen next.

Von Trier also doesn't try to build and hold suspense, like in a "normal" movie, especially the one about serial killers.

He may have even actively worked against letting us just watch and get carried away because there's so much narration during the whole thing - in fhe form of constant dialogue between Jack and his mysterious companion played by Bruno Ganz.

Maybe because of the spotaneousness and unpredicability of the central antihero, it somehow still works. I never found myself idling and bored. Even during the end-section that left me even quite puzzled, which was clearly the authors' intent.

What makes it all so provocative and divisive, then, you may ask. It's the constant narration or dialogue between the serial killer and his companion. They argue over different things, mainly whether killing can be considered as art, and what makes murder such a bad thing anyway.

At first glance, these may seem like a stupid questions, but there's more to these arguments than wish to break taboos or something. Von Trier has deeper thoughts on the matter, and he wishes to make the audience think along.

People will interpret Von Trier's intentions differently, which is surely part of his goal. I would summarize the central thesis that if art is an act of creation and self-expression, then artful killing can be art too (which it certainly is for the serial killer Jack).

And before you rush to claim that killing is bad, let's not forget that everybody is at least indirectly or partly responsible for certain amount of death around the world, from eating meat, or even buying it and then just throwing it away, to not taking an active stand against destroying the environment where we all live.

Von Trier goes on to discuss several connecting themes, such as how killing can be addiction and how most of the violence is somehow associated with only men.

But the most shocking parts are Jack's actual killings, especially some that I didn't believe the author would dare to include in this day and age of political correctness.

Then again, the director's own stance seems to be against killing, because it's never glorified which is rare in the movies indeed.

Some of these acts may be funny in their own horrible way but none is intended to make you feel this adrenalin-induced watching glee as in most action flicks. If a person gets shot, for example, there's nothing cool and visually captivating about it. One just drops down like a big bag of flour, and stays this way.

Having commented on all the "important" things about the production, I can't forget Matt Dillon giving a remarkable performance as our anti-hero.

Just like the movie's approach to killings, there is nothing show-offish about him work. He seems to have wholly immersed into this character which makes him just mesmerizing in its own quiet way.

Dillon's easy naturalness combined with the unpredictability of the character makes this a cinematic "bad guy" to remember, although there's little unforgettably cinematic about him per se.

"The House That Jack Built" is a movie quite unlike anything else that you can see in cinemas this year. Unless you and I visit very different kind of cinemas.

Anyway, don't approach without hard stomach. Von Trier is not for everybody, and has never been, especially his latest.
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First Man (2018)
7/10
How humans went to Moon for the first time. Ryan Gosling is Neil Armstrong
27 October 2018
Cinematic wunderkind Damien Chazelle - best known for writing and directing "Whiplash" and "La La Land" - is back with his true magnum opus, an overview of how the man first stepped on the Moon.

We follow the development of the American space program from 1962 through 1969.

The central character is astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) who has to balance his desire of perilous journey to unknown with being a family man.

"First Man" is based on a real events - both story-wise and in technical sense. Everything has been recreated as realistically as possible, using the old technology and filming with handycams, so the audience can directly relate to astronauts' experiences on both intellectual and physiological level.

This means the viewer gets to live through the same chaotic, claustrophobic and disorientedness-inducing conditions that were the part and parcel of real job. And judging from the cinema seat, it feels amazingly authentic.

Scenes like these form a major part of the movie, which is quite long at its 141 minutes, turning it into more than average exhaustive viewing - probably even more so IMAX.

Near the end, by the time they really reach the Moon, I must admit I was already a bit worn down by all this visually shaky and messy directing style that Chazelle has chosen. I'd had my fill of the technical stuff and was longing for a chance to explore more the human side of the story.

As Armstrong turns out to have been a rather closely guarded individual with no desire to be a star or American hero, we don't get to learn much about him.

Which is positive in a way, because there's room for many other people who need to be on the screen (played by Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Ciarán Hinds, Patrick Fugit et al).

Gosling has always been good with characters of private, secluded nature, so there's not much new to tell about his another exemplary performance. He's charismatic as always.

The second most important performance belongs to Claire Foy as Armstrong's wife. Although her amount of screen time is moderate, she's the one that seems to impress the critics the most, leading already speculations about Oscars.

I agree that astronaut's fiery and strong-willed wife is a perfect Supporting Actress award material, and Foy is very good at what she does here. But personally I didn't find her part so essential as to get really excited about it.

It's not her fault. The story never concentrates that much on characters' inner lives anyway, so "First Man" is really not an actors' movie first.

Still, I would like to have seen more of Armstrong's colleague astronaut Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) whose readiness to always speak out "what everybody is thinking anyway" adds some spicy bits of intrigue to space mission's everyday life.

This is the unused chance to add some depth even without delving into anybody's heads and personal lives, but sadly the authors have not deemed it necessary.

"First Man" is a impressive movie but the technical side is more important than the human one here, which makes it difficult for me to love.

All this shaky physically tormenting chaos on the screen does get a bit monotonous before the end. So be warned, if you are going to see it mostly just to see Gosling, or because you loved "Whiplash" and "La La Land".
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8/10
It's as good as they say it is!
27 October 2018
A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as alcoholism and being miserable about life have sent his own career into a downward spiral.

The "it" movie of the season that everyone's been talking out has arrived. Yes, it is as good as you have heard. Yes, it is sad but also uplifting. Now, the quick questions out of the way, let's see what the fuss is all about.

"A Star Is Born" is a musical love story starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, directed and co-written by Cooper. It's actually a remake: the sixth screen version of the story, the most famous renditons of which were released in 1937 and 1976, respectively.

But make no mistake - the result feels like a true labor of love from all involved, starting from very committed performances by the leads.

The commitment is evident in both by their preparations for the movie (Cooper taking extensive performing, singing, and guitar training, Gaga helping to write many songs heard here) and good chemistry between them playing lovers. The tenderness between them feels very real.

But even more important is Cooper's courage to lay it all out in the most difficult "format" for any dramatic story - let's not forget that it's his first directorial effort.

First, its a "state of the mind" type of movie which favors examining the central characters' inner psychological conditions to just displaying as much "interesting" events as possible - thus taking the risk that the audience might not stay on the same wavelength and get bored. Especially as the movie is decidedly slow and lasts for 135 minutes.

Secondly, the camerawork relies a lot on close-up scenes, which places an extra toll on actors who have to be ready to carry the intended mood or sentiment for longer time, and able to really feel it in themselves also, so the result will seem more honest on screen.

Cooper, of course, is an experienced (dramatic) actor himself, but he must have had a lot of faith in Gaga also, for whom this is the first major movie role.

Additionally, he wrestled the studio to get the leading lady he wanted, so he had to have double the conviction that Gaga is the best choice for the project.

And I am glad to say that all Cooper's gambles have paid off. The resulting movie feels triumphant. The story and the many songs are not original or unique in themselves but the overall big-ness and psychological immediacy of the movie are noticeable from the very first scene, with Cooper on the stage, handling it like a born rock god.

Visually, "bigness" of the movie can be most clearly perceived in concert scenes where the world seems to stretch out to forever - is this how the musicians feel playing to big crowds?

But it also supports the storytelling. There's always enough time and space for everything to evolve naturally. The characters, their relationships or what they say never feel rushed or one-dimensional, you can sense the living breathing beings behind them.

Gaga fills the central position of the movie, and she's surprisingly good and natural at acting - it is not an easy job, demanding a lot of spoken text and willingness to open up to a range of feelings, not to mention carry them in close-ups. It must be one of the most successful first big roles from a singer I've ever seen. Yup, it's that good.

But Cooper as the rock star slowly burning out is just phenomenal. Not only are the concert scenes powerful, but the pain he lives seems is so pure that you just have to symphatize for the guy.

The tears of "rich and famous" are probably hard to relate to the most of us but he's able to relate to the audience on this human level where everybody is equal. There's no glamorizing the life style that the character has chosen, Cooper takes us straight to the shadow side.

Speaking of the other actors, I especially like the decision of using legendary stand-up comedians such as Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle in important supporting roles.

It's funny how, in general, comedians are always great in supporting roles, especially serious ones, but rarely offer something interesting as leads.

Also, there's a great supporting role by Sam Elliott as the rock star's equally-worn brother/manager. If this doesn't get the screen veteran his third and finally winning Oscar nom, then it's difficult to guess what will.

Elliott's character gets to directly display the mental exhaustion and desperation his brother the rock star hides inside, which gives their shared scenes always some extra suspense.

So... despite the relative lack of originality, this is a fresh and confident film-making at its best. The authors have something to say, know how to say it, and do it well.

I've only seen 45 movies released in 2018 so far, but this is the most compelling and heartfelt of all. A great directing debut from a continuously interesting and relevant actor as well. Go see it.
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Life Itself (2018)
7/10
A quite sad, but nice movie about love, or at least one aspect of it
14 October 2018
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.
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6/10
A decent children movie that attracts the fantasy fans
14 October 2018
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.
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Papillon (I) (2017)
6/10
Unbelievable true prison escape story!
14 October 2018
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?
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Searching (III) (2018)
7/10
Something worth seeing! Look for it in the cinemas
14 October 2018
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.
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4/10
Bad!
14 October 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.
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Peppermint (2018)
6/10
Jennifer Garner comes to hurt the bad boys
14 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
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).
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Mile 22 (2018)
6/10
Certainly not boring, but this kind of super-intense approach feels like overcooking it
14 October 2018
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).
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2/10
The the fact, that famous film-maker completes his passion project in 29 years, doesn't mean it was worth the wait
14 October 2018
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.
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Gotti (2018)
7/10
John Travlota trying to make a comeback as a true story mafia boss
1 September 2018
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.
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7/10
If you have a taste for raunchy comedies, it will give you something entertaining to chew on
1 September 2018
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.
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5/10
Enough of Joaquin's face already...
1 September 2018
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.
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7/10
Spike Lee's perhaps most significant work after "Malcolm X"!
1 September 2018
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.
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8/10
The most invincible 56-year old is back to kick some baddies a**
8 August 2018
"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.
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