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Suspiria (I) (2018)
9/10
Bordering on brilliance, Guadagnino turns into Gaspar Noé and Darren Aronofsky in gut-wrenching new take on the giallo classic
12 April 2019
Italian maestro Dario Argento's "Suspiria" is a slice of art, visually speaking. Released in 1977, the most renowned, expressive work of the "Deep Red" cineasta is a feast for the eye and ear, with a score, cinematography, and mise-en-scène as bold as fascinating that conjured a horror film that curdled the blood through images, not words. At the time, a remake of such a theatrical, personal work sounded insane and unhealthy. Then, the response exacerbated as the names of who'd be in front of and behind the camera quickly came up. Don't hold your breath anymore, this new "Suspiria" is sheer atmosphere, austerity, and shock. Even if Argento himself considers it "betrayed the spirit of the original," it is one of the few rare slices of slow-burning horror as gorgeously gruesome as coldly visceral, as life-threatening and powerful as to set up itself as a polarizing modern masterpiece.

Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino takes the biggest and oddest step-up of his career. In the wake of his pitch-perfect Oscar-winning drama "Call Me by Your Name," Amazon Studios came to the aid of his new movie, a horror film, namely an unheard-of version of a grandiose piece considered by many as a giallo classic. Guadagnino gets a truly personal connection with his most risky production yet, a deeper involvement that makes sense by breaking down this radical new take the filmmaker executes on the primary story. David Kajganich keeps the backbones almost untouched, at least until the beginning of the second act, where director and screenwriter opt for speeding up in terms of visual, storytelling complexity. This new vision ends up delivering a nearly independent film that employs a brand only as a base, and then building up a viciously dark, stressful and enigmatic fortress.

Anyone who buys- aware -a movie ticket to be buried alive in a 152-minute oppressive fiction that feels like a mid-budget film experiment that will test you since the first and most painful great sequence is really a brave person.

It owns you, you try to get used to it and you're in; you fight back and I assure you that you will suffer even more than this savagely beautiful nightmare's ill-fated "innocents".

Set in the German capital, the same year of the original film's release, Chloë Grace Moretz and Lutz Ebersdorf- huge surprise here hidden under facial and genital prosthetics and an Oscar-worthy makeup -introduce the essentials to re-immerse us in the plot with a cold, pessimistic background. Enter Dakota Johnson, playing Jessica Harper's character - she comes back in a quite small role, - Susie Bannion, an American ballet dancer who is transferred to Berlin, where performs an audacious, perfectly edited audition sequence to enter hell. Avoiding spoilers, if you're one of the few who have seen the 1977 film and expect a by-the-numbers adaptation, you are going to be flatly disappointed by the 40-minute mark. From the very first minutes, it advises us it won't be an easy journey- 7 walkouts, in my case -as this is a re-imagination that guarantees you shocking surprises that make up for your loyalty and patience; "Suspiria" belongs, on its own, to that controversial new term: "elevated horror".

The script of American David Kajganich - who re-teams with the director after "A Bigger Splash" - is like firewalking, every footstep is a new challenge that pushes you to move forward. The core premise itself is already more than appealing: prestigious dance company, omens, sacrifices, hierarchies, secrets and a glorious, over-the-top witches' Sabbath. Kajganich creates, however, more complex situations, leaves open some metaphorical sequences and, even though he doesn't turn characters into true humans, makes them more assertive to keep the viewer hooked. Of the six chapters and the epilogue the film is divided into- with such precise title cards that ridiculously mean each 20-minute division, -three are still in my mind brighter than ever, and even if the ending section hurts its modern masterpiece status, each chapter is maximized by a magnanimous Tilda Swinton and a resurgent Dakota Johnson.

As of today, it's already a tradition that from any of the film festivals comes a film that means an unforgettable experience, whatever the reason may be. Generally, they employ and/or deal with similar subjects: explicit violence operating in at least one sequence that makes the audience so uncomfortable that many leave the theater; uber-sensitive matters treated openly; to turn the viewer into a masochist or a voyeuristic, -that, and get one of the lowest grades on CinemaScore®. Darren Aronofsky owned that position with "mother!" two years ago, a multi-layered masterpiece of biblical and environmental metaphors. 2018 was an interestingly competitive year, with "Annihilation" and "' The House That Jack Built ' vying for the label. All the signs were that "Hereditary" was going to be the champion, but Amazon shot at Venice last September, obtaining statim the trophy.

Poeticized by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's glorious cinematography- Academy, cruel snub, -the imagery unfolded here is indelible, hair-tossingly fearless, and primitively spine-tingling. Within the walls of the Markos Dance Academy, life is given for art, dancers hiding out from the strong political and social storm out there, willing to spiral down into this infernal place; do anything for the sake of dance! Oppressively toning down from brown to gray, the film keeps its tone until the ending nightmare comes in, which replaces visions, dance sequences, rehearsals and upsetting developments with a slow-burn scarlet revelation. Occultism, witchcraft and awakening become flesh and blood in about twenty minutes, which also means sure sleepless nights. Walter Fasano's editing work is equally commendable, adapting to its profuse narrative and taking your breath away.

There's no room for doubt: what Guadagnino and all his talented crew have made is an achievement in capital letters. Cinematographically, it gives a perfect demonstration on how to present innovatively a point of view/original idea, no matter how insane it is. To exemplify one of the many pitch-perfect mixed moments between excellent sound editing, Thom Yorke's virtuoso score, cinematography, production design, performances and choreography itself is the most visceral, diabolically cruel dance sequence, if you already had the pleasure to see it, you know what I'm talking about; the masochistic initiation seance this new arty classic delivers is simply brutal, definitely not one for everyone. As odd and unnatural as intimate and predatory, the camera movements, angles and framing, particularly in the raw rehearsals, are brilliantly clever, passive or aggressive according to need, orchestrating an increasingly compelling whole. Leave skepticism and apathy behind, warm up and let's dance.

"Suspiria" by Luca Guadagnino conjures up an unexpectedly political, obsessively disturbing and blistering chiller. Clearly, the most personal movie for the author yet, this standalone interpretation of Dario Argento's giallo classic is a blend of "Black Swan" and "mother!" starring a coven of witches. This unforgettable, masterful new take within the Markos dance academy values and respects its legacy, while at the same time, pushes the original to more terrifying, darker places, rising an experience like no other.
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4/10
Why don't they understand that King Arthur belongs to the books?
11 April 2019
Film-wise, King Arthur's lost his touch. Gone are the most simple, golden times where Hollywood modern-day blockbusters were unrealistic, unforgettable film pieces helmed by a young man with no apparent future who, unaware, achieved a life-or-death legacy. We have gone from ageless classics such as "Camelot" by Joshua Logan, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones and "Excalibur" by John Boorman to insufferable "reimaginations" and lifeless adaptations such as Stuart Gillard's "Avalon High," Michael Bay's "Transformers: The Last Knight," Guy Ritchie's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" and even Otto Bathurst's "Robin Hood" - which features many of the ingredients that made Ritchie's film what it is.- Exactly in the middle of these two categories lays the latest effort as writer and director of Joe Cornish, which rethinks the timeless legend within a world of smartphones, homework, bullying and chicken wings; while simultaneously trying to condense a fantasy adventure à la Spielberg, a Disney Channel film and a subtle anti-Brexit commentary; of course, not everything works out.

First and foremost, "The Kid Who Would Be King" means an irrefutable improvement over shameful adaptations Hollywood has insisted on producing. 20th Century Fox's delightfully British new take is likely to be far from covering its production and advertising costs, but quality-wise, it does redeem and save Arthur from ending up, again, on a "worst of the year" list in the face of the failures/flops from studios like Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures.

After the reckless 2011 hybrid between sci-fi, comedy, and horror he used as his directorial debut, Joe Cornish jumps from playground to the most 80s fantasy, which is called Amblin. It opens with a didactic, gorgeously animated introduction to give some context about what sort of film we are about to see, enjoy and suffer in equal parts.

The character introduction is undeniably charismatic, employing about half an hour of its endless runtime to set up a solid bond between the audience and them and their problems. Just like Spielberg, Cornish almost completely restricts parent prominence, using them uniquely as dramatic supporting vehicles. For this reason, Alex, played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis - son of motion capture pioneer Andy Serkis, - his bestie Bedders, portrayed by Dean Chaumoo, and bullies Kaye and Lance, by Rhianna Dorris and Tom Taylor respectively, are the story's eyes. Each one does a great job portraying his roles, especially Serkis, who with his tenderness and unbelievable drama range makes a short part of the film compelling. But when it comes to juvenile performances, Angus Imrie and his hypnotizing and elaborate hand gestures steal the show. His young Merlin is fabulous, with a fierce comical load mixing fish-out-of-water humor and the most hilarious slapstick to bring an interesting pace at least until half the second act.

It's a huge surprise to learn that stars Patrick Stewart and Rebecca Ferguson are here standing by the project; the former with quite short yet meaty appearances as adult Merlin, and the latter as Morgana, a female villain that even though Ferguson tries her best to deliver a credible, menacing antagonist, the script only makes her look like a one-dimensional cartoon figure that wants to take over the world. Her character strangely reminded me of Nicole Kidman's villain for "Paddington," both films full of heart, but also disharmony between storytelling development and acting commitment.

Brilliant moments are at a premium, but still, the film treasures some touches of brilliance. From clever commentary against controversial withdrawal Brexit to writing jokes adapting the well-known Arthurian mythology to the 21st century manners; from dazzling blockbuster-like set-pieces to pieces of training as imaginative as catching, Cornish manages to pull several easter-eggs and comical interludes off thanks to his careful, faithful writing and the professionalism and commitment of his actors portraying their roles.

As for the rest, "The Kid Who Would Be King" has the potential to become a headache for some adults, nonsense for some teenagers and for most kids an endless fascination. Due to its abusively drawn-out running time, many viewers could stand in a position of radical skepticism midway, not receiving equally the other sequences and narrative moments, which can get to be dull, boring and ridiculous if you don't get into it from the beginning. The film tends to use its purpose of kids entertainment as an excuse to produce visuals and narrative threads that don't work well. From ridiculous to boring, young Merlin's slapstick and Bedders' naive humor might not land so well for grownups, because it handles a kind of humor that even today's children don't understand it as children used to.

"The Kid Who Would Be King" by Joe Cornish is not only a taste of its own medicine for majors that don't get tired of re-visiting existing IPs, but a production of British flavor severely diminished by an unnecessary lengthening of the events, a too mild treatment to resonate among today's audiences, some uninspired visuals and a story that fails to create interest for unlikely sequels. Those who grew up in the splendor of the 80s and 90s will certainly be willing to be carried along by the homages and easter eggs of the last century- for starters, the parallelism with films such as "The Man Who Would Be King" -however, those who, like me, belong to the new millennium will have a hard time trying to connect and stay connected with the idea for more than a quarter of an hour.
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Glass (2019)
5/10
M. Night Shyamalan hovering between hero and villain in the final chapter of his mini-universe of extraordinary beings
29 March 2019
M. Night Shyamalan, who could be downright crowned as the king of the plot twists within the overall picture of modern American horror and suspense cinema, has exposed the most fearless, sterling turnabout of his entire career as a screenwriter and filmmaker; this time, unexpectedly, outside of any of his particular, ever-challenging audiovisual breakdowns on the worst of the beasts: us.

To understand the most prodigious of his storytelling machinations, we have to go back in time, exactly when "Unbreakable," a modest, riveting blend of drama, suspense and thriller, starring two of the most beloved movie stars of the 80's/90's, opened long before Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy officially kicked off the modern superhero genre, this being also one of the last lucky offerings before "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth" destroyed his reputation. The filmmaker got back in shape with a small-scale yet ridiculously profitable found-footage chiller, whose climax knocked audiences sideways; "The Visit" put him on the map again. His following project, however, a fascinating psychological thriller titled "Split," was the one that announced to the world a glorious comeback. Out of the blue, a subliminally interconnected trilogy was quietly cooking up all along, leaving clues here and there, raising, in our faces, more questions than answers the last and worst - in comparison to its predecessors - entry in the 'Shyamaluniverse' would solve.

Let me be clear: Shyamalan's one of my favorite directors working right now and I will fight tooth and nail to stand up for him. My duty as a reviewer, however, must always overcome any subjective approach, any dishonest desire. But, why do I say all this? While it's true that the last act of this third installment is insanely brilliant, off-kilter, twisted, as everything surrounding the filmmaker, and cinematically fabulous, act one and two are practically a mess, a deadening pileup of weird decisions that instead of infusing new perspectives into the nowadays suffocating superhero genre, indirectly undermines the exciting plot threads and the style/artistic exercises of the two previous prequels. We're talking about Shyamalan, a name attached to both bewilderment and surprise; for better or worse, "Glass," a film I followed carefully throughout the production, is not the first disappointment of the year, but it does be the most bittersweet yet entertaining ride a movie buff will have in the first two months of this new year.

There are serious issues all around the first and second act, among them the tragic absence of something the director has stood out for from the beginning. In the first acts of his best pics, the story drags a sense of restlessness, an enervating discomfort that illuminates the way for the big finale. In the second acts, tension and uncertainty reach unimaginable heights, forcing audiences to keep their breath all along the controversial climax. It's inconceivable then that the first half of "Glass" is a havoc of flat scenes, lacking charm and tact, soul and suspense, in very large part by defective editing.

Luke Ciarrocchi' and Blu Murray's edition work is not quite good, is horizontal and linear, and the strange style the filmmaker implanted to the story does not facilitate the task. The introduction of the three leading characters is not exciting or stylish enough to live up to the expectations of the past few months. The entrance of "The Beast" is a perfect picture of the above: a poorly achieved mashup of indie horror mechanics that drinks from film franchises "Paranormal Activity," "Scream" and "The Blair Witch Project." The script feels inhibited to throw its most brutal features because of a commercially modified PG-13 rating, especially in The Beast's attacks and some other pivotal encounters. Some sequences, such as the indulgent, a gratuitous cameo by the director as Jai, a security guard that links all the stories of the trilogy, are deservedly disposable. In spite of trying to synchronize each story, it's no use to waste time on badly managed content.

It must be said that young Charles Xavier hands down saves the entire second act to be an outright disaster. The intervention I refer to takes place halfway the feature film between Kevin Wendell Crumb and Dr. Ellie Staple in the one-color psychiatric ward, and is a masterfully performed, planned and filmed, is terrifying, ironic and impressive in unison.

James McAvoy steals the entire movie and takes, again, all the interpretative praises. Patricia, Dennis, Hedwig and some of the other cool personalities are back, who, thanks to the laborious performance of the "Atonement" actor, are fully credible, plausible despite his imposing physical. The actor jumping from one character to another knocks us all out, we're in front of a different person in every change. "Split" is still the one that treasures his tour-de-force, but McAvoy is phenomenal here leading it with a performance worthy of cult status.

With David Dunn, ageless Bruce Willis holds a well-grounded dramatic arc, with a rather than glorious conclusion and a clumsy-yet-especially interesting treatment at the expense of the "Die Hard" hero's great appeal. Willis remains a vigilante, an outcast, an outsider, which along with the narrative focus, allow him to exhibit not all his interpretative skills, but his most intimate acting endeavor.

At this point, it's equally unlikely to get a bad Samuel L. Jackson performance and any critic/reviewer who say so; here's an exception. The beloved actor endures a kind of fake catatonic state which recalls Michael Myers from David Gordon Green's "Halloween" most of the time, giving him some insufficient final minutes to show who's the man once again. It's not Jackson's anticipated showcase you're waiting for, nor the worst of all his performances, and yet, Elijah Price plays a key role as the mastermind thanks to what the actor had already built in "Unbreakable."

Sarah Paulson, who knows how to manage her time between film and TV, portrays Dr. Ellie Staple. One of the prime twists falls on her shoulders, which gives her the chance to transform herself wickedly, an empathy switch which may disorientate viewers, for better or worse. Her performance, stony-faced and properly calibrated, is contained, not glamorous or dramatically explosive; it's a bridge for the story to move forward.

Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodard round the cast out, with poorly developed supporting roles that disadvantage their actors' potential, especially the fierce young lady of "The Witch."

I guarantee you, you're not ready for the grand finale. Talking about plot twists and the last thirty minutes, personally, is pretty much the same thing. It's fascinating how it realistically blends comic book structures into storytelling, moving along within the canons of the all-time comic book proceedings. But this is Shyamalan, so you better look closer. The long-awaited showdown and its corresponding adjunct are as good as they can possibly be, bathed with powerful realism and pessimism that some fans - because this is a movie for fans - will have to think twice to swallow what just happened on screen. Likewise, its low key set-pieces, the trio of performances and the stealthy but aggressive writing moves make up a glorious, intelligent and above all human ending. And in latter lies its greatest strength. An important message is placed throughout the three films, imperative because of what's happening around us right now. The third act of "Glass" brings to a successful conclusion the story, with a priceless message of self-esteem and togetherness covered by a fantastic subtext that ends up being less important than the core of all these stories written by Shyamalan.

"Glass" by M. Night Shyamalan is by no means one of the filmmaker's top works. You have to see at least "Unbreakable" - which it's most related to - to understand everything this last installment, which should serve as an integral, standalone film such as "Split", tries to unpack. The film has no identity because of the strange ingredients it mixes up to prove it's unlike the other superhero flicks out there; it's neither a thriller, a fantasy/drama nor a suspense pic, it's all of them at once, a terrible phenomenon coming from a lazy, flat and cinematic energy-free first act. Aesthetically, it doesn't stand out; yes, it's not a big-budget production, but Chris Trujillo's production design and Mike Gioulakis' peculiar cinematography doesn't fit in with each other or the most groundbreaking genre incursions. On the upside, the movie's saved by James McAvoy, who's superb as Kevin and all his personalities once again, a slightly exciting score by West Dylan Thordson - who blatantly borrows "Split" compositions, - a commendable, delicate resolution by Shyamalan and a third act so well executed that it'll surely leave you speechless, something that, in one way or another, the filmmaker keeps doing masterfully.
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Aquaman (2018)
8/10
Epic, mythological CGI mega-spectacle blending "Star Wars" and "Avatar" with "Thor: Ragnarok," one for the ages
22 March 2019
"Aquaman" is a stunning miracle; the most visually oddball and mesmerizing big-budget superhero film the world has ever seen. Do not misunderstand me, the Arthur Curry solo film is far from perfect, it presents an origin, born-to-be-king story, rhythmically goes from dynamite to languor and storytelling-wise is whimsical and silly dealing with Greek mythology, but that bravery and audacity, coming from a huge budget and an amazing source material, are what makes it an experience as dangerously unconventional as imperfectly extraordinary.

It's no secret that the DC Extended Universe went from bad to worse within American comic book film landscape; diabolically histrionic, unnecessarily drawn-out, fiercely dark, overly serious; whatever the dilemma may be, Walter Hamada, the new president of DC-based film production after legends Geoff Johns and Jon Berg stepped down in early 2018, had to move quickly and wisely his cards after "Justice League"'s inglorious financial outcome and poorly critics' response.

An angel from heaven, "Wonder Woman" opened at the very right time - #MeToo and #Time's Up, - displayed a powerful war tale of exquisite female empowerment aided by Patty Jenkins' unflinching direction, introduced the only superheroine portrayed on the big screen so far through Gal Gadot' astonishing performance and let free a fictional universe as feminist and uplifting as promising with a few drops of fish-out-of-water humor that put the subsidiary of Warner in competition again. Clearing their minds and knowing what to do and what not to do as for the kind of movie audiences want to see, they left a bunch of projects behind, rewrote some scripts and gave the go-ahead to ideas discussed for a very long time. Among the category of polished and slightly modified scripts, with special emphasis on comedy, was its latest, most risky and pleasant Hollywood chaos.

If "Wonder Woman" was somewhat like a Spider-Man for DC, Arthur Curry would oddly be a colorful hybrid with DNA from Tony Stark, Thor and Star-Lord. The King of the Seven Seas has chances to become the most outstanding, fascinating and exotic superhero of the whole combo out there. Momoa gives his role a dominant macho vibe and look, as well as silliness and sarcastic humor that provide much of the funny and not-so-funny jokes spread throughout the feature film. His acting range and rancidity in each of his scenes are the reason why he's so special, so unique, so emotionally relatable and flat-out politically correct.

Bigger-sized muscles, two antagonists, responsibility, legacy, kingship, splendid chases, and hand-to-hand combats, we've seen this before, haven't we? - cough, "Black Panther," cough. - But as Ryan Coogler diligently proposed to make a stand against racism, politics, Hollywood's diversity and some other highly important social matters, Wan loosens up and never takes the material too seriously; it's simple: a silly, funny, over-the-top fantasy actioner with two specific purposes on its mind: a message of solving your problems peacefully and an act of redemption for DC; its fuzzy proceedings are what makes it so enjoyable, so strangely magnetic and carefreely brilliant.

"Aquaman" is a bona fide rara avis, and one of the big ones. Auteurs entrusted with a nine-digit budget to make an original screenplay a reality- Mr. Christopher Nolan - can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Fewer filmmakers get such whopping sums of money to pull off a bizarre comic book adaptation, which is under the eye of a whole company; judgments, visions and worldwide expectations included. After a hurtful slate of bad decisions and critical misfires, DC changed its mind and left its unexpectedly successful billion-dollar baby to one of the most qualified, professional and creative artists working today in the industry.

James Wan is a filmmaker for the ages. Visionary, maestro of horror and action, creator and owner of the most profitable, breathtaking and poignant entry in "Fast & Furious" franchise yet and king of mainstream contemporary horror at the expense of his 2013 vintage masterpiece/hit, a billion-dollar IP from which spin-offs, prequels, and sequels emanate. These endless victories are the reason why the Malay is now Warner's spoiled child, which was more than enough to entrust him one of the riskiest, most crucial projects for the future of DC.

His kinetic and idiosyncratic style for action is high and low from stem to stern. Fight sequences are provocative, diligent, straight out of the wildest video game. The filmmaker also finds time to experiment and toy with settings, nearly masterful camera movements and angles, with explosive 90/180-degree rotations he previously tested in the Hobbs vs Shaw hand-to-hand combat in "Furious 7" and then F. Gary Gray in the prison escape in "The Fate of the Furious." The camera savagely runs at the audience, endowing dynamism and thrill in large part by the uber-excellent technical, artful features of a couple of incredibly and masterfully executed sequences that might be easily part of the annals of this postmodern genre.

Despite CG-overstuffed, even in scenes perfectly filmable in real locations, the film does not limit its creative faculties. We all agree that CGI is everywhere and at all times, which might constantly divert attention from the flick's narrative purpose. Its aesthetics and visual fearlessness, however, make pictures an alluring spectacle propelled by truly great VFX. So far, far away from the gigantic old-fashioned set-pieces of modern Hollywood masterpieces as "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Mission: Impossible - Fallout," and yet the film's an artificial delight. By taking place mostly underwater, it was to be expected that even with the enthusiasm and commitment of the crew, it needed to be conceived or at least rendered digitally. Wan and his team created an entirely unique aquatic world for us, certainly embellished by Don Burgess, which is over-the-top, dazzling and exciting, absorbent and carefully designed, is pure visual ecstasy crowded with creatures, altered animals, Atlantic beasts and, why not, an octopus playing the drums. There is time for natural, majestic landscapes as well, such as a beautiful Italian village, the stunning Sahara desert or the claustrophobic Trench. Portraying the fantasy-tinged Greek mythology from the comics sounds heavy, but it pulls it off fabulously with inventiveness and audacity unusual in big-budget cinema. In the end, it's appreciated that this extremely gorgeous world, harmonized by the high-sounding techno-compositions of an unbeatable Rupert Gregson-Williams, is not only a reflection of the cinema of our time, but a reminder of the magnificence sound and image can achieve.

Kidman nails it as Atlanna, a kind of character not entirely foreign to her if you take a look at the prolific career of the "Eyes Wide Shut" actress. After the ten-minute prologue and a surprise appearance amid the story, she does have no time on screen. Still and all, her interpretative balance between fish-out-of-water humor and family drama puts her in a strange yet brilliant position; a golden gift for the genre. Played by Amber Heard, Mera's design is literally and figuratively sparkling; she's the one who leads a couple of commendable sequences that breathe #MeToo. Willem Dafoe as Vulko embraces ambiguity, having fun in a simple, smaller role that doesn't seem to agree with his previous efforts, especially keeping in mind that after the eccentric characters he delivered to the genre, the actor has focused on more serious, raw roles in outstanding dramas by Sean Baker and Julian Schnabel. Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, King Orm and Manta respectively, wrongly take turns for being the bad guy. It's hard to tell who and where is the real villain here, whether in the ambition of the former or the anger-driven vengeance of the latter. They both try their best, but the material does not help them at all.

"Aquaman" by horror mastermind James Wan is a cinematic oddity; it has an irregular pace, speaks louder than it should, ergo runs longer than it should, but even so, Arthur Curry's first solo adventure is the most playful, hilarious, rewarding and profitable comic book adaptation you will find in the troubled DC Cinematic Universe to date. Even if my voice is shaking, I dare say it is the most eye-catching, wildly stunning sci-fi show I have seen into a big-impact Hollywood production since James Cameron's "Avatar," visually speaking. To make your life easier, "Aquaman" could be synthesized like this: "Black Panther" and "Star Wars" meet "Avatar" and "Jupiter Ascending," and these, in turn, bump into "Thor: Ragnarok," energized by a kinetic video game vibe and an unhealthy dose of toxic masculinity and sheer spectacle.
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8/10
High-flying birds
3 March 2019
"We're already dead," asserts self-confident, before his enemy, the core character from Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra' and first-time Cristina Gallego's feature film, a La Guajira-born good man that was seduced by the temptations of drug trafficking.

"Birds of Passage" affords a very bold look at the brutal Colombian illegal drug trade, disregarding any pre-established reference from well-known productions such as Netflix's TV series "Narcos" or "Loving Pablo" by Fernando León de Aranoa; in lieu, builds a tale of hierarchies, revenge, obsession and justice on this setting, through appealing indigenous characters the story handles under the condition of narrative coherence. Plus, it takes advantage of the Wayuu tribe to unfold events as magnificently shot as told, which allows witnessing a rustic character study instead of another violence-packed drug cartel-set story, necessary ingredients, but subordinated by the surprising turns arising from every new chapter.

It deploys the routinely poisonous gangster film "rise," from challenging poverty to naked greed by means of non-indie devices re-adapted delightfully under a Colombian prism. Keeping alive the reason of his underhand glory (to win the hand of his wife), it's even more enticing to experience the corresponding fall glued to the protagonist, a loss the thickest wad of bills cannot make up for.

Karma, in any of its ways, is lurking from minute one and doesn't take its leave until justice comes up. The first victim: Moisés (John Narváez), a smiley hedonist who, as ever, loses his mind and humility in front of an easy-money job; with it, he throws huge parties, imposes beliefs, wastes in idleness and embarrasses his people. The second is the main character's eldest son, Leonidas (Greider Meza), who, as this inglorious venom enters through his veins, grows in vanity. Rejecting a family rich in values and tradition, he becomes a kind of conceited sociopath; self-esteem and love are absent, therefore he humiliates whoever is around him, via disturbing actions borrowed from "Pink Flamingos" and "Scarface." The third, no need to underline it, is Raphayet, the story's protagonist, a fallen hero, a guilty innocent, another one in the list. Noble and loyal, sincere and honest, silent and shrewd, he achieves the viewer to get involved with his character, even if his conclusion is the most miserable. Each man shares human imperfection, the first two as kind of antagonists, instead, when it comes to the protagonist, a man with desires and sins, it's simply painful to see how tragic fate devours him.

And women, that's a different story. There are only two in this film, and while one gets an unreasonably tough treatment, another one steals the whole show thanks to a standout performance. The first is Zaida, played by Natalia Reyes, a character who, first of all, is represented as a trophy for our hero, and then she adopts the housewife role, it's understood that's because of her Wayuu traditions, where women play a role much more mystical and spiritual, but in times of gender equality, such a proposal is highly debatable. With such severe cultural norms and obligatorily faithful character designs, Reyes' character is a shade of Raphayet, staying at the edge of her possibilities, and that, in a time where a good actress cannot be limited, even with a justifiable reason, is a crime, is unacceptable. Unlike the matriarchal first-time actress Carmiña Martínez, a standout, a powerful herald of upcoming productions that nurture Colombia filmmaking diversity; it's even more exciting to picture her in same-essence roles, but with radically different façades, movies that allows her to keep going strong after this natural powerhouse interpretation. Certainly, it's a tailor-made role, however, it's a pleasure to see how a newcomer takes over the screen with gusto, how a promising actress leads a politically sensitive film from the very first moment.

Screenwriting duo Jacques Toulemonde Vidal and Maria Camila Arias seem to understand well how to set up and how to keep in motion this parable by means of the personalized division into chapters or dream sequences strengthening the storytelling in critical moments. The script has a simple shell that galvanizes the audience for certain periods with unexpectedly disturbing scenes, however, if you're willing to dive in, Guerra can catch you off guard. The emulsion between '80s crime film and the director's personal vision makes it resist to define itself as a piece of art cinema, not only due to its effective twists, but its expertise leaving time to both filmmaking styles. Besides, unpredictability endows the story an irresistible plus, a thrill ride blindfolded; no doubt, a fantastic, hybridized indie boomerang.

Admittedly, violence was unavoidable dealing with three flammable components: drug trafficking, money, and betrayal. Fortunately, the script knows how to handle it with strong underpinnings, it isn't a simple entertainment incentive for moviegoers. Death is meaningful if it represents support for the story to move forward, every shot, every bullet, every blow plays a role and, nowadays, justified film violence is a gift. As a good violence-packed feature film, said scenes are used purposefully and coherently, two non-existent attributes in many indie and mainstream films.

Latin American culture has been frivolously explored by film, thus, it's priceless the way the film develops, drawing together the Colombian indigenous panorama and the most aggressive narrative frenzy in order to encourage audiences to stay in. In addition to the unbending hierarchical structures most of the South America indigenous cultures are based on, the film delivers a pressing commentary through the Wayuu traditions, humanizing those who are currently marginalized by a social system resisting progress.

Cinematographer David Gallego has shown me one exceptional work and other amazingly well-crafted to date: "Embrace of the Serpent" and "Siete Cabezas." One more time, he teams up with the first Colombian filmmaker ever to give his country an Oscar nomination, this time, in an entirely different location. Gallego's cinematography for his two previous productions, especially the first one, must be appreciated because of achieving visually meaningful frames with hints of magnificence is hard work. "Birds of Passage" exacerbated the challenge as, first of all, he would have to live up to dreamlike black-and-white "Serpent" and then honoring a complex culture via eye-catching, stunning pictures. It takes advantage of coming-of-age dances, ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and folklore to let free the most creative authenticity, discreetly dominated by a grateful modesty, no bombastic ambition, on the contrary, every feature, prominently colors, matches in an effervescent way. Gallego delivers some dream pictures in this film, beautifully imposing that seize the screen, purified by glorious naturalness.

Leonardo Heiblum's score is brilliant. Ear-shattering bass drums and folkloric indigenous flutes ahead, the composer captures the sounds of a culture and the story's leitmotif, fusing primitive sounds with delightful compositions that empower all the movie and causing a deeper, sharper effect in the viewer; a composer to keep an eye on.

"Birds of Passage" by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego isn't another take on narcotrafficking, is a violent, occasionally overwhelming parable that deals with such ancestral issues as justice, greed, betrayal and excesses; a vivid, bold portrait of the ghosts of a country that throws cold water on its present yet. Here another strong feature film from duo filmmakers Guerra-Gallego duo that recognizes them as tightly skilled directors and one of the figureheads of their country. This film hits hard in Colombian filmography, dealing with sensitive issues and the sins and name of an indigenous culture that deserves to be known and respected.
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Bumblebee (I) (2018)
8/10
The rebirth of a franchise that finds gold in regression
3 March 2019
The "Transformers" film series was up to its neck in problems for a very long time; "The Last Knight" was the straw that broke the camel's back and suggested, albeit only for a couple of weeks, the steel-made extravagance the fiercest Michael Bay once conceived was off. Critics, in outline, abhorred increasingly each new installment; however, more people exponentially turn up at the movies to strive to understand the superhero-level set-pieces and to elude the heavy-handed, daft, confusing mythology writers and directors made up for every two-hour-plus nonsense on screen with more difficulty and less success. Punishingly overlong, self-indulgent, inflated and uber-pretentious; the numbers, out of the blue, took a nosedive, needless to say, there was no historic underperformer, but against billion-dollar "Dark of the Moon" and "Age of Extinction," downfall was close at hand, and it's crystal-clear messing with studios' money is the only way an American major reworks and recasts its shaky structures.

Many might say that they're just getting started, but in view of the final result, a stripped-down flick has been the cleverest move. The project of a prequel/spin-off centered on one of its two most emblematic characters came up from out of nowhere. At the same time, as the idea was taking shape by signing director, screenwriter and leading actress up, half the world went bananas trying to predict what kind of film Paramount Pictures was cooking up. I can say with absolute conviction that this is easily the best "Transformers" movie to date.

Considering those responsible for such remarkable production, you could never picture the dazzling, moving end product. Bay, hated and loved equally, comes back, but just as a producer, which denotes a good, significant step up. An act of redemption by screenwriter Christina Hodson, guilty of shamefully careless screenplays such as "Unforgettable" by Denise Di Novi or "Shut In" by Farren Blackburn. Director Travis Knight is a wholly different story; nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the lyrical stop-motion feats "Kubo and the Two Strings" and "The Boxtrolls." American singer Hailee Steinfeld has shaped an acting career brimming with victories, with an Oscar nomination for her practically flawless performance as Mattie Ross in Coen Brothers' "True Grit" and one Golden Globe for her unique Nadine in "The Edge of Seventeen," my favorite coming of age film- Bo Burnham's highly praised "Eighth Grade" is still waiting in my bucket list. - BAFTA nominee Enrique Chediak has been the director of photography of nothing but "28 Weeks Later" and "127 Hours." Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli has been the composer of sound art pieces and masterpieces such as "Paddington 2," "Darkest Hour," "Anna Karenina," "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement." These are the heterogeneous ingredients of a film that surprises not only for its tonal metamorphosis with respect to its predecessors, but the heart, vigor, and simplicity the film uses to weave its story.

"Bumblebee" is a nostalgia-driven adventure of unsuspected narrative force, focusing on ever-present themes that movies don't get tired of digging into and, why not, mixing up such as friendship, adolescence and growing up with a doubtless 80s flavor, a time the film takes advantage of. Setting it somewhere between the most fantastic John Carpenter, "Stripes," The Smiths and A-ha is the right time to get rid of any dispensable hassle, going back to basics and staying there, it's just Charlie and the 1967 Volkswagen Beetle in a survival race; zero Bayhem.

The film takes its time to set up the underpinnings and to present our heroine's dramatic arch, a young woman struggling to come to grips with her father's sudden death. She lives among abandoned vehicles, car relics, and teenager gloom; on her birthday, she ends up acquiring a beat-up, tiny yellow car, a vehicle that becomes her confidant, her bestie. We've already heard this story a thousand times, but let's face it: no one on planet Earth can resist clever, poignant feel-good movies, no matter time, place or mood, this always enjoyable sub-genre will get followers in large part for how easy it is to identify yourself and get along with the characters. Besides, due to Mr. Bay's pyrotechnic filmmaking, it was exciting to imagine such a story starring Bumblebee, in the 80s. The final result couldn't be better. Charlie receives a careful treatment, unfolding her wounds and trying to heal them so honestly that the most dramatic moments are painfully stabbing.

Bumblebee receives a dignified narrative background as well: he and his species are being hunted by a pair of Decepticons, which allows displaying the high-sounding, better-handled action sequences with finesse. The funniest, most emotional, tender character-driven moments take place in the first forty-five minutes of footage, a long period where Charlie finds and meets the naïve steel-made creature, where she tries to communicate with, instruct and teach him that the world in which he's stranded isn't a human-sized paradise. The story points at the big finale alongside, via small doses of the trademark complicated, sometimes unintelligible terminology and chronology. The second half of the flick is out-and-out pure spectacle, harmonized by John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and their measured yet helpful comedy shots amidst the Herculean battles. Knight ultimately carries out his duties by hooking the audience up and tearing apart their hearts, knowing beforehand that coming-of-age-like sub-genres could not be part of the franchise again.

The set-pieces, as opposed to those of its predecessors, like the film itself, are much more restrained and compelling, not so groovy or showy because of a realism beautifully rendered with impressive digital effects that, even without high-resolution IMAX screens, endows action sequences with humanizing character. There is a good lack of predictability threatening to eliminate core characters just mid-story through unexpectedly raw images that kids will struggle to bear, excluding PG-13 carnage, a handful of murders amusingly reduced to plasma. Certain continuity, pace and editing errors should be attributed to editor Paul Rubell, however, as a coherent whole, it is a resonant, overly enjoyable popcorn film that will delight all kinds of audiences, even the devotees of Bay and his exuberant filmmaking style.

Technically and artistically speaking, it's excellently made, the camera moves with finesse and puts special focus on the development scenes like this saga had never seen before, holding their feelings and tones and throwing them to the viewer; it's praiseworthy that every scene gets a precise treatment which justifies its place in the footage. The '80s references and easter-eggs are juicy and countless both physically and spiritually, as each frame tries to unfold the life of the protagonist in a time of iconic clothing and hairstyle, female liberation, music history, political riot, and scientific discoveries.

"Bumblebee" by Travis Knight gives life and hope to a franchise in its death throes through Steinfeld's charming, sincere performance, the heart of a script based on friendship and forgiveness, and the emotional narrative control that Travis stamps in all his movies. Without warning, the "Transformers" film franchise rises from the ashes, and despite its post-credits scene suggests a risky return formalized by Paramount Pictures' brand-new measures, it's better we rejoice now in the candor and simplicity of a film jam-packed with underlying shrewdness.
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9/10
"For telling us we aren't the only ones"
24 February 2019
Alright, let's do this one last time. Queens, orphan, Aunt May, high school student, radioactive arachnid, bite, transformation, discovery, paranoia, control over his powers, villain landing, alter-ego, upside down kiss, confrontation, moral dilemma, rescued girlfriend, ultimate combat, safe city one, two, three... hundreds of times, endless love, news, "with great power comes great responsibility," kids' inspiration, civic homages, ah!... and by the way, ill-fated encounter, shameful evil dance and shameful look, an utterly perennial loop. Along these lines, would humanity need one more flick knowing by heart the pattern?

If you watch "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse," you're watching the fulfillment of the dream of a group of visionaries who, without thinking about it, have inspired millions and millions of people with a piece of art of unusual magnitudes among the wonderfully competitive modern animated film world, and, at the same time, have injected boldness, personality and brilliance into both Sony Pictures after unexpectedly wishy-washy box-office hit "Venom" last October and Marvel Studios' light-hearted and almost predictable live-action fanfare.

A milestone in mainstream American animation: Disney and Pixar lose their annual crown this time. They play in different leagues and their only two releases scheduled for 2018, "Incredibles 2" and "Ralph Breaks the Internet," are favs among year-end movie lists, but, due to its one-kind approach and vehement freshness, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is, above all else, the non-stop-motion- relevant clarification in favor of Wes Anderson's breath-stealing showcase, "Isle of Dogs" -animated motion picture of the year and one of the most exhilarating, witty, socially thought-provoking and artfully made of the decade.

The art department led by Dean Gordon and Patrick O'Keefe and the production design led by Justin Thompson have achieved something rather remarkable: to be different, meta-discursive, self-parodic, surprisingly glued to creator Steve Ditko's unique style and mightily dynamic, progressive and dazzling at the same time; guys, this is Oscar-caliber animation.

Pictures, trippy and hyper-stylized, revolve and bounce, go up and down all around the screen; the composition of every frame, diligently designed and rendered as for color and motion, is a sheer delight, a miracle that will be studied and swooned over for years to come. A piece of top-notch craftsmanship, the shots here skip from the iconic to the symbolic, from the self-referential to the most unflinching flair, the computerized cinematography catches the audience's hearts and minds. Any and all sequences are viscerally engrossing, surgically sketched and masterfully carried out; its comic roots and computer animation rules well above some Pixar's and Disney's visual pieces of art in fits and starts, in part by such a care between perfectionism and personality, handling edges so special and eye-popping that the experience turns into a high-octane kaleidoscope that, even along the closing credits, keep running. It's a gargantuan homage to that iconic, mystical, twisted visual boldness that impressively Ben Davis tried to do justice in the Scott Derrickson-helmed live-action "Doctor Strange;" it all makes sense if you realize that he's the very same comic book artist Stan Lee teamed up with to illustrate and co-create these two worlds; a downright genius, a legend, his name, Steve Ditko, will be remembered for honor, respect and glory, in the comic book world forever.

Beyond genre categories, it's great cinema, period. As a feature film, prone instinctively to social drama above mega-spectacle, it overly succeeds on its devices and purposes, as well as in the flavor it delivers all over the footage between exciting storytelling and effervescent visual prowess.

Inclusion. They don't get tired of wrangling over the tiresome treatment on the morally troubled, Herculean-shaped, straight, white American hero; thence, the "Wakanda Forever" symbol became a global phenomenon, as well as a huge step for diversity in cinema. In this film, his mother, Rio Morales, is a Puerto-Rico-born woman; his father, Jefferson Davis, is African-American; Miles Morales, our hero, is a black/Latino kid from Brooklyn. On the run, Gwen Stacy (A.K.A. Spider-Woman), an American blonde girl from the Earth-616 universe; a forty-something Spider-Man version, divorced and downbeat, Miles' inspiration; Spider-Man Noir, the 1930s Marvel detective; Spider-Ham, an anthropomorphic funny animal parody; and finally, a Japanese version, a female anime, finish up a bunch as unusual as glorious with the highest note. PC or not, such multi-diverse characters taking part in a worldwide release make this a social gem where pride sprouts from in times of bigotry and inequity. The script respects an impressive cultural range from the pages, using it as a strong commentary and storytelling device that moves the plot forward smoothly, as well as raising a love letter to diversity itself. Most of the characters here get a flat-out unusual arch as for the superhero genre concerns; Miles loves his humble former school, but now he has to settle in to an onerous all-white school for gifted children; his father, an uncompromising officer of the New York Police Department, doesn't share the means of superheroes, saving the day and destroying entire cities on their duty, they steal all the prestige of keeping the city safe; the older Spider-Man made some wrong choices, a hero on the downside in need of a new light that makes darkness gone; the story dramatically and emotionally weaves a web of plots that never neglects its genre and elegantly refuses to limit itself to the most comfortable places in utterly fabulous synergy.

Everybody already knows Peter Parker has not been a well-developed character in the celluloid world since his first solo movie hit theaters more than a decade ago. Everybody also knows the benchmark is that wondrous odyssey created by gifted director Mr. Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire. In 2006, the spider webs dried up quickly, however, studios and fans took over the idea of starting from scratch. Eleven years later, a bold Jon Watts released a not-so-mature, fresher and more light-hearted version aided by Tom Holland's innerly charming performance. After that, many claimed Peter Parker got a new, definitive face, forgetting what was just around the corner. "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is the best cinematic comic book adaptation of the young hero ever made. The usual, everyday superhero stuff is right there: high sounding, epic compositions, a villain - with better development compared to over half Marvel's baddies, - there are death and catharsis, there are anger and betrayal, pyrotechnics and redemption, everything's there; however, the film transcends these platitudes, even leaving "Infinity War" so far behind in terms of depth and critique. There are harmony, magnitude, coherence, and entity; the film, from the beginning, galvanizes the story with unique style that doesn't stop shining until the closing credits, winking at and honoring its comic book vein, using the visual spectacle at its best, harmonizing storytelling and visual mastery as they don't do anymore.

The exclusive visual storytelling is taking all the credit, but those who crafted such dazzlingly complex marvel were directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, screenwriter/producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Passion, commitment and vision are three words that perfectly can be the soul of what these men wanted to project throughout the feature. The pre-credit dedication has a truly priceless purpose, enclosing all the ideas and feelings these people had in their minds and hearts when as they say, thousands of doors were closed, but one would always be open: to believe in themselves. We all know Phil and Chris, not only because of the controversy their "Solo: A Star Wars Story" firing unleashed last year, but also their uproariously funny, witty scripts such as "Deadpool" and "The Lego Movie." Nevertheless, the trio of filmmakers is relatively unknown at the wheel of a movie, save for Ramsey's "Rise of the Guardians," for this reason, it's even more surprising to take in that a near perfect masterpiece came out from these brand-new visionaries.

And now, if you venture to 'classification' lands, a do-or-die dilemma comes up automatically; sharing the throne would and must be the most proper way of doing this. "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and "Black Panther" are altogether the best superhero films of the year.

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, above being a priceless gift for animation, is a one-of-a-kind superhero film, a respectful and sharp commentary on diversity and a piece of art for the ages; a response to the hatred, disrespect, and violence controlling minds and bodies in unjustified warfares. Is this the perfect antidote for an era of Trump, wrong traditionalism, walls, massacres, and indulgences? Forget about one of the best computer-animated superhero movies ever made, this is a reminder that we're not individuals, we're society, that dreaming is what keeps the world in motion and failure what keeps it evolving. Lee's gone now, but this cinematic feat is a proudly fitting tribute; Ditko is a maestro of out-of-reach scopes. Lee and Ditko have inspired millions, including this bunch of visionaries, who in turn have inspired all of us and our moment has come now; you know what they say: with great power comes great responsibility.
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7/10
Cyber-"Inside Out" meets "Once Upon A Deadpool" PG-13 meta-humor
20 February 2019
Pixar Animation Studios, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, bursting with ambition, won't apparently ever fail at sequels. "Toy Story 2" and "Toy Story 3" were progressively more poignant and iconic than each predecessor; "Incredibles 2" updated its themes always keeping untouched its spirit and heart; "Finding Dory" ended up being an overly cheerful work but quality-lower than the 2003 underwater adventure classic; "Cars 2" was openly a kind-of bump in the road, yet deep down, it was an over-the-top spy flick; "Cars 3" picked up a visual simplicity and a digestible narrative which worked better; "Monsters University," far from reaching the original, was a somewhat sinister but widely friendly buddy-movie that entertained worldwide audiences with iconic characters and interesting settings; under the circumstances, "Toy Story 4" and "Frozen 2" - reference titles - are in the making with an eye to being released in the next few years, two pics with billion-dollar siblings and feasible awards and nominations.

"Ralph Breaks the Internet," the latest animated wonder, is a flat-out improvement over the original, adhering itself to new technologies without losing sight of its two central figures, unfolding another riveting, clever family-friendly journey that commits itself to compete head-to-head against the most acclaimed movies of its subsidiary; it doesn't win the day, but offered something Pixar has overlooked all this time.

Don't get confused, this second part does transcend all-time great arcade game's limits to venture into this binary world, developing a refreshing representation of the mechanisms and processes taking place in our everyday devices. This setting's side goal is to raise a human lesson on friendship and sacrifice, to be happy not harming the happiness of those you love, and in that sense, we stumbled upon a fairly mature and grounded resolution, like the "Toy Story 3" kind, which enriches the scope. It also disposes of knotty storylines by not adding up new protagonists, Ralph and Vanellope remain the leading characters, although it does incorporate supporting roles that hilarious look and behave like their voice actors such as Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson or Alan Tudyk; however, two key agents from the first story lose importance this time: Felix Jr. and Sergeant Calhoun; taking into account the stripped-down plot the writers want to maintain all along, this is the healthiest decision.

Storytelling-wise, Disney will always succeed on his moral and ethical task, but for that, it'll always need the corresponding tear-jerking scene, this time pretty close to that devastating farewell for the pink cotton candy nougat-filled elephant-cat-dolphin hybrid from "Inside Out," they are hands down geniuses achieving it. But the greatest improvement doesn't come from right there.

Much as Spielberg's "Ready Player One," "Wreck-It Ralph" meant a glowing, nostalgia-fueled journey through the childhood of many adults bolstered by some of the most beloved game characters; now, it's fantastic and a kind-of weird to know that this sequel will mean, several years from now, the same nostalgia-packed journey for us, a new generation. The writing team understands that most of us stopped going to fun-breathing 80's arcade game rooms a long time ago in the face of the comfort and easily accessible high-tech gaming consoles and, of course, the all-powerful Internet; so as things stand, they decided to place their two protagonists into the WI-FI cosmos in as simple as fanciful way. First of all, the story, immersive and efficient in its purposes, is simply interesting, symbolizing it as a dark tunnel, a world where the most beautiful and horrific things live side by side. As soon as our giant-fisted destroyer and hyperactive racing girl manage to get in - in a sensational way, by the way, - wonderful landscapes unfold before our eyes and we beg for seeing on screen the representation of one of our favorite sites, because inherently we're the Internet generation and therefore will love this setting made up by clicks, 'likes' and 'dislikes.'

Despite the thousands of screen-time-eager companies, the film wisely does not overstuff its compositions, of course, there's enough product placement to know this is more than a family-friendly film, but after its first act, it mostly centers on storytelling. The Internet takes the form of a sunnier "Blade Runner" metropolis, where millions of avatars restlessly go and come. The many high-rises and high-tech buildings that show the companies' logos off deserve more than one viewing in order to catch the myriad easter-eggs all around the footage. YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Internet Movie Database, AlloCiné, and Instagram are some of the sites spotted in broad daylight, but the plot settles in BuzzTube - a hybrid of both companies - a multiplayer online game called Slaughter Race, eBay and Google for the cinematic finale.

Filmmaking-wise, comparisons are obnoxious and in some instances needless, and even so, it's quite obvious to draw parallels between this buddy-comedy and the creative structure of the Pete Docter y Ronnie Del Carmen-directed magnum opus "Inside Out." Switching Riley's five emotions and behaviors for pop-ups, web sites, links and search engines, the depictions here are magnificent, especially the extremely sinister, somewhat disturbing dark web and its creepy, ugly-looking apothecary overlord. Some cybernetic, internet-related processes also got fantastic representations, trying to make easy to understand the universe of algorithms an e-mail or a Google search involve; thus, posting a video, getting a "like," writing a comment and closing specious ads become an imaginative ride.

Owning the rights of the most known companies nowadays is a task largely impossible, consequently, big missing brand-names will come up if you realize them automatically; hence, the quickest and easiest move was to get into its own terrains, and indeed, so it was. Catching a glimpse of Star Wars' Stormtroopers, Marvel's Baby Groot, Stan Lee and the classic Disney princesses is beyond price, because of this the film is unique in how succeeds on weaving its own plot threads re-visiting officially characters from other films for the very first time. The most unexpectedly brilliant sequence of the movie happens to be killingly funny and oddly self-parodic; watching how they interact with each other and even amend one of the oldest, most rooted Disney princess rules in order to give a cleverly uplifting feminist message is sheer joy; thus this wildly anti-Disney moment turns out to be one of the key sequences in the modern history of animation.

But without Disney's routine visual perfectionism, none of this would have been possible. "Zootopia" director of cinematography Nathan Warner hits the mark with the thousands of cards on the table to craft such an ambitious animated world, choosing, along with the huge design and art departments, vivid colors, transparencies and animations that enclose the general meaning of each company. Each branding depiction is vigorous and catching, however, these don't reach the complexity and depth of "Inside Out," thus weakening its creative scope. Prolific composer Henry Jackman unveils a score that lives up to his name, following the lines of the company's usual compositions, introducing the corresponding melodies of happiness right before the arrival of the saddest climax.

"Ralph Breaks the Internet" by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore is an exhilarating, fast-paced, high-concept voyage into the most dangerous addiction humankind is facing right now and at the same time is a tender, light-hearted fable about friendship and sacrifice that wholly enhances its means as for the original. It's sweet, harmless and funny like a cute cats video compilation, however, just wait to know a fantastic dark web and everything gets one more layer of meaning. Cinema has gradually adapted to the advances of humanity, for this reason, and although "Incredibles 2" proved it cryptically with its cunning modern-day villain, Disney's latest 2018 release is as necessary as inevitable before an audience living through screens, a generation that has left behind real interaction.
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6/10
"This is where the operatic section comes in!"
18 February 2019
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is the most boisterous biopic of the season, the most controversial of the last few years as well, do not though, look at these factors in a good way. Going from awards, nominations, and arbitrary, ceaseless accolades coming from the industry to unsafe firings, serious uproars around the private life of those involved in the movie and harshly mixed opinions between critics, moviegoers and 'Queen' lovers. The music-related cinematic event of the year doesn't go beyond the conventional story of ascent and fall, vice and fame, money-fueled madness and redemption; a frivolous apology that disappointingly gets sidetracked by the shiniest banalities and the primal artistic, personal dilemmas of both Mercury and May, Taylor and Deacon; this flick isn't a true-blue hit, trust me.

Plenty of hiccups in the way of this highly-anticipated but incompetent Hollywood film adaptation; among them is the replacement of an almost perfect Sacha Baron Cohen, which was, allegedly, due to a creative discrepancy between the actor and the producers, who refused to show any somewhat damming material that endangers or hurts the golden legacy of a rock band that broke the mold. Probably, Baron Cohen was right. Now all that's left is to dream of an assuredly R-rated pic, a comprehensive biographical story with powerful chiaroscuros on each member of the family, as well as the cornerstones that made 'Queen' a point in history: their relationships, their sexuality, obsessions, behaviors, hopes, sins, demons and successes; the film centered on mass appeal aspects, as expected.

Let's be honest: the film is pure entertainment, a noisy and shallow spectacle taking advantage of each one of the most emblematic hits of the British band, simulating to deal with the recreations of their properly iconic video clips and striving to deliver unknown answers to the questions about the vicious existence of the Queen frontman. Finding matches in the portrait of real-life footage is entertaining, such as the "I Want to Break Free" music video or its gargantuan finale, however, with a two-hour-plus runtime, is it right to be okay with this, when the brand 'Queen' is involved? I don't think so.

First and foremost, Rami Malek's the only true winner among all this chaos. Malek, a.k.a. Elliot Anderson in Sam Esmail's voracious techno-thriller "Mr. Robot," is, from the outside, Freddie Mercury. The American actor has come up with the role people will recognize him for from now on, not only because of the celebrity he portrays but the fiercely impressive performance he acts proudly on the screen. He's not merely imitating the most representative mannerisms of the outlandish singer, he understands carefully the psychology of a man turned into a legend, he does justice to his role even if the lifeless, sanitized script threatens to mess it up. The way he dances, walks or behaves, his voice in the most ordinary dialogs, the expressiveness of his gaze, the inner struggle to find who he truly is, every detail his performance is composed with, beyond the most discussed such as the fabulous voice - a vocal amalgam between the actor, Mercury himself and Christian rock musician Marc Martel - is what enriches and makes it - with the permission of Christian Bale and Willem Dafoe - the best performance in a mainstream film by an actor in 2018. A tough call is to choose which would be the best interpretation between Malek's brilliant PG-13 performance or the supposedly suggestive, raw R-rated by Baron Cohen. Regardless of your choice, we'd probably have a mind-bending Mercury in front of us.

Having said that, the lead man's brutal showcase aside, some factually-based re-creations are deftly realistic, notably two quick-witted music-videos incorporations and the monumental, unforgettable closing sequence at Wembley Stadium. To say that the 1985's Live Aid re-creation, such a symbolic, meaningful 20-minute performance for the history of rock music, is perfect would be a whopper of a lie; by being gratefully long, its pace and rhythm tend to drop constantly, the editing work is respectful but some cheap CGI crowds and quick cuts feel plainly contrived; nevertheless, the Live Aid performance was the first sequence they filmed for the movie and it is astonishing all along, because of the dimension of the event itself, powerful because of the authenticity and concordance duplicating the epic clip; seeing Malek playing with his crowd and then seeing Mercury do the same is breathtakingly beautiful, and that, keeping in mind such a challenging feat, should be considered a real achievement.

The 80s', as an eye-catching and helpful visual and narrative resource, are depicted in a lackluster but congruent way, the compositions lack energy and spark even speaking about a time where color and brightness were in its greatest splendor. Directed flat-out by Bryan Singer and replaced during the last days of shooting by Dexter Fletcher, the film is not artistically daring, provocative or inspiring, is freely faithful and straightforward, bombastic when it shouldn't, slow-paced and off-and-on when ironically the most gigantic spectacle must come up. The editing work, especially in the quick montages on the concert performances and significant plot knots, is compelling and kinetic, however, pushing the hyperactive cuts out, the biopic loses its touch and starts slowly tearing apart just for rising from the ashes along the last 20 minutes.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Bryan Singer and certainly polished by Dexter Fletcher is not, by no means, the "Queen" definitive biopic, nor it is Freddie Mercury's. In short, a conventionally entertaining biographical film only aimed by Rami Malek's pitch-perfect performance. 20th Century Fox's turbulent production will once again make the British band's iconic anthems popular, will once again bring the leading man into the spotlight, will have thousands of angry fans and will please the less fussy ones on the legacy of a group of visionaries who has long been a crucial part in the history of rock music. With a strong supporting cast - especially Lucy Boynton and Ben Hardy, - the all-time great musical support, some impressive re-creations and a performance by Malek for the ages, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is not a boring time at the movies, is an artistic composition that fails on most of its fronts; a look-over as superficial as diluted through the lifetime of five men who found in freedom of expression, queer spirit, togetherness and unique personalities a safe space for perennial memory.
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5/10
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Yates and Rowling
31 December 2018
Which is the most successful representation of the nearly glorified wizarding world? The books or the films? Depends on who you ask, but many might agree that staunchly loyal Potterheads will always take refuge in feature adaptations after their precious seven-part book series came to an end several years ago, both inside and outside the pages. Box office-wise, going from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (2011), this long-running film journey captained by a young and innocent Daniel Radcliffe brought in a mammoth estimated- not adjusted for inflation- 7.7 billion worldwide, which crowns it as one of the privileged billion-dollar club members as well as the most successful YA film franchises of all time. So will Warner Bros. and J. K. Rowling leave their pupils adrift for eternity? Yeah!, we all know the answer.

Industry trend, there is a pattern of consecutive use nowadays. Lionsgate confirmed to be in talks to return to Panem in form of a "The Hunger Games" prequel/sequel series some years now; "Twilight" reincarnated in an insecure literature student and a sadist billionaire with "Fifty Shades of Grey," worse luck. "The Lord of the Rings," J. R. R. Tolkien's equally hated and loved fantasy world, expanded its mythos with "The Hobbit" as it'll return as an Amazon Original in, by the way, the most expensive TV series the company has ever produced. "Divergent," an unfinished franchise due to "Allegiant" gigantic box office flop, is up in the air after rumoring about moving it into TV ground, either to close the original story or to find a new path to cover Veronica Roth's dystopian Chicago-set love-drama.

Having said that, that a new book series worthy of bringing it to the big screen joins the list just like the previous ones- the "Maze Runner" franchise, which has just ended earlier this year, doesn't participate this round -is almost impossible; so, in the face of the creative stagnation in Hollywood no longer productive YA world, the first response of the major film studios was to spawn products, either inside or outside the original writing line, which means sure incomes.

The fantasy cosmos the whole world fell in love with is back under the title "Wizarding World," this time around no Potter included. Mr. Newton Artemis Fido "Newt" Scamander takes up the torch, a famed Magizoologist known for being expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his gorgeous and naughty creatures and his duty to helm supposedly five entries.

Directed by well-known filmmaker David Yates and written by the author herself behind the books, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" arrived in theaters two years ago, cooking a spin-off/prequel franchise up that got more positive than negative opinions among the stern fandom. Enjoying acceptable box office numbers both domestic and overseas and mostly positive critical reception thanks to the modest-yet-charming performance of Academy Award-winning Eddie Redmayne, wonderfully crafted visual effects, the unexplored pre-Hogwarts world, the fabulous titular beasts and mythical creatures, an enticing plot twist and the delightful journey across New York; "FBWFT" was a pleasant and far-seeing surprise that shocked us sooner rather than later.

"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" is the second extension set in this long-running sub-Potterverse, directed by the same director of the last four films in the original saga and penned by prolific writer J. K. Rowling. A bolt from the blue is that even with the creative backbone almost untouched, this second part happens to be a pyrotechnic and enjoyable misfire, plenty of deficiently unified sub-plots that ultimately saturate the not-so-eye-popping visual spectacle, introducing untidily so many narrative threads that, instead of complexity, utterly erode the core story.

Admittedly the dark beauty of some gigantic, messy set-pieces works not quite right because of the writing individuality, but still, by composition, they're simply bracing, as ever. Philippe Rousselot also returns as director of photography, which benefits visual cohesion as for the franchise' look and tone even when the action moves from America to Europe, mainly to Paris, France. Some shots really work, others shine, but none of them are part of the confusingly edited, overextended, strange action sequences. As usual, imagery is rich in content, not as cozy, universal and relatable as the previous ones, but at least it's impressively appealing.

The titular 'fantastic' adjective is tailor-made for these beasts. The two adorable creatures who stole the show last time come back in order to edge into the spotlight with their naive behavior and mini-treatments; but it's Europe which hypnotizes with engaging animals. The Circus Arcanus holds important gears for the plot, so when madness is unleashed in the Parisian streets, it showcases a range of magnificently designed creatures who take over the screen, and therefore, the audience. Newt's traveling zoo/suitcase gives us short glimpses of unexplored habitats, in which the most prominent feature is a visually overwhelming underwater seaweed-seahorse. They monopolize a large part of the long title, but their greater and short splendor takes place only in the first act in visual terms, as story-wise, the greatest trick comes up.

Scamander must win back the love of his life, keep his animals alive and save the world from a sort-of apocalypse; Dumbledore must stop his innermost enemy through other's hands, build up via his pupil's origins via flashbacks and develop tangentially his life as a magician and professor; Grindelwald must overcome all obstacles on his way, convince some detractors and pull his malicious plan off; Lestrange reappears in Newt's life and tries to do the impossible to hide her darkest secret in order to save him from the destiny the magical forces have for him; Credence, a supposedly main pillar for this whole universe, stops swimming against the tide of evil, so he tries to heal the wounds of the past and recruits the only being he has ever trusted. Each and every one of the main characters and a couple of supporting ones propose, develop and saturate the storytelling with convoluted sub-plots, hardly interconnected and poorly solved.

Rowling's widely known for erecting fantasy worlds brimming with mythos, facing good against evil, going through an ambiguous area of grays which create beautiful, knotty stories. The primary thread here is clear and synthetic, but to strengthen it and nourish it she draws upon clumsy narrative saturation that ends up throwing an all-star cast, a few engrossing performances and some gloomy digital effects out. The script has no focus to unfold, its ambition to put too much information into a single two-hour-plus feature is atrocious; Dumbledore's true origins are only tested by giving more plot weight to Jacob Kowalski's love affair, mitigate the prominence of the beasts and deliver a worthy development to its great villain are some of the sins that neither the strongest cinematic spell achieves to break. This is a perplexing mythological disaster of endless derivations that, without the talented central figure, would have been the longest headache of this year at the movies.

"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" by David Yates mesmerizes us with gorgeous beasts, good performances and special re-encounters with characters from the original franchise; but a hodgepodge of overlong, untidy plots doesn't enrich the main world as it should, instead, weakens and endangers this new franchise of dissimilar entries. "The Crimes of Grindelwald" loses its magic, is darker and more tedious than its predecessor, a longueur which tries to provide emotion and thrill with wrongly placed provocative twists that the only thing they achieve is to sink progressively this magical world which is lost in a mess of sequels, spin-offs, homages and Hollywood rip-offs.
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Halloween (I) (2018)
7/10
Without Curtis, "Halloween" is next on the list of Michael Myers
25 December 2018
Who on planet Earth doesn't watch or at least hear about John Carpenter's horror classic "Halloween"? The movie of one of the all-time horror maestros premiered on October 25, 1978, 40 years ago; still, its triumphant legacy has aged so well that it's nowadays a bona fide masterpiece in US slasher cinema. Albeit many agree that this blood-soaked sub-genre was founded by "Bay of Blood" (1971), "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Black Christmas" (both 1974), indisputably, when Michael Myers burst into the 70's film scene with a vigorous formula in hands - unaware of the endless, upcoming spate of copycats - a minority knew they were in front of the germ of a new face of horror as one-of-a-kind as prejudiced. He's back now and hell-bent on revenge as you've never seen before.

By way of commemoration, the core gears from that fateful, trauma-inducing Halloween night come back to settle old scores. That's right, 40 years have gone by both inside and outside the fiction, and Laurie Strode, our unpredictable scream-queen, has prepared for the inevitable caged in memories; armed to the teeth, she's ready to get an end to this long-time nightmare once and for all. Who will be the victim this time?

First of all, the one true sequel disinherits- rightly -the nearly ham-fisted dozen follow-ups and remakes. That being said, David Gordon Green's "Halloween" is a fuzzy-intended great homage whether you're looking to know what happened to that babysitting girl, whether what you're looking for is a respectful update, whether you're looking for is a journey of sour nostalgia; on the contrary, a gigantic misfire is it whether you want to experience the same frights Carpenter managed to craft with such a peculiar, simple style, whether you are looking for a new piece of art or, at least, a magnanimous sequel for the beloved horror classic.

Jamie Lee Curtis is back, and by far, she's the best of all this. Curtis is a scream-queen by nature as her mother Janet Leigh, one of the founders of the term, played Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Psycho." But Curtis isn't here to scream this time. 2018 has been one of the richest years in terms of productions with heterogeneous women in front and behind the camera in recent times; Laurie Strode and her clan have been one of the strongest driving forces. Fed up with running and hiding, traumatized by a past that hurt aggressively her own daughter, Mr. Carpenter's final girl turns herself into a badass-yet-scared avenger ready to kill this guy off. Honoring the role that became her a big-name actress, the twice Golden Globe winner unfolds an exploration of trauma that's underdeveloped even despite the strong female empowerment the film breathes, often synthetically. Overlooking the character's narrative, structural imperfection, Curtis is a beast as Laurie. The "Scream Queens" actress does keep her Horror Queen title alive, the facial metamorphosis by facing Myers off is unmissable, her panic gives you full idea about what she went through in just a couple of seconds; it's overwhelming how she unwittingly speaks volumes about her trauma through hysteria and roughness that brings to mind Lieutenant Ellen Ripley from "Alien" or Sarah Connor from "Terminator." We all missed Curtis on the big screen, this makes it up.

Respecting the timeless original plot of Debra Hill and John Carpenter, the screenplay penned by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green misses the mark diluting a number of expendable modern-day/yesteryear film horror tropes that even if they get a raison d'être in the duties to meet new audiences' expectations and try to satirize its own copies severely harm the reason for this sequel to exist, neglecting its own disciples: fan or not, no one wants to watch a high school costume party with drunk, horny young folk swarming around the screen when you get, after four long centuries, Michael and Laurie together for less than two hours.

A heart-breaking letdown and/or dishonorable marketing campaign turns out to be the core purpose of this sequel, misleading with an event that, judging by time and quality, falls short as for the promises out of the trailers. In addition to refusing to dive into Laurie's trauma, the script also does not focus on clarifying the life of Myers, a lost chance knowing that this was the perfect time to give some kind of background, lumping drama, slasher and irony together in an explicitly different way.

There are undeniably two leads, but unfortunately, they fade against the disguised and oddly effective symbolism the script deals with. Moving "Halloween" into millennial ground is a logical step to take, but not by means of clear-cut overtones such as a feasible money-hungry third entry by Blumhouse or analogical sequences that besides compensating the pains of a woman represented as three, reaffirms once and again the name of the next scream-queen of the franchise, if you don't think so, pay attention to the last shot of the film.

The script squanders meaty material with Laurie's daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer. Pierced by a colorless childhood and deprived of any tool to combat against her worst fear, the promising character lacks a good emotional background or, at least, a worthy treatment which deepen in the scars; that's right, bloody serial killer films are not known for award-worthy treatises, but expectations were so high with this Blumhouse project that exceeded the genre itself, overlooking its limitations and commonplace gimmicks.

Andi Matichak's Allyson seems to hold the leading spot on many more occasions than you want, not just because of considerable screen time - which strengthens my theory around who the next female protagonist will be - but because of the plot "weight" screenwriters inject into the character.

The pic does aspire and exhale female empowerment from soup to nuts. The final sequence is a lot to digest in just one bite, ideal for the current social climate, three generations facing their past and present with a stunningly symbolic, arty set-piece; the movie overworks to be progressive as only perpetuates indirectly the conceptions of women in horror films. There is a truly strong, unfocused feminist role around the flick, hopping from its trio of leading ladies to the inane actions given to two of them; one more proof that less is better sometimes, Laurie in the spotlight all the way through would have been more than enough.

And of course, in post-Shyamalan times, a big twist couldn't miss. Firstly, it is one worthy of shock, however, even with a character from the original involved, is beyond belief how just a few minutes after such aggressive plot turn it doesn't mean anything, a blow of air. In the genre, the big finale and/or revelation moment must be as powerful and carefully crafted as surprises throughout the footage; this film doesn't even worry about revolving the schemas. There is a similar situation as regards misplaced comical injections coming from scenes that break the tension building down, feasibly by the like of one of the writers and the director himself for comedy; we don't care whether your food is a chocolate brownie or a sandwich, give us more "Halloween."

Aesthetically, it's a crowning achievement. Despite rawness and hyper-violence executing some homicides, there are no gore, tension and thrill, and yet the movie is masterfully crafted. In this field, killer-victim sequences shine the most, as the possibly memorable but devoid of substance false one-shot murder scene with Michael breaking into a neighborhood to make his own thing the Halloween night. Throwing the uber-generic chases off, the final 15-minute sequence is disturbingly oppressive, with Laurie looking for her larger-than-life nightmare behind a door or inside the closet all over her place, the suspense building and paranoia grate on your nerves, adding the cat-and-mouse final chase, which, by the way, is visually dynamic.

Even with all that, Michael Simmonds' cinematography, no holding an arresting track record, means several engrossing frames, sequences like the recreation of POV murder flashback, the aforementioned finale, Laurie madly shooting, the atmospheric opening sequence and even the nostalgia-packed opening credits are a big win as for the forgotten entries, representing 78's through a modern eye that, aesthetically, belongs to a great, appealing horror film.

Who would've thought John Carpenter will also return with a score slightly altered by Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies, of course, playing more than once Michael Myers' chilling theme song. This updated sequel is blissfully able to boast one of the best sound designs of the year and for a genre in a very long time; every blow, shot and creak are incredibly bone-crushing, enhancing the experience even if odious jump-scars over-fly the entire feature.

"Halloween" by David Gordon Green lacks any tension and paralyzing effect as well as own essence and direction - even if you watch it on October 31st, just like I did, - and yet it's a glorious comeback for Jamie Lee Curtis, an old-school slasher with on-the-nose modern deviations which falls by the wayside by juggling too many expendable agents. This sequel had it all to conquer: firstly, Curtis and her fundamental acting skills; secondly, Michael and his brutal knife and legacy as film icon; thirdly, Carpenter himself as advisor and composer; then, the suspense and thriller genres prone to some hard-to-watch well-crafted scenes; and lastly, horror mastermind Jason Blum's production company, which alongside Universal Pictures have become the most creatively and commercially successful horror-film machines in Hollywood today. Green's festival darling does not flee or hide, rather, toys and misleads with the maneuvers of its star.
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9/10
"Far from the shallow," Gaga, Cooper and Libatique hit the right notes on this electrifying, gritty and down-to-earth journey to the stars
24 December 2018
Orson Welles, needs no introduction, directs the greatest dramatic epic ever, "Citizen Kane." Alex Garland, novelist and screenwriter of "28 Days Later," directs one of the most superb psychological sci-fi thrillers in recent memory, "Ex Machina." Kevin Costner, the iconic actor who starred in "The Untouchables," directs the 1990 epic Western "Dances with Wolves." Charlie Kaufman, writer of "Being John Malkovich," directs one of the crazziest postmodern masterpieces, "Synecdoche, New York." Lately, world-shaking filmmakers as Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Paul Dano, Dan Trachtenberg, Chad Stahelski, Bo Burnham, Robert Eggers or Ari Aster shocked the film world by premiering "Following," "Lady Bird, ""Get Out," "Wildlife," "10 Cloverfield Lane," "John Wick," "Eighth Grade," "The VVitch: A New-England Folktale" and "Hereditary," respectively.

But what do these names and feature films have in common? They're straightforwardly some of the most iconic, original and flawless directorial debuts from screenwriters, short film directors, stunt performers, actors, producers, composers and authors. The list keeps growing at an exponential rate with unique and not-so-unique first-time directors on both the small and big screen.

Bradley Cooper, a Philadelphia native, was popularly - and tragically - known as Phil from the "Hangover" trilogy, for voicing Rocket Raccoon in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and lending his voice in Bad Robot's "10 Cloverfield Lane" a few months ago; plus, he's been nominated for three Academy Awards for his acting in "American Sniper," "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Today and after a long odyssey, Cooper's first outing as a director, screenwriter and singer is a stellar debut, specifically, the fourth iteration of the 1937 Janet Gaynor and Fredric March-starred romantic film of the same name.

Being honest, it's my duty to acknowledge I haven't seen any of the previous three movies, my knowledge about them does not go beyond what I have had the pleasure of extracting from think pieces, interviews and critics' reviews. It's also my duty to acknowledge, due to the nature of this new movie, it's not a remake that gets inventiveness as greatest grip; Cooper's "A Star Is Born" does not conquer by raw innovation, but the suitability of the new takes and shifts that make it shines purposely with a force never seen before in the spate of remakes.

Will Fetters, Eric Roth y Cooper, based on William Wellman' and Robert Carson's story, have updated the material with such commitment and passion that not only is the most poignant big-studio star-crossed-romances since "La La Land" or the most powerful feature film on music since "Whisplash" came out, both of them directed by Damien Chazelle, but is one of the most wide-ranging, honest-to-goodness and resounding inspections on addiction, vice, aspiration, celebrity, entertainment industry and sacrifice in Hollywood. The script creates its own leitmotifs with respect, improves some others, dragging them into a new stylized "world" looking to set up a perfectly paced melodrama with overwhelming rhythm, with chiaroscuros making this complex romance drama as painfully as inspiring; A dreamy-yet-grounded portrait of dreams and showbiz, where as one star is born, another is flaming out.

Characters are slightly shifted and/or refined likewise, not only more relatable and true to the running entertainment scene, but to today's audiences. Jackson Maine, inspired by American musician, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Eddie Vedder, is a country rocker star widely known for his musical talent, his old songs and his messy "private" life. Dipsomaniac, downhearted and unhappy - unless a guitar is present, - Jackson begins to catch the sense of dreams when he finds another person to make them come true; a way out that changes worlds, but not fates. Although his final decision could be debated forever, screenwriters are respectful to the original ending, making some fitting, enriching changes along the way, drawing a more holistic design for a man who feels his most beautiful song is gone.

Ally, the star of this show, is portrayed as a "non-standard" resigned singer and songwriter who works as a waitress by day and goes on-stage in a downtown drag bar one night per week. Édith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" is the song she sets free her astounding vocal range and represents an idealized life where success is a sure thing with. In the right place at the right time, she gets a genie and three wishes: attainment, love, wisdom. Ally meteorically becomes what she always wanted to be, achieves to be where she always dreamed of, spends her days who she never imagined with; sa vie in rose, but the industry is knocking on her door.

Stefani Germanotta - winking at "Machete Kills" no hard feelings involved- makes her film acting debut as the star she's always been. After taking a tiny part in a couple of productions under her stage name and being a Golden Globe winner for her terrific work in FX's Ryan Murphy-created anthology ("Hotel"), Lady Gaga shines with a role that, unequivocally linked to her personal and professional life, gives her a golden opportunity to fulfill, in the biggest possible way, one more dream. She's electrifying performing her concert scenes, restrained and self-effacing at times, fierceful most of the time. There's a moment of sparkling, boundless power at the beginning of the second act: Gaga bringing out her experienced vocal level at the peak of "Shallow" is out of this world; the sensation running through my entire body every time I remember that magical moment is beyond words, a rush of anger and fear that, even in its equally overwhelming single trailer, speaks volumes about what the character and the actress are undergoing. It would be ridiculous to review her phenomenal scope as a singer keeping in mind such avant-garde, generational legacy; that being said, it's surprising the way Gaga owns the most personal scenes, clearly rooted in her soul, looking into her inner self, going through her fears, keeping distance from meat-dresses and martian-looks. Gaga's range packs a dramatic punch as sincere as priceless, sensitive and deeply real, clean in execution; her award-worthy performance turns detractors off, a powerhouse showcase as painful as life itself, a depiction of her biggest dream.

Cooper's Jackson Maine is no question the second best role of his entire career. The four-time Oscar nominee endows with diffuse dramatic depth and relatable characterization a character that would have been another boring archetype in the wrong hands. The actor-turned-director is also staggering everyone by pulling his singing stuff off with a heavy, credible country rock voice that never pales against Gaga's. Likewise, he undoubtedly gets into his character's rough life-of-excess final moments naturally, with such a personal commitment that will surely gain him nominations in both performance and direction categories among the upcoming awards season.

Sam Elliott, America's favorite cowboy, delivers one of the peak supporting-male performances of the 2018 as well. Bobby, Maine's older brother and manager at once, breaks his life in two and that process, embellished by a terrifying Elliott, is a tasteful delight enhanced by emotional bumps, jolts and simple-yet-meaningful lines. By any standard, the actor, scoring a time record on screen, has on his side a couple of nods, all because of his astonishing interpretative force tested, of course, in that (in)famous "car scene."

In a feature film crowded of accolades and kudos, Matthew Libatique is the one who must take much of the praise. Skipping from L.A. to California, Libatique encapsulates a vibe of melancholy and naturalness via pink sunsets, the illusion of natural lighting suffuses pictures of a dreamy spirit and the atmosphere of an annihilating stoicism and fluency. Director Darren Aronofsky's longtime collaborator converges lighting, control of form and vision with glorious prowess, the performance scenes shot at the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals and Saturday Night Live are organic and honest because of the fantastic camerawork, focusing entirely on the actors and impregnating intimacy and deprivation into Jackson and Ally's relationship.

Above the romance and drama, "A Star Is Born" is not a musical, is a film about music, therefore, this feature corresponds to and pushes forward the plot. The soundtrack isn't as catchy as "La La Land"'s iconic and fadeless compositions; however, Lady Gaga' and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow" is a shoo-in for Best Original Song, a global phenomenon, a hit aimed by a meaningful, intense live performance amid the film. "A Star Is Born" has enjoyed a rapturous reception by tracks like "Always Remember Us This Way," "Maybe It's Time and "Look What I Found.

"A Star Is Born" by Bradley Cooper goes beyond a drama piece of loss and pleasure, fame and failure, hate and love, self-acceptance and selfishness; a fable of showbiz creatures designed in recording studios directed unflinchingly by Cooper and stylized by Libatique's keen visual eye, a meditation on Gaga's career, who delivers one of the performances of the year, shakes the music and film world up at the same time and leaves the viewer a bittersweet feeling, mirroring the true nature of dreaming.

This generation's "A Star Is Born" is a fierceful breakdown of the toxic excesses from success, a vérité-ish take on the false "perfection" of an artist's public persona, a grounded and raw commentary as for how music and entertainment industry works, a love letter to love itself, a downright unwavering and beautiful depiction of the little compatibility between dreams and relationships, a theatrical melodrama and, in the end, a vehicle of spiritual magnificence and emotional depth on what dreaming really involves: some stars are born as others just flame out.
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Venom (2018)
5/10
A flawed, erratic film adaptation for one of the most famous, savage and finest Spider-Man villains
18 December 2018
Marvel Comics, the glorious House of Ideas of a troubled age, is one hell of a phenomenon. It has not only been at the top films at the global box office each year or nearly utterly ruled the superhero genre for ten years now, but also its characters and stories have stuck voraciously in the pop-culture of an entire century. Stronger than ever and about to wrap the most important phase of its timeline up, the subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company has ventured deeper into the industry by ordering new TV shows, a wide range of merchandising, books and comics; an expected movement if you know who's behind all this, of course, Disney is and as a proof just look at the reborn "Star Wars" saga. Invading unexplored places, it made the decision to expand one of its most acclaimed multi-universes: Spider-Man's. Tom Holland caught everyone off guard by putting the spider suit on in "Captain America: Civil War" two years ago contracted not only by Marvel Studios, but also Sony Pictures. Co-producing Spidey's solo outings because of a fruitful agreement finally signed between both studios last year, Marvel is generous, but not trusting, therefore, still has most of the creative control over the projects. The companies' deal for Spider-Man's rights doesn't include movies as part of the gargantuan MCU, instead, Sony is up to conditionally weave standalone films - such as the "X-Men" franchise, "Deadpool" and "Fantastic Four" by 20th Century Fox, - and all the box office bank still goes directly to them. Sooner than later, Sony Pictures revealed the list of upcoming productions, among which was one of the Marvel's most ambitious ideas that got stuck in the infamous development hell for almost ten years: Venom.

In a world with too many superheroes, an anti-hero might be the most befitting antidote to fresh up the heroism-and-rightness-populated scene; as far as cinema is concerned, DC goes ahead of it, with "Suicide Squad" and "Watchmen" on opposite corners of the same ring. Marvel has followed much the same pattern, going through fire and water to conceive a new gem as piercing as original after bringing the Merc with a Mouth to the big screen; alas, has made the same mistake of its top contender.

At the last minute, "Venom," which was supposed to keep going R-rated comic book adaptations, took a left turn, an utterly financial one, losing its primal R rating to drown in PG-13 waters. The film stumbles quick-fire, toning down material that must be naturally and strictly violent, extreme and frightening; the artistic vision opted to fall off from the original source in tone, becoming a mainly comedy amalgam lacking in visual appeal that if wasn't for the central figure's commitment, would easily have been on the darker side of the Marvel universe. After a hellish pre-production process, it's strange why Ruben Fleischer was the one to sit in the director's chair, a filmmaker renowned mainly for wisecracking "Zombieland." Marvel looking for new, fitting voices to take over its emblematic worlds is entirely understandable, however, it seems self-defeating to pick up a cinéaste who doesn't deeply know the company's storytelling-filmmaking dynamics. It's no surprise that Fleischer does a great job erecting a messy occasionally-watered-down buddy-comedy that shines by the symbiote-host duality employed incredibly halfway the running. The idea is hilarious off and on, aligning storytelling and performance organically, however, after Eddie comes to terms with the "parasite," this funny underpinning spreads out abruptly along the ham-fisted third act.



On the contrary, superhero-action-wise, the filmmaker gets unmistakably lost in a disaster of plots, skipping from a breakup with Anne Weying to a "The Terminator"-esque body-hopping around the globe that reminds Disney Channel's "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior." Poorly original and harshly introduced, such narrative threads run down the golden reputation the anti-hero has achieved in the comics pages along the years. By far it was clear this director wasn't a healthy choice for the character and yet Sony and Marvel refused to change its plans; we have now a Venom movie, a shonky superhero movie, and a good comedy at once, which, according to predictions, has put the worldwide box office on fire.

In a feature film that takes nearly forty minutes to land, the tone and pace are atrocious, yet there doesn't lie its greatest sin. "Venom" is on a knife-edge because of visual raucousness. With a hilariously bad CGI, the pictures, ironically composed by the very same cinematographer responsible for the dreamy urban landscapes from Bradley Cooper's Oscar-hungry "A Star Is Born," suffer from a serious on-screen incomprehensibility reinforced by an oversaturation of black at key moments. Matthew Libatique won't ever be a bad cinematographer, he's flat-out an artist, hence it's far-fetched to see these opaque, ghastly set-pieces, visually unappealing, scrambles of semi-liquid creatures fighting on the screen untidily. Visually and narratively, this is oddly an outdated flick, coming likely from the 2000s, long before DC-Marvel's monopoly was a reality; nowadays, the movie feels out of place, an aesthetically huge misfire.

The core cast is made up by four actors. Michelle Williams is larger-than-life love interest/ex-fiancé Anne Weying in the style of Jane Foster or Lois Lane; however, Williams' character is far from reaching the same plot importance of the previous two women; notwithstanding, the four-time Academy-award nominee embraces her role, understands it and does her best to attempt at shaping a fine audience-actor link.

Jenny Slate as Dr. Dora Skirth doesn't mean a special addition, a disposable character that helps to move the plot forward; her performance, reserved and shy, is goodish, free of edges, one more prey of a wretched screenplay.



Riz Ahmed, who is used to delivering good performances, as Carlton Drake/Riot is a half-baked villain, I.E., his motives do not convince, his actions fueled by stereotyped gears do not infuse fear or dislike, his bad boy is nothing more than the heartless monster of a corporate experiment who will destroy the world in favor of evolution; Ahmed should never have signed up for this.



But who really does the "heavy-lifting" is the fantastic Tom Hardy. Praised by his taciturn, top-notch performances in masterpieces directed by Christopher Nolan and George Miller, Hardy grinds away at his physical performance portraying both the Symbiote and Eddie Brock, two roles close to his career. The "Locke" actor endows the exact dose of charisma and intensity, leaning heavier on gags and one-liners than awardable dramatic explorations, still the firm pulse and commitment the actor adds the role makes the offering stronger.

Don't be deceived, Sony is sliding us into a post-factual, misleading ground, it's crystal-clear Daniel Espinosa's "Life" is related to all this.

"Venom" by Ruben Fleischer is neither a rotten film nor the most outstanding comic book adaptation coming from Spider-Man Sony-Marvel deal; at heart, a messy buddy-film of great inner comedy scope that rarely dabs at the source material in tone and pace; in appearance, a long-drawn-out fandango of obscure frames and unintelligible action sequences that provides neither the theatrical drama nor the visual spectacle the most renowned Spider-Man villain deserves. With an unexpected, enticing post-credits cameo, a mightily effective soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson - going viral at the expense of Eminem, - brilliantly comical fitfully and celestially saved by Tom Hardy's talent, "Venom" will please stop-and-go cinemagoers and the most loyal but uncommitted aficionados. It is certainly far from being the comic book adaptation must-watch was meant to be; Sony and Marvel didn't fight the parasite off, we do.
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Searching (III) (2018)
7/10
It's not a distorted "Unfriended," it's a smart, certainly timely cyber drama
17 December 2018
At this moment in time, "Black Mirror," "Mr. Robot," "Westworld," "Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams" or "Rick and Morty" have made it plain: unstoppable technology is naturally the next step for human evolution, but also the next for automatic annihilation. For this reason, not all people find a door to a new dimension in this generation's tech breakthroughs. In this cybernetic roulette, a unison click equals life itself.



As TV format has dissected the toxicity and clear danger of mixing artificiality and humanity, the silver screen, with a shorter range of time and a playbook to stick with, has chosen to delve into cinematic spectacle skipping from the lightest ( "Tron" by Joseph Kosinski or "Ghost in the Shell" by Rupert Sanders), bloodiest tone ( "Unfriended: Dark Web" by Stephen Susco or "Upgrade" by Leigh Whannell) to the most formal, thought-provoking philosophical and social examination ("The Social Network" by David Fincher, "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick, "The Matrix " by Lilly and Lana Wachowski, "Ex Machina" by Alex Garland and even "Black Panther" by Ryan Coogler).



"Searching," trapped in-between, is a restless thriller that weaves mystery through every-day tech devices, in the style of Blumhouse Productions' awkwardly entertaining found-footage derivate "Unfriended." But what sets apart the Sony Pictures/Screen Gems flick from the fatuous average matinée and places it between one and another category is how much three-dimensional treatment it employs to build an effectively paced family drama packed as a Hitchcockian pic of modern-day underpinnings. Gifting a pertinent, compelling final turn for anyone going to the cinema, this cyber-crime mystery-thriller is, besides the perfect vehicle to deliver a brilliant performance by the leading actor, an introspective, absorbing and effective offering that will delight followers of this emerging sub-genre.

Winning the Audience Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for his directional debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Aneesh Chaganty deftly breaks into the good-thriller scene balancing visceral tension building and dramatic storytelling that, although simple in concept, shapes a well-timed writing according to its purposes. Director Chaganty fully knows the kind of story he wants to tell, therefore manages to get on the audience's nerves with a modern, uncomplicated verve that never finds in excess the answers it needs. Co-writing alongside Sev Ohanian, these two relatively novel screenwriters test their most inventive skills to assemble an electrifying, tech-influenced whodunit/whydunnit that faces a short crisis of cogency halfway through.

Moreover, some comical punches are masterfully distributed throughout the first two acts, injecting into the story a vibe of freshness and levity never colliding with the in crescendo tension and the convincing drama.

Slightly approached by some other films, it depicts adolescence with palpable veracity, avoiding teen-life problems as bullying or suicide to delve deep into introspection and media abuse by means of youthful characters that play the same stereotypes with relatable confidence, these teenagers belong entirely to our world, which helps considerably in the credibility the film seeks to reap.

The script is the agent that better works for the idea thanks to the three-dimensional, kind-of grounded drama, never unbalanced towards melodrama or pastiche, always enriching the relationships between characters. Don't waste time waiting for the most buoyant revelation of the darkest youthful secrets nor hi-tech sequences with explicit violence, there is more well-aimed drama than breathtakingly intense suspense in this story about a fractured father-daughter relationship, the family life between mirrors gestated since a painful past event.

The fact that a single actor holds the entire film together speaks volumes, indeed, says it all. John Cho, Hikaru Sulu in the rebooted "Star Trek" trilogy, is an actor who takes quite seriously his job, his latest true proof. He's not in front of the "camera" all the time, but still, the actor delivers a fantastic performance, rich in nuances, interchangeable in purpose. The "FlashForward" actor looks, and acts, as a fairly bona fide modern-day father who tries to get along with his reclusive daughter, neither slipping into over-the-top comedy nor verging on saccharine following the fascinating, heavy-hearted opening montage. His committed performance certainly strengthens the idea, getting we're worried and intrigued at once; his search, instinctively, is ours as well.

Debra Messing delivers a good performance likewise, both as a police detective as a single parent. The Emmy Award-winning actress' character features a sharp wrinkle and a plus challenge that pushes her to drive the story quietly, at least, up until the not-so-shocking twist comes in. Rosemary Vick, her character, instantly reminds us of detective Kim Dickens from David Fincher's marriage ode because of her strong nature and physical resemblance.

Nine producers on board, it's hard to reckon how much money it costed, even with three production companies not entirely unknown overseas. Roughly speaking and based on conjectures, it might be slightly higher than "Unfriended"'s $1 million budget, its main reference. That being the case, Sony did not think twice about paying $5 million for its world rights at Sundance earlier this year; an investment that, thanks to the genre, the innovative setting and the raving critics coming out from the fests, will be easily recovered in the first week of release.



Unlike many people think, cinematography in this genre of geometric anatomy and websites does matter. Cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron keeps an accessible, deliberately careless digital visual style - mostly - true to a teenage girl's laptop. A new film crew category has emerged from this movie: virtual photography, which is run by Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson.

A solid, understated editing work for this found-footage ramification is primal, therefore, the very same directors of virtual photography are editors here setting up one hour and forty-two minutes of clicks, pop-ups, chats, FaceTime video calls compelling because of the flowing, intriguing development the narrative seeks not to neglect. Torin Borrowdale's soundtrack conflates the sinister investigation-kind melodies and synthetic-yet-exciting sounds of artificiality, honoring its nature of virtual environment without fear.

"Searching" by Aneesh Chaganty is not as wildly unpredictable nor is it original as many critics claim, it's a timely digital-era drama varnished with unexpected suspense gimmicks with enough strong suits to become a time-worthy, enjoyable experience for parents and teenagers alike, for viewers committed to scrutinizing under its taut virtual thriller layer. With a formidable performance by John Cho, an emotionally and strategically geared screenplay, a truly great direction which balances the mainstream and the indie, and a suitable soundtrack, this family drama set on screens has something to say, at least, up until before the third act.
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7/10
It's not Fincher, nor Hitchcock, it's Feig playing at both filmmaking maestros in his newest, twisted psychological chick noir
28 November 2018
Paul Feig, 56, officially commenced on the 1986 TV scene, via a small role as an actor in the sitcom "The Facts of Life." Thereafter, he began making a big name for himself both on television and film industry, a long-standing career that decisively reached the peak of praise seven years ago, when "Bridesmaids" became not only his highest-grossing production as a director- 288 million, - also one of the fundamental comedies of the 21st century; a cultural (and feminist) sensation that made those who underestimated her reach blush. This mainstream low comedy gem achieving more than 71 nominations - that's right, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and even The Academy - afforded the filmmaker to expand his horizons, always keeping true his roots. That wonderful time is behind and the screenwriter and producer has not experienced the sweet smell of success again, at least, not that kind. Feig's films tried to transcend 2000s big-studio comedy patterns, hence, he created his own model, a Judd Apatow's-inspired one: stories that join together perfectly side-splitting gags, geared by human female roles rich in funny edges. "The Heat," with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, was a safe, small-scale comedy vehicle. "Spy," starring frequent collaborator McCarthy, startled everyone in 2015, an action-comedy delirium, a spy hefty-penned flick with a powerful comical vein, a hilariously entertaining package that is now part of the annals of contemporary comedy. Sometime later, Feig wreaked havoc unveiling the very first female-led "Ghostbusters" trailer back in March 2016, leaving no one indifferent to the polemic, one of the most controversial Hollywood remakes in recent memory was born; a modern-day C.G.I mayhem that critics received warmly while original-movies defenders and haters- are they the same thing? - abhorred it even before its official release.

Now Sony's flick is history and Feige's up to embrace new film genres. In a world where actors, screenwriters, producers, stunts and any member of crew decide to try their hand at directing with increasing frequency, there is no valid rebuttal if Feig does his impression of David Fincher. Back again with fiercely magnetic, satisfying female leads, the filmmaker directs his own "Gone Girl" version as infusing slyly his singular comedy style. It was fun to think about what kind of film the witty mind of the screenwriter could make up, working on a murder investigation crime thriller that needed to be taken seriously. There it is: a strangely composed roller coaster, a drink that will burn your throat.

"A Simple Favor" is, in sum, a stylish, tolerably hyper-twisted psychological crime thriller that places Feig in a gracefully attractive laboratory of genres and tones. Truly great horror-comedy feature films are one of the most hard-to-find cinematographic feats these days; however, narratively and structurally, fusing seriously funny comedy in the narrative tidiness of a whodunit is even more meritorious to praise, a surgically handled work that only an expert on the mechanisms of these genres can achieve; here's a proof.

One of the strongest hooks for this domestic noir is the daring style on the divas' attire specifically. Undeniably, the sizzling fineries Lively models with panache during the first two acts and Kendrick, self-indulgent, inherits in the last act pop up on the screen as another à la mode main character. Each of these overwhelmingly fashioned moments comes from costume designer Renée Ehrlich Kalfus, who freezes the viewer up persistently with her original tuxedo designs and their corresponding model. The fashion designer wonderfully personalizes not only the pair of ladies, but the film itself through creations that defy gender standards, which the film runs from several fronts. You are not ready for that navy three-piece suit and six-inch heels, bad weather and umbrella included.

Based on Darcey Bell's homonymous novel, the script is penned by Jessica Sharzer- 2016 summer surprise "Nerve" screenwriter -with additional Feig touches on it. Joining up the collection of film adaptations based on mystery books featuring women in morally ambiguous situations, with homicides, supposed suicides and dark places driving the plot forward, Sharzer does what she can to remain faithful to the source story, distilling the key points from Bell's novel. But in "Gone Girl," "The Girl On The Train" times, her writing falls short delivering solid resolutions, the pyrotechnics and suspicious events of the first hour are drowned by an out-of-control whirlwind of conclusions layering one after the other with less and less credibility.

Emily Nelson is unhappy. We know it from the first moment because of her relationship with her only child, her creatively blocked husband, her job and her almost nonexistent social circle. Still, she's a confident, successful, classy, capable and ungovernable woman. But when her "perfection" is threatened by a forthcoming bankruptcy, her true self comes up. After the titular simple favor, she goes missing and the "why-where-how" kind of stuff unfolds. But when everything is about to come out the story finds its way to going mad with a myriad of every-minute hilarious twists. Skipping over the third act, this character is beyond intriguing, her persona is attractive, her bluntness and dislike give a different perspective from the pattern, widely different from Rosamund Pike's Amy Dunne. Unfortunately, as soon as there is no mystery, she crumbles and starts a harsh downfall into cartoonish terrain, veering from victim to victimizer with an electrifying and laughable pulse.

Blake Lively, despite not being a high-grossing star, is one of the film's faces towards financial success. Known all over the world as Serena van der Woodsen from "Gossip Girl," Lively came back to the silver screen being eternally young and pretty in the 2016 drama "The Age of Adeline." Then, following a small role in "Café Society" by Woody Allen, she reinvigorated killer shark movies with Jaume Collet-Serra-directed film "The Shallows," which gave a shot to the actress to show what she's capable of. After the underestimated erotic thriller "All I See Is You," Lively is in good hands portraying a sinister, enthralling femme fatale. Embodying Emily in an overwhelming natural way, her caustic, forceful performance achieves to blur the line between innocence and guilt, and that, in this film, means mission accomplished.

Kendrick, a.k.a Beca in the "Pitch Perfect" trilogy, gives a career-best performance. Lively's already proved herself years ago, Kendrick, even with her Academy nomination, has been involved mostly in humor-related flicks, keeping her distance from powerful, serious character-driven plots. Heroine and villain, Stephanie's the real star here. Widow, helicopter parent, detective and vlogger at once, her evolutionary arc is, besides more plausible than Emily's, wildly enjoyable, veering from mistress to stepmother, from bosom friend to enemy with explosive sympathy. Kendrick's great, so does Lively, but together, they're a bomb of secrets, surprises and seduction; one of the most unique, brilliant female duos in a long time.

"A Simple Favor" by Paul Feig could be mistaken for a vicious, riotous noir experiment by the director and producer behind "Bridesmaids," however, those who are willing to get a ticket for this fiery cocktail won't feel ripped off up until the third act. Feig gives a half-baked impression of a chic Hitchcock through missing girl genre-worthy storytelling ideas, with fortuitous and gratuitous twists that will delight those who chortled when they shouldn't minutes ago. The cast is unbeatable, its posture is stylish by means of eye-popping outfits, an exquisite and elegant French soundtrack, a production design that is colorfully synthetic and a deficient but focused cinematography. The story falls into an overhasty, depraved spiral of revelations halfway through that, in the end, is a ploy to deliver the best Kendrick's performance to date, showcase underestimated Lively's talents and Feig's skills to surprise in every way. Final oversaturation certainly makes the story an incohesive whole, but the new side of the director, its costume design and the electric chemistry between the stellar ladies are enough incentives to treat the final-act hangover.
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The Nun (2018)
4/10
"The Nun" is a black cat for James Wan's fairly immaculate "Conjuring" cinematic universe
25 November 2018
Still unconvinced James Wan is this century's big studio horror maestro? Here you get a further reason- at this point, a needless one. -

Like most filmmakers, he started out making indie films, like just a few, has ended up sitting on the most prestigious Hollywood thrones by personal projects that get better as get older. Since his directorial debut, each of his offerings has strongly resonated either during or after its release among film lovers, proof of this can be found in his very first feature-length motion pictures that indisputably become part of this modern horror renaissance ("Stygian," "Saw," and "Dead Silence").

His future looked promising, until April 2011. Joining forces with his inseparable fellow-writer Leigh Whannell, this sinister haunted house chapter starring Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson was the definitive momentum to get a shot of stardom. That movie was a big step, but what was to come was inexplicably bigger. Sometime later, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema embraced the Australian director because of a vintage mainstream horror hit based on the real-life case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren; a modern/old-school masterpiece now in the annals of contemporary horror genre.

At that time, no one expected a new moneymaking cinematic universe was about to be born following the tremendous success both at the box office and among the critics. In the form of a spin-off/prequel, "Annabelle" hit theaters getting impressive dividends but poor reviews. Three years later, Wan came back into the world that gave him worldwide glory and took the helm again in the third entry into the franchise, based on another real-life file of possession and paranormal events that terrified the Hodgson family in Enfield, England; however, the big difference was creative freedom over the facts, that is, Wan and his screenwriters created brand new content about what happened back in 1977.

Among the above "intellectual properties" was the movie's antagonist, Valak, a character completely added during the reshoots. Valac is, according to several the goetic grimoires, an angelically winged boy riding a two-headed dragon who leads thirty legions of demons. Re-imagined as a Marilyn Manson-like '90s depiction, he adopts a more macabre and shudder-inducing façade, a creepy white-faced nun. It's a valid adjustment as this diabolic force is able to change in appearance to deceive his victims. Looking at the powerful effect she caused on the audience in "The Conjuring 2," Warner Bros. immediately gave the green light to produce two spin-offs that consolidate this horror series as a true ever-expanding cinematic universe interconnected with each other: Valak would be the first to release; The Crooked Man, utterly CGI-conceived creature, has no release date yet but is in the works.

Attempting to get the same box-office phenomenon status as last year's highest-grossing R-rated horror movie of all time, "The Nun" landed in September, a strategic month that, once again, worked out wonderfully for the company. Far from reaching the mammoth numbers of Andy Muschietti's "It," this spin-off prequel, set decades before the rest of the movies, is the highest-grossing installment in James Wan's universe, who receives producing and screenwriting credits, but gives the helm to a remotely experienced director; a movie that, like John R. Leonetti's "Annabelle," mess up the movie, especially storytelling part. It could have been a whole different thing if a filmmaker with better narrative control had directed the project. The same doesn't apply to the 2017 prequel of the prequel "Annabelle: Creation," since Swede David Sandberg got good, juicy experience directing also for Warner "Lights Out," a feature film that was born from his homonymous short film.

Until just a few years ago known for his shorts, Corin Hardy made his directorial debut with "The Hallow," a little 2015 horror film that convinced a few by means of its solidly effective imagery and the loaded, mossy aura conjured by Martijn van Broekhuizen. As a visual artist, it seems that his talent is crafting stifling atmospheres, environments expelling discomfort, frames breathing perversion. Set mostly in an Abbey outside the city of Brasov, Romania in 1952, the monastery- a mix between C.G.I. and studio sets -was an open world to terrorize, at least, in terms of atmosphere. Suffocating hallways, super dark rooms and the surroundings of the church plagued by crosses and a lush forest are key tools used to create an environment of heaviness which, as the story unfolds, strengthens the sense of unsteadiness and dread.

In contrast to its well-achieved atmosphere, the Gothic style coming from inside the abbey makes the pictures an overshadowed, campy, over-the-top Hammer mosaic. Striving to provide scenarios never seen before in this vintage-packed franchise, Maxime Alexandre's cinematography (Alexandre Aja's 2006 remake "The Hills Have Eyes") comes up short of delivering scenes with diminished visual power, evocative and, at the same time, frightening production designs. Better films have greatly benefited from the medieval period, displaying imagery as unique as arresting ("The Others," "Crimson Peak" and even "The Woman in Black"). Leaning too heavily on light and sound games, there are few overwhelming settings. It cried out for more gorgeous shots like that stunning overhead shot of the nuns begging for their lives.

Hardy, doing his best to live up and pay homage to the previous entries, ends up reproducing several techniques and gimmicks not only from both chapters of "Conjuring" and "Insidious" but also "Lights Out" by Sandberg. The expertise to terrify even the bravest viewer was an important part for success, a disturbingly effective blend of atmosphere, surgically pulsed tension building, skillful camerawork, use of memorable props and a musical accompaniment that makes the effect stronger. Here, there are many proceedings the director borrows, damaging significantly his oppressive atmosphere. Smashed scapulars, upside down crucifixes, devilish shadows, on-and-off demons, trickery with darkness inspired by that "there's someone behind the door" unforgettable sequence, sinister children running around, millions and millions of black-faced nuns - for real, it's unbelievable - and a myriad of clichés adding nothing this special universe. Worse still, the most frustrating and infuriating is how filmmaker Hardy turned this auspicious project into an artificially cheap jump-scares rip-off. "The Nun" is a superficially crafted suspense string that puts it as the worst of the entire franchise.

There are only two masterful sequences: the first takes place in the first act and involves Father Burke, bells and a graveyard; the second, the aforementioned overhead frame in the third act. Beyond DC and Marvel, many film buffs- including fervently myself - consider this universe their favorite and it's sadly outrageous to see how, if you don't get it a proper treatment, it could be mutating into a series of soul-crushing, dump-months-released-like flicks; it's not a disappointment, it's a red-light warning sign for us, horror lovers.

"Horror factor" played a part in success; yet, the true reason was the nearly flawless characterization, characters worried us, we were involved in their lives, we lived in their haunted worlds. Generally, innocent, upright families are the target - "Creation" is an exception, -this time, a soon-to-be-nun sister, a Catholic priest and a charming French-Canadian man dealt with evil forces. Despite the trio delivers good performances, thinly-sketched characters and formulaic encounters don't set up a solid connection with the audience.

Abel Korzeniowski composes a score in keeping with the genre, the era, and the nerve-racking atmosphere. Oppressive compositions, nourished by suspense and uncertainty, which aren't scared off by sudden loud sound effects. Likewise, the terrifying design of the titular nun, played by Bonnie Aarons - yeah!, she got a supporting role in "The Princess Diaries," - is phenomenal, her presence, tested with diabolical cleverness in "The Conjuring 2," is uncomfortable, makes you look away from the screen and disturb those dark nights, she'll make you wonder twice if that whitish complexion and those shiny eyes in the corner of your room are or aren't real.

Gary Dauberman delivers an effortless, messy, predictable yet entertaining writing, a plot fueled by the final turn leading to the very first film as a whole, cohesive universe. The introduction is derivative and short of style beginning with a clip from "The Conjuring 2" with a careless editing work. Alas, the origins of its demon and what it involves later is extremely laughable, as fictitious as inorganic.

Burying the soft, pointless plot, Taissa Farmiga and Demián Bichir play their characters with gusto and credibility as ever; they aren't characters open to true dramatic developments, but their committed performances help the film not being the fiasco it was destined to be.

"The Nun" by Corin Hardy is the most exasperating, skin-deep and - literally - darkest installment of the entire franchise; a clumsy prequel that sacrifices two great actors, a well-achieved atmosphere, an exponentially effective score and a dangerously promising villain. Dragging this auspicious cinematic universe through the mud, Hardy understands the equation that meant success for the previous films, so he misuses his tools and techniques to end up crafting a strange loud ride with some so-so Gothic-Medieval shots and recycled "booh!" moments extracted from the most bothersome, cheapest horrors of modern cinema. Noting its financial success, this universe's future could be at risk in the event that New Line keeps on fissuring it with films devoid of any efficient, original and moving motor hitting theaters year after year. We miss you, James Wan, come back home.
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Alpha (2018)
4/10
Albert Hughes' conventional enemy-become-ally survival tale is one of the most disappointing movies of 2018
24 November 2018
Sold as the origin of the relationship that changed humanity forever, Sony Pictures' and Studio 8's pic is an atypical drama hybrid that never takes off or defines itself because of some downy editing techniques, the overly light, straightforward underpinning and a monumental deception on the making of iconic pictures that blame blatant artificiality jam-packed with ostensible visual effects.

In recent years, American majors have taken a clear stance- trade strategy -on the pet-centric drama game. They've settled to produce, at least, one flick with our doggy friends in all posters; some productions were rewarded, others punished. Last year, Universal Pictures took its turn, kicking off the year with a firestorm of controversy ahead, either the misleadingly edited video alleging animal abuse or a dark narrative approach on reincarnation and euthanasia; even with all that, dog-lover filmmaker Lasse Hallström's "A Dog's Purpose" was an unexpectedly profitable hit for everyone involved. The same cannot be said for most of the preceding movies. In 2016, Annapurna Pictures produced "Wiener-Dog" by Todd Solondz, a four-fragmented film that flopped at the box office but wowed most critics who saw it at the Sundance Film Festival. It would be unfair to overlook Illumination-Universal's fiercely blockbusting "The Secret Life of Pets" directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, receiving a mixed response from critics, but enjoying overwhelming box office results, generating over $850 million worldwide. In 2015, the once-revered film company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released "Max" by Boaz Yakin, whilst the indie company Magnolia Pictures blazed to true victory with "White Dog" by Kornél Mundruczó, the former, even with its melodramatic war background, was a crashing box office and failed to find an audience, whereas the latter became one of the hardest-to-watch films of the season; despite that, the saddest part was the fact of, after its limited theatrical premiere in some film fests and North America, went straight to VOD. It's nonsense to clarify those awkward dog-exploitation entries that don't help this genre in the least, distasteful products just for kids who don't think about it, to take one example: "Robo-Dog" by Jason Murphy.

2018 is no exception. Opening the 68th Berlin International Film Festival and premiering worldwide in late March, this film isn't only one of the best films of the year, but also one of the most important and bold film events for stop-motion. Maestro Wes Anderson's beautiful animated canine political love letter to dogs and Japanese culture deserves a better spot, a better list, hence "Isle of Dogs" has no place here. Rather, big-budget survival "Alpha" is this year's winner to be part of this list of dogs and humans.

More in the vein of Lasse Hallström's tearjerker "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" and the most common American adventure/survival films, this pic uses up its striking possibilities in no time, by opting to insert inorganically moments of dramatic construction in the midst of the protagonist's ceaseless nightmarish experiences. Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt's script is uneven and whimsical, laying bare its only hook: its arty will that uses Ice Age ferocities to shine.

It inaccurately depicts hostility and dangerousness from nomadism only through visual devices, forgetting the key role a good introductory storytelling plays, which, by the way, is abrupt and synthetic kicking off right in a pivotal moment. What's next is a snappish, out-of-place, hurtful timeline switch to end in the starting point once again, which it solves with a fragmented sequence in a disturbing and shameful way that trashes the small narrative construction. From then on, Keda, the main character, will trace his way for survival; and the rest is history.

Even so, the father-son relationship is the heartbeat of the first act, the empathy thread that involves the viewer in the journey, which helps to appreciate a good character design and a couple of great performances.

It's hard to imagine the transition from ferocious predator to friendly ally in the context the film navigates, therefore the wolf-human relationship must be a slow, naturally layered progression, no catalysts breaking that process. Although the script tries its best, loses focus when it clumsily inserts either some action sequences or unfunny moment. At the end of the day, one would expect such a relationship to be stronger, more real and much more credible to do justice to the kind of ancestral tale and demographics it's dealing with, sadly, the only thing the film's cliche close achieves is to become a huge missed opportunity.

Why isn't it a silent film? A bit of a let-down it feels to hear the very first quote, as one would imagine the film is about to attack with all its originality. "A Quiet Place" has revived somewhat silent film in its own way, then, why not? You're right, Krasinski's thriller is a heart-stopping, clever monster movie, whereas Hughes' pic is a manipulative drama, which certainly makes harder its purpose; even so, idealizing this offering, balancing the modern and the traditional, we would be in front of a unique work.

You're in a fine mess, firstly, if you put the best of all your movie into a two-minute-plus trailer with better edition than the whole film, and, secondly, if your distribution company delays release date nearly six months in search of a more appropriate, strategic opening weekend. The first time I saw its official trailer was just before seeing a Sony Pictures film, and oh man, that was a great ride, being fully absorbed by the magnificence and grandeur of Martin Gschlacht's images. Some seconds after, I was wowed and excited about what, at least visually, the film would be. Don't expect more than some specific stunning landscapes and one or two gorgeously designed frames, the "guaranteed" top-notch visuals are severely affected by digital effects you see with half an eye, it's outrageous to know the only real thing on screen is the actor. Many of the pictures with chances for memorability were degraded by an incisive, painful artificiality.

Atmosphere, in this kind of film, is a key feature, even if C.G.I. is constantly all over the place, for this reason, the feeling of defenselessness and latent danger in the first half of the film is sensitive regardless of veracity, immersing the viewer in the experience thanks to beautiful lighting and some tremendous computer-generated imagery. Its action set pieces aren't particularly unforgettable or originally powerful, with the exception of a couple of arresting, sincerely symbolic sequences at the start and end of the film.

"Alpha" by Albert Hughes - his solo feature directorial debut- got moviegoers' hopes up with the flood of marketing pledges, after seeing it, it's no more than a futile epic survival ride that relies heavily on a committed direction and a great performance by Kodi Smit-McPhee, a few visual shocks and the hook any film with a snout in its poster gets for free. A film that gradually gets stuck with fast-and-hollow entertainment, one that fails to break the spell flying over dog-centric drama films, one with no pedigree.
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The Meg (2018)
6/10
A would-be underwater "Jurassic World" that revitalizes the US-China film deal
14 November 2018
Diving into the deep sea, Warner Bros. and Gravity Pictures release their latest Hollywood's big seasonal blockbuster. A prehistoric monster that is madly swallowing millions dollars because of three keystones: the first, of course, is the commercial hook a gigantic shark means in any cinema in any country around the world; the second, the "great cultural diversification" among the crew and cast in, from afar, an American-bodied mega-production, still, however, according to the box office results, it was enough for Chinese audiences to reward it with a boffo gross; and finally, Jason Statham, who claims his action-hero crown after kicking hundreds of asses as "Deckard Shaw" from longtime "Fast & Furious" film series and "Rick Ford" from Paul Feig's "Spy," two fabulous scowling characters that makes him an unfailing A-list movie star in the States. Pulling the gimmicks together wisely and promoting them worldwide freshly and genuinely, there was no doubt they were being cooking a powerful smash hit up, satisfying the less stringent moviegoer's guilty pleasures via an unapologetically over-the-top American blockbuster that never attempts to go above and beyond what it really is: a thoroughgoing popcorn finisher for the most flamboyant, unprejudiced film season of the year, B-movie entertainment of overwhelming visual magnitudes by dint of magnanimous visual effects, with charismatic enough characters to make up for the screenwriting inconsistency and dizzyingly clumsy narrative growing exponentially as the movie runs. Go and buy your ticket, then your snacks, lay back and relax, shut your brain off and get in the malevolent jaws of this B-movie giant-shark crowd-pleaser floating above Michael Bay's film style.

Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber and Dean Georgaris, adapting freely "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror," the first of a sci-fi novel series from American writer Steve Alten, pen a script devoid of any iota of soundness. With an artificially effective opening, the material is moderately convincing for non-connoisseurs, of course, until sanity fades and Hollywood spectacle take its place. This film is simply a big-budget 2 hour-long action/adventure exercise that wants you to have a blast, only that.

In "The Meg," the situations are absurd and ludicrous, tightening storytelling to a minimum; so, the first minutes in, hands up! The fun has started. It becomes pointless to analyze the script of a brainless big-budget film of this kind, where overly ambitious entertainment comes first. Picking up some defending animal and environmental welfare messages along this chaotic amalgam, it also deals with one moral dilemma put on the main character and a few underdeveloped political questions that come up to only be devoured by rogue waves. By and large, it's little more than an inanely gaiety, senselessly thrilling survival ride.

Strategic business or not, it severely differs from the adventure found on the pages written by the New York Times Bestselling author, swapping blood-filled attacks and raw scenarios for lighter sequences and humorous deaths which are as frustrating as amusing. Posters and official trailer as evidence to say much of the story takes place far away from shore, a matter commercial advertisements kept hidden at all cost and shattered the hopes of many for a giant-sized "Piranha 3-D," for an in-your-face big-budget splatterfest. The provocative savagery betokened from opening sequence takes place just in the last quarter of its running length, savagery quickly transmuting gracefulness. The long-gestating screen adaptation works out quite well this way; however, it once again exposes the growing studio tendency to attract a broader mass of viewers via "unjust misleading advertising;" just to be clear, this isn't as serious as "Crimson Peak," "Spring Breakers" or "Suicide Squad" marketing cases, because they only embraced the movie's fun and self-effacing tone, counterbalancing it with bold action and horror elements and putting them into the trailer. This time, despite drowning many fans who dreamed of an R-rated version, it shocked box office analysts. They're going to swim even quicker; get ready for a new franchise.

Statham's Jonas Taylor has an offbeat hero design for today's action genre, as they try to put on the usual layers of rudeness and heartlessness a few drops of morality and psychology that provide an insufficient yet favorable substance all over this delightful mess. There is no shortage of the habitual heroism that allows him to get minimally hurt from impossible feats; even so, the most unbelievable feature about this character is, just like his last two best roles, the ability to get rid of the prototype for a few seconds. In sum, Taylor is light years away from Ethan Hunt, but he could neither be sitting next to The Rock's Mitch Buchannon. Moreover, Jason Statham handles the movie excellently. The actor has been known for carrying his projects off, thus, his presence alone makes the viewer keep interested and invested if you even know who is going to die. Classic over-the-top action moments, hilarious one-liners and gratuitous shirtless scenes making up a fantastic popcorn film are also there.

This is a calculatedly produced, sold piece of entertainment and China also gets a good slice, it's called Bingbing Li. Suyin, a single mother who doesn't hesitate to do the unthinkable to save the lives of his crew, is the utter blend between warrior and damsel in distress, she portrays a self-contained woman with gusto and infuses just the right amount of romance and melodrama. Matching powerful female empowerment and diversity growing in all the American filmmaking fields, it's good to see two titles starring foreign actors topping the box office charts in the US and China ("Crazy Asians Rich" and "The Meg") and a couple of others with dissimilar dividends ( "A Simple Favor," "Searching" and "Mile 22"). These kinds of co-productions are the first steps that open new ways for audiences willing to expand their modern cinematic bias, a plan about to take off.

Here there is only one "antagonist" - from the prey-predator point of view, - however, the script toys with a kind of villain, an object more than a subject of little value for the plot, he's the perfect target to say witless jokes and catching the movie's cause-and-effect morality. Rainn Wilson holds the character up over an hour, a business-hungry billionaire whose funding has built the oceanic research station called Mana One; his helicopter arrival, wearing Nike Air shoes, speaks volumes. His character is just the guy who gets what gives, an insignificant addition that could have gone unnoticed if it hadn't been for Wilson's endeavor.

There is no denying Warner deftly crafts its pictures. This sumptuous C.G.I. fanfare could be the finest you'll see in a movie theater from a killer big fish blockbuster. Grant Major's production design is gargantuan, concordant with its gigantic budget ($130 million), creating a visual magnificence that propels and defends its nature: big, dumb action film.

"Changeling" Oscar-nominated cinematographer Tom Stern, who also worked in Clint Eastwood's Academy Award-winning "American Sniper," provides truly gorgeous frames for modern Hollywood scene, of course, the portentous 100-tonne prehistoric shark is useful to get this freshness. On the face of it, perhaps "The Meg" typifies American summer blockbuster, but even so, Stern gives it a special push, an arresting digital will. The ocean, imposing and immeasurable, is quite reserved along the first act, focusing on introducing the ultra-modern underwater research facility where much of the story takes place fluently; however, accompanied by a couple of huge surprises, this is the perfect insinuation for a new franchise; just to be clear, this shark isn't the only creature down there. Finishing the second act and halfway the third, the sharp teeth see the light of day, i.e., we finally got what we're waiting for, and, such a tremendous ride!. The whole art department does a fantastic job, especially the editing and art department, because without them in the equation, all of those millions would never have fallen so quickly into Warner Bros's jaw.

The Herculean set-pieces are compelled by Harry Gregson-Williams' soundtrack, mixing environmental and suspenseful compositions that are assembled with popular hits and '80s-'90s classics such as the Thai version of "Hey Mickey" by Toni Basil or "Beyond the Sea" by Bobby Darin, which endows it that nonchalant feeling, that PG-13 the executives have decided to embrace.

Unfortunately, the cinematic suspense is fair to middling, keeping in mind this vital ingredient must be handled masterfully in a film about, you know, a Megalodon. Setting aside Steven Spielberg's mandatory, unavoidable reference, it demonstrates careless tension building in the very first glance of the monster, the deaths aren't entirely imaginative and the encounters are far from memorable. This doesn't mean there is no iota of tension, there is, especially in the first act of the film, but Statham's heroism and Bingbing Li's bravery manage to save this key role.

"The Meg" by Jon Turteltaub is a late-summer playfully over-the-top blast. We're not witnessing this year's revolutionary event movie, we're in front of a dumb actioner that brings US-China co-production deals back up- something Matt Damon's "The Great Wall" couldn't achieve -due to its unbelievable profitability and shocking- for good -mixed response from the critics. Seriously, Turteltaub's Statham vs big fish storytelling doesn't need a closer look, save your strength. This is pure popcorn entertainment and it's one of this year's finest. Take the bait, turn off your brain and let this monumental profit-driven shark open wide its jaws and try, just try, devour you for nearly two hours.
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4/10
A franchise that succumbs without a taste of its own medicine: purgation
31 October 2018
With all the odds in its favor, Blumhouse has released its would-be summer hit in the form of a prequel of James DeMonaco's successful utopia - at least in box-office terms, - aiming at big dividends, mainly, in American cinemas. If this is true, then it'd surely mean the elongation of this overwhelmingly worn premise for a couple of more years on the big screen, not counting USA Network's TV series. "The First Purge," an origin film about the birth of the controversial law that has grossed almost USD$ 320 million since 2013, is, by far, one of the most generic, tasteless and violent movies of the company since, paradoxically, the highly ambitious second installment of this same franchise starring Carmen Ejogo and Frank Grillo.

In the eyes of audiences, the first "The Purge" was a true-blue phenomenon when it hit theatres because of its edgy, potential background, however, its true achievement was to be one of the founding productions of the magic formula that defines Jason Blum's studio: tight budgets, novel directors, juicy stories, generally, are equal to great films. With DeMonaco at the helm from the very first moment, it could well be attributed to him all the success, but also all the failures from an idea that has been slaughtered mercilessly. In times where overpopulation, war, racism, poverty and depletion of natural resources are problems grabbing headlines day after day, it's attractive, and at some point twisted, to turn and see a cinematographic fiction that raises as a "mediating" solution a 12-hour period in which everybody is absolved of legal consequences, all criminal activity is allowed, of course, among them, murder. After the screening, a feeling of dissatisfaction arises in the viewer in response to the decision of the film of embracing modern horror tropes and conventionalities and isolating of a context pulpy in commentaries.

The 2013 film used such a violent and controversial premise as a backdrop to build a torpid home-invasion, of course, set up in the typical white, well-off, dysfunctional family's high-tech home. The 2014 sequel was a survival thriller using the interesting core idea mainly as an axis to unfold and push the mundane plot, but also, to a lesser degree, to take their first and shaky steps towards appraisals on elite dominance. Some years later, the third entry came in with multiple advantages, including the ideal setting (American presidential elections) and the perfect release date (Independence Day in the States) both to expose a story to analyze, to criticize and, at least, to talk about the intriguing premise of a no-law America in order to make back its low budget just in its opening weekend, unfortunately, DeMonaco moved in the wrong direction, creating another obviously higher-budget survival thriller, keeping alive his tendency to project pictures with chances for iconicity, keeping alive his tendency to waste the possibilities of a dying franchise that, with a better script and execution, could have been the first award-worthy movie of the studio, long before Jordan Peele's visceral horror denunciation.

It was not so, however, motivated by the great numbers of "The Election Year" two years ago, the 10-year production Universal-Blumhouse deal started up as soon as possible a movie to "close" this agonizing circle. Will loyal audiences turn away from the very first film to be starred almost entirely by African American actors? Will they finally deal the final blow to knock down the misdirected, greedy hopes of these two studies to keep on lining their pockets at the expense of cinematographically offensive offerings? Let's see it.

"The First Purge" is probably the first and unique of the entire franchise that has a really considerable social-commentary dose, still and all its thick-headedness and inefficiency, since if it is compared with its predecessors/successors, Gerard McMurray strives to say something- via bestial, outrageous scenes that find a solution in controversial violence -about caustic inequality, race snobbery, political manipulation and bigotry, all clumsily enclosed in a political bubble that, strangely, never bursts. In his two films, McMurray's always managed to acquire perspectives stirring self-assessment and social feedback, but just as his Netflix grim drama debut "Burning Sands," he comes unstuck overcoming the rulebook of the genre in which his stories are contained to deliver better stuff than many other directors have tried to deliver, especially the black filmmakers.

DeMonaco taking a back seat in favor of a "new" voice brings on drastic changes into the narrative and visual field; a moderately healthy decision. Although he doesn't enrich the mythos, neither fortifies its origins, he delivers a balanced approach in content but unbalanced in quality, put another way, crafting terrifying pictures takes second place in order to raise an unsatisfactory plotting deepening; unfortunately, neither of the two fields gets truly good treatment. On this occasion, the film doesn't know what it is, a "Get-Out"-ish social freak out or an unsurprising survival thriller, a dilemma drowned, as usual, by a range of ear-shattering stings. This movie is a shame, bearing in mind that the last hopes were put on this undecided prequel; apparently, one more franchise with wasted chances to transcend its entertainment barriers.

From the beginning, this entry fought against one of the most heavy-going obstacles to this-day popular universe-expanding prequels: We already know the end of the story. For this reason, the script, penned by DeMonaco, should defend itself with a standalone-yet-interesting story, tough enough to keep stand from the very first scenes, one nourished by nerve-shatteringly tense sequences, with plot devices developing and evolving the narration altogether, a story with clever, human characters getting rid of hackneyed races against time. Small wonder that it doesn't come out victorious from this requirement. The characters, far from throwing away modern action film stereotypes, are easy preys to meaningless, cat's paws running around and butchering to preserve their lives. Fortunately, unlike the thousands of mindless horror offerings out there, here the relationships between the characters involve a sense of humanity, which automatically causes that, at some point in the film, we worry about the fate of these fictitious individuals.

Peculiarly, antagonistic weight doesn't fall on a fixed actor, rather strongly belongs to wicked government intervention distorting the already nefarious experiment. This is one of its few strong suits, however, much like characters, the shallowness of this "villain" doesn't even try to fight audience's predictions, falling into "race against the clock" field over and over again, a lost race.

Y'lan Noel plays the tritely cold-blooded gangster/action hero in a good way, with a strange charm that ends up echoing among the audience. Unfortunately, Dimitri, his character, is portrayed as a violent, vengeful man, two adjectives that clash with the notion of savior in this kind of film. Lex Scott Davis is who delivers the best performance, even if her character is nothing but another indomitable girl; alright, she gets a special plotting push, but, in the end, is one more final girl saved by a super-man. Mugga, the usual Afro-American comedy-horror comic-relief, does quite well her work, is a positive addition to the melodrama that bathes part of the story.

I'm absolutely confident that this film will be remembered for two huge disasters: one, R.I.P. promising premise; two, an unfairly wasted Marisa Tomei. They've muted Tomei's character and that's an unforgivable mistake. In the first two acts, the creative mind behind this "social catharsis" doesn't say more than six lines - the first one, in front of an egregious green screen -and as soon as the third act kicks off, a certain "twist" takes place and destroys everything. Marvel's new Aunt May could have been a dream villain, clearly, with a worthy-of-respect design and treatment; alas, it was the greatest sin of a ramshackle tragedy.

"The First Purge" by Gerard McMurray is just another run-of-the-mill thriller; a rushed B-movie throwback that doesn't even set up DeMonaco's gloomy, eye-catching visual spectacle. But, at the very least, it does achieve to deliver an obtuse edge of complexity to a premise that was on its last legs, burying a meaty context that hardly will resurface, at least, with brand-new stuff. After an insufferably lengthy period of almost seven hours - the four films' runtime belonging to this franchise, - something has happened: the experiment has expired. Mixing together DeMonaco's ever-aggressive pulp imagery and McMurray's improvement of some storytelling purposes, a perversely violent-yet-juicy cinematic cocktail may have come out from all this madness, unfortunately, said utopia will never be a reality; the experiment is over.
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6/10
A cuddly but low-spirited studio drama about imagination in adulthood
31 October 2018
Disney executives are in a wonderland adapting the company's oldest and most memorable tales to live-action times as a mainly corporate, suspiciously motivated move. Since the beginning- not back in 1994, but 2014, -they've been responsible for popularizing the term among the majors in the American film industry. The closest example would be the overhyped 2017 Bill Condon-directed reboot "Beauty and the Beast," a picture that, apart from being one of the most buoyant films of that year grossing more than $1bn worldwide, quenched the fantasy thirst of both staunch fanatics and causal cinemagoers, who encouraged Disney to give a green light to upcoming diverse family re-adaptations, nourishing, as a side effect, Hollywood's limited creativeness and unlimited greed.

The newest live-action/computer-animated outing drifts into unexpected ideas by discarding the possibility of adapting told stories to the silver screen, instead, it borrows the emblematic characters to make them the leading gang of an untold adult-life story without prejudice and ambition. The anthropomorphic, teddy bear from Alan Alexander Milne's children's books arrives in worldwide theaters accompanied by his well-known friends for one more adventure. Set in mid-20th century London, England, this time it is looking for the catatonic imagination of 40-year-old Christopher Robin; he isn't a child anymore, now is fully immersed in work, away from home, away from Ashdown's grayish afternoons lulling the forests, he's left behind his younger years. There's no room for fantasy, isn't it? Look back, folks.

Certainly, Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson have written a drama aimed at adult audiences, those who grew up with the books and Disney's eternal adaptations, leaving limited space for new audiences who want to fall in love with the beloved characters for the first time. It stumbles up clear-as-water similarity with the "Toy Story" franchise by John Lasseter and Oscar-winning "Inside Out" by Pete Docter regarding plot development and its usual devices. Anyhow, the film gets a good push of humor, charisma, and vitalism into the situations in order to kids don't feel lost along this constructive trip, from adulthood to childhood. Forster's picture works on the same line as Peter Sohn's "The Good Dinosaur," mainly for an underlying simplicity to their structures; it's a straight way that doesn't hesitate until reaching its final point, arousing tolerable predictability that doesn't matter by the fact that we're encountering one more time with those plush animals that took us by the hand once. It keeps under control a cunning lucidness until the third act comes, then it rushes into an inflated ending that leaves no time to analyze the corresponding takeaway, euphoria risking everything.

The six-handed (Allison Schroeder, Tom McCarthy and Alex Ross Perry) screenplay is loaded with naïvely effective punchlines, provided mainly by Pooh, a kind of adorable comic-relief. Every character gains a strictly defined design, faithful to the previous films, series and books. Eeyore's taciturnity and discouragement injects a kind of tenderness that benefits the character's bonding; Piglet's shyness plays in a different field that Eeyore's, since his pristine innocence hooks the spectator into the adventure; Rabbit, Kanga, Owl and Roo surprisingly remain in the background, giving much more screen time to the four most famous animals created by the English author. Although every time the plush characters are on screen all the attention is theirs, Christopher Robin's the vehicle the film wants for us to live the experience. A middle-class grown-up, drowned in work, a father who has forgotten to dream, is the ideal device to narrate this 'become-a-child-again' story. A well-written- much better casted -character, who goes through the required development phases and, at the end, he's a fully different, better man than he was at the beginning, that is to say, he fulfills his role as protagonist; yet the absence of an overwhelming appeal causes audiences to lose focus on his personal journey to focus on the oddly fun episodes featuring his animated friends and his little girl, especially the convoluted final act, a two-edged sword.

Pay close attention to the peculiar animation style, a hyper-realistic CGI/live-action hybrid that endorses an emphatically unique appearance, even if you have the notion they're not living things throughout the screening, but computer-animated stuffed animals finding life in human-like moves, gestures and behaviors; another artistic beauty by Disney. Production design is visually commendable, recreating mid-1950's Britain truthfully, permeating every frame with moribund post-World War II hostility, of course, filtered by the company's standards. Despite that, they decide to set much of the plot in the shadowy British fields, where tenuity bathes the smallest elements. Matthias Koenigswieser's cinematography could be considered as the darkest, but equally captivating among Disney live-action pictures, thus taking the top place from Dean Semler by "Maleficent," since that lugubrious heaviness emanating the landscapes creates frames with historical precision, closer to reality than fantasy. The soundtrack by Geoff Zanelli and Jon Brion breathes magic at times, they're pieces embellishing pictures, not standing out from them; an unsurprising, nice score that is in tune with the visuals.

And there's a first-class vocal cast here, counting among its ranks genius voice actors as Jim Cummings, Toby Jones or Peter Capaldi, who with their voices immediately take us back to the past, into a world of hopefulness. The voice ranges and their corresponding nuances represent characters properly, which allows the story to come to life and gives a nostalgic edge that encourages the viewer to stay on. Ewan McGregor, without fail, delivers a good Robin, he goes through a medium-quality personal transformation and despite his half-baked charisma and prominent harshness, his performance is warmly acceptable yet unlikely an Oscar-contender. Hayley Atwell is an out-and-out waste of talent with a supporting role that makes us wonder that after "Marvel's Agent Carter" was canceled by ABC, this gifted British actress must find worthy roles, one that makes her shine and not become one more shadow of a male figure.

"Christopher Robin" by Marc Forster is an unambitious, straight drama offering that forgets dreaming with a premise that could have set up a stunning live-action re-imagination of one of the most emblematic classics in children's entertainment industry. Still, the irrepressible, powerful charisma of the animated characters, their occurrences and the amusing over-the-top final sequence will prove a pleasant experience that puts flawed but needed dramatic development throughout its first two acts. Emphatically, Forster seems to stick to the script they've written for him, perhaps it was his chance to be part of the Disney family or perhaps it was a personal dream that failed to connect with audiences as well as expected.
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9/10
Tom Cruise will never die
17 October 2018
By their own efforts, force-sensitive scavenging Jedis; vengeful ladies with psychokinetic skills and enhanced mental abilities or lethal combat prowess from ancient Chinese martial arts; drivers with good values ready for any racing madness involving high speed; young people experiencing memory or hearing problems thirsty for the adrenaline of a car, a motorbike, a yacht or a punch; supermen, superwomen, villains and anti-heroes who fight for stability defending their beliefs about peace, truth, love, hope, justice, "law" and chaos staunchly; top-secret agents/spies wearing elegant attire that, most of the time, emerge victorious from their missions; retired assassins who forcibly return to 'the Continental Hotel' by a puppy incident and characters and/or animated heroes who save continents, countries, cities, friends and families deserve their due respect and recognition both in the industry and in the history of film. However, suddenly, the sassy boldness and unstoppable charm of the IMF agent who leads, legally or illegally, impossible agency missions have helped to shape one of the best action/adventure films of the 21st century and, sans nul doute, the best actioner since George Miller's 2015 multi-Oscar-winning post-apocalyptic masterpiece. Hence, critics, cinephiles and moviegoers alike are greeting it with raves, comparing the latest and most barbaric adventure of Hunt and his team - save William Brandt played by Jeremy Renner, who was committed heart and soul to Marvel Studios - to modern-classic "Mad Max: Fury Road" for its mastery assembling and disassembling heart-stopping sequences and to the Christopher Nolan DC trilogy, especially with Warner's 2008 classic "The Dark Knight," for its courage to deal with sore, meaningful purposes with a firm hand and mind-blowing ideas, piling layer after layer on the characters and the plot.

To the rhythm of the all-time original theme by Argentine Lalo Schifrin - which was written in full in a three-minute period, a true impossible mission, - "Jack Reacher" filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie immerses us in the plot, getting down to the moral issues, picking up the timeline alongside most of the well-known characters after an undisclosed time since the events of "Rogue Nation," presenting the main mission that will lead our fav spies to venture into the most imposing wonders in the world, dreamscapes where explosive surprises will take place, playing around with the bad and good guys in a progressive whipsaw that will end in a devilishly old-school twist, vitalizing via "hyper-Hitchcockian" anticipations that cement solid intrigue and interest in one of the most eye-popping, high-impact set-pieces you'll see this year.

Moviemaking, good moviemaking is a joint process in which hundreds of agents play a role in favor of making the vision of a single individual a reality, the director is that individual. McQuarrie isn't oblivious to good, grandiloquent action extravaganzas, that's for sure, he isn't oblivious to equally coherent and captivating narrative constructions, or much less, to team up with Cruise, either directly or indirectly. On the basis of the foregoing, with irrefutable logic, it's correct to affirm that, in fact, he isn't oblivious to "Mission: Impossible," being responsible for the direction and writing of the fifth (previous) installment of the saga. This filmmaker not only has the necessary qualities to pull off another strong Abrams-produced production, but also finds time to expand his scope as a screenwriter while giving his own personal seal as an artist with powerful and always focused additions that embellish the cinematic process in a fascinating way. In addition to enjoying a clear magic directing actors on set, the Oscar-winning writer knows exactly when and how to move the gears for each genre, has the precise measurement of baking for either a drama or comedy moment, knows how to intersperse clear, static and fast shots to compose unrelenting sequences, knows how to keep his vision alive, knows that taking real risks is necessary and, in short, knows how to direct mega-productions with verve and conviction. McQuarrie makes this sixth installment go forward and not backward as usually happens with sequels, as keeps the whole movie moving, everything spins and works like a Swiss watch, with precision, fast pace and poise. According to many viewers, we're in front of the best film in the series, and taking into consideration the not-so-low standards of the succession of films started by Brian de Palma in 1996, one of the best sagas in the history of action film.

His direction is an indisputable harmony, ears and eyes alike enjoy the excellent work carried out despite the difficulties that arose throughout the shooting, however, his role is greater by accrediting as the only screenwriter, his boldness, odds in favor, gets wonderful results for contemporary Hollywood cinema. Hunt receives a story that, albeit not break the usual spy canons where the game of cat and mouse is a constant or where the 'no-one-is-what-they-seem-to-be' formula comes to light in the third act, it's a treatment pushing him to unusual edges, causing the emergence of issues that involve and mix the moral with the ethical, deeper and more interesting dilemmas that compel him to think more than once what he's about to do. To sum things up, the screenwriter bestows three-dimensionality, he's thought of as a human being in spite of his extravagant actions, a human cornered not only by a trio of nuclear bombs.

This leads us to the fast-paced twist the plot itself becomes. McQuarrie provides well-defined resolutions from the beginning to create new ones with such sensitivity and understanding that hardly anyone can anticipate that true-blue heart-stopping last thirty minutes. It's an incredibly harmonized screenplay between character development and exposition of the events that conceives an impressive spy movie, the best of its kind since the billion-dollar Sam Mendes-directed film "Skyfall."

An A-1 mainstream film must represent each feature of the script to the screen in the best way possible, however, an A-1 mainstream actioner must articulate smoothly the above with, of course, emblematic sequences. Every new movie in the 22-year franchise provides substantial added value coming in the form of legendary Tom Cruise, a true super-man who categorically rejects the use of stunt performers for his high-risk scenes. Modesty apart, Cruise is an actor who, literally and figuratively, gets under Ethan Hunt's skin, he's Hunt, thus becoming one of the few stars who perform their own action scenes today in Hollywood. This time, forget scratches and bruises, an on-set ankle injury has called him, an accident that halted the movie's shooting until his health improved - as a curious note, the editing team incorporated the sequence of the accident in the final cut for honoring the feats of the American idol. -

But the cinematic push is further enhanced by the perfect, high-standard motion picture film format: IMAX 3D. Lower-voltage scenes get a drastically reduced ratio and the hyperactive, dangerous, bold acrobatics by Mr. Cruise make full use of the overwhelming magnitudes of the screen, stepping up the immersive experience with a sound system as surround as only IMAX can do, conveying sensations of emotion and adrenaline, mixtures between danger and intrigue that, even knowing in advance that our hero is practically immortal, deliver a two-hour heart attack. Forget theme parks, run to watch Christopher McQuarrie's latest, non-stop action-packed movie!

Drawing upon some landscapes and townscapes of India, UK, France and New Zealand, Rob Hardy, a modern cinematography maestro who has built artistic sci-fi gems such as "Annihilation" and "Ex Machina," places his exquisite style in a setting far from fantasy, getting artfully neat visuals on its objectives with high levels of elegance, sobriety and magnetism on costume and production design, in the old-fashioned Parisian streets or the crushing European dreamscapes. Commitment by each and every one of the members of the huge technical and artistic team is awe-inspiring, they esteem a big budget, and, moreover, prioritize film's artistic purpose over the ever-lurking avidity for extravagant grosses.

There are few cases where a commercial advertisement transcends beyond its purpose, here one of the best examples. The creators of the trailer released during Super Bowl LII must not only headline the year-end best trailers lists by critics and movie reviewers, but receive a true award for their exceptional, exceptional work. Although few talk about this kind of stuff in their reviews, the perfectly matched 2-minute stunner made by highly skilled trailer makers deserves it; one of the best trailers of this decade.

"Mission: Impossible-Fallout" by Christopher McQuarrie smashes, on several occasions and ways, big-budget action movie tropes much like contemporary classics do, moving away from the artificiality of danger to get fully into building a true-blue adrenaline rush. In these times, making high-quality action films in Hollywood has become an impossible feat, putting the blame on plotting emptiness and tech breakthroughs that bury a good narrative. However, with an overlong period of time in between, mainstream gems serendipitily flourishes trying to propose through risks. That is what makes this "MI" entry to take part in the select, coveted must-see top of the last eighteen years. Film doesn't falsify reality, imitates it, for this reason, those breathtaking, stunning- in the vast majority truthful -set-pieces are an out-of-this-world experience, where suspense, adrenaline and enjoyment are involuntary reactions to a cinematic cocktail everyone should see. A spectacular, unforgettable roller-coaster ride that vitalizes a billion-dolar spy franchise, a triumph that must be experienced in the largest IMAX screen.
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5/10
Dinosaurs are endangered by J.A. Bayona
25 September 2018
Before finalizing its drawn-out closing credits, I witnessed a thank-you line alone in the dark, with an exquisite composition in its very last seconds before the post-credits scene, a first name and a surname that encompass the most appreciable and single improvement that can be highlighted in the eyes of common viewers: Guillermo del Toro. Clearly, in addition to their friendship and unbreakable 'orgullo'- written in Spanish, - they both share advice on the different audiovisual projects that they carry out, from the most imperceptible details to the most important ones, in this case: the stifling atmosphere that inundates the whole pic for everybody's enjoyment, Bayona' and Del Toro's imagery.

"Fallen Kingdom," always lewdly ruled by an unthinkable narrative incongruity and a soaring fandango in the devices used to move forward the plot, is a progression of varying-quality set-pieces differing from the increasing suspenseful anticipations from start to finish. Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona described the second installment of this new 'Jurassic' trilogy as the darkest, most gothic in the entire saga in the months prior to its release, and there's nothing more than truth in his words, at least, in most of the taut action sequences on the island and the mansion. Even with MPAA's PG-13 rating as a "restriction," Bayona and cinematographer Oscar Faura find ways to bath the film in an unco survival horror from the middle of the second act, and although it suffers from a wounding disconnection between the genres it handles, artistically feeds off the wonderful camera work, a wild color palette and Michael Giacchino's uncommonly weak soundtrack that gets its only point of glory in the variations of the original franchise theme. Avoiding tooth and nail internet since the review embargo was over and the moment when the first teaser came out, just a few details and core info reached my ears. Having as basis the 2015 Hollywood prequel, huge surprises were predicted for this new entry, and although the writing was an unhopeful horizon, the visual potential was the main prey for depredators, but even with a fabulous crew, such hopes faded away once the movie is over. By far, only three pics are memorable by their artistic magnificence, a deeply disappointing conclusion in an entertaining mess.

Regardless of the result, J.A. Bayona has just made his debut in the cinematic monster called Hollywood. Besides the huge pressure coming from the exorbitant budget - estimated at 170-187 billion, - the director from Barcelona got in his hands the weight bestowed by one of the most famous, emblematic science fiction sagas in history of cinema. Apparently, in the new round of films predominates the objectification of the "aggressive dinos -" a thesis radically opposed to, at least, the original principles by Spielberg - and it prioritizes high grosses rather than a good, fitting storytelling process, but the filmmaker sets up his unusual blockbuster at a very high price, dynamizing what Colin Trevorrow's entertaining roller coaster ride already did quite well and destabilizing his own vision with a very poorly matched plot; a decadent, pernicious pace; mediocre characters; performances deprived of charisma and an ever-growing succession of flaws and/or inconsistencies in the script that only provoke idealizations by fans about this sequel if all of the above would have been otherwise. After all, Bayona is a true artist endowed with overwhelming visuals and powerful emotionality that permeates his fantasy tales that cause a very personal, enjoyable experience, however, for example, unlike the creative freedom put on the powerful, tearing fantastic fable starring Lewis MacDougall, this time Universal only used his ideas and features in the soaring atmosphere.

Relegating Chris Patt's natural charm to give the chance a "comic-relief" as clumsy as uninteresting is one of its biggest cons, fortifying it with the weak performances of the leading actors and some one-liners lacking in effect. The most discussed issue of the previous film was Claire's footwear, fleeing through a muddy jungle or the high-tech park, this time, naysayers will have reasons to criticize because she becomes the typical, currently unwanted damsel in distress that must be rescued by a man, displaying even an artificial and totally unnecessary "romantic" moment. Even coming from good actors, the performances are medium-quality. The leading actors, even more, their chemistry, the little spark from the first film. They intend to get it back by means of no-more-of-forty-second interactions. Many of the characters are deprived of their essence and potential on screen: Chris Pratt gives up his inherent comic-factor for being the hero; Daniella Pineda pretends to be the very first LGBT character but they are afraid to show it; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't get a significant plot weight beyond being the target for deception; and Justice Smith is entrusted with a repellent, tasteless character, there is no force in performances or characters here; a really harmful feature.

In short, the best scenes are the only two starring Jeff Goldblum - any similarity, on a marketing level, with what Warner Bros. and DC did "Suicide Squad" Jared Leto's Joker, is coincidental. - Was it necessary to see two hours of high-sounding melodies and determined truly beautiful pictures to say: "Welcome to the Jurassic World"? If it's a matter of curiosity, love and fidelity to Bayona and Trevorrow, I'm in, otherwise, I'm out.

Here, one more case in which the power of a real test-screening is disdained. This film's test-screening was the approval of Steven Spielberg and the positive reception of Marvel Studios' Spider-Man Tom Holland's family. Of course, and according to the director, both parts loved the final cut, however, if the film had been evaluated with a wider range of testers, oblivious to the director's acquaintances, many misfortunes would have been avoided.

It's not possible to disclaim the amazing cinematography and certain high-tension set-pieces that give you goosebumps in "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" by J.A. Bayona, in the same way, it's fair to appreciate the neat construction of some atmospheres brimming with suspense and mainstream-horror-genre tropes that embed their claws with intolerable tenacity. Although moderately efficient and unusual by the "Jurassic" franchise, the darkness and drama the director intends to endow his story don't get a truly effect due to, first of all, the PG-13 barrier between its purposes, and secondly, the discrepancy between the menacing pictures and the frightened script that obviously prevails when it's evaluated as a whole. The fingers of one hand can be useful to count the qualities in favor of this uneven, disappointing sequel, a movie that opens the way for the upcoming, barnstorming cinematic climax. Once more a blockbuster with little soul and a lot of pyrotechnics that will surely be an overseas summer box office smasher thanks to an instinctively striking, aggressive mise-en-scène and the hook provoked by the magnetic leading duo - Pratt and his lizards - however, it will sink in with respect to the summer competitors due to unfunny, medium-quality performances, a short-of-innovation soundtrack, and a simply poor, disjointed narrative and storyline. All this coming to the conclusion that the worst sin committed by this film was to fetter freedom to an artist, in every sense of the word. J. A. Bayona was able to achieve big, praiseworthy things, such as taming the wildest beasts of entertainment.
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Incredibles 2 (2018)
8/10
"Incredibles 2" upholds the Parrs as one of the best families in the history of cinema
23 September 2018
Luck or fate, my childhood, like those of thousands of human beings, was strongly influenced by Disney/Pixar's wonderful, sophisticated tales, which I saw on TV without any prejudice or criticism over and over again, movies that always were a healthy, high-quality entertainment. If I revisit these films today, I can possibly question certain aspects due to the passage of time and that's completely natural because a flick can be perceived in a myriad of ways according to age, mood or state of mind of the viewer. One thing that definitely seems to have been proven with unfading solidity is the thought that they're truly complex audiovisual works, these movies were the beginning of a kinetic digital era for animation genre that currently keeps going on both destroying box office expectations and exciting and teaching the new children with creativeness, passion, and effort. Although not all Disney-Pixar-made movies of the 21st century are modern classics, there are time-worthy pieces of art with visual tidiness and original, heartfelt storyline execution that keep alive- and many nonfans have complained about this - the 'Disney formula' that inspires hope, union, forgiveness and improvement.

That's why the first movie of the Parr family is so intimately untouchable for me, just like a few others beautiful animated films. Even with its unimportant flaws, it saved the 2000's superhero genre and set some rules to follow for the following animation stories thanks to one of the most powerful, meaningful, family-friendly screenplays in the industry, minimizing the margin of error as for the effect of the plot in worldwide audiences; this is one more Disney-Pixar feature-length for the ages.

A sequel was a high-risk move on the part of the company that produced major concerns among die-hard fans. On the one hand, for example, we have the Andrew Stanton-directed sequel/spin-off "Finding Dory" as a reference, but the Dory-centric movie was far from reaching the impact of Marlin's ocean trek. However, on the other hand, "Toy Story 2" by John Lasseter, former creative chief at Pixar and Disney, found the magic formula to enhance the good features from the first film and mix them with interesting, new improvements, turning into a truly computer-animated marvel. When it was announced that Brad Bird would direct this new story, things quieted down a bit, and after knowing the time between one film and the other - just 14 years!, - everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Today, it's possible to find out what kind of work was made along this time and, to tell the truth, the final cut manages to stand alone due to the return of the original vocal cast, the preservation of the 2000's animation style, a superhero family story with interesting repercussions and a few features that, although don't overshadow some detrimental decisions, at least, reach a good conclusion with a harmony of different genres not so miscible in that scenario.

"Incredibles 2" is an important film, a smart sequel that enriches its animated universe through a radically contrasting plot that refreshes the Hollywood-era animation, superhero scene. Even when we've seen movies driven by gender-swapped thematics between daughter and mother ("Freaky Friday"), criminal guy and mean girl ("The Hot Chick") or married man and single friend ("The Change-Up"), most of these body-life switches were, first of all, comedies, but also provoked by some kind of magic object or spell, as a fortune cookie, a pair of earrings or peeing in a sacred fountain. On this occasion, the same characters are who will switch roles by their own due to money crisis, survival compels them to make great efforts, just like a real-world family. Putting narcissistic, kind-of-sexist Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible in check when his wife takes on a fabulous new job is a risky plotting move that, even if it sounds cliché, allows the story to argue that household chores and family issues aren't easy work or responsibility of a single member.

As for the family as a whole, the film gets a myriad of ways to use the comedy potential of every member with every-day, representative situations which take advantage of the well-defined personalities to set up hilarious sequences. Dash is, in some way, sidelined with humor focused on his lines this time. However, it puts a greater importance on Violet, who with her impossible-love sub-plot fit in with ease. But, no one can deny it; Jack-Jack steals the entire film by being one of the funniest, cutest characters this year. Math, breakups, dinner, household chores, and an adorable baby have never been better in an animated film.

Clearly, mom is the boss here; she gets the spotlight, a woman who's forced to lay aside her children and husband for an indefinite period to "make supers legal again." There is a strong, meaty commentary/fictional debate on the issue of the legalization of superheroes, a purpose going through several discussion-worthy obstacles. Helen, the new focal point in the plot, blissfully becomes one of the strongest rocks of this sequel because there are insufficient animated films that place a woman in the starring role with such priceless storyline skills. It's an important step in female representation in kids-oriented cinema to see not only how a woman monopolizes the whole story, but also the way they change the stereotyped conception of mother; likewise, just a few decisions feel synthetic as the story takes the right time for Bird's distinctive approach and development on the visual and narrative section, a balance where comedy takes place at home mainly, whereas the most dramatic events takes place among the streets of the huge metropolis. At a given time along the movie, Voyd, the Kristen Stewart-inspired character voiced by Sophia Bush, questions Elastigirl about how it she can level her life as a heroine, mom and wife, and although it's never answered by her, the film itself provides the answer.

While Mr. Parr does household chores, Elastigirl accepts to reintegrate in the field, just like that heroine dressed in red and white who kicked the asses of pickpockets and thieves some years ago. Brushing transient lawbreakers aside, the Screenslaver is her main target, a new-age antagonist that serves as a stark commentary on crowd control by media info day to day. This villain plays his role in an interesting way, at least until the predictable big twist takes place, from that moment on, the "bad guy" must recover strength from any situation in order to get back the threatening sense he was during the first fifty minutes.

Special mention for a couple of iconic characters who have the right to be part of the modern-day pop-culture as for animation field. That's right, it's the meanly charming Edna Mode, who, ironically, steals the show completely just as the first film with her upset, super-rich visionary costume designer thanks to the writers' witty work. But alongside Jack-Jack, who supports on his tiny shoulders the best visual gags, they're an explosive duo, in matters of comedy, of course. It will be no surprise that it's already insinuating their own movie, however, Disney has the things clear, and that makes us happy.

The animation isn't at the same level of detail as the most visually complex feats of the company, but it isn't by reason of a poorly-crafted work, is because the film sets just some minutes after the first feature film, that is to say, they decide to remain in the same timeline of 14 years ago, safeguarding its textures and animation styles, holding true to the simplicity of the features at that time, a world where realism doesn't have to be part of the equation. There are a few eye-popping landscapes; on the contrary, the film stays in urban settings to develop most of the plot. Truly unforgettable, beautiful sequences can be counted on the fingers of one hand, there are only a handful of important pictures, the best frame: An exhausted Bob going upstairs carrying his two boys in his arms, a visual poem that finds beauty in the emotional. It's understandable that Pixar doesn't deliver a visually arresting experience, but there is a character who went too far, id est, he looked like I was looking at a 2005 video game character, his expressions were made of rubber. It's Bob Odenkirk's character, Winston Deavor, he's of wax.

Leaving much to be desired with his "Fallen Kingdom" score, Michael Giacchino takes the throne back with the habitual power, experience in most of his soundtracks. A composer with more than 128 credits divided by video games, shorts and feature films, Giacchino creates again an excellent soundtrack for this animated sequel, one that is equally effective and exciting in both the most dazzling set-pieces and the simpler, dramatic scenes, there is passion in the melodies, which don't stay behind the pictures, they even got the spotlight in some set-pieces, modernized but faithful compositions. Another towering work of a towering composer.

"Incredibles 2" by Brad Bird is an unusual sequel, as it knows how to transmute into a Hollywood modern motion picture by using a mold that respects the universe built fourteen years ago. For a certainty, its greatest virtues are found in the priceless female importance, the skillful editing that balances comedy and drama as only Pixar can do, a super-absorbing soundtrack and an enchanting narrative treatment that simply would not be possible without Bird's experience, the numerous crew and the incredible vocal cast led by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Catherine Keener. Brimming with messages of representation, equality, family and topicality, this laugh-inducing family-friendly sequel is a step forward for animation and superhero genre, and another knockout for a company that honors its gems of yesteryear, that goes hand in hand with new technologies and its roots, that roots that were the awakening of a new era.
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Hereditary (2018)
9/10
God Save Ari Aster!
5 September 2018
It's all true. Ari Aster's psychologically brutal and unnerving directorial debut is a supernatural film feat conjured up by a convincing perspective that extracts from spiritism, demonology and necromancy a sufficiently disturbing mythology to perturb your mind with one of the best developed indie horror films of the new century, there are visual and storytelling magic. It's insufficient to say that it gets under your skin as soon as the credits roll, leaving a bad omen and unusual insecurity today in films that only will get away with a sinister tongue-clicking noise. The darkest perversity lurks behind familiar faces.

Little known among the mainstream audiovisual world, Aster - New York, 1987 - began to carve out a niche for himself in the field with his meaningful and bizarre short films ("The Strange Thing About The Johnsons"), those that were enough inducements for production company A24 to grant its support to make possible his outstanding, scary debut into the world of celluloid. Credited as the single director and screenwriter - a strangely uncommon guarantee bearing in mind the unbelievable fruits, - this American filmmaker, an absolute new prey for the major studios, consolidates his idea and career with overwhelming solvency, exquisite certainty and necessary tranquility to freak us out; the control he has over the cinematographic tools he possesses is masterful, it's perceptible with every strange, purposeful scene in which the command of camera, script and actors become cardinal handholds to confer tremendous impact on a darkly penetrating family tragedy seen from the outside, but with a sharper review lies an inquisitive and traumatizing story of loss, forgiveness, sanity, family, union and, best of all, human and inhuman demons.

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival was the first to build the wings to this psychological horror film to fly high, provoking an uncommon buzz for the genre since Jennifer Kent's "The Babadook" premiered in the 2014 edition at midnight. Universal acclaim diffused by an effervescent mouth-to-mouth, critics' reviews or festival attendees' comments that crammed social media; honors geared directly toward the endeavor of two people in particular: Toni Collette and Ari Aster; but that would be a clearly shrink, incorrect avowal minimizing the set of visceral strengths constituting an incredible whole.

Broadly speaking, the first big step corresponds to the excellent plot writing. As a good modern-day horror flick, the argumental lifeblood is found when you delve deeper its façade, the treasure about everybody are talking is in the metaphorical content, cloaked by obscurity and restlessness weaving the film. This entails a strong, intrinsic necromantic approach to the spiritual world, in fact, this is the main propeller of the plot; also, besides this fruitful, appealing core theme, a pessimistic and powerful family drama takes place, through which conscientiously walk mental health issues, mourning, pain, family chains, the importance of being part of a group and the responsibility it involves. But as a good modern-day horror flick, it must also work just as well if it's watched from the outside, and here all the elements are in the precise order to a nerve-racking experience for the most unwilling viewer, of course, patience arises as the main requirement. On that subject is where it works at its best. From the beginning, it sets up what kind of atmosphere the filmmaker will handle throughout the film, for example, as tension-builder master David Robert Mitchell did in "It Follows." The opening scene with a panning movement alongside Annie's working room, the lead role, urges to plunge into her miniature haunted house, a place where death really means death. This is a resource the film mostly respects, showing it with the importance the spectator requires, because unlike "It Comes At Night" by Trey Edward Shults from the same production house, The most hard-to-watch scenes don't end up being a kind of vision or nightmare sooner or later, the story takes them down as a significant and irreversible reality, is the fate of the game, a future marked by King Paymon; once you're selected, you cannot do anything.

The film, as a whole, is a frightening and constantly shocking experience, however, being objective and selective, there are about five sequences simply rewarding, frame after frame with a pace and a surprise factor pathetically horrific that leaves you with your mouth wide open for more than an entire minute, you certainly don't understand why that just happened, but once you're sufficiently related to the characters and the mythology, this fantastic state of shock makes sense. In said sequences, the great affection and respect to the big, seldom-remembered horror classics through narrative executions are noticeable, however, "Annabelle: Creation" came to my mind at the time when we all literally lose our heads; Edward Shults' psychological horror thriller also got reminiscences obviously; "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" in its natural ability to disturb in no time at all or Robert Eggers' incredible unsettling debut with "The VVitch: a New-England Folktale," and there are a lot of similarities in there.

That ending, that ending is as mind-boggling and irrationally powerful as firs-timer Eggers's. An insane, schizophrenic third act prepares the ground for a monumental conclusion, one neatly written, astonishing and exciting splashing drops of horror situation after another. The tension is visceral and well-built, it makes you uncomfortable even when apparently nothing happens on screen; that ending is, without stock, one of the best in a real horror film since 2016. Drawing on grimoires to a tragedy plot is a tricky task and whoever wants to set a film on it should be sufficiently prepared and aware that it must deliver a coherent, cohesive and juicy story, faithful to the difficult supporting material and the hopes of the most loyal moviegoers. It bets on the anger and the search of one of the kings of hell: Paimon, who with 200 legions to govern, an ostentatious crown, a dromedary and an effeminate face, is considered one of the most obedient to Lucifer. If you thoroughly investigate who he is and his purposes, most of the complex narrative will get meaning, well, most of it, for sure; and although it seems that the magic of the film ends here, there is still some metaphorical study material to break down, in which it's necessary to decipher what's true and what's not. Is all this really about a mental illness legacy? family issues? is this just an enraged demon?

It's not hyperbole: Toni Collette does deserve an Oscar; if you need proof, just buy a movie ticket, if you need proof, pay special attention to that magnanimous monologue in the grief support group or that "usual" family discussion at the table. Conquering with the most risky and sinister role of her career, "Krampus" actress delivers one of the best distressed-mother performances of all time, as well as a terrifying interpretation in relation to the nuances and demands of the character, there are dramatic peaks that the Oscar-nominated actress reaches with incredible ease, out-of-rational-control scenes in which this talented woman overflows pure talent. She's not a hackneyed crying-out-loud person, before all that, she's a morally-ambiguous mother possible only due to the traumatized, haunted behavior this brilliant Australian actress endows Annie; she directs most of the story to hand over control to a new and magnificent actor who's a revelation. Collette must remain the face of this unsettling film because this is rightly her moment, her tour-de-force has arrived.

The same level of diffuseness and complexity put into the narrative, are in the creepy imagery. One of the best aspects of this bestial family nightmare is the powering, discomforting creativeness bathering every picture. Without hesitation, I ratify that even the minor element on screen has a narrative purpose that will mean a handhold for the next move/twist a few scenes later, and while much of that reinforcement is packed in the script, there are also several shots visually. In the very last minutes of the feature, we already are familiar with that beautifully spooky wooden house, we know the position of each room, where the loft, Annie's work area, the kitchen, the dining room and, of course, that scary tree house are, an amazing achievement possible by the excellent camera work. "Don't Breathe" by Fede Alvarez focused on elements that will be key pieces later, similarly this movie insinuates the importance on select utensils and visual tools that will make sense sometime later. Pay extreme attention to find the feats of the artistic field at the narrative level. Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography doesn't accept improvements; the way he alternates colors, shades, radical changes of atmosphere always influenced by an adjacent darkness. Colin Stetson creates dreamlike, nightmarish compositions, having the opportunity to empower the most bizarre scenes in which his meaningful melodies steal the spotlight; it's a warning of what is coming, zero tranquility and one hundred per cent tribulation, a score true to its source that paralyzes your senses.

No doubt, "Hereditary" by Ari Aster is one of the films of the year due to first-class performances - even bandying about a would-be Academy Award or Golden Globe nomination, - a superb direction for a horror film and a slow-burning story of demons, dark secrets and legacies, a movie with a schizophrenic and psychologically effective pace that advances at full speed under the surface as a bone-crushing beast, willing to damage our dreams, and it has made it. Viscerally unpredictable, visually terrifying and well developed, Ari Aster is this year's Robert Eggers owing to one of the most beautifully unsettling films of the year and the decade.
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Ocean's Eight (2018)
6/10
The new progeny of Ocean's teamed up with Gary Ross loses the jackpot by prioritizing scenic glamour and abusive fidelity
4 August 2018
This criminal would-be new series was one of the first in the uncontrollable avalanche of reboots/spin-offs/remakes coming from old-school classics and modern jewels strategically refocused on a female cast. A couple of years ago, when this news reached the ears of the cagey fanatics, a maelstrom of opinions began a still-latent debate about the pros and cons of making films on one-time used bases, creative recycling. This controversy got worse just when the name of the director in control came out: Gary Ross. The "The Hunger Games" filmmaker doesn't have the same experience or vigor behind the cameras as Soderbergh - just compare and contrast the quantity and quality of their films, - and that's clear in his newest movie realizing how much he based on the original trilogy to bring forward his vision and not lose control in the path of this simple, transient story. His ability as a narrator is enough to keep the idea on track, but the originals' dynamic pace and narrative precision are missed. That's why Ross, who is credited as screenwriter alongside Olivia Milch, doesn't give interesting additions to enrich this thieving universe suitably, however, there's a slight improvement with respect to the sequels thanks to its effortless, fine development, getting a pretty cool and manageable trip.

The film aims to exalt the clan of women through customary feats and challenges, but does the opposite because handles elements that undeniably pigeonhole most of these ladies in the tiresome gender bromide as the terrible flicks it avoided to become: the MET Gala, designer dresses not as extravagant as expected, a multi-million dollar diamond necklace as the bull's eye and stereotypes of every culture spilled over the supporting characters. Although said setting works, it distorts one of the strongest justifications for this cinematic update.

One of the biggest issues is that these intrepid thieves have practically the way free, there are no defined antagonists, actually, there is not one, neither James Corden's role manages to stay in that place and makes difficult to build true suspense and anxiety before an event that can change the course of the game, even when things get rough, the most dangerous enemies are two irrelevant FBI agents.

It's a mildly amusing experience, to tell the truth, the story would lack comical spark if it were not for a couple of supporting characters and a few especial diverting situations. We're in front of a film that focuses its strengths fully on the plotting and execution of the robbery, although it doesn't get it too well.

It's not possible to refute that it's a pleasant pastiche pastime, as a standalone film works particularly well and as a spin-off of an appreciated trilogy doesn't fulfill expectations it proposed. The centerpiece is an ambitious robbery again, only adding to the equation many more high-tech devices and a jam-packed setting with famous people with which Ross wanted to involve his story. It keeps a steady pace thanks to the role that every character performs, manages moderately well the narrative in the robbery sequence and doesn't waste time trying to be something that won't be able to, the resolutions are accurate, dry and concise and in the end, one ends up giving in to his funny but poorly original moves comparing with another of the most controversial feature films that set light to the debate: 2016 "Ghostbusters" reboot. There's diligence in the exposition and each lady plays somewhat the same role of their male counterpart from the original, some stand out more than others by the situations and the time put on them, but finally, proves that it has not been what we wished, is not as stylish as its components, but the ease displaying the plot and the extremely excessive respect make this an acceptable, undemanding fiction, a low-pressure evening of cinema.

Many are the snazzy cameos walking through this audiovisual catwalk, either belonging to the fictional world or American entertainment. It's confusing and unlikely to understand in what place and time it sets, because according to what it projects, takes place in our world, but with important alterations, none of the actresses performs themselves for obvious reasons, not even Anne Hathaway with a role open to that possibility, opting only to increase its "medium" budget by displaying all-kind celebrities as Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian, Common or Katie Holmes.

The cinematography of Eigil Bryld gives the illusion repeatedly of being a kind of extended advertisement for the most famous museums, shops, and cities, since there is enough material focusing on brands, paintings, sculptures, and buildings, neglecting the mise-en-scène of the core story by trying to give a supposedly clever context. There are plenty of glamour and style in the performance of the film, especially in certain costumes designed for the recreation of the MET-special attention to a museum room showcasing the royalty's relics and jewelry over a moat, a particularly beautiful setting, - however, taking into account the endless visual opportunities that could be expressed on the most important gala-event in America with a different theme, it never makes an accurate use of this great potential because no designs are exhibited with the expected dimensions. The angles are quite specific and the camera movements end up being more showy than propositive, for example, the opening and closing scene, the way they play with the point of focus and how they slowly bring the character in question closer are awesome. There's no specific palette in the feature, the art department decides to follow the personality of each persona or the vibe of some places with simplicity to create every atmosphere, a welcome result that fails to transcend the usual, not even with Hathaway's or Bonham Carter's magnificent character. Juliette Welfling's edition work draws off too much from the source of inspiration, with scene-dividing changes, the emblematic visual games, the interspersion of situations and the old-school character introductions and props through different but simple, artful techniques, this modern-day spin-off weakens its avenues demonstrating a serious lack of personality and own creativeness making up a not-so inventive emulation. No homage if you abuse from the honoree's ideas in a big way. Daniel Pemberton's soundtrack plays by the rules as for the original melodies and despite he uses a few ones in his score, he applies small variations that fit well, while his own compositions extol the scenes thanks to the idiosyncratic rhythm, harmony and pace of the most traditional heist movies, no doubt, Pemberton did a great job for this half-baked flick.

It's unbelievable the obnoxious product placement throughout the film. As the original film was a marketing pull for many of the casinos in Sin City, Ross' film tramples on a ridiculous multitude of brands, from Whirlpool to Subway, from Dolce & Gabbana to Coca Cola, from Epson to BMW. A personally tiresome overlong TV commercial that exceeds the limits of the tolerable.

"Ocean's 8" by Gary Ross is an entertaining, hard-to-avoid Hollywood heist film starring an all-star all-female cast that might have worked better as a standalone movie, nevertheless, this is a spin-off of the hit Steven Soderbergh trilogy that dilates the abusive use of some features that were attractive and groundbreaking at that time but today simply don't convince absolutely. The performances are a pleasure, even with the well-worn material to adapt, the script is laconic in its purposes and lightweight in the execution of itself, the direction by Ross gets to set up a moderately-glamorous summer film that satisfies the undemanding viewers running away from the sunniest days of the summer. If Warner Bros. has in mind to build a new franchise on these capable Ocean's, it must shake the scheme up and implement new and different moves to create its own criminal world, not one living under the shadow of Clooney's Danny Ocean.
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