Molly’s Game

Molly’s Game was one of my most anticipated movies coming into 2018. It marked the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin and this was enough for me to pony up the cash for the ticket. Sorkin is one of the all-time greatest screenwriters Hollywood has ever seen and any movie he is attached to is bound to be good. So, I had a great curiosity to see if his directorial talents are on the same level as his screenwriting. Also, the cast of the movie was more than promising. Jessica Chastain in the titular role of Molly, with Idris Elba and Kevin Costner embodying the supportive cast.

In a nutshell, the story is about Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier, who, after giving up the sport due to an accident, ends up running one of the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in the US, but eventually is taken down by the FBI because of ties to the Russian mob. Also, fun fact, Molly Bloom is a real-life person and the movie depicts true events. Some creative liberties have been taken, but nothing too substantial.

The movie starts off with a quick insight of just how Molly’s minds works, all the while showing us the accident that made her give up skiing and what turned out to be the biggest turning point of her life. The scene is followed up with Molly’s arrest by the FBI for being connected to the Russian mob. This quick one-two punch between the past and the present remains consistent thorough the movie, as we witness the progression of both Molly’s rise in the world of poker in the same time as we see her struggle to defend herself years later against the justice system. The part of the story that enfolds in the past is narrated by Molly in the first person, as one would read a book out loud, which is not by chance since there is a book written by her about the events, a book that play heavily in the events of the second story part, which unfolds in “present” time, with no narration, and everything is presented from a 3rdperson viewpoint. The pacing, in true Sorkin fashion, is fast and the movie never stays too long in part or the other of the timeline. Occasionally, we get to see glimpses into Molly’s childhood in the form of flashback. These are few and far between so that they do not become annoying and are offer relevant information regarding Molly’s background and motivations. All in all, Sorkin did a great job on this movie.

But the cherry on the cake in this case is Jessica Chastain. She makes this role very much her own and she enjoys every second of it. If there was a snub at the 2018 Oscars, it had to be Chastain not getting nominated for best actress in a leading role. In any other year, her performance in this film would have guaranteed her not only the nomination, but also the frontrunner position. This year unfortunately, the category was too stacked. At any rate, it is a joy to watch her bringing Sorkin’s words to life. Elba is also making the most with his part, bringing a calm, collected yet suave performance. The scenes with dialogue between Elba and Chastain are like watching a high intensity ping-pong match. They are that gripping. Kevin Costner has little screen time, but there is a scene in the 3rdact which he just owns and makes his presence in this movie more than memorable.

Without any doubt, this is one of the best movies I have saw in the past 12 months. It is also a rare kind of movie, as it is not made for blockbuster, it is not made for awards. It is a smart film made by smart people for smart people. And if you enjoy reading a good dialogue in books, you will love this movie.

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The room

It is a quarter to one in the early afternoon. He has been on his feet and out in the cold all day long. It has been raining. The show only starts at 1 P.M. But he is already in the auditorium. He likes it there. It feels like home. For the first time in a very long time, he has found a place where he belongs. It is the first screening of the day, so usually there aren’t as many people in the room as later in the day, but since it is raining, he got the entire place to himself. That feels good. The room is not heated, but it is dry and there is no wind either, so our man feels better in an instant. The seats are old, uncomfortable, covered in red velvet that by now is faded and dusty. But it doesn’t matter. He sits down. Finally, some rest. Ten more minutes to go. The screen is blank, and the room is poorly lit. He

sits alone in the room, in the 5th row from the back, smack down in the middle, looking straight at the centre of the screen. Some music is being played through the speaker boxes. Oldies. Some he recognizes, some he doesn’t. But they are pleasant non-the less. And he sits there in stillness, enjoying the moment. As if the movie he bought a ticket for doesn’t even matters any longer. Just let him have this piece of peace. It is perfect. 5 more minutes. Somebody walks in, another spectator. Alas, the room is no longer his alone. But it is still ok. The newcomer sits down at a distance, and minds his own business. There will be no trouble there. What movie is on again? Oh, yes, that thriller he read about in a magazine. Supposed to be good. What about after the show? He probably will be hungry so that needs to be taken care of, after which he still needs to kill at least 2 more hours before he can return to his room. That will be tricky. But it doesn’t matter right now. The room just went dark and the projector started making noise. The movie starts. And everything else ceases to exists for 2 hours.

Avengers Infinity War – A SPOILER REVIEW

So finally, the moment has arrived. Marvel placed its bet on the long game and after 10 years and 18 movies, they are cashing in on their chips, and hard. There are very few movie franchises that are this extensive and none of them are as consistent quality wise as the MCU or produced as fast. And given that this movie is the culmination of a 10 yearlong build up, it has a hype like no other movie can dream of. But did it live up to it?



Mostly yes. The critics loved it, the moviegoers will be ecstatic, and the box office will be fat. And what is there not to like? Every main character of every MCU film and most of the supportive characters will show up at some point in the movie. There are over 60 cast members in this movie, NOT counting the extras or background people. And credit where credit is due, the directors manage to pull off the impossible by putting on screen a story that is both action packed, funny and dramatic, all the while providing all cast members moments that they can own. And all this while keeping the runtime well under 3 hours, which, to be honest, will not feel that long. Don’t get me wrong, you will feel that you have spent a considerable amount of time in the screening room, but nearly as much as other movies will make you feel, that are half as short, if not shorter. There are some pacing issues every now and then, but with so much material to handle, that was to be expected. I will dissect the overall material towards the end of the review.


The other aspect that is unique to this movie that it goes against the formula of the MCU. We have a villain that is actually a good character and not just a plot device that allows our heroes to swing into action and shine (well, it is the 3rdone in a row by now, but this one is at BOSS level). Thanos is fleshed out, motivated and empowered like no MCU villain before. He is on par with all of the Avengers combined in every aspect. This includes also screen time. But there is more. Besides a plot device villain, the MCU movie formula also consists in a happy ending, as in, the heroes always win. Because the Marvel movies are all about the heroes. Not so much here. Here, the heroes are taking a beating like no one before in cinema history. By the end of the movie, Thanos manages to kill half of every living being in the universe, and by doing so, he also kills half of our illustrious cast that we are so fond of rooting for. This includes but isn’t limited to: Loki, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Star Lord, Groot and Vision. It is a very dark ending, comparable to Empire Strikes Back, and it carries a heavy emotional load, both on screen and off. I don’t think anybody outside of the productions inner circles had any idea of the devastation that was being prepared for us. The achieved dramatic effect is of epic proportion and this is the most gutsiest move that Marvel has ever pulled since betting everything on the shared cinematic universe concept. Except, it isn’t gutsy at all, because none of the above actually matters.

You see, the MCU is not like any other franchise. Here everything is connected, and while the singular character movies can stand on their own most of the time, the Avengers movies cannot. They need to be judged not only on their own merit, but also from the viewpoint of the entire MCU. The consequences of the individual movies are mostly limited to the titular hero, but the consequences of the Avengers movie and worldwide. Universe wide in this case. And because of this, none of the accomplishments of this movie will matter because the entire 3rd act, if not the entire movie, will be undone in 2019 when Avengers 4 hits the theaters. This movie, with all its bravado, will boil down to a misdirect, a red herring. And while everybody is praising it as one of the all-time best comic book movies, 2 years from now it will be viewed in a very different light.

There are 2 ways I can prove my statement. Let us start the irrefutable arguments, Economics. The movie rights for Spider-man do not belong to Marvel Studios, but to Sony Pictures. The 2 have worked out a deal that allows Marvel to use the character while Sony cashes in on the success. And while Marvel is in the driver’s seat as far as the creative process is concerned, all Spider-man related decisions need to be approved by Sony. Last year’s Spider-man movie had a worldwide box office of 880 million dollars. There is no way Sony would have allowed for its cash cow to be sacrificed, not after they had to reboot the character 2 times in the past 10 years. Same is valid for Marvel as well. The Guardians Of The Galaxy movies did 771 and 863 millions, yet save for Nebula and Rocket, all of the characters die. Black Panther scored 1,3 BILLION dollars and it is considered to be one of the most important piece of pop culture of our time due to having a cast made out of almost exclusively minority people, yet Black Panther dies here as well. There is no way that the head chief of Disney, who owns Marvel Studios, would ever allow the death of these characters to be permanent, not until they can cash in hundreds of millions of dollars for every movie they can put out with them in the titles. All of them will be resurrected next year because they have to appear in their individual sequels. And, as such, the gut-wrenching, most powerful ending in comic book movie history, will be reduced to a cliffhanger. And I am not sure how the fans will take that.

The second way I can prove my viewpoint is in the story. You see, the devil is in the details. When the MCU plans were unveiled years ago, The Infinity War movie was split in 2 parts, named Part 1 and Part 2. Later on, they have announced that this will no longer be the case, but I suspect that this was a misdirect, same as in the trailer, when we see the heroes, including Hulk in all his green true form, racing to fight the alien army in Wakanda. That never happened in the movie since Hulk never showed up for that fight. I think that Marvel has stuck to its initial plan to split the movie in 2, and we only saw half of the movie. This is also somewhat confirmed in the movie by Doctor Strange, when he says that he saw over 16 million ways that the events can unfold, and that they lose in all of them, except one. And after he gives the time stone to Thanos, he also says to Tony that it had to be one, it was the only way. Remember, Strange knows the sequence of events that leads to Avengers victory and he was playing into them. Therefore, a win still is on the horizon, albeit the price of that victory is definitely too high. So basically, the ending that we just saw is just the end of the 2ndact of Infinty Wars. Now, here comes the tricky part. We also saw Scarlet Witch destroying the mind stone to prevent Thanos to get his hand on it, and in the process, she is forced to kill Vision. As a response, Thanos uses the time stone, and just rolls back time, undoing the Scarlet Whiches actions, after which he kills Vision by ripping out the mind stone out of his head. So death can be undone with the time stone. Which is the same way Wong has survived in Doctor Strange (the movie), by the way. And since we did not see Wong die, it is more than likely that once the remaining Avengers somehow get back the time stone, Wong will use it to turn back time and saving half the universe. Again, dramatic effect gone, only cliffhanger remains.

And now, let me mention a couple of items that I did or did not like in this movie. The smaller stuff, I mean:

· The very first scene practically erases everything that was developed in Thor: Ragnarok, both in terms of story and character development – not cool;

· In fact, the entire Thor story arc is unnecessary. They could have found a better way for him to get where he ends up in the movie, without taking a huge detour. Could have shaven off 15 minutes of the total runtime with Thor alone, easy;

· Spider-man always looks for inspiration in movies to solve problems, and it works too – way cool;

· The way they gave a story to the soul stone (which was not the focus point of any individual movie, unlike the other 5 stones). Extra points for bringing back Red Skull for this. Sadly, Hugo Weaving did not want to reprise the role. Still, awesome idea;

· The movie starts with Thanos already having the power stone, which was left in the care of the Nova Core at the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy. There is no mention how exactly did he get it from them, at all;

· Counterpoint for the one above, we get an entire story arc (Thor) to learn how the actual gauntlet was created, in which Thanos collects the stones – like it matters;

· Also here – Peter Dinklage plays a dwarf that is actually 2 times bigger that Thor. It is great fun to watch, but again, totally pointless story arc;

· Again with Thor – he ditches the cool eyepatch for some artificial eye that once was up Rockets colon – why did they had to destroy everything cool that Ragnarok created?

· Thanos turns weapons into bubbles – weird;

· The Hulk took a beating in the first scene of the movie and refused to surface ever since. That was an interesting choice;

· The battle scene in Wakanda it is much larger in scale that the airport skirmish in Civil War, but it is also more messy and unfocused. There is a palpable drop of quality there;

· Ant Man and Hawkeye were nowhere to be found. All they got was a single sentence that referenced them.

· It is rather strange that an individual as enlightened as Thanos does not sees the flaw in his own plan. He wants to kill half the universe to scare straight the other half, to create a better world for everybody. Also, he thinks that after that, he can just retire to watch a sunset. Even if his plan would work in the short term, in the long term, this exercise probably needs to be repeated once every millennium or so, because you know, people forget and they multiply;

All in all, if this would be the final entry for the MCU movies, I would bow in front of it and praise its genius and bravery. But it is not, so I will not buy the hype. I can appreciate the filmmakers effort to balance out all the characters and the logistical undertaking that this movie meant, just for scheduling alone. But, yeah, that’s about it.

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Call Me By Your Name

One of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2017 was Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnino. It managed to pile up over 80 awards and little under 200 nominations, amongst other, 4 Oscar nominations, one of witch, for best adapted screenplay, it has won. In it, we are introduced to young Elio, 17 years of age, the son of an eminent university professor, who is spending his summer vacation with his family in northern Italy during the early 80’s. When the fathers 20 something research assistant is also joining the family, Elio becomes fascinated by the guest and things get a bit complicated. Warning, there will be spoilers ahead.

As with so many other movies lately, with this one too, I am out of tune with the critics and I am unable to understand why it is so beloved. Save for the soundtrack, nothing really works for me in this movie. As far as my understanding goes regarding effective storytelling, the protagonist needs to have an objective, a goal to achieve, that drives him or her and there always supposed to be an obstacle in the way that needs to be overcome. This dynamic between objective-obstacle is what provides potency to any story. We have nothing of the sort in this movie, nothing that would held up in a closer examination, anyway. Let us look at our protagonist Elio. Both his parents are intellectuals, liberals and well off. They spend their summer holyday in northern Italy, in a mansion that is fully staffed with gardeners and cooks and what have you, so nobody in the family has to do any actual work. Also, being northern Italy, the family is pretty much living in paradise. One would be safe to say that Elio is living like a prince and thorough the entire movie he pretty much acts like one too. He is popular among the local girls and he enjoys their company, taking things beyond casual friendship with ease. To this picture arrives the fathers research assistant, which, although causes some initial tension, quickly becomes the main focus of Elios attention and a bit later on, the main focus of his passion.


The characters like Elio are known in the movie industry as a Mary Sue, which basically means that the given character has everything handed to him/her from the start and he/she does not have to earn any of it. And Elio does have everything handed to him on a silver platter. There is no obstacle in his way, nothing significant really. Even when his parents find out about his affair with the research assistant after it has ended, they do not exhibit any of the reactions one might expect a parent to have in a similar situation. No anger, no confusion or panic, nothing negative whatsoever. Instead, they provide a great deal of emotional support to Elio and express a real sense of satisfaction that he got to experience real love, regardless of circumstance. Even the girl, to which Elio lost his virginity to, assures him that she has absolutely no hard feelings towards him for neglecting her once she was no longer interesting. The sheer number of things going in Elios favor is just something my brain cannot reconcile with reality.

Another great problem is that this insipid fairytale is 132 minutes long. Considering that most of the scenes are rather brief, like under 1 minute long, the movie moves with a ridiculously slow pace, which makes its runtime to feel twice as long as it is. And most these brief scenes are trivial in nature, showing nothing of consequence, just the characters interact with everyday life. I will not go into the actors performance because, except for a scene in end of the 3rdact, where Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a great monolog as Elios father, I cannot find anything worth mentioning.

In terms of being an LGBTQ centric movie, I honestly believe that this movie cannot hold a candle against other titles in this category, such as Moonlight, Carol or Blue Is The Warmest Color, to mention just a few, as they all have an actual story to tell, while Call Me By Your Name is nothing more but a glorified 3rd person vlog of a summer vacation.

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You Were Never Really Here

It appears that lately I am on a very different wavelength than most of the movie critics. For some reason, none of their favorites are working for me. You Were Never Really Here was written/directed by Lynne Ramsay and had made a big splash last year over at Cannes. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or award, Joaquin Phoenix has won the award for best actor and Lynne herself has won the award for best screenplay, although it has to be mention that the win was a tie with Yorgos Lanthimos for The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. In hindsight, this explains a lot, since both movies make about equal amount of sense to me, which is little to none. Also, spoilers ahead, so beware.

Right from the first scene, we are thrown into the world of Joe (played by Phoenix), which is dark and violent. He lives a recluse life and occasionally accepts assignments that requires him to hurt people. The only people close to him is his mother, who is no longer in control of her full faculties. Joe is also damaged goods, both from childhood trauma and experiences lived on the battlefield as a soldier. His latest assignment is the recovery of the kidnapped daughter of a US senator and the punishment of the men that took her. And, as usual, that is where all things go wrong.

First, let us start with the good parts. The movie is shot in a beautiful way, each frame is crisp, vibrant and perfectly constructed for maximum effect. We see everything in the best way possible, there are no shaky cams. The imagery is most effective, especially when it comes to the violence. You will believe that those people got hurt. Second, Joaquin Phoenix is really putting his back into this role. He does not have much dialog, but the dude is acting like there is no tomorrow. This movie is a perfect vehicle for him to display his talents as an actor. The Cannes award he got for this was well deserved.

That being said, I really fail to see the point of this movie. The accent is so much on the performance brought by Phoenix that the story itself takes a step into the background, trying to hide the fact of how hollow it just is. There is an antagonist, but we never get to meet him. We know what he does and from that we can tell that he is a really bad person, but he is never there. His motivation, that basically sets up the premise of the movie, just feels unbelievable. Also, considering the agency provided by the story to the antagonist, the decisions he makes are rather poor. There are some other characters as well in the movie, but they receive far too little screen time to be memorable. I am guessing that their absence was supposed to highlight Joes isolation and precarious situation, but if that was really the case, it was a feeble attempt. Any subtleties or nuances that the director tries to convey are just overshadowed by the constant negative place in which Joe is.

The entire movie is basically a schizophrenic mix of 8MM, by Joel Schumacher, and Leon, the Professional, by Luc Besson. You can throw in there a hint of Sin City as well, if you like. My point is, that beyond displaying the torment that a damaged, borderline rabid person goes through facing an impossible situation, there is not much else to see here. And I can find better things to do with my time than to watch a 90 minutes long torture porn.

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