BlacKkKlansman is the latest film made by Spike Lee, and without the doubt, it his best work in years. The story is as straightforward as it is absurd. A black cop, the very first one in town, wants to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. And just to make things more interesting, this is a true story, this actually had happened. Now, the story unfolds in the 70-s, but it could have been easily told in any era, present day included. And with some clever drop of lines that have become so emblematic to the recent years, it really does feels more like something from the recent headlines, instead of some crazy story from way back when our parents were kids. But make no mistake, this is not your regular buddy cop movie that the trailer might make you think it is.

But first, let’s talk talent. The protagonist, Ron Stallworth, is played by John David Washington. Now if you are asking yourself if he has anything to do with Denzel Washington, then the answer is yes, yes, he does. He is his son. Fortunately for us, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and the kid has the talent and not just the name. But it is strange experience, or at least it was for me. I was looking at the screen, I heard Denzel’s voice, felt his charisma, his swagger, but I did not saw Denzel, but some other, younger, hipper dude. But yes, young Washington here is something that needs to be followed. It is possible that we are witnessing the birth of the first black actor’s dynasty in Hollywood. After the Douglas, Sutherland, Baldwin and other clans, now the Washington’s also put up their flag.

In a supporting role, both on screen and in story, we find Adam Driver, who plays Flip Zimmerman, the police officer who teams up with Stallworth in his endeavor of infiltration. Driver brings his usual, solid performance. What is more remarkable is that in a relative short amount of time he managed do work with basically the who’s who of Hollywood directors, from the Cohen brothers to Scorsese, and has assembled quite a body of work in the process. Last, but not least, we have Topher Grace as David Duke, the head of the KKK. Grace has the thankless task of portraying a real-life character who is still alive, and who is considered to be by many, a proper, real life villain. To his credit, Grace pulls it off in a way that allows him to give a great performance but without being identified with the actual, real life persona of his role.

And now, onto our director. One of Spike Lee’s major themes, through his body of work, is the struggle of the black man. Their struggle against society, racism and injustice. It is one of his defining creative motivations, so to speak. What is different here is the way he applies the theme. Based on the trailer, one would say that this is a buddy cop movie. And for most of the runtime, one would be correct. Yes, the plot is about a black man against the klan, but the movie is not gritty, not dark. It is light hearted, comical even. You will have quite some laughs during the screening. Yes, you see that things were not good for blacks back then, but it does not insist about it at every corner. The story goes with a good, steady pace, like your good guys and you like to dislike the bad guys, and then the story concludes with a fitting and believable ending, even more so that it is a true story. But then Spike Lee throws in a coda, which changes everything. I was aware of the existence of the coda and what it was before I went to see the movie, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. The coda is basically a montage of clips shot during the marches at Charlottesville in 2017. How the white supremacists marched with torches, how a car straight on plowed full speed into a mass of people that were peacefully counter protesting racism. And while in the movie the klan members and their actions were portrayed in a goofy manner, the sudden switch to reality comes unexpected and it is gut-wrenching. The entire thing will make you feel a bit guilty for the good time you were having during the movie. And it will make you ponder. Spike Lee admitted during the press Q&A for the movie in Cannes, that the coda was not originally part of the film. By the time of the events in Charlottesville, the movie was already completed. But when Lee saw what had happened, he realized that this needs to be put in the movie, so that people know that the issues in the film have not gone away, but they are still present and only getting worse.

I am not happy with Lee’s choice of including the coda. I do not live in the USA and I like to think that here, in Europe, things are better. I also did not like how after the coda my fun Saturday evening has suddenly turned serious and was filled with introspection. Which only proves the point that Lee was right. That footage was absolutely necessary at the end of the movie.

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This movie has received a 5 minute long standing ovation when it was screened at the Cannes film festival. Last year, at the same festival, You Were Never Really Here has received 7 minutes of standing ovation. The only conclusion that I can reach is that the good people attending the Cannes film festival are some deeply disturbed individuals. The year is not over yet, but I can pretty much guarantee that this movie will be in my top 5 worse of 2018. Currently is sitting at nr.1. I might change up the order somewhat later on, based on further reflection, but heaven help me if I have to sit through any worse stink bombs than this. Now, this is not the worst film that I ever saw, but it is not that far out. Also, there will be spoilers, so be warned…

The story is not complicated. Red Miller, played by Nicolas Cage, is a lumberjack that lives rather far from civilization, together with his girlfriend, Mandy. On day, Mandy’s path crosses with some sect members, the leader of which decides that he must have her. With the help of some deeply disturbed bikers, the cult kidnaps and kills Mandy, leaving Red tied up with barb wire, waiting to die. Unfortunately for them, Red has other plans… And, oh yeah, the story is set in the early 80’s.

I don’t even know where to begin with this movie. For one, it is too long. The run-time is of 2 hours, but the way the movie is paced, it takes forever. And there isn’t enough material for 2 hours, so segments are being dragged out. This movie should not have exceeded 90 minutes by any means. But fine, I could let this slide. What I cannot is that this movie commits 2 cardinal sins all at once, and namely: it is a pointless thing made only as a delivery platform for gore and senseless killing AND it does it with an “artistic” twist trying to appear so sophisticated. Please…. This movie is a gore fest with a side of LSD. And if there would be a point for all the gore and violence and everything, but there is not! I get that everybody on the screen is fucked up in the head, but didn’t anybody had a shotgun to speed things up? Was there really necessary for me to see how Nick Cage is forging the most useless axe of all time that will be ignored in most of the action scenes? And yes, suddenly, at mid movie, the dude turns into a blacksmith with no explanation whatsoever. Honestly, that axe looks like something Prince would have designed and not some lumberjack, that our protagonist clearly is in the opening of the movie. This movie is senseless. And while it could be categorized as a revenge film, I reject this possibility. Take any revenge film that is worth something and there will be some conflict, some struggle, internal or external, that the protagonist must overcome. Some catharsis is reached; some growth is achieved. Here? The protagonist does some drugs and goes medieval on everybody’s asses. The deeply disturbed bikers, who according to sources, have killed a bunch of people and are deadly? No problem for our guy Red, he kills them one by one, even though he gets captured by them first and has multiple injuries. The sect members? Also dropping like flies. And the root of it all, the sect leader? He gets his head crushed in by Reds bare hands. Also, at certain point, a tiger is let loose, purposefully, but nothing happens. The last 40 minutes of this movie is pure slaughter, and the previous 80 minutes were just the build-up. Besides the various acts of killing, nothing else happens. I recognize the fact that many consider that art should evoke a reaction in the viewer, and that the stronger the reaction the better. That art should provoke. But I firmly believe that provoking just for the sake of being provocative is useless. I can get behind any kind of depiction of violence, gore and what-have-you if it is justified, if there is a purpose to it. This is not the case here. This is a glorification of slaughter, with some artsy-farts revenge film as an excuse for its existence.

But, even if I hate the concept and the core of the movie, there are things in its execution that I must recognize as good, or even excellent. Visually, the movie is stunning. The DP, Benjamin Loeb, is a name to look after for. There were a number of shots in this movie that I would not have any problems seeing in a proper art gallery, hanging on the walls. The composition of colors, the use of darkness and light were really something. Also, the art department did a great job designing the biker gang, but what got most of my attention was the design of the house Red lived in, respectively the church where the sect worshipped. Both had an original take on a fairly traditional subject matter and the end results were rather appealing to me. Nicolas Cage delivers one of his best performances to date. The way his physical and emotional trauma comes through the screen is Oscar worthy. It is a well-known fact that Cage can dial up his intensity to 11, which in most cases comes off as being over the top, but here his level of intensity is matched by the movies. One might say that this role was custom made for him. It certainly puts Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting in The Revenant to shame. The last thing I must mention here is the score of the movie. One of the last scores composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson. It is intense, dark, but enjoyable. For some reason, I can imagine myself listening to it on its own.

All in all, I detest this movie and I cannot recommend it to anyone. And there is some truly excellent work done on this movie. But that excellent work is wasted on a snuff film, which makes thing eve worse.

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Hearts Beat Loud

Hearts Beat Loud is a nice little film. It is the kind of feel good movie that has just enough optimism to bring you joy, but it doesn’t go overboard with it. It is rooted in reality, which is a nice change from the color by number approach I am used to seeing in movies with similar setups. Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a washed up musician that owns a record store and is raising his daughter Sam, Kiersey Clemons, on its own, as his wife has died years ago. Sam is just about to leave for college and studies hard to get into med school. One evening, Frank and Sam manage to record a really good song during one of their father-daughter jam session. This reignites the creative fire in Frank who sees an opportunity to claim some musical glory together with his daughter. Sam on the other hand is not interested, as her own ambition is to become a doctor. And in the background, they also have to deal with a failing business, a somewhat troublesome grandma and the prospect of relationship with other people that might not last.

The story, as you could read it above, is not ground-breaking. There have been hundreds of movies about family/friends that form a band, have a hit and have to deal with the conflict of ambitions that results from it. They really aren’t the best of movies. What sets this movie apart from them is that is made with heart. The movie has a big, big, heart that will keep you warm like a blanked for all of its 97 minutes of run time. Maybe longer. Nick Offerman comes across as a loving father, that lives a bohemian life. He comes from a family of musicians, his wife was also a musician. He lives and breathes music. The character of Frank is in stark opposite of what we are used to from Offerman, but surprisingly it works. There is this thing with his eyes that Offerman is doing, namely, he keeps them wide open all the time, which offers him a look of calm and wonder, which combined with his bohemian attitude, makes him come across somewhat childish, but in the good way. Sam on the other hand is the proverbial adult in the family, despite just finishing high school. She has a good head on her shoulders, she likes academics but also, in terms of music, she is more talented than her father, which is a bit bothersome for Frank. Not because she is more talented, but because she is moving away from the music. He is proud of his daughter and her achievements but then again, she is somewhat denying her roots and talents by not pursuing music as a vocation. Besides the father-daughter duo, there are a couple of supporting characters, but not many, just enough to provide an occasional pick-me-up for the leads. For Frank there’s Dave, the bar tender, played by Ted Danson, and Leslie, the landlady of his record store. I particularly enjoyed Danson in his role, it made me remember his show from long time ago, Cheers. As for Sam, she has Rose, a love interest, played by Sasha Lane, and grandma, played by Blythe Danner, who is a cool lady, gets arrested a few times and has no issue sharing more intimate stories about her with her grandkid. But what I most appreciate about this movie is that it keeps its head out of the clouds. Things never go as we imagine and our characters are well aware that life comes in the way. Actually, they see it coming from a mile away and they are making choices that are not based on wishful thinking, they look at the long run instead, even if that comes with a price.

Since music is such a big part of our protagonists lives, the movie must also contain its fair share of it. Also, there are at least 4 original songs here, the ones the characters have supposedly written, and they are really good. Furthermore, when you hear them, you are hearing the actual cast singing and playing the music, live on set. No lip sinking or other trickery were involved. The actors did their own stunts, I mean, their own performance when it came to the music. No bad, I must say.

One more thing I must point out. This is not something I would normally mention because it doesn’t really has an influence on the story or on the actors performance, I think. But the movie is doing a great job in representing minorities. Offerman is clearly Caucasian, but his supposed wife was African-American, so you have elements of a mixed marriage, something that is clearly visible on Sam, since this parent setup mirrors the Kiersey Clemons (Sam) heritage. Also, her love interest in the movie is a girl, and when Frank finds out that she has somebody, he is not troubled that that person could be a girl. The relationship between Sam and Rose is portrayed as a normal relationship, as it should. I really liked this message that the movie tried to convey, that all that matters is the music and happiness. All the rest is background static.

All in all, I warmly recommend Hearts Beat Loud. It is this seasons feel good movie. And it manages to do so while staying realistic, relatable. So, go on, and enjoy the story, the music, the feels.

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Under The Silver Lake

Try to imagine that Fight Club was made by David Lynch instead of Fincher. That is the best short description I can offer of what Under The Silver Lake is. Which is not what I have been expecting based on the trailer. I expected something quirky, strange, something reminiscent of the final act from the of A Beautiful Mind, filled with codes and conspiracy theories and paranoia. And this movie does deliver all these, but on an entirely different level. Truth be told, the trailer does as much justice to the movie as is possible for a 2 minute long thing. I mean, this movie would make just about the same amount of sense whether you watch it sober or drunk. But if possible, watch it sober and in a proper movie theatre. It is one of the best movies of the year, after all.

The thing is, I almost did not go see this movie. The trailer came out ages ago, so mostly I have forgotten about it. Then I discovered that it is being screened in my town but had to bail on it twice and seriously considered it to bail on it for the third time as well. Hell, I even thought of walking out on it one hour into the movie because I hated everything that I have saw that far. Now I am telling you that this is one of the best movies of the year. I have fought this movie. Long and hard. It has won me over. That is not an easy feat to achieve.

So what is this movie about? Well, it is about Sam, played by Andrew Garfield. Sam is a carefree dude that lives in LA and does basically nothing all day long, he just hangs out. He likes the ladies and the ladies like him back, he reads comics, plays guitar and videogames. His rent is overdue and so are his car payments, but these does not seem to bother him, except for the brief moments he is confronted about them. Then, one day, he encounters a girl that makes quite an impression on him, so much so, that when the girl suddenly disappears into thin air the very next day, Sam makes his mission to find her. Also, in the meantime, a famous philanthropist is gone missing and there is a mysterious dog killer on the loose.

The story, in itself, has a very dream like feel to it. It doesn’t seem to make much sense but it keeps moving forward with a steady pace. Certain elements, cues, are reoccurring, but nothing is random. There is a method to the madness that his film appears to be. And make no mistake, it will feel like madness at first because there are just so many things that go on at the same time. And I did not like it. I hated the characters. Besides Sam, a slacker poster child, everybody else is an artist (mostly performance artists) of sorts or belongs to the art world. So you got an ensemble of either very rich or very broke people sharing the same pretentious venues with the same pretentious attitudes. Very hipster, very fake, very Hollywood, and why not, everything is set in Los Angeles, after all. Also, despite being genuinely concerned over the missing girl, Sam doesn’t seem to mind nailing anything that moves. It seemed to be second nature to him. It was clear that he does not do it out of malice, or that none of his partners really care about this, but it did make me question his motives regarding the missing girl. And also, there are a couple of actually strange and creepy stuff going on around the places Sam is hanging out at. All in all, the movie takes place in a world that I would not like, filled with people I don’t like. It also takes its time to build up this world, placing layer upon layer with each passing scene. It is only at the middle of the second act where the world building gives way to the mystery that is the central core of the story. And with the runtime of 2 hours and 19 minutes, basically you almost watched an entire movie to get to that point. But don’t worry, looking at it in hindsight, I can tell you that nothing was dragged out or under prepared. Everything is as long as it should be, you just don’t know at first where the pay-out is going to be. But once the mystery sets in, you will be fully invested. And you will notice that, even though Sam is mostly aimless, the story is not, and it has been building up in a clear direction. Just like solving a jigsaw puzzle, the movie also starts at the edges and works its way towards the centre. There’s just an usually high piece count to the puzzle.

From a technical point of view, the flick looks gorgeous. It has wide, steady shots, full, live colours. Also, the way the movie is shot, the camera setup and angles, is very reminiscent of the old Hollywood movies, from the 40’s and 50’s. The technics are adapted to modern sensibilities and standards, but the style itself is from that golden era. The story might feel like Lynch, but the visuals feel like Hitchcock. Same with the score. Unless there is some actual music played in the background, the soundtrack will also be reminiscence of the era of Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor. This homage to the golden era is also visible in the set design as there are many posters of old movies in the background, or on TV, when the characters are watching themselves a movie.

As I was walking home from the movie theatre, I was trying to put this movie in its place in my head. And the more I was thinking about it, the more satisfied I became about the entire experience that Under The Silver Lake has become to me. The final reveal and how just many questions have been answered in the movie did no longer matter. Here, the journey itself that Sam undertakes, together with the viewer, IS the final goal, not the destination. The only reason why I will not put this movie on the nr1. spot of best movies of 2018 list is that it is a very demanding, exhausting watch. And if you are in the wrong mood, or possibly just too tired, you will miss all that it has to offer. But all in all, this IS one of the best movies of 2018.

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Summer recap #1

It has to be said, I was somewhat of a slacker this summer when it came to reviewing movies. I did saw most of the happening movies and did planned to review them. But while I do enjoy writing stuff, it is not yet my second nature. I can’t quite summon it on demand. So, I have quite the backlog in terms of review. Now, not all of the movies this summer were successful, and some were outright awful. As such, I might not have all that much to say about them and instead of torturing myself to come up with enough material to fill in a regular sized review for each and every bomb, I rather just collect them into one article, were I can deal with them swiftly. So let us begin!

The Meg – The second coming of Jaws this is not. It has been stated by Jason Statham, who is in the lead, that this is not the movie he had signed up for. Indeed, it is rather tame. The story is pretty by the numbers and on multiple occasions there are plot holes. But if you did not had big expectations from the movie, you could still enjoy it as is. And the visuals weren’t all that bad either. It is clear that this movie was made with the Chinese market in mind, as the location is set in China and a good portion of the cast is also Chinese. Not to mention the extras.
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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – It made serious money, so there will be a 3rd one. The first part of the movie, that happens on the island was pretty good. It was fast paced, focused and thrilling. It also had some dramatic weight to it as well. Once the story moves to the mansion however, it becomes a different movie. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are good together and I have enjoyed the new faces as well, but I do not think that they will be kept around for the next movie. Again, don’t expect something on the same level as the original one, although many people said that save for the original, this is the best entry in the franchise.
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Hurricane Heist – What do you get if you cross Die Hard with Twister, on a budget? Hurricane Heist. Two brothers from Alabama try to stop a gang looting the US treasury facility that is located in their home town. Except, the actor for one of the brothers is British, the other is from Australia and the movie was shot in Bulgaria. And the villain is Irish. (in the movie that is, otherwise also a brit). The only true American in this entire stuff is Maggie Grace, the third lead. She looks great on screen, can’t really understand how she, or Toby Kebbell (one of the brothers) have ended up in this shit storm. Also, one of the brother has a road legal batmobile and we find out that in high winds hubcaps can be used as lethal weapons (that was actually very creative and I buy that). Other than that, this is so bad it might be good.
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Rampage – The Rock is a zoologist that previously was special forces. A space laboratory gets destroyed and some crazy stuff is released on earth that makes a couple of animals huge, like building size big. One of them is George, a white gorilla that the Rock is caring for. The people responsible for the entire thing, the “villains” are behaving in a rather stupid way. The army is behaving in a rather stupid way. The Rock can do everything here, even if he did not do it before, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan has some serious swag. Just watch the trailer and you are good.
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Skyscraper – again The Rock, again ex special forces turned civilian, this time a private security consultant. And again a movie made mostly for the Chinese market. The biggest skyscraper ever is built in Hong Kong and The Rock is there for a security audit. Some goons try to take over the tower because the mega rich Asian guy that build it apparently was bullied by the local mob for protection money and he made some recordings that they really want to destroy. And given that The Rocks family is also in the building, he is really motivated to go full Die Hard. Quality wise it is on the same level as Hurricane Heist but the effects are better and The Rock is still a big selling point. Although, for how long, that’s a different story….. Watch the trailer and you are fine.
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Sicario: Day Of The Soldado – The first Sicario was one of the best movies in the year it has come out. The sequel only retains the name and part of the cast, namely Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin. Everybody else is gone, which is quite palpable in terms of this movies quality. They try to mix Islamic terrorists with the drug cartels, which doesn’t really goes well. Due to some suicide bombing the US government orders Brolin to go full medieval on the drug cartels, but to keep it quiet. Of course, once things are no longer quiet, the US government suddenly orders that everything must shut down and to be erased. This knee-jerk reaction was the only thing that I have bought in the entire movie. Also because of this, del Toro and Brolin are set on a collision course. But the story is so weak. It feels like a build up for a 3rd movie where the actual action will happen, if they ever get to it, which I hope they don’t.
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Slice – This one is a video-on-demand type of movie. And its Scooby-Doo on crack, but in the bad way. Avoid it at all costs.
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Super Troopers 2 – Finally a fun dumb comedy! I really enjoyed this one. Some good one-liners, some situational humor, a pretty decent plot line that doesn’t take itself seriously. I don’t really enjoy comedies, especially where everybody is a bloody imbecile (see almost every Will Ferrell movie), but this one has won me over. Because most of these characters aren’t complete imbeciles, just somewhat off the rails, which is a big difference. This you need to watch, and not just the trailer.
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Ant-Man And The Wasp – the last proper marvel film for this year (Venom is made by Sony), is a low stake movie and a perfect pallet cleanser after Avengers Infinity War. Its fun, its charming, its a nice breather for the franchise. In true Marvel fashion the villains are not that threatening, not even that evil really, but this movie was never about that. The effects looks good though and the chemistry between Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly is charming. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) on IMDb(function(d,s,id){var js,stags=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(d.getElementById(id)){return;}js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=””;stags.parentNode.insertBefore(js,stags);})(document,”script”,”imdb-rating-api”);

Destination Wedding

After the horror genre made a pretty good comeback in the past couple of years, now we see another longtime fan favorite stepping back into the spotlight, the rom-com. The romantic comedies were rather absent from the movie screens lately, and the little what we did get was of rather poor quality. Enters this summer season with 3 titles, all of which are, the very least, solid movies. Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved and Destination Wedding. To be fair, I have only seen the last 2, since CRA was not screened in my country and I will have to wait until it comes out on digital. But let us talk now about the movie at hand, Destination Wedding. Two strangers meet in an airport, waiting for a flight, take an immediate dislike to each other only to find out that they are traveling to the same wedding. As if attending a wedding alone would not be a miserable enough experience on its own, our 2 protagonists are apparently stuck together through the entire duration of the event, for our viewing pleasure.

Now, the story in itself is not new. Just by watching the trailer you can tell what will happen and how it will end. It is pretty much paint by numbers. What matters here is not the originality, but the execution, which is not flawless, but it is pretty darn good. Besides the 2 leads, no other character gets any screen time. They are showed from a distance, and referred to, but none of them have any lines in the movie. This is good, because it keeps the movie clutter free. There are no ridiculous subplots, not annoying side characters. The focus is on our 2 leads and on them only. To makes this work you have to have some good talent in front of the camera, which of course Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are, and then some. Destination Wedding is the 4th movie they do together and it shows on their on-screen chemistry. The interaction between the two is natural, seamless. They are a great on-screen pair and the material allows them to have fun. Both of their characters are loners and intellectuals, and in any other circumstance, they would avoid each other like the plague. But here, they are exposed to each other’s quirks and ideas and they drive each other up the walls, yet they stick together because they agree on one thing, which is that they would rather be anywhere else but here at this wedding. So, the entire movie is a set of conversations that the 2 are having during the event. The way the 2 are exchanging jabs and puns, ironies and sarcasm at each other is delightful. Like a very good tennis game, only with words and sentences.

But, here in lies the problems as well. The split of the material between the 2 leads is uneven. Reeves has more one liners and puns than Ryder. Also, his backstory is more fleshed out. It is his family that we get to know trough the conversations, his parents are presented as lunatics, his brother is the groom in the wedding and the lynch pin that binds the protagonists, as it is also the brother who invited Ryder’s character to the wedding, since they were previously engaged. The script holds nothing for Ryder on this level. She has opinions, hopes, reactions, but very little substance. Ryder manages to come off as Reeves equal in this movie, but this is only because of her acting talent, nothing else. The second problem this movie has is its inevitable conclusion and the way it has chosen to deal with it. Consider it spoilers if you want to, but it is fairly obvious from the trailers alone that the 2 mains will end up together. And while the buildup for this is long and fun, once the love threshold is crossed, the movie doesn’t really knows what to do any longer. The witty conversations are exchanged to some form of courtship, which comes off as awkward. Suddenly the characters change gear and start behaving like completely different people, which really messes up the otherwise steady flow of the movie. Mercifully, by this point the movie is almost over, but yeah, they could have done a better ending.

Overall, this is a solid little film. It is smart enough to stand out but light enough to be enjoyable. It has a 90 minute runtime, which is just enough not to drag things out and the pace is steady all the way through, except for the final 10 minutes or so, where it gets a bit bland. But all in all, a solid choice for an evening at home.

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The Predator

The Predator is the fourth instalment of the predator franchise, or the 6th, depending if you count the AVP outings as well. It is directed by Shane Black, who also has one of the writing credits and who also appeared as a character in the original Predator movie. The expectations were quite high since, despite being a beloved franchise, the general consensus is that each instalment was worse than the one before, and with a talent like Black in the directors’ seat, fans hoped for a spiritual reboot of the franchise, or a revival, if you will. Personally, I enjoyed pretty much everything that the predator had to offer along the years, except for AVP2, which is a total waste, but then again, this is not one of my favorite franchises, so I am not that invested if things go wrong. This was very helpful in this case, as my expectation towards this movie were kept low. All I wanted from it was to have a good time, which I did. That being said, I understand why most of the people are not on the same page with me on that. This movie is a mess. Oh, and by the way… spoilers ahead…

In terms of story, the focus is on 4 characters, each are established pretty early on in the picture. You have Traeger, a government agent that is in charge of all things predator related, played by Sterling k. Brown. You have Dr. Braket, played by Olivia Munn, who is a scientist. McKenna, an elite sniper, played by Boyd Holbrook, and finally, his son, a kid that is seriously on the autism spectrum, played by Jacob Tremblay. In a nutshell, McKenna is on a mission in Mexico when a predator with a busted ship drops out of the sky and kills everybody except him. McKenna manages to steal some of the predators gear, which he mails to himself because he will need proof that this had happened, just before he gets captured by the government and eventually ends up on a bus filled with former armed forces personnel that are not quite right in the head. In the mean time, Traeger captures the predator and brings Braket onboard his operation because the predator has some human DNA inside him and Traeger doesn’t have enough scientist on the payroll to figure this out. Also in the mean time, the package that McKenna has mailed to himself is being rerouted to his house, because he did not payed his PO box charges, and end up in the hands of his kid, which starts to tinker with the predator gear. The kid is on the autism spectrum, but on the savant side, so he actually learns about the predators while using the gear, but not before he unknowingly trips off an alarm and gives out his position to an even bigger predator, who has the mission to hunt down and kill the first one, which, in the mean time escapes the government facility where it was held captive, but in a way that allows McKenna to be on his trails once again, together with Braket, who was ordered to be killed by Traeger. Sounds convoluted? It is. And this is just basically the first 30 minutes.

Like I said, this movie is a mess. There are plot holes, characters make decisions that do not make sense, story elements feel like being shoehorned in at the last minute. Honestly, it feels like they were shooting 3 different predator movies at the same time but none worked, so then they frankensteined one from the parts of the other 3, just because they were on a deadline. I would be really interested to find out if there were any behind the scene drama between the film makers and the studio, if the executives forced some elements upon Black to include in the movie. As far as I know, there were no reports about this, but it certainly would explain this end result. So, the predator that crash lands and is captured, is the same one that works with Adrien Brody in Predators, the 2010 outing of the franchise. This is nice, as continuity is being established, since not just this character is in common between the two movies but also the concept that there are bigger, badder predators out there, that hunt down the regular versions. Now, in our case, it has been explained to us that this particular predator is here to help us fight the big bad ones. Supposedly they want to take over the planet from us (by the means of global warming, non-less). The thing is, that, for a creature that supposed to be an ally, and has an important mission, it behaves very hunter like when he crashes. The thing takes out 2 snipers right away, which is in line with the character of the predator according to the first two movies, but it is not in line with the narrative of the current one. And I could go on and on with examples like this. There are plenty of things that just doesn’t work in this movie. So, what does?

Well, most of the jokes and the one liners. They are all over this movie, which is not a surprise, given that Shane Black did co-wrote the script. Also, some of the one liners are in clear reference to the original movie, like “you are one beautiful motherfucker” which is with a twist, or “get to the chopper!”, which in this case meant police motorcycles. So yes, the movie is funny. Also, the actors deliver. By far, the stand out here is Olivia Munn. She is a bad ass. The things she does don’t make sense story wise, but the way she does them is great. Also, she discovers a full proof way to survive a close encounter with a predator. Just be naked! But don’t expect to see anything besides her shoulders, you perverts… Sterling K. Brown is chewing up the scenery whenever he is on screen, he delivers an enjoyable villain figure. He is like a black ops Alonzo Harris from Training Day. Special hats off to Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane. They are playing two of the not quite right in the head ex-army guys that McKenna teams up with. Interestingly enough, out of all the characters from this movie, only they get to have a backstory, a couple of supporting figures. Not the leads, just 2 of the supports. But it does create quite a unique dynamic between them. And honestly, I did not recognize Thomas Jane in the role. He was just transformed. It was also nice to see Key outside of his wheelhouse. And the way the 2 die in this movie? Priceless. Actually, that particular scene made me think that maybe, this entire movie is just a spoof of the franchise. That this was Blacks plan all along and he got away with it.

So yeah, there are things here that work. Just not enough. Besides the dysfunctional story, the CGI is bad. Oh yeah, I almost forgot… The supposed allied predators mission was to deliver us a weapon, which is an armored suit. It looks like something out of a Power Rangers TV series. And naturally, the key player in the entire movie turns out to be the kid, which in the end lands a job at the top-secret government program. If it weren’t for all the gore and swearing, you would think that this movie was made for children between the ages of 8 to 12. I mean, we even have a couple of scenes where the solution is provided by a dog. A predator dog, no less. All things considered, this is a pretty original movie, if you look only at the predator franchise. Not that this is a good thing. For me, The Predator is a rather forgettable movie. I am not sure that the fans of the predator franchise, or the fans of Shane Black in general would agree…

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2001: A Space Odyssey

Sometimes, I get lucky. There are movies out there that are meant to be viewed on the big screen, and on the big screen only. By this, I mean the projection screen of a cinema. You can have the biggest TV at home with all the bells and whistles, it would still be insufficient. By all means, 2001 A Space Odyssey, is one of these films. Me, being somewhat of a snob, would like to be able to tell, that indeed I have saw these landmark films on the big screen. It goes a long way in terms of credibility of me being an avid movie fan, a film connoisseur even (again, I am a snob). The thing is, since the movie in question was released in the 60s, your nearest cinema most likely will not have it on the screening schedule. Actually, unless something special is going on, you are pretty much shit out of luck. But like I said, sometimes I get lucky. As it happens, this year is the 50thanniversary of the film’s release and Warner Bros. together with Chris Nolan have took it upon themselves to restore the film using the same photochemical ways it was produced (read about this here). Also, the product of said restauration efforts just happened to be part of a classical film marathon that is currently going on in my city. And yes, it was a pretty sweet experience.

Now, I have seen 2001 A Space Odyssey before, but I saw it on a small TV and as a child, so the entire thing was lost on me. My only memory of the entire affair is that it was way too long and extremely boring. Therefore, when the above described opportunity has presented itself, I was rather curious to see what my reaction would be this time. I do not enjoy old movies even if sci-fi is my go to genre, and there are a couple of movies out there considered to be among the all-time greatest that I just cannot get behind (I am looking at you Citizen Kane). But, regardless, this was a venue that I could not miss. But let us talk about the movie.

The story can be resumed quite easily. A mysterious black monolith jumpstarts civilization when under its influence some apelike creatures start using tools for the first time (which would be a weapon, naturally). Couple of millennia later, the fully civilized mankind discovers a similar monolith on the moon that has some connection to Jupiter, so a mission is dispatched to investigate. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

Now, the very first thing that I have walked away from this screening is that the movie has a much broader scope that I remembered or in fact, that people seem to realize. Whenever 2001 ASO comes up in a conversation, most people automatically think of HAL, the computer of the spacecraft sent to Jupiter and the events that transpire around it. I have to disagree on that. In my opinion, the odyssey is not from the moon to Jupiter. The odyssey is from the hairy apelike creature to the celestial baby. Now, at this particular junction I have to mention that it was both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s intention to leave the viewer with far more questions than answers, so there is no one good answer to this movie and the fact that everybody got their own take of it is by design. But moving on with my own. In my opinion, it is inaccurate to consider this movie to have a singular story. In fact, there are 5 different stories interlaced here. The first one is the dawn of man, the bit with the ape creatures, which is basically an origin story of us based on the ideas of Darwin and Carl Sagan. The second story actually isn’t a story at all but a beautiful presentation of the world of the future, how 2001 was expected to be. Commercial space flight, space station, moon station, video phones. All companioned by classical music, which was a great choice. Personally, I enjoyed this part the most because it managed to amaze me. I really would have like to visit the world painted in front of my eyes by Kubrick. It was grand, it was beautiful, and it was in space. And considering that it was done with effects from the 60’s, it is most impressive. Star Wars never managed to capture my eyes in this way, and that movie came out one decade later. In fact, the effects in Star Wars seem to be childish in comparison with 2001 ASO. The third story is the briefest of them all, with mankind discovering the monolith on the moon and deciding to keep it a secret until they have a better understanding what they are dealing with. The fourth story is the journey to Jupiter and of course the story of HAL. Now, it is understandable why everybody thinks that in fact the entire movie is about this part and everything else is just buildup. It is, after all, the most palatable story of them all, where we have actual character development, a plot and not to mention excitement. Also, HAL is one of the most memorable robot, or to be more correct, most memorable AI ever to be seen in a movie. But if we take a closer look of just how much time is spent on Discovery One (the spaceship making the journey to Jupiter) vs. the total runtime of the movie, we will find that this story is all too short for it to be the main dish, the essence of it all. Sure, HAL and all its actions do represent a fair share of topics that 2001 ASO brings to the debate tables, and yes, the topic of humans vs. AI is ahead of its time by almost 2 decades. The fifth and final story is the encounter between humanity, in the form of Dave Bowman, the sole survivor of the Discovery One mission, and the higher form of intelligence behind the monolith. And instead some pretentious dialogue between humans and aliens, Kubrick puts on screen a spectacle of lights and colors like never seen before. It is an almost 20-minute-long run of LSD high in a 70mm delivery system. It is memorable, to say the least. Naturally, the ending in itself is cryptic, and I do not have any theories regarding it. I do not need one. Kubrick did a rather realistic take of the story, even if we are talking about sci-fi. He tried to come as close to reality as possible on all fronts and most of the time, he managed to do so. So how can you be realistic about an actual encounter with a higher power? You can’t. Hence our open-ended ending of a film, where nothing is answered but plenty is provided for us to try to wrap our brains around.

As I have said before, this screening of 2001 ASO was a rather enjoyable experience. Both because I finally had the opportunity to fully enjoy its technical achievements and I was old enough to appreciate the film itself and what it was trying to accomplish. That being said, the film has plenty of flaws. The most crucial issue with it is its runtime and pace. It is two and a half hours long, which kind of feels appropriate on paper for an epic like 2001 ASO, but it really wears you out. It takes over an hour to get to Discovery One, where the more traditional story telling kicks in. Everything up until that point is either visual story telling or pure exposition. Either way, there is nothing for the viewer to attach itself emotionally, despite the spectacular visuals. Also, once we are done with Discovery One, we are back to visual storytelling, which is even more spectacular visually than before, but it is also far more alien to our minds. And while I do understand the intention, the effort made by Kubrick, and I will praise his genius, I do feel that the editing could have been improved. Also, in many instances, like when the apelike creature fight or when the LSD kicks in on screen, the score consists in a heavy choir singing, that feels apocalyptical. The visuals are already difficult to process as is but then the audio doubles the burden for the viewer. I know, the two are matching in a way, but it just felt like overkill. And finally, during the moon sequences and early on Discovery One, the movie really shows that is was made in the 60s. We see all the technological marvel that we were supposed to achieve, yet the way people dress and talk got stuck in the 60s. It bothered me that besides the evolution of technology the filmmakers did not have the fantasy to contemplate the evolution of the people in their everyday life.

In conclusion, 2001 A Space Odyssey is a must-see film, for everybody. It has a well-deserved place in cinema history and it has aged far better than most films, even more so, given that we are talking about a sci-fi movie, a bona fide space opera. And if you have the chance, do see it on the big screen. It will be an experience.

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First reformed

Every now and then, you come across a movie that you have no idea where to put. This movie should have spoken to me. It has all the right bits to do so. Yet I am unmoved by it. Which is a pity, because by all accounts, this movie is one of the front runners for the Oscars this year. At least for now. The guy behind it, Paul Schrader, has been around long enough to leave his marks on movies such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and with that kind of a resume it is only natural to have high expectations from the film in question. Now, to be fair, I am not saying that the movie falls short on those expectations, rather just, for me, the sum of its parts is lesser than the parts themselves.

Ethan Hawke play a priest named Toller. He is posted in a small church named First Reformed, that is sought out more as a tourist attraction than for spiritual counseling. Toller is leading an austere lifestyle, which is more or less self-imposed as a way to fight his own demons. Because Toller is tormented. He lost his son after he encouraged him to enlist in the armed forces, same way he and his father before him did. He is questioning his own faith in the church seeing how everybody else around him are more focused on the “earthly” part of life instead of spirituality, how the people of the church are more interested of the upcoming anniversary of his church (it has been around for 250) but they don’t really care that week after week it is mostly empty, instead it is more important who introduces who in front of an audience. They don’t care that the people attending the big 5000+ seat churches aren’t truly faithful. Toller is also resenting his own shortcomings and helplessness or self-pity, as he puts it. It all changes though when a member of his congregation, a pregnant young wife, reaches out to him for help. Her husband is having a difficult time adjusting to the world as well, and as being a dedicated environmental activist, he is obsessed with end of the world scenarios and is questioning the wisdom of bringing in a child in a world destined to be doomed. Initially, it seems, that the husband reacts well to Toller’s council, but in short time, he commits suicide. As a result, Toller changes his perspectives regarding his own faith and circumstance.

From a technical point of view, this is a beautiful movie. The images reflect the overall mood of the movie very well. The colors are somewhat de-saturated, just enough to kill any shine of the objects or of the people, for that matter, that are appearing in them. The images are crystal clear but not lively. And because of this everything and everybody looks, in lack of a better word, worn. The shots are composed in a similar manner. They are narrow, and their focus point is always dead center. There will be nothing noteworthy on the sides. Truth be told, there will not be much in the background unless it has to be there, reflecting once again the overall austerity of Toller’s world. The director of photography really outdid himself. But this movie has one more ace up in the sleeve, a very effective use of narration. Now, narration is usually used for exposition purposes, and generally it is considered to be a lazier technic. However, here it is cleverly disguised as actual storytelling, since in the movie Toller is writing diary entries about his everyday life. This allows the film makers to interlace the 1st person accounts of the events, in the form of the narration, with the 3rd person perspective of the viewer, providing us with both the objective facts of the situations as well as the main characters take of them.

In terms of performance, Ethan Hawke kills it. He gives a low-key, distant interpretation to the main character. By the nature of the story, there is a wall between Toller and the rest of the world, but Hawke’s acting makes this wall tangible. You can really feel that Toller does not want to be in his life. If the Oscars would be held today, Hawke would be frontrunner for Best Actor. Amanda Seyfried is also effective as the pregnant wife with the troubled husband. She manages to deliver a character that is innocent but at the same time, is not naïve. Her character is a church goer not because she was raised that way (which she was), but because she finds genuine comfort in keeping faith. Despite all the difficulties she must face, she remains a good person. Fun fact, Amanda Seyfried was actually pregnant during the production. As for the other cast, they too deliver solid performances.

As far as directing goes, Paul Schrader, manages to keep an even pace thorough the film and bringing out the best of what his cast had to offer for this particular project. But, since he is also the one who wrote the script, he is the main reason why this movie falls short, at least for me. As far as I can appraise, there are 2 major issues with the script. First, in the third act, our protagonist reaches a tipping point both out of desperation and because the realizations he made during the interaction with the suicidal husband. Unfortunately, this leads him on a path of action that contradicts everything about the character. It is contrary every value that the character has been established to have or is expected to have given his backstory. I acknowledge, it is very dramatic what Toller decides to do. Should it happen in the real life it would put the world on pause. But here, the shift in the character is just too sudden. The entire film is a build up for Toller’s desperation and contempt but it is insufficient to justify his final actions, given how radical they are. At least another 10 minutes would have been needed to cover that gap, but given that the movie is almost 2 hours long already, I can see why they could not extend the run-time, although, it would have been better to cut something else. However, I cannot fault Schrader for the direction he is taking with the story, because it is very dramatic and the way he chooses to solve it is very cathartic and filled with hope, even if by the ending I literally mean the final 5 seconds of the movie. Also, in this final, very dramatic sequence, a barb wire is involved at some point, which is so out of left field that it literally made me say “wtf” when I saw it. I understand the visual reference that the director was trying to reach, and yes, the imagery was even more dramatic than before, but there was no reason/purpose/logic from a story perspective why that moment should happen. None. I know that I am a bit cryptic here, but if you see the movie, you will get it right away. The second issue I have with this movie/script is the more important one, and namely, I do not care about Toller. I don’t care about him at all. I can appreciate on an objective level the torment that he is going through, sure. But, by design, he is an unlikeable character. And no reasons were provided for us to care about him. Which makes this movie very difficult to sit through. Not because the subject is dark and depressing, which it is, but because its 2 hours about a guy, that I don’t care about, having an existential crisis. Sure, everything else is excellent, but it is still an uncomfortable subject concerning an unlikeable person. This makes the movie to feel long and extremely boring. Thankfully, it avoids the trap of becoming pretentious.

In the end, I do not regret seeing this movie, but watching it did felt more of a chore than a hobby. I am certain that there ae and will be plenty of people for which this film is a masterpiece. If you are one of them, more power to you, that is great, I am happy for you, I really am. For me, this movie is like a fine dish that lacks the seasoning, nutritious but not enjoyable.

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