Creed II (2018): Drama / Sport

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Ivan Drago has a son… and they are coming to claim the heavyweight title from Balboa’s tutelage, Adonis Creed.

Is it enjoyable? It is. Is the training inspiring? It is. Is the acting convincing and the editing pacing the film as it should? Definitely. Is Tessa Thompson amazing? Hands down. Then what seems to be the issue?

I would put my finger on a few issues:

  • The first one is obvious, “Creed II” looks like a remake of “Rocky IV” (1985). But it’s a continuation based on “Rocky IV”, which makes it… repetitive?
  • Other than repetitive, the story is also quite predictable and formulaic.
  • As with every other “Rocky” franchise and “Creed” (2015), there is at least one training montage sequence. “Creed II” montage, as amusing as it may be, doesn’t add anything to the equation.
  • Lacks the strong verbal confrontation between Rocky and Ivan after more than three decades.

The aforementioned issues weaken “Creed II”. But there is one last issue which is more intricate and challenges the film… Before the first fight, Adonis doesn’t know what he is fighting for. Then, he figures it out, trains really hard, and goes again. The reason he decides to fight him is not as compelling as Viktor’s. Adonis has a much better life. Viktor’s life (and Ivan’s) is more dramatic and we, as an audience, feel the need to see him stepping into the ring and winning. Adonis’ reason is ego-driven. Simple as. Remember why he stepped into the ring in “Creed”? To prove that he’s not a mistake! Which made the audience get the goosebumps, even shed a tear, and root for the underdog which conquered the world.

The film financially did well. The devil is in the details though and these details could have made it a valuable addition both to the franchise and the spin-off.

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Contact (1997): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A scientist who has devoted her life to discovering extraterrestrial life form not only has her breakthrough but also uncovers a secret message.

Carl Sagan:  “The astronomer of the people”. Astrophysicist, author, researcher, and controversial figure regarding his scientific, political, and religious views.

Robert Zemeckis: The enormously talented director of films such as the “Back to the Future” franchise, Forrest Gump (1994), and “Cast Away” (2000).

Two and a half hours of lessons about life… on this planet or the next. And Carl Sagan was there since day one to make sure that everyone got the science right. And that everyone got a glimpse of what he “saw”. Of what he envisioned. Unfortunately, halfway there, cancer beat him and left his last breath. He was 62.

Fortunately, his adaptation, his vision, was left in the brilliant hands of Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis grasped Sagan’s concept of the “Encyclopaedia Galactica” which is based on the science fiction novel “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and delivered a heartfelt drama about a girl who turned into a woman with the brightest of minds and who wouldn’t stop until she discovered the truth.

The truth that science should be seeking. And not at the expense of people. The same truth that faith in something higher than ourselves should be doing. And again, not at the expense of people. “Contact” is a sci-fi/drama that doesn’t patronise, exploit, manipulate or try to impress with fake, non-coherent, uneducated scientific jargon. It takes its time to find a middle ground between science and religion and make it about not who is right and who isn’t but about respecting the fellow human being who just happens to have a different view of the “cosmos” than ourselves.

It is amazing how the real-life discovery of an arctic meteorite from Mars coincided with the film’s shooting and how Zemeckis grasped the opportunity and adapted Bill Clinton’s actual interview which looks like it is custom-tailored to the film’s discovery. Luck and talent are beyond understanding here.

Lastly, I find it really interesting how in a film that is primarily sci-fi, having so much to offer to our way of thinking, the best shot (my opinion anyway) is a young Ellie running up the stairs, after having found her dad lying on the floor, to get his medicine.

“Contact”… One of the best political, social, humane science fiction you will ever get to watch.

The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018): Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi

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An aged American war veteran is sent to the Canadian wilderness to kill… the Bigfoot.

I had no idea this film existed until I came across the title. And then I said… “Damn! Now I have to know how Hitler and Bigfoot co-exist in the same sentence”. I’ll tell you this, ostensibly, the film makes no sense whatsoever and one would think that writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski smokes way too much. But this is not the case!

This is purely my interpretation of what the film is about so, feel free to have your own should you decide to watch it. An old man who once achieved so much and a nation owes him is left with nothing but his dignity and loneliness in a world he does not understand anymore and no one to share it with. And when he is just about to bite the bullet, the government knocks on his door to assign him with an unfathomable mission, and the opportunity to once more save the world.

Did I say too much? Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin Barr respectively and Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine deliver subtle yet powerful performances making this film with the confusing title an existential drama on the painful feelings of loss and regret. So, what is the rest all about? That’s up to you to figure out.

P.S. The last flashback scene is heartbreaking…

Ashes in the Snow (2018): Drama / History / Romance

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In 1941, as Stalin’s army marches through Lithuania, a 16-year-old girl, her family, and thousands of men, women, and children who have been accused of treason, and are deported to Siberia.

A heartbreaking and soul-crushing story about a nation we know little and the same nation’s suffering that we know even less. A powerful drama based on Ruta Sepetys’ book “Between Shades of Gray” (Don’t you dare mix it up!), directed by Marius A. Markevicius, and with two actors leading strong: Bel Powley and Martin Wallström.

Shot on a moderate budget, it lacks the Hollywood flamboyance but the message is coming across straight through and expands to the rest of the Baltic people and whoever else faced the Russian atrocities. Shamelessness and misanthropy add to the film’s drama, history, and romance and clash the two forces that, in abhorrent times like this, are battling over the human soul: hope and despair.

A massive round of applause to Sorrento Productions, Tauras Films, Twilight Merengue Studios, and Vertical Entertainment which produced and distributed the film for the world to know. And then another one to the Lithuanian government for allowing it and supporting it.

People are often wondering how the descendants of the Nazis feel nowadays about their ancestors. How about the Russians’ ancestors? How about the current followers of the same regime that still exists and still oppresses, has surpassed the deaths caused by the fascist regimes, and competes with the deaths caused by theocratic ones?

Boy Erased (2018): Biography / Drama

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A boy is sent by his parents to a church-supportive gay conversion program after revealing to them that he has “impure” thoughts about men.

Joel Edgerton proves time and time again that he was born and destined to be both in front and behind the camera. A fine addition and a major representative of the Australian film school.

The film: Garrard Conley’s heartfelt memoir is masterfully adapted for the big screen with nothing but emotion, sensitivity, honesty, and courage. Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, and Lucas Hedges give amazing performances, become mother, father and son, and open their house’s door for you to experience the suffering of their family’s drama. Non-linearly narrated, “Boy Erased” seems to be slightly holding its punches but delivers a clear message and puts the situation into perspective, establishing the backward, medieval, and shameless position of the church in the 21st century.

Life: “Boy Erased” is a drama that countless families across the globe face every year and, in their despair, they rely on a higher power to give them an answer to a natural, conscious choice that poses no question. The diversity of homosexual personalities, idiosyncrasies, quirks, and foibles extends as far as the heterosexuals’, the “normal”. And to this very day, men of science try to contextualise the “gay gene” – good luck isolating it from the “straight” one! And certain men of the cloth, and followers of an organisation, whose knowledge of the world is summarised in a fictitious book that is divorced from reality, want to cast out the “demon of homosexuality”.

Do we believe in God or do we believe in what others interpret of what God is? I remember being taught Jesus saying “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”. But for the life of me, I can’t remember been taught about Him condemning homosexuality. We are soon entering the third decade of the 21st century, and by now, the State and the pharisaic Church should have been distinctively separated.

God is not to be blamed here. He Himself (is it ‘him’?) is the victim and sad creator of our decadent species. But there is still faith that the minorities in this world, who strive to make a difference, regardless of their age, gender, IQ, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs will one day grow more… and more… and more… and will dethrone archaic establishments, status quos, and organisations that have been ruling since the dawn of time. And “issues” such as homosexuality will stop being treated as “witch hunt”, will become accepted and, hopefully, soon after, will be taken as a matter of course where no one could care less.

And to quote the late Curt Cobain: “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes”.

Prospect (2018): Drama / Sci-fi / Thriller

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Father and daughter land on a planet’s remote, exotic moon to harvest precious gems and get rich but between merciless people and dangerous forest dwellers, escaping becomes the ultimate goal.

Directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl shoot the feature version of their homonymous short, on a $3.9m budget. And the result pays off. Well directed, well paced and well acted, “Prospect” invests in a claustrophobic opening sequence and amazing shots from space. While on the ground, intentionally or unintentionally, the film can be pitched or could have been pitched or maybe it was as “Mad Max in an alien moon”.

Films like “Prospect” make me more optimistic. It is an indie, low budget sci-fi that pays respect to the genre and the art of cinema with cast and crew fully supporting and believing in it. And so did the fans who applauded its minimalism at the festivals and didn’t care if props and costumes were handmade by, among others, cosplayers!

Inspirational! Well done!

City of God (2002): Crime / Drama

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Through the eyes of a young, aspiring photographer, the “favelas” of Rio unfold stories of drugs, guns, kingpins, and gang wars where always the innocent paying the price.

4 Oscars nominations, 66 wins, another 38 nominations, top rated movies #21 (IMDb, 2019). If it wasn’t for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) – which was nominated for 11 Oscars and won them all – it would have definitely won the “Best Editing” category. Fair enough. One of the best-edited films of the 21st century, “City of God”, tells the city’s true crime stories during the ’60s and the ’70s, in Fernando Meirelles’ brutally realistic documented way. Fear, insecurity, and despair spread throughout the streets of the slum overshadowing the beauty of people who have nothing to do with the gangs’ territorial issues.

Masterfully and non-linearly narrated, “City of God” delves into the poverty-stricken society of all Rio’s undesirables, digs deep into the characters’ soul and chronicles the rise and perseverance of violence.

Feature debut for the amazing Alice Braga.

The Wrestler (2008): Drama / Sport

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An aging professional wrestler, with an unsuitable for him part-time job, is forced to quit wrestling, forget his past glory, and find a way to cope in a world outside the ring.

You know why reviews can be harsh sometimes? Because of films like this one. Shot with a micro-budget of $6,000,000, “The Wrestler” is almost a perfect film. So when you watch unbearable films costing ten times more, it can be infuriating. With Darren Aronofsky believing in and fighting for Mickey Rourke, and both of them believing in and dedicating themselves to the project like their life depends on it, “The Wrestler” could only be a masterpiece.

In a form of a docudrama, Aronofsky “cuts loose” Mickey Rourke letting him write and improvise his character and Rourke, in his mid-fifties, shines like never before (Oscar nomination / Golden Globe win). Both of them debunk the myths of WWF, and old wrestlers either “break down and cry” or characterise it a “dark misinterpretation”. Be it as it may, it certainly gives a perspective and sheds some light on the professional wrestling world’s backstage.

Then, Evan Rachel Wood proves once more she possesses the Midas Touch of acting, turning all her performances into gold. And last but definitely not least, the always magnificent actress Marisa Tomei, in her mid-forties, puts women half her age to shame. Their short appearance in the film creates the perfect subtext that leads the story to the direction it was inevitably meant to be led.

“The Wrestler” is about a man facing the consequences of doing what he always thought he was destined to do. And kept on doing despite everyone else’s disapproval or discouragement. External influences that come out of envy, kindness, hate, or pure love. But sheer will to succeed and remain at the top and blind dedication blur the lines and don’t leave time to distinguish which is which. And I guess if you only possess them both you ignore the influences and aim at your destiny regardless of the consequences.

Widows (2018): Crime / Drama / Thriller

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Four women who are left with nothing but debt after their husbands died in a heist are pulling a heist of their own to reclaim their lives.

Based on the homonymous 1983 British series, “Widows” (2018) takes the fight from London to Chicago. Astonishing performances from the ensemble cast with Viola Davis and Robert Duvall standing out. Then, the powerful opening chase sequence promises an action-packed drama to keep you on the edge of your seats. A promise that doesn’t deliver though…

It is not first and certainly will not be the last when a European or an East Asian director goes to Hollywood. See, for example, actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz and “Babylon A.D” (2008) or Jee-woon Kim and “The Last Stand” (2013). One way ticket back… Even though “Widows” is nowhere near as bad as the aforementioned films (by brilliant directors) or the reviews surrounding it, it lacks the Steve McQueen, fine art training, personality, and idiosyncrasy.

It lacks the suffering of “12 Year a Slave” (2013), “Shame’s” (2011) internal struggle, and “Hunger’s” (2008) realism. Maybe his first cut (around 3 hours long) offered all of the above and more. Regardless, I really look forward to McQueen’s next film, European, American, or otherwise.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018): Action / Crime / Drama

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The infamous computer hacker Lisbeth Salander teams up again with journalist Mikael Blomkvist but also NSA agent Ed Needham to take down cybercriminals and Stockholm’s worst called “The Spiders”.

When the trailer was initially released, the first comment was: “The film no one asked for…”. Sony, to secure the rights for the film, acquired the rights for the fourth book which was not written by the late Stieg Larsson. A direct sequel to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), the film bypasses two books and here’s what happened to both character and story:

Salander here is not a victim anymore but a vigilante. If there was a batsuit anywhere you would be watching “Batgirl”. She knows how to fight and how to shoot, and race on a WRC level. She knows how to hack your phone, your computer, and your car from a Nokia 6110 while beating chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. She can find in time dozens of dildos and use them to turn an airport upside down to free an NSA agent that she doesn’t know where he is. What can I say? Makes me look my uselessness in the eye, and jump out of the window.

Story-wise, it gets better… Wanting to keep a low profile she steals a brand new Lamborghini. She deals with a computer program that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. All clues are placed conveniently in plain sight where they can be found by anyone, yet no one finds them except the right person at the right time (it’s called gimmick). The villain doesn’t show any qualities to match Salander’s (superhuman) level. Other than she has suffered, we never find out anything about her capabilities other than she can put together and lead the toughest and remorseless criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to chop off your face.

Clare Foy is an extremely charismatic and diverse actress that does a brilliant job here. The story though and the character development don’t give her much to work with. If you are Lakeith Stanfield’s fan, watch “Sorry to Bother You” (2018). As for Fede Alvarez, I highly recommend “Evil Dead” (2013) and “Don’t Breath” (2016). Gory!