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.

Mortal Engines (2018): Action / Adventure / Fantasy

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Hundreds of years from now, the world as we know it has been destroyed, the remaining cities have been mobilised, the major cities are hunting down the smaller ones, and two youngsters do everything in their power to change the status quo.

I’ve spoken before about budget and creativity as I have spoken before about the transferrable problems of a script to the big screen. I guess it was meant to be a saga but chances now are slim to none. Remember the “Golden Compass” (2007)? I’m not surprised. “Mortal Engines'” visuals are stunning. Hands down. The cast does a pretty decent job too; that is not a problem either. What was it then and it bombed?

Every time I watch a film, I’m always looking for that shot. The shot that will make me say “damn”! And then I’ll have to rewind and so can watch it again. What I’m also going for is a good line. Something that will make me say “I wish I have thought of that”! So, when independent films with 1/50 of “Mortal Engines'” budget have both, and “Mortal Engines” has none, it is only natural not to be impressed. To add insult to the injury, the same applies for the editing. Not only is there not even one good montage sequence, but the whole film feels rushed. It feels as if it got “chopped” fast to flush you non-stop down the FADE OUT.

Just “From the Producer of…” won’t cut it. Because as a household name, if you bring it up, you have to live up to your expectations and the reputation that precedes you. Shame really. Not for the money thrown away really, but mostly for the actors who want to catch a big fish, they let the small ones go, and they end up catching a boot.

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.

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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Hauntingly dark and beautiful drawings are found at a dead man’s apartment and upon their unlawful exhibition for personal profit, a price for greed comes along.

Fancy words, filthy words, art critique jargon, shiny dress code, and over the top personalities, to name but a few, characterise a snotty world that most of you, and most certainly myself, have never visited and probably never will. Hard to tell where writer/director Dan Gilroy stands and how he feels about this world he brilliantly depicts or why he chose such a sexual term for a title and that is pure magic.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, and last but not least, John Malkovich give Gilroy’s surrealistic world flesh and blood and don’t hesitate to blow their performances out of proportion.

Gilroy was asked about the meaning of his film and in a cryptic manner, he responded that he would like people to perceive art differently. As we have proved time and time again that we can be a horrible species, I would say that I see where he is coming from and I’ll throw in my two cents. Instead of truly trying to appreciate and see art through the artists’ eyes, we make it all about ourselves, either by showing up at an illustrious museum just to be seen there or by benefiting from someone else’s expression. How? Most likely by fancily writing about it so we can look knowledgeable and special or by monetising it, upgrading our status at the same time. One way or another, we purely exploit it and try to hide the fact that we couldn’t do it ourselves.

Meaning aside and changing the subject, having watched numerous Netflix productions, once again, I would like to throw in my two cents. I think there is a resounding statement here that has been repeatedly given for quite a while now. By Netflix. “We don’t give a s#@% !!! Is your film thought-provoking? We’ll make it! Is it bizarre? Bring it! Is it something no one wants to produce? We will! We don’t give a s#@% which festivals accept our submissions! We couldn’t care less which studios alleviate our success! We spend billions and we make even more! And we do everything! We just… Don’t. Give. A. S%#@.

Exam (2009): Mystery / Thriller

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Eight chosen contenders competing for the same position are locked in a highly respectable company’s exam room for the final test which is nothing like they have seen or experienced before.

A one-location, British psychological thriller that delves into the human psyche, and infiltrates man’s darkest thoughts. A prime example of a low-budget thriller that keeps the viewer wondering from the opening scene to the end credits what is the meaning of this test, what the question is, who truly everyone is, why were they chosen, and what is the company getting out of it.

Mysterious, entertaining, and claustrophobic, “Exam’s” storytelling relies on actual character study experiments and utilises Hitchcockian approaches that go back as far as “Lifeboat” (1944). Low budget / high standards! Hats off to cast and crew.

I say no more. Lights and phones off, and pay attention to the details. Enjoy!