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Lady Bird

Plenty of Spirit
Christine, or Lady Bird, whichever names suits her is a strong and lively character, ready to express thoughts and opinions; yet there's still some innocence left in her, with much to learn along the way. She has been raised with enough freedom to express her opinions and to have some dreams, which might or not might come true, depending on the family situation. What's apparent is that Lady Bird could easily get lost, but she has a mother who is the family's rock, though her manners could antagonize everyone from the start. What's important is that she loves her family, and she does it fiercely.

We accompany Christine through her senior year, as she lives through those special moments. She starts asserting herself, making difficult choices, trading friends, showing her independence, and going through the growing pains of her first love. For a few moments, I was afraid that we would go the expected path, but "Lady Bird" goes deeper in the character study of the family, and we get a sense of intimacy that lets you in, to become part of the story, a close observer, feeling the lows and highs.

"Lady Bird" is memorable because of the fine cast portraying all the members of the family. They're in first light, as average as they can be, but once we are done with the film, we realize that there's nothing average about them. Each contributes his/her own special experiences, shaping each other's lives, and allowing them to be an influence in theirs.

The Snowman

Just LIke Scattered Pieces
It's hard to believe a movie with Michael Fassbender would make me feel this frustrated. It's possible that he was as lost as most of us in the audience. Events happened with barely any relationships between them. Characters hardly tolerated being in the same scene with each other. I couldn't follow much of the story line, and I read the book. This should have been called something else or come in with a warning that said "barely inspired by..."

A serial killer is attacking a series of women and leave several clues to Harry Hole (Fassbender). He's clearly toying with him, and had it been another film we probably would have been either rooting for Fassbender or fearing for the lives of his close relatives. There's plenty of darkness, "mood", beautiful scenery, and potentially interesting characters, but the three responsible people for the screenplay must have been working in separate time zones or geographical locations without being able to contact each other.

1) Character commits suicide. 2) Character loses a body part. 3) Characters wander around in the snow or dimly lit interiors. 4) Character can't understand the other because he/she doesn't make sense. 5) Suspense is hardly present.

If the problem had been the incoherence that permeates most of the film, one would have been frustrated but some of the story changes and character substitutions don't make any sense. "Gone With The Wind" managed to be condensed into four hours, without losing its main points. What happened here?

This film begs remake because there was something interesting and exciting, dark, and dangerous in its original concept, and it is a pity what happened to it.

* out of ****

(for its beautiful cinematography).

The Mountain Between Us

A Thrilling Romance
First of all, this is not a bad movie at all. It demands that you sit, that you enjoy it while it gives enough time to digest what is happening and the beauty of the intimidating setting. Gorgeously photographed and very well acted by its two leads, we're treated to an old fashioned "survival adventure". Instead of giving us fast and "unbelievable" set pieces, we keep on growing to learn who these people are, and that there's a possibility things might go either way. Time goes on, and things do happen here.

Two people meet in an airport, charter a plane, and have some bad luck when their pilot is unable to take them to their destination and crashes high on the mountain, killing one and injuring the other two. Now, it's a matter of survival, and it's very convenient that one of the survivors is a doctor. It becomes apparent from the beginning that these two strong people will have some friction as they figure out how to stay alive. The electricity they generate keeps them alive as they discover ways to overcome some of their obstacles, and soon we start to notice the chemistry between them.

There are thrills in the movie, involving some wild life, the inclement weather, some bad decisions, and some interesting twists along the way. Elba is a quiet and strong type who thinks before he acts and who is dealing with a personal crisis. Winslet is a impulsive type who is not afraid to take chances, but she might facing some impossible odds now.

Romance blooms amid all the tragic developments, and it might be hopeless because they might not make it after all. Also, there are people waiting for these two, and eventually they have to face reality again.

The last third of the film is as old fashioned as a movie has been in the last decade, and this is where one can see how powerful a good couple of actors can be. Elba is definitely a leading man, and we know Kate is one of the most reliable actresses out there. Take a chance and spend a couple of hours appreciating a good film that might not be completely original but easily outpaces many of the unsatisfying fare out there.


Right to the Heart and from The Soul
Jake Gyllenthal has accomplished almost the impossible, to give a performance that will rank among the best ever. He channels the ferocity and pain of the best work by Denzel. His "Fences" work might have been depended on a combination of fine acting and his masterful command of theatrical delivery, but Gillenthal here makes you recall how wonderful it can be when the delivery is raw, pure, and intelligent. There's the fire that Jamie Bell brought to "Billy Elliot", and I can certainly could see and feel the pain, much like Eddie Redmayne showed it in both "The Danish Girl" and "The Theory of Everything". It emanates from the soul of an actor who has connected with his part and reaches sublime levels.

"Stronger" has Gyllenthal showing us what his character went through as a result of losing both legs during the Boston Marathon attack. We know we're dealing with a man who has faults but is able to show the fact that he has a tremendous emotional core. He is not afraid to reach to show his passion, with a touch of insecurity, and suddenly, the tragedy makes him grow up when he has to deal with issues that shatter both his body and his spirit. He must climb out of the place he is in to learn how live a completely different life. He now relies in others in ways he could have never imagined. His nerves are overactive, giving him anxiety attacks, bouts of depression which can only sabotage the little progress he makes.

His face is a mask of frustration, terror, anger, confusion and so many emotions that arise as his life changes. He is in the middle of public events; something that is affecting him in more negative ways because he's frail and lost. He has the support of a few people, some like his mother, tries hard; yet she drinks and is easily seduced by the spotlight. She praises her son, yet ignores the torments he goes through.

Jeff's girlfriend remains at his side, enduring the not so easy task that caring for him entails. They have a connection, but there is much that needs healing. Unless, people face their demons, talk frankly, and go through some type of therapy, the pain will become something uglier, and this is where the performance takes your breath away. His rage and cries of desperation when he should be thankful for a new gift, leaves you speechless. There are many amazing parts to his performance, and the degrees of anger and ache are intense and varied. It's not a simple performance. Here's not a man who just looks devastated. Here's an actor whose body, eyes, voice, and who uses anything he can to bring those moments to life. Gyllenthal is absolutely brilliant in what appears so simple but is so powerful. He's not afraid of quiet moments. His voice work here is among some of the finest on film. We have seen him lose weight, add muscle, take chances few actors do. Here he has reached the finish line, giving us something that will probably never be improved upon by him and many others.

Gyllenthal does wonders when he's in the hospital in recovery, in his discovery of how difficult it is to use his home's facilities, how hard it is to tell anyone what he is really feeling. His hands shake,his mouth is frozen as he is unable to cry out how much he is suffering. He doesn't understand what he symbolizes for many because he is now in a place which few of us visit, a hell that has taken over his world and makes him hurt in unspeakable ways. He will make, but the road is long and full of all kinds of obstacles. Here's a performance that needs to be seen, admired, rewarded, and applauded because the actor has done exactly what he needed to do: Show us how complex emotion can be.

Tulip Fever

It's All About Passion
Probably one of the most exquisitely photographed films ever made, "Tulip Fever" could have been much better, and it is better than most of the stuff out there. Yet, it feels like it missed something, and that's where the mystery lies for its audience. It's an intelligent piece, with a love triangle, fairly good characterization of the main players. Vikander is lovely as the stray wife, and Waltz gives us another rich and complex portrayal of a man who has come far but is incomplete because he feels he must have done something bad enough to anger God.

It's Amsterdam, and depending on where you live, your life is wonderful or sort of a mess. One thing the film is good at is showing the class differences, which interestingly enough both seem to share some type of restraint that many fight to preserve, and others do fairly well ignoring. At the moment most people have developed a type of fanaticism for the supple and gorgeous tulips. Prices vary, and some specimens can break or make a regular man.

The rich man "acquires" a wife, gives her what she needs, and all he wants is an heir. Somehow, despite their attempts, no baby comes. To complicate matters, a young painter becomes the young woman's obsession, and immediately, we feel things can just go badly. The affair becomes more intense, with the husband completely unaware of it. This apparently emboldens the lovers to try a very difficult enterprise in order to free themselves of the trap they have forged for themselves.

In order for this to happen, there's a parallel story, which involves, Maria, a pretty sharp maid who is not afraid to cross the lines between master and servant to express an opinion. She has earned their trust, but she has also kept her eyes and ears open. Unfortunately, her own affair has unexpected consequences, and something her mistress does causes a bit of problems for all involved as her lover disappears, leaving her pregnant.

One obvious matter is that the film is gorgeous to see, appreciating the input of those involved. However, the passion is kept to the minimum, and in the final 20 minutes, we are wondering why we are not at the edge of our seats, seeing what fate holds for the members of this drama. When we finally arrived at the expected conclusion, we realize there are still surprises to be had.

Change occurs, resulting in many people's lives to take new turns. The beneficiaries of the final turn of events is a pleasant surprise. We are not seeing a typical tragic ending, but a more realistic understanding of how things might work out, something closer to the true nature of those involved.


Is There Any Hope?
"Mother!" takes story telling into a different territory. Is it a horror story? Or does it just have horror elements in it? Is it a big allegory? What are we watching? Truly, there are questionable choices all over the film, but not much can be said against the work done for those involved. It's not confusing. It's just different.

We're supposed to believe it's a horror/love story because there is a couple and underexposed film, making the setting look a bit dark. This is a choice I am never fully capable of understanding. I'm glad we have Jennifer Lawrence, doing the best she can with her part, and Javier Bardem, though underutilized, gives a galvanizing performance. At the heart of the story, there is a connection between the environment and her character. It's not quite that easy to see how the connection evolves.

A couple of two very different characters, a lovely, younger, and a bit more compliant young woman is married to a sophisticated, more mysterious older man who casts a spell on her. She's hesitant to cross him, and though he supposedly loves her, we can see that the devotion doesn't really go both ways.

In the opening scenes, we see their relationship is at best tense, with her asking reserved questions, almost afraid to say the wrong thing. He looks tired bored, "uninspired", waiting for the new idea, the new "spark" to strike. This occurs when a couple comes in to shatter to pieces what little peace is in the house. It's a this time moment that I wonder whether the film should have called house, but then by the end, I realized "mother!" was after all a better title.

Things move slowly, as we see the dying man capture the writer's attention, and if he was barely paying attention to her, he's has now fallen under the spell of the newcomers. These multiply before we realize an invasion has come in after a tragic events, and any semblance of sanity and a sense of home is destroyed.

Jennifer's character eventually gets pregnant, starting the second act of the story. Once again, things get settled, and both the child creates some type of bond between them. He's also inspired to write a new book. What happens next is where things go wild. Mobs arrive, worshiping whatever word is written in his book. Fanatics go to extremes, leading to a warlike atmosphere, which could destroy everything and everyone in the home.

It's at this point where people are either say they like or hate everything that we have seen so far. There's nothing wrong with the performances, both Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer are dark and creepy, not a model family, in spite of having been together for a while and having two children. Everyone who wanders from the outside comes him with some type of darkness attached to them. People make passes at her, other violate their privacy, destroy or disrespect their surroundings. Truly, it all fits the whole; however there are bits that could have been executed better.

"Mother!" is not a boring or particularly challenging film. It has big ideas, powerful sections, and overall it works, though it might not please all who see it.

Wind River

Three Out of Three
"Wind River" is Sheridan's third great movie in a row. He's a man who understand the dark side of nature and can give us both an inner and an outer tale of what the main characters are going through. This time, a dedicated man with a less than perfect life, is recruited to find out what happened to a young woman whose body has been found in the snow. With the supervision or assistance, depending on your point of view, the mystery is slowly resolved, and the findings are grim.

It becomes apparent from early on that whatever happened to this young woman has the makings of some type of relationship going wrong; however, as we are told the story, we realize that the backgrounds of the participants in this drama have quite a bit of pain, and their society is slowly imploding because there is a strong likelihood failure or tragedy will strike somehow.

We get to see the young woman's family's problem, and how the list of suspects become more intriguing, when we learn more about her brother and his friends. The thrills intensify as our pair of investigators keeps searching for the truth, and it reaches explosive levels when the possible culprits are found.

None will ever accuse of this being an unoriginal or boring movie. We might have seen parts of the whole before, but the whole things moves slowly because of the richness of the details, the power of the technical elements who augment the drama. The actors are at their best and both Olsen and Renner can effectively show frustration, despair, and the incredulity of realizing that human nature has the potential of darkness.

"Wind River" is Taylor's best so far. It feels a bit more accomplished than his previous two; maybe it's the power of the narrative or the beauty of the setting. What is undeniable is that the whole in indeed a classic.

Logan Lucky

Never Understimate Anyone
It is almost a perfect fit having Sodenbergh at the helm of this film, a fun caper of what some might call the perfect crime. Cleverly put together and masterfully acted by the likes of Craig and Tatum, two reliable performers who have been giving us a share of delights in the last decade. Somehow, overshadowed by others, there's no chance of that happening here, and both draw attention to their respective characters. Tatum's is low key and earns our sympathies early in the story. It's hard to believe that he is the driving force behind the plan. He walks around as if always hurting, an open heart who lives solely to make sure his kid is a happy child and does her best considering she spends her time between two separated parents.

The mood is set right from the start when one can see the beautiful connection these two share. Having her clarify whether he needs a flat head or a Phillips screwdriver is one of the most heartfelt moments of the year. There is also a strong bond between the two brothers, and it is also full of quiet interactions. It also becomes clear during their exchanges who is the smart one in the family, who is the leader, and who is the follower.

The plan requires the involvement of the Craig character, a expert in explosive devices who needs the right incentive and challenge to join in. He does his part, treating those along the way to a series of very interesting and salacious remarks. He has a twinkle in his eye and irradiates a charm that is hard to fight. He has his connections and peculiarities, and all of them are put to good use while executing the robbery.

There is plenty of humor when we see the various exchanges between the different characters. We have seen people like these before; but we haven't quite seen them do the things they come up here. Everything feels real and though some of their lucky moments might make us raise an eyebrow, we cheer for them. There are the require obnoxious stereotypes, but even those are likable. The tone remains constant, the pay off seems justified, and well, do we end up with a happy ending? That's to be decided both on and off screen.

We only hope that all these parts of the delightful whole are recognized at the end of the year because Tatum delivers and Craig tops himself in one performance that is so such a transformation, we know we are witnessing really good acting. There is a powerful force complimenting his shocking exterior. It's hard to believe this is the man who walks around in those expensive suits and wouldn't be happy with his gin fixed anyway but the one he prefers.

Atomic Blonde

Being a spy is hard work
Charlize Theron shines as Lorraine in this entertaining and intelligent thriller where things are not as they seem, and where surprises are ready to spring at any time. Lorraine is a complex and tortured individual who lives to survive, making a few stops along the way, and these can be sometimes inconvenient and lethal (usually for others around here).

Most of the story appears to take place in Berlin in the days before the fall of the wall. The atmosphere and unrest and unpredictability allow the various spies' maneuvers room to deviate from what their original plans were. We get plenty of fights, some of which are awesome and unbelievable, and there is a minor car chase that is nevertheless very powerful, and with a couple of really cool crashes.

The story opens as Lorraine is interrogated about a mission that might have gone awry. She is not happy being there, particularly with a couple of people who might just want her to take the fall. She stands her ground and relates everything that happened. There was an original mission, but this changes in the early part of the film, and soon she is chasing new leads, meeting some really hot people, and ultimately playing the game of survival. Soon she's teaming up with a new member of the French intelligence and wondering how resourceful Percival is going to be, helping her achieve her goal.

As expected, the intrigue grows, the suspense increases, and the mystery thickens, as people start dropping dead, and she has more than one close encounter with people who work for people who needed her gone. The question is "who is really pulling the strings?" In the meantime, she kicks, boxes, slaps, and does everything physical move to keep going. She's also fantastic wearing some really cool outfits and reminds us what a star Ms. Theron is. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen and just wondered who else could have done such an impressive and difficult job. I'm still uncertain as to how much of the fighting scenes were done by her.

So, the ending will shock a few people, but it ends true to its core. It's always satisfying to see how a piece ties all its strands together, leaving us happy that we have seen an entertaining and intelligent moving picture. Hats off!

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

The Most Imaginative Film of This Century?
We knew we could count on Besson to give us a visual treat; what we didn't know is that he would turn out a feast for the senses and the mind. He has based his screenplay on a series of stories and given us an adventure that takes us through different universes and dimensions, but which keeps the conflict simple: good versus evil.

What is not simple is the amount of work and creativity that went into making this picture. From a prologue showing the introduction of the various members of a community working together to move forward, share technology and other ideas. There are, nevertheless, problems, and a paradise planet is destroyed. Hundred of years later, there are problems in the city of planets, sort of a cosmic cancer that will destroy the entire community.

The two main heroes are especially trained soldiers who might be able to figure out how to protect the ruler of the federation and destroy the forces that are endangering everyone's future. Besson tells the story, taking us through a series of spectacular scenes, as our heroes overcome the different obstacles to complete their quests.

The ride is spectacular in every sense of the word. We see aliens of all types, a few tributes to previous science fiction films that became landmarks in cinema. The score perfectly compliments the mood, and it is impossible to take everything in, as we see an incredible display of futuristic sets and very impressive costumes, make up and hair styles.

The editing keeps the pace exciting, delivering surprise after surprise, and even a trio of characters that reminds the audience of some Howard The Duck lost relatives is a very enjoyable addition to the picture. Another highlight has one key character, Bubble, showing quite a display of her talents, beautifully played by Rihanna.

I haven't had this much fun at the movies in a long time, and at 2:20 minutes, the film is not long enough. We are left wanting more and more.

War for the Planet of the Apes

True Leadership
The conclusion to the latest version of one of the "Planet of the Apes" proves to be a superb production, full of both action and heart. With a solid screenplay that dedicates equal time to pensive quiet moments and action that moves the story to its emotional conclusion, we are given what is arguably the masterpiece of the year.

Caesar is now in the middle of a conflict that will decide the fate of his followers. He still considers murder an abominable act and preaches for peaceful solutions. Let us live in peace and everything should be fine. Well, not everything is going the way he wants. His family is murdered by an unstable and vengeful colonel who wants to exterminate the apes and carryout his plans for revenge.

Caesar's tragedy propels him to find the colonel and seek justice. There is much happening during his trip, and we are witnesses to the effects of the apes' evolution on their human counterparts. Whoever hasn't been killed by the virus is now regressing into different types of humanoids. It's affecting their speech and mental capacities. This becomes an essential plot development that explains what is going on with the colonel.

Humans are for the most part portrayed as cruel assassins, with a collective desire to destroy life. The scenes in the base recall concentration camp mentality, and the final battles are portrayed in such a way that we know nothing good will come out of it. Nature is beginning to settle the conflict, and it might end up playing an important part in the film's climax.

Much of the success is Andy Serkis' amazing turn as Caesar. He keeps getting better and better, giving us access to the turmoil and the variety of feelings he experiences throughout the film. Intelligence, grief, anger, surprise are clearly shown, and we soon forget that we CGI is even a part of the equation.

The film has an epic film, with gorgeous vistas shown in the different parts of the journey. Emotions are highlighted by the use of light and how the camera focuses on everything, the faces, and the background. It's a beautiful way to tell a story, and as you will have experienced by the film's conclusion, and to reach an audience by touching their hearts.


It is Quite A Tragedy
Technically the film is a wonder. Nolan put me in the middle of the experience. The punishment on my ears will need a couple of hours to subside. I've noticed some reviewers writing about the story. In still trying to figure out if there was any. There were plenty of disjointed scenes edited in such a way that it bother me more than the massacres on screen. In the end. I can't remember any other time I felt so lost at the end of a movie.

There were some spectacular moments that makes me appreciate the quality of the special effects and the director's technical prowess. Unfortunately, what we get throughout is an exercise in fragmentation. With barely a thread of a story we can only say we feel as lost as the stranded soldiers hoping something would put us out of our misery as the constant barrage of explosions and foreign continued endlessly.

Sadly, the film could have starred no one special as all the major talent keeps looking a way from the camera or is in the dark, facing down, or covered with oil. There is very little emotion here and we get the idea by default. The Nazis are very bad and guns kill.

I do have to acknowledge the imaginative score by Zimmer, probably one of his beat giving us the promise of much better stuff to come but after the first 10 minutes, I felt as hopeless as the soldiers in Dunkirk.

It is hard to care for anyone when there's so little given as background. Would it have killed Nolan to have ar least one complete character? Posing nobly waiting for the ultimate demise doesn't count. Maybe we will get him back to the heights of his Batman trilogy. Not everyone hits a home run every time.

If you like fireworks you're in for a treat, otherwise prepare yourself for the longest day of your life.

The Big Sick

A Throwback to Good Romantic Films
And the good films keep coming. "The Big Sick" recalls the great comedies of the past, stories with smart characters, unexpected surprises, and sharp, clever writing based on real events, without a hint of fantasy or crazy action.

Two apparently different people meet in Chicago, with obvious chemistry and great prospects for a successful relationship. They have an amazing time together, telling themselves that this is nothing but a quick fling. Both of them have valid reasons, but it's hard to fight the spark and the fire that exist between them.

There are obstacles to overcome, and they mostly originate from cultural traditions and the way different people handle those. He tries to keep his family happy doing as much as he can by acting like a good Pakistani son. He comes to family dinners, feeling frustrated and uncomfortable since mom has plans for his future, and he dreads what this future holds for him.

In the meantime, he pursues his dreams to become a comedian. He derives the material mostly from his experiences, and sometimes, he discovers it will take some hard work. For a while, he is able to juggle his two "lives", hanging around his lovely girlfriend and trying to hide everything from his parents. Then one day his girlfriend finds what he has been hiding, and she decides to leave because the relationship can't work based on what he has done.

Fate intervenes, and Emily falls ill, an event that brings him back into her life. He meets her parents and must undergo initial resistance from a protective and loving mother, wonderfully played by Holly Hunter, reminding us what a powerhouse she can be. Her father (Ray Romano) gives an interesting performance which makes you forget who is the actor is. He has fantastic chemistry with everyone in the movie.

Things become pretty intense as it becomes clear Emily might die, and as her parents and the estranged young man, his life becomes even more complicated when he has to face his parents when he decides he has to choose what he wants for his future.

"The Big Sick" reaches its audience because it's honest, strong, and it shows something everyone of us is able to understand: that life is not as simple as some people think, and that good relationships require a lot of work and constant dialog.

Baby Driver

Floor It!
Edgar Wright has done it. Just like George Miller's "Mad Max" entry a couple of years ago, he has assembled what might be the best movie of the year. It's entertaining, daring, innovative, full of exciting performances and thrills. It doesn't compromise, aligns itself with a contemporary period or a disability; it stays true to its genre, and it's probably as cool as a movie has ever been.

At the heart of the film is Baby, an orphan who has associated himself with a crime lord (Spacey). He has to pay a debt and is a reliable driver who can outrun the authorities almost 100% of the time. He is well liked and respected by most of the people he works with. However, some shady characters show up to complicate matters. Luckily, Baby has about fulfilled his part of the deal and can now "retire" from this business.

When the film opens, the crew includes a couple who seems to be in love and work well together. Later, it becomes apparent that there is a bit of sadist nature to their relationship, and they might be more lethal that their looks reveal. The new crew shows up, and it becomes clear to Baby that he is not suited for this lifestyle. He's glad to be moving on to better things, and he meets this lovely waiter, Debora (James) which gives him hope the future will be o.k.

Baby lives with a deaf man who watches him closely and is very fond of the young man. We notice Baby is also very protective of him. This old man advises Baby to live a simple and honest life; for a while, things are going well until circumstances force Baby to return to his previous job. Things become even more dangerous when a thug (Fox) appears and shows very little patience with others' quirks and mistakes. He doesn't hesitate making threats and demonstrating that people have very little chance to make it when he's around.

"Baby Driver" never stops delivering. Each one of its characters is a real person, letting us sympathize or hate their actions. Lily James and Elgorn have palpable chemistry, so watching him try everything he can to keep her safe. Getting this done is going to involve some quick moves, resorting to new tricks, and hoping luck doesn't run out.

We have plenty of car chases, with a few of them involving fire power, hot tempers, and some unpredictable turns. Baby's life has never been easy. He carries a load, and as we have noticed actions have consequences, with people he loves, having a good chance of meeting a violent end. The ride is fun, exciting, and pretty dangerous.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Winning Streak
It feels good when one goes to a movie, and everything works out, both in the audience and the film. Coming right after "Wonder Woman", the new Spiderman feature is a winner, with the right balance of wonder, fun, and danger. Both films have fantastic performances by actors who seem to understand and fully impersonate their special characters. Tom Holland, appeared at first, too frail to fill Garfield's shoes, but he surpasses him because here is a character that fully enjoys the growing pains and the gadgets he is not quite entrusted with.

The story is simple and a reminder of those serials of old. Peter/Pedro is basically in trainer both in high school and the superhero world. Of course, there is a mentor, and this one is both cranky and practical, quite resourceful and handy to have around. In spite of being in three "Ironman" and a couple of Avenger films, Tony Stark never quite felt human. He bonds very well with his protégé. This relationship, though not being the heart of the film, gives it a solid base.

Thieves get their hands on some powerful alien energy source, and they seek to make some good cash with it. We don't hear much of imminent end of the world or having adversaries that are not quite easy to understand or defeat. That doesn't mean Peter won't have a tough time dealing with the various hurdles along the way. One wonders what he is going to do in the last third of the film when he loses an essential part of his tools.

There is romance, funny moments, misunderstandings, and a full understanding of what it feels to be a teen, an outsider, and someone who lives for studies and now has an opportunity to "do something for the world, fighting those bad guys". It's refreshing to hear that he wants to be the neighborhood hero and fight the small criminals. The film does a very good job creating this environment when Peter visits the local deli and finds himself trying to save its owner later on.

Of course, there are all these people who interact with him, don't quite know what to make of his comings and goings, but they still love him nonetheless. Marissa Tomei is wonderful as his "cute" aunt, and his best friend is a kid who doesn't quite match anything we've seen before. He's a bit too enthusiastic about his role as a sidekick, but there is sweetness and innocence oozing from every single pore. He is a perfect match for Peter's (Tom Holland's fresh take) on the main role.

Be prepared to have a good time, with a good story, good acting, and a pretty return to what makes comics successful. We don't want too much because we lose our connection. We want clever, creative, and human.

The Beguiled

Awakening Passions
"The Beguiled" brings forth a strong group of performances led by Kidman and Durst. A badly hurt Union soldiers appears near their exclusive school and begins disturbing their set routines. From the beginning we can tell that there are lot of repressed emotions. The younger girls are excited when they see new people, regardless of their origin or affiliation. They quickly adjust to him, regard him as just another human being, and grow fond of him. Things are a bit different for the three older women. The school mistress is a little hesitant and limits her interactions to taking care of his wounds. Edwina, the teacher, experiences stronger reactions, losing her self-control very fast. The teenager in the group hints shows hints of more reckless behavior, but this being 1864, things are going to simmer before things explode.

John uses his charm to captivate the females around him. From the young girl who found him. He has a subtle agenda, displaying romantic moves and slowly seducing Edwina, a woman who yearns for ways to escape her surroundings. Miss Martha eventually surrenders to her attractions and opens up more and starts a social relationship with John. Her original plans change and allows John to become a member of their group.

John becomes the force that propels a series of incidents which impact his physical well-being and lead to a series of actions by Miss Martha that might result in even more tragic events. "The Beguiled" is a dark film which has as a setting one of the darkest moments in history. It also shows how society's rules are broken too quickly, resulting in consequences few are prepared to face.

It's hard to force nature, and hormones play a powerful role in the behavior of these characters. There is also the need for survival, and Miss Martha represents the brain and common sense here, but the film gives an opportunity to all the girls to show their personalities and resources to fix the situation. The movie ends, and we're still wondering what might be coming, how their lives have been changed; we just know it probably won't be o.k.

The movie appears to move slowly, but it never drags. Some of the shots are too dark and interfere with a full appreciation of their facial expressions. I have never understood the need to let darkness overpower beautiful imagery. Underexposing film doesn't make it better.

47 Meters Down

Murphy's Law
"47 Meters Down" is a very entertaining summer movies, not quite the ranks of "Jaws", but with enough material to keep you watching quietly and with a touch of suspense along the way to its interesting ending.

Two girls venture to Mexico and start hanging around strangers (not a good move already) because they're bored. There's even one time when we were wondering if they were going to make it to the site. Everything seems to be going well. One couple dives in the cage and comes back excited and safe. They, unlike us, haven't noticed that not everything is good in the machinery, and well, the girls might have a rougher time later.

Everyone knows that sharks have a very keen sense of smell, and before you know it, there's plenty of blood in the water, and our reckless couple finds itself 47 meters into dark, shark infested waters, with their oxygen being depleted quickly because they are going through a bit of anxiety because things are getting worse by the minute.

There are several exciting scenes in the film because the main priority is to survive, but not much can be done if you stay inside the cage and wait for help to find you. Of course, obstacles appear, people disappear, sharks come and go, usually taking something or someone along with them. It's not an easy way up because you can't rush without risking getting the bends.

There's not much characterization except for an explanation about what motivates these two girls to do what they do. There are a couple of surprises as to who manages to be luckier and who survives. This is a time when the women are in charge in a manner of speaking, and guys just hang and wait, except for one who finds more than he expected.

It's clear by the end that we're not witnessing the birth of a classic, but it's a good way to kill a couple of hours in a hot summer day, with the added bonus of having even the little ones whose parents dragged in sit quietly, without spoiling the movie.


The Mummy

A Boring Mess
Universal released many of the classic monster movies in the 30's and 40's, and they were fun. Yes, we might say they were loaded with superb CGI or fantastic special effects, but they scared the little ones and few adults, and if that didn't happen, we still managed to have 90 minutes of solid entertainment because the people who made them knew how to make that kind of movie, working with a simple but serviceable script. Eventually there were sequels, not as good as the originals, but I don't think I have ever encountered the disappointment which the new incarnation of "The Mummy" shows.

Just recently, "X-Men Apocalypse" had an introduction to explain the ties of Gods and super heroes/mutants in that movie. It felt like a B- movie reminder of how the Mummy movies started. There was a sarcophagus and everything. Yes, the new movie has a sarcophagus, but it's anything but imposing or scary. I found it laughable and a sign that things were not going to improve.

It's never clear literally and figuratively who finds these scripts and productions worth filming. The story is confusing and weak, and there is nothing here I could recommend to someone who wants to go for a couple of hours of light escapism. It's not that it's loaded with complex ideas, either. Yes, there's a bit of an interesting proposition by changing the gender of the "mummy", but the curse is well cursed from the beginning.

Another aspect that is extremely bothersome is that the film makers seem to believe that dark is scary, and yes, that could work if there's something scary to present or threaten the unlucky members of the expedition or audience. Here, it's not light or dark, but a really weird shade of blue that hurts the eyes and can induce a headache quite effectively.

It's been fun watching Tom Cruise play someone who is trying to fight back, but maybe it's time for him to find a better script or something more appropriate to a man of his age. Somehow, this factor also weakened the entire premise. The man might no longer be a matinée idol.

Bonjour Anne

Eleanor Coppola knows how to use a background, how to compose a scene, and how to cast a couple with excellent chemistry. "Paris Can Wait" succeeds because it gives you what it promises, a light comedy/travelogue with plenty of succulent looking meals, ranging from the exquisite to the divine. It's a pretty impressive parade of gourmet creations that could have stolen the film from the two stars: Diane Lane, as gorgeous as ever, and her traveling partner, Arnaud Viard, who gives one of the most debonair performances in recent years, somehow keeping enough sense of reality to make him a real human being. Maybe that's why it's easy to connect with the story and their dilemmas. These characters give us enough glamour and fantasy, but they are pretty much regular normal beings.

Anne (Lane) is suffering from an ear condition that keeps her from riding on a plane with her husband to Budapest. A friend of her husband's offers to driver her to Paris, in a trip that will take a few hours, but that extends into a couple of days filled with one marvelous experience after another.

Jacques (the driver) turns out to be a charmer r who has a solid background on the importance of food to heal, seduce, and produce overall delightful experiences. He introduces her to some of the best eateries along the way, and the treats are a pleasure to the eye and the palate. There's something about ordering a superb meal in French. It seems to add to the experience, of course, accompanied by the right wine.

They get to know each other, revealing bits of personal past experiences. We see how Lane is a pretty grounded wife who has settled into an average marriage; she takes care of the family, and he is in charge of providing a good living for his wife and daughter. Yet, something seems to be missing, and Jacques comes in and opens the door to a world that includes many pleasures. These can be as simple as tasting food in its basic forms, or enjoying the ultimate culinary creations. In addition to their restaurant experiences, we are treated to gorgeous scenery, a couple of museums, a deep spiritual and revealing scene in an antique church, a place which we could call a turning point for the ever developing drama.

Jacques is a mystery, showing a side of himself that has served him well for many years. He is a master at presenting delicacies, flowers, music, views, every possible aspect of an unforgettable trip. Yet, he eventually opens up and gives us a peek into what shaped him, what made him what he is now. He is very appreciate of fine things in life, and Anne is possibly, one of the best things he has ever encountered.

As played by Lane, Anne has joined a group of unforgettable performances by this actress. She's someone who we don't have the pleasure of seeing enough on the silver screen. Her Anne is luminous and beautiful. She is capable of showing her in both glamorous and plain modes, managing to look incredible in both.

The big question is whether Anne will fall for Jacques. Is he just playing with her emotions, her introduction to a world that show you how majestic and enchanting life can be? Or has he fallen for this beauty that happens to reveal herself as a very interesting yet perfectly approachable woman? She calls him a flirt, but one would lie if one was to say she has her own way of bewitching those around her.

In the end, we will be debating about what really happens or will happen at this moment. "Paris Can Wait" is a very enjoyable and magical movie, and maybe there will be a second installment and they can take us through Italy or Spain next time.

Wonder Woman

Grace, Intelligence, and Strength... What's Not to Love?
I'm in love with Gal Gadot because she's gorgeous, has an amazing presence, captivating us with her ability to look like a bigger than life figure, retaining enough warmth and heart to get you misty eyed. After so many heroes with some sort of trauma in their backgrounds, and an overload of sensory stimulation that passes as entertaining for many in the audience, I'm glad the pyrotechnics are toned down, except for a climax that I supposed had to be there. We get some characterization that has rarely been seen, with a few exceptions, and the writer keeps things moving so well that it's hard to believe we sat through 141 minutes.

The story focuses on Diana, Wonder Woman, a special creation of Zeus who is not aware of her role in the universe, but who knows she must somehow help the human race survive and get better. There's, of course, a villain that is as powerful as she is, and this one is clear about what he is supposed to do, and if you pay enough attention, I'm sure you can figure what figure he's standing for. It's an interesting inclusion in this type of movies, but then again, we're giving a nice first act that takes us back to some exciting mythological background, with a film that treats the Amazons, and women in general as full human beings, valuing both their physical traits, their spiritual core, and their intelligence. Diana might be naive about a lot of what goes in the world outside her area, but she's strong, adaptable, and willing to learn without sacrificing her faith on what she believes in.

With the support of Chris Pine, she manages to learn about what humanity has done, is doing, and is capable of doing. The question is what she is willing to accomplish or whether her role needs to be redefined. It's a bit heavy at times, but it's kept simple enough to let us enjoy the story and the movie, and having such a capable actress makes the experience remarkable.

There were times that I was laughing at the innocence and joy Gadot gives her character when she enjoys the simple experiences of life. She has a wonderful laugh and light that shines brightly when she sees something that is precious for many. She is also great about portraying the dark times, the disappointing and the pain of losing something that she treasures.

Let's not forget the very cool emphasis on her powers, her tools, and the way the director (who happens to be lady). She's graceful while she fights, but she's no weakling. There's are shots that remind us she's of royal origins, connection to Gods, and she's still somehow a very powerful human being. She can get hurt, but she's also really good making sure she protects herself and battles her enemies.

There are "quiet" moments, and Gadot is superb in those, too. Her entrance in the gala is a stunner. Jaws will drop at the way she carries herself. We see also how beautiful and expressive her close ups are when she realizes there's something going on with army friend. She's a hero, a leader, a soldier, a lover, a friend, and a goddess both from her mythological origins to her moment in the silver screen.

Alien: Covenant

There's a dark voice in hell
I'm still waiting for Ridley Scott to match the sheer perfection of the original "Alien" for it's such a work of art that David would truly appreciate how the game of cat and mouse puts that original crew to hell, and we feel every bit of anxiety and horror as the film progresses to its climax. It's indeed a thing of beauty.

There's much beauty in "Covenant", but it highlights the horrors of the human mind and the power of creation, which wouldn't exist without destruction and some mayhem. To begin, the movie begins a decade after the end of "Prometheus" and things start falling apart in many ways, only to get even worse when the new crew arrives in the new planet. It's during this segment that it becomes clear that these group of people have an incredible and lethal enemy to face.

David eventually makes an appearance, and we quickly learn what happened in this "relatively quiet" world when he and the doctor arrived. The seed that was planted in "Prometheus" has blossomed into a horrific being, a twisted version of Genesis if we mixed this with a quick descent into Hades, and a mutant emerges with even a darker vision of the future. It's something that makes the original "xenomorphs" look like bunny rabbits.

Things continue to decompose into something worse. There is a combination of quiet philosophical moments that make you cringe as you hear discussions that make you wonder what the original engineers' plans were, what made David take such drastic actions, and how his "brother" will interact with him, and who will cross the line first and why.

Fassbender knew he had the role of a lifetime when he decided to play the two parts (Walter/David). He is such a master of precise diction and able to evoke feelings and emotions with a simple look. Words are most of the time unnecessary as we see his mind planning the next move. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, the spotlight never leaves him, and even the new and improved monsters do quite a bit of impressive damage, we continue to hold our breaths, waiting for David and Walter's next moves.

The film is gorgeous and gives us at times a treat when we feel the claustrophobia and fear which were staples in the original. There is plenty of contrast between what see as beauty, and what others consider a manifestation of their own conception of what is beautiful. Scott is in control here, and the film will require people to be a little cerebral regarding the science / philosophy behind the creation of the monsters. If we have seen a manifestation of complete evil, "Covenant" will give you a taste of what it might be.

The ending is truly diabolical, setting the stage for whatever is brewing in the minds of the screenwriters. Let it be said that a film is as good as its main villain, and we certainly both yearn and fear to see what is heading our way.

The Dinner

Convoluted Dark Art
Coogan, Hall, Gere, and Hall are all wonderful playing archetypes of flawed human beings. Facing a conflict that will change their lives forever, they decide to debate the possible solutions during dinner at a super elegant restaurant where one hardly believes anything real can happen or be discussed. From the food presentation to the artificiality of enjoying a family reunion while admiring stylized food displays and outrageous prices. Here we have four individuals who seem to believe everything will be o.k. if it's left to be decided by the politician.

Amazingly, the angry, mentally unstable party is the only one that makes some sense for most of the movie. He refuses to partake of the soulless dishes. He clearly detests what he knows will happen. Claire, his wife is there to be entertained, unafraid because things will be fixed. The politician's wife looks bored, apparently ready to accept whatever her husband suggests. What surprises is what lies behind the facade of the politician. Is he the only one with common sense? Or is he the only one with a working heart? There are intriguing ideas here that fail because of the way the film is presented. It's hard to go from the contemporary dark art direction where it's impossible to believe these people don't have real lights in their homes. I can't understand how Linney looks so gorgeous if she can barely see herself in the mirror, or Coogan doesn't fall down the stairs in such a murky place. The restaurant's exclusive atmosphere is hard to enjoy for the same reason. Yes, there's a sense of intimacy in expensive eateries, but the eyes can hardly take the sunny, gauzy presentation of the past scenes.

I left confused because a few things were not clarified by the abrupt ending. I was impressed by the descent into madness Paul (Coogan) portrays, but it's hard to understand without the missing pieces.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Father and Son Connection
The first "Guardians of the Galaxy" was a welcome surprise, with engaging characters, funny lines, and a great portrayal of friendship in the most unexpected places. Times goes on, and relationships evolve and deepen in most cases. So in the end, there's plenty of action, back stories are connected, and it sort of makes sense.

The gang is at the center of mess started by Rocket when he steals some valuable items from their employers. Retaliation promptly involves a gang of thugs in pursue of our gang, and things become more complicated with the arrival of Peter's long lost father. This results in a series of interesting moments between father and son, but there's a nagging feeling that something doesn't fit, or that the whole truth is not out being told. The mystery keeps the story going, until the explosive revelations in the last section of the film.

The same elements that made the original successful are back, with everyone still displaying affection for each other in their own peculiar way. Rocket is rough at the edges but can't hide his soft side. There's plenty of cuteness in Baby Groot, and Saldana and Pratt are still working out the "unspoken" aspects of their relationship.

One should enjoy the visuals for most of the film, and the story unfolding with the best coupling of pop music and a story line since "Mamma Mia". There's a sense of nostalgia that wasn't present in the first film, and using some obscure pieces makes their success even more interesting.

The bottom line is this works well, and we're looking forward to Groot's next growing phase.

The Promise

Why did it have to happen?
A member of the audience asked me why did the massacre on the screen have to happen? She was upset that people could be so cruel to each other in so many different ways and occasions. As much of the audience, many didn't know about this historical event. It's sad to realize that sometimes it takes something terrible to make people react and start doing something good to heal. The saddest thing is that we tend to ignore the signs, and then it's too late. The best thing is that in the middle of some horrific events, there's still hope, and that eventually we'll heal, and we might not do it again.

Loaded with good acting, and with the feel of an epic, even though it runs for barely a little over two hours, "The Promise" has some of the best acting of the year, with Isaac and Bale commanding the screen. Both are equally good in their portrayal of one ordinary man who loses most of his dear ones in a what some argue was a political move. Yet, the portrayal is simple and direct, with most of the reactions originating from the destruction of a plain and normal world into hell. Things become more complicated when he falls in love with a wonderful woman who easily captivates all around her, sometimes without being aware of it. The other part of the triangle is Christian Bales' kind reporter, a man who believes in telling others the truth, in trying hard to do the best he can to prevent evil from continuing, and he's even willing to part with the only woman he loves if that means she will be happy.

"The Promise" is a love story, a historical tale, a portrayal of an era that left a dark mark in humanity. It's an important movie because it will teach many about something that should not remain hidden, and it will remind many that even in darkness there's room for hope, and we should keep that alive, always and more importantly in times like ours.

The Shack

A Strong Beating Heart
"The Shack" has the best intentions, a heart that won't quit offering us an opportunity to look into what believe and the way we relate to others. It does subscribe to a particular representation of what exists deep in all of us and allows an opportunity to meditate and think about the philosophy at the core of the film.

A man goes through a major tragedy in his life and questions the existence and the strength of the source of his faith. He undergoes an experience which gives him an opportunity to meet a physical embodiment of his belies, and what he discovers is a new way to look at what has always been there, but with a deeper understanding of how the entire thing works.

Written in a way that makes the story easy to digest and lets the audience make up their minds, we have a very capable cast, with outstanding work by Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington as the main pieces of an ensemble that poses the question of what and who really commands how much we are willing to believe and accept.

There are scenes in the film where things are presented literally, such as the time two of the main characters walk on water, but there's an added extra which brings you back to the original question: why and how is such a thing possible? Then, the big question is presented again in the end, how did the whole thing ever happen? Come in with an open heart and an open mind, and think about what you see, make up your mind and wonder how faith originates, how it works, and what it does for each and everyone in the world.

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