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Little Women

To love, or to matter, that is the question
It's rural New England during the Civil War time, and a mother is trying to raise four teen daughters while a father does the fighting. What could possibly go wrong? For starters, the girls might be girls and start falling in love here and there. But that's not the worst part: some of them might start having ideas about their lives!

A jerky timeline and a speedy chitchat might create an early prejudice towards this film, making it look like yet another soppy costume drama. However, as the story unfolds and the pieces start coming together, you realize that Greta Gerwig took on this adaptation for a reason. This may not be the first Victorian age coming of age story, nor even the first one with a feminist undertone. But boy, can it touch, even if you're a middle-aged man in 2020!

Considering that this is not the first work of Gerwig/Ronan duo, I can't help but compare Little Women with Lady Bird. The environments of both stories could not be more different, but the whole notion of an adolescent woman looking for her purpose in life is still there. And if the former story is as realistic for its era as the latter, then there's one equally funny and sad conclusion to be made: the century and a half that passed since those times have turned us into big babies, overprovided and whining and clueless.

Having four Greek muses for daughters is already impossible to imagine in our time, when children have so much to consume in terms of things and entertainment that they hardly feel compelled to evolve themselves. But the beauty of Little Women is that it doesn't try to sell you morals or preach at you. No, the characters are still clumsy and flawed, they make mistakes and break things. But it's the reactions of the daughters and their mother to those sisterly conflicts that makes it painfully obvious that, as the society evolves and progresses, our personal maturity degrades.

All the analysis aside, this movie is simply a pure joy to watch. Not in the least thanks for the male part of the cast. Timothée Chalamet was forgettable in Lady Bird and annoyingly decadent in Call Me by Your Name, but here he is essential. By not drawing attention to himself but instead being the contrasting counterpart for Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh who steal the spotlight in turns. Although the male characters here work mostly as a backdrop for a largely pro-femme narrative, it never allows a single hint at misandry, instead reinforcing the idea that a woman's pursuit of meaningfulness in life is not opposed to having warm and harmonious interaction with men, something that radical feminists often tend to renounce these days.

All these little but important qualities combined with an artfully ambiguous ending make Little Women a beautiful and truly inspiring story. Which doesn't just reiterate the obvious fact that both parenting and growing up is hard, but actually gives us hope that we can be better at both.

The Gentlemen

Ritchie for zoomers
Manner maketh man, as a certain character once said. And Guy Ritchie has turned The Gentlemen into a showcase for that undisputed truth. However, the same character also said that a villain's quality is crucial for the whole film's well-being, and that is where this movie falls flat on its bum.

The best Ritchie's films can be described in one sentence: a little triumph for a little guy. Lock & Stock, Snatch and even Rocknrolla are built about the fate of small-time people with quite limited prospects in life. Yes, they are clever, funny and often very lucky, but it's never a "rags to riches forever" story, more like a "rags to riches to probably lots of irrational spending and rags again" one. And that's what makes those films fun and protagonists relatable for the masses: we all enjoy seeing little men screw over big men once in a while, without becoming the evil they were destined to fight.

Here, however, we are supposed to sympathize with a big, very big man and his top minion. I agree that Matthew McConaughey is extremely charismatic and his vocal manner makes my ears melt in ecstasy, and that Charlie Hunnam looks quite the man with a full beard. But Ritchie invests so much into the "protagonist" side, yet leaves so little for the "antagonist" one. The "bad guys" are nether imposing nor cunning nor even well presented enough. You are inclined to root for the good guys because they are usually outnumbered and maybe even outgunned, but here there's no true sense of worthy confrontation, which makes you wish the "bush brothers" to break a leg in a literal, not a theatrical sense.

All this leaves us with one sad conclusion, that Guy Ritchie still knows how to do things in style but totally forgot how to bring in the substance (except the controlled ones of course, they are still aplenty). All this street gang stuff, fight porn and rap clips, and even the selfie time homage might be fun for those born on this side of the century, but for us old-timers the creative decline is quite obvious.

But even today's Ritchie could not have come without a single ace up his sleeve. Hugh Grant as a well-mannered, slightly over the hedge and a tad too clearly mancraving fox of a gentleman, is a true soul of this feature, a real reason to watch this film through. And at the end, he's the only one you truly wanna root for. Which is quite symbolic, because that's the very character who's practically begging for a sequel through what used to be the fourth wall. Don't know about y'all, but I'm interested only if they film what he's writing, kinky parts included.


Up and down the ladders
Some stories are plain and simple, a line from A to B. Some are convoluted mindgame mazes that force you to solve riddles or to stay forever lost. And then there's this film. A traditional Asian gift of layers upon layers of wrapping, each concealing and disguising not just the shape but the essence of what's inside. And in the end, the gift might not be what's in there, but the act of unwrapping itself.

I'm amazed how Bong Joon Ho tricks us into believing that this is a cheap con artist comedy at first. It was almost natural to shout "No way! This can't be the film everyone's raving about!". Had I recalled that this man has also written Snowpiercer, I would not have been so simple. Just like the rich family whose house the parasites have invaded, naive and gullible, ready to call the number on the first business card given, we fall into the traps of easy interpretations, and Bong knows it well enough, giving us all these hints we understand only after a while.

Parasite is definitely not about the action, and maybe not even about the visual brilliance, although the scene of running down the stairs, equally physical, social and psychological, under the rain is a phenomenally executed message, just like a scene of an elevated toilet bowl regurgitating back what it's fed up taking in is an image only a person who made two Oscars kiss could come up with. In terms of graphic expression and witty dialogues, Parasite could make both Tarantino and Miyazaki proud, all at the same time.

This is no doubt a fancy wrapping, but the best thing about this film is what you feel through it. From condescending disbelief, to light interest, to full engagement, to the sense of watching a social message play within a movie, to feeling as if no borders of genre or common sense exist at all, to feeling dumbfounded and uncomfortable, to a sudden calm. As if a petty half-penny story has taken you into a Zen parable.

In the end, nothing remains. An experience that leaves you blank as a mountain side under the snow. So if you do see a light in the distance, don't rush to decode its signals. Just enjoy the scenery while it lasts. After all, it's what you came all the way up for.

Jojo Rabbit

A healing experience
Here in Russia, it's a common opinion that we have a twisted perception of German language because the first encounter with it usually happens when we watch a war movie, where hearing the German speech usually means that something really bad is about to happen. I'm not sure if I ever had nightmares about running away from "Ze Germans", but just the sound of Till Lindemann counting from one to ten does indeed sound like some unholy incantation.

My generation is maybe the last one still scarred with this cultural propaganda. There have been so many war films made in the USSR days, and those films still keep on coming. And the absolute most of them feed you two main things: fear and hate. I wish it was otherwise, I really do. But that's how it is, and it's part of the reason I never really liked war movies as a kid.

So I can honestly say one thing. Jojo Rabbit is the best war movie that I've never seen in my childhood. But I'm still grateful that it happened now. Despite being such a grotesquely simplified guilty pleasure, it has one thing any other serious films about this topic lack: sanity. That, and humanity. The 10 year old boy with scars on his face and a swastika on his armband somehow managed to keep his soul intact, and that child's purity is what allows you to see the horrors of war but avoid its traumas.

It might be Waititi's writing that won this film an Oscar. But the heart of it was carried by Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell. Ever since Lost in Translation it was clear that Johansson can act, but for me this film has revealed her ability to steal scenes and carry them single-handedly. That soot mustache speech and a dance that ensued, that's quite mature for someone generally associated with "sexy" characters. And Mr Rockwell, oh my, I didn't like him since The Green Mile, respected him since Moon and loved him since Seven Psychopaths, but here he's just a perfect cherry on top. The last battle attire, that smokey-eyed stare, he's a true hero for giving the Nazi image a face nobody has probably dared to put on before, at least not in such a dashing and self-accepting way.

The accolades could go on and on. To Waititi's "your own, personal Adolf", to Jojo himself, who managed to come from a clumsy kid to a swaggering hustler at the end, to the brave and gentle ghost in the walls. Waititi has a talent for using the little details that look simple but add that very taste that turns cloying into touching and dumb into funny. He's done it before, and he's clearly doing it this time as well.

Whatever silly nonsense this film has shown, it is not something to be bothered about I think. If a war movie has to be surrealistic to spread love instead of hate, let it be. There's nothing civil about war anyway, so better a funny Hitler than the real one.


Reflections of a rock star
A person in an angel-demon costume bursts into a room with people waiting for him, crashes on a chair and begins his confession. His name is Elton Hercules John, and his life is a mess.

When we talk about biopics, it's very cheesy to use the word "special" to describe them. Obviously each of such films is special, because it shows us a story of a unique person, prominent in some way. However, Rocketman is indeed a special case, not just because of who it is about, but because how the story is told.

Usually, the biography movies are focused on a person's achievements and milestones: did this, came there, won that. As if we went through his or her Wikipedia page sections, turning the dry facts into a sequence that's fictionalized enough to make the viewer engaged. The thing about this approach is that it's someone else, a screenwriter or a producer, who does the "guessing" part, trying to get into the protagonist's head and deduce his thoughts and feelings based on his actions. And whether that guessing was done right is usually an open question, either because the person has already passed away (like in the case of the recent Bohemian Rhapsody), or because he's not in direct contact with the crew.

Rocketman, however, has Elton John himself as an executive producer. And from the very start of the film it becomes clear that this is gonna be a story told through _his_ eyes and imbued with his emotions. The whole AA-like rehab meeting backdrop creates a sense that Rocketman is a psychotherapeutic exercise for Reginald Dwight himself, his attempt to solve, or at least acknowledge, the existing lifelong conflicts and issues, and reconnect with his inner child, the latter even demonstrated explicitly, in a very direct but nonetheless touching way.

Another absolutely fantastic feature of this film is how the musical elements are interwoven with the main narrative. Usually the singing and the dancing happens as some sort of a cut scene, which is somehow dictated by the current state of the plot but is generally something you might skip without missing anything crucial. Here, however, music _is_ the plot, the way to accentuate and convey the main moments of Elton's life, the songs' lyrics often given to the characters, basically showing us how this or that song was born and what it was inspired by. The visual sequences of such moments are fantastically surreal and organic at the same time, the Rocketman sequence being maybe the most complex, bizarre but at the same brutally raw act of cinematographic self-expression I've ever seen on screen. These four minutes simply take your breath away, and alone are worth spending two hours to watch this film.

Is there a punch line? A moral lesson for us to learn? A late apology for not living up to someone's expectations? Honestly, I can't think of anything. The only curious fact I've learned from Rocketman is that apparently the guy who produced Elton John has also produced Queen at some point, and his characters from Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman are played by two different Game of Thrones stars and are shown in a very different way. Curious but utterly irrelevant. What's relevant is that music is and always will be for the living, for those who crave to express and to be heard. So live while you do, and love while you can.


Sad people's comedy
A frustrated but relatively harmless guy gets pushed over a little too much and goes on a sick rampage. This is a story I've seen several times, the first one I remember being Falling Down, that 1993 movie with Michael Douglas. There were definitely some more, I just can't recall them, because the plot of such films always goes through the same steps, you just can't tell the stories apart.

I've heard so much praise for Joker, I expected something groundbreaking. Instead what we have here is one stellar individual performance in front of an otherwise dull and intentionally grisly landscape. An unsettled city full of unsolved social issues, cynical politicians saying things as if to fire up the situation on purpose. Violent kids on the street, white-collar jerks, everything around created specifically to depress the viewer.

Sometimes it does feel as if DC simply doesn't want its fans to have a single bright thought or a light emotion. It's a universe full of sad and uptight characters delivering to an army of equally sad people. At least before it was about one emotionally scarred individual putting on a mask and putting on a tour de force against the "bad guys". It was dark, but the action tried to make up for it. This time, however, there's almost no action - and you are just taken on a journey of the main character to join him in wallowing in all his personal darkness and drama.

Joaquin Phoenix is no doubt exceptional here, his performance is worth all the accolade it received. Besides that, though, Joker is simply too one-dimensional to be touching. When you paint everything black too many times, all the next layers of paint just don't make any difference, and even a clown's garish garb can't bring in enough color to make up for it. Joker is a beautifully messed up character, but he's nowhere close to Tonya Harding, another fantastic performance that was not given half the credit it deserves. Joker's craziness is predefined by his grotesquely gloomy surroundings, while Tonya's fate was a real life story of this very world. Makes one guess whether we can really sympathize with issues we classify as our own.

Despite a truly fiery (in all senses) ending, Joker the movie fails to ignite a spark of prolonged interest. If not for the crazy praise this film has received, one might not even feel pressed to share their thoughts on this film with others, turning the watch into a cinematographic one-night stand. Tomorrow, I will probably not be ashamed of what I did tonight. But is this experience simply forgettable without a hint of a lasting trace? Totally so. If people will be thinking about 2019, Baby Yoda is what they'll probably recall first, and that speaks volumes about this film's quality.


Yet another sad sci-fi
It's funny how we love categorizing things, as if putting a label on something makes it easier to understand. "Science Fiction" is one of those labels which makes us think we know what to expect. But sci-fi films may be as different as a horror movie and a Mickey Mouse documentary. There are serious sci-fi's like Terminator or Alien, there are epic sci-fi's like Avatar, there are even yeehaw sci-fi's like Back to the Future.

And there's this genre I'd call SSD. Slow, Sad and Disturbing. Something sad like Nocturnal Animals, something slow like Arrival, something disturbing like Enemy, but joined together into a single pseudo-hypnotic experience.

Annihilation isn't gonna annihilate anything but two hours of your time spent on watching this. What it can give instead as a semi-bitter and semi-disgusting sense of wading through treacle of the author's convoluted imagination and troubled visions.

It can also give you some food for thought and imagery abstract enough to stir your own desire to interpret things. Which may be the major goal for any art form. In this sense, Annihilation does indeed not destroy, but instead just changes what exists and creates what hadn't existed before.

If you find this text difficult to interpret and not too pleasant to read, that's probably a good thing, because it's giving you a sense of what you'll probably feel watching this film. So it's up to you to decide whether you wanna volunteer for such a task. However, one thing is certain: if you are tired of banal stories and superheroes with blasters, then Annihilation would certainly become a refreshing experience.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

The illusion factory is back
It's been just a few months since we've witnessed the final episode of the Marvel saga that went on for ten years. A convergence point of such grandeur might suggest that from now on the Marvel world would follow a different path, giving us something truly new.

However, the story of Spider-Man: Far from Home feels like an inverted mirror allusion to what the film itself tries to do with the established universe: selling us a bunch of illusions we'd be eager to believe in simply because we wanna be fooled.

With the Infinity Saga, we came to believe that all that superhero sci-fi extravaganza happening on screen actually has a deeper meaning, a layer for every major focus group, something most of us would not be ashamed to openly like. With that saga over, however, we're left with a bunch of secondary guys previously introduced mostly as filler, a few major characters past their prime, and a golden kid. Who hasn't been charmed by that cute Peter Parker boy, his politically correct sidekick and a pretty but intentionally awkward love interest!

And this is what Marvel is gonna sell us from now on. Cuteness, tolerable acting (nothing stellar, but nothing cringey too), and ok writing. Just like the posse Mysterio has gathered to prove his point, this set of traits seems to be just enough to keep the audience engaged, and the cash flow going in. Because nobody requires a groundbreaking story or insanely prominent characters anymore - now it's just enough to maintain the existing momentum without messing up.

Was this film a mess? Definitely not. Was it anything more than just a pretty image hollow within? I wouldn't say so. But as long as everyone's looking at the colorful objects flying around with a loud boom, the magician is free to take out as many rabbits out of his fake hat. We just don't care to go deeper anymore. And this carousel of generic storytelling will just keep on spinning, until either we're so dizzy we start puking this Marvel drivel back, or their projectors start falling off and the illusion breaks apart.

Unfortunately, none of the above is gonna happen any time soon. So, put the Cap helmet on and start saying "Hail Marvel" before someone finds your lack of faith disturbing.

Half Nelson

A tag cloud of a film
Civil right movement, drug abuse, drug crime, student-teacher relationships, black poverty, white poverty, social drama, racism, Ryan Gosling.

If you wanted to describe this film, the best way to do it would be using a list of hashtags. How well they go together and how good they are backed up with substantial content is no matter. What seems to matter is just announcing the topics that trigger critics and audience alike.

One step into, however, and this movie just falls apart, like a world of an ever high or drunk or hungover loser stuck in his own childish mentality. The narrative is weak, the plot is simply not there, the most appealing character is probably the basketball the child protagonist seems to be carrying around all the time - and only because it's nether black nor white but red instead.

The rest is a worn indie bullsh!t that has actually never been good but has once been considered trendy. The famous faces are probably the only thing that keeps this wreck afloat.

I once thought that Moonlight was a parasite product feeding off the current social turmoil. Now I see that, compared to the likes of Half Nelson, that film was sheer brilliance come to life. Which literally shows how low our taste has fallen because of the critics who don't distinguish between important social issues and good cinema.

Avengers: Endgame

A story of a super loss and a super recovery
Ten years the MCU has been with us, and through all these years I've been watching their films and grading them like a teacher grades homework. Sometimes too harshly maybe. Today I'll be at my most benevolent, so the rating might be somewhat biased.

Let's be honest. All the previous MCU movies, except the Captain America ones, were inherently flawed (as Thanos would've said, those flaws were "inevitable"). Not because of the writing or the visuals, but because of the heroes' nature. Only Steve Rogers was both mature and complete from within, so his story was always solid and compelling on all levels. All the other "heroes" were more or less kids in powersuits, fighting their own childhood traumas or searching for their purpose. And, as much as I love the coming-of-age movies, a certain annoying goofiness is always their prominent part.

But not today. Thanos' Snap didn't just remove a half of the universe's population - it forced everyone to re-evaluate their whole modi operandi. When so many people just... vanish all of a sudden, you just can't stay the same, especially if you feel like it's in a way your fault.

And this turn has given us the first hour of this film, maybe the deepest and the most sincere hour in the history of the superhero genre. The post-apocalyptic fright isn't anything new, but this time it's not about the actual survival, but rather trying to accept the new reality, in which, by some lucky coincidence, you were... allowed to live, while some people hadn't been.

This, and the whole grandeur of the culmination, are the things that mark out Endgame as a masterpiece of its kind, which deserves to be remembered. The rest is a pretty typical Marvel'esque stuff, lots of pathos and bright CGI effects. Towards the end the movie becomes almost too sentimental, but I guess I would be too, if that universe became my second family for ten years.

One more thing. I've been a part of the Team Cap since his first film, and I rooted for his side in Civil War. But this time Steve Rogers and Tony Stark managed to play it together and create a duo that truly shines. I guess when a story that big comes to an end, everyone has a chance to be a hero without overshadowing anyone else.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Campfire stories galore
It is said that people have a short attention span these days, with everything beyond the size of a tweet fleeting away too soon before they could grasp it. Well, it appears that the Cohen brothers decided to cater to such audience this time, presenting a collection of six rather small and totally unrelated stories featuring the typical Cohen'esque posse of equally peculiar and utterly disposable characters.

I won't deny it: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs wasn't the worst two hours of my life spent on watching the figures moving on screen. Each story had its share of charm, and the dialogues, although at times too witty for their own good (I wouldn't use the "pretentious" cliche, but there's a certain point after which a masterclass of weaving fancy words together becomes, let's say, a bit tedious), were still fun and enjoyable. But, behind a showcase of small-scale humor, the renowned filmmaker duo seems to have lost a bigger thing - the whole sense of "why". Those very "why"s that made us actually care about the characters' antics throughout all the previous Cohen brothers films - those fine but nonetheless omnipresent threads connecting the episodes together into a quirky but coherent and solid story.

Here there's no story. There's a theme - a frontier conquest one. It's of course fascinating, and there's nobody out there who would refuse watching those cowboys vs indians skits, or people recklessly digging for gold. So if the Cohen bros went for opening a theme park, I'd be the first to scream "shut up and take my money". But, from what I seem to remember, the guys are still in the movie business, and moviemaking-wise, this production was simply too hollow, if not weak. Not because they lost their sense of taste - but probably because they didn't seem to care to use it in the first place. After all, it's a Netflix production, and what could go wrong with yet another mini-series, right?

Here and now, approach of morn has stained the sky as well, but my trousers are sorrily intact. Well, I guess, as a certain someone would have said, this ain't that kind of movie bruv.


Scale alone doesn't cut it. Even a golden one
Marvel has Thor, and he was larger than life, at least while those charming blond curls lasted. Disney has Frozen, and it was all over the place. What could have DC done to prove that it's them who must be the most shiny and sparkling princesses of this realm? The answer is: to make The Most Epic Film Ever!

Imagine putting together Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, Black Panther, The Lord of the Rings, TRON, Blade Runner, Hunger Games, Mission Impossible, Fifth Element, G.I. Joe, King Arthur, Jurassic Park, and even Shrek to spruce things up a bit. Then crumb a ton of lesser blockbusters and blockbuster wannabes on top. Sounds terrific, "but will it blend?" Of course it will! With the new WarnerBro 3000, we could mill this into a uniform, fine-grained mess, with giant seahorses, roaring sharks and blaster-wielding steampunk dudes bestriding them.

Some superhero films at least have the decency to pretend to have some sense about them before plunging into the abyss of brain-convulsing insanity, but not Aquaman! Aquaman wants to be a Superman x Deadpool, both unparalleledly badass and unbelievably corny. Aquaman is a champion of heavy submarine-lifting and a wizard of cheesy oneliners. Aquaman flies, Aquaman jumps, he does all but sing Italian opera under the sea - and for that omission alone I'm indeed grateful.

Being a total self-belittling goofus was maybe the only point of indulgence for the Aquaman himself, so at least we don't have to try to watch this farce with serious faces (like we had to with the latest Batman and Superman movies). Maybe if I was a woman, I'd find some another redeeming point about this movie, but seriously, if you just want to watch Jason Momoa look all buff, watch that Conan film instead, you would feel much smarter while you do. Watch this, however, if you've been sitting in a dark cellar for the last fifty years, and you want to recall what colors and moving objects look like. You might even be surprised by the (not so) delicately delivered ecological message - and start reducing, reusing and recycling right away.

And if you do, please go ahead and recycle this trash first. It would make a better confetti filler than it had made a screen one.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Made with love you don't need special skills to feel
Seven years ago Wreck-It Ralph wrecked my heart with its sweet and touching story. Now, it's time for Ralph and Vanellope to find something new to explode. And we're talking about something big, like... the whole modern internet pop culture!

Basing your narrative on something as familiar and natural to everyone these days as breathing and web-surfing (whoops, reflexive puns detected!) is both a blessing and a bane. To get all the deeper level references from a certain superhero-based animation, you'd need to be a fan of that character and its universe. But you don't need any special training to be a fan of Google, Instagram or Disney princess movies, so the entertainment should find an easy way from the studio to the viewers' heads, while their cash finds an equally easy way in the opposite direction.

But, just like the case with the first LEGO Movie, being easy to digest doesn't make RBTI a shallow film. Under the disguise of the big e-brands and popular memes, this is still a story of two very different personalities who are trying to learn to really agree to disagree and pursue different dreams while still remaining close to each other. You might think it's quite impossible to deliver a serious message via an arcade game character, but here we are: what Ralph 2 did with the "loving is not possessing" idea is as believable and sincere as it's relevant for a lot of real world people here and now. So if you call this a cash grab, then shut up and take my money!

But there's more to RBTI than just what's explicitly delivered. If you take your time to just let it all seep in while the ending credits are rolling, you might come to feel the love for that big wide world Internet has become during our lifetime. It might seem scary or contrived at first, but it's the magic that lets virtually anyone to become a part of something unifying, something endless, something... liberating. We're no longer confined to where we live or whom we've been born, today just a few taps on a screen and a green light on a WiFi router would bring us anywhere and make us anyone we want. A great power, something that imposes a great responsibility too, but a power nonetheless. What better time for that gentle reminder than just a few days after the 30th anniversary of World Wide Web?

So, if one has to get rickrolled to get this far, then I call it a fair deal! And let the sour balls in the comments post whatever they want.

Incredibles 2

The Washed-Ups
It is a clear sunny day boding nothing bad, and then suddenly a random guy bursts in on a giant drilling machine, robs a bank and literally sucks it dry, making off to an undetermined direction with his prize.

I can't help thinking that this is the best way to describe what Incredibles 2 did to its paying audience. I haven't paid a penny to see this film, but even I felt robbed, of my time, my hope for having a good taste in cinema, and - most importantly - my good memory of the first Incredibles.

It's been 15 years since the first film had been released, but instead of going forward the sequel seems to have gone back in time, to the fantasy 60's that only existed in the James Bond movies. The super family, however, had frozen in time and looks almost the same, but those real life years have indeed taken its toll - in the form of Holly Hunter's voice, which now sounds as if Elastigirl is an elderly lady not yet accustomed to her new dentures. And that is just the first of many more stark contrasts between look and feel Incredibles 2 aren't able to hide.

Another thing that deteriorated just as bad as Elastigirl's voice is the filmmakers' ability to distinguish quality and hollow filler. I don't remember all the details of the first film, it's been quite a while indeed, but I do remember that, despite intentionally goofy graphics, it felt real enough in terms of sincerity. That super family acted in a way that made you care, and the plot was a balance between keeping it reasonable and providing enough surprise factor.

This time, however, we get a clumsy mix of hollow action scenes, generic parent-child moments, really forced promotion of gender equality and a dystopian anti-brainwashing message more fitting the bleak Blade Runner universe instead of the colorful tech-happy retrofuture. Watching the kids do kid stuff is now more tiring than cute, and the little family quarrels from amusing become ridiculous. Just like the new villain's persona and motive.

Overall, Incredibles 2 made me realize once again that some things aren't meant to be remade or continued. Especially if you can't add anything new or fresh to what's been said and done earlier. And if you're not that good with creativity anymore, at least let your heroes grow up a bit. Because seeing kids not ageing a day in fifteen years makes one feel like John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, and that proved to be not the most healthy thing.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A franchise on drugs
Most of us have dreams. Not the ones about having a billion bucks or getting that girl, but the night time ones. So most of us would agree that in that twilight zone our brain unleashes its creativity, no longer bound by the constraints of reality, and that allows us to dream the most crazy and amazing stuff. And most bizarre and incoherent also. Especially if there were some substances consumed beforehand.

In that sense, I'd agree with those who say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animation film we could dream for. I'm far from the comic book culture, but even I can admire the visual style of this film, made so that any still out of it could actually pass for a real comic book's frame. That aesthetics is brilliantly done, no questions about it.

The rest of admiration, however, heavily depends on how much you are into TV cartoons, comic books and Spider-Man himself. This film loves to reiterate over and over again that it's based on an established universe, so there's an abundance of Spider-Man movie references and other allusions. If such things make you gasp in awe and maybe even shed a tear of nostalgic affection, you'll love it all. But for me as a non-Spider-man-acolyte, this soon became somewhat boring. I wanted to see something new, something unexpected.

And something new I did receive! In the form of a slapstick action multiplied by the pseudo-scientific stuff as grotesquely absurd as it was far-fetched. And I can clearly see how Sony was inspired by the likes of Big Hero 6 and its outright fusion of the Western and Eastern kid entertainment culture, and of Ant-man and even Dr. Strange and their abundance of moving colored specks and nonsensical words in lieu of common sense. The deeper we go into the Spider-Verse, the more bizarre it looks, feels and acts, until we're forced to accept that there are no rules anymore to cling to and that pigs can indeed fly, just as trains.

I do appreciate bringing a new stylistic vision into the world of full feature animation. But I can't say as much about bringing a popcorn bucket of LSD along with it, turning everything into a final battle from Final Fantasy, with its constant sparkle and rush and a muffled feeling that it used to mean something, but now you can't remember what exactly and it's way too late to stop and think about it.

It was a fascinating trip while it lasted, but praising it as something more than that would be like retelling your dreams to someone else: you'd end up realizing how little sense your words make and feeling embarrassed about the whole idea.

Bad Times at the El Royale

It must've looked so good on paper
And I mean, why shouldn't it? This film has all the needed ingredients: a quirky story, dialogues with witty words, a trending cast old and young, unmotivated violence and mental sickness galore. It even has a black female lead character and some badass retro score! So why does Bad Times at the El Royale sound so flat at the end?

I bet the writer/director Draw Goddard has envisioned himself here as a new Tarantino, making something like a mix of all his oldschool films. If some machine AI algorithm tried to pick out the key components of Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, it would find all of them here. But there was something the robotic mind was still unable to extract from the works of the young genius: a tiny little thing called fun.

This film is just not fun. The convoluted intro drags, the characters feel invented, and the whole chemistry forced onto us. While the Tarantino stories were sick fun, their "fun" part prevailed to a degree when everything else, even the disgusting and otherwise shocking stuff, becomes fun as well. It's obvious that Quentin's guys have the time of their lives in front of the camera, enjoying every second of that bizarre masquerade, and that feeling transgresses the screen and makes you watch the ending credits with a light heart and a smile on your face.

Bad Times, however, are just bad at being easy-going, and that unyielding seriousness, combined with more than two hours of running time, just wears you out towards the apogee, where at least something lively starts happening. Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth's guy is simply not fit to be a sick puppy he tries to portray, not with those pecs he boasts so blatantly and those straight looks that make him such good Thor. He's no Steve Buscemi, and definitely no Samuel L. Jackson. So whatever drama he tried to peddle at the film's finale, it was way less fiery than the El Royale itself.

Maybe if the film didn't try so hard to be so off the charts, it would actually be a decent drama/thriller. If it didn't try to be funny too, it could actually manage to pull off the serious part well enough. But, just like Billy Lee had preached to his devout following, Bad Times refused to pick just one side, just one color. And in that multi-layered gamble it started, it has lost. What can I say, bad times indeed.

Bohemian Rhapsody

A film Freddie would have liked
My acquaintance with Queen was in the mid-90's, when I was in middle school, it became my first real music passion and still has a tender spot in my heart. So forgive me if I'm a little biased...

Still, I think Bohemian Rhapsody is a film Freddie really deserves. Not a massive and monumentally serious biopic, with lots of interviews with the band members, friends, relatives and whatnot. But a true "live fast, die young" flick. One in which it doesn't matter how closely the actors look to their real-life prototypes, how correctly the plot follows the truth of the story and how blatantly it uses the archive sound instead of making some of its own.

This is not about Queen. Queen is four people, and we'd need way more time to look into their lives and their heads to make it substantial, and such substance, in addition to the remaining trio's old and gaunt faces, would be just boring, if not miserable. And Queen was never like that.

So this is a hymn to Freddie himself. Not to the pop culture icon he's become in our eyes, but to the person he's been offstage. The vulnerable and sensitive, but nonetheless flamboyant and daring and believing that punching a hole in the sky was his true and only purpose. Even if half of the events of this film are pure fiction, even if all of it's invented just to give us a taste of what it could possibly have been, that divine flame we could feel within that person is still genuine enough to justify the whole endeavor.

...In that almost academic and definitely too prudent Queen story I read as a kid, they said Freddie could've possibly lived longer - if only he resorted to serious treatment, pressure chambers and so on. But that would mean stomping on the way he lived - and turning into a house-dwelling fungus, just to survive some more. So he decided to burn out but remain who he was, until he wasn't. In that sense, putting the last period in this story right after Live Aid, without six more years and two more albums, follows the same way Freddie would've respected. Not waiting for the last flame to die out but to go with a bang. So that we don't cry that it's over, but that we smile that it happened.

And for all that happened, Freddie and the rest of the guys, I thank you all.

Den skyldige

To protect and to serve, Danish style
An emergency services worker receives a distress call from a woman who's supposedly abducted. And what ensues is his personal crusade to do what's right and necessary in the situation.

This story had so much potential to be emotionally riveting. To make you sob and yell and clench your fists reacting to the events on screen. There's nothing little about a movie where one person basically sits on the phone all time, and Tom Hardy's Locke is one prime example of that.

But instead, all I could think about was "Don't they have any special protocols to handle situations like that?". American films have taught us to expect an almost inhuman coordination of special forces when it comes to emergencies like this, from escalating the event to a properly trained team in a blink of an eye to a real-time multi-layered cooperation between various units to lead the situation to the least dangerous outcome possible.

The Guilty, however, tells a barely believable story of a cop put to desk work during a trial, who has to deal with a serious crime literally alone, wading through bureaucracy and indifference of people who may receive a call about a possibly life threatening situation but shake if off because their shift is over. And even the super-responsible protagonist acts like a superhero gone mad, smashing things into pieces in helpless rage.

The film's story has several secondary levels that give the plot a rather unexpected twist towards the end. That's a great way to spice up the writing - and it might make the whole difference under other circumstances. But for The Guilty it only rubs more salt in the wound, showing that the suspense turned into sour disappointment cannot be turned back into something gripping just by adding more shocking details.

Well, maybe that's sheer reality of the Danish life. Maybe their community services do work like this. In this case, all the quality of life ratings must be terribly rigged. Otherwise, the only real guilt of The Guilty is trying to be artistically dramatic, but failing to be realistic and believable.

Eighth Grade

Realistic, but, like, bland and, like, boring... yeah...
So, you remember last year's Ladybird, or The Edge of Seventeen the year before? If you are already an adult then those movies probably made you cringe and shiver - because they go hard on displaying all those typical teen things you feel extremely embarrassed thinking about when you get older. The realism of the typical traps of the age is as annoying as it's astounding.

Well, this is the coming of age genre for you. Adults watch these movies because they help them re-connect with their kids (or reconcile with their younger selves), and the teens watch it because they are actually able to see their own kind on screen.

So, in a sense, such films have become a no-brainer for the industry: just show a bunch of kids doing their kid stuff - and you have a cash cow you can milk till your hair goes grey. And, after so many years during which this formula worked like a charm, it began turning into the genre's bane.

You see, this film indeed shows young humans doing the things typical for their age, and they are indeed as cringeworthy as ever. But Eighth Grade simply forgets to add anything else besides the cringe - anything that was making the characters in other films interesting or intriguing or at least somewhat original.

And without that not-so-secret sauce Eighth Grade feels plain boring and lame. With the characters as complex and multi-faceted as their speech (meh), the dialogs that make porn talks sound artistic, and the plot as predictable as the flicks of the aforementioned genre, you end up trying to grab onto at least something of interest, failing, and suffocating in the mundane routine.

Childhood sucks, kids are cruel, and being a teen is awkward. We get it alright, we either have been there ourselves or are right there at the moment. What we wanna see in the films are the hard choices (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), controversial situations (Perks of Being a Wallflower) or the sick fun you're still entitled to have while you're young (Superbad, The Kings of Summer and the rest of the legion). But if you cannot come up with anything remotely distinctive - just save your breath, because a plain mirror all of us have at home for free.


Venom, a giant talking snot
I'm sure the comic book connoisseurs are able to distinguish dozens of tiniest intonations and emotions in those painted magazines. For a layman like myself though, comics look overly hyperbolized and specifically crafted to entertain the simple tastes of a younger reader.

Well, in this case Venom is a prime example of a comic book movie. The subtlety is nonexistent, everything is flashy and everyone a screaming archetype - of a reckless rebel, a girl next door with a sensitive soul, an unscrupulous tycoon, a scientist who suddenly grew a conscience, and of a dozen other typical comic story residents. Even the slapstick action, cheesy dialogs and horrendous overacting, so different from the "serious" mainstream Marvel movies, are absolutely natural for the American manga twins.

So, in a sense, Venom is a very authentic example of a film made by the canons of the comic books. And it's also an example of why those canons don't work for anything destined for a screen and not paper. Because, unless you're trying to make a Looney Tunes ripoff, you need a more evenly paced approach, and even in the B-movies these days audience expects to see at least some substance. And no, generic CGI of intertwined colored phlegm and mature actresses running around in mini skirts are not the substance I mean.

Come think of it, the after-credits toon puts everything into place. Venom would be just perfect... if only it was drawn and not filmed. Unfortunately, the likes of Stan Lee are too few these days, and they had to make due with what Hollywood could spare. What a shame.

A Quiet Place

A Stupid Place
So, you've been feeling too cozy and relaxed lately, and you want a horror/thriller movie to spice up your life a bit? Then look no further, because A Quiet Place will definitely make you experience a solid spike of emotions. However, these might not be emotions you actually expected...

I've watched hundreds of movies through all my life, but this film is literally the first one I rage quit halfway through. No, it's not the monsters with extra sensitive hearing that make me mad - it's the stupidity of people who try to survive those monsters and who you're supposed to root for.

From the very first scene of the film, where a bunch of kids, including a 4-year old, run around a deserted pharmacy in the not-so-distant post-apocalyptic future, A Quiet Place goes head over heels with bizarre idiocy of the characters, as if to compensate for the lack of its sonic diversity. We can't be scared with the generic spooky music - so let us be constantly strained by the way characters act. Parents not watching over their kids way too young to comprehend the gravity of the situation, kids more grown-up acting as if they don't know what death is and haven't seen it with their own eyes, and both kids and adults behaving as if they were Wet bandits from Home Alone with a death wish for wits.

I hoped that the first death (basically shown to us in the trailer) would change something - so that the characters would become less idiotic and more self-aware. But no, the degree of moronity only keeps going higher - as if the only person who's actually interested in surviving this grotesque nightmare is the husband (aka the director). Well, maybe he was the only one who actually read the script, so go figure...

My honest guess is that the Hollywood got so engrossed with the cash cow the family values theme is, the movie bosses decided it's enough just to show the adolescent people doing dangerous things to make the audience drool in an overprotective parental ecstasy, willingly closing their eyes on the nonexistence of the plot, incoherence of the characters and a totally emotionally manipulative nature of the whole premise. If there weren't any non-adults involved, most of us would just scoff and approve the stupid deaths of the stupid people (because "every stupid person dead helps the smart guys remain alive"). Here, however, we're expected to feel involved and worried and sympathetic - simply because there are kids on stage.

A hundred years ago, a child exploitation was when infants were forced to work at factories - and the first world countries worked hard to abolish such slavery. Only to end up with this kind of exploitation - maybe less damaging, but definitely no less ugly.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Mumbo jumbo unleashed
The Ant-man series was weak from the start, unable to comply with the rules of physics it set itself. But at least in 2015 the idea of a sloppy shrinkable/inflatable superhero was fresher, so you were more willing to close your eyes on some inconsistencies.

This time though, this mess of a premise went beyond any tolerable measure. With no "real world business" available for Ant-man, the film sets course for the unknown of the quantum realm, dropping pseudo-scientific nonsense as often as the Tarantino characters drop F-bombs. And the deeper the film goes in order to somehow explain what's going on and why all these people do what they do, the less logical sense it means. So towards the end we go from at least an illusion of some science to an almost Red-Witch-like magic. Might just as well have worn cloaks and waved hands all along the way.

Paul Rudd and his comic relief/family values theme are still reasonably charming and mostly not overdone. But if Ant-man was supposed to recreate the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and its unserious approach, then I guess it needed something more than just Michael Peña's ridiculous babbling at super speed.

With its cartoonish violence and size changing tricks, Ant-man and the Wasp could've been a nice kid flick, bright and colorful and constantly rushing somewhere. But a darker story and lots of uncomfortably long and uncommon words would turn kids off, while the lack of sense and too much silly humor don't go well with someone more adult. So to me this film was more of a miss.

Except one thing. A huge drum-banging ant was dope! Makes you think about certain substances and their peculiar effect on the moviemakers' minds.

Avengers: Infinity War

Sentimentality for sale
Let's admit it, people love watching sacrifices made out of love. We just can't get enough of that mushy pathos of the most pointless, irrational and simply plain wrong things being done just because it would lessen the suffering of a single human being (or maybe even a puppy), albeit just for a moment.

This is humanity. And, judging by the rating, it is madly in love with Avengers Infinity War. Well, no surprise, since, for the first time in a while, Marvel Studios made a film that dwarfs most of the melodramas ever created in terms of making the soft-hearted people shed a tear or two. The war is waging across the whole galaxy over the topic of sheer survival of myriads of living beings, and our brave heroes, so eager to care none about the collateral damage before, have suddenly become too soft to handle the fact that someone might not make it eventually.

And what a time to grow a conscience! Thanos is about, the looming figure from the past Marvel movies, the phantom menace of this cinematic universe, and he's come to strike it big this time. And with him, a huge army of creatures equally ugly and disposable and a few special units he calls his children, finally with a speck of individuality, but still ugly as the rest. Makes you start wondering if those Titan genes are really the best judge of the galaxy's fate.

As for "the good guys", they are quite aplenty too. Maybe even too aplenty to actually have any decent interaction among each other, unless we count some quarrels and a few flashy co-op FPS action scenes interaction. Tom Holland does try to bring his old lively "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" attitude, but he's severely outnumbered in this game of big talk and personal issues. Even Steve Rogers, the only guy who was previously known for bringing charisma and integrity into everything he's involved in, is demoted to a mere fighting machine. He's good at that, no doubt about it, but after Winter Soldier and Civil War you expect much, much more from that character. But this time your expectations are your own problem I'm afraid.

The rest you have probably seen yourself - and if you haven't then you probably should, because, even with its somewhat generic and one-dimensional taste, Infinity War is still quite good as an action flick. The moving figures won't let you doze off too soon, and a few "deep" dialogue scenes will keep your palate from getting too numb if you have a taste for anything besides punches and gunshots.

Still, after all we've seen from Marvel in these ten years, Infinity War leaves a rather dull aftertaste. Not as pathetic as Iron Man 3, but something between GotG2 and Thor Dark World. In other words, the intense buildup and high expectations make the actual endeavor feel faded. Like all those figures from the ending, this movie doesn't present any substantial endpoint - but rather flakes away, so that instead of feeling absolutely overwhelmed you simply go check on your Instagram updates while the (surprisingly rather impressive) ending credits score keeps banging, find no new posts and feel somewhat disappointed.

The film wasn't bad per se. But most of the fan theories and memes people generated while waiting for this to hit the theaters were indeed more exciting. In a way, that does create a balance of sorts, something Thanos would have appreciated, but, as for you, I wouldn't be so sure.

Logan Lucky

Cute characters, mediocre plot
When Cohen brothers make a film, it seems as if its plot is secondary - almost irrelevant. Because the true beauty of their unique style is the characters and the little moments they share on screen. Like a real life in a miniature: pointless and sometimes even absurd at each particular moment - but priceless when put together.

Steven Soderbergh is no novice in the cinema business, with an established style of his own. But this time, it seems, he decided to approach his clearly beloved topic of high-profile heists (let's not forget that the Ocean's Eleven franchise is a child of Soderbergh's creation) and do it in a "characters first" way. So instead of the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt and their impeccable smiles we have a bunch of amateurish looking hillbillies from West Virginia, a divorced father who's been laid off lately, his one-armed (sorry, one-handed!) brother and a trio of other brothers who look as if Kid Rock is their style icon. Together they are gonna try to pull off a heist only an American would fully appreciate: stealing a ton of cash from the company organizing the NASCAR races.

If the "characters first" approach was indeed the goal, then it worked out beautifully. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are so natural as brothers that in some close-ups you start seeing an even physical resemblance between those two, no matter how far apart their real looks are. And Daniel Craig, looking like a German rave band frontman from the 90's and talking like a true backwoods dweller, is simply brilliant. I mean, if there was a cinematographic award for the most unlikely character transformation, then this "from Agent 007 to a hillbilly gangsta" switch would be the hands-down winner.

But this is where all the "but"s start appearing. Because, after all those extraordinary gentlemen (and a few ladies to spruce up this team) finish introducing themselves and all their quirks are known, there's little Logan Lucky can offer to maintain the suspense and keep you involved. The heist itself is typical, its twists and turns may not be absolutely predictable but you definitely expect some second layer of events to reveal itself - and you get what you expected. The third act addition of Hilary Swank, a die-hard FBI investigator keen to put those responsible for the heist behind bars, does spice up things a little, but it's still not enough to make the film's final as intriguing as its opening.

"Ocean's 7-Eleven", a pun that the film makes of itself, is a nice way to describe Logan Lucky. A crime comedy without the high grades of pathos. But that pathos was actually essential to make Ocean's Eleven at least seem grand. Without it, the only thing left is some dudes trying to steal money in a quirky way. Yeah, the dudes were fun while it lasted, but the rest is the same old routine we've seen a hundred times. And no smoke screens or robotic hands could distract you enough to stop seeing that.

Phantom Thread

Better life through chemistry
So, a successful dressmaker for the upper class people and royalty, who usually treats women like furniture, meets a much younger simple woman and they start a game of who needs who more. Sounds like an awful fun... except it doesn't. In fact, it sounds insanely boring and predictable.

Predictability, however, is not what this film's characters try to avoid. Quite the contrary, they embrace it and get pissed when something goes awry, that is, against their routine. The battle of a feisty and rebellious youngling and an established but moody oldtimer is probably the most exciting thing about Phantom Thread. It might be the very thread going through the whole film, so noticeable that at some point you start keeping a score of who burned who and who threw a fit as a revenge move. One might even start accepting bets on who would emerge victorious out of this inevitable confrontation.

The quality one cannot deny this film, though, is how beautifully this push-pull game of two plus one is acted out. The trio of Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville make all sorts of posh sad/posh irritated/posh condescending faces, showing us just how far ahead of the whole world Brits have gone in terms of humiliating each other in a quiet voice and perfectly decent vocabulary. After all, true class is the ability to do the ugliest things with the most regal look you can afford.

But, in all its dignified appearance, Phantom Thread loses an ingredient essential for providing not just style but also substance: the logical consistency. The characters' behavior is erratic, swinging between dangerously radical opposites a bit too carelessly. You're fascinated with someone, and the next second you push them around like they are dirt under your shoes, then you are all loving and sensitive, breaking all your habits for a person, and then you compare their presence with a smell of silent death. I might've found that normal for a story of some precocious teen like Lady Bird. But for a grey-haired man who above all values the stability of his life, such maneuvers seem too far-fetched to be realistic.

And then there's the ending, which is literally tailored to make you have that "WTF have I just watched?!" moment. I admit that after Fincher's Gone Girl it's pretty hard to come up with a more messed up way to finish a convoluted story, but Phantom Thread has come pretty close. And, while the Fincher movies are messed up for a pretty relatable reason, Phantom Thread ultimately leaves you wondering whether all these quirks have been put together simply to make the story look decadently... chic.

Maybe for a sewing addict this kind of chic is exactly what is needed. But a less exquisite person like myself leans towards the descriptives like "awkward" and "ridiculous". It's still a bespoke suit of a movie, that is, it's unlike most things you see around. But, in my personal case, I guess this bespoke suit was simply made using someone else's measurements.

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