msbreviews

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Reviews

Marriage Story
(2019)

Rating: A
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I don't even know how to start this review... Marriage Story is one of those movies that stays with me long after I've finished it. I've been thinking about it a lot, and it's undoubtedly one of the most realistic dramas I've ever seen. That's due to the award-worthy performances of Adam Driver (Charlie Barber) and Scarlett Johansson (Nicole Barber), but also because of Noah Baumbach's incredibly layered screenplay. In addition to this, Baumbach is undeniably one of the best directors of the year. With the help of his DP, Robbie Ryan, he sets the platform for Driver and Johansson to shine as the astonishing actors that they are.

Some people watch films to forget their daily issues. Some just want to have fun. Some want to learn more about a particular true story. However, there's not a single person alive who wants to watch a movie and not be able to leave the theater (or, in this case, their couch) entertained. Marriage Story has such an emotionally complicated premise that it's tough to convince people to sit and watch. I mean, who wants to watch a divorce develop throughout more than two hours? Who wants to watch two people who were once in love with each other become the worst of themselves? Yelling, fighting, court, custody, lawyers... It's not exactly an attention-grabber.

I imagine people who went through the same situation getting triggered and remember a phase of their lives that was probably one of their worst. I'm writing this because I've seen some negativity towards people who simply don't want to watch Baumbach's depiction of a depressing event. It's perfectly understandable if anyone decides to skip this one, especially if it hits too close to home. In my case, I've never gone through a divorce (hopefully, I'll never will), and usually I can "enjoy" this type of sad, frustrating, bittersweet films (Manchester by the Sea, A Ghost Story) for what they are, no matter how tragic.

If I had to choose one-word praise: realistic. There's no way around it. The palpable emotions are the main reason why this story works so well. Only people who have never been in a relationship of any kind can't understand the moment when a fight starts to escalate, and the couple begins to say terrible stuff at each other that they don't exactly mean. The exaggeration and over-the-top arguments are part of every couple's life. They can occur due to a hundred reasons related to stress, work, accumulation of little things, or simply because it's just not a good day.

Marriage Story doesn't deliver a hopeful message or a sweet story because that's not what divorces are. It's not difficult to imagine how hard it is to separate yourself from the person you love(d) for years without end, even more when there's a kid involved in the process. Baumbach could have followed the genre cliches and provide moments of pure happiness, but that's not something that happens during a situation like this. It's a heart-wrenching phase to live through, and I believe that this movie is going to be thoroughly analyzed in film school in the next decade or so.

THE scene with Driver and Johansson going at each other exponentially harder and heavier criticism-wise is one of the most emotionally powerful dialogues of the millennium. The raw emotion and the physical movements that both actors can bring into the fight are absurdly impressive. Their chemistry is so inexplicably real. I never, not even for a single second, thought that I was watching fictional characters. Nicole and Charlie can very well be our neighbors or part of our family. Baumbach's use of long takes really elevate every single sequence, allowing the protagonists to move around the set and actually act.

Technically, there's no better acting this year than what Driver and Johansson deliver. Both are always moving and doing a lot of things while giving their lines. Making dinner, drinking tea, going to the bathroom, chopping a carrot, blowing their nose, standing up, sitting down, walking around the room, crying, smiling, laughing... All of this in a single take! Several times!! Scarlett shows more emotion throughout the runtime than her counterpart, but Adam proves why he's the frontrunner at the 2019's Oscars. His restraint when Charlie is trying to be polite even though he's mad, or his explosive behavior when his character decides to finally let go (excellent build-up), are some of the attributes that make his performance my favorite of the year.

Not trying to diminish Johansson's display. Both deliver career-best performances, in my opinion. Both deserve every award that exists. The supporting cast is also impeccable, and I know that Laura Dern (Nora Fanshaw) is probably going to be nominated. Still, the two leads are so engaging and captivating that I couldn't be impressed with anyone else. The only person to rise to the main actors' level is Noah Baumbach himself. With the best screenplay of 2019, he offers the audience an incredibly complex story, filled with subtle details and exceptional dialogue.

He controls the movie's pacing beautifully, and he knows the right moments to insert a little joke to lighten up the dark, depressing mood. My only issue with the film has to do with its replay value. We all have been through this situation: watching a fantastic movie, only once, and never again. Marriage Story is going to be one of those films for me. I love everything about it, but I know the chances of a rewatch are very, very small. It's a profoundly unsettling story, super uncomfortable at times, and I really don't want to go through the sadness and frustration all over again.

All in all, Noah Baumbach delivers what I believe to be its career-best flick, Marriage Story. With the best screenplay of 2019, as well as one the best directions, this is the closest the world is ever going to get to a realistic depiction of a divorce. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver also give the best performances of their lives, elevating every single scene, dialogue, argument, or joke. The long takes allow them to shine and actually work as actors, moving around the set and doing domestic/job tasks, while delivering their lines. Technically, both Baumbach and the entire cast are absolutely perfect. It's an extremely emotional narrative, very depressing, sad, and even uncomfortable at times, which might scare some people off, especially if they've been through this. Despite its replay value being affected (a rewatch is very unlikely), it's a phenomenal lesson in storytelling that stays with us long after it's finished. Easily, one of the best movies of 2019. Don't miss it, and try not to cry.

Last Christmas
(2019)

Rating: C+
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I'm not the biggest fan of straight-up romantic comedies (rom-coms). I don't think I absolutely love a film from this genre, and if I do, it probably doesn't solely belong to the rom-com's list (they could also be musicals, dramas, etc). Most of the times, I appreciate them enough to feel fulfilled. Very rarely, I feel totally disappointed or with a hate feeling towards one. Paul Feig delivered a couple of great comedies during his career (Bridesmaids, Spy), and the underrated/overlooked A Simple Favor, which I enjoyed very much. With Emma Thompson (Adelia) as both supporting actress and screenwriter, Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding as protagonists, Last Christmas grew on me in the week of its premiere, making me genuinely excited for its session.

This Christmas' movie sort of falls in the middle. I don't exactly "like" it that much, but I still left the theater happy and reasonably entertained. It actually possesses a dramatic tone deep within, but it never fully explores it, maintaining the lighthearted and festive vibe throughout most of its runtime. Clarke and Golding share amazing chemistry, and their scenes are very romantic, sweet, and emotional. However, it's more of the same. Last Christmas doesn't bring anything new since it follows the same cliches every other rom-com does.

Its only bold and different take on the story is a plot twist that raises too many logical questions. Instead of carrying an emotionally powerful impact, it merely delivers an initial shock that goes away once people start to really think about it. Nevertheless, I praise this storytelling choice. It's never easy to pull off a twist, but the truth is that if Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings didn't take this missed shot, I wouldn't have spent the whole trip back home thinking about the film. I would have probably forgotten it as soon as I got into the car. So, congrats on trying something different, even if it didn't quite work for me.

Thompson ultimately shines as Kate's mom, though. No missteps here. She's hilarious, and she has some of the funniest lines of the whole thing. Michelle Yeoh (Santa) also has a couple of fun moments, but her subplot feels a bit strained. Emilia Clarke incorporates the clumsiness and awkwardness of her character seamlessly. If you're familiar with Clarke's interviews and public persona, then you know that Kate is basically the over-the-top reflection of Clarke. Despite her lack of luck, she's still charming and a good person that went through a traumatic event that changed her life (duh). Golding is glamorous and perfect as expected, especially since his character needed precisely these attributes.

Their relationship grows in a not-so-realistic way, and while this might be justified by the last act's twist, other plot points are not. My main issue with the movie is really those last 20 minutes. In addition to the twist, every single subplot is closed like nothing happened. From a particular family situation regarding sexual orientation to Yeoh's entire side story, all are either solved off-screen or way too easily. It's a rollercoaster of good and bad writing decisions. It has a couple of exciting downwards slopes and tight turns, but most of it is a slow ride with nothing truly thrilling or astonishing.

Last Christmas tries to be "the next big thing" concerning Christmas classics, but it falls short of its goal. Boasting a fantastic cast, with two charming, compelling leads in Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, Paul Feig delivers a lighthearted, festive film, but stuffed with cliches and a twist that doesn't quite work. Emma Thompson shines as a supporting character but has some missteps in co-writing the story with Bryony Kimmings, showing significant struggles in tying up the loose threads left by the side stories. Despite its storytelling issues, it's a flick I recommend to anyone who loves seasonal movies with a beautiful message, some fun moments, and a score packed with our favorite George Michael's songs.

Knives Out
(2019)

Rating: A
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Knives Out has been shown in numerous festivals, and it received massive acclaim in literally every single one of them. Therefore, its hype grew more and more until its wide release date. Before the film, I can't deny that I was indeed affected by the whole "a whodunnit like you haven't seen in years." I went into the theater with high expectations, not only due to the festival praise but due to its jaw-dropping cast. It's uncommon to possess such a renowned ensemble and deliver a "bad" movie, especially when Rian Johnson is writing and directing it (yes, I like The Last Jedi, and even if I didn't, he did other stuff, you know?). It's one of those films everyone knows it's going to be appreciated by a considerable part of the world.

Even the genre itself is a very welcome type of cinema entertainment in regards to both critics and the general public. So, does it live up to its hype, or it fails to reach such high expectations? Knives Out is one of the best movies of the year, as well as one of the best mystery-suspense stories of the millennium (everyone is doing the whole "best X of the decade," I'm going one step beyond). This is a film I know I'm going to rewatch countless times throughout the next years. Usually, when it comes to whodunnits, people are misled into thinking that from the moment they know who "did it," the movie loses its interest. This is rarely true, and Rian Johnson succeeds because he doesn't need the ultimate reveal to deliver a great story.

This screenplay is definitely getting tons of nominations and wins during the awards season. Every little line of dialogue means something. Every single character says or does something impactful to the narrative (except for Jaeden Martell's). It's been half-a-day since I've seen it, and for every question that my brain comes up with, there's an answer lying on someone's words or actions. It's such an intricate, complex, extremely subtle script. One with so many tiny, little details that it's impossible to catch them all on a first viewing.

I genuinely love the first act, even if it's the one where I have a minor issue. Rian Johnson doesn't waste time and puts us directly in the crime scene, interviewing each and every member of the family. It's through these interrogatories that he cleverly introduces the suspects, developing them solely through masterfully written dialogue, and outstanding performances. For example, with a single sentence and a particular body/face expression, Toni Collette instantly creates a profile of Joni, her character. Rian plays with character-types and cliches in such an intelligent manner. He makes us think a particular character follows a specific cliche, then it doesn't, then it does again...

That's one of the reasons I couldn't figure out the mystery until the last act reveal. Every time I was close to indeed follow the right path, new developments arise, meant to mislead, confuse, and create doubts. Some people feel better with themselves if they solve the case before the film. They feel "intellectually superior" just because they found out before everyone else. First of all, I prefer being fooled and end up blown away by an unexpected conclusion than solving the whole thing way before time's up and end up disappointed and bored. Then, honestly, anyone who says, "I guessed it," there's a 99% chance that they're either lying or not answering correctly to the question "who killed Harlan?" If you've seen the movie, you'll understand what I'm trying to express.

(I don't want to sound presumptuous or hypocritical. I'm not trying to say, "I couldn't figure it out, so no one can." Please, if you haven't seen the film, judge the previous paragraph after your viewing.)

Throughout the second and third acts, loose ends start to tie up, ending up with a brilliantly delivered reveal. From the marvelous cinematography (with those classic close-ups when a character is about to say something meaningful or tell a story through their imagination or memory) to the remarkable editing, the team behind Rian Johnson did a phenomenal job. The suspense is held at high levels, and it reaches limit-breaking points with Marta Cabrera's (Ana de Armas) narrative. Armas and Daniel Craig deliver the standout performances, with Chris Evans (Ransom) following right behind. Literally, everyone else offers excellent displays, and help carry a story filled with mystery, but also with a lot of humor.

However, I have to emphasize how astonishing Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig are. Ana might be a bit unknown to most people. I've been supporting her ever since Blade Runner 2049, so I'm ecstatic that she finally got a major role in a big movie, especially within an ensemble of actors with legendary careers. Craig, who could have just delivered a slight variation of the character he's been playing for years, instead offers a unique take on the Detective role. Just like Evans, both have been playing iconic characters for years, so it's sort of an extra joke to everyone who watched Captain America and James Bond for the past decade or so.

My only minor issue has nothing to do with the political undertone and the social messages Rian Johnson puts in this film. Honestly, I love that aspect of it. It's like Rian knew some people would complain about it, so he made sure to have a couple of characters (Jaeden Martell's Jacob and Katherine Langford's Meg) somewhat resembling the so-called snowflakes and all that. No, my issue is related to some excessive exposition regarding the first act's interrogatories. It's great that every character gets their own motivations, but it feels like each confrontation with the detectives went on for a bit too long. Some pieces of the mystery might be a bit hard to believe that they would occur, but these are all nitpicks in a remarkable movie.

In the end, Rian Johnson is able to bounce back from the divisive The Last Jedi with one of the best whodunnits I've ever seen, Knives Out. Rian proves that not only he's a talented filmmaker but also a phenomenal screenwriter. With a renowned and impressive ensemble cast, Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas are standouts within all of the other outstanding performances, Chris Evans being right behind. With one of the best screenplays of the year, the mystery at its center keeps everyone extremely captivated until the very end, even if you guess "who did it" beforehand. Masterfully written dialogue, remarkable editing, and great use of classic cinematography techniques. It's an entertaining story with tremendous replay value and significant political/social layers that only elevate the already complex yet subtle narrative. Don't miss it!

Frozen II
(2019)

Rating: B+
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As you should know by now, I enjoyed Frozen more than I expected. Therefore, I was genuinely excited about its six-year sequel. It's one of the few movies in 2019 to which I went in 99% blind. I didn't watch a single trailer, I barely saw any images or small clips, and I didn't know anything about where the story was going. So, with my expectations moderately high, how did it perform? Very, very well. I'm going to write it straight away: I enjoy this sequel more than the original. For one simple reason: it possesses a more emotionally complex narrative, one which I think the target audience (basically kids) won't even fully understand.

It's really hard to create an animated flick with a story that works for both adults and children. The best of the best are the ones that are able to almost tell two different narratives: one simpler for kids with basic life lessons, and another for adults with more profound themes. Frozen II doesn't reach this last level, but its layered screenplay allows for an exploration of Elsa's powers that I genuinely didn't expect. However, there's an evident downside to the extreme focus on Elsa's journey... The other characters are put aside with irrelevant subplots that only stretch the runtime a bit too much, and unfortunately, reach a certain point where out-of-character actions occur.

There's even a period of time where a particular character simply vanishes from the story because Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck couldn't figure out what to do with it during the last act. Despite the subplots not being impactful or not being able to further develop its characters, I can't deny some sequences are entertaining and funny as hell. Olaf is the absolute MVP of the film, and just like in the original, he doesn't exactly have an arc. Nevertheless, he has one of the most hilarious sequences of the year. I cried from so much laughter. His song and a couple of scenes where Josh Gad goes all out are some of the funniest of the whole movie.

The voice cast is once again perfect. Anna, Kristoff, and Sven are sort of along for the ride, with the trio only doing something useful in the last 15-20 minutes. Elsa is the real star of the show. From the opening shot to the last, it's all about her, and her powers' origin. It might get too convoluted for kids, but despite a few minor missteps, it's an extremely well-developed screenplay. With a remarkable build-up and some truly amazing songs, Elsa goes through several action moments where she showcases all that her magic can do. And it's visually mind-blowing. Like in the first film, the animation quality is extraordinary.

They really put 200% effort into Elsa's magic sequences. From her running against a tide of waves to fighting against the four elements (water, fire, earth, and air), there are imaginative and incredibly entertaining scenes, which give the movie a level of entertainment superior to its predecessor. Put this together with the wonderful, powerful score, and you get a pretty epic film, scale-wise. I mean, Into the Unknown is not going to reach Let It Go's level of worldwide craziness, but it's a phenomenal song. It's even better hearing it while watching the actual scene play out. Both this one and Show Yourself have a build-up worthy of sending chills down your spine.

All Is Found is also a memorable lullaby that a lot of parents are going to sing for their kids. When I Am Older is Olaf's hilarious musical moment that left me laughing throughout its entire run. I love Frozen II's score, more than the original's. That's something I genuinely wasn't expecting at all. Looking back, I now think the first installment doesn't even have enough significant songs. This sequel has tons of songs that are either extremely important for the characters or funny parodies. All are very captivating, catchy, and emotionally resonant. My advice: please, don't listen to the soundtrack before watching the movie. Not only the titles and lyrics offer plot spoilers, but they ruin that "first experience" feeling. I got chills during a couple of them precisely because I watched besides only hearing them.

All in all, Frozen II compensates the six-year wait with a follow-up worthy of standing up to its original, which in my opinion, surpasses it. With an emotionally complex narrative, Elsa's powers are explored and developed in a captivating, creative, fun, and entertaining way. Disney really put their best animators on this because the quality of animation has never been as visually impressive as this. It really feels like a magical film. Elsa's magic demonstration plus the powerful, chill-inducing original score are two aspects that together provide some truly epic moments. However, Olaf is the MVP with a lot more screentime than in the original, and with a couple of the most hilarious scenes of the year. It's a shame that the focus on Elsa's arc pushed every other character aside, making them feel useless and with no exciting or impactful subplot. Runtime feels a bit stretched due to their side adventures, and exposition is pretty heavy throughout the entire duration. In the end, it's still a contender for Best Animated Feature Film of 2019.

Frozen
(2013)

Rating: B
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Six years later, and Frozen has left an undeniable cultural impact. From Let It Go to tons of merchandising, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee delivered such a memorable film that people not only didn't forget but regularly asked for its sequel. As of right now, Frozen II has claimed the third-best animated opening weekend ever, proving that the love for this franchise (I think it's safe to call it that already) is strong. However, how great is the original movie, after all? To be honest, I never fully watched it until this past week in preparation for its sequel. It surprised me in the sense that I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Frozen is deserving of the love it possesses.

With extremely captivating characters, the story flows naturally, and the entertainment levels are always high. Whether these are due to the amazing singing sequences or to the exciting adventures, this film never stops having fun. That's what Frozen ultimately is: a lighthearted, fun, and entertaining movie. It follows Disney's formula for creating a variation of a story we have seen before. Characters go through a traumatic event when they're young. They have to grow up while struggling with the aftermath of said trauma. Eventually, they overcome that obstacle and live happily ever after (or at least until the next installment).

It's the generic and somewhat cliche Disney model for a new animated film (franchise). Nevertheless, don't get me wrong: it works perfectly. Sure, it doesn't bring anything new story-wise, but it's still a great time. Despite some unnecessary and lazy exposition (the magical trolls are basically exposition devices), Frozen still delivers a truly captivating and visually jaw-dropping narrative. I do need to emphasize this: the animation is phenomenal. Elsa's magic is seamless and beautiful. Arendelle is a gorgeous location, and the snowy mountains are impressively designed. Let It Go will always be remembered for its lyrics and melody, but the actual animated sequence is astonishing.

Every character carries a lot of expressiveness, which allows them to do basically everything. Frozen might not be a groundbreaking movie, but its compelling characters make the generic plot work. From Elsa and Anna's complicated but heartwarming relationship to Kristoff and Sven's camaraderie, I care about all of them... especially Olaf. I know, Olaf is simply the snowman version of a comic-relief character. He doesn't really have a complex arc in need of extreme development. However, it's impossible not to love him. He's such a welcome presence in every single scene. Every single line of his is either a funny remark or a pretty valuable insight into something.

Counting him out, every other character has a very well explored arc, mainly Elsa and Anna. Their (older) relationship originates from a plot point that might be a tad exaggerated, but it's convincing enough. Finally, the score is as important as it is fantastic. It's an animated musical, let us not forget about that. Obviously, Let It Go is the queen of all songs due to its catchy lyrics, memorable chorus, and significance to the character. But other ones such as Do You Wanna Build a Snowman and For the First Time in Forever also carry a sweet melody plus some exquisite character and story development. That's what I love the most about musicals and why Disney always triumphs regarding this aspect: the way a simple song can tell so much about someone or move the plot forward. In my opinion, it's the genre's variation of "show, don't tell."

In the end, Frozen might not be a groundbreaking animated film story-wise, but it delivers around 100 minutes of pure fun and entertainment. With an exceptional voice cast (Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, and Josh Gad are wonderful), Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are able to take Disney's formula and create a worthy variation of the classic blueprint. From the emotionally compelling and well-developed characters to the eyegasmic animation quality, Frozen is a good time from start to finish. Boasting some memorable and catchy songs, it became one of the decade's culturally most impactful animated movies. I wish exposition wasn't overused, and that more risks were taken concerning the screenplay, but as a Disney animated flick, it meets the company's standards.

Midway
(2019)

Rating: C+
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With all due respect to Roland Emmerich and to his fantastic Independence Day, his movies never quite reach their potential, ending up in constant disappointments. It doesn't matter if he has excellent casts or amazing VFX teams, his films' screenplays are almost always stuffed with narrative issues. Midway is simply another installment in his saga of letdowns. Without knowing the director, anyone who looks at this movie will feel instantly captivated. From the unbelievably talented cast to the impressive visuals, it has two attention-grabber ingredients, which can result in a remarkable film... only if the two pillars of any cinematic production are decent enough: story and characters.

These are the main issue with Emmerich's movies. His characters are not compelling or intriguing enough, and his screenplays lack creativity and excitement (whether these are written by him or someone else). When I noticed that Midway had such an acclaimed cast and that it was about the Battle of Midway, I immediately got excited. War epics are a genre that I sincerely appreciate. However, when I checked who was "running the show", I instantly lowered my expectations. Honestly, it's exactly what I expected it to be: visually gripping, but emotionally hollow.

I don't want to understate it. The CGI work in this film is jaw-dropping. The actual war is riveting with astonishing aerial sequences and powerful sound design. Even at a regular screening with the usual 7.1 Dolby surround speakers, the floor was rumbling with the explosions and the planes. This is why I think audiences will definitely enjoy this movie. Maybe not a vast majority, but surely most people will leave their theaters feeling it was good entertainment. It has a long runtime, and it's hard to get through the exposition-heavy story, but in the end, I bet the general public will appreciate the war action enough to give the whole thing a thumbs up.

Nevertheless, it's still a very superficial flick. While it's very respectful to everyone who fought in the war (including the Japanese) and to the historic event on itself, it lacks emotional attachment to its characters. Dunkirk was praised by both critics and audiences all around the world, but its main criticism connects to what I just wrote. Christopher Nolan's film also didn't have any compelling characters. However, there's a big difference between these two movies. Both their marketing and their ultimate goal are distinct. Dunkirk was all about showing the actual war. It never marketed itself as a character-study or that it would even have a significant focus on some of the heroes that fought there. Nolan repeated several times: it's about the war and the war only.

It's genuinely one of the best, if not the best, *pure* war film I've ever seen. When it comes to depicting the claustrophobic, unbreathable, restless, bloody, loud event that a devastating war is, Dunkirk is so realistic it can even become uncomfortable with just sitting in your chair (at least, I did in IMAX). On the other hand, Midway's marketing was about paying homage to "people who fought in the Battle of Midway". Hence the stellar cast compared to Nolan's just competent actors (with obvious exceptions like Mark Rylance or Tom Hardy). It spends most of its screentime trying to develop the actual people that helped win that battle, not with the action itself. Therefore, these characters need engaging scripts and emotionally resonant arcs.

Wes Tooke delivers a screenplay packed with so much exposition that a lot of it looks clearly unrealistic. Characters discuss specific topics that don't make any sense of being in a conversation at a particular time and place. Throughout the runtime, there are dialogue sequences with the sole purpose of explicitly telling the audience what we need to know to understand the story, which ends up turning the narrative confusing, convoluted, and lacking faster pacing. It's tough to get through the non-action periods, and I can't even imagine how dull it would be without such an impeccable cast. Ed Skrein remarkably portrays Dick Best, the only character who's genuinely compelling and carries a complete, well-developed arc.

Unfortunately, I didn't feel invested in any other character. Only the best movies of every year can have a numerous and talented cast while giving each and every actor an exciting role. Midway has too many characters for the story it wants to tell. In addition to this, it has to stretch its runtime because you can't get Woody Harrelson or Dennis Quaid playing secondary roles and not giving them more than just a couple of lines. As time goes by, Emmerich's storytelling structure gets needlessly more and more complicated to follow. It's yet another film added to the "wasted potential" list...

Potential due to how truly magnificent the action sequences can be. It's undeniable that these are entertaining, gripping, and exciting. The dive bombers' scenes are packed with so much tension that I was getting more and more frustrated every time they missed their target, and a bomb went into the sea. I wanted them to succeed so bad, and this feeling can only be triggered by something extraordinary. Midway's war is as close to epic as it could be, but as with every other cinematic production, if its story and its characters are not up to par with the action, there are no outstanding VFX that can save a lousy screenplay.

All in all, Midway is a respectful homage to the people who fought in the Battle of Midway, but it fails to deliver an engaging story with compelling characters. With more characters that what it needed, the runtime is stretched beyond its limit due to the numerous acclaimed actors who would never be in a movie if they didn't have more than a couple of lines. Roland Emmerich has to thank his VFX team for presenting the closest war action we could ever get of the famous battle. Truly epic visuals with tense and riveting aerial sequences, plus a powerful sound design, get your teeth biting the nails. Unfortunately, except for Ed Skrein's character, I didn't feel invested enough to appreciate the non-action moments due to the confusing, convoluted, and exposition-heavy narrative. It's a shame that a visually impressive film possesses such an emotionally dull story. However, I still recommend it for anyone who enjoys war epics and "based on a true story" adaptations.

PS: it doesn't hurt to research a bit about the Battle of Midway. I didn't and I'm sort of regretting that now. Don't make the same mistake. Going in with basic knowledge of what, how, and why it happened will only help you enjoy this movie more.

Terminator: Dark Fate
(2019)

Rating: C
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When it comes to the Terminator franchise, I share the same opinion as most people. The 1984's original became a cult classic, and it's one of the most influential sci-fi/action films of all-time. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the (very) few sequels to such a beloved movie that actually improves on its predecessor, standing as the number one film of the saga, quality- and entertainment-wise. James Cameron left the franchise, and suddenly it all went down the sewer. While Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is still tolerable, Salvation is absolutely terrible, and the reboot, Genisys, failed to change the saga's history compellingly. So, obviously, even with the return of Cameron to the production team, my expectations were moderately low.

That said, Dark Fate is the best Terminator installment since T2 ... which is not saying much. The last two flicks have great casts (from Christian Bale to Emilia Clarke), but their scripts are baffling bad. This time around, the cast has amazing chemistry, and their characters have better dialogue, but it comes at a cost. The last three movies possess stories that are not as captivating or entertaining (or even rational) as the first two films. Dark Fate has a much better screenplay, but again it comes at a cost. What cost is this? Basically, it repeats the exact same bits as The Terminator.

An extremely thin line exists between paying homage to a movie and blatantly copying it. Tim Miller's team of screenwriters walk that line, stumbling to both sides several times along the way. Some scenes are indeed wonderful nods to the saga's first two installments, but a lot of other moments (too many, to be honest) are pretty much a copy-paste version of a significant plot point or character development arc from one of those films. In case you're wondering, this is the reason behind some of the "hate" from both critics and fans all over the world. Nowadays, people are harsher with this sort of homages, and the previously mentioned line is getting thinner and thinner.

Another reason for the divisive opinions is the opening sequence. Don't worry, I won't spoil. They simply make a sudden and surprising narrative decision that takes some of T2's emotional impact, at least without first clarifying why they made such a call. Therefore, I gave the movie a chance to develop its idea, but it doesn't. It just goes with it, and it never returns to this initial moment. Having this in mind, I understand if people instantly decided to hate the film based on just that very first scene.... Because it really doesn't have any justification besides "well, we need a story".

Dark Fate's screenplay is emotionally resonant, and it's also packed with (mostly) well-directed action sequences, but it resembles the 1984's original plot too much. There's even a direct line from Sarah Connor saying that a particular character is the equivalent of her son, John. This unnecessary and lazy exposition is surprisingly not as used as I expected it to be, but when it occurs, it's like they chose the lamest, silliest, worse possible moments to place it. However, I can't deny I actually had fun with the movie.

With a much better script than the last films, the cast was able to not only shine in a few scenes, but their incredible chemistry allowed for outstanding moments. Seeing Linda Hamilton portray Sarah Connor once again is a delight to my eyes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is an awesome badass with hilarious lines. These two are phenomenal! Nevertheless, Mackenzie Davis steals the show as the enhanced soldier, Grace, especially regarding the action scenes. I don't think Natalia Reyes offered what her character needed since she's the protagonist, after all, but she's able to stand her ground. I did enjoy Gabriel Luna take on the Terminator Rev-9, but I wish he had a little bit of more screentime besides the action.

Tim Miller brings his talented directing chops from Deadpool and applies his action techniques to deliver a lot of entertaining sequences. The VFX team provides with some impeccable CGI, but there are a couple of shots concerning a few speed bursts that should have received better treatment.

All in all, Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator installment since Judgment Day, but it still doesn't even reach the latter's heels. It boasts a fantastic cast, with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to their respective iconic roles, but Mackenzie Davis outshines both with some badass moments and great acting. Natalia Reyes, as the protagonist, is disappointingly fine. Despite the action being well-directed and the screenplay being well-written, it all comes at the cost of essentially replicating the 1984 original's plot. Some homages are notable, but it's so identical story-wise that it takes away any sort of surprise, severely lacking creativity. In addition to this, it makes a narrative decision in the opening sequence that removes some of T2's emotional impact, damaging the saga's best movie and one of the greatest sci-fi/action films of all-time. I don't exactly recommend it, but if you're a fan of the franchise, go see it but with moderate expectations.

Doctor Sleep
(2019)

Rating: A-
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There's this misconceived idea that "scary movies" are the ones with demons, monsters, or ghosts literally showing up in jump scare sequences, one after another, accompanied by an extremely loud sound. Granted, we're scared of what we're scared of. No debate here. However, one common complaint about this type of horror films is that they aren't "scary enough". I couldn't disagree more. These movies are the ones that truly get to us and stay with us for a while. If we watch a film with cyclical jump scares, we're going to forget about it as soon as we leave the theater. Movies with a horrific story, based on relatable themes, those are the ones that leave us uncomfortable and disturbed. I'm just writing this "prologue" to say that you shouldn't go in expecting a "scary" film. At least, not in a mainstream way. Moving on...

As you probably know by now (if you don't, check out my The Shining's review), I'm a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. It's a cult classic horror movie, one that influenced generations to come, especially regarding filmmaking techniques and equipment. With that said, Mike Flanagan had one of the toughest jobs of 2019. Not only did he need to deliver a sequel worthy of being associated with a beloved classic, but he had to deal with all the differences between the source material and Kubrick's changes. I'm going to leave a SPOILER WARNING for The Shining since the film came out 40 years ago, and I already wrote a review about it. Still, SPOILER-FREE for Doctor Sleep, don't worry.

In case you don't know, the major difference between King's book and Kubrick's cinematic adaptation is the ending. In the book, Jack Torrance forgets to relieve the hotel boiler's pressure, and it explodes, destroying the hotel and killing Jack in the process. In Kubrick's movie, Jack freezes to death in the maze outside the hotel while chasing his son, while the hotel stands tall. Flanagan is able to do the impossible: he perfectly continues the story left by Kubrick while respecting King's "demands". Just don't go with a "purist" mentality, thinking that Flanagan doesn't have the right to explore and expand "the shining". It's a sequel, so expect things to be added to the story (nothing is removed or retconned, so relax). As long as it makes sense, be always open to new ideas.

As the director, Flanagan proves once again he's a pretty talented guy by seamlessly recreating some of The Shining's most iconic scenes, but also by delivering some tricks of his own. With the help of his amazing cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, they are able to generate incredible levels of tension, characteristic of the original film. As the editor, he puts together everything remarkably well. The sequences inside someone's mind are wonderfully handled and provide some of the best moments of the entire movie. However, there's a massive difference when it comes to how the runtime flows in each film.

Both cross the 140-minute mark, and both purposefully employ slow pacing. Nevertheless, The Shining feels like it goes by way faster than Doctor Sleep (and mathematically it does have less 5-10 minutes, but that's not the point). Why? Due to Kubrick's movie constantly having long takes and extense dialogues, while Flanagan's installment has a modern approach with regular cuts plus much more action. Audiences presumably won't think of this (it's not like the "average Joe" notices or even cares if a scene has been going for 5 minutes straight or pieced together with 50 cuts), and just assume that the latter is more boring than the first without really understanding why.

People will probably blindly blame the story, but Doctor Sleep has a lot more "blockbuster entertainment" than The Shining. The latter is pretty much two hours spent inside a hotel where dialogue is the primary source of entertainment (things only go crazy in the last 15-20 minutes), and we all know that the general public usually doesn't fall for that. The sequel has a lot more action, subplots, and characters, so the runtime should go by faster than the original, right? No. This film is the number one proof that I'm going to use from now on to defend that uncut dialogue sequences and overall long takes are the best way of managing an extended runtime without it feeling too "heavy", especially in a psychological horror flick.

I wrote all these last paragraphs not to complain about the movie's being too slow, too long, or too dull. I'm just trying to help everyone understand why the film might feel slower and (much) longer, while protecting its story because the screenplay is indeed extremely well-written. Like in the original, exposition is handled beautifully with scarce lazy displays, but it's the characters of Ewan McGregor and the debutant Kyliegh Curran that carry the narrative effortlessly. McGregor is the perfect casting as Danny Torrance, and he does a great job of embodying Dan's personality. However, it's Danny's journey through his young and adult years that impresses me.

Exceptional character development! Danny's life after the events at the Overlook Hotel is as realistic and logical as it could be. Flanagan does a phenomenal job in handling this character and throwing just the right obstacles in his path. The way he deals with the aftermath of The Shining, how he grows up as a man, and even what he ends up doing for a living, everything is absolutely perfect. Furthermore, he's not alone. Abra is a badass young girl who wants to use her "shine" to protect others, but this time it's the actress that steals the spotlight from the character. Kyliegh Curran delivers one of the best young acting debuts I've ever witnessed. She's wonderful as Abra, and her range of emotions is already surprisingly vast.

She has some of the best scenes of the movie, especially when she's "fighting" Rose the Hat, but here is where we get to my major issue with the film. Rebecca Ferguson gives an outstanding performance, no doubt about it. She elevates infinite sequences, giving 200% to her role. However, her character and The True Knot group are the only significant flaw of this sequel. When writing a villain, there are basically two paths for success: either make the "bad guy" a compelling character with whom the audience can create some sort of empathy with and understand where he/she comes from, or turn him/her into a menacing, powerful, scary force that makes us fear for our heroes.

Flanagan apparently chooses the latter route, and unfortunately, it's his only misstep. I don't know if King didn't allow for changes to Rose or The True Knot cult, but they don't quite work when adapting to the big screen. Not only their history is never truly explored, but their motivations are too shallow, so I didn't care for a single character from the group, not even Rose. If she was the "menacing, powerful, scary force" that I wrote above, this wouldn't be so important, but the truth is she isn't. As the narrative progresses, there's a constant reminder that our heroes are in danger and that Rose is astonishingly strong, but the interactions between her and Abra prove the contrary. So, I never really felt frightened or overwhelmed by her.

A decent portion of runtime is handed to Rose's group, but its development didn't work for me at all. They're not bad villains, and they're still more fleshed out that a lot of characters in horror movies. I just think something's missing. Nevertheless, that's the only major problem I have with the movie. For true fans of The Shining, the countless references and Easter Eggs are such a delight (there's good and bad fan-service, the one present in this sequel only appears after we are already invested in the story and its characters, demonstrating once more Flanagan's talent). From the haunting and addictive score that The Newton Brothers are able to seamlessly adapt to the sequel to the influential Kubrick's framing, Flanagan and his team produce something pretty extraordinary having in mind this is a sequel to one of the most beloved horror films of all-time.

In the end, Doctor Sleep might be the first sequel/remake/reboot/whatever to a cult classic movie that doesn't diminish the original, disgracefully copies it or takes something away from it, while actually being an individually great film with a captivating narrative and compelling leads, plus the right amount of homages to the classic. Mike Flanagan took the impossible task of balancing both Stephen King's The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's cinematic adaptation, and successfully nailed pretty much everything regarding the connection between the main stories. In addition to the slow pacing not working as well as in the original, The True Knot group is the big stumble in an otherwise pretty consistent screenplay. However, the phenomenal cast (with a terrific debut performance from Kyliegh Curran) elevate every scene, ultimately driving the sequel to a nostalgia-full ending that will turn out to be divisive among fans. I stand on the good side. Therefore, I genuinely appreciate this movie. If you're a fan of the original, you can't miss this one!

The Shining
(1980)

Rating: A+
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With Doctor Sleep, an almost 40-year sequel to The Shining, being released this week, now it's the perfect time to revisit one of the greatest horror movies of all-time, as well as one of the most influential directors ever, Stanley Kubrick. I know, I know... Spoiler-free? For a movie released in 1980? Well, first of all, there's always someone who still didn't watch it. Secondly, as deeper we get into the 21st century, the more the 60s/70s/80s/90s movies are forgotten. And finally, if there's a movie which I don't need spoilers to explain how outstanding it is, it's The Shining. With that said ...

It has always been one of my favorite horror films ever. It's not perfect (no film is) and some aspects don't work as well now as they did 5/10/20 years ago. When it came out, Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel was received with mixed reactions. King himself criticized the movie. However, less than 10 years later, Kubrick's film was already being reevaluated. Nowadays, it's considered a cult classic, and it's easy to understand why. From the countless homages to the hundreds of comedic parodies, The Shining has some of the most memorable lines ever. Just this year, we had It: Chapter Two mimicking Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!" scene, for example. And then there's the mysterious "redrum"...

However, the movie's biggest influence is its technical achievements. I apologize in advance if this review becomes too technical, but it's impossible not to address the arguably best component of the film. This movie was one of the first to use Steadicam (a camera stabilizer mount which allows for smooth shots, even on irregular surfaces, isolating the operator's movement), something that became so common that people don't even praise anymore. Honestly, there are still a bunch of recent movies that have terrible camera work, so I'm one of those who defend that the Steadicam use shouldn't be taken for granted. Especially how Kubrick did, barely above the floor, which originated the extension "low-mode" that now exists and allows for the operator to easily shoot lower than its waist.

With the innovative use of the technical equipment, Kubrick's delivers a masterclass in framing (composing the visual content of a series of frames as seen from a point of view). So much that it became worthy of studying. Almost every shot in this movie has a visual clue or an underlying theme. If you ever feel bored during your viewing, then you're (probably) not "watching it right". You're not truly thinking about it or looking around the characters. This isn't a generic horror flick with monsters or demons jump scaring you. It's heavy on visual storytelling, so if you don't pay attention, you're going to reach the film's climactic and enigmatic ending and feel that you missed something.

From the mise-en-scene (arrangement of everything that appears in the framing, hence this French term that means "placing on stage") having several blood-red colors to the wide shots clearly showing "exit" signs and giving the maze-vibe of the enormous hotel, the imminent danger is visually spread out across the movie. The symmetry/mirroring is absolutely crucial to not only deliver key plot points but to create this sense of reality vs fantasy. From the hotel's structure and decoration (everything is incredibly symmetric) to the growing use of mirrors (these are heavily used to either literally translate words or to show the descent into madness), Kubrick's framing is what leaves viewers scratching their heads, still to this date.

You'll always find something new on another viewing. It might be from 1980, but it's a movie that requires your full attention. Don't underestimate films from the 20th century like you can't be surprised by a film "that old" (you'll be dumbfounded by dozens). If John Alcott's cinematography is impressive, then what can I write about Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind's haunting score? Nowadays, scores are more based on creating an emotional impact on specific moments. However, throughout the film and during dialogues, even epic films still have a subtlest approach to these scenes, and the music is either very quiet or completely inexistent.

In The Shining, the score is part of the conversation. If a character feels fear or danger is imminent, a simple heartbeat can elevate such a moment. If two characters gradually turn their dialogue into something more violent and aggressive, the music makes sure to accompany that descent into craziness. It's a perfect horror film's score. Technically, I'll stop there because no words will be able to express how mind-blowing Kubrick's visionary methods are. He's one of the greatest directors ever, maybe even the most influential. Hopefully, his work will always be remembered and never stop being relevant.

Story-wise, The Shining also inspired a whole new generation. Everyone knows and loves the key moments of the film, but it's the clever exposition that satisfies me. Every piece of information is given through either an incredibly captivating dialogue or visual clues/actions. I watched the 144min version of the film (the European version has 25min less than the American version, and the latter has a final scene at a hospital edited out by Kubrick himself), and pretty much every single scene is intended to mean something. It can be important new information or an update on a previous plot point, but every single sequence has a particular purpose.

Jack Nicholson commands the screen with a phenomenal performance, one of his career's best. His script might be very well-written, but his delivery and commitment to the role are astonishing. He carries one-take, extense dialogues seamlessly. Credit to Kubrick for making a movie with at least 2/3-minute takes, sure, but Nicholson is able to transform a good scene into a fantastic one. Danny Lloyd delivers one of my favorite young performances ever. His voice as Tony is a great accomplishment, and he seems to understand his surroundings, in a way that I never felt like I needed to "go easy" on him because he's just impeccable.

Shelley Duvall, however, is a mixed bag for me. Over-the-top displays were better received at the time, but almost 40 years later, her performance does reach an unbearable level a few times. She's an amazing counterpart for Nicholson and she stands her own within their dialogues, but when she's alone or in an emotionally troubled moment, she's too much to handle. Scatman Crothers doesn't have that much screentime as Dick Halloran, but he shines every time he has to deliver a line. Some people complain about the slow pacing, but I love how it helps elevate the suspense and building up moments of immense tension. While the ending might be just a tad abrupt, the final image of the film stays with us forever, and after all this time, I still didn't settle on my own theory.

All in all, The Shining might be one of the most accessible classics to new viewers of today to understand why it is, in fact, one of the greatest and most influential horror films of all-time. Stanley Kubrick's masterclass in framing with his play on symmetry and mirrors is evident, so even if you don't study the art of filmmaking, it's clear that these two themes are vital to telling the story. In addition to his framing, his use of the innovative Steadicam and his notable mise-en-scene shaped an entire new generation that never misses a chance of paying homage to his work. Besides the impressive technical achievements, Jack Nicholson delivers a memorably haunting performance. The ending is still mind-blowing after all these years, and new theories keep coming up. While I'll keep trying to settle on my own interpretation, don't you dare spend the rest of your life without (re)watching this cult classic.

Watchmen
(2019)

Damon Lindelof's Watchmen is one of the best TV series of this year!
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(Review based on the season's first six episodes).

When I discovered that a new show based on the world of Watchmen was in the works, I really didn't have any sort of reaction. But then it was announced that Damon Lindelof (responsible for co-creating my favorite TV series ever, Lost) was the mind behind all of it and that the show wouldn't follow either the graphic novel or Zack Snyder's film, I was genuinely excited. I really enjoy 2009's Watchmen, but I always felt that a single movie (even with an extended runtime) was not enough to showcase its complex rules and layered themes. With this series, Lindelof delivers one of the best new TV shows of the year!

Within the first six episodes, it's already remarkable what he's able to achieve. I've seen some people complaining about how political the season is... You do know we're discussing Watchmen, right? Both the comic and film are packed with politics and social messages relevant to this day and age. So, obviously, the TV series is also heavily centered around a political tone, and it's handled beautifully. Nowadays, it's challenging to produce anything that addresses sensitive issues because, well, people get offended pretty easily. Having in mind the opening sequence of the pilot (so brutal), it's undeniable that the show is incredibly brave in tackling historical moments in a fictional work.

While Snyder's style is occasionally present, the graphic novel has a tremendous impact on the series regarding its references and story. By now, the first episode has already aired, so you already have at least one hint of where the show might be placed in time and space. What I love the most about this season is undoubtedly its storytelling structure. Lindelof borrows his own tricks from Lost and uses the back-and-forward way of telling how the action is happening. This non-linear chronology of events generates tons of questions that are answered in innovative, intelligent, and twisty plot points.

I would say that the first two chapters ask more than explain, but from the third episode onwards, all have significant revelations (and a few more questions). Some are completely unexpected and shocking. Others may be predictable but are told through an unique perspective. Every time I finished an episode, I wanted the "Next Episode" button to click on (fortunately for me, I did have that button). This desire not only has to do with the captivating screenplay, but with the fully-developed, compelling characters. In the same way that the movie wasn't a generic superhero flick, this series deals with more profound thematics.

Regina King is a total badass as Sister Night, but it's Angela Abar who makes the viewer care about her. From her life principles to her strong personality, she has everything a protagonist needs. King shines in a few emotionally powerful scenes, but her action sequences are also impressive. Yes, let me get this out of the way: there's more than enough fights. If I'm not mistaken, every single episode has at least a couple of great action scenes. A few long takes, some excellent choreography, but just like the source material, Watchmen isn't about the (cool) fights.

Every character is really well-developed. From their backstory to their desires, everyone gets a good chunk of runtime, including the seemingly secondary characters. No one is "just there". Everyone has a role to play either in the intriguing plot or in the eventually important mysterious side stories. Jeremy Irons is phenomenal as "who you probably think he is", and I recommend patience and tons of attention to his story that seems isolated. It's probably the most puzzling subplot of the show. Jean Smart shares the lead torch with King from the third episode on, by portraying someone we all know and love. Once again, the casting is perfect, as well as her outstanding performance.

Tim Blake Nelson does a great job with the most fascinating secondary character, Looking Glass. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doesn't have much to do as Angela's husband, Cal Abar, but he still offers a grounded display. Finally, Louis Gossett Jr gives the fitting mysterious vibe to "the wheelchair guy". Damon Lindelof doesn't hold back when it comes to reference other works. Easter Eggs to both the film and comic are spread across the entire season. He always hides a few critical elements to the plot in the background or even in plain sight (someone's secretary or office), so be sure to keep your eyes wide open.

Technically, I have to praise the costume design, which offers some awesome superhero outfits. I love how CGI-less the series is as well. There are tons of practical effects, the production design is astonishing, and the use of real sets delivers that realism that a green screen can never get quite right. The score is addictive and even helpful to understand where the story might be going (if you've seen the first episode, you should research where the title card came from).

Watchmen is one of the best TV shows to premiere this year. Its pilot resembles Lost's, where dozens of questions are asked, and barely any answer is given. So far, I only have one minor issue with one of the subplots that doesn't seem to be developing at the same pace or with the same concern as the rest. Everything else is pretty much seamless. From the phenomenal casting to the exceptionally well-developed, compelling characters, Damon Lindelof is able to deliver yet another fantastic TV series. The technical quality is impeccable as expected, but it's the original take on a post-Watchmen (comic/movie) through an incredibly captivating storytelling structure that impresses me the most. If you're a fan of Snyder's film or the comic, definitely don't miss this show! If you have no past experience with this world, then this series won't stop to explain to you what happened or how things got where they're at.

(Season will only be rated after the final episode airs. Review will be updated then).

Watchmen
(2009)

Rating: B
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First of all, this review is based on the theatrical version of Watchmen. Usually, Director's Cuts or Ultimate Editions are not preferred over the original release. Few films benefit from them, and most are simply an extended cut with a bunch of deleted scenes. It's only fair and rational that a reviewer watches the version which the whole world saw at the theaters at the respective time. With that said, despite knowing the story of the source material, I never indeed read it. Having in mind that most of the "hate" that this Zack Snyder's movie received is from comic-book purists (basically, every book/comic/game/whatever-lover who defends that any cinematic adaptations of any of these sources MUST be 100% the same, with no modifications whatsoever), I'm certain an unbiased perspective is the way to go.

And overall, this is a good feature. Watchmen isn't just another CBM (comic-book movie). It doesn't just follow one hero vs. one villain. It's a whole world (in today's standards, it's really a cinematic universe) of "superheroes" meant to be explored in fine detail (hence the release of a TV show today... reviewing that later). It's an extremely complex world that needs to be thoroughly explained in order to deeply understand how it works, and what's everyone's role in it. This is the film's main problem: it struggles to juggle all of its different storylines and distinct characters. Even with 163min of runtime, it's impossible to squeeze in all of the necessary information.

So, as expected, Snyder and his team of screenwriters had to simplify, shorten, or even wholly dismiss some story elements that would only stretch the runtime to an unfathomable length. Some of the adaptations work brilliantly, but some fail to give a character its importance or offer no interest to a subplot. However, it's still easy to understand everything, and how the ending is going to unravel, which leads me to my second issue with the movie: its final act's heavy exposition.

Like I wrote above, there is a lot of information to deliver. What Snyder did very well was to tell most of it through flashbacks or captivating conversations, but in the final act, where everything was self-explanatory and in no need of more exposition, there is an excess of redundant dialogue that doesn't really add anything relevant. What the characters are saying is significant, yes, but we, as the audience, already know all of that way before the film's climax. It's ironic how they make a joke about villains telling their masterplan to the hero and how this villain isn't dumb enough to do it, but then proceed to carefully explain everything (that we know already) through exposition.

Sincerely, these are the major problems that I have with the movie. However, I love so much about everything else. From the appropriated and fun soundtracks to the beautiful production design, Zack Snyder and his crew really do a fantastic work technically. Snyder's style captures Watchmen's world perfectly. It's one of those films that carry a "feel" due to its stylish cinematography. I love how little CGI is actually applied (I'm obviously ignoring the big blue guy), and the abundance of practical effects and real sets that are used. The action sequences look spectacular, way better than a lot of blockbusters nowadays (10 years later!).

Despite the terrific technical achievements, my main compliment is actually connected to my number one problem. Even though the storylines are incredibly hard to balance, characters like Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) have extraordinarily captivating and entertaining stories. There might be a few missteps here and there, but Snyder made ONE movie from a material that's worth a whole TV show or at least two films. And he delivered a GOOD one! Probably a better job than 80% of the directors working today could ever achieve. Finally, the social commentary is still quite relevant for this new generation, and if the so-called "source-material-purists" didn't exist, this movie would be a lot more appreciated.

All in all, Watchmen is as good as it could be, having in mind it's just one film with already a long runtime. Its narrative was always going to be extremely difficult to tell in a solid yet compelling manner, and Zack Snyder does struggle with balancing all of the storylines and its characters. However, he and his phenomenal team still delivered a good flick. Technically sublime, with a distinct style, brilliant production design, and gorgeous cinematography. Characters like Rorschach and Nite Owl have amazing moments, filled with excellent action sequences, but also with emotionally powerful scenes. If it could be better? Maybe. If it could be split into two or three movies. As it stands, as one and only film, it's really impressive even with its flaws.

Zombieland: Double Tap
(2019)

Rating: B
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As you probably know by now, since I posted the original film's review a few hours ago, I loved the first Zombieland. I defend that it's a zombie cult classic, and I was genuinely pumped for its sequel. It didn't go through any external controversy (something quite rare nowadays), the cast didn't say anything wrong in the interviews (haters didn't have enough words to twist this time around), Ruben Fleischer returns as the director, as well as Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (plus a new member, Dave Callaham) as the screenwriters. If a studio wants to do a 10-year sequel, it might as well get the creators and original cast back together, right?!

That's what I love the most about Double Tap. It didn't lose the original's essence, and it didn't forget what made it so successful. The cast's chemistry can be felt thousands of miles away, but the new additions also fit in seamlessly. Zoey Deutch portrays Madison, a purposefully stereotypical "dumb blonde girl" who has some of the funniest scenes as well as some of the most cringe-worthy (Deutch gives an excellent performance, though). And Rosario Dawson plays Nevada, basically a women version of Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), which means she has a bunch of badass action sequences. As for the old gang, well...

Everyone delivers great performances, but this time, Harrelson really elevated his character. Not only does he have the expected awesome kickass moments, but he also offers some emotionally compelling displays. Emma Stone (Wichita) and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) keep being amazing as their characters, and Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) does get a bit too ... Jesse Eisenberg, but it never stops feeling natural, having in mind how his character acts. These four are the heart of the whole show. Hence, getting the original cast back together is halfway through success, even more than in the first movie. Story-wise is where I do have some complaints, unfortunately.

Maybe it's due to the fact that I watched 2009's Zombieland just a couple of hours before Double Tap's screening, but I wish that Fleischer and his team were more creative. Sure, the original was 10 years ago, and not everyone is going to rewatch the original (especially not right before), so it's expected that a lot of classic moments are recreated in some shape or form. However, for an extended period, I felt that I was watching the exact same film, just with older characters. I know I'm going to hear some of Columbus' original famous rules, but there's a surprising lack of new ones. I know Tal is going to repeat some of his catchphrases, but he's an imaginative guy, he can think of fresh ones (which he does say in the last minutes, but still).

To move the plot forward or actually make the story happen, a lot of questionable things occur, and not in the sense of them not being rational (it's not like Zombieland is a groundbreaking piece of storytelling). It's the apparent lack of character development through all of the years that have passed, and I'm not addressing their personalities being the same (it's pretty normal). To create this movie, characters make decisions that don't feel right, having in mind they spent so much time together. It's impossible for love, trust, and emotional attachment not to be developed throughout such a long time. So, while Little Rock's arc is understandable and relatable, Wichita and Columbus' lacks convincing arguments, in my opinion. Both make decisions too dumb for such intelligent characters, but I guess "that's love".

Once again, the technical features that defined the original so clearly are seamlessly employed in its sequel. Beautiful production design, cool soundtrack, fantastic application of practical effects and real sets, which nowadays are getting rarer. The slightly longer runtime still manages to carry a fast pace, which is always a good attribute, and it's packed with thrilling, hilarious, bloody action sequences. Amusing pop culture references, and the most significant moment of all: Double Tap has one of the best, if not THE best, mid-credits scene of the year! Don't you dare leave the theater, it's right at the beginning of the credits, so stay in your seat!

All in all, Zombieland: Double Tap pays a decent homage to the original zombie cult classic by getting everyone (cast and crew) back together, and delivering yet another entertaining flick. By maintaining the essence of the first film, Ruben Fleischer is able to capture the outstanding cast's chemistry, as well as present those amazingly entertaining action sequences. Even though the central narrative isn't as straightforward and interesting as in the original, it's still captivating enough for the audience to care about. There is an excessive amount of callbacks to classic catchphrases, rules, or moments, which shows a bit of a lack of imagination to create new material. While it's not as funny or entertaining as the 2009's movie, it's still a good time. If you're a fan of Zombieland, definitely watch it! If not, well... Nut up and watch it or shut up and let others enjoy it.

Zombieland
(2009)

Rating: A-
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I haven't seen Zombieland in quite a few years, but with its sequel being released this week, now it's the perfect moment to go back to the hilarious world of zombies. It still holds up incredibly well. In a time where zombie films and TV shows were starting to come up (The Walking Dead premiered one year later), this post-apocalyptic zombie comedy flick still remains as one of the best zombie movies of the century. Their use quickly became something cliche, and neither funny or scary. Nowadays, people are used to seeing the living dead on the screen all the time, so why does a 2009's film like this still work?

Well, first of all, the outstanding cast is halfway through success. In 2009, only Woody Harrelson was already a renowned adult actor. Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg didn't star in anything truly remarkable yet, so much that Abigail Breslin was more recognizable than them. Even with only 13-years-old, she already had an Oscar nomination in a supporting role (Little Miss Sunshine). However, everyone delivers fantastic performances, which carry the simplistic yet entertaining story to such a success that it became a zombie classic.

Harrelson portraying Tallahassee, the guy who's not scared of anything and likes to "enjoy the little things", is one of his career's coolest roles. Eisenberg is not exactly the type of actor I like since he can only do so much with his acting abilities. He always offers the same type of character: a quirky, twitch-full, idiosyncratic personality, which most of the times doesn't work. Contrary to this tendency, Columbus is a character that logically and hilariously fits this model, hence Eisenberg is the movie's primary source of comedy. From his list of rules to his weird behavior, everything feels natural since the character's background justifies his awkward self.

Stone and Breslin share great moments together, as well as Harrelson and Eisenberg, but the former duo has less exciting sequences. Nevertheless, even though the girls could have received more character development, their relationship gives them a compelling reason for us to care about. Wichita might just look like the cliche hot girl who falls for the good guy, but she would do anything to protect her sister, and her love for Little Rock does give her some gravitas. The cast's chemistry is undeniably astonishing. It's visually palpable that they had tons of fun doing this film, and that elevates every single conversation or action scene.

The short runtime allows for a fast-paced story, packed with fun moments, and a lot of bloody zombie killings. The production design is remarkable. Excellent use of practical effects and real sets, plus a perfect soundtrack. Ruben Fleischer knew precisely what he wanted the movie to be, and he never tried to make it something more. Yes, it still involves a romance of sorts, and some backstories might not be funny or joyful. However, it never feels forced or fabricated. It never overextends its stay because Zombieland is neither a romance or a drama. It's purposefully campy, plays with stereotypes creatively, and it's merely 88 minutes of good fun. We are in 2019, and studios forgot how to make films like this!

Every year, there are dozens of blockbusters that would be extremely entertaining if studios would just let them be what they are meant to, but no. They need to have some relevant story that carries a political tone or a social message. Zombieland has all the attributes of a pure blockbuster: a phenomenal cast, a straightforward narrative packed with thrilling sequences, a short runtime with fast pacing, compelling characters, and thousands of zombies. Put together a funny screenplay filled with chuckle-worthy jokes, and you have yourself one of the best zombie movies of the century. It's one of those films which don't exactly have what people address as "flaws". Zombieland has its cliches and lazy exposition, but it heavily compensates them with 80 minutes or so of spectacular entertainment. It's a zombie cult classic. Nut up or shut up, but watch the goddamn movie!

Gemini Man
(2019)

Rating: C-
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Usually, I leave the technical aspects to the end of my reviews since story, characters, and the critical element of each genre (action in action flicks, comedy in comedies, and so on) are way more important. However, having in mind the whole marketing campaign surrounding Gemini Man's "groundbreaking innovations", I'll address them now. Even after sleeping on it, my experience in high frame rate still feels very ... weird. In case you need some explaining, HFR adds a lot more detail to the image since it captures more frames per second hence making the image smoother, which can be extremely distracting. I always disable motion smoothing on my TV since I hate that feeling of knowing that "something's not right".

It doesn't have to do with speed, which is something people are going to wrongly state regarding this film. The action isn't faster, don't make the mistake of saying this. Since there's 2.5x more detail (24 FPS is the standard frame rate), movements become easier to follow, so there's the illusion of watching something faster than normal. Truth is, it just FEELS like it. When characters are just talking, and there's no action involved, it works because it simply looks better. However, the action sequences are very hit-and-miss. Some pieces look absolutely amazing, but it's clear this technology needs a few more years of experience to reach its full potential.

Scenes featuring car/motorbike chases, running, or shootings are stunningly filmed, but any hand-to-hand combat is frustratingly off-putting. Additionally, Ang Lee applies an excessive use of CGI to a lot of these moments, which makes some fights look incredibly absurd. HFR is not the only technical attribute people are going to discuss. That young version of Will Smith ... Honestly, it doesn't really work for me. People who complained about The Lion King (2019) not being able to show animals emoting will surely hate this attempt of replicating a young Will Smith (if they don't, then Joker was right, society is indeed extremely hypocritical).

It's just like the action sequences with HFR: hit-and-miss. There are some genuinely mind-blowing scenes with medium shots of young Will Smith, and he looks 99.9% real. In these specific shots, it's impossible to tell the difference between the clone and a real version. However, it still fails to deliver this realism throughout the entire runtime. First of all, young Henry barely shows any emotions (except a brilliant crying moment), which is obviously meant to facilitate the VFX team's work. But even with his face completely still and empty of emotions, the eyes just look too doll-like. The eyebrows move strangely, and the forehead seems odd.

In the end, it all comes down to forgetting that it's a digital character and that almost never happens. I always felt like I was watching a blend of CGI, motion-capture, and whatever other technology they used to try to pull this off. In a few years from now, if Gemini Man gets a remake or some other movie tries to do something similar, I bet it will look near-perfect. Right now, it's more of a disturbance than an achievement. Put this together with the already not-that-good HFR, and we get a visually striking yet distracting film.

And if you thought the story would save it... It's pretty bad. Generic, predictable, and filled with almost offensive exposition. I would have to go through my reviews, but this is definitely one of the most exposition-heavy screenplays of the year. I lost count of the number of times a character starts ranting with the purpose of explaining something evident to another character. The worst thing a screenplay can do is treat the audience like they are 5-year-old children. The whole plot revolves around people asking someone else what happened, what's happening, and what's next. We already know from the trailer Will Smith is being hunted by a young version of himself, a clone.

Try to imagine how many ways you can tell someone there's an individual exactly like that person. Now, just lazily insert all of those sentences on a character's script and make it say them in a single scene. I'm sorry, but it's laughably bad. There are no surprises! It ends abruptly, utterly disregarding the only interesting plot point (still very predictable), by not developing it any further than one sequence. If it wasn't for the truly fantastic cast (Will Smith is always impeccable, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong deliver great performances), Gemini Man would easily be one of the absolute worst movies of the year. Shoutout to Lorne Balfe's score, which is by far the technical aspect worthy of only compliments.

All in all, Ang Lee's attempt to deliver a groundbreaking film doesn't quite hit the mark. Honestly, it's still far from it. The 60 FPS HFR and the young version of Will Smith are occasionally jaw-dropping, but both technical aspects need years of improvement to be able to work seamlessly. As of now, these only serve as a frustrating distraction. However, the biggest problem with Gemini Man is its exposition-heavy screenplay, which besides treating the audience like dumb people, doesn't carry any sort of surprise or novelty. As generic and predictable as it could be. The unbelievably talented cast, a spectacular score from Lorne Balfe, and a few notable action sequences save this technological hit-and-miss from missing its target entirely.

Joker
(2019)

Rating: A
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Obviously, Joker is one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. I mean, how couldn't it be?! Besides belonging to the superhero genre, DC has been on a streak of great films within its universe, so an isolated installment definitely excites me, especially about one of the evilest villains ever. It's by far one of the less comic-book-y flicks of the century. It doesn't follow the generic origin story formula, it avoids any cliches associated with the genre, and it's the type of movie that's becoming more and more rare nowadays. It's a character study like we haven't seen in a long time.

I'll simply begin with the person that elevates the entire thing: Joaquin Phoenix. Now, if there's something I'm not going to do is compare his performance with Heath Ledger's. That's the number one mistake people are going to keep making forever. First of all, The Dark Knight and Joker couldn't be more distinct films, even if they belong to the same genre (despite Joker being unique, it's still about a famous comic-book villain). Then, despite Phoenix and Ledger portraying the same "version" of the clown (crazy, sadistic psychopath), the former is 90% Arthur Fleck while the latter is 100% Joker, throughout each of their movies. Finally, Phoenix is the sole protagonist of this feature, while Ledger had the best live-action Batman sharing the spotlight.

In conclusion, it's both unfair, and a bit unreasonable to compare both interpretations since their roles have a different impact on the narrative, as well as each film being entirely different. In the end, both are impressive. However, let's switch to Phoenix since he's the star of this show ... He has 2019's best performance, by far! With a strong marketing campaign, I'm sure he'll get that Oscar. I hope so! It's so well-deserved. Todd Phillips and Scott Silver developed a brilliant screenplay, but Phoenix elevates it to a whole other level.

Throughout the entire runtime, I felt weird. Perturbed. Even uncomfortable with what I was watching and consequently feeling. It's a dark, brutal, violent, emotionally powerful origin of a villain who I feel disturbingly empathetic towards. Phoenix makes the story work due to its remarkably captivating display of someone who's mentally ill. Arthur Fleck slowly becoming crazier is due to how society behaves and not due to some chemical pool that transforms his skin white and hair green (nothing wrong with this, but I know which origin story I prefer). "The world is getting crazier out there", and it becomes excruciatingly painful to deal with it, especially when so much is going on with Arthur's personal life, and most of it he doesn't even realize because he tries to hide everything behind a smile.

It's a screenplay filled with narrative twists that not only pack a punch of surprise but leave you feeling extremely upset. The last act is one of the best in the last few years. If the second act is an enormous build-up, the last one is a terrific payoff. I can't remember the last movie I saw where I loved 100% every single narrative decision. I wouldn't do any of the big moments differently. There are so many excellent references hidden in plain sight that comic-book fans (and fans of the TDK trilogy as well) will love just like I did. In the ending, there's one pivotal moment in particular that serves as the absolute climax ... I got chills all over my body. They couldn't have done that scene more perfect. I only have one tiny nitpick with the way some scenes feel repetitive since they neither move the plot forward or give us anything new. Some of these still help to create tension, some feel like they're just... there.

A Best Picture and Best Actor nominations seem to be on its way, but these are not the only achievements that deserve to be recognized. The original score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is incredibly addictive, so much that I'm listening to it while writing this review. It definitely helps to generate tremendous build-up, and it elevates the sinister environment of Gotham City. Lawrence Sher's cinematography is utterly stunning. The underexposure of some scenes is glorious. Sher paints the screen with so many gorgeous shots, especially with his close-ups on Phoenix, where the latter is able to shine. Jeff Groth is also impeccable in the editing room. There are several long takes with Phoenix just giving his all and letting all his emotions out (or keeping them all contained), which is always something I deeply appreciate since it helps with the flow of the narrative.

Regarding the film's controversy surrounding its messages and the incentive to violence, I really don't know what to say. It's ridiculous. I remember those times when going into the movie theater was a surreal experience. It was the number one place for people to forget about their lives, jobs, everything. Joker is a fictional story! It's the origin of one of the worst psychopaths in the history of comic-books and cinema. If people expected to leave the theater "happy" or "joyful", then at least one of the film's message is right: society really is getting crazier. Have people forgotten who Joker is? What could you possibly expect from his origin story?!

Nowadays, no one knows how to behave (social media is the primary source for spreading hate). No one respects the fellow citizen or even the world itself. More and more people only look at their own bellies. Political agendas are everywhere. New extreme movements are created every other year. Social hypersensibility is exponentially growing. The same way some people will hate this movie for not being able (or simply not wanting) to accept that they feel empathy towards a murderer, people all around the world behave like their actions don't reflect on another person's life and on their own planet. If people get ruthlessly violent because they watched Joker, how can someone complain that the film's message is bad when it's eventually true?

All in all, Joker is one of the best movies of the year, and it's definitely on my Top3 at the date of this review. Joaquin Phoenix delivers my favorite male performance of 2019, by elevating a script about the origin of one of the evilest villains ever. The way he gradually becomes more insane is worthy of study, but it's how he's able to make the audience create empathy towards a psychopath that leaves me disturbingly captivated. Todd Phillips produces a character-study filled with an astonishingly tense build-up and one of the most chill-inducing payoffs of the last few years. With every single narrative decision nailed perfectly, Hildur Guðnadóttir's score and Lawrence Sher's cinematography stand out. The lack of restraint in showing the unmerciful violence (physical and mental) that society inflicts on one another is what makes us feel unsettled. Because we know it's mostly true, and we refuse to accept it. It's not a film about the Joker. It's a very realistic portrayal of someone (anyone!) who can become someone like him. And it's disturbingly brilliant!

PS: Robert DeNiro (Murray Franklin) and Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumond) are also great. Phoenix's performance is so mesmerizing that I almost forgot there were other actors in the movie.

Booksmart
(2019)

Rating: B+
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Last year, I missed A Vigilante from Olivia Wilde, and I still haven't watched it. Over time, I gradually lost interest, and I might have even forgotten about its existence. However, after watching Booksmart (which arrived late as hell to my country), I'm definitely watching the former soon. I was never that big of a fan of the young-adult, high-school, coming-of-age type of movies, but some of my favorite films of the last few years (Lady Bird, The Edge of Seventeen) actually belong to that genre. Why am I enjoying these low-budget flicks more than others?

Well, it can't be a coincidence that every director that tackled these movies is either tremendously talented or shows incredible potential. In addition to this, all of these films (all directed by a woman) address a teenage story starring one or more female main characters. Now, hang on to your horses: no, these movies aren't good because they're made by women. No, the story isn't captivating or entertaining due to the protagonists being women. These films are great simply because they're made by filmmakers who know what to do with a camera and a story, besides starring brilliant actors... It just happens that all of these persons are women.

I'm not part of any movement or hate group. I don't care about politics. I hate people that let their reviews be influenced by external themes, ultimately being unfair to the movie. That said, I have no doubts that these films are better because they have women producing, directing, writing, and starring in it. Booksmart is extremely funny while being as realistic as possible at the same time. Tonally, Wilde seamlessly balances her movie, flowing through each plot point with no major missteps. Although, some occasional detours unnecessarily stretch the runtime, namely a few subplots that didn't really offer anything worth the time, besides being a bit exaggerated.

Nevertheless, the main storyline never loses its focus. Amy and Molly smoothly drive the screenplay through entertaining moments as well as grounded, pretty dramatic scenes. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are spectacular! I can't remember the last time I watched such a phenomenal duo of protagonists, especially when it comes to young actors/actresses. They have impeccable chemistry, and it's quite noticeable that some sequences are undoubtedly improvised. They also deliver one of the best one-on-one verbal confrontations ever put to screen. Just one long take with both giving their all. Outstanding acting, fantastic filmmaking.

With these two actresses carrying the story forward, every single scene is elevated. The comedy bits are amusing, but the romantic drama surrounding them is addressed in such a genuine manner. Kudos to each and every screenwriter that worked on the scripts. To Olivia Wilde, I leave my wish of seeing her in more features. She has her own style, and she definitely has a lot to say, so I can't wait for her next films. Booksmart carries enough sweet messages that will surely connect with audiences all over the world, whether you're young, old, men or women. It still carries some cliches from the genre (not trusting your BFF, even though it's clear you're wrong), but it's the play on stereotypes (not everyone seems what they show) that wins at the end.

All in all, Olivia Wilde places her name on the list of directors to watch closely for the next few years. Booksmart is a wonderful addition to the coming-of-age genre, one that possesses two astonishing protagonists. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever might become superstars in the future if they continue to display such remarkable performances. With the help of a great supporting cast as well, Wilde shows the exciting and entertaining side of graduating high-school, but also all of the real dramas that teenagers go through, with no restraints. It's a character-driven story, and Amy and Molly are two persons that we should learn a lot from. It's one of the best movies of the genre, even though it still contains some of its famous cliches and a few subplots that don't quite come together. Definitely, give it a watch!

Midsommar
(2019)

Rating: B
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This was easily one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Hereditary was my favorite film of 2018, so obviously, Ari Aster's second feature grabbed my full attention from the very first announcement. Fortunately, even though Midsommar is only being released now in my country, I was able to stay away from spoilers, as well as from any sort of images or clips. As you might expect, this is not a typical horror movie, even though it's being marketed as belonging to the genre. Sure, it has some horror stuff that indisputably connects it to the genre, but it definitely doesn't play out to scare audiences or make you have nightmares at night.

Hereditary was quite divisive among audiences due to the lack of traditional jump scares and generic entertainment, besides it being too excessive regarding spiritualism for the general public. Midsommar is undoubtedly going to be even more divisive. First of all, it drags. There's no denying it. The first weird cult scene only occurs about one hour in, which in a 140-minute runtime is a bit too far ahead. Granted, it's one of the most shocking and horrific sequences in the daylight I've ever seen, but its build-up (extremely well-done) takes a big part of the second act, slowing down the pacing too much.

Additionally, it's a film that entirely relies its entertainment value on the feeling of shock instead of fear. If you didn't enjoy Aster's first feature because it didn't have enough scary sequences, Midsommar isn't going to convert you to being a fan of his work. Similarly to Ad Astra (just released last week), it's a story that requires the audience to care about more than only superficial aspects. If you go in expecting to leave your brain outside just so you can be uncloudedly entertained, then you might want to think again. I can't stress this enough: you need to pay attention to what you're watching!

Hints to what the story holds for us are everywhere, especially in the walls. Through paintings, runes, and hand-drawings, Ari Aster spreads basically all the information you need to better understand where the movie is going. It's a film about two key themes: how to deal with grief, and how to handle a complicated relationship. These are the issues that people should be able to acknowledge and understand how they're being developed. I love how Aster addresses the latter topic (he wrote this screenplay after he ended a relationship of his own), but I'm disappointed by the way he put the former into the "background".

The first 15-20 minutes deal with what happens to Dani's life, and it's never approached again, even though there's a vague idea of what could have actually happened, by the end of the movie. Regarding the other point, it isn't exactly a "toxic" relationship that we've seen in previous films, but one where each person is waiting for an excuse to leave the other. Hence, some actions feel forced in the hope that they can trigger something. It's a strangely realistic yet uncomfortable take on something a lot of people go through. Technically, this is one of 2019's most fascinating productions.

From the colorful cinematography to the impeccable editing, from the stunningly impressive production design (again, the WALLS!) to the immersive score ... Ari Aster is no joke. The way he handles dialogues is a treat to someone like me, who cares so much about engagement through characters speaking. There are so many long takes with Florence Pugh giving her all, just raw and powerful emotions. It's her career-best performance, no doubt about it. Her character's storyline is partially what brings the "horror" to the narrative. Just like Toni Colette on Hereditary, Pugh is probably going to be ignored during the awards season, as well as the movie's technical achievements since the horror genre still didn't convince enough people to give a shot.

Regarding the other characters, they're my main issue. They simply felt like plot devices. Will Poulter (Mark) is funny as the comic-relief guy, but his character, like every other one besides Dani, doesn't do much to make me care about or feel invested in their own subplots (if there are any). They barely have any backstory, and their purpose is basically to help move the plot forward by giving Aster opportunities to show some pagan rituals of some kind. There are incredibly shocking, bloody, and jaw-dropping scenes, some might make you feel uncomfortable, others might make you laugh. But they're all meant to shock you in some shape or form.

Whether you love it or hate it, Midsommar is memorable. If you didn't enjoy Hereditary due to the lack of jump scares, the former isn't for you then. Midsommar requires full attention, patience, and an open-minded mentality. It's not a generic horror flick, so don't go in expecting to be constantly entertained by silly scares. Expectations are everything, so moderate them in the best way possible. It has one of the most abstract ways of addressing a difficult relationship and how to deal with grief, but if you LOOK AT THE WALLS, you'll be able to (maybe) follow the story a bit better.

Technically, Ari Aster delivers a masterful work, with exceptional production design and gorgeous cinematography, plus seamless editing. Florence Pugh carries the story on her shoulders with an astonishingly compelling performance, but her supporting cast didn't do much with their under-developed characters. The film drags a lot, and it can become tedious at some point, but in the end, it's one of those movies that sticks with you. A second viewing may be necessary, and it will probably be a better experience. Can't wait to find out. Go see it!

47 Meters Down: Uncaged
(2019)

Rating: D-
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Sometimes, people ask me if I feel less motivated to write about a movie I didn't like or even simply hated. Not even close. Matter of fact, it might be the exact opposite. The only films which I find hard to write a review on are those who don't have a single aspect that is either outstanding or horrible. Those who are so "in the middle" that you forget about them less than 24h after you've seen it. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could very well be this type of flick, but its ludicrous logical issues story-wise are impossible to ignore. Even the title is just a marketing scheme to attract people who liked the 2017's original since it is entirely unrelated to it (the water depth at which the characters are is never addressed).

This is one of the worst movies of the year. It still doesn't beat Serenity, but it made me rethink about the latter's grade because I find it so incredibly difficult to acknowledge one single good thing about this terrible sequel. Had I scored Matthew McConaughey's film an F, this one would probably belong there as well. However, in the same way that a film without flaws isn't necessarily an A+, a movie with no redeeming quality isn't instantly an F. If there's one compliment I can give Uncaged is that there are two or three short sequences where a jump scare is effective, or the suspenseful vibe was accomplished ... Nevertheless, these are still just a couple of minutes in an almost 90-min runtime.

The characters have no development whatsoever. The story follows the most pathetic path possible. The sharks (which are the reason people actually went to the theater) are not as visually realistic as in the original, reaching a point where the CGI was pretty awful. A fish screams ... I mean, really?! Who the hell supervised this mess? Characters talk underwater seamlessly with no explanation on how they are effectively talking. I could sit here and write dozens of questions that defy the film's logic, but I'll stop here. Not because I don't want to (if this wasn't a spoiler-free review, I'd go crazy), but due to the fact that the main issue with the movie isn't the atrociously illogical plot points, but the lack of entertainment.

Fast and Furious, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers ... All of these are (financially) successful franchises. Audiences all over the world fill theaters and enjoy these series for what they are: popcorn entertainment. No one goes for the complex plots or layered characters. People go for the action, the explosions, the epic scores, the visual effects, and all of that stuff. Uncaged doesn't have any of that to compensate its other problems. One or two scenes here and there aren't enough to warrant the price of admission. Even the acting is mediocre.

All in all, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is nothing more than a silly attempt at the start of a new franchise. Don't be fooled by its title since it has nothing to do with the original flick. It doesn't try to introduce compelling characters, the shark sequences fall flat for the most part, and the screenplay is filled with laughable plot points. There's no sense of logic. For an 89-minute runtime, it astounds me how it can't be slightly entertaining, to say the least. Undoubtedly, one of the worst films of the year. Skip it, so they don't have enough money to try and do a third one. Who knows?! Maybe they'll bet on original, smaller flicks from genuinely talented filmmakers who want to work hard and deliver a good movie.

Ad Astra
(2019)

Rating: B+
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I love sci-fi space movies, especially when these depict the cosmos in such a visually stunning manner as Ad Astra does. It's one of those films where the visuals elevate whatever narrative is being told. If you don't get goosebumps or get excited with the opening sequence of this movie, then it might not be the film you're looking for. From the quiet but powerful sound design to the impressive cinematography, James Gray delivers a visually captivating story with an outstanding protagonist. Brad Pitt is definitely getting tons of nominations this awards season (let's not forget his amazing role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

His subtle yet incredibly emotional performance shows an astonishing range. He carries the whole screenplay in his shoulders, and I don't mind that at all. There's a lot of narration, and here's where I transition to the most divisive aspect of the movie: it's a slow-burn. Now, there's no problem with a film being deliberately slow. In fact, some of my favorite movies of all-time aren't fast-paced. They cherish their story and make the audience feel interested in what they're experiencing. Ad Astra isn't an action flick or a comedy, it's a character-driven drama, so most of the runtime is devoted to developing Roy.

That said, don't go in with expectations of feeling entertained all the time. Some moments aren't supposed to excite you or leave you jaw-dropped. Some sequences are just meant to make you feel immersed by the environment, be lost in space (IMAX is the mandatory way of watching this feature). Don't expect the film to make an 80-day trip to some planet end in two cuts and 20 seconds. Gray purposefully establishes a slow pace. Obviously, general audiences don't usually enjoy this type of flicks, but if you're able to manage your expectations realistically, you're one step closer to not feel bored throughout the runtime.

The first act is the one that captures everyone's attention. It doesn't waste time on Earth, it goes through what's happening pretty quickly, and it possesses 90% of the heavy action (including one of the best opening sequences of the year). Sound has a significant impact on how Gray films his sequences, and it's unbelievable how well-shot the chasing scenes on the Moon are. Scientifically speaking, this is no Interstellar where you simply have to accept some mind-blowing yet unjustified stuff. Ad Astra doesn't have a single scene where one might think "this completely takes me out of the movie, I can't accept that this is possible in some fictional future". This is a huge compliment to a space film containing several launches, lunar bases, and (very) long space journeys.

However, the remaining two acts focus intensely on Pitt's character, slowing down the main plot. Like I wrote above, there's a lot of development through Roy's thoughts. Extensive narration is almost always an issue, even when the narrator is Brad Pitt. Some monologues do indeed develop the character or explain what he's feeling, but some tend to fall into the philosophical side that doesn't always carry a meaningful or interesting message. Using everyday language, sometimes it's a bit boring... Additionally, the ending might be a letdown for a lot of people. Tommy Lee Jones (H. Clifford McBride) doesn't have a lot of screentime, and I can't really delve into details about his storyline, but his character's relationship with Roy doesn't exactly serve as a fantastic payoff.

Max Richter's score is one of 2019's best, and I hope it gets recognized by every award show. It definitely helps the experience to be more enthralling. The lack of sound in space is also powerful in its own way. Beautifully-edited, but with a continuously slow pace that doesn't change from the moment the second act begins. However, the story of Ad Astra is vastly superior to, for example, Gray's The Lost City of Z, which I genuinely disliked. This space adventure is visually more exciting, its story is more engaging, and its protagonist is more compelling than everything else in Gray's previous installment. Finally, it's one of those movies that watching at a film theater (mainly IMAX) or at home, makes a massive difference. You'll never feel as entertained or captivated at home, so make sure to check this one at the best possible screen near you.

All in all, Ad Astra is yet another display case for Brad Pitt's chances at winning an Oscar. With a subtle yet powerful performance, Pitt carries the whole story to safe harbor with tremendous help from the eyegasmic visuals. Technically, it's one of 2019's closest movies to being perfect. Very well-shot, well-edited, with an immersive score, and gorgeous cinematography. However, it's a slow-burn that doesn't always work as such. Narration is the go-to method to develop Pitt's character, and while it works most of the time, it slows down the main plot, becoming a tad boring during a few moments. The ending isn't the impactful payoff that the film needed, and the incredible supporting cast is under-utilized. In the end, it's still a great movie and one that should be seen at the biggest and best screen possible, so go see it for yourself!

It Chapter Two
(2019)

Rating: C
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So, Chapter Two is a sequel to It (2017), and my expectations were a bit high. I really enjoyed the latter to the point of considering it one of the year's best, as well as one of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations. Andy Muschietti returning to the director's chair and having such a fantastic cast portraying the adult versions of the Losers (not only in terms of quality acting but also regarding how well the adults look like the older versions of the young actors) are two of the main reasons why I was genuinely excited. Also, the runtime (longest horror movie ever?!) definitely left me wondering how a horror flick could have the same duration of some of the most epic films in cinema...

Well, I got to be honest: I'm disappointed. It's not a bad movie, at all, but it doesn't even come close to its predecessor's heels. I disagree with some headlines I've read though. Some say the comedy was misplaced, taking away impact from emotional or dark moments. There's barely a moment where it was expected seriousness and laughter kicked in instead, but when it does occur, it actually works. I just think it wasn't as funny as the previous film, overall. Granted, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier is hilarious, and a perfect cast as an adult Finn Wolfhard. His chemistry with James Ransone (Eddie Kaspbrak) resembles the one Wolfhard, and Jack Dylan Grazer had, therefore this/these duo(s) being the comedy highlight.

Some say the movie is too long. Now, this is a tricky one. Usually, when people feel bored or not as entertained as they wanted to be, they tend to blame it on the film's runtime, especially if it's over 100 minutes. I agree that the movie FEELS long, but I disagree that the runtime is too long. There's more than enough story to explore, and literally, every single character from the Losers Club has an interesting arc. The problem here is that not all of them are explored in a way that's funny, scary, or just captivating enough. The fact that Jessica Chastain's (Beverly Marsh) sequence with the old lady is entirely displayed in one of the trailers (and consequently shown at every single screening) doesn't help the pacing.

The first act is pretty decent. As expected, it shows us where everyone is, what they're doing for a living, and how they get back together. During this act, it's pretty clear that Muschietti is going to give time to develop each character and follow their respective arcs to the end, hence the lengthy runtime. However, the second act falls flat. Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy / Jaeden Martell) has the most emotionally impactful storyline, one that affects the main plot, making the time that is spent with him worth it. Same goes for Richie's subplot. On the opposite side, the rest of the group doesn't have entertaining sequences or new developments whatsoever.

Beverly continues to be affected by her childhood of abuse from her father. Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan / Jeremy Ray Taylor) keeps being in love with Bev. Eddie is still a whiny little "kid" who's scared of everything that might make him ill. Stanley Uris (Andy Bean / Wyatt Oleff) doesn't do anything, and Mike Hanlon is surprisingly the engine that moves the plot forward, which is a problem of its own since I never really cared for that character (he was definitely the one put aside in the 2017's movie). Honestly, he just serves as an exposition device considering he spends the whole time just explaining everything the audience needs to know to understand where the film is going.

Finally, the third act is a mixed bag. While it does provide a climactic ending with a sweet message, it feels very much like its predecessor. I don't want to spoil anything, but it's incredibly repetitive comparing to the first movie. Considering all things together, it's a big letdown since it feels like the exact same film, but with older versions of the characters. Obviously, each of them has a different arc in this one, something the first didn't have the time to explore, but looking at the main story, it's pretty much the exact same thing, including how it ends (just with a minor twitch). Nevertheless, the performances are all great...

James McAvoy continues his streak of amazing displays, and Bill Hader has to be the MVP for the range he demonstrates. I wish Skarsgård had more time to shine as Pennywise, though. In 2017, I thought he really nailed the character and made it his own. Unfortunately, this time around, Pennywise doesn't have that much screentime (such a disappointment), and when it appears, it often looks too CGI-ish, taking away from the gripping performance of its actor. The finale has almost no Bill Skarsgård since there's so much CGI. Despite that, I congratulate the team(s) behind the makeup, hairstyling, costume, and production design. Derry looks terrific, and the time jumps between the young and the old gang worked seamlessly partially due to these visual achievements.

Andy Muschietti knows how to work a camera, and the movie is very well-shot. However, he should have been able to come up with creative sequences to deliver a different level of entertainment, especially during the tiresome second act. Gary Dauberman's screenplay is clever, and it brings this enormous story to a fitting conclusion, but he also could have imagined some new ideas for some of the characters. There are a couple of great sequences though, especially one with Bill going through a theme park tent with illusions.

In the end, It Chapter Two fails to deliver a conclusion worthy of its epic runtime. Even with a phenomenal cast, it isn't as funny, as scary or even as captivating as its predecessor. Its runtime is appropriated having in mind that each character has a personal arc, but only a couple of them are genuinely compelling and entertaining. Therefore, the film feels too long, uneven, and it could have used a bit more creativity when it comes to its climactic finale. Its central story feels very similar to the last movie, its scary sequences are nowhere near the quality seen before, and even though the costume and production design are top-notch, there's excessive use of CGI on Pennywise. It still carries some emotionally convincing moments, as well as a couple of cool sequences. Overall, it's ... okay.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
(2019)

Rating: A-
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Quentin Tarantino is one of the best filmmakers of all-time. He has undeniable talent behind the camera, and his movies are fated to leave a mark in each year they're released. In addition to that, he's also an extraordinary screenwriter, as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood proves once again. His knowledge of the early decades of film is vast, so every feature he produces is always going to be filled with references to those "fairy tale" years. And that's precisely what this movie is: a fairy tale in Hollywood, hence its title. Let me just leave this here right off the bat: I'm not going to address any controversy surrounding this film (namely, the whole Bruce Lee depiction and the Manson Family, in general), as I'm always fair and impartial to the movie I'm reviewing. Moving on ...

My knowledge of the 60s isn't that good. Obviously, I know the whole Sharon Tate story, as well as the famous Manson murders, but when it comes to actual films from that decade, well ... Probably, I only know a few by name, a classic scene, or a memorable soundtrack. Tarantino uses his large runtime to place tons of references to that period, and that's one of the reasons the first act of the movie drags. There's a lot of time spent with characters just driving cars while listening to music (references in the songs), wide shots of the city as they drive by (references in the buildings), or even just playing an LP and dancing to it (reference in the songs, again).

I understand that these mean something, but if they don't develop the character in any way, then these are just Easter Eggs and have no impact on the actual narrative. The first hour or so is filled with sequences which sole purpose is to show how much Tarantino knows about that time, and there's nothing wrong with it, as long as it tells a story. That's the second issue I have with the first act: it takes too long to establish its characters, and there's no apparent objective within the story. It feels like a person just strolling around with no destination, which in itself isn't a bad thing. But if you put together repetitive sequences plus a story that no one knows where it's going or how it connects to the only thing people are actually expecting (the Sharon Tate event), then you'll bore the hell out of the audience (a lot of people constantly left my theater to get more food or something, and they weren't in a hurry).

Nevertheless, from the moment we start understanding who Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are, what they do, what they did, and what they want with their lives, then the film becomes incredibly captivating. It's definitely a character-driven story. It's a fairy tale where Rick tries his best to overcome his own personal issues to be the very best movie star, after being on an exponentially negative path. Cliff, as his stunt double, lives off of his buddy by doing everything he needs around the house and everywhere else. These two are inseparable, and their scenes are always filled with laughter and joy, even in the darkest moments. OUATIH works because of its beautifully-written characters.

If you don't care about them, then you won't enjoy the film at all. In addition to this, if you don't know anything regarding the art of filmmaking, then you'll probably hate it since it will become extremely dull. It's one of those movies that anyone can like. However, for someone who knows and understands how films are made, it will always be a better time at the theater. You can love this movie, sure. But if you love filmmaking and you have knowledge of its techniques, you'll love it even more. There are so many technical achievements worthy of appreciation that I can't get to all of them, so I'll just address two of my favorites. The first has to be the black-and-white flicks inside the actual film. Putting Leonardo DiCaprio acting on classic westerns with over-the-top performances is an absolute delight. Watching those features in a 4:3 black-and-white screen, filled with classic sound effects, and cheesy one-liners ... Wonderful.

The second allows for my favorite scenes of the whole movie: the extensive one-take dialogues. I mean, 10 or 15-minute sequences where DiCaprio just gives it his all. This is how every single film should be done. There's even a joke in the movie where Rick criticizes a particular type of filmmaking because they would film every character separately saying their lines and then editing them together. Unfortunately, that's how most features are done today. Therefore, from watching a simple dialogue scene with DiCaprio and Julia Butters (a 10-year-old little girl!) to a bar sequence which belongs to a movie Rick is filming (this one even has Rick asking his lines, and the camera has to go back to its starting point), everything with no cuts whatsoever ... What can I ask more from a director?!

Obviously, if this is a character-driven narrative, the cast has to be genuinely compelling. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie ... I mean, do I even need to explain how phenomenal they are? DiCaprio proves once again he's one of the greatest actors of all-time. The ability that he has to put 200% in every single scene is unbelievable. I even started to tear up once his character is able to find his footing, solely due to the actor's performance. The Oscar nom is guaranteed, let's see about the win. Brad Pitt also has tons of nominations on his lap with an astonishing supporting display. He has a subtle performance, but it's pretty incredible how much he can transmit to the audience by putting (apparently) so little effort. Margot Robbie doesn't have that much screentime, but her character had the simple objective of showing how glamorous and dreamy an actress' life could be at that time, so she didn't exactly need to deliver her A-game.

It's always good to see Al Pacino (Marvin Schwarz) on-screen, and I'm thrilled that Margaret Qualley (Pussycat), who I know from The Leftovers (one of the most underrated TV shows of the century), is finally getting some recognition. Technically, like I said above, it's close to a masterpiece. It's Tarantino, everyone knows what he's capable of, but having in mind his most recent features, it's a pleasant surprise and evidence of quality to the naysayers that he was able to produce a film with less bloody action. There are terrific demonstrations of great cinematography (Robert Richardson), and the editing is always impeccable in Tarantino's features (this time due to Fred Raskin). The score is addictive, and it carries a very significant role in the movie. I would say that if Tarantino was able to shorten its runtime and control its pacing better, this would be a technically perfect film.

All in all, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn't the best Quentin Tarantino's movie, but it's undoubtedly one of the year's best. Filled with award-winning lead performances (second Oscar for DiCaprio, please), this character-driven story is packed with references to the 60s which will be the divisive point in whether people will enjoy the film or not. Its first act is slow and takes too long to set up its story, but from the moment it's able to find its footing, it's an entertaining ride. If you love filmmaking and you know the insides of the art, Tarantino delivers a near-perfect technical production. Its alternate ending to real-life events is meant to be controversial, but for me, it's a vision of how everything should have happened if the world was fair or, indeed, a fairy tale ... in Hollywood.

Ready or Not
(2019)

Rating: B-
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Once again, I didn't know anything going into the theater regarding this movie. In fact, Ready or Not wasn't even on my watchlist until the beginning of this week. I thought it was just going to be a passable and cheap horror flick, but the tremendously positive feedback from everyone around the world convinced me to give it a go. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed! Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett deliver a dumb yet entertaining film with a childish yet fun concept never really explored in the gruesome and bloody way they do.

It's one of those movies which the only flaw they might have has to do with the viewer's expectations. You'll only dislike this story if you don't accept its lighthearted tone. If you go in expecting a film filled with truly terrifying and scary sequences, you won't get that. If you go in expecting a movie with a dark vibe and tonally heavy scenes, you won't get that. It's one of the most common issues that audiences have all over the world: unrealistic expectations. After watching the trailers, it's clear that Ready or Not was always marketed as a horror-comedy with more emphasis on the dumb fun that the concept inevitably provides, so don't expect something the producers didn't even think of doing.

Having that in mind, the film definitely delivers what it promises. It's a fast-paced hide-and-seek game, filled with suspenseful scenes and genuinely funny moments. Its short runtime doesn't really let us care about every character, but to be fair, it's not like it truly matters in this case. Samara Weaving plays the bride who has to hide while the rest of the family tries to find her. Overall, everyone gives good performances, but Weaving completely steals the show with fantastic reactions to different situations, always making space for an extra laugh.

Despite the unique exploration of a strange premise, it has a pretty generic and even formulaic development, which is a bit of a letdown. Granted, the ending is, well, unexpected in the way that it is executed, but its final result is still very predictable. There's a lot of cheesy moments, some do work, but others aren't near as effective. The score is actually one of the surprises since it's not usual for this feature to have such an impact in a rather simple movie. It provides a few chuckles with some witty lyrics, and it helps with elevating the suspense in the more tense sequences. It's also mostly well-shot and set in one-location, something I always deeply appreciate.

All in all, Ready or Not accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. It delivers a fun and entertaining 90-minute hide-and-seek game like we've never seen before. Its R rating lets its makers do whatever they please with the amount of blood and goriness present in a scene, which ultimately culminates in a jaw-dropping, hilarious ending. Samara Weaving is brilliant as the main character, carrying the whole film on her shoulders. Is it cliche? Yes. Is it formulaic and predictable? Yes. Is it cheesy? Hell, yes. However, this movie never intended to be a groundbreaking achievement in the genre. It just wants to deliver good fun. And it does.

Brightburn
(2019)

Rating: B
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Brightburn is one of those few movies throughout the year that can grab everyone's attention solely due to its premise. In a world where the superhero genre is oversaturated with almost a comic-book-based film each month, the Gunn family delivers an unique concept that I don't think it was ever explored this way. "What if Superman was evil?" is an idea that can be developed through so many different ways, depending on the director and screenwriters' approach. David Yarovesky clearly drew inspiration from Zack Snyder's version (Man of Steel), and that's where the movie is best: in exploring the vast and interesting possibilities that a screenplay like this can pursue.

Usually, when someone writes something along the lines of "it felt like two movies", it's not a good sign. Brightburn is a dark, mysterious and suspenseful film during the first half, but then it pretty much transforms itself into a horror-slasher flick, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I firmly believe that no audience member (and I would even dare write critics as well) will leave the theater completely satisfied or entirely disappointed. If you expected the Gunn family to delve deep into Superman's mythology and explore some twisty paths, they do rely on classic scenes to show how it all could have been if "Clark Kent" wasn't a nice boy.

If you were expecting a movie closer to the horror genre, the last half of the film offers some good sequences. However, that's when the movie loses what made me go watch it in the first place. It's a very short film and it ends in a way that leaves me wanting more. The big problem here is that it's likely not going to get a sequel, and it could have easily added extra 20-30 minutes to deliver a more fulfilled story.

Production-wise, having in mind its low budget, it looks remarkably great. Some good moments of gorgeous cinematography, and beautiful wide shots. The jump scare sequences of the second half aren't nearly as effective as they could be, but at least the editing throughout the entire runtime is seamless. With a few more creative and entertaining scenes, Brightburn could have been a lot more menacing and scarier. I only remembered it was R-rated once the first bloody and quite violent moment occurs, and these specific moments are definitely eye-opening, gruesome and horrifying, even though it gets too over-the-top a couple of times.

Elizabeth Banks (Tori Breyer) delivers a notable performance, as well as David Denman (Kyle Breyer). Their characters have a compelling backstory, and they actually have a well-developed script. They don't make dumb or irrational decisions, like the generic horror characters that we all recognize. Jackson A. Dunn (Brandon) is pretty good as the evil Superman, even if his performance ends up being too monotonous for me. Looking at the overall feedback from both critics and audience, this seems to be part of those rare films each year which I enjoy a bit more than most people.

All in all, Brightburn doesn't take off powerfully like Superman, but it's still able to fly for a bit. With good performances, remarkable production design, and an adequate use of its R-rating, the Gunn family delivers an incredibly captivating concept which is explored through an interesting yet unfulfilling screenplay. The second half turns the movie into a pure slasher flick, which might positively affect some viewers, but for me it took away what was really entertaining. The ending is just a taste of what the film could have been and it's disappointing that it doesn't explore its fantastic idea more in-depth, but the final feeling about the movie isn't too bad either.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
(2019)

Rating: B-
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This might be the very first film of 2019, which I knew absolutely nothing about going into the theater. Usually, I avoid trailers for most movies, but it's almost impossible to not catch an image or a clip here and there. However, for Scary Stories, since it wasn't heavily marketed in my country (at least), the only things I knew was that Guillermo del Toro was involved and that it was a horror flick. Knowing del Toro, I also remembered myself that this wouldn't just be a straightforward horror story, filled with predictable jump scares, and a bland narrative. That's my first advice to my fellow readers: if you expect a film similar to those of The Conjuring Universe, then you'll be disappointed.

It's also not the other extreme. It doesn't follow the ambiguity and weirdness of Jordan Peele's installments, so if you're one of those people that don't appreciate that type of horror, you're safe as well. Having in mind the latest movies released from the genre, it's hard to find one that balances these two separate takes instead of choosing one of them. Scary Stories spends its first half slow-building their characters, but mainly its story. There's a massive build-up to something that's pretty much the premise of the film, so it struggles to reach the actual "action" without it becoming a tad boring or too long. It's a "breath of fresh air" (in the genre, I mean) to have a good set up, with decent character development, and an exponential interest in the main story, instead of jumping into silly horror sequences fifteen minutes after it started.

André Øvredal does an excellent job in directing. He really knows how to generate suspense and create a genuinely creepy build-up. There's tremendous camera work involved in some fantastic sequences that don't rely on jump scares to provide the "fear" factor. It's the never-ending suspense, that feeling of claustrophobia even if the character isn't in a confined space. Except for one scene, we can always see what's happening. The "monsters" don't appear out of nowhere, they don't screech at you precisely at the third time a character looks another way, and the actual jump scares are rather efficient. However, they're not scary, as well as the movie itself...

It's not simply a scary film. It doesn't have that heavy and dark tone that we feel in other horror movies. At first, I thought it might be a bad thing, but Scary Stories establishes this distinct tone from the very beginning. Even without knowing a single thing about the film, I understood from the first few minutes that it was going to be "different". I would advise caution to not judge this movie by its trailers if they indicate that this is one of those films to make you scream every five minutes. There's definitely a message to be transmitted, and I think it was well-delivered in the ending. It might be too cheesy for some or lack impact for a movie that asks the audience for a bit of patience, but for me, it worked well enough.

The acting is mostly good. Zoe Colletti (Stella) and Michael Garza (Ramon) are undoubtedly the standouts, and they do a good job of carrying the narrative forward. They both have compelling backstories, but for the time that the film spends developing its characters, I wish they went more in-depth with Stella. She has a particularly intriguing past, and I don't think we get enough out of it. Gabriel Rush (Auggie) and Austin Zajur (Chuck) have great chemistry, but their comic-relief roles are a disservice to an otherwise pretty solid movie.

Technically, there are some beautiful shots from the DP, Roman Osin. Usually, sequences at night in low-budget films suffer a lot with lack of clear visibility, but Osin does a remarkable job, playing with lighting in a truly unique way. I'm curious to know what audiences will think of this movie. If I had to bet, I think people will leave disappointed due to the lack of more generic jump scares, and a straightforward narrative. Truth be told, the slow pacing doesn't help, especially when the character development only works for two. Finally, the "scary stories" that Sarah tells are entertaining and imaginative, and the whole concept of this film is incredibly captivating.

All in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a distinct horror flick, with well-developed leads, and a creative approach to an unique premise. It doesn't follow the rules of generic horror, by not relying itself too much on jump scares, and making the actual story and characters the main interest. Beautifully-produced by Guillermo del Toro and co. as well as brilliantly directed by André Øvredal. The "scary stories" are indeed dark and creepy, providing a whole second-half of excellent horror scenes.

However, the first-half takes its time to set everything up, and the lack of more "action" might leave some viewers disappointed. Only two characters are genuinely engaging, which proves that the slow build-up didn't entirely pay off as it should have. It's meant to be a divisive movie, but I definitely recommend seeing it!

Stranger Things
(2016)

Season 3 - Rating: A-
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Stranger Things first appeared in our lives back in 2016 with its phenomenal first season, followed by a less amazing yet still entertaining Season 2. I was pretty excited for the third adventure with one of the best (if not the best) young ensemble casts ever. The acting in this show is unbelievable, even more when considering the age of most of the kids (14-17). Millie Bobby Brown is 15-years-old! Fifteen! Weirdly, the show will only be eligible for next year's Emmy's, but if she doesn't get nominated AND win, I sincerely don't know what she needs to do more. The seamless ease that Millie has in showing emotion and delivering those subtle expressions that only the best actors can achieve after years of experience ... She's going to break the Oscar record for youngest Best Actress / Best Supporting Actress winner. It's meant to happen.

I started with her because last season I handed the highlight crown to Noah Schnapp (Will Byers) who also gives an excellent performance, even if his character has less to do this time around (similar to the debut season). Of all the young actors, Millie is so much ahead of her fellow colleagues that she indirectly diminishes Sadie Sink's (Max) performance. They have completely different emotional responses to similarly painful events. Not that Sadie isn't able to transmit her feelings (I enjoyed both her and her character a lot more this season), but jumping from Eleven showing 200% of her emotion to any other character is always going to feel that the other actor/actress isn't at her level (truthfully though, they aren't).

In addition to Millie, the other standout has to be David Harbour as Jim Hopper. This might be the funniest season so far, as well as the most emotionally powerful. Both are due to Hopper's arc and Harbour's award-worthy performance. He's hilarious, happy, sad, angry, drunk, frustrated, proud, ... His arc is definitely the one that serves as a pillar to this season's structure. Without him, this season wouldn't be near to the quality it is. Harbour's chemistry with Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers) is palpable, and that's basically enough for me to have a great time. However, The Duffer Brothers really deserve a lot of credit. The writing is some of the best I've seen in the last few years.

Everyone hated Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in the first season, but his development got such a fantastic treatment that now everyone loves him. The same happens with Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). I genuinely hated him last season due to how cliche and lazily written he was. Now, even though his backstory isn't anything innovative, he's undoubtedly seen as a more compelling character, which proves that Stranger Things really doesn't have a single bad character (main or supporting, at least). Max also gets a better script, plus her on-screen time with Eleven helped the character become more interesting. Nevertheless, how's the main gang?!

Well, Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson) spends less time with his original friends, but his side adventure with Steve, Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), the newest addition to the show which is also the best surprise of the season, is also pretty entertaining even if it's connected to one of my issues (more on that soon). Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Will, Eleven, and Max have a whole romantic subplot that I surprisingly enjoyed mostly due to how realistic and heartfelt The Duffer Brothers wrote it. Obviously, comedy is always a must inside this group, and I wasn't disappointed, having dropped more than just a few laughs throughout the episodes.

Finally, Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers) and Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler) also have their own inspiring journey, the one that addresses the most how people had to live in the 80s. Dealing with discrimination, workplace injustices, and different lifestyles are put in perspective always through unforced dialogue and/or events. I really loved this season structure. How each group of characters has their own side adventure so that in the end, they can all team-up together to defeat the evil within Hawkins. I never felt bored or less engaged in a story. Season 2 had that horrible episode with Kali (Linnea Berthelson), and some episodes seemed to drag. Season 3 not only has the perfect runtime for each episode, but the story that they cover during each chapter is always remarkably captivating.

Of course, I always felt more entertained when Eleven and Hopper were on-screen, so their subplots obviously became my favorites. However, they don't take anything away from the remaining stories or characters. Evidence number one would be the best ending of the show. It's hard to hold off the tears during those last few moments, especially if you went through the same event (which 99% of people definitely did unless you had literally zero friends growing up). Technically, the show proves that you don't need a big budget to provide visual delight. From the appropriated costume design to the addictive 80s' style soundtrack, everything is on-point with tons of practical effects being employed. The CGI regarding the monsters and everything that comes with them are convincing enough, and the action sequences are mostly shot well. The editing gets a little sloppy near the final episodes, but nothing too serious.

My main and only issue with this season has to be the actual main plot. The thread that connects all of the subplots and groups of characters that I've been praising so much. Besides being very similar to the last season (monster comes, possesses people, and you know the rest), it's worse regarding the "how" and "why" the monsters came back. There's a whole story involving Russians, secret bases and codes, that feel too cheesy and over-the-top, reaching a level of absurdity that even affected some action scenes "a la Fast and Furious". It's unusual for the main plot to be as cliche and uninteresting as it is, while the side stories are astonishingly good.

All in all, Stranger Things delivers yet another fantastic season. Its debut continues to hold the #1 spot, but Season 3 is so much better than its predecessor. Once again, the characters are what make this show a massive success. Even separating everyone into different groups, the cast's phenomenal chemistry remains intact. Millie Bobby Brown takes her crown back from Season 2's highlight, Noah Schnapp, and guarantees herself tons of nominations and hopefully a few awards, due to a perfect display of her emotional range. David Harbour is right behind her, and then comes the rest of the ensemble cast, one of the best to ever grace a TV screen. The Duffer Brothers are masterful screenwriters, presenting extremely developed character scripts, as well as funny, exciting and entertaining side stories. Despite a less strong main plot, Stranger Things finishes this season with the best ending of the entire series. If you're not crying during the last 10 minutes ... I don't know. Can't wait for Season 4, even if I would be more than satisfied to see it end its run now.

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