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DISAPPOINTING - SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) - FILM REVIEW

As unnecessary prequels go, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" isn't bad. It's not great, either, though—and despite spirited performances, knockabout humor, and a few surprising or rousing bits, there's something a bit too programmed about the whole thing. It has certain marks to hit, and it makes absolutely sure you know that it's hitting them. Everything that you expect to see visualized in "Solo," based on your experience with previously stated "Star Wars" mythology, gets served up on a silver platter, from young Han Solo's first meeting with Chewbacca to Han winning the Millennium Falcon in a card game from its original owner, Lando Calrissian, and making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (that parsecs are a unit of distance, not time, is properly explained at last), to the fact that Wookiees hate to lose at three-dimensional chess and are strong enough to rip people's arms from their sockets. We also get to see what some of our favorites were like when they were younger (Donald Glover's Lando walks off with the movie). It's fan service of a high order. 

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

PG-13 | | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 25 May 2018 (USA)




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Whether you consider that a bonus or plus will depend on what you want from a "Star Wars" movie. In some ways, this movie is the antidote to the sort of "Star Wars" movie that viewers who despised the prankishly irreverent and oddly introspective "The Last Jedi" seem to have wanted: one where the payoffs to setups are italicized so that nobody can miss them, artistic license is subordinated to brand management, and every reference, no matter how small, that was so lovingly memorized by devotees of the franchise is placed under a spotlight for the audience's recognition and self-congratulation. 

It's checklist mythology, but thankfully served up with enough panache to make the trip engaging. There are also quite a few scenes that fill out the "Star Wars" universe in ways that only tangentially have to do with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and other established characters (I'd rather not say which ones, because a couple of them are genuinely delightful). These tend to be the most engrossing sections of "Solo" because they treat your eye to vistas that you probably haven't encountered before, unless you're familiar with the older cultural sources that the filmmakers are raiding for inspiration—and even then, director Ron Howard (replacing Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) freshens them up and makes them feel lived-in. 

We meet young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend and partner-in-crime Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) on a mining planet that's completely covered by industrial structures and runs on forced labor, some of it involving children; the charcoal-smudged visuals, narrow streets and alleys, and hardbitten street urchins with English accents add up to high-tech Charles Dickens. When Han signs up for the Imperial Navy but ends up serving in the infantry in a pointless campaign where he meets his future smuggling partners Val (Thandie Newton) and Tobias (Woody Harrelson), the images of suicidal cavalry charges and muddy trenches are straight out of a World War I picture like "All Quiet on the Western Front" or "Paths of Glory." A heist of a fuel train—more like a mountain monorail that seems to slither around the peaks like a metal snake—evokes an old Western where cowboys jump from horses onto the sides of locomotives. And so on.
The character of Han Solo was introduced back in 1977 (pre-George Lucas digital revisions) gouging an old man and a farm boy for as much money as he could get, then pre-emptively murdering a a bounty hunter in plain view of bar patrons. Nothing in this film is as daring as those choices—as played by Harrison Ford, Solo was a borderline antihero and the only major character in the original trilogy who had a dangerous edge, albeit one that Lucas and company immediately began sanding down—and as young Solo, Alden Ehrenriech doesn't convince as a cocky young pilot and smuggler who's been prematurely soured by a hard-knock life. 

Or at least he doesn't convince as this particular smuggler. He's likable and does "confident" and "smug" very well, but if this film was determined to cast an actor who didn't look or sound all that much like Harrison Ford (which is a totally legitimate and defensible thing to do, don't get me wrong; a straight-up imitation would've been awful) it might've been a good idea to cast somebody who at least seemed as if he could eventually turn into the Han that we met in "A New Hope," as Lucas did when he hired Ewan McGregor to play young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. McGregor miraculously managed to maintain physical and vocal continuity with the role's original inhabitant, Alec Guinness, while still giving his own performance. Ehrenreich achieves that second thing here, but not so dazzlingly that you forget to obsess over the first. 

Some mysterious harmony ought to occur in a movie that constantly and very obviously tries to connect with its brand even as its lead actor does his own thing (mostly; the flirtatious grin is pleasingly Fordian), but the two impulses seem at odds with each other here. Was Howard expending so much effort bringing weight, maturity and sincerity to a movie that was at risk of turning goofy and glib under Lord and Miller that he didn't have the mental bandwidth left to focus on the actors? Some of the performers make a strong impression (particularly the alert and reactive Glover, who McGregors the part in a big way, and Phoebe Waller-bridge as the voice of Lando's copilot, L3-37, a robot fighting to abolish machine slavery). 

But others seem a bit lost at times. Clarke's character has many layers, but none of them quite seem connected to each other, and she comes across as much too nice to do some of the things she ends up doing. Newton, one of the stars of "Westworld," doesn't get much screen time, and Harrelson, one of those incorrigible kleptomaniac scene stealers, doesn't give us anything that we couldn't have gotten from any other fiftysomething character actor who can twirl a gun, crack wise, and smirk. Paul Bettany's crime boss Dryden Vos might be the first major player in a "Star Wars" movie to make no impression at all, but the actor was probably doing the best he could under the circumstances; he replaced Michael Kenneth Williams, who was not available for reshoots and was originally cast as a CGI character, so he was probably playing somebody who had to be rewritten on the fly without damaging the surrounding narrative architecture. (A documentary about this film's production troubles would almost certainly be more fascinating than the film itself.) Some of the unthinking racism that damaged “The Phantom Menace” returns here as well—you’ll know it when you see it—and the longer the film goes on,?the clearer it becomes that “Solo,” like many a “Star Wars” film before it, is not too interested in women.

I say all this with lifelong love for a film series, and in recognition of the challenges this project faced. "Solo" is in a unique and tricky position. Since taking over "Star Wars," Disney has tried to Marvel-ize Lucas' universe, extending the Skywalker-centric main storyline and filling it out with one-offs that flesh out stories that are adjacent to it. Whatever you thought of "Rogue One" as entertainment (I loved it), it managed to concoct a story with its own internal philosophy, style and feeling, and when you compare it with "Solo," you realize that a big part of what made it work was its lack of connection to famous characters who couldn't be killed off. Except for Grand Moff Tarkin, who was basically a bunch of Peter Cushing-shaped pixels, none of the major players were people we knew; most of them were characters we'd never heard of, the grunts and redshirts of the galactic war, and that meant anything could happen to them, and that the film didn't have to set aside a certain amount of space for enacting things we'd heard about but never seen dramatized.
"Solo" doesn't have as much maneuvering room. It's not the first "Star Wars" film to visualize the pasts of characters that we'd spent time with in other incarnations—the prequel trilogy gave us a lot of information about Anakin Skywalker, aka the future Darth Vader, as well as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Palpatine and others—but it is the first "Star Wars" movie that often feels as if it exists mainly to supply visuals for scenarios that fans have long daydreamed about, or read about in "Star Wars" supplementary texts. And even the greatest of filmmakers aren't likely to be able to give us images, performances and moments that exceed the ones we've been imagining forever. The bits that land tend to be ones that come out of nowhere and that have their own excitingly new emotional temperature, such as L3-37’s righteous ecstasy when she gets to free some fellow machines, and her frustration with Lando, whom she fancies even though he takes her for granted and is, shall we say, not compatible.

"Solo" is hauntingly effective in a very specific way: it gives you a strong sense of Han Solo and Chewbacca's friendship: how it formed, how it solidified, and what it gave to each of them. Now that we've seen the full arc of Solo's life, the innocent joy of discovery that's present in every scene between the two of them acquires a sorrowful undertow. Chewbacca, we learn, was already 180 when he met Han. I'm not sure about Wookiee years-to-human years conversion, but the sheer amount of time that the big walking carpet has spent in the universe flips our perception of the friendship and makes us think differently about "The Force Awakens," where Han is an old man nearing the end of his run. If the entirety were as charming and unexpectedly haunting as the friendship between Han and Chewie, "Solo" might've been a classic. As is, it’s a frictionless trip down memory lane. 
 

Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in 'Solo: A Star Wars Story,' an adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga's most unlikely heroes. Written by Walt Disney Studios

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25 May 2018 (USA)  »

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Han Solo  »

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HE IS BACK - DEADPOOL 2 (2018) - FILM REVIEW

Ryan Reynolds returns in the title role of Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, in "Deadpool 2," a bleak and wrenching psychodrama that's sure to confuse and infuriate fans of the original. The first "Deadpool," directed by Tim Miller, was distinguished by its three-jokes-a-minute pacing and its reluctance to take the usual superhero origin cliches seriously. This film from stuntman turned director David Leitch (who debuted behind the camera with "John Wick") starts with a literal bang, with our mysteriously depressed hero immolating himself atop a deathbed of explosive fuel canisters, then works its way backwards to detail the trauma that made him sad enough to kill himself. Frankly, I was stunned that Leitch, Reynolds and company had the nerve to kill off such a bankable wiseacre in the first five minutes of their film, then devote the rest of their running time to supporting characters' attempts to grieve and move on with their lives, their struggles captured in bleached-out images more commonly associated with DC movies. The emotional peak is a long sequence of Wade's widow Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) taking the hero's now-useless red uniform down from a hanger in the closet, inhaling her late partner's scent, and bursting into tears while the soundtrack plays a minor key a cappella version of Boston's "More Than a Feeling."


Deadpool 2 (2018)



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OK, obviously none of that happens, except for Wade blowing himself up—and if you've ever read a comic book in your life, or seen a movie, or drawn breath, you know that a superhero film doesn't start with the hero offing himself unless it plans to undo the damage as soon as possible. "After surviving a near fatal bovine attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Mayberry’s hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste." That's how 20th Century Fox's official website summarized the plot of this movie when it first came out, which should give you some small indication of the level of sobriety the filmmakers have brought to this venture. Even when "Deadpool 2" is being serious, or trying to fool you into thinking it's being serious, there's a gleam in its eye that gives the game away. 
The script, credited to Reynolds, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, finds the mutant Deadpool meandering his way to the X-Mansion and joining various X-Men members—including Domino (Zazie Beetz) and Colossus (computer effects plus the voice of Stefan Kapičić)—as they try to protect an alienated, rebellious teen mutant called Firefist (Julian Dennison) from assassination by the Terminator, er Looper, er mercenary-from-the-future Matthew Cable (Josh Brolin, aka Young Nick Nolte Returned, playing his second Marvel character in less than a month). 

There are striking similarities between certain, um, elements in this film and "Avengers: Infinity War"—a fluke of timing, surely; the movies don't even share a studio (yet). Among them: a thorough working-out of the old, mostly rhetorical comic book question, "How dead is dead?" "Deadpool 2" treats the topic about as thoughtfully as it can, without ever, for one millisecond, seeming as if it might look real suffering in the eye. As in the first "Deadpool," the backbone of which was an unexpected cancer diagnosis, Wade and other characters suffer loss and disappointment, but nothing that can't be fixed or amended through machinations that are already implicitly promised in the hero's opening narration. There's some unpleasantness, but the cheeky dialogue and cheerfully cynical voice-over ensure that we'll never have to marinate in it. It's just not that kind of film. More so than any other superhero movie, including the original "Deadpool," this one is the R-rated comics equivalent of one of those knowingly featherweight Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Road" movies (for a full list, click here), in which Hope' and Crosby's fast-talking vagabonds wriggled out of tight spots through sheer shamelessness and verbosity, pausing to break the fourth wall and tell the viewer that now might be a good time to go out for popcorn.

The result feels a bit like a lavishly produced, superhero- and supervillain-stocked standup comedy special, with fight scenes, chases and explosions spliced into footage of the hero telling you about the wild couple of weeks he just had. Reynolds repeats the original "Deadpool" dynamic of giving the movie at least five times what it gives him in return, turning neediness, self-pity, desperation and narcissism into different kinds of comic fuel. There are constant acknowledgements that you're watching a movie, and a formulaic one at that (right before the the start of the film's third act, our boy declares that if his plan succeeds, everybody gets to go home early because there'll be no need for a third act). There are seemingly random (but not really) pop culture references, including a comparison of the melodies of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from "Frozen" and "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" from "Yentl." There's shtick galore, including quite a bit of slapstick with a body count, plus some retroactive criticism of the Marvel brand's attempts to be capital-I Important ("We're the X-Men, a dated metaphor for racism in the '60s!" Deadpool declares, right before a big setpiece). There's even a protracted bit of mugging near the end that's reminiscent of early Jim Carrey. 

I originally agreed with this site's less-than-enthused review of the first movie, which was "edgy" in an obvious, trying-too-hard way, occasionally wearing its "R" rating with all the misplaced pride of a middle school boy sporting a chocolate milk mustache as if it were a Sam Elliott-style soup strainer (although—kudos!—the details of Wade's cancer treatment and sex life with Vanessa were truly unexpected for a film that expensive). But the array of PG-13 superhero films that preceded and followed, and that all seemed hypnotized by their own ashy solemnity to one degree or another, made the original "Deadpool" feel like a necessary counterweight. The more often I stumbled across it on TV over the past few years, the more I appreciated it. (The inept and obvious "Suicide Squad," which came out a few months later, showed how not to do that kind of movie.) 

And there's something to be said for a film that knows what it is, and is serenely content to be that thing. Except for a few individual lines and sight gags, a brilliantly over-the-top action-comedy sequence near the midsection, and some characteristically sharp performances (including the one by Brolin, who imbues what might've otherwise been a granite-jawed killer meathead with recognizable humanity) there's not much to fondly recall here. But since "Deadpool 2" shows no sign of wanting to rewrite a whole genre with its audacity, we might as well concede that it does the job it apparently wants to do with professionalism and flair, and that the faster we end this piece, the faster you can go on social media and complain about it.



After surviving a near fatal bovine attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Mayberry's hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste. Searching to regain his spice for life, as well as a flux capacitor, Wade must battle ninjas, the Yakuza, and a pack of sexually aggressive canines, as he journeys around the world to discover the importance of family, friendship, and flavor - finding a new taste for adventure and earning the coveted coffee mug title of World's Best Lover. Written by Twentieth Century Fox

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16 May 2018 (Philippines)  »

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DP2  »

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2.39 : 1

Did You Know?

Trivia

A fan petition was made for Quentin Tarantino to direct the sequel. See more »

Quotes

Deadpool: Doing the right thing is messy. You want to fight for what's right, sometimes you have to fight dirty.
See more »

Connections

Version of Wolverine (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

9 to 5
Performed by Dolly Parton
 



FIRST LOOK - THE PREDATOR (2018) - TRAILER

The Predator (2018)



When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe's most lethal hunters return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

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From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. Now, the universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race. Written by Twentieth Century Fox

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14 September 2018 (USA)  »

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Predator  »

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CHARLIZE THERON IN - TULLY (2018) - FILM REVIEW

There are certain truths about new motherhood that are unassailable. Things that lodge themselves in your psyche as permanently as the butternut squash stain on your last halfway decent T-shirt. The bone-deep exhaustion. The uneasy combination of anxiety and boredom. The pressure to bring sexy back when it feels like someone has driven a combine harvester through your nethers. All of which this latest collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman nails with harrowing accuracy.

It’s not exactly new territory. But what makes Tully such a tragicomic triumph compared with the brittle perkiness of films like I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011) and the god-awful Motherhood (2009) is that the film is not afraid to mine some pretty dark thematic territory.

Tully (2018)



This is thanks largely to a towering performance from Charlize Theron as Marlo, mother of three, including a newborn. Theron has perfected the dead-eyed gaze of a woman who can’t quite work out where motherly love ends and Stockholm syndrome begins. Baby weight and cupcake panic are tag-teaming to smother any spark of life she once had. Then Marlo cracks, and calls the night nanny for whom her wealthy brother has paid as a gift.
Enter millennial Mary Poppins, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), an unflappable free spirit who effortlessly shoulders the burden of motherhood. Marlo’s connection with her nanny is sudden and profound: Tully is like a window into her own past self.
The wistful, sometimes melancholic tone of this rueful examination of parenthood doesn’t blunt the edges of Cody’s acutely perceptive writing. And it is perhaps no coincidence that Reitman, who seemed tonally unmoored with his last two films – Men, Women & Children and Labor Day – returns to the incisive form last exhibited with Young Adult, his previous collaboration with Cody and Theron.

Tully is emotionally complex, bleakly funny and only slightly depressing.








A mother of three hires a night nanny to help with her newborn.

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4 May 2018 (USA)  »

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Aukle Tule  »

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20 MINUTES - ALL TRAILER OF WEEK 18, 2018



All new Movie Trailers from the past week! 00:03 Robin Hood 02:10 Ant-Man and the Wasp 04:27 Solo: A Star Wars Story 05:47 Teen Titans Movie 07:22 Hotel Artemis 07:51 Superfly 10:18 A Simple Favor 11:36 The Catcher was a Spy 13:37 The Yellow Birds


LAD MOVIE - DISOBEDIENCE (2018) - FILM REVIEW

"Disobedience," Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his 2017 Oscar-winning film "A Fantastic Woman," and his first English-language film, starts with a Rabbi giving a sermon about free will. He speaks of angels, beasts, and Adam and Eve. He says, fearsomely, that humans are "free to choose." Then he drops dead. There's something refreshing about a story so unconcerned with "subtlety." Put it all out there. Foreground the theme. Underline as you go. "Disobedience," based on Naomi Alderman's novel (with adaptation by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz) is a good old-fashioned melodrama, albeit with a quieter touch. 

Disobedience (2017)



The rabbi who dropped dead was Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser), an important figure in the London Orthodox Jewish community. His daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York-based photographer, left years ago. When she returns home, she walks into the unchanged world of her childhood, looked at by relatives and former friends with curiosity and concern. She is rebelliously secular, with long free hair, cigarettes, short leather skirts. The obituary for her father states that "sadly" he had no children. It stings. She's been gone so long she had no idea that Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), taken in by her father as a protégé at 13, and Esti, her childhood friend (Rachel McAdams) have gotten married. There's an awkward moment in the kitchen when she makes the connection. The shock on Weisz's face is eloquent, although we don't know the backstory yet.
The eloquence of the performances is key to the material succeeding, since Lelio does not introduce the characters, and their connections, in a straightforward way. It takes some time before you figure out who Dovid is to Ronit, although from their behavior you can tell they once were close. She forgets herself and almost hugs him in a friendly greeting, and then laughs when he recoils from her touch. Dovid and Esti invite Ronit to stay with them during her time in London. This is playing with fire, since it soon becomes clear that Esti and Ronit had an adolescent romance, well-known to the community at the time. Lelio's approach helps us feel we are thrust into the middle of a very tight-knit community, with a long shared history. Exposition is always awkward, so Lelio doesn't bother with it at all. "Exposition" wouldn't be spoken out loud in this crowd since everyone knows everything about everyone else. Dovid and Etsi don't yet have children. She is a teacher in a girls school and enjoys her work. He is set to step into Rav Krushka's sizable shoes. Ronit's arrival throws everything into confusion. 
This is Lelio's third film in a row about women (the first being 2013's "Gloria"), and he is deeply empathetic to the ways in which repressive societies put women in all kinds of impossible double- and triple-binds. In "A Fantastic Woman," a trans woman fought to be allowed to grieve for her dead lover, and Lelio's focus on the cruelty of the surrounding world pushed the film into a nightmare-scape. He dials this back in "Disobedience." There are no villains. Even the strict culture of Orthodox Judaism isn't really a villain. The culture is shown as a close one, with many social benefits, benefits which Ronit—in leaving—has missed out on. With all of the dramatic and sexual stuff in the film, the best scene may very well be a group scene early on, when Ronit joins Dovid and Esti's Shabbat, attended by a small group of Ronit's relatives. The "mood" at the table is far from friendly or warm, but it's also not toxic. This is a family. Ronit is a lost lamb, but there is still space for her in the fold. A lively debate occurs, and when Esti pops in unexpectedly with a cutting observation, Ronit stares at her from across the table, thrilled. These all feel like real people, not caricatures. (In this way, it reminded me a little bit of Peter Weir's "Witness," where you could see why Rachel didn't just run away with the cop, leaving the Amish world behind. You could see why she wanted to stay, why she had to stay.)
The relationship between Ronit and Esti, past and present, is clearly the focal point of the film, but Lelio takes his time getting there. McAdams is miscast, but she does a fine job showing Esti's burgeoning emotional life, exploding out of her in a rush: it is as though time stopped for her when Ronit fled the community so many years ago. But McAdams is so inherently positive. In a 1950s film, she'd play a perky ingenue. She's wonderful here when showing mischievous delight sneaking a puff off Ronit's cigarette. But when she has to show Esti's anguish at being forced to marry in order to cure her of wanting to sleep with women, she can't get to the depths required. She knows what the depths are, but she can't get there in the way a Lili Taylor, or Elizabeth Moss, or Natalie Portman could. But the scenes between Weisz and McAdams are fascinating, each actress listening closely to the other, paying attention to every nuance. It doesn't reach the scope of Grand Tragic Romance, but then, it isn't meant to. These were two women whose normal adolescent crush was banned. In a way, time stopped for the both of them. 
The colors of the film are subdued and chilly, all blacks, greys, smoky-blues, so that at times it looks like a black-and-white photograph. It's beautiful, in a classical and formal way. "A Fantastic Woman" featured many surreal dreamlike images, but Lelio plays this one straight. So straight, though, it is sometimes a detriment. It's the kind of movie where teachers are shown giving lectures which directly comment on the action of the movie. Dovid and his young rabbinical students discuss sensuous love and its importance, and Esti discusses "Othello" with her students. In one scene in "A Fantastic Woman," Aretha's "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" is prominently featured, and in a scene in "Disobedience," to break an awkward silence with Esti, Ronit spins the dial on the radio and stops on The Cure's "Love Song," which just so happens to narrate perfectly the emotions of the moment. These obvious choices really stick out.
Pauline Kael observed that melodrama is "the chief vehicle for political thought in our films," which you can see time and again, particularly in films made before the 1950s. In literature, melodrama can come off as overblown, preachy. But cinema can make melodrama seem not just real, but urgent and relevant. "Disobedience" could have gone even further in the direction of "Stella Dallas"-melodrama torment. Some of it comes across as curiously low-stakes, considering the circumstances. But, in a way, that's refreshing too.




A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.

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27 April 2018 (USA)  »

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A rabbi meg a lánya  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$237,393, 29 April 2018, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$237,393, 29 April 2018

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AN INDIAN THAT GOES TO YOUR HEART - BEYOND THE CLOUDS (2018) - FILM REVIEW

obnoxious Indian-set drama. The film—the latest from Iranian co-writer/director Majid Majidi ("Baran," "Children of Heaven")—certainly looks good thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta's typically gorgeous presentation of Mumbai's crowded streets and labyrinthine back alleys. But Mehta's visual compositions are dissatisfying after a point, mostly because the pseudo-mystical, live-and-let-live philosophy they espouse doesn't ring true when applied to a story about poor people struggling to transcend their treacherous living conditions. 

Beyond the Clouds (2017)

| Drama, Family | 20 April 2018 (India) 
 
 
Mehta ("Lagaan," "Veer-Zaara") can only do so much in a story that, like Majidi's most famous '90s films, feels simultaneously too spacey and too neat to say anything insightful about the plight of Amir (Ishan Khattar), a teenage drug dealer who must look after Ashik (Goutam Ghose)—the abusive and now hospitalized husband of Amir's self-less sister Tara (Malavika Mohanan)—long enough for Ashik to bail Tara out.
From the start, Tara's tragic circumstances are conflated with Amir's lack of responsibility. He must become human enough to not only accept responsibility for his actions, but also realize his responsibility to her. This is a major challenge since Amir often does whatever it takes to get ahead, including threatening Ashik's life, and offering to sell a child into prostitution. Amir is, in this way, unkindly treated like a product of his environment. Still, the film's dogmatic message is clear: there are moments of beauty in this teenager's life that are meant to prove that he is spiritually stronger than all of the seemingly unavoidable/unforeseeable material obstacles in his way. Even the mobbed-up gigolo/dealer that Amir works for, and the obstinate brother-in-law he wants to smash to bits ... all of these problems are supposedly surmountable.
This unbelievably optimistic mentality makes it hard to take seriously Majidi and co-writer Mehrad Kashani's rote scenario. Majidi and Kashani hold Amir's feet to the fire by asking him to not feel trapped by his complex living situation. He must forgive Ashik (notice that there's no discussion of the corrupt nature of the Indian court system). He must save his sister. He must find a way to support himself. He must be kind to Ashik's estranged mother and extended family. 
Meanwhile, Tara rots in jail. She's only believably human in the scene where she gets fed up with her Kafka-esque situation and screams that she needs to be let out immediately. She paces back and forth, like Jack Nicholson howling with rage in the much-missed Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." And she demands attention, but Amir can only do so much. He follows her movements from the other side of a see-through glass wall that separates prisoners like her from visitors like him. This is the most honest scene in "Beyond the Clouds," a rare moment of clarity where the filmmakers admit: there are limits to what we can do for our loved ones, no matter how much we owe them.
Unfortunately, Majidi and Kashani also often insist on piling the weight of Mumbai's collective troubles on Amir's shoulders. Never mind that the kid is only 19 years old, and doesn't have a parent or mentor-like figure that can help him figure out how to be his best self. What seems to matter most to Majidi and Kashani is that Amir has enough friends and resources to make bad decisions. So why shouldn't he be judged like an adult fictional character? In this unsparing context, it's hard to stomach scenes where Ghose seduces the camera with his genuinely seductive smile, and antic energy. He does a charming improvised dance for a former colleague—right before he stabs his friend in the hand. Amir even looks suave enough to convince his murderous, tight-wad gigolo boss to pay him on time.
But what's the point of "Beyond the Clouds"? Why tell your audience that it's more important to go beyond themselves than it is to be better as themselves? Majidi is clearly drawing on the artistic tradition of Italian neo-realist films like "Bicycle Thieves," "Umberto D," and "Rome, Open City," but shows no signs that he made it through to the end of the best of those movies. Spoiler alert: people remain homeless, hungry, and sad at the end of them! They don't get to transcend their circumstances because that, to put it mildly, would be a cop-out. 
I don't care how stunning the Mehta-lensed landscape shots of Mumbai are. The point of these scenes is to watch Ghose find his way through and into the story. But "Beyond the Clouds" isn't a city symphony: it's a conflicted tribute to a cruel, and bewitching slum. Majidi and Kashani's shared vision feels incomplete, as if they were moments away from realizing how to temper their story's condescending, but well-meaning perspective, but never got around to doing it.



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20 April 2018 (India)  »

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Floating Gardens  »

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Teenager Amir is constantly dodging trouble while dealing drugs in the underbelly of Mumbai. Following a drug bust, he evades the cops and ends up on the doorstep of his estranged sister Tara. Complications from concealing Amir land Tara in jail, but she still sees her brother as her only hope of living in the outside world again. While their lives have been darkened by despair, hope may shine from beyond the clouds.
 
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AVERAGE - AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) - MY LONGEST FILM REVIEW EVER

For a 160-minute epic that unifies a far-flung superhero universe that took a decade to build, packs 76 characters into one story, and has four to six plotlines cooking at any given time, "Avengers: Infinity War" hangs together pretty well. The plot finds the intergalactic bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his army of Green Goblin-looking warriors bouncing from star system to star system, torturing and killing various adversaries in order to gather six super-powerful Infinity Stones and embed them in Thanos' oversized glove. Once he's collected all six, Thanos will be able to achieve his dream of wiping out half the population of the universe in order to preserve its precious resources and restore "balance." The only thing standing in his way are the Avengers, led by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and the rest. Plus all the characters from "Black Panther." And the ones from "Guardians of the Galaxy." And a few more Marvel characters who are new to this film. 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)









Co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, co-writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, their small army of actors, and their hundreds of filmmaking collaborators have managed to get on the same page and stay on it. The film's running time doesn't fly by, exactly, but it rarely seems to stall out, which is impressive when you consider how many of the movie's big scenes consist of people talking, sometimes emoting, in close-up. The Russos swagger headfirst into melodrama here, more blatantly than in any previous Marvel film they've directed, though there are problems with their approach that I'll outline in a moment. The gambit works, mostly, because the story is an operatic tragedy that necessarily has to end with the heroes in a deep, dark place. In light of all this, it's inevitable (and in no way a spoiler to reveal here) that not every character makes it out alive, and that if you come away from the movie feeling bummed out and anxious rather than elated, that means "Infinity War" has done its job, just as "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One" did their jobs.
If only the film were better modulated, or perhaps longer, or more elegantly shaped, or ... well, it's hard to say exactly what's wrong here. But something's not up to snuff. This is, as many have pointed out, one half of a story broken in two, but it feels like less than half somehow. Until pretty recently, MCU films have suffered from collective curve-grading—each film seemed content to settle for "better than expected," as opposed to being really, truly good—and that feeling returns here, unfortunately. "Infinity War" faced so many challenges, many of them unique to this particular project, that it's a small miracle that it works at all. On some level, it feels ungrateful to ask a movie that already does the impossible to do it with more panache. But what are superhero movies without panache really good for? If there was ever a moment to swing for the fences, it was this one.
I like how the movie builds everything around Brolin's CGI-assisted but still fully inhabited performance as Thanos—an oddly wistful and lonely figure who is, essentially, a religious fanatic, yet carries himself with the calm certainty of a military man who's read the ancient Greeks and speaks tenderly to cadets while stepping on their necks. (Thanos' second-in-command, the snide and hateful space wizard Ebony Maw—played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor—makes an equally strong impression, though he doesn't have many scenes.) Some of the movie's most affecting and/or frightening moments see Thanos tormenting captive heroes (including Zoe Saldana's Gamora and her sister Nebula, played by Karen Gillan) until they disclose the location of the stones, or forcing them to consider killing themselves (or having others kill them) to stop Thanos from achieving his dream.
The movie treats Thanos as an agent of pure chaos, like an Old Testament curse come to life, picking people up by their skulls, deconstructing them into three-dimensional puzzles with a wave of his hand, even rupturing the structural integrity of the universe. He seems to have the brute force of the Hulk and the conjuring skill of Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange, one of the only characters who routinely manages to counter his destructive power. At various points, characters wonder aloud if they'd have been better off not fighting him. These are action heroes, but the threat facing them is so daunting that they contemplate an alternate reality in which they don't act.
Vision (Paul Bettany), who has one of the stones embedded in his forehead, gets attacked while he's off the grid in Scotland, enjoying the company of his beloved Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen); after they fight off Thanos' goons at great personal cost, he quips, "I'm beginning to think we should've stayed in bed." Peter Parker/Spider-Man springs into action during a class trip after spotting Thanos' enormous, doughnut shaped spacecraft descending on Manhattan, then gets the stuffing kicked out of him and says, "I should've stayed on the bus." The movie has wicked fun foreshadowing the possible demise of our heroes. In the only scene featuring Tony and his partner Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), they discuss Tony's dream that they had a baby; it feels like the superhero version of one of those scenes in a war flick where the young draftee shows off a photo of his fiancee and declares, "Ain't she pretty?" Thanos' assault on Wakanda, where Cap and the gang take Vision in hopes that Shuri (Letitia Wright) can preemptively extract and destroy his Infinity Stone, is depicted as the logical, awful result of revealing the once-hidden country's location, and aligning it with global defense organizations after centuries of neutrality.
And yet, despite the movie's embrace of pain and fear—exemplified by a scene where Thor lists all the loved ones he's lost, and appears to be battling PTSD like Tony—it almost never feels as special or as powerful as it ought to. The direction is part of the problem. Marvel's conceptual artists, visual effects technicians, colorists, and sound designers and mixers are operating at what might be their aesthetic peak here—as well they should be, considering how long this company has labored to perfect a consistent style and tone; the panoramic vistas showing wrecked cities and space stations and distant planets and alternate dimensions, a jumble of psychedelic ironwork and watercolor clouds, seem as strongly influenced by the legendary Marvel illustrator Jack Kirby as Taika Waititi's disco lark "Thor: Ragnarok." 
But rather than match their support team's inventiveness, the directors avoid risk. They capture both the violent (sometimes cruel) action and the emotionally intense private moments in either a boringly flat or frantically hacky manner (snap-zooms on falling figures; herky-jerky camerawork and fast cutting during fight scenes; the same stuff you see in most action films made during the past decade). They use the camera in an expressive or poetic way so rarely that when they do bust out a heartfelt flourish (like the long, slow camera move that reveals the Guardians in their spaceship engaged in a sing-along, or the "wipes" that reveal the reality that Thanos' illusions hide, or a climatic fight between Thanos and multiple heroes) it's as if somebody had briefly sparked a dull wedding reception to life by going out on the dance floor and demanding a song with a backbeat.
This would all be a lot less grating if the MCU hadn't produced two back-to-back hits, "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Black Panther," which had vivid directorial personalities (Waititi and Ryan Coogler, respectively), and took as many stylistic/tonal risks as Marvel's brand would allow. The studio is too bottom-line driven to permit the sort of eccentricity that would've made this project truly pop (Joss Whedon's ungainly potluck "Avengers: Age of Ultron," with its spiky wit and nihilistic robot philosopher baddie, is looking better in retrospect). But it's no compliment to the Russos to say that it's tough to tell just by looking at the movie if they were were on a tight corporate leash the entire time, or if they decided to minimize the innate risks of a project this huge and eagerly anticipated by making vanilla choices.
Another issue—and I'm getting dorm room-philosophical, so bear with me—is that the format of a blockbuster MCU movie with 76 characters exposes the limitations of telling a superhero story via this now-well-established cinematic template, as opposed to telling it on the printed page, where the only limits are the writer's imagination and the illustrator's flair for presentation. The storytelling vocabulary of superhero movies doesn't have to be constricted (FX's extravagantly inventive TV series "Legion" is proof) but it feels quite constricted here; it always has been, notwithstanding occasional outliers like "Thor: Ragnarok," "Black Panther" and "Ant Man." There are an infinite number of striking or subtle ways that comic book writers and artists can convey exposition, character details, psychological states, and simultaneous events occurring in parallel storylines; you can do stuff like expand a single decisive instant so that it fills up six pages, or show Spider-Man swinging through midtown Manhattan in a full-page splash panel dotted with thought balloons that summarize a year's worth of his life. But in the sorts of Marvel films that the MCU has released since 2008, we've mostly gotten stuck in linear time, which is where most commercial narratives unfold. Most of the scenes in "Infinity War" fall into one of two categories: (1) scenes where people go into rooms or out onto the street and talk to each other, and (2) action sequences where characters banter while punching and zapping each other and dodging falling rocks, buildings, and spaceships and trying not to get sucked into time-space portals.
There's only so much information that can be put across when you've limited your storytelling in that way. The ticking clock proves a more formidable enemy than Thanos. There are only so many moments or lines that "Infinity War" can give, say, to Tony and Pepper; or to Bruce and Natasha, who had a powerful connection in "Age of Ultron," got separated soon after, and are confined to a couple of brief exchanges here; or to Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who are stuck doing comic relief when they aren't suffering greatly or setting up Peter to make some very bad, dumb choices. Heimdall (Idris Elba), The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) are barely in the film. Cap gets maybe two dozen lines and a few meaningful glances, mostly aimed at Sebastian Stan's Bucky/Winter Soldier, who has even less to do. Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa/Black Panther, who anchored his own marvelous feature just a few months ago, is reduced to a glorified field general in "Infinity War," standing alongside Okoye (Danai Gurira) and M'Baku (Winston Duke) and watching Thanos' troops burn, trample, and otherwise disfigure the countryside (an image that's more upsetting, for various reasons, than a lot of Thanos' violence against individuals).
Another downside of packing so many people into one film—so many that they apparently had to cut a few; the film's IMDb page lists numerous major players who are nowhere to be seen—is that you start to notice that certain characters are redundant variations on/photocopies of other characters, a realization that you might not have had if you were were watching them star in their own self-contained movies. Putting Tony, Peter Parker and Peter Quill in the same scenes, for instance, might sound like a slam dunk, but once you spend a few minutes with them, the barrage of wise-assery becomes grating. It's like being stuck at a party where every other guy in the room mistakenly believes he's the funny one. (The scenes between Thor and the Guardians are much better because Thor plays the straight man to Quill, who is threatened by his awesome masculine beauty.)
As is often the case in Russo-directed Marvel movies, the humor comes across more vividly than the action. ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier," with its paranoid thriller stylings and brutal, close-quarters action, is still their zenith.) The movie makes excellent use of Thor and his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and gives Hemsworth more chances to show off his formidable deadpan (when Rocket expresses amazement that he can speak Groot's language, he explains, "They taught it on Asgard—it was an elective"). But the joking around doesn't so much complement the film's dark material as clash with it and undermine it. The self-aware humor that the MCU has always done so well ends up working against "Infinity War" in the end. Marvel's "just kidding" sensibility was a refreshing counterweight to the fashionable darkness of early DC Universe movies, as well as to the "dark & gritty" mode that became a global pop culture default after the success of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. But if there was ever a time for Marvel to bust out the Zack Snyder-style, heavy-metal gloom and slap the smirk off its own face, it's here, in a film that's mostly about summoning the courage to fight battles that you know you can't win, and accepting the likelihood of dying on your knees with your head held high.
This movie shouldn't just engage and amuse and occasionally move us; it should shock and scar us. It should kill Ned Stark and Optimus Prime and Bambi's mommy, then look us in the eye after each fresh wound and say, "Sorry, love. These things happen." The last 15 minutes have the flavor of that sort of trauma, but without the actual trauma. Deep down, we all know that modern superhero movies are operating with even lower dramatic stakes than Star Wars or James Bond movies: beloved characters rarely stay dead after they've been killed, and no plot development, no matter how grave, is irreversible, so there's no possible way that what seems to be happening on the screen could really be happening. But we shouldn't be thinking about any of that as we watch Thanos hurt characters we've grown to love and cast the universe into ruin. The very sight should rip our hearts out.   



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25 April 2018 (Philippines)  »

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Avengers: Cuoc Chien Vo Cuc  »

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As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment - the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

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