July 28, 2015

Corn Island (2014)

Corn Island (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: George Ovashvili
Country: Georgia / others

Movie Review: From the acclaimed Georgian filmmaker, George Ovashvili, author of the masterpiece “The Other Bank”, comes the subtler but no less poignant “Corn Island”, another perspective of the hardships of survival in a piece of land shattered by the cruel war that opposes Abkhazians and Georgians. As explained during the first frames, the title comes from the fact that small islands are formed with rocks and dirt resulting from the annual spring flood of the Enguri River. These islands are blessings to the few local inhabitants who cultivate corn from spring to fall in order to subsist the extreme winter cold. The diligent direction of Mr. Ovashvili together with the astounding work of the Hungarian cinematographer Elemér Ragályi, facilitate closeness when we follow the arrival of an Abkhazian old man (Ilyas Salman) on one of these islands to build a shed and prepare the land for the crop. This is a big effort for his advanced age, but the man finds precious aid in his orphaned granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili), a helpful, innocent teen who still holds a rag doll in their hands, but commence fearing the avid looks thrown by the soldiers who occasionally pass by boat or pop up in the shore. Uneasiness increases when the old man helps a wounded Georgian soldier (Irakli Samushia), hiding him from the sight of the officials from both factions. Despite the shots heard in the vicinity, the action is limited since the mood here is taken from the suspicion, apprehension, and tension of the soldiers’ visits and the sometimes ominous weather conditions that can spoil their chances of being succeeded. “Corn Island” was conceived in a slow yet detailed way, which suits a story of patience and dedication. Besides portraying a family legacy, the film is also an anti-war letter whose good and clear intentions make us ponder about the whole situation. Wringing sturdy performances, calibrated in terms of narrative, and enveloped by silences that speak volumes, this is another great film from an undeniably stylish filmmaker who keeps surprising.

July 27, 2015

Unexpected (2015)

Unexpected (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kris Swanberg
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Unexpected” is a drama of circumstances, set in an inner city of Chicago. It stars Cobie Smulders and Gain Bean, respectively as a high school teacher and student, who coincidentally find out they’re pregnant during critical phases of their lives. The third feature film from Kris Swanberg, wife of the film director Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”), is fictional, despite the filmmaker is living in Chicago and formerly had been a schoolteacher. The film starts with Sam (Smulders), reading online the top ten symptoms of pregnancy and the description for a job as coordinator in a museum. It’s not difficult to guess that she was pregnant indeed, and the museum was nothing less than her dream job, which she applied without high hopes. More difficult to guess was that one of her most liveliest and promising students, Jasmine (Bean), was also pregnant. Clearly, these women have different realities and options, and in both cases something in their actual lives has to be sacrificed for the sake of the new ones that are coming. Sam has all the support of her boyfriend, John (Anders Holm), and the couple doesn’t hide the happiness when they get married in secret; the only factor still in discussion is if Sam agrees on being a stay-at-home mother. In turn, Jasmine, carrying a tough past on her shoulders, breaks up with her immature boyfriend and ponders giving up college. A true friendship is established between Sam and Jasmine as they offer each other help and support while learning from their differences. “Unexpected” is evenly loaded with realism and familiarity, which are the best and the worst in the film. The direction of Ms. Swanberg is earnest and avoids fluctuations, but the material, treated with indelible comfort, blocked my true emotions, reason why I never felt anxious or worried for the protagonists’ future. The most memorable scene, also nominated as the nastiest of the year, has to do with 'drinking' Cheetos.

July 24, 2015

Paper Towns (2015)

Paper Towns (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jake Schreier
Country: USA

Movie Review: After a passable debut with “Robot & Frank”, director Jake Schreier proceeds to a bolder move with “Paper Towns”, a teen tale, set in Orlando, that even not breaking new ground, injects freshness and consistency in its characters and plot, and weaves a particular mood that is part mysterious, part charming. The film was based on the 2008 novel by John Green, feeling much more empathic than his opportunistically tearful success, “The Fault in Our Stars”. The 18-year-old college finalist, Quentin (Nat Wolff), is the narrator of the story, starting by telling us that he always had a crush for his quirky neighbor, Margo (Cara Delevingne). At the age of nine, when riding their bicycles, they’ve found a dead man. This happening was kind of a shock for Quentin, but represented a moment of excitement for Margot, who loved mysteries so much she became one. After that, the two friends have almost stopped talking to each other until a certain day when Margo incites Quentin for an all-night adventure, daring him to break into colleagues’ houses just for the pleasure of feeling free. She talks about paper towns and paper people in a way to show her disillusion with the world she lives. The reconnection was positive and Quentin gains new hopes in conquering his beloved’s heart. However, Margo skips school the following days, disappearing mysteriously with apparently no traces. Only Quentin was able to detect indecipherable clues, which take him for a memorable road trip to Agloe, a fictional place (paper town) located in the state of NY. He drives in the company of Margo’s best friend, Lacey, and his two loyal buddies: Ben (Austin Abrams), the film’s funniest character, and Radar (Justice Smith) who decided to take his girlfriend. Relentlessly obsessive, Quentin may be in good company, but he’s the only one who seems to believe that Margo is worthy and can be traced. Thus, this game of lost and found and self-discovery engenders a surprising, sweet ending.

July 23, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Ant-Man” is far from constituting an outstanding presence among the extensive cinematic Marvel experiences, but is also true that the film, directed by Peyton Reed and co-written by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”), Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd who also stars as Scott Lang, doesn’t embarrass the voguish genre based on the comic books. The well-intentioned burglar, Scott Lang (Rudd), is released from prison after three years, and his only wish is to reconnect with his young daughter who lives with his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a well-known police officer. Unable to find a job because of his tumultuous past, Scott can’t provide the child support that would bring him closer to his daughter. Frustrated, he decides to join his former cellmate, Luis (Michael Peña), in one more criminal scheme for money. However, when infiltrating himself into a house to break a high-security safe, instead of jewels or cash or any other inestimable asset, he just finds a special suit, the one that he’ll be using to help the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), defeating a former protégé, Darron Cross (Corey Stoll), who just finished a jeopardous version of the Ant-man suit called Yellowjacket. Scott has a first bad experience as the Ant-Man, but after well instructed, he distinctively passes a tough test where he had to steal a device from the Avengers’ HQ. Once that mission is accomplished, he should be ready to steal the Yellowjacket suit from Darron who promptly uses it to shrink himself when sensing danger. From then on, we a have a series of moderately entertaining microscopic battles, and a complex voyage through the world of electronics, the solution found to destroy the enemy. Paul Rudd fits perfectly in the role of the anti-hero who suddenly is turned into a superhero for a good cause and for his own sake. The humor works sparsely and the scenes don’t throb with much creativity or originality, however, I’ve been more bored with some of the previous Marvel sagas.

July 22, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Trainwreck (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Trainwreck”, starring and written by Amy Schumer, is the best comedy directed by Judd Apatow, who never convinced me before with movies like “Knocked Up” or “This is 40”. This film succeeds on many fronts, and I left the theater with a big smile on my face, even disliking its totally staged ending, fancied at the New York Knicks’ Madison Square Garden, which if more extended could really have wrecked what had been done till there. Regardless the final slip-up, the merits go totally to Ms. Schumer, a stand-up comedian who shines with her engaging semi-autobiographical work. Here, Amy plays Amy, a writer who works for S’nuff, a men’s magazine whose unkind director, Dianna (Tilda Swinton), gives her the worst assignment ever: to write an article about the reputable sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Obviously, sports are not part of Amy’s life. Instead, she prefers getting drunk, smoking pot, and sleeping with boring guys she picks on her nights out. The only one who’s recurrent is Steven (John Cena), a well-intentioned bodybuilder who gets devastated when he finds that she sleeps with many other men. At this point, we recall the first scenes of the film where, in her childhood, Amy and her sister were told by their father that ‘monogamy isn’t realistic’. If Amy opted for following the advice of her father, her sister Kim (Brie Larson), by contrast, did the opposite, living happily in the suburbs with her husband and stepson - a life that Amy simply doesn’t understand and constantly mocks. Everything changes abruptly when the generous Aaron and the disoriented Amy fall in love, in spite of her difficulty in accepting his true love and control her addictions. “Trainwreck” worked great as a romantic comedy, and the jocular tones are as pleasing as the dramatic side, where we can find a sort of bittersweet honesty. The presence of NBA stars, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire, conveys a bit more of reality while also provides funny moments.

July 21, 2015

Mr. Holmes (2015)

Mr. Holmes (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Bill Condon
Country: UK / USA

Movie Review: “Mr. Holmes” might not ring a bell for the less attentive, but if the name Sherlock was mentioned somewhere in the title, you would instantly guess that the film is about one of the most famous detectives in our planet. However, the year is 1947, and Sherlock Holmes, magnificently played by Sir Ian McKellen, is long-time retired with 93 years old, getting more and more debilitated, forgetful, and a fusion of emotional and a bit grumpy. Regardless these changes, he’s still polite, efficiently assertive when transmitting information, and conscious about his own errors from the past. Returned from a recent trip to Japan that brought him good and bad surprises, Mr. Holmes is happy to be at his farmhouse in the English countryside, where he solely has the company of his devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). The latter is very clever and shares the same enthusiasm for mystery cases and bees as the detective, who takes pleasure in teaching every detail of beekeeping while stimulates the boy’s perceptiveness about his own writings and those of his ex-partner, Dr. Watson. Nonetheless, not everything is easy, and the old Holmes struggles every single day with his memory and with a particular case that keeps coming to his rusty mind, involving a depressed woman called Anne Kelmot (Hattie Morahan). This is the second collaboration between McKellen and filmmaker Bill Condon, who directs with the same rigor and formalism that he has already accustomed us; the first one was 17 years ago, with the mesmerizing “Gods and Monsters”. Here, the heartfelt story, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”, is more about aging and how to learn from our experiences in life, than really solving a mysterious murder case. For this reason, “Mr. Holmes” might not be a good choice for the ones looking for puzzles and enigmas. It’s not a perfect film, but Mr. McKellen’s performance together with the undaunted message conveyed with gentle, resolute tones, makes it slightly above the average.

July 20, 2015

A Hard Day (2014)

A Hard Day (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kim Seong-hoon
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: It had been a while since one of these virulent Korean thrillers didn’t hold my attention. To be more precise, the last one was “Snowpiercer”, a Bong Joon-ho’s creation, released more than a year ago. Even considerably distant from the riveting action movie cited above, the brand new “A Hard Day”, the sophomore directorial feature from Kim Seong-hoon, was thought with logic and cooked with enough energy and intensiveness to solidly entertaining me during the toughest day in the life of Western District homicide detective, Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun). After a tiresome day, where he and his colleagues were subjected to a meticulous investigation for bribery, detective Ko drives in the middle of the night in order to meet his sister and little daughter for the final burial of his mother whose funeral happened hours before. However, tragedy occurs and he accidentally runs over a man who was standing on the side of the dark street. In panic, and under the pressure of a patrol police car that was checking the area, he hides the dead body in the trunk. After being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, which was the funniest scene in the film, he couldn’t find any better solution than dump the body inside his mother’s coffin. From then on, he starts receiving threatening phone calls from an abusive corrupt cop, Lt. Park (Jo Jin-woong), who inexplicably demands that he brings the body of the victim that after all was wanted for murder. Most of the plot’s twists had a successful impact while just a few ones are guessable, fact overturned by the director’s efforts in bringing in exciting physical confrontations and chases. In truth, the scenes of violence are firm and ferocious, but never uncontrolled or overdone. If you dig cat-and-mouse thrillers, this is a good choice since Mr. Seong-hoon found a positive equilibrium between a thrilling script and tight action.

July 17, 2015

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a fact-based thriller directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“C.O.G.”) and written by Tim Talbott, starring Bill Crudup as the obstinate Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychology professor who conducted a singular experiment in 1971. He carefully selected 24 male students, which half of them will be incarcerated for 15 days as real prisoners while the other half will act and dress (uniform and glasses accordingly) as prison guards. The objective is simple: to test the influence of the personality in the conflicts between guards and prisoners. The students seem highly motivated for earning some extra bucks for the summer ($15 dollars/day) while participating in a study case that should be seamless and pacific. However, what started being something almost illogically funny or even stupid, ends up slipping into crazy behaviors, where the guards really abuse of their power, taking a sadistic pleasure in humiliating the inmates. The reactions vary according to each personality: some try to rebel and then escape, some adopt a subdued posture, some others are more vulnerable to the pressure and start freaking out, one demands his glasses, another refuses to eat as a protest… Even more curious was to observe their silence during their parents’ visit, and the arrival of an ex-con to join the staff. The performances are on-the-nose, and psychologically speaking, the film gives us a lot to reflect upon. The Stanford Prison Experiment was terminated after six days, and the film cleverly ends by reenacting posterior interviews with the involved. Mr. Alvarez managed to set the perfect edginess and counted with Christopher McQuarrie (director of “Jack Reacher” and co-writer of “Edge of Tomorrow”) in the production.

July 16, 2015

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Magic Mike XXL (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gregory Jacobs
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Magic Mike XXL” is ridiculous at every level, starting with its title and finishing in the deplorable situations created along its nearly two fastidious hours. As you can guess, this is a sequel of “Magic Mike”, dated from 2012 and directed by Steven Soderbergh, which at that time, threw some originality to the screen, guaranteeing fair entertainment. Reid Carolin wrote the XXL version, just like the original one, but this time the script is simply a joke, a road trip of male strippers filled with embarrassingly unnecessary episodes, so devoid of insight or interest. If the writer’s job was a fiasco, the new director Gregory Jacobs was a disappointment exhibiting a heavy-handed style that can’t be compared to the sturdiness evinced by Soderbergh, key for the success of the previous version. If this was not enough, the star Matthew McConaughey didn’t return, so the film trusts solely on Channing Tatum, who plays once again the fantastic ‘Magic Mike’ Lane, to draw some excitement. However, he just couldn’t do it because the repetitive dance performances were never stirring and the bothersome episodes reserved by the plot didn’t work in any circumstance. Three years after he has renounced to the stripper life, Mike, takes a break from his own company to join the remaining ‘Kings of Tampa’, now preparing to retire in style. On their way to Myrtle Beach for one last performance, they’re subjected to a few meaningless experiences that switch from stupid to fabricated, or play both at the same time – to start, Mike flirts with Zoe aka Dolly Tits; then, he helps ‘Big Dick’ Richie retrieving the confidence in his sex-appealing; after that, they have a car accident that throws the driver to the hospital; the next cheesy episode is when Mike stops by a strip club he knows very well and reconnects with the mesmerized owner, Rome; before the last strip, the group still has time to reunite at the house of a middle-aged mom who was hosting a small party for her hysterical middle-aged friends. Shallow and staged, this XXL feels more like a lousy XXS. Did the fans ask for this?

July 15, 2015

Hard to Be a God (2015)

Hard to Be a God (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Aleksei German
Country: Russia

Movie Review: Dated from 2013 but actually being exhibited in NYC theaters in 2015, “Hard to Be a God” is the swan song from Russian filmmaker, Aleksei German, who died in 2013. The film is a freakish three-hour odyssey, with dark venues on the background, based on the 1964 novel of the same name by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Adapted by Mr. German and Svetlana Karmalita, the script is outlandishly drawn by an endless succession of abominable experiences and killings, presented in black and white, and set in a medieval, outer planet called Arkanar. The foggy, swampy, and muddy landscapes, together with the fierce hunt for thinkers and wise men, throw us into a chaos taken from the most hellish descriptions by Dante. Imagine a nefarious version of “Lord of the Rings”, with no magic or color, and injected by indecency, violence, eccentricity, and eeriness. The film starts by introducing the feared noble scientist, Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik), who is sent from Earth, in an attempt to save the persecuted wise ones. But for that, he will need the help of a doctor, Budhak, who had disappeared mysteriously. Seen as a God, and with more than 300 ears cut from the evildoers, Rumata will become fatigued from the murkiness that reigns in the planet where nobody seems to have a heart. Sometimes the film moves in a confusing way, bursting with so many odd characters and huddled scenarios – the ones that you can almost smell the pestilent air. The film wouldn’t lose meaning if trimmed for at least half-hour, but what might be exhaustive for some viewers, becomes a delight for others, especially for the enthusiasts of bizarre art house with a hint of classic. Here, one can find some terms of comparison with the last Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” and the Czech classic “Marketa Lazarova”. Monstrous and hilarious by turns, “Hard to Be a God” is a grotesque epic that despite nauseous, grabs you by the balls.

July 14, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream (2014)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Julie Taymor
Country: USA

Movie Review: Julie Taymor’s fondness for staged films is widely known, and the filmmaker makes now her third incursion in Shakespearean territory with the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which was captured in the sequence of her own off-Broadway production play. After the huge visibility obtained with the Broadway's “The Lion King” in 1997, her cinematic career began strongly and confident two years later with the gloomy “Titus”, starring Anthony Hopkins as the title character. After “Frida”, a quaint biopic about the surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, and “Across the Universe”, a lame musical inspired by the music of The Beatles, she returns to Shakespeare with the “The Tempest”, her weakest film so far. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, despite extended in duration and filmed in a real theater with an audience, compensates what the previous film had failed in terms of entertainment and craftsmanship. Dramatized with tenacity and often humor by the great cast, the story is faithful to the original, interconnecting four young Athenian lovers (Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius), a troupe of six laborers who are working on a play, and the fairyland characters (king Oberon, queen Titania, and a funny supernatural elflike creature called Puck). In this keen hybrid composition of live theater and cinema, Mrs. Taymor’s direction never loses track of the best moments offered by the settings of Es Devlin and the choreography of Brian Brooks. The score by the Academy awarded, Elliot Goldenthal, is another added value to a film that needs you receptive and in the right mood to fully enjoy it. Moviegoers will be divided, saying that better adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays were made for cinema. Even agreeing with them and considering that theater is not my cup of tea, I must say that I’ve found in this particular version an exquisite appeal that comes mostly from the performances of the cast and the technical implementation.

July 13, 2015

10,000 Km (2014)

10,000 Km (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Carlos Marques-Marcet
Country: Spain

Movie Review: Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer may have been the only actors in “10,000 Km”, but that reality didn’t undermine the low-budget drama, which is an upfront exercise mounted with earnestness by the debutant director and co-writer, Carlos Marques-Marcet. What seemed to be another inconsequential story of separation that relies on modern technology to survive, ended up evolving into a heartfelt experience where the feelings sprout genuinely intense in the day-to-day of Alex and Sergi, a couple from Barcelona whose love is put to a test when she goes to L.A. for a one-year artistic residency in photography. The challenge of staying apart and still have to make the relationship work, can be followed since ‘Day 1’ when the possibility is considered with mixed feelings amidst their Sunday routines. On one hand they’re happy since it’s an opportunity, taking into account the difficult economic times in Spain, but on the other hand, they know the separation won’t be easy, and a blend of fear and sadness install. The first day without each other – ‘Day 2’, starts enthusiastically with Alex showing her gorgeous house. However, along the way, every day will bring different emotional states and the moods will change accordingly. Sometimes they’re totally in tune with each other: cheerful and optimistic while throwing in witty lines, supportive and understanding, having virtual sex… but other times they’re sulking, arguing, or reconciling from those arguments that mirror their frustrations, the burden of waiting infinitely, and even occasional unjustified jealousy. Some other days are represented through few hasty images that suggest nothing but sleeping, boredom, or anxiety. Having gone through a similar situation with my wife (identically, she came to the US to study photography), I’ve identified myself with so many things here, what ascertains that Mr. Marques-Marcet knows what he’s portraying, crafting this film compellingly through the involving performances from the cohesive pair of actors.

July 10, 2015

Learning to Drive (2014)

Learning to Drive (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Isabel Coixet
Country: USA / UK

Movie Review: “Learning to Drive” expeditiously mixes drama, comedy and romance, relying on the always outstanding Patricia Clarkson and the multifaceted Ben Kingsley in the main roles, to create a feel-good movie, set in NYC, where the ethnic diversity reigns and the work messes so many times with people’s lives. The film marks the return of the Catalonian filmmaker Isabel Coixet, known for her deeply existential dramas such as “My Life Without Me”, “The Secret Life of Words”, and also “Elegy”, which had the participation of this same duo of actors. For this script by Sarah Kernochan based upon an article written for ‘The New Yorker’, she adopts a lighter mood and funnier posture, aspects that, despite bringing a sense of déjà-vu, worked charmingly within the context of the story and its location. The opening scenes are the strongest, establishing the proper foundations for what will come. The insecure literary reviewer, Wendy (Clarkson), jumps into the cab of Darwan Tur (Kingsley), in the middle of a big argument with her husband, Ted, who just expressed his intention to leave her after admitting an affair with a younger student. Unable to cope with the situation and lacking self-confidence, Wendy would never dream to get close to Darwan, a graduated American citizen of Indian descent, who lives in Queens with his undocumented nephew. All happened when she decided to take driving lessons with the acquainted cab driver. From then on, we are presented with some street adventures with Wendy taking the wheel, and also with the arrival from India of Darwan’s future wife, a modest woman sent by his sister, whom he had never met before. The lessons won’t make every problem disappear, but will have a positive effect on their personal lives. The film succeeds in most of its jokes while keeping projecting the NY warmness on its frames. Some situations of the storytelling, however, didn’t feel so new while other aspects, like Wendy’s imaginary encounters and her daughter’s amorous letdown, lacked relevance.

July 09, 2015

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Liz Garbus
Country: USA

Movie Review: During the last couple of months I had the chance to watch some movies about the life and work of musicians. From documentaries about Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, to fictional films based on real lives, cases of “Love & Mercy” about Brian Wilson, Mia Hansen-Love’s “Eden”, inspired on the life of the filmmaker’s brother, or the not so satisfying “Danny Collins”, which found its basis on the experiences of the folk singer Steve Tilston. Now’s the time for a biographical documentary film about the singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone, brought to us by the hand of Liz Garbus (“Love, Marilyn”). Pulsing with fierce energy and vibrating with the strong presence, both on and off the stage, of Ms. Simone (born Eunice Waymon), “What Happened, Miss Simone?” was treated in the most traditional way, fact that didn’t obfuscate the power and richness of the artist’s life, which speaks by itself. We can feel the anger and the no-fear attitude of Nina, a former Julliard’s classical pianist, whose concerts became a problem at some point due to the insistent and incisive social-political message. Having gone through racial discrimination, the intractable singer who started playing gigs in bars with a fake name so that her mother couldn’t find out, shows her difficult personality, an aggressive, revolutionary posture, and skills as a singer-pianist-composer. Ms. Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, explains to us why her life was a burden since her mother decided to abdicate of being a caring mom to embrace the artist 24/7. Other friends participate by commenting their own experiences with Nina or aspects of her private life, which includes her marriage with the abuser Andrew Stroud, a former cop who became her manager. Garbus managed to put together the essential pieces (archive footage and interviews) in order to create an exhilarating portrait of a lonely, bipolar musician who once affirmed: ‘I’m not nonviolent’.

July 08, 2015

Youth (2015)

Youth (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino
Country: Italy / Switzerland / others

Movie Review: The notable Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino, has a more nostalgic come back with “Youth”, an expressionistic and unflappable poetic opus reflecting on life, work, and creativity, aspects that are differently regarded by two aging, lifelong friends who are spending a period of time in a Swiss spa located near the Alps. The retired maestro and composer, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), became embittered and apathetic after his beloved wife got sick, having no intention to conduct again. He often enjoys the presence of his best friend and filmmaker, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) who, in turn, is overexcited with a new upcoming film that he intends to turn into a testament of life, the perfect ending for his career. The good friends like to take long walks, during which they talk about past happenings in detail, agreeing they’ve become forgetful. Occasionally, Fred and Mick have the company of a downcast Hollywood actor, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), and of Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz) who is trying to cope with the recent separation from Julian, Mick’s son, who has found in the eccentric pop-star, Paloma Faith (herself), his reason to live. Even the Argentine former soccer star, Maradona (Rolly Serrano), is present, attending to his bad shape, which also makes him wonder about the future. Apart from these secondary and yet conspicuous characters, it’s enriching to see how Fred and Mick change significantly when facing two personal challenges: the former received an invitation to play for the queen of England, while the latter gets disappointed when his first-choice actress, Brenda, refuses to participate in his film. Bringing to mind Raul Ruiz’s final work, the observant “Youth” doesn’t exhibit the same catchy sumptuousness as “The Great Beauty”, but still manages to create a salutary harmony when it puts together the diversified score, gentle pace, sturdy photography, and reliable performances. The hearty musical finale doesn’t beat Petzold’s “Phoenix”; anyhow, it’s still worthy of mention.

July 07, 2015

Jackie and Ryan (2014)

Jackie and Ryan (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ami Canaan Mann
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Jackie and Ryan”, the third feature film from writer-director Ami Canaan Mann, ends exactly as it starts, leaning on the same soft tones, which are never subjected to a variation along the story. Ben Barnes plays Ryan Brenner, a musician that travels in an open freight car, in winter, heading to Ogden, Utah, to see his long-time fellow, Cowboy, who meanwhile left his wife and little baby to try his luck on the road. Ryan won’t see or play no more with his mate whose story ends tragically, but will experience love when fate leads him to Jackie Lorel, dimly portrayed by Katherine Heigl, a former pop singer whose success a few years back allowed her to buy a valuable condominium in New York. Jackie is far from having a relaxed life. With a little daughter, she’s in the middle of a complicated divorce and struggles with financial problems. The approximation of Ryan, who also gains some inspiration to write his own music, will function as a stimulant for Jackie, now encouraged and determined to resolve her life. Sensitive but too moderate, “Jackie and Ryan” strolls on the edge of banality at the sound of folk melodies, threatening to dive into that obvious abyss. Ultimately, Ms. Canaan Mann wasn’t able to avoid this fatal step since the film remains in its folkie breezes and emotional torpor while trying to fabricate a couple of sweet romantic episodes and resolute moves. The script proved to have something to give, but the approach didn’t reveal a qualified maturity to consistently address the protagonists’ attachment and simultaneously create tension through their economic woes. Moreover, I found Ryan a considerably stronger character than Jackie, which contributed for the unevenness of the whole picture. The filmmaker engenders a happy finale for “Jackie and Ryan”, yet this very American drama fails to find its own melodies.

July 06, 2015

Amy (2015)

Amy (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Country: UK

Movie Review: Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy” about the British singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse is pretty absorbing but not so intense as his 2010’s “Senna” about the Brazilian F1 pilot, Ayrton Senna. In its first part, the film chronicles the ascension of the young artist, so profuse in the unique, eclectic pop-jazz that also finds its ground on soul, rhythm and blues, and reggae. Mr. Kapadia assembles home footage and audio voice recordings of her friends and family to describe how Amy gave the big jump from an unknown teen girl of Southgate, London, to one of the most appreciated singers/composers of our times, attaining the desired fame that, as she predicted, would drive her mad. The second part maintains the methodology, focusing more on the troubles and fall of the vocal talent who reached the glory with only two albums. The ones who were so important in Amy’s life, gave their contribution to the film: from her weak mother, Janis, and opportunist father, Mitch, to her childhood friends, Lauren Gilbert and Juliette Ashby; from her first manager, Nick Shymansky, and her bodyguard, Andrew Morris, to several musicians and producers who accompanied her in studio and on tour. Mandatorily, Kapadia emphasized her problematic relationship with Blake Fielder, who would become her husband and partner on the consumption of heavy drugs. The situation rapidly went out of control and Amy died in 2011 at the age of 27, victim of alcohol poisoning, alone at her home in Camden, London. The film, thoroughly edited by Chris King, comprehends concerts, partnerships (featuring Tony Bennett), prizes, health problems (eating disorders and bulimia), substances abuse, media invasion, depression, unconditional love, and regret for letting friends behind or sorrow for sometimes having been abandoned by some of them. The narrative cohesion was laudable, but the film kind of loses some grip in the last third, in part because, at that time, Amy’s life didn’t have much more to offer than failed rehabs and sad relapses into addiction.

July 03, 2015

A Second Chance (2014)

A Second Chance (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Country: Denmark

Movie Review: Promising were the first scenes of “A Second Chance”, a psychological crime thriller from the Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who filmed again in her country after the unexcitable American-French drama “Serena”, which once more gathered the trendy leading actors, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Unfortunately, the disquieting beginning soon slides into something, not only dark but ghastly, as well as revelatory but also disproportionate and strained. The grim plot, written by Bier’s long-time collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen (“Brothers”, “In a Better World”), is certainly his heaviest, and tells the story of Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a cop who reconnects with a known dangerous psychopath and heroin addict, Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), whose girlfriend, Sanne (May Andersen), called the police in an attempt to protect herself and their baby who was lying down inside a closet in deplorable conditions. This instance had emotional repercussions in Andreas who ran home to make sure his own little baby and his fatigued, vulnerable wife, Anne (Maria Bonnevie), were ok. At a first glance, everything was fine, but when unexpectedly the baby dies, the couple acts in a very distinct way. She completely freaks out, acting insane, while he maintains an earnest calmness but already with a not less insane plan in his mind: drop off his inanimate baby at the heroin junkies’ and steal theirs, in an attempt to ease the suicidal Anna. The brute Tristan, only thinking about how to avoid being sent to jail again, decides to simulate a kidnapping. Cold, depressing, and quite messy, “A Second Chance” takes the emotions to an extreme that doesn’t make it easy for the viewer to empathize with any of the unbalanced characters. Among the grievous performances, Mrs. Bonnevie stood out, in a screwed up tale that, even before halfway, made me lose hope in its personas. Mrs. Bier delays getting out of the tortuous cinematic paths she keeps embarking lately.

July 02, 2015

Who Am I (2014)

Who Am I (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Baran Bo Odar
Country: Germany

Movie Review: Bustling enough to cause some apprehension, but unoriginal in approach and storytelling, “Who Am I” is a German cybernetic thriller directed by Baran Bo Odar whose previous “The Silence” had given positive indications about his filmmaking aptitudes. The film stars Tom Schilling as Benjamin, an uncommunicative young man who, since childhood, has a crush on Marie, and wishes to have superpowers and invisibility. Being an outsider in the real world, he gains some self-respect on the Internet, as he becomes one of the most wanted hackers in Germany. Benjamin, seated on a chair with his hands tied, and bent over a table, tells to the suspended female inspector, Hanne Lindberg, how he was sentenced to 50 hours of community work for breaking into the university servers in order to help Marie. While carrying out this light sentence, he bumps into his dissimilar, Max (Elyas M’Barek), an insubordinate impostor who introduces him to Stefan, the one who can find any bug in any system, and Paul, a hardware expert, with whom they create a computer hacker group baptized as ‘CLAY’ that stands for ‘clowns laughing at you’. Mostly aiming at wealthy corporations and governmental services, which includes the foreign intelligence agency of Germany (BDN), the reserved and yet bright Benjamin will have to fight the most venerated online pirate, MRX, who allegedly belongs to the Russian mafia hacking group known as ‘Fr13nds’ and is implicated in a crime. The film can be described as “The Social Network” meets “The Prestige”, but still using familiar tones and well-worn narrative timbres, setting a bunch of clichéd situations that spin around with consecutive twists and turns without creating a beneficial impact. The score by Michael Kamm often transmits a sensation of more danger than what the film actually gives. I still have faith in Mr. Odar’s films, only this one didn’t work so well for me.

July 01, 2015

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Country: USA

Movie Review: Have you ever looked at someone and wonder what is going on inside his head? This is the premise of “Inside Out”, a mind-blowing adventure from Pixar Animated Studios and released by Walt Disney, that takes us on an inventive trip into the mind of the 12-year-old Riley Anderson. Going through a delicate phase after moving from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, the responsive Riley struggles with disparate emotional states. These emotions actuate inside her head, each of them exhibiting a cute graphical personification. Joy has a luminous female representation, displaying a modern blue hair and a casual green dress; the melancholic, chubby Sadness shows huge round glasses over a blue face; Fear is an anxious gentleman featuring a thin body and long nose; Disgust is a green lady with no much expression; and finally, Anger is a red man whose head turns into a flaming missile whenever the situation justifies his actions. All of them have access to complex mechanisms in Riley’s mind, place where we can also find islands of personality (honesty, friendship, etc.), golden spheres that represent memories, and the so important core memories. Also fantastic places such as Imaginationland and Dreamland can be reached, and if you want a shortcut to the headquarters, nothing better than call Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong, a pink creature that is part elephant, part cat, part something else. It was funny to see how Joy and Sadness had to cooperate to help, and how everyone intervenes when Fear and Anger dominate. The American Oscar-winner, Pete Docter, keeps up the fantastic work both as a writer (“Toy Story”, “Wall.E”) and director of animation (“Monsters Inc.”, “Up”), here assisted by Ronaldo Del Carmen. Lovely design, tactful and intelligible story, and rewarding message make of “Inside Out” the animated feature of the year.

June 30, 2015

Advantageous (2015)

Advantageous (2015) - New Movie Review
Directed by: Jennifer Phang
Country: USA

Movie Review: Set in a near future where economic power keeps strangling the chances of happy lives, “Advantageous” tells the story of Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) who opts to sacrifice everything she had built for the sake of her talented 12-year-old daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim). Gwen is an independent single mother who has been the face of a cosmetics company during most of her life. Bad news arrives in many ways: first she acknowledges that her daughter, despite the high intellectual capabilities demonstrated, wasn’t accepted in Arcadia school. Instead, she’s going to Eastern school whose tuition is double. Simultaneously, the company’s chief, Dave Fisher (James Urbaniak), informs her that her contract won’t be renewed and that they’re already looking for a younger candidate to replace her. Deeply concerned with her daughter’s future, a few difficult options will come to Gwen’s mind: call her estranged mother and ask for money; expose the situation to Jules’ father, confronting him for the first time and triggering a family crisis since he’s married to her cousin Lily; and the toughest one, requires her to make permanent changes by adapting her mind into a younger body, a tech operation that also demands enduring pain, take a shot every two hours for a year, and being reminded about everything that’s important. Directed with an advantageous sobriety by Jennifer Phang, this slight sci-fi flows at a consistent pace, impelling us to be supportive with the dedicated mom. The camera moves with confidence and objectivity, pulling out images with a tasteful sense of aesthetics, in a mix of real world, as we know it, and an understated imagined future that conveys mystery at every shot. Mrs. Phang’s approach is comfortable and exquisitely sophisticated while Jacqueline Kim is superb as Gwen, displaying sadness and inner anxiety while weighing the pros and cons of a step that has no turning back.

June 29, 2015

Glass Chin (2014)

Glass Chin (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Noah Buschel
Country: USA

Movie Review: The term ‘fighter’s chin’ is used in a figurative way to specify the ability of a pugilist to absorb blows in the chin before being knocked down. In this particular sports crime thriller, “Glass Chin” refers to the protagonist, Bud Gordon (Corey Stoll), a former boxing champion who tries to put order in his personal life after being let down by his chin. Still affected, he reacts badly when a homeless guy recognizes him and addresses his weak final fight. On the other hand, Bud feels both support and pressure whenever he returns to his New Jersey’s apartment because his confidante girlfriend, Ellen (Marin Ireland), wants him to find a propitious job. However, Bud spends his days on two very different activities: one of them is noble - training a new promising young boxer called Kid Sunshine; the other is unsafe - working for J.J. (Bill Crudup), a dishonorable restaurateur who hates everything that’s ordinary, like doing the laundry, and dedicates himself to other activities, including criminal ones. Bud is easily framed, right after he starts collecting money from a few terrified debtors under the orders of the ruthless Roberto (Yul Vazquez), J.J.’s devoted disciple, who justifies that his boss likes to own people. Restrained indignation and tremendous courage will intertwine when J.J. requests the adulteration of Kid Sunshine’s next fight. Far from the graciousness of his previous film, a fetching romance entitled “Sparrows Dance”, writer/director Noah Buschel presents us with a crude filmmaking style where the dark images overwhelm us with its objectionable looks. A lukewarm pace and a too ponderous approach didn’t help this quiet crime thriller having real thrills. Similarly, the story lets us down, being equal to other stories that we’ve seen a million times before, never adding that discerning touch that would allow emotions to come out clearly and genuinely. As for the acting, it lacked authenticity in several occasions and only Stoll sparingly seems to fit.

June 26, 2015

Dope (2015)

Dope (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Rick Fumuyiwa
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Dope” is a diverting juvenile comedy set in the tough L.A. neighborhood of Inglewood. Its first frame defines three possibilities for the word that composes its title and each definition relates somehow to the story of Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a geeky black high-school senior who is introduced to us when he stops pedaling to stare at Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), apparently a girl beyond his reach. Always followed by his also geek friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), who dresses as a boy and doesn’t admit white guys to call her ‘nigga’, and Jib (Tony Revolori), a Latino who is totally accepted as part of the clan, the Harvard-aspirant Malcolm will disregard important school exams and interviews when in possession of a backpack containing dope and a gun, material belonging to Nakia’s dealer boyfriend. Without knowing what to do and chased by other dealers, the three friends end up relying on Will, a white, dope-addict partygoer who suggests selling the stuff online. The scheme is carried out with some risk, like entering the school and avoid being frisked by the complacent security guard. But the real key to success is the indirect help of Lily (Chanel Iman), a wasted, frivolous, wild girl with whom they come across. She triggers the nastiest scene of the film when pukes on Malcolm’s face while jumping naked on top of him. Rousing and well disposed, “Dope” only wasn’t better because of some improbable situations portrayed in the sometimes-shaky script by director Rick Famuyiwa - one of them was the romance between the horny Malcolm and Nakia. While most of the jokes are effective, the supposedly funny scenes aren’t so good after all, with exception of a raucous stealing of a sneaker and the fact that the trio of pals, being devoted to the hip-hop of the 90s, plays a totally different style in their band, creating a deliberate case of absurdness. “Dope” is a teen pleaser, and Mr. Famuyiwa gives a positive step in a directorial career that had been trivial until this release.

June 25, 2015

Runoff (2014)

Runoff (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kimberly Levin
Country: USA

Movie Review: First time director, Kimberley Levin, presents us a sensitive small-scale drama about a Kentucky farm family that keeps struggling with financial problems, questioning aspects such as human necessity and the morality of some decisions, also sparking impactful ecological considerations. Betty Freeman (Joanne Kelly) is a dedicated beekeeper and caring mother of two sons - the self-assured Finley, who keeps drawing quietly with the goal of attending an art school in New York, and little Sam, who likes to play with his friend near the river despite the warnings of his parents not to do so. She also maintains a stupendous relationship with her husband, Frank (Neal Huff), who administrates antibiotics to the animals in the nearest farms of the region. However, the business became slow due to the unmatchable fierce approach of a concurrent larger corporate named Giga, which gradually is leading the Freeman Farms and other similar small businesses into bankruptcy. In the imminence of losing their property and confronted with Frank’s deteriorating health condition, supposedly due to the use of chemicals, the couple will glimpse a way out when proposed an illegal business made by Scratch (Tom Bower), an old dairy farmer. Compellingly done, deeply felt, and consciously scary, “Runoff” could have put some more thrill in one or other scene. Regardless the quiet posture adopted, which enhances more the inner states of the characters rather than creates real tension, the film presents other aspects to be recognized, like the accomplished performances of Joanne Kelly, Neal Huff, and particularly the young Alex Shaffer as the eldest son, as well as Levin’s thorough filmmaking, so attractive for the eye. This is a promising, eye-opener debut.

June 24, 2015

She's Lost Control (2014)

She's Lost Control (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by:Directed by: Anja Marquardt
Country: USA

Movie Review: Anja Marquardt’s directorial debut is a slippery, low-budget indie drama, set in New York, which is unable to suppress a painful superficiality of a plot about a sexual surrogate who, in a prohibitive way, falls for a client. About to finish her masters in behavioral psychology, Ronah (Brooke Bloom) is a gentle, self-assured woman who helps men with high levels of anxiety and problems in achieving intimacy in a relationship. When Johnny (Marc Menchaca), a reticent nurse who takes care of his handicapped sister after work, signs the agreement and pays, Ronah was far from imagining she would fall for him after breaking the initial emotional impasse. This situation, besides compromising the trust that was patiently built in their professional relationship, triggers other dangers for her to be closely exposed. Apart from this central topic, Ronah has other concerns such as freezing her eggs for the future, dealing with construction issues at her apartment and the imminence of a lawsuit, and giving all the support she can to her brother while he takes care of their sick mother. The film is sluggish and yet mysterious in a first phase, but after a while it sticks solely with the sluggish. The highly structured images oppose to a series of happenings that are presented in a disorganized and underdeveloped way. Choppily edited by Marquardt and Nick Carew, “She’s Lost Control” seems more a set of collages that slowly lead us to an upsetting ending. Mrs. Marquardt has several narrative constraints to analyze in her premier, regardless the controlled technical routines of her filmmaking style and a droll cinematography by Zack Galler. Even Brooke Bloom seems not to fit quite well, and the depth of the accounts portrayed here was never satisfying.