May 27, 2015

Gueros (2014)

Gueros (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alonso Ruiz Palacios
Country: Mexico

Movie Review: It’s impossible not to feel some empathy with “Gueros”, a very Mexican experience with a touch of the 60’s French New Wave from debutant director Alonso Ruiz Palacios. With a virtuous sense of humor, Palacios, who co-wrote with Gibrán Portela (“The Golden Dream”), addresses the student youth in Mexico City through the story of Fede (Tenoch Huerta), aka Sombra, a reclusive, depressed, and aimless university student, experiencing panic attacks, whose life will change completely after the unforeseen arrival of his younger brother, Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre). The latter, evincing an ebullient personality, soon starts complaining and yelling against the numbness of his brother who shares the filthy apartment with another slacker called Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris). When Tomas finds out that an old popular Mexican singer, Epigmenio Cruz, is hospitalized nearby, they decide to visit him, right after the drunken Sombra has been forcibly evacuated from home due to stealing electricity from a neighbor. The times are of protest and a big student strike movement is taking place in the university and often throughout the streets. The leader of this movement is Sombra’s girlfriend, Ana (Ilse Salas), who is persuaded to join the trio of boys in an adventurous trip. A trip whose distinct and uneven episodes try to mirror the state of today’s Mexico with its revolutions, pop culture, and socio-political problems – aspects that not always take the best course here but also never dismantle our interest. In particular occasions, like when the protagonists admit they’re in a film within the film, it seems that the story is going to turn into something different, an expectation that keeps us holding on. “Gueros” makes sure to show all these conjunctures but never bothers in confronting or exploring them further. Nevertheless, ambition and filmmaking ability is something that Palacios attested; it’s a pity he didn’t take more advantage of that.

May 26, 2015

Every Secret Thing (2014)

Every Secret Thing (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Amy Berg
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Every Secret Thing” starts holding our attention by presenting a promising package of drama and crime, but sooner than we expected and even before totally unwrapped, it becomes a huge disappointment. In truth, the potential of this story, adapted by Nicole Holofcener - the competent writer/director of “Please Give” and “Enough Said” - from a crime novel of the same name by the American author Laura Lippman, is totally inhibited by an unsuccessful direction, screenwriting, and cinematography. Only the casting, with diligent performances from Danielle Macdonald and Dakota Fanning, was passable. The film, produced by the celebrated actress Frances McDormand, was directed by Amy Berg, who deserved accolade for chronicling two disturbing legitimate cases in the documentaries “Deliver Us From Evil” (2006) and “West of Memphis” (2012), but showed serious gaps in this first fictional feature-length. The plot brings out two neighbor friends, the apparently reasonable Alice and the unmannerly Ronny, who were implicated in the disappearance of a baby child, taken from a stroller that was placed in the porch of a house close to theirs. Both were sent to a correction facility for seven years. Now with 18, they’re back, but is Alice who causes polemics by saying she has paid for a crime she didn’t commit. When another 3-year-old is missing, detectives Kevin Jones and Nancy Porter get back to the two teens, who become suspects once again. Everything was poorly done, starting with the messed-up plot and crooked details, going through a disintegrated structure and melancholic undertones, and finishing in its unappealing dark images. A couple of twists resulted pathetically inefficient since everything is too revelatory and the surprises are null. If you’re craving for mystery and thrills, skip this one.

May 25, 2015

Tomorrowland (2015)

Tomorrowland (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Brad Bird
Country: USA

Movie Review: George Clooney stars in “Tomorrowland”, a futuristic Walt Disney Studios saga that didn’t show sufficient motives for being considered remarkable despite its well-intentioned message. This is the second participation of Clooney in a sci-fi in two years, after the stunning “Gravity”, but the renowned actor didn’t exceed the expectations here, likely due to a discouraging plot packed with too many dimensions and time travels, assembled without a solid structural dorsal spine. The animator Brad Bird, author of “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles”, directed the film. Only this time, on the contrary of the mentioned movies, he was very far from triumph. What went wrong? The performances? The special-effects? The plot? Well, I would say a bit of all these aspects, aggravated with the use of an intrusive, old-fashioned score, and a structure that jolts intermittently. The movie starts with the inventor Frank Walker (Clooney) talking about the future to an indistinct audience, being constantly interrupted by the voice of a woman. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is her name - an optimistic young tech-savvy who played a key role in the past when she received a time-shifting pin that took her straight into the future. During that time, she was protected by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a self-conscious girl-shaped animatronic robot whose mission was to recruit the ‘special ones’ in order to recover a condemned world. Combating against evil robots, the three of them will try to reach their final destination: a mysterious place known as Tomorrowland whose ruler is David Nix (Hugh Laurie), an old acquaintance of Frank and Athena, who failed to be the heinous villain the story required. “Tomorrowland” is noble in its efforts and morals, but lacked spontaneity in the acting, nerve in its visuals, and strength in the narrative. Inauspiciously familiar, this is just another sci-fi that promises more than it gives.

May 22, 2015

Animals (2014)

Animals (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Collin Schiffli
Country: USA

Movie Review: The versatile American actor David Dastmalchian writes, produces, and stars in “Animals”, the directorial debut from Collin Schiffli with whom he had already worked in “The Dark Knight Rises”, the former as an actor and the latter as an additional production assistant. The story, set in Chicago, shoves us into a fragment of the restless lives of Jude (Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw), a couple of heroin junkies in love, who don’t have to worry about paying a rent since they sleep in their car, but have to struggle daily in order to assure their dosage. Driven by necessity and uncertainty, the couple relies on a few scams, some of them pretty inventive while others not really, to get the money that will be spent later on, when Jude visits their regular dealer. Arranging fake sexual encounters for Bobbie, stealing CD’s from music stores, misleading security guards with a missing-laptop scheme, and trying to obtain medicines from hospitals, are all part of their sordid enterprises. There’s an obvious complacency whenever they’re in possess of the drugs, and we can see them injecting themselves on the neck, feet and hands, whether in restrooms of restaurants, whether in cheap motel rooms. But not everything goes smoothly and the danger lurks from many corners, like when they were intercepted by violent, greedy cops, or when a new dealer fools them by selling a false substance. Sometimes the desperate predators are not so ‘animals’ and are taken by an occasional self-conscience and common sense - Jude felt incapable to ‘attack’ a mother rocking her baby in a stroller. Taking the theme into account, “Animals” can be considered understated since the protagonists’ relationship surpasses somehow the addiction issue. An optimistic, well-intentioned finale is the culmination of a story that exhibited a tragic predisposition.

May 21, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: George Miller
Country: Australia / USA

Movie Review: The enthusiastic moviegoers yearning for a rebirth of ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky, immortalized by Mel Gibson in the early 80’s, can rest now. Director George Miller’s fourth post-apocalyptic road movie, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, is a meritorious follow up to the cult trilogy. The quiet loner Max, now played by Tom Hardy, continues his adventures in a dystopian Australia where the immense deserted landscapes sustain high-speed raging battles, most of them inventively crafted through futuristic vehicles, sufficiently freakish props, and gruesome faces. In the breathtaking opening scene, we observe Max being trapped and turned prisoner by the War Boys, the faithful army of the despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the one who, from his Citadel, controls all the water supplies of the area. Max becomes the official blood donor of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), an ambitious sick War Boy who, later on, will join him in the fierce rebellion against Joe, led by the one-armed soldier, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Joe’s five beautiful wives, whose existence is resumed to giving birth, flee with Furiosa, who drives a heavily-armored War Rig toward East, looking for the ‘Green Place’, a vivid memory from her childhood. The tyrannical Joe reunites his army to chase the eight fugitives. I simply loved the guy hanging on the front of a car, insanely playing an electric guitar. Max, who keeps tormented by visions of his dead daughter and other ghosts, is the one to engender a risky and yet clever move: turn back to the Citadel. Mr. Miller takes a better advantage of the technology at his disposal, and yet the impetuously wild scenes never felt digitally manipulated. The elementary plot proves there’s no need for elaborate plots or subplots to set up a decent action-packed film. The power of cinema can marvel!

May 20, 2015

Testament of Youth (2014)

Testament of Youth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: James Kent
Country: UK

Movie Review: “Testament of Youth” is a biographical drama based on the World War I memoir by the English writer and pacifist, Vera Brittain, played here with perseverance by Alicia Vikander, the one who gained our attention some weeks ago as Ava, the robot, in the commendable sci-fi “Ex Machina”. Despite Vikander’s endeavor to get everything right, properly shaping Vera’s personality, the drama, adapted by Juliette Towhidi and directed by James Kent, never took the bull by the horns, conveying the sensation that much better should have been done. I had difficulty finding a strong emotional link with the main character. Even completely identifying and understanding her condition, I simply resigned myself to her grief in a state of indifference. Both director and screenwriter share responsibilities in the case, first because the awkward camera work didn’t win me over, and second because the story lingers more than it should in certain scenes and details, which once absorbed, should have progressed in a more straightforward way. Almost every affective connection created between the viewer and the character, at a certain point, is dissolved in the following scene, time when a new effort is required to reestablish the connection. The viewers should be spared to these relapses to avoid falling into monotony. The misty cinematography by Rob Harden, who had showed aptitude in “Ex Machina” and “Boy A”, was perfectly suitable for the time and place, and his sporadic unfocused images didn’t bother me at all. In the end, “Testament of Youth” is not so strong when intersects the anguish of loss in wartime with the pacifism that, in a noble way, started gaining life. Obviously, this point of view only applies to the film itself and not to the respectful principles and deeds of Vera Brittain.

May 19, 2015

The Age of Adaline (2015)

The Age of Adaline (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger
Country: USA

Movie Review: What an irksome trip, spanned over many decades, is presented to us in “The Age of Adaline”, an epic fantasy romance directed by the young talent, Lee Toland Krieger, who did a much interesting job in the more realistic and charming “Celeste and Jesse Forever”. Mr. Krieger takes on a script, written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, which is not so original as desired, and with the help of a narrator, tells us the long life of Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), a woman born in 1908 who became ageless at the age of 29, after being mysteriously hit by a lightning bolt during a car accident. This unexplainable episode forces her to constantly change identities and move out to cover her secret. Her daughter, Fanning, becomes the only person who knows the truth, aging as her mother remains young and knowledgeable. The narrative restarts in a New Year’s Eve party, this time with no voiceover, where Adaline, now under the name of Jennifer Larson, falls in love with Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). Tired of running away, she struggles with herself from not being able to embrace this genuine love with all her heart. After a period of caution and hesitation, she decides to give Ellis a chance. However, she will be caught off guard when she meets Ellis’ father, William (Harrison Ford), her former lover at a young age. Playing with the timeline and fortuity, “The Age of Adaline” will bring up to mind other related films, cases of “Benjamin Button” and “Big”. I can assure you that it doesn’t do better than any of them, relying on a too schematic structure, a too invariable tone that tilts to sweetness, and a few too obtuse scenes that help dragging the film down. The result? It’s too short to deserve attention.

May 18, 2015

Slow West (2015)

Slow West (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: John Maclean
Country: UK / New Zealand

Movie Review: “Slow West” represents an auspicious debut for writer-director John Maclean who incorporates old and modern formulas to turn this western into an eventful 19th century’s odyssey that brings a madly-in-love 16-year-old Scottish boy to the American West, looking for his true love. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the boy in question and the girl he’s trying to find is Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). What Jay doesn’t know is that Rose is wanted dead or alive, a situation that drives several bounty hunters to the region, eager to put their hands on the $2000 reward. Fortunately, Jay won’t do this trip alone, counting with the gun skills of a lonely drifter, Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), the narrator of the story, who offers himself to protect him from hunters, desperados, and Indians. Among the bad-asses, one is particularly feared – Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), a sly wolf who made a pretty funny appearance; with a cigar between his lips and covered in a big fur coat, he asked Silas in the middle of the woods: ‘may I enter?’. Along the journey, Jay and his secretive pal will come across good and bad people, but among all the situations, two of them are definitely good: the first was when Jay was forced to shoot down an intimidating immigrant mother; the second happened when during a furtive Indian attack, he avoids an arrow from hitting his face in an exceptional reflex. Gorgeous landscapes accommodate these precipitate encounters, which circumstantially are suspended by flashbacks of the protagonists’ past. Jay’s sense of purity, endless passion, and astute observations are what propel us being fond of him. As for Mr. Maclean, who managed to follow his own orientation whenever it was justified, praise should be given to him for cooking the plot with homogeneity and no pressure, and for setting up a memorable climax built on a rousing final shootout.

May 15, 2015

Magical Girl (2014)

Magical Girl (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Carlos Vermut
Country: Spain / France

Movie Review: “Magical Girl”, which opens and closes with a mesmeric moment of magic, doesn’t hesitate to astonish the viewers with a few refreshing plot details. The story centers on two strangers, Luis (Luis Bermejo) and Barbara (Barbara Lennie), whose lives converge at some point. Luis is an unemployed former teacher who wants to pamper his 12-year-old daughter, Alicia, a devoted enthusiast of anime series and Japanese pop songs, with the gift she ever dreamt – a unique dress that costs 7000 Euros. The reason for this is that Alicia is dying from leukemia. Since the books he often sells by weight are insufficient to collect the total amount, he sees a golden opportunity to get it by blackmailing a mentally troubled woman called Barbara, with whom he slept right after meeting her in undesirable circumstances. Barbara hides a mysterious past that involves an obsessed professor from her youth, and lives comfortably with her well-established psychiatrist husband. Nevertheless, and since she can’t get an excuse to ask him such a great amount, she resorts to her former employer, Ada, who runs a prostitution business. Barbara is then introduced to a sinister man in a wheelchair who arranges bizarre sexual encounters. She ends up paying Luis, but the game was far from reaching an end. Filmmaker Carlos Vermut embraces drama and thriller with the same spontaneous conviction, in this meticulous tale of revenge(s) that mesmerizes us from the first minute. Even if we have a slight impression that some of the visuals and mood had been borrowed from other movies, we can’t help being dragged by the clever plot, clean appearance, and a disconcertingly intriguing structure. Quietly disturbing, this penetrating neo-noir thriller relies more in a cruel insanity than any kind of magic.

May 14, 2015

Heaven Knows What (2014)

Heaven Knows What (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ben and Joshua Safdie
Country: USA

Movie Review: Somewhere between “Streetwise” (a confessed influence) and “Panic in Needle Park”, “Heaven Knows What” was written by Joshua Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, based on the forthcoming autobiographical work “Mad Love in New York City” by the protagonist and first-time actress, Arielle Holmes. Arielle plays a version of herself under the name Harley, a homeless heroin junky whose boundless love for other junky, the ungenerous and inscrutable, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), made her slit the wrists as a way of proving it. Constantly left behind by Ilya, Harley repudiates the funny stalker, Skully (Ron Braunstein aka Necro), and joins the dealer, Mike (Buddy Duress - a real street legend from Queens), who is actually more concerned with his drugs than anything else. Directed by NY brothers, Joshua and Ben Safdie (“Daddy Longlegs”), the film – an independent blend of fiction and documentary with a 70’s look and bristling synth score - is set with vibrant tones and exhibits a notable camera work, as well as a radiant photography by Sean Price Williams (“Listen Up Philip”). The performances were consistently compelling, especially if we consider that most of the main actors are not so experienced. One exception is Landry Jones, who was given leading roles in “Antiviral” and more recently in John Boorman’s “Queen and Country”. This doomed love story was approached with total respect for its character, smartly combining a few amusing situations with the unhappiness that involves the whole story. The ending was particularly intriguing, making me wonder what, in fact, happened to the real Arielle. Did she ever change her life? Is she stranded at the same point as before? Even if not at the same level as its influences, “Heaven Knows What” induces sincerity in its reenactments, dragging us out of our comfort zones.

May 13, 2015

24 Days (2014)

24 Days (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alexandre Arcady
Country: France

Movie Review: Algerian-born French director, producer and co-writer, Alexandre Arcady, probes the real incidents that devastated a Parisian Jewish family in 2006. The case was known as ‘The Affair of the Gang of Barbarians’, where 27 people were tried for kidnapping, torture, and consequent death of a modest cell phone salesman, Ilan Halimi, who died 24 days after his capture by a ruthless gang that operated both in France and Ivory Coast. At the time, the case shocked France since anti-Semitism and financial reasons were proved to be on the basis of the crime. Zabou Breitman impersonates Ruth Halimi, the disconsolate mother, who after introducing herself, starts narrating how her beloved son suddenly fell in the hands of a gang whose leader, Youssouf Fofana aka Django, became the negotiator of the ransom. Ilan was conducted to his aggressive captors by a mysterious beautiful woman who met him at his store. The family decides to follow the police advice: not to pay the ransom and negotiate with the unscrupulous leader of the gang, who becomes more and more impatient, as well as discredited in the eyes of his accomplices due to the impasse created. False suspects and clues, descriptions that don’t match at all, and a bunch of threatening phone calls, most of them to Ilan’s father, Didier (Pascal Elbé), consume some time until taking us somewhere. The film is not devoid of tension, passing some of the anxiety to the viewer. It doesn’t reinvent the formula, but its narrative doesn’t compromise either, in spite of some repetitive basic procedures and circumstantial overdramatic scenes. Generally speaking, Mr. Arcady maintains the film controlled, and even if it’s not a great thriller, “24 Days” provides an acceptable fact-based reconstruction of a shameful operation.

May 12, 2015

Maggie (2015)

Maggie (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Henry Hobson
Country: USA

Movie Review: When the world becomes a dreadful stage populated by zombies, the ones who are not contaminated try, by all means, to follow the basic security procedures that allow them to protect themselves and their families. The only one who seems not to be conscious about the risks involved in the matter is Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a small-town farmer who defies everyone and everything to liberate his infected daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), from the hospital’s quarantine and bring her home, despite the discernible reluctance of his apprehensive wife. Maggie, a spoiled teenager whose arm is increasingly putrefying, compulsively cries after realizing her horrible condition, and yet in the next scene, she unconcernedly laughs in the company of her bullheaded father, perhaps in a frivolous attempt to alleviate a mood that was never gripping. A multiplicity of dull situations is thrown at us, causing my impatience to grow exponentially as the time passes. I couldn’t help chuckle sarcastically when the family doctor rebukes Maggie for having chopped her finger off, underlining that her repulsive arm is to be kept in spite of the spreading wound. The dialogue is as rotten as Maggie’s arm, and the monotone voice of the ex-Governor Schwarzenegger, a stiff actor, dramatically speaking, contributed to the general discouragement. Lukas Ettlin’s unexceptional cinematography, in addition to David Wingo’s half-tense half-sentimental score, weren’t the fundamental keys required, since the script itself revealed a feebleness that relegates this post-apocalyptic zombie flick to the list of undesirables. “Maggie” was sloppy instead of thrilling, and feckless instead of captivating. It feels like a joke, impossible to be taken seriously.

May 11, 2015

Welcome to Me (2014)

Welcome to Me (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shira Piven
Country: USA

Movie Review: Shira Piven’s sophomore feature, “Welcome To Me”, is a mordant voyage into the disturbed mind of the self-centered Alice Klieg (magnificently played by Kristen Wiig), a fanatic of Oprah Winfrey, who was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder when she was 16 and is willing to spend a great part of her Mega-Millions fortune in the production of a television talk show whose topic is herself. Ironically or not, the film opens with a Montaigne’s sentence that starts: ‘I studied myself more than any other subject’. Well, we can’t say Alice knows herself, especially after stop taking the medication by her own initiative, getting more and more unpredictable and whimsical - after becoming a millionaire, she moved into a reservation casino and has a white limo waiting at the door. Her ridiculous 2-hour show ranges from culinary lessons, where she can silently eat up a big slice of meatloaf cake, to dramatic reenactments of both traumatic and joyous situations of her past. When her show goes on the air for the first time, she demonstrates an uncontrollable satisfaction in front of the cameras, talking about her illness and shamelessly making intimate revelations, like how she has been using masturbation as a sedative for so many years. As if this is not enough, her show gets a new dimension after she burns herself in the chest with hot soup and performs a dog castration, causing a judicial process by the ASPCA. In the meantime, the outrageous Alice sees a lot of personal relationships going bad, understanding that they must be fixed. “Welcome To Me” managed drawing some hilariously crazy moments but started slumping in the last third, exactly when Alice decides to make up with her beloved ones. Piven’s direction didn’t stand out, but didn’t compromise either, whereas Wiig is at her career-best.

May 08, 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Country: UK / USA

Movie Review: Carey Mulligan gives a resplendent performance in “Far From The Madding Crowd”, the newest adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name, this time written by David Nicholls and directed by the Danish Thomas Vinterberg (“The Celebration”, “The Hunt”). This same novel had been adapted to the big screen for several times, with the John Schlesinger’s 1967 version, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terrence Stamp, and Peter Finch, being the most successful one. Vinterberg’s modern adaptation was set with dignity, bestowing the required variations in mood, tenderness, and passion without falling in tear-jerking schemes. I have to give him the merit for maintaining high levels of interest and motivation in the story, from start to finish. With the rustic visuals of Victorian England’s countryside as background, Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan), a beautiful, progressive, and independent woman, refuses to get married with her aunt’s neighbor, the young shepherd, Gabriel Oak (Mathias Schoenaerts), even nurturing some affection for him. All of a sudden, the latter falls into ruin and moves to a contiguous land, exactly where Bathsheba inherited the best farm from an uncle. After meeting again, they become the closest friends and the loyal Gabriel agrees to work for her. His quietness doesn’t conceal his passion, however, his patient heart is crushed when two other suitors start to court Miss Everdene. One is a nervously obsessive wealthy man called Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the other is the broken yet dauntless Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), a master in swordsmanship whose bitterness thickens day by day since he was far from his true love, Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple). Uninventive but charming, this opportune, nice-looking film adds appreciable value to the uncertain romantic dramas that keep arriving in theaters.

May 07, 2015

The Cut (2014)

The Cut (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Fatih Akin
Country: Germany / others

Movie Review: German filmmaker/screenwriter of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin, roundly stumbles in “The Cut”, a grim picture about an Armenian family man who survives the terrible genocide inflicted by the Turkish in 1915, during the Ottoman Empire. The sad story of Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim), who was hauled from his house and taken to isolated arid mountains for hard labor, never truly did much to gain our attention and cogitation. He miraculously survives the massive throat slitting perpetrated by the oppressors but loses his voice. After briefly joining a group of rebels, he decides to abandon them and go after his family. The only one he finds with life is his sister-in-law who, in a deplorable state, expects being struck by death at any minute. Hapless and emotionally devastated, a little hope will spark in his heart when he bumps into an old acquaintance that tells him his twin daughters might be still alive. The relentless search takes him to Havana and then to the US, where a few intractable episodes won’t frustrate the renewed Nazareth of regaining hope and faith. Whatever were the intentions of the acclaimed Mr. Akin, who has unforgettable dramas in his curriculum such as “Head On” and “The Edge of Heaven”, “The Cut” slides into commercial territory, and in any occasion was sufficiently gritty to knock us down, squandering all the chances to escape banality and cause a positive impression. This dismal exercise, which shares a few tedious similarities with “The Water Diviner” in a different historical context, uses six distinct languages to construct an overlong narrative that falls short of its dramatic ambitions. Tahar Rahim’s performance failed to be compelling, while talented Mr. Akin was never so boring before, evincing an embarrassing lack of vision.

May 06, 2015

Iris (2014)

Iris (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Albert Maysles
Country: USA

Movie Review: Flamboyant, genuine, creative, funny, and with a delightful personality, the 93-year-old fashion icon and interior designer, Iris Apfel, was chosen to be the subject of another great documentary by the legendary Albert Maysles, who died on March 5th at the age of 88. He and his brother David became known for covering memorable realities, which were depicted in no less memorable nonfictional motion pictures such as “Salesman”, “Grey Gardens”, and “Gimme Shelter”. With an experience that admirably puts together the required straightforwardness and preciseness in the art of filmmaking, Maysles relied on the adroit editing by Paul Lovelace, building the perfect structure to put us in complete harmony with the self-assured Iris. In this film we learn much more about Mrs. Apfel than just the importance of her famous huge round glasses, colorful way of dressing, or the fashionable combinations of oddly shaped necklaces and bracelets, which all together compose her stylish look. Here we are the spectators of her enormous passion, dedication, generosity, and even the burden of aging. Her husband Carl revealed himself as witty as she is, contributing heavily to enrich the film. Iris describes herself in different manners, using sentences that remain in our heads for a while, so honest and true they sounded. Examples? ‘With me there's no intellectual, it’s all guts’, ‘it’s better to be happy than well-dressed’, ‘I was never beautiful, so I had to do something else to become attractive’, ‘I never wanted children – in life you got to give up something’. As fashion was never one of my topics of interest, I was suspicious about how would I react to this film. Gladly, I left the theater feeling great since “Iris” showed plenty of life, heart, and color. Wonderful goodbye for Albert Maysles.

May 05, 2015

Alleluia (2014)

Alleluia (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Fabrice Du Welz
Country: Belgium / France

Movie Review: An unsettling portrait of an uncontrollable obsessive love, which becomes stained by blood, is what the Belgian film director, Fabrice Du Welz, submits in his fourth and strongest feature-length, “Alleluia”, a twin of the classic noir ‘Honeymoon Killers’. The film, celebrating an infusion of crime thriller and horror, is divided into four acts, each of them corresponding to a different woman. These women are the victims of Michel (Laurent Lucas), a persuasive sort-of-sorcerer with a fetish for feet, who seduces them (marrying if needed) with the unique goal of seamlessly steal their money, so he can proceed with his comfortable life. In the first of these acts, he conquers Gloria (Lola Dueñas), a morgue employee and single mother who shortly finds out his dishonorable intentions, but resolves to forgive and accept him as he is. She even decides to leave her beloved daughter behind for a while to help him in his following schemes. Pretending to be his sister, she is invaded by a fierce jealousy every time he’s with his new ‘brides’, a state only comparable to an evil possession that shoves her to kill brutally and remorselessly. Even if not original, the energy and eeriness put on the scenes were sufficient to instantly catch our eye. The camera moves fast, in bold movements, often relying on close-ups to intensify the immoral insanity of the couple. Technically, “Alleluia” offers much to admire. In addition to Vincent Cahay’s score, which varies from intensively glum to frantically rhythmic, cinematographer Manuel Dacosse was able to extract beauty from the most horrific scenes, continuing the amazing work he has presented in Cattet/Forzani’s vividly colored films. Competently edited by Anne-Lore Guéguin, the obscene “Alleluia” is a perverse odyssey of love and madness.

May 04, 2015

Adult Beginners (2014)

Adult Beginners (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ross Katz
Country: USA

Movie Review: The half-hearted dramedy, “Adult Beginners”, about a flopped entrepreneur turned babysitter and the relationships within the family, was Ross Katz’s feature-length directorial theatrical debut, following up the 2009 TV movie “Taking Chance” starring Kevin Bacon. Mr. Katz, who commenced his cinematic career as producer (“In the Bedroom”, “Lost in Translation”) doesn’t overcome the difficulties of choosing the best orientations to turn the film distinguishable, fact that, at no time, makes easier for us to connect with its characters. Screenwriters Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive based themselves on a story by the actor/comedian Nick Kroll, who pops up as Jake, a trendy technology businessman whose company is closing doors right after being launched. The disillusioned Jake is forced to move from the Big Apple and goes to live with his estranged sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), for a couple of months. Justine and her handyman husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), accept him with no big deals, but with the condition of Jake babysitting their 3-year-old son, Teddy, in their absence. Apart from the normal troubles that taking care of a child brings, some family issues will come up – Justine is pregnant again and Danny seems to have an affair. Jake starts dating Blanca, another babysitter whom he met on the playground, but reveals a low self-esteem that gets worse when his sister points a finger on him for not showing up to their mom’s funeral. Rather silly than clever, the episodic “Adult Beginners” weighs much more on the beginner side than on the adult one. It belongs to the category of comedies that put so much effort trying to be sweet and touching, but end up being prosaic and pathetic. I felt exasperated, searching for situations that could provide some good laughs, something that was never brought out. Regarding the performances: Rose Byrne was sturdy, Kroll was ok, and Cannavale disappointing.

May 01, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Brett Morgen
Country: USA

Movie Review: American documentarian Brett Morgen brings us an authorized biography of Kurt Cobain, the legendary lead singer/guitarist of the grunge band Nirvana. Even before the initial credits roll, we’re informed that the film was based on art, music, journals, super 8 film, and audio montages provided by the musician’s family. “Montage of Heck”, which has received limited theatrical release both in the US and UK, was fantastically conceived and edited, using occasional animation to recreate the fragments of Cobain’s life where no media was available. In addition to the mentioned media, we can listen to Kurt’s mother, Wendy O’Connor; his sister Kim; his former girlfriend, Tracy Marander; his friend and bassist in the band, Krist Novoselic; and obviously his wife and also rock artist, Courtney Love, who had the idea for this film. Curiously, Nirvana’s drummer Dave Grohl, who directed an interesting documentary called “Sound Studio” two years ago, wasn’t interviewed. The awesome voice of Kurt can be heard, not only in his powerful raw songs, in which he expresses all his anger and frustrations, but also through recordings where he unveils his first sexual experience, talks openly about drugs abuse, and makes considerations about his music and popularity. With a troublesome childhood in Aberdeen, Washington, characterized by the rejection of his own family and a few humiliating situations, Kurt developed a destructive side since an early stage, aspect aggravated by years of heroin addiction, illness, and depression. The film is elevated in its final part when his life with Courtney Love, likewise a drug-abuser, is nakedly presented. Throbbing with energy and ultimately sad, “Montage of Heck” discards traps, being mandatory for the fans and highly recommended for everyone else.

April 30, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Age of Ultron”, the awaited return of the Avengers, brings new heroes to the screen, but is less satisfying and more exhibitionist than the earliest adventure dated from 2012. The six splendid guardians of the Earth – Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Capt. America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye – are now battling Ultron, a unique supervillain robot who wants to get the perfect body for his malefic intelligence. With his nefarious robotic army, not only he intends to destroy the Avengers, as he also plans to eradicate humanity. At first, the twins – the ultrafast Quicksilver and the telepathic Scarlet Witch – back him up, swapping to the good side later on, immediately after perceiving his real plans. Joss Whedon directs what he had already started, only this time he wasn’t capable to infuse good laughs, also opting for computer-game style battles that were too confusing for my taste. Right from the first scene we could conclude that the action scenes would be fierce, mechanical, and exhausting. Whedon’s script tries to invent something more besides the battles, and outlines a tepid flirtation between Dr. Banner and Natasha Romanoff, some verbal disputes between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and a beautiful family for Clint Barton. Well, it didn’t really work as expected, since nothing relevant is extracted from these situations. What prevents the film from hitting the bottom are the very comfortable performances of the valuable cast composed by Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Jeremy Renner. The rigid “Avengers: Age of Ultron” probably will count with the support of the most enthusiastic Marvel fans, however, I was far from being seduced by its stunts and twirls.

April 29, 2015

5 Flights Up (2014)

5 Flights Up (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Country: USA

Movie Review: Film director, Richard Loncraine, author of extraneous films such as “Wimbledon” and “Firewall”, takes boring routes to tell the story of an aging couple - the painter Alex Carver (Morgan Freeman) and his wife, Ruth (Diane Keaton) - who are arduously giving the first steps in order to sell their Brooklyn’s apartment and move to a more convenient one in another borough. Living on the fifth floor of a walk-up building for forty years, they’re relying on Ruth’s selfish niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a talkative real estate agent who sees the transaction as a lucrative opportunity for herself. However, the couple is shrouded in doubt, experiencing a tender nostalgia invading their days. Will they be able to sell their cherished place where there are only joyful memories? If this wasn’t trouble enough, their old dog needs a delicate surgery and might not be able to walk again. Simultaneously, and out of their scope of action, the authorities join efforts to nab a menacing terrorist who’s causing the panic in the streets. With an unalterable pace, futile humor, and a narrative with no stilts or effective surprises, “5 Flights Up” feels moderately stale and unsuitable for young audiences. Morgan Freeman, whose career fell flat a long time ago with recurrent participations in silly movies, leaves the tough mission to Diane Keaton, slightly better, but still far from the required harmony we were looking for. The one to deserve accolade is Cynthia Nixon, an agreeable surprise as hyperkinetic, sly opportunist. The other positive aspect was the illuminated shots of Manhattan, where the vibrant, colorful life was amazingly captured. Charlie Peters, who also co-produces, wrote this allegedly feel-good drama based on Jill Ciment’s novel “Heroic Measures”. I wouldn’t bid on this one!

April 28, 2015

Flutter (2014)

Flutter (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Eric Hueber
Country: USA

Movie Review: Eric Hueber’s empathetic indie drama, “Flutter”, addresses the struggles of a mother in adverse times. Living in Bastrop County, Texas, in a messy house full of junk, JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher) tries her best to take care of Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.), a naughty sweet boy who experiences strong ocular pressure spikes, a consequence of suffering from glaucoma. The way she found to handle this critical situation was giving him brownies made with weed, so his pressure remains at acceptable levels. She calls it medicine, and Jonathan seems to respond well to this improvised treatment. This represents only one of her many problems, since her husband, David, went away for an undetermined time in an inglorious attempt to find himself as a country musician, and the best he does is writing some hopeful letters without sending enough money to cover the three months rent she owes. Besides this, her mother-in-law, who lives right next door, is not so understandable as her father-in-law, Mark (Glenn Morshower), in regard to Jonathan’s behavior, and calls both the police and the social services for an inspection. JoLynn merely finds some support in Curtis, a neighbor who owns atypical animals and occasionally buys little bags of weed from her. Unaware of all these difficulties, Jonathan enjoys playing outside in the company of his precious pet, Weewee - the pig, living in a world of fantasy, which is unnecessarily represented on the screen by animated sequences. The precarious situation forces JoLynn to take actions she certainly isn’t proud of, putting at risk, not only the ones who help her, but also her son. The film’s intelligible structure avoids knots of any kind while the performances draw genuine scenes between mother and son.

April 27, 2015

Pasolini (2014)

Pasolini (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Country: Italy / France / others

Movie Review: After a very personal and stinging recreation of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in “Welcome to New York”, Italian filmmaker Abel Ferrara continues fearlessly examining lives, and giving his own vision about the relevant situations involving them. This time he has chosen the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a distinctive fellow professional and poet, author of masterpieces such as: “Accatone”, “Mamma Roma” and “The Gospel According St. Matthews”. The film starts with an interview to Mr. Pasolini where he speaks about his shocking last film “Saló”, admitting that sex is politics and that he draws some pleasure in scandalizing the audience. To quote him: ‘The ones who refuse the pleasure of being scandalized are moralists’. Explaining next that since he’s not a moralist, he accepts the insults from the people who don’t understand his work. Willem Defoe is once again Ferrara’s first choice, and an assured one, even when the character is more controlled, as in this case. “Pasolini” arrives intellectually and morally defiant but leaves in the shadow, due to the incapacity of tunneling in a clear way all the episodes that were supposed to form the final picture. One of them is the short appearance of the actress Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros), Pasolini’s close friend – in a scene that seems not to have a purpose. Nevertheless, we can still have a notion of his personality, family life, politic ideologies, work philosophy, and sexuality - witnessing furtive sexual adventures with male youngsters. The real Ninetto Davoli, who at the age of 15 became Pasolini’s lover, plays Epifanio in a film inside the film, created from an unfinished script. Visually unrefined, fuzzy, and flawed, “Pasolini” still provides a worthy experience, yet those familiar with the director’s life are better positioned to enjoy it.

April 25, 2015

Far From Men (2014)

Far From Men (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Oelhoffen
Country: France

Movie Review: Loosely adapted from Albert Camus’ existentialist short story “The Guest”, “Far From Men” is probably the most generous tale I’ve seen lately on film. Taking us to 1954’ rebellious Algeria, more precisely to the Atlas mountains, the third feature from writer/director David Oelhoffen overcomes every possible conflict among religions, probing an unlikely friendship between Daru (Viggo Mortensen), a solitary French Algerian-born schoolteacher, and a man entrusted to his care, Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a non-rebel Arab farmer who slit his cousin’s throat in a squabble about grain. The reluctant Daru, also a former French Army official, was ordered to take this apparently craven man to Tinguit to face trial and hear a verdict that certainly wouldn’t bring anything different than death. Surprisingly, is Mohamed himself who asks to be taken there, humbly accepting his fate. The fatiguing long walk, throughout the precarious rocky ground and occasional harsh weather conditions, will bring many encounters, some unwelcome, some less bad. As a man of principles, Daru gets visibly affected whenever an extreme situation forces him to kill. All he wants is to get back to his tiny school, but after listening to what the prisoner-turned-companion has to say, he presents him with the most beautiful of the gifts: the choice of freedom. At the sound of exotic melodies composed by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, Oelhoffen thoroughly recreates the suffocating atmosphere of Camus’ works, thanks to the arid landscapes captured by the lens of cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines, even if the pronounced Western genre seems a bit unreasonable within this context. Equally humane and sad, rather gentler than vibrant, the extremely well acted “Far From Men” addresses war, choices and courage in a very personalized way.

April 24, 2015

Fighters (2014)

Fighters (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Thomas Cailley
Country: France

Movie Review: Debutant filmmaker Thomas Cailley did a respectable job in “Fighters” (also known by the moronic title “Love at First Fight”), a breezy romance set in a small French seaside town during summertime. Yet, I must admit I expected some more from a film that collected four prizes in Cannes, three César awards, and the Prix Louis Delluc for best first film, among others. After the death of his father, the adroit Arnaud (Kevin Azais) decides to help his brother in the family business. Still, he hasn't completely decided if he wants to stay or join the army whose recruitments are taking place in his hometown. All the doubts will be dissipated when he comes across with Madeleine (Adele Haenel), a quirky girl who wants to join the army’s summer course in order to prepare herself for entering the hardest fight regiment. Madeleine is the soul of the film – impatient, restless, obsessive, physically strong, reactive to the minimum confrontation, and seductive. In turn, Arnaud is the heart of the film – calm, patient, protective, mindful, methodic, friendly and extremely generous. Heart and soul become one in the end, giving the best they have to help each other. An affable chemistry can be felt between the young couple who eventually finds their ways for smiling, even after an adventurous final episode where their lives were threatened. Cailley suavely portrays everything in a guileless way, impelling us to feel empathy for the protagonists. His strategy culminates in a heartening finale where vows of a fresh start are assured. Adele Haenel’s performance was colossal and “Fighters”, despite its many charms, sinned for lacking more ambition and for not having explored the adventure a bit further.