January 29, 2015

Men, Women and Children (2014)

Men, Women and Children (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Country: USA

Movie Review: Jason Reitman’s career was marked by an auspicious start, result of interesting dramas, most of them with good hints of comedy - “Thank You for Smoking”, “Juno”, “Up in the Air” and “Young Adult”. Recently he seems to be struggling with dark clouds that embrace his creative process. Last year’s “Labor Day”, his first incursion on dramatic thriller, was such a big disappointment that he decided to go back to a genre he's more comfortable with. Despite of the committed performances by a cast that includes Adam Sandler, Kaitlyn Dever, Judy Greer and Rosemary DeWitt, “Men, Women and Children”, based on Chad Kultgen’s novel of the same name, is a flawed drama that failed to be accomplished due to several dilemmas. In his attempt to condense 1001 things at the same time, Reitman loses direction, creating a half-baked story that associates the obsessions and dangers of technology with sexual experiences. He just couldn’t decide if he wants to address the subject in a teenager or adult perspective, or if he wants a narrated film (occasionally we hear the unnecessary voice of Emma Thompson), or if he wants to deviate himself from the central focus (one more time, unnecessary spatial considerations are made). All of this resulted in a big mess of a story in which any intended lesson or message was completely swallowed by the emotional superficiality presented in excessive characters and subplots. The lack of mature observations or satisfying conclusions, make “Men, Women and Children” a cranky experience that nothing has to do with Reitman's earlier achievements within the genre.

January 28, 2015

Ned Rifle (2014)

Ned Rifle (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hal Hartley
Country: USA

Movie Review: Hal Hartley, faithful to his own style, haunts us with “Ned Rifle”, the third part of the trilogy that started with “Henry Fool” in 1997, and had its middle part in 2006 with “Fay Grim”. Liam Aiken is Ned Rifle Grim, a chaste religious young man devoted to God, who decides to chase down and kill his own father, Henry Fool, the one responsible for the ruin of his mother, Fay, who was sentenced to life in prison as traitor of the nation. The only one who knows his evil intentions is his best friend and spiritual guide, Rev. Daniel Garden who helps him with money but gets shocked with the possibility of his protégé commit a mortal sin. Ned is advised by his mom to go to speak with his uncle Simon, a poet who now wants to be an online stand-up comedian, in order to obtain more information about his father’s whereabouts. At Simon’s place, he bumps into a graduate student, Susan, who happens to be the same girl who was molested by the mad Henry Fool when she was only 13. Obsessed with Henry, and with a past marked by violence and psychological disturbance, she is also trying to reach him for dubious reasons. The chain effect is hilarious – Ned following Henry; Susan following Ned; Simon following Susan - and even believing that we have seen something similar before, the plot still casts some motivating twists. With funny dark sarcasm and a stirring climax, “Ned Rifle” finishes the trilogy in big, being a Hal Hartley’s comedy in every sense. Sometimes obscene, sometimes literary, Rifle can be also defined as offbeat and idiosyncratic. In spite of living by itself, it will be better appreciated by the viewers who are acquainted with the two previous chapters.

January 27, 2015

Citizenfour (2014)

Citizenfour (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Laura Poitras
Country: USA / Germany

Movie Review: “Citizenfour” chronicles the unsettling adventures of Edward Snowden concerning the scandal of global surveillance that involved the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was on top of the happenings, covering in real time the actions and reactions of the interveners that besides Snowden, include Glenn Greenwald, journalist of the Guardian; Jacob Appelbaum, computer researcher and hacker; William Binney, former intelligence officer for NSA; Ladar Levinson, creator of the extinct encryption software Lavabit; Ewen MacAskill, intelligence reporter for the Guardian; Julian Assange, polemic co-founder of WikiLeaks; among many others. Ethics and freedom are two of the aspects debated here, after Snowden, former NSA employee in Hawaii, has revealed everything about the collection data program set up by this US governmental agency after the 9/11. Confined to a hotel room in Hong Kong, Snowden explains his motivations for denouncing the questionable methods of the agency, accepting calmly his fate, yet not without some alarming circumstances. He was the one who contacted Poitras via encrypted emails, fact that turned this documentary possible. The film gives us a thorough insight about the communication era we live in, where surveillance can be synonym of espionage, jeopardizing the freedom of opinion of the most common citizens. “Citizenfour” conveys a natural interest and curiosity, achieving the desired effect of shocking us with its revelations. However, besides its historic relevance, I didn’t feel any particularly exciting vibration in its images. Snowden says: ‘it’s scary but liberating’. I say: ‘it’s informative but not breathtaking’.

January 26, 2015

The Humbling (2014)

The Humbling (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Country: USA

Movie Review: 72 year-old filmmaker, Barry Levinson, teams with 74 year-old actor, Al Pacino, in “The Humbling”, a drama about… aging. Philip Roth’s novel of the same name was in the basis of the plot written by Buck Henry, who has “The Graduate” and “Catch-22” in his curriculum, together with a young new voice, Michal Zabede. The film doesn’t maintain balanced levels, blending the traditional drama of an actor whose capacities are gradually vanishing and the trendy openness of a modern, sometimes opportunistic society. Pacino embraces the role of Simon Axler, a sleepless 65 year-old actor whose mind-absences and fantasies became more frequent, while struggling to keep clear what is reality and what is fiction in his daily life. Soon, he adds to this true/false ambiguity the challenging question: what’s right and what’s wrong?, when Pegeen, a young lesbian woman who happens to be the daughter of some old friends, simply sticks to his house and amorally jumps on him. This brings to his door Pegeen’s former girlfriends, one of them recently turned into a man. If this was not a problem to Simon, he will have a hard time dealing with a crazy woman called Sybil, an invasive stalker who wants him to kill her pedophile husband. Somewhat pretentious in its approach, “The Humbling” not always manages to infuse the concerns of an old man within a contemporary stage without some mess. By the end it even drags for several times, revealing a delusional dullness that blurs what it started reliably. The title of this film could have been ‘The Crumbling’ since “The Humbling” pretends to stand up when its legs are tremulous. At least, Levinson and Pacino showed they didn’t forget how to direct and act, respectively.

January 24, 2015

Mommy (2014)

Mommy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Mommy” proves that there’s a young Canadian filmmaker out there named Xavier Dolan who has a lot to give to contemporary cinema. His past dramas evinced a strong sexuality component associated to homosexuality, but “Mommy” can be seen as a slight change of direction, maintaining however the high dramatic levels of its predecessors. The story follows Diane Després (Anne Dorval), a widower who gets his hyperactive 16 year-old son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), back from a juvenile center for troubled youths, after he has set the cafeteria on fire causing a lot of material and human damages. Steve is plagued with frequent raging attacks that not even his mother, the person he cherishes most, is completely immune. The relationship between them is closer to brother and sister than mother and son, and Diane doesn’t seem to have the ability or strength to deal with her son’s unpredictable behavior. When the situation seemed out of control, some hope rises in the horizon when Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a teacher in a forced sabbatical leave, answers affirmatively to Diane’s call for help, giving the desirable assistance that she needed to handle Steve. Not without some manipulation, “Mommy” still presents an enormous emotional weight, for which contributed the superb performances by the trio of actors. How artful from Dolan setting up a sequence of mesmerizing, unfocused images to mirror Diane’s dream of hope for the future, to suddenly discontinue it with a painful reality that would lead us to a devastating finale. Elaborated at a vehement pace, “Mommy is also visually bold, making use of empathic close-ups and expressive detailed scenes, beautifully shot, in its majority, in a non-standard square ratio of 1:1.

January 23, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

What We Do in the Shadows (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Country: New Zealand

Movie Review: Coming from New Zealand and set up as a horror mockumentary, “What Do We Do in the Shadows” is a vampire parody written, directed and starred by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. A promising partnership since the former attained international success with his 2010’s drama “Boy”, while the latter, as comedian and multi-instrumentalist, brings some inspiration on both aspects. Bluntly shot with handheld camera but with appealing results, the film follows four vampire housemates – Viago, Vlad, Deacon, and Petyr (an accurate replica of Nosferatu) - whose sanguinary lives are shaken by the arrival of a reckless young vampire called Nick. With exception of the super-old Petyr who likes to stay in his tomb, the others like to dress well, feel sexy, play music and stroll around the town where they try to be invited for nightclubs, but Nick cannot restrain from drawing attention to himself. This behavior causes problems between the group of friends who rely on Deacon’s ‘slave’, Jackie, to lure humans, preferably virgins, to their decrepit mansion. Vampire hunters, the burning sunlight, and occasional confrontations with a group of werewolves, are other funny factors to be seen. Clever and hilarious, “What Do We Do in the Shadows” shows how to do a lot with so little resources, and my only remark goes to the inefficient light that comes out of the outdoors’ nocturnal scenes. Actually, it’s curious that another vampire film called “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” also had captivated me with its artsy formalism, in a completely opposite approach. Despite the washed-out genre, creativity speaks louder!

January 22, 2015

The Right Juice (2014)

The Right Juice (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kristjan Knigge
Country: Portugal

Movie Review: “The Right Juice” is an English-language comedy made in Portugal by Dutch director Kristjan Knigge who now makes his debut on feature film. The story follows Oliver Fellows (Mark Killeen) a British citizen who moves to a modest house in his new land in Perna Seca, Algarve (south of Portugal), with the ambition to grow oranges and do business. However this task won’t be easy since Andreas, a greedy entrepreneur who wants to force Andreas to sell his land, canalizes all the water to his place. He also drags his wing to Oliver’s estranged wife who stays in the city hotel after arriving from London. Everything will take a good way with the help of neighbor Manel (Miguel Damião), a mechanic and medronho-drinker, and Nesta (Lucia Moniz), a dolphin trainer who will be the key to know more about Andrea’s evil plans. With a simple and sympathetic plot, “The Right Juice” has the heart in the right place but its jokes will probably tell much more to the Portuguese audiences than abroad. The score is also very Portuguese resorting to fado many times, while its obvious conclusions and imperfections restrict a better development for the story. If you’re looking for a feel-good trifle, full of beautiful dreams and innocent moralities, you can take a chance on this summertime comedy that is well intentioned but not particularly stirring. After struggling with financing, the film reached a deal with NOS, the biggest Portuguese media broadcaster in order to be locally distributed.

January 21, 2015

Appropriate Behavior (2014)

Appropriate Behavior (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Desiree Akhavan
Country: UK

Movie Review: Charming, funny and extremely entertaining, “Appropriate Behavior” marks a delightful directorial debut on feature film for Desiree Akhavan, an upstate New Yorker from Iranian descent who had directed the lesbian-themed short TV series “The Slope” in 2010. Akhavan also stars here, keenly giving life to Shirin, a Brooklyn-based bisexual Persian-American video artist who is trying to adopt the correct postures in life to avoid embarrassing her Iranian parents and traditions, at the same time that nourishes her joy of life and seeks the proper confidence to accept herself as she is. These goals, complicated by themselves, get even more compromised when Shirin breaks up with her girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Feeling dead inside, she finds some solace in talking with her friend, Crystal (Halley Feiffer), while the new job as teacher of young kids seems not to suit her at all. The character of Shirin is very well observed and portrayed, especially by genuinely trying to pass a false assurance in her actions when in fact she’s just trying to gain confidence to move on. Open to new experiences, Shirin will embark in a few weird encounters while the story occasionally winds back to let us know what led to the rupture with Maxine at her birthday party. Smartly, Akhavan embraces a concise humor by making use of efficient jokes in a straightforward manner, but actually the story puts a nervous tension in almost every scene where intense feelings and an associated discomfort can touch sadness. It was indeed an appropriate approach. I’m eager to see in what direction Akhavan will move next; will she keep this creativity within the sexuality theme? For now, it’s proved she swims comfortably in this pool.

January 20, 2015

Son of a Gun (2014)

Son of a Gun (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Julius Avery
Country: Australia

Movie Review: Julius Avery’s Australian crime thriller, “Son of a Gun” lacks inspiration and freshness to get a prominent position within the genre. The story follows 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites), locked up for minor criminal charges in a high-security prison where a lot of abuses are perpetrated among the inmates. In a smart way, JR gains the sympathy of Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), the most notorious criminal of Australia, who gives him the protection he was looking for. However, this protection comes with a high price, and JR will have to follow Brendan’s ambitious plans to escape prison and then participate in a jeopardous gold heist. In addition to the highly clichéd action scenes, which look old most of the times with the use of staged shootings, a cheesy romance was also introduced when JR falls for a brave stripper. The film can be divided in three uneven parts: the ‘life in the hole’ was capable to draw some attention, the ‘outside robbery’ was both unoriginal and unexciting, and finally the ‘sharing of the gold’, which failed to create any impact or even surprise. “Son of a Gun” also showed to be unattractive in its visuals, while the score by Jed Kurzel (much better in “Snowtown” and “The Babadook”) wasn’t so effective this time. In comparison with “Starred Up”, last year’s most riveting prison crime drama, I can say that filmmaker David Mackenzie did much more with less than Julius Avery could achieve with a messy film whose good twists and thrills were missing all the time. Thwaites and McGregor didn’t convince either with their undistinguishable performances.

January 19, 2015

Match (2014)

Match (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Stephen Belber
Country: USA

Movie Review: Writer/director Stephen Belber brings to the cinema his own play, “Match”, providing a positive payoff for those who are able to minimize its imperfect moments. Patrick Stewart excels as Toby Powell, a Juilliard ballet teacher who gives the wrong impression of being satisfied with his life. When receiving the visit of a married couple, Lisa (Carla Gugino) and Mike (Matthew Lillard), who traveled from Seattle to interviewed him for the former’s dissertation, Toby shows to be gallant, extrovert and very much talkative. The one who seems not to appreciate this posture is Mike, a suspended cop who adopts a very inquisitive attitude that gets pretty close to rudeness, especially if we consider he was in the interviewee’s home. At certain point, Toby starts to feel uncomfortably weird when the name Gloria Rinaldi is mentioned and the questions date back to his sexual life in the 60’s. After Mike reveals to be Gloria’s son, the laid-back first moments soon slide to a heated argument. Suddenly, the possibility of Toby being Mike’s father was more realistic than ever. Not even some puffs on a joint could put a break in the tension, but Lisa stays behind to apologize when her husband leaves the apartment furious. Unexpectedly, revelations continue to burst at a fast pace, some quite interesting and some others with ‘too much information’. Even dramatically burnt to a crisp in several moments, particularly those involving Lisa and Toby, “Match” still hooks us up in part due to Stewart’s great performance, but especially for its restorative finale, which ended up pulling out some optimistic waves from the awkward encounter.

January 18, 2015

Mourning Has Broken (2014)

Mourning Has Broken (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Brett and Jason Butler
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Mourning Has Broken” is a micro-budgeted independent comedy drama that comes from Canada by the hand of the Butler Brothers - writers, directors, producers and editors. Despite the efforts to succeed and the good performance of Robert Nolan, “Mourning Has Broken” seemed a montage of little situations that were never sufficient to draw my attention. The story follows a man who realizes his wife his dead next to him, on their bed. Mourning is never easy and Nolan’s character found a particular way to deal with the matter. Uncontrolled and ravaging, he starts long monologues while driving mad, as well as confronting everyone around him who are misbehaving. A few situations have to do with his car – being nagged by a neighbor while washing it; provoking a woman while was parked in her private spot; getting a ticket while trying to buy a red velvet cake; tying up a mechanic who wanted to rip him off. Among these and other situations, the peak comes when he decides to get up on the stage of a movie theater and report what he thinks about respecting the silence in the site. It’s very appreciated what the Butlers tried to do in “Mourning Has Broken”, taking into account the financing struggle, but the film was never particularly funny, deep, or even satisfyingly conclusive to be a reference. The husband’s mourning, based on silly moves and crack-brained attitudes, soon became more irritating than righteous, in a black dramedy where the narrative was always superior to the visuals.

January 16, 2015

Kill the Messenger (2014)

Kill the Messenger (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
Country: USA

Movie Review: NYC filmmaker Michael Cuesta picks a real story to serve as basis for his fifth feature film, putting a break on TV incursions such as the series “Homeland”, or minor films, case of last year’s “Second Sight”. “Kill the Messenger” was written for the screen by Peter Landesman (“Parkland”), inspired on journalist Gary Webb’s reports that unveiled a reproachable link between CIA and the Nicaraguan rebel groups known as Contra. The books behind the film are ‘Dark Alliance’ from Webb himself, and Nick Schou’s ‘Kill the Messenger’, which gave the title to the film. The scandal emerged in the 90’s, after the San Jose Mercury News has published Webb’s polemic article denouncing that guns were being sent to Nicaragua in exchange for cocaine in the 80’s, an illegal operation led by CIA’s high officials. Jeremy Brenner delivers a fair performance as the determined reporter who dug in a dark conspiracy that would ruin his journalistic career forever. The film builds its foundations in two uneven fronts that inevitably interweave: Webb’s professional life is rich, filled with dangerous moves and an imminent restlessness, but lamentably, this major aspect of the story is dulled by his family life – the delicate moments he was living in his marriage, and the too much attention dispensed to the relationship with his older son. I wish Cuesta had taken better advantage of the story’s potentiality to make a less stereotyped thriller, and consequently avoid the tiresome Hollywoodian style felt. Even achieving an acceptable pace, I can’t deny I was disappointed with “Kill the Messenger”, which had everything to fly high but preferred to land in conventional territories.

January 15, 2015

The Riot Club (2014)

The Riot Club (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Country: UK

Movie Review: Laura Wade’s film adaptation of her own play “Posh”, wasn’t so successful as expected, since “The Riot Club”, handled by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”, “An Education”), couldn’t trigger neither sympathy nor startling reaction in regard to the wild behaviors of a bunch of upper-class students attending Oxford University. Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) are two very different aristocratic freshmen who don’t get along, having in common the fact that they became members of an exclusively male ‘dining club’ with years of tradition in Oxford, known as ‘The Riot Club’. While Miles seeks a normal life with his girlfriend Loren, Alistair can’t avoid showing his ostentation and bad nature. Being the younger brother of a legendary former member of the ‘Riot club’, Alistair will show during one single night of drinks, cocaine and destruction in a local restaurant, how much his soul is corrupted and ill-founded, fact that leads to thoughtless, savage behaviors. The film takes a long time to warm up, and when it does, lets us down quite immediately, since the extreme situations depicted never seemed totally convincing to me, but rather overdone. Dialogues and behaviors fell on banality for several times and no novelty is drawn from the outcome. Wade and Scherfig tried to make of this club of punishment and self-degradation an intoxicating drama, occasionally wild, taking the opportunity to introduce a bit of bitter romance. The result, a mix of grotesque “Dead Poets Society” meet a pretentious “A Clockwork Orange”, wallows in the mud, providing a threadbare experience.

January 14, 2015

A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Country: USA

Movie Review: J.C. Chandor continues building an admirable reputation among modern American filmmakers/writers. After aiming at the financial industry in “Margin Call” and to enrapture us with a survival tale in “All is Lost”, he now turns his eyes into a violent New York City during the 80’s, building up a story that involves corruption and the urge of thriving at any cost among fierce competitors. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) immigrated to the US with the American Dream in his head. In a short time, he was able to make his oil company grow, thanks to his confidence, dedication and fearless posture. However, the city becomes more and more violent, and his trucks are easy targets for the organized thugs who beat up the drivers that oppose them. At the same time that he tries to negotiate a better protection with the same police that are leading a two-year investigation against him for fraud and tax evasion, Abel sees himself in a desperate position when the purchase of a strategic property whose location can solve his problems, becomes suddenly at stake due to the bank’s refusal to make a loan. Counting with his reliable lawyer (Albert Brooks) and particularly with his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), Abel will be forced to take a sinuous path that will get him to a result, which according to him ‘was never in question’. Morally challenging and with a narrative devoid of missteps, “A Most Violent Year” is more concerned about negotiating and conspiracy than presenting thrilling action. It portrays with accuracy an enigmatic man whose worst fear is to fail, well backed up by his prepotent wife who doesn’t know what the word ‘clean’ means. The tightness of the script, a mature approach and fantastic performances are good motives to watch this solid crime drama.

January 13, 2015

To Kill a Man (2014)

To Kill a Man (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
Country: Chile / France

Movie Review: The third feature from Chilean director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, “To Kill a Man”, is a relentless tale of revenge that raises moral questions. Jorge (Daniel Candia), an honest employer at the forest research center of Santa Julia, lives happily with his wife, son, and daughter. Their quietness will be shaken after Kalule (Daniel Antivilo), the depraved leader of a street gang of rascals that populate the neighborhood, starts to provoke him, stealing his diabetes measurement device. Later, he shots Jorge’s son when he was trying to claim the device back. To avoid being sentenced to many years in prison, Kalule shoots himself in the belly, saying in court he acted in self-defense. One year and a half later, Kalule gets out of prison determined to turn Jorge’s life into hell. Frightened, Jorge and his wife decide to go to the police and report the various incidents, but the inability of the authorities to deal with the situation, drive the family crazy. The patience of the good Christian man reaches its limits when his daughter is caught and touched indecently by Kalule, in her way home from school. From then on, Jorge is forced to do justice by his hands. Will he be able to cope with his conscience afterwards? Psychologically disturbing, “To Kill a Man” is another art-house thriller that becomes an admirable alternative to the North-American industry of the genre. A simple, yet absorbing plot, practical direction, capable performances, and thorough image compositions, were in the basis of its favorable outcomes.

January 12, 2015

Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Country: USA

Movie Review: Jack O’Connell is Louis Zamperini in “Unbroken”, the second feature directed by Angelina Jolie, based on the real story of the mentioned Olympic athlete and World War hero. Louis, the son of a respected immigrant Italian family, was known as a stirrer. His life suddenly gains perspective when his older brother encourages him to be a runner, impelled by the motto ‘if I can take it, I can make it’. Zamperini’s successful run in the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin seemed to give him perspectives of a great future, however patriotic duties spoke louder and he joined the US Army. During the world war, and after a first fright with a consolidated B24 liberator, Zamperini and friends have another accident, this time with a plane that revealed to be too old to fly. Crashing in the ocean, he spends 45 days trying to survive on board of a small floating raft until being captured by the Japanese. Taken to a detention camp with Phil, the only survivor besides him, Louie will have a hard time with Sergeant Watanabe, a sadistic young Japanese officer who showed brutal cruelty mixed with a concealed admiration for Louie’s courage. Well, this very personal dispute didn’t strike me at all, attaining the last straw when the exhausted Louie was forced to raise a wooden plank above his head. Emotions were enhanced here in the worst way, sinking a bit more what was already half-sank. Conventional and relying solely on the physical situations endured by its hero, “Unbroken” should have been more ‘dirty’ and raw in its imagery, and more intelligent in its approach. After all, we’ve seen all this before and much better depicted. 

January 10, 2015

Top Five (2014)

Top Five (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Chris Rock
Country: USA

Movie Review: Since this kind of comedies are not my cup of tea, I got surprised how entertained I was while watching “Top Five”, a satirical look into the public/private life of a celebrity and the gossips around him, set up in a fast n’ furious pace. Chris Rock wrote, directed, and starred as Andre Allen, a former stand-up celebrity, now on film, who tries to clean his image associated with alcohol consumption and problems with the law. Allen is engaged to TV celebrity Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) but will become even more confused about this matter after meeting Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a reporter interested in writing an honest story about him. Not feeling funny anymore, and frustrated with the harsh reviews of his latest film “Uprize”, Allen will expose his life and family to the sympathetic Chelsea who opens her heart after finding out that her boyfriend is gay, and ends up confessing she also has been sober for four years. Making use of an array of political and racial jokes, Chris Rock created a contagious feel-good movie, replete of sexually daring scenes, and dialogues that tend to be spicy. In my eyes it was funnier than “Dear White People”, which was unable to get the same vivacity, and more interesting than “Beyond the Lights”, even considering that the dramatic side here could have been better crafted. Evincing energizing shots of the streets of New York City, the provocative “Top Five” is not perfect, not even completely original, but at least it deals with polemics in a beneficial/hilarious way.

January 09, 2015

Selma (2014)

Selma (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Country: USA

Movie Review: Already exhibiting an enlightened sense of filmmaking in “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere”, Ava DuVernay, now sees herself taking an outstanding position in the modern cinema with this powerful historical drama about Dr. Martin Luther King’s sacrifices and efforts to achieve civil rights for black people in a hostile atmosphere. The film, solidly written by debutant Paul Webb, has in its base the three Selma-Montgomery marches that took place in 1965 Alabama, chronicling the last three months of the pacific campaign. “Selma” starts with Dr. King (David Oyelowo) receiving the Nobel Peace prize, and approaching the president Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in order to make something to stop the violent crimes of white men who have the protection of a tendentious judicial system, especially in the South. By making his point of view clear, King’s non-violent movement works according to three principles: negotiate, demonstrate, resist. With this fundamental posture, his political ideas will make the impossible, uniting blacks and whites in a memorable victory towards social and civic equality. Tension is as strong as the emotional impact that comes out from its beautifully shot scenes, pulsing energy even in serene moments. DuVernay was able to surprise me whenever I thought the film would slow down, managing to move into the right direction and never falling in banality. This is a film where we can really sense the courage of actions and the power of words, while getting sad and appalled with the intolerance and abuses of power perpetrated by the state troopers. Thoughtful approach, efficient narrative and a magnificent casting, makes “Selma”, a film not to be missed.

January 08, 2015

Into the Woods (2014)

Into the Woods (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Country: USA

Movie Review: Experienced filmmaker, Rob Marshall, directs this watchable but limited cinematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical for Walt Disney Studios. Written for the screen by James Lapine, “Into the Woods” starts with an invigorating energy, expressive tunes, and a confident strength, just to let these attributes fade away as the second act arrives. Marshall’s fantasy musical articulates several fairy tales by the Grimm brothers: “Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel”, and joins them with the central story of a baker and his wife who were cursed to remain childless by the witch next door, due to a past friction with the baker’s careless father. Certain day, she visits the couple and tells them what really happened, bringing the news that the curse can only be lifted if they get her a white cow, a red cape, a yellow hair and a golden slipper. Creating a Christmas/New Year’s spirit, “Into the Woods” showcases as a creative visual/rhythmical experience that engages at first but loses a considerable amount of intensity, missing a few good chances to become more efficient. The well-cooked story was slightly affected in its last part by the repetitive inflexions and melodies, as well as a certain inability to create different moods for what was happening. It’s almost comparable to a jazz band playing the same chord with no solos. Despite of its merits, it should have had something more to say by showing more cohesion when the Giant appears. Even with ups and downs, the film brings some of the Disney’s old magic, becoming occasionally entertaining, yet never pleasurable.

January 07, 2015

Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tim Burton
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Big Eyes” marks a changing in Tim Burton’s style and this fact brought some freshness to a career that, despite valuable, was relying in the same plot strategies and visual elements. Dropping the former graphical style, many times supported on the fantasy, darkness and horror of his stories, Burton brings us a biopic about the painter Margaret Keane whose work received great notoriety in the 50’s but was credited to her fraudulent husband, Walter. Played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, the couple comes to a legal dispute for the authorship of the painting series that are characterized by the oversized eyes of its subjects, after having put an end to a 10-year marriage in 1965. Until this time, the submissive wife had always backed up her fraudulent husband against her will. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who already had written “Ed Wood”, the film was presented in colorful images, always with a comedic tone that frequently swallows entirely the dramatic side. Maybe this was the biggest issue of “Big Eyes”, in addition to an overdone court trial that was more silly than funny. Regardless these aspects, I found Burton’s conventional move acceptable, not only because I had the chance to know the real story it tells, but also because he boldly opted to turn a presumable biographical drama into a deliberately feel-good tribute to the real painter who still lives at the age of 87. Waltz gives a damn-good performance, impersonating an expert in the art of cunning, and deceiving for his own merit and glory.

January 06, 2015

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Peter Strickland
Country: UK

Movie Review: For me there’s no doubt that “The Duke of Burgundy” is the best film from cult British filmmaker Peter Strickland. If his debut “Katalin Varga” surprised me in a positive way, “Berberian Sound Studio”, presented as an aesthetic exercise on audiovisuals, was a sort of disappointment. His latest work is a peculiar love story between two women, filled with eroticism, humor, and intrinsic tension in every move. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) are lovers who inhabit a fantastic medieval villa somewhere in Europe. Both nurture a special taste for embellishing their relationship with repetitive rituals of humiliation and pleasure, where the former plays the dominant housemaster and the latter always impersonates a submissive maid. In the course of time, Cynthia starts to show a certain discomfort with her staging character, giving signs that she wants a more conventional and stable relationship. Evelyn, in turn, seems more and more addicted in these little representations, which always end the same way. Besides their private secret life, both are entomology enthusiasts, having very few contacts outdoors. However, in one of those contacts, jealous will put their relationship in jeopardy. Like as in Strickland’s previous films, the style adopted and atmosphere created are of great importance, bringing to my mind Jacques Rivette’s “Celine and Julie Go Boating” for a couple of times. Expressive performances and cinematography, in addition to the amazing score by Cat’s Eyes, are other factors that contributed to turn “The Duke of Burgundy” into a sensual, audacious romantic-drama of elegant articulation.

January 05, 2015

American Sniper (2014)

American Sniper (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by:  Clint Eastwood
Country: USA

Movie Review: “American Sniper” is a biographical war drama that marks the return of prolific director, Clint Eastwood, who just a few months ago had presented the also biographical but disappointing, “Jersey Boys”. In this new film he introduces us the story of US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a former cowboy, who was turned into a hero after serve his country in four dangerous tours in Iraq. Highly patriotic, Kyle was responsible for more than 160 confirmed kills, deed that conferred him the title of the most lethal sniper in US history. Seen as a golden trump in the deadly fight against the terrorism, Kyle showed to be a man of integrity in his duty, but at some point he became simultaneously sickly addicted to adrenaline (the shaking “Hurt Locker” immediately bounced into my mind) and affected with the atrocities seen in the Middle East combat. His wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), was the mirror of discontentment each time he was home, since he was quietly absorbed in his thoughts and didn’t show much availability for her and their kids. The powerful war scenes were much appreciated, bestowing the ideal suspense and action. I was stunned by Kyles’s last combat during a sand storm and his risky rescue, but in the opposite way to these, the family drama didn’t have almost any impact, giving the sensation of having been handled with slight superficiality. Not so absorbing or thrilling as “Zero Dark Thirty” and with a lame ending, “American Sniper” still has something (sad) to say, working both as a homage to a great soldier and a warning that war can wreck people’s lives. Great direction Mr. Eastwood!, yet a bit more was expected.

January 03, 2015

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Country: USA / New Zealand

Move Review: The third chapter of The Hobbit saga, “The Battle of the Five Armies”, issues a big challenge for the viewer: how to deal with the tiresome inflicted by the previous two chapters? Well, let me tell you that I found this one much more efficient and entertaining than the other two. Here, Bilbo Baggins and his alliance of faithful friends, try to maintain the Lonely Mountain safe from several evil enemies. This time, and unexpectedly, the forces of good will have a hard time dealing with Thorin Oakenshield, chief of the Company of Dwarves, whose blind greediness pushes him to the dark side, strengthening the dark forces formed by Sauron, the army of orcs, and vengeful flying-dragons. Pelted with fierce battles and adorned with the habitual imposing score of Howard Shore, the film delivers exciting moments and manages not to drag itself, since it wasn’t so extended in its duration to exhaust our patience. Of course there were a few moments of exaggeration, particularly in the last period, but I've left the theater satisfied with what I saw, and kind of happy for Peter Jackson had conducted this trilogy to a decent ending. However, I believe no one needs more Tolkien’s adventures for some good years, in spite of the undeniable visual awesomeness of the journeys. It’s a feeling that can almost be taken from this concluding part, where the pain felt for the ones who died contrasts with the joy of the victory. Enthusiasts of the saga are going to vibrate with it and remain faithful, while the ‘tired ones’ should give a final chance to this respectable conclusion.

January 02, 2015

The Retrieval (2013)

The Retrieval (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Chris Eska
Country: USA

Movie Review: Chris Eska’s third feature, “The Retrieval”, is set in 1864, in the middle of a destructive civil war, that bestows sufficient suspense and emotion to guarantee our attention. Will (Ashton Sanders), is a 13-year-old black kid who, together with his greedy uncle Marcus (Keston John), acts as a snitch for Burrell (Bill Oberst Jr.), a hunter of slaves whose mission is to capture and kill Nate (Tishuan Scott), an emancipated slave. Struggling against his conscience for betraying his own people, the bewildered Will receives training to mislead the chosen prey by convincing him that his brother is dying. Everything goes wrong after the men are caught in a shooting between the Northern and Southern forces. Along the way, throughout beautiful woods and forests, the fatherless boy and his new guardian, create an exceptional bond that impel them to protect each other from the dominant white men. In one occasion, Will repays the favor, saving Nate’s life, and the latter says: ‘you save me back there!’, to which the boy replied ‘I saved myself’. Eska was smart in his approach: not pushing the scenes beyond its limits, using efficient close-ups, and relying in the powerful cinematography from the Japanese Yasu Tanida. With a tighten plot and covering a well-defined historical context, the low-budgeted indie “The Retrieval” is a slow-burning thriller whose simplicity of processes don’t remove the power of the plot. Debutant young actor Ashton Sanders did a great job, as well as the former Oprah Winfrey Scholar, Tishuan Scott.

January 01, 2015

The Interview (2014)

The Interview (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Interview” is another cheap comedy taken from the minds of Seth Rogen (story writer, director, producer and actor), Evan Goldberg (story writer, director and producer) and Dan Sterling (story and screenplay writer, executive producer, and a very small role as Tech Specialist). Besides Rogen, a staple in today’s Hollywood American comedies, the film also stars James Franco, Randall Park, Diana Bang and Lizzy Caplan. Dave Skylark (Franco) is a famous interviewer for a sensationalist TV program called ‘Skylark Tonight’, where celebrities use to make ‘shocking’ revelations about themselves. His pal and show producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), becomes unsatisfied with the course of the show, after finding a former college colleague whose contempt for the type of content presented made him feel bad. Taking advantage of the crisis involving North Korea and the US, Dave and Aaron are incited by CIA’s agent Lacey (Caplan) to kill the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un (Park), after they have been invited to conduct an interview with him. Once in communist land, the two friends will opt for divergent paths: Dave will take the side of the venerated president, while Aaron keeps faithful to the mission but deeply in love with Sook (Bang), a North Korean official. I found Franco’s character extremely annoying, and one more time, Rogen and company make the abhorrent win over cleverness. The type of humor presented in “The Interview” seems created by naughty kids, relying on gags about stinking penis, buttholes and poo. There is some action too, with a tiger attack being the most ridiculous scene. Too much polemic over this release, and the truth is that the world doesn’t gain anything with its idiotic story.