October 30, 2014

Felony (2013)

Felony (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matthew Saville
Country: Australia / USA

Movie Review: “Felony” is an Australian cop thriller, written by Noel Edgerton, who also stars and co-produces, and directed by Matthew Saville, filmmaker with a solid background on TV series. The film starts with the tough detective Malcolm Toohey (Edgerton), driving under the influence of alcohol when off-duty. He accidentally runs over a nine-year old kid, calling the emergency number and pretending he found the body by chance. Two other detectives will take opposite sides dealing with the case. While the amoral chief detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) tries to cover up Malcolm, who confesses the crime to his wife and struggles with his conscience, the obstinate newcomer detective Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) finds the truth and wants to deal accordingly, especially after developing a crush on the kid’s mother. The three detectives embark in a moralistic ‘dance’ that unveils crime, corruption and the weight of conscience. Saville gives an attentive look to certain details and doesn’t fall in the temptation of rushing the scenes. However the narrative construction suffers from an apathy that left me with a foot in and a foot out. In a sleepy cadence, it throws up a lot of situations that we already have seen before. This morality tale seemed apathetic, and its characters old and worn. As has been usual, Tom Wilkinson showed his enormous talent, turning the tepid “Felony” a little more bearable, where the bad script and non-shiny execution couldn't go unnoticed.

October 29, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth (2014)

20,000 Days on Earth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Iain Forsyth / Jane Pollard
Country: UK

Movie Review: British artists and documentary filmmakers, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, bring us an interesting look on Australian musician, songwriter and author, Nick Cave, who celebrates on the screen his 20,000th day on earth by sharing some of his personal life and the creative process that followed him along the years. Cave, as an open book, seemed to have made everything easy for the filmmakers, since he talks without reservation or concerns about his relation with his wife Suzie, his twin sons, his beloved hometown – Brighton, early memories of his first sexual experience, his childhood and particularly his father, his past on drugs and brief interest for religion, and his past days in Berlin and how he was influenced by the weather in England. This is what concerns his private life, but then comes the explanations about how a big transformation occurs while performing live, the interaction and commitment in studio, telling us amazing happenings in weird concerts and how his first band, The Birthday Party, attracted all the type of psychopaths and weirdoes. His writings are also referred, his fertile imagination that creates worlds of violence, monstrous creatures and odd characters. Conversations with his friend and band mate Warren Ellis, as well as with Kylie Minogue, among others, can be followed. At the sound of intense songs (most of them performed live) loaded with nostalgia and feverous, creepy stories, “20,000 Days on Earth” is certainly a treat for Nick Cave’s fans but can also be a mild experience for the others. Never exploitative, this work was done with smartness and accuracy.

October 27, 2014

Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014)

Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andrew Lau / Andrew Loo
Country: USA / Hong Kong

Movie Review: Hong Kong filmmaker, Andrew Lau, achieved major success in 2002 with “Infernal Affairs”. After that accomplishment, his career has been punctuated with ups and downs. In the American-Chinese gangster story, “Revenge of the Green Dragons”, surprisingly executive produced by Martin Scorsese and based on true events, he got the company of co-writer Andrew Loo in direction, returning to the style he identifies himself the most: crime thriller. But instead of surprising us, Lau and Loo try to manipulate the viewer through repetitive words, moves, and postures coming from the obnoxious characters depicted. The narrative starts in 1983 in Flushing, Queens, where two undocumented immigrants and inseparable childhood friends, Sonny and Steven, join the criminal gang ‘Green Dragons’, encouraged by its charismatic leader Paul Wong whose bait consisted in ‘you can’t be anything but a fisherman in China’. The gang will have the fierce opposition of an FBI agent, performed in an unrefined way by Ray Liotta, who investigates a crime related to the New York’s Asian underworld. Stepping in adverse territories, “Revenge of the Green Dragons” is a depressing tale filled with cycles of violence, where the absence of creativity in the plot and taste in the execution, relegates it to those C-action movies where there’s no message and absolutely nothing to be learned. Its atrocious scenes are the only aspect that we furiously keep in mind. No positive things to take out from this weary gang scene.

October 25, 2014

Listen Up Philip (2014)

Listen Up Philip (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alex Ross Perry
Country: USA

Movie Review: After “Impolex” in 2009 and “The Color Wheel” in 2011, writer-director Alex Ross Perry returns more mature and solid in this “Listen Up Philip”, an independent American dramedy that does a great job on exposing the damages caused by the ego. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip Lewis Friedman, a respected writer who waits for the publication of his second novel. Philip grows increasingly unsatisfied with life in general, including his relationship with Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), a photographer with whom he lives for some years. We can notice that he gets upset, either when people don’t care about him, or when people praise him too much. Struggling to get some solace and extremely tired of the noisy NYC, the selfish, unsentimental, and disconcerting Philip will try to find peace by isolating himself in a country house, accessing an invitation of his idol, the writer Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). The blend of arrogance and loneliness is perfectly conveyed by Schwartzman, but the film doesn’t confine itself to this character-study. All the other characters deserve a look, and in the end we get elucidated of how these interveners are, and how they think. A cozy light and warm colors compose the captivating images brought by a handheld camera frequently in movement, adorned with discreet jazz tunes or pop songs. In a smart way, and despite of revealing itself too dense, Alex Ross Perry avoids the rigidness and artistic pretentions usually associated to this type of film. Everything feels very human.

October 24, 2014

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: John Ridley
Country: UK / Ireland / USA

Movie Review: André Benjamin’s magnificent performance doesn’t hide the weaknesses of “Jimi: All Is by My Side”, a British-Irish biopic that I expected much more about the legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The film was burdened in controversy since the beginning, since it couldn’t count with any Hendrix song, denied by the company that owns the rights, Hendrix Experience LLC. Director John Ridley (sceenwriter of “12 Years a Slave”) did what he could, deciding to tell Hendrix’s story before he attained fame, between 66 and 67, in the period after he left New York to go to London. In this city we can see Hendrix devastating Eric Clapton on stage under the astonished look of his manager, being victim of racism by the British police, but also using of physical violence to keep his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham in order. Kathy publicly denied Jimi’s violent actions depicted here, sinking the film in more polemics. The structure is floating, and the introduced characters are so many that sometimes is hard to focus. In truth, we sense that some scenes are fabricated, as a pretext to fill the gaps of a period that failed to show the real explosion of the guitar master. Charming images pictured the cool waves emanated by Jimi Hendrix, but “All By my Side” never sets us on fire, probably because our hero, victim of sabotage, was inaccurately portrayed and relegated to a phase of his life, which doesn’t represent the best he gave us.

October 23, 2014

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Camp X-Ray (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Peter Sattler
Country: USA

Movie Review: Debutant writer/director, Peter Sattler, creates a fictional drama set in Guantanamo Bay detention facility, known as Camp X-Ray. Amy (Kirsten Stewart), a small town-girl, becomes part of a new group of guards specifically assigned to camp Delta. Right in her first intervention, she learns that her stay won’t be easy, not only with respect to the detainees, but also with respect to her colleagues in the profession and the unstable structure of the system itself. While delivering books to the cells, she is constantly pushed into conversation by Ali (Peyman Moaadi), a talkative detainee who complains about the inexistence of one of Harry Potter’s volumes. After an unpleasant incident, Amy’s curiosity about this man grows strong, leading to an improbable friendship. The film, well-intentioned yet overlong, leaves positive impressions in several aspects: confident direction, committed performances, depiction of the problems affecting guards and their procedures, but fails on that one that could have made it tolerable – authenticity. There’s some sweetness, even some lightness, associated to several scenes that feel inadequate, and the postures and dialogues were just occasionally followed with attentiveness. This friendship was never truly convincing, forcing me to look into “Camp X-Ray” as an unimportant fictional exercise showing superficial insight about a grievous subject matter.

October 22, 2014

Birdman (2014)

Birdman (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Birdman or "(The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is the funniest movie from Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, a solid reference in the contemporary cinema, taking into account relevant titles such as “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams”, “Babel” and “Biutiful”. The story follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), once a famous actor associated with the superhero Birdman, who wants to shine again, this time through a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s short story. With abnormal capacities and listening to the voice of truth that comes from inside his head, Riggan will struggle to solve his own problems, at the same time that interacts with his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and with the rest of the actors he chose. In this last group we have the sexually unrestrained Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), Riggan’s frustrated girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), and the insecure Leslie (Naomi Watts) who feels disrespected by Mike in the most hilarious scene of the film. Wild and eccentric, “Birdman” works as a weird delirium that puts together the surrealism of “Brazil”, the mood of Coen brothers, and some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best narratives. Iñarritu knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants from the audience, playing with us the same truth-or-dare game that is played by his characters. A note for the soaring sound of the drums that is heard along the film, so important to give the film the special flow it needs, and the outstanding cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezky (“Gravity”, “The Tree of Life”).

October 20, 2014

Automata (2014)

Automata (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gabe Ibañez
Country: Spain / Bulgaria

Movie Review: Gabe Ibañez’s “Automata” is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller that feels more pretentious than efficient. The story is set in 2044 AD, in a time where atmospheric disturbances, reduction of the population, and technological regression, are compensated with robots that enforce the two protocols responsible for ruling the almost deserted world. Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance claim checker for ROC, the company that makes the robots, embarks in a one-man journey to assure the future of humanity. The chaotic scenarios are not so negative, but the film never transcends itself into something worthy. To tell the truth, we wait and wait for long periods of time, and nothing meaningful really happens, making us enter in a sort of melancholy that is very difficult to get rid of, even during the action scenes. There’s still time for some ludicrous scenes that include a sentimental dance between Vaucan and a robot, or a problematic cop who shows a compulsive ability to shoot robots in the head. Vaucan’s screams of frustration felt dried, and the world depicted in the heavy-handed “Automata” never provided any compassion or sympathy. The presence of Antonio Banderas was also insufficient to boost an unfocused plot, written by the Spanish director Ibañez together with Igor Legarreta and Javier Sánchez Donate, which ended up being an unenthusiastic assembly of small ideas.


October 19, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Fincher
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Gone Girl”, the new thriller directed by the acclaimed David Fincher (“Seven”, “Fight Club”, “Zodiac”, “Social Network”), provides fantastic moments of entertainment, trapping us into a vast sea of deceit, murder and obsession. The film was written by Gillian Flynn based on her own novel of the same name, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, who gave the best performance of her career. The story follows the couple, Nick (Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Pike), who are going through a big marital crisis, when suddenly Amy disappears in unexplainable circumstances on her wedding anniversary. Nick, showing some coldness and detachment about the matter, becomes the main suspect, whereas the doubts remain till the end. Intelligently written and directed, “Gone Girl” doesn’t have the boldness of “Seven” or “Fight Club”, but is a brutal piece of cinema whose calculated twists and moves didn’t fail to surprise or delight. There’s a memorable scene when a man bleeds to death with a deep blow in his throat, inflicted precisely seconds before having an orgasm. Visually intense and emotionally unsettling, this US top box office is not exactly a masterpiece, especially if we consider some questionable details, a fact that was not an impeditive to catch us along all the way, extracting the best of each scene in order to gain our attention. In resume, we are before an engrossing thriller with lots of funny dark moments and a cynical, creepy intensity.

October 16, 2014

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Maps to the Stars (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Country: USA / Canada / others

Movie Review: Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, after the dispensable “Cosmopolis”, brings us a spicy satire about Hollywood film industry, portraying at the same time a dysfunctional family that tries to succeed and find happiness, directly or indirectly, in the world of celebrities and movies. After has burned down her parents’ house, the lunatic Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) comes out from a psychiatric facility in Florida and returns to LA to make amends with her family. Meanwhile she starts seeing Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a limo driver who aspires to become an actor-screenwriter, and ends up being hired by the unstable actress, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). The latter does whatever it takes to play her mother’s character in a film. The ghost of the mother occasionally teases Havana who finds a supernatural relation in the arrival of the burn-scarred Agatha whose teen brother Benji Weiss (Evan Bird) is having a huge success in film industry but needs an urgent detox. Their father, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), is a well-respected analyst and coach with the mission of helping Havana with her disturbed mind. “Maps to the Stars” is simultaneously funny and vulgar, incisive and uneven, always using sarcastic tones that are often taken to the extreme. Who needs to see Julianne Moore farting in the toilet? Or a stoned silly kid shooting his friend’s dog? A provocative, even exaggerated cinema that doesn’t always stick with you for the best motives, exhibiting a very captivating start, but letting us down by the second half. General good performances, though.


October 14, 2014

Latitudes (2014)

Latitudes (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Felipe Braga
Country: Brazil

Movie Review: Co-written by first-time director Felipe Braga and Teodoro Popovic, “Latitudes” was shot in eight different countries, falling in the category of drama-romance. Renowned Brazilian actress, Alice Braga (“City of God”, “Elysium”) gives shape to Olivia, an inveterate traveler and fashion editor, who is always in a rush but suddenly gets trapped by love, after one-nigh stand in Paris with photographer José (Daniel de Oliveira). Despite being committed in distinct relationships, and trying to avoid extra commitment at any cost, both will meet again, incidentally or not, in luxurious hotel rooms around seven other countries, including England, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Turkey. The film really starts in a languid way, seeming too familiar (Linklater’s ‘Before trilogy’ eventually comes to mind), but over its course “Latitudes” was able to find its own way, putting itself in a place where we can see it with different eyes. Jealousy, doubt and contradictions intrude in the relationship of two wanderers whose dialogues are not always absorbing. The direction of Felipe Braga (no relation with Alice Braga applies) is sufficient but not without some distracting elements that blur the painting. I would say that the story is simultaneously contrived and engaging in its looseness. There’s still time for love? Maybe, but only if it’s the right one. “Latitudes” got a multi-platform release that includes Youtube series, network TV show and theatrical feature-length film.

October 13, 2014

The Equalizer (2014)

The Equalizer (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Equalizer” was better than I thought, but also promised far more than it gave. Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a retired black ops government operative who decides to avenge the mistreatments inflicted to Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenager prostitute working for a dangerous Russian network in Boston. McCall will have in Teddy (Marton Csokas) his most intelligent and dangerous opponent, but the head of the Muscovite gang, Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), is the final target. The thriller was directed by Antoine Fuqua who does much better than in the disastrous “Olympus Has Fallen”, in a plot written by Richard Wenk (“The Mechanic”, “The Expendables 2”), inspired on the TV series created by Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan. The tension created deserves some emphasis, but as the majority of the action thrillers, there is an abuse in terms of violent scenes that surpasses both meaning and message of the story. We can still find a bit of entertainment in the middle of its darkness, but since the start we become aware that “The Equalizer” doesn’t deliver any novelty on conception and execution. Despite of Washington’s predisposition for avenger roles, the standard procedures shown are aggravated by an expected finale that touches the dullness. One last positive mention is the influential score by the experienced British composer Harry Gregson-Williams. The plot in “The Equalizer” could have been handled differently for better if Fuqua wasn’t so concerned to impress us graphically.

October 10, 2014

Os Maias (2014)

Os Maias (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: João Botelho
Country: Portugal / Brazil

Movie Review: João Botelho’s modern and sympathetic adaptation of the Portuguese naturalist novel from 1888, “The Maias: Episodes of Romantic Life” by Eça de Queirós, shows some poetic humor but moves away from the artistic freedom exhibited in “Disquiet”, which celebrates the controversial poet Fernando Pessoa. The casting was one of the good aspects of the film, together with the curious option of manipulating settings to illustrate outdoor landscapes and surroundings. These settings even gave some exquisite, picturesque taste to the well-composed photography by João Ribeiro, but “Os Maias” evinces some issues that are difficult to ignore. The biggest of them is that the passion of the aristocrat Carlos da Maia for Maria Eduarda (the fulcral point of the plot) was less impressive than the friendship with his libertine friend João da Ega, the character that keeps us watching the film with interest. The crucial romance never attained high temperatures to make us sweat, remaining stuck in the formalism of the scenes and polished dialogues that almost ruined everything, especially in its first part. Moving forward in an uneven manner, the story turns out to be watchable due to the effort of the actors and some inspired visual ‘reconstitutions’. Botelho’s best film so far is minimally competent, but leaves the sensation that it could have been shortened, less focused in trivial details of the period, and more concentrated in extracting the emotions needed from the plot. The film was shot in 50 days with a budget of 1,3 million Euros, and clearly missed the opportunity of becoming a more fulfilling reference in the Portuguese cinema scene.

October 09, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Scott Frank
Country: USA

Movie Review: Liam Neeson dresses the role of Matt Scudder, a former alcoholic cop turned into private eye, who is hired by the drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) to find more about his wife’s kidnapping and murder, even after her ransom has been paid. The investigation leads to other similar cases of women’s abduction, and Scudder will work with the unwanted help of TJ (Astro), a curious teenager who admits to be a fan of the famous fictional detectives Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Approaching witnesses and suspects, Scudder will try to capture the psychos behind the crimes. With a typical mysterious atmosphere, this thriller steps into commonplace territory, never impressing, even in its most agitated situations. The investigation ends up in a collective operation that left me absent-minded, hampering me from caring about the conclusions of a story so many times explored before. “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is the sophomore feature film from Scott Frank, screenwriter of so different films such as “The Wolverine”, “Minority Report”, “Marley & Me”, and “The Lookout”. It was based on Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, and counted with more than twenty names in the production (executive and non-executive), including Tobin Armbrust, Michael Shamberg, and Danny DeVito. Liam Neeson’s performance became the positive factor in a film that used routine processes as weapon. Not even the bad guys were interesting, and consequently, the result is a wobbly exercise on the conventional, and a too comfortable approach in the action thriller genre.

October 08, 2014

The Guest (2014)

The Guest (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Country: USA

Movie Review: After the good indications left on horror with “You’re Next” in 2011, American filmmaker Adam Wingard cooperates again with screenwriter Simon Barrett, in this brand new “The Guest”, a bustling option for the action-packed-thriller enthusiasts. The story focuses on David (Dan Stevens), a mysterious former soldier, returned from Afghanistan, who joins the family of a deceased companion, in order to give them all his support. Dan Stevens gives an exemplary performance, revealing the eyes of a meek goat but the agility and brain of a sly fox - a disturbed killing-machine ready to destroy without any remorse. The film, ridiculously funny, showed to be strained in several moments, making me smile openly while filling my eyes with energetic action and exciting moments. “The Guest” is not to take seriously and its dark conclusions are expected anytime, but at the same time I never stop to vibrate with its rowdy scene sequences, and consequently I was never bored. An aspect that deserves to be praised is the boldness assumed by the pair filmmaker-screenwriter, who embraced a provocative plot without complexes, sticking to each new scene with a conviction that embarrasses similar films that manifest more serious aspirations. Regardless its unsweetened tones, “The Guest” is an explosive treat, well-wrapped in modern colorful paper, but taking us back in time to the cult thrillers of the 80’s where the mood of “Terminator” and reference names such as John Carpenter or Brian de Palma come to our minds. Wingard is confirmed as an emergent director to follow closely in his next moves.

October 07, 2014

Lilting (2014)

Lilting (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hong Khaou
Country: UK

Movie Review: “Lilting”, the debut feature film from Cambodian-born filmmaker Hong Khaou, is a British drama with Asian connotations, following Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), a Cambodian-Chinese mother who doesn’t cope with the fact of having been placed in a shelter home for elders by her gay son, Kai (Andrew Leung), recently deceased in a car crash. Junn fantasizes with her son’s presence when she’s not with her new friend, Alan (Peter Bowles), another shelter dweller who nourishes strong feelings for her. The problem of communication between the two is going to be eased when Richard (Ben Whishaw), Kai’s former boyfriend, hires a meddler non-professional translator, Vann (Naomi Christie), in order to allow them to express their feelings. However, what we thought it would be helpful to get them even closer, drifts them apart, showing that sometimes the communication and verbalization of ideas can be a deterrent. “Lilting” was impeccably shot, denoting a simplistic way of processes that make the film flow without a fuss, but its pace didn’t always seemed self-assured, trying a timid humor and a warm interaction among the characters that were sparsely succeeded. Khaou’s effort in trying to extract the best of each image was a relevant factor to praise, whereas the story is presented in a sensitive manner, with a sort of languidness that sometimes was felt dragged and other times too mellow. Amongst all its irrelevant flashbacks, the low-key “Lilting” never freed itself from what was established since the beginning: a web of relationships lost in translation.

October 06, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze Runner (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Wes Ball
Country: USA / Canada / UK

Move Review: The adaptation of James Dashner’s novel dated from 2007, “The Maze Runner”, is a floppy combination of several films from the past, taking us on a trip into the vagueness. The film makes us recall “Cube” - with the particularity of taking place in an open-sky labyrinth, the leadership/submissive relationships among the youngsters in “Lord of the Flies”, and the fierce attacks and battles depicted in “Alien”. The story is centered on Thomas, an oblivious 16-year-old who joins other boys in ‘The Glade’, a cryptic place surrounded by changeable huge walls. Only a couple of these boys, called ‘runners’, know more about what’s beyond these walls and the secrets about the Grievers, the ugly alien creatures that inhabit the dark maze. The courageous Thomas, obeying to an impulse to save his mates, will adventure himself in the other side, being the first one to survive and decipher the enigma. “The Maze Runner” is marked by the lack of rigor and dispersion of the plot, along with the confusion of its images when depicting the chaos of battles or panic in the group. Never exciting, the film never passes any sensation of freshness, so vital to avoid the typical conclusion ‘I’ve seen this too many times before’. First-time director, Wes Ball, never found focus in the writing of Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Meyers, and TS Nowlin, in order to clarify the viewer or provide the visual satisfaction that we seek in a good sci-fi movie. The formulaic approach removed any interest we might have in its fastidious heroes, as well as the curiosity regarding the next chapter, expected a year from now.

September 22, 2014

Vacations Time!!

After an intensive year on film, AWGM film blog will be on halt for approximately 10 days for a deserved vacation period.
Thanks for your support and understanding.

Carlos Filipe Freitas

September 19, 2014

Stray Dogs (2013)

Stray Dogs (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tsai Ming Liang
Country: Taiwan / France

Movie Review: This is not the first time that the acclaimed filmmaker, Tsai Ming Liang, accurately depicts the desolation of some miserable lives that wander on Taipei’s shore. From all his past movies, “The Hole” from 1998 is the one that gets closer to “Stray Dogs”, not in terms of plot, but in its visuals, where the constant heavy rain, muddy landscapes, and places in ruins, compose the background of a picture whose center is an alcoholic man who struggles to feed his two children. During the day, he earns some money holding up a signboard that advertises luxury apartments, while the kids spend the day in a supermarket trying to get food samples. Watching the father making an effort to stay away of alcohol by entrusting all his money to the older son, was really heartbreaking, or the satisfaction of the belly-pinched family eating at the end of the day, somewhere on a dark street. But the days in which the father changes his mind and asks for the money to drink, a deep sadness hits the heart of the kids, who unexpectedly become the protégés of a solitary woman, employee of the supermarket where they try their luck. Super-long shots with steady camera, a huge pain reflected in the characters’ eyes and captured through intense close-ups, and the gift to compose the anguish and wretchedness, are sharp arrows pointed straight to our hearts, in a way that only Ming Liang knows how to do it. In spite of my words of praise, be aware that the style demonstrated here requires some effort from the viewer. It's a powerful, intoxicating raw cinema, showing that not everybody is blessed with a good life.

September 18, 2014

Blind (2014)

Blind (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Eskil Vogt
Country: Norway

Movie Review: Bold, open-minded and self-confident are some ways to classify the Norwegian “Blind”, Eskil Vogt’s experimental comedy drama. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Peterson) was affected by a rare disease that got her blind, staying home the most part of the time and giving wings to her imagination. Her creative mind not only rummages sexual fantasies and desires, but also her deepest fears regarding her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelesen). The structure is complex in such a way that I occasionally felt lost in its web of truths, lies, fantasies, and realities. It’s a voluptuous portrait of a neurotic woman whose blindness doesn’t stop her from dreaming. Characters like the voyeur and porn addict, Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt), who always looked for the most hard-core and mundane in women before falling in love, or the solitary Elin (Vera Vitali) who is pregnant and resigned with her blindness. “Blind” has the merit of providing a different experience while tangle us in its difficult, puzzled relationships that never ceased to surprise. There’s something weirdly dark and humorous in its ‘fake’ quietness, and in spite of one or another technical aspect that could have been better worked out, the film revealed a fresh observant side allied to an enviable rigor on details. Writer and first-time feature film director, Eskil Vogt, responsible for the screenplays of Joachim Trier’s “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”, collected awards at Berlin, Istanbul and Sundance, a wonderful showcase in addiction to the Norwegian prize of best director.

September 17, 2014

Kelly & Cal (2014)

Kelly & Cal (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jen McGowan
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Kelly & Cal” has a plausible story as background but never delivered enough intense motives to gain my appreciation. This drama marks the debut of director Jen McGowan and screenwriter Amy Lowe Starbin, a lumpy combination that only sparsely works out. What really stands out here is Juliette Lewis as Kelly, a former punk-rock singer who is now trapped into a complicated marriage and carries a crying baby in her arms. Feeling abandoned by her workaholic husband and exhausted, Kelly will find some ease in her frustration when she meets Cal (Johnny Weston), a 17 year-old angered boy in a wheelchair. They will develop an improbable relationship that both of them know pretty well can end up tragically. The film also addresses the meddling of family in the relationship of a couple, when suddenly mother-in-law and sister-in-law try to transform Kelly in something she doesn’t want to. The film steps in too widely known territories to surprises us, and the approach and mood didn’t stood out in order to leave a positive impact. I believe the problem of “Kelly & Cal” relies exactly in its worn execution, non-fluid pace, and a final part that tries to shake a little bit emotions without totally convince. Even if romantic dramas are your favorite plate, I dare to say that this ‘frustrating married mom meets a revolted young man’ only has performances as its most valuable aspect. The film won the Gamechanger award 2014 at South by Southwest (SXSW), which takes place in Austin, Texas.

September 16, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

The Skeleton Twins (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Craig Johnson
Country: USA

Movie Review: Directed by Craig Johnson (“True Adolescents”) and co-written with Mark Heyman (“Black Swan”), “The Skeleton Twins” is an efficient American indie dramedy that showcases amazing performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Milo (Haden) lives in LA where he pursues an acting career. Severely depressed, he tries to commit suicide at the same time that his twin sister, Maggie (Wiig), whom he doesn’t see in ten years, is thinking in doing the same at her home in upstate New York. Both will reunite in this last location and help each other understanding where the problems might come from and how to better deal with them. While Milo, avowedly gay, tries to revive a problematic relationship, once wrapped in trouble, with a former professor, Maggie often cheats the goodhearted husband she loves, lying to him about wanting to get pregnant. Intelligent in the way that draws laughs and tears, “The Skeleton Twins” was able to shake feelings and make me care about the lives of these two tormented human beings who are desperately looking for a piece of solid ground in a muddy swamp. Johnson’s direction was pretty assertive and the performances by all the cast worked out wonderfully, thoroughly conveying the sadness of a, past and present, disjointed family, and the fear about the future. I see it as one of the most respectable and highly absorbing dramas of the year, enhanced by the great humor and several feel-good moments, which balanced the depicted tones of anguish. It bestowed all this with grace and focus, clearly standing out from the majority of the movies in the genre.

September 15, 2014

Honeymoon (2014)

Honeymoon (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Leigh Janiak
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Honeymoon” is an atmospheric low-budgeted thriller that marks the debut of Leigh Janiak in direction. The film only counted with four actors, two of them dispensable, and didn’t need spectacular special effects to immerse us in its intriguing mood. The story is centered in Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway), a freshly married couple that seeks the calm breezes of the woods for a perfect honeymoon. However, what should have been a few relaxing days dedicated to love and leisure, ends up in an anxious journey to the unknown. Following some weird occurrences during the night, Bea mysteriously disappears in the darkness. After Paul finds her, she starts acting differently, forgetful and distant. She states she’s completely fine, blaming sleepwalking, but was that really the motive of her absence? With an efficient camera work and a nice, warming light brightening the frames, “Honeymoon” revealed to be stylish and very attentive to detail. The fear arrives slowly but in a precise way, catching our attention to the puzzle. Lamentably, the conclusions were too obvious to surprise, and the film loses important points in those few final minutes. With a blurred reality, only the video recording of a distant wedding remains. Newcomer filmmaker, Leigh Janiak, who co-wrote the plot with Phil Graziadel, despite the lack of inspiration to finish the story accordingly, shows great aptitude capturing the images and creating ambiance, a fact that I hope could become more fruitful in future works.

September 12, 2014

Metalhead (2013)

Metalhead (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ragnar Bragason
Country: Iceland

Movie Review: “Metalhead” is an angry drama set in a small country village in Iceland, and focused on Hera, a 12 year-old girl who becomes traumatized after witnessing the death of her brother in an accident with a tractor. She becomes wayward, alienated, and lacking self-esteem, seeming lost in improper behaviors. Without getting any help from their untalkative parents who also have a few problems to solve, Hera refuges herself in a passion inherited from her brother: the heavy-metal music. The problem will follow her for the rest of her teenage years, but an unlikely hope comes from the new priest of the village, also an enthusiast of the dark and thick sounds of heavy metal. Despite the hopeful finale, “Metalhead” is low-spirited and not always well coordinated in the sequences of scenes presented to us. I felt the film needed to lose some more time in certain details, maturing them to better compose the outcomes. There are certain moments where the filmmaker Ragnar Bragason, whose career is connected with the world of TV series, couldn’t avoid some instability and even phoniness, especially when tried to introduce some humor and religious connotations. As the film moves forward the characters become uninteresting and the dramatic contour ends up increasingly disappointing. Its backs and forths are many times inconsistent and often fluctuated, in a way that the film works more as a noisy show off than anything else. Exasperating in its final part and ordinary in its whole, “Metalhead” never convinced as an insightful or profound psychological portrait of a lost, angered, and yet talented soul.

September 11, 2014

Of Horses and Men (2013)

Of Horses and Men (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Benedikt Erlingsson
Country: Iceland

Movie Review: “Of Horses and Men” is a pretty damn amazing comedy-drama written and directed by Icelandic newcomer, Benedikt Erlingsson, who counted with the experienced filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (“Childrem of Nature”, “Mamma Gogo”) as producer, as well as Bergstein Bjorgulfsson (“Jar City”, “The Deep”) as cinematographer.  Short in duration (only 81 min.) but sufficiently intense in what intends to depict, the film is a collection of little stories (segments), confronting life and death in the most diverse ways, and putting face to face the animal and human natures, all with a bittersweet feel that grabs us since the very beginning. Occasionally, its well-observed images can be very painful to watch, however we always have the beauty of the Icelandic landscapes to calm us down afterwards. Each segment starts with a big close-up of a horse’s eye in which its owner is reflected in it. A lot of memorable scenes still persist in my head long after watching the movie. Among them, a stallion mounting a mare with its master on its back, a drunken man riding his horse into the freezing sea to buy vodka from a Russian boat, or a man sacrificing a horse to survive the bitter cold of the night. Exquisite and strange, the powerful “Of Horses and Men” is a feast not only for the eyes but also for the soul, according to the substance and spirit of its wonderful little tales. The throbbing folk soundtrack reinforces Erlingsson as the maestro of a well-orchestrated arthouse film.