October 05, 2015

The Martian (2015)

The Martian (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Country: USA

Movie Review: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is a good, often funny, sci-fi flick, but not a spectacular one. Visually and technically striking, the film left me a bit wobbly due to a strained plot, which contains a rescue beyond the bounds of imagination, an unlikely collaboration between the NASA and the China National Space Agency, and a farfetched new way of growing potatoes on Mars (imagine!). However, if we close our eyes to its, perhaps too speculative, plot’s stratagems and schemes, it's still possible to find a handful of breathtaking moments to enjoy. The screenwriter, Drew Goddard, who had already disclosed his proneness to unlimited fantasy in past movies such as “World War Z” and “Cloverfield”, based himself on the Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name. The American astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), gets accidentally stranded on Mars, after an operation that ended up aborted under a severe dust storm. On Martian soil, Mark is gravely wounded, loses his senses, and gets lost from the rest of the crew. The brave commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), informed by her fellow astronauts that Mark is dead, gives the order to return immediately to the spaceship and abandon the planet, not taking the risk of losing another crew-mate. When the world thought Mark was dead, he surprises everybody, not only giving signs of life (confirmed by satellite images), but also proving he’s healthy and making use of his botanical skills to prepare an artificial piece of land where he’ll try to grow potatoes. This way, he could last three more years until the next scheduled mission to the planet. The general problems in these cases start to appear, but the extremely versatile Mark never loses his good disposition and faith. On the Earth, the NASA is ruminating on the best way to bring Mark back home. Heading the operations are the optimistic director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his expeditious right-arm and mission director, Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Ridley Scott feels comfortable within a genre that he knows extremely well. The Polish cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, who had worked with Mr. Scott in “Prometheus”, does much better than Harry Gregson-Williams in the music department. Slightly overlong and just pinching in terms of excitement, “The Martial”, though watchable, fails to be the masterpiece that Mr. Scott has envisioned.

October 02, 2015

Labyrinth of Lies (2014)

Labyrinth of Lies (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Giulio Ricciarelli
Country: Germany

Movie Review: “Labyrinth of Lies” is a German historical drama, set in 1958, that addresses the dignified endeavors of the young state prosecutor, Johan Radmann, who sets mind on taking to the justice the unpunished SS officials and doctors who still live freely after torturing and killing thousands of innocent people in the terrifying Auschwitz concentration camp during the world war. The shame of a complicated past of a powerful country seduced by Hitler’s Nazi regime, falls on Radmann, stiffly played by Alexander Fehling, who sees former Nazis everywhere. During the relentless investigation, a labyrinth that nobody wants to deal with, he unveils a few painful truths that devastate him inside, to the point of wanting to abandon the task. His best friend, the zealous journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), was a member of the party when he was very young, as well as the father of his seductive girlfriend, Marlene (Friederike Becht), and his own father who's still missing since the end of the war. Radmann starts interviewing former victims of Auschwitz, while trying to capture the abominable, unrepentant culprits such as Schultz, who was teaching children at a school, and Dr. Josef Mengele, who is now living in Buenos Aires and was responsible for inhumane lab experiences that took the life of the twin little daughters of the artist Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), a tormented soul who survived the camp and hardly agrees to collaborate. Radmann’s honorable cause, here depicted with no less estimable intentions by the Italian actor-turned-director, Giulio Ricciarelli (directorial debut), isn’t a synonym of an accomplished movie. Actually, an obstructive formalism in the approach and the rusty performances aggravate the issues of a post-holocaust account that struggles in a few instances to find cohesion and tightness. Adopting tidy visuals and swinging between Hollywood’s standard twitches and TV series’ monotone routines, “Labyrinth of Lies” lacks intrigue and never manages to really speak to the heart. Its artificial undertones were the main reason why Mr. Ricciarelli couldn’t extract more and better from a strong real story. And thus, the film instantly vanishes from our minds when the theater lights are turned on.

October 01, 2015

99 Homes (2014)

99 Homes (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Country: USA

Movie Review: American-Iranian filmmaker, Ramin Bahrami, returns in big with “99 Homes”, a thoroughly observed analysis of the financial/real estate crisis that ravaged the US around 2010. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon star, respectively as the man to evict from the house his family was living forever, and the greedy real estate broker with an insatiable ambition to own more and more properties in the state of Florida. Dennis Nash (Garfield), an honest construction worker who lives with his mother (Laura Dern) and little son (Noah Lomax), gets desperate after going into court and be told by the judge that he has to vacate his house. Dennis gets panicky with the situation, but relies on more 30 days given by the judge, in the case he wants to appeal. Next morning, for his surprise, two inflexible cops and the impeccably dressed real estate broker, Richard Carver (Shannon), who works with a gun strapped to his ankle, appear at his door, informing that the house is now owned by the bank and that they have two minutes to pack what they want and leave. It’s an embarrassing moment for Dennis and his family, who are placed in a motel that hosts a bunch of people in the same situation. In extreme need of money and with the unique thought of retrieving his family house, Dennis accepts a dirty offer made by Carver and goes to work for him. He’s hired to fix houses that need urgent repair, but soon starts doing to other people exactly the same as Carver did to him. ‘Don’t get emotional over real estate’ – says the glacial Carver. Bluntly and heartlessly, Dennis shamefully evicts people under pressure from their houses. He isn’t an insatiable vulture as Carver, though. His conscience bites at every dispossession, becoming unbearable when his mother leaves with his son, abandoning him in a huge new property with a spectacular pool. I was happy to find that Mr. Bahrani, who co-wrote with Amir Naderi, is back to his best, recovering his resonant voice when it comes to denouncing the world’s social problems. His previous, “At Any Price”, wasn’t so consistent, but his past work includes the brilliant “Man Push Cart”, “Chop Chop”, and “Goodbye Solo”. “99 Homes” confirms his superior narrative skills, while showcases two smashingly compelling performances by the protagonists.

September 30, 2015

Wildlike (2014)

Wildlike (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Frank Hall Green
Country: USA

Movie Review: Writer, director and co-producer, Frank Hall Green, presents his sophomore fictional feature, which arrives with plausibility and dramatic strength, and leaves not only with uncertainty, but also with a steady light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. “Wildlike” is an independent drama that tells the distressing story of McKenzie (Ella Purnell), an unfortunate fatherless 14-year-old who ends up living with an estranged uncle (Brian Geraghty) in Juneau, Alaska, when his mother is hospitalized. At first, the uncle seems to be simultaneously attentive and caring but soon reveals an immoral dark side, abusing sexually of the quiet girl who runs away on the first opportunity she gets. Lost and desperate, she walks many miles through the amazing Alaskan landscapes, sleeping in an unlocked car and ultimately finding a motel where she sneaks into the room of the backpacker Rene Bartlett (Bruce Greenwood). When he finds her underneath his bed, he gets startled, but despite his efforts to reach her, she manages to escape without an explanation. Before bumping into Rene again (like a karma), McKenzie approaches a much younger backpacker by knocking at his door and asking if she can take a shower. The young man, seeing her wrapped in a towel on his bed, advances for a kiss, bringing all the recent ignominious memories. The brusque, yet good-hearted middle-aged Rene is marked as the man to follow while she tries to figure out the best way to return to Seattle and contact her mother. The new friends open up, telling more about their lives, a fact that leads the highly confused McKenzie to an embarrassing misstep. The tensest moments in the film are narrow and all together just last a few minutes. They include a fortuitous encounter with a menacing black bear and a couple situations when the fugitive tries to hide from the police officers and the insulting uncle. Evenly plotted, “Wildlike”, which oscillates between the tactful and the warmish, leaves us with the sensation that its developments could be even stronger in order to be treasured. It stands firm mostly because of Ella Purnell’s extremely sensitive performance and the unflinching surprises that the pragmatic Mr. Green takes out of his sleeve.

September 29, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Country: USA

Movie Review: When taking into account the themes of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, a glorious coming-of-age comedy-drama written by Jesse Andrews (based in his own novel) and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (his sophomore feature film), we must conclude that its crew and cast were capable of pulling the film out of standardized comfort zones. The young actor, Thomas Mann, is delightfully awkward when playing Greg, a senior at Pittsburgh's Schenley High School, who likes to cultivate his invisibility by remaining in good terms with everybody but never in a way that’s not casual or mellow. He’s best friends with the lazy Earl (RJ Cyler), a long-time partner in the making of a few secret short movies that aim to ridicule the classics. Greg is compelled by his intrusive mother to call Rachel (Olivia Cooke), his fellow student and former childhood friend who was diagnosed with leukemia. Regardless the extreme reluctance of both, Greg and Rachel start seeing each other at her place, and their encounters can be described as weirdly enjoyable. Greg’s presence is always fully embraced by Rachel’s single mother, Denise (Molly Shannon), who finds him modest and handsome. After some time, a strong bond consolidates, triggering some spiteful commentaries by some mean colleagues who affirm that Greg just speaks to Rachel because she has cancer. However, Greg’s hot crush, Madison, suggests he could make a film for Rachel. Amidst some quarrels with the presuming Earl, Greg seeks inspiration for the film in order to please his dying friend, the one he always manages to cheer up, receiving in turn, some rebukes about his lack of initiative and some orientation regarding important fast-approaching choices. In addition to its congenial offbeat tones, this giving/receiving exchange is the key to the beauty of the film. Other few stupendous occurrences deserve to be mentioned – the one when Greg and Earl got accidentally on drugs is hilarious. Gomez-Rejon’s camera moves confidently and dares to some inventive angles, intelligently mounting frames that are as much idiosyncratic as its characters. Packed with refreshing good ideas, this is a rich, rewarding story whose finale is beautiful, sore, and touching.

September 28, 2015

Mississippi Grind (2015)

Mississippi Grind (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Country: USA

Movie Review: If you’re in the mood for those pungent dramas about losers, gamblers, wanderers, solitaries, and despairing human creatures that inhabit the face of the Earth struggling with financial problems and family disillusions, “Mississippi Grind”, may be a splendid pick. The meritorious performances of Ben Mendelsohn, playing a vicious poker player who ultimately is going through a phase of bad luck, and Ryan Reynolds (replacing Jake Gyllenhaal), as a sympathetic younger gambler who loves to talk to people and charming them with amazing stories about other gamblers, are sufficient motives to follow the film. The disheartened Gerry (Mendelsohn), an absent father and divorced real estate agent whose life is in a complete mess, slowly approaches the Iowan casino where he daily tries his luck. He wants to win so badly, so he can pay his giant debts and regain the confidence he has lost in order to reconnect with his little daughter. While at the poker table, he gets fascinated with Curtis (Reynolds), who immediately draws his attention. Gerry truly starts to believe that Curtis can be the one who can change his luck. Both become friends, setting off on a road trip in which a few interesting encounters and episodes inject some more substance than just the gambling itself. The destiny is New Orleans, but underway, they make a couple of stops. The first is in St. Louis, where Curtis visits his girlfriend, Simone (Sienna Miller), at the house where men can find companionship. Once there, Gerry nurtures a special fondness for Vanessa (Analeigh Tipton), a sweet girl who wants to change her life and enthusiastically shows him some magic tricks. Then, a big bet is waiting for the avid Gerry in Memphis, but once again, he leaves empty-handed. Before reaching the destiny, they make a little detour to Little Rock, where Gerry meets with his ex-wife. Shamefully, he falls into the temptation of trying to steal cash from her. Failure after failure, the two friends are daring enough to sometimes play with their lives. Are they condemned to fail forever? The mood adopted by the American writers/directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson"), is reminiscent of Robert Altman’s films from the 70’s, whereas the musical score – a blend of old blues and other westerner tunes – supplies the appropriate flavor to consolidate its dynamics.

September 25, 2015

Black Mass (2015)

Black Mass (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Country: USA

Movie Review: After an extraordinary start, marked by unforgettable presences in “Dead Man”, “Ed Wood”, “Gilbert Grape” and “Donnie Brasco”, the actor Johnny Depp has fed his curriculum, not only with dignified choices based on fantasy - most of them conceived by Tim Burton - but also with a few repulsive flicks like “The Lone Ranger”, “The Tourist”, and “Transcendence”. In the fact-based “Black Mass”, a fairly watchable gangster thriller, directed by Scott Cooper in a similar line of Scorsese, he returns to a strong role, playing the violent Irish-American gangster, Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger, who was a terror to his enemies, but a sweet, nice guy for his family and friends. The film starts with Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown), Jimmy’s trustful hitman, being questioned about the gang’s operation and the cold ways of dealing with snitches. Also, Jimmy’s right-hand, Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) agrees to narrate a few past episodes involving the business. We learn that Jimmy did what he did because he had his back covered by his influential brother, senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch), and a dishonest special agent, John Connolly, earnestly played by Noel Edgerton, who had grown up with them and recently has returned to the city. The latter undermines the police and the FBI and persuades his boss to accept an illicit alliance admitting the ruthless Jimmy as a consultant in the battle against the Mafiosi Angiulo brothers. Step by step, Jimmy, unable to hide his involvement in drugs, extortion, and murder, becomes bigger and more ambitious, imposing total respect to Connolly who becomes shaky when his wife, Marianne, confronts his morality. Unexpectedly, the most significant scenes are non-violent: one in the beginning, when he explains to his little son why he shouldn’t be in trouble for punching another kid at school; and another tense one, when a ‘family recipe’ is easily given away. On the contrary, the violent scenes are scarcely exciting and sum up into a few artful, cold-blooded gunshots. Notwithstanding, and despite the many side characters and situations, the story is no muddled. Depp isn't Brando or Pesci, yet he’s a justifiable fit for the unsentimental role.

September 24, 2015

Everest (2015)

Everest (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur
Country: USA / UK / Iceland

Movie Review: Efficient Icelandic director, Baltasar Kormakur, returns to the cinematic recreations of dramatic real-life events after the accomplished “The Deep”, dated from two years ago. Right after the latter, he made an incursion into the fictional action-crime genre with the uninvolving “Two Guns”, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. “Everest”, an account of the tragedy occurred in the Earth's highest mountain in the spring of 1996, also presents a strong cast, including Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, and Emily Watson. Screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy try to assemble the different pieces in a mix of family drama, human competition, and survival epic, but in my eyes, and despite watchable, the film falls short of something big. A group of audacious climbers of several nationalities aims to reach the top of the Everest. The New Zealander Rob Hall (Clarke) and the American Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) are two experienced guides who, competing each other to get the attention of the media, will drive a group that features Beck Weathers (Brolin), who doesn’t seem so confident as the others and expose himself to some calamitous situations, Doug Hansen (Hawkes), who had failed the task before but wants to prove he can do it, and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who already had climbed six of the seven highest peaks. Halfway, all of them talk about their motivations to embark on the expedition, which is constantly monitored by Helen (Watson), the base camp manager, who keeps them informed about the weather conditions, via radio. With more or less difficulty, the glory is attained by most of the climbers, who had no idea of what would come next. A huge storm, bringing devastating chilly winds and blinding heavy snows, sweeps the mountain when all of them, except two, had initiated the descent. To pump up the anxiety, oxygen bottles are not available anymore and high-altitude pulmonary edema attacks mercilessly, leaving the most fragile freezingly motionless. The drama of the mountaineers’ wives is also a crucial point of Kormakur’s camera, which seeks the best vertiginous angles to provoke us a few shivers.  All the same, “Everest” is more breathtaking than emotionally responsive, failing to mightily step onto the peak of the subgenre where it belongs.

September 23, 2015

Sicario (2015)

Sicario (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Sicario” is an adult, virile, expertly crafted thriller. Just as we expected since it was directed by the acclaimed Quebecois filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve, who already had stun us with the rigorous “Polytechnique”, the thrilling “Incendies”, and the enigmatic “Enemy”. His last, “Prisoners”, despite the great performances of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gylenhaal, was the weakest link of a vibrant career, a sort of a breach that “Sicario”, which intelligently addresses an exceptional operation carried out by the CIA to hunt the leader of a drug cartel that infests the troublesome US-Mexican border, comes now to restore. The TV series actor, Taylor Sheridan, has an auspicious debut on screenwriting, devising a story that never felt unreal, strained, or pretentious. Every move is made seamlessly, and even the darkest and most violent moments are compelling and utterly absorbing. Emily Blunt is Kate Macer, an acute FBI agent who plays an important tactical role in a SWAT team that recently has discovered dozens of mutilated bodies concealed in a secluded house in Arizona. Almost without any explanation, she’s assigned to help with an unclear CIA mission said to occur around the El Paso area. Kate will operate under the orders of Matt (Josh Brolin), a flippant consultant for the Department of Defense, who doesn’t stop to surprise us along the way. He’s the kind of guy who goes to important meetings wearing flip-flops, adopts a disconcerting posture when questioned, and embraces a natural carefree attitude. The team also relies on the ambiguous Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a drug-cartel connoisseur with a shadowy past. His determination may be similar to Kate’s, but his true motivations, integrity, and modus operandi are totally distinct. “Sicario” carries high levels of tension, a considerable number of violent action scenes, and a psychological side that works in the plenitude of its possibilities. It doesn’t cross the borders of perfection (a redundant subplot involving a Mexican police officer feels time-consuming), however, it’s equipped with a down-to-earth photography, a disquieting musical score, and gutsy action scenarios. All the performances were phenomenal, but Del Toro is the one who steals great part of the show.

September 22, 2015

The New Girlfriend (2014)

The New Girlfriend (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: François Ozon
Country: France

Movie Review: Forceful actor Romain Duris, despite a bit funny dressed and acting as a woman, breathes some charm and certain glamour in the brand new drama “The New Girlfriend” from the admired French helmer François Ozon, who steadily carried out the screen adaptation of the Ruth Rendell’s short story of the same name. Anais Demoustier and Isild Le Besco play respectively Claire and Laura, two inseparable childhood friends who fortuitously meet their future husbands in the same night. For Claire, it was love at first sight, and she’s in a happy marriage with Gilles (Raphael Personnaz), who may be described as an open-minded, hard-worker, reliable man. Laura was also happy with David, but she dies shortly after giving birth to a beautiful baby daughter. Claire had promised she would take care of Laura's husband and child if something happened to her. However, after Laura's funeral, she persists in avoiding David, clearly struggling to cope with the painful loss. One day, without notice, she decides to stop by David’s house, accidentally discovering an unsettling secret, which only Laura was aware of: David was feeding his baby, dressed as a woman. After the initial shock, Claire starts gradually understanding and accepting David, who makes clear that he really feels the urge to dress and be a woman, regardless all the intimidation of having to assume it publicly. Claire, terribly confused at first, suddenly takes an underlying pleasure in shopping with David, now called Virginia, and even agrees to join him for a weekend at Laura’s country house. On that weekend, during a transgender show at a local nightclub, David is profoundly touched by the performance of the artist. From that moment on, feelings grow a bit messy and blurry at a certain point, a fact that didn’t stop me from following the course of events with a zealous interest. Mr. Ozon, who proves to be a legitimate filmmaker, grabs some moods from Almodóvar, yet giving priority to a seductive moderation over exuberance, and also from Xavier Dolan, with the particularity of being slightly more humorous and less staged. This is a reliable choice for an awesome matinee.

September 21, 2015

Five Star (2014)

Five Star (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Keith Miller
Country: USA

Movie Review: Presented as a low-key fiction-documentary hybrid, “Five Star”, stars James ‘Primo’ Grant, a real member of the Brooklyn’s gang Bloods since the age of 12, who playing himself, might gain some sympathy from some viewers, even considering that this type of characters are usually seen as ruthless and despicable when portrayed in movies. A real life environment, in which we see the protagonist doing multiple jobs, such as security or bodyguard, in order to provide for his family, may do the trick. The film starts with a long shot of Primo talking about his family and how he missed the birth of his beloved son while he was locked in a prison. He says he promised his kids to never leave them again. Back into the vicious streets he knows as the palm of his hand, he proceeds with the illicit business, always honoring the agreements made and demanding respect (the word we hear the most) from the clients as well as from his own members. As he decides to be a better father and husband, he’s also willing to give an opportunity to John Diaz, who learns the codes and culture followed by the gang. John is a difficult teenager whose father, Primo’s mentor, was killed by a stray bullet. Even respecting his good mother very much, John doesn’t hesitate to refuse a job in a local supermarket to accept the offer of Primo who keeps insisting that in his ‘business’ there’s no room for mistakes. There’s no need to say that problems arise when John is assigned with his first package drop-off. Director Keith Miller (“Welcome to Pine Hill”) deliberately leaves ambiguity hovering in terms of what is fiction and what is real, as the film runs at an unhurried pace. He avoids violent scenes, but builds an acceptable tension throughout the episodes that are captured by an often-unsteady camera. The performances, if not great, could have been worse, taking into account the actors’ inexperience. “Five Star” was never vibrant, but it was still able to make us think about the lives of these men, trapped into the mean streets since the day they were born.

September 18, 2015

Mia Madre (2015)

Mia Madre (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nanni Moretti
Country: Italy / France

Movie Review: I’ve been following Nanni Moretti’s versatile filmmaking career throughout all these years, and he has gained my appreciation by giving a very particular vision about himself and the world that surrounds him. His work ranges from satirical autobiographical essays (“Dear Diary”, “April”), to incisive dramas (the Palm D’Or “The Son’s Room”), to entertaining comedies (“We Have a Pope”) and even political provocations (”The Caiman”). This time around, Moretti’s approach is slightly different, introducing a few new elements to a drama that tries to mirror the real life of a filmmaker who is experiencing great distress. The restless Margherita (Margherita Buy) struggles to shoot her new film about the laborers of an Italian factory demanding their rights, according to her own concept. Inflexible and difficult to get along with, she has trouble to clearly convey her confusing ideas to the actors – ‘you should play the character but also stand next to the character’, she says. The film becomes even more complicated to finish with the arrival of the American actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro), a sort of ardent, eccentric dreamer who freaks out whenever he gets blocked in his acting. He’s by far the most interesting character of the film. Even sharing some sympathy for each other, director and actor, enter in a, sometimes freeing, course of collision. Besides work, there’s also Margherita’s personal life, which has been turned into hell since her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and now lives permanently at the hospital against her will. Margherita and her dedicated brother, Giovanni (Moretti), who doesn’t bring much to the story, were the ones making the decision. Also her daughter, Livia, and a former lover and actor, Vittorio, contribute to the stress, occasionally expressed through unclear dreams and futile flashbacks. “Mia Madre” advances unevenly, at a vapid pace, and only intermittently was able to enforce some emotional weight. Mr. Moretti has seen better days before, but just as his character’s mom, we’re already thinking in tomorrow because this one is middling.

September 17, 2015

The Mend (2014)

The Mend (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: John Magary
Country: USA

Movie Review: Although “The Mend” weaves a few laughable predicaments, I wouldn’t properly call it a comedy. John Magary’s independent debut feature is a vicious, punishing, and scathing study of characters, starring Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett as two dysfunctional brothers who simultaneously live in a devouring emotional crisis that leads to self-degradation and existential chaos. Mat (Lucas) and Alan (Plunkett) are suffering from the same ailment - emotional instability - but react in very different ways. The former is lax, unpredictable, and totally carefree (almost self-destructive), spending most of his time wandering the streets of New York, whereas the latter seems unaffected at a first glance, keeping his anger and frustration in an invisible inner level, but despite acting adequately and having a steady job as a legal aid lawyer, he’s prone to easily degenerate in the face of a problem. Instability is not the only point they have in common: both have girlfriends who love them, and they both hold a grudge against their absent father who was diagnosed with Parkinson. On the day before their vacation trip to Quebec, Alan and his girlfriend, Farrah (Mickey Sumner), are giving a small party in their cozy apartment in Harlem when they spot the intruder Mat among the guests. Mat, who apparently broke up with his girlfriend, Andrea (Lucy Owen) and her son after an argument, plans to stay in the apartment while his brother is away, and soon the place is turned into a complete mess. When bedbugs invade Mat’s girlfriend’s apartment, he invites her to the house exactly when Alan unexpectedly arrives from his vacations alone. Devastated and numbed, the latter will admit later that Farrah left him, and now he feels completely adrift. The filmmaking style of Mr. Magary resembles the enthralling realism of the Safdie brothers, boosted by Judd Greenstein and Michi Wiancko’s intriguingly suggestive score, strong dialogues, and the compelling performances from the four main characters. Nevertheless, the film isn’t flawless, occasionally abandoning the required straightforwardness to become diffuse, uneven, and overextended. I had the sensation that the insanity and disorder grow a bit out of proportion in a few crucial scenes.

September 16, 2015

Gabriel (2014)

Gabriel (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lou Howe
Country: USA

Movie Review: Well explored in its thematic and evincing a doleful temperament, “Gabriel” is a crushing drama directed by Lou Howe and starring Rory Culkin as the title character, a psychotic young man who struggles to find some meaning in a life that has been tough to him since he was a kid. The opening scene, where Gabriel, traveling in a bus, offers a cigarette to a little girl and then replies ‘we’re just fucking around’ to her mother when she asks what he was doing, is perfectly demonstrative of how this affected character can behave. Anxious, shaky, and sometimes insolent, the fatherless Gabriel delays the re-encounter with his worried mother and exemplary brother, just to try to find Alice, a former girlfriend whom he wants to marry with, even if he doesn’t see her for a couple of years. This fixation drives him to actions whose consequences are not less than devastating. Before that, there’s time for him to feel overwhelmed and act strangely in front of his family, repeating ‘I’m not my dad’. This statement comes from the fact that he blames his mother and brother for the suicide of his father, the main cause of his trauma. Only his grandmother patiently calms him down for brief periods and forgives his reproachable posture. In turn, his mother, despite acting endearingly, is not much of a help, especially when she says: ‘I couldn’t fix your dad after trying for so many years. And I can’t fix you either’. It’s sad to realize that Gabriel can’t have his own space, as well as the assistance he needs to revitalize his confidence and build the future he dreams – ‘I just want to live like a normal person; have a job, a wife, a life!’. Even so, on a darker scenario, it’s also sad that his urgent actions don’t have an acceptable fundament, being just a desperate attempt to stop the anguish and the restlessness that never leave him. Is Alice the real solution for his displacement? Rory Culkin gives one of the best performances of his career, conveying a believable, painful delirium that is hard to forget.

September 15, 2015

American Ultra (2015)

American Ultra (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Country: USA / Switzerland

Movie Review: Despite the fondness I have for the solid work of Jesse Eisenberg, reinforced recently by his marvelous performance in “The End of the Tour”, the actor was relegated to a half-depressive, half-sensitive, programmed puppet in the action-comedy flick “American Ultra” by the Iranian-British filmmaker Nima Nourizadeh, who directed according to a script by Max Landis (“Chronicle”). The skilled Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, an apparently common American citizen who works as a clerk in a West Virginia convenience store, likes to smoke pot, struggles with common panic attacks, and loves his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), more than anything in the world. But after all, nothing is so simple, and Mike is a highly trained CIA agent who is suddenly ‘activated’ by his former supervisor, Victoria (Connie Britton), when she learns that her ridiculous rival, Yates (Topher Grace), plans to destroy him - the one who she considers an asset of several past missions and whose memories were erased. His activation means that the confused Mike (‘am I real?’, he asks), who finds out that his beloved Phoebe is also a CIA agent, is turned into a killing machine that instantly and brutally responds to any attack or threat against him. Mike has to deal with Yates’ operatives, in particular, a psycho called Laugher (Walton Goggins), but counts on his dealer friend, Rose (John Leguizamo) - just another shallow character - to help him survive. Evincing a debilitated script, “American Ultra” promises gold, but delivers pinchbeck instead, shooting in every direction and struggling to find its own voice in the mix of genres embraced. Unfortunately, whether on comedy or action, the film is far from pleasing. Mr. Nourizadeh’s intentions to make the film look like wild and stirring, and at the same time sound funny, were thwarted by his own sense of urgency. He depicts chaos in a thin, occasionally extravagant way, also failing to reach the immediacy of a good joke. Everything seems hackneyed, from the protagonist to the side characters, and in the end, we may categorize this one as AUFF or an American Ultra Formulaic Film.

September 14, 2015

Coming Home (2014)

Coming Home (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Country: China

Movie Review: 28 years have passed since the first collaboration between the awarded Chinese filmmaker, Zhang Yimou, and the renowned actress, Gong Li. That first movie was “Red Sorghum” - not really one of my favorites - and their successful association would become stronger in subsequent essential dramas, all of them from the 90’s, cases of “Ju Dou”, “Raise the Red Lantern”, “The Story of Qiu Ju”, “To Live”, and “Shanghai Triad”. Now, they reunite one more time in “Coming Home”, eight years after “The Curse of the Golden Flower”, an adventurous action epic from 2007. Gong Li plays Yu Feng, a wife and former teacher whose husband, Lu Yanshi (Daoming Chen), also a professor, was arrested for political reasons and sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution. Their teenage daughter, Dandan (Huiwen Zhang), an extremely skillful ballerina, was refused the leading role in the famous ballet ‘Red Detachment of Women’ because her father was considered an outlaw. She grew up resentful with this setback, choosing to denounce her father when he attempts to approach Yu after managing to escape the camp where he was confined. A few years later, the Cultural Revolution is over and Lu is finally released. However, he realizes that everything has changed during all those years. Dandan currently lives in the dormitory of the old textile factory where she’s working and is now regretful about her actions. In turn, Yu reacts in a distant way and doesn't seem to care anymore, not because she has stopped loving him, but because she’s unable to recognize him due to suffering from a traumatic amnesia. Not so striking as other dramatic voyages of Mr. Yimou, the relentlessly grievous “Coming Home” still is a copious improvement when compared with the contrived “The Flowers of War”, a reenactment of a Japan’s Nanking incident, in which starred Christian Bale and Ni Ni. Despite the tenacious melodramatic tones, a beneficial aspect is that the script, adapted by Jingzhi Zou from the novel ‘The Criminal Lu Yanshi’ by Geling Yan, doesn’t take us to the most obvious places. A magnetic photography, painted with rich colors, together with the solid production values, do the rest.

September 11, 2015

A Brilliant Young Mind (2014)

A Brilliant Young Mind (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Morgan Matthews
Country: UK

Movie review: Morgan Matthews is an English documentarian whose latest, “A Brilliant Young Mind”, marks his fictional debut feature. The fact-based drama, written by James Graham, arises as a consequence of his own TV documentary from 2007, “Beautiful Young Minds”, so he never really moves out his comfort zone. The actual prodigious, Daniel Lightwing, was the one who served as inspiration. In the film, he was given the name, Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a 9-year-old boy who always had a knack for patterns, a fact that turned him into a math genius. The bashful Ellis also had a traumatic past since he was seated next to his father when he died in a terrible car accident. On that same day, he had been diagnosed with a form of autism and was being given all the support from his father who encouraged him saying: ‘don’t be afraid of what you have. It’s like having special powers.’ His understanding and super-devoted mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins), decides to enroll him in a school where the unorthodox professor, Martin Humphries (Rafe Spall), who often abuses of his medication for multiple sclerosis, will take the responsibility to prepare him the best he can to represent Great Britain in the International Mathematical Olympiad that’s about to happen in Taiwan. Not only Nathan feels and understands love for the first time, but also his mother starts a relationship with the insecure Martin. The young Asa Butterfield gives a valid performance as the introverted, picky, frank, and yet bright student, but overall the film is conducted in conventional tones, bringing immediately into mind other math-related movies such as “A Beautiful Mind”, “The Theory of Everything”, and “Good Will Hunting”. It’s indeed a heartwarming drama spurred by feel-good attitudes and honorable intentions, but I must object that there are no effective surprises in the story, as well as nothing fresh in the way it’s told. You may find yourself wishing the things were handled distinctively since the film shatters our highest expectations, becoming nearly a disappointment.

September 10, 2015

Listening (2015)

Directed by: Khalil Sullins
Country: USA / Cambodia

Movie Review: “Listening”, legitimately cooked by debutant writer-director, Khalil Sullins, is a sci-fi thriller with little dramatic impact and espionage innuendo. The film follows David Thorogood (Thomas Stroppel) and Ryan Cates (Artie Ahr), two penniless grad students who are capable of outline the most brilliant tech ideas and execute them, but are powerless when it comes to the expensive equipment for the experiments. However, their keenness and the excitement that comes from the possibility of being recognized by a great invention, dare them to steal the hardware pieces from the university lab. Their unauthorized experimentation, consisting in a mind-reading system in which one brain deciphers another brain, is carried out in the congested garage of David, who is so committed to it, that he easily forgets his family. This provokes the discontentment of his wife, Mel (Christine Haeberman), whose understanding and cooperation come to an end when they receive a note of eviction due to lack of payment. Moreover, a sense of mistrust had arisen when David asks her to connect her mind to his. The reason is that the images she sees, pulled out of his brain, are strictly sexual and involves a previous session with Jordan (Amber Marie Bollinger), an expedient tech expert who had joined them. The two sagacious friends, amidst renouncements and misfortunes, are lead to a stupendous opportunity in a governmental organization called Darkbird II, which is narrowly controlled by the austere, Matthews (Steve Hanks). The tempting high salary paid by the organization makes the aspiring Ryan, who couldn’t even afford his grandmother’s casket, to forget morals, ethics, and privacy, aspects that David is not willing to be deprived of. “Listening”, which was no more than rudimentary in its presentation and no less than feisty in terms of plot, was able to infuse a flickering tension that wasn’t enough to secure it tightly. Eminently perceptible in its looks, was the mutable saturated color tones used to represent the exterior (yellow), home (blue), garage (green), and the Darkbird premises (white).

September 09, 2015

Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Goodnight Mommy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Country: Austria

Movie Review: “Goodnight Mommy” is an Austrian psychological horror-thriller, produced by Ulrich Seidl, and written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The collaboration between Mr. Seidl and Ms. Franz isn't recent, since the latter was the screenwriter of “Dog Days”, “Import/Export”, and the “Paradise Trilogy: Love, Faith, and Hope”, films that projected the career of Ulrich Seidl as a film director. A careful examination of its wryly-dark tones and incisive procedural techniques can tell us right away that Seidl was an influence. As for the story, it works quite well as a quietly disturbing tale that develops in a crescendo, haunting us with its eerie visuals and baffling us with its mysteries. If you liked Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth”, the masterpiece of the genre, you will probably connect to “Goodbye Mommy” whose scenes inside an isolated house in the Austria suburbs, involving the members of a family in a sort of captivity, might provoke similar sensations and claustrophobia. Nevertheless, the plot’s final twist didn’t have the impact that should have had in order to culminate the film in a brilliant way. For me, it worked more like a gimmick than a real twist. Two active and clever twin-brothers, Lukas and Elias, welcome their mother, a TV hostess, after she had been submitted to a facial surgery. Their time is divided into exploring the fields around the isolated house, raising beetles, and feeding stray cats. Gradually, their behavior grows harsh and their posture changes to bitter, after a few incidents that make them suspect about the true identity of their mother who always hides her face under bandages. The situation is aggravated when the intriguing mom sternly communicates the new set of house rules, so she can rest and recover from the surgery, a recent divorce, and an allegedly obscure ‘accident’. Doubt persists till the last act where the kids make their mother a hostage, and the film becomes slightly gory. Neurotically shadowy, “Goodnight Mommy” can provide you with a restless time.

September 08, 2015

Time Out of Mind (2014)

Time Out of Mind (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Oren Moverman
Country: USA

Movie Review: The timid, but ultimately affecting drama, “Time Out of Mind”, observes the daily routines of a New York City homeless, played expressively by the revived Richard Gere. The film opens with George (Gere), struggling with a hangover, being kicked out by the landlord of the house he occupies. His bed had been the bathtub of the house for a while, and now he’s forced to find a shelter to survive the cold winter nights. The difficulty of being accepted in these shelters, which demand curfews and upset the homeless with a bunch of undesirable questions, in addition to the bureaucracy involved in filing a supposedly simple application for emergency food stamps and cash benefits, almost drive him crazy. Yet, all these annoying issues are considered of minor importance when compared to the fact that his inflexible, estranged daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), repudiates him in every attempt to establish contact. This is the most painful gap in his miserable existence. The messed up George, alternating between moments of consciousness (he finally accepts he’s homeless) and quasi-delusional states provoked by the alcohol, knows he’s got to try harder, even if he needs to humiliate himself in front of her. Apart from this emotional central idea, the film depicts a few idiosyncratic encounters with some of the quirky homeless characters who inhabit the shelter, cases of the inopportune Jack (Jeremy Strong), who even has a job, and the conflicting and mouthy Dixon (Ben Vereen), who claims he was a jazz musician and sticks to George as a bloodthirsty tick when attached to a source of nourishment. The quarrels between them are stupidly trivial, functioning as a natural constituent of their unassuming friendship. Richard Gere talks more through sad eyes and fatigued expressions than really through words, while writer-director Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”, “Rampart”), equilibrating pretentiousness and honesty, adopts a voyeuristic style, shooting obsessively behind glass windows to create image reflexes, layers, and overlaps.

September 07, 2015

In the Basement (2014)

In the Basement (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria

Movie Review: Ulrich Seidl’s new documentary, “In the Basement”, is mordantly funny, creepily outrageous, and boldly raw. The film gathers a set of suburban Austrian people, who expose themselves by allowing us to peek on what’s going on in their basements. Clearly, the whole is weaker than the sum of the parts, however, my voyeuristic side was awakened by the intimate little secrets it keeps unveiling, even if a couple of unnecessary scenes are there only with the purpose of shocking the viewers. The idea and concept have come from Seidl and the habitual creative collaborator, Veronika Franz, who just co-directed the absorbing horror-drama “Goodnight Mommy”. The creators have selected curious individuals whose tastes extend from the cult of Nazism to sadomasochism, going into guns and shooting, vanity and prepotency, baby-addiction and solitude. For a little more detail about the visited basements, here’s a summary: Fritz, a former soldier who teaches at his illegal home-keeping shooting club and has a knack for singing opera, is the first to be introduced; a married woman in her late fifties still dreams about having babies, using baby dolls that she conceals in boxes; another man follows a family predisposition to drink from dusk till dawn while maintains the basement shining with cleanness; Hitler’s admirer and Gestapo’s target, Josef Ochs, who also plays horn in a band, invites us to his Nazi retreat where he often drinks with his friends; a middle-aged couple don’t talk, just stare intrepidly at the camera while the jukebox plays silly old songs; a security guard reveals to be a masochist and his wife, the master, shows a few techniques used in their well-equipped cellar; a prostitute-lover man, tiny in length, boasts about his super sexual potency; and a woman who had stabbed his abusive husband still likes being violently dominated by men. Functioning more as an exposition rather than an examination of human eccentricities, “In the Basement”, as I expected, is presented through medium-long shots with geometrical compositions and no music.

September 04, 2015

The Second Mother (2015)

The Second Mother (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Anna Muylaert
Country: Brazil

Movie Review: In this pungent, keenly observed comedy from Anna Muylaert, a live-in housekeeper, Val (Regina Casé), awaits the arrival of her estranged teenage daughter, Jessica (Camila Márdila), who leaves Pernambuco, where she was raised by relatives, to come to São Paulo in order to attempt the extremely difficult admission exam for a reputable architecture college. Mother and daughter don’t speak with each other for more than 10 years and both are apprehensive about living together. Val’s plan consists in finding a cheap little place for them, but taking into account the surprise of the arrival, she asks her bosses if Jessica can stay in the house for a while. Three persons compose the wealthy family: Barbara (Karine Teles), a snob who seems to be helpful at first, but immediately feels invaded when Jessica asks to stay in the huge guest room instead of in her mother’s simple and tiny space; Barbara’s husband, Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli), a frustrated, innocuous former artist who stopped working and gradually develops an embarrassing passion for Jessica; and their son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), who was raised by Val as her own child, and whose main concerns at the moment are hiding his weed from his parents and lose virginity. The problematic barriers between social classes are the main subject of Ms. Muylaert’s script, which richly unfolds situations with precise focus and lots of laughs, especially due to the heavenly performance of Regina Casé who gesticulates, pulls a face, talks to herself, and occasionally hangs out with other housekeeper’s friends. Jessica is the character to admire, though. She acts comfortably and with no sense of inferiority in front of whoever, revealing a disconcerting self-assurance that drives Barbara and her afflicted mother crazy, while the lonesome Carlos gets more and more fascinated by her way. She reproaches Val for adopting such a subservient behavior and shows to be hurt for having been left behind. Almost reaching the end, an ultimate plot twist can be seen as an obvious tactical opportunity for some. It worked fine for me, just as the narrative exposure and topic resolution.

September 03, 2015

Turbo Kid (2015)

Turbo Kid (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: François Simard /Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Country: Canada / New Zealand

Movie Review: “Turbo Kid” is an expeditiously diverting Canadian actioner that rekindles the adventurous spirit of “Indiana Jones”, the post-apocalyptic eccentricity of “Mad Max”, and the gory feast of Japanese action flicks. It’s undoubtedly a film of excesses, however, its vigorous pace, tasteful imagery and score evoking the 80’s, a diversity of props that enrich the rambunctious atmosphere, and finally, a throbbing, creative script that has much amusement to offer, provides a wonderful time punctuated with a few good laughs to the viewers who dare to embark on this insanely radical fun ride. The story takes place in futuristic 1997 in a wrecked uncertain place known as the Wasteland. The Kid (Munro Chambers), protected by his helmet and a couple of vital survival rules, rides his bike, scavenging old stuff, now seen as precious, that he trades afterwards for a minimal portion of water. At the bar where the trader can be found, he admires Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), a sharp-tongued arm-wrestling champion whose brother disappeared after being captured by the sanguinary savages of Zeus (Michael Ironside), a loathsome one-eyed ruler who affirms he has ‘eyes’ everywhere and takes his time inventing abominable ways of torturing people. In the meantime, in one of his scavenges, the Kid bumps into the apparently effusive Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a pink-haired teenager who was speaking to the cadaver of a friend and almost forces the Kid to accept her as a daily companion. A genuinely sweet romance starts to take shape, but during the desperate attempt of escaping from one of the Zeus’ vassals, Apple is captured while the Kid is granted with a special superpower when engulfed by a hidden trapdoor. At this point, the Kid fearlessly saves Apple, who unveils a secret of her own, and together they team with Frederic in the battle against the evil. Kids should stay away from “Turbo Kid”, an enthralling adventure for adults that sometimes feels disgusting and yet effectively ingenious. The newcomer trio of writers/directors known as RKSS Collective, despite the blood overdose, did an exceptional job.

September 02, 2015

7 Chinese Brothers (2015)

7 Chinese Brothers (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Bob Byington
Country: USA

Movie Review: “7 Chinese Brothers”, whose title wrongly suggests a gangster Asian movie or a martial arts adventure, is an insubstantial American indie comedy, containing a few good - if immature - ideas that drive us into a dead end. Jason Schwartzman, habitual presence in Wes Anderson’s comedies and the star in the astute comedy-drama ‘Listen Up Philip’ by Alex Ross Perry, who also appears briefly here as an actor, bestows odd movements, imbecilic facial expressions, and a reckless posture, in a performance that attempts to give shape to his character: Larry, the slacker. Fired from his job for stealing money from the tips jar, Larry, who often embarks in French monologues and nonreversible chats with his equally lazy dog, finds another job in the Quick-Lube garage where he is manipulated by the affronting co-worker, Jimmy (Jimmy Gonzales), and is attracted to his handsome boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). Meanwhile, he keeps visiting his spirited grandma (Olympia Dukakis) at the nursing facility, especially when he’s broke and needs some easy cash. His best friend, Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe), is the one who takes care of her. After she dies, it’s with no surprise that her inheritance, of 1.3 million dollars, goes entirely to the likeable Major and not for the opportunist, indolent, and insensible grandson, whom she accused of wanting to patronize her. As the main character, director Bob Byington doesn’t put much effort on his filmmaking style, comprised of realistic but inelegant scenarios with an inclination for dereliction. Weird and not so funny, “7 Chinese Brothers” is short in duration (76 min.) but can get you pretty bored, especially if it gets you in one of those days that you’re not in the mood for this kind of pretentious quirkiness. In order to succeed, it relies on the inalterable acting of its cast and a bunch of incongruous situations that are presented with a false feel-good disposition. Sadly, not even the good ideas could be validated by an execution that, on no account, touched harmony. There are much better films about slackers out there that overwhelm Mr. Byington’s forgettable prank.

September 01, 2015

Z for Zachariah (2015)

Z for Zachariah (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Country: Iceland / New Zealand / others

Movie Review: The post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, “Z for Zachariah”, by Robert C. O'Brien, was the source material for the fourth feature-length from director Craig Zobel who gained some notoriety with his previous film “Compliance”. If Mr. Zobel was far from impressing me with the latter, he doesn’t do much better in this one. Instead of the teenage protagonist of the book, Zobel and his screenwriter, Nissar Modi, opt for an adult version of the character, played by the unrecognizable Margot Robbie, who has generated some buzz with her small but memorable part in “The Wolf of Wall Street”. In this brittle thriller, she’s Ann, the hypothetically unique survivor of a radioactive catastrophe that contaminated the Earth and destroyed the rest of the human race. Devoted to God, she’s immensely thankful for the ‘untouched’ piece of land (fertile soil and a pond with fish) that allows her to live healthily, and shows to be a tireless hard worker who accepts the fate of having to live alone with her dog for the rest of her days. A certain day, however, she bumps into a skittish man, John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who rushes into contaminated waters. She gently takes care of him when he falls sick, praying fervently to God to save him. At a first glance, John seemed a tricky guy, acting suspiciously, sometimes bossy, and even aggressive when he gets drunk. Ann, in need of physical contact and considering the repopulation of the Earth, urges him into sex, but he disappoints her in that particular aspect. Ultimately, he falls in love with her, but what could have been a relaxing life in duo, is turned upside down when another stranger, Caleb (Chris Pine), arrives to compete for the last existing woman, bringing tiny portions of tension into their little paradise. Thrills are scarce, and every attempt to make them work out falls into dullness and conventional. This is aggravated by the fact that the film, beyond predictable, lingers on lukewarm situations for an eternity, where we never feel real empathy for the characters or perceive any sustainable passion sprouting from the love triangle. “Z for Zachariah” was more like “Z for Zzzz” to me. It’s another deceitful low-budget machination that leaves us lethargically dormant.