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January 15, 2016
Movie Review: “The Measure of a Man”, whose original French title “La Loi du Marché” literally means ‘the law of the market’, mirrors the social/economic crisis that fustigates the contemporary France. The skilled Vincent Lindon, awarded 'Best Actor' in Cannes, plays Thierry Taugourdeau, an unemployed 51-year-old factory worker who invests everything in specialized courses that seem not to be enough to get a job. He’s been looking for the smallest opportunity for more than a year now, after an unfair dismissal, and the financial problems are now starting to grow as a snowball. Thierry is a considerate family man who dedicates time to spend with his disabled child and goes to dance classes with his supportive wife in order to keep his mind sane. To guarantee this state of mind, he also refuses to follow his former co-workers into court and ask for an indemnity. It’s easy to conclude that his self-esteem and confidence hit the bottom. After simulating a job interview at the employment training center he’s enrolled, he gets the following remarks: the inability to smile, the way of dressing, the wrong posture when he’s sitting down on the chair, the low rhythm of speech, and the lack of enthusiasm when answering the questions. Despite the difficulties, Thierry is accepted as a security guard in a well-monitored supermarket, regaining his financial stability while witnessing a variety of theft cases committed by customers and employees. Having gone through hard times, he continues doing his job in a conscious way, but can’t avoid showing some uneasiness when listening to the motives that led these people to steal. In one case, involving a long-time employee, a lamentable tragedy occurs, and the silent Thierry becomes more and more overwhelmed about the way the management often reacts. Ambiguity surrounds the last scene of the film, making us wonder if Thierry will continue in the job for the sake of his family, or if this is too emotionally strained for him to handle. Director Stéphane Brizé, who also co-wrote with Olivier Gorce, avoids sentimental manipulations and hurls an actual, urgent theme that mixes family, work, and morality. Not disregarding his straightforward filmmaking style, the film caught me mostly because of the powerful acting by Vincent Lindon, who previously had worked with Brizé in “Madame Chambon” and “A Few Hours of Spring”.
January 14, 2016
Movie Review: Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette” is a fact-based period drama, set in London, whose intention is to dramatize a notable span in the life of the 24-year-old laundress, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who joins a feminine movement to fight for the women’s rights in a society dominated by often abusive men who are not willing to give up their prolonged hegemony. Noble intentions aside, the film works very intermittently, only managing to escape the extreme banality due to the great performances of a cast that besides Mulligan also includes Anne Marie-Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, and the revered Meryl Streep, in the kind of a cameo appearance, as the movement’s fugitive leader. The intended riotous tones scarcely hit me, maybe because Ms. Gavron decided to include a lame musical score into a drama that proved problematic in terms of direction. Her sophomore feature exhibits annoying zooms and unsteady frames, and is more concerned with drawing some tears from the viewers rather than exhibiting these women's great deeds with vigor and straightforwardness. This way, what should have been a catching and powerful work, becomes a conventional, tepid melodrama.
January 13, 2016
Movie Review: “Irrational Man” is an existentialist trifle engendered by Woody Allen, likely the most prolific director in the active nowadays. Even counting on a talented cast, which includes Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey, Mr. Allen was unable to put up his latest idea in a way we could easily remember it. And the reason is simple: “Irrational Man” blends romance devoid of chemistry with commonplace drama with a murder case that, in any occasion, feels gripping. Typically in Allen’s universes, the dialogues are abundant, only this time around, often vapid, relying on recurrent philosophical bullshit to mask its lack of ideas. The story revolves around a depressed, radical, alcoholic, and self-destructive professor called Abe Lucas (Phoenix) who gets infatuated with two women: Rita (Posey), a lonely fellow teacher who’s always ready for a few drinks, and Jill (Stone), his brightest student who dumps her boyfriend as she grows fatally attracted to Abe’s woe. All of a sudden, the romantic teacher abandons his gloomy state at the moment he decides to murder a local judge. The crime is perpetrated with no doubts or repent, but his sagacious lovers turned into investigators won’t let him get away with it. “Irrational Man” is another minor work by the old Woody, who insists on making a film per year, even if he has to often sacrifice quality. Lately, only “Blue Jasmine” escapes this reality. “To Rome with Love”, “Magic in the Moonlight”, and this very irrational sham, are the ones to confirm it.
January 12, 2016
Country: Norway / Germany
Movie Review: “1001 Grams” is a low-key Norwegian drama written, produced, and directed by Bent Hamer and starring Ane Dahl Torp, Laurent Stocker, Stein Winge, and Hildegun Riise. If Mr. Hamer had caused a very positive impression by using an unconventional storytelling in his past dramatic comedies, “Kitchen Stories”, “Factotum” and “O’Horten”, now I must confess I was a bit disappointed with this cold pseudo-scientific experience. The story’s central character is Marie Ernst (Torp), a valuable element of the team that works at the Norwegian Metrology Center, which next goal is to present their kilogram prototype, which has to be handled with extreme care, at an important kilo seminar in Paris. The brain behind the experiments is her father, Ernst Ernst (Winge), an old-school investigator and widower who misses his wife more than anything else, lately spending his days drinking alone and sleeping on his farm’s hay. Weak, unmotivated to work, and consumed by guilt about how he put away his younger brother from the inherited family farm, Ernst ends up in the hospital with a heart attack, dying a few days after talking to Marie for the last time. Marie is not a happy person either. She’s still trying to cope with a recent divorce and practically only speaks with Wenche (Riise), a co-worker who plays the role of a confidante, even if the glacial Marie always enforces some distance between them. Marie starts traveling on a regular basis to Paris to attend the awaited seminar, in which the boring scientific discussions put a few participants asleep. There, she gets to know a French physician and professor, Pi (Stocker), also a part-time gardener, becoming very attached to him and eventually finding the love that had disappeared from her life for a while. Enjoying the company of each other, they form an efficient and helpful team in all circumstances. Marie helps Pi with his challenging research project about birds’ song and communication while Pi gets the right person to fix the kilo’s capsule when Marie has a car accident. The film is comforting in a certain way, but also too introspective and often inexpressive, moving at a snail-pace and being incapable of drawing any special vibrancy of the characters and situations. It’s a case to say that “1001 Grams” was much lighter than it promised, abandoning me dead cold on my seat. A word of appreciation to Mr. Hamer’s habitual cinematographer, John Christian Rosenlund, whose beautiful color palettes administer a pleasant warmness, a factor the story could never provide by itself.
January 11, 2016
Movie Review: In the self-composed drama, “Concussion”, Will Smith is Dr. Bennett Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovers a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is commonly associated with football players who were exposed to recurrent violent blows to the head, depending on their position in the field. While working at the Pittsburgh coroner's office, Dr. Bennett comes across the dead body of the former Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster, who died miserably in his pick-up truck after years complaining about painful headaches and forgetfulness. Intrigued by the scans of Webster’s brain, the very qualified and respectful doctor requires additional expensive exams, even if he has to pay out of his pocket, in order to figure out the real cause of the victim’s death. His conclusions become scientifically unshakeable when another three former players died of the same disorder. The discovery, initially discarded by the NFL, now forcefully draws the attention of the media and the new NFL commissioner. However, instead of thanking him properly for triggering awareness of the issue, the NFL tries to destroy Dr. Bennett’s reputation, inflicting on him an enormous pressure to make him break off the theory. Not for too long, though, since the truth comes always around, sooner or later. The directorial sophomore feature by Peter Landesman, who wrote based on the GQ article ‘Game Brain’ by Jeanne Marie Laskas, also stars Alec Baldwin as Julian Bailes, an allied doctor who’s very familiar with the sport in question and was Webster's close friend, and Albert Brooks, who gives a first-class performance as the county coroner and Bennett’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht. We’re before a super-interesting story given to us in a so-so execution whose narrative gaps and technical flaws aren’t as salient as the story itself.
January 08, 2016
Movie Review: The American screenwriter and novelist, Dalton Trumbo, is heartily characterized in this biographical political drama, shot under the direction of Jay Roach, whose career indicates the Austin Powers film series as highlights. John McNamara wrote the script, an adaptation of the 1977 biography ‘Dalton Trumbo’ by Bruce Cook. By giving a flawless performance, Bryan Cranston makes the most of the opportunity to represent the title character with accuracy, helping to minimize the setbacks of Mr. Roach’s facetious approach, which obviously influenced the final product. Unfairly accused of conspiring against the country just for declaring himself a staunch communist enlisted in the American Communist Party, the radical and yet inoffensive, Trumbo, is not only put into public shame by the Un-American Activities Committee but also arrested and blacklisted. Fearless, he starts a clandestine campaign to show how perfidious the government acts, doing everything in a calculative, patient way to have his name cleared. With this objective in mind, Trumbo counts on a group of loyal screenwriters and uses his fabulous wife and children as personal staff when he comes up with the idea of working at home, writing and fixing scripts under multiple pseudonyms for the cheap King Brothers Productions. In a later phase, finally willing to hold in his hands the two deserved Oscars he had won but could never touch, he gets full credit for the brilliant screenplays of “Spartacus” and “Exodus”, publicly announced by Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger, respectively. From all his opponents, a special mention goes to the cynical 35-million-reader columnist, Hedda Hopper, magnificently performed by Helen Mirren. The film starts vivaciously engaging, loses intensity in its uneven middle part, just to return in big for the ending. Trumbo’s genius didn’t have a genius treatment here. Still, we can seize the nature, temper, and resolution of a man who deserves all our respect.
January 07, 2016
Country: Japan / others
Movie Review: Under the direction of the little-known Japanese filmmaker, Naomi Kawase (also credited as screenwriter, producer, and editor), “Still the Water” moves using a languid pace and embraces a strange intimacy. Set on one of the limestone islands of the Amani archipelago, it tells the story of a quiet 16-year-old kid, Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), who’s not happy with his mother, disapproving her behavior since his father left home a few years before. It’s not that she’s not gentle or cares about him, but because the most of her time is spent with lovers and not much is left to her son, who often wanders alone or hangs out with his best friend, Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga). The film’s opening scene leads us to foresee a mysterious tale that never actually happens. During one night of traditional festivity, Kaito finds the body of a back-tattooed man floating on the waters of the seashore. This incident becomes the talk of the population who wonder if it was an accident or a crime, and if the man was a tourist or one of the common surfers that come to the island. The curiosity comes from Kaito’s strange behavior that indicates he knows this man from somewhere. The sincere friendship between Kaito and Kyoko tends to evolve into a beautifully affecting love, but Kaito’s problems hamper him from diving completely in a full physical relationship. Kyoko has also problems of her own since her mother, a shaman who stands on the threshold of Gods and humans, is dying sick. Her father, a man of the sea and experienced surfer, offers all his support and love, enabling a family cohesion that Kaito lacks, even when occasionally contacting with his likable father, a tattoo artist now living in Tokyo. A sweet sensitivity streams from the images, even from the most painful ones - those related to death - in a film that is culturally strong in its dual elements of life and death, family and love, Gods and humans, and nature and reason. However, and despite some impactful moments presented over tranquil landscapes and at the sound of melancholic piano tunes, I found certain parts not only long and occasionally vacillating, but also intricate in its philosophical considerations. Sort of lost in translation. Patient viewers may be able to find something worthy to dig out from this cryptic coming-of-age drama.
January 06, 2016
Country: China / others
Movie Review: The story behind “Mountain May Depart”, the well-structured drama from the celebrated Chinese filmmaker, Jia Zhangke, is divided into three interconnected parts representing the past, present, and future. Whoever isn’t familiar with the director’s previous works may be misled by the inaugural joyful tones of the film, which almost forces us to think of the word comedy. Yes, the film successfully extracts some laughs either, but is the dramatic side, together with a critical look at the society, that better characterize Mr. Zhangke’s films. The first segment, set in 1999 Fenyang, starts at the sound of ‘Go West’ by The Pet Shop Boys. A bunch of people is having fun in the course of a rhythmic choreography, and among them, we spot the main character, Tao (Tao Zhao), who often hangs out with her two best friends and suitors, Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and Zhang Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). While the former is a modest local coal miner who lacks ambition and leads an honest life, the latter is a boastful new rich who's among those who thrived due to the capitalism expansion in China. The two competitors have a few squabbles over Tao, who ends up choosing Jinsheng, not without difficulty and carrying a sense of loss in her heart. While the fresh couple makes all the arrangements for the marriage, Liangzi resolves to leave Fenyang city for good. The story then shifts to 2014, and we see Liangzi, now a married man and father, returning to his hometown with lung cancer, a consequence of many years breathing the coal mines' pestilent air. On the other hand, Tao is divorced and grieves the death of her father, whose funeral triggers the visit of her estranged 7-year-old son, now called Dollar (an obvious homage to capitalism), who arrives from Shanghai to pay his respects to granddad. The last segment, not so strong as the first two, transports us to 2025 Australia, where the aimless Dollar simply can’t communicate (a language gap) with his whimsical, messy father, and embarks in a relationship with his much older Chinese teacher who tries to regain some balance after a distressing divorce. Both feel misplaced and want to get in touch with their roots, a step that is manifestly more complicated than it seems. Seamlessly alternating between ironic and cerebral, the film doesn’t match its predecessor, “A Touch of Sin”, in terms of immediacy, but Zhangke’s hand is still clearly perceptible – desolated landscapes, complex feelings, and a sense of emotional void. Like in the beginning, the film ends with Tao dancing ‘Go West’, but this time, the circumstances are entirely different.
January 05, 2016
Country: UK / USA / Germany
Movie Review: In Tom Hooper’s pseudo-biographical drama, “The Danish Girl”, Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a Danish painter who couldn’t go on with his married life after embodying Lili Elbe, his female persona. Einar was married to another bohemian painter, Gerda, performed tightly by Alicia Vikander, who, after the initial shock, becomes surprisingly supportive of her husband’s difficult decision of submitting himself to a sex reassignment surgery, a pioneering step in the gender transition prospect, since this fictionalized biopic is set in 1926 Copenhagen. Beautifully photographed by Danny Chen, who works with Mr. Hooper for the third time after “Les Miserables” and the acclaimed “The King’s Speech”, the drama exhibits a delicate sensitivity and is adorned with polished strokes, conferring it lyrical touches. It often induces a sort of relaxation when combining the vividly colored images, displaying the splendorous Danish architecture and interior settings, with the smooth musical score, but never forgetting to include the crucial emotion in order to compose the whole. We can follow how Lili changes from a primal state of confusion to a most inevitable, radical, and irreversible decision toward happiness. Everything started when Einar attends one of those recurrent boring parties dressed as a woman, immediately drawing the attention of Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a gallant young man who throws one first kiss, reawaking Lili’s true nature, once and for all. Being simultaneously considerate and perceptive, Gerda, who had initially agreed to a few ignominious therapies for her husband, gives up the idea that he can be cured. She deals with the fact with sadness, but is suddenly struck by a different hope when her drawings of Lily receive an enthusiastic welcome by the prestigious gallery she had been in contact for so long. The couple moves to Paris, and Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), an art dealer who also happens to be Einar’s childhood friend, comes close and feels attracted to Gerda. This account of a strangely disarming relationship, adapted by Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff’s novel of the same, is given to us at a moderate pace and presented with a perhaps too polite artistry. As in “The King’s Speech”, Tom Hooper uses this premeditated refinement that bestows enough dramatic depth to “The Danish Girl”, without, however, achieving the same triumphant results.
January 04, 2016
Movie Review: This engrossing animated feature, a product of Charlie Kaufman’s creative mind and based on his own eponymous play, combines deep realism with hazily dreamlike tones, bringing forward the quasi-insane and delusional state of Michael Stone, an English author specialized in customer service, who's constantly fighting with his own inner demons. For the ones who don’t know Charlie Kaufman, he’s the brilliant writer whose extravagant stories led to memorable films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, and his intricate directorial debut feature, “Synecdoche, New York”. Most of the cited movies showed an almost lyrical fantasy enveloping the intriguing characters that populate highly rich and colorful backgrounds. That’s why “Anomalisa”, a stylishly crafted animated drama, wasn’t so much a novelty in terms of style, structure, and methodology. I was expecting lots of dreams, confusion, anguish, bitterness and sadness, which sometimes counterpoint with ephemeral moments of joy, resolution, and self-assurance, and that’s exactly what Mr. Kaufman, who co-directed with the debutant Duke Johnson, presents to us in a delightful, profound, and intelligent manner. During the film, I almost didn’t remember that the characters were animated, so real and human they felt like. We follow the main protagonist, who departs from L.A., where he lives unhappily with his wife and son, to speak in a highly expected conference in Cincinnati. Lonely and disconsolate, he tries to focus in his ideologies, mirrored in his highly acclaimed book, an inspiration to many people throughout the world. The trip, however, reserves him much more than a derivative lecture that perplexes an avid audience. His adventures include an uncomfortably chatty cab ride from the airport to the hotel; an embarrassing meeting with a former lover; a one-night stand with the emotionally insecure Lisa, Michael’s passionate admirer turned into his obsessive object of love, who doesn’t understand why she was picked instead of her smart, popular, and cheeky friend, Emily; an agonizing nightmare in which the hotel manager confesses his love for him while criticizing his unexplainable fascination for Lisa; and a collection of panicking situations derived from his sinuous thoughts and emotions. A curious peculiarity of this legitimate drama is that every character has a male voice, except for the simple but enchanting Lisa. Still, when the commitment intensifies and she acts a bit more controlling, this spelling progressively changes, leading us to a much tormenting conclusion.
December 30, 2015
Movie Review: The magnificent, fruitful, and long-lasting collaboration between the American film director, David O. Russell, and the trendy actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, mirrored in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”, was now shaken. I’m saying this because “Joy”, a semi-fictional comedy-drama inspired by the real life of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother turned into a respectful businesswoman after inventing the Miracle Mop, is a minor film whose story, narrated by her deceased grandmother, uses the same goofy tones of a soap-opera. Here, business and family play a strong role, but the story is deficiently constructed, wriggling and wriggling without finding solid ground to stabilize. The utterly banal storytelling and the ungracious humor, help to defraud my expectations, confirming this one as part of the disappointments of the year. Ms. Lawrence’s performance, not as bad as the film itself, still gives us some hope. However, she ultimately remains opaque in her trajectory, dragged by the superficiality and boredom that are mostly felt after the film’s first hour, time when Mr. Cooper, perhaps playing the worst role in his career, is elusively introduced as a highly patient and not less docile executive for the QVC, a multinational corporation specialized in televised home shopping. This time around, the versatility of Mr. Russell was meager, taking into account that the comedy was parched in humor, and the dramatic side presents tremulous emotions. He roundly misfires whenever attempting to create funny situations among Joy’s family members, relying on pointless details that have to do with the one-dimensional characters whose recurrent behaviors would have to be well designed not to feel washed-out. I’m talking about Joy’s father, played intermittently by Robert De Niro, an energetic man whose bad temper softens heavily after his first appearance, and also the affable ex-husband, Toni (Edgar Ramirez), a Venezuelan pop singer who still lives in her basement. “Joy” or ‘how to mop your house without spreading germs all over the place’, is an accidental misstep of a much-admired filmmaker, who hopefully, in his next move, will overcome this compromising mediocrity.
December 29, 2015
Movie Review: “45 Years” is a distinguished, high-quality British drama, which I recommend without reservations. The director, Andrew Haigh, who already had convinced me of his filmmaking capabilities with the acclaimed drama, “Weekend”, centered on a gay relationship, was fortunate to work with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, two of the most extraordinary actors of their generation, whose monumental performances I can’t praise enough (both were awarded a more than deserved Silver Berlin Bear). They respectively play, Kate and Geoff Mercer, an apparently balanced couple living almost secluded in the beautiful English countryside. Within a week, the childless couple is going to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, to take place in an elegant space in town, and the occasion involves some preparation work so everything can run smoothly. We can sense a mature, warm tenderness on their voices and behavior, despite some debilitation evinced by the retired Geoff, who was subjected to a bypass surgery five years before, the reason why they’re celebrating the 45th anniversary instead of the usual 40th. Suddenly, the arrival of an atypical letter, sent by the Swiss authorities, disturbs the composure of their rustic lives. The letter informs that the body of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, Katya, was found in the Alpine mountains, preserved underneath the ice since 50 years ago, when she fell down from a precipice. This unanticipated news, which should have been faced with tranquility, inflicts deep transformations in Geoff, who starts having a relentless necessity of talking about Katya. Kate, who shows a salutary openness to talk about everything, is struck not only by a natural jealousy but also by an uncontrollable curiosity that leads her into a nebulous period of Geoff’s past. The biting reality makes her feel betrayed, letting us envision a painful bitterness for the years to come. Mr. Haigh’s camera lens places its focal point on the characters, soulfully capturing the restless and heavily disappointed look of Kate, as well as the partially camouflaged inner turmoil of Geoff who grows pensive in attitude and reckless in appearance. Not infrequently, the images are quite sharp over the subjects, but intensify the out of focus background. This aspect, intentionally or not, has a parallel with this reflective tale when depicting a supposedly unclouded present sapped by a blurry past. Timeless and progressively enthralling, “45 Years” ends in an excruciatingly heartbreaking way at the sound of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. My favorite of 2015.
December 28, 2015
Movie Review: “The Force Awakens”, the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise and the first part of the new trilogy announced by the Walt Disney distributing company, was intended to be a galactic epic. Within this specific genre, it manages to deliver a pretty decent plot filled with exciting battles, interesting new and old characters, and some nostalgia without falling in exaggeration. The film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by J.J. Abrams, who reinforces his ability to recycle former epics (“Mission: Impossible”, “Star Trek”) and successfully adds a few fresh, well-shaped characters to the super settings, to accompany the old ones who are still present. From now on, the main protagonist is Rey (Daisy Ridley), an obstinate and totally independent scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, who frees the lovely spherical droid, BB-8, from the net trap of a fantastic metallic creature. BB-8 secretly carries the map with the location of the now vanished Luke Skywalker, the celebrated Jedi that became the primary target of the forces of evil known as the First Order, represented by the malevolent commander Kylo Ren, his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and the fanatical and nihilistic base leader, General Hux. The map was previously in the hands of BB-8’s owner, the courageous Resistance pilot fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who was captured by the First Order stormtroopers. However, he managed to escape with the help of a rebellious soldier, Finn (John Boyega), a good-natured man who can’t stand being on the dark side anymore. To join up the strong newcomers - Rey, Finn, and BB-8 - we have the prevailing characters of Han Solo, resumed by Harrison Ford, Chewbacca, and the General Leia Organa. Also, the legendary golden humanoid robot, C-3PO, now carrying a red arm, has a couple of brief and yet funny appearances. It’s impossible to disregard the heightened production values: the dazzling cinematography by Mr. Abrams’s usual collaborator, Daniel Mindel; the efficient production design; the emphatic set decoration; the astounding special effects embellishing each scene; and last but not least, John William’s majestic score that has a large influence on our perception of the adventure, whether in face of triumph, danger, or loss. The screenwriters, opting to recreate rather than innovate, even grant us with another strenuous lightsaber battle, allowing us to revive the prior movies. The tactic was to establish new arrangements for some of the cherished elements of the past, providing a new rebirth for the saga.
December 27, 2015
Movie Review: The illustrious screenwriter and film director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, has been shown unlimited resources in different genres in a meritorious career spanned for more than 15 years. He’s the author of memorable films that were able to resist the difficult test of time, cases of the stylish drama-thrillers, “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”, the pungent dramas, “Babel” and “Biutiful”, and the deliciously weird black comedy, “Birdman”, with which he won the Academy’s prestigious prizes for best picture, original screenplay, and best director. All of them exhibit a superior quality that allows me to consider him an essential contemporary filmmaker. His new cinematic creation, “The Revenant”, a riveting wintry western, set in the 1980's and partly based on Michael Punke's 2002 novel of the same name, confirms all that has been said, combining the best of the old westerns with the pure spectacle of the modern visuals. Leonardo DiCaprio, even groaning most of the time with a slashed throat, is excellent as Hugh Glass, an explorer and fur trader who miraculously survives a brutal bear attack, but is ingloriously abandoned alive by two of his men, thrown into the grave that had been dug for him. The phenomenal Tom Hardy is John Fitzgerald, the religious villain responsible for this cruel decision. He plays it so confidently that we can easily detect an uncontrollable madness in his eyes and the evil nature in every little move he makes and word he says. Brilliantly directed and evincing an ingenious camerawork, “The Revenant” is simultaneously a murky revenge tale and a rewarding survival odyssey that held my attention from the first to the last minute. Thus, it’s not the traditional cowboys-and-indians flick (there are also mischievous French soldiers trying to profit), even considering that the excitement of those is present along the powerful, primitive story that unfolds with action and tension. The protagonist, not only came to the conclusion that ‘revenge is in God’s hands’, as he had heard before from a responsive Pawnee Indian who had lost his family (killed by the belligerent Sioux), but he also realizes that his path and deliverance were works of heaven. In addition to the rewarding script (by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu), first-rate direction, and robust acting, we come up with the admirable cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, retrieved from “Birdman”, and the profound musical score by the Japanese Ryuichi Sakamoto, another retrieval, this time from “Babel”, in collaboration with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto.
December 24, 2015
Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”, Quentin Tarantino’s stupefying successor of “Django Unchained”, is blatantly more controversial than the latter, sarcastically blending delicate topics like racism and sexism with others, usually picked to infuse some morality in the tales, such as greediness, dominance, and subjugation. Taking advantage of his huge capacity to disconcert the viewers with fulminant action scenes and zesty dialogues, the celebrated director ridicules pain and human disgrace in such a way that it’s impossible not to laugh, even when the jokes jump out of the bounds of good taste. He deliberately makes use of the same hilarious tones and erratic routines as in “Django”, but this time, confining his eight untamed characters to a stagecoach stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery. This way, he fabricates a sort of “Reservoir Dogs” from Far West. Divided into chapters, this three-hour mystery western set in the freezing post-war Wyoming, starts when the inexorable hangman, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is heading to Red Rock, where the insolent tramp lady, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who travels handcuffed to him, is going to be hanged for murder, guaranteeing him a large financial reward. Along the way, while running from a menacing blizzard, they bump into the General Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson), a tricky black bounty hunter and ex-soldier who's popular for carrying a personal letter written by Abraham Lincoln. Later on, they’re joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), another cynic who adopts a fearless posture against the hangman’s hostility while brags he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock. Forced to stop at Minnie’s place, the trio will find three strangers – the Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir), the cocky British hangman, Oswaldo Maubrey (Tim Roth), and a cowpuncher called Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) – who coexist with the habitual presence of the quiescent Gen. Smithers (Bruce Dern). Strangely, the owners are absent and some of the new faces are seen as pretty much unusual. As expected from a script by Tarantino, this is nothing else but a deranged conspiracy that ends up in a few violent, blood-spilling deaths. Jennifer Jason Leigh is particularly remarkable, whether when acting cunningly or playing guitar and singing with a sweet voice, or even when exhibiting her face washed in blood, in an allusion to Stephen King’s Carrie. Tarantino’s eighth feature entertains continuously while using the same far-fetched puppets to fill his barbarous scenarios.
December 22, 2015
Movie Review: Edward Zwick (“Glory”, “The Last Samurai”, Blood Diamond”), directing from a script by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”, “Locke”), builds up the real story of the American chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer, played confidently by a re-established Tobey Maguire, lately relegated to minor roles in minor features (“Labor Day”) and TV mini-series, when not embodying Spider-Man. With a strong obsession for chess, the highly intelligent and yet emotionally unstable Brooklyn boy, Fischer, decided he wanted to be the world champion when he was still a kid. Upset for not knowing who his father was, and having a hard time with his Russian mother who insists on bringing her boyfriends home, Fischer is always demanding silence in order to fully concentrate on his objective. This two-player board game was dominated by the Soviets for 24 years, and now, during the cold war, the tension and rivalry were ablaze. Not a big deal for the defiant Fischer, who simply denounces, during the 1962 tournament in Bulgaria, that the Russians are cheating, quitting afterwards while the controversy spreads. Three years after, his straightforwardness still impresses a pro-bono lawyer, Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), who together with a Catholic priest and former player, Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), will become his best advisors and enthusiasts toward the great victory in the 1972 World Chess Championship played in Iceland. The adversary was the Russian star and champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), who agreed to play under Fischer’s requests – no noisy cameras in the background, no audience, and the introduction of a wooden board – after winning the first two games, the last of them because Fischer refused to play in such a distractive perimeter. In addition to the games and the atmosphere that surrounds them, we can follow the paranoia and delusional psychosis that keep on growing in Fischer, leaving his sister worried to the point of going to talk with the American federation. This biographical drama can be easily appreciated, thanks to the great performance of Mr. Maguire, who obviously usurps most of the screen time. The direction of Mr. Zwick, despite consistent with the accounts he wants to portray, doesn’t stand out. That’s the reason why the film alternates between serenely easygoing and slightly exciting. And I’m saying this with the perfect notion that excitement in chess is not exactly the same as in boxing. Stealthily, director and actor unite forces to make “Pawn Sacrifice” watchable, but not good enough to win a place among the special biopics. If I had to choose a pawn to sacrifice here, it would be Zwick’s intermittent approach whose excessive control blocks some of the vitality required to take a solid step further.
December 21, 2015
Movie Review: “The Girl in the Book”, the directorial debut feature from writer/director Marya Cohn, had everything to be successful, but failed to catch a fresher breath due to a continued sluggishness in its routines, in addition to a disappointing predictability. Emily VanCamp plays Alice Harvey, a hesitant editorial assistant for a Manhattan firm, whose life becomes precarious when Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), a distinguished writer who had worked with her father - a former literary agent – appears again in her life after 15 years. Through an array of flashbacks, we start figuring out why the past keeps haunting Alice, who suddenly is turned into a pile of nerves when she was assigned to promote Milan’s book. It was obvious since the beginning that Alice, who dreams to be a writer since her teenage years, was seduced by Milan, an intrusive, experienced man and respected author who gladly became available to help and encourage, but instead took advantage of her innocence and insolently stole her writing material. This brittle woman bears everything on her shoulders and has never opened up about the trauma. We promptly realize she can’t count with her heedless father (Michael Cristofer), who always pretends not to know what’s going on, and truly thinks she doesn’t know what she wants from life. However, she’s not completely alone because there’s Emmet (David Call), a community organizer who really loves and respects her, and is seen as the unique hope for her to overcome the turbulent emotional situation that precipitously awoke. Unfortunately, a foolish misstep, involving a young boy who works as a babysitter for her best friend, puts this potential relationship at stake, as well as the friendship itself. I felt that an intensified subtleness was applied in occasions that were requiring a more unnerving disposition in order to energize the story a bit more. Despite some positive aspects in the direction, Ms. Cohn could have set a more dashing pace to move between Alice’s past and present. In terms of romance, the film also neglects a solid chemistry, preferring to rely on the conventional storytelling while failing to extract anything exceptional from the performances. “The Girl in the Book” is a rational exercise brought down by its apathetic languor.
December 18, 2015
Movie Review: The name Adam McKay is immediately associated to Will Ferrell and the comedy genre, fruit of their previous collaborations in “Anchorman”, “Step Brothers”, and “The Other Guys”, which also adds a fair amount of action and stunts. With “The Big Short”, a terrific adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestselling novel of the same name, there’s a big turn in the approach and genre. There’s no more Will Ferrell, but there are Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt – how about that? And more! Even based on true events, Mr. McKay doesn’t dispense some utterly laughable scenes and a punchy dialogue that immerses us into the Wall Street schemes related to the housing and credit bubble during the 2000’s, which culminated in the 2008 financial crisis, regarded as the worst since the Great Depression. The plot is focused on four clever investors who anticipated the burst of this dangerous bubble that left millions financially ruined, homeless, and unemployed. Two of them, Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) and Mark Baum (Carell), revealed to be remarkably interesting as film characters since their posture and behavior are extremely entertaining and funny. The other two, Jared Vennett (Gosling) and Ben Rickert (Pitt), adopt a more restrained attitude and less confrontational – I would say they like to work in the shadow, not assuming an elevated prominence, but an eagerness to benefit from the complicated situation or help others benefiting too. Christian Bale is incredible as Blurry, a one-eyed, former neurologist who created the Scion Capital and is capable of reading numbers like no one else. To keep the stress away, he listens to hard rock and always takes his drumsticks with him to the office where he remains comfortably in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Mr. Carell’s Mark Baum is a respected hedge-fund manager who’s not afraid to say what he thinks, often showing indignity about how the market works; he’s a man of principles and keeps struggling hard with the suicide of his brother. Jared Vennet, an elegant trader for Deutsche Bank, was the one who informed Baum and his team about what was coming, urging them to investigate and take their own conclusions. Pitt’s Ben Rickert, wearing a beard and eyeglasses, is considerably more discreet than the rest of the bright visionaries. Less exuberant than “The Wolf of Wall Street”, funnier than “Margin Call”, and equally striking as “99 Homes”, the intrepid and almost impolite “The Big Short”, flowing at a commendable pace, is only short in its title since both message and presentation are big and explanatory enough to elucidate and engross.
December 16, 2015
Movie Review: Based on startling real events, “Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart” was the perfect vehicle for the acting skills of Laurent Canet, who plays a sexually repressed French gendarme whose victims of his discontentment are random women. The film, consistently written and directed by Cédric Anger, who recently has also written the screenplay for Andre Techine’s “In the Name of My Daughter”, was adapted from the novel ‘Un Assassin Au-dessus de Tout Soupçon’ by Yvan Stefanovitch. According to its creators, this character-study is a work of fiction, thus, a personal interpretation of a true story. Franck Neuhart (Canet), the protagonist, is a gendarme, a solitaire, and a killer who hates mankind. The film opens in 1978, when two friends, riding their scooters, hit a deserted road in the middle of the night, heading to a friend’s party. 19-year-old Alice stays behind just to realize that her life is in danger when persecuted without any reason by a driver who hits her twice, sending her to the hospital in a critical condition. In a letter addressed to the police, the aggressor says to despise recklessness and promises to aim for the heart in his next move. It’s excused to say he wasn’t bluffing. Besides these atrocities, the deceitful Franck, who sees his transfer overseas being denied and often breaks the security rules of the gendarmerie, had set up a bomb in a suspected car, parked near the accident; the blow causes first-degree burns in a colleague. When alone, he inflicts severe physical punishments to himself, and not even Sophie (Ana Girardot), a married woman who takes care of his clothes and for whom he has a special fondness, is capable of changing him for the better. To tell the truth, he gets even bitterer and disgusted after sleeping with her, acting weird and feeling compelled to kill again, implacably and in an unstoppable way. It was curious to see how calm he remained when killing, and how berserk he went after finishing his despicable actions. Also, it was infuriating the way he treated his colleagues when dissecting the case. An overwhelming pressure starts to grasp him when it’s announced that the assassin is a gendarme and a homosexual. The anguished original score (plus The Velvet Underground’s tune) works the brooding mood while a sort of dark mystery embraces every moment of the film. Mr. Canet was meritoriously nominated for the best actor at the Cesar Awards.
December 14, 2015
Movie Review: Topnotch American director, Paul Thomas Anderson, author of a considerable number of masterpieces that confers him the title of one of the best filmmakers of our times, frees himself from fictional scripts and lands in India, where he loosely captures the musical and spiritual encounter between Radiohead’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, the Israeli multi-instrumentalist and composer, Shye Ben Tzur, and the Indian ensemble, Rajasthan Express. The 54-minute documentary, “Junun”, sparse in words, assembles several moments of their three-week stay at the Mehrangarh Fort by invitation of the illustrious Maharaja of Jodhpur. From that glorious musical meeting, an album and this film came out, both with the title “Junun”, to envelop us with contagious rhythms, and a perfect blending of exotic Indian melodies and occasional jazzy touches. If the music really made my day, the film, combining that same music with breathtaking landscapes of the Fort’s surroundings and a few close-ups of the performers, experiences some obstacles that sometimes aren't so easy to overcome. The handheld camera is not always objective and often loses consistency with sudden movements that may suggest some sort of dance, or just a relaxed, enjoyable time. Maybe, as it happened to me, the enlightened tunes took Mr. Anderson to another dimension, hitting his heart and soul in such a way that he just decided not to go by the rules or follow what we expect from a documentary. Additionally, the editing isn’t perfect either and should have been carefully considered. Even though, it was very interesting to observe how contrasting was the posture of these amazing musicians – in one hand we witness the serious commitment to the music, and in the other, the immense fun and joy in playing together, producing sounds that alternate from frantically danceable to floatingly celestial. Prayers and blackouts sometimes interrupt the musical rituals, failing to validate the popular saying that in India they have ‘no toilet, no shower, but full power, 24-hour’. Nothing withholds the harmonious tunefulness pitched by this cross-cultural collaboration. Still, I would never think about equating this minor work with Mr. Anderson’s previous fictional gems.
December 11, 2015
Movie Review: Ron Howard’s new blockbuster, “In The Heart of The Sea”, equipped with the conventional strategies and artifacts that characterize Hollywood for the better and for the worst, brings us the tragedy involving the Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, sunk in 1820 by the invincible power and resilient desire of vengeance of a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Charles Leavitt’s script, drinking from the novel "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick, starts conveying the urgency of the celebrated writer, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), in knowing the facts that led to the wreck of Essex, told by the last survivor of its crew, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who at the time was only 14 when he was accepted as a cabin boy. Reluctantly, the still tormented and alcoholic, Thomas, agrees to tell the whole story in exchange of money, persuaded by his tactful wife. His recollections would become the inspiration for the fictional ‘Moby Dick’, an astoundingly descriptive classic book whose readers are more likely to classify this cinematic experience as an overambitious fiasco since its storytelling and imagery were insufficient to create an adventure of the same size of the whale it displays. According to the storyteller, this is a story of two men: Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who relies on his family name to adopt a superior attitude, and his first officer, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a brave sailor who got his feelings hurt when he was denied the position of captain to embark this newly arrived ship. As expected, and before the violent attack by the monstrous whale that leaves the crew drifting at sea for 90 days on small boats, there’s a storm that slightly debilitates the ship and increases the antagonism between the two main leaders. Fairly acceptable until this moment, the film starts abruptly to sink more and more into the blurry waters of sluggishness and sentimental manipulation, without delivering truly exciting moments or adding relevant elements to pull us out of its insipid drama. Mr. Howard’s ample career, fluctuating between hits (“Frost/Nixon”, “Rush”) and misses (“Da Vinci Code”, “The Dilemma”), goes through another setback with this ocean-going misadventure. While the ambitions are wide, the results are embarrassingly narrow.
December 10, 2015
Movie Review: “Mustang”, the highly expressive debut feature from the French-Turkish filmmaker, Deniz Gamze Erguven, was attractively executed through an unobtrusive direction and a graceful acting. The screenplay, co-written by Erguven and Alice Winocour who directed the audacious “Augustine” three years ago, was pretty straightforward, depicting the lives of five teen orphaned sisters who are suddenly placed in the local ‘market’ by their grandmother and the uncle who raised them, awaiting the first chance to get married. The film starts on the last day of school in an ultra-conservative rural village in Turkey. The sisters are sad to say goodbye to their teacher who will be transferred to Istanbul the following year. The day is sunny and we can almost feel the scents of summer floating in the air. The beautiful and joyful flock, composed by Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale, is willing to enjoy the good weather and decides not to take the bus home, but rather walk, making a stop by the beach where they play games in the company of some boys, and then taking a detour into private grounds to grab some apples. Arriving home, they find the uptight grandmother acting furious, saying the whole village is talking about them because they were rubbing themselves on the boys during their little adventure on the beach. The afflicted grandmother and the stern uncle take security measures to avoid risks, so, higher walls are built, iron bars cover the windows, and the door is tightly bolted in order to confine them home until their marriage. The word is spread out to the village and the suitors arrive one by one to respectfully ask their hands, not before a virginity check-up is made to assure that the girls are conveniently pure. Meanwhile, the sisters disobey the orders, managing to escape and going to a soccer match. Their adventurous spirit wouldn’t be enough if they didn’t come across with an amiable van’s driver called Yasmin, who helped them getting to the stadium, and later on, befriends with the youngest sister and narrator, Lale. Among the girls, the latter is the emotionally strongest, the one who never stops trying to find a way out of the terrifying situation she and her sisters are involved. Ms. Erguven’s vision never goes astray and the approach was carefully outlined to extract the finest impressions from the excellent cast of newcomers. Only some segments of the script, especially the one that leads to the conclusion, could have been set up differently for better. Anyway, “Mustang” works as an eye-opener, demonstrating that some traditions can be extensively traumatizing.
December 09, 2015
Movie Review: This newly discovered indie romantic drama is the second feature-length from Charles Hood, whose directorial debut happened in 2007, with the practically unknown “Freezer Burn”. The schematic script, co-written by Mr. Hood and Seth Goldsmith, obeys to a very known structure, focusing on a couple confined to a house after a one-night stand that brings more complications than it was supposed to. Essentially, the film falls in the category of ‘two-actors-one-location’ that lives mostly from changing moods, fluid conversations, casual tones, and eventually an openness that leads to true romance. Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar work diligently with the director to assure that everything seems real. He’s Kevin, a hard-working guy who’s more than pleased to spend the night in the company of Madeline, a sexy young woman who takes him to a splendid villa and acts wildly under the effect of alcohol. There was nothing wrong with that if in the next morning he wouldn’t find out that the house belongs to his boss and mentor, the acclaimed football coach, Will Campbell, and learn from his co-worker, Pete, that the woman he just slept with, is Will’s obsessive ex-lover. To worsen his jittery state, he finds Madeline lying unconscious on the floor of the bathroom after taking a whole bottle of Xanax. The quick visit of a friend doctor elucidates him how to deal with the situation – first take a cold shower, then drink a cup of strong coffee, and afterwards start making questions and engage in a continuous conversation, just not to let her fall asleep. By turns aggressive and tender, the rest of the narrative is nothing we haven’t seen before, gradually evolving into a mutual understanding when the characters open up in respect to plans for the future, disillusions, what they’re good at, how many persons have they slept with, and how they feel about life in general. While drinking wine, the woman shows a lively enthusiasm in playing games, while the man's eyes sparkle when he talks about football. The pace shows some fluidity and a few funny lines are thrown in, however, I didn’t feel too much involved, despite the chemistry felt between the actors. For its own impairment, the finale was shaped in the most obvious manner, what defrauded my expectations of connecting with something unique, or at least, a bit more creative.
December 08, 2015
Country: USA / UK
Movie Review: Anton Corbijn is a Dutch photographer, music video director, and filmmaker who deserves accolade for his first two films – “Control”, the amazingly photographed biopic of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic leader of the English grey band Joy Division, and “The American”, an unforgettable low-key European crime thriller, starring George Clooney as a hitman. The following move consisted in the less spellbinding, but still solid, “A Most Wanted Man” with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the protagonist. I was expecting a motivating return this year, with “Life”, another biographical drama focused on the Magnum photographer, Dennis Stock, circumspectly played by Robert Pattinson. Stock drew the world’s attention in the mid 50’s with his photo essay about the emerging actor James Dean, stylishly embodied here by the competent Dane DeHaan. The title of the film alludes to the Life Magazine that published Dennis’ self-assigned work, two days before the premiere of Elia Kazan’s ‘East of Eden’, which just confirmed James Dean as a big Hollywood star. Stock and Dean first got in touch in a party hosted by Nicholas Ray, who was considering Dean for ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Recognition was something that both actor and photographer were searching in their professions, and the trips they’ve made together, from L.A. to New York and then to Marion, Dean’s hometown in Indiana, will tight a friendship that expands to a fruitful professional collaboration. Dean possesses a quick intelligence, but also a shyness that sometimes makes him run away from everything. He normally looks doped, moving with an artistic pose and dragging his low voice, always with a cigarette between his lips. Despite the easy conversation, he’s a typical misfit who just needs a good friend to hang out. Stock, despite fond of him, often acts obsessively, eager for an opportunity to photograph the future celebrity. He’s the type of guy who almost doesn’t have a minute to spend with his 7-year-old son whom he barely sees after divorcing his wife. Both men confess their frustrations to each other, but somehow the film starts to devitalize, never delivering the humble consistency it has suggested. Unsurprisingly, I found much easier to focus in Dean than in Stock, whose personal life is not so interesting to justify a film. Even not knowing on which character I should be focused, “Life” presents articulate fractions of moods and vibes while resting in its passionless pose.