January 31, 2014

Run and Jump (2013)

Run and Jump (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Steph Green
Country: Ireland / Germany

Movie Review: After “New Boy”, an acclaimed short film dated from 2007, filmmaker Steph Green makes her debut feature with “Run and Jump”, a sweet and gentle drama that doesn’t try to take any emotional advantage of Ailbhe Keogan’s screenplay (also a solid debut). Instead, it presents us a sober approach, expressing a lot of feelings in its own way and being touchy in a legitimate manner. Mother of two kids, Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peak) is a frustrated and exhausted Irish housewife who accepts to host Ted Fielding (Will Forte) in her house for a while. Ted is an American doctor interested to make a case study of her husband, Conor (Edward MacLiam) who, at the age of 38, suffered a stroke that caused him deep personality alterations. Ted, little by little, starts to be a crucial figure inside the house, not only weaving a strong connection with Vanetia, but also with her lonely son, Lenny, who entered in a complicated process of self-discovery (perhaps an avoidable subplot). The ability here was not to rush things, but let them flow with sensibility and plainness. What I liked in Green’s approach was that the film never stepped into overused melodramatic scenes, choosing to look at the problems in a positive and non-manipulative way. The pleasant score fitted well in the mood intended, while in the visual aspect “Run and Jump” was able to pull out vivid colors from the lively, luminous frames. Peak was very believable in her performance, while Forte, after a great participation in “Nebraska”, demonstrates his adaptability.

January 30, 2014

Our Sunhi (2013)

Our Sunhi (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: “Our Sunhi” is probably the weakest film directed by prolific Korean director Hong Sang-soo in the last few years. The film is almost an extension of his previous studies “The Day He Arrives” and particularly “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon”, where people related to cinema roam through the city having several encounters with acquaintances, fortuitous or not, and exposing their state of mind. Film student Sunhi, always running to go somewhere or hiding from something, shows to be confused about what she really wants in life, including her affective relationships. She asks her former teacher for a reference letter in order to study abroad, but wasn’t so pleased with the truthful statements in it. Nevertheless, a kind of flirtation arises between them and a more 'suitable' letter will come up later. Meantime, she accidentally meets with her ex-boyfriend Munsu who is still in love with her, and gives hope to Jae-hak, a married friend who always had a crush on her. All three men happen to know each other and the story, as you can imagine, won’t end in the way she probably wanted to. The approach relies on the usual simplistic style adopted by Sang-soo: natural and long dialogues, while drinking in pubs or restaurants, and repeated situations in different circumstances or presences. Only this time, the story was not so catchy and drags itself slowly towards a totally predictable ending, failing to surprise. Furthermore, I must confess I’m not a fan of some unexpected and nonsensical camera zooms, so evident in "Our Sunhi", a minor work from a respectable director.

January 29, 2014

The Counselor (2013)

The Counselor (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Country: USA / UK

Movie Review: Written by the imaginative novelist/screenwriter Cormac McCarthy (“The Road”, “No Country For Old Men”), and exhibiting a cast beyond suspicion that includes Fassbender, Bardem, Cruz, Diaz, and Pitt, “The Counselor” was victim of its narrative traps and a plot in which its disperse parts aren’t always put together with clarity. The film was directed and produced by Ridley Scott who, for now, abandoned the spatial adventures he got famous for (“Blade Runner, “Alien”, “Prometheus), to embark in a story with the greed as central focus. Once the story involves Mexican drug cartels and nebulous schemes, we inevitably must add sex, drugs, and some violence to it. The results are not really memorable but I must confess that other similar movies in the same genre had less impact on me, case of Oliver Stone’s “Savages”. While Fassbender was solid in the role of a man known as ‘Counselor’ who asks for everybody’s counseling after fall in disgrace, the rest of the cast had acceptable performances, with Diaz being the weakest as libertine, greedy villain, but providing the most unforgettable scene of the movie, when she rubs herself in a Ferrari’s sunroof, leaving her extravagant husband (Bardem) in a state of shock. Although stereotyped in almost every aspect, “The Counselor” managed to create good moments of darkness, being talkative and protracted in one side, and super-violent and vigorous in the other. After a careful analysis, the balance is positive, but just don’t expect many surprises here.

January 28, 2014

Wakolda (2013)

Wakolda (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lucía Puenzo
Country: Argentina / others

Movie Review: Better known for her 2007 auspicious debut “XXY”, Lucia Puenzo, embarks this time in an almost anticlimactic thriller set in a remote place in Patagonia, Argentina, where Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi fugitive, seeks guinea pigs within a family in order to develop his genetic theories and experiences. The story was based on her own book with the same name, and starts with a fortuitous encounter between Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl) and 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) who arouse his curiosity due to a poor body development and growth for her age. Right away, Mengele introduces himself to her parents and becomes the couple’s first guest in their renovated family inn. This tale of obsession and cruelty advances in a slow pace and reserved ambiance, and despite some tension around, it was never effectively applied to take our breath away. Although production values are competent, I got the sensation that this tale could have been told differently, in much less time, and surrounded in a more appropriate thrilling mood. The name Wakolda refers to Lilith’s favorite doll, which her father wanted to rebuild with a mechanical heart, turning it unique. Mengerle becomes interested and offers himself to invest in a mass production where each doll will be perfect and equal, in a subplot that worked as a too obvious symbolism to please or surprise us. The film received nine awards of Argentinean academy, including best direction, actor, and new actress.

January 27, 2014

Kuma (2012)

Kuma (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Umut Dag
Country: Austria

Movie Review: “Kuma” showcases the life of a firmly integrated Turkish family, where marriage, love, and motherhood, end up in false hopes, disagreement, and deception. The story begins with the wedding of Ayse (Begum Akkaya), a meek 19-year-old country girl, and Hasan, who lives in Vienna with his family. The uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding the wedding, especially among Hasan’s sisters, lets us foreseen that something is wrong. In fact, Ayse is on her way to Austria to be the second wife of Hasan’s father, in a scheme arranged by Fatma (Nihal Koldas), family’s matriarch who was diagnosed with cancer and wanted a substitute to take care of her husband and children. When her death was expected at any moment, the plot gives a big turn in multiple fronts, striking us with its shocking effects. The film was superbly shot and keenly photographed, whereas the dashing direction by debutant filmmaker Umut Dag, gave excellent indications for the future. The notion of women’s duty is very present, as well as the bitterness of a society that opts to close the eyes to domestic violence or homosexuality, instead of facing it. The final half hour was very expressive in letting come out pain, shame, and constraint. “Kuma” revealed to be a beautiful, biting, and overwhelming film, with so much going on at the same time, yet organized and structured in a very compelling way. Actresses’ fantastic performances also deserve mention.

January 26, 2014

Circles (2013)

Circles (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Srdan Golubovic
Country: Serbia / others

Movie Review: Intelligently written and structured, “Circles” is one of the most valuable contemporary dramas coming from Balkans. The story starts to be told in 1993 Trebinje, Bosnia, hometown of soldier Marko Kovacevic who returns on leave from the front. After having breakfast with his dad, Ranko, he goes to visit his girlfriend, Nada, at work, and then meet with his medic friend, Nebosja. When he witnesses a Muslim shopkeeper, Haris, being savagely beaten up by three military companions, which includes Todor and Rekita, known for spreading confusion and fear on the city streets, he tries to cool them down, but this posture will cost him his life. Twelve years later, in a peaceful Germany, all the living characters mentioned above (or some of their relatives), will cross paths, having the opportunity to forgive or take revenge, depending on the case. The film was set up in a captivating way, employing discernment to put in confrontation the good vs. evil, and showing a complexity of feelings and emotions, that was strong enough to make us conscious and alert. Also visually absorbing, the film counted with an appreciable cinematography and credible performances. Helmer Srdan Golubovic, who, in certain scenes, curiously opted for a moving camera instead of fixed shots, proves that the success achieved with “The Trap” in 2007, wasn’t just a coincidence. “Circles” is an illuminated film composed by small, interconnected stories, which, whether fair or unfair, whether immersed in light or in deep darkness, are indispensable lessons for life.

January 25, 2014

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2013)

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Country: USA

Movie Review: Set in a problematic neighborhood in Brooklyn, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” tells us the story of two youths who share the same familiar problems, which often lead them to look for food in dangerous streets populated by scumbags and police. The skinny, courageous, and sharp-mouth Mister (Skylan Brooks) is an angered 14 year-old kid with strong pretentions to become an actor, who lives in frequent verbal aggressions with his irresponsible and vicious mother. His younger Korean buddy, Pete (Ethan Dizon), an abused, quiet, and loyal kid whose addicted mother was also busted, constantly follows him everywhere. These kids’ lives seemed too complicated to be depicted as a mere street adventure. Despite of some solid content evinced in this drama, the story wasn’t always able to convince me, and I truly believe that many aspects could have been improved here to better follow the good performances of the young actors. The score by Alicia Keys and Mark Isham, withdrew the rawness that would have been favorable in several moments, softening up some scenes where anger and frustration should reign. I presume that filmmaker George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food”, “Notorious”, “Men of Honor”) had a large share of responsibility for this story hasn’t come out sufficiently consistent in its execution. Although the pace isn’t bad at all, it grows uneven towards a hopeful end that only enhances its feebleness.

January 24, 2014

In Bloom (2013)

In Bloom (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Gross
Country: Georgia / others

Movie Review: “In Bloom” is a very particular coming-of-age drama, co-directed by Georgian Nana Ekvtimishvili (who wrote the screenplay partially based on personal memories) and German filmmaker Simon Gross, in their second collaboration after 2007 “Fata Morgana”, though in other molds. The story is set in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, in the early 90’s, right after the new born country has been freed from Soviet dominion. The war is still present through Abkhazia conflict, making the population to rush and quarrel to buy the daily bread. Apart from all these aspects, 14 year-old Eka and Natia, live other type of ‘war’, dealing with family problems and trying to fit in a society completely dominated by men. Despite the unshakeable friendship, their different personalities and very own way of thinking, will take them to distinct life experiences. The cinematography along with the performances by the two non-professional young actors, Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeria, were simply formidable. However, and despite worthy, the film was not totally satisfying. While some scenes were unforgettable (Eka’s dance, or the disordered line to buy bread), others seemed slightly contrived, especially in its last part, where the strength demonstrated till there, started to decline. Eka’s feminist nature has so much to be appreciated that we keep following her no matter what. Even considering its powerful political, social, and cultural messages, it was through the performances that “In Bloom” surprised me.

January 23, 2014

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013)

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Country: China

Movie Review: Tsui Hark’s new film, featuring detective Dee Renjie and his first mystery case, is another magnanimous production that revealed to be a major disappointment when compared to the engrossing “Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, both in visuals and screenwriting. Obviously I was expecting something colorful, sensationalist, and cartoonish, but this time Hark’s overconfidence ruined everything by leaving substance behind, in what we can call a gaudy fantasy stuffed with digital manipulations, overdone fight choreography, and supernatural enigmas. Probably Korean “The Host” served as inspiration for its boring scenes, since the shrewd detective, performed by Mark Chao, involves himself in a battle against a gigantic sea dragon in order to solve a mysterious conspiracy against Imperial kingdom. Sadly, there’s nothing new or smart in this plot and the beautiful, enchanting atmosphere noticeable in the mentioned sequel from 2010, vanished completely here. I got bored even before its first half, so I don’t have to explain how interminable the film seemed to me. “Young Detective Dee” was too overcooked and action-packed in a fastidious way, becoming instantly forgettable. I guess it will only be suitable for those who are not demanding with what they chose to watch as entertainment, or are looking for some impact through its bumbling images.

January 22, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Country: USA / Russia

Movie Review: Kenneth Branagh’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is an action film co-written by experienced writer/director David Koepp (“Ghost Town”, “Premium Rush”) and debutant Adam Cozad, based on the character created by Tom Clancy and featured in other films such as “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games”. This new adventure stars Chris Pine as secret agent Ryan, the always-charming Keira Knightley as his supportive girlfriend, Kevin Costner as a high-ranking CIA agent, and Branagh as the Russian villain Cheverin. A Russian conspiracy against US will bring agent Jack Ryan back in action, after recovering from a terrible helicopter accident in Afghanistan. His ability to decipher complex patterns and whereabouts will take him to a dangerous trip to Moscow where, against all the CIA rules, his beloved Cathy will join him in another impossible mission. I expected much more from this story set up in automatic mode by Branagh, where we can easily guess every outcome. The direction stepped widely in common ground, obeying to the traditional action standards of Hollywood and never bringing enough thrill or surprise to the already stereotyped story. The widely known car chasings occupied great part of the final action scenes, turning them into monotonous repetitions of thousand other similar scenes already seen before. In the dance of contemporary secret agents, which includes Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne, I would say that Jack Ryan is the less competent.

January 21, 2014

Silence (2012)

Silence (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pat Collins
Country: Ireland / Germany

Movie Review: Structured like a docudrama, “Silence” is a vague and occasionally haunting exercise on sound and childhood memories. Documentarian Pat Collins makes here an enigmatic transition into fiction to tell the subliminal experiences of Eoghan, a sound recordist now living in Germany, who goes back to its origins in Ireland, 15 years after his departing. With the single purpose to find and record places completely forgot by men, Eoghan has a few casual encounters and meaningful conversations with strangers who, deep down inside are just like him, solitary souls populating desolated landscapes. Ponderous, philosophical, visually and auditorily absorbing, “Silence”, might seem narrow in terms of plot for many viewers, but can stir some emotions and provoke our minds somehow. Sometimes it makes us fall in the nostalgic torpor of the mountain field’s tranquility, just to overwhelm us again with the sepia tones of an old video recording of a fishermen’s boat and a dog’s drowning in the sea, or the visit to a local museum that keeps record of documents and photographs of families that had to abandon their island, or a young man who brings to Eoghan’s mind the dilemmas of leaving home. After “Berberian Sound Studio” has used the factor sound in a completely different way, now is the time of “Silence” emerge with a much more deep conception and approach. Do we have a new trend on modern independent film? I don’t think so, but this one may offer something worthwhile if you have sufficient patience for its quietness.

January 20, 2014

Viva La Libertà (2013)

Viva La Libertà (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Roberto Andó
Country: Italy

Movie Review: “Viva La Libertà” is a political dramedy directed with passion by Roberto Andó, based on his own novel. The film depicts the atypical story of Enrico Oliveri, the secretary of the main Italian opposition party, who after a depressive crisis, decides to avoid responsibilities, abandoning his tiresome life and traveling to Paris where he will be received by an actress friend and former lover, Danielle, now married with a famous filmmaker. His absence will cause the chaos inside the party, which isn’t seen as a good alternative to the actual government, according to the latest opinion polls. That’s when an assistant who operates behind the scenes, Andrea Bottini, with the approval of Enrico’s wife, comes with the only possible solution: to occupy the vacant post with Enrico’s twin brother Giovani Ernani, a creative philosopher who suffers from bipolar depression. With the twins extremely well adapted to their new lives, a bunch of risky, funny, and occasionally improbable situations will take place. As usual, Toni Servillo has a superb performance, being impressive in the way he gives shape to the two twins – Enrico, more pensive and sufferer, while Giovani was more seductive and spirited. Even if the script is difficult to believe in its whole, “Viva La Libertà” put on the screen the expressive and ironic elements so characteristic of Italian cinema, whereas madness, dance, passionate romance, and fervent speeches, kept the film well alive.

January 19, 2014

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2013)

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Arvin Chen
Country: Taiwan

Movie Review: Taiwanese-American Arvin Chen’s second feature-film uses appeaser tones to depict sexuality issues and uncertainty in life. The film gives us a sort of lesson by concentrating a couple of stories that oppose each other. Weichung seems happily married with Feng, with whom he had a son, but their relationship lacks fire and life becomes monotonous for both. The reason is that Weichung is gay, and during nine years he tried to deceive himself by thinking he could live the ‘normal’ family life he had carefully planned. On the other hand, Weichung’s sister, Mandy, suddenly cancels her wedding with San-San because she’s afraid of the future and routine tasks of a married woman. The themes are strong and legitimate but the ethereal tones and predominating floating score presented throughout the film, paints everything pinky too quickly. We get aware of the problems almost only through the characters’ expression, with Cheng trying to avoid real conflict among the characters. I believed he tried to create a charming atmosphere, but analyzing the adopted approach and looking deeper, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” was not so original or special, despite the humanity revealed. In the final we get everyone happy and a smiley future will shine for all the involved, whether through togetherness or separation. A generous drama, yet just a bit soapy for me…

January 18, 2014

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Big Bad Wolves (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Country: Israel

Movie Review: Violent Israeli thriller “Big Bad Wolves” deals with revenge and dared to make fun of a grim story that comes in consequence of the kidnap, rape, and posterior decapitation of a little girl, by a pedophile. The sophomore feature from filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, does nothing more than torturing us along the way with a clumsy revenge plan perpetrated by Gidi, the victim's father, along with Miki, a vigilante cop who had been dismissed from the case. The supposed author of the crimes, a teacher called Dror, nothing could have done against the furious avengers, receiving (almost) the same treatment as his victims. Later, Gidi’s father, in his swaggering posture, will also give his contribution by inflicting pain on the hostage. Considering the sad killing in question, the characters never seemed sincere or real, presenting silly behaviors that were just meant to shock or surprise. Unfortunately this strategy didn’t work, mostly due to a plot that never showed any stroke of genius or cleverness to make me feel connected. I wonder how this film would have been if directed by Tarantino, who praised the film to the point of considering it one of the year’s best. The truth is that aside the strong cinematography by Giora Bejach (“Lebanon”) and the music of Frank Ilfman, both awarded by Israeli academy, “Big Bad Wolves” didn’t offer sufficient arguments to convince, being a whimsical and unnecessary film that runs beyond what it should.

January 17, 2014

Filth (2013)

Filth (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Country: UK

Movie Review: Adapted from another great novel by Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”), Jon S. Baird’s sophomore feature, “Filth”, is far more ambitious than its predecessor, “Cass”, carrying  all the irreverence and sarcastic humor, so traditional in this type of British comedies punctuated with bursts of violence and thrilling plots. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland the plot follows the anti-hero detective-sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a bipolar, alcoholic, and corrupt junkie cop whose dream is to be promoted to detective-inspector and then retrieve his wife and daughter. When a Japanese student is murdered in the silence of the night, Robertson has his opportunity since he was assigned to oversee the case. However, he sinks himself in a spiral of alcohol and drugs that will increase his frequent hallucinations and consequent cruel behaviors, especially involving his bland masonic-fellow friend Bladesey (Eddie Marsan). As the title implies, Baird frequently creates coarse scenarios, most of them involving sex, better defining Robertson’s miserable state of mind, but often accompanied with hilarious touches. His vibrant direction was able to enhance even more the disquietness whenever the film needed a push, never allowing the story to freeze in any occasion. “Filth” brings up a bustling vitality and finishes in style by drawing a wry scenario at the sound of Clint Mansell’s version of Radiohead’s “Creep”.

January 16, 2014

When Time Becomes a Woman (2012)

When Time Becomes a Woman (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ahmad Alyaseer
Country: Jordan

Movie Review: Talky, minimal, and tiresome is what comes to my head when I first try to describe Jordanian film “When Time Becomes a Woman”, Ahmad Alyaseer’s directorial debut. The poor, stagey script only needs two actors and repetitive shots from the same landscape, to tell a weird and futuristic story about the end of the world. Zad is a confident, controller, and egocentric revolutionary who unintentionally was responsible for the destruction of the Earth in an operation called M16. In a remote place somewhere in the mountains, he tries to convince the last woman on the planet to go with him in order to save the world. The confusing dialogue becomes insufferable, in a mix of elaborated philosophy and mechanical questions and answers that seemed almost a hide-and-seek game that tries to confront fantasy and reality, knowledge and unawareness, trust and suspicion. He tells her about his past deeds in 2050’s when the Earth was invaded and a dangerous virus infected most of the inhabitants, while she keeps questioning about his methods, motives, and intentions. With a nauseating fatalist score accompanying all the extremely glossy images, “When Time Becomes a Woman” cannot be seen as a serious film (at least in my eyes), being a complete failure in all the genres that is categorized: drama, mystery, and sci-fi. Its 73 minutes were more than enough to running out my patience.

January 15, 2014

Young and Beautiful (2013)

Young and Beautiful (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: François Ozon
Country: France

Movie Review: After the success obtained with the voyeuristic “In the House”, here comes the awaited new film from French filmmaker François Ozon. As “In the House”, “Young and Beautiful” has also a hint of voyeurism here and there, but applied in a completely different context, showing an obscure psychological side of adolescent sexuality. The story, told along four seasons of the year, centers on Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a bourgeois 17 year-old student who decides to become a prostitute after lose her virginity during the summer holidays. In the fall, we can see her in hotels with all sorts of clients, and the inevitable question arises – What are her motives? Once she shows a strange pleasure when counting money, we first think of materialistic reasons or even the urge of becoming financially independent, but there is something more in Isabelle’s puzzling, provocative, and fearless behavior. Her lack of expression and hidden feelings stir our curiosity. The winter brings the shocking revelations to Isabelle’s mother in tragic circumstances, while spring marks a radical change of attitude with the appearance of a boyfriend of her age, yet also without palpable conclusions. Lacking the spell of “In the House”, the semi-vague “Young and Beautiful” combines tones of sensuality and mystery, recalling the work of Jean-Claude Brisseau in several moments. It's an inconclusive, well-shot piece that doesn’t fascinate, but is never monotonous. Solid performance by Vacth in her first main role.

January 14, 2014

In a World (2013)

In a World (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lake Bell
Country: USA

Movie Review: “In a World” is an enjoyable comedy that depicts intelligently a group of well-defined characters. Lake Bell is the star of the film, doing a pretty good job, not only as actress and producer, but also directing her first feature film. Carol Salomon is a vocal coach who’s trying to get some appreciation for her talent as a voice-over, a feature that her father, Sam, is the main reference. The selfish Sam doesn’t give enough credit to his daughter's work and even throws her out of his place to live with his much younger girlfriend. In order to promote the upcoming film series “The Amazon Games”, she will have the opportunity to be chosen and give voice to the movie-trailer, having to compete against her father and Gustav Warner, a spoiled rich man with whom she has a one night stand after a party. The desirable support will come from her sister, Dani, who are passing through a huge crisis in her marriage, and her friend and producer, Louis, who is deeply in love with her. The story was well cooked, with time to develop the characters and presenting awkwardly funny situations in a controlled way. The direction was surprisingly non-static and effective, proving that Lake Bell has another talent to be acknowledged rather than acting. “In a World” stood out for its humanity and positivity, in place of dramatically forced situations or foolishness, commonly used in this kind of comedies. It wasn’t perfect in every sense, but the easiness evinced in the approach, guaranteed a pleasant and relaxed session.

January 13, 2014

The Book Thief (2013)

The Book Thief (2013) - Movie Reviews
Directed by: Brian Percival
Country: USA / Germany

Movie Review: Based on the bestseller novel by Australian author Markus Zusak, “The Book Thief” didn’t seem to have been made with the right choices regarding its cinematic adaptation. Not even the musical score of multi-awarded John Williams, or the presence of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson could save a story already compromised since its first moments, with its excessive sweetness instead of thrill, and lingering too much time in a sort of passivity, preventing me from establishing any connection with its characters.  Set in a Germany under the Nazi regime, the film follows the fate of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) who is on her way to meet her new foster parents, the kind and attentive Hans (Rush) and the insensible Rosa (Watson). This occurrence arises after the death of her little brother and consequent ‘abandonment’ of her mother. Liesel gains a special taste for books and gets along with two faithful friends: the schoolmate Rudi, and a Jewish fugitive called Max. The film drags in the first half to the point of making me sleepy, thanks to its familiar tones and impaired sequences. Sadly, “The Book Thief” seemed contrived in almost every happening and was unfruitful during its few moments of tension. I had no other choice than to sit back and patiently wait for its ending. The sharp cinematography by Florian Ballhaus was the prominent point of a thoughtless film that failed flatly to convince.

January 12, 2014

Mystery (2012)

Mystery (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lou Ye
Country: China / France

Movie Review: “Mystery” is a Chinese dramatic thriller directed by Lou Ye whose past work is synonym of undeniable quality (“Suzhou River” and “Summer Palace”). Lately, he seems a bit lost in secondary dramas such were the cases of “Love and Bruises” and now this messy “Mystery”, where a dark love triangle ends up in murder. The film starts with a woman being run over by a car when she was already in a deplorable state. This woman was seen getting out of a hotel with Yongzhao, a married man and attentive father who, in parallel, supports a second family composed by his mistress and son. If the story started with some potential and nerve, it lost quickly its initial strength with unbalanced scenes and an overcooked plot that also involves the policeman who is in charge of the case and the ex-boyfriend of the deceased girl. In some moments, the shaky camera was adequate, giving a sensation of disorientation, but in others, its use was completely unnecessary and even annoying. An acceptable balance was never achieved and I can point some scenes that made my interest collapse along the way - a violent rape as punishment ends up in an overemotional situation, just like the raging murder of a homeless beggar. Moreover, every time an intense rain and threatening sky were present, was a sign that a crime would be committed. Erratic and unsatisfying, “Mystery” can be skipped without regrets.

January 11, 2014

Tokyo Family (2013)

Tokyo Family (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Yoji Yamada
Country: Japan

Movie Review: “Tokyo Family” is Yoji Yamada’s homage to unrivaled master Yasujiro Ozu, and a modern adaptation of his 1953 masterpiece, “Tokyo Story”. This way, and recreating the gentle and smooth Ozu’s universe of family (not without some significant differences), Yamada moves away from the samurai scene (“The Twilight Samurai”, “The Hidden Blade”, “Love and Honour”) that gave him some notoriety in the last decade. The story follows an aging couple who travels from Hiroshima to Tokyo to visit their three children and grandchildren. Their arrival, despite being expected with eagerness by all the family, will cause deep changes in the rushed life and daily routines of the adult relatives who will think in other solutions to get the space and time they are used to. The comparison with Ozu’s original is simultaneously unfair and inevitable - some outdoor compositions of streets and trains passing by, were reminiscent of his serene style, while the indoor ones were a mix of steady shots through a low-positioned camera (a staple in Ozu’s filmmaking) and other own compositions depicting modern family's interaction. The weakest aspect here was the sentimental tendencies of its final part, but the richness of the story, in its whole, was enough to be enjoyed, focusing on problems that seem real and never forced, and with an approach that emphasizes affectionate relationships. In a time where remakes are so in vogue, Yamada’s contemporary Tokyo family, at least, remembers us how simple a film can be.

January 10, 2014

The Banshee Chapter (2013)

The Banshee Chapter (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Blair Erickson
Country: USA / Germany

Movie Review: Horror flick “The Banshee Chapter” marks the directorial debut of Blair Erickson, causing sensations of déjà-vu through the use of alternating techniques, consisting in extremely mobile handheld camera to accentuate the anxiety and distress felt, sinister footage (some in black-and-white), and a few sudden scares accompanied with loud noises, a repetitive strategy that doesn’t surprise anymore if not properly done. The film starts with a small introduction to the real and bizarre US Government’s MK-Ultra Program, carried out in the 60’s, which consisted in administering chemical substances on humans to induce mind control. After Bill Clinton’s public apologies to all the victims of the experience, and other strange testimonials, the film departs to its fictional story whose nature could have been better managed if presented with dreamlike tones and uncertainty, instead of trying to achieve some veracity through its pseudo-realistic scenes. Journalist Anne Roland narrates the occurrences while embarks in a deep investigation filled with radio noise, ghostly appearances, and some monologues, to try to understand what happened to her dear friend, James Hirsch, a volunteer in the experiences. For that, the help of Thomas Blackburn, a swindler, miserable and junkie writer, will become precious. Somewhere between “Paranormal Activity” and “Blair Witch Project”, “The Banshee Chapter” was never reasonable or unsettling, and its execution is a mere aggregation of ideas presented in other films of the genre.

January 09, 2014

A Magnificent Haunting (2012)

A Magnificent Haunting (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ferzan Ozpetek
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Not original in concept but depicted in agreeable tones, “A Magnificent Haunting” is a feel-good comedy without any other pretention than entertain us with the story of Pietro (Elio Germano), a homosexual croissant-maker who planned to change his life radically after the death of his father. He decides to leave his hometown, Catania, to live in Rome’s district of Monteverde. Pietro, always backed up by his inseparable and disoriented cousin, Maria (Paola Minaccioni), decides to rent a big old house in need of repair, but soon realizes that the place is occupied by amiable ghosts of several actors who belonged to a famous theatrical company called Apollonio, mysteriously disappeared during the wartime. The first signs of fear vanish when Pietro realizes that his hosts just want to leave the house for good, but also can be of great help in order to achieve his dream: to become an actor. Turkish director residing in Italy, Ferzan Ozpetek, continues to refuse stressful or disturbing plots, preferring instead charming dramas with hints of romance or light comedies as this one. Offering some good humor and bouncing performances from Germano and Maccioni, both winners of an Italian Golden Globe, “A Magnificent Haunting” is far from being essential, but provides good laid-back moments with its gentle and spirited aura. The film was well received in Moscow, winning the audience award, as well as the Russian Film Clubs Federation Award.

January 08, 2014

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (2012)

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tinatin Gurchiani
Country: Georgia

Movie Reviews: Tinatin Gurchiani’s directorial debut is a documentary focused on the reasons and motivations of a group of Georgians (ages from 15 to 23), for having responded to a casting call for a movie. After the first banal questions, the filmmaker starts to enter more in the personal life of the participants, being granted with easy access to their homes, dreams, and daily life, which intends to give an idea of current Georgia, former Soviet republic. In these unembellished interviews, each story told reveals to be very contrasting regarding the others. From the simple case of dreaming to be an actor, passing by psychological depression or disillusions of life associated to family problems, and ending in military reasons and war traumas, everything can be a motive to apply for the job. Not always satisfactory, the documentary itself lacks some dynamic, seeming sunk in the same depression of its guests/characters. Technically unimpressive, and with a sketchy approach, “The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear” was incapable to compose the proper big picture of a socially affected and wistful country by gathering the individual stories of a few young inhabitants. I ended up paying more attention to the desolated landscapes and mistreated roads filled with elder people, than properly in what Gurchiani would like to have shown with the sad and despairing realities where traditional and modern coexist.

January 07, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a comedy-drama surrounded by fantasy and weak mystery, falling short in vivacity or interest. Ben Stiller directed, acted, and produced, basing himself in the acclaimed short story by American author, journalist, and cartoonist James Thurber. Stiller gives life to compulsive daydreamer Walter Mitty, who works as a negative assets manager for Life Magazine’s photography department. He tries desperately to approach his coworker Cheryl Melhof (Kristen Wiig) for whom he has a crush, and at the same time, locate his photojournalist friend Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) who gave him an important photograph that would be the magazine’s next cover. The problem was that the photograph disappeared. This fact makes him confront, both in dreams and reality, the nasty executive Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), who nags him all the time in front of others. However, a trip to Greenland, Iceland, and then lower Himalayas will make Mitty find the answers he’s searching for. The tortuous script with its multiple heroic dreams and foreign adventures, together with the awkward mood presented, never pleased me or made me feel involved. It worked more like a composition of small parts rather than a continuous and fantastic adventure towards self-discovery. Mr. Mitty’s great secret is dispensable, and its viewing lacks fun and thrill, adding up in the final part, a self-content fragment of cheesiness.