September 22, 2014

Vacations Time!!

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

Carlos Filipe Freitas

September 19, 2014

Stray Dogs (2013)

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

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

September 18, 2014

Blind (2014)

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

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

September 17, 2014

Kelly & Cal (2014)

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

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

September 16, 2014

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

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

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

September 15, 2014

Honeymoon (2014)

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

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

September 12, 2014

Metalhead (2013)

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

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

September 11, 2014

Of Horses and Men (2013)

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

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

September 10, 2014

Frank (2014)

Frank (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Country: USA

Movie Review: American independent filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson (“What Richard Did”) picks up a plot written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, and creates an offbeat exercise populated with weirdness, mental illness, and indie rock. The writers sought inspiration in Frank Sidebottom, comic persona of the deceased English musician and comedian, Chris Sievey. Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) is a keyboardist and songwriter who is trying to come out of his shell, looking forward to play with someone or be contacted by some band. After some letdowns, an invitation comes from a band whose eccentric leader, Frank (Michael Fassbender), hides himself behind a large fake head, triggering curiosity and fascinating everybody in many ways. Delicate mental conditions seem to be a problem in the band, which isolates itself in a forest to record the first album. Not only Frank is a good character to be studied here. Weird behaviors and out-of-control situations are depicted, while Jon struggles to turn the band famous through social media. A good opportunity to make a public appearance arises in a respectable venue, but will the band be prepared to play decently with so many internal/personal conflicts? Amusing and visually polished, the film takes us to its very own psychedelic world. As Jon says in the film, the objective in joining the band is to push him into the furthest corners of himself. Despite some inspiring moments, I didn’t feel it all the time, since Abrahamson’s endeavor to captivate us results fine, but the film becomes memorable not for its story but for its extreme weirdness and distorted sounds.

September 09, 2014

God Help the Girl (2014)

God Help the Girl (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Stuart Murdoch
Country: UK

Movie Review: The lead singer of the Scottish indie pop band ‘Belle & Sebastian’, Stuart Murdoch, makes his directorial debut with “God Help the Girl”, a musical drama written by himself, starring Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray. Murdoch already had contributed for the soundtrack of several movies including “(500) Days of Summer” and “Juno”. The story turns around Eve (Browning), an anorectic teenager with aptitude for songwriting, who escapes the hospital facility where she was being treated to go to a concert in Glasgow. She easily becomes friends with guitarist/songwriter James (Alexander) who in turn, introduces her to Cassie (Murray), his music student. The three become good friends and the possibility of forming a pop band starts to take shape. Meanwhile, Eve starts a relationship with Anton (Pierre Boulanger), the selfish singer of a successful rock band, making James jealous. Lumbering and focusing on irrelevant details, “God Help the Girl” was quite monotonous along the way, never hauling articulated emotions from its characters to gain our sympathy. I just couldn’t be entertained with a story whose depicted problems never seemed to be real problems in my eyes. Even the sweet songs became pretty boring after a short time. Flaccid and far from innovative, Mudoch’s drama aimed a feel-good posture that annoys more than it is cool. Its ambition felt short, and God, help Murdoch in his next move because this one wasn’t so considerable.

September 06, 2014

Frontera (2014)

Frontera (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Michael Berry
Country: USA

Movie Review: Michael Berry directs and co-writes with the former art department coordinator, Louis Moulinet, the drama about immigration “Frontera”, his debut feature. The story focuses on Miguel Rodriguez (Michael Peña) who illegally crosses the Mexico/US border, searching for work and better life conditions, all with his new future baby in mind. He agrees to take Jose (Michael Ray Escamilla) with him, the disrespectful son of his father-in-law’s friend. Already in American territory, and guiltless, they will be involved in the accidental death of a woman on horseback who approached them to give them water and blankets. The innocent Miguel will be arrested and considered the man to blame, triggering the wrath of the woman’s husband, Roy (Ed Harris), a former Arizona sheriff who starts an investigation by himself. Meanwhile, Miguel’s wife, Paulina (Eva Longoria) pays a man to cross the border and join her husband, but ends up hostage. I was expecting other intensity from “Frontera”, a film whose conclusions came quickly and flavorless. Instead of elaborate or effusive, this ‘western’ drama is rather melancholic, derivative and drab, never presenting highlights along the way and opting for a continuous pace that only gives the sensation of being accelerated through the score, fetched from the old TV series. The performances remained in the shadow of a plot that got me impatient and dry, just like the incredible desert landscapes along the border.

September 05, 2014

The Longest Week (2014)

The Longest Week (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Peter Glanz
Country: USA

Movie Review: Using a relaxing flow, cordial narrative, and a cool score that includes piano jazz, swinging reeds, and violins playing Bach, “The Longest Week” is a friendly comedy that borrows the mood of Woody Allen’s stories and throws some personal touch in the way it is approached by debutant director Peter Glanz. The main character of this comedy-drama is the wealthy skirt-chaser Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) whose parents abandoned him since he was a kid to travel around the world, leaving him the luxurious Manhattan Hotel. Certain day he was told that his divorcing parents have disinherited him. Conrad astutely hides this detail from his best friend, Dylan Tate (Billy Crudrup), an artist who shows interest in his friend Beatrice (Olivia Wilde), an editorial model who already had caught Conrad’s eye. It seems that not even his analyst can do anything to avoid love and impoverishment, but a natural competition between the two friends will spike the film. I was able to follow the well-composed images with interest and the light humor always seemed unforced and with a perfect timing. The surprising conclusion of this tale also deserves some points, making “The Longest Week” a twisted rom-com that comes packed with graciousness and a good disposition when addresses the differences between sympathy and love, and being hopelessly romantic and romantically hopeless. Even considering its presumptuous airs ‘a lá Française’ and the too much obvious influences already mentioned before, “The Longest Week” still has something charming to deliver.

September 04, 2014

God's Pocket (2014)

God's Pocket (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: John Slattery
Country: USA

Movie Review: The lives of a group of inhabitants from a neighborhood called God’s Pocket are depicted in the debut film from the actor-turned-director, John Slattery, who co-wrote with Alex Metcalf, based on Pete Dexter’s 1983 novel. Even with a set of magnificent actors, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Eddie Marsan, and Christina Hendricks, “God’s Pocket” stubbornly varies between impenetrable and dull moments, becoming a shallow exercise on crime and a dispassionate attempt of giving shape to its miserable characters. The story follows Mickey (Hoffman) who tries to deal with the death of his racist stepson in his own way. By burying his body, he tries to hide the news from everybody without success. This is just another problem to add to his marital worries and future debts. Richard Shellburn (Jenkins), a newspaper journalist is the one who investigates the case and keeps writing about the reputation of the people. The film never attains what pretended, and for most of the time remains protracted, uneventful, and throwing out dispensable dialogues. All of a sudden, in one or two occasions, there are burst of gratuitous violence that just worsens the contrived, sometimes impenetrable, and non-atmospheric story. It’s basically a sum of unpleasant episodes that are vaguely connected, and for which I couldn’t feel many positive things. Surprising? Yes, but in a negative way. The quality of these actors was wasted, and that was the biggest surprise for me, since I expected much more from this frustrating American drama.

September 03, 2014

The Two Faces of January (2014)

The Two Faces of January (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hossein Amini
Country: UK / others

Movie Review: “The Two Faces of January” is the debut feature-film from Iranian-English Hossein Amini, most known as a screenwriter, with works such as “Drive”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, and “The Wings of the Dove”. This thriller was adapted from Particia Highsmith’s 1962 novel of the same name. Viggo Mortensen stars as Chester MacFarland, a con artist who ends up involving himself in an accidental murder of an intimidatory man when he was on vacations in Athens in the company of his wife, Collette (Kirsten Dunst). A tour guide and scammer named Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who followed Chester due to his semblances with his father, will help him to get rid of the body and get new passports through the black market. On the run, the trio tries to escape the Greek authorities, but the relationship between the two men deteriorates along the time, mainly for two reasons: different opinions on how to handle the situation, and jealousy since Rydal and Collette dangerously admit to nurture a special admiration for each other. I was supposed to be seduced by the way this thriller was conceived, but the truth is that the film never bestowed what it promised, not even in its final part where we have a bit more agitation and suspense. It didn’t take me beyond my expectations, and there’s absolutely nothing here we haven’t seen before. In its pretty familiar tones, we can feel a sense of tragic that was never enough to hold my attention. Solid in the technical aspects, the half-hearted “The Two Faces of January” lacked power in depicting the fatal crossed paths of these two men.

September 02, 2014

Life of Crime (2013)

Life of Crime (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniel Schechter
Country: USA

Movie Review: The third feature film from Daniel Schechter (“Supporting Characters”), “Life of Crime”, was adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel “The Switch”, and despite having nothing really new to offer, it entertains most of the time. Everything starts when two well-informed swindlers, Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Mos Def), target Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a wealthy man, kidnapping her in order to ask for a million dollars ransom. While the operation occurs, Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins), the selfish husband, is in Bahamas with his lover Melanie (Isla Fisher) who thwarts the plan by picking up all the phone calls and saying that Frank is not there with her. Meanwhile, Mickey is made hostage and placed in the house of a stinky Nazi follower called Richard (Mark Boone Junior). The story gets really messy as it moves forward, and some characters change positions driven by a determination for revenge, or even fear, as it occurred to Marshall (Will Forte), a friend of the Dawson family who has a crush on Mickey and was caught in the middle of the kidnapping scene. Schechter’s direction was minimally competent without standing out, leading “Life of Crime” to lose some energy and control in its final part. A few ludicrous moments, regular pace, and a cool atmosphere, so characteristic of the majority of the heist movies, makes us distracted from the usual aspects that hamper the films of this genre from being totally gratifying. They’re there, but the performances made me tolerate them.

September 01, 2014

The Rover (2014)

The Rover (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Michod
Country: Australia / USA

Movie Review: Set 10 years after a global collapse, in a desolated arid town in Australia, “The Rover”, is a natural follow-up to David Michod’s amazing debut feature, “Animal Kingdom”. The austere, dark tones and aggressive scenes are pretty familiar, composing the irrational story filled with irrational characters, but in terms of plot it turned out to be a bit disconnected. Eric (Guy Pierce) is the man we follow; solitary, mournful and with violent past, he goes after three men who stole his car after a failed robbery attempt. The search along the torrid Australian landscape takes him to weird places with even weirder people. Unable to know their whereabouts, he has the fortune of bumping into Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wounded brother of one of the fugitives, remorselessly left behind by his companions. This awkward young man revealed not to be so bad natured and a bond of trust is established between the two. Despite the imminent danger that could be felt, some of the contemplative shots along with occasional action, lacked the expression needed to make “The Rover” a riveting experience. I wasn’t totally immune to its blend of dark crime and drama, in the same way that I wasn’t completely convinced of its unlikely relationship of trust and post-apocalyptic story. Only in the final moments, emotionally intense, I was able to be alert and get my eyes wide open for what was going on. I would say that this finale almost saves the film, however, I felt I needed something more.