February 28, 2015

The Salvation (2014)

The Salvation (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kristian Levring
Country: Denmark / UK / others

Movie Review: “The Salvation”, a Danish western directed by Kristian Levring and co-written with the credited Anders Thomas Jensen (mostly known for Susanne Bier’s dramas), swings between the positive and the negative, escaping from a more severe sentence due to the solid performances from Mads Mikkelsen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, some interesting details on direction, and a great visual design by cinematographer Jens Schlosser. The time is 1817. Jon (Mikkelsen) is a pacific Danish citizen and former soldier who settled himself in America seven years before, in the company of his brother, leaving his wife and son behind with the promise that one day they would join him. That day finally arrived, but instead of celebrate, Jon will mourn his family, killed by two abusive strangers who shared the same carriage that would take them home. Driven by indignation and grief, Jon makes justice with his own hands, never imagining he could still be in trouble. One of the men was the brother of Delarue (Morgan), the town’s savage ruler who swore revenge, ordering the frightened sheriff to bring him the responsible man alive. Jon wouldn’t be able to get away if he hadn’t the help of a 16-year-old boy and Delarue’s mute sister-in-law who was saved from the Indians and now refuses to submit herself to his whims. Clear skies and extensive prairies don’t hide the gloominess of a story whose predictability and far-fetched scenes (a silly escape from prison and a cigar who sets one of the villains on fire) are weighing factors. The finale didn’t satisfy either, proving the steep decline of a Scandinavian western that even started at full steam. It probably might work fine for the admirers of western category, but for me it got stranded in the difficult lands of screenwriting.

February 27, 2015

Jauja (2014)

Jauja (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lisandro Alonso
Country: Argentina / others

Movie Review: Different from anything else, “Jauja” is a picturesque, philosophical neo-western film from Argentinean Lisandro Alonso who counted with Viggo Mortensen in the main role and co-production. In a Patagonian desert, the Danish traveller, captain Gunnar Dinesen (Mortensen), tries to keep his beautiful young daughter Ingeborg (Viilbjork Malling Agger) away from the eyes of the obscene Lieutenant Pittaluga. However, his efforts are in vain since she runs away with the seductive soldier Coto, and later is taken by the mysterious Colonel Zuluago who everybody believed disappeared in uncertain territory. Dinesen resolves to hop on his horse to follow his beloved daughter’s trail in a journey where he finds death, experiences mystical situations, and discovers tortuous ways toward the soul. Once the narrative is a pipe dream, “Jauja” mostly relies in its bucolic visual aesthetics to impress. It’s simultaneously eccentric, excessively contemplative and vague in its insinuations (some ‘coconut heads’ are mentioned but we never put our eyes on them), requiring a lot of patience from the viewers. The deliberate slow pace and an infinity of humdrum distant long shots don’t make things easier, and not even ghostly dogs can awake us from this nightmarish trip to nowhere. Jodorowsky would have made it beautifully bizarre, while Tavernier (some resemblance in terms of mood) certainly would have made it narratively focused. Hereupon, “Jauja” is a very difficult film, that didn’t show any special motive to be distinguishable, beyond the beautiful cinematography from the Finnish Timo Salminen, habitual collaborator of filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki.

February 26, 2015

71 (2014)

71 (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Yann Demange
Country: UK

Movie Review: With experience in TV series since 2007, the French-born director raised in the UK, Yann Demange, gives us sufficient motives to expect great deeds in the future, since his first feature, “’71”, is a breathtaking political action thriller, skillfully shot, competently structured, and filled with creepy tense moments. The story, set in Dublin, 1971, follows the 20-year-old private soldier, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), member of a Derbyshire security squad assigned to patrol the rioting streets that host two enemy political factions during the time of ethno-nationalist conflicts known as ‘The Troubles’. During a turmoil involving the crowd, Hook is forced to run after a young boy who stole a gun from one of his squad mates. Separated from his unit, he gets caught by merciless separatists, managing to escape death in a miraculous way. Severely wound and marked to die by the radicals, he has no other choice than follow his intuitions and trust a few local strangers, to survive in the perilous narrow streets of the city. Demange reveals a tremendous ability to deal with a plot that leaves no ambiguities, creating a nightmarish adventure, which was carried out with confidence, stirring motion and objectivity. Its appalling images strike us with brutal actions and realistic scenarios, brought into existence by efficacious handheld camera movements that increase the chaotic atmosphere lived, as well as the fear and pain endured by the brave soldier impersonated by Jack O’Connell. This is the same O’Connell who, earlier this year, left me well impressed in “Starred Up”. This is a fantastic debut from Yann Demange who was granted with a prestigious special mention from the ecumenical jury at Berlin.

February 25, 2015

III (2015)

III (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pavel Khvaleev
Country: Russia / Germany

Movie Review: Pavel Khvaleev's sophomore feature film, “III”, can be as much contemplative and idyllic as sinister and eerie. Ayia (Polina Davydova) and Mirra (Lyubov Ignatushko) get completely devastated when their mother falls sick and dies from a mysterious disease that is making more and more victims over the city. While the older sister, Ayia, finds strength in her religious faith to deal with the grief, Mirra shows to be a non-believer, rejecting God, as she feels responsible for her mother’s death. She eventually catches the fatal disease, falling in a sort of delirious state where dark dreams mirror a hidden past of traumas and suffering. Soon an order to abandon the house arrives to the desperate Ayia, who can only count with the help of the town’s priest and family friend, Father Herman (Evgeniy Gagarin). The latter revealed to be wobbly in his faith but swore to take care of the sisters. Resorting to mystical practices and an esoteric book written by a shaman, the priest will try to connect the sisters’ minds, since according to him, the only way to save Mirra is to find and kill the deepest fear that resides in her subconscious. A burdensome journey to her sister’s worst nightmares doesn’t shake Ayia’s determination. Will this be sufficient to save Mirra? The powerful score, together with the intense images extracted from Igor Kiselev’s beautiful cinematography are the most positive aspects in “III”, a horror tale that couldn’t avoid gaps in the plot and a confusing narrative. It creates some good moments, though. The abrupt conclusions might divide the fans of the genre, but even flawed, a few thrills and surprises are guaranteed.

February 24, 2015

Dawn (2014)

Dawn - Morgenrode (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Anders Elsrud Hultgreen
Country: Norway / Iceland

Movie Review: In “Dawn” (aka "Morgenrode"), Norwegian director Anders Elsrud Hultgreen creates a deserted post apocalyptic world, depicted in black and white, where two wandering survivors wrapped in tatters, Rahab and Set, are trying to beat the fatigue and thirst. Their encounter wasn’t casual, since the former, after asking for the Creator’s guidance, is followed by the latter, a tricky man who pointed the direction of the coveted water and didn’t show any scruples when stole Rahab's precious belongings. In sparse words, Rahab had explained his cruel dream from ten winters ago, where something impossible to describe appeared to him. These enigmatic presences that we cannot see but implicitly hover in the foggy mountains, are an important key in a world where the incomprehensible reigns. During the first half I was bored by the repetitive cadency, completely unable to get into the story. The film works much better in the second half, where its scenes are not constantly interrupted by black screens, and deliver the exact radiance to become minimally appealing. At this point, the minimalism of its final images can be hypnotic in several occasions, proving that mono-tones are not synonym of monotony. A few audacious oblique camera moves enhances the sense of experimentalism in the approach used by Hultgreen, a filmmaker who showed potentiality in visuals but could have done much more in terms of narrative. Instead of striking, “Dawn” lacks clarity in every sense, (un)consciously blurring our perception with a too-long reiterative prelude.

February 23, 2015

Stations of the Cross (2014)

Stations of the Cross (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Dietrich Bruggemann
Country: Germany

Movie Review: The fourth feature film by Dietrich Bruggemann, “Stations of the Cross”, was co-written with his sister Anne, making an interesting parallelism between a modern world tale, set in a Southern German town, and the 14 stations of the cross endured by Jesus towards Calvary. Maria is a14 year-old somber girl who lives obsessed with God and religion. Coming from a very conservative family, Maria feels helpless most of the time, struggling against the fear of sin and brainwashed by her merciless unloving mother and the town’s priest, Father Weber. While preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, Maria is getting more and more obsessed with the idea of sacrificing her life for God to save her 4 year-old little brother who suffers from a mysterious disease. After start talking with Christian, a schoolmate who has a crush on her, Maria seems to vacillate in her intentions, giving signs of wanting to relate with outside people. As her mother denies her any type of affection and castrates her even more, Maria tries to extend her arms to Bernadette, a French friend of the family, who gave her the protection, trust and understanding that she couldn’t find in her real mother. However, and after getting seriously ill, not even a very concerned doctor seems capable to deviate the tormented young girl from her ordeal. We can glimpse a hint of the psychological strength of Haneke and Ulrich Seidl’s cinema, but never too intense to shock directly with its meticulous scenes and dialogues. Saint or not, the truth is that Lea van Acken’s performance was convincing, and the long shots of “Stations of the Cross” invites us to a sort of bitter commiseration.

February 22, 2015

Wild Tales (2014)

Wild Tales (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Damian Szifron
Country: Argentina / Spain

Movie Review: As the title implies, the Argentine “Wild Tales” is a collection of six wild short stories that work fine in its own terms, and smartly end up composing a bigger picture that bestows so much to ponder and appreciate. Away from feature-length film for nine years, Damian Szifron proves once again his skills as writer and filmmaker, creating a social-political satire that feels simultaneously outraging and hilarious. The shortest of the stories takes place onboard of a plane, and its presented even before the opening credits, giving the exact notion of what we should expect next: impetuous stories of vengeance in face of injustice, social discrimination, greed, corruption, and betrayal. In truth, crazy coincidences and insane behaviors continues in the next takes: a waitress serves the presumptuous man responsible for the death of her father; a man driving an Audi insults a driver of a modest car in a deserted dusty road; an engineer becomes jobless and struggles with divorce after a sequence of incidents with origin in his towed car; a wealthy father tries to use an innocent employee and negotiate with his greedy lawyer, in order to avoid the arrest of his irresponsible son; finally, a bride finds out during her wedding party that she was cheated by the groom, getting totally out of control and perpetrating a terrible vengeance. Everything is wildly depicted and in a pace that never slows down, but the really good thing in “Wild Tales” is that every tale is plausible and consequently every situation feels real, so no room for fantasies here, in spite of the saturated sarcasm. Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustin co-produced, while Ricardo Darin, Erica Rivas and Leonardo Sbaraglia stood out from the cast.

February 21, 2015

All the Wilderness (2014)

All the Wilderness (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Michael Johnson
Country: USA

Movie Review: Michael Johnson shows assured skills as a filmmaker in his first feature-length film, “All the Wilderness”, a drama that promises more than actually delivers, but overcomes its main obstacles with an innocent sensibility and good performances from the young cast. In terms of plot, Johnson has to ponder if this is the kind of stories he wants to present in the future, especially considering that we’ve seen this so many times, knowing almost exactly every next step. It’s actually gorgeously shot and transpires accurately some feelings and emotional states, but the too obvious course of happenings, together with a hasty resolution, slightly dragged the film down. The plot is centered on the restless and maladjusted James Charm (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a solitary teenager who ruminates about his deceased father and what he told him regarding the wilderness: a place of wonder and fear, life and death, where each man has to cross it alone. Spending most of his time drawing dead animals or reading dark poetry, James has no friends and considers himself a cursed person. He drives his mother crazy with his weirdness, especially when he anticipates the date for his hamster to die, or even worse, telling another kid the date of his death. Vague hope relies on Dr. Pembry, a laidback psychiatrist played by Danny DeVito, but effective recovery comes from experiencing real life when he starts hanging out with Harmon, a wanderer piano player, and Val, a street cart vendor, with whom he falls in love. Not everything will be easy and disappointments are a reality, however they will make James descend to earth from his outer world. The film ends as it started, with James revisiting the wilderness, but this time with hope illuminating his mind and soul.

February 20, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matthew Vaughan
Country: UK

Movie Review: “Kingsman: the Secret Service” is an action-packed espionage thriller directed by Matthew Vaughan (“Kick-Ass”, “X-Men: First Class”) and starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton and Samuel L. Jackson. The film, bestowing a lot more action than really espionage, also presents more chaff than wheat, never reaching high levels of satisfaction but showing enough competence in order to be considered entertaining. Vaughan and Jane Goldman joined efforts to write a script, based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, which relies on familiar structural methods and formulaic details instead of adding something extra to win our recognition. This doesn’t mean that “Kingsman” isn’t capable of offering a few interesting characters, putting face to face the elegance/snobbism of the members of a British intelligence agency, and a freaking tech-tycoon who endangers the world with his self-centeredness. All starts when Harry Hart (Firth), decides to give an opportunity to Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Egerton), the son of a former agent who had been killed in duty by the lethal legs of Gazelle, shield of a mad Internet entrepreneur, Richmond Valentine (Jackson). The latter carries out an evil plan to annihilate great part of the population, watching them kill one another through a device that causes uncontrolled rage - 'as in the movies we both love’, he says to Harry. “Kingsman: the Secrete Service” is acceptable, even with a few holes in the plot and repetitive action scenes occasionally detailed in slow-motion. This is the kind of film in which the fans of raucous action will thank, while the ones looking for something else might leave the theater disappointed.

February 19, 2015

Waves (2015)

Waves (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Don Gerardo Frasco
Country: Philippines

Movie Review: “Waves”, Don Gerardo Frasco’s directorial debut, is a Filipino English-language romance that lives from intimate conversations, fluctuating moods, complications and uncertainties in a revived relationship between two former lovers, Ross (Baron Geisler) and Sofia (Ilona Struzik), who first met in New York years before, and now decide to give another chance on love by spending a few days in a paradisiacal Filipino island resort. He is a lonesome local resident who became jobless and drinks heavily to drown his sorrows. She is an American model who is about to catch a plane to New York, where she lives and works. The couple seems to enjoy the company of each other but is confronted with old feelings, occasional jealousy and the fact that Sofia has a promising career and a boyfriend waiting for her in New York. We can sense a sort of discomfort when the question if they should or should not sleep in the same bed arises. The mystery and vagueness associated to their past worked well, and the script by Scott Curtis Graham is not so bad, even considering that the film drags here and there. Its main problem has to do with the editing, which revealed some amateurism, especially in the moments where the images present annoying hops and sudden light changes. In terms of performances, experienced Geisler was better than Polish/American model, Struzik, who makes the third cinematic appearance since her 2008 debut. Cebuano filmmaker and cinematographer, Don Frasco, presented some awesome shots, culminating with a swim with sharks, in an emotional waving drama that despite the efforts was unable to always genuinely aim straight to the heart.

February 18, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (2014)

Fifty Shades of Grey (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Country: USA / Canada

Movie Review: “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the long-awaited cinematic adaptation of E.L. James’ novel of the same name, is surely one of the worst movies of the year, making my patience and boredom drop very below acceptable levels. The film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”) according to Kelly Marcel’s script, doesn’t bring anything worthy apart from some inspired lines that from time to time trigger some giggles as a deplorable way of dissimulating our deep disappointment. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan’s performances didn’t convince at all, unable to draw the desired intensity from their languorous erotic scenes. The story starts with a fatal attraction between Anastasia Steele (Dakota), a quasi-graduate of English literature, who accepts to interview the young businessman tycoon, Christian Grey (Dornan), substituting her sick friend. The foolish encounter ends up in a sadomasochistic relationship with the right to a signed contract, sealing the commitment between dominator and dominated. Grey slowly drags his new prey into his little games composed of wild sexual fantasies, which were never capable to jump out of monotony. There’s an excessive sweetness composing the lackluster scenes, throwing the romance to ruinous conventional territories. This is revelatory that Taylor-Johnson’s approach didn’t have the boldness necessary to handle the story in a more enticing way. Other crucial aspects that contributed to disaster were the inert pace, lame score, and a total inability to provoke us, whether with its emotional simulations, whether with its lascivious pretentiousness. Let’s hope they give up from the annunciated sequel, because “Fifty Shads of Grey” is unnecessary and scandalously ineffectual.

February 17, 2015

Redirected (2014)

Redirected (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Emilis Velyvis
Country: Lithuania / UK

Movie Review: “Redirected” is a gangster action comedy film made in Lithuania and UK, being the sophomore feature from Emilis Velyvis who, together with Jonas Banys, also wrote this rambunctious tale. Vinnie Jones stars as Golden Pole, the feared leader of a Londoner gang, whose esteemed ring and money becomes the aim of three greedy friends: Johnny, Tim and Ben, who just added the ‘unavailable’ Michael to their dangerous stratagem at the last minute. After seizing the ‘stuff’, the plan was to flee to Malaysia but the eruption of an Icelandic volcano thwarted their intentions, and the boys are deviated to Lithuania. Apart from the angered Michael, who was literally kidnapped to get into the plane, leaving his girlfriend in England, the other thieves just enjoy their time, partying in a local nightclub. This draws the attention of local thugs and corrupted cops, who simultaneously with the robbed gang arrived from London, will try to grab the dough and butcher its holders. The overcooked plot revealed too much impracticable coincidences and the sequence ‘caught-beaten up-captivity-escape’ was used so many times that before the first 30 minutes we’re already fed up and asking for something new. Speaking of new, “Redirected” was probably the most unoriginal film I saw last year, being a cheap imitation of the mood created by Guy Ritchie in his successful gangster films (“Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Snatch” – Vinnie Jones are on both) with the aggravating factor of adding some allegedly humorous scenes that make us more disgusted than pleased. With an anarchy that feels phony, Velyvis selected a lousy way to pass a horrible image of his country.

February 16, 2015

When Animals Dream (2014)

When Animals Dream (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Country: Denmark

Country: “When Animals Dream” marks the directorial debut for Danish filmmaker, Jonas Alexander Arnby, who counted with a convincing performance by Sonia Suhl and an admirable cinematography by Niels Thastum, to present a modern werewolf tale set in a small fishing village of Denmark. The script, written by Rasmus Birch, focuses on 19 year-old Marie (Suhl) who starts to be concerned about a rash that appeared in her chest. During a medical check-up done by the family doctor, he seemed to know exactly what this is about, since Marie’s mother had evinced similar symptoms before she became mute and completely debilitated for mysterious reasons. Everyone in town looks at Marie with a certain fear and suspicion, exactly as they were doing with her mother whose past is shrouded in blood. However, in her new job at the fish processing plant, Marie seems to get along with Daniel and Felix, but starts having some issues with Esben, a jerk who enjoys pulling tasteless pranks. Frustrated with the increase of strange symptoms (alterations on nails and gums, hair growth over the body, and a radical change of behavior), sad with the illness of her mother, and not very happy at her job, Marie was completely aware of her condition. The question was to know when and how it would happen, and who would be hurt. The idea behind “When Animals Dream” was auspicious, and Arnby was even capable of bestowing a chilled mood, similar to what we saw in “Let the Right One In”. However, the story’s conclusion felt hasty and short, interrupting what it had been built so tastefully. A more psychological approach was chosen instead of the usual graphical, and Arnby proves us he can cook a story. He just needs to throw in some surprise factors, especially for the endings.

February 15, 2015

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner
Country: Australia

Movie Review: Wyrmwood’s opening scene gives us the right notion of what the film will be: rural Australian landscapes transformed in ferocious battlefields between zombies, seen as the invaders, and humans, mostly represented by military forces and survivor groups that armed to the teeth, do their best to remain bite-free. The story starts to be built in three fronts: Benny (Leon Burchill) is an aboriginal who didn’t have the guts to shoot his brother in the head when he became a zombie, letting him loose to infect other people; Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a common man who was forced to kill his wife and daughter and for a while tried to kill himself with no success; Brooke (Bianca Bradley) is Barry’s adroit sister, who was captured by two soldiers, falling afterwards in the hands of ‘the Doc’ (Berynn Schwerdt), a frantic researcher and disco music lover. After a freak first encounter, Barry and Benny end up teaming up and joining other anti-zombie fighters. Brooke, in turn, realizes she developed a strange telepathic power that allows her to control the zombies, without avoid gradually becoming one of them. Debutant writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner, who also produced and edited, was able to innovate a little by introducing a couple new elements to the washed-out genre; to give an example: here, the zombies’ blood and breath was proved to be inflammable, so useful in many situation throughout this gory adventure. At times, the energetically foolish “Wyrmwood” can be nauseating in its mayhem, however it’s also technically competent and confers sufficient action to minimally satisfy in this particular film category.

February 14, 2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Zellner
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” presents as much absurdity as moments of fun, becoming the most interesting film of David Zellner, who co-wrote with his brother Nathan. The story follows a depressed Tokyo woman, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), who after discovering an old videotape of Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” in her frequent treasure hunts, gets obsessed with a particular scene of the film where Steve Buscemi buries a suitcase full of money in a precise spot of the North Dakota’s frozen city of Fargo. Impelled by the film’s ‘based on a true story’ and an eager necessity of adventure, nothing can stop Kumiko from pursuing the forgotten suitcase of Fargo, a treasure she’s convinced to be real. Discontent with her solitary life, as well as unmotivated as office clerk, she just regrets to get rid of her only companion Bunzo, a fluffy brown bunny, before depart to the US without notice, leaving her complaining mother in a verge of a nervous breakdown. Along the route to her destination she will meet a couple of strange men who welcome her at the Minnesota airport; an old woman who offered house, food and a much estimated book of James Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun’; and a courteous policeman who offers his help but ultimately lets her down. In the last stage, the resolute Kumiko is by herself, wrapped in a stole blanket she showed no fear of facing the bitter cold and accomplish her mission. The surprising finale guarantees us that “Kumiko The Treasure Hunter” is fictional, and therefore everything can happen. An exceptional direction, genuine performance by Kikuchi, and the beautiful photography by Sean Porter (“It Felt Like Love”), helped to shove us into this delicately humorous adventure.

February 13, 2015

The Rewrite (2014)

The Rewrite (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Marc Lawrence
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Rewrite” may be the most interesting work of writer/filmmaker Marc Lawrence, author of light romantic comedies such as “Two Weeks Notice”, “Music and Lyrics”, and “Did You Know About the Morgans?”, but its product still remains very far from satisfying. Hugh Grant continues to be Lawrence’s first choice for the male leading role, and despite his efforts and commitment, the film ends up being a flop both as comedy and romance. Keith Michaels (Grant) is a divorced screenwriter who became famous in 1998 with “Paradise Misplaced”, winning an Academy award. Currently he’s facing a creative crisis that leads him to teach at Bingamthon University, upstate New York. Keith is a great talker but reveals a huge lack of vocation concerning his new job. Insecure and unavailable at first, he will find his own strategies to conquer everyone’s heart, even the extremely severe Professor Mary Welden  (Allison Janney), an unpopular Jane Austen scholar. Among new friendships, talent discoveries, and some headaches for dismissing the class and having an illicit relationship with Karen (Bella Heathcote), a problematic student, Keith will find a helping hand on Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), an enthusiastic sophomore and single mother, with whom he falls in love. Too standardized in presentation and derivative as concept, the gentle yet indifferent “The Rewrite” will hardly impress the fans of the genre, since the romance was too predictable and dispassionate, while the humor was mostly unproductive – exception made when Welden surprises Keith having an inflamed conversation with Karen during his ‘office time’. Did “The Rewrite” need to be rewritten? Definitely yes!

February 12, 2015

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Spike Lee
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”, the new Spike Lee joint, is an unorthodox, lavish vampire romance that ultimately is not so striking as intended. The film was funded with the help of a kickstarter campaign, and is an unmodified remake of 1973’ “Ganja & Hess”, written and directed by Bill Gunn. Despite the lack of novelty, the witty dialogues and voluptuous scenes made me keep watching it with some interest. There’s a trashy approach mixed with religious connotations and a bourgeois posture, which are not completely repellent, only the narrative stays a bit behind, with some encounters seeming sometimes too fictitious to be believable. Stephen Tyrone Williams plays Dr. Hess Green, a cultivated collector, expert on African art, who is doing research about an ancient tribe of blood drinkers. After being violently stabbed with one of the tribe’s mysterious weapon, by his suicidal assistant, Mr. Hightower, Hess becomes a merciless vampire. He shows no compassion or remorse when craving for blood, whether if the victim is a prostitute or an innocent mother. Something changes when he meets Hightower’s British ex-wife, Ganja (Zaraah Abrahams), and insane as it sounds, the solitary vampire marries her and turns her into his feminine equal. The intensity of carnal pleasures and blood feast will increase when they lure Hess’s old female friend to their den. The score includes assorted genres, from combative rap music to Brazilian captivating rhythms such as of Milton Nascimento and Jorge Benjor. Spike Lee, whose good ideas are becoming very scarce lately, manages to get away with “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”, especially considering his budget limitations.

February 11, 2015

The Infinite Man (2014)

The Infinite Man (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hugh Sullivan
Country: Australia

Movie Review: Australian writer/director, Hugh Sullivan, intelligently picks a washed out idea such as time-shifting, giving it a fresh shape in his debut feature. Sci-fi rom-com “The Infinite Man” doesn’t disappoint, especially due to a more funnier and engaging concept than those used in similar films, cases of “The One I Love” and “Coherence”. Josh McConville is great in the role of Dean, an obsessed man who does everything to provide perfection in the anniversary of his relationship with Lana (Hannah Marshall). He takes her to an abandoned hotel somewhere in Australia where the desert and the beach seems to merge. The obstinately romantic Dean was happy to be in control of the situation when Lana’s infamous former boyfriend, Terry (Alex Dinitriades), unexpectedly shows up to ruin his plans. Marked by frustration and jealousy that ends up in a hysterical threat of immolation, Dean decides to dump Lana, staying by himself at the hotel working on a tech device that makes possible to redo what went wrong: time travel. The unstable time loop created will duplicate situations (past and present) and also characters that fight and trick one another to conquer what they want. Not without some confusion, the indie “The Infinite Man” brings some originality to the subject in an absurdist way, putting side to side the sad original Dean and the happy Dean of the future, and taking on the perfectionism with inventiveness and neat humor. Considering the low budget (filmed in a single location with just three actors), Sullivan did a pretty well job, controlling this surrealistic adventure with steady hand. Let’s wait for his next time hop and see if the future will confirm the promising direction taken here.

February 10, 2015

Bird People (2014)

Bird People (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pascale Ferran
Country: France

Movie Review: Writer/director Pascale Ferran returns eight years after “Lady Chatterley” has conquered some moviegoers’ hearts. “Bird People” is a drama with hints of fantasy that tells the story of two strangers who eventually met. Gary Newman (Josh Charles) is an American businessman who is staying at Hilton hotel in Paris where he has an important meeting. Constantly traveling and rushing, the restless Gary is assaulted by attacks of anxiety and an uneasiness that makes him exhausted. When he’s informed that the company needs him in Dubai by December 31st, Gary decides to purposely miss the plane and quit, not only his job but also his wife. Through a realistic skype conversation, he lets her know his intentions of not returning to the US, putting an end to a marriage that seemed to suffer from misunderstandings and a deficient communication. Simultaneously we follow Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier), a student who works as a maid at the same hotel. As a dreamer, she kicks the monotony of work by listening to the guest’s conversations and observing them from afar. Ferran was able to make us plunge into these particular lives, taking some good moments to let the story breath at the same time that asphyxiates us with the drama of its characters. Suddenly the realistic story shifts to a surreal episode involving Audrey who apparently was transformed in a peeking sparrow that wanders from window to window, avid to find something stimulating. This little adventurous installment withdrew some dramatic strength to the story by rambling in its own creative process, built with the help of a disciplined narrative that resorts to a voice-off whenever needed.

February 09, 2015

Girlhood (2014)

Girlhood (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Celine Sciamma
Country: France

Movie Review: With “Girlhood”, French writer/director, Celine Sciamma, addresses once again the subject of coming of age, but in a totally different perspective than in “Tomboy”. Sciamma created the perfect scenario to depict her main character, a 16-year-old girl called Marieme (Karidja Touré) who decided to stop being shy, getting away from her precarious family life and giving up school in order to join a gang of the hood, formed by three older girls: Adiatou, Lady and Fily. Their day-to-day basically consisted in drinking, smoking, stealing clothes from stores and money from frightened schoolgirls, in addition to engage in street fights with other gangs. Bashful at first, Marieme soon learned how to look straight into the eyes of people and talk aggressively. With absent parents, she showed to be always very attentive and responsible regarding her sisters, but her main concern was her older brother who often reacted violently if she didn’t comply with his demands. As ambition grows hastily and dreams get wings, Marieme takes unreliable steps to assure her freedom and independence, even if she has to sacrifice her love for one of his brother’s best friends. Socially incisive, “Girlhood” was consciously written and generally well performed, but I felt it got stranded for too long in the ‘cool’ postures of the girls, what made the film not to flow during particular periods of time. Sciamma’s execution was not always empathic, occasionally turning “Girlhood” into an immature exposure that gains emphasis after it has given the sensation that we had reached the end, for at least a couple of times. It’s observant, without a doubt, but sinned for being insistently unripe in determined scenes.

February 08, 2015

Miss Julie (2014)

Miss Julie (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Liv Ullmann
Country: UK / Ireland / others

Movie Review: Liv Ullmann, former muse of Ingmar Bergman during years in masterpieces such as “Persona”, “Autumn Sonata” or “Cries and Whispers”, directs her fourth feature film, “Miss Julie”, which was adapted from August Strindberg’s play of the same title. For this theatrical drama, Ullmann picked a trio of actors that guarantee credibility: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton. They performed with conviction and it was not because of them that “Miss Julie” didn’t have the desired influence on me. Beyond being excessively wordy, the film occasionally plays with an emotional hysteria, becoming excessively dramatic, stuffy and for several times unnatural. Set during the midsummer night of 1890, the drama follows Julie (Chastain), the spoiled daughter of the wealthy Anglo-Irish Count of Fermanagh. Bored with her daily life, she insists to seduce John (Farrell), her father’s valet, in a disrespectful way in regard to her servant, Kathleen (Morton), who was committed to him. Julie reveals an overbearing and cruel side, but ultimately her emotional fragility and solitude is uncovered. She starts playing a defiant game that is sexy and contemptuous, pushing John to the limits of his sanity, since he is unable to control his impulses but also gets mad when treated as an inferior. All these postures torment the tired and devastated Kathleen, condemned to be on her own. Among confessions, accusations and lots of changings in attitude, “Miss Julie” can never be called a romantic film. Fear, disquiet and prejudice take control of this battle of love and hate that had its funniest moment when Julie states about Kathleen: ‘a servant is a servant’, to what John promptly retaliated: ‘and a whore is a whore’. The truth hurts! Immediately, she fell in tears.

February 07, 2015

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014)

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andrea Di Stefano
Country: Spain / France / others

Movie Review: Italian actor Andrea di Stefano makes his directorial debut with “Escobar: Paradise Lost”, a thriller, set in 1991 Medellin, whose title mislead us to assume we are before a biopic about the unmerciful popular Colombian drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar. Instead, the film tells about a Canadian young man, Nick (John Hutchinson), who was having trouble with local thugs when trying to set up a business by the beach, in the company of his older brother, Dylan (Brady Corbet). Everything will become easier when he falls in love with the gracious Maria (Claudia Traisac), Escobar’s niece. Accepted by Escobar (Benicio del Toro) to be part of his clan, he will see the coast clear when those who demanded a payment for his business, were burned alive. A day before giving himself to the authorities in a pact with the Government, Escobar’s first concern is to protect the future of his family by concealing the fortune accumulated with years of narcotrafficking. He reserved one last special operation for the innocent Nick who was assigned to meet and kill a ‘campesino’. However, surprises come up and Nick, in panic, will have to fight for his life. As the story unfolds, it becomes too chewed in aspects it should have been more expeditious. Some good hints of tension not always usurp an annoying cheesiness felt in scenes involving Nick, unveiling superficiality and exaggeration in a story that deserved to be better handled. Di Stefano takes the wrong turn when he had everything to do it right – decent script and respected actors. The formula: ‘make it simple and raw’ would have given him better chances, together with a more astute exploration of the characters. Paradise lost… and a missed opportunity.

February 06, 2015

Rosewater (2014)

Rosewater (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jon Stewart
Country: USA

Movie Review: In “Rosewater”, a political drama focused on the crime of bearing witness, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal is Maziar Bahari, the former Newsweek’s Iranian journalist who spent four months in solitary confinement at Evin Prison, northwestern Tehran, after being arrested by the authorities in June 2009 due to an inoffensive interview given to a satirical American TV show, under the accusation of maintaining contacts with an American spy. Jon Stewart, most known as a television host and TV movie producer, makes his directorial debut from his own screenplay, based on the memoir “Then They Came for Me” by Bahari and Aimee Molloy. Not so invigorating as it was supposed to be, “Rosewater” ends up being a bland exercise that relies on the same routines of the genre. If even those routines had been put in good use, perhaps we would have something more palpable here, but the superficiality of its mechanisms left me indifferent to what Bahari had to endure. Its biggest issue relates to the fact that the first half, when the journalist was shooting the civilian uproars after Ahmadinejad’s reelection, was more captivating and active than the second, where the menacing interrogations by governmental agents were more time-consuming than really an added value. The film, in spite of politically enlightening, falls gradually in the abyss, pushed by the elements that were supposed to bring something more to the emotional side, but simply didn’t work out. I’m talking about the journalist’s imaginary conversations with his sister and deceased father (two former anti-regime resistants), or the arduous distance from his pregnant fiancé whose actions in the UK were extremely important to take the case to a triumphant conclusion.

February 05, 2015

Amira & Sam (2014)

Amira & Sam (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sean Mullin
Country: USA

Movie Review: In “Amira & Sam”, debutant writer/director Sean Mullin, imagined a charismatic ex-soldier finding the perfect match when he meets an illegal Iraqi immigrant woman in New York. Sam (Martin Sarr) served his country during multiple tours in Iraq, where he became friends with his Iraqi translator, Bassam (Laith Nakli), now living in the US. Unhappy for working as a janitor in a rich building in Wall Street, Sam is fired when he traps a couple of presumptuous guys in the elevator. That’s when he decides to visit Bassam, meeting his niece, Amira (Dina Shihabi), who spends her spare time trying to sell DVDs in the corner of Canal St. and Broadway. Their first encounter is uneasy, with Amira opting for a defensive posture while Sam, whose dream was to become a standup comedian, tries to break the ice with his dry jokes and particular little stories. A comforting closeness will arrive when Amira moves to his place after being caught selling illegally in the streets with the aggravation of showing a fake ID containing her real address. While he gradually conquers Amira’s heart with his honesty, he also gets disappointed with his shifty cousin, Charlie (Paul Wesley) who offers him a second opportunity at his own company. The graciousness of the film comes totally from Sam, who endeavors to keep his life neat. The romantic side could have been better crafted, and the ending turns out to be as dry as the humor presented. Regardless this aspect, “Amira & Sam” never tried to please the crowds with emotional conventionalisms or boast itself pretentiously, opting instead for a clear, honest approach that literally saves it from falling into staleness.

February 04, 2015

The Voices (2014)

The Voices (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Country: USA / Germany

Movie Review: Iranian graphic novelist, illustrator and filmmaker, Marjane Satrapi, nailed it again with her new feature film, assuming fearlessly her own ways of expression, and showing she’s comfortable in other genres besides comedy, drama or illustrative fantasy. In “The Voices”, she makes a confident incursion on horror, and the result brought as much of amusing moments as horrific. Everything wrapped in an almost graphical style and covered in tones of fantastic, characteristic aspects already used in her previous works: “Persepolis” and “Chicken with Plums”. The story, set in the small town of Milton, evolves around Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), the new employee of Milton Fixture & Faucet, whose pink uniform and smiling face make us completely unsuspicious about the treacherous psychological state he is about to get into. To make the things clearer, Jerry is a disturbed, psychotic man who is being medicated since childhood, after a terrible experience that impelled him to take his mother’s life. Undecided about taking the pills, he keeps having long and weird conversations with his pets: Mr. Whiskas, the cat; and Bosco, the dog. While the dog calms him down by praising his good nature, the sardonic cat pulls out his darker instincts, awakening the killer in him. Jerry falls in love more than one time, showing he wants to change and lead a normal life, but fortuitous circumstances will trigger savage actions, which he momentarily regrets but recovers quickly enough to go on living in his delusional world. The film never slows down, maintaining a balanced pace and solid coordination between light drollery and heavy gore. Ryan Reynolds, invoking Alan Bates in his performance, was the key for success, strongly backed up by the rest of the cast.