April 30, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Age of Ultron”, the awaited return of the Avengers, brings new heroes to the screen, but is less satisfying and more exhibitionist than the earliest adventure dated from 2012. The six splendid guardians of the Earth – Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Capt. America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye – are now battling Ultron, a unique supervillain robot who wants to get the perfect body for his malefic intelligence. With his nefarious robotic army, not only he intends to destroy the Avengers, as he also plans to eradicate humanity. At first, the twins – the ultrafast Quicksilver and the telepathic Scarlet Witch – back him up, swapping to the good side later on, immediately after perceiving his real plans. Joss Whedon directs what he had already started, only this time he wasn’t capable to infuse good laughs, also opting for computer-game style battles that were too confusing for my taste. Right from the first scene we could conclude that the action scenes would be fierce, mechanical, and exhausting. Whedon’s script tries to invent something more besides the battles, and outlines a tepid flirtation between Dr. Banner and Natasha Romanoff, some verbal disputes between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and a beautiful family for Clint Barton. Well, it didn’t really work as expected, since nothing relevant is extracted from these situations. What prevents the film from hitting the bottom are the very comfortable performances of the valuable cast composed by Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Jeremy Renner. The rigid “Avengers: Age of Ultron” probably will count with the support of the most enthusiastic Marvel fans, however, I was far from being seduced by its stunts and twirls.

April 29, 2015

5 Flights Up (2014)

5 Flights Up (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Country: USA

Movie Review: Film director, Richard Loncraine, author of extraneous films such as “Wimbledon” and “Firewall”, takes boring routes to tell the story of an aging couple - the painter Alex Carver (Morgan Freeman) and his wife, Ruth (Diane Keaton) - who are arduously giving the first steps in order to sell their Brooklyn’s apartment and move to a more convenient one in another borough. Living on the fifth floor of a walk-up building for forty years, they’re relying on Ruth’s selfish niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a talkative real estate agent who sees the transaction as a lucrative opportunity for herself. However, the couple is shrouded in doubt, experiencing a tender nostalgia invading their days. Will they be able to sell their cherished place where there are only joyful memories? If this wasn’t trouble enough, their old dog needs a delicate surgery and might not be able to walk again. Simultaneously, and out of their scope of action, the authorities join efforts to nab a menacing terrorist who’s causing the panic in the streets. With an unalterable pace, futile humor, and a narrative with no stilts or effective surprises, “5 Flights Up” feels moderately stale and unsuitable for young audiences. Morgan Freeman, whose career fell flat a long time ago with recurrent participations in silly movies, leaves the tough mission to Diane Keaton, slightly better, but still far from the required harmony we were looking for. The one to deserve accolade is Cynthia Nixon, an agreeable surprise as hyperkinetic, sly opportunist. The other positive aspect was the illuminated shots of Manhattan, where the vibrant, colorful life was amazingly captured. Charlie Peters, who also co-produces, wrote this allegedly feel-good drama based on Jill Ciment’s novel “Heroic Measures”. I wouldn’t bid on this one!

April 28, 2015

Flutter (2014)

Flutter (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Eric Hueber
Country: USA

Movie Review: Eric Hueber’s empathetic indie drama, “Flutter”, addresses the struggles of a mother in adverse times. Living in Bastrop County, Texas, in a messy house full of junk, JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher) tries her best to take care of Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.), a naughty sweet boy who experiences strong ocular pressure spikes, a consequence of suffering from glaucoma. The way she found to handle this critical situation was giving him brownies made with weed, so his pressure remains at acceptable levels. She calls it medicine, and Jonathan seems to respond well to this improvised treatment. This represents only one of her many problems, since her husband, David, went away for an undetermined time in an inglorious attempt to find himself as a country musician, and the best he does is writing some hopeful letters without sending enough money to cover the three months rent she owes. Besides this, her mother-in-law, who lives right next door, is not so understandable as her father-in-law, Mark (Glenn Morshower), in regard to Jonathan’s behavior, and calls both the police and the social services for an inspection. JoLynn merely finds some support in Curtis, a neighbor who owns atypical animals and occasionally buys little bags of weed from her. Unaware of all these difficulties, Jonathan enjoys playing outside in the company of his precious pet, Weewee - the pig, living in a world of fantasy, which is unnecessarily represented on the screen by animated sequences. The precarious situation forces JoLynn to take actions she certainly isn’t proud of, putting at risk, not only the ones who help her, but also her son. The film’s intelligible structure avoids knots of any kind while the performances draw genuine scenes between mother and son.

April 27, 2015

Pasolini (2014)

Pasolini (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Country: Italy / France / others

Movie Review: After a very personal and stinging recreation of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in “Welcome to New York”, Italian filmmaker Abel Ferrara continues fearlessly examining lives, and giving his own vision about the relevant situations involving them. This time he has chosen the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a distinctive fellow professional and poet, author of masterpieces such as: “Accatone”, “Mamma Roma” and “The Gospel According St. Matthews”. The film starts with an interview to Mr. Pasolini where he speaks about his shocking last film “Saló”, admitting that sex is politics and that he draws some pleasure in scandalizing the audience. To quote him: ‘The ones who refuse the pleasure of being scandalized are moralists’. Explaining next that since he’s not a moralist, he accepts the insults from the people who don’t understand his work. Willem Defoe is once again Ferrara’s first choice, and an assured one, even when the character is more controlled, as in this case. “Pasolini” arrives intellectually and morally defiant but leaves in the shadow, due to the incapacity of tunneling in a clear way all the episodes that were supposed to form the final picture. One of them is the short appearance of the actress Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros), Pasolini’s close friend – in a scene that seems not to have a purpose. Nevertheless, we can still have a notion of his personality, family life, politic ideologies, work philosophy, and sexuality - witnessing furtive sexual adventures with male youngsters. The real Ninetto Davoli, who at the age of 15 became Pasolini’s lover, plays Epifanio in a film inside the film, created from an unfinished script. Visually unrefined, fuzzy, and flawed, “Pasolini” still provides a worthy experience, yet those familiar with the director’s life are better positioned to enjoy it.

April 25, 2015

Far From Men (2014)

Far From Men (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: David Oelhoffen
Country: France

Movie Review: Loosely adapted from Albert Camus’ existentialist short story “The Guest”, “Far From Men” is probably the most generous tale I’ve seen lately on film. Taking us to 1954’ rebellious Algeria, more precisely to the Atlas mountains, the third feature from writer/director David Oelhoffen overcomes every possible conflict among religions, probing an unlikely friendship between Daru (Viggo Mortensen), a solitary French Algerian-born schoolteacher, and a man entrusted to his care, Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a non-rebel Arab farmer who slit his cousin’s throat in a squabble about grain. The reluctant Daru, also a former French Army official, was ordered to take this apparently craven man to Tinguit to face trial and hear a verdict that certainly wouldn’t bring anything different than death. Surprisingly, is Mohamed himself who asks to be taken there, humbly accepting his fate. The fatiguing long walk, throughout the precarious rocky ground and occasional harsh weather conditions, will bring many encounters, some unwelcome, some less bad. As a man of principles, Daru gets visibly affected whenever an extreme situation forces him to kill. All he wants is to get back to his tiny school, but after listening to what the prisoner-turned-companion has to say, he presents him with the most beautiful of the gifts: the choice of freedom. At the sound of exotic melodies composed by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, Oelhoffen thoroughly recreates the suffocating atmosphere of Camus’ works, thanks to the arid landscapes captured by the lens of cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines, even if the pronounced Western genre seems a bit unreasonable within this context. Equally humane and sad, rather gentler than vibrant, the extremely well acted “Far From Men” addresses war, choices and courage in a very personalized way.

April 24, 2015

Fighters (2014)

Fighters (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Thomas Cailley
Country: France

Movie Review: Debutant filmmaker Thomas Cailley did a respectable job in “Fighters” (also known by the moronic title “Love at First Fight”), a breezy romance set in a small French seaside town during summertime. Yet, I must admit I expected some more from a film that collected four prizes in Cannes, three César awards, and the Prix Louis Delluc for best first film, among others. After the death of his father, the adroit Arnaud (Kevin Azais) decides to help his brother in the family business. Still, he hasn't completely decided if he wants to stay or join the army whose recruitments are taking place in his hometown. All the doubts will be dissipated when he comes across with Madeleine (Adele Haenel), a quirky girl who wants to join the army’s summer course in order to prepare herself for entering the hardest fight regiment. Madeleine is the soul of the film – impatient, restless, obsessive, physically strong, reactive to the minimum confrontation, and seductive. In turn, Arnaud is the heart of the film – calm, patient, protective, mindful, methodic, friendly and extremely generous. Heart and soul become one in the end, giving the best they have to help each other. An affable chemistry can be felt between the young couple who eventually finds their ways for smiling, even after an adventurous final episode where their lives were threatened. Cailley suavely portrays everything in a guileless way, impelling us to feel empathy for the protagonists. His strategy culminates in a heartening finale where vows of a fresh start are assured. Adele Haenel’s performance was colossal and “Fighters”, despite its many charms, sinned for lacking more ambition and for not having explored the adventure a bit further.

April 23, 2015

Good Kill (2014)

Good Kill (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Country: USA

Movie Review: ‘Splash!’ and ‘Good Kill!’ are the most common expressions used by the US Air Force drone pilots when they remotely blow up their targets (supposedly Al Qaeda cells) throughout the blacklisted countries of the Middle East. Absent-minded Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) works with a small team, supervised by veteran Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), in an air-conditioned cubicle placed in the desert of Las Vegas. He’s the man who literally pulls the trigger, which is affecting him psychologically. What we see on their screens seems to be an entertaining video game, but the truth is that they’re killing real people, and that fact weighs in their consciences, especially when innocents are accidentally killed or when the inaccurate assessments about the suspects raise strong doubts, putting the ethics of their actions in question. Other times, they witness rapes and mistreatment against women and can do nothing about it. All this is aggravated by a serious marital crisis and the profound dissatisfaction caused by staying away from real combat and real planes. It seems too much for the decayed Thomas, who can only find some solace in vodka and in the multiple conversations with his sensible co-worker Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz). The film was pretty sustainable and quickly gained my attention, but during the last third, filmmaker Andrew Niccol seemed too busy inventing a couple of hackneyed situations to please Hollywood fans. Hawke remained sober in his role, carrying the film on his shoulders. Sometimes quietly stimulating, sometimes simply restrained, “Good Kill” ends up passing the message with efficiency but with no special distinction.

April 22, 2015

Alex of Venice (2014)

Alex of Venice (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Chris Messina
Country: USA

Movie Review: The true-to-life and unsentimental “Alex of Venice” works both as a character study and family drama. Even if not always cohesive in regard to the way it renders its characters, the film is solidly supported by an effectively constructed narrative and warm, glossy images, pulled out by the cinematographer Doug Emmett. Chris Messina, an actor-turned-director, managed to showcase affections and emotions with clarity, conveying a suave sensitivity without forcing or overdoing any circumstance of a story centered on a workaholic lawyer, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose life is turned upside down when her husband, George (Messina), leaves their house, located in the LA neighborhood of Venice. For a long time, he was unsatisfied for acting like a housewife – cleaning, cooking, and taking care, not only of their 10-year-old son, but also of his father-in-law, Roger (Don Johnson), an insecure washed-up actor who’s giving signs of needing medical care. Constantly in a rush, the super ambitious Alex is never around, never available, or concerned in enjoying a moment of relaxation in the company of her family. She’s almost a stranger to her own son who will get more and more attached to her recently arrived sister, the palely sketched Lily. Although the cast devotes all the efforts to turn this drama into a tight slice of real life, the film seems longer than its 86 minutes. And that comes from the fact that the characters moving around Alex are much weaker in terms of personality and consequently less interesting than she is. As an example, the episodes involving her father are redundant in terms of composition of the central story – it feels they’re just props filling some empty space. The result is enjoyable and still uneven when the pieces are put together.

April 21, 2015

Marshland (2014)

Marshland (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alberto Rodriguez
Country: Spain

Movie Review: In Alberto Rodriguez’s crime thriller “Marshland”, a police investigation is set up in an undesirable little town of the Guadalquivir Marshes, Spain, during the busy harvesting period. The cause was a brutal double homicide of two teen sisters. The year is 1980. Agents Pedro (Raul Arevalo) and Juan (Javier Gutierrez) arrive from Madrid resolved to find the culprits of a crime that is obviously connected with other similar killings of adolescent girls in 77 and 78, in the same month of the year. The conspicuous, overwhelming displacement felt by the agents, was the main reason for them to remain united, especially taking into account their abysmal differences in personality and operation methods. Pedro is honest, direct, mostly correct in his procedures, and a meticulous observer; the kind of guy who thinks he can change the world. In opposition, Juan is sleepless, nervous, violent, and with a controversial past as a former header of Franco’s brigades. Even with precise clues (killer’s blood type and car), the case unlikely would come to a favorable conclusion without the help of some eyewitnesses, a few local smugglers, and an ‘inconvenient’ journalist. Mr. Rodriguez, who co-wrote with Rafael Cobos for the fourth time, revealed enough qualities to make me want to see what’s coming next. Less interested in taking the dangerous path of easy action, all his endeavors were directed to build mystery and set up sinister ambiances. The resolute camera work was firmly accomplished in many of the staggering passages of the film – intense chases, suspense situations, close-ups, little details, or mere landscapes. “Marshland” does better than its competitors (including Hollywood) and deserves to be seen for its compelling performances and well-cooked plot.

April 20, 2015

Silent Heart (2014)

Silent Heart (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Bille August
Country: Denmark

Movie Review: A very typical mood, composed of inherent tension and restrained laughter, it’s perceptible since the first minutes of the Scandinavian drama “Silent Heart” - part reflection on euthanasia, part portrait of a dysfunctional family. Directed by the veteran Bille August (“Pelle the Conqueror”, “The Best Intentions”), the story follows a family reunited during a weekend to spend their last days with Esther, the matriarch who suffers from ALS (a disorder involving the death of neurons). With the consent of the rest of the family, Esther has decided to spare everyone from the hardship that is stealthily approaching, and put an end to her life under the supervision of her doctor husband, Poul. Present at the reunion are: their exemplary older daughter Heidi, accompanied by her husband and adolescent son; their vulnerable, depressive younger daughter Sanne who took her weed junkie boyfriend with her; and finally Esther’s long-time best friend, Lisbeth. As expected, the plan won’t be too simple since the daughters planned to boycott the action after changing their minds for different reasons. A variety of personalities and needs, revelations and insecurities, old family memories, and some fabricated misunderstandings, make the rest of the story until the last moments, where the drama intensifies. In my eyes, the ending was a bit contrived, but Bille August, who always had a flair for pretty decent dramas, leaves in the air a sensation that he’s capable of giving us much better than this. From gentle to bitter, the sometimes-manipulative “Silent Heart” has its best scene when all the family agrees on smoking pot. The images were painted with dismayed colors, punctuated here and there by outdoor beautiful landscapes. Does serenity live here?

April 18, 2015

Beyond the Reach (2014)

Beyond the Reach (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Country: USA

Movie Revciew: “Beyond the Reach” goes beyond the reality, failing to pass the exam due to its far-fetched situations and rushed solutions in its closing scenes. The French Jean-Baptiste Leonetti directs from a script by Stephen Susco (“The Grudge”) based on the 1972 well-regarded novel “Deathwatch” from Robb White. After a modest debut in 2011 with “Carré Blanc”, the filmmaker gives a giant step towards Hollywood, directing two celebrated actors, one from the old school, Michael Douglas (“Basic Instinct”, “The Game”, “Traffic”), and one showing much potentiality, Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”, “The Railway Man”). The film is frustratingly trivial and never comes to something original, playing the traditional cat-and-mouse game with the same old clichés and a shameful lack of coherence and lucidity, essential conditions for it to become plausible and enjoyable. Douglas confidently plays the malicious Madec, giving life to a boastful, prosperous man who goes on a hunting trip across the blazing Mojave Desert in August. For the purpose, he hires Ben (Irvine), most likely the best guide in the state, who is fated to play simultaneously the victim and the hero. Equipped with a stylish Mercedes, a modern rifle, explosives, and all the communication needed to close his millionaire deals, the contemptuous Madec manifests an uncontrollable sadistic side after shooting accidentally a man whom he has mistaken for an animal. The best way he finds to deal with the circumstance is by incriminating the reddish Ben, who will fight to survive with no clothes nor water under the torrid sun. Invoking Peckinpah and J. Pakula, “Beyond the Reach” carries out an extremely risible defeat of a villain (a slingshot, really?), as well as the most ridiculous escape from a prison ever (anybody heard a helicopter?).

April 17, 2015

The Sisterhood of Night (2014)

The Sisterhood of Night (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Caryn Waechter
Country: USA

Movie Review: This small-scale psychological drama about a sisterhood formed at NY’s Kingston High School, draws our curiosity at first, but soon falls in dramatic loops, wobbly twists and turns, and a pitiable apathy in its last act that completely disrupts our initial interest. Debutant director, Caryn Waechter, who had to resort to Kickstarter’s financial help in order to bring her project to life, sets the stage as a documentary-fiction hybrid. The plot, written by Marilyn Fu who also co-produces, centers on a handful of teen girls who roam the night as part of a secret society, apparently involved in a sex scandal and bizarre rituals. The cult founder, Mary Warren (Georgie Henley), acts evasively and encourages her group to take vows of silence when a former member, Emily Parris (Kara Hayward), decides to unveil what happened in her baptism of fire by publishing delicate content on her blog. While the case grows to bigger proportions, drawing the attention of the media, parents, and teachers, Waechter consciously shows how vulnerable and sensitive some of these girls are in regard to family. Taking advantage of this bleary state, the screenwriter still took some time to set up a flirting case between, Gordy (Kal Penn), an approachable teacher, and one of the students’ mother. The story remains meager and centered on itself, a sort of psychological limbo that ends up being a torture. It never turns into real horror or tries to surprise us somehow, what it does, is merely playing with truths and lies in order to create some more disarray. Manifestly aiming at teen audiences, “The Sisterhood of Night” could have been better if more creative in its ideas and less immature in its modus operandi.

April 16, 2015

Loreak (2014)

Loreak (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga
Country: Spain

Movie Review: The mature Basque drama, “Loreak” (meaning ‘Flowers’), was surprisingly pleasant and warmly rewarding. Following their first successful collaboration five years ago with “For 80 Days”, sturdy filmmakers Jon Graño and Jose Mari Goenaga didn’t let their good reputation deteriorate, and now present us another poignant piece of genuine life. 40-something-year-old, Ane, seems satisfied while working for her company at a construction site, however, her personal life tells us she’s not so happy – the relationship with her husband is getting bitter and during a medical check-up she was told she had reached premature menopause. Once childless, we could feel a crushing depression coming down, but suddenly a baffling occurrence helps her to get over this phase. She starts receiving a big bouquet of flowers from a mysterious sender, on every Thursday. Apparently, the sender is a co-worker, Benat, a crane operator who ends up dying in a car accident. From this moment on, the flowers stopped to arrive, while the necklace Ane had lost, was found in the crane cabin. Like Ane, Benat was also struggling with his personal life since his wife, Lourdes, and widow mother, Tere, didn’t get along so well. Lourdes had a son from another marriage, but it seems the couple wasn’t able to have one of their own, despite the pressure made by the obnoxious Tere. An affair between Ane and Benat was very unlikely. A secret passion? Simply sympathy? The doubt remains, and our only certainty is that the three women’s fates are intriguingly connected. The light, in Javier Aguirre’s exemplary photography, strangely conveys a false serenity among the characters’ inner agitation. “Loreak” is as much thorough as elliptical, comfortably driven by a delicate approach, flawless performances, and a conscious structure.

April 15, 2015

Electricity (2014)

Electricity (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Bryn Higgins
Country: UK

Movie Review: With a script by Joe Fisher from Ray Robinson’s novel of the same title, “Electricity”, is the second feature length film, out of his habitual TV scope, from British director and producer, Bryn Higgins (“Unconditional Love”). It stars the fashion model Agyness Deyn as Lily O’Connor, an epileptic woman who obsessively starts searching for her long-gone brother, Mikey, with whom she had a very special bond in their childhood, before they were separated due to family predicaments. Now that her disdainful mother is dead, a small inheritance is available to be shared. The resolute Lily leaves the casino where she works and moves to London with just a couple clues about Mikey’s whereabouts. In her staying, good and bad experiences will occur, apart from the imminent seizures that so many times frustrate her intentions. While some of the characters she comes across are like angels descending from the sky to give her a hand on the right time, some others are capable of ruining the day. Lily is clearly fed up of medication routines, failed therapies, and vague conclusions about her health state and even the bruises all over her body are no more embarrassments. A few stumbles in the script don’t disarm the mildly paced drama, an investigative London ride that oscillates from stressful to inconsolable to heartwarming. Cinematographer, Si Bell, guarantees rich visual textures, well supported by a catchy camera work that is particularly noteworthy during Lily’s seizures. The soundtrack was thoroughly selected and adjusts perfectly to the circumstances. Agyness Deyn also deserves some words of incentive since her performance was valid enough to justify what would be a questionable choice at a first glance. “Electricity” is flawed but copiously dignified to deserve a peek.

April 14, 2015

Phoenix (2014)

Phoenix (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany / Poland

Movie Review: Beautifully crafted, with refinement and objectivity, “Phoenix”, Christian Petzold’s adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet‘s novel ‘Le Retour des Cendres’, is a pungent drama set in a shattered post-war Berlin. The German filmmaker and co-writer brings in his long-time inspirational muse, Nina Hoss (their sixth collaboration), to portray the sad story of St. Michael’s choir singer, Nelly Lenz, an anti-Nazi transfigured woman who miraculously survived to a concentration-camp and obsessively looks for her crooked pianist husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), most likely the man responsible for her capture. Another character with strong dimension is Nelly’s savior, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a Swiss Jew whose disappointment with the forgiving posture of the Jews, in general, is patent. Her role leads to opposite emotional sides since she brings some cheerful hope but also the shocking truth about Nelly’s family. After finding Johnny in a nightclub called ‘Phoenix’, the unrecognizable Nelly agrees to participate in a strange game with him, playing his missing wife, so he can claim her valuable inheritance. At this moment, Nelly experiences mixed feelings, admitting she’s jealous of her past self, but increasingly becoming enveloped by suspicion. Petzold injects all the elements that permit us to identify his work identity – formidable camera work, unshakeable storytelling, subtle score, sharp photography, perfect timing when using silence, and lastly, an impactful finale to be remembered. The presence of a gun is merely symbolic since the film overwhelms you by other means. “Phoenix”, or Fassbinder’s “Lili Marleen” meets Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face”, is a major example of emotional expressiveness. Just give it some time to be fully absorbed.

April 13, 2015

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alex Garland
Country: UK

Movie Review: Novelist-turned-director, Alex Garland, has a fantastic debut with “Ex Machina”, an unfussy offbeat sci-fi thriller whose special effects, in its simple and efficacious forms, are much more attractive than the mostly high-budgeted films within the same genre. Mr. Garland categorically solidifies his tendency for inventive screenwriting, and with this penetrating robotic adventure overcomes his past written compositions, such as “28 Days Later” “Dredd”, “Never Let Me Go” and “Sunshine”. The story brings a dedicated young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), to an isolated house in the mountains (only accessible by helicopter) where he’s going to evaluate an imprisoned, sophisticated android, Ava (Alicia Vikander), which according to its creator, is capable to feel and respond to real emotions. The creator and host, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a muscle builder with increasing alcohol problems, built up a dwelling house whose high security is vulnerable to occasional power outages. The super advanced Ava takes advantage of these few minutes to manipulate the fascinated Caleb and set him against the apparently not so artless inventor. What does she intend to? At this point, everything is shrouded in a disquieting enigma, and even if the story can be partly predictable in its conclusions (it was for me), the film works well, flowing at a steady pace and extracting a disturbing chilliness from each action. Quietly, it gets into your mind, producing cold sweats with its emotionless stabs, and then sliding into your senses with an ending that confronts freedom and claustrophobia. Super performances and a praiseworthy direction, were key to turning “Ex Machina” into an accomplished work. The sensual robots bestow a nice touch.

April 11, 2015

Lost River (2014)

Lost River (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ryan Gosling
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Lost River” is a lost flick. Positioned somewhere between a violent neo-noir horror thriller and an absurdist mysterious drama, the film is a very personal effort by the much-appreciated actor of “Drive” and “Blue Valentine”, Ryan Gosling, who appears here as a producer and simultaneously first-time writer-director. The outcome turns out being frustratingly unfulfilling due to a preponderant inability for giving an adjusted course to the devious narrative fragments whose final composition failed miserably to attain harmony and focus. The story centers on the single mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks), who agrees joining a macabre nightclub, where the grotesque mixes with the burlesque, accepting the offer from a sinister bank manager, Dave (Ben Mendelsohn). She had a strong motive to do it, and the reason was that eviction is knocking on her door after three months behind in loan payments. Billy’s son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), thinks he found a solution by stealing copper from a degenerate mad man, Bully (Matt Smith), who likes to stand up in his convertible, adapted to his eccentricity, yelling at everyone that he owns the city, and the country, and the world. Besides mother and son fighting two different battles against two distinct villains, there’s also a parallel silly story about Bones’ girlfriend’s ghostly grandmother, vanished from the face of the earth after entering into a secret town located in the bottom of a reservoir. Betrayed by a shabby screenwriting, Gosling shows not to know what he wants to deliver with this sour cocktail of styles, songs, moods and amorphous scenarios that keep colliding in tone. Visually close to Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives”, “Lost River” is vulnerable at its backbone.

April 10, 2015

Black Souls (2014)

Black Souls (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Francesco Munzi
Country: Italy

Movie Review: In this screen adaptation of Gioacchino Criaco’s novel, director and co-writer Francesco Munzi retrieves the essential aspects that compose the traditional Italian Mafia pictures – family, power, honor, pride, and vengeance. With some atmospheric resemblances to Francesco Rosi’s cinema, he tells the story of three brothers from rural Calabria whose choices and postures lead them to different lives. The eldest, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), lives quietly on his farm but gets constantly worried about his troublesome adolescent son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo); Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) and Luigi (Marco Leonardi) live in Milan where they established a small illicit organization. The former is the brain of this disguised pineapple distribution company, showing a calculative and prudent posture, while the latter is carefree and shares the same sneaky way of thinking of his nephew Leo who visits his uncles, against the will of his father, to learn and earn his place and respect. Somehow, this fierce young lad will be co-responsible for the family’s decadence. Mr. Munzi takes his time to span every character, giving us the precise notion of their scope of actions. Adopting cavernous tones and comfortless images, the film appeals more to the intellect than properly to the eyes. Its narrative is solidly constructed and some details help to contextualize and understand what’s going on in the family - mostly being a film of men, there are some powerful feminine presences, especially the critical and jittery Rocco’s wife, Valeria (Barbora Bobulova). The startling finale comes to be crucial, elevating the film from its apparent languorous state. It’s an obscure and pertinent glimpse at the Calabrian Mafia known as ‘Ndrangheta.

April 09, 2015

Haemoo (2014)

Haemoo (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shim Sung-bo
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: “Haemoo”, literally ‘Sea Fog’, is the feature directorial debut of Shim Sung-bo, writer of “Memories of Murder” from the acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon-ho who reciprocates by co-writing and producing. The screenplay’s strength relies on a love story between a sensitive fisherman, Dong-sik, and a defenseless illegal immigrant, Hong-mae who goes after her missing brother in Seoul. Everything happens on board of the Korean fishing boat ‘Junjin’ whose captain, Kang Chul-joo, made up his mind and resolved to face his ruin, both professionally (low incomes prevent him to keep his boat in times of economic crisis) and in his private life (his dissatisfied wife cheats on him), by taking the risky mission of smuggling a group of people from China to Korea. There’s a sense of fatality present throughout the story and the typical Korean staple of self-destructiveness that almost always degenerates into violence. This aspect is mirrored in Captain Kang’s behavior (the most interesting character in the film) but it’s also showed in a more vulgar way through the remaining irascible sailors who embrace greediness and uncontrollable sexual appetites. Confined to a breathless, nauseous hole meant for fish, tragedy is expected any time for the illegal travelers. The non-static camera moves along from one side to another, normally at the sound of a score that alternates between mildly tense and dramatically gentle. Ironic tones are a constant, even in the most serious occasions, which takes “Haemoo” to the dangerous ‘waters’ of cynicism. The arrival of sea fog intensifies claustrophobia and the story indelibly gains a new dimension with the chaos onboard, ending 30 minutes after with a forceless epilog.

April 08, 2015

La Buca (2014)

La Buca (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniele Cipri
Country: Italy

Movie Review: Filmmaker and cinematographer, Daniele Cipri, is trying to find his own space in contemporary Italian cinema. That particular task is not so simple, and the truth is that by proceeding to a comparison of his two latest works, we observe a significant oscillation in quality. His more recent comedy “La Buca” adopts the same stirring posture (very Italian) as used in the accomplished “It Was a Son”, dated from 2012. Both are satires, so why the former stays a few steps behind the latter? There was a bunch of very defined factors that made that difference to loom. “It Was a Son” satirizes the greediness of a Sicilian family after the accidental death of one of their children in a shootout between Mafia gangsters. The story was sufficiently funny, straightforward and expressive in order to grab immediately our attention. “La Buca”, in turn, takes a long time chewing the adventures of a not less greedy lawyer who tries to live from monetary compensations obtained by fake injuries or accidents. The film was unable to flow accordingly, not even when Oscar, the whimsical lawyer, tries to win a genuine case for a fragile man, Armando, who was condemned to 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The characters were not so interesting, and of course Oscar Castellitto and Valeria Bruna Tedeschi fall short when weighed with the magnificent Toni Servillo and Giselda Volodi, stars in “It Was a Son”. If this wasn’t enough, “La Buca” throws ungracious jokes that explains its blandness as a comedy and compromises its intentions to mock with the already ridiculous situation. Only Armando’s senile mother lets my face broke into a grin, which is meager for a comedy.

April 07, 2015

While We're Young (2014)

While We're Young (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Country: USA

Movie Review: American writer-director, Noah Baumbach, already proved to be a great storyteller, fact reinforced in “While We’re Young”, his latest comedy-drama that comes equipped with intelligent dialogues and humor, and a meaningful vision of real life, executed with an amusing lightness. Just as in his previous works (“The Squid and the Whale”, “Greenberg”, or the chic black-and-white “Frances Ha”), we breathe a sense of reality and a particular way of approaching real-life problems with the appropriate dramatic balance. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a married couple in their mid-forties who keep struggling to achieve success in their work, and also with the fact they can’t have children. Feeling like misfits in front of their best friends, now parents, the documentary filmmaker and his producer wife will see their lives making an abrupt turn when they meet an ambitious younger couple, Jamie (Adam Driver) – a documentarian wannabe and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) – an ice-cream maker. At the same time that a breath of fresh air arrives, they realize, slowly but vigorously, that they have different values and are in a completely distinct phase of life. As usually, Mr. Baumbach shaped his characters with depth, and the cast is no less than sensational, helping him to accomplish that. In particular, Stiller and Driver, each one in their own way, deliver top-notch performances. The story was never contrived, not even in the most insane scenes (the peak was when they join a cult group to let their demons out), effortlessly flowing with an innate subtleness and arresting graciousness. Personally, the film merely touched me on the surface but it’s honest enough to take us straight to a few truths while entertains.

April 06, 2015

The Girl Is in Trouble (2014)

The Girl Is in Trouble (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Julius Onah
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Girl Is in Trouble” is a discouraging crime thriller that is by turns tedious, farcical, and dull. The story starts with August (Columbus Short), a Nigerian iPod DJ (better joke of the film), being fired from Manhattan's Lower East Side club ‘The Void’. It was in this same club that he met Signe (Alicja Bachleda), a Swedish singer-guitarist who is now begging for his help in a complicated case involving a murder. The victim of the murder in question is August’s best friend, Jesus Guzman, a Dominican drug dealer whose tough brother, Angel (Wilmer Valderrama), swears revenge. The crime, enveloped by blurry mystery, took place in the luxurious apartment of the womanizer Nicholas (Jesse Spencer), a pompous rich guy who, at that time, was accompanied by Signe, enjoying an unrestrained night of excesses. Certainly, one of them is the killer, but with the word of one against the other, who is telling the truth? First-time Nigerian-American director and co-writer, Julius Onah, attempts to a stylish approach, but the result was exactly the opposite. The junky messages occasionally popping up on the screen are superfluous, and the camera moves undecidedly and ungraciously. It felt like the homework hadn’t been done, and moreover, all this was aggravated by the use of incongruous tones, lame storytelling, unconvincing performances, and very basic dialogues. Music is visibly of great importance to Onah, and still the score didn’t work at all, so intrusive it was. The obnoxious characters were so uninteresting that I could only sneer. Everything went too bad in this inexpressive tale of international contours set in Downtown NYC.

April 04, 2015

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

The Salt of the Earth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Wim Wenders / Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
Country: France / Brazil / Italy

Movie Review: “The Salt of the Earth” is a masterly documentary about the life and work of the amazing Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado. This touching piece of cinema was co-directed by the acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders and Salgado’s eldest son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Carrying an enormous emotional weight and impressive sense of timing, the stunning pictures of Mr. Salgado are slowly displayed, at the same time that we listen, completely stupefied, to his own voice, explaining the circumstances in which they were taken after a brief historical contextualization. There are times in which Salgado’s face merges into his pictures – a face that never expresses any sentimentality. However, through his voice, whether in French or in Portuguese, we notice the deep impact those moments had on him. After so many years covering death in its most various forms - war, genocides, disasters and starvation - it was admirable how Salgado sought desperately for life in its most pure manifestations – nature, primitive people, wildlife. ‘I got sick in the soul’ he says, expressing a painful discontentment for what we, humans, are capable to do to one another. ‘Suddenly I felt the urge to make a tribute to the beauty of our planet’. Everything in “The Salt of the Earth” has the right proportions. There’s no exploitation of the subject, and there are no forced attempts to make greater what is already great. A profound respect for a courageous man and his work is what we see here. I felt I could have spent another two hours looking at his photography, both heartbreaking and dazzling visions, and listen to the tremendous stories supporting it. Unforgettable pictures, unforgettable stories, unforgettable film.

April 03, 2015

The Tribe (2014)

The Tribe (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
Country: Ukraine / Netherlands

Movie Review: Cannes’ last sensation, “The Tribe”, is a praiseworthy, brutal piece of speechless cinema, a product of the mind of first-time writer-director, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. Set in a sunless Ukrainian city, the drama follows a deaf-mute teenager who arrives at a specialized boarding school for people in the same conditions, being immediately incorporated in a ruthless gang of students dedicated to robbery and prostitution. Unsurprisingly, the latter activity has a teacher as the leader, and soon the newcomer is assigned to pimp two of the teen girls that are used to beat the truck parking lot during nighttime. He slowly gains the trust of his fellows but irredeemably falls for one of the prostitutes. When this girl realizes her pregnancy, no other option is ever considered beyond the abortion, which is done in a private house by an austere, creepy woman. This is probably the most disturbing scene of the film (disputing with the maniacal finale), where in a horrible environment and with precarious sanitary conditions, she’s tied with ropes like an animal, bravely enduring the pain inflicted on her. The young man, madly in love, starts stealing in order to pay for her time, putting himself in a perilous position. The situation reaches even bigger proportions after he realizes she’s about to be taken to Italy. As a sign language film, communication was never a problem in “The Tribe”, which was very perceptible, and even persuasive on the dramatic level. There are no words to express how brilliant was the deaf-mute cast, so genuine and powerful at all levels. Mr. Slaboshpitsky sparked confidence, filming with insistent assertiveness, and revealing a shocking realism, bestial violence, and raw sex scenes in its plenitude. Words? For what?

April 02, 2015

Court (2014)

Court (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Country: India

Movie Review: It’s quite impressive how “Court”, a befitting satire on today’s Indian judicial system, has been collecting prizes all over the festivals it participates. Venice, Viennale, Mumbai, Singapore and Hong Kong are only some of them, which recognized the subtle but well-outlined assessment behind the first work of filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane. The film is a long, cogitative and well-observed exercise centered in an absurd case of prejudice and bureaucracy involving the multiple arrests of the people’s folk singer and poet, Narayan Kamble. Accused of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide, the fragile singer has no other option than relying on his dedicated lawyer who will have a female public prosecutor as a fierce (and often irritating) opponent. There’s also a somewhat superficial look at the family lives of the ones involved in the case, meaning the two lawyers and the judge, but curiously not the dauntless Kamble who turns out inflammable with a microphone but is becoming weary of the harassments he’s subjected to. This is a courtroom tragicomedy with so many good things – vivid imagery, admirable performances, a strong representation of Indian social status, and witty dialogues; however, on the other hand, it shows some difficulties flowing, especially when the camera lingers too much time on other small court cases, which aim to reinforce the stupidity of the legal system in cause, but deflects the story from its central point. Therefore, some editing would be valuable here. Mr. Tamhane has opted for a formal execution, which sometimes counterpoints with the confrontational jokes that are caustically being thrown in the air. “Court” is worth seeing for its pungent examination and clever observations.