August 31, 2015

Queen of Earth (2015)

Queen of Earth (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alex Ross Perry
Country: USA

Movie Review: New York-based filmmaker, Alex Ross Perry, proves to be one of the most lucid and audacious storytellers of our time. After an examination of personal dissatisfaction and ego in the absorbing “Listen Up Philip”, Mr. Perry distinctively crosses a difficult, dramatic barrier in his latest “Queen of Earth”, a meditation on depression and how it can devastate relationships. Even before the opening credits, we are shown a close-up of the terrific actress Elisabeth Moss, in a disconsolate state; the tears roll down her face, blurring the make-up around her sad eyes. She plays Catherine, an artist wannabe who always lived in the shadow of her father, a renowned artist from New York who died recently. Despite the persistent pain associated with that loss, she cries because her dishonest boyfriend, James (Kentucker Audley), just announced the end of their relationship. In the next scene, we’re transported to a house in Hudson Valley that will serve as a one-week refuge for Catherine and her best friend, Virginia (Katherine Waterston), to spend a good time together like they did one year before. Yet, nothing is the same now since Catherine seems alienated, many times confined to her dark room, sleeping too much or too less, eating junk food, and saying she’s not in the mood for talking due to some stupid reason. Their relationship deteriorates even more when Virginia starts bringing the boy next door, Rich (Patrick Fugit), into the house. The provocative Rich is not well tolerated by Catherine, who gets somewhat jealous and uncomfortable with his frequent questions, insinuations, and unnerving posture. She feels more and more insecure, abandoned, and neurotic, eventually losing the little emotional control that she’s still able to find during a tremulous private party at the house. Flashbacks from one year before helps us understand how the things were and how they stand now. Perry’s direction is practical without being obtuse, finding consistency in a script that digs deep into the characters’ soul, and managing to turn the cutting, claustrophobically tense “Queen of Earth” into a modern version of “A Woman Under the Influence” with traces of Bergman.

August 28, 2015

Zero Motivation (2014)

Zero Motivation (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Talya Lavie
Country: Israel

Movie Review: In “Zero Motivation”, the newcomer director, Talya Lavie, sneers at a female Israeli military unit stationed in a remote base where the boredom is high and the motivation is low. She wrote the story based on her own experiences serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. This resourceful comedy is divided into three distinct chapters, alternating the main protagonists among the small group of women. In the first one, Daffi (Nelly Tagar) can’t wait to be transferred to Tel Aviv, and for that to take effect, she brings in a new girl, Tehila (Yonit Tobi), who she believes to be her substitute. However, Tehila is nothing more than a civilian whose true motives for being there lead her to a tragic suicide. In the meantime, Zohar (Dana Ivgy), the laziest soldier ever, is obsessed with the computer game ‘Mine Sweeper’, which she’s a world record holder. This is not her single obsession since the idea of losing virginity doesn't get out of her head. After the unanticipated suicide, Rama (Shani Klein), the corpulent commander of the female unit sees her chances of being promoted reduced. The next chapter points the way to the weird Irena (Tamara Klingon), originally from Russia, who thinks she’s possessed by the ghost of Tehila and urges Zohar to find a man as soon as possible. The latter’s adventure with a recently arrived soldier didn’t go so well and Zohar returns obsessively to her PC games while tries to leave her mark in the army by shredding all the paper in the office. In the last chapter, the stern Rama is discharged to civilian life, while Daffi is promoted to commander. She gets into a fight with the disobedient Zohar, and both end up in prison. In the end, friendship triumphs after an agitated climax. A humorous atmosphere is permanently present in Ms. Lavie’s refreshing approach while a few moments of weirdness appear here and there. Even the toughest situations seem light, which in the case, is not necessarily unfavorably. “Zero Motivation”, a well-contextualized feel-good comedy with minor faults, actually offers lots of motivation to the viewers, and the perfect casting was the key factor for that achievement.

August 27, 2015

Grandma (2015)

Grandma (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Country: USA

Movie Review: If you’re looking for a comedy with attitude, “Grandma” is an option you should consider. Written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Weitz (“American Pie”, “About a Boy”), the film has the merit of putting a lot of soul, energy and charisma in every single scene, no matter if clichéd or not. All those attributes come from the brilliant performance of Lily Tomlin, who generously plays Elle Reid, a conflicting, full-mouthed, feminist and lesbian poet whose angelical 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), asks for a little financial help when she finds out she’s pregnant. $600 would solve Sage's worries since she was already booked into a cheap but decent abortion clinic. This way, she wouldn’t have to tell the news to her scarily judgmental mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a strenuous successful businesswoman. Elle, who is still coping with the death of her longtime life partner and digesting the recent separation from a younger girlfriend, Olivia, cannot help with money since she’s broke, but that doesn’t mean she will abandon Sage to her fate. Driving a beautiful, but debilitated old Dodge, Elle and her granddaughter set off on a road trip, paying a few visits in order to borrow the required amount. The first attempt is Sage’s boyfriend, an indifferent and uneducated brat who learns a lesson from the fearless grandma. Then they meet with a tattoo artist who, unable to pay what she owes to Elle, makes her a nice tattoo on the arm instead. After a bad experience in a café that once was a costless abortion clinic, they rush into another café, where Olivia works, to try selling feminist books to the owner. The last option, and before resorting to Sage’s mother, is Elle’s former husband who’s still resentful about their turbulent past. “Grandma” would be a more serious case if the most evident clichés had been removed from its unbiased script. Still, it manages to keep one steady foot on dramatic and another on funniness, a feat achieved effortlessly due to the excellent Ms. Tomlin, who loudly screams for an Oscar in her first leading role in 27 years.

August 26, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams (2015)

I'll See You in My Dreams (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Brett Haley
Country: USA

Movie Review: “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, the attentive sophomore feature by Brett Haley, is a heartfelt comedy-drama that meditates on loneliness, aging, and loss. The script, co-written by Haley and Marc Basch, focuses on Carol (Blythe Danner), a former songstress who has been a widow for 20 years and lives unworriedly in a serene high-class neighborhood of LA in the company of her faithful dog. In the first scenes of the film, we follow Carol’s sorrowfulness when the dog gets sick and has to be put to sleep. In addition to this mishap, a dauntless big black rat is seen strolling inside the house. In panic, she flees outside and ends up sleeping by the pool where she’s awakened the next morning by the new pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr). After an unlovely first contact, the latter not only becomes an agreeable interlocutor but a drinking buddy. However, and despite fond of music, this former poetry student shows to be a mediocre songwriter and an even worse singer. Apart from Lloyd, the distinctive Carol is far from idleness, hanging out with her three best girlfriends with whom she routinely plays cards and golf. The funniest moment of the film is when these ladies go shopping after vaporize marijuana. They often speculate about getting someone to date Carol, who reluctantly agrees to speed dating. Regardless the flop associated with the experience, she bumps into the spontaneous Bill (Sam Elliott) on her way out, and they exchange some flirtatious words. Bill is a wealthy man, with a strong monotone voice, whose wife left him a few years before and died afterward. Even testing the waters, the couple seems very comfortable and happy when together, which facilitates communication and tangible romance. Sadly, bad news knocks on Carol’s door once again, coinciding with the visit of her daughter. Presented through a delicate, thoughtful, and feminine angle, the film never gives up on hope, flowing agreeably but nonetheless unsurprisingly. Even if not majorly impactful, the narrative fluidity and Ms. Danner’s deeply felt performance provide us with the necessary for the film to be considered favorably.

August 25, 2015

10,000 Saints (2015)

10,000 Saints (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Country: USA

Movie Review: “10,000 Saints” is the fifth theatrical feature from the married filmmakers, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, whose major success was in 2003, with their unforgettable debut “American Splendor”. Since then, the pair has never overcome the challenges of presenting something fresh and interesting, failing to make the grade with unimpressive comedies such as “The Nanny Diaries” and “The Extra Man”. For their brand new coming-of-age dramedy, they bring together the actors Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, and Hailee Steinfeld, who despite talented, nothing could do to bypass banality. Still, it happens to exhibit a strong start when introducing the young Jude witnessing the separation of their parents in 1980 Vermont. The motive was proudly explained by his imperturbable, large-minded father, Les (Hawke), who also took the opportunity to brusquely disclose that Jude was adopted when he was a child. Seven years later, the teenager Jude (Butterfield) hangs out with his best friend, Teddy, when they are asked to pick up Eliza (Hailee), Les’ girlfriend’s daughter, who arrives from Manhattan. A friendship solidifies among the three youngsters, but their nocturnal adventures mark a crucial turning point in their lives. While Teddy and Eliza were consuming cocaine and having sex in the bathroom of a bar, Jude was beaten up for stealing weed from a parked car. Later on, Eliza retreats home since she returns to NY the next day, leaving the two friends partying a little more. A tragedy occurs when they pass out in the middle of the snowy streets, a consequence of the drugs, and Teddy ends up freezing to death. Jude agrees to move to NY’s East Village with his cool-dude dad. Once there, he joins Teddy’s brother in his garage punk band and reconnects with his secret love, Eliza, who is pregnant from Teddy. This superfluously polished teen/family drama exhibits an edgeless benevolence at the heart while its emotional complexity is turned into an incautiously simplistic muddle.

August 24, 2015

Guidance (2014)

Guidance (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pat Mills
Country: Canada

Movie Review: This newly discovered offbeat comedy about a psychologically disturbed former actor, who decides to help problematic teenagers at Grusin High, is the first full-length feature from Canadian Pat Mills, who also stars as the main character. He confidently plays his alter ego, David Gold, who was a promising TV star in his childhood, but completely forgotten in his adulthood. He doesn’t have an acting role for so long that he decides to apply for a school guidance counselor job under the stolen identity of Dr. Roland Brown, whom he studied thoroughly. Moreover, the sudden, direct, insolent, and occasionally furious David, who was also diagnosed with skin cancer, has serious problems with alcohol, exhibits immoral behaviors, and still lives in a stubborn denial about his gay sexuality, even with the insistence on peeing sitting down. Besides all this, he’s completely broke and on the verge of being evicted by the ‘mean’ landlady who gives him 13 days to pay the rent. The few relatives whom he still maintains contact think he’s an embarrassment, and David spends his lonely days in a depressive mood that he fights by repeating to himself: ‘I have a high self-esteem’, ‘I’m well-adjusted’, or ‘I have a healthy body and mind’. For a brief idea of his operation method with the teen students, let me tell you that, first he starts with a few shots of vodka (to break the ice), before giving his personal advice and/or breaking the rules with them. He allows himself to smoke pot with the student who was expelled for selling pot, to bully the bullies, or to encourage the fat to be fatter and the slut to continue being a slut. This way, the new counselor becomes an idol for the teens and a curiosity for the colleagues, especially the gym teacher who stalks him. By the end, in the peak of his madness, he runs away with Gabrielle, a dyslexic and physically abused student who has a crush on him. They steal a car and rob several tanning salons before he becomes aware of the ‘beginning of his real self’. The very personal and sarcastic “Guidance” is cynical in the good sense, and Mr. Mills is officially authorized to return to the screens.

August 21, 2015

Mistress America (2015)

Mistress America (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Country: USA

Movie Review: Acclaimed film director Noah Baumbach reunites with Greta Gerwig, once again co-writer and actress after the candid “Frances Ha” in 2012, to deliver one more of those special contemporary American comedies that has been making him a persistent mention in the genre. “Mistress America” embarks in the same spirit of “Frances Ha”, presenting a few true moments of genius when portraying the lively adventures of two women who just met in Manhattan: the lonely college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke), and her hyperactive hoped-for stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig). The temperate ‘Baby Tracy’ tries to get acquainted with the city, falls asleep in the classroom, and nourishes feelings for a colleague who let her down when he appears with a comically jealous new girlfriend. Tracy, much less impulsive, becomes totally dazzled, inspired, and influenced by Brooke, who in turn, is a creative ‘New Yorker’, a resident of Times Square, who doesn’t produce as much as she plans. The latter is the one injecting a kinetic force throughout the film that makes it talky, eventful, and accelerated. This different individualities work great in terms of narrative balance, making us look to these two new friends in a distinct manner. Their admiration and availability for each other are not only sweet but also salutary for both of them – just like connecting with real family. The film is packed with hilarious situations, colorfully shaped with both frontal and sarcastic tones, and enveloped with the energy of the city. However, and regardless the huge possibilities, I cannot hide a bit of frustration for not being able to consider it a masterwork. The simple reason is that the climax didn’t work so well for me. The scene when Brooke, at the house of her self-seeker friend Mimi Claire, finds out that her entertaining peculiarities are being used in Tracy’s fictional short story, turning the tables on everyone, was too staged (resembling "Carnage"), failing to convince in a crucial moment of a film that had already conquered me. If Lola Kirke was a revelation, Greta Gerwig was flawless, giving the best performance of her career.

August 20, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Country: USA

Movie Review: Guy Ritchie’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is an espionage action film with comedic touches based on the 1960’s TV series of the same name created by Sam Rolfe. Far from the congruous entertainment delivered in the beginning of his directorial career (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”), Mr. Ritchie manifestly embarks here in an artful scheme of style over substance that keeps storming him for some time now. The story, revealing a disastrous ineptitude to captivate, describes a conjoint mission between the CIA and the KGB to dismantle a menacing Nazi operation. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a former con turned agent spy, represents the CIA, while KGB relies on the robust Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Despite their divergences and not without some protests, both agents agree to track down a missing Nazi scientist who used to be an informer for the US Government. To accomplish the mission they will need the help of the scientist’s daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), whose uncle, Rudi (Sylvester Groth), a scoundrel Nazi with a knack for torture, may be the answer. Rudi works for a shipping company owned by a couple, the Vinciguerras, whose past is also associated with evil Nazi maneuvers. With the intention of making it even more international, we also have the presence of a British agent, Waverly (Hugh Grant), who secretly gives a little hand in the case. The screenwriters, Lionel Wigram and Ritchie, inject a few bustling scenes that are nothing more than inconsequentially fabricated situations sprouting very limited fun. It’s all too obvious and jerky and considerably unfunny and familiar. The filmmaker should be aware that energy is vital, but not everything in the genre, when deciding for procedures that just make the film falling into a disoriented spin of mind-numbing boat and car chases, gunshots, and last-minute rescues. The performances are colorless and the score introduces an inauspicious variety of flavors that denigrate the scenes even more.

August 19, 2015

People Places Things (2015)

People Places Things (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: James C. Strouse
Country: USA

Movie Review: “People, Places, Things”, a moderately funny but tenderly articulated indie comedy, written and directed by James C. Strouse, reveals a gracious delicacy that comes mostly from Jemaine Clement’s casual performance. Here he plays Will Henry, a New Zealander comic book artist and teacher who faces the worst disappointment of his life when he walks in on his wife, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) having sex with their off-Broadway monologist friend, Gary (Michael Chernus), during the birthday party of their twin daughters. The narrative jumps one year after, and we find Will, now separated from Charlie, immersed in his drawings, in which he represents himself with a speech balloon ‘I just want to be alone’. Everything becomes bitterer when Charlie let him know that she’s pregnant and is considering getting married to Gary. Will’s disordered state can be pretty noticeable – the difficulty to concentrate himself on simple tasks and often confusing the days of the week – especially when his daughters are staying with him. Suddenly, a weird invitation from one of his students, Kat (Jessica Williams), breaks his routine. Kat invites him to dinner at her place, not with her, but with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall), an American literature teacher, who tolerantly accepts her daughter’s scheme but promptly assures the host she's seeing someone else. Will, who had mistaken sole fish for pork cutlets, didn’t leave the place with many expectations. But life is a road with many twists and turns, and Will is once again at Diane’s door, this time to convince her daughter to skip his own class in order to babysit his cute little twin girls. Diane and Will take the opportunity to find that they have much more in common than they initially thought and start seeing each other. This provokes an outbreak of jealousy in Charlie, making Will extremely confused. The jokes are thrown with a serious tone, producing a positive effect, however, there is a final scene (involving Will and Gary) that feels manipulatively strained.

August 18, 2015

In the Name of My Daughter (2014)

In the Name of My Daughter (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andre Techine
Country: France

Movie Review: Apart from André Techiné’s “In the Name of My Daughter”, I’ve no memory of another recent film that had seduced me so much in the first two-thirds and then completely let me down in its conclusions. The film charmingly captivates at first, retrieving that old virtual French cinema that he created in the 90’s with “Wild Reeds”, “Thieves”, and “Alice and Martin”. Co-written by Téchiné and Cedric Anger, this is a fictional account of the true story of Agnes Le Roux, and was based on the memoir from her mother and casino’s heiress, Renée Le Roux. Counting on the incontestably talented trio of actors - Catherine Deneuve, Adele Haenel, and Guillaume Canet - the 72-year-old filmmaker was unable to finish strong what he had started, rushing the story into something faint, somewhat hazy, and consequently unsatisfying. The narrative begins in 1976 with the arrival of Agnes le Roux (Haenel) to France. She returns to Nice with no bags and a failed marriage, being welcomed by Maurice Agnelet (Canet), an ambitious divorced lawyer and father, who works as a business advisor for her mother, Renée (Deneuve). Struggling against financial decline, the latter soon becomes the president of the Palais de la Mediterranée, one of the fanciest casinos on the French Riviera. This is a crucial time for the scheming Maurice, who tries to persuade Renée to give him the position of assistant director. Simultaneously, he gets closer and closer to her daughter whose impatience grows broodingly due to her mother’s decision to momentarily retain her share of the inheritance left by her late father. In love, the candidly naive, Agnés, shows a dangerous availability to a man who transparently assumes other lovers and a cunning posture that only envisions wealth and power. When Renée ignores Maurice request, he unites forces with a mobster, and one of her strongest rivals, Fratoni. It doesn’t take too long for Agnés to join them in their destructive plan. Sadly, the final 30 minutes are feeble, an uncontrollable narrative calamity that blurs the, until then, absorbing portrait.

August 17, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Straight Outta Compton (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Country: USA

Movie Review: Hip-hop was part of my childhood in a small scale. I was never an aficionado of the genre, but have to admit an initial curiosity about the multiplicity of grooves and especially about the messages conveyed by its performers. The vibrantly paced “Straight Outta Compton” isn’t just a film about hip-hop but much more. It competently covers the episodes around the formation of the band N.W.A. in 1986 Compton, California, and all the subsequent happenings that led to its end and division of its members: Ice Cube (his son O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella, and MC Ren. The director, F. Gary Gray (“The Negotiator”, “The Italian Job”), counted with Cube and Dre as part of the production crew, guaranteeing a biopic as precise as possible. For obvious reasons, these latter two members, together with the ambitious leader, Eazy-E, are the ones whose paths are followed in more detail. The strong social-political context is accurately pronounced, formulating an exultant combination of music, attitude, and action. These aspects fiercely mirror what the musicians were going through in the ghetto - police brutality and intimidation, racial discrimination, and social tensions with emphasis on violence and drugs. In addition to this, we also penetrate into the ‘business’ of the record labels, and the contractual disagreements that first put away Ice Cube, and then Dr. Dre, and later on Eazy-E. Playing both the hero and the villain, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), was the opportunistic manager that claimed ‘I can make you legit’, after discovering their raw talent. However, the creepiest case is the erroneous association between Dr. Dre and the gangster/producer, Suge Knight. At a certain point the divergences among the musicians were beneficial, conducting them to record meaningful albums. “Straight Outta Compton”, whose title was taken from N.W.A.’s debut record, flows at an appropriate steady beat, in defiance of some narrative gaps. Best moment? Playing ‘fuck tha police’ in concert and its tumultuous effects.

August 14, 2015

Fort Tilden (2014)

Fort Tilden (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers
Country: USA

Movie Review: Even understanding the motivation and intentions of the filmmakers who plunge into this very New Yorker microbudget mockery, I couldn’t avoid being stupefied by its pathetic occurrences and futile tones. The story follows two roommates, Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott), who dwell in a fantastic apartment (the best the film can present in terms of visuals) of the trendiest Brooklyn's neighborhood, Williamsburg. Both are very competitive in terms of men, and their conversations resume to stupid sex jokes about the perfect dick and what they’re thinking to do with their vaginas. Apart from this humdrum, we follow the two clumsy protagonists in their interminable trip to Fort Tilden where they are supposed to join two young men they had met at a rooftop party. Along the way, the spoiled daddy’s girl, Harper, pays everything by check, including an iced coffee bought in a bodega located in the same ghetto where a kid steals the bike Allie had borrowed from her weirdo neighbor. The same Allie is having problems with the Peace Corp.’s chief after she has skipped work due to a faked sickness, compromising her planned trip to Liberia. There’s still time for a cranky cab trip where the Indian driver dumps them in the middle of nowhere when he finds out that Harper’s father is an executive shark operating in India. At the beginning of their adventure, Harper states that there’s nothing better than biking through the streets of Brooklyn in order to bring fresh air and fresh ideas. Well, those are attributes that “Fort Tilden” definitely doesn’t deliver because its script is not just weak, it’s vulgar! The writers/directors, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, making their debut on feature film, gave life to two characters that speak, act, and think as children. The film’s climax couldn’t be more basic than Harper attempting to rape a teen guy in the freezing sea. It could have been funny, but redundancy prevails over wit.

August 13, 2015

Prince (2015)

Prince (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sam de Jong
Country: Netherlands

Movie Review: “Prince” starts staunchly as an expressive coming-of-age tale, but finishes as a forgettable, self-content phony. Set in a small neighborhood located in the suburbs of Amsterdam, the drama follows the complicated life of the 17-year-old Dutch-Moroccan, Ayoub (Ayoub Elasri), who lives with his depressed mother and easygoing half-sister. He occasionally meets with his homeless, drug-addicted father, a helpless Moroccan who religiously expects him to bring money for the ‘stuff’. Assuming himself as the man of the house, Ayoun acts sweetly and supportively toward his fragile mom, who never asks questions and keeps looking for the perfect man, and super protective toward his handsome sis, whose excessive freedom leads her to hang out with a trio of bad guys. One of these thugs is Ronny, a violent boaster whose little brother, Franky, is best friends with Ayoub. Despite of participating in some of their dirty work, Ayoub gives rise to mistrust and is treated with contempt; firstly, because he’s seen as an inferior due to his descent, and secondly, because he has a crush on Laura, the girlfriend of one of the bullies. Often humiliated by this small group of gangsters, Ayoub’s best wish would be rapidly building muscles out of his skinny body. As he knows this won’t come true, he comes to the conclusion that his only chance of gaining their respect and conquer Laura’s heart is through the ‘king’ of the thugs, Kalpa (the musician Freddy Tratlehner), a creepy, uncontrolled freak who whimsically runs a sausage factory in his own house and exhibits his over-the-top Lamborghini throughout the streets. One tempestuous night will be enough for the ascension and glorification of Ayoub, crowned ‘prince’ on the first call to work for the untouchable Kalpa. The first-time director, Sam de Jong, has a knack for setting up maniacal moments, combining them with a vigorous score in order to establish stylishly frenzied scenes. The main frustration comes from the film's script, in particular the final act, which abruptly changes the tones from chaotic to cheesy, and the scenarios from rowdy to lenient.

August 12, 2015

Beloved Sisters (2014)

Beloved Sisters (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Dominik Graf
Country: Germany / others

Movie Review: “Beloved Sisters” is a biographical film that portrays the long-lasting love triangle lived in the 18th century between the German poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, and the aristocratic von Lengefeld sisters, Charlotte and Caroline. The drama, written and directed by Dominik Graf, a filmmaker with a three-decade career of TV movies and series, was unable to hold my attention apart from the first half-hour. Despite handsomely crafted in its attempt to revive the period and attractively photographed by Michael Wiesweg, the film gradually loses impact and even drags itself on several occasions, during its protracted 138 minutes of the same cadenced maneuvers focusing on the noble German social and literary society. Faith has determined that the young Schiller (Florian Stetter), exiled from its country and lost in the streets of Weimar, will meet Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) in a time when she was preparing herself to get married with some illustrious, wealthy man, following the steps of her sister Caroline (Hannah Herzsprung), who had done it, not for love, but to guarantee financial stability for her family. Defying both society and family, both sisters fall in love with the amiable and yet revolutionary thinker, consciously assuming their affair and understanding whenever they need to get out of each other's way. Regardless the many obstacles, like looking like a beggar and being broke, Schiller ends up marrying Charlotte and having a child with her, but never ceases from seeing her unhappily married sister, who starts a successful literary career under the name of Agnes von Lilen. Resorting to close-ups of the protagonists in an attempt to draw the emotions that the plot couldn’t assure, the slightly staged “Beloved Sisters” is leisurely paced, never flowing conveniently to escape its shallowness. Here, we get more lethargic and bored than invigorated or excited, and the film leaves no positive memories.

August 11, 2015

The Gift (2015)

The Gift (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Noel Edgerton
Country: USA / Australia

Movie Review: Once a bully, forever a bully. This is an aspect that “The Gift”, a dark, twisted thriller directed, produced, and co-starred by Noel Edgerton, tries to emphasize when depicting the very strange re-encounter between Simon (Jason Bateman), a successful tech executive and a former colleague from High School, Gordon Moseley (Edgerton), who responds by the nickname ‘Gordo’. Simon moves from Chicago to a gorgeous, spacious house in a calm neighborhood of LA, in the company of his good-natured wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). For them, this change kind of works as a new opportunity after Robyn’s recent traumatic miscarriage. When the couple seemed to have gathered the perfect conditions in order to enjoy life unreservedly, the invasive Gordo, who had been severely bullied by Simon in the past, decides to gift the couple for several times. In addition to that inexplicable behavior, he keeps visiting Robyn when Simon is at work, and is caught in an embarrassing lie when he invites the couple for a dinner in a house that wasn’t his. Yet, also Simon, whose self-assurance is often transformed into arrogance, is caught lying when he says to his wife he doesn’t remember Gordo so well. The apprehensive Robyn ends up troubled by Gordo’s words ‘let bygones be bygones’, written in a letter addressed to Simon. She won't give up trying to find the truth behind these words and the reasons why this odd man stalks them. The film builds a few awesome Hitchcockian tense moments, even taking a recognizable path and adopting a typical mood while presenting us a couple of good twists, which maintain our eyes wide open. The ending, characterized by severity and sickness, evokes shocking final revelations such as those depicted in “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects”. It’s known that long-term abuses can lead to merciless actions and retaliations. This one, in particular, goes beyond the physical. Edgerton shaped the characters with insight and entered with the right foot in the filmmakers’ universe.

August 10, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Country: USA

Movie Review: In this successful screen adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical novel “Diary of a Teenage Girl”, first-time director, Marielle Heller, who already had adapted it for an off-Broadway play, managed to inflict a very peculiar and personal touch that makes the film rise above the standard levels within the so inviting and yet slippery coming-of-age genre. A glamorous cast was reunited, involving not only confirmed talents such as Alexander Skarsgard and Kristen Wiig but also a fantastic discovery, Bel Powley, who shines in the main role. She gives the body and puts all her soul in the promiscuous 15-year-old Minnie Goetze, a cartoonist wannabe, living in San Francisco in the 70’s, who is radiant for having lost her virginity. Nothing wrong with that, if the chosen man wasn’t her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Skarsgard), who wasn’t able to say no to her daring and direct approach - ‘I want you to fuck me’. The experience didn’t stop there since they start having sex on a regular basis for years. All these occurrences are narrated and recorded on audiotapes that Minnie hides in a small box underneath her bed. Minnie’s mother, Charlotte (Wiig), eventually finds the truth, confirming the suspicions already thrown by Minnie’s father, the firm and astute Pascal (Christopher Meloni), who only needed one visit to the house to figure out what was happening. One may conclude that Charlotte has responsibility in the matter since she acts permissively regarding her daughter, in particular during the course of her intoxicating home parties where alcohol and drugs were a constant. But Minnie’s story shows to have a more intricate complexity that can’t be simply explained by this or that aspect. Told from a very feminine perspective, and painted through occasional animation sequences and an insistently attractive light sepia tone that evokes the warmth of the 70’s, this Diary is subtly sweet, emotionally intense, and poignantly funny. The cycle experience-suffer-learn is exposed unreservedly without, however, being radical. And I liked that.

August 07, 2015

Cop Car (2015)

Cop Car (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jon Watts
Country: USA

Movie Review: I wonder how great could “Cop Car” have been if thoroughly put together and well concluded. Director Jon Watts, who co-wrote with Christopher D. Ford, didn’t know how to give the best sequence to a riveting first part where the film straddles between a rebellious teen misadventure and a sort of cat-and-mouse road thriller. The story focuses on two 10-year-old kids who set off for a walk throughout the immense surrounding fields of a small city, just to find a tempting and yet hazardous plaything: an abandoned police car with the key and guns inside, and a beaten guy stuck in the trunk. The car belonged to the disreputable sheriff Kretzer, played with a distinguished firmness by Kavin Bacon, who only wants to retrieve his car. For that, he will have to chase down the kids, now turned into reckless speed drivers, wherever they go. Regardless the trivial plot, which in any occasion satisfies completely, Mr.Watts was able to gear an attractive pace boosted by the energy of the two promising young actors, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford. Even enriching a few passages with refreshing doses of black humor, the film’s issues are maintained along the fabricated excesses of its plot, aggravated with a despicable finale that makes us think about the absurdity of the whole situation. This leaves us destitute of something palpable at the end of the overfamiliar third act, time for the usual shootouts and car chases. The tensest moments were designed when the kids play with the guns, putting us in an incessant state of alert. As for the rest, “Cop Car” brings nothing new, consisting in a mediocre course of events that keeps oscillating between favorable and fatal. With this being said, the last thing I want is to discourage Mr. Watts, who showed capabilities as a filmmaker. Maybe with a tight screenwriting, he might conquer something more than a few grins when presenting some of his strenuous scenes.

August 06, 2015

They Returned (2015)

They Returned (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ivan Noel
Country: Argentina

Movie Review: From Argentina, country that usually spits out a lot of interesting dramas, comedies, and thrillers, comes “They Returned”, a part crime, part horror film that is nothing else than a spectral revenge tale set in a small Argentine town. The sixth feature by Ivan Noel starts with considerable mystery and was decently mounted, showcasing solid performances by Jorge Booth and Romina Pinto, joined by the newcomers Julio Mendez, Camila Cruz, Rosana Rossotti, and Edmee Aran. However, the film's finale demonstrates to be the main setback of a story that involves the murder of three kids in ‘The Shame’, an abandoned hospital that is the refuge of a secluded former Nazi known as ‘the lunatic’, the last of a known German family, the Himmels. The kids eventually return home, naked and sexually mutilated, drawing the attention of the country’s authorities that send an experienced inspector to clarify and solve the puzzle. The Jew inspector Cohen (Booth) reunites with the passive mayor, the arrogant local judge (Aran), a concerned psychologist (Pinto), and the school’s headmistress (Rossotti). All of them have their own secrets, but the suspicions fall on Sergio (Mendez), an ‘illuminated’ schoolteacher who keeps talking about an evil chain, with origin in the past, that he considers responsible for the occurrences. It’s him who brings the theory that the kids are already dead, the reason why they act so apathetic and unresponsive. Some of the kids’ parents might have something to reveal too. It’s the case of Paola (Cruz) who lives haunted by a sad past and resentful with her vague boyfriend. The filmmaker Ivan Noel has a strong sense of aesthetics, slyly bringing in spooky atmospheres created through the score that he composed. It was a pity that the finale let down the little quiet chaos he was able to immerse this little town in. Working more at the psychological level, “They Returned” was never creepy enough to make us forget its progressive quibbles and plot failures.

August 05, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Country: USA

Movie Review: Despite my reluctance over the general Hollywood action genre, I must admit I had great moments of fun with the fifth installment of ‘Mission Impossible’, which was given the title “Rogue Nation” and stars the unchangeable Tom Cruise as the experienced IMF spy, Ethan Hunt. The film was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who already had directly worked with Cruise in his previous “Jack Reacher”. However, if Reacher was a failure, Rogue Nation is a triumph. Here, our resolute secret agent falls in disgrace and is turned into an international fugitive wanted by the CIA, whose director, Hunley (Alec Baldwin), intends to incorporate the IMF in his services. Nothing that stops the resolute Hunt from proving the existence of a shadowy criminal network called The Syndicate whose leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), he caught a glimpse while being trapped in a vintage music store. Taken to a loathsome torturer known as Bone Doctor, he manages to escape with the help of an agile double agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a devious MI6 operative who never makes completely clear on which side she is. Despite of Hunt’s extreme efficacy in dealing with the challenging tasks – the peak is a breathtaking mission carried underwater – the ‘impossible’ mission wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his fellow IMF agents: Benji, Brandt, and the retrieved Stickwell. More inventive and gripping than I was expecting, the film was completely controlled by Mr. McQuarrie who smartly and with no unnecessary fanfare, set up fantastic tense moments replete of intriguing tech details, awesome scenarios, and invigorating action scenes that make our hearts beat as fast as their speed. Even the supposedly standardized motorcycle chase feels rejuvenated as it’s concluded with unimaginable outcomes. “Rogue Nation” is an action treat that provides boundless fun while shows Tom Cruise in a perfect shape.

August 04, 2015

Red Knot (2014)

Red Knot (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Scott Cohen
Country: USA / Argentina

Movie Review: Scott Cohen’s debut feature “Red Knot” doesn’t disappoint, capturing stunning images and extracting emotional heft from the drama of a freshly married couple who faces the possibility of separation during their very unusual honeymoon. Olivia Thirlby and Vincent Kartheiser give shape to the newlyweds, Chloe and Peter Harrison, two New Yorkers who decide to spend their honeymoon in a research vessel en route from Argentina to Antarctica. Everything pointed to a serene expedition, instructive at the most, if Peter had paid more attention to his forlorn wife instead of converting their first trip together into work. As a writer and enthusiast of nature, he takes the opportunity to write an article about the explorers who travel with them, which includes the respected marine biologist Roger Payne (himself) and his wife, Lisa. He often seems to forget that Chloe is present, and is more interested in listening to conversations about whales and penguins rather than provide an unforgettable, romantic trip to the one he loves. A silent tension installs itself, ready to explode at any moment, which eventually happens when she finds out through Lisa that Peter is already committed for another trip next year. Before, a conversation about having children had already set a conspicuous discomfort in their relationship, but now Chloe feels really hurt and deceived, without knowing how to fit there anymore. She can only request her own space. Peter has difficulty to grant her that, especially after seeing her engaging in a very friendly conversation with Captain Anderson, a lone wolf who chose the sea to forget a failed marriage. Narrated in a form of a diary, “Red Knot” sometimes feels like a documentary, punctuated with occasional dreamlike tones, and driven by metaphors and the sadness of uncertainty. Scott Cohen, who has a background in still photography, managed to untie this first knot with an unanticipated efficiency.

August 03, 2015

The End of the Tour (2015)

The End of the Tour (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Country: USA

Movie Review: Once there was a masterpiece called “My Dinner with Andre” that consisted of two men engaged in conversation about their lives while seated at a restaurant table. Well, that movie, directed by Louis Malle and written/acted by Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, somehow came to my mind while watching “The End of the Tour”, which doesn’t match the brilliance of the cited, but is assuredly a great film. The reason for this resemblance, is that this compelling drama about the real short-term relationship between two novelists, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), who enjoys an incredible peak of fame after the launch of his acclaimed novel ‘Infinite Jest’, and his fellow interviewer and Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), relies almost totally on their engrossing conversations. The film, directed by the diligent James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”, “The Spectacular Now”) from a Donald Margulies’ screenplay, was based on Lipsky’s 2010 book ‘Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself’. Lipsky, is one of those committed men, eager for a good story, who leaves NY for a five-day tour with the secluded and enigmatically talented, Wallace. The attempts to figure out the latter’s character, which is a complex mixture of prominent ego, legitimate modesty, shyness, and solitude, play a fundamental factor to keep us avidly watching the ups and downs that arise from the protagonists’ interaction. The pleasure of gradually discovering each other suddenly takes a sour detour. At this point, they recognize not only the virtues of their humanity but also the faults, impossible to discern by reading a thousand-page novel. “The End of the Tour” is a subtle, genuine, and beautiful accomplishment whose enthrallment is as memorable for the viewer as the experience was for Lipsky. The film was a great opportunity for Segel to shine outside the comedy circuit and to confirm Eisenberg as one of the most solid actors of our days. Ponsoldt and Margulies were intelligent enough to set up a suitable narrative scheme to make the story work.