October 30, 2015

Tu Dors Nicole (2014)

Tu Dors Nicole (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Stéphane Lafleur
Country: Canada

Movie Review: One of the most wonderful surprises of this year is undoubtedly the Canadian drama “Tu Dors Nicole”, which has much to be appreciated. Exhibiting indolent tones and a leisured pace, the film grabbed me in a very satisfying way both in terms of script, whose creativity, spontaneity and even some surrealistic elements (like a kid talking with an absurdly deep voice) successfully enraptured me, and in terms of the engrossing black-and-white visuals, which were capable of making me feel the warm breeze and the relaxed ‘dolce fare niente’ of the summertime in a quiet, small Quebecois town. Julianne Côté, whose outstanding performance deserves all the accolade she can get, embodies Nicole, a young student who seems to be enjoying her time alone at home, a consequence of her parents’ absence for a prolonged vacation. The scene that first introduces her is illuminating - when she wakes up in the bed of a guy and responds in an indifferent manner to his question if they’re going to see each other again. Back at home, she receives a phone call from her father, reminding her of the home tasks to be completed, and finds an envelope in the mailbox with a credit card in her name. What a joy! This was exactly what she needed to fight the boredom of the hot days, mostly spent doing nothing special in the company of her best friend, Veronique (Catherine St-Laurent). Both are planning to leave their fastidious jobs and make a trip to Iceland, an idea that is reinforced when Nicole’s contentious brother, Remi (Marc-André Grondin), suddenly appears at home, bringing his longtime pal, Pat (Simon Larouche), and a new friend, the flirtatious JF (Francis La Haye), respectively bassist and drummer of his indie rock trio, to rehearsal. The multiple interactions among these characters suddenly change the airs from undisturbed to weighty. Directed with delicacy, intelligence, and insight by Stéphane Lafleur, who completely avoids one-dimensional characters, “Tu Dors Nicole” has this sort of mood that many emerging directors would like to bring into their cinema. It’s so effective and simple in its processes, so mature in depicting the human relationships, and so deliciously funny in its sometimes-offbeat posture and dialogue, that the result is an extraordinary modern gem not to be missed.

October 29, 2015

Honeytrap (2014)

Honeytrap (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Rebecca Johnson
Country: UK

Movie Review: Rebecca Johnson’s “Honeytrap”, despite satisfying as a whole, struggles to attain a sustainable balance during its different sections, provoking mixed feelings when the script and its execution are confronted. If its story evinced great potentiality, the approach not always pulled off the most desirable results. Making a good use of the structure, in which the ends meet, the film follows Layla (Jessica Sula), a good-looking 15-year-old girl who moves to a small town located in the South London’s poor district of Brixton to live with her estranged mother. Even giving the sensation that she’s happy with the change, Layla doesn’t have the support and attention she needs at this crucial point of her life because her indifferent mother, Shiree (Naomi Ryan), shows no more availability than a few minutes of conversation when not in the nightclub where she works or in the company of some lousy boyfriend. When attending a new school, Layla is definitely not prepared to handle the brutality of a milieu where physical and psychological aggressions are a painful reality. Even though, there’s always someone friendly, which is the case of the good-natured Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza) who has true feelings for her. But the degrading scenario gets darker after she bumps into the vile Troy (Lucien Laviscount), a relatively successful rapper whose intentions are everything but pure. Domineering and authoritarian, Troy uses and abuses of the ‘blind’ Layla, whose uncontrolled passion, naivety, and submission will lead her to shame when she agrees to become his accomplice in a hideous crime. Before that, in a complete disorientation, she almost takes her life away when she finds out Troy's true nature. This is the kind of film that you can sense it’s going to end haplessly since its very beginning. The storytelling of Ms. Johnson, who was inspired by real-life events, reveals a sort of urgency in taking us to the despair of this teenager. It feels realistic most of the time, however, occasionally a few noticeable melodramatic moments, enhanced by the uninspired score, tend to push its mood to an objectionable side.

October 28, 2015

Meadowland (2015)

Meadowland (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Reed Morano
Country: USA

Movie Review: Directed by the cinematographer Reed Morano from a screenplay by Chris Rossi, “Meadowland” is a poignant drama that demonstrates how people can descend into very dark places after going through a deeply grievous situation. The unimaginable happened to a happy couple of New Yorkers, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson), whose life will never be the same after their son’s disappearance. Everything happened when Phil decided to stop the car at a service station to buy some drinks, taking the opportunity to send the little Jessie to the restroom. Phil becomes restless when Jessie, who had locked the door, doesn’t answer to his calls. When finally inside, they face an excruciating reality: Jessie has vanished through a backdoor that connects with a garage where nobody was working at the moment. One year after, we find the devastated Sarah at home, still under the effect of lithium, getting drunk in front of Phil, who misleads us to believe he’s coping a bit better with the situation, taking into account his genuine concern with her and observant remarks. With them, is Phil’s brother, Tim (Giovanni Ribisi), a melancholic character, with a guessable troublesome past, who asked to stay at their place for an undetermined period of time. He clearly functions as a sort of an extra burden to the pair of sufferers whose emotional distance increases every day, making them suitable to fall into questionable behaviors both at work and outside work. Sarah is a school teacher, and after the initial attention with a problematic girl whom she followed the steps of listening to heavy metal and cut herself on the arms, she develops a fixation into another student, Adam, who has Asperger’s syndrome and is rejected by both his mother and schoolmates. She urgently tries to fill her emptiness by acting like his mother. In turn, Phil is more and more unmotivated in his duties as a police officer and even the therapy sessions he continues attending don’t seem sufficiently rewarding to make him recover the lost balance. He shows a pitiful moral degradation and a hopeless lack of confidence that made me uncomfortable. The experienced casting director, Phil Hicks, did a great job since these actors, with no exception, made the difference in turning a pretty conventional theme into a compelling dramatic creation. Only the surprising final scene sneakily attempted to be something more transcendent than it was really felt. Mr. Morano revealed sensibility in terms of camera work and a complete control of light in order to extract warm, opaque gleams from the visuals.

October 27, 2015

Anti-Social (2015)

Anti-Social (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Reg Traviss
Country: UK / Hungary

Movie Review: Greg Traviss’ expendable heist movie “Anti-Social” was unable to find a stabilized energy and never attained the desired maturity to impress, being relegated to those mediocre attempts that rely on fabricated scenes and flimsy resolutions, which infuriates instead of satisfying, with the easiness of the happenings and the wasted time (almost two hours in this case). The story, written by the heavy-handed Mr. Traviss, is set in Central London and follows two half-brothers who opt for unequal paths in life despite their proximity. Dee (Gregg Sulkin) is a graffiti artist who sometimes has to flee from the police for painting the street walls of his neighborhood. Carrying strong social-political messages, his art is still not as much respected as he would like, but has the power to draw the attention of a German artist who invites him to Berlin. His beamish girlfriend, Kirsten (Meghan Markle), offers all the support he needs and really believes in what he does, while his older brother, Marcus (Josh Myers), makes part of a gang of four motorcyclists who are known for robbing valorous jewelry around town. Besides this risky activity, the latter is associated with the organized crime, rivaling with another dangerous gang. By using a sexy woman as bait, the rival gang manages to perpetuate a precise attack, stealing drug packages and later shooting Marcus, who, recovering at the hospital, is out of the next heist, the biggest and riskiest so far. With no time to think and a necessity for solving the imbroglio, Marcus and his gang can only rely on the conscientious Dee. Even against his nature, the artist-turned-malefactor consents to participate in the holdup as a carrier, only to protect his brother and (why not?) taking the opportunity to guarantee his own future, financially speaking. Visually unpolished and with powerless performances, “Anti-Social” probably won’t attract many moviegoers with its constant plot shifts, mismanaged drama, sugary romance, and debilitating action. It’s an embarrassing incursion into the Londoner underworld crime and the art world in general.

October 26, 2015

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Bone Tomahawk” is an atypical western. To be more precise, it’s a nutty blend of western in its ancient tradition of ebullient battles between cowboys and Indians, dry comedy, and a gory horror thriller. The screenwriter and debutant director, S. Craig Zahler (also a musician, novelist, and former cinematographer), showed sufficient arguments to let us expectant for his future cinematic creations. The fantastic cast manifests a salutary diversity: from valued veterans, cases of Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, to solidly established actors such as Patrick Wilson, to auspicious young talents like Matthew Fox and Lili Simmons. The film opens with a man cutting a human throat and explaining to his accomplice that there are 16 major veins in the neck and that he needs to cut them all. Minutes later, he’s killed by an arrow shot that flew mysteriously from nowhere. It’s a sufficiently interpretive premise for the grueling scenes that will come later on, especially in the last 30 minutes, when the brutality assumes total control of the story. Set in a tiny town, the story focuses on the earnest sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) who seemed more than happy to embark on a perilous mission across the old Wild West in order to solve the mystery related to the disappearance of the town’s doctor, Samantha O’Dwyer (Simmons). Assisted by his two quirky deputies - the irreverent and boastful gunman, John Brooder (Wilson), and the decrepit and jocular, Chicory (Jenkins) - who are so contrasting in nature that end up complementing each other, the brave sheriff sadly concludes that the woman was abducted by savage Indians who, in addition of having no name nor language, also have the particularity of being cannibals. Even seriously wounded in a leg, Samantha’s husband, Arthur O’Dwyer (Fox), decides to join the mission, regardless if his dragging pace lets him momentarily behind. “Bone Tomahawk” can be described as a super-violent, unsparkling western adventure whose excessively sanguinary atrocities will be the first thing to become retained in the mind of the majority of its viewers. In my personal case, the often-unreasonable wry humor and the well-chosen settings were the aspects I most cherished.

October 23, 2015

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga
Country: USA

Movie Review: American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, and cinematographer, Cary Fukunaga, shoots beautifully and proves not only to have an eye for detail but also that he’s a director with no defined bounds or roots. He quickly got recognition with his first feature-length film, “Sin Nombre”, which addressed a particular universe pelted with ruthless gangs, set near the Mexican-US border. His sophomore feature, “Jane Eyre”, was a well-succeeded adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel of the same name. This year, he brings us the wilder “Beasts of No Nation”, a movie centered in an untold African country where a young boy, Agu (Abraham Attah), who lost his family when his village was taken by the army, falls in the hands of the rebels, becoming a brainwashed, highly-trained fighter alienated by war, misery, and his own thirst for revenge. This tale, an adaptation of Nigerian Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel entirely shot in Ghana, starts perspicaciously funny with the kids trying to sell an ‘imagination TV’ to the soldiers or to obtain some money from the passing drivers, simulating the cutting of trees that they lay down in the middle of the streets. Shortly, there's a constant exhibition of violence (in its physical and psychological forms), and the characters exult in occasional dances that end up in harrowing killings. It also shows a significant insight when revealing in what conditions the rebel squad was operating, as well as when focuses on the leadership confrontation between soldiers and politicians. Obedience and sham rules are highlighted factors presented throughout the story. Agu looks at his prepotent Commandant (Idris Elba) as a sort of a father. On the one hand, he really wants to follow him, but on the other, he feels something’s wrong since a father shouldn’t act like a mad man, initiating him into drugs, sex, and often ordering him to kill innocent people. Despite the astonishing cinematography, Mr. Fukunaga, whose camera moves adroitly in accordance to the more or less boisterous situations, should have let the images talk more by themselves. Too many explanations are given - in the form of Agu’s thoughts - and that frequency interrupts a handful of interesting visual sequences. In truth, there’s nothing really new in this tale that we haven’t seen before - for instance, in the more absorbing “War Witch” or the chaotic “Johnny Mad Dog”. Struggling to put every little piece together in a calibrated way, “Beasts of No Nation” is a so-so war drama that happens to be fascinating for its imagery rather than for the additional ways found to express its brutal story.

October 22, 2015

The Walk (2015)

The Walk (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Walk” wasn’t so vertiginous as I wanted it to be. Director Robert Zemeckis whose name is immediately associated with other successful blockbusters such as “Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away”, and “Flight”, didn’t impress me much with this real story focused on the remarkable achievement by the obsessive, temperamental, and courageous Philippe Petit, here played earnestly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Petit got famous for walking over the Manhattan’s skies when he crossed the 42 meters that separated the extinct World Trade center towers on a wire. The French artist narrates his own story from the top of the Statute of Liberty, taking us to 1973, the very beginning of his Parisian career as a small crowd entertainer – juggling while high-wire walking. There, he meets a sweet street musician, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who at first felt annoyed with his presence since he was stealing all the audience. After conquering Annie’s heart, he fails his first public presentation, but redeems himself accomplishing the following mission of walking on the Notre Dame cathedral and consequently gaining a few devoted accomplices who offer themselves to help him fulfilling his big dream. His riskiest task ever is going to take place in New York and requires a careful and meticulous preparation that is given by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), a circus owner and old expert in the high-wire art, who teaches him a few precious secrets. Sometimes accused of being selfish and arrogant, Petit was able to join an efficient, friendly team that includes the ‘anarchist’ photographer Jean-Louis (Clément Sibomy) who will cover the grandiose expedition. Perhaps because I still have so clearly in my head the magnificent documentary “Man on Wire”, superbly directed by James Marsh in 2008, which addresses Petit and his deed with precision and vitality, “The Walk” feels a bit too much pretentious in its somewhat irritating approach. The dazzling visuals aren’t devoid of disquietude, but the film only provides regular entertainment without agitating us in any occasion with surprises or giving another concept to a form that was nothing more than banally standardized. Mr. Zemeckis, whose filmography comprehends fantasy, animation, and real drama, never made me feel the creeps or soar over the slightly misty blue skies of Manhattan.

October 21, 2015

The Assassin (2015)

The Assassin (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Country: Taiwan / China / others

Movie Review: “The Assassin”, directed by the genius Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien (best director at this year’s Cannes film festival) is a pure delight to watch, even if its narrative is not so expeditious in making us quickly understand the context of the story as well as the function of some characters. This artistic meditation, whose lingering development covers a period of the 9th century’s Tang dynasty, is the first wuxia martial arts film by the experienced director, who returns eight years after the enchanting French-language drama “The Flight of the Red Balloon”. The story sumptuously follows a young woman, Yinniang (Qi Shu), who was highly trained since she was a kid by a princess-turned-Maoist nun called Jiaxin (Fang-Yi Sheu), now her master, in order to become an implacable assassin. The victims picked by Jiaxin are worthless persons who committed evil crimes, and Yinniang, always in black garments, slashes them without hesitation or remorse. Anyway, certain day, she fails to accomplish a mission when she spares the life of a despiteful governor who was carrying a baby in his arms. The upset master, realizing that her pupil gained matchless skills with the sword but still wasn’t totally resolved in her heart, assigns her the toughest task of all: she will have to go back to her hometown in the Weibo province, after 13 years living in exile, and kill a cousin, Tian Jian (Chang Chen), who was promised to marry her when she was 15. Once there, she'll have to deal with her own strong feelings, not only in regard to the man she loves but also to her parents who didn’t have another option at the time but entrust her to the princess Jiaxin. For some viewers, especially those not familiar with the director’s style, “The Assassin” may seem unexciting, extended, and slow since its long takes take the time to incisively capture the picturesque landscapes, lush costumes, and splendorous sets. Hsiao-Hsien employs winning technical aspects over a very simple plot at its core in a very sui generis way. Even the fights are exquisitely crafted like in slow motion, and you never see blood or people agonizing. The filmmaker spares us to those primitive elements, finding instead a subdued tension that slowly enraptures us. It’s a distinguished, velvety art-martial movie that needs to be praised due to its originality and refinement of processes.

October 20, 2015

Experimenter (2015)

Experimenter (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Michael Almereyda
Country: USA

Movie Review: Brought by the innovative - yet not always succeeded - American director Michael Almereyda, “Experimenter” tells us about the work of social psychologist, Stanley Milgram (an unsmiling Peter Sarsgaard), based on his overwhelming studies on the human obedience to authority. In this biographical drama, whose theme is sufficiently enticing to keep us watching with a responsive curiosity, Almereyda uses his creative freedom to edify a somewhat loose narrative that drinks from the thoughts and explanations given by the observant experimenter who carried out multiple experiments on obedience. The first one started in 1961 at the Yale University, where he was teaching social relations. The fundaments of the experiment were very simple, but never easy to the participants, who had to administer possibly damaging electric shocks to a human being placed on the other side of the wall whenever he chooses a wrong answer to the pre-prepared questions. Milgram proved that more than 80% of the participants, despite extremely uncomfortable with the situation, continued giving electric shocks when they were politely and yet firmly told to proceed with the experiment. Many questions arise: didn't they stop because they were being paid and consequently a sense of duty was calling them? Or because they possessed some kind of meanness or aggressiveness? Or is it because they just embraced the task with such devotion that they simply neglected that there was a man suffering and asking for the experience to come to an end? Professor Milgram, with the eyes fixed on the camera, explains that this is due to the so-called ‘agentic state’, which occurs when a person is in his obedient mode in the face of a command. Once in this state, it’s impossible to go back - he explains. Among curious conclusions, unanswered questions, and philosophical postures, “Experimenter” also addresses the complicity that existed between Milgram and his devoted and condescending wife, Sasha (a solid comeback by Winona Ryder). The film’s structure was a bit fluctuating, occasionally alienated, which is not totally surprising if we remember the previous spasmodic narrative adventures of Mr. Almereyda – “Nadja”, “Hamlet”, “Cymbeline”. Despite the quibbles, he was able to picture both the experiments and the struggles of the man behind them with a voice of his own. Even far from enchanting, “Experimenter” is Almereyda’s most accomplished film.

October 19, 2015

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Country: USA

Movie Review: Passionately directed by Steven Spielberg, “Bridge of Spies” doesn’t belong to those conventional espionage thrillers we normally come across with. The film, which recreates a laudable true story, counts with brilliant performances by Tom Hanks, Spielberg’s habitual first choice, and the highly praised English stage actor Mark Rylance whose brief appearances and words are simply unforgettable. The script by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, despite lacking vigorous action scenes, reveals a humane side that is much welcome and unfolds with a gracious coherence and an inherent subtle tension. The year is 1957, in plain Cold War. Rudolf Abel (Rylance), a long-time soviet spy operating in the US, is caught by the FBI and arrested. The one designated to defend him is the Brooklyn attorney, James B. Donovan (Hanks), who truly believes Abel has the right to a fair trial as everybody else, regardless the opinion shared by the majority of the population that he should immediately be convicted and sent to the electric chair. During the preparation for the defense, Donovan and Abel develop a sincere admiration for each other based on the respect and loyalty they’ve always dedicated to their duties. As expected, the impassive Abel is convicted, but Donovan was capable of persuading the biased judge not to give him the death sentence, suggesting instead that they keep him alive for a possible future exchange of prisoners, in the case of an American spy falls in the hands of the Russians. Believe it or not, that was exactly what happened when the American pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured during a spy mission in Soviet territory. The CIA’s only concern is to retrieve Powers, but the straightforward Donovan decides to negotiate beyond that. He’ll attempt to exchange Abel, not only for Powers but also for Frederic Pryor, an American student who couldn’t avoid an inopportune detention occurred in East Berlin. “Bridge of Spies”, flowing with seriousness, wittiness, and elegance, uses mainstream strokes to paint the portrait of a real hero and his magnificent deeds for his country. It’s an immaculate film in terms of period recreation, visual consistency, and narrative fluency. Here, the stimulating chases and wild shootings are discarded; instead, you have the chance to appreciate the finesse of a true classic. A feel-good touch comes in the last scene, when the exhausted Donovan, lying in bed, is regarded by his wife with a mix of incredulity for what he just did and a profound veneration for who he is.

October 16, 2015

Steve Jobs (2015)

Steve Jobs (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Country: USA

Movie Review: In the last three years, three films were made about Steve Jobs, the genius behind the Apple technology, and each one of them deserves a very distinct verdict. In 2013, two years after Jobs’ death, director Joshua Michael Stern relies on Ashton Kutcher to play the character in “Jobs”, a feeble biopic that left the moviegoers unsatisfied with its contrived approach and lack of vision. This year, the acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney (“Mea Maxima Culpa”, “We Steal Secrets”) has built a fair account of Jobs’ private and professional life using the typical journalistic approach in which well-edited interviews and archive footage are properly articulated. Now, it’s the turn of the respected director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “127 Hours”) who formulates the most fascinating if incomplete portrait of the man in question. The inevitably awesome, Michael Fassbender, even drawing some initial doubts on Boyle’s first set, was the perfect vehicle to give body and soul to Jobs, here aided by Kate Winslet, who gives a magnificent performance – her best since “Revolutionary Road” - playing Joanna Hoffman, Job’s trustful ally and confidant since the times of the original Mac team. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who based himself in the book by Walter Isaacson, leaves some important details out of the script such as Job’s wife and the illness that consumed him for quite some time. However, with the help of Mr. Boyle’s expressive close-ups and thorough guidance, “Steve Jobs” turns out to be an extremely entertaining fragment with emotional efficaciousness in regard to how the tech maestro brusquely handled family and work matters. The Apple’s catching slogan ‘think different’ was not always transposed to his private life, especially in those difficult times when he stubbornly refused to recognize his 5-year-old daughter, Lisa. The man who feared rejection due to a convoluted childhood was able to slowly change in several aspects of his life, but will always be regarded as a selfish bastard by some of the tech creators who also put a lot of effort in the variety of tasks without receiving the recognition they deserved. Among the extensive list, we have John Sculley, Steve Wozniak, and Andy Hertzfeld, terrifically played by Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, and Michael Stuhlbarg, respectively.

October 15, 2015

Xenia (2015)

Xenia (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Panos H. Koutras
Country: Greece / others

Movie Review: Panos H. Koutras’ “Xenia”, selected as the Greek entry for the best foreign-language film at the upcoming Academy Awards, is as much provocative as it is brittle. The story focuses on two drifting Greek brothers from Albanian descent whose mother died of too much drinking. Their father left home when the older one, Ody (Nikos Gelia), was two years old and the younger, Danny (Kostas Nikouli), was just a little baby. The latter, now a 16-year-old androgynous misfit with an atypical style of his own, is introduced to us in a scene that takes place in a medical office where he offers his body to a doctor who gives him money and asks if he feels better from his obsessions and hallucinations. Danny is about to leave Crete and adventure himself into Athens, where he will meet his brother. The death of their mother and the fact that their father doesn’t recognize them as his sons, let them in a situation of imminent deportation. Also, they are constantly victims of the provocation and protests, often accompanied with violence, of the fanatic nationalists who aspire to have a Greece for the Greek and the Christians. After an imprudent incident involving Danny, who shot one of those agitators in the leg, the brothers decide to meet with the former companion of their mother, the exuberant gay Tassos (Aggelos Papadimitriou) who reveals the whereabouts of their father, a candidate to the right-wing party who lives wealthily with his new family in Thessaloniki. This is exactly the city where the brothers are heading next in order to fulfill an old family dream that consists in Ody’s participation in a famous singing competition. However, the impulsive Danny takes the opportunity to visit his insensitive father, carrying a pistol in his backpack. Despite addressing the socio-political turmoil and pop-culture lived in the country, the film’s undertones oscillate unevenly between rebellious and pulpy. Sometimes it feels saccharine, losing robustness, and other times it gives false indications of wanting to go wild, which never works well when attempted. The plot, co-written by Mr. Koutras and his habitual associate Panagiotis Evangelidis, repeatedly deviates from its main course of events to indulge in long musical passages, a few forced feel-good moments, and overdramatic confrontations that seem to be taken from the Greek theater.

October 14, 2015

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Country: Japan

Movie Review: Japanese director Takashi Miike doesn’t give up trying to shock us with abhorrent films suffused with physical and psychological violence in addition to a few obnoxious scenes whose only goal is to make you feel nauseous. In “Yakuza Apocalypse”, his new maniac Tarantinoesque exercise, he bridges the yakuza underground scene with zombie horror. The result is darkly unsubstantial, disgracefully unfunny, and chaotically absurdist. The excruciating action scenes, despite kinetic, soon becomes highly tiresome while the script by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi is clearly trying to gain followers among younger crowds. The fantasy is centered on Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), a young and brave yakuza who ambitions to be like his popular boss, a vampire who passes him the curse of becoming an immortal sanguinary criminal. The thing is that not every blood is nourishing – the civilians are good blood suppliers while the yakuza are to avoid. Along with these preoccupations, Kageyama has to fight the opponents of his gang, a bunch of crazy characters that include a dark medieval cowboy who speaks only in English and carries a sophisticated gun inside a coffin, a fierce Indonesian warrior (Yayan Ruhian from “The Raid”) who hauled the boss’ head after twisting it a dozen of times, and a destructive giant frog with superpowers. As allies, there’s a woman known as Captain whose lethal weapon is a slimy white liquid that she spouts out of her ears. But of course that “Yakuza Apocalypse” has something else besides gangs and fighting. There’s also love since Kageyama is trying to figure out the best way of dealing with his passionate impulses (both of the heart and thirst for blood) when he’s in the presence of the damaged Kyoko who’s recovering from a traumatic experience at a local hospital. It’s sad to realize that so many good ideas are wasted amidst repetitive graphical blood-spattered scenes and human torture. Prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike pulls out a tedious finale, in an ignominious head-to-head fighting sequence that determines which fighter punches harder and screams louder than the other one. The cinematography by Hajime Kanda is the only aspect that deserves attention in this pathetic vampire yakuza tale.

October 13, 2015

The Forbidden Room (2015)

The Forbidden Room (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Don't expect anything linear when it comes out of the insubordinate, tortuous mind of the Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin, who in his last sumptuously demented tale, “The Forbidden Room”, had the contribution of the newcomer Evan Johnson as co-writer and co-director. As in the majority of his past works, the film masterfully evokes the black-and-white silent classics and Technicolor fantasies in order to create a layered story that despite the numerous sinister characters and baffling interactions among them, can be summarized as a man desperately looking for a woman. A jocose spirit is present since its very beginning when a man wearing a robe discourses about how to take a bath. This hilarious little dissertation leads us to the central story – Cesare, a courageous woodsman, mysteriously appears aboard of a submarine that is condemned to explode. He’s looking for his kidnaped love, Margot, now an amnesiac prisoner of The Wolf who is kept in a nauseating cave. This main story breaks into multiple inventive fragments that entangle one another with more or less complexity, but which can be easily remembered by their own. They’re all bizarre with no exceptions, yet two sections are particularly mesmerizing: one involving a man identified as The Dead Father, whose mustache is of crucial importance to maintain his family in an emotionally controlled state when he plans to abandon them, and another, in which a woman called Gong had to be subjected to a gut-wrenching re-break of her bones in order to fix them correctly. The casting includes reputable international actors such as Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Maria de Medeiros, Jacques Nolot, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, and the recurrent Louis Negin. Near the ending, the inscrutable Mr. Maddin reveals the solution for the perplexing cinema he’s been digging in for more than two decades. He tells us with every word about the stuff his films are made of: dreams / visions / madness. With “The Forbidden Room”, Maddin’s fans will continue to rejoice while a few new followers can be dragged into the cult.

October 12, 2015

Taxi (2015)

Taxi (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran

Movie Review: One can wonder how is it possible that the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced by the authoritarian regime of his country to 20 years without making cinema, still manages to direct clandestine masterpieces with a disarming simplicity, emotional truthfulness, social-political awareness, and delightfully humorous situations. Well, my theory is the following: if you really love what you do and have something to say, there’s nothing that can stop you. After his professional banishment, Panahi has directed critically acclaimed films that mix reality and fiction, thoroughly mirroring what he was experiencing at each of those well-defined time slots of his existence. If “This is Not a Film” was a raw documentary that aimed to denounce the humiliating deprivations he was subjected to, “Close Curtain” introduced a lot more fictional elements to build up an imaginative plot. These two films were made when he was under house arrest. In his latest, “Taxi”, the most direct, enjoyable, and accessible documentary-like film from the currently censored phase, Panahi leaves home to show us a factual slice of today’s Tehran. He pretends to be a taxi driver who calmly rides throughout the city, interacting with a variety of passengers (real or fictional) in engrossing situations that tell us much about what his people think and how they feel, (re)act, and live. Not a single passenger is futile and the set fits perfectly the filmmaker’s intentions. Among them, we have a short man who illegally sells foreign movies, a wounded man who wants to change his will before dying, two superstitious ladies carrying a fish bowl, Panahi’s talkative niece who’s trying to make a ‘screenable’ short film for school, a conversation with a desolated childhood friend, and a fortuitous encounter with the affable ‘flower lady’ - another victim of the censorship. With an approach that is similar to Kiarostami’s “Ten” and a few references to Panahi’s old films, the unmissable “Taxi” is one of those cinematic wonders you want to prolong. Mr. Panahi’s only sin was not having more characters to ride – maybe because at the end some motorcyclist broke into his taxi. After this movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if, once again, he was considered a serious threat to the Iran’s security and banned from driving in the country.

October 09, 2015

Tale of Tales (2015)

Tale of Tales (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matteo Garrone
Country: Italy / others

Movie Review: Competent Italian filmmaker, Matteo Garrone, who over the last few years has been giving us memorable films such as “Gomorrah” and “Reality”, hauls us into three Baroque tales from the 17th century, in which the real and the unreal go hand in hand. The director, who exquisitely and efficaciously brings in mystical elements and dreamlike sequences, mixing them with the ethereal music by Alexandre Desplat, combines fulgurant medieval settings to host the odd stories, loosely adapted from the fairy-tale collection ‘Il Pentamerone’ by the Neapolitan poet, Giambattista Basile. The first tale tells us about an anguished queen (Selma Hayek) who can’t cope with the impossibility of having children. However, a sinister occultist offers her the solution – the king (John C. Reilly) has to kill a sea monster and rip its heart out, to be cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen. That way, she will become pregnant immediately. The vaticination comes true, and the queen acts radiant, even losing her husband in the risky sea hunt. What wasn’t explained, was that the virgin who cooked the heart would also get pregnant of a boy who looks exactly the same as the prince, and that they will be forever inseparable. Another tale takes us to an odd king (the unique Toby Jones) who lives with his young daughter, Violet (Bebe Cave). While the daughter sings to him, his attention goes entirely to a flea that hops on his hands. Over the following years, he secretly nurtures the flea, which turns into a gigantic creature. When the flea dies, he decides to exhibit its skin and give his daughter as a bride to whoever guesses its origin. A brute Ogre was the one who wins the trophy, taking the terrified Violet to his dungeon in the highest of the mountains. The last tale is about a lustful king (Vincent Cassel) who falls in love with the angelical voice of a woman whom he has never seen the face. This woman is a wrinkled old woman who surrealistically manages to become young again, leaving her aged sister lonely and jealous. I have to admit that my enthusiasm was let a bit down by an out-of-the-blue conclusion that certainly hides inscrutable philosophical meanings. Anyway, “Tale of Tales”, the first English-language film from Mr.Garrone, bewitched me somehow with its extraordinary, recondite mood.

October 08, 2015

Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)

Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany / Canada / others

Movie Review: After the masterpiece documentary “The Salt of the Earth” about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, the extraordinary German director, Wim Wenders, stumbles in his most recent fictional drama, “Every Thing Will Be Fine”. Here, the iconic filmmaker works over a script by the Norwegian Bjorn Olaf Johannessen and entrusts to James Franco, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Rachel McAdams, the main roles. The story is based on Tomas Elden (Franco), a writer who’s making an effort to maintain in good terms the relationship with his girlfriend, Sara (McAdams). In the middle of that intricate process, he has a traumatic accident, in which a kid dies after recklessly crossing the street in front of his van. Tomas becomes so affected by the incident that he breaks up with Sara and tries to commit suicide. However, after recovering at the hospital, he gradually finds his inner peace, becoming more and more inspired and prolific in his writings. Two years after, he finds his novel critically acclaimed. This fact provokes a sort of exasperation in the victim’s mother, Kate (Gainsbourg), an illustrator who opens the door of her house to Tomas, in an ultimate attempt to ease her pain. Also, her eldest son, Christopher, who was with his brother when the accident occurred, can’t really live in peace with the consuming trauma. The story spans for more than a decade, and even starts with some significance, but falls in a troublesome passivity of processes along the way. The genius of Mr. Wenders, who plays safe this time, completely fades away in a shabby drama characterized by a dismayed atmosphere, monotonous pace, and lifeless interactions among the characters, which transport us to repeated rueful psychological scenarios and pushes us into long-awaited resolutions. By the end, it seemed that the drama would evolve to a sort of thriller, but instead, the painful torpor takes care of the remaining time. The film didn’t touch me, not even once, while the performances of Mr. Franco and Ms. Gainsbourg didn’t impress me either.

October 07, 2015

Partisan (2015)

Partisan (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ariel Kleiman
Country: Australia

Movie Review: Charismatic French actor, Vincent Cassel, who continues very active during this year in “Tale of Tales”, “Child 44”, “Mon Roi” and “One Wild Moment”, sturdily plays Gregori, a commune's polygamous leader whose occupation consists in training his children so they can become remorseless assassins. The Australian “Partisan”, despite vacillatingly opaque in its developments, was a good vehicle for Mr. Cassel reassure his performing capabilities, this time as a controlling, egocentric villain with low moral values and an evil scheme carried out with the children’s mothers’ consent. The 11-year-old Alex (newcomer Jeremy Chabriel) is his brightest son, being always the first in the general knowledge tests, very precise in the shooting sessions, and coldly efficacious in the exterminating missions. Gregori is so proud of him that he constantly forgives the minor disobediences Alex is up to – he collects stuff from the outside world, deliberately interacts with strangers, buys meat for his unstable mother (newcomer Florence Mezzara), besides all the mischief associated with the kids in his age. However, Alex always showed a great respect for his protective, and simultaneously abusive father. On the contrary, Leo (Alex Balaganskiy), another sensitive kid who keeps disarming Gregori with wise words and antagonistic behaviors, doesn’t share this respect. When he fiercely holds onto a chicken in order to protect it from death and avoid its extinction, Gregori manages to punish him in his own guileful way. This is the moment when Alex, who swears to protect his newborn baby brother, starts acting in accordance to his own thoughts and not driven by his untrustworthy father. First-time director and co-writer, Ariel Kleiman, was able to set an appropriate moody atmosphere and also drawing unadulterated cold looks from the father and son. Yet, and without prejudice of what he did well, some secondary scenes are not so natural (Alex’s mother crisis is a good example) while we’re left a bit empty in regard to the motives and beliefs of the intriguing Gregori. Moreover, The film’s disconsolate climax, despite clear and transparent, felt somewhat hasty, triggering those typical bothersome sensations that arise from an undercooked plot.

October 06, 2015

The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Country: USA

Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” can be defined as a kids’ parody that eventually turns into a hysterical domestic horror adventure, never sufficiently scary to be recommended. If you want an idea of its tone and mood, think of the farcical ambiance of “Home Alone” added up to those pseudo-documentaries known as found footage films (“Rec”, “Paranormal Activity”) in which the characters narrate and record the events with a hand-held camera that is usually more agile than the developments of the plot itself. The film starts with a mother (Kathryn Hahn), explaining to the camera how she fell in love with an older man (who left her afterwards for another woman) with whom she had two children and escaped home against the will of her parents. The same parents, 15 years after she has left, discovered her through the Internet and arranged everything to host the two grandchildren they’ve never met in their isolated Pennsylvania farm. The teenagers Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) become enthusiastic about the visit and depart equipped with a camera in order to continue the documentary about the family, already started with an interview with their mom who, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to have some fun with her new boyfriend. However, what they find there, including the wintry landscapes that limit their hide-and-seek games, is not so cheerful. The scenario is intentionally clumsy since the beginning when they realize there’s something wrong with the grandmother (Deanna Dunagan) besides cooking and cleaning compulsively. Moreover, the granddad (Peter McRobbie) has inexplicable, abrupt changes in behavior, and together with his wife, is the center of the odd occurrences that lead to the flimsy final conclusions. The best in “The Visit” are its visuals, brilliantly adorned through an effective use of light and nicely mounted sets. Apart from this, most of the situations that come out of the lame script are pretty stupid, and the film never manages to succeed, whether in comedy or horror. Clearly, Mr. Shyamalan embraces a worthless phase as a filmmaker and screenwriter. For a few years now, I can’t find anything solid in his filmography to recommend, considering that “The Happening”, “The Last Airbender”, and “After Earth” are cinematic aberrations. Long are the glorious days of “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, and “Signs”.

October 05, 2015

The Martian (2015)

The Martian (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Country: USA

Movie Review: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is a good, often funny, sci-fi flick, but not a spectacular one. Visually and technically striking, the film left me a bit wobbly due to a strained plot, which contains a rescue beyond the bounds of imagination, an unlikely collaboration between the NASA and the China National Space Agency, and a farfetched new way of growing potatoes on Mars (imagine!). However, if we close our eyes to its, perhaps too speculative, plot’s stratagems and schemes, it's still possible to find a handful of breathtaking moments to enjoy. The screenwriter, Drew Goddard, who had already disclosed his proneness to unlimited fantasy in past movies such as “World War Z” and “Cloverfield”, based himself on the Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name. The American astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), gets accidentally stranded on Mars, after an operation that ended up aborted under a severe dust storm. On Martian soil, Mark is gravely wounded, loses his senses, and gets lost from the rest of the crew. The brave commander, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), informed by her fellow astronauts that Mark is dead, gives the order to return immediately to the spaceship and abandon the planet, not taking the risk of losing another crew-mate. When the world thought Mark was dead, he surprises everybody, not only giving signs of life (confirmed by satellite images), but also proving he’s healthy and making use of his botanical skills to prepare an artificial piece of land where he’ll try to grow potatoes. This way, he could last three more years until the next scheduled mission to the planet. The general problems in these cases start to appear, but the extremely versatile Mark never loses his good disposition and faith. On the Earth, the NASA is ruminating on the best way to bring Mark back home. Heading the operations are the optimistic director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his expeditious right-arm and mission director, Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Ridley Scott feels comfortable within a genre that he knows extremely well. The Polish cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, who had worked with Mr. Scott in “Prometheus”, does much better than Harry Gregson-Williams in the music department. Slightly overlong and just pinching in terms of excitement, “The Martial”, though watchable, fails to be the masterpiece that Mr. Scott has envisioned.

October 02, 2015

Labyrinth of Lies (2014)

Labyrinth of Lies (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Giulio Ricciarelli
Country: Germany

Movie Review: “Labyrinth of Lies” is a German historical drama, set in 1958, that addresses the dignified endeavors of the young state prosecutor, Johan Radmann, who sets mind on taking to the justice the unpunished SS officials and doctors who still live freely after torturing and killing thousands of innocent people in the terrifying Auschwitz concentration camp during the world war. The shame of a complicated past of a powerful country seduced by Hitler’s Nazi regime, falls on Radmann, stiffly played by Alexander Fehling, who sees former Nazis everywhere. During the relentless investigation, a labyrinth that nobody wants to deal with, he unveils a few painful truths that devastate him inside, to the point of wanting to abandon the task. His best friend, the zealous journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski), was a member of the party when he was very young, as well as the father of his seductive girlfriend, Marlene (Friederike Becht), and his own father who's still missing since the end of the war. Radmann starts interviewing former victims of Auschwitz, while trying to capture the abominable, unrepentant culprits such as Schultz, who was teaching children at a school, and Dr. Josef Mengele, who is now living in Buenos Aires and was responsible for inhumane lab experiences that took the life of the twin little daughters of the artist Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), a tormented soul who survived the camp and hardly agrees to collaborate. Radmann’s honorable cause, here depicted with no less estimable intentions by the Italian actor-turned-director, Giulio Ricciarelli (directorial debut), isn’t a synonym of an accomplished movie. Actually, an obstructive formalism in the approach and the rusty performances aggravate the issues of a post-holocaust account that struggles in a few instances to find cohesion and tightness. Adopting tidy visuals and swinging between Hollywood’s standard twitches and TV series’ monotone routines, “Labyrinth of Lies” lacks intrigue and never manages to really speak to the heart. Its artificial undertones were the main reason why Mr. Ricciarelli couldn’t extract more and better from a strong real story. And thus, the film instantly vanishes from our minds when the theater lights are turned on.

October 01, 2015

99 Homes (2014)

99 Homes (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Country: USA

Movie Review: American-Iranian filmmaker, Ramin Bahrami, returns in big with “99 Homes”, a thoroughly observed analysis of the financial/real estate crisis that ravaged the US around 2010. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon star, respectively as the man to evict from the house his family was living forever, and the greedy real estate broker with an insatiable ambition to own more and more properties in the state of Florida. Dennis Nash (Garfield), an honest construction worker who lives with his mother (Laura Dern) and little son (Noah Lomax), gets desperate after going into court and be told by the judge that he has to vacate his house. Dennis gets panicky with the situation, but relies on more 30 days given by the judge, in the case he wants to appeal. Next morning, for his surprise, two inflexible cops and the impeccably dressed real estate broker, Richard Carver (Shannon), who works with a gun strapped to his ankle, appear at his door, informing that the house is now owned by the bank and that they have two minutes to pack what they want and leave. It’s an embarrassing moment for Dennis and his family, who are placed in a motel that hosts a bunch of people in the same situation. In extreme need of money and with the unique thought of retrieving his family house, Dennis accepts a dirty offer made by Carver and goes to work for him. He’s hired to fix houses that need urgent repair, but soon starts doing to other people exactly the same as Carver did to him. ‘Don’t get emotional over real estate’ – says the glacial Carver. Bluntly and heartlessly, Dennis shamefully evicts people under pressure from their houses. He isn’t an insatiable vulture as Carver, though. His conscience bites at every dispossession, becoming unbearable when his mother leaves with his son, abandoning him in a huge new property with a spectacular pool. I was happy to find that Mr. Bahrani, who co-wrote with Amir Naderi, is back to his best, recovering his resonant voice when it comes to denouncing the world’s social problems. His previous, “At Any Price”, wasn’t so consistent, but his past work includes the brilliant “Man Push Cart”, “Chop Chop”, and “Goodbye Solo”. “99 Homes” confirms his superior narrative skills, while showcases two smashingly compelling performances by the protagonists.