December 30, 2015

Joy (2015)

Joy (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by David O. Russell
Country: USA

Movie Review: The magnificent, fruitful, and long-lasting collaboration between the American film director, David O. Russell, and the trendy actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, mirrored in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”, was now shaken. I’m saying this because “Joy”, a semi-fictional comedy-drama inspired by the real life of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother turned into a respectful businesswoman after inventing the Miracle Mop, is a minor film whose story, narrated by her deceased grandmother, uses the same goofy tones of a soap-opera. Here, business and family play a strong role, but the story is deficiently constructed, wriggling and wriggling without finding solid ground to stabilize. The utterly banal storytelling and the ungracious humor, help to defraud my expectations, confirming this one as part of the disappointments of the year. Ms. Lawrence’s performance, not as bad as the film itself, still gives us some hope. However, she ultimately remains opaque in her trajectory, dragged by the superficiality and boredom that are mostly felt after the film’s first hour, time when Mr. Cooper, perhaps playing the worst role in his career, is elusively introduced as a highly patient and not less docile executive for the QVC, a multinational corporation specialized in televised home shopping. This time around, the versatility of Mr. Russell was meager, taking into account that the comedy was parched in humor, and the dramatic side presents tremulous emotions. He roundly misfires whenever attempting to create funny situations among Joy’s family members, relying on pointless details that have to do with the one-dimensional characters whose recurrent behaviors would have to be well designed not to feel washed-out. I’m talking about Joy’s father, played intermittently by Robert De Niro, an energetic man whose bad temper softens heavily after his first appearance, and also the affable ex-husband, Toni (Edgar Ramirez), a Venezuelan pop singer who still lives in her basement. “Joy” or ‘how to mop your house without spreading germs all over the place’, is an accidental misstep of a much-admired filmmaker, who hopefully, in his next move, will overcome this compromising mediocrity.

December 29, 2015

45 Years (2015)

45 Years (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Country: UK

Movie Review: “45 Years” is a distinguished, high-quality British drama, which I recommend without reservations. The director, Andrew Haigh, who already had convinced me of his filmmaking capabilities with the acclaimed drama, “Weekend”, centered on a gay relationship, was fortunate to work with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, two of the most extraordinary actors of their generation, whose monumental performances I can’t praise enough (both were awarded a more than deserved Silver Berlin Bear). They respectively play, Kate and Geoff Mercer, an apparently balanced couple living almost secluded in the beautiful English countryside. Within a week, the childless couple is going to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, to take place in an elegant space in town, and the occasion involves some preparation work so everything can run smoothly. We can sense a mature, warm tenderness on their voices and behavior, despite some debilitation evinced by the retired Geoff, who was subjected to a bypass surgery five years before, the reason why they’re celebrating the 45th anniversary instead of the usual 40th. Suddenly, the arrival of an atypical letter, sent by the Swiss authorities, disturbs the composure of their rustic lives. The letter informs that the body of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, Katya, was found in the Alpine mountains, preserved underneath the ice since 50 years ago, when she fell down from a precipice. This unanticipated news, which should have been faced with tranquility, inflicts deep transformations in Geoff, who starts having a relentless necessity of talking about Katya. Kate, who shows a salutary openness to talk about everything, is struck not only by a natural jealousy but also by an uncontrollable curiosity that leads her into a nebulous period of Geoff’s past. The biting reality makes her feel betrayed, letting us envision a painful bitterness for the years to come. Mr. Haigh’s camera lens places its focal point on the characters, soulfully capturing the restless and heavily disappointed look of Kate, as well as the partially camouflaged inner turmoil of Geoff who grows pensive in attitude and reckless in appearance. Not infrequently, the images are quite sharp over the subjects, but intensify the out of focus background. This aspect, intentionally or not, has a parallel with this reflective tale when depicting a supposedly unclouded present sapped by a blurry past. Timeless and progressively enthralling, “45 Years” ends in an excruciatingly heartbreaking way at the sound of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’. My favorite of 2015.

December 28, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Force Awakens”, the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise and the first part of the new trilogy announced by the Walt Disney distributing company, was intended to be a galactic epic. Within this specific genre, it manages to deliver a pretty decent plot filled with exciting battles, interesting new and old characters, and some nostalgia without falling in exaggeration. The film was directed, co-written, and co-produced by J.J. Abrams, who reinforces his ability to recycle former epics (“Mission: Impossible”, “Star Trek”) and successfully adds a few fresh, well-shaped characters to the super settings, to accompany the old ones who are still present. From now on, the main protagonist is Rey (Daisy Ridley), an obstinate and totally independent scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, who frees the lovely spherical droid, BB-8, from the net trap of a fantastic metallic creature. BB-8 secretly carries the map with the location of the now vanished Luke Skywalker, the celebrated Jedi that became the primary target of the forces of evil known as the First Order, represented by the malevolent commander Kylo Ren, his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and the fanatical and nihilistic base leader, General Hux. The map was previously in the hands of BB-8’s owner, the courageous Resistance pilot fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who was captured by the First Order stormtroopers. However, he managed to escape with the help of a rebellious soldier, Finn (John Boyega), a good-natured man who can’t stand being on the dark side anymore. To join up the strong newcomers - Rey, Finn, and BB-8 - we have the prevailing characters of Han Solo, resumed by Harrison Ford, Chewbacca, and the General Leia Organa. Also, the legendary golden humanoid robot, C-3PO, now carrying a red arm, has a couple of brief and yet funny appearances. It’s impossible to disregard the heightened production values: the dazzling cinematography by Mr. Abrams’s usual collaborator, Daniel Mindel; the efficient production design; the emphatic set decoration; the astounding special effects embellishing each scene; and last but not least, John William’s majestic score that has a large influence on our perception of the adventure, whether in face of triumph, danger, or loss. The screenwriters, opting to recreate rather than innovate, even grant us with another strenuous lightsaber battle, allowing us to revive the prior movies. The tactic was to establish new arrangements for some of the cherished elements of the past, providing a new rebirth for the saga.

December 27, 2015

The Revenant (2015)

The Revenant (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñarritu
Country: USA

Movie Review: The illustrious screenwriter and film director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, has been shown unlimited resources in different genres in a meritorious career spanned for more than 15 years. He’s the author of memorable films that were able to resist the difficult test of time, cases of the stylish drama-thrillers, “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”, the pungent dramas, “Babel” and “Biutiful”, and the deliciously weird black comedy, “Birdman”, with which he won the Academy’s prestigious prizes for best picture, original screenplay, and best director. All of them exhibit a superior quality that allows me to consider him an essential contemporary filmmaker. His new cinematic creation, “The Revenant”, a riveting wintry western, set in the 1980's and partly based on Michael Punke's 2002 novel of the same name, confirms all that has been said, combining the best of the old westerns with the pure spectacle of the modern visuals. Leonardo DiCaprio, even groaning most of the time with a slashed throat, is excellent as Hugh Glass, an explorer and fur trader who miraculously survives a brutal bear attack, but is ingloriously abandoned alive by two of his men, thrown into the grave that had been dug for him. The phenomenal Tom Hardy is John Fitzgerald, the religious villain responsible for this cruel decision. He plays it so confidently that we can easily detect an uncontrollable madness in his eyes and the evil nature in every little move he makes and word he says. Brilliantly directed and evincing an ingenious camerawork, “The Revenant” is simultaneously a murky revenge tale and a rewarding survival odyssey that held my attention from the first to the last minute. Thus, it’s not the traditional cowboys-and-indians flick (there are also mischievous French soldiers trying to profit), even considering that the excitement of those is present along the powerful, primitive story that unfolds with action and tension. The protagonist, not only came to the conclusion that ‘revenge is in God’s hands’, as he had heard before from a responsive Pawnee Indian who had lost his family (killed by the belligerent Sioux), but he also realizes that his path and deliverance were works of heaven. In addition to the rewarding script (by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu), first-rate direction, and robust acting, we come up with the admirable cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, retrieved from “Birdman”, and the profound musical score by the Japanese Ryuichi Sakamoto, another retrieval, this time from “Babel”, in collaboration with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto.

December 24, 2015

The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”, Quentin Tarantino’s stupefying successor of “Django Unchained”, is blatantly more controversial than the latter, sarcastically blending delicate topics like racism and sexism with others, usually picked to infuse some morality in the tales, such as greediness, dominance, and subjugation. Taking advantage of his huge capacity to disconcert the viewers with fulminant action scenes and zesty dialogues, the celebrated director ridicules pain and human disgrace in such a way that it’s impossible not to laugh, even when the jokes jump out of the bounds of good taste. He deliberately makes use of the same hilarious tones and erratic routines as in “Django”, but this time, confining his eight untamed characters to a stagecoach stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery. This way, he fabricates a sort of “Reservoir Dogs” from Far West. Divided into chapters, this three-hour mystery western set in the freezing post-war Wyoming, starts when the inexorable hangman, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), is heading to Red Rock, where the insolent tramp lady, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who travels handcuffed to him, is going to be hanged for murder, guaranteeing him a large financial reward. Along the way, while running from a menacing blizzard, they bump into the General Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson), a tricky black bounty hunter and ex-soldier who's popular for carrying a personal letter written by Abraham Lincoln. Later on, they’re joined by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), another cynic who adopts a fearless posture against the hangman’s hostility while brags he’s the new sheriff of Red Rock. Forced to stop at Minnie’s place, the trio will find three strangers – the Mexican Bob (Demián Bichir), the cocky British hangman, Oswaldo Maubrey (Tim Roth), and a cowpuncher called Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) – who coexist with the habitual presence of the quiescent Gen. Smithers (Bruce Dern). Strangely, the owners are absent and some of the new faces are seen as pretty much unusual. As expected from a script by Tarantino, this is nothing else but a deranged conspiracy that ends up in a few violent, blood-spilling deaths. Jennifer Jason Leigh is particularly remarkable, whether when acting cunningly or playing guitar and singing with a sweet voice, or even when exhibiting her face washed in blood, in an allusion to Stephen King’s Carrie. Tarantino’s eighth feature entertains continuously while using the same far-fetched puppets to fill his barbarous scenarios.

December 22, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

Pawn Sacrifice (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Edward Zwick
Country: USA

Movie Review: Edward Zwick (“Glory”, “The Last Samurai”, Blood Diamond”), directing from a script by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”, “Locke”), builds up the real story of the American chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer, played confidently by a re-established Tobey Maguire, lately relegated to minor roles in minor features (“Labor Day”) and TV mini-series, when not embodying Spider-Man. With a strong obsession for chess, the highly intelligent and yet emotionally unstable Brooklyn boy, Fischer, decided he wanted to be the world champion when he was still a kid. Upset for not knowing who his father was, and having a hard time with his Russian mother who insists on bringing her boyfriends home, Fischer is always demanding silence in order to fully concentrate on his objective. This two-player board game was dominated by the Soviets for 24 years, and now, during the cold war, the tension and rivalry were ablaze. Not a big deal for the defiant Fischer, who simply denounces, during the 1962 tournament in Bulgaria, that the Russians are cheating, quitting afterwards while the controversy spreads. Three years after, his straightforwardness still impresses a pro-bono lawyer, Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), who together with a Catholic priest and former player, Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), will become his best advisors and enthusiasts toward the great victory in the 1972 World Chess Championship played in Iceland. The adversary was the Russian star and champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), who agreed to play under Fischer’s requests – no noisy cameras in the background, no audience, and the introduction of a wooden board – after winning the first two games, the last of them because Fischer refused to play in such a distractive perimeter. In addition to the games and the atmosphere that surrounds them, we can follow the paranoia and delusional psychosis that keep on growing in Fischer, leaving his sister worried to the point of going to talk with the American federation. This biographical drama can be easily appreciated, thanks to the great performance of Mr. Maguire, who obviously usurps most of the screen time. The direction of Mr. Zwick, despite consistent with the accounts he wants to portray, doesn’t stand out. That’s the reason why the film alternates between serenely easygoing and slightly exciting. And I’m saying this with the perfect notion that excitement in chess is not exactly the same as in boxing. Stealthily, director and actor unite forces to make “Pawn Sacrifice” watchable, but not good enough to win a place among the special biopics. If I had to choose a pawn to sacrifice here, it would be Zwick’s intermittent approach whose excessive control blocks some of the vitality required to take a solid step further.

December 21, 2015

The Girl in the Book (2015)

The Girl in the Book (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Marya Cohn
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Girl in the Book”, the directorial debut feature from writer/director Marya Cohn, had everything to be successful, but failed to catch a fresher breath due to a continued sluggishness in its routines, in addition to a disappointing predictability. Emily VanCamp plays Alice Harvey, a hesitant editorial assistant for a Manhattan firm, whose life becomes precarious when Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), a distinguished writer who had worked with her father - a former literary agent – appears again in her life after 15 years. Through an array of flashbacks, we start figuring out why the past keeps haunting Alice, who suddenly is turned into a pile of nerves when she was assigned to promote Milan’s book. It was obvious since the beginning that Alice, who dreams to be a writer since her teenage years, was seduced by Milan, an intrusive, experienced man and respected author who gladly became available to help and encourage, but instead took advantage of her innocence and insolently stole her writing material. This brittle woman bears everything on her shoulders and has never opened up about the trauma. We promptly realize she can’t count with her heedless father (Michael Cristofer), who always pretends not to know what’s going on, and truly thinks she doesn’t know what she wants from life. However, she’s not completely alone because there’s Emmet (David Call), a community organizer who really loves and respects her, and is seen as the unique hope for her to overcome the turbulent emotional situation that precipitously awoke. Unfortunately, a foolish misstep, involving a young boy who works as a babysitter for her best friend, puts this potential relationship at stake, as well as the friendship itself. I felt that an intensified subtleness was applied in occasions that were requiring a more unnerving disposition in order to energize the story a bit more. Despite some positive aspects in the direction, Ms. Cohn could have set a more dashing pace to move between Alice’s past and present. In terms of romance, the film also neglects a solid chemistry, preferring to rely on the conventional storytelling while failing to extract anything exceptional from the performances. “The Girl in the Book” is a rational exercise brought down by its apathetic languor.

December 18, 2015

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Adam McKay
Country: USA

Movie Review: The name Adam McKay is immediately associated to Will Ferrell and the comedy genre, fruit of their previous collaborations in “Anchorman”, “Step Brothers”, and “The Other Guys”, which also adds a fair amount of action and stunts. With “The Big Short”, a terrific adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestselling novel of the same name, there’s a big turn in the approach and genre. There’s no more Will Ferrell, but there are Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt – how about that? And more! Even based on true events, Mr. McKay doesn’t dispense some utterly laughable scenes and a punchy dialogue that immerses us into the Wall Street schemes related to the housing and credit bubble during the 2000’s, which culminated in the 2008 financial crisis, regarded as the worst since the Great Depression. The plot is focused on four clever investors who anticipated the burst of this dangerous bubble that left millions financially ruined, homeless, and unemployed. Two of them, Dr. Michael Burry (Bale) and Mark Baum (Carell), revealed to be remarkably interesting as film characters since their posture and behavior are extremely entertaining and funny. The other two, Jared Vennett (Gosling) and Ben Rickert (Pitt), adopt a more restrained attitude and less confrontational – I would say they like to work in the shadow, not assuming an elevated prominence, but an eagerness to benefit from the complicated situation or help others benefiting too. Christian Bale is incredible as Blurry, a one-eyed, former neurologist who created the Scion Capital and is capable of reading numbers like no one else. To keep the stress away, he listens to hard rock and always takes his drumsticks with him to the office where he remains comfortably in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Mr. Carell’s Mark Baum is a respected hedge-fund manager who’s not afraid to say what he thinks, often showing indignity about how the market works; he’s a man of principles and keeps struggling hard with the suicide of his brother. Jared Vennet, an elegant trader for Deutsche Bank, was the one who informed Baum and his team about what was coming, urging them to investigate and take their own conclusions. Pitt’s Ben Rickert, wearing a beard and eyeglasses, is considerably more discreet than the rest of the bright visionaries. Less exuberant than “The Wolf of Wall Street”, funnier than “Margin Call”, and equally striking as “99 Homes”, the intrepid and almost impolite “The Big Short”, flowing at a commendable pace, is only short in its title since both message and presentation are big and explanatory enough to elucidate and engross.

December 16, 2015

Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart (2014)

Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by Cédric Anger
Country: France

Movie Review: Based on startling real events, “Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart” was the perfect vehicle for the acting skills of Laurent Canet, who plays a sexually repressed French gendarme whose victims of his discontentment are random women. The film, consistently written and directed by Cédric Anger, who recently has also written the screenplay for Andre Techine’s “In the Name of My Daughter”, was adapted from the novel ‘Un Assassin Au-dessus de Tout Soupçon’ by Yvan Stefanovitch. According to its creators, this character-study is a work of fiction, thus, a personal interpretation of a true story. Franck Neuhart (Canet), the protagonist, is a gendarme, a solitaire, and a killer who hates mankind. The film opens in 1978, when two friends, riding their scooters, hit a deserted road in the middle of the night, heading to a friend’s party. 19-year-old Alice stays behind just to realize that her life is in danger when persecuted without any reason by a driver who hits her twice, sending her to the hospital in a critical condition. In a letter addressed to the police, the aggressor says to despise recklessness and promises to aim for the heart in his next move. It’s excused to say he wasn’t bluffing. Besides these atrocities, the deceitful Franck, who sees his transfer overseas being denied and often breaks the security rules of the gendarmerie, had set up a bomb in a suspected car, parked near the accident; the blow causes first-degree burns in a colleague. When alone, he inflicts severe physical punishments to himself, and not even Sophie (Ana Girardot), a married woman who takes care of his clothes and for whom he has a special fondness, is capable of changing him for the better. To tell the truth, he gets even bitterer and disgusted after sleeping with her, acting weird and feeling compelled to kill again, implacably and in an unstoppable way. It was curious to see how calm he remained when killing, and how berserk he went after finishing his despicable actions. Also, it was infuriating the way he treated his colleagues when dissecting the case. An overwhelming pressure starts to grasp him when it’s announced that the assassin is a gendarme and a homosexual. The anguished original score (plus The Velvet Underground’s tune) works the brooding mood while a sort of dark mystery embraces every moment of the film. Mr. Canet was meritoriously nominated for the best actor at the Cesar Awards.

December 14, 2015

Junun (2015)

Junun (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Country: USA

Movie Review: Topnotch American director, Paul Thomas Anderson, author of a considerable number of masterpieces that confers him the title of one of the best filmmakers of our times, frees himself from fictional scripts and lands in India, where he loosely captures the musical and spiritual encounter between Radiohead’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, the Israeli multi-instrumentalist and composer, Shye Ben Tzur, and the Indian ensemble, Rajasthan Express. The 54-minute documentary, “Junun”, sparse in words, assembles several moments of their three-week stay at the Mehrangarh Fort by invitation of the illustrious Maharaja of Jodhpur. From that glorious musical meeting, an album and this film came out, both with the title “Junun”, to envelop us with contagious rhythms, and a perfect blending of exotic Indian melodies and occasional jazzy touches. If the music really made my day, the film, combining that same music with breathtaking landscapes of the Fort’s surroundings and a few close-ups of the performers, experiences some obstacles that sometimes aren't so easy to overcome. The handheld camera is not always objective and often loses consistency with sudden movements that may suggest some sort of dance, or just a relaxed, enjoyable time. Maybe, as it happened to me, the enlightened tunes took Mr. Anderson to another dimension, hitting his heart and soul in such a way that he just decided not to go by the rules or follow what we expect from a documentary. Additionally, the editing isn’t perfect either and should have been carefully considered. Even though, it was very interesting to observe how contrasting was the posture of these amazing musicians – in one hand we witness the serious commitment to the music, and in the other, the immense fun and joy in playing together, producing sounds that alternate from frantically danceable to floatingly celestial. Prayers and blackouts sometimes interrupt the musical rituals, failing to validate the popular saying that in India they have ‘no toilet, no shower, but full power, 24-hour’. Nothing withholds the harmonious tunefulness pitched by this cross-cultural collaboration. Still, I would never think about equating this minor work with Mr. Anderson’s previous fictional gems.

December 11, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

In the Heart of the Sea (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ron Howard
Country: USA

Movie Review: Ron Howard’s new blockbuster, “In The Heart of The Sea”, equipped with the conventional strategies and artifacts that characterize Hollywood for the better and for the worst, brings us the tragedy involving the Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, sunk in 1820 by the invincible power and resilient desire of vengeance of a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Charles Leavitt’s script, drinking from the novel "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick, starts conveying the urgency of the celebrated writer, Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw), in knowing the facts that led to the wreck of Essex, told by the last survivor of its crew, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who at the time was only 14 when he was accepted as a cabin boy. Reluctantly, the still tormented and alcoholic, Thomas, agrees to tell the whole story in exchange of money, persuaded by his tactful wife. His recollections would become the inspiration for the fictional ‘Moby Dick’, an astoundingly descriptive classic book whose readers are more likely to classify this cinematic experience as an overambitious fiasco since its storytelling and imagery were insufficient to create an adventure of the same size of the whale it displays. According to the storyteller, this is a story of two men: Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who relies on his family name to adopt a superior attitude, and his first officer, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a brave sailor who got his feelings hurt when he was denied the position of captain to embark this newly arrived ship. As expected, and before the violent attack by the monstrous whale that leaves the crew drifting at sea for 90 days on small boats, there’s a storm that slightly debilitates the ship and increases the antagonism between the two main leaders. Fairly acceptable until this moment, the film starts abruptly to sink more and more into the blurry waters of sluggishness and sentimental manipulation, without delivering truly exciting moments or adding relevant elements to pull us out of its insipid drama. Mr. Howard’s ample career, fluctuating between hits (“Frost/Nixon”, “Rush”) and misses (“Da Vinci Code”, “The Dilemma”), goes through another setback with this ocean-going misadventure. While the ambitions are wide, the results are embarrassingly narrow.

December 10, 2015

Mustang (2015)

Mustang (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Country: Turkey

Movie Review: “Mustang”, the highly expressive debut feature from the French-Turkish filmmaker, Deniz Gamze Erguven, was attractively executed through an unobtrusive direction and a graceful acting. The screenplay, co-written by Erguven and Alice Winocour who directed the audacious “Augustine” three years ago, was pretty straightforward, depicting the lives of five teen orphaned sisters who are suddenly placed in the local ‘market’ by their grandmother and the uncle who raised them, awaiting the first chance to get married. The film starts on the last day of school in an ultra-conservative rural village in Turkey. The sisters are sad to say goodbye to their teacher who will be transferred to Istanbul the following year. The day is sunny and we can almost feel the scents of summer floating in the air. The beautiful and joyful flock, composed by Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur, and Lale, is willing to enjoy the good weather and decides not to take the bus home, but rather walk, making a stop by the beach where they play games in the company of some boys, and then taking a detour into private grounds to grab some apples. Arriving home, they find the uptight grandmother acting furious, saying the whole village is talking about them because they were rubbing themselves on the boys during their little adventure on the beach. The afflicted grandmother and the stern uncle take security measures to avoid risks, so, higher walls are built, iron bars cover the windows, and the door is tightly bolted in order to confine them home until their marriage. The word is spread out to the village and the suitors arrive one by one to respectfully ask their hands, not before a virginity check-up is made to assure that the girls are conveniently pure. Meanwhile, the sisters disobey the orders, managing to escape and going to a soccer match. Their adventurous spirit wouldn’t be enough if they didn’t come across with an amiable van’s driver called Yasmin, who helped them getting to the stadium, and later on, befriends with the youngest sister and narrator, Lale. Among the girls, the latter is the emotionally strongest, the one who never stops trying to find a way out of the terrifying situation she and her sisters are involved. Ms. Erguven’s vision never goes astray and the approach was carefully outlined to extract the finest impressions from the excellent cast of newcomers. Only some segments of the script, especially the one that leads to the conclusion, could have been set up differently for better. Anyway, “Mustang” works as an eye-opener, demonstrating that some traditions can be extensively traumatizing.

December 09, 2015

Night Owls (2015)

Night Owls (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Charles Hood
Country: USA

Movie Review: This newly discovered indie romantic drama is the second feature-length from Charles Hood, whose directorial debut happened in 2007, with the practically unknown “Freezer Burn”. The schematic script, co-written by Mr. Hood and Seth Goldsmith, obeys to a very known structure, focusing on a couple confined to a house after a one-night stand that brings more complications than it was supposed to. Essentially, the film falls in the category of ‘two-actors-one-location’ that lives mostly from changing moods, fluid conversations, casual tones, and eventually an openness that leads to true romance. Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar work diligently with the director to assure that everything seems real. He’s Kevin, a hard-working guy who’s more than pleased to spend the night in the company of Madeline, a sexy young woman who takes him to a splendid villa and acts wildly under the effect of alcohol. There was nothing wrong with that if in the next morning he wouldn’t find out that the house belongs to his boss and mentor, the acclaimed football coach, Will Campbell, and learn from his co-worker, Pete, that the woman he just slept with, is Will’s obsessive ex-lover. To worsen his jittery state, he finds Madeline lying unconscious on the floor of the bathroom after taking a whole bottle of Xanax. The quick visit of a friend doctor elucidates him how to deal with the situation – first take a cold shower, then drink a cup of strong coffee, and afterwards start making questions and engage in a continuous conversation, just not to let her fall asleep. By turns aggressive and tender, the rest of the narrative is nothing we haven’t seen before, gradually evolving into a mutual understanding when the characters open up in respect to plans for the future, disillusions, what they’re good at, how many persons have they slept with, and how they feel about life in general. While drinking wine, the woman shows a lively enthusiasm in playing games, while the man's eyes sparkle when he talks about football. The pace shows some fluidity and a few funny lines are thrown in, however, I didn’t feel too much involved, despite the chemistry felt between the actors. For its own impairment, the finale was shaped in the most obvious manner, what defrauded my expectations of connecting with something unique, or at least, a bit more creative.

December 08, 2015

Life (2015)

Life (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Country: USA / UK

Movie Review: Anton Corbijn is a Dutch photographer, music video director, and filmmaker who deserves accolade for his first two films – “Control”, the amazingly photographed biopic of Ian Curtis, the enigmatic leader of the English grey band Joy Division, and “The American”, an unforgettable low-key European crime thriller, starring George Clooney as a hitman. The following move consisted in the less spellbinding, but still solid, “A Most Wanted Man” with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the protagonist. I was expecting a motivating return this year, with “Life”, another biographical drama focused on the Magnum photographer, Dennis Stock, circumspectly played by Robert Pattinson. Stock drew the world’s attention in the mid 50’s with his photo essay about the emerging actor James Dean, stylishly embodied here by the competent Dane DeHaan. The title of the film alludes to the Life Magazine that published Dennis’ self-assigned work, two days before the premiere of Elia Kazan’s ‘East of Eden’, which just confirmed James Dean as a big Hollywood star. Stock and Dean first got in touch in a party hosted by Nicholas Ray, who was considering Dean for ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Recognition was something that both actor and photographer were searching in their professions, and the trips they’ve made together, from L.A. to New York and then to Marion, Dean’s hometown in Indiana, will tight a friendship that expands to a fruitful professional collaboration. Dean possesses a quick intelligence, but also a shyness that sometimes makes him run away from everything. He normally looks doped, moving with an artistic pose and dragging his low voice, always with a cigarette between his lips. Despite the easy conversation, he’s a typical misfit who just needs a good friend to hang out. Stock, despite fond of him, often acts obsessively, eager for an opportunity to photograph the future celebrity. He’s the type of guy who almost doesn’t have a minute to spend with his 7-year-old son whom he barely sees after divorcing his wife. Both men confess their frustrations to each other, but somehow the film starts to devitalize, never delivering the humble consistency it has suggested. Unsurprisingly, I found much easier to focus in Dean than in Stock, whose personal life is not so interesting to justify a film. Even not knowing on which character I should be focused, “Life” presents articulate fractions of moods and vibes while resting in its passionless pose.

December 07, 2015

Chi-Raq (2015)

Chi-Raq (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Spike Lee
Country: USA

Movie Review: Spike Lee goes histrionic in “Chi-Raq”, a modern adaptation of the Aristophanes’ Greek play, ‘Lysistrata’, here transferred to a problematic Chicago. It seems that the film didn’t please the Chicagoans who, during two hours, had to watch the women from their city going into a sex strike that aims to stop the local gangsters from shooting one another and kill innocent people in the streets. Through the lame slogan ‘No peace, No pussy!’, a group of women, led by the activist Miss Helen (Angela Bassett), decide to punish the dopey thugs and bring justice to the killing of a little girl who was playing in the surroundings of her home. This cowardly act shocked the neighborhood, including the lively Lysterata (Teyonah Parris), who becomes a fierce booster of the movement despite being the girlfriend of Demetrius (Nick Cannon), a rapper and violent gang leader, who carries a difficult childhood on his shoulders. Funny here and there, the film carries a strong message and empowers a feminist facet that is much welcomed, but not everything runs smoothly in Mr. Lee’s manifesto. There’s an annoying cheesiness and a tricky coziness in this approach that feel so intense that is what we most remember after the credits roll rather than the favorable moments. “Chi-Raq” is a volatile, dramatic comedy that manages to be classified as watchable only because of the pacifist banner it holds. Mr. Lee, who co-wrote with Kevin Willmott, doesn’t convince me since “Inside Man” and keeps stumbling in the execution regardless the potentiality of the plots. It happened with “Red Hook Summer” and “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”, not to speak of the unnecessary American remake of the memorable Korean version of “Old Boy”. Failing to properly amuse, the film still takes some time to show off Dolmedes, played by an expansive Samuel L. Jackson, exhibiting different fancy suits while commenting on the problems that daily fustigate the city. The speech lines took the form of rhymes, which despite adding some more rhythm didn’t save the film from being a flamboyant caprice. My favorite scene was a delirious sermon given by John Cusack, who plays a fervent preacher fed up of burying innocent victims. It’s a pity that Chi-Raq’s urgent message, even if sometimes strident and loud, is turned into an unruly satire.

December 03, 2015

Assassination (2015)

Assassination (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Choi Dong-hoon
Country: South Korea

Movie Review: Set in 1933, “Assassination” is a historical espionage thriller that focuses on the Korean resistance movement created in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of Korea. Plotting against the Japanese leaders, a group of exiled rebels, operating from Manchuria, China, seek to avenge the fall of their country in the hands of the illegitimate occupiers and recover what was taken from them. The assassinations are planned to occur in Gyeongseong (Seoul), and the targets include the Japanese high-ranked commander, Kawaguchi, and a pro-Japanese Korean businessman, Kang In-gook. The only one capable of leading this mission is An Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), an infallible sniper who has first to be released from a Shanghai prison, where she’s serving time with her dauntless mates: the guns' aficionado, Big Gun, and the expert in explosives, Hwang Deok-sam. In charge of taking them out of the prison is Yeom Seok-jin, an agent of the provisional Korean government who had managed to escape out of prison in 1911. Embracing the risky mission with all her strength, An Ok-yun will also have the chance to meet with her estranged twin sister, Mitsuko, who was separated from her when they were babies, and now is going to marry commander Kawaguchi. The mission becomes even more complicated when she finds out there’s an informer among her comrades. Moreover, two inexorable assassins, Hawaii Pistol and his follower, Old Man, were hired to destroy the team and stop the mission. Director and co-writer, Choi Dong-hoon, who had fairly entertained me in his previous “The Thieves”, could have done much better here. Sadly, the several conspiracies, ambushes, traps, and shootouts, are presented with a phoniness that pushed me away from the story in an early stage. Mr. Dong-hoon, regardless having recreated the period with nice looking images by the cinematographer, Kim Woo-hyung, assembled a cheap Hollywood imitation thwarted by a scattered narrative, convoluted plot, lack of conviction in choosing the direction to be taken, and indistinguishable characters that didn’t show sufficient arguments to make us care. In addition, the excessive duration of the movie increases the viewer’s discouragement in the face of an inept execution that never spoke with a voice of its own.

December 02, 2015

Catch Me Daddy (2014)

Catch Me Daddy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniel Wolfe
Country: UK

Movie Review: The bleak independent drama, “Catch Me Daddy”, envelops us in a gripping multicultural story set under the grey skies of the Yorkshire Moors, England. The newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed plays Laila, a carefree Pakistani girl who runs away from his dad’s house to go living with her doped English boyfriend, Aaron (Connor McCarron). Her father is both concerned and ashamed, as well as her brother, Zaheer (Ali Ahmad), who goes after her with a group of unscrupulous mercenaries. At some point, the solution found to make Aaron and Laila give up was making Aaron’s mother a hostage and blackmailing him. The thugs attain their intents, but the story ends up in tragedy, bringing irreparable damages for everyone. In a small town with limited places to go, the chances of being found are higher. The harsh and stressful circumstances separate every single character from happiness. The ones who were trying to find some peace and change their lives are consumed by the darkness while the ones already living in the dark, like the middle-aged cocaine addicted and mercenary, Tony (Gary Lewis), sinks deeper and deeper in the obscurity of their actions. The plot, co-written by the debutant director Daniel Wolfe (also connected with the world of video music) and his brother Matthew, is disconcerting and profoundly severe, balancing quite well the violent and the emotional, as well as alternating between love and hate associated with the family. Some of the nocturnal images were deliberately pitch-dark, an understandable and justified option of Mr. Wolfe who also selected an eclectic score containing songs by Patti Smith and Tim Buckley. The cast, encompassing both experienced and non-professionals, was competent and convincing enough to make us believe that this story could have really happened. The nightmarish “Catch Me Daddy”, whose director has described it as a modern Western, leaves us suspended by its inconclusive finale. It won’t be a good option for the fans of mainstream cinema, and only the more optimistic ones will find a tiny margin for hope here.

December 01, 2015

Love (2015)

Love (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Country: France / Belgium

Movie Review: Disgracefully, Gaspar Noé’s “Love” is one of the worst movies of the year. This whimsical creation from the shocking French filmmaker, author of the interestingly disturbing “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void”, depicts the tortuous relationship of a couple translated into a melodramatic sexual trip to nowhere, part of a null plot punctuated with hideous dialogues and an emotional chaos that feels staged all the time. The film starts with a steady long shot of Murphy (Karl Glusman), a filmmaker wannabe, and his former girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock), masturbating each other at the sound of a classical tune. Open-minded with regard to experiencing drugs and exploring their sexuality, the couple occasionally turns into a threesome or embarks in obscure parties whose only purpose is discovering different people and pleasures among orgies. After taking us into these orgies through spasmodic flashbacks that unsuccessfully try to build a balanced narrative, Mr. Noé clarifies that Murphy has a son with Omi (Klara Kristin), a neighbor who had spent one night with the couple. However, the pregnancy wasn't a result of that particular night, but of an infidelity when Electra was out for the weekend. The relationship comes immediately to an end, leading to Electra’s disappearance and leaving the disconsolate Murphy abandoned to his miserable life and thoughts, which are transmitted by a voice-over along the film. Many scenes translate in a nauseating self-pity and a sporadic hysteria that aggravate even more the tasteless plot commonly illustrated by repetitive and unnecessary 3D sex scenes, psychedelic drug trips, and an overall artificial execution. The tacky acting and the lousy score by Lawrence Schulz and John Carpenter were other factors that roundly failed in “Love”, a self-proclaimed sentimental sexuality that it’s not even sexy. Here, the stupid insistence on presenting explicit sex should not be mistaken by boldness. Other filmmakers did it with better results – Vincent Gallo in “Brown Bunny”, Abdel Kechiche in “Blue is the Warmest Color”, and even Lars Von Trier in “The Idiots” took advantage of this factor in a non-monotonous way. What’s the point of introducing a close-up shot from the top of a penis ejaculating? In his eagerness of becoming original, Mr. Noé fell in muddy territory and the result is an infuriating pretentiousness a.k.a. a total waste of time.