January 26, 2016


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January 15, 2016

The Measure of a Man (2015)

The Measure of a Man (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Stéphane Brizé
Country: France

Movie Review: “The Measure of a Man”, whose original French title “La Loi du Marché” literally means ‘the law of the market’, mirrors the social/economic crisis that fustigates the contemporary France. The skilled Vincent Lindon, awarded 'Best Actor' in Cannes, plays Thierry Taugourdeau, an unemployed 51-year-old factory worker who invests everything in specialized courses that seem not to be enough to get a job. He’s been looking for the smallest opportunity for more than a year now, after an unfair dismissal, and the financial problems are now starting to grow as a snowball. Thierry is a considerate family man who dedicates time to spend with his disabled child and goes to dance classes with his supportive wife in order to keep his mind sane. To guarantee this state of mind, he also refuses to follow his former co-workers into court and ask for an indemnity. It’s easy to conclude that his self-esteem and confidence hit the bottom. After simulating a job interview at the employment training center he’s enrolled, he gets the following remarks: the inability to smile, the way of dressing, the wrong posture when he’s sitting down on the chair, the low rhythm of speech, and the lack of enthusiasm when answering the questions. Despite the difficulties, Thierry is accepted as a security guard in a well-monitored supermarket, regaining his financial stability while witnessing a variety of theft cases committed by customers and employees. Having gone through hard times, he continues doing his job in a conscious way, but can’t avoid showing some uneasiness when listening to the motives that led these people to steal. In one case, involving a long-time employee, a lamentable tragedy occurs, and the silent Thierry becomes more and more overwhelmed about the way the management often reacts. Ambiguity surrounds the last scene of the film, making us wonder if Thierry will continue in the job for the sake of his family, or if this is too emotionally strained for him to handle. Director Stéphane Brizé, who also co-wrote with Olivier Gorce, avoids sentimental manipulations and hurls an actual, urgent theme that mixes family, work, and morality. Not disregarding his straightforward filmmaking style, the film caught me mostly because of the powerful acting by Vincent Lindon, who previously had worked with Brizé in “Madame Chambon” and “A Few Hours of Spring”.

January 14, 2016

Suffragette (2015)

Suffragette (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Sarah Gavron
Country: USA

Movie Review: Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette” is a fact-based period drama, set in London, whose intention is to dramatize a notable span in the life of the 24-year-old laundress, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who joins a feminine movement to fight for the women’s rights in a society dominated by often abusive men who are not willing to give up their prolonged hegemony. Noble intentions aside, the film works very intermittently, only managing to escape the extreme banality due to the great performances of a cast that besides Mulligan also includes Anne Marie-Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, and the revered Meryl Streep, in the kind of a cameo appearance, as the movement’s fugitive leader. The intended riotous tones scarcely hit me, maybe because Ms. Gavron decided to include a lame musical score into a drama that proved problematic in terms of direction. Her sophomore feature exhibits annoying zooms and unsteady frames, and is more concerned with drawing some tears from the viewers rather than exhibiting these women's great deeds with vigor and straightforwardness. This way, what should have been a catching and powerful work, becomes a conventional, tepid melodrama.

January 13, 2016

Irrational Man (2015)

Irrational Man (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Woody Allen
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Irrational Man” is an existentialist trifle engendered by Woody Allen, likely the most prolific director in the active nowadays. Even counting on a talented cast, which includes Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey, Mr. Allen was unable to put up his latest idea in a way we could easily remember it. And the reason is simple: “Irrational Man” blends romance devoid of chemistry with commonplace drama with a murder case that, in any occasion, feels gripping. Typically in Allen’s universes, the dialogues are abundant, only this time around, often vapid, relying on recurrent philosophical bullshit to mask its lack of ideas. The story revolves around a depressed, radical, alcoholic, and self-destructive professor called Abe Lucas (Phoenix) who gets infatuated with two women: Rita (Posey), a lonely fellow teacher who’s always ready for a few drinks, and Jill (Stone), his brightest student who dumps her boyfriend as she grows fatally attracted to Abe’s woe. All of a sudden, the romantic teacher abandons his gloomy state at the moment he decides to murder a local judge. The crime is perpetrated with no doubts or repent, but his sagacious lovers turned into investigators won’t let him get away with it. “Irrational Man” is another minor work by the old Woody, who insists on making a film per year, even if he has to often sacrifice quality. Lately, only “Blue Jasmine” escapes this reality. “To Rome with Love”, “Magic in the Moonlight”, and this very irrational sham, are the ones to confirm it.

January 12, 2016

1001 Grams (2014)

1001 Grams (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by Bent Hamer
Country: Norway / Germany

Movie Review: “1001 Grams” is a low-key Norwegian drama written, produced, and directed by Bent Hamer and starring Ane Dahl Torp, Laurent Stocker, Stein Winge, and Hildegun Riise. If Mr. Hamer had caused a very positive impression by using an unconventional storytelling in his past dramatic comedies, “Kitchen Stories”, “Factotum” and “O’Horten”, now I must confess I was a bit disappointed with this cold pseudo-scientific experience. The story’s central character is Marie Ernst (Torp), a valuable element of the team that works at the Norwegian Metrology Center, which next goal is to present their kilogram prototype, which has to be handled with extreme care, at an important kilo seminar in Paris. The brain behind the experiments is her father, Ernst Ernst (Winge), an old-school investigator and widower who misses his wife more than anything else, lately spending his days drinking alone and sleeping on his farm’s hay. Weak, unmotivated to work, and consumed by guilt about how he put away his younger brother from the inherited family farm, Ernst ends up in the hospital with a heart attack, dying a few days after talking to Marie for the last time. Marie is not a happy person either. She’s still trying to cope with a recent divorce and practically only speaks with Wenche (Riise), a co-worker who plays the role of a confidante, even if the glacial Marie always enforces some distance between them. Marie starts traveling on a regular basis to Paris to attend the awaited seminar, in which the boring scientific discussions put a few participants asleep. There, she gets to know a French physician and professor, Pi (Stocker), also a part-time gardener, becoming very attached to him and eventually finding the love that had disappeared from her life for a while. Enjoying the company of each other, they form an efficient and helpful team in all circumstances. Marie helps Pi with his challenging research project about birds’ song and communication while Pi gets the right person to fix the kilo’s capsule when Marie has a car accident. The film is comforting in a certain way, but also too introspective and often inexpressive, moving at a snail-pace and being incapable of drawing any special vibrancy of the characters and situations. It’s a case to say that “1001 Grams” was much lighter than it promised, abandoning me dead cold on my seat. A word of appreciation to Mr. Hamer’s habitual cinematographer, John Christian Rosenlund, whose beautiful color palettes administer a pleasant warmness, a factor the story could never provide by itself.

January 11, 2016

Concussion (2015)

Concussion (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by James Landesman
Country: USA

Movie Review: In the self-composed drama, “Concussion”, Will Smith is Dr. Bennett Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who discovers a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is commonly associated with football players who were exposed to recurrent violent blows to the head, depending on their position in the field. While working at the Pittsburgh coroner's office, Dr. Bennett comes across the dead body of the former Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster, who died miserably in his pick-up truck after years complaining about painful headaches and forgetfulness. Intrigued by the scans of Webster’s brain, the very qualified and respectful doctor requires additional expensive exams, even if he has to pay out of his pocket, in order to figure out the real cause of the victim’s death. His conclusions become scientifically unshakeable when another three former players died of the same disorder. The discovery, initially discarded by the NFL, now forcefully draws the attention of the media and the new NFL commissioner. However, instead of thanking him properly for triggering awareness of the issue, the NFL tries to destroy Dr. Bennett’s reputation, inflicting on him an enormous pressure to make him break off the theory. Not for too long, though, since the truth comes always around, sooner or later. The directorial sophomore feature by Peter Landesman, who wrote based on the GQ article ‘Game Brain’ by Jeanne Marie Laskas, also stars Alec Baldwin as Julian Bailes, an allied doctor who’s very familiar with the sport in question and was Webster's close friend, and Albert Brooks, who gives a first-class performance as the county coroner and Bennett’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht. We’re before a super-interesting story given to us in a so-so execution whose narrative gaps and technical flaws aren’t as salient as the story itself.

January 08, 2016

Trumbo (2015)

Trumbo (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Jay Roach
Country: USA

Movie Review: The American screenwriter and novelist, Dalton Trumbo, is heartily characterized in this biographical political drama, shot under the direction of Jay Roach, whose career indicates the Austin Powers film series as highlights. John McNamara wrote the script, an adaptation of the 1977 biography ‘Dalton Trumbo’ by Bruce Cook. By giving a flawless performance, Bryan Cranston makes the most of the opportunity to represent the title character with accuracy, helping to minimize the setbacks of Mr. Roach’s facetious approach, which obviously influenced the final product. Unfairly accused of conspiring against the country just for declaring himself a staunch communist enlisted in the American Communist Party, the radical and yet inoffensive, Trumbo, is not only put into public shame by the Un-American Activities Committee but also arrested and blacklisted. Fearless, he starts a clandestine campaign to show how perfidious the government acts, doing everything in a calculative, patient way to have his name cleared. With this objective in mind, Trumbo counts on a group of loyal screenwriters and uses his fabulous wife and children as personal staff when he comes up with the idea of working at home, writing and fixing scripts under multiple pseudonyms for the cheap King Brothers Productions. In a later phase, finally willing to hold in his hands the two deserved Oscars he had won but could never touch, he gets full credit for the brilliant screenplays of “Spartacus” and “Exodus”, publicly announced by Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger, respectively. From all his opponents, a special mention goes to the cynical 35-million-reader columnist, Hedda Hopper, magnificently performed by Helen Mirren. The film starts vivaciously engaging, loses intensity in its uneven middle part, just to return in big for the ending. Trumbo’s genius didn’t have a genius treatment here. Still, we can seize the nature, temper, and resolution of a man who deserves all our respect.

January 07, 2016

Still the Water (2014)

Still the Water (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by Naomi Kawase
Country: Japan / others

Movie Review: Under the direction of the little-known Japanese filmmaker, Naomi Kawase (also credited as screenwriter, producer, and editor), “Still the Water” moves using a languid pace and embraces a strange intimacy. Set on one of the limestone islands of the Amani archipelago, it tells the story of a quiet 16-year-old kid, Kaito (Nijiro Murakami), who’s not happy with his mother, disapproving her behavior since his father left home a few years before. It’s not that she’s not gentle or cares about him, but because the most of her time is spent with lovers and not much is left to her son, who often wanders alone or hangs out with his best friend, Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga). The film’s opening scene leads us to foresee a mysterious tale that never actually happens. During one night of traditional festivity, Kaito finds the body of a back-tattooed man floating on the waters of the seashore. This incident becomes the talk of the population who wonder if it was an accident or a crime, and if the man was a tourist or one of the common surfers that come to the island. The curiosity comes from Kaito’s strange behavior that indicates he knows this man from somewhere. The sincere friendship between Kaito and Kyoko tends to evolve into a beautifully affecting love, but Kaito’s problems hamper him from diving completely in a full physical relationship. Kyoko has also problems of her own since her mother, a shaman who stands on the threshold of Gods and humans, is dying sick. Her father, a man of the sea and experienced surfer, offers all his support and love, enabling a family cohesion that Kaito lacks, even when occasionally contacting with his likable father, a tattoo artist now living in Tokyo. A sweet sensitivity streams from the images, even from the most painful ones - those related to death - in a film that is culturally strong in its dual elements of life and death, family and love, Gods and humans, and nature and reason. However, and despite some impactful moments presented over tranquil landscapes and at the sound of melancholic piano tunes, I found certain parts not only long and occasionally vacillating, but also intricate in its philosophical considerations. Sort of lost in translation. Patient viewers may be able to find something worthy to dig out from this cryptic coming-of-age drama.

January 06, 2016

Mountains May Depart (2015)

Mountains May Depart (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Jia Zhangke
Country: China / others

Movie Review: The story behind “Mountain May Depart”, the well-structured drama from the celebrated Chinese filmmaker, Jia Zhangke, is divided into three interconnected parts representing the past, present, and future. Whoever isn’t familiar with the director’s previous works may be misled by the inaugural joyful tones of the film, which almost forces us to think of the word comedy. Yes, the film successfully extracts some laughs either, but is the dramatic side, together with a critical look at the society, that better characterize Mr. Zhangke’s films. The first segment, set in 1999 Fenyang, starts at the sound of ‘Go West’ by The Pet Shop Boys. A bunch of people is having fun in the course of a rhythmic choreography, and among them, we spot the main character, Tao (Tao Zhao), who often hangs out with her two best friends and suitors, Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and Zhang Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). While the former is a modest local coal miner who lacks ambition and leads an honest life, the latter is a boastful new rich who's among those who thrived due to the capitalism expansion in China. The two competitors have a few squabbles over Tao, who ends up choosing Jinsheng, not without difficulty and carrying a sense of loss in her heart. While the fresh couple makes all the arrangements for the marriage, Liangzi resolves to leave Fenyang city for good. The story then shifts to 2014, and we see Liangzi, now a married man and father, returning to his hometown with lung cancer, a consequence of many years breathing the coal mines' pestilent air. On the other hand, Tao is divorced and grieves the death of her father, whose funeral triggers the visit of her estranged 7-year-old son, now called Dollar (an obvious homage to capitalism), who arrives from Shanghai to pay his respects to granddad. The last segment, not so strong as the first two, transports us to 2025 Australia, where the aimless Dollar simply can’t communicate (a language gap) with his whimsical, messy father, and embarks in a relationship with his much older Chinese teacher who tries to regain some balance after a distressing divorce. Both feel misplaced and want to get in touch with their roots, a step that is manifestly more complicated than it seems. Seamlessly alternating between ironic and cerebral, the film doesn’t match its predecessor, “A Touch of Sin”, in terms of immediacy, but Zhangke’s hand is still clearly perceptible – desolated landscapes, complex feelings, and a sense of emotional void. Like in the beginning, the film ends with Tao dancing ‘Go West’, but this time, the circumstances are entirely different.

January 05, 2016

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Tom Hooper
Country: UK / USA / Germany

Movie Review: In Tom Hooper’s pseudo-biographical drama, “The Danish Girl”, Eddie Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, a Danish painter who couldn’t go on with his married life after embodying Lili Elbe, his female persona. Einar was married to another bohemian painter, Gerda, performed tightly by Alicia Vikander, who, after the initial shock, becomes surprisingly supportive of her husband’s difficult decision of submitting himself to a sex reassignment surgery, a pioneering step in the gender transition prospect, since this fictionalized biopic is set in 1926 Copenhagen. Beautifully photographed by Danny Chen, who works with Mr. Hooper for the third time after “Les Miserables” and the acclaimed “The King’s Speech”, the drama exhibits a delicate sensitivity and is adorned with polished strokes, conferring it lyrical touches. It often induces a sort of relaxation when combining the vividly colored images, displaying the splendorous Danish architecture and interior settings, with the smooth musical score, but never forgetting to include the crucial emotion in order to compose the whole. We can follow how Lili changes from a primal state of confusion to a most inevitable, radical, and irreversible decision toward happiness. Everything started when Einar attends one of those recurrent boring parties dressed as a woman, immediately drawing the attention of Henrik (Ben Whishaw), a gallant young man who throws one first kiss, reawaking Lili’s true nature, once and for all. Being simultaneously considerate and perceptive, Gerda, who had initially agreed to a few ignominious therapies for her husband, gives up the idea that he can be cured. She deals with the fact with sadness, but is suddenly struck by a different hope when her drawings of Lily receive an enthusiastic welcome by the prestigious gallery she had been in contact for so long. The couple moves to Paris, and Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), an art dealer who also happens to be Einar’s childhood friend, comes close and feels attracted to Gerda. This account of a strangely disarming relationship, adapted by Lucinda Coxon from David Ebershoff’s novel of the same, is given to us at a moderate pace and presented with a perhaps too polite artistry. As in “The King’s Speech”, Tom Hooper uses this premeditated refinement that bestows enough dramatic depth to “The Danish Girl”, without, however, achieving the same triumphant results.

January 04, 2016

Anomalisa (2015)

Anomalisa (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by Charlie Kaufman / Duke Johnson
Country: USA

Movie Review: This engrossing animated feature, a product of Charlie Kaufman’s creative mind and based on his own eponymous play, combines deep realism with hazily dreamlike tones, bringing forward the quasi-insane and delusional state of Michael Stone, an English author specialized in customer service, who's constantly fighting with his own inner demons. For the ones who don’t know Charlie Kaufman, he’s the brilliant writer whose extravagant stories led to memorable films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, and his intricate directorial debut feature, “Synecdoche, New York”. Most of the cited movies showed an almost lyrical fantasy enveloping the intriguing characters that populate highly rich and colorful backgrounds. That’s why “Anomalisa”, a stylishly crafted animated drama, wasn’t so much a novelty in terms of style, structure, and methodology. I was expecting lots of dreams, confusion, anguish, bitterness and sadness, which sometimes counterpoint with ephemeral moments of joy, resolution, and self-assurance, and that’s exactly what Mr. Kaufman, who co-directed with the debutant Duke Johnson, presents to us in a delightful, profound, and intelligent manner. During the film, I almost didn’t remember that the characters were animated, so real and human they felt like. We follow the main protagonist, who departs from L.A., where he lives unhappily with his wife and son, to speak in a highly expected conference in Cincinnati. Lonely and disconsolate, he tries to focus in his ideologies, mirrored in his highly acclaimed book, an inspiration to many people throughout the world. The trip, however, reserves him much more than a derivative lecture that perplexes an avid audience. His adventures include an uncomfortably chatty cab ride from the airport to the hotel; an embarrassing meeting with a former lover; a one-night stand with the emotionally insecure Lisa, Michael’s passionate admirer turned into his obsessive object of love, who doesn’t understand why she was picked instead of her smart, popular, and cheeky friend, Emily; an agonizing nightmare in which the hotel manager confesses his love for him while criticizing his unexplainable fascination for Lisa; and a collection of panicking situations derived from his sinuous thoughts and emotions. A curious peculiarity of this legitimate drama is that every character has a male voice, except for the simple but enchanting Lisa. Still, when the commitment intensifies and she acts a bit more controlling, this spelling progressively changes, leading us to a much tormenting conclusion.