Final Portrait (2017)


Directed by Stanley Tucci
Country: UK

Final Portrait”, the first film of Stanley Tucci in 10 years, not only brings about a few interesting aspects about the personality of the Swiss multidisciplinary artist Alberto Giacometti, but also stages his relationship with James Lord, the film narrator and art critic who exhaustively posed for him in an impeccable suit, delaying consecutively his trip back to New York.

British cinematographer Danny Cohen did an excellent job, giving the picture the monochromatic tones that had marked the artist’s painting style while capturing Giacometti's decrepit, and often messy, studio and the 1964 Parisian atmosphere.

Geoffrey Rush ("Shine", "Quills", "The King's Speech") and Armie Hammer ("Call Me By Your Name"), embodying Giacometti and Lord, respectively, become the true artisans of a passable biopic whose mood kept oscillating between the diverting and the unaspiring. There were brief moments where I could engage with the characters, while on others, I expected much more as I started to react with indifference to the repetitive swearing proper of a perpetually unsatisfied genius.


“I will never be able to paint you as I see you. It’s impossible.” Says the artist to his model. A bit neurotic and sometimes radical in his attitudes, the temperamental Giacometti keeps his large income at home, confesses he thinks about suicide on a daily basis, only cares about his miserable wife (Sylvie Testud) when he’s sick, and burns all his money with a young hectic prostitute named Caroline (Clémence Poésy), his primary model, inspiration, and obsession. Sometimes, dominated by frustration and impelled by furious attacks, he throws his valuable art in the garbage.

Tucci’s ideas, together with Rush’s acting abilities, were enough to minimally shape the artist, but this biographical drama has no place among the best I’ve seen lately. 


Loveless (2017)


Directed by: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Country: Russia

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev has become one of the most sought-after storytellers of our time, and his acclaimed works are usually significant and pungent. Following the masterpieces “The Return”, “Elena”, and “Leviathan”, the prodigious filmmaker turns his stinging criticism to Putin’s unruly Russia and a virulent household, in a cold-hearted missing-child drama. Thus, the title “Loveless” fits hand-in-glove with the material addressed.

This aching absence of love can be sensed at many levels and goes through many layers. The camera captures the ways of a middle-class couple, Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), who is about to divorce. They have a 12-year-old son, Alexey (Matvey Novikov), who is often left on his own, neglected, and without any supervision. Hurt with the embarrassing atmosphere lived at home and on the verge of being sent to a boarding school, the unhappy Alexey is clearly a nuisance for his parents, who are both having affairs with new partners. Boris is inclusively expecting another child from his insecure and often inconvenient girlfriend, Masha (Marina Vasileva).
One day, Alexey didn't return home from school. Despite missing for nearly two days, his father remains too busy working, while the mother keeps enjoying time in the company of a new bourgeois, Anton (Andris Keiss). A police investigation is launched, not without the expected bureaucracy, and the doubts fall into three different possibilities: murder, kidnap, or just a runaway teenager? 

Religion appears as another sharp observation about modern Russia. Boris could only be able to work for an ultra-orthodox company because he was married, but now with the divorce, his position is at stake. Nothing he couldn't fake, says a workmate. With Zhenya, who was always unloved by her irascible mother, the things were completely different. She got married out of love to escape the hell she was living at home.


The movie immerses you in its web of ambiguity, and yet, all the mystery created around the story is almost totally suffocated by the negligence, cruelty, and selfishness of the adult characters. There’s so much pain, regret, and bitterness in this tale that one can’t help being dragged into a miserable emotional state.

Wintry and autumnal woody landscape, fantastically captured by the lens of cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, infuse an extra sense of abandonment in a story that, little by little, starts to mess with your head and emotions. Zvyagintsev is a true master of these techniques, and he does it with a clear vision, sharp intention, and cultivated proficiency.

Deservedly nominated for the best foreign picture by the Academy, “Loveless” left me completely parched and infuriated in the end. Darkness will live forever in the chest of this mother and father, who choose to live their lives as if they were victims instead of responsible parents. It’s frustratingly unbearable, for the film’s sake.
The filming process occurred in Moscow and was completed with international financial support after “Leviathan” has been disapproved in 2014 by the Russian authorities. Nothing new regarding censorship; just like it's not a novelty the ability of Zvyagintsev making outstanding films.


A Fantastic Woman (2018)


Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Country: Chile

Strongly anchored in the priceless acting skills of Daniela Vega, the Chilean drama “A Fantastic Woman” paints a modern portrait of struggle, independence, confidence, and resilience. 

The film’s central focus is Marina Vidal (Vega), a transgender woman in her late thirties who works as a waitress during the day and sings in a nightclub at night. She suffers a deep emotional blow when Orlando (Francisco Reyes), her 57-year-old partner, dies at the hospital from an aneurysm. The incident occurred on the same night that she moved into his apartment in Santiago. Thus, Marina has no place else to go, which motivates Orlando’s rude son, Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra), to insinuate she might have something to do with his father’s death. Bruno’s pugnacious mother, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), is very explicit when stating that her ex-husband embarked on a perversion, forbidding Marina to attend his funeral. Among the members of the family, only Gabo (Luis Gnecco), Orlando’s benevolent brother, accepts Marina, even saving her from additional imbroglios with an inquisitive police officer at the hospital. However, he couldn't prevent an unsmiling female police detective (Amparo Noguera) from stalking her and demand humiliating physical exams to clarify a hypothetical suspicion of aggression. 

Throughout this oppressive journey, she gets some help from her sister, Wanda (Trinidad González), but didn't gain the sympathy of her sarcastic boyfriend, Gaston (Néstor Cantillana). The real support comes from her singing teacher (Sergio Hernandez), who finding his emotionally torn student in pain, offers a friendly shoulder.


Argentinean-born Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, who gave us the memorable “Gloria” last year, composes the picture with depressive tones, a slow and steady pace, and a few redundant scenes, which, clearly intending to define the character’s personality, ended up more strained than reasonable. On one of them, Marina forces a man out of a taxi, justifying the demeanor with an emergency, while in another, the wind blows so forcefully that she can barely walk, a symbolic yet dull representation of the stagnancy that dominates her life at this point. 

The screenwriters, Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, created a mysterious, opaque fog around the core of the story that simply didn’t work. Their vain supernatural suggestions, planned to make the difference, revealed to be ineffective, even time-consuming.
Ferociously punching the air to release the stress, Marina shows an insusceptible inner strength and self-determination in the face of prejudice, vexation, and loneliness. And yet, despite bending on many occasions, her self-identity was never put in question. This is the strongest aspect of a film that, unlike "Gloria", and despite the best intentions, is not going to be missed.


The Untamed (2017)


Directed by Amat Escalante
Country: Mexico / other

The work of Mexican director Amat Escalante has been considered as provocative, violent, and emotionally disturbing. This was mirrored in “Heli”, with which he won Cannes' best director, and it’s easily observable again in his latest feature “The Untamed”, a risky piece of cinema that borrows some influence from Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession”. It gave him another reputed best-director prize, this time in Venice.

Embracing that similar depressing atmosphere as in his previous work, Escalante raises expectation for this one as he adds elements of sci-fi and erotica to pepper a solid family drama. This combination, not always successful but undeniably trendy, should bring him some more followers. Still, this disquieting canvas painted in dark hues may repulse the most sensitive ones through the gloominess that encircles the story from minute one.

The film, written by Escalante and Gibran Portela, follows two different stories that converge at some point. Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is a dedicated mother of two who lost sexual attraction for her knavish husband, Angel (Jesús Meza). She keeps showing signs of tiredness due to his improper ways, heavy drinking, as well as possessive behavior. In fact, she has every reason to be concerned because Angel, who adopts a homophobic posture in front of her, is having a homosexual affair with Alejandra’s nurse brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). However, the latter is willing to discontinue these dishonorable encounters, especially after he meets Veronica (Simone Bucio), a young woman in need of special treatment due to a deep wound in her belly inflicted by a multiple-tentacle alien that landed on our planet with a meteorite.

This abhorrently weird creature relies on Mr. Vega (Oscar Escalante), a scientist, and his wife Marta (Bernarda Trueba), to find young women to fulfill its concupiscence. “It only gives pleasure and never hurts”, says Veronica, but this is only accurate until it gets tired of playing with the same person. The women who experience it, describe this bizarre yet addictive pleasure as sublime, attaining a primitive and pure state of the sexual act itself.


When Fabian falls into a coma due to a brutal sexual aggression, the mysterious tones of the story intensify while the doubts linger in our heads.

Even demanding my attention in several sections, this was not an attractive story at all, given that some of the images can be truly somber and disgusting. Besides, it doesn’t take you anywhere beyond the superficial.

Standing somewhere between the art-house explorations of Tsai Ming Liang and Brillante Mendoza, the film presents ever-shifting moods, going from the poignant drama to mild crime thriller to restrained sci-fi horror film. The topics are also diverse, touching homophobia, misogyny, hedonism, and human ignominy. 

Slippery and sly, “The Untamed” boasts some originality.  In spite of that, the extra-sensorial extraterrestrial fiction that Escalante tries to sell becomes more subfusc than scary as the film moves forward.


Suburbicon (2017)


Directed by George Clooney
Country: USA

George Clooney’s film noir “Suburbicon”, a weird crossing between “Double Indemnity” and a Shakespeare’s tragedy, holds a grip until a certain point but ultimately fails to deliver. The first film directed by Clooney in three years had everything to succeed if it wasn’t for its predictability and tackiness in the vain attempt to throw in serial crime episodes, racial injustice, and social satire in the same bag without mixing them well first. Not even the magic touch of the Coen Brothers, who took care of the script alongside Clooney and Grant Heslov, avoided a muddled tale that was only timidly sparked by the great cast.

The film was loosely based on a factual case occurred in Levittown, Pennsylvania, 1957, when a black family moved to a hostile ‘white’ neighborhood. Its central character is an unscrupulous man, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), who schemes to kill his wheelchair-bound wife, having her insidious twin sister, Maggie (Julianne Moore), as an accomplice and future partner. The main motive behind such a repulsive plan is to get a large sum of money from the accidental death insurance. Trouble arrives when the two hired thugs that perpetrated the crime start to feel threatened by Gardner's young son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), who could easily identify. The latter, who has no clue why his father is covering them up, is ultimately rescued by uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba), the one who loves him like his own child, after being enlisted in a military academy.


In parallel, we follow the hardships of Mrs. Mayers (Karimah Westbrook), an African American woman who moved to Suburbicon with her family in hopes of a decent life. Sadly, she only found intolerance coming from the cruel white inhabitants who don’t waste a chance to humiliate her. This description might rouse some curiosity, but, incredible as it may seem, this segment of the film was even feebler than the murder case, which, at least, and with the help of a greedy insurance agent (Oscar Isaac), slightly stirs some tension. Failing to deliver that dark humor that everybody was expecting, Clooney and his associates were also unable to integrate the two stories in the film. It's excused to say that none of them worked well individually either. 

Having the right performers for each role and created the right looks to fill the background, Clooney nothing could have done in terms of direction or tone to ameliorate the written material, which had already been born defective. Hence, the outcome, not putting him into a shame in terms of filmmaking, is utterly unsatisfactory in terms of the message as well as highly inconsistent in the art of entertaining.


Gook (2018)


Directed by Justin Chon
Country: USA

One can’t deny there is artistry in the way writer-director-actor Justin Chon mounted his multi-cultural indie drama “Gook”. Shot in black-and-white, the film paints realistic scenarios and uses a fierce bittersweetness as its dominant flavor.

Set in the 90s, the story follows Eli (Justin Chon), a Korean American shoe-store owner who struggles to make his business thrive after his father’s death. The first minutes of the film are intended to show how tough life can be in a violent Los Angeles neighborhood where people of distinct ethnicities generally don’t get along. The environment can be quite hostile, which makes Eli and his brother Daniel (David So), his partner in the store and R&B singer wanna-be, to experience racism almost every day, whether coming from the Hispanics or the African-Americans. Detested for no reason, they struggle to protect their goods from being stolen while the fear steps up with the tension and violence escalating in South-Central due to racial frictions, economic deprivation, and social marginalization.

Despite the conflicts, the brothers have a special friendship with Kamilla (Simone Baker), an 11-year-old African-American orphan who loves to sing and skating. She frequently skips school just to hang out with them at the store, helping with the customers and filling their lives with a contagious energy. In any case, her intractable older brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.), is the main responsible for the Koreans’ headaches since he can easily shoot his gun for a pair of new sneakers.


The dynamics are stirred whenever Kamilla teases Mr. Kim (Sang Chon), a Korean liquor-store owner who doesn’t stay put when he sees somebody stealing from his store. Those hilarious situations usually end up with Eli confronting him. Yet, Mr. Kim, who abides by the rules except when driving, suddenly changes from villain to ally when the brothers’ safety is put in jeopardy.

Because hatred and violence always lead to disgrace, Chon envisioned passing that message during the emotionally disturbing final third. Though exciting in many ways, the film’s tail is characterized by a strained acting sequence whose melodramatic edge touches the limit. It feels restrictive instead of enriching.

Still, there are so many things to behold in “Gook”: the emphatic cinematography by Ante Cheng, a lovely soundtrack that ranges from hip-hop to guitar-driven melancholy to Hall & Oats’ Man Eater, and the story itself, fabricated with both feel-good and unsettling moments.


6 Weeks To Mother's Day (2017)


Directed by Marvin Blunte
Country: USA

Especially now, in a time that the world needs righteous deeds to balance the frenzy that keeps escalating a bit everywhere, it’s comforting to focus our attention on honorable projects done by solicitous people who dedicate their lives to help others in need. This idea gains further emphasis when the people who are benefitting from these efforts are children.

Documentarian Marvin Blunte captures with a self-assertive sense of admiration, the wonderful assistance and guidance given to the impoverished children that reside at Children’s Village School, a 35-year institution located in a remote jungle of the Kanchanaburi province, Thailand. As an alternative to the public school system and the first democratic school in the country, it gives the opportunity for 150 underprivileged children to experience several tasks, from cooking to art making to clean, while learning the basics of life from a remarkably open-minded program. Afterward, according to their natural skills, the students can freely choose what they want to be and do in the future. As explained by the school’s principal and co-founder Rajani Dhongchai aka Mother Aew, endless patience with and love for these kids who were abandoned, abused, or simply let go due to extreme poverty, are the keys for success.

Both former and current students don’t spare words of gratitude and praise to their benefactor, who, despite struggling with her own health problems, is constantly smiling and treating her foster children with the love and respect they’ve never had at home.


Blunte's starting point is six weeks prior to the Mother’s Day. At the Children’s Village, all the teachers are called Mom, but the one who is being honored is the big-hearted Mother Aew, who left her regular job as a public teacher to focus on this grandiose accomplishment alongside her husband Pibhop.

The school is exemplary in its educational discipline, touching a variety of fundamental subjects such as democracy, sexual education, birth giving, human rights, freedom of speech, environmental consciousness, and many others. The kids can openly express their sexual orientation, like it happened with Pao, and participate in a sort of court emulation, a fair process to deal with misconducts and complaints. Teachers and students suggest possible punishments for the wrongdoers, which are posteriorly subjected to a vote.

Before the festive day arrives, the film crew follows two twin siblings in a sporadic visit to their real parents. Alcoholic and miserably paid for their work in a sugarcane plantation, mother and father act disparately in front of their children. While the mother gets emotional, the father, visibly depressed and ashamed, is inexpressive, almost indifferent to their presence. This scene is particularly excruciating and heartbreaking.

The director showed unity and efficiency in his moves, portraying Mother Aew and her heroic achievements as remarkable examples to be followed worldwide. “6 Weeks To Mother's Day” has the ability to fill our hearts with optimism and gratitude.


Sundowners (2017)


Directed by Pavan Moondi
Country: USA

Three years ago, I was impressed with a little indie gem called “Diamond Tongues”, a tragicomedy with sharp observations about the film industry. The film was co-directed by Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Pavan Moondi, who recently released his not-so-appealing third feature, “Sundowners”, starring Phil Hanley and newcomer Luke Lalonde in the main roles. They play Alex Hopper and Justin Brown, respectively, two solitary buddies who, fed up of their common lives and daily financial struggle, see an unexpected opportunity to shoot a wedding in Mexico as their temporary salvation. However, while Alex is a full-time videographer with years of experience, Justin, who was supposed to photograph, doesn’t even know how to change the aperture in a camera. 

The assignment came from the agency for which Alex works. His discreditable boss, Tom (Tim Heidecker), also a notorious boaster, is the best the film has to offer, believe it or not. Posing as an asshole yet funny in his lines and posture, this is the typical guy who acts tough in the presence of his employees but cools down his voice when talking to his wife. With all the nerve in the world, he advises Alex not to mix business and pleasure, but plays guitar in his office while bullshitting about the wages he owes him.


While none of the wedding’s tribulations are a novelty, the boys’ strong sense of adventure is uplifted. Still, the situations that swirl around them don’t ring true. As an aggravating factor, we have the pointless dialogues, which roundly fail to engage in all its modesty.

This is a messy attempt to invoke “The Hangover” and fuse it with “Wedding Crashers”. Pavan Moondi already showed he could do much better than what he did in this mind-numbing trifle.


Oh Lucy! (2018)


Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
Country: Japan / USA

In her debut feature film, “Oh Lucy!”, Japanese writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi successfully expands her award-winning 2014 short film of the same name and delivers a more-than-ordinary drama that is a loud shout for existential freedom.

The central character is Setsuko Kawashima (Shinobu Terajima), a single, middle-aged office worker who lives a lonely and unfulfilled life in Tokyo. Despite a rough cough that makes her workmates uncomfortable, smoking cigarettes is perhaps her unique daily pleasure. Still, she's the sarcastic type, a fact that can be confirmed during a co-worker’s retirement party, where she unleashes all her accumulated frustrations.
Prior to the cited occurrence, and while waiting for the train on her way to work, a man jumps into the tracks after whispering ‘goodbye’ in her ear. Although traumatic, the situation didn’t seem to upset the resilient Setsuko on a large scale. The only thing she seems incapable to overcome is the fact that her ex-boyfriend left her a few years before for her competitive sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami).

After spending a good time in the company of her careless young niece, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna), who takes the opportunity to borrow money from her, Setsuko decides to follow her suggestion and enroll in English classes at a freakish, unorthodox school.

Desperately in need of attention, she gets very well impressed with John (Josh Hartnett), the American English teacher, who is also a hugger. John makes her impersonate a more extrovert fictional woman he calls Lucy, and introduces her to a widower, Tom (Kôji Yakusho), a security consultant and former detective, whose true name is Takeshi Tomori. During class, the students are only allowed to speak English and are urged to wear lame wigs to better embrace the fantasy of their new personalities. This particular phase of the narrative, devised with enough intriguing moments, made me heavily interested in the people hanging around there.


Ironically, Setsuko and her estranged sister end up making a long trip together to the outskirts of Southern California, after realizing that Mika had secretly escaped with John, her lover. 
Ironically, Setsuko and her estranged sister end up making a long trip together to the outskirts of Southern California, after realizing that Mika had secretly escaped with John, her lover. 

The American experience becomes unforgettable for our heroine. Besides quarreling with her sister in a diverting way, she learns that her niece went to San Diego after leaving John, who is now facing eviction. That makes her craving even more hugs from John, to whom she is visibly attracted. Will he be willing to satisfy her needs? Everything is possible after smoking a joint and the desperate-for-love Setsuko will jeopardize her integrity and also her family affairs. Self-seeking or deluded? Leaning on the emotional side, her American dream has a bittersweet flavor.
Hirayanagi surfs the subject with confidence, stringing together a series of misadventures with wit and pathos. Moreover, she takes the time to establish the characters so their personalities and intentions can be easily apprehended and evaluated. No plot excesses were found and the peculiar ambiance accompanies the confident narrative flow. 

Standing on its own as a sympathetic cross-cultural drama, “Oh Lucy!” deserves an extra point for the ability to eke out unexpected laughs from the most painful scenarios.


Félicité (2017)


Directed by Alain Gomis
Country: Senegal / France / other

Félicité” rejoices with the vivid colors and the enthralling sounds of Africa, but also saddens us with the deep struggles of the local ordinary people, here represented by the title character (Véro Mputu), a single mother and a respected singer in Kinshasa, Congo. She manages to live a tranquil life until her 14-year-old son, Samo (Gaetan Claudia), has suffered a motorcycle accident that puts her on the verge of a breakdown. He needs an urgent and costly operation to save his smashed leg, but Félicité doesn't have how to pay for it. In a desperate situation, she puts away any embarrassment or pride and hits the road to get financial help. She first goes to her son’s resentful father, who violently accuses her of having created a thug, and then to the wealthiest man in town, who, after demeaning her, gives her a little money out of contempt. These scenes truly hurt, showing how inconsiderate and disdainful a human being can act before a vulnerable person.

Meanwhile, we learn that Félicité died at the age of two, suddenly awaking from the world of the dead when she was already in the coffin. Her name, meaning ‘our joy’, was given to her after that inscrutable occurrence. 

The only friend she can count on is Tabu (Papi Mpaka), a regular customer of the bar where she sings, who loves the nightlife and ends up repeatedly involved in quarrels. Despite nurturing deep feelings for her, he is not so reliable with regard to women, especially when wasted. A faulty person, for sure. Yet, observing the respect he has for her pain, we almost forget his vices.


French-Senegalese writer-director Alain Gomis packs the drama as a compound of vibrancy, intoxication, dejection, and anguish, resorting to sharp close-ups and likable imagery. However, some sloppiness was detected when dealing with the handheld camera. Some of the passages are particularly appealing, like those fragments of conversations in the bar with the topics varying from women to booze to children kills and spiritual life. There’s also some surrealism in the form of dreamy, enigmatic passages in a forest that are a fruit of the heroine's imagination. Its mysticism is meant to blur the line between the imaginary and the real.

Although orchestrated with powerful notes, “Félicité” shows some uneven parts, which make the narrative drag for certain periods of time. Still, it elaborates an honest portrait of an independent African woman who, even in the most intractable situations, keeps the life going with resilient obstinacy.

With the newcomer Véro Mputu onboard, Gomis didn’t restrain himself from sailing this boat with courage and emotion. By expeditiously capturing the moods of the city, he passes the idea of an undermined society within an undisciplined country. 


God's Own Country (2017)


Directed by Francis Lee
Country: UK

God’s Own Country”, a British drama film focused on sexuality, addiction, and unhappiness, has the lonely landscapes of Yorkshire, North of England, as a backdrop. First-time director Francis Lee, who also wrote the script, saw his work facilitated by the impressive performances of Josh O'Connor and Alec Secareanu, who play two strangers turned intimate friends.

Johnny Saxby (O'Connor) is far from the old happy days of his adolescence after being engulfed by the real world. Seen as an irresponsible good-for-nothing by his conservative father (Ian Hart), an aging sheep-farmer who got debilitated after suffering a stroke, Johnny is forced to work many hours alone in the fields, taking care of the sheep and making sure they have the proper conditions to give healthy births. After all, it's the business that sustains the family.

However, in order to smother the loneliness and his repressed homosexuality, John refuges himself in the alcohol night after night. He is unable to keep the work flowing as he wakes up late and heavily intoxicated. Thus, tension is constantly present at home or whenever his father is around.


Things take a turn after a Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe Ionescu (Secareanu), is hired to give him a hand during the lambing season. At first, he is mistreated by Johnny, who puts some airs while calling him ‘gypo’, but then, boss and employee are moved by a magnetic attraction, embarking on a homosexual relationship that will make the young farmer reliable and available again. Yet, because life is never too simple and constantly tests us with difficulties, Johnny spoils everything with another weighty night of drinks that ends up in betrayal, jealousy, and ultimately anguish.

God’s Own Country” is raw and sometimes rough in its manners, being a much less-polished exercise than the Italian “Call Me By Your Name”, a refined coming-of-age drama which addresses homosexuality, personal emotions, and working processes in a contrasting way. Still, if the cited Italian drama ends in tears, the British one ends with an optimistic smile.

The compelling narrative matches the plausible scenario and the actors remain sober in their roles. O’Connor's first big move here can function as a door opener for future possibilities.


Black Panther (2018)


Directed by Ryan Coogler
Country: USA

Knowing the consistent work of director Ryan Coogler, I wasn’t surprised that his “Black Panther”, a Marvel production with distribution by Walt Disney, has been causing so much sensation. The film, based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comics of the same name, gives a three-dimensional life to black superheroes and villains, saying much more between the lines than just a few well-crafted action scenes. Thus, besides all the thrills you may expect from an action-packed superhero flick, everyone should be proud to have black folks as the superstar, in a clear reinforcement of their identity and challenging any of the better-known franchises released in the last few years.

Coogler co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole and directed from a taut script by culture writer Jason Parham, while Rachel Morrison, the first female cinematographer to be nominated for an Oscar, elevates the standards by coloring a tale with a rich visual palette that didn’t need extreme manipulation to catch our eye. The gorgeous special effects also deserve a mention.

The story follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who, after his father's passing, assumes the throne of Wakanda, a technologically advanced African nation. T'Challa's strength is fortified by ingesting the powerful Heart-Shaped Herb, made from a superb mineral called vibranium and kept by a spiritual figure named Zuri (Forest Whitaker) for many generations. As the Black Panther, he will have to fight for the coveted throne. Firstly against M’Baku, the defiant leader of the non-conforming mountain tribe Jabari, and secondly, in a much-complicated dispute with his merciless cousin Erik aka Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a US black-ops soldier who proclaims himself as king after throwing the legitimate king into an abyss. The latter miraculously survives and, encouraged by his geek young sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), who is also a spy, and the loyal and fearless warrior/bodyguard, Okoye (Danai Gurira), will confront the usurper in a stunning head-to-head battle with warlike drum beats resonating in the background. It’s not only a matter of claiming his right to be king, but also guaranteeing the safety of his beloved people.


The villain is particularly credible with Jordan, the director's first choice who also starred in "Fruitvale Station" and "Creed", excelling in his performance.  
The film completely integrates ancient rituals and traditions with sober sci-fi and modern technology, not forgetting the humor that serves to relieve some of the tension in key moments of the film.

At all times, Coogler shows to know what he wants from the skillful cast and how he wants to shape each take to make his body of work a triumph. Smartly avoiding redundant scenes or cheap artifice, “Black Panther” is an unconfined, honest, and totally fun experience whose novelty, regardless the racial buzz implications, turns it more appetizing than any of the other Marvel installments.


On Body And Soul (2018)

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Directed by Ildikó Enyedi
Country: Hungary

Ildikó Enyedi is perhaps the most reliable female director from Hungary working today. She was awarded best director by the Hungarian film critics awards with “Simon, The Magician” in 1999, and won the Golden Camera prize at Cannes with “My Twentieth Century” in 1989.

The abstruse arthouse drama “On Body and Soul”, her first feature in 18 years, has been collecting accolades in festivals worldwide. Besides the nomination for Best Foreign Language film by the Academy, the film conquered Berlin, winning the coveted Golden Berlin Bear in addition to the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

Ms. Enyedi, teaming up with cinematographer Máté Herbai for crispy clear images, adopted that sort of weirdness that slowly conquers you. This unconventional love story starts to unfold in a slaughterhouse located in the outskirts of Budapest, thus, it's not those sweet tales painted in pink. Instead, there are heartbreaking moments of loneliness, situations filled with embarrassment, discomfort, disillusionment, and despair. Apart from this, one can also find hope in love. 

The lovebirds here are Endre (Géza Morcsányi), the attentive financial director of the slaughterhouse, and the newly-arrived quality inspector, Maria (Alexandra Borbély), a stiff, often unresponsive, and mechanic person who has trouble interacting with people. Maria becomes Endre’s protégé, even after marking high-quality meat with a grade B just for a tiny bit of extra fat. The curious thing is that both of them are already in love with each other, but they just don’t know yet. As soul mates, they have the same dream every night. In their subconscious, they are deers wandering in the snowy woods and looking for a water stream to drink and rub their noses. 


This baffling aspect is only discovered during an investigation conducted by the petulant Klára (Réka Tenki), a police psychologist who thinks they have agreed previously on telling the same dream. In the meantime, we find that Endre slept with his co-worker’s wife and that Maria, in all her innocence, continues to visit the psychologist of her childhood. Feeling both insecure and curious, she wants to make the right step and learn right away the art of love, but through observation, which includes peeking at couples kissing and watching hardcore pornography.

Even without transcending in many fronts, the film has in Ms. Borbély its great stimulus. Those final disturbing images, when despondency and weakness penetrate into her soul, are indolently agonizing.

Yet, don’t let the sluggish pace discourage you, and enjoy both the dark humor and the uncanny vibes of a tortuous Hungarian romance marked by strong dualities: the physical and the spiritual, life and death, the real and the dream. Don't worry, in the end, everything becomes lucid.


Are We Not Cats (2018)


Directed by Xander Robin
Country: USA

With a title that gives everything away, “Are We Not Cats” could also be called “The Hair Glutton”. This downbeat indie drama film also advertises one of the weirdest romances of the year, when a trash collector turned truck driver finds the girl of his dreams, one who shares his uncommon habit of eating hairs, but in a much larger scale.

He’s called Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson), a down-on-his-luck garbage man who got fired, was dumped by his girlfriend, and lives a miserable life. He still resides with his unsentimental parents, who are selling their house to move to Arizona. It’s absolutely certain they won’t miss their smelly son to whom they only left a crumbling old truck. That’s when Eli accepts to deliver an engine upstate to a guy named Jack (Joe Buldo).

He was five hours late and couldn’t refuse to give Kyle (Michael Godere) a ride, even going in the opposite direction. After all, he’s the one who’s buying the engine and was waiting for him all day. They have a few drinks of a toxic substance along the way, ending up in an underground party with offbeat music and lush girls. The psychedelic images hook us to an atmosphere of confusion, decadence, and waste. Once in there, he observes Kyle’s enigmatic girlfriend, Anya (Chelsea Lopez), a troublesome young girl with blue lips, yellow fingernails, and a purple wig, who is violently headbutted by another shadowy princess. Although Kyle is very attentive to her needs, she and Eli felt an immediate connection. Patiently, he starts to extract her most intimate secrets, but also reveals his own quirky body transformations. Both are weirdly sick and surrounded by deep sadness. Yet, they seem a bit more optimistic in the company of each other.


After several cat dances and a satiating hair banquet, the couple makes out, but Anya collapses in the middle of the act. A hair rock is installed in her intestines, clogging her entire system, and it’s up to Eli to save her or leave her. While the images are gruesome, the realness of the scene will make the horror aficionados rub their hands with glee.

Solidly directed by Xander Robin, a dubutant who based himself in his own short film of the same name, “Are We Not Cats” is sly and sunless, but not for once spooky. As a piece of storytelling, it’s a miscarriage with several unexplainable gaps, but in a visceral level, it has its impactful moments. Hence, you may find yourselves wishing a proliferation of blood-soaked scenes, while the director concentrates more on taking the story somewhere with a slightly disturbing tone.

Oscillating with ups and downs, this moody, felinely romantic film has not much to show off besides its bizarreness, which was, nevertheless, glamorously combined with an eligible eclectic soundtrack that includes Albert Tyler, Funkadelic, and Spirit of the Beehive.  


Only The Brave (2017)


Directed by John Kosinski
Country: USA

Based on the GQ article No Exit by Sean Flynn, “Only The Brave” is a magnetizing biographical drama that pays a deserved tribute to 19 brave firemen, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who died after getting trapped in Arizona’s devastating Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. 

Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”; “Oblivion”) recreates the occurrence with dramatic punch, but first, he puts us in touch with the mundane lives of the characters. The good performances by Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, and Jennifer Connelly make easier for him to address this mild phase of the drama. 

The story, co-written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, has Eric 'Supe' Marsh (Brolin) and Brendan ‘Donut’ McDonough (Teller) at the center. The former is the stout-hearted superintendent of Crew 7, a respected unit of firemen that operates behind the first line, while the latter is a young single father who asks the firefighters the opportunity that will allow him to change his ignoble situation. Having a record and trying hard to leave a complicated drug addiction problem behind, he is decided in leading a decent life and to dedicate himself, body and soul, to his new job.


Marsh is in permanent contact with his longtime friend and part-time country singer Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), who also happens to be the woodland division chief. He is the key to Crew 7’s certification as type 1, known as ‘hotshots’, which will make possible for Marsh to make important decisions while combating fires in the frontline. Whereas everything goes smoothly in this regard, at home, he’s having a hard time with his wife, Amanda (Connelly), a horse trainer who demands more time of his busy life to herself. Both are also former addicts who were saved by the love they feel for each other and the serious dedication to their professions. As Duane’s wife, Marvel (a cameo role for Andy McDowell), says in the film: ‘it’s not easy sharing your man with the fire’.

Even if too long, the visual power of a ravaging fire engulfing well-intentioned men in the performance of their duties is tragic and terrifying. “Only the Brave” is a touching tribute to real-life heroes and its excruciating conclusion stubbornly remains in our heads for a long time after the final credits roll.


Faces Places (2017)


Directed by Agnes Varda and JR
Country: France

Sympathetic French New Wave filmmaker Agnés Varda, 89, links up to photomuralist JR, 33, in the sweet and humorous documentary “Faces Places”, a celebration of friendship and art alike. The two artists visited several French rural villages and small towns for the pleasure of making art, homaging the hard-working local people.

The spontaneous duo gives wings to creativity while visiting Jeanine, the last surviving soul of a waiting-to-be-demolished coal miner neighborhood, a tireless farmer who deals with 800 hectares alone, Pirou Plage, a ‘ghost’ village whose construction was never finished, a longtime mailman friend, a solitary retired artist, two very distinct goat farms, and a chemical factory. All these places were chosen to plaster large black-and-white pictures that JR’s photobooth van spills out itself. However, my absolute favorite work included the figures of three wives of Le Havre dockers pasted on colorful vessels, in a clear support to feminism, a movement/topic that has been inherent to Varda’s personal work for a long time. In the Southern village of Bonnieux, they’ve also turned a cautious woman into a model star with her glamorous picture filling a downtown's building facade.


Real life is shown without preconceptions, even when the work doesn’t achieve the desired success. It happened with a collage on a Nazi-era bunker that rests on a desolated Normandy beach. The film then moves on with new adventures and ideas, keeping us tied up to its well-edited course of events. 
It’s extremely amusing when they jest about Varda’s blurry-eyes condition, whose treatment immediately revives Luis Buñuel’s classic “Un Chien Andalou”, or JR’s tenacity in hiding his eyes behind sunglasses.

Socially conscious if slightly repetitive in its structure, the good-natured “Faces Places” reserves a touching moment to be presented at the end, having the reclusive philosopher/filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard at the center.


Phantom Thread (2018)


Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Country: USA

Revered writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson re-teams up with the resourceful actor Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread", a perversely romantic, adult drama film set in 1950s London.

Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, a first-rate fashion designer whose peculiar personality, allied with an elegant yet somewhat vampiric look, makes him a wonderful character. He lives permanently obsessed with work, controlling everything and everyone, except when he gets sick, often haunted by the death of his mother. He shares this abnormal dependency with Alma (Vicky Krieps), a former waitress turned into his new inspirational muse, in a glorious scene wrapped in flirtation and nostalgia.

If Reynolds is completely taken up by work, Alma becomes an obsessively devotional person whose purpose in life is to please a perpetually unsatisfied man. When she first moved in with Reynolds, she was seen as unreliable by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), the one who helped him build his fashion emporium. Despite initially opaque and a source of enigmatic tension, she becomes more open as her trust in Alma grows sturdier.

That special sparkle that enveloped the couple right after they met, gradually vanishes due to Reynolds’ fussiness. He disapproves too much noise and movement at breakfast, flips out when his work is interrupted, and shows occasional contempt for her in public. Curiously, he is perfectly aware of what he is, calling himself an incurable person who detests surprises or the word chic.


Their relationship reaches the peak of acidity when a Belgian princess arrives in the city to order the most beautiful wedding dress. Jealous, Alma will have the nerve to play with his life, taming him, taking care of him, and having him to herself. After all, perceiving he’s not so strong as he puts on display, she takes advantage of that camouflaged fragility. It’s insane to see her treating him like a spoiled little baby, fulfilling his deep emotional gap by acting like a caring mother. Because of that desired impression, marriage is mentioned as the next step in their intriguing bond. Where do these obsessives intend to go with their mutual madness? 

Just like it happened in “The Master”, I bow to Paul Thomas Anderson, who managed to engage me in the personalities and moves of every single character, even the supporting ones. Of course, this could only be possible due to the classy acting scenes, which are among the year’s best. Besides this, I found a phenomenal sense of space and extreme attention to light and color balance in every frame. As a curiosity, the success of the cinematography is directly related to the director himself, albeit uncredited. 

Unfolding with splotches of gothic glamour, “Phantom Thread” unearths an intoxicating tale with several dichotomies between authority and submission, power and fragility, passion and contempt, as well as gravitas and dark humor. Imperfect characters actually build a nearly perfect chamber film, equal parts poetic and obscure. Being a difficult one to digest, this is not what you would normally expect from a love story.


Golden Exits (2018)


Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Country: USA

Golden Exits”, the very much-expected return of 33-year-old American writer/director Alex Ross Perry, happens to be a futility, regardless the dedication of its ensemble cast. Embracing a one-tone ambiance, this low-key drama is deeply anchored in indulgent conversation, lacking the poetic vision of “Listen Up Philip” and the claustrophobic tension of “Queen of Earth”, which remains Perry’s best film so far.

Perry imagines a 25-year-old Australian woman named Naomi (Emily Browning) arriving in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, NY, to fill the position of archivist required by Nick (Adam Horovitz), a local bourgeois. Perspicacious and attractive, Naomi is a natural seducer and her daily presence with the boss - five feet apart and nine hours a day - becomes a concern for his wife, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny), who already went through some tribulations in the past regarding infidelity. Also, his unmarried and ever-present sister-in-law, Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker), a manipulative liar according to him, doesn't squander the chance to speculate a bit more and warn everyone she’s attentive. She usually confides with her assistant, Sam (Lily Rabe), whose presence feels redundant, as she doesn’t add anything worthy to the story.


Regardless the suspicious atmosphere lived in Nick’s house, Naomi doesn’t make a move toward her boss. It’s quite the opposite, actually, since she sends him home on his birthday, after an unexpected visit in the middle of the night. However, she decides to re-direct her seducing spell to Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), a family friend of her age who lives in the neighborhood and recently opened a music studio with his wife, Jess (Analeigh Tipton).

The material, feeding on both complex and unbalanced relationships, only works sparsely. At the minimum sign of surprise or tension, everything gets lost in the rational monotony of the dialogues. Moreover, the characters feel shallow and distant, making us not to care about their residual problems. Every problematic circumstance they might experience seems to have exactly the same emotional weight. 

Cinematographer Sean Price Williams kept emphasizing the warm tones of the captured images in order to compensate the coldness and linearity of the fictional individuals. However, not even the numerous close-ups did the magic trick. 

Emotionally parched, “Golden Exits” is a film of misconceptions based upon choices, behaviors, and romantic frustrations. In the end, it leaves us stiffly cold and utterly disappointed.


Double Lover (2017)


Directed by François Ozon
Country: France / Belgium

Whenever I take a look at the filmography of prodigious French director François Ozon, I feel very comfortable stating that he is one of the most versatile storytellers working today. Regardless which genre he picks to dive into, his filmmaking style and artistic vision persist interesting, even when the scripts don’t facilitate his moves. Unforgettable films like “Under the Sand”, “Swimming Pool”, and “8 Women” became true classics, while “In The House”, “Young & Beautiful”, and “Frantz” earned a generally good reputation among critics and cinephiles alike. However, quality and consistency are variable factors in a cinematic career and Ozon lost his footing in his new film “Double Lover”, a cynical, erotic, psychological thriller starring Marine Vacth and Jérémie Renier. Both actors had worked with the director before; the former in “Young & Beautiful” and the latter twice, in “Potiche” and “Criminal Lovers”, released nearly twenty years ago.

Even piling up gripping tension throughout, the story didn’t captivate me so much due to the fact that Ozon simply forgot that, in most of the cases, less is more. Adopting several strained and calculative tactics within his genre-bending approach, he attempted to fuse the suspense of Brian De Palma, the sensualistic pleasures of Jean-Claude Brisseau, and that sort of “Alien” fixation of a woman with something creepy inside her guts. 


At the center of the story is Chloé (Vacth), a 25-year-old single woman and former model who is referred to a psychoanalyst after her gynecologist has concluded that the piercing bellyaches that keep tormenting her should be mainly psychological. At the age seven, her mother confessed she was an accident, and she was entrusted to her grandparents. It was no surprise that the lonely and fragile Chloé undertakes to seduce her therapist Paul Meyer (Renier), promptly revealing her sexual dreams with him after only one session.

After being considered apt for a normal life again - celebrated with a part-time job as a museum watchwoman - she moves in with Paul. However, she becomes suspicious and slightly paranoid about his past, after finding an old passport of his with a different surname. Whether by accident or terrible fate, she discovers that Paul has a twin brother named Louis, who is also a psychoanalyst. Yet, his personality and working methods are completely opposite to the ones followed by his estranged brother. After scheduling an appointment with this enigmatic man, Chloé is given a thorough diagnosis of her condition and becomes trapped in a dangerous web of personal fascination and sexual desire.

You may expect the unexpected in this adaptation of the 1987 novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates. Still, the twists are so uneven and deviant that made me experienced them more as nonsenses than effectively stimulating points. By dabbling in hazy mirror games and cheap, artificial glamour, Ozon squanders the chance of presenting something consistent, both thematic and genre-wise. Notwithstanding, and considering “Double Lover” as a punctual misstep, I keep my expectations high for his next move.


All The Money in the World (2017)


Directed by Ridley Scott
Country: USA

The fact-based drama “All The Money in the World” is both timely and timeless, depicting the greediness of our world, where, unfortunately, the money is idolized and considered of more importance than the human life itself.

The story follows the kidnapping of 16-year-old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), an amiable, longhaired bohemian who is confined to a shack in a remote region of Calabria, South of Italy, awaiting patiently that his billionaire grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), pays $17 million dollars in ransom. Despite the pressure and anxiety involved, Paul was lucky enough to earn the fondness of Cinquanta (Romain Duris), one of the Mafiosi.

Surprisingly or not, the dominant and inflexible Mr. Getty is not willing to pay a cent for his beloved and favorite grandson, whose life depends exclusively from the efforts of his desperate mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). She gets a good backup from Getty’s trustful advisor, a former spy named Fletcher Chase (a too modest Mark Wahlberg), who was assigned to bring Paul back home.

Through sporadic flashbacks, we get aware of the distorted relations among the family members. Seventeen years before, in the early 70s, the wealthy patriarch attempted to reconnect with his son, John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan), but the latter got lost on drugs in Morocco and remained there, living a vicious life as a hippie.


If Christopher Plummer, who took the place of the discredited Kevin Spacey, is an extra reason for you to see this film, Ms. Williams plays the most empathic character as an ordinary woman who fights bravely for her son, refusing to bow or kneel down in front of her powerful father-in-law. What would you think of a man who pays millions for a piece of art but refuses to pay for his innocent grandson’s freedom? Having his own reasons, he doesn't eschew a justification for his acts. Meanwhile, the case aggravates when the kidnappers, already having lowered their price and stressed for the wait, send an ear of the young Paul to the editorial department of a major newspaper to prove they were not joking. 

Although far from being a reference in the kidnapping thriller genre, the dramatic side gets into your skin. Yet, you might only expect the thrilling moments to take proper effect in its final section. The experienced 80-year-old Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”, “Thelma & Louise”, “Alien”) directed the film without major gaps, relying on a script by David Scarpa, who based himself in the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson.