The Party (2017)

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Directed by Sally Potter
Country: UK

Writer-director Sally Potter (“Orlando”, “Ginger & Rosa”) didn't need more than one hour and eleven minutes to delight us in her stimulating comedy-drama “The Party”, which hilariously depicts a celebratory gathering of bourgeois English friends, who unexpectedly become alienated after a few painful truths have been disclosed. The film, superbly photographed in a lovely black-and-white by Russian Aleksei Rodionov, boasts a precious ensemble cast that includes Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Cillian Murphy, and Emily Mortimer.

The idea is certainly not new, but Ms. Potter added the required amount of facetious lines and created considerable scathing situations to make it completely self-reliant when compared to other movies with similar topics such as “The Celebration”, “Krisha”, and “August, Osage County”.

The story begins with Janet (Thomas), a highly competent politician in the opposition party who made it to the top. She’s holding a small party at her house to celebrate the deserved promotion that made her a UK’s shadow minister. Her husband Bill (Spall), who infallibly supported her in the whole process toward a successful career, is seated in the living room, drinking wine and listening to his old blues records. Drunk and desolated, his eyes are fixed in the vague, and his depressed semblance makes us guess that he’s probably more worried than happy.

The invited friends keep arriving one after another. Each one of them brings something peculiar and interesting scene, hence, there are no tedious or frivolous characters at this celebration. First arrives a fabulous couple composed of April (Clarkson), a former provocative idealist turned into cynical realist, and her German husband, Gottfried (Ganz), a self-proclaimed spiritual healer who deeply annoys his wife, even when meditating with his mouth shut. She plans to separate from him soon. 

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The next is Tom (Murphy), a handsome and wealthy banker who seemed very agitated. He arrived without his wife Maryanne, Janet’s colleague and best friend, but brought cocaine, a pistol, and a glint of madness in his eyes. According to his behavior, one can tell he has a ruinous plan in mind for that night.

In turn, the lesbian couple that follows, Martha (Jones) and Jinny (Mortimer), show up with a radiant smile on their faces, announcing that the latter is going to give birth to three children. This is “the miracle of conception”, derides Gottfried. However, they won’t leave the house in the same mood.

The troubles start when Bill reveals he got a terminal diagnosis from the doctor. As an atheist and a materialist, he doesn’t know how to cope with the situation, asking for Gottfried's help. The discussion goes to many places, from the inefficiency of the Western medicine to past lives, and from karma to faith.

Janet, who also hides her own secrets, got hysterical with the news, becoming furious the next minute when another bomb falls down: Bill is being unfaithful to her, and his lover is Marianne. 

As an exercise in mood, the efficiently edited “The Party” serves as a showcase for the general powerful acting, yet, the film’s heart is Clarkson with her mordant observations and sarcastic postures. Effortlessly gliding between pungent drama and theatrical satire, this is an inspired, fast-paced chamber piece that ends gloriously staggering.

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Wonder Wheel (2017)

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Directed by Woody Allen
Country: USA

You might not believe it, but Woody Allen stumbles again with his latest drama “Wonder Wheel”, starring Kate Winslet, James Belushi, Juno Temple, and Justin Timberlake. Remaining faithful to his promise of releasing one film per year, Allen’s works have been a hit-and-miss case in the last decade. Hence, if last year’s “Cafe Society” was fairly acceptable, “Wonder Wheel” is a bland exercise and a disappointing ode to Coney Island, New York.

Love, both in its reciprocated and unrequited forms, and jealousy, are the main topics here, but they never achieved a real climax or even a sense of purpose, failing roundly to boost a film that started high-powered and ended crawling.

The story focuses on two married women, Ginny (Winslet), 39, and Carolina (Temple), 26, who dispute the same man. The former is a waitress and the wife of Humpty (Belushi), a Coney Island’s carousel operator with an alcohol problem, while the latter is Humpty’s daughter, recently returned home from a failed relationship with a gangster, who now wants her dead.
Carolina reconquers her father’s heart, starts working at the same bar as Ginny, and even attends school at night. She gets along pretty well with her stepmother, who gives her all the support she needs, but their relationship deteriorates abruptly when Ginny’s lover, Mickey (Timberlake), a young lifeguard, writer and poet, falls in love with Carolina on the first moment he sets eyes on her. Moreover, he is deeply intrigued by her personality and fascinated by the past that made her a marked woman for life.

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It’s not the first time, and probably not the last, that Allen sticks to this dull narrative strategy that consists in having the characters talking directly to the camera as if they were talking to you. Although effective in other circumstances, especially comedies and heist films, this removes every bit of realness a drama might have, since they seem constantly reminding you that the persons you're seeing are just fictional characters.
Ginny starts eating her heart out when the innocent Carolina asks for advice about Mickey. The charming man first denies everything to his lover, but opens up with his new friend, whom he truly loves, about the complicated situation he is.

Adopting a bitchy pose, Ginny, who also has to deal with a pyromaniac child, shows signs of a breakdown, and yet, she’s capable of everything to recover her boy.
Wonder Wheel” gets terribly melodramatic as the story proceeds and brutally stagey by the end. The last conversation between Ginny and Mickey is absolutely ridiculous and the depleted sequences continue until the credits roll. It’s the ending of our discontentment!
Plus, the Dixie jazz tune ‘Coney Island Washboard’ by the Mills Brothers runs too often, becoming more aggravating than bracing. This wheel is a blunder… not a wonder!

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Darkest Hour (2017)

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Directed by Joe Wright
Country: USA

The politically correct “Darkest Hour”, showcasing a memorable performance by Gary Oldman as the UK’s former prime minister Winston Churchill, is a weighty and eloquent historical drama film about a visionary leader whose ideas were not always well accepted or understood.

Director Joe Wright, an expert in period dramas (“Pride & Prejudice”, “Atonement”, “Anna Karenina”), returns to the right path after a terrible experience in the family/adventure genre with “Pan”. Teaming up for the first time with the screenwriter Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”), the filmmaker assures that his conversational ‘war’ film flows with an assertive and coruscating narrative.

In 1940, when the allies were attempting to strategize a plan to face the European invasions of Nazi Germany, the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), considered inapt by the opposition to defend the kingdom, resigns. It’s his right to point out a substitute, and his preference falls in Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who declines the offer. The only man tailored for the position that is available is Winston Churchill. However, instead of passive measures based on negotiations with the enemy, he vindicates a risky yet ambitious counter-attack plan to deal with the situation, which is particularly delicate in the French cities of Dunkirk and Calais, locations with stranded British troops. For him, in that specific case, peace means weakness, and therefore, he is ready to fight tooth and nail to convince everyone that his strategy is the most adequate.

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Offering nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, the confident Churchill, who despite irascible in his speech can be very humorous, takes his responsibility seriously and manages to make the skeptical King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) a believer of his cause, as well as the entire Parliament.

Despite counting on the support of his wife, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the professional dedication of his new typewriter, Miss Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), of whom he grew a special fondness, Churchill has some difficult moments in which he almost disintegrates emotionally. Wright’s proficient visual sequences effortlessly display this human frailty, as genuinely as he portraits his fiery political side. The camerawork is precise if expeditious at times, moving from one face to another with a glorious sense of inquest.

Gary Oldman, giving an Oscar-worthy performance, has the perfect command of his role, even when the scenes are not so incisive, like when Churchill decides to make contact with the people in the London Underground.

Darkest Hour” is, in truth, a polished war film where the action is purely wordy. And it worked!

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Country: Italy 

The praiseworthy dramas of Italian director Luca Guadagnino always give us something to think about and to remember. Usually, the mature stories he addresses are set in his country of origin, involving local and foreign characters, whose experiences are unhurriedly depicted with a true heart and a non-judgmental posture.

If the British Tilda Swinton was the star in the previous installments of his Desire trilogy, “I Am Love” and “The Bigger Splash”, the American actor Armie Hammer was the one to appear in the bold final installment, “Call Me By Your Name”. 

Hammer is Oliver, a handsome 24-year-old anthropology doctorate who arrives at the Northern Italian countryside to intern for six weeks with professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), a summit in the field.
The year is 1983, and the sun abundantly bathes the beautiful villa of the Perlmans. All the members of this American Jewish family are excited to receive the also American Jewish Oliver, with the exception of the 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the professor’s eldest son, who sees his privacy compromised and his comfort dimmed. Besides sharing the bathroom with the guest, he was politely forced to offer his room either. It’s perceptible that Elio is a bit annoyed by Oliver's arrogance and carefree posture. However, on the other hand, he becomes very attracted to this man, whose sociable nature, self-confidence, and irresistible charm have a magnetic effect on him.
 
Both the adult and the teenager flirt with girls. The older one with the local Chiara (Victoire Du Bois), and the younger with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel), a Parisienne around his age, who is experiencing love for the first time. But the compulsive seduction game between the men keeps happening as their desire grows without dissimulation or fears. This is naturally depicted rather than forced.

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Despite having sharp eyes, Elio’s lenient parents don’t meddle directly in their son’s affairs. They seem inattentive and a bit detached, with the housekeeper, Mafalda (Vanda Capriolo), assuming the authority and rebuking Elio whenever he deserves.
Yet, this initial perception has proven to be false, since the couple, aware of the special bond between their son and their guest, suggest they take a farewell trip to Bologna.
 
The drama is filled with raw emotions and evinces an incredible honesty in terms of storytelling. The filmmaking style, evoking the wonderfully languid cinema of Eric Rohmer and Bernardo Bertolucci, reflects, even more, the vivid three-dimensionality of the characters. Guadagnino did an amazing job with John Ivory’s script, an adaptation of André Aciman’s novel of the same name, and was granted with superior performances by Chalamet and Hammer in order to bring to the surface any emotional complexity that their words couldn't express. 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, opted to shoot in 35-mm to accurately capture the sexual awakening of a young man, who, at the end, becomes inconsolable, suffering violently with the loss of his first true love. Who hadn’t been there?

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The Florida Project (2017)

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Directed by Sean Baker
Country: USA

46-year-old American filmmaker Sean Baker seemed to have found his own voice through a mesmerizing cinema-verité that concurrently fascinates, disturbs, and ultimately infuriates.

If his masterwork “Tangerine”, entirely shot on iPhone 5s, was packed with a mix of punchy reality and funny momentum, his new drama, “The Florida Project”, captured on 35mm film, leaves the humor aside, effectively depicting human degradation and parental negligence with the same raw intensity.

The animated rhythm of 'Celebrate' by Earth, Wind & Fire, together with the sight of three little kids fooling around and upsetting the people of their neighborhood, passed the misleading idea that this could be a feel-good movie focused on childhood. Don’t even think about it! This film is about the immense suffering that some reckless and negligent parents can cause to their children.

With a deft command of the camera, Baker takes us to the light purple-colored Magic Castle motel in Kissimmee, Florida, where the lazy twenty-something Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her six-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), currently live. Halley not only doesn’t have a job, she doesn’t want to find one. She prefers to remain in her room, indolently smoking weed, while her kid is left unsupervised, frequently misbehaving with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera), Dicky (Aiden Malik), and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). 

She gets some food from her friend Ashley (Mela Murder), Scooty’s mother and upstairs neighbor, as a payment for watching for her son while she’s at work. Ashley would never imagine how vulgar, rancorous, and cunning her friend is, until they cut relations due to an incident involving the children.

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Obviously, the weekly rent is a constant problem for Halley, who resorts to illegal schemes to get the money. Huckstering cheap perfumes to tourists, offering sexual services online, and stealing her clients whenever possible, are all part of her deal.

Despite fond of Halley and her kid, Bobby (Willem Defoe), the motel manager, is many times forced to impose his authority. But she's not his only problem since he has to deal with trafficking in some rooms, sneaky guys trying to maliciously approach the kids outside, and the stubborn Gloria (Sandy Kane), who loves sunbathing topless near the pool. Not to mention taking care of mattresses impregnated with bedbugs.

Extremely absorbing, mostly because of the strange acting rapport between Vinaite and the young Prince, “The Florida Project” mirrors the immaturity, irresponsibility, and rudeness of a lost person, whose terrible example for her child, both behavior and language-wise, is sad and vexatious.

The script was cleverly co-written by Baker and his habitual collaborator Chris Bergoch, while the briskness of the editing, credited to the filmmaker, felt a bit tiresome at times without compromising the effectiveness of the story or the essence of its message.

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I, Tonya (2017)

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Directed by Craig Gillespie
Country: USA

Margot Robbie does a fantastic job as the former figure skater Tonya Harding in a facetious biopic directed by Craig Gillespie who, despite spirited in tone, didn’t surpass his 2007 comedy “Lars and the Real Girl”.
If the cited Australian actress got our eye through a fine performance, Ohio-born Allison Janney, who plays her mother, LaVona, is absolutely insuperable. Curiously, Janney aspired to become a champion skater at a younger age, but an accident prevented her to fulfill that dream.

Following a script by Steven Rogers (“Kate & Leopold”, “P.S. I Love You”), who also produces, the director pins the camera in front of Tonya, in her mid-forties, and gives her free rein to express herself in regard to a controversial past that got her banned from figure skating for life. According to her fictional testimony, every complicated situation that happened in her agitated life was never her fault.

Tonya, who won her first competition at the age of four, achieved brilliant moments in her career. She became an Olympian champion and a Skate America champion twice, and also made history in the sport for being the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition, among other records. While she was never satisfied with the scores, often lowered due to a poor presentation, her abhorrent and super controlling mother was never satisfied with her performances, making a constant psychological pressure that intended to pique her toward excellence.
Unstable, mean, and utterly rude in her language, LaVona only smiles to scorn or humiliate. She's so dangerous that she even threw a knife at her daughter once in the heat of an argument.

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If this weren’t enough, Tonya was being a victim of domestic violence by her prickly husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). The latter joined Tonya’s unrefined bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), in a dirty scheme to attack Nancy Kerrigan, his wife’s main competitor, in order to prevent her from competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Tonya hardships were depicted with straightforwardness; however, the film’s narrative was not so effective, perennially wobbling between the cheaply dramatic and the absurdly comic. It works as an absolution for Tonya, who went to professional boxing after realizing that her figure skating career was over. But it's also a definitive condemnation of the cruel, companionless LaVona, whose unbending personality persists, even when declining and wearing a nasal oxygen cannula.

Like the story of its title character, “I, Tonya” embraces contradiction from start to finish. While the soundtrack is awesome, with Heart’s 1977 hit ‘Barracuda’ attempting to have the same boosting effect that Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’ had in "Rocky", all the moody characters are unenchanting and some of them even useless, like Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale), the producer of Hard Copy, an unreliable tabloid news television show popular in the 90s. The feeling is even stronger after we hear LaVona saying to her daughter: “I gave you a gift”, and getting “You’re a monster” as an answer.

Robbie and Janney’s performances avoided further damages.

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The Disaster Artist (2017)

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Directed by James Franco
Country: USA

The Disaster Artist”, a sort of Ed Wood meets an antithesis of James Dean, is a biographical comedy-drama about the eccentric Tommy Wiseau, the actor, producer, and director behind the cult indie drama “The Room” (2003), many times considered by the critics as one of the worst movies ever. The one who took advantage from that peculiarity was actor/director James Franco (“127 Hours”, “Spring Breakers”), who builds up a widely entertaining story about the making of that movie, often using a rollicking sense of humor to describe Wiseau’s personality. He focuses on his dreams and frustrations, as well as on the bizarre friendship with his movie partner, the actor Greg Sestero. The screenplay by the team Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now”) was adapted from Sestero and Tom Bissell’s non-fiction book that gave the film its title.

James Franco decided to embody Wiseau himself, bestowing a droll expression that characterizes an intriguing man with a mysterious past, weird Eastern accent, long hair, and stony pose. Moreover, he has no skills for playing football, lies about his age, and claims he was raised in New Orleans. Money is not a problem for him, a fact that constitutes another mystery, and all these aspects, in addition to his awkward ways, are what compels us to know more about him. 

After befriending the 19-year-old Sestero (director’s brother Dave Franco) in San Francisco in an acting class, Wiseau invites him to move with him into his well-located apartment in LA, so they can follow their dream and becoming movie stars. The duo makes a pact for life, whose guidelines are to push each other, believe in each other, and never give up on their dreams. 

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Wiseau, whose semblance would give a wonderful Frankenstein or Dracula, refuses to play a villain role, being successively discarded by the Hollywood studios due to his terrible accent. But because he is a go-getter, he equally attempts unorthodox methods to achieve his goal, like approaching a famous producer in a restaurant. Yet, that strategy only results in sadness and frustration. The embarrassing situation, rather than remove his stubbornness or ambition, leads him to make the irreversible decision of producing his own film, The Room, based on a defective script he wrote.

The 40-day shooting schedule starts smoothly but develops into a nightmare, especially after Sestero, who plays a leading role in the film, has promulgated woman bartender Amber (Alison Brie) as his girlfriend. Jealousy and bad temper dominate our anti-hero from that point on, which makes “The Disaster Artist” even more appetizing and outrageously funny in its last section.

The absolutely gorgeous soundtrack boasts tunes such as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibration”, Faith No More’s “Epic”, and Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night”, which help to create the right mood at the right time.

Beguiling rather than thrilling, this new cult film fully defines its characters, serving as a showcase for the Francos' acting skills, particularly James. The one who didn’t get enough space to shine was the comedy celebrity Seth Rogen, who calmly embodied Wiseau’s script supervisor, Sandy Schklair.

By recreating the true story behind a weird film, Franco also creates a weird film. He takes his directorial career to a higher peak, delivering the weirdest and perhaps the funniest comedy of 2017.

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Last Flag Flying (2017)

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Directed By Richard Linklater
Country: USA

Throughout his outstanding career, reputed writer-director Richard Linklater proved to have a special gift, handling conversational romantic dramas (Before Trilogy), meticulous coming-of-age epics (“Boyhood”, “Dazed and Confused”), and entertaining period comedies (“Bernie”, “Everybody Wants Some”) with plenty of thoughtfulness, charm, and narrative charisma.

This time around, he joined forces with novelist Darryl Ponicsan to present a totally different story and style. Far more traditional, I would say.

Last Flag Flying” takes a poignant look at war and at a father’s suffering. However, this woefully dramatic view intertwines with a comedic side that only works intermittently, without never providing that plain satisfaction one expects.

Not so cozy or smart in the dialogue, the film tells us about three old friends and Navy-vets, Larry "Doc" Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who reunite in sad circumstances, decades after having returned from Vietnam.

Arrived from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Doc, who finds everyone on the Internet and did time in a US Navy prison, was the one with the initiative of establishing contact with Sal, the reckless, permanently-hungover owner of a small bar, and Richard, a former alcoholic now turned into a married, respectful preacher at the Beacon Baptist Church. The reason for that is because Doc, now a widower, needs help to fetch and bury the dead body of his 21-year-old son, another national hero killed in Baghdad, days before Saddam Husain has been captured.

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The friends drive to the Dover Air Force Base, just to learn that Doc’s son was no hero after all. He died when he left the base to get cokes for his buddies. Piqued by Sal, who approves of conflict and confrontation, Doc opts for taking his son to Portsmouth and bury him like a civilian in his graduation suit, provoking the exasperation of the authoritative Lt Col. Willits (Yul Vazquez).
 
The road trip back home becomes quite adventurous with some unexpected frictions, a couple of good laughs regarding the time in Vietnam, along with some regrets too, and the tightness of an almost forgotten friendship. Yet, the film keeps relying too much on the bigmouthed Sal and his agitated personality to impress, which, unfortunately, didn’t cause so much impact on me. 

Making a feel-good movie from a tragedy is no easy-to-do task, and Linklater only partially succeeds in that challenging endeavor. For most of its duration, “Last Flag Flying” felt more like a banal film rather than a Linklater’s film. Since the characters look and sound hypocritical on several occasions, authenticity was never set as a priority.

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The Departure (2017)

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Directed By: Lana Wilson
Country: USA

The Departure” is a potent documentary about a former rebellious rocker turned Zen priest who spends his days helping depressed people on the verge of committing suicide. Working for a decade in the suicide prevention, Tokyo-native Ittetsu Nemoto leads with confidence one of his famous retreat sessions known in Japan as The Departure. He urges the attendants to think of what they will leave behind if they follow their suicidal thoughts, in a clear attempt to find remnants of hope in the emptiness of their anguished souls. As a considerate counselor and a great listener, he makes them feel less lonely by reinforcing that fear is a road we’ve all traveled at some point. Reacting to the irrationality of living (being born to struggle until the time of our death), he also encourages people to express themselves through art in order to find some relief. However, this is not always the case with the people who seek him.

Nemoto lives in a temple located in the countryside with his wife, Yukiko, the nurse who took care of him after a serious motorcycle accident when he was 24, their little son, Teppei, whom he barely sees due to a busy schedule, and his helpful mother, who worries about his health.

It’s truly honorable what this priest does for the sake of others, but he keeps forgetting of himself and his own needs. His mission seems to be more important than anything that can happen to him, however, he’s getting weaker, stressed, and vulnerable since most of his energy is consumed by his patients, who, in turn, pass him their sufferings. Furthermore, the 24/7 availability takes his sleep away, with phone calls, emails, and text messages arriving in the middle of the night.

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Emmy-award winning director, Lana Wilson (“After Tiller”), intersperses Nemoto’s medical condition - he suffered a heart attack in the past and now faces the real danger of clogged arteries - with several suicidal cases of people who remain in treatment with him, including a man who cannot bear not to see his kids, a young girl who is anxious and uncertain about the future, a man with 30 years of drug addiction, and a middle-aged woman whose sadness is endless. Serene and unhesitating, our hero refuses to give up on them.

Besides focusing on the grandiose altruism and compassion of its protagonist with a lyric simplicity, what the film actually questions is utterly complex: how can this man take care of other people when he is not taking care of himself? Would he feel better after leaving the patients at the mercy of their own miseries? What will happen to him if he continues with such an exhausting lifestyle?

This is what keeps revolving in our heads throughout a meditative film that treats both dejection and encouragement with the same quiet impartiality. Sometimes hope turns into light, other times it’s the despondency that brings us down.
 
The Departure”, sliding with a deliberate melancholy toward the painful reality that concludes its story, benefits from the competent editing by David Teague. Nonetheless, better the subject matter than the technical aspects.

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Lady Bird (2017)

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Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Country: USA

The extremely talented actress turned deft writer and now promising director, Greta Gerwig ("Francis Ha", "Mistress America"), reveals her genius in “Lady Bird”, a delightful coming-of-age comedy-drama with so much to be apprehended and cherished.

The semi-autobiographical film is a love letter to her city of Sacramento in California and also a glorious portrait of family and friendship, personal dreams and social status.

The American actress of Irish descent, Saoirse Ronan, who excelled in John Crowley's drama "Brooklyn", stars as Christine McPherson, a quick-tempered 16-year-old who wants to be called by Lady Bird. Her rebelliousness can easily turn into radical actions such as throwing herself out of a moving car because of an argument with her nurse mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). The clash between these strong personalities is very perceptible here, becoming the responsible factor for those typical love-hate bonds in the life of an adolescent. Besides, the title character hates Sacramento and doesn’t want to study at the Catholic high school, despite the scholarship granted to her. According to her mother, this financial help came at the right time since her depressed father, Larry (Tracy Letts), is currently unemployed. But the ambitious Lady Bird wants more and dreams about going to the East coast, where all the culture is. Unfortunately, her parents couldn’t afford to give her an education there, but that’s no reason to give up, though. The resilient Lady Bird already engendered a plan with the complicity of her benevolent father.

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Meanwhile, at school, she hangs out with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and starts dating with an Irish Catholic boy, Danny (Lucas Hedges), who comes to the conclusion he’s gay after all, stressing out with the thought of having to confess the truth to his parents. 

In a blink of an eye, the life of Lady Bird shifts from anonymity to the center of attention when she starts a more serious relationship with the popular Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the leader of a cool rock band, who often puts on airs. Moreover, she cuts off relations with Julie, replacing her with the spoiled and pretentious Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush). However, and because life always reveals us if we're right or wrong, she realizes, sooner than later, that those moves were nothing but mistakes. Learning and growing!

Ms. Gerwig not only depicted the tempestuous mother-daughter relationship with extraordinary precision, but also set up each and every other interpersonal connection with outstanding truthfulness. The topic has been addressed countless times but few attained this level of credibility. 

The characters are meaningful and fascinating, the narrative is no slouch, and the story, incredibly simple, is grandiose in terms of gracefulness and spirit.
This funny, tender, and brilliant film, thriving with witty observations and touching conclusions, is undoubtedly at the very top of my 2017 best list.

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Wonder (2017)

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Directed By: Stephen Chbosky
Country: USA

Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder” delivers a clear, positive message with the best of the intentions. I wish I could say there’s nothing wrong with it, but the truth is that this tearful family drama grows too condescending after a promising start, assuming the shape of an optimistic crowd-pleaser instead of a realistic portrait of life.
 
The trio of writers - Chbosky, Jack Thorne, and Steve Conrad, adapted the 2012 novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio, which tells us about Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a smart young boy who loves Star Wars and was born with TCS, a genetic disorder characterized by facial deformities that cost him 27 surgeries. This traumatized kid, who uses a helmet to hide his face from the world, complains about how burdensome has been his life: “an ordinary kid doesn’t get stared wherever he goes or doesn’t scare the other kids out of the playground”.

Auggie just started to go school for the very first time and went directly to the fifth-grade after having been homeschooled by his caring mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). A very complicated moment because, without the protection of his parents, he faces the cruel reality of bullying and the constant scorn of some of his schoolmates, especially Julian (Bryce Gheisar), a swagger who doesn’t miss a chance to provoke him and hurt his feelings. The nicest boy in school is Jack Will (Noah Jupe), who rapidly finds valuable qualities in Auggie's personality to notice his malformation. However, their apparently solid friendship takes a thorny course when the protagonist catches Jack talking behind his back.

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The focus then turns to Auggie’s sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), a responsible student who claims more than ever the attention of her parents. Since she lost her grandmother, the only one who could truly understand her, and her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), who, all of a sudden, stopped talking to her after returning from a summer camp, life has become arduous. 
 
An array of dissociations, reconciliations, and conquests follow, always depicted with a mix of grace and contrivance.
 
Wonder” simply didn’t work for me. Besides the setbacks described above, the two funniest characters, Auggie’s father, Nate (Owen Wilson), and the school’s principal, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), had very little time to shine. Chbosky, who also didn’t convince in his previous feature “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, plays this ‘music’ so in tune that he forgot to orchestrate some twists to cause surprise. This is a melting and flimsy tale.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Directed By Rian Johnson
Country: USA

The stylish episode VIII of the Star Wars franchise, the second of a trilogy that began in 2015 with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, was given the title of “The Last Jedi” and keeps dividing audiences worldwide. While its visual impact is undeniable, old and new characters work together to infuse zest and grittiness in an impetuous inspiration by Rian Johnson (“Brick”, “Looper”), who penned and directed with equal doses of passion and fascination. The director actually captured the tonal spirit of the preceding episodes and elevated it through bold and fresh ideas. However, this spacial opus could have run shorter than the two hours and a half without major loss.

The spectacular battles between the dominant First Order, an evil military junta commanded by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), and the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), are in the center of the attention. However, and because this is far from being a tacky tale, one can find a decent emotional side attached to it, as well as a winning humor, which associated to speedy action scenes, regales with an inviting diversion.

In this episode, Rey (Daisy Ridley) travels to the secluded planetary island of Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a Jedi master turned hermit, decided to hide six years before. She wants to convince him to join the Resistance. After the initial stubbornness and refusal, Luke ends up accepting the challenge and even teaches her the ways of the Jedi as he sees a lot of courage, righteousness, and skills in her that are so characteristic from The Force. However, Rey communicates telepathically with the venomous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), son of Leia and Han Solo, whose ambiguous behavior and sly intentions will drag her to Snoke’s den.

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On another front, we have the former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) teaming up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker for the Resistance that appears for the first time in the series. I don’t see her as a super strong character, though. Also, the often funny X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), does what he has to do for the sake of the Light with fearless bravura, even if he needs to confront his inflexible, stern superior, the Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). 

As a bold director, Johnson didn’t turn his face to risk or experience and his efforts become successful. The stunning tete-a-tete between Skywalker and Kylo Ren was the most exciting moment of the film, culminating in a sophisticated artifice of teleportation. It felt like I was in a video game without being able to control it.
 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was dedicated to Carrie Fisher, who died of cardiac arrest on December 15. The last installment of the trilogy will be released in 2019, having J.J. Abrams once again in the director’s chair.

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Thelma (2017)

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Directed by Joachim Trier
Country: Norway

The first minutes of “Thelma”, Joachim Trier’s first experience on psychological horror-thriller, is enchanting and baffling. Walking on a frozen lake, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) and his 8-year-old daughter Thelma (Grethe Eltervag) contemplate the fish swimming underneath the thick layer of ice. They're crossing the snowy woods that surround their small town located on the west coast of Norway to hunt. A young deer stops, staring in front of them. While Thelma gets petrified, Trond points his rifle at the animal and prepares to shoot. However, and to our surprise, the gun changes direction, aiming at Thelma for brief moments. Standing about seven feet away from him, the kid doesn’t realize that her life is hanging by a thread. This is an enticing premise of a film whose veiled prescription takes a ponderous and valid effect.

The story moves onward, and we are taken to the cosmopolitan scenario of Oslo, where the beautiful yet reserved Thelma (Eili Harboe), now a freshman in college, struggles to adapt to a big city and new people. Nevertheless, she shows clear signs of wanting to live an independent life. Sometimes, when not picking up the phone, she gets her overly controlling parents worried. It’s clear that she maintains a close relationship with her father, but he can make her truly uncomfortable with his to-the-point remarks. Her wheelchair-bound mother, Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), despite observant, remains silent most of the time. One can tell there’s pain here, but the mystery stubbornly persists.

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The secrets, having had tragic repercussions in the past and within the family, only begin to surface when Thelma, who grew up immersed in a rigid Christian doctrine, is tormented by guilt as she experiences what people at her age are exposed to, namely, alcohol, drugs, and sexual desire. On this latter aspect, she gets particularly overwhelmed when in the face of an irrepressible lesbian attraction for Anja (Kaya Wilkins), the extrovert college mate who was sitting next to her in the library when she had the first of a series of weird seizures.
 
These completely strange occurrences along with abominable dreams, occasional panic attacks, and an unrestrained spiral of emotional vulnerability lead Thelma to the fantastic yet intimidating discovery that she possesses a freaking strange power that can be used over people with possibly alarming outcomes.
As the sexual repression stings deeper, the main character acknowledges she is special, and yet the film loses a bit of direction after a couple of flashbacks have clarified what she’s really capable of.
 
Thelma” is loaded with invention but stands below the high standards the director set with top-notch dramas such as “Oslo, August 31” and “Reprise”. If the film is technically unblemished, it’s no less true that it feels a bit strained, story-wise. Notwithstanding, and for his own sake, the talented filmmaker eschewed any type of melodramatic flourishes and was wise enough to intensify those suspended, dreamlike, and highly atmospheric segments where the senses become affected by the use of substances and the sexual pleasures are set loose. There’s a scene of a party that is absolutely enthralling, and the scintillating Elie Harboe, delivering a standout performance, gives you another good reason to see this movie.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: USA

Do you like being psychologically disturbed and at the same time poked by wry humor while you're watching a movie? Do you feel compelled to explore dark paths and search for logic connections when you have no idea where an odd story is going to take you? If you answered affirmatively to these questions, I urge you to watch “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, the latest ingenious and tragic brain-teaser from Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos, author of “Dogtooth”, “Alps”, and “The Lobster”.

Laden with a painfully perverse eeriness and strategic circumspection, this unearthly tale, co-written by Lanthimos and his creative right-hand partner Efthymis Filippou, was inspired by Euripides’ ancient play Iphigenia at Aulis.

Acting convincingly, Collin Farrell and Nicole Kidman pair up once again after having collaborated recently in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled”. He is Stephen Murphy, a successful cardiac surgeon who conquered a drinking problem in a recent past. She is Anna, his wife, and a dedicated mother of two, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), 14 and 12, respectively. The couple is solidly married for sixteen years, living in a beautiful house that accommodates their quirky, libido-sparkling sexual games - “general anesthetic?”, she asks. Their concerns, sometimes turned into slight disagreements, are mostly related to giving a proper education to their children and assign them common household chores to reinforce their responsibility.

The family's serenity is shattered when Stephen invites an atypical teenage friend, Martin (Barry Keoghan), to dinner and meet his family. The kid, acting in a very considerate way, makes a good impression, especially on Kim, with whom he develops an instinctive chemistry. The unlikely relationship between Stephen and Martin is not immediately clarified and we only learn that the boy’s father died three years before during a delicate heart operation conducted by Stephen. Since that dinner, Martin has become pushier in an obsessive way, popping up everywhere without notice and making Stephen uncomfortable with his presence. The most awkward moment occurs when the doctor meets his friend's brazen mother (Alicia Silverstone), after accepting a scheming invitation to dinner at his place as a form of retribution. 

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Despite injurious, this disagreeable episode had almost no expression to Stephen when compared with the adversity that stemmed from the unexplainable illness of his two children. All of a sudden, they got both legs unaccountably paralyzed. An intransigent impudence grows in the diabolical Martin as he reveals part of his occult plan, casting a four-stage curse upon Stephen’s children as a punishment for the death of his father. The malediction will affect the members of his direct family, who will all perish if he doesn't pick one to be killed at his own hands.

Lanthimos can easily flip between quiet uneasiness and maniacal violence, but he mostly sticks to the former option, giving a cerebral course to the twisted emotions, in the same line of “Dogtooth”, rather than embracing the spirited subversion that outlined “The Lobster”. It’s quite perplexing how this talented filmmaker manages to depict darkness and mischief by embedding so much light in the geometrically composed shots, conveying not fear, but more of a calculated and almost fragile profanity. 

Provocative, transgressive, and predominantly off-the-wall, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” bites with cinematic decorum and also throbs with an opportune, startling score.

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Sweet Virginia (2017)

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Directed by Jamie M. Dagg
Country: USA

The Coen-esque “Sweet Virginia”, a small-town neo-noir western crime thriller directed by Jamie M. Dagg (“River”) and written by the brothers Paul and Benjamin China, qualifies to illustrate a clear-cut plot where nothing is given fortuitously or happens out of the blue. Actually, the wackiness of the story is Dagg’s best trump, while his unsophisticated filmmaking style, often relying on moody frames containing sunless settings and deplorable characters, accomplishes its purposes without groundbreaking stunts.

Sam (Jon Bernthal), a natural from Virginia, is a former rodeo champ who owns a small motel located in an underpopulated Alaskan valley. He maintains a secretive relationship with Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt), a married woman whose husband is shot dead at point-blank range with two of his longtime friends while having drinks at a local bar. One of them, Mitchell (Jonathan Tucker), was a successful businessman who was actually facing bankruptcy, a fact that not even his attractive wife, Lila McCabe (Imogen Poots), would suspect. Highly dissatisfied with a lousy 3-year marriage, Lila, reveals her co-responsibility in the killings, having hired a psychologically unstable assassin named Elwood (Christopher Abbott) to do the job. This dangerous man, also a Virginian, was supposed to shoot only Mitchell but ended up appeasing his darker instincts by shedding blood in an evil, premeditated way.

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An aspect that truly bothered me was the fact that we don’t see a single cop investigating the case. Hence, Elwood, the stranger in town, continues lodged at Sam’s motel as if nothing had happened. Another slightly tortuous episode presented as a futile subplot has to do with a noisy, virulent host of the motel, who brutally confronts a debilitated Sam whenever he attempts to bring him to his senses.

Things get a little bit more neurotic when the penniless Lila, drastic to the core, engenders another filthy plan so that Elwood can receive his job payment.
 
Exploring sicko paths, this shineless indie has its interesting moments. Even when the depiction wasn’t so effective and the narrative scanty in intensity, I felt compelled to follow the story with considerable inquisitiveness while attempting to guess where it would take me. To be honest, I was taken to a primal ground and challenged with raw emotions, interpersonal destructiveness, and a perpetual sense of dark fate.

My particular praises go to the awesome performances by Abbot and Bernthal, as well as for the disturbing music score by the talented Brooke and Will Blair. The brothers' compositional work also includes “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”, a pair of tenebrous movies directed by Jeremy Saulnier, whose heavy atmosphere is not so distant from the one devised for “Sweet Virginia”.

If you're looking for pitch-dark tales packed with wickedness, cruelty, and crime, this one can make your day.

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Spoor (2017)

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Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Country: Poland

Spoor”, the 16th fictional feature by Polish writer/director Agnieszka Holland, slides into swampy ground, never attaining the impressive prowess of works such as “Angry Harvest”, “Europa, Europa”, and “In Darkness”, which elevated the cineaste's reputation, assuring her a place in the international cult film circle.
 
Based on the novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, who also helped co-writing the script, the story focuses on Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), a retired, auto-sufficient, astrology enthusiast, and highly neurotic schoolteacher who is a staunch advocate for animal rights, a problematic task in her remote small town located in Poland, next to the border with the Czech Republic, since the hunting season is seen with tremendous enthusiasm by the majority of the inhabitants. Most of them, backed by scornful police officers, shoot at everything that moves, and that might have been the reason for the vanishing of Dusjejko’s two beloved dogs.

When unexplainable crimes start victimizing the local hunters, the wrathful Ms. Duszejko sees her name on the list of suspects appointed by the police. Would this aging, fragile woman be capable to use force and do justice with her own hands?

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The performance by Mandat-Grabka is diligent, and yet she couldn’t save the film from that sort of irritating cathartic neurosis that puts the finger in the wound without devising a proper or satisfying outcome. To tell the truth, Holland showed an embarrassing indecision about which direction to take, toggling between the activist drama, the faltering thriller, and the shabby comedy. She ends up compromising the story with a powerless, almost aleatory mix of the cited options.

Besides the main character, we see a bunch of loners attempting to fill a bit more the unfocused main plot with distracting sub-plots that feel more ludicrous than fulfilling. Even with promising pouches of intrigue and an interesting, atypical character, we don’t get a full delivery of that promise. I’m remembering of Carlos Saura’s “The Hunt”, whose minimal plot and narrative simplicity creates far more tension than “Spoor”, a mere disjointed fiddle-faddle whose real joy comes from the beautiful hazy landscapes and the morbid human decomposition captured by the lens of the skilled cinematographers, Jolanta Dylewska and Rafal Paradowski, along with the dark chamber music composed by Antoni Lazarkiewicz. As for the rest, it doesn’t really live up to its premise.

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The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)

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Directed by Noah Baumbach
Country: USA

Noah Baumbach is an American writer/director with a knack for witty dramas, usually loaded with amazing characters and a driven emotional content. These are the cases of “The Squid and the Whale”, “Greenberg”, “Frances Ha”, and “Mistress America”, irresistible highlights of an admirable filmography.

His new film, “The Meyerowitz Stories” showcases a brilliant cast with Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson in the main roles and depicts with ups and downs the gathering of an estranged, dysfunctional family that has the elderly patriarch as a model.

Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a retired art professor and established sculptor whose work is frequently exhibited at MoMA and Whitney Museum. However, like most of the artists, he seems never satisfied with what he achieves and shows signs of pickiness, selfishness, and petulance in several details related to his life, past and present.

Harold lives with his third wife, Maureen (Thompson), a gem of a person but also an incorrigible alcoholic. Suddenly, their house is invaded by the arrival of Harold’s son, Danny (Sandler), an uninspired, jobless loafer who could have been a great pianist and just feels disoriented after separating from his wife. He and his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), whom nobody pays much attention to, were always the ugly ducklings of the family. All the attention went to their half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), a successful accountant in L.A., who still bears a little grudge against his father due to past issues. Notwithstanding, he’s peremptory when affirming: “I don’t get angry anymore. Now it’s kind of funny to be with him because I have my own business, a wonderful kid, and I live three thousand miles away from him.”

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Everyone in the family deals with an unexpected shake-up when Harold has to be transported to the hospital with a chronicle hematoma in his head. This mishap coincides with a group show at the Bard College, where his most famous piece, wryly entitled ‘Matthew’, is one of the attractions. There, his sons take the opportunity to talk publicly, yet, instead of focusing on their father or his work, they open up about themselves and how they feel as his sons, good and bad. While Baumbach devises this scene with a purposely increase of dramatization, the scene that precedes it, a brothers' fight, feels nonsensically overstaged.

The humorous side relies solely on Danny’s daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), an unflinching self-starter and talented videographer whose artistic work exhibits a very naughty sexual content.

Baumbach set the dialogues with interesting lines and the pretentiousness of the artistic milieu is perfectly calibrated. Even without digging too much, it’s easy for us to find humanity and even warm-heartedness among the family members, regardless the emotional instability that follows them like shadows. Although lacking the habitual attractive charm and magic spell that made Baumbach a treasure of the contemporary American cinema, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is perfectly good to watch, demonstrating a genuine keenness to amuse.

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Stronger (2017)

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Directed by David Gordon Green
Country: USA

Starring an effective Jake Gyllenhaal in the main role, “Stronger” is a taut and heavily dramatic biographical account about the misfortune that hit Jeff Bauman, a Costco employee, who lost both legs during the 2013 terrorist bombing attack perpetrated during the crowded Boston marathon.

Jeff inspired many people with his towering courage and might have become a symbol of the Boston Strong movement, but his adaptation to his new reality was anything but smooth.

After making up with Erin (Tatiana Maslany) for the third time in their on-and-off relationship, Jeff seemed to regain some independence despite sporadic post-traumatic stress disorder manifestations he is forced to control on his own. He set about post-surgery rehabilitation and finds strength in the total availability of Erin, who abandoned her job and agreed to move in with him and his mom. However, Jeff’s alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson), can be a nuisance sometimes and her recalcitrant personality often clashes with the benevolent Erin.

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Slowly yet unmistakably, Jeff slides into a depressive, self-destructive state where he simply gives up his recovery to fall into the dangerous abyss of alcohol and despair. Fortunately, the encounter with the good man who saved him, Carlos (Carlos Sanz), will bring him back not only the hope he needs but also the self-respect and responsibility that enable an appropriate life, both lived as an individual and family member.
   
The resourceful cast does a pretty decent job under the direction of the once-promising director David Gordon Green (“George Washington”, “Prince Avalanche”, “Joe”), who discontinued the attractive indie style that had marked the beginning of his filmmaking career to embrace supplementary standardized forms and structures. Naturally, it was Bauman’s memoir that served as the inspiration for the first-time playwright John Pollono, who passed the difficult test of assembling a capable storytelling.

This re-creation of the events weighs with emotion and humanity, but there’s no stroke of genius here. Even with a fluctuating approach that sometimes tends to rudimentary, Green sustains sufficient levels of honesty throughout to make us follow our hero with interest until the final credits start to roll. Indeed, he was particularly successful in the way he conjured the finale and staged the family dynamics with an aching authenticity.

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The Other Side of Hope (2017)

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Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Country: Finland

Using his extraordinary filmmaking artistry, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, who won his first Silver Berlin Bear this year, aims once more at the immigration hardships in his new comedy-drama “The Other Side of Hope”. Following the same steps given in his previous feature, “Le Havre”, which addressed the same topic but having the French harbor as the backdrop, the director relies on an overwhelming sense of absurdity, graceful wit, and sharp socio-political observations to tell a story packed with flourishing humanity and personal triumphs, but also touched by condemnable malice.

Involved in an absorbing quietude, the story brings two contrasting yet interesting characters to the forefront. If Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a bored Finnish citizen who resolutely abandons his unresponsive, alcoholic wife and decides to rebuild his professional life from scratch, Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee who had to flee from his hometown in the outskirts of Aleppo when his house was bombarded with most of his relatives inside.

Hence, both are trying to bring something new into their disintegrated lives and that goal seems to be simplified after their paths cross. Even not meeting in the nicest circumstances, their relationship grows synergistic when Khaled is illegally hired to work in Waldemar’s restaurant, his newly chosen field of business. The small local restaurant already has an established clientele but keeps vacillating with a poor menu and dissatisfied employees. However, Khaled gives wings to his creativity, turning the place into a Japanese bistro that irremediably serves up sushi plates with salted herring instead of the usual tuna. The latter benefits with the fake ID peremptorily proposed and approved by the boss, who also uses his connections to bring Khaled’s sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji), to Finland.

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Knowing the work of Kaurismaki, I wouldn’t expect him to shape these characters superficially. Indeed, he gives them further dimension with fascinating additional details. Waldemar, for instance, reveals to be a fearless poker gambler whose luck is unbeatable. Although a generous human being, he’s definitely not a perfect one. This is patented on several occasions: when mentioning tax evasion at the moment he buys the restaurant, or when hiding serious nonconformities when the place is subjected to a strict quality inspection.

In turn, the refugee fights a different battle, being frequently harassed and threatened with death by a trio of extremists from the Liberation Army of Finland.
The peak of the absurdity arrives when the minister of Finland deliberates that Aleppo is a safe place to live, emitting a remorseless repatriation order for Khaled.

Embracing a glowing formalism in terms of camerawork, “The Other Side of Hope” is a dead-on satire enhanced with eccentric musical interludes, a staple in the director’s artistic vein, which range from alternative folk-rock to rockabilly country to retro Finish pop acts. The glam visuals captured by the director of photography Timo Salminen, a regular collaborator of the director since the beginning of his career, are also very characteristic, including semi-naked indoor Scandinavian settings, old stylish cars, clouds of cigarette smoke, and idiosyncratic personas in conventional outfits.

Viewers may expect slow and steady developments but the waiting compensates by way of deadpan humoresque tactics, self-assured performances, indispensable messages of unity and understanding, and a copious affluence of human warmth.
The film was dedicated to the late Finnish film historian and director Peter Von Bagh.

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Bad Genius (2017)

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Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
Country: Thailand

Who would have thought that common school exams could motivate so stressful situations? Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya manages to create exactly that in “Bad Genius”, a scholastic, teen-centered heist drama with favorable doses of originality and intense pace.

The story, co-written by Poonpiriya, Tanida Hantaweewatana, and Vasudhorn Piyaromna, was based on real-life occurrences involving cheating students on SAT, the American standardized test widely used for college admissions.

The star of the film, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, is a young fashion model turned into a promising debutant actor. She flawlessly impersonates Lynn, a top-notch student and gold medal in math, who engenders a scheme to help her colleagues passing the tests in exchange for significant sums of money.

It all starts when Lynn is transferred to a new school, one that will give her ampler possibilities of a bright future. This is the wish of her supportive father (Thaneth Warakuklnukroh), a teacher himself, who makes huge financial efforts to have his only daughter studying in such a prestigious school. Yet, Lynn doesn't feel intimidated when explaining to the school’s principal how this change will bring extra expenses to her struggling divorced father. Her fierce determination, clarity of speech, and mental agility will immediately provide her with an unplanned scholarship and free meals.

At school, Lynn befriends Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), a sympathetic artist-wannabe who does much better at the extracurricular activities but is not so expeditious in dealing with the school subjects. Lynn agrees to help her cheating in the exams, but soon, the task extends to Grace’s wealthy boyfriend, Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), who pays her good money for the right answers. Soon, nearly all the other students are attempting to hire her in order to progress in their studies.

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That’s when Lynn has the brilliant idea to start out an exam-cheating business that is directly related to piano chord fingering. Four harmonic patterns establish a direct correspondence with each letter of the multiple choices of an exam, a hassle-free stratagem to get everybody excellent grades. However, things can get very complicated whenever there are two different versions of a test. Besides, Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), an honest, hard-working scholar and direct competitor, finds out the conspiracy and snitched on his classmates.

Later on, Bank, who also struggles financially, also agrees to become part of the team in a wider cheating machination that will bring him some advantages but also inconveniences. Things start to change when, after a venturesome trip to Sydney to take the STIC test, Lynn urges herself to reflect on her conduct.

Remarkably edited by Chonlasit Upanigkit, “Bad Genius” presents a few quibbles that are easily dissolved by the emotional side of the story. One cannot deny the slickness and freshness of its self-confident moves. The tension is unstoppable and the film has no dead moments or delays in its well-planned course of events. Throughout the two-hour odyssey, I kept my fingers crossed for the cheaters, regardless their misconduct and dishonest business.

With social inequalities at the center of this examination, Poonpiriya vouches for a solid entertainment, deftly portraying astute teens whose intelligence combines with a tenacious firmness of purpose and strong personality.

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