One Week and a Day (2016)

Directed by: Asaph Polonsky
Country: Israel

Every person reacts in a different way in the face of grief and loss. That's the main topic of “Two Weeks and a Day”, a bittersweet Israeli drama written and directed by American-born Israeli-raised Asaph Polonsky.

For a debut, the filmmaker managed to associate narrative clarity and very observant details to a slightly offbeat tale, which, despite the heaviness related to the subject itself, ended up being hilarious on various fronts.

The story begins on the last day of the Spivaks’ sitting shiva, a seven-day mourning period in which the coupled stays at home and receives visitors. Eyal (Shai Avivi) and Vicky Spivak (Evgenia Dodina) are still numbed by the loss of their only son, Ronnie, due to cancer. However, their postures after this painful reverse are completely divergent and their behaviors are a reflex of their state of minds. 

While Vicky suffers in silence but tries hard to go back to her normal life, Eyal is completely lost and disoriented. Despite having everything more or less organized in her head, Vicky may forget the dentist appointment, but immediately makes an effort to compensate the fault. She struggles to keep focused and on the right track, and even returns to school to teach again.
In turn, Eyad ignores work and persists in going back to the hospice where his son spent his last days. His intention is to retrieve his son’s colorful blanket but instead, he ends up stealing medicinal cannabis from a patient. In addition to this, he slaps his neighbor Karen (Carmit Mesilati Kaplan) and then fights her husband, Shmulik (Sharon Alexander). Yet, for our surprise, he starts hanging out with their neighbors' immature son, Zooler (Tomer Kapon), a sushi delivery guy who pretends to play an imaginary guitar and helps him rolling a joint for a first stoned experience. His wife’s facial expression shows disapproval of his conduct, but she kind of tolerates this weird phase he’s going through.

And that's how miserable and vulnerable they feel in their mourning process, desperately finding a cure for the endless pain in their souls.

Lots of zany scenes engendered by Polonsky carry a wry humor, at the same time that pushes the viewer to this permanent state of expectation. Thereby, you may expect several oddball situations that keep coming out without previous notice.

The rock music soundtrack is great and serves as a good pretext for Zooler to exteriorize tension with an indefatigable dance moment.
Avivi and Dodina don't let a drop of emotion behind during their memorable performances, regardless how much ridiculous their actions may look. In turn, Kapon conveys a pretty funny stupidity that insults and entertains.

Eschewing a particularly strong climax, “Two Weeks and a Day” develops with confidence toward a conclusion that brims with hope, resignation, and finally acceptance.

The Confessions (2016)

Directed by Roberto Andò
Country: Italy

Roberto Andò’s multi-lingual "The Confessions" looks at the filthy capitalist side of the world with a sneering disdain and confronts it with suggestive topics such as religion and the supernatural.

As it happened in the political satire "Long Live the Freedom" (2013), the Sicilian filmmaker teams up with the one and only Toni Servillo ("The Great Beauty", "Il Divo"), who plays a Carthusian monk turned into the main suspect in the death of the wealthy French economist Daniel Roché (Daniel Auteuil), director of the International Monetary Fund. The tragic incident occurs during a G8 confidential meeting convoked by the president himself, who, after a long confession with Father Roberto Salus (Servillo), a man of untrembling faith, is found in his hotel room choked with a plastic bag tied over his head.

None of the ministers or guests can leave the luxurious German hotel exclusively reserved for the event before the detective in charge concludes the investigations that will determine whether if it was a suicide or murder. The procedures take a long and sinuous course because the monk’s mouth is sealed by a strict vow of silence, which increases the mistrust and insecurity among the group.

By itself, the simple convocation of the monk for this meeting is an enigma, but the fact that he was the last person seeing the banker before his death along with a few other relevant details, make him the center of everyone’s attention. 

Pushed to the limit to tell what he knows, the mysterious Father Salus becomes the most sought after personality in the hotel for various reasons. While the elusive Italian minister Antonio Varelli (Pierfrancesco Favino), worried about his reputation, agrees to confess his sins to relieve his conscience, other ministers, particularly the ones from the UK and the US, just want to get rid of him since he might be in possession of classified information. From here, we conclude that what they were about to approve wouldn't be beneficial for the world at all but for their pockets and personal interests.

This tense dance between God and the devil, dispossession and financial power, repent and sin, takes almost the shape of one of Agatha Christie’s cases with uncertainty and mysticism alike. 

Salus’ best ally ends up being Claire Seth (Connie Nielsen), a famous writer of books for children, who developed a steep curiosity for the monk since the minute she laid her eyes on him. Besides them, there’s another outsider, Mark Klein (Moritz Bleibtreu), a guest musician who tries to conquer Ms. Seth with his gallantry when he’s not entertaining everyone with country-like renditions of tunes like Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side.

Andò co-wrote the script with his close collaborator Angelo Pasquini, resorting to mordant, funny lines to censure the secrecy and hypocrisy of the world’s financial state of affairs, a concern that he dares to compare to the Mafia.

Packed with ironic scenes accurately framed by cinematographer Maurizio Calvesi, who was able to find the right tonic between the light and the shadow, and enhanced by Nicola Piovani’s uncanny score, "The Confessions" flows at a steady pace, avoiding abrupt frenzied spins beyond an unfathomable surreal finale that is worthy of the best illusionists.
One thought weighs in the end: silence, no one can buy.

King Of The Belgians (2016)

Directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Country: Belgium / Bulgaria / Netherlands

Belgian Peter Brosens and American Jessica Woodworth persevere in teaming up with gratifying results. The pair of writer-directors, more self-assured than prolific, only released three movies in the last decade. If I regarded “Altiplano"(2009) as a big step in their careers, the totally engrossing “The Fifth Season” (2012) worked as a validation for their storytelling inventiveness and sure-footed filmmaking style.

Their new film is an adventurous comedy that, being told and shaped like a documentary, makes suitable the neologism mockumentary to better define it.
This road outing, hopping from country to country, takes some time to spread its charms, but when it does, we feel immersed in those feel-good vibes that radiate from the intention of saying bitter truths through a few good laughs.

We follow the well-behaved Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin), the king of Belgium, whose activities are being filmed for a documentary. The man responsible for capturing the best frames during the most propitious occasions is the documentarian Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen), who was hired by the king’s garrulous wife, Queen Ursula (Nathalie Laroche), to follow him everywhere. 

Lloyd, the film’s narrator, gladly joins the king in an official visit to Istanbul that aims to welcome Turkey into the EU. With them goes the faithful royal staff composed of the chief of protocol Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis), the press relations Louise (Lucie Debay), and the king's personal valet Carlos (Titus De Voogdt).

Once in Turkey, they get the news that Belgium is no more since Wallonia just declared independence. In a rush to return home and better face the political crisis, Nicolas III sees an unforeseen solar storm hampering them to fly or even communicate by cell phone. However, being stranded is not a protocol followed by the humble king, who agrees in following a risky escape plan suggested by Lloyd. They get on a bus with a bunch of empathetic Bulgarian folk singers toward Sofia.
Their peculiar itinerary includes a ride on a tractor, a helpful hand from traditional Kukeri figures (remember the fantastic German dramedy “Toni Erdmann”?), and a visit to a rural village disguised of Belgium TV reporters. In Serbia, Lloyd bumps into an old pal and former sniper named Dragan (Goran Radakovic) and the group drinks traditional rakija until dawn, while in Albania they face trouble for having neither passports nor cash.

With jocose lines, “King of the Belgians” is an undemanding offbeat caricature that turns up politically concise in its sayings, yet considerably stinging in its depictions, especially of the countries visited. The widely known internal contention between Walloons and Flemish in Belgium is briefly sneered, functioning as a contradiction of a country whose capital is also the capital of the EU.

In addition to an efficacious hand manipulation of the camera, credible acting, and whimsical musical variations of famous classical pieces, the film has the merit of framing with purpose both naturalistic settings and occasional mounted aesthetic composures. 
You may think of it as if “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” were transformed into a road-trip, in which an unostentatious, solitary king discovers himself through the enjoyment of living an unforgettable adventure.

The Commune (2017)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Country: Denmark / other

Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, co-founder of the Dogme 95 movement along with Lars Von Trier, is known for some poignant dramas with manifest emotional insight as are the cases of “The Celebration”, his first big hit, “The Hunt”, a worldly acclaimed drama with a strong theme, and “Far From the Madding Crowd”, a well-made British-American adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name. However, his filmography is not always consistent and titles such as “Dear Wendy”, “It’s All About Love”, and “Submarino” are completely dispensable.

Vinterberg co-wrote his new drama, “The Commune”, with a highly respected writer/helmer, Tobias Lindholm (“R”, “Highjacking”, “A War”), but the film is another rough stumble in the wobbly quality of his creations.
Set in the 70s, the film focuses on a successful liberal couple, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and Anna Muller (Trine Dyrholm), architecture professor and TV newscaster, respectively, who move with their 14-year old daughter, Freja (Martha Wallstrøm Hansen), into a large but secluded house in Hellerup, North of Copenhagen. The house is too big for them and is Anna’s wish to live in a commune with both old friends and a stranger, a broke foreigner called Allon (Fares Fares).

The other uninteresting dwellers are Ole (Lars Ranthe), Mona (Julie Agnete Vang), and a couple of associate professors whose little son faces a serious heart condition. As they cry and laugh together, everyone knows their place and how to live with respect.

After a chameleonic start that deludes us for brief moments with a perplexing piano melody erroneously announcing a thriller, and then suggesting a possible middle-aged romantic tale before settling in a fellowship adventure, the sharp camera lens fixates on the three main protagonists.

While the temperamental Erik starts an affair with a third-grade college student, Anna enters in a depressive and vicious spiral that will affect her life and work. Freja, who accidentally finds her dad’s secret, also gives the first steps in love with an older boy.

Although one may find genuine moments in the couple’s crisis, there are a bunch of scenes that feel contrived and even touch the ridicule. Perhaps the best example to illustrate this is when Allon does his interview with the commune members. Moreover, the dramatic side, many times enhanced by steep close-ups, is manipulated and conducted with an overwhelming negligence. 

Regardless the wonderful performances by Thomsen and Dyrholm, the narrative engine machinated by Vinterberg needed some more oil to slide out of its torpor. I’ve never found that miraculous spark that captivates, intrigues, and impels us to care about the characters, and that led “The Commune” to become stoic in all its avidity to quickly and easily stir emotions.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Directed by Patty Jenkins
Country: USA / other

“Wonder Woman”, another hyperbolic action-packed wonder-stuffed fantasy rich in highly stylized visuals and heroic passion, fails to engage.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, best known for her compelling debut drama “Monster”, the film was painted according to the screenplay delivered by Allan Heinberg, who also wrote the story together with Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel”, “Batman v Superman”) and Jason Fuchs.

To sweeten things, the creators envisioned a quasi-platonic romance between Diana, an immortal Amazon princess valiantly played by the sculptural 51-year-old Gal Gadot, and Cpt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a young British spy she saved from drowning when his plane crashed.

The self-confident Diana combines the majestic natural powers passed by her father Zeus and the corporeal agility gained with the training received from her brave aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright). Departing from the beautiful hidden island she was raised on and leaving the Amazon queen (Connie Nielsen) and mother behind, Diana embarks on a risky mission to free the world from the hands of Ares, Zeus’ renegade son and god of war, who must be found among the tyrant Nazis and annihilated.

Besides a couple minor twists, the tale advances in a predictable way while presents us with loads of crossfire that makes our eyes tired and our brains slightly numbed. Despite the righteous message and Diana’s tenacious dedication to serve-and-protect humanity, the attributes of the film, even fashionable, are not so strong or new.

Wonder Woman”, whose first part was much more interesting than the second, is the fourth installment of DC comics, and although better than the previous three, still struggles with stereotypes and unevenness.

The Age of Shadows (2016)


Directed by Kim Jee-woon
Country: South Korea

Brought to cinematic life by the hand of writer/helmer Kim Jee-woon, “The Age of Shadows” is a Korean espionage action thriller that reaps honors with a smart script, outstanding action scenes, and unshaken performances by Song Kang-ho (“Momories of a Murder”, “Snowpiercer”), Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan”), and Eom Tae-goo.

The director, whose past works oscillate between the horror (“Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil”) and the action genres (“A Bittersweet Life”, “The Last Stand”), shows a strong narrative articulation while keeping high levels of tension throughout.

Set in the 20’s occupied Korea and Shanghai, the film centers on Lee Jeong-chool (Kang-ho), a deserter member of the Korean resistance who started working for the Japanese as their police captain. He usually accomplishes knotty missions in a stainless way, being regarded as an asset in the hunt for rebel leaders. His superior, Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi), has him in a high account and never recriminates him, even when the operations go off the track.

After the killing of Ok Kim-jang, an important member of the Resistance, Jeong-chool, whom was his former classmate and close friend, radically changes sides as he teams up with Jin Kim-woon (Yoo), a dissimulated antique dealer and persuasive blackmailer who asks for help in a scheme to transfer explosives from Shanghai to Seoul. The explosives would be used to destroy critical Japanese targets in the disquieted capital of South Korea.

Divided between the Japanese duty and his true Korean heart, Jeong-chool resolves to embrace the role of a double agent after meeting with the most wanted man in the country, Jeong Chae-san (Lee Byung-hun), the leader of the Resistance and, according to his own words, a “soldier who lost his country".

At the same time that our agent tries to deviate the attention of Hashimoto (Tae-goo), his voracious new partner in the police, he also tries to locate the betrayer who, acting from inside the group, keeps the occupiers so well informed.

Every scene was carefully weighed and measured to look as realistic as possible, a factor that is commonly neglected nowadays in favor of fireworks and overdone tantrums.

Never decaying in pace, the film provides us with thrilling Hitchcockian sequences on a train, suspenseful ambushes, treacherous inside men working in the shadow, and incredible shootouts at the sound of Louis Armstrong. Are these enough reasons to make you interested?

The Age of Shadows” not only received domestic praise but also drew positive reactions internationally.

La Barracuda (2017)


Directed by Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin
Country: UK

This newly discovered indie thriller, “La Barracuda”, stars Allison Tolman and Sophie Reid as two estranged half-sisters who get to know each other at an adult age while living under the same roof for a limited period of time. The story was an idea of Jason Cortlund, who co-directed with Julia Halperin, and this is their second feature, after the 2012 drama, “Now, Forager”.

The plot centers on two sisters who had never met until their father’s death. Besides being an alcoholic and drug addict, the singer Wayne Joseph Klein was also a liar and a cheater, at least according to his wife, Patricia (JoBeth Williams). Their daughter, Merle Klein (Tolman), lives comfortably in Austin, Texas, in the company of her helpful fiancé Raul (Luis Bordonada) and his son from a previous relationship. She maintains a steady job and now has a big inherited ranch under her supervision.

On a certain day, by the time she gets home, Merle almost becomes speechless when a British woman stationed at her door says to be her sister. Her name is Sinaloa (Reid) and she’s a singer/songwriter, just like their dad.

Reluctantly and due to Raul’s insistence, Merle invites her to stay. At first, the interaction between them seems arduous, but as the time passes, they become best friends. Meanwhile, Sinaloa borrows an old acoustic Gibson and finds some moments of glory when singing melancholic country/folk tunes at home, backed by local musicians who are also friends of the family, and at a local bar. Under different scenarios, she shows to be an honest, independent woman who resolutely exhibits a strong character. However, as the story moves forward, the cool, hippie-like attitude she first adopted gradually vanishes, unmasking a deranged personality that, until then, was concealed.

The episodes succeed one after another while these small changes in Sinaloa’s temperament occur in a very subtle way, forcing the viewers to remain in a state of alert and ambiguity. This can be either challenging or frustrating, and in my case, it was the latter option that won. The reason had much to do with the authors’ inability to build proper tension throughout. Instead, they envisioned pouring everything out, at once, in the final section.

The prolonged pre-climax, characterized by an unaltered pace and tone, took over a story whose main point of interest suddenly changed from Sinaloa, supposedly ‘designed’ to intrigue us (what was that pee in the garden?), to Merle and her emotional problems.

Even with all its weaknesses, the slow-burning “La Barracuda” evinced strong production values, which is laudable considering its low budget. In addition to the appealing cinematography by Jonathan Nastasi and some interesting focused-unfocused camera techniques, the film, which had Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”, “Driving Miss Daisy”) as an executive producer, also reaps considerable benefit from the compelling performances by the pair of leading actors.

Looking and feeling like a true independent film, it was a shame that it felt so uneven and limited in thrills along the way.

Sami Blood (2017)


Directed by Amanda Kernell
Country: Sweden / Denmark / Norway

This idyllic yet emotionally powerful international co-production between Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, follows the drama of a Lappish woman who gladly left her nomadic family behind, neglecting her origins in favor of the more intellectual and cosmopolitan life she envisioned for herself. The viewer has the chance to observe a zealous ambition turning into a tenacious battle against Nordic prejudice.

Anne-Marja (Maj-Doris Rimpi) is a stubborn, never-smiling 78-year-old woman who changed her name many years ago to Christina. The combination of wrinkled skin with a permanently severe look lets us guess she had a tough life in her youth days. We find her heading to Lapland for her sister’s Sami funeral in the company of her son and granddaughter.

Boycotting any possible contact with the locals and isolating herself in a hotel room after refusing to acknowledge her sister, Anne-Marja recalls a tumultuous past, letting us know how she abandoned the Great Northern Mountain, her mother - a reindeer herder, her fragile sister, and the rural smell of the Lapps in order to become a teacher in Uppsala.
The narrative winds back to the 30s when Anne-Marja, 14 (now brilliantly played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok), and her younger sister Njenna (Mia Sparrok), were temporarily sent to a boarding school for Sami children in the South. While the former, a bright student who already spoke fluent Swedish at that time, showed a strong will to become independent and successful, the latter, perceivably different in nature, was yearning and counting the days to go back to her family.

Even owning a monumental intelligence, things didn’t go smoothly for Anne-Marja since the Sami people were considered inferior and prevented from attending better schools to proceed their studies. Trying to hide her true identity by adopting the name of her schoolteacher, she runs away from school but finds prejudice and humiliation everywhere, even when she mistakenly thought that Niklas (Julius Fleischanderl), an Uppsala boy she fell for, would become an ally.

Seamlessly written and compellingly directed by Amanda Kernell, who causes a very much positive impression in her debut feature, “Sami Blood” is a tale of rebellion, ambition, perseverance, and forgiveness, told with a Scandinavian tranquility and sustained by a top-quality performance by the young newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok.

The endearing images – photography is by Sophia Olsson – bestow a picturesque charm and compositional rigor while the script was developed directly from Kernell’s 2015 short film “Northern Great Mountain”, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The irresistible “Sami Blood” did even better by winning the Label Europa Cinemas prize and best debutant director at Venice, the Human Values Award at Thessaloniki, and The Best Nordic Film prize at Goteborg Film Festival.

I can't deny having a certain curiosity about Kernell's next move, as well as where the young Lene can go after this first fulfillment.

Mindhorn (2017)


Directed by Sean Foley
Country: UK

The ridiculously adventurous “Mindhorn” borrows its title from a tacky British detective whose optical eye is no more and no less than a truth-detector that permits him to capture lawbreakers with relative facility. The hero, played by the extravagant actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), a true Capoeira devotee, was created for a TV show that suddenly became a massive success in the Isle of Man, where it was filmed in the late 80s.

25 years later, we find Richard in London, unemployed and infesting casting auditions and cine-studios with unconvincing demonstrations of his rusty acting capabilities. 

Unexpectedly, he returns to Douglas on the Isle of Man to embody the famous character again, but not for a film or TV series. The motive has to do with a serial killer, Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), an advocate of the Apocalypse of Justice, who demands his presence right after slaying another victim.

Escorted and protected by police officers, Richard is regarded as the secret key to catch the villain. In addition to the difficulty of actuate in a real environment pelted with real dangers and misleading cops, Richard re-encounters the old crew he left behind, including his ex-girlfriend and actress, Patricia Deville (Essie Davis), now a serious journalist married with Richard’s former stunt-man Clive Parnevik (Simon Farnaby), and also Geoffrey Moncrief (Richard McCabe), a broke public relations who lives decadently in a caravan. He also tries to reach Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan), a second-rate actor turned ostentatious businessman whose contact he should avoid.

The film, produced by Coogan and Ridley Scott, was directed by Sean Foley from a screenplay by Barratt and Farnaby, relying heavily on Barratt’s performance to convey the carefree posture and provocative attitude of the insolent, self-aggrandizing protagonist. It also features cameos from Kenneth Brannagh and Simon Callow.

Mindhorn” is an outlandish, intellectually limited experience that uses a few cheap gimmicks to entertain. Yet, it shows some nerve in the wild, if nonsensical situations depicted. It can be defined as a blend of crime parody and calamitous detective misadventure populated by weird, fabricated characters. Despite all the artful imbecility associated with it, I didn’t give my time as wasted and even discovered a few hilarities among its never static imbroglios.

The renowned American entertainment company Netflix saw its commercial viability while it was running in the UK theaters and acquired the broadcasting rights.

Eternity (2016)

Directed by Tran Anh Hung
Country: France / Belgium

France-based Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung is known for his sensitive depictions of plausible life dramas through a meditative approach. All this is reflected in the worth-discovering first works of his short filmography, such as "The Scent of Green Papaya" (1993), "Cyclo" (1995), and "The Vertical Ray of the Sun" (2000). This trilogy concerns his country of origin and you should start with it, in case you’re not familiar with his work.

Eternity” is his first ‘French’ story, following “I Come With the Rain” (2009), a minor neo-noir thriller whose action takes place in the US, Philippines, and Hong Kong, and “Norwegian Wood” (2010), an unconvincing Japanese romantic tale. Hung wrote the screenplay based on the novel “The Elegance of Widows" by Alice Ferney.

Choppily narrated by the helmer’s wife, Tran Nu Yen Khe, the film stars Audrey Tautou, Bérénice Bejo, Mélanie Laurent, Jérémie Renier, and Pierre Deladonchamps, whose characters belong to the same family and are tied by strong bonds.

The narrative begins with the focus on Valentine (Tautou) who, at the age of 17, marries Jules (Arieh Worthalter), a good-natured troubadour. They become proud parents of six children. Predestined to live a long life, Valentine goes through a lot by seeing her loved ones departing to the other world due to illness or war.

The painful sensation of losing a child haunts her again, many years after her husband's death, when her son, Henri (Renier), marries Mathilde (Laurent). The narrative shifts again to the latter’s cousin, Gabrielle (Bejo), and her quiet husband, Charles (Deladonchamps), since both couples are intimately connected and, like a family curse, will inevitably deal with death in their own ways. 

Eternity” sweeps family generations with a cyclical boredom. On one hand, we have the aching, mournful women; on the other, the quiet, introspective men. All the frames are rigorously composed through elegant period settings and painted with saturated colors, predominantly embracing yellowish and reddish tonalities. Hung draws its natural formalism from Rohmer. However, the orchestrated classical piano music and the occasional use of slow motion techniques only increase the melancholy of a tale that would benefit if less contemplative and a bit more expeditious in its strategies for the big screen. 

The lugubrious atmosphere that surrounds the drama is soon turned into enervation, and you will probably find yourself making an effort to stay awake only not to miss the superfluous ending.
Totally forgettable, “Eternity” reveals a nostalgic Tran Anh Hung in need of urgent inspiration.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)


Directed by Guy Ritchie
Country: USA

The legendary King Arthur, his powerful sword, Excalibur, and his heroic deeds in medieval times were addressed a few times before in the movies with variable outcomes. Some of them opted for a more classical approach like the interesting “Camelot” by Joshua Logan or “Excalibur” by John Boorman. Some others are a total waste of time like Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 “King Arthur”. To me, the more successful ones were those that added some creativity and a hint of boldness to the tale such as the beautifully unorthodox “Lancelot of the Lake” by Bresson and “Percival” by Rohmer, which are directly related to the topic.

Guy Ritchie also intended to do something creative on “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”, but roundly failed his test. He lamentably relied on too many frivolous fireworks and a lousy plot that among other feeble aspects, lacks fantasy, charm, and any sort of interest. 

The trio of screenwriters, Joby Harold, Lionel Wigram, and Ritchie, were the ones who set up this repulsive machination, which is devoid of any possible magic and mysticism by incorporating giant monsters and terrible slo-mo fighting sequences. The tale takes a similar path and activates the same strategic baits of those terrible apocalyptic catastrophe fantasies embraced by Roland Emmerich.

The story typically follows Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) on his efforts to retrieve the legitimate throne that was taken from him by his evil uncle and king of Mordred, Vortigern (Jude Law). To achieve his mission, he teams up with a small legion of rebels composed of old and new friends, and benefits from the help of Maggie (Annabelle Wallis), the villain’s maid who resolves to help the Resistance.

Over the course of two infinitely tedious hours, we can observe that Ritchie dropped the medieval atmosphere in favor of a sloppy urbanity whose unpolished settings were recklessly framed by the cinematographer John Mathieson (“Gladiator”, “Logan”). Moreover, instead of a king or, at least, a knight, Hunnam looks like a rock singer while the combination of imagery and music could only be useful for a promotional video clip of some heavy metal band. 

It’s hard to believe how the director of the praised “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” could have descended so low.

There is no heart and even less soul in this mish-mashed lackluster film, already one of my first choices for the worst film of the year. 
Do yourself a favor and stay away from this aberration!

Parents (2016)


Directed by Christian Tafdrup
Country: Denmark

Part nostalgic family drama, part preposterous fantasy, “Parents” stumbles in its vague ambition of becoming a hit sensation.

Danish actor turned director, Christian Tafdrup, designed a story that failed to deliver any reward after 86 minutes exploring the impalpable.

The debutant filmmaker builds an interesting premise as he depicts an aging couple, Kjeld (Søren Malling) and Vibeke (Bodil Jørgensen), facing new challenges in their comfortable but somewhat boring life. They’re having a hard time coping with the permanent absence of their young adult son, Esben (Anton Honik) who recently has moved into his own apartment with his girlfriend Sandra (Emilia Imperatore Bjørnvad).

Kjeld loves his wife and does everything for her. However, he’s visibly disappointed with the course his life has taken. One can sense he expects much more from this relationship with the impassionate Vibeke, a despondent mother who shows a steep dependence on her son.

Feeling a bit lost and aimless, husband and wife will gain a new breath when they relocate to a smaller house, the same they had lived thirty years ago while still studying. When Sandra breaks up with Esben, his mother visibly rejoices with the possibility of getting him back. These characters seem not to have friends and we don't see them interact with anyone else rather than the family. 

Weirder tones dominate the second half of the film, after Kjeld and Vibeke inexplicably wake up one morning thirty years younger, but still living in the present time. This was exactly the opportunity Kjeld was hoping for to bring his wife closer to him again, at least physically. However, and for our surprise, the young Vibeke (Miri Ann Beuschel) starts an incestuous relationship with the spoiled Esben, while the forlorn Kjeld (Elliott Crosset Hove) continues obsessively sculpting and arranging the house in order to make it look exactly how it was before.

These surreal occurrences get you baffled and alert, and yet the film never pays you back. In truth, the unsolved puzzle suggests many things, metaphorically speaking, but the psychological drama advances without objectivity, hobbling in its cold energy and hampering me from drawing any satisfaction from its observation.

Tafdrup directed with both confidence and competence and the cinematography by Maria von Hausswolff was valuable. On the other hand, the acting didn’t always feel solid.

Some other films succeeded by persistently dwelling in this sort of unintelligible limbo, however, “Parents” didn’t have that special tone capable of making me search unconditionally until the last minute.

Endless Poetry (2016)


Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Country: Chile / France

Celebrated cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky looks at his turbulent young adulthood in Chile with the usual combination of emotional weight and provocative posture. His second autobiographical drama, “Endless Poetry”, is as overwhelming as its prequel, “The Dance of Reality” (2013).

Like happened in the preceding film, the director uses a rich color palette to depict his past misadventures, staging the scenes with gusto and populating the indecorous settings with occasional stylized choreographies and a few bizarre characters, so commonly associated with his body of work.

This slice of life takes us to his parents’ home in Matucana, where the young Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) discovers Garcia Lorca, and almost immediately decides to be a poet. His austere father, Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky - director’s eldest son), becomes highly discontented since he already had envisioned a career in medicine for his only son. We see that Alejandro’s intentions/choices were systematically castrated by his father, a merciless punisher who defended that poetry was for homosexuals. Even during a strong earthquake, the poor Alejandro was encouraged to hide his fear and forced to react ‘like a man’. Conversely, his mother, Sara (Pamela Flores), was a sweet person, but not strong enough to go against her husband’s authoritative decisions and biased ideas. All her speeches are sung like an aria, a way that Jodorowsky found to tell us how much comforting sounded her voice in those difficult times.

Acquiring as much strength as necessary to oppose his “shitty family”, as he used to say, and following his most basic instincts, the now adult Alejandro (Adan Jodorowsky, the youngest son of the filmmaker) treads his own individual path, leaving his parents behind without notice. His world will change when he falls for Stella Diaz (a double role for Pamela Flores), a mundane red-haired poetess of whom he becomes insanely dependent.

Throughout this journey of self-discovery, he briefly meets with creative fellows such as Nicanor Parra and Andre Breton, and becomes the best friend of Enrique Lihn, the most bohemian of those poets, who loved to challenge the limits of possibility.
A few unforgettable scenes are engraved in my memory like the one that Alejandro was almost raped by a bunch of wild men in a sinister nightclub, or when he had sex with a dwarf woman when she was having her period, or when he impersonates a clown in a circus and tries to convince himself he’s not guilty.

Alongside the eccentric imagery, the superior narrative flow is never ambiguous but persistently fascinating. The unabashed artistic world of Jodorowsky is like this: offbeat, dramatic, poetic, phantasmagoric, humorous, atrocious… Even so, I found “Endless Poetry” more poetic and less visceral than his previous cinematic creations.

In a couple crucial scenes, the director, in person, comes into view to console and advise his young persona, to call him to reason, trying to compensate that huge emotional gap caused by frustration, anger, and lack of forgiveness. 

At the end, Jodorowsky ekes out a better existence for himself by absolving his father from everything that went wrong. This was the touching finale he needed to accomplish a freeing, personal mission that turned out to be beautifully artistic too.

Berlin Syndrome (2017)


Directed by Cate Shortland
Country: Australia

Australian Cate Shortland has earned her filmmaking reputation through sensitive stories centered on female characters. She had her debut in 2004 with the satisfying coming-of-age tale “Somersault”, which featured Abbie Cornish as the protagonist. However, it was with the memorable and critically acclaimed drama “Lore” that she got more visibility, benefiting from a terrific plot and a compelling performance by Saskia Rosendahl in her first screen appearance. Indeed, this was a very special film that raised the bar too high for her next move, which happened this year with “Berlin Syndrome”.

This time around, the central character belongs to Teresa Palmer, an understated actress and model who has here another wonderful opportunity to show her acting capabilities after "Warm Bodies" (2013) and "Lights Out" (2016).   
She plays Clare, an Australian photographer that arrives in Berlin to enjoy some leisure days while working for an architecture project she had in mind for some time. Feeling lonely in a strange city, Clare shows availability to meet new friends and perhaps embark on a casual romance. And that’s exactly what happens after she bump into a handsome schoolteacher, Andrei (Max Riemelt). Despite the unhidden, intense passion they share with each other, there are certain details in Andrei’s behavior that makes us question what goes in his mind. This relentless feeling that something is not right is reinforced by the uncanny musical score composed by Bryony Marks, which sort of works as an alert for the nightmare that follows. 

Little by little, the sweet cosmopolitan romance develops into a disturbing abduction thriller when Clare gets trapped in Andrei’s cloistered apartment after a one-night stand. At first, she believed it was a mistake, but soon comes to the conclusion that the man she slept with was an obsessive psycho whose past was already stained with blood. 

Without breaking new ground, Shortland, who directed from a script by Shaun Grant (“The Snowtown Murders”) based on the novel by Melanie Joosten, crafted the captivating first part with heart-pounding conjecture but ultimately allowed things to go astray in the final section, carefully fabricated to provide the ultimate excitement that a thriller requires.

If humiliation and frustration are commonly associated with the genre, compassion and desire are very unlikely to be felt in a harrowing situation like the one Clare was living. In the end, it’s inevitable to think that “Berlin Syndrome” could have been more thrilling and less manipulative than it was. Still, it’s a tolerable exercise that shows Shortland’s potentialities in a genre she’s probing for the very first time.

Nakom (2016)


Directed by T.W. Pittman and Kelly Daniela Norris
Country: Ghana / USA

African cinema usually rekindles revealing stories tinged with quirky colors and enlivened by warm feelings in a pure intention to reflect the continent’s inhabitants’ lives. That’s exactly what you can expect from “Nakom”, a drama film centered on the inner conflict that arises in a man divided between keeping his cultural roots and traditions alive and following his personal dreams, which can only be fulfilled within a contemporary environment.

The dilemma dilates in Iddrissu (Jacob Ayanaba), a medicine student in Ghana’s metropolitan city of Kumasi, who is forced to pause his formation to go back to Nakom, the rural Northern village where he was born. 
The sudden death of his father was the reason for his unplanned return. As the eldest son, both family and the village chief expect him to stay and become the new ‘master’ of the house. After all, he’s a valuable element since he knows the old and the new ways.
This is a real headache for Iddrissu who comes across with predicaments of a primitive culture he had almost forgotten.

His clever sister, Datama (Grace Ayariga) lives consumed by the frustration due to the impossibility to move out of the city in order to study. The motive is mainly financial but the mentality of the villagers doesn’t help. Her discontentment is mirrored in phrases like “things are always for men to decide” or “what's right or wrong is for men with education”.

Iddrissu also has to deal with his indolent young adult brother who got a 15-year-old cousin pregnant, the quarrel between his real mother and his ‘junior’ mother - the second wife of his polygamist father who left a debt, and the schemes of his little brothers who prefer to play all day instead of attending school. On top of this, he has concerns about tending the farm that will provide for all his family during the whole year. He had never given so much importance to the rain before and confesses: “in the city, nothing changes when it rains. Here, the earth breathes.”

The uncertainty of the future, translated into eat or not to eat, or the lack of medical help, mirrored in an agonizing situation lived by his cousin Fatima (Esther Issaka), induce panic in Iddrissu, a man of noble character who is not indifferent to his people. Will he give up his dreams to take care of them?

The team of directors, Kelly Daniela Norris and T.W. Pittman, who met at Columbia and now share a production company, serves up an interesting narrative packaged with authenticity and crisp focus.
Having the vast Ghanaian fields as the backdrop, cinematographer Robert Geile does a pretty nice job in capturing attractive frames while the original music by the Senegalese singer/guitarist Daby Balde infuses a gentle yet vivid ambiance that helps to maintain the African spirit well alive.

Nakom” is no frivolous tale and comes bolstered by Ayanaba’s strong acting debut.

Hounds of Love (2016)


Directed by Ben Young
Country: Australia

Hounds of Love” is a terrific crime thriller, period. It’s been a while since a story within this genre had caught my attention, but this one succeeded through a combination of factors that include a feverish direction from debutant filmmaker Ben Young, who also wrote the script with articulated cohesiveness. Moreover, the magnificence of the imagery punctuated with stunning slow-motion sequences, the soundtrack, which invites us to the psychological horror through Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” and releases the tension at the end with Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, the accuracy of the performances, and the breathtaking plot itself, were also extremely influential in the outcome.

A quiet suburban neighborhood in the Australian city of Perth serves as the backdrop for a harrowing abduction, partly inspired by true events, perpetrated by a jobless, insane couple who embarks on a spiral of sexual abuse, torture, and ultimately killing of random teenage girls.

John and Evelyn, unblemishedly played by Stephen Curry and the former teen model Emma Booth, respectively, belong to those baffling creatures we observe with incredulous petrifaction in a vague attempt to understand the abominating cruelty that dwells in their souls.
John is a spiteful, manipulative monster who easily loses his temper and is clearly proud of himself, while the psychologically disoriented Evelyn lives in a constant state of distress and emotional turmoil. She’s the one who lures girls into their car, offering them a ride when they are alone.

When Vickie (Ashleigh Cummings) sneakily leaves her house without her mother(Susie Porter)'s consent and accepts the couple’s ride, she couldn’t imagine she was being taken to the putrid nest of the devil.
The capture of another victim turns the couple on, and their deranged reaction mirrors the complex, nauseous, and malevolent state of mind they live in.

While chained to a bed in the small torture room where she was thrown in, Vicky quickly realizes that her only chance to escape would be through Evelyn, who often oscillates in behavior and resolution. Deep down inside, the latter is aware of John’s immoral depravity, but cowardice always wins whenever she thinks of breaking the cycle. She is still apprehensive and sore about the lost of her own baby, which happened in mysterious circumstances, yet she's revealed to be as diabolical as her husband.

Curry and Booth carry the film on their shoulders while the sequences of frames are haunting and powerful, displacing the viewer into bizarre scenarios whose highly suggestive visual details stimulate the imagination rather than exposing us to graphic violence.
The chillingly infectious “Hounds of Love” exudes fetid vibes that will force you to ruminate on the darkest side of the human nature.

Colossal (2016)


Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Country: USA

An entertaining trifle is what the Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo forges with “Colossal”, his new adventurous and dramatic fantasy starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as two childhood friends turned antagonists.

Hathaway is Gloria, an aimless thirty-something unemployed writer who loves the New York nightlife and renounces professional help for the increasing drinking problem that is ruining her life. Her condescending boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), sees no other solution besides abandoning her to her own luck, but never imagined she could recover so well after moving back to her hometown, to the same house where she and her late parents lived before.

Once (un)comfortably installed, she bumps into a childhood friend, Oscar (Sudeikis), who invites her to hang out with him and his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). Night after night, they reunite at Oscar’s bar to drink until the first rays of the morning appear in the sky. Gloria’s addictive situation doesn’t seem to get any better, but radically changes with the fantastic discovery that the gigantic monster-lizard that keeps destroying the city of Seoul is a factual creation of her nebulous mind and restless psychological state. She's the one who commands its activity with a synchronous precision through the movements of her own body. Responsibility calls her to reason, but she resolves to play a bit more after revealing the stupefying secret to her friends.

Oscar, who always had a secret crush on her, becomes conscious that he can also play this game if he jumps into the park’s magic spot where everything happens and finds that his Korean 'avatar' is a huge robot. 
His repulsive nature is fully disclosed from the moment that Gloria rejects his advances in favor of Joel, driving him mad with jealousy.

The small park they used to play as kids, becomes the real battle arena, but the dangerous confrontations happen in Seoul, where the scene is emulated with massive proportions.
Some situations, even fabricated, are funny and hit the right nerve while others, like the one when Oscar sets the bar on fire, are not so convincing or even properly implemented.

The flawed “Colossal” takes advantage of these trendy manias of monsters vs. robots (the computer animation is passable) and superheroes’ messy personal lives.
Vigalondo, whose discreet filmmaking past revealed an inclination for sci-fi and thriller, aims at both young and mature audiences by exposing them to a blend of fantasy, dark comedy, feeble romance, and drama. He is now relishing all the attention given to his film, after adopting the right feel-good posture and precipitating a hazy, somewhat pretentious game between reality and fiction.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)


Directed by Raoul Peck
Country: USA

Raoul Peck, a successful Haitian filmmaker and political activist, brings the controversial and thorny topic of racism to a discussion in his exemplary new documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro”.
Peck’s past moves include “Sometimes in April” (2005), a TV drama about the Rwanda genocide, and “Lumumba” (2000), a biopic about the former prime minister of Belgian Congo, Patrice Lumumba.
For his latest achievement, the director grasped the unfinished manuscript “Remember This House” by James Baldwin and merged the author’s words (the first-rate narration is by Samuel L.Jackson) with footage of interviews, meetings, and violent conflicts, and also music clips and film excerpts related to the topic in question.

The material, compiled and edited by Peck, features Baldwin’s keen observations on racial inequality and the recollections of three murdered close friends and influential civil rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. 

The documentary is incredibly well articulated within a structure whose chapters reveal not only indisputable, scandalous facts of the American history but also a profound, and very personal understanding of the problem by analyzing its core and not just the surface. With many years of struggle and fear, Baldwin confesses publicly by the end that he’s tired and became a pessimist – “negros were never happy in this country”, he states. “The world is not white, it never was, and never can be. A white world is just a metaphor for power”.

Fond of the Western film genre and a fan of John Wayne, Baldwin was shocked at a very young age after realizing that the black people were, after all, like the Indians John Wayne was after to kill. The question “are we the bad guys?” must have popped up in his mind for years. Why were the white people after the black people? Why segregation?

Baldwin explained that like his three friends, he had always believed in non-violent solutions to change the course of things.
Often, there is a smart intercalation of violent or sad scenes, past and present, with short passages of some classic movies that fearlessly addressed the issue with the hope and intention to reverse it. Some of these are still freshly present in my mind, cases of “The Defiant Ones”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, and “No Way Out”.

There’s a lot to chew on here. The enlightening “I Am Not Your Negro” will provide you with a different perspective; it will give you a lesson about a very specific dark side of the American history, warning you at the same time that this is still happening today. 
It’s more than time to acknowledge that America and the world have no color and that divided we fall… why is this so hard to learn and put in practice? 

The Levelling (2016)


Directed by Hope Dickson Leach
Country: UK

Somerset, England, serves as the rural backdrop for “The Levelling”, a raw indie drama set with gloomy tones and enclosing plenty of secrets to be discovered.
The film marks the directorial debut of Hope Dickson Leach, who besides writing the script, oriented the small cast with stalwart conviction, extracting the best of their qualities.

As a matter of fact, the film highly benefits from the acting skills of Ellie Kendrick, who plays Meera Reed in the popular “Game of Thrones”, and the veteran David Troughton, also a regular in television miniseries. They play Clover and Aubrey, respectively, estranged daughter and father who reunite again in difficult circumstances after many years without seeing or talking to each other.

After receiving the shocking news about her brother’s unanticipated death, Clover is forced to return to her father’s farm, which she gladly left when she was 18. Once installed, she gets disturbed with what she sees, finding not only a devastated place but also her aging father acting in a weird, almost indifferent way in regard to his son’s misfortune. 

The way Harris died is not clear and that fact drives her to search almost compulsively for something or someone that could be related to the occurrence. He blew his face off with a shotgun while celebrating with his friends the transfer of the farm to his own name. Was this a terrible accident or a desperate suicide? Cleverly, Ms. Leach structures the film in such a way that what Clover knows is exactly what the viewer knows and thus, we are able to see and learn everything through the main character’s eyes.

While the evasive Aubrey seems just concerned in having everything ready to sell the farm, Clover tries to pull out answers from James (Jack Holden), Harris’ best friend and her father’s trusting cooperator. As the time passes, the turmoil lived in the past mingles with the numerous doubts about the present, pushing Clover into a strong emotional vortex that grows wider as the revelations surface.

The Levelling” depicts the cruel side of life and confronts love and pride, family and individuality, persons and properties - all things in need of urgent leveling. It's a cheerless, violently emotional, and ultimately painful drama. 

Leach cooks it slowly, addressing guilt, compassion, repent, and resignation with sagacious human tact. Will you be able to find a culpable character?

Free Fire (2016)


Directed by Ben Wheatley
Country: UK / France

I want to start this review by telling you how much I admire the work of British director Ben Wheatley. 
Kill List”, a bleak and violent tale released in 2011, was an auspicious directorial debut, but it was with the pitch-black comedy “Sightseers” that he really got my attention, punching me hard in the face with witty dialogues, provocative weirdness, and the unpredictability of its story. In 2013, Wheatley changed direction when he released the black-and-white art-house horror-drama “A Field in England”, which kept a stabbing sarcasm on top of the stunning visuals. “High-Rise”, a somewhat blurred adaptation of J.G Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, divided both film critics and fans. Yet, I was still fond of all its oddness.

Now, I have to point out how frustrated I am with Wheatley’s new feature “Free Fire”, a Tarantino-esque gangster-western set in the 70s Boston that doesn’t offer much more than the constant, annoying sounds of guns being fired.
The screenplay, co-written by Wheatley and his regular associate Amy Jump, lives exclusively from the shootouts between two groups involved in an arms deal. There are so many gunshots throughout the 90 minutes that the tension gets lost in the confusing, bloody sauce.

Vernon (Sharito Copley) leads the group selling the weaponry while Frank (Michael Smiley), an irritable IRA member commands the buyers. A woman named Justine (Brie Larson) was assigned to act as an intermediate and facilitate the transaction. The gangs arrive at a warehouse to proceed with the business but things get out of control when Harry (Jack Reynor) recognizes Stevo (Sam Riley), the one who had abused of his 15-year-old cousin the night before, sending her to the hospital. Tension rises exponentially, ending up in a never-ending collective shootout that is triggered after Harry sticks a bullet into Stevo’s shoulder. The warehouse is transformed into a bloody battlefield where everyone, with no exception, has the eyes put in a suitcase full of money. 

In opposition to the previous films of Wheatley, I couldn’t care less about any of the obtuse characters presented here. Stuck inside four walls and exposed to the madness of the environment, some of them cry, some laugh, some other curse or joke around in response to those who threaten with brash vocabulary and open fire. What could have been fun becomes dull while the potential points of interest rapidly vanish through inconsequent fireworks, graphic violence, and immodest poses.

The only thing left for me to do was to place my bets and wait to see who takes the money home.
Lacking charm in its depiction and cleverness in its dialogue, “Free Fire” is gratuitous fire and a thorn in Ben Wheatley’s side.