Rosie (2019)

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Direction: Paddy Breathnach
Country: Ireland

The low-budgeted Irish indie drama Rosie addresses one of the biggest problems the world is facing today: gentrification. The situation mostly affects the bigger cities and can be seen as a new form of random human cruelty.

While her husband, John Paul (Moe Dunford), is working hard at a busy restaurant, Rosie Davis (Sarah Greene) is inside their parked car with her four children, making consecutive phone calls in an attempt to get a hotel for just a few nights. No, they are not planning vacations… the reality is much different and appalling; they became homeless after their landlord sold the house, a social injustice that is commonly disregarded by politicians who, many times, benefit themselves in the ‘ungovernable’ real-estate business. I’m so glad that New York gave some signs of progress recently regarding this matter, when a rent-reform package was approved to protect the frequently harassed tenants.

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The struggle is daily and the pressure is high. Fear and shame invade their lives, but they refuse to let frustration or panic take control. Besides the lack of stability and having to sleep in the car sometimes, the family was blessed by a strong loving bond. We never see these attentive, caring parents acting impatiently or aggressively toward their kids, even when they misbehave or rebel.

Despite some incautious hand-held camera movements, the director Paddy Breathnach (Viva) did a satisfying work in capturing a realistic scenario. He worked from a bold script by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), who was inventive enough to put Lady Gaga staying at one of the hotels while gigging in town and turn a serious, sad moment into a fun battle of fries.

Depicting 36 stressful hours in these people's lives, the film doesn’t grant a resolution. However, it’s a heartbreaking, accurate, well-acted ride that made me think about how easily things can be lost in a moment and how miraculous love can be when in the face of desperate situations.

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The Mustang (2019)

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Direction: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre
Country: USA

Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s feature debut The Mustang is a drama with backbone but also with plenty of familiarities. Anchored by Matthias Schoenaerts’s sober performance, the film tells the story of Roman Coleman, an inmate, emotionally destructed by a crime committed within his own family. He finds redemption through an outdoor rehabilitation program that encompasses the training of wild, free-roaming horses, which will posteriorly be sold to the public in auctions. Clermont-Tonnerre, who co-wrote with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock, got the idea from the real rehabilitation program that exists in Carson, Nevada.

As he attempts to tame a horse as wild as he is, Coleman finds a valid opportunity to forgive himself, regaining confidence and easing the grief that has been consuming him for 12 years. This fact also allows him to reconnect with his daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon), who is expecting a child. He accomplishes the mission with the help of Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow convict who happens to be the best horse trainer in the facility, and under the guidance of Myles (Bruce Dern), a rancher who, despite sarcastic, believes in his capacities. On the other side, there’s the vicious Dan (Josh Stewart), Coleman’s cellmate, who gives everybody a hard time.

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The film is not devoid of weaknesses, presenting episodes whose repercussions are overlooked and then forgotten - the conflict with Dan is a blatant example. Simplistic, predictable, and visually unimpressive, the well-intentioned The Mustang discloses some aspects the majority of us don’t know about American prisons. However, it not only lacks genuine emotional force in several scenes but also structural stability to fully succeed.

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Luz (2019)

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Direction: Tilman Singer
Country: Germany

Luz, the debut feature from German writer/director Tilman Singer is a psychological horror movie, not too gory, not too stuffed, and holding a steady grip throughout. The filmmaking style deserves praise, especially if we take into account the minimalism of the story and its schematic course. However, its characters are thinly sketched.

Simon Waskow’s score has already announced some creepiness during the initial long shot. The story takes place in Germany and the worried moves of Chilean cab driver Luz Carrara (Luana Velis) in a desolate police station anticipate something strange and uncontrollable. In fact, the blaspheming girl, who apparently doesn’t speak German, is about to be psychologically evaluated under the attentive supervision of cops Bertillon (Nadja Stübiger) and Olarte (Johannes Benecke). For that, they hire the services of Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), an experienced psychiatrist and hypnotherapist who will try to find more about the traumatic past of the woman. What these dedicated agents of the law don’t suspect is that Luz’s former schoolmate, Nora Vanderkurt (Julia Riedler), had already been in contact with the imprudent doctor, passing the demon that has been possessing his body.

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The tale draws its best moments from a bar scene where Nora approaches Rossini, but, suddenly, things decline as our attention shifts to the interrogation room, which becomes foggy, in a tacky attempt to intensify fear and claustrophobia. The truth emerges from the shadows but not convincingly.

Singer relies on simplistic yet well-composed images to create some titillation. Yet, the film never reaches those spine-chilling levels we all crave. If only the director had found the time to dig a better ending and engender better sequences to mere plot points with potential, maybe Luz could have been the surprise of the year within the limits of a saturated horror genre. Lamentably, it didn’t happen, but I would definitely select Singer as a director to watch in the future.

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

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Direction: Joe Talbot
Country: USA

Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco is not merely a movie about a young black man desperately trying to react to a difficult situation - he is just another victim of the massive gentrification that affects the big cities - but also about San Francisco’s own tough experience. The plot is partly based on the true circumstances experienced by former homeless Jimmie Fails, who stars as himself alongside Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, and Jamal Trulove. Fails and Talbot, who are childhood friends, co-wrote the script.

Even after losing the beautiful Victorian house where he grew up, Jimmie keeps going there to make small outside repairs without authorization. Naturally, this invasion makes the new owners upset. His obsession is reinforced by the fact that it was his grandfather who built that house, but now, Fillmore is a targeted district for the greedy real-estate predators. When he realizes that the owners just moved out, he and his best friend, Mont (Majors), dabble into an illicit task: recreate the home’s interior as it was before. At the same time, he tries to make acquaintance with his new neighbors as well as reconnect with his cold father, James Sr. (Rob Morgan), who sells pirated movies to keep his single-room-occupancy building, and estranged mother (played by Jimmie's real mother), with whom he fortuitously crossed paths during a bus ride.

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The film’s pace is a bit lifeless and its emotional peak, which coincides with a private theater session at the house, fails to create an impact, with the scene being pushed to an overdramatic sphere. Apart from this manipulative scenario, the film is sprinkled with small details and decisive peculiarities that help to elevate the quality of its storytelling. The result is slender but still piercing, and brighter images, lovely photographed by Adam Newport-Berra, cannot conceal the depressive state this man lives in.

With minor twists, The Last Black Man in San Francisco doesn’t equal the relatable Blindspotting in vibrancy, but it should be seen for the urgency of its theme and tribute to friendship.

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Anna (2019)

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Direction: Luc Besson
Country: USA / France

With Anna, the 60-year-old French director Luc Besson descends to an even lower level when in comparison with his previous efforts. The director is known for some heavy-handedness and an enduring fondness for having attractive women playing violent characters - Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita (1990), Rie Rasmussen in Angel-A (2005), and Scarlett Johansson in Lucy (2014), are some examples.

Wrapped in tawdry schemes, this debilitated espionage action thriller and trashy femme fatale charade is symptomatic of the incapacity and obtuseness demonstrated by the filmmaker over the years.

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The sloppy, tone-deaf script rushes things out when not repeatedly jumping back and forth in time, shaping Russian model Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) as one of the most feared assassins working for the government. Lascivious and ultra-violent, she flirts with the KGB and the CIA and dares to play chess with her superiors. Besson, however, contradicts the necessity of having a strong winning strategy and a wider vision. Overdoing the action scenes to the point of ridicule and infusing them with every little cliche you can imagine, he delivers a terrible film. Not even Helen Mirren as the head of the KGB saves Anna from being a torturing experience.

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Los Silencios (2019)

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Direction: Beatriz Seigner
Country: Brazil / Colombia / France

Los Silencios, the sophomore feature film by Brazilian writer/director Beatriz Seigner, is a conscious refugee tale and a saddened look into war, loss, forgiveness, and relocation, all wrapped in political package.

The occurrences take place in an interesting milieu, a tiny swamped Amazonian island located at the border of Brazil, Colombia and Peru, which doesn’t really belong to any of these countries. Amparo Gomez (Marleyda Soto) had been living in San Martín, in the interior of Colombia, with her guerrilla-supporter husband, Adão (Enrique Diaz), and their two children, the effusive Fabio (Adolfo Savilvino), 9, and the speechless Nuria (María Paula Tabares Peña), 12.

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After her husband went missing in the battle against the oppressive Colombian paramilitary, she was threatened to death and ultimately resolved to flee to the cited island, where aunt Abuelita (Doña Albina), is waiting for them. The latter puts a word in her favor to the president of the island (Heider Sanchez) since she dwells there for 20 years. However, he is more interested in making business with greedy rich men than sheltering another refugee. The islanders are furious because the government wants them to sell their houses for a very low price in order to build a casino and a resort. Whether in big cities or small towns, this is a recurrent situation that keeps contaminating our society. The story increases the enigmatic tones when Adão arrives on the island. Is he real or a ghost?

Despite occasionally veiled with haziness and bringing no nuance to the lukewarm ambiance, the film is observant, compassionate, and holds up the longer you analyze it. The blend of gritty, sad realism and otherworldly connection has proved substantial.

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The Emperor of Paris (2019)

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Direction: Jean-François Richet
Country: France

After successful collaborations with Vincent Cassel in the two-part biographical crime film Mesrine (2008) as well as in the comedy One Wild Moment (2015), French helmer Jean-François Richet re-teams up with the actor in The Emperor of Paris, a Napoleonic adventure he co-wrote with Éric Besnard. If the director’s previous effort, Blood Father (2016), showed his ability and predilection for the crime thriller genre, this new incursion into France’s 19th-century history offers him alternative resources to explore brutal action scenes and the mundane quests for power.

Here, he sketches a satisfactory portrait of François Vidocq, a renowned criminal and eternal escapee turned private detective. In clear terms, Vidocq (Cassel) exults with the victories but also cries his losses in silence, including his beloved lover, Annete (Freya Mavor). In all cases, he keeps faithful to the principle of always working alone, something that the ambitious Nathanael de Wenger (August Diehl), a former prison mate whose main purpose is to conquer the ‘streets’ of Paris, doesn’t accept willingly. While he becomes Vidocq’s worst enemy, the central character is coerced to join the police and undermine the underground world in exchange for freedom. Even loving the shadows a bit too much, he is given the choice to work for his country. Can he do it?

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Treasons, unexpected alliances, cold assassinations, and dynamic fights are spices used in a recipe overcooked with a histrionic score and that sort of overworked production that may drive some viewers away. Nevertheless, the tonally consistent handle of the script and Cassel’s ardent performance make it moderately arresting and fairly watchable.

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The Dead Don't Die (2019)

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Direction: Jim Jarmusch
Country: USA

In recent years, acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch showed his versatility by successfully changing the themes of his films. He cleverly explored the world of vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), documented the American punk band The Stooges in Gimme Danger (2016), and offered one of the smartest and most engaging stories from 2016 with Paterson. His new movie, The Dead Don’t Die is a George A. Romero-inspired zombie-comedy pastiche whose connection with the previous three films are the actors. Tilda Swinton is the character who fascinated me the most, yet Jarmusch also convened Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, and Iggy Pop, who makes a brief yet authoritative appearance as a zombie.

When radio signals repeatedly fail and the days become inexplicably longer in the small town of Centerville, the local police force - represented by the easygoing Cliff (Murray), the suspicious and cerebral Ronnie (Driver), and the super sensitive Mindy Morrison (Sevigny) - starts to think about Hermit Bob (Waits), an apparently aggressive caveman that lives in the forest for years without never hurting anyone. The cops immediately drop the suspect when an unexpected zombie attack takes place at the local bar (the pair of blood drinkers and flesh eaters are Iggy Pop and Sara Driver), leaving a general sense of fear in the air.

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If the apathetic police officers behave passively, a local gas station owner, Bob Wiggins (Jones), and the fearless Scottish sword master, Zelda Winston (Swinton), are pretty committed to fighting the walking corpses. The latter, even enjoys a close relationship, sort to speak, with the dead since she works as an undertaker at the Ever After Funeral Home. In the film’s most imbecilic scene, she is teleported into a UFO.

There’s nothing we haven't seen before in The Dead Don’t Die, with the aggravation that its course is predictable and slow, the deadpan humor only works intermittently, and its action scenes are dully bland. Jarmusch has definitely the passion, but he didn’t have the brains to take this caricatural experience to the next level. Unfortunately, that contagious, nightmarish side we hope to find in a film of this nature is missing.

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Never Look Away (2018)

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Direction: Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
Country: Gerrmany

The new film from German filmmaker Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, who showed capable of the best with The Lives of Others (2006) and the worst with The Tourist (2010), brings together Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, and Paula Beer in an epic post-war drama mounted with solid production values, melodramatic brush strokes, and archetypal storytelling. Despite the crowd-pleasing schemes commonly associated with this type of film, Koch gives us some good reasons to keep seated in our chairs and watch it.

The story follows the romance between Kurt Barnet (Schilling), a struggling painting student artistically tied up to the dominant socialist realism of the time, and Ellie Seebrand (Beer), the daughter of a savvy, if unscrupulous, gynecologist and a proud member of the SS medical corps, Professor Carl Seebrand (Koch). It had been the latter who, in 1937 in Dresden, marked Kurt’s mentally-ill aunt, Elizabeth May (Saskia Rosendahl), to be annihilated.

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Kurt is admitted in a liberal art school in Dusseldorf but keeps being haunted by memories of a never-to-be-forgotten past. There, he will find an incomparable opportunity to speak with his own voice and build a real life with Ellie. But none of that can be achieved without sacrifice and tolerance, especially with his obnoxious father-in-law in control of their lives.

Donnersmarck drew inspiration from visual artist Gerhard Richter. This is a grand story, yet perhaps too lustrously depicted to work in full. I was never bored, though.

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Ray & Liz (2019)

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Direction: Richard Billingham
Country: UK

Not many debutant directors have sufficient developed skills to make a grand first appearance, but photographer Richard Billingham achieved that feat with Ray & Liz, a tremendously impactful drama set in the Midlands, England, whose prodigious realism entraps us in the cruel, deeply rooted memories of his joyless childhood.

Combining the raw cinematic exposure of Andrea Arnold and the visual aesthetics of Chantal Akerman, Billingham dives into a disciplined, if rugged, autobiographical drama depicted with traces of bleak humor amidst parental negligence, indifference, and addiction.

The film comes in the sequence of previous short-documentary videos about his family as well as the first of a three-part feature named Ray, in which his alcoholic father is portrayed. Actually, the film’s inaugural shot consists in Ray (Patrick Romer) drinking a full glass of booze in an empty stomach. He is a heavy drinker abandoned to the solitude of a room infested with flies and seems to be patiently waiting for his death. His good neighbor Sid (Richard Ashton) is the only person visiting him, guaranteeing his daily supply of strong liquor. The story then winds back and we observe the routines of a younger Ray (Justin Salinger), his bellicose wife and compulsive smoker Liz (Ella Smith), and their two children: ten-year-old Richard (Jacob Tuton) and two-year-old Jason (Callum Slater).

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This phase of the account features a particular episode that really sticks hard into the head. It's when Lol (Tony Way), an obtuse neighbor, drinks until unconscious while looking after Jason in the absence of his dysfunctional parents. After that, the story advances eight years in time to shock us even more with a dirty, unruly house and the inert, soporific behavior of Ray and Liz (her older version is played by Deirdre Kelly). At 18, Richard (Sam Plant) looks resigned with the situation, while Jason, now 10 (Joshua Millard-Lloyd), finds new hopes after almost freezing to death.

Admirably photographed by Daniel Landin (Under the Skin), the film represents a blasting match of stylish filmmaking and genuine writing material. It’s a wonderful debut, despite all the discomfort one may feel watching it.

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The Burial of Kojo (2019)

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Direction: Sam Blitz Bazawule
Country: Ghana

Ghanian writer/director Sam Blitz Bazawule delivers a sensitively imagined tale, showing his undeniably precious qualities as a multifaceted creator of moods in his grand feature debut The Burial of Kojo. Impressively, there’s nothing sloppy in this micro-budgeted piece entirely shot in Ghana with a local crew and many non-professional actors. Each frame was conceived with an enchanting if poignant aura in order to heighten the characters’ emotional states. I was immediately drawn into this trancelike story loaded with mystery, guilt, resentment, magical bewitchment, and the common burdens of life.

Esi (Cynthia Dankwa as a child and Ama K. Abebrese as an adult) narrates her childhood, feeling she never brought luck to her struggling father, Kojo (Joseph Otsiman), after she was born. Yet, they have a very close relationship, living in a tiny isolated village surrounded by water, to where Kojo moved seven years before.

Unexpectedly, they are surprised by a couple of visits that will change their lives. The first one is from a blind stranger seeking a child with a pure heart to whom he can entrust a sacred bird he has been protecting from an evil crow. The second one, more familiar, is Kojo’s brother Kwabena (Kobina Amissah-Sam), who insists on taking his brother back to the city. A strange request, if we take into account their complicated relationship due to tumultuous past incidents.

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Kojo finds a miserable city with no opportunities and ruled by aggressive Chinese exploiters who took over the gold mines, depriving the local families of sustenance. But are they really the ones Kojo should be afraid of?

I loved the way the film was shot, from the oneiric tones of Michael Fernandez’s cinematography to the vivid, harrowing scene of eating a roach alive to the stylish architectural perspectives captured in the city. Watching this human story unfold is an uncommonly moving experience that makes The Burial of Kojo a small yet potent African film.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

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Direction: Chad Stahelski
Country: USA

Thrilling, enigmatic, and impeccably shot, the third entry in the John Wick neo-noir saga is not for the fainthearted, standing above the mediocrity that keeps enveloping the action-thriller genre. Under stuntman Chad Stahelski’s sure-handed directorial style, Keanu Reeves embraces the title character with no smiles in a hectic performance at the physical level, but pretty relaxed in terms of lines.

Even though his life now worths $14 million, the ‘excommunicado' and former assassin John Wick manages to escape his avid hunters with the precious help of a bunch of old pals. While Wick runs desperately throughout the streets of Manhattan, experiencing uncanny encounters and trying to evade fierce opponents, the ones who helped him are severely punished by the obscure, authoritarian council of high-level crime lords called the High Table, here almost fully represented by The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a powerful female figure committed to track him down. She relies on Zero (Mark Dacascos), a relentless Japanese assassin hired to bring him down.

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However, through his valuable underground contacts, Wick reaches Casablanca, where he re-encounters a former colleague, Sofia (Halle Berry returns in big). She prudently accepts to help him find The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), the only man above The High Table that can set him free, but not without a little revenge to settle their sore past.

Violent images filled with shooting rampages, knife-throwing disarrays, and spectacular chases combine with flawlessly choreographed physical fights, rather provoking and entertaining than actually disturbing.

With a terrific score fitting hand-in-glove with the noir imagery and a top-notch supporting cast elevating this chapter into a fairly good position, Parabellum surprises with a mix of comic book angst and tricky escapism.

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Rolling Thunder Revue (2019)

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Direction: Martin Scorsese
Country: USA

Celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese has shown his knack for music documentaries with solid works such as The Last Waltz (1978), Shine a Light (2008), and George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011). However, his efforts reveal disappointing results in Rolling Thunder Revue, a sort of mockumentary with real and fake footage and fabricated interviews about Bob Dylan’s legendary concert tour in the mid-70s. The series of concerts would allow Dylan to perform in smaller venues in a more intimate connection with the audience. The political context comes forward and goes well with the confrontational activism of the talented young musicians, who abandoned themselves to socially conscious, politically charged music.

While Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Allen Ginsberg were actually part of this American caravan, the unsatisfied filmmaker Stefan Van Dorp, event promoter Jim Gianopulos, and Rep. Jack Tanner are all fake characters played by actors. Moreover, Scorsese utilizes Sharon Stone, in flesh and bone, as tantalizing bait to his story, increasing the mordancy when she states, flattered, that “Just Like a Woman” was written for her. Conversely, the story behind the protest song “Hurricane”, written for boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, is authentic.

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The music is great, yet this artful satire never really stood out as something really big, working more like a benign prankster spreading misinformation than giving a consistent insight about the topic. In a similar way, the interviews only served to make things more recondite, enhancing the artificiality of a make-believe that, at least, could have put an extra effort to be funnier. Rolling Thunder Revue doesn’t break any ground and proves more unimaginative than impressionistic.

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Paterloo (2019)

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Direction: Mike Leigh
Country: UK

Mike Leigh is a wonderful director who showed all his brilliance in titles like Secrets & Lies, Another Year, Naked and Vera Drake, among others. His directorial reputation is certainly not ruined with Peterloo, a historical account that recreates the 1819 massacre of the same name, even if the film doesn’t work for most of its duration.

Sir John Saxton (John Paul Hurley), a soldier known for his great achievements but with no time for politics, is promoted to commander of the Northern District and assigned to work in Manchester with the mission to locate and identify the insurgents who keep supporting radical campaigns against the government. The English nation became divided and people demand not only a Parliamentary reform but also voting rights extension and the repeal of the Corn Laws, which is responsible for the rising of poverty. Women also gather in protest.

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Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), an excellent orator and agitator, leads the radicals and becomes a target for the government spies as he organizes a crucial meeting at St. Peter’s Field. Other outstanding reformists are John Bagguley (Nico Mirallegro), an 18-year-old machinist with a penchant for powerful speeches, and the passionate Samuel Bramford (Neil Bell), who spearheads a group of supporters from Middleton but gets disappointed with the impossibility to speak publicly. Local magistrates trust the Manchester Yeomanry, a volunteer armed regiment, to put an end in the meeting and arrest Hunt, but the operation ended in a brutal attack against the vehement yet peaceful laboring-class protesters as well as innocent people, including women and children.

I classify this period chamber piece as a long, drawn-out journey in which every scene is overextended far beyond the interest of its content. Every radical phrase deserves a time-consuming cheer, which is despairing sometimes. The visual presentation is lyrical and luminous, impeccably controlled by the cinematographer Dick Pope, whose frames resemble Realist paintings. However, the dialogues, speeches, and ideas repeat to the point of making the progression of the film a burden. This is the type of film where no one in the cast really stands out, while Leigh’s linear narrative wasn’t particularly attractive this time.

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Wobble Palace (2019)

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Direction: Eugene Kotlyarenko
Country: USA

Starting promisingly, Wobble Palace combines post-mumblecore comedy and millennial romance but turns out more pathetic than astute. The film is slightly provocative, though, albeit the mind-numbness you may experience with the sexual rites and erotic fantasies of the one-dimensional leads. Even inevitably chuckling in the most ridiculous situations, I can’t pronounce it a funny experience.

The clear, crisp cinematography of Sean Price Williams (Alex Ross Perry and Safdie Brothers’s regular choice) became the most substantial aspect of a pretentiously artsy comedy written, starred, and directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko. In his fifth feature, he plays Eugene, a funny-haired native of Russia who lives in Los Angeles and goes through an experiential, still on-going breakup process with his girlfriend Jane, played by co-writer Dasha Nekrasova.

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While Eugene invites several women to the cute apartment he still shares with Jane, the latter actually starts something apparently more serious with her friend Ravi Gupta (Vishwam Velandy), a wealthy Indian guy and Trump-supporter with whom she has a strong chemistry. However, this trial phase goes awry for both of them and out-and-out separation seems the unavoidable next step.

The spirit and looks of the independent cinema are on display. Still, the plot is too flimsy and unconcerned, climaxing with a boring and despondent Halloween party where it’s hard to distinguish between what is meant to be funny. With a little more thought and less gaudy scenes, the film could have found a better outcome. Nevertheless, Wobble Palace is just an unorthodox trinket providing very limited enjoyment.

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Non-Fiction (2019)

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Direction: Olivier Assayas
Country: France

French auteur Olivier Assayas, an important figure in the European contemporary cinema since the ‘90s, tells a conversational modern-day tale, slightly inspired by Eric Rohmer's The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993) and containing some pertinent observations about hypocrisy in the art world - the emphasis is on literature and cinema - and the effects of the ever-evolving technology. Non-Fiction stars a talented ensemble cast with Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne, and Nora Hamzawi embarking on extensive dialogues that oscillate between well-rounded and routine.

Canet’s Alain Danielson is an ambitious Parisian publisher totally immersed in the digital development of literature. His wife, Selena (Binoche), is a successful TV actress who complains about being a hostage of her profession. While the husband is sexually involved with Laure (Christa Théret), his freewheeling young assistant, the wife maintains a long-standing affair with the struggling writer Leonard Spiegel (Macaigne), who prefers chaos to authority and stutters every time a journalist makes him uncomfortable questions about his books.

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The latter almost never agrees with his busy, often insensible wife, Valerie (Hamzawi), but they have fun together, nurturing their relationship with enthusiastic discussions about art, politics, and Leonard’s real-life-inspired writings. Valerie works for David, a left-wing political candidate, whose transparency becomes blurred after a sex scandal. In order to spice things up, Alain refuses to publish Leonard’s new work, considering it repetitive and boring.

Loaded with multiple discussions and personal opinions, the film sometimes lacks some sort of empathic envelope, playing the extramarital affairs as enhancers for tension. However, it finishes much better than it starts, gradually creating a lived-in sense of roominess to expose the world of the characters.

Shot in 16 mm, this Assayas’ satisfying yet unremarkable effort is not as strong as The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) or Personal Shopper (2016), but becomes exquisitely affecting in its final third. Non-Fiction’s main strength is perhaps the non-judgmental posture together with the acceptance of life, with all its complex phases, as it is. Yet, I felt this was the type of story that Truffaut would make look charmingly witty, whereas Chabrol would turn into a pseudo-thriller.

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Rocketman (2019)

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Direction: Dexter Fletcher
Country: UK/USA/Canada

Rocketman offers a trippy musical account of the early days of British pop singer/composer Elton John. It was passionately choreographed and flamboyantly directed from a script by Lee Hall (War Horse; Billy Elliot), becoming an agreeable surprise. Even more so, when we bear in mind that its director, Dexter Fletcher, was directly involved in Bohemian Rhapsody, where the life of Queen’s Freddie Mercury was not so fun to watch, revealing problems about historical accuracy and in its technical execution.

In the first scene, we see a wasted, emotionally devastated Elton John entering a group therapy session dressed in an exuberant winged costume to affirm: ‘my name is Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic’. He also admits to have problems with drugs and anger management, but the film really never explores in that direction. Fletcher makes it fascinatingly canny with risk-taking scenes that simultaneously inform and entertain without resorting to any sort of cheap sentimentality or manipulation. In addition to that, he needed an amazing performance for the film to succeed and he gets it from Taron Egerton, who enlivened the character almost to perfection with his acting skills.

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Sir John’s indelible songs were pretexts for unabashed choreographies and a small amount of uncontemplated surrealism, advantageously employed in key moments of the story. It was done smartly and briefly with no exaggeration. The period and milieu are also nicely depicted, while relationships with lyricist friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and abusive music manager and lover John Reid (Richard Madden) were never insipid. However, some scenes depicting the interaction with his cold, indifferent father (Steven Mackintosh) could have been more diligent and, perhaps, less formal in order to not clash with the strategy adopted for the rest. Moreover, the anger management mentioned in the beginning of the film was a mirage, being completely wiped out from the script.

Pompous in the presentation, Rocketman is not perfect, but had enough nerve to show Elton John flying during a performance at Los Angeles’ venue The Troubadour. He didn’t need any plumed pair of wings for that.

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Photograph (2019)

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Direction: Ritesh Batra
Country: India

From the director of The Lunchbox, Photograph doesn't feel so distinguished as its predecessor. Indian director Ritesh Batra makes a demure tribute to love by leisurely depicting a romance that brings as much good intention as naivety to the screen.

Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui - also starred in The Lunchbox) is a serene, if struggling, street photographer now living in a constant pressure after his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) has decided to find a woman for him to be married. While she sets out running the vivid streets of Mumbai in searching for a good match, Rafi becomes the talk of the town. Sort of embarrassed yet unwilling to do something he doesn’t want to, he asks a humble middle-class accounting student, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), to lie to his grandmother while pretending to be his fiancé. The fact that Miloni isn’t happy with an arrangement made by her conservative parents to meet the son of some friends, who is departing to the US, made her take an attentive look at Rafi, understanding his reasons and tribulations. Against all odds, the fake couple actually falls in love, acknowledging that sacrifices are to be made in the interest of a happy future together.

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The story was written by Batra in a thoughtful way but fails to succeed in many aspects, opting for gimmicky subtle procedures for tackling a typical love story. The director pushed aside any tear-jerking scenes, but perhaps he was too permissive in an unconscious way for the film’s own disadvantage. Even making us rise and shine with an impeccable smart conclusion, this wasn’t enough to make Photograph a special love story.

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Our Time (2019)

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Direction: Carlos Reygadas
Country: Mexico / other

The films of Mexican Carlos Reygadas are structured with enough existentialism and spiritual vision to present challenges to the viewer. I’m remembering how much Japón (2002), Post Tenebras Lux (2012), and especially Silent Light (2007), generated discussion, marking the international cinema with enduring long shots prone to emotionally intriguing reflection.

The director’s new work, Our Time, is a nearly 3-hour examination of a complex, undermined open marriage between Juan (played by Reygadas himself), an arrogant cattle rancher and poet, and Ester (Natalia Lopez, Reygadas’ real-life spouse), a free-spirited mother of three who is fed up with her obligation to report her secret encounters with Phil (Phil Burgers), an American horse trainer temporarily hired to work at the ranch, to her scrupulous husband. With the passage of time, the tension grows exponentially and mistrust envelops the couple's doomed relationship. The story is partially narrated by a kid’s voice and includes letter and e-mail readings as well as phone call conversations.

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Squeezed in the middle of these lives marked by obsession, voyeurism, carnal desire, and ego, we have furious bull fights, which work as a metaphor for leadership and possession in the marital alliance but also as an exteriorization of all the tension accumulated throughout. Under a deceptively polished surface, there’s a lot of emotional fractures, whose delineation, despite valid, won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes.

Reygadas stumbles in this quiet yet powerfully acted tale of love, loyalty, and exasperation, where one pokes around vainly in search of something more than just the facts.

In Juan’s words: ‘love is resilient and imperfect’ and, in some way, that’s what a much less ambiguous Reygadas intends to substantiate here. However, he couldn’t handle this bull by the horns, stretching the time into an absurd extent in order to tell a story that never showed plenitude of heart.

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Booksmart (2019)

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Direction: Olivia Wilde
Country: USA

Teenage agitation and frantic ethos are back in this delicious coming-of-age comedy from actress Olivia Wilde, who excels in her directorial debut. Booksmart is the product of a jointly creative work authored by four female writers: Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman. Unfolding at a hyperactive pace, this highly entertaining film also serves as a showcase for Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s acting capabilities.

After learning about their unpopularity among their school peers, two hugely smart graduating high school students and best friends, Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever), resolve to demonstrate the world that they are not one-dimensional A+ people and that brains are just a little part of their tremendously interesting selves. Consequently, they will do the impossible to stand out at Nick’s end-of-the-year party, but before reaching there, bizarre occurrences make the night impudently eventful due to the company of the eccentric Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and the frenzied Gigi (Billie Lourd).

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Expect a drug trip that ends up in obscene doll-related hallucinations, a first-time lesbian sex experience with disastrous results, a serious argument and subsequent poignant reconciliation, an emotional goodbye, and even a funny conversation promptly delivered in Chinese at their most convenience. Everything looks cute with the deft handling of script and camera by Ms. Wilde, whose directorial career starts auspiciously.

At once rebellious and charmer, Booksmart also displays strong technical aspects, including an effective soundtrack with an inclination for hip-hop. Actor/comedian Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (Vice; The Big Short) were summoned as executive producers, while the casting by Allison Jones (Lady Bird) is brilliant. Without the hypocrisy of its genre-related competitors, this is a refreshing teen movie that bounces with energy and tangy dialogue.

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