Carol (2015)

Carol (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Country: USA

Movie Review: Directed by the highly regarded Todd Haynes, “Carol” is a stylish drama, dazzlingly shot on Super 16-mm film, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1953 celebrated novel, “The Price of Salt”, and starring the mighty Cate Blanchett and the adroit Rooney Mara as two New Yorkers who engage in a homosexual relationship in the 50’s. Phyllis Nagy was in charge of the screenplay, which provides a flawless narrative to express the pleasures and commotions in the relationship between Carol Aird (Blanchett), a married high-class woman who’s about to divorce her overwhelmingly persistent husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), and Therese Belivet (Mara), a young department store clerk whose modesty and innocence confer her a sweet graciousness. Both women deal with a painful loneliness, but when in the company of each other, they seem to find what any men couldn’t give them so far. The elegant Carol is far more experienced, and even before her failed marriage, she had a solid lesbian affair with her friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), who currently remains her reliable confidante. The center of her afflictions isn’t what the conservative society might say about her sexual adventures but rather facing the possibility of not seeing her little daughter anymore due to Harge’s claim of full custody of the child based on immoral behavior. Consumed by jealousy, the latter even hires a private detective to carry forward his intentions. In opposition, Therese is an untouched solitary who keeps hesitating when men try to approach her, including the unsympathetic Richard (Jake Lacy) who says he loves her and wants to move in with her. Boosted by an irresistible attraction, both women set off on a trip to the West coast, but Carol’s familiar pressures oblige her to return, interrupting the ardent love she was living. Cate Blanchett, who had previously worked with Mr. Haynes when she embodied Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There”, is brilliant as the sophisticated lady, while Rooney Mara can be slushy sometimes in her wobbly insecurity, but managed to play her role harmoniously. Consistently supported by the well-cared production values and the eye of Mr. Edward Lachman, his regular cinematographer, Mr. Haynes moves effortlessly, always attentive to details (Blanchett’s hands and posture are pretty noticeable), and preferring sober sex scenes than explicitly raw approaches such as those adopted in Gaspar Noé’s “Love” or Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color”.

Landmine Goes Click (2015)

Landmine Goes Click (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Levan Bakhia
Country: Georgia

Movie Review: The English-language “Landmine Goes Click”, set in a remote Georgian mountain region, is a low-budget tale that contains very few positive aspects, both intellectually and cinematographically. Divided into two separate parts, Levan Bakhia’s sophomore feature film addresses nothing else but a double revenge by assembling gruesome situations in an indistinct way. Most of its setbacks were detected during the first part, in which the scenario becomes a ludicrous farce, even if putting some more creativity when compared with the second one, which is a reproduction of situations already seen in other examples within the genre. Three American friends – Chris (Sterling Knight), Daniel (Dean Geyer), and the latter’s girlfriend, Alicia (Spencer Locke) - get into a jeep heading to a former war zone located in Georgia and decide to explore the region. Regardless the fact that Daniel and Chris are best friends for a long time, we’re clarified during the first minutes that Alicia betrayed her boyfriend by having a one-night stand with Chris, who nurtures strong feelings for her and wonders how she might feel about it. She answers it was a mistake and that they should forget the incident for their own sake. However, Daniel discovers the truth and elaborates an evil plan to get rid of Chris, whose jealousy grows stronger. With the help of a newly arrived friend, he assures that Chris becomes trapped when stepping on a landmine ready to explode at any moment. Dumped by Daniel, Alicia who, in the meantime, contently pronounces Chris as her officially new boyfriend, tries to do the right thing in order to free them from the difficulties. With no effective solutions, she’ll have to rely on Ilya (Kote Tolordava), a malicious Georgian stranger who popped up with his useless dog, just to play a few freaking sexual games and then rape her without a bit of condescension. The film then shifts to the uninteresting second part, when Chris, who had survived the traumatic experience, finds Ilya’s place and sets his personal revenge, aiming at the aggressor’s teen daughter. Amateurishly written by Adrian Colussi, “Landmine Goes Click” gets stuck in its own lies and gimmicks while propagating the bad vibes of the principle 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'. I would call it a coarse deceit.

Spectre (2015)

Spectre (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Country: USA / UK

Movie Review: “Spectre” is a quite unproductive installment (the 25th!) of the James Bond/007 franchise. For the second time in a row, director Sam Mendes guides Daniel Craig, who together with the voluptuous French actress Léa Seydoux, disseminate charm without particularly delivering anything worthy along its overextended 148 minutes. The film opens energetically active in Mexico in the Day of the Dead, with Bond jumping from building to building until he reaches the skies in a rampant helicopter where his main target, Marco Sciarra, who was plotting to blow up a stadium, is finally killed. Before Sciarra's fatal fall, the secret agent managed to pull out of his finger a ring with an octopus engraved. Then he flies to Italy, disobeying his boss’ orders, to attend the victim’s funeral, where he feels dangerously attracted to Sciarra’s beautiful wife and also learns about Spectre, a global criminal organization that operates in the shadow. By making use of the ring, he’ll try to infiltrate himself in a meeting of the organization that, after all, divides itself into another sub-organization with multiple connections to different possible targets. Encounter after encounter, all of them with some friction associated, Bond will bump into a dissident Spectre member who before killing himself, asks our hero to find and protect his precious, intelligent daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Seydoux). After the usually difficult first contact, Bond saves her in a ridiculous way, using a jet plane, when a few thugs were taking her hostage in a jeep. The couple, far from incendiary, confronts the man behind Spectre, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, an inadequate villain unimpressively embodied by the gifted Christoph Waltz.  More boisterous than intriguing, “Spectre” only sporadically amuses, relying on a collection of messy action episodes that have nothing to add to the previous installments. The four screenwriters - John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth – have much to be blamed for the story’s lack of grip, but the truth is that the execution also didn’t appeal to me with its super-exaggerated scenarios and the excess of confidence of a more and more decaying super agent that once made my youth days merrier.

James White (2015)

James White (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Josh Mond
Country: USA

Movie Review: Allow me to start with a fair warning: whoever goes to the theater to watch Josh Mond’s “James White” assuredly won’t have a joyful experience. The film’s agonizing plot, mostly set in New York, was well imagined by the debutant Mr. Mond, whose handheld camera closely follows the empty look of the title character (Christopher Abbott), a miserable slacker who, after another night soaked in alcohol and acid, arrives at his mother’s home in the morning to mourn the death of his estranged, long gone father. James’ fragile mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), soon finds out that her cancer has spread, turning into stage four, which anticipates that death might be on its way sooner than expected. This sad news comes when the jobless James and his best friend, Nick (the rapper Kid Cudi), regular presences in the wild nightlife, are in Mexico having fun. This trip was supposed to provide a relaxed time, which would serve as a preparation for James’ changing for a new life: organizing himself, keeping away from his vicious addictions, and later giving a shot on a job offered by the kind Ben (Ron Livingston), an old friend of the family. Despite his intentions, James was never close to keep his promises, because seeing his beloved mother dying little by little, pushes him harder to the abyss of despair and discontentment. Not even Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), a young New Yorker he has met in Mexico, is capable of giving him the solace he needs. It’s an emotional downward spiral that’s clearly excruciating to the character, but no less to the viewer either, since we can actually sense the miserable states that crush mother and son. The anxiety discharged by Abbot and Nixon’s performances is compelling enough to achieve this substantial exchange of complex feelings and tough moods. Despite the difficulties coping with the situation, James takes care of his mother with extreme devotion and not for once abandons her in his mind. Even when he feels the necessity to go outside to breathe fresh air, his mom remains very present. Mr. Mond, who produced Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and Antonio Campos’ “Simon Killer”, sees these two directors repaying him by co-producing this pungent drama that avoids giving hints about James’ future. The film’s conclusion leaves us in a perpetual curiosity and we leave the theater with nothing but four hellish months in the thorny life of a certain James White.

Cartel Land (2015)

Cartel Land (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Country: USA / Mexico

Movie Review: Matthew Heineman’s documentary, “Cartel Land”, clarifies what’s happening on the both sides of the US-Mexico border, depicting two different realities and leaving us speculating about the tenuous line between the right and wrong. The film opens with a scene set in Mexico, in which some men, cooking meth with the consent of the Mexican government, explain they’re aware of the harm they’re doing but have no choice since they’re living in poverty. The film then turns our attention to Tim 'Nailer' Foley, an American vigilante who operates by his own initiative on the American side of the border, trying to catch Mexican intruders and protect the nation. He says that his past was characterized by abuses and addiction, and 18 years ago, and for the sake of his daughters, he resolved to hunt fiercely any cartel’s men who attempt to invade his land. On the other side of the fence, in the problematic state of Michóacan, we can follow an indominable and fearless doctor, Jose Manuel Mireles, who leads the Autodefensas, a group of vigilantes that protect the people from drug lords and thugs who belong to the most dangerous Mexican cartels. Some witnesses describe the horrors lived by the people, and the common massacres to entire families as retaliation for problems related to narcotics. Slowly, the local citizens start to be encouraged by Mireles’ illegal militia, whose members refuse to succumb at the hands of the barbarians without a fight. Conquering more municipalities than it was initially thought, the Autodefensas face a new issue, which is not exactly new in their minds: the government corruption, outspokenly denounced here by tough words, disquieting images, and perceivable examples. Despite Mr. Heinman’s bravery, “Cartel Land” is unorthodox in the manner it addresses and toggles between the stories. The final part even has a hint of soap opera when we learn about Mirele’s domestic troubles, caused by his tendency to have affairs with much younger women. Even momentarily heedless, the film proves to be strong when exhibits in loco the brutality and constant insecurity of the operations whose intention is to stop the terrifying actions and shameful business carried out by the merciless organized crime. Even the ones who seemed to be fighting for the right cause, like Mirele’s right hand, Estanislao Bertran Torres, show their real face and irresolution by joining the vicious government. Isn’t easier this way?

Theeb (2014)

Theeb (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Naji Abu Nowar
Country: Jordan / others

Movie Review: “Theeb” is a notable tale set in Jordan about a Bedouin boy – the title character - who's the younger son of the former sheik of his tribe. He embarks on a perilous adventure along the unruled desert when he follows his older brother without permission. If we exclude the brief and yet strong participation of the British actor Jack Fox, this incisive drama is a film of newcomers. Both the Arabic cast and the director, Naji Abu Nowar, who co-wrote with Bassel Ghandour, accomplished their roles in such an extraordinary way that I could never tell this was their first movie. Following the tradition of receiving guests with courtesy, the Bedouin tribe welcomes an Englishman named Edward, who asks for a guide in order to reach a well, located in the middle of the desert. The parched trail to get there is more crowded with ferocious raiders than honest pilgrims, and therefore, the best man to conduct the expedition is Theeb’s older brother, the brave Hussein, who keeps raising him as a son after their father’s death. We can sense the sadness in Theeb’s eyes when he sees his brother on a camel, disappearing behind the rocks. Suddenly, in an uncontrollable impulse, Theeb sets off after his brother, finding him camping with the arrogant Edward, and the translator, Marji, an old acquainted of the tribe. With no other immediate option than taking the stubborn Theeb with them, the three adventurers are surprised when they reach the intended location. The well was clogged with slaughtered men and, later on, they’re ambushed by a group of bandits that wanted their camels. The brothers climb the mountains in a do-or-die effort to escape the enemies’ shots. Hussein hits one of the guys in the leg, but in the next morning he’s found dead by his little brother who managed to escape the oppressors when he fell inside a well. Alone and hungry, Theeb seems abandoned to his own luck, when he suddenly sees a camel coming in his direction, carrying an unconscious man who, believe it or not, is the thief his brother had wounded before. What to do when, in this ominous case, the enemy is your only way to stay alive? Visually resembling “Timbuktu”, but lacking its witty humor, the film slows a little bit in the last third. However, Mr. Abu Nowar, awarded best director in Venice, overcomes that phase by engendering a staggering, strong finale. The effective combination of chamber music and oriental melodies simultaneously enhance the tension and the drama while the marvelous landscapes, counterpointing to the atmosphere of tragedy, are a rich asset for the beautiful cinematography by Wolfgang Thaler (Ulrich Seidl’s habitual).

Man Up (2015)

Man Up (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ben Palmer
Country: UK / France

Movie Review: “Man Up”, Ben Palmer’s second comedy in four years after the humdrum “The Inbetweeners Movie”, starts feverishly interesting but eventually decreases in quality in the second half where the clichés and fabricated romantic situations take hold of the screwball scenario set in the modern London. The charismatic Lake Bell (“In a World…”) plays the unmarried 34-year-old Nancy, whose first appearance is in front of a hotel room’s mirror, talking to herself while trying to gain sufficient confidence to participate in her friends' themed wedding party. Even fed up of dating and having no high expectations on love, Nancy will become the protagonist of a mind-boggling situation when she mistakenly goes on a blind date with Jack, played by the great Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”, “Shaun of the Dead”), an online marketing manager who’s about to divorce his wife. Nancy was simply taken by the odd circumstances of being in a train station, at the right time, with the book ‘Six billion people and you’ in her hand, the same book that Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), the one Jack was initially to meet with, was supposed to carry to signalize her presence. Nancy decides to miss her family party, and totally embraces this unanticipated opportunity. Despite the mention of a huge jalapeño between her teeth, the couple has lots of fun and the conversation flows without embarrassments, only until Nancy bumps into Shaun (Rory Kinnear), a disturbing old school friend who happens to be the barman at the bowling pub where they were playing. Shaun demands to Nancy nothing else but a blowjob not to reveal her secret to Jack, who gets really upset when he finds them in the restroom. The truth is unveiled not without the indispensable arguments, and the things only calm down again when they decide to have a drink at the bar where Jack’s wife usually pops up. The film’s pose oscillates between casual and sassy while the dialogue, often peppered with unsuccessful sex jokes, was never too creative or smart to cheer me up. Unfortunately, the actors’ efforts weren’t enough to make us forget the constant ups and downs of Tess Morris’ screenwriting, which reaches its weaker point with the weary, ridiculous finale.

Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Country: USA

Movie Review: Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” is flagrant, perfect, and essential. Mr. McCarthy’s fluid script was co-written with Josh Singer and interpreted in the best way by the glorious cast, conveying the journalistic effort that was put into this true investigation of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, carried out in 2002 by an investigative team of The Boston Globe known as Spotlight. The investigation unmasked several priests who sexually abused children during several years, and denounced the continuous cover-up of this sort of crimes perpetrated by the church, as an institution, in an almost unimaginable scale. All began with the arrival of a confident new editor to The Globe. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber is outstanding), a Jew who had gained an excellent reputation in New York and Florida, knew exactly what he wanted when he politely urged the Spotlight team to consider picking this particular case. The tenacious reporters of Spotlight are chief Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) who has some amends to make with his own past, the super-responsive Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the efficient and temperate Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and the restrained Matt Carroll (d'Arcy James), who got unsettled when he found out that one of the houses used for molesting kids was located right next to his place. All these members respond before the supervisor, Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery), who is presented as a minor key in the achievement. Sometimes agreeing, some other times arguing with one another to reach the best way for putting the truth outside without the interference of concurrent newspapers, the team wouldn't be succeeded without the priceless help of the righteous attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci at his best), who had already started defending some of the devastated victims. Of course, there’s also a bunch of attorneys so-called ‘friends of the church’ who do everything to maintain the crimes unrevealed or to sweep the dirt under the carpet. Never exploitative and highly assertive in its unobtrusive approach, Mr. McCarthy, who won me over in the past with “The Visit” and “Win Win” but last year had a thorn in his side with “The Cobbler”, turned “Spotlight” into a masterpiece whose theme, even if not fresh nowadays, still has to be shouted out loud in order to alert and avoid future abuses. And… justice for all!

Glassland (2014)

Glassland (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gerard Barrett
Country: Ireland

Movie Review: Simultaneously plaintive and modest, “Glassland” is an Irish independent drama written, directed, and co-produced by Gerard Barrett, and starring Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, and Will Poulter. The story is set in a cheerless little Irish town where John (Reynor), a good-hearted taxi driver spends most of his time running after his desolated alcoholic mother, Jean (Collette), whose life is in danger due to serious liver damages. In the first scene, John arrives at home after work just to find Jean in her bed, vomited and in an alcoholic coma. He was able to save her at the last minute, a story that repeats itself for a long time. Extremely tired of the situation, John almost doesn’t believe in a different scenario anymore. Mother and son behave furiously by turns - at first it was Jean who loses control when she doesn’t find booze at home after returning from the hospital; and then was John who gets pissed off when Jean misses work and vanishes one more time, what means another long sleepless night looking for her. Next day he shouts angrily: ‘my mother smiles and loves. This is not my mother. This is an animal, and you’re breaking my heart every single day!’ John still finds the strength to visit his 18-year-old brother who was born with Dawn syndrome and was early abandoned by Jean in a care facility, right after her companion has turned his back on her when he found out about the child’s condition. In one of the saddest scenes of the film, the powerless John joins his mother in a drink at home, and the little party ends up in an extended, dispirited monologue, in which Jane clarifies some aspects of her life. A gleam of hope still burns in their hearts, but the financial means to maintain Jean under treatment is another issue that pushes John into obscure solutions. In parallel, we vaguely follow the path of John’s unmotivated best friend, Shane (Poulter), who gets more than happy to leave the lugubrious town. A few scenes are emotionally strong, but Mr. Barrett, more lucidly than boldly, arranged everything too easily in one direction (Jean’s recovery) and too vague in the other (the obscure side of John’s life). Accordingly, I got slightly disappointed when the final credits rolled, meaning that I expected something deeper from the ending and something that was less basic as the whole picture.

A Borrowed Identity (2014)

A Borrowed Identity (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Eran Riklis
Country: Israel / other

Movie Review: In Eran Riklis’ new drama, “A Borrowed Identity”, the unruly Israeli-Arab coexistence remains as a topic, but this time slightly different since the story focuses on a Palestinian-Israeli boy who tries to impose himself against discrimination. The script was co-written by Mr. Riklis, who delighted me in the past with titles like “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree”, and Sayed Kashua, the author of the novel on which the movie was based upon. The story starts in 1982 in Tira, Israel, where the young Eyad, a very intelligent and perspicacious kid, proceeds to another climbing of the street utility post that holds a TV antenna on its top. His father, Salah (the very known Ali Suliman), who’s equally very smart but was relegated to be a fruit picker when he decided to involve himself in politics, tries impatiently to tune the Arab channel on his old TV. He’s a revolted man who’s not afraid to demonstrate and express his convictions, often called terrorist by the Israeli locals, and whose dream is to send his son to the best college in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Eyad, now totally recovered after falling from the utility post, feels abashed at school when he has to refer his father’s profession - in his juvenile innocence, he rather insists that Salah is a terrorist, a statement that conducts to a strict punishment inflicted by the school’s principal. The story then shifts to 1988, time when the grown-up Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) is accepted at the college. Once there, besides being a victim of stupid provocations and having accent problems in speaking Hebrew, he falls in love with the beautiful Naomi (Daniel Kitsis) and finds real friendship when he joins a college’s volunteer program and meets Yonatan (Michael Moshonov), a youngster suffering from muscular dystrophy. As the years pass by, Eyad faces some challenges such as how to live the ‘prohibited love’ with Naomi and how to cope with the deterioration of his best friend’s health condition. Related to this particular last topic, he finds the right solution to the injustice he was being subjected and steals his friend’s identity in a desperate attempt to have the same perks given to the Israelis. Both fanaticism and generosity are detected on the Israeli and Arab sides, and the director never assumes extreme postures. Mr. Riklis’ unnerving filmmaking style didn't smother the several critical points that are brought up about the conflict, turning the film into a bittersweet experience that leads to a variety of distinct feelings and sensations like sadness, loss, compassion, and liberation.

Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: John Crowley
Country: Ireland / UK / Canada

Movie Review: Brooklyn is charmingly depicted in the John Crowley’s drama whose title matches exactly the name of the famous and most populous NYC’s borough. Directed with a remarkable accuracy without losing a bit of narrative fluidity, “Brooklyn” doesn’t just give you a precise idea of the place in the 50’s, but also functions as an ode to the thousands of Irish immigrants that departed from their country to find a better and more exciting life in the US. In Nick Hornby’s script, taken from Colm Tóibín’s novel, that’s exactly what happened to Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), who left her strict mother and fragile sister, Rose, in their provincial Irish town and decides to accept the kind offer of a priest who got her a legal job in Brooklyn. After a bumpy trip in a deplorable ship, the amenable Eilis goes to live in a feminine boarding house and is instantly struck by a severe homesickness until bumping into the love of her life. Toni (Emory Cohen) is an honest Italian-American plumber with whom she danced at an Irish ball. He shows to be a well-intentioned gentleman and invites her to meet his family just after a couple dates. She was warmly welcomed at his place, even taking into account the unpropitious and yet funny commentaries of Toni’s cheeky little brother. However, life plays its pranks and Eilis receives the sad news of her sister’s death. Before returning to Ireland, Eilis marries Toni in secrecy, holding onto promises that, if kept, envision a beautiful future for them. Unexpectedly, in her hometown, she starts working for a company in part-time and gets to know Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who would be the perfect man for her if she had met him before. Flattered by this man’s endearing approach, and slightly confused, Eilis doesn’t seem ready to get back to her husband’s arms. Mr. Crowley, the author of “Boy A”, redeems himself from the tepid thriller “Closed Circuit” released two years ago, by conferring a classic profile to the drama, and conveying an acute sincerity through the actors’ performances. Saorsie Ronan and Emory Cohen couldn’t have been more genuine in their roles and that’s one of the reasons why the film doesn’t tickle in an emotional level… it rather punches you hard! “Brooklyn”, which is not limited to be another typical love story, offers historical insight and provides a unique experience that, at a time, feels painful, enriching, uncertain, and finally soothing and triumphant.

Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Country: USA / Canada

Movie Review: The specialty of the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (“Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”) is to interweave fantasy and horror. His latest, “Crimson Peak”, proves his effortlessness in both genres and also adds a strong dramatic component to a plot that, despite some regular clichés, manages to solidly hold our attention. Actually, Peak is the most successful collaboration between Del Toro, who also co-writes and co-produces, and the screenwriter Matthew Robbins, after “Mimic” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”. Beginning in 1887, the tale focuses on Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an unconventional independent American writer who is often visited by the ghost of her mother. So, ghosts are a reality and play an important part in her novels, even if metaphorically. When Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English aristocrat who comes to the US with the intuit of finding a wealthy investor to his unappealing invention, is declined by Edith’s father, Carter, he turns his eyes into the eager-for-love Edith, who falls for him in a blink of an eye, despite the warnings of her father and also of her childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael. Carter makes some arrangements to free his daughter and get rid of Thomas, who is constantly followed by his abhorrently jealous sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), but ends up violently murdered by a sinister figure, leaving Edith even more vulnerable on the matters of the heart. She resolutely agrees to depart for London, to live with Thomas and his diabolically manipulative sister at Allerdale Hall, a once resplendent, isolated old mansion that hides evil secrets, dark energies, and gruesome occult presences. Del Toro works together with the Danish cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, to carefully compose the dense visuals, enhanced by the period costume design and embracing the dismal atmosphere extracted from the place. You can imagine how difficult is to create a horror film nowadays without falling in the same stratagems used over and over again. Thus, during these last two years, only a couple of them could impress me, cases of “Conjuring” and “It Follows”. “Crimson Peak” lacks truly creepy moments and is definitely not on the same level of the cited films, but what’s curious is that I was never bored and the film gallops in an ominous crescendo towards its agitating finale. Jessica Chastain, here in a delightfully evil form, shares a great responsibility in this achievement.

Man From Reno (2014)

Man From Reno (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Dave Boyle
Country: USA

Movie Review: “Man From Reno”, a bewitching independent neo-noir film, may trap you in its mysteries and moods while transmits all the anxiety and uncertainty that its characters are subjected to. This is the second time (the first was “Daylight Savings” in 2012) that the screenwriters Joel Clark and Michael Lerman join efforts with the co-writer and director Dave Boyle. They were able to fabricate a wonderful story, set in San Francisco, and involving a popular Japanese writer from Tokyo, Aki (Ayako Fujitani), who in the face of a creative/identity crisis, decides to stop writing and vanish during her press tours in the city. After an unenthusiastic meeting with some old friends from college, she stealthily checks into a hotel, where she meets an astute, seductive, and handsome man called Akira Suzuki (Kazuki Kitamura). Aki feels so lonely and depressed that she ponders for several times about using the razor she carries in her purse to kill herself. It’s Akira who cheers her up and gives her the confidence she needs to overcome the present situation – a sort of a new breath that soon collapses since he’s not the man she thinks he is. After sleeping with her, Akira disappears without a word from the hotel, leaving a suitcase and a trail of mysteries behind. From this moment on, Aki starts being followed by enigmatic individuals who scarcely are whom we think they are. In parallel, San Marco County’s sheriff, Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna), runs over a nameless Asian man, after spotting an abandoned car, and starts to investigate his disappearance from the hospital where he was taken. Later on, he’s informed about a dead body found in the river shore. The man, in spite of identified as Akira Suzuki, is not the same as the one who met Aki in the hotel. The determined sheriff and Aki, who is guided by an acute intuition gained in her books, will try to search for something palpable in order to solve the puzzle. Sometimes vague and disorienting, sometimes precise and self-assured, “Man From Reno” plays with your curiosity in a complex, thrilling exercise, which not being totally satisfactory, presents strong elements to compose a solid detective story. This includes inexplicable clues, secret words, dangerous chases, mistaken identities, undercover paparazzis, an eerie soundtrack, and a constant, if subtle, tension associated to its Hal Hartley-esque conspiracy.

White Gate (2014)

White Gate (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Nicolae Margineanu
Country: Romania

Movie Review: The mischaracterized “White Gate”, directed by the veteran Nicolae Margineanu, was supported by true events in order to examine the fates of three Romanian youngsters who, in a desperate attempt to flee the communist regime of their country, resolve to swim across the Danube. The year is 1949, and the unhesitating carpenter, Ninel, was the one who came up with the idea, persuading the siblings Adrian and Anuca to follow him. On the shore, behind tall vegetation, ravenous mosquitoes bite them while they wait for the dusk to sneak into the water. Halfway, they were spotted by a patrol boat and told to surrender, facing the possibility of being shot dead. Adrian and Ninel are captured and taken to Poarta Alba (White Gate), a forced labor camp where they’re assigned to work in the construction of the Danube-Black Sea Canal, while Anuca disappears in the waters. The harsh working conditions of the camp supervised by ruthless criminals who had been promoted to brigadiers, drive them close to insanity. The film takes most of its time building the usual sadistic tortures inflicted to the undisciplined workers, together with the negligence of the communist authorities in regard to illness and exhaustion. Margineanu presents all of this in a classic black-and-white that tries to recreate the period when the events took place. At the beginning, a briefly colored scene introduces religious components into the story, when we are told that a fresco, exhibiting Baby Jesus wearing a typical labor-camp vestment, was found in a Bucharest church. This aspect is reinforced, but not totally succeeded, with the presence of an inscrutable monk among the inmates. Another character that is given prominence but fails to engage is Petre, a poet who can’t refrain himself from writing ‘forbidden’ poetry. This historical illustration assuredly condemns the vile regime and honors its victims, however, the trite approach, elementary production values, and impersonal execution, shove it into delicate territory.

Room (2015)

Room (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Country: Canada / Ireland

Movie Review: Brie Larson, who had already impressed me in “Short Term 12”, gives a spectacular performance, together with the young Jacob Tremblay, in the suspenseful drama “Room”, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (“Frank”) from a screenplay by Emma Donoghue based on her own 2010 international best-seller novel of the same name. The story follows a protective, caring mother, Joy (Larson), and her sensitive five-year-old son, Jack (Tremblay), whose lives are limited to a small space that they call room. The room is actually a shed, placed in a desolated backyard and well protected with a code lock system, which is owned by a man known as Red Nick, who seven years before had abducted Joy, confining her to a life of forced imprisonment. So, it’s easy to conclude that Jack is his son. The scoundrel father, who doesn’t have a job and only appears occasionally to bring food and sleep with the hapless woman, never has any contact with his son who is kept in a wardrobe until he leaves. The minimum accidental interaction between them leaves Joy out of control, in a raging effort to protect her precious son from the predator. The tiny room is actually the real world for Jack, whose unique contact with the exterior is through an old TV that is turned on whenever the power is available. His mother has told him that everything he sees on the TV is imagination and that beyond the room there’s just the outer space. Now that Jack, whose long hair made me easily mistaken him as a girl, turned 5, his mother decided to tell him the truth about the outside world, which naturally provokes confusion and apprehension. In addition, she engenders a risky plan to set Jack free and ask for help. The plan is consummated, however, the outside world is not the paradise she thought it would be, starting with the refusal of her own father in accepting Jack as his genuine grandson. A terrible depression takes care of this psychologically affected woman who does the best she can to hold onto life. For the film’s benefit, the mother/son relationship is depicted in a very strong way, a fundamental aspect that Abrahamson assures to extract from the performances, which are unquestionably Oscar-worthy. “Room” is an honest portrait of a terrible, abusive case, which reminds us a few real cases that have been disclosed by the media. Infused with confidence and narrative tightness, the film is not only gripping but also touching, and after two well-spent hours (time flies here, which is a good sign), it will leave you cogitating on the matter.

Nasty Baby (2015)

Nasty Baby (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Sebastian Silva
Country: USA / Chile

Movie Review: Chilean actor-director Sebastian Silva, who charmed the indie fans with a couple movies to be treasured such like “The Maid” and “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus”, returns with a let-down right after the disappointing “Magic Magic” dated from two years ago. In his latest Chilean-American production, “Nasty Baby”, he plays Freddy, a homosexual artist, residing in New York, who wants to have a baby with his partner, Mo (Tunde Adebimpe). The vehicle for their intentions is Freddy’s best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), a nurse who agrees to function as a surrogate womb and shows to be as much excited as the couple. Despite the efforts, which lasted for six months with multiple artificial inseminations, Polly can’t get pregnant due to Freddy’s low sperm count. The solution for this problem is obviously Mo who would become the sperm donor, a serious call that he responds affirmatively with the advice of his beloved mother. This first part of the film is inconsistent and often drags with boredom. Despite the naturalistic performances, in which the sensational Wiig stands out, the drama’s expressiveness feels somehow parched both in depth and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, Mr. Silva’s screenplay manages to raise the levels of excitement when, in its second act, depicts the couple’s disputes with a crazy neighbor known as The Bishop (Reg E. Cathey), a situation that aggravates more and more, ending up in a sad tragedy and subsequent questionable behaviors. Throughout the film, we’re given the opportunity to observe Freddy’s witless artistic performance entitled ‘nasty baby’, which he’s trying to take into the gallery of a weird friend, Marcus (Neal Huff), who uses an oracle in his office to help him decide about the art. Visually unimpressive, “Nasty Baby” becomes a much stronger film when turns into a crime thriller, but even though, and despite how much genuine the scenes might look, its conclusion is not so complete or stirring as its creator definitely intended it to be. To put it clearer: the two distinct story fragments in the basis of this disjointed tale have trouble to stand by their own, making “Nasty Baby” nastier than it was supposed to, and consequently, materializing in a combination that collapses into forgettable.

Tu Dors Nicole (2014)

Tu Dors Nicole (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Stéphane Lafleur
Country: Canada

Movie Review: One of the most wonderful surprises of this year is undoubtedly the Canadian drama “Tu Dors Nicole”, which has much to be appreciated. Exhibiting indolent tones and a leisured pace, the film grabbed me in a very satisfying way both in terms of script, whose creativity, spontaneity and even some surrealistic elements (like a kid talking with an absurdly deep voice) successfully enraptured me, and in terms of the engrossing black-and-white visuals, which were capable of making me feel the warm breeze and the relaxed ‘dolce fare niente’ of the summertime in a quiet, small Quebecois town. Julianne Côté, whose outstanding performance deserves all the accolade she can get, embodies Nicole, a young student who seems to be enjoying her time alone at home, a consequence of her parents’ absence for a prolonged vacation. The scene that first introduces her is illuminating - when she wakes up in the bed of a guy and responds in an indifferent manner to his question if they’re going to see each other again. Back at home, she receives a phone call from her father, reminding her of the home tasks to be completed, and finds an envelope in the mailbox with a credit card in her name. What a joy! This was exactly what she needed to fight the boredom of the hot days, mostly spent doing nothing special in the company of her best friend, Veronique (Catherine St-Laurent). Both are planning to leave their fastidious jobs and make a trip to Iceland, an idea that is reinforced when Nicole’s contentious brother, Remi (Marc-André Grondin), suddenly appears at home, bringing his longtime pal, Pat (Simon Larouche), and a new friend, the flirtatious JF (Francis La Haye), respectively bassist and drummer of his indie rock trio, to rehearsal. The multiple interactions among these characters suddenly change the airs from undisturbed to weighty. Directed with delicacy, intelligence, and insight by Stéphane Lafleur, who completely avoids one-dimensional characters, “Tu Dors Nicole” has this sort of mood that many emerging directors would like to bring into their cinema. It’s so effective and simple in its processes, so mature in depicting the human relationships, and so deliciously funny in its sometimes-offbeat posture and dialogue, that the result is an extraordinary modern gem not to be missed.

Honeytrap (2014)

Honeytrap (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Rebecca Johnson
Country: UK

Movie Review: Rebecca Johnson’s “Honeytrap”, despite satisfying as a whole, struggles to attain a sustainable balance during its different sections, provoking mixed feelings when the script and its execution are confronted. If its story evinced great potentiality, the approach not always pulled off the most desirable results. Making a good use of the structure, in which the ends meet, the film follows Layla (Jessica Sula), a good-looking 15-year-old girl who moves to a small town located in the South London’s poor district of Brixton to live with her estranged mother. Even giving the sensation that she’s happy with the change, Layla doesn’t have the support and attention she needs at this crucial point of her life because her indifferent mother, Shiree (Naomi Ryan), shows no more availability than a few minutes of conversation when not in the nightclub where she works or in the company of some lousy boyfriend. When attending a new school, Layla is definitely not prepared to handle the brutality of a milieu where physical and psychological aggressions are a painful reality. Even though, there’s always someone friendly, which is the case of the good-natured Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza) who has true feelings for her. But the degrading scenario gets darker after she bumps into the vile Troy (Lucien Laviscount), a relatively successful rapper whose intentions are everything but pure. Domineering and authoritarian, Troy uses and abuses of the ‘blind’ Layla, whose uncontrolled passion, naivety, and submission will lead her to shame when she agrees to become his accomplice in a hideous crime. Before that, in a complete disorientation, she almost takes her life away when she finds out Troy's true nature. This is the kind of film that you can sense it’s going to end haplessly since its very beginning. The storytelling of Ms. Johnson, who was inspired by real-life events, reveals a sort of urgency in taking us to the despair of this teenager. It feels realistic most of the time, however, occasionally a few noticeable melodramatic moments, enhanced by the uninspired score, tend to push its mood to an objectionable side.

Meadowland (2015)

Meadowland (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Reed Morano
Country: USA

Movie Review: Directed by the cinematographer Reed Morano from a screenplay by Chris Rossi, “Meadowland” is a poignant drama that demonstrates how people can descend into very dark places after going through a deeply grievous situation. The unimaginable happened to a happy couple of New Yorkers, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson), whose life will never be the same after their son’s disappearance. Everything happened when Phil decided to stop the car at a service station to buy some drinks, taking the opportunity to send the little Jessie to the restroom. Phil becomes restless when Jessie, who had locked the door, doesn’t answer to his calls. When finally inside, they face an excruciating reality: Jessie has vanished through a backdoor that connects with a garage where nobody was working at the moment. One year after, we find the devastated Sarah at home, still under the effect of lithium, getting drunk in front of Phil, who misleads us to believe he’s coping a bit better with the situation, taking into account his genuine concern with her and observant remarks. With them, is Phil’s brother, Tim (Giovanni Ribisi), a melancholic character, with a guessable troublesome past, who asked to stay at their place for an undetermined period of time. He clearly functions as a sort of an extra burden to the pair of sufferers whose emotional distance increases every day, making them suitable to fall into questionable behaviors both at work and outside work. Sarah is a school teacher, and after the initial attention with a problematic girl whom she followed the steps of listening to heavy metal and cut herself on the arms, she develops a fixation into another student, Adam, who has Asperger’s syndrome and is rejected by both his mother and schoolmates. She urgently tries to fill her emptiness by acting like his mother. In turn, Phil is more and more unmotivated in his duties as a police officer and even the therapy sessions he continues attending don’t seem sufficiently rewarding to make him recover the lost balance. He shows a pitiful moral degradation and a hopeless lack of confidence that made me uncomfortable. The experienced casting director, Phil Hicks, did a great job since these actors, with no exception, made the difference in turning a pretty conventional theme into a compelling dramatic creation. Only the surprising final scene sneakily attempted to be something more transcendent than it was really felt. Mr. Morano revealed sensibility in terms of camera work and a complete control of light in order to extract warm, opaque gleams from the visuals.

Anti-Social (2015)

Anti-Social (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Reg Traviss
Country: UK / Hungary

Movie Review: Greg Traviss’ expendable heist movie “Anti-Social” was unable to find a stabilized energy and never attained the desired maturity to impress, being relegated to those mediocre attempts that rely on fabricated scenes and flimsy resolutions, which infuriates instead of satisfying, with the easiness of the happenings and the wasted time (almost two hours in this case). The story, written by the heavy-handed Mr. Traviss, is set in Central London and follows two half-brothers who opt for unequal paths in life despite their proximity. Dee (Gregg Sulkin) is a graffiti artist who sometimes has to flee from the police for painting the street walls of his neighborhood. Carrying strong social-political messages, his art is still not as much respected as he would like, but has the power to draw the attention of a German artist who invites him to Berlin. His beamish girlfriend, Kirsten (Meghan Markle), offers all the support he needs and really believes in what he does, while his older brother, Marcus (Josh Myers), makes part of a gang of four motorcyclists who are known for robbing valorous jewelry around town. Besides this risky activity, the latter is associated with the organized crime, rivaling with another dangerous gang. By using a sexy woman as bait, the rival gang manages to perpetuate a precise attack, stealing drug packages and later shooting Marcus, who, recovering at the hospital, is out of the next heist, the biggest and riskiest so far. With no time to think and a necessity for solving the imbroglio, Marcus and his gang can only rely on the conscientious Dee. Even against his nature, the artist-turned-malefactor consents to participate in the holdup as a carrier, only to protect his brother and (why not?) taking the opportunity to guarantee his own future, financially speaking. Visually unpolished and with powerless performances, “Anti-Social” probably won’t attract many moviegoers with its constant plot shifts, mismanaged drama, sugary romance, and debilitating action. It’s an embarrassing incursion into the Londoner underworld crime and the art world in general.