A Monster with a Thousand Heads (2016)

Directed by Rodrigo Plá
Country: Mexico

The title “A Monster with a Thousand Heads” can be deceitful in the way it might suggest one of those horror films based on fantasy instead of real life.
Actually, the well-written screenplay by Laura Santullo moves on the realistic side, focusing on an exasperating social problem that not only affects Mexico, the origin of this drama, but lots of other countries, including the capitalist USA. 
We’re talking about the human health and associated insurance companies that profit with what should be free for everybody.

The dramatic thriller depicts the affliction of a mother of two, Sonia Bonet (Jan Raluy), who desperately tries everything to save her husband, Memo (Daniel Cubillo), from a malignant tumor that advances slowly but lethally.
Despite the good news that he doesn’t have metastasis, the case is neglected, lacking the medical supervision and attention it deserves. For sixteen consecutive years, the couple has paid the insurer’s premium, yet the organization refuses to approve the treatment that can make him live.

Unresponsive doctors, an infuriating incompetence from the insurance company, infinite waiting, shameful lies, and immeasurable bureaucracy associated with a simple case, are all factors that drive Sonia to act drastically, having the support of her teenage son, Dario (Sebastián Aguirre), who follows her everywhere. 
Holding a gun in her hand and dragging the insurer’s CEO as a hostage, Sonia starts to collect all the signatures needed to get the treatment approved. Fighting the abusive Mexican system with the use of force makes her exposed to many dangers. Is it worth a try?

Despite the pertinence of the topic, the direction of the Uruguayan-Mexican Rodrigo Plá didn’t impress me as much as it happened with “The Delay”, a gripping drama dated from 2012.
Moreover, and regardless the good performances, a few scenes seemed a bit contrived to me, especially those involving situations of tribulation and panic.
This is an example of a good idea hampered by a flawed execution.

Miles Ahead (2016)

Directed by Don Cheadle
Country: USA

We have to recognize the efforts of Don Cheadle, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in “Miles Ahead”, a biographical drama based on the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.
He plays Miles with an impeccable rough voice and stylish posture, but the drama presents lots of questionable scenes in which its accuracy becomes compromised.
The post-“Kind of Blues” story starts when Miles decides not to play or record during a five-year interruption in his career. Instead of concentrate in his brilliant music, he was more concerned in hiding from the world, consuming drugs, and regretting for having let go his wife, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a dancer who didn’t resist to the whims and bad genius of the musician.

Disappointment is installed as I realized this wasn’t about Miles’ music or even about his true life. To tell the truth, it seemed that Mr. Cheadle took the opportunity to make a gangster movie out of a phase of Miles’ life.
Ewan McGregor plays Dave Braden, a fictional and somewhat dishonest reporter who persistently wants to write the truth about Miles. The best way Braden finds to achieve this, is hanging out with Miles himself while helping him sorting out some disagreements with his record label, Columbia, and with an unscrupulous producer, Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg), who steals a tape containing supposedly unrecorded material.

The story winds back in a considerable number of times with faint purpose, showing how the trumpeter got to know Frances, the posterior difficulties in their relationship, and when Miles was unfairly busted at the door of the NY jazz venue Village Vanguard where he was performing with his fantastic quintet.
“Miles Ahead” is not so ahead as a film, but rather a bit showy and copiously staged. The occasional humor provided, ended up being the strongest aspect of a muddled drama that certainly would leave the temperamental Miles upset. As an iconic voice of jazz, fusion, and social music, he appears here more like… a kind of gangster.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Directed by Justin Lin
Country: USA

The thirteenth film in the Star Trek franchise brings us the magnificent crew of the famous spaceship USS Enterprise in a hurried adventure that tries to conquer the fans through action-packed scenes.
The screenplay, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, doesn’t aim to the intellect, a factor that is reinforced by the director Justin Lin, whose filmmaking style is clearly action-oriented, opposing to J.J. Abrams (director of the previous saga “Star Trek Into Darkness”) who also delivers mystery and humor while entertaining with the capture of tech details.

When arriving at the Starbase Yorktown, a strategic resupply station, the brave and generous Cpt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his brilliant crew truly believe they are going to have a relaxed after three long years voyaging into the deep space. However, an unexpected request for rescuing a stranded spaceship forces them into Altamid, a mysterious planet where Krall (Idris Elba), an evil creature with a face of a reptile, destroys their ship and makes a few hostages out of the crew. The reason is that the Enterprise carries the missing component of an ancient bio-weapon he wants to rebuild.
Luckily, the main leaders manage to escape but are set apart. The super-cerebral Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the pragmatic Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) start to search for survivors while Kirk and the principal navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin) do their best to find a way out of the danger zones.

Simultaneously, an alien scavenger called Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a survivor of Krall’s precedent attacks, intercepts the amiable chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Pegg) and takes him to her house. To his surprise, the house was the grounded Starfleet's ship USS Franklin, which was reported missing more than a hundred years before.
Both fate and a resilient posture bring everyone together aboard of the USS Franklin, which is recuperated in order to fight the soulless Krall, who after all is the former captain of that spaceship.

The finest special effects and fast-paced battles don’t enlarge the soul of this episode, which despite a couple of good punches, never reaches the emotional levels or the vibrancy of “Star Trek Into the Darkness”. 
Boutella and Elba, the two freshmen of this latest installment, did a great job, introducing the energy that their characters needed to become successful additions.
The direction is where the main problems reside. Maybe because Justin Lin might have had the sordid fantasy that he could turn Star Trek into a sort of Fast & Furious from Space. 

Little Men (2016)

Directed by Ira Sachs
Country: USA

Ira Sachs is an excellent filmmaker whose realistic dramas always find something worthy to say. 
His latest feature “Little Men”, co-written once again with the Brazilian Mauricio Zacharias, is an engaging follow-up to the irresistible “Love Is Strange”, one of the best movies of 2014 starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a married gay couple living in New York.

For this keenly observant new story set in Brooklyn, the filmmaker has his eyes centered on two teenagers whose destinies suddenly come across, becoming inseparable friends. Sadly, that friendship is forced to come to an end due to the business matters that separate their families.

The quiet and sensitive Jake (Theo Taplitz), who keeps drawing the hardest to become an artist, wasn't satisfied for moving into Brooklyn with his parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy Jardine (Jennifer Ehle), after the death of his granddad. However, this change will bring Tony (Michael Barbieri), a far more expansive and talkative kid whose dream is to become an actor, into his life. Tony lives alone with his caring mother, the Chilean-born Leonor (Paulina García), who runs a small dress shop located in the Jardines’ building, right below their apartment. As a close friend of Brian’s father, Leonor kept paying a low rent, contrasting with the rest of the neighborhood, forced to adapt to the real-estate market changes throughout the years.

Brian is a struggling actor who has a new play but is not doing so well, relying on his wife to provide for the family. The building was left to him and his inflexible sister as inheritance and is now their intention to triplicate the rent and set a new lease. Obviously, Leonor can’t afford to pay that amount, and with no margin to negotiate, she faces an eviction process that taints the friendship of Jake and Tony.

The situation we see here is crushing in many ways. Yet, at the end, we are shown that life goes on, even leaving a bitter taste in our mouths and triggering a tremendous compassion for the misfortune that embraced this pair of innocent friends.
Intrinsically, the film subtly suggests that Jake is in love with Tony who, in turn, shows to have a crush on a girl who attends the same acting workshop he does. 
“Little Men” is a thoughtful, humane, and well-acted film that validates Ira Sachs as a grounded character-builder and one of the most interesting directors of the modern American cinema.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Country: USA

The fifth installment of the Bourne franchise returns once again with the well-oriented Paul Greengrass in the direction and the inevitable Matt Damon in the main role. 
This new adventure, which also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassel, works as a sequel to “Bourne Ultimatum”, also directed by Mr. Greengrass in 2007.

Jason Bourne (Damon), the former CIA lethal executioner and eternal fugitive who became traumatically amnesiac regarding his identity, retrieves partially his memory and unexpectedly starts to look for the reasons that led to the assassination of his father, Richard Webb, an analyst who was directly involved in the creation of the polemic Treadstone program.
During the search, initiated by his former partner Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), Bourne will fill some small memory gaps he still had about the years he became a relentless assassin for the American intelligence agency.

With Parson’s death, the only help he considers comes from Heather Lee (Vikander), the ambitious chief of the CIA's cyber ops division, whose intentions are enveloped in doubt and mystery. His fiercest opponent is the Asset (Cassel), an obsessive assassin who holds a grudge against him, believing that Bourne is a national traitor. The Asset receives direct orders from the unscrupulous CIA Director, Robert Dewey (Jones), whose main goal is to capture Bourne to prevent more information leaks that compromise both his name and the agency.

There’s a constant hazy tension associated with every scene and we almost don’t find a relaxed moment in Bourne’s turbulent life. However, in this particular case, I didn’t feel so connected as I felt in the previous installments, despite the stimulus of seeing him eluding the adversaries within a cat and mouse game.
Also, the initial insidious sequences are much more realistic and alert than the action scenes, which exhibiting a motorcycle ride hysteria and worn out car chases, left me both unsurprised and unimpressed.

Indignation (2016)

Directed by James Schamus
Country: USA

Surprisingly mature for a directorial debut feature, “Indignation” is probably the best drama you can find today in New York theaters. 
First-time director James Schamus is best known as a screenwriter and for his longtime association with Ang Lee’s filmography, which includes “The Wedding Banquet”, “Eat Drink Man Woman”, “The Ice Storm”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and “Lust, Caution”.
He truly did a wonderful job here by deftly adapting Philip Roth’s 2008 novel of the same name.

This realistic dramatization, bursting with emotions and high sensibility, focuses on the complex inner struggles of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant, intense, and atheist student of Jewish origin, who leaves his home in Newark, New Jersey, to attend the small Catholic-based Winesburg College in Ohio. The year is 1951 and the Korean War makes more and more victims among the young American soldiers. Marcus’ father (Danny Burstein), a kosher butcher who can be described as temperamental and zealous, becomes overprotective regarding his only son, driving everyone crazy at home.
Thus, Marcus is clearly happy for finally having his independence, but also shows a disconcerting inaptitude to deal with the real world.

Getting a blowjob from the wealthy and nonjudgmental Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) on their first date was a big issue for the constantly uneasy, Marcus, who tries to understand the reasons for her behavior. Despite having feelings for her, the confused Marcus will go back and forth in his decisions about accepting her as his girlfriend due to more than one reason. This posture makes Olivia devastated, bringing back the ghosts of a traumatized past.
At a certain point, Marcus’ distress is so extreme that he resorts to the help of the school’s dean (Tracy Letts), a brilliant and understanding mind who already had had an interesting discussion with him about socialize, religion, and sports, in one of the most absorbing dialogues of the film.

In “Indignation”, besides a detailed look at a complicated sexual awakening and cultural displacement, Mr. Schamus shapes genuine characters with plausible problems. Thus, everything feels authentic, also thanks to the flawless performances of Lerman and Letts, who much contributed to that. It’s a profound drama that makes its bitter point about society, prejudice, love, and regret.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Directed by Paul Feig
Country: USA

The new “Ghostbusters”, released by Columbia Pictures and directed by the comedy expert Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”, “The Heat”, “Spy”), is now part of those unnecessary remakes adulterated for the worse.
The comedy, written by Mr. Feig and Katie Dippold, was adapted from Ivan Reitman’s 1984 original version, which starred Bill Murray (he has a brief appearance here too), Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as three paranormal savvies whose goal is to keep the Big Apple clean from mischievous ghosts and evil spirits.

In this new adventure, Mr. Feig makes a significant alteration, though. He replaces the three original male characters for three feminine ones, played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon. While the former two actors had previously worked under the guidance of the director, McKinnon joins him for the first time with a surprising wallop.

Drs. Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Erin Gilberts (Wiig) were partners in a book that considered and supported the existence of ghosts. However, each of them took their own way when the book revealed to be a disappointment in terms of acceptance. 
The two women will enthusiastically reunite again to investigate a serious case related to the haunted Aldridge mansion. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), an atypical and presumably gay engineer who researches the paranormal in the Columbia University together with Yates, joins them in the mission that fails to entertain due to its ridiculously forced details. 
Before that, a maleficent ghost was seen flying over the subway tracks by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a fearless MTA employee who was promptly accepted as a Ghostbusters member due to her curiosity, bravery, and availability.

Besides fighting against countless ghosts - some of them are winged and green like creepy aliens, others take a more human shape or look like toys - the team also has to deal with the Mayor Bradley (Andy Garcia) who considers they operate unsafely and are causing a mass hysteria in the city. However, their main concern is Rowan North (Neil Casey), a freak that is summoning ghosts through his devices and assumes the form of the Ghostbusters’ logo in giant proportions.

With insipid jokes and predictable action scenes populated by uninteresting characters, “Ghostbusters” is a stereotyped comedy that spreads more goofiness than cleverness.

Cafe Society (2016)

Directed by Woody Allen
Country: USA

“Café Society” is the new cinematic creation of Woody Allen, who moves like a fish in water in another comedy, set in New York and L.A. in the 30’s, which sparks with a bittersweet romance.

Jesse Eisenberg is Bobby Dorfman, a smart and curious young Jew born and raised in New York, who lives with his hilarious parents, Rose (Jeannie Berlin) and Marty (Ken Stott), and his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), who thrives with illicit actions and nightclub businesses. There’s also a married older sister, Evelyn (Sari Lennick), who lives in her own house with her easygoing husband, Leonard (Stephen Kunken).
Not imagining himself working for his indolent jeweler father for the rest of his life, Bobby decides to leave behind the city of jazz and mobsters and move to Los Angeles, city of celebrities and movie stars. To succeed in his new adventure, he expects a little hand from his influential uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a wealthy man whose contacts range from Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire to Barbara Stanwyck.

While waiting a few days to talk with his busy uncle, the lonely Bobby decides to call for a prostitute, but the encounter proved to be a mistake in many ways. It’s with the attractive young Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), assigned by uncle Phil to show him the city, that Bobby will find not only a good company but also true love. However, big difficulties knock on his door since Vonnie has a mysterious and always-absent boyfriend who happens to be Bobby’s uncle.
Amidst several indecisions, Phil resolves to divorce from his wife. Now, it’s up to Vonnie to make her move: is she going to marry Phil, guaranteeing a comfortable life? Or is she going to marry Bobby and move to New York with him?
Choices in life have always a price, and Bobby returns to New York to become a successful entrepreneur and find another Veronica (Blake Lively) to share his life with.

As it is prevalent in Mr. Allen’s work, the film is pelted with swinging jazz tunes (the melody of “Manhattan” keeps running in my head), exhibiting a strong cinematography along with a valuable production design and set direction. Wrapped in nostalgia and humor, “Café Society” overcomes “Magic in the Moonlight” and “Irrational Man”, the previous movies by Mr. Allen, which didn’t evince the same levels of charm and wit. It also benefits from a glittering chemistry between Eisenberg and Stewart. Still, I ended up waiting for something deeper than what the ending suggested.

Our Little Sister (2016)

Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
Country: Japan

Hirokazu Koreeda, one of the most renowned contemporary Japanese directors , has proved he has a knack for family dramas. His previous works such as “Nobody Knows”, “Still Walking”, and “Like Father, Like Son” were critically acclaimed, demonstrating his acute sensitivity to depict relationships within the family.
His new film, entitled “Our Little Sister”, was based on the manga series “Umimachi Diary” by Akimi Yoshida, and tells the story of three adult sisters who ‘adopt’ their younger half-sister after the death of their father.

With their mother living in Hokkaido, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), and Chika (Kaho), of 29, 22, and 19 years old, respectively, live by themselves in the seaside Japanese city of Kamakura for more than a decade. 
Sachi, the eldest of the three, assumes the role of a mother, zealously taking care of her sisters and the house, a responsibility that stole her youth. However, she’s not a bitter person. Sachi works as a nurse in the local hospital and is in love with a married pediatrician who wants to leave for the US and take her with him.
Chika is a happy, relaxed, and attentive person who works at a sports store and has in her co-worker Hamada her best friend.
Yoshino, in turn, is a very sensitive person, having trouble in opening up about her problems. To do so, she drinks a few glasses of booze.

Their parents divorced when they were kids because their father fell in love with another woman and went to live in the countryside. One year after that traumatic occurrence, their cold mother left them and scarcely maintains contact.
When their estranged father dies, the sisters feel kind of indifferent, but decide to go to his funeral. There, they meet with their 14-year-old half-sister, Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), who gladly accepts their invitation to live in Kamakura with them.

In a clever and unobtrusive way, Mr. Koreeda, makes us know more about the sisters’ tastes, jobs, loving relationships, deceptions, fears and hopes with an affectionate grace and joyous tenderness.
Despite all the emotional struggles and dilemmas carried by the characters, the story conveys tranquility and generosity while some scenes mirror the pure joys and pleasures life is made of.
Rich in detail and essence, the optimistic “Our Little Sister” follows the combination of amiable tones and social analysis, so characteristic of Ozu and Shimizu. It confirms Mr. Koreeda as the maturest Japanese filmmaker working today.

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Directed by Matt Ross
Country: USA

Both the synopsis and the film cover of “Captain Fantastic”, a half-comedic, half-dramatic adventure engendered by the actor-turned-director Matt Ross, might lead you to believe that this is a film for all the family.
Well, it’s not, unless you belong to a liberal, anarchic household like the one Mr. Ross portraits here.

Ben (Viggo Mortensen), a caring-yet-demanding father, lives isolated in the middle of a forest in the Pacific Northwest with his six children. He totally believes in a rigorous education based on philosophical theories learned from the books, a total openness about any subject, including sex, and the cultivation of physical well-being through intensive exercise. His older boy, Bodevan (George MacKay), is now a man and proved it by hunting a deer with his own hands. Without his father knowing, he was accepted in the most prestigious American universities.
When Ben’s bipolar wife commits suicide, after a few months in the hospital, the kids have an opportunity to leave their "free cage”. With Ben driving an old school bus, they set off on a road trip to New Mexico to attend the funeral of their mom with the intention of stealing the body in order to cremate it, as it was her wish.

Both Bodevan and his younger brother don’t want to go back with their father due to different reasons, willing to adapt to the modern world rather than being part of a closed and disciplined literary circle in the woods. At first, Ben doesn’t understand these choices, but an unexpected accident makes him reevaluate all his lifestyle.

Despite the well-founded idea and the totally entertaining atmosphere created, the film had a margin for better maneuvers, occasionally showing pretentious poses and constantly displaying scenes that oscillate between gripping and senseless. 
It was this weird mix of seriousness and dullness that left me confused in the end. However, the balance was positive and the film, besides the humane side and good heart, showcases terrific performances from the cast.

13 Minutes (2015)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Country: Germany 

After the worldwide acclamation with “Downfall” in 2004, the German director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, returns to the topic of Nazism with the passable biopic “13 Minutes”, which chronicles the true story of Georg Elser, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler in Munich in 1939.

Elser, impersonated competently by Christian Friedel, was an ingenious German carpenter, born in Württemberg, whose discontentment about the political situation of his country and his personal life, made him react aggressively against the Fuhrer, situation that cost him years of torture and misery since nobody believed him when he stated he worked without any help.
Elser, who proclaimed not to have any party affiliation, used a homemade bomb fabricated with stolen material, which should be more than enough to turn the Fuhrer into pieces and drag a few more SS officials with him. However, the engine only exploded 13 minutes after Hitler has left the place.

After the machination, we see Elser being arrested and continually interrogated by Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaußner), a key functionary in the security and police apparatus of Nazi Germany, and his superior, Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow), leader of the feared Gestapo. While the Fuhrer wanted a formal confession, Goebbels wanted something palpable to say to the press. Amidst lots of questions and rivers of torture, Mr. Hirschbiegel often takes us to Elser’s past through flashbacks. With them, we can have glimpses of the subject’s youth, his conquests, his taste in music, and how he met the love of his life, Elsa (Katharina Schüttler), a married woman who was often mistreated by her brute husband, Erich (Rüdiger Klink).

Even not so powerful in emotional terms, “13 Minutes” gives us some historical background in regard to this particular occurrence. Clearly, the dramatization could be better nuanced while some parts of the narrative (especially the first flashbacks) seem a bit dislocated. To compensate these less positive aspects, I can mention the tight and polished direction by Mr. Hirschbiegel and the inviting cinematography by Judith Kaufmann (co-director of “Two Lives”).

A Bride For Rip Van Winkle (2016)

Directed by: Shunji Iwai
Country: Japan

Writer/director Shunji Iwai (“All About Lily Chou-Chou”, “Love Letter”) surprises again with “A Bride for Rip Van Winkle”.
The drama probes love in an extreme perspective and tells the misadventures of an openhearted woman who feels lost and anguished after a failed marriage.

The sweet and gentle Nanami (Haru Kuroki) is giving her first steps as a teacher, but her weak voice and bashful posture seem inadequate to face the cruel students. The possibility of being fired from the school becomes a tough reality, but Nanami decides to focus on Tetsuya (Gô Jibiki), a young teacher she met online, and the one she's going to marry.
Tetsuya, however, wasn't the man she thought he was. He gradually distanced himself from her, with a suspicious behavior that makes her think he’s having an affair. Restless and disappointed, she hires a mysterious performer, Yukimaso Amuro (Gô Ayano), to follow her husband and answer all her questions. Amuro wasn’t really a stranger, though. He had worked for Nanami during her wedding party, taking a group of strangers to pretend they were her relatives. Also, Nanami’s parents acted as they were still together, only to cause a good impression on the groom’s upper-class family.

The drama suddenly shifts to a psychological mystery thriller when the secret is unveiled and Nanami is unjustly accused of having an affair, falling immediately in disgrace. This is when the always-enigmatic Amuro offers his help and hires the lonely Nanami to work with him. Over the course of the work, she’ll find unconditional love in Mashiro (Cocco), an apparently happy woman who, after all, is suffering heavily in this phase of her life.

Exhibiting an adventurous camerawork, Mr. Iwai draws delicate movements and strong dramatic intonations during this three-hour director’s cut that, despite stumbling in its final scenes, is recommended mostly for its mood, intriguing paths, and associated complexity.
Nonetheless, it’s quite clear that this is not for everyone’s taste.

The Boys Who Cried Wolf (2015)

Directed by Kim Jin-hwang
Country: South Korea

Kim Jin-hwang’s directorial debut, “The Boys Who Cried Wolf”, is a drama turned into a detective story.
It stars the newcomer Park Jong-Hwan as Wan-ju, a frustrated stage actor who also works as an escort and wingman for his friend’s agency.
With his mother sick in the hospital, needing urgent surgery, Wan-ju needs desperately to find a quick solution to get the money that would allow him to pay both the treatment and the hospital bill. 
At the same time, he gets pissed off when he doesn't get the leading role of a play he was really committed to.

The opportunity to thrive without much effort comes when Yang Kyang-Sun, the CEO of a well-established company, persuades him to falsely testify in a murder case. 
The supposedly simple task becomes a headache in the minute that Wan-ju finds out that the suspect is innocent and the CEO who had contacted him wasn’t the real Kyang-Sun.
Propelled by a strong curiosity, he starts digging up the mystery as he attempts to clear his name from the mess he was pushed into. 
Continuous threats and a beat up are just a little part of the predicament.

The chain of middlemen and a large number of suspects made of this modest exercise a difficulty. In the end, the mystery-thriller presented here wasn't up to much. However, its stylish approach, more European than Korean, and the quality of the acting had the desired effect to pump it up a little.

The BFG (2016)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Country: USA

The BFG, which stands for Big Friendly Giant, is the latest adventure from the acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, who also produced it. Melissa Mathison worked on the screenplay, having Roald Dahl’s 1982 novel of the same name as a source.

Mark Rylance, who previously worked with Spielberg on “Bridge of Spies”, stars as a giant who, despite inoffensive, kidnaps the little Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) from the London orphanage where she lives, to take her to Giant Country with him. All this because she saw him, and now he’s afraid she might unfold the secret that giants really exist.
After the initial mistrust, a friendship starts between the good-hearted giant and the self-confident girl. However, there are other bigger, unfriendly, and man-eating giants inhabiting the place. Besides being a serious threat to the girl, they bully the sweet BFG. 

The two good friends embark on a big adventure, catching colored flying dreams, and never giving up on hope to make the world a better and safe place.
Believe it or not, priceless help arrives from Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, who decides to hunt down the bad giants after being informed that the creatures in her nightmares are real.
Before accomplishing the mission, our heroes are invited to the Buckingham Palace, in the most comedic scene of the film.

Surprisingly sparse in thrills, “The BFG” still had the merit to catch my attention since I followed the story with some apathy but no tedium.
The film actually made me laugh, especially in its final part, and also presented technical rigor and visual accuracy as important parts of its conception.
Rayleigh, who suffered a tremendous physical transformation through digital manipulation, has here a lengthened but less demanding role than in “Bridge of Spies”, while the young Barnhill was the ideal choice to play Sophie.
Mr. Spielberg's first Walt Disney fantasy is acceptable, not outstanding.

Demolition (2015)

Directed by Jean-Marc Valée
Country: USA

“Demolition”, a stilted comedy drama written by Bryan Sipe, was conceived by an extraordinary director and showcased a no less extraordinary cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Chris Cooper.
Despite these observations, it’s not an extraordinary movie, showing several problems that turn it into an unfortunate stumble in the filmography of the Quebecois Jean-Marc Vallée. 
The latter, who deserves all my respect for works such as “C.R.A.Z.Y”, “Café de Fleur”, “Dallas Buyers Club”, and “Wild”, was unable to assure a compelling chemistry among the characters and eluded us by making us believe that this tearless tale of loss and grief could offer us something more interesting than weird conversation, whimsical behavior, and difficult relationships.

The film opens with a brutal car accident that throws Davis (Gyllenhaal) into a hospital, unconscious but intact, turning him into a widower since his wife Julie didn’t have the same luck.
After taking conscience of what just happened, Davis reacts in a strange way. No tears were shed and Davis even seems not to need any support or solace. The question if he’s in shock or simply indifferent to his wife’s death is inevitable, and the curiosity immediately takes over, just to let us disappointed in the course of Davis’ narration of his life.
Besides having a hard time dealing with frustration and trauma, and doing his best to deviate the eagle eye of Phil (Cooper), his boss and father-in-law, from his questionable behavior, the unstable Davis grows an obsession for Karen (Watts), an unprofessional customer service rep. He also creates a special bond (for the good and for the bad) with the latter’s 15-year-old son, Chris (Judah Lewis).

The film, reminiscing Malick in its narrative and mood, almost follows the steps of its main character in the way that it’s active but a bit lost and off. 
Despite Mr. Valée’s well-thought-out intentions, the scenes oscillate between the strong and the weak, and Davis’ problematic phase is presented with a sometimes-embarrassing phoniness that it’s hard to chew up. 
Likely, it will divide audiences in the same way that made me disoriented in the valley of its qualities and flaws.

Green Room (2015)

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Country: USA

“Green Room” is an unsettling horror thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. 
If the director’s previous, “Blue Ruin”, had already shown a flair for brooding stories and an ability to create excruciating scenarios, his latest work is extremely hard to watch such are the harrowing happenings that involve the members of a punk band during a last-minute performance in a remote Neo-Nazi bar located in the Pacific Northwest.

The four members of an innocuous punk band called ‘The Ain't Rights’ witness a horrifying murder and have to fight in order to survive the unscrupulous group of skinheads that are behind the act.
With the cops on the way, the evildoers set a diabolic plan to cover-up the crime and kill the frightened members of the band, who remain locked in a small green room. 
The skinheads take direct orders from the owner of the place, who certainly didn’t imagine that these young musicians could resist for so long and be prepared for the war.
After finding that the room is connected to an old bunker, they take their chances but the few exits are well guarded, not only by madmen but also by a furious pit bull.

Paranoia and panic can be easily felt when watching this brutal film, which relies on violent attacks, ugly deaths, and a few bizarre characters in order to impress.
Among the cast, we highlight Imogen Pots who plays a doped regular customer who doesn’t hesitate when it’s time to become aggressive, and also Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the owner of the establishment. 
Mr. Saulnier effectively composes the backdrops with saturated colors, and often articulates them with the ominous roars of punk and metal music.
It’s well done, yet might be overwhelming for some viewers.

The Phenom (2016)

Directed by Noah Buschel
Country: USA

I’ve no doubts about the value of Noah Buschel as a film director and a writer. Despite somewhat underrated, he gave us interesting movies such as the indie romantic drama “Sparrows Dance” and the crime thriller “Glass Chin”.
His latest, however, didn’t thrill me much. 
“The Phenom” is a sports psychodrama that showcases great performances from Ethan Hawke, Paul Giamatti, and Johnny Simmons, but leaves something to be desired in the end.

The film is presented with constant ups and downs during the irregular narrative structure, regardless the solid psychological fundament and emotional weight that we can find in the cheerless story of Hopper Gibson (Simmons), a rookie Major League Baseball pitcher who, despite seen as a big promise, is sent to the minor leagues due to his increasingly poor performances.

Dr. Mobley (Giamatti), a maverick sports psychoanalyst, is appointed to get him fixed and withdraw some conclusions. He easily understands that Hopper’s anguish comes from his overbearing father, Hopper Sr. (Hawke), an ex-con and drug dealer of very bad reputation.
Hopper was motivated and in good shape during the time his father was away. He listened carefully the advice of the coach and was more available to his wise girlfriend, Dorothy (Sophie Kennedy Clark), who loved him very much. This scenario changes completely after his dad’s return. From then on, the joy of throwing a strike gives place to apathy, failure, and embarrassment.

Weirdly, the analyst became analyzed and, apparently, there’s not much more to be said about Hopper’s case.
It’s a shame the film didn’t take a more satisfying course because it had the potential to do so.
Whenever present, Ethan Hawke is the one who keeps this well-directed drama alive, but the script and narrative needed to be strongly shaped to make the difference.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Directed by Taika Waititi
Country: New Zealand

Following up the indelible “What We Do in the Shadows”, one of the most gratifying parodies from last year, “Hunt For Wilderpeople” is another hilarious comedy from the New Zealander Taika Waititi, who is now confirmed as a first-rate director in the genre. 
Although labeled as a comedy, the film is also an enthusiastic and highly entertaining adventure, nearly a rustic western, containing the right amounts of action and drama to become simultaneously animated, funny, and heartwarming.

Mr. Waititi doesn’t need much more than a sharp-witted screenplay, which he wrote based on Barry Crump’s book ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’, suitable actors for each role, and considerable amounts of goodwill and cheeriness to make this film work wonders.

The story focuses on the fat young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a gutsy and difficult orphan who never stops running away from the juvenile centers or foster homes he's sent to. However, his rebellious posture will change for the better when feeling genuine care and love coming from his new foster aunt, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), who lives with the grumpy foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill), an inveterate pigs' hunter.
Sadly, Bella passes away, leaving Ricky under the orders of the Child Welfare Services once again. When ordered to return to a caring home, the wild kid hides in the dense New Zealander bushes, dragging the reluctant Hec with him. The latter, after giving it some thought, decides to protect him from a few relentless yet ridiculous pursuers. An eventful and unforgettable adventure starts, replete of both dangerous and friendly encounters. 
Ricky, an eternal fugitive turned into a national hero, and his brave uncle, unjustly accused of being a pervert, even seem to have the same blood when consumed by the adrenaline of a thrilling escapade.

With numerous effective jokes, an irascible fight against a huge savage pig, and a spectacular car chase, “Hunt For Wilderpeople”, a bracing fantasy for all the family, will provide you with many occasions for out-loud laughs.
It’s already one of the best comedies of the year.

Creepy (2016)


Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Country: Japan

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Creepy”, which was based on Yutaka Maekawa’s 2012 novel of the same name, flaunts some creepiness but fails to maintain the focus while leading us to a defective finale.
Mr. Kurosawa’s flair for horror-thriller is widely known (“Cure”, “Pulse”), but throughout his long career (more than three decades), his successes are more intermittent than solid. In fact, his only memorable film is a poignant drama, “Tokyo Sonata”, a reference that prompts me to suggest he should give another shot in the genre.

“Creepy” has a stimulating start, showing us the brave and clever Detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) being wound by a young psychopath who managed to escape the correction facility where he was being interrogated. 
The incident pushed him away from the crime investigation and made him chose a teaching career instead. One year after, the expert in criminal psychology moves into a new house with his good-hearted wife, Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi), who is resolved to build friendly relationships with the neighbors. However, the couple finds themselves surrounded by an antisocial woman on one side, and a sinister man, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), on the other. Despite the odd behavior, Yasuko opens the door of her house for Nishino and his daughter, Mio, who discloses some eerie secrets about her father.

The one who doesn’t trust him at all is Takakura who, meanwhile, agrees to give a hand to his former colleague, Nogami (Masahiro Higashide), in an unsolved case from 6 years before when three members of a family disappeared without a trace. The only relative who’s alive is Saki Honda (Haruna Kawaguchi), carefully approached in order to recall a mysterious man who may be related to the disappearances of her parents and brother.

The two fronts of the story - the bizarre neighbor and the Hondas’ case - are predictably related and the film keeps revolving in psychological strategies and abhorrent exposures until we reach the implausible and vulnerable ending. “Creepy” was sharply shot/photographed and its suspenseful undertones are acceptable, however, a more lucid approach was expected from Mr. Kurosawa who, at least, could have tried to camouflage the obvious a little harder.

Honor Thy Father (2015)

Directed by Erik Matti
Country: Philippines

“Honor Thy Father” is a pertinent Filipino drama/thriller about a family involved in a fraudulent financial scheme that unexpectedly puts their lives in danger. It also addresses religious fanaticism and deception, the gap between social classes, and criminal activity with a sharp eye, only to wobble slightly as it reaches the last part.
The director, Erik Matti, who already had shown favorable capabilities in the 2013 crime thriller “On the Job”, wrote the screenplay together with Michiko Yamamoto and gave the proper instructions to the popular Filipino actor John Lloyd Cruz who played the leading role.

Mr. Cruz gives an earnest performance as Edgar, a modest former miner who recently has been living in the city in great style and surrounded by luxury. Not because he did great at work or won the lottery, but because his wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), is thriving due to an elusive financial scheme launched by her father, that forces her to drag more investors into swampy ground.
Kaye seems to have been born for that job. She loves to feel active when convincing people to invest, and superior when in the presence of large amounts of money.
Besides leading the scheme, Kaye is a fervent devotee of the Church of Yeshua whose header, bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III), tries to extract as much money (in the form of donations) as he can get from the parishioners. 
The only one who attends the gatherings with suspicion and indifference is Edgar. However, he goes with the flow just to please his whimsical wife.

The couple’s happy days come to an end when Kaye’s father is assassinated and the money disappears. Naturally, the situation provokes the chaos among the wrathful villagers who claim their money back.
Since Kaye doesn’t have a solution for the problem, the crowd opts for looting her house. Not satisfied, a threatening couple takes further action, kidnapping their daughter, Angel (Krystal Brimner), as a warning, and then Kaye, as a guarantee that they will receive the six million they’re asking for.
Edgar has to think and act fast to retrieve his beloved wife alive. After a failed attempt to rob a bank, his only chance is to break into the church that had denied the financial help he needed.

“Honor Thy Father” is a claustrophobic tale that conveys all the distress felt by its characters, a punishment for their atrocious greediness. It’s also timeless because, sadly, scheming people and churches like the one described here are still spread around the world.
The pace increases as the intensity grows, but the film loses something in its last act where the action assumes preponderance, and the climax shows us how ignominious life can be sometimes.