Rolling Thunder Revue (2019)

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Direction: Martin Scorsese
Country: USA

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

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

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

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Photograph (2019)

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Direction: Ritesh Batra
Country: India

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

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

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

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Our Time (2019)

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Direction: Carlos Reygadas
Country: Mexico / other

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

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

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

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

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

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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind (2019)

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Direction: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Country: UK / Malawi

Lamentably, it’s common to see inspirational fact-based stories become unexceptional films. And that’s the case with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the feature directorial debut by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), who also stars. With the latter in control of his own screenplay, the film is a pedestrian adaptation of the book co-written by Malawian William Kamkwamba, the protagonist and true hero of this story, and NY Times bestselling author Bryan Mealer.

Set in Malawi, the story follows William (Maxwell Simba), a smart 13-year-old boy from the village of Wimbe who puts his head to work after reading the book Using Energy. His intention is to help his family and neighbors overcoming a disastrous harvest season, a severe drought and subsequent famine that follows. Motivated, William finds no technical troubles in building the windmill to produce energy and pump water into the fields; his biggest challenge is to convince his incredulous father of what he just had done.

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Ejiofor recreated the story with the best intentions, equally incorporating the political turmoil that was affecting the country. However, he seemed more concerned in touching our hearts with immoderate melodrama than providing an absorbing narrative depleted of that upsetting tonal familiarity that is commonly associated with emotional true stories.

There are a few slippery occasions where the film actually touches banality, yet the performance of the young debutant Simba prevented it to enter in an earlier collision. In the present case, forceful simplicity didn’t guarantee authenticity.

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The Pigeon (2019)

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Directions: Banu Sivaci
Country: Turkey

Debutant Turkish writer/director Banu Sivaci comes up with a quirky script in The Pigeon, a slow-paced art-house drama that aspires to be more than what really is. The story centers on Yusuf (Kemal Burak Alper), an unsociable young boy living in the slums of Adana, south of Turkey. He nurtures a longstanding obsession with pigeons to the point of sleeping, washing, and eating in the rooftop of his parents’ home. He inherited this passion from his late grandfather, something that his older brother, Halil (Ruhi Sari), was never able to understand.

Lacking any sort of enthusiasm apart from the birds, Yusuf starts working in a garage and, suddenly, ends up out of town as part of an exploited crew assigned for a one-week job. Panicking with the simple thought of leaving the pigeons without supervision, Yusuf takes a train back home. Penniless, he travels underneath a seat to remain out of the sight of the ticket controller. However, when he gets home, he gets disgusted with what he sees.

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The tension keeps floating considerably along the way, but its peak is reached when a thug slashes Yusuf’s favorite pigeon, Maverdi, in retaliation for an incident occurred with his own carrier pigeon. Aimless, Yusuf fights to protect his dovecote. He can’t afford to lose the only thing that makes him happy and distracted from the stress and afflictions of the outside world. Not even a pretty local woman, with whom he occasionally dreams of, seems capable to make him go in a different direction.

Despite the simplistic vision and timid filmmaking process, Sivaci had the precious hand of Arda Yildiran, the director of photography, in the capture of attractive colors and in the purpose of giving the images a fine, sharp glow. Besides conveying both the purity and naivety of Yusuf’s personality by depicting his stronger affinity with birds and detachment from people, this bittersweet drama also makes us think about work and eke out a living. Still, I struggled to empathize and connect emotionally with the central character.

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Triple Frontier (2019)

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Direction: J.C. Chandor
Country: USA

Triple Frontier, the fourth feature from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call; All is Lost; The Most Violent Year), is a bi-lingual action thriller that could have been much more interesting with less patterned behaviors. Co-written by Chandor and Mark Goal (mostly known by the invaluable contributions to Kathryn Bigelow’s films, including The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty) from a story by the latter, the film is configured with some conscious twists, which doesn’t erase the trouble in the head of five retired first-class soldiers brought to life by Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal. The decent cast, with the exception of Affleck, who couldn't persuade me with his weak performance, was powerless to overcome some debilitations of a canny script.

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Five aimless former Special Forces operatives decide to embark on an illegal, self-prepared mission to bring down a powerful South American warlord and steal his millions. After doing it, they meet with the difficulties of transportation, given the absurd amount of $100 bills collected.

Mildly enjoyable, Candor’s platitude is pumped up by some good, if intermittent, thrilling scenes and the sharp duality that confronts amorality - in the face of greed - with the unselfishness that ensues redemption. Both the camerawork and the film’s pace are controlled with effectiveness, while the powerful soundtrack features Metallica, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
If you’re a fan of the heist genre, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. If not, skip it.

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Her Smell (2019)

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Direction: Alex Ross Perry
Country: USA

Elisabeth Moss delivers a powerhouse performance as a collapsing rocker who struggles to quit drugs, overcome insecurity, and become a dedicated mom. The actress, alone, worths the ticket to Alex Ross Perry’s sixth feature, Her Smell. However, there was nothing she could do, in this second collaboration with the director (the first was Queen of the Earth), to elevate an erratic script overloaded with unbalanced furor and trashy tension. Oddly enough, the film’s most annoying parts are the ones that easily come to mind, such as the scabrous self-destructive scenes that last forever and a sloppy, sentimental solo rendition of Bryan Adams' “Heaven” on piano, which equally lasts forever.

The neurotic, selfish, and emotionally torn Becky Something (Moss) leads a provocative indie rock band named Something She, whose smashing success becomes compromised by drug abuse, freakish religious ceremonies that serve to avert negative spiritual forces, and the gradual deterioration of her relationships with bandmates Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali Van Der Wolff (Gayle Rankin).

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Despite dozens of sold out concerts and financial stability, Becky can’t put her life together, assaulted by family traumas and cross-feeling conflicts regarding her little daughter, who was appointed as her future downfall by the phony spiritual shaman Ya-Ima (Eka Darville). It all spirals into offbeat grungy chaos that could have been less histrionic if handled by someone else other than Perry. Here, he seems more preoccupied in emulating Cassavettes with a bit of supernatural anxiety, than really adhere to an unfluctuating story. The filmmaker pointed out Guns N’ Roses’ vocalist Axl Rose as the prime influence for Becky’s character. Nonetheless, her style and looks are totally Courtney Love.

While the wild days of this rock muse felt intense, protracted, and tiresome, her isolation phase was boring, failing to make any further grasps for significance.

Firstly mounted like a humorless bizarre circus and then transforming for the flimsy redemption of its protagonist, Her Smell lacks essentially a tuneful note, lingering too much time in an uncomfortable dissonant universe.

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Pity (2018)

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Direction: Babis Makridis
Country: Greece

Pity marks the second collaboration between Greek director Babis Makridis and his fellow co-writer Efthimis Filippou, the one behind inventive scripts that made Yorgos Lanthimos famous with Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Actually, similarities with Lanthimos’ clean yet subversive early style, especially in what concerns to tone and aesthetics, are pretty obvious here, but this shaggy-dog tale needed some more grip in its weirdness and maybe a spectacularly tragic ending, which didn’t happen, in order to succeed.

Immersed in absurdity and deadpan humor, this dark comedy shapes as a character study of a depressed lawyer (comedian Yannis Drakopoulos) who craves the pity of others to continue living. After the tragic accident that sent his 45-year-old wife (Evi Saoulidou) into a coma, this man earned all the consideration and commiseration of every person around him.

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His secretary worries about his silence and isolation at work; his longtime friend encourages him to hang out more often and rubs sunscreen on his back while at the beach; a kindhearted neighbor bakes him cakes, which he pleasantly eats in the morning in the company of his only son; and the laundry owner is always compassionate of his difficult situation. The only one looking at his case with pragmatism is his father, who promptly disregards the imaginary white hairs he claims to have grown while grieving. The described scenario radically changes when, against all the expectations, his wife recovers and returns home. By that time, dangerous thoughts invade his mind, leading to radical actions.

Sabotaging situations and lying brazenly, this man puts himself to ridicule, at the same time that proves capable of committing terrible atrocities in order to regain people’s sympathy.

Pity is morbid and ludicrous nonsense that grows tiresome, loaded with grief-imbued close-ups, trapped in a rigid pace and unchangeable atmosphere, and failing to unlock much of the positive indications patented in its inaugural phase.

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Direction: Bryan Singer
Country: UK / USA

Bryan Singer’s biographic drama film about the legendary rock icon Freddie Mercury reveals directorial weaknesses on top of relevant historical and narrative inaccuracies. It’s also mounted with a stilted pose that becomes more noticeable in the parts meant to be funny.

The good side of it is that you can have a glimpse into Mercury’s extrovert character and some more insight about the tense state of affairs with bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee), John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Unlike these, the characterization of the Queen’s vocalist, especially when young, was overdone, a fact that didn’t hamper Rami Malek from giving a respectable performance. Worse than that was the characterization and posture of EMI executive Ray Foster (weirdly played by Mike Myers), which felt extremely unnatural.

Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything; Darkest Hour) and Peter Morgan (Rush; The Queen) wrote a story that covers Mercury’s successes and failures with unchanging tone. Even with all the predicaments and untidiness, there's a lot of info for Mercury's fans: the family environment, his early marriage and lifelong friendship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), the discovery of his bisexuality, the financial and musical quarrels with the other members of the group, the ups and downs with his double-dealing boyfriend Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), and the final phase of his life, when he was already ill, alongside new partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), here wrongly portrayed as a hired party servant when he was a hairdresser in real life.

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While watching it, I got the impression that the scenes had been fabricated to please the crowds and delivered in a reckless mode. Although displaying some curious details, the emotional depth was never enough to make Bohemian Rhapsody stand out. It turns out that this was a film of abandonments and departures, facts that obviously weighed in the final result. Allow me to clarify that Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) took the leading role but left the project in 2013, allegedly because of divergences with Queen's members. In December 2017, it was Singer who dropped out due to clashes with the cast and crew. English actor turned director Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill; Eddie The Eagle) replaced him.

A closer look reveals dissonance in this orchestration. Hence, you won’t find a forward-thinking film about the forward-thinking band that once mixed opera with rock music to create an unforgettable symphony. And that’s because, more than anything, Bohemian Rhapsody is ostentation, offering limited musical insights and dramatic tension within a stereotyped approach. Queen’s burning music is all that's left.

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Everybody Knows (2018)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Country: Spain / France / Italy

The work of some distinguished directors loses the charm and often the focus when they operate in a different cultural milieu. This syndrome seems to have caught Iranian master Asghar Farhadi, who gave us gems like About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), and The Salesman (2016). Sad to say he stains his filmography with Nobody Knows, a fictional thriller set in Spain that unfolds monotonously and only sporadically piques our interest. Orienting a luxurious cast that includes Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin, Farhadi failed to provide startles and thrills, relying solely on the dramatic side of things to impress. But even that factor was disastrous as he tiresomely attempts to suggest connections between the past and the present.

The film starts by capturing some newspaper clippings that reveal the disappearance of a little girl named Carmen. When Laura (Cruz) arrives at her small, picturesque hometown with their three children to attend her sister’s wedding, she couldn’t imagine she had been already chosen as an indirect target for something similar. In recent years, she has been living in Buenos Aires, where her architect husband, Alejandro (Darin), remained due to work commitments.

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The wedding’s festivities suddenly turn into a river of tears when Laura’s teen daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), disappears mysteriously. She had been kidnapped while resting in her room and the ransom is 30 thousand euros. Obviously, there was a mole at the party and the kidnappers can be either family or friends. Jorge (José Ángel Egido ), a retired policeman who acts as he knows all the answers, studies possible motives and tries to find a logic for the puzzle.

All the same, the only one with the financial means to resolve the imbroglio is Paco (Bardem), Laura’s former lover, who is well established as a local vineyard owner. Intriguingly, Paco’s wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie), receives the same warnings from the kidnappers. Secrets are unveiled slowly and unsavorily, while the drama becomes a disorganized spiral of affective manipulations.

Farhadi keeps on working family themes, but with a voice that lacks articulation. He brings a bit of Almodovar during the colorful party and the dramatic flair of Susanne Bier, but everything is inconsistently pasted with a melodramatic television air. There’s little to differentiate this film from other generic drama-thrillers out there, and even if the images shine bright, they were not enough to make Everybody Knows glittering like gold. To tell the truth, this was more of a pale experience that puts Farhadi under pressure for his next move.

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The Hate U Give (2018)

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Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Country: USA

There’s a bunch of fictional films released this year, not to mention documentaries, with a focus on racial prejudice and related injustices in America. BlacKkKlansman, Sorry To Bother You, and Blindspotting are just a few examples of a big list now expanded with The Hate U Give, the new drama by African American director George Tillman Jr. (Notorious, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete).

Based on Angie Thomas’ novel of the same name and scripted by Audrey Wells, the focal point concentrates on Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old black student from the problematic Garden Heights neighborhood, who witnesses her longtime friend Khalil (Algee Smith) being shot dead next to his car, after has been pulled over by a nervous young white cop.

When she was nine, her father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), who just like every black man in that neighborhood had problems with the justice, gave her a very first lesson about how to behave in the case of a police officer tells her to pull the car over. The altercations with the King Lords, the gang that controls the neighborhood, starts when Starr mentions them on a TV interview arranged by lawyer/activist April Ofrah (Issa Rae). The latter encourages her to speak up with her own voice and denounce publicly the case.

Starr comes to the conclusion that discrimination exists even among her own people. And it's her uncle Carlos (rapper Common), a police officer, who reveals it.

Not everything clashes between black and white people and that’s a positive factor here. Starr has a courageous white boyfriend, Chris (KJ Apa), who loves her with all his heart to the point of giving the first step to meet her belligerent father. On the other hand, her best friend Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter), also white, starts acting in a provocative way after the traumatic episode. Incidentally, the scene that captures a quarrel between the two feels catastrophically artificial.

Besides didactic, the film carries the expected passion, objection, and anger to transform itself in something dramatically appealing. However, clichés in the storytelling as well as in the visual dynamics are a reality, while the surprises are few.

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The Little Stranger (2018)

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Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Country: UK / Ireland / France

Esteemed director Lenny Abrahamson, the architect behind noteworthy films such as Garage, Frank, and Room, directed this gothic drama film from a script by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. Impeccably acted, the film boasts Ruth Wilson, Domhnall Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling in its cast, but it's governed with an unstable hand, developing inconsistently in pace and intensity.

Carrying something bizarre without never really scare, the story follows a country doctor, Faraday (Gleeson), who returns to the manor where he had been with his mother, a former maid, during the 1919 Empire Day party. Still vivid in his memory are some bitter instants of that day, but now he’s visiting as a doctor to treat the young maid Betty (Liv Hill), clearly influenced by disturbing episodes observed on the premises that nobody can explain. Faraday solves Betty’s problem, having the aristocratic Caroline Ayres (Wilson) calling him a wizard. He also meets her brother Roderick (Will Poulter), the disfigured owner of the manor and a traumatized Royal Air Force veteran, as well as their mother, Mrs. Ayres (Rampling), who admits with airy tones that the house works on people.

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Becoming a frequent presence in the house, Faraday, little by little, gets the fondness of the family members. On one hand, he offers to treat the psychologically fragile Roderick through an innovative process, on the other hand, he tries to conquer Caroline's heart, a laborious task. Soon, he detects a supernatural activity in the house, a virulent inhuman presence that Mrs. Ayres associates with the spirit of her deceased younger daughter, Suki.

I have to admit it was a bit shocking when Faraday’s intentions are disclosed. Yet, the reflexes of evil and struggle in the story were never sufficiently impactful to tantalize and satisfy. The romance and its wry twists provided us with the best moments of the film, whereas the ghost story remained sapless.

More inanimate than haunting, The Little Stranger is Abrahamson’s least interesting feature. Here, the ambiguity doesn’t work as a positive factor and not everyone will have the patience for a family tragedy that on several occasions felt apathetic and calculated. It should go down smoothly with fans of the genre, though.

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Life and Nothing More (2018)

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Directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza
Country: USA / Spain

Starring non-professional actors, “Life and Nothing More” was shaped as a docudrama, telling the story of an African-American single mother who struggles to provide for their children and keep things together in northern Florida. Regina (Regina Williams), 30, works extremely hard in a diner but her income is still very low. She cannot stop worrying about her 14-year-old boy Andrew (Andrew Bleechington) whom she advises the best she can to prevent him from going to prison like his father. In fact, mother and son are in probation and their relationship is not always easy. Lonely and tired, this woman lives under a constant pressure, oscillating indefinitely between the strict and the protective when dealing with her delinquent son. When Robert (Robert Williams), her new partner and a stranger in town, somehow shakes the bond of the family with his strong temper, she doesn’t even hesitate to put him in the right place.

But the problem doesn’t drop out of sight since Andrew becomes more and more isolated and furious with life while considering to finally connect with his absent father. A curious and contradictory aspect regarding Regina is that she believes her son isn’t capable of doing anything harmful to other people despite saying recurrently that he is the son of his father.

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In his second feature, Spanish writer/director Antonio Méndez Esparza emulates a credible portrait of African-American lives with a great dose of realism. Yet, if the story is thoughtful and promising, then the editing needed some polishing to avoid unconsidered cuts and precipitate image transitions contrasting clumsily with the sluggish development. It’s weirdly watchable but not necessarily satisfying in the end since it sinks its teeth in a horde of topics such as the judicial system, race, education, parental responsibility, parental absence, and social/economic inequality without making a fully satisfying portrait of the family. It’s like if the huge potential of the script had been consumed by a wobbly direction.

The ‘real’ people, here transformed into real actors, are the heart and soul of a painful drama whose creator, maybe too concerned about not diverting from the desired reality, forgot to exert a bit more emotional bite and set an adequate pace to fulfill its promise of going places.

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The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin (2018)

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Directed by Renée Beaulieu
Country: Canada

It’s widely known that every person’s skin reacts differently to touch, pressure, temperature, levels of stress, and several other external factors. But what the main character of “The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin” tries to understand is how disparately the skin cells react to love and desire in a close linkage of dermatology and sexuality. For that, Marie-Claire (Brigitte Poupart), a down-to-earth, well-established scientist and university teacher, uses her own body and several male guinea pigs in what she calls ‘experiments’. These include sexual intercourse, which she practices without any preconception or guilt, despite being happily married and mother of two.

In truth, Marie-Claire is a pleasure-seeker, who uses her ongoing research as an excuse to feed intense carnal appetites. Soon, it became an addiction. So, it’s not uncommon to see her embarking on a wild sexual activity with a complete stranger; a fellow scientist, Alexandre (Normand D'Amour), head of her department; or even a literature doctorate, Emile (Pierre Kwenders), who is 20 years younger and makes sure to attend her classes. Men simply love her type: carefree, independent, unpossessive, wanton.

Adam (Vincent Leclerc), her husband, is often traveling and had agreed to an open relationship, but things go astray when she casually opens up about her secret life. Gradually, her fully open smile is swallowed by preoccupation, to which further contributes the delicate situation of her vulnerable 14-year-old daughter, Katou (Romane Denis). It’s not that Marie-Claire doesn’t care for her. She’s just tremendously inattentive, being too immersed in her thing. When the situation is barely out of hand, is her mother - another hedonist - and her volatile, depressed, and eternal unsatisfied best friend, Mathilde (Nathalie Cavezzali), who stand on her side.

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The complexities rendered by Renée Beaulieu in her second feature drama do not always succeed, but, as a character study, the film poses some interesting points of view regarding family and happiness, love and desire, as well as men and women with their commonly associated roles of predators and victims, respectively.

The reappearance of mechanical procedures and an invariable tone in each human contact may difficult the viewer’s engagement, limiting the curiosity about this woman’s behavior. Nevertheless, things improve a bit in the second half, when the affective facet overcomes the libidinous.

One of the strongest aspects of the film, in addition to Poupart’s performance, is the score by David Thomas, whose mixture of ominous textures, expert beats, and occasional ethereal chants, compensate the prosaic sex scenes with sync commitment.

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Adrift (2018)

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Directed by: Baltazar Kormakur
Country: USA / Iceland / Hong Kong

Adrift” is an uneven survival drama co-produced and directed by a connoisseur in the genre, the Icelandic Baltasar Kormakur (“The Deep”, “Everest”). It was loosely based on the true events endured by a young couple caught by the category-four Hurricane Raymond while sailing from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983. Shailene Woodley (“The Fault in Our Stars”, “Divergent”) stars as Tami Oldham Ashcraft, a brave woman who, alone in the sea, manages to stay alive after massive waves have erupted from the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Having been 27 hours unconscious due to a blow on her head, Tami wakes up just to realize that her fiancé, Richard (Sam Claflin), was gone, probably swallowed by the tempestuous sea. However, she started to believe in miracles in the minute she catches sight of him on a small rubber boat that keeps floating not so far from their ruined 44-foot yacht Hazana. Visibly disturbed, Richard has a leg shattered and some broken ribs, showing no reaction to her talking. How could this have been possible? Is Tami’s fertile imagination working in her favor or a miracle actually happened? The truth is that Tami survived 41 days adrift, eating canned fruit salad and sardines.

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The inspiring reality was monotonically scripted by the Kandell twins (“Moana”) together with David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”), and wasn’t convincingly adapted to the screen, drowning fast in clumsy procedures and obtuse lines. Recurring to inevitable yet disruptive flashbacks to show us how the couple had met five years before, Kormakur creates tragic/romantic momentum without ever going too deep.

Consequently, the film shapes into an exhausting melodrama instead of the harrowing, devastating adventure that everybody was expecting. A punch-less attitude from the director, who makes us suspicious about what his next step is going to be. What saves “Adrift” from an instant wreckage is Woodley’s performance, but still, it’s preferable to read the facts than cope with its cinematic adaptation.

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Doubtful (2018)

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Directed by Eliran Elya
Country: Israel

The story depicted in “Doubtful”, an Israeli social drama written and directed by debutant Eliran Elya, was inspired by real events, which is not a relevant factor for us to overlook its seemingly familiar tones and inevitable conclusions.

Tel-Aviv native Assi (Ran Danker - “Eyes Wide Open”), a director and screenwriter, ‘volunteers’ as a film teacher at a Southern Israeli school for juvenile delinquents after a motorcycle accident. The unruly young misfits often turn the classroom into battle rings, and police interventions are not uncommon. Because they are minors, house arrest is the usual punishment for those who don’t follow the rules. This is what was prescribed to the wild, provocative Eden (Adar Hazazi Gersch), after an ugly fight with a colleague.
 
At first, Assi seems not to bother with the confrontational and often aggressive behavior of his students, but then he starts to care, especially about Eden, whom he suspects to have stolen his wallet and cellphone. Without money to return to Tel Aviv, Assi finds where the student in question lives, leaving his camera in exchange for some money and earning the sympathy of his emotionally unstable single mother, Alma (Hilla Sarjon). Even if the film suggests something more, don’t expect a love story involving the latter because Assi is obsessed with Liraz (Liron Ben-Shlush), a local grocery store clerk who doesn’t seem very pleased with his detachment and uncharming posture. This is a frustratingly underdeveloped segment of the drama.

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Oftentimes, Assi seems as much aimless and helpless as his young students and maybe that’s why he becomes so attached to Eden, a misfit who collects and sells plastic bottles with the intention of buying a restaurant for his mother.

The narrative is interspersed with brief headshots of the students telling us something personal about themselves. The stories reflect problematic backgrounds, traumatic experiences, and tense family atmospheres, most of the times described emotionlessly.

Regardless of the respectable intentions, Elya missed the opportunity to do something bolder with a recurrent topic, treading the same paths that many other films did successfully. The choppily edited sequences and the inept score didn’t help the down-to-earth scenes to reach the desired emotional states, while on the contrary, the cast, featuring a considerable number of non-professional actors, provided the restless undertones to keep the film minimally interesting.

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Middleground (2018)

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Directed by Alisa Khazanova
Country: USA/Russia

Mood and tone are fundamental in a movie, but if working on their own, it can make it a hard experience to endure. This is what happened in "Middleground", the debut feature by Russian-born Alisa Khazanova, which combines the conversational and the dreamlike in a sort of experimentalism suffused with parallel realities and memory gaps.

The director, a former Bolshoi ballerina who also wrote and produced, stars as a submissive woman subjugated by her presumptuous husband (Chris Beetem). They are staying at a hotel, where he has these routined business meetings to strategize how to get Chinese funders for a profitable deal. The same scenario, always mysterious and baffling, repeats a few times more, probing possibilities as behaviors and moods keep changing.

At first, we see the couple in the desolate restaurant of a bizarre hotel. There’s tension in their conversation and he just flips out because she forgot to remind him about an important phone call; also because she smoked in his car and has that blank expression on her face. In the meantime, she finds a spider web in her wine glass but there’s no one there to complain. He leaves her alone at the table to meet his business partner Marcus (Daniel Raymont) outside. A stranger (Noah Huntley) then approaches the woman and talks as if they knew each other for a long time. He even mentions an affair with her. The woman leaves quickly, a bit uncomfortable and certainly not believing him. He remains in the restaurant where the bartender (Rob Campbell) lectures him about influences, including the ones of booze and opium.

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The second vignette shows the couple at the same restaurant, a bit more composed this time. The glass of wine is broken and there’s a waiter who brings them a bottle of wine to compensate that fault. The husband is slightly nicer now, but leaves the table anyway. His wife refuses to go with him and has an uncanny conversation with the stranger about illogical memories. The first memory that pops into her head has to do with her sister - vaguely related to a few blurred and wide angled dreamlike passages that focus on a young girl named Olga. These sequences are gracefully accompanied by sober piano notes, after which a different bartender talks about parallel realities.

For the last section, the husband unexpectedly turns into a considerate guy, but his bored wife seems to enjoy more the company of the stranger, who talks about deja-vu and supernatural premonition. Tipsy, she believes in fairytales, while he believes in a glass of wine and the memories of a great time spent together and in love. Which reality suits you best?

Although well acted, mindful, and visually arresting, the film doesn’t go beyond its hypothetical circumstances. The thin line between the real and the imaginary is reinforced by a structure whose looping segments are mutable, in the same line of Tykwer’s "Run Lola Run" and Kieslowski’s "Blind Chance". Without achieving that desired emotional depth to elevate it above the acceptable or simply satisfying, "Middleground" runs whimsically loose and exploratory throughout, living essentially from the intensity of its mood.

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Love, Simon (2018)

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Directed by Greg Berlanti
Country: USA

Although smartly adapted from Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, “Love, Simon” felt too standardized and over-polished to impress. Director Greg Berlanti could have had the best of the intentions, but his coming-of-age drama film, despite warmhearted and inspiringly educational, played below my expectations, exclusively delivering the expected as the story develops with a crowd-pleasing, soap opera-ish comportment. 

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), 17, is a closeted high school gay living in Atlanta, who feels a sudden urgency of identifying himself publicly as a gay, obviously a very demanding task. He gradually falls for an anonymous classmate who, under the pseudonym ‘Blue’, wrote an online confession regarding his homosexuality. While trying to physically meet with Blue, whom he suspects is the sympathetic Bram (Keyinan Lonsdale), Simon keeps hanging out with his old pals Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and a brand new friend, Abby (Alexandra Shipp).

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Even believing he would be all right at school in the case his secret is disclosed, Simon has his doubts when it comes to his family since his cool yet intrusive father, Jack (Josh Duhamel), occasionally makes some depreciative jokes about gays. Even not coming directly from the heart, this behavior hits Simon, who has his mother, Emily (Jennifer Garner), as a supportive and attentive ally.

The emotional involvement among the friends becomes knotted when Martin (Logan Miller), considered a tedious imbecile, gains access to Simon’s email account. He threatens to leak the sensitive info if Simon refuses to help him conquer Abby. Imbroglio after imbroglio, the film, an undeniable charmer, advances with the happy vibes of a pretty decent soundtrack and the lightness of contrived episodes that never attain profound emotional levels besides the average entertainment. 

Regardless the moderate collapse as a cinematic effort, it can easily work as an inspiration for many people going through the same process of affirming their true identity.

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The Endless (2018)

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Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Country: USA

Trendy directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (“Resolution”, “Spring”) return to their trippy hallucinations deeply connected to enigmatic cults and sinister characters. However, their induced fear of the unknown, otherworldly paranoia and suicide fascination simply don’t convince me.

Both filmmakers star as two brothers who, not happy with their turbulent childhood in the UFO death cult, from where they escaped ten years before, decide to return to find the closure they need. Allured by a cryptic video message they step into the secluded Camp Arcadia, which holds unexplainable forces and secrets. Reconnection with old pals brings some good memories from the past, which can't prevent them from becoming trapped both in grueling time loops and dangerous beliefs that pose clearly a threat to their lives.

While Aaron seems happy with the experience, mostly because of Anna (Callie Hernandez), to whom he has always been attracted, Justin is not particularly convinced about the benefits of the faction. For him, the camp is not just bonfires, family ties, and good food. The people there are really bizarre, with Shitty Carl (James Jordan) probably being the most intriguing one since he strides like a deranged, has a restless look, and screams like a possessed man. The young manipulative leader, Hal (Tate Ellington), is the one whose tranquility seems unshakeable. However, his sweet talk wouldn't fool a kid.

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Drowned in old videotapes, supernatural puzzles, and magic tricks, “The Endless” is pure hypocrisy. The strangest sensation I had while watching the film was that Benson and Moorhead were tricking the viewers, precisely like the cults do when preaching some crazy ideology. Apparently, they have been successful, but I’m glad I didn’t follow the flock in this illusory worship of a cinematic artifice.
 
With more estrangement than any astute twist, the film becomes linked to “Resolution” when the action is taken to the woods. Still, its turnarounds were more like dumbly existential and painfully dragging than anything else.

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Those Who Are Fine (2018)

Directed by Cyril Schäublin
Country: Switzerland

Cyril Schäublin’s feature debut, “Those Who Are Fine”, renders a scam story involving elderly women as preys in today’s Internet world. Following four short films, the young Swiss director imagines a female call center employee who tricks a few grandmothers using a false quest for urgent financial help as she pretends to be their granddaughters.

Alice Turli (Sarah Stauffer) is one of the 'inhumane' call center representatives at Everywhere Switzerland, an Internet service provider that offers up one of the most competitive prices in the market. She is a lonesome girl who takes advantage of her job to obtain extra information from wealthy elderly targets. In addition to questions like “how fast is your Internet connection” or “how often do you use the Internet”, Alice queries about their date of birth, bank account type, and approximate current balance. We follow her scamming the good-willing Mrs. Oberli (Margot Gödrös), who, despite the bank’s laborious security procedures, was more than happy to withdraw 50 thousand francs for her granddaughter. A meet up is scheduled, but instead of the latter is Alice who shows up to receive the money, exhibiting a mix of satisfaction, underestimation, and contempt in her face. 

Schäublin uses the camera in a curious way, opting for sharp close-ups, medium-long shots with half-body characters occupying only one side of the frame, and a few high-angles where she captures the austerity of the streets, the urban architecture and busy traffic in the unattractive outskirts of Zurich.

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Intertwining with Alice’s path, we hear conversations among a group of policemen assigned to carry out security checks at certain locations of the city. The topics of their conversation include Internet speeds and prices, health insurance, and movies, whose titles nobody remembers. Ironically, one of them croons Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, and in a different occasion, another one interrogates and frisks Alice, whose fraudulent ways needed another type of strategy to be unmasked. 

The guileful, achingly unemotional swindler opens a bank account with a large sum of dishonestly-earned money. That doesn’t weigh a bit in her conscience. In this aspect, debutant actor Sarah Stauffer was perfect, emulating the imperturbability of her character through a casual acting style. But because the more money you have, the more you want, Alice has no plans to stop and approaches her next victim, a senile woman living in a dementia caregiver center.

The drama relies on an interesting idea that never develops into something completely satisfactory. Regardless of a possible posterior connection, many scenes feel derivative, lost in redundant dialogues that drag the story to its limits. Even the finale promised tension but ended up wrapped in a melancholic apathy. Drowned in passwords, codes, and missing film titles, “Those Who Are Fine” runs at slow speeds and only intermittently connects. It would have easily been a more stimulating short film than a feature.

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