Elle (2016)


Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Country: France / Germany / Belgium

In glory, Paul Verhoeven returns to film direction with “Elle”, a French-Belgian-German psychological drama of great intensity, featuring Isabelle Huppert at her best.
The Dutch filmmaker, who gave us the relevant “Soldier of Orange” and celebrated Hollywood pics such as “Robocop” and “Basic Instinct”, had his career’s peak in the late 80’s and beginning of 90’s, but can’t be considered prolific. From 2000 on, he directed only four films, which abruptly oscillates in quality. “Hollow Man” and “Tricked” were too flimsy to deserve a recommendation. Yet, “Black Book” and “Elle” lit the fire of hope in the hearts of his fans, especially the latter, which marks a radical change in style, vision, and posture.
Verhoeven directed from a script by David Baker, who in turn, based himself on the Interallié Prize novel “Oh...” by Philippe Djian.

The film opens bluntly with a violent rape. The man is dressed in black and has his face covered with a baklava. The woman is Michéle Leblanc (Huppert), a successful video-game entrepreneur who was able to rebuild her life respectfully over the years, apparently recovering from the trauma of being associated with 27 evil slays perpetrated by her psychopath father. 
Her life may look much tranquil now, but Michéle keeps struggling with life, the ones around her - including family and people at work, and her own inner demons. Is it some sort of karma? 
She has a very cold relationship with her mother (Judith Magre) who wants to marry a younger opportunistic man (Raphaël Lenglet). Her immature son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), is moving to a new apartment with his pregnant girlfriend and needs money. Despite separated from Richard (Charles Berling), a struggling writer and Vincent’s father, she gets jealous when he starts a relationship with a younger student. At work, very few employees like her and she’s subjected to an offensive prank. To make all this harder, she’s sleeping with Robert (Christian Berkel), the cynical husband of her best friend and co-partner (Anne Consigny) in the company.

And now she gets raped! Terrified, she takes the proper measures to defend herself. Still, she refuses to go to the police regardless the threatening anonymous messages she constantly gets from the man who spanked her and forced her to the act. Michéle, a cerebral survivor who boasts a shocking frankness, no matter the situation, firstly opts to ignore the case, but that can’t continue any longer for several reasons.
Besides professional success, the only positive aspect of her life is Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), a married neighbor whom she has a crush on and signals proximity.
With so many ambiguities and complexity, will Michéle be able to cleanse her complicated world?

Michéle’s existence is so rich in details that one may feel overwhelmed. This happens because those same details are far from being constructive or hopeful. The emotional weight she carries arises sympathy. It’s a burdened life that Huppert depicts flawlessly. She couldn’t have been a better choice. She was nearly as perfect as she was in Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher”.
Verhoeven, always inclined to dark twists, has to be congratulated for the cinematic version of this compelling character study and encouraged to follow his career with works of this caliber. Hollywood for what?

Certain Women (2016)


Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Country: USA

Kelly Reichardt’s quirky filmmaking always has this distinctive ability to keep us alert, even when the pace is unchangeable and the stories apparent to be lukewarm at the first sight.
Masterworks of the independent cinema like “Old Joy”, “Wendy and Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”, and “Night Moves”, turned her into one of the most well-regarded filmmakers of our times. 
“Certain Women”, is another realistic and profound drama that tells the story of four American women whose destinies come across. Its sturdy foundation comprises elements such as human sincerity, emotional sensitivity, and stunning frames whose powerful cinematography enhances the immaculate performances of Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, and Kristen Stewart.
For this work, Ms. Reichardt sought inspiration on short stories from Maile Meloy's collection “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It”.

Set in Montana, all the stories in some way deal with loneliness, relationships, work, and limitation, exhibiting precious subtleties that stimulate our minds and spike our curiosity. It’s remarkable how the movie grabs our intellect without resorting to any action scene, agitated dialogue, or sudden events. This aspect results from intelligence in the approach and a winning confidence behind the camera.

During the first story, we find Laura Wells (Dern), a confident and independent lawyer who has been getting repeated visits from a disconsolate client, Fuller (Jared Harris), after he has lost his job. Facing the impossibility of suing his company, Fuller falls into a deeper emotional crisis when his wife decides to leave him. The anguish makes him confess his frightful intentions.
The second story follows a hard-working woman, Gina (Williams), who lives a solitary life in a secluded place, despite sharing her life with a lazy husband (James Le Gros) and a teen daughter. The couple decides to pay a visit to Albert (René Auberjonois), an elderly and lonely man, and persuade him to sell the sandstones on his property. The material would serve to build up their new house. Yet, Gina’s approach lacks honesty.
The third story tells us the struggle of Jamie (Gladstone), who works on a farm as a horse taker, to avoid isolation during wintertime. Unexpectedly, after following people into a classroom, she befriends with a law teacher, Elizabeth Travis (Stewart), another solitary soul looking for a better and more comfortable life.

“Certain Women” possesses a disconcerting exquisiteness when addressing the sadness associated with the lives of its characters. The silences intensify their emotional states and speak volumes, producing a bittersweet effect that remains for a long time after the final credits.
The sturdy hand of a magnificent film architect, who expresses herself with original sculpting techniques, shapes ordinary people with all their strengths and weaknesses. Ms. Reichardt’s cinema is more meditative than rousing, elusively beautiful in its conception, and constructed further beyond artistic superficiality. 
I’m eagerly waiting for her next move.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Country: USA

If we take a look at Antoine Fuqua’s directorial career, it’s obvious to conclude that action-packed blockbusters are the dishes he loves to cook and serve. A few examples are: “Training Day”, “The Equalizer”, “Southpaw” and “Olympus Has Fallen”, all of them seeking for that urgent action, sometimes meritorious sometimes wearisome.

His latest creation and first Western is a free adaptation of John Sturges’ 1960 classic “The Magnificent Seven”, which in turn had been adapted from Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese masterpiece “The Seven Samurai”. 
The filmmaker, relying on the screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, decided to preserve some important elements and scenes from the prior version at the same time that he attempts to build up something appealingly new.

Denzel Washington, Fuqua’s frequent star and collaborator, is Sam Chisolm, a warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas, who agrees to gather a group of men to hunt the unscrupulous industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The latter, moved by a limitless greed, turned Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) into a widow when he besieged the little mining town of Rose Creek. Without wasting time, Emma and her friend Tommy Q. (Luke Grimes), set out to ask for help in the nearest town.
The tenacious Chisolm starts his recruitment process after he realizes that it’s Bogue who’s behind the evildoing. 
The ones chosen to reinstate the order and make justice are the following: Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), an inveterate gambler; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a precise gunman; Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a knife-addicted assassin; Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), a veteran master tracker; Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), an alert Comanche; and Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican outlaw.

Fuqua’s modern version of the Sevens, besides lacking humor and a focal point, is too long and stereotyped, requiring patience from those viewers who care for something more than just wild action in its forms of shootouts, explosions, machine-gun sweeps, head-to-head duels, and Indian meticulous strikes. In this particular case, my advice is to stick to the classics because not even the great cast saved the film from mediocrity.

The Neon Demon (2016)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Country: USA / France / Denmark

Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn is capable of the best and the worst. His latest film “The Neon Demon”, which he also co-wrote, confirms his recent lack of inspiration and an increasing necessity of shocking us through stories with no substance. The strategy is somehow related to that one used in his nauseating previous work, “Only God Forgives”, his second association with Ryan Gosling after the well-accepted “Drive”.
As expected, the story is soaked in blood and wrapped in darkness and mystery, however, it fails roundly to bring something original, interesting, or even entertaining to our contemporary cinematic universe.

The film is as vulgar as the world of fashion it depicts, and follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), an ambitious and attractive 16-year-old orphan who signs a contract with an established modeling agency from L.A. with the condition to tell everyone she’s 19. She befriends Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist who seems worried about her well-being, offering prompt help for anything she might need. 
Not only Jesse’s naivety is misleading, but also everything else around her. From photographers to models, everyone seems to have something to grasp and take advantage of, or something to envy in regard to the young and inexperienced Jesse, a sad and lonely rising star in a field of delusions. The only character with a minimum of decency is Dean (Karl Glusman), a young man who nurtures some true feelings for Jesse, but is quickly put aside due to his reluctance to play dishonest games.
In parallel to Jesse’s career account, there’s an uninteresting mystery story regarding the cheap motel where Jesse is installed.

With the music and visuals playing a vital role, Mr. Refn sets up a depressingly macabre scenario where lust and blood intertwine in a surreal way.
His characters are clearly sick in the mind, the tones are morbid, and the posture is tendentiously abhorrent, despite the little moments of curiosity it might arise.
The contrived “The Neon Demon” showcases beautiful women whose intellectual emptiness makes them repellent.
Mr. Refn gets lost in pretentious trivialities and unintelligent strategies that frustrate more than captivate.

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Directed by Peter Berg
Country: USA

“Deepwater Horizon” is the title of Peter Berg’s new action thriller. It was based on true events and stars Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, and John Malkovich.
The screenplay, written by Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan, chronicles the tragic events occurred on April 20, 2010, aboard the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig explored by BP and located in the Gulf of Mexico. An unexpected blowout led to several explosions, conducting the rig to the bottom of the sea two days later, causing 11 deaths and the largest oil spill in U.S. waters.

Mike Williams (Wahlberg), a family man and a savvy chief electrical engineer at the oil rig, prepares to leave the comfort of his home and spend another 21 days working on the sea. Jimmy Harrell (Russell) is an old friend and a very experienced supervisor at the same platform, who joins him to work.
A few abnormal signs initially indicate that something might be wrong with some mechanical parts of the rig. As competent professionals, Mike and Jimmy feel more tranquil if specific pressure tests can be run.
However, the BP executives, Donald Vidrine (Malkovich) and Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland), moved by greediness and recklessness, disregard the warnings and signs, ordering the discontinuance of subsequent safety operations that would avoid disastrous consequences.
Sadly, the blowout preventer didn’t work either, and the battle for survival becomes an agonizing reality.

The film doesn’t stand out in terms of storytelling, which is pure routine, relying more on the afflictive situations lived by the crew, overwhelming images of devastating fires and explosions, and also introducing the expected drama lived by Mike’s wife (Kate Hudson).
Director Peter Berg (“Hancock”, “Battleship”, “Lone Survivor”) is known for resorting to fireworks in his approaches, and “Deepwater Horizon” is no exception. He knows how to capture panicking moments with accuracy, yet we have the clear notion that he dramatizes as much as he accentuates the heroic moments. By the end, the scene that shows a disconsolate father asking for his missing son with an aggressive posture seemed totally contrived and unnecessary to me.

As the finale comes near, we’re taken to more and more shaky camera movements toward an unsurprising conclusion.
Wahlberg and Russell’s performances are part of the thrills, assuring the steadiness that Berg’s approach failed to hit.
Fair entertainment is assured, though.

Morris From America (2016)

Directed by Chad Hartigan
Country: USA / Germany

“Morris From America” is a sympathetic coming-of-age comedy-drama written and directed by Chad Hartigan, and starred by Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, and Lina Keller.

The film has an auspicious start but ultimately fails to maintain a steady beat and rhyme as it addresses the story of a 13-year-old American kid, Morris (Christmas), who dreams of becoming a rapper while living in Heidelberg, Germany, where his attentive father, Curtis (Robinson), works as a soccer coach.
Morris has funny discussions with his father about rap and the American hip-hop scene, which occasionally lead him to be grounded in a sweet way. Besides his dad and a caring tutor (Juri) who gives him private German lessons, Morris doesn’t talk to anyone else, having trouble in making new friends and adapting to the German culture and the music style that dominates the school – techno and electro-swing.
Despite neglected by the majority of his schoolmates, Morris, who sees himself as an outcast ‘gangsta’, is approached by the 15-year-old Katrin (Keller), a rebellious girl with no preconceptions, who dared to invite him to a private party. There was nothing positive about that, but the two become good friends, embarking later on a road trip adventure.
Along the way, Morris will have the opportunity to put his rhymes in practice and show them publicly, thanks to Katrin’s boyfriend who is an emerging DJ. Jealousy ends up betraying him, bringing more confusion and disappointment into this challenging phase of his life. All of these aspects are part of his growing-up process, though.

So many smart moves during the first half of the film become gradually annihilated by the crescent naivety of a few scenes during the second half. It’s a shame that Mr. Hartigan, who had brilliantly conceived “This is Martin Bonner” in 2013, ended up pushing the limits of a story that had potentialities to become something more than just watchable.
The docile “Morris from America”, a Sundance big hit, managed to spread some charm while showcasing heartfelt performances. However, it failed to become truly memorable due to its eventual decline into treacherous territory.

Krisha (2016)

Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Country: USA

The caustically bitter, micro-budget feature “Krisha” is a serious candidate to the best drama of the year.
Cleverly engendered by Trey Edward Shults, who also plays himself in the film, this genuinely disturbing story is 100% fictional but feels immensely realistic, and the reasons for that can be easily explained.
In order to enhance intimacy among the actors, the writer/filmmaker hired some close relatives but swapped their roles within the fictitious family. Thus, his real mother, Robyn Fairchild, played his aunt in the film, while his real aunt, Krisha Fairchild, became an unexpected star as she plays his frustrated mother who attempts to reconnect with her estranged son while recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Opposing to these two cases, we have his grandmother who plays her real self.
The motivation for the story was Shults’ own father who passed away due to complications related to severe addiction.

The story begins with the visibly excited Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), who seems to be making an effort to control herself emotionally, searching for her sister’s house where all the family is about to reunite for the Thanksgiving. After her arrival, we immediately have the perception that something’s wrong since everybody, with exception of her sister, looks at her with some sort of fear.
This is the first time in ten years that Krisha has contact with her son, Trey, who had to be raised by Robyn and her sarcastic husband, Doyle (Bill Wise).

Trey, who left his dream of becoming a filmmaker to go to business school, is still mad at Krisha and reacts indifferently to her approaches while she tries to pass the false idea of being fully recovered and in peace with herself. In truth, she struggles all the time to maintain a proper posture due to an excessive consumption of drugs while concealing her most inner frustrations and lack of confidence.
This state of imminent breakdown is wondrously depicted through a well-crafted camerawork (recurrently alluding to the confusion lived in Krisha’s mind), and the addition of odd sounds and noises that intensify the sense of disorientation and chaos.
Eventually, Krisha ends up unveiling all her self-destructiveness toward an agonizing finale that won’t leave you unfeeling.  

I dare to say that Mr. Shults, who resorted to earnest close-ups in order to better define sentiments, is the modern image of John Cassavettes, just as his aunt Krisha is the modern image of Gena Rowlands.
Everything was planned and mounted in accordance to the smallest detail, and while the dialogues are double-edged, the performances are absolutely flawless.
With a hefty discharge of madness enveloping the plausible scenarios, the emotionally biting “Krisha” can be as darkly funny as genuinely disturbing. 
It is, in fact, a superior drama.

Don't Breathe (2016)

Directed by Fede Alvarez
Country: USA

“Don’t Breathe” shows the powerful directorial skills of Fede Alvarez, who co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues, and serves as a response to the mixed criticism he got with the remake of “Evil Dead”, his debut feature dated from three years ago.
The script here is modest and not totally given to perfection, however, it worked propitiously in order to attain the quality of the suspense Mr. Alvarez was looking for.

Three friends, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), are young and healthy but prefer not to work hard to make a living. Instead, they've chosen to be thieves who are constantly looking the easiest ways to thrive.
The way they operate is pretty simple: they break into the houses secured by Alex’s father’s security company, in order to steal goods and sell them.
Their heists usually run seamlessly and with no big racket, and they’re already planning the next move, which is considered uncomplicated, taking into account that the owner of the house is a blind war vet (Stephen Lang) who lives in the company of a Rottweiler. 
They break into his home at night, expecting to get 300 grand, but unexpectedly their lives are put in danger when they find a man, who besides possessing a brutal force and killer instinct, hides some horrible secrets in his den.

The music composed by Roque Baños creates half of the suspense while the darkness, the settings, and the blind man’s face compose the other half. There are silent and breathtaking situations that intend to magnify apprehension on the viewers, but also noisy fights and desperate getaways.
Actually, the story gains a few more thrills by the end, through the wild chases, but on the other hand, loses some credibility as it reveals its plot intricacies. 

Despite all its flaws and one-dimensional characters, “Don’t Breathe” is a nerve-wracking experience. It’s immersed in a pitch-darkness countenance and is bluntly barbaric in its conclusions. I believe that true aficionados of the genre will find here a valuable object to collect.

Train to Busan (2016)

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho
Country: South Korea

This Korean zombie thriller flick is much more invigorating than many of its American relatives. Likely, a big production company already targeted it as a profitable Hollywood remake for a near future, and its writer-director, Yeon Sang-ho, is the one responsible for all the buzz and favorable outcome.
A prequel of this live-action adventure, entitled “Seoul Station”, was also released this year in an animated form.

Seok Woo, an extremely busy fund manager who doesn’t spend enough time with his daughter, Soo-an, reluctantly agrees to take her on her birthday from Seoul to Busan where her mother lives since their divorce. However, they get caught in terror when ravaging zombies quickly infest the high-speed train in which they travel. The pandemic is spreading furiously, triggering the national state of emergency, and the well-guarded Busan seems to be the only city that gives them an absolute guarantee of safety.
The claustrophobia increases onboard of the train as the spaces become narrower and the fear and paranoia take care of the passengers.  
A few stops are made, some of them forced due to unexpected setbacks. The Daejon Station, for example, had a severe outbreak and massive wild attacks are being perpetrated by a bunch of spasmodic soldiers.

Seok Woo is not alone in this ghastly battle, though. There are other passengers who, carrying different energies, look desperately to survive and remain close to their loved ones. Separation impels this redeemed father to join forces with Sang Hwa, a brave yet sometimes-rude man who is also looking for his pregnant wife, and a teen baseball player who searches for his girlfriend. Still, there’s always someone whose selfishness only makes the things worse, which is the case of the wealthy CEO Yon-suk.

The story has enough emotional bates to firmly grab the audience, and Mr. Sang-ho proves he knows how to create suspense and appall us with rowdy and often spectacular situations of chaos, panic, and disarray. 
I also have to mention that the characterization of the zombies and the bloody scenes are not overdone, as they normally are, while the screenwriter also throws in a strong sense of fate translated in a few occurrences where the characters benefit from being in the right place at the right time. One can expect interesting twists-and-turns along the way. 
Even abusing a bit of the dramatic tones, this is a funny and somewhat eccentric ride onboard of a crazy train heading to a distant paradise called Busan.

Wiener-Dog (2016)

Directed by Todd Solondz
Country: USA

Todd Solondz is an American independent writer/director with a knack for edgy, dark dramas that also work as mordant social satires.
The chosen topics, some of them controversial, range from loneliness and depression to child molestation, suicide, rape, as well as abnormalities and peculiarities within a particular family.

His incisive filmmaking style and depressing tones are preserved in “Wiener-Dog” his latest dark comedy-drama that follows a cute brown dachshund as it changes owners and moves from home to home. The film is segmented into four distinct short stories according to the different owners and habitats of the dog.

The first segment shows us the dog having trouble to survive after being adopted by a dysfunctional family. It features Tracy Letts as a maddened father, Julie Delpy as an insensitive mother, and the young Keaton Nigel Cooke as an innocent dog lover who survived cancer. Just nobody told him how to properly take care of the wiener-dog.
The second story brings us Greta Gerwig as a vet assistant who saves the poor animal from eternal sleep. Since she’s a lonely woman, the dog suits her well, but after bumping into a former schoolmate whom she follows to Ohio, she changes her plans.
This story felt simultaneously weird and derivative but presented a delicious musical moment when the couple gives a ride to three Mexican artists.

In the third installment, Danny De Vito is Dave Shmertz, a negativist film professor who is not appreciated by his students. Humiliation and frustration impel him to act drastically and abandon the dog.
The last little story features Ellen Burstyn as a bitter woman who decides to help her granddaughter and her eccentric artist boyfriend. It also marks the end of the dog’s life.

Mr. Solondz seems to have forgotten how to shock us, as he used to do with gems like “Happiness” and “Welcome to the Doll House”, a film that lent the character Dawn Wiener to this new creation.
Even addressing death and loneliness with an incomparable ironic vision, “Wiener-Dog” is plainly uneven and somewhat scattered along the way.

Imperium (2016)

Directed by Daniel Ragussis
Country: USA

In Daniel Ragussis’ directorial debut feature, “Imperium”, Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent who agrees to change his looks in order to infiltrate a white supremacist group as a skinhead and former soldier.
Mr. Ragussis also produced the movie and wrote the screenplay based on a real story by Michael German, a retired FBI agent who spent more than 20 months undercover among dangerous extremists.

The righteous, introverted, and extremely clever FBI agent, Nate Foster (Radcliffe), is challenged by his superior, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), to join a right-wing cell, as she quickly realizes he has the ideal profile to become an infiltrator.
Zamparo suspects the Neo-Nazi group is behind a destructive plan that involves the use of a specific radioactive material, imported in abnormal quantities.
As part of the scheme, Nate shaves his head and reads a lot about the extremist ideals, before gaining the sympathy of Vince (Pawel Szajda), the skinhead that will lead him to the presumable suspect, Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts), a white-supremacist agitator who foments the race war and considers himself a public entertainer.

Sometimes, figuring out the connections is not easy, especially when you’re surrounded by many possible hazards that appear from different directions. The luring scheme that Nate had mounted to catch Dallas reveals itself a disappointment; Vince’s aggressive bodyguard, Roy (Seth Numrich), is a barking-mad provocateur who always makes trouble; Andrew Blackwell (Chris Sullivan), a religious Nazi who leads his own turf, knows there’s a snitch within the group; and the FBI management is not so cooperative as Nate wanted it to be.
A guy who seems harmless is Gerry Conway (Sam Trammell), an educated idealist, classical music connoisseur, and a man of family, who ended up in the movement due to the influence of books and a crescent racist loathing developed in his youth when working in Kenya.

Well acted and structured, “Imperium” guarantees the proper tension to capture our senses. 
It doesn’t have the power of “American History X” or the sharpness of “This Is England”, but the chained actions/reactions and hopes/frustrations lead this boat to a safe harbor.
Mr. Radcliffe passed this difficult test, showing aptitudes to do more than just the Harry Potter.

Weiner (2016)

Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Country: USA

In “Weiner”, we observe the controversial former Congressman, Anthony Weiner, being followed (almost) everywhere by the pair of documentarians Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, during his bumpy campaign for Mayor of New York City in 2013.
However, the film initiates its accounts back in 2011, when the populist Democrat decided to resign due to a sexting scandal.
Apparently, Weiner used Twitter to send sensitive pictures of himself to a 21-year-old woman from Seattle, falling in public disgrace.

Believing or not, the title character, who was known in the political world for his incendiary speeches and resonant ideas on behalf of the people, didn’t lose his strength and charisma, managing to revert the situation in his favor with the help of his wife Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s right-hand since the 2008 presidential campaign.
Not only Huma, but also America seemed ready to forgive Weiner and give him a second chance. Thus, in 2013, he decided to run for Mayor. 
Sadly, we didn’t have to wait much time to see him involved in another scandal of the same type when new explicit photographs were leaked by the gossip website The Dirty. Weiner had been using the alias Carlos Danger to send the hot material to a 22-year-old woman from Indiana.

During the coverage of this particular period, the filmmakers captured with accuracy the agonizing moments lived by Huma, visibly uncomfortable with the situation. She had to react fast, reiterating her 100% support to an admittedly unfaithful husband, so he could continue in the mayoral race.
In addition, it became quite clear that Sidney Leather, the woman Weiner sexted, was looking for media attention, growing into one of his main antagonists during a crucial phase of his campaign.
We still have the opportunity to see an agitated verbal confrontation between the polemic candidate and a judgmental Jew at a coffee shop.

There’s no doubt that, in this documentary, the ‘Weiner’ topic is more interesting than the filmmaking. If made today, we likely would have a footage extension of at least 30 minutes, taking into account a third scandal that led to the announcement of Weiner and Huma separation.
A good point here is counterpointing the weight of a politician’s private life versus the valid ideas turned into concrete plans that envision to make people’s lives better.

As I Open My Eyes (2016)

Directed by Leyla Bouzid
Country: Tunisia / France / other

Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature is imbued with a tactful dramatic strength and attractive charm. It’s no surprise that the film has conquered Venice when it was exhibited at that city’s prestigious film festival.

Happy and confident, Farah (Baya Medhaffer) is an 18-year-old Tunisian girl who lives in Tunis with her protective mother, Hayet (Ghalia Benali). For political reasons, her dissident father has no work in Tunis, having been relegated to the small city of Gafsa.
The year is 2010, only a few months before the start of the Jasmine Revolution.
Ms. Bouzid deftly reconstructs the atmosphere of fear lived at that time, when the corrupt regime of the former President Ben Ali, who ruled for 23 long years, intimidated, both physically and psychologically, the ones who seemed a threat to his leadership.

So, how come the innocuous, naive, and impulsive Farah is tracked down and threatened by the stern authorities?
She’s not only a brilliant student who was admitted to the demanding medical school but also an astounding singer, playing regularly with a rock band named Joujma whose leader, a lute player called Bohrène (Montassar Ayari), becomes her first true love.
In addition to the fun of playing their own songs, the goal consists in denouncing the oppression lived in the country through the illustrative lyrics that accompany the inebriating rhythms and harmonies, which is a soulful blend of modernity and tradition.
Still, the problems don’t resume solely to the truth carried by the songs. Farah is frequently seen drinking alcohol in bars, which are considered men’s places, as well as hidden in some bushes with her boyfriend, timidly discovering love.

Farah starts an arm wrestling with her experienced mother who, despite the woes and insistent warnings, understands better than anyone the rebelliousness of her daughter, almost a reflection of her own past. However, she feels powerless and anguished when her obstinate child vanishes, having to resort to an influential man who once was part of her youth. 

Baya Medhaffar has an auspicious debut in front of the cameras, also surprising us with the interpretations of the original music composed by the Iraqi oud master, Khyam Allami. 
The message conveyed by Ms. Bouzid, who co-wrote with Marie-Sophie Chambon, is utterly pungent and yet, I had the feeling that a few particular scenes, whether could have been better crafted or even suppressed. 
Notwithstanding, we’re before a genuine and articulate statement about human rights, well contextualized in its socio-political perception.

Blood Father (2016)

Directed by Jean-François Richet
Country: France

I believe Mel Gibson was born to do action films. I don’t see him moving so comfortable in any other genre, and we have “Mad Max”, “Lethal Weapon”, and Braveheart” to confirm it.

This time around, under the direction of the French Jean-François Richet, he is John Link, an ex-con and tattooer whose unruly teen daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), is reported missing. 
All the time, she has been hanging out with her boyfriend, Jonah (Diego Luna), a spiteful criminal who is also the leader of a dangerous gang connected to the Mexican cartels.
During a violent house assault, Jonah tests Lydia’s love by urging her to shoot a woman, but she refuses. Instead, she accidentally shoots Jonah in the neck and escapes the place completely terrified.

With no one else to ask for money and protection, Lydia calls her father, who despite being on parole, is compelled to use the force in order to deal with the menacing thugs. 
Besides realizing that his precious daughter was doing drugs and alcohol, John also learns from his pals in prison that Jonah was a relative of El Padrino, a heavyweight cartel leader.
While trying to keep Lydia away from the sight of the three psychos that follow her, John reconnects with Preacher (Michael Parks), a tricky Nazi ex-soldier from whom he expected some help, and also duels with an agile sicario sent to kill him.

Conceived and executed the old-fashioned way, “Blood Father” entertains without breaking new ground, straddling between the indie and the commercial.
It has the overwhelming action-packed scenes as its strongest aspect and the dramatic father/daughter relationship as its most vulnerable point.
Gibson’s fans will certainly enjoy it.

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Directed by Stephen Frears
Country: UK

Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg give excellent performances in Stephen Frear’s biographical comedy/drama, “Florence Foster Jenkins”, which focuses on the last period of the title character's life.
Florence (Streep) is a wealthy American socialite who owns a music club in New York where she occasionally teams up with her devotee-yet-unfaithful husband, St Clair Bayfield (Grant), in a few minor shows. 
St Clair, a mediocre actor and monologist, never sleeps with his wife because she has been carrying syphilis, got from her first husband, since the age of 18. Despite spending the nights in a separate house in the company of Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), an unsecret girlfriend, St Clair does everything to please Florence, promptly attending to her most eccentric desires.

Despite the evident lack of talent, Florence’s dream is to become an opera singer. Encouraged by a vocal teacher and famous maestro, she decides to hire a pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Helberg), to accompany her in a bumpy musical journey that will bring her both laughs and tears.
Florence is not only convinced she’s ready for her debut concert, but also thinks she can reach the stardom. What she doesn’t know is that most of the people in the audience was paid to applaud, just like a few reporters were paid to write positive reviews about her jarring opera.

Excited with the critiques, the naive and good-hearted Florence decides to record and prepare herself for the next big step: to sing at the demanding Carnegie Hall. 
The embarrassed McMoon only showed up to play because of the sincere friendship he had with his employer. Like the noisy sound of a shearwater, Florence hurt our ears with her calamitous melodies but managed to fulfill her dreams, entertaining a crowd that was mostly composed of soldiers.

The experienced Stephen Frears (“The Queen”, “Philomena”), who directed from a screenplay by Nicholas Martin, built the scenes on the same ground as the early screwball comedies, avoiding cheesiness on one hand, but adopting a somewhat zany posture on the other. 
Presented with well-balanced, warm colors, “Florence Foster Jenkins”, is nothing more and nothing less than a noble crowd-pleaser that made me laugh more than I was expecting. Basically, thanks to Florence’s strident cacophony, and also to the hilarious behavior of Mr. McMoon.

Hell or High Water (2016)

Directed by David Mackenzie
Country: USA

“Hell or High Water” is an absorbing crime thriller meticulously written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote “Sicario”, and brilliantly directed by David Mackenzie, a talented Scottish filmmaker who already had caught my attention two years ago with the prison crime drama “Starred Up”.
If the latter film, set in London, was based on real prison experiences, this new one, set in the torrid West Texas, is a fictional creation starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges.

After the death of their mother, two brothers, Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster), believe they’ve nothing to lose, and start a series of bank robberies in order to save their family farm from foreclosure. 
The brothers might have the same goal but are very different in nature. 
Toby is smart and likes to plan everything ahead and carefully. His intention is to retrieve the family’s property, where recently was found oil, and guarantee the future of his estranged sons. 
Tanner, the older brother, is an untamed ex-con with no real purpose in life rather than have some fun and make trouble wherever he passes by. 
The men assigned to go after them are two Texas Rangers, also very distinct in character but fond of each other. While the unflappable Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), who is close to retirement, can’t think about anything else but his future, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a catholic Comanche who seems not to agree with the surveillance strategy designed by his experienced partner.

In addition to the phenomenal dark humor and gripping tension that accompanies the story since the very beginning, the film ends up in a furiously violent shootout by the end, when the two brothers split up to get away.
The trio of actors was remarkable in their performances, especially Bridges, who truly exposed the adrenaline of being on duty with the tiresome related to his age.
By joining the assertiveness of the direction, the perfectionism of the characters’ conception, and the astuteness of the storytelling, Mr. Mackenzie makes of “Hell or High Water” his best movie till date.
If you’re looking for a well-cooked noir crime story, go for this one. It’s ridiculously good!

Lo and Behold (2016)

Directed by: Werner Herzog
Country: USA

Werner Herzog is a legendary German filmmaker known for both unforgettable fiction films, such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, “Fitzcarraldo” and “Stroszek”, and amazing documentaries like “Encounters at the End of the World”, “Into the Abyss”, and “Grizzly Man”.
His new film, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”, fits in this last category, trying to alert the world to the possible dangers of the Internet, especially when improperly used, but also mentioning the benefits and huge technological developments of one of the most amazing discoveries of the last century.

For this structured journey, he takes us to the birthplace of the Internet with the help of one of its pioneers, Lawrence Krauss, who tells us about that significant first step given in 1969, showing us the robust piece of equipment used to establish the first host-to-host communication that would change the world. 

The film, divided into ten chapters, concludes that in the future the Internet propagation will grow out of control, and urges its users to establish their own limits to avoid becoming fully dependent.
Besides presenting a few bold futuristic theories that include expanding the Internet to Mars and set up intergalactic communications, “Lo and Behold”, tries to work as an eye-opener in regard to the threats associated with the colossal network.
The cases mentioned are quite disturbing: a few guys who became ill due to an enormous sensitivity to wireless signals, others who became so addicted to video games that their lives were practically destroyed, and also Kevin Mitnick, who decided to live a cunning life and become a malicious hacker. He was sentenced to five years in prison for several computer and communications-related crimes.

The keyword ‘unpredictability’, alongside robotics and artificial intelligence, makes the Internet a paradise for some and a hell for others, especially those who were caught in its evil scams or developed a severe dependency.
“Lo and Behold” is far from the best documentaries of master Herzog, and its chapters might not be organized in the best way. However, everybody should see this work and get a real notion of how impactful, for the better and for the worse, the Internet has become in our lives.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Directed by David Ayer
Country: USA

“Suicide Squad” is an anti-hero movie, written and directed by David Ayer, who sought inspiration in characters of the DC comics.
If the emergent filmmaker had pleased me with his previous works, “Fury” and “End of Watch”, he totally let me down with this annoyingly vulgar gathering of the most despicable supervillains.

When Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), an ambitious intelligence operative, decides to gather a suicide squad composed of the most dangerous and loony criminals on Earth to defend the US, it’s the same to say she’s putting the whole world in peril. 
However, she’s able to convince the Pentagon to buy her idea with the help of a former archeologist, Dr. June Moone, who is possessed by a witch-goddess named Enchantress. This character will become the most dangerous threat to the US government, which relies on the evil team to eradicate... the evil. Ironic, don’t you think?
The squad is infested with nasty creatures, namely: Deadshot (Will Smith), a soulless hitman who only cares about his 11-year-old daughter; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former psychologist who became deranged after fallen for her most ignoble patient, the famous psycho The Joker (Jared Leto looking like Marilyn Manson); the sovereign thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); the traumatized pyrokinetic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez); the snarling cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and Slipknot (Adam Beach), a ruthless mercenary.
All of them were set free from high-security prisons and now start to operate under the supervision of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

Mr. Ayer sets both dark and comic tones to work together, but the film reveals too many fireworks and no substance.
Even intermittently, the humor is the only aspect I can praise, thanks to the brainsick Harley Quinn who once in a while throws a good jocular line.
“Suicide Squad” has not enough strength in the narrative, not enough interesting villains, not enough good action scenes, and no intelligent dialogues. Even the special effects are lame.
It’s a repulsive miscreation from which is better to stay away… for our sanity. 

Ixcanul (2016)

Directed by Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala / France

Carrying the evocative colors of a folk tale, “Ixcanul” is the title of the wonderful debut feature from Jayro Bustamante, who completely absorbs our attention not only through the genuine characters and their deep emotions but also with the beauty of the location and the culture associated with the story.
The odd word ‘Ixcanul’ means volcano in Kaqchikel, the dialect spoken by the decreasing Mayan families that inhabit the surroundings of the Guatemalan coffee plantation located near an active volcano. On one side of the volcano, the one we can see, there is hard work and poverty, while on the other, there’s the US, where hope and dreams are real.

The film starts by introducing a family of three – Manuel (Manuel Antún), Juana (María Telón), and their 17-year-old daughter Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) - who keep surviving the difficulties with, at least, some work available and some food on the table. The perspectives of doing even better arrive with Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the plantation’s foreman who became a widower and now wants to marry Maria.
The families meet and the marriage is arranged. However, the blossoming Maria couldn’t refrain her sexual impulses before the wedding day. Willingly, she gives herself, not to her future husband but to Pepe (Marvin Coroy), a local young man who drinks too much and plans to escape to the US. His promises to take her with him seem to grow solidly in her mind, but the sad reality is that Maria is left behind, pregnant.

Juana, in a stern yet caring way, persuades the disoriented girl to get rid of the fetus, but after a few failed attempts, they conclude that it’s better to give up this idea since the baby’s destiny is to live.
Still, the tragedy will pursue this family and the drama attains its climax with a disturbing sincerity and a fervent agitation.

The non-professional actors were superb, and not for once I suspected from the realness of the tale. Their profound intimacy while performing helped the already competent direction of Mr. Bustamante, who was also gifted with the vivid widescreen cinematography by Luis Armando Arteaga.
"Ixcanul" won the Alfred Bauer award at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival and was the first film Guatemalan film to be submitted to the Academy Awards.

Disorder (2016)

Directed by Alice Winocur
Country: France / Belgium

French filmmaker Alice Winocur makes an incursion on the psychological thriller in her sophomore feature “Disorder”, starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger.
Also a talented screenwriter, Winocur was behind “Mustang”, last year’s acclaimed drama set in Turkey and directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and collaborated in “Home”, a Swiss gem directed by Ursula Meier.  
Despite the visible talent of the writer/director, “Disorder” isn’t as keen as her debut “Augustine”, a well-acted drama from 2012 that caused a tremendous impression.

The story follows Vincent (Schoenaerts) who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder due to his former activities in Afghanistan. Now living in Maryland, his hometown, Vincent goes to regular medical appointments and tries to control the anxiety and hallucinations with strong anxiolytics. To make a living, he works sporadically as a security guard for a company that operates in private parties and high-risk events.

In one of those parties, Vincent shows how unstable and paranoid he can be. Constantly restless, he’s usually extra alert and detailed, but sometimes he may become completely absent, struggling with his mind and the noises in his ears.
The host of the party was a shadowy Lebanese businessman whose attractive German wife, Jessica (Kruger), is entrusted to Vincent’s protection during the following days due to her husband's absence. The bodyguard will travel with her and her little son to the French Riviera, where they have a beachfront house, following her everywhere and giving all the assistance she might need.

Smartly, Winocur plays with the fact that every tension occurred from an apparent danger can be a product of Vincent’s mind, and all the information given can be a trap.
The script itself is not devoid of traps, and despite Schoenaerts and Kruger’s solid performances, the film loses some vitality along the way, getting stranded in an ambiguity that creates softness rather than excitement. 
The director also attempted to introduce some sensuality in the relationship of the pair. However, this aspect was disappointing, I must say. Even the not so unpredictable finale works more like an obstruction than a strength.