Thelma (2017)


Directed by Joachim Trier
Country: Norway

The first minutes of “Thelma”, Joachim Trier’s first experience on psychological horror-thriller, is enchanting and baffling. Walking on a frozen lake, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) and his 8-year-old daughter Thelma (Grethe Eltervag) contemplate the fish swimming underneath the thick layer of ice. They're crossing the snowy woods that surround their small town located on the west coast of Norway to hunt. A young deer stops, staring in front of them. While Thelma gets petrified, Trond points his rifle at the animal and prepares to shoot. However, and to our surprise, the gun changes direction, aiming at Thelma for brief moments. Standing about seven feet away from him, the kid doesn’t realize that her life is hanging by a thread. This is an enticing premise of a film whose veiled prescription takes a ponderous and valid effect.

The story moves onward, and we are taken to the cosmopolitan scenario of Oslo, where the beautiful yet reserved Thelma (Eili Harboe), now a freshman in college, struggles to adapt to a big city and new people. Nevertheless, she shows clear signs of wanting to live an independent life. Sometimes, when not picking up the phone, she gets her overly controlling parents worried. It’s clear that she maintains a close relationship with her father, but he can make her truly uncomfortable with his to-the-point remarks. Her wheelchair-bound mother, Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), despite observant, remains silent most of the time. One can tell there’s pain here, but the mystery stubbornly persists.


The secrets, having had tragic repercussions in the past and within the family, only begin to surface when Thelma, who grew up immersed in a rigid Christian doctrine, is tormented by guilt as she experiences what people at her age are exposed to, namely, alcohol, drugs, and sexual desire. On this latter aspect, she gets particularly overwhelmed when in the face of an irrepressible lesbian attraction for Anja (Kaya Wilkins), the extrovert college mate who was sitting next to her in the library when she had the first of a series of weird seizures.
These completely strange occurrences along with abominable dreams, occasional panic attacks, and an unrestrained spiral of emotional vulnerability lead Thelma to the fantastic yet intimidating discovery that she possesses a freaking strange power that can be used over people with possibly alarming outcomes.
As the sexual repression stings deeper, the main character acknowledges she is special, and yet the film loses a bit of direction after a couple of flashbacks have clarified what she’s really capable of.
Thelma” is loaded with invention but stands below the high standards the director set with top-notch dramas such as “Oslo, August 31” and “Reprise”. If the film is technically unblemished, it’s no less true that it feels a bit strained, story-wise. Notwithstanding, and for his own sake, the talented filmmaker eschewed any type of melodramatic flourishes and was wise enough to intensify those suspended, dreamlike, and highly atmospheric segments where the senses become affected by the use of substances and the sexual pleasures are set loose. There’s a scene of a party that is absolutely enthralling, and the scintillating Elie Harboe, delivering a standout performance, gives you another good reason to see this movie.


The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)


Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: USA

Do you like being psychologically disturbed and at the same time poked by wry humor while you're watching a movie? Do you feel compelled to explore dark paths and search for logic connections when you have no idea where an odd story is going to take you? If you answered affirmatively to these questions, I urge you to watch “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, the latest ingenious and tragic brain-teaser from Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos, author of “Dogtooth”, “Alps”, and “The Lobster”.

Laden with a painfully perverse eeriness and strategic circumspection, this unearthly tale, co-written by Lanthimos and his creative right-hand partner Efthymis Filippou, was inspired by Euripides’ ancient play Iphigenia at Aulis.

Acting convincingly, Collin Farrell and Nicole Kidman pair up once again after having collaborated recently in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled”. He is Stephen Murphy, a successful cardiac surgeon who conquered a drinking problem in a recent past. She is Anna, his wife, and a dedicated mother of two, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), 14 and 12, respectively. The couple is solidly married for sixteen years, living in a beautiful house that accommodates their quirky, libido-sparkling sexual games - “general anesthetic?”, she asks. Their concerns, sometimes turned into slight disagreements, are mostly related to giving a proper education to their children and assign them common household chores to reinforce their responsibility.

The family's serenity is shattered when Stephen invites an atypical teenage friend, Martin (Barry Keoghan), to dinner and meet his family. The kid, acting in a very considerate way, makes a good impression, especially on Kim, with whom he develops an instinctive chemistry. The unlikely relationship between Stephen and Martin is not immediately clarified and we only learn that the boy’s father died three years before during a delicate heart operation conducted by Stephen. Since that dinner, Martin has become pushier in an obsessive way, popping up everywhere without notice and making Stephen uncomfortable with his presence. The most awkward moment occurs when the doctor meets his friend's brazen mother (Alicia Silverstone), after accepting a scheming invitation to dinner at his place as a form of retribution. 


Despite injurious, this disagreeable episode had almost no expression to Stephen when compared with the adversity that stemmed from the unexplainable illness of his two children. All of a sudden, they got both legs unaccountably paralyzed. An intransigent impudence grows in the diabolical Martin as he reveals part of his occult plan, casting a four-stage curse upon Stephen’s children as a punishment for the death of his father. The malediction will affect the members of his direct family, who will all perish if he doesn't pick one to be killed at his own hands.

Lanthimos can easily flip between quiet uneasiness and maniacal violence, but he mostly sticks to the former option, giving a cerebral course to the twisted emotions, in the same line of “Dogtooth”, rather than embracing the spirited subversion that outlined “The Lobster”. It’s quite perplexing how this talented filmmaker manages to depict darkness and mischief by embedding so much light in the geometrically composed shots, conveying not fear, but more of a calculated and almost fragile profanity. 

Provocative, transgressive, and predominantly off-the-wall, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” bites with cinematic decorum and also throbs with an opportune, startling score.


Sweet Virginia (2017)


Directed by Jamie M. Dagg
Country: USA

The Coen-esque “Sweet Virginia”, a small-town neo-noir western crime thriller directed by Jamie M. Dagg (“River”) and written by the brothers Paul and Benjamin China, qualifies to illustrate a clear-cut plot where nothing is given fortuitously or happens out of the blue. Actually, the wackiness of the story is Dagg’s best trump, while his unsophisticated filmmaking style, often relying on moody frames containing sunless settings and deplorable characters, accomplishes its purposes without groundbreaking stunts.

Sam (Jon Bernthal), a natural from Virginia, is a former rodeo champ who owns a small motel located in an underpopulated Alaskan valley. He maintains a secretive relationship with Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt), a married woman whose husband is shot dead at point-blank range with two of his longtime friends while having drinks at a local bar. One of them, Mitchell (Jonathan Tucker), was a successful businessman who was actually facing bankruptcy, a fact that not even his attractive wife, Lila McCabe (Imogen Poots), would suspect. Highly dissatisfied with a lousy 3-year marriage, Lila, reveals her co-responsibility in the killings, having hired a psychologically unstable assassin named Elwood (Christopher Abbott) to do the job. This dangerous man, also a Virginian, was supposed to shoot only Mitchell but ended up appeasing his darker instincts by shedding blood in an evil, premeditated way.


An aspect that truly bothered me was the fact that we don’t see a single cop investigating the case. Hence, Elwood, the stranger in town, continues lodged at Sam’s motel as if nothing had happened. Another slightly tortuous episode presented as a futile subplot has to do with a noisy, virulent host of the motel, who brutally confronts a debilitated Sam whenever he attempts to bring him to his senses.

Things get a little bit more neurotic when the penniless Lila, drastic to the core, engenders another filthy plan so that Elwood can receive his job payment.
Exploring sicko paths, this shineless indie has its interesting moments. Even when the depiction wasn’t so effective and the narrative scanty in intensity, I felt compelled to follow the story with considerable inquisitiveness while attempting to guess where it would take me. To be honest, I was taken to a primal ground and challenged with raw emotions, interpersonal destructiveness, and a perpetual sense of dark fate.

My particular praises go to the awesome performances by Abbot and Bernthal, as well as for the disturbing music score by the talented Brooke and Will Blair. The brothers' compositional work also includes “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”, a pair of tenebrous movies directed by Jeremy Saulnier, whose heavy atmosphere is not so distant from the one devised for “Sweet Virginia”.

If you're looking for pitch-dark tales packed with wickedness, cruelty, and crime, this one can make your day.


Spoor (2017)


Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Country: Poland

Spoor”, the 16th fictional feature by Polish writer/director Agnieszka Holland, slides into swampy ground, never attaining the impressive prowess of works such as “Angry Harvest”, “Europa, Europa”, and “In Darkness”, which elevated the cineaste's reputation, assuring her a place in the international cult film circle.
Based on the novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, who also helped co-writing the script, the story focuses on Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), a retired, auto-sufficient, astrology enthusiast, and highly neurotic schoolteacher who is a staunch advocate for animal rights, a problematic task in her remote small town located in Poland, next to the border with the Czech Republic, since the hunting season is seen with tremendous enthusiasm by the majority of the inhabitants. Most of them, backed by scornful police officers, shoot at everything that moves, and that might have been the reason for the vanishing of Dusjejko’s two beloved dogs.

When unexplainable crimes start victimizing the local hunters, the wrathful Ms. Duszejko sees her name on the list of suspects appointed by the police. Would this aging, fragile woman be capable to use force and do justice with her own hands?


The performance by Mandat-Grabka is diligent, and yet she couldn’t save the film from that sort of irritating cathartic neurosis that puts the finger in the wound without devising a proper or satisfying outcome. To tell the truth, Holland showed an embarrassing indecision about which direction to take, toggling between the activist drama, the faltering thriller, and the shabby comedy. She ends up compromising the story with a powerless, almost aleatory mix of the cited options.

Besides the main character, we see a bunch of loners attempting to fill a bit more the unfocused main plot with distracting sub-plots that feel more ludicrous than fulfilling. Even with promising pouches of intrigue and an interesting, atypical character, we don’t get a full delivery of that promise. I’m remembering of Carlos Saura’s “The Hunt”, whose minimal plot and narrative simplicity creates far more tension than “Spoor”, a mere disjointed fiddle-faddle whose real joy comes from the beautiful hazy landscapes and the morbid human decomposition captured by the lens of the skilled cinematographers, Jolanta Dylewska and Rafal Paradowski, along with the dark chamber music composed by Antoni Lazarkiewicz. As for the rest, it doesn’t really live up to its premise.


The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)


Directed by Noah Baumbach
Country: USA

Noah Baumbach is an American writer/director with a knack for witty dramas, usually loaded with amazing characters and a driven emotional content. These are the cases of “The Squid and the Whale”, “Greenberg”, “Frances Ha”, and “Mistress America”, irresistible highlights of an admirable filmography.

His new film, “The Meyerowitz Stories” showcases a brilliant cast with Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson in the main roles and depicts with ups and downs the gathering of an estranged, dysfunctional family that has the elderly patriarch as a model.

Harold Meyerowitz (Hoffman) is a retired art professor and established sculptor whose work is frequently exhibited at MoMA and Whitney Museum. However, like most of the artists, he seems never satisfied with what he achieves and shows signs of pickiness, selfishness, and petulance in several details related to his life, past and present.

Harold lives with his third wife, Maureen (Thompson), a gem of a person but also an incorrigible alcoholic. Suddenly, their house is invaded by the arrival of Harold’s son, Danny (Sandler), an uninspired, jobless loafer who could have been a great pianist and just feels disoriented after separating from his wife. He and his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), whom nobody pays much attention to, were always the ugly ducklings of the family. All the attention went to their half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), a successful accountant in L.A., who still bears a little grudge against his father due to past issues. Notwithstanding, he’s peremptory when affirming: “I don’t get angry anymore. Now it’s kind of funny to be with him because I have my own business, a wonderful kid, and I live three thousand miles away from him.”


Everyone in the family deals with an unexpected shake-up when Harold has to be transported to the hospital with a chronicle hematoma in his head. This mishap coincides with a group show at the Bard College, where his most famous piece, wryly entitled ‘Matthew’, is one of the attractions. There, his sons take the opportunity to talk publicly, yet, instead of focusing on their father or his work, they open up about themselves and how they feel as his sons, good and bad. While Baumbach devises this scene with a purposely increase of dramatization, the scene that precedes it, a brothers' fight, feels nonsensically overstaged.

The humorous side relies solely on Danny’s daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), an unflinching self-starter and talented videographer whose artistic work exhibits a very naughty sexual content.

Baumbach set the dialogues with interesting lines and the pretentiousness of the artistic milieu is perfectly calibrated. Even without digging too much, it’s easy for us to find humanity and even warm-heartedness among the family members, regardless the emotional instability that follows them like shadows. Although lacking the habitual attractive charm and magic spell that made Baumbach a treasure of the contemporary American cinema, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is perfectly good to watch, demonstrating a genuine keenness to amuse.


Stronger (2017)


Directed by David Gordon Green
Country: USA

Starring an effective Jake Gyllenhaal in the main role, “Stronger” is a taut and heavily dramatic biographical account about the misfortune that hit Jeff Bauman, a Costco employee, who lost both legs during the 2013 terrorist bombing attack perpetrated during the crowded Boston marathon.

Jeff inspired many people with his towering courage and might have become a symbol of the Boston Strong movement, but his adaptation to his new reality was anything but smooth.

After making up with Erin (Tatiana Maslany) for the third time in their on-and-off relationship, Jeff seemed to regain some independence despite sporadic post-traumatic stress disorder manifestations he is forced to control on his own. He set about post-surgery rehabilitation and finds strength in the total availability of Erin, who abandoned her job and agreed to move in with him and his mom. However, Jeff’s alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson), can be a nuisance sometimes and her recalcitrant personality often clashes with the benevolent Erin.


Slowly yet unmistakably, Jeff slides into a depressive, self-destructive state where he simply gives up his recovery to fall into the dangerous abyss of alcohol and despair. Fortunately, the encounter with the good man who saved him, Carlos (Carlos Sanz), will bring him back not only the hope he needs but also the self-respect and responsibility that enable an appropriate life, both lived as an individual and family member.
The resourceful cast does a pretty decent job under the direction of the once-promising director David Gordon Green (“George Washington”, “Prince Avalanche”, “Joe”), who discontinued the attractive indie style that had marked the beginning of his filmmaking career to embrace supplementary standardized forms and structures. Naturally, it was Bauman’s memoir that served as the inspiration for the first-time playwright John Pollono, who passed the difficult test of assembling a capable storytelling.

This re-creation of the events weighs with emotion and humanity, but there’s no stroke of genius here. Even with a fluctuating approach that sometimes tends to rudimentary, Green sustains sufficient levels of honesty throughout to make us follow our hero with interest until the final credits start to roll. Indeed, he was particularly successful in the way he conjured the finale and staged the family dynamics with an aching authenticity.


The Other Side of Hope (2017)


Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Country: Finland

Using his extraordinary filmmaking artistry, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, who won his first Silver Berlin Bear this year, aims once more at the immigration hardships in his new comedy-drama “The Other Side of Hope”. Following the same steps given in his previous feature, “Le Havre”, which addressed the same topic but having the French harbor as the backdrop, the director relies on an overwhelming sense of absurdity, graceful wit, and sharp socio-political observations to tell a story packed with flourishing humanity and personal triumphs, but also touched by condemnable malice.

Involved in an absorbing quietude, the story brings two contrasting yet interesting characters to the forefront. If Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a bored Finnish citizen who resolutely abandons his unresponsive, alcoholic wife and decides to rebuild his professional life from scratch, Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee who had to flee from his hometown in the outskirts of Aleppo when his house was bombarded with most of his relatives inside.

Hence, both are trying to bring something new into their disintegrated lives and that goal seems to be simplified after their paths cross. Even not meeting in the nicest circumstances, their relationship grows synergistic when Khaled is illegally hired to work in Waldemar’s restaurant, his newly chosen field of business. The small local restaurant already has an established clientele but keeps vacillating with a poor menu and dissatisfied employees. However, Khaled gives wings to his creativity, turning the place into a Japanese bistro that irremediably serves up sushi plates with salted herring instead of the usual tuna. The latter benefits with the fake ID peremptorily proposed and approved by the boss, who also uses his connections to bring Khaled’s sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji), to Finland.


Knowing the work of Kaurismaki, I wouldn’t expect him to shape these characters superficially. Indeed, he gives them further dimension with fascinating additional details. Waldemar, for instance, reveals to be a fearless poker gambler whose luck is unbeatable. Although a generous human being, he’s definitely not a perfect one. This is patented on several occasions: when mentioning tax evasion at the moment he buys the restaurant, or when hiding serious nonconformities when the place is subjected to a strict quality inspection.

In turn, the refugee fights a different battle, being frequently harassed and threatened with death by a trio of extremists from the Liberation Army of Finland.
The peak of the absurdity arrives when the minister of Finland deliberates that Aleppo is a safe place to live, emitting a remorseless repatriation order for Khaled.

Embracing a glowing formalism in terms of camerawork, “The Other Side of Hope” is a dead-on satire enhanced with eccentric musical interludes, a staple in the director’s artistic vein, which range from alternative folk-rock to rockabilly country to retro Finish pop acts. The glam visuals captured by the director of photography Timo Salminen, a regular collaborator of the director since the beginning of his career, are also very characteristic, including semi-naked indoor Scandinavian settings, old stylish cars, clouds of cigarette smoke, and idiosyncratic personas in conventional outfits.

Viewers may expect slow and steady developments but the waiting compensates by way of deadpan humoresque tactics, self-assured performances, indispensable messages of unity and understanding, and a copious affluence of human warmth.
The film was dedicated to the late Finnish film historian and director Peter Von Bagh.


Bad Genius (2017)


Directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya
Country: Thailand

Who would have thought that common school exams could motivate so stressful situations? Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya manages to create exactly that in “Bad Genius”, a scholastic, teen-centered heist drama with favorable doses of originality and intense pace.

The story, co-written by Poonpiriya, Tanida Hantaweewatana, and Vasudhorn Piyaromna, was based on real-life occurrences involving cheating students on SAT, the American standardized test widely used for college admissions.

The star of the film, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, is a young fashion model turned into a promising debutant actor. She flawlessly impersonates Lynn, a top-notch student and gold medal in math, who engenders a scheme to help her colleagues passing the tests in exchange for significant sums of money.

It all starts when Lynn is transferred to a new school, one that will give her ampler possibilities of a bright future. This is the wish of her supportive father (Thaneth Warakuklnukroh), a teacher himself, who makes huge financial efforts to have his only daughter studying in such a prestigious school. Yet, Lynn doesn't feel intimidated when explaining to the school’s principal how this change will bring extra expenses to her struggling divorced father. Her fierce determination, clarity of speech, and mental agility will immediately provide her with an unplanned scholarship and free meals.

At school, Lynn befriends Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan), a sympathetic artist-wannabe who does much better at the extracurricular activities but is not so expeditious in dealing with the school subjects. Lynn agrees to help her cheating in the exams, but soon, the task extends to Grace’s wealthy boyfriend, Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), who pays her good money for the right answers. Soon, nearly all the other students are attempting to hire her in order to progress in their studies.


That’s when Lynn has the brilliant idea to start out an exam-cheating business that is directly related to piano chord fingering. Four harmonic patterns establish a direct correspondence with each letter of the multiple choices of an exam, a hassle-free stratagem to get everybody excellent grades. However, things can get very complicated whenever there are two different versions of a test. Besides, Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), an honest, hard-working scholar and direct competitor, finds out the conspiracy and snitched on his classmates.

Later on, Bank, who also struggles financially, also agrees to become part of the team in a wider cheating machination that will bring him some advantages but also inconveniences. Things start to change when, after a venturesome trip to Sydney to take the STIC test, Lynn urges herself to reflect on her conduct.

Remarkably edited by Chonlasit Upanigkit, “Bad Genius” presents a few quibbles that are easily dissolved by the emotional side of the story. One cannot deny the slickness and freshness of its self-confident moves. The tension is unstoppable and the film has no dead moments or delays in its well-planned course of events. Throughout the two-hour odyssey, I kept my fingers crossed for the cheaters, regardless their misconduct and dishonest business.

With social inequalities at the center of this examination, Poonpiriya vouches for a solid entertainment, deftly portraying astute teens whose intelligence combines with a tenacious firmness of purpose and strong personality.


Good Time (2017)


Directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie
Country: USA

The filmmaking artistry of the brothers, Benny and Josh Safdie, belong to that independent, neo-realistic wave that is definitely worth checking out. Poignant dramas such as “Daddy Longlegs” and “Heaven Knows What”, definitely career peaks, are treasures very unlikely to be forgotten for those who had the chance to dig them up.

Their latest work, a noir crime-drama film sarcastically entitled “Good Time”, feels more like a downbeat misadventure covered with an intense dramatic wallop. The film, satisfactory as a whole, captures our attention for the most of its duration, however, the directors couldn’t eschew a few uneven, maybe even rudimentary sequences whose intermittence in terms of thrills, together with the persistent sensation of déjàvu that surrounds us, could have compromised the outcome. Still, the Safdies managed to tie everything together, minimizing the damages with the rawness of the scenes and the effectiveness of the performances.

The script, emphasizing the tremendous influence one person can have on another, especially if related, focuses on two brothers who, although very distinct in nature, are connected by an unstable, traumatic past that makes them misfits with a frequent unlawful conduct. Emotionally torn apart and often confused in the mind, Nick (Benny Safdie) shows to be a good-natured young man desperately in need of psychological help. That essential support was being given to him by Dr. Peter (Peter Verby), who reveals a dedicated interest in his case, but the work is interrupted without warning when Nick’s older brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson), an erratic criminal whose conscienceless is barbarous, walks in without permission and drags his brother out of the room. Don’t think he did that because he was worried about him, or because he didn't understand the treatment his brother was being subjected to. The viewer instantly acknowledges that his intentions have an egotistic purpose, a fact corroborated when the following sequence of images shows them robbing a bank, silently and discreetly, wearing rubber masks to hide their faces.


The heist is successful; yet, an unexpected incident impels the police to go after them. Connie just wants to save his ass, leaving behind a disoriented Nick, who ends up in the hole.
In a desperate attempt to gather the large sum of money required to bail Nick out of the jail, Connie contacts his precarious girlfriend Corey (great appearance by Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose elderly mother is wealthy but not so fool to give her credit cards. The plan falls flat, but Connie engenders another scheme when informed that his brother was transferred to the hospital after a fight with other inmates.

Ironically, from this point on, the pace wobbles considerably, regardless the introduction of new characters and the creation of situations full of potential that should have given the film a more stimulating perspective. Playing with luck, Connie sneaks into the hospital but picks up the wrong person, a guy named Ray (Buddy Duress), another crooked loser like him who had been released from prison on parole one day before.

After securing the precious cooperation of Crystal (Taliah Webster), a 16-year-old girl whom he totally discards after getting what he wants, Connie and his new partner, fall into a spiral of criminal actions that will complicate their miserable lives even more.

This wild ride, part social commentary, part character study, is not a pleasurable watch, holding a tighter grip in its first half, but failing to surprise in the debilitating second.


The Son of Joseph (2017)


Directed by Eugène Green
Country: France

The Son of Joseph”, the newest drama from American-born French-based helmer/writer Eugène Green, was magnificently written, but felt a bit clumsy in its rendering.

Divided into five chapters, the film centers on Vincent (Victor Ezenfis), a frustrated teenager who keeps asking his lenient nurse mother, Marie (Natacha Régnier), about the father he has never seen. The answer is always the same: “you have no father”. Needless to say that, finding this secret unacceptable, he resolves to act on his own to finally reach the one who never showed any interest in him.
He finds out that Oscar Pormenor (Mathieu Amalric), a vain, self-centered publisher, is the man he desperately searched for his whole life. What he wouldn’t imagine is that Oscar is a satan’s servant, a despicable, greedy bastard who is unfaithful to his wife and doesn’t even know how many legitimate children he brought into this world.

Pretending to be a writer, Vincent infiltrates himself in his father’s arty circles and gets to know Violette Tréfouille (Maria de Medeiros), a disoriented literary critic, who, even appearing in only a couple of circumstances, becomes the funniest and more satisfying character of the film.

Vincent quickly realizes that his biological father is a lost battle, but unexpectedly stumbles upon the latter’s brother, Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), a natural father figure with a kind temperament, a God believer and a farmer wanna-be, who immediately assumes the paternal role with joy and passion, bolstering it by dating with Vincent’s mother.


Green continues to adopt the same direct filmmaking style observed in his previous dramas, “La Sapienza” and “The Portuguese Nun”.  Yet, here, despite some affinity with the cinema of Alain Resnais, he didn't get away from excessively mechanic dialogues and tacky postures that often catapult the theatrical modes of expression to a greater extent. Moreover, the visual aesthetics weren’t brilliant and we’re only left with the interesting biblical connotations of a tale that could have been more attractive if the tension hadn’t been injected so forcefully. By doing so, it just increased the contrivance of the scenes.

The absence of score is compensated with an extended live music act, performed with lute and voice, when son and ‘adoptive’ father were immersed in the Louvre's culture. 

“The Son of Joseph” encompasses the following aspects: the artistic, the philosophical, the religious, the parenthood, the drama, the romance, and the satire. Question: was this enough for us to remember it in the future? Answer: No.


Mudbound (2017)


Directed by Dee Rees
Country: USA

American filmmaker Dee Rees has all the reasons to be proud of herself and her career. The outstanding drama, “Mudbound”, arrives in good time since racial discrimination and prejudice is a hot topic, which deserves immediate attention due to the recent escalate of tension. Ms. Rees was able to closely obtain the recognition of both cinephiles and critics with an incredible semi-autobiographical debut, “Pariah”, and since then, has been dedicated to several TV series as well as the Emmy award-winning biopic, “Bessie”, focused on the American blues singer Bessie Smith.

Based on Hillary Jordan’s debut novel of the same name, “Mudbound” was co-penned by Rees and Virgil Williams, starring Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J.Blige, Jason Clarke, and Jonathan Banks, who played their respective roles with as much forceful conviction as impassioned soul.

The first scene of the film bestows a lugubrious atmosphere when two brothers, Henry (Clarke) and Jamie McAllan (Hedlund), digging a big hole in the ground to bury Pappy McAllen (Banks), their widowed father, realize that the spot was a former slave’s grave. On the next day, in the company of Henry’s wife, Laura (Mulligan), they ask Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) for help as he was passing by with his family. Hap is a black tenant farmer who worked all his life in the same neighboring piece of land, just like their ancestors had done in the past.

The story, set in a highly segregated rural Mississippi and spanning from pre-WWII to the subsequent post-war years, winds back to involve us in the hapless life of these characters. All of them have a different yet equally massive emotional weight to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie, the younger of the brothers, departs to war, as well as Ronsel (Mitchell), Hap’s son. When they return, the handsome Jamie, who served as a pilot, is heavily immersed in alcohol, drinking every day to forget the traumas of war. He and his sister-in-law have an ardent chemistry that is difficult not to notice. In turn, Ronsel, wasn’t caught by post-traumatic disorder but arrives with another type of problem in hands. He had a relationship with a British girl in Germany and she just gave birth to his baby. His mind can’t go anyplace else. Moreover, the Mississipi's intolerance toward his ethnic group was the first thing he felt when stepped on that soil again. He couldn't be more articulate in his words: “I kind of miss the wartime. I was proud to serve my country and was seen as a liberator. Here, I’m just another nigger pushing the plow”.


Struggling to readapt to the civilian life, the two veterans understand each other, becoming genuine friends. They open up about their problems and enjoy the good-time moments spent together. However, the situation is seen as outrageous by the town’s fundamentalists, especially Pappy, a snooty, petulant, and spiteful racist who happens to be the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Additionally, another type of understanding is shared by Laura and Hap’s wife, Florence (Blige). Both know the difficulties of being a mother and a wife, and a quiet, tonic bond is formed through beautiful gestures from both sides.

The pacific days are gone, when Pappy discovers Ronsel’s secret and forces his own son to choose the punishment for his best friend.

Conjuring up a good slice of American history, “Mudbound” is an effective blend of emotional depth and rigorous craft. Never sloppy, the engrossing drama comes packed with strongly built characters whose natures make us care or despise them, with no space for middle ground. 

This is another triumph by Dee Rees, an important, intelligent voice in the contemporary cinema, who knows exactly which message she wants to convey and what she needs from her cast and crew to make a film look and feel authentic.


Wind River (2017)


Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Country: USA

American actor-turned-director, Taylor Sheridan, gives good indications of his filmmaking qualifications in his sophomore feature, “Wind River”. He’s also a competent screenwriter, author of above-the-average crime thrillers such as “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water”.

His new film, a gorgeously photographed neo-western revenge thriller set in the glacial Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming, stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as Cory Lambert, a federal wildlife officer, and Jane Banner, an extraneous FBI agent in town, respectively. The two meet in the sequence of the intriguing death of an 18-year-old Native American woman, found completely frozen in the snow, barefoot, and with the mouth covered in blood.

Without hesitation, Cory, who found the body, undertakes the mission of helping Jane deciphering the mystery. Besides knowing the victim’s father well, to whom he promised justice, he also had lost his own daughter three years before because of the bitter cold. The incident turned his life upside down and the unbearable pain caused him and his wife to split up.

The autopsy reveals that the young woman was raped multiple times while the blood in her mouth was caused by inhalation of the sub-zero air, which means she was desperately running from someone or something when the temperature was around -20ºF.

Her missing new boyfriend, Matt (Jon Bernthal), was immediately appointed as the prime suspect, but his dead body was also found in the snow a few days later.
Jane, struggling to understand the dynamics of the locals, as well as their behaviors, decides to gather her team and head toward the oil drilling camp where Matt was working, in an attempt to find something in his trailer and obtain more information from his co-workers.
While the painful truth is revealed to us through flashbacks, a wild shooting puts Jane in danger.


After the culprit has been identified, Cory will chase him mercilessly as he always does when a wild predator is in the vicinity. He knows he has two options to deal with the case: to follow legal procedures and hand him over to the authorities, or opt for a totally different type of law, commonly known as ‘an eye for an eye’.
Sheridan’s ambition is perhaps a bit too uphill, yet, even if you won’t have your jaw dropping with the revelations, the storytelling delivers more positive than negative aspects. Unlike “Hell or High Water”, this is not a masterpiece but rather a solid, well-mounted film supported by a plausible story that raises moral questions.

On the technical side, I could only discern benefits when one looks at the impressive efforts developed by editor Gary Roach (“Gran Torino”; “Prisoners”), cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), and the outstanding team of composers and longtime collaborators, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who effectively designed eerie drones and vibes to work in consonance with chants and whispered words.

At the end, we have an eye-opening statement on the screen saying that only Native American women are not included in the missing persons statistics. The number of cases related to this ethnic group remains unknown.


Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Country: USA

The most awaited sequel to the acclaimed science fiction thriller “Blade Runner”, dated from 1982, is now out by the hand of prodigious French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. He had already shown a knack for the sci-fi genre with the understated yet magnetizing “Arrival”, and now managed to assure this new, well-told, and utterly satisfying “Blade Runner 2049”. The script was penned by Hampton Fancher, who was also co-responsible for the preexistent fictional account, and Michael Green, writer of “Logan” and “Alien: Covenant”.

The film starts quietly and finishes with a nerve-wracking excitement, using straightforward methods that distinguishably eschewed narrative obscurity or any type of sloppiness in its smallest detail.

32 years have passed since the happenings displayed in the first installment and the LAPD ‘Blade Runner’ named 'K' (Ryan Gosling), moved by an acute curiosity and inflexible sense of truth, digs in prohibited matters and unveils a secret that can lead to catastrophic consequences. As a very special Nexus-9 replicant, a bioengineered human, he enjoys the strong sensation of real life and human comfort felt in every interaction with Joi (Ana de Armas), his treasured holographic girlfriend. 


Tenacious in will and assertive when it comes to act, 'K' contests absolute truths, stalks explanations while wallowing in ruined cities, and uses vague memories from his childhood to track Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former ‘blade runner’ whom he suspects to be his father. After a complicated first contact, the solitary ‘runners’ ultimately get along, enjoying the elucidative conversations and the company of each other. However, they will have the obnoxious Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the super-weird CEO of the current leading manufacturer of replicants, hunting them down. The latter orders his loyal, unblinking, and highly efficient executioner, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to exterminate them from the face of this unilluminated Earth they live in.

Astute and functional in the way it was mounted, “Blade Runner 2049” shines with fantastic performances by Gosling, Hoeks, and Ford, and also impresses on the visual side, thanks to the incalculable efficiency of Roger Deakins, the British director of photography who has been working for the Coen brothers since the unparalleled Barton Fink.

Not being the astounding masterpiece that everybody wanted it to be, the film still rises to the occasion, producing moments of sheer fascination, maintaining high levels of consistency in its narrative, and creating excitement through gimmick-free action scenes which were carefully designed to prevent excesses.


American Made (2017)


Directed by Doug Liman
Country: USA

Based on a true story, “American Made” just validates the rumors that CIA agents are or had been involved in drug trafficking, in a clear exertion of influences and abuse of power to stuff their pockets with large sums of money.

That was exactly the story of Barry Seal, comfortably impersonated by Tom Cruise, a devious former TWA pilot in the late 70s who abandoned the job to operate clandestine missions for the CIA, including gun deliveries to the Nicaraguan Contras in Honduras. His actions consisted in flying a small plane toward uneasy South American countries in order to drop off and pick up sensitive merchandise. However, seduced by abundant hard cash, he started smuggling cocaine for a Colombian trio of avid drug lords such as Jorge Ochoa, Carlos Lehder, and Pablo Escobar.

Caught several times and temporarily arrested for his wrongdoings, Seal was always called back to the CIA and treated with patience and consideration by the case officer who hired him, Monty Schaffer (Domhnall Gleeson). He continued playing on both sides at his own convenience until exposed as an undercover agent and turned into a priority target for the traffickers when a compromising picture of him, meant to show the success of President Reagan’s War on Drugs campaign, was exhibited on the American TV.


Despite continuously chased by the DEA, the US Customs Border Patrol, and the FBI, the fearless and reckless pilot, known as ‘the crazy gringo who always delivers’, was always taken good care by the Medellin cartel, even when forced to cope with their own ways of dealing with annoying situations. This scenario was brought to our eyes when Seal’s unscrupulous brother-in-law, JB (Caleb Landry Jones), arrives at Seal's remote residence, strategically located in the quiet city of Mena, Arkansas, to stay and steal the family’s laundered money.

Doug Liman, mostly known for the "Bourne Identity" and "Edge of Tomorrow", directed from a tottering script by Gary Spinelli. He engages in a very active style that, sadly, also feels emotionally dried out, showing no space for big reflections. The narrative wasn’t always on the right track and some of the performances lacked the shine that would possibly elevate an interesting true story into a less flat fiction film.

The appropriate emulation of the looks and vibe of the 80s was one of the few beneficial aspects of a painfully vulnerable exercise whose lack of originality was exasperating. “American Made” might be able to entertain now and then, but it's just another vain attempt to squeeze the silly life of a scoundrel into two hours of a second-rate cinematic romp.


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)


Directed by Taika Waititi
Country: USA

I’ve always thought that the most successful action-packed Marvel flicks were those brought up with a strong sense of humor. Thus, no one better than the New Zealander sensation Taika Waititi, director of gems like “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt For the Wilderpeople”, to tackle “Thor: Ragnarok” with equal doses of energy and folly.
This fanciful parody, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney, is not suitable for kids, embracing wild action scenes inflamed with vertiginous special effects.
Whether by land or air, the battles are numerous, fantasized with plenty of variety to satisfy the action genre aficionados.
The screenplay is a product from the mind of three comic book writers/enthusiasts: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, who besides formulating a fun story flooded with better-than-serious, vibrant characters, were also able to infuse a cutting humor that ranges from stupefying deadpan to corrosively sarcastic.


Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the god of thunder, even deprived of his precious hammer, will join forces with other mighty warriors - his longtime friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and his artful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) - to save the Asgard people from the ambitious, powerful, and malevolent goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett). Eccentrically, the latter happens to be Thor’s sister, recently returned from the exile after the death of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

Before the final confrontation, set ablaze by the presence of the fire demon Surfur, Thor becomes trapped in a garbage planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a sadistic loony that dominates everyone through a controlling chip implanted on their neck.

Waititi makes a proper use of the technology available to create an enormous visual spectacle on several scenes. The highlight is a ravaging fight between Thor and Hulk who, completely out of control, didn't recognize the Avengers teammate. 
I know! By now you must be thinking you really have to watch this, right? But there's more! 

There is lots of space for silliness here, yet “Thor: Ragnarok” is one of the most absorbing, even unpretentious Marvel-based films in years, and that’s because Waititi, in a bold move, did not take it too seriously. He just needed Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” fueling the furious, heroic confrontations and Cate Blanchett, who was absolutely marvelous in her evil role.
Have a ‘Thor-o-ly’ fun matinée!


Most Beautiful Island (2017)


Directed by Ana Asensio
Country: USA

With the title "Most Beautiful Island", actress-turned-director Ana Asensio alludes to Manhattan, New York. The film, an auspicious directorial debut inspired by true events, won the best narrative feature at SXSW Film Festival and has drawn positive reactions wherever it has been exhibited.

Besides directing, writing, and co-producing, Ms. Asensio also stars as Luciana, a struggling undocumented immigrant who lives in New York and gets intriguingly cornered after accepting a one-time job recommended by her Russian friend Olga (Natasha Romanova). Apparently, the latter is doing ok and shamelessly admits she uses men in order to make some extra money. By stating that everything is possible in New York, a city with so many opportunities, she attempts to cheer up Luciana, whose rent remains unpaid. What this ex-model finds super annoying is taking care of children, a sensitive matter for Luciana, who lost her little baby in an undisclosed accident while living in her country of origin. Embracing several day jobs, including babysitting two spoiled kids, Luciana lives in permanent financial affliction, a situation that becomes even harder to see when, penniless, she is forced to sneak into the doctor’s office to implore an examination.

After hearing Luciana's complains about money and the not-so-absurd possibility of becoming homeless, Olga decides to give her an address for a job she normally does but cannot take it this time. Apparently, the uncomplicated gig consists solely of attending a party in a black dress, a generously paid task taking into account the number of hours required. Following meticulous instructions that lead her to uncanny places filled with obnoxious characters, Luciana gets ultimately trapped in a dim-lit basement with a spine-chilling doorman (Larry Fessenden) blocking her way out. A weird, obscure meeting session begins, managed by an authoritative woman named Vanessa (Caprice Benedetti). A few other girls, equally dressed in black, wait to be called into a room after being introduced to a group of prosperous men and women. Luciana’s consternation escalates when she sees that Olga, unusually silent and avoiding eye contact, is among the girls.

Sex business immediately pops into our minds, but Asensio delivers a less obvious and far more surprising alternative to spellbind and stir tension. Slyly and motionless, this group embraces a totally different concept of pleasure, rejoicing as they play with the lives of others within a quirky, degenerate routine.

Competently shot, sometimes bluntly edited, "Most Beautiful Island" is an engrossing indie film that feels very New York. Not stretched beyond the limits of necessary - its duration is one hour and twenty minutes - the film unveils hidden aspects of a city where, literally, anything can happen, and I mean for better and for worse.
The imperfections are counterbalanced with one of those experiences that will make ruminate about the obscene prepotency of wealthy people who exploit, in one way or another, the honest, the desperate, or the simply adventurous in order to satisfy their despicable whims and vice.


Columbus (2017)


Directed by Kogonada
Country: USA

If there is a recent debut feature that has been stirring a massive, positive buzz out there is “Columbus”, a drama with an exceptional architectural orientation, both materially and emotionally.
The film, written and directed by American-Korean Kogonada and shot over 18 days, stars Haley Lu Richardson as Casey, an architect wanna-be, and John Cho as Jin, a Korean-born American-raised translator. Both characters are facing severe family issues that keep them stuck in their personal lives. Can they help each other in order to escape the impasse?

Casey, an architecture enthusiast, forces herself to stay in Columbus, Indiana, to take care of her mother, Maria (Michelle Forbes), a former addict whose whereabouts are not always accurate. On the other hand, Jin postpones his return to Korea, where he works, while waiting for developments in the health state of his estranged, architect father, who is in a coma.

When not together - smoking in a corner, driving aimlessly throughout the city, or exchanging thoughts about their personal concerns and dreams - Casey and Jin occupy their time in different ways. She works at the local library, where she usually engages in a conversation with her co-worker, Gabriel (Rory Caulkin), a Doctoral student friend who slowly and prudently unveils his feelings for her. Jin often gets bored at home, revealing a hazy infatuation whenever Eleanor (Parker Posey), his father’s assistant to whom he was attracted in the past, is around.


Among graceful aesthetic shots, where architectonic structures and symmetries are given a special emphasis, Kogonada uses elementary filmmaking processes to highlight real people within an honest, plausible story.

Still, despite the narrative self-assurance and devoted performances, I found a few lingering, torpid scenes sculpted with strategic tonal approaches while the dialogue is leisurely rendered. It’s a mature script that reveals inconstant developments when brought into play, especially pace-wise.
Luckily, there’s a strong humane side that brims from the characters’ openness to give and receive unconditionally, restoring the possible gaps and quibbles of a minimalist drama that blends the merits of a stylish building design with the mighty powers of the heart.


Our Time Will Come (2017)


Directed by Ann Hui
Country: Hong Kong / China

Ann Hui is one of the strongest cinematic voices from Hong Kong these days. Even if her last work, “The Golden Era”, wasn’t so striking as one would expect, illustrious dramas such as “Boat People”, “The Way We Are”, and “A Simple Life” still live in my mind.

Her new outing, “Our Time Will Come”, was written by Jiping He (“The Warlords”) according to real characters and events and depicts an important chapter of Hong Kong history, namely, the fight of the local people against the Japanese occupation in the early 40s.

Xun Zhou ("Flying Swords of Dragon Gate") is Lan Fang, a tenacious primary school teacher, who moved by a strong sense of justice and duty, decides to leave her aging mother (Deannie Yip) and the domestic comfort to join the Dongjiang Guerrilla, a special faction created to rescue important intellectuals - artists, writers, scholars, and filmmakers - whose voices were silenced and bodies put under lock and key. 
With the schools closed and her fiancé, Kam-wing (Wallace Huo), operating undercover on the enemy side, Lan is easily dragged to the Guerrilla’s missions, becoming a respected captain after receiving an invitation from Blackie (Eddie Peng), a feared leader who convinced her with words of praise and a couple of dumplings.

Everything gets complicated when Lan’s mother decides to actively help her daughter and the cause by passing critical information, ending up arrested and tortured by the Kenpeitai (the military police arm of the Imperial Japanese Army disbanded in 1945).


Ms. Hui attempts to consolidate the realism when simulating a fictional interview with a former young messenger, Ben (Tony Leung), set in the present day and shot in black and white. In the film, this humble man had the privilege to meet the film’s heroine during those tumultuous times and still works as a cab driver.

Even low-key and a slightly stagy at times, the film manages to project this particular story in a way we can understand the wider historical context. Ann Hui fulfills this requirement through a sturdy directorial hand and clear storytelling, even considering her inability to transform “Our Time Will Come” into a thrilling film. In opposition to being a bit too relentless with sometimes wobbly spy moves and episodic brittle war scenes, the film boasts authenticity in its performances, using a legendary symbol of feminine independence and revolutionary resistance to remind us of the sacrifices and efforts put up by the oppressed minorities in response to a cruel occupancy.

The evocative cinematography by Nelson Lik-wai Yu, habitual first choice of Jia Zhangke, is one of the film’s highest pleasures.


On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)


Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Prolific Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo keeps pursuing both inner sensitivities and the truth in human relationships with a cinéma vérité that enchants with simplicity. Sang-soo remains faithful to a simple yet highly efficient filmmaking style that goes against any contemporary cinematic trend that attempts to turn everything visually spectacular through fabricated settings, eccentric special effects, or excessively pre-staged situations. Instead, he prefers tackling a good emotional story by taking advantage of an observant sincerity, naturalistic performances, and a forthright approach. Gentle dramas such as “Oki’s Movie”, “The Day He Arrives”, and “In Another Country” (featuring Isabelle Huppert) are highlights of an undeviating career that incorporates three more titles this year: “Claire’s Camera”, featuring Ms. Huppert once again, “The Day After”, and “On the Beach at Night Alone”, the object of this review.

Just like the former two titles, the latter stars the talented Kim Min-hee (“The Handmaiden”), winner of the latest Silver Berlin Bear, who has been the director’s inspirational muse since the release of the well-received “Right Now, Wrong Then” in 2015. The film comes wrapped up in autobiographical controversy after Sang-soo has admitted his extramarital affair with Min-hee at a press conference in Seoul.
Feeling abandoned after the terminus of an affair with a married man, the celebrated yet stranded actress Young-hee (Min-hee) flies to Hamburg, Germany, where she finds solace in the company of a longtime friend. The disenchantment with her actual life is quite perceptible when we listen to their conversations. She wonders if her lover misses her like she misses him and even tests her friend with “should I come living here with you?”.


Unfitted, she returns to the Korean coastal town of Gangneung, where she reunites with some old friends at a restaurant. This section is a staple in the director’s written statement since food and drinks always play an important role in his narrative process. At the dinner, she gets tipsy in just a few minutes, proclaiming her male friends unqualified to love or be loved, except Jun-hee (Song Seon-mi) with whom she has a special chemistry.
After being rescued of her dreams while lying down alone at the beach, she is taken to drink with her former director/lover, an encounter that gains extra dramatic agitation. There is a thin line separating loneliness and friendship here, an idea reinforced by the main character herself when she admits her emotional complexity and destructive side. Also, one can feel a strong sense of misplacement and surrender that translates into emotional aggressiveness rather than resilience.

Sang-soo operates the camera in a very efficient way, regardless if he opts for static or dynamic shots, occasionally complemented with zoom ins and wide pans. His lucid quests for the meaning of love, consistently clever and exclusive, keep enriching the contemporary cinema with modesty and virtue. Hence, “On the Beach at Night Alone” brings some truths attached and is definitely worth exploring.


The Villainess (2017)


Directed by Jung Byung-gil
Country: South Korea

Drawing from a promising script he co-wrote, Korean director Jung Byung-gil (“Confession of Murder”) squanders the chance of doing something original or memorable with “The Villainess”. Sadly, the crime thriller in question brings an assemblage of stale clichés that, although fast-and-furious, only increase tiredness along the way.

Byung-gil goes straight to the point, showing a ravaging skinny woman annihilating an entire gang in a short period of time. She is Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), a trained assassin since a young age, whose traumatic memories of a difficult childhood bolstered her lethality and resilience.
The superior fighting skills and instant killing instinct she evinces quickly call the attention of the South Korea’s intelligence agency which forces her to enroll in one of their obscure projects comprising several dangerous missions with assigned targets. Before starting to execute these preys under the tight supervision of the agency’s glacial chief, Kwon (Kim Seo-hyeong), Sook-hee is submitted to a facial plastic surgery, psychologically revitalized, and persuaded to join them for ten years in exchange for a lifetime pension and total freedom when the service time is over.

Often, especially while on duty, harrowing situations from a tumultuous past assault her mind and are presented in the form of flashbacks. Despite so, it was still difficult for me to connect with this mysterious character, who is relocated to an apartment with her little daughter in order to live a discreet, ’normal’ life. Rejuvenated and with a new identity, this gal is able to smile again, gaining extra confidence when a young neighbor and widower, Hyun-soo (Bang Sung-jun), gains her trust and her heart. Big disillusion, though, when she finds out he’s an undercover agent sent to control all her moves.


In fact, the romance gets emotionally vibrant, becoming the prettiest part of a tale whose situations keep oscillating between the easily tolerable and the terribly bad. There are plenty of bloody scary faces, shots in the head, physical torments, nauseating throat slashes, and a scene captured with visual panache of a few bikers dueling with swords in a narrow tunnel. It’s simultaneously excessive and spectacular, and is exactly this intermittence in terms of satisfaction that accompanied me throughout.

To give you a better idea of what you can expect, think about a dark crossing between the psychological harassment associated with the cinema of Takashi Miike and Shion Sono, the vengeful path and romping rage of "I Saw the Devil", and the espionage thrills of "La Femme Nikita". 
The description above might sound appealing for action hunters, but as a matter of fact, and when deeply analyzed, “The Villainess” is simply an overlong, unarticulated, and impotent thriller that opted for the easiest way to impress.