Carlos’ Review Round-Up
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
I was astonished two years ago with the disturbing “Take Shelter”, but this time Jeff Nichols was not capable of maintaining me a hundred percent clung to “Mud”, his third feature film. Ellis is a sensible 14 year-old kid, who is passing through difficult times with the imminent separation of his parents. One day, he and his friend Neckbone, went to a deserted island, across the Mississippi river, to search for an old abandoned boat that has been placed on top of a tree. For their surprise, they found a famished man called Mud living there. Wanted by the police and by some thugs who wanted him dead, Mud asks for the kids’ help after telling them his story of love and crime. The old question arises: is the story true or false? The adventure never lost interest, but some excessive situations made the story fall into a sort of triviality. Ellis’ appetite for punching faces was in some cases absolutely ridiculous. The pace didn’t help too, and visually the film didn’t cause much impact for the eyes. The exception to these issues was the final shooting, which was very well done, putting intensity on the screen and adrenaline in our veins. “Mud” showed some moments of sincerity, especially those depicting the relationships between parents/sons, and gave a respectable vision of coming of age and the complexities of love associated to it. Being perfectly watchable, I felt it needed more agitation in the story and the suppression of some unnecessary scenes, to become more appealing.
Any Day Now (2012)
Directed by: Travis Fine
Set in the 70’s, “Any Day Now” depicts the struggle of a gay couple to gain the custody of a Down syndrome boy whose junkie mother had been arrested. Despite of some noticeable issues, especially in the story’s development, the film succeeds in gaining our sympathy for the cause. This is achieved through very solid performances, especially from Alan Cumming, and from the anger we feel from observing the negligent attitude of the boy’s mother. The biases were evident in many occasions: in a scene with a police officer, at work, at school, and in courtrooms, the latter with very laughable interventions from lawyer and judges. The couple’s differences were highlighted, with the low profile and sobriety of the law expert Paul (Garret Dillahunt), balancing with the expansiveness of Rudy (Cumming) whose dubious artistic talent only served the purpose of putting more sentiment in the final moments. Inspired on a true story, “Any Day Now” revealed an inevitable tendency for melodrama, but compensates with some honesty and a sense of true feelings. I could not help feeling sorry for the sympathetic young boy Marco (Isaac Levya), in Travis Fine’s most interesting film so far, a real champion of audiences in Festivals such as Chicago, L.A., Seattle, and Tribeca.
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
42 is a biopic about Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player hired to play in a major league team, breaking the color barrier that prevailed since 1880′s. Robinson became an official player of Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, fighting in silence against racist prejudices, both inside and outside the team. His exceptional skills, sporting behavior, and effort put in the field, ended up winning the respect of team mates, managers, reporters, and general public. The film also focuses the importance of his wife Rachel, but great part of its time is spend on provocations, threats, and discriminations related with the racial segregation, as well as assorted episodes from several games that remained forever in the history of baseball. This is the fourth feature film from helmer Brian Helgeland, who seems to have won the heart of American audiences, but unfortunately did not touch mine. The approach was banal and nothing new or unanticipated was added to make it interesting. I felt that Helgeland’s main concern was to impress us with the racial theme, forgetting to spend some time building the character itself. 42 depicts Robinson’s life in the most conventional Hollywood tradition, using the same old formulas and manipulations that most of us are fed up. Its noble intentions and a couple of rousing moments, could not make Jackie Robinson’s fantastic achievements seem so special on the screen.
Directed by: Justin Benson / Aaron Moorhead
“Resolution” intended to be a thriller but for me it didn’t work exactly as that. It starts with Michael deciding to search for his best friend Chris, whose addiction to drugs is making him aggressive and dangerous. Michael’s plan consisted in handcuffing him for four days in the cabin where he was living, located in an Indian reservation, and then send him to rehab. But during that period, unexplainable events start to occur. The story is filled with unclear menaces, unexpected appearances, and weird conversations. Some unforeseen encounters with strange people were set up purposely to confound us and arouse our curiosity. The problem is the number of times that this situation was repeated throughout the film, falling in a boring cadence that made me give up for searching something tangible or coherent. Michael transforms himself in a sort of detective, trying to find out more about the videotapes, vinyl records, film reels, photographs, or old books that were mysteriously appearing, while Chris’ hangover and behavior were never convincing. “Resolution” stands closer to adventure genre than properly thriller or horror, preferring the rawness to the aesthetic, and adopting a casual and talkative posture that often conflicts with the moments of insecurity that wants to create. The way it was cooked didn’t catch me, failing to convey real paranoia or intrigue me with its inconsequent clues.
Neighboring Sounds (2012)
Directed by: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Simultaneously bizarre and audacious, “Neighboring Sounds” was an agreeable surprise. With his witty vision, Kleber Mendonça Filho portrays a middle-class neighborhood of Recife, Brazil. To define its spirit and insecurity, the story guides us through a series of adventurous situations, most of them unexpected and intriguing. The title is meaningful, since the howl of a dog or loud music in the streets could cause exasperation on some characters. Precious details present in every scene help to compose the bigger picture of an unbalanced society with all the problematic aspects about human relationships and personal needs. While some behaviors are completely normal, depicting a calm quotidian life, others seem mysterious or unusual, creating a curiosity that refuses to leave. Some episodes were so delightful, abrupt, and unforeseen, that I kept them in my mind. I’m remembering of insomniac Bia being attacked by a neighbor, smoking a joint with the help of a vacuum cleaner, or getting horny with a washing machine; or even a realistic condominium meeting to discuss what to do with the old doorman who sleeps in every corner. Some other scenes are meant to baffle us, and then are purposely left behind without explanation, accumulating tension that never really bursts in any occasion. This fact can become frustrating for some viewers, but the originality, irreverence, and loose style adopted, made “Neighboring Sounds” a distinct experience, even with an inarticulate storyline.
Oh Boy (2012)
Directed by: Jan Ole Gerster
Taking advantage of a grained black-and-white picture, adorned with a moody jazz score, “Oh Boy” is not just an intimate portrait about a particular character who feels lost, but also a portrait of a contemporary Berlin. Nothing seems to go right with Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), who is going through a complicated phase in life. Certain that a law course would not be the right thing for him, Niko gave up his studies two years before, but still lives in Berlin with the allowance sent by his father. Meanwhile, he keeps living a carefree life, taking his time to think what he really wants. After his father finds out, Niko had his bank account closed, and everything seemed to fall apart. However, a few casual encounters with several interesting people across Berlin will become important experiences to learn and grow. I can mention a sweet old woman who, in a moment of affection, made the role of the mother that Niko didn’t have; a former schoolmate girl who is still haunted by a traumatic past; or a lonely man who was abroad for 60 years and was remembering his childhood in the city. Some references to Nazism were naturally introduced as making part of the city’s history, in a movie marked by honesty, sensibility, and humor. “Oh Boy” is a mature accomplishment from a debutant cineaste who used beautiful long shots and detailed close-ups to show in a charming and conscious way that both people and city are in constant transformation.
Boxing Day (2012)
Directed by: Bernard Rose
With “Boxing Day”, Bernard Rose presents us his best work so far, in a career with more than 20 years. The plot, based on the short story from 1895 “Master And Man” by Leo Tolstoy, has been magnificently adapted to the current times, following the workaholic businessman Basil on a car trip to a mountain region in Denver to see possible lucrative properties. With him goes a hired chauffeur, Nick, a simple guy who lives alone after has been dumped by his wife. The initial moments were pleasantly tense, with Nick making a lot of questions and trying to make easy conversation, while Basil was trying to maintain a certain distance by showing an arrogant pose of superiority. After Nick’s insistence, Basil starts to talk more and the disagreement between the two men was more than evident in topics such as capitalism, greed, global warming, and how people should live their lives. After spending some relaxed moments inside a bar, Basil and Nick hit the road again in the middle of the night, to get lost and be stuck in the snow in a remote place without communication. With very low temperatures, their fate seemed dark, but even so, Basil shows his awful selfishness. “Boxing Day” is powerful, timeless, and realistic. The excellent performances, poignant humor, and desperate moments, helped to magnify a moral tale that should be taken as an example in our society full of greediness.
Midnight’s Children (2012)
Directed by: Deepa Mehta
Country: Canada / UK
I was never a big enthusiast of Deepa Mehta’s cinema, and after watching “Midnight’s Children”, an adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s book with the same name, my opinion haven’t changed. During its 148 minutes, we follow the narration of Saleem Sinai about his origins and what has been his life since his birth date, which also happened to be the day of India’s independence. During the film, we get to know that on that special day, a nurse swapped purposely two babies at birth. One was Saleem, who came from a very poor family, and the other was Shiva, the son of a wealthy couple. Throughout all their lives, in war or in peace, these two men will oppose fiercely to each other. As expected from a Rushdie’s novel, the film is immersed on strong political aspects, including the independence of India and the Indo-Pakistani war. Some moments tried to convey the harshness of wartime, while others stood in a soft drama that was never intense or absorbing. There was also a fantasy side on this film, but the magic showed didn’t cast any spell on me. The stiffness of the narrative along with Deepa Mehta’s extreme delicacy on direction smothered the tense situations, making “Midnight’s Children” less riveting than it should be and very far from the epic that it dreamed to become. Instantly forgettable.
Almayer’s Folly (2011)
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
Country: Belgium / France
Loosely adapted from Joseph Conrad’s debut novel, “Alamayer’s Folly” marks the return of Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman after a seven year absence. The adopted style, not so experimental as in other times, presents recognizable features; steady hand, long and precise shots, and efficient image composition, often using strong contrasts of shadow and light. The tale itself is bitter and powerful, following Gaspard Almayer (was Stanislas Merhar the right choice to play this character?), a French merchant whose great ambition for gold brought him to a remote village in Malaysia, where he got married to a local woman. From that loveless marriage, a beautiful mixed-race girl was born, becoming the proud of her father. Convinced by his employer, Alamayer sends his daughter Nina to a boarding school in town, where she could have a ‘white education’. But this will become a traumatic experience for her. Back to her village, after being kicked out from school, she will become the great love of Dain, a drugs smuggler who was Almayer’s last hope to get rich. Told in a strange but not discouraging way, “Almayer’s Folly” is a film about love, ambition, madness, racial issues, failed intentions, and disillusions. Its deliberate pace, nature sounds, and tropical ambience (reminding me Weerasethakul’s films without the mystical component), will not fit in everyone’s taste, but for those more adventurous, it may be a challenging cinematic experience.