Carlos’ Review Round-Up (Locke, Oculus, Railway Man…)

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.

 

Locke (2013)

Directed by: Steven Knight
Country: UK/USA

Static and minimalist on visuals, and expeditious in words, “Locke” is a one-man drama, totally set in the streets of England inside of a car. While travelling from Birmingham to London, successful construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) engages in a sequence of serious phone calls. Assuming a compromising mistake in the recent past, he just made the most courageous decision in life, putting at stake his family, his career, and his own mental state. Evincing an admirable cold-blood within a stressful situation, he tries to control himself and simultaneously calm down his wife, his partner who will have to prepare everything alone for the next fundamental day at work, his demanded boss, and the future mother of his new child who is about to be born. Director/screenwriter Steven Knight (“Redemption”) presents us an original and bold concept in his directorial sophomore feature film, unexpectedly creating tension through the conversations we witness. Certainly this won’t be a film for those who are searching for thrilling action moments or mysterious plots, since “Locke” lives much from Tom Hardy’s memorable performance and from what the viewers feel by putting themselves in his place. In the scarce moments in which he doesn’t talk to anyone, he imagines conversations with his deceased father, a fact that shows his despair and loneliness. The low budgeted “Locke” takes us purposely to commonplaces in terms of visuals, but even contrived, captivated my attention with its simple story of a man’s downfall.

 


 

The Immigrant (2013)

Directed by: James Gray
Country: USA

American film director and screenwriter, James Gray, reunites Joaquin Phoenix (for the fourth time – “The Yards”, “We Own the Night”, “Two Lovers”), Marion Cotillard and Jermey Renner in “The Immigrant”, a drama set in the 20’s. Ewa (Cotillard) and her sister Magda got into a ship and came to America from Poland, looking for a better life and with their chests full of hope and dreams. When they arrive to Ellis Island, doctors find out that Magda suffers from a lung disease and the two sisters are separated. While Magda is taken away to receive treatment, Ewa was going to be deported if it wasn’t for Bruno (Phoenix), a well-connected man who offered his help, but for a price. He forces her into prostitution and gradually gets impressed with her good nature allied to a determined power of negotiation – ‘I like money but I don’t like you’, she says. The story, evolving slowly and without putting all the energy possible in the scenes, gained some relevance when Bruno’s magician cousin, Amil (Renner), decides to openly demonstrate his true love for Ewa, entering in a competitive dispute with his cousin. Visually rich, using mostly yellowish tones for indoors and a fainted sepia for outdoors, “The Immigrant” was emotionally demotivating, failing to convey passion in its most crucial moments. Cotillard’s performance as sweet and submissive catholic woman who needs to make money to survive, messed a bit with my nerves, while Phoenix wasn’t so brilliant here as in his two last appearances (“The Master”, “Her”). Production design and cinematography were outstanding.

 


 

Oculus (2013)

Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Country: USA

Mike Flanagan gave life to “Oculus”, basing himself on his 2006 short “Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan”. After “Absentia”, the American filmmaker confirmed his predilection for the horror genre, having another one in agenda to come out in 2015, entitled “Somnia”, which like the object of this review has been co-wrote by Flanagan and Jeff Howard. “Oculus” tells the story of brother and sister, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), whose parents died tragically ten years ago, supposedly shot by Tim. Now with the age of 21, the latter is given as psychologically apt and gets out of protective custody seeming ready to move on with his life. However, his still affected sister brings the subject all over again, after suspect that the cause of the misfortune could have been an old mirror that keeps leaving a track of blood or insanity in every house it passes by. The film was technically well executed, presenting a chilly atmosphere that could have been fruitful in case the plot has showed more creativity. By using a structure that is very conventional in the genre, “Oculus” needed some more credibility in terms of plot to be more spooky and less derivative. Basically, it is more of the same, and I wonder if Flanagan should have bothered doing this teen-horror-show with a magic mirror, which turns out to be tense in several occasions but also falsely complex and a bit dull in its backbone. The film was the second most voted by the audience at Toronto Int. Film Festival.

 


 

The Railway Man (2013)

Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
Country: Australia / UK

Australian film director, Jonathan Teplitzky, drastically changes tones with “The Railway Man”, his new drama based on the real experiences of British soldier Eric Lomax during the WWII, comparatively with his abuzz work dated from 2011, “The Burning Man”. The film stars Colin Firth as Lomax, a traumatized and railway enthusiast British soldier who was made prisoner in 1942 by the Japanese forces in command, having been heavily tortured and accused of conspiracy with the Chinese. Deeply affected, Lomax counts with the help of his understanding and patient wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), and his best friend, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard). After years of suffering, he decides to meet Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), a former Japanese translator who was responsible for many of the inflicted tortures. Making him prisoner, Lomax will teach him a late yet valuable life lesson that will ease their tortured souls . Despite the challenging score, the film was never unsettling and couldn’t totally escape to sentimentality. Moreover, the uneven pace makes the film drag in several occasions, giving the sensation of being much longer, while the performances, especially those by the young Japanese soldiers, didn’t seem so authentic as expected. Humanity and forgiveness are always to praise, but I felt that the unstimulating “The Railway Man” needed so much more to triumph as a drama, and thereby follow the success of Lomax’s bestselling autobiography of the same name. Garry Phillips’ cinematography deserves to be mentioned but my final verdict is: skippable.

 


 

The Auction (2013)

Directed by: Sébastien Pilote
Country: Canada

Sébastien Pilote’s sophomore feature, “The Auction”, is a compelling Canadian drama starring Gabriel Arcand in the role of an aging, dedicated farmer. Gaby Gagnon lives alone in his countryside farm after his wife has left him 20 years ago to go live in the city. A few years later his two daughters, Marie and Fréderique, also left home in order to live their own lives. Fréderique, with an emerging career in the theater, never shows up or give signs of wanting to be with the family, while Marie is expected soon with her two children and husband. Arriving just with the kids, Marie confesses she is divorcing and needs urgent money to keep the house. Gaby promises to help her out, but the bank refuses the loan he asked for, leaving him with the unique and toughest solution in hands: sell the farm in the local auction. Pacific and contemplative in style, yet profound in dramatic terms, the film evinced emotional insight and a true sense of family and friendship that define completely the main character. In this story of sacrifice and guilt, Gaby’s silent affliction was quite painful and his determination will be tested through his neighbor friends, who got very sad with his departure, or his opponent brothers who wanted a share from the farm’s sale. It’s a bittersweet tale that confronts the happiness of a conscious father (even knowing that his daughter is taking advantage of him) and the extreme sadness of an innate farmer. “The Auction” is a mature and tender drama that moves in crescendo, deserving to be seen.

 


 

In Your Eyes (2014)

Directed by: Brin Hill
Country: USA

Have you ever imagined having a long distance conversation just with the power of your mind? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll find in “In Your Eyes”, a telepathic romance written by Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”, “Much Ado About Nothing”) who also appears as executive producer, and directed by Brin Hill – his sophomore feature. The solitary Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is an ex-con who’s trying to give some meaning to his boring life in New Mexico. Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) in turn is the insecure wife of a reputed doctor who puts business in front of everything. These two characters will learn they can communicate telepathically, feel what the other feels, and even see what’s going on, in the other side of the country. Like lunatics, they keep talking into the air, sharing their problems and concerns, and (guess what?) occasionally slapping themselves in the face as a punishment when the other deserves a lesson. Whedon’s concept defies the so trendy online relationships, but “In Your Eyes” touches the melodrama in several occasions and becomes pretty much unpersuasive. With a relaxed country music playing, some situations transpired humor, which was the most positive aspect of the film, while the plot, more dull than inventive, might warm your heart and numb your mind. Actress Zoe Kazan, however, confirmed to have talent and sensibility for roles of this kind, capturing my attention since her participation in the very much auspicious comedy “Ruby Sparks”, which she wrote.

 


 

The Missing Picture (2013)

Directed by: Rithy Panh
Country: Cambodia / France

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh exposes once again the atrocities and terrifying atmosphere imposed by the authoritarian communist regime Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia. Looking in vain for a missing photograph taken in that time by Khmer Rouge, evincing mass murder, Panh resolves to narrate his own story, at the same time that recreates in an artsy way – through scenarios composed by clay dolls and the use of new and old footage – the impure and corrupt environment of Phnom Penh, where poor common people, capitalists, and intellectuals were eradicated and destroyed. The film starts with a big close-up of Panh’s hands carving clay to shape a little figure that symbolizes his father, a dignified man who starved to death as protest against the inhuman conditions lived in those killing fields. The scene then shifts to footage where we can see children submitted to forced labor, sick people who lost their dignitiy, and deep misery in every sense. The creative scenarios mingled with harrowing images of a sad reality, left me with an unexplainable sensation – almost like hypnotized by the narrator’s melancholic voice, absorbed by Panh’s beautiful creativity, and furious with what these innocent people had to suffer. Not so blunt or striking as the ‘Indonesian’ “The Act of Killing”, “The Missing Picture” shows personal sensibility and grief. Rithy Panh showed to be confident behind the camera and his panning shots prove what he wanted to: ‘a picture can be stolen but a thought cannot’.

 


 

Me, Myself and Mum (2013)

Directed by: Guillaume Gallienne
Country: France / Belgium

French actor Guillaume Gallienne wrote, directed and starred in “Me, Myself and Mum”, an autobiographical film that exposes his sexual dilemmas and the exceptional relationship with his very blunt, yet elegant mother. Adapted from his 2008 one-man stage show, multifaceted Guillaume plays the mother and himself, providing us some amusing scenic situations and pertinent dialogues. At the age of five, he remembered his mother calling him and his brothers to the dinner table, saying: ‘boys and Guillaume, to the table!’. Since that time, he got pretty confused about himself, but other occurrences of his childhood were also determinant, like when he was talking with his mother on the phone and she ended the conversation with ‘take care my big girl!’. These situations brought a great uncertainty in the effeminate and sports hater Guillaume, who really believed he was a girl in a man’s body. Becoming an attentive women’s observer to better understand his sexual tendencies, the charismatic and faint-hearted Guillaume will go through some awkward situations that include a traumatic visit to a Bavarian spa, a call for military service, and his first sexual encounter with a man. His late conclusions will end up in a creative play focused on a man who decides to assume his heterosexuality after his family has decided he was gay. Smartly written, funny, and accessible, “Me, Myself and Mum” excelled not only due to the brilliant performance of Gallienne, but also through his sturdy direction.

 


 

Mikra Anglia (2013)

Directed by: Pantelis Voulgaris
Country: Greece

“Mikra Anglia” is a grievous drama directed by veteran Greek filmmaker Pantelis Voulgaris, based on Ioanna Karystiani’s novel of the same name. The film is set on the Greek island of Andros in 1930, where many women mourn for their beloved men, dead or lost at sea. Orsa is madly in love with Spyros, a brave seaman who promises to marry her after his return from the next trip, which will make him captain, a fundamental condition for the marriage to happen. Spyro’s retired uncle, Emilius, is the one to talk to Orsa’s mother, Mina, to ask for her permission but the answer was a short ‘no’, since his family is far from the wealth she wants for their daughters. Tormented and abandoned, Mina tries to protect her daughter from having a fate like hers, since her husband, captain Savvas, lives most of the time with his other wife and kid in Argentina. When Mina forces Orsa to hastily marry captain Nikos, Spyros, now a respected captain too, decides to have his revenge asking for the hand of Orsa’s younger sister, Moscha. The situation seems unbearable when the entire family starts living under the same roof. The film takes its time to makes us absorb completely the torments lived by each of the characters – repressed love, absence, guilt, infidelity, fear of losing the loved ones – they’re all silent sufferers who are trying to find some solace in their lives. Will it be possible for the two sisters count with each other? Poetic in words, precise in its images, and sad as a Greek tragedy, “Mikra Anglia” depicts a plausible and bitter reality in tones of homage for all those anguished women.

 


 

The French Minister (2013)

Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
Country: France

Veteran French filmmaker, Bertrand Tavernier, known for his distinct styles used in films such as “Round Midnight”, “Coup de Torchon”, or “A Sunday in the Country”, directs a comical political satire that has everything to amuse the fans of the genre. The film cleverly adopts the same methods – legitimacy, unity and efficiency – of the mad French minister of foreign affairs that depicts. Legitimacy can be felt when the young Arthur Vlaminck is hired for the invisible ‘language department’ within the minister’s office, accepting patiently the authority of his picky superior. Unity marks the second part of the film when everyone sits down, not only to discuss the best political strategies and speeches, but also to help the minister in his cultural lunches with famous authors, poets, and philosophers. Finally, in the last third, we have efficiency, when all the philosophical theories, nitpicks and stubbornness are left behind in detriment of a short, clear, and pragmatic speech. With its tones of mockery and loquacious style, “The French Minister” fulfills its role, becoming closer to Costa-Gavras’ “The Capital” rather than Pierre Schoeller’s “The Minister” whose boldness we could not find here. Don’t expect complex conclusions, since Tavernier abruptly cut irony and sarcasm all at once, but expect to meet the modern ‘Tintin’ of French politics, superbly performed by Thierry Lhermitte. Tavernier took inspiration from the comic book by Abel Lanzac (pseudonym for Antonin Baudry – former minister Villepin’s speechwriter between 2002 and 2004) and illustrator Christophe Blain.