Carlos’ Review Round-Up (Neighbors, Transcendence, Ida, The Double)

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

 

Neighbors (2014)

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Country: USA

Written by Andrew J.Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Neighbors” is another unsubstantial comedy that relies in isolated situations, most of them based on sex or parties full of drugs and alcohol, to try to make us laugh. The film counts with the usual suspects: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Get Him to the Geek”) as director, and Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as protagonists. For Mac and Kelly Radner, life isn’t what it used to be, after their baby daughter was born. They’re home most of the time, conditioned on their actions, and even the sex is compromised. An incredible appetite for being young again returns when their new neighbors, with ages around 20, arrive next door to open a fraternity house. In the next day of the opening party, which they gladly participated, they decided to call the cops since the noise was extremely loud and the baby couldn’t sleep. The quarrel takes bigger proportions and the little vengeances from both sides will be terrible. A stupid and artless effort is put in each scene to pull out the so much desired laughs, but without practical results since the misses are in much greater number than the hits. Situations like having sex in front of a baby or milking Rose Byrne’s tits are examples of the silliness that you can expect. Without any doubt, “Neighbors” will be another success near younger audiences or comedy aficionados, yet sadly I couldn’t find many motives to recommend it.

 


 

The Double (2013)

Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Country: UK

After become noticeable in 2010 with “Submarine”, helmer Richard Ayoade directs “The Double”, an offbeat dramedy with surreal traces based on Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. Simon James works in the same company for seven years, being responsible for several improvements in the field of regression analysis, a fact completely ignored by his uncaring boss. The shy, undecided, and often absent in mind, Simon, dreams with his co-worker and neighbor Hannah, following her with his eyes everywhere she goes – an obsession that takes voyeuristic proportions. Certain day, he finds out that a man, who physically looks exactly like him, is working in the company and occupies a relevant position. Becoming pals, the two duplicates will eventually clash when it comes to Hannah, the object of their fervent dispute. The eerie occurrences, oppressive dark settings, and weird characters present at the work premises are extensible to Simon’s home where his estranged mother whispers with a mysterious palm reader, saying her son is a strange person. Our senses are stimulated thanks to Eric Wilson’s compelling cinematography and Ayoade’s ‘off-the-hook’ direction, however the film doesn’t get close to the book that served as inspirational source. “The Double” belongs to those uncanny nightmares where everything can happen, ending ironically with Simon saying ‘I’d like to think I’m pretty unique’.

 


 

Devil’s Knot (2013)

Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Country: USA

Far are the times when Canadian filmmaker of Armenian origin, Atom Egoyan, surprised us with his raw, honest cinema. Films like “Family Viewing”, “Speaking Parts”, “The Adjuster”, “Calendar”, “Sweet Hereafter”, and “Exotica” will be forever in my mind as great films, however this “Devil’s Knot”, based on the true events happened in 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas, where three young boys were severely mutilated and killed, is a weak effort. The case known as West Memphis Three became famous when three boys were wrongly convicted, remaining in prison for more than 18 years. Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon starred, the former as an obsessed defense lawyer decided to find the truth, and the latter as the unconvincing mother of one of the 8-year-old victims, Stevie Branch. This disappointing drama comes in a very bad time and devoid of the best arguments and mood to triumph, since this particular case received huge attention by the press and media, having at least four amazing documentaries released about the subject matter. The screenplay, written by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson based on Mara Leveritt’s book, uses several manipulations to force the viewers to involve themselves emotionally. The result is pretty much artificial and narratively distorted, as everything is presented in a hasty, confused, and imprecise manner. I doubt this film works, even for those who are not familiar with the horrifying story depicted. For a much more genuine insight about the case, I urge you to watch Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis”, and “Paradise Lost” trilogy.

 


 

Winds (2013)

Directed by: Selim Evci
Country: Turkey

Set in Imbros, currently known as Gokçeada Island, “Winds” makes a nostalgic portrait of a loved one’s loss and the sad reality of an island abandoned by the exodus. Murat is a photographer and sound recordist who left Istanbul to capture the sounds of a Greek village in the cited island, the largest of Turkey. There, he will become friends with a solitary elderly woman, Madam Styliani, who discloses her life story and gives him a lesson in history that Murat will keep as a treasure in his old cassettes. Two years later, Murat returns to the island finding her door completely closed. Madam Styliani had already died, but her granddaughter, Eleni, the main subject of her proud narration, had arrived in the island from France. Murat and Eleni embark in a contemplative discovery of places and objects, while listen to the recordings. The concept of recording sounds is not entirely new – the Irish “Silence”, directed by Pat Collins, reveals to be a much more ambitious and ambiguous depiction than “Winds”, which adopts a direct and ultimately predictable development. The shots of the pair riding a motorcycle throughout the deserted roads of the island were pretty similar to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2006 “Climates”, while in the final moments both a glimpse of possible romance and communication with the dead, didn’t bring anything remarkable. Perhaps too detailed and quiescent, “Winds” seemed overextended and failed to engage as a whole.

 


 

Transcendence (2013)

Directed by: Wally Pfister
Country: USA / UK / China

“Transcendence” wins the prize for the most despicable sci-fi movie of the year, since I didn’t remember the last time I was so bored in a theater. Cinematographer and first-time director, Wally Pfister, should take some more lessons from the notable filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who appears here as executive producer, because his directorial debut seems more convoluted and artificial than any type of super technological intelligence you can imagine. The story follows Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a reputed scientist whose innovative discoveries in the field of artificial intelligence make him a target for an extremist anti-technological organization. Caster is shot dead, but his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), with the precious help of their best friend Max Watters (Paul Bettany), will continue to maintain Caster’s dream alive, making his consciousness inhabit a quantum computer and connecting it to the Internet. Executed on autopilot, the film is visually uninteresting and deficiently structured, being a catastrophe as a thriller. Jack Paglen’s worthless script made every performance go down in the same wave of ineffectiveness (and Depp and Hall even have my admiration!), in a film that was condemned to failure since the first moment it started to be filmed. The incredibly bad “Transcendence” is one of those films that keeps you eternally waiting for something creative to happen. Parched in emotions and opaque in conception, it’s the perfect example of what a sci-fi thriller should not be.

 


 

The Physician (2013)

Directed by: Philipp Stolzl
Country: Germany

Set in 11th Century, “The Physician”, is a German film in English-language based on Noah Gordon’s novel with the same name. However, the adaptation made by Jan Berger didn’t make justice to the book, a hit in Europe, leaving this epic adventure a few miles away from the original story. It starts in England, where the smart young orphan Rob Cole becomes apprentice of an uproarious barber surgeon who applies primitive and painful methods for treatment. When the latter almost gets blind due to cataracts, he agrees to be operated by Jews who brought sophisticated techniques from Isfahan. With an enormous will for learning more, Cole will disguise himself of Jew (since no Catholics are allowed) and travel to Persia to study with the great Ibn Sina, the biggest reference in medicine. Guided by his God and a sixth sense, nothing hampers Cole towards his triumphant discovers. The scenarios and settings reflect well the conditions lived in each place – England was depicted with fog, somber, and misery, while in Persia we can see sunlight, abundance and knowledge. Indeed, the plot showed not to be in the same level as some of its technical aspects such as production and costume design. Helmer Philipp Stolzl created an atmosphere taken from “Prince of Persia”, “Alladin” and “Sinbad”, but the course of the story becomes uneven and the film struggles in its middle part to maintain the vivacity of the first half-hour. Slightly entertaining but highly clichéd, “The Physician” might please inattentive fans of adventure genre, but wasn’t solid enough to be recommended without considerable reservations.

 


 

Tom at the Farm (2013)

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Country: Canada / France

Ambitious Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan, directly associated with queer cinema (“I Killed my Mother”, “Heartbeats”, “Laurence Anyways”), has in “Tom at the Farm” his first exercise on thriller with mixed results. It’s undeniable that Dolan is a very talented man, considering that he also stars as the main character (not a novelty) and was responsible for the adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s novel, production and editing. The issue is that the good and the bad alternate constantly. While some scenes were capable to surprise or even intrigue me, other seemed completely forced and unbalanced. Coming from Montreal, Tom arrives at a farm in the countryside to attend to the funeral of his lover, Guillaume. For his surprise, Gullaume’s mother, Agathe, wasn’t aware of his son’s sexual orientation, while his frustrated brother, Francis, tries everything to show who’s the boss around, making Tom extremely uncomfortable. Entering in a dangerous game that was much defiant and abusive, Francis, shows a sort of perversion difficult to decipher, while Tom acts like a scared sensible child. To complicate more the situation, Sarah, the woman who the family always thought to be Guillaume’s girlfriend, arrives at the farm. With a keen photography and not rare big close-ups to penetrate in the characters’ innermost souls, “Tom at the Farm” is a tragicomic thriller that still may have something to be enjoyed, despite the flaws and lack of a real climax.

 


 

Ida (2013)

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Country: Poland / Denmark

After his first four fictional feature films have been made in UK, Polish born filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his country of birth to shoot “Ida”, a simple, sad, and mesmerizing drama set in the 60’s about a young nun of Jewish origin who tries to find out what happened to her missing family. Anna was raised in an orphanage since childhood and is about to take her vows. In spite of the letters sent along the years to her aunt Wanda Gruz, her only living relative, she never got any reply back. Impelled by her prioress she leaves the convent to meet Wanda, a decadent former state prosecutor for the Poland’s Stalinist regime, who discloses that Anna’s real name is Ida Lebenstein, and her parents have no graves, since their bodies lie buried in the middle of some woods or lake. Together, they will look for the truth about Ida’s parents, an atrocious reality that will also disclose Wanda’s own secret. I was glad to see Pawlikowski returning to the right track and compelling stories after the misstep “The Woman in the Fifth”, since Ida’s story is not just about the past of her family but also the final disappointment with the exterior world. Deep silences and a highly aesthetical black-and-white cinematography take us to the European cinema of other times – from Bresson to Bergman (presence of religion), adorned with a score that had its peak with a live version of Coltrane’s “Naima”, and distinct performances. With great sensibility, Pawlikowski presents us one of the best works of his career, a modern treasure in tones of classic.