Carlos’ Review Round-Up

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


The Zero Theorem (2013)

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Country: USA / UK / others

After a handful of captivating bizarre films from the past such as “Brazil”, “The Fisher King”, “12 Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, Terry Gilliam seems losing steam as time goes by. “The Zero Theorem” was somewhat hollow and tiresome in its conception and never surprised me. The story is centered on Qohen (Christoph Waltz), an intensive computer man who works desperately to find the meaning of life, expected to be revealed through a phone call, as well as the reason of human existence. He’s an employee of Mancom, an obscure futuristic enterprise, ruled by ‘The Management’ (Matt Damon) who attends to his request for working at home, with the tough mission to prove the ‘zero theorem’. Once at his luxurious mansion, he won’t find the peace he was expecting, being constantly interrupted by the impertinent Dr. Shrink-ROM (Tilda Swinton), Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), a lustful woman who just wanted to feel needed, and a 15-year-old genius kid called Bob (Lucas Hedges). Stressed and frustrated, Qohen takes us into an extravagant trip filled with doubts and deceit. Excluding the initial weirdness, the film drags itself in its uncertainty for most of the time, especially during the second half. I also felt that the sense of humor adopted didn’t belong there, and the romance wasn’t strong enough to win me over. As it already had happened with its previous “Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, Gilliam was unable to place the story at the same level of the colorful, seductive visuals. Thus, this theorem of a film only proved to be flat.

Jack Strong (2014)

Directed by: Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Country: Poland

With “Jack Strong”, writer/director Wladyslaw Pasikowski provides us with a thrilling espionage film based on the real story of Polish Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski who got known as one of the most important spies for CIA in the midst of Cold War tensions. Disillusioned with the Soviet domination and the loss of identity of his own country, Kuklinski decides to risk his life and his family’s by revealing important secrets of state, including secret nuclear operations. Using the code name ‘Jack Strong’ to communicate with the ‘enemy’, Kuklinski ended up awarded by President Carter for his glorious yet risky contribution. The story is told in flashbacks and was suspenseful enough to get me seated without move for more than two hours. Expect a constant asphyxiating atmosphere, tense score, and strong performances by the magnificent cast, which strengthened even more a well-connected story and its intriguing characters. With all these positive aspects we also have a fantastic car chase, one of the most spectacular scenes of this political thriller, along with a fulminant, bitter ending that left me perplexed. Shot with rigor and set up in an attractive old-fashioned way, Pasikowski proves that Polish cinema still has something valuable to give, even if in most of the cases, is invariably centered in WWII. If “Aftermath”, his previous film, was a disappointment, “Jack Strong” comes as an impressive feature and is solidly recommended.

Han Gong-ju (2013)

Directed by: Lee Su-jin
Country: South Korea

Lee Su-jin’s fantastic directorial debut, “Han Gong-ju”, is a poignant drama whose title was taken from the name of its main character, a teenager girl who is transferred to a new school, trying to adapt to a new life. Isolated and quiet, Gong-ju is visibly tormented with something that we aren’t able to perceive at first. Little by little, and in an intelligent way, the story is unfolded and shocking revelations finally makes us understand the reasons behind the young girl’s detachment. Completely abandoned by a drunken father and a freshly married mother, Gong-ju was raped by a gang of kids whose parents have social influence, only trusting in a former teacher who tried to help her the best way he could. Her talent for music was noticed by some new colleagues who gave her a boost, trying to get closer, but will Gong-ju be capable to forget her past and freely accept her gift? A demanding narrative structure didn’t frighten the newcomer director whose work was noteworthy, collecting prizes in festivals such as Pusan, Rotterdam, Deauville, Marrakech and Fribourg. Chun Woo-hee’s second performance in a feature film, after her appearance in Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother”, was also accurate and convincing. This is a sad, unsettling film that requires a deep reflection after observing its atrocious scenes. It might not be an easy watching story but a hint of hope allows us to breathe at the end, in a drama where a new writer/director emerged to be considered a valid one in the modern Korean cinema.

Two Mothers (2013)

Directed by: Anne Zohra Berrached
Country: Germany

“Two Mothers” is a lukewarm drama about a lesbian married couple, Katja and Isabella, who decided to have a child in Germany, a country that imposes so many legal issues, high fees and other obstacles in a very difficult process. They agreed to find a sperm donor (long part of the film relies in this aspect) but not a father, so they can educate the child without any exterior interference. The more reputable insemination clinics refuse to accept them and the treatments in minor clinics, besides too much expensive for their income, are not working out. The frustration led them to check sperm donors online, where they find their last hope: Flo, a man with already twenty children. The script shows potential but the film, not so fluid, could have been so much better executed. Set up with an unattractive light and dismal colors, “Two Mothers” counts with capable performances by Karina Plachetka and Sabine Wolf, and has the subject matter as the more interesting aspect. It was a pity that the debutant director and screenwriter, Anne Zohra Berrached, didn’t have hands to handle the story in a more absorbing way. The detachment that slowly occurs between the couple feels real and shows that Berrached knows how to extract something from the performances. However, the technical side wasn’t so strong, resulting in a deterioration of the final result. The director was awarded at Berlin Film Festival, while the two main actresses received a special mention at Potsdam Sehsüchte.

Diplomacy (2014)

Directed by: Volker Schlondorff
Country: France / Germany

“Diplomacy” is a classic film, in the true sense of the word, directed by a classic filmmaker, Volker Schlondorff, who got known mostly through his consistent war movies from the 60’s and 70’s, cases of “Young Torless”, “Coup de Grâce” or “The Tin Drum”. “Diplomacy” gives continuity to his preferred theme of WWII, being a movie of words and not so much of action. This doesn’t mean that the film is boring. It depicts the negotiations and relationship between General Dietrich von Choltitz, military governor of Paris during the last days of German occupation, and Raoul Nordling, a French-born Swedish businessman and diplomat, who had a fundamental role to maintain Paris intact. With the Nazi regime in decadence, von Cholitz had orders from Hitler to leave Paris in rubble, planning the destruction of several landmarks such as bridges, the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame. Sick but determined, he seemed to be a stubborn, fearless man who is unable to surrender. Nordling’s mission is simply trying to persuade him to save ‘the city of light’. Technically strong and exhibiting appealing scenarios, it was rewarding to watch two men with different opinions and in antagonistic positions respecting each other, where the word diplomacy fits like a glove. Indeed, the two main actors, Niels Arestrup and André Dussollier, keep the film well alive. Difficult moral choices are in the base of “Diplomacy” whose adaptation from Cyril Gely’s play of the same name, even if not astonishing, was elucidative, earnest and interesting to follow.

Spanish Affair (2013)

Directed by: Emilio Martinez Lázaro
Country: Spain

“Spanish Affair” is a very Spanish romantic comedy directed by Emilio Martinez Lázaro, taking advantage of the political questions that are in the base of the turmoil lived between Basque country, which seeks independence for several years, and Spain. The story starts in Sevilla where Rafa, a bon vivant who doesn’t know any other place beyond Andaluzia, was being the king of the night by telling some pretty good jokes about Basques. Irony of the destiny, since he meets Amaia, a Basque young woman who seemed bored for celebrating her bachelor party. After one-night stand, Amaia escapes without a word, but Rafa finds an excuse to travel to Basque country, becoming leader of the local separatists, as well as the suitable substitute for Antxon, Amaia’s fiancé who had broken up with her a few days before. Pretending to be Antxon, he will try to convince Amaia’s father, a rough fisherman, that he is a true Basque with eight surnames. Comedy of circumstances with political teasing, “Spanish Affair” is an easygoing film that plays effectively with language. In spite of the good timing of the majority of its gags, the conventional style adopted and predictable outcomes, prevented a greater satisfaction. It worths essentially for its chirpy nature and some inspired moments that revealed a good openness of mind regarding a turbulent internal conflict. The lamentable finale was a pity, but with the huge success in Spain, there’s already a sequel announced for 2015, with the same actors, writers, and director.

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)

Directed by: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Country: Belgium / others

Directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani use the same saturated reds, blues and greens to create even more bold images than in “Amer”, their promising debut from 2009. With precise camera work, there’s no doubt that its weirdness stimulates us visually and intellectually, even considering the intentional dispersion of the script to baffle us. This was the main reason why the film didn’t work so well as a narrative, despite the mysteries of its strange associations, false leads and intricate dream layers, it turned out progressively exhausting with the repetition of ideas, most of them involving blood footprints, erotic sensuality and sharp knives ready to tear up bodies or piercing heads. The story starts when Dan Kristensen returns home after one of his frequent business trips and finds his apartment locked from inside and his wife missing. The mystery seems to be related with the building itself where its patterned connected walls hide the secrets of so many weird and untrusted tenants. There are times that we questioned if the problem is not Dan himself, and there are others where we don’t know what to think, such is the abusive confusion and dazzle created. Showing so much talent and a propensity to prevail artsy (including a great sound design), Cattet and Forzani should work a bit more in putting some light in the scripts without exclusively worry with the stylization of their pictures. Anyway, I can’t refrain from recommending this outlandish thriller for those who like vague insinuations and blurred conclusions.

Starred Up (2013)

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Country: UK

“Starred Up” depicts a violent action-drama focused on a father-son relationship, with the particularity of being depicted inside a prison. When the super-violent Eric Love (Jack O’Conell) of 19 years old is transferred from a young offended institution to an adult prison, he bumps into his long-lost father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a respected veteran convict who, despite estranged, tries to protect his son from the other inmates. The problem is aggravated when the hostilities come from the responsible for the security of the facility. After an accident, the untamed Eric will be given one last chance, having to behave correctly and attend a group therapy lead by the psychotherapist Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend) in order to learn how to control his raging anger. After being informed that Eric is marked by trauma and abuse, his father will try to join him in the sessions. Jack O’Connell’s performance was tightly convincing, in an explosive mix of madness and fury, and one of his best so far, making “Starred Up”, directed by the English filmmaker David Mackenzie (“Young Adam”, “Perfect Sense”), more than just an ordinary prison drama. The story never loses grip, and in any occasion slows down. Even when the quietude reigns, we have the perfect sensation that someone is up to something, and most of the times we think it might be the unpredictable Eric himself. The script was written by Jonathan Asser, based on his real experiences with the most fearful inmates of the HM Prison Wandsworth, located in the Southwest London.

The Attorney (2013)

Directed by: Yang Woo-seok
Country: South Korea

Newcomer film director Yang Woo-seok brings us a courtroom drama inspired on the early life of Roh Moo-Hyun, the ninth president of South Korea, then turned into an activist, and his ‘Burim case’ dated of 1981. Guided by the motto ‘never give up’, Song Woo-seok, even without a college degree becomes a voracious attorney, getting the life he always wanted. Professional success, lots of money and a beautiful family, makes him boasting around and expose himself as a wealthy man. But Woo-seok shows to have a good heart too, when he returns to a restaurant he used to go as a student in order to pay an old debt to the owner, a lady whose teenager son will be illegally arrested, tortured and forced to confess he is a leftist. The man who carries out these unacceptable operations is the highly patriotic police officer, Cha Dong-yeong. Disturbed by this injustice Woo-seok will radically change his life to free an innocent from the corruption of the Korean system and improper use of public power. Even if a bit melodramatic in the final moments and stepping familiar territories, “The Attorney” combined humor, drama, and a raging courtroom battle, in an appealing way. I would say that the aggressive performance by Song Kang-ho, along with the cynical one by Kwak Do-won, were able to maintain the film well alive, regardless of the director’s gullible attempts to draw some tears, especially in the end. Fortunately, this wasn’t enough to turn down the magnificent work from these two respectable actors.