Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Good Movies.
Everybody Wants Some (2016)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Celebrated filmmaker, Richard Linklater, takes us to a modest Texas college at the beginning of the effervescent decade of the 80’s to tell us an energizing tale about a bunch of students who have in common the fact of being baseball players and love beautiful girls and exciting parties.
If “Boyhood”, shot over 12 years, was a richly intense and incredibly realistic drama, “Everybody Wants Some” is something totally different. To start, it’s a comedy, and a very American one in every sense, following the same lines as the 1993 success “Dazed and Confused”. It’s the type of film with which there is not much to learn, and still, we can’t take our eyes off the screen and pretend that nothing’s going on. Nostalgic in a positive way, the film is suffused with numerable feel-good situations that are sufficiently funny and vitalizing to retrieve the unforgettable vibes of that bygone era. The accurate visuals as a part of the unimpeachable period recreation and the lively performances by the boys did the rest.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] The cute freshman, Jake (Blake Jenner), exhibiting a relaxed and content disposition, arrives at the campus where he introduces himself to his baseball teammates. The simple fact of being a pitcher is enough to provoke some initial friction in some of the old-timers, who end up accepting him with authority but also friendliness. Among the vets and freshmen there are a few who deserve a special mention: the seductive Finnegan (Glen Powell) who loves to talk about his penis with the girls; the competitive Glen McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) who freaks out just for losing a ping-pong game; Jay Niles (Juston Street) who was transferred from Detroit carrying a risible bad temper; the cool dude, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), whose biggest happiness is to smoke weed with friends; the weird Nesbit (Austin Amelio), champion of the silly knuckle-flicking game; and Billy Autrey (Will Brittain), also called Beuter, who is the most restrained of the guys due to his serious commitment with a girlfriend who says she may be pregnant.
With three days left before the beginning of classes, the enthusiastic guys have plenty of time to hang out together in bars and parties, where they drink, dance, and enjoy the company of beautiful young ladies.
The inevitable true romance is reserved for Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch), a smart first-year student of theater and dance.
As a curious observation, we conclude that there are no heroes or villains here, just likable characters with their very own personalities.
Mr. Linklater totally discards any type of drama as the little conflicts among some of the friends are easily and quickly forgiven and overcome. What he actually should have done was to give a bit more preponderance to the music throughout the film.
However, he shows how to turn an apparently trivial script into a good movie, just by creating the adequate spirit, as high as the title suggests.
“Everybody Wants Some” is a new American classic bursting with feel-good energies and the unequal grace of youth.
Born to Be Blue (2015)
Directed by: Robert Budreau
Country: Canada / USA / UK
I was always a big admirer of Chet Baker’s music, but that’s not the reason why I recommend “Born to Be Blue”, a part real, part fictional drama written, directed, and produced by the Canadian Robert Budreau.
Ethan Hawke, despite the physical dissimilarities, was chosen to play the trumpeter, and he does it intimately enough to make us forget such an important detail.
The film takes us to the early 50’s where we can listen to the beautiful standard ‘Let’s Get Lost’, immortalized by Mr. Baker, one of the greatest representatives of the West Coast jazz scene. The black and white images tell us that we’re before a memorable moment recovered from the past.
The present, portrayed in color, shows a quite different reality. Now a heroin addict, Chet Baker lies on the floor of a prison cell and gets the visit of a filmmaker who wants him to play himself in a movie about his earlier years as a heroin addict. During the shootings, Chet makes an impression on Jane (Carmen Ejogo), a struggling actress who agrees to go out with him. That night was only pleasurable until a certain point because Chet’s dealer resolved to settle their accounts by breaking all his teeth. This was the cruelest punishment for the trumpet player who’s told he won’t play again.
[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] Emotionally devastated, Chet will ever accept this sentence. With his mouth still sore, he tries to play until he spits blood.
However, Jane stays always by his side, becoming his dear girlfriend and supporter. With her, Chet finds a genuine love that gradually makes him recover the lost stability and gain not only the confidence to play again but also the strength to stay away from drugs. After an arduous adaptation to the instrument, new opportunities will come up and the success is in no one’s hands but the musician’s.
Mr. Budreau’s approach is aesthetically neat, giving us more a good general idea about the man’s life than a detailed portraiture.
Even though, we get concrete notions about Chet’s relationships, namely with his sour father, a professional musician who gave up playing and says to be embarrassed about his son; his old producer and friend, Dick Bock; and his fellow jazz trumpeters, the friendly Dizzy Gillespie, and the usually critical Miles Davis.
By using spasmodic flashbacks, the film might not always be chronologically elucidating but evokes the times with honesty and sensitivity.
Amidst the entertaining moments, there were two magical ones, when Chet sings ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’ with all his soul.
Standing Tall (2015)
Directed by: Emmanuelle Bercot
A fiery and convincing performance by the young Rod Paradot wasn’t enough to illuminate “Standing Tall”.
The film addresses the juvenile delinquency with hope and intensity, but the director, Emmanuelle Bercot (“On My Way”), who co-wrote with Marcia Romano, would need a more in-depth script to add something valuable to what Truffaut’s “400 Blows” and Dolan’s “Mommy” presented in regard to the same topic.
Paradot is Malony Ferrandot, a troubled, fatherless kid who was abandoned at the age of six by his immature, irresponsible, and drug addict mother, Severine, thoroughly played by Sara Forestier.
Under the care of the national protection of minors, Malony grows up infringing the laws without getting rid of his bad temper or control his turbulent emotions. He’s an assiduous presence in the Dunkerque’s juvenile court where the children’s magistrate, Florence Blaque (a discreet role for Catherine Deneuve), and a counselor, Yann Le Vigan (Benoît Magimel), who, due to a similar past, understands the kid better than anyone, join forces to give him the opportunities to change.
Despite recovered, Yann still has moments of weakness and frustration. He suffers and vacillates by observing Malony wasting his life.
The teenager’s uncontrollable rage makes him fall over and over again into the same mistakes, and the reconnection with his mother, who ends up losing her youngest son to a juvenile accommodation center due to negligence, only makes things worse. In one of the most memorable scenes of the film, Malony steals a car and drives like crazy with his childish mother and little brother laughing in the backseat.
At the age of 17, he agrees to attend an educational program in a remote special facility. There, the atmosphere can be hostile among the delinquents, but he discovers Tess (Diane Rouxel), his teacher’s daughter who, nurturing a sincere fondness for him, becomes decisive in a miraculous transformation.
Regardless the convenient positivism, the social nature of the drama alternates between the acceptable and the mediocre.
Mrs. Bercot’s muscled scenes are quite effective, however, their developments are scarcely satisfying, showcasing trifling situations drawn from a script that’s not totally devoid of clichés.
Disappointingly, “Standing Tall” can only be cautiously recommended, having the credible performances as its most consistent element.
Directed by: Bernard Rose
Country: USA / Germany
Bernard Rose’s artful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, “Frankenstein”, is a double-edged sword that probably will only gratify the staunchest fans of the horror genre.
The story, altered to fit the modern days, can be described as extremely violent, highly depressing, and frequently repugnant. These attributes might be an asset for any horror movie, but “Frankenstein’s narrative was weaved with an incessant naivety that shortly makes us disregard the intrinsic concept of its indelible imagery.
Bernard Rose, whose career has been built by more downs than ups, creates a modern monster that sets foot in the outside world after being conceived through an unorthodox experience carried out by a married couple of scientists, Marie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Viktor Frankenstein (Danny Huston). The boy, who came to life after a long permanence in a sort of a comatose state, is called Adam (Xavier Samuel). He’s the pride of the creators who become marveled with his beauty and perfection. This euphoric state comes to an end when they realize that something went wrong. The hyper-resilient Adam, who shows to have the strength of ten men but the mind of a one-year-old, suddenly becomes pockmarked with ulcers in his face and all over his body.
He’s entrusted to the staff of scientists, who should study the case closely and then get rid of him for good. However, the forlorn Adam learns how to defend himself, killing everyone except his beloved ‘papa’ and ‘mama’.
[show_more more=”your text” less=”your text” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] Unaware of his acts, Adam throws a little girl into the river, becoming persecuted by everyone in town, including a couple of ruthless cops who, unmercifully and in vain, attempt to murder him. He makes of an opulent German shepherd his best friend, and later on, joins the homeless Eddie Child (Tony Todd), a blind guitar player, who asks his prostitute friend, Wanda (Maya Erskine), to take care of the boy’s sexual initiation, leading to disastrous consequences.
From that particular moment on, the film becomes utterly drippy, taking on familiar directions that feel undistinguished and even less convincing.
A worthy aspect here is Xavier Samuel’s solid performance, well followed by Mr. Rose’s regular, Danny Huston, and the outstanding Carrie-Anne Moss, even appearing briefly.
As for the rest, this derivative “Frankenstein” was gruffly conceived, attempting to impress us through middle shots and close-ups of needles penetrating the human flesh, a creepily ulcerous face and body, brain crumbs taken from an open cranium, and extreme violence in its psychological and physical forms. All these assembled gory treats were slim in its degenerated ambition to create a remarkable adaptation of the gothic novel.
The Confirmation (2016)
Directed by: Bob Nelson
“The Confirmation” is an unfussy comedy-drama that relies on a down-to-earth script to provide us with a good time for relaxation, also taking the opportunity to relaunch Clive Owen who was distant from an interesting role since 2012, when he starred as an MI5 officer in the political thriller, “Shadow Dancer”.
Directed by Bob Nelson from his own screenplay, the film puts aside the mediocre, pathetic tones brought by the modern comedies in detriment of a sober and more realistic approach, in a story about a sensitive eight-year-old boy who shows a gorgeous complicity with his good-hearted yet alcoholic father.
The smart boy, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), despite confused about religion, is preparing himself psychologically to do, all at once, the first communion and the confirmation, within one week. At church, carrying a disarming innocence, he drives the priest crazy as he confesses a total absence of sins. His mother, Bonnie (Maria Bello), and father, Walt (Owen), who no longer live together, are waiting for him outside. Anthony is going to spend the weekend with his dad while Bonnie and her wealthy boyfriend, Kyle (Matthew Modine), go out of town. Walt, a down-on-his-luck carpenter who’s not a bad guy at all, is warned by his ex to stay away from alcohol, an old problem that is still not completely put away.
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The weekend brings restlessness for father and son, and not only because of the adult’s drinking problem. After finally being hired for a job, Walt realizes that his valuable toolbox, a legacy of his late father, was stolen from the back of his pickup. Moreover, he receives an eviction note, since he was unable to pay the rent on time, and his car breaks down in the middle of the street.
Breaking into Bonnie’s house and borrowing Kyle’s car, the penniless Walt and the gracious Anthony will undertake a persistent search throughout the town in order to find the thieves and recover the coveted tools.
A few respected ‘informers’ are contacted, cases of Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reborn Christian who let his kids play with real guns, and Drake (Patton Oswalt), who’s thrilled with the opportunity to play the private investigator and is in the center of the most hilarious situations.
Living from the perfect consonance between Owen and the young Lieberher, the story maintains an amiable disposition and an uninterrupted positive energy that never extinguishes.
Bob Nelson, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for the original screenplay of the extraordinary “Nebraska” (he lost for Spike Jonze), has here an enjoyable directorial debut at the age of 59. By putting into practice a pragmatic plan of action and assuming a subdued predisposition, he created a funny, malleable, optimistic, and well-intended film.
Even not breaking new ground and feeling impetuous in some of the plot’s resolutions, “The Confirmation” throws in feel-good vibrations and a handful of jokes that really make the grade.
My Golden Days (2015)
Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin
In “My Golden Days”, the French director Arnaud Desplechin brings us a coming-of-age tale focused on his most recurrent character, Paul Dedalus, once again played by the leading Mathieu Amalric. 20 years ago, the latter had embodied Dedalus in “My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument”, which is the sequel to this latest film. Mr. Amalric was also present in the 2008 comedy-drama, “A Christmas Tale”, but back then, the role of a very young Paul Dedalus was entrusted to Emile Berling.
Dedalus is a single, middle-aged French anthropologist who spent the last 10 years of his life in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and now is willing to return to France. However, at the airport, he’s confronted with the fact that there was another man in Australia who had exactly the same identity. Not surprised at all, Paul explains that this is a consequence of the political years of his youth, time when, in a very serious and committed way, he and his friend Marc Zylberberg, went on a school trip to Minsk, USSR, where they volunteered and were instructed to help Russian citizens to escape to Israel.
Paul puts his memory into work and progressively we are clarified about how he became involved in this fight, his traumatic childhood in Roubaix, and above all, the arduous relationship with Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet), the object of a penetrating love that sank its sharp teeth so deeply in his heart that, even nowadays, he carries its well-defined marks.
[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] The unsentimental Paul, compellingly played by Quentin Dolmaire in the adolescent phase, guides us through the adverse atmosphere lived at home after the death of his mother, the peculiarities of his siblings, and shortly after, fixates steadily in the despairs and anguishes that entangled Esther, the promiscuous sweet girl who couldn’t bear any of the other girls – including Paul’s sister – and always felt vulnerable despite having so many boys after her. All of a sudden, she switches from highly sociable to depressively lonely, from confident to frightened, and from popular to dependable. Her emotional state deteriorates more and more with the constant absences of Paul, who was studying in Paris.
In his maturity, Paul’s incessant examination of his own mistakes also finds culpability in Kovalki (Pierre Andrau), the friend who betrayed him with Esther. The fortuitous encounter between the former friends ended up showing Paul’s persistent bitterness in regard to the situation.
Despite this demeanor, don’t assume that Paul had never touched another girl when dating Esther. There was Gilberte, Esther’s older friend, who had a boyfriend at the time but couldn’t avoid letting her skirt slipping down her waist whenever he was around.
As always, Mr. Desplechin paints the picture with delicate strokes, conveying that sort of melancholy that feels very French. He’s a natural seducer, sometimes reflective, sometimes just slightly expansive in its formalism. Occasionally, we can sense a rigidness of processes and an almost puerile pose that swings between artsy and pretentious, which may be the reason why “My Golden Days” didn’t fully work in my eyes and isn’t as enchanting as “Kings & Queen” or “A Christmas Tale”. While some ‘truths’ seem genuine, other seem too poetically staged, and Mr. Desplechin, who co-wrote with Julie Peyr, keeps struggling in the face of this reality.
Still, one can’t deny the intimacy and complicity drawn by the young actors, or the gleam in Mr. Almaric’s eyes when reminiscing fundamental aspects of his story – family, friends, politics, sex, and an unforgettable love.
Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson
The piercing Icelandic drama, “Rams”, is a wonderful examination of obsession, bringing us an ironic tale in which two estranged brothers and sheep farmers compete avidly to win the annual competition for best ram that takes place in their tiny mountain village.
Gummi and Kiddi, magnificently played by Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson, respectively, have their houses placed at a very short distance. On the idyllic green fields that surround them, they breed the most robust sheep in Iceland, a tradition they took from their ancestors.
Due to unclear reasons, the unmarried brothers don’t speak to each other for 40 years, time when their parents decided to put the farm in the name of Gummi, a pacific, if sly, farmer who gets along with everyone in town. Kiddi is exactly the opposite, being anti-social, often rude, and constantly drowned in alcohol. Lately, he gets so drunk that his brother, who fears him, has to save him from dying frozen in the ditch. Kiddi has never thanked him and pays him back with a few more threats and harsh words.
[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] Even before the disappointing second position in the competition, Gummi, finds that his brother’s sheep are being fatally struck by a disease, which later on is confirmed as scrapie. Gummi promptly warns the authorities, which decide to exterminate all the animals after spotting two other sheep farms affected with the contagious disease. This drastic measure is necessary and irreversible, even taking into account that it’s also a huge financial setback and a trauma for the farmers who’ll have to destroy the tools they had been using, burn all the hay stored in their barns, and wait two long years in order to buy new sheep.
Apparently, all farmers acquiesce with the order, understanding the risks of a widespread contamination, except the crabby Kiddi, who refuses to cooperate in the cleaning.
Gummi decides not to wait for the authorities, and against the regulations, takes action by shooting 147 sheep with a pistol. After the painful practice and pretending to be emotionally ruined, he fools the sanitary inspectors, hiding his best ram and seven sheep in the cellar where he attempts reproduction.
Meanwhile, he manages to clean Kiddi’s barn after taking him to the hospital with another booze crisis.
After being discharged from the hospital, Kiddi discovers Gummi’s secret, and the story makes a complete U-turn. The brothers, in their uncontrolled obsession, decide to work together for the first time in order to save their prestigious animals.
Written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson, who’s also a skilled documentarian, the detailed and well-photographed “Rams” feels authentic and tragic.
Built with the proper tension and purpose, this moving drama may be seen as a lesson for life where the bad and the good intertwine. The unexpected ending, suggesting further thought, shows that sometimes the understanding and tolerance among people come too late and not always for the best reasons.