Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Good Movies.
Love and Friendship (2016)
Directed by: Whit Stillman
Country: Ireland / other
In “Love & Friendship”, Whit Stillman (“Damsels in Distress”) presents us a witty dramatization of Jane Austen’s epistolary novel ‘Lady Susan’, dated from 1871.
In this period romantic comedy, he pragmatically takes the first minutes to introduce the characters one by one, giving us, at the same time, a well-adjusted orientation in order to proceed with this funny tale.
Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a widow of questionable reputation, arrives in Churchill to stay some time with her in-laws while beginning a campaign in order to find a wealthy husband for her daughter, Federica (Morfydd Clark), and for herself.
She feeds the spreading rumors that her personal choice falls on Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), her sister-in-law’s attractive brother, with whom she engages in long conversations and strolls. He ends up deeply infatuated but is promptly rebuked by his father who is concerned about the family reputation and future.
[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] In the meantime, and invoking the fifth commandment: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’, which she mistakes by the fourth, the charming but scheming Lady Susan literally forces her daughter to accept marrying to the silly, chatty, wealthy, and hilarious Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), who aids his future mother-in-law with money and a new carriage. ‘Nobody knows the embarrassment of a young girl without a fortune’, she says. However, the bashful Federica is anguished with the idea and seeks Reginald to take the weight out of her chest.
The story takes a spin and evolves into unexpected directions, always carrying flattering tones, beneficial seductions, and polite conversations.
Moreover, the amusing “Love & Friendship” is brilliantly acted (Ms. Beckinsale and Mr. Bennett truly excel) and shot, under the attentive direction of Mr. Stillman who knows how to consciously place delicious characters within irresistible frames. The pic is constantly adorned with warm colors and the right props of the period.
Land and Shade (2015)
Directed by: Cesar Augusto Acevedo
Country: Colombia / other
Coming from Colombia and deserving special attention worldwide, “Land and Shade” was distinguished with 4 prestigious awards at Cannes (Golden Camera, France 4 Visionary Award, SACD Award, Grand Golden Rail) and also conquered other trophies in Mumbai, Thessaloniki, and San Sebastian. I must state that it justified all of them.
The writer/director, Cesar Augusto Acevedo, did a staggering work and is already marked as the next man to watch out due to this astounding debut feature.
The incisive drama gradually attains high emotional levels at the same time that catches the viewer with its powerful, well-guided storyline and striking imagery. Joining the celebrated Ciro Guerra, who has been the summit of the Colombian modern cinema with gems such as “The Wind Journeys” and “Embrace of the Serpent”, Mr. Acevedo assures a place in the podium of the country’s cinematic creators, together with William Vega, artisan of another outstanding debut, “La Sirga”.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] Don Alfonso (Haimer Leal), an old local farmer, returns to the secluded land he had abandoned many years ago when he was told it would be gradually discontinued of its landscape and factories to be turned into a huge sugar cane plantation. After 17 years, he agreed to go back in order to take care of his dying son, Gerardo (Edison Raigosa), a former sugar cane worker who has trouble breathing due to the continuous inhalation of dust and ashes along the years, consequence of the daily burn of the fields, which is a regular practice of the harvesting.
Besides his bedridden son, Alfonso meets his sweet 6-year-old grandson, Manuel (Felipe Cárdenas), and his sympathetic daughter-in-law, Esperanza (Marleyda Soto), and re-encounters his embittered ex-wife, Alicia (Hilda Ruiz), who keeps stubbornly refusing to leave the property she was able to save. In a cold way, she gives Alfonso all the instructions about the tasks to perform in her absence. While he’ll stay home cooking, cleaning, washing, and keeping an eye in Gerardo and Manuel, Alicia and Esperanza are going to the fields to work and bring some money home. This is an extremely tiresome and underpaid job, which clearly starts exhausting the women.
Realistic and constructive, “Land and Shade”, is made of dualities and doubts.
It’s simultaneously sad and vitalizing, portraying the dim indoors as gloomy and suffocating while some outdoor scenes, regardless the real circumstances, often pulse with light, a kite, and chirping birds. The doubts had to do with the choices of each character. Everyone ponders: staying or leaving? That’s the question.
To balance the agony, sacrifice, and misery of this broken family suddenly united by an imminent death, the film counterpoints with solidarity, humanity, and forgiveness.
This is one of the most intense movies I’ve seen lately, and both director and cast consciously and confidently paddle toward the right direction, escorting the film to a triumphant realm.
King Jack (2015)
Directed by: Felix Thompson
“King Jack”, an independent drama written and directed by the debutant Felix Thompson, shows enough good attributes to deserve a look.
The film isn’t flawless, but its characters are well shaped and the story tries to withdraw something positive from a set of negative experiences endured by a fatherless 15-year-old boy.
Jack (Charlie Plummer) is known in his modest little town as ‘Scab’, a nickname earned very early thanks to his big brother, Tom (Christian Madsen), with whom he maintains a distant and often strained relationship.
Jack has been terribly bullied along the years by Shane (Danny Flaherty), an older local who, together with his friends, chases him everywhere and beats him up hard.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] Despite trying to avoid Shane, Jack sticks to a rebellious attitude and answers back to the provocations through unimaginable ways. To give you an idea, the film opens with a scene where he writes in big letters the word ‘c**t’ on the home of the bully.
Apart from this persistent distress, Jack’s time is spent at school, where he fantasizes with the indifferent Robyn, or in the company of Harriet who has a crush on him.
The real adventure starts when his unfamiliar 12-year-old cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols) arrives to stay for the weekend. Jack immediately makes very clear he’s no babysitter, and smoking a cigarette with a stylish superiority, gives Ben all the instructions on how to behave and who not to talk to. Soon, they become buddies but their friendship is put to a test when Ben is made hostage and ‘tortured’ by the ignoble Shane. In the course of this extreme situation, he ultimately resorts to Tom to save his cousin. Anyway, he knows he’ll have to deal with brutal retaliation.
Mr. Thompson’s efforts in drawing something truthful were achieved thanks to a solid camerawork and the young Plummer’s performance. Even if no particularly fresh ways were used to examine the topic, there’s something that deserves to be explored in this coming-of-age film, this year’s audience winner at Sundance.
Honor Thy Father (2015)
Directed by: Erik Matti
“Honor Thy Father” is a pertinent Filipino drama/thriller about a family involved in a fraudulent financial scheme that unexpectedly puts their lives in danger. It also addresses religious fanaticism and deception, the gap between social classes, and criminal activity with a sharp eye, only to wobble slightly as it reaches the last part.
The director, Erik Matti, who already had shown favorable capabilities in the 2013 crime thriller “On the Job”, wrote the screenplay together with Michiko Yamamoto and gave the proper instructions to the popular Filipino actor John Lloyd Cruz who played the leading role.
Mr. Cruz gives an earnest performance as Edgar, a modest former miner who recently has been living in the city in great style and surrounded by luxury. Not because he did great at work or won the lottery, but because his wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), is thriving due to an elusive financial scheme launched by her father, that forces her to drag more investors into swampy ground.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”]
Kaye seems to have been born for that job. She loves to feel active when convincing people to invest, and superior when in the presence of large amounts of money.
Besides leading the scheme, Kaye is a fervent devotee of the Church of Yeshua whose header, bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III), tries to extract as much money (in the form of donations) as he can get from the parishioners.
The only one who attends the gatherings with suspicion and indifference is Edgar. However, he goes with the flow just to please his whimsical wife.
The couple’s happy days come to an end when Kaye’s father is assassinated and the money disappears. Naturally, the situation provokes the chaos among the wrathful villagers who claim their money back.
Since Kaye doesn’t have a solution for the problem, the crowd opts for looting her house. Not satisfied, a threatening couple takes further action, kidnapping their daughter, Angel (Krystal Brimner), as a warning, and then Kaye, as a guarantee that they will receive the six million they’re asking for.
Edgar has to think and act fast to retrieve his beloved wife alive. After a failed attempt to rob a bank, his only chance is to break into the church that had denied the financial help he needed.
“Honor Thy Father” is a claustrophobic tale that conveys all the distress felt by its characters, a punishment for their atrocious greediness. It’s also timeless because, sadly, scheming people and churches like the one described here are still spread around the world.
The pace increases as the intensity grows, but the film loses something in its last act where the action assumes preponderance, and the climax shows us how ignominious life can be sometimes.
Eye in the Sky (2015)
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Helen Mirren gives another remarkably centered performance in “Eye in the Sky”, where she plays Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya.
The intelligence has strong reasons to believe that a dangerous woman called Susan Helen Danford, a British citizen now radicalized by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, is hidden with her radical husband in Nairobi where they lead terrorist attacks from a well-identified house.
From the Northwood Headquarters in the UK, Powell supervises the delicate multinational mission, counting on the information provided by the American drone surveillance team that operates from Nevada, and Farah (Barkhad Abdi), a Kenyan undercover agent who is stationed in Nairobi and controls a spy insectothopter (a miniature drone with the form and size of a dragonfly) that is intended to invade the terrorists’ refuge.
Besides confirming Danford’s identity, the drone also shows that a suicide attack is about to be carried out. This particular circumstance impels Col. Powell to modify the mission’s classification from ‘capture’ to ‘kill’.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] After a complicated process to get clearance from her superiors, Powell proceeds with the mission, instructing the USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) to advance with his Reaper drone and destroy the target.
However, Watts sees a little girl selling bread right in front of the house and refuses to obey the orders.
Negotiations begin in order to minimize collateral damage, but assuring that the terrorists don’t escape. Question: Does the life of an innocent child worth more than the death of these priority targets?
Slightly better than “Good Kill”, Andrew Niccol’s 2014 drone thriller, “Eye in the Sky” is imbued of a tension that is already familiar.
Director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”), working from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, seemed to have planned everything so that the ending could reach our hearts. Despite this sensation, the film succeeds by presenting two valid sides: one didactic, which shows today’s modern technology and warfare clinical procedures; and another, far more unsettling, that shows little respect for human lives.
The Ones Below (2015)
Directed by: David Farr
The effective thriller, “The Ones Below”, deals with two neighbor couples expecting their first child and the terrible happenings that follow the loss of a baby.
The Londoners Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore), after giving it a good thought, are going to have a child and are feeling great about it. When not working, they carefully plan every detail while moving into the upper flat of a townhouse that was divided horizontally into two.
The ones who live below are the English-Finnish Theresa (Laura Birn), and her successful husband, Jon Baker (David Morrissey). They’re living a dream since she’s finally pregnant after seven years attempting to conceive.
Kate develops a strange curiosity for Theresa, who seems very sympathetic, carefree, and enjoying a stupendous phase in her marriage and life.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] The women eventually become closer, but the first meeting of the couples comes draped in tragedy. Kate invites the Bakers to dinner, but the couple doesn’t seem so happy as before. Theresa shows to be unstable and drinks a few glasses of wine, despite forbidden by Jon, who in turn, adopts a judgmental posture that visibly bothers the hosts. He acts violently after Theresa falls down the steep stairs. This anguishing incident makes Theresa lose the fetus.
From this point on, the couples cut relations and the Bakers depart to Germany. They return a few months later, willing to forget what happened and ready to make amends with their neighbors. Theresa even shows availability to take care of Kate’s newborn, Billy. However, abnormal behaviors and frightening occurrences put Kate and Justin alert, as the story grows creepy in its conclusions, embracing an impenetrable darkness.
Even without blowing your mind with his statement, David Farr, who co-wrote the screenplay of “Hanna” five years ago, had a favorable directorial debut. This slow-burning thriller was able to cause a good impression and got my attention from start to finish, also thanks to the consummate performances of the well-selected cast.
Directed by: James Bird
“Honeyglue”, a lugubrious romance written and directed by James Bird, got trapped in its own melodramatic tones and couldn’t free itself from that sticky viscosity.
Fastidiously overstaged, the film never manages to convince and takes a steep decline after just a few minutes.
Morgan (Adriana Mather) and Jordan (Zach Villa) introduce themselves through video footage, adding that what we’re seeing is a digital love letter to each other and a farewell statement. Both have their heads shaved and they convey both assurance and a weird sense of fate.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”]
The narrative immediately winds back to tell their peculiar love story.
The couple met at a nightclub where Morgan, who was only given three months to live due to a galloping brain tumor, gets super curious about Jordan, a boy dressed as a girl. It was her birthday, and he seemed as much attracted to her as she was to him. Despite the instant chemistry between them, she gave him the wrong phone number while he stole her wallet. The next day, Jordan regrets the bad deed and pays her a visit to return her belongings. However, her parents get shocked with the way he dresses and talks.
Despite this prejudice, the couple falls in love and decides not only to get married, but also live the three months left doing everything that might come to their minds. The enthusiasm leads them to rob a little store, to pay a visit to Jordan’s estranged mother, and to become the center of the attention in a bar – the most contrived scene of the film.
I can’t find a good reason to recommend “Honeyglue”.
If a story of this nature doesn’t touch you in the heart is because something is wrong with it. The ideas of tolerance, acceptance, and love are conveyed with a deplorable lack of freshness, likely because Mr. Bird has never found the adequate bright tones to do better than overload us with predictability and tedium. Actually, here, the word bright can only be associated to the tonality of its cinematography.
Couple in a Hole (2015)
Directed by: Tom Geens
Country: Belgium / France / UK
“Couple in a Hole”, Tom Geens’ directorial sophomore feature, is a haunting experience somewhere between the mystery and the psychological drama, whose tones are absorbed with a certain apprehension.
Doing much with little, the Belgian writer/helmer invites us to peek at a Scottish couple, John (Paul Higgins) and Kara (Kate Dickie), who live like two cavemen, secluded in a French mountain, after they had lost their son in a tragic accident.
Apart from the civilization, which is not so far from the hole they inhabit, the couple barely eats to survive and is considered in danger with the approximation of the winter, which always brings an agonizing cold and devastating hunger.
John pursues rabbits and picks herbs, mushrooms, and occasionally worms that his wife gobbles up with pleasure. Kara does the opposite. She rarely leaves the hole because of anxiety and panic. However, she’s making an effort to get out more with the help of her forbearing husband whose true will is to get back home, abandoning that place forever. Lucid of their situation, John is visibly tired of that life, but the highly traumatized Kara, who refuses any help from strangers and often suffers from hallucinations, stops his intentions. She says she feels the presence of her son and can’t leave. The anguish took her mind.[show_more more=”I can handle the truth…” less=”…Hide the truth” color=”#3F5D89″ list=”»”] When happily celebrating a rainy day outside, Kara is bitten by a poisonous spider, a situation that requires an urgent application of medicine. This setback forces John to look for an antidote in the village, getting the desired help from Andre (Jérôme Kircher), a stubborn but generous local farmer who had tried to establish contact with him before. After that, Andre keeps coming to the mountain in order to offer them food. Famished, John tries to cast him away, but ultimately cannot resist the homemade delicacies. The two men become friends but their wives, for different reasons, oppose vehemently to this connection.
The film pulsates with uncanny vibes, thanks to the stimulating performances and the ominous woods that overload even more the shadowy story.
The revelations and disclosures are a bit too predictable for us to elevate this indie thriller to a superior category. Nevertheless, mysterious energies are successful emanated from the scenes and a fair watch is made certain.
Mr. Geen is a director to keep an eye on.