Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.
Mistress America (2015)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Acclaimed film director Noah Baumbach reunites with Greta Gerwig, once again co-writer and actress after the candid “Frances Ha” in 2012, to deliver one more of those special contemporary American comedies that has been making him a persistent mention in the genre. “Mistress America” embarks in the same spirit of “Frances Ha”, presenting a few true moments of genius when portraying the lively adventures of two women who just met in Manhattan: the lonely college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke), and her hyperactive hoped-for stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig). The temperate ‘Baby Tracy’ tries to get acquainted with the city, falls asleep in the classroom, and nourishes feelings for a colleague who let her down when he appears with a comically jealous new girlfriend. Tracy, much less impulsive, becomes totally dazzled, inspired, and influenced by Brooke, who in turn, is a creative ‘New Yorker’, a resident of Times Square, who doesn’t produce as much as she plans. The latter is the one injecting a kinetic force throughout the film that makes it talky, eventful, and accelerated. This different individualities work great in terms of narrative balance, making us look to these two new friends in a distinct manner. Their admiration and availability for each other are not only sweet but also salutary for both of them – just like connecting with real family. The film is packed with hilarious situations, colorfully shaped with both frontal and sarcastic tones, and enveloped with the energy of the city. However, and regardless the huge possibilities, I cannot hide a bit of frustration for not being able to consider it a masterwork. The simple reason is that the climax didn’t work so well for me. The scene when Brooke, at the house of her self-seeker friend Mimi Claire, finds out that her entertaining peculiarities are being used in Tracy’s fictional short story, turning the tables on everyone, was too staged (resembling “Carnage”), failing to convince in a crucial moment of a film that had already conquered me. If Lola Kirke was a revelation, Greta Gerwig was flawless, giving the best performance of her career.
Directed by: Kris Swanberg
“Unexpected” is a drama of circumstances, set in an inner city of Chicago. It stars Cobie Smulders and Gain Bean, respectively as a high school teacher and student, who coincidentally find out they’re pregnant during critical phases of their lives. The third feature film from Kris Swanberg, wife of the film director Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”), is fictional, despite the filmmaker is living in Chicago and formerly had been a schoolteacher. The film starts with Sam (Smulders), reading online the top ten symptoms of pregnancy and the description for a job as coordinator in a museum. It’s not difficult to guess that she was pregnant indeed, and the museum was nothing less than her dream job, which she applied without high hopes. More difficult to guess was that one of her most liveliest and promising students, Jasmine (Bean), was also pregnant. Clearly, these women have different realities and options, and in both cases something in their actual lives has to be sacrificed for the sake of the new ones that are coming. Sam has all the support of her boyfriend, John (Anders Holm), and the couple doesn’t hide the happiness when they get married in secret; the only factor still in discussion is if Sam agrees on being a stay-at-home mother. In turn, Jasmine, carrying a tough past on her shoulders, breaks up with her immature boyfriend and ponders giving up college. A true friendship is established between Sam and Jasmine as they offer each other help and support while learning from their differences. “Unexpected” is evenly loaded with realism and familiarity, which are the best and the worst in the film. The direction of Ms. Swanberg is earnest and avoids fluctuations, but the material, treated with indelible comfort, blocked my true emotions, reason why I never felt anxious or worried for the protagonists’ future. The most memorable scene, also nominated as the nastiest of the year, has to do with ‘drinking’ Cheetos.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
Directed by: Bill Condon
“Mr. Holmes” might not ring a bell for the less attentive, but if the name Sherlock was mentioned somewhere in the title, you would instantly guess that the film is about one of the most famous detectives in our planet. However, the year is 1947, and Sherlock Holmes, magnificently played by Sir Ian McKellen, is long-time retired with 93 years old, getting more and more debilitated, forgetful, and a fusion of emotional and a bit grumpy. Regardless these changes, he’s still polite, efficiently assertive when transmitting information, and conscious about his own errors from the past. Returned from a recent trip to Japan that brought him good and bad surprises, Mr. Holmes is happy to be at his farmhouse in the English countryside, where he solely has the company of his devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). The latter is very clever and shares the same enthusiasm for mystery cases and bees as the detective, who takes pleasure in teaching every detail of beekeeping while stimulates the boy’s perceptiveness about his own writings and those of his ex-partner, Dr. Watson. Nonetheless, not everything is easy, and the old Holmes struggles every single day with his memory and with a particular case that keeps coming to his rusty mind, involving a depressed woman called Anne Kelmot (Hattie Morahan). This is the second collaboration between McKellen and filmmaker Bill Condon, who directs with the same rigor and formalism that he has already accustomed us; the first one was 17 years ago, with the mesmerizing “Gods and Monsters”. Here, the heartfelt story, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”, is more about aging and how to learn from our experiences in life, than really solving a mysterious murder case. For this reason, “Mr. Holmes” might not be a good choice for the ones looking for puzzles and enigmas. It’s not a perfect film, but Mr. McKellen’s performance together with the undaunted message conveyed with gentle, resolute tones, makes it slightly above the average.
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