Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.
Begin Again (2013)
Directed by: John Carney
“Begin Again” combines romance and music with passion, being undeniably irresistible on one side, but also too much ‘feel-good’ and neat on the other, despite the messy lives it tries to give shape. The film, also an ode to the city of New York, was directed by John Carney who already had joined the same ingredients in 2006, with the much triumphant “Once”. Greta (Keira Knightley) is an extremely talented songwriter who lives in the shadow of her boyfriend, the famous singer Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, lead vocalist of the band Maroon 5). Dave only thinks in his success, and while in a tour in L.A., he has an adventure with another woman, provoking the rupture of the couple. Sad and lonely, Greta has the chance to perform one of her songs in a bar, and is seen by Dan, an alcoholic musical agent who, moments earlier, had been fired from the record label he had helped to establish. Immediately, Dan gets stunned with what he’s listening to, and a personal and professional bond will arise, leading them to a set of important decisions for their lives. “Begin Again” can be seen as a positive movie in every aspect, but stumbles heavily when depicts Dan’s family, relegating the film to not so genuine places, which might have had more tragic consequences, but the amazing performances by Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo made me forget about it. Despite its flaws and magnified sweetness, “Begin Again” assures precious moments of fun and provides us with captivating pop songs, enough material to recommend it and ignore its main slips.
Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Country: Ireland / UK
Miles away from the cheerfulness and hilarity of “The Guard”, “Calvary” is another stimulating effort from English-born (of Irish descent) filmmaker John Michael McDonagh, this time in a dark drama with religious connotations. The film starts with a man confessing to a priest he was raped by another priest as a child. He asks which remedy will ease his pain and threatens to kill the priest next Sunday; the priest nothing has to say to him at the moment. The well-natured priest is Father James Lavelle who grieves with the problems of the inhabitants of his small Irish country town, while hosts his vulnerable daughter, Fionna, after a suicide attempt. Then we are introduced to a lot of problematic different characters. Some of them are connected with evil forces, some of them are really repented of their sins, and others are just good souls trying to balance an unbalanced world. As Father James is going through his calvary we wonder if he will definitively have to be sacrificed for the sins of others and his church, or if he will be able to help such desperate souls. The film exposes loss of faith, the roles and responsibilities we have in this world, and reaches us with forgiveness, the final and necessary conclusion for such a dark film. McDonagh’s direction was praiseworthy often using close-ups to emphasize the characters feelings, and Brendan Gleeson’s performance was compelling enough to make you want to see this film, even considering a slow start that only gains bigger proportions in its last third. “Calvary” won the Berlinale’s Panorama prize attributed by the Ecumenical Jury.
Directed by: Hilton Lacerda
Love is free and censorship is severe in “Tattoo” aka “Tatuagem”, writer-director Hilton Lacerda’s debut fictional feature film. Set in Pernambuco, Recife, in the well defined political context of 1978, the film starts to introduce us with ‘Chão de Estrelas’, a cabaret and night club where theater, poems, dance, and music in the forms of traditional fanfares, samba and Brazilian popular music, compose the subversive enjoyment and freedom of expression censored by a feared military dictatorship. Cléssio is the choreographer of the show and also performer, while Paulete is the real star of the company, an expressive exhibitionist who gets jealous when his sister’s boyfriend, an 18-year-old soldier, gets involved in a torrid gay romance with Clécio. The latter manages to bring all the crew of the show to live in a big house, in a sort of commune, including his partner Deusa and their son, Tuca. The film, in all its libertinism, is based on jealousy and unstable relationships, at the same time that tries to get a hand on the political situation and the repression lived at the time, an aspect that was not so well accomplished. A restless camera moves from one side to the other, capturing the visual richness and warm colors of the places, in a direction and sound design that were a sight for sore eyes. “Tattoo” counts with impeccable performances by Irandhir Santos, Rodrigo Garcia and Jesuita Barbosa, mixing moments of seriousness, flamboyance, anarchy, and humor. The film achieved local success at Rio de Janeiro, Gramado and São Paulo film festivals.
Alien Abduction (2014)
Directed by: Matty Beckerman
The Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon that can be observed in North Carolina, served as inspiration for “Alien Abduction”, the directorial debut feature from producer Matty Beckerman. It starts claiming that what we’re going to see is leaked footage from the US Air Force that found a camcorder from 11-year-old Riley who disappeared with his family when camping in that area. In a time where found-footage films are becoming tedious and banal, “Alien Abduction” doesn’t bring any creativity or novelty to the psychedelic digital effects and noises that follow the blurred and shaky camera. While the camera movements continues to annoy, the clichés used in the script are numerous, including the family lost on mountain roads in a foggy day, driving a car that is running out of gas, and threatened by mysterious creatures that we only have a glimpse, without having the possibility of asking for help. The concept is borrowed from a thousand other films and “Alien Abduction” becomes nothing else but a tedious exercise in the genre. A totally new approach and storytelling were needed to escape the cathartic panicking of the characters and all those gimmicks that the film relies and just don’t work anymore. I cannot praise the flat performances, which didn’t help to improve this thriller of being formulaic, fatiguing and extremely slavish in its execution. There are very few things to recommend in one of the most dismal abductions in the history of cinema. It was simply too vulgar to be worthy of our time.
Directed by: Alex Walker
“Fossil” is the directorial debut feature film from Alex Walker, who also wrote, edited and produced. The story focuses in a married couple, Paul and Camilla, whose increasingly cold relationship take them to try an injection of fresh air when they decided to spend some days in a secluded house in the French countryside. Soon we learn that something is wrong, since the visibly distant Camilla says she needs some space and is taking the birth control pill against her husband’s will. Suddenly, their vacation plans will be altered when another couple, Richard and Julie, is caught using the swimming pool without authorization. Camilla, needing different people to talk, promptly invites them to stay while Paul is very disturbed with the situation. Anxiety and pressure will increase among the quartet, and tragedy will mark this small vacation. Not totally fresh in concept and with a flawed script, “Fossil” lives from embarrassing situations and tension (sexual included), which were never enough to make me absorbed in what it wanted to show. In the last 20 minutes, its dramatic tones are transformed in thriller, taking us to a dark ending and making us wonder what will be the future of Paul and Camilla, who added another problem to their tainted relationship without resolving the ones they already had. The picture was shot in warm tones and the performances were consistent, but like Paul and Camilla, the story needed some kind of freshness since there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, aggravated with a few scenes depicted with disregard.
The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013)
Directed by: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
Italian TV star, Pierfrancesco Diliberto a.k.a. Pif, has his directorial debut with the valid but not essential, “The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer”, a romantic comedy mixed with politics and crime, in which he also stars. Arturo, the film narrator and central character, is a young boy whose first word was mafia. In fact, the film shows that the Sicilian Mafia, in one way or another, always had considerable impact in his life. Since a young child, he nourished a sweet passion for his classmate Flora, but the dangerous circumstances lived in Palermo led them to lost contact for several years. Misunderstood by his father, he gains an early fascination for the chairman of the board and future president, Giulio Andreotti (amazingly depicted in the film “Il Divo” by the master Sorrentino), after listening on TV to one of his speeches. This passion for politics and the curiosity for the criminal actions lived in the city he was born, will push him into journalism. Arturo will go through some uneasy incidents before an unexpected reencounter with Flora in political circumstances. “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” was not so funny as I was expecting, but smartly exposes in a more lighthearted than profound manner, a good slice of the agitated history of Palermo and its spirit lived in the eighties and beginning of nineties. Diliberto achieved much better results by exposing the assassinations perpetrated by the Mafiosi and how the people dealt with them, than properly in the romantic side, which required some more seasoning to better engage. Arturo’s final message was much appreciated, though.
Directed by: Daniel Grou
“Miraculum” was conceived by two minds utterly connected to Canadian TV series: Gabriel Sabourin, actor and writer, and Daniel Grou, the director. However, this wasn’t the first time that the two collaborators work in feature film, and “Miraculum” diverged from that format for its own good. The celebration of love, the end of love, religious fanaticism, and even hope, are presented with a cheerless posture. All of these aspects were coordinated with an imminent fatalism, turning it into a pertinent, reflective exercise, which in the impossibility of surprising us in its whole, was capable of sparking the debate about Jehovah’s witnesses beliefs, the difficulty of making irreversible decisions, and the mysteries of fate. The multi-narrative encompasses eight different people, who momentarily interconnect – Etienne, slowly dying of leukemia, refuses to receive blood in accordance with the strict principles of his Jehovah family, while his girlfriend breaks the rule; a man who returns from Venezuela loaded with drugs inside him and eager to meet with his young niece with whom he has a strong bond; an elderly couple, both employees in a casino, who leave their marriages behind to embark in a life together; a powerful businessman, lost in his addiction for gambling, is left for good by his alcoholic wife. Structured in an involving way and demonstrating well-controlled camera movements, this cerebral drama counts with the actor, writer and director, Xavier Dolan, in its powerful ensemble cast. Though not every little story (and character) has the same impact, “Miraculum” still provides us with a few thoughtful moments.
Yves Saint Laurent (2014)
Directed by: Jalil Lespert
“Yves Saint Laurent” is an uninspired biopic of the famous French fashion designer whose happiness in life didn’t match the success achieved in his professional career. Directed by Jalil Lespert, who also has a parallel career as actor, the film was loosely based on the book by Laurence Benaim, using a compromising narrative. The episodes, depicted in a cold way, follow one another without giving us many motives to care about the characters. For several times I thought it would become interesting and would grow as a whole, but I was wrong. The story starts with Laurent being hired by the distinguished designer Christian Dior, and then taking a prominent position in Dior’s company after his death. Suffering from frequent nervous depressions, he is fired and takes the opportunity to open his own creative fashion brand. Nothing of this would seem possible without the help of his lover Pierre Bergé, the film’s narrator, with whom he had a complicated relationship filled with betrayals and little revenges from both sides. Pierre decided to deal with his jealousy by having a sexual episode with Victoire, a model who had been proposed to marry Laurent in the beginning of his career. In turn, years later, Laurent falls in love with Jacques de Bascher, a socialite who had a long-term relationship with another recognized fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. This love, along with an eternal dissatisfaction, will push Saint Laurent to a spiral of drugs and alcohol – he was right when said ‘apart from my work, I feel lost’. Too formal, “Yves Saint Laurent” uses the word elegance too many times, but is emotionally detached, regardless the thorough performance by Pierre Niney.