Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.
Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by: Gia Coppola
“Palo Alto” is a self-confident debut feature on writing/direction for Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, Gia Coppola, based on the short stories by James Franco, who also stars in the film. It addresses juvenile problems both with clarity and charm, focusing on a few interesting characters who are ready to experiencing whatever life may throw at them, and finally decide what path they want to go. April is a sweet girl who has a crush for Terry but let herself be trapped by her deceitful soccer coach. Terry is also in love with April, but during a night drinking party he screwed up his chances with her, when drunk, he allowed himself to be grabbed by Emily, a lonely girl who just wants to fall in love with someone and is always available for every boy around. Finally, Terry’s best friend, Fred, is an insane misfit who no one gives credit, bringing trouble everywhere he goes. There’s so much going on in this well-observed drama that I almost didn’t notice the time passing. From start to finish, I was taken by the powerful subtleness of its exposures, and was amazed by the perfect light and color of Autumn Durald’s cinematography. In spite of its dreamy tones, “Palo Alto” is far from a sweet look at teenage conducts, giving us enough motives to appreciate but also to think about it. Above all, it’s a film about choices and even if not entirely new, in my eyes it seemed pretty fresh. Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff and Val Kilmer’s son, Jack Kilmer, gave noteworthy performances.
The Republic of Two (2013)
Directed by: Shaun Kosta
If you like romance and complex relationships, “The Republic of Two”, Shaun Kosta’s debut drama can be the film for you. In spite of the huge differences of personality and behavior, Tim and Caroline are much in love. When they decide to live together, those differences will seem bigger and doubts will be part of their day-to-day life. Tim is applying for medical school without putting much effort on it, while Caroline has a steady job but doesn’t quite know what she wants to do in the future, even after being promoted. He is more social, active, immature in certain aspects, and impulsive, needing space for his friends and for his own things. She is more reserved, sensitive, and insecure, needing attention every time. Moody states, quarrels and misunderstandings soon become part of the routine, and the highs and lows in the relationship put their chemistry on halt, eventually leading to a beneficial separation. Brent Bailey and Janet Montgomery were so convincing that was hard to find a culprit here. If their actions were understandable, their problems seemed very real, like a slice of life itself where it’s imperative to live and go through several experiences to finally learn something. Addressed with honesty and tenderness, the film trembled in the last moments, but Shaun Kosta knew exactly where and how to create juicy situations and addressed them with heart. Who never went through all of this in a relationship? “The Republic of Two” is a funny little indie drama that stands above many other films of the genre.
Directed by: Kat Candler
In Kat Candler’s promising new feature film, “Hellion”, delinquency and family drama are mixed with salutary doses of sport. Despite far from outstanding, the film can be followed with interest, providing us with a sensitive story enhanced by rich performances from Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, and the two kids Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner. 13-year-old Jacob (Wiggins) is a motocross enthusiast who is seen as a troublemaker in his rural Texas town, dragging his 10-year-old brother, Wes (Garner), to street rebel actions that includes smashing cars with bats during football games, set things on fire, and all that kind of immature behaviors proper of his age. However, his hostility comes from the fact that he feels abandoned by his drunken father, Hollis (Paul), who still couldn’t get over his wife’s death. Hollis isn’t harmful or rude to his kids, he shows to be affective and worried about them; he just doesn’t have control over the situations, being unable to become a good example and gain their respect. When the Child Protective Services takes Wes away from the house, placing him with his aunt Pam (Lewis), an open conflict will arise between siblings-in-law, and Hollis will make a huge effort to change his life style. The occasionally overdramatic tones in the third act are not welcome, but “Hellion” has an engaging strong script that refuses to leave us empty-handed. It was awesome to watch how this family struggled to get together, assuming responsibility for their actions. Candler has some aspects to work on, but this one let me curious regarding her next move.
The Cold Lands (2013)
Directed by: Tom Gilroy
Tom Gilroy wrote and directed “The Cold Lands”, his sophomore feature film and a sensitive drama that could have been set up differently for better. The story follows Atticus, a 13-year-old boy who lives in upstate New York with his controlling mother, Nicole, in very peculiar conditions. Atticus shows to be a lonely boy, without friends of his age around to play, and dependent of his strict mother who lives concerned about his education, limiting his scope of action. Nicole was already giving some signs of being sick, but when she dies unexpectedly, Atticus runs to the forest in shock. He starts imagining the rebukes of his mother, and frequently observes other apparently happy families – ‘do you think you would be happy living like this?’, his mother asks in his head. In one of the nights spent in the forest, he bumps into Carter, an elusive drifter whose main concern is watering his pot plants. An improbable friendship will arise and Atticus seems to adapt in perfection to his new wandering life, snapping out of the torpor he was in. Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography ended up being the strongest aspect of “The Cold Lands”, whose approach would have achieved better results if less idyllic and contemplative and more compelling, penetrating even more into the characters, and providing a more resolved pace in order to excel. In spite of observant and well acted, Gilroy’s drama is only half-satisfying, lacking boldness in its script and failing to stir any true emotion.
The Treatment (2014)
Directed by: Hans Herbots
As much suspenseful as convoluted, “The Treatment” was based on the novel by the British crime-writer Mo Hayder, addressing a revolting subject matter such as pedophilia. Hans Herbot’s thriller, despite gorgeously shot and structured in a way to intrigue, doesn’t hide here and there some TV connotations, a fact that derives from the fact that Herbot has been strictly related to TV series since the beginning of his career in 1993. The story follows Nick Cafmeyer, a Federal Police chief inspector who lives haunted by the abduction and disappearance of his younger brother when he was a child. The principal suspect, Ivan Plettinckx, strangely claims to be the author of the crime, writing letters stating that Nick’s brother was his lover for several years. When an 8 year-old boy is reported missing and found dead in the top of a tree, Nick rekindles memories of his brother’s case. As the investigation proceeds, the word ‘troll’ is mentioned several times, adding a supernatural nature to the story, while a diversity of suspects are considered and questioned, including the kid’s father, a swimming teacher, and a woman who was accomplice of her brother’s sexual crimes. Along the tortuous path towards the dark truth, the right levels of tension are taken down by complex connections involving the numerous characters, all of them showing mysterious behaviors. The plot, not so neat as it was supposed to be, along with its dubious conclusions, most likely would have given a better TV series than a feature film. Shocking without being rude, “The Treatment” still managed to provide a few good moments of suspense.
Directed by: John Curran
The always-interesting Australian filmmaker, John Curran (“Praise”, “The Painted Veil”), returns with “Tracks”, a biographical drama set in warm colors and inspired on Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her 1700 miles journey across the Australian desert towards the Indian ocean. Mia Wasikowska very consciously incorporates the lonely adventurer, who travelled in the company of four camels and her inseparable dog. Inspired by her deceased father, Robyn started planning the trip in 1975, moving to Alice Springs to learn survival techniques in the desert and how to work with camels. In 1977, with the sponsor of National Geographic Magazine, she initiates the trip, occasionally followed by the talkative photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), assigned to cover the adventure. She seemed disturbed with his presence but despite of her natural detachment, showed not to be restrained when the need of human contact knocked at the door. Her anti-social character was simply a shield of protection (she often recalls childhood), and she eventually admits she’s lonely and suffering because of that. Along the trip, the help from some locals will be precious, but Robyn will have to face both good and bad experiences on her own. The pacific, relaxed atmosphere is broken with brief moments of tension, so crucial to keep the viewer’s interest alive. Curran’s secret for success was merely reporting the facts, using its natural joys and sadness, confidence and doubts, without the usual stratagems to impress. Even the romance seemed authentic and sober, while the finale became very refreshing in every sense.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (2013)
Directed by: Sam Fleischner
“Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” is one of the most compelling dramas recently released in the US, depicting the perilous adventure of Ricky, an autistic young boy who gets trapped in the huge New York City subway system. Ricky lives in Queens with his undocumented immigrant mother, Mariana, and his older sister, Carla. His father is absent working upstate and Mariana has to manage everything by herself. She is perfectly aware of her son’s special needs but even though she tries by all means that he remains in public school. Certain day, the reckless Carla decides to wander with her best friend Sara after school, leaving Ricky by himself. Disoriented, he will spend a few days lost in the dark labyrinthine underground, managing to eat, drink, sleep and relieve himself, even if not always in a conscious or planned way. At home, the helpless Mariana alternates between despair and hope, while Carla slowly seems to gain some conscience of her actions. Capturing the multicultural diversity of the big city through an often-blurry lens of autumnal pale grey tones, confident director Sam Fleischner, who also shares a career as cinematographer, was able to put up more tension than a large number of horror movies and create genuine dramatic moments without overdoing them. The simple yet sensational script was co-written by the habitual sound mixer, Micah Bloomberg, along with Rose Lichter-Marck. Debutant trio of main actors did a wonderful job, in a film that won’t be easily forgotten, also working as a call of attention for those who look without seeing.
Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013)
Directed by: Mohammad Rasoulof
Everybody knows what’s happening to the movies coming from Iran, an authoritarian regime that imposes a tight censorship to the media. Mohammad Rasoulof is one of those persecuted filmmakers whose six films were never exhibited in his country of origin. By watching his latest film, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn”, we understand why the Iranian authorities were so concerned about the film and why Rasoulof was arrested in 2010 along with Jafar Panahi, another acclaimed director who refuses to shut his mouth. The film adopts a relentless narrative to tell the story of two men hired by the government with the mission of killing a writer without leaving marks. Furthermore, they have to do whatever is needed to take possession of a compromising manuscript and all its copies. The unstable but methodical ways used by the killers conditioned somehow the pace of the film, which takes its time to show how these illegal operations are carried out. The most interesting thing is to realize the motives of one of the killers who only thinks in earning some money for his sick kid. More political than entertaining, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn” is hard to watch and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but its socio-political denunciations are extremely important to let the world know how these regimes of fear operate in the shadow. Rasoulof assumes a straightforward direction, revealing harsh realities instead of trying to thrill us. For obvious reasons, the cast and crew refused to have their names exhibited in the final credits.
Rob the Mob (2014)
Directed by: Raymond de Felitta
Set in New York City in the early 90’s, “Rob The Mob” was inspired on the true story of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva (Tommy and Rosie), a criminal couple who decides to rob several social clubs owned by the mob. After spending 18 months in the hole for robbing a flower store on Valentine’s day, superstitious Tommy finds his beloved, practical, yet a bit slow, Rosie, clean and with a steady job in a debt-collecting agency whose owner, a former convict himself, gives second chances to ex-cons. This is Tommy’s golden opportunity to lead an honest new life. Can he do it? The answer is no, because through John Gotti’s trial, he found out a way to rob the mob and avenge his father’s murder, a trauma follows him everywhere. Counting with Rosie’s help, the strategy consists in ripping-off a series of Mafia’s clubs where he learned guns where strictly forbidden. By their actions, they will be helping a reputed reporter to identify the members of the criminal organization, a task he had been working for 30 years, at the same time that their lives are getting more and more exposed. Directed by Raymond de Felitta (“City Island”) from Jonathan Fernadez’s script, “Rob the Mob” does better than dramatize the events, it takes advantage to withdraw some good fun of them. With some foolish scenes becoming funny, this comedy of crime turns out to be entertaining and very well performed by Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda. It was sufficiently eventful and its characters were particularly interesting to worth a look.