It’s hard to find a more reliable performer than Glenn Close. The six-time Oscar nominee (should have won for Fatal Attraction) can be equally believable as a take-no-prisoners lawyer, the head of intergalactic police corps, and Homer Simpson’s mom.
The Wife gives Close a different showcase, one that asks from her to repress her emotions until it’s not physically possible. It’s a stunning piece of acting, one than someone with less experience wouldn’t be able to pull off.
The beginning of The Wife is dream-like. Literary lion Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), one of those American writers who think of themselves as gods, is awaken by a call from the Swedish Academy. He has been awarded the Nobel Prize, the perfect capper for a prolific career. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wife Is Not that Into You”
There was a time most kid movies had the same message: “Be yourself”. It was vague and debatable, but suited any story. Thanks to Pixar, young audiences have become more sophisticated, and good nature platitudes don’t cut it anymore.
Other studios have followed suit. For a moment, WB’s Smallfoot really pushes the envelope by peddling scientific experimentation over blindly following tradition (religion?). Of course it backtracks at the end (there is reason behind every stupid ritual), but how amazing is that a kid-friendly flick is teaching healthy skepticism.
The rest of Smallfoot is amiable slapstick that owes a lot to Looney Tunes, at least in aesthetics and disposition. Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a good-natured yeti hoping to take over his dad on the task of awakening the sun (as you do). His first try goes awry and unexpectedly puts him in touch with the “smallfoot”, a tiny, hairless creature considered a myth by the community’s leader, the Stonekeeper (Common).
Banished for questioning the sacred stones, Migo becomes determined to prove the existence of the smallfoot. To his surprise, his belief is shared by other yetis, including his love interest, the Stonekeeper’s daughter (Zendaya).
Smallfoot’s main problem is inconsistency. It has interesting ideas, which are shelved for a good chunk of the movie to give way to mildly amusing pratfalls and banter. There are a number of cutesy songs that halt the movie’s momentum. Only one registers, a rather cutting solo by Common about the joys of living in denial.
The unassuming flick smuggles other interesting messages: It criticizes the “fear of the other” (peddled by right-wingers across the globe) and how it deprives us of access to different cultures. Smallfoot also believes in a community’s ability to choose its destiny, as opposed to be kept in the dark for its own good. Good on you, movie. Three planets.
For better or for worse, historic depiction of the 60’s is often limited to the social movements in America. The slick documentary My Generation breaks with tradition by focusing on the same period in England: Unburdened by the Vietnam war and decades of civil rights trampling, social revolution in the UK was more about breaking with the social order and the ways of the old guard.
Narrated and anchored by Michael Caine, My Generation mixes beautiful footage of London from over half a century ago, stunning photographies, and testimonies of emblematic game-changers, like Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithful, and Twiggy.
The doc’s thesis is a well-thought one: The rigid class system was asking for a revolution and got one, courtesy of a younger generation less hung up on status than their parents. England’s working class found itself represented in movies, fashion, and music. Success by merit was suddenly a thing, same as living on your own and sexual liberation.
While the approach is somewhat slight and purely from a pop culture perspective, My Generation gets the point across. Michael Caine does more than just read from a piece of paper: An actor who found his way into era-defining films (Alfie comes up often), Caine experienced the revolution from the inside (a cockney actor turned leading man) and delivers a compelling running commentary. He also conducts the interviews with his peers, although we are only treated to sound bites. An odd decision, considering the power footage of Caine and McCartney reminiscing would have had.
The tone of My Generation is relentlessly positive until the final quarter, when the establishment strikes back by pinpointing the use of drugs as the movement’s fatal character flaw. While I appreciate the tidy 85-minute length, the documentary tends to oversimplify and whitewash the decade. Some texture would have been appreciated.
It comes as no surprise the soundtrack of My Generationis a delight: From The Kinks to The Beatles, from rather obvious choices (The Who’s “My Generation”) to deeper cuts (Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”), this is a movie you can listen, as well as watch. Three planets.
The Most Beautiful Couple (Germany/France, 2018): One would be hard-pressed to find a more harrowing opening act than the one that gets The Most Beautiful Couple started. While vacationing in Mallorca, Malte and Liv’s cottage is invaded three wrongdoers, one of which sexually assaults Liv, while the other two force Malte to watch.
Cut to two years later. Liv seems to have put the incident behind her, while Malte harbours a deep resentment over not have been able to defend his wife when it counted. An opportunity materializes when Malte spots the rapist one night: Revenge seems at his reach, but it would also mean bringing back the trauma Liv worked so hard to overcome.
The Most Beautiful Couple is not Death Wish. Liv and Malte are solid characters whose actions are within the realm of possibility… for the most part. The way they deal with trauma is explored in depth, and the movie benefits greatly of strong turns by Maximilian Brückner and Luise Heyer as the couple in question. Writer/director Sven Taddicken even dares to make the perpetrator a well-rounded character. The denouement feels chaotic and bit far-fetched for such an expertly calibrated drama, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. Three and a half stars. Distribution: One wishes.
Kingsway (Canada, 2018): An almost dire effort by writer/director Bruce Sweeney, Kingsway has a serious tonality problem that’s not even the biggest issue. An emotionally stunted family tackles relationship problems in the most inept way imaginable. The son (Jeff Gladstone) is clinically depressed and the fact his wife is cheating on him doesn’t help. The daughter (Camille Sullivan) is irascible and not particularly good at relating to other humans. The mother (Gabrielle Rose) is slightly more centered. Then again, she raised the children.
Midway through, Kingsway changes directions from aimless comedy to psychological drama, and I’m still enduring the whiplash. The dialogue is basic at best and only Gabrielle Rose is able to make it work. The cinematography is particularly poor, at times reaching film school nadir. There are a few laughs to be had, but overall, this is the kind of movie in which an obviously attractive women goes to bars hoping to meet Mr. Right Now and fails at it. Somebody, please introduce Bruce Sweeney to Tinder. One and a half star. Distribution: TBD.
You know the drill. When a movie falls through the cracks, we catch it in the Lightning Round.
Destroyer: Nicole Kidman goes through the procedural motions in a bad wig. Gritty, well executed, but nothing else there.
Nekrotronic: Monica Bellucci turns the internet a portal for demons. Goofy and inventive. Unfortunately gets lost in the minutia.
Dogman: Italians do social realism like no one else. The story of a put-upon dog groomer standing up to his bully gets more tracking than anybody could imagine. A must.
Hotel Mumbai: Much attention with this one: A fierce, almost unbearably intense recreation of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2018. The characters don’t get much development, but the story is as compelling as it gets.
Giant Little Ones: Canadian teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Would have been more effective if the protagonists weren’t all rich, white, and good looking.
Fahrenheit 11/9: Following the superior Where to Invade Next?Michael Moore returns to the self-mythologizing and fact fudging. This doesn’t mean he is wrong: America is in deep doodoo.
The Predator: Unapologetic fun. Too bad about Shane Black and the male cast (Jacob Tremblay excepted) not supporting Olivia Munn on her denouncement of an actual predator on set.
A Star Is Born: More like A Star Is Bored. Am I right? No? I’m the only one who isn’t gaga for Gaga? Fine, then.
Belmonte (Uruguay/Spain/Mexico, 2018): An unapologetic character study, Belmonte is a mildly captivating portrait of an artist at crossroads.The titular character is a painter depressed over his broken family who finds himself unable to move forward. His hostility towards his surroundings and his lack of empathy for those who love him isolate him further.
The film does a good job digging into the main character’s inner life without having to spell it out for the audience. The insights, however, are not quite ground-breaking, but at least the execution is impeccable, thanks to a strong turn by Veiroj’s regular Gonzalo Delgado. The resolution is thoroughly unearned (the cinematic equivalent of “sleeping on it”), which at 75 minutes-length feels straight-up lazy. Two stars/planets/prairie dogs. Distribution: Unlikely.
Girls of the Sun (France, 2018): While the devastation in Syria is the most covered aspect of the ISIS offensive in the Middle East, the Kurdistan has suffered enormously at hands of the terrorist organization. Following the systematic killing of the male population, an increasing number of Kurdish women has joined the resistance, despite the fact the top rank treats them as cannon fodder.
Girls of the Sun follows the story of Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani, Patterson), a lawyer-turned-freedom fighter for whom personal trauma is the fuel that makes her a fearsome warrior. Her travails are covered by Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a journalist modeled after Marie Colvin for whom objectivity has long stopped being feasible.
While an undoubtedly compelling story, the film is broad and relies heavily in sentimentality, coming short more often than not. Director Eva Husson does succeed at conjuring some stunning visuals, but the final outcome feels disjointed. Two and a half planets. Distribution: It touches all the bases for an art-house run.
Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin (Canada, 2018): Instead of making yet another coming-of-age-in-cottage-country movie (or, uh, Little Italy), the Quebecois film industry is exploring far more interesting territory, in this case, desire in women after 40. The lead of Les Salopes, Marie Claire (Brigitte Poupart, Les Affames), is a married-with-children dermatologist with a series of lovers on the side. Her capacity to separate emotions and sex is remarkable, until it all comes crashing down as those around her are not as “evolved” as her.
For most of its length, Les Salopes progresses unapologetically… to fold in the last twenty minutes. There is a lot to like about the film: Bold ideas about monogamy, a protagonist whose capacity to compartmentalize and sexual drive combine into some kind of pathos, and the use of regular bodies (as opposed to airbrushed supermodels) to depict intercourse. Yet the karmic denouement rings false. Solid effort though. Three and a half planets. Distribution: In QC, for sure. In SK, fingers crossed.
Ever After (Germany, 2018): Even though we have long reached the point of saturation, zombie movies keep on coming. Ever After is not particularly gory, but the character development is above average and the setting is original if not fully developed.
You know the drill: Virus turns most of mankind into flesh-eating maniacs. The few survivors not only battle zombies, but must fight to preserve their humanity, the usual. In Germany, only two cities stand: Weimar -which kills the undead on-sight- and Jena, which is looking for a cure. The only contact between the two towns is an unmanned train. Two women, a Linda Hamilton-type and one with flagrant PTSD, attempt to ride it all the way to Jena. Suffice to say, the trip doesn’t go to plan.
While short on scares, Ever After is more affecting than the standard zombie romp, and not only because we get to meet the two leads. Two-thirds in, the film takes a turn into allegoric territory, one in which Mother Nature is more than a figure of speech. The move is ballsy, not entirely successful, but doesn’t feel out of place either. Two and a half planets. Distribution: TBD, although I would be surprised if it doesn’t make it to one of the streaming services.
Let Me Fall (Iceland/Finland/Germany, 2018): Who knew Icelandic movies could be so grim? (anybody who saw Under the Tree, for starters). Let Me Fall revolves around Magnea, a bright fifteen-year-old, who falls for the slightly older Stella. This attraction leads Magnea straight into addiction, a descent detailed to the most painful detail by the movie.
If you had any hopes Magnea would see the error of her ways, the movie quickly manages to bury them: We see glimpses of adult Magnea from early on and it’s not a pretty sight. The film steers clear from becoming misery porn by giving each major character considerable depth. Let Me Fall is a dark journey of the soul but one worth taken, although it may put you off from having children (or at the very least, dissuade you from free-range rearing). Four planets. Distribution: I hope so!
El Angel (Argentina, 2018): Based on the most “popular” criminal in Argentinian history (one who has been serving a life sentence for the last 45 years for a gamut of crimes and misdemeanors), El Angel is an entertaining riff on the lifestyle of the lawless and infamous, while coming short on insight. Carlitos (newcomer Lorenzo Ferro) is a baby-faced sociopath with a penchant for breaking and entering. His association with classmate Ramón (Chino Darín) and his ne’er-do-well father elevates his game, but Carlitos’ unpredictability threatens to derail the enterprise at every corner, particularly after he develops a crush on Ramón.
While the sequence of events that turned the maladjusted teen into Buenos Aires’ most wanted is fascinating, the character itself is one note throughout the entire movie. I’m positive even sociopaths learn something about what’s beneficial and what leads to certain doom. Two and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: Likely.
While the Asian population in North America is grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, there are venues to access Korean, Chinese, Philippine and Japanese films: A fair number are available via Netflix and big titles often find their way into the multiplex or art-houses. In fact, if it wasn’t for general audiences’ ludicrous distaste for subtitles, every culture with a film industry would be within reach.
So, it’s not like Crazy Rich Asians needs to reinvent the whole film market. It may, however, change habits, improve representation, and help breach the divide between the average moviegoer and Asian cinema’s vast treasures.
Discarding external considerations, Crazy Rich Asians is a sudser on steroids, a full season of a soap opera concentrated in two hours. Well written too. Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) takes full advantage of the setup and –even though the basic plot is light as a feather– manages to imbue the characters with enough pathos to make them interesting.
The film revolves around Rachel (Constance Wu, Fresh of the Boat), an economics professor at NYU in a committed relationship with Nick (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to attend a wedding in Singapore, an opportunity to introduce her to his family.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is the scion of one of the richest and most powerful families in the country. The matriarch, Eleanor (an imperious Michelle Yeoh), would like her son to return home and take over the family business, and Rachel seems to be standing in her way. Nastiness ensue.
Crazy Rich Asians’ mission statement comes to the fore in the opening minutes: A harried Eleanor is turned away from a snotty hotel in London. She makes a call and, moments later, she is the owner of the establishment. No snub will be tolerated.
The film is basically cotton candy. Everything is delish: The looks, the food, the real estate, the put downs. Michelle Yeoh towers over the rest of the cast, but everybody is up to task, particularly the comic reliefs (Awkwafina, The Daily Show’s Ronnie Chang, Ken Jeong). Constance Wu gets the hardest job of all as the lead: Balancing competing tones and make it look seamless. She struggles at times, but her innate likeability keeps the audience on her side.
There is a major B-plot involving Nick’s uber-fashionable cousin and her commoner husband, but I would be hard-pressed to say it matters to anybody else but readers of the original book.
While the dissection of family values in Chinese culture goes beyond the stereotypes, Crazy Rich Asians is not a film willing to sacrifice a good time for depth. Go for the luxury, stay for the killer one-liners. Three and a half planets.
The solemnity of Avengers: Infinity War didn’t quite hit me until the first few minutes of the frothy Ant-Man and the Wasp. A sequel to 2015 Ant-Man (the one Edgar Wright got bumped from), this chapter leans heavily on the comedy and well-designed set-pieces based on… size proportion. The film stands by itself for far longer than expected –given certain events in the MCU– and the limited stakes are a welcome respite from Thanos’ idea of redistribution.
Probably because of the absence of drama behind the scenes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a lot more cohesive than the first episode. Returning director Peyton Reed and a team of five scriptwriters fail to fully grasp the whole subatomic shrinking business, but your tolerance for science-speak is rewarded in different ways.
Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, the titular Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has abandoned his career as a superhero and now endures a two-year house arrest sentence. Scott is willing to bide his time for his daughter, but is also fully aware his actions have forced his former companions –Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)– to go on the lam. Continue reading “REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche”