Category Archives: Seen at the cinema

The Satellite Girl And Milk Cow

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

 

Director: Hyeong-yoon Jang; Main Cast: Yu-mi Jeong, Ah In Yoo;

This film follows the much used formula of boy-meets-girl but in a very unusual way. Meet Il-ho (Yu-mi Jeong): lonely, de-commissioned satellite who falls to Earth after hearing a song by a street musician and it’s transformed into a girl robot (reminding me a little of Nana Supergirl) by a close encounter with a monster-incinerator. Meet Kyung-chun (Ah In Yoo): hapless composer and musician of said song, heartbroken, after being dumped by his longtime girlfriend, and transformed into a milk cow. If being a milk cow and not a boy anymore wasn’t enough, Kyung-chun’s life is in danger from two horrible foes. First off, there’s a nasty teleporting bounty hunter with a magical bathroom plunger, he removes organs from the bodies of brokenhearted humans turned into animals and he sells them to a black market dealer. Secondly, perhaps even worse, there is the above mentioned monster-incinerator who roams the streets of Seoul looking for the same type of prey but to drop them into his fiery, gluttonous mouth. Well, tough times indeed for being heartsick, like adding insult to injury or, maybe more aptly, injury to injury. Anyway, our unlucky musician is helped by Il-ho and by the great wizard Merlin, who happens to be a toilet paper roll (consequence of a curse), yep you read it right and, let me tell you, it is the best part of the movie. Naturally amor omnia vincit but the whole story is definitely unconventional and, at times, quite funny. My only complain is the soundtrack since I don’t find romantic pop songs in Korean my favorite cup of tea. The animation is top-notch and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Hyeong-voon Jang’s work in the future. Remarkable —7/10

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Diplomatie

diplomatie

Director: Volker Schlöndorff; Main Cast: André Dussollier, Niels ArestrupBurghart KlaußnerRobert Stadlober;

Cyril Gely adapted for the screen his play by the same title about a battle of wills between Dietrich von Choltitz (Arestrup), the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling (Dussollier). The film takes place during the fateful night of the 24th of August 1944, after von Choltitz has received the order to reduce Paris to a pile of rubbles since the Allies are about to liberate it. Nordling shows up, rather unexpectedly, to the governor’s office and try to convince von Choltitz to disobey his orders. The two men know each other quite well and try to use it as an advantage in this bloodless confrontation. Of course we all know that Paris was never destroyed but it is still interesting to see Nordling pleading with von Choltitz, tellling him he will go down in history as the man who laid waste to a beautiful and emblematic city. On the other hand, the governor thinks he has no other choice, since Hitler has threatened the well-being of his family. It seems to me that diplomacy looks a lot like poker: you don’t play the cards you play the man. Although very static, it is still an engaging film, thanks to the brilliant performance of the two leads. I also like the use of original footage of the Allies entering Paris, not new but effective (and it probably saved some money on production!). It’s still an entertaining story even if it is not completely accurate from a historical point of view. Diverting —7/10

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Mr Turner

Mr-Turner

Director: Mike Leigh; Main Cast: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy AtkinsonMarion Bailey;

Visually stunning biopic of J.M.W. Turner (Spall): dedicated, single-minded and inquisitive painter of the 19th century. Mike Leigh’s take on Turner is focused on the last twenty-five years of his life, when he’s already an established artist and master of the craft. Turner spends his time either travelling (abroad or in the country) or painting in his London’s home, which he shares with his beloved, aging father William (Jesson) and Hannah (Atkinson), faithful housekeeper who has feelings (not returned) for the painter. The film gives a dichotomous portrayal: on one hand the genius of the light rendered on canvas, on the other the eccentric, at time cantankerous, man with a rather complex personal life. We witness Turner’s determined study of light in any condition of time and weather, even going to extreme measures like being tied up to the mast of a ship to observe a snow storm at sea. Both celebrated and reviled by public and critics (including royalty), he is popular among his fellow artists of the Royal Academy, although considered peculiar as shown in a couple of quite effective scenes. During one of his trips to the seaside, he befriends a local landlady, Ms Booth (Bailey), with whom he eventually lives in secret in Chelsea until his death. Mike Leigh manages to balance well the dichotomy in Turner’s life and describes skillfully this man, who grew up in the bohemian world of Covent Garden, but was later held accountable by the more rigid Victorian moral standards. Timothy Spall really owns the role, giving an intense and convincing performance and injecting some humanity in a character that could come across as too cold and detached. Special kudos also to Dorothy Atkinson for her Hannah. Powerful —8/10

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Il Giovane Favoloso

il-giovane-favoloso

 

Director: Mario Martone; Main Cast: Elio Germano, Michele RiondinoMassimo PopolizioIsabella RagoneseAnna MouglalisEdoardo NatoliValerio Binasco;

The life and struggles of Giacomo Leopardi, Italian poet and philosopher of the early 19th century. We follow Giacomo (Germano) from his early, intense studies in his childhood’s home in Recanati, under the tutelage of priests and rigidly supervised by his father Montaldo (Popolizio), reactionary and narrow minded, to the time he spent in Florence, Rome and Naples, where he met (and established few life-long friendships) with historians, classicists, poets and intellectuals. His youth in Recanati, although plagued by both physical and emotional ailments, is sweetened by the presence of his younger siblings Carlo (Natoli) and Paolina (Ragonese), playmates and allies who lighten the burden of suffocating and controlling parents. The fire of rebellion is ignited by the visit of Pietro Giordano (Binasco), a classicist, with whom Giacomo has been exchanging letters over the years, keeping alive their friendship and fruitful collaboration. After a failed attempt to escape his stifling, oppressing home, it will take Giacomo a few more years to finally be free to roam the world (well, just Italy, as it turns out). The story moves then to the final years of Giacomo’s life. We find him in Florence, living with his good friend Antonio Ranieri (Riondino), writer and free-thinker exiled from his native Naples for his political views. Antonio is quite the opposite of Giacomo: charming and outgoing, at ease in social gatherings and with the ladies. Giacomo’s inner pain and his deteriorating health are the roots of his pessimistic view of the world that set him apart from his contemporaries. He is criticised and shunned by other intellectuals, not only in Florence but also in Rome and Naples, where the two friends moved, in an attempt at finding a more suitable environment for the fragile poet. One flaw of the film is the lack of details about the complex political situation in Italy at the time, which was entwined with the literary world and a key element in Leopardi’s life. Throughout the film there are explicit and implicit references to his poems and other writings which, although very beautiful, might not be fully appreciated by viewers unfamiliar with his work. Elio Germano gives a spellbinding performance as the sickly but brilliant poet and Michele Riondino is quite effective as the roguishly charming but loyal friend. The sure hand of Mario Martone at the helm, the supporting cast, the beautiful photography and production design contribute as well to make this film a little gem. Enchanting —7.5/10

 

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directors: Anthony RussoJoe Russo, Main Cast: Chris EvansSamuel L. JacksonScarlett JohanssonRobert RedfordAnthony MackieSebastian Stan;

captain-america-winter-soldier

The second chapter of Captain America’s story (or the fourth chapter of the Avengers?) is about a conspiracy and a new, scary Big Bad. Although Earth (and the Universe!) has been recently saved by Thor, it manages to get in jeopardy again pretty soon, this time around the menace comes from within S.H.I.E.L.D. and nobody can trust no one… see alien races, we are perfectly capable to annihilate our species all by ourselves, you don’t need to break a sweat. Steve Rogers (Evans) has to face this new peril all by himself, relying only on his running buddy Sam (Mackie), who happens to be a super-trained soldier a.k.a the Falcon. Devious and cunning agent Romanov (Johansson) will eventually prove her loyalty as well and lend a hand (and a flying kick) to the cause. In the meantime, shrewd Nick Fury (Jackson) plays dead to find out who is behind the evil scheme and how far its ramifications go. Primary agent of villainy and legendary hitman, the Winter Soldier (Stan) wrecks havoc and brings ruin wherever he is sent and he can hold his own against the Cap. He is, however, only a blunt instrument in a much bigger plan of the true villain, Alexander Pierce (Redford). What can I say? The action scenes are top-notch, I wouldn’t have expected anything less, sly Fury gets a bigger part to play and brings some layers to the cliched plot, badass Black Widow feels more like the token strong woman this time around, to appease the female audience (and be ogled by the male one), than a character in her own right (Marvel still fails spectacularly the Bechdel test!). Falcon is just the sidekick/comic relief and the Winter Soldier is one-dimensional and loses his aura of danger and mystery too soon, becoming just a tackling amnesiac. Super-villain Pierce is hindered by a poor script, making him too stereotypical, Redford’s valiant effort notwithstanding. Last but not least, Captain America himself: gallant and noble soldier, white,red and blue hero and so boring! Chris Evans does a pretty good portrayal of the character but I’ve never warmed up to him, sorry, but I need some bad boy in my superhero and a bit of humor. Far more interesting is Loki’s impersonation of the Cap in Thor 2, in which Evans renders Loki’s mannerism brilliantly:

In conclusion: conspiracy, mysterious baddie, attack ships on fire, tons of fist fights, nazis on steroids and pulling a Snowden to save the day…mmm, sometimes less is more but the Russo bros missed that crucial lesson. This movie wants  to be serious but lacks the necessary nuances to be compelling, a dose of humor would have helped the final result. Not up to snuff —5.5/10

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August: Osage County

Director:  John Wells, Main Cast: Meryl StreepJulia RobertsChris CooperMargo MartindaleEwan McGregorSam ShepardJulianne NicholsonJuliette LewisBenedict Cumberbatch;

august-osage-county

Tracy Letts adapted his Pulitzer winning play for the screen and it is a very interesting study of characters and family dynamics. With John Wells at the helm, an old and honest hand at the craft, we get, alternatively, dark, stuffy interiors and burning summer light on the plains of Oklahoma, nice juxtaposition that underlines the inner turmoils and difficult relationships of the Weston family. The family members reunites under rather gloomy circumstances: the disappearance and then death of the patriarch, Beverly (Shepard). It appears clear to his eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) that he committed suicide, having made arrangements such as hiring a help for his cancer-suffering, pill-popping wife, Violet (Streep), two days before vanishing. The audience slowly learns about the past of each character and how they became what they are, in particular we get an deep insight into Violet: the harsh childhood and difficulties of her early life, and her sister Mattie (Martindale), turned them both into strong-willed, unforgiving women and relentless mothers and wives. It is a rather dismal portrait of what people can do to the psychological health of their children. Barbara is the eldest and clearly the favorite but, being an opinionated, strong woman herself, keeps locking horns with her mother, unfortunately, in turns, she is alienating her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill (McGregor) and teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Nicholson) is the mild-mannered, submissive daughter, who does everything to help her mother (she is the only one who lives nearby) and avoid confrontations (which seems a self-defense technique). Karen (Lewis) is the free-spirit but insecure one, always undervalued and dismissed by Violet, who either runs away from her problems or desperately tries to fix them finding the “right” man. Among this gallery of “terrible” women the men seems both helpless (and hapless) and the only ones who can achieve some redeeming qualities. While longtime alcoholic and poet Beverly finds that the only way through is to walk out of this raw deal, his brother-in-law Charlie (Cooper) attempts to be level-headed, patient and kind, proving to be the most balanced person of the whole family. Little Charlie (Cumberbatch) is the most pitiful of the lot: disliked and verbally abused by his mother Mattie, with zero self-worth and self-esteem, still shows a gentle nature and a kind soul. As always, family reunion will bring up old stories and things that rub the wrong way, including long-kept secrets. It is very far from the Brady bunch and not a edifying picture of familiar relations but, nonetheless, an amazing study of human nature with all its ordinary flaws. The cast as an ensemble is spectacular and makes the film, the lion share is, of course, taken in equal parts by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both stretching their acting chops very effectively. Special kudos to Cooper and Cumberbatch for their portrayal of decent men. Intriguing —7.5/10

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The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney, Main Cast: George ClooneyMatt DamonCate BlanchettBill MurrayJohn GoodmanJean DujardinHugh BonnevilleBob Balaban;

the-monuments-men

George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective —5/10

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director:  Wes Anderson, Main Cast: Ralph FiennesTony RevoloriSaoirse RonanF. Murray AbrahamJude LawAdrien BrodyWillem DafoeEdward NortonTom WilkinsonTilda Swinton;

the-grand-budapest-hotel

This is the story of Gustave H. (Fiennes), renown and beloved concierge at the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel between the two wars, and Zero (Revolori), who starts as a lobby boy and then become his protégé and most trusted friend. As is Wes Anderson’s wont a voice-over narration begins the tale, in this movie he chooses to built it as story within a story, using an old writer (Wilkinson) who remembers meeting an aging Zero (Abraham) when he was still young (Law). Old Zero will recall his youth and tell his story to the writer. Gustave takes Zero under his wing from the very beginning and start schooling him in the delicate art of running a luxury hotel flawlessly, while he takes care of every need of the guests: Gustave is a full monty concierge, especially with the ladies. This might be considered the root cause of the adventures and mishaps that follows, with a touch of Buster Keaton’s humor. The death of Madame D. (Swinton), a longtime guest at the hotel and dearly attached to Gustave, sets in motion a battle for her very large estate and the possession of a priceless Renaissance painting (bequeathed to Gustave and stolen by him right after the reading of the will, in a genius move). Dmitri (Brody), Madame D’s son, will not stop at nothing to get it all, including murder by proxis, since his faithful henchman Jopling (Dafoe) will do all the dirty work. He manages to frame Gustave for Madame D.’s murder and send him to prison, allowing the audience to be delighted by a cameo by Harvey Keitel, as fellow conscript and means to Gustave’s escape. Zero and his resourceful girlfriend Agatha (Ronan), the pastry apprentice, are essential in helping Gustave to evade, to clear his name and collect what is due to him, but the secret society of the concierges of European luxury hotels will play a key role as well (and we get a Bill Murray’s cameo). By the end, the viewer will finally be able to piece together all the different parts of the story, it does feel like a bittersweet ending after such a roller-coaster of adventures, but it is always the case when one has to part ways with such great characters. We get all the trademarks of Anderson’s style: static camera, artful use of colours and photography, quirky characters and subtle humor. It is one of his best films to date, also helped by an amazing cast: Fiennes above all. Hilarious, amusing and inspired —9/10

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Out of the Furnace

Director: Scott Cooper, Main Cast: Christian BaleCasey AffleckZoe SaldanaWoody HarrelsonSam ShepardWillem DafoeForest Whitaker;

out-of-the-furnace

A story of brotherly love and loss in a small town of America’s Rust Belt. Russell Baze (Bale) works a dead-end job at the local steel mill, takes care of his very sick father with his uncle’s (Shepard) help and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has been stop-lost and will soon go back to Iraq. Being a decent, hardworking man and wanting to built a life with his girlfriend (Saldana) is not something that is usually rewarded in life and Russell’s fate is only about to get worse. He ends up in prison for drinking and driving, after being involved in a car crash in which people lost their lives. When Russell has finally paid his debt to society, a few years have gone by and his world has changed: his father is dead, his girl has moved on and shacked up with Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), the chief of Braddock’s police, and his brother is broken, lost and in deep with the wrong crowd, after coming back from his tour in Iraq.  Since the audience has met early on both the town’s small-time crook Petty (Dafoe) and the ruthless, all-round criminal DeGroat (Harrelson) from up north (Bergen, NJ), it is very clear that things will end bad, at this point it is just a matter of seeing how grim the story will turn out. Rodney is using his fighting skills as bare-knuckled boxer in illegal matches, trying to earn money to pay back a debt he has with Petty and have something left. Once he goes up in the Ramapough Mountains to fight in a match organised by DeGroat, he will never come back. This sends Russell over the edge and on a path of revenge but as Confucius said: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”, which is quite an apt description of the ending. The slow burning pace of the movie, along with the rural and desolate settings, increase very effectively the foreboding mood of the story and a good characterisation keeps the viewer engaged. Although all the cast is excellent, I’d say that this is a Bale and Harrelson film, the latter in excellent form as the villain of the piece. Relentless 7/10

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L’Arte della Felicità

Director: Alessandro Rak, Main Cast (voices): Leandro AmatoJun IchikawaRenato CarpentieriNando Paone;

larte-della-felicità

Sergio is a taxi driver in a, surprisingly, gloomy and rainy Naples (it seems Milan in November, if it wasn’t for the huge piles of trash laying around). He is mourning his brother Alfredo, who has recently died after spending the last ten years as a buddhist monk. As more often than not, grief brings along anger and self-introspection and the viewer goes on this journey, both psychological and physical (since a lot of the film take place on a taxi), with Sergio. Intertwined with his story are the snippets of his fares’ lives, that are instrumental in enriching the tale and in helping Sergio understand better his feelings. In the background the audience catches glimpses of Naples and its inhabitants, nice snapshots of ordinary Italian lives: resigned, fatalistic and vexed. The viewer finds out more about the two brothers and their relationship through flashbacks: how they used to be a jazz duo but never too successful, how Alfredo left for Tibet to become a monk and how, as a consequence, Sergio quit playing and got the taxi license (and the taxi) from their uncle Luciano (a rather colourful guy whom the audience get to meet). Fundamental to Sergio’s trip down memory lane is Antonia, who gets on his taxi very upset and in tears and without a destination in mind. They will tour Naples for a while, going to places that have a particular meaning in Sergio’s life, and also getting to know each other a little more. At the end of the film and of his cathartic, inner voyage, Sergio does attain a relative balance and accepts the pain of the loss, reaching the only possible conclusion: it doesn’t go away, one learns to make room for it and live on. This film is quite an achievement, not only it has been made by an all-Italian crew (direction, production, script, music, etc.), it is also an animation feature for adults which I must say it’s a first for Italy. The drawing style and animation are distinctive and sleek, along with a stunning soundtrack that matches perfectly the tone of the story and the moods of the main character. It might be difficult to watch it, no DVD out yet and I saw it at a film festival, but I strongly recommend it. Engaging and poetic —9/10

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch, Main Cast: Tom HiddlestonTilda SwintonMia WasikowskaJohn HurtAnton Yelchin;

only-lovers-left-alive

Every film by Jim Jarmusch feels like discovering a hidden treasure. The indie auteur par excellence gives us a story about love, darkness and the beauty of simple things, an extremely unusual take on a current mainstream theme: vampires. I know what you are thinking: “Vampires, seriously! Haven’t we seen and endured enough!?!”; well this is Jarmusch, give him a chance, you won’t be disappointed. The viewer is introduced to the titular lovers with a few masterful scenes. Adam (Hiddlestone) is a reclusive, underground musician with a penchant for science and technology who settled in Detroit (do I see a subtle homage/reference to Terry Gilliam in Adam’s tech contraptions? Maybe, maybe not). Eve (Swinton) is a book-lover (I used to pack like her before the advent of e-readers) and an aesthete, who resides in Tangier. They are both centuries-old vampires but they have found a non-violent way to feed, with the help of compliant doctors, not so much for moral qualms but to avoid hassles and prevent disruptions of their quite life. The audience makes also the acquaintance of Ian (Adam’s agent/helper), friendly, solicitous and  human, and Kit Marlowe, vampire, writer and old friend of Eve. Adam and Eve (always appreciate Jarmusch’s irony) have been together for a very long time and when Eve realises that Adam is depressed (again) about the state of the world, she rushes at his side.  We see them spending time together, in contented simplicity, talking about their past and present and sharing their interests. It is a rather alluring description of long-lasting love and friendship, that will go on with its perfect harmony, as in “my vegetable love should grow, vaster than empires, and more slow” (Andrew Marvell). Their domestic bliss is however shattered by the arrival of impulsive and reckless Ava, Eve’s sister. A poor judgement call on Ava’s part forces Adam and Eve to flee Detroit and go back to Tangier, where more woes await them. It is a haunting film, it feels like that place between sleep and awake. The captivating shots of a deserted Detroit and teeming Tangier tell a whole story by themselves, juxtapose as metaphors for Adam and Eve’s state of mind. The magnetic performances of Hiddlestone and Swinton (eerier than ever) and a mesmerising soundtrack complete the movie and make it a little gem. Beguiling —8/10

 

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The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

Director:  Hayao Miyazaki, Main Cast (voices): Hideaki AnnoMorio KazamaHidetoshi Nishijima;

the-wind-rises

So this is it: Miyazaki’s swan song. He brings together his great passion for airplanes with a recurrent Studio Ghibli’s theme: the pursuit of one’s dream. At odds with all his previous works, this film is an animated feature more for adults than children, being the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who developed the Zero (fighter plane used during World War II). Although it starts with a boy and his imagination, whose dream of becoming a pilot is impeded by his myopia, it evolves into a more serious and grounded story of a young man determined to become an aircraft engineer, who, in turns, matures into a talented designer of fighter planes. Miyazaki still delights us with his magic, giving it free reins representing Jiro’s dreams and a great character, Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer who appears as mentor and adviser in the dreams. On the other hand, the film also shows, very effectively, dramatic events such as the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and firestorms that devastated the Kanto region and nearly destroyed Tokio in 1923. It is during this fateful day that Jiro, still a student at the time, crosses path for the first time with Nohoko, the girl who will become his wife years later. Miyazaki, while telling his hero’s story, only hints at the major historical events: Japan’s poverty, its race to armament (along with Germany), the rises of totalitarian governments, repression of dissent and war. It seems that the story, as well as Jiro, lives in a bubble and focuses only on making the best plane ever without really dealing with what it’s being built for. This is the major flaw of the movie and it is the drawback of telling a story grounded in reality when the author is so used to fantastic ones. The uses of planes for war is, indeed, briefly addressed and condemned but it feels like an afterthought, like Miyazaki realises too late that he cannot avoid making a statement. Anyway the film is still a pleasure to watch with its flawless animation and endearing characters. Miyazaki leaves us with a bittersweet ending, reminding us that the dream is over and it is time to wake up. Le vent se lève il faut tenter de vivre. 7.5/10

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Aya de Yopougon

Directors: Marguerite AbouetClément Oubrerie, Main Cast (voices): Aïssa MaïgaTella KpomahouTatiana Rojo;

aya-de-yopougon

Set in Abidja (Ivory Coast), this animated film chronicles the life of Aya and her friends, Bintou and Adjoua. They grew up and live, along with their families and friends, in Yopougon, a rather poor area of the biggest city of the country. Like many other teenager girls, they have dreams about their future, want to have fun but also have to deal with their parents’ and society’s expectations. Marguerite Abouet (who is also the writer of the graphic novel) clearly knows well the subject and gives us a rich, insightful view of a seldom seen location and a rarely described period (the late 1970s, during president Houphouët-Boigny’s tenure), using the personal stories of ordinary but colourful characters. Aya is sensible, responsible and independent, quite unlike her two best friends, who are more frivolous and fun-loving. What is quite perplexing about this story is that, although Aya is the protagonist, she ends up being the witness and narrator of the exploits and escapades of the ones around her, being friends, family members or mere acquaintances. The directors seems to have much more fun regaling us with tales of foolishness, small-mindedness and ambitiousness. It is indeed entertaining and offers a biting social satire using the ample spectrum of human qualities. However it is not totally convincing, the well-known secret for a good movie is: don’t tell, show; unfortunately it is not always the case here. Furthermore I would have liked to know more about Aya and her dream of becoming a doctor in such a society, stifled by patriarchy and lacking opportunities but maybe it was a topic too tricky to explore. The animation per se is charming but nothing extraordinary, a good support to a nice story. Peculiar —6.5/10

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Consuming Spirits

Director:  Chris Sullivan, Main Cast (voices): Nancy AndrewsChris SullivanJudith RafaelRobert Levy;

consuming-spirits

Forget Pixar, Dreamworks or Japanese anime, this is something very different. Chris Sullivan spent 15 years making this feature animation, using various techniques and obtaining a rather unique and surprising result. It tells the story of Gentian (Jenny) Violet, Victor Blue and Earl Gray, who live and work in Magguson, a small town of the Rust Belt. Jenny and Victor appear to be in their late thirties, they are friends and co-workers at the local newspaper, The Daily Suggester, while Earl is an older man, hosting a program about gardening at the local radio. Their lives seems rather ordinary and a tad lonely but an accident on a fateful night (due to alcohol inebriation) set off a chain of events that will lead us to discover secrets about the past of the characters and their deep connection. This is not a family movie, it is a rather dark tale about ghosts from days gone by and how they haunt us, a story of love and jealousy, of chasing after things that are lost without never really catching them. I’ve interpreted the title as referring to both the imbibing of alcohol and the spirits of the id, and I find it very appropriate. The view of this film requires not only a staunch heart but also patience, since the chronicles of Jenny, Victor and Earl move with a slow pace, still, you should stick with it to know all the details and understand them better. Unusual and disconcerting —7/10

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Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne, Main Cast: Bruce DernWill ForteJune Squibb;

nebraska

How much do we truly know our parents? Alexander Payne might have been wondering the same while he was filming this story. The idea behind it is simple: a father and son road trip, which seems the premise for a sugary, heartwarming tale of rediscovery and bonding. Well, if you have seen Sideways or The Descendant, you won’t be surprised at what Payne comes up with instead. Although it is mainly Woody Grant’s story (Bruce Dern), an alcoholic and slightly senile retiree, we live it through his son David (Will Forte), an unassuming and sensitive stereo salesman. After Woody makes a few (failed) attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, from Billings, Montana, to claim his million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize (in reality a mail scam to get people to subscribe to magazines), David decides to drive him, ignoring his mother Kate (June Squibb) and his older brother’s protests and dismay. What follows are a series of adventurous mishaps (including hospitalization, loss of dentures, theft of a compressor) with a two days pit-stop in Woody’s hometown (Hawthorne, Nebraska) for a family reunion. We meet the Grant’s clan, Woody’s numerous brothers and their family, and stroll down memory lane. News of Woody’s riches spread through Hawthorne like wildfire, despite David’s efforts of setting the record straight, and several interested parties come knocking asking for a share. In the meantime, we learn also a few things about Woody’s past, as David talks with relatives, old family friends and neighbours. In the end David gives to his father what he really wanted since the beginning of the trip: a new pick-up truck and a new compressor. Beautifully shot in black and white, to better highlight its character-driven nature (it reminds me of old daguerreotypes) and the desolation of small-town America, this film gives a honest take on the elusiveness of familial bonds and the difficulties of really understanding the ones closest to us. A quote from Norman Maclean comes to mind: “it is those we live with and love and should know who elude us”.  On the other hand, Payne shows us the greedy, ignorant side of people, balancing the positive vibes with a healthy dose of cynicism. Dern is astonishingly good as booze-addled, semi-catatonic Woody and Forte works as perfect foil with his dutiful and remarkably patient David. June Squibb as Kate adds hilarious and venomous wit to this mix of eccentricity, kindness and world-weariness that portraits an ordinary, dysfunctional family life in a remote corner of America. Inspiring —7.5/10

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American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell, Main Cast: Christian BaleAmy AdamsBradley CooperJeremy RennerJennifer Lawrence;

American-Hustle

Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) is a talented swindler and, after meeting his con artist soulmate Sydney Prosser (Adams), starts to make some serious money with financial scams. She gets pinched by Richie DiMaso (Cooper), an arrogant, ambitious and a little out-of-control FBI agent, who forces the pair to work for him. DiMaso’s plan is to catch Carmine Polito (Renner), Mayor of  Camden (NJ), for bribery, along the way he realises that he can get other politicians and find ties with prominent members of the mafia as well. Irving and Sydney have no other choice but to play along and use their wits and cunning to get through their predicament. Matters are complicated by Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), who’s unpredictable, volatile and the Picasso of passive-aggressive (in Irving’s word). The great performances from the cast and the witty dialogues keep you engaged and curious to know what Irving and Sydney will come up with to save themselves. Russell has a terrific way to tell this story, partially inspired by real events, and gets back to the level of the Three Kings and The Fighter, after The Silver Linings Playbook (a glorified chick-flick). Special kudos go to Bradley Cooper for his slightly deranged DiMaso and to Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers the best lines and makes you laugh out loud. Maybe De Niro’s cameo as mobster is a little on the nose but it is quite funny. Captivating —8/10

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Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée, Main Cast: Matthew McConaugheyJennifer GarnerJared LetoDenis O’HareSteve Zahn;

dallas-buyers-club

Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a “booze, sex, drugs and rodeo” kind of guy, he is full of swagger and not really what you would call a nice person. One day he ends up in a hospital, after collapsing, and the doctors (O’Hare and Garner) inform him that he has AIDS and only 30 days left to live. It is 1986 and that type of diagnose doesn’t imply only a fatal prognosis but also social stigma. Ron’s co-workers and friends ostracize him and he’s forced to leave his job and his house. We follow his struggle for survival by any means, legal or illegal (mostly the latter though) and his desperate attempts at finding an effective treatment among the different experimental medicines. Along the way Ron will meet a lot of people: most of them struggling with his very same problem (survive an incurable disease), some who genuinely want to help and others who are from blatantly callous to just be blind cogs of the establishment-machine (health system and FDA). The most important and life changing meeting for Ron happens early on at the hospital with Rayon (Leto, a well deserved oscar!), a transgender who has AIDS as well. The duo starts the titular club recruiting members among AIDS  patients, who pay a monthly fee to get medicines that Ron imports illegally (being not FDA approved). We witness Ron’s struggle between his more greedy nature and a growing, genuine sentiment of empathy and kindness, mostly due to the positive influence of Rayon. The film is well-written and has a good pace although the whole storyline with Garner’s character is a little cliched and juxtapose to give a caring face to the health system, opposite to O’Hare’s doctor who is unsympathetic and slave to the system. The best for me wasn’t the much celebrated transformation and acting of McConaughey but Leto’s Rayon. His character was apparently meant to bring some lightness and comic relief moments in a dramatic story however, with his subtle acting, Leto gives the most heart-wrenching interpretation of the film and delivers the most powerful scenes. Captivating —8/10

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Fruitvale Station

Director: Ryan Coogler, Main Cast: Michael B. JordanMelonie DiazOctavia Spencer;

fruitvale-station

New Year’s Eve 2008, the last twenty four hours of Oscar Grant’s life. Ryan Coogler writes and directs an engaging and harrowing film, starting at the end of the story with the original video taken by a witness of a senseless act. Oscar is a young man, 22-years-old, with a daughter and a girlfriend. He is not what you would call a law abiding citizen, he did a stint in prison and he sells pot. We also learn that he cheats on his girlfriend, he lost his job because he is chronically late and, well of course, he lies about it. On the flip side the director wants to show that Oscar tries his best to turn around things, he takes care of his family and he is kind to strangers. We watch Oscar going through the ups and downs of what feels like an ordinary day, although we know it has a tragic conclusion. Oscar takes his daughter Tatiana to kindergarden and his girlfriend Sophina to work, shops for his mother’s birthday party, worries about rent and bills to pay and makes an effort to walk the line (like giving up dealing pot and hoping to find a regular job!). Oscar spends his evening first at his mother’s party then he goes to San Francisco with Sophina and some friends to celebrate the New Year. The fateful decision of taking the train instead of his car will have unforeseen consequences (for him) while the viewer has been experiencing a lingering sensation of dread that slowly builds up from the beginning of the film. It is the strong point of the movie along with Michael B. Jordan’s impressive performance as Oscar. Octavia Spencer and Melodie Diaz as Oscar’s mother and Sophina are also very convincing and touching. A very interesting approach for an emotionally charged topic and a first time director. Powerful and gut wrenching. —7.5/10

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12 Years A Slave

Director:  Steve McQueen, Main Cast: Chiwetel EjioforMichael FassbenderLupita Nyong’oBenedict CumberbatchBrad PittPaul Giamatti;

Francois Duhamel/AP

Steve McQueen likes to deal with complex material. After Shame, he decided to “lighten up” by telling the story of Solomon Northup, a free-born african-american from Saratoga NY, who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold as a slave. As you can guess from the title, after years of tribulation and pain, he manages to get back to his family. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon is intense and carries the film on his shoulder, aided by a very strong supporting cast: Paul Giamatti as slave dealer, Paul Dano as creepy, vengeful carpenter (is it my impression or does he seem to play more and more creepy characters lately?), Benedict Cumberbatch as the sympathetic and kind master, Michael Fassbander as the harsh and unforgiving master and Lupita Nyong’o as prized slave. Good acting notwithstanding, the pace of the film is uneven, it tells the beginning of the story as a flashback but the director can’t wait to get to the cotton fields and the lashing. There are also the long scenes to drive home the brutality and the hopelessness of Solomon’s situation, which are quite effective but still feel a bit disjointed from the narrative. On top of all this we have the villain, master Ebbs (Fassbender) who is cruel, unrelenting, possessive and utterly controlling… basically there is not a speck of decent human qualities in him, and this is what really makes me lose interest in the story: it’s too black and white (pun intended!), too linear and uncomplicated, it seems such an easy solution to paint all the slavers black, even the supposedly “good” master (well… except the carpenter who helps Solomon but he doesn’t count being Canadian).  I understand, the film is based on Solomon’s view so we do see the world through his eyes but it left me a little detached and I’m sure that’s not what McQueen was going for, especially considering how emotionally taxing and absorbing was Shame. I was expecting much more —7/10

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Lulu Femme Neu

Director: Sólveig Anspach, Main Cast: Karin ViardBouli LannersClaude Gensac

The film starts with Lulu (Karin Viard) preparing herself and then being interviewed for a job, at first glance we see that she is neither a very self-confident nor an assertive person.  After failing miserably at the interview, she misses the last train home, you know one of those days…anyone can relate. So Lulu informs her family of the mishap, leaving instructions to her eldest daughter and then checks in at a local hotel, clearly planning to catch the first train in the morning. Up to this point everything is pretty normal but, of course, the next day Lulu doesn’t get on that train, she just decides to stay. In her escape from responsibilities (her sister keeps asking her to go back to her children and husband) she meets Charles and his peculiar brothers. She rediscovers what means to be valued and treated with kindness and when reality comes calling she runs again. This second time is an old, lonely lady (Claude Gensac) that incarnates kindness and a sort of redemption. We watch Lulu thrives and regains confidence, so much that she will finally turn a new leaf once back home. It is a touching. simple story with a quirky protagonist that make for a pleasant hour and half. The film might feel a bit slow but you never know what to expect next so it keeps you engaged. Viard portraits Lulu very well and makes her an all-rounded character and I really like Gensac’s performance. The movie is based on a graphic novel and it seems that the French cinema is experiencing a “nouvelle vague” of sort: getting inspiration from comic books (e.g. La Vie D’Adele), only they are not Marvel or DC comics but something different and new for a change. Refreshing —7/10

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