The last month has been mostly about Oscar nominated films… surprise, surprise! So without further ado here’s February selection of speedy reviews:
The Danish Girl: the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, pioneer transgender, and his wife Gerda, also a talented painter. I know that this is considered an Eddie Redmayne’s film, whose performance is both convincing and effective, but the one that truly shines is Alicia Vikander as Gerda. She embodied the role of loyal, supporting wife and her struggle to make sense of her life and her husband’s. I must say that she’s the one who really sold me the story and ended up making it convincing and gut-wrenching. Tom Hooper skillfully handles this dramatic tale and beautifully recreates both Copenhagen and Paris in the 1920s. Affecting —7/10
Carol: Todd Haynes gives us an artfully shot, intense period drama with two great actresses (Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett) at the top of their game. Therese, shop girl and aspiring photographer, meets and falls in love with the titular Carol, an older woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. Set in the fifties, this love story has all the complications that come with the social mores of the time and strongly reminds of Far From Heaven, however it’s a little more hopeful but less powerful. Cate Blanchett should always dress as a New Yorker in the 1950s, she’s spectacular. Kudos also go to Kyle Chandler for his solid performance as the abandoned husband and Sarah Paulson as Carol’s best friend. Interesting —7/10
Anomalisa: the quirky genius of Charlie Kaufman takes the viewer along for a ride in a weird world. Using stop-motion animation he tells a story of alienation and loneliness (which are recurrent themes in his films): a customer service guru, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), feels detached from everything but, on a business trip, meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his anomaly, and things suddenly change for the better…at least that’s what it seems. While the plot is rather straightforward, the storytelling is multi-layered as is Kaufman’s wont and the different media is meant to add an additional twist. Unfortunately, the latter completely backfires (at least for me) because I found the facial features of the puppets utterly distracting and not in a good way. Unexpected —6/10
Hail, Caesar!: Eddie Mannix’s (Josh Brolin) life as fixer for a major Hollywood studio is very complicated and demanding. He has to deal with a difficult director (Ralph Fiennes), a pregnant starlet (Scarlet Johansson), nosy gossip journalists (Tilda Swinton), the kidnapping of a movie star (George Clooney) and his inner demons. The Coens brings back the lights and shadows of Hollywood’s golden era with their usual humour and manage to coax great performances out of Clooney, Brolin, Ehrenreich and the rest of the cast. There’s a cornucopia of references to different film genres and their cliches as well as to the lives of celebrities, mostly what should be kept from the public. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about religion with a rabbi and representatives of the different christian confessions. Lighthearted —7.5/10
This is a feel-good movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, mostly known for directing Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens. It is a comeback story about Carl (Favreau), the titular chef, who loses his job after a bad review from a critic and a melt-down gone viral on internet. Notwithstanding the fact that all the cliches are in it (unappreciated genius, workaholic, divorced with difficult relationship with his son…) the story works well because it has a nice pace, some good humor and the acting is up-to-par. Carl realises, with some help from his ex-wife Inez (Vergara), that he should go back to where he started: making cuban sandwiches on a food truck. The second act of the film is an on the road buddy comedy: Carl is helped by his friend and fellow cook Martin (Leguizamo) and his 10-year-old son Percy (Anthony) on a journey of rediscovery, appreciating the simple pleasures of life and the joy of cooking. On this trip from Florida back to Los Angeles, Carl’s food truck reaches celebrity status thanks to his social media savvy son (a true marketing genius!) and life will smile to him again (obviously). As I said, the film is nothing new but Favreau manages to balance very well the buddy banter, the father/son moments, the self-introspection and the cooking. In addition he has great on-screen chemistry with all the other actors, in particular with Leguizamo and young Anthony, and a knack for making the father/son scenes sweet but not cloyingly so. I should also issue a warning: there’s a fair amount of food porn during the film so I strongly suggest eating before watching otherwise you end up feeling famished when the closing credits start to roll (as I did!). Enjoyable —7/10
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
A film about the making of a film and its creator(s): Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock. As the saying goes “behind every great man there is a great woman” and Hitchcock was no exception. Gervasi shows how his wife, Alma, has always played a cardinal role in creating his films. After three decades of successfully working together, they embark in their most ambitious project ever: adapting for the screen a novel about a serial killer with an unresolved Oedipus complex. Hitchcock is so committed that he decide to finance it himself when Paramount balks at the subject of the film. So he finds a suitable screenwriter and cast and begins shooting. When, tired of Alfred’s egocentrism and obsession with his leading ladies, Alma decides to ditch the production of Psycho and do her own thing, the master starts to unravel and the first cut of the film is a disaster. Well, we all know how it ends, since we saw Psycho. Needless to say Hopkins is quite up to the task in portraying this larger than life character (accent, mannerism, body language, etc) but the one who really carries the movie on her shoulder is Helen Mirren, absolutely brilliant as Alma. All the supporting cast does a great job but special kudos to Toni Collette. —7.5/10
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