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All reviews - Movies (8)

Burnt Money review

Posted : 2 years, 10 months ago on 23 December 2014 02:46 (A review of Burnt Money)

Plata Quemada" ("Burnt Money"), a new film by the Argentine director Marcelo Piñeyro, presents a curious mixture of strangeness and déjà vu. It starts out as a stylish, convoluted caper film in which a gang is assembled for a big score that doesn't go quite as smoothly as planned. The heist involves a disgraced tango singer, a crooked government official and an assortment of underworld types, but the movie's real focus is on the three younger members: Cuervo (Pablo Echarri), the girl-crazy, drug-addled getaway driver, and Angel (Eduardo Noriega) and Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia), gay lovers known in criminal circles as the twins.

The robbery, in which several policemen are killed and Angel is wounded, is really a prologue to Mr. Piñeyro's main concern, which is the lurid psychodrama that develops once the thieves flee to Uruguay, where they spend most of the picture waiting for the inevitable bad ending. The crime story, which was difficult to follow in any case, fades into the background.

Angel, who has always heard voices in his head, becomes ever more unbalanced and remote from Nene, who leaves their claustrophobic safe house for nocturnal wanderings in wondrously cinematic locales. At one of these, a bar in the middle of a lushly decadent fairground, he meets a woman named Giselle (Leticia Brédice), and they begin an agonized love affair, which helps to hasten the long orgy of violence and currency burning that ends this sad tale.

The passions of "Plata Quemada" are as bold as the images. Mr. Piñeyro has an eye for arresting compositions, and his color scheme ranges from bruised to bloody. His juxtapositions show a taste for extremity that is no less effective for being a little obvious: Nene's sexual encounter in a men's room is intercut with Angel's visit to a church; later, Nene and Giselle's lovemaking alternates with Angel shooting up and mutilating himself. The desperate, destructive longing that binds Angel and Nene and the carnal spark that arises between Nene and Giselle seem to be matters less of psychology than primal blood rituals.

These characters exist without motive, but they pulse with a despairing, intensely erotic energy. Their moody romanticism has a curiously stylized feel, like the tango-tinged Argentine pop, at once fervid and formal, on the soundtrack. Along with Cuervo, Nene and Angel prowl the beaches and fairgrounds outside Montevideo in narrow-lapeled suits, dark ties and sunglasses, looking for all the world like the stars of a brooding Spanish- language remake of "Reservoir Dogs" or "Ocean's Eleven," and then conclude their sojourn with a fusillade that makes "Bonnie and Clyde" look restrained.

My rating 7 out of 10.

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Burning Blue review

Posted : 3 years, 3 months ago on 4 July 2014 09:50 (A review of Burning Blue)

Set in the 1990s, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was standard operating procedure in the United States Navy, Burning Blue examines the ramifications of clandestine gay activity among a group of fighter pilots: Call it Brokeback Maverick. Adapted and directed by DMW Greer from his own acclaimed, reputedly semi-autobiographical West End play, the film betrays its theatrical roots, but it’s been produced with passion on an obviously small budget. While Greer may be a better playwright than filmmaker, he does a fine enough job of placing the action in a believably strapping military environment.

Trent Ford and Morgan Spector star as Dan and Will, two pilots with a close bond that extends to keeping secrets; early in the film, Will’s bad vision leads to a crash, but Will chooses not to inform their superior officers. The metaphor here about flawed ways of seeing isn’t subtle, and Greer’s screenplay is consistently literary, with lots of show-offy, gay-innuendo-laden dialogue (“Are you getting testy with me?”) to sketch the thin line between macho camaraderie and sublimated desire. The plot turns on an excursion Dan and his wingmen take to a gay nightclub in New York City, where they’re spotted in several compromising positions. From there, the film switches into quasi-procedural mode, as a government agent (Michael Sirow) seeks to figure out what manner of unwholesomeness might be going on below decks.

Burning Blue has lots of scenes where its male leads gaze longingly at each other, which is meant to be melancholy and erotic, but unfortunately skirts close to parody. Greer also isn’t an especially supple dramatist, and rather than conveying his themes naturally through the ebb and flow of the story, he has his characters state them out loud. (One exchange between Dan and a homophobic black investigator is so literally on the nose that the scene ends up with a deviated septum.) As a result, the naturalism of some of the performances becomes compromised, although Spector is excellent as a man suffering the agonies of a love he can’t and won’t act on. His hard features and hollow eyes give him the look of an aviator on autopilot.

Burning Blue’s consistent claustrophobia makes sense for a story about men hiding in the closet in a subculture that’s already cut off from everyday reality, yet Greer has also done his best to open the play up with exterior shots of aircraft carriers and fighter jets. This modestly produced film isn’t badly made (aside from the sloppy use of black and white in a few sequences) and it makes admirable attempts to tackle an unfortunate—and only recently concluded—chapter in the history of the U.S. Navy. But as we all know, good intentions don’t necessarily equal good movies, and Burning Blue expends most of its energies mitigating against potential flaws, with very little left over to push it over the top and into the realm of quality independent cinema.

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The Normal Heart review

Posted : 3 years, 4 months ago on 28 May 2014 08:51 (A review of The Normal Heart)

The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's angry, urgent, hectoring play – first staged in 1985 and only now arriving as a film in an excellent production directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy – has the strength of undiluted acid: It breaks down and eats away the insulation, built up over time, that allows us to place the onset of the AIDS crisis in history.

Even though it's now nearly 30 years old, The Normal Heart (premiering on HBO Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT) is not a period piece or a cautionary tale. You are not meant to watch it and think, "Well, this will be useful for the next time." It's a bulletin from the front lines, an in-the-moment, heart-stopping report about the terrifying progress of HIV/AIDS as it sweeps through and decimates Manhattan's gay population.

"Crisis," in retrospect, was an oddly restrained word for this plague. It suggests policy and control – precisely the things that were absent, according to Kramer, as the political, medical and even gay establishments failed to act with the necessary hard-headed urgency.

There isn't really much plot beyond the premise – a gay writer named Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) tries to sound the alarm, both in the gay community and among officials, over the outbreak of a so-called gay cancer – but there isn't much plot in The Hurt Locker, either. It isn't necessary. The Normal Heart is polemical at heart. That's its strength.

Ned and just about everyone else erupts in violent arguments, denunciations, accusations, counteraccusations, diatribes – these are searing, electrifying moments, furiously articulate and delivered with escalating passion by a cast that includes Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Denis O'Hare, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina and (as a doctor who quickly understands the extent and severity of the epidemic) Julia Roberts.

Mantello, in particular, is given what in theatrical terms is a monologue so big – an aria of frustration and fear that ends with a near-physical collapse – that it could play as pure histrionics on the average television screen. But Kramer's access to the emotions of that place and time are so direct and unfiltered that it works. It's a pummeling, but a good one.

The only such "big" moment that falters is Roberts' key scene, in which she's denied the research funding her patients so desperately need. Roberts can be a daring actress when it comes to showing us a peremptory surliness or hostility – I would say she handily outmaneuvered Meryl Streep in August: Osage County – but here she's allowed to seem proud of it.

That's the thing: The characters in The Normal Heart don't own their anger. It owns them or – Kramer makes no bones about this – it should. It must.

My rating 8 out of 10.

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Angels Of Sex review

Posted : 3 years, 6 months ago on 19 April 2014 04:31 (A review of Angels Of Sex)

A strong underlying message makes this sharply well-acted Spanish drama much more interesting than its premise would suggest. Yes, it's the story of a very complicated love triangle, which might limit its appeal to audiences who aren't threatened by movies that play provocatively with sexuality issues. But it's a thoughtful and involving look at how attraction and even sex are more about a personal connection than gender.

Set in Madrid, the story centres on architect student Bruno (Gonzalez), who is rescued from a mugging by street-dancer Rai (Cervantes). The two immediately hit it off, so when Rai says that he's looking for a place to live, Bruno arranges for him to stay with two friends (Pociello and Garcia Cote). But their friendship develops a spark of attraction that causes Bruno to question his sexuality. And when his long-time girlfriend Carla (Berges-Frisbey) discovers this, her liberal values are pushed to the limit. Can she accept that Bruno has a boyfriend and make room in her life for Rai? Or might this cause another set of problems.

Yes, the plot is fairly sparky, travelling into some unusual areas without ever being gimmicky or preachy. Director Villaverde maintains a remarkably relaxed, warm tone, centring on the shifting relationships between characters who are intriguingly unsure of themselves. Which of course helps us identify with them even more strongly. So even if the romantic melodrama gets a bit too tangled, we can sympathise with each person on-screen.

All three of the central actors are excellent, combining raw physicality with honest soulfulness. Each one approaches this situation from a unique perspective: soul-searching, compartmentalising or being open to whatever life throws at them. And their struggles are surprisingly believable, even when we just want to slap them and tell them to make their minds up. Even the side characters add texture to the story, which catches telling details that turn it into much more than a sexual fantasy. And what makes it worth seeing is its boldly non-Hollywood approach: using both sensitivity and sensuality, it challenges us to look inside ourselves.

My rating 7 out of 10.

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Three Dancing Slaves review

Posted : 3 years, 6 months ago on 19 April 2014 04:20 (A review of Three Dancing Slaves)

Frenchman Gaël Morel directs this tale of three brothers trying to put the pieces together after the death of their mother. The middle brother, Marc (Nicolas Cazalé) anchors the story. He is a petty criminal at odds with his father (Bruno Lachet) while trying to keep his sensitive younger brother Olivier (Thomas Dumerchez) on the right path until their older brother Christophe (Stéphane Rideau) is released from jail. Le Clan is a family drama with plenty of woe and that classic French movie tendency to film nuance to the point of boredom. Sadly, there is just far too much going on here to develop any interested in anyone. While the cinematography is gorgeous and the story of young Olivier's affair with a capoeira dancing arab lad Hicham (Salim Kechiouche) makes the watching tolerable, you leave Le Clan both bored and confused. Not for children as there is a very brutal scene of Marc's dog meeting its demise and full frontal male nudity.

My rating 7 out of 10.

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White Bird in a Blizzard review

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 9 February 2014 08:01 (A review of White Bird in a Blizzard)

In White Bird in a Blizzard, the director (Gregg Araki) tell us the story of Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), a young woman whose life is turned upside down by the sudden disappearance of her beautiful, enigmatic mother (Eva Green).

Identified as being set in 1988, this world looks more like the place where tacky late-’80s home furnishings go to die, a tomb for bad taste in which 17-year-old Kat (Woodley) wrestles with her transformation from awkward butterball to brink-of-legal seductress. With scalpel drawn, Araki is effectively dissecting the mind of the suburban American teen, and yet, instead of doing so in a sterile white laboratory, he conducts his grisly coming-of-age experiments on a series of lipstick-hued sitcom sets.

In the opening scene, Kat comes home from school to find her mother, Eve (Eva Green, deliciously unhinged), suffering a nervous breakdown on her bed. A few days later, Eve is gone entirely, vanished without a trace. Conventional police logic would point to one or two likely suspects. As this is an Araki movie, however, the explanation seems just as likely to be paranormal — an impression reinforced by Kat’s haunting dreams, in which she pictures Eve lying naked beneath a pile of fresh-fallen snow.

Kat is surprisingly unfazed by her mom’s disappearance. The cops send her to a therapist (Angela Bassett), whose consultations help Kat uncover clues within recent examples of her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. Clearly, Kat isn’t the only one troubled by her recent transition from dumpy girl to desirable young woman. Sexually unfulfilled in a loveless marriage (to a miscast Christopher Meloni), Eve sees herself in Kat, not just envying her emerging good looks, but even going to so far as to openly compete with her daughter.

For some reason — insecurity, perhaps, considering her best friends are played by social outcasts Mark Indelicato and Gabourey Sidibe — Kat has opted to give her virginity to the lughead next door, a chisel-chested Neanderthal named Phil (Shiloh Fernandez, not nearly as hot as Araki thinks he is). Kat could do much better, but hasn’t quite realized the extent of her newfound powers — which explains her bewilderment as she studies her own unfamiliar body before the bathroom mirror. (A fat-suited flashback might have helped, since Woodley herself was never the ugly duckling the film asks us to believe.)

Given Araki’s fetishistic attention to surface details — period-specific T-shirts and song selections for the “normal-acting” teen characters, in contrast with Eve’s campy performance style and oddly out-of-time costumes — it’s not immediately apparent how richly psychological the underlying material is. In fact, it’s easy to be distracted by (and possibly even to dismiss) “White Bird” as a tarted-up Nancy Drew mystery without recognizing it’s a complex take on how teens must break away from their parents to become their own person. When the time comes to assert her own independence, Kat must symbolically eliminate the mother and seduce the father figure — which she does by coming on to the ultra-masculine Det. Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane).

Still, even after the solution is staring her in the face, Kat clutches to her own naivete, refusing to accept the truth about her parents. Sexually, she’s ready to become a woman, while mentally, she can’t quite wrap her head around the sordid family secrets, even as the pic’s last-minute twist explains pretty much everything to those in the audience.

The film is amazing. I give it a rating of 8 / 10 : See it ….. It’s Very Good.

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C.R.A.Z.Y. review

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 5 February 2014 04:06 (A review of C.R.A.Z.Y.)

In C.R.A.Z.Y., the director (Jean-Marc Vallée) tell us the story of Zac (Marc-André Grondin), a young gay man dealing with homophobia while growing up with four brothers and a conservative father in 1960s and 1970s Quebec.

At first, we are introduced to Zachary Beaulieu, he grows up in Québec of the 1960s and 1970s, he is the second youngest son of a father with "more than normal-level male hormones" and raised among four brothers, Zac struggles to define his own identity and deal with the conflict between his emerging sexuality and his intense desire to please his strict, temperamental father.

The director is effective in the exploration of the nuances of relationships between the 5 brothers in the film. His style of storytelling is engaging and realistic.

PS: The title derives from the first letter in the names of the five brothers:

C - Christian
R - Raymond
A - Antoine
Z - Zachary
Y - Yvan

And also refers to their father's abiding love of Patsy Cline's song "Crazy", which itself is used as a recurring motif in the film.

The film is amazing. The supporting cast gave poignant performances. I give it a rating of 10 / 10 : See it ….. It’s Very Good.

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Free Fall review

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 5 February 2014 03:54 (A review of Free Fall)

In Free Fall, the director (Stephan Lacant) takes us on a journey with this electrifying German film about police officer, Marc (Hanno Koffler), whose life appears to spin out of control after falling for his fellow co-worker named Kay (Max Riemelt).

At first, we are introduced to Marc who is a typical male, and a police officer, Marc lives with his pregnant girlfriend Bettina (Katharina Schuttler), the story takes a turn and becomes really sizzling when Marc attends a training course and meets a new colleague.

As the picture progresses, Marc loses himself along the way,he free-falls into the abyss. He loses his footing and is unsure of himself, uncertain of his future. He is conflicted as to whether he should remain with Bettina or pursue an uncertain future with Kay (the person he has grown to love). Throughout the film, Marc is torn between two worlds.

When Marc finally comes to rest, he is at peace in this ‘world’. However, this peace fails to last. He is ripped from this new world and is forced to choose.

The director is effective in his exploration of the nuances of relationships in the film. His style of storytelling is engaging and realistic.

The movie is a compelling tale of love and betrayal. A tale which leaves Marc reeling and faced with an enigma; a puzzle.

The film is amazing. The supporting cast gave poignant performances. I give it a rating of 9 / 10 : See it ….. It’s Very Good.

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