July 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”)
Written by: Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”)

Despite an emotionally-charged performance by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) as a mother whose life takes a tragic turn and prompts her to abandon her child, “Aloft” is a film drowning in vagueness and self-importance. Directed by Peruvian Oscar-nominated filmmaker Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”), “Aloft” is shot with passion from behind the camera, but Llosa’s script is such a thematic mess, it’s impossible for anything to overshadow its pretentious nature.

The film jumps back and forth between the past and present, which would be an embraced storytelling technique if the time frames didn’t feel so detached. Connelly stars as Nana, the mother of two boys, one of which is living with a terminal illness, who puts her faith in a healer known as the Architect (William Shimmel) to cure her son.

Fast forward to the present where one of Nana’s young boys Ivan (Cillian Murphy), now an adult and a falconer, has been hoodwinked by Jannia (Melanie Laurent), a French filmmaker with ulterior motives about why she has come to interview Ivan for a documentary she is making. After a series of untruths between each other, the two set out on a journey to find Nana who has since become somewhat of a healer herself.

With a frustratingly constructed screenplay that never reaches the emotional high notes Llosa is trying to hit, “Aloft” is rich in atmosphere and poetry, but never find a way to bring it all together narratively. It’s fairly evident that Llosa has some deep-seated sentiment she wants to make soar, but the way she confronts her material as a screenwriter is not very welcoming. The pace moves to the sound of a death knell, which wouldn’t be a problem in itself if Llosa was able to inject a little life into these depressing characters. Nevertheless, “Aloft” stays mostly stagnant until Connelly turns a switch and gives a depth to her character that is accessible to the audience. It’s not enough, however, as Llosa’s heavy-handedness ultimately comes out on top.


March 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Javier Gullón (“Hierro”)

Following last year’s extremely tense thriller “Prisoners,” director Denis Villeneuve teams up once again with actor Jake Gyllenhaal for “Enemy,” a bizarrely atmospheric and often times metaphoric head scratcher featuring an open-ended narrative most mainstream audiences would probably scoff at. Villeneuve isn’t the type of director to serve up answers to his audience without making them think at a higher level than most filmmakers. We’re not talking quantum physics here, but even more so than “Prisoners,” Villeneuve demands viewers not to expect simple solutions for the puzzling scenarios he presents onscreen.

In “Enemy,” which was actually shot before “Prisoners,” Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, an introverted history professor whose life has become very repetitious. Teaching the same lessons to his classes and coming home to the same dark apartment are events Adam has acclimated to over the years. His daily routine is broken, however, when Adam, on the recommendation from a colleague, rents an obscure movie and discovers that a bit-part actor in the film looks exactly like him. Curious to know more about this man who shares all his physical features (doppelganger? long lost twin brother?), Adam searches him out. Although the self-absorbed actor, Anthony St. Claire, is not very interested in the strange connection they have, he soon changes his mind and wants to meet Adam to see the similarities for himself.

Their initial meeting thrusts them into a mysterious mind game of skepticism and deceit wherein the two men decide they would like to try living as the other for a weekend. Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón (“Hierro”) are vague in their reasoning for this Machiavellian-like switch to take place other than for the story to move forward. Adam’s reaction to his discovery is also peculiarly written and not entirely believable. Would someone search out an individual in such a clandestine way? Sure, it adds to the intrigue of the story and to Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, but it doesn’t always feel true to life.

Despite its flaws, “Enemy,” based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, is sharp in its delivery and creates this underlying discomfort that is perfect for its subject matter. Gyllenhaal gives a pair of strong performances as Adam and Anthony, the latter of whom comes with a lot of unusual baggage, including a sexual fetish that plays into the storyline with some creepy imagery. Villeneuve’s vision, too, is unsettling. With the film washed out in a yellow hue, “Enemy” gives off this sense of repulse that is more than skin deep. Pick at the scabs long enough and something ugly is bound to seep out.


October 12, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Mélanie Laurent
Directed by: Cédric Klapisch (“Russian Dolls”)
Written by: Cédric Klapisch (“Russian Dolls”)

Not much adds up in French director Cédric Klapisch’s film “Paris” although the incoherent trip through the city is quite appealing to the eye. Academy Award winning actress Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”) is lovely in her portrayal of a sister who moves in with her sick brother to take care of him. But beyond a couple of stories intertwined between each other, Klapisch get messy when he doesn’t let up with secondary characters and plot points that feel like they’re just blowing in the Paris wind.

Inglourious Basterds

August 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”)

As Brad Pitt’s character Lt. Aldo Raine retracts his bloody knife after carving a swastika into an enemy’s forehead at the end of “Inglourious Basterds” (misspelling intended), he admires his artistic work and makes a confident statement: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.”

If that’s any indication of what filmmaker Quentin Tarantino thinks about his new highly stylized World War II flick, he’s sorely mistaken. That doesn’t mean, however, that the director of such films as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” hasn’t delivered audiences a very entertaining spectacle. Along with Tarantino’s unique directorial approach and take on German history, an undoubtedly remarkable performance by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz makes “Inglourious Basterds” a summer blockbuster must-see.

In the film, Lt. Raine (Pitt) leads a bloodlusting team of Jewish soldiers known as the Basterds through France killing Nazis and collecting their scalps. Tarantino settles on Lt. Raine to be the spokesperson for his “bushwhacking guerilla army” and therefore doesn’t bother much with the stories of the other members of the renegade militia. We do learn a bit about Eli Roth’s character Sgt. Donny Donowitz (AKA the Bear Jew), whose weapon of choice for killing members of the Third Reich is a baseball bat, and the sadistic streak of Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger). Other than that, the rest of the Basterds are lost in the gunfire.

Those who think “Inglourious Basterds” is really all about “killin’ Nazis” will be disappointed. This isn’t a story like “Kill Bill” where the Bride is checking off victims from her hit list one by one. It’s interesting that Tarantino went with the title “Inglourious Basterds” in the first place. One of the many working titles, “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France,” which is used as a chapter title instead, fits the synopsis much better since the Basterds themselves are only a fraction of the action.

The rest of the film follows Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), a young Jewish movie theater owner who four years prior escaped a massacre involving her entire family. Back to his familiar theme of revenge, Tarantino sets Shosanna on that exact path when she finds out her theater has been chosen to host the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film. With the screening being attended by the most high-ranking Third Reich officers, Shosanna see an opportunity to get her revenge and ultimately end the war in one night.

But with an always-suspicious Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), who is known as “the Jew Hunter,” watching everyone’s every move, pulling off the murders of hundreds of German soldiers might be a bit more difficult than first anticipated. As Landa, Waltz gives us one of the best overall performances of the year; one brimming with tension-building dialogue and just enough humor to keep him from becoming as terrifying as someone like Ralph Fiennes’s Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List.” Alone, Waltz is worth the price of admission ten times over.

As a writer and director, Tarantino is still one of the most creative voices working today, but he allows “Basterds” to get away from him in a few of his chapters. Another story involving actress Diane Kruger (“Troy”) as Bridget von Hammersmark, a German movie star turned spy, seemed like an unnecessary addition to the plot.

Nevertheless, Tarantino has fashioned some flat-out great scenes with some good ones. It all adds up to a manic faux-history lesson only someone like he could conjure up.