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Não Devore Meu Coração (2017)
The hottest of hot messes
I'm going to preface this review by saying that of the films that I saw at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival, this was my least favorite. It frustrated me, made me angry, and yet, I couldn't stop thinking about how angry and frustrated it made me, so in retrospect this may be a selling point. Take that as you will.
So, an excruciatingly terrible title aside, the film is essentially Romeo and Juliet meets West Side Story with twelve-year olds - crossed with Stand By Me meets Beasts of the Southern Wild. Don't Swallow My Heart Alligator Girl suffers from a full blown identity crisis as far as what kind of film it wants to be - be it a coming of age tale, a magical- realism fantasy, a gang rivalry thriller, a family drama - before finally deciding "screw it" and trying to be all of them at once.
The end result? It's a complete mess. The film tries to do too many things all at once and never stays focused long enough for you to care. It blends relatively nuanced family/sibling drama with magical realism and tween romance and also gang warfare but also historical supernatural feuds - none of it gels. It's so set on bringing you all of these different ideas that it forgets to fully develop any of them. Cauã Reymond delivers the best performance in the film whereas the two young leads are precocious and completely insufferable - despite the fact that they are supposed to carry the bulk of the emotional backstory. I never cared about them, and at over two hours, the film is a complete slog from beginning to end.
The entire film is set in a dingy town with a very limited color palate, and unfortunately there is never a sense of place about the town either. At least when the two kids meet at night there is a variance in look somewhat - the sky is captured as a hazy dark blue with fireflies glowing all around. Overall, it looks fine - visually, but there's nothing particularly dynamic about it.
Don't Swallow My Heart Alligator Girl feels like bits and pieces from completely different movies cobbled together, with a flimsy framework of a plot to tie them together. The film shoots for the stars and deserves points for trying something different, but none of the film's disparate elements feel cohesive.
O Ornitólogo (2016)
Totally mesmerizing and completely baffling
When I came out of The Ornithologist I was totally perplexed and unsure of what I had just seen. At one point I thought it was a film about one man's descent into madness, at another I thought it was a tale of the mystery and spirituality of nature and the unknown, a film about loneliness and despair, then I thought maybe it was a character study of queerness and male sexuality. For all I know this film could be all of these things or none of them whatsoever.
Because I don't want to spoil anything - and because I can't describe what happens in this film without sounding like a lunatic, I'll say this: the film follows a solitary Ornithologist who gets lost in the forest and the increasingly strange things that happen to him as he tries to find his way home.
Funnily enough, The Ornithologist plays almost like a parody of an art-house film - and like most art-house, this is not a film for everyone. Consider yourself warned. In terms of its structure, the unfolding of its narrative as well as the way it uses images and sounds to unnerve and to hypnotize you - this is either going to infuriate or bewitch viewers. I can happily say that I was completely bewitched. I fell under its spell, it got under my skin in a way that I cannot describe and I couldn't stop thinking about it after I saw it. I am under no illusion that I understand most of what I saw, but watching it I could tell that this is exactly the film that director João Pedro Rodrigues wanted to make - it makes no compromises for anybody.
The Ornithologist is daring and strange - there are so many unanswered questions, and I couldn't possibly explain to you what it's about or what happens without sounding certifiably insane, but I am so fine with that - I was completely mesmerized. Give it a chance; you might hate it with every fiber of your being or you might love it and be as enchanted by it as I was.
A gentle, moving and emotionally satisfying love story
What's interesting about Esteros is how little surprises there are. The film plays out almost exactly as one would expect, its flashback structure isn't particularly innovative and the conflict isn't particularly tense either. And yet, I am in love with this film.
Esteros plays largely like a fan-fiction - and not in a bad way either. Childhood friends with an intimate friendship, grow apart with time only to reunite years later unexpectedly to rekindle their friendship and something more.
The film rests entirely on the intimate relationship between between Matias and Jeronimo - and for good reason too. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable - there is a sense of age to their relationship dynamic, that when they interact for the first time in years it feels awkward and tepid, as if they were relearning how to be around each other. It's those small details that lend an honesty and a truth to the relationship - so that when they kiss for the first time, the film has been building immensely towards it.
It is Esteros' devotion to the small emotional details that make it so emotionally satisfying. While not groundbreaking by any means, its gentleness and sweetness are infectious, and it's always nice to see a queer-themed film that wants its characters to get the happy ending they deserve.
An immersive, visceral experience.
Dunkirk plays almost like an old-fashioned disaster film. The film follows characters on land (Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles), on the sea (Mark Rylance, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn- Carney) and in the sky (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) - each with a very different role to play in the events that unfold.
Director Christopher Nolan paints visual poetry with Dunkirk. Shooting on film in 70mm, IMAX-- the whole nine yards pays off with relish. The film is beautiful to look at and the carnage is jaw- dropping. I had the pleasure of being invited to an IMAX screening of the film and having the images truly fill your field of vision immerses you even further into the events on screen.
Hans Zimmer's score sets the viewer on edge from the very beginning - a distinct ticking sound permeates most of the score. That, paired with the ear-ringing sounds of explosions and gunfire - which often occur without warning, establish a sense of dread and unease that an attack could happen at any moment, no matter how calm an on screen exchange may be.
There is a certain level of emotional detachment throughout most of the film, albeit with certain moments that pop. I think this works in the film's favor in that we see that some soldiers will do whatever they must to survive - with one expressing that "survival isn't fair". This isn't a rousing war film with swelling strings and beautiful sunsets. Dunkirk is grimy and grim with death at every corner. There is a sense that the suffering of its characters do not end when the credits roll.
If I were to note any caveats, the pacing is a little wobbly in its second act as the film bounces between characters, and some may take issue with the repetitive, prolonged nature of certain sequences of carnage. That being said, these caveats are minor.
Nolan has crafted a beautifully tense and viscerally immersive spectacle that you should see on the biggest possible screen you can find. Dunkirk is an experience to behold.
The Square (2017)
A strange, uncomfortable and fascinating look at society
This is a hard film to describe and an even harder film to review but I'm going to try my best to express how I felt about it.
In an attempt to put it simply, The Square follows a modern art museum curator named Christian (played by Claes Bang), and some increasingly strange experiences which shape his views and understandings of the world he lives in and the people around him.
I had the chance to see this film on opening night at the New Zealand International Film Festival, and I am so glad I did. The Square plays like an increasingly bizarre farce, and while the film is indeed very funny (sometimes in shocking ways) it provides a consistently fascinating look at our behavior as people in society. Now I realize that isn't necessarily innovative for a film in 2017, but that said, The Square dares to pose increasingly uncomfortable questions to its audience.
From the inherent narcissism of even the most ordinary of people, to the shallowness of popular culture, to the complex behaviors and interactions between people of disparate backgrounds. Again, these ideas are not necessarily novel, but the film presents them in a way that is consistently entertaining - even when certain exchanges on- screen are uncomfortable. There is a scene that takes place at a gathering of elite artists and sponsors that is as squirm-inducing as anything I've seen all year. I also must point out the constant use of dead-pan humor with verbal and visual gags throughout as one of the film's secret weapons.
I would warn that this is not a film for everyone. The pacing is uneven, the structure is unusual, and there isn't a whole lot of forward momentum to propel the film forward. But, if you are willing to meet the film halfway, I think you're in for a fascinating, shocking, hilarious and uncomfortable (skewered) mirror into the society we live in.
A solidly entertaining - if uneven sequel
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a welcome breath of fresh air. After being swamped with comic-movies obsessed with the end of the world and setting up whatever was to come in the next 80 movies or so - here was a movie dedicated to giving audiences something unique and fresh and entertaining for entertainment's sake (this coming from a viewer who has recently come to resenting the comic-book movie genre as a whole, mind you).
For the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 retains the fun of the original. The special effects are dazzling, the humor is sharp, and the set-pieces are exhilarating. The opening action sequence over the credits alone is terrific. So off the top it's pretty great. The expansion of the Guardians' world allows for a wealth of truly inventive design.
However, the film spends a lot of time answering questions raised in the first film, rather than telling a unique story with its characters (which I thought the first film did beautifully). Peter Quill isn't given a whole lot to do in the film, and funnily enough, his journey throughout the film feels the most underdeveloped. As far as the plot is concerned, not to get into spoilers, Quill almost feels like an afterthought - simply because there is so much going on. Rooker and Cooper as Yondu and Rocket, respectively, steal the show - providing some of the most entertaining moments of the film as well as probably the most emotionally engaging relationship of the many. The cast are game and give it their all, and their energy really breathe life into their characters, but it's hard for the film to convey the notion of a rag-tag bunch of misfits becoming a family when they're all apart from each other for so much of the film.
Although, not to get into spoilers, the film ends on a rather somber note - which I didn't expect and I admire the film for doing so. It commits wholeheartedly to a certain character beat and makes it work for the story. That's all I'll say.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is by no means a bad film - not even average. It's solid. Truly. But coming off the heels of the original, it narrowly misses it's mark. Our hero isn't given much of an arc, the characters are separated from each other for the bulk of the film, and it's a little too concerned with addressing unanswered questions from the original. That being said, the film retains the briskness, the fun, edge and unusual sense of humor that made the previous film so memorable - just enough that most is forgiven.
Geography Club (2013)
Feel good, charming and very inspiring-- if heavily flawed...
Geography Club is an exceptionally motivated film. It's messages are simultaneously subtle and prominent--and there are many that audiences can take from it. It's appeal, whilst obviously aimed towards adolescents, is genuine. It never feels cheap, never ham-fisted and doesn't try to be something that it isn't. The performances from it's cast are exceptional, and I feel inclined to note in particular Ted Ovilares whose incredible and heartbreaking portrayal of Brian Bund was perfect, and Cameron Deane Stewart who played a very identifiable and relatable Russell Middlebrook. It's funny, it's fast, it's beautifully filmed, charming, feel good and inspiring pure and simple.
However, the film's biggest flaw to me-- as a person who's read the novel-- is that it barely scrapes the surface of what the characters and their development, and their relationships were. For instance, Russell and Kevin's relationship, whilst sweetly and endearingly portrayed in the film, was simply not explored nearly enough to be able to understand the depth of his feelings for Kevin (and vice versa). In the book, (SPOILERS) the reason why Kevin and Russell's break up at the end is so heartbreaking is because they were still in love with each other afterwards, they both wanted different things as characters--Russell was prepared to be out whilst Kevin was not--and they knew that it couldn't work despite their feelings for each other. In the film, it's just not very satisfyingly portrayed. The characters aren't as layered as they are in the book.
What I'm trying to say is that there is so much more to these characters than what you see in the film--which really only barely scrapes the surface of them. Their motivations behind their decisions and their priorities-- what is important to them and what (and who) they care about is what makes them and their stories so compelling. I understand that liberties have to be taken when adapting content to the screen, and while the way the characters are seen very much fit the narrative direction the film chose, I just didn't feel as if we spent enough time with them to truly understand their relationships--their growth or deterioration, and feel what they're going through. What's simply missing here is a sense of narrative resolution.
This being said however, Geography Club is a must see film for adolescents. I can almost guarantee that there will be something or someone in the film that any viewer will be able to identify with and or relate to. It's fast, it's funny, it's inspiring and it's flawed, but I cannot recommend it more. It's such an important film that I am sure viewers from all walks of life will recognize its importance.