Dienstag, 11. November 2014

Short takes

Brazilian director Paulo Morelli's "Entre nós (Sheep's Clothing)" is a relationship drama in thriller packaging which fails to be either dramatic or thrilling. Centered around a group of friends who meet again to dig up the time capsule they buried ten years ago- just before one of them died in a car accident- the plot is messy, fatally unfocused. Not content with just exploring the moral dilemma of someone living off the theft of a dead buddy, it tries to spice things up with sexual tension between every other combination among the protagonists. The result is something utterly, at times laughably implausible. Not helping matters is the overzealous film score with its obvious, exaggerated emotional cues, which reaches a low in one absurd scene of desperate intercourse on a swing set. The amber-ish translucent cinematography delivers some lovely, advert-ready imagery of the leafy valley in São Chico but it's not nearly enough to save the narrative mediocrity crushed by its own blind pursuits.      

Neither Victorian classical nor fashionably contemporized, "Mr. Turner" is a peculiar film to consider. Chronicling the life of famed 18th century marine painter J.M.W. Turner, it follows no conventional biopic trajectory and depicts the various dealings of its protagonist in a fairly loose structure. But while there are dry patches during the rather lavish 150-min running time, for the most part it remains an absorbing, inexplicably magnetic experience. Once again, British maestro Mike Leigh puts his uncommon gift of capturing the humor and profundity of the everyday to use. How he coaxes a thoroughly foreign, ancient type of quirk out of interactions from a bygone era is remarkable. The cast is also superb, not just Timothy Spall as the cruel, passionate Turner, but also Dorothy Atkinson as his meek housekeeper, Marion Bailey as his loving final companion along with other memorable guest appearances. The golden cinematography is often beautiful but the curious score rising like a constant question mark is perhaps even more impressive.

British director Matthew Warchus' "Pride" is traditional storytelling of the tidiest kind: identifiable hardships, uncomfortable confrontations and painful setbacks lead ultimately, unerringly to a triumphant, heart-warming finale. To cover the many aspects of the unlikely alliance in mid-80's England between Welsh miners and the London gay community, the well-meaning script can feel quite abbreviated and formulaic, with reconciliations too easily facilitated and changes of mind not convincingly mapped. That said, the message of solidarity is nothing if not inspiring and the direction is familiar but undeniably sturdy. Together they bring about this highly infectious burst of joyous, righteous convictions which culminates in an expectedly but nonetheless powerfully moving ending. Technical details are fine with some notable retro costume design. The whole cast is delightful, especially the mighty Imelda Staunton, who, as a tiny but unstoppable ball of energy, gives common decency a necessary, unapologetically loud voice.

The Rio-set kidnapping thriller "O Lobo atrás da Porta (A Wolf at the Door)" is all kinds of exciting until that stupendously crude ending. While the disappearance of a child seems to be cleared up just 5 minutes into the film, it's all but the beginning of a twisted tale of infidelity, lies, jealousy and abuse. Brazilian writer/director Fernando Coimbra shows tremendous promise as a stylish, engrossing storyteller. By way of contradictory narratives offered from different perspectives, he gives what's portrayed on screen a jagged, unsettling edge of unreliability. And despite the less-than-crystalline picture quality, the handheld camera is always positioned at bold, suggestive angles or in oppressively close proximity to the action to keep a smothering grip on the viewer's imagination. Lead actress Leandra Leal plays flirty, petrified and brutalized to great effect, making it doubly frustrating that the film should wrap on such an emptily violent note, spoiling expectations of an appropriately surprising release from all the suspense.

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