1/17/2019

Netflix Movie Review: Close (2019)


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Determined to bring more authentic female characters to the action genre, filmmaker Vicky Jewson (Born of War) made the wise decision to let the characters drive the action in her latest work, releasing on Netflix on January 18.

Inspired by the life of Jacquie Davis, one of the world's leading female bodyguards, Close is a film that's light on plot and heavy on action.

Sharply choreographed by Eastern Promises stunt and fight coordinator Julian Spencer and thrillingly executed, Close's intense action begins right from the start as we meet our fictional Jacquie stand-in, Sam, played by Noomi Rapace. The very definition of the strong, silent type, we first encounter Sam on assignment in Sudan just before things go sideways in a pre-credit sequence that stylistically echoes the James Bond franchise.


Adding to the 007 effect, Jewson's production is bookended by two catchy pop songs from the band Candy Says including the Shazam-worthy "Running Up the Hill," and "Beautiful Feeling," which play along with the film's opening and closing credits respectively.

An expert in counter-terrorism with far more experience protecting assets in war zones than she does babysitting high value clients, Sam accepts what she assumes will be a temporary close protection officer assignment guarding Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse), a rich heiress with abandonment issues still grieving the death of her father.

Traveling with Zoe to a veritable safe house in Morocco run by the security team from her stepmother's (Indira Varma) company is supposed to mark the end of the assignment as far as Sam is concerned. Yet although discharged by the Moroccan security team, Sam agrees to stay at Zoe's insistence at least until morning when her time would officially be up, which turns out to be a crucial decision that drives Close's plot forward like a bullet train after the two barely make it out alive following a violent kidnapping attempt in the middle of the night.


Soon realizing that instead of a random attack, they're being hunted, although they initially got off on the wrong foot, Sam and Zoe find themselves having to rely on each other as they try to survive long enough to identify the culprit behind it all.

Featuring a strong turn by the ever-fearless Rapace, who trained with Davis and did all of her own stunts from heart-racing unarmed brawls to an underwater fight to the death, Jewson's technically stellar film, which was shot in just 29 days, boasts an ace crew including her longtime cinematographer Malte Rosenfeld and Bourne camera operator Klemens Becker.

While the characters or rather their situation dictates the action as Jewson intended, Close's breakneck pacing and professional polish goes a long way toward helping us overlook the fact that we know about as much about Sam and Zoe as they do regarding the peril in which they find themselves during the film's ninety-four minute running time.


Too often working off of context clues in the form of weak dialogue, although the action genre is full of heroes we know almost nothing about such as The Man With No Name and others whose lives get revealed throughout such as John McClane's in Die Hard, Close tries to have it both ways.

Not knowing how to balance conversational scenes with first rate action, particularly when it comes to piecing together Sam's emotional backstory, Jewson and her co-writer (producer Rupert Whitaker) decide to bring us up to speed once and for all, clumsily and inorganically depositing a character in Morocco whose sole purpose seems to be telling the audience exactly what we need to know before getting shot.

Regrettably, taking such a blunt approach to Sam as well as Zoe (whose own bio is literally shown to us in Sam's case folder) weakens their credibility by inviting us relate to the two more like we would heroines in a video game rather than fully three dimensional people. And while that's a definite misstep, everything else about Close – especially the gutsy, all-in performances by our leads – keeps us thoroughly invested.


Better skilled at sticking the landing when it comes to the otherwise light plot, Jewson and Whitaker deliver some clever twists as the women try to figure out not only who is after them but also who they can trust. And even though my Netflix press screener was missing English subtitles in a few brief scenes conducted entirely in a foreign language, Close does a terrific job of showing rather than simply telling the viewer (as well as Sam and Zoe) just what exactly is going on by the final showdown.

A far cry from action movies of the past that found damsels in distress resorting to running behind their male protector in a skirt and heels, while I wish Close's leads would've been better defined, it's impossible not to watch the film without a sense of vicarious pride as Rapace takes on any and all challengers by land or by sea.

The first of at least two planned collaborations between Jewson and Rapace that center on bringing more authentic female heroes to the genre, luckily for Close fans, the helmer will also revisit Davis's life in a future eight episode planned Netflix series, based on her book.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

1/11/2019

Blu-ray Review: Cop Car (2015)


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Trading curse words over rationed beef jerky in a game of gradually escalating dares, two bored runaway pre-teen boys get much more than they bargained for after they apply the logic of Finder's Keepers to a seemingly abandoned squad car they've stumbled onto in the middle of a rural Colorado field shortly into this startlingly original sleeper.

Knowing that they haven't been gone long enough for somebody have called the authorities to track them down, the boys quickly move from challenging one another to touch the car to hopping inside for a joy ride.


Taking the opportunity to change the point-of-view, Cop Car helmer Jon Watts moves the narrative backwards in time. Revealing just who and what is waiting for the boys on the other side of the thin blue line, it becomes clear that our young leads have unknowingly set foot inside a real world version of cops and robbers that's far more gray than black and white.

Thin, wiry, and wide-eyed, as the conniving sheriff with his head on a swivel who's up to no good, star and producer Kevin Bacon turns in one of his creepiest villainous performances since he first blew all memories of Footloose sky-high terrorizing Meryl Streep (and this reviewer) over twenty years ago as River Wild's self-described "different kind of nice guy."


Fast-paced by necessity and design, although it's easy to get so caught up in the increasingly nerve-wracking storyline that you lose sight of the way the film sets up future twists and turns to come – most notably through inventive camera angles which call extra attention to the police cruiser's trunk – Cop Car hooks you from the start nonetheless.

On par with The Gift as one of 2015’s strongest independent thrillers since the previous year's Blue Ruin and Cold in July, this word-of-mouth film festival favorite serves as a vital reminder that great storytelling will always trump costly special effects.


Yet while film buffs can spot traces of Duel, Stand By Me, and Blood Simple in Cop Car's structural, spiritual, and stylistic DNA, by embracing the innocence of its characters as opposed to taking an unrealistic Kick-Ass style campy shortcut to let them incredulously succumb to the violence, Watts' work remains refreshingly unique.

Never straying too far from darkly realist, Neo Noir terrain, Watts and his stellar team on both sides of the screen refuse to betray their vision or let Cop Car's limited budget get in the way of the tale they’ve dreamed of telling.


Creatively firing on all cylinders while coming up with unexpected ways to bring the action to a head, similar to the way that the titular discovery surprised our talented, young leads in the first act, Cop Car is sure to sneak up on you.

A thrilling Bacon anchored vehicle that demands you buckle up tight, Cop Car is a Finder's Keeper indeed, even if, like all movies (and road trips alike), it’s best enjoyed when you bring others along for the ride.




Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

DVD Review: The Last Diamond (2014)


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Pitting Yvan Attal’s thieving con artist opposite Bérénice Bejo's sophisticated mark, The Last Diamond spins together a classy yet convoluted yarn of caper movie cat-and-mouse that begins with Attal fresh out of jail and hot on the trail of the legendary (and long-rumored to be cursed) Florentine diamond he hopes will be his final score.

From exotic international locales to assumed identities, not to mention the obligatory third act complication of love vs. money when Attal falls for Bejo, while he isn't always successful, Last Diamond co-writer and director Éric Barbier tries to inject some new French twists into the tried and true tropes of one of his country's favorite genres.


Relying on not only plot twists but pace and top-notch editing to try and disguise the fact that together its two undeniably talented and attractive leads generate very little onscreen heat, Diamond is proof that a filmmaker can fake nearly everything except sexual chemistry.

Moving so quickly at times that it fails to take full advantage of some truly inventive character-based complications (including a classic "locked room" mystery that puts everything in motion), while we find ourselves wanting to know more about our two endlessly fascinating yet underwritten leads, Barbier assures us again and again that he has no shortage of ideas.


Making the most of charismatic Yvan Attal's versatility as an actor running multiple cons as multiple characters in a film that reteamed the gifted actor (and filmmaker in his own right) with his Serpent director, Attal steals focus throughout Diamond in the film's sharpest role as the would-be jewel thief.

Largely overshadowed by the machinations of Diamond's serpentine plot, in her under-utilized role, Bejo is unable to let loose or let us in until her character is subsequently given the same opportunity (far too) late into the film.


Hoping to bring everything together in a confusing and overcrowded final act, The Last Diamond leads viewers through a veritable maze of twists and turns which, despite their entertainment value, are so overwrought that it'd be an impressive feat if you could explain let alone recall even half of everything that happened a week later.

And although it aims for buoyant Ocean's Eleven style charm by way of a fun bookend scene that finds Attal plying his trade as a drunken naked hotel guest, after so much ping-ponging back-and-forth in tone from comedy to Noir, we find ourselves unconvinced of its success overall on either front.


Alternating from disappointingly average to amusingly inspired, Diamond is ideal entertainment for a lazy evening of armchair travel at home.

Yet with so much French caper talent to spare, it’s both hard not to imagine what might have been and easy to believe that both heist subgenres might've worked better if only the writers and editors had chosen precisely which yarn they wanted to spin back when they were still deciding just who would be the cat and who would be the mark.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Time Freak (2018)


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Writer-director Andrew Bowler has been making movies about righting past wrongs since his very first IMDb credited short back in 1995.

Switching gears to zero in on interpersonal versus criminal wrongdoing both in and beyond his 2002 feature filmmaking debut – similar to the way that his protagonist in both the Academy Award nominated 2011 short film Time Freak and its titular 2018 full-length adaptation discover an inventive way to make things right – Bowler managed to do the same for his favorite theme with Time.


Believing that nothing focuses your mind like a broken heart, after his beautiful girlfriend Debbie (Sophie Turner) breaks up with him, Stillman (Asa Butterfield) gets to work. Using a formula he came up with on the day they first met to create what anyone who's ever been dumped desires most, the physics wunderkind invents a time machine to give him a second chance to fix his mistakes.

Having laid out a timeline of their entire relationship complete with smiley faces and red dots to differentiate the good times from the bad, Stillman sets out to repair every one of his blunders with a little help from his goofy yet surprisingly wise best friend Evan, played by Skyler Gisondo (who frequently steals the film away from the leads).


A clever idea brought affably to life, Time Freak benefits from a game group of actors and sharp editing, which boosts the film's comedic energy and pacing, particularly in a playful scene that finds Evan stuck in an elevator from hell while Stillman relives one of his favorite moments from his relationship again and again.

Yet while it's surprisingly effective as a whole, Bowler's script begins to lose its momentum midway into the second half, due as much to repetition as to the fact that the characters themselves are nowhere near as interesting as the overall premise. Likewise, with Stillman – the film's most one-dimensional character – running the show from start to finish, it becomes noticeably apparent that the others have very little agency.


Saying a lot for the chemistry and skill of its cast that the film's character problems were easy to overlook for so long, fortunately Time's Stillman-centric narrative hinders Evan only slightly because he has the ability to engage with the lead on a more knowing level as he watches his friend become self-centered and obsessive.

However this leaves the already underwritten, slightly daffy Debbie (and regrettably the talented Sophie Turner) with nothing to do but react to the latest whim and/or variation of whatever it is that Stillman's trying to fix as little more than an idealized Romcom Manic Pixie Dream Girl.


Still a valuable reminder to everyone – especially fellow overly analytical, apologetic Type A overachievers – that regret and respectful disagreement are healthy and necessary parts of life, despite some clunks in Time Freak's final act, Bowler's energetic film earns far more happy faces than red dots.

Arriving on Lionsgate Blu-ray with an insightful commentary track and making-of featurette, the highlight of the newly released title is the inclusion of the original imaginative Oscar nominated short, which not only started it all but also gave Bowler the time (machine?) and second chance he was looking for to make the big screen version of the film right.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

1/04/2019

Film Movement DVD Review: Un Traductor (2018)


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"Are you a doctor already?"

Having quit medical school after one semester to become a professor of Russian language and literature, the last place that Cuban academic Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) thought he’d end up was a hospital.

"I’m working on a doctorate," he tells his young son Javier (Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera) who's just as confused as he is when Malin's classes are suddenly canceled by the government. "I'm not a doctor."


Assigned to work as a translator for the Soviet patients and families of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster who've been sent to Cuba for treatment, to say that Malin is out of his depth is an understatement, especially after he learns that he's been assigned the children's ward.

Forced to explain to a mother that nothing more can be done for her daughter his first night on the job, Malin initially walks away from his assignment working alongside Gladys (beautifully played by Maricel Álvarez).

A nurse who's a fellow outsider simply because she's from Argentina, after Malin learns that Gladys has covered for him when his absence is reported to the ministry, he returns to the hospital and gradually begins to apply the same tactics he uses as a professor and a father to his work with the children.


Bringing in some of Javier's favorite books for story time to give them an escape from the gloomily lit green-gray hospital, Malin also provides the children with an outlet for their feelings by inviting them to-write or draw on the back of what we gather are the pages of his long in process thesis.

Refusing to either play up the tragedy of the heartbreaking situation or paint Malin as a Patch Adams style saint, which is quite a feat considering that the film was directed by the real life Malin's sons – Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso in their feature filmmaking debut – the multilayered award-winning Cuban-Canadian feature is filled with complexity.

Exacerbated by his schedule as he works all night and sleeps all day, Malin starts to see the world with the same life or death urgency of the hospital while going through an existential crisis of his own. Shutting out the world which, with the fall of the Berlin wall has brought hunger and a gas shortage to Cuba, Malin's pregnant wife Isona (Yoandra Suárez) is forced to juggle all of the duties of the household and try to take on the role of both parents to Javier.


While everything comes crashing down on the characters all at once in a predictable third act dramatic conflict, screenwriter Lindsay Gossling gets credit for not only expanding Un Traductor's point of view but also reminding the viewer that the myth that we can have it all isn't gender specific, as the formerly devoted husband and father starts neglecting his wife and son.

Belittling his wife's work as an art curator by contrasting it with the hospital – somehow forgetting his own background in the humanities as well – the filmmakers foreshadow some of the drama to come onscreen and off for Malin and Isona.

An involving chronicle of an ordinary man trying to make a difference on the most basic human level, although Un Traductor's ambition gets the best of the film at times by touching on socioeconomic and historical subplots that it never fully explores, it's still an impressive achievement, not to mention an all-around terrific feature filmmaking debut.


Though universal in its appeal overall, Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso's film is nonetheless hindered by the fact that its success is dependent upon how much you know about that era in history.

Relying on big historical events like the fall of the wall to deduce the year the film takes place, while the absence of specifics only strengthens the hospital arc by highlighting the way so many strangers work side-by-side to save a life, at the same time its lack of context in framing it for today's audiences does lessen its reach.

Instantly transporting the viewer to Cuba, M.I. Littin-Menz's stellar cinematography effectively illustrates the contrast of life for Malin in and outside the hospital at the end of the cold war.

Featuring a tender, moving performance by Santoro alongside a strong supporting cast (including a memorable Nikita Semenov as one of the young patients), Un Traductor is newly available on DVD and digital from Film Movement and will be premiering on Film Movement Plus in the future.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.