99 Homes

99

I really detest movies like this one. 99 Homes runs for 112 minutes, and for 92 of them it is a solid, smartly assembled morality play that even seems to function as a thriller at times. It was on its way of becoming one of the most pleasant surprises of this year, a movie that really got my brain grinding, and then, that disastrous, stupid, stupid, and maudlin climax.

I’m supposed to accept the fact that an eight year old, who up until that point worried only about sports and having a pool, suddenly matures to the point that he is able to discern what a crappy thing his dad is doing, engaging in deals with the devil?

And then I see a drunk and morose Andrew Garfield, the camera lingering on a firearm at his side for a few seconds, as he questions whether his new life is worth losing his family over.

And then that heroic confession, facing down the barrel of a rifle, surrounded by the police!

I swear, it’s like those final 20 minutes were churned out by the Disney factory, or some other author who makes works for children. Gah, I am still frustrated!

C+

Paterson

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Terrence Malick and the likes have accustomed me to think of film as poetic if it features any of the recognizable traits of the maestro-fluid camera movement, longing shots of nature, non-linear structure perhaps.
In Paterson, I discovered a new one.

This is a film that feels like contemplative verses, written on the backyard of a mortgaged home under the clouds of an entirely uneventful summer afternoon.

A-

Saving Private Ryan

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I have a admiration/cringe relationship with Steven Spielberg. On the one hand, I consider him a master storyteller, a genius of his craft, a man that was born to sit behind a movie camera, and has worked his way up to become one of the finest cinema directors the medium has ever seen.
On the other hand, however, is all that cheese. I still recall my double eye roll at one of the final scenes of Bridge of Spies, when the Tom Hanks character sees some children climbing on top of a fence, and the picture segues into German citizens trying to escape from East Berlin.

The same is true of Saving Private Ryan. You get the inspired Spielberg, shooting his actors in a dimly lit church in the middle of the night,  sharing childhood stories, and it is beautiful to behold. And you also get a moving coda from an old veteran, meant to stir emotion into the hearts of viewers.

I think the reason I find Schindler’s List and Munich to be stronger films overall is because Spielberg is not trying to move you to tears. That is very rare, but since he lets us bask into the humanity of the story and the characters-those two previously mentioned movies have plenty scenes like the church one, but none like the cemetery confession-, we feel much more connected to everything that happens on screen.
And when the tears are not forced, the emotion feels better.
It feels, in the words of one character here, earned.

B+

The Constant Gardener

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Love. At Any Cost.
So reads the tagline for The Constant Gardener, a film of rare empathy that also succeeds as a pulse pounding thriller.
On the surface, it’s about a love so intoxicating that Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is willing to die for it. Flashbacks show Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin cavorting in bed, learning each others bodies, arguing.
Their romance is not given the typical romantic treatment, in which the couple goes on a date, camera lingerings on their faces, their gestures, and eventually come to the conclusion they are perfect for each other. We see them taking a bath together, and then we see Justin growing suspicious of Tessa, only for her to assuage his fears with pure, blatant honesty. Perhaps that is why it is so effective. The relationship is built not on grandiose Hollywood gesticulations, but the quiet workings of a couple who are at ease with one another.
The other love is the love for our neighbors. In this case, the poorest neighbors we can possibly imagine, as much of the action takes place in Kenya. Not once does the film induce pity for the happenings in the African continent-there are enough non profits and Facebook groups that do that already.
What the film does, and does so wonderfully, is present an infuriatingly unjust situation and tell the viewer that this is why we should love our neighbor. If we really did, we would not be using destitute Africans as guinea pigs.

There is more. The film also asks up to empathize with people like Tess, activists who have made it their life work to improve those of others. There are scenes in which Tess completely ignores her husband, so lost is she in the righteousness of her mission. We are later told that it was to keep him safe, but it was unnecessary, even hurtful.
Seconds before he commits suicide by shooting himself eight times, Justin tells her as much. Did Tess go overboard? Was her death preventable? What did her actions truly accomplish? Did she end up hurting her husband in the name of love, for him and her neighbors?
May we all find the love we need, so we can finally say we are home.

A-

The Devil’s Candy

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The Devil’s Candy is a maniacally disturbing horror movie in which the devil is literally in the details. An art gallery by the name of Belial, a t-shirt that reads “Master of Puppets”, a hostess in a smoking skin tight red dress.
By placing the action in an environment in which the demon seems to have total dominion over, the proceedings feel disturbing as hell up until the very last shot, in which the skies clear, light shines and Satan appears to retreat, at least until next time.

B+

Mistress America

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It is a rare and fortunate thing, to realize as you’re watching it, that you have a new movie to add to your favorites.
I wish I could hug this script, wish I was there when the collaborative duo Baumbach-Gerwig was working on it, wish I could write as genius, hilarious, confident, moving, wish I could see again and again the scene in which Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is reading her soon to be ex step sister’s story, flips the page around but the other five people that are also reading it tell her to not flip the page so quickly, as they have not finished reading yet.

A