Search Film Reviews

Sunday, June 30, 2013

THE FACE OF ANOTHER Review - Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2013

Courtesy of Rai Cinema

2013, 83 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Pappi Corsicato’s The Face of Another can best be described as a mix of Fellini, Matteo Garrone’s Reality, with a heavy dose of early, campy Almodóvar.  It is insane, hilarious, and bizarre like few others.  The film follows a woman who, after being let go by her television show and getting her face smashed in after a car accident, decides to fake disfigurement with the help of her plastic surgeon husband to get a large amount of insurance money.  This is only the beginning of the insanity that unfolds. 

The film opens on a group of plastic surgery patients on the lawn of their plastic surgery resort with opera music playing in the background.  It is surreal, cinematic, and hilarious.  Corsicato has a great handle on this wacky material and has a real knack for directing it.  Creating a film like The Face of Another is extremely hard, as one has to keep the lunacy in check while still supplying enough and making it crazy enough to be unique. 

The actors are all completely game for whatever Corsicato gives them, and this makes the film especially entertaining.  All of the actors give pitch perfect performances, but it is Laura Chiatti as Bella, the lead, who has serious charisma and charm.  She commands the screen and performs her outrageous role naturally.

The Face of Another is also a really funny satire on celebrity obsession that just isn’t quite as sharp as it thinks it is.  While it certainly is funny, it doesn’t have as much of a punch at the end as I wish it had. 

Corsicato is smart enough to allow his film to get crazy when it needs to be.  As it keeps going, The Face of Another keeps getting crazier and crazier before its (literally) explosive finale.  While it is definitely frontloaded with the insanity and definitely fizzles a bit towards the end, it keeps consistently entertaining and engaging, never letting itself get boring.

Overall, The Face of Another was by far the best movie I saw at this year’s disappointing Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2013 Festival.  It is simply a ridiculous amount of fun and was a really great way to spend 82 minutes.  Unfortunately, this film has no American distributor, so audiences here may not get to see it for a while.  If it is released in America, see it.


The Best Films of 2013 (So Far)

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

THE BEST FILMS OF 2013 (so far)
by Joshua Handler

2013 has been a great year so far for independent film.  I have now seen 93 releases, and while many were quite bad, far more were good or excellent.  The films on this list were chosen only from those that I've seen that have been released in theaters or on VOD, not those shown exclusively at film festivals or press screenings.  There are numerous films that I would include on this list, but they have not been released yet and are coming out soon (The Spectacular Now and The Rocket).  I have included in bold a short reason why the film stands out.  Without further ado, here are the best films of the first half of 2013:

Hadas Yaron as Shira
Photo by Karin Bar, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
10. FILL THE VOID (Dir. Rama Burshtein)

Why?  Its sharp sense of observation.
Fill the Void is the directorial debut of Rama Burshtein, and what a debut it is.  The film is a drama that gives a glimpse inside the world of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Tel Aviv and tells the story of an 18-year-old girl, Shira (Hadas Yaron), who is pressured into marrying her dead sister's husband.  Fill the Void is stunningly-observed, richly filmed, dramatically understated, and features strong performances from the cast.  It is a very unique film from a director who obviously has a passion for her story.

A scene from “Safe Haven” in V/H/S/2, a Magnet Release.
Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
9. V/H/S/2 (Dir. Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Timo Tjahjanto, and Adam Wingard)

Why?  Its insanity.
One of the craziest horror films I've ever seen, V/H/S/2 is the sequel to 2012's V/H/S, but can be seen as a standalone film because it has no narrative relation to the first (I haven't even seen the first).  Almost every part of this anthology is inventive, scary, and hilarious with Evans and Tjahjanto's "Safe Haven" being the best.  It serves as the film's centerpiece and is the goriest and most over-the-top piece of horror I've seen in ages.  This movie was just released on VOD and will be released in theaters on July 12.

Courtesy of Sundance Selects
8. THE ANGELS' SHARE (Dir. Ken Loach)

Why?  Its heart.  
This was one of the sweetest movies I've seen this year.  I won't give a plot description, but what I will say is that it has a huge heart, fantastic performances, a foul mouth, and won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year.  It had many opportunities to fall into cliché, but didn't, and I felt like I was walking on air after The Angels' Share was over.

Courtesy of Sundance Selects
7. BEYOND THE HILLS (Dir. Cristian Mungiu)

Why?  Its gut punch.  
A slow burner if there ever was one, Mungiu's Beyond the Hills won the Best Screenplay and Best Actress awards at Cannes last year.  I don't want to tell you anything about Beyond the Hills, as it, like many others on this list, has a story that is best left completely unspoiled.  Don't go in knowing anything about this film.  Beyond the Hills' story is so incredibly horrifying that mid-way through, I had to remind myself that it is based on a true story.  Beyond the Hills smartly and provocatively explores the clash between secular life and religious life in rural Romania.  The acting by Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur goes to a level beyond acting and Mungiu's steady directorial hand guides this film to its disturbing conclusion. No film has delivered a gut punch like this one this year.

Credit: Ken Woroner
6. STORIES WE TELL (Dir. Sarah Polley)

Why?  Its original style of storytelling.
Sarah Polley is quickly establishing herself as one of the new masters of cinema, even with only three features under her belt (Away From Her, Take This Waltz, and Stories We Tell).  Stories We Tell is a narrative documentary that emerged from Polley asking her family to tell stories about her mother.  This could have been boring as hell, but under Polley's direction, it is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking.  The film is a drama, mystery, and family document all in one.  Polley structures this film beautifully and creates a heartfelt portrait of her mother and her family and has that rare ability to pull the rug out from under us with skill.  Do not watch the trailer or read anything else about this film.  Thank me later.

Fran Kranz in Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
CREDIT: Elsa Guillet-Chapuis
5. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Dir. Joss Whedon)

Why?  It's the Shakespeare adaptation that makes Shakespeare fresh again.
Right off of The Avengers, Whedon gathered his friends to film Much Ado About Nothing.  The movie was filmed in 12 days at Whedon's house in black and white with the original dialogue and a low budget.  With a talented cast, gorgeous cinematography, and a nice score, this Much Ado makes its centuries-old source material feel new again.  The cast has superb comedic timing and all perform their roles with ease.  It doesn't get much better than Much Ado About Nothing in terms of summer fun at the movies.

Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC
4. TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (Dir. Morgan Neville)

Why?  It tells an important story with energy and power.
Twenty Feet From Stardom is a documentary about backup singers and their careers.  It is a rousing piece that is energetic, fun, yet tinged with sadness.  The information presented is fascinating and some moments gave me chills.  The film is short and efficient, but packs a punch.

Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures
3. LAURENCE ANYWAYS (Dir. Xavier Dolan)
Why?  Suzanne Clément's performance and Xavier Dolan's unique vision
Laurence Anyways is a 168-minute-long film that follows Fred (Suzanne Clément) and Laurence's (Melvil Poupaud) relationship over 10 years and what happens when Laurence tells Fred that he wants to become a woman.  Clément's performance is emotionally potent and subtly beautiful and Dolan's unique eye for detail and daring artistic vision make this an affecting love story.

Siham and Amin Embrace
Courtesy of Cohen Media Group
2. THE ATTACK (Dir. Ziad Doueiri)

Why?  It's a Middle Eastern Conflict film with a message of peace.
The Attack stands out not only for its heartbreaking performances, memorable score, or vivid cinematography, but mainly for its message of tolerance and peace in the Middle East and its sharp exploration of the Conflict.  The film tells the story of an Arab-Israeli surgeon who finds out a dark secret about his wife.  Director Doueiri explores provocative themes and takes a very even-handed stance on the Conflict, something we don't see in many movies that come out of the region.  It tells a compelling story and has a final five minutes that will break your heart.

Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
1. BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Dir. Richard Linklater)

Why?  It's the strongest entry in one of the greatest motion picture trilogies of all time.
What can I say about Before Midnight that hasn't already been said?  Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have created the most realistic characters ever committed to film and perform their roles so effortlessly that it is impossible to tell whether they are acting or simply living life.  Their chemistry is natural and their characters are so realistic that viewing this film was like visiting old friends again.  The screenplay by Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater is more mature, wise, and funny, yet darker than the previous two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (both masterpieces in their own right).  Linklater's laid-back direction and the long takes only help the characters breathe and live.  This is simply one of the greatest films ever made and takes the romance genre to a new level.  Before Midnight is a landmark film because it tells what may be the last part of one of the greatest (and certainly THE most realistic) screen romances ever made.

Roboapocalypse Is Now Two Years Old!!!

Dear readers, friends, and everyone else who made this blog possible,

Today is Roboapocalypse's two-year anniversary!  Thank you so very much for supporting this blog since the beginning on June 30, 2011.  Roboapocalypse started simply as a place where I could review whatever movies I saw and cause some discussion along the way.  Now two years later, Roboapocalypse is thriving and is at many film festivals including Tribeca and New Directors/New Films.  As the editor of the site, I guarantee you that this blog will continue to give you informative and entertaining reviews of the latest independent and foreign films, along with some mainstream ones.  This blog is, and will always be, dedicated to getting the smaller films in the spotlight.  Even if one person goes to see a film because of this blog, I will have done my job.

As many of you have noticed, the number of films reviewed here has increased drastically over the past six months.  This is all because of the generous support of the Tribeca Film Festival, IFC Films, Breaking Glass Pictures, MoMA, Rooftop Films, RADiUS-TWC, The Weinstein Company, Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight Pictures, BAM, and the many publicity agencies that I work with who have shared their work with me.  Without these groups and companies, I would never be able to screen and review the films I do.  I also wanted to give a really big thank you to John Wildman at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  Without his massive amount of support over the past few months, I wouldn't have been able to review half of the films that I have, or attend half of the film festivals that I have.

Thank you once again and happy viewing!

Joshua Handler


Suzanne Clément in Laurence Anyways
Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

2013, 168 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Extraordinary.  Simply extraordinary.  Laurence Anyways is the third feature film by 24-year-old Xavier Dolan and it is as unique as they come.  The film begins with the story of Fred (Suzanne Clément) and Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a couple in love.  However, one day, Laurence tells Fred that he would like to become a woman.  The rest of the film shows how Fred deals with this change and follows Fred and Laurence's lives with and without each other over the next ten years.  

I cannot praise Suzanne Clément's performance enough.  As the fragile Fred, Clément captures a wide range of emotions, frequently performing scenes that require huge bursts of emotion that never feel overacted.  These outbursts of emotion have hints of subtlety too, as they are all tinged with sadness and love, not just anger.  Everything Clément shows is from the heart.  She plays a woman torn apart by the love of her life.  Laurence's decision to be a woman changes everything for her.  All of the carefree happiness and love that she and Laurence shared vanishes.  The film is set primarily in the 1990s, a time when transsexuals were not widely accepted in society, making it especially hard for Laurence and Fred to go on living as they were.  Clément steals every scene that she's in and is literally a force of nature.  It is rare to find an actress with as much power as Clément.  Her work in some of the film's quieter, more intimate scenes is just as powerful as her work in her more openly emotional scenes.  She gives Fred dimension and character, which made me love and care for her throughout the course of the film.

Beside Clément is Melvil Poupaud as Laurence.  His performance is much quieter than Clément's, but is really fantastic.  Poupaud is charming as Laurence.  He plays a man not accepted for being who he is.  Poupaud shows inner conflict entirely on his face.  Laurence is a man who knows that he needs to be a woman.  No one, even his own family, accepts him.  Fred is the only person in the world who accepts him for who he is.  Poupaud is the perfect counterbalance to Clément and their scenes together are electrifying, as their natural chemistry is very believable.

At 168 minutes, this movie could easily have been a ramble, but Xavier Dolan keeps tight control over it.  It is huge, expansive, but extremely intimate.  Dolan directs with style.  He is absolutely in love with himself, but this over-the-top style fits the grand emotions perfectly, and Dolan knows when to pull back on the extravagance to illicit the perfect emotional response from the audience.  Each shot is masterfully framed (the film was shot with a 1:33:1 aspect ration, aka full frame), and the soundtrack adds energy and feeling to the film.  

I am truly astonished that this movie was as evenly-paced as it was.  A decade-long love story could easily have taken on multiple subplots that would have distracted and possibly derailed the story's focus, yet by keeping the focus exclusively on Fred and Laurence, Dolan keeps the movie even.  Also, because Fred and Laurence are such realistic and interesting characters and Poupaud and Clément's performances are so convincing, I never minded spending the evening with them.

Overall, Laurence Anyways is a film to run to go see when it hits your local movie theater.  It opened in many cities this past Friday and will expand in the next few weeks.  It is an impressive piece of work that is rewarding to sit through.  Even though it is self-indulgent, it is this self-indulgence that adds to the character of the film and livens it up.  It is the same kind of self-indulgence that made Bob Fosse's All That Jazz thrill.  It knows it's good, but it actually is as good as it thinks it is, making the self-indulgence justified and making it add to the feel of the film.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

BYZANTIUM Review (re-post)

Gemma Arterton in Byzantium
Courtesy of IFC Films
2013, 118 minutes
Rated for bloody violence, sexual content and language

Review by Joshua Handler

This is a re-post of my original review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

Oscar-winner Neil Jordan (The Crying GameInterview with the Vampire) directs this beautifully-made vampire film which, in an age when Twilight rules the box office, stands out as an entertaining entry into this familiar genre.  Byzantium stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, two centuries-old vampires who try to keep their identities secret as they travel to a sea-side town.  

Ronan and Arterton are fantastic in their respective roles.  Ronan, one of the finest young actresses working today, plays Eleanor, a 200-year-old vampire who has not aged a bit since she was a teen.  Somehow, her mentality is still that of a teenagers, a major logic flaw a fellow critic pointed out.  Eleanor is introverted and quiet, which Ronan portrays quite well.  In a way, Eleanor is similar to her character in Joe Wright's masterful 2011 film Hanna.  Ronan is a very perceptive actress and captures details that many inferior actresses would ignore.  Arterton plays Clara, Eleanor's protector and companion.  She works as a prostitute to support herself and Eleanor.  Arterton is a great match for Ronan.  Clara is tough, extroverted, yet loving, and Arterton captures these traits beautifully.  I hope this film gives her more attention because she has a lot of potential.

The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (ShameThe Place Beyond the Pines) is beautiful and the highlight of the film.  He makes use of dark, grimier colors, while still emphasizing the red blood.  The lighting is magnificent and it complements Simon Elliott's (The Iron Lady) production design greatly.  Byzantium looks polished, and Javier Navarrete's (Pan's Labyrinth, Cracks) score is the icing on the cake.  It is mysterious and lyrical.

Neil Jordan does a solid job directing Byzantium from Moira Buffini's (Jane Eyre) script.  As mentioned above, with his fantastic technical crew, he makes this film look and feel mysterious and haunting, but he also infuses some heart in the film in many places, particularly the love story aspect.  The love story that develops between Eleanor and a boy in the town she's living in is actually compelling because Jordan, Buffini, and the actors develop the characters.  I actually cared about the love story, which is no small feat.  Also, the final scene is beautiful and powerful and is a satisfying way to close off the movie.

Byzantium moves at a good pace, not too fast, not too slow.  To keep things interesting, there are some wonderfully bloody scenes that occur every so often.

Overall, Byzantium is a solid vampire film.  The logic flaw, upon further thought, is really bad, but I was nonetheless very entertained and, at some points, moved by this lovely film.



Melissa McCarthy, left, and Sandra Bullock, right
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Pictures

2013, 117 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence

Review by Joshua Handler

It is amazing what two good performances can do for a really average movie.  Without Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock’s fantastic chemistry, The Heat would have ended up being barely better than a movie in the bargain bin.  The Heat is a female buddy cop movie directed by Paul Feig, director of the hilarious Bridesmaids.  He can certainly get great performances out of his actresses, but is ultimately at the mercy of the script he’s directing.  Bridesmaids’ Oscar-nominated screenplay was brilliant, creating memorable characters, outrageous jokes, and good drama.  It was also something all to rare in movies today: unpredictable.  The Heat’s screenplay was written by Katie Dippold (TV’s Parks and Recreation).  She probably could have written this movie in her sleep.  It definitely has its fair share of laughs, but the laughs aren’t big ones and the movie follows the formula so closely that it causes more eye rolls than laughs by the end.

While I don’t always like Sandra Bullock’s movies, she is an undeniably talented actress and comedienne.  She frequently gives life to clichéd characters and has a commanding screen presence.  With her role as the uptight, smart, and motivated cop, Bullock really lets herself go and nails nearly everything.  Melissa McCarthy needs better material.  Bullock’s isn’t great, but at least it’s respectful.  McCarthy is relegated to saying f*** in every sentence and going through fat gag after fat gag.  An Oscar-nominee for her over-the-top performance in Bridesmaids, McCarthy is insanely talented.  She was one of the reasons Bridesmaids was what it was.  She is a force of nature.  Her writers just need to realize that she is more than fat and can say more than the word f***.  Her screen chemistry with Bullock is surprisingly incredible.  They, like the best comedic duos, play off of each other’s strengths and elevate the movie to a level much higher than the script deserves. 

It is simply a shame that this movie wasn’t funnier.  It could have been great.  It has a talented director, two gifted stars, and a fun premise.  The formulaic script just ruined much of the fun.  As I’ve said before and will say again, comedy writers need to realize that crude doesn’t necessarily mean funny.  Crude with brains (i.e. Borat) or crude with heart (Knocked Up) is good.  Crude for crude’s sake isn’t normally funny.  And where is unpredictability?  Where are movies like Tootsie and The 40-Year-Old Virgin?  I’ll tell you where they are: they are in arthouse theaters.  If you want real comedy with brains, go to the arthouse and see Much Ado About Nothing or Frances Ha.  While not unpredictable, they are uncommonly smart.  When Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is released next month, see that.  THAT is unpredictable and wonderful.

Overall, The Heat isn’t terrible, but again, I could think of at least a dozen other movies I would recommend going to see over it.  Women need better comedic material because a movie like this isn’t worthy of the incredible comediennes out there.  My star rating will be higher than you may think it should be due to my multiple written rants and negative tone above, but I did enjoy quite a bit of this movie.  I’m simply annoyed with how lazy screenwriters have gotten.  Bullock and McCarthy are the only reason this movie is reasonably good.