FlixChatter Review: THE LIFE AHEAD (2020)


Tales of unlikely friendships often make for great drama. Renowned Italian actress Sophia Loren made a come back to cinema nearly a decade since her last acting role, which marks the third time she collaborates with her own son, Edoardo Ponti.

Here she plays Madame Rosa, an elderly woman living in a seaside town of Bari in Southern Italy who now runs a daycare business. It’s not just any daycare however, but Rosa takes care of kids who’s been abandoned by their mothers as they work as sex workers. Soon we find out that Madame Rosa herself used to be in that line of work, and she’s also a Holocaust survivor, evident in her number tattoos on her arm. Enter Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), short for Mohammad, a precocious Senegalese boy who robs Rosa at a busy market one afternoon. As it turns out, Momo and Madame Rosa have a mutual connection in Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri), her doctor and Momo’s temporary guardian, who asks Rosa to look after the boy until he could secure him a permanent home.

As is typical in stories of unlikely friendships, the two don’t immediately get along. Despite her initial reluctance, Momo ends up staying at the day care and has to learn to share the space with another boy Iosif (Iosif Diego Pirvu) while he continues his regular job selling drugs on the streets. Director Edoardo Ponti, who also shares screenwriting credit with Ugo Chiti and Fabio Natale, paints a pretty dynamic yet not-so-glamorous picture of life in the seaside town. It’s as if I could breathe and even taste the seaside air as I watch the characters navigate through the towns and through its narrow streets. The score by Gabriel Yared is both upbeat and introspective, which perfectly complements the tone and atmosphere of the film.

There are plenty of memorable scenes even as the characters go their day-to-day life. I love the moments where Rosa visits her merchant friend Hamil (Babak Karimi) to help her with Momo, thinking that as a fellow Muslim the two would understand each other. He asked Momo to help him fix a rug with a lion embroidered on it, saying it’s a powerful symbol of faith in the Qur’an. That image seems to impact Momo deeply that he often dreams a lioness would come and visit him. Despite the cheap-looking CGI, it’s a sweet surrealistic moment in the film. Other memorable supporting characters are Spacciatore (Massimiliano Rossi), Momo’s drug dealing boss, and Lola, Rosa’s neighbor who’s a former wrestler, played wonderfully by trans actor Abril Zamora.

Sophia Loren is quite magnetic as Madame Rosa–she’s tough and stern, but with a huge heart. There’s such an elegance about her and a palpable sense of sadness that’s intriguing. Even more impressive is Ibrahima Gueye who has never acted in a feature before, but able to match Loren’s intensity. There’s such a confidence in in his performance, even a quiet grace about him that’s rare in someone so young. For this film to work, we must believe that Madame Rosa and Momo develop a connection, and I’m glad to say the two have a remarkable chemistry. The bond they eventually share is truly the heartbeat of the film.

As it turns out, this is the second film adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel called The Life Before Us, the first one is a French film called Madame Rosa. Instead of setting in Paris, Ponti set the film in Italy but I think the story is essentially the same. When you watch this, be sure to pack tissues. There are some truly jear-jerker moments, especially when Iosif’s mom come and pick him up and Momo realizes that would never be the case for him. Despite the heart-wrenching moments, this isn’t a morose film filled with dread. In fact, visually the film is drenched with light and there’s a hopeful tone despite sorrowful circumstances. There’s also a bit of mystery in regards to Madame Rosa’s past that’s played out beautifully.

At times this film reminds me of the French film The Intouchables, which is also based on a true story about an unlikely friendship between people of different backgrounds. This one has less humor but just as much heart. There’s a lot of emotions packed in a relatively breezy 1-hour-34-minutes running time, which is always nice as the film never overstays its welcome.

Have you seen THE LIFE AHEAD? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: THE NEST (2020)

I saw The Nest on a screener thanks to IFC Films and the premise intrigued me immediately. Jude Law and Carrie Coon Life play husband and wife whose already-fragile marriage take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

The film opens when the family still resides in the US. Rory O’Hara (Law) is shown taking the kids to school, and Allison (Coon) works as a horse trainer. The O’Hara seems like the perfect family – live in a nice house with a pool and everything seems normal. Rory seems like the perfect dad to his young son Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and their daughter Sam (Oona Roche) seems like a typical angsty teen. Then suddenly one morning, Rory tells Allison he wants to move back to England. It’s not clear at first just what it is Rory does, but he assures his wife that she’d never have to work and they can live like royalty.

Despite her initial refusal, Allison agrees to uproot her family to England. They even take move her horse Richmond all the way across the Atlantic. Once they’re in the UK, Rory excitedly gives his family a tour to a large farm mansion in the London suburb of Surrey. I kind of get a Devil’s Advocate vibe and the mood of the film, which decidedly shot like a horror film by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son Of Saul), makes it look like there’s something ominous about the house. There’s even a moment where Allison scream to her kids ‘you’re both are strangers to me’ after hearing noises in the house at night, which seems to come out of nowhere. I wonder if perhaps Durkin is saying that the real ‘horror’ of this family breakdown has nothing to do with the house, or external forces… that real evil can come from within each person.

Set in the early 80s during Thatcher-Reagan era, the film’s theme plays with the idea of the American dream and ‘fake it until you make it’ adage, and we later learn Rory’s lucrative job as a commodity broker is what he thinks would enable him to achieve the ‘dream’ he’s imagined for himself and his family. Without giving too much away, The Nest is family drama/cautionary tale of greed and ambition run amok. It’s as if this is the antithesis to the famous line from Wall Street that ‘greed is good.’ Well, we don’t have to watch this film to realize that, but filmmaker Sean Durkin hammers that message quite potently here.

This is the first of Durkin’s work I’ve seen so far, which is his sophomore writing/directing feature film he did since the highly-acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene. I think Durkin is a talented filmmaker and has a pretty unique storytelling style. The way the tension keeps on building, and using Allison’s horse as a metaphor for their crumbling marriage is pretty effective. That said, I’m not seeing the film is without flaws.

For one, the pacing is quite slow, and while I don’t mind slow films, there’s a sense of dread and unnecessary doom & gloom feel that makes the film seems lethargic. There are also some events happening in the film that seem foreboding but in the end amount to nothing, which isn’t frustrating necessarily, I just find it quite odd.I think some viewers would also find it quite frustrating that there’s no truly-sympathetic characters in this film, except for the subtle gesture of kindness from Sam towards the end. I like Allison and she’s quite a strong female figure, but the way she finally snaps at Rory during a client meeting doesn’t exactly paint her character in a compassionate light. She also seems far more obsessed with her horse than she is with her kids, at least the way it’s presented in the film.

The strong point in this film is definitely the performances. Jude Law is believable as a man with delusions of grandeur and unbridled ambition to get to the top. Though at times Rory’s actions seems absurd, you don’t completely hate the man, in fact I feel really sorry for him. The conversation with the Uber/Lyft driver is quite a turning point for Rory and perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the film. Carrie Coon is an actress I’m not familiar with at all (apparently she was in Avengers: Infinity War but unrecognizable in CG makeup as one of Thanos’ warrior minions), but I’m very impressed with her here. There’s an effortlessly cool vibe about her and she has a palpable chemistry with Law. British-Pakistani actor Adeel Akhtar and Irish actor Michael Culkin are both reliable character actors and both lend memorable performances as Rory’s colleague and boss, respectively.

Overall, I admire Durkin’s talent as a filmmaker even though I’m not overly fond of the film. As I mentioned above, there’s a sense of dread throughout, so this one isn’t exactly a pleasant film to watch. I’d still recommend it to film enthusiasts as I think it’s well-crafted, though I’m not sure this film would be a hit with mainstream audiences despite Jude Law being in it.

THE NEST is now available to stream across all cable and digital VOD platforms for rent: iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, Vudu, PlayStation, Xbox.


Have you seen THE NEST? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan’s films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out. Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

4Reels


So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?