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: Captain Fantastic (2016)

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The title of the film may sound like a superhero film but this indie drama is as far away from the ubiquitous genre as it can get. It made me think of The Sound of Music if Captain Von Trapp were to uproot his entire family to the Austrian Alps and homeschooled all his kids instead of hiring Maria.

Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Ben Cash has been living off the grid with his six kids. The film opened with a deer hunting scene that’s quite graphic and intense, prompting the woman next to me to leave the theater and never came back. Perhaps she’s an animal lover or something, but I think it’s her loss that she missed out on this film because of it.

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It’s a provocative way to open a film, and an effective one as well as we get to see right away how Ben has raised his kids, Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai, with vigorous physical and mental training. They live their lives without any of the conveniences and daily luxuries most kids in modern society won’t be able to survive even for a day. Though the kids don’t follow common academic curriculum, they’re taught to be critical thinkers. Instead of playing video games or lying around listening to music all day, the Cash kids read books, play music, hunt for food, and actually spend time with each other.

It’s a really fascinating slice of an unorthodox life, anchored by a soulful yet physical role by Viggo Mortensen. There are numerous themes that are explored here. Parenting is a big one, and I think every parents (especially in America) would benefit from watching this. The scene when the Cash family visit their conventional aunt and uncle in the city (played by Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn), it shows a stark contrast of how their respective kids are brought up. The Cash kids are well-versed in the the Bill of Rights and know who Karl Marx is, while their cousins are far more knowledgeable about pop culture. If I were a parent, it certainly would make me ponder just how much (or I should say how little) kids are learning in school!

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Their lives take an unexpected turn with news of the death of Ben’s wife, Leslie. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that because that even it the catalyst to the journey the Cash family had to take. Ben didn’t spare their feelings when he revealed the news, and it’s certainly a poignant moment that’s beautifully portrayed. The Cash family have to leave their idyllic existence in order to attend Leslie’s funeral, and in the course of that journey, Ben is challenged with the idea what it really means to be a parent and brings into question all his philosophies/beliefs he’s taught his kids.

Now, one does not have to subscribe to his worldview to emphasize with Ben. I for one don’t see eye to eye with him on a spiritual level. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day. He also vehemently opposes Christian funeral traditions, claiming that his wife had become a Buddhist believer and would rather be cremated instead. Now, while one might admire Ben’s parenting style and what his kids accomplished, no doubt they’d run into issues given that they’ve lived such a sheltered life and away from society. The kids are respectful and bright, but lacking in common social graces. “You made us freaks!” one of the kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), screamed at Ben. He’s got a point there and the film shows many examples of that. The scene where the eldest Bodevan (George MacKay) promptly proposes to a girl after kissing her at an RV campground is funny but rather sad as well. The film is peppered with funny and amusing moments, but a lot of the humor isn’t slapstick but laden with irony and poignancy.

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The themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly, and in a way it’s a coming-of-age of sort for Ben as well as a father. The main conflict arises between Ben and his father in-law Jack (Frank Langella), who sternly opposes Ben’s way of life and how his grandchildren are raised. It seems at first that Jack is painted as the *villain* of the film that threatens to separate the kids from their father, but fortunately the film isn’t so simplistic. Liberal sensibilities seem to prevail here, but writer/director Matt Ross doesn’t present things in a formulaic way, and there’s a vast thought-provoking themes being explored here. He boldly presents a compelling yet flawed hero, and chose an absolutely perfect actor in Viggo to do the job.

He’s the epitome of intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. The intensely charismatic Viggo Mortensen bared all for the role, mentally and physically. I’d hope to see his name popping up in the Best Actor race come award season. There’s a rather amusing nude scene, made more hilarious by the reaction of the people who saw him being so nonchalant about it, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The challenge to normalcy seems to be what the whole movie is about, and it certainly gives you plenty of food for thought.

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The movie works largely because of the talented cast. In addition to MacKay and Hamilton, we’ve got Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell as the talented young actors who play Ben’s children. Each have their moments to shine and you believe them as a close-knit family. The only thing I wish were explored a bit better is the relationship between Ben and Leslie. The only flashback scenes we get are mere glimpses of the two gazing lovingly at each other, which doesn’t reveal anything about Leslie’s mental condition or suicidal tendencies.

It’s been a couple of months since I saw Captain Fantastic, which was my JULY Movie of the Month AND it’s also one of my fave 2016 films so far. It’s a beautifully-shot film with panoramic shots of the Pacific Oceans and the Rocky Mountains region. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination that really matters. It’s certainly one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, both amusing and haunting, but definitely indelible.

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Have you seen ‘Captain Fantastic’? Let me know what you think!