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?

NOVEMBER 2020 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

Wow!! It’s actually December!! Well folks, only a month left in 2020… the year that’ll definitely go down in history as one of the weirdest, most challenging year ever for many of us. I don’t know about you, but I never thought I’d experience a pandemic in my lifetime, but hey surely it isn’t the worst moment in this century. According to the CDC website, the flu pandemic of 1918 happened during WWI. Overcrowding and global troop movement helped spread the virus, causing at least 50 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 675,000 in the US. For comparison, so far Covid-19 has killed nearly 1.5 million people worldwide.

As of today, the lockdown in my state of MN still continues for another 3 weeks… and possibly could last through Christmas. Thank goodness for internet and streaming services … I honestly can’t imagine life without them.

In any case, here’s what I watched in November:

New-to-me Movies

The Nest


Read my full review

Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

On The Rocks

A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.

I was listening to NPR last Friday, and they were talking about this Sofia Coppola dramedy so I decided to watch it when I got home. I think it’s pretty enjoyable and worth a watch for Bill Murray being his fun, charming self, but overall it feels a bit Woody Allen-ish, and that’s not exactly a compliment.

The Life Ahead

In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her.

See my quick review below. Highly recommend this one!

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb

After unearthing a tomb that had been untouched for 4,400 years, Egyptian archaeologists attempt to decipher the history of the astonishing find.

I’ve always been fond of archaeological documentaries and this one is especially fascinating. All the archaeologists are Egyptians or from that region, which I think made it feel even more personal and even emotional as they truly care about what the findings mean for their people.

The Banker

In the 1960s two African-American entrepreneurs hire a working-class white man to pretend to be the head of their business empire while they pose as a janitor and chauffeur.

Based on a true story, Anthony Mackie + Samuel L. Jackson made for quite a wonderful duo though the adaptation feels rather too safe which lessened its emotional impact. Given the immense talents involved, this film could’ve been far more powerful. Still well worth a watch though.

The Love Punch

A divorced couple scheme to recover the retirement money that was stolen from them.

I actually watched this one and The Tourist back to back… I have to say the scenery is what appeals to me as this one took place mostly in the South of France. Plus it’s got Emma Thompson in what promises to be a fun comedy caper. Alas, no amount of star power nor stunning scenery could make up for a dumb script. It’s so embarrassingly bad, I’m willing to bet the actors signed up for this so they get a free vacation on the French Riviera.

A Princess For Christmas

At the invitation of an estranged relative, a young woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe for Christmas, where she unwittingly falls for a dashing Prince.

I can’t even count how many holiday movies there are on Netflix w/ the prince/princess in the title 😀  Somehow I kept seeing this banner amongst its seemingly-endless Christmas rom-coms that got me curious. Whaddayaknow, this one has Sir Roger Moore as a rather curmudgeon English duke… and that Scottish hunk from Outlander Sam Heughan. The lead actress Katie McGrath, who looks so distractingly similar to Keira Knightley (esp her toothy grin), is quite likable despite her touch-and-go American accent. Well, predictably, the movie is filled with typical cockamamie fairy-tale plot that’s utterly schmaltzy, but it’s actually not as bad as I had feared. The scenes of the family decorating the Christmas tree and the servants helping the girl out is quite sweet, it sort of made up for the lack of chemistry between the two romantic leads.


TV Series

The Expanse season 4 | The Queen’s Gambit | The Crown Season 4 | The Mandalorian Season 2

I binged on four excellent series this past month. The Queen’s Gambit proved to be a hit on Netflix and it’s indeed excellent (check out Vince’s review if you haven’t already).

The Expanse season 4 kept up the thrills from the previous 3 seasons, and I love that this time, most of the drama takes place off the ship, in an earth-like planet referred to as Ilus, or New Terra by the UN. It made me even more excited to see Season 5, esp. involving a man from Naomi’s past, Marco Inaros.

I’m not a huge royal family fan, but I can’t help but get caught up in the whole drama of Charles + Diana again after watching season 4. Emma Corrin was really convincing as Princess Di, that’s quite an acting coupe to get someone who doesn’t just look the part but could portray the essence of who we think Diana was. Gillian Anderson is an inspired casting as Margaret Thatcher but I think she did a good job, and I ended up watching a couple of documentaries on the real Iron Lady on youtube.

I’ve only seen 2 episodes of The Mandalorian season 2, but I love that first episode with Timothy Olyphant as The Marshall. My hubby commented right away how he looked so much like Pierce Brosnan with his salt/pepper hair, so true!


Rewatches

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

A dose of Jane Austen is always a good idea. I love, love the visuals of this Joe Wright version and the music by Dario Marianelli.

Vanity Fair (Miniseries)

I wanted to see Tom Bateman in something, anything… and Death on the Nile has been delayed indefinitely 😦 Anyhoo, I quite like this miniseries, which captured the essence of the sly Becky Sharp, played brilliantly by Olivia Cooke. Mr. Bateman looks fetching in that cavalry uniform, even as he falls hopelessly in love with the shrewd miss Sharp.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

This is one of my childhood faves and I still absolutely adore the visuals and the songs by Alan Menken. I gotta admit though, the premise of a girl giving up her entire identity in search for a man’s love doesn’t have the same appeal anymore.

The Tourist (2010)

Can’t believe this movie is 10 years old! This was Jolie pre-Brangelina and Depp hadn’t even met Amber Heard yet… boy that seemed like three lifetimes ago. Well, this movie is so gorgeous to look at–and makes me yearn to one day visit Venice again–but the plot is still as daft as ever. I did find it funnier than the first time I saw it however, but I also find myself shaking my head how a movie credited with three award-winning writers, including Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes, could’ve written such a turd!!


MOVIE OF THE MONTH

THE LIFE AHEAD

Though Sophia Loren is one of the most famous actresses of Hollywood golden age, I’ve actually only seen one of her films, Arabesque (because I was hugely into Gregory Peck almost a decade ago). This is a comeback of sort for the 86-year-old actress, as her last feature was in 2010, and The Life Ahead was directed by her own son, Edoardo Ponti. I’ll do a full review of it at some point, but I highly recommend this beautiful and heart-wrenching drama, which you can now watch on Netflix.


Well, what have you been watching in November? What’s YOUR fave movie you saw last month?

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?