Rio 2

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Rio 2 (2014) ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (barely)

Director: Carlos Saldanha. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx, Jake T. AustinCarlinhos BrownKristin Chenoweth

I was astonished how many subplots and characters the film manages to squeeze in.Most of the individual moments are perfectly enjoyable by themselves, though none of them particularly inspired, but when put them all together they pull the film in so many directions that at times I felt like the film might never end and eventually I thought all those storylines were to the detriment of the film itself.

Furthermore the overall arc of the story seemed to have been put together by some sort of robot for how formulaic it was. And it’s a pity because the original Rio felt a lot tighter and there was also a much clearer trajectory and a greater sense of purpose as it unfolded and as the big Carnival got closer and closer. Finally the city of Rio de Janeiro provided an original background the more conventional story.

This one takes place in the Amazon forest… and however beautiful the forest is… well, it’s a forest, which we have seen a thousand times before. All the rest is paint by number stuff:

  • Random songs in the middle of it just to pace it up. Check
  • An environmental message pushed down our throat. Check
  • Cute toddler-birds. Check
  • Mismatched couple like Timon and Pumba, for light entertainment. Check
  • Hero learning what’s important in life is family. Check
  • Opposite tribes of birds joining forces for the common good. Check

And so on…

The film is throwing everything in it, as if it were so desperate to try please his young audience with potentially short attention span at any point.

The result is a film with lots of running and screaming, shouting and flying… all in short bursts and micro-scenes. It feels like they cannot stop for more than a minute because they may lose their young audience.. but in fact by doing that they are losing us parents. The most outrageous evidence of that is a sort of football-match (or whatever game it is) in the middle of film, which has absolutely no reasons to be there, if not to add some excitement to the proceedings.

What really saves it from being a completely waste of time us grown-ups accompany the kids, is the vibrant animation. Beyond the cacophony of shouts and the by-the-number storylines (yes, all 300 of them!) Rio 2, must be said, looks really beautiful with its warm colours and the incredibly detailed backgrounds, landscapes, cities and forests and that almost makes up for the mess that everything else is. But hey, kids will enjoy it of course (because it’s been manufactured to please them): it’s just fast that any of the messages will barely register and it will have no emotional resonance whatsoever.

Basically, this ain’t Pixar.

Dear Comrades!

Dear Comrades! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy. Cast: Yuliya Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komarov, Andrey Gusev 

I have to confess I didn’t really know anything about this story and I am left speechless that something like this could have happened 1962… but then again it’s Russia, so it shouldn’t really surprise me much.

Filmed in black and white, which enhances the feeling of realism, the film tells of the cover up a massacre of a group of workers from the small industrial town who had been striking for the rise of food price by the communist government. The film is meticulous in its account of this shameful event, just as meticulous was the actual cover up by the state and the KGB (there are scenes of people being forced to sign ‘forms’ where they swear to keep the secret of what happened, workmen re-cementing the streets to cover the stains of blood, all with the intent to make sure the news of the massacre will never leave the town).

The event has remained classified for 30 years until some papers were finally released in 1992.

It’s all seen through the eyes of Lyuda, a woman from the Communist party with very strong Soviet beliefs and ideologies, whose daughter now got involved in the rebellion and has disappeared after the the soldiers opened fired on the innocent strikers.

The success of the film is how it mixes historical accuracy, almost like a documentary and the more dramatic story around the Lyuda, who now has to negotiate the bureaucracy she’s helped to create in order to find the body of her daughter. It’s a shocking story and yet bizarrely there’s even space for some weird cold black humour played straight, almost deadpan which makes it all even more absurd and chilling.

Available in the UK on streaming on the Curzon Website.

Dear Ex

Dear Ex ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Chih-Yen HsuMag Hsu. Cast: Roy ChiuYing-Hsuan HsiehSpark Chen 

A lovely unexpected surprise from Taiwan.

What starts off as a wacky comedy (and a rather entertaining one too) slowly turns into an affecting, heart-warming and a rather moving drama about acceptance, forgiveness and grieving.

Stylistically the film is all over the place (flashbacks, graphics, kitsch comedy) but even if some moments stretch believability and are a little heavy-handed, dipping a bit into soapy/melodrama territory here and there, by the time the third act comes along all the emotional notes hit the right chords and you just can’t help being taken by it.

The film is a joyous one, full of little moments and details both funny and poignant which will definitely stay with me for much longer than most of the films I’ve been watching over the last few months.

On Netflix

The Secret Garden 1993

The Secret Garden (1993) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Marc Munden. Cast: Dixie EgerickxRichard HansellDavid Verrey 

A charming, evocative and delightful adaptation from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s gothic children’s book from 1911. Like all the best children stories, it a has a timeless feel, matched by some old-style film-making, elegant, unhurried and free from any distracting special effects (which have destroyed the latest adaptation with Colin Firth and made it a real mess!).

The film is produced by Francis Ford Coppola and beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins who effortlessly makes the corridors of the house dark and dusty and the secret garden from the title sunny and warm in contrast with the windy and gray Yorkshire Moors. But the real success of the film is in the performances from the 3 children. After seen so many Harry Potters movies I had almost forgotten what really good performances from children are. They act their age, the behave like spoilt brats and yet by the end you’ll be completely won over.

And then of course Maggie Smith who can do no wrong in my eyes even when she plays an hateful person (though… spoiler alert, she’s such a lovely person that not even the film-makers can do without a little redemption for her at the end)

I remember reading a review of this film at the time that said “The summer of 1993 will be remembered as the time when every child in the world wanted to see “Jurassic Park.” The lucky ones will see this one, too”. I’m so happy I was able to show this one to my 8 years old son, even before Jurassic Park. He loved it. At the end he asked me “How many stars?”. I answered “3 and 1/2? 4”. He seemed disappointed “No, let’s say 5” he suggested.

Locked Down

Locked Down ⭐️

Director: Doug Liman. Cast Anne HathawayChiwetel EjioforLucy Boynton, Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Dulé Hill, Stephen Merchant

It had to happen: this is not the first and it certainly won’t be the last film which will use the  Covid-lockdown (well… one of them) as the background and set up for some sort of story. We’ve had “Host” last year, Songbird (The Michael Bay’s film which nobody saw back in December 2019) and now this one. 

All the trademarks for a pandemic-based film are there. Things which by now we all know too well and are actually so close to home that not even a year later are already beginning to feel tired tropes: the zoom calls, the masks, the delivery man at the door bringing food, the empty streets, the lines outside shops, the annoying guy buying lots of toilet paper (“How many asses have you got?” He’s asked in the film), the constant news in the background telling us about how bad the situation is… but mostly people going pretty crazy as they are stuck at home for weeks and weeks on end, slowly losing any hope that we are ever going back to some sort of normality. Feels familiar? We’ve all lived it through (in fact we are still living it). And we’ve all seen way too many memes on the internet about most of this stuff. There’s hardly anything new or fresh to say or to see. This might have been slightly original months ago, when we were still at the beginning of all this Covid-never-ending nightmare (which is probably when this film was first conceived), but almost a year later since Covid first appeared, this has been all we’ve talked about and to make a film around it feels like re-treading all news and to be honest, I live it all this 24/7. When I watch movie at least I’d love to see something else, unless of course the film had something new and incredible to say… which this one, certainly does not. 

Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor play Linda and Paxton, a couple who were just about to separate before the lockdown and are now stuck together. 

The film meanders about for the first hour or so going through the motions and all the things I’ve already mentioned above, showing us little sketches of “life” during lockdown as the couple is really breaking down. It mostly it feels like a play (obviously, since it all takes place inside a house) and there is nothing wrong with that per se, except the feeling of being staged and slightly fake goes beyond the settings itself, but spreads though the dialogue which feel clunky and slightly forced.

Not even potentially good actors like  Hathaway and Ejiofor can make those clunky lines feel quite quite real… I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were both “acting” all the way through, both on different registers, looking slightly uncomfortable, not quite knowing whether they’re in a comedy, a parody or a drama (A feeling that certainly the audience will be sharing too). Also crucially, I never once believed they the two had been together for 10 years.  

Then all of a sudden at around 40 minutes from the end, unbelievably the film takes a HUGE left turn and becomes a “heist movie”… some sort of “Ocean’s Eleven”… or actually “Ocean’s 12”, since this is probably just as bad and silly as that sequel. It really feels like a different film, not just because we leave the confinements of the house, but also there’s a complete tonal shift as it becomes almost a bad parody of a heist film. 

Yes, it is still watchable, if anything for the many cameos from various people like Ben Kingsley, Stephen Merchant, Ben Stiller, Dulé Hill (yes, from Charlie from the West Wing!), all of them too not quite sure what kind of film this is. It does also pick up pace after the interminable first (mostly pointless) hour and there is also a certain pleasure in seeing how they somehow managed to film the sequences in Harrods during the London lockdown in those last 30 minutes of the film. But make no mistakes: if this is a comedy, it’s not funny and if it’s a heist movie, then what its that first hour all about?! It is an extremely badly paced, shoddily written and crucially a very boring and utterly silly film.

It comes out on the 13th of January in the US and in March in the UK. Give it a try if you dare and then come back and tell me.

The Farewell

The Farewell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Lulu Wang. Cast: Shuzhen ZhaoAwkwafinaX Mayo  

A Chinese-born American family travels to China with the excuse of a wedding, to see the old grandma one last time as she’s been diagnose with cancer. Except she doesn’t know she’s sick and they all have to try to keep the truth away from her.

It all sounds rather contrived, but as the film develops, you’ll discover that underneath the surface there’s a lot more than the film-maker wants to tell you. 

It’s clearly a film about families, and how different the meaning of “Family” is in both the West and the East. It’s also about those 2nd and 3rd generations living outside your own country. Needless to say, it touched me deeply, and even if my two countries are not that different from each other the way China and America are, I could still relate to it.

“The Farewell” is a charming and touching little gem of a film clearly at the western audience and with the intent to give a glimpse into the bonds that keeps people together and give them strength on the other side of the planet.

It may start by showing us clichés and it even seems to be laughing at the way Chinese people do certain things (picnics by tombs, renting out professional “criers” to come and weep at your funeral), but that’s just the way to let us (the wester audience) in. Then the film gradually draws you deeper and deeper into this foreign world until you almost become part of this family (and ensemble cast which feels so real! Never for a moment you think these people are acting and they are actually not a family). And by the time the last caption of the film comes up on the screen (incidentally, one of the best and happiest final captions I’ve seen in a film) as you’re wiping your tears away, you might begin to think that these “foreign” people may actually have a point.

And like all good films, this is one that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.


Lupin (season 1 – eps 1-5) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writers: George KayFrançois UzanFlorent Meyer  Cast: Omar SyVincent LondezAntoine Gouy 

Right from the start you know you’ll be in for a rollercoaster of action, thrills and suspense. The first half of season one (5 episodes so far) hardly ever disappoints, always playing with the audience’s expectations with perfect misdirections and genuine twists. I won’t go too much into the plot as the best way to experience this is to know very little about it. Let’s just say that it starts with a plan to steal a priceless necklace from the Louvre…of all places!
Clever and fun, it also looks really lavish (all the stuff around the Louvre in Paris in the first episodes is really quite impressive) ad slick. This is as bingeable, entertaining and addictive as TV series can get and with the massive cliffhanger at the end of the last episodes I can hardly wait until next April when the second half f the series is rumoured to be released.
It takes the best elements of Ocean’s 11, Luther, Sherlock Holmes and “Now You See Me” and makes it one of the first great tv series of the year (I only gave it 4 stars and not 5 because it’s only half season so far, but I have high hopes for the second half, as this has been consistently good!).

On Netflix Right now.


Rio ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Carlos Saldanha. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jamie Foxx, Anne HathawayThomas F. Wilson, Jake T. Austin.

I had seen this before when it was first release back in 2011 but I could hardly remember anything aside from the fact that the 3D was sumptuous. So it was picked up by the family as the one to watch for “movie night”, my expectation levels were set pretty low.

Actually I was pleasantly surprised, not just by how charming it was, but mainly by how good it looked. A real feast of music and colours! Right from the opening song, through to a scene towards the end which takes place during the Carnival of Rio and which is absolutely stunning, both in terms of animation (beautifully choreographed) and its vibrant details.

It may not have the emotional depths of any of the Pixar from the time (Up was only released 2 years before this), nor the classic fairy tale vibe of Tangled from Disney or the Miyazaki magic, but it’s certainly miles better than “Puss with Boots” which for some reason won the Oscar that year.

Jesse Eisenberg works surprisingly well as the slightly awkward bird in complete contrast with Anne Hathaway’s spirited and wild performance. The action sequences, however frantic, are always clear and nicely directed and on the whole however predictable the overall trajectory is, the film rattles along with joyful energy without any bumps along the way. It’s probably not quite a 4 star film… but after the travesty of Spongebob the Movie: Sponge on the run (which we watched last night… and I’ll spare you from reviewing it), this feels like Citizen Kane.

My 8 years old boy seemed to enjoy it a lot, so I guess we’re in for the sequel very soon.

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