La cara oculta, 2011

La Cara Oculta, or The Hidden Face, is simply one of the best movies I have ever seen. Screenwriter and director Andrés Baiz brings this unique accomplishment to the screen, telling the story of a Spanish orchestra director named Adrián (Quim Gutiérrez) who comes home from a rehearsal to find a video from his girlfriend Belén (Clara Lago) telling him that she’s leaving him. He watches the video a number of times with no idea where she’s gone. A police investigation leads nowhere, though they suspect Adrián of being involved in her disappearance.

Eventually he processes the loss and moves on with his life. He starts dating a waitress named Fabiana (Martina García) that he meets one night when out drinking heavily. Their relationship progresses and Fabiana moves in. It’s then that spooky things start to happen around the house that seem to haunt Fabiana. The conclusion to all of this is some of the finest film-making I’ve seen since at least 2000.

The story is filled with surprises; just when the viewer thinks they’ve figured out what’s going on, everything changes. The twists in the plot are frequent, but not overwhelming. It is an astonishingly beautiful movie and the care with which it was created is evident in the quality of the finished product. To me, the most mysterious thing about The Hidden Face is that garnered so little attention and wasn’t nominated for any awards. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you watch this movie at your earliest convenience, especially if you liked movies such as The Usual SuspectsMemento, or even The Secret in Their Eyes.

 

Micmacs à tire-larigot, 2009

Micmacs à tire-larigot, or Micmacs as it’s known in the English-speaking world, is a whimsical movie centering on the story of a man named Bazil (Dany Boon) whose father is killed in Africa and who is later accidentally shot in the head. Now stricken with a disability, Bazil finds he has lost his job, his apartment and his possessions, all of which were taken while he was in the hospital.

Bazil eventually finds and joins up with a group of odd characters who live as a family in a house built within a junkyard. They are all unusual people with peculiar talents, like Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup) a mathematical savant, Buster (Dominique Pinon) a world record holding human cannonball, Tiny Pete (Michel Crémadès) who creates artistic, moving sculptures, and Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier) an extremely flexible contortionist, as well as a few others with similar remarkable, if odd, talents.

They welcome Bazil, who finds evidence that a giant French arms company supplied the device that killed his father, and that another enormous French arms company manufactured the bullet lodged in his head. It is decided that the group will exact revenge on the two CEOs of these companies on Bazil’s behalf. It is then the shenanigans begin with a complicated plot of revenge designed to annoy, economically damage, and otherwise cause trouble for the two CEOs and their respective companies.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet returns to the film world several years after his last offering, creating a delightful film, Micmacs, which is full of whimsy, imagination, and love. Like all of his other works, immense effort is put into the color and styling of the production lending it a delicate beauty; it’s almost as though he transforms his films from motion pictures into motion paintings. Superb acting and a witty, original storyline, allow Jeunet to direct this cinematic gem with what has become his trademark level of quality. While it is an admitted bias on my part as a devoted fan of Jeunet’s work, Micmacs is still a movie that can come with the strongest recommendations to viewers who like a bit of whimsy, accompanied by surreal and intense visual effects. The film is a delight and filled with the shenanigans to which the title refers.

Eastern Promises, 2007

Eastern Promises directed by David Cronenberg is a 2007 story that focuses strongly on the intricacies of life in a Russian mafia family. It tells the story of a young British nurse named Anna (Naomi Watts) who comes across an orphaned baby, a discovery that threatens the patriarch (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of a London-based Russian crime syndicate. Viggo Mortensen plays a Russian driver named Nikolai, appearing on-screen with extensive and detailed criminal tattoos covering much of his body; the effect was reportedly so realistic that one day after filming he frightened people at a local bar because the tattoos were visible.

When Anna discovers a diary kept by a young woman named Tatiana, who is connected with the Russian family, it endangers both her life and that of the infant’s. It is revealed that what likely happened was the Russian patriarch’s son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) fathered the child after raping Tatiana; surrounding the dramatic story is the life of Nikolai as he attempts to ascend into ever higher levels of the mafia family.

The acting is of the highest caliber and, as expected, Cronenberg’s direction is nearly flawless. The twin plots of the film complement each other well and the realism is said to be extremely accurate. Mortensen spent time with Russian convicts to learn about their culture and how extensive tattooing often tells the life story of Russian criminals. The supporting cast leaves nothing to be desired and the pace of the movie leaves the viewer clutching the arms of their chairs with tension as the stories race to their thrilling conclusion. Eastern Promises may not have the mind-warping changes found in his earlier films, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it is still one of the three best pictures he has ever directed. What more is there to say? Now that you know a movie of this quality awaits you there is only one thing left to do: go watch it!

Evil Dead, 2013

The difference between the original Evil Dead and the remake is astonishing. Gone from the remake is the slapstick comedy and goofy special effects that were so essential to Sam Raimi‘s early work; in their place are the special effects of a big budget horror film and a seriously creepy plot.

David (Shiloh Fernandez), his drug addicted sister Mia (Jane Levy) and their friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) take a trip to an isolated cabin to help, as a group, get Mia free from her addiction and fully detoxed. During their time in the cabin they discover a trap door that leads to a very basic cellar, one filled with objects associated with witchcraft and a copy of what is later found to be the Book of the Dead.

Eric reads the Book of the Dead without understanding what it does and ends up summoning an evil force to the cabin. All attempts to flee are unsuccessful, leaving the friends trapped, left to confront the evil force which has taken control of Mia.

Director Fede Alvarez removes the campy features of the original Raimi version of Evil Dead and in its place adds a nicely acted horror movie filled with attention-grabbing special effects, while still leaving small homages to Raimi’s Evil Dead. The movie is creepy, well-crafted, and an effective, if not terribly original combination of the original version and Alvarez’s updated version. While it may not be the most original horror film (even of 2013) it’s watchable and will entertain viewers regardless of  its flaws.

Luftslottet som sprängde, 2009

Luftslottet som sprängde, or The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, continues the story of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist). This third and final installment picks up immediately following the conclusion of The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth is now hospitalized for her wounds and being detained by the Swedish police for the murders of a researcher working for Millenium magazine and his fiance.

Her father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov), is also hospitalized and in the same hospital as Salander. He wants the Swedish intelligence faction which has kept him hidden and protected for so many years to kill Salander, threatening to give up the organizations secrets if they do not comply. Salander’s brother (Micke Spreitz) remains at-large, though he is wanted for the murders of police officers killed during his escape from Zalachenko’s estate.

Salander’s long history of maltreatment at the hands of the Swedish state continues here and much of the movie continues the combined efforts of Salander, her associated hacker Plague (Tomas Köhler), Blomqvist, and Blomqvist’s sister (Annika Hallin), who acts as attorney for Salander in this case.

Once more, the work of director Daniel Alfredson is phenomenal in bringing the story from Stieg Larsson‘s novel of the same title to life on the big screen. With its superb acting, writing and pace, the story of Salander’s fight against the Swedish state that has taken so much from her and abused her for so long finally becomes the primary focus of the story. The viewer if given a lot of new information about her early life, which makes her efforts to clear her name – aided by both her doctor and attorney all the more compelling. In addition to their help, Salander is assisted by friends and associates to not only prove her innocence, but to prove she deserves a completely independent life. All of this, which occurs at a breakneck pace, keeps viewers on the edge of their seat until the ultimate finale.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is an incredibly satisfying conclusion to its two predecessors, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, and is too good to spoil with this review. If you have seen the two preceding movies in this series and have not yet seen The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest you should do so at your earliest opportunity as you will not be disappointed!