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The Second Mother

Directed by Anna Muylaert

      Val (Regina Casé) works has worked a live-in nanny for a wealthy São Paolo family, Barbara (Karine Teles) and her husband Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli), for the past thirteen years. She cooks and cleans for them, and has taken care of their teenage son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), ever since he was a toddler, so she's like a second mother to him. Ironically, though, Val hasn't quite been around for her own daughter, Jessica (Camila Márdila), who's estranged from her and lives with relatives in Pernambuco. When Jessica arrives to move in with her mother while in pursuit of a degree in architecture, she didn't expect that her mother doesn't have her own home to live in. The more time that Jessica spends there, the more the upper and lower class lifestyles clash with one another, especially when she swims in the family's pool.

      Writer/director Anna Muylaert has woven a tender, moving drama that's grounded in humanism from the first scene to the very last scene. It deals with very relatable, universal topics such as parenting, class struggles, love, compassion, freedom and forgiveness. Muylaert should be commended because not a moment veers into melodrama or too much schmaltz nor does the film get preachy or heavy-handed. It's sweet, warm and uplifting while remaining honest, poignant and true-to-life (with the exception of the brief use of slow-motion in the scene when Jessica swims in the pool for the first time). She also balances the delicate drama with just the right amount of comic relief. Each character is interesting because you can sense they have inner lives. The dynamics of their relationships are also compelling, especially between Val and Jessica. Even though Barbara comes across as not particularly nice when it comes to how she treats her help, she's not one-dimensional or even close to a villain; she's a complex human being who's just treating the lower class like she was raised to do. Perhaps one day she'll look back at the way she treated Val and regret it or maybe not.

      Regina Casé gives a genuinely heartfelt performance that also helps to anchor the film in realism. She brings a lot of charisma, warmth and tenderness to her role. It's quite amazing how she tackles a role that has such a wide variety of emotions in such believable way. You can sense that there's frustration inside Val that she bottles up inside, but the way she deals with it shows how wise and mature Val truly is when it comes to taking finally control of her life. Casé deserves an award for Best Actress come Oscar time. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, The Second Mother is warm, wise, tender and profoundly human. It's an uplifting crowd-pleaser that earns every moment of uplift.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Now playing at The Paris Theatre and Angelika Film Center.

Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

      Just as the IMF gets shuts down, rogue agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) learns of a pernicious group of terrorists called the Syndicate who threaten to start a new world order via terrorism. Ethan soon gets captured and chained to a pole before a mysterious secret agent, Ethan (Rebecca Ferguson), rescues him. Meanwhile, CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) gives orders for Hunt to be killed unless he has evidence that the Syndicate actually exists. That evidence, a computer drive listing the names of the Syndicate members, happens to be at a highly secure underwater facility. As IMF analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and computer tech Benji (Simon Pegg) track Hunt down, Hunt, with the help of Ilsa and, eventually, the trusting Benji, desperately try to retrieve the hard drive.

      The plot gets increasingly interesting throughout the film's twists and turns, especially when Ilsa shows up because it's uncertain whether or not she will double cross Ethan. Simon Pegg is very well-cast because he provides the film with much-needed comic relief. Fortunately, Tom Cruise still has the knack of being terrific leading man in an action thriller because beyond being good-looking, he's got charisma to boot and can sinks his teeth quite convincingly into both action and dramatic scenes.

     It's quite a testament to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie's strength as a film director that the 5th film in the Mission: Impossible series manages to still be as thrilling, exciting and suspenseful as the last four films. To be fair, though, Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation does lose a little steam toward the end because of too much exposition, but that's a minor issue that's forgivable because there's plenty of action set pieces before and after that to cherish. The stuntwork, largely done by Tom Cruise himself, looks amazing, whether he's hanging onto a plane as it takes off, going through an exhilarating motorcycle chase or trying to unlock a safe underwater with no oxygen mask. That underwater scene alone demands to be seen on the big screen (preferably in IMAX) for a fully immersive experience (pun-intended) so that you can feel like you're right there you're underwater with Ethan as well. At a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes, Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation is ultimately an exhilarating blend of action, intrigue, suspense and comic relief.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Now playing nationwide.


Directed by Christian Petzold

      In post-WWII, Nelly (Nina Hoss), a German-Jewish nightclub singer, returns to Berlin after surviving the Holocaust, but now has a surgically reconstructed face because of her injuries. Her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), used to be a pianist before the war, and now works as a busboy at a nightclub called Phoenix. When Nelly meets him, he doesn't recognize her, although he does think that she resembles his wife whom he assumes has died. Matters get complicated when he asks her to pretend to be his wife so that he can collect her inheritance.

    Phoenix combines mystery, suspense, noir and drama in a way that's consistently compelling. Will Johnny recognize Nelly? What might the consequences be if he were to recognize her as his wife? Those questions will keep you at the edge of your seat as the story takes unpredictable twists and turns along the way. Nelly learns a dark secret about Johnny, and her reactions to that, which won't be spoiled here, are even more unexpected. Some of the film feels operatic and a bit stagey, as if you were watching a very interestingly-lit play, though. Morevover, thee third act, ends on a rather disappointing note because it's too sudden and, without enough closure, it leaves you with too many open-ended questions that makes the film feel incomplete.

      On a purely aesthetic level, Phoenix looks precisely like a noir film should with an interesting use of chiaroscuro, colors and set/costume designs. It would really benefit you if you were to see the film on the big screen to better appreciate its cinematography and pay attention to the details. Phoenix's greatest asset, though, is the infinitely talented Nina Hoss who sinks her teeth into the role with aplomb and is quite radiant. She's as good of an actress as Charlotte Rampling, and elevates the film because she convincingly captures Nelly's complex emotions through body language. Phoenix can best be described as a taut, atmospheric, engrossing and slow-burning noir thriller that's often unpredictable.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Sundance Selects.
Now playing at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Inside Out

Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen

      11-year-old Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) lives happily with her mother (voice of Diane Lane) and father (voice of Kyle MacLachlan) in Minneapolis. She and her family soon move to all the way to San Francisco where her father starts a new job. Inside her head, there's Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Fear (voice of Bill Hader) and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling). As Riley has a hard time adjusting to living in a new city, her mixed emotions concurrently struggle to keep Joy from continuing to be the dominant feeling in her mind. Joy and Sadness go on an adventure together as they're ejected from headquarters and must find their way back to the control room before Sadness, Anger and Disgust wreak havoc.

      Smart, funny, thrilling, imaginative, inspired and exhilarating, Inside Out is everything you want a Pixar movie to be, and more. At its core, it has a heartwarming story about a pre-teen going through an emotionally complex moment in her life which anyone can relate to. In other words, she's experiencing what everyone experiences to a certain degree around that age: the mixed, confusing emotions of growing up. That relatability and universality helps to ground the film in humanism. Everything that goes on inside Riley's head feels real, and the same can be said for the brief (and quite witty/humorous) glimpses into the mind of her mother and father. The adventure that Joy and Sadness end up going through are filled with thrills, poignancy and even some clever surprises none of which will be spoiled here. Just like in any truly great animated film, there are many moments for both adults and children to be entertained by and to cherish.

      While the animation certainly looks beautiful and dazzling while providing for plenty of eye candy, the real triumph of Inside Out is that its heart, mind and soul remain intact from start to finish. This is the kind of film that you'll probably love on very different level when you see it an another stage of your life. There's something for everyone to take away from its lessons about the complexities of our emotions and memories, and how it's natural for happiness to come with sadness and other healthy emotions that shouldn't be suppressed. Prepare to be thinking about and discussing Inside Out for a long time after watching it. You might even find it to be therapeutic. At an ideal running time of 94 minutes, Inside Out is destined to become a new animated classic, and it's a potent reminder that we're living a Golden Age of Animation. Preceding the film, there's a very sweet animated musical short entitled Lava, directed by James Ford Murphy, about volcanoes in love.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Now playing nationwide.
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