Saturday, October 14, 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Movie Name: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, John Cleese, Adrian Rawlins, Toby Jones, David Bradley, Shirley Henderson, Gemma Jones, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Jason Isaacs, Tom Knight, Jamie Waylett, Miriam Margolyes
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the extremely successful "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", director Chris Columbus continued the work with the same team, and adapted the following book in the series. This time around, Harry finds himself in a situation where an elf by the name of Dobby, warns him not to come back to Hogwarts, since he's in imminent danger. Harry and Ron, manage to get to Hogwarts, with the aid of Ron's flying car. A series of dramatic occurrences start unfolding at the school, leaving some students petrified, including Hermione. In parallel, Harry discovers he can speak to snakes, much like his nemesis, Voldemort. With the involuntary aid of their new teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, both Harry and Ron set out to discover what is happening at the school and save Hermione.
Chris Columbus' successful first foray into the Harry Potter universe, was an introduction to a rich universe, one populated with a variety of supporting characters and magical locations and events. The director however limited himself to illustrating the narrative, without adding much style or much of a personal perspective to the proceedings. The second film follows the same pattern, and feels even more rushed from a production standpoint. There's a noticeable effort on the central actors to improve their performances, and there's definitely an impeccable production team working at the peak of their capabilities, however, the film feels definitely rushed. The darkness that peaked through the books, is never really visible in the film. The director doesn't give the characters enough depth to make them more compelling or livelier, something that will change with the following film in the series. Kenneth Branagh manages to create a humorous and cartoonish character, while the rest of the supporting actors are equally strong, particularly the alway reliable Alan Rickman. The cinematography from Roger Pratt is stunning as is the score of the always excellent John Williams. A minor film in the series, but nonetheless still entertaining.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gangs of New York

Movie Name: Gangs of New York
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, Alec McCowen, David Hemmings, Cara Seymour
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Martin Scorsese followed the somewhat little seen "Bringing Out the Dead" with "Gangs of New York", a big budget project he had been pursuing for years. The film, which was shot in the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, was met with a fair number of obstacles, and upon its arrival was greeted with fair to medium reviews, and though the film had been touted as the one for the celebrated director to win the Academy Award, it ended up not being the case (Roman Polanski won for "The Pianist", and in fact "Gangs of New York" won none of the 10 Academy Awards for what is was nominated). The film follows the story of Amsterdam Vallon, who in 1862 returns to the neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan, with the goal of avenging his father, who died while battling a rival gang, led by the ferocious and charismatic Bill the Butcher. Amsterdam ingratiates himself with Bill's gang, but internal rivalries for the affection of a beautiful pickpocket artist named Jenny, expose him and his intentions, leaving him severely beaten and in dire need of recovery. Following this Amsterdam makes a claim to defeat Bill, and as they start a new turf war, the draft riots occur, which throws further chaos to this bloody battle.
Martin Scorsese is of course a master in filmmaking. His encyclopedic knowledge of film history is well know, as is his body of work, which contains more than its fair share of modern classics. "Gangs of New York" however, is a film where the intentions and ambitions far surpass the results on screen. The director tried to tell the story of how America was forged, using the microcosms of the gangs rivalry, peppering the story with enough romantic and familiar angst in order to make the story more palatable. However, the film as ferocious as it may be in some parts (particularly the ones with the always fantastic Daniel Day Lewis), just can't escape the shadow of all the cliches that it puts on display. Ultimately it's a film that feels like a rehash of many other stories and is quickly forgettable. Most supporting characters are very one dimensional, and aside from Daniel Day Lewis' strong performance, everyone else has little to do (even Leonardo DiCaprio, who is typically excellent, feels out of place). The cinematography from Michael Ballhaus is stunning, as are the costumes from the always excellent Sandy Powell. A minor film from an excellent director.

Blade Runner 2049

Movie Name: Blade Runner 2049
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Carla Juri, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis, Hiam Abbass, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Sean Young
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Celebrated director Denis Villeneuve returns to the screens, after the beautiful "Arrival" (which was my favorite film of 2016). This time around he's tackling the sequel to one of the most iconic films of the 80s, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner". The film takes place 30 years after the original, and focuses on a young blade runner, by the name of K, who is still intent on retiring the remaining replicants who have escaped. The animosity towards replicants persists, but when retiring one of them, K discovers something that upon further analysis, reveals information that is so shattering that can undo the very fabrics of society. Hot on the trail of this information, is the leader of the company that bought Tyrell's flailing business and that has made it into a huge successful conglomerate. It's up to K to dig into the past, and to his own life in the process, and figure out how all the pieces come together, before the attempt to bury all this information becomes a reality.
Denis Villeneuve has gradually but assuredly become one of the most interesting directors working these days. His past films have been fantastically well crafted, which climaxed with the fantastic "Arrival" (which was a perfect combination of pacing, script and acting). The sequel to Ridley Scott's uneven "Blade Runner", pushes some of Denis Villeneuve's themes to another futuristic setting. Something that permeates all his films, is a central character that is seemingly at odds with the ordinary world that surrounds her, a world that is touched by violence. In "Blade Runner 2049", the central character, though knowing what he is, has deep down qualms and questions about himself. His pursuits further dig into his own sense of self. And that is a very pertinent theme to "Blade Runner": what effectively makes us humans and what are these creatures that emulate sentient life. It's a beautiful film, that allows for the central character to shows us the remnants of a world. A revised noir film of sorts, aesthetically stunning, featuring a controlled and tense performance from Ryan Gosling. If anything can be said for the film, is a somewhat indulgent subplot, which doesn't add much to the development of the film and narrative, but it's still a striking piece of work. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stunning as is the evocative score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. A beautiful film from one of the most interesting directors currently working.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie Name: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Elton John, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Michael Gambon, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Keith Allen, Poppy Delevingne, Mark Arnold
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis:
After the unexpected success of "Kingsman: The Secret Service", director Matthew Vaughn has returned to the series he has jumpstarted. The film is a direct continuation of the previous, and focuses on the adventures of Eggsy, who is now a successful agent, with a steady girlfriend, who suddenly is attacked by a previous colleague and rival, who was dismissed from the Kingsman trial process. The Kingsman are massively attacked, and are forced to come to the US and ask for assistance from their American counterparts, and figure out who's trying to shut their operation permanently. Turns out, their foil is Poppy, who leads a very successful drug trafficking business under the mantle of The Golden Circle. Much to the shock of Eggsy and Merlin, they discover Harry is still alive. It's up to them, alongside their American counterparts, to find a solution for a dangerous drug Poppy has unleashed upon the world.
One of the best things about Matthew Vaughn's films have always been his keen sense of humor, alongside his impeccable taste and aesthetic. He's a director who marries deft storytelling, with a sophisticated sense of humor and enough style to keep his films imminently watchable and compelling. With the sequel to "Kingsman", the director had more money to play with, which can be attested by the lavish set pieces, and fantastic cast he had to work with. Sadly with it also came some questionable taste options in some of the sequences. The film is longer than the previous, and though still entertaining and humorous (and politically snarky, as can be seen by the whole subplot with Emily Watson and Bruce Greenwood), it feels in many points forced and overly convoluted (the whole bit with Keith Allen was unnecessary). Still it's a film that showcases a well oiled entertainment machine, with a solid cast: Jeff Bridges is hilarious as always, Mark Strong is iconic and collected as always, and Julianne Moore has a bit of fun (even if she has nothing much to do, other than sit and say a few silly lines). It's an entertaining and forgettable film, and nicely done at it.

Burnt

Movie Name: Burnt
Year of Release: 2015
Director: John Wells
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson, Matthew Rhys, Omar Sy, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sam Keeley, Riccardo Scamarcio, Stephen Campbell Moore
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director John Wells has made a name for himself as a producer on many iconic TV shows of the past 20 years ("ER" and "The West Wing" to name but a few). All of his directorial efforts have been, thus far, based on great material and filled with terrific casts - though all of them have been met with tepid responses (both critically and commercially). "Burnt" (originally titled "Adam Jones"), follows the story of Adam Jones, a superstar chef, who following an excessive period of a few years where he was on top of his profession, burned out (made some dubious choices in the process) and had to quietly leave the spotlight, in order to heal. The film follows Adam as he returns to London, and reconnects with some people he wronged, as he tries to create a new team, and reclaim the ever elusive third Michelin star for his pantheon. The process forces him to deal with his past behaviors, make amends, and generally learn about what it means to grow up.
"Burnt" (or "Adam Jones"), features a script by renowned writer Steven Knight (who wrote David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises", Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" and his own "Locke"). Lamentably it's a film that tries very hard to portray Adam as a charismatic and incensed person, who provokes others and yet functions as a charming leader, however, he mostly comes across as a self centered narcissistic who's followed by a bunch of people/characters wanting to be verbally and physically abused. Somehow while building this story, the film-maker forgot that you have to create credible characters, with an inner life, and with a depth of emotion. Making the film around the quest for redemption of a character is nothing new, and this film certainly manages to tick all the cliches in existence - however it's difficult to really get much empathy for Adam, since it feels like he has nothing to lose, and that ultimately he's just a rich, spoiled individual who wants to win since that's always been the case for his ventures. There's a great cast to work with, but Bradley Cooper isn't at his most subtle, playing Adam very one note. The supporting cast ends up being more interesting, particularly Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys and Emma Thompson. The cinematography from Adriano Goldman is beautiful, but this film nevertheless feels very short of its ambitions. Forgettable.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Frida

Movie Name: Frida
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Julie Taymor
Stars: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Mia Maestro, Valeria Golino, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Roger Rees, Diego Luna, Saffron Burrows, Antonio Banderas, Roberto Medina
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Celebrated theater director (and costume designer) Julie Taymor followed her feature debut, "Titus", with the passion project from Salma Hayek, a biopic of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The film focuses on the story of Frida, who at the age of 18 is involved in a dramatic car accident, which leaves her with physical problems for the rest of her life. While recovering from her accident, her father gets her a canvas, which prompts her to start painting. The film also details her convoluted relationship with Diego Rivera, both embracing a somewhat open relationship, one that sees Frida getting involved with both men and women. Following a notorious affair with Leon Trotsky, the couple divorces, though they both remain in each other's lives. The film tracks the history of Frida's final days with her health problems and relationship with Diego.
"Frida" is a film that became a reality due to the passion of lead actress Salma Hayek, who also involved Edward Norton as a screenwriter during the development phase. The film is not a typical biopic, focusing on vignettes that define the life of the artist. It's a film that lives from the construction and establishment of a mood, an ambiance, and not from a chronological perspective of  a biopic (those would be the cases of Richard Attenborough's "Ghandi" and "Chaplin" for instance). The film and the director, try to capture the allure of the artist's personality, and her relationships with different lovers and political figures. While the film is successful in showcasing the strong personality of Frida, it falters when flushing out the personalities of the ones she interacts with - most of these personas are reduced to stereotypes or one dimensional characters. The film features two great performances from Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina (the latter who is systematically impeccable in every single role he tackles), and the cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto is stunning (as is the score from Elliot Goldenthal). An interesting film from an interesting director.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Femme Fatale

Movie Name: Femme Fatale
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Rebecca Romijn, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Rie Rasmussen, Gregg Henry, Fiona Curzon, Eva Darlan
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Riding the wave of his comeback, which started with "Mission: Impossible" in 1996, but which hit a stumbling block with his interesting, yet flawed "Mission to Mars", director Brian De Palma went to Europe to shoot the interesting "Femme Fatale". The film follows the story of Laure Ash, a thief, who is able to steal some very valuable diamonds during the Cannes Film Festival. Laure double crosses her associates, and flees to Paris, where she witnesses her doppelganger commit suicide. Laure swiftly takes her place, and manages to escape to America. Seven years later she returns to Paris, where a photographer gets a snapshot of hers, and makes her a target for her former associates.
"Femme Fatale" is a return to themes that have been a part of Brian De Palma's films since the 70s. Mistaken identities, casual occurrences that turn out to have defining importance in characters lives, doubles, all elements that made his most interesting films so memorable (check for instance "Blow Out" and "Body Double"). "Femme Fatale" is a digest of a lot of his previous films, and it's filled with his habitual camera flourishes (his films are stylistically always interesting and definitely very much his trademark), and the surprising twist at the end, something that has become associated with De Palma. His work has long surpassed that of a Hitchcock aficionado - his style is very much his own, with his universe of characters that inhabit this gray zone, where their morals are somewhat tainted, but yet they still manage to always redeem themselves and have a heart and conscience. "Femme Fatale" is highly entertaining and features the beautiful Rebecca Romijn as the focus of attention, something that is always commendable. She manages to be both icy and yet vulnerable. The film also features the beautiful score of Ryuichi Sakamoto and the cinematography from Luc Besson's habitual collaborator, Thierry Arbogast. An interesting film from a very good director.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Far from Heaven

Movie Name: Far from Heaven
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Michael Gaston, Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta, Celia Weston, Barbara Garrick
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the fantastic "Velvet Goldmine", director Todd Haynes turned his attention to the classics from Douglas Sirk, and tackled a film very much in that vein, but without the hidden context that those alluded films had. The film follows the story of Cathy Whitaker, who lives with her husband Frank, young son and daughter in suburban Connecticut in 1957. On the outside, they have an idyllic life, however Frank is secretly gay and is finding it harder and harder to continue the marriage. Cathy on the other hand finds herself drawn to Raymond, a young black man who is the son of her late gardener. What starts as a friendship, starts blooming into something else, but soon her neighbors and social circle discover this relationship, quickly ostracizing Cathy and her family, forcing her to abandon that relationship at great cost.
Todd Haynes has by now managed to create a career where he subverts conventions at every turn, and that is clearly apparent in "Far From Heaven". The feature is inspired by the works of Douglas Sirk (such as "Written on the Wind", "All that Heaven Allows" and "Magnificent Obsession" to name but a few), but gives it a more fully dimensional reality, by addressing issues with homosexuality and racism openly, something that the classics in the 50s were not able to do, due to the Hays code. Much like Pedro Almodovar, Todd Haynes creates a drama that pierces to the core of relationships, doing it with a beautifully accomplished style. The central performances are great, but this truly is a fantastic showcase for the talents of Julianne Moore, who has never been better. The cinematography of Edward Lachman is equally stunning, the same going for the score of the late Elmer Bernstein. A very good film, always worth revisiting, from a very talented director.

Mother!

Movie Name: Mother!
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, Kristen Wiig, Chris Gartin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following the flawed "Noah", director Darren Aronofsky is back, with another feature that is certain to create much discussion and incensed opinions. The film introduces us to a couple: a man who is a writer and who's experiencing problems continuing with his work, and his much younger wife, who has been working diligently to restore his house, that got consumed by a fire. Into this idyllic life comes a stranger, initially knocking at the door looking for a bed a breakfast, but who turns out to be a fan of the writer's work. Soon this stranger's wife also appears, and as much as the young woman wants them out, the writer feeds off their attention, and invites them to stay. Things continue to escalate, as these strangers sons soon appear, feuding over a will, causing a fatal accident to occur. Things keep getting out of hand, until the young woman finally lashes out at the writer's attention seeking necessity, at the risk of her own well being. What ensues defies everything she prepared for.
"Mother!" premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, with the majority of the reviews being largely positive. After tackling a biblical story with "Noah", director Darren Aronofsky built this time around an original story that has some connections with the Bible, but that is very much his own interpretation of the concept of creation, mother earth and conflict. Though the film is being sold to audiences as a relative of Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" (and at times the writer figure comes across as a demonic one, something that even one of the cards in the film illustrates), this clearly goes in a much different direction. It's a film that definitely invites discussion, that creates a sense of bafflement, shock and anger. It's a testament to the director's capabilities, that he takes the viewer on a journey through themes and characters that are not obvious, but that are definitely representations of religious tales, and of course, to a larger extent, of how we treat and worship figures at the cost of sacrificing sanity, individuality and ultimately life. The cinematography from Matthew Libatique is fantastic, as is the central performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who carries on her shoulders the anguish of undying love, but also the maternal aspect of that character. A very interesting film from a very talented director.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Chicago

Movie Name: Chicago
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Colm Feore, Taye Diggs, Dominic West, Lucy Liu, Christine Baranski, Sebastian La Cause, Mya, Chita Rivera, Deidre Goodwin
Genre: Musical, Crime, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
"Chicago" was Rob Marshall's feature debut, following a celebrated and awarded career as a choreographer on Broadway. The film is an adaptation of the musical from Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, and follows the story of two women in Chicago during the roaring 20s. The film focuses on the young and beautiful Roxie Hart, who while married to quiet and hard working Amos, dreams of a life in vaudeville, and fools around with a few men in the hopes they can get her to that stage. The film also focuses on Velma Kelly, a well known performer, who finds herself in deep trouble, once she kills her husband and sister, who were having an affair without her knowledge. Roxie also finds herself arrested when the man she thought was a passport to a career in show business, turns out to be an imposter, upon which she ends up killing him. These two women find themselves on death row, and have to resort to the services of mercenary attorney Billy Flynn, who knows how to play the media in order to get his clients easily freed.
"Chicago" is a film that lives essentially from the exuberance of the set pieces and musical numbers that puts on display. The lean narrative is a mere pretext for the beautiful musical and choreography that Rob Marshall stages. The rhythm and motion of the film is seamless, which makes for an engaging watch. The cinematography from Dion Beebe is exquisite, and the central performances are equally engaging and compelling (even if not exactly memorable). Renee Zellweger feels miscast, but manages to make the most of her character, while Richard Gere exudes confidence as the oily, mercenary lawyer. While not as iconic as the classic musicals, this is a film where style topples narrative and character development, but without good results to merit repeated viewings.