Sunday, July 15, 2018

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

Movie Name: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Year of Release: 2003
Director: McG
Stars: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Bernie Mac, Crispin Glover, Demi Moore, Rodrigo Santoro, Justin Theroux, Robert Patrick, Shia LaBeouf, Matt LeBlanc, Luke Wilson, John Cleese, Robert Forster, Eric Bogosian, Carrie Fisher
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the success of the first installment of "Charlie's Angels", which debuted in 2000, a sequel was quickly geared up. This time the story focuses on another case the Angels have to tackle. They must retrieve rings containing encrypted information that reveals the new identities of every person in the Federal Witness Protection Program. In parallel with the case, the Angels are all dealing with the evolution of their personal lives, as some are having family visiting, while others are moving in with their respective partners. All this comes to a halt when they realize that someone they revered may be behind all these assassinations.
Director McG who made a name for himself directing music videos, brings the same type of approach and finesse to the sequel to his feature debut. "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" is very much like an extended music commercial, filled with quick edits, glossy cinematography, loud soundtrack and no character development. The film feels like something devised and conceptualized by a teenager, wanting to mix what he deems "sexy", "attractive" and "edgy". There's enumerable fight scenes, clearly influenced by the "Matrix", the attractive trio of actresses in skimpy outfits, and of course humorous situations created by the fact that the film winks an eye at the conventions of macho action films. Sadly the main opponent in the film, portrayed by Demi Moore, adds little to no substance - most of her menace comes from posing with a gun and long flowing hair. This is a film that is so vapid, that even looking at it as a piece of fluff, ends up giving it more meaning than the film actually has. It's a low, albeit glossy, point for the careers of everyone featured on this film.

Bruce Almighty

Movie Name: Bruce Almighty
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Tom Shadyac
Stars: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Anniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter, Nora Dunn, Steve Carell, Eddie Jemison, Paul Satterfield, Sally Kirkland
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Tom Shadyac and actor Jim Carrey are a partnership shaped in success. Before "Bruce Almighty" premiered in 2003 to huge success, the team had already worked on "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Liar, Liar". "Bruce Almighty" follows the premise that Bruce Nolan, a television reporter in Buffalo, NY, is profoundly unhappy with his life, despite his popularity and having a nice and supportive girlfriend. At one of his harshest and challenging days, Bruce rebels against God, who appears to Bruce, and grants him his powers. It's up to Bruce to handle God's responsibilities, and assess how he can do better.
Successful comedies manage to infuse every day actions and relationships with just enough satire to resonate with audiences and simultaneously entertain. At times comedies rely on slapstick, physical comedy to make a point across, and all those are things that Jim Carrey has perfected. He's a versatile performer, with enough depth to unveil the sadness behind the clownish fa├žade, but also with the physical prowess to go into Jerry Lewis' territory (something he proved early on in his career with "Dumb and Dumber" and "The Mask"). "Bruce Almighty" has a flimsy and forgettable concept - but it does have a fantastic performer at the top of his game, one that is able to infuse every single frame of the film with an energy that is captivating and ultimately very funny. This of course does not make for a memorable film, or even a good film - "Bruce Almighty" is mostly a showcase for how Jim Carrey takes his every day heroes, and makes something truly transformational out of those run of the mill characters. Whereas "Dumb and Dumber" for instance took the concept of road movie, to highlight the antics of two best friends adrift in the world, "Bruce Almighty" operates within the constraints of a romantic comedy, and it's watchable due to Jim Carrey and the always charismatic Morgan Freeman. Those two performers make this mediocre film worth a watch.

Big Fish

Movie Name: Big Fish
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Marion Cotillard, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, Missi Pyle, Robert Guillaume, Deep Roy, Loudon Wainwright III, Ada Tai, Arlene Tai, Matthew McGrory
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After his first big budget disappointment that came in the shape of the remake of "Planet of the Apes", director Tim Burton rebounded with the adaptation of the book by Daniel Wallace, "Big Fish". The film follows the adventures of Ed Bloom, particularly his young days, where he recounts his adventures always with a sense of wonder and hyperbole. His son, Will, never really understood him, nor forgave him for the time apart, and for all the stories he has always told. As Ed goes through his last days, Will has a chance to revisit a lot of the stories that were part of his father's usual storytelling, from his time at a circus, to him meeting the beautiful Sandra, who would become his mom.
"Big Fish" was hailed at the time of its premiere, as a return to form for director Tim Burton. It is definitely an improvement over his previous feature, benefiting from a fantastic cast, but it's still a diluted vision of what his best films have been able to showcase. Much of Burton's universe is centered around misfits and characters that can easily be perceived as monsters. His characters are possessed of a poetry and sensibility that at first glance is not perceived by the society around them. There's usually a heroine who digs deep enough to understand his heroes. His stories permeate dark humor throughout, and make them indelible, from "Edward Scissorhands", "Beetlejuice", "Ed Wood" and even "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". "Big Fish" which is a familiar story of a son coming to terms with an absent father, has glimpses of his universe, with Ed Bloom's character being constructed as a magical storyteller, but for the most part, he comes across as a chronic liar. The film does have charm (the supporting characters give it a distinctive feeling), it's beautifully shot (courtesy of Philippe Rousselot), but it's at times overly saccharine and even a bit generic. The cast is uniformly good, with Albert Finney creating a strong performance. A somewhat forgettable film from a unique voice in film.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Anything Else

Movie Name: Anything Else
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Woody Allen, Danny DeVito, Stockard Channing, Diana Krall, Jimmy Fallon, Fisher Stevens, David Conrad, Kadee Strickland, William Hill
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following his 2002 feature, "Hollywood Ending", director Woody Allen returned with "Anything Else", a comedy headlined by Jason Biggs, then riding the wave of success propelled by "American Pie". The film follows the story of Jerry Falk, a young aspiring writer in New York. The film follows the misadventures of Jerry, from his previous relationship with Brooke, to the relationship with Amanda, one that has been peppered with a series of obstacles, namely her mom coming to live with them. All through these events, Jerry ends up relying on David Dobel, his older friend and mentor, who provides guidance and input on how he should handle these complications and challenges.
"Anything Else" is one of Woody Allen's mostly forgotten films, and one that upon debut was met with tepid reviews and feedback. It's a film centered on his typical universe: the central hero is a writer, living with a beautiful girlfriend. The relationship is flailing and all around them a series of supporting characters provide colorful characterization and feedback to the main events. The main role, usually played by Allen himself, is this time around given to Jason Biggs, who tries to replicate the mannerisms of Woody Allen. It's a film that doesn't bring anything new to the table in a career filled with classics, which is the case of Woody Allen. It has some insightful and funny puns, as is the case in most of his films, but the overall structure, character development and interactions, feels repetitive and tired. Christina Ricci is game and as always makes the best of the role she gets, but the film lacks bite and a stronger discernible trait to make it memorable. A lesser film from a great director.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tau

Movie Name: Tau
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Federico D'Alessandro
Stars: Maika Monroe, Ed Skrein, Gary Oldman, Fiston Barek, Ivana Zivkovic
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Streaming giant Netflix continues debuting content, this time around with a sci-fi feature, from a first time director. The film  by the name of "Tau", follows the misadventures of Julia, a young woman who lives by herself, in an unknown city in the near future. Julia resorts to scams to make a living, until she finds herself captured, and being tortured, with no knowledge of the reason and where she even is. She soon finds out her captor is named Alex, and he is using her and a few other individuals to test and gather data for technology he is developing. When Julia tries to escape, she finds herself detained by an AI entity created by Alex, named Tau. Julia slowly develops a relationship with Tau, with the intent of creating an ally that can help her escape what is most certainly a deathtrap.
"Tau" is built as a claustrophobic thriller, with the pending menace always hovering over the central character. It's a three part game, with one of the main characters being a AI, who responds to the relationship being established with Julia, the central heroine. The film and the screenplay falters in the development of the actual characters, since there's never much insight into who they really are and come from. The main opponent also comes across as under-developed, and sadly Ed Skrein does not have the skills to actually create a character that is simultaneously cold, intelligent and menacing. Where the film does manage to have some interest, is in the utilization of Gary Oldman's voice as Tau - the actor manages to imbue the artificial construct with just enough personality, and progressive humanity, that makes this small film somewhat interesting. Maika Monroe, following her performance in David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows", isn't as equally impressive in what could have been an arresting performance, if powered by a sense of urgency, dread and fear. The cinematography from Larry Smith is impeccable, as is the score from Bear McCreary. It's a quickly forgettable endeavor for all parts involved.

Penny Dreadful

TV Show Name: Penny Dreadful
Year of Release: 2014/2015/2016
Creator: John Logan
Stars: Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Rory Kinnear, Reeve Carney, Billie Piper, Harry Treadaway, Danny Sapani, Simon Russell Beale, Patti LuPone, Helen McCrory, Sarah Greene, Douglas Hodge, Wes Studi, Samuel Barnett, Jack Hickey, Shazad Latif, Christian Camargo, Jessica Barden, David Haig, Jonny Beauchamp
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
"Penny Dreadful" is a show hailing from the craftsmanship of writer John Logan, who previously wrote Ridley Scott's "Gladiator", Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" & "Hugo", but also Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" and more recently Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" & "Spectre". "Penny Dreadful" takes place in victorian London, with the action starting in 1891. The show reunites a series of classic monsters, mythological creatures and iconic literary characters, namely The Wolfman, Dracula, Dorian Gray and Frankenstein. The main characters, namely Vanessa Ives, Sir Malcolm Murray, Ethan Chandler, Victor Frankenstein, are united to battle these forces of darkness, with each of them having a specific subplot, which allows for their arcs to be fully developed, and for their backgrounds and relationships to be showcased throughout the show. The first season focuses on the rescue of Sir Malcom's daughter, Mina, whereas the second season goes in the direction of a coven of witches, intent on capturing Vanessa. The menace surrounding Vanessa finally becomes terribly real in the third season, with the appearance of Dracula. If the first season is very focused on introducing the main characters and their sub-plots, as the show evolves, the thread that truly unites the entire narrative becomes more apparent, and the trials of Vanessa become the core focus of the show. It's a show that bears a theatrical aspect to it, feeling at times more like a stage play coming to life, but with the budget, sensuality and violence of a big budget Hollywood film. These two components at times have a somewhat convoluted co-existence, but it's nonetheless a show that is strong when it focuses on its main characters, though throughout the third season, there are subplots that make it lose some momentum. The cast is uniformly good, but Eva Green, Rory Kinnear, Simon Russell Beale and Patti LuPone create indelible characters. The costumes from Academy Award winning Gabriella Pescucci are fantastic, as is the production design and cinematography. A very good show worth watching.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The 25th Hour

Movie Name: The 25th Hour
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Devon, Patrice O'Neal
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After "Bamboozled" failed to find an audience and a warm critical reception, director Spike Lee bounced back with one of his finest films, "The 25th Hour". The film is an adaptation of the book by David Benioff (these days better known as one of the writers and creatives behind the behemoth that is "Game of Thrones"), and follows the story of Monty Brogan. The film takes place over the last day of freedom of Monty, since he is going to be incarcerated for drug trafficking. He plans on spending the day with his two best friends, Jacob and Frank, as well as his beautiful girlfriend Naturelle. Monty suspects that he was set up, and for a moment, he thinks Naturelle may have had something to do with it, but after visiting with his underground boss, the Russian Nikolai, he discovers that it was someone else altogether. Monty fears for his safety and life in the prison, and asks his friends to help him, before he sets out to fulfill his sentence.
Spike Lee has always been an interesting director, one who marries an acute stylistic approach, with a focus on the urban fissures and the challenges felt by the African American community. "The 25th Hour" may at first glance feel like an odd choice for him to tackle, but on closer inspection, it's a film about the strains, frictions, tensions that exist within the American society, particularly the ones in NY, which is a condensed microcosms, and something he explored in prior films. It's also a film that looks head on to the impact created by terrorism, and how people have had to reshape their thinking and their lives, in order to be able to move on and continue living. The film has a fantastic cast, with Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Brian Cox all creating memorable performances, the same going for the beautiful cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto. A very good film always worth watching.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Movie Name: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Year of Release: 2018
Director: J.A. Bayona
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon, Robert Emms, Peter Jason
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After the surprise success of "Jurassic World", a sequel was inevitable, and this one, while from a different director, hails from the writing duo of Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, both of them also responsible for the first installment of this new planned trilogy. The film picks up three years after the disastrous occurrences of Isla Nublar. The animals have been left there to their own devices, but are now facing a mortal threat in the shape of a volcano, that is erupting at any moment. A wealthy benefactor, by the name of Lockwood emerges, and we soon find out he had been one of the original proponents of the DNA sampling alongside the late John Hammond. Lockwood wants to save the dinosaurs and move them to an island he has specifically shepherded to maintain the species. He reaches out to Claire Dearing, so she can go to the island, and with her former employee credentials, access the database and track whatever animals are left, particularly the velociraptor. In order to do so, Claire reaches out to Owen, and successfully convinces him to return with her. They soon find out that their intentions while noble, hide unbeknownst to them, some very dark motivations from Lockwood's managerial team.
Juan Antonio Bayona is a very talented director, who has managed to excel in both gothic horror films but also natural disaster films, since he understands that while mayhem and destruction are eye catching, only when you have actual characters with dimension, do viewers actually appreciate what you're setting out to do. His films all focus on this sense of family, and particularly how dramatic events can test the bonds of what a family unit truly is all about. That was the case with his previous feature, "A Monster Calls", and there are some remnants of that focus here, with Lockwood's granddaughter, and the relationship she manages to create with Owen and Claire. Sadly the film is so poorly written that is difficult to engage with the nonsense that it depicts. The problem does not lie with the incredulous concepts of the film, but mostly with the predictable ploys and archetypes the script puts forth (the supporting comic relief character, the brainy and ethnically diverse supporting character, the evil corporate shill, it's very much like a checklist that goes on and on, and that the script chooses to include all the way). There are set pieces that are placed together to elicit a certain type of response from the audience, and though the director is competent to illustrate the story with a style and a sense of menace, it still can't hide the fact that this story is as pedestrian and poorly conceived as they come. Here's hoping the series can find a better writer and creative direction. As a film, this is a misstep for Juan Antonio Bayona. Avoid.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Hitcher

Movie Name: The Hitcher
Year of Release: 1986
Director: Robert Harmon
Stars: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn, John M. Jackson, Armin Shimerman, Gene Davis
Genre: Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
"The Hitcher" was the feature length debut for director Robert Harmon. Working from a crackling and enigmatic script from the talented Eric Red (who collaborated with Kathryn Bigelow in both "Near Dark" and "Blue Steel"), the film has become a cult classic from the 80s, featuring iconic performances from Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The film focuses on the story of young Jim Halsey, who has been hired to drive a car from Chicago to San Diego. During his drive, and in order to stay awake, Jim takes in a hiker by the name of John Ryder. John turns out to be a dangerous individual, one who has killed multiple people, and Jim is next on his list. Jim manages to kick him out of his car, and from that point on, he and John form a harrowing relationship, with the latter pursuing Jim, wanting him to stop his actions, as John sees him as his ultimate foe. It takes every ounce of resourcefulness and sheer will from Jim to not go insane and battle that persistent and unstoppable force.
"The Hitcher" was received with a mix of reviews upon its release, but it has since then gathered a cult following. It's a film that is tight in terms of narrative arc, one that pitches this charismatic figure of evil, versus a young man, a personification of innocence, someone who has to fight for all that he loves, and ultimately his own life, to overcome this tremendous challenge. It's also a film that is very well directed, with Robert Harmon allowing for the actors to create these enigmatic characters, who are thrown into a truly challenging and dramatic situation. Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh both create memorable characters, the cinematography from John Seale is stunning (he went on to win the Academy Award for Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient"), as is the score from the underrated Mark Isham. A very good film worth watching and revisiting.

Incredibles 2

Movie Name: Incredibles 2
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Keener, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird, Isabella Rossellini, Jonathan Banks
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director Brad Bird is back, following "Tomorrowland", his previous directorial effort, which turned out to be a disappointing commercial endeavor for Disney (though it is a very interesting film in itself). His latest is a sequel to one of his best features, "The Incredibles", dated from 2004. The film follows the story of the Parr family, all of whom are superheroes, who are coming to terms with the events of the first film, after dealing with another villain, and having to adjust to the reality that being a superhero is still prohibited by law. The family is forced to live in a Motel, since their house has been destroyed, and suddenly hope appears in the shape of a technology company wanting to employ Elastigirl, in order to bring back super powered beings to the limelight (lawfully). This new job forces Bob/Mr. Incredible to stay home and take care of the children, particularly Jack Jack whose powers are revealing themselves in unexpected ways. A new villain reveals itself, with sinister plans, forcing the entire family with assistance from their friend Frozone, to battle it out.
Brad Bird is a very talented filmmaker, one who knows how to build coherent universes, always marrying action set pieces with humor, all tied with a great sense of style. "The Incredibles" is one of his most iconic endeavors, one that is filled with a style that marries a retro aesthetic, with futuristic tones, all within the conventions of the superhero genre, which he constantly reshuffles, focused more on the family dynamics between the central characters, with the super powers almost secondary. This film isn't as tight and successful as the first, narratively speaking, but it's still an impressive accomplishment, where the beautiful animation brings to life a script that is all about a family learning to live with themselves, and how typical roles within the family unit evolve and change. The voice work is uniformly fantastic as is the score from Michael Giacchino. A very good film worth watching.