Sunday, May 20, 2018

Deadpool 2

Movie Name: Deadpool 2
Year of Release: 2018
Director: David Leitch
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews, Rob Delaney, Eddie Marsan, Shioli Kutsuna, Karan Soni, Bill Skarsgard, Jack Kesy, Lewis Tan
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following his two first well received directorial endeavors, David Leitch has tackled his first comic book property, with the subversive and rule breaking "Deadpool 2". If the first film attempted to defy conventions, breaking the fourth wall and being very self aware, this film takes those aspects of the original and expands it tremendously. Deadpool/Wade Wilson, since the events of the first film, has become a hero taking out some rather unsavory people. However when one of his assignments goes unfinished, the repercussions of that event pop up at his doorstep, killing his loved one, and prompting some dramatic decisions on his part. His friends from the X-Men come to the rescue, and as he gets involved in their tasks, they become aware of an orphanage for mutant kids, with one young kid in particular, Russell, being an outspoken voice for some rather unsavory things going on at the institution. When both Russell and Deadpool end up in a prison, they are confronted with a traveler from the future, a mutant named Cable, who has come to destroy Russell, since in the future he has become a tremendous destructive force.
David Leitch is a director who knows how to stage action scenes - he has the training in terms of stuntwork pedigree, but he's primarily a director who understands the economy of scenes, married with character development, which allows for the characters in his features to be more than just paper thin constructions. Where "Deadpool 2" goes substantially further than the first feature, lies precisely in the fact that this time around, there are other characters expanding this universe, peppering the story with further elements, which gives the story just enough juice to keep going. It is very much a B-movie with a good budget, but it knows it, and wears it proudly on its sleeve. Ryan Reynolds plays the character perfectly, and knows this universe fantastically well, shooting his observations, jokes and one-liners like a machine gun repertoire. The humor is non stop, and it makes for a good balance with the more violent aspects of the story. It's a film that is rough around the edges, with some characters and aspects better defined than others, but it's fresh, with humor and heart, and tremendously self aware, which is more than what can be said for a lot of these comic books that just keep being released constantly. Worth a watch.

God's Own Country

Movie Name: God's Own Country
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Francis Lee
Stars: Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
"God's Own Country" made it's auspicious debut at the Sundance Film Festival of 2017, and collected more accolades and good reviews when it was featured at the Berlin Film Festival of the same year. The film follows the story of Johnny, a young British man who lives on a farm with his disabled father and grandmother. Johnny is a man of few words, and tries to help his father and grandmother as much as he can, by taking on the projects that need to be tackled on the farm, namely with all the animals and upkeep of the fences, among many others. Johnny is also, somewhat secretly, engaging in some gay trysts with young men he meets at the bars (after he's sufficiently tipsy). His father manages to hire a young and quiet Romanian man by the name of Gheorghe, to come in and help out with the sheep. While handling the animals and far away from everyone, the two young men become romantically involved, even if Johnny has gradually to open up and eventually grow up to come to terms with himself and how is life is evolving.
"God's Own Country" is the directorial debut of Francis Lee, who has made a name for himself primarily as an actor (he can be seen in Mike Leigh's "Topsy Turvy" for instance). "God's Own Country" is his feature directorial debut, and shows a point of view that marries a heartfelt depiction of characters and situations, with a poetic realism of capturing the environment in which these characters exist. He manages to create with this film an intimate story about someone growing up emotionally, opening up, accepting responsibilities for his choices, and living his life plainly aware of them. It's a film that works so well due to the frankness of what it depicts, how it depicts it, without being artificial or contrived at any point. It's also impeccably acted, with Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones and Ian Hart, all creating indelible performances (and characters). A great debut worth watching.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Spirited Away

Movie Name: Spirited Away
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, John Ratzenberger, Tara Strong, Mona Marshall, Bob Bergen
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following the beautiful and successful "Princess Mononoke", genial director Hayao Miyazaki returned with yet another masterpiece, this time around earning a well earned Academy Award for best animated feature with "Spirited Away". The film follows the story of Chihiro, who is moving with her parents to a small Japanese town by the countryside. On the day of the move, her father decides to take a shortcut, upon which they come about an area that looks like an abandoned amusement park. While exploring they discover a restaurant filled with delicious treats, something their parents immediately take to. Fearing they're doing something wrong, Chihiro retreads and warns them to leave. Taking a leave to explore a bit, she is horrified to discover her parents have been replaced by pigs in that restaurant. Chihiro desperately looks for her family, but suddenly realizes she can't go back to the car since there's now a whole lake where there was only a huge grass field. She comes to realize she has passed into a different realm where different magical creatures and entities exist, and where she must learn new habits so she can rescue her parents.
As is part of his trademark, Hayao Miyazaki populates this story with a hero who is inadequate in this different universe, and where she must come to terms with new challenges. His central heroes always have to overcome herculean external challenges, but above all, learn self reliance, and trust themselves to truly vanquish all the obstacles they find. "Spirited Away"  may be one of his most interesting films, since it combines his views of the spiritual world, with a young girl learning to be responsible for her choices and her family's well being. It's a film that is aesthetically stunning, with a poetry to it, from the amazing relationships that it portrays, to it's melancholy, all wrapped in this fantastic blanket of an amazing journey. A truly fantastic film always worth watching.

The Reaping

Movie Name: The Reaping
Year of Release: 2007
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Stars: Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea, William Ragsdale, John McConnell, David Jensen, Samuel Garland, Andrea Frankle, Stuart Greer
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Stephen Hopkins made a name for himself as a director when he started in the 80s as one of the director for the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, rapidly graduating for bigger projects such as "Predator 2" and "Blown Away". "The Reaping" comes from the penmanship of brothers Carey and Chad Hayes, both of whom have achieved recent success as the writers of the "Conjuring" series of films for director James Wan. "The Reaping" follows the story of Katherine, a former ordained minister, and current University lecturer and investigator, who goes around the world debunking miracles. She's called into a small town in the south of the US, when the river surrounding that city turns red, and all the fish show up dead. When Katherine and her colleague Ben show up at that small town, they are happily greeted by everyone, particularly by Doug and the city officials. As the strange occurrences pile up, Katherine is informed that all of that is created by a young girl by the name of Loren, who supposedly has demonic powers. As Katherine and Ben probe deeper, they come to realize that not all is what it seems.
"The Reaping" has an interesting premise: a fallen from belief central hero, who goes around debunking miracles. What could have been a really interesting premise however gets cheapened in the worst sense very quickly. Whereas James Wan has managed to create with both the "Insidious" and "Conjuring" franchises, horror staples based on imagination and suggestion, with scarcely much in terms of gratuitous shock or gore, Stephen Hopkins goes in a complete opposite direction. This film reads as if someone looked at the script, and debated: how can we make everything scarier, louder and more intense (and garish). The solution to that question, can be found in the film with the typical camera angles and shots, the spooky lake, the dark cemetery - it's a cliche ridden of what gothic styling should be. It's a sad waste of talent, since the film has a great cast, and a terrific production team, but the overall experience comes across as a bad tv film made for the CW. It's a pass, with only the young AnnaSophia Robb creating an interesting presence.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Spider-Man

Movie Name: Spider-Man
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, Bill Dunn, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Sam Raimi followed his string of interesting films of the late 90s early millennium, namely "A Simple Plan" and "The Gift" with his second adventure into comic book adaptations, with the highly iconic "Spider-Man". The film follows the story of high school student Peter Parker, who is a smart, caring young man, who's the target of bullies in his class. During a class outing Peter gets bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, which gives him some extraordinary abilities, namely super strength, the ability to climb walls and shooting super potent spider webs. In parallel the father of his best friend, Norman Osborn, suffers an accident which causes him to start developing a side to his personality that is deranged and menacing, taking the guise of the dangerous Green Goblin. These two entities come at odds in New York City.
Sam Raimi is an inventive director, who has always primed for adding a kinetic movement and style to his films. As his career has evolved, he has definitely refined his approach to the material he tackles, but with "Spider-Man" he managed to infuse his sensibility with the comic book material (following his interesting experience with "Darkman" in 1990). The film is successful by not taking itself seriously, but also by creating a dynamic between the central characters that while familiar is also exciting. A lot of the success of the film lies on the talented cast Sam Raimi assembled, particularly Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe, both creating memorable interpretations of their iconic characters. The cinematography from Don Burgess is impeccable as is the score from Danny Elfman. An entertaining film worth watching!

The Rules of Attraction

Movie Name: The Rules of Attraction
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Roger Avary
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Clifton Collins Jr., Faye Dunaway, Swoosie Kurtz, Jay Baruchel, Eric Stoltz, Fred Savage, Paul Williams
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following his Oscar winning turn as one of the writers of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction", Roger Avary tackled an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' book "The Rules of Attraction". The story focuses on three main characters in college, around whom a series of supporting characters exist in a multitude of occurrences and situations. One of those characters is Sean Bateman, a lothario who is also involved in drug dealing. Another central character is Lauren Hynde, who has fallen in love with Victor, whom she thinks reciprocates those feelings, but whom she quickly realizes is self involved and not minimally interested in her. The final central character is Paul Denton, a gay young man experimenting and getting to know more about himself and where he sees his life going. The lives of these characters cross in unexpected ways, in a college life that is more focused on debauchery and alienation.
Roger Avary smartly weaves an interesting view of Bret Easton Ellis' universe, with multiple snapshots into the lives of the beautiful, young and rich in college, looking for meaning and heartfelt connections in all the wrong places. It's a film that marries an interesting stylistic approach, with an incisive writing that makes the film watchable and riveting, particularly as the universe of the characters grows exponentially, showcasing more of their periphery familial relationships (as can be witnessed by the delicious cameos of Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz). The score from tomandandy is great, as are the performances from Shannyn Sossamon and Ian Somerhalder, while James Van Der Beek, is sadly miscast. An interesting film from an interesting director.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Movie Name: Avengers: Infinity War
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Tom Hiddleston, Karen Gillan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Sean Gunn, William Hurt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Carrie Coon, Winston Duke
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After their experience directing two installments of Marvel Studios "Captain America"'s saga, directors Anthony and Joe Russo are back, tackling this time around the new chapter in the "Avengers" storyline. The film is a direct sequel to events that took place in both "Captain America: Civil War" and "Thor: Ragnarok", and finds Thor and his Asgardian citizens under attack of Thanos. Thanos is on a rampage to retrieve the powerful Infinity Stones, that grant him enormous power to travel in time, manipulate reality, but also destroy the entire Universe if he so desires. Thanos sends his minions to retrieve the remaining stones, including one that is held with Doctor Strange, one that is a part of Vision (the artificial humanoid) and the stone whose whereabouts is known by Gamora, his daughter. All the heroes, including the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, unite their efforts in order to thwart Thanos' plans.
"Avengers: Infinity War" is a film that is a merger of multiple plot lines that have been built from the different Marvel films throughout the years. In a way, it's very much the climax of all that Marvel has been building in terms of their characters and shared universe. The film is a cacophony of characters, all allotted a small amount of time to showcase their character traits, yet strangely the character that comes across with more depth is the foe to all the events, a digitally created entity, Thanos (voiced by the always great Josh Brolin). The film is mostly successful due to the tremendous and stunning visual and digital effects, but ultimately they unbalance the narrative and sense of story development. It's a film that for all the tremendous cast that it assembles, it gives them all nothing much to do. And for all it's confrontations and sense of dread that it's suppose to create, it's eventually hollow and deeply artificial. The film does have an interesting structure, and showcases a well oiled production machine, but sadly that doesn't make a memorable film.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

You Were Never Really Here

Movie Name: You Were Never Really Here
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Lynne Ramsey
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, John Doman, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, Dante Pereira-Olson, Scott Price
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director Lynne Ramsey's latest directorial effort is now on release, following its successful debut at the Cannes Film Festival of 2017, where it won two awards, specifically for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. This his first film since the fantastic "We Need to Talk About Kevin", and is based on the novel by Jonathan Ames. The film follows the story of Joe, a war veteran, who is haunted by his traumas, and who currently engages in the rescue of young women who are kidnapped or sold to slavery. He's brutal in his approach, and leads an invisible life, taking care of his elderly mother. His business partner sends him on a high profile case of retrieving the daughter of a senator who has disappeared. Following her retrieval, Joe is suddenly faced with a situation that exposes more layers of deceit than he anticipated. This throws his entire existence into disarray.
Lynne Ramsey has by now made a career for herself as a fantastic director with a unique point of view. "You Were Never Really Here" may, at a first glance at least, seem like a remake of "Death Wish", but it's oh so much more than that. The film manages to capture the inner darkness of the central character, from his childhood, through his traumatic experiences in the army, and how he battles and lives with those burdens in his adult life. The film is also stylistically stunning, allowing for the director to showcase an aesthetic that is engrossing, unique and fascinating. The film walks a perfect balance between character exposition, and explosions of violence, that are not tainted by a gratuitous flair - they are perfectly orchestrated (almost like a virtuous ballet of death). It's a film where all the parts come together perfectly, and it's also a narrative that sits beyond any specific time stamp that may be tempted to be attributed to it (it could have easily taken place in the 90s, or in the early millennia). The cinematography from Tom Townend is fantastic, as is the score from Jonny Greenwood. Joaquin Phoenix is once again phenomenal, proving that he is quite possibly the best actor working these days. A fantastic film worth watching.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Quiet Place

Movie Name: A Quiet Place
Year of Release: 2018
Director: John Krasinski
Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cade Woodward, Leon Russom
Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following his previous directorial efforts, actor/director John Krasinksi is back, tackling a suspense/horror story. The film follows the story of a family on a farm. We learn that we're on day 89, from what appears to have been a pretty devastating and apocalyptic event. We soon find out, Earth has been invaded, and the creatures that have taken siege, are driven by noises, and attack upon it. This family has devised a way to consistently communicate using sign language. One of the children is sadly taken, but as the days move on, we soon discover the mother to be with child yet again. The father in the meantime has been devising a hearing aid for one of the children who was born with hearing disabilities. In one of their food gathering outings, they are attacked, something that sets in motion a series of events.
"A Quiet Place" is a film that marries a lot of influences from different films, most clearly Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" (aesthetically and in tone). The film is anchored by the interesting premise of a world dominated by silence, even if there are quite a few incongruous elements in the screenplay about that fact. It's a film that is more successful, the less it shows of the menacing creatures - the ability to conjure an environment of threat and menace is impeccable (and also a bit derivative of M. Night Shyamalan's work), but it's a film that falters whenever it has to push itself beyond the confinements of the family unit. Claustrophobic thrillers can be extremely successful precisely because they're anchored on confined spaces and circumstances, however, that also means the characters have to be built with some dimension, beyond the typical cliches. This film doesn't build much on that, but it retains the audience's attention through the suspenseful tone it has built. It's nonetheless a middling effort with a good performance from the always solid Emily Blunt.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

All the Money in the World

Movie Name: All the Money in the World
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Shotwell, Andrew Buchan, Marco Leonardi, Giuseppe Bonifati
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
The prolific Ridley Scott is back, following his big budget "Alien: Covenant". "All the Money in the World" created all sorts of noise in the media, when original cast member Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer, when the film was just a few weeks away of premiering. The film focuses on the Getty family, specifically on the events that took place in the 70s, when John Paul Getty III, at the time a young teenager of 16, got abducted in Italy. The family had moved there, so his father could run the oil business that was headed by his grandfather, the tycoon by the name of John Paul Getty. At the time, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of 17 million dollars, money that his mother did not have (she was already divorced from his father, himself a drug addict), forcing her to go to the elder Getty. His grandfather blatantly refused to forfeit the money, and sent a former CIA agent to assess the situation. As time progress, things just escalated for the young Getty and for his safety.
At this point Ridley Scott shoots films almost non stop, releasing a new film every year, with the quality barometer being a bit all over the place. For every solid film such as "The Martian", there seems to be an "Exodus" or "The Counsellor", themselves deeply flawed features, borderline unwatchable. "All the Money in the World" falls somewhere in between those two groups: it's a film impeccably mounted and shot, something that is typical in Ridley Scott, but it's film that lacks a spark, and more of a point of view to indicate a pulse, in order to provide a glimpse into the nightmare that family lived. It's a glacial film, very restrained, where only the performance of Christopher Plummer gives the film an edge and a crooked heart. Michelle Williams, typically a great performer, feels miscast in the role, as does Mark Wahlberg, who appears to be lost in the proceedings. This is a film that needed a sense of urgency, of exacerbated greed, something that is never really conveyed. It's more of a distant illustration of some events, without making it sufficiently real. As much as the work of cinematographer Darius Wolski is impeccable, the disaturated tone of the film (as is habitual with some Scott films), feels like an odd stylistic choice. Another minor film in the career of a veteran and very prolific film director.