Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden Globes 2007

Today the nominations for the Golden Globes of 2007 were announced. Joe Wright's "Atonement" clearly came out in the front, with Mike Nichols' "Charlie Wilson's War" closely behind. "Michael Clayton" from Tony Gilroy, "Sweeney Todd" from Tim Burton and "No Country for Old Men" from Joel and Ethan Coen were also contemplated with several nominations. Check the entire list of nominations here. To highlight some deserved recognitions: Jodie Foster for "The Brave One", Angelina Jolie for "A Mighty Heart", Helena Bonham Carter for "Sweeney Todd", Tilda Swinton for "Michael Clayton" and Tim Burton for "Sweeney Todd".

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Atonement
Year of release: 2007
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple, Harriet Walter
Genre: Drama/Biography
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement" is a surprise, in a sense that is a mature work, with an epic feeling to it, boasting some terrific acting and a stunning photography.
Working with academy award winner screenwriter Christopher Hampton (winner of the Oscar for Stephen Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons"), Joe Wright creates a story about longing, desire, guilt and redemption, in a way that is simultaneously daring and delicate, which ends up leaving the feeling of watching a classic story (though with a new perspective). The acting is very good, particularly from the superb Vanessa Redgrave and Saoirse Ronan (as the young Briony seeing things she doesn't understand). Seamus McGarvey the director of photography does a stunning job, with beautiful compositions (as he had already done with Stephen Daldry in "The Hours"), giving the film the epic look of the battle scenes without losing the delicate light of the more intimate moments.

Movie name: The Golden Compass
Year of release: 2007
Director: Chris Weitz
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellen, Sam Elliot, Eva Green, Freddie Highmore, Tom Courtenay
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"The Golden Compass" is a film that wants to ride the wave that "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" franchises opened - the fantasy film that appeals simultaneously to kids and adults. It's a film that succeeds and in a way, it's far more entertaining that a lot of the Harry Potter films that have come out. Though some characters deserved a lot more screen time to be well developed, the film is nonetheless well crafted, deserving to be watched.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Film of the Weekend

Movie name: Redacted
Year of release: 2007
Director: Brian de Palma
Stars: Rob Devaney, Izzy Diaz, Patrick Carroll, Eric Anderson, Ty Jones, Daniel Stewart Sherman
Genre: Drama, War
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:After the mediocre "The Black Dahlia", Brian de Palma goes back to a territory he visited before, the war film. This film ends up bearing quite a few resemblances with "Casualties of War" that he directed in 1989 with Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn. Again it uses a true case that took place in the scenario that is war (in this case, the war in Iraq, in the 1989 film the Vietnam war), and makes a case for anti-war and how horrible and destructive it can be. "Redacted" tries to be a product of the times we live in, since the director creates the film "based" on different sources, from an amateur documentary point of view, to internet clips, news from TV channels, all to make his point loud and clear. All the unknown actors end up playing variations on the same soldiers that have been depicted in other war films, and this ends up being the major fault behind this film. Regardless of the position or ideology behind this film, it ultimately brings nothing new in terms of the way it presents itself, and that in a director with the talent of Brian de Palma, is simply regrettable.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gonçalo Varanda's Blog

My friend Gonçalo who is a hugely talented Illustrator, Character Designer and Animator has sent me the link for his blog. His website is also online, so please be sure to visit both of them and get back with him for projects and collaborations! You can check the website here and the blog here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Independent Film Awards

The Independent Film Awards nominations were announced and "I'm Not There" has had quite a few nominations. "A Mighty Heart" ended up with not so many, but Angelina Jolie's performance has been recognized. And so it should - though Marion Cotillard's performance (for Olivier Dahan's "La Mome/La Vie en Rose") will be called at the time of awards season, hers was more a work of mimicking, whereas Jolies brings a quiet intensity to the role. Check all the nominations here.

Updates and considerations

The new website has now been online for a month, and the feedback has been really positive. I tried to create a simple and functional website that would reflect all the work that I've done. When you look back at your previous professional experiences, you can't help think how things could've been done as far as some projects are concerned. But in the end, you just have to be comfortable with your choices and learn from each and every project (and company) you've dealt with. The future is always radiant and there's so much more to learn and do. New personal projects include the update of the Photography website (all the layouts are done and I'm quite excited about the development) and quite possibly trying to get my short stories published. On a sad note, Pixelsurgeon has ended, with much sadness on my part. I had the privilege of being a collaborator for the site, and was a reader for years. I certainly hope Jason Arber and everyone have a terrific time and a lot of success in their new projects.
All and all with everything balanced, things are moving ahead.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: I'm Not There
Year of release: 2007
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Ben Wishaw, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Peter Friedman, Kris Kristofferson, David Cross, Kim Gordon, Bruce Greenwood
Genre: Drama/Biography
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
As a fan of Todd Haynes (I've seen "Poison", "Safe", "Velvet Goldmine" and "Far from Heaven"), I was really anticipating a great film with his view on the life of Bob Dylan. I ended up slightly disappointed. The film doesn't go for the conventional biopic - instead it focuses on different sides of Dylan's persona throughout the years, each played by a different actor. The concept actually sounds more interesting than the development it had - there were a lot of interesting ideas on display, but few of them showed the coherence that his previous films had. The most interesting "section" ended up being Cate Blanchett's, whom will probably enjoy another Oscar nomination (entirely deserved - her performance is fantastic). The beautiful photography of Edward Lachman (who also shined in "Far From Heaven" and Larry Clark's "Ken Park") surely elevates the aesthetic of the film, who nonetheless leaves a lot of questions, and the general feeling of a missed opportunity.


Movie name: Enchanted
Year of release: 2007
Director: Kevin Lima
Stars: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel, Rachel Covey
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy, Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Kevin Lima's previous work with Disney has included the animated "Tarzan" and the live action "102 Dalmatians". "Enchanted" is a holiday film, finely crafted, aimed at families with a great cast, where Amy Adams finally has a chance to shine. Previously nominated for a supporting Oscar in "Junebug", Adams shows off her range, and this film will certainly elevate her to a new path in her career. Other than that the film continues to show the versatility of James Marsden (who also had a good turn in "Hairspray") and shows Susan Sarandon having fun in the wicked witch role. A good entertainment for children.

Movie name: The Mist
Year of release: 2007
Director: Frank Darabont
Stars: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Frances Sternhagen, Toby Jones, Jeffrey DeMunn, William Sadler, Alexa Davalos
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Frank Darabont follows his previous Stephen King adaptations ("Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile") with another solid film, one where the chills and suspense just keep you riveted and tense all along. Boasting a terrific performance by Marcia Gay Harden as the religious nut of the city, this claustrophobic tale of suspense almost feels like a modern variation of an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone". The surprise ending is both chilling and bleak, something that will please fans of the author's work.

Movie name: Hitman
Year of release: 2007
Director: Xavier Gens
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:
Another adaptation of a video game, this time written by Skip Woods, also responsible for the screenplay of "Swordfish". The film shot entirely in Europe (cheaper locations), is fairly simple in it's premise: assassins are "raised" by a secret organization and when grown are lethal to any target they are assigned. The focus on this film is agent 47 played by Timothy Olyphant (who did so much better in "Deadwood" and "Live Free or Die Hard"), who gets set up on one of his contracts and then goes on a killing spree to save his own skin. The film basically has many action set pieces and... that's it. Nothing new here. For more irreverence and charisma Michael Davis' "Shoot'em Up" was far more interesting.


Movie name: Margot at the Wedding
Year of release: 2007
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, John Turturro, Ciaran Hinds, Zane Pais, Flora Cross, Halley Feiffer, Seth Barrish
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Following "The Squid and the Whale", Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" is a look at the dysfunctional relationship between two sisters, and their ramifications to the other people in their lives. Jennifer Jason Leigh shines as Pauline, a mature woman who is pregnant, and who's about to marry Malcolm, much to her sister Margot's shock and disapproval. Margot is a famed author whose marriage is collapsing, involved in an affair, and just deeply unhappy with the outcome her life has had. All these lives come into collision in the days leading up to the wedding, in ways that are at times humorous and also dramatic. Definitely a film worth checking, with a beautiful photography by the great Harris Savides.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Films of the Weekend - November

Movie name: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Year of release: 2007
Director: Zach Helm
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Zach Mills, Ted Ludzik
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
"Stranger than Fiction" marked the introduction of screenwriter Zach Helm's talent to a vast audience. The Marc Forster film managed to be intelligent, well directed and boasted a terrific cast. "Mr. Magorium's..." Helm's first screenplay, though filled with potential and again with great actors, ends up feeling forced, contrived and lacking a spark that made Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" such a delight to see. The film ends up leaving the air of all that it could've been but that it never really reached - much like the character of Dustin Hoffman, that never really makes you believe he's magical. Natalie Portman, a hugely talented actress ends up lost in the midst of a story that could have really flown if in other hands (I'll go out on a limb and say that even Terry Gilliam could have given a really interesting twist on this story).


Movie name: Beowulf
Year of release: 2007
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn, Alison Lohman, Crispin Glover, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Ever the experimental filmmaker that he is, Robert Zemeckis again pushes the barriers on the animation department (much like he did 20 years ago with the wonderful "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), with the action packed "Beowulf". Using the screenplay from Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Zemeckis creates a dynamic tale of heroes, monsters and enchanting demons which is relentless and dynamic. Though at points unintentionally comical (Beowulf is always getting naked), the film nonetheless is beautiful to look at, technically flawless and all the actors do a competent job with their voice work.

Movie name: No Country for Old Men
Year of release: 2007
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly McDonald, Woody Harrelson, Garrett Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Beth Grant, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
The new film from the Coen's brothers brings them back to their high quality standards, that had been absent from their previous efforts ("The Ladykillers", "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Man who Wasn't There"). Adapting the novel from Cormac McCarthy, the Coens have managed to create a tense, perfectly crafted thriller, that boasts terrific performances from all the cast. The story follows Llewelyn Moss a Vietnam veteran that in the dry plains of Texas founds the remains of what was a drug deal gone wrong. Escaping with the money from the deal, Moss is pursued by a deranged psychopath, a weary sheriff and other people interested in the loot. The film boasts award winning performances from Javier Bardem as the icy killer Chigurth, Tommy Lee Jones as the weary and tired sheriff Ed Tom Bell and Josh Brolin as Moss (Brolin has had a really great year with this stellar performance and with smaller parts in "In the Valley of Elah" and also "American Gangster"). The photography from Roger Deakins is also stunning. Definitely a film worth watching.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Year of release: 2007
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Synopsis:
Sidney Lumet creates with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" one of the best films of his long career, one that includes such classics as "Serpico", "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network". Working with a screenplay from newcomer Kelly Masterson, Lumet builds a film that pulsates with energy and that draws on the dynamics of a family in disintegration. Philip Seymour Hoffman excels as Andy the oldest sibling with too many problems in his hands, namely a trophy wife that is having an affair with his younger brother, embezzlement and a drug habit of high maintenance. The film starts as a botched heist and evolves to a family drama of huge proportions. It's a gripping and gritty film that is worth watching.


Movie name: Lions for LambsYear of release: 2007
Director: Robert Redford
Stars: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Pena, Derek Luke, Andrew Garfield, Kevin Dunn, Peter Berg
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
The return of Robert Redford to the screens in the director chair, after the underwhelming "The Legend of Bagger Vance", again fails to achieve the results of his earlier work (namely the solid films that were "Quiz Show" and "Ordinary People"). Working with a screenplay from Matthew Michael Carnahan (who also wrote "The Kingdom"), Redford presents a film that intends to question what is happening with the current war situations in delicate countries, however the film ends up being overly simplistic and disjointed. Where a filmmaker like Michael Moore usually tries to make his point, "manipulating" information to support his views (with a sense of humor to boot), Redford tries to present a "serious important film" that falls under it's own pretenses. The film ends up being redeemed by the wonderful Meryl Streep that is, as always, the best thing in the film. Tom Cruise creates an interesting character, but nothing as galvanizing as previous performances that he has given.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Wristcutters, A Love Story
Year of release: 2006
Director: Goran Dukic
Stars: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits, Will Arnett, Leslie Bibb, Sarah Roemer, John Hawkes
Genre: Black Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"Wristcutters" made a splash in the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Independent Spirit Awards in 2006, the year that saw "Little Miss Sunshine" dominate through and through, however this is a small gem worth investigating. Using a clever premise, a purgatory for people who commit suicide that is pretty much like our reality, only bleaker, this is a film filled with quirky moments that deliver good laughs. Though at times it feels under-developed, it nonetheless provides a different perspective on the love story that populates romantic comedies.


Movie name: Lars and the Real Girl
Year of release: 2007
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson, Nancy Beatty
Genre: Dramatic Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After the debacle that was "Mr Woodcock", Graig Gillespie redeems himself with the wonderful "Lars and the Real Girl". Using a wonderful script by Nancy Oliver (whose previous experience includes the wonderful show "Six Feet Under"), Gillespie introduces us to a small community and in particular to Lars, a 27 year old that unable to cope with his feelings, buys a sex doll through the internet and introduces her as Bianca, his fiancee. The way this oddity is presented and the way everyone around Lars adapts to this situation, makes this one of the most interesting and intelligent films of this season.

Movie name: Control
Year of release: 2007
Director: Anton Corbijn
Stars: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson, Toby Kebbel
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Anton Corbijn has made his name as a photographer of major rock stars in the last twenty years. Very associated with Depeche Mode (for whom he also directed most of their videos) and U2, "Control" marks his feature debut, focusing on another seminal band from the late 70's early 80's, Joy Division (and more specifically his main singer, Ian Curtis). Ian Curtis has been circled as subject matter for a biopic for a couple of years now (Jude Law was one of the names mentioned to play him), but Corbijn opted to cast Sam Riley in the main role. This has turned out to be a really great choice, since Riley does a terrific job in the role, making Ian Curtis a confused and sensitive man (with devastating epilepsy attacks) that really comes alive when performing with his band. Samantha Morton plays Deborah Curtis as a young woman trying to retain her sense of normalcy and creating a family, with a man that is just not there. A film most definitely worth checking out, with a great soundtrack and a beautiful photography by Martin Ruhe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Gone Baby, Gone
Year of release: 2007
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Ben Affleck manages to create with his directorial debut, a film that is impeccably acted and near pitch perfect. Adapting the Denis Lehane novel (also responsible for Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"), in his native Boston, Ben Affleck creates a gritty look of his city, one where the streets aren't sunny and where the residents aren't definitely smiling in your direction. This is a city where the Police has hidden agendas, and where a young couple trying to find a missing girl have to come to terms with what really matters to them and to the life of others. The acting is terrific with highlights going to the wonderful Casey Affleck and the amazing Amy Ryan, who steals each and every scene she's in.

Movie name: Lust, Caution
Year of release: 2007
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Tony Leung, Joan Chen, Tang Wei
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Ang Lee is a director that doesn't like to be "cornered". After the award winning "Brokeback Mountain" he goes back to Taiwan and shoots this near 3 hour epic about the occupation of Shanghai by the Japanese forces during the Second World War. The story puts in front and center a young woman coming to terms with her life, sexuality and love - working for the chinese resistance she has to seduce and expose a collaborator/traitor. While the film doesn't bring anything new (Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book" had a similar storyline), it does allow Ang Lee to film an elegant, delicate story, punctuated by love scenes that are intense and beautifully enacted. This is a film worth checking out, but not as well balanced as Lee's previous efforts, namely "The Ice Storm" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

Movie name: The Darjeeling Limited and Hotel Chevalier
Year of release: 2007
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman, Camilla Rutherford, Bill Murray
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Wes Anderson continues to build his quirky universe with these two opuses ("Hotel Chevalier" being the short that comes before the main film). I am personally a huge fan of "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", a film where I think Anderson's vision came to an almost perfect realization, from the cast, to the beautiful photography and the wonderful soundtrack. Working from a script co-written with Roman Coppola (Sofia's brother) and Jason Schwartzman (Sofia and Roman's cousin), The Darjeeling again traces a family story, of people trying to find themselves within a familiar unit. While continuing to develop his themes, Anderson in this film doesn't bring the sense of freshness and difference that marked his previous efforts. His cast is great as usual (Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody are both terrific), and the photography by Robert Yeoman is stunning. A film definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Michael Clayton
Year of release: 2007
Director: Tony Gilroy
Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"Michael Clayton" marks the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy, the celebrated screenwriter of the Bourne trilogy and also Taylor Hackford's Proof of Life. The film is very much a revision of much of the themes that were explored in the 70's - the conspiracy suspense thriller. The film uses a superb cast, with George Clooney excelling as a "fixer" with problems in his life and Tild Swinton as a woman with not many scruples.

Movie name: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Year of release: 2007
Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After "Chopper", which revealed the talent of Eric Bana, Andrew Dominik returns with the troubled "The Assassination of Jesse James...", starring and produced by Brad Pitt. While the film is certainly beautiful to look at, there are definitely pacing problems and this is a film that would certainly benefit of a revised editing. Though Brad Pitt does a good job (and won an unexpected best actor award at the Venice Film Festival), the plaudits are mainly to Casey Affleck, who creates a seedy and volatile character in Robert Ford. The underrated Paul Schneider (known for his work with David Gordon Green) also shines in a small role. Another important note is the beautiful camera work from Roger Deakins - the photography is stunning and memorable.

Movie name: 30 Days of Night
Year of release: 2007
Director: David Slade
Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
David Slade best know thus far as the director of the underrated "Hard Candy", creates a gritty and suspenseful film with the graphic novel adaptation of "30 Days of Night". It's a film that walks a thin line between some grounded attempt at depicting a group of people isolated from everything and everyone, and the more "gorey" part associated with horror films. The film benefits from creepy performances by Danny Huston and Ben Foster, while Josh Hartnett as always proves to be a disappointing performer. All and all a film worth checking out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Film of the Weekend

Movie name: In the Valley of Elah
Year of release: 2007
Director: Paul Haggis
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jason Patric, Frances Fisher, Josh Brolin, James Franco
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
After the surprise hit that was "Crash", Paul Haggis returns with a truly solid and beautifully accomplished film, anchored in solid performances by remarkable actors. "In the Valley of Elah" starts by being an investigation into the disappearance of a soldier recently returned from the Iraq war, but quickly evolves to something deeper than that. What the father, played with an incredible restraint and quiet intensity by Tommy Lee Jones, seeks is the salvation of the nuclear foundation of his family, that has slowly been devastated by the effects of wars. This is also something hunting the lonely detective that Charlize Theron so perfectly embodies. A moving film shot beautifully by the remarkable Roger Deakins (usual collaborator of the Coen brothers).

Monday, October 8, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: Eastern Promises
Year of release: 2007
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Muehler Stahl, Sinead Cusack
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
"Eastern Promises" marks the returns of David Cronenber after the wonderful ""A History of Violence". Working from a script by Steven Knight (who also penned "Dirty Pretty Things"), Cronenberg once again plumbs the depth of a microcosms, in this case the Russian Mafia in London. The film follows Naomi Watt's character, Anna a midwife that unveils a lot more than the thinks when she helps a young woman have her baby. Boasting terrific performances from all the cast, this is a solid and exquisitely accomplished film. Don't miss it!

Movie name: The Heartbreak Kid
Year of release: 2007
Director: Bobby and Peter Farrely
Stars: Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan, Malin Akerman, Jerry Stiller, Danny McBride
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
The creators of There's Something About Mary are back with another R rated comedy, starring Ben Stiller. This update of the Neil Simon comedy ends up being poor on the laughs, with the radiant Michelle Monaghan being the highlight of the whole film. Running almost 2 hours, this is a comedy that after a while you're just wondering how come the fun factor is so non-existent.
A sad waste of talent for everyone involved.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Film of The Weekend

Movie name: Resident Evil: Extinction
Year of release: 2007
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Mike Epps, Matthew Marsden
Genre: Action / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
The year of the trilogies adds Resident Evil to it's already full pantheon (following the disappointments that were "Spider Man", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Shrek"). Whereas the previous film went in an over the top direction that left everyone scratching their heads, the main person behind these films, British helmer Paul W. S. Anderson, tries an apocalyptic look and feel for this venture. The film ends up being far more entertaining than the previous and with some cool action set pieces prepares the entry for another sequel. Where will the story of Alice lead her...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Films of the Weekend

Movie name: The Brave One
Year of release: 2007
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Adams
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"The Brave One" may come across as "Death Wish" from a female perspective, but it ends up being more about the loss of identity and the resources a person deploys in the face of terror. Jodie Foster masterfully catches all the nuances of someone who loses everything, only to find some sort of hope and a path to walk by in search of salvation.

Movie name: Halloween
Year of release: 2007
Director: Rod Zombie
Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Brad Douriff, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon, Scout Taylor-Compton, Leslie Easterbrook
Genre: Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Synopsis:
Remaking John Carpenter is always a difficult task, since the films the master has directed are in their own merit, classics. Rod Zombie tries to add a background to the upbringing of Michael Meyers, but the final result is a muddle - the film drags with no end, and by the time the gore starts you're already tired of each of those characters. Another useless remake that adds nothing to the mythology created by John Carpenter in 1978.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

Movie name: 3:10 to Yuma
Year of release: 2007
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Moll, Vinessa Shaw
Genre: Western
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
“3:10 to Yuma” marks the return of the classic Western in a remake/adaptation that retains the original concepts of the genre. Unlike the revisionist tales that were Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves, James Mangold goes for a classic look in this tale of honor amongst men.

The remake of “3:10 to Yuma” had a difficult development process. Originally attached to Tom Cruise as a star, it ended up losing both its’ major star and the backing of a big studio. Luckily for director James Mangold, Russell Crowe and Lionsgate both came to the rescue. The director James Mangold has had a diversified career, where his films have ranged from the indie drama like “Cop Land” to bigger hits like “Walk the Line” and “Girl, Interrupted”.
“3:10 to Yuma” adapted from a short story by Elmore Leonard (who was also behind the films “Get Shorty” directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and “Jackie Brown” directed by Quentin Tarantino, to name but a few), was originally directed by Delmer Daves in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Hefflin (in the roles now played by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale). The 2007 remake stays very true to the original spirit of the western with the added bonus that comes in the shape of the wonderful performances from the cast.
The film starts by introducing us to Ben Wade and his gang – they are responsible for stealing a considerable amount of money and causing a substantial body count on their enterprises. During their latest robbery they cross paths with Dan Evans a retired military man, now a farmer going through a rough moment in his life (caused by insufficient funds and the proximity of the train and the value of the land). Through a series of circumstances, they cross paths again once Ben Wade is captured. Eyeing a reward that comes attached with the delivery of Wade to the train “3:10 to Yuma”, that will lead him to jail and face trial, Dan Evans becomes part of a group destined to make the drop off of Ben Wade, all the while his gang sticks close, ready to make their move and release their leader.
What is a rather simple premise of a film turns out to be a dramatic walk for two men who are apparently so different but who learn to respect each other and see beyond what the surfaces are. If Ben Wade comes across as a cold, charming and ruthless killer, he progressively shows a side that is intelligent, compassionate and moral. Dan Evans initially reviled by his teenage son, earns his respect through the odyssey that is bringing Ben to the train – his hardship, effort and morals are brought forth and show an honest yet flawed man, totally devoted to his wife and family. These apparently and seemingly at odds men reach a point of understanding and of balance by the epilogue of the film – the climax is both exciting for the action and set piece that James Mangold shoots, but also because the characters find their true selves – their journey is complete.
The film boasts terrific performances from the cast – this is what truly elevates it beyond what would be otherwise a conventional film (“Young Guns” springs to mind when you think of conventional). Russell Crowe is terrific, creating a menacing and seductive character – his Ben Wade is amoral but also a man of great intelligence and turns out, compassion. His performance is nuanced and truly fantastic. Christian Bale once again disappears behind a man that has seen and experienced plenty – his eyes express pain and disappointment for how his life has turned out. It’s a great character for Bale who seems to numb himself into the figure of the broken Dan. All the supporting cast does a great job, with special highlights for the wonderful Ben Foster (best known for his performance as “Russell” in HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) as the ambiguous and cold killer Charlie Prince, Logan Lerman as William Evans, the young and rebellious son of Dan Evans trying to stand his ground and become the man he doesn’t see in his father (Lerman was in “The Number 23” earlier this year) and the charismatic Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, the old and experienced bounty hunter with a past of his own.
If the Western doesn’t seem to be alive and kicking as it once was, this film proves that there is still plenty to add. The revisionist style packs a lot of punch and all the performances make this film memorable and worth seeing.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Goya's Ghosts

Movie name: Goya’s Ghosts
Year of release: 2006
Director: Milos Forman
Stars: Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Randy Quaid, Michael Londsdale, Blanca Portillo, José Luís Gomez
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
After the excellent films that were “Man on the Moon” and “People vs. Larry Flynt”, Milos Forman reunites with his producer of “Amadeus” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to make another prestige film, however this time the results fall flat – the film is incongruent, overly simplistic and anchored in performances that are just barely there.

The legendary Milos Forman has produced quite a distinctive body of work since coming from Poland to the United States. From the multiple Oscar winning cases that were “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus”, to other solid films like “Ragtime”, “Valmont”, “People Vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon”. Though his filmography isn’t very extensive, he had his share of hits, usually with “prestigious films”, usually produced by Saul Zaentz (also responsible for the production of “The English Patient”). “Goya’s Ghosts” his latest project was a production anchored in Europe, shot entirely in Spain, with a wide variety of talent that included the Spaniard actor Javier Bardem (already an Oscar nominee for “Before Night Falls”), Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgaard. However whereas his previous films all had a rich screenplay on which to fall back on, “Goya’s Ghosts” falls prey of an overtly simplistic portrait of an era that demands another view, definitely one more detailed and richer in content than this one (for a more interesting look at the inquisition, Jean Jacques-Annaud’s “The Name of the Rose” is a good illustration).
The film starts by introducing us to the drawings of Francisco Goya, deemed heretic by the Spanish inquisition, of which Father Lorenzo is one of the main instigators. Goya is also the painter commissioned by the royal family, which means that though he has considerable enemies, he also has friends in particularly high positions. The inquisitors’ spies end up catching in their net the young and beautiful Inez, Goya’s muse and daughter of a rich merchant in Madrid. She is accused of practicing Judaism and therefore tortured so she can confess to it. In their efforts to free Inez, her family exacts upon Lorenzo a similar torture, in order to prove the fact that under torture anyone will sign and confess to anything. Lorenzo upon visiting Inez ends up having sex with her, and his efforts to free her are to no avail – the Inquisition accepts the money from her father, but do not sanction her freedom. 15 years go by and Goya now deaf is still painting and portraying the reality around him. The Napoleonic invasions reach Spain, bringing with it new ideals and demoting all that the Inquisition had installed in society. Upon the freedom of the Inquisition’s prisoners, a prematurely aged Inez comes home to a dead family. She also informs Goya that she has had a child while imprisoned – the child was taken from her and placed in an orphanage. The father, the returned Lorenzo, now with the French government (and married with a family) puts Inez in an asylum and discovers the child is now a grown woman that is also a prostitute.
The film tries to present the art of Goya with the social changes and dynamics that the Spanish society has suffered, but in doing so focuses on so many aspects of it, and tries to branch out in so many directions, that eventually all the History (with all it’s complexities), seem to be reduced to a flicker whose only purpose is to place the recurring characters in their right places. The fall of the Inquisition is presented in a way that seems as if though that it was just a simple mechanism that you can turn off with the appearance of the new “democratic” Lorenzo. Also with all the dynamics that occur during the film, Goya’s character seems lost, and the thing, which you would like to learn the most, his art, his life, are never really explored. The main focus ends up being the Inez, and her daughter Alicia, story (both played by Natalie Portman), though they too seem to be victims of an overtly simplified storyline – a baby born in jail that is sent to an orphanage (in the 18th century, within the Inquisition’s prisons?). The actors seem to also struggle with their roles – Javier Bardem, one of the most interesting and versatile actors around, feels flat and without any nuance, in a role that if well written could have given him another dimension. As it is, his Lorenzo seems like a puppet that changes his coat as he goes along. Stellan Skarsgaard also a wonderful actor has little to do here – he walks his air of surprise and bewilderment to what surrounds him, and his paintings seem to fall flat (there’s no energy like the one that was present in Maurice Pialat’s “Van Gogh” or even Martin Scorsese’s episode of “New York Stories” with Nick Nolte). Natalie Portman takes a serious risk with her two characters, but she ends up saving what little there is to be saved from the film. As Inez her innocence and hope are shattered as she descends to the horrors of the Inquisition and to what they do to a single person. Even if her presence as Alicia amounts to nothing, Inez is a shattered shadow of her former self when she walks from the prison’s gates. Natalie Portman tries to show the ghosts that someone carries and the pain that never really abandons you. She is the soul of the movie.
All and all this is a film that resonates mediocrity, no matter what talent it has got behind – the ambition was vast, but the results fall really short. For more interesting takes on History and persecutions, you may want to investigate Patrice Chéreau’s “Queen Margot” and even Shekar Kapur’s “Elizabeth”.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mysterious Skin

Movie name: Mysterious Skin
Year of release: 2004
Director: Greg Araki
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Elisabeth Shue, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bill Sage, Jeffrey Licon
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Mysterious Skin presents a story about child abuse and the consequences it has on two young kids lives. Greg Araki has built a strong story, filled with great acting and a terrific soundtrack.

Greg Araki, the American filmmaker that made a name for himself out of underground and terminally cool films during the 90’s, matured to an accomplished filmmaker with “Mysterious Skin”. Araki became known in the 90’s as part of the new queer cinema label, alongside such luminaries as Todd Haynes (who released “Poison” in 1991), Tom Kalin (who released “Swoon” equally in 1991) and Rose Troche (who released “Go Fish” in 1994). With his initial films, namely “The Living End”, “Totally Fucked Up”, Araki showed a more risqué side to the way that homosexuality was being portrayed on screen (which can be checked in Norman René’s “Longtime Companion” and Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances”, to name but a few). During the mid nineties Araki further developed his style, with films like “Nowhere” and “The Doom Generation”, eventually reaching what many considered to be a “block” in his universe. “Mysterious Skin” premiered in the Venice Film Festival in 2004, and went to the Sundance film festival and ended up on many lists of the year’s best films of 2005.
“Mysterious Skin” starts by showing the lives of two children, in the early 80’s, Neil and Brian, both 8 years old. As narrators, they reveal what is happening in their lives. Brian believes he has been abducted by aliens, which may explain time gaps and his nose bleedings, whereas Neil explains his fascination for one of his mother’s boyfriends and also his baseball coach. The coach ends up being a catalyst in the lives of these children – he abuses Neil, who as a teenager becomes a hustler, much to the disregard of his mother (who is oblivious to what surrounds her). Neil ends up leaving his hometown (Kansas) to go to New York, where he continues his hustling ways. The two youngsters eventually reunite, and talk about their shared childhood, what effectively happened and what molded them to the people they are.
Greg Araki has managed to create with “Mysterious Skin” a story that is simultaneously surprising and difficult, but also delicate and tender. The film could’ve easily been made just for shock value with the early scenes of the sexual abuse from the coach (very well played by Bill Sage, a usual face in Hal Hartley films), instead Araki goes for a more subdued perspective, showing everything from the kids point of view, that gives it a whole fantasy-surreal kind of look.
As the audience accompanies the growth of the main characters, it becomes apparent the way both of them have dealt with their memories. Where Neil becomes a hustler, deriving pleasure from his anonymous sexual encounters, Brian represses whatever has happened to him and becomes convinced that he has been a victim of alien abduction – for that purpose he tracks a girl that he feels also has been through the same, Avalyn. As the story progresses and both characters evolve, we see that behind the coldness of Neil there is a heart wanting to be touched, the same way that behind Brian’s aloofness and desexualized existence, there is a pain and a need to understand what has happened to him.
The script from Gregg Araki is incredibly precise in it’s trajectory, giving the audience a feeling of closure as we reach the end – which in turn presents itself in much of the same fantasy/fable tone as the film started.
All the actors excel in their roles, starting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a former child star who has indeed come a long way (he was in “The Juror” with Demi Moore and reached celebrity as part of the cast of “Third Rock from the Sun”), who plays Neil with a fierce intensity, showing his abandon but also his innocence. Brady Corbet does a good job of playing the innocent and lost Brian – his thick glasses seem to hide more than meets the eye. Finally Elisabeth Shue proves once again how great she is when she has a chance to expand beyond her “good girl” roles. As she did in Mike Figgis “Leaving Las Vegas”, she creates a woman whose own needs make her oblivious to everything that surrounds her, including her own son. It’s a small role, but one that she really captures perfectly.
“Mysterious Skin” is a film that urgently needs to be seen – it’s possessed of a beauty that will stay with you. Hopefully Gregg Araki’s career will keep on surprising just as it has done so far.

A Room with a View

Movie name: A Room with a View
Year of release: 1985
Director: James Ivory
Stars: Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliot, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day Lewis, Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, Judi Dench, Rupert Graves
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:
“A Room With a View” introduced to the larger movie-going public, the Merchant Ivory seal of films – literary adaptations filled with superlative production values, great acting and solid screenplays.

James Ivory, the American director that many believe to be British (he’s actually from California), had directed quite a few amount of films with his partner Ismail Merchant serving as a producer, since the 60’s, however “A Room With a View” changed the perception and reach that they had gathered thus far. From the early 80’s Ivory had been making and releasing a string of interesting and accomplished films, as “Quartet” (1981 – that won Isabelle Adjani the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, alongside her performance in Andrzej Zulawski “Possession”), “Heat and Dust” (1983 - that introduced Greta Scacchi to the acting world) and “The Bostonians” (1984 – their first collaboration with the late Christopher Reeve). “A Room with a View” marked the first of their E.M. Forster adaptations (following on the footsteps of their previous literary adaptation of Henry James), and as always, they worked on a shoe-string budget (the late Ismail Merchant, deceased in May of 2005, had the reputation for luring high talent for small fees, and for cooking on the set, due to budget constraints). While E.M Forster had already been adapted before, namely by David Lean with his epic “A Passage to India” (1984 – with Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft), “A Room with a View” which started with small showings in small venues, grew with positive word of mouth and great reviews. The film ended up being nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3 amongst many other awards (namely the Baftas, Golden Globes), and played on movie theaters for numerous months. Though many people called the film “charming” and “delicious”, the film relied on three very crucial factors for its success: a solid screenplay, great acting and an exquisite production. The screenplay (one of the winning Oscars) by Ruth Prawer Jahbvala, the usual collaborator of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, retained all the traits of the E.M. Forster novel – the love for the Italian scenery, the social and personal conflicts, the moral dichotomies and the habits of the wealthy classes (which were also seen in the following adaptations that Merchant-Ivory did of E.M. Forster novels - “Maurice” in 1987 and “Howard’s End” in 1992, two other superb films). The screenplay showcases the delicate balances of the period’s society, between what was deemed acceptable and a far bolder attitude towards relationships – something that can be seen as the “awakening” of Lucy Honeychurch, the main character. This can also be seen in the differences between Lucy’s suitors – the bolder George Emerson and the strict and repressed Cecil Vyse (the “new” versus the “classic”). The fact there is a wonderful sense of humor throughout the film helps tremendously, particularly in the character of Eleanor Lavish, played wonderfully by Judi Dench.
The acting by the ensemble cast was wonderful, starting by the more well known Maggie Smith (who had already won 2 Oscars, and was nominated again for this role), as Ms. Charlotte Bartlett, the spinster cousin, simultaneously caring and affected (and again, extremely funny), the late Denholm Elliot as the all too honest Mr. Emerson (Elliot is remembered mostly for his roles in Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – 1981 and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” – 1989) and Judi Dench as the novelist Eleanor Lavish (the academy award winning actress of John Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love” – 1998). James Ivory also managed to introduce new talents in the shapes of the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter, as the heroine Lucy Honeychurch (a tremendously gifted actress, as can be seen in her subsequent films, “Howard’s End” – James Ivory 1992 and her academy award nomination for “The Wings of the Dove” – Ian Softley 1997, to name a few), Julian Sands as George Emerson, the “new” definition of the male identity, direct and acting upon his longings (that went from very interesting films as David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” – 1991 to not so accomplished films as Jennifer Lynch’s “Boxing Helena” – 1993) and establish Daniel Day-Lewis, as Cecil Vyse, the “stiff” and “repressed” male (he who went to an Academy Winning career with Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot” – 1989, with subsequent nominations in Sheridan’s “In the Name of the Father” – 1993 and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” – 2002).
As for the production itself, Ivory worked with his usual collaborators, namely Richard Robbins for the music, Tony Pierce-Roberts for the photography and Jenny Beavan and John Bright for the costumes, all superb and also award winning. They created an utterly plausible scenario for the screenplay to take place, and made Italy and the English countryside of the late 19th century, early 20th century present for the viewers.
“A Room with a View” is a film that stands as a staple in the Merchant-Ivory body of work, but also a film that has it’s own merits, simultaneously as a wonderful work of art and as a vision of a romanticized reality, something that films masterfully captures.

Superbad

Movie name: Superbad
Year of release: 2007
Director: Greg Mottola
Stars: Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Emma Stone, Martha MacIsaac, Kevin Corrigan
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After the success of “40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” Judd Apatow is officially the king of the R-rated comedies in the US. Recuperating some of the raunchy themes of the comedies of the 80’s, these comedies, where “Superbad” is the latest and one of the funniest additions, have brought forth a refreshing look at themes that have been filmed and seen countless times.

Raunchy comedies are back. For those who thought that “Porky’s” had had it’s days of glory in the early 80’s, we are now watching a return to those themes, something that “American Pie” already brought to the screens in the late 90’s, and that Judd Apatow and his team are now ruling. The teenager films, particularly the ones where the shy, introverted kids (aka, the nerds) are bullied and end up having incredible adventures, all the while in the pursuit of losing their virginity, was a staple of the 80’s. They ended up being incorporated in John Hughes films, from “Sixteen Candles” to “Weird Science”, but also “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Amy Heckerling’s “Fast Times at Redgmont High” was also a stepping-stone as was Michael Lehman’s “Heathers”. However the more sexed up teenager films ended up being the raunchy ones like “Porky’s”, where a group of high school friends were always involved in adventures that basically had the goal of getting them in a sexual situation (invariably losing their virginity before the landmark step that was going to College).
“Superbad” comes in the heels of the highly successful “Knocked Up” that Judd Apatow (who was responsible for the TV Show “Freaks and Geeks”, “40 Year Old Virgin” and who also produced “The Cable Guy” with Jim Carrey) wrote and directed and that brought into the limelight Seth Rogen. Rogen up into this point had been mostly known for his bit roles in “Freeks and Geeks, “Donnie Darko” and “40 Year Old Virgin”, but with the success of “Knocked Up” and now “Superbad”, his career is on a crescendo.
The film introduces us to the characters of Seth and Evan. Both have been best friends since little kids and are now seniors in high school, getting ready to go to college. Seth is the overweight loudmouth, where Evan is quiet and sweet. Both are of course pariahs and treated as such by the high school bullies. All they can think of is having sex before the end of high school and going away to college (something that will happen within a week) – that is also something that they know will separate them, since each will be going to different schools. The even more socially awkward Fogell, who is accompanying Evan to the same college, usually joins them. The film follows the adventures of Seth, Evan and Fogel in a single day, one where they manage to get invited to a party by a girl that Seth is desperately trying to get “intimate” with. Fogel manages to acquire a fake ID under the name McLovin, a 25-year-old organ donor from Hawaii. What follows are three kids adventures through the night, in the pursuit of booze, love and shedding the fear of being away of their friends (very much a rite of passage).
With a great script from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (that they wrote when teenagers), the film manages to be incredibly funny, mostly because it bases its’ concepts on the dynamics of the three kids and the two incredible and lunatic cops that patrol the streets. Seth presented as the loudmouth ends up being the soul of the movie, mostly because underneath his raunchiness lies a sweet kid that is incredibly afraid of losing his friend and being alone. The scene where Seth is seen as a child drawing penises is pure anthology. Evan, the more intelligent and quiet kid has a heart and a mind of it’s own – his goal is to actually be closer to Rebecca, his main interest in the classrooms. Fogler in the meanwhile, only wants to belong and be cool, something that his fake ID and his journey in the night with his buddy cops helps tremendously!
Where “Porky’s” went directly to the “sexual jugular”, “Superbad” has a heart and intelligence that resonates through those characters. Even in the hilarious scenes with Seth dancing in the party with the lady that has an “accident” on him, you can’t help laugh at the way Seth just handles the situation. The film is populated with so many funny moments that is hard to highlight a particular one.
All the actors do a great job, from Jonah Hill (also seen in “Knocked Up”) as Seth, to the more recognizable Michael Cera (from the TV show “Arrested Development”) as Evan, to the revelation that is Christopher Mintz-Plasse – his Fogel/McLovin will be an anthology character (particularly considering this is his first film and that he is a high school student). Seth Rogen and Bill Hader both do great work as the incredibly incompetent cops, both of who take McLovin on the ride of his life.
This is a comedy that works beyond its’ naughty pretense and raunchy themes – it goes for the heart!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Monday, August 6, 2007

Orlando

Movie name: Orlando
Year of release: 1992
Director: Sally Potter
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, John Wood, Heathcote Williams, Quentin Crisp, Charlotte Valandrey
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Sally Potter used Virginia Wolf’s novel “Orlando” to express the path of a woman, who started of as a man, and that ultimately sought, as everyone, a space of her own, where to simply be herself and be loved.

“Orlando” is a modern classic for a variety of different reasons. When released in 1992, the film rode waves of good reviews, equally praising the audacity of the filmmaker and also the sheer beauty and wondrous performance of it’s leading lady, Tilda Swinton. If time has proved anything, that is the fact that Tilda Swinton is a magnificent actress – something that was already on display before “Orlando” came out, on the films she had done with Derek Jarman, namely “Edward II” and “Caravaggio” - and in the meantime she has done films as different as “The Deep End” and “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
“Orlando”, adapted from a novel by Virginia Woolf (Marleen Gorris adapted one of her other novels, “Mrs. Dalloway”, with Vanessa Redgrave), tells the story of an aristocrat since the 16th century to our present days, during which he experiences love, death, loss, political and social games, sex and rebirth. The film divides itself in those sections, for instance “Love”, “Death”, “Politics”, each representing key events that happen in Orlando’s life. The character is presented to the audience in the first frames, as a child of privilege, an aristocrat that is also a poet, a character that enjoys “loneliness and isolation”, a romantic, to summarize it. However Sally Potter, the director throws here an irreverent touch that imbues the film with an irony that ends up creating more than just a stunning “period” film – Orlando/Tilda Swinton addresses the camera directly, showcasing his/her thoughts to the audience, making us direct accomplices of his/hers adventures (though not in the same way that Matthew Broderick did in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, who at the end of the film told the audience to “go home”). The first section of the film introduces us to Orlando, and his vision of the world – it also introduces us to the concept behind his longevity and the way that will also connect him with his house (and for all intended purposes, England). Queen Elizabeth, played by the iconic Quentin Crisp, is smitten by Orlando’s beauty and youth, and she gives him and his heirs the mansion/house, as long as he never “grows old, never withers”. These early scenes are shot, as well as the remaining film, with such beautiful and detailed compositions, that most of the times it feels as if though you’re actually looking at paintings reenacted. A lot of the praise here should go to the beautiful costumes that Sandy Powel created and also for the director of photography, Alexei Rodianov – they both have given the film more than just “eye candy” – they have created a personality and a beauty that still marks and haunts whomever sees the film. Throughout Orlando’s story, with the perception of politics and the way some liberties are gained, he changes from man to woman, and this is what we hear from him/her – “same person, just different sex”. This is very much a film directed by a woman in a sense you actually see the evolution of Orlando, from her early steps as a woman that goes into society – and the way women are considered “window dressing” - to Orlando’s own choices and decisions which she pretty much has to deal with when it becomes clear that she, and her gender, have no rights. This is a wonderful story, one where the main character states right at the beginning what she aims for - companionship, love, something that she experiences at the beginning of the film, as a man with a Russian woman, Sasha, played by Charlotter Valandrey, and afterwards as a woman, with an American man, played by Billy Zane. Orlando goes through the centuries until our days (and you can relate to the passage of the centuries through the wonderful costumes), a time where she visits her now lost house, with her daughter, her heir, and even though she has lost the house, she has finally gained what she always wanted – love, unconditional one that comes from herself and from her daughter. When Orlando at the end of the film looks directly at the camera, it’s peace and happiness that shines through – she has finally found her place (and that’s what Jimmy Sommerville sings).
Sally Potter created with this film a stunning work of art – In her following films, “The Tango Lesson”, “The Man Who Cried” and “Yes”, she has managed to create unique experiences, but somehow always a bit flawed, something that doesn’t happen in “Orlando” – the film is beautifully shot, the sense of humor that is present throughout gives it an undeniable edge and Tilda Swinton’s performance is simply unforgettable.

La Môme/La Vie En Rose

Movie name: La Môme/La Vie en Rose
Year of release: 2007
Director: Olivier Dahan
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Emmanuelle Seigner, Pascal Gregory, Sylvie Testud, Gérard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Olivier Dahan aims high in this biopic of French singer and legend Edith Piaf, however the results end up a bit short, save for the complete transformation of the actress Marion Cotillard whom when Oscar time comes, will certainly be a strong contender.

Biopics/Biographies are always a tricky subject matter for filmmakers, as I mentioned in the review for Camille Claudell. Respected filmmakers have approached the genre with varying levels of success, from the really great like “Camille Claudell” from Bruno Nuytten, “Van Gogh” from Maurice Pialat, to the good like “Walk the Line” from James Mangold, “Capote” from Bennett Miller to the “just there” examples of “Ray” from Taylor Hackford and “What’s Love Got to Do with it” from Brian Gilbert. These are films that usually showcase great performances from their main actors, who invariably are awarded numerous accolades (Oscar usually falls in their mantle, as it did earlier this year for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker).
“La Môme” from Olivier Dahan, already one of the biggest hits of the year in France, follows the life and career trajectory of one of the country’s most beloved personalities, the unforgettable Edit Piaf, who died in 1963 at the tender age of 47. The film follows a structure that oscillates between the life of the older Edith and her progression since her humble beginnings. The film starts by introducing us to Edith currently on tour in America but rapidly changes it’s pace to her childhood. There we are introduced to Edith’s mother, also a singer who chooses to pursue her career and leave Edith with her father (meanwhile in the army). Edith’s father drops her with his mother, who is the owner of a brothel, where all the girls quickly embrace and protect Edith, particularly Titine who treats her as a daughter. When her father shows up for her, they end up working in a circus and the streets as street artists. That’s where Edith starts showcasing her voice, something that she continues doing, in neighborhoods of shady reputation (in the company of her friend Mômone). This street singing eventually gets her discovered by Louis Leplée who places her in his club and introduces her to a huge number of influential people. Edith becomes increasingly famous, also coming with it a dependency for narcotics and liquor that deteriorate her health more and more. Her failed relationships also take their toll on her life, and by the film’s end, we see a broken and precociously destroyed woman.
The film plays like many that have been seen before, very much in the lines of “A Star is Born”. It presents Edith as a woman of extraordinary talent that comes from the gutter, from a sordid past that never really left, no matter where she went. It also shows her as a woman that never really came to grips with whom she was in this new position, as an icon, as the voice from Paris (as Marlene Dietrich mentions). Olivier Dahan tries too hard to compress everything about the artist in the film, and that means sacrificing characters that suddenly disappear, characters that appear without any explanation, eventually creating a muddle that is quite confusing. The balancing structure between different time frames reinforces this tremendously – the film tries to chew on more than it can. The main actors do a fine job, with the highlight going to Marion Cotillard. There are several reviews already saying that her performance (and the one from Angelina Jolie in “A Mighty Heart”) is going to be amongst the ones for the Oscars of 2007. The performance is truly indelible in the sense that Cotillard mimics to perfection the singer (she mimics the singing also), capturing her energy, despair and joy. She manages to replicate the actions from Edith’s life since she was a young woman, to her illness and precocious aging (and the makeup helps tremendously). Gérard Depardieu turns in a solid supporting performance, as does Clotilde Courau, Emmanuelle Seigner and the wonderful Sylvie Testud whose character is dropped much too abruptly. The photography, and period reconstitution are all impeccable, as is Marion Cotillard’s performance, however these don’t save the film from it’s shortcomings.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Friday, June 1, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

28 Weeks Later

Movie name: 28 Weeks Later
Year of release: 2007
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Stars: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Catherine McCormack, Harold Perrineau, Idris Elba, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton
Genre: Horro/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
28 Weeks Later picks up the action where the original film left off. The virus has been contained, and London starts to get repopulated, with the assistance of American soldiers. As always something goes wrong, and the killing spree begins again. This is a smartly written and directed sequel to the innovative Danny Boyle’s film, 28 Days Later.

When 28 Days Later came out in 2002, Danny Boyle and his team were trying to put behind them the flop that was “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. 28 Days Later was their vision of a bleak London/UK plagued by a virus that transformed people into ravaging zombies. Made with a tight budget and using digital video, the film was a hit and introduced Cillian Murphy and Naomi Harris to a wider audience.
The sequel was inevitable, since the success of the first film, however Danny Boyle does not return in the director’s chair (since he directed “Sunshine” in the meantime). The director chosen this time is the Spaniard Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who made the interesting “Intacto”. The choice was a good one, because Fresnadillo manages to create a tense, intelligent film, that does not lose when compared to it’s original.
The film starts with an attack of the infected on a small cottage house, filled with a small group of survivors. Amongst them. Don and Alice, a married couple get separated, and Alice gets left behind at the mercy of the zombies, due to Don’s unwillingness to help. The story moves forward and we are introduced to the American army contingent stationed in London and in charge of getting people back in the city. Scarlet, the medical officer in charge of checking the new residents fears that the virus may come back, which is quickly dismissed by her superior, General Stone. Among the new inhabitants are Tammy and Andy, Don and Alice’s kids, who are greeted by their father upon their arrival. Hoping to visit their former house the duo find out that their mother has survived the attacks and has been hiding there. She is a carrier of the virus but she hasn’t been consumed by it, due to a genetic abnormality. When Don tries to get in contact with her, he’s infected and the rampage starts again.
28 Days Later left off with the three survivors living in a remote cottage, far away from the big cities, and that’s precisely where we find new survivors in the beginning of its’ sequel. The city os London is once again apparently deserted, but it has new visitors – the American army, that is supervising the introduction/repopulation of the city. When the new outbreak occurs, they simply opt to decimate the entire population that was placed within the city.
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo creates with 28 Weeks Later a tense and gripping horror film that is also an analogy for what is currently happening with the war in Iraq. It provides the thrills and gore usually associated with a zombie film (and there are plenty of scenes to make the viewer squirm and jump), but there is an underlying sense of pertinence and accuracy to what our everyday reality currently is and the way War happens. This mix of horror and political allegory end up making the film truly remarkable, unlike instant disposable horror films that just keep repeating cliché upon cliché (the recent The Messengers immediately pops up to mind). The cast is also uniformly good, with Robert Carlyle doing a good weak man (he can do no wrong, from “Priest”, “Trainspotting” to “The Full Monty”), Rose Byrne as the doctor desperate to save the young ones (she was one of the revelations of “Troy”), Catherine McCormack (from “Braveheart” and “Spy Game”) and Jeremy Renner (from “North Country”). The young actors, who end up carrying the center core of the film – they are the key to the spreading of the virus, but also the possible cure – are excellently well cast – both Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton do a great job, without carrying the cutesy factor which sometimes damages a performance and the tone of the film.
All and all, 28 Weeks Later is a really good horror film that continues the legacy of 28 Days Later and in some ways develops the content of what it’s predecessor laid out. Definitely worth checking out.