Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone. 2009 is upon us and with it the hopes of a better year than the one that we're leaving behind. Hopefully the new year will bring a better economic and social scenery than the one that dominated the year of 2008. If there's something we can do, and must do, is keep the faith that reality and life can improve. It is, after all, in our hands to make things change.

This Blog will keep changing, and so will the sites that I currently have. The photography site is finally going to be changed, and the Flickr page is getting new photos, courtesy of a new camera that finally allows me to do what I want. This upcoming year will see new sites for a couple of my friends and hopefully projects that will allow everyone to grow and be successful in their fields.

All good things for everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Movie name: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year of release: 2008
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Elias Koteas, Jason Flemyng, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
David Fincher is without a doubt one of the most interesting and accomplished directors working these days. His films are always probes into the depths of the conflicts of men (within themselves most of the times). Following the superb "Zodiac", the new film from David Fincher is an adaptation of a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. The film follows Benjamin Button, a man that ages inversely to everybody else - he is born with a body of an old man, and as time progresses he keeps getting younger. His family abandons him in a nursing home, where he is raised by Queenie. During his childhood he meets Daisy whom we realize is his soulmate. Though life takes them in different directions, they end up reuniting at a time in their lives when they are chronologically balanced. They experience bliss together, but time keeps ticking. The film is a very interesting meditation on the passing of life and the the real value of what you keep. The film is peerless, as is always the case in David Fincher's films, in the look and feel - the production design, photography, soundtrack are all beautiful. The performances are great, with a strong highlight for Brad Pitt, who finally shows what a good actor he can be. However, the jump that the story deserved, is never really reached, and mostly because the screenplay over simplifies everything. As it is, this is a beautiful cinematic experience, that doesn't achieve the heights it could mostly due to a contrived screenplay. Still a great film to see!

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Movie name: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Year of release: 2008
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler, Robert Knepper
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Remaking a classic sci-fi film from the 50's is always tricky. Steven Spielberg tackled the paranoia of the alien invasion in "War of the Worlds", but his was a film about family and the fears of terrorism. Scott Derrickson, mostly known as the director of the surprise hit that was "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" goes for something more current: the environment menace. The film follows Klaatu the messenger of an alien civilization that lands on Earth to protect the planet from humans, that are destroying it. Klaatu slowly begins to understand the uniqueness of the human race thanks to the help of Dr. Helen Benson and her stepson Jacob. The film is not without good ideas, the main issue is the fact that none of it feels new or tackled in a way that is different and bold. Keanu Reeves tries to play off his usual stiffness while Jennifer Connelly is merely on automatic pilot. The film is competent but easily forgettable.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Milk

Movie name: Milk
Year of release: 2008
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Joseph Cross, James Franco, Denis O'Hare, Victor Garber, Lucas Gabreel, Stephen Spinella
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Following his more experimental work that dominated his previous films, namely the cycle started by "Gerry" and followed with the terrific "Elephant" and the hit or miss "Last Days" and "Paranoid Park", Gus Van Sant returns to form with "Milk", one of the best films of the year. The film follows the life of the first openly gay elected politician, Harvey Milk. We follow him from his life in New York on the brink of turning 40, to his move to San Francisco where he settles in the Castro district (with his partner, Scott Smith). We see through his eyes the changes that occur in the city and his political activism grows as he realizes the discrimination that gay people suffer. Through his attempts to get elected, his group of friends grows as does their ambitions in changing the ruling that is trying to get passed, Proposition 6. Milk's sad demise in the hands of one of his co-workers Dan White, cuts short his attempts to improve the life of the gay community. What is so admirable about this film, is the way Van Sant's vision blends so perfectly with the period pieces. The reconstitution of San Francisco of 30 years ago is perfect, as is the beautiful photography of Harris Savides (one of the great cinematographers working these days). The actors are all fantastic, but three strike a chord, starting with Josh Brolin's amazing portrayal of Dan White. He is remarkable as someone losing grips with a reality that far surpasses his understanding. Emile Hirsch is also great as a young gay man trying to find meaning in his life. But this film belongs to Sean Penn - his portrayal of Harvey Milk is touching, powerful and simply amazing (he truly deserves another Oscar). A great film that needs to be seen now, for what it represents and for the artistry that went into it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Movie name: Rachel Getting Married
Year of release: 2008
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith, Mather Zickel, Anisa George
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Jonathan Demme is one of the most interesting directors working these days. After directing a series of interesting films, including "Something Wild", "Married to the Mob", "Philadelphia" and the terrific "Silence of the Lambs", this decade has seen him with a very modest output. His "The Truth About Charlie" (a remake of "Charade") and "The Manchurian Candidate" (another remake), both went largely unnoticed, and now he went to the indie side to present a more modest effort. Written by Jenny Lumet, "Rachel Getting Married" comes in the trail of better films that addressed family disintegration and the secrets that destroys us, which can be largely noticed in the staple that is Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" or even on a smaller scale Dan Harris' "Imaginary Heroes". Anne Hathaway plays Kym, just out of rehab and at home for her sister Rachel's wedding. Kym is a mess - in terms of Hollywood that means having spiky hair, smoking and wearing dark clothes. Everyone wants away from her, except for her dad who wants to make sure she doesn't do drugs anymore. Kym has a secret that haunts her and that is the root for her self destructive behavior. What could have been a really interesting premise, turns out to be a strangely self imploding film - Declan Quinn's camera tries to create the sense of intimacy and home movies, but it never really manages much. And that is because the story never really develops much. The real core of the movie ends up being Debra Winger, who plays the ice queen to perfection (she gives Mary Tyler Moore's character in "Ordinary People" a real brush aside). Her tension is palpable and Debra Winger captures the character perfectly. Anne Hathaway twitches but doesn't really make a character very believable. A sadly missed opportunity for what could've been a really great film.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Australia

Movie name: Australia
Year of release: 2008
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Bill Hunter, John Jarratt, Jacek Koman
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
"Australia" is Baz Luhrmann's 4th film since 1992. In 16 years his production has been rather meager, and his results have been very mixed. Unlike a lot of opinions I found "Moulin Rouge" extremely overrated, though I did admire his approach in "William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet". With "Australia" Luhrmann set out to create his own version of "Gone With the Wind" taking place in his native country. He decided to throw the love story between people of different backgrounds, with the eruption of second World War AND the social agenda that surrounded the treatment of the native Australians. The results are again mixed. On the positive side, there's the definite feeling of the epic, the photography and the entire production design that are exquisite. On the weaker corner, we have all the clichés that have been treated in the most conventional of ways - the screenplay follows all the formulas, which even though sometimes it can be interesting, in this case feels a bit tiresome and overblown. The actors also give mixed performances - Nicole Kidman who did a terrific work last year in "Margot at the Wedding", here becomes almost too artificial when some more naturalistic approach would be commendable (I for one, think this would have been a perfect role for Naomi Watts). Hugh Jackman, filling for Russel Crowe, does his best rugged with a heart impression, takes off his shirt quite often, but still his character needed some extra charisma that is surely missing. The bad guy, handed off to David Wenham, barely registers. This is a film that relies on the visuals that it presents, and it doesn't fail in that department. It's unfortunate that all the rest does.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Movie name: Quantum of Solace
Year of release: 2008
Director: Marc Forster
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Atherton, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen, David Harbour
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Marc Forster again surprises with his latest film. His eclectic career doesn't seem to stop touching different genres and styles. From "Monster's Ball", he has done elegant dramas as "Finding Neverland", smart comedies as "Stranger than Fiction" and interesting thrillers as "Stay". His take on James Bond has more of a contemporary look and feel, one that seems very much in the line of what Paul Greengrass has done with The Bourne Identity films. The action is non stop, very gritty and unlike the previous James Bond films, there are no special gadgets or little tricks. It's a leaner and meaner Bond.
The film opens directly following where "Casino Royale" dropped off. We're pulled directly into the action sequence with a great chase scene through the streets of Italy. The action continues from then on, with James Bond stopping at nothing to achieve his goals - the vengeance of his loved one. As usual there is an organization/villain, aiming to take control of the world, this time using an ecological trap as a device (sign of the times of course). The screenplay follows the usual structure of the Bond films, this time adding very few consistency to the meager roles played out by the Bond girls. The film is about a spy on a mission, one that won't stop at nothing to reach his goal. It's an intelligent action film, that shows the craftsmanship of the director and showcases again the talent of the great Judi Dench.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Changeling

Movie name: Changeling
Year of release: 2008
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Amy Ryan, Colm Feore, Denis O'Hare, Jason Butler Harner
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:After the twosome World War movies that premiered in 2006, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima", Clint Eastwood presents another period piece with "The Changeling" based on a true story that changed the life of Los Angeles. Taking place in 1928, the film follows Christine Collins, a young single mother that works for the phone company. When she has to work an extra shift, her son disappears much to her despair. When she presents the case to the police, they initially dismiss her and after filing a report, they bring back a child that turns out not to be her own. Christine continues to insist, with the help of Revered Gustav Briegleb, who has been exposing the corruption of the police department through his radio show. When Christine continues insisting, she is placed in a mental institution while simultaneously the story behing the disappearance of young boys comes out.
Clint Eastwood takes his time in telling this story - his attention to details and the period reconstruction are flawless. He lets the actors flash out this story, relying mostly on Angelina Jolie's terrific portrayal of Christine Collins. She plays the character as a lonely, fragile woman who sees her world being taken away when her son disappears. Christine is also a resilient woman, one that doesn't give up when the police tries to get away with something less than the truth. The film is a gem of detail, of production design and overall a great film to watch.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Duchess

Movie name: The Duchess
Year of release: 2008
Director: Saul Dibb
Stars: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Simon McBurney, Aidan McArdle, Alistair Petrie
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:The Duchess follows the life of Georgiana Spencer, who married the Duke of Devonshire at a very early age. There have been comparisons between the life of Georgiana and that of Princess Diana: both were glamorous and adored by everyone (social butterflies also). Saul Dibb's film follows a more traditional approach to the biopic of a woman married into a loveless marriage. Georgiana is naturally flirty and follows the arranged marriage that her mother provides - all in the exchange of a male heir for the much older Duke. The relationship between the two spouses is scarce and the Duke treats it very much like a contract based one. When Georgiana makes a friend with Lady Bess Foster, she brings home the woman that eventually becomes her husband's mistress, much to Georgiana's shock. Her desire to find love of her own leads to a clash with her husband and family life.
The film has a period scenery and attention to detail that reminds the classic Merchant Ivory, but unlike James Ivory's films, there's definitely something missing. Keira Knightley's portrayal of Georgiana doesn't really transcend anything she's ever done - the role needed someone who could make the character more alive, someone that could show the contradictions that a woman trapped in a loveless relationship experiences. Ralph Fiennes is terrific as always - his movements, his cold and reserved stare make his Duke a figure that is both tragic and hateful. The great Charlotte Rampling does a terrific job in her brief role as Georgiana's mother. This is a film worth checking with some reservations.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blindness

 Movie name: Blindness
Year of release: 2008
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Stars: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Don McKellar, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Maury Chaykin, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Mitchell Nye
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:The Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles is one of the most interesting directors working these days. After the success and acclaim of "City of God" and "The Constant Gardener" he chose to tackle and adapt the Portuguese novel "Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira" from Nobel winning author Jose Saramago. The result turns out to be uneven but is nonetheless a very interesting view on how society in general and people in particular react when an event they can't control appears. The film follows the people of a city, who suddenly become afflicted with a blindness epidemic. Afraid that the disease is contagious, the government decides to place everyone afflicted in a run down hospital, with no real support or sanitary conditions. Things get progressively worse, as food is scarce and a particular ward decides to implement their rules over everyone else. The only person aware of everything is a woman, the wife of an ophthalmologist, who isn't blind and watches everything degenerate around her. The film chooses to follow the lives of a few of these inhabitants of the hospital and displays the progressive horrors that happen as the conditions worsen. It's a bleak view of humanity and proves how low and what horrors people will inflict on each other to get power (or at least the illusion of power). The actors are uniformly good, particularly Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo - their weary eyes show the despair and lack of belief in what humanity and life in general has become. The photography is beautiful and Fernando Meirelles' direction is, as usual, focused on detail and always inventive. Worth watching.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Eagle Eye

Movie name: Eagle Eye
Year of release: 2008
Director: DJ Caruso
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Embry, Lynn Cohen, William Sadler, Bill Smitrovich
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:DJ Caruso who made a splash with "The Salton Sea" and with the surprise hit "Disturbia", reunites with his young star Shia LaBeouf and the great and underrated actress that is Michelle Monaghan. "Eagle Eye" comes in the tradition of such films as "Enemy of the State" and "The Firm", where the young protagonist faces odds that are far superior to himself and that due to his honesty and integrity, manages to defeat his oponents and demonstrate the prevailing sense of justice."Eagle Eye" follows the story of eternal underdog Jerry Shaw, whose twin brother always overshadowed him in everything. When his brother accidentaly dies, Jerry comes back to his apartment to see it covered with arms and enough material to create a lot of destruction. His only indication is a woman's voice on the phone who tells him what to do. At the same time Rachel Holloman is informed her young son is under threat. These two strangers are drawn together over a mysterious caller that propels, threatens and indicates where they should be headed. The film uses conspiracy theories to propel action, and though there's a lot of improbabilities, what really stands out is the craftsmanship of the director and the good performances of it's leads. An entertaining film that doesn't bring anything new, but that serves it's purpose.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Towelhead

Movie name: Towelhead
Year of release: 2007
Director: Alan Ball
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishil, Chris Messina, Lynn Collins, Eugene Jones III
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Following the success that he had with "American Beauty" and the tv Show "Six Feet Under", Alan Ball adapted Alicia Erian's novel "Towelhead" for his directorial debut, which made it's premiere in the Sundance Film Festival of 2007, to mixed reviews. It's easy to understand why the film is uncomfortable and creates a mixed reaction. The film follows the story of Jasira, a 13 year old girl, currently living with her mom and boyfriend, who gets sent to live her father, following her mom's boyfriend actions who leave something to be desired. Jasira's sexual awakening ends up clashing with a neighbor with his own sexual hangups and with her own father's strict upbringing. The small web of relationships that surround Jasira's life come tumbling down upon the progressively more visible sexual life and conduct she is leading. Alan Ball oscillates between detailing in a touching and affecting way the process of maturing of a young girl, but also goes for some shots of questionable taste in his quest to make a point. As always, he chooses his actors impeccably well, and Aaron Eckhart, Summer Bishil and Peter Macdissi make really strong impressions. An interesting first effort.

The Women

Movie name: The Women
Year of release: 2008
Director: Diane English
Stars: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fischer, Bette Midler, Debi Mazar, India Ennenga
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Diane English is mostly well known for creating "Murphy Brown", the long running sitcom that brought so many awards to Candice Bergen (and helped define a whole new meaning for professional single women in the 90s). When the project to remake the film "The Women" was discussed, a lot of actresses were disputed and considered for the main roles, but ultimately the cast settled on Meg Ryan, no longer the draw name she once was in the 90s, and the always fantastic Annette Bening. Whereas the original "The Women" from 1939, directed by George Cukor, is now considered a classic, when Diane English adapted the screenplay, she apparently forgot to bring the characters to the current reality (or for that matter, add some dimension to them). The film follows Mary Haines, a fashion designer working for her father's company, who learns that her husband is having an affair with a perfume counter girl. All the while her friends also know this and are trying to prevent her from having a meltdown. The problem with this film isn't the fact that it just draws sketches of characters, not people, but that the stereotypes that it presents are just so incredibly dated and without relevance. In the end all it takes for Meg Ryan's character to come around is straighten her hair, have two or three facial expressions and the film is sorted out. Annette Bening does what she can, whereas all the rest of the actors are terribly underused. An opportunity sadly missed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Burn After Reading

Movie name: Burn After Reading
Year of release: 2008
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, JK Simmons, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Jeffrey DeMunn
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:After the huge success of "No Country for Old Men", the Coen brothers have gone back to their subversive comedy territory and have delivered "Burn After Reading". The film follows Osborne Cox, an analyst that works for the Secret Services. When Cox is reassigned, he decides to quit and write his memoirs, much to the chagrin of his wife (who is having an affair with the buffoon Harry Pfarrer). The CD with his writings somehow ends up in the ladies locker room of a gym, where dimwitted Chad Feldheimer and plastic surgery-obsessive Linda Litzke both work. They decide to blackmail Cox for money in order for Linda to get the money she needs to have the plastic surgery. This short summary just serves to show how all these characters come together in this tale that aims to be a criticism of how some institutions work and how diplomacy and ineptitude dominate. Sadly the Coens don't really go deep in their satire, and by the time the film comes to an end, you end up feeling that so much more could and should have been said. The corrosive sense of humor of Billy Wilder is sadly missed. The film ends up being a showcase for a group of talented actors, particularly the wonderful Frances McDormand and the always great John Malkovich.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Movie name: Mamma Mia!
Year of release: 2008
Director: Phillipa Lloyd
Stars: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper
Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:After the fantastic adaptation that Tim Burton did of "Sweeney Todd" I was interested in discovering what "Mamma Mia!" could present. Phillipa Lloyd who directed the stage version of the successful show was put in charge of the film, and like Susan Stroman the director of "The Producers", the film is a terrible and misguided attempt of being an intelligent musical. The film follows Sophie, a 20 year old young woman about to be married in a small greek island, who doesn't know who her father is. Her mother Donna, had affairs with 3 men in a short time span and Sophie decides to invite all three so one of them can take her down the aisle. This is basically the entire concept of the film - there are no characters in this film, only talking and dancing "guys and dolls". It's difficult to believe the film has amassed this huge amount of talent, starting with Meryl Streep that even though can do no wrong, in this case feels totally out of place and frankly, completely lost (but still looks striking). Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are in auto-pilot, just waiting to collect the check, whereas Julie Walters and Christine Baranski go full camp and have fun in the midst of all the mess. This is a big karaoke-film, where the lyrics for the songs appear on screen, where the production values are almost null, the photography is absurdly bad and the level of taste of the whole enterprise is, quite frankly, very doubtful. For people who love Abba, buy the records, for everyone else, just skip this whole thing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Elegy

Movie name: Elegy
Year of release: 2008
Director: Isabel Coixet
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, Dennis Hopper
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Following "My Life Without Me" and "The Secret Life of Words", Isabel Coixet continues to examine relationships between men and women, and how both are haunted by their own ghosts and expectations towards each other. "Elegy" adapts a novel from Philip Roth, whose work has already been adapted by Robert Benton in "The Human Stain", with Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. Both films have a somewhat common thread - an older sophisticated man (in both cases, a university teacher), falls in love with a younger woman, who becomes an obsession and object of sexual desire. Penélope Cruz plays Consuela, a beautiful young woman who enrolls in the class of professor David Kepesh, a divorced man way in his middle age, that never managed to sustain a relationship with a woman ( this is part of the problem for his troublesome relationship with his son ). The relationship he currently holds with Carolyn is one of sex and little else. They don't expect much of each other, something that changes once Consuela becomes part of David's life. David becomes possessive of Consuela, devoting a love unlike he's never experienced and that will change his life. This film is the journey of a man coming to terms with the fact that love comes and seizes you, no matter what point or stage in your life you are. David Kepesh always avoided serious relationships with women, preferring sexual encounters. Consuela on the other hand, sees love and life as the same, devoting herself to both with all that she has and is. The film succeeds in portraying the way age and mortality hovers around the characters. All the actors excel in their performances, especially Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson. The vulnerability they all show makes them more than just figments of someone's narration - it makes them eminently real. Worth watching!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Movie name: Tropic Thunder
Year of release: 2008
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon T. Jackson, Danny McBride, Bill Hader
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Following his previous directing effort, "Zoolander", Ben Stiller returns to the directing chair with the parody "Tropic of Thunder". The film follows a bunch of actors (the fading action star, the chameleon actor from Australia, the chunky comedian) who go to the jungle to act in a Vietnam war movie. The film starts to lose it's control because of the diva antics that each star has, and after a particularly harsh meeting, the director decides to shoot the film in an unconventional way, dropping the actors in the jungle and letting them fend for themselves. What follows is a comedy of mistakes led by the always funny Ben Stiller and the terrific Robert Downey Jr. that again steals the show. The film clearly has a huge budget and spoofs a bit of Apocalypse Now and Platoon - it's filled with on the spot jokes, but somehow some of them feel a bit flat. The film is uneven, sometimes going for really out there humor, other times not really sure of what to make of it's own direction. It's a film about the industry, clearly having fun poking at itself, and with a great cast, including Tom Cruise mocking a studio mogul (much like the one that "fired" him?). Worth watching!

Hamlet 2

Movie name: Hamlet 2
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andrew Fleming
Stars: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Marshall Bell, Amy Poehler, Melonie Diaz, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Joseph Julian Soria
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Andrew Fleming has directed two films that were considerable successes in the 90s, namely "Threesome" and "The Craft". "Hamlet 2" has a great premise: a washed out actor, now a drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona, decides to write a play to save his drama department, and chooses a sequel to "Hamlet", one that involves time traveling and the appearance of religious figures. Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz as an enthusiastic teacher, with drinking problems and a lack of confidence that doesn't deter him of throwing himself at his tasks. He convinces his students to be a part of a play that causes waves of shock around the community - one that includes the song "Rock me sexy Jesus". The film lives from a fantastic premise, however there are times where you feel the film falters and where things could have gone further along and where the satire could've been more incisive. The cast is really wonderful, but Catherine Keener and David Arquette don't have much to do - Elisabeth Shue has fun playing a different version of herself and Amy Poelher is, as always, hilarious. Steve Coogan ends up having the show to himself and he runs with it.

The House Bunny

Movie name: The House Bunny
Year of release: 2008
Director: Fred Wolf
Stars: Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, Emma Stone, Rummer Willis, Beverly D'Angelo, Christopher McDonald, Kat Dennings, Leslie Del Rosario
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Anna Faris is a terrific and naturally gifted comedic actress. "Smiley Face" showcased her talents and now "The House Bunny" brings her to the spotlight again, this time based on a screenplay from the authors of "Legally Blonde " and "Ella Enchanted". The film follows Shelley, a Playboy bunny that gets kicked out of the playboy mansion, due to the envy of another "sister". She ends up on the doorway of an unpopular sorority that is experiencing problems getting new attendees (they also face the possibility of losing their house). Shelley decides to use her skills to improve the look of all girls and save their house. The screenplay as described before, is extremely thin - however Anna Faris strikes gold with whatever she has. She embodies the nonsense and the innocence of Shelley with such character that the film literally exists because of her. It's a shame the film hasn't as much of a spark as Anna Faris - as it is, it's an average comedy that lives from her impeccable comic timing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Movie name: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Year of release: 2008
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn, Chris Messina, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Evan Welch
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Woody Allen is back with his yearly film, following the tepid response that "Cassandra's Dream" had. With a career that spans over 30 years, Woody Allen is one of the great American directors currently working, with so many classics in his filmography that is difficult to point out what his best films are. The latter years haven't been as equally interesting in terms of his output, save for "Match Point" and "Small Time Crooks". I have been a huge Woody Allen film since the 80s when I was introduced to his work - I always found his films challenging, always visually interesting and innovative and his sense of humor absolutely hilarious. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is however one of the films that comes from his latest output, where everything just seems very placid. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" follows the romantic entanglements of two college friends that come to Barcelona for a Summer holiday. Vicky is the more neurotic and cerebral friend, whereas Cristina is the more romantic and impulsive one. When they both encounter an enigmatic painter, an amorous triangle is formed, which is further complicated by the appearance of the painter's hellfire ex-wife. The actors are all uniformly good, with special highlight for Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz that infuses the film with some spark. The production design, photography are as always impeccable. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tell No One

Movie name: Ne le dis a personne
Year of release: 2006
Director: Guillaume Canet
Stars: Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze, Andre Dussolier, Kristina Scott Thomas, Marina Hands, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Philipe Lefebvre, Guillaume Canet
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Guillaume Canet is more well known for audiences outside of France as one of the performers of Danny Boyle's "The Beach". His career in France has also taken a detour to directing, with very good results. His previous film "Mon Idole" was a considerable hit, and this one was one of the big winners at the Cesars. Adapting a novel from Harlan Coben has served Canet well, since he built a very intelligent thriller, anchored in some great performances from a very talented cast. The film follows the story of a doctor name Alexandre Beck whose wife was killed in mysterious circumstances 8 years ago. He was also attacked, but managed to get away, though no one really knows how. A serial killer was arrested at the time of the brutal murder of his wife, and no questions were placed afterwards. When some bodies are discovered near the forest where the attack took place, the investigation is resumed, and Beck discovers that his wife is actually alive and that he is the police's main suspect.
The film is suspenseful, intelligently rendered and acted with a superlative cast, starting with the wonderful Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze (from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Kristin Scott Thomas and Andre Dussolier. Canet intelligently staged a film, from the action pieces to the more dramatic moments. A very rewarding film, worth investigating!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Web Design Index Vol.8

My sites JoaoPedroCanhenha.com/JPC Photos have just been published in the Web Design book "Web Design Index, Vol.8" published by Pepin Press. Earlier this year the sites Claud and Gonçalo Varanda had already been published in the book Web Design Index by Content Volume 3. It's a great honor and I thank Mr. Gunter Beer for the selection. You can check Pepin Press here!





Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dark Knight

Movie name: The Dark Knight
Year of release: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Cillian Murphy, Ron Dean, Chin Han
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:The follow up to "Batman Begins", the revamp of the Batman franchise that Warner Brothers and director Christopher Nolan started in 2005, has been one of the most hyped films of the year, due to the premature death of the actor Heath Ledger and one of the most aggressive viral campaigns that has ever put up for a film. The film follows the adventures of the caped crusader in Gotham City, and how the city has responded to his appearance. The criminals have gotten worse and the figure of the Joker epitomizes it: his nihilistic approach to life and the criminal side have the hero on the ropes, struggling to find a solution for his life and his presence in the Gotham structure. Batman has an ally in the figure of Harvey Dent, the new DA who is also courting his long lost love, Rachel Dawes. In the midst of all the chaos that the city seems to be submerged in, it's Batman who has to find it's direction and emerge as the figure of light (him, who is precisely the Dark Knight). Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan have crafted a richly layered screenplay, that drinks a lot of it's complexities from "Heat" from Michael Mann. The film anchors it's strength in the relationship between Batman and the Joker, two forces that can't be deterred or stopped. The film ends up being an intelligent action film, that keeps escalating with intelligent set pieces and with charismatic performances from Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and the always reliables Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Worth watching!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tropa de Elite

Movie name: Tropa de Elite
Year of release: 2007
Director: Jose Padilha
Stars: Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira, Andre Ramiro, Maria Ribeiro, Fernanda Machado, Milhem Cortaz, Marcelo Valle
Genre: Action, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"Tropa de Elite" won the award for best film at the Berlin Film Festival of 2008. It follows the story of an elite squad in the "favelas" of Brazil (the slums that surround the big cities there). We are introduced to the main character, Capitao Nascimento, one of the officers of this elite squad, trying to find a replacement for himself, since he and his wife have a baby coming up and his job is one of the riskiest and most dangerous in the force. The film follows the daily life of the police officers, as they deal with the criminal side of the city but also with the corruption and how everything works within the police organization. It is a disenchanted look at the reality behind the beaches and tropical paradise that Brazil shows in the postcards, much like what Fernando Meirelles did with "City of God". It's gritty, well directed and the performers are all uniformly good.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Movie name: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Year of release: 2008
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss, Anna Walton
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Guillermo Del Toro is currently one of the most beloved directors of the film community, mostly because of his craft and universe that he brilliantly displayed in "Pan's Labyrinth". Having directed the first "Hellboy" in 2004 (which many people failed to embrace), the sequel allows for a more fruitful development of the character and of the universe of creatures that we come to expect from Guillermo Del Toro. The film again follows Hellboy and his cohorts Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien, as they deal with a new villain that goes by the name of Prince Nuada. The film oscillates between the more action driven pieces and the character driven parts, where the relationships between the main players comes to focus (in a light-hearted way). Visually the film is beautifully rendered and the special effects are flawless. The only flaw that can be addressed is the screenplay - if comes across as not developed enough, but in the end the film is rewarding and definitely worth the praise.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Savage Grace

Movie name: Savage Grace
Year of release: 2007
Director: Tom Kalin
Stars: Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Dancy, Elena Anaya, Abel Folk, Belen Rueda, Martin Huber
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:When Tom Kalin's first film "Swoon" came out in 1992, he was hailed as part of the new queer movement, which included Todd Haynes (who released "Poison" in 1991), Gregg Araki (who directed "The Living End") and Rose Troche (director of "Go Fish"). 15 years and a couple of shorts later, his follow up is again based on a true event (much like "Swoon"), more precisely the true crime story of the Baekeland murder and suicide. Barbara and Brooks Baekeland were a rich couple, him from inheritance, she a former actress, from marrying into the family. When their child Tony was born, their relationship was already deteriorating, something that as the years passed by became more apparent. Tony however developed a close relationship with his mother, who always cherished and appreciated his presence, unlike his father that always kept him at bay. When Tony became an adult - and his ambiguous sexuality, his father decided to leave his family life and begin living with his mistress, a previous girlfriend of Tony's.
The film covers all these years in the lives of the Baekeland's, always focusing on Barbara and her relationship with Tony. What is implied throughout the film, becomes more visible in the final act, when the incestuous relationship becomes real. The film focuses wisely in Julianne Moore's portrait of Barbara - an ambitious, loving and misunderstood woman, that longs for something that she simply can't attain. Tony is not only her son, he's her companion, and in that sense the final act makes total sense in her life. They are equals. Tony's own life and grasp of reality is at most very unbalanced - from his own sexuality, to his personal longings and his relationship with his father. All the actors do a fine job of bringing to reality these characters, with particular focus to Julianne Moore, that channels a bit of her character from Todd Haynes' "Safe" and also Stephen Dillane, that embodies the cold detachment perfectly. Eddie Redmayne however doesn't convince totally, mostly because he never seems to fully embrace the character. His despair is never tangible, neither his longing - in the end it feels mostly like boredom. Tom Kalin does a good job bringing all these elements together, however the art direction and photography leave a lot to be desired. An interesting film nonetheless.

Hancock

Movie name: Hancock
Year of release: 2008
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey, Johnny Galecki, Jae Head
Genre: Action, Comey, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Here is a film that has so much going for it that somehow when I got out of the theater I couldn't help think - what a sad waste of talent. The film follows Hancock, an anti-hero prone to destruction fits when he comes to save the day. Somehow whenever he tries to do a good deed, his actions always end up hurting someone (which makes him very unpopular with...everyone). When he saves Ray, a PR man from getting hit by a train, Ray decides to change his image to the world (give him the image of the savior). What unexpectedly happens is the immediate rapport that Ray's wife, Mary, has with Hancock.
What sounds like a very interesting deconstruction of the superhero movie, ends up being a mess of a film, mostly because of a lack of direction and vision. Peter Berg, director of "The Kingdom", "Friday Night Lights" and "Very Bad Things", is a protégé of Michael Mann (that cameos, alongside with screenwriter Akiva "The Da Vinci Code/Batman and Robin/ A Beautiful Mind" Goldsman), however the talent isn't even in the same range. Berg is unsure what tone to give the film, therefore he just tries to go in all directions. It's shocking to see how underused Charlize Theron is (very bad casting choice for her) and ultimately the only person that manages to save face is the always great Jason Bateman (who is one of the most interesting underactors currently working). As for Will Smith, after the really great performance that was Francis Lawrence's "I Am Legend", this one feels like automatic pilot for him. A sad waste of resources (lots of them) for such week results.

Kung Fu Panda

Movie name: Kung Fu Panda
Year of release: 2008
Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Stars (voices): Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Dreamworks Animation is by now an established studio, with the success that has been the "Shrek" franchise, but also "Madagascar", "Over the Hedge" and "Shark Tale". "Kung Fu Panda" is the latest of their efforts, and boasts again an impressive talented voice cast, starting with the irreverent Jack Black as the main character, the Panda named Po. Po is an overweight and sluggish Panda bear that has always dreamed of being a Kung Fu master. When Po is accidentally picked as the "chosen one" (a martial arts master), he starts the training process to be part of the clan that is responsible for protecting the small town within the valley. His training brings him face to face with the dangerous and ambitious tiger Tai Lung, who's bent on destroying whomever crosses his path.
The story brings nothing new to the table - the personal belief in yourself, is all that matters when it comes to overcoming obstacles. What sets this film apart, and places it a few notches above "Shark Tale", is how well it's told and the sheer beauty and virtuosity of the animation and design style. The film has a good sense of humor brought upon by Jack Black/Po and his inadequacy in fitting with a clan that brims with elegance and perfection. His attempts at fitting in are hillarious, particularly when his main motivation - food - is found out.
Ultimately this an entertaining film, filled with a good message, good laughing moments and a very inspired and talented team of designers and animators.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WALL-E

Movie name: WALL-E
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars (voices): Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy and Sigourney Weaver
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family, Sci-Fi, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:After the huge success that was "Finding Nemo", Andrew Stanton and the creative team at Pixar return with "Wall-E". The film introduces us to Wall-E the little robot that is in charge of cleaning up the planet Earth, after all the humans abandoned it (due to the inability to live there, with all the garbage and exhaustion of natural resources). It's been 700 years since the humans have left, and Wall-E is the remaining one doing his chores, with a lonely cockroach as his companion. When a probe comes to the planet to investigate the possibility of life, Wall-E strikes an interest with the robot model in charge of doing the research, EVE. When Eve goes back to her ship, Wall-E decides to follow through and finds out where all the humans have gone. The story of this beautiful film is almost dialogue free, but it shines through, since it's themes are universal: loneliness, love, companionship. The film is exquisitely designed, and manages to balance out all the drama, comedy and thrill that you've come to expect from a Pixar film. Definitely one of the best films Pixar has ever done.

Wanted

Movie name: Wanted
Year of release: 2008
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Terence Stamp, Kristen Hager
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten: 6.5

Synopsis:For his first american financed film, russian director Timur Bekmambetov decided to adapt Mark Millar's graphic novel, "Wanted", a hyper violent comic book. The story introduces us to Wesley Gibson, a young man that works in an accountancy firm and that has deep anxiety attacks. Wesley is just a regular Joe, whose girlfriend is fooling around on him and who's basically a lonely person with no family. While running his errands he meets the beautiful Fox, who saves him from a tough situation and ends up introducing him to a secret society of assassins, one that his long lost father was a part of. This is the basis of the story that unfolds in such a succession of thrilling moments and action pieces that knows no stopping points. The film is thin on development, but doesn't try to be anything other than it presents itself as: pure entertainment and very well crafted for that matter. Worth checking out!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Love Guru

Movie name: The Love Guru
Year of release: 2008
Director: Marco Schnabel
Stars: Mike Meyers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Romany Malco, Meagan Good, Verne Troyer, Manu Narayan, Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, Ben Kinsgley
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:Following a hiatus of some years, Mike Meyers returns with his latest comic creation, the guru Pitka, a love guru (a healer of relationships and life organizer - and rival to Deepak Chopra). The film follows the guru's life and his particularly risky last challenge - getting a very well known couple back together. The story is, as is the case with Mike Meyers' films, extremely thin - and it's stretched to the max. However in this case, the screenplay (?) feels like an amassed series of situations stitched together, some of which are funny, but ultimately the film just feels underdeveloped. This character certainly deserved more work and a more substantial film to let it grow - as it is, it just finds some moderately funny moments, even in the presence of terrible actors as Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake. This is a definite back to the drawing board...

The Incredible Hulk

Movie name: The Incredible Hulk
Year of release: 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, Christina Cabot
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Marvel Studios has followed the gigantic success of "Iron Man" with another adaptation of one of their beloved characters - The Incredible Hulk. The character has a previous track concerning adaptations, with the TV show and the film of the same name that Ang Lee directed in 2003. And I shall start by addressing the previous version - Ang Lee did an interesting job with a character that is complex and quite difficult to move to the big screen. His interpretation was complex and polished, maybe a bit too much for what is expected of this character. Marvel was unpleased with the results (should be read, box office results) and decided to hire Louis Leterrier, a more action driven director (and a Luc Besson pupil, sort of speak) to create a more immediate and comic book faithful version. Leterrier had the incredible luck of attracting Edward Norton to the role, and good actors followed as William Hurt, Tim Roth and Tim Blake Nelson. The film starts by introducing the story of the Hulk within the opening credits - when the film starts, we know that Bruce Banner is in seclusion in one of Brazil's "favelas". What starts is a game of cat and mouse, with the resilient General Ross in persecution of the Hulk, creating in the process another monster in order to capture it's prey. The film definitely works on some levels, particularly the dynamics that Edward Norton brings to the role - he is perfectly well cast, however where the film particularly falters is in the energy and the direction that it has. There is no spark, no inventiveness, it's a film that breathes the industrial concept on which it was based on. Whereas "Iron Man" had a slickness to it that made it an interesting film on it's own, The Hulk tries to be about action and about the inner struggles, yet it feels strangely subdued and restrained. It deserves a director that will bring intensity to it!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Fall

Movie name: The Fall
Year of release: 2006
Director: Tarsem Singh
Stars: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Justine Waddell, Kim Uylenbroek, Aiden Lithgow
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:Tarsem Singh made his name as a commercials and music clip director (he directed REM's "Losing my Religion") before tackling the feature film domain, where he made his debut with "The Cell". "The Cell" was a poor film, with a screenplay that borrowed from better films about serial killers, but displayed a visual flair and a production design that set it apart. Following the critical disappointment of that film, Tarsem embarked on a personal project - "The Fall" is the result of that effort. Shot in different locations, the film follows the story of a little girl who's recovering in the hospital from a broken arm, and the relationship she forges with a stuntman from the silent movies era. He tells her a story of a group of rebels out to battle the evil Governor Odious. This fantasy world becomes so vivid for the little girl, that she becomes entangled in it. This short description almost reads like a Terry Gilliam film, and somewhere during "The Fall" you almost wished he had tackled it. The main reason the film feels empty is the fact that none of the characters really exist or have any depth. The screenplay feels underdeveloped and the fantasy that one expects to believe and make the leap with the central character, never really happens. The film ends up having it's strong points visually - the photography, the production design, the fantastic costumes from the Oscar winning japanese designer Eiko Ishioka, but sadly that's not enough to hold the interest of a film. A missed opportunity!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Son of Ranbow

Movie name: Son of Rambow
Year of release: 2007
Director: Garth Jennings
Stars: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Jules Sitruk, Neil Dudgeon, Anna Wing
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Following the disappointing "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", Garth Jennings comes back with a terrific film, very much autobiographical, but alive with imagination and nostalgia. "Son of Rambow" follows the relationship between two young boys, Will Proudfoot and Lee Carter, in England circa the early 80's. Will is imaginative, creative and isolated, because of the passing of his father but also because of the religion that his family is a part of. Lee is a troublemaker, that has been "left off" with his older brother, while his mother is in Spain with her lover. Both these young boys come together and start working on their own version of the film "Rambo", the Sylvester Stallone film that has had such a huge impact in their lives. The film is a little story about growing up, learning to have friends and just generally learning to cope with loss and accepting who you are. It's beautifully well done and the actors are perfectly well cast. This is a gem worth watching.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Movie name: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Year of release: 2008
Director: Steven Spielber
Stars: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis: After almost 20 years (the last Indiana Jones film premiered in 1989) and so many rewrites, Steven Spielberg and company return with another adventure of the famed archeologist. At this point one might thing what would be the point of picking up a character that was so embedded within the 80's culture, however the film is an ode to the talents of Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker. Though at certain points the film borders on the risible, Spielberg is still peerless as an entertainer and storyteller. The acting is uniformly good, with Cate Blanchett doing a very good villain, Jim Broadbent picking up where Denholm Elliot left off and John Hurt is always a pleasure to watch, even when he's on auto-pilot. The team that Spielberg usually assembles is impeccable, starting out with Janusz Kaminski that shoots the film beautifully and with the production design of the wonderful Guy Hendrix Dyas. All and all, this is a film that continues what the other films have set in motion, keeping the entertainment value high, even if at certain points the film seems to falter. A good watch.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Movie name: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince of Caspian
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andrew Adamson
Stars: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard, Sergio Castellito, Peter Dinklage, Vincent Grass, Pierfrancesco Favino, Damián Alcázar
Genre: Action, Family, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis: Following the unexpected success that was the first installment of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Disney jumped immediately on production of the following films (more sequels to come). Whereas the third film will have Michael Apted as a director, the first and second films fell on the lap of Andrew Adamson, previously known as the helmer of the Shrek films. This turns out to be the biggest weakness of the first film and now, "Prince Caspian". The first film tried desperately to be a follow up to the "Lord of the Rings" concept and look, something that this film also aims at, however the results have fallen flat and uninspired. Whereas Peter Jackson breathes life to his adventures, Adamson feels too uninspired, which falters the film (particularly considering the huge means he had available in this film). The actors have evolved from their wooden performances in the first film (much like the kids of the "Harry Potter" films), yet the scene stealing goes to the wonderful Tilda Swinton that manages to breathe some menace in the few minutes she's on screen. The film had a lot of potential, and you almost wish there was more to it, but the film feels lackluster and ultimately not very satisfying.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Speed Racer

Movie name: Speed Racer
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox, Paulie Litt, Rain, Roger Allam
Genre: Action, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
5 years after the critical and public meltdown that were the two final installments of the Matrix trilogy, the Wachowski brothers return with a new film and surprisingly it's a family oriented film, based on the cartoon "Speed Racer". The film starts by introducing us to Speed, a young boy that has the gene of race car driving - his older brother is a race car driver also and his father builds the cars that they use. After a dramatic family event occurs, we see Speed as an adult running and being hailed as the great new talent of race car driving. He is proposed a contract by this evil corporate conglomerate, that upon his refusal sets out to destroy his career and his family's opportunities.
This is a film that has been shot almost 100% with green screen, which means the work with post-production has been extensive and the special effects and eye candy will be a major driving force. Whereas the visual side of the film is almost overwhelmingly beautiful (the colors, the framing of the shots), the film ends up faltering in it's premise to be a family film. The screenplay is far too complex at times for a child to understand. The premise promised a lot, and while visually the film is powerful and impressive, the screenplay, the acting in general make it an uneven experience. Christina Ricci ends up being the real sparkle in the midst of all that glitter - all the other actors are either playing too serious, or too over the top - she finds the beat for a film that is about only one thing - having fun! This film is almost pop-saturated art at it's best - see it for what it is, and experiment!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Iron Man

Movie name: Iron Man
Year of release: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Bill Smitrovich
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Jon Favreau is a director that has demonstrated thus far that he can be very eclectic. From "Swingers" to "Zathura" he has helmed films that are mostly light comedies, but with "Iron Man" he has managed to accomplish a very entertaining action film, that is not paper thin on characters like so many other comic book adaptations ("Ghost Rider" springs to mind). Working with a wonderful cast, particularly the wonderful actors that are Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, Favreau makes a film that is intelligent, exciting and filled with enough eye candy to induce a light diabetic coma. Definitely worth checking out!

Hors de Prix

Movie name: Hors de Prix / Priceless
Year of release: 2006
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jacques Spiesser
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Following "Apres Vous" Pierre Salvadori returns with another small comedy, with the pretty Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh (who was also in Francis Veber's "La Doublure"). This is a comedy about mixed identities and finding true love. Tautou plays Irene, a woman that tries to find the right older man to bank her exquisite tastes and have a life full of privilege (aka a gold digger). When she mistakes Jean, a modest barman at a hotel, for a millionaire, she ends up giving him more than a night to remember - the poor man falls in love with her. Following this special night, Jean decides to keep the charade going, till all gets discovered - what follows is a comedy of mistaken identities and each one of these "fake and ruthless" gold diggers trying to find the easiest solution. The film always stays in a very docile and sweet tone, never really going to the places it could've have gone, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable comedy (which hopefully won't get remade with Ashton Kutcher).

Baby Mama

Movie name: Baby Mama
Year of release: 2008
Director: Michael McCullers
Stars: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Sigourney Weaver, Greg Kinnear, Romany Malco, Dax Shepard, Steve Martin, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"Baby Mama" is the first directorial effort for Michael McCullers, though not necessarily a first in the themes that it deals with - the odd couple and the pregnancy for a career woman (that immediately springs to mind Charles Shyer's "Baby Boom" from 1987 with Diane Keaton). The film however scores highly as it doesn't try to be something that it isn't - it's aspirations are modest, and it scores most of them mostly thank to it's great cast, starting with the terrific comedian that is Amy Poehler. Poehler has made some easily forgettable films bearable, thanks to her natural comedic timing (witness Mark Waters' "Mean Girls"), and here she is paired with the equally talented Tina Fey (as the career, straight laced woman that can't get pregnant). The cast also ads the hilarious Sigourney Weaver as an oddly mature fertile woman and Steve Martin as an ecological CEO (and these two alone could have a film just for them). The film ends up living of the combination of the two central women, how different their lifestyles are and how they both learn something from each other - but the real score comes from watching these talented comedians going at it with all they have. Worth checking out.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Blueberry Nights

Movie name: My Blueberry Nights
Year of release: 2007
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Stars: Norah Jones, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, Frankie Faison, Cat Power
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Following "2046" and his collaboration on "Eros", Wong Kar Wai went to the US and shot "My Blueberry Nights" which marked the acting debut of singer Norah Jones. Though most reviews have pointed out how thin the story is, the fact is from "Chungking Express" and " Fallen Angels" to the beautiful "Happy Together", Wong Kar Wai has always been a visual storyteller. His films don't usually have very elaborate screenplays, but rather rely on his visual sense and approach (which is precisely what gave him his fame in the early 90's, and made his director of photography Christopher Doyle very well known - he is replaced in this film by the wonderful Darius Khondji). "My Blueberry Nights" follows the story of Beth, who is trying to recover from a bad breakup, and that meets and forms a connection with Jeremy. Trying to escape her routine, she goes on a road trip hoping to find herself, along the way meeting different characters and dealing with mixed situations. Norah Jones composes a nice character, even if a but muted, but Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman steal the show. They both create interesting characters that add the much needed life to the whole story. This is a small film, beautifully shot, definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Street Kings

Movie name: Street Kings
Year of release: 2008
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Naomie Harris, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, Terry Crews, Common, Amaury Nolasco, Martha Higareda
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Following "Harsh Times", David Ayer returns to the directing chair, handling a story of the wonderful James Ellroy (who is responsible for the books "LA Confidential" and "The Black Dahlia" to name a few). David Ayer became well known for writing "Training Day" which garnered a second Oscar for Denzel Washington. This film doesn't stray too far, again focusing on police corruption in LA, but though Ayer has a great cast to work with, this film feels like a story that has been told before (and with better results). Though this isn't a bad film, the results never stray of mediocre, mostly because the director doesn't have the bite to really take it and make it into something indelible. The film could use a director like Martin Scorsese or even Steven Soderbergh, who would make this story their own. The actors walk a fine line between contention and overacting. Keanu Reeves does a good job, but the real downfalls are the wooden acting of Chris Evans and the overacting of Forest Whitaker (sometimes less is more, and not all characters can be like Idi Amin, for which he won the Oscar in "Last King of Scotland"). All and all this film delivers, but could've reached heights that otherwise are just too far away.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Ruins

Movie name: The Ruins
Year of release: 2008
Director: Carter Smith
Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey, Joe Anderson, Sergio Calderon, Dimitri Baveas
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Ben Stiller appears connected with this small film in the quality of producer. Unlike the comedies for what he is well known, this is a suspense/horror film, with the traditional young cast that suffers several horrible situations, one of them coming out alive in the end. Where this film actually ends up being interesting is in the sense that adapts a novel of Scott B. Smith, and the way it mixes the elements of suspense with traditional folk stories. The film doesn't go for the usual gore feast (which is a positive point), allowing for the characters and situations to develop (though not enough). Though not as painfully bad as the remake of "Halloween", this is a film that could've benefited from a more developed approach as far as characters and situations are concerned.