Sunday, March 30, 2008

Loggerheads

Movie name: Loggerheads
Year of release: 2005
Director: Tim Kirkman
Stars: Bonnie Hunt, Tess Harper, Kip Pardue, Michael Kelly, Chris Sarandon, Michael Learned, Robin Weigert, Valerie Watkins
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6.5

Synopsis:
The term "indie" usually shelters a wide diversity of films, from those who get the backing of the majors, to others like "Loggerheads" a little film shot in under a month and that somehow finds an emotional resonance that a lot of big Hollywood productions fail to achieve. "Loggerheads" apparently follows three different stories, but they converge into a single one. The screenplay is very intelligent in the way that blends these apparently different stories, in different time frames, into a single line, where the fate of the characters all come to place. The story initially follows Mark, a young man who comes to a beach in North Carolina to watch the Loggerhead turtles. Simultaneously we follow the lives of Elizabeth and Reverend Robert Austin, a married couple whose estranged son has long lost contact, and we are also introduced to Grace Sheridan, a woman who's grieving still from giving her son to adoption 20 something years ago. These seemingly disparate stories converge to a single one, but what is really praiseworthy is the way the director, Tin Kirkman, allows his characters to build and to present themselves. These are all bruised people, who hide themselves quietly in the hopes someone can reach and somehow liberate them. All the cast does a great job, with Tess Harper, Bonnie Hunt and Michael Kelly all giving really terrific performances. Definitely worth checking out!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Paranoid Park

Movie name: Paranoid Park
Year of release: 2007
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Grace Carter, Scott Patrick Green
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Gus Van Sant is back in one more tale of disenchanted youth in America. Following the wonderful "Elephant" that continued and further explored the aesthetic of "Gerry" (co written with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), and "Last Days", "Paranoid Park" is another probe into the life of adolescence (in a not so overtly sexual way that Larry Clark approaches). If "Last Days" already felt as a stretch into this aesthetic and approach of film-making, "Paranoid Park" repeats what was already done, and to much weaker results than "Elephant". This film follows the life of a student who skates, and accidentally gets involved in the death of a security guard. The cameras follow the life of Alex, showing his brief interactions with the people that surround him. The film tries to be "an important art piece" about how youth gets corrupted and desensitized but ultimately feels self indulgent, in the sense that the characters are either moronic or non existent. Alienation of suburbia maybe the aim that the film tries to stab at, but in the end, other than the beautiful photography of Wong Kar Wai's regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the film feels empty and without any resonance.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Doomsday

Movie name: Doomsday
Year of release: 2008
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, Malcolm McDowell, David O'Hara, Nora-Jane Noone, Sean Pertwee, Craig Conway, MyAnna Buring
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Neil Marshall is back after the cult hit that was "The Descent". Whereas "The Descent" was a claustrophobic thriller, "Doomsday" clearly goes for high velocity - like watching a B-movie with more production values. Marshall wisely gets inspiration from great action films of the past, like James Cameron's "Aliens", John Carpenter's "Escape from New York", George Miller's "Mad Max" and the more recent "28 Days Later" from Danny Boyle. The film introduces us to a virus that has ravaged Scotland and left the country isolated and apparently devoid of any survivors. When the virus reappears in London, the prime minister sends a small team to try and get a possible cure in Scotland. since proof has reappeared that there are survivors and that they may hold the cure for the virus. The team led by Eden Sinclair, a resourceful Major, find that the survivors have turned the country into something quite different than it was. This brief summation of the film doesn't make it justice - the film is filled with a great mix of action and dark sense of humor. Even though not scoring in terms of originality, Neil Marshall is an intelligent director and orchestrates a thoroughly entertaining film, filled with action sets and finds in Rhona Mitra a cool and detached performer for his main character. Really worth checking out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Batman Films

Movie name: Batman
Year of release: 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Robert Wuhl, Tracey Walter, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
When Tim Burton made "Batman" back in 1989 there was an uproar in the casting of Michael Keaton (then mostly known for his work in comedies, amongst them the wonderful "Beetlejuice" from Tim Burton) as Batman. The success of the movie proved everyone wrong, since the film marked the year of 1989 like no other and brought back the concept of adapting comic books to the big screen. Though this film isn't a fully fledged vision of Tim Burton's universe, Batman here is a dark, brooding soul, in a grey, gothic and nightmarish city (Gotham City designed to great aplomb by award winner Anton Furst, who passed away shortly afterwards). The film counterbalances Keaton's dark tones of the Batman character with Jack Nicholson's over the top performance as The Joker. The offset of the main characters ends up being Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale, whose character appears as a screaming histrionic woman during the entire film. Other than that, the film is a solid adaptation of the spirit of Bob Kane's character.

Movie name: Batman Returns
Year of release: 1992
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Vincent Schiavelli
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Following the massive hit that was "Batman", Tim Burton returned to the director's chair for the sequel, this time creating his own vision of the character, within his own universe of offbeat characters in a universe that doesn't comprehend them. Since the first film opened, Tim Burton had directed "Edward Scissorhands" which was a further exploration of his universe. "Batman Returns" is in a way a continuation, since the Batman character, and his foes, the Penguin and Catwoman, are themselves creatures that don't fit within the natural normalcy of society (just the same way his heroes usually don't). The film turned out to be generally described as "darker", having less satisfactory results in the box office, though it was generally regarded as a better achievement than the first. I have to agree - the actors did a terrific job, in particular Michelle Pfeiffer as the delicious Catwoman and Christopher Walken as the greasy tycoon Max Shreck. This was again a dark fable, where sometimes the monsters didn't have to be physically different to show their villainous side and where heroes wore masks that hid their own ghosts. A very good film, always worth checking out.

Movie name: Batman Forever
Year of release: 1995
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnel, Drew Barrymore, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough, Debi Mazar, Rene Auberjonois, Joe Grifasi
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:
Tim Burton skipped the direction of the following installments of the franchise, and the direction ended up on the lap of Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is sometimes an interesting director, but he is mostly a very mediocre filmmaker, whose idea of direction is always to turn up the volume on everything and just hope things make sense. In the end most of the times things just end up not really working. He had just given Warner a good hit with the John Grisham adaptation "The Client" back in 1994, when he was chosen as the director of the new Batman film. His vision of the Batman character was almost entirely derived from the TV series of the 60's - campy, plastic, kitsch and with almost no relation to the previous films (there was also an over saturation of color, something that the previous films didn't have). The brooding, dark Batman character was abandoned, replaced by a vaguely homo-erotic one (including nipples on the batsuit). After watching "Batman Forever", the previous two films by Tim Burton feel as documentaries - everything in this film feels cheaply executed, though clearly there was a huge budget at the disposal of the filmmaker. The acting is very unbalanced, with Val Kilmer trying to stay true to the spirit of the character, but Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey both overacting to an extent that it becomes impossible to look or hear them after 5 seconds. Nicole Kidman's role is just window dressing (that year saw her finally showing her talent in Gus Van Sant's "To Die For") and Chris O'Donnell is as good as being invisible. The film feels like a big waste of talent, something that the following film would cement and almost put an end to the character.

Movie name: Batman and Robin
Year of release: 1997
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elle Macpherson, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Viviva A. Fox
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Synopsis:
This is the film that almost single handedly destroyed the character of Batman on the screen. Schumacher opted to cast George Clooney, at the time more well known for his role on the tv show "ER" and for his turns in "One Fine Day" and "From Dusk Till Dawn", after having a fall out with Val Kilmer. George Clooney in his current interviews always stresses how embarrassed he is with this film - and justifiably so. The problem doesn't rely on the awful screenplay, but on the vision and execution of the film. Compared to this film, some of the episodes of the TV show of the 60's actually had depth and entertainment value. The acting of the film is campy and dreadful, starting with Schwarzenegger and culminating with the beautiful Uma Thurman (bad career move for her). We also have time for terrible performances by Chris O'Donnell (pretty much hamming it up as he did in Batman Forever) and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Again, everything in this film is loud, yet the loudness can't hide the clunky, cheap and staged feel of the film. It is hard to believe that with that many resources this was the best work the filmmaker could achieve (and he went on to direct "8 mm", another mediocre film). The only reason why this film gets 1 is mostly because Stephen Goldblatt the cinematographer is always incredible (check Mike Nichols' "Angels in America") and Eliot Goldenthal is a wonderful composer.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Movie name: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Year of release: 2007
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Stars: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Tom Payne
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Frances McDormand is an actress that can do no wrong. She has been a consistently and interesting actress since her early work with the Coens (her husband is Joel Coen) all through her Oscar nominations and win (for "Fargo" in 1996). She plays a governess without a job in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day", a small comedy that lives from her strict presence and from the sparkle that is the wonderful Amy Adams (herself nominated for an Oscar with "Junebug" back in 2005). The film takes place at the beginning of the second world war - Miss Pettigrew has just been fired again, and ends up having to push herself to a job as a social secretary of an up and coming actress, Delysia Lafosse. Lafosse is juggling multiple boyfriends trying to find a good solution to her ambitions. In the end, love triumphs, in a film that has the charm of the classic comedies. Worth investigating!

10000 BC

Movie name: 10,000 BC
Year of release: 2008
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel, Affif Ben Badra, Mo Zinal
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Synopsis:
Roland Emmerich is one of the filmmakers that always thrives to create a big splash. His films always aim to be a big entertainment for the masses - sometimes he achieves it with some interesting results like "Stargate", sometimes they leave a lot to be desired like "The Patriot" and "Godzilla". After the huge hit that was "The Day After Tomorrow", Emmerich went down the history path and came up with "10,000 BC", which is quite possibly his worst film. Very different from what Jean Jacques Annaud did with "Quest for Fire", these prehistoric men have perfect teeth, chiseled features and seem to work out at LA Fitness. To top it off, there seems to be a mix of "Stargate" moments, with the pyramids showing up and apparently some supreme being being afraid of a prophecy that comes to reality when the surfer hero appears. The acting is terrible, the special effects are cheesy and after a while you just want the film to end. Definitely a film to miss.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Youth without Youth

Movie name: Youth without Youth
Year of release: 2007
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Bruno Ganz, Matt Damon, André Hennicke, Marcel Iures
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
After 10 years without directing a film - his last effort was "The Rainmaker" in 1997 - Francis Ford Coppola returns to films in a smaller scope, something that he always wanted to pursue, but that the success of "The Godfather" trilogy prevented him from following. I personally consider Francis Coppola one of the great directors alive, one of the great visionaries in films - he's daring, has always tried to utilize the best means possible to create cinematic experiences as memorable as possible. "Youth without Youth" however strikes me as failed experiment on his part - the film is not without it's merit, but if feels muddled in it's approach and heavy in the symbolism. Tim Roth always a great actor creates an interesting and complex character, but the object of his affection, Veronica, played by the beautiful Alexandra Maria Lara (who was much better in Anton Corjin's "Control"), feels underwritten and underdeveloped. This is a film that tries to capture the feeling of films done in the 60's and 70's (even in it's philosophical quest), yet it doesn't really connect with the audience - it feels too much a prisoner of the times it tries to emulate. See it with some reservations.