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 clich├ęs 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