Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar

Movie name: Avatar
Year of release: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao, Matt Gerald
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:"Avatar" marks the return of James Cameron to the director's chair, following his previous documentaries "Ghosts of the Abyss" and "Aliens of the Deep" and since his last feature, the hugely successful "Titanic". The film, as has been widely reported, took years of development and implied the creation of new technology for the shooting itself to be effectively done. The film follows the story of Jake Sully, a marine who is taken to the planet Pandora, since his twin passed away and his shared genes are needed for him to inhabit an Avatar. Pandora is a planet rich in resources, some of which are worth millions for a company who wants to drill it to it's core. The planet is however inhabited by a race named Na'vi, who live in communion with the forest and it's creatures. The Avatars developed by Grace Augustine, allow for humans to take possession of alien bodies and explore the planet freely. Jake is assigned the mission to research the natives and try to get an angle for the military who are in the planet to assure that the drilling is done. Jake however falls in love with Neytiri, the young princess of the clan and has to choose which side to stay with as the tension between the parties escalate. James Cameron has a reputation for being a pioneer in terms of special effects and technology development and "Avatar" is no exception. The film blends live action and 3D in a perfect way, creating an entirely new dimension to the action taking place. The film takes it's time to introduce us to the main characters and to the conflict taking place. Once the action takes off, that's where Cameron's credentials as an action director come to the fore. The film is relentless and with beautiful set pieces. The most faltering piece of this film is at points it's new-agey tone, however as everything that James Cameron has done, his expertise as a filmmaker and storyteller surpass that. Sam Worthington proves to be an excellent choice for the part: his character is filled with sorrow, joy, love and excitement for the new world and new life he finds. Sigourney Weaver is as usual fantastic. A trip worth taking.

Brothers

Movie name: Brothers
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jim Sheridan
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Carey Mulligan, Patrick Flueger, Clifton Collins Jr., Ethan Suplee
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Jim Sheridan is a filmmaker whose career started in 1989 with the Academy Award winning film "My Left Foot" and that also includes other award worthy films as "In the Name of the Father" and "In America". His films usually deal with his Irish legacy and cultural heritage and how that defines people, but in his latest offering, "Brothers", the director ventures into remake territory. The film is an adaptation of Susanne Bier's film "Brodre". "Brothers" follows the story of Sam Cahill and Tommy Cahill both young men, whose lives have decidedly taken different turns. Sam, the older, is an army captain, married to his beautiful high school sweetheart, with two lovely daughters. Tommy the youngest one, has just been released of jail and seems to be a trouble magnet. When Sam gets sent back to Afghanistan, Tommy decides to help around Sam's house and becomes a much needed diversion for all, particularly when Sam is reported dead. Tommy and Grace grow closer, something that is aborted when Sam is returned back, upon being rescued from the captivity he had been enclosed. This is a film that lives from the dynamics of a family that has a history of conflict. The father who has a drinking problem and who has damaged his family life, particularly that of his sons. And then Sam, who due to the horrors of war can't come to term with his actions. The film doesn't anchor it's dynamics on the sibling rivalry, but more on the disintegration of a person's sanity due to the weight of guilt. The actors do a great job with special focus on Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and the young Bailee Madison. A film worth seeing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Paris

Movie name: Paris
Year of release: 2008
Director: Cedric Klapisch
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Francois Cluzet, Melanie Laurent, Albert Dupontel, Karin Viard, Gilles Lellouche, Julie Ferrier, Olivia Bonamy, Annelise Hesme
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Cedric Klapisch has carved his reputation with the hits that were "Un Air de Famille", "L'Auberge Espagnole" and "Les Poupees Russes". "Paris" again uses his trademark of following the lives of different people who end up intertwining and affecting each other (very much in the tradition of Robert Altman's mosaic films). "Paris" introduces us to Pierre a young dancer who discovers he has a possible fatal heart disease. He decides to pass that information to his sister, Elise, a single mother of three who works as a social worker. Elise decides to try to help Pierre as much as possible, namely trying to find him a date with a young woman who lives in the opposite building. This young woman is actually dating two men simultaneously: an older college professor and a young man. The college professor, Roland, has a brother whose wife is expecting a baby. All these people's lives are connected through Pierre and his passing days observing others. "Paris" succeeds on many levels, particularly in the close relationship shared between Elise and Pierre - and much credit goes to the fantastic actors that are Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris. Their complicity makes their sibling relationship touching and believable. Some of the characters feel a bit underplayed, but this is a film that tries to showcase the mosaic of relationships that can exist within a small universe and naturally some get downplayed. Still it's an interesting slice of life with a very good group of actors bringing everything to life. A film worth seeing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bright Star

Movie name: Bright Star
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Abbie Cornish, Ben Wishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox, Edie Martin, Thomas Sangster, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Gerard Monaco
Genre: Drama, Biography
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Jane Campion's new film, following "In the Cut", traces the life of poet John Keats, focusing however more in the woman that inspired his work and fulfilled his heart, Fanny Brawne. The film introduces us to Fanny, a young woman filled with spirit and with a strong personality, who designs and creates her own clothes and costumes. She's outspoken, strong willed and not shy to voice her opinions. She meets the quiet John Keats, who is living with Charles Brown, another writer, whom with Franny clashes constantly. However the relationship with Keats progresses and they slowly fall in love. Keats' shy and quiet personality bounces off Fanny's more effervescent and strong one, however he has no income and is deemed unsuitable to propose. When his illness appears, his friends decided to send him to Italy in the hopes the sunny weather will make him feel better. Jane Campion as usual in her films, follows the life of a woman to whom conventions are largely disregarded. Her Fanny Brawne comes in the tradition of her previous films and "heroines", namely Janet Frame from "An Angel at My Table", Ada from "The Piano" and Isabel from "The Portrait of a Lady". Fanny follows her heart, against conventions, against constant opponents. She's resilient and yet frail in her approach towards love. Jane Campion manages to create a beautiful film that is an ode to poetry and first love, taking the time to create a sense of proximity and closeness with the central pair. The acting is also fantastic, with Abbie Cornish doing a fantastic job as Franny, Ben Wishaw as John Keats and Paul Schneider as Charles Brown. A fantastic film waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Movie name: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Year of release: 2009
Director: Lee Daniels
Stars: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz, Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Lee Daniels' second film "Precious" has already won a few awards (namely at the Sundance Film Festival) and the accolades have been plenty. The film follows the story of 16 year old Precious, who is pregnant with her second child after being abused (again) by her own father. Her mother Mary is brutal in her treatment towards Precious, more interested in the welfare check than in the safety of her daughter (or grandchildren for that matter). Precious is forced to go to a special education facility upon the discovery of her pregnancy, where she meets Ms. Rain, a kind hearted and headstrong teacher, who is at the institute to help "problematic" teenagers achieve their GED. There Precious is encouraged to fight for her education and ultimately her happiness. Lee Daniels adapting the story of a battered and abused teenager, oscillates between moments of sheer terror and others where the taste is borderline there. Precious has moments of fantasy when confronted with horror - this however, unbalances the film more than it should. The director goes from a grim, dramatic and grey reality to moments of hyper saturated color and glossiness - Precious' dreams/fantasy world. However what should function as an escape, feels dubious in taste and takes away the impact of the dramatic situation taking place. The acting is also a bit uneven - if Gabourey Sidibe has a good performance, playing the troubled Precious, Mo'nique is more uneven. Her character is a monster of epic proportions and Mo'nique rises to the challenge, but her fluctuations make the character seem more mentally unstable at points than just plain vile. Paula Patton ends up creating a more restrained character, without sentimentality, anchored in reality, as does Mariah Carey playing a social worker. A film to be seen, even if flawed.

The Road

Movie name: The Road
Year of release: 2008
Director: John Hillcoat
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Garret Dillahunt
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Following the adaptations of "All the Pretty Horses" directed by Billy Bob Thornton and "No Country for Old Men" directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Cormac McCarthy sees another of his books adapted to the big screen. "The Road" directed by John Hillcoat follows the lives of a father and a son, in a post-apocalyptic scenario as they move towards the ocean in hopes of finding food and a safe haven. The father and son work as a unit, with the father desperately trying to protect his child from the despair that surrounds them, from the lack of food, to lurking menaces from other groups of people they encounter, to nature itself. The world is slowly dying and these characters are fighting to retain their humanity. The film portrays the end of days in a very somber and dark tone, starting with the look and feel the director chose. The cinematography is dark and greyish, the mix of digital effects is well done and does not unbalance the true core of the film, which is the relationship and dynamics between the father and son. John Hillcoat chooses to balance the grim reality with the colorless tones, with the flashbacks over saturated with color, where the mother is alive and where reality seems as if though it is a dream (heaven-like). Viggo Mortensen does a wonderful job portraying a man for whom his child is his world - he breathes and lives for the safety of that human being, who is an extension of himself. His pain, his hunger is all too apparent in his eyes, let alone in his emaciated body. Kodi Smit-McPhee does a good job portraying a terrified child who tries to escape the desperation that surrounds him by reaching out to the people he sees and meets on his path. Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall also make strong impressions in their brief moments, adding a richness to the story. The film falters in moments where a necessary progression and dramatic tension should be more prominent, but it manages to create an environment and add depth to it's main characters that definitely hold you. A trip worth taking!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Movie name: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Year of release: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:Wes Anderson's new film, following "The Darjeeling Limited" is quite possibly one of his best thus far. Adapting a novel from Roald Dahl (who also wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" amongst others), "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is on the surface, a story of animals from a field versus the humans who want to destroy them at all costs, but in reality deals with the dynamics of family, friendship and love. Mr Fox is a clever fox who decides to retire after his partner, Mrs. Fox informs him that she's pregnant. Mr Fox decides to buy a house in a tree and in the following years their cub grows and their lives are peaceful and quiet. However Mr. Fox feels trapped in his job and starts robbing chickens and cider from the nearby farms, angering the owners who decide to wreak havoc in the pursuit of the cunning fox and his family and friends. The film made with the traditional "stop-motion" technique, wins you over with the fable of the family unit and the extended friends of the central couple. Mr. Fox is the father figure not wanting to lose his ways, not wanting to settle for a life that will sedate and make him invisible for everyone. Mrs. Fox is the wiser voice, who sees that everyone has to grow and come to terms with their own individuality. Visually the film is beautiful and the attention to details and the sheer design of the characters is fantastic. There's humor, an intelligent script, a fantastic voice work from all the actors. A superb film!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ninja Assassin

Movie name: Ninja Assassin
Year of release: 2009
Director: James McTeigue
Stars: Rain, Naomie Harris, Randall Duk Kim, Ben Miles, Rick Yune
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:"Ninja Assassin" is James McTeigue's second film. Following the warm reception that his first "V for Vendetta" had, McTeigue has decided to tackle a B-movie staple, the ninja action film. The result is a cross between the traditional B-movie feel and the hyper-gloss and sophistication of a comic book film. The story follows Raizo, a young boy who is instructed in the ways of being a ninja since he is a child. Throughout his education, one of his classmates, a girl, shows him that there's a life beyond the walls that keeps them locked and for that she is killed. When Raizo reaches adulthood and his training is completed, he rebels against the "family" that tutored him and decides to battle them. He is joined in his quest by Mika, an Interpol researcher that finds traces of the mysterious Ninjas in her searches (and therefore herself becomes a target). McTeigue knows that this type and style of film is mostly aimed at battle/fight sequences, with a story and plot line that is usually very connected with the revenge film. What he does in this film is create a sense of dynamics, showcasing a virtuosity and energy with the camera that make the film quite enjoyable. Though the screenplay is basic, this is a highly polished B-film, that is contagious and unpretentious. As is serves for it's entertainment factor. Worth checking out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Education

Movie name: An Education
Year of release: 2009
Director: Lone Scherfig
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Sally Hawkins, Matthew Beard
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Lone Scherfig became well know as part of the Dogme movement that Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg began in Denmark. She directed the very interesting "Italian for Beginners" and "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" before reappearing with "An Education", based on the writings of Lynn Barber and adapted by novelist Nick Hornby (author of "About a Boy", "Fever Pitch" and "High Fidelity"). The film follows the coming of age of Jenny in 60s London. Jenny is an intelligent 16 year old who goes to a private school, but who secretly dreams of going to Paris, listening to more french music and leading a sophisticated and bohemian lifestyle. When she casually meets David, an older man with a taste in classical music, a whole new world seems to open up for her. David introduces Jenny to a new lifestyle, to new friends and in the process Jenny becomes a woman. Jenny ends up being faced with a situation that forces her to examine her life and choices. Lone Scherfig wisely chooses to focus the entire film in it's extremely talented cast. The story doesn't bring forth anything new, however the acting does make the entire film compelling, moving and indelible. Carey Mulligan is a highlight, since she embodies Jenny with an intelligence, but also innocence and wide-eyed optimism that a young woman has. Alfred Molina as Jenny's father is again fantastic and Peter Sarsgaard creates another morally dubious character who only attests for his great talent. A film well worth seeing!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012

Movie name: 2012
Year of release: 2009
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Beatrice Rosen
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:Roland Emmerich is back and with him a new example of big spectacle and special effects. After the dismal "10000 BC", "2012" follows more the vein of his other film "The Day After Tomorrow" that chronicled the events of a new Ice Age on Earth. "2012" is very similar to "The Day After Tomorrow" in the sense that it follows a shift of the planet's core and how that changes the magnetism that holds the planet and the tsunamis and earthquakes that follow. The film focuses on the family of divorced father Jackson Curtis and also on Adrian Helmsley, a scientist who raises the alarm to the American Government of the upcoming meltdown. Curtis accidentally becomes aware of the impending destruction of the planet when camping with his children upon which they all try to flee the big cities and head towards China where there's salvation waiting. The film makes no excuses for what it wants to present. It comes in the line of destroy films from the 70s, namely "Earthquake" which featured big stars and bigger special effects and set pieces. Where "2012" really fails is the quality of it's screenplay. It's all about recycled stories who have been seen over and over again, cliche-ridden dialogue and some mediocre acting. The special effects also oscillate between state of the art and some who just look plainly cheesy. John Cusack doesn't do much, neither does Thandie Newton or Chiwetel Ejiofor. To sum it up, "2012" is not as dreadful as Emmerich's previous film, but not much better.

A Serious Man

Movie name: A Serious Man
Year of release: 2009
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolf, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Joel and Ethan Coen return a year after "Burn After Reading" with another film, this one a more discrete story centered around a Jewish family and community. The film follows Larry Gopnik whose life is slowly unraveling before his eyes. He is a college professor waiting for tenure, one of his students has bribed him in an attempt to pass his class, his wife wants a divorce to move in with a widower, his children are in constant trouble and his brother is scamming and living with him. Larry tries to get some assistance from rabbis, but to no avail. Things just keep escalating and getting out of control. The Coen Brothers have always been able to create very unique stories and populate them with unusual characters in odd situations. Their best films display that uniqueness, from "Blood Simple", "Raising Arizona", "Barton Fink", "Fargo" to their acclaimed "No Country for Old Men". However some of their other efforts are unbalanced and highly stylized stories that ultimately have no bridges towards the viewer, such being the cases of "The Man Who Wasn't There" and now "A Serious Man" (not to mention some mediocre films they have done as "Intolerable Cruelty" and "Ladykillers"). "A Serious Man" is an interesting look at the life of a man, one whose problems simply keep escalating with him unable to prevent or control anything. It's the story of a puppet put through seriously complicated loops. However, no matter how beautifully shot the film is, it bears no emotional resonance, because again the characters feel hollow. As is, it's an interesting sketch of something that needed far more depth.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Box

Movie name: The Box
Year of release: 2009
Director: Richard Kelly
Stars: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osborne, Sam Oz Stone, Gillian Jacobs, Celia Weston, Deborah Rush
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"The Box" is Richard Kelly's third feature, following the critically acclaimed "Donnie Darko" and the not so well received "Southland Tales". The film adapts a short story from Richard Matheson, author of "I Am Legend" and "What Dreams May Come" amongst others. The film introduces us to the Lewis family, mother Norma, father Arthur and son Walter. Arthur works at NASA and Norma is a teacher. Early one morning someone drops a box at their doorstep and later that day they are visited by a mysterious and disfigured man who explains that the box is a test. If they press it, someone they do not know will die, but they will get a briefcase with one million dollars. After debating, Norma decides to press the button and that's when strange events start occurring. The most interesting thing that "The Box" manages to create is a sense of dread and impending doom that the director smartly builds. The tension keeps on escalating progressively, smartly letting the characters unravel the thread. The only problem the film holds is the fact that the narrative is too scattered and too many plot points seem to not fit. But nonetheless, the film manages to be entertaining and there are plenty of ideas on display. The acting is good, with highlights going to Frank Langella who creates a scary and menacing Mr. Steward. The period reconstitution is impeccable as is the soundtrack. Worth checking out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coco Avant Chanel

Movie name: Coco Avant Chanel
Year of release: 2009
Director: Anne Fontaine
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Anne Fontaine's latest film is a biopic about the life of french fashion designer Coco Chanel. The film introduces us to Gabrielle Chanel and her sister, both as children being dropped off by their father at a local orphanage run by nuns. From that point on we see the sisters as young women, both singing in a small club where Gabrielle charms a local aristocrat named Etienne Balsan. Gabrielle's sister decides to leave their cabaret act in the hopes of getting married to a man of means, whereas Gabrielle, named Coco by Etienne because of one of the songs she had in her routine, comes to "live" with him. Coco is unsatisfied and starts sowing her own clothes, always very practical and masculine, quite contrary to the fashion of the time. While staying with Etienne, Coco meets and falls in love with "Boy" Capel whom incentives her to start creating.
The film adapts a book about the life of Coco Chanel, since there are quite a few different sources to how her life began and her humble beginnings. However for such a rich and interesting personality, this film ends up being quite tame and uneventful. Chanel is portrayed more as a pouting and manipulator than the trailblazer that she was. To Audrey Tautou's credit, she does not try to make the character likable - her arrogance and determination give an extra dimension to the character. However who really walks away with the film is Benoit Poelvoorde whose performance as Etienne has a bit of everything: charm, cynicism, love, buffoon. This is a film that shows a pale glimpse of the life of a person who was an icon of the 20th Century. Hopefully a better film will come along to do Chanel justice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Movie name: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Year of release: 2009
Director: Paul Weitz
Stars: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Jessica Carlson, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Colleen Camp, Patrick Breen, Jane Krakowski, Don McManus
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:The new film from Paul Weitz adapts the well known book from Darren Shan, who is part of a series of 12 books. The film follows the story of Darren a young teenager, who is the perfect son. He is a good student, a good brother to his little sister and has always his best friend Steve around. Unlike Darren, Steve is more of a troublemaker. When a mysterious vaudeville/circus act comes to the city, both friends attend it. There they become acquainted with some of the entertainers, one of whom Steve believes is a vampire. Darren steals a deadly spider from Larten Crepsley one of the main entertainers, who ends up biting Steve. To save his best friend, Darren agrees to become part-vampire and work as an assistant to Crepsley. This is the beginning of his adventures. The film from Paul Weitz (who co-directed and created "American Pie" and "About a Boy" with his brother Chris Weitz), is an entertaining one that though cramped by a standard screenplay, still manages to retain a certain charm and enjoyment. The story follows the usual best friends on opposing tracks, but thanks to the charisma of the senior actors, the story retains a touch and an edge that keeps the viewers interested. The film ends up faltering since it feels rushed and underdeveloped, but nonetheless it serves a basic entertainment concept. The acting is uneven, but John C. Reilly is always good no matter what he does, the same going for Willem Dafoe who creates an interesting character. Worth checking without any expectations.

Amelia

Movie name: Amelia
Year of release: 2009
Director: Mira Nair
Stars: Hillary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Cherry Jones, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Abrams, Dylan Roberts, William Cuddy
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:Mira Nair is an interesting director with an uneven quality in her output of films. Her previous effort met with good reviews was "The Namesake" a film that dealt with her cultural Indian heritage (as does her celebrated films "Monsoon Wedding" and "Salaam Bombay"). It seems to be where the director is more at ease, since her western efforts like "Vanity Fair" and now "Amelia" have been met with disappointing reviews. "Amelia" is quite possibly her worst film yet. The film follows the life of celebrated and iconic "aviatrix" Amelia Earhart. She's introduced briefly as a young girl in Kansas looking at planes and later on as a pilot who is taken under the wing of George Putnam, an editor who decides to make her famous and make a profit out of it. Their relationship eventually evolves to an amorous one, while Amelia falls in love with Gene Vidal, himself an expert in the aviation field. The film follows some of the events of Amelia's life until her disappearance in 1937 while attempting to make the round the world journey with her co-pilot Fred Noonan. Amelia Earhart is one of the icons of American history and it's too sad to see a film that is nothing but a pale showcase of her rich life. The film tries to mix elements of "Out of Africa" and "The English Patient", painting a broad and rich romantic canvas, but in the end, it feels like a made for TV movie of the week. The cliches are all there, from the dialogue, to the inevitable lovers in the beach scene. The acting is mediocre, from the overrated Hillary Swank to Ewan McGregor, who is totally wooden in the film. The photography from Stuart Dryburgh (who did so well in Jane Campion's "The Piano") is beautiful, but this film is just totally mediocre and poorly done and conceived. Go see Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" to see where cinematic ambition and good acting can take a film.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quinceañera

Movie name: Quinceanera
Year of release: 2006
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Stars: Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez, David W. Ross, Jason L. Wood, J.R. Cruz, Araceli Guzman-Rico, Jesus Castanos
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's "Quinceanera"made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. The film follows 14 year old Magdalena, who we see at the begining of the film attending her cousin's Quinceanera, a rite of passage for girls who turn 15 and become young women. Magdalena has a boyfriend, whom with she has experienced some sexual intimacy, but without ever losing her virginity. When she appears pregnant, her father who is a preacher, doesn't believe Magdalena's explanations, forcing her to go live with a great-uncle and her outcast gay cousin, Carlos. Their little house is a rental that belongs to a wealthy gay couple, who get involved with Carlos with some unexpected results. The film smartly focuses on the mexican community, the sense of family that unites them and the traditions that define them. The Quinceanera rite that symbolizes the entry point to a new stage of a young girl's life, ends up being a catalyst for a series of characters, from the gay cousin who learns that love is more complicated than it appears, for Magdalena who learns her father is just another man with his shortcomings, for her elderly uncle that unites them all in his death. This is a small gem of a film, that details the life of a family, in a country that doesn't necessarily understands them, but which they call home. And that's all these characters are looking for. Worth seeing!

Where the Wild Things Are

Movie name: Where the Wild Things Are
Year of release: 2009
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, Pepita Emmerichs, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, Michael Berry Jr.
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Spike Jonze's third film, following his previously well received and critically acclaimed films "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation", had a long and difficult journey to reach the screen. Amongst extensive reshooting and other stories of executives at Warner not being pleased with the final result of the film, "Where the Wild Things Are" is premiering a year after it's original release date. The film follows Max, a young imaginetive boy who lives with his single mother and older sister. Max is an anguished child, mostly due to the feeling his family isn't complete - his father is an absent figure. In one of his rebelious outbursts, Max runs away from home and escapes to a fantasy world inhabitted by creatures that are very unique and very much like a family. There he befriends Carol, the leader of the group, who is akin to Max himself and who decides to make Max their king. The dynamics of the group starts to change, because Max isn't the fatherly figure the creatures all expect. Spike Jonze took his time to get the adaptation of Maurice Sendak's book just the way he wanted. The film is a look at childhood and the perception of what a family is, through the eyes of a child who misses a parental figure. Through his adventures with the creatures, Max realizes that love and the people who love you, are far more important than the ones who aren't there. The film is remarkably well shot (courtesy of Lance Acord) and it's look and feel are simply superb. Visually it's unlike anything else and it conveys the melancholy and the sense of astonishment that Max is feeling. The creature effects, courtesy of Jim Henson's studios, is also fantastic and very real. This is a film with an artist's vision, with some shortcomings as far as some character development is concerned, but still unforgettable. Two special mentions to the always fantastic Catherine Keener in another great performance and the soundtrack filled with great songs, courtesy of Karen O.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Zombieland

Movie name: Zombieland
Year of release: 2009
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Jesse Heisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Ruben Fleischer's first feature film follows a tone that oscillates between comedy and zombie/horror film, very much in the same way as Edgar Wright's "Shaun of the Dead" did. The film introduces us to Columbus, a young man who is narrating the story and who explains that the world has been overrun with zombies. He explains the rules of how to survive in a world infested with flesh eating creatures. On his way to Columbus, Ohio he takes a ride with Tallahassee, an older man with a low tolerance for zombies and a fixation with twinkies. They cross paths with two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, who initially steal their car, but whom they bond and eventually drive with on their way to a Los Angeles amusement park.
The film is filled with an unpretentious tone that suits it just fine - very much like Woody Harrelson's character, the film knows that the zombie sub-genre can go in many directions, and this one wisely chooses to go with self-irrision. The characters are thin, but the situations they all find themselves in are so over the top, that the tone that each main character has is just pitch perfect. Bill Murray's cameo is as always priceless and Woody Harrelson's character is tailor made for him: the smartass that is the ultimate badass. A fun and entertaining film worth checking out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Movie name: Jennifer's Body
Year of release: 2009
Director: Karyn Kusama
Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, JK Simmons, Adam Brody, Amy Sedaris, Chris Pratt, Cynthia Stevenson
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Karyn Kusama's third film following "Girl Fight" and "Aeon Flux" tackles an original screenplay by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, responsible for "Juno". The film follows two high school girls, Jennifer and Needy, best friends since they were little girls. Jennifer is the beautiful girl whom everyone idolizes and has crushes on, whereas Needy is the more discrete and quiet one, with a sweet boyfriend who cherishes her. When Jennifer decides to go to a rock concert with Needy, the band chooses to sacrifice Jennifer mistakenly thinking she is a virgin, in hopes to get the success they are pining for. Somehow Jennifer doesn't die and returns inhabited by a demon, something that makes her insatiable for human bodies, with unpredictable consequences.
This basic premise for the film, has the interesting concept of merging horror film with teen comedies in the lines of "Heathers" or more recently "Mean Girls", however the result is very tame and pale when compared with those previous examples. Diablo Cody has a talent for writing smart lines and quirky humor, but in terms of story development this film definitely has points where it doesn't hold much sense. The director can only do so much with what it has, and Karyn Kusama smartly holds the key to the film in the less showy character, Needy. Thankfully Amanda Seyfried is a good actress, and plays it low key, whereas Megan Fox's Jennifer has no humor or dimension - it is a walking cliche. The film ends up being a wasted opportunity and aside from some smart lines, it's neither scary nor very humorous. For some lessons on how to create something intelligent, please check Sam Raimi's "Drag me To Hell".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant!

Movie name: The Informant!
Year of release: 2009
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Tom Papa, Ann Cusack, Clancy Brown, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:The prolific Steven Soderbergh returns with another great film to add to his incredibly rich and diversified filmography. After the huge effort that was "Che" and the digitally shot "The Girlfriend Experience", Soderbergh has decided to take on the true story of Mark Whitacre. Whitacre worked for ADM in the early 90s and collaborated with the FBI in order to unveil the corruption there was behind ADM and therefore expose what became one of the largest price fixing cases in history. The interesting thing about the whole ordeal, was the fact that Whitacre was himself a fraudulent character, embezzling money and lying back and forth to basically everyone. Soderbergh is an artist that always visualizes stories differently, and with "The Informant!" he decides to use the tone of satire to expose a situation that is almost surreal. Whitacre is a character who lies back and forth and all over the place, that at a certain point no one knows exactly where he's coming from - it's simultaneously tragic and very funny. Soderbergh utilizes a tone that is very retro, from the cinematography (for which he is responsible again) to the ironic and great soundtrack from Marvin Hamlisch. Finally he has found in Matt Damon the perfect accomplice to bring the character to life - sporting a gut and a moustache, Damon finally gives a fantastic performance, better than anything he has done before. He composes a flawed man that deep down can't help himself with all the chronic lying and deceiving. He has good support from Scott Bakula, Joel McHale and Melanie Lynskey. A great film worth checking out!

Surrogates

Movie name: Surrogates
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Stars: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Jack Noseworthy
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Jonathan Mostow has forged himself a career as a director of action films that have decidedly a very B-movie approach. Much in the vein of what John Carpenter forged with "They Live!", Jonathan Mostow returns with "Surrogates" which has a great premise: people in their vast majority have ceased to interact socially, and have replaced themselves with perfect robot counterparts that do all their functions and jobs. There is a counter-movement that wants to abolish this way of life, and bring back humans to their every day lives. When one "Surrogate" gets killed, and so does his "user", the FBI is brought in to investigate the case. Heading the case is Tom Greer whose life has been touched by tragedy in past years. His probing into the case unveils a lot more than anyone might expect. The film has some traces that connect it with another recent big budget film, "I Robot" from director Alex Proyas, but "Surrogates" goes in a different direction. The film is an analogy for the alienation of human contact and the need to interact and feel, that is something eminently human. Jonathan Mostow is a director that goes straight to the core of things, very much in the tradition of his previous best films, namely "Terminator 3" and "Breakdown". Bruce Willis manages to create a good character, and his sad and tired gaze suit the character perfectly. The only falter the film has is it's own limited ambitions. As it is, it's a quickly discardable entertainment piece.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Movie name: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Year of release: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Mr. T., Bruce Campbell, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris
Genre: Comedy, Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:The first feature film from Phil Lord and Chris Miller adapts the book from Judi and Ron Barrett, of the same name, with a lot of success. The film follows the story of Flint Lockwood, a young inventor, who since a child always had trouble of making his inventions work and be practical, much to the dismay of his father. Flint lives in a small island that is going nowhere since their main export, sardines, stopped being sold. He decides to invent a machine to convert water to food, but due to a series of events, the machine ends up up in the sky, making it rain food to whatever desire people have. The story of the whiz kid ostracized by everyone, the acceptance of parents towards their children, and the need for friendship and love is all brought forth in the most charming way. Though not as sophisticated in it's approach as Pixar films are, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is nonetheless an interesting and funny film that is worth checking out!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thirst

Movie name: Thirst
Year of release: 2009
Director: Chan-woo Park
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin
Genre: Drama, horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Chan-Woo Park is well known to most audiences for his fantastic and unforgettable "Old Boy", that gave him the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival of 2004. His latest film stars Hang-ho Song, star of "The Host" as a member of the clergy that volunteers to be part of a medical experiment in order to isolate a possible virus that has been killing monks, and possibly develop a vaccine. When the virus kills him, a blood transfusion brings him back to life, with some unexpected consequences. His need for blood is constant, otherwise the virus comes back in full strength with mortal/deadly consequences. Simultaneously he becomes involved with a family he knew from his younger boyhood days, becoming increasingly attached to the young wife of his childhood friend.
"Thirst" is not a conventional vampire film: the same way "28 Days Later" presented a different concept of zombies, this film presents a different concept of vampires. The thirsty ones here don't have fangs, but are mortally sensitive to the virus that eats them away and to sunlight. Chan-Woo Park decides to make the film about the dynamics of a close family, and how the disease slowly eats everyone away, one way or another. Similarly to David Cronenberg's "The Fly" where Jeff Goldblum's character embraces the mutation that is eating him away, one of the characters that is transformed by the virus, embraces the difference and relishes the pleasure and liberty that it provides. This is a definite different take on vampires, that embraces ghost stories, without going the supernatural way similar to many Hollywood treatments of the subject matter. Definitely worth checking out.

Julie and Julia

Movie name: Julie and Julia
Year of release: 2009
Director: Nora Ephron
Stars: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch, Linda Emond, Joan Juliet Buck
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Nora Ephron started her career as a screenwriter, with great acclaim in films as "Silkwood" and "When Harry Met Sally". Her career as a director has also known it's fair share of acclaim, notably with "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail", but most of her films are always met with mixed opinions and reviews. That is due mostly to the fact that beneath it's quirkiness, lies a very formulaic way of approaching the stories she chooses to tackle. Her previous films, "Bewitched" and "Lucky Numbers" were mediocre ones, so "Julie and Julia" is a good effort, even if not a totally accomplished one. The film follows two parallel stories, renowned cook/chef Julia Child's and her husband Paul (in the 60s) and a more contemporary one, the one of Julie Powell and her husband Eric. Julia Child is introduced as a larger than life woman, with an exuberant personality, that contrasts with her more subdued (and smaller in height) husband Paul. Both are living in Paris due to Paul's work in the American embassy. Julia's need to occupy herself takes her to cooking classes and to a project of publishing an herculean book based on french cooking. Julie's story arc, is of a young woman who hasn't accomplished much in her life, and who starts writing a blog, based on the recipes of Julia Child, much as a form of therapy. The problem of this film lies precisely in this division. Julia Child's story is suppose to act as a mentor or tutoring presence over the contemporary one, however it ends up being the most interesting thing of the entire film, making the contemporary side pale by comparison. Julia Child deserves a film for herself, for a life full of interest and populated with fascinating personalities and details, whereas Julie Powell's is one that comes across as petty, whining and ultimately irritating. The unbalance of this lies in the director's hands who does not know how to properly position both story arcs. Meryl Streep is fantastic and excels as usual in her role, enjoying a great chemistry with the also great Stanley Tucci. The usually good Amy Adams does what she can with an underwritten part, whereas Chris Messina as her husband is irritating beyond belief (and playing the same character he has played in the past films he has done). This is a film that is worth for half of the story it presents and for some fantastic acting.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Movie name: Taking Woodstock
Year of release: 2009
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Dan Fogler, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Paul Dano, Kelli Garner, Eugene Levy, Jonathan Groff, Mamie Gummer, Darren Pettie
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Ang Lee is back after one of his oriental ventures with his previous film, "Lust, Caution" (the director also did "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Ang Lee decides to tackle this time Woodstock, and focuses on the experiences of Elliot Tiber, a young Jewish man whose parents own and run a degraded motel in the Catskills. Elliot is the head for the local Chamber of Commerce, and each Summer organizes a small music festival in hopes he will bring some attention to the local community and also bring some people to his parents motel (where he sends most of his own money to help them out). When Elliot hears that a hippie concert has lost his permit, he decides to contact the organization and inform them about their community. When it's decided to make that area the spot for the concert, things escalate and affect everyone, changing not only a generation but particularly Elliot's world.
A common thread throughout Ang Lee's films has always been the feeling of rootlessness that embodies his central characters, even in his most mainstream film that is "The Incredible Hulk". That is present again in "Taking Woodstock", where Elliot the main character, is trying to find his inner path, and also come out to his parents. His passion for Paul, the man he meets at the festival, and the liberty that the festival and the hippie movement represent, push him in the direction to be ultimately truthful to himself. The film is a gentle representation of what the movement was about, the chaos, the sheer impulse of everything, things that Ang Lee expertly represents. This film doesn't intend to summarize a generation and an event of such importance as was Woodstock, but it does show how a microcosms of many lives were changed and altered forever. He gets great performances from his actors as usual, notably the great Imelda Staunton, Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch and Demetri Martin. A film worth checking out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Movie name: Inglourious Basterds
Year of release: 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger, Daniel Bruhl, Jacky Ido, BJ Novak, Omar Doom, Mike Meyers, Julie Dreyfus, Martin Wuttke
Genre: Action, Drama, War
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Quentin Tarantino's 6th film ranks up there with his best, namely "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown". The film converges a series of stories, namely the Inglourious Basterds, the plattoon of Jewish American soldiers under the command of Lt. Aldo Raine, who are sent to France to kill as many Nazis as possible (and get scalps to be more accurate) and the story of young Shosanna Dreyfus a Jewish girl who survives the murder of her family. Around these two main characters exist a series of supporting characters, namely the German SS Officer Hans Landa, the charismatic and multi-linguistic officer bent on discovering any Jews left in France and uphold his position as chief of security for the Nazis. The climax of the film converges on a night where the future of the War can be determined, all under the symbol of Cinema. Inglourious Basterds, as all Tarantino films, is filled with references to other films, but what's always exciting about Quentin Tarantino is the freshness and boldness with which he expands his canvas. His films are about the power of word, that involves you, but the way he shows it and displays it, is purely cinematic and always inventive. Basterds has great visual touches, and again the editing of the fantastic Sally Menke makes the film have a rhythm that is simply perfect. The acting is uniformly good, with highlights going to the fantastic Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt who hams it just enough and Melanie Laurent. This is a film that breathes cinema and that is waiting to be seen frequently.

Funny People

Movie name: Funny People
Year of release: 2009
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Aubrey Plaza, Torsten Voges, RZA
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Judd Apatow's third feature film features his usual roster of collaborators, but the film has a definitely improved look, much of it due to the fantastic director of photography that is Janusz Kaminski. "Funny People" follows the story of George Simmons, a successful actor (comedian) who learns from his doctor, that he has a terminal illness. George tries to deal with these news the best way he can, and one night following a disastrous stand up routine, he meets Ira Wright and Leo Koenig, two young up and coming comedians. George ends up hiring Ira for his assistant, so he can write jokes for him but also help around the house since his health is faltering. Ira, the eternal shy and klutz man around the girls, ends up forging an odd friendship with George. George in attempt to have some closure in his life, contacts one of his past girlfriends, which sets off a series of events. "Funny People" comes in the vein of Judd Apatow's previous comedies, but has a more serious and dramatic tone to it. In a way, it reminds a bit of James L. Brooks trademark, but with more penis jokes. The character that really sticks out is George, not for being the obvious centerpiece, but mostly because George is shown for who he is - a selfish and self absorbed person, who feels the need to reach out when he feels alone, but not for long. The remaining characters feel very underdeveloped, particularly the character portrayed by Eric Bana. Whereas "Knocked Up" featured a tone that was endearing and heartfelt, "Funny People" feels surprisingly like a slice of cliches (the alone movie star, the wife that is unhappy, the young aspiring comedian who can't get a girlfriend). With the uprise of the production values, something may have missed in this comedy - a heart.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

District 9

Movie name: District 9
Year of release: 2009
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Bolt, Vanessa Haywood, John Summer
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:"District 9" is Neill Blomkamp's first feature, following some shorts (one of which was the base for this film). Blomkamp was initially going to direct the feature "Halo", but after that collapsed, he focused on "District 9" with the help of Academy Award winning director Peter Jackson. The film has an interesting premise: an alien ship comes to Earth and hovers in Johannesburg. When the humans go and investigate the contents of the ship, they find a huge number of aliens in poor conditions, upon which they are brought to Earth to a compartiment that soon becomes a ghetto (the aliens are kept in that area for 20 years and counting). With high interests from huge corporations (particularly arms manufacturers) in tapping into the alien technology, plans develop to move the aliens to a new compound, due to the riots and social discomfort that has grown. To supervise this plan, MNU, the main company delegates those efforts to Wikus Van de Merwe. What follows is a close approach of what his actions create and what the life of the Aliens on Earth is like. "District 9" is a very well done film, that intelligently mixes sci-fi elements with a political stance that is a metaphor for so much of what human history is about. It's very interesting that for a film that takes place in South Africa, where Apartheid lasted for so long, we have again the same kind of treatment for another minority. Blomkamp uses the "documentary" style to show the poor conditions and showcase the assimilation of the Aliens to the slums of the city. The film is smartly conceived, never creating the feeling that the situation is too offbeat or surreal - Blomkamp tries to retain a sense of reality and closeness to our own current events and political turmoils. A very good first effort and a film worth checking out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ponyo

Movie name: Ponyo
Year of release: 2008
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Lily Tomlin, Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Each film that Hayao Miyazaki directs is always a happening, and justifiably so. Throughout his career, the director has created masterpiece after masterpiece. Always a huge hit in his homeland of Japan, his films have extended their beauty and impact throughout the rest of the world in these last years. "Spirited Away" won the Oscar in 2002 and "Ponyo" his latest offering is another beautiful and magical effort. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid", the story follows a little creature from the seas, who upon meeting a little boy named Sosuke longs to be human and be with him. Through her magic, she comes to his little town, where Sosuke lives with his mother and father (his father currently away in the high seas on his boat). However Ponyo's magic causes an unbalance in nature, something that her choice to be human or return to the oceans can solve. This film follows familiar themes that populate Miyazaki's films: the relationship of humans with nature, how men destroy and corrupt mother nature, the relationships between families, the absence and return to purer lifestyles. "Ponyo" isn't as fantastically detailed as "Spirited Away" or even "Howl's Moving Castle" were, but it's animation and magic touch the core of the child in each and everyone of us. A true gem waiting to be discovered.