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.

Friday, August 7, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Movie name: (500) Days of Summer
Year of release: 2009
Director: Marc Webb
Stars: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Patricia Belcher
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:(500) Days of Summer is Marc Webb's first feature film, following his work for several different pop bands and artists. The film follows the story of Tom Hansen and Summer Finn, two characters with very different approaches towards love and relationships. Tom believes there's a person out there for everyone, someone that balances everything in your life, someone that adds something to it, whereas Summer is more disillusioned and wants to have "friends" instead of relationships. When they get together, Tom falls hard for Summer, believing her to be the one, whereas Summer is more guarded and doesn't hold any expectations about what is happening. During the 500 days of their relationship, we watch all the paths that a story between two people can take. Marc Webb's first feature is simple in it's premise, but the way the director narrates the story makes it interesting, captivating and engrossing. It also helps that he cast really two gifted actors, the always fantastic Joseph Gordon Levitt and the luminous Zooey Deschanel. Marc Webb is also stylistically interesting, mixing perfectly choreographed musical numbers, adding splashes of animation effects, that give the story the feeling of the joy of love and the sorrow of loss. Some of the usual cliches of the romantic love stories are there, but the main characters are well developed and everything is filmed with such charm that make this a film to be discovered!