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.