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