Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Single Man

Movie name: A Single Man
Year of release: 2009
Director: Tom Ford
Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult, Ginnifer Goodwin, Teddy Sears, Jon Kortajarena, Paul Butler, Keri Lynn Pratt
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:The debut film from fashion designer Tom Ford is an adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood novel. It follows the story of George, a middle aged British man living in Los Angeles in 1962. George is a college professor, is single and his partner Jim has died almost a year ago in a car crash. George has never grown out of love with his partner and has difficulty living now that Jim is gone. The film follows George throughout his day, as he makes arrangements to depart.
The debut film of Tom Ford is an exquisitely shot film that follows the life of a man for whom the past is still his present. George relives each moment of his past life trying to grasp and hold on to things that are gone but who still haunt him. When George connects with his young student Kenny, suddenly realizes that life is made of each and every moment, his epiphany allows him to put all his life in perspective. The film is impeccably designed, from the shots who are gloriously photographed, to the costumes. The performances are high caliber, with strong points going to Colin Firth, for finally playing a character who unravels and feels. Julianne Moore is as always perfect, playing a woman who knows is after someone who can never love her back, but somehow can't help feeling compelled to try again. A fantastic debut worth seeing.

The Blind Side

Movie name: The Blind Side
Year of release: 2009
Director: John Lee Hancock
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Lily Collins, Jae Head, Tim McGraw, Ray McKinnon, Kathy Bates, Kim Dickens
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:John Lee Hancock follows his previous directing effort, "The Alamo", with another drama based on a true story. "The Blind Side" follows the story of Michael Oher, a gentle giant of a teenager, who had a terrible childhood, due to his mother being a drug addict and his father never being around to provide support. Michael has a low IQ, no family support and ends up in a catholic school due to his remarkable athletic skills. With no place to sleep and live, Michael gets picked up by a wealthy family, led by Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch, who has a lively personality and who fights to have Michael be a successful athlete.
This film is obviously tackling a story that has been seen and done before, with the inspirational and motivational grip being the poor kid from the slums who becomes a success due to sheer effort and the support of a nice family. The film doesn't really showcase anything beyond what it's modest ambitions are: a nicely done made for TV movie. Where the film does score is the performance of Sandra Bullock. She channels the southern charm and spunk that hasn't been seen since "Steel Magnolias", but still is hardly enough to justify seeing this film. This is a case where a more interesting director could have brought something grittier and more alive from a story like this. A missed opportunity.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Los Abrazos Rotos/Broken Embraces

Movie name: Los Abrazos Rotos
Year of release: 2009
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Ruben Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Angela Molina, Chus Lampreave, Kiti Manver, Rossy de Palma
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:The fantastic Pedro Almodovar has returned three years after "Volver" with another film that focus on the art of film making, something that "La Mala Educacion" also highlighted (and "La Ley El Deseo"). The film starts by focusing on Harry Caine, a blind screenwriter, but slowly changes its' focus to Lena, a beautiful young woman, who was an actress in one of Harry's films, some 14 years ago. Lena was involved with a very wealthy man, but had always wanted to be an actress. Upon doing a test screen for Harry, at the time named Matteo Blanco, she gets cast and they eventually fall in love. What follows is a game of jealousy between these three key players and other characters that surround them. As usual, the films of Pedro Almodovar are built upon layers, that slowly unravel, until you can see the full drama (or comedy for that matter) on display. "Los Abrazos Rotos" is no exception, the film within the film is a clear allusion to the directors' own earlier work, "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios". Revisionist but with a purpose, to flash out the work of Matteo, his obsession with film and the love for his muse (much like Pedro Almodovar). The film is populated with his usual actors and Penelope Cruz does a fantastic job again, playing the luminous Lena, torn between gratitude and a love and passion that are impossible to control. A very good film worth seeing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Antichrist

Movie name: Antichrist
Year of release: 2009
Director: LArs Von Trier
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Lars Von Trier has always been a polarizing director. His most well known films, namely "Europa", "Breaking the Waves", "Dancer in the Dark" and "Dogville" have all garnered critical acclaim, but also some downright harsh judgements. "Antichrist" which premiered at the 2009 Cannes film festival was no exception. The film follows a couple with a small child, to whom a horrible accident occurs. While making love the couple is oblivious that their small child has walked out of his room and accidentally plunges to his death. The husband, who is a therapist, decides to take the woman to the woods, since he feels she needs to confront her sorrows and pain. What follows is a slow descent into profound sadness, bitterness and alienation.
Lars Von Trier has mentioned he wrote this film while in a profound depression. It can be easily attested, since the dynamics between this couple escalate towards a terrible ending which we see coming quite apparently. Von Trier deftly plays with the concepts of evil, womanhood, in a way that is misogynist, but also represented in an intelligent and artistic way. The film has two great actors who hold nothing back, either Willem Dafoe or Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film is a representation of all that can go wrong in a couple's relationship, but does it so unlike anything else. A film worth watching.

Up in the Air

Movie name: Up in the Air
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, Amy Morton, JK Simmons, Sam Elliott, Danny McBride, Zach Galifianakis
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:After two first acclaimed films, "Thank you for Smoking" and "Juno", Jason Reitman embarks on another well adapted film that focuses on the current economic turmoil that most countries are experiencing. The film follows the story of Ryan Bingham, a specialist in downsizing companies. He is brought in when companies want to dismiss their employees. Ryan has no personal life of his own since he spends most of it on air, in hotels, going from company to company dismissing and firing people. On one of his trips he meets Alex, a woman for whom personal relationships are very much in sync with what Ryan believes to work. Ryan has an ultimate goal to gather sufficient flier miles, something that is put to the test when a new co-worker with some revolutionary ideas comes to challenge the establishment.
Jason Reitman smartly adapts and contextualizes the story of Ryan Bingham to the times of economic turmoil that are being experienced by everyone. However the film digs deeper and analyzes why Bingham is pretty much alienated from everyone. He has built a cocoon around himself that prevents anyone of coming closer, including his sisters. When Natalie comes into the picture, she starts to crack the cover Ryan has built throughout the years. Through her, Ryan sees how life can be actually lived and felt. The film is fantastically well acted, particularly by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Definitely a film to watch.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Movie name: The Lovely Bones
Year of release: 2009
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Rose McIver, Michael Imperioli, Reece Ritchie
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:After the huge undertaking of the great "King Kong", Peter Jackson decided to scale down and has come out with the adaptation of Alice Sebold's hugely successful novel "The Lovely Bones". The film follows the story of Susie Salmon, a beautiful young girl of 14 who lives with her family in an American suburb, circa 1973. Susie is lively and precocious and is finding young love. One day on her way home, one of her neighbors lures Susie to a trap where he murders her. Susie somehow finds herself in a limbo, afterlife, where she observes her family and the murderer who were all left behind. The Salmons try to deal with their loss the best way they can, but Susie's younger sister never gives up of finding the person directly responsible for the disappearance of her sister.
Peter Jackson is a gifted director, no matter what the material he tackles. Each of his films brim with the magic of love for film and "The Lovely Bones" is no exception. Jackson films the afterlife as a direct reflection of Susie's life and emotions. The special effects that are utilized are a means to express Susie's and her family's anger and disappointment. As always Jackson also brings great performances of actors, in this particular case from Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz (whose part is very underwritten). Though the film towards the end is a bit formulaic, this is a journey worth taking from a talented filmmaker.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nine

Movie name: Nine
Year of release: 2009
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Fergie, Ricky Tognazzi, Kate Hudson
Genre: Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Rob Marshall's third feature, following the multiple award winning "Chicago" and "Memoirs of a Geisha", follows the footsteps of his first and very successful film: an adaptation of a Broadway musical. "Nine" is in itself a musical based on the legendary Italian film-maker Federico Fellini and his relationship with several women. The adaptation that Rob Marshall and his screenwriters did, focuses the story on Italian director Guido Contini, who is a world renowned film-maker who is about to start a new film. Guido however is unraveling since his script is non-existent and he is filled with self doubt. It is the several women in his life that help him come to terms with his existence. Rob Marshall has begun his career as a choreographer and as such, his work in "Chicago" and now "Nine" is extremely polished and accomplished, however in this particular case, the narrative is severely undermined when compared with the polished look of the musical numbers. Guido's character is uni dimensional and completely one note: it's hard to create empathy with such a narcissistic character. The more interesting characters are the women in his life, in particular his long suffering wife played with great intensity and charm by Marion Cotillard and his luscious and dramatic mistress Carla, played by the fantastic Penelope Cruz. They alone elevate the film, but highlights should also go to Judi Dench playing the director's confidante and Sophia Loren as the ghost of his ever present mother. Daniel Day Lewis tries to make his character compelling, but this is clearly a case where his talent and the character don't match. A flawed yet interesting film.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's Complicated

Movie name: It's Complicated
Year of release: 2009
Director: Nancy Meyers
Stars: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Nora Dunn, Bruce Altman
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:Nancy Meyers new film following the success of "Holiday" is another woman's story, very much like her best film "Something's Gotta Give". The film follows the story of Jane who's been divorced from Jake for 10 years. The two remain on good terms, since they have 3 grown children. Jake has remarried to a much younger woman and they are trying to have a baby together. Jane and Jake embark on an affair, at the same time Jane meets someone available that may change her life.
Nancy Meyers films are always a slice of privileged life for middle aged women (for the most part). Her heroines are usually navigating through life as accomplished successful women, for whom men are a romantic necessity. Unlike Jane Campion whose women are at odds with the world they inhabit, Nancy Meyers usually chooses to populate her stories in a world of privilege, where her women are already successful and financially opulent. "It's Complicated" is no different - the film just tackles an older woman whose children are all grown up and who sees a new chance of embarking in a relationship. However Meyers chooses to treat this in a very light way, never really embracing what could be the challenge of finding someone when you're 60. The film has it's farcical moments, mostly due to the quality of the actors, particularly Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. For them alone the film is visible, but hardly recommended.

Music With an Impact - 2009

2009 came and went and one thing is certain: the music industry has changed. The CD format no longer holds the key to unwrap the music everyone loves. ITunes and so many online stores are now holding the cards, not to mention the sharing of music through other sites. Nonetheless the art and sound of so many talented individuals is here to stay and no matter what way they choose to display it or share it, their uniqueness perseveres. Here is a list of what I heard (and heard) during the year that just went by.

Ochre - Like Dust of the Balance (and also Lemodie and A Midsummer Nice Dream)
My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
The Invisible - The Invisible
Minotaur Shock - Amateur Dramatics
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Royksopp - Junior
Regina Spektor - Far
PJ Harvey and John Parish - A Woman a Man Walked By
Nico Muhly - The Reader OST
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Florence + The Machine - Lungs
Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (and Bright Like Neon Love)
Koop - Sons of Koop
Ratatat - Classics ( and Ratatat and LP3)
St. Vincent - Actor

Honorable mentions include Imogen Heap's Ellipse, Passion Pit's Manners, Saltillo's Ganglion and Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself.

Daybreakers

Movie name: Daybreakers
Year of release: 2009
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, Michael Dorman, Christopher Kirby
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:"Daybreakers" is the latest installment in the current vampire frenzy that seems to have taken over all films and TV shows. However, unlike the "Twilight" franchise, "Daybreakers" is a grittier and more horrific view at the vampire world and mythology. The film takes place in 2019, in a world dominated by vampires and where humans are on the brink of extinction. With the extinction of humans comes the problem of the source of nourishment coming to an end. The main character, Edward Dalton, is a lab technician who works for the largest provider of blood, desperately trying to find a substitute for human blood. One evening after accidentally hitting a truck, he gets contacted by an underground human group who puts him on a different path: finding a cure for all vampires.
This film from German filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig, is an unpretentious small film, that aims to entertain. It comes in the tradition of John Carpenter's "They Live", minus the social commentary, but definitely has the look and feel of a polished B movie. The film tries to showcase the greed of corporations and the way the economies will do anything to maintain their profits, but unlike John Carpenter who bit deep in his analogies, these vampires don't have much of a bite. Still it maintains the interest of the viewer and is a film with sufficient pulse to deserve being checked out.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Un Prophete

Movie name: Un Prophete
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi, Reda Kateb
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Jacques Audiard's latest film follows the story of Malik, a 19 year old little criminal who is sentenced to 6 years in prison following the attack of a police officer. Malik has little instruction, no friends and soon finds himself an easy target in jail. When Cesar Luciani, the crime boss who reigns over the destiny of the prison needs a favor from him, Malik finds himself in a difficult position. The way Malik handles the situation allows him to move up in the ladder of the prison hierarchy. Soon enough he finds himself doing all sorts of favors and developing skills and schemes to make his life inside bars more comfortable. Jacques Audiard follows the life of these people with an authentic look and feel, in a very documentary style. Malik ends up being a direct product of what he's taught: the life in prison makes him a veritable crime expert. What's so engaging in Audiard's film is the way he presents us with the way the consequences of our actions haunt Malik (and by extension ourselves). Malik learns to navigate the murky waters of crime, all the while playing the right games and with a lot of luck. The film is brutal in it's approach and also poetic. A perfect combination for a film that deserves a really close look. Very good!

The Brothers Bloom

Movie name: The Brothers Bloom
Year of release: 2008
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell, Ricky Jay, Zachary Gordon, Max Records
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Rian Johnson's second film following the great "Brick" follows the life of two brothers who excel as con artists, Bloom and Stephen. Stephen the older has always devised the tricks and Bloom has always been dragged along. Bloom is sensitive and shy, always avoiding conflict. He wants out of the scam business. When Stephen devises a way of scamming a millionaire heiress of some money, Bloom embarks along, but ends falling in love with the lovely and talented Penelope. When Bloom tries to shed his con artist skin, Stephen devises one last scam to send them all off, with unexpected results. Rian Johnson's film is filled with clever references and visual notes that indicate that his universe has a lot more stories to showcase. However this film in particular feels like the story was barely approached. Where "Brick" took it's time developing the story and the characters, "The Brothers Bloom" feels disjointed and not sufficiently invested. Rachel Weisz's character Penelope, who supposedly is a catalyst for Bloom with her quirky talents and irreverence, ends up coming across as an idiot savant. What is so interesting about the film is the relationships between the brothers and that alone could have been far more rewarding that intersecting it with the romance component. The actors are wonderful, with particular highlights for Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz. For them alone the film is worth checking. Rian Johnson is definitely a talent to follow, but this is a medium effort.

Sherlock Holmes

Movie name: Sherlock Holmes
Year of release: 2009
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly, William Hope, William Houston
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:Guy Ritchie's new film following "RocknRola" and "Revolver" is a story about Sherlock Holmes, based on the famous character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but not an adaptation of one of his books per se. The film follows Sherlock Holmes and his partner in solving crimes, Dr. Watson as they face a superlative villain, Lord Blackwood. Holmes and Watson are this time facing a criminal who claims to use the occult to trick death and who wants to rule England (and the world by extension). To make matters worse, Holmes also has to deal with the reappearance of Irene Adler, whom he was romantically involved previously. All these characters intersect in a plot filled with conspiracies, all for Holmes to tackle and sort out. Guy Ritchie has approached this film in a very muscular/action oriented way - this isn't the Sherlock Holmes from BBC with Jeremy Brett. This Sherlock Holmes has the wit and sarcasm, but also the physicality to employ it when needed. This modernization of Sherlock Holmes is however it's biggest downfall, since it makes the film feel just like most action films, except for the period setting. Having explosions, boxing matches with slow motion editing, doesn't add anything to a film about a character who surpasses these cliches. The strongest point for the film is the great cast: the always talented Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do a good job embodying these characters. Rachel McAdams doesn't have much to do and Mark Strong is as always competent playing the villain. Forgettable.