Sunday, March 21, 2010

Green Zone

Movie name: Green Zone
Year of release: 2008/2010
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Jerry Della Salla, Khalid Abdalla
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"Green Zone" is Paul Greengrass's new film following the hugely successful diptych "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum". The film follows US chief officer Roy Miller as he is stationed in Iraq in the aftermath of the War and his attempts to find Weapons of Mass Destruction. The officer keeps noticing that all the locations his teams get sent to always have nothing to report or are simply empty. Upon further investigation, Roy Miller comes across Martin Brown, a veteran CIA agent who can provide further information, as well as Clark Poundstone a somewhat shady agent who knows a lot more of what's going on than he cares to show. What follows is Roy Miller's attempt to bring light upon a situation that is making the war explode in all directions. Paul Greengrass is obviously a very talented film-maker, who brings a kinetic energy to every project he touches. His documentary style adds a layer of tension to each story he chooses to display and "Green Zone" fits perfectly to that style. It's a film that lives from the war atmosphere that it creates and the energy that fills every frame is palpable. Where the film lacks some pertinent resonance is the way it portrays Roy Miller as a hero that brings the truth about war to the masses. The lone wolf that exposes the corruption of truth doesn't really fit the story and glossies up something that should have been grittier - much like Kathryn Bigelow's film "The Hurt Locker". Matt Damon again does a good job playing a resilient and stoic soldier as does Greg Kinnear as the corrupt politician and Amy Ryan as the resourceful journalist. A solid action film.

Ghost Writer

Movie name: Ghost Writer
Year of release: 2010
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, Jon Bernthal, Robert Pugh, John Belushi
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:After his last directing effort, "Oliver Twist" director Roman Polanski returns to the genre that always gave him great accolades and fame, the suspense thriller (that he did so fantastically well with titles as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" to name but a few). "Ghost Writer" follows the story of a young writer who is hired as a ghost writer for a former English prime minister, Adam Lang, who is writing his memoirs and whose assistant just recently passed away. Since there's a lot of money invested in the book the publishing house presses for a revision of what has been written and a substantial money offer is made upon which the young and talented writer embarks on the assignment. He soon finds out upon arriving at the house, that the manuscript needs a lot of work and he can't take it out without a tight security hold. As the young writer further investigates the life of the prime minister, he slowly starts to unfold a lot more than he expected, not only about the politician, but also about his wife and the death of his predecessor, who as it turns out may not have been a suicide. "Ghost Writer" is obviously an analogy for some very well known politicians of our days, but what is so smartly developed by Roman Polanski, is how the story slowly unfolds, revealing layers upon layers of deceit. The Ghost Writer slowly understands that the story is far more complex than he ever imagined and the clues left behind are almost too cryptic to decipher, but not totally. The film is very well directed and benefits from a great cast, with particular highlights going to Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams. A great film from a talented film-maker.

Alice in Wonderland

Movie name: Alice in Wonderland
Year of release: 2010
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Tim Piggot-Smith, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Michael Sheen
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Tim Burton's new directorial effort, after the fantastic "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is an adaptation of two classic books by Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass". The adaptation by screenwriter Linda Woolverton presents a young adult Alice whose life is about to change, since she is about to become engaged to a rather inept young man controlled by his mother. Alice when confronted with her decision, decides to put a halt on the proceedings and follows a white rabbit, who leads her down a whole and into Wonderland. Things have however changed since Alice was last there and the Red Queen now dominates the kingdom, having banished her sister. The Red Queen believes in a prophecy where a young warrior will come forth and challenge her champion and defeat her - Alice fits every part of that prophecy. It's up to Alice and the colorful characters she meets to define each of their own lives and fates.
Tim Burton is as always a very talented filmmaker. Even the most contrived and disjointed screenplays he works with, have a touch of his own universe and sensibility. That is the case of "Planet of the Apes", which even though is a failed film, still retains a lot of his elements and characteristics. "Alice in Wonderland" has a lot of promise, since it again it's focus is a character who is at odds with the universe she finds herself in, much like all of Tim Burton's heroes (or anti-heroes). The main issue why the film doesn't soar where it it should is due to a screenplay that doesn't emphasize the magical component that the film should have. The sense of awe and adventure simply isn't there - the screenplay focuses instead on the feminist side of a young woman coming to terms with herself. Tim Burton feels more at ease where the irreverent and fantastic characters really let loose, particularly the Red Queen as played by Helena Bonham Carter, who walks away with the film. The Red Queen is completely engulfed in her own power, but is also deliciously over the top and totally in love with herself and her partner in crime, Stayne (played by Crispin Glover). Johnny Depp creates another quirky character in his Mad Hatter, but ultimately doesn't have much to do. A good film that deserved a better screenplay.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The White Ribbon

Movie name: Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
Year of release: 2009
Director: Michael Haneke
Stars: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, Burghart Klau├čner
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:German film-maker Michael Haneke is back after "Funny Games US", his own remake of the same film that he directed in 1997. Haneke is one of the most interesting film-makers currently working, having directed "La Pianiste" and "Cache" to name but a few. "The White Ribbon" takes place in a small rural community off the North of Germany, where strange events start occurring. They all lead back to the children of the community, since they are all so repressed by orders and morality. We follow the story of the young teacher of the community as he describes the events that occur and how they slowly escalate and take over the destiny of the small town, as the first World War looms.
This film is one of those cases where everything comes together to form a perfectly tight cinematic experience. The screenplay and direction of Michael Haneke, trace a progression of tension and perfectly capture the look and feel of the small community in the early 20th century. The heavy burden of morality that is thrust upon the children and their subsequent rebellion are a perfect metaphor for the ideologies that came about in the subsequent years in Germany (namely the Nazi ideology). The cinematography is absolutely stunning and gives the film a setting that is simultaneously classic, austere, but also very modern. The acting is uniformly good. A great film to see and cherish.

Crazy Heart

Movie name: Crazy Heart
Year of release: 2009
Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Tom Bower, Beth Grant, Rick Dial, Paul Herman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Scott Cooper's directorial debut adapts the novel of Thomas Cobb about a 57 year old, down on his luck country singer named Bad Blake. Blake goes around the country singing in Bowling Alleys, small clubs, all the while desperately trying to gain the momentum he once had. Blake is also a chronic alcoholic and leads a lifestyle that is driving him to an early death. On one of his concerts, Blake meets Jean a young reporter, trying to make a name for herself in the music business. They both start a relationship that forces Blake to re-evaluate his life.
"Crazy Heart" is a film that has been seen and done before. Where it's strength lie is in the performances that it captures. Jeff Bridges has always been a fantastic actor and he really invests his enormous talent in this character. Bad Blake is a man haunted by failed relationships and by the fear of being alone. He has a son he has not seen in years and Jean and her son represent the restart of a life he almost had. Jean herself is a young woman trying to provide a steady life for her young son, desperately trying to make the right choices. Her fears towards Blake force him to take hold of his life. The film also allows for Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall to shine in small roles. Though not a fantastically accomplished film, it allows for it's actors to showcase their talent and artistry. Worth checking.