Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Movie name: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Year of release: 2010
Director: David Yates
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, Rhys Ifans, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jason Isaacs, Peter Mullan, John Hurt, Clemence Poesy, David Thewlis, Sophie Thompson, Toby Jones, Rade Serbedzija
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:As the "Harry Potter" franchise comes to an end, the final film has been divided in two halves, to allow for a richer story development. The film picks up where "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" left: with Dumbledore gone and Voldemort spreading panic and attacking in all directions, in the hopes of catching and killing Harry Potter, the tight unit of friends has to come together in order to protect Harry and their magic world from total annihilation. Harry, Herminone and Ron go on a quest, trying to find objects that are important for Voldemort and can help in his destruction. All the while Voldemort's influence starts to spread to the Ministry of Magic and to the order of their world.
David Yates has managed to hold the title for director who stayed with the franchise for the longest time, having directed two films before and now the final diptych. One thing has become more evident in his films - as the series has progressed in time, the heroes have matured, the danger has become more evident and the tone also has also become darker and more menacing. The first part of the last film, shows the young heroes on the run, literally, since their safety is threatened everywhere they go. They have to find objects that allow for the destruction of their opponent and, more than ever, rely upon each other to survive the whole ordeal. The film has a different pacing than the previous ones, a slower tone, that allows the young actors to show a bit more about their characters and just how far their talents have developed. However the striking parts as always get handled by the wonderful talents of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, who excel as the villains whom everyone wants to destroy. The film boasts also a great cinematography from Eduardo Serra and a beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat. Though it's a truncated experience, it's still an interesting film worth checking out.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

127 Hours

Movie name: 127 Hours
Year of release: 2010
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemency Poesy, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Sean Bott, Lizzy Caplan
Genre: Drama, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:After the Oscar rain that fell upon his film "Slumdog Millionaire", Danny Boyle returns with another riveting film. "127 Hours" is based on the book by Aron Ralston, that details his harrowing experience of being trapped after a hiking excursion that went terribly wrong. The film starts by introducing the audience to Aron, a young hiker who is about to go explore the canyons near the Moab desert in Utah. During his excursion, he meets two young women, Kristi and Megan, with whom he has a fun time, showing them interesting places to explore. Upon following his solitary path, Aron unexpectedly falls off a cliff and gets his arm stuck and is unable to move. What follows are his desperate attempts to get off that predicament alive.
Danny Boyle is a very talented director: "Trainspotting", "Shallow Grave", "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine" alone proved long before his triumph with "Slumdog Millionaire". What he does with "127 Hours" is pretty riveting: he grabs a story that is told from the point of view of a sole actor/narrator, and he makes it engaging, dynamic and thrilling. Aron goes through a death-trap that is lethal, but we're embarking on that journey with him, thanks to the visual imagination of Danny Boyle, who makes Aron a real person, with aspirations, dreams, fears and regrets. James Franco gives a very good performance, imbuing Aron with an enthusiasm, joy and also fear, that is contagious. This is a film worth watching, not just for the testament to the perseverance of people, but as dazzling film filled with visual ideas.

The Next Three Days

Movie name: The Next Three Days
Year of release: 2010
Director: Paul Haggis
Stars: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Helen Carey, Jason Beghe, Daniel Stern, Aisha Hinds, Jonathan Tucker, Lennie James, Kevin Corrigan, Allan Steele, Trudie Styler, Ty Simpkins
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"The Next Three Days" is a remake of the french film "Pour Elle". Paul Haggis, known for directing the award winning "Crash" (and writing "Million Dollar Baby" and "Casino Royale" to name but a few), tackles the remake with an aura of suspense and drama, which comes in the tradition of his best work, specifically the wonderful and underrated "In the Valley of Elah".
"The Next Three Days" follows the lives of John, Lara, and their son Luke Brenan, whose every day existence is turned upside down when Lara is wrongly imprisoned for the murder of her boss/superior. John, a professor at a community college, becomes discouraged when he finds out the appeal for Lara's verdict can't be overturned, upon which he starts devising a way to liberate her from prison. Through a carefully devised plan, with lots of trial and error, John finally manages to put in action a way to make Lara's escape occur.
Paul Haggis has made a name for himself as a creator of stories with dramatic depth, where characters actually exist and are more than stereotypes. In "The Next Three Days", we watch the life of a middle class couple unravel, as Lara, an innocent woman, is thrown in a situation that is beyond anything she has ever experienced. That is what really interests Paul Haggis - the delicate balance that is life and how that is turned upside down quite unexpectedly. The film vividly depicts the family life of the Brenan's, but where the film falters is in giving Lara more than just a victim role. It would be interesting to see where Elizabeth Banks could take her character. The film bolsters good performances from Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson and a good soundtrack from the wonderful Danny Elfman. A good solid film worth watching.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Secretariat

Movie name: Secretariat
Year of release: 2010
Director: Randall Wallace
Stars: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Nelsan Ellis, Margo Martindale, Dylan Baker, Dylan Walsh, James Cromwell, Fred Dalton Thompson, Scott Glenn, Nestor Serrano, Kevin Connolly, Eric Lange, Drew Roy, Amanda Michalka
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Randal Wallace is best known for having written the screenplays for "Braveheart", "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Pearl Harbor", though as a director he has a few films on his resume as well. "Secretariat" follows the story of Penny Chenery, a housewife in Denver, who due to the death of her mother is forced to come back to her family's horse farm to help her dad and secure the financial stability of the farm. When Penny decides to race a horse whom she won in a toss, she secures the services of trainer Lucien Laurin to help her get some victories. Penny and her horse "Secretariat" end up becoming the underdog, the one no one expected to win, but who ends up winning races and people's hearts.
Randall Wallace treats this story quite conventionally, opting for a very traditional and family oriented film. None of these elements that he shoots in this film are particularly new, namely the underdog who beats all the odds, but thanks to the wonderful Diane Lane and the always great John Malkovich, the film ends up having some energy and spark, in what would otherwise be a very standard film. The Disney studio usually releases films very much like this with a certain frequency, but certain casts make all the difference - this is the case. Not an exceptional film, but still worth watching.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fair Game

Movie name: Fair Game
Year of release: 2010
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepard, Noah Emmerich, Michael Kelly, Bruce McGill, David Andrews, Brooke Smith, Ty Burrell, Thomas McCarthy, Tim Griffin
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Doug Liman has made his name as a director of big budget action films, such as "The Bourne Identity", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and "Jumper", but his initial roots were in independent films, where he directed the interesting "Swingers" and "Go". "Fair Game" his latest film, has a style that tends to be closely related to the one of Paul Greengrass (another director of the "Bourne" franchise), since the style is very much documentary style. The film follows the story of Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson, between the years of 2001 and 2003. The story introduces us to Valerie, a CIA operative who is in the middle of trying to verify the escalating arms/nuclear problems in Iraq. Valerie leads a double life, since most of these are top secret operations, that obviously have to be secretive to the people in her life. Her husband, who had worked for previous governments, now works privately as a consultant. When the second invasion of Iraq occurs, propelled by wrongful information, Valerie's covert is blown. The aftermath puts her life and marriage spiraling downward.
Doug Liman has a gripping story in his hands and propels it forward, utilizing the solid and stoic performances from Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (both of whom are fantastic and have played couples before in "21 Grams" and "The Assassination of Richard Nixon"). The film mixes footage from broadcasts of the invasion of Iraq, with footage shot by Liman himself (who was the cinematographer also) in different locations, giving the film an authentic and gripping look and feel. The film is reminiscent of the conspiracy films from the 70s, in a contemporary setting, anchored by strong performances and a pacing that allows for the story and characters to truly exist. A solid film worth seeing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Due Date

Movie name: Due Date
Year of release: 2010
Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, RZA, Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Following the huge success of "The Hangover", director Todd Phillips is back with another comedy, with one of the actors of "The Hangover", Zach Galifianakis, paired with the always great Robert Downey Jr. "Due Date" follows the story of Peter Highman, an architect who is in Atlanta on work and who's flying back to LA since his wife is having a baby that same week and he wants to be at the hospital for the birth. When he is boarding his flight, his luggage gets mixed with the one of Ethan Tremblay, a budding actor. Everything just goes downhill from there for Peter, since Ethan wreaks havoc in his life in every conceivable way. Peter ends up having to drive with Ethan across the country to see his wife, both experiencing different adventures along the way.
Whereas "The Hangover" had a fresh look at the dynamics of a group of friends, "Due Date" is a story that has been seen and done countless times. The two main characters are at odds with each other, one uptight and controlling, the other reckless and immature. The concept is widely know: both learn something from each other. Todd Phillips doesn't go for the moralistic side of the story thankfully, he aims the target at situations that are just over the top. Sadly, particularly because the film is presented as a comedy, they don't really work. The film does not have a screenplay that is irreverent and original, though the actors try their best to create some sparks. The film barely registers as a vehicle for the talent of Zach Galifianakis. A sadly missed opportunity.