Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boogie Nights

Movie name: Boogie Nights
Year of release: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Melora Walters, Luis Guzman, Nicole Ari Parker, Joanna Gleason, Thomas Jane, Ricky Jay, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Penn, Alfred Molina, Nina Hartley
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Paul Thomas Anderson's second film definitely placed him on the map, with a risque screenplay, that probed the porn world of the 70s and was inspired by the life of adult film star John Holmes. The film follows the story of Eddie Adams, a young man who is finishing high school and working some small time jobs in order to make some money. Eddie catches the attention of Jack Horner, a director and producer of adult films, and following a dramatic exit from his house's parents, ends up being part of Horner's group of actors/performers who live under the same roof. Eddie experiences a meteoric rise to popularity in the adult films he performs, thanks to his natural endowments, but that crescendo starts to crack rapidly.
Paul Thomas Anderson's ode to the 70s, specifically to the adult movies from that era, comes with an aura of nostalgia - those were the days when the directors working on those films believed they were doing something for the sexual liberation, where there was still a concept of film on the big screen, before the video emerged and pushed adult films to specialized ghettos. The film shows the group within Jack Horner's house as a family that he built - Horner's films were for all intended purposes a family affair, all starring emotionally damaged people, from the beautiful Rollergirl, trying to finish her highschool certification, to Amber Waves, trying to get visitation rights to see her child. Though Mark Wahlberg's Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler is our narrator, the mosaic structure of the film, allows a glimpse into all the lives of the family that Jack Horner built. The film also perfectly captures the transition of the 70s to the 80s and how mentalities started to change. The film boasts fantastic performances from the entire cast, but the hightlights are mainly Julianne Moore who does a remarkable job playing Amber Waves, creating a woman who is vulnerable, trying to transfer her mother instincts to others since she can't do it with her own child, Heather Graham playing Rollergirl, a young woman who is just trying to find her own place in the world and Burt Reynolds, as Jack, the old patriarch who sees his empire changing but who tries to adapt to the world around him. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is simply stunning. A modern classic worth watching anytime.

The Fighter

Movie name: The Fighter
Year of release: 2010
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O'Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate B. O'Brien, Jenna Lamia, Alison Folland
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
David O. Russell is a director who has thus far managed to create a very interesting career, directing films that are personal, even if sometimes a bit flawed. After the debacle that was "I Heart Huckabees" (with his aggressive rants with Lilly Tomlin hitting YouTube) and the problems surrounding "Nailed" (who is still waiting completion and release), Russell decided to tackle the true story of Mickey Ward, a boxer, in a film made with a very small budget (and his third collaboration with star/producer Mark Wahlberg). The film follows the story of Mickey Ward and his family, brother Dicky Eklund, his mom Alice and his sisters. Mickey is a boxer, much like his older brother Dicky, who is now his trainer (while his mom works as his manager). Dicky had his moment of glory some years ago and is now a pale shadow of his former self, always doing drugs and involved in schemes that land him in prison. Mickey on the other hand realizes that for him to have a final shot at reaching something as a fighter he has to navigate his life outside of his destructive family ties. Mickey with the aide of his girlfriend Charlene, manages to start climbing with victories in successive combats.
David O. Russell managed to create with "The Fighter" one of his best films. The screenplay itself is not much different than any boxing film ever done, however Russell manages to infuse the film with an air of authenticity, almost documentary, that gives the story a breath and an energy that are gripping. Most of the film's strength lie in the actors, and this film packs a great punch in that department. Mark Wahlberg does a good job, underacting and making his Mickey a humble and strong person vying for a last chance. Amy Adams shows her range as a person with a strength and character that are truly admirable, but the film really belongs to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Christian Bale disappears beneath the character he's creating, showing the vulnerable side of someone who knows his chance has gone by, someone broken by life and by drugs. Melissa Leo also creates a matriarch with a strength that is ferocious, even to her own children. A great film, worth watching.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Tourist

Movie name: The Tourist
Year of release: 2010
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars:Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewel, Steven Berkoff, Christian De Sica, Alessio Boni, Daniele Pecci, Giovanni Guidelli, Raoul Bova
Genre: Action, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Following his fantastic debut with "The Lives of Others" (winner of the foreign Oscar film in 2006), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck decided to tackle "The Tourist", a project that went through quite a few number of directors. The film is a remake of the french counterpart, "Anthony Zimmer" that starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal, in the parts now taken by Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp respectively. The film follows Elise Ward, a beautiful English woman who is being surveyed by the police, since she has a connection to a man who stole a huge sum of money from a gangster. Trying to elude them, she strikes a conversation with a man she meets in the train, an American tourist, Frank Tupelo, a math teacher who is trying to overcome the grief of losing a woman. Elise is also following the indications of her former lover, trying to discover where he is and uses Frank to distract her followers. The relationship between Elise and Frank however leads them in a different direction and forces Elise to make some choices.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is clearly trying to capture the glamour and sophistication that Alfred Hitchcock captured to perfection in "To Catch a Thief" (with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly), however, the film falters in the screenplay. The story is clearly overly simplistic and though the actors are stupendous, there's nothing much they can do when the screenplay is very limited to usual cliches. Johnny Depp gets to be a subdued character with none of his usually eccentric elements, whereas Angelina Jolie is simply stunning as a woman in love, quite different from the characters she usually portrays (either strong or emotionally damaged women). The film also boasts a stunning cinematography from John Seale, but no matter how much everyone tries, the film simply feels like something that has been done before, with more ambition and dazzling results. As is, the film is simply watchable but quickly forgettable.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Movie name: Tron: Legacy
Year of release: 2010
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Owen Best, Cillian Murphy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
"Tron: Legacy" is a sequel to the seminal "Tron", directed by Steven Lisberger in 1982, which even though not a major critical and financial success, went on to enjoy a long life as a cult movie, due to the stunning visual work (from the minds of fantastic artists such as Syd Mead and Moebius, to name but a few). "Tron: Legacy" picks up only two characters from the original film, Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley, respectively played by Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. Kevin Flynn was, at the end of of the first "Tron", the new CEO of the company Encom. He disappears when "Tron:Legacy" begins and his son Sam grows by himself. Sam, now an adult, makes his presence felt in his own company, through carefully planned boycotts he deploys every year. Upon investigating his father's former game arcade, Sam gets inserted in the game world, where he finds out that his dad's creation, Clu, has been ruling the network of programs and games and his father has been a prisoner for years. It's up to Sam to rescue his father and alter the network.
The film is devoted to it's original counterpart - visually the film picks up a lot of the elements the original one had, but polishes it. All the surfaces are glossy, the costumes are impeccable. The film visually is simply arresting - the cinematography of Claudio Miranda is stunning, the soundtrack from Daft Punk adjusts itself perfectly, however the screenplay simply isn't as equally compelling. The situations are overly simplified, as are the characters. Jeff Bridges performance manages to bring some depth to both Kevin Flynn and Clu, but it's simply not enough. The film is nonetheless, an interesting action/sci-fi film, one where the action flows and the visuals are compelling. Hopefully next sequel will bring more substance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Black Swan

Movie name: Black Swan
Year of release: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Mark Margolis
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Darren Aronofsky continues his triumphant path, following his fantastic last three films, respectively "Requiem for a Dream", "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler". "Black Swan" symbolizes in a way, a crystallization of his themes, namely the obsessions that people possess and for whom they are willing to sacrifice everything, including their sanity and sense of self.
"Black Swan" follows the story of young Nina Sayers, a beautiful ballerina who is the utmost perfectionist, always training and trying her best to be the absolute perfection in everything she does. Nina gets a spotlight when she is chosen by her company's arrogant and seductive choreographer Thomas, to be the Swan Queen in a new interpretation of Swan Lake. Nina starts pushing herself even harder, since Thomas believes she is far too uptight and sheltered to understand the sensuality and looseness of the Black Swan of the ballet. To further complicate things, Nina feels a new rivalry from another dancer named Lily, who has just arrived from San Francisco and to whom everything just seems to flow effortlessly. To Nina she embodies all that she is not - much to her despair, she starts to believe Lily is trying to destroy her. Her attempts to capture perfection lead to unexpected developments.
Much like "The Wrestler", where Mickey Rourke's character Randy tried to an extreme to force his body to be the entertainer he once was, Natalie Portman's Nina Sayers, goes out of her way to capture the Swan Queen she's portraying. The duality of the character starts reflecting on her personality itself, with Nina progressively altering her behavior, being consumed by a personal ambition and obsession that ultimately consumes her altogether. Nina's mother, who always has lived her life for Nina and who projects all her dreams and frustrations on her daughter, ends up being the distorted mirror of all that she once was - a little girl who never grew up. Darren Aronofsky showcases the darkness that progressively taints Nina's world, from her body bruises and changes, to the events that she witnesses, creating an atmosphere that is progressively tenser as the film progresses. The way he and his wonderful cinematographer Matthew Libatique capture the nuances of Nina's world, serve to emphasize her fears and self doubts. The performances from the film are also fantastic, from Vincent Cassel as the narcissistic Thomas, Mila Kunis who excels as the liberated Lily, the always excellent Barbara Hershey as the overbearing mother and Winona Ryder, who freezes everything as the jilted Beth (it's nice to see her in such a great, yet small role). The film however belongs to Natalie Portman, she carries it with such an amount of immersion, from the technique of the dancer, to the duality of her Nina, in the spurts of menace that erupt from within her, that is a true wonder to see her work in this film. A highlight should also be given to Clint Mansell's soundtrack. An altogether fantastic film!