Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Movie Name: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year of Release: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Yorick Van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Julian Sands, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Sarah Appelberg
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
David Fincher is without a doubt one of the most interesting directors working these days. His meticulous eye, and superb direction is flawless, and after the wonderful films that were "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Social Network", he is back to darker themes, which he explored before in the fantastic films that were "Seven" and "Zodiac". The film follows Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has fallen from grace, after trying to expose a corrupt businessman without sufficient evidence. Across his path comes Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who has been battered by a hard life, but who is resilient and extremely intelligent. Both are united in an effort to unveil a killing that occurred 40 years earlier in a small island. The young woman who was killed and disappeared belonged to a very wealthy family, and though her uncle has tried since to discover the truth about her disappearance, it's up to Mikael and Lisbeth to unravel this enigma.
David Fincher's version of the highly successful book from Stieg Larsson, is simply superb. Fincher builds an environment of unease throughout the entire film, one that keeps the viewer always expecting something else. As the story unfolds and we are introduced to Mikael's and Lisbeth's lives, we realize that these people, seemingly so different, have a common core, in their attention to things that most people discard or don't look at. Rooney Mara in particular creates her character with an immersion that is truly fantastic to behold - her Lisbeth though defensive/aggressive is a tender heart who has been brutalized all her life. Her cathartic moments after some brutal events, graphically violent as they may be, are so important in the definition of the character. She reacts to violence as an extension of herself, as a way to protect her inner self. This is a film that boasts attention to detail, to the creation of environments, characters and that doesn't shy away from the grittiness and brutality that comes with life. It is also beautifully shot and edited, with high marks going to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and the great soundtrack of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A simply fantastic film!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Music With an Impact - 2011

2011 was a year that saw many great releases and where some of my all time favorite artists excelled by creating new and challenging music, that continued to expand their universe and reward upon multiple listens. It was also a year where new tools were used to develop music and to allow the listener to interact with it. Here is a list of the best of what I heard (and heard) during the year that just went by.

Bjork - Biophilia
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Stateless - Matilda
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Radiohead - King of Limbs
Washed Out - Within and Without
Lamb - 5
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Apparat - The Devil's Walk
Bibio - Mind Bokeh

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Movie Name: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Ivan Shvedoff
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Brad Bird made his name in animation, first connected with "The Simpsons" and afterwards directing "The Iron Giant", "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille". "Mission:Impossible" is his live action feature debut. The film follows the usual Ethan Hunt, and his team at IMF who have been framed for a large crime they did not commit. The responsible is a criminal intent on starting a new world war, something that Ethan and his disavowed team have to battle and deploy in a very short amount of time.
The "Mission:Impossible" series started in 1996 with Brian DePalma, featuring a great cast and a great tone, one that the following films had a difficult time emulating. John Woo directed the following chapter to mediocre results and J.J. Abrams (who is a producer on this chapter) directed the third feature in the series. Brad Bird successfully recaptures the thrilling component of the first film, while maintaining the sense of impending menace and danger. Much like Brian DePalma, he focuses his attention on a small team that surrounds Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt character, and lets them have an opportunity to showcase their abilities. The action is non-stop, without being tiresome. The film smartly establishes an intelligent villain, one that relies on intelligence and devious abilities, as opposed to pure violence or destruction. It's an entertaining film, shot on different locations around the globe, allowing for some beautiful shots from the great cinematographer Robert Elswit (who won the Oscar for Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"). An all around exciting and entertaining chapter in a irregular series.

Melancholia

Movie Name: Melancholia
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Lars Von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgaard, Brady Corbet, Udo Kier, Cameron Spurr, Jesper Christensen
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After the controversy surrounding "Antichrist", Lars Von Trier went in a different direction with "Melancholia". "Melancholia" tackles a doomsday scenario, one where a planet named "Melancholia" is on a collision course with Planet Earth. The film is divided in two parts and follows two sisters, Justine and Claire. In part one, Justine is getting married to Michael. During the course of the wedding we're introduced to Justine and Claire's universe, including their divorced parents, Claire's husband John, Justine's boss Jack and a variety of other characters. Justine is depressed and having a difficult time going through the entire wedding, something that becomes progressively more strained as the evening develops. In part two, Claire is confronted with the fear that her family life and life in general is coming to an end, since the impending doom of the planet crashing into Earth. Justine is profoundly depressed and seems unable to cope with anything, but as the impending end nears, she seems to find a new strength and resilience.
Lars Von Trier always uses catalysts outside the characters universes to create the dynamics that propel them, or that bring out their best or worst characteristics. The end of the world, brings out the clarity in Justine, forcing her to surpass her bleak depression state. Claire on the other end, fights to keep her family unit and everyone around her happy and content. Both sisters almost sit on opposing ranges, but come to terms with themselves and each other as the collapse nears. The film is beautifully shot by Manuel Alberto Claro, and the performances are fantastic, as is usual in Von Trier's films. Kirsten Dunst is a revelation, creating a character that goes from wide-eyed and sunny, to someone profoundly depressed and deprived of life. Charlotte Gainsbourg continues her path of portraying pained characters. Both make for an engaging dynamic. Though not one of Lars Von Trier's best, this is still a good film worth watching!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Young Adult

Movie Name: Young Adult
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Louisa Krause
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Jason Reitman is back, following the huge hit that was "Up in the Air" with George Clooney. "Young Adult" teams him back with Diablo Cody, the screenwriter whom he worked with on "Juno", which also garnered lots of accolades and awards. "Young Adult" follows the life of Mavis Gary, a writer for young adult books, who has gone through a divorce and who's an alcoholic. Upon knowing that her high school boyfriend and his wife had a new baby, Mavis decides to go back to her old town and win him back. Mavis wants to get back the life she had when she was popular and younger, and nothing will deter her from it.
Jason Reitman again tackles a character that seems at odds with the world. All the characters from his previous films are either too smart for their environment or uncompromising in their own choices. Mavis is a woman who has never really grown up, who knows she has reached a dead end in her life, but who doesn't want to deal with any problems. Mavis has checked herself out from any type of responsibility for her life. Jason Reitman smartly makes the character interact with Matt Freehauf, an old friend from high school who had troubling issues of his own, and who is a surrogate conscience. Mavis however is not one cliche character who has an epiphany and suddenly her life is transformed - she continues to be flawed and deeply human. That's what makes this film so enticing and interesting. Charlize Theron is fantastic as Mavis Gary, showing the real extent of her delusion and bitterness. As she did in "Monster" (the film from Patty Jenkins that won her the Oscar), she goes beyond her beauty to showcase the depth of a real person. A good film not to be missed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

Movie Name: My Week with Marilyn
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Simon Curtis
Stars: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Michael Kitchen, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Philip Jackson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Simon Curtis has made his career directing TV movies and several television shows for the BBC. His new feature "My Week with Marilyn" is again financed by BBC Films, and adapts a memoir/diary of Colin Clark. Colin was a production assistant on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier's "The Prince and the Showgirl" which featured a young Marilyn Monroe, then at the height of her popularity and with all the problems dealing with her fame and love life. Colin is a young man who becomes a confidante to the beautiful star, and between them both grows an intimate relationship of trust, that is severed when Marilyn finishes the film and goes back to her life in Hollywood.
"My Week with Marilyn" is a brief insight, seen from a distance to the world of Marilyn Monroe when she was in England shooting the film with Sir Laurence Olivier. Simon Curtis allows just a bit of insight as to why Sir Laurence invited Marilyn to be his co-star, and all of her insecurities and problems, when she was at the zenith of her fame. The film however never probes very deep to what is the real dynamics of Marilyn, or for that matter Colin or any of the other characters. The film is very slight in it's approach, never giving much depth and exploring any conflict. As is, it's an interesting illustration of a period that has gone by with a star that fascinated millions. The performances of Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are fantastic, and for that alone the film is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Descendants

Movie Name: The Descendants
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Robert Forster, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Michael Ontkean, Matt Corboy, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Alexander Payne's new film is the adaptation of the book "The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The story follows the life of Matt King, a well established lawyer in Hawaii, whose wife suffers a fatal boating accident. Following the accident, Matt has to learn to deal with his young daughters, and discovers his wife had been unfaithful to him. Matt also has a large real estate deal going on that consumes his time and focus.
Alexander Payne is an interesting director whose previous film, "Sideways" had a great critical reception. "The Descendants" continues to explore and expand his universe, with characters who always seem trampled by a reality that is overbearing towards them. These characters somehow always find a way to cope and overcome their discouraging obstacles. That occurred in "About Schmidt" and also "Election". His heroes are every day men, trying to adapt to realities that have changed without them accompanying that change. The film features great performances from George Clooney and Shailene Woodley. Clooney in particular imbues his character with a mix of sadness, surprise and pain that makes his Matt King all the more human and reachable. This is a film that smartly encompasses a theme as dark as death and opposes it with the luxurious joy and life that seems to be all around in Hawaii. A good film worth watching.

Hugo

Movie Name: Hugo
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Emil Lager, Kevin Eldon 
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
After the great "Shutter Island" with Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese changes gears again, and tackles a different style of film in his already fantastic career. "Hugo" is an adaptation of Brian Selznick's book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", and follows the story of young Hugo, who is a lonely orphan in charge of keeping the clocks of the main train station in Paris working (in the 1930s). Hugo's father was a watchmaker and instilled that passion in him. Hugo is also trying to fix an automaton that his father discovered. He believes the machine holds a message from his late father, but it actually leads him down another path. He finds out about George Melies and his young goddaughter. Their encounter changes all their lives.
Martin Scorsese has been a fierce promoter of film preservation for a long time. His encyclopedic knowledge of film history and devotion to classic film has been well known. "Hugo" starts as a story about a young orphan trying to desperately maintain contact with his long lost father, but it slowly becomes an ode to the story of films, the long forgotten masters of silent film, in particular George Melies. The film is touching, heartwarming, beautifully shot and edited, and is a true ode to the joy of filmmaking, to the art of illusion and entertainment. There is an attention to each frame that fills this film with a beauty that only Martin Scorsese can instill within his films. Though the film does have a screenplay that sometimes falls under some cliches (particularly the Sacha Baron Cohen character), the overall experience is one of wonder and beauty. A great film not to be missed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

J Edgar

Movie Name: J. Edgar
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Zach Grenier, Ed Westwick, Denis O'Hare, Damon Herriman, Lea Thompson, Christopher Shyer, Josh Hamilton
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Following his previous effort "Hereafter", Clint Eastwood is back, tackling another period piece, much like what he has previously done in "Bird" and "Changeling" to name but a few of his extensive career. "J Edgar" follows episodes of the life of controversial figure, J. Edgar Hoover, one of they key founders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The film oscillates between showing Hoover in his final days as head of the Bureau (in the early 70s) and when he started his official career (immediately following the end of the First World War). The film also focuses on his relationship with Clyde Tolson, his main deputy with whom he had a very close and intimate relationship, and his volatile personality which made him distort and lie about facts in an attempt to seize more attention to himself.
Clint Eastwood is a director who usually focuses his attention on characters that emerge as reluctant heroes, or people thrown in situations that are overwhelming, but that they eventually overcome. Working with a script from Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the fantastic "Milk" (directed by Gus Van Sant), Eastwood focuses his attention on J Edgar Hoover, a man who is for all intended purposes a divisive figure (and not his usual "hero"). The film is not a traditional biopic, since it focuses on specific cases in his life, namely the Lindbergh baby case, and offers not much insight to who the man really was. The screenplay ends up not probing deeply into the man's life and as such, the film feels like a snapshot seen from a distance. There is no conflict or dramatic peak to a story that is ultimately unrewarding. Leonardo DiCaprio gives another fantastic performance as a lonely man, eager to please his mom, while the always excellent Naomi Watts has little to do with her character. This is a film that could have offered much more but that ultimately feels a bit underwhelming.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend

Movie Name: Weekend
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Andrew Haigh
Stars: Tom Cullen, Chris New, Laura Freeman, Vauxhall Jermaine
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"Weekend" is Andrew Haigh's long feature debut, following shorts and a docudrama and an extensive experience as an assistant editor. The film follows the story of Russell, a young man who while out in a club, meets Glen. What initially starts as a sexual encounter, slowly progresses to something more profound, as both young men start learning more about each other. That process however comes to a halt, once Glen reveals he's moving to America to pursue his art studies.
Andrew Haigh has built with "Weekend" a film that is insightful, naturalistic and intimistic. The viewer becomes almost a third person, viewing a relationship blossom and grow from what is apparently a casual encounter. The film lives from their closeness, their interactions. Both actors are great, Tom Cullen and Chris New, create characters that are flawed, real and anguished. This is a small gem of a film waiting to be discovered.

La Piel que Habito/The Skin I Live In

Movie Name: La Piel que Habito
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Robert Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Luis Gomez, Blanca Suarez, Agustin Almodovar, Isabel Blanco
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Pedro Almodovar is back, after the great "Los Abrazos Rotos". "La Piel que Habito" is an adaptation of the Thierry Jonquet's book "Tarantula/Migalle" and follows the story of a brilliant surgeon named Robert Ledgard. Robert's life is touched by tragedy, since his wife committed suicide, following a horrible accident, something that ends up touching the life of his daughter, Norma, who eventually comits suicide as well (following a rape attempt). Robert's grief makes him devise a plan to get back at the person who attacked his daughter.
Almodovar is a director who has is own universe. That universe keeps his stories intersecting throughout his directorial career. "La Piel que Habito" has elements from "Matador" and "Law of Desire" and even "Kika", but weaves a story that is simultaneously familiar and unique. Robert's thirst for revenge leads him down the path of recreating someone he lost, to make someone else adapt to another skin. These are themes that Almodovar touches throughout his career, and though "La Piel que Habito" may seem like a vengeance story, in the end, it's more a story about our true identities, what truly defines us. The film is fantastically well directed as usual and features very good performances from Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes. A great film worth watching!

Immortals

Movie Name: Immortals
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Tarsem Singh
Stars: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Joseph Morgan, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz, Daniel Sharman, Alan Van Sprang
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Tarsem Singh has made his name as a director of commercials. His previous two feature films, "The Cell" and "The Fall", have been met with divisive reviews, but one underlying opinion was the unique visuals that populated both films. That unique visual flair is something that is back on "Immortals", which follows the story of Theseus, who is chosen by Zeus, a God from Olympus, to battle the king Hyperion, who is bent on releasing Titans, creatures who can battle and destroy the Gods. Theseus sees his village being destroyed and his mother being killed, which sets him on a path to battle Hyperion, with the aid of a beautiful Oracle named Phaedra. 
"Immortals" is a dynamic and visually ravishing film. The director has mentioned that he tried to create a film that is visually similar to the artwork of Caravaggio, and that comes across clearly in the film. Unlike Zack Snyder's "300" which was hyper stylized and very much an adaptation of the graphic novel (by Frank Miller), "Immortals" tries to build something that is more elaborate and artistically minded. If visually that works fantastically well, on the narrative side that never really is accomplished. The screenplay and all the characters are paper thin - there is no depth or much novelty to the way the characters are presented. Sadly, there's only so much a director can do when the screenplay is populated by cliches. The film has stunning cinematography, art direction, though the actors never really achieve anything beyond mediocrity. A film worth watching for it's aesthetic pleasure and not much else.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Margin Call

Movie Name: Margin Call
Year of Release: 2011
Director: J.C. Chandor
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Aasif Mandvi, Ashley Williams
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"Margin Call" follows the story of a group of characters who are brought together, by a meltdown in an Investment Bank. The film introduces us to a large corporation that is going through a series of layoffs. One of them is Eric Dale, a senior analyst, who before leaving warns one of his employees that he's been working on a big project that is important for him to finalize. This employee, Peter Sullivan, finishes that project, and much to his shock, verifies that the company itself is in serious problems. In order to salvage the situation, a series of important players are brought in to tackle the ordeal.
J.C. Chandor in his first feature, builds a film that is pertinent, suspenseful and dramatically powerful, anchored in some great performances from a strong cast. The film uses the ripple effect of how a company and the decisions that a few take, can destroy the economy of a country (and ultimately countries). The story is a thinly veiled representation of how the economic meltdown of 2008 came to take place. The high risks of finance, mortgages, which can hardly be considered dynamic, create a sense of impending doom in the film, as the hours pass by and the players that are brought in assess the situation in order to salvage what can be saved. The cast is uniformly great, but special highlight goes to Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons, both of whom are superb as the opposing faces of the same quarter. A good film worth watching!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rum Diary

Movie Name: The Rum Diary
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Bruce Robinson
Stars: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway, Karen Austin
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"The Rum Diary" is an adaptation of a Hunter S. Thompson novel, following another well known book of his that was also adapted to the screen, the infamous "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", directed by Terry Gilliam. This project has been a favorite of Johnny Depp, who was a close friend of the writer, and who plays a thinly veiled version of the author in the film. "The Rum Diary" follows the story of Paul Kemp, an American journalist who arrives in Puerto Rico. The newspaper that employs him is chaotic and soon Kemp finds himself immersed in a shady situation with a suspicious man named Sanderson and immersed in alcohol and other substances which don't help him navigate the murky waters of Puerto Rico. With the help of his friend Sala and the unreliable Moburg, Kemp tries to expose some of the truth lying beneath the cool waters and free-wheeling alcohol of Puerto Rico.
Bruce Robinson has made his name as an actor, writer and director, though his output has been few and not very consistent. Prior to "The Rum Diary", Bruce Robinson directed "Jennifer 8" and the well known "Whitnail and I" which made him a well known director. He manages to bring the story of "The Rum Diary" vividly to life, thanks to a good cast (though Amber Heard still has a lot to go). Though the film does not focus on uncharted territory (the eternal alcoholic who barely functions), Johnny Depp makes his Paul Kemp an adorable under-dog, who always finds himself in bad situations. The period the film takes place, 1960, allows it to bring back the feeling of paranoia that was felt (the Russians, the Communists). The film has great humorous moments and that alone makes it a worthwhile watch!

Anonymous

Movie Name: Anonymous
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Rolland Emmerich
Stars: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg, Xavier Samuel, Sam Reid, Paolo de Vita, Robert Emms, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Rolland Emmerich, director of such big budget films as "Independence Day", "Godzilla", "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012", is back with a film that is definitely of a smaller scale, but with a premise that is equally ambitious and epic. The film follows the premise that William Shakespeare, was originally an actor, but not a playwright whatsoever. The film focuses on the story of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, a prodigy who wrote all the plays that are attributed to Shakespeare. Edward who lost his parents at a young age, is taken in by Sir William Cecil, principal advisor to the queen.  Under his tutelage, all the arts are banished from Edward's life, something that he rebels against for most of his life. He continues to produce literary work, and finds an unknown writer through whom he thinks he can place his work to be performed. However this unknown playwright has a voice of his own, and does not wish to silence it, and Shakespeare becomes the front for all this talent. This sets in motion a ripple effect that extends to the court and to a succession battle that is taking place.
Unlike the previous films from Rolland Emmerich, "Anonymous" has a rich screenplay that allows for characters to have depth and substance. The film has a controversial subject matter, but behind the conspiracy theory and the court games, the film is really about the quest for someone to be heard. Edward is an artist who longs to express himself, even if someone else has to be the face of his own words. Rhys Ifans and his sad eyes, convey the longing and despair of a person who has been silenced and denied for a lifetime. The film correctly allows him to be a fully fledged character, unlike William Shakespeare who ends up being more of a caricature - which is where the film also falters. The film is nonetheless riveting, with great acting from Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and David Thewlis, great cinematography from  Anna Foerster.  A film worth watching!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Moneyball

Movie Name: Moneyball
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Brent Jennings, Arliss Howard, Tammy Blanchard
Genre: Drama, Sport
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
"Moneyball" had it's fair share of problems on the way to the screen. The film was originally slated to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, who walked away from the project shortly before it was due to start shooting. Director Bennett Miller, who previously tackled "Capote", took the director's seat and the film followed without any incidents. "Moneyball" follows the story of Billy Beane, General Manager for the baseball team Oakland A's. After another painful season and another loss, Beane realizes he does not have as much money as bigger teams, which makes his job a lot more difficult. He hires a young professional named Peter Brand, a Yale Economics graduate, who has a more analytical and statistical concept of the game. According to Peter, through stats you can build a winning team, with players that are under-used or simply disregarded. Beane decides to follow this concept against everything and everyone.
"Moneyball" is based on a true story, with some additional elements added for dramatic effect, but the film has an authentic and documentary style that makes it gripping and riveting. It's a film that works not just as simple "baseball" film, but as a triumph of intelligence, of initiative over the status quo, over the establishment. The film smartly focuses on Brad Pitt's Billy Beane, a man who had a history in the sport, a man who was trying to make something different, to accomplish more than he ever did as a player. Bennett Miller also gives a glimpse into Beane's personal life, as a father and a ex-husband, someone who treasures his daughter's happiness. The character is a fully rounded one, a character that evolves, also thanks to Brad Pitt's great performance. The cinematography of Wally Pfister is fantastic as is the score of Mychael Danna. A great film worth watching!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Ides of March

Movie Name: The Ides of March
Year of Release: 2011
Director: George Clooney
Stars: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
After "Leatherheads", George Clooney's previous directorial effort, "The Ides of March" is a good return to form, in a film very much similar in tone to Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton", that Clooney starred.
"The Ides of March" follows the story of Stephen Myers, a young idealistic staffer who works for a governor currently trying to get the democratic vote to embark in the presidential race. Stephen works hard and is highly regarded. He gets lured into a situation by a rival campaign organizer which leaves him exposed and vulnerable to be laid off, however Stephen knows of a situation that topples all the scenarios that have unfolded.
George Clooney has had an interesting career as a director, starting with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", though his best film thus far has been "Good Night and Good Luck". With "The Ides of March", Clooney tries to show the corruption of values that touches everyone that gets involved in politics, even the most idealistic person. Stephen tries desperately to stay in his course, but rapidly realizes that in the game of politics, everyone is a pawn and all ideals and morals are easily brushed aside for more money or more power. The film tries to be very much in the vein of the political thrillers of the 70s, but the message becomes apparent all too quickly. The cast is uniformly great, with Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood all having good performances. A film worth checking out.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What's your Number?

Movie Name: What's your Number?
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Mark Mylod
Stars: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Blythe Danner, Ari Graynor, Ed Begley Jr., Chris Pratt, Joel McHale, Heather Burns, Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Lennon, Dave Annable
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Director Mike Mylod has made a name for himself directing shows as "The Fast Show", "Ali G Indahouse" and "Entourage" to name but a few. His new film"What's your Number?" follows the story of Ally, a young woman who suddenly realizes she has had a considerable number of romantic partners and never found the right one. Her fear is that she reached a number that is a limit, after which no one will want her. In order to overcome this problem, she enlists the help of her attractive neighbor, Colin, and they track her previous dates and figure out if one of them can actually be the right man!
Anna Faris is a great comedienne, always managing to make the best of whatever role she has. That can easily be seen in Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation", Greg Araki's "Smiley Face" and the "Scary Movie" franchise. In "What's your Number?" she ends up being the best thing about a film that is very formulaic and filled with cliches, but that thanks to her perfect comic timing it does end up having some humorous moments. Aside from her performance, the film has few highlights, since it is indeed a romantic comedy very much like plenty of others - P.J. Hogan's "My Best Friend Wedding's" for instance.

50/50

Movie Name: 50/50
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jonathan Levine
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Houston, Serge Houde, Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall, Seth Rogen
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Adam is in his late 20s, has a live-in girlfriend and workouts regularly. Much to his surprise he's diagnosed with cervical cancer. What follows is a grueling set of treatments that progressively make him weaker, while his sentimental life also experiences new lows and also new beginnings.
Director Jonathan Levine follows his feature "The Wackness" with "50/50", based on the life of screenwriter Will Reiser. The film tries to maintain a balance between the dramatic core that generates the entire story, namely the illness of Adam and the humor that is brought by Adam's friend, Kyle, who tries to take some advantage of the situation on the dating field. While the film works dramatically thanks to the interaction between the gifted actors that are Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Houston, the more humorous scenes with Seth Rogen feel like material that he has already done in his previous films, that add absolutely nothing to this film in particular. The director tries to maintain a certain detachment from the characters, never going down the melodrama path, which also makes it feel a bit distant to the viewer/audience, but when the final realization comes painfully evident to Adam, we can see the true core of the film. Adam is just a young man trying to live. This is a small film that could have worked far better without the skewed comedic angle, or with a far better actor than Seth Rogen. His eternal frat-boy trying to get dates and being selfish is long overused by now. A film worth watching nonetheless.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drive

Movie Name: Drive
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is back on the screens, following his previous effort "Valhalla Rising", with "Drive" a film that premiered this year at the Cannes film festival and won the award for best director. The film follows the story of a stunt-car driver (whose name we never know), who also moonlights as a driver for escapes of crime related situations. The Driver is laconic and short on words, his tone never going beyond a whisper. On a chance encounter he meets Irene, a young waitress and her son Benicio. He gets tangled in the problems of her ex-husband and a spiral of violence emerges around them.
Nicolas Winding Refn takes his time to develop the story and showcase the characters. The Driver, as created by Ryan Gosling, is a man with focus, who knows each situation he's getting into and for whom a menace is not taken lightly. The film has a fluidity that allows for the viewer to understand the life of this character, his loneliness, but also the menace behind those calm eyes. When the violence does erupt, it's almost earth-shattering, but again it feels like an extension of the Driver himself. The film is beautifully shot, each frame beautifully lit by Newton Thomas Sigel and the music of Cliff Martinez (who is a frequent collaborator of Steven Soderbergh) helps define the mood without over-doing it. Ryan Gosling creates an interesting character, but Albert Brooks exudes a confidence and a menace that stays with you long after the film has ended. A great film worth watching!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Contagion

Movie Name: Contagion
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hawkes, Demetri Martin, Bryan Cranston, Elliot Gould, Enrico Colantoni, Sanaa Lathan, Larry Clarke
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
The fantastically talented and prolific Steven Soderbergh is back, following the great "The Informant" with Matt Damon and the experimental "The Girlfriend Experience". Soderbergh already has shot and has ready to be released "Haywire" with another great cast and is already shooting another film, named "Magic Mike" to be released next year. "Contagion" is very much a mosaic film, following a series of characters, as a dangerous and lethal virus starts spreading around the globe, killing millions of people. We follow the lives of Mitch Emhoff, whose wife arrives from Hong Kong and suddenly dies, the lives of Dr. Ellis Cheever and Dr. Erin Mears, both from the CDC, Alan Krumwiede a well known blogger, Dr. Leonora Arantes from the World Health Organization, as they all come in contact with the virus and play different parts in trying to find a solution for this catastrophe.
Steven Soderbergh, again working as cinematographer, builds a film that progressively escalates in suspense, as the virus progressively spreads the tentacles of destruction. The director is more interested in showing how people react to an overwhelming menace, with the different players and different contexts showing how an epidemic can destroy governments, cities and families. The cast is uniformly good, with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle doing small but impactful parts. The mosaic of actors, of the production design and the documentary-style cinematography make the film engaging and pertinent. A good film worth watching!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Debt

Movie Name: The Debt
Year of Release: 2010
Director: John Madden
Stars: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Martin Csokas, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jesper Christensen, Romi Aboulafia
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
John Madden is back, following the discrete reception of his previous two films, "Proof" and "Killshot". "The Debt" is a remake of an Israeli film and follows the story of three Mossad agents who are assigned the mission of finding the whereabouts of a dangerous Nazi criminal. The year is 1966 and the two men and one woman, capture their prey, however the results are not what they expect. The three of them agree to maintain the same story and for years their mission is praised and discussed, until 30 years later news come up that threaten all that these agents have built.
"The Debt" is a thriller that walks a familiar path - a truth that was never revealed, but that after years of being buried, threatens to destroy the lives of multiple people. The context of this film relates to a Nazi war criminal, hidden in East Berlin in 1966, which adds substantially to the danger quotient, yet somehow as the film progresses, the sense of danger or impending threat is never really felt. There are moral dilemmas that the characters possess, but it's easy to see where all of the characters lie as soon as the film introduces them (the ambitious driven one, the one with the ideology, and so forth). The best thing about the film ends up being the actors, particularly Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain and Jesper Christensen. Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain bring a depth and gravitas to their part, both playing the same character and both like a coherent extension of one another (though in terms of casting, the actors could not be more different between their younger and older counterparts, particularly Ciaran Hinds and Sam Worthington). A medium effort from an irregular director.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Colombiana

Movie Name: Colombiana
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Olivier Megaton
Stars: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Jordi Molla, Callum Blue, Lennie James, Max Martini, Amandla Stenberg, Monica Acosta, Graham McTavish, Jesse Borrego
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Luc Besson has steadily become one of the busiest producers working in film. The films with his imprint no longer are limited to his directorial efforts, who are now far and between, but his writing and producing skills have been used in a stream of films, from the "Transporter" series to others such as "Taken" and even "I Love You Philip Morris". Olivier Megaton, director of "Colombiana" has collaborated with Luc Besson on "Transporter 3" - the style is very similar. The quick pacing of the narrative, dynamic editing, all coming from the style of Tony Scott.
The film follows the story of Cataleya and her family. Cataleya lives in Colombia and witnesses her parents being shot as a little girl and promises revenge. Growing up in the US, Cataleya becomes a lethal assassin, discrete and able to be almost invisible. She has almost no ties of any kind, save for a man she starts having a relationship with and her remaining family, who also gets shot by the same people who destroyed her life in Colombia. Cataleya decides to revenge her loved ones and stops at nothing to do so.
"Colombiana" has a mix of different films and different styles. It's equal parts "Nikita", "The Bourne Identity" and "The Professional". Olivier Megaton doesn't care much about character development or getting to explore the dynamics of the characters - most of the characters are thin as paper, and obviously cliches, save for Cataleya who we are given a brief glimpse of where she's coming and why she's so focused on her targets. But even her story is a backdrop for action scenes that showcase her lethal and precise capabilities as a killer. It's a film that has a B-style to it, and that manages to achieve some of it's goals as an entertaining one, but it's not enough to create a good and memorable experience.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Help

Movie Name: The Help
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O'Reilly, Cicely Tyson, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Anna Camp, Mike Vogel, Brian Kerwin, Leslie Jordan, Aunjanue Ellis, Chris Lowell, Mary Steenburgen
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"The Help" adapts the best seller of the same name by Kathryn Stockett. The film follows the story of Skeeter, a young woman from Jackson, Mississippi, who comes back to her hometown after being in college, during the 1960s. Skeeter longs to be a serious writer and starts writing advice columns for the local newspaper. She realizes that Jackson, Mississippi is ruled by old conventions and that the inequalities that always existed between the two main racial groups are still rampant. She decides to write a book from the perspective of the help, a group of African-American women who always cared for the houses and children of the white privileged society of that area. She enlists the help of two women, the strong but silent Aibileen and the sparky and spunky Minny, both of whom work for women who Skeeter knows, in particular the stone cold Hilly. Their book, changes the lives of everyone in that small community.
Tate Taylor has a career built mostly as a character actor, having only two other directing efforts to his name. With "The Help" he has decided to touch sensitive issues in the history of civil rights movement, of how life used to be for African Americans in the south of the country. The film captures a time and the changes that were coming, with President JFK and Martin Luther King. "The Help" is mostly a female perspective of very agitated times, and wisely focuses it's attention on the three main lead characters: Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Around them a plethora of women try to adjust to these changing times, some resisting the change and being hypocritical, which is the case of the cold Hilly, some being genuine and embracing people for who they are, like Celia. The film though limited in some of the cliches that displays, it allows for great work from some great actresses, namely Viola Davis as Aibileen, Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly and Jessica Chastain as Celia. An interesting film that showcases a slice of history, from a different perspective.

Fright Night

Movie Name: Fright Night
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Will Denton, Sandra Vergara, Chris Sarandon, Lisa Loeb, Brian Huskey
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"Fright Night" was originally directed by Tom Holland and released in 1985 - this remake directed by Craig Gillespie updates the original concept and adds more thrills, more fun and great actors. The film follows the story of Charley and his mom Jane, both of whom live in Las Vegas. Their new neighbor is a handsome and attractive man named Jerry, whom Charley realizes is a vampire. Jerry is building a nest of vampires, and comes after Charley, his mom and his girlfriend Amy. It's up to Charley to defend himself and the ones he loves, all with the help of entertainer/occult savant Peter Vincent.
Craig Gillespie directed previously the quirky and enjoyable "Lars and The Real Girl" and also a few episodes of "The United States of Tara". He infuses the screenplay of "Fright Night" with a lightness and simultaneously a swift pace that is engrossing and also menacing. "Fright Night" knows how not to take itself seriously, poking fun at the whole "Twilight" generation, but also has enough thrills to truly engage the audience. It's an intelligent thriller, with a humorous side! The actors are all great, from the young Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, to the charismatic Colin Farrell and the always great Toni Collete.  A very entertaining film!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Year of Release: 2011
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Stars: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Tyler Labine, David Hewlett, Jamie Harris
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
The franchise "Planet of the Apes" is back, after the series of films that started being produced in 1968 with Franklin J. Schaffner at the helm and Charlton Heston as the leading actor. The latest attempt at reviving this series was directed by Tim Burton in 2001 with disappointing results, so this relaunch goes back further in the series, a prequel of sorts.
The film follows the story of Will a young scientist trying to discover a cure for Alzheimer's, since his father is suffering from that ailment and is getting progressively worse. Will has been trying the experimental drug on chimps and is successful in making a baby chimp develop extreme cognitive response. The chimp grows up (in stature and intelligence) in Will's house and due to a series of misunderstandings, finds himself in a county animal shelter where due to abuse and mistreatment, grows a progressive sense of liberation. Caeser, ends up leading a rebellion of apes yearning for freedom, charging against everyone who dares to oppose his force.
The film has an interesting premise, one where humans tampering with technology alter the course of nature. It's a recursive theme for many science-fiction films, but this film stops short of what could have been a very interesting insight into what the dynamics of society would change with such a revolutionary concept. The screenplay and the director opt to for the uprising of the apes and how the action set pieces function. The special effects are indeed fantastic and extremely realistic, and that ends up being the best thing of the film. Andy Serkis playing Caesar is the highlight amongst the actors, though John Lithgow is reliable as always. A conventional film worth investigating.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Movie Name: Cowboys and Aliens
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Chris Browning, Keith Carradine, Noah Ringer, Walton Goggins, Ana de la Reguera, Abigail Spencer, Brian Duffy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Western, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Director Jon Favreau follows the disappointing "Iron Man 2" with another big blockbuster, filled with special effects and big stars, this time Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. The film follows the story of Jake Lonergan, who wakes up in the middle of the desert, without any memory and with a strange device on his wrist. Jake tries to remember who he is, but gets chased by everyone due to a past he doesn't recollect. When he's about to be taken to respond for his past crimes, extra-terrestrial forces attack, destroying the small town and kidnapping people. Jake and his odd wrist-based device, manage to battle those creatures. In the end, it's up to Jake and the rest of the people in the town to go after the aliens and salvage the kidnapped people and save the world itself.
"Cowboys and Aliens" is based on a comic book by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and the screenplay has been written by a huge team comprised of writers of big blockbusters as "Transformers" and "Star Trek", to name but a few. Oddly enough, with this pedigree, the screenplay for "Cowboys and Aliens" touches all the cliches there are for a film that could have been quite surprising and different. Sadly as the film progresses, no sense of novelty is to be found - the film feels tired and unimaginative. The actors try their best to infuse some life to their characters, but there isn't much depth in any of these cardboard characters. Harrison Ford in particular deserved a better film where to shine his talent. A wasted opportunity for everyone involved.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Year of Release: 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Haley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Michael Brandon, Natalie Dormer, William Hope, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
After the failure of "The Wolfman", director Joe Johnston is back with the adaptation of another Marvel comics character, this time the iconic "Captain America", created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941. The character is intricately associated with the war effort of the Second World War, but the character managed to surpass the test of time and was later on added to the super group "The Avengers". This film follows the same concept, it introduces the character and establishes the context for the upcoming "Avengers" film, currently being shot.
The film follows the story of Steve Rogers, a young man desperately trying to join the Army in order to fight with his friend Bucky against the Nazi forces in Europe. Steve is however physically inept, dues to his multiple ailments and height, which always prevents him from joining. With the help of a scientist, Steve is the subject of an experiment that turns him into a super soldier. It's up to Steve and his friends to stop Hydra and it's main leader, Red Skull from destroying the world.
Joe Johnston has tried with this film to build an old style adventure, filled with over the top action sequences, but also filled with a sense of nostalgia for a time that has gone by. As usual in his films, the results feel under-developed and underwhelming. Though Chris Evans tries his best to play Steve Rogers as the iconic and simultaneously tender hearted Captain America, most of the remaining cast is just on auto-pilot, mostly due to a screenplay that hits all the cliches and has not a single spark of irreverence. The film lacks a true sense of adventure and discovery, and all the action scenes end up being used as filler, ultimately adding nothing to the film itself. Joe Johnston has never been a particularly gifted director, but this film needed a bit more of the charm he brought to one of his first efforts, "The Rocketeer". As is, the film is just an average action film with a convincing lead.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Year of Release: 2011
Director: David Yates
Stars:Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Ruper Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Felton, Helen McCrory, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Mark Williams, Miriam Margoyles, Gemma Jones, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Clemence Poesy, Katie Leung, Kelly MacDonald, Matthew Lewis
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
The final installment in the Harry Potter series comes to an end, with the final confrontation of Harry Potter and his nemesis, Voldemort. Following the events from the previous film, Harry, Hermione and Ron, desperately try to find the objects that can kill their opponent, who amassed a formidable force, in the hopes of destroying Harry and all his allies. Harry and his friends, find themselves at the school where all began, Hogwarts, and there the final battle takes place, with Harry having to find within himself the strength to overcome his obstacles and protect those he loves the most.
David Yates continues with this film what he started in the previous one - there is a sense of impending doom and closure as the story comes to an end. The action and special effects dazzle, as does the beautiful cinematography from Eduardo Serra, but the film again lacks that sense of bewilderment and true magic, that was never truly captured (look at "The Wizard of Oz" and how with so little was conveyed so much). Ralph Fiennes creates a truly menacing character, but most of the actors are also fantastic, namely Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith. This is a film that thankfully ends a saga that would otherwise become tiresome and fatiguing. A film worth checking out.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beginners

Movie Name: Beginners
Year of Release: 2010
Director: Mike Mills
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos, China Savers
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Mike Mills is a film director who has made his name as a graphic designer, artist and director of music videos. His feature film debut "Thumbsucker" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to good reviews and had a great cast which included the talents of Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio. His second feature "Beginners", is an autobiographical story and has resulted in a profoundly beautiful and delicate film.
The film follows the story of Oliver, a young man whose father passed away quite recently. Oliver informs us that his father was married to his mother for over 40 years, and that after she passed away, he came out and announced he was gay. He was 75 and had decided to live his life to the fullest and according to his true wishes. Sadly a terminal illness cut his life short. We witness the way Oliver deals with his loss and how upon meeting Anna, his love life changes (as does his sense of happiness).
The film is a delicate mapping of the life of two main characters, namely Hal the father and Oliver the son. Both men were born in completely different times and experienced life very differently, however there is a strong undercurrent of love which unites them both. It's a film that is joyous in the celebration of love between parents and sons and between romantic partners. It shows how people's defenses prevent them from experiencing things fully, which ends up being the big issue in Oliver's life. The film is beautifully edited and shot and has fantastic performances from Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent. A true gem worth watching!