Sunday, January 30, 2011

L'illusionniste/The Illusionist

Movie name: L'Illusionniste/The Illusionist
Year of release: 2010
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Stars:Jean-Claude Donda, EilidhRankin, Duncan MacNeil, Raymond Mearns, James T. Muir, Tom Urie, Paul Bandey
Genre: Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Sylvain Chomet became well known with his awarded animated feature "The Triplets of Belleville", which was nominated for the Academy Award in 2003. His latest film adapts a screenplay from the fantastic Jacques Tati. The film follows the story of a magician who goes from city to city, playing small venues, trying to make ends meet. When he goes to a small town in Scotland, a young girl becomes fascinated with him and follows him to Edinburgh. They decide to stay in a small hotel, where the Illusionist tries to find odd jobs in order to maintain both of them.
Sylvain Chomet uses and designs the characters and situations in an homage to Jacques Tati's work. His Illusionist is trying his best to fit in a world that has moved along, one where magic probably has no place. His young companion for whom magic seems to be the freedom she aspires to, is his last connection to times that have passed by. This is a bittersweet tale, superbly designed and animated, filled with incredible details and a soundtrack that stays with you. A good film!

Somewhere

Movie name: Somewhere
Year of release: 2010
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars:Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Chris Pontius, Michelle Monaghan, Laura Chiatti, Amanda Anka
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten: 6.5

Synopsis:
Following the flawed "Marie Antoinette" from 2006, Sofia Coppola went back to familiar territory with her latest film, "Somewhere". The film follows the life of American actor and star, Johnny Marco, as he goes through a series of random encounters with different women, while he stays at the Chateau Marmont. His daughter Chloe comes to stay with him, since her mother decides to take some time "off" without elaborating when she comes back. Left to take care of his daughter, Johnny is forced to reassess his own life.
"Somewhere" touches some similar ground that Sofia Coppola explored with her celebrated effort "Lost in Translation": the characters are drifting aimlessly in life, trying to find a path and a connection with someone. Both films explore the artificiality of the Hollywood life, but "Somewhere" slowly shows the angst and loneliness of the life of Johnny Marco, the big star, who hasn't been present for his daughter's life, and who all of a sudden is required to be there, be an adult and provide a support that he does not know how to deliver. Stephen Dorff does a great job playing the playboy actor who slowly starts to unravel and who feels the emptiness of his life. Elle Fanning does a good job playing his young daughter who is growing up and feels the loneliness of not having a real family support to anchor her life. The film also boasts a great cinematography from the usually fantastic Harris Savides. A good film worth seeing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oscar 2010

The Oscar nominations are in. This year the list of films selected is uniformly good. Though the most surprising omission is Christopher Nolan's nomination for best director, the few highlights given to "Fair Game" is also surprising, as is the overload of nominations for "True Grit". You can check the full list of nominees here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Music With an Impact - 2010

2010 was a year that saw many great releases and where I discovered really remarkable and rewarding albums. Though the music business has forever changed, fantastic artists are releasing music that is compelling, unique and fantastic. Here is a list of what I heard (and heard) during the year that just went by.

Massive Attack - Heligoland
Madita - Pacemaker
Miami Horror - Illumination
Robyn - Body Talk
Groove Armada - Black Light
Gorillazz - Plastic Beach
Four Tet - There is Love in You
Caribou - Swim
Bonobo - Black Sands
Benoit Pioulard - Lasted

Honorable mentions include "Royksopp - Senior", "Sia - We Are Born", "Jonsi - Go", "Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz", "Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea", "Ceo - White Magic", "White Hinterland - Kairos" and "Matthew Herbert - One One".

True Grit

Movie name: True Grit
Year of release: 2010
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
Stars:Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews, Elizabeth Marvel, Paul Rae
Genre: Western, Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Joel and Ethan Coen follow their little seen "A Serious Man" with a remake of Henry Hathaway's "True Grit". Their intention has been to return to the book from Charles Portis and make their own interpretation of the book. The film follows the story of young Mattie Ross, who at 14 comes to a small town by herself to claim the body of her murdered father and take care of his pending businesses. Mattie also takes upon her the resolution of hiring a marshall to help catch her father's murderer, bring him to justice so he can pay for his crime. Mattie finds Marshall Cogburn, a drunken and older law enforcer, who alongside a Texas Marshall named La Boeuf end up being her rescuers. This unlikely trio set upon finding the fugitive through some rough scenarios.
Joel and Ethan Coen are always interesting directors, even in their failed or flawed attempts to create something different, wich was the case of "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Intolerable Cruelty" to name a few. "True Grit" is their take on the Western genre and follows the conventions that the genre has established. Jeff Bridges' Marshall Cogburn is rough and tough, but with a heart of gold, who helps the young, bossy and talky Mattie find her father's murderer. Theirs is an adventurous task, since it's only three against quite possibly a larger number of adversaries, but they still prevail and go on their quest. Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job, making his Marshall a resourceful, boozy and ultimately, kind hearted man who tries to help the young woman who has lost her father. Hailee Steinfeld creates a spunky and fast talking Mattie, filled with knowledge for her young age and an iron will who makes her find her quest, no matter what the obstacles are. Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper create good supporting characters, but the film definitely belongs to Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. A solid film worth watching.

Blue Valentine

Movie name: Blue Valentine
Year of release: 2010
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Stars:Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling, Faith Wladyka, John Doman, Mike Vogel, Ben Shenkman, Eileen Rosen
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
Derek Cianfrance is a director whose previous films have been in the documentary field, and that approach is easily recognizable in his first feature film. The film follows the story of a couple, Dean and Cindy, since they first meet, through the development of their relationship, marriage and finally dissolution of the same bond. Both are young when they marry, and as their lives evolve, so do both of them, but Cindy feels stuck in a relationship where she has to be the mother for two people, their little girl and her husband. Dean on his side, is trying to maintain the relationship going for as long as he possibly can. These two antagonistic sides clash as they both try to move on with their lives.
The film has an interesting premise, and the director tries to emulate the style that John Cassavetes, so perfectly captured in "Faces" and "Husbands". His documentary style approach allows to capture the pains of those two characters, however, both Cindy and Dean are so under-developed that the viewer never really understands where they're coming from. Cindy's sudden lack of interest in maintaining the relationship is seen from her perspective, but never fully explored or understood. Dean's anguish ends up being summarized in a brutish behavior that falls under cliches already seen and explored in countless films. This is a film that unlike the light and breezy "500 Days of Summer" from Marc Webb, tries to be an insightful and ponderous exploration of the dynamics of a couple, but ends up feeling like a rehash of TV films. The best thing about the film is the compelling performance of Michelle Williams and the beautiful score from Grizzly Bear. Sadly, those enough don't make much for a film that is severely under-developed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Best Films of 2010

2010 started with James Cameron's "Avatar" dominating the box-office and the attention of moviegoers all around the world. As the year progressed, the 3D films kept on premiering, but sadly all of them were quite mediocre (including Tim Burton's interpretation of "Alice in Wonderland"). The end of the year as usual saw a plethora of good and great films coming out. Here is a list of films that made a striking impact and that prove the great talent of acclaimed directors, such as David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky, to name but a few.

Io Sono L'amore/I Am Love
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Marisa Berenson, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Maria Paiato, Pippo Delbono, Gabriele Ferzetti, Mattia Zaccaro

The Social Network
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rooney Mara, John Getz, Rashida Jones, David Selby, Brenda Song

Black Swan
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Mark Margolis

The King's Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve Best, Anthony Andrews

The Fighter
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: 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

Inception
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas

Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earle Hayley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Robin Bartlett, Christopher Denham

Ghost Writer
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Catrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, Jon Bernthal, Robert Pugh, John Belushi

127 Hours
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemency Poesy, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Sean Bott, Lizzy Caplan

Special mentions should go for the following films. "Fair Game" from Doug Liman, "I Love You Philip Morris" from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" from Edgar Wright, "Never Let Me Go" from Mark Romanek and "Hereafter" from Clint Eastwood.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The King's Speech

Movie name: The King's Speech
Year of release: 2010
Director: Tom Hooper
Stars:Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve Best, Anthony Andrews
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Tom Hooper has made his name directing TV shows and mini series that have been showered with awards, namely "Elizabeth I" and "John Adams". "The King's Speech" is another period piece and follows the (true) story of King George VI and his relationship with his speech coach, Lionel Logue. King George VI, also Duke of York had stuttering problems and after trying to get help from a considerable number of specialists, with the aid of his wife, he decided to follow the unusual methods of Lionel Logue, an Australian actor. With a lot of perseverance and with the unusual dynamics between these strong personalities, the Duke starts making progresses with his speech impediments. When the Duke is forced to become King, after his brother's decision to abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson, it's up to Lionel to provide all the assistance and help to the King's speeches in a time of war.
Tom Hooper is clearly someone with a keen eye for good performances and for period pieces. "The King's Speech" is fantastic in the details of the time period and excels in the performances of the actors. Hooper smartly lets the actors be the main thread of the film, in particular Colin Firth's King George VI/Bertie - he creates a man who has a speech impediment, due to his own insecurities, to his emotional losses and who with the help of his loving wife, is trying to overcome his limitations. Bertie is trying to overcome a life ruled by some fears, things that are confronted dramatically when he becomes King and needs to make public speech his second nature. Geoffrey Rush creates a great character in Lionel, a man who looks to find the person behind the impediments, someone who is fearless in his approach, but also sensitive and inquisitive. Helena Bonham Carter is, as always, fantastic, creating a Queen who is loving, supportive and fierce in her approach to her new found position. The cinematography of Danny Cohen is fantastic as is the music of Alexandre Desplat. This is a great film, of triumph of the will over adversity and the meaning of friendship in odd circumstances.

Rabbit Hole

Movie name: Rabitt Hole
Year of release: 2010
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars:Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Sandra Oh, Tammy Blanchard, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Mike Doyle, Colin Mitchell
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
John Cameron Michell is one of the most interesting directors working these days. He made his feature debut with the fantastic "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", based on his play (and the songs of Stephen Trask), followed by the equally good "Shortbus" and his third feature, "Rabbit Hole", is also the first one to tackle a story that is not originally his. The film is an adaptation of the play with the same name from David Lindsay-Abaire (the play won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for Drama, as well as the Tony award). The film follows the story of Becca and Howie, a young couple whose young son tragically died in a car accident. They are both trying to resume their lives after that tragic accident, with their families and friends, each one of them reaching out differently. While Howie tries to be more expansive with his pain, Becca takes a more painful and self contained approach, one that at times explodes in confrontations with family, friends and even strangers.
John Cameron Mitchell takes his unique point of view and adapts it to the intimate and painful story of a couple, dealing with the pain of a loss that is unspeakable. His work is discreet but never trivial or cliche - he allows the silences and the spaces to speak of the loss. The distance between the characters also explains how they relate to each other. It's also a film that is driven by the performances of the main actors. Nicole Kidman uses her icy persona and demeanor to build Becca as a woman shattered by pain and guilt, for a child that she lost, for a life that can never be regained. Aaron Eckhart makes Howie a man who is desperately trying to rebuild his life, whose grief is ever present, as is his love for Becca. Dianne Wiest's Nat, Becca's mother, is a person who has been through loss and tries to reach out to her daughter, but realizes that there's a huge gap between them both. All the actors are fantastic and help create a film that is humane, heartfelt and deeply touching. Also worth highlighting, the cinematography from Frank G. DeMarco, that is warm and captures the actors very naturalistic-style. Worth watching.