Saturday, December 29, 2012

Music with an Impact - 2012

2012 was a great year for music. Bjork continued her tour and expanding the concept of her musical vocabulary with "Biophilia". Also so much new talent came out with fantastic music, that was truly inspiring to witness this dynamic array of new "voices". Below are my favorites for 2012.

Purity Ring - Shrines
Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
Niki and The Dove - Instinct
Grimes - Visions
Poli├ža - Give you the Ghost
Leila - U & I
Jessie Ware - Devotion
Passion Pit - Gossamer
Grizzly Bear - Shields
Brian Eno - Lux

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Django Unchained

Movie Name: Django Unchained
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, James Russo, Tom Wopat, Franco Nero
Genre: Western, Action, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Following his latest directorial effort, "Inglourious Basterds", director Quentin Tarantino is back with his take on the western genre. The film follows the story of Django, a slave who is desperately trying to rescue his wife from the shackles of slavery and of her cruel "owner", Calvin Candie. Django is assisted in his quest by Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter with plenty of experience in the trade. Django and Schultz find out where Broomhilda is, and set up a plan to rescue her. The plan however takes some unexpected turns.
Quentin Tarantino is a director with a clear gusto for his own dialogue and with an eye for homages and references towards the work of other directors from the 60s and 70s. "Django Unchained" captures a lot of the spirit of Sergio Leone's Western spaghetti's (even Franco Nero makes a cameo celebrating that genre), but where the film gains momentum is in the way Tarantino "appropriates" these legacies and brings them out in an original and subversive way. The film balances his verbose side and monologues with bursts of violence (very much like his other features), in a way that is simultaneously engaging and dynamic. The actors are all equally great, in particular Christoph Waltz and the menacing Leonardo DiCaprio, who makes a terribly convincing and amoral plantation owner. A special highlight should go to the beautiful cinematography from Robert Richardson. A very good film worth watching!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jack Reacher

Movie Name: Jack Reacher
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Robert Duvall, Alexia Fast, Josh Helman, Vladimir Sizov
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Christopher McQuarrie made his name as a screenwriter, having won an Oscar for the screenplay of Bryan Singer's "Usual Suspects". "Jack Reacher" is his second directorial effort after "Way fo the Gun". The film is an adaptation of Lee Child's book "One Shot", which features his iconic character Jack Reacher (and this character has continued in a series of other books). The film follows Jack Reacher, an ex-military, with his own sense of moral conduct, whom no one knows exactly how to reach or contact. After a horrifying sniper attack in Pittsburgh, Reacher is drawn to the situation and to investigate what lies behind the horrifying ordeal. He is aided by a scrupulous and intelligent attorney, who is trying to defend her client. What Reacher finds out goes way beyond what any of them had initially expected.
Christopher McQuarrie builds with this film an intelligent and low key action/thriller piece, that goes back to the style Don Siegel so expertly created with "Dirty Harry". The film doesn't hold any new technological gadgets, and feels very much like an analogical experience in a digital world (compare this film to Sam Mendes' "Skyfall" for instance). The film lacks a certain grittiness, but is smartly written, particularly as the story and the conspiracy behind the events starts to unravel. Tom Cruise lacks the stern and cold look that this character requires - his approach has always been to make every single character ultimately likable (except perhaps for Lestat, in Neil Jordan's "Interview with the Vampire"), but he is nonetheless an actor with charisma to carry the film. The supporting cast is equally solid, from Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and of course, film director Werner Herzog, adequately scary and menacing. A solid and entertaining film worth seeing.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Movie Name: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Bret McKenzie, Adam Brown
Genre: Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Director Peter Jackson is back to the world of author J.R.R. Tolkien, after the enormous success that was "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "The Hobbit" takes place 60 years prior to the events that occurred in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The film follows the story of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, who gets dragged to the quest/adventure that surrounds the dwarfs in their claim to take back their home, from a dragon that seized that place. Through this quest they find all sorts of opponents and some unexpected allies.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is without question a film that lives from the spectacle that special and visual effects allow and build. The film is visually stunning and takes the context and style that Peter Jackson developed from his previous trilogy to another level (the 10 years between the films have also allowed for special effects to improve quite dramatically). The main problem with the film is the indulgence in areas of the story that add nothing to it, provide no insight to characters or motivation, and basically exist as a sole purpose to drag the story to no end (and therefore stretch this film to two other parts). Scenes are kept going and going, which add no depth to the story, making the pacing of the film very irregular and make for a very uneven experience. The high points remain the special effects, the production design and the acting which is uniformly good, with Ian McKellen again dominating with his weary and wise eyes. The film ends up being a good example of how the indulgence of means can effectively bring down even the most gifted story teller, which is the case of Peter Jackson.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hitchcock

Movie Name: Hitchcock
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, James D'Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio, Tara Summers, Judith Hoag, Josh Yeo
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Sacha Gervasi's debut feature focuses on director Alfred Hitchcock's attempts to create his fantastic and now classic film, "Psycho". For someone with such a rich personality and with a catalogue of films as stunning and beautiful as Hitchcock, this film feels like a pale and small homage, but the film is not without some merits. The film follows the aftermath of the premiere of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and his decision to adapt the book "Psycho", which was influenced in turn by the killings of Ed Gein. Hitchcock always made his films with the close collaboration of his wife and partner, Alma Reville, who as the years have progressed, has noticed the director's obsession with his beautiful leading ladies and with her progressive invisibility in the public perception. When the studios refuse to back "Psycho" financially, Hitchcock decides to invest his own money into the production, creating some strains and stress to himself and his relationship with Alma.
Tackling the life of someone as iconic and talented as Alfred Hitchcock is always an herculean task. The biopic of Charles Chaplin by Richard Attenborough was a mediocre effort for another larger than life person, though "Hitchcock" has smaller ambitions, which ends up with better results. The film focuses on a few years as Hitchcock battled studios and the MPAA for the release of his iconic film "Psycho". The film delves deeper into the relationship of the director with his long time wife, Alma Reville, who was an instrumental part of the creative process for his films. Her longing to be away from his overbearing needs and shadow is touched in the film, as is his reverence and obsession with the beautiful women who always populated his films. Where the film falters is in the un-necessary day dreams of Hitchcock with Ed Gein, which add nothing to the story or to the mood. Sacha Gervasi who made his name as a screenwriter (he wrote Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal") makes an interesting film with good performances from Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Toni Collette, but the overall tone is one of wasted opportunity. An interesting film nonetheless.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Killing them Softly

Movie Name: Killing them Softly
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, Vincent Curatola, Trevor Long, Max Casella, Slaine, Sam Shepard
Genre: Drama, Crime, Suspense
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
The pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt, has produced another great film, following the underrated "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". If their first film together was an atmospheric exploration of the western genre, "Killing them Softly" is a vastly superior film, one that blends social commentary and the film noir genre to make something that is aesthetically superb and unlike anything else. The film follows the story of Jackie Coogan who is a hired hitman, a cleaner who takes care of tangled messes in the underground world. Jackie has to deal with two amateurish criminals, who robbed one of the underground gaming events that were taking place in New Orleans. Jackie knows how to navigate the murky waters, but is having to deal with the new constraints of an economy that is in recession, which also affects his own line of work.
Director Andrew Dominik is a director who allows the words and the interactions between his actors to drive the action. This interplay between the actors allows them to populate these characters with more than just an archetype. In "Killing them Softly", it's all about understanding how the fine details of the structure of the criminal underground work, particularly in the new waters brought on by the economic recession. The film is populated by the speeches of politicians in the background, words echoing of hope, when what the film presents in the front, is bleak, cold and mercenary-like. The bursts of violence that occur, are almost grandiose and filled with a beauty that hasn't been seen in films of this genre or nature. The acting is uniformly good, but Brad Pitt is fantastic, building a character who is detached, cold, cynical and intelligent, aware of his surroundings and where his life is headed. It's another great creation for an actor who has done nothing but great films lately. A great film not to be missed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lincoln

Movie Name: Lincoln
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Joseph Cross, Lee Pace, Gulliver McGrath, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Spinella, Walton Goggins, Lukas Haas, Julie White, Wayne Duvall, S. Epatha Merkerson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Following the disappointing "War Horse", Steven Spielberg returns, this time tackling an historical figure of the United States of America, president Abraham Lincoln. The film follows the specific time in the president's life, when the civil war was already raging on and Mr. Lincoln was trying to pass the 13th Amendment and end slavery across the country. The film focuses on the process of how the peace arrangement between the two divided sides and the Amendment were played out, and showcases the devastating effects that the civil war had on the country.
Steven Spielberg has at this point directed so many interesting and unique films, that each of his efforts are always greeted with applause and excitement. For the most part his latest features have been worth that acclaim, though the director at times falls prey of producing the "right shots" and the "right themes", and building films that are more targeted for "awards consideration". If "War Horse" was a film clearly built as a manipulative vehicle, "Lincoln" though at times treading a similar path, it definitely veers in a more political overtone, mostly thanks to the extremely intelligent script of Tony Kushner (who previously worked with Spielberg on the underrated "Munich" and who wrote the superb "Angels in America"). The film also benefits from a fantastic cast, one where the great performances from Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader are positively indelible, and where Sally Field takes the path of overacting to a level of stumbling mediocrity (as the story progresses, it does feel that she's in a different film than the rest of the cast). The cinematography is beautiful as is usual the case with Janusz Kaminski, the same going for the look and feel of the entire film (the production design of Rick Carter). A flawed, yet interesting film.

Life of Pi

Movie Name: Life of Pi
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu, James Saito, Jun Naito
Genre: Drama, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Academy Award winning director Ang Lee is back, following his little seen last effort "Taking Woodstock", which featured Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch. "Life of Pi" is an adaptation of Yann Martel's book of the same name. The story introduces us to Pi Patel, a middle aged man currently living in Montreal, who starts recounting his life story to an author, currently going through writer's block. Pi introduces the author (and us, the audience) to his early childhood in India, where his family had a Zoo and where he was introduced to the concept of religion. Pi's family opts to move to Canada, due to political instability in the country, but during the long boat voyage across the Pacific, a severe storm attacks the waters and the boat sinks with most of the crew inside (and the Zoo animals included). Pi miraculously escapes in a life boat, but to his shock, he's stuck on the boat with a Zebra, a Hyena, an Orangutan and a Bengali Tiger. Pi has to learn to strategize his survival and to keep a life balance between the never ending ocean and the new ecosystem on the boat.
Ang Lee is one of the most interesting directors currently working. His body of work has a diversity of themes, though there's a common thread that unites them all. All of his films are populated by a sense of cultural legacy, of heritage from ancestors, and how his heroes deal with those constraints and bloodlines (be it the young gay man of "The Wedding Banquet" or even Emma Thompson's heroine in the adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility"). "Life of Pi" uses the fantastic story of Pi Patel to build an ode to the resilience of the human spirit, but also a node to the undying faith of his main character. The film is visually stunning, thanks to the beautiful cinematography of Claudio Miranda, and the special effects are nothing short of breathtaking (with the 3D rendering of the animals being simply superb). The film does falter in some over simplification, but it's a feature that truly embraces the power of film making to create an experience that is visually rewarding and entertaining.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Movie Name: Silver Linings Playbook
Year of Release: 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok, Matthew Russell, Brea Bee
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Director David O. Russell continues his fantastic streak of impeccable films, following "The Fighter", which garnered Oscars for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. "Silver Linings Playbook" follows the story of Pat Solitano, who has just been released from a mental institution, after experiencing a severe traumatic episode, which resulted in violence (brought on by his wife's infidelity). Upon his release Pat goes to his parents house, who try to help him cope and adjust to his new reality. Pat is bipolar and desperately wants to reconnect with his wife (who has a restraining order against him). Into this mix comes Tiffany, a young and beautiful widower, who also has experienced grief and trauma in her life, and who brings a totally unexpected bout of energy to Pat's life.
David O. Russell has always managed to convey the oddities of life in ways that are simultaneously endearing and sometimes a bit shocking (the Gulf War in "Three Kings" for instance). The rawness and range of emotions that are usually on display on his films, showcase his sensitivity for engaging on matters that are not usually the most accessible. In this case he tackles someone with a serious mental condition, and makes a story that is simultaneously caring, touching and unnerving. The film showcases  fantastic performances from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro (and the rest of the cast as well), who bring the story to life with authenticity and a veracity that makes this film indelible and a pleasure. Not to be missed.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Skyfall

Movie Name: Skyfall
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Judi Dench, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Helen McCrory, Ola Rapace, Nicholas Woodeson
Genre: Action, Suspense
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
The most well know secret agent is back after 50 years of adventures. 007 is this time around directed by acclaimed film and theater director Sam Mendes, whose last films "Revolutionary Road" and "Away we Go" were met with different levels of acclaim and success. The new 007 follows a mission that is closer to the heart of M and James Bond. The film introduces the viewers to a high speed chase sequence, one where Bond gets almost fatally wounded. Assumed dead, Bond hides while healing, but is forced back after his agency gets attacked by someone who knows it all too well. The mission turns out to be one of rescue: a rogue agent is keen on destroying M and it ends up being James Bond's mission to save her.
At this point each 007 adventure is one that follows the mechanics long established by the franchise. Nothing is ever particularly new or surprising, except when the path chosen is one almost cartoonish and beyond ridiculous (case in point, Lee Tamahori's "Die Another Day" which was Pierce Brosnan's last outing as James Bond). Sam Mendes tries to maintain a focus on the action that is more attuned to the current action films, resulting in something that is simultaneously engaging but also retro (in the sense that the action scenes while well shot and edited, are also something that has been previously seen in other films). The actors are as usual well cast, in particular Daniel Craig who creates a mask of menace and some vulnerability, the same going for the ruthless and obviously great, Judi Dench. The fantastic Ralph Fiennes doesn't have much to do with his part, and Javier Bardem, no matter how remarkable actor he is, can only do so much with a part that is very underwritten. A solid action film, that while not bringing anything new, is still entertaining.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flight

Movie Name: Flight
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, James Badge Dale, Garcelle Beauvais, Ron Caldwell, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Melissa Leo
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Robert Zemeckis' is back with his first live action feature since "Cast Away" and "What Lies Beneath" were released in 2000. "Flight" follows the story of Whip Whitaker, a flight captain, who is an accomplished professional, but secretly an alcoholic. In one flight out of Orlando, FLA towards Atlanta, GA, the plane suffers mechanical problems, and thanks to Whip's quick thinking, the plane lands, with some casualties, but still without major fatalities. When the investigation starts, the fact that Whip was under the influence at the time of the flight, becomes a major issue, and his life slowly starts unraveling.
Robert Zemeckis has always been an interesting director. After a successful decade in the 90s (with "Forrest Gump" and "Contact" to name but a few), the following decade was primarily focused on his performance capture films ("The Polar Express" for instance). "Flight" in some ways, has some points of contact with Peter Weir's "Fearless", which featured a fantastic performance by Jeff Bridges, but this film in particular, deals more with the fact that a man has difficulty in dealing with his own demons and shortcomings. Whip can't accept the fact that alcohol and substance abuse has taken over his life and is basically controlling his impulses and everything he does. His family life has been destroyed due to that, and his son basically doesn't know the person he is. The film in itself, presents nothing new in terms of a man who has to fight his own demons, sober up and learn to live again, but Robert Zemeckis manages to create a film that is engaging, dynamic and technically impeccable (the crashing scene is superbly well shot). Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle and Kelly Reilly also create vivid and strong performances. A solid film worth watching.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Movie Name: Cloud Atlas
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Wishaw, James D'Arcy, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Keith David, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, David Gyasi, Martin Wuttke, Xun Zhou
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
"Cloud Atlas" is a unique project, an adaptation of the stupendous book from David Mitchell, and directed by the trio of Andy and Lana Wachowski, previously directors of "Bound", "The Matrix" trilogy and "SpeedRacer", and Tom Tykwer, who previously directed "Run Lola Run", "Perfume" and "The International". The film offers the premise that everything and everyone is connected, what we do while we're alive carries itself through times and existence. The film follows six different stories, which are connected by some element that the viewer uncovers as the story progresses. The first story follows Adam Ewing in the 19th century, who is slowly being poisoned by a false doctor who is in fact after his gold. The second story follows Robert Frobisher, a young destitute man, who is forced to leave his lover, due to a poor financial situation. Robert ends up working for an almost retired, but well known composer, to secure his earnings, but also to create his own masterwork. The third story introduces Luisa Rey (in the 70s), a reporter who ends up uncovering a masterful conspiracy plot surrounding a nuclear power plant on the brink of collapse. Her discoveries put her on a target to be silenced at all costs. The fourth story presents Timothy Cavendish, an editor and publisher, who is on the run from some aggressive money collectors, and who due to the machinations of his brother, ends up being held prisoner in an asylum. The fifth story takes place in New Seoul, where a race of genetically created women, are specifically assigned managerial tasks. The rebellion in this society wants to expose this new type of slavery. The sixth story takes place in the far future, where Zachry, a man who witnessed his father and brother being killed by a rival clan, helps a more advanced group, of whom Meronym is a part of, explore his world and technology that was left behind and that can save their world.
The film is cleverly constructed and built around these different stories, whose tentacles spread and touch all the other ones. The actors are given different parts in the different stories, changing genders, ethnic groups to serve the purpose of the stories and add substance to the common thread of perpetuity of actions throughout different ages. Technically the film is impeccable, from the stunning cinematography, to the visual effects, which create futuristic, yet "realistic" areas (reminiscent of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" or Steven Spielberg's "AI") , and of course the makeup which is simply superb.  This is an ambitious and fantastically crafted film, which maintains the spirit of the book and yet gives it an extra layer due to the interpretation of the directors/writers. Worth watching!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Argo

Movie Name: Argo
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton, Philip Baker Hall, Richard Kind
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Following the commercial and critical success of his first two directorial efforts, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town", Ben Affleck is back, tackling a story based on true events. The story of "Argo" follows the events surrounding the hostage situation that occurred in 1979/1980 in Iran with a group of American embassy workers. The group managed to take refuge in the Canadian ambassador's house following the invasion of the American Embassy. Back in the US, Tony Mendez comes up with a concept of portraying the group as part of a film crew and thus manage to secure their safe extraction, before the Iranian regime notices that they are there.
Ben Affleck is clearly an intelligent director, and "Argo" uses a fantastic premise and concept to build a film that brims with tension. The film successfully creates the atmosphere lived in 1979/1980 and provides insight into the tense political situation that dominated the world at that time. The film intertwines the more combustible political and war-like situation, with the more outlandish concept of using a fake Hollywood production to successfully save the hostages. The film really has a fantastic production design and cinematography, but Alexander Desplat and his soundtrack are disappointing - the talented composer is basically copying his own work from Jonathan Glazer's "Birth". The film also falters in Ben Afflecks attempts to make the story one of personal redemption for his character. That belongs to another film. "Argo" is nonetheless a good film worth checking out.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Frankenweenie

Movie Name: Frankenweenie
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Christopher Lee, Conchata Ferrell, Robert Capron
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" is a beautifully realized version of a short feature the director worked on at the beginning of his career at Disney. The film follows the story of young Victor Frankenstein, who is a lonely young boy, whose best friend is Sparky, his lively little dog. In one unfortunate accident, Sparky gets killed, and Victor unable to deal with his loss, decides to bring him back to life. This seemingly small event, starts going around Victor's young school colleagues, who in a bid to win the science fair unleash all sorts of monsters around town.
Tim Burton is a director with a very unique universe. As usual his main characters are part of the social tissue of a community, but always move in the fringes of it. His young hero, Victor, again comes in the vein of Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and even Willy Wonka - characters who are idiosyncratic and conduct their lives in a manner that though consistent with themselves, still sets them apart from everyone else. "Frankenweenie" has all of this and all the traditional trademarks from Tim Burton: the love of classic horror films, the eerie taste of suburbia, the quirky supporting characters, all designed fantastically well, with a beautiful cinematography from Peter Sorg and music from Danny Elfman. This is a great work from a director who keeps developing his universe and giving us films that have heart, intelligence and humor. A very good film worth watching.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Looper

Movie Name: Looper
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Frank Brennan, Garrett Dillahunt, Nick Gomez
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Rian Johnson's third feature, "Looper" is again an original screenplay from the young director, who previously directed the fantastic "Brick" and the interesting and flawed "The Brothers Bloom". "Looper" follows the story of Joe, a young man in 2044 who is basically a killer for hire. Joe eliminates people who are sent from the future by a crime syndicate - this sort of job is called a "looper". All these "loopers" eventually have to kill themselves. When the Joe from the future is sent back, he manages to escape, sending the life of his younger self on a downward spiral. The younger Joe attempts to escape retaliation for the unfinished job and also understand a larger crime plot taking place in the future. On his quest to escape, the younger Joe comes to know Sarah and her young son Cid, who both change his life forever.
After "The Brothers Bloom", director Rian Johnson is back with a stunning and intelligent science fiction film. The director manages to create a future that is bleak, and yet recognizable and not totally removed from our current reality. The characters are fully explored, in particular the young Joe, played fantastically well by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (under prosthetics to make him look like a younger Bruce Willis). The film utilizes the concept of time travel to smartly create  a notion of interconnection throughout the main characters and their fates, giving the film more than just an extra layer of action set pieces. This ends up giving the film it's pulse and heart, differentiating it from any standard action film. A great film waiting to be seen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dredd

Movie Name: Dredd
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Warrick Grier, Wood Harris, Rakie Ayola
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After the dreadful adaptation of "Judge Dredd" at the hands of Danny Cannon in 1995, featuring another forgettable performance from Sylvester Stallone, director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland (who collaborated with director Danny Boyle in the films "The Beach", "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine"), finally achieve a great adaptation of the gritty comic book character. The film follows the lead character, Judge Dredd, who in the future is part of the police force, who are tasked with multiple functions, including applying the law and executing it immediately. Dredd is assigned the evaluation of a new recruiter who has telepathic skills, and they both go investigate multiple murders in a problematic neighborhood. They end up locked up in a huge building, which is under the tutelage and control of Ma-Ma, the drug lord of the area.
Pete Travis, who has built a career on TV, first came to attention with the film "Vantage Point", which featured William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Dennis Quaid. His take on the Judge Dredd character is definitely grittier and closely resembling the tone and feel of the comic book. The film is more in tone with a polished B picture, but with a very intelligent screenplay and very good actors to anchor the action and suspense (Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey give the film credibility and edge). The film also benefits from good visual effects and the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, whose work is always fantastic, definitely place it as one of the most interesting action films of the year. The film smartly uses the claustrophobic setting of the apartment building to create a tense and menacing atmosphere. A good film not to be missed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Master

Movie Name: The Master
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ambyr Childers, Martin Dew, Christopher Evan Welch, Bruce Goodchild
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:
Following the stupendous "There Will Be Blood", the fantastic Paul Thomas Anderson is back, with a new film, which represents a new crowning achievement in a career already filled with stunning films. "The Master" follows the life of Freddie Quell, a young man who upon finishing his time in service during World War II wanders aimlessly through life, engaging in chronic drinking, violence and sex. On one of his escapades, he meets Lancaster Dodd, and his family (including pregnant wife Peggy and his adult children from previous marriages). These seemingly opposite people, are drawn to each other, as Lancaster, himself described as a Renaissance man, tries to save Freddie from his self-destructive path.
It's undeniable that Paul Thomas Anderson's films have always been  populated by interesting characters, with his central characters seeking a family, or a nuclear group setting, one that allows them to have a feeling of belonging. That occurred in "Boogie Nights", "Magnolia", ""Punch Drunk Love" and "There Will be Blood". "The Master" is an extension of those themes, but expanded on a different level - the quest of Lancaster in saving Freddie, is like a damn trying to stop the flow of a raging river. The film illustrates the basis of a cultish religion, but ultimately focuses it's attention on the quest of two different men, who cross paths, one trying to save another, and the other trying to understand where his life is going. The film is fantastically well done, from the stunning cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr. (who deserves an Oscar), to the brilliant performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Joaquin Phoenix in particular dominates the film from beginning to end - his portrayal of the lost Freddie, is simply unforgettable. A masterful film, impossible to be forgotten.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

Movie Name: Resident Evil: Retribution
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryanna Engineer, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Kevin Durand, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Shawn Roberts
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
The "Resident Evil" franchise continues, under the helm of the original creator of the series, prolific director Paul W.S. Anderson. The film picks right after the previous one, where Alice is again being hunted by the Umbrella Corporation. Alice finds herself in an underwater testing ground, where Umbrella develops biological weapons. Her former nemesis, Albert Wesker, is now trying to save her in order to get her help fighting the artificial computer who is running the entire Umbrella corporation and is intent on destroying the entire human race. It's up to Alice and her allies, to escape the desolated and dangerous ground and battle the corporate menace.
Paul W.S. Anderson is a director who primarily focuses on spectacle and big action sequences. Character development is usually secondary, and the "Resident Evil" has been a good example of it. The series is at this point starting to exhibit a bit of the same tiresome plot points, with some back and forth on story line elements that have been explored previously. To balance the weaker plot issues, the visuals are getting increasingly more sophisticated and so is the budget for the films. "Resident Evil: Retribution" tries to emulate a bit of James Cameron's "Aliens", by giving Alice/Milla Jovovich a maternal anchor, but that is sadly, threadbare and hardly developed. What ends up on screen are some good visual effects and some nicely choreographed action scenes, that don't make up for a film, but occupy some time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

For a Good Time, Call...

Movie Name: For a Good Time, Call...
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Jamie Travis
Stars: Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk, Mimi Rogers, Don McManus, Steven Shaw, Kevin Smith, Ken Marino, Sugar Lyn Beard, Seth Rogen
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"For a Good Time, Call..." follows the story of two young women in New York, who met each other many years ago, disliked each other and now by force of circumstances, find themselves having to share an apartment. Lauren, comes from a well off family and is trying to get a good job in publishing, while Katie, is living in her late grandmother's apartment, and making ends meet by working as a phone sex operator. Lauren ends up having to forge a partnership with Katie, and both women learn to tolerate and furthermore support and love each other.
Jamie Travis' debut film is a quirky and sweetly written comedy, which hides a very tender heart behind it's raunchy sex-related humor. The film follows the standard pairing of opposing personalities, namely the uptight girl, versus the more liberated one, both of whom eventually find out that their common ground is a lot more profound than what initially separated them. If the screenplay itself holds no particular fresh insight, the actors really bring it to life and are the key anchors of this independent comedy. Ari Graynor in particular holds the film together - she's a natural and vibrant force as the loud mouth Katie, who deep down has yet to know so much about love. The supporting cameos from Justin Long, Kevin Smith and Mimi Rogers, just add an extra bonus of hilarity. A cute little film worth watching!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

ParaNorman

Movie Name: ParaNorman
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
"ParaNorman" follows the story of Norman Babcock, a young boy who has the unusual capability of seeing ghosts. Norman's family doesn't believe in his different capabilities, and at school his colleagues mock him and ostracize him. Norman's uncle, unexpectedly appears and warns him about a curse, one that affects the small town where Norman lives. It's up to Norman and his new found group of friends, to prevent the curse from occurring and to restore peace to the small town.
"ParaNorman" is the joint effort from Chris Butler and Sam Fell, both with previous experience in animation, but who tackle with this feature, the challenge that is creating a stop-motion animated film. The film is simultaneously an homage to the features of Stuart Gordon (who directed the cult horror film "Re-Animator"), but also a heartfelt trip to the memories of the Hammer films (which featured Christopher Lee for instance). The simultaneous existence of the reverence for the familiar horror/suspense structure and the comedy that is distilled throughout the film, make this a compelling animated feature. Though there is the conventional undertone of the young hero coming to terms with his own difference and being accepted by his family, the overall tone of the film is still unique and original. The design of the characters should also be highlighted, and the special effects give an extra dimension to the overall film. A small gem worth watching.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cosmopolis

Movie Name: Cosmopolis
Year of Release: 2012
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Emily Hampshire, Philip Nozuka
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Director David Cronenberg follows 2011's "A Dangerous Method", with a totally different setting, based on the book of Don DeLillo of the same name, "Cosmopolis". The film follows the story of Eric Packer, a young billionaire who decides to go and have a haircut, but due to complicated traffic the journey ends up lasting the whole day. During the day, Eric keeps meeting different people on his limousine, who challenge him, question him and finally end up confronting him with his sense of life and mortality.
David Cronenberg is a fantastically gifted director, one who has built a unique career, made of interesting and challenging films. "Cosmopolis" is an adaptation of the novel from Don DeLillo, and the film ends up being a reflection on the state of most economies and how easily people get elevated to statuses which are devoid of any meaning. The young billionaire at the core of this deambulation, goes through his day, trying to connect to a wife he doesn't know, a mistress who understands him all too well, and a variety of characters that reflect not only himself, but the state of society. The film exists mostly as a general reflection of society, and not necessarily as a narrative with characters who exist as more than "types". That in itself ends up being the limitation of the film - the characters don't really interact with each other - they reflect on different themes. This makes for a cold and detached experience. The supporting cast is uniformly good, particularly Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, who bring some humanity to the film. A flawed yet interesting film.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

Movie Name: The Bourne Legacy
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Oscar Isaac, Zeljko Ivanek, Scott Glenn, Corey Johnson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Writer and director Tony Gilroy is back, continuing the "Bourne" saga for which he has written the previous three installments (for directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass). The film follows the story of Aaron Cross, who similarly to Jason Bourne, is an agent under the highly secretive program Treadstone. The people responsible for the program are all trying to contain the information from becoming public, and in the process, are eliminating all the supporting players, including agents. Aaron is one of the targets, though he manages to elude his captors and pursue a doctor who may be able to assist him uncovering the whole ordeal and save his own life. Aaron and Marta go on the run from the entire agency and other agents that are trying to eliminate them.
Tony Gilroy has a long career as a screenwriter, and knows the Bourne saga quite well. The main issue with extending the series which had Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass at the helm, is the lack of the sense of urgency and gripping characters the previous films had (not to mention the strong hand from director Paul Greengrass). "The Bourne Legacy" tries to build many bridges between the new characters and the events that surrounded the previous films, but ends up being a convoluted mess, that doesn't provide any further motivation or understanding of the main characters, that are after all, the core of this new film. The film tries quite hard to explain the ramifications of the conspiracies (trying to echo the 70s conspiracy thrillers, such as Sidney Pollack's "Three Days of the Condor"), but ultimately the characters are simply not as engaging, and their relationships not really developed. The film has a fantastic cast, namely Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, but they simply can't elevate the film to the levels of the previous ones. A missed opportunity.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Total Recall

Movie Name: Total Recall
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Len Wiseman
Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, Milton Barnes
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Len Wiseman's career as a director of big and entertaining action films continues, after his hit with "Live Free or Die Hard". "Total Recall" is another interpretation of the Philip K. Dick short story, which was also the base for Paul Verhoeven's film which came out in 1990. The film follows the story of Douglas Quaid, a worker in a factory whose life is mundane and trivial. Doug always feels as if though his life is meant for something more grandiose, and decides to go to Rekall, and get some memory implants. He soon realizes that he is a secret agent, whose task resides in aiding the resistance fighting a large corporation that wishes to destroy a colony for the sole purpose of profit.
Len Wiseman is an intelligent director, one who clearly inspires himself with the work and vision not just from the author himself, but also from other films and filmmakers. He distills and creates a vision that is unique and original. What "Total Recall" misses in terms of character development, it makes up in an original view of a future where greed dominates everything, one where the problems of social co-existence have become chronically troublesome. The film has hints and nods to Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" and even Alex Proya's "I, Robot" (two of them based on the work from the same author). The film has a stunning production design and cinematography, fantastic special effects, and three great actors in key roles, namely Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale (who makes a really awesomely gifted villain) and Bryan Cranston. A very entertaining film worth watching!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Movie Name: The Dark Knight Rises
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Daniel Sunjata, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Brett Cullen, Nestor Carbonell, Juno Temple
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Following the huge critical and commercial success of "Inception" and "The Dark Knight", director Christopher Nolan is back with his final chapter in the interpretation of the Batman character. The film picks up 8 years after the events of the "The Dark Knight", and Gotham City has become a more orderly city. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse and tends to his wounds. However a new menace comes to the city in the shape of Bane, a criminal mastermind, who battles Batman on equal terms, and who has resources which enable him to take over the city and hold it ransom. It's up to Bruce Wayne/Batman, to rise above all his limitations and with the help of old and new allies, save the city and it's inhabitants.
Christopher Nolan is back expanding on the themes of his previous Batman film, namely the deterioration of the economic and social tissues of society. Batman is a haunted figure, now battered by the fights he has fought, a recluse who has to deal with a menace that looms over the entire city, and over him and his personal well being (as well as survival). The film feels very much like an extension of the previous one, a closure to a path that the character of Bruce Wayne started with "Batman Begins". The film is very successful in building a momentum and a tension that grows progressively, anchored in actors that are uniformly good and solid. The film does feel a bit contrived and forced in certain sections, but the overall spectacle that the director builds, far surpasses the shortcomings of some characters. Special highlights should also be given to Wally Pfister's cinematography and the impeccable special effects. A solid and entertaining film worth watching.

The Queen of Versailles

Movie Name: The Queen of Versailles
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Genre: Documentary
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Director Lauren Greenfield who previously directed the documentary "Thin", is back with a look at the  economic collapse of 2008, through a family who was directed affected by it on a very large scale. The documentary focuses on David Siegel and his wife Jackie, who up to 2008 were living a millionaire life and who became well known for building the largest privately owned home in the USA. David Siegel made his fortune in time-sharing, and alongside his third wife Jackie, embarked on the construction of a large home in Orlando, which aimed to replicate the Palace of Versailles in France. The economic collapse of 2008 left Siegel's finances in shambles, and the future of his house under severe uncertainty.
Lauren Greenfield's documentary is an interesting look into the mechanics of not just the economic collapse we are all still experiencing, but how consumerism dominates so much of our current society. Observing the lives of a family who has so much, and who simply flounders and is unable to cope with the new constraints of a reality who has changed, is very much like looking at so many families who exist all around the globe (though the scale of wealth is considerably different). What makes this documentary so pertinent to these days, is essentially the view it shows of how most people live their lives beyond their realistic capabilities/resources, and how deep down, everyone has ambitions which are so similar (no matter where you come from). A great documentary worth watching.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Rome With Love

Movie Name: To Rome with Love
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni, Flavio Parenti, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Carol Alt, Ornella Muti, Corrado Fortuna
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Woody Allen is back with his regular one film per year output that has been a staple of his since the 70s (which makes him a very prolific filmmaker). "To Rome with Love" is a film with a series of vignettes, following different characters in the city. One of the stories centers on Hayley, a young American tourist who falls in love with an Italian attorney, whose parents come to the city to meet her future husband and in-laws. Another story centers on John, who revisits a younger version of himself in that city, and his tribulations with love and two different women. Another vignette focuses on Leopoldo, a clerk who becomes the center of attention of the media, who constantly harass him. And finally another story that follows a young couple on their first trip to Rome, who get lost from each other, and who come to terms with what they want out of life.
"To Rome with Love" is one of Woody Allen's lighter comedies, filled with entertaining moments, stunning cinematography and great actors. It's a film that touches some of his usual themes, namely death, love, the nature of relationships and sex. It's also a comedy filled with his surreal moments that really brings back memory of his full blown parodies from the 70s. The film doesn't add anything in particular to his body of work, but it's a nice interlude with great actors doing what they do best, namely Judy Davis and Penelope Cruz, who play their usually characters, namely the slightly neurotic woman and the voluptuous temptress respectively, impeccably well. An entertaining film worth checking out.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Savages

Movie Name: Savages
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bichir,  Joel David Moore, Sandra Echeverria
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Director Oliver Stone is back, following his sequel to his own successful film "Wall Street". "Savages" is a return to a style the director knows quite well, having directed the fantastic "Natural Born Killers" and the less seen, but equally interesting, "U-Turn". "Savages" follows the story of Chon and Ben, best friends who have a small business in California selling drugs. Their business draws attention from a big drug cartel based out of Mexico, which is run by ruthless Elena, who wants to take over their little operation. In order to impose her orders, Elena has Ophelia, the girlfriend of both Chon and Ben, kidnapped. What follows is Chon and Ben's attempts to get Ophelia back and get out of the business.
"Savages" is an adaptation of Don Winslow's novel. The film is graphic in the depiction that it makes of violence, but at it's core, tries to showcase the bond between the three main characters (and their need to save each other). That is precisely where the problem with the film lies: none of the actors who embody the central characters transmit a sense of credibility to the whole story. The central characters are suppose to be a small family unit, one where the bond is strong and where the chemistry is palpable, however, the more engaging characters end up being the supporting ones, embodied by Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro. The story itself is vividly depicted by Oliver Stone, who again saturates the screen with an energy seen in his previous films, however the poor casting for the central leads ends up making the film feel impoverished, particularly with the numb Blake Lively, who simply can't act. Ophelia is suppose to be an energetic and beautiful California girl, but in the hands of Blake Lively, she becomes a comatose and flat character, something that taints the film itself. An interesting film that deserved better casting.

The Amazing Spider Man

Movie Name: The Amazing Spider Man
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan,  Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, Max Charles, C. Thomas Howell, Kari Coleman
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Marc Webb's second feature after his great debut, "500 Days of Summer", is a retelling of the story of the iconic Spider Man. The film follows the story of young Peter Parker, whose parents leave unexpectedly one evening, leaving him with his uncle and aunt, who become surrogate parents after his own die in a car accident. Peter grows up to be a highly intelligent, but timid adolescent, who stands up for what he believes, sometimes at a risk of being bullied. After visiting the lab and a scientist colleague of his late father, Peter is accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, which gives him some extraordinary powers. Peter also discovers some research his late father was developing, which he successfully adds information to, enabling his father's former colleague to develop a serum. This serum ends up turning him into a monster, something Spider Man has to battle to save his closest loved ones.
Marc Webb's take on the classic Marvel Comics character, tries to balance three interesting components in the story of Spider Man: the awkward teenage years, the first love of two adolescents and the big action picture with a lot of special effects. The mix of these components is the main problem with the film - the director aims to create more than standard flat characters, something he and his great actors successfully achieve, but the problem of the film is the mix of this component with the more spectacle side of a comic book or adventure film for that matter. The fantastic special effects aren't enough to hide the fact that ultimately, the villain in this story presents no real menace and the action set pieces feel inserted into a story that was told very differently (the tone is more akin to a romantic film). This is a different Spider Man (even the origin story is told somewhat differently), but one that still needs to find a better balance between character development and action/special effects extravaganza.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Movie Name: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson, Rufus Sewell, Martin Csokas, Erin Wasson, Joseph Mawle, Robin McLeavy, John Rothman, Alan Tudyk
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov experienced his biggest hit to date with "Wanted", which was an adaptation of a comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is the adaptation of the novel from the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also co-wrote the screenplay of Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows"). The film introduces the audience to young Abraham Lincoln, who loses his mother following an attack by a vampire. Young Abraham grows up and tries to avenge his mother's death, upon which he is tutored by Henry Sturgess, a vampire himself, in the art of killing the undead. Lincoln, becomes a resourceful vampire hunter, but also studies to become an attorney and gets involved in politics. As the years move on, Lincoln becomes president of the United States, and leads the movement to abolish slavery, something that the vampires want to stop at all costs.
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a film that holds an interesting premise - mixing an iconic historical character, with fictitious events that would allow to bring out an adventuresome angle to the whole story. However, the film ends up faltering precisely due to an unresolved screenplay. The director decides to create two major action set pieces within the story, both involving battles with vampires, but both cases are underwhelming. Abraham Lincoln, even as an adventurer never really comes alive, the same going for any of the other supporting characters - they are all uni dimensional (even the vampire villains are... bloodless). Where the film does come alive are in the fantastically staged action scenes, where the visuals are indeed superb. An interesting premise that deserved a better screenplay.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Movie Name: Moonrise Kingdom
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, L.J. Foley, Jake Ryan, Charlie  Kilgore, Gabriel Rush
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
After the wonderful "Fantastic Mr. Fox", director Wes Anderson is back to his traditional universe, populated by whimsical details and nostalgia for a time that has long gone. The film follows the story of two young kids, Sam and Suzy, who plot and runaway from their surroundings, in hopes of finding a sense of belonging. Sam lives with a foster family and is a cub-scout, whereas Suzy lives with her parents and three brothers in a huge house, where she feels lost and at odds with everyone. They both decide to run away, upon which a whirlwind of people find themselves on their tracks in order to restore some order to their lives.
The films of Wes Anderson are always about the journey that the main characters make. Be it journeys of growth into adulthood ("Rushmore") or journeys centered around family ("The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited"). The path is populated with interesting characters that make the journey colorful and interesting, which is where the core of his films lie. An interesting display of quirks and oddities of characters that are different, yet filled with insight and with a core that is, for the most part, decent and humane. Some of the characters are not strongly developed, but fit within the larger picture that is being built. "Moonrise Kingdom" is no different: the story of young love is punctuated with interesting characters (and situations) that surround the young children at the core of the story. The film has a wonderful cast, from the usual Bill Murray, but also the excellent Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton. Another interesting film to the work of Wes Anderson. It will be interesting to see what comes next from his universe.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Prometheus

Movie Name: Prometheus
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Kate Dickie, Patrick Wilson, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Lucy Hutchinson
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Suspense
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
Prolific director Ridley Scott is back, after his latest disappointing titles, "Body of Lies" and "Robin Hood". "Prometheus" is a prequel to the "Alien" saga, and tries to establish ties and connections to the events that occurred in the original "Alien" also directed by Ridley Scott. The film introduces us to a couple of researchers, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway who discover ancient writings in a cave that point out to a civilization who are the creators of human life. The information gathered points out to a planet situated in a different galaxy. With a crew sponsored by the Weyland corporation, they set off to find out the birth of the human species, and end up discovering something quite different.
Ridley Scott is a master at creating environments and ambiances. "Prometheus" excels at building a futuristic landscape that is simultaneously alien, beautiful, but also vaguely menacing. The film is possessed of a beauty in terms of art direction, set design and perfect integration of special effects, however the characters and their arc/development is very limited. The screenplay has plenty of ambitions and lots of ideas, but forgets to populate it with characters that have some depth and some motivation. The actors have little to do, and Noomi Rapace never really brings the dimension and strength that Sigourney Weaver made so fully realized in the "Alien" saga. Charlize Theron is as always fantastic, but in the end, she has little to do. A high point should be made of the fantastic Michael Fassbender, who creates the unforgettable David. The film is a mixed result - for all it's connections to "Alien" (even in the design details), the screenplay is definitely not as accomplished as that classic ever was.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman

Movie Name: Snow White and The Huntsman
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Noah Huntley, Lily Cole
Genre: Adventure, Action, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Rupert Sanders' debut feature film, following a career in commercials, is the second project of the current year to tackle the Snow White fairytale (the first one was Tarsem Singh's "Mirror, Mirror"). The film follows the story of Snow White, whose father, the beloved king of a prosperous kingdom, marries a malevolent woman, who quickly kills him in order to seize the throne. Ravenna holds magic powers in her hands and wants to gain immortality. In order to vanquish all opposition, she has most of the king's supporters killed or banished, and imprisons Snow White. Once she reaches adulthood, Ravenna decides to consume her heart, in order to gain her much sought immortality. Snow White escapes to the Dark Forest, trying to elude her grim future.
Rupert Sanders clearly has a visual style, however in this film in particular, it tries to be many films simultaneously. There are influences from Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and also from Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth". The main problem with this film is that it tries too much to be many things and go in many directions without really embracing any. The screenplay simply doesn't go anywhere with any depth - the elements of fantasy aren't really embraced, nor are the more belligerent ones. The film has an uneven rhythm also - starting out quite dynamically and then leaving the main characters without much to do or say during most of the film. Another big problem in the film is Kristen Stewart, who simply doesn't have the acting ability to carry the character, who is asked to be simultaneously innocent but also iconic and charismatic. Charlize Theron ends up being the best thing about a film that definitely had a lot more promise than it finally delivers.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Men in Black 3

Movie Name: Men in Black 3
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve, David Rasche, Bill Hader, Mike Colter, Michael Chernus
Genre: Comedy, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Barry Sonnenfeld's new feature film, six years after "RV", is the third installment of the franchise he started in 1997, which was followed by a lackluster sequel in 2002, "Men in Black". The film follows the two main characters, agents J and K, who have to battle a dangerous alien who escaped a prison situated on the moon. The dangerous alien goes back in time, forty years specifically, to prevent Agent K from arresting him. It's up to J to go back in time and prevent the future from being altered and Earth from being invaded by an alien race.
"Men in Black 3" was plagued by production problems, mostly having to deal with the script, which had to be reworked around the section of the film that takes place in 1969 (which forced the production of the film to be paused for 6 weeks). That's precisely the problem with the film - the pacing in the midsection is forced and contrived, losing a lot of the wit and charm that Josh Brolin brings to the film as the younger K. The film winks an eye at the civil rights movement, but it's barely there. The actors try as much as they can to make the screenplay work, but by the time the final act appears, everything in the action is occurring by the numbers. This franchise always had a great sense of humor to it, and it does show on occasion, but unless the quality of the writing improves, this is one series that should end at this point. A sadly missed opportunity.