Saturday, January 28, 2012

Albert Nobbs

Movie Name: Albert Nobbs
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Stars: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Janet McTeer, Pauline Collins, Brendan Gleeson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Brenda Fricker, Mark Williams, Phyllida Law, Bronagh Gallagher
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Rodrio Garcia's new film, following "Mother and Child", is an adaptation of a short story from George Moore. This story had been played in the theater by Glenn Close, who championed this story for over twenty years and was crucial in the development and realization of the film. Albert Nobbs is a waiter in a small hotel, where he is impeccable in his attire and service. Albert saves all his money and extra tips in the hopes of saving enough in order to buy a little shop for himself. However, Albert is in reality a woman who has been in disguise for most of her life. When she accidentally meets someone in an identical situation, Albert devises a plan to find some happiness in life.
"Albert Nobbs" is a film that lives of the creation of the main character by Glenn Close. Glenn Close who has always been an actor associated with characters of extreme traits, such as Adrian Lynne's "Fatal Attraction" and Stephen Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons", opts to create a character who is quiet and almost invisible. Albert does not call attention to himself, is non confrontational, and therefore almost imperceptible. The film itself almost falls to the same fate as the character - for a story who had such potential, the film feels remarkably devoid of conflict, spark or drama. Janet McTeer is an exception - she imbues her character with an energy and vivacity, which is something that the film itself also needs. The production design and overall acting are impeccable, but the film itself sadly falls short of something dramatically poignant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oscar nominations announced

The Oscar nominations for the best films of 2011 are out and leading the pack is Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", a fantastic film worthy of all the accolades. Sadly missing are brave films and performers such as Steve McQueen's "Shame" with great performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" with the fantastic Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" from Lynne Ramsay with the amazing Tilda Swinton.  Check the full list here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Underworld: Awakening

Movie Name: Underworld: Awakening
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried, Wes Bentley
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
The "Underworld" franchise is back, following the prequel "Rise of the Lycans", making the character embodied by Kate Beckinsale the center of the story again. The film follows Selene, a vampire, and her partner Michael, a hybrid. While the vampires and lycans have always been hidden from human view (and fought against each other for centuries), the reality has changed, and both find themselves hunted by humans. Selene is captured and kept frozen in a lab for testing for 12 years, upon which she's liberated by a fellow incarcerated person. Upon her release it's up to Selene to understand what happened to her species, to her partner and who is this young girl who freed her.
The "Underworld" series has by now clearly established Kate Beckinsale's character as her main focus point. Selene is a character that is meant to be cold and rational, but also emotional towards her partner Michael, who started as a human and was later "transformed". The films live from the battle/feud between vampires and werewolves, and of course of the elaborate action set pieces that allow to showcase special effects. The stories have been gaining further momentum as the series continues, but the characters continue to be non-existent in their depth or dynamics. Kate Beckinsale who is clearly an actress of talent, showcases her luminous beauty and not much else in this series. As is these are films that retain their entertainment value for the  industry of their teams.

Haywire

Movie Name: Haywire
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Mathieu Kassovitz, Aaron Cohen
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
The prolific and talented Steven Soderbergh is back after the solid "Contagion" and "The Informant!". "Haywire" follows the story of Mallory, a woman who works for a private agency, extracting people from dangerous situations. Mallory is a former Marine and is very good at what she does - she's resourceful, athletic and violent when needed. When she is betrayed by her former employer after a mission in Barcelona, Mallory sets out on a revenge mission.
"Haywire" is a film that Steven Soderbergh built around Gina Carano, a mixed martial arts fighter. The film follows the usual procedure of a revenge film, with the difference here being the hero a female and the realism of the fight scenes, which are indeed brutal and very well choreographed. Soderbergh surrounds Gina Carano with fantastic actors, namely Ewan McGregor and Michael Douglas, who play the shady boss and government type respectively, perfectly. The film ends up being a prisoner of it's own cliches (none of the characters have much depth or exist beyond their types), but Steven Soderbergh is a talented filmmaker and creates great action set pieces that allow to maximize the athletic component of his main actor. A solid effort from a director who keeps exploring different ways to tell interesting stories.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Iron Lady

Movie Name: The Iron Lady
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Stars: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman, Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Head, Roger Allam, Michael Pennington, John Sessions, Harry Lloyd
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Phyllida Lloyd has made her name as a theatre director, having previously directed for the screen the highly successful and extremely mediocre "Mamma Mia" with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. "The Iron Lady" follows the story of Margaret Roberts/Thatcher, who rose to prominence in the late 70s to become the prime minister of the UK for 12 years. The film explores the life of Margaret Thatcher, from her humble beginnings, but focuses mostly on her ascension to power, mixing that focus with her current life, retired and struggling with dementia.
Phyllida Lloyd's film lives from the remarkable portrait of Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep embodies the character through and through, creating a woman filled with flaws and self doubts, someone who is alone in her pursuits, but also ferocious in her approach to life. It's a portrait so strong and overwhelming, that the film almost feels like a supporting element to display her amazing performance. The film does falter in the fact that all that made Margaret Thatcher such a polarizing figure is never really broached, the supporting characters are almost non-existent or not really defined, but the film allows for Meryl Streep to paint a rich canvas for a woman, who for better and worse changed the life of England for such a long time. A film worth watching!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

War Horse

Movie Name: War Horse
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, Toby Kebbell, Patrick Kennedy, David Kross, Eddie Marsan
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Steven Spielberg is back, adapting the book from Michael Morpurgo, which has also been transposed to a very successful play. The film follows the story of Joey, a beautiful horse who is brought up in a small farm by a young man named Albert. Joey gets sold and goes through the horrors of the First World War, touching the lives of multiple people, and at the end of the war, reunites with Albert (who has also enlisted as part of the British Army).
Steven Spielberg has always been a director who knows how to create emotional scenes that resonate with the audience. In his best moments, such as "Schindler's List" or "Raiders of the Last Ark" for instance, there is the perfect combination of pure cinematic pleasure with a story that is engaging and resonating. "War Horse" however, is built almost exclusively as bait for awards season. The characters are barely defined, being none more than just archetypes, namely the strong mother, the young hero who goes to war, the alcoholic father with a good heart, the bad landlord and his selfish son, and the list goes on. There is nothing new in this film, and though Spielberg tries to create an old style (almost John Ford style), the film ultimately feels manipulative in the worst sense of the word. The pleasures from the stunning cinematography from Janusz Kaminski or the score from John Williams, don't hide the fact that ultimately this is a film that has already been done and seen, without the overly awards-pretense stigma that comes attached to it. A lesser effort from a great director.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Movie Name: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, Stephen Graham, Stuart Graham, Simon McBurney, Christian McKay
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Following the celebrated "Let the Right One In", director Tomas Alfredson is back with a new adaptation of John Le Carré's novel of the same name. The film takes place in the 70s, during the Cold War, and follows the story of George Smiley and his attempts to discover a mole in the British secret services. Smiley follows a thread of suspicion and  as he probes deeper, he realizes the mole is within the high ranks of the British Intelligence.
The film by Tomas Alfredson is a fantastic adaptation of the novel from John Le Carré, which had already been adapted in 1979 for a mini series, featuring Ale Guiness as George Smiley. The film follows the intricacies of the spy games during the Cold War, building a scenario of constant doubt and mystery that makes it possible for any of the characters to be the "mole" currently being chased. Tomas Alfredson smartly and deftly anchors the film in the decade in which it takes place, using the great cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema, and has a great cast to work with. Gary Oldman is as usual superb, disappearing into the skin of Smiley, a man who has seen it all, one who is collected and whose intellect and attention to details lead him in the right direction. Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy all create equally strong characters. This is a great film worth watching!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Artist

Movie Name: The Artist
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Malcolm McDowell, Basil Hoffman, Nina Siemaszko
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
"The Artist" is Michel Hazanavicius' fourth feature and is a nostalgic trip to an era that has gone by, specifically, the silent films. The film follows the story of George Valentin, a dashing star from the silent movies, whose career starts to unravel when sound, the talkies, make their appearance. In parallel with his downward spiral, we witness the upswing of the beautiful Peppy Miller, who starts as an extra and slowly becomes "America's Sweetheart" in the new medium that ostracizes George. Their paths cross and their bond and connection is immediate, however the tribulations of life sends them in different directions.
This film is very much a variation of the eternal "A Star is Born", transposed for an era when a lot of the silent screen actors had a difficult time transitioning to the talkies - the best example of that is of course Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" with Gloria Swanson. "The Artist" uses the cues of silent films, such as the subtitle cards to showcase what the actors are saying, but unlike Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" where there was a tribute to the pioneers of cinema, to the joy of films as a magical and entertaining thing, this is a film that utilizes the silent film style as a more calculated ploy. "The Artist" is filled with nostalgia, but lacks the spark that makes the films of Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin, to name but a few magical and everlasting works of art. It stands as an interesting exercise in nostalgia and not much more than that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

Movie Name: The Adventures of Tintin
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Joe Starr
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
After the disappointing "Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", director Steven Spielberg is back adapting the work of belgium author Hergé. "The Adventures of Tintin" follows Tintin, the young reporter who is tangled in a mystery surrounding an ancient boat, one that belonged to the family of Captain Haddock, who becomes one of Tintin's close friends. Both Tintin and Haddock have to face off the villainy of Rackam/Sakharine, a man who wants to claim a long lost buried treasure and avenge his family against Haddock's.
Steven Spielberg uses the same performance capture process that created the lifeless figures of Robert Zemeckis' "Beowulf" and "The Polar Express" to bring to life Tintin's adventures. There is beauty in the way the shots are staged and designed, but the figures remain lifeless and uni dimensional. The film has a mixture of Indiana Jones and some slapstick, but the Tintin from the pages of Hergé never really comes alive. For all the noise and spectacle taking place, in the end the spark and life from the characters and their adventures on the pages, feels strangely lifeless and stale on the screen. The film always feels like is trying too hard to be a lot of different things simultaneously, adventure, slapstick, comedy, without ever really being any successfully. What is left are some beautifully done shots for a film and a character that deserved quite a lot more.

Shame

Movie Name: Shame
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Alex Manette, Hannah Ware, Rachel Farrar, Robert Montano
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Director and artist Steve McQueen is back, after his debut with "Hunger". "Shame" follows the story of Brandon Sullivan, a young man living in downtown New York who is a sexual addict. Brandon lives a comfortable life and engages in multiple sexual encounters with women, both ones he meets casually or through the Internet. When his sister comes to stay with him, she sets off a series of events that leads Brandon to question his own identity.
Steve McQueen probes the deeps of addiction with "Shame". Brandon uses sex as a means to overcome the fact he can't connect with people on any other level. This is a man who doesn't really understand the notion of a relationship and who shies away from any intimate relationship, since that implies investing something of himself in it. Even his relationship with his sister is strained due to this. Both siblings are damaged, unable to cope with others, but while Sissy directs most of her pain towards herself, with repeated suicide attempts, Brandon just keeps perpetuating sexual encounters that are meaningless and empty. His pain continues and persists, and his decay and realization doesn't come without a hefty price. This is a great look at the depths of addiction, at the ghosts that haunt people's lives. The film is superbly acted by both Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan who build not superficial characters, but people who are pierced with agonizing grief. A film to watch!