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.