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.