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.