Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

Movie Name: Dallas Buyers Club
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Kevin Rankin, Griffin Dunne, Michael O'Neill, J.D. Evermore
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Director Jean-Marc Vallee's "Dallas Buyers Club" follows the true story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician and rodeo bull rider, who in 1985 discovers he's been infected with HIV. Ron goes through the process of denial, and eventually comes to grips with the fact that this deadly disease is causing the demise of millions of people. Ron starts investigating ways to get on AZT trials, and finds out much to his dismay, that the medication is expensive and difficult to obtain. At the end of his wits, he decides to go to Mexico, where he finds alternative ways to battle the ailment with different drugs, not approved by the FDA. Upon his returns to the US, he starts providing people with these drugs, with the assistance of a young transvestite, by the name of Rayon.
The "Dallas Buyers Club" is a film that anchors itself on the fantastic work of the cast it has assembled and the poignant story of it's main lead. The homophobic Ron Woodroof, is charismatic and impulsive, but also holds on to his life with everything he has. His resilience and persistence is a testament to the capability of human beings to pursue life above all and against all obstacles. The film details his misadventures, since the time he discovers his diagnosis, but falters in giving some additional ground for it's supporting characters, namely Rayon and Dr. Eve Saks. Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto go through startling physical transformations (that are quite impressive), both creating characters that indelible and unforgettable in their own terms. Jennifer Garner ends up with the more grounded character, as does the talented Denis O'Hare, however their characters are simple sketches without much depth. An interesting film worth watching.

All is Lost

Movie Name: All is Lost
Year of Release: 2013
Director: J.C. Chandor
Stars: Robert Redford
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Director J.C. Chandor is back, after his impressive feature debut with "Margin Call". "All is Lost" follows the story of a man who is crossing the Indian Ocean on his own, and who wakes up one day to discover his yacht has collided with a shipping container dumped in the ocean. This resourceful man manages to patch the damage the best way possible, but his situation goes from bad to worse, when a storm of epic proportions hits him, destroying his ship beyond redemption. His only alternative is to seek refuge on a raft and salvage whatever food and water he has left. Through his resources and intelligence, the man manages to overcome further obstacles, in the hopes of reaching an area where he can be hopefully spotted by a ship.
"All is Lost" is a seemingly straightforward story - how a man of a certain age and experience survives at sea on his own. But beyond that it also becomes the story of a person coming to terms with the certainty of his own demise. The main character is put through so many obstacles, so much torment that by the end of the film, it's only understandable his state of mental and physical fatigue.
The film provides a great canvas for Robert Redford to play one of his rugged and stoic heroes. However unlike some of his previous efforts, this is an every day man trying to survive a battle that far surpasses his means. The cinematography from Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini is stunning. A great film worth watching.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Movie Name: Thor: The Dark World
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Christopher Eccleston, Jaimie Alexander, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Alice Krige
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Following the success of the first "Thor" and "The Avengers", the sequel to the Marvel comics hero is here. The film follows the aftermath of the events of the "The Avengers" storyline - Thor is establishing peace in multiple realms, missing his dearly beloved Jane Foster who is on Earth. Loki in the meantime, is a prisoner in Asgard, all the while an ancient race, the Dark Elves, are looming in the darkness, unbeknown to the heroes, waiting to unleash a deadly weapon and destroy the Universe. It's up to Thor, Jane and their friends on Earth, to stop this deadly foe and vanquish the imminent darkness.
The Marvel studios films are becoming like standard products every year, churning out films that promise more visual gimmickry, spectacle on a grandiose scale that are always topping each other out. This year already had the wonderful "Iron Man 3", directed by Shane Black and featuring a very inspired screenplay, which elevated the film to a different level. "Thor: The Dark World", doesn't benefit of the same kind of humor, and the character at certain times feels almost too serious for it's own good, but there's no doubt that this film, as most of the films coming out from Marvel, are very well assembled products that allow for a good amount of entertainment.  Are these films ultimately becoming more anonymous in terms of direction? The answer is yes - Alan Taylor, the director of "Thor", does not have the credits brought in by Kenneth Branagh for the previous Thor adventure, but he manages to give the film a more rugged and textured look. As entertainment goes, this is a film that allows for the viewer to enjoy the time being dazzled by the beautiful frames on display and artistry of the special effects. The actors are uniformly competent, but it's still puzzling why someone like Natalie Portman ends up playing parts that are so very underwritten. Entertaining.

La Vie D'Adele/Blue is the Warmest Color

Movie Name: La Vie D'Adele
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Stars: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Aurelien Recoing, Catherine Salee, Benjamin Siksou, Mona Walravens, Alma Jodorowsky
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

"La Vie D'Adele" is this year's winner of the Palm D'Or and brings forward the talent of the director Abdellatif Kechiche, and the two main actresses, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, all three having shared that main award. The film follows the story of a young high school student, Adele, who is an average young girl, with dreams of becoming a teacher surrounded by children, whom she adores. Adele is also wrestling with her awakening feelings towards women, and those come rushing in when she meets the beautiful Emma (and her blue hair). Both girls start a friendship, Emma being an older art student who guides Adele, and that initial platonic friendship slowly becomes an amorous relationship.
"Blue is the Warmest Color" functions as an intimate portrait of the growth of a young woman into adulthood and into her own skin. Adele goes through the conflicts of understanding her own desire and where she wants to be in life, and the audience partakes in that intimate journey. Emma is the other side of this journey, a young woman who has understood her choices, and how she wants to live her life. Both these young women become involved in a relationship that is erotic, intimate, adult - they make their life visible to us, the audience, in a way that is almost voyeuristic. The two main actresses make this film utterly vivid, authentic and imminently realistic, and deserve all the praise they've been getting. A fantastic film worth watching.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Great Expectations

Movie Name: Great Expectations
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Mike Newell
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger, Robbie Coltrane, Toby Irvine, Sally Hawkins, Jason Flemyng, David Walliams, Olly Alexander, Ewen Bremner, Ben Lloyd-Hughes
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Prolific and eclectic director Mike Newell is back, after his big budget extravaganza that was "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time". His latest feature is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, that has seen quite a few iconic adaptations, the latest of which was directed by Alfonso Cuaron in 1998 and featured Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro. The film follows the story of young Pip, an orphan under the care of his older sister. Pip on one of his excursions to visit his parents graves in the cemetery, comes across a convicted criminal on the run, who threatens and begs Pip for help. Pip acquiesces, though the criminal is shackled again the following day. Pip also starts visiting the eccentric Ms. Havisham, a rich recluse lady living close by, who has an adopted daughter by the name of Estella. Pip develops strong affections for her, and as the years pass by, Pip continues to learn his trade as blacksmith, until he receives the news he has received an inheritance.
"Great Expectations" is a novel that has had quite a large number of adaptations, the most iconic being the 1946 one, directed by David Lean, featuring John Mills, Alec Guinness and Finlay Currie. Mike Newell is a director who has always transitioned between different genres with a certain ease, and also without much distinction in his style and perspective (he started his career working in television for many years). This adaptation is faithful to the novel and aims to portray with a certain degree of realism the streets of London in the early 19th century. The director succeeds in bringing verisimilitude to what is on screen, and much of that comes from the stunning production design, cinematography and superb casting. Though there's no genial vision behind this adaptation, the film is nonetheless engaging and an interesting interpretation of a classic novel. The actors are wonderful, in particular Helena Bonham Carter (spot on casting) and the always phenomenal Ralph Fiennes. A film worth watching.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ender's Game

Movie Name: Ender's Game
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Gavin Hood
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias, Nonso Anozie, Khylin Rambo, Conor Carroll
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Following the abysmal reviews that greeted Gavin Hood's previous directorial effort, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", the director went to television, and finally has returned to the big screen with an adaptation of the novel "Ender's Game".
The film follows the story of Ender, the main hero, a teenage boy who is being trained to be a commander of Earth's forces in the battle against alien invasions. Earth has been invaded previously, and fearing another attack from alien creatures, young boys and girls are being trained from a young age to develop skills on how to battle these creatures. Ender is a young boy who is possessed of amazing skills and intelligence, and that propels him to the top of his classes (also making him a target for bullies). He catches the eye of Colonel Graff, who sees in him the salvation of the Planet and who decides to groom him in that direction.
"Ender's Game" is a step forward for Gavin Hood - though far from a perfect feature, it's a well executed and visually stupendous film. The film, as has been the case with the director's previous directorial outings, falters in the dramatic tissue that brings the feature to life. There is a certain stiffness in the way the characters are brought to life and how their interaction exists (within the cliches that are created). In the end, the film functions as a showcase for fantastic visual effects - watching those young boys and girls playing with lives (digital ones) as if they are playing with video games, is one of the philosophical question that it poses (without many answers in the aftermath). The film allows for some good work from actors such as Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield, who all manage not to be bypassed by the overwhelming panoply of visual effects. The cinematography from Donald McAlpine and the music from Steve Jablonsky are equally memorable. A film worth watching.