Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine

Movie Name: The Wolverine
Year of Release: 2013
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Hal Yamanouchi, Ken Yamamura
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
Following the quickly forgotten "Knight and Day", director James Mangold is back, tackling a project that was originally going to be directed by Darren Aronofsky. "The Wolverine" is a sequel to the mediocre Gavin Hood film, "XMen Origins: Wolverine". The film introduces us to Wolverine/Logan, who is in deep isolation after the events of "X-Men: Last Stand" and the death of Jean Grey (for which he feels responsible). Wolverine is tracked by a young resourceful Japanese woman, who is working for a man he saved when Nagasaki was bombed during World War 2. This man is dying, and wants to thank Logan for saving him. When Wolverine arrives in Japan, he is startled to hear that Yashida (the dying man) has become one of the most powerful men in Japan, but also that he can offer him a way to gain his mortality. This is part of a larger plot as Wolverine quickly discovers.
What has always been interesting about the Wolverine character and the XMen stories, is the fact that all these characters are suppose to be outsiders, who though saving mankind, are persecuted by those they save. Wolverine has however always been the rebel and the outsider, even as a part of the XMen. This story in particular tackles a specific series that had Wolverine being in Japan as a Samurai - the film references diverse films, such as Sidney Pollack's "Yakuza", but struggles in finding an identity of it's own. The writers and director, tried to create a mood and provide character development, but ultimately the story feels and looks uninspired, making Wolverine a dull character (again the traditional love story with a woman who barely emotes anything). His quest to find himself and his own mortality feels tired at this point, as does some of the villainous characters in this film (what's the point of having ninjas in a film, if you don't give them much to do). The overall look and feel of the film are again generic and absent of a specific point of view. A wasted effort.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Los Amantes Pasajeros/I'm so Excited

Movie Name: Los Amantes Pasajeros
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Javier Camara, Raul Arevalo, Lola Duenas, Hugo Silva, Antonio de la Torre, Jose Luis Torrijo, Cecilia Roth, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Blanca Suarez, Paz Vega, Jose Maria Yazpik
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
The wonderfully gifted director Pedro Almodovar is back after the fantastic "La Piel que Habito". Whereas his previous effort was a dark thriller, "Los Amantes Pasajeros" is definitely a more lighthearted effort. The film follows the events that surround a flight departing Madrid towards Mexico. Due to the negligence of an airport crew member, the plane has problems with the landing gear, which forces the plane to fly around in circles trying to find a nearby airport to land. While this is taking place, the flamboyant crew tries to entertain their diversified first class passengers, which include a runaway banker involved in a financial scandal, a psychic, a high class prostitute and a hired killer, to name but a few.
"Los Amantes Pasajeros" is an attempt by the fantastic Pedro Almodovar to go back to his more lighthearted moments of previous comedies such as "Kika", where there's an outrageous component to the story, which also underlines a deep social commentary and criticism. This film in particular tries to underscore the current financial tribulations and scandals that are dominating Spain's economy. The film has a series of interesting and quirky characters, very typical of the director, but unlike his previous directorial output, none of these characters is particularly drawn out very extensively. Much like John Waters, Pedro Almodovar has always been a director who builds a universe that is thoroughly coherent, from a story, aesthetic and performance point of view - this film lacks a sense of genuine joy and transgression though. It's a lighthearted feature from one of the most distinct and consistent voices currently working in film these days.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Way Way Back

Movie Name: The Way Way Back
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Stars: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Robb Corddry, Amanda Peet, River Alexander, Zoe Levin, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Adam Riegler
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"The Way Way Back" is Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's debut feature - this directing team is mostly known for their acting careers, and also for winning an Oscar for the screenplay of Alexander Payne's "The Descendants". "The Way Way Back" follows the story of 14 year old Duncan, whose parents divorced and who is spending his Summer with his mom, her new partner, an obnoxious man named Trent, and Trent's self-absorbed daughter. Duncan feels isolated from everyone and finds his way to a Water Park, where he starts a friendship with the owner, a wisecracking man by the name of Owen. Duncan slowly builds friendships and starts having fun, until he realizes that Trent isn't all that he presents himself to be.
"The Way Way Back" is a coming of age story for a young man, whose parents have divorced, and who is trying to belong somewhere. Though the story itself isn't exactly something entirely surprising, the directors/writers create interesting characters that give this small film an additional quirk and interest (there are references from films such as Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" or even Chris and Paul Weitz's "About a Boy").  The film knows it has it's fair share of cliches, and tries to insert some nostalgia for the Summer Camps of the 80s, but it also has a heart and you can't help but embark on the trip with these characters. The actors are uniformly good, with Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph and Sam Rockwell creating interesting and funny characters. This is an interesting debut feature, that though not priming for originality, it has the capability of embracing a variety of characters and making us empathize with them. Worth watching.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim

Movie Name: Pacific Rim
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Robert Kasinski, Diego Klattenhoff, Clifton Collins Jr., Ron Perlman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Director Guillermo Del Toro is back, after his last directorial effort which was "Hellboy II", and his attempt at directing "The Hobbit". "Pacific Rim" is his biggest budget film, and it can safely be said, that the film is a stunning accomplishment. The film takes place in a nearby future, where Earth is being attacked by huge monsters who appear from a ridge that is situated in the Pacific Ocean (which is a portal between dimensions). These monsters destroy everything in sight, until humanity responds by creating huge robots to battle them on an equal measure. Each of these robots require the communion of the mind of their two pilots - one of them, Raleigh, loses his brother in one of the battles. It's up to Raleigh and the few remaining pilots to battle the escalating attacks of these monsters, who are driven to destroy the planet.
Guillermo Del Toro is a deft storyteller, with an incredible eye for the construction of fantastical worlds, populated by conflicts that are very human. The beautifully shot "Pacific Rim" presents us with a world at the brink of destruction, faced with an adversary that is colossal in scale, one that tests every resource that humanity has. What is so smartly woven in this film, are the different stories that create each main character - the creators of the story know that the film can only be as strong as the characters that propel it. The concept of robots vs monsters, enticing as it may be, doesn't make for much of an interesting feature, if the characters behind it aren't as dynamic and plausible as the way these are. The film also benefits from truly stunning visual effects that elevate this concept to a whole different level. The editing, the pacing, the orchestrated action set pieces, everything comes together in a very unified way to really create a fantastical world and entertaining film. Guillermo Del Toro once again proves that no one creates monsters quite like him - a fantastic film worth watching!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Movie Name: The Lone Ranger
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook, James Frain, Damon Herriman
Genre: Action, Western, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
"The Lone Ranger" is the latest action extravaganza from director Gore Verbinski, who has directed the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" features and also "The Ring", to name but a few. "The Lone Ranger" follows the story of two individuals, seemingly completely different, but who get thrown together by the force of circumstances. These individuals are Tonto, a native American who is on a quest to redeem himself from some sad choices in life, and John Reid, a young man with a law degree, who returns to his hometown in the middle of nowhere. John finds himself aiding his brother, a Ranger, though they all fall - fatally - prey to the machinations of the ruthless Butch Cavendish. With Tonto's resourcefulness, John finds himself being brought back to life, and on a quest to determine why exactly his brother got killed, and what the railroad and his main proponent Cole's role is in this scenario.
Gore Verbinski is a director with an eye for the absurd. His films are punctuated by some spurts of irony and humor in the middle of the narrative. The concept is well on display on his "The Lone Ranger", which tackles the origins of the mythical character and of his sidekick, Tonto. This duo, particularly at the hands of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, are definitely going on a humorous ride, very much like what Verbinski created in the "Pirates" films. The film doesn't pretend to bring or present something new or different - it definitely revels in the extremes of being a large entertainment feature, where the villains are just mean, the ladies are innocent and the heroes are dashing, and in this case, quite funny. Johnny Depp is as usual reliably good, bringing a sense of humor that fits the character and allows the material to lose any seriousness that it could possibly have. This clearly isn't a Clint Eastwood opus - you won't find "Unforgiven" or a quest of that dimension here. "The Lone Ranger" is about entertaining a large crowd, with a dash of slapstick, a dash of innocence and a lot of explosions.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Coraline

Movie Name: Coraline
Year of Release: 2009
Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Henry Selick is one of the most fantastically gifted directors working in animated features these days. "Coraline" follows the story of young Coraline Jones who moves with her family to a depressing area. Her busy parents have no time for her, but Coraline finds a small and unique door in the house that is a gateway to a different reality, one where her parents are devoted to her, she has fantastic activities all the time, with the only difference being that everyone seems to have buttons for eyes. Coraline becomes increasingly interested in this alternate reality, until the "Other Mother" asks her to permanently stay in this different reality. Upon realizing this, Coraline finds out that this other dimension has more to it than it seems.
"Coraline" is a film that is impeccably realized in all aspects. From the sheer virtuosity of the animation, through the story development and aesthetic, it's a superb feature worthy of multiple viewings. Henry Selick, who previously directed "The Nightmare Before Christmas", creates characters that are relatable - her young hero is not the most perfect little girl, but she is (much like Chihiro from Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away"), someone who is resourceful and intelligent. During the film, Coraline learns an important lesson, and her world (and our own), is enriched by what she sees and experiences. The film is visually superb - the details that differentiate both realities, the richness of color, all align to make this a truly superb gem of a film. Not to be missed!