Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Counselor

Movie Name: The Counselor
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Goran Visnjic, Natalie Dormer, John Leguizamo, Edgar Ramirez
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:
Ridley Scott's prolific career continues, as the director returns a year later after "Prometheus" debuted to tepid reviews, with "The Counselor", the first screenplay written for the screen by acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy. The film follows the story of a "Counselor" (whose name we never know), who is entangled with some shady businesses. He's engaged to the beautiful Laura (who's unaware of his dealings) and has a business partner by the name of Reiner. Reiner is himself involved in a series of businesses, and has a "dangerous" partner by the name of Malkina, who is a woman who has seen and done everything. When the Counselor gets involved in a drug business, he gets some instructions from Westray, a seasoned professional in the field. Everything seems to be on track, until things take a turn for the worse.
Ridley Scott has had a career punctuated by uneven films and subjects - his best features such as "Alien", "Blade Runner" and "Thelma and Louise" always had strong screenplays and visuals, the latter something that has always defined the work of this director. "The Counselor" however fails to achieve the interesting results that his latest features have garnered - the core of the problems lie within the screenplay. There's an array of characters, apparently doing very bad things for no specific purpose, but the surprising element to it, is the verbiage with which these so called criminals discuss the nature of evil, of duplicity, of love, women and so forth. The connection between what the characters are suppose to do or aspire to do, and their actions is non-existent - all of this is smothered in monologues/dialogues that feel awkward (and interminable). Whereas Quentin Tarantino creates films where the sound of his own words can extend a bit too long, those are still engaging and pertinent with the overall scenario he creates - in "The Counselor" that continuity is non-existent. The supporting female characters are severely underwritten - Penelope Cruz has barely nothing to do, whereas Cameron Diaz's evil Malkina, is borderline a comical one (which she emphasizes by wearing too much eye makeup and uneven haircut). It's painful to see the talented Michael Fassbender trying to give dimension to his Counselor, in what is a central character without a sense of urgency or fear. Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem create interesting, yet brief characters. For all the beauty on display in this film, it's surprisingly hollow and devoid of character. Avoid.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Movie Name: 12 Years a Slave
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Batt, Scoot McNairy, Adepero Oduye, J.D. Evermore, Alfre Woodard, Garret Dillahunt, Rob Steinberg, Taran Killam
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Following the fantastic "Shame", director Steve McQueen is back, with another great film, which focuses it's attention on slavery. "12 Years a Slave" follows the true story of Solomon Northup, a liberated african-american man living in Saratoga, NY with his wife and two children, in the mid 19th century. Following a job offer in Washington, DC, Solomon finds himself kidnapped and sold as a slave in Georgia. Solomon's ordeal, escalates from bad to worse, when he ends up working in a plantation owned by the monstrous Edwin Epps. His only hope is that through some communication with his family in NY, he may end up being liberated.
Steve McQueen is an artist/filmmaker who does not shy away from the monstrosity of human nature. That was present in "Shame" and again makes it's appearance in "12 Years a Slave". The brutality, savagery and humiliation endured by people is depicted in the film in all it's revolting majesty. Unlike other shows and films that tackled slavery as a subject, this film focuses on a man with education, who at the time had to endure punishments and humiliations, in order to regain his liberty (and ultimately survive). The odyssey of Solomon is a testament to the capability of human beings to be resilient in the face or horror and brutality. This is a film that is both graphical in the depiction of the brutality, but also lyrical in the approach that it does to each person's dream of being free. The cast is stupendous, but highlights go to Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong'o and Brad Pitt. The stunning cinematography from Sean Bobbitt should also be highlighted. A wonderful film worth watching!

Carrie

Movie Name: Carrie
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Kimberly Pierce
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoe Belkin, Barry Henley, Hart Bochner, Katie Strain
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Though director Kimberly Pierce's career hasn't been very prolific, she has directed two interesting features, namely "Boys Don't Cry" and "Stop Loss". Her latest, "Carrie", is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, a book that was also adapted by Brian de Palma in 1976, and that featured fantastic performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. The film follows the story of young Carrie White, who has been home schooled by her mom most of her life. Carrie's mom is a religious fanatic, who prevents Carrie from understanding life in general and from adjusting to her ongoing growth as a young woman. In parallel with her isolation, Carrie begins to realize she has developed telekinetic abilities. Following a particular humiliating episode, Carrie gets the attention of another student, who alongside her boyfriend, try to redeem themselves by inviting Carrie to the prom.
When the original "Carrie" premiered in 1976 it was a big hit with audiences, and the film has since then become a classic in the horror genre in general and Stephen King adaptations in particular. The contemporary adaptation could have been a fruitful one, however updating a classic needs more than adjusting the technology and devices that populate the story and give it context. Every remake needs a point of view that is unique and makes the film relevant. Brian de Palma has always been a filmmaker with a universe of his own - he made "Carrie" his own by inserting his aesthetic, and sensibility into every frame. Kimberly Pierce's adaptation in comparison feels generic, bland and devoid of any authorship. The sophisticated special effects still don't compensate for the anemic lack of vision that is clearly present in the film. The highlights end up being Julianne Moore and Judy Greer, both of whom create interesting, even if a bit one dimensional characters. Forgettable.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Captain Phillips

Movie Name: Captain Phillips
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey, Catherine Keener, Yul Vasquez, Max Martini
Genre: Drama, Suspense, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Director Paul Greengrass is back, following "The Green Zone" which was released in 2010. His choices of directorial material are as always very coherent with his universe and with his style (witness "United 93", "The Bourne Ultimatum", "The Bourne Supremacy", "Bloody Sunday"). "Captain Phillips" follows the true story of the crew of the US MV Maersk Alabama freight ship, who are attacked by Somali pirates while navigating the coast of Africa. The crew smartly manages to deploy the situation, but their Captain is taken hostage on a small lifeboat. The US Navy and Seals are forced to intervene to try and resolve the situation.
Paul Greengrass is a director who always focuses his attention on depicting on screen events as realistically as possible. He also knows how to deftly build momentum and a sense of impending urgency and doom, which makes his films always riveting and thrilling. "Captain Phillips" is no exception - the film accompanies the process of the hijacking of the ship, and the ultimate kidnapping of the Captain almost in real time. The audience accompanies those individuals and is asked to embark on that little lifeboat and partake of the feeling of claustrophobia and fear that is created. The menace is presented in a very realistic way, as is the final part of the film, where the director stages the rescue attempts by the group of experts that are deployed. Tom Hanks is solid as the stoic and resourceful Captain, and the overall supporting group of actors depicting his kidnappers are equally strong in their performances. An overall entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gravity

Movie Name: Gravity
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
Following the well received "Children of Men", director Alfonso Cuaron, decided to tackle an original screenplay he devised with his son, Jonas Cuaron. The result is "Gravity" which follows the story of a team of astronauts, orbiting Earth, who are suddenly endangered when a series of debris, crashes into their ship. This debris ends up damaging their means of transportation, and leaves the two remaining survivors trying to find an alternate means of getting back to Earth. That is until the more experienced one ends up floating in space and the only one who has to try to make it back is Ryan Stone, a doctor without much experience, who has to make the best of her training to survive.
"Gravity" succeeds in being a succinct story told very economically, but directed with a technical know how and precision, that makes it unlike anything else ever committed to screen. Alfonso Cuaron succeeds in creating a sense of wonder and beauty that comes from watching the planet from orbit, but simultaneously the menace of finding oneself without a safety net, and completely lost in a dangerous vacuum. The film also benefits from a fantastic central performance from Sandra Bullock, who is simultaneously vulnerable, fearful, resourceful and dynamic - this is truly her best performance ever captured. The wondrous special effects and camera work from Emmanuel Lubezki are unparalleled. The sense of wonder and veracity that is captured by this film make it a veritable classic. Worth watching.