Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Movie Name: What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Stars: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenurgen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mark Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Penelope Branning, Tim Green
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

When "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" came out in 1993, Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom had made a name for himself primarily with his Oscar nominated feature "My Life as a Dog" (and to a lesser extent with the poorly received "Once Around"). The film, an adaptation of Peter Hedges' novel, follows the story of young Gilbert, who's the main provider for his family, which includes his larger than life mother Bonnie, and his siblings, amongst whom is Arnie, a sweet disabled young man. When the beautiful and free spirited Becky and her grandmother go through the small town, their presence and the relationship that ensues between Gilbert and Becky, forces him to question himself, what he wants and how he sees his life.
Lasse Hallstrom has always been at his best when he captures the anguish of young protagonists who want to break free from the constraints they suffer (as can be seen in his later films, such as "The Cider House Rules"). "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" successfully captures the mood and environment of living in a small town, where the opportunities to grow and experience life are limited, something that the central character realizes. Gilbert is a young man who longs for more, but knows his family life prevents him from truly experiencing more from life - the presence of Becky is a catalyst for everything he's always wanted. Lasse Hallstrom successfully captures these fantastic performances: Johnny Depp as the sweet Gilbert, Juliette Lewis as the radiant Becky and particularly Leonardo Di Caprio as Arnie, who is truly phenomenal in his composition of the disabled and ingenious character. The cinematography from Sven Nykvist is equally stunning. A beautiful film worth watching!

John Wick

Movie Name: John Wick
Year of Release: 2014
Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, Lance Reddick, Keith Jardine
Genre: Action/Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski's debut feature "John Wick" is a polished revenge tinted film, that is equally a nicely executed and stylized B movie. The film follows a retired assassin, John Wick, currently grieving the death of his wife. John gets a final gift from her, a small puppy to keep him company. This grief and heartache is abruptly interrupted when John is brutally attacked at his house, and his car is stolen and his dog killed. The criminals who attacked him are actually connected to one of John's previous employers, but nothing stops him on his quest to terminate the people who took away his last change to grieve.
David Leitch and Chad Stahelski both have built a career as stunt coordinators, and that is something that can be seen in the way the film is fluidly staged. The minimal plot allows for the film to flow easily between set pieces, and quickly establishes the characters motivations. There's not much depth to any of these characters, but the film aims to create an action momentum that is non stop (without getting too cartoon like, much like Michael Davis' "Shoot 'Em Up"). Keanu Reeves is well cast as a lethal assassin with a bruised heart, something his saddened eyes quickly expose, however there's also a steely resolution and menace behind his seemingly serene looks. From the supporting cast, the highlights are the always reliable Willem Dafoe and the charismatic Ian McShane. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Groundhog Day

Movie Name: Groundhog Day
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Stars: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Marissa Geraghty, Angela Paton, Rick Overton
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day" came out in 1993, after his previous directorial effort "Club Paradise" and featured Bill Murray who was coming out from "Quick Change" and "What About Bob?". The film focuses on the story of Phil Connors, a weatherman for a local Pittsburgh channel, who goes to a small town in Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day event, and who suddenly sees himself re-living the same day repeatedly. Phil initially indulges in all sorts of behaviors, but slowly his unhappiness grows and his attempts to get out of that scenario grow exponentially bizarre.
"Groundhog Day" benefits from the fantastic original story of Danny Rubin, and director Harold Ramis, who had successfully worked on classic comedies such as "Ghostbusters" and "Caddyshack" (to name but a few), manages to elevate the material to scenarios that are truly memorable. The film also benefits from a fantastic performance from Bill Murray, who gives the film an edge and a heart that makes the transition of the central character truly touching and simultaneously hilarious. The supporting cast are equally good, from the underrated Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott and Stephen Tobolowsky. This is a comedy that is intelligent, anchored in a truly unique idea and perfectly executed by a director with a great comic timing. A wonderful comedy always worth watching.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Age of Innocence

Movie Name: The Age of Innocence
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Richard E. Grant, Stuart Wilson, Geraldine Chaplin, Miriam Margolyes, Michael Gough, Joanne Woodward, Robert Sean Leonard, Jonathan Pryce, Sian Phillips, Alec McCowen, Mary Beth Hurt
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Director Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence" came out in 1993, following his fantastic remake of "Cape Fear". The film is an adaptation of Edith Warton's novel, and follows the story of an amorous triangle in New York society at the peak of the nineteenth century. Newland Archer is a successful young attorney from good families, who proposes to the young and beautiful May Welland, a union that is socially approved by the high society of New York. This seemingly beatific union is thrown into disarray with the arrival of Countess Olenska, May's cousin, a woman who comes surrounded by scandal, and someone who charms Newland. This intersection of desires throws into disarray this carefully structured world of propriety.
Martin Scorsese is a phenomenal director, one who has always focused attention in anti-heroes that are thrown into the middle of situations that force them to question themselves, their faith, and all that they are familiar with. Though some of the classics that have made him famous, such as "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas", "The Departed"or even "The Wolf of Wall Street", are films that are contemporary, gritty and where the geographical tissue of New York (and Boston also) plays an important side to the events affecting the characters. "The Age of Innocence" though being a period piece, depicts with precision (and stunning beauty), the complexities of living within that society, the risks of being ostracized, and how being different can be punishing and castrating. The film is beautifully shot by Michael Ballhaus and edited by the talented Thelma Schoonmaker and features great performances from Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder. A beautiful film worth watching.

The Book of Life

Movie Name: The Book of Life
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Stars: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Kate Del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera, Placido Domingo
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"The Book of Life" is director Jorge R. Gutierrez's first full length feature, after a career as a character designer, and it comes with the association of acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro, who acts as a producer on this feature. The film follows the story of Manolo, Maria and Joaquin, three young friends, who grow up in the same small town, and whose family heritage forces them to pursue different paths as they grow up. When they reunite, all grown up, Manolo and Joaquin are both enamored of Maria, who is more inclined to be united with Manolo. However the interference of otherworldly forces may change their fates and those of the small town where they all live.
"The Book of Life" is a film that lives from the cultural heritage of it's director, Jorge R. Gutierrez, namely the Mexican culture, specifically the events that surround the day of the dead holiday. The film is luxuriously designed, featuring beautiful character design, and an aesthetic and animation that are simply stunning and unique. Where the film does indeed lose some of it's sparkle is in the way the story has been developed. The co-existence of multiple worlds, is reminiscent of Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride", but adds extra layers and characters that though interesting, don't feel sufficiently explored and developed. The usage of well known pop songs (very much like Baz Luhrmann's and Sofia Coppola's style), adds an air of levity to the film, which is also peppered with a giddy sense of humor. A film worth watching.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Movie Name: Annabelle
Year of Release: 2014
Director: John R. Leonetti
Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O'Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin, Ivar Brogger, Geoff Wehner, Gabriel Bateman
Genre: Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Following the critical and commercial success of "The Conjuring", there was a quick need from the producing studio to capitalize on the impact that feature has had on the general audience. "Annabelle" is a prequel to "The Conjuring" and focuses the attention on a doll, that is possessed by a malevolent entity. This doll comes into possession of a young couple, who are in the midst of becoming first time parents, and for whom this supernatural occurrence throws their lives into disarray. They struggle to find help to overcome this entity that threatens to destroy their household and claim their young daughter's life.
John R. Leonetti has made his career primarily as a cinematographer, including James Wan's "The Conjuring" and "Insidious", as well as Chuck Russell's "The Mask". His directing career has been primarily in low budget films such as "The Butterfly Effect 2" and "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation". His ambitions are clearly to work within a B movie constraint, and in the case of "Annabelle" focus on telling a horror based story, one where the family unit is shaken and threatened by an overwhelming force. The film has some traces from Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby", but none of the sense of paranoia that the classic film successfully depicted. There is primarily a focus on building some tension around the progressive attacks that the family experiences, but unlike "The Conjuring" where the director successfully built a backdrop story for the family, this one simply never gels. The actors are poorly cast also - both lead actors are wooden and bring no sense of depth or emotional range to a story that ends up being quite predictable and ultimately not very engaging. There are some echoes of the work that James Wan has built with "Insidious", but sadly not explored enough to keep this film interesting. A sadly missed opportunity.


Movie Name: Fearless
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, Tom Hulce, John Turturro, Benecio Del Toro, Deirdre O'Connell, Debra Monk, Cynthia Mace
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Peter Weir's "Fearless" came out in 1993, after the success of his previous features, both "Dead Poets Society" and "Green Card". The film follows the story of Max Klein, a businessman who survives a terrifying plane crash, alongside a few other people. In the aftermath of the crash, Max responds to it by becoming convinced that he is godlike and invulnerable, and his behavior is increasingly distant from his old life and in particular from his wife. In contrast with Max's attitude, there's Carla Rodrigo's, who's consumed with guilt over the loss of her baby. These two people meet and through this relationship they both come to terms with that traumatic event.
Peter Weir is a unique director, one who always focuses his stories on heroes that even though are every day people, find themselves at odds with realities that simply won't abide to their unique way of seeing the world. "Fearless" is a fantastic film that focuses the attention on Max Klein, who finds himself in a unique situation, and whose life is completely changed in the aftermath of that traumatic event. The fabric of relationships that are woven in the film, showcase the director's ability to probe the depth of the dynamics between different characters, something that Peter Weir has always excelled at. The film benefits from the fantastic performances from Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez, both of whom truly embody the inner turmoil of these characters (and Rosie Perez earned an Oscar nomination in the process). The beautiful cinematography from Allen Daviau also elevates the aesthetic of the film, and the score from Maurice Jarre is haunting. A beautiful film worth watching.

Dracula Untold

Movie Name: Dracula Untold
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Gary Shore
Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

"Dracula Untold" is the first feature from director Gary Shore, and aims to shed new light on the story of Dracula (and uses the premise of the book written by Bram Stoker as a base canvas). The film follows the story of Prince Vlad, who is forced to make a deal with a supernatural creature in order to save his family and kingdom from the eminent attack from the Turks. This entity makes Vlad into a supernatural force which unbalances the attack of the Turks, who aim to personally attack Vlad at every instance. It's up to him to defend his family and kingdom with these new powers, that come with some drastic consequences.
Gary Shore's "Dracula Untold" is a feature that tries to present a different side to a story that has been told by many directors, some of whom are now classics, namely "Nosferatu" from F. W. Murnau and more recently "Bram Stoker's Dracula" from Francis Ford Coppola. Shore's vision is sadly very diminished by a mediocre screenplay that gives nothing new to an engrossing mythological creature and backstory - the characters feel flat and uni-dimensional (the supporting characters barely register), and the villainous figure of the film is barely menacing (there's really no sense of menace). The film benefits from some interesting visual choices from the director, the costumes from Ngila Dickson are stunning, and the lead actors are solid, particularly Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon and Charles Dance. Overall this is a mediocre effort that brings nothing new to a classic mythological story.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Nighmare Before Christmas

Movie Name: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Edward Ivory, Susan McBride, Debi Durst, Greg Proops, Kerry Katz
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" has become a classic since coming out in 1993. It's a perfect marriage of the universe and aesthetic of Tim Burton, with the universe of director Henry Selick (who went on to direct the fantastic "Coraline" and "James and the Giant Peach"). The film follows the story of Jack Skellington, the host of Halloweentown, who is in a funk, trying to regain his inspiration and trying to understand where he fits in. By chance he encounters Christmastown, as is totally enamored by that season and what it represents. With that in mind, he convinces everyone from his Halloween city to create a new Christmas, while giving Santa Claus, a well deserved vacation. The results though different, aren't necessarily well received by everyone. It's up to Jack and his lady, Sally, to save the whole holiday season.
Tim Burton's universe is always filled with central characters who are at odds with the universe that surrounds them. They are usually the loners and oddballs, who are sensitive and artistic, who therefore see the world quite differently. These are the heroes who learn to accept themselves as they are, and in the process, the same occurs to the social setting where they are immersed. This concept can be found in "The Nightmare Before Christmas", which is one of the most beautiful films committed to celluloid, aesthetically, musically and through its narrative. The film endures throughout the years, because it's central love story, the feeling of inadequacy, and the perfect joy that it depicts, are all truly unique. This is a film always worth revisiting and watching!

Gone Girl

Movie Name: Gone Girl
Year of Release: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, David Clennon, Lisa Banes, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Casey Wilson, Emily Ratajkowski, Lola Kirke, Boyd Holbrook
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Director David Fincher is back, after the wonderful "The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo" (which was one of my favorite films of 2011). "Gone Girl" is the adaptation of the novel by Gillian Flynn, which focuses the story on a married couple, Nick and Amy Dunne, who after meeting cute in New York and getting married, are forced to relocate to Missouri (due to Nick's mother being ill). Nick settles into the life in Missouri as a bar owner, and Amy stays around the house. This seemingly idyllic existence is shattered, when Nick comes home one morning to find the house vandalized, and Amy missing. He immediately calls the police, and a whirlwind of press and attention descend upon him. As this attention increases, the ridges and frictions that existed in the marriage become apparent to everyone, and the question starts to arise if Nick did indeed have a part in the disappearance of his wife. And is Amy indeed gone or not.
David Fincher is a director that is known for rigorous detail in every story he approaches. There's a methodical approach to his films, and a polish and aesthetic that are intrinsically his. He also tends to focus his attention on stories where the heroes and central characters are damaged individuals, where the whole view of that person/character, invariably brings to light the fact that it is indeed a flawed individual (such is the case of the core characters of "The Game", Fight Club" or even "The Social Network"). "Gone Girl" is a perfect example of this - the film works as a dissection of media in general, how quickly portraits are painted of people without having a notion of whom is being sanctified or vilified. It's also a portrait of a crumbling marriage, one where both people are ultimately not right for each other. There are scenes that feel like a clear inspiration from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", but this film succeeds in it's own identity, again featuring fantastic performances from a trio of female performers: Rosamund Pike, Kim Dickens and Carrie Coon. The cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth is as usual stupendous, as is the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A fantastic film worth watching.