Saturday, January 31, 2015


Movie Name: Boyhood
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Libby Villari, Marco Perella, Jamie Howard, Andrew Villareal, Zoe Graham, Jessi Mechler, Taylor Weaver, Bill Wise
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Prolific director Richard Linklater is back, after his critically acclaimed "Before Midnight". "Boyhood" has the distinction of being a film he shot for 12 years, starting production in 2002. The film follows the story of Mason, a young boy in Texas, who lives in a small apartment with his mom and sister. His parents are divorced, and the children rarely see the father since he has random jobs in different locations. The film follows Mason as his mom moves them to other cities, in pursuit of her goals, of finishing college, teaching, all the while getting married with two different men, both of whom share drinking problems. Mason's life is chronicled until he leaves for college.
"Boyhood" is an interesting yet flawed proposition: it's not documental enough to be a documentary that traces the life of a young child throughout the years, and as a narrative feature, it fails to engage and create a sense of momentum and character development. Both children in the family are viewed in particular snapshots in specific moments in life, and yet, there's never a real sense of what true family life is for these young people. Richard Linklater's most successful films are traditionally the ones where he eschews a proper narrative format, and imbues the story with a sense of reality that gives the viewer a closer proximity to the characters. The problem with "Boyhood" lies in the fact that it's never a document of a life, nor narratively speaking, has a dramatic momentum occurring (the failed marriages of Patricia Arquette's life are the brief peaks where some tension or dramatic confrontation occurs). The proposition of following the life of people throughout the years, has been approached by Michael Apted with his "7 Up" since 1964, where every 7 years the camera explores the lives of 14 people from different social backgrounds, and that indeed has been an ambitious and rewarding view. "Boyhood" feels anchored in a ploy that for all its potential interest, never really registers with a fully constructed story. The film features a good performance from the underrated Patricia Arquette. An overrated exercise from an irregular director.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Music with an Impact - 2014

2014 was an interesting year as far as new music being released is concerned. There were albums premiering unexpectedly (such as U2's "Songs of Innocence"), and others who were delayed quite a few times (such as Imogen Heap's "Sparks"). From a personal perspective, I enjoyed music that was released in 2013, that I only discovered in 2014, and that seems to be trend for this new year also. There were albums that I anxiously awaited, such as Sia's "1000 Forms of Fear" which though enjoyable, still felt like a step backwards in her discography. Either way, here is my list of the best albums I listened during 2014.

Caribou - Our Love
Blue Hawaii - Untogether
Tycho - Awake
Lamb - Backspace Unwind
Arca - Xen
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Aphex Twin - Syro
Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe
FKA Twigs - LP1
Royksopp - The Inevitable End

Nobody's Fool

Movie Name: Nobody's Fool
Year of Release: 1994
Director: Robert Benton
Stars: Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy, Dylan Walsh, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Gene Saks, Josef Sommer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Catherine Dent
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Writer and director Robert Benton's celebrated career, hasn't been the most prolific one from the directors of his generation, but he has directed and written some iconic films from the last decades (for instance he wrote Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" and directed "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Places in the Heart"). "Nobody's Fool", was the best of his production of the 90s (he also directed "Billy Bathgate" and "Twilight"). The film is an adaptation of the novel from Richard Russo, and follows the story of Sully, a man in his late 60s, who freelances in the construction business with his best friend Rub. He clashes quite often with a local contractor, the successful Carl Roebuck, while simultaneously flirting with his wife. Sully has unresolved issues with his estranged son, who reappears in his life with a small child of his own. Sully tries to rebuild these relationships all the while, a string of good luck appears in his life.
Robert Benton has built a reputation throughout his career for directing films anchored in actors performances, and allowing for characters to be fully dimensional. "Nobody's Fool" is another fine example of this tradition: the film allows for Paul Newman to build a great performance, playing the wise cracking and crusty Sully, who also has a kind heart. He's basically a man who never truly grew up and is forced to do so, for the sakes of his son and of his grandson, who are part of his life, and who need his assistance. The film smartly focuses on the lives of these regular people, and perfectly captures a blend of small dramas and the humor that punctuates every day life. The supporting performances are equally great, from Jessica Tandy, Pruitt Taylor Vince and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. An underrated film worth watching.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Movie Name: Unbroken
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Angelina Jolie
Stars: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Vincenzo Amato, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Louis McIntosh, Ross Anderson, Alex Russell
Genre: Drama, War
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Angelina Jolie is back, following her successful acting job in this year's "Maleficent". "Unbroken" is her second directorial effort, and it is an adaptation of the book from Laura Hillenbrand (of the same name). The film follows the true story of Louis Zamperini, a young man, descendent from Italian immigrants, who while growing up was always up to no good, until his older brother forced him to start running track, and make him believe in his own potential. Louis becomes so good, that he eventually goes to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where against all odds he finishes 8th due to his incredible last sprint. After enlisting in the US Army Air Corps (1941), he is deployed to the Pacific. When he and his crew are sent on a rescue mission, the plane unexpectedly crashes in the ocean, living him and two other crew members as the sole survivors (one of them eventually dies after 33 days on the rafts) - they end up surviving at sea for 47 days, upon which they get captured by the Japanese Navy. They both get sent to prisoner war camps, and Louis becomes a target for a sadistic prison guard named Watanabe, who tortures and brutalizes Louis relentlessly.
"Unbroken" is a testament to the capacity of the human spirit to overcome brutality, hunger and starvation, and torture. Louis Zamperini was a man who endured so much during his young years, through it all always holding on to his love for his family and the belief that he could cope with the most agonizing and challenging situations he could face. Angelina Jolie, following her debut feature "In the Land of Blood and Honey", creates a moving story, that though influenced by films such as David Lean's iconic "The Bridge on the River Kway" and Sidney Lumet's "The Hill", has a personality and style of its own. The film is elegantly directed and flows seamlessly - it does indeed lack in terms of a distinct and unique perspective, but it has a solidly built narrative, also anchored on the beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins, and the fantastic performance from Jack O'Connell. The score from Alexandre Desplat is equally beautiful, tying this impeccably produced film into an overall solid and enjoyable feature. Recommended.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Movie Name: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Year of Release: 1994
Director: Stephan Elliott
Stars: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick, Mark Holmes, Ken Radley, John Casey
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"The Adventures or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" premiered at the Cannes film festival in 1994, and has since then become a cult classic in the comedy genre (and went on to win an Academy Award for best Costume Design). The film follows the story of a trio of Australian friends who decide to cross the country from Sydney to Alice Springs, in order to perform in a show they were contracted to do, in a bus they have bought and converted. The colorful trio is composed of two transvestites and a transsexual, and all three of them have issues with past relationships, that they are all trying to patch up, one way or the other. During their trip, their bus (named Priscilla), suffers some mechanical issues, and they are forced to find assistance in a small town, where the local mechanic Bob, is familiar with the drag shows from Sydney (and welcomes them effusively). The trip is equally peppered by the relationships between these three very different personalities. 
"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" was Stephan Elliott's second feature (following "Frauds" which featured Phil Collins and Hugo Weaving), but the director smartly creates a road-trip story anchored in the relationships of these flamboyant friends who expose the homophobia and fear that lies in the small towns they drive by. The film also allows for the three main personalities to be fully developed and showcase more than just one side to these men - they are more than just archetypes, these are characters with ambitions, depth and a unique sense of style. The director is playful with the sense of gender and identity, and also ties the story very accordingly with a lesson of tolerance and acceptance. The performances are fantastic, with Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce all creating memorable and hilarious characters. A very good film always worth revisiting.

American Sniper

Movie Name: American Sniper
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Eric Ladin, Jonathan Groff, Jake McDorman, Kevin Lacz, Reynaldo Gallegos, Cory Hardrict, Leonard Roberts, Kyle Gallner, Keir O'Donnell, Tim Griffin, Eric Close, Sam Jaeger
Genre: Drama, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

The always prolific Clint Eastwood is back, the second of his releases from 2014 (the other being "The Jersey Boys"). The film is an adaptation of the autobiography from Chris Kyle, a veteran Navy SEAL who went on 4 tours during the most recent Iraq war. The film introduces us to Chris, growing up in Texas with his family, with a father who installed a deep sense of moral righteousness on the family. Chris grows up wanting to become a cowboy, and following up some relationship issues, signs up for the US Navy. Following a hard training, he is deployed to Iraq, where he acquires a reputation for being the best sniper on the field. His family life ends up suffering since upon his return, he's unable to adjust to the rhythms of every day life. He ends up going on 4 tours altogether, and through his work with veterans, adjusts and reintegrates to every day life.
Clint Eastwood's most recent output has been a bit uneven - his last strong features were "Changelling" and "Grand Torino", both from 2008. Since then, he has had the opportunity to tackle some really interesting material, such as J. Edgar Hoover's life, but the results have always somehow missed the mark. "American Sniper" is an interesting film, but again fails to create a sense of resonance, and that's not just due to the fact that other film makers have tackled the doom of war with a more resounding impact, but primarily due to the fact that the film seems devoid of a fresh perspective. The film brings to mind pieces of Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket", Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker", Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" and even Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter". The problem is that referencing deeply iconic films, doesn't make a film have an identity of it's own - "American Sniper" tries to combine the grittiness of the war zone, with the inadequacy of life at home, but both sides of the story feel underdeveloped, particularly when they have been broached with further dramatic depth in other films. The film could have indeed ventured into some moral territories and questions that arise from some choices (that is briefly hinted as the narrative begins, but that is abandoned all too soon). The film features a good performance from Bradley Cooper, but Sienna Miller's role as his wife Taya, feels underwritten and contrived. An uneven film from a seasoned director.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Inherent Vice

Movie Name: Inherent Vice
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Joanna Newsom, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Jordan Christian Hearn, Sasha Pieterse, Keith Jardine, Martin Donovan, Martin Dew, Taylor Bonin
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Director Paul Thomas Anderson's follow up to his wonderful "The Master", is another stupendous film, this time around an adaptation of the book "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon. The film follows the story of Doc Sportello, a private detective, working in California in the late 60s and early 70s, who gets involved in a labyrinth of a case, when his former lover, Shasta shows up at his door. Shasta informs him that she's involved with a married real estate magnate, whose wife and her lover, are planning to institutionalize so they can get their money. Around this magnate there are other groups of interested parties and schemes, something that Doc quickly realizes. To add further entanglement to the story, the police is also hot on the trails of the tycoon and of Doc himself.
"Inherent Vice" is a different film within Paul Thomas Anderson's body of work - the ambition and the breadth of the canvas is very much on par with what he has directed before, however the emotional impact and involvement isn't as immediate as his previous features. The film is anchored by a very distinct look and feel - that of the mystery film of the 70s (such as "The Long Goodbye" from Robert Altman), however it weaves a plot line that is filled with characters and subplots, that at first glance may be hard to follow, but that ultimately wraps itself coherently around the group of characters and universe that it has established. It's also a very funny film on top of the noir and suspenseful tone that it depicts. Much of this has to do with the fantastic adapted screenplay, but also with the wonderful cast that the director has assembled: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston are simply stupendous in their performances. They create characters that though archetypes, are also imbued with nuances that make them simultaneously funny, aggravating and always surprising. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is simply superb, as is the score from Jonny Greenwood. This is a film whose impact will increase steadily upon repeat views, and one that stays with you for quite some time after you've seen it. Fantastic.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Movie Name: Wild
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Gaby Hoffmann, Thomas Sadoski, Keene McRae, Michiel Huisman, W. Earl Brown, Kevin Rankin, Brian Van Holt, Cliff De Young, Will Cuddy
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Following the extremely well received "Dallas Buyers Club", director Jean-Marc Vallee is back, with another intimate character study. "Wild" follows the true life story of Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl is a young American woman, who in 1995, following the death of her mother from cancer, embarks on a cathartic trekking excursion, around 1000 miles across the Pacific coast of the country. Cheryl throughout her trip reminisces on her relationship with her mom, with her ex husband, and how her inability to deal with grief and pain, led her to a life of promiscuity and drug related experiences. During her painful trekking, Cheryl comes to terms with her own life, choices, and where she wants to see herself going.
"Wild" is a film that introduces the audience to the central character in a very straightforward fashion - the director shows us in the first moments of the film, that Cheryl is not a traditional sports/trekking person - whatever has drawn her to that point in time is dramatic and traumatic to justify where she is and what her actions and reactions are. The film lives from the portrayal that Reese Witherspoon makes of this young woman, who came from a battered house life, and whom with the help of a resourceful and gracious motherly figure managed to grow up peacefully and loved. The passing of her mother, is what throws the character into disarray and when she finally hits rock bottom, the figure of her ex-husband shows up to provide some reaffirming energy for her to get back on her feet. The film smartly blends flashbacks with the "pilgrimage" that is the core to what Cheryl is doing. Sadly though, the film never expands much on how Cheryl exactly was as a person, aside from the fact that she went from being a high schooler, to a young married woman whose mother passes away and who ultimately becomes unable to process grief. Reese Witherspoon tries to mix all these traits of a personality (the loving one, the angrier one, the promiscuous one), and yet, there's never a real sense of the person Cheryl wants to be (or of who she effectively was to begin with). Laura Dern equally has little to do throughout the film - there are plenty of shots of her looking at the sun, or the sun touching her skin, which for some reason on recent films has become a synonym with a person with an inner life and substance, however, her character is even more uni-dimensional. This is a film that features a beautiful cinematography from Yves Belanger and a strong performance from Reese Witherspoon, however the sum of its parts does not make it an indelible film. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Shawshank Redemption

Movie Name: The Shawshank Redemption
Year of Release: 1994
Director: Frank Darabont
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston, James Whitmore, Jeffrey DeMunn, Larry Brandenburg, Brian Libby
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

"The Shawshank Redemption" is a singular case in the films of the 90s - upon it's release the film was met with a mild reception, and though it garnered 7 academy award nominations, it ended up winning none - however since being released, the film has been gathering a following and is now heralded as one of the best films of all times (it currently holds number one at IMDB). The film follows the story of Andy Dufresne, a mild mannered banker, who is arrested for the murder of his wife and lover. He is convicted to serve two life sentences in prison. Upon arrival at the facility, he forges a friendship with Red, a veteran prisoner who also specializes in getting different objects from the outside. Throughout his many years in prison, Andy suffers brutal attacks, until he finds himself under the protection of the ward, since he needs a good accountant to process the financial transactions of himself and several prison employees. Unbeknowst to everyone, including the close group of friends he has created, Andy has been steadily devising an escape plan, something he acts upon after serving 27 years in prison.
Frank Darabont  created a name for himself during the 80s, writing horror films such as Chuck Russell's "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" and "The Blob", and also Chris Walas' "The Fly II". "The Shawshank Redemption" was his first actual debut feature, following some directorial work for television - he chose an adaptation of a Stephen King short story, something he would continue doing with his next features, namely "The Green Mile" and also "The Mist". Darabont is a director who successfully manages to imbue the sense of intimacy into stories with large canvases - the ambition of "The Shawshank Redemption" is sprawling, and yet, it becomes a story about the resilience of the human spirit and the companionship and empathy built amongst isolated people. His sensibility allows him to focus on details and therefore showcase the details that actors confer to their characters. This is the case with this film - Morgan Freeman in particular, as the narrator and co-protagonist, becomes a steady and weary voice of reason. He introduces us to the world within the prison, and through his eyes, we are introduced to the complexities and resourcefulness of Andy. The film does falter in the typification of the supporting characters (the brash young man, the cruel and corrupt warden), but overall it successfully captures the times it depicts, and how the decades evolve. It's a smart, tensely built and well acted film, featuring good performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, a wonderful score from Thomas Newman and the mastery cinematography from Roger Deakins. A good film always worth revisiting.

Dumb and Dumber

Movie Name: Dumb and Dumber
Year of Release: 1994
Director: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Mike Starr, Karen Duffy, Charles Rocket, Victoria Rowell, Joe Baker, Teri Garr, Brady Bluhm, Felton Perry
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"Dumb and Dumber" premiered in December of 1994, to an astounding success, further cementing the career of Jim Carrey, and initiating the successful directorial career of the Farrelly siblings. The film follows the adventures of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, two long time friends, not particularly smart, who leave their home in Rhode Island and head off to Aspen, in order to return a briefcase to a former client of Lloyd's. During their road trip both friends get tangled up in a series of adventures and when they finally reach their destination, they find out that the briefcase is filled with money, and that Lloyd's client is trying to actually save her husband who has been kidnapped. Their intervention in the whole situation, makes things all the more interesting.
"Dumb and Dumber" was Peter and Bobby Farrelly's debut feature, and benefited from an hilarious script and the incredible rapport between the lead actors, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The film starts with the premise of a simple mix up, one that hinges on a briefcase that is left behind, and the protagonists who go on a road trip to return it. The film manages to place both lead actors in an array of situations that are simultaneously surreal, but also very hilarious (and some borderline vulgar, as has become the trademark for the Farrelly brothers). The directors films have since then followed this trademark, particularly with the hugely successful "There's Something About Mary" - films populated by every day people, involved in surreal and extreme situations that bring out the hilarity of the whole scenario. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are both fantastic in their roles, exhibiting a natural flair for physical comedy and both excelling at it. A very funny comedy always worth watching!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Imitation Game

Movie Name: The Imitation Game
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, James Northcote, Steven Waddington, Jack Tarlton, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

"The Imitation Game" has the distinct story of having started as the top listed screenplay from the Black List of 2011 (this list is comprised of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood). The film follows the story of brilliant mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneer computer scientist Alan Turing, who during World War II, worked alongside a team of brilliant decoders, to crack the code of Nazi Germany's transmissions (that used the machine Enigma to encrypt their communications). Turing is portrayed as a brilliant man, without many social skills, but persistent and ingenious. He is met with resistance from the established military hierarchy, but manages to hire people whom he believes are the best in the field to assist him, namely Joan Clarke who becomes a close friend. Turing devises the creation of a machine to decrypt the messages being sent (laying ground for what became modern computers), and after much effort, that effectively becomes a reality. After the end of the War, Turing becomes a college professor, until his homosexuality makes him a target for persecution and he's mandated to undergo chemical castration
Director Morten Tyldum became more visible to audiences with "Headhunters", which made the list of best foreign films in 2011, for many different critics and awards groups. "The Imitation Game" manages to give insight into the mind of a brilliant man, though the screenplay takes quite a few liberties with the historical and biographical elements of a complex individual. The film benefits from a fantastic production design, which successfully depicts the time frame and hardship being suffered in England during wartime. The cinematography is equally stunning, as is the score from Alexandre Desplat. The film also features a great performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, who embodies Turing as a man with a passion, longing, energy and also some eccentricities (attributed to his genius). The film however never amounts to much more than a brief insight into the life of someone who is iconic in his own right- the director doesn't really shed any further light into who this remarkable person was, and the film itself is almost like a well mounted BBC production, without any real edges or controversy (at the end, there's no particular point of view here). The opposing voices of Turing are all given a muted existence, and fade away when the need for conflict is non existent. This is a film that lives from good intentions, from great production values and a good cast, but ultimately fails in shedding light into the life of someone who was indeed brilliant, but was also a target of persecution and was indeed humane (with all that it entails).