Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Movie Name: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Lauren Cohan, 
Genre: Adventure, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis & Review:
Following the successful "Man of Steel", director Zack Snyder is back with a sequel, which places two of the biggest DC Comics characters against each other. The film showcases the events of "Man of Steel", this time around showing the perspective of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as he witnesses the destruction and death that the battle between General Zod and Superman bring to the city of Metropolis. A lot of questions pop up in the aftermath of that battle, and Lex Luthor with his lack of scruples and limitless ambition, seizes the opportunity to gain access to information and ultimately power to himself. He orchestrates a conflict scenario between both Batman and Superman, hoping one will terminate the other, while still having a final ace that will allow him to destroy the victor. Unbeknownst to him however, a new figure shows up to aid these conflicted heroes.
Zack Snyder has a heavy act to follow, since Christopher Nolan set a different bar for Batman films, where the hero is more than just a two-dimensional character fighting caricatures. "Batman v Superman" tries to be a lot of things, and compress a lot of story lines into a single film. There's an attempt to create a sequence to "Man of Steel" while simultaneously introducing Batman's mythology as a preamble to create the following film, "Justice League" which is now shooting. The screenplay ends up being one of the murkiest subjects in the film, since the characters motivations are barely there, and most of the supporting actors (and their characters) have little to nothing to do. The first two thirds of the film are its most successful: the director creates a bleak environment where these characters exist, and there's definitely a ponderous tone to what is being showcased (the fear of terrorism, of invasion), however the last act, becomes a tone deaf showcase of digital effects where at some point it just loses its impact due to the repetitive tone it adopts. Ben Affleck manages to create an interesting version of Batman, while Holly Hunter, Amy Adams and Diane Lane, for all their talent and charisma, have little to nothing to do. A very uneven film from a very uneven director.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Movie Name: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., Suzanne Cryer
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis & Review:
Producer J.J. Abrams is back, following his astounding success with "Star Wars". This time around, he his producing a sequel to one of his features that has been successful, both commercially and critically, "Cloverfield". The film follows the story of Michelle, a young woman who wants to be a fashion designer, who leaves her boyfriend, and while driving gets involved in a dramatic car accident. When she comes to her senses, she finds herself chained to a wall, and discovers she's in a bunker alongside two other men. She meets Howard, the man responsible for her captivity, who has designed the bunker to survive a possible alien invasion or massive war. He informs Michelle that the outside world has been contaminated by a chemical attack and there's no possible way to live outside the bunker. Michelle conforms to life in the bunker, until she discovers possible indications that Howard may not have been as truthful as he indicated.
"10 Cloverfield Lane" is Dan Trachtenberg's feature debut, and it succeeds in building the tension between these three characters living together, when the world has apparently collapsed and there's nothing to go back to. The microcosms of these three characters and how they interact is well constructed, as it slowly showcases more details about them, though Howard is never fully explored as it should have been. The director opts not to show much of the outside world, making the bunker the core of the story, however during the last part of the film, it suddenly becomes deeply influenced by Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds", both in tone and aesthetic, without being as fully realized as that film was. The performances from the three leads are solid, as is the wonderful score from Bear McCreary. An auspicious beginning.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Girl, Interrupted

Movie Name: Girl, Interrupted
Year of Release: 1999
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Vanessa Redgrave, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bettis, Jilliam Armenante, Joanna Kerns, Christina Myers
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
James Mangold managed in the mid 90s to make a name for himself with two well reviewed films, "Heavy" and "Copland". "Girl, Interrupted" was his first big studio assignment, a project that had been curated and developed by its star, actress Winona Ryder (one of the producers). The film is an adaptation of the memoir by Susanna Kaysen, and follows her story in the late 60s. Susanna, following a suicide attempt, finds herself a patient at Claymoore Hospital (in Massachussets). While there she's diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and her stay is extended for 18 months. While at the institute she slowly becomes acquainted with the vast menagerie of patients who have been there for a while, namely Lisa Rowe (the edgy, ex-junkie who never sleeps), Polly Clark (who set herself on fire), Daisy Randone (who only comes to the Hospital seasonally) and many others. Eventually Susanna and Lisa break out of the Hospital, and take refuge with Daisy, which sets in motion a dramatic series of events.
"Girl, Interrupted" is a film that tries to revisit the spirit and to a certain extent, style, that Milos Forman brought to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The story potentiates the angst of the generation of the 60s, who were dealing with the dread of war, of using drugs, and coming to terms with their own young lives in the midst of turmoil. Unlike "Cuckoo's Nest" though, where there's a realistic sense of joy but also fear and doom, "Girl, Interrupted" feels like a tamer and docile version of what the reality captured in that film was about. The only real spark of menace comes from Angelina Jolie's Lisa - she creates a character who is all intent on watching the whole world burn, with her lighting the match and jumping in for fun. It's a character that has an energy that the rest of the film tries to keep up with, without much success. Winona Ryder composes her main character with restraint, but sadly it doesn't register much. Both Brittany Murphy and Elisabeth Moss create good characters also. An uneven film featuring some really good performances.

Galaxy Quest

Movie Name: Galaxy Quest
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen, Missi Pyle, Jed Rees, Justin Long, Jeremy Howard
Genre: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Following his feature debut, the little seen "Home Fries" (featuring Drew Barrymore), director Dean Parisot came back with "Galaxy Quest", one of his most well reviewed films so far (and very successful in terms of audience also). The film follows a group of actors who used to be in a successful sci-fi TV show by the name of "Galaxy Quest", who has been cancelled for many years, but still has a cult following at conventions. The lead cast are somewhat at odds with each other, so when a strange group of individuals approaches Jason Nesmith, who played the captain on the show, requesting for help in dealing with an inter-galactic enemy, no one believes a single word of what he's saying. When the story turns out to be true, the team finds themselves in deep space battling a ruthless enemy in a ship that is a complete copy of what their show was about.
"Galaxy Quest" is a film that successfully manages to be extremely funny, adventuresome and simultaneously referential to the iconic TV show, "Star Trek". The plot smartly pokes fun at their adventures, at the silliness of what took place on each episode, while simultaneously giving more depth to the actors who were playing the characters on the cancelled show. The cast itself is uniformly great, with Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Sam Rockwell creating unforgettable characters (characters who also poke fun at some of their most iconic screen roles). A very good comedy worth watching.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fight Club

Movie Name: Fight Club
Year of Release: 1999
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto, Zach Grenier, David Andrews, Holt McCallany, Eion Bailey, Christopher John Fields, Bob Stephenson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Following the underrated "The Game", director David Fincher returned to the screens with one of the most iconic films of 1999, and one that has remained one of his most immediate and recognizable titles: "Fight Club". The film is an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk and it trails the story of our narrator, who is never identified by name. He works for an insurance company, and lives a numbing life, going to support groups, faking ailments so he can sleep. While in these groups, he meets the dysfunctional Marla Singer, a chain smoker who is also a nihilistic, whom he becomes interested in. In one of his trips, he meets the charismatic Tyler Durden, a soap maker, who invites him for a drink. After a couple of drinks, the two start a brawl - this brawl slowly instigates them to create a Fight Club, a counter culture organization that gains momentum throughout the country, recruiting people whose main goal is to expose the fallacy of modern society and bring back reality to a simpler state of things. Marla eventually becomes part of this relationship, with unexpected consequences.
David Fincher is such a remarkable talent, that each of his films is not only a lesson in observing how a story can be told, but also a continuation of the expansion of his universe, where his lead characters are always somehow fighting against the establishment or have in their own unique way, something that sets them apart from the normalcy of life. "Fight Club" is one of his most iconic films, because of its theme, because of its irreverence, much like Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange". It's a film that makes you think, where our narrator breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, and where the surprises are more than just a gratuitous hook for attention. Visually the film is stunning, with the director providing his unique style to enrich everything the narrator is describing. The cast is fantastic, with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter creating indelible characters. The cinematography from the brilliant Jeff Cronenweth is unforgettable as is the score from The Dust Brothers. A fantastic film always worth revisiting.

Eyes Wide Shut

Movie Name: Eyes Wide Shut
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Rade Serbedzija, Todd Field, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski, Thomas Gibson, Peter Benson
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Stanley Kubrick's final film, which made its official debut a few months after his passing, arrived shrouded in secrecy, as was his wont with most of his productions. The film is an adaptation of a novel by Arthur Schnitzler and follows the story of a married couple, Bill and Alice Harford, and more specifically, of how their longings and secret desires can lead them to unexpected places. One evening, when Alice describes to Bill some of her sexual fantasies, she sets off a reaction in him, one that mixes surprise, jealousy and excitement. Following that revelation, Bill goes off to answer a house call from a patient, and afterwards he embarks on an adventure seemingly to fulfill his own sexual fantasies, but he meets a diverse array of people in some progressively disturbing scenarios.
"Eyes Wide Shut" currently holds the record for the longest constant movie shoot, lasting roughly 15 months. Kubrick always had a reputation for his perfectionism, and that was again the case with this film, which made some actors be recast, and further delaying the planned shooting period. The film is however, a probe into the relationship of a married couple, and of how their fantasies can wreak havoc and initiate mistrust amongst them. The film is a cold analysis of the pain of jealousy and mistrust, but in the hands of Stanley Kubrick it becomes more about Bill's long adventure into the night (much like Alice in wonderland's rabbit hole, but in this case, a decidedly dark and highly sexualized rabbit hole, from which Bill barely escapes unscathed). Kubrick's attention to detail can be seen everywhere, and probably because of it, the film almost comes across a bit artificial, however, it fits nicely with the odyssey that the main character is put through. The two lead actors are quite strong, particularly Nicole Kidman who uses her icy facade to showcase the inner erotic turmoil that dominates her. A good film worth watching.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

eXistenz

Movie Name: eXistenZ
Year of Release: 1999
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, Oscar Hsu, Kris Lemche, Robert A. Silverman
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Following the controversy over the excellent "Crash", director David Cronenberg went back to one of his original screenplays with "eXistenZ". The film focuses on Allegra Geller, a well known game designer who is testing her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ, with a focus group at a seminar. During that testing session, there's an attempt on her life, and she flees with the assistance of Ted Pikul, a security guard. Allegra discovers that her pod has been damaged, and that pod contains the only copy of her game. In order to test it, she has to connect into the game in tandem with another player she can trust. She convinces Pikul to install a bio-port in his body, but once they go inside the game things just start getting more and more complicated, without them knowing where reality truly lies.
David Cronenberg's filmography is filled with fantastic films, and "eXistenZ" is another great staple in his career. The film larks back to his seminal "Videodrome", in the sense that assesses the state of technology in society, and how it relates to the human body (and in a general sense with the human condition). Cronenberg has always been interested in the human body and how it adapts itself to foreign elements and becomes something different (as was the case of "Shivers" and "The Fly" for instance). The pods from "eXistenZ" are surgically inserted in the body, with an orifice that allows for the game to penetrate the body. It's a potent analogy for the fear of invasion (and to an extent, violation), something that is surfaced in the Pikul character who is strongly opposed to having the procedure executed. The film also showcases a trademark of Cronenberg's films - where does reality begin and end (how real, is in fact reality). The film features a great performance from Jude Law, and the cinematography from Peter Suschitzky and score from Howard Shore are equally fantastic. A very good film from a fantastic director.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The End of the Affair

Movie Name: The End of the Affair
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea, Jason Isaacs, Ian Hart, Deborah Findlay, Simon Fisher-Turner, Penny Morrell
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis & Review:
Director Neil Jordan had a stupendous decade in the 90s. Following his Oscar winning "The Crying Game", he followed that film with "Interview with the Vampire", "Michael Collins" and "The Butcher Boy", all equally well received. "The End of the Affair" placed him again in the Oscar race, and the film earned a few Oscar nominations, namely Julianne Moore's as best actress. The film is the adaptation of a novel by Graham Greene and follows the story of Maurice Bendrix, a novelist, as he recalls an affair he had with the beautiful Sarah Miles. That affair ended abruptly much to his surprise, and on a chance encounter, Maurice encounters Sarah's husband, which re-ignites his interest in Sarah and finding out what happened to their relationship. As he probes deeper to the dissolution of the affair, he comes to find out the real meaning of Sarah's love and sacrifice.
Neil Jordan's career has been punctuated by some terrific features that anchor themselves in the capability that he has of subverting genres and mixing them to unique effect (as was the case of his most celebrated features "The Company of Wolves", "Mona Lisa", "The Crying Game" and "Breakfast on Pluto"). "The End of the Affair" is one of his most powerful features, since it vividly brings to life the erotic affair of a couple, who is abruptly finished by the circumstances of war and ultimately of faith. The film is based on the novel by Graham Green, who in turn wrote it based on events of his own life. It's a film that successfully showcases the fervor of the connection between the main couple, but also of how faith can really have a tremendous impact in people's lives. Both Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore are fantastic in the central roles, while the cinematography from Roger Pratt and score from acclaimed composer Michael Nyman are unforgettable. A very good film always worth revisiting.