Sunday, April 23, 2017

Knight of Cups

Movie Name: Knight of Cups
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Wes Bentley, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Isabel Lucas, Freida Pinto, Cherry Jones, Michael Wincott, Kevin Corrigan, Jason Clarke, Peter Mathiessen
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the well received "The Tree of Life", and the not so well received "To the Wonder", reclusive director Terrence Malick returned with another directorial effort (which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival of 2015). The film focuses on the life of Rick, someone working in the entertainment industry, who is trying to find meaning to his life, by understanding the relationships that define him, namely with his brother, father, and the assorted women he has had amorous encounters with.
I should start by saying that "Knight of Cups" feels like a film written and planned by a young student of Philosophy, who suddenly becomes enamored with a sense of self and self discovery, and hires a fantastic cinematographer, and a group of stupendous and beautiful actors to pose and act out supposedly deep meanderings about what life is all about. "Knight of Cups" plays like one of the most self-indulgent exercises captured on film, one that renders absolutely no meaning, borderlines on poor taste and goes interminably with no apparent sense. The narrative, thin as it may be, contains a lot of narration from different characters, who basically interact with each other by posing, or simply looking at each other as if though they're in a music video (the camera never anchors on anyone long enough, since the characters never really speak with each other). This film doesn't function as an art installation since the concept sustaining it is almost pedestrian - "life in the fast lane ends up alienating the sensitive yet damaged good looking central character", and doesn't function as a film, since there's no dimension to anyone, no characters to speak of, and it basically is a beautiful snapshot of a lot of locations (and apparently all of them are populated by stunning model like people). It's a career low point for everyone involved, and from a personal perspective, it definitely raises a lot of questions about Terrence Malick's talent and taste level.

The Handmaiden

Movie Name: The Handmaiden
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Stars: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Hae-suk Kim, So-ri Moon
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following his American detour with "Stoker", director Park Chan-Wook has returned with a new fantastic feature, which made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival of 2016. The film is inspired by the novel of Sarah Waters, but the director transposes the action to Korea in the 1930s, when the country was occupied by the Japanese. The film focuses on a young pickpocket Sookee, who is hired as a handmaiden to a beautiful young heiress who lives with her uncle in a stunning mansion. Sookee was arranged to be in that position through a Count, in reality a swindler who wants to marry the beautiful heiress, place her in a mental asylum and run away with her fortune. Unknown to Sookee however there's other plans already set in motion, and she unexpectedly finds solace in the relationship that she develops with her mistress.
Park Chan-Wook who has been an iconic name in Asian cinema since "Oldboy" (which came out in 2003), brings to life another story that though seemingly linear at first glance, starts unveiling further layers as the narrative unfolds. It's a beautifully realized film, allowing for the central characters to be rendered with some detail. It also brings to life the context of living in an occupied Korea in the 30s, while simultaneously showcasing the perspective of being a woman in a society and culture controlled heavily by men and their interests. As the film unfolds and the twists become more apparent, the more interesting the dynamics of the characters are, and so is their dimension. The film is beautifully shot, with a stunning cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung, the same going for the production design. The main cast is uniformly strong and create indelible characters, particularly the central pair, Min-hee Kim and Tae-ri Kim. A very good film worth watching.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

Movie Name: T2 Trainspotting
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Kelly Macdonald, Angela Nedyalkova, James Cosmo, Scott Greenan, Irvine Welsh, Pauline Turner
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Acclaimed director Danny Boyle is back, following his fantastic, yet little seen "Steve Jobs" biopic. His latest feature is a follow up to his iconic "Trainspotting" which was released in early 1996 (it started it's wider unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival of that year). The film follows the misadventures of the same group, as they now deal with middle age. Mark Renton returns from Amsterdam where he hid following his escape with the money from the scam the group pulled off in 96. His mom has passed away, but his father is still living in the same place. Spud in the meantime has had a child with Gail, and is still troubled by his addiction to drugs. Sick Boy/Simon also continues to do drugs, but is now involved in blackmailing schemes, while trying to run a barely there pub that was an inheritance left by his aunt. Begbie in the meantime is in prison, and fails parole yet again. He stages an attack so he can be sent to the hospital and have more chances of escaping. Mark tries to make amends with his friends, and while Spud is welcome to see him, Simon initially isn't so receptive, but they do manage to smooth things out. They all set out to put together a new scheme, but with Begbie out of prison, that may turn all their plans upside down.
Danny Boyle continues to be one of the best and most inventive directors working these days. He always marries a unique stylistic approach to the material with a tone that is always adequate to the narrative he's building on screen. In this case we no longer have the frantic pacing that dominated the original Trainspotting - we have a rhythm that is closer to someone who is older (our narrator, Mark Renton), dealing with the consequences of his choices, and the fears of what's to come when you're not so young anymore. It's a film that is successful in showcasing just the perfect amount of the society and habits that it criticizes. It wears its nostalgia as a wink, and not so much as a crutch. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, picking up right where they left 20 years ago. A very good film, from an excellent director.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Moulin Rouge

Movie Name: Moulin Rouge
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo, Garry McDonald, Kerry Walker, Jacek Koman, Matthew Whittet, Natalie Mendoza, Kylie Minogue, David Wenham, Lara Mulcahy, Natalie Mendoza, Christine Anu
Genre: Musical, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Australian director Baz Luhrmann followed his successful William Shakespeare adaptation of "Romeo and Julie" with a full blown musical (something he had previously tackled with "Strictly Ballroom"). "Moulin Rouge" follows the story of young Christian, an idealistic English writer, who lives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He loves the bohemian life, and that is best represented by the club "Moulin Rouge". When visiting the club, he is drawn to the beautiful courtesan Satine, the biggest star of the cast. Unbeknown to him however, she is promised to a rich investor, who is also visiting the club. The investment of this man is crucial to the longevity and existence of the club. These two young lovers however, can't be apart and will overcome all obstacles to pursue their relationship.
Director Baz Luhrmann has a specific aesthetic and formal style that at times marries perfectly with the material and produce great films, which was the case of "The Great Gatsby" and "Romeo and Juliet". On other occasions, the stylistic approach overcomes the tenuous storyline, and the film falls prey of decorativism, with the characters becoming puppets that showcase his love of pop music and over the top visuals. "Moulin Rouge" is a hybrid of both of his trends - in the pursuit of creating a classic romantic feature, Lurhmann creates a film that is excessive, visually opulent (almost garish at times), but one with heart and a genuine love of films. The film ends up faltering on defining fully dimensional characters, but it does manage to create a fully artificial interpretation of the bohemian world of Paris at the turn of the century. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, particularly Jim Broadbent who is, as always, fantastic. The cinematography from Donald McAlpine is stunning, as is the score from Craig Armstrong. An uneven feature from an interesting voice in films.

Memento

Movie Name: Memento
Year of Release: 2000
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Boone Junior, Russ Fega, Jorja Fox, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Thomas Lennon, Callum Keith Rennie, Kimberly Campbell
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After his auspicious debut with "Following", director Christopher Nolan debuted his follow up "Memento" at the Venice Film Festival of 2000 and also at the Sundance Film Festival of 2001. The film follows the story of Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator, who as a result of a past trauma, suffers from anterograde amnesia, or short-term memory loss. Leonard is looking for the men who attacked him and killed his wife, and uses a catch-up method that includes polaroids and tattoos to provide him with hints to what he's looking to discover. As Leonard continues his investigation he comes across different characters, all of whom have their own motivations to assist him.
Upon release "Memento" was received with rapturous reviews, and ended up nominated for two Academy Awards. The film has an interesting structure, where the director presents the action simultaneously in a linear fashion, while also showcasing the narrative in reverse order, both meeting at the end of the feature, fully forming a cohesive story. This unorthodox form of showcasing the central character's path allows for the audience to further empathize with the lack of memory that Leonard suffers, and it adds to the story's progressive exposure. It's an intelligent film anchored in a fantastic performance from the always underrated Guy Pearce. Christopher Nolan started establishing his credentials with this film, one that highlights intelligence, thoughtfulness, within the confines of a well known genre. A good film worth watching.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

Movie Name: Ghost in the Shell
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Lasarus Ratuere, Danusia Samal, Anamaria Marinca, Tawanda Manyimo, Yutaka Izumihara
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following his feature debut, "Snow White and the Huntsman", director Rupert Sanders is back, this time tackling the adaptation of a well known comic, which was already adapted to a successful manga film in 1995, "Ghost in the Shell" from director Mamoru Oshii. The film takes place in a distant future, where the border of what separates human and cybernetic has become quite faded. People have cybernetic enhancements performed on their bodies. In this society, there's a revolutionary presence, that takes shape under the guise of a cyborg, one that has a cybernetic body and a human brain. Under the title of Major, this resourceful agent works with a special police unit to tackle the most sophisticated criminals and terrorists, and as we find out, she's targeting the hacker by the name of Kuze. Kuze's targeting the company that created Major, and as the investigation probes deeper, she suddenly realizes that the story behind her existence isn't truthful and there's definitely more for her to uncover.
"Ghost in the Shell" is an interesting film, one that is influenced by the original manga film and also Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner". It's visually stunning and the visual effects on display are nothing short of fantastic, however it's a film that feels under-developed. The essence of the central character and its struggle to understand what is truly humane within her and who she is, could have added an extra dimension to the film. As it is, the film ends up being more of a procedural with some touches of what means to be human, and some considerations of how technology is permeating human life on a biological level. It would be interesting to see what a director such as David Cronenberg could do with this type of material, since he has handled stories of this nature before ("Videodrome" and "eXistenz" for instance). Rupert Sanders is more interested in illustrating and staying close to the manga, not providing much dimension to the supporting characters. Scarlett Johansson tries to keep a detached mechanical demeanor, but in the end it's Juliette Binoche who has the most memorable and humane performance. It's a deeply flawed film, but one that contains sufficient ideas that makes it a worthwhile watch.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Man Who Wasn't There

Movie Name: The Man Who Wasn't There
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, Jon Polito, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Borowitz
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the critical and commercial success of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", the Coen Brothers returned with a decidedly more stylistic and subdued feature. "The Man Who Wasn't There" follows the story of Ed Crane, a low key barber who is married to Doris, a bookkeeper with a drinking problem. Doris is having an affair with her boss, something that Ed has already figured out. When one of Ed's customers mentions he's looking for an investor for a new business he's mounting, he decides to blackmail Dave, Doris' boss. Dave decides to embezzle money from his department store to pay for the blackmail, but soon figures out who's responsible for the scheme. This sets in motion a series of events that leads to dramatic results.
"The Man Who Wasn't There" is a stark and stylistically beautiful film from the Coen Brothers, with a stunning cinematography from their usual collaborator Roger Deakins. It's also a film that has a somber tone and rhythm, unlike most of their previous features which were always dominated by a continuous momentum. The film is an apt reflection of the dour central character, perfectly embodied by Billy Bob Thornton. It's an austere film noir, that definitely lacks a punch, which is where the film ends up faltering. The cast is phenomenal, which is typical for their productions, but the film misses a more aggressive pacing and momentum. A more subdued effort from these talented film makers.

Life

Movie Name: Life
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Director Daniel Espinosa is back, following his little seen and critically maligned "Child 44", this time around, tackling a script from the successful duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo responsible for writing "Zombieland" and "Deadpool"). The film follows the story of a crew of 6 people, that are currently on orbit at the International Space Station. The team manages to salvage an exploratory hub that came from Mars, and much to everyone's surprise, they discover life in some of the samples that came with the hub. Initially a joyous and celebratory event, the entity quickly starts growing, and reveals itself hostile, starting to attack the crew members. It's up to the team to avoid that the creature makes it to the surface of Planet Earth.
This is a film that is ripe with potential - it tries to merge the concepts of "Alien" with the somewhat grounded approach that "Gravity" brought forth. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Ridley Scott, nor Alfonso Cuaron are at the helm of the film. This is a feature that lacks a point of view, a successful sense of menace, and ultimately something that makes it more identifiable, and not so derivative of better films. Both "Alien" and "Gravity" were without a doubt, the merger of many factors, namely design, concepts, storytelling, but they were also works from directors that manage to have a strong point of view, and embed it (with varying degrees of success) in whatever films they create. "Life" tries desperately hard to give the characters something to do, but it lacks dimension, and definitely lacks a sense of menace. The antagonist creature, as polished as it may be, looks excessively digital, and is overly visible. One of the reasons why "Alien" was so successful was precisely the fact that the audience only partially saw the menace - letting the imagination do the rest is invariably its own reward. This is a film that has a good cast, and a great production team, but definitely lacks a stronger point of view. Quickly forgettable.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Movie Name: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian Holm, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Marton Csokas, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Peter Jackson had an interesting career prior to the adaptation of the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. He first established himself as a cult name with films that ranged from the over the top trilogy of "Bad Taste"/"Meet the Feebles"/"Dead Alive", to the indie film that showed his more dramatic side, with "Heavenly Creatures", which simultaneously launched the careers of Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. After his first Hollywood film went largely unnoticed ("The Frighteners" with Michael J. Fox), the director tackled what would become his biggest challenge and the forever staple in the adaptation of fantasy films. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" premiered in December of 2001 to great accolades, being rewarded with Academy Awards and a huge commercial success. The film is a faithful adaptation of the novels from J.R.R. Tolkien, and follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, and his friends, as they come across a ring that can define the powers to be in the realms of Middle Earth. Alongside Bilbo are his hobbit friends Sam, Pippin and Merry, his human friends Aragorn and Boromir, an elf by the name of Legolas, a dwarf by the name of Gimli and the wizard Gandalf. This group sets out to destroy the ring of power, but are pursued by the hordes of Sauron, and the obstacles just become bigger and bigger as their odyssey begins. This is a journey that will test all their resilience.
Peter Jackson is an imaginative director, one with a thorough knowledge of film techniques, something that he put to good use with his initial films, that garnered him quite a lot of attention in film festivals. His adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" was a herculean task, since he tackled the three films simultaneously, and was his first time handling a task of that scale. The results are quite strong, even if structurally the films end up having an uneven momentum. The first volume manages to be quite possibly the best, since it defines the universe of the story, presenting and defining the lead characters, giving everyone just enough dimension to make their characters compelling and noteworthy. It's a film that works exemplary on all the different production levels that are on display, from the cinematography of Andrew Lesnie, the score from Howard Shore, the production and costume design, to the fantastic visual effects on display. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen in particular creating indelible characters. A very good film from a unique storyteller in film.

L.I.E.

Movie Name: L.I.E.
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Michael Cuesta
Stars: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Billy Kay, Bruce Altman, Tony Michael Donnelly, Walter Masterson, Adam LeFevre, James Costa
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
"L.I.E." (standing for Long Island Expressway) was director Michael Cuesta's debut feature, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival of 2001, and earning accolades in several festivals and awards guilds. The film follows the story of Howie Blitzer, a teenage boy, whose mom has passed away recently, and whose father is currently in the throes of dealing with some shady businesses and dating new people. Howie is pretty much left to his own devices, and spends time with the charismatic Gary, who flirts with him, and who has the habit of robbing houses in the neighborhood. One of their victims turns out to be Big John, one of Gary's clients. Big John develops a friendly relationship with Howie, something that is further enhanced when his father is arrested for dangerous practices in his business. "L.I.E." is a fantastic film and was a great debut for Michael Cuesta, who has gone on to direct a mix of feature films (more recently "Kill the Messenger") and high profile TV shows (such as Showtime's "Dexter" and "Homeland"). His first feature tackles difficult issues, with the central character coming to terms with who he is sexually, and also by making the dubious Big John his father figure. It's a film that deals with the alienation of families, lack of communication, and also how the process of finding one self isn't always a linear one. The film features two great central performances, one from the always underrated and terrific Brian Cox, and from Paul Dano, then just starting his career, who impresses beyond his young age. A very good film from a very interesting director.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Movie Name: Kong: Skull Island
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Tian Jing
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
After a career directing shorts and TV Series, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts made a name for himself with the well received "The Kings of Summer". This follow up is a huge difference in themes and scale, and is a somewhat successful B-Movie/Grindhouse film, wrapped in a big blockbuster style. The film follows an agency and government expedition to a mostly unknown island, that has surfaced on the radar, but that no one knows much about. Under the guise of getting further geological information, seismic charges are dropped into the Island, which in turn awakens the herculean Kong, a colossal ape that is the undisputed king of that island. The teams get dispersed, some die, but thanks to the unexpected help of a long lost survivor, they figure out a plan to reach their evacuation point. However, they soon realize that Kong isn't the only creature they should fear.
Unlike Peter Jackson's retelling of the King Kong story (from 2005), Jordan Vogt-Roberts goes for a different tone, one that is definitely more anchored by influences of B-films, and even Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". The film takes place in 1973, and successfully captures the dynamics of that time (political, military and social), the colors, and the music, but soon that quickly becomes background when the team reaches the island. The film then quickly becomes a creature feature, with Kong quickly coming into play, decimating part of the team, while other equally menacing creatures surface to also challenge the human teams of reaching safety. Sadly none of the characters are actually given much to do, particularly the always interesting Brie Larson, who as photo journalist Mason Weaver, spends most of the time behind the camera (her motivation is to discover why the island is so secretive). Tom Hiddleston is sadly miscast as the lead tracker - he lacks charisma, humor and depth to actually make the character memorable, the same going for Samuel L. Jackson (who by the way looks like he just phones in his more recent performances, such as David Yates' "The Legend of Tarzan"). The film manages to be entertaining thanks to John C. Reilly's always welcome presence, and the tone of the film, that oscillates between large budget extravaganza (fantastic special effects), and B-movie aesthetic, which perfectly suits it. A mildly entertaining film.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Movie Name: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Simon West
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Noah Taylor, Iain Glen, Daniel Craig, Chris Barrie, Leslie Phillips, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Richard Johnson
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After two successful feature films, "Con Air" and "The General's Daughter", director Simon West tackled the adaptation of well known video game "Tomb Raider". The film follows the story of Lara Croft, a beautiful and well off heiress, who is a treasure hunter. She is faced with a new adventure, when a group named the Illuminati steals one of her artifacts, in the pursuit of something that will potentially give them control over the entire world. In a quest to stop them, Lara goes to Cambodia and then Venice, in order to battle them.
The "Tomb Raider" series has so far been comprised of two features: both of them have had Angelina Jolie as the lead character, and that has been the highlight of the films. The story at the base of this film, doesn't provide much character development - we never really know much about Lara, and what really drives her. Angelina Jolie gives some edge and nuance to a character that on paper (or video game), is simply a resourceful and attractive grave digger (a female equivalent of Indiana Jones, but with male servants and more money). The film features beautiful locations, solid visual effects, but sadly is also instantly forgettable - the sense of menace and dread is never effective, and the supporting characters (and main villains), have no development or much in terms of motivation. It's a film without a solid point of view, and the sense of entertainment that Steven Spielberg built with his Indiana Jones series, is mostly absent from this franchise. Angelina Jolie aside, this film is forgettable.

Jeepers Creepers

Movie Name: Jeepers Creepers
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Victor Salva
Stars: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Brandon Smith, Eileen Brennan, Jeffrey William Evans, Patrick Cherry, Tom Tarantini
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
"Jeepers Creepers" premiered in 2001, and was a surprise hit. The film produced by celebrated director Francis Ford Coppola, focuses on two siblings who are driving home for vacations. While driving on a rather isolated road, they notice an old van, which at some point pursues them. They are not aware of the driver, but they notice the van yet again, and this time, the driver is disposing of what seems to be a body down some sort of a chute. After much discussion, the siblings decide to investigate, and Darryl, the younger brother, goes down the chute and discovers much to his horror, a series of bodies. This sets in motion an intense chase from the driver in pursuit of the siblings, with further surprises happening when they discover the true nature of the driver.
"Jeepers Creepers" is an interesting film, one that manages to be a creature feature, that smartly hides the creature for most of the duration of the film. The film successfully builds the relationship between the two siblings and lead characters, and places them in the middle of a rather isolated road and location, and therefore more exposed to the attack of this driver/entity who is relentless. The tension progressively builds, until the siblings (and us), realize the true nature of the attacker. The director also smartly hides the creature in the dark, suggesting more than showing the totality of it, and going for the cheap thrills. The film has some great influences, namely from Steven Spielberg's "Duel" and George Miller's "Road Warrior"- but all these are presented in an original way, with just enough humor and nostalgia, that make it feel fresh and original. Worth watching.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Get Out

Movie Name: Get Out
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, LilRel Howery
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
After a successful and celebrated career as an actor and comedian, Jordan Peele has ventured into feature film directing, with a particularly interesting debut, in an unexpected genre. "Get Out" focuses on the story of a young mixed racial couple, comprised of Chris and Rose. Rose decides to introduce Chris to her family, and they go for a weekend at their place, somewhere in the South. Upon arrival, Chris notices that the family has a few live in employees, all of them black, and all of them behaving somewhat erratically. As the weekend goes on, Chris gets to interact more closely with the members of the family, including Rose's brother Jeremy, and Rose's mother Missy, a celebrated psychiatrist, who specializes in hypnotherapy. Chris who's in the throes of quitting smoking, is cornered by Missy one evening, and is suddenly hypnotized, and thrown into a trance. Things escalate and get progressively weirder when a bizarre party happens at the house.
Jordan Peele creates with "Get Out" a film that is populated with a tension that is progressively built. The apparent calmness that surrounds Rose's family, and their particular affluence, hides something darker, that is slowly unveiled and ultimately revealed as monstrous. It's a film that makes its scares based on a smart plot, and a feeling of unease that is progressively created, with little utilization of gore or brutal violence. The film lacks in terms of character development for the supporting characters (or even for Rose herself), but the premise manages to keep the viewers engaged and attentive. The performances from Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Stephen Root are engaging and nuanced, making the film highly enjoyable and watchable.
An interesting debut from an unexpected voice.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Best films of 2016

2016 was an interesting year for films. The comic book properties continued to deliver in terms of  box office revenue, some elevating the quality output, such as Scott Derrickson's "Doctor Strange", others simply not so inventive or interesting, such as Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Apocalypse". The Summer crop for big budget films, turned out to be quite mediocre, even with some great talent behind the lens (Duncan Jones's "Warcraft" was a missed opportunity), but the year ended with a few strong surprises from young directors and seasoned veterans, that made my list of great films for this year. I usually place my favorite film first on the list, and this year that place goes to Denis Villenuve's "Arrival".

Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O'Brien, Tzi Ma, Abigail Pniowsky, Jadyn Malone, Julia Scarlett Dan, Larry Day

La La Land
Director: Damian Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons

Jackie
Director: Pablo Larrain
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, Corey Johnson, Caspar Phillipson, Ralph Brown

Silence
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida

Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, Patrick Decile

Kubo and the Two Strings
Director: Travis Knight
Stars: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Meyrick Murphy, Laura Miro, Alpha Takahashi, Minae Noji

The Neon Demon
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Desmond Harrington, Charles Baker, Jamie Clayton, Stacey Danger

Love & Friendship
Director: Whit Stillman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry, James Fleet, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Lochlann O'Mearain, Jenn Murray, Morfydd Clark, Sophie Radermacher, Jemma Redgrave, Conor MacNeill, Conor Lambert, Kelly Campbell

The Jungle Book
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose

Midnight Special
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, David Jensen

Special highlights should go to the following films that were equally impressive: Robert Eggers' The Witch, Kleber Mendonca's Aquarius, J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls, Steven Spielberg's The BFG and Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. The films that simply failed on multiple levels include David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan, Anna Foerster's Underworld: Blood Wars and James Bobin's Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Lion

Movie Name: Lion
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Garth Davis
Stars: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Divian Ladwa
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
"Lion" is director Garth Davis' feature debut, following an acclaimed career as a commercials director, and his work alongside the phenomenal Jane Campion on the show "Top of the Lake". The film, based on a true story, focuses on a young boy, by the name of Saroo, who lives with his mother, brother and sister, in a remote and extremely poor village in India. Saroo and Guddu, both try to help the family as they can, by doing small tasks, and getting whatever pay they can. One evening trying to help out his older brother, Saroo goes with Guddu to get work at night, but ends up falling asleep. While looking for his brother, Saroo enters a decommissioned train, falls asleep, and much to his surprise in the morning, discovers the train has taken off and he's now miles and miles away from home. He finds himself in Calcutta, all alone, and unable to explain with precision where he's from. After a few mishaps he finds himself in an orphanage, and finally gets sent to Australia where he's adopted by a loving couple. Saroo grows up to be a well adjusted and dynamic young man, until he starts remembering the family he has back in India. This prompts a quest to find their whereabouts that totally consumes him.
"Lion" is a film with a fantastic premise, one where a young man manages to make contact with a life he thought lost forever, against all odds. It's a film that is sentimental and emotional, where there's a mix of "poverty porn" (where the camera almost revels in showcasing the poverty and destitution of some people), with a genuine aim to showcase the reality of people living below the poverty line. It's a film that has a heart, and that showcases that life does come with a surprising abundance of good people, who want to make a positive impact in the world. However, for dramatic purposes, it's a film that lacks in adding dimension to some of the supporting characters - Rooney Mara's Lucy has very little to do, the same going for David Wenham's John (who is even more in the periphery).  Dev Patel creates Saroo as a young man on a quest, a man who's thankful for what he has, but that is haunted by what he lost - and this is possibly one of his finest performances thus far. Nicole Kidman also gives a strong performance, but the highlight of the film turns out to be the young Sunny Pawar, who carries most of the first part of the film, and the cinematography from Greig Fraser, which is really stunning. It's an unbalanced film, something that the overtly dramatic and sentimental ending almost take to "film of the week" territory. There's still quite a lot to enjoy and it's a fairly strong debut.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Split

Movie Name: Split
Year of Release: 2016
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Izzie Coffey, Neal Huff, Bruce Willis
Genre: Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following the low budget "The Visit", director M. Night Shyamalan is back, with another low budget feature, this time around much more successful in all aspects. The film follows the story of Kevin, a young man with an ailment that results in him having multiple personalities (23 to be more precise). Kevin, under the guise of one of his domineering personalities, kidnaps three teenagers, and takes them to an underground bunker of unknown location. Of the three girls, Casey is the one who handles the situation with coldness, since she herself has had a past of abuse. Kevin's therapist, Dr. Fletcher, suspects something is wrong, and tries to aid him overcome his issues. All the while the girls are desperately trying to escape, without realizing that some personalities hidden within Kevin haven't surfaced yet.
"Split" is a film that marks a return for form for the director, after some dismal choices, that were both critically and commercially unsuccessful. The film creates a sense of claustrophobia that takes hold of the story and main characters, as they start to realize that their kidnapper has motivations that are beyond their comprehension. The film feels and looks impeccable and polished, and features engaging performances from James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy and the always reliable Betty Buckley. It's a film that showcases the director's traditional trademark, of slowly building tension, and for once, it works on quite a few fronts. An interesting effort from an inconsistent director.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Zootopia

Movie Name: Zootopia
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Maurice LaMarche
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Another huge success for Disney Studios, "Zootopia" is a great example of a well oiled production, which results in great entertainment for all generations. The film, focused in an animal only universe, follows Judy Hopps, a bunny/rabbit, who we find out, wants so very desperately to become a police officer. Judy manages to get accepted into Police Academy, and against all odds, becomes a police officer. She takes a job in the big metropolis of Zootopia, where all animals co-habit, and where she hopes to have an impact and help others. Much to her dismay, her supervisor assigns her meter maid tasks. In one of her patrols she meets Nick, a sly fox who makes his living through some very precise and ingenious hustles. Judy through her sheer initiative and persistence gets assigned to a challenging case, and it's up to her and Nick to figure out a situation that, if not resolved, can destroy the fabric of the city.
The directing team of "Zootopia" has worked in some very successful feature films for Disney (individually they have worked in "Tangled", "Wreck it Ralph" and "Moana"). "Zootopia" manages to be a film that conveys a message of diversity and inclusion, without being condescending or simplistic. It's a film that teaches a worthwhile lesson, in a humorous and adventurous fashion, all of this wrapped in a stunning animation that proves once again that Disney is top notch in terms of story/animation development. The story references other iconic film classics, and has some fantastic moments (such as the scenes taking place at the DMV). The voice work is impeccable, particularly the always fantastic Jason Bateman, who makes the suave Nick, both ingenious and heartfelt.
A very good feature worth watching.

Manchester by the Sea

Movie Name: Manchester by the Sea
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson, Gretchen Moll, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan, Kara Hayward, Josh Hamilton, Anna Baryshnikov, Heather Burns, Tate Donovan, Tom Kemp
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Renowned playwright and director Kenneth Lonergan is back, after his last feature "Margaret" suffered all sorts of mishaps to get released (the film was originally set to be released in 2007 and only got the theatrical release in 2011). "Manchester by the Sea" follows the story of Lee Chandler, a custodian in Boston, who is forced to go back to his hometown of Manchester, following the sudden death of his older brother Joe. Lee has reticence in coming back, due to some very traumatic events from his past, but does so due to his close relationship with his brother. He comes to realize that his brother left him as a legal guardian to his nephew Patrick and that will force him to move back to the area. As Lee settles in, the ghosts of past events come back, as does his ex wife, now re-married and expecting a child.
"Manchester by the Sea" is a film that focuses its story on a character who can't overcome the decisions that were made in the past. The central character, Lee, keeps his distance from everyone, avoids all contact, since he is unable to overcome the events that dramatically altered his life. It's a film that is anchored on that despair, but that balances it out with the introduction of young Patrick, who is filled with life and options. It's an interesting duality for a film that is all about character development, and how these characters wrestle with grief and with the aftermath of their decisions. Formally the film isn't very innovative - it's a subdued film, featuring three great performances, from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams. The three of them make this a compelling viewing experience. Worth watching.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Special Promotion on Society6

My friends, as this new year keeps sailing on, I'm running my first promotion of items that are available on Society6. Please check my store there under https://society6.com/pedrocanhenha, buy something for your sweetheart, and get a free T-shirt! Message me for more details. Thank you and spread the word.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Movie Name: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Eoin Macken, Fraser James, Ruby Rose, William Levy, Rola, Ever Anderson, Milton Schorr, Joon-Gi Lee
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Director Paul W.S. Anderson is back, following the underwhelming "Pompeii" with the supposedly final chapter in the "Resident Evil" series. The film follows the events of the last chapter , that left Alice in DC having thwarted the plans from the villainous Wesker, one of the Umbrella Corporation's main men. Alice discovers that the Red Queen (the artificial intelligence operating system that runs Umbrella) is trying to salvage what is left of humanity, and that the Hive, located in Raccoon City actually contains an anti-virus that can successfully save what is left of the planet. On her way to Raccoon City, Alice discovers that Claire Redfield is still alive, and alongside a few other survivors, she sets out to defeat both Dr. Isaacs (and his clones) and Wesker, who is secluded in the underground bunker that is part of the Umbrella Corporation. What Alice discovers along the day changes her life forever.
The "Resident Evil" saga which began in 2002, with a rather straightforward plot about zombies running amok in the fictional Raccoon City, and the sole heroine who battles them, has apparently come to its closure. In this sixth chapter, writer & director, and main creative source, Paul W.S. Anderson, maintains his habitual traits of privileging action over substance, but does end giving Alice more dimension, and a certain level of humanity that the previous films never managed to create. By going deeper into the source of the virus, in the quest to find a salvation, the director actually managed to give its leading lady some depth, something that Milla Jovovich successfully brings to life, in a role that she has made her own (mixing just enough wit, warmth and the tired stance of the bruised warrior). The film continues to have enough brainless action to appease the fans, but this time around also gives its main villain some extra edge, introducing in the story some relevant religious and sociological overtones, that though undercooked, still add some extra dimension to a rather flat plot. It's a film that has sufficient allure to keep the viewer interested, and though better than most of the films in the series, it still lacks enough bite to make it memorable.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

Movie Name: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Hart, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, John Cleese, Zoe Wanamaker, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville, Chris Rankin
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
These days everything that pertains to the "Harry Potter" universe, is of course, met with applause and excitement. J.K. Rowling has successfully built a universe around this character, that has transcended language and demographics, and is beloved by everyone. When the first film debuted in 2001, it came through the hand of Chris Columbus, who had experienced quite a lot of success with "Home Alone", "Mrs. Doubtfire" and as the writer of such iconic 80s titles as Joe Dante's "Gremlins" and  Richard Donner's "The Goonies". The film introduces us to Harry Potter, a young orphan boy, who is the sole survivor in his family of a near fatal attack by a malevolent wizard by the name of Voldemort. Harry grows under the poor tutelage of his uncle and aunt, until on his 11th birthday he is made aware he has been accepted to the school of magic, by the name of Hogwarts. He is instructed on how to get there by a gentle giant, by the name of Hagrid, who guides him through the logistics of getting materials needed. While going to the school he quickly makes friends with Ron Weasley and the razor sharp and intelligent Hermione Granger. These three embark on a series of adventures that will change their young lives.
Establishing a universe for a known literary property is always a difficult task. There are a lot of expectations from fans and readers, though ultimately a director really has to make the property his own and place his point of view on the material. Chris Columbus doesn't really manage to create a very identifiable or particularly relevant piece of work with this film - he illustrates the story, without giving the material enough dimension to live as a memorable film (there isn't much of an antagonist in the film, since the character is never given much to do). The young actors, though quite well cast, are still learning their craft, and their skills are still being honed, something that the later films showcase quite well. It's a film where the production values speak louder than its content and dynamics - it's more about exposition, that engagement. It's a film far from perfect, that yet contains enough interest from the celebrated supporting British cast, and the beautiful cinematography from John Seale (responsible for George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road" for instance). A mildly entertaining endeavor from a series that has better films.

Aquarius

Movie Name: Aquarius
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho
Stars: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrao, Zoraide Coleto, Fernando Teixeira, Buda Lira, Paula de Renor, Barbara Colen, Daniel Porpino, Pedro Queiroz, Carla Ribas
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
"Aquarius" is the second film from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho, and premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival of 2016. The film follows the story of Clara, a widower in her 60s, who happens to be last inhabitant of a building where all the other tenants have already sold their condos, and have moved on. Clara has lived in that apartment for decades, and leads a quiet and peaceful life, with her daily routines and habits. Her children are somewhat preoccupied with the outcome of the situation, since the real estate company that bought the building, wants Clara out, and she's determined not to sell. The company is definitely embarking in processes to force Clara out, though she's a resilient person, intent on staying in the place that defined part of her existence, where she raised her children and ultimately where she and her husband had a life together.
Kleber Mendoca Filho has built this finely detailed film, showing insight into the life of an aging person, with a life that is filled with challenges, needs and joys. Clara is the epitome of a certain generation in Brazil: a woman who grew up in the 70s and 80s and experienced dictatorship, and the musical boom and how that cultural relevance impacted Brazilian society. She's managed to build a comfortable life for herself and her children, and appreciates the universe she moves in. It's a film that astutely details habits, and the different relationships that people build, in order to keep going against difficulties and challenges that appear. Sonia Braga is fantastic in this role, giving this woman a wounded aspect to her, yet making her strong and resourceful. She loves her children and family, and stops at nothing to defend her microcosms. A slow moving drama, filled with detail and feeling. Worth watching.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Silence

Movie Name: Silence
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida
Genre: Drama, History
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Celebrated director Martin Scorsese is back, following the commercial and critical success of "The Wolf of Wall Street". "Silence" is a dramatic change of pace, and is a passion project for the director, who has tried to get the project done since the 90s. The film is an adaptation of the book by Shusaku Endo, and follows the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who go to Japan in the 17th century, in pursuit of their mentor, Father Ferreira. Both Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe, are aware that Ferreira has been missing for quite some time and that catholicism has been persecuted with violence in Japan. They embark on the mission to find the whereabouts of their mentor, which lands them initially under the protection of a small village. As their stay continues, so does the joy they provide to the locals, but also the sense of danger that comes from them hosting and protecting them. As their challenges escalate, Father Rodrigues in particular, is put through trials that test the strength of his faith.
"Silence" is a film of great beauty and austerity. It's a piece of work driven by an artist that has always paid close attention to how religion and the concept of faith are represented in his features (another example of this theme can be viewed in the beautiful "The Last Temptation of Christ"). It's interesting that the depiction of faith onscreen is usually associated with the trials, sacrifices and tribulations of those who have it, versus the ones who oppose it and want to eradicate it. This particular story does go through those motions, but it investigates it on a much deeper level. This feature showcases how the beliefs of a young priest slowly get butchered by the constant torment of a society that won't allow for the co-existence of different beliefs. It's an interesting insight into the Japanese society of the 17th century, with a lot of bridges to the persecutions and intolerance that exist to this day. The film does not contain sweeping musical moments that help define instances - it's a film that is anchored on actions, on the canvas that it paints, with wonderful actors to convey its message. Andrew Garfield excels in his role, as does Liam Neeson and Shin'ya Tsukamoto. The cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto is stunning as is the production and costume design from Dante Ferretti. Another great film from a tremendous voice in the American cinema.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars

Movie Name: Underworld: Blood Wars
Year of Release: 2016
Director:Anna Foerster
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head, Brian Caspe
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
The "Underworld" saga continues, with "Blood Wars" being the 5th film in this series. The film is Anna Foerster's feature debut, following her career directing TV episodes for "Outlander" and "Criminal Minds" and a cinematographer career (she lensed Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous" and "White House Down").  The film follows Selene in her ongoing battle to avoid capture by the vampires who believe she betrayed them, and the lycans/werewolves who want her blood so they can find the whereabouts of her daughter. This time around, Selene gets rescued by David (a character introduced in the previous film, whose coven was destroyed), and they both are taken to a new coven, where other machinations are in place. These intrigues force them to seek asylum in another remote coven, where a different type of vampires live. While there, David learns more about his background, and Selene comes to understand a new philosophy which simultaneously gives her more enhanced powers. It's up to her and David to avoid a brutal slaying of both races as a final confrontation looms.
The "Underworld" series always had a rather flimsy concept underlying the sheer beauty of its leading lady. The original film placed a vampire and a werewolf falling in love, with both races involved in a bitter and long lasting war (very much in the tradition of such classics as Robert Wise's "West Side Story", except for the races angle and the general quality that distinguishes the features). The sequels have been an expansion of this universe, with additional characters added to satisfy the origin of these main characters and how these plots come together. With the disappearance of Michael (and love interest) after the second film, the latest films have placed Selene trying to find her place in the world, however the narratives are definitely more interested in playing the action aspect of it, and not so much the quest of the leading character. That becomes quite apparent in this latest feature, where the story has almost no semblance of coherence, and the motivation of the characters seems to be simply to move back and forth and wear dark clothes. It's quite possibly the worst film in the series with a poorly constructed plot, and what's worse, with a central character that has almost nothing to do, except look confused and surprised. The only salvation the film has lies in its cast, which is surprisingly good, namely Kate Beckinsale (who needs to close this chapter in her career), Charles Dance and Lara Pulver. It's a film that has no point of view, filled with cliches, and sadly without much interest.

A Monster Calls

Movie Name: A Monster Calls
Year of Release: 2016
Director: J. A. Bayona
Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, Ben Moor
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Director Juan Antonio Bayona is back, with his third feature, following the well received "The Orphanage" and "The Impossible". "A Monster Calls" is an adaptation of the novel by Patrick Ness, and follows the story of Conor, a young British boy, who is going through some trying times. Conor's mother is slowly fading away due to a serious ailment, and his father has a new life (and family) in America. Conor is having to live with his grandmother, while his mother receives treatments at the local hospital. Conor has a fantastical imagination and talent for drawing. One evening he receives the visit of a large tree that has suddenly come to life, and who informs him that it will tell him three stories, and Conor will have to narrate back a fourth story of his own.
This heartbreaking fable, manages to give an interesting canvas for the director whom has had a knack for young protagonists in his features. His heroes or central characters are usually young boys who are dealing with hardship that comes in the shape of their motherly figure being absent or possibly being removed, and how that affects their vision of the world (or how it molds it). "A Monster Calls" places two motherly figures in the center: the one who's being removed, the natural mother, and a new figure, somewhat a stranger, the slightly cold Grandmother whom the hero has to know better, in order for his life to continue. The film uses the monster character as a reminder for the hero of stories that apparently disconnected, eventually come back to his relationship with his mother. It's a film that weaves a delicate relationship between these characters - even if the supporting characters don't have much dimension to them. The assembled cast is wonderful, particular the trio of Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones. The visual effects are tremendous, as is the fine score from Fernando Velazquez. A good film worth watching.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Music with an Impact - 2016


2016 was a tragic year for music. Among many losses experienced throughout the year, two of them were monumental, namely David Bowie and George Michael. The year was incredibly rich in new releases, and I for one, listened to some truly memorable albums. I also discovered some great gems that are a few years old, but that I'm listing since I found them this year and they were part of my heavy music rotation.
Below are my favorites.

Niki and the Dove - Everybody's Heart is Broken Now
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
Johann Johansson - Arrival (OST) & Orphee
Plaid - Reachy Prints & The Digging Remedy
Nico Muhly - Drones & Speaks Volumes
Tegan & Sara - Love You to Death
Fennesz & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Flumina & Cendre
Bryce Dessner - Filament
David Bowie - BlackStar

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sing

Movie Name: Sing
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Garth Jennings
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz, Leslie Jones
Genre: Animation, Musical, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Illumination Studios follows their successful "The Secret Life of Pets", with another animated musical feature. This is also director Garth Jennings' follow up feature to the underrated and delightful "Son of Rambow" (from 2007). "Sing" follows the story of Buster Moon, a joyful koala who has owned a musical theater for years. His productions don't generate much revenue, and he owes money to the bank. He comes up with the idea of having a talent show, one where the allure is the cash prize he's willing to put up. His secretary however makes a typo on the advertisement/pamphlet, and what was originally suppose to be $1,000 becomes $100,000. This of course generates an enormous interest from everyone in the city, and Buster ends up selecting an eclectic cast of singers for his show: Rosita, a stay at home mom/pig, Mike, a small time crook/mouse, Ash, a young struggling rock musician/porcupine, Johnny, a mobster son/gorilla and the reluctant Meena, a young powerhouse (elephant) uncertain of  her voice and worth. His money woes continue to be a huge obstacle for Buster, who tries to lure the powerful Nana Noodleman, a retired opera singer to become a sponsor for the show.
"Sing" is a film that again displays and showcases the amazing virtuosity of the animation teams from Illumination studios. The textures, colors, attention to detail are all there, however unlike "The Secret Life of Pets", "Sing" anchors its interest in the usage of pop tunes being sung by animals voiced in turn by well known actors. It's a premise that grows old a bit quickly, and lacks the excitement and joy (and almost surreality) that the studios prior releases had. Unlike most Pixar films, this film doesn't go beyond its premise and work on multiple story levels, particularly when compared to "Inside Out". It's a film that has some humorous moments, but the camera movements become repetitive after a while, and eventually the film lags (and lacks momentum). It's a film that still holds some rewards in some of the fantastic voice work from the talented cast.