Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Disaster Artist

Movie Name: The Disaster Artist
Year of Release: 2017
Director: James Franco
Stars: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, June Diane Raphael, Megan Mullally, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrew Santino, Nathan Fielder, Joe Mande, Melanie Griffith
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis:
Prolific actor, screenwriter and director James Franco is back, following his long interminable list of projects that keeps him busy. This time around, he's focusing his attention on the making of one of the cult films that has been around since 2003, "The Room". The film introduces us to young actor Greg, who is taking acting classes in San Francisco, without much success. In one of the acting workshops, he meets the enigmatic and intense Tommy. Tommy and Greg become fast friends, even if most of what Tommy states about his origins, age and activities, seem completely fabricated and fictitious. Both friends decide to move to Los Angeles, and try for their acting ambitions, since Tommy already has an apartment in the city. Greg manages to get an agent, but both his and Tommy's auditions lead them nowhere. With unemployment as their reality, Tommy decides upon himself to write a script, which he calls "The Room". With his apparently bottomless cash funds, Tommy decides to direct the film, which is originally scheduled to shoot for 40 days, but that is met with quite a few challenges, most of which related to his inexperience.
"The Disaster Artist" is a film that, much like Tim Burton's "Ed Wood", makes the central hero, someone who feverishly pursues their dreams and ambitions, even if they don't really know what they're doing. What makes "Ed Wood" so perfect, is that the film is an ode to film makers of the past, people who wanted to tell stories and immerse the audiences in the world they were creating. "The Disaster Artist" however focuses more on the eccentricities of someone who wants to act, and be on the screen, almost as a personal statement against the world that has always pushed him down. The film ends up being so funny and ironic, for the simple reason that Tommy is relentless and simultaneously clueless about making films, and above all, about himself and how he comes across to others (both on and offscreen). It's a film with lots of winks and nods to the film making business and process, and that in itself is the most successful part of this film. All the cast is uniformly good, but James Franco manages to create a character that is funny, over the top and a close ringer to the original Tommy. A fun film worth watching.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Movie Name: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel, Rebecca Miller, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen, David Cromer, Sakina Jaffrey
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis:
Director Noah Baumbach is back, following his latest two features, which found him reaching much bigger audiences that some of his previous efforts ("While We're Young" and "Mistress America" to be more specific). "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)", premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, even though it's a film produced by streaming giant Netflix. The film follows the tribulations of a New York family, namely the patriarch Harold, a retired teacher and sculptor, his current wife Maureen, and his offspring, Danny, Matthew and Jean. Danny who is going through a separation, comes to New York with his daughter who's about to go to college to study film. Danny is having to stay with his father, while his divorce gets settled. Harold in the meantime, is trying to get a retrospective on his work, while simultaneously considering moving out of the city, since the cost of living in New York has pushed them out. All these events come to a halt, when Harold ends up in the Hospital due to a small accident he had. This forces Matthew, the youngest son, to fly from Los Angeles to also provide some assistance, while he himself is going through some personal issues.
Noah Baumbach's films, much like Woody Allen's, are deeply rooted on familiar topics for him, namely a certain intellectual milieu that exists and thrives in New York. In this arena of culture and artists, and to a certain extent, privilege, exists these dysfunctional relationships of parents and children, things that are never quite well resolved, due to personal ambitions or withheld affections, all this emotional tension that seems to slow cook but never really boils. In the case of "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)", these relationships are more pronounced, as the patriarch is dealing with the effects of old age, health complications, and yet also wanting to achieve a level of recognition that never really happened during his younger years. This is obviously a film that rehashes a lot of dynamics that have been seen before, but what salvages this feature, is the fantastic cast that is assembled. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel, make for a very compelling cast, and bring to life the challenges that characters have of adjusting to deflated egos, sibling rivalry and even emotional baggage that is carried around for a lifetime. Even if the material isn't the freshest, there is enough gusto in the performances to make the film enjoyable. Worth watching.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Marjorie Prime

Movie Name: Marjorie Prime
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Michael Almereyda
Stars: Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, Hannah Gross, Stephanie Andujar, Azumi Tsutsui
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis:
After the well received "Experimenter", director Michael Almereyda is back, with one of his best features (he came to prominence in the early 90s with "Nadja", which premiered in 1994). "Marjorie Prime" takes place in the near future, and focuses on the story of Marjorie. Marjorie is 85 and struggles with dementia. In order to alleviate these challenges, her daughter Tess and son in law Jon, have provided her with an AI type of assistant, which has taken the form of her deceased husband, Walter (when he was in his 40s). Through their interactions, conversations and mutual pool of memories, Marjorie can revisit parts of her past, and to a larger extent keep herself engaged and in the moment. Walter Prime (Prime is the name of the application that runs these AI assistants), keeps learning continuously, not just from Marjorie, but from Tess and Jon, in order to collect more memories and be more useful in its purpose. As the story evolves, we witness as the Prime application (and the forms it takes) becomes such a presence in the lives of these individuals.
"Marjorie Prime" is a film that is smartly built on the premise of memories being copies and interpretations of events that took place, but ones where humans access them continuously, but where they get more and more faded out as they get accessed. The Prime application, functions in the film as possibilities of closure and closeness to characters whose lives were shattered by the loss of someone, or for characters who never had a chance to deal with unearthed issues. Marjorie initially uses the program to remind herself of things she's losing, as she's battling dementia, but as the film evolves, and Tess then uses the program, and eventually Jon, it's interesting to see how they all try to capture something from the past, through their own prism, in order to achieve some sense of peace or understanding. It's a film that, similarly to a lot of interesting sci-fi concepts, questions how we interpret memories, events, and how sometimes finding the right place for these means nothing if these events aren't addressed, digested and truly comprehended. It's a very intelligent film, one that lives from interactions, and from the performances of their leads, all of whom are great in their roles. The film also features a beautiful soundtrack by Mica Levi, and an elegant cinematography from Sean Price Williams. A very good film worth watching.

The Circle

Movie Name: The Circle
Year of Release: 2017
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Ellar Coltrane, Nate Corddry, John Boyega, Amir Talai, Ellen Wong, Beck
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis:
Director James Ponsoldt continues his string of interesting projects/features, with the adaptation of Dave Eggers book, "The Circle". The film focuses on the story of young Mae, who lives in a suburb of the Silicon Valley area, working an aimless job, who suddenly finds herself being interviewed for a job with one of the hottest tech companies in the area. Mae aces the interview, starts her new position, and progressively gets a better understanding of how "The Circle" operates across multiple people's lives, including her own and the one of her friends and family (including her parents, who get dragged to the network, even when her father is dealing with some serious health issues which they prefer to keep private). "The Circle" is governed by the charismatic Bailey, who comes in contact with Mae, through some unexpected circumstances. This turn of events makes Mae an instantly recognizable character within the company, and within the social network, something that keeps evolving, as the Circle's plans also keep expanding ever more.
So far James Ponsoldt's films have been ever more successful, the more they are focused on characters that are trying to find their place in the world. They are typically young adults, that are establishing or figuring out their own path, and finding that adulthood is perpetually tangled in familial relationships that define or influence those paths. "The Circle" has some of those traits, and it's interesting to observe Mae's interactions in the world, both personal and professional, particularly as she tries to achieve something for herself, and help her parents in the process. However the film introduces a concept, somewhat similar to Irwin Winkler's "The Net" (1995, before the dot com), where the young heroine is working for a company that has sinister motives to everything they do. Obviously "The Circle" tries to be a jab at Facebook, and how privacy is slowly eroding from people's lives, however the film ends up having these two facets that never really marry successfully. On one hand, you have the story of young Mae trying to find her bearing in the world, and on the other there's a somewhat tech thriller looming, and these two never gel solidly. Emma Watson is always a compelling presence, as is Tom Hanks, however the material just isn't as interesting as it could be. It's not sufficiently "Three Days of the Condor", and it's definitely not as intimate and heartfelt as "The Spectacular Now". Here's hoping the director's next feature is a more interesting one.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Movie Name: Murder on the Orient Express
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr., Leslie Odom Jr., Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Phil Dunster, Marwan Kenzari, Lucy Boynton, Sergei Polunin
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
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Synopsis:
Director Kenneth Branagh is back, following his latest big hit for Disney, "Cinderella". This time around, the actor/director tackles the adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, that was previously adapted to the big screen in 1974, by Sidney Lumet, and had an equally impressive cast that included Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery. The film follows the adventures of Hercule Poirot, as he embarks the Orient Express to be taken to a case that needs to be solved in London. During the journey, Poirot comes to know all the passengers, including Samuel Ratchett, who offers him a very generous amount of money to be his personal bodyguard, since he fears for his safety. That same evening, much to everyone's shock, he appears murdered in his cabin, with twelve stab wounds. It's up to Poirot to use his logical and illustrious mind to solve the complicated case.
Agatha Christie's novels and in particular her character Poirot have been adapted and transposed to the screens on multiple occasions. This one hailing from Kenneth Branagh, features a strong and diversified cast, and the film definitely benefits from robust production values, but even upon its start, is a film that is riddled with an artificial tone and feel that never quite manages to be resolved. The film, much like the mustache that Branagh uses for the duration of the film, feels bloated and excessively manicured, never really allowing for any of the characters to exist, much less allowing for any of the viewers to create any empathy with the events that have unraveled on the train. It's a film that has a sterling array of great actors, and yet they get very little bandwidth to really expand on the motivations for their characters. They become nothing more than small anecdotes, and therefore difficult to care much about their outcome. It's a film that could potentially feel claustrophobic, since it takes place on a train, yet that angle is never really sufficiently used (though the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is beautiful). The great cast has nothing much to do, though it's always fantastic to see Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench dialing it up a notch. A forgettable endeavor from an irregular director.

Lady Bird

Movie Name: Lady Bird
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalfe, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Jake McDorman, Jordan Rodrigues, Odeya Rush, Andy Buckley, Marielle Scott
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis:
Celebrated actress Greta Gerwig (she was last seen in Mike Mill's wonderful, "20th Century Women"), has followed up her first directorial effort, with the largely autobiographical "Lady Bird", in what is one of the best films of the year. The film follows the story of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, who is a senior in high school, in 2002, in the Sacramento area. She's intelligent, filled with enthusiasm, but most of all, she longs to leave Sacramento, and move to the East Coast, particularly New York, in order to go to college. She currently attends a Catholic school, where she is best friends with the sweet and understanding Julie. They both decide to audition for a play, since Christine isn't really sure that's something she wants to do, but it's definitely something she wants to try. Once there she meets a young man by the name of Danny, whom she develops an infatuation with, and whom she stars dating. After the premiere of the play, the group goes for a celebration, and Christine discovers some hidden secrets about Danny. As her life keeps going through ebbs and flows, the more Lady Bird knows she wants to try something different, and move beyond the expectations of staying where she is.
"Lady Bird" is a film that surprises and delights, due to its combination of humor, heart, style and incisive observations. It's a film that is so very funny, without ever falling to pratfalls or easy subterfuges. It anchors its humor in the situations that it depicts, and it does so by representing how life is filled with a combination of drama and the absurd. Greta Gerwig manages to build a story and give the central character an arc, and a sense of growth, that comes from allowing this young woman to understand her mistakes, but also pose her questions, declare her ambitions, and find her own identity. It's a film that expertly mixes the angst of growing up with the humor behind certain situations. And it makes it by making the central character authentic, inquisitive, and not perfect. It's a film that is intelligent, with a sense of style and taste that reveals a lot of insight. Saoirse Ronan once again proves she's an excellent actress, as does Laurie Metcalfe, who plays her mom with a ferocious intent and energy. A really great film worth watching.

The Bad Batch

Movie Name: The Bad Batch
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Jayda Fink, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Yolonda Ross, Giovanni Ribisi, Louie Lopez Jr., Aye Hasegawa
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
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Synopsis:
Director Ana Lily Amirpour made a name for herself with the well received "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night", which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and went on to be a staple at a multitude of film festivals during 2014 and 2015. For her follow up feature the director went in a somewhat different direction. The film focuses on the story of Arlen, a young woman who finds herself in a desert wasteland. She is soon captured, and we come to realize she's the target of a small community of cannibals, who take one of her arms and legs, before she manages to escape. With the assistance of a hermit/wanderer, she finds herself in a town named Comfort, where she manages to recover, and even get a prosthetic leg. The town is governed by a man with the name of "The Dream", who rules the town through a supply of drugs, mixed with staged parties. Arlen during one of her walks, stumbles upon one of the cannibals who attacked her, who is rummaging through garbage with her daughter. Arlen's reaction sets a series of events in place.
"The Bad Batch" is a film that promises more than it delivers. It starts by introducing a bleak and post apocalyptic dystopian future, with survivors living in a deserted wasteland. The central hero, a young woman, is immediately put through a difficult situation, which she manages to overcome. However, during the entirety of the film, the character never really amounts to much, both in terms of motivation, nor in terms of understanding what her actions and interests actually are. It's a film that basically gives the actors very little to do, providing suggestions to what they should behave like or look like, without anchoring them in a world that is sufficiently well developed or established. The film tries to be a derivative of George Miller's "Mad Max", but lacks everything in terms of character dynamics, and even context establishment. The film contains certain stylistic flourishes, but aside from that, it's a resounding lesson on how to squander talented actors and a decent budget on something that is instantly forgettable.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie Name: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Kerry Condon, Amanda Warren, Clarke Peters, Nick Searcy, Sandy Martin, Samara Weaving
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis:
Following his previous directorial effort, "Seven Psychopaths", writer and director (and playwriter) Martin McDonagh is back with another original feature. The film focuses on the story of Mildred Hayes, a divorced woman living with her son in Ebbing, Missouri. Mildred is still coming to terms with the horrible and brutal murder of her daughter Angela, and decides to call out the mediocre performance of the local police department, by renting three billboards in a secondary road without much traffic. This initiative angers some elements of the police force, and also causes for some disputes to emerge in the small town, since the local police chief is well respected, but also dying of cancer. These billboards are particularly grating for officer Jason Dixon, a somewhat young police officer, whose temper seems to get the best of him, and who finds himself in trouble due to his clear antagonism with Mildred.
Martin McDonagh has made a career for himself with very successful and well received stage plays, but also with a slew of films that have found good critical response (in particular "In Bruges"). "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" has been playing to great acclaim across multiple film festivals. And one can easily see why - the film allows for Frances McDormand to play a character that is tailor made to her skills, namely a woman that is resolute, fiercely independent, calling events out as she sees them, intelligent and ferocious. The film also allows for the entire repertoire of characters (and the actors playing them), so shine, even in the smallest roles. It's a film that brings to life that small town, and how lives are intertwined, even if people are seemingly so disparate. It's also a film that mixes comedy and deep rooted drama, without creating characters that are simplified cliches and overly simplistic. If anything, it's a film that unfolds its narrative and its layers as the action progresses, showcasing interesting characters and situations that never feel gratuitous for the sake of being present. This mix of characters and subplots is also its downfall, since characters do come and go, but it's a film that works on multiple levels and gives its incredible cast an opportunity to shine. Worth watching.

Gerald's Game

Movie Name: Gerald's Game
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken, Kate Siegel, Chiara Aurelia
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis:
In a year that has seen plenty of Stephen King's adaptations being transposed to the screens, streaming giant Netflix has premiered another of those versions with "Gerald's Game". The film from director Mike Flanagan, follows the story of a married couple, Jessie and Gerald, both of whom go to a secluded house during the weekend to try and spice their marriage. Gerald who is a bit older than Jessie, prepares everything in advance, so they can stay all by themselves, and engage in some potentially exciting bedroom games. As a result of one of those games, Jessie finds herself cuffed to the bed. When the erotic game fizzles, Gerald starts feeling poorly and suddenly collapses due to a heart attack and promptly dies. Jessie finds herself enable to get free, since the keys for the cuffs are by the bathroom. As the minutes and hours start unfolding, Jessie's ghosts, paranoia and fears start mounting, jeopardizing her own survival.
Mike Flanagan who has made a career for himself directing thriller and horror features, most notably 2016's "Ouija, Origin of Evil", manages to create with "Gerald's Game", a film that smartly plays what is a one person debacle, into an engaging and claustrophobic experience. The film starts by introducing the couple's dynamics early on, but when Gerald passes, things quickly become more exciting, since Jessie and her fears and ghosts come into play. The director smartly visualizes them and places them in the room, alongside imprisoned Jessie, which makes for an interesting and compelling viewing. The film manages to never fall trap of the cliches associated with couples of different generations, instead allowing for the characters to be well developed, particularly Jessie, who eventually finds within herself the resources to survive. The film gives Carla Gugino an opportunity to showcase her versatility in a lead role, simultaneously giving the always underrated Bruce Greenwood an opportunity to play a character outside his typical supporting roles (he's played Presidents, Admirals and figures of authority quite a few times). A good film worth watching.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League

Movie Name: Justice League
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Jeremy Irons, Ray Fisher, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Billy Crudup, Ciaran Hinds, Amber Heard, Jesse Eisenberg, Joe Morton, Michael McElhatton, Anthony Wise, Holt McCallany, Joe Manganiello
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
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Synopsis:
Director Zack Snyder is back, following the critical lambasting that surrounded his previous directorial effort, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice". "Justice League" had its fair share of problems during shooting, including the director stepping away for personal reasons, and the hiring of Joss Whedon for additional reshoots and refinements of the script. The film picks up after the events of the aforementioned film: Superman has died, and the world is still recovering from that shock, in particular Lois Lane and Martha Kent. A new menace looms in the shape of Steppenwolf, another entity that has been banned to an alternate dimension, and who has set his sights on taking over Earth. Batman seeks the assistance of Wonder Woman, but they soon realize they need further assistance, which comes in the shape of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. They unite their considerable talents, to defeat this impossible foe, but also to bring back Superman, without whom, the task will be impossible to achieve.
"Justice League" again lags behind the concepts that doomed a lot of "Batman v Superman": the characters are flat and unidimensional, and not much motivation is provided for any of them, the same being said for the supporting characters (Amy Adams and Diane Lane have nothing to do, except look beautiful and concerned). Where this film improves upon the previous, is the insertion of a levity, humor, that is finely captured by the youth and dynamic quips of Ezra Miller's Flash/Barry Allen character. Zack Snyder is a director, very much like Michael Bay, who can capture artificiality and set pieces that are all about visual mayhem (and they share a very similar aesthetic), but lacks the ability to make characters credible, or give them enough range for audiences to care about them. This film in particular carries with it, the distinction of having characters that so many people know from comic books, and yet there's nothing particularly memorable or engaging about it. The choice of antagonist, is once again, a creature that is digitally created, with digital minions that feel artificial, hollow and devoid of real menace, and therefore, lack of personality. It's a film with stunning production values, but also one that feels like a set of marketing ads/commercials for either men's fragrances or expensive cars. The film manages to have some spark thanks to the presence of Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller and Connie Nielsen, all of whom with very little to do, manage to add some heart and humor to the proceedings. This series is in dire need of a new point of view.

The Edge of Seventeen

Movie Name: The Edge of Seventeen
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside, Daniel Bacon, Ava Grace Cooper
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis:
"The Edge of Seventeen" is Kelly Fremon Craig's directorial debut, and comes with the producing stamp of acclaimed veteran writer/producer/director, James L. Brooks. The film follows the story of young Nadine, who is in high school, and has always felt as an outsider. Though her feelings of inadequacy have persisted from her childhood through adolescence, she always had the help of two people: her dad and her best friend, Krista. Sadly her father unexpectedly passes away, leaving her and the rest of her family dumbfounded, and her best friend starts dating her brother, someone Nadine has always considered too perfect to relate to. She has an unspoken crush on a boy in her school, but suddenly an intelligent and considerate classmate comes into play.
Unlike the staple and iconic John Hughes films of the 1980s, that perfectly portrayed and captured adolescence and the angst of growing up, Kelly Fremon Craig, focuses specifically on what being a precocious and strong willed young woman in the age of technology and social media actually means. Nadine, the focal character, is far from perfect, which makes her an interesting and compelling character to observe and follow - she obeys her own impulses, not weighing the consequences of her actions, or what impact they have on the lives of her mother and brother. The film creates a nuanced observation of what is being young in the age of social media, though it still relies on some stereotypes to get the message across (namely the inaccessible love interest, the timid boy next door with the crush on the heroine). The chosen actors are impeccable, with Hailee Steinfeld easily carrying the film on her talented shoulders (and Woody Harrelson creating a character that is sympathetic and humorous for a change). The film definitely lacks a more distinct point of view, but it's a solid debut.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Movie Name: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Bruce Hopkins, Craig Parker, David Wenham
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the astounding commercial and critical success of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring", director Peter Jackson continued the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's books, with the following tome, "The Two Towers". This time around, the story finds all of the group scattered in different directions. Frodo and Sam continue their path to destroy the ring, but find the creature Gollum following them. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, find themselves in the kingdom of Rohan, where they discover the king has been under the nefarious influence of Saruman. It's up to them, with the help of recovered and more powerful Gandalf, to change the tides, and battle the biggest army assembled by Saruman, to completely vanquish what is left of Rohan and the kingdom of men.
If "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" opened the doors to this magical universe, the adaptation of the second tome by Peter Jackson, continued to expand the scope and dynamics of these characters, while also introducing new supporting key roles to the ever expanding saga. The film does have an interesting construct and mechanism, where sections of exposition are broken with sections of action, which can become a bit tedious after a while, but Peter Jackson has a way to embrace the viewers in this richly layered universe, and never making the films falter into predictability. The director smartly allows for new characters to emerge, all the while allowing them to perfectly adhere to the dynamics of the story and the focus of the lead narrative (and characters). It's a film that marries impeccable storytelling techniques, with stunning production values, including the beautiful cinematography of the late Andrew Lesnie and the score of the great Howard Shore. Another great example of an impeccably executed piece of entertainment.

Snatched

Movie Name: Snatched
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Jonathan Levine
Stars: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Tom Bateman, Christopher Meloni, Oscar Jaenada, Bashir Salahuddin
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
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Synopsis:
Director Jonathan Levine continues his track record of tackling offbeat comedic material, following his previous films "Warm Bodies" and "The Night Before". This time around the story focuses on Emily Middleton, a thirty something woman, who gets fired from her sales assistant job, and whose boyfriend also breaks up with her. Since Emily has already booked a trip to Ecuador, and none of her friends wants to travel with her, she decides to invite her lonesome mother to tag along. After much resistance, Linda finally caves in, and both women find themselves in a beautiful resort in Ecuador. While there Emily flirts with a handsome gentleman by the name of Tom, who turns out has a hidden agenda, that gets both women in trouble. It's up to them, with the help of their brother/son Jeffrey, to figure out a way to escape unscathed.
"Snatched" is a film that definitely promises a lot more than it delivers. It's essentially a vehicle for the comedic talents of Amy Schumer, however her trademark type of humor is aggressively diluted. What has made Amy Schumer such a refreshing presence in comedy, is her point of view, one that challenges perceptions about typical female stereotypes, alongside her candor and self deprecating style. While some of that can be seen as the film initially starts, as the narrative unfolds, it quickly becomes something quite conventional, standard, and ultimately forgettable. The script definitely lacks a biting satire, and the whole "Fish out of water" and "Growing up" lessons that it delivers, feel like something that has been done in more compelling ways in much better and iconic films (it's interesting how there's even a slight semblance to what Robert Zemeckis' "Romancing the Stone" has created, but without any of it's humor or energy). Both Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn try their hardest to make the story and character dynamics compelling, but there's too little to appreciate aside from their talents. A forgettable feature.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Ornithologist

Movie Name: The Ornithologist/O Ornitólogo
Year of Release: 2016
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
Stars: Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, João Pedro Rodrigues, Han Wen, Chan Suan, Juliane Elting
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues is back, following his last film "The Last Time I saw Macao" which came out in 2012 (though he has directed a few shorts and documentaries since then). "The Ornithologist", follows the story of Fernando, a solitary ornithologist who is looking for black storks. While doing his observations, he takes his kayak down the river, and gets caught up in some unexpected rapids. He is discovered by a couple of Chinese pilgrims, who bring him back to life, but who suddenly decide to tie him up, in order to convert him. Fernando manages to escape, but his path keeps being met with interesting and colorful characters.
João Pedro Rodrigues has made a career for himself, by building stories around a universe that is very much his own. That was the case with his "O Fantasma", which came out in 2000, and followed the story of a young gay man who gets progressively more alienated from contact and society, and finally ends up living in a garbage dump. His films and universe tend to reflect a lot of themes that are close to him as an individual, namely his cultural legacy, his queer identity and the history of Portugal itself. Of all his films, "The Ornithologist" is quite possibly the most interesting, functioning on so many levels, from a perspective of pastoral story, to questions of faith and identity. It's definitely a film that stays with you, one that asks for many questions and forces the viewer to be invested in what is happening on the screen. The cinematography from Rui Poças is stunning. A very interesting  film from a unique voice in film.

Thor: Ragnarok

Movie Name: Thor: Ragnarok
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ray Stevenson, Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Sam Neill, Rachel House
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Marvel's filmic output continues, this time around with another adventure focused on the character Thor, after the previous two films respectively directed by Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor. This time around, Thor finds himself looking for his father, only to discover Odin has chosen to disappear and not resume his ruling. This causes for a new character to make her way into the plot: Odin's oldest daughter, Hela, the goddess of death. She manages to defeat both Thor and Loki, and heads to Asgard, in order to pursue her ambitions of ruling the entire galaxy. It's up to Thor, with the aid of Hulk, Loki and Valkyrie to thwart her plans.
Director Taika Waititi is known for his comedic films, particularly the most recent "Hunt for the Wilderpeople". He tries to infuse the film with a light and comedic tone, after the more somber tones of the previous tomes. However, as much as the film adopts a rather crass and trashy aesthetic (how is it possible that a film that costs so much money looks so incredibly cheap), the humor is never derived from situations being funny - they are more of a result of the director looking at the audience, winking and saying "see, even really powerful beings are silly and childish". This could potentially work for a film that toyed with the idea of comic book characters having every day foibles and issues, but the film never finds a right tone: the nemesis of it all, Hela, kills a ton of people, while still trying to be sarcastic, something that Cate Blanchett does like no other, but still she massacres cardboard characters, always tongue in cheek (is the film suppose to be a dark comedy at this point). Sadly, there's a lot of threads, and tones competing for attention (the whole section with Jeff Goldblum feels especially conceived to be part of "Guardians of the Galaxy"), and they never quite gel. The film is never really enthusiastic, and even the production design looks garish and cheap. With such a talented cast assembled, Cate Blanchett manages to walk away with what little her character has to do.  One of the worst Marvel films to have come out yet.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movie Name: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Ed Zwick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Coby Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper, Judd Lormand, Christopher Berry, Hunter Burke
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the underrated and little seen "Pawn Sacrifice", director Ed Zwick is back, continuing with the saga started by Christopher McQuarrie with "Jack Reacher" in 2012. The film is again an adaptation of a novel by Lee Child, in the series he has written focused on the character of Jack Reacher. This time around, the character finds himself helping Major Turner, once he discovers she has been arrested under the accusation of espionage. Soon Reacher finds himself a target also, and he successfully manages to liberate Turner, so they can try to understand who's trying to frame and kill them. Along the way, they tag along with a young girl, who gets involved by indicating that she's related to Reacher. The criminals will stop at nothing to prevent their plot from being unveiled.
Jack Reacher is a character who truly deserves someone with a grittier vision to take this series to a darker domain, or at least imprint it with a B-movie aesthetic it so badly deserves. As it stands, it's a film that tries to be many things without truly having a personality or point of view: it's not as clever as the Bourne series, and not as pedestrian as the Taken series. It's somewhat in between, trying to be somewhat a throwback to the 80s (peppered with some "Death Wish"/Charles Bronson), without really achieving the goal of being memorable. It's a slick film with solid production values, with a director who knows how to create a well crafted feature, without ever creating something particularly distinct. And that ends up being the downfall of this film: it alludes to much, but it doesn't define an actual point of view, or something that packs a punch like the character seemingly does. Tom Cruise does his best to carry the film, but he's the only one with something to do. The supporting characters are barely there, and are quickly forgettable (and if the poster of the film is any indication, yes, the main star does have its back to all of the supporting cast). It's an instantly forgettable feature, from an interesting director.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Hours

Movie Name: The Hours
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Toni Collette, Allison Janey, Claire Danes, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Linda Bassett, Jack Rovello
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Stephen Daldry stepped into the film directorial world with the astounding success of "Billy Elliot", which garnered him his first Academy Award nomination. Following that film, he quickly returned with "The Hours", an adaptation of the book by Michael Cunningham, which was a huge critical darling of the year, and was again nominated for a multitude of awards. The film takes place in three different time periods, but each one has a common thread that harks back to Virginia Woolf and her novel "Mrs. Dalloway". Also each of the segments takes place during one day, but the film also unveils the connection that some of the choices these characters make has on different person's lives (and across times). The first segment takes place in 1923 as Virginia Woolf starts writing "Mrs. Dalloway" and is dealing with the challenges of her mental health and her marriage to Leonard Woolf. The second segment takes place in Los Angeles, in 1951, where Laura Brown, a married and pregnant housewife, is trying to cope with the realities of her life, and how that has actually become an extension of her ambitions and dreams (or not). She tries to bake a birthday cake with her young son for her husband, and as her day progresses, she tries to figure out what to do with her life. The third segment takes place in present times, where Clarissa Vaughan (a modern embodiment of Mrs. Dalloway) is throwing a party for her friend (and former lover), the renowned poet Richard (who is also dying). During her day, as people come and go through her life, Clarissa is forced to examine her current relationships, and also the ones who have shaped who she is.
"The Hours" is a finely tuned film detailing the relationships that are maintained from the complex lives of these fascinating women that are at the center of the film. Under the mantle of Virginia Woolf's life and oeuvre, the film expands that universe, by creating multiple threads that deal with longing, ambitions, love and resentment, that touch this diverse array of characters. It's a film that smartly navigates all three timelines highlighting both similar traits that these women share, but also amplifying how times have widened their choices allowing them to sketch their paths and options in life. It's a rewarding film, heavily anchored on a very talented cast, with all actresses creating indelible performances, including the superlative Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, but also in smaller roles, Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette. Their male counterparts equally excel, from Stephen Dillane to the always underrated Jeff Daniels. The score from Philip Glass is stunning as is the cinematography from Seamus McGarvey. A very good film worth watching.

Mindhunter

TV Show Name: Mindhunter - Season1
Year of Release: 2017
Directors: David Fincher, Andrew Douglas, Asif Kapadia, Tobias Lindholm
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith, Joe Tuttle, Cameron Britton, Joseph Cross, Stacey Roca, Alex Morf, Happy Anderson, Michael Park, Marianne Bayard, 
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
It speaks to the immense credit of David Fincher, that his new directorial effort is a TV show for streaming giant Netflix (following another of his efforts, "House of Cards"). The TV show created by Joe Penhall, is based on the true crime book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, and takes place in 1977, as the criminal psychology and criminal profiling disciplines were starting to get established. The series, specifically focuses on two lead characters, two agents who are placed working side by side, the young and energetic Holden Ford, and the veteran and tired Bill Tench. Dr. Wendy Carr, a psychologist at a Boston University that has provided council to the FBI, joins them, as their process to gather information from detained criminal subjects, becomes a focus of some attention. Carr sees in this process, the potential to understand violent serial criminals, and this team slowly starts establishing a practice including the creation of a script in order to get information from these criminals. The agents start investigating a few specific serial killers, and as their expertise increases, their services start getting used by local law enforcement.
"Mindhunter" is a show that is rewarding as a whole, since it invites the viewers to understand how a practice was established, and how important the roles of specific investigators were to actually define approaches to getting information from violent criminals. It's a show that very much adheres to David Fincher's universe, one that marries the darker aspects of people's lives (and criminality), with the more humane side of having a family life or trying to develop one. It definitely has parallels with the world he illustrated in the superior "Zodiac", but it's a gripping show, one that sheds light on the process of putting a practice in place, and how personal, political, ideological factors come into play when all these relationships are set in place. The series looks impeccably shot and styled, adhering to the director's trademark, from the cinematography, to the production design. The actors are for the most part quite good, but Jonathan Groff and Anna Torv, do create strong characters from the outlines they establish (while Hannah Gross mostly plays her character very one note). A very good show worth checking out.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Movie Name: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, John Cleese, Adrian Rawlins, Toby Jones, David Bradley, Shirley Henderson, Gemma Jones, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Jason Isaacs, Tom Knight, Jamie Waylett, Miriam Margolyes
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the extremely successful "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", director Chris Columbus continued the work with the same team, and adapted the following book in the series. This time around, Harry finds himself in a situation where an elf by the name of Dobby, warns him not to come back to Hogwarts, since he's in imminent danger. Harry and Ron, manage to get to Hogwarts, with the aid of Ron's flying car. A series of dramatic occurrences start unfolding at the school, leaving some students petrified, including Hermione. In parallel, Harry discovers he can speak to snakes, much like his nemesis, Voldemort. With the involuntary aid of their new teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, both Harry and Ron set out to discover what is happening at the school and save Hermione.
Chris Columbus' successful first foray into the Harry Potter universe, was an introduction to a rich universe, one populated with a variety of supporting characters and magical locations and events. The director however limited himself to illustrating the narrative, without adding much style or much of a personal perspective to the proceedings. The second film follows the same pattern, and feels even more rushed from a production standpoint. There's a noticeable effort on the central actors to improve their performances, and there's definitely an impeccable production team working at the peak of their capabilities, however, the film feels definitely rushed. The darkness that peaked through the books, is never really visible in the film. The director doesn't give the characters enough depth to make them more compelling or livelier, something that will change with the following film in the series. Kenneth Branagh manages to create a humorous and cartoonish character, while the rest of the supporting actors are equally strong, particularly the alway reliable Alan Rickman. The cinematography from Roger Pratt is stunning as is the score of the always excellent John Williams. A minor film in the series, but nonetheless still entertaining.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gangs of New York

Movie Name: Gangs of New York
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, Alec McCowen, David Hemmings, Cara Seymour
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Martin Scorsese followed the somewhat little seen "Bringing Out the Dead" with "Gangs of New York", a big budget project he had been pursuing for years. The film, which was shot in the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, was met with a fair number of obstacles, and upon its arrival was greeted with fair to medium reviews, and though the film had been touted as the one for the celebrated director to win the Academy Award, it ended up not being the case (Roman Polanski won for "The Pianist", and in fact "Gangs of New York" won none of the 10 Academy Awards for what is was nominated). The film follows the story of Amsterdam Vallon, who in 1862 returns to the neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan, with the goal of avenging his father, who died while battling a rival gang, led by the ferocious and charismatic Bill the Butcher. Amsterdam ingratiates himself with Bill's gang, but internal rivalries for the affection of a beautiful pickpocket artist named Jenny, expose him and his intentions, leaving him severely beaten and in dire need of recovery. Following this Amsterdam makes a claim to defeat Bill, and as they start a new turf war, the draft riots occur, which throws further chaos to this bloody battle.
Martin Scorsese is of course a master in filmmaking. His encyclopedic knowledge of film history is well know, as is his body of work, which contains more than its fair share of modern classics. "Gangs of New York" however, is a film where the intentions and ambitions far surpass the results on screen. The director tried to tell the story of how America was forged, using the microcosms of the gangs rivalry, peppering the story with enough romantic and familiar angst in order to make the story more palatable. However, the film as ferocious as it may be in some parts (particularly the ones with the always fantastic Daniel Day Lewis), just can't escape the shadow of all the cliches that it puts on display. Ultimately it's a film that feels like a rehash of many other stories and is quickly forgettable. Most supporting characters are very one dimensional, and aside from Daniel Day Lewis' strong performance, everyone else has little to do (even Leonardo DiCaprio, who is typically excellent, feels out of place). The cinematography from Michael Ballhaus is stunning, as are the costumes from the always excellent Sandy Powell. A minor film from an excellent director.

Blade Runner 2049

Movie Name: Blade Runner 2049
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Carla Juri, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis, Hiam Abbass, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Sean Young
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Celebrated director Denis Villeneuve returns to the screens, after the beautiful "Arrival" (which was my favorite film of 2016). This time around he's tackling the sequel to one of the most iconic films of the 80s, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner". The film takes place 30 years after the original, and focuses on a young blade runner, by the name of K, who is still intent on retiring the remaining replicants who have escaped. The animosity towards replicants persists, but when retiring one of them, K discovers something that upon further analysis, reveals information that is so shattering that can undo the very fabrics of society. Hot on the trail of this information, is the leader of the company that bought Tyrell's flailing business and that has made it into a huge successful conglomerate. It's up to K to dig into the past, and to his own life in the process, and figure out how all the pieces come together, before the attempt to bury all this information becomes a reality.
Denis Villeneuve has gradually but assuredly become one of the most interesting directors working these days. His past films have been fantastically well crafted, which climaxed with the fantastic "Arrival" (which was a perfect combination of pacing, script and acting). The sequel to Ridley Scott's uneven "Blade Runner", pushes some of Denis Villeneuve's themes to another futuristic setting. Something that permeates all his films, is a central character that is seemingly at odds with the ordinary world that surrounds her, a world that is touched by violence. In "Blade Runner 2049", the central character, though knowing what he is, has deep down qualms and questions about himself. His pursuits further dig into his own sense of self. And that is a very pertinent theme to "Blade Runner": what effectively makes us humans and what are these creatures that emulate sentient life. It's a beautiful film, that allows for the central character to shows us the remnants of a world. A revised noir film of sorts, aesthetically stunning, featuring a controlled and tense performance from Ryan Gosling. If anything can be said for the film, is a somewhat indulgent subplot, which doesn't add much to the development of the film and narrative, but it's still a striking piece of work. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stunning as is the evocative score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. A beautiful film from one of the most interesting directors currently working.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie Name: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Elton John, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Michael Gambon, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Keith Allen, Poppy Delevingne, Mark Arnold
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After the unexpected success of "Kingsman: The Secret Service", director Matthew Vaughn has returned to the series he has jumpstarted. The film is a direct continuation of the previous, and focuses on the adventures of Eggsy, who is now a successful agent, with a steady girlfriend, who suddenly is attacked by a previous colleague and rival, who was dismissed from the Kingsman trial process. The Kingsman are massively attacked, and are forced to come to the US and ask for assistance from their American counterparts, and figure out who's trying to shut their operation permanently. Turns out, their foil is Poppy, who leads a very successful drug trafficking business under the mantle of The Golden Circle. Much to the shock of Eggsy and Merlin, they discover Harry is still alive. It's up to them, alongside their American counterparts, to find a solution for a dangerous drug Poppy has unleashed upon the world.
One of the best things about Matthew Vaughn's films have always been his keen sense of humor, alongside his impeccable taste and aesthetic. He's a director who marries deft storytelling, with a sophisticated sense of humor and enough style to keep his films imminently watchable and compelling. With the sequel to "Kingsman", the director had more money to play with, which can be attested by the lavish set pieces, and fantastic cast he had to work with. Sadly with it also came some questionable taste options in some of the sequences. The film is longer than the previous, and though still entertaining and humorous (and politically snarky, as can be seen by the whole subplot with Emily Watson and Bruce Greenwood), it feels in many points forced and overly convoluted (the whole bit with Keith Allen was unnecessary). Still it's a film that showcases a well oiled entertainment machine, with a solid cast: Jeff Bridges is hilarious as always, Mark Strong is iconic and collected as always, and Julianne Moore has a bit of fun (even if she has nothing much to do, other than sit and say a few silly lines). It's an entertaining and forgettable film, and nicely done at it.

Burnt

Movie Name: Burnt
Year of Release: 2015
Director: John Wells
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson, Matthew Rhys, Omar Sy, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sam Keeley, Riccardo Scamarcio, Stephen Campbell Moore
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director John Wells has made a name for himself as a producer on many iconic TV shows of the past 20 years ("ER" and "The West Wing" to name but a few). All of his directorial efforts have been, thus far, based on great material and filled with terrific casts - though all of them have been met with tepid responses (both critically and commercially). "Burnt" (originally titled "Adam Jones"), follows the story of Adam Jones, a superstar chef, who following an excessive period of a few years where he was on top of his profession, burned out (made some dubious choices in the process) and had to quietly leave the spotlight, in order to heal. The film follows Adam as he returns to London, and reconnects with some people he wronged, as he tries to create a new team, and reclaim the ever elusive third Michelin star for his pantheon. The process forces him to deal with his past behaviors, make amends, and generally learn about what it means to grow up.
"Burnt" (or "Adam Jones"), features a script by renowned writer Steven Knight (who wrote David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises", Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" and his own "Locke"). Lamentably it's a film that tries very hard to portray Adam as a charismatic and incensed person, who provokes others and yet functions as a charming leader, however, he mostly comes across as a self centered narcissistic who's followed by a bunch of people/characters wanting to be verbally and physically abused. Somehow while building this story, the film-maker forgot that you have to create credible characters, with an inner life, and with a depth of emotion. Making the film around the quest for redemption of a character is nothing new, and this film certainly manages to tick all the cliches in existence - however it's difficult to really get much empathy for Adam, since it feels like he has nothing to lose, and that ultimately he's just a rich, spoiled individual who wants to win since that's always been the case for his ventures. There's a great cast to work with, but Bradley Cooper isn't at his most subtle, playing Adam very one note. The supporting cast ends up being more interesting, particularly Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys and Emma Thompson. The cinematography from Adriano Goldman is beautiful, but this film nevertheless feels very short of its ambitions. Forgettable.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Frida

Movie Name: Frida
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Julie Taymor
Stars: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Mia Maestro, Valeria Golino, Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Roger Rees, Diego Luna, Saffron Burrows, Antonio Banderas, Roberto Medina
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Celebrated theater director (and costume designer) Julie Taymor followed her feature debut, "Titus", with the passion project from Salma Hayek, a biopic of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The film focuses on the story of Frida, who at the age of 18 is involved in a dramatic car accident, which leaves her with physical problems for the rest of her life. While recovering from her accident, her father gets her a canvas, which prompts her to start painting. The film also details her convoluted relationship with Diego Rivera, both embracing a somewhat open relationship, one that sees Frida getting involved with both men and women. Following a notorious affair with Leon Trotsky, the couple divorces, though they both remain in each other's lives. The film tracks the history of Frida's final days with her health problems and relationship with Diego.
"Frida" is a film that became a reality due to the passion of lead actress Salma Hayek, who also involved Edward Norton as a screenwriter during the development phase. The film is not a typical biopic, focusing on vignettes that define the life of the artist. It's a film that lives from the construction and establishment of a mood, an ambiance, and not from a chronological perspective of  a biopic (those would be the cases of Richard Attenborough's "Ghandi" and "Chaplin" for instance). The film and the director, try to capture the allure of the artist's personality, and her relationships with different lovers and political figures. While the film is successful in showcasing the strong personality of Frida, it falters when flushing out the personalities of the ones she interacts with - most of these personas are reduced to stereotypes or one dimensional characters. The film features two great performances from Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina (the latter who is systematically impeccable in every single role he tackles), and the cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto is stunning (as is the score from Elliot Goldenthal). An interesting film from an interesting director.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Femme Fatale

Movie Name: Femme Fatale
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Rebecca Romijn, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Rie Rasmussen, Gregg Henry, Fiona Curzon, Eva Darlan
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Riding the wave of his comeback, which started with "Mission: Impossible" in 1996, but which hit a stumbling block with his interesting, yet flawed "Mission to Mars", director Brian De Palma went to Europe to shoot the interesting "Femme Fatale". The film follows the story of Laure Ash, a thief, who is able to steal some very valuable diamonds during the Cannes Film Festival. Laure double crosses her associates, and flees to Paris, where she witnesses her doppelganger commit suicide. Laure swiftly takes her place, and manages to escape to America. Seven years later she returns to Paris, where a photographer gets a snapshot of hers, and makes her a target for her former associates.
"Femme Fatale" is a return to themes that have been a part of Brian De Palma's films since the 70s. Mistaken identities, casual occurrences that turn out to have defining importance in characters lives, doubles, all elements that made his most interesting films so memorable (check for instance "Blow Out" and "Body Double"). "Femme Fatale" is a digest of a lot of his previous films, and it's filled with his habitual camera flourishes (his films are stylistically always interesting and definitely very much his trademark), and the surprising twist at the end, something that has become associated with De Palma. His work has long surpassed that of a Hitchcock aficionado - his style is very much his own, with his universe of characters that inhabit this gray zone, where their morals are somewhat tainted, but yet they still manage to always redeem themselves and have a heart and conscience. "Femme Fatale" is highly entertaining and features the beautiful Rebecca Romijn as the focus of attention, something that is always commendable. She manages to be both icy and yet vulnerable. The film also features the beautiful score of Ryuichi Sakamoto and the cinematography from Luc Besson's habitual collaborator, Thierry Arbogast. An interesting film from a very good director.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Far from Heaven

Movie Name: Far from Heaven
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Michael Gaston, Ryan Ward, Lindsay Andretta, Celia Weston, Barbara Garrick
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the fantastic "Velvet Goldmine", director Todd Haynes turned his attention to the classics from Douglas Sirk, and tackled a film very much in that vein, but without the hidden context that those alluded films had. The film follows the story of Cathy Whitaker, who lives with her husband Frank, young son and daughter in suburban Connecticut in 1957. On the outside, they have an idyllic life, however Frank is secretly gay and is finding it harder and harder to continue the marriage. Cathy on the other hand finds herself drawn to Raymond, a young black man who is the son of her late gardener. What starts as a friendship, starts blooming into something else, but soon her neighbors and social circle discover this relationship, quickly ostracizing Cathy and her family, forcing her to abandon that relationship at great cost.
Todd Haynes has by now managed to create a career where he subverts conventions at every turn, and that is clearly apparent in "Far From Heaven". The feature is inspired by the works of Douglas Sirk (such as "Written on the Wind", "All that Heaven Allows" and "Magnificent Obsession" to name but a few), but gives it a more fully dimensional reality, by addressing issues with homosexuality and racism openly, something that the classics in the 50s were not able to do, due to the Hays code. Much like Pedro Almodovar, Todd Haynes creates a drama that pierces to the core of relationships, doing it with a beautifully accomplished style. The central performances are great, but this truly is a fantastic showcase for the talents of Julianne Moore, who has never been better. The cinematography of Edward Lachman is equally stunning, the same going for the score of the late Elmer Bernstein. A very good film, always worth revisiting, from a very talented director.

Mother!

Movie Name: Mother!
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, Kristen Wiig, Chris Gartin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following the flawed "Noah", director Darren Aronofsky is back, with another feature that is certain to create much discussion and incensed opinions. The film introduces us to a couple: a man who is a writer and who's experiencing problems continuing with his work, and his much younger wife, who has been working diligently to restore his house, that got consumed by a fire. Into this idyllic life comes a stranger, initially knocking at the door looking for a bed a breakfast, but who turns out to be a fan of the writer's work. Soon this stranger's wife also appears, and as much as the young woman wants them out, the writer feeds off their attention, and invites them to stay. Things continue to escalate, as these strangers sons soon appear, feuding over a will, causing a fatal accident to occur. Things keep getting out of hand, until the young woman finally lashes out at the writer's attention seeking necessity, at the risk of her own well being. What ensues defies everything she prepared for.
"Mother!" premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, with the majority of the reviews being largely positive. After tackling a biblical story with "Noah", director Darren Aronofsky built this time around an original story that has some connections with the Bible, but that is very much his own interpretation of the concept of creation, mother earth and conflict. Though the film is being sold to audiences as a relative of Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" (and at times the writer figure comes across as a demonic one, something that even one of the cards in the film illustrates), this clearly goes in a much different direction. It's a film that definitely invites discussion, that creates a sense of bafflement, shock and anger. It's a testament to the director's capabilities, that he takes the viewer on a journey through themes and characters that are not obvious, but that are definitely representations of religious tales, and of course, to a larger extent, of how we treat and worship figures at the cost of sacrificing sanity, individuality and ultimately life. The cinematography from Matthew Libatique is fantastic, as is the central performance from Jennifer Lawrence, who carries on her shoulders the anguish of undying love, but also the maternal aspect of that character. A very interesting film from a very talented director.