Sunday, December 31, 2017

Call Me By Your Name

Movie Name: Call Me By Your Name
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Peter Spears
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
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Synopsis:
Celebrated director Luca Guadagnino is back, with another striking feature, following the equally alluring and beautiful "A Bigger Splash". "Call Me By Your Name" is an adaptation of the novel by Andre Aciman by acclaimed director James Ivory (who is also one of the credited producers on this project). The film follows the story of young  seventeen year old Elio, who lives with his parents in an idyllic small town in Northern Italy, in 1983. Typically during the Summer, his father gets a research assistant, who in this occasion, turns out to be a dashing young American by the name of Oliver. Initially surprised by Oliver's aloof nature, Elio slowly becomes fascinated by the young man, until they both surrender to an attraction that consumes their attention and emotions.
Luca Guadagnino is a director who manages to perfectly capture the nuance of how amorous relationships develop. "Call Me By Your Name" is a perfect example of his artistry in successfully defining a stage, and allowing for the characters to co-exist and evolve. The film is wonderful in capturing the intellectual aspect of these characters, but also the familial relationships that are established in the Italian countryside, where an air of sensuality permeates across the main characters. It's a film that is perfect in capturing the agonies of young love, but also the energy and placid feel of the Mediterranean culture in the 80s (and there's definitely an ode to the countryside so perfectly captured by James Ivory in the classic "A Room with a View"). The cast is stupendous, particularly Timothee Chalamet, who manages to showcase his versatility with his usage of multiple languages and musical prowess, but also by imbuing his character with vulnerability, fear, impulsiveness and tenderness. Both Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbard are excellent in their roles. The cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is luscious, and the score is phenomenal (the songs from Sufjan Stevens are beautiful). A stupendous film worth watching, from a very talented director.

Logan

Movie Name: Logan
Year of Release: 2017
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Daphne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, Quincy Fouse
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis:
The Wolverine centered trilogy comes to an end, with another film directed by James Mangold, who tackled the previous "The Wolverine". This time around, the film takes place in 2029, and finds Logan/Wolverine taking care of an elderly Charles Xavier, who needs constant medication to keep his powers under control. Logan drives a limousine, while saving money so he and Charles can escape for a safe haven. This existence is disrupted by the appearance of a woman, wanting Logan to drive her and her small child to a safe area in North Dakota. Both Logan and Xavier soon discover that the young girl is an engineered mutant, who has a series of nefarious people on her trail. The young girl turns out to have powers very much alike Wolverine, and they slowly form a bond of trust, as they race to reach out North Dakota, where they aim to reunite with other mutants, and escape their captors.
As the Wolverine series comes to an end, it should be pointed out, that all three films function independently, and their common thread seems to be the character itself. This latest incarnation of the mutant character, references George Stevens' "Shane" (both literally and thematically), and it's built very much like a western/dystopian futuristic film (where the lonely central hero has to save the young girl, who in turn saves and redeems his soul). It's a film that takes time to develop the context of the narrative, further enhancing the characteristics and motivations of the main character (which at this point, have already been explored extensively in all the X-Men films and the individual Wolverine features). However for all its good intentions, the film doesn't define an effective villain figure, and again, feels like a generic film, devoid of a substantial stylistic approach or point of view towards the action or the central character for that matter. The film is successful in capturing the strong performances from Hugh Jackman, Patrick Steward and Stephen Merchant, all of whom are spot on, however this doesn't manage to make the film sufficiently compelling (even if it is an improvement over the previous iterations). This is again a case, where this iconic character needed a creative vision defining an arc for a series of adventures, as opposed to distinct films that somewhat try to tie with other narrative threads on the X-Men series, failing on both levels, both as distinct storylines and tying plot points with other franchise films.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Darkest Hour

Movie Name: Darkest Hour
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Stephen Dillane, Samuel West, Nicholas Jones, Richard Lumsden, Malcolm Storry
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis:
Following the poor reception of "Pan", director Joe Wright has returned with another period piece, focused on a well known personality, the esteemed Winston Churchill. The film focuses specifically on the first month Churchill was in power. We are introduced to the narrative, as current British prime minister Neville Chamberlain is removed from his position, following his inability to deal with the Nazi forces taking over Europe, and the impending World War. Upon Churchill's nomination, one of his first herculean tasks, is getting the British troops out of Dunkirk, where they are under siege, without much opportunity to escape. Churchill's spirit and personality, guide him through the challenges and political machinations he must face in order to move onward and prepare the country to pending war that is looming.
One of the biggest issues with "Darkest Hour" is the fact that it makes most of the interactions of the lead character with all the supporting ones, through a series of speeches (therefore rendering most of the supporting characters, mostly passive voices). The film, which contains beautiful stylistic approaches from the director, can't hide the fact that at its core, is illustrating some very dire circumstances in the history of Humanity. However, whenever it tries to humanize the central character, it always puts that same character pontificating, talking at others, as opposed to having discussions or even dialogs with others. It makes for a rather repetitive and tedious approach to a personality, who should be fascinating in itself. There isn't much grasp to what Churchill was effectively going through, since all we glimpse are his interminable speech writing, and walking through corridors, always smoking and drinking (it's surprising he simply didn't die from all the alcohol and smoke poisoning he must have ingested, as the film suggests). For all the elegance and good taste that the director has always had, there's a somewhat stunted approach to this material, that lacks finesse, particularly when outlining the life of someone as charismatic as Winston Churchill - there's never a particular point of view into what made him unique, and his most humanizing factor, ends up being his wife, played by the stoic Kristin Scott Thomas, who sadly has nothing much to do. For all his virtuosity, it's hard not to look at Gary Oldman's performance, as a calculated risk to win an award, when he has deserved more so, for far more subtle work he has done in his career. The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel is stupendous, as is the score from Dario Marianelli. A minor film from an interesting director.

Downsizing

Movie Name: Downsizing
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgard, Ingjerd Egeberg, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, James Van Der Beek, Tim Driscoll, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place, Pepe Serna, Joaquim de Almeida
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis:
Director Alexander Payne is back after the success of "Nebraska" which came out in 2013. This time around, he tackles an original screenplay he wrote with his usual writing partner, Jim Taylor (they both wrote "Election" and "Sideways"). The film takes place in a near future, where concerns with the environment and the future of the human race, has incentivized scientists efforts to figure out solutions to delay the demise of life on Earth. A group of scientists in Norway figures out a way to shrink people to a small percentage of their original size, therefore diminishing their footprint and the level of waste they generate. This trend soon becomes a reality, and more and more people start adhering to it, creating communities of downsized people. A young married couple from Omaha, Paul and Audrey Safranek, dealing with money issues, decide to embark on that process. Paul however is the only one that goes through it, since Audrey has second thoughts. Since the process is irreversible, Paul finds himself alone in the downsized community, "Leisureland", something that becomes more dramatic after his divorce. Paul soon finds himself establishing contact with neighbors, and particularly with a young woman who comes to his building to clean apartments, a Vietnamese refugee who was shrunk against her will. This friendship changes his life forever.
"Downsizing" is another interesting companion piece to the series of films that Alexander Payne has been directing since "Citizen Ruth". Behind its futuristic setting, we once again find the story of an average man, who has to come to terms with what he wants to do with his life, following a dramatic event that shatters his sense of normalcy. "Downsizing" adds extra layers of political and social commentary, as it presents many of the problems we in society in general juggle, such as the ostracizing of other communities/minorities, immigration, the general state of the environment. It's a film filled with great themes, but also with a heart, allowing for characters to exist, with nuance and humanity. There is a general sense of ease as the film evolves, inviting the viewers to question, reflect, without ever being preachy. The score from Rolfe Kent is wonderful, as is the cinematography from Phedon Papamichael. The cast is uniformly good, from the always reliable Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig and the surprising Hong Chau. A good film worth watching.

Bright

Movie Name: Bright
Year of Release: 2017
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Fry, Veronica Ngo, Alex Meraz, Happy Anderson, Ike Barinholtz, Margaret Cho, Jay Hernandez, Matt Gerald, Dawn Olivieri
Genre: Adventure, Action, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
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Synopsis:
Director David Ayer is back, following the tepid response of his big blockbuster effort, "Suicide Squad". He sticks to the adventure/fantasy genre with "Bright", the first big budget feature film hailing from streaming giant Netflix. The film takes place in an alternate universe, where humans co-exist with Orcs, Elves, in a crime infested Los Angeles. The story focuses on veteran police officer Daryl Ward, who has an Orc as a partner, officer Nik Jakoby. When the film begins we are introduced to a situation where Ward has been shot in the line of duty, while his partner was paying attention to something else, allowing the perpetrator to escape. Now back in active duty, everyone wants Jakoby out, and tensions run high. When both police officers get called out to an incident, they get involved with an elf running with a magic wand, something that has tremendous power, and is coveted by everyone. It's up to these officers to escape everyone's persecution, and salvage the wand.
"Bright" was written by Max Landis (and heavily re-written according to multiple reports), who was responsible for the underrated "Chronicle", and in its concept, has the potential to be interesting - different species co-existing in an urban, dangerous landscape, much like Jack Sholder's "The Hidden". However, as tampered by David Ayer, the film attempts to marry his style (he made a name for himself with the gritty dramas, "Training Day" and "End of Watch"), with a more fantastical universe, producing results that are not quite engaging or sensical for that matter. The characters are once again paper thin, without much characterization, and whatever humor there is, comes mostly at the cost of Joel Edgerton's character as he attempts to conform to the human patterns and behaviors. The metaphors for racial tension in this film are bluntly utilized, and the film has incongruent action set pieces where there are car chases in seemingly deserted roads in the middle of Los Angeles. Also supporting characters show up and disappear, without much sense to their contribution to the story itself. Will Smith usually reliable and intense in his performances, dials it in, seemingly aware that this film is quickly dispensable. Here's hoping the next Netflix endeavor is a better one.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Music with an Impact - 2017


If 2016 was tragic with the demise of some truly iconic talents, 2017 was one of joyous music and wonderful new albums by accomplished artists, who continued to expand their sonic canvas. It was such a phenomenal year for music, with so many great new albums, and for me in particular, the opportunity to listen to a few albums from some of my favorite artists that were unknown to me, but work that revealed itself stunning and rewarding (Brian Eno's "Discreet Music" and Fennesz's "Mahler Remix").
Below are my favorites.

Bjork - Utopia
St. Vincent - Masseduction
Perfume Genius - No Shape
Four Tet - New Energy
Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister - Planetarium
Hans Zimmer - Dunkirk
Goldfrapp - Silver Eye
Mark Eitzel - Hey Mr Ferryman
Beck - Colors


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Movie Name: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, John Boyega, Lupita Nyong'o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Frank Oz
Genre: Adventure, Action, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis:
After the overwhelmingly positive response to J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015, Lucasfilm obviously decided to continue this franchise, this time around giving the reins of the film to celebrated indie director Rian Johnson, responsible for the wonderful "Looper" and "Brick". The film picks up after the events of the previous installment: Rey has found Luke Skywalker and is trying desperately to lure him back to the ranks of the resistance. While this is occurring, Kylo Ren is trying to lure her to the dark side, under the tutelage of his master, the ominous Lord Snoke. The resistance, under the guidance of Leia, is trying to flee the persecution of the empire, as they are now hot on their trail, and slowly decimating their ranks. It's up to these valiant friends to unite their efforts and overcome the tyrannical efforts of the Empire.
Rian Johnson is one of the most interesting voices and directors to have emerged in the recent years. It's interesting to see how his point of view married this ongoing franchise, one that typically doesn't invite for a very personal directorial standpoint. This film in particular, manages yet again to dazzle for the sheer artistry that it displays, from the beautiful visual effects, to the production design, costumes, cinematography, all gears from an extremely competent production facility. Where the film does falter lies in its pacing, and definition of characters. While most characters in action films fall prey to under development, it's interesting to see how sometimes they can at least have some dimension to them (for instance, how Ellen Ripley in James Cameron's "Aliens" was a true dimensional person, with fears, resilience and intelligence). In this case, the film spends a considerable amount of time with Luke Skywalker, in order to give substance to his choice, making Rey more of a passive voice, and making her more of a reactive character. Most of the supporting characters, while illustrative and colorful, feel a bit cartoonish, something particularly visible in John Boyega's Finn, who is quite possibly one of the series most insufferable characters. The heart of the film ends up belonging with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, not because of their age or the mantle of their characters, but because they understand that through their eyes and anguish, they can transmit more emotion than what the entire digital panoply that surrounds them is trying to portray. This is a film that while unbalanced is still worth watching.

The Shape of Water

Movie Name: The Shape of Water
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Lauren Lee Smith, Martin Roach, Allegra Fulton, John Kapelos, Morgan Kelly
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
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Synopsis:
Celebrated director Guillermo Del Toro is back, following the beautiful "Crimson Peak", with one of his most well received films (it won the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice Film Festival). The film takes place in the early 60s, against the backdrop of the Cold War. We're introduced to the lovely (and mute) Elisa, who lives in a small studio above a movie theater, with an illustrator/commercial artist as a neighbor/best friend. Elisa works as a janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Center in Baltimore, working the night shift with her friend Zelda. One evening, they both witness the arrival of a special container, alongside a special team commandeered by the stern Colonel Richard Strickland. The team also includes the scientist Robert Hoffstetler, who is responsible for the analysis of the creature inside the container. Elisa soon discovers that the container held an amphibian creature captured in South America, and starts offering food and progressively communicating with the creature. As their relationship intensifies, so does the plans for the military to dissect the creature, and learn what they must from it, against the recommendations of the scientist. Elisa, alongside her neighbor/best friend Giles, decide to free the creature, with the unexpected help of the doctor and Zelda.
"The Shape of Water" is quite possibly one of the most interesting films that Guillermo Del Toro has ever directed. It marries his never ending love for the gothic with an ode to movie classics, the power of a love story, all the while touching themes like racial and sexual discrimination. It's a film that hits a perfect balance across the board in a nuanced way, allowing for the central romance to bloom, but also allowing for the relationships between all the central characters to be flushed out, never painting them in one unique way. It's a film that is poetic, while not shying away from the ugliness of reality, the pain of loss and ultimately how violence permeates across life. It's also a gorgeously constructed film, from the beautiful production design from Paul D. Austerberry, to the cinematography from Dan Laustsen and the score of the always wonderful Alexandre Desplat. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins in particular, creating memorable characters, filled with a life and a spark that further elevates the story. A beautiful film worth watching.

Office Christmas Party

Movie Name: Office Christmas Party
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Stars: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
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Synopsis:
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck made a name for themselves with a few successful comedies, in particular the Will Ferrell/Jon Heder vehicle, "Blades of Glory". "Office Christmas Party" focuses on the story of Josh Parker, the CTO for a tech company by the name of Zenotek. While the company is getting ready for their Christmas party, they receive the visit of interim CEO Carol, who visits the Chicago branch to specifically tell them (and her brother, who runs that branch), that she's cutting 40% of the jobs there (and will potentially close off that branch as well). Her brother Clay, Josh, and the lead developer Tracey, manage to convince her to give them an opportunity to lure a big client who is browsing for a new company to provide them with some technical solutions. They invite the prospective client to their office party, where things rapidly escalate to chaos, soon involving a small group of employees trying to rescue and save Clay.
"Office Christmas Party" is a film that tries to build a bridge with the audience by presenting a premise that is all too familiar: the imminent demise of a company and potential layoffs. The screenplay peppers that scenario with a variety of subplots, including sibling rivalry, personal responsibility and maturity, being able to follow one's instincts, all of that topped with debauchery. The main issue with the film doesn't lie in the fact that it works with well known cliches (even "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" had tangential plot points), but the way it does so little to subvert them. The film tries to create humor by escalating the insanity of the situations, and by placing the lead characters in fish out of water situations, but it only manages to be successfully funny when talented performers such as Kate McKinnon, actually have an opportunity to do something with their characters. It's a film that tries too hard to be funny, without providing enough satirical moments. It manages to salvage itself due to Jason Bateman's always on point performance, and the bits where Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer have a chance to shine. Instantly forgettable.

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 starts 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 unable 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
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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.