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.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Chicago

Movie Name: Chicago
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Colm Feore, Taye Diggs, Dominic West, Lucy Liu, Christine Baranski, Sebastian La Cause, Mya, Chita Rivera, Deidre Goodwin
Genre: Musical, Crime, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
"Chicago" was Rob Marshall's feature debut, following a celebrated and awarded career as a choreographer on Broadway. The film is an adaptation of the musical from Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, and follows the story of two women in Chicago during the roaring 20s. The film focuses on the young and beautiful Roxie Hart, who while married to quiet and hard working Amos, dreams of a life in vaudeville, and fools around with a few men in the hopes they can get her to that stage. The film also focuses on Velma Kelly, a well known performer, who finds herself in deep trouble, once she kills her husband and sister, who were having an affair without her knowledge. Roxie also finds herself arrested when the man she thought was a passport to a career in show business, turns out to be an imposter, upon which she ends up killing him. These two women find themselves on death row, and have to resort to the services of mercenary attorney Billy Flynn, who knows how to play the media in order to get his clients easily freed.
"Chicago" is a film that lives essentially from the exuberance of the set pieces and musical numbers that puts on display. The lean narrative is a mere pretext for the beautiful musical and choreography that Rob Marshall stages. The rhythm and motion of the film is seamless, which makes for an engaging watch. The cinematography from Dion Beebe is exquisite, and the central performances are equally engaging and compelling (even if not exactly memorable). Renee Zellweger feels miscast, but manages to make the most of her character, while Richard Gere exudes confidence as the oily, mercenary lawyer. While not as iconic as the classic musicals, this is a film where style topples narrative and character development, but without good results to merit repeated viewings.

It

Movie Name: It
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgaard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Jackson Robert Scott, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
"It" is another adaptation of Stephen King's oeuvre, and follows a previous adaptation dated from 1990, which was created as a mini series, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. The film follows the story of a group of children in 1984, in a small town in Maine by the name of Derry. The film starts with the gruesome murder of the young George. That murder wrecks the life of that family, particularly haunting the life of his older brother, Bill. Bill and his friends, Eddie, Richie, Beverly, Ben and Mike, are a group of young children from different backgrounds, with very different family lives, but who take shelter in each other. During their Summer vacation they spend time together, but start having persistent visions of a menacing clown in his balloons, who wants to lure them. Ben explains to the group that through his research of the city, there's something that appears every 27 years, that goes on a killing spree, during which time a lot of children disappear. The group sets out to discover if that story is indeed real, and what relationship does it have with the menacing clown figure.
The adaptation of "It" was a bit troubled with a few directors coming and going, until director Andy Muschietti took the job. The director was previously responsible for the successful "Mama", and was a perfect fit for the material. The film is successful in creating and illustrating the life of a small town in the 80s, and the camaraderie that is established between children. Though at times these relationships feel a bit too forced and artificial, the director manages nonetheless to create a sense of communion and support between the young heroes of this story. He's far more successful in staging the suspense and defining the stalking aspect of the predatory figure who wants to capture and kill the young members of the group. The film doesn't rely in overtly gore aspects, and is simultaneously intelligent in playing with how the fears of the different characters, force them all to face them in order to vanquish that figure of evil. It's an interesting film, that leaves the narrative open to a continuation, but sufficiently well developed to stand on it's own. Worth watching.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Catch Me If You Can

Movie Name: Catch Me If You Can
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes, Chris Ellis, Jennifer Garner, Ellen Pompeo
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director Steven Spielberg had a fantastic 2002, with two great films released the same year. The second one was "Catch Me If You Can", an adaptation of the book (and life) of Frank Abagnale Jr. (the book was also written by Stan Redding). The film follows the story of young Frank Abagnale, who in 1963, following his parents divorce, flees home, and starts creating elaborate cons in order to make ends meet. What starts as small incidents, soon takes on larger exploits, including assuming to be an airline pilot with Pan Am, and forging payroll checks. His cons catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who starts a chase on him, soon realizing he's just a teenager. As Frank's cons keep expanding (and his impersonations include other professions, such as medical doctor and attorney), he eventually flees to Europe to evade capture. Carl is however ever persistent, and finds out where Frank has been hiding.
Steven Spielberg is always at his best when bringing to life stories that live within his universe, without focusing on calculated material and execution, that is fabricated to elicit awards results. "Catch Me If You Can" is a film that perfectly captures the reality of the 60s, but also and more accurately how attitudes around families were changing and shifting, and how the relationship of a young man with an absent father molded his decisions (and instigated his fears). A lot of Spielberg's stories have an absent father figure, and this story is one of a son trying to live up to his father, played fantastically by Christopher Walken. The film is also very successful because of the central relationship between the two central characters, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, goes beyond the typical cat and mouse chase. The film feels effortless, and just with enough heart not to become maudlin. A very good film from a master film maker.

The Bourne Identity

Movie Name: The Bourne Identity
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen, Gabriel Mann, Julia Stiles, Walton Goggins, Josh Hamilton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Tim Dutton
Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following his indie endeavors which resulted in "Swingers" and "Go", director tackled his first big budget feature with "The Bourne Identity". An adaptation of the Robert Ludlum book, and with a crackling screenplay from Tony Gilroy (who co-wrote it with William Blake Herron, and was subsequently involved in the sequels), the film follows the story of young secret agent, Jason Bourne. When we first see him, he's salvaged from the high seas by a crew of fishermen, and we realize that he has amnesia. Bourne remembers flashes of events, but doesn't recall much about his life and how he found himself at sea. He soon finds himself in Switzerland where he uncovers a safety deposit box with a lot of different identities and a lot of money. With the help of a young german woman by the name of Marie, he hitches a ride to Paris, in hopes of unearthing who he is, and understanding of how he knows the skills he has. Hot on his trail are his former peers and the agency responsible for his training.
Doug Liman has by now established himself as a director capable of taking routinely and formula driven films and making them into something compelling, dynamic and very watchable. His path into big budget features started precisely with "The Bourne Identity", which was his first big hit (though it suffered from some shooting issues). The film combines a smartly written plot, with sufficient questions thrown around, with a central character who is and feels imminently real, much of that due to Matt Damon's minimal performance. Both Damon and Franka Potente, both create characters that feel out of place everywhere they go, and that adds an extra air of despair (they're a non criminal "Bonnie and Clyde") and verisimilitude to the situations they find themselves in. It's a film that takes a more realistic approach to the spy thriller (as opposed to the James Bond films that at the time were reaching their cartoon-style apotheosis), from the well choreographed fight scenes, to the chase scenes through Paris. A very good action film always worth revisiting.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Adaptation

Movie Name: Adaptation
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour, Curtis Hanson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Greer, Brian Cox, Ron Livingston, Doug Jones
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the success of his first feature, "Being John Malkovich", director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman reunited for another collaboration. "Adaptation" which is a loose adaptation of the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean, became something quite different. The film follows the story of Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter in Hollywood, who is trying to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean. Charlie soon finds himself with a serious case of writer's block when he realizes the book isn't adaptable. Much to his frustration, his twin brother Donald moves in, and decides to break into screenwriting also. Unlike Charlie, Donald is more outgoing, and has more success with women. Both brothers get entwined with Susan Orlean's personal life, and herself is romantically involved with the man featured in her book, John Laroche. These relationships have an unexpected outcome as Charlie desperately tries to finish his screenplay.
"Adaptation" is another great example of two unique voices in film meeting and creating something distinctively original. The film is a testament and a glimpse into the creative process, also giving an interesting and ironic view at the art of screenwriting. The irony also lies in how Charlie Kaufman portrays himself to be insecure and neurotic, giving his twin brother (or alter ego), all the qualities he wishes he had. It's a very intelligent film, that works on many different levels, all the while giving the trio of lead performers a chance to truly excel. Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are phenomenal, as is the entire supporting cast (including Tilda Swinton and Brian Cox). The cinematography from Lance Acord is beautiful, as is the score of the eternally underrated Carter Burwell. A great film worth watching!

Death Note

Movie Name: Death Note
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe, Jason Liles, Paul Nakauchi, Jack Ettlinger, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Chris Britton
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten: 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Another one of Netflix's original productions, "Death Note" is the adaptation of a popular Japanese manga series. The film is directed by Adam Wingard, who has made a name for himself with a few thrillers, including "The Guest", which had some good reviews and propelled his name further. "Death Note" follows the story of Light Turner, a high school senior whose mother has recently passed away, leaving him scarred and in a somewhat tense relationship with his police officer father. He comes into possession of a strange book by the name of Death Note, which gives him the power to kill whomever he writes in the book. The supernatural entity that comes with the book, explains to him that he can also choose how people die. Light with this new surge of power, starts using the book to target criminals, eventually creating a reputation for this vigilante persona, causing the attention of multiple individuals, including a very talented investigator by the name of L.
"Death Note" is a film that comes a few years later after the trend of remaking Japanese films/properties died down (the last big film from that trend was probably Walter Salles' "Dark Water" with Jennifer Connelly). This one however, unlike some of the films from the early 2000s (such as Gore Verbinski's "The Ring"), feels more like a distant cousin from those features. For starters the core demographic is younger, but also the material itself lacks a sense of menace that made those popular features somewhat memorable and enticing (look as an example the mediocre and popular "The Grudge" from Takashi Shimizu, which came out in 2004). The film is definitely light in the creation of an effective environment and also in style. It features the great cinematography from David Tattersall and the score from Atticus Ross (and Leopold Ross), but the cast is just barely memorable, even the always reliable and great Willem Dafoe. A forgettable endeavor.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

About Schmidt

Movie Name: About Schmidt
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Howard Hesseman, Harry Groener, Connie Ray, Len Cariou
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Alexander Payne followed his breakthrough film "Election", with another critical hit. "About Schmidt" which came out at the end of 2002, ended up on the lists of the best, and garnered Jack Nicholson another Oscar nomination. The film follows the story of Warren Schmidt, an actuary with a life insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. After his retirement, and the passing of his wife, Schmidt decides to drive in his Winnebago to Denver, to attend the wedding of his daughter. Though he disapproves of his daughter's choice of husband, Schmidt ends up going through the motions, and meets the eccentric family of his future son in law.
As usual in Alexander Payne's films, his stories are comprised of people leading ordinary lives, but who are thrown into some chaos that disrupts their known habits. His universe is somewhat melancholic and inhabited by people with flaws, but always punctuated by humor. He successfully mitigates the harshness of situations, with a dry (sometimes dark) sense of humor, something that has been a constant in all of his films. "About Schmidt" is almost a one man show, giving Jack Nicholson a perfect opportunity to play a character that is more subdued and quieter than his usual larger than life characters. The actor relishes this opportunity, and gives the character the melancholy, sadness and humor that Schmidt experiences, as his life changes. The film also features a great performance from Kathy Bates, as the mother of the groom, who makes some advances towards Schmidt. It's a film that lives from the richness of its characters, and in that sense it's an endearing and compelling watch. Recommended.

Logan Lucky

Movie Name: Logan Lucky
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Sebastian Stan, Hillary Swank, Farrah Mackenzie, David Denman, Jon Eyez, Dwight Yoakam, Edward Gelhaus, Macon Blair
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten: 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Celebrated director Steven Soderbergh is back, after a brief hiatus, and after his well received dual releases of 2013, "Side Effects" and "Behind the Candelabra". "Logan Lucky" follows the story of the Logan siblings, comprised of Jimmy, Clyde and Mellie. All three live in West Virginia, and are very close, even if they all have had a fair amount of bad luck in life. Jimmy, the eldest, loses his job in construction due to a knee injury, while Clyde works at a bar since coming back from enlisting in the army (where he lost his hand). Mellie works in a salon, and helps Jimmy taking care of his daughter, whom he shares with a slightly resentful ex-wife. Jimmy devises a plan to rob the money from a NASCAR event in North Carolina, but in order to do so, he needs to recruit the help of Joe Bang, an incarcerated bank robber (alongside his brothers Fish and Sam, both of whom are deeply religious). The intricate plan will require all pieces aligning together perfectly, something that will also require taking Joe out of jail ahead of time.
"Logan Lucky" is another example of how fantastically gifted Steven Soderbergh is. Taking a smartly written screenplay, the director introduces rhythm, humor and authenticity to a film that could have easily turned into a broad caricature. It's a testament to his talent that the director, reuniting with Channing Tatum (with whom he created "Magic Mike"), manages to bring all the pieces together, creating a film that is well orchestrated, well acted, and perfectly in tune with the material. This isn't simply a different version of "Ocean's 11" - this film strips the layer of flash that one had, and replaces it with humor and heart. The cast is uniformly great (with the possible exception of Seth MacFarlane, who overacts in his attempt to be overly funny and larger than life), and the score from David Holmes is perfectly cool and breezy. A very good film worth watching.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Movie Name: Annabelle: Creation
Year of Release: 2017
Director: David F. Sandberg
Stars: Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Grace Fulton, Tayler Buck, Mark Bramhall
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Score out of ten: 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
The universe of stories developed by director James Wan with his "The Conjuring" film series continues, this time around with a prequel to "Annabelle", who first appeared in "The Conjuring", followed by it's original film dated from 2014. In "Annabelle: Creation" we are introduced to the family who first came in touch with the doll, and the malevolent force that lies within. This family is composed of a father, who is a doll maker, and who originally creates the Annabelle doll, the mother, and the young daughter, named Bee (diminutive from Annabelle). A dramatic accident leaves the family without their daughter,  and a few years later, a small group of orphan girls comes to the house. The girls, under the tutelage of a kind and helpful nun, are excited by the prospect of living in such a nice place, but soon one of them, the sweet Janice, starts realizing there are disturbances and strange occurrences around the house. These events start escalating and get progressively more aggressive, until one their hosts, Mrs. Mullins, unveils what has happened since the demise of her daughter.
Director David Sandberg has followed his debut feature "Lights Out", with another stylistic and smartly built exercise in suspense and horror. Using the premise established in the first (and not so accomplished) "Annabelle", the director takes the narrative to the origins of the mystique surrounding the doll, creating in the process, a haunted house type of horror film. The film smartly suggests more than it shows, playing with the shadows, shapes, and the fear coming from the young children. It also takes its time to create the sense of unease, and menace that starts permeating everyone, in particular the group of children that are in the house. The film is beautifully shot, and while most characters don't have enough depth or dimension, the environment and universe that is built is successful and sufficiently enticing. An interesting film from a promising director.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Magic Mike

Movie Name: Magic Mike
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Betsy Brandt, Riley Keough
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following his double feature releases of 2011, with "Haywire" and "Contagion", prolific director Steven Soderbergh returned in 2012 with what turned out to be a surprising hit, the low budget "Magic Mike". The film, loosely based on the life of actor Channing Tatum (before he became famous that is), follows the story of Mike, a male stripper and dancer living in Tampa, Florida. Mike works as a dancer with hopes of saving enough money to start working on building furniture and making that into his main business. During the day he also works construction, which is where he meets the young Adam. He takes the kid under his wing, and soon he is dancing with the troupe. Mike soon meets Adam's older sister, and becomes clearly smitten by her, and her grounded and no nonsense type of personality. As events unfold, he realizes it's time for him to make decisions and finally grow up.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most talented film makers currently working. He is as an interesting story teller, as he is one of the most well versed technically inclined film makers (he edits and does the cinematography of most of his films). What has been interesting to witness throughout his career, is his choice of material. "Magic Mike" mostly succeeds in his approach to capture both the spectacle of the performance, and the actual life of these young men, who strip for a living and basically live in this bubble of attention and surreality, that seems to be about to burst at any moment. It's a film that is thin of story and character development for most of the supporting characters, but it still allows for Matthew McConaughey in particular to build a charismatic and magnetic character, with his host of the club, the older (and not necessarily wiser) Dallas. It's an interesting exercise for a fantastically gifted director. Worth watching.

The Founder

Movie Name: The Founder
Year of Release: 2016
Director: John Lee Ancock
Stars: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, Patrick Wilson, Kate Kneeland, Justin Randell Brooke
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten: 6
Watch on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the well received "Saving Mr. Banks", director John Lee Hancock is back, tackling another true story. "The Founder" follows the story of Ray Kroc, an itinerant salesman, always looking for new ideas to make money. One of his clients, are two siblings by the name of MacDonald, and Ray is positively perplexed by the way they have established a restaurant in San Bernardino. Ray finds a way to start working with the brothers, first as a franchise salesman, but as his ambition grows, so does his plans and ultimately what he wants the chain of restaurants to become. He eventually has to battle it out with the siblings, due to a contract he signed early on.
John Lee Hancock is a competent film maker, whose films while not priming for a specific point of view, make nonetheless for an interesting viewing. His films usually have an impeccable production team, and are anchored by a magnetic performance from his lead actor/actress (Sandra Bullock on "The Blind Side", Emma Thompson on "Saving Mr. Banks for instance). "The Founder" is no exception: the film creates an impeccable period reconstitution of the US in the 50s and 60s, and gives Michael Keaton another opportunity to create a character that is charismatic and brimming with ambition. The performance is actually so good, that it becomes the most memorable thing about the film, even though the central character is not portrayed in the most flattering light, and yet his appeal is there from beginning to end. It's a film that is conventional, illustrative, and polished - and almost instantly forgettable, but it does give Michael Keaton another opportunity to shine. And for that alone, it deserves to be seen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vanilla Sky

Movie Name: Vanilla Sky
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton, Michael Shannon, Shalom Harlow, Johnny Galecki, Delaina Mitchell
Genre: Mystery, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the critical success of "Almost Famous", celebrated director Cameron Crowe returned with a different opus, a remake of the Spanish film "Abre los Ojos" from Alejandro Amenabar. The film follows the story of David Aames, a young and attractive man, who is wealthy and in charge of the reigns of a big magazine in New York City. David is pursued by a beautiful woman by the name of Julie, with whom he has engaged in a episodic affair, something that takes a much secondary interest when he becomes enamored of Sofia, a beautiful Spanish young woman, whom he meets at a party (that she attends with his best friend). This turn of events goes much darker, as Julie becomes obsessed with David. She tries to commit suicide, taking David alongside with her in her car. Though he survives the event, his face is quite disfigured, and he resorts to wearing a mask to overcome those problems. Though he has his face reconstructed, David starts seeing some odd visions in his daily life, until one day when visiting Sofia, much to his shock and surprise, it's Julie he finds at the apartment. The events spiral out of control from then on, threatening his sanity.
"Vanilla Sky" is an odd film in Cameron Crowe's career. The director has made a trademark for himself by creating films about every day men, who are faced with challenging situations, but who choose to pursue their dreams against all odds (that these men are always surrounded by stunningly beautiful women is just luck of the draw, or good casting options). "Vanilla Sky" is an odd choice for him, since it's a film that basis its premise on the fact that the lead character, and the audience, never really know what is effectively real or if everything that has occurred is simply imagined by him. It's a tricky act to maintain for the entire duration of the film, but as the narrative unfolds, and the pieces start being sorted out, the whole sci-fi aspect of the film doesn't really gel or mesh with the film as a whole. The problem lies in the fact that the film can never get a defined tone - it tries to be a romantic opus about a hedonist who needs to grow up, but also a mystery thriller, and a futuristic parable. Tom Cruise invests all of his energy into this role, as does Cameron Diaz, but it's a film that though beautiful to look at (with cinematography from the fantastic John Toll), it lacks conviction and focus. A missed opportunity from an interesting director.

Atomic Blonde

Movie Name: Atomic Blonde
Year of Release: 2017
Director: David Leitch
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, Bill Skarsgaard, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, Roland Moller, Sam Hargrave, Daniel Bernhardt
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten: 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Another graphic novel series gets the big screen adaptation, this time around by the hand of David Leitch, the co-director of the celebrated "John Wick". The film follows the story of Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent, who is dispatched to Berlin, just as the wall is coming to an end in 1989. The remains of the Cold War persist, and Lorraine is tasked with getting a microfilm that has the information on all infiltrated agents, and also uncover the identity of a double agent who has brought a series of problems to the department. Lorraine is informed while being briefed, not to trust anyone, since there are multiple organizations looking for that list, and everyone is trying to get the upper hand while doing so. It's up to her and her skills, to navigate the tense political climate, and carry the mission to completion.
"Atomic Blonde" is a very entertaining film, one that is well aware of what is staging in terms of narrative and all the parts that comprise it. This is a well crafted and polished B-film, that has sufficient plot to keep the action going, but reserving a lot of its focus on the stylized look, the well placed soundtrack, and the impeccable action scenes that are choreographed to perfection. It also has a key success factor in the lead, the always fantastic Charlize Theron. She manages to create a lead character, who is simultaneously lethal, while retaining a sense of humanity and vulnerability, which makes Lorraine a far more compelling character than say, James Bond (who seems to be impervious to everything, therefore becoming more of a caricature, something that the "Naked Gun" films always spoofed so well). The supporting characters are not quite as compelling, or well rounded, and this is definitely not a John Le Carré adaptation (the plot is a bit wafer thin), but the film is impeccably conceived and directed, with a great production design from David Scheunemann and score from Tyler Bates. A very entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Valerian

Movie Name: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer, Peter Hudson, Louis Leterrier, Eric Rochant
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten: 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Luc Besson and his production machine is back, this time touting a huge blockbuster he wrote and directed himself, an adaptation of the comic book series "Valerian and Laureline". The film follows the story of Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline  who in the 28th century, comprise a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order, at least where human presence is felt (the two are also supposedly involved in some sort of quasi romantic relationship). The two embark on a mission that is focused on the immense city of Alpha-an ever-expanding space metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, something that threatens the peaceful existence of the City. It's up to Valerian and Laureline to identify that menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
Luc Besson who created a name for himself in the 80s and 90s, as one of the few French directors to produce and direct films that were immensely popular both in his native country but also outside (namely with "Le Grand Bleu", "Nikita" and "Leon"), has in the meantime become a powerhouse with his production company EuropaCorp, who has been responsible for the release of mid budgeted action films that are immensely popular (such as the "Transporter" and "Taken" series). His latest directorial effort was the surprise hit "Lucy", which has enabled him to tackle this dream project of his. "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" is very much like "The Fifth Element", a digest of a lot of pop references, from the screwball romantic comedy elements that are associated with the banter between the two lead characters, to the galaxy in peril style which is an instant ode to the universe of "Star Wars". This attempt at marrying all these elements ends up being its main downfall: the banter between the lead characters never really catches on, while the film introduces some subplots that appear out of nowhere to be quickly discarded with little to no consideration (not to mention the villain character or entity is never really quite flushed out). The casting is also a huge issue in the film, since both leads - Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne - don't really work at all in their roles - they both look too young, and their actions feel inconsequential and without any sense of urgency or peril, considering what is at stake (not to mention they have no chemistry). It's a film that lives mostly from the fantastic visual effects and concept design that it presents, and for that alone it manages to be sufficiently entertaining, but in the end it feels like a lot of noise for nothing. A quickly forgettable film.

Dunkirk

Movie Name: Dunkirk
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, James D'Arcy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan, Matthew Marsh 
Genre: Action, Drama
Score out of ten: 9
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Following the successful (and divisive) "Interstellar", director Christopher Nolan is back, with a film that unlike his previous efforts, is based on a true story, this time around focusing on an episode that occurred during World War II (which was also illustrated on Joe Wright's "Atonement"). The film follows the story of the evacuation of a group of Allied soldiers from the beaches (and harbor) of Dunkirk to the English coastline (from May 26th through June 4th 1940). The film focuses on a young soldier, and his attempts to exit the beach, and all the hurdles he and his companions have to go through in order to reach home safely (among those hurdles, the sinking of multiple ships). The film also focuses on the civilians that are brought into this situation, aboard their vessels to rescue all these soldiers.
Much has been written about the fact that "Dunkirk" is duration wise, the shortest feature directed by Christopher Nolan. That particular information, should in no way be detrimental to the fact that the director has built another fantastic film, one where his cerebral perspective aligns with the events that unveiled at the beach, and in particular with the lives of all those men. It's a perfect marriage of his taste for scale (and grandiose) and tension buildup. It's also a testament to this director's refinement that the film relies so little on dialogue exposition, and yet it manages to communicate so much. The film is exquisitely photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema, and has a crackling score from Hans Zimmer, both of which marry with the perfect editing from Lee Smith, to create a stunning example of how to create an indelible experience that captures the urgency and panic felt by so many during such a tying time. If anything can be pointed out to this film, is the fact that the characters almost feel secondary to the events unfurling, but this is such a fantastic achievement from a fantastic storyteller.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Movie Name: War for the Planet of the Apes
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Gabriel Chavarria, Michael Adamthwaite, Devyn Dalton
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten: 6.5
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director Matt Reeves is back, after the successful "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", which took the original Rupert Wyatt film to a much different level. Following the events of that film, we learn that there's a virus spreading through the Earth that is rendering humans unintelligible. They're losing the capacity to communicate. Caesar in the meantime has retreated with the apes to the woods, looking to live remotely and peacefully. However a belligerent Colonel is coming for them, targeting in particular Caesar. In one of those attacks, Caesar's family is killed, something that sets him on a revenge path, that may ultimately cost the future of all his tribe.
The "Planet of the Apes" universe has always been one that exposes the brutality of the Human species towards other species, or anything that they deem out of the ordinary (and therefore a potential threat). What has made this series such an iconic one since it was originally adapted in 1968, has always been the fact that it depicts a future where the human race is destroyed by its own doing. They bring on the evolution of other species (and in a way, the son taking the place of the father, which is the case of Caesar), which eventually takes over the planet itself. Matt Reeves is a very interesting and intelligent director, who infuses his stories with heart, allowing for characters to be more than just cardboard archetypes. From the central apes through their opponents, we witness a bit of what has set all these events in march, and what each of them aim to get out of their paths. Where the film does falter is in the effective building of tension, and the fact that for the most part this film plays like John Sturges' "The Great Escape" (which in itself isn't a bad thing at all), but without ever giving the film the edge that it needs to be truly memorable. Production wise, this film is top notch, with stunning visual effects, and two great leading performances from Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson. The cinematography from the veteran Michael Seresin is beautiful as is the production design from James Chinlund, who builds a devastated world with a mist of Dickensian and industrial tones. A good film worth watching.

Okja

Movie Name: Okja
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Steve Yeun, Lilly Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After the critically well received (but filled with problems over distribution) "Snowpiercer", director Bong Joon Ho is back, this time around directing a feature film for streaming platform Netflix. The film focuses on the story of Mija, a young girl in South Korea, who for the past ten years, has taken care of a genetically engineered pig, Okja, who has grown massively and has become her best friend. Okja, and some other 26 animals have been given to different farmers around the world, by the company who has created them, the Mirando Corporation. This entity is governed by the insecure Lucy, who wants to make sure these animals are palatable to the general population once they start selling them. Things however come to a halt, when Okja is suddenly taken away from Mija, in order to be sent to the US. An animal liberation group comes to her aid, and they all set out a plan to expose Mirando and denounce their animal cruelty. But again things don't go according to plan.
Bong Joon Ho who made a name for himself outside of Korea with the well known "The Host", creates an interesting parable with "Okja". By demonstrating the bonds created between the young girl and the massive Okja, the director sheds light on topics such as corporate greed, unscrupulous executives and of course animal cruelty. The film definitely has some tonal issues, something that is more blatantly visible in the character portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is overacting and losing all sense of nuance (and he's not Robin Williams, and can't capture that sense of manic energy and sad puppet the late actor could do so well). But it's a film that has heart, and functions as an interesting parable for a lot of the maladies that exist in our society. It also has a good sense of humor, one that is perfectly embodied by the always brilliant Tilda Swinton, doing double duty this time around (the supporting cast with Paul Dano and Steve Yeun is also well cast). The visual effects are fantastic as is the cinematography of Darius Khondji. A good film worth watching.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Movie Name: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Jon Watts
Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Logan Marshall Green, Tony Revolori, Tyne Daly, Bokeem Woodbine, Zendaya, Abraham Attah
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After the disastrous solo outings the character suffered with "The Amazing Spider-Man" features, a new incarnation got introduced in last year's "Captain America: Civil War". The new take on the character is a continuation of the storyline from that film, and continues to follow the adventures of Peter Parker, as he adjusts to his high school life, following his assignment alongside the Avengers. In this new world of super heroes and alien menaces, there's people who are trying to capitalize on scavenging on the remains of battles. That's the case of Adrian Toomes, a contractor, who realizes he can sell new arms and materials from the debris of these battles between these super powered beings. Peter/Spider-Man however realizes this angle, and soon both these personalities are engaged in a battle that may disrupt both their worlds.
Director Jon Watts has followed on the footsteps of other indie directors who are being recruited to tackle big spectacle films, such as Colin Trevorrow and Gareth Edwards (respectively the directors of "Jurassic World" and "Rogue One"). Much like these directors, the overall immediate perception is the lack of a distinct point of view. The production machine behind these big popcorn spectacles does have a way of eliminating nuance and a more unique point of view, but if there's something that the "Harry Potter" series has taught, is that different directors can bring their stamp of uniqueness to it - case in point, Alfonso Cuaron and his take on the third film from the Harry Potter series. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" tries to reconcile being a teenager comedy, filled with typical awkward humor and failed romantic attempts, with being a full blown action and super-hero film. The film has humor and winks a nice cinematic eye to John Hughes, but can't help on revisiting the all too familiar high school setting with tired plot lines. Where the film does add some edge is with the always reliable and fantastic Michael Keaton, who brings sufficient menace to elevate the proceedings to a different level. His story line is also where the film feels more interesting and compelling, whereas the plot points with Peter/Spider-Man and his relationship with Iron Man and the Avengers, feels strained and a bit forced. It's a film that doesn't bring anything new to the table. It's well crafted (and at this point, aren't they all well crafted), but really needs a more unique point of view to make it memorable. Sam Raimi's first two films had heart and a cinematic joy: this one tries to reference others without achieving its own. Maybe next time.

20th Century Women

Movie Name: 20th Century Women
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Mike Mills
Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Thea Gill, Waleed Zuaiter, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the wonderful "Beginners", director Mike Mills returns with another opus based on his life, this time around focused on his mom and his growing up in California during the late 70s. The film follows the story of Jamie, a 15 year old growing up in Santa Barbara in 1979. He lives with his mom, Dorothea, in a large house that they're slowly renovating. His mom has rented two rooms to two very different individuals: the young artist by the name of Abbie, who's recovering from cervical cancer is one of them, the other being the hippie William, who is also a fantastic mechanic. Jamie is deeply enamored with his best friend, the beautiful Julie, who is slightly older, and has already started exploring her sexuality (except with Jamie). Dorothea, who grew up during the Depression and has been one of the first women to work in commercial aviation, has divorced Jamie's dad and has been on her own for quite a while. She worries about his upbringing, and brings this group of residents and friends together to help her give Jamie a better perspective on life.
Mike Mills has managed during the course of his brief filmography to build a universe that is very much his own. His stories are deeply autobiographical, but they transcend the mere illustration of the past - they are far from nostalgic trips to his memory vault - they are meditations on what makes family more than just biological ties. His films are poems to the people who shaped him up to be the way he is, and that ends up being a metaphor for a lot of the relationships that people shape with the ones that are closer to them. "20th Century Women" in particular focuses on the women in his life, and how they had such a deep impact on his capacity to relate to women and build relationships with them (amorous and otherwise). Every single woman in this film is clearly outlined, and has an inner pulse and ambitions, something that gives this film a nuanced and compelling narrative. All the actors in this film excel, particularly Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning. They bring warmth, humor, edge, heart, and make this film utterly watchable. The cinematography from Sean Porter is beautiful, as is the wonderful and eclectic assembled score. A fantastic film worth watching.