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
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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
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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
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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.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Beguilled

Movie Name: The Beguiled
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard
Genre: Action, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis:
After her "Little Mermaid" project for Disney fell through, director Sofia Coppola put together an adaptation of "The Beguiled", based on the novel by Thomas Culinan and the screenplay written in the 70s by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp (which was directed by Don Siegel and featured Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page). The film focuses on a group of women under a same roof, specifically a school for young women in the South, during the American Civil War. One of the young students while picking mushrooms in the woods comes across a yankee wounded soldier. Initially surprised and torn between what to do with the soldier, the director and main teacher, agree to let the charming soldier stay, while they tend to his wounds. The soldier slowly ingratiates himself into the lives of the women, until one evening things come to a dramatic halt when he's discovered with one of the young students.
"The Beguiled" scored Sofia Coppola a best director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The writer/director has slowly built a career for herself, always with a distinct point of view, very much focused on women centric narratives ("The Virgin Suicides", "Lost in Translation" and "Marie Antoinette" for example). "The Beguiled" is another example of her point of view: what was in the original screenplay a story very much focused on the wounded soldier, becomes in this version, a story about the different women who occupy the house, their longings, and their fears. The film is beautifully built, slowly showcasing how the older women respond to the presence of a male figure in the house. That is particularly more evident with the character played by Kirsten Dunst, who becomes particularly enticed by the soldier. He romances her with hopes of leveraging her loneliness as a way to escape (war and a life of work). The film has a dark and gothic tone to it, but it's very much driven by Coppola's aesthetic and trademark character building, which allows for Kirsten Dunst in particular to create a character who looks tired, hopeless, and who suddenly reawakens when this persona comes into the house. Sadly her character is the more realized one, but it's still an impressive group and dynamic that is showcased in the feature. It's a beautifully constructed and acted film (Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are equally great), from another unique voice in cinema. Worth watching.

Baby Driver

Movie Name: Baby Driver
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, Sky Ferreira, Jon Bernthal, Sky Ferreira, Flea, Paul Williams, Hal Whiteside
Genre: Action, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
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Synopsis:
Following his public split from the "Ant Man" project with Marvel Studios, writer and director Edgar Wright decided to tackle a project he had been working on since the 90s. "Baby Driver" follows the story of Baby, a young man who's been an orphan since he was a young boy following a violent car crash that killed both of his parents. Baby is an expert driver, working on different heists for a gentleman by the name of Doc, who holds some power over him. Baby has a strong affinity for music, since it also mutes a hearing issue he has, something that makes him use his headsets all the time. After a successful heist he meets Debra, a waitress at a diner, and they both fall in love with each other. That is just the needed motivation for Baby to move one with his life, but Doc has other plans.
Edgar Wright has managed thus far to create an eclectic and vibrant work portfolio. After his "Cornetto Trilogy" (comprised of the features "Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End") and the comic book adaptation "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World", he has tackled with "Baby Driver" an original screenplay of his own. The film, unlike the previous ones however, is neither as successful nor as memorable. Wright has always been able to marry a deftness for understanding pop culture, with humor and a stylistic approach that makes his films so unique and always interesting. "Baby Driver" anchors itself in the relationship of music with action scenes precisely choreographed. Sadly the film is never really a musical (how interesting it would have been to really go fully blown musical, much like Lars Von Trier did with "Dancer in the Dark"), and not really a believable action film (the heists themselves are simplistic and the film in general lacks a certain dose of story building to make them compelling and suspenseful, much like what Christopher Nolan did in the first instances of "The Dark Knight"). What ends up happening with this film is an amalgamation of stunt scenes with good music selection, with a cast that is either cast appropriately but unsurprisingly (Kevin Spacey) and others just not charismatic enough (Ansel Elgort). It's not a step backwards, but it doesn't add much to the work and promise this director has.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Royal Tennenbaums

Movie Name: The Royal Tenenbaums
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana, Grant Rosenmeyer
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following his breakthrough feature "Rushmore", director Wes Anderson continued his association with writer/actor Owen Wilson, and both created the family dysfunctional opus "The Royal Tenenbaums". The film follows the story of a particular family where all the offspring were child geniuses, who are now grown up and somewhat trying to adjust to a reality where they're not the precocious tykes they once were. They are all dealing with challenging situations in life, and they reunite once their mother gets a marriage proposal, particularly because though estranged from their father, she never really divorced him. Royal, the patriarch, distanced himself from the family, and suddenly comes back to try and win the graces of the family (particularly because he's been evicted from the hotel where he was living).
Wes Anderson has by now trademarked a style that is very much his own. A quirky, design detailed with retro references, humor filled universe, where all the characters are sketched out with very particular traits, to better portray a canvas that is a representation of his view of the world. If "Rushmore" was an introduction to his view of the world, "The Royal Tenenbaums" was effectively the first one where he delved deeper and came out with a style that he would continue to refine in his next features (and his most recent "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a crystallization of all these elements that make his style so unique). This film brings forth a lot of the themes that are so associated with his work: the family unit that is filled with idiosyncratic characters, all of whom are in some way trying to adjust to a very ordinary universe, all peppered with self questioning and love pursuits that seemingly go nowhere. This merger of design aesthetic with humor and heartfelt characterizations, feels in a way like a nod to the superlative work of Jacques Tati, but it's still very much his own. The actors are all phenomenal, as usual, with Gene Hackman easily creating one of his best characters, with strong support from Ben Stiller and Bill Murray. The cinematography from Robert D. Yeoman is stunning as is the production design of David Wasco. A very good film from a very interesting director.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Planet of the Apes

Movie Name: Planet of the Apes
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren, David Warner, Kris Kristofferson, Evan Parke, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Glenn Shadix
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the fantastic "Sleepy Hollow", director Tim Burton tackled the iconic book "Planet of the Apes" from writer Pierre Boulle, which had already been adapted with tremendous success in the 60s by Franklin J. Schaffner (with Charlton Heston). The story focuses on the story of astronaut Leo Davidson, who following some unexpected events at a space station, crashes in an unknown planet in the year 5021, and much to his surprise, the planet is ruled by humanoid apes who speak english, while humans are slaves. Leo ends up under the protection of an ape by the name of Ari, who is against the current treatment of humans, but he quickly escapes, freeing all human prisoners in the process. While retreating to Calima, the apes temple, Leo finds out that the area has the remnants of a space station, and starts discovering further details about the history of the planet.
Tim Burton is a talented film maker with a very unique aesthetic and universe. "Planet of the Apes" which could have been a fitting proposition, since it tackled the concept of another alienated and lost hero, suffered from a lot of studio pressure, and the resulting film feels rushed and without his particular stamp. The film is competently executed, from the visual effects, score (from the always fantastic Danny Elfman), to the phenomenal cast, particularly Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Giamatti, but sadly lacks the distinct point of view that makes every Tim Burton so unique and particular. It's a film that showcases a lot of potential, but the epilogue lacks impact, and the casting of Mark Wahlberg is a poor one, since he feels lost and lacks the capacity to give both the vulnerability and intelligence the character needs. A missed opportunity from a talented director.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Others

Movie Name: The Others
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, Eric Sykes, Elaine Cassidy, Renee Asherson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Alejandro Amenabar followed his well received "Open Your Eyes", with his first English speaking feature. The film, which he wrote, follows the story of Grace Stewart and her two children, who are living in a remote house in a somewhat isolated area in 1945. Grace's children have an uncommon ailment, which makes them sensitive to sunlight, and therefore the house always has the drapes drawn, and the children never go outside. The arrival of three servants to the house, coincides with a series of occurrences, all of which makes Grace suspect that there are other individuals in the house. The children mention to Grace there's a little boy by the name of Victor living in the house also, something that frightens and surprises Grace. As the strange occurrences continue Grace progressively realizes what truly lies beneath the house, the servants and her own family.
Alejandro Amenabar is a veritable dynamic talent who has emerged from Spain since the early 2000s. "The Others" was both a commercial and critical success, and it's a testament to his talent and capability to build suspense and mystery progressively, like a yarn that is slowly created. The film builds suspense and surprise, by using shadows and light, and by featuring an effective performance from Nicole Kidman, who more than ever, brings to mind the late Grace Kelly. The relationship between the main characters is just odd enough to add the air of unease that dominates the entire film. It's an intelligent film that frightens more by suggestion, than by relying on gore or gratuitous violence. The cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe is stunning, as is the production design from Benjamin Fernandez. An entertaining film from an interesting director.

Ocean's Eleven

Movie Name: Ocean's Eleven
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Eddie Jemison, Bernie Mac
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Prolific director Steven Soderbergh followed his successful year (2000, where he won the Oscar for best director, for "Traffic"), by tackling a remake of the Lewis Milestone film of 1960, "Ocean's Eleven", which featured the iconic members of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. , Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop). The film focuses on Danny Ocean, who following his release from prison, reunites with his best friend Rusty Ryan. They both go to Las Vegas, to prepare for a coup that involves robbing three of the biggest casinos in the area. Danny in particular wants to tackle those three casinos, since they're all owned by Terry Benedict, who is currently dating his ex-wife Tess. Danny and Rusty go about recruiting a team of people they believe can make the whole heist go smoothly.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood currently. He has the deftness of being able to combine a more conceptual and artistic vein, with a commercial knack, which makes his films an interesting hybrid. If some of his earlier work was a bit more esoteric (such as the underrated "Kafka"), following "Out of Sight", he started a series of films that mixed some experimentalism with known genres, something that "Ocean's Eleven" is a perfect example of. The film exhibits an ease and flow to itself - it's smart and entertaining, but also very humorous. It's a film that is aware of its concept, with an impeccable production team, making the set pieces flow seamlessly (and Steven Soderbergh is usually also responsible for the cinematography of his features). It doesn't take itself seriously, and the film is more successful for it. The entire cast has a great chemistry and complicity, something that makes the film even furthermore entertaining. A good film from a great director, always worth watching.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mulholland Drive

Movie Name: Mulholland Drive
Year of Release: 2001
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Robert Forster, Patrick Fischler, Angelo Badalamenti, Dan Hedaya, Mark Pellegrino, Monty Montgomery, Chad Everett, Rita Taggart, James Karen, Michelle Hicks, Wayne Grace, Michael Des Barres, Melissa George
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
David Lynch followed the celebrated "The Straight Story" with what was originally intended as a new pilot for a TV show. When the pilot didn't get picked up, the project found itself in limbo, until Canal + gave the money to finish what needed to be wrapped in terms of story, and "Mulholland Dr." was born. The film premiered at the Cannes film Festival of 2001, where it won the award for best director, and it went on to win many more accolades that year. The film focuses on three characters: the first one we are introduced to is Rita, a beautiful woman, who due to an accident, is amnesiac and finds herself randomly in the streets of Hollywood. The second is a young actress coming to town, by the name of Betty. The bright eyed Betty is staying at her aunt's, and she's going for an audition and an attempt at becoming an actress. The third central character is Adam Kesher, a young director, going through some tribulations in his personal life, and whose latest feature comes under the attention of some characters wanting to control some of the participants in that same film. Betty and Rita are brought together, and jointly start trying to understand who Rita is, which sends them a progressively darker road.
David Lynch is one the most unique directors currently working. He has been one since his debut with "Eraserhead" (1977), and has carved out a career on his own terms, with themes that are very much his own, but usually a merger of surrealism, filled with cinematic references, American art (Norman Rockwell infused aesthetic), a stylized and sometimes highly violent perspective of society. The merger of these themes, distilled through his very unique sensibility, mixed with a zany sense of humor, have made most of his films simultaneously delicious and full of elements to interpret and try to discern. None of this is more obvious than in "Mulholland Dr. " that is quite possibly one of his most enigmatic and also most interesting films. The film that starts as an investigation in the milieu of the Hollywood arena, which becomes something else, much darker in tone, making the viewer question what had been watched and seen before. It's a film that takes you on a journey with these characters, one that builds an atmosphere that becomes progressively more ominous and yet also romantic (and at times quite funny). It's a fascinating film, anchored in one of the best performances captured by Lynch on film, that of Naomi Watts, who manages to show true versatility and range within seconds of a singular scene. A great film from a unique voice in film.

The Mummy

Movie Name: The Mummy
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Writer, Producer and Director Alex Kurtzman, a name long associated with JJ Abrams, is tackling Universal's first film in a series of monster films that are supposedly coming out in a series. The first is "The Mummy", which focuses its attention on the character of Nick Morton, a military man, who while in service in Iraq, discovers an ancient tomb containing a cursed mummy. Turns out this mummy is in fact a long lost princess and heir to the Egyptian throne, who made a pact with evil forces, and now freed, focuses her attention on Nick. Nick alongside his unexpected ally, the beautiful Jenny Halsey, are soon the target of this powerful entity, who follows them to London, where she starts wreaking havoc. It's up to these two with the help of a hidden society to try to derail her plans.
The most surprising element about a film such as this, isn't the sophistication of the visual effects, or the considerable talent that has been placed in front and behind cameras. It's effectively the fact that there are 6 talented screenwriters credited to this film, and yet this is potentially one of the most nullified stories that has graced the screens in recent memory. There is no intrigue, no character building, no real opposing forces to speak of, no real sense of excitement. There are some random chase scenes, some characters that try to mimic Griffin Dunne's deadpan delivery from John Landis' "An American Werewolf in London", all of them amounting to very little. The most recent films from Stephen Sommers focused on "The Mummy" were silly and over the top, but there was a somewhat genuine sense of silliness to them. This new incarnation doesn't really know what it wants to be: a classic pulpy adventure or modern revisitation with a bite. Sadly it fails on both counts: the mummy comes across more like a tragic figure from the past, and Tom Cruise spends the film looking confused and surprised by what he really needs to be doing. A messy and instantly forgettable film.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman

Movie Name: Wonder Woman
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Lilly Aspell, James Cosmo, Lucy Davis
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
The expansion of the DC comics universe continues, following the critically reviled "Batman vs. Superman" and "Suicide Squad". Director Patty Jenkins follows her celebrated debut "Monster" with a bigger canvas, one that showcases her vision for the iconic Wonder Woman character, that Zack Snyder introduced last year in "Batman vs. Superman". The film follows the story of Diana, who is brought up in a secluded island by the tribe of Amazons. While there, Diana is trained to become a resourceful warrior, something that is tested when a man crashes in the waters surrounding the island. The man turns out to be a spy, by the name of Steve Trevor, who is working for the Allies, during the first World War. Diana is convinced that the God of War, Aries, is in reality influencing humankind to create war. She, alongside Steve Trevor, go to London, and then Paris, in order to fight in the trenches, and get to the German General, she believes to be the main instigator of war (and secretly Aries).
Patty Jenkins has managed to create a smartly built adaptation of the Wonder Woman mythology. The film leverages the scenarios that were carved by the comic books, and even the original TV show from the 70s. The director builds the universe where these women exist for the first part of the film, allowing for the relationship between the lead characters to evolve. This relationship building continues through Diana's attempt at understanding the fabric of society and women's roles in the 1910s. These are the sections of the film that holds more interest, all the way through Diana's action scenes at the trenches. The final act of the film turns out to be the most generic, with the special effects overcoming the storyline that had been built before (and in a way, is very similar to the approach that Zack Snyder uses in his DC universe adaptations). The film is nonetheless entertaining for the most part, even if a bit campy when it comes to drawing out the villain characters (it also brings to mind Joe Johnston's "Captain America: The First Avenger"). The cast assembled is quite strong, with good performances from Chris Pine and Connie Nielsen. The cinematography from Matthew Jensen is beautiful, as are the costumes from Lindy Hemming. An interesting effort from an interesting director.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seven Psychophaths

Movie Name: Seven Psychopaths
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Zeljko Ivanek
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Playwright and director Martin McDonagh followed his well received debut feature "In Bruges" with "Seven Psychopaths", another intelligently written and well acted film, featuring his usual accomplice, actor Colin Farrell. The film focuses on Martin, a struggling screenwriter in LA, who is experiencing problems in writing his next project. His best friend Billy, tangles him up in a scheme he has around town, one that involves stealing dogs and holding them for ransom. Unfortunately their latest victim, turns out to be the dog of a crime lord, something that sets in motion a series of unexpected events.
"Seven Psychopaths" manages to be simultaneously a dark comedy, but also a big wink to filmmaking and the art of writing. The film has nods to the styling of independent films from the 90s, with the quick witted dialogue, but also with the sudden outbursts of brutal violence. It's a film that is very intelligent, and very self aware, but one that doesn't make these characters more than just archetypes, something that it plays off appropriately. It has a great cast, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken making the biggest impressions, but most of the supporting cast has nothing much to do. It's still an entertaining film well worth watching.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Movie Name: Florence Foster Jenkins
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, Christian McKay, David Haig, John Sessions
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Prolific director Stephen Frears is back, following the successful "Philomena" and the little seen "The Program". "Florence Foster Jenkins" is based on the true story of the lady with said name, who was born in 1868 (and passed away in 1944), and was considered the worst opera soprano ever. The film introduces us to Florence as the New York socialite and heiress, who funded the Verdi Club to promote the love for opera and music. Her husband, an English actor, is also her manager, and though he leads a somewhat lateral life with a girlfriend (due to Florence's health), he's a staunch supporter and devoted to her. Upon hiring a young gifted pianist, Florence performs a small recital, one that is met with laughter and derision, but also with enthusiasm, something that fuels Florence willingness to continue (even if everyone thinks she's terrible, without ever telling her so). Her recordings make their way to the radio, where a lot of the audience think that they are humorous takes. She manages to book Carnegie Hall, much to the shock of her devoted husband, who has always tried to shield Florence from the barrage of negative criticism.
The works from Stephen Frears have always been somewhat irregular - he has touched many themes with different levels of success, but one thing that has been a staple of his work, is the consistency with which he allows for actors to build interesting characters. If some of his early and most interesting films, such as "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "Prick Up Your Ears" married a view of the English society with the disruption of social norms and thrives for personal expression, his Hollywood ventures have been somewhat glossier (with turns both inspired such as "The Grifters" and "Dangerous Liaisons" with others less interesting, such as "Hero" and "Mary Reilly"). "Florence Foster Jenkins" manages to be a film that is impeccable in its execution and detail, allowing for three great central performances, in particular from both Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg (who is a surprise). However it's also a film that has nothing more than that - it demonstrates and illustrates, but it's incapable of truly transmitting the fervor and love that Florence felt for music and opera. For someone and a character who butchered opera as this lady supposedly did, this is a tame film that lacks energy and a much needed exuberance (one has to wonder what Pedro Almodovar or John Waters would do with this material). A quickly forgotten film somewhat redeemed by its central performances.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Movie Name: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Stars: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kaya Scoledario, Brenton Thwaites, Kevin McNally, David Wenham, Orlando Bloom, Stephen Graham, Keira Knightley, Martin Klebba, Adam Brown, Angus Barnett, Golshifteh Farahani
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following the dismal critical reception of the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (directed by Rob Marshall and released in 2011), one that still managed to surpass 1 billion dollars in revenue, Disney pushed forward with another sequel, this time around directed by the duo of Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian directors whose film "Kon-Tiki" was nominated for an Academy Award. The new film again follows the misadventures of captain Jack Sparrow, this time around giving him a new foe, and some old and new allies to combat this supernatural entity. Among the new allies are the son of Will Turner, who's trying to break the curse that holds his father captive. Also on a quest is the young Carina Smyth, an astronomer, who is looking for a map that can lead her to finding answers she needs. Their new foe, is a Spanish captain by the name of Salazar, who battled Jack when he was younger, and who is now a half dead creature, seeking vengeance across the oceans. It's up to Jack and his allies, to discover Poseidon's trident and eradicate all curses from the oceans.
As with every franchise in existence, the audiences come to see them for familiarity, and for extravagant set pieces, that provide entertainment and distraction (just like every single Marvel feature). The "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, has never been a particularly engaging one: it has been mostly memorable because of how Johnny Depp has subverted and given a new dimension to a character that on paper was a simply eccentric pirate. As the series has continued, and the plotlines have become more and more convoluted, and the budgets have ballooned, that has meant grander visual effects, bigger stunts, usually to cover up whatever holes the stories may have. This film in particular checks all of those points: it has massive set pieces, truly fantastic visual effects,  and sadly that's mostly of whatever positive elements it has going for it. The actors, including Johnny Depp are swallowed whole by the digital spectacle that surrounds them, as beautiful and as extravagant as they may be. As much as a well oiled machine this is, the film lacks a distinct point of view, and the extremely talented actors Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush, have very little to do (and sadly both the young leads are terrible). This is a film that is quickly forgotten, and is mostly salvageable for some humorous moments that Johnny Depp manages to create.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Secret World of Arrietty

Movie Name: The Secret World of Arrietty
Year of Release: 2010
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Stars: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi has made his career as a key member of Hayao Miyazaki's team, and from Studio Ghibli's talented design team. "The Secret World of Arrietty" is his feature film debut, and features a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, adapted from Mary Norton's novel (the long standing series which was "The Borrowers"). The film follows the adventures of young Arrietty, a tiny little girl, who lives with her family within the walls and in the basement of the house of big people. In order to survive, Arrietty and her father "borrow" things from the big people, things that are unperceived, such as a sugar cube, clothing pins, anything they can find of use. A young boy named Shawn comes to the house where Arrietty lives, and accidentally spots her in the garden. This relationship grows further as Arrietty goes on her first borrowing expedition, and Shawn once again spots her. This however endangers her family, as other people in the house soon start looking for the tiny people.
The universe of Studio Ghibli is one populated by a mix of real and magical creatures, and how their relationships evolve. "The Secret World of Arrietty" fits within this universe perfectly, since the tiny people come across as magical entities placed in a somewhat dreary world. This film doesn't fall under Miyazaki's typical stories of the relationship of men with technology and nature, but it's still and nonetheless populated by the relationship between what is considered normal and what is considered different (which was the case of the wonderful "Spirited Away" for instance, with the relationship of Chihiro/Sen with Haku). "Arrietty" perfectly captures the delicate and strong relationship that is developed between young people, independently of their background and personal story. It's a timeless tale, told in a beautiful and delicate way. The animation is top notch as is the case with all of Studio Ghibli's releases, and the score from Cecile Corbel is equally impeccable. A very good film worth watching.

Alien: Covenant

Movie Name: Alien: Covenant
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
After the critical and commercial success of "The Martian", director Ridley Scott is back to the "Alien" saga, which originally propelled his name, this time around following up the mediocre "Prometheus" with a film that tries to adhere closer to the mythology created by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett in 1979. The film follows a crew from the spaceship "The Covenant" who are on a mission to colonize a distant planet. During the trip, the ship suffers some damages, and the crew is forced to awake. They discover a signal coming from a nearby planet, and set out to discover what lies within. Upon arrival, they start getting infected with some alien parasites, where the remainder of the crew, come to find out that the survivor is actually David, the android from the original "Prometheus" crew. Much to their horror, the alien species starts proliferating again, and soon the crew is desperately fighting for their lives.
What was so original, interesting and compelling about the original series of films, wasn't so much the alien creature and how destructive and terrifying it was. It was primarily the fact that Ripley was the heart and center of the films, and it was her odyssey dealing with these creatures that showcased her resilience, intelligence and heart (and in doing so, proving that humans can overcome the deadliest foes). What these new features have revealed, particularly the more they try to marry it with the original films (always finding new female characters as their heroines), is the general lack of coherence and of compelling characters that create effective drama (it's pretty much a given that most characters are going to be fodder for the alien to destroy). Whereas "Prometheus" was poorly written, "Alien: Covenant" provides further insight (and a better structure), and shifts the focus of the story from the human centerpieces. Writing aside, the film features Ridley Scott's impeccable aesthetic and point of view, with a superb cast, and production team. The film tries to marry design aspects from the original 1979 feature, with digital effects, making the whole endeavor feel awkward and not entirely successful. At this point these films feel more like a desperate attempt to breathe life into a property that has run its course. The legacy of the "Alien" films deserves better, and so does Ripley.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Nice Guys

Movie Name: The Nice Guys
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Kim Basinger, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Lois Smith, Murielle Telio
Genre: Action, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following the successful "Iron Man 3", director Shane Black is back with a new feature, one that again combines his trademark of action mixed with comedy and satire. The film follows two men in Los Angeles, in the late 70s. One, Jackson Healy,  is a muscle for hire, and the other, Holland March, is a smart yet clumsy detective. They are both thrown together, when they are hired to discover what happened to a young woman by the name of Amelia. They have to cope with an increasing series of odd events, but luckily with the assistance of March's daughter, they soon are on the right path to find their missing woman. However, not everything is what it seems in this missing persons case.
Shane Black is a talented writer/director who always manages to create films where the odd pairing of his central characters makes for memorable and entertaining situations (such was the premise of Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon" and his best feature to date, the underrated "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"). "The Nice Guys" has all the trademarks that made his name well known as a screenwriter: a noir/thriller environment with inspiration from classics such as Roman Polanski's "Chinatown", with a quick and biting wit, very much screwball comedy inspired. This film in particular has the selling point of having two great actors as leads, both with lots of chemistry. What the film lacks, is the biting satire that was so well developed in his previous features, stronger and more defined female characters. It's still a film with a great cast, fantastic cinematography (from academy award winning Philipe Rousselot) and impeccable production design. An interesting film from a compelling director.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Denial

Movie Name: Denial
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Mick Jackson
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings, Mark Gatiss, Harriet Walter, John Sessions
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Director Mick Jackson has returned with a new feature, after the celebrated TV film "Temple Grandin", from 2010. The film is based on the book and events surrounding the life of acclaimed Historian Deborah Lipstadt. The narrative focuses specifically on the libel case that was brought against Deborah by David Irving, a Holocaust denier. The case, which was brought against Deborah in 1996, had huge media exposure, and it also included Deborah's publishing house, Penguin. The libel/defamation case, argued Deborah had published lies about Irving's reputation and about the Holocaust itself. Deborah's legal team went out about presenting facts and therefore dismantling David Irving's case, who chose to represent himself throughout the process.
Mick Jackson's best directorial efforts have been features where he marries his experience in directing documentaries with material that is based on real situations and people (though his most popular film may be "The Bodyguard" from 1992, with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston). "Denial" is the perfect material for the director, since it's based on a real case that occurred in the mid 90s, and outlines how a resourceful, intelligent and articulate Historian resolved to battle a libel case that involved one of the biggest atrocities witnessed by humanity. It's a film that is thorough in how it illustrates the process and who were the key players - it's taut and the director has just enough stylistic flourishes to make it a compelling and interesting film. The film falters in the further definition of the characters (we always have a somewhat limited view of the main key players), but the case itself is enticing, and is serviced by a fantastic group of actors, particularly Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall, who give enough nuance and depth to what might otherwise be cliched characters. A good film worth watching.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Movie Name: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Year of Release: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, David Hasselhoff, Laura Haddock
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Synopsis:
Following the surprise success of "Guardians of the Galaxy" in 2014, the sequel was inevitable. The film continues to track the adventures of the band of misfits. This time around, the group becomes the target of the Sovereign race, after successfully eradicating a creature that was intent on destroying one of their most prized possessions. Old family issues come into play as our heroes try to flee their captors/persecutors. Peter Quill's father makes his appearance, saving them from a perilous situation, and allowing Peter to gain further information about his birth and how his mom came to meet his father. However as Peter quickly discovers, not everything and not everyone is what they seem to be.
James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy" managed to be a surprising and entertaining film, because it successfully married pop culture references, just enough character richness (which wasn't much to begin with) all tied under the bow of a great soundtrack, one that simultaneously brought a sense of nostalgia and irreverence, while also giving the whole outer space adventure additional context (and making the whole adventure more humane). Somehow that balance got lost in the second feature - the film suffers from rhythm issues (the film becomes at points tremendously tedious, with characters having emotional epiphanies every other scene), and the soundtrack, once a highlight to particular sections, has become something the narrative revolves around - it does not underline the scenes, it defines them. The overabundance of visual effects has also made the feature strangely hollow and lacking emotional depth - the characters (and by consequence the actors), are dwarfed by everything that surrounds them - though the film features a few beautiful sequences, and the humor prevails, the taste level throughout is questionable. The film comes across as an indulgent exercise, when restrain and more focus was needed to provide the characters with enough to do, an actual foe/villain to battle, one that wasn't excessively abstract or lacking personality. The fantastic cast doesn't have much to do, though Kurt Russell seems to be having fun in some of his scenes. A sadly missed opportunity.