Sunday, April 23, 2017

Knight of Cups

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

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

The Handmaiden

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Moulin Rouge

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

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


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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

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

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