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): 7
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.