Friday, October 27, 2017

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movie Name: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Ed Zwick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Coby Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper, Judd Lormand, Christopher Berry, Hunter Burke
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the underrated and little seen "Pawn Sacrifice", director Ed Zwick is back, continuing with the saga started by Christopher McQuarrie with "Jack Reacher" in 2012. The film is again an adaptation of a novel by Lee Child, in the series he has written focused on the character of Jack Reacher. This time around, the character finds himself helping Major Turner, once he discovers she has been arrested under the accusation of espionage. Soon Reacher finds himself a target also, and he successfully manages to liberate Turner, so they can try to understand who's trying to frame and kill them. Along the way, they tag along with a young girl, who gets involved by indicating that she's related to Reacher. The criminals will stop at nothing to prevent their plot from being unveiled.
Jack Reacher is a character who truly deserves someone with a grittier vision to take this series to a darker domain, or at least imprint it with a B-movie aesthetic it so badly deserves. As it stands, it's a film that tries to be many things without truly having a personality or point of view: it's not as clever as the Bourne series, and not as pedestrian as the Taken series. It's somewhat in between, trying to be somewhat a throwback to the 80s (peppered with some "Death Wish"/Charles Bronson), without really achieving the goal of being memorable. It's a slick film with solid production values, with a director who knows how to create a well crafted feature, without ever creating something particularly distinct. And that ends up being the downfall of this film: it alludes to much, but it doesn't define an actual point of view, or something that packs a punch like the character seemingly does. Tom Cruise does his best to carry the film, but he's the only one with something to do. The supporting characters are barely there, and are quickly forgettable (and if the poster of the film is any indication, yes, the main star does have its back to all of the supporting cast). It's an instantly forgettable feature, from an interesting director.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Hours

Movie Name: The Hours
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Toni Collette, Allison Janey, Claire Danes, Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Linda Bassett, Jack Rovello
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Stephen Daldry stepped into the film directorial world with the astounding success of "Billy Elliot", which garnered him his first Academy Award nomination. Following that film, he quickly returned with "The Hours", an adaptation of the book by Michael Cunningham, which was a huge critical darling of the year, and was again nominated for a multitude of awards. The film takes place in three different time periods, but each one has a common thread that harks back to Virginia Woolf and her novel "Mrs. Dalloway". Also each of the segments takes place during one day, but the film also unveils the connection that some of the choices these characters make has on different person's lives (and across times). The first segment takes place in 1923 as Virginia Woolf starts writing "Mrs. Dalloway" and is dealing with the challenges of her mental health and her marriage to Leonard Woolf. The second segment takes place in Los Angeles, in 1951, where Laura Brown, a married and pregnant housewife, is trying to cope with the realities of her life, and how that has actually become an extension of her ambitions and dreams (or not). She tries to bake a birthday cake with her young son for her husband, and as her day progresses, she tries to figure out what to do with her life. The third segment takes place in present times, where Clarissa Vaughan (a modern embodiment of Mrs. Dalloway) is throwing a party for her friend (and former lover), the renowned poet Richard (who is also dying). During her day, as people come and go through her life, Clarissa is forced to examine her current relationships, and also the ones who have shaped who she is.
"The Hours" is a finely tuned film detailing the relationships that are maintained from the complex lives of these fascinating women that are at the center of the film. Under the mantle of Virginia Woolf's life and oeuvre, the film expands that universe, by creating multiple threads that deal with longing, ambitions, love and resentment, that touch this diverse array of characters. It's a film that smartly navigates all three timelines highlighting both similar traits that these women share, but also amplifying how times have widened their choices allowing them to sketch their paths and options in life. It's a rewarding film, heavily anchored on a very talented cast, with all actresses creating indelible performances, including the superlative Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, but also in smaller roles, Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette. Their male counterparts equally excel, from Stephen Dillane to the always underrated Jeff Daniels. The score from Philip Glass is stunning as is the cinematography from Seamus McGarvey. A very good film worth watching.

Mindhunter

TV Show Name: Mindhunter - Season1
Year of Release: 2017
Directors: David Fincher, Andrew Douglas, Asif Kapadia, Tobias Lindholm
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith, Joe Tuttle, Cameron Britton, Joseph Cross, Stacey Roca, Alex Morf, Happy Anderson, Michael Park, Marianne Bayard, 
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
It speaks to the immense credit of David Fincher, that his new directorial effort is a TV show for streaming giant Netflix (following another of his efforts, "House of Cards"). The TV show created by Joe Penhall, is based on the true crime book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, and takes place in 1977, as the criminal psychology and criminal profiling disciplines were starting to get established. The series, specifically focuses on two lead characters, two agents who are placed working side by side, the young and energetic Holden Ford, and the veteran and tired Bill Tench. Dr. Wendy Carr, a psychologist at a Boston University that has provided council to the FBI, joins them, as their process to gather information from detained criminal subjects, becomes a focus of some attention. Carr sees in this process, the potential to understand violent serial criminals, and this team slowly starts establishing a practice including the creation of a script in order to get information from these criminals. The agents start investigating a few specific serial killers, and as their expertise increases, their services start getting used by local law enforcement.
"Mindhunter" is a show that is rewarding as a whole, since it invites the viewers to understand how a practice was established, and how important the roles of specific investigators were to actually define approaches to getting information from violent criminals. It's a show that very much adheres to David Fincher's universe, one that marries the darker aspects of people's lives (and criminality), with the more humane side of having a family life or trying to develop one. It definitely has parallels with the world he illustrated in the superior "Zodiac", but it's a gripping show, one that sheds light on the process of putting a practice in place, and how personal, political, ideological factors come into play when all these relationships are set in place. The series looks impeccably shot and styled, adhering to the director's trademark, from the cinematography, to the production design. The actors are for the most part quite good, but Jonathan Groff and Anna Torv, do create strong characters from the outlines they establish (while Hannah Gross mostly plays her character very one note). A very good show worth checking out.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Movie Name: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, John Cleese, Adrian Rawlins, Toby Jones, David Bradley, Shirley Henderson, Gemma Jones, Geraldine Somerville, Adrian Rawlins, Jason Isaacs, Tom Knight, Jamie Waylett, Miriam Margolyes
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following the extremely successful "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", director Chris Columbus continued the work with the same team, and adapted the following book in the series. This time around, Harry finds himself in a situation where an elf by the name of Dobby, warns him not to come back to Hogwarts, since he's in imminent danger. Harry and Ron, manage to get to Hogwarts, with the aid of Ron's flying car. A series of dramatic occurrences start unfolding at the school, leaving some students petrified, including Hermione. In parallel, Harry discovers he can speak to snakes, much like his nemesis, Voldemort. With the involuntary aid of their new teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, both Harry and Ron set out to discover what is happening at the school and save Hermione.
Chris Columbus' successful first foray into the Harry Potter universe, was an introduction to a rich universe, one populated with a variety of supporting characters and magical locations and events. The director however limited himself to illustrating the narrative, without adding much style or much of a personal perspective to the proceedings. The second film follows the same pattern, and feels even more rushed from a production standpoint. There's a noticeable effort on the central actors to improve their performances, and there's definitely an impeccable production team working at the peak of their capabilities, however, the film feels definitely rushed. The darkness that peaked through the books, is never really visible in the film. The director doesn't give the characters enough depth to make them more compelling or livelier, something that will change with the following film in the series. Kenneth Branagh manages to create a humorous and cartoonish character, while the rest of the supporting actors are equally strong, particularly the alway reliable Alan Rickman. The cinematography from Roger Pratt is stunning as is the score of the always excellent John Williams. A minor film in the series, but nonetheless still entertaining.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gangs of New York

Movie Name: Gangs of New York
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, Alec McCowen, David Hemmings, Cara Seymour
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Martin Scorsese followed the somewhat little seen "Bringing Out the Dead" with "Gangs of New York", a big budget project he had been pursuing for years. The film, which was shot in the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, was met with a fair number of obstacles, and upon its arrival was greeted with fair to medium reviews, and though the film had been touted as the one for the celebrated director to win the Academy Award, it ended up not being the case (Roman Polanski won for "The Pianist", and in fact "Gangs of New York" won none of the 10 Academy Awards for what is was nominated). The film follows the story of Amsterdam Vallon, who in 1862 returns to the neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan, with the goal of avenging his father, who died while battling a rival gang, led by the ferocious and charismatic Bill the Butcher. Amsterdam ingratiates himself with Bill's gang, but internal rivalries for the affection of a beautiful pickpocket artist named Jenny, expose him and his intentions, leaving him severely beaten and in dire need of recovery. Following this Amsterdam makes a claim to defeat Bill, and as they start a new turf war, the draft riots occur, which throws further chaos to this bloody battle.
Martin Scorsese is of course a master in filmmaking. His encyclopedic knowledge of film history is well know, as is his body of work, which contains more than its fair share of modern classics. "Gangs of New York" however, is a film where the intentions and ambitions far surpass the results on screen. The director tried to tell the story of how America was forged, using the microcosms of the gangs rivalry, peppering the story with enough romantic and familiar angst in order to make the story more palatable. However, the film as ferocious as it may be in some parts (particularly the ones with the always fantastic Daniel Day Lewis), just can't escape the shadow of all the cliches that it puts on display. Ultimately it's a film that feels like a rehash of many other stories and is quickly forgettable. Most supporting characters are very one dimensional, and aside from Daniel Day Lewis' strong performance, everyone else has little to do (even Leonardo DiCaprio, who is typically excellent, feels out of place). The cinematography from Michael Ballhaus is stunning, as are the costumes from the always excellent Sandy Powell. A minor film from an excellent director.

Blade Runner 2049

Movie Name: Blade Runner 2049
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Carla Juri, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis, Hiam Abbass, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Sean Young
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Celebrated director Denis Villeneuve returns to the screens, after the beautiful "Arrival" (which was my favorite film of 2016). This time around he's tackling the sequel to one of the most iconic films of the 80s, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner". The film takes place 30 years after the original, and focuses on a young blade runner, by the name of K, who is still intent on retiring the remaining replicants who have escaped. The animosity towards replicants persists, but when retiring one of them, K discovers something that upon further analysis, reveals information that is so shattering that can undo the very fabrics of society. Hot on the trail of this information, is the leader of the company that bought Tyrell's flailing business and that has made it into a huge successful conglomerate. It's up to K to dig into the past, and to his own life in the process, and figure out how all the pieces come together, before the attempt to bury all this information becomes a reality.
Denis Villeneuve has gradually but assuredly become one of the most interesting directors working these days. His past films have been fantastically well crafted, which climaxed with the fantastic "Arrival" (which was a perfect combination of pacing, script and acting). The sequel to Ridley Scott's uneven "Blade Runner", pushes some of Denis Villeneuve's themes to another futuristic setting. Something that permeates all his films, is a central character that is seemingly at odds with the ordinary world that surrounds her, a world that is touched by violence. In "Blade Runner 2049", the central character, though knowing what he is, has deep down qualms and questions about himself. His pursuits further dig into his own sense of self. And that is a very pertinent theme to "Blade Runner": what effectively makes us humans and what are these creatures that emulate sentient life. It's a beautiful film, that allows for the central character to shows us the remnants of a world. A revised noir film of sorts, aesthetically stunning, featuring a controlled and tense performance from Ryan Gosling. If anything can be said for the film, is a somewhat indulgent subplot, which doesn't add much to the development of the film and narrative, but it's still a striking piece of work. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stunning as is the evocative score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. A beautiful film from one of the most interesting directors currently working.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie Name: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Elton John, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Michael Gambon, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Keith Allen, Poppy Delevingne, Mark Arnold
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis:
After the unexpected success of "Kingsman: The Secret Service", director Matthew Vaughn has returned to the series he has jumpstarted. The film is a direct continuation of the previous, and focuses on the adventures of Eggsy, who is now a successful agent, with a steady girlfriend, who suddenly is attacked by a previous colleague and rival, who was dismissed from the Kingsman trial process. The Kingsman are massively attacked, and are forced to come to the US and ask for assistance from their American counterparts, and figure out who's trying to shut their operation permanently. Turns out, their foil is Poppy, who leads a very successful drug trafficking business under the mantle of The Golden Circle. Much to the shock of Eggsy and Merlin, they discover Harry is still alive. It's up to them, alongside their American counterparts, to find a solution for a dangerous drug Poppy has unleashed upon the world.
One of the best things about Matthew Vaughn's films have always been his keen sense of humor, alongside his impeccable taste and aesthetic. He's a director who marries deft storytelling, with a sophisticated sense of humor and enough style to keep his films imminently watchable and compelling. With the sequel to "Kingsman", the director had more money to play with, which can be attested by the lavish set pieces, and fantastic cast he had to work with. Sadly with it also came some questionable taste options in some of the sequences. The film is longer than the previous, and though still entertaining and humorous (and politically snarky, as can be seen by the whole subplot with Emily Watson and Bruce Greenwood), it feels in many points forced and overly convoluted (the whole bit with Keith Allen was unnecessary). Still it's a film that showcases a well oiled entertainment machine, with a solid cast: Jeff Bridges is hilarious as always, Mark Strong is iconic and collected as always, and Julianne Moore has a bit of fun (even if she has nothing much to do, other than sit and say a few silly lines). It's an entertaining and forgettable film, and nicely done at it.

Burnt

Movie Name: Burnt
Year of Release: 2015
Director: John Wells
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson, Matthew Rhys, Omar Sy, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sam Keeley, Riccardo Scamarcio, Stephen Campbell Moore
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer

Synopsis:
Director John Wells has made a name for himself as a producer on many iconic TV shows of the past 20 years ("ER" and "The West Wing" to name but a few). All of his directorial efforts have been, thus far, based on great material and filled with terrific casts - though all of them have been met with tepid responses (both critically and commercially). "Burnt" (originally titled "Adam Jones"), follows the story of Adam Jones, a superstar chef, who following an excessive period of a few years where he was on top of his profession, burned out (made some dubious choices in the process) and had to quietly leave the spotlight, in order to heal. The film follows Adam as he returns to London, and reconnects with some people he wronged, as he tries to create a new team, and reclaim the ever elusive third Michelin star for his pantheon. The process forces him to deal with his past behaviors, make amends, and generally learn about what it means to grow up.
"Burnt" (or "Adam Jones"), features a script by renowned writer Steven Knight (who wrote David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises", Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" and his own "Locke"). Lamentably it's a film that tries very hard to portray Adam as a charismatic and incensed person, who provokes others and yet functions as a charming leader, however, he mostly comes across as a self centered narcissistic who's followed by a bunch of people/characters wanting to be verbally and physically abused. Somehow while building this story, the film-maker forgot that you have to create credible characters, with an inner life, and with a depth of emotion. Making the film around the quest for redemption of a character is nothing new, and this film certainly manages to tick all the cliches in existence - however it's difficult to really get much empathy for Adam, since it feels like he has nothing to lose, and that ultimately he's just a rich, spoiled individual who wants to win since that's always been the case for his ventures. There's a great cast to work with, but Bradley Cooper isn't at his most subtle, playing Adam very one note. The supporting cast ends up being more interesting, particularly Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys and Emma Thompson. The cinematography from Adriano Goldman is beautiful, but this film nevertheless feels very short of its ambitions. Forgettable.