Saturday, August 25, 2018

Elephant

Movie Name: Elephant
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Gus Van Sant continued his idiosyncratic career with one of his most celebrated films, the Palm D’Or Winner “Elephant”, which was preceded by the more commercial feature “Finding Forrester” (2000) and the more experimental “Gerry” (2002). “Elephant” is inspired by the events and occurrences that took place in Columbine, CO, where two teenage students went on a murdering spree, and killed 12 students and one teacher, before ultimately committing suicide. The film follows the events taking place in a high school, focusing on different students, some of whom are suddenly thrust into this dramatic occurrence, where two students come to school with guns, chains and explosives, and start killing people arbitrarily. 
“Elephant” is a film that successfully  marries Gus Van Sant’s aesthetic and point of view, mostly by observing events unfold from multiple perspectives and simultaneously using the camera to capture a poetic tone to the existence of suburbia in America. As usual, he focuses his attention on younger subjects, with the film trailing different students, in order to provide some insight into who they are and what emotional and psychological baggage they are bringing into that school. The film doesn’t try to explain the events, but focuses more on documenting the events, and how a random explosion of violence can appear out of nowhere, when no one is expecting. It’s a film that culminates the perspective and point of view that Van Sant had already tackled in “My Own Private Idaho” and “To Die For”, and to some extent and in a parallel career, the same going for Larry Clark and his films “Kids”, “Bully” and “Ken Park”. These are all views into the lives of young people, how they deal with family lives, friendships and how alienated some of these universes produce disaffected people and interminable problems. It’s an interesting perspective, essentially because Gus Van Sant marries an observational style (almost documentary style), with a poetic tone that is perfectly captured by the late and celebrated cinematographer Harris Savides (with whom Van Sant had worked on “Finding Forrester”, “Gerry” and whom he would work with in the following “Last Days” and a few others until his sad passing in 2012). A fantastic film from a very unique director, always worth watching.

Dirty Pretty Things

Movie Name: Dirty Pretty Things
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Wong, Zlatko Buric
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the well received “High Fidelity”, director Stephen Frears quickly changed gears again, this time around partnering with writer/director Steven Knight, for what turned out one of the greatly reviewed films of the year, “Dirty Pretty Things”. The film follows the story of Okwe, a Nigerian physician, currently working multiple jobs in London, since he is an illegal immigrant. Okwe works as a hotel receptionist, and also practices some medicine, in order to make ends meet. The hotel where he works is a center for all sorts of under the radar activities, most of them under the tutelage of Okwe’s manager, Juan. On a particular occasion Okwe discovers a human heart blocking a toilet in a recently vacated room, and he slowly uncovers a sinister trafficking behind the fa├žade of the peaceful hotel. Stephen Frears is a reference name in the British film industry since he shot to prominence in the 80s with the celebrated “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Prick Up Your Ears”, which he quickly followed with the acclaimed “Dangerous Liaisons”. Since then he has had his fair share of successes and misfires, “The Queen” and “Mary Reilly” respectively, but “Dirty Pretty Things” ranks as one of his best reviewed films. The film recaptures the grittiness of his earlier work, showcasing the not so pleasant reality that lies behind the glitz and glamour of London life. The trails and tribulations of migrant workers, and the criminal underworld, are represented without glamour, instead opting for somewhat direct approach to the proceedings. The film also benefits from a phenomenal cast, from the always great Chiwetel Ejiofor, to the underrated Audrey Tautou, the menacing (and credible) Sergi Lopez and the always reliable and talented Sophie Okonedo. It’s a film anchored in the traditional British realism approach, featuring the always beautiful cinematography from Chris Menges, and the score from Nathan Larson. A very good film worth watching.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hot Shots

Movie Name: Hot Shots
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Jim Abrahams
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Cary Elwes, Valeria Golino, Lloyd Bridges, Jon Cryer, Kevin Dunn, William O'Leary, Bill Irwin, Bruce A. Young, Heidi Swedberg, Kristy Swanson
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Director Jim Abrahams made a name for himself as part of the directorial group, where he worked in tandem with Jerry and David Zucker (the ZAZ acronym). This group was responsible for the classics "Airplane", "Top Secret" and "Police Squad"/"Naked Gun". By the early 90s Jim Abrahams had also ventured as a standalone director, with the films "Big Business" and "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael". "Hot Shots" was a return to his spoof and more slapstick roots, focusing this time around in poking fun at the machismo of Tony Scott's successful "Top Gun". The film follows the story of Topper Harley, a young hotshot pilot, who has been suspended from the army's pilot program following some reckless behavior. With a new captain in place, Topper is recruited back, in order to test a new program being established, all the while battling his family issues, mostly derived from the unfortunate accident that ended his father's career, himself a pilot. In order to assist him with this journey, is the beautiful therapist, Ramada Thompson, who has been involved with one of Topper's rivals. As they go through the events leading to the main exercise, strange occurrences pop up, leading all of them to the suspicion that something else may be going on.
"Hot Shots" drinks heavily from the same fountain which made "Airplane" such an irreverent and funny film. The film pokes holes at the whole young macho mythology behind "Top Gun", while using different lines of the screenplay to also stage the hilarious nonsense that has always dominated the ZAZ films. Even if the film doesn't hit all the spots that "Airplane" managed to successfully put in place, it's still a film filled with hilarious moments, from the spoof of Adrian Lynne's "9 1/2 Weeks" to Steve Kloves' "The Fabulous Baker Boys". The cast is uniformly game for all the events taking place, from Charlie Sheen, Cary Elwes, Valeria Golino and the always fantastic Lloyd Bridges. A fun film worth revisiting.

Alien vs. Predator

Movie Name: Alien vs. Predator
Year of Release: 2004
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremmer, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan, Joseph Rye, Agathe de La Boulaye, Carsten Norgaard, Sam Troughton, Kieran Bew
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After the cold reception experienced by Jean Pierre Jeunet's "Alien Resurrection", the studio behind the franchise, decided to tackle an adaption of the comic book that had been created in 1989, that married two of the studio's properties: the Alien creature and the Predator. Director Paul W. S. Anderson, then coming off the success of "Resident Evil" was chosen to direct and write the screenplay for the feature. The film follows the events of an expedition in the Arctic, under the funding of Charles Weyland, the CEO of  the Weyland Utani company. This expedition aims to discover the origins of a pyramid buried in the ice. Unbeknownst to the the group, the pyramid is indeed ancient, but it is used as a stage for the Predator creatures to lure humans to be used as hosts for the Alien creatures, so they can go through a battle, which functions as a rite of passage for their young warriors. The group of humans going through the expedition soon realize the events taking place, and try to escape both menaces.
Paul W. S. Anderson's approach is one where his technical dexterity, sadly does not marry adequately with the stories and screenplays he creates. "Alien vs. Predator" is no exception: the group of characters is quickly forgettable, in detriment of the real allure, which comes in the shape of the Alien and Predator creatures. Unlike the films of Ridley Scott, James Cameron or David Fincher, the creatures are quickly presented and showcased, leaving little to the imagination. It removes a lot of the finesse that always dominated the series - the ever evolving game of shadows, of hide and seek, of suggesting more than gratuitously showing the monster, is not on display here. The human component is mostly fodder for the creature counterparts, both of which go on a game of non stop destruction. It's a film that tries to drink from its iconic progenitors, but is sadly devoid of the refinement, concept and ultimately execution of those films. The cast is quickly forgotten, even the reliable Lance Henriksen and the talented Ewen Bremmer. A missed opportunity.

Death Becomes Her

Movie Name: Death Becomes Her
Year of Release: 1992
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Ogilvy, Adam Storke, Michelle Johnson, Sydney Pollack, Mary Ellen Trainor, Nancy Fish
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
After finishing the "Back to the Future" trilogy, director Robert Zemeckis tackled a very different type of comedy, this time around a dark comedy around the concept of eternal life. The film follows the story of three main characters, Madeline Ashton, a fading actress trying to recapture her fame, a childhood friend of hers, the meek Helen Sharp, and her fiancee, the plastic surgeon Ernest Menville. Madeline manages to scoop and marry Ernest, much to the despair of Helen. After years of estrangement, Helen re-surfaces, and looks stunning, while Madeline has progressively gotten older (and her marriage to Ernest has virtually disintegrated). Madeline in her pursuit of beauty, discovers a serum, provided by the enigmatic Lisle. She claims that her serum will keep her forever young. What she discovers, as well as Ernest, is that the potion hides some extra secrets that none of them were expecting.
"Death Becomes Her" is indeed a minor film in the rich career of Robert Zemeckis, but it is a satire filled with hilarious moments, featuring a campy turn from the always phenomenal Meryl Streep. Zemeckis has built a career based on mixing smart concepts with a polished and impeccable technical execution, which makes his films always engaging. "Death Becomes Her" is a satire focused on the myth of eternal youth, particularly in Hollywood, where plastic surgery is a regular commodity. However the film manages to make that satire particularly biting, by placing these youth-seeking characters as zombie-like creatures. It's a light film, without much dimension to the characters, other than the surreal premise. But it does feature some impeccable set pieces, including a great opening musical with the fantastic Meryl Streep, and some impressive visual effects, which earned the film the respective Oscar in 1992. A funny, yet quickly forgotten film from a very talented film maker.

Breakfast on Pluto

Movie Name: Breakfast on Pluto
Year of Release: 2005
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Ruth Negga, Gavin Friday, Bryan Ferry, Dominic Cooper, Steven Waddington, Ian Hart, Eamonn Owens, Laurence Kinlan
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis:
Following his well received features "The End of the Affair" and "The Good Thief", celebrated director Neil Jordan returned with another fantastic feature. "Breakfast on Pluto" is an adaptation of the novel by Patrick McCabe (whose book "The Butcher Boy", Neil Jordan also adapted in 1997 with great results), and follows the story of Patrick Braden, who goes by the name of Kitten. Patrick is abandoned by his birth parents, and raised by a small family who can't understand his real nature and identity - Kitten. Patrick makes good friends in the small Irish town where he grows, but the older he gets he realizes he is a woman in a man's body, and most of all, he longs to see and know his mom, who left him and moved to London. Kitten, with his outgoing personality and flair, quickly gets involved in multiple adventures, including ones that involve the IRA, but eventually does find himself in London. His pursuit of his mom's whereabouts intensifies even further, particularly when the priest from his old town, tracks him down and gives him precious information.
Neil Jordan is a unique talent, in the sense that his best films, reveal a sensibility that is touched both by his lyricism but also by understanding his roots (he's originally from Ireland). His work is also very much a direct reflection of his parallel work as a novelist. There's a flair for the fantastic and surreal that comes across in his films, which makes his entire film making history very rich and diversified (for instance, from the classic "The Company of Wolves" to the fantastic "The Crying Game"). "Breakfast on Pluto" manages to marry a lot of these interesting traits, in the sense that it contains the fantastical elements, while simultaneously rooting the film events in the troublesome occurrences that took place in Ireland and London during the 70s. It's a film that drops the audience in the middle of these events, with the charismatic Cillian Murphy carrying the film as the effervescent Kitten. The cast is uniformly great, from Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Rea, Ruth Negga and Gavin Friday, all of them making this fantastical story both humane, fun and captivating. Even if the fantastical elements at times feel needless, it's still a film that functions on its own terms, and one that manages to define a unique time frame, and populate it with credible and humane characters. A very good film from a very interesting director.