Saturday, July 13, 2019

Wine Country

Movie Name: Wine Country
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Amy Poehler
Starring: Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey, Jason Schwartzman, Tina Fey, Jay Larson, Cherry Jones, Craig Cackowski, Greg Poehler
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
"Wine Country" is yet another Netflix exclusive release, this one in particular, having the privilege of being acclaimed actress/writer Amy Poehler's directorial debut. The film follows the story of a group of friends, all of whom get together in Napa to celebrate one of their birthdays. The person in particular, Rebecca, is about to turn 50. Abby who has arranged and organized the whole trip, secretly has lost her job, and every single one of the friends on the trip are going through some sort of self questioning in their own lives. As their trip progresses and they come face to face with a series of unexpected events/occurrences, what becomes more and more apparent is the friendship and love tying all these women together, something that has lasted since their younger adulthood, and has survived their hectic and filled lives. 
"Wine Country" is a film that functions as a rehash of Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill", but without the death of a friend being the catalyst that brings a group of close friends together. Instead, these women, come together to celebrate a milestone anniversary, while secretly each one of them is pondering decisions, dealing with insecurities and generally trying to figure out what path lies ahead in their lives. It's a film that lives mostly and primarily from the quality of the cast assembled, particularly with the presence of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, all from SNL, and acclaimed actresses in their own right. They all share and have a familiarity and rapport between themselves, something which allows the film to feel breezy and effortless, but the script doesn't provide enough nuance to really bring these characters to life (each of their lives are pretty much summarized in quick cliches, and the main characters themselves, really required some further investment to be fully illustrated and realized). As is, the film is a funny sketch, with a really talented group of performers, all of whom have an opportunity to have fun, but it's also quickly forgettable and rather generic. Here's hoping the next directorial output from Amy Poehler has more of her incredible personality and talent. 

Kafka

Movie Name: Kafka
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Joel Grey, Jeroen Krabbe, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Alec Guiness, Brian Glover, Keith Allen, Simon McBurney, Robert Flemyng
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
Following his auspicious debut with the fantastic "sex, lies and videotape", director Steven Soderbergh tackled a decidedly different material, working from a script from Lem Dobbs, whom he'd work with again on "The Limey" and "Haywire". "Kafka" though not a traditional biopic, is centered on the famed author, known for "The Trial", "The Castle" and "The Metamorphosis", to name but a few. The film introduces us to Kafka, an insurance clerk, who is also an unpublished author, living in a city which appears to be Prague, in 1919. When one of his co-workers is murdered, he starts investigating the occurrence, and finds himself tangled with an underground group, responsible for bombings around town. The goal of this group is to damage the control that a secret organization has over major events taking place in society. The root of all this control seems to lie in the castle which looms over the city, where Kafka goes, in order to understand the full scope of these occurrences. 
"Kafka" is a film that has been relegated to cult status. Upon its release, it largely flew under the radar, and unfairly so, since it's a film that takes the mantle of Franz Kafka's career, and makes it a suspenseful and claustrophobic thriller/mystery. The film is a mix of a quasi-biopic with a mystery, showcasing the influences from several of the author's books, creating in the process an interesting narrative. The invisible and oppressive authority, the conspiracy that is never clarified, the absurdity of situations, all of those are topics present in the author's work, that permeate the film. Unlike his previous film though, this one does not depict the characters as fully dimensional, but Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell and Ian Holm, all manage to create interesting and captivating identities for themselves in this darkly lit mystery. It's a film that entertains and showcases the point of view of a great director, who at the time was still finding his path. The cinematography from Walt Lloyd is fantastic, as is the score from Cliff Martinez. An underrated gem from a great director.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Movie Name: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Nicolas Cage, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kathryn Hahn, Kimiko Glenn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Natalie Morales, Oscar Isaac, Greta Lee, Jorma Taccone, Lake Bell, Joaquin Cosio, Edwin H. Bravo
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis and Review:
Continuing the expansion of the "Spider-Man" universe and mythology, Sony Pictures released the entertaining and stunning "Into the Spider-Verse", which featured a story from writer/director Phil Lord (who alongside Christopher Miller has been responsible for "The Lego Movie" and the "21 Jump Street" films, among many others). The film, with three credited directors (two of which, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman are first time feature film directors, while Peter Ramsey, this is his sophomore effort), follows the story of young Miles Morales, a high school student who has been enrolled in a private school, much against his will. His father, a police officer, wants to succeed, and set aside his art vocation and leaning, which Miles loves dearly. While out with his uncle, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, and becomes a "Spider-Man", very much like Peter Parker, who already wears the suit in New York City. When Peter (and Miles) try to defraud a risky and dangerous plan from the Kingpin, Peter is killed in the process, but unbeknownst to them, what the Kingpin put in place, opens a ripple effect in multiple dimensions, one that brings multiple Spider powerful beings to Miles' New York. They collectively have to battle the Kingpin and his cronies, and each of the Spider powered beings return to their realities, before they die.
"Into the Spider-Verse" is a dynamic and stunning animated feature. The film starts with the premise of a well known story, the origin of Spider-Man, but quickly shifts into Miles' awakening and understanding of what being a Spider-Man truly entails and requires. It's a film about responsibility, being empowered to follow one's dreams, but also understanding that every action has a consequence, and that pursuing one's dreams requires sacrifice, struggle and overcoming pain. Also it ultimately is a film with a powerful lesson about relying on friends, and understanding the power of acceptance and love. If the topics of the story are somewhat familiar, specifically the tone of the film, which mixes heart, humor and action in perfect balance, the animation itself is truly wonderful to behold. The film is aesthetically beautiful with a saturation of colors that is truly bewildering, featuring shots and frames that are quite stunning. It's a stylistic delight, one that demands multiple views.
The voice cast is uniformly impeccable, with Liev Schreiber bringing his intensity to the Kingpin character, where the versatile Kathryn Hahn, is as usual, fantastic playing the villainous Doc Ock. A very good film worth watching!

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Movie Name: Spider-Man: Far from Home
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cobie Smulders, Zendaya, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, Remy Hill, Martin Starr, J.B. Smoove, Peter Billingsley, Toni Garrn, J.K. Simmons, Michael de Roos
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
In what appears to be the omnipresence of Marvel at every turn (and almost every month), director Jon Watts returns with a sequel to the 2017 "Spider-Man" feature, which rebooted the uneven franchise (which has had three versions thus far, starting with Sam Raimi's, followed by Marc Webb's and the current one under the tutelage of Jon Watts). The film takes place after the events that took place in the last "Avengers" film ("Endgame"), which has seen everyone brought back to life after the collective demise brought on by Thanos. Peter looking to get back to his every day life, has the opportunity to go with his class to Venice and Paris. He hopes the getaway will allow him the opportunity to share with Mary Jane a special moment, finally letting her know his feelings. His plans are derailed when these powerful entities start popping out of nowhere and wreaking havoc everywhere they go. They go by the name of Elementals, and Peter is caught in a dicey situation in Venice, but much to his surprise, an unexpected ally by the name of Mysterio pops up. Peter who has questioned his Iron Man legacy, and what he has been left behind with, decides to trust this person, and grant him access to the technological legacy from Tony Stark. But people aren't always what they seem, and Peter learns it the hard way.
Jon Watts has quickly and deftly learnt how to handle big budgets and large canvas storytelling, since this latest iteration of Spider-Man is a surprisingly limber and enjoyable film, even more so than the first one. The film manages to have the right amount of teenage angst and relationship development, combined with the more typical super hero action set pieces, which are quite impressive in this case. The film also benefits from the fact that the cast is uniformly completely at ease in this environment and inhabit these roles with a sense of ease and relaxation, which makes the film more enjoyable and definitely less contrived. It's a film that also wears its heart proudly, deals with the aftermath of loss, all the while showcasing thinly veiled nods to the spirit of John Hughes (the European vacation, the high school rivalries). If the whole cast is uniformly good, high marks should be given to Jake Gyllenhaal, who once again proves just how interesting of an actor he has become, with his character going through a very interesting and nuanced transition. The cinematography from Matthew J. Lloyd is solid, as is the score from Michael Giacchino. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

JFK

Movie Name: JFK
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, Jay O. Sanders, Kevin Bacon, Joe Pesci, Sally Kirkland, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Laurie Metcalfe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, Gary Grubbs, Walter Matthau, Pruitt Taylor Vince, John Candy, Jo Anderson, Dale Dye, Martin Sheen, Brian Doyle-Murray, Beata Pozniak, Ron Jackson
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The same year he released "The Doors", director Oliver Stone came out with the powerful "JFK". The film is an adaptation of the book by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs, and it follows the story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, whose life (and everyone else's) is altered with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. In the aftermath of that dramatic event, and following the assassination of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald, Garrison starts investigating what lies behind those occurrences. Garrison and his team start collecting evidence and different sources of information, which start defining a massive conspiracy to bring about the events that took place. 
"JFK" at the time of its release was surrounded in controversy, for the theories that it demonstrated and for the way that Oliver Stone showcased his thoughts on that subject matter. Conspiracy theories aside, what is left is a taut thriller, one that amasses a variety of narrative threads, into a courtroom drama that is filled with twists and turns, all directed with a stylistic virtuosity, that has rarely been that well executed (and that the director has never been able to replicate ever since). The central narrative, anchored on Jim Garrison's journey is somewhat stunted (he comes across as a Frank Capra hero, with his long suffering wife by his side). We never really understand or know much about this character, but Kevin Costner manages to imbue him with a purity and idealism that is reminiscent of James Stewart. The supporting cast is extensive and impressive, with Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon and Joe Pesci creating memorable characters. The cinematography from Robert Richardson is phenomenal as is the score from John Williams. A fantastic film worth watching.

Annabelle Comes Home

Movie Name: Annabelle Comes Home
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Gary Dauberman
Starring: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Michael Cimino, Samara Lee, Sade Katarina, Steve Coulter, Natalia Safran
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
The prolific "Conjuring" universe continues its expansion, this time around with another chapter in the "Annabelle" doll story. The film is the feature directorial debut for writer Gary Dauberman, who has written all the entries in the series thus far (on top of being responsible for the screenplays for "It" and "The Nun"). The film takes place in the 1970s, after Ed and Lorraine Warren take possession of the Annabelle doll and bring her to their home, in order to safely guard her in a controlled environment. While investigating a case, Ed and Lorraine have to leave town and leave their young daughter Judy with the sweet and responsible babysitter, Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen's best friend, the strong willed and emotionally bruised Daniela, decides to come to the Warren's home, since she has read about them, and personally wants to make contact with her recently deceased father. Against Judy's recommendations, she goes through the house, discovers Ed's keys, and accesses the room where all demonic artifacts are kept. What they collectively start experiencing defies logic and what is unleashed threatens their very existence.
Most of the "Conjuring" cinematic experience has been defined by films that are anchored on the definition of environments and the suggestion of horror. James Wan's "The Conjuring" is a lesson in economy of narrative, inventive stylistic choices, and character development that though taut and succinct, still allows for characters to be engaging and dimensional. "Annabelle Comes Home" takes its time for the events to start unfolding, which allows for the characters and their relationships to be shaped. Sadly, the characters are very much like clichés, and don't have that much to define them, which renders their relationships somewhat shallow. The director finds a way to balance this with a strong definition of a menacing atmosphere that becomes more oppressive as the film advances. There's tangents to what Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg created with "Poltergeist", though this film discards the family angle, focusing more on the abilities and uniqueness of Judy, the central character who is convincingly portrayed by McKenna Grace. The supporting cast is equally strong, particularly when the fantastic Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are around. The cinematography from Michael Burgess is impeccable, as is the score from Joseph Bishara. Worth watching.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Movie Name: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O'Neill, Ali Wong, Taraji P. Henson, Timothy Simons, Rich Moore, Dianna Agron, Brad Garrett, Nicole Scherzinger
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
After the success of "Wreck it Ralph" in 2012, writer/director Rich Moore, with Phil Johnston by his side, brought back the sequel to the adventures of Ralph and Vanellope. The film takes place 6 years after the original, with life in the arcade being quite tranquil, until Ralph decides to throw a wrench on Vanellope's game, "Sugar Rush". The outcome of that forces them both to venture into the internet, where they have to seek out e-bay, in order to get Vanellope's game back to work. However in the process of doing so, they end up being exposed to different online games, which allows Vanellope to see the world beyond Sugar Rush, something she always dreamed of. This in turn saddens Ralph, who yearns for things to stay the way they always have been. In a clumsy attempt to keep Vanellope to himself, he deploys a virus on the internet, threatening its very existence.
If "Wreck it Ralph" was a take on nostalgia underlying video games of the past and how unlikely friendships are established, this sequel takes that step a bit further, focusing the narrative on personal growth, and the fears that come with change. It's a film that is cleverly written, underlying the message of empowering and supporting your friends and their dreams, even if that means seeing less of them: the cost of altruism and real friendship. It's a film that is populated with humor, references to modern technology, the silliness and darkness that lies within that universe, all of this wrapped up in referential humor to Disney itself and the characters that have existed in these narratives/stories. The film is stunningly well animated and is aesthetically impeccable (even if a bit over saturated), also featuring a talented array of actors providing the crucial voice work. John C. Reilly is great as usual, but he gets great support from the always hilarious Sarah Silverman. A good film worth watching and savoring. 

Anna

Movie Name: Anna
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Sasha Luss, Luke Evans, Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova, Nikita Pavlenko, Anna Krippa, Eric Godon, Andrew Howard, 
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Luc Besson is back with another action/thriller feature, something he has been producing for the past two decades through his EuropaCorp studio (where he has produced the "Taken" and "Transporter" franchises, to name but a few). "Anna" follows the story of young Russian woman in the 90s, who after losing her parents and an early adulthood filled with bad boyfriends/relationships, is given a chance to get a job as a spy. She's trained and is immediately put through a tough assignment where she is tasked with killing a highly protected target. Following her successful endeavor, she's immediately tasked with more missions which take her to Paris, where modeling is her cover up. As her missions get more dangerous, the more anxious she becomes to break away from that life and go on her own way. However her Russian handlers have other plans, something that comes to a halt, when their American counterparts get involved, and offer Anna a different deal. It's up to her to handle both parts and figure out a way to get out of that deadly world.
It's inevitable that "Anna" draws comparisons with the classic "Nikita", which further cemented Luc Besson's career back in 1990 (and which was remade in the US by John Badham under the title "Point of No Return"). They both have strong female leads, women thrust into positions where they have to make the best of their training, intelligence and whatever else resource they have, in order to escape dicey, and potentially lethal situations. "Anna" unlike "Nikita", feels like a very distant and poor cousin of that film. None of the characters have any depth, nuance or much of a personality, including the always excellent Hellen Mirren, who can't do much with her "handler" character (who looks very much like the Jeanne Moreau/Anne Bancroft characters from "Nikita"/"Point of No Return"). The time jumps and the structure of the film itself is one of the few things that avoids making this endeavor fall into a profound repetitiveness. The film also borrows quite heavily from David Leitch's "Atomic Blonde", including the choreographed fight scenes and the romantic entanglements/attachments of the central character. The film falters on the originality of the script, but even more so on the central casting of Sasha Luss as Anna. She's terribly cast, and is half awake throughout most of the film, has no chemistry with any of the cast members and generally feels like she's completely oblivious to everything taking place (unlike Charlize Theron, who made "Atomic Blonde"'s Lorraine feel like a lethal and tired agent in an deadly/unfriendly locale). The main cast is somewhat lost, with Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy having little to do, but the cinematography from Thierry Arbogast is excellent as always. This is by far a minor effort from an interesting director. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hot Shots!

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

Synopsis and Review:
Jim Abrahams has always been associated with the Zucker brothers, with the group collectively known as ZAZ. They have of course been responsible for the classics "Airplane!", "Police Squad" and "The Naked Gun". "Hot Shots!" is Abrahams first foray in solo mode into the type of comedy the group collectively and successfully help shape. The film follows the story of Topper Harley, a young pilot who has left the military following a very expensive accident. He's recruited back for a special assignment, though unknown to him and his unit, there are other interests at hand. In order to make sure he's in conditions to fly, the military has a solid medical stuff, including the beautiful therapist, Ramada Thompson, to whom Topper is immediately drawn to. As Topper gets familiar with the mission, he has to win the trust of his team, something that is strained due to family bad blood with Kent Gregory, another one of the top pilots. It will take all his smarts and resourcefulness to uncover the plot and get the woman of his dreams.
"Hot Shots!" is of course a well played satire to Tony Scott's "Top Gun" and all the films that were released around that time, which followed very similar plot points. These plot points invariably had a young rebellious lead coming to terms with a family legacy, falling in love with a beautiful woman, and traumatically losing a friend, forcing him to redeem himself and save the day. All these clichés are subverted and deconstructed by Jim Abrahams and his co-writer Pat Proft. They put Charlie Sheen and the entire cast through a series of hilarious set pieces, with numerous film quotes and parodies including Adrian Lyne's "9 1/2 Weeks", Richard Donner's "Superman", Steve Kloves' "The Fabulous Baker Boys", and the list goes on. It's a type of comedy that was perfected on "Airplane!", and that to a certain extent, still works its wonders here. It doesn't have the sense of novelty that classic film has, but it's nonetheless a very funny and entertaining comedy, with a cast that is more than up for the game. Worth watching.

Hook

Movie Name: Hook
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall, Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott, Laurel Cronin, Phil Collins, Arthur Malet, Dante Basco, Jasen Fisher, Isaiah Robinson, Raushan Hammond
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following his prolific year of 1989, where director Steven Spielberg released two films, the underrated "Always" and "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade", the director started the 90s with an ambitious project. The film is an adaptation of the books and play by J.M. Barrie, and focuses on the story of Peter Pan. The story introduces us to an adult Peter, a successful attorney in San Francisco, married and with two children. Peter has no recollection of being Peter Pan, and is also a bit of a workaholic, neglecting his children and family to a large extent. When they go back to the UK to visit his wife's grandmother, an unexpected adventure begins. Peter's children are kidnapped by his old nemesis, Hook, forcing Peter with the help of Tinkerbell, to go back to Neverland. While there he has to get reacquainted with his tribe, find his inner magic and happy memories, or face losing his children and his own self.
"Hook" and all the adaptations of the works from J.M. Barrie continue to fascinate directors and film makers (the first adaptation is dated 1924 and the most recent is dated 2015). The fantastic Steven Spielberg seemed like a perfect fit to tackle this material, something that the Disney Studios also did in 1953 and which still retain its impact and quality. This adaptation, finds Peter as an adult, having lost his magic and his connection to family, topics that have always been dear to Spielberg's work. The film is in many ways a story of someone recapturing his sense of self, but also his integrity, and opening his eyes to the wonders of life. There's a certain Frank Capra tone to the film that is quite endearing. The film is beautifully rendered thanks to solid visual effects and production design (by Norman Garwood), not to mention the warm cinematography from Dean Cundey. The considerable cast assembled is a mix bag, with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams making for compelling and watchable presences, while Julia Roberts is mostly forgettable, in a role that requires her to do very little. Maggie Smith as usual steals all the scenes she's in and the late Bob Hoskins, has also very little to do. It's an ambitious film from a fantastic storyteller, that though not entirely successful, still manages to be entertaining and gorgeously executed. Worth watching.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Dark Phoenix

Movie Name: Dark Phoenix
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh, Halston Sage, Lamar Johnson
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
After the disappointing results from "X-Men: Apocalypse", writer/producer, and first time director, Simon Kinberg, has taken the directorial duties away from the perennial Bryan Singer. The film follows the events from the previous film and finds the mutants experiencing a welcoming status everywhere, including a direct access to the President of the US. They're called on an emergency surrounding a space shuttle that is in dire need of assistance. When they reach their destination, they are able to save the crew, but at the expense of Jean Grey being exposed to some entity who seems to envelop her. As the team makes their return, Jean seems fine, but starts experiencing some outbursts of power, which mixed with her fears of hurting someone, drive her away. As the team tries to help and bring her back, Jean resists with dramatic results, forcing the re-emergence of Magneto, who has since retired. Suddenly on Jean's trail is also an alien species under the guise of seemingly harmless humans.
The issues behind the shooting and the ever changing release dates of this film have been widely reported, however all matters considered, it's still a fairly entertaining film, though deeply flawed in a variety of manners. The Phoenix saga, which hailed from the collective minds of Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, was a lengthy one, and the film takes a considerable departure from it. Simon Kinberg somehow eschews some of the events from "X-Men: Apocalypse", and introduces the team now under the tutelage of Mystique, going on their adventures, while a considerable amount of internal turmoil is brewing, particularly when it comes to Charles Xavier's leadership. The film is successful at establishing these relationships, and the actors are comfortable in their roles (even if a bit complacent), however as the storyline develops, and the pursuit for Jean begins, there's never a sense of urgency that is created, or despair to rescue her from herself and the harm she has inflicted and can potentially inflict. Some characters are also quickly forgotten, while the villain is terribly under-defined, with the talented Jessica Chastain not faring particularly well with that particular role (the robotic, emotionless stares and line deliveries don't really work in this case). What is left is the rapport between the actors who have inhabited these roles since 2011, and they alongside some impressive visual effects, make this film worth watching (even if immediately forgettable). The cinematography from Mauro Fiore is impeccable, as is the score from Hans Zimmer.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Paddington

Movie Name: Paddington
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Paul King
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, Nicole Kidman, Matt Lucas, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Peter Capaldi, Jim Broadbent, Kayvan Novak
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Paul King made a name for himself, directing some great British tv comedies, such as "Come Fly with Me". "Paddington" is his second feature film, and is of course an adaptation of the story of the iconic Paddington bear, who was created by author Michael Bond in 1958. The story follows Paddington as he comes from Peru to England, in the hopes of knowing more about the country. His aunt and uncle, both met an English explorer who told them all about London and the affable nature of people there. Following the death of his uncle, and the retirement of his aunt, Paddington is encouraged to come to London and find solace there. Paddington however, finds himself in a train station, lost and with no sense of where to go, that is until Mary Brown discovers him, and decides to bring him home, against her husband's agreement. Mary decides upon the name Paddington, since that's where the young bear has been found. As Paddington tries to locate the explorer who was so kind and friendly to his family, he also becomes a target for Millicent Clyde, a taxidermist working for the Natural History Museum. He has to look for the explorer with the help of the Brown family, in the hopes of finding a new place to live.
"Paddington" is the rare children's film that manages to be comedic without relying on pop culture references or catchy tunes from soon to be forgotten pop mavens. It's a film that is heartwarming, cleverly written and acted, which relies on the combination of heart and physical comedy, that harks back to some of the stunts performed by Buster Keaton for instance. The lovely and sweet bear learns all about the sweetness of the Brown family, who take him in, though initially he is expecting the worse, as he knows no one, and most people in London seem oblivious to his presence. The film is impeccably shot, with fantastic visual effects that render the lovely bear in the scenes with the actors, making the interactions feel authentic. The villain of the story, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, though without much to do, is not a risible caricature, but personifies a darkness and malicious intent without being grotesque or in poor taste. It's a film that is economical in the narrative, but made with such attention to detail, such humor and heart, that is difficult no to surrender to its charm. Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Nicole Kidman and the fantastic Ben Whishaw are all impeccable. Worth watching!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Rocketman

Movie Name: Rocketman
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taro Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Charlie Rowe, Tate Donovan, Celinde Schoenmaker, Stephen Graham, Sharon D. Clarke
Genre: Drama, Music
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
Actor/Director Dexter Fletcher has followed his uncredited work on "Bohemian Rhapsody" with another take on an iconic musician, this time around the celebrated Elton John. The film introduces us to John as he's going through a meltdown, and joins rehab (to deal with his issues of alcohol, drugs and sex addiction). As Elton John admits to his problems, he takes us on a tour through his colorful life, starting with his childhood in England, where he had a supportive grandmother nurturing his precocious talent, and indifferent parents, who cared very little about him or his musical talent. As he starts becoming more serious about music, he meets Bernie Taupin, whom he forms a partnership with, with Taupin writing the lyrics and John composing the music. John also comes to terms with the fact that he is gay. As his popularity starts to soar, so do the drinking issues, drug problems and all sorts of other insecurities, which escalate to the point where he tries to commit suicide. As he's riding a wave of adulation, Elton John, escapes to rehab in order to understand his own issues, and decide on how to keep moving on.
"Rocketman", much like "Bohemian Rhapsody", fails to have much of a distinct point of view. Dexter Fletcher instills some moments of magic surrealism, but he fails to let it really soar and become a tale of excess, love and fear of abandonment, that is at its core. It's a film that for all its celebration of music, still feels and reads very much like a Broadway musical on the big screen (which means, it doesn't really use film as the powerful medium that it can be). It lacks a distinct visual language, one that represents properly the times that it depicts, but also the struggles that come with the act of creation (again, the representation of the 70s is diminished to people using drugs and wearing big shoes). Sadly, Fletcher simply illustrate a series of vignettes with some choreography, painting a rough sketch of someone's life, punctuated by lovely tunes, but in the end it all feels artificial, contrived and at points, almost in poor taste (the breakthrough scenes in therapy come to mind). What this film has in spades however, is the talented cast that gives it a considerable edge over "Bohemian Rhapsody". Taron Egerton is simply fantastic, both in his despair, but also eagerness, sweetness and sheer ambition (not to mention his singing prowess). It's a well rounded performance, with Jamie Bell and Richard Madden offering strong support. Sadly the talented Bryce Dallas Howard and Gemma Jones don't have much to do, but they're always welcomed presences. The cinematography from George Richmond is impeccable, as is the production design from Marcus Rowland and his team. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Hard Way

Movie Name: The Hard Way
Year of Release: 1991
Director: John Badham
Starring: Michael J. Fox, James Woods, Annabella Sciorra, Stephen Lang, John Capodice, Luis Guzman, LL Cool J, Penny Marshall, Delroy Lindo, Christina Ricci, George Cheung
Genre: Comedy, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Underrated director John Badham started the 90s with a somewhat lackluster film, "Bird on a Wire", but quickly bounced back with the hilarious "The Hard Way". The film follows the story of Nick Lang, a Hollywood movie star who is desperately trying to change his public persona, and be taken more seriously as an actor. When an edgy role as a police officer/detective comes up, he arranges to be partnered with an actual police officer, the high strung John Moss. Moss is in the midst of trying to solve a case focused on a serial killer by the name of "Party Crasher". Much to his disgust, his boss orders him to show Nick police procedures, something he tries to sabotage at every chance he gets. In the meantime the killer looms closer, and Nick's presence ends up affecting Moss' life more than he anticipated.
Veteran director John Badham has worked steadily since the early 70's, but made a bigger splash towards the end of that decade with the well known "Saturday Night Fever". The 80s were quite busy for him, with such titles as "War Games" and "Stakeout" both of which did quite well commercially and critically. "The Hard Way", written by Lem Dobbs (who usually works with Steven Soderbergh) and Daniel Pyne, manages to mix comedy and action in a way that is both intelligent and exciting. In a way the film is a tamer version of what John McTiernan's "The Last Action Hero" turned out to be, but in this case, we have a very funny Michael J. Fox playing a version of a movie star, trying to be artistic, and essentially gain credibility for his research and "method". James Woods on the other hand, plays the character with his usual trademarks, namely his intensity and machine-gun style of verbal delivery. It makes for a very funny pairing, particularly due to Fox's innocence and enthusiasm. It's a film that though following the formula of many of the action films from the early 90s (such as Tony Scott's "The Last Boy Scout", Renny Harlin's "Die Hard 2" to name but a few), still manages to captivate and entertain much due to the dynamic of the actors, the impeccable timing of the script, and the quality of production (Donald McAlpine's cinematography is always impeccable). The supporting cast doesn't have much to do, but Annabella Sciorra , Penny Marshall and Stephen Lang are always fantastic. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Guilty By Suspicion

Movie Name: Guilty By Suspicion
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Irwin Winkler
Starring: Robert De Niro, Annette Bening, George Wendt, Patricia Wettig, Sam Wanamaker, Luke Edwards, Chris Cooper, Ben Piazza, Martin Scorsese, Tom Sizemore, Gailard Sartain, Robin Gammell, Brad Sullivan
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Irwin Winkler has made a name for himself as a celebrated producer, and typical collaborator of director Martin Scorsese (he produced "New York, New York", "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas" to name but a few). His directorial feature was precisely "Guilty By Suspicion", which came out in 1991, with a script doctored by him, from an original by Abraham Polonsky (the film got selected to the prestigious official selection at the Cannes Film Festival). The film takes place in the 50s and it follows the story of David Merrill, a successful Hollywood director, who after a stint in France directing a new film, returns to the US to find his loyalty being questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His family who has always played a second role in his life, is somewhat alienated from him, but David decides to remain faithful to his principles, and reveal nothing about himself or friends/associates. As his stern conduct remains, he finds himself unable to find work, that is until the prospect of directing a film, provided he testifies in front of congress, wins him over. As he deals with the lines of questioning from the committee, David realizes the effects these situations have had on people he has cherished and is forced to realize what his true priorities are.
"Guilty by Suspicion" is a lesser well known film in Robert De Niro's filmography since it got dwarfed by the immense exposure and success of "Cape Fear", also released in 1991. If that film was a phenomenal exercise in over the top menace and a dramatic physical transformation for the actor, "Guilty by Suspicion" is a much more subdued exercise. It's also a much needed lesson on staying true to one's beliefs, the power of freedom and transcending tyranny. The film manages to be humane, by progressively uncovering David's life, including all that he has compromised in order to be successful. It also showcases how in the end, his family, his friends, the love that permeates across his relationships, is the only real fountain of truth and loyalty. It's a film that sheds light on a dark period of history, but nonetheless a film that tackles and illustrates hard decisions and the consequences that they had in a lot of people's lives (and in many ways, the dramatic fatal ones). It's impeccably staged, featuring a stunning cinematography from the late Michael Ballhaus, and a competent score from James Newton Howard. The supporting cast is uniformly great, with Annette Bening, Patricia Wettig, Chris Cooper and Sam Wanamaker all providing a colorful backdrop to the events. Worth watching.

The Perfection

Movie Name: The Perfection
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman, Milah Thompson, Molly Grace, Graeme Duffy, Mark Kandborg, Winnie Hung
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Another month, another feature released by streaming giant, Netflix. "The Perfection" follows the story of Charlotte, a talented cellist who has had to give up her career in order to care for her mother, who in the meantime has passed away. Charlotte reaches back out to the head of the school, and goes to Shanghai to witness their selection process of a new star pupil. While in Shanghai Charlotte meets the young woman who took her role as star pupil/protege, Lizzie. The two women form a fast friendship, that quickly becomes romantic. The following day they decide to go explore a bit of the area, but Lizzie starts feeling nauseous, which becomes aggravated the further away from the city they are. In parallel with the nausea, Lizzie starts hallucinating, until they get expelled from the bus and something drastic occurs. When we next see Lizzie, we witness the aftermath of those events and the thirst for revenge she has. However she ends up unearthing a lot more than she anticipated when she goes out looking for closure.
Netflix is on a spree to create content and maintain their subscribers interested in their releases. This however means that for every superlative "Roma" that comes along, a lot of less than interesting films seem to also be getting released, which is the case of this "The Perfection" (the ration quality versus quantity, definitely seems to be falling on the latter). Richard Shepard who in the past has directed interesting features such as "The Matador" and "The Hunting Party", limits himself to illustrate in this case a rather pedestrian plot, which almost plays itself as a tv film of dubious quality. This revenge plot is uninspired, and even this committed cast can't save it from the ultimate fact that these characters are barely passable, the situations barely believable and the final twist, less than laughable. In order to make this truly unforgettable, the film needed a stronger narrative, defined characters and an actual sense of dread that never materializes. It's an instantly forgettable endeavor. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Movie Name: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Tobias Segal, Said Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Randall Duk Kim, Margaret Daly, Robin Lord Taylor
Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
The John Wick narrative continues, following the successful previous two installments. This series, which saw a humble beginning in 2014, directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (uncredited), two professionals previously associated with stuntwork, both of whom have successfully carved out a fruitful directorial career, just keeps getting better, more refined and engaging. The film picks up where the last installment left - after killing someone in a sanctuary locale, John Wick is given an hour to escape, since a bounty will be placed on his head. He, alongside his dog, desperately go in search of help, picking up a few items along the way in order to make that happen. Wick manages to get to Casablanca, in the pursuit of an old associate who can get him in touch with people who know how to get in contact with the head of the organization. Wick manages to buy some time, but in order to be granted his life, he has to execute one of his old allies. What lies ahead is a series of more obstacles for him to overcome.
Much of what I stated about the second installment of the series, applies to this film. These films have a distinct B-movie aspect to them, which they wear it on their lapel with much gusto. The characters never have much depth to them, but that has never been the core significance of this series. These films have an ultimate goal of making all the events suitable excuses for very choreographed ballets of death and bullets, administered by the taciturn Keanu Reeves. As the series continues, the budgets have gotten better, and so have the action set pieces, which continue to be exhilarating, even if at times, almost exhaustive in their length. Still, it's a film not to be taken seriously, where there's a gratuitous pleasure in the havoc and mayhem that Keanu Reeves' character creates. It's not as cartoonish as Michael Davis' "Shoot 'Em Up", but also nowhere near as complex as anything that Michael Mann has ever created. The cast is uniformly solid and cynical, with Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane, adding just enough personality and wit to keep the film watchable and fun. The cinematography from Dan Laustsen is impeccable. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Insidious: The Last Key

Movie Name: Insidious: The Last Key
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The Insidious franchise has found its anchor character, not on the Lambert family, which was the focus of the first two films, but instead on psychic Elise Rainier and her two accomplices, Specs and Tucker. These trio of characters was central to "Insidious: Chapter 3" and now to "Insidious: The Last Key". The film takes us to Elise's childhood in New Mexico, and how her powers manifested in her household. At the time, Elise and her younger brother, were living with their parents in a house which was part of the prison establishment of that area, since her father was the ward. Her father was strongly against Elise's "perceptions", and punished her severely, unlike her mom who was always quite supportive. After the passing of her mom, Elise eventually flees her household, due to her father's abuse, leaving her brother behind. After all these years, Elise gets a call from someone asking for help in her hometown, something she initially refuses, until she realizes the person is living in her former childhood home. She decides to go back with her team, to solve those hauntings, and finally address her own childhood demons that still populate her nightmares.
Actor/Writer/Producer/Director Leigh Whannell, has continued to expand the "Insidious" franchise, with a flurry of stories stemming from the cases investigated by Elise Rainier. Whannell of course made his name by creating the "Saw" franchise, but "Insidious" is a close second in terms of reach and popularity. The films are low budget and always manage to provide substantial returns, which always validates their return. The narrative arc however is starting to lose momentum, and this fourth film is a testament to the fact that the freshness and originality of the first film, is now starting to give way to a formula that is not very rewarding. As we get to witness the humble beginnings of Elise, we never really know much about who she actually is, aside from her gifts, and how she uses them. Whannell seems to forget that in order for the scares to be effective, the characters that are haunted have to have some dimension to them (the same going for the supporting characters). The strangeness of the creatures that populates this universe is still interesting, but it's now borderline devoid of any relevance, since the narratives in which they exist, are so threadbare. Director Adam Robitel mostly illustrates and keeps the cadence of what James Wan brought forth in the first installments, without much originality or distinctiveness. Lin Shaye and Bruce Davison manage to keep the film watchable, but as these progress the reason to pay attention is dwindling. 

Insidious: Chapter 2

Movie Name: Insidious: Chapter 2
Year of Release: 2013
Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Steve Coulter, Ty Simpkins, Angus Sampson, Danielle Bisutti, Tyler Griffin, Lindsay Seim, Hank Harris, Andrew Astor, Garrett Ryan
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
James Wan followed the surprise success of "Insidious" with two releases in 2013, one being a natural succession to the first "Insidious", while the other was the even more successful "The Conjuring" (which would in turn launch an equally very successful horror universe with plenty films for Warner Bros.). "Insidious: Chapter 2" starts right after the events of the first film. Josh Lambert is back, or so it seems, as is Dalton, but in the process Elise Rainier, the gifted psychic was killed. Josh, now possessed by the entity who has always haunted him, killed Elise, and is intent in wreaking havoc in his own family. As the ghosts keep showing up in their household, and Renai gets more and more freaked out, Lorraine (Josh's mother) alongside the help of Specs and Tucker (Elise's former associates), have to figure who is the entity possessing Josh, and how to help him come back.
What was so remarkably interesting about the first "Insidious" was the fact that Leigh Whannell and James Wan, managed to create an environment so macabre and suspenseful, with very little flash, but very effectively, by largely playing with shadows, and the notion of an other post life existence. What  made the first film so compelling was precisely the fact that the mystique of the characters was left unchallenged. The film had some touching points with what Steven Spielberg did with "Poltergeist" - the nuclear family being threatened in their household by something out of their control, and how through resilience, unity, they managed to battle those forces. The sequel tries to extend that formula, but this time around tries to explain the existence of the creature inhabiting Josh, and to a certain extent, the universe where they exist. Sadly, even if the tone is very similar to the first film, the freshness and innovation in storytelling factors are more subdued, and what is left is an attempt to replicate/continue the first film. However the details are not quite as strong (such as Josh's attempts at killing the family), and what was originally an unseen menace, becomes something quite different. There are definitely strong elements inherited from the first film, and James Wan is a gifted storyteller, but the film could have benefitted from a more refined script. The cast is uniformly good, particularly Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye, who always manage to bring gravitas to the proceedings. A minor film, still interesting to watch from an eclectic director. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fried Green Tomatoes

Movie Name: Fried Green Tomatoes
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Jon Avnet
Starring: Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Louise Parker, Cicely Tyson, Chris O'Donnell, Stan Shaw, Gailard Sartain, Timothy Scott, Gary Basaraba, Lois Smith, Jo Harvey Allen, Richard Riehle, Raynor Scheine, Nick Searcy
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following a prolific producing career which started in the 70s, Jon Avnet ventured into feature directorial territory with "Fried Green Tomatoes" (following a few directorial credits in TV). The film is an adaptation of the book by Fannie Flagg, and focuses on the lives of women in two very distinct timelines. In the 1980s, the film focuses on the story of Evelyn Couch, a somewhat timid housewife, who feels somewhat adrift, and who meets an older lady in a nursing home in Anderson, Alabama. The two strike a friendship, and Ninny Threadgoode (the older lady), starts narrating stories of her hometown, Whistle Stop, in particular the story surrounding Idgie Threadgoode. This story takes place in Alabama, in the 30s/40s, and details the growing pains of Idgie as she loses her older brother, and the relationship she forms with her former sister in law, who becomes her dearest friend. When Ruth is forced into an abusive marriage, Idgie shows up to save her, alongside the help of her staff. Ruth is pregnant, delivers a young boy, and she and Idgie start a cafe, well known for their barbecue. Sadly Ruth's sadistic husband, shows up to get her child, but is unable to do so, and eventually shows up dead, getting Idgie and her friends in trouble. Ninny continues to narrate these stories to Evelyn, including the outcome of these dramatic events, and they slowly have an impact on Evelyn's own life, who progressively finds her own voice.
"Fried Green Tomatoes" is a well executed film that primarily lives from the fantastic cast that Jon Avnet assembled. The characters, particularly the ones portrayed by Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker, are the ones with the lion share of the story, though it's interesting to see the arc given to Kathy Bates' character. Her progression from mousy housewife, to a woman with ambition, though not dramatically enacted, is still rewarding, mostly due to the fantastic performance from Kathy Bates. It's a somewhat placid film, that does play like a higher caliber tv film, but one that does lack a more distinct point of view, and a director with the willingness to tackle some issues that the film alludes to, but never presents openly, such as lesbianism, racism and domestic abuse. Still it's a testament to the impeccable cast assembled, that the film remains watchable and enjoyable. The score from Thomas Newman is fantastic as is the cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson. Worth watching.

The Doors

Movie Name: The Doors
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Michael Wincott, Michael Madsen, Mimi Rogers, Josh Evans, Kathleen Quinlan, Crispin Glover, Dennis Burkley, Billy Idol
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After a tremendously successful output of films in the 80s, director Oliver Stone started the 90s with two distinct insights into the America of the 60s, firstly with "The Doors", followed by the galvanizing and potent "JFK". The film focuses on the rock band "The Doors", particularly on the iconic lead singer, Jim Morrison. The film introduces us to Jim as he's going to college, where he's studying film, and where he meets his future girlfriend, Pamela Courson. While at college he also meets Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, forming the music band with all of them. As the band becomes progressively more well known, Jim's behavior becomes more erratic, due to his drug and alcohol consumption. As he gets involved in a series of other things, they all start taking a toll on his responsibilities towards the band, their performances and general perception, until his sudden death at age 27 (in 1971). 
Being from the same generation as Jim Morrison, Oliver Stone experienced the 60s, and tried to capture it and portray it through this film. And for the most part the film is an interesting perspective into the life of excess of a rock star, however it also is a very cliché ridden perspective, since it doesn't really give much dimension to Morrison, his band members, or the women in his life for that matter. Trying to capture so much of the decade, including people's experiments with drugs, the war on Vietnam, the civil rights movement, women's liberation, Oliver Stone really threw everything into this film, peppering it with some interesting cameos from recognizable faces (for instance, Andy Warhol), but the film ultimately feels hollow, since none of the characters actually have much depth to them. It's still an impeccably shot film (courtesy of Robert Richardson), and it features a crackling performance from Val Kilmer, who really owns the role, making Jim Morrison come to life in a charismatic way, even if the script doesn't give him that much to do. An unbalanced film from an interesting director.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dead Again

Movie Name: Dead Again
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight, Hanna Schygulla, Robin Williams, Raymond Cruz, Christine Ebersole, Campbell Scott, Lois Hall, Richard Easton
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Actor/Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh made a splash in 1989 with his version of William Shakespeare's "Henry V", which placed him on a path to become an heir apparent to the career/legacy of the late Laurence Olivier. For his next film he decided to tackle a different type of material, a suspense thriller. The film written by celebrated screenwriter Scott Frank (one of his first features, which he followed with Barry Sonnefeld's "Get Shorty", Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" to name but a few), follows the story of Mike Church, a detective in Los Angeles, specialized in finding missing persons. He gets a case from a local parish, who is trying to help a mute woman who suffers from amnesia, something that is so severe, that she does not even recall her own name. She also keeps having these very vivid nightmares, where she relives with precise detail, the life and death of pianist Margaret Strauss, who was seemingly murdered by her husband Roman, in the 1940s. Fresh out of ideas, Mike decides to use the services of an antiquarian/hypnotist, who starts uncovering more information about this woman, and these nightmares.
"Dead Again" is a film, that much like its director, tries very hard to be many things, but that can never find its own identity. Kenneth Branagh emulates throughout this film many suspense/noir films from the 40s/50s, but the suspense never really builds up, mostly because the situations are poorly resolved and showcased. As much as the focus of the thread of the narrative is the uncovering of Grace's past, and simultaneously uncover the identity of Margaret's killer in the 40s, none of them ever really have a sense of dread, mostly because the characters never feel more than bland sketches. The film needed a stronger point of view from a directorial point of view, and an actor who could embody Mike Church's "loser with a heart of gold" persona with a bit more grittiness and conviction. Emma Thompson and Derek Jacobi are impeccable, and try to sell the material as much as they can, but the overall film simply lacks nuance and style, something that will elevate it above the instantly forgettable note. It's a film with solid production values, but a sadly minor effort from an irregular director.