Saturday, January 5, 2008

Films of the Holiday Season - part 2

Movie name: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Year of release: 2007
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener
Genre: Musicall, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Broadway musicals adapted for the big screen have had different levels of success, from the solid film that was Alan Parker's "Evita" to the loud spectacle that was Joel Schumacher's "Phantom of the Opera". Tim Burton may not be the first director to spring to mind when directing a musical, but this is a film that makes sense within his universe. It almost feels like a live action rendition of "Nightmare Before Christmas" but gorier and a lot darker. Johnny Depp once again proves that there is no challenge too small for his talents and Helena Bonham Carter is, as usual, brilliant.

Movie name: Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem
Year of release: 2007
Director: Colin Strause, Greg Strause
Stars: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Ariel Gade, Johnny Lewis
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Another stepping stone in this franchise that manages to actually be worse than the original film that Paul W. Anderson directed in 2004. This time The Brothers Strause direct a screenplay (?) from Shane Salerno, that pillages elements from James Cameron's "Aliens" back and forth - and unfortunately without the good results. The aliens this time crash land in a small town in Colorado and start decimating everyone they find in their path. The Predator comes in hot pursuit and destruction ensues. The humans in this case are of course disposable, and the directors treat them accordingly. These are even thinner characters than what the first "AVP" presented. We have a character emulating Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, and even a tank driving sequence and a rescue helicopter (all this "vaguely" reminiscent of "Aliens"). As a fan of the Alien saga, this film feels like a bad rip-off that adds nothing to what those films set in motion. This has none of the complexity and questions those films presented - this tries to present chills and frills, but in the end all it leaves is a question and wish - please don't make another one.

Movie name: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Year of release: 2007
Director: Julian Schnabel
Stars: Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Max Von Sydow, Anne Consigny, Niels Arestrup, Jean-Pierre Cassel
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Julian Schnabel follows his previous efforts, "Basquiat" and "Before Night Falls" with another film based on a true story. "Le Scaphandre et le Papillon" follows the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke that completely immobilizes him, save for his eye. He is plainly aware of what is happening, however his body has become his prison and the only way to communicate is using his eye. Schnabel uses the amazing director of photography, Janusz Kaminski (the usual collaborator of Steven Spielberg) to an amazing effect, giving us the viewer, the sense of claustrophobia and horror of not being able to express yourself to a world that surrounds you. Unlike some other films that try to depict ailments and handicaps pushing the "tearjerker" factor, this is a film where life is actually celebrated, something that is simultaneously uplifting and rewarding.

Movie name: Juno
Year of release: 2007
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Allison Janey, Olivia Thirlby, Rainn Wilson
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Following "Thank you for Smoking", Jason Reitman has built in collaboration with Diablo Cody (the screenwriter) a film that is simultaneously quirky and tender. It details the life of Juno, an outspoken and slightly off-kilter teenager who becomes pregnant.  Reitman opts for creating a story that doesn't fall trap to the usual cliches, peppering the narrative with humor and a very genuine warmth. All the actors are great, particularly Ellen Page, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. They create not just simple characters, but people with real anxieties and problems, in a film that shows that choices and growing up is something that isn't exclusive of teenagers.