Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dark Knight

Movie name: The Dark Knight
Year of release: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Cillian Murphy, Ron Dean, Chin Han
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:The follow up to "Batman Begins", the revamp of the Batman franchise that Warner Brothers and director Christopher Nolan started in 2005, has been one of the most hyped films of the year, due to the premature death of the actor Heath Ledger and one of the most aggressive viral campaigns that has ever put up for a film. The film follows the adventures of the caped crusader in Gotham City, and how the city has responded to his appearance. The criminals have gotten worse and the figure of the Joker epitomizes it: his nihilistic approach to life and the criminal side have the hero on the ropes, struggling to find a solution for his life and his presence in the Gotham structure. Batman has an ally in the figure of Harvey Dent, the new DA who is also courting his long lost love, Rachel Dawes. In the midst of all the chaos that the city seems to be submerged in, it's Batman who has to find it's direction and emerge as the figure of light (him, who is precisely the Dark Knight). Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan have crafted a richly layered screenplay, that drinks a lot of it's complexities from "Heat" from Michael Mann. The film anchors it's strength in the relationship between Batman and the Joker, two forces that can't be deterred or stopped. The film ends up being an intelligent action film, that keeps escalating with intelligent set pieces and with charismatic performances from Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and the always reliables Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Worth watching!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tropa de Elite

Movie name: Tropa de Elite
Year of release: 2007
Director: Jose Padilha
Stars: Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira, Andre Ramiro, Maria Ribeiro, Fernanda Machado, Milhem Cortaz, Marcelo Valle
Genre: Action, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"Tropa de Elite" won the award for best film at the Berlin Film Festival of 2008. It follows the story of an elite squad in the "favelas" of Brazil (the slums that surround the big cities there). We are introduced to the main character, Capitao Nascimento, one of the officers of this elite squad, trying to find a replacement for himself, since he and his wife have a baby coming up and his job is one of the riskiest and most dangerous in the force. The film follows the daily life of the police officers, as they deal with the criminal side of the city but also with the corruption and how everything works within the police organization. It is a disenchanted look at the reality behind the beaches and tropical paradise that Brazil shows in the postcards, much like what Fernando Meirelles did with "City of God". It's gritty, well directed and the performers are all uniformly good.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Movie name: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Year of release: 2008
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss, Anna Walton
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Guillermo Del Toro is currently one of the most beloved directors of the film community, mostly because of his craft and universe that he brilliantly displayed in "Pan's Labyrinth". Having directed the first "Hellboy" in 2004 (which many people failed to embrace), the sequel allows for a more fruitful development of the character and of the universe of creatures that we come to expect from Guillermo Del Toro. The film again follows Hellboy and his cohorts Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien, as they deal with a new villain that goes by the name of Prince Nuada. The film oscillates between the more action driven pieces and the character driven parts, where the relationships between the main players comes to focus (in a light-hearted way). Visually the film is beautifully rendered and the special effects are flawless. The only flaw that can be addressed is the screenplay - if comes across as not developed enough, but in the end the film is rewarding and definitely worth the praise.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Savage Grace

Movie name: Savage Grace
Year of release: 2007
Director: Tom Kalin
Stars: Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Dancy, Elena Anaya, Abel Folk, Belen Rueda, Martin Huber
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:When Tom Kalin's first film "Swoon" came out in 1992, he was hailed as part of the new queer movement, which included Todd Haynes (who released "Poison" in 1991), Gregg Araki (who directed "The Living End") and Rose Troche (director of "Go Fish"). 15 years and a couple of shorts later, his follow up is again based on a true event (much like "Swoon"), more precisely the true crime story of the Baekeland murder and suicide. Barbara and Brooks Baekeland were a rich couple, him from inheritance, she a former actress, from marrying into the family. When their child Tony was born, their relationship was already deteriorating, something that as the years passed by became more apparent. Tony however developed a close relationship with his mother, who always cherished and appreciated his presence, unlike his father that always kept him at bay. When Tony became an adult - and his ambiguous sexuality, his father decided to leave his family life and begin living with his mistress, a previous girlfriend of Tony's.
The film covers all these years in the lives of the Baekeland's, always focusing on Barbara and her relationship with Tony. What is implied throughout the film, becomes more visible in the final act, when the incestuous relationship becomes real. The film focuses wisely in Julianne Moore's portrait of Barbara - an ambitious, loving and misunderstood woman, that longs for something that she simply can't attain. Tony is not only her son, he's her companion, and in that sense the final act makes total sense in her life. They are equals. Tony's own life and grasp of reality is at most very unbalanced - from his own sexuality, to his personal longings and his relationship with his father. All the actors do a fine job of bringing to reality these characters, with particular focus to Julianne Moore, that channels a bit of her character from Todd Haynes' "Safe" and also Stephen Dillane, that embodies the cold detachment perfectly. Eddie Redmayne however doesn't convince totally, mostly because he never seems to fully embrace the character. His despair is never tangible, neither his longing - in the end it feels mostly like boredom. Tom Kalin does a good job bringing all these elements together, however the art direction and photography leave a lot to be desired. An interesting film nonetheless.


Movie name: Hancock
Year of release: 2008
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan, David Mattey, Johnny Galecki, Jae Head
Genre: Action, Comey, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Here is a film that has so much going for it that somehow when I got out of the theater I couldn't help think - what a sad waste of talent. The film follows Hancock, an anti-hero prone to destruction fits when he comes to save the day. Somehow whenever he tries to do a good deed, his actions always end up hurting someone (which makes him very unpopular with...everyone). When he saves Ray, a PR man from getting hit by a train, Ray decides to change his image to the world (give him the image of the savior). What unexpectedly happens is the immediate rapport that Ray's wife, Mary, has with Hancock.
What sounds like a very interesting deconstruction of the superhero movie, ends up being a mess of a film, mostly because of a lack of direction and vision. Peter Berg, director of "The Kingdom", "Friday Night Lights" and "Very Bad Things", is a protégé of Michael Mann (that cameos, alongside with screenwriter Akiva "The Da Vinci Code/Batman and Robin/ A Beautiful Mind" Goldsman), however the talent isn't even in the same range. Berg is unsure what tone to give the film, therefore he just tries to go in all directions. It's shocking to see how underused Charlize Theron is (very bad casting choice for her) and ultimately the only person that manages to save face is the always great Jason Bateman (who is one of the most interesting underactors currently working). As for Will Smith, after the really great performance that was Francis Lawrence's "I Am Legend", this one feels like automatic pilot for him. A sad waste of resources (lots of them) for such week results.

Kung Fu Panda

Movie name: Kung Fu Panda
Year of release: 2008
Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Stars (voices): Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Dreamworks Animation is by now an established studio, with the success that has been the "Shrek" franchise, but also "Madagascar", "Over the Hedge" and "Shark Tale". "Kung Fu Panda" is the latest of their efforts, and boasts again an impressive talented voice cast, starting with the irreverent Jack Black as the main character, the Panda named Po. Po is an overweight and sluggish Panda bear that has always dreamed of being a Kung Fu master. When Po is accidentally picked as the "chosen one" (a martial arts master), he starts the training process to be part of the clan that is responsible for protecting the small town within the valley. His training brings him face to face with the dangerous and ambitious tiger Tai Lung, who's bent on destroying whomever crosses his path.
The story brings nothing new to the table - the personal belief in yourself, is all that matters when it comes to overcoming obstacles. What sets this film apart, and places it a few notches above "Shark Tale", is how well it's told and the sheer beauty and virtuosity of the animation and design style. The film has a good sense of humor brought upon by Jack Black/Po and his inadequacy in fitting with a clan that brims with elegance and perfection. His attempts at fitting in are hillarious, particularly when his main motivation - food - is found out.
Ultimately this an entertaining film, filled with a good message, good laughing moments and a very inspired and talented team of designers and animators.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Movie name: WALL-E
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars (voices): Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy and Sigourney Weaver
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family, Sci-Fi, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:After the huge success that was "Finding Nemo", Andrew Stanton and the creative team at Pixar return with "Wall-E". The film introduces us to Wall-E the little robot that is in charge of cleaning up the planet Earth, after all the humans abandoned it (due to the inability to live there, with all the garbage and exhaustion of natural resources). It's been 700 years since the humans have left, and Wall-E is the remaining one doing his chores, with a lonely cockroach as his companion. When a probe comes to the planet to investigate the possibility of life, Wall-E strikes an interest with the robot model in charge of doing the research, EVE. When Eve goes back to her ship, Wall-E decides to follow through and finds out where all the humans have gone. The story of this beautiful film is almost dialogue free, but it shines through, since it's themes are universal: loneliness, love, companionship. The film is exquisitely designed, and manages to balance out all the drama, comedy and thrill that you've come to expect from a Pixar film. Definitely one of the best films Pixar has ever done.


Movie name: Wanted
Year of release: 2008
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Terence Stamp, Kristen Hager
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten: 6.5

Synopsis:For his first american financed film, russian director Timur Bekmambetov decided to adapt Mark Millar's graphic novel, "Wanted", a hyper violent comic book. The story introduces us to Wesley Gibson, a young man that works in an accountancy firm and that has deep anxiety attacks. Wesley is just a regular Joe, whose girlfriend is fooling around on him and who's basically a lonely person with no family. While running his errands he meets the beautiful Fox, who saves him from a tough situation and ends up introducing him to a secret society of assassins, one that his long lost father was a part of. This is the basis of the story that unfolds in such a succession of thrilling moments and action pieces that knows no stopping points. The film is thin on development, but doesn't try to be anything other than it presents itself as: pure entertainment and very well crafted for that matter. Worth checking out!