Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boogie Nights

Movie name: Boogie Nights
Year of release: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Melora Walters, Luis Guzman, Nicole Ari Parker, Joanna Gleason, Thomas Jane, Ricky Jay, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Penn, Alfred Molina, Nina Hartley
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Paul Thomas Anderson's second film definitely placed him on the map, with a risque screenplay, that probed the porn world of the 70s and was inspired by the life of adult film star John Holmes. The film follows the story of Eddie Adams, a young man who is finishing high school and working some small time jobs in order to make some money. Eddie catches the attention of Jack Horner, a director and producer of adult films, and following a dramatic exit from his house's parents, ends up being part of Horner's group of actors/performers who live under the same roof. Eddie experiences a meteoric rise to popularity in the adult films he performs, thanks to his natural endowments, but that crescendo starts to crack rapidly.
Paul Thomas Anderson's ode to the 70s, specifically to the adult movies from that era, comes with an aura of nostalgia - those were the days when the directors working on those films believed they were doing something for the sexual liberation, where there was still a concept of film on the big screen, before the video emerged and pushed adult films to specialized ghettos. The film shows the group within Jack Horner's house as a family that he built - Horner's films were for all intended purposes a family affair, all starring emotionally damaged people, from the beautiful Rollergirl, trying to finish her highschool certification, to Amber Waves, trying to get visitation rights to see her child. Though Mark Wahlberg's Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler is our narrator, the mosaic structure of the film, allows a glimpse into all the lives of the family that Jack Horner built. The film also perfectly captures the transition of the 70s to the 80s and how mentalities started to change. The film boasts fantastic performances from the entire cast, but the hightlights are mainly Julianne Moore who does a remarkable job playing Amber Waves, creating a woman who is vulnerable, trying to transfer her mother instincts to others since she can't do it with her own child, Heather Graham playing Rollergirl, a young woman who is just trying to find her own place in the world and Burt Reynolds, as Jack, the old patriarch who sees his empire changing but who tries to adapt to the world around him. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is simply stunning. A modern classic worth watching anytime.

The Fighter

Movie name: The Fighter
Year of release: 2010
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O'Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate B. O'Brien, Jenna Lamia, Alison Folland
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

David O. Russell is a director who has thus far managed to create a very interesting career, directing films that are personal, even if sometimes a bit flawed. After the debacle that was "I Heart Huckabees" (with his aggressive rants with Lilly Tomlin hitting YouTube) and the problems surrounding "Nailed" (who is still waiting completion and release), Russell decided to tackle the true story of Mickey Ward, a boxer, in a film made with a very small budget (and his third collaboration with star/producer Mark Wahlberg). The film follows the story of Mickey Ward and his family, brother Dicky Eklund, his mom Alice and his sisters. Mickey is a boxer, much like his older brother Dicky, who is now his trainer (while his mom works as his manager). Dicky had his moment of glory some years ago and is now a pale shadow of his former self, always doing drugs and involved in schemes that land him in prison. Mickey on the other hand realizes that for him to have a final shot at reaching something as a fighter he has to navigate his life outside of his destructive family ties. Mickey with the aide of his girlfriend Charlene, manages to start climbing with victories in successive combats.
David O. Russell managed to create with "The Fighter" one of his best films. The screenplay itself is not much different than any boxing film ever done, however Russell manages to infuse the film with an air of authenticity, almost documentary, that gives the story a breath and an energy that are gripping. Most of the film's strength lie in the actors, and this film packs a great punch in that department. Mark Wahlberg does a good job, underacting and making his Mickey a humble and strong person vying for a last chance. Amy Adams shows her range as a person with a strength and character that are truly admirable, but the film really belongs to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Christian Bale disappears beneath the character he's creating, showing the vulnerable side of someone who knows his chance has gone by, someone broken by life and by drugs. Melissa Leo also creates a matriarch with a strength that is ferocious, even to her own children. A great film, worth watching.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Tourist

Movie name: The Tourist
Year of release: 2010
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars:Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewel, Steven Berkoff, Christian De Sica, Alessio Boni, Daniele Pecci, Giovanni Guidelli, Raoul Bova
Genre: Action, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Following his fantastic debut with "The Lives of Others" (winner of the foreign Oscar film in 2006), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck decided to tackle "The Tourist", a project that went through quite a few number of directors. The film is a remake of the french counterpart, "Anthony Zimmer" that starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal, in the parts now taken by Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp respectively. The film follows Elise Ward, a beautiful English woman who is being surveyed by the police, since she has a connection to a man who stole a huge sum of money from a gangster. Trying to elude them, she strikes a conversation with a man she meets in the train, an American tourist, Frank Tupelo, a math teacher who is trying to overcome the grief of losing a woman. Elise is also following the indications of her former lover, trying to discover where he is and uses Frank to distract her followers. The relationship between Elise and Frank however leads them in a different direction and forces Elise to make some choices.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is clearly trying to capture the glamour and sophistication that Alfred Hitchcock captured to perfection in "To Catch a Thief" (with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly), however, the film falters in the screenplay. The story is clearly overly simplistic and though the actors are stupendous, there's nothing much they can do when the screenplay is very limited to usual cliches. Johnny Depp gets to be a subdued character with none of his usually eccentric elements, whereas Angelina Jolie is simply stunning as a woman in love, quite different from the characters she usually portrays (either strong or emotionally damaged women). The film also boasts a stunning cinematography from John Seale, but no matter how much everyone tries, the film simply feels like something that has been done before, with more ambition and dazzling results. As is, the film is simply watchable but quickly forgettable.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Movie name: Tron: Legacy
Year of release: 2010
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Michael Sheen, Owen Best, Cillian Murphy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

"Tron: Legacy" is a sequel to the seminal "Tron", directed by Steven Lisberger in 1982, which even though not a major critical and financial success, went on to enjoy a long life as a cult movie, due to the stunning visual work (from the minds of fantastic artists such as Syd Mead and Moebius, to name but a few). "Tron: Legacy" picks up only two characters from the original film, Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley, respectively played by Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. Kevin Flynn was, at the end of of the first "Tron", the new CEO of the company Encom. He disappears when "Tron:Legacy" begins and his son Sam grows by himself. Sam, now an adult, makes his presence felt in his own company, through carefully planned boycotts he deploys every year. Upon investigating his father's former game arcade, Sam gets inserted in the game world, where he finds out that his dad's creation, Clu, has been ruling the network of programs and games and his father has been a prisoner for years. It's up to Sam to rescue his father and alter the network.
The film is devoted to it's original counterpart - visually the film picks up a lot of the elements the original one had, but polishes it. All the surfaces are glossy, the costumes are impeccable. The film visually is simply arresting - the cinematography of Claudio Miranda is stunning, the soundtrack from Daft Punk adjusts itself perfectly, however the screenplay simply isn't as equally compelling. The situations are overly simplified, as are the characters. Jeff Bridges performance manages to bring some depth to both Kevin Flynn and Clu, but it's simply not enough. The film is nonetheless, an interesting action/sci-fi film, one where the action flows and the visuals are compelling. Hopefully next sequel will bring more substance.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Swan

Movie name: Black Swan
Year of release: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Mark Margolis
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Darren Aronofsky continues his triumphant path, following his fantastic last three films, respectively "Requiem for a Dream", "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler". "Black Swan" symbolizes in a way, a crystallization of his themes, namely the obsessions that people possess and for whom they are willing to sacrifice everything, including their sanity and sense of self.
"Black Swan" follows the story of young Nina Sayers, a beautiful ballerina who is the utmost perfectionist, always training and trying her best to be the absolute perfection in everything she does. Nina gets a spotlight when she is chosen by her company's arrogant and seductive choreographer Thomas, to be the Swan Queen in a new interpretation of Swan Lake. Nina starts pushing herself even harder, since Thomas believes she is far too uptight and sheltered to understand the sensuality and looseness of the Black Swan of the ballet. To further complicate things, Nina feels a new rivalry from another dancer named Lily, who has just arrived from San Francisco and to whom everything just seems to flow effortlessly. To Nina she embodies all that she is not - much to her despair, she starts to believe Lily is trying to destroy her. Her attempts to capture perfection lead to unexpected developments.
Much like "The Wrestler", where Mickey Rourke's character Randy tried to an extreme to force his body to be the entertainer he once was, Natalie Portman's Nina Sayers, goes out of her way to capture the Swan Queen she's portraying. The duality of the character starts reflecting on her personality itself, with Nina progressively altering her behavior, being consumed by a personal ambition and obsession that ultimately consumes her altogether. Nina's mother, who always has lived her life for Nina and who projects all her dreams and frustrations on her daughter, ends up being the distorted mirror of all that she once was - a little girl who never grew up. Darren Aronofsky showcases the darkness that progressively taints Nina's world, from her body bruises and changes, to the events that she witnesses, creating an atmosphere that is progressively tenser as the film progresses. The way he and his wonderful cinematographer Matthew Libatique capture the nuances of Nina's world, serve to emphasize her fears and self doubts. The performances from the film are also fantastic, from Vincent Cassel as the narcissistic Thomas, Mila Kunis who excels as the liberated Lily, the always excellent Barbara Hershey as the overbearing mother and Winona Ryder, who freezes everything as the jilted Beth (it's nice to see her in such a great, yet small role). The film however belongs to Natalie Portman, she carries it with such an amount of immersion, from the technique of the dancer, to the duality of her Nina, in the spurts of menace that erupt from within her, that is a true wonder to see her work in this film. A highlight should also be given to Clint Mansell's soundtrack. An altogether fantastic film!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Movie name: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Year of release: 2010
Director: David Yates
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton, Rhys Ifans, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jason Isaacs, Peter Mullan, John Hurt, Clemence Poesy, David Thewlis, Sophie Thompson, Toby Jones, Rade Serbedzija
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:As the "Harry Potter" franchise comes to an end, the final film has been divided in two halves, to allow for a richer story development. The film picks up where "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" left: with Dumbledore gone and Voldemort spreading panic and attacking in all directions, in the hopes of catching and killing Harry Potter, the tight unit of friends has to come together in order to protect Harry and their magic world from total annihilation. Harry, Herminone and Ron go on a quest, trying to find objects that are important for Voldemort and can help in his destruction. All the while Voldemort's influence starts to spread to the Ministry of Magic and to the order of their world.
David Yates has managed to hold the title for director who stayed with the franchise for the longest time, having directed two films before and now the final diptych. One thing has become more evident in his films - as the series has progressed in time, the heroes have matured, the danger has become more evident and the tone also has also become darker and more menacing. The first part of the last film, shows the young heroes on the run, literally, since their safety is threatened everywhere they go. They have to find objects that allow for the destruction of their opponent and, more than ever, rely upon each other to survive the whole ordeal. The film has a different pacing than the previous ones, a slower tone, that allows the young actors to show a bit more about their characters and just how far their talents have developed. However the striking parts as always get handled by the wonderful talents of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, who excel as the villains whom everyone wants to destroy. The film boasts also a great cinematography from Eduardo Serra and a beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat. Though it's a truncated experience, it's still an interesting film worth checking out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

127 Hours

Movie name: 127 Hours
Year of release: 2010
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemency Poesy, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Sean Bott, Lizzy Caplan
Genre: Drama, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:After the Oscar rain that fell upon his film "Slumdog Millionaire", Danny Boyle returns with another riveting film. "127 Hours" is based on the book by Aron Ralston, that details his harrowing experience of being trapped after a hiking excursion that went terribly wrong. The film starts by introducing the audience to Aron, a young hiker who is about to go explore the canyons near the Moab desert in Utah. During his excursion, he meets two young women, Kristi and Megan, with whom he has a fun time, showing them interesting places to explore. Upon following his solitary path, Aron unexpectedly falls off a cliff and gets his arm stuck and is unable to move. What follows are his desperate attempts to get off that predicament alive.
Danny Boyle is a very talented director: "Trainspotting", "Shallow Grave", "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine" alone proved long before his triumph with "Slumdog Millionaire". What he does with "127 Hours" is pretty riveting: he grabs a story that is told from the point of view of a sole actor/narrator, and he makes it engaging, dynamic and thrilling. Aron goes through a death-trap that is lethal, but we're embarking on that journey with him, thanks to the visual imagination of Danny Boyle, who makes Aron a real person, with aspirations, dreams, fears and regrets. James Franco gives a very good performance, imbuing Aron with an enthusiasm, joy and also fear, that is contagious. This is a film worth watching, not just for the testament to the perseverance of people, but as dazzling film filled with visual ideas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Next Three Days

Movie name: The Next Three Days
Year of release: 2010
Director: Paul Haggis
Stars: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Helen Carey, Jason Beghe, Daniel Stern, Aisha Hinds, Jonathan Tucker, Lennie James, Kevin Corrigan, Allan Steele, Trudie Styler, Ty Simpkins
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:"The Next Three Days" is a remake of the french film "Pour Elle". Paul Haggis, known for directing the award winning "Crash" (and writing "Million Dollar Baby" and "Casino Royale" to name but a few), tackles the remake with an aura of suspense and drama, which comes in the tradition of his best work, specifically the wonderful and underrated "In the Valley of Elah".
"The Next Three Days" follows the lives of John, Lara, and their son Luke Brenan, whose every day existence is turned upside down when Lara is wrongly imprisoned for the murder of her boss/superior. John, a professor at a community college, becomes discouraged when he finds out the appeal for Lara's verdict can't be overturned, upon which he starts devising a way to liberate her from prison. Through a carefully devised plan, with lots of trial and error, John finally manages to put in action a way to make Lara's escape occur.
Paul Haggis has made a name for himself as a creator of stories with dramatic depth, where characters actually exist and are more than stereotypes. In "The Next Three Days", we watch the life of a middle class couple unravel, as Lara, an innocent woman, is thrown in a situation that is beyond anything she has ever experienced. That is what really interests Paul Haggis - the delicate balance that is life and how that is turned upside down quite unexpectedly. The film vividly depicts the family life of the Brenan's, but where the film falters is in giving Lara more than just a victim role. It would be interesting to see where Elizabeth Banks could take her character. The film bolsters good performances from Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson and a good soundtrack from the wonderful Danny Elfman. A good solid film worth watching.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Movie name: Secretariat
Year of release: 2010
Director: Randall Wallace
Stars: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Nelsan Ellis, Margo Martindale, Dylan Baker, Dylan Walsh, James Cromwell, Fred Dalton Thompson, Scott Glenn, Nestor Serrano, Kevin Connolly, Eric Lange, Drew Roy, Amanda Michalka
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Randal Wallace is best known for having written the screenplays for "Braveheart", "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "Pearl Harbor", though as a director he has a few films on his resume as well. "Secretariat" follows the story of Penny Chenery, a housewife in Denver, who due to the death of her mother is forced to come back to her family's horse farm to help her dad and secure the financial stability of the farm. When Penny decides to race a horse whom she won in a toss, she secures the services of trainer Lucien Laurin to help her get some victories. Penny and her horse "Secretariat" end up becoming the underdog, the one no one expected to win, but who ends up winning races and people's hearts.
Randall Wallace treats this story quite conventionally, opting for a very traditional and family oriented film. None of these elements that he shoots in this film are particularly new, namely the underdog who beats all the odds, but thanks to the wonderful Diane Lane and the always great John Malkovich, the film ends up having some energy and spark, in what would otherwise be a very standard film. The Disney studio usually releases films very much like this with a certain frequency, but certain casts make all the difference - this is the case. Not an exceptional film, but still worth watching.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fair Game

Movie name: Fair Game
Year of release: 2010
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Sam Shepard, Noah Emmerich, Michael Kelly, Bruce McGill, David Andrews, Brooke Smith, Ty Burrell, Thomas McCarthy, Tim Griffin
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Doug Liman has made his name as a director of big budget action films, such as "The Bourne Identity", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and "Jumper", but his initial roots were in independent films, where he directed the interesting "Swingers" and "Go". "Fair Game" his latest film, has a style that tends to be closely related to the one of Paul Greengrass (another director of the "Bourne" franchise), since the style is very much documentary style. The film follows the story of Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson, between the years of 2001 and 2003. The story introduces us to Valerie, a CIA operative who is in the middle of trying to verify the escalating arms/nuclear problems in Iraq. Valerie leads a double life, since most of these are top secret operations, that obviously have to be secretive to the people in her life. Her husband, who had worked for previous governments, now works privately as a consultant. When the second invasion of Iraq occurs, propelled by wrongful information, Valerie's covert is blown. The aftermath puts her life and marriage spiraling downward.
Doug Liman has a gripping story in his hands and propels it forward, utilizing the solid and stoic performances from Naomi Watts and Sean Penn (both of whom are fantastic and have played couples before in "21 Grams" and "The Assassination of Richard Nixon"). The film mixes footage from broadcasts of the invasion of Iraq, with footage shot by Liman himself (who was the cinematographer also) in different locations, giving the film an authentic and gripping look and feel. The film is reminiscent of the conspiracy films from the 70s, in a contemporary setting, anchored by strong performances and a pacing that allows for the story and characters to truly exist. A solid film worth seeing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Due Date

Movie name: Due Date
Year of release: 2010
Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, RZA, Todd Phillips
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Following the huge success of "The Hangover", director Todd Phillips is back with another comedy, with one of the actors of "The Hangover", Zach Galifianakis, paired with the always great Robert Downey Jr. "Due Date" follows the story of Peter Highman, an architect who is in Atlanta on work and who's flying back to LA since his wife is having a baby that same week and he wants to be at the hospital for the birth. When he is boarding his flight, his luggage gets mixed with the one of Ethan Tremblay, a budding actor. Everything just goes downhill from there for Peter, since Ethan wreaks havoc in his life in every conceivable way. Peter ends up having to drive with Ethan across the country to see his wife, both experiencing different adventures along the way.
Whereas "The Hangover" had a fresh look at the dynamics of a group of friends, "Due Date" is a story that has been seen and done countless times. The two main characters are at odds with each other, one uptight and controlling, the other reckless and immature. The concept is widely know: both learn something from each other. Todd Phillips doesn't go for the moralistic side of the story thankfully, he aims the target at situations that are just over the top. Sadly, particularly because the film is presented as a comedy, they don't really work. The film does not have a screenplay that is irreverent and original, though the actors try their best to create some sparks. The film barely registers as a vehicle for the talent of Zach Galifianakis. A sadly missed opportunity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Movie name: Hereafter
Year of release: 2010
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Richard Kind, Thierry Neuvic, Marthe Keller, Derek Jacobi
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Clint Eastwood is back with his yearly film, following the well received "Invictus. Reuniting with Peter Morgan, the writer of films such as "The Queen", "Frost/Nixon" and "The Last King of Scotland", Eastwood tackles a different territory for him. The film introduces us to three main stories that finally intersect into one. George Lonegan is a psychic who has stopped doing readings since his talent of looking into the after-death was alienating him from having real relationships. Marie LeLay is a french journalist who while vacationing is one of the victims of the Tsunami and literally dies for some seconds, before being brought back. Her life and experiences change after that. Marcus and Jason are twins, extremely close living in London with their substance abuser of a mother. Upon the death of Jason, Marcus finds himself alone and in foster care, desperately trying to establish contact with his brother. All these characters end up interconnecting, through a series of random events in ways that bring a new direction to their lives.
Clint Eastwood is a director that allows actors to create believable characters. He allows the situations to develop and his attention to detail is always on every frame of his films. "Hereafter" is possibly one of the least expected themes in his work, since it focuses on the afterlife and the fantastic elements of the story seem removed from his usual work. But the main focus ends up being George, played with a quiet intensity by Matt Damon (who just keeps getting better and better). Like most of Eastwood's heroes, he's a man at odds with a reality where he doesn't fit anymore. Much like William Munny from "Unforgiven", George wants to have a quiet life, away from the "fame" he once had. He longs to meet someone and not feel labeled as a freak. The encounters that he has with the other characters, liberate him and give him a new hope. The film is anchored in the fine performances of the cast and a special highlight should be given to the special effects depicting the Tsunami. A very solid film from a master.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Movie name: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Year of release: 2010
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas, Pauline Collins, Lucy Punch, Ewen Bremmer, Anna Friel, Meera Syal, Roger Ashton-Griffiths
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Woody Allen as usual comes out with a film every year. "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" was shot in London and has a fantastic cast, another staple of any Woody Allen film. However, another staple of his career lately is the meager results that the film has.
The film follows different couples and their relationship entanglements. There's Helena and Alfie who after 40 years of marriage have divorced. Helena is desperate and has a nervous breakdown. She turns to the advice of a psychic in the hopes she will tell her what her future holds. Helena and Alfie have a daughter, Sally, who married an American with a degree in medicine but who decided to become a full time writer, without much success. Into this equation comes Sally's new boss, an art gallery owner with whom she becomes infatuated and Dia, a beautiful young woman who moves across Sally and Roy's apartment and with whom he becomes enamored. All these crossings of different paths have unexpected results in the lives of all these characters.
Woody Allen as usual focus on a microcosms of characters to dwell on the meaning of relationships and lately on the meaning of mortality. Sadly though, this plot and story feel like something he has done before with a more incisive bite and meaning. Lucy Punch's character feels like Mira Sorvino's character (Linda Ash) from "Mighty Aphrodite", whereas Anthony Hopkins' character feels a bit like Martin Landau's character from "Crimes and Misdemeanors". The problem with the film is the lack of depth or wit for that matter - there are moments of insight and a lot of it is brought by the quality of the actors, namely Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones and Naomi Watts, but they barely scratch the surface and by the time they do, the film is over. This decade has definitely been a difficult one for Woody Allen - from all of his production, "Match Point" is possibly the only film to deserve to be part of his best ones yet. A missed opportunity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Town

Movie name: The Town
Year of release: 2010
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite, Titus Weliver, Slaine, Owen Burke, Dennis McLaughlin
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Ben Affleck's second directorial effort, after the great "Gone Baby Gone, has another impressive cast, but unlike his feature debut, Affleck is now also in front of the cameras, as the main character and narrator. The film adapts the novel "Prince of Thieves" and takes place in Charlestown, a suburb of Boston, well known for being the robbery capital of the world. The film follows Doug MacRay, a young man who's being involved in a few robberies and who's trying to end his criminal ways. After robbing a bank, Doug and his accomplices, decide to take a young woman as a hostage (the bank manager) to make sure they have a security getaway. Upon releasing her, Doug starts following the young woman, initially trying to gather what she knows, but eventually the relationship evolves to something more romantic. Trying to quit his old habits and start a fresh life with this new love, causes Doug to crash with his friends/associates. A final job appears that allows for everyone to make way for a new life, if all goes according to plan.
Ben Affleck definitely has talent as a director, even if there are certain tendencies to create scenes and situations that are very much "award bait" style. But staying close to his home, Boston, has been fruitful for him, since his first film, the wonderful "Gone Baby Gone" also took place in the same area. However where "Gone..." was devastating and almost acidic in the way it showed that slice of life, "The Town" doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the table. These are all characters and situations that have been displayed in other films, the difference in this case being the setting and the good actors that bring these characters to life. Jeremy Renner exudes an air of menace that stays with him and Chris Cooper in the few scenes he has, proves as always how fantastic he really is. A good film worth visiting.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Movie name: Never Let Me Go
Year of release: 2010
Director: Mark Romanek
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Kate Bowes Renna
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Mark Romanek has established himself as a commercials and music videos director, before embarking in his film-making path. His first film "One Hour Photo" with Robin Williams and Connie Nielsen was an interesting look into the alienation of one person. He was next going to tackle "The Wolfman", but after disputes with the studio, he abandoned that project and embarked on "Never Let Me Go", based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro (who also wrote "The Remains of the Day", brought to the screen in 1993 with the direction of James Ivory). The film follows the story of three friends, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. We're introduced to them as children, living and attending a private school. Kathy and Tommy form a bond that Ruth, out of jealousy, tries to break by starting to court and ultimately developing a relationship with Tommy when they are both older. There is a sense of doom in the lives of these young men and women, as Kathy narrates her and her friends story.
The film has a pace that is contemplative, but also allows for the characters to be understood, particularly Kathy, the narrator and main focus of the film. The bleak premise of the film, makes her a perfect conducting figure, since she seems to be so at peace with herself. Her anguish for knowing that Tommy isn't with her, when he's the one she knows belongs in her life, dissipates as she matures and begins a different phase in her life. When they do get back together, there's a sense of completion and acceptance in her life. The film is nonetheless quite tragic in what it displays. Even if the story is somewhat implausible, the touching (and fantastic) performance from Carey Mulligan does echo throughout the entire film. The cinematography and attention to details in the shots, are a proof that Mark Romanek knows that in a story such as this, the small things mean so much. A film worth watching.


Movie name: Red
Year of release: 2010
Director: Robert Schwentke
Stars: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, Rebecca Pidgeon, Richard Dreyfuss, James Remar, Ernest Borgnine, Audrey Wasilewski
Genre: Action, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Robert Schwentke has made a name for himself thus far with two films that were hits at the box office, namely "Flightplan" with Jodie Foster and "The Time Traveler's Wife" with Rachel McAdams. "Red" is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner and it stands for "Retired and Extremely Dangerous" (as in operatives of the CIA who are retired). The film follows Frank Moses, an ex-military man, who lives by himself and who calls Sarah Ross, a social security worker, every month concerning his pension, just in the hopes of talking with her and potentially asking her out. His plans are thwarted when he suddenly becomes the target for an assassination plot, alongside Sarah, whom he has to pick up and keep safe in order to discover who is behind the attempts to have them both killed. Along the way, he seeks the aid of his former friends, also retired operatives.
The major strength of this film is obviously the fantastic cast that Robert Schwentke has assembled: every single actor is more than accomplished and it's a delight to see them bring to life characters that are little more than cliches. But, they do relish and have fun with the roles and the film embarks in a tone that can best be described as light comedic with a strong action undercurrent. The tone of the film is very much coherent with the graphic novel style, but where it does earn extra points is in the fact that it adds a light and comedic tone to it. The actors are of course uniformly good, from Bruce Willis, to Mary Louise Parker to the award winning ones like Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and of course John Malkovich who is always a treat. A hightlight goes to Florian Balhaus, the cinematographer, son of the fantastic (and retired) Michael Balhaus, who is a fantastic cinematographer. An entertaining film worth watching.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Social Network

Movie name: The Social Network
Year of release: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Rooney Mara, John Getz, Rashida Jones, David Selby, Brenda Song
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:By now David Fincher's name is well established as one of the most interesting film-makers currently working. His name is associated with films that are daring, well written and impeccably thought and executed. After the fantastic films that were "Zodiac" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", Fincher decided to tackle a contemporary story, with a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (who made his name as the creator/writer of "The West Wing"), about the creation of the huge behemoth site that is "Facebook".
The film introduces us to Mark Zuckerberg, a young student at Harvard, who is quite brilliant, but has problems relating to others and developing friendships. Mark's ingenious and brilliance as a programmer, gets him in contact with three individuals who want to create an online network for people who are within the circle of Harvard University. However Zuckerberg goes a step beyond and starts creating something that expands to other universities, including institutes all around the world. In the process this network starts getting more and more attention, from the people who initially hired him and want part of the gain and from Sean Parker, creator of Napster who can see the potential that the project has. In the middle of all this, his friendship with Eduardo Saverin, his initial financial backer crumbles.
David Fincher's film has an energy that is relentless - the film goes through different time frames and different perspectives, in an attempt to understand how the site got launched and the issues that were created as a consequence of it. The multiple lawsuits that Zuckerberg goes through, start peeling away the whole genesis of the site, but ultimately provide some insight to whom those people/intervenients are. The film is built upon layers, with each one providing some further knowledge of why the site is so controversial. In the end, it proves that greed is indeed a main motivating party for a lot of these people. The film has great performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara, who in the few scenes she has, gives a gravity and strength to the role that resonate throughout the entire film. Also to highlight the beautiful cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth. A fantastic film!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Let Me In

Movie name: Let Me In
Year of release: 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Elias Koteas, Sasha Barrese, Dylan Kenin, Chris Browning, Ritchie Coster
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Matt Reeves first made his name with the film "The Pallbearer", which starred Gwyneth Paltrow in 1996. Since then he has been a collaborator of J. J. Abrams with whom he worked on the successful TV show "Felicity" and the monster film that was "Cloverfield". "Let Me In", basically follows the screenplay from John Ajvide Lindqvist - in a small town in New Mexico, lonely young Owen sees his life changed by the arrival of new neighbors, in particular of the intriguing Abby, a 12 year old girl who only shows up at night. Owen and Abby strike a good friendship, with Abby providing counseling on how Owen should deal with bullies and Owen introducing her to a series of toys and assorted candy. Owen finds out that there's a lot more to Abby than it's apparent.
Matt Reeves attempted to create his interpretation of the screenplay of John Ajvide Lindqvist - he transposed the story to New Mexico in 1983 and displayed more of the vampiric/monstrous side of Abby. The film ends up being simultaneously similar and different from "Let the Right One In": Matt Reeves is a talented film-maker and directs the film with an attention to detail that certainly gives his film the difference and distance from the original swedish version. Even though the events and how the story progresses are very similar in the two films, the dynamics between the actors feels more developed as does some of the action scenes that populate the film. A good remake, worth watching!

Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In

Movie name: Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In
Year of release: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Oscar is a young and lonely boy who lives with his mom in a suburb of Stockholm. One evening Oscar notices the arrival of new neighbors, who end up living in the apartment right next to his. The neighbors, an older gentleman and a young girl, are rarely to be seen, but Oscar strikes an unusual friendship with the young Eli who only comes out to play at night. As Oscar tries to know more about Eli he becomes more and more suspicious that there's more to her than meets the eye.
Tomas Alfredson shot "Let the Right One In" from an adaptation of the book with the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, also responsible for the screenplay. The film could have easily descended into the vampire frenzy which is currently on display with the "Twilight" saga, but instead, the film slowly builds the story and introduces the characters, before presenting it's more fantastical elements. The director smartly chooses to suggest more than to show - the viewer knows who Eli is and what she has to do to survive, but the film never falls trap of showing the more horrific moments. The relationship between the two young children are the center stage and that is shot so delicately and so candidly - their warmth and tenderness burns through the cold air of the Winter that surrounds them. The film is intelligent in it's choices and ends up being a very good film, always rewarding upon multiple viewings.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Natural Born Killers

Movie name: Natural Born Killers - The Director's Cut
Year of release: 1994/2009
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Arliss Howard, Rodney Dangerfield, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Russell Means, O-Lan Jones, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Joe Grifasi
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:By the time "Natural Born Killers" came out, Summer of 1994, Oliver Stone was already a celebrated director. The 80s saw him winning Oscars for films that were iconic and who definitely had a strong point of view, namely "Salvador", "Platoon", "Wall Street" and "Born on the Fourth of July". The 90s proved to be more hit or miss with the director, but he started out with a great film, "JFK" that again proved what a controversial and artistically driven director he is. He had some misses with "Heaven and Earth", "The Doors" and to a certain extent, "Any Given Sunday", but "Natural Born Killers" easily stands out as one of his most controversial films (and to date, one of his best). The film follows the love story of two young serial killers of sorts, Mickey and Mallory Knox. Both these characters cause mayhem and destruction, till they get caught and sent to prison. The media circus that follows turns them into big stars. Following an interview in prison with shock host, Wayne Gale, both Mickey and Mallory attempt a final escape into freedom.
Oliver Stone used as a premise a story written by Quentin Tarantino (who said that the film was nothing like what he had intended), but he took it far beyond that. If the story was originally conceived as a different version of "True Romance" or "Bonnie and Clyde", Oliver Stone painted a larger canvas. The film turned out to be more a metaphor for our celebrity obsessed society, for a generation who glamorized television above everything, where the notions of good and bad are warped, where the 15 minutes of fame mean everything. Oliver Stone used his kinetic editing process, mixing different types of film, animation, video, to create a mosaic of images that bombard the characters (and us) at all times. The film polarized opinions because many thought it glorified violence, but the director clearly set out to do the opposite - behind that whole violence there's an irony of how television embraces it and mixes it to make everything more acceptable to standard palates. In the end, the film clearly states that everyone embraces anything that TV presents, the utmost violence, as long as the viewers keep watching. The film to this day, makes it's point loud and clear, with the plethora of reality-TV shows that are on the networks. Oliver Stone had many problems with censorship, but the recently released uncut version, allows to see the film in it's original version. It also allows to see the fantastic performances of Juliette Lewis and Robert Downey Jr. A fantastic film worth watching!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Io Sono L'amore/I Am Love

Movie name: Io Sono L'amore/I Am Love
Year of release: 2009
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Marisa Berenson, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Maria Paiato, Pippo Delbono, Gabriele Ferzetti, Mattia Zaccaro
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton have a relationship that goes back quite a few years. They have done "The Protagonists" together and "Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory". "Io Sono L'Amore" is very much an opulent melodrama based in the tradition of Luchino Visconti's films. The film follows Emma Recchi, a Russian woman who married a rich Italian industrialist, with whom she has had 3 children. The family is on the verge of change, since the patriarch of the family is dying and he is leaving control of the empire to his son and eldest grandson. Emma lives her life quietly and peacefully, trying to be a good understanding mother to her children and a good wife for her husband. One of her son's friends, Antonio, enters the storyline, as both of them decide to open a restaurant. Antonio, finds Emma irresistible and soon they become in love. This love affair produces unexpected results in Emma's and her family's lives.
Luga Guadagnino's talent is on display in this beautiful film, that takes the time to introduce us to this bourgeois family, where the luxury is clearly on display and where the family dynamics are all too apparent. There is a tranquility in the way these lives are led, but there's also a constraint in all this serene contemplation of living. Emma clearly longs for love, something she finds in a much younger man, who creates a spark in her life, something that burns away everything she has. Her children are all grown, all of them finding their own paths in life and even in the tragedy that occurs, the path and motions that have been set forth, can not be denied. This is a film that treasures the details, revisiting the style of Italian drama of the 50s and 60s, but with a contemporary feel, something that the ravishing cinematography and soundtrack undeniably help achieve. Tilda Swinton creates a fantastic character, with her serene beauty, that is destroyed by pain and uplifted by love. This is her film, through and through. A fantastic film.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Movie name: Resident Evil: Afterlife
Year of release: 2010
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Spencer Locke, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Boris Kodjoe, Sergio Peris-Mencheta
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4

Synopsis:Paul W. S. Anderson has made a name for himself with action films. His first film, the violent and underrated "Shopping", made in his native UK with a young Jude Law, promised a different path, but the director has since embarked in bigger budget sci-fi extravaganzas, namely "Event Horizon", "Soldier" and "Alien vs. Predator". "Resident Evil" has been a very popular video game and Anderson directed the first film of the series and has since then taken creative control over the films that have been thus far produced. "Resident Evil: Afterlife" sees Paul W.S. Anderson in the director chair, after the previous ones were directed by Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy (with mixed results). The film follows Alice (the ever resilient Milla Jovovich) and her clones, taking on the Umbrella Corporation in Japan. Her main opponent, the head of Umbrella, has also been genetically altered by the Virus and manages to infect Alice with a substance that makes her human again. Alice flees Japan in an attempt to go to Alaska, where her friends had gone, to a place named Arcadia. Upon her arrival she soon discovers that things are much different than she anticipated.
The film and it's sequels, are all anchored in action set pieces that make the main characters move towards their goal - a safe haven where there are no zombies. If the zombie genre was always used as a metaphor to expose the problems of our society, that was the tradition of the master of the genre George Romero, the "Resident Evil" series takes the more straightforward road. The goal is to keep the characters moving, trying to destroy opponents and somehow reach a utopia that doesn't seem to exist. The concept of the greedy corporation is still there, the omnipresent Umbrella corporation, but the whole choreography of the action and special effects have surpassed the spirit of a genre that was always about being subversive (and entertaining of course). As is, "Resident Evil: Afterlife" manages to be better than it's two previous sequels, in the sense that the director clearly relishes these characters and creates action sequences that are well thought and executed. It's industrial film-making at it's peak. Milla Jovovich continues her path as the action heroine, but that's all that can be said - there is no nuance here (both film and acting in general).


Movie name: Centurion
Year of release: 2010
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Imogen Poots, Noel Clarke, Lee Ross, Ulrich Thomsen
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Neil Marshall has built a name for himself with two films, "Dogsoldiers" and "The Descent", both suspense/thrillers with fantastic components. "Doomsday" was a mix of "28 Days Later" and "Mad Max" and though entertaining, it did not expand his universe or garnered him more accolades. "Centurion" is an action film, that takes place in Northern Britain, when the Roman Empire is trying to hold off their opponents, the Picts. The film follows Quintus Dias, the sole Roman survivor of a Pict attack to a Roman fort. The Roman Empire is trying to strengthen their position in that area and for that effect they send the tough 9Th Legion to tackle their barbarian opponents. Quintus Dias attempt to flee his captors and the 9Th Legion thirst for battle meet up in the field, with unexpected results.
Neil Marshall has built a career of writing and directing stories where the action and violent components are always very present. His heroes are at odds with a stronger and sometimes almost impossible opponents, yet in the end they always vanquish. The Roman Empire setting, allows him to change his scenario and to shoot the brutal battle scenes with a ferocity and realism that is quite impressive. The downfall of the film turns out to be the cliches that it encounters, with the running group, the lonely and beautiful witch that takes them in, the dangerous pursuers. The film has very good moments, but it's time for Neil Marshall to expand his screenplays a bit more and allow for more character development. An interesting film.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hable con Ella/Talk to Her

Movie name: Hable con Ella/Talk to Her
Year of release: 2002
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Mariola Fuentes, Geraldine Chaplin, Elena Anaya
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:Following the huge critical and audience success of "Todo Sobre mi Madre", Almodovar returned in 2002 with "Hable con Ella", another crowning achievement in his career. The film earned him an Oscar for best original screenplay and a nomination for best director. "Hable con Ella" crosses the stories of Benigno a male nurse, who is caring for Alicia, a beautiful young ballerina who has been in a coma for years and Marco, a journalist whose lover, Lydia, a bullfighter, is also taken to the same clinic after a serious incident. Benigno lives in the hopes that Alicia will come back, so they can embark on a relationship, whereas Marco knows that Lydia has her heart set upon someone else.
"Hable con Ella" is in a way a continuation of all of Almodovar's themes, but it is also one of his most sophisticated and elaborate film. The film is anchored by male characters, but all of them are entranced by their female partners - Benigno and Marco are both prisoners of their love for women who are for all intended purposes, beyond their reach. Their medical comas make them more unreachable, since they become ideal versions of femininity for both men. Almodovar shoots this film with surrealistic tones, mixing also the beauty of dance with the gorgeous tunes of Caetano Veloso. The acting is fantastic, with the highlight going to Javier Camara who creates a wonderful character in Benigno, filled with an enthusiasm, faith and warmth - even his flaws only make him grander and more heartbreaking. A fascinating film from a master.

Todo Sobre Mi Madre/All About My Mother

Movie name: Todo Sobre Mi Madre/All About My Mother
Year of release: 1999
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penelope Cruz, Candela Pena, Antonia San Juan, Rosa Maria Sarda, Toni Canto, Eloy Azorin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:"Todo Sobre Mi Madre" is, so far, the film from Almodovar who has possibly garnered the most accolades in his career. The film won the Oscar for best foreign picture and went on to win some other 47 awards (amongst acting, writing and other categories). The film continued to illustrate his return to form, that would again be repeated with the fantastic "Hable con Ella" of 2002. The film is centered in women and uses Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" as a unifying theme. Manuela is strong single mother who dramatically loses her son one night. She decides to go to Barcelona to seek out the father of her son, whom has been estranged for so many years. Upon her arrival, she reconnects with some old friendships, namely Agrado a prostitute, whom she knew from when she lived in Barcelona. She also becomes acquainted with Huma, an actress and Rosa, a nun, who coincidentally may have news about her long forgotten husband.
"Todo Sobre Mi Madre" owes much to the classic Hollywood melodrama, but it transcends it since Almodovar makes it his own. His universe, colorful as is, is inhabited by strong women, who unite in moments of despair, one where men are the source of problems, but without whom there's no joy of living. This film in particular manages to perfect all the touches that Almodovar has created all throughout his career - the intersecting story lines, the humor, the surreal side of life, the drama of every day, without making it look trivial or common. The acting is, as always fantastic, particularly from Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz. A fantastic achievement.