Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mission: Impossible 3

Movie name: Mission: Impossible 3
Year of release: 2006
Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Billy Crudup, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan, Laurence Fishburne
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:J.J. Abrams made a name for himself as a screenwriter since the 90s with films as "Regarding Henry" (that Mike Nichols directed), "Forever Young" and "Armageddon". In the meantime he also created the very successful TV shows, "Felicity", "Alias" and "Lost". "Mission: Impossible 3" is his debut feature as a director and unlike the previous entry in the franchise, it tries to bring back the concept of the unit versus a dangerous opponent. The film follows Ethan Hunt who is now a teacher at IMF, as he tries to rescue one of his best students who is being held captive and simultaneously keep his personal life in check, since he is getting married and his future wife does not know about his real work. When things go awry and Ethan Hunt discovers his bride has been kidnapped, it's up to him and his associates to go against a dangerous arms dealer, while simultaneously they try to discover a covert enemy agent who is operating within the IMF.
The director tries to recapture much of the spark that Brian De Palma gave the first installment, but the screenplay isn't as interesting, neither is the uninspired direction. The film has it's moments (some action sequences are well choreographed), but the overall tone feels tired and already done. To it's good points, it features a great cast, with terrific actors, namely Philip Seymour Hoffman who creates a menacing villain. A satisfying, but ultimately forgettable action film.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Movie name: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Year of release: 2010
Director: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Stars: Joan Rivers
Genre: Documentary
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Documentary film-makers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg have previously focused their attention on the Genocide of Darfur in their documentary "The Devil Came on Horseback" and the conviction of a wrong man on "The Trials of Darryl Hunt". For their new project, they have decided to focus on comedienne, Joan Rivers, who has been in show business since the 60s. The film accompanies the actress through her tours, her anguishes, her family times and tries to capture what her career has been since the 60s till now. The film shows the effort and work that goes behind the whole stand up routine, preparation and stressful situations. What it does not show is how a personality like Joan Rivers actually lives - what is presented is the performer putting on a show, juggling multiple performances in different locations, never what happens when the drapes really fall. The brief moments that show a glimpse of the woman minus the show, are actually quite interesting, but all too brief. An interesting documentary, that could have been a lot more, but that as is, falls a bit short.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eat Pray Love

Movie name: Eat Pray Love
Year of release: 2010
Director: Ryan Murphy
Stars: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Mike O'Malley, Tuva Novotny, Luca Argentero, Andrea Di Stefano, David Lyons, Sophie Thompson, James Franco
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Director Ryan Murphy has had a filled career so far, with two very successful tv shows that he has created, namely "Nip/Tuck" and more recently "Glee". "Eat Pray Love" is his second feature film, following his debut, "Running with Scissors" that was an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs memoir. "Eat Pray Love" is another adaptation, of a very successful book by Elizabeth Gilbert. The film follows Liz Gilbert, an author unhappily married who decides to change her life, get a divorce and find some meaning, since most of her life has started to feel empty and hollow for her. In order to do so, Liz decides to take a year to find herself - she starts by going to Italy where she reconnects with the joy of food and friendship, following that she goes to India for a spiritual reawakening and finally goes to Bali to find the balance she so longs for. In this path she connects with different people that help her build bridges with the life she had and the one she wants. The film illustrates these travels quite literally, sadly never allowing for the character to fully experience the epiphanies that she supposedly has. Ryan Murphy again fails to develop what could have been a more rewarding film - much like what happened with "Running with Scissors", the film feels restrained and very trivial. What saves the film are the fantastic actors, namely Javier Bardem with his sad eyes, the fantastic Richard Jenkins who injects the film with a heart, Viola Davis as the great best friend and of course, Julia Roberts, who carries this film from beginning to end and who makes this character likable and tolerable (a character who could have easily be called self centered and privileged). A highlight should also be given to the stunning cinematography from Robert Richardson. A film that is forgettable but that it could have been so much more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mission: Impossible 2

Movie name: Mission: Impossible 2
Year of release: 2000
Director: John Woo
Stars: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, William Mapother, Dominic Purcell
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:Following the huge hit of the original "Mission: Impossible", actor and producer Tom Cruise, decided to come back with a sequel. The direction ended up being handled by famed director John Woo, a stalwart of Hong Kong action films and who at the time had made a name for himself with the big hits "Broken Arrow" and "Face Off". The film follows Ethan Hunt again, who is called for another impossible mission, this time to defeat a former ally from the same agency, who has gone rogue. The goal is to prevent his oponent of obtaining a dangerous disease who can kill rapidly. In order to defeat him, Hunt resorts to a woman with whom he is smitten and who was also a lover of his enemy.
Whereas Brian de Palma in the original film, tried to sustain the spirit of the original TV series, with the idea of the group of talented individuals at odds with an impossible situation, this sequel focused solely on Ethan Hunt, the new 007 of sorts. The problem however, was mostly in the tone that the director John Woo gave the film - there was no character development, no sense of excitement in the action scenes. The film played out like a long commercial, with glossy surfaces and some good looking faces and not much else to sustain it. The quick editing, the hyper violence/shoot outs and the choreographed fight scenes, seemed to be the focus of a film that could have been so much more. The actors are mostly lost and supporting to whole the noise going on. It's the Tom Cruise show in this film, but sadly it's one of his least inspired and interesting performances. An uninteresting film.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Movie name: Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Year of release: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, Ellen Wong, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Mae Whitman, Chris Evans, Brie Larson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Edgar Wright is a young British film-maker who has made a name for himself with two good films, namely "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", both great satires/comedies where the visual style is unique and where the writing is also impeccable. "Scott Pilgrim" finds him adapting a graphic novel and Wright holds nothing in terms of visual storytelling, bringing the quirkiness of the graphic novel and the feeling of young love hand in hand. The film follows the story of Scott Pilgrim, a young man who plays in a band, has romantic problems and lives with a gay roommate who is far savvier than Scott himself. Scott starts dating a young high school girl as a way to forget a previous breakup with another girl who also had a band and who left him when her band became well know. When Scott goes to a party, he meets Ramona Flowers, with whom he becomes smitten - when they start dating, Scott suddenly realizes he must deal with her 7 evil ex-boyfriends.
Edgar Wright wraps this whole teen angst story with a visual style and richness of characterization that makes the film fly by. Wright smartly adds the tone of a video game to the film, which makes each opponent that Scott battles, an added layer of comedy/irony, that permeates the film through and through. The comedy and nonsense is crucial to this story - the levity that it gives to the film makes the whole "young love" drama, feel lighter and quirky. The actors are well cast, with Michael Cera once again reprising his deadpan style, but Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin walk away with the film - their characters are smart and in their brief iterations, channel a lot more than mere superficiality. A good film worth watching!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mission: Impossible

Movie name: Mission: Impossible
Year of release: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Henry Czerny, Vanessa Redgrave, Dale Dye
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Brian De Palma is one of the directors that emerged from the late 60s early 70s, alongside Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin, Michael Cimino, to name but a few, who had a string of hits, with films like "Carrie", "Obsession" and "Dressed to Kill". His films in the 90s didn't fare so well, so when Tom Cruise invited him to direct "Mission: Impossible", based on the TV series of the 60s, De Palma didn't hesitate (he had also directed another TV to Feature film adaptation with "The Untouchables" in 1987).
The film introduces us to Ethan Hunt's team of undercover agents who work for the IMF, a top secret agency. Following a mission that goes awry, Ethan realizes there's a mole within the agency who has set him up as a dissident/traitor. It's up to Ethan and Claire, a fellow renegade, plus a crew of select agents to discover who the mole is and clear their names.
The film, written by David Koepp and Robert Towne (writer of "Chinatown"), is a cat and mouse game, placing the characters in difficult situations, where the sheer resourcefulness of them all, is what allows the game to continue. De Palma knows better than anyone how to build a suspense film, since he has made films who are staples of the genre (and some even claim, copycat of the master, Alfred Hitchcock). The film is nonetheless, a solid and entertaining action film, where each sequence fits within the larger puzzle towards the final climax. The actors are solid, with Tom Cruise leading the group, with special highlight to Jon Voight and Vanessa Redgrave who really steals the show. A very good action film.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

Movie name: The Kids are All Right
Year of release: 2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Stars: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Lisa Cholodenko made a name for herself with the acclaimed "High Art", which came out in 1998 and re-established Ally Sheedy's career and simultaneously launched Radha Mitchell's. After that Cholodenko directed two more features, "Laurel Canyon" and "Cavedweller", with different levels of success (in the meantime she also directed episodes of "Six Feet Under" and "The L Word" to name but a few successful TV shows). "The Kids Are All Right" screenplay/story draws directly from her personal experience as part of a lesbian couple raising children.
The film follows Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple who has been together for quite some time. Nic is a doctor, has a more controlling personality, whereas Jules is embarking in a new career as a landscape artist and has a more loose vibe to herself. They both have two children, Joni, a very intelligent young woman, about to go to college and Laser, a young man who is still in high school, who loves sports and is very close to his good friend Clay. Both Joni and Laser are trying to find their birth father, more specifically the sperm donor. They discover Paul to be that person. Paul is a mellow, middle aged man, who owns a restaurant and for whom life is just a stream of casual connections. The dynamics of these seemingly different people makes everyone re-evaluate their lives.
Cholodenko is a director who takes time to let characters grow on screen. Their personalities slowly establish themselves and as such it's always a pleasure to see such accomplished actors really bring these people to life. The film is like looking into the microcosms of this family and how they interact, independently of the sexual dynamics of the parents. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play their parts perfectly - Bening has almost perfected the part of the uptight woman and Julianne Moore as always gives a pitch perfect performance as someone trying to find herself and realize her potential. Mark Ruffalo brings his usual debonair style to a part that he already knows well enough - in a way his performance is a continuation of what he created in Kenneth Lonergan's "You Can Count on Me": the man who breezes through inconsequential relationships and who suddenly realizes that his youth is fleeting and that the time to have a family and real connection is upon him. Mia Wasikowska also does a good job playing Joni, a young woman trying to establish her own personality. The film ends up being a good showcase for these performers, but also feels a bit contrived in what shows of these dynamics and relationships. An interesting film.