Sunday, June 30, 2013

White House Down

Movie Name: White House Down
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, James Woods, Joey King, Nicolas Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Michael Murphy, Rachelle Lefevre, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven, Jake Webber, Peter Jacobson
Genre: Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Director Roland Emmerich is back after his previous directorial effort, the sadly forgotten "Anonymous". "White House Down" follows the story of John Cale, a young father who is trying to get into the Secret Services and be assigned to the President's protection group. John is trying to impress his daughter in the process, but coincidentally, the day of their visit to the White House, there's an attempt to highjack it and take the President hostage. John manages to avoid the President being captured, however his daughter is held captive. What follows is a tense game of hide and seek where John and President try to outsmart their captors and avoid a worldwide nuclear meltdown.
Roland Emmerich has always been a director who has primed for the creation of films that focus on big spectacle, films where the screenplay touches on instantly recognizable plot points. His interest lies in the spectacle that can be achieved with stories that deal with the imminent destruction of popular and iconic locales - he has achieved that in films such as "Godzilla", "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012". Sadly "White House Down" embeds itself in all possible cliches that have been touched and devised by previous action films, such as John McTiernan's "Die Hard", without any of the inventiveness that have characterized them. The film has pacing issues, and the screenplay offers nothing to the wonderful cast that was assembled to do. James Woods, Jason Clarke and Richard Jenkins, all gifted actors are simply playing cardboard characters, the same can be said for Maggie Gyllenhaal. The one actor who seems to enjoy the whole ride is Channing Tatum, who wears his character with an ironic smirk. A missed opportunity for Roland Emmerich to build a smart action film.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Bling Ring

Movie Name: The Bling Ring
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Leslie Mann, Gavin Rossdale, Stacy Edwards, Georgia Rock, Carlos Miranda
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Director Sofia Coppola's new effort, following "Somewhere", is again a story focusing on disaffected youth. The story is based on the true events that occurred in Calabasas, CA, when a group of teenagers started robbing the houses of celebrities. The film introduces us to Marc, a young man who comes to a new school and befriends Rebecca, a young woman who clearly knows how to navigate the social structure of the school. Rebecca starts bringing Marc on her looting sprees, where they go into people's unlocked cars and just take what they can find. That soon escalates to the houses of celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and Lindsay Lohan's. These robberies become a social high for this group of friends that is joined by Chloe, Sam and Nicki. This behavior starts to spiral out of control, as the number of houses and diversity of materials they rob increase, until the group gets caught on camera.
Sofia Coppola is a director with a specific sensibility, aesthetic and universe. She invariably focuses her films on young people who are, to a certain level, thrown into an adult world without being completely prepared to tackle the responsibilities that comes with it. These young adults, are sometimes trying to find their way in the world, through meaningful amorous relationships, through accepted social status and behavior, and of course, through the acceptance of groups of other young people, as is the case of "The Bling Ring". In this film, the director smartly avoids making a caricature of these characters, yet the film feels superficial in the depiction of this group of young people.  The continuous depiction of these robberies, though presenting the progression of the sheer audacity of the group, it does not provide further insight into who they are. The film focuses on the baubles, how these young people obsess on their public persona, in a society which is celebrity focused and where all this information is constantly bombarded (TMZ for instance). It's a film that on a first viewing seems ironic, but that definitely shines an interesting mirror into the core of what currently obsesses people. The cast is uniformly good, with highlights to Emma Watson and Leslie Mann. A film worth watching.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

World War Z

Movie Name: World War Z
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

German director Marc Forster's career continues to be filled with eclectic and different choices. Following the poorly received "Machine Gun Preacher", Forster has tackled the adaptation of Max Brooks' "World War Z", a book that details the zombie epidemic and how humanity handles it's outburst. The film introduces us to the Lane family - Gerry and Karin and their two daughters, who live in Philadelphia. Gerry is a former UN investigator, who quit his job to take care of his kids. This apparent blissful existence is thrown into disarray when a zombie outburst occurs, and quickly topples every big city in existence. Gerry and his family are taken to a safe haven, but as a trade off, Gerry has to go to the hot zones of the outbursts, and hopefully discover how the whole epidemic began and how it can be battled.
"World War Z" is a film that has had it's fair share of shooting issues and problems during production, due to mixed opinions to the ending and overall tone and direction of the film. The result is however surprisingly engaging. The film allows for a perfect analogy to how humanity deals with an epidemic of gargantuan proportions, but also for our current times, with the current economic woes and how everything single movement that one country does is echoed everywhere and resonates elsewhere. The zombies in this film are also quite different from have been detailed in other excursions on this theme: these creatures function very much like a virus that wants to spread as much and as quickly as possible. In that sense the film perfectly captures the sense of urgency, fear and sheer dimension of what an event like this can create. Forster smartly balances the big action set pieces, with a more confined point of view, which in this case focuses on Gerry and his quest to return to his family - his frantic need to do the right thing, but also remain alive and safe for the sake of his loved ones, gives the film it's heart. The film does have underdeveloped and underused characters, but it's tone and aesthetic are fantastically adequate for what the film presents and stages. Brad Pitt again commands the screen in an adequate performance. A suspenseful, smartly conceived film worth watching.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel

Movie Name: Man of Steel
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Ayelet Zurer, Dylan Sprayberry
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

After the disappointment that was "Sucker Punch", director Zack Snyder is back with the adaptation of a comic book, something he has dabbled in before, though previously he adapted graphic novels, which resulted in his films "300" and "Watchmen". "Man of Steel" follows the well known story of Superman - we are presented with the collapse of his home planet, Krypton. His parents save him from the destruction of their home planet, and also from the ire of General Zod, someone who sees his pursuits as the ultimate goal and who stops for nothing or for no one. Kal El is sent to Earth where he's raised in a small farm in Kansas, by the Kents, who raise the young Clark/Kal El with the knowledge he is special and whose destiny will change the human race. Clark eventually goes on a quest for himself, until he comes to terms with his alien origins. That acknowledgement also awakens the pursuit of a lost enemy - Zod. He comes to Earth to claim Kal El and the planet itself.
Zack Snyder is a director who has always primed for being visually virtuoso and for bringing a specific aesthetic to his films. His experience as a commercials director has always been clearly present in most of his features, which thus far has produced results that have been both interesting - "Dawn of the Dead" and "Watchmen", and also less interesting - "Sucker Punch". "Man of Steel" tries a different approach to the Superman legacy - it tries to create the hero as a young man coming to terms with a sense of belonging - someone who is just trying to find who he is and who his real family is. That is the concept that permeates the film - the heritage of who who we are and how we preserve a sense of identity. However these themes, as ambitious as they may be, are tossed aside for the greater spectacle of an endless digital effects showcase, which engulfs the story altogether. The last section of the film becomes a doppelganger of Lana and Andy Wachowski's "Matrix Revolutions", with endless fight scenes and special effects that though visually enticing, are hollow and meaningless after the viewer is bombarded with them endlessly. The actors end up having little to do, and feel a bit sidetracked in the middle of all the rubble and destruction that is on screen - Amy Adams and Michael Shannon have little to do, and ultimately is Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Russell Crowe who give the film it's heart. An assault on the senses that is ultimately unrewarding. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stories we Tell

Movie Name: Stories we Tell
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Sarah Polley
Featuring: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Joanna Polley, Mort Ransen, Mark Polley, Deirdre Bowen, Pixie Bigelow, Geoffrey Bowes
Genre: Documentary
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Sarah Polley is of course well known for her acting skills, but since "Away from Her", she has steadily been building a directing career, one that also includes "Take this Waltz".
"Stories we Tell" is a documentary that the director embarked on, to know more about her mother's story, and ultimately her own. Sarah Polley's mother passed away in 1990, and left behind a devastated family and some questions regarding the director's own parenthood. The documentary tries to trace the story of Diane and Sarah Polley's, from multiple and distinct voices (family members, friends, co-workers). The documentary also includes a lot of stock footage, depicting the family's earlier days, where all the key players give us an insight into what that family life was all about. It's interesting that Sarah Polley actually turns the tables on the documentary premise, and she actually stages these scenes with actors portraying her parents and siblings. It is in a way, bringing to life, stories she can only reminisce through the words of others. This is a documentary that probes deep into what makes a family a unique reality, with all their dynamics, secrets, pain and anguish that make every day life so indistinguishably theirs. A great documentary worth watching and reflecting upon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Purge

Movie Name: The Purge
Year of Release: 2013
Director: James DeMonaco
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, Tisha French, Dana Bunch
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

James DeMonaco has made his career as a screenwriter, with the remake of "Assault on Precint 13" being one of his most visible features. "The Purge" takes place in a nearby future, one where unemployment and violence have been almost wiped out from society. This has been accomplished by using "The Purge", a night where everyone can do whatever they want, in terms of violence and mayhem. It's during this night that the Sandin family gets prepared to spend it within the confinements of their protected shelter. That is until Charlie, the young son, lets a hunted man into their household. What follows is a game of resistance, with the captors trying to get their prey.
This low budget film, has a very interesting premise - it questions and raises issues pertaining to the social tissue of society, racial issues, all filled with great potential. However the director opts to make the film more specifically about the violence that surrounds a family and how the gradual realization of the deeply rotten core of a ritual, actually represents the perversity of what lies within that society. What could have been a fantastically accomplished thriller, claustrophobic and filled with tension, quickly degenerates into a series of cliches (and shootouts), which sadly make the film a lot less interesting. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey try to make the best of their characters, but have sadly little to do, other than act scared and scream when required. An interesting premise wasted in a forgettable film.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Frances Ha

Movie Name: Frances Ha
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Charlotte d'Amboise, Patrick Heusinger
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"Frances Ha" follows director Noah Baumbach's latest directorial effort "Greenberg", which also featured the performance of Greta Gerwig, who is a co-writer on this feature. The film follows the story of Frances, a 27 year old dancer, who shares an apartment with her best friend Sophie in NY. Frances is honest and outspoken, and seamlessly wandering in random directions (both professionally and personally), something that gets aggravated when Sophie moves out and Frances is forced to find a place to live. The film follows the life of this young woman, who is looking for some meaning and a path to her life that always seems to be going in directions she doesn't quite control.
Noah Baumbach has managed to create a film that is endearing and funny, following the life of a young woman in NY (even including some slapstick moments). The film has a certain touch of Woody Allen, in the way that it captures Frances' socially awkward behavior at times, surrounded by a certain intellectual milieu that prevails in the NY art scene. Greta Gerwig creates a character that is at times annoying, sweet and comical - her Frances is simply eager to find a direction in her life, but doesn't really know how to start. These are the pains of growing up and becoming an adult, even if it is in the bohemian and intellectual scenario of NY (and even if the young men and women in this film come from financially "comfortable" backgrounds). Also to be highlighted, the performance of Mickey Sumner as Sophie and the beautiful cinematography of Sam Levy. A good film to be seen and enjoyed.

Now You See Me

Movie Name: Now You See Me
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Louis Leterrier
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Michael Kelly, Common, David Washofsky, Jose Garcia, Jessica Lindsey
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Louis Leterrier has made a name for himself directing big action films, namely "The Incredible Hulk" and "Clash of the Titans". His latest feature follows a group of magicians who get assembled by an unknown figure, to perform daring tricks that are surprising and completely unexpected. These tricks increase in scale, and involve some high concept robbery, which places them under the pursuit of the FBI and Interpol. Also on their pursuit is Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who now makes a living unmasking other people's tricks. Both Thaddeus and the FBI are unprepared for what the final trick of the group turns out to be.
Louis Leterrier is a director more interested in staging frantic and elaborate actions sequences, as can be verified from his directing resume (he also directed the first two "Transporter" films).  "Now You See Me" has an interesting concept - illusionists that are robbers. However throughout the film, the story ends up focusing more on the FBI and Interpol agents that are actively pursuing the group. Nothing much is said about the characters, and there is information thrown in by other characters intending on distracting the viewer for the big final revelation. Sadly though, is difficult to care much about the characters when nothing much is said about any of them - we never really know much of any of the magicians or the people chasing them. It's a cat and mouse chase, whose sole purpose is building ground for the final secret and revelation. The film has a wonderful cast, and Mark Ruffalo creates the most satisfying character, but it's still surprising to see talented actors such as Melanie Laurent, Jesse Eisenberg and Morgan Freeman with little to do. A film that is enjoyable but also quickly forgotten.