Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jurassic Park

Movie Name: Jurassic Park
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight, Miguel Sandoval
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Steven Spielberg had a great year in 1993. He came out with two huge critically acclaimed films, both of whom were box office hits and won Oscars at the the Academy Awards: both "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List" were the films of that year.
"Jurassic Park" is an adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel and focuses the attention on an amusement park where the main attractions are dinosaurs that have been recreated genetically.  In order to get further funding for the park, it's owner and manager, John Hammond, assembles a team of experts to provide scientific backing and endorsement that he needs. He finds scientists Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and Ian Malcolm, and alongside his grandchildren, he assembles a tour of the park during a weekend. However, all that could go wrong, eventually does, and most of the people in the park end up having to fight for their lives from those dangerous creatures.
Steven Spielberg is a fantastic film maker, and throughout his career the core of his work has always touched and emphasized the concept of broken families and the formation of different family units. "Jurassic Park" uses Michael Crichton's scientific take on the dangers of genetic manipulation, to build a film that is suspenseful and truly thrilling, very much in the tradition of what Spielberg had done with "Jaws". The film manages to create a sense of menace and excitement, also seen through the eyes of the children who are part of the cast and for whom, the experience of seeing dinosaurs is like the unfolding of a new universe. The cast is uniformly great, particularly Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern. The visual effects are stunning as is the cinematography from Dean Cundey (and the score from John Williams). A great film always worth revisiting.


Movie Name: Philadelphia
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Joanne Woodward, Anna Deavere Smith, Ron Vawter, Bradley Whitford, Ann Dowd, John Bedford Lloyd, Charles Napier, Daniel von Bargen, Tracey Walter
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Following the critical and commercial success of the wonderful "The Silence of the Lambs", director Jonathan Demme tackled an original screenplay from Ron Nyswaner, one that focused on the emergence of the Aids virus. This was the first film to focus on that subject matter, with the backing of a big studio, in this case, Columbia Pictures (Norman Rene's "Longtime Companion" for instance also tackled the same subject matter, but it was a more independently financed film).
The film follows the story of corporate attorney Andrew Beckett, a successful young man, who suddenly sees himself laid off from his job with a very well regarded law firm. Andrew tries to find a lawyer to represent him, since he feels he was sabotaged by his former employers, who wanted him out of the office, once they realized he had Aids. Andrew manages to get Joe Miller to represent him - Joe is initially repulsed by the idea (particularly since he's homophobic and doesn't know much about the virus and how it is transmitted), but he comes to realize who Andrew truly is.
Jonathan Demme has been known to tackle very different types of stories throughout his eclectic directing career. One thing that remains constant throughout his films is the deep humanity that he allows his characters to have. His films always feel very authentic and genuine, where actors are fully able to flush out the characters they embody. Sometimes the tissue and the weaving of the story itself, isn't the most interesting, but the characters always seem alive and authentic. "Philadelphia" is no exception: Demme successfully makes a film that goes beyond propaganda - the film shows the reality of a mortal ailment that doesn't affect just a stereotype that people may have created in their minds. Andrew Beckett is a man that has a family life, who has a partner and whose life transcends the perceptions of what people may have of what gay life is about. The actors are uniformly good, in particular Tom Hanks, Jason Robards and Mary Steenburgen, all of whom bring their characters to life in a vivid and memorable way. The cinematography from Tak Fujimoto is beautiful as is the score from Howard Shore. A solid film worth watching.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Piano

Movie Name: The Piano
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Genevieve Lemon, Tungia Baker, Ian Mune, Cliff Curtis
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Director Jane Campion is one of the most interesting voices of contemporary cinema. Her films are fiercely personal and follow characters that are usually strong willed women, struggling to find their own path.
"The Piano" came on the heels of Jane Campion's previously fantastically accomplished films "Sweetie" and "An Angel at My Table". The film follows the story of Ada, a mute woman who alongside her daughter, gets sent to New Zealand to marry a man whom she's never met (in the 1850s). Ada uses her piano as a way to express herself, and she's forced to teach lessons to a local landowner, since her piano is used as a negotiating tool by her new husband. The proximity between these disparate souls creates a connection that has dramatic consequences.
Jane Campion has managed to create a career that is punctuated by films with central heroines that are strong and resourceful, though they are met with adversity in the shape of men who are insecure and frightened of female resourcefulness and sexuality. "The Piano" places the central character in an environment that is harsh and primal, one that contrasts with her poetic way of expressing herself through her music and piano. In this environment the blossoming of an erotic and passionate love story emerges, one that is all consuming. The core performances are fantastic, from Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin. Also worthy of plenty of praise are the beautiful cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh and the score from Michael Nyman. A classic always worth revisiting from a truly unique voice in modern cinema.

Love is Strange

Movie Name: Love is Strange
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Ira Sachs
Stars: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, Darren E. Burrows, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, Christina Kirk, Harriet Harris, Charlie Tahan, John Cullum
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Ira Sachs follows his latest film "Keep the Lights On", with the wonderful "Love is Strange". The film follows the story of George and Ben, a gay couple who have been together for 39 years and live in New York. After they both get married, George is laid off from the church he teaches in, and due to that the couple loses the apartment where they have lived for over 20 years. The logistics of finding a new apartment in New York is complex and forces the couple to seek a place to live within their family and close friends. Both George and Ben are split up, living with different family units while trying to navigate the process of overcoming the high cost of living and still stay together.
Ira Sachs has successfully built a film that anchors its strength on the performances of the actors and the core of the story that it depicts. The film showcases the amount of tenderness that exists between a couple that has lived together for a lifetime - this is superbly acted by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, who both excel in creating characters that are alive and feel real. Sachs also successfully addresses the issues pertaining to aging and the difficulties of living in a city that is intrusively expensive. The film is simultaneously heartfelt, realistic and ultimately memorable - a celebration of a lifetime. A fantastic film worth watching.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Husbands and Wives

Movie Name: Husbands and Wives
Year of Release: 1992
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Liam Neeson, Juliette Lewis, Lysette Anthony, Ron Rifkin, Blythe Danner, Caroline Aaron, Nora Ephron,
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" came out in 1992, to great critical acclaim, on the heels of the less well received "Shadows and Fog". The film follows the story of two middle aged couples, one of them, composed of Jack and Sally, announce their imminent split to their best friends, Gabe and Judy. Judy in particular receives the news of this breakup quite painfully, and as the relationships progressively move ahead, and Jack and Sally start seeing other people, Gabe and Judy also start to question where their relationship is.
Woody Allen in the 90s continued his rich streak of probing the relationships of well established couples in New York. "Alice" (from 1990) was a way for him to use comedy and a whimsy sense of wonder to depict the story of a woman's discovery of herself and personal ambitions, "Husbands and Wives" went in the direction of capturing the demise of a crumbling marriage and marital relationships. The film uses a documentary tone and feel, to capture a feeling of authenticity and immediacy which gives the relationships between the main characters a very realistic feel. All the actors excel in their roles, as is usual in Woody Allen films, particularly the fantastic Judy Davis (who was nominated for an Academy Award). The cinematography from Carlo Di Palma is also stunning. This is a modern classic, one that captures the emotional peaks and lows of any relationship. Worth watching.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Movie Name: Bram Stoker's Dracula
Year of Release: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Sadie Frost, Bill Campbell, Richard E. Grant, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, Florina Kendrick, Jay Robinson
Genre: Horror, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

"Bram Stoker's Dracula" was director Francis Ford Coppola's first big hit, after the previous decade (the 80s), where he tackled wonderful films that didn't find an audience (such as "One From the Heart" and "Cotton Club" to name but a few). The film is an adaptation of the Bram Stoker's novel, and follows the story of Count Dracula, an immortal bloodthirsty creature, who was at one point a respectable and reputed nobleman who fought the Turks in the 15th century. He lost his adored wife at the time, and has since tried to discover some re-incarnation of her. When Jonathan Harker, under his employ, comes to Romania to assist him, he accidentally sets in motion the attention of this creature towards his fiancee, Mina.
Francis Ford Coppola has had a fantastic career, one filled with true and unmistakable features that are now classics ("The Godfather", "The Conversation" and "Apocalypse Now" to name but a few). "Bram Stoker's Dracula" features some of his most interesting concepts, both aesthetically and thematically. He converts the Bram Stoker's novel, from a tragic and suspense story about a supernatural creature, into a love story that crosses centuries. It's a tragedy of operatic grandeur, with the lovers separated by time and by choices that they both have made. The film benefits from great central performances (even if some are borderline overacting), from Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder. The cinematography from Michael Ballhaus is unforgettable, as is the stunning costumes from the late Eiko Ishioka (who justifiably won an Oscar for her work). The film works on all levels, from the more suspenseful tone that it builds upon, while simultaneously developing the chore romantic relationship of the lead characters. Visually it's equally phenomenal, with the several camera tricks the director uses, to better paint his canvas. A modern classic always worth revisiting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Crying Game

Movie Name: The Crying Game
Year of Release: 1992
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson, Forest Whitaker, Ralph Brown, Jim Broadbent, Tony Slattery, Adrian Dunbar
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

When Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game" opened in 1992, it turned out to be the surprise of the year, earning accolades for both the director and the fantastic cast he had assembled (and earned 6 Oscar nominations and one win for Neil Jordan, in the screenplay category). The film introduces us to Jody, a young British soldier who is kidnapped by the IRA. During his captivity, Jody befriends Fergus, one of the men responsible for his imprisonment. When negotiations fail, and events turn for the worst, Fergus goes to London, seeking Dil, the woman who was involved with Jody. His goal is mainly to keep a watchful eye on her, but their relationship becomes more amorous and romantic along the way. However events from the past catch up with both of them.
Neil Jordan has made a name for himself, with an eclectic array of films in his filmography, where the range and style of films goes from the fantastic to the realistic (examples of these are "The Company of Wolves" and "Mona Lisa" for instance). Jordan is also a published author, and his films reflect his very unique vision of the world, filled with characters that are on an immediate perception, quite different (his films have focused on transgendered, vampires, ghosts, amongst others), they do manage to integrate into the web of every day life. "The Crying Game" came after Jordan's uneven Hollywood experience (that produced "High Spirits" and "We're no Angels"), and though a very small and independent film (budget wise), it managed to be nominated for the main awards of 1992 (Oscars and Baftas to name but a few) and dazzle for it's uniqueness and attention to the relationships between the lead characters. The cast was perfectly cast, with Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson and Miranda Richardson, each creating indelible characters. This is a film that has endured and lived beyond it's initial surprise and twists, to become a veritable classic. Unmissable.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Movie Name: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Christopher Lloyd, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Juno Temple, Jamie Chung, Marton Csokas, Stacy Keach, Jude Ciccolella
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez sequel to their successful 2005 film, "Sin City". The original film made popular the concept of shooting a film in full green screen context, which allowed for the backgrounds and effects to be done in post production, and closely resemble the drawings and art direction of Frank Miller. The sequel basically focuses on three episodes that cross the multitude of characters that inhabit this universe. One of the stories focuses on Dwight and his relationship with a femme fatale by the name of Ava Lord, a woman of exquisite beauty who lures men to her web of deception. Ava successfully makes Dwight kill her husband upon which she sets her goals on destroying him. It's up to Dwight and his accomplices to try to stop her. Another episode focuses on Johnny, a young man who is a professional gambler possessed of an extraordinary amount of luck. He successfully wins every game, until he deliberately crosses paths with the corrupt and amoral Senator Roark. He humiliates the politician during a card game, prompting Roark to go after him for revenge. The final episode focuses on Nancy, the dancer, who wants revenge against Senator Roark, for the death of her protector and lover, the policeman Hartigan. She secures the help of Marv, and they both go on a death spree, trying to end Roark's existence.
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is for all intended purposes a direct follow up from the previous film that brought the name of Frank Miller to larger audiences and introduced them to the aesthetic and concept of a live (and highly stylized) graphic novel. The stories on both films are quite similar - Sin City is a corrupt city, where men still hold their honor, the police and politicians are corrupt, and women are dangerous and menacing. The film anchors most of the focus on the visual style, which is as the previous one, stunning and meticulously created. However, as a fully fledged film, it feels incomplete and somewhat limited - it relies heavily on large chunks of character narration and description, which makes the stories feel under-developed. The cast assembled is impressive, but the highlight is definitely Eva Green - she truly creates a femme fatale that is irresistible and unforgettable. A flawed yet interesting film worth watching.