Sunday, April 26, 2015

Everyone Says I Love You

Movie Name: Everyone Says I Love You
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Natasha Lyonne, Alan Alda, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas, Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Tim Roth, David Ogden Stiers,
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

After "Mighty Aphrodite", Woody Allen's 1996 release, "Everyone Says I Love You" was a fantastic come back to good form, in what turned out to be a celebratory and musical film. The film focuses on a group of characters, starting with Joe and his daughter DJ. DJ's mom, Steffi, has remarried and has a new family with Bob: they have a large family that also includes Skylar, Lane and Laura. Skylar is about to marry Holden, while Joe has gone through another separation, which prompts him to go to Venice, where he meets the beautiful Von. He ingratiates himself to her, and makes her believe he's the man of her dreams. These romantic complications start to unravel the lives of all these characters. 
Woody Allen's productive status during the 90s continued, and after the success of "Bullets Over Broadway" and the divisive "Mighty Aphrodite", "Everyone Says I Love You" was a beautiful ode to romance and the power of musicals. Woody Allen creates an interwoven narrative, where the characters sing classical torch and romantic songs, that are perfectly suited to each situation they are in. It's reminiscent of the classic Hollywood musicals and features great opportunities for the fantastic cast to have fun and be playful with beautiful songs (amongst the talented cast members belting songs, we have Edward Norton and Goldie Hawn). The cinematography from Carlo DiPalma is stunning, as is this film, that has become one of Allen's staples from the 90s.

Ex Machina

Movie Name: Ex Machina
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"Ex Machina" is the feature debut from celebrated writer Alex Garland (who worked previously with director Danny Boyle on "The Beach", "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine"). The film focuses on Caleb, a young promising software developer who wins a surprise award, to meet the reclusive and brilliant CEO of his company, Bluebook, a company emulating Google. Caleb is initially intimated by the brilliant Nathan, particularly when he finds out the real purpose of the visit - to test the limits of the AI he just developed (an artificial creation by the name of Ava). As the tests begin, Caleb starts realizing there's more to the story than he was initially aware of - in parallel Ava also has her own motivations that become transparent.
Alex Garland in all the features that he has worked thus far (which also includes Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" and Pete Travis' "Dredd"), always introduces a dystopian future and central characters that are discouraged and disillusioned by the state of things. "Ex Machina" introduces the concept of artificial intelligence, created by a billionaire genius (emulating Mark Zuckerberg), with an alarming message that the creation is in fact the demise of the creator. The android figure (fantastically well designed and executed) slowly starts unpeeling her own angle, allowing for this triangle to become a very interesting perspective, between the innocent view, the machiavellian creator and the creature. Unlike the classic story of "Frankenstein", the android isn't feared - she has developed her own plans and agenda. It's a menacing view of the concept of artificial intelligence, and what that represents for humanity. The film features a trio of great performances: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, and also a terrific score from Geoff Barrow (from band Portishead) and Ben Salisbury. A very good film worth watching.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It Follows

Movie Name: It Follows
Year of Release: 2014
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto, Loren Bass
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"It Follows" is David Robert Mitchell's sophomore effort, and is a successful horror feature. The film focuses on a high school student, Jai Height, who after a sexual relationship with a young man, is warned she'll start being followed by some entity. Jai initially doesn't believe this story, but these entities eventually start showing up, following her non stop. Her sister and her friends try to help her, and Jai comes to find out that by having intercourse with other people, she can pass this entity onto them. Her increasing shock and fear lead her to make some dramatic choices.
David Robert Mitchell has successfully created a horror film that is intelligent as is enigmatic. The film smartly builds the tension, allowing the viewers to get familiar with the quiet surroundings where the action takes place, giving us insight into the lives of these young people. When the entities appear, they are unexplained, unstoppable and lethal to whomever they find on their path. This is a film that lives from the suggestion of menace, and the tension builds increasingly since the protagonists never know when the entities will appear. It's simultaneously reverential towards the horror films of the late 70s and early 80s, but with a modern aesthetic. There's also a tone in the film that is increasingly distant and cerebral, similar to the early David Cronenberg films of the early 1980s (such as "The Brood" and "Videodrome").  The film benefits from a stunning score from Rich Vreeland, which is very nostalgic of John Carpenter's films, as well as the beautiful cinematography from Mike Gioulakis.  The young cast is uniformly good. A very good surprise worth watching.


Movie Name: Fargo
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, Peter Stormare, Larry Brandenburg, John Carroll Lynch, Tony Denman, Steve Reevis, Bruce Bohne, Steve Park
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Following their bigger budget experiment with "The Hudsucker Proxy" (done for Warner Brothers studio), the Coen brothers went back to their independent roots, and came back with what turned out to be one of their biggest hits and one of their most iconic films to date, the celebrated "Fargo". Based on a true story, the film focuses on the story of Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman in Minnesota, who's going through financial problems. Jerry devises a plan to get ahead, by forging a fake kidnapping of his wife, getting the ransom money from his extremely wealthy father in law. For that purpose, he hires two unscrupulous crooks, who kidnap his wife, but in the process end up killing a bunch of people and derailing what was originally a simple plan. This sparks the attention of chief of police Marge Gunderson, a resourceful and very pregnant police officer who starts untangling this messy ordeal.
Joel and Ethan Coen have made a career of showcasing humor in surreal and extreme situations. "Fargo" is one of their most successful features, since it perfectly captures habits and language of a small community located in the Midwest. The characters are perfectly depicted, showcasing their traits and how they react to situations that become increasingly more bizarre (and the humor that comes from these surreal scenarios). The film also has a perfect combination of a cast of characters and the space surrounding them: the frozen tundra that exists in Minnesota also becomes one of the central characters of the film. The actors are uniformly fantastic, from the always superb Frances McDorman (who won the Oscar), to William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare (most of whom collaborate with the brothers frequently). The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stunning as is the score from Carter Burwell. A classic always worth watching!


Movie Name: Basquiat
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Julian Schnabel
Stars: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Wincott, Claire Forlani, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Parker Posey, Paul Bartel, Elina Lowensohn, Courtney Love
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Celebrated artist Julian Schnabel made his debut feature with the biopic for fellow artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The film focuses on the beginnings of the artist, as he struggles in the streets of New York, basically living on the streets and doing remedial tasks to survive. Basquiat eventually gets discovered by Andy Warhol, who becomes a friend and a patron. He has a meteoric rise in popularity in the art world, but in the process alienates some of his friends and former partner, not to mention he becomes increasingly addicted to drugs.
Julian Schnabel introduces us to Basquiat when he's already an adult and living in the streets of New York. The fact that the artist had a big connection to the music world, is somewhat sidestepped, but his involvement with Andy Warhol, is deeply explored, which is where the film actually soars. The director captures the dynamics of an artist with fears of fading away, versus someone who's rising on the scene, and for whom everything is fresh, unique and challenging. The film is surprisingly hollow in terms of understanding why Basquiat was the artist he was, but deftly manages to create an interesting fabric of the relationships he built, populating the story with interesting supporting characters and providing insight into the art world of New York in the 80s. It's a film that lives more from broad strokes, than an integrated narrative, and unlike Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons", the audience is never really ingrained in this artist's process. The cast is uniformly good, particularly the fantastic Jeffrey Wright and David Bowie who has a fantastic performance as Andy Warhol. An interesting first feature from a director who went on to do far superior work.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The English Patient

Movie Name: The English Patient
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Julian Wadham, Jurgen Prochnow, Kevin Whately, Clive Merrison
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Director Anthony Minghella premiered "The English Patient" in 1996 to critical and commercial success, following a discrete career, that was up until that point, more focused on writing than directing. The film is an adaptation of the book by Michael Ondaatje, which won the Booker Prize of 1992. The story takes place in the aftermath of WWII, and introduces us to a survivor of a lethal fire, who is badly scarred, and who is being taken care of by a beautiful nurse. We get to know this patient through numerous flashbacks - his name is Count Almasy, an Hungarian count, who during the 1930s was exploring the Sahara Desert for the Royal Geographic Society. Part of this expedition across the desert includes Geoffrey Clifton and his wife Katherine, who become friends with Almasy. When Geoffrey leaves to explore further areas of the desert on his plane, a relationship emerges between Kaherine and Almasy. This relationship between the two has a tragic development. In parallel with these flashbacks, we also see the relationship of Hana, the nurse, unfold with a young soldier by the name of Kip.
"The English Patient" is a film with an epic scope, and a sense of classic storytelling that makes it feel and be seen like a film from the Hollywood golden age. It drinks a bit of inspiration from David Lean, but also from Sydney Pollack's "Out of Africa". The director successfully manages to create a mosaic of relationships, expanding particularly well on the flashbacks, where Almasy and Katherine slowly get to know each other, and where the film acquires most of its dramatic edge. It's a romantic film that is utterly sold based on the fantastic performances from Ralph Fiennes (quite possibly one the most underrated actors working to this day) and Kristin Scott Thomas. Anthony Minghella also captures the different stories that define the arcs of the supporting characters, namely Hana, Caravaggio and Kip. It benefits from a stunning cinematography from John Seale and a wonderful and alluring score from Gabriel Yared. A beautiful film always worth revisiting.

While We're Young

Movie Name: While We're Young
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz, Maria Dizzia, Matthew Maher, Peter Yarrow, Dree Hemingway
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Director Noah Baumbach's new feature, comes after the critical success of "Frances Ha". The film focuses on the story of a couple in their mid 40s, Josh and Cordelia, whose best friends just had a baby, and whose life seems to be consumed about having and dealing with children. Josh is a documentary film maker, and has a strained relationship with Cordelia's father, himself an established film maker. In one of Josh's presentations he meets Jamie, a young man in his 20s, who is a big fan of his work. He soon introduces Josh to his wife Darby - this young couple is the epitome of trendy, with their love of vinyl records, bike rides and spontaneity. However Josh starts noticing they also cash in on the generosity of others, and what they present as their lives may not be entirely so.
Noah Baumbach has successfully made a career for himself capturing the life of elite intellectuals in New York with problems of integration or finding their own footing in life. With "While We're Young" Baumbach has written a story that pierces the core of two interesting subject matters: learning to age and mature, and how younger generations have a somewhat lack of scruples and are generally inconsequential about their choices and behavior. The film is perfect in its depiction of how these two couples meet and how the older one feels energized by the dynamics of the younger couple, yet as the reality of these relationships start to materialize, there's a darker tone that starts emerging. The director smartly manages to build a comedy that showcases the idiocy of some behaviors, while also contemplating some darker themes in how some people are parasitical of others. The cast is uniformly good, particularly Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, that give their characters respectively a certain angst and a depth that make this couple both endearing and relatable. Another great film from Noah Baumbach!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Breaking the Waves

Movie Name: Breaking the Waves
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Lars Von Trier
Stars: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins, Jonathan Hackett, Sandra Voe, Udo Kier, Mikkel Gaup, Finlay Welsh, Phil McCall, Roef Ragas
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Following the critical success of "Europa", director Lars Von Trier came back to the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 with "Breaking the Waves", which again would win the Grand Prize of the Jury. The film focuses on the story of Bess, a young and deeply religious woman, who lives in a small town in Scotland. Bess meets and falls in love with a danish oil-rig worker by the name of Jan. After getting married, Jan returns to the rig, where he suffers an accident which leaves him unable to walk and also to have sex with Bess. Jan asks Bess to seek out sexual satisfaction with other men, and report back to him on those experiences. Bess becomes convinced that her sacrifice is making Jan's health improve, and she progressively becomes tangled in riskier situations. 
Lars Von Trier has by now built an impressive body of work, and "Breaking the Waves" increased his visibility to a whole new level. The film is a stunning exploration of the power of faith and sacrifice, and much like a lot of his latter efforts, the central character goes through a dramatic expiation of her sins, in order to give a second life to her loved one. Much like the tribulations of Selma in "Dancer in the Dark", Bess' life slowly starts to unravel as her realization becomes more apparent to her. The film showcases a fantastic central performance by Emily Watson, who bares her body and soul as Bess, the enamored woman, who goes to every length of effort to make her loved one live, including doing acts that are shameful for her and her beliefs. Lars Von Trier divides the film in different chapters, much like the circles of hell written by Dante Alighieri - each chapter is a further sacrifice for Bess in her path. The film features a beautiful cinematography from Robby Muller. A simply stunning film!

Beautiful Thing

Movie Name: Beautiful Thing
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Hettie Macdonald
Stars: Glen Berry, Scott Neal, Linda Henry, Ben Daniels, Tameka Empson, Daniel Bowers, John Benfield, Garry Cooper
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

"Beautiful Thing" is the debut feature of director Hettie Macdonald, who has since gone on to direct prestige projects for the BBC. The film is an adaptation of the play by celebrated writer Jonathan Harvey, and follows the story of Jamie, a 16 year old boy who lives with his mom in the suburbs of London. Jamie gets his fair share of bullying at school, and overcomes it all by immersing himself in films, music and his friendship with his neighbor, Leah (a huge Mama Cass fan). His other neighbor, is also a school friend, the athletic and quiet Ste, himself a victim of bullying, but mostly domestic from his abusive father and brother. These two young men, find themselves thrown together, and slowly fall in love against all odds. 
"Beautiful Thing" manages to superbly capture the life of the English suburbs, very much in the vein of Mike Leigh, showcasing the reality of living with few means, but it also stages the evolution of the love story in a way that makes the film look like an alternate reality. Hettie Macdonald also directs the young cast in a naturalistic way, managing to capture the pains and surprises of being in love, of being different, and how the adult world that surrounds the central pair, reacts to their burgeoning relationship. All these nuances make this film truly memorable, with highlights also going to the great cast, namely Glen Berry, Scott Neal, Linda Henry, Tameka Empson and Ben Daniels. This eclectic ensemble brings this multifaceted story to life, benefiting from a nostalgic score and cinematography from Chris Seager. A great film worth discovering.