Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land

Movie Name: La La Land
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Damian Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, 
Genre: Drama, Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
View Trailer Here

After the critical success of "Whiplash", director Damian Chazelle has returned with a new feature, this time around a beautiful musical. The film follows the story of Sebastian and Mia in Los Angeles. Sebastian is a jazz player who ambitions to own his own jazz club where he can play what he likes, improvise his music play and generally be his own man. Mia is a struggling actress, going to every audition she can get, and most of the times being ignored. They are drawn into each other, and eventually begin a relationship, one that is put to the test when their aspirations and dreams hit a challenging time.
"La La Land" manages to be simultaneously referential to the musicals of Classic Hollywood, but also to the work of celebrated french director Jacques Demy (who directed the classics "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort"), all the while maintaining its own identity and uniqueness. The film is vibrant with the usage of color, melody and rhythm, and instantly inserts us viewers into the universe we're about to witness. And what a universe it is: the musical numbers are dazzling and fresh, with a perfect blend of drama and character context, before taking us away to dizzying heights of pure choreographed beauty. It's a film that lives from the rapport between the two leads, who are perfectly cast, and create indelible characters. The film is filled with beautiful details, that surface on the production design, or costume design, and how colors are used to accentuate emotions and particular scenes. It's a film that manages to capture the sweetness and longing of romance, while also taking us on a ride through jazz music. The cinematography from Linus Sandgren is stunning, as is the score by Justin Hurwitz. A great film worth watching!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Assassin's Creed

Movie Name: Assassin's Creed
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Justin Kurzel
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis Menochet, Ariane Labed, Essie Davis, Javier Gutierrez, Carlos Bardem, Hovik Keuchkerian
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are back in another collaboration, following last year's "Macbeth", which was met with really good reviews. This time around they are involved in the adaptation of the video game "Assassin's Creed", which has been around since 2007 and has enjoyed a long life with multiple sequels and offshoots. The film introduces us to the Assassins, a secret order who has existed for centuries, and has battled the Templars who are intent on possessing the Apple (the Apple of Eden), a device that allows to control all free will. The film focuses specifically on Callum Lynch, a convicted criminal, who is rescued from certain death, by a modern incarnation of the Templars, who are intent on retrieving the Apple, using a special device that allows for people with the same genetic code to relive their past experiences. This machine, named the Animus, takes Callum all the way back to Spain in 1492, where he gets to experience the events of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha, who was also trying to prevent the Templars of seizing the device and subjugate the human race. As Callum further goes back in time, he also starts realizing how his ancestor had an impact on all his life, including the life and choices of his parents. This awakening sets him on a mission to destroy all that the Templars are intent on doing.
Justin Kurzel is a very talented director, with a distinct point of view and a style and aesthetic that are quite distinct. That was on display in "Macbeth", and is again one of the stronger points of "Assassin's Creed". For all the polish and incredible talent, both in front and behind the cameras, the screenplay and screen story are however too simplistic and ultimately unsatisfying to really justify the existence of this film. The central character never really exists beyond the quick premise, and how it suddenly finds itself at the hands of the Templars. Michael Fassbender is a fantastic actor, but he is expected to go from nearly dead, to salvaged and experiencing memories of an ancestor, without much aftermath or even understanding of the consequences of his actions (he apparently killed a "pimp" and that's how he found himself on death row). There's a lack of context to most characters, which is really puzzling, considering this film tries to be the introduction to this universe (there are good examples of how characters are introduced in this type of fantastic universe, case in point, Scott Derrickson's successful "Doctor Strange" adaptation). This is a film that misses the mark in creating characters that are alluring and enthralling - making a film that is visually stunning, isn't enough to give it a pulse or register with the audience. This is a sad disappointment, and here's hoping if indeed there is a sequel, it gets a much better screenplay.


Movie Name: Jackie
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Pablo Larrain
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, Corey Johnson, Caspar Phillipson, Ralph Brown
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer Here

Celebrated director Pablo Larrain is back, following his equally well received "Neruda" also from this year. "Jackie" which was originally intended to be directed by Darren Aronofsky (who instead decided to produce), focuses on the figure of Jackie Kennedy, during the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, and the events that follow that dramatic and traumatic occurrence in her life. The film introduces Mrs. Kennedy speaking with a journalist in order to give her perspective of the occurrences, and through her recollections, the events that unfolded during and after the assassination come to life. We also get further context into Mrs. Kennedy's life through a few iconic events that took place in her life as a First Lady, namely the broadcast from the White House in 1961, when she was involved in redecorating the residence of the President.
"Jackie" is a fantastic film that gives insight into one of the most dramatic events in the life of the USA as a country, and how that affected the life of the President's wife and children, in the immediate days following the assassination. The film is a character study, following the unravel of a woman who witnessed an horrific and dramatic moment, the assassination of her husband and father of her children, a man who was also the President of a nation. The mix and turmoil of emotions that come from this woman are all centered on the brilliant performance of Natalie Portman, who creates a performance that initially feels a bit stylized, but that as the film continues starts peeling away layers of how that woman is dealing with death, loss, uncertainty, fear and anger. The film manages to perfectly capture the ambience of the 60s, thanks to some brilliant production design and stunning cinematography (from Jean Rabasse and Stephane Fontaine respectively) and features a brilliant supporting cast, which includes luminaries such as Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt. A very good film worth watching.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rogue One

Movie Name: Rogue One
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O'Reilly, Ben Daniels, Paul Kasey
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer Here

Director Gareth Edwards is back with another big budget film, following his previous directorial effort, "Godzilla". "Rogue One" is an original story, within the "Star Wars" universe, expanding upon events that were alluded to in the original George Lucas' film from 1977. The film focuses on the story of Jyn Erso, a young woman who has been haunted by dark events ever since she was a child. When she was but a child, her father was taken by the evil empire to help them create weapons of mass destruction. Now an adult, Jyn is recruited by the rebels, in order to try to find her father so they can get insight into a massive weapon that was created by the imperial forces that has the power to destroy planets. It's a race against time for Jyn and her team to find her father, and ultimately the plans to destroy that weapon.
"Rogue One" is a film that uses the "Star Wars" mythology to expose its premise and what drives its action set pieces. The film functions as prequel to the events of the original "Star Wars" from 1977, and as such tries to build a coherent bridge with the events of that film. The film follows standard and familiar premises, such as the young hero who has lived her life trying to rebel against establishment, since she feels she was wronged by her family and by everyone in general. The rebels give her a sense of purpose, and she forms a bond with a motley crew who help her reach her goals. The story development is not exactly the most enticing and dramatically engaging, but the film does manage to add further dimension to this universe, by showcasing a dirtier side to something that was always so sterile in most of George Lucas' features. The visual effects are stunning and it's fantastic to see Peter Cushing back on the screen, but Ben Mendelsohn easily creates the most interesting character. Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso, who is at the core of the narrative, ends up being enveloped by the most of the action that is created around her, but still manages to give her some heart, even if the character lacks some edge. It's a professionally executed film, one that entertains, but that doesn't add much to the mythology of this franchise.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Movie Name: Hannibal
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, Hazelle Goodman, David Andrews, Francis Guinan
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Prolific director Ridley Scott premiered two films in 2001: "Hannibal" and "Black Hawk Down", curiously both following his celebrated and awarded "Gladiator". "Hannibal" is a direct sequel to the iconic and classic "The Silence of the Lambs" from Jonathan Demme. The film once again is an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Harris, which focuses more on Hannibal Lecter than the previous which was anchored on the experiences of Clarice Starling. The story takes place 7 years after the events of "The Silence of the Lambs", with Lecter now living in Italy and working as a curator at a museum. Clarice Starling in the meantime is having troubles within the FBI, caused by a rival colleague who wants to sabotage her career. One of the survivors from Lecter's murdering spree, the disfigured (and very wealthy) Mason Verger, wants revenge for his condition, and uses Starling as bait to bring Hannibal back to the States.
Hannibal Lecter has become one charismatic and iconic character, thanks to Anthony Hopkin's performance in "The Silence of the Lambs". However, the character was always a second fiddle to the main narrative and main hero, namely Clarice Starling and Will Graham (in "Red Dragon"). With "Hannibal" Thomas Harris decided to place the killer at the center of the narrative, and while the film once again exhibits Ridley Scott's impeccable taste and craftsmanship, it's a flawed feature that relies more on gore and gruesome aspects, as opposed to tension and suggestion, which worked so well in Jonathan Demme's classic. Another aspect not quite as successful - what Anthony Hopkins managed to create in the original with a short limited presence (he was in "The Silence of the Lambs" for 24 minutes), was expanded to leading role, where the nuances of the character were almost all removed, becoming more of caricature of the original part. Julianne Moore also felt miscast, and feels terribly out of place. It's a film that once again displays Ridley Scott's unbalanced career: a strong focus on visuals but a lack of depth and character definition. A missed opportunity.

Gosford Park

Movie Name: Gosford Park
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander, Ryan Phillipe, James Wilby, Bob Balaban, Jeremy Northam, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

"Gosford Park" was one of Robert Altman's latest features, and one of his most celebrated (the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards). The film written by Julian Fellowes, follows the events that occur during a weekend shooting party in the 1930s. The weekend gathers a big group of personalities, both the visitors and high society characters, alongside the service staff who's there to make sure everyone is attended to. All this diverse group of characters have secrets and obscure motivations to be there, and during that weekend these come to the surface. When the patriarch and sponsor of the lavish lifestyle, Sir William, is murdered, all these relationships and intentions start unraveling.
The script by Julian Fellowes is very much inspired by the British TV show "Upstairs/Downstairs" which ran between 1971 and 1975 (and in turn would inspire his celebrated TV show "Downton Abbey"). Robert Altman manages to perfectly capture the class differences and relationships between this wildly diversified group of characters, something that was a trademark of his (large ensemble casts depicting a particular universe, be it the country music scene in "Nashville" or the writings of Raymond Carver and the LA crowd in "Short Cuts"). While the narrative in itself doesn't bring anything profoundly different or new (class struggles in England in the 1930s), the film is fantastically well acted due to the quality of the enormous cast assembled, and it plays out like a well oiled production from BBC. It's a film that manages to have a good combination of humor and drama, while also featuring the beautiful cinematography from Andrew Dunn, and the great work from a talented production team. An entertaining film worth watching.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Movie Name: Nocturnal Animals
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Tom Ford
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Robert Aramayo, Imogen Waterhouse, Jena Malone, Kristin Bauer van Straten
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

After his debut with the beautiful "A Single Man", director Tom Ford is back, with another stylish and ambitious film, this time adapting the novel by Austin Wright "Nocturnal Animals". The film follows the story of two characters, Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield. Once married and very much in love, this couple has since divorced, and Susan is now unhappily married to stray husband by the name of Hutton. Susan unexpectedly receives a manuscript from Edward, for his first novel, which is dedicated to her. As Susan starts reading the book, the events from it start unfolding, in a particularly brutal way, while her memories of the disintegration of her first relationship come back. The book sparks memories of her decisions and what led Susan to her current life.
Tom Ford has managed with both features he has directed outline a distinct point of view, anchored simultaneously in a specific stylistic approach, and with distinct touches of surrealism. "Nocturnal Animals" is a film that marries two very distinct looks - Susan's world which is governed by clean surfaces and an elegant and minimal aesthetic, and the world that Susan enters through Edward's book, the gritty, brutal and painful scenario of West Texas. Even if at times the two sides of the story apparently clash, they bring to the surface the pain of the relationship that existed between the two lead characters. It's a film that at times feels a bit unbalanced - the story within the book needs a grittier look and feel, and a clever device such as the one that Pedro Almodovar used in the fantastic "Bad Education" to marry the film within the film, but there's so much to admire. The film features impeccable performances from Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, and on a smaller note the always terrific Laura Linney makes a great cameo. The cinematography from Seamus McGarvey is luscious and stunning, the same going for the score of Abel Korzeniowski. A good film from a very talented storyteller.