Sunday, January 29, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Movie Name: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts, Eoin Macken, Fraser James, Ruby Rose, William Levy, Rola, Ever Anderson, Milton Schorr, Joon-Gi Lee
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is back, following the underwhelming "Pompeii" with the supposedly final chapter in the "Resident Evil" series. The film follows the events of the last chapter , that left Alice in DC having thwarted the plans from the villainous Wesker, one of the Umbrella Corporation's main men. Alice discovers that the Red Queen (the artificial intelligence operating system that runs Umbrella) is trying to salvage what is left of humanity, and that the Hive, located in Raccoon City actually contains an anti-virus that can successfully save what is left of the planet. On her way to Raccoon City, Alice discovers that Claire Redfield is still alive, and alongside a few other survivors, she sets out to defeat both Dr. Isaacs (and his clones) and Wesker, who is secluded in the underground bunker that is part of the Umbrella Corporation. What Alice discovers along the day changes her life forever.
The "Resident Evil" saga which began in 2002, with a rather straightforward plot about zombies running amok in the fictional Raccoon City, and the sole heroine who battles them, has apparently come to its closure. In this sixth chapter, writer & director, and main creative source, Paul W.S. Anderson, maintains his habitual traits of privileging action over substance, but does end giving Alice more dimension, and a certain level of humanity that the previous films never managed to create. By going deeper into the source of the virus, in the quest to find a salvation, the director actually managed to give its leading lady some depth, something that Milla Jovovich successfully brings to life, in a role that she has made her own (mixing just enough wit, warmth and the tired stance of the bruised warrior). The film continues to have enough brainless action to appease the fans, but this time around also gives its main villain some extra edge, introducing in the story some relevant religious and sociological overtones, that though undercooked, still add some extra dimension to a rather flat plot. It's a film that has sufficient allure to keep the viewer interested, and though better than most of the films in the series, it still lacks enough bite to make it memorable.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

Movie Name: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Year of Release: 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Hart, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, John Cleese, Zoe Wanamaker, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville, Chris Rankin
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

These days everything that pertains to the "Harry Potter" universe, is of course, met with applause and excitement. J.K. Rowling has successfully built a universe around this character, that has transcended language and demographics, and is beloved by everyone. When the first film debuted in 2001, it came through the hand of Chris Columbus, who had experienced quite a lot of success with "Home Alone", "Mrs. Doubtfire" and as the writer of such iconic 80s titles as Joe Dante's "Gremlins" and  Richard Donner's "The Goonies". The film introduces us to Harry Potter, a young orphan boy, who is the sole survivor in his family of a near fatal attack by a malevolent wizard by the name of Voldemort. Harry grows under the poor tutelage of his uncle and aunt, until on his 11th birthday he is made aware he has been accepted to the school of magic, by the name of Hogwarts. He is instructed on how to get there by a gentle giant, by the name of Hagrid, who guides him through the logistics of getting materials needed. While going to the school he quickly makes friends with Ron Weasley and the razor sharp and intelligent Hermione Granger. These three embark on a series of adventures that will change their young lives.
Establishing a universe for a known literary property is always a difficult task. There are a lot of expectations from fans and readers, though ultimately a director really has to make the property his own and place his point of view on the material. Chris Columbus doesn't really manage to create a very identifiable or particularly relevant piece of work with this film - he illustrates the story, without giving the material enough dimension to live as a memorable film (there isn't much of an antagonist in the film, since the character is never given much to do). The young actors, though quite well cast, are still learning their craft, and their skills are still being honed, something that the later films showcase quite well. It's a film where the production values speak louder than its content and dynamics - it's more about exposition, that engagement. It's a film far from perfect, that yet contains enough interest from the celebrated supporting British cast, and the beautiful cinematography from John Seale (responsible for George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road" for instance). A mildly entertaining endeavor from a series that has better films.


Movie Name: Aquarius
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho
Stars: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrao, Zoraide Coleto, Fernando Teixeira, Buda Lira, Paula de Renor, Barbara Colen, Daniel Porpino, Pedro Queiroz, Carla Ribas
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

"Aquarius" is the second film from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho, and premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival of 2016. The film follows the story of Clara, a widower in her 60s, who happens to be last inhabitant of a building where all the other tenants have already sold their condos, and have moved on. Clara has lived in that apartment for decades, and leads a quiet and peaceful life, with her daily routines and habits. Her children are somewhat preoccupied with the outcome of the situation, since the real estate company that bought the building, wants Clara out, and she's determined not to sell. The company is definitely embarking in processes to force Clara out, though she's a resilient person, intent on staying in the place that defined part of her existence, where she raised her children and ultimately where she and her husband had a life together.
Kleber Mendoca Filho has built this finely detailed film, showing insight into the life of an aging person, with a life that is filled with challenges, needs and joys. Clara is the epitome of a certain generation in Brazil: a woman who grew up in the 70s and 80s and experienced dictatorship, and the musical boom and how that cultural relevance impacted Brazilian society. She's managed to build a comfortable life for herself and her children, and appreciates the universe she moves in. It's a film that astutely details habits, and the different relationships that people build, in order to keep going against difficulties and challenges that appear. Sonia Braga is fantastic in this role, giving this woman a wounded aspect to her, yet making her strong and resourceful. She loves her children and family, and stops at nothing to defend her microcosms. A slow moving drama, filled with detail and feeling. Worth watching.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Movie Name: Silence
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Tadanobu Asano, Issei Ogata, Yoshi Oida
Genre: Drama, History
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer Here

Celebrated director Martin Scorsese is back, following the commercial and critical success of "The Wolf of Wall Street". "Silence" is a dramatic change of pace, and is a passion project for the director, who has tried to get the project done since the 90s. The film is an adaptation of the book by Shusaku Endo, and follows the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who go to Japan in the 17th century, in pursuit of their mentor, Father Ferreira. Both Father Rodrigues and Father Garrpe, are aware that Ferreira has been missing for quite some time and that catholicism has been persecuted with violence in Japan. They embark on the mission to find the whereabouts of their mentor, which lands them initially under the protection of a small village. As their stay continues, so does the joy they provide to the locals, but also the sense of danger that comes from them hosting and protecting them. As their challenges escalate, Father Rodrigues in particular, is put through trials that test the strength of his faith.
"Silence" is a film of great beauty and austerity. It's a piece of work driven by an artist that has always paid close attention to how religion and the concept of faith are represented in his features (another example of this theme can be viewed in the beautiful "The Last Temptation of Christ"). It's interesting that the depiction of faith onscreen is usually associated with the trials, sacrifices and tribulations of those who have it, versus the ones who oppose it and want to eradicate it. This particular story does go through those motions, but it investigates it on a much deeper level. This feature showcases how the beliefs of a young priest slowly get butchered by the constant torment of a society that won't allow for the co-existence of different beliefs. It's an interesting insight into the Japanese society of the 17th century, with a lot of bridges to the persecutions and intolerance that exist to this day. The film does not contain sweeping musical moments that help define instances - it's a film that is anchored on actions, on the canvas that it paints, with wonderful actors to convey its message. Andrew Garfield excels in his role, as does Liam Neeson and Shin'ya Tsukamoto. The cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto is stunning as is the production and costume design from Dante Ferretti. Another great film from a tremendous voice in the American cinema.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars

Movie Name: Underworld: Blood Wars
Year of Release: 2016
Director:Anna Foerster
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head, Brian Caspe
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
View Trailer Here

The "Underworld" saga continues, with "Blood Wars" being the 5th film in this series. The film is Anna Foerster's feature debut, following her career directing TV episodes for "Outlander" and "Criminal Minds" and a cinematographer career (she lensed Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous" and "White House Down").  The film follows Selene in her ongoing battle to avoid capture by the vampires who believe she betrayed them, and the lycans/werewolves who want her blood so they can find the whereabouts of her daughter. This time around, Selene gets rescued by David (a character introduced in the previous film, whose coven was destroyed), and they both are taken to a new coven, where other machinations are in place. These intrigues force them to seek asylum in another remote coven, where a different type of vampires live. While there, David learns more about his background, and Selene comes to understand a new philosophy which simultaneously gives her more enhanced powers. It's up to her and David to avoid a brutal slaying of both races as a final confrontation looms.
The "Underworld" series always had a rather flimsy concept underlying the sheer beauty of its leading lady. The original film placed a vampire and a werewolf falling in love, with both races involved in a bitter and long lasting war (very much in the tradition of such classics as Robert Wise's "West Side Story", except for the races angle and the general quality that distinguishes the features). The sequels have been an expansion of this universe, with additional characters added to satisfy the origin of these main characters and how these plots come together. With the disappearance of Michael (and love interest) after the second film, the latest films have placed Selene trying to find her place in the world, however the narratives are definitely more interested in playing the action aspect of it, and not so much the quest of the leading character. That becomes quite apparent in this latest feature, where the story has almost no semblance of coherence, and the motivation of the characters seems to be simply to move back and forth and wear dark clothes. It's quite possibly the worst film in the series with a poorly constructed plot, and what's worse, with a central character that has almost nothing to do, except look confused and surprised. The only salvation the film has lies in its cast, which is surprisingly good, namely Kate Beckinsale (who needs to close this chapter in her career), Charles Dance and Lara Pulver. It's a film that has no point of view, filled with cliches, and sadly without much interest.

A Monster Calls

Movie Name: A Monster Calls
Year of Release: 2016
Director: J. A. Bayona
Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, Ben Moor
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer Here

Director Juan Antonio Bayona is back, with his third feature, following the well received "The Orphanage" and "The Impossible". "A Monster Calls" is an adaptation of the novel by Patrick Ness, and follows the story of Conor, a young British boy, who is going through some trying times. Conor's mother is slowly fading away due to a serious ailment, and his father has a new life (and family) in America. Conor is having to live with his grandmother, while his mother receives treatments at the local hospital. Conor has a fantastical imagination and talent for drawing. One evening he receives the visit of a large tree that has suddenly come to life, and who informs him that it will tell him three stories, and Conor will have to narrate back a fourth story of his own.
This heartbreaking fable, manages to give an interesting canvas for the director whom has had a knack for young protagonists in his features. His heroes or central characters are usually young boys who are dealing with hardship that comes in the shape of their motherly figure being absent or possibly being removed, and how that affects their vision of the world (or how it molds it). "A Monster Calls" places two motherly figures in the center: the one who's being removed, the natural mother, and a new figure, somewhat a stranger, the slightly cold Grandmother whom the hero has to know better, in order for his life to continue. The film uses the monster character as a reminder for the hero of stories that apparently disconnected, eventually come back to his relationship with his mother. It's a film that weaves a delicate relationship between these characters - even if the supporting characters don't have much dimension to them. The assembled cast is wonderful, particular the trio of Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones. The visual effects are tremendous, as is the fine score from Fernando Velazquez. A good film worth watching.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Music with an Impact - 2016

2016 was a tragic year for music. Among many losses experienced throughout the year, two of them were monumental, namely David Bowie and George Michael. The year was incredibly rich in new releases, and I for one, listened to some truly memorable albums. I also discovered some great gems that are a few years old, but that I'm listing since I found them this year and they were part of my heavy music rotation.
Below are my favorites.

Niki and the Dove - Everybody's Heart is Broken Now
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
Johann Johansson - Arrival (OST) & Orphee
Plaid - Reachy Prints & The Digging Remedy
Nico Muhly - Drones & Speaks Volumes
Tegan & Sara - Love You to Death
Fennesz & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Flumina & Cendre
Bryce Dessner - Filament
David Bowie - BlackStar

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Movie Name: Sing
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Garth Jennings
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz, Leslie Jones
Genre: Animation, Musical, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
View Trailer Here

Illumination Studios follows their successful "The Secret Life of Pets", with another animated musical feature. This is also director Garth Jennings' follow up feature to the underrated and delightful "Son of Rambow" (from 2007). "Sing" follows the story of Buster Moon, a joyful koala who has owned a musical theater for years. His productions don't generate much revenue, and he owes money to the bank. He comes up with the idea of having a talent show, one where the allure is the cash prize he's willing to put up. His secretary however makes a typo on the advertisement/pamphlet, and what was originally suppose to be $1,000 becomes $100,000. This of course generates an enormous interest from everyone in the city, and Buster ends up selecting an eclectic cast of singers for his show: Rosita, a stay at home mom/pig, Mike, a small time crook/mouse, Ash, a young struggling rock musician/porcupine, Johnny, a mobster son/gorilla and the reluctant Meena, a young powerhouse (elephant) uncertain of  her voice and worth. His money woes continue to be a huge obstacle for Buster, who tries to lure the powerful Nana Noodleman, a retired opera singer to become a sponsor for the show.
"Sing" is a film that again displays and showcases the amazing virtuosity of the animation teams from Illumination studios. The textures, colors, attention to detail are all there, however unlike "The Secret Life of Pets", "Sing" anchors its interest in the usage of pop tunes being sung by animals voiced in turn by well known actors. It's a premise that grows old a bit quickly, and lacks the excitement and joy (and almost surreality) that the studios prior releases had. Unlike most Pixar films, this film doesn't go beyond its premise and work on multiple story levels, particularly when compared to "Inside Out". It's a film that has some humorous moments, but the camera movements become repetitive after a while, and eventually the film lags (and lacks momentum). It's a film that still holds some rewards in some of the fantastic voice work from the talented cast.