Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Godfather Part III

Movie Name: The Godfather Part III
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton, Bridget Fonda, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D'Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright, Helmut Berger
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The 80s were a complicated decade for celebrated director Francis Ford Coppola, one that saw the fall of his studio American Zoetrope, following the dismal results of "One From the Heart". After the wonderful "Tucker, The Man and His Dream" and the segment of "New York Stories", Francis Ford Coppola went back to the saga that made him famous. "The Godfather Part III" continues to chronicle the story of the Corleone family, specifically the story of Michael, now an aging Don, who is in the midst of trying to legitimize his businesses (the story taking place in 1979). Michael is attempting to patch some dealings with the Vatican, and also with his own family, including his two children and ex-wife, Kay. Michael decides to take his nephew Vincent under his wing, particularly after witnessing his loyalty (and ruthlessness), all the while trying to distance himself and the family from the violent and criminal background they always had. As he progressively sees a light at the end of the tunnel, some of these dealings crumble, and the violence once again emerges, pulling him back into an all too familiar spiral of crime.
While "The Godfather Part III" received a fair amount of recognition at the Academy Awards (where it walked away without any wins), it's generally perceived as a minor film in the pantheon of the trilogy. The towering accomplishment of the two previous films is no doubt a tough act to follow up, but "The Godfather Part III" is a solid, inspired and tragic film in its own right. It's the chronicle of a dying king, who sees the end ahead, and who is desperately trying to safeguard his loved ones, and leave a legacy of respectability behind. It's a film marked by a sadness, embodied by the central character, who has been successful in life by making dramatic sacrifices, ones that have cost him everything. Michael is again the heart of the film, and Al Pacino is phenomenal in portraying someone who is beaten by life, exhausted by it, who is desperately trying to move against the weight of tradition and the perception his family name carries. In a way, the film is also a veiled metaphor for the career of Francis Coppola, who after experiencing an astoundingly successful decade (the 70s), came crashing down soon after, and was trying to redeem himself with this film. It's a film not quite as perfectly distilled as the previous ones, but it is nonetheless exquisitely rendered, from the cinematography of Gordon Willis, to the production design of Dean Tavoularis. The cast is eclectic but dominated by the fervor and sheer grandiose of Al Pacino, with Andy Garcia, Talia Shire and Diane Keaton all equally strong in their supporting turns. A very good film from a fantastic director.

The Meg

Movie Name: The Meg
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3 
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Jon Turteltaub has followed his somewhat successful "Last Vegas", with "The Meg", a project that had been in the works for years (it was originally going to be directed by Jan de Bont, who of course made his name by directing "Speed" and "Twister"). The film is an adaptation of a book by Steve Alten (in reality his first book published), and follows the adventures of a team of oceanographers, who while exploring the deep sea, come across a gigantic, pre-historic shark, that goes on a rampage. This unstoppable creature goes in the direction of mainland, and the team responsible for its discovery, headed by the charismatic Jonas, go hot on its tail hoping to stop further bloodshed. 
It's inevitable that a film such as "The Meg" will draw comparisons with the charismatic and iconic "Jaws" from Steven Spielberg, which came out in 1975 and is, to this day, a crowning achievement in his career, but also a lesson in suspense, thrills and effectively building menace, without really showing much of the antagonist. "The Meg" and director Jon Turteltaub know at heart, this film is an unpretentious, yet generously budgeted, large scale B-Movie, and as such, there's a relaxed tone to the film. However, the special effects and all the noise and spectacle (the film has influences from "Jaws", but also from James Cameron's "The Abyss"), can't hide the fact, that the film lacks clearly drawn out characters, or fails to capture any chemistry between all of them to generate much interest to the events taking place (much like Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea"). It's a film that is wafer thin in terms of plot and characters, and ultimately instantly forgettable. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel

Movie Name: Alita: Battle Angel
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jeff Fahey, Idara Victor, Derek Mears, Edward Norton, Rick Yune, Casper Van Dien, Eiza Gonzalez, Leonard Wu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
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Synopsis and Review:
"Alita: Battle Angel" has been a passion project for writer/producer/director James Cameron, who has toyed with the project since the 90s. Since he was unable to direct the feature himself, he decided to pass the reins of the venture to director Robert Rodriguez, who hasn't directed a feature since the tepid response of "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For". "Alita" is an adaptation of the graphic novel by author Yukito Kishiro. The film takes place on Earth in the 26th century, following a war that destroyed and changed the layout of cities and social dynamics in society. The film focuses specifically on the story of a deactivated cyborg who is found in a pile of garbage. Doctor Ido, brings the cyborg back to life, gives her the name Alita (the name of his lost daughter), yet she hasn't much recollection of what her life was. Through a series of events, Alita and Ido, discover that she is a natural fighter, very unique in her construction and skills. That catches the attention of a series of groups, starting with the gentle Hugo, but also the nefarious Vector, who is himself, working for a darker figure going by the name of Nova. It's up to Alita to vanquish this considerable group of foes, regain her memories and save the life of her beloved Hugo.
"Alita: Battle Angel" is a film that once again marries a lot of different sources, visually, thematically and even filmic, but without creating a film that is sufficiently coherent and entirely successful in accomplishing its intentions (among them, adapt the remainder of the stories of the series to more films). There's an attempt from Robert Rodriguez of making a project that is his own, while also abiding to the tone and focus of James Cameron. The final result is a mix that isn't entirely one thing or the other. Rodriguez has been able to infuse a sense of humor and scrappiness into his projects, something that is barely visible in this film where the overall tone is for the most part, somber and ominous. There are some references from Steven Spielberg's "A.I." and even of James Cameron's own "Avatar", but what is more evident from this whole endeavor, is the blatant lack of soul in most characters. For all its pluckiness and charm, Alita feels painfully devoid of any backdrop and motivation, the same going for the more human characters, including the ones played by Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly, two excellent actors, who for the most part, have nothing much to do, except witness the whole visual effect carnage take place. Visually the film is also a mix bag, with at times having references of Neil Blomkamp's "District 9" (without the grittiness), but also some references from George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise, though the sets and production design feel a bit lifeless (and somewhat cheap). The visual effects are overwhelming and some quite impressive, but it's once again an odd mix of beauty and scrappiness that borderlines poor taste in how they're mixed throughout the action. It's a sadly missed effort for all parts.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Movie Name: Ant-Man and the Wasp
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Judy Greer, Hannah-John Kamen, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park, T.I., Abby Ryder Fortson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4 
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Synopsis and Review:
After the success of the first feature, and the expansion of the character's presence in other Marvel features, director Peyton Reed and actor Paul Rudd's "Ant Man" is back, this time with a more pronounced presence from a partner hero, Wasp. The film picks up after the events that took place on "Captain America: Civil War", and finds Scott Lang under house arrest. Hank Pym and his daughter Hope in the meantime, have been developing their technology further in the hopes of finally saving Hope's mom from an entrapment she got pulled under when she shrunk herself to a cellular level. That technology is however highly sought after, including by this new super powered presence, going by the name of Ghost, who will stop at nothing to get her hands on that device. Ant Man and the Wasp have to join forces to save Janet's life, and unveil the Ghost's purposes.
"Ant-Man the Wasp", much like its predecessor, has cornered the more comedic and light hearted aspect of the Marvel universe. Even if in the comics, there was a certain tragic and dramatic aspect to the stories typically involving Ant-Man, the film adaptations have definitely veered towards the openly comical aspect of having a character that can decrease and increase physical sizes, while also communicating with ants. The tone that surrounds this character and this particular side of the Marvel Universe is never quite well realized, and the tone clashes can be seen when the character suddenly appears on other features, where the general aspect is definitely more dramatic and serious. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" doesn't fare quite as well as the first one did, and much of that lies with the fact that there isn't a very effective villainous character, and the overall story tries to tie many threads together, and not very successfully. The Michelle Pfeiffer thread, the romantic love story between Ant-Man and the Wasp thread, the single dad under house arrest thread, the Ghost thread, Michael Douglas and his experiments thread, the contraband villainous thread, and of course, the supporting team of Ant-Man, and the list seems to go on and on. All of these threads end up being hollow attempts at putting on a flashy show, when there's little substance to keep this feature actually going. The cast is strong, but has little to do, with Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne in particular, probably all appreciating a nice padded check, since their characters have little to do. While the visual effects are impressive, this is probably one of the Marvel characters that would benefit from a different point of view on the director's chair. Forgettable.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Movie Name: Ghost
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Jerry Zucker
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Rick Aviles, Vincent Schiavelli, Stephen Root, Armelia McQueen, Gail Boggs
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5 
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Synopsis and Review:
"Ghost" was the first solo directorial effort for Jerry Zucker, following the very successful forays into comedy, which he co-directed with his brother David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, with the classic and iconic successes that were "Airplane!", "Top Secret!" and their masterful "Police Squad" tv show, which morphed to the film trilogy "Naked Gun". "Ghost" in reality an original screenplay from Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the same year "Jacob's Ladder"), turned out to be the most commercially successful film of 1990, and to date, the most successful film in Jerry Zucker's career. The film follows the story of Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen, a young couple who is moving together into a nice loft in New York. Sam works in finance, and Molly is an artist. One evening on their way home, they're robbed, and as Sam attempts to stop the whole thing, he's shot and killed. He finds himself on the ER, but as a ghost, and observing the aftermath of the events unfolding. More shockingly he finds that their robbery wasn't an accident, but something planned. He accidentally comes across a fake psychic woman, who can actually hear him, and he blackmails her into helping him with Molly and in the process, uncovering the truth behind his death.
"Ghost" has become a staple in all romantic dramas, since it came out in 1990. It single handedly revitalized Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg's careers (winning Goldberg an Academy Award in the process), but it has also been parodied and quoted to exhaustion. In the end it's a film that has a somewhat contrived premise, something that is mostly redeemed by the dash of humor that is inserted in the film with the presence of Whoopi Goldberg and her character, Oda Mae Brown. The narrative is somewhat predictable, the direction competent, if somewhat generic, with the film being saved primarily for the chemistry between the leads, and the spark provided by Goldberg. It's not offensive, but not exactly very memorable, but it did become a cultural and commercial smash in the early 90s, and that went on to inspire countless other romantic features that ensued. A watchable film, from a director whose best work has been with the ZAZ group, one where they have truly struck comedic gold. 


Movie Name: Venom
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson, Malcolm C. Murray, Peggy Lu
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2 
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Ruben Fleischer, who has been prolific since his feature debut with "Zombieland", has returned with another comic book adaptation. "Venom" is an adaptation of a character that has long been associated with the Spider-Man universe, having shown up as a villain of Sam Raimi's maligned "Spider-Man 3", at the time portrayed by Topher Grace (as Eddie Brock as well). The film focuses on Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist, who lives in San Francisco with his fiancée Anne. He comes across a huge story, via Anne's computer, and without her knowledge, confronts the head of a lab who is doing investigative research with alien life forms. Once that discussion is discovered, both Eddie and Anne lose their jobs, which also comes at a cost to the end of their relationship. 6 months go by, and Eddie is approached by a research scientist from the lab responsible for his unravel, who wants him to expose the less than ethical and legal approaches to research and to her boss, the man most responsible for that unlawful direction. As Eddie visits the lab to witness the ongoing issues, he ends up being a host for that alien entity, something that propels Carlton Drake, the man responsible for the whole program, to send a group of henchmen on his trail.
"Venom" is a surprisingly hollow film, considering how rich the material is in terms of potentially opening some interesting discussions on how the human body and alien elements can coexist (which was, to a certain extent, some of the topics of David Cronenberg's "The Fly"). The film chooses instead to lightly touch on that interesting relationship between the alien entity and the human host, and focuses instead on the chaos and random destruction that it can cause, as the main character tries to avoid its captors. The film's storyline, for all its great premise, is flat and without much depth, both from the characters, but also from the implications of the existence of the entity itself (at some point, the entity is basically played like a vehicle, where someone can just use it to go from one point to the next). It's a film that doesn't really understand where it wants to go, and who the character actually is. Whereas Chuck Russell's "The Mask" transformed Jim Carrey's Stanley Ipkiss into a love starved, hilariously out of control super hero, Tom Hardy's character is confused, lost and overwhelmed, and never quite recovers. We never really understand the creature's intent. All the actors in this film have very little to do, and look quite puzzled by the entire ordeal (Michelle Williams is completely lost). The cinematography from the talented Matthew Libatique is fantastic, but this is a completely forgettable endeavor. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Can you ever Forgive Me?

Movie Name: Can you ever Forgive Me?
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Marielle Heller
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Gregory Korostishevsky
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8 
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Synopsis and Review:
Marielle Heller has followed her very well received debut feature, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", with another knock out. The film is based on the autobiography by Lee Israel, and has a screenplay from director Nicole Holofcener (who was originally going to direct it) and Jeff Whitty. The film follows the story of Lee Israel in the early 90s. After having made a career for herself writing a few successful biographies in the 70s and 80s, by the early 90s Israel's career was pretty much dead, with her sole intent being on writing a biography on Fanny Brice, and drinking herself to a stupor. Her polarizing personality didn't win her any friends, and as her debt increased ever so, she started forging letters of famed writers, and selling them to book and antiques dealers. In the space of a year she had forged close to 400 letters. Once some of these letters start raising suspicions on their authenticity, she resorts to her flamboyant friend, Jack, to assist her with the scam. 
"Can you ever Forgive Me?" is a character study on a complicated and multifaceted person, one who isn't by any standards, the typical heroine or central character in a film. Lee is a person with a vitriolic sense of humor, one who's not afraid of speaking her mind, and also a person who simply can't relate to others or chooses not to. Her amorous relationships with her partners don't go anywhere, since she doesn't manage to open up enough to trust anyone. When she does bond with Jack, it's a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark and gloomy existence, where solely her elder cat keeps her company. It's a well realized film, powered by two cracking performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. They're perfectly cast, and it's truly fantastic watching their banter and rapport in their scenes together. They alone elevate the tone and spirit of the film, which is otherwise filled with a sadness and longing, from someone who wanted to be something else, and be someone's special self, and never amounted to either. A very good film worth watching!

Ocean's Eight

Movie Name: Ocean's Eight
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Richard Armitage, James Corden, Richard Robichaux, Marlo Thomas, Dana Ivey, Elliott Gould
Genre: Action, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Gary Ross has followed his slightly forgotten "Free State of Jones" with this romp, which drinks in spirit and style (though less breezy and jazzy) from the trilogy created by Steven Soderbergh starting with "Ocean's Eleven" in 2001. The film follows the story of Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny, who we come to learn has passed away. She's applying for parole, and once out, she goes about reconnecting with her best friend and partner, Lou. They set in motion the plans for a new heist, but in order to do so, they need to recruit a new group willing to embark with them on the project, including fashion designer Rose Weil, jewelry expert Amita, hacker extraordinaire Nine Ball, detail driven Tammy and pick pocket artist Constance. Their goal is steal some precious jewelry during the Met Gala, and they prepare thoroughly, even for the unexpected.
"Ocean's Eight" is a slight variation from the films created by Steven Soderbergh. That series has been a testament to the rhythm and impeccable timing Soderbergh has created, where everything works like a finely tuned clock, with the breezy aspect of the performances just adding enough panache to the whole endeavor. Gary Ross isn't as economical or dexterous as a director, and there's definitely a more standard approach to his point of view of these proceedings, but the film is nonetheless entertaining and impeccably put together. It's also a great excuse to get a fantastic group of actresses together, even if they don't get to do much (Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson do end up being underserved in particular, but they seem to have fun while doing it). It's a fairly innocuous endeavor, where everyone gets to wear nice costumes, look impeccably airbrushed (or in some cases, distractingly wrinkle free) and that's pretty much it. There isn't a somewhat bitter bite, as Soderbergh sometimes places in his trilogy, which typically makes these slight exercises have a bit of insight into these cardboard cutouts of characters, but it's nonetheless an entertaining film.