Weekend Wrap-Up: 21/05/11

21 05 2011

American Psycho (2000): 78/100

Christian Bale gives a charismatic performance as Patrick Bateman and the movie has a wonderful dark humor to it.

Chocolat (2000): 64/100

– Ranges from extremely dramatic to very light but doesn’t excel in either area. Although it doesn’t present anything new in terms of story structure either, it is a different enough take on a fairly standard film to be worth a watch.

3-Iron (2004): 83/100

A strikingly original, Buddhist-infused drama. Borders on being different for the sake of being different, but blossoms nicely at the end.

The Consequences of Love (2004): 84/100

– Stylistically like a Wong Kar-Wai film during the first half, but keeps an even keel during the second and doesn’t quite go for it.

Eastern Promises (2007): 77/100

An intriguing yet uninteresting plot keeps this well acted drama from being as good as Cronenberg’s previous film “A History of Violence”.


Weekend Wrap-Up: 14/05/11

14 05 2011

A Beautiful Mind (2001): 59/100

The leads are charming and it has a rewarding ending but the story is far too scattered .

The Twilight Samurai (2002): 88/100

A very character driven samurai film. Little in the way of action, but the exploration of the main character due to the external pressures on him make him one of the most developed samurai on film.

Paprika (2006): 76/100

– A bright and exciting thriller from Satoshi Kon that perhaps bites off a little more than it can chew. Will remind some of “Inception” as several ideas get revisited there. 

The Fountain (2006): 83/100

– Perhaps the most ambitious movie of the last decade. It has a definite point but the movie isn’t focused enough for it to be as effective as it needs to be. Should be essential viewing though as it would be near the top of my list of recent critical misfires that could turn into all-time classics sometime later.

Blue Valentine (2010): 83/100

Consistently switches between very elating and very depressing, but it is well crafted by Derek Cianfrance and the two leads are great as well.

Weekend Wrap-Up: 07/05/11

7 05 2011

I watch a lot of movies, and those I don’t have the time to properly review will be re-capped here.

Days of Being Wild (1990): 95/100

– Stylish and engaging, this early Wong Kar-Wai masterpiece lays the groundwork for his future films.

Requiem For A Dream (2000): 83/100

– An iconic soundtrack and difficult images make this slickly edited Aronofsky film thrilling and disturbing

Atonement (2007): 85/100

– The engrossing first half carries the event-less second but audiences may be able to forgive that with an intriguing ending and the jaw-dropping beach shot.

Goemon (2009): 44/100

A classic example of a a film not working because the director just doesn’t understand what makes a movie work. Lots of action and some cool visuals save it from being a complete disaster.

Daybreakers (2009): 49/100

A vampire movie that, although poorly made, is thought-provoking once or twice and very bloody the rest of the time.

Review #2: 2001 – A Space Odyssey (1968)

3 05 2011

2001: A Space Odyssey is an science fiction epic spanning four interconnecting short stories: The Dawn of Man, TMA-1, Jupiter Mission, and finally Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite. Although writer/director Stanley Kubrick has made distinct spaces between each story, it may be better to look upon these as a Prologue (The Dawn of Man), an Introduction (TMA-1), and then the central story(Jupiter Mission/Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite). Featuring inspiring cinematography and powerful classical music, Kubrick tells a unique story who’s true meaning is never given, only hinted at.

Genius With a Movie Camera

The real treat of 2001 is the cinematography. Kubrick brings the viewer several iconic images in the first chapter, The Dawn of Man, but it is in the second and third sections where he really shines. In both TMA-1 and Jupiter Mission, Kubrick plays with mechanics creating several shots that are so engaging on their own, every movement becomes riveting. The power behind this is through the real sets, from today’s perspective it brings a type of sincerity in a world of CGI effects. This allows Kubrick to play with a constant like gravity and make shots look genuine rather than the sterile feel of a computer. Many of the scenes are fascinating and look even better than if they were done today artificially. The fourth short story is, without a doubt, the most visually outstanding and I can think of no true way to put that visceral experience into words and do it justice. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film whose backbone is truly it’s visuals, especially during the first and last segments as there is no dialogue. Although it has been over 40 years since it’s release, Kubrick has managed to put together a movie that may have not been matched in this department since.

Kubrick’s Cold Soul

If there is one criticism Stanley Kubrick may have garnered over his career, it would be how cold and lifeless all his movies feel. Luckily, that trait lends itself perfectly to the science-fiction genre and with 2001 it may be his greatest asset. Science-fiction, in particular movies involving outer-space, automatically produce a feeling of loneliness. Outside of our characters there is no life, no air, nothing aside from the rigid confines of their space craft. This is a situation where feeling removed from the whole scene adds to the atmosphere, we believe that they are alone instead a scene like the Omaha beach opening of Saving Private Ryan which is designed to make to the viewer feel like they’re right there. In feeling our character’s solitude, his other emotions get multiplied as well, this is most evident in the Jupiter Mission segment. Another bonus yo Kubrick’s style is in his villain, HAL, the cold and calculating computer. Part of the reason HAL is a great villain is because he is a computer, by draining the movie of much of its color and life HAL becomes all that more sinister, leaving us hanging on his every move.

So what is 2001: A Space Odyssey all about? The only real answer is that nobody knows, but that is part of what makes it great. Stanley Kubrick gives the viewer the bare minimum of information required draw some sort of conclusion but never have confidence in it. The film is engaging, thought provoking, a visual treat, and quite possibly the biggest minimalist film ever made. This is a movie made to be discussed and is one of the most definitive examples of cinema as art.

Score: 100/100

Review #1: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

2 05 2011

Once Upon a Time in the West tells the story of Mrs. McBain (Claudia Cardinale), a young woman who returns to her home on the frontier only to find that her family has been massacred. To stay safe she’ll need the help of two strangers: a unknown, harmonica-wielding gunslinger (Charles Bronson) and a gang-leader (Jason Robards) framed for death of her family. Once Upon a Time in the West is distinctly western; it has an obvious antagonist, several tense stand-offs, slick gun-work, and more expendable henchman than a James Bond film. Nevertheless, it plays out more like a mystery: Harmonica’s past and motives are unknown except that they have something to do with our antagonist Frank (Henry Fonda), and why the McBain family was killed to begin with is concealed from the viewer allowing Leone to slowly give us information to piece it all together, making a near-three hour movie never seem that long.

Leone Style 5+

Sergio Leone bring such a distinct style to his films that it is almost impossible for other directors to emulate it. Of course, the exception being Quentin Tarantino where one could see Leone’s films as a blueprint for his future success. The first Leone trademark that is noticeable in Once Upon a Time in the West is the music. Ennio Morricone’s outstanding original score ranges from tense to playful to powerfully dramatic, all of which set the appropriate mood of each scene within a single note. Simply, without Morricone’s excellent work this movie would be a shell of the classic we have today. Although the music is essential in Leone’s epic, his cinematography is equally effective. The way he and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli set up his scenes is nothing short of exquisite, regularly using extremely effective narrow and long set-up shots to help create atmosphere and introduce a scene perfectly. Every shot in Once Upon a Time in the West serves a purpose and it is evident Leone wants the viewer to see or feel something new as each scene evolves. The final touch Leone brings to this film is through his control, he never loses sight of where the movie is going and why. He crafts the mood so well that he is able to turn from tense to humorous on a dime without compromising the point of the scene, he is simply an experienced director in full control.

The Acting in Their Eyes

Among western actors, non-verbal acting seems to be a lost art. Christian Bale is fantastic at going to extremes, Leonardo DiCaprio can produce great emotional performances, and Russell Crowe can deliver lines with the perfect amount of gravitas yet providing a perfect performance does not always require these traits. Once Upon a Time in the West is a great example of excellent acting using only their eyes. With no great monologues or soul-aching emotional scenes in the movie, acting needs to come through in other ways and Leone has cast a group of actors who can portray themselves with no more than a look. Charles Bronson squints his eyes giving his character an air of mystery which he uses to never let the other characters or the audience in, Henry Fonda has piercing blue eyes which are striking and threatening, Jason Robards meanders around with a ruffled brow of carelessness as he is just going with the flow, and Claudia Cardinale’s big doe eyes presume innocence and occasionally strained conviction. Everything we need to know about each of our four main characters are told with a simple glance at their eyes, Sergio Leone knows this and frequently focuses on them.

Although Jill McBain is at the center of the movie, the film is driven by Harmonica and Frank as men of action, she and Cheyenne are just two characters swept up in the whirlwind and play nothing more than supporting character. My desire to see more out of them, as well as the occasionally poor voice-work can be my only two complaints in an otherwise excellent movie. It is stylish with the substance to keep up, creating a truly memorable cinematic experience.

Score: 98/100