Sunday, May 24, 2015

Decades Blogathon


Mark of three rows back and Tom of Digital Shortbread are hosting a blogathon where the theme are films from years ending in the number five. Admittedly most of my favorite films are off by that particular year either one way (A Star is Born, Quiz Show, Shattered Glass) or the other (Bigger Than Life, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Fountain). Fortunately I came up with a good film to focus on:

Mildred Pierce (1945, dir. Michael Curtiz)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ex Machina

In a society where the local cineplex is over-saturated with franchise movies, remakes, reboots and sequels, it's practically a relief when something original comes along. Usually it's something from an independent movie studio but either way, it's a nice break from explosions and gunfights.

Alex Garland's Ex Machina is easily one such example of a break from Hollywood's monotonous big-budget cycle. Sure, it features some familiar elements of previous sci-fi films but it also has expansions of said elements. (Not bad coming from a directorial debut.)

Ex Machina also focuses on elements of the thriller genre throughout as well. Much like film noirs of the past and more recently Gone Girl, the film shows how someone could look innocent and completely harmless but are actually anything but. It doesn't take long before that flawless mask of theirs starts showing a few cracks.

Starring in Ex Machina are Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, three actors who have been on the rise in recent years. This trio continues to prove here that they are most certainly people to keep an eye on. It won't be much longer until they're the most sought after actors in the business.

Ex Machina is a brilliant and complex film though not without its faults. For instance, why is it in always the case in fiction that robots and AIs have the female form? Is it so their creators have a better sense of control over them? (Granted, such a situation works here but in other instances, it feels slightly sexist.) Still, Garland provides a well-done escape from usual Hollywood fare.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

Women rarely get the screentime they deserve in films nowadays. And if they do get screentime, there's a strong likelihood that they'll be objectified at some point. It's practically a bloody miracle when an actress gets a role with some meat on it.

This is why Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria is such a miracle. It contains roles that easily could've been played by men but does Assayas stoop to that patriarchal level? Thankfully no. (This is something more filmmakers should adhere to: writing roles that are gender blind.)

Much like All About Eve and Opening Night, Clouds of Sils Maria focuses on an actress and her fear of aging as she prepares for a new stage role. By no means does Juliette Binoche's Maria Enders face a crisis as severe as Bette Davis' Margo Channing or Gena Rowlands' Myrtle Gordon did but it's just as emotionally crippling. (Which raises a good question: why are women always fearing aging throughout fiction more than men?)

And Clouds of Sils Maria has what most mainstream films are sorely lacking: well-rounded women. Chloe Grace Moretz finally receives a role that's more mature than her other recent fare. Kristen Stewart continues to prove that there's more to her than Twilight. (Thank God.) But the star is easily Binoche. (Isn't that the case with most of the films she's in?)

Clouds of Sils Maria is very good but something about it feels forced. Still, the work from Assayas and the three principal actresses is very good and worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon


So Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting a blogathon where they want you to (if the title's not self-explanatory enough) talk about your favorite classic movie. My choice was a relatively easy one if you've known me long enough:

(1957, dir. Alexander Mackendrick)
(Spoilers ahead!)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: Still Alice

Life is a very fickle thing. You expect everything to be fine and dandy but then one thing comes along and proceeds to throw everything into chaos. It could be something simple like losing a job or something more affecting like the death of someone close to you.

Still Alice focuses on the effects of a debilitating disease (in this case, Alzheimer's disease) on a family. As the disease progresses, emotional bonds begin to fray. What will decay faster: the health of the patient or the well-being of their family?

Lisa Genova's novel is an absolutely heartbreaking read. Much like Flowers for Algernon, it's devastating for the reader to witness the brilliant mind of this Harvard professor slowly fall to pieces. And Genova's writing style depicts the mental decline through the eyes of the patient, which makes it all the more heartrending.

A few changes aside (changing the location from Boston to New York City for starters), Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's adaptation stays true to Genova's novel. Though it becomes clear early on that it's a film more dependent on the performances than the strength of the script. That said, the actors (particularly Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart) do try their best and manage to deliver.

So which of the two is better? Glatzer and Westmoreland do try to match up with Genova but they don't try hard enough. Something about it feels...artificial. (And yes, it's cruel to say knowing that Glatzer died several months after the film's release.) But it's clear which one triumphs.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Most Violent Year

Throughout J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year, there are many allusions to crime films of the 70s and early 80s. Whether Bradford Young's Gordon Willis-inspired cinematography or Chandor's Sidney Lumet-influenced direction, it's a film that would make those that were alive during that era proud.

Though it revolves around actual facts (1981 was in fact a violent year for New York City), the title is somewhat non-indicative. The film doesn't linger too much on actual violence. (At least until the towards the end.) Much like The Godfather, A Most Violent Year uses violence only as a last resort. (And the results can be pretty grim.)

Speaking of The Godfather, the performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are very reminiscent of those from the first two installments of Francis Ford Coppola's famed trilogy. Isaac clearly channels that Al Pacino's performance from the first film. Chastain, meanwhile, channels more of Pacino's work of the second film. He's trying to stay away from violence, she's more accepting to violence. A nice foil between the two.

As mentioned earlier, A Most Violent Year is very reminiscent of the films of Sidney Lumet. If one film of Lumet's extensive career could best be compared to this, it would be Prince of the City. Low-key yet very effective, both films show the business side of criminal behavior.

A Most Violent Year may be slow in spots but it still remains exciting. Thanks to the work from Chandor, Isaac and Chastain, it's a portrait of times passed. You don't normally see films like this nowadays.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Bright Star

[For those curious, this is a regular feature over at The Film Experience. Previous entries can be found here.]

Bright Star is easily one of my favorite films. Just the quiet simplicity of it is something that should be appreciated more in other films. Whether it's Campion's direction, the performances from Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish (both of whom still have yet to receive their proper moment in the Hollywood spotlight) or Grieg Fraser's cinematography (how does he not have an Oscar nomination yet?), it's a film that's (fittingly) visual poetry.

The best shot of Bright Star
It's this shot that I feel sums up the entirety of the film. It combines the two passions of John Keats' short life: writing and Fanny Brawne. It's this bit of editing by Alexandre de Franceschi that makes me adore the film even more.

I truly and deeply hope that more people will seek this film out.