Monday, January 20, 2014

Movie No. 10 (2014): BLUE JASMINE

Blue Jasmine (2013)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard

Jasmine, a (fallen) Manhattan socialite, travels first class to San Francisco to live temporarily with her (adopted) sister. She's (now) broke and homeless, in denial, and "on the verge of a nervous breakdown." Most of the movie is about her reflections on the life she has lost.

Cate Blanchett has won practically all critics' praises for her take on the Jasmine character. Her more recent wins include those from the Golden Globes and SAG. She's a major contender for the Best Actress at the Academy Awards in March. All these are not without reason. Cate Blanchett is simply mesmerizing, particularly in scenes that suggest Jasmine's getting near "the edge" of her sanity. She has been fully transformed into Jasmine. Sally Hawkins as Ginger, Jasmine's sister, complements Cate Blanchett's spectacular acting. She, too, is great as supporting actress.    

So, I'm not the only who, at one point, thought I was watching a very loose adaptation (or updating) of A Streetcar Named Desire. That's not a bad thing. Actually, it's clever. Woody Allen's writing/directing genius shines anew in this movie.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 19, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movie No. 9 (2014); THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Johan Hill, Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey

Jordan Belford's swindling his way into financial independence, moral decadence, and infamy is recreated by Martin Scorsese in this biopic. It's quite clear that Jordan Belfast is portrayed as antihero. The movie does not glorify or glamorize his almost routine excesses like abusing drugs, hooking with strippers, etc. Based only on Martin Scorsese's films that I've watched so far, this particular film seems like a welcome departure from the "trademark" of the director suggested in his filmography. So far, the Scorsese-DiCaprio tandem has never failed to deliver quality entertainment (think of Gangs of New York, The Departed). Easily, this film can now be regarded as one of Scorsese's masterpieces. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort delivers an electrifying performance. Jonah Hill, too, is unforgettable. It's no surprise that both of these actors get a nomination from the 86th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 19, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Movie No. 8 (2014): 12 YEARS A SLAVE

12 Years A Slave (2014)
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt

Based on a true story, the movie is about Solomon Northup, "a free man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold to slavery during 1840s." The movie presents mostly (on Solomon's point of view) the different forms of injustice the slaves experience in the hands of their masters. Such injustices are already in history books; however, Steve McQueen lends his meticulous hands in recreating such events in artfully distorted fashion. I use the adjective distorted because the movie is not easy to watch. There are lots of ugly scenes. Some scenes are angry. In fact, such anger is sustained in the end, without promise of redemption. But then, the movie, as an indictment of America's ugly past, deserves to be seen by larger audience.

The movie is the kind that wins Academy Awards. I'm not saying it has followed a recipe for its crew and cast to walk down the red carpet come the Oscars night. Its simply good as it is. In fact, it's one of the best films of 2013. Or, maybe, of the last 5 years. Every aspect of the movie fall into its right place - from directing, acting, script, cinematography and editing. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 12, 2014

Movie No. 7 (2014): HER

Her (2013)
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

If we have to look closely we may see that the movie indicts the foreseen technological advancements in artificial intelligence and computer science in an extrapolated future, which may not be too far, where keyboards that, at present, interface between human and computer are already obsolete. It's already a given that certain types of technology in this area alienate men. The movie presents a "what if" situation in this "scienced" fiction, where Theodore, a recent divorcee, who is lonely and insecure, finds solace in his newly-acquired, talking operating system, which (or who) calls itself (or herself) Samantha, until he falls in love with It (or Her).

Weird? No, imaginative! 

The movie is ambitious, but not in a negative way, despite its intimate take on the story. It's rare that we get awed by the performance of an actor who we don't see physically in the movie. The case is that of Scarlett Johansson's. We only hear her as the voice of Samantha. We can feel Samantha's emotions when she's playful, or when she's subtle, or when she's ecstatic, or when she's ... and so on. These are emotions that she has been trained/customized to "feel." Remember, Samantha is an AI program. Theodore, succumbing to his loneliness, gets trapped in such an artificial affair with his computer's operating system. 

This dramatic, but sometimes funny, science fiction is more than just a movie. It actually poses questions. It criticizes the nature of "self," too. For all we know, the "affair" is just a metaphor for men falling in love with his creations or making his creations fall for his narcissistic self. But, as a movie, it triumphs in every aspect of great film making.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 12, 2014


Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie No. 6 (2014): CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Captain Phillips (2013)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Paul Greengrass once again succeeds in recreating drama of a real event with artistic passion. He did it well in United 93 in 2006. He does it again in Captain Phillips. He has the ability to create scenes (in fact, continuous scenes) that never fail to sustain tension, which is supposedly the point he tries to make.

Tom Hanks is back. The last time I saw him essay a memorable performance was in Philadelphia. This is just my opinion. Yes, I saw him in Forrest Gump and Cast Away, where he did well, too. But in my book, such performances were just okay, not much to rave about. But in Captain Phillips, he's just unforgettable. He really looks like a captain, not because he's in uniform but because of the gestures and sense of authority he exudes. And during the tense moments, he does masterful acting like a mixture of fear, defiance, worry, hope, and cunning manifesting in his facial expressions. The same can be said about the reluctance and false authority displayed in Barkhad Abdi's gestures as the leader of the Somalian Pirates that seized Captain Phillips' ship.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 10, 2013

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Movie No. 5 (2014): DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

The year is 1985. Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician and hustler, is HIV positive, the doctor announces. He's in denial and dispels the bad news initially, then finds opportunity to help AIDS patients (for a fee) to get medication which, during the time, is still being tested in clinical trials. Of course, he does this under the nose of FDA. 

The movie digs into the psyche of a patient of the disease during the year when people ostracize the afflicted. The movie boasts of two of the most notable performances of 2013: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. These actors take method acting into its extremes successfully. They're much into their respective characters. Such efforts can only contribute very significantly to the films' many merits. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 9, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014

Movie No.4 (2014): AMERICAN HUSTLE

American Hustle (2013)
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence

An American con man and his seductive British partner get conned by an FBI agent, forcing them to work for the agency for an entrapment or, should I say, another "conning" operation that will toss them into the world of 1970s Mafia and New Jersey powerbrokers.

The film has a generally funny take on confidence game. It never bores. The script is crisp, although not perfect. The costume design and cinematography excellently project a 1970s feel. But, the best thing about the movie is the outstanding ensemble acting. It's not fair that some critics single out Jennifer Lawrence's supporting performance. Christian Bale, too, deliver an electrifying performance. And then there's Bradley Cooper. And Amy Adams. And Jeremy Renner. And so on.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: January 5, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Movie No. 3 (2014): SPRING BREAKERS

Spring Breakers (2013)
Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, James Franco

It's easy to dismiss the movie as forgettable without actually watching it. Just by looking at the cast at a director whose same sounds like a joke, I would never be convinced to see it, even if I saw James Franco's name in the cast. But, things changed when the LA Film Critics Awards recognized James Franco's take on Alien, his character in the movie. I tried to see it. But, I couldn't stand the first 15 minutes and there was no James Franco. So, I had to discontinue; I never felt the urgency to see it. In fact, what I had seen so far was annoying. Then yesterday, the otherwise snobbish National Society of Film Critics bestowed on James Franco his second acting award for his work in this film. I gave the movie another chance and, once I got past the first twenty minutes I was somehow hooked. And then the Alien character appeared (or re-appeared, 'cause I didn't notice him in the "rap on the beach" sequence). That's when I got hooked. Yes, Alien was James Franco's character. He played the character so effectively good that James Franco completely disappeared. And I would have said, where's James Franco in the movie? We'll you will never see James Franco in the movie.

I didn't expect to like the film. It may not be the one of the best films of the year, but the movie deserves respect. But, I like it.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 5, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Movie No. 2 (2014): BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

Blue Is The Warmest Color a.k.a. La Vita Di Adele (2013)
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cast: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux

The film has two parts, or chapters. In the first, Adele is shown as a junior high school who is exploring her sexuality. She experiments with a handsome schoolmate, but it's with a mysterious blue-haired girl (Emma) that she becomes more interested. The rest of the first part tells this romance. The second part shows Adele and Emma living together as adults, with all the ecstasy and pain of such kind relationship.

The film can be easily dismissed as being exploitative. But looking into the characters closely, the characters who we probably care about, may make us understand why such explicit scenes need to be shown in the first place. It's part of showing how passionate they are as lovers, how they are madly hooked into each other. In fact such scenes contribute to character development. The actresses are never made up just like, maybe, in the real sense, which adds authenticity and real feel for the characters. My only comment is that, in the final scene, the showcasing of Adele's felt pain is very brief despite the almost 3 hours of running time. I think, I need more time for that.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 1, 2014

Movie No.1 (2014): MORE THAN HONEY

More Than Honey (2012)
Director: Markus Imhoof

The documentary is not about honey; it's about the bees. More than its awesome achievement in sight and sound are the message and academic lessons that it conveys. Despite the generally bad news that the film generally tries to deliver, like the disappearance of some species and its alarming effect on human, the film maintains being positive.

This is a must-see. Feast on the remarkable close-ups. Be informed. And be scared.

For the complete synopsis, click this link:  http://www.morethanhoneyfilm.com/about.html

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 1, 2014