Archive for the ‘cinema’ Category

X-Men:First Class

June 6, 2011

Unlike sequels, prequels are very difficult to make because the director faces an extra challenge: the audience knows what happens next. Therefore, to make a successful prequel, one needs to construct a story that leads to what the audience already knows. On way to achieve this would be to focus within the psyche of the movie characters; to present all those events and experiences that have influenced the characters and made them to behave exactly as they did in the movies the audience has already seen. In short, to explain why the protagonists are like that.

It is exactly this recipe that the X-Men: First Class movie follows, and, quite successfully, I might add. Unless you are a fan of the X-Men and have a stack of old comics in the back of your cupboard, you probably don’t know their history. You are probably not aware how Professor Xavier started his X-Men academy in a secret location. How Magneto found a helmet that blocks Professor Xavier’s mind-reading ability. How Mystique ended up with Magneto. Why Xavier is called Professor. And above all, how Professor Xavier and Magneto became rivals.

The movie fills exactly this gap in our knowledge. It begins with two parallel stories: this of Magneto as a young Erik, who becomes aware of this power during periods of intense anger, experienced when he was held hostage in a Nazi concentration camp, and the other of Professor Xavier, or Charles, who has a quiet upbringing in his wealthy American home. Here Charles meets Mystique, who becomes his step-sister and follows him to his studies at the University of Oxford in England. The paths of Erik and Charles will first converge when Charles, now an accomplished Professor of Genetics at the University of Oxford specialising in mutations, will help the CIA in finding other mutants. Erik and Charles will join forces to find and recruit many more mutants in their efforts to prevent Sebastian Shaw – another powerful mutant – from staring World War III by mingling in the affairs of the Americans and the Russians in midst of the cold war era and being responsible for the Cuban missile crisis. Only for Erik, killing Sebastian Shaw is his ulterior motive. Sebastian’s true identity is Dr Schmidt; a doctor working for the Nazis, who first unearthed Erik’s mutant powers, but also killed Erik’s mother.

Although Magneto’s quest for revenge dominates the movie compared to the transformation of Professor Xavier into a guardian and trainer of the young X-Men, the story progressively gains momentum and culminates into the final making of the arch rivals. The visual effects, especially for Mystique’s numerous transformations have been masterfully executed. The script even included some humorous elements: i) a joke from Professor Xavier that he might go bald, ii) a cameo appearance from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and iii) a cameo appearance from Rebecca Romijin, the actor who played Mystique in the later movies, in an effort of the current Mystique to woo Magneto.

Even though the movie has been fun and interesting to watch, it did not have anything special that made it stand out. However, it is a pleasant movie to watch on a night out with friends.

Lambda.

P.S.: All images © respective owners

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Inception

August 15, 2010

Many films have toyed with the idea of dreams vs reality and the acceptance of reality, but no film has done it better than Inception. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo diCaprio in the role of Dominic Cobb, the film is a deep, masterful look into the subconscious. (warning – plot spoiler ahead.)

Cobb and his team specialises in a method called extraction; a method with which he can get sensitive information through the people’s subconscious while they are sleeping. To achieve this, all need to be connected to a special machine, resembling a dialysis, that administers a sedative and allows the connected people to share a dream world, built according to their mental projections. Cobb is a master of this world and uses it to make a living by stealing information from his victims for his client. However, Cobb is challenged by a Japanese business man, not wanting to steal information but to do the inverse: to plant an idea into another person’s mind.

Cobb is initially not persuaded to take the job. He is later convinced to try the feat in exchange for the businessman’s help to allow Cobb to enter the US again. Cobb had been extradited from the United States, as he is a suspect for the murder of his wife. As we delve deeper into Inception, not only do we find projections of the world of his victim, but projections of Cobb’ mind, and the secret about his wife he has hidden for so long in his subconscious.

The film is a brilliantly directed movie with noteworthy performances from the cast. There are many action scenes and a superbly executed gravitation-less fighting choreography in the hallway of a hotel. If you have seen Nolan’s previous movies – Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Night-, you will unmistakably recognise his familiar style of building up mystery and suspense. It is the idea of Nolan playing with the hero’s subconscious and of what is real and what is not, that will leave you wanting for more. 2,5 hours passed and not a single time time did we question the movie; instead we watched with eager anticipation to untangle the complexity of the plot and our hero’s mind.

A phenomenal movie that allows for many interpretations, bearing testament to the exceptional work from Nolan on direction and scripting and the mesmerising performances of the actors.

Lambda.

[image © respective owner]

Toy Story 3

August 5, 2010

They say that a sequel is an opportunity for a movie studio to make additional money. Since the film and its characters is already know to people, the studio does need not pay much money for the marketing and the promotion of the sequel. However, with only few exceptions, sequels never live up to the name of the original movie. “Oh, please! By definition alone, sequels are inferior movies“, says Randy Meeks in Wes Craven’s “Scream 2“.

But for Pixar’s Toy Story franchise seems to be different. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Toy Story 2 was as successful as the first installment; both movies have achieved 100% score in the Tomatometer. It was, therefore, interesting to see if Toy Story 3 would live up to the challenge set by its predecessors.

And it appears that Pixar’s latest movie is nothing short of a masterpiece. Not only for an interesting and engaging story, but for evoking sentiments on children and grown-ups. Several newspapers, among them the “Evening Standard”, reported that while children were coming out the cinemas laughing, adults – especially men- came out crying (probably with a pinch of journalistic exaggeration).

The movie’s story starts with a familiar place, Andy’s room, where seemingly nothing has changed. In actual fact, something has changed. Andy is turning 17 and is leaving for college this week. Before doing so, Andy is reminded by his mother that he needs to tidy up his room for the last time and decide on the things he wants to keep and to throw away. Disappointed that Andy does not play with them any more, or even notice them, the toys devise a plot to make Andy put them in a box in the attic, where they will spend the rest of their lives together. Only, due to a mistaken belief that Andy intended to throw them away, the toys end up donated to the local children daycare centre. Lotso, a seemingly friendly teddy bear welcomes the toys to their new environment and explains that here all the toys get the attention they deserve from the children, who play with them all the time; just what Andy’s toys are really missing. It is not long before they realise, however, that the paradise they have been offered is actually a living hell, where the children are too young to play with toys properly. And they decide to break out from the dictatorship of Lotso and his company at the daycare centre.

The movie contains most of the characters that were introduced in the previous installments and were loved. Mr and Mrs Potato Head are still making jokes about their relationship and their moving parts, Buzz Lightyear has a Spanish alter-ego, which is discovered by Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, Barbie experiences love at first sight when she meets her significant other, metrosexual Ken, and even Woody stills keeps his cool when his pullstring is pulled and says “There is a snake in my boots”.

But Toy Story 3 is not just jokes and custard pies. It is about evoking emotions. Not necessarily about children parting from their toys; after all this was the theme for Toy Story 2. It is about something most adults have experienced in the past: the dreadful day when they will realise their children have grown-up and are ready to live the house for other adventures. It is about parting of people.

Probably one of the best movies of this year.

Lambda.

[image © LambdaPhage]

Avatar

January 30, 2010

It is very challenging to write a review for Avatar. Not because the film has received much media hype or because it is the first high-definition 3D movie that took 7 years to make. It is because 300 words are two few to convey feeling and impressions. Aside the technological advances, the carefully crafted special effects and the technical mastery, it stands out for telling a simple, yet compelling, fairytale.

The idea of Avatar bears some similarities to the history of Native Indian Americans and their fight to save their land from the conquering Spaniards. The only difference is that James Cameron created the Na’vi alien humanoid tribe in the planet of Pandora to tell this story. Through the eyes of a paraplegic former marine and his Avatar, an artificially created mind-controlled body with the mix of human and Na’vi DNA, we spend the first two hours learning the customs of the Na’vi tribe and their love and appreciation for Pandora’s natural habitats. The remaining of the film deals with the Na’vi efforts to save their planet from the eminent human destruction. The humans are the bad guys who invaded the planet and want ton] exploit the planet’s rich reserves of an expensive mineral.

As the story unwinds, all the technical elements – special effects, Pandora’s environment and creatures and the Na’vi language – flow effortlessly. But as you would typically expect from James Cameron, this films offers more: a rare glimpse into greedy human nature. The film is a big critique on human ambition in the quest of money and underlies that human form an integral part of the planet’s environment. Above all, this film is a celebration of the love of nature.

Lambda.

P.S.: And please, do not dare watch this film in anything else that Imax 3D.

Up

October 24, 2009

UP_Poster_AllChar

(warning: movie spoiler ahead)

When Pixar first released Toy Story in 1995, few people would have guessed that computer-generated animation would dominate the future of cartoons. This is probably because what made the film loveable was not the masterful graphics but the inspirational storyline. Their latest movie, Up, is another fine example of Pixar telling a simple, yet moving, story.

78-year old retired balloon salesman, Carl Friedricksen and his wife Ellie dreamt their entire lifetime of embarking on a grand adventure. Inspired by their childhood hero Charles F Muntz, they longed to journey to “Paradise Falls” in South Africa. Now, following the death of his wife, Carl refuses to surrender his memory-laden home to construction workers.

Only when he receives a court order to move to the Shady Oaks Retirement Home does Carl begins to realise that his lifetime dream of going to Paradise falls is long gone…

Or perhaps not.

When people from the retirement home come to take him away, Carl lifts his house free of its foundations with thousands of helium balloons, and sets off for Paradise Falls.

However, there is one small problem: Russel, an 8-year old Wilderness Explorer, who, in an attempt to win his final badge “Assisting the elderly” and become a Senior Wilderness Explorer, finds himself trapped aboard Carl’s floating home.

The unexpected duo head toward Paradise Falls, where Carl will be taught an important lesson: the best adventure of his life was made not by the exotic location but is the sharing the journey.

If you thought that your grandparents would never care to watch an animated kid’s film, then this is definitely one family outing they should be included on.

Lambda.

P.S.: Image copyright by Pixar/Disney

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

October 10, 2009

poster

(warning: movie plot spoiler ahead)

Pedro Almodovar‘s films resemble ancient greek tragedies in their narrative. They successfully follow successfully the triptych of the ancient greek tragedies that stirs pleasurable emotions to the audience for the suffering. Hubris is triggered by mistakes or unfortunate choices of the passionate characters in the film; retribution results in their punishment and, finally, nemesis follows them in the katharsis of their soul. In the end, even if we do not agree with the life choices of Almodovar’s heroes and heroines, we cannot help but feel sympathy for them.

This is exactly what we witness in his latest film, Broken Embraces. We follow the story of a blind screenwriter called Harry Caine. Harry is assisted by his friend and film producer Judith and her son, Diego in his daily life. When Judith is away, Diego is briefly hospitalized due to a drug incidence Harry gets Diego from the hospital and looks after him at home. There, a series of discussions lead to Harry uncovering the sequence of tragic and unfortunate events responsible for his blindness.

In the past, Harry’s real name was Mateo Blanco and he was a well-known screenwriter and film-director. Harry met Lena (Penelope Cruz) in an audition and casted her for the leading role of his next movie, Chicas y maletas, which is based Almodovar’s script for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown“. Lena, originally coming from a poor family, got involved with the millionaire Ernesto Martel and became his mistress to repay him for hospitalizing her sick father. Ernesto Martel, passionately in love with Lena, will do whatever it takes to keep her happy, even if this means financing Harry’s latest film. Due to the tiring schedule of rehearsals and shooting, Lena distances herself from Martel and falls in love with Harry. Martel becomes jealous of Lena and sends his son, Ernesto Martel Junior, to spy on her by directing a “behind the scenes” video during the production of the film. It is this way that Martel learns about Lena’s love for Harry and cannot hold his wrath. Before the premier of the film, Lena and Harry disappear from Madrid and Martel takes his revenge by re-editing and destroying the film. In Lanzarote, where Harry and Lena take refuge, a car accident kills Lena and leaves Harry blind. It is after the accident that Harry assumes his pseudonym as his real name and wants to forget the past forever.

Cruz

Back in the present, after Judith returns to Madrid, she confesses to Harry being responsible for revealing Harry’s and Lena’s wherabouts to Martel at that time and feels responsible for Harry’s unfortunate fate. Harry learns that Judith still holds the lost reels of Chicas y maletas and decides to re-edit the film to release it after so many years.

In this film, we witness once again Almodovar’s powerful narrative and film-making. As with “Todo sobre mi madre” and “Volver” Almodovar does not portray his heroines as superwomen. It is their frailties, their passions and their mistakes that make them vulnerable and, therefore, human. And it is this fact that elevates Almodovar’s films into a special art form.

Lambda.

P.S.: All images © respective owners

Inglourious Basterds

September 13, 2009

inglorious-basterds-poster-1

Inglourious Basterds is a fictional film in German-occupied France during World War II. The movie starts with the weaving of two individuals stories. The first story is the story of Jewish Shoshanna Dreyfus, who narrowly escapes death by the untouchable German colonel Hans Landa during a raid at the house of the nearby farmer, where she and her family were hiding. Shoshanna reappears three years later in Paris, where she has acquired the identity of Emmanuelle Mimieux and owns a small cinema she inherited from her aunt and uncle. The second story is the story of an American soldier group, called Basterds, which is lead by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). The Basterds come to Europe to bring havoc to the Third Reich and kill as many Germans as possible.

Although the Basterds and Emmanuelle do not know each other and never meet during their film, their stories converge in Paris. Emmanuelle meets the German officer Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl, mostly famous for his role in Goodbye Lenin), who tries to impress her and win her love by arranging to have the premiere of Goebbels’ new movie “Stolz Den Nation” (Pride of the Nation), in which he stars, in Emmanuelle’s cinema. Both Emmanuelle and the Basterds seize the opportunity to organise plots to kill Adolf Hitler, who will be attending the premier with other highly ranked officials. For Emmanuelle, this is the perfect time for revenge for her family and for the Basterds the perfect time to end the war.

The movie, although far from the success of Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, represents Tarantino’s mature writing and his superb directing ability. It will definitely pin your down as you watch the portrayal of the individual characters, the gradual unveiling of the plot and you witness the merciful – and a bit unexpected- finale. Simply, another Tarantino classic.

Lambda.

P.S.: Image, copyright of respective owners.