Thursday, December 31, 2009

In the blink of an eye

First, I'd like to explain why, unlike my fellow cinephiles, I have not been busying myself writing end of the decade lists. The 2000s have come and gone and now is the time we look back fondly (or not) on what happened over the last ten years. And while I find these efforts to sum up the Oughts in clever lists and articles a fun and perhaps even necessary exercise, I will not take part in them.

The reason I'll abstain from such things is my birth-date. I was born on January, 1992; on the same day as my sister's birthday. I grew up a child of the 90s and when the new millennium rolled around I was still a little boy. So, while I was alive throughout all the 2000s, I was much too young to see the majority of the films that came out in the first half of the decade. Yes, I have seen films from years past to fill the gaps in my film education, but I still think I am not qualified to provide an adequate review of the entire decade.

So, what is left for me to do, my dear readers? Well, one thing I am prepared to review is 2009. And on this last day of the year, as you uncork the champagne and count down the seconds to a bright new beginning, I'm prepared to entertain you with one last bit of my opinion.

I raise my glass today to this past decade, and for all it has brought. Bonne année, mes petits.

Au revoir,
M. Cinema

P.S. And for those of you interested in such lists, there's a fantastic group of them over at Cinematical.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alice in Wonderland

A new trailer for Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland has been making the rounds and I thought I'd share it with you. The film looks wonderfully Burton-esque. I specially love Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen. Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you cover your ears at the Queen's insane scream (love!)? Let me know in the comments.

Au revoir,
M. Cinema

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Portrait of the Ad as a Short Film

You may have noticed a trend that high-end ads are following these days. The thing nowadays is to turn ads into short films that happen to showcase the product in one way or the other. This type of advertising, where the line between an ad and entertainment gets blurred, is technically knows as branded content. The first of these commercials I remember watching is No. 5 The Film, a Chanel advertisement for the legendary perfume of the same name directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!). Featuring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro in a simple, star-crossed-love story, the commercial raised the bar for advertisement everywhere (in my mind, at least).

This year, Chanel released a new ad for No. 5, this time a short film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie), where he once again worked with Audrey Tautou. And although it's not as glitzy as the first one, it still is miles above what most fashion commercials are doing these days.

However, competition being what it is, rival fashion house Dior has released it's own contribution to this emerging genre. The Olivier Dahan-directed The Lady Noire Affair features a gorgeous Marion Cotillard and a dark color palette to go with the noir mood, along with the promise of Cotillard returning for the sequel, The Lady Rouge. Not only this, David Lynch is set to direct. Now, don't get me wrong, I find the Chanel ads much more charming than this one, but the thought of Lynch directing Cotillard in a John Galliano-styled short film is pretty interesting to me.

All of this leads me to the question; are these any good? Are these competently made short films? Or are they just above-average, different advertisements that grab my attention due to their originality? And if they are, are they an indication of what advertisement can aspire to be? Are these lofty aspirations even accomplishable? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Au revoir,
M. Cinema

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Summer Plans

I know what you're thinking. Why would you make plans for summer 8 months or so in advance? Well, my dear readers, that's because I just got told that next year my school's theater department is taking a trip to New York. I, being the NY-obsessed boy I am, immediately asked them if I could join them. They said yes and that means I've got a chance (however small) of actually going to Broadway. Needless to say, this makes me a very happy camper, mes petits. The plan is to go and see four musicals (not chosen yet) and I'm lobbying to go see Hair. The show's gotten rave reviews and it has an amazing cast, so I'm dying to go. I leave you here with a couple of choice videos showcasing the amazing performers and specially the outstanding Gavin Creel.

Wish me luck, darlings.

Au revoir,

M. Cinema

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts on Inglourious Basterds

Approaching a film like Inglourious Basterds is a complex thing. You don't just consider the film itself, but what went into making it and the history surrounding it. In the case of this film, that would be a more-than-a-decade-in-the-making script and Tarantino describing it as "epic". And with a two and a half hours length, it certainly feels that way. The film delivers on its promise of everything a Tarantino film should be and more. Allow me to elaborate.

Inglourious Basterds opens with SS-Standartenführer (Colonel) Hans Landa (Cristoph Waltz) and his arrival at a dairy farm. Landa (a.k.a The Jew Hunter) is there to perform a search for the last remaining Jew survivors in the area. While questioning the farmer who owns the property about the survivors, Landa remains utterly charming in a way no film Nazi has ever been, in my experience. He's eloquent, fluent in three languages (so far) and dangerously charismatic. He is also evil, ironic and absurd; in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Waltz deserves praise for bringing to life what Tarantino considered his greatest character ever. His Hans Landa is the kind of rotten character that you kinda want to watch get away with it in the end. Landa also provides unexpected comedy several times in the film; keeping his character solidly on our good side. I can thus honestly say there wasn't one scene he was in where I wasn't completely enamored with him. I wouldn't be surprised if Waltz got an Oscar nomination to go with his Cannes best actor award.

Escaping from Landa's clutches is a teenage girl named Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent). Laurent delivers an outstanding performance here that shall get her (much like her compatriot Marion Cotillard) in the international spotlight. Laurent's face is very expressive throughout the film and it is clear from the luscious (quasi-fetishistic) shots Tarantino takes of her (specially near the climax, where she dons a red dress right out of cinematic mythology) that she is his star, his archetypal tragic siren. Even if Shosanna's revenge story is played alongside a bigger, more action-packed portion of the film, her tale still involves you in ways the rest of the plot, perhaps, can't.

It's through Shosanna's machinations that Tarantino's plot to rewrite history becomes possible. It is through her clever calculations that most of the climax is possible. Some of these machinations include flirting with Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a Nazi war hero who is now getting his own Goebbels film, "The Pride of the Nation".

I had seen Bruhl before in Good Bye, Lenin!
and it must be said even as a Nazi war hero, he still retains his boyish charm. It is also through Bruhl's skill, however, that we get a glimpse at the darker motivations of his character.

Aiding the Basterds in their quest is Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a German movie star working as a double agent. Kruger is pitch perfect as von Hammersmark; being at once charming, glamorous, and wonderfully diva-esque. Her character is a ton of fun, adding some welcome snark to the proceedings. Kruger pleasantly surprised me with this role, showing talent I hadn't realized she possessed. Don't get me wrong, I've never disliked her or anything; but she hadn't ever really stood out for me.

Also aiding the Basterds is Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), a suave British agent that pokes fun at the British stiff upper-lip humor stereotype like it's nobody's business. Fassbender is truly surprising here. Having previously only seen him in either small roles or his gruesome role in Hunger, I didn't quite expect the comic style he offers here. It is, nonetheless, a decent (if a tad small) part.

As for the Basterds themselves, their roles are relatively small (if idiosyncratic and special in their own way), but the focus remains on Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine (a.k.a. Aldo the Apache). Pitt is here tasked with playing a character that has to be at once funny and menacing. It is in his heroic southern patriot that the Basterds leadership and morale rest. I had my qualms about Pitt's role when I first heard about it, but he quickly puts those concerns to rest once he's on the screen.

Which leads me to the director himself. Quentin Tarantino has always been a divisive director. His films often lead to fierce discussion between die-hard fans and skeptics. What I've always said is that even if you find his style abrasive and lacking taste, he is technically a good director. He certainly knows how to handle a camera's angles and how to communicate a clear vision. He also has a knack for pushing actors to deliver iconic, larger-than-life performances that don't go overboard. He is, ultimately, a director that loves movies. Those two things might seems bound to each other, but if one looks around there is clearly a shortage of cinema-loving directors. He is, for lack of a better term, our very own enfant terrible. A lot of directors wish such a label be applied for them. The difference between Tarantino and the avant-garde hoi polloi is that he actually has the talent and vision to back it up.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie a lot and wholeheartedly recommend watching it and even re-watching it. Much like the relationship with a friend, a Tarantino film always benefits from repeated visits.

Le verdict: ****

P.S. And because I'm a shameless actressexual with a thing for vintage looks, here's one of the alternate film posters and another image of Laurent, in-character. Everybody now: gorgeous.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Gala Darling

As promised, here is my homage to the wonderful Gala Darling. Who is Gala Darling, you ask? Well, she's only one of the most marvelous inspirations in my life. I first became aware of Gala's work through StumbleUpon. Even though now I can't find the link anywhere, I remember the article perfectly. It was called Gala Darling's Rules for Life, and it featured a picture of a cotton-candy pink-haired girl and her five tips to be happy (and stylish!) in life. At the bottom of the article, there was a link to her site, iCiNG. I clicked on it and instantly fell in love.

iCiNG is a site full of helpful articles on everything from how to dress for a summer wedding to how to become your ideal self. Gala delivers these articles in such a thorough, caring way it's hard not to want to become a part of the community (for she's repeatedly stated iCiNG is as much her project as it is our community and that we're all a vital part of it). Her articles became an inspiration to me, an anchor during a particularly low point in my life. I credit her with much of the progress I made during that period and with the person I am today. No one else had ever, so unapologetically, told me that my differences were something to be cherished.

Gala Darling is a force of nature, an agent of change and goodness. The sheer volume of her articles is a testament to her undying commitment to provide content for her readers. And not just any content; valuable, interesting or just plain amusing content. What's more, her words ring true. She's not one of those people that just tells you to be happy and denies the existence of unhappiness. She was once herself very unhappy and negative and consciously decided to turn her life around. She quit her day job, started iCiNG and never looked back.

Aside from all of this, she's also phenomenally stylish. She always manages to make something look good and all her own. Her fashion advice is also seriously good; never failing to be at once helpful and amusing. And you can't help but love the pink-haired dynamo as she shares her outfits and ideas with you.

All in all, I love Gala Darling and feel a great deal of pride when I see my link on her site. So, what are you waiting for. Go and soak yourself in iCiNG.

Au revoir,
M. Cinema

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts on Gomorra (Gomorrah)

There are a number of films (The Godfather, Scarface, et al.) that seem to glamorize the criminal underworld. Gomorra is not one of those films. It is unflinchingly faithful to the sordid reality that ensnares the lives of so many people trapped in the web of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate originating in the region of Campania). The film, as noted, is based on a reality. Cinematic-wise, however, a film can deviate from reality. Realistic films still hold on to some veneer of style in order to interest us. The opposite is true for documentaries, were the cinematography tries to be as faithful to reality as possible. This film treads a fine line between the two. It's precisely this that repelled me when I was watching it. Allow me to explain why I go against most people in saying this is not a great film.

The movie focuses on five different stories, all of them tainted by the crime surrounding them. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), an accountant who distributes money to the families of imprisoned gang members, wants to escape his job and move to a safer location. Toto (Nicoló Manta), a grocery boy, wants in on the action. Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupe) is an haute couture tailor looking to make an extra buck by training Chinese garment workers how to counterfeit the real deal. Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are two teenage wannabe gangsters that dream of the life shown in movies like The Godfather and (their favorite) Scarface. On the other side of the coin, Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) and his boss Franco (Toni Servillo) are illegally disposing of waste in unused quarries. The common denominator to all these stories is more than their involvement with the crime around them. It's that they're, all of them, victims in some way or another. Neither them nor the local ganglords we see are really enjoying the glitz and glamour crime promised. They're all victims, in one way or another, of an uncaring system.

The film is quite skillful in depicting the bleak reality of the crime-soaked lives it explores. It uses unadorned camerawork and photography, nearly documentary-level in style. Though, objectively, I can see the point to this, it just isn't my taste. Even in realistic films the world is heightened, even if it's just in the visual style of the film. You look out your window and the world doesn't look exactly like in the movies. The closest we come to that is a documentary. This film walks the line between the two approaches, but I would've much preferred it choose a side and stick with it. I realize the film's fiction is a lure to get the audience to pay attention to the reality it wants to shine a light on. In the end, though, I just feel duped. It was the ending notes that did it in for me. If the film was content with depicting reality as it is and nothing more, why would it try to push us in such a moralistic, after-school special way?

I like fantasy (think The Godfather) and history (think Excellent Cadavers) in different ways, which is not to say I prefer either one over the other. History (hopefully) offers us a way to overcome our mistakes, while fantasy offers us a welcome escape from these mistakes. I would've much rather the film choose a side in these polar opposites in the film spectrum, rather than sit in the middle. I understand the power of film as a tool to comment on the state of society, but I don't want that to be used as an excuse for a film being mediocre in other areas.

Le verdict: **

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A star in the Galaverse (a.k.a. Twitter works, people!)

Isn't she the most gorgeous candy-haired International Playgirl in the land?

Okay, let me set the scene for you. I'm in my philosophy class and it's workshop day. We basically sit and write essays for our final project (a book detailing our personal philosophy) during workshop days. I was writing and hit a block and decided to clear my head for a few minutes by checking out some of the blogs I usually read. I was checking iCiNG and decided to see what Gala (a truly outstanding person. But you know that already from checking out my Required Reading, right?) had changed on her link list, since she's posted something to that effect on her weekly Carousel. Imagine my surprise when I saw a pretty little link to Monsieur Cinema, right there in the thick of it. I proceeded to do the one thing I could manage to do in that situation and did my own version of Kathy Griffin's gay inhale. Now, this might not sound like much; but picture it happening during a quiet lull in the classroom and you have everyone turning their necks to look at me like I'm a mental patient (and me not caring one bit. Much too huge a deal to care.). Granted, I had sent Gala a link to the site when she asked her nonpareils (iCiNG codeword for Gala's undying legion of fans) for links to their sites since she was updating her link list. I, however, did not expect her to actually put me in the list, given her humongous following. I thought I would only be a blip in a flurry of tweets. Well, call it the little blip-that-could because I'm in! I think, my dear readers, this is one of those moments that tell me starting this blog was definitely a good idea. Expect a Gala homage (the woman is deserving of it, link-list-add or not) post tout de suite.

Au revoir, Monsieur Cinema.

P.S. I realize this post could be construed as more than a little self-serving, but bear with me; those are not my intentions. I merely want to share the joy I felt when I saw this with you, my dear and faithful readers. Je suis très hereux, mes petits. Très hereux, indeed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What a Glee-ful start!

This my friends, will no doubt sound like a fluff piece to you when you're done reading it. But, I swear to you, it's not! I just really, really loved it. And by "it" I mean the second episode of the marvelous Glee. The pilot showed a lot of potential, but potential doesn't always turn into greatness. Well, my dear readers, here it does, and in spades of it.

"Showmance" is the much-hyped series second episode, arriving a full 4 months after the pilot premiered in May. With something as hyped-to-the-heavens as Glee, one has reasonable fear that it'll disappoint when it actually shows up. This, of course, is a mistake. Not only did the episode deliver on the pilot's promise, it went above and beyond. The script had some brilliant, snark-tastic bits of dialogue. Of special note in this department is Jane Lynch's cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. I swear, there's not a dull moment when she's on the screen. The rest of the cast, however, is not neglected by the script, which delivers equal parts satire and heart.

Of course, one of the main features of the show is the musical numbers, and they did not disappoint. Whether rapping to Kanye West's Gold Digger (who knew Matthew Morrison could rap? Apparently, Lea Michele: "We don't call him Mattie Fresh for nothing...") or belting out to Rihanna's Take a Bow (in a scene that is further proof that Lea Michele really is as good an actress as she is a singer), the show really delivers on its musical premise.

Overall, I really liked the series and hope the rest of the public will agree with me, lest this turn into my new Pushing Daisies. And you, my readers, what did you think of Glee? Let me know in the comments.

Le verdict (so far): ****

P.S. All images in these post can be originally found in's gallery.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Thoughts on Orphan

Scary movies have a love-hate relationship with me. I always see the trailers and grow interested and then fight my reticence to see them. Almost always, immediately after exiting the theater I feel regret. Regret because I know I'm gonna be skittish all night long after watching a scary movie, yet again. Orphan, however, was enough of a draw (the trailer was suitably intriguing) for me to momentarily put aside my fears. I do not regret it.

Orphan is the story of the Coleman family and their newest member, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). We learn at the very beginning of the story that Coleman mother Kate (Vera Farmiga) had a miscarriage and that prompted her to attempt adoption. She already has two other kids: a partially deaf daughter named Max (Aryana Engineer) and a spoiled-yet-ignored son named Daniel (Jimmy Bennett). Her desire to make up for the miscarriage and get another kid is just too much, so she and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) register and start looking around orphanages. They eventually find a very charming and proper girl named Esther.

As is customary in these kind of movies (the child-from-hell genre, specifically), everything seems fine at first. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Esther has a dark side to her charming persona. Not only has she lied about her past, she actively undermines Kate and manipulates the people around her. One of the more odd things surrounding Esther is her fixation with the ribbons around her neck and wrists. She never removes them and any attempt to do so results in her screaming and flailing around. All of this arouses Kate's suspicions, but her misgivings about her new child are not well received by the people around her.

Even if the heroine-who-nobody-believes is a tired element in the horror genre, here it plays seamlessly; all thanks to Esther's machinations. What isn't half as easy to swallow is Farmiga's performance. She overacts in each and every scene she's in. You would think it's a bit hard to look fake when you're screaming after your endangered children (not much to do really, just scream and run after them), but Farmiga is so ham-endowed she even botches this.

More decent (though not by a long shot) is Sarsgaard's John, who (along with Kate, come to think of it) plays the stereotypical yuppie XXI century father. The scenes where he does lash out at Kate in frustration, however, ring true. Sarsgaard manages to remain bitter and oblivious yet oddly relatable.

The film's standouts lie not, however, with the adults. Rather, it's in Engineer and Fuhrman's performance's that the film really shines. Not only does their twisted sister dynamic manage to stay interesting; they also manage very decently when on their own.

Engineer's Max is a role that (much like Jadagrace Berry's in Terminator Salvation)requires her to be very expressive with her face without going overboard. Her fear and pain also genuinely make you feel sorry for her situation.

The cause of this fear and pain, of course, is the increasingly deranged Esther, who shines in Fuhrman's hands. She is charming, as noted above. This, of course, does not stop her from also being a chilling sociopath. It's the little things really: an evil glare here and there, a sadistic smile watching a fire, a realistic Russian accent, et al. The movie uses a lot of psychological thriller conventions, so the villain role really has to stand out for us to get interested. If it weren't for Fuhrman, the film wouldn't be half as interesting (or spooky) as it is.

Like I said above, the film works entirely within the conventions of the genre. These go from the lone-standing female heroine nobody believes to the shocking reveal of the villain's nature/identity. As a friend of mine noted, the makers of this film must have worked pretty hard to avoid stepping on clichés in this department. The ShockReveal isn't as shocking as others, but I'll still give it points on originality. Some better casting decisions and a tighter script around some scenes could've really elevated this to classic, Rosemary territory.

Le verdict: **

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts on The Breakfast Club

As many of you may know, 80s teen flick auteur John Hughes passed away recently. In honor of this, I decided to show The Breakfast Club to my Film Club. I started the year with something light and teen oriented (Charlie Bartlett, more on that later) so as to get them going in the right direction with something that wasn't as heavy as, say, The Seventh Seal. The film is far from perfect and I don't agree with it being the ultimate high school movie, but it's cultural impact is still undeniable. Allow me to elaborate.

The film follows a Saturday in the lives of five high school students in detention. They're all from different cliques and don't really get along. Because of their locked-in circumstances, they're forced to interact and get to know each other. Throughout the day they manage to get behind the assigned personas of their cliques. If this sounds cliched, it's because this film practically started this trend in teen and coming-of-age movies. Even if the character labels are a tad obsolete and simplistic, the movie's intention is what's remarkable. The reason they simplify the characters into archetypes even as they attempt to remove their masks is that this way it's much easier to explore a wide range of topics.

On the acting front, I must say I didn't truly dislike anyone's performance, but I did feel some of them could've been done better. Chief among these is Molly Ringwald's Claire, who I just couldn't ever like. Ally Sheedy's Allison, however, nicely treads the line between Ringwald and Judd Nelson's overacting. Even if the message they send through her character in the end is atrocious, I enjoyed watching her go from quiet and insane one second to pathological lying and crazy dancing the next.

The movie succumbs to some of the 80s most dreadful film making mistakes (music video-esque montages, random exaggerations, etc.), but it manages to relay it's message somewhat convincingly. There are films I say could've been better, but weren't, and as such deserve no special consideration. This film on the other hand, is not one of those films. The film is not interesting for what it could've been, but for what it attempts to say. The message, not the product takes precedence here. Of course, the film makes mistakes regarding some of its messages (the aforementioned Allison storyline), but overall the script is not half-bad. Maybe I'm just removed from the generation that grew up with this film, but I still understand what it meant back then. Should this impact my verdict on the film?

Le verdict: **1/2

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on The Hangover

The comedic front in cinema has been on a rut as of late. "Where is the big comedy of the year?", we clamored. Well, mesdames et messieurs, The Hangover should assuage us all (at least for now). Here is a movie that squeezes every ounce of fun it can from one of the most random, chaotic script we've seen this year (even if its chaos detracts from it as a whole). Even if the movie's brand of crass humor wasn't always my taste, I have to recognize there's no situation or line that wasn't funny within it's own style. That's ambiguous, isn't it? Let's get on with the explanation, then.

The movie's premise is quite simple: four guys wake up in a trashed hotel suite after a night of debauchery with no memory of the events that happened in the aforementioned night. They must now find the fifth member of their motley crew, who just happens to be getting married in two days. As they go about piecing information about the night's events, they run into such random characters as a pair of sadistic police officers, a hooker with a heart of gold and an enraged Chinese gangster. See what I meant about the chaos?

The guys get divided into regular, male comedy archetypes. The whipped wimp, the socially awkward idiot, and the suave ladies man all make their appearance here. The roles are decently portrayed by Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis (I had to double spellcheck that name), and Bradley Cooper, respectively. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but within the context of the film it manages to still be fun. Even if at times Helms' whining and Galifianakis idiocy get a tad grating, it doesn't detract too much from the film.

The film's star, of course, is not its leads, but rather the random messes they stumble into on their search for their friend Doug (Justin Bartha, who just can't seem to get his big break.). The situations are, more often that not, politically incorrect and go from merely embarrassing to outright dangerous. If there's one issue the script has regarding these encounters is the fact that they don't really have cohesion. To put it another way, even if the situations are funny, they're not really connected. They're like roommates that don't hang out much; they share the same space but don't have much of a relationship.

Overall, the film provides a healthy amount of laughs and will keep you entertained from start to finish. It is not, however, anything we haven't seen before. Nor is it, as some people seem to think, the next Big Thing. It's a summer comedy, and a good one at that, but nothing else.

Le verdict: ***

Friday, August 14, 2009

On sharing what you have

This week was the first week of school and the first week of the semester I've once more tended to my duties as creator and president of my school's Film Club. This year I have twelve members, an all-time high for the club. I am very excited to be able to share my love of movies with them and to maybe even be able to teach them a thing or two. Even better is the fact that if all goes according to plan, we may take a trip next year to the Sundance Film Festival. Cross your fingers, people!

Au revoir,
Monsieur Cinema

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New York, I Love You

The first trailer for New York, I Love You is making the rounds and I gotta say I am in love. I enjoyed its predecessor, Paris, je t'aime, so this was a no brainer. However, I was still surprised at how much I liked the trailer. I've seen better trailers than this, sure, but there's something about this one that gives me a gut feeling few others do. Maybe it has to do with my lifelong love of New York and my undying desire to one day live in it (Clichés are there for a reason folks. It's people like me that keep them alive.). In any case, here I give you the trailer. Enjoy!

Let me know if my feelings on it are mine alone or if you share them.

Au revoir,
Monsieur Cinema

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Valkyrie

Let's get something out of the way. I've never really liked Tom Cruise. I don't necessarily dislike him, but I don't get excited when I hear he's on the cast for an upcoming movie. Valkyrie does not provide a 180° on my opinion of him, but it does change it up a bit.

Valkyrie tells the story of the 20 July plot, a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler that was orchestrated by the German Resistance. The film's protagonist is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a war veteran who lost an eye and a hand during a British attack. Stauffenberg, disillusioned with the Third Reich, joins a clandestine group planning on staging a coup.

Overall, the supporting cast in the coup plot does a decent job but no one really stands out. Particularly alluring, however, was David Bamber's Hitler, who was subdued yet deranged. He doesn't have much screen time, but he works wonders (particularly with his eyes) during that time.

Carice van Houten (marvelous in Black Book) is wasted here as von Satuffenberg's wife, Nina. It's really a shame when a great actress is given a role she can't do anything with. This is not the same as saying small roles should go to bad actors. Dame Judi Dench did marvelous in Shakespeare in Love, despite her limited screen time. Carice's performance doesn't lower its quality standards from her other work, but we just don't see enough of her.

The film is interesting, but it's main flaw is that it is never truly engaging. For a film inhabiting as tired a historical period as WWII, this is particularly problematic. The way I see it, if you're gonna get into WWII, you must either bring something new into the game or be really good at what everyone else has done. The fact that the proceedings play as a thriller in a scenario whose ending we already know further sink this into exercise-in-futility territory. As I've asked before, if a thriller isn't particularly thrilling, is it failing? Maybe as a thriller, but the other thing this film has going on for it is its attempt to inform us; to let us know that not every German (indeed, that not even every Nazi) in WWII was a monster. Some attempted to fight back, to redeem themselves. It's a shame their courage is exploited here with such low quality standards.

Le verdict: **

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on Terminator Salvation

Let me be the first to say my dislike of this film is my own fault. I shouldn't have raised my expectations. Did I expect anything but loud explosions from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? Of course not. But with other succesful franchise reboots/reinventions still fresh in my mind, I allowed myself a bit of optimism for Terminator Salvation. This turned into excitement when I learned that both Christian Bale and Anton Yelchin were to star in it. Bale's performance in The Dark Knight was still fresh in my mind and I've found Anton Yelchin thoroughly alluring ever since I saw Charlie Bartlett. Alas, all of this would work against me when the film finally came out (a full two months after it had premiered elsewhere, I might add).

For those of you uninitiated to Terminator, the film concerns itself with humanity's struggle against Skynet, an artificial intelligence bent on our annihilation. Skynet became self-aware shortly after being activated and lauched a worldwide nuclear attack. The survivors must now square off against Skynet's machine army. This is the first movie in the franchise that is primarily set in the future, during the war. And what a bleak setting that is. Mankind is outnumbered and facing a ruthlessly efficient foe in a deserted world. Sure, there's the occasional ruined landscape or two, but they're filled with potential hiding places for the machines and as such are more dangerous than helpful; their mere existence being a reminder of Skynet's lowest blow against humanity (the cinematography in these scenes is actually quite good; all cold, gray and sandy, effectively conveying the dead landscape's feel).

On the human resistance we have John Connor (Christian Bale), who was prophetized to be mankind's leader against the machines but is having a hard time rising to that post on account of those who aren't ready to believe him. To say Bale's performance here is a disappointment would be an understatement. He's one-note and uninspiring. This wouldn't be so bad (it is a big budget, summer action film after all) if it wasn't for the fact that we've seen him do infinitely better. Not only have we seen him do better, actually, but the character too. And when your performance doesn't measure up to Edward Furlong's, you know you're in trouble (not to say he didn't do well in T2, just saying he squandered that later. An entry in the The Crow franchise? Hello?). The possibility was there, but he just didn't grab it. Maybe the direction's at fault here too, but I'll get into that later.

Playing (quite literally, sometimes) opposite Bale is Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, a newly resurrected murderer who's trying to make sense of his new surroundings and atone for his past sins by helping out other survivors. Worthington is a breath of fresh air after Bale's listless performance, being both believably heroic and emotionally perturbed. Of particular note is his chemistry with Moon Bloodgood (more on her ahead). All thing considered, he could've let the character flounder, much like Bale, but doesn't. Since the script isn't that more gentle with him (giving him some truly awful lines near the beginning), I'll have to attribute that to Worthington's skill. But let's not get carried away. Opposite Bale, Worthington is nice, but he isn't anything we haven't seen in other (better) shapes elsewhere.

Moon Bloodgood's Blair Williams is one of the highlights of the film. Unlike her female co-star Bryce Dallas-Howard (who portrays Kate Brewster, John's romantic interest), who doesn't have much to do during the film, Bloodgood is pure female action star (inheriting Linda Hamilton's mantle of strong female lead performance). Not only can she sell her combat sequences, she also skillfully shows a more tender side of her around Marcus, resulting in some surprisingly endearing scenes. Plus, the girl can seriously rock the post-apocalyptic wardrobe.

Jadagrace Berry's (debut role) Star is a mute, orphaned survivor who works alongside Anton Yelchin's teenaged Kyle Reese to stay alive. Her role is small and doesn't require much of her, but I still liked her. She goes from a blank face to a very communicative expression aproppiately and doesn't utter a sound throughout the entire film, only occasionaly descending into gimmick territory. For a first timer 9 year old, she did a very decent job.

Last but certainly not least is the film's standout performance. Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese (the boy who would, through time travel, eventually become John's father) is a testament to his acting skills. I'm a big fan of Yelchin and with each passing role I grow more confident that he has the chops to carve a longlasting, great career ahead of him. He convincingly conveys the furious sense of frustration and despair a teenage boy would feel if his entire world fell apart. He's fierce, and energetic, but doesn't ever descend into overacting. He also, apparently has the skills to pull a thrilling action scene (something Star Trek, his other summer job, didn't require of him). Yelchin continues to show a lot of promise and he's one of those people that gives me hope the future of young hollywood rests in good hands.

All in all, the film wasn't suppossed to be a standout dramatic outing, so we forgive some of it's acting and plot weaknesses. But if, as an action film, it doesn't reach the bar set by its predecessors (Terminator 2: Judgement Day is to this day, one of my favorite action movies), what does it have left? Maybe Joseph McGinty (I refuse to adress him as McG) should have done a better job in the execution department. Maybe someone else should have been given the job. Whatever the cause, this film ended up being an average action film. The disappointment here isn't in what it is, but what it held the promise to be.

Le verdict: *1/2
Le Verdict (Anton Yelchin's performance): **1/2