Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Best Movies of 2015

As we're wrapping up another year of film... 
Here is a very subjective and biased list of my top 10 favorite movies of 2015. Some of the movies on this list do not have the strongest performances, some of them are not shot perfectly; but those films made me experience something more magical than others. 
Will you agree with my list? No. Will you agree with some of it? I'd like to think so. 

Top 10:

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Big Short

From outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.

Adam McKay to me was the least likely candidate in Hollywood director to make a brainy movie such as The Big Short; as the only film I've ever seen from him is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Still this film is based on Michael Lewis' 2010 non-fiction Best-Seller. Of all the current century's most cataclysmic world-historical events: the 2007-2008 financial crisis is probably among the most poorly understood. The road taken by this film is by far the most radical approach of the story. Above all, the cast is on point, to be sure, with everyone seeming to take enthusiastic pleasure in disappearing into the roles of societal misfits of one kind or another. In fact the script focuses on the handful of men in the field - most of whom are at least half-insane. However none of them are really easy to root for. Ryan Gosling's character uses smart-ass charm, leading viewers through the ins and outs of this game. Christian Bale as a socially awkward, speed metal-loving-doctor-turned-money manager who was the first to notice that the market was built on a house of cards. Only Steve Carell's character comes out as genuine and empathetic. 

This film reminded me a lot of The Wolf of Wall Street in its hyper-caffeinated energy. Plus director hyper real approach might be exactly what the story needed, given how far removed from the reality-based community so many of the highest paid financial gurus were at that time. I supposed you could call The Big Short a comedy as it is very, very funny. But it is also a tragedy as McKay couldn't be more serious about his film's message: which is that anyone who ever bought into the version of the American Dream, that included their own home, has been fooled by the banks, the regulators and the government; who all seemed to interpret capitalism as a license to rob people blindly. 

Overall McKay deserves a lot of credit for making this movie and he also deserves to be taken seriously now as a filmmaker.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

28 Movies and TV Series to Look Forward to in 2016

Superheroes, super models, super animals who can talk and sing; plus aliens attacking (again) the Whitehouse. This year's first semester will most definitely be paced with a bunch of extra large characters.
Here's a list of films and series impossible to miss in 2015. So brace yourself!

#1 House of Cards S4 was announced by Netflix on Twitter in April and will premiere on March 4. Since then, details are slowly trickling in. New cast additions, groundwork of a conflict between Claire and Frank, new rivals and of course Doug will be back.  
#2 DC's Legends of Tomorrow will premiere in January and focuses on time-travelling rogue Rip Hunter, who has to recruit a rag-tag team of heroes and villains to help prevent an apocalypse that could impact not only Earth, but all of time.   
#3 Vikings S4 will follows a little longer the world of the Vikings and the journey of Ragnar Lothbrok, the first Viking to emerge from Norse legend and onto the pages pf history - a man on the edge of myth.

(Tales and Animated) 
#1  Zootopia is the new world created by Disney Studios where, a new fast-talking fox who's trying to make it big goes on the run when he's framed for a crime he didn't commit. Zootopia's top cop, a self-righteous rabbit, is hot on his tail, but when both become targets of a conspiracy, they're forced to team up and discover even natural enemies can become best friends.  
#2 The Jungle Book is the 2016 retelling of the well-known story of an orphan boy raised in the jungle with the help of a pack wolves, a bear, and a black panther; this time directed by John Favreau. 
#3 Kung Fu Panda 3 continues his "legendary adventures of awesomeness", Po must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home. 
#4 The Legend of Tarzan is directed by David Yates and stars Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. In this live-action movie Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment. 
#5 Alice Through the Looking Glass sees Alice returning to the whimsical world of wonderland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter.  

#6 Finding Dory is the new Pixar production in which the friendly-but-forgetful blue fish: Dory reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way.
#7 The BFG is directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Rebecca Hall and Bill Hader among others. A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because unlike his peers refuses to eat boys and girls.  

#8 Captain America: Civil War is following the events of Age of Ultron and Ant-Man and deals with political interference in the Avengers's activities which will lead to an unfortunate rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.   
#9 X-Men: Apocalypse deals with the emergence of the world's first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan. 
#10 Deadpool is directed by Tim Miller, stars Ryan Reynolds and is coming out as an early Valentine's Day present. A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and adopts the alter ego Deadpool. 
#11 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follows the events of Man of Steel, is directed by Zack Snyder once again, stars Henry Cavill as Superman and our new Batman is embodied by Ben Affleck. Fearing the actions of Superman left unchecked, Gotham City's own formidable, forceful vigilante Batman takes on Metropolis' most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat Doomsday quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it's ever known before. 
#12 Suicide Squad deals with a secret government agency recruiting imprisoned super villains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency. 
#13 Doctor Strange embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch is this brilliant surgeon who after his career's been destroyed, gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under his wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.
#14 Assassin's Creed  is the live-action adaptation of the well known game, starring Michael Fassbender in the leading role. When his character: Callum Lynch, explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.
#15 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is part of this new generation of Star Wars movies jumpstarted at the beginning of the month by the very anticipated Episode VII The Force AwakensRebels set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. 
#16 Warcraft is an epic/adventure based on the popular video games series. The film is directed by Duncan Jones and stars Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster and Paula Patton among others. 

#17 Star Trek Beyond which trailer has leaked earlier in December, is directed Justin Lin this time but the plot is unknown at this time. It's the third Star Trek movie after J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise in 2009. 
#18 Independence Day: Resurgence takes place two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind's new space defences be enough?  

#19 Silence is the new Martin Scorsese movie staring Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. 
#20 Steve Jobs already premiered in the US. The film is directed by Danny Boyle and stars Michale Fassbender as Steve Jobs; he takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicentre. The story backstage at the three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac. 
#21 Hail Caesar! is written and directed by the Coen's brothers and is a mixture of comedy, drama and musical. The film deals with a Hollywood fixer in the 1950s working to keep the studio's stars in line. 
#22 Captain Fantastic is the tale of a father, in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education. Then forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent. 
#23 The Neon Demon is the new film by director Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Keanu Reeves, Jena Malone and Christina Hendricks. When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
#24 High Rise or when the life for the residents of a tower block begins to run out of control. After Kill List and A Field in England, director Ben Whitley gives us once again a world of chaos. 
#25 Midnight Special is the new film of Jeff Nichols in which a father and his son go on the run after the dad learns his child possesses special powers.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along the help of the Resistance.

Has any film ever promised so much by giving away so little? Ever since we got our first look at The Force Awakens over a year ago, the secrecy surroundings its plot only served to increase our expectations even more. This film is the 7th chapter but also the first film in what's now being called the "sequel trilogy"; which means that The Force Awakens picks up years after Return of the Jedi (1983), the third release. This series grew quickly into a phenomenon, most crucially a sensibility that is now rooted in the human being. Star Wars has gone beyond the sci-fi genre, to its own kind of intergalactic almost-Arthurian quest and romance. J.J. Abrams may not have the powers of God nor the scale of an Empire builder like George Lucas but he turns out to be what the franchise needs: a "Star Wars" fanboy and a pop culture genius. It seems fitting that this new instalment is directed by one of our own that has this desire to transport the viewers - to return us to a wondrous, childlike state of moviegoing innocence. You can see why Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to hide their spoilers, it's very interesting and pretty fun discovering the character played by Lupita Nyong'o or learning some of Han and Leia's family secrets, which I will not reveal here. 

This movie serves its function, which is to transition from one universe to another along with these younger characters. Appealing women and men whose victories, scars, goofiness and decency reminds you that a pop mythology like Star Wars needs more than odds to sustain it. The Force Awakens is modern, diverse and female-empowered that its predecessor. While there's an undeniable pleasure in the return of actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher - particularly Ford, whose return to Han Solo is fully present and committed; the new characters truly stand out as intriguing additions to the adventure. 

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are worth the ticket price alone. You'd assume they'd starred together in a trilogy before. I can't speak highly enough of their dramatic and even comic ranges. Most importantly Daisy Ridley is not a sexual object for nerd to fantaisies about. Gone are the days of golden bikinis boys! She's a thinker, a doer and a strong-willed rebel fighter also able to rewire devices on any spaceship: a terrifically capable character who addresses some of the gender imbalance that has long been an issue in Star Wars. Her presence is exactly what the part calls for. She emerges as the star of the show particularly when she dodges all attempt to confine her character to the role of damsel in distress. Rey's character development matches the film's rapid pace, almost as if Abrams and screenwriters couldn't wait for her to reach her full potential. 

Poe Dameron starring Oscar Isaac nails the goofy and irreverent tone of the series. An outstanding pilot and charming soldier, this is the sort of character Anakin should have been before his fall to the Dark Side in the prequels. Plus, Kylo Ren is set to be a villain that could rival Vader himself with a lofty presence, booming voice, fits of anger and this red lightsaber everyone has been talking about; but he never reaches the enigmatic statues of Vader's early appearances, he has nonetheless the potential to become a lasting icon of villainy in his own right. However, the less said about his villainous cohorts the better: Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux seems neither frightening nor useful while Andy Serkis' large CGI Supreme Leader Snoke feels more like a throwback to those forgettable prequels than anything. On the plus side Abrams' Stormtroopers have a bit more smarts to them than we've previously seen. 

When Han Solo and Chewie come on, I had a feeling in the cinema I haven't had for a long time: not knowing whether to burst into tears or into applause. Harrison Ford really looks like he had a blast, he's just a guy having fun on the set of a Star Wars movie. An all together splendid Harrison Ford who, unlike original co-stars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, has a full fledged, roaring leading role rather than a cameo. He has been here before and his 'It's all true" speech featured in the trailer, is a highlight of the movie. In fact, what is intriguing about this moment, though, is that it isn't just about the character or Abrams acknowledging the events of the first three movies: there's a deeper core for Han Solo here that justifies his return and makes for a more poignant reunion with Leia. This texture above all else is what J.J. Abrams repeatedly gets right in this film. 

J.J. Abrams hasn't made a film only for true believers, he has made a film for everyone (well, almost everyone); but as the Star Trek reboot, he figured out what generations of Star Wars fans want and gives it to them. The very first line of dialogue can be read as the perfect message for the old-school fans. In a film that consciously echoes the narrative shape of the original trilogy, they achieved to remain faithful to it in terms of light, colour tone, shadow use and truly epic design. The magic has been rediscovered, and it's at this movie's centre. Still, there's more than enough to make this movie feels like its own creature. Nevertheless in Abrams' hands there is a shift in tone that brings the material closer to the feel of Steven Spielberg film than George Lucas. 

Primary satisfactions of this sharply paced and lively blockbuster, is the obvious care that has gone into every aspect of the production: from the well-balanced screenplay and dominance of real sets and models over computer graphics to the casting, a limitation on self-reference and the thoroughly refreshed feel of John Williams' brilliant score. Indeed, the most crucial component of the movie's design is undoubtedly Williams' still-enveloping score, from that thrilling trumpet-like first blast over the opening text scroll, to the majestic flurries of feeling the music generates as it accompanies the characters on their journey. If I was forced to go negative on this film, I would probably say that it had one or two many set pieces taking up time that could be used for exploration of the characters inner life. But the flaws don't really matter because this film has such a tremendous heart - and also threatens to break yours several times over. It's still just a movie. But it's a fabulously entertaining and beautifully crafted movie though. One that nods to the past but stakes a big claim to the future. They actually get the balance right between light and dark, comedy and drama, CGI and practical effects and obviously the old guards and the new. For impressive stretches J.J. Abrams achieves the action-packed alternating between stately landscape compositions and insane camera movements as the situation requires: a series of beautifully evocative images on iconic moments from the saga yet adding style and new substance. 

Especially this exultant and thrilling ride in the Millennium Falcon; This aerial display plays like the natural evolution of George Lucas' ambitions that drove him to innovate in the original Star Wars. the sequence is a high point, not just in this film but in the series and cinema history in general. The pace remains fast without ever being overly frantic. Plus, Abrams doesn't mind quoting old movies as Harrison Ford runs toward the camera with a massive round monster bearing down him, Indiana Jones style. The Force Awakens doesn't take itself too seriously! Don't get me wrong, there are many "serious" moments, it just threads that one liner like a Star Wars movie should. Lastly, The Force Awakens takes off with a battle and closes on a meaningful moment of quiet. The very ending which was filmed on the extraordinary Skelling Michael off the western coast of Ireland is wonderful and sets things up perfectly for the next instalment.

Overall, Abrams created a contemporary blockbuster which also feels timeless. More importantly The Force Awakens is a beautiful way to restart the franchise and set up the next two episodes. We are left with a head full of mysteries and a heart full of feels. Star Wars is back and this is just the beginning. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

In the Heart of the Sea

Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

Warner Bros release In theHeart of the Sea could take advantage of its 3D showings and lack of strong early-December competition to do a decent opening, before succumbing the following week, to the white whale known as Star Wars: The ForceAwakens. Weirdly, I found this film devoid of texture. It took Melville's vision to shape the story of the Essex into an epic meditation on man's capacity for obsession and this Great American Novel that we all know: Moby-Dick. Ron Howard's movie though, is under no such obligation and gives us a devastating story of loss. Call me indifferent but this film is not nearly as deep as the waters in which its characters find themselves stranded. Still you can catch the scent of bigger concepts such as man versus nature, moral of hunting or the cost of oil. Given the weighty themes of Melville's novel, In the Heart of the Sea doesn't have a lot going on behind the outward action. Plus, screenwriters felt the need to remind us again and again that men lust for oil has been a cause of trouble since before we even knew it could come from the ground.

This movie pictures a dangerous voyage on behalf of the greedy jerks that sit behind their desk  while good men put their neck on the line. Actors are all functional, their persuasive display of weight loss and the scorched-skin make up effects are excellent. This movie is movie star material and Chris Hemsworth is the perfect movie star. However the key rivalry between his character: Owen Chase and Captain George Pollard starring Benjamin Walker, has none of the intensity of Rush's competitive protagonists. This setup is told in flashback. Here, Ben Whishaw plays the author in a frame story occasionally interrupting the action and to be honest, it's not strictly essential. 

Having captured the world of Formula One racing with such an impressive sens of stylistic adrenaline in Rush, Howard tries to do so similar here and he does a solid job at getting the smell of salt off the page and into the screen. Altogether though, it generates less suspense than Jaws managed 40 years ago with a single Robert Shaw monologue. In fact the first half of the movie works quite well but when the action comes and goes that's when they run into trouble. Don't get me wrong: it's just tat rolling from serious drama to action-adventure and back to drama again can make you seasick. The enormity and danger of the ocean is more than enough drama on its own.     

The best sequences reside in the second act, with some pretty unique camera angles. Director sends the camera in all directions over the deck of a full size replica of the Essex, aiming to sweep us up in the barely controlled chaos that ensues. The stunt shots that don't include too much whale-watching are all quite thrilling. Finally, the white and grey flecked bodies nearly as long as the 88-foot ship itself, is rendered with impressive CGI. Nevertheless, I believe there is nothing cathartic or even particularly fascinating about the sight of these whalers slowly fading away, or for that matter in the attacking scenes of this majestic and largely defenceless prey. The blood is there, even if I have to admit that the brutality of the whole process feels largely sanitised. 

Overall In the Heart of the Sea is solid from start to finish. The seafaring adventure is perfectly functional but never really hedge of your seat thrilling. For a story inspired by Moby-Dick it should have reached bigger.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Bridge of Spies

During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. 

Bridge of Spies premiered at the latest New-York Film Festival, is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tom Hanks. I loved this film but I have to admit that going to the movie I did not really know what to expect. You never know with Steven Spielberg; though it's more than likely it will always be a well directed film. However as far as Spielberg is concerned there's two types of well directed historical movie: Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln (that last one is perfectly crafted but if you've seen it once, you'll probably never watch it again). Here, the entire cast is engaging down the line. Tom Hanks is one of my favourite actor. He's genuinely one of the most likable actor in cinema history. This film is his fourth collaboration with Spielberg and once again he nails it.

His performance is ultimately Oscar worthy with dry humour and reserve of intelligence that makes his character a man with very particular American "greatest generation" characteristics such as modesty, fundamental adherence to core principles he's been raised to value and live by. Hanks plays the movie's voice of conscience, he also can go dark but wasn't built to remain there for too long. Plus, Mark Rylance portrays a Soviet spy: Rudolf Abel with all his contemporary stages actor skills. He's very good bringing fascination and very, very subtle comic touches to a man who has made every effort to appear as bland, even invisible, as possible. Rylance really does a fantastic job, best supporting actor nomination at least.

Like I said earlier, most Steven Spielberg's films are consummate entertainments that swipe you up with pure cinema. Bridge of Spies wonderfully comprehensive detailing of 1950's American life in the opening stretches, slides the viewers into the period. This is genuinely one of the best, if not the best, directed movie of the year so far. It's easy to say that because of Spielberg but I can easily see myself rewatching that film. Obviously Tom Hanks' character isn't sent to the Soviet to kill spies, but to negotiate a deal: so there's a lot of talking involved. You may be bored. But if like me you get butterflies in your body when you watch a perfectly crafted scene. When you notice that you've just seen a long wild single take of two people talking with no break, all because of Steven Spielberg brilliance: simulating a close up and mid shot. If this is your jam, you are going to enjoy this film as much as I did. Moreover, you get invested in this non-physical war. A war through words. Spielberg directed it as it was an action movie. He heats up the drama with some action, throws in crowds, chaos and transforms ordinary spaces like a home, an office or a street into battlefields. This film elevates to a new level of intrigue, tension and complexity in its last act and shapes up expertly into a John Le Carré style. Finally, this film generates an unmistakable nostalgia for a time when global conflict seemed more clear-cut and manageable than it does nowadays. 

Overall, Bridge of Spies is one of the best Cold-War thriller I've ever seen, a true life espionage tale smoothly handled by old pros who know what they're doing. Masterful old Hollywood style filmmaking.