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film review Archives -

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Jack Rico


2010/02/17 at 12:00am

‘Shutter Island’: The Movie Review

'Shutter Island': The Movie Review

The new psychological thriller, “Shutter Island,” based on the popular novel by Dennis Lehane, comes from the dexterous and practiced hands of legendary director Martin Scorsese. The film is deluged with a plethora of twists and turns, brilliant acting by Leonardo DiCaprio and jarring scenes of suspense created and framed to perfection by its helmer. You should be excited to see this film… the entertainment value is high and the production quality is of the highest caliber. It’s definitely a must see movie!

For those of you who unfamiliar with the plotline, we’ll reveal only a succinct version.  The film adaptation tells the tale of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who are summoned to a remote and barren island off the cost of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a prisoner from the island’s fortress-like mental ward. Not much can else be revealed because anything more can ruin the movie experience.

One thing you will take away from this movie is Scorsese’s prowess in the visual department. Some of the camera shots seen make you wish the projectionist could pause them and play it over and over again. After seeing all of DiCaprio’s films, Shutter Island, in my humble opinion, is perhaps one of the top 3 best performances of his career (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Shutter Island and Basketball Diaries, in order). That is what you await at your local theater this weekend.
A major subtext in the movie’s theme is a question asked by all of us, at one point or another in our lives: Am I mad, or is the world around me mad? What’s real and what is not? (I’ve been there before). Just like Hitchcock, the story is constantly deviating us from our path of clarity, creating scenes that don’t really exist and submerging us into a nightmare we can’t manage to wake up from.

At first, the film seems to be just another intriguing noir detective story but it is so much more than that. The references and homages in the film are multiple, everything from “Out of the Past” to “Shock Corridor” and “The Snake Pit” to Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.”

“Shutter Island” is a world where nothing is what it appears to be. It’s suspenseful, mysterious, ambiguous and insane. Now that sounds like a fun movie!

Jack Rico


2010/01/06 at 12:00am

Review: Miguel Arteta’s ‘Youth in Revolt’

Review: Miguel Arteta's 'Youth in Revolt'

It’s only the second week of January, but already Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta’s ‘Youth in Revolt’ is my favorite film of the year. The premise is simple – boy meets girl, girl meets boy and boy wrecks two cars and goes to jail for his love. But what is most appealing and absorbing is the sophisticated english dialogue written by Gustin Nash, based on C.D Payne’s – Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp. Michael Cera could not have been more perfectly casted as the intellectual, Frank Sinatra loving, sardonic virgin teen who comes from heavily dysfunctional parents.

The film revolves around the life of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) – a unique, but affable teen with a taste for the finer things in life. He falls hopelessly in love with the beautiful, free-spirited Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) while on a family vacation.  But family, geography and jealous ex-lovers conspire to keep these two apart. With Sheeni’s encouragement, Nick abandons his dull, predictable life and develops a rebellious alter ego: Francois. With his ascot, his moustache and his cigarette, Francois will stop at nothing to be with Sheeni, and leads Nick on a path of destruction with unpredictable and uproarious consequences.

It is very rare nowadays to see films that dare to challenge young audiences with words through a high level rhetoric. We saw this template used originally by indie director/screenwriter Kevin Smith in ‘Clerks’. A total hit and a great way to pick up the dictionary and see how many ways you can say “let’s have sex” to a girl. This was also part of the success behind the creative strategy that screenwriter Kevin Richardson used for his television series Dawson’s Creek in the late 90’s. I personally love this take on a teen romantic film – ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,’ also with Cera, played with this notion to a degree as well.

The other layer that I thoroughly enjoyed is the worldly and sophisticated tastes that the two protagonists shared in music, film and poetry. Cera loves Sinatra (the first frame opens up with the 1960 album Nice ‘n’ Easy), and he invokes Fellini’s masterpiece ‘La Strada’ in a DVD store as he tries to explain it to a girl he is trying to pick up. Ms. Doubleday loves french standards from Serge Gainsbourg and has an infatuation with New Wave french actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, in particular his breakthrough film ‘Breathless’ from Jean-Luc Godard. It’s this and other highbrow idiosyncrasies that seduced me from the onset.

What didn’t seem to mix well was the roguish alter-ego of Cera’s character Francois, as well as some of the casts contributions. One highlight was that of South African actor Adhir Kalyan, who played Cera’s lascivious friend. Very funny scenes! Does today’s youth really think and act like this today? No, but one hopes it inculcates a desire to explore the arts and culture side of them.

From a Hispanic perspective, it is wonderful to know that a born talent from Puerto Rico directed this film. There is a scarcity of great movies coming from ‘La Isla del Encanto’ these days. Arteta is perhaps more of an American in culture than Puerto Rican, but nevertheless, it is gratifying to hear the sound of a Latino last name next to a good work such as this and his previous (The Good Girl, Star Maps). Actually the last good film I saw come out of Puerto Rico was ‘Maldeamores’ directed by Carlos Ruiz Ruiz. It’s a Woody Allenesque romantic tale with a caribbean twist. A definite DVD rental this weekend.

For those who like teen romantic comedies ‘Youth in Revolt’ is a very enjoyable film peppered with laugh out loud moments. It is rated R so be warned that the sexuality is a bit vulgar and strong.

Mack Chico


2009/04/08 at 12:00am

First review of ‘Star Trek’!

First review of 'Star Trek'!

Empire Magazine has revelaed the first review of the new Star Trek film being released in the U.S on May 8th. Let us know what you think of the review!

According to recently discovered 23rd-century history, James Tiberius Kirk was literally born of battle — the last fight he ever backed away from was the one he was delivered into. In purely Darwinian terms though, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams was forged by a 21st-century crucible far more unforgiving than a field of photon torpedoes: network television — not HBO, television.

Two movies in to what promises to be a storied career and the 42 year-old director has yet to find any gear but fifth. It’s as if his apprenticeship pacifying the ADD generation has inculcated a native fear of flipping. The heart-stopping second act of Abrams’ underrated M:I-III is a real-time mercy dash that would even leave Bourne breathless. For his latest mission impossible, Abrams sustains this improbable pace for even longer: Star Trek — yes, your dad’s Star Trek — moves like a racehorse that’s just been force-fed dilithium crystals.

Advance word that Abrams’ franchise reboot would witness fulfilment of the near-mythical Starfleet Academy project proves misplaced. The director and his Trekkie-credentialed writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, are so impatient to pitch their neophyte crew into full-blown battle that the Academy years are largely covered by a single title card — “Three Years Later”. Phasers permanently set on stun are not much fun, after all.

From the moment ‘Bones’ McCoy comically smuggles an academically suspended Kirk onto Captain Pike’s U.S.S. Enterprise, Star Trek XI hits warp factor IX and, save for an obligatory sojourn with Spock senior, maintains a velocity that would give Scotty night terrors. This is perhaps NCC-1701’s most radical refit yet — for the first time in the franchise, the Enterprise is a genuine thrill-ride.

Not that the crew are just along for the V-necks. Abrams can do character on the run and the plot deftly deals in decent-sized roles for all of the famous seven. Karl Urban’s gruff McCoy and Zachary Quinto’s piercing Spock stand out, and despite internet rumbling, Chris Pine is also absolutely fine. Of course, as you might expect, the acting mostly requires shouting declarative Trekbabble or wedging witticisms between set-pieces, but both Bruce Greenwood’s stoic Captain Pike and Eric Bana’s wounded Nero forage earthier notes amid the SFX sheen.

That Trek weakness for warping plotlines does bring the usual convolutions, but whenever the Vulcan side of your brain is tempted to pose frequently asked questions about time travel, the breakneck pace drags you forward through the movie’s own brisk running time. On the downside, Abrams is not quite able to apply the brakes in time for the third act, which prematurely climaxes before you have time to drink it in. Kirk has a nice Indy moment and the Enterprise does a good impression of the Millennium Falcon in the Battle Of Yavin, but Spock’s dogfight with a drill is unlikely to enter Starfleet legend — what is pointy ears doing flying anything? — and Bana’s Nero deserved at least one villain’s mulligan.

Those hoping for a battle of wits to equal Kirk and Khan — or for hardcore Trekkers, to rival the Balance Of Terror episode that introduced the Romulans — will be left wanting. This is a Sulu-sized miscalculation. The Enterprise is a handsome ship, as evidenced by the hero shot Abrams gives her in the rings of Saturn (let’s call it the screensaver), but she was built for games of Battleship, not Asteroids.

Indeed, where XI ultimately falls short of the very best Trek, or indeed of all great science-fiction since Jules Verne, is in its want of big ideas. As a MacGuffin the movie boasts red matter — like a massive snooker ball, only deadlier — but it doesn’t find enough time to showcase the grey variety.

Very much like its dynamic young cast, this Trek is physical and emotional, sexy and vital even, but it is not cerebral. The movie is not exactly empty-headed; indeed it has some smarts, but it doesn’t live up to the high-mindedness that was part of Gene Roddenberry’s original mission statement.

Where overarching themes can be discerned, they primarily relate to the nature of friendship and teamwork, which is all very well, but it’s a grunt’s eye view of battle. Even a captain would appreciate the importance of battlefield tactics and how they intersect with military strategy and, ultimately, political vision.

For anyone who has endured the longueurs of both the Star Wars prequels and Matrix sequels, the distinct lack of politicking and speechifying will doubtless come as a blessed relief, but in a time when the United States is engaged in two wars, the failure to even acknowledge the issues arising from space imperialism and the Prime Directive is to flinch from battle. Harsher critics may even deem it a dereliction of duty. Season three of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica turned half its cast into Iraqi-style insurgents — and that was on television.

Ultimately, any boldness one can attach to the going here really belongs to the rescue of the Trek franchise from cultural irrelevance. This is a not insignificant achievement. As Abrams has noted himself, making 45 year-old tricorders desirable for the iPhone generation is a hell of a tough gig. Doing this while simultaneously pandering to the doctorates in Klingon is a task of Herculean, nay Sisyphean, proportions.

But Abrams and his crew pull it off. Save for the typically muddy motives of the modern bad guy — oh, for a truly Evil Empire — there is nothing much to confuse the multiplex masses, while there are plenty of in-jokes and visual details for the forum-dwellers to chew over. More to the point, the film is sassy, young and hip in a way the franchise has not been since the ’60s. It’s neither The Hills in space nor fan fiction with a $150 million budget. Kudos is due.

There will, of course, be some disquiet from the faithful, and not just because Kirk’s birth is yucky and his besting of Kobayashi Maru comes off as cocky. Fans of the TV show will note planet-sized deviations from accepted Trek lore. To excuse their creative licence, writers Orci and Kurtzman have Uhura explain that Nero’s time-travelling misdemeanours has fashioned an “alternate reality”. It’s a nifty enough trick often used on the show, but what will really bamboozle the keepers of the canon is that unlike the many episodes that dabbled in fractured timelines, there’s no smallscreen amnesia to put things back in place for next week. The franchise has been permanently shifted to new rails: this is a world where Kirk doesn’t grow up to look like William Shatner. Trekkies had better get used to it. Welcome to the new ’verse.

The fanbase placated and a brand-new generation blooded, there is undoubtedly even better to come. The characters feel thin right now, not just because of the limited range of the new cast, but because ultimately they are characters playing characters, actors imitating icons. Once the new Enterprise crew are established in their own right and the franchise freed of all that expectation, the characters should start to feel properly human again — or at least, half-human.

Odd-number curse be gone. The most exhilarating Trek to date marks a new future for Kirk and co. If this can boldly go on to seek out ideas to match its speed and style, a franchise is reborn.

Mack Chico


2009/03/20 at 12:00am

First review of ‘Broken Embraces’

First review of 'Broken Embraces'

Variety’s review of Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces:

Partly a film about films and partly a film about love, Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” can’t quite decide where its allegiances lie. A restless, rangy and frankly enjoyable genre-juggler that combines melodrama, comedy and more noir-hued darkness than ever before, the pic is held together by the extraordinary force of Almodovar’s cinematic personality. But while its four-way in extremis love story dazzles, it never really catches fire. The Spanish helmer’s biggest-budgeted and longest movie to date will get warm hugs from local auds on release March 18; headed for Cannes in May, it goes out Stateside via Sony Pictures Classics later this year.

There’s a sense here that Almodovar, who’s now a stylistic law unto himself, may be more interested in stretching himself technically than in engaging with issues of the wider world. Card-carrying fans can prepare themselves for a rare treat. But those who hoped the pic would extend the quieter, more personal mood shown in “Volver,” as the 59-year-old helmer moves into the late phase of his career, will be disappointed to find that “Embraces” is made not of flesh and blood, but of celluloid.

Harry Caine (Lluis Homar, “Bad Education”) is a blind screenwriter and former director whose real name, which he abandoned after losing his sight in a car crash, is Mateo Blanco. News arrives of the death of corrupt stockbroker Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), who once produced a movie Blanco directed, “Girls and Suitcases.”

Blanco’s former production manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo), who holds a candle for him, seems nervous at the news. And then a pretentious young man calling himself Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano), who turns out to be Martel’s son, asks Blanco to help write a script that’s intended as an act of vengeance against his neglectful father.

The film now flashes back to 1992, when Martel fell for his secretary, a wannabe actress-cum-part-time call girl, Lena (Penelope Cruz). By 1994, he and Lena are an item. However, when Lena auditions for “Girls and Suitcases,” Blanco also falls for her.

Chagrined, Martel gets his son (also Ochandiano, here as a wildly gauche, camp teenager) to spy on Blanco and Lena under the guise of making a docu about the shoot. Watching Martel’s life fall apart, as a lip reader (Lola Duenas) decodes Lena and Blanco’s conversations in the boy’s footage, is hilarious. But any compassion for Martel evaporates in the laughter — one of several moments when the film deliberately undermines a particular mood.

Following a disastrous trip to Ibiza, Martel and Lena break up, and Martel initiates a slow, costly revenge designed to destroy Blanco. Hereon, much of the action takes place amid the volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote, opening things visually even as the drama becomes more and more claustrophobic.

Script moves fluidly back and forth in time, with superb editing by regular Jose Salcedo, and some of the witty, pointed dialogue is among Almodovar’s best. The labyrinthine plot is thick with twists, turns and resonances. But a couple of questions linger — especially that the revelations in the final reel would hardly have remained under wraps for 14 years, given Blanco’s suspicions.

Cruz delivers a compelling, subtle perf as a woman continually aware that the shadow of tragedy hovers over her. But because her character is effectively split into three — Magdalena the grieving daughter, Lena the actress and lover, and Pina in “Girls and Suitcases” — auds will struggle to locate an emotional center behind the thesp’s dizzying range of costumes and wigs.

Homar, who literally wears Almodovar’s own ’90s wardrobe, makes a commanding screen presence as Caine/Blanco, but the character’s reactions to his multiple tragedies (including being blinded) seem stoical to the point of catatonia. Gomez and Portillo are solid in theslightly smaller roles of Martel and Judit, respectively. Multiple cameos — including one by the helmer’s producer brother, Agustin — are enjoyable, though none help move the story forward.

Visually, the pic is an exquisite treat. Every richly hued wall is covered with eye-candy artwork, every doorway reps a second level of framing, and there is beauty even in the scattered contents of a drawer or in a pile of torn-up photos. Closeups are regularly used, particularly of Cruz’s hypnotically photogenic features.

Cinematic references abound. Several scenes featuring dangerous staircases recall Henry Hathaway‘s ’40s noir “Kiss of Death.” Pic’s title alludes to the Pompeii scene in Roberto Rossellini‘s 1954 classic, “Voyage to Italy,” which Lena and Blanco watch in Lanzarote. And the entertaining “Girls and Suitcases” is a clear homage to Almodovar’s 1988 hit, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Score by longtime collaborator Alberto Iglesias superbly evokes the moods and movies “Embraces” is so in thrall to.

Camera (color, widescreen), Rodrigo Prieto; editor, Jose Salcedo; music, Alberto Iglesias; art director, Antxon Gomez, sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Rejas. Reviewed at Kinepolis, Madrid, March 13, 2009. Running time: 128 MIN.

Jack Rico


2009/01/20 at 12:00am

Early Review: ‘Inkheart’

Early Review: 'Inkheart'

Brendan Fraser’s new family adventure film ‘Inkheart’ has no heart at all, just ink on 120 pages of a script. The concept and premise are alluring, but it never delivers more than a basic and elemental movie experience. Instead of engaging the senses, the film only provides apathy. In addition, the film targets infant and juvenile audiences, but makes no excuses of including adults. Parents beware, you are going to have a hard time maintaining any interest after the first 15 minutes.

The story focuses on a young girl (Eliza Hope Bennett) who discovers that her father (Brendan Fraser) has an amazing talent to bring literature characters to life and must try to stop a freed villain from destroying them all, with the help of her father, her aunt (Helen Mirren), and a storybook’s hero (Paul Bettany).

The acting is neither uproarious nor dreadful, just bland. Fraser gives you the ol’ nice guy acting he consistently does well, young newcomer Bennett shows potential and Mirren and Bettany are too good for the film – and it is noticeable.

The demise of ‘Inkheart’ comes at the misuse of its premise – the director Iain Softley could have trounced us with creativity – the deliberate manipulation of the laws of storytelling to suit the story’s shortcomings and the inconsistencies of a stale and uninspired script.

It’s interesting to note, the movie’s message is to have us indulge in the journey of our imagination, but all it achieves is to be lifeless and forgettable.

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