Monday, April 30, 2012

The Films That I Saw: April 2012



After a bad setback two years ago that had me stop writing for a while and then leave Epinions.com for good due to a lot of personal and professional issues. There was a thing I used to do back in Epinions.com called the Life Top Ten List that I modeled from a column that music critic Greil Marcus did. From May of 2003 to March of 2010, I always wrote an end of the month report on things that I saw or heard of in that month that was kind of a personal diary. Having not done that in 2 years and having become more guarded about my private life due to the issues I was facing two years ago. There had been a void of sorts of things I liked to do at the end of the month.

This new thing I’m doing that I’ll admit is not original. Other bloggers that I know have been doing this but my hesitation in not doing wasn’t to rip someone off. It was to because I would have difficulty keeping track of the films I had seen every month. Thanks to Letterboxd, I now have a way to keep track of everything I had seen in the course of a month. Last month, I saw over 50 films. Some were re-watches and others were first-timers including a couple of new films. This month, I saw about 38 films. 22 of them being first-times with the remaining 16 being re-watches.

With this new thing I’m going to do, I will make a list of the 10 best films I saw this month. These will be the new discoveries that I hope readers will seek out as I will just number them with the reviews in link. I prefer not to explain anything about them as I think the reviews are enough for an explanation.

10 Best First-Timers for April 2012:
















7. Alien








That’s pretty much it though there’s a lot more that I saw that I enjoyed like The Town, Pushing Hands, Julius Caesar, and the director’s cut of Mimic that I’ve reviewed. Then there’s a bunch of other movies I saw that I haven’t written reviews on because I just don’t really want to as I’m always writing about something else. This is essentially a mix of films that I’ve seen in the past month that I like and dislike. What I will do with this section is that I’ll talk about a film and present them in mini-reviews. The Monthly Mini-Reviews

Bad Teacher


This was quite an enjoyable comedy thanks in part to Cameron Diaz’s very brash and no holds barred performance that proves that she is a true comedic presence. The film’s real scene-stealer is Lucy Punch as this very off-the-wall goody two-shoes teacher who serves as Diaz’s antagonist. It’s pretty funny as it’s got some noteworthy supporting performances from Jason Segal, Thomas Lennon, Phyllis Smith, and John Michael Higgins. The only thing in the film that I felt didn’t work is Justin Timberlake’s character. Timberlake isn’t bad but his character is badly-written as this very one-note nice guy who seems to have a thing for dry-humping and wanting to end slavery. Still, it’s worth seeing because of Diaz’s bawdy performance.

Bridesmaids


The hit comedy of 2011 finally arrives on HBO as I decided to see what’s the fuss about. It’s a pretty good film thanks in part some very funny performances from Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and a scene-stealing performance from Melissa McCarthy. It’s got some charm and a lot of funny moments. I did however, had a few qualms about it. One was its length where I felt there were some scenes that dragged on for too long such as the engagement party scene where Wiig and Byrne were trying to one-up each other. I also had issues with Wiig’s roommate characters as I found them to be really unfunny and was really unnecessary to the story. There wasn’t enough Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey as the other bridesmaids while I also thought the film was a bit too dramatic considering all of the turmoil Wigg’s characters was going through. I still recommend it although I think it’s a very overrated film.

Fast Five


I’m not a fan of the Fast & the Furious films though I thought the second and third films were OK. I was not keen on seeing this thinking this was just another film about cars and all that. I was absolutely wrong. What I got instead was an action blockbuster that was really a whole lot of fun. Particularly as it was a well-crafted heist movie that took its time while not taking itself seriously. The cast is great that includes an electrifying performance from THE MOST ELECTRIFYING MAN IN ALL OF ENTERTAINMENT!!! The location is superb without being too much of a postcard look. Plus, there were some fine ladies as I can totally enjoy watching Gal Gadot in a bikini any day of the week.

Monte Carlo


OK, I don’t think Leighton Meester, Selena Gomez, nor Katie Cassidy are that bad. They’re actually quite tolerable as I find them to be attractive as long I don’t have to listen to them. OK, maybe Leighton Meester as I consider her to be the most attractive of the three. Yet, this film was absolute shit. I have never been to Paris or Monte Carlo but I don’t really think those places can be that beautiful. I was amazed at how much they were willing to suspend disbelief with its main characters as it turned out to be very dumb. I was annoyed by the very postcard look of the film as I think it’s dishonest. Then there’s the spoiled heiress character that Selena Gomez also plays in the film that has her butchering the British accent. That was just grating to my ears.

Skateland


This film had a premise that should’ve worked as it was set in the early 80s in Texas about a skating rink manager trying to deal with what to do with his life as the skating rink is about to close. Instead, you have a very awful lead performance from Shiloh Fernandez where he just tries so hard to be dramatic and charming but couldn’t do either. There’s stuff in that film is very silly along with some very bad editing. It seems like director Anthony Burns was trying to make a film that was a tribute to the John Hughes film of the 80s as he dedicated the film to Hughes. While it has a great soundtrack of late 70s/early 80s music, I was annoyed by a few anachronisms such as a picture of Morrissey who wasn’t even famous at that time as the film was set in 1983. A year before the Smiths’ first album was released. Ashley Greene looked hot but she was really uninteresting.

The Re-Watches:

The next series of films are those that I’ve seen before but just watched them just to pass the time as they’re films that I would often enjoy seeing and such. Here’s a list of the films that I saw that I would totally recommend in no particular order.

1. Cronos






4. Girl with a Pearl Earring 


5. Major League


6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock


7. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country






10. Shanghai Knights


Well, that is all for April 2012. Next month will be the Cannes Film Festival Marathon that will take place from May 16 to May 27 during the run for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. I’ve already have made a list of films to see for the marathon which I’ll reveal next Monday. I am going to watch some of those films ahead of time like I did last year. I usually have family over around this time and watching a lot of films during duration will be too much to handle as I’m trying to pace myself. Expect a few reviews of films by Werner Herzog and maybe, Akira Kurosawa coming in May as well as reviews of upcoming new films like The Avengers and Prometheus. Until then, I bid adieu.

© thevoid99 2012

Serenity


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/23/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.


Based on the short-lived cult TV series Firefly, Serenity is the story of renegade crew that is carrying two fugitives where they make a discovery about a man that is trying to find them. Notably as one of the fugitives is carrying a secret about that would impact an on-going war between a totalitarian galactic government and zombie-like creatures called Reavers. Written and directed by Firefly creator Joss Whedon, the film is a continuation of the series by picking things up from a series of comic stories where Mal Reynolds and the crew of the vessel ship called Serenity as they evade from the control of the Alliance government. With a cast that includes the show's main cast like Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, and Ron Glass along with David Krumholtz and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Serenity is an imaginative and exciting sci-fi action film from Joss Whedon.

After watching a video of a break-out for a troubled prisoner named River Tam (Summer Glau) who escaped the lab with help from her older brother Simon (Sean Maher), the Alliance leaders hires a top assassin named the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to find the Tams and deal with them as they believe that River is carrying a dark secret concerning their war with the Reavers. At the ship of Serenity, Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is organizing another mission with his longtime war buddy Zoe (Gina Torres) and their gruff weapons-man Jayne (Adam Baldwin) as Mal decides to bring River for the job. Though Simon isn't happy about the idea, he reluctantly accepts as the psychic river proves to be useful for the heist as she senses the arrival of Reavers where the gang barely escape with their take. Despite the success of the heist, Simon decides to leave Serenity over what happened as he's taking River with him. Landing at another planet where the ship's mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is upset about Simon leaving, the crew including its pilot/Zoe's husband Wash (Alan Tudyk) go to a meeting at a bar where River stumbles into the bar. There, she sees a video where she says the word "Miranda" as all hell breaks loose forcing Simon to say something as he reluctantly re-joins the Serenity crew.

After revealing what happened to River, Mal is angry at Simon for the danger that River could've brought as the crew turns to a computer geek named Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) to decode the video message as Mal decides to protect River from the Alliance. Seeking refuge at the planet of Haden where they reunite with one of the ship's former passengers in clergyman Shepard Book (Ron Glass), Book believes that River might be carrying something that is secretive and that Mal will need to do whatever it takes to protect her. After getting a message from another former passenger in the escort Inara (Morena Baccarin), Mal decides to check if there's a trap in Inara's home where he meets the Operative who wants River Tam. Thanks to Inara's help, she and Mal escape the Operative as they return to Serenity where Jayne feels paranoid about River. After River breaks out of her handcuffs, she shows Mal the place they're looking for as they also deal with the news about the Operative's attack on Haden forcing Mal and crew to go into the treacherous world of Reaver territory where Miranda is. Arriving at the planet, the crew make a drastic discovery about the Reavers through a video log that reveals the Alliance's involvement. Needing to expose the information publicly, the crew decides to go to Mr. Universe's home planet while being at the center of a massive battle between the Alliance and Reavers.

Part of the genius of Joss Whedon is that he is someone who is able to create interesting stories in a certain genre, take another genre and try to create something of its own. For Serenity, he succeeds not only in pleasing fans of the TV show Firefly but also bring in a new audience where he manages to introduce its characters while allowing a lot of back story for them. Though it's not entirely perfect, Whedon does bring in a unique vision to his sci-fi Western story where although it mostly takes place in a science-fiction world. There's elements of the West whether it's the pistol that Mal is carrying to some of its dialogue, setting, and background music. Whedon as a writer creates wonderful tension, interplay with characters, back stories including romantic subplots involving Mal/Inara and Simon/Kaylee that feel natural in their own reluctance. Whedon the director is very hands on with his characters and situations while he even does things that audiences will hate like killing off some beloved characters. Still, he ends up creating a hell of adventure audiences can enjoy.

On the technical front, cinematographer Jack N. Green does some wonderful coloring for the film's grimy yet futuristic atmosphere with some tinted coloring in some of the film's exterior sequences while more intimate shades in the interior settings. Production designer Barry Chusid also does excellent work in creating different looks whether it's the open-spaces of Haden, the exotic Indian look of Inara, or the futuristic cities with the help of visual effects supervisor Loni Peristere who does wonderful work in creating the future and battle sequences. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter also does some great work on the film's costumes with giving each character a distinctive look whether it's Inara's exotic clothing to the more militaristic look of the Operative. Editor Lisa Lassek does some great work in the editing by keeping the film's rhythm while doing some great cutting in not giving the film a quick-cut feel. Sound editor Geoffrey G. Rubay also does some great work in the sound to convey the feel of battle and the fragility of the Serenity ship. Composer David Newman does some great, flourishing acoustic work while some of the music by Whedon and Andrew Dorfman owes more to the West with its dorbo-acoustic guitar arrangements.

The film's cast includes such memorable small performances from such minor characters of Firefly like the twins of Mingo & Fanty played by Yan and Rafael Feldman along with Nectar Rose as Mr. Universe's robot wife, and Sarah Paulson as the woman on the video log. Of the two cast members who weren't in the TV show, David Krumholtz is excellent as the funny techno-geek Mr. Universe while Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of his great performances as the Operative. Ejiofor brings a lot of complexity to his role as he plays the character with a lot of subtlety and intelligence that he doesn't fall into the trap of a one-dimensional villain as he says that he's a monster yet doesn't act like one. From all the cast members of Firefly, every character is back as they give something to everyone of the fans. Ron Glass is excellent as the religious mentor Shepard Book who likes to annoy Mal with some wise sermons while being the kind of person that the crew can turn to, even when his fate goes for bad where at least, he delivers a very funny line.

Sean Maher is also good as the protective Simon Tam who is desperate for the safety of his sister while struggling with his role as a brother while trying to be part of the Serenity crew in his feelings for Kaylee. Jewel Staite is also good as the mechanic Kaylee who is the most feminine character, aside from Inara, of the team who also has feelings for Simon while trying to understand the behaviors of Mal as she is the youngest member of the crew. Morena Baccarin is great as the exotic Inara who has strained feelings for Mal yet sacrifices her own rich lifestyle to help the Serenity crew as she becomes a very resourceful member of the team. Adam Baldwin is the film's funniest character as the tough-guy Jayne who says the film's funniest lines and is all about action while feeling he can lead the crew though lacks leadership skills. Summer Glau is the film's most exciting character of River as she brings a lot of layers to role as the quiet, innocent character who can sense things while being awkwardly funny yet when she goes into fight mode, she's very dangerous as Glau is really great in the role.

Alan Tudyk is also funny as the timid yet smart pilot Wash who has some great lines while being the husband for Zoe as he is the right-hand man for Mal in the cockpit as Tudyk delivers one of the film's funniest lines, "I am a leaf on the wind". Gina Torres is great as the tough Zoe who is the only person who understands Mal the most despite his flaws while is the most serious character while being wife to Wash. Nathan Fillion is great in the role of Mal as a ship captain who doesn't know everything yet is trying to lead his crew through good and bad. Fillion really commands the film though really acts more like a team player as he has great chemistry with his actors as he acts like a tough guy who has heart though he doesn't want to use it at times.

Serenity is a fun and truly imaginative sci-fi film from Joss Whedon. Armed with a great cast, amazing visual effects, and witty dialogue, it is definitely a film that does a whole lot more for the genre. Particularly as it will give viewers, who hadn't seen Firefly the chance to get to know these characters. The film is definitely one of Joss Whedon's great creations as it's truly one of his most essential works. In the end, Serenity is an adventurous film from Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon Films: (The Avengers (2012 film)) - (Much Ado About Nothing (2012 film))

(C) thevoid99 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Diary of a Country Priest



Based on the novel by George Bernanos, Journal d’un cure` de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) is the story of a young priest who arrives to a small French town as he deals with rejection from the local congregation. Written for the screen and directed by Robert Bresson, the film explores a young man’s faith being tested by this rejection as he tries to become part of this town. Starring Claude Laydu, Jean Riveyre, and Adrien Borel. Journal d’un cure` de campagne is a haunting yet heart-wrenching film from Robert Bresson.

A young un-named priest (Claude Laydu) arrives at the small town of Ambricourt to begin his first parish as its local priest. Hoping to do what he feels is his duty to God, the priest would encounter all sorts of trouble from his local congregation as they treat with him indifference. Turning to an older priest (Adrien Borel) from a nearby town for advice, the older priest tells him to take his time while noticing how ill this young man is looking. While he also tries to teach youngsters with a sense of disdain towards him, he notices a young woman named Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral), who is the daughter of the count (Jean Riveyre) and countess (Rachel Berendt), that has been coming to the church seeking answers. Struggling with his health and having doubts about his role following the death of a local doctor (Antoine Balpetre), the young priest would receives unsigned letters to leave town.

After meeting with Chantal who reveals her hatred towards her parents, the young priest talks to the countess over his concerns for Chantal leading to revelations from the countess about the loss of her late son. The young priest’s meeting with the countess would have a major impact on him as he’s treated with a more hostile reaction from locals including the count. The older priest tries to get answers from him as he’s concerned for the young man’s health that includes a diet of wine, bread, and fruit. Wanting to try and make an impact as the local priest, the young man still deals with his ailing health as well as Chantal’s troubled behavior. Finally having to leave town for health reasons, he faces more circumstances that would test his faith even more as he writes everything he’s dealing with in his journal.

What happens when a young priest is assigned to his first parish in a small town only to be met with a reaction that is unexpected while having his faith tested in the process? That’s pretty much a summary of what the film is about as writer/director Robert Bresson explores this young man trying to do his duty for God. While he arrives as a young man getting ready to his first parish as a priest, he becomes unprepared for what he’s facing while he also arrives looking physically ill. The screenplay serves as a way to test this young man’s faith by escalating the troubling circumstances and challenges he faces. Notably in the people he meets such as an experienced priest from another small town, a rich family with a very troubled daughter, and a mischievous student (Martine Lemaire).

While the story is quite drawn out to emphasize the long struggle and suffering this young priest is facing. It does play out a bit long at times making the pacing be sluggish in a few places. Yet, there are amazing scenes where Bresson has the young priest those who question his duty in some long but very intense scenes. The way Bresson writes the dialogue from these characters and their actions would have huge repercussions for the film’s protagonist as a lot of it is told from his perspective. Since the film would have scenes of the young priest telling his story on a journal with a reflective narration. It would reveal more layers of his confusion and growing sense of doubt that adds to the many strengths of the film.

Bresson’s direction is entrancing for the way he creates a presentation that is simple and to the point. From the way he opens the film where this young priest sees a young couple making out and the sign of the town that he arrives in. It’s a way to establish the new world that he’s about to embark in as he walks into town with a beret and his priest robe. It’s a very understated opening that would progress into a more simplified yet dramatic film that is filled with mesmerizing scenes such as the doctor’s funeral service where the young priest talks to the old priest about the way the doctor died that confuses him.

Told through the calm but distressing voice-over narration, Bresson would always have a camera on something the young priest is saying such as Chantal’s introduction and the intense revelation from Chantal’s mother over the idea of death. Bresson never lets a moment be wasted as it includes some startling moments in the third act where the young priest would feel the urge to rebel in the narration. Yet, Bresson always find a way for this young man to have some sort of moment about his faith that will leave a huge impression towards the end. Overall, Bresson creates a very powerful film about faith that pushes the idea of doubt in the mind of a young priest.

Cinematographer Leonce-Henri Burel does wonderful work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to set the mood for many of the film‘s interior scenes including the ones at night for its interior and exterior settings to emphasize the young priest‘s struggle. Editor Paulette Robert does excellent work with the editing by utilizing rhythmic cuts for the intensity of the drama along with stylized dissolves and fade-outs for the film‘s transitions. Art director Pierre Charbonnier and set decorator Robert Tulure do nice work with the set pieces such as the church that the young priest works at to the messy home that he stays in the for the film’s third act.

The sound work of Jean Rieul is terrific for the way it‘s naturally captured from the footsteps to the clanging of objects that is heard to maintain a sense of intimacy. The film’s score by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald is delightful for its serene yet dramatic orchestral score to play up the young priest’s struggle.

The film’s ensemble cast is brilliant as it includes notable small appearances from Bernard Hubrenne as a former priest in the third act, Jean Danet as a kind man in a motorcycle whom the young priest likes, Martine Lemaire as the young church student who tries to push the young priest with her antics, and Antoine Balpetre as the doctor that examines the priest early in the film until his sudden death. Jean Riveyre is excellent as the count who tries to warn the priest to leave the town only to become indifferent towards him while Rachel Berendt is great as the countess who has this amazing scene where she deals with her own crisis of faith.

Nicole Ladmiral is superb as the very troubled Chantal who reveals her own suffocation in living with her parents as she reveals her hatred while trying to avoid questions about her own true temptations. Adrien Borel is wonderful as the older priest from another town who tries to bring guidance to the young priest while realizing that some things aren’t exactly as it seems. Finally, there’s Claude Laydu in an incredible performance as the young priest who tries to deal with his sudden sense of doubt as well as the lukewarm reaction to his arrival in a small town. It’s a very entrancing performance that requires a lot of physical body language as well as understated moments to display the anguish he’s dealing with as it’s a performance that has to be seen.

Journal d’un cure` de campagne is a truly captivating and mesmerizing film from Robert Bresson that features an intensely chilling performance from Claude Laydu. The film is truly one of the best and most provocative features to discuss the themes of faith and doubt without having some kind of overbearing message. Notably as Bresson tries to find the humanity in a man that is trying to play the role as a servant of God in a world that is often very cruel. In the end, Journal d’un cure` de campagne is a masterfully-crafted and engrossing film from Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson Films: (Les affairs publique) - (Les Anges du peche) - (Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne) - A Man Escaped - Pickpocket - The Trial of Joan of Arc - Au Hasard Balthazar - Mouchette - (A Gentle Woman) - (Four Nights of a Dreamer) - (Lancelot du Lac) - (The Devil Probably) - (L’Argent)

© thevoid99 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Iron Man


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/4/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.


Based on the Marvels comic by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby, Iron Man is the story of a wealthy weapons designer who decides to become a superhero after being captured by terrorists who use his weapons against the world. Directed by Jon Favreau and screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum, and Matthew Hollaway, with additional contributions by John August, the film is an origins story of how Tony Stark became Iron Man as he is played by Robert Downey Jr. Also starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Jon Favreau, Leslie Bibb, and Jeff Bridges. Iron Man is an entertaining and ass-kicking blockbuster from Jon Favreau.

The son of a weapons manufacturer who would later take over for his late father at age 21, Tony Starks is a man that has it all as he is extremely wealthy but also a gifted inventor who is adored by the arms industry. With help from his father's partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Starks Industries is at the top of its game when Tony unveils his new Jericho missile project in Afghanistan to soldiers until they're attacked by terrorists where Stark barely survives with missile shrapnel near his heart. Taken by the Ten Rings terrorist group led by Raza (Faran Tahir), Stark is asked to create the Jericho missile for Raza with help from captured scientist Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub). Stark reluctantly does Raza's duty although he and Yinsen create an arc reactor around his art to keep the shrapnel away from his heart. After the completion of the arc, Stark has an idea of his own to break out by creating a power armor suit in secrecy. With Yensen's help, Stark is able to create his new creation as he is able to fight back and escape.

After being saved by his longtime friend Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Terrence Howard), Stark announced to end the production of weapons to the shock of Stane as Stark goes into seclusion. With the aid of his computerized butler Jarvis (the voice of Paul Bettany) and his longtime assistant/friend Virginia "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark decides to make a new version of his power suit as well as a new arc reactor to activate the suit for a series of tests. When Potts is approached by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) about Stark's escape from Afghanistan at a party. Stark's appearance at the party has him encountering journalist Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) about some weapons in Afghanistan as he and Potts become suspicious about Stane's dealings at the company. After perfecting his power suit, he decides to confront Raza's group to save refugees as he gets the attention of the U.S. Air Force prompting Rhodes to cover things up after learning about Stark's new project. When Potts is asked by Tony about Stane's deals, the two learn about what Stane has been doing. Instead, Stane decides to take matters into his own hands by taking the old power suit Tony created in Afghanistan into a more powerful weapon forcing Starks to fight back with help from Potts and Rhodes.

While the film's plot may seem familiar in comparison to recent superhero origin films, the difference between Iron Man and other Marvel comic films like Spider-Man and Fantastic Four is that its screenwriters and director Jon Favreau took more time into the development of Stark and his Iron Man alter-ego. Unlike other comics book heroes with the exception of Batman, Iron Man was created not through scientific errors, a phenomenon, or being from another planet. Here, the superhero was made from scratch as Stark used his knowledge of math and science to create his power suit and the arc reactor to keep his heart going. In the first 10-15 minutes of the film, the writers and Favreau let the audience know who Tony Stark is and then once he's captured, he becomes a different person as his development from a man creating weapons to becoming a man wanting to help people is well written though he is still a bit of a man with swagger.

While the script works in that formula of origin story though audiences do know where it's going, it's Favreau and his direction that at least keeps it interesting. While a lot of the filmmaking isn't exactly new in comparison to other comic book superhero films, Favreau at least uses that formula to at least make things entertaining while adding bits of humor. What is unique is that while the film does have action that will appetite mainstream audiences, he brings balance for the development of the Iron Man character as Stark experiments with thrusters and other gadgets. In many ways, those scenes that have some humor and drama are more interesting than the scenes with intense special effects and action sequences.

Favreau also keeps the audience interested right to the end where he opens the idea of not just a sequel that involves Iron Man's fellow crime fighter War Machine but also the involvement of another franchise. The result is Favreau creating a film that just doesn't entertain but also brings some intelligence to the superhero genre that's accessible to mainstream audiences, comic book purists, and audiences with serious taste.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does some good work that conveys the look and style of other comic book films with some colorful lighting and intense camera work to capture the action and such. Editor Dan Lebental does an excellent job with the film's editing that doesn't go too fast while maintaining a nice sense of rhythm for the film's action sequences and effects shots. Production designer J. Michael Riva and art director David F. Klassen does a good job in creating the house of Stark as well as the places in Los Angeles and Afghanistan all shot in the Californian desert. Costume designers Rebecca Bentjen and Laura Jean Shannon do great work in the look of the clothes including a blue dress that Gwyneth Paltrow wears at a party.

Sound designer Christopher Boyes and editor Frank E. Euhler do amazing work in the sound work from the way missiles are blasted, the sound of thrusters, and everything. Yet, the film's real technical highlight in its special and visual effects that are truly superb that include wonderful CGI for the shots of Iron Man flying, the computer 3-D blue prints and screens that Stark works with, and the objects in his lab that help him including the objects needed during his tests that add a wonderful sense of humor. The film's score by Ramin Djawadi is excellent in its mix of orchestral and rock music with guitar work from Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine that adds a sense of intensity and power. The soundtrack includes a mix of music from the likes of AC/DC, Ghostface Killah, and the Black Sabbath classic Iron Man.

The casting by Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller is excellent with cameo appearances from Ghostface Killah and Tom Morello in scenes at the desert, Favreau cohort Peter Billingsley (yes, the kid from A Christmas Story), Favreau himself as Stark's bodyguard and driver Hogan, and a great cameo from Marvel comic writer Stan Lee with a bunch of girls. Another noted cameo that comes in, after the final credits, comes from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Other performances from Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is excellent as is Tim Guinee as Air Force commander Major Allen, Bill Smitrovich as General Gabriel in the missile presentation scene, and Sayed Badreya as Raza's second-in-command. Leslie Bibb is good and sexy as reporter Christine Everhart who tries to get something out of Stark only to become one his conquests as she appears in the film to reveal troubling secrets about his company. Faran Tahir is excellent as the terrorist leader who wants to have the kind of power that other warlords have as he also has some intelligence.

Shaun Toub is wonderful in his small role as Dr. Yinsen, the scientist who helps Stark build his power suit while guiding him to change his ways as Toub's understated performance is worth noting. The voice of Paul Bettany is very funny in the way the he communicates with Downey as his computerized assistant. Terrence Howard is excellent in his role as James "Rhodey" Rhodes who is often indifferent to Stark's actions and such though is supportive in cleaning up his mess. Jeff Bridges is great in his roe as Obadiah Stane in how he chews the scene with such delight while looking like he's having fun playing the villain. Bridges' performance is fun to watch as he adds a lot of slime to his character who just wants to have full control of Stark Industries.

Gwyneth Paltrow is brilliant in her role as Pepper Potts in being the one woman who can put up with Stark's ego. Paltrow brings depth to the character in a woman who doesn't want to be a damsel-in-distress but rather an assistant who is willing to help Stark as the banter Paltrow and Downey have is filled with wonderful humor and rhythm. Paltrow's performance is truly superb as she's the kind of woman who can put up with anything, and probably could even take out Mary Jane Watson in a fight. Finally, there's Robert Downey Jr. in a role that he is truly born to play as Tony Stark and Iron Man. Downey's performance filled with a lot of swagger, catchy one-liners, and attitude is truly fun to watch from start to finish. Even when he's in an intense situation, Downey maintains his cool while proving that he can play badass as well. It's the kind of performance that is truly huge and Downey is big enough and most certainly, talented enough to play a character as fun and as cool as Iron Man.

Fans of comic book films can rejoice as Iron Man delivers in all of its promises thanks to director Jon Favreau and it star Robert Downey Jr. With additional thanks to a special and visual effects team plus the talents of Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges, this is a film that delivers both in substance and style. Fans of the comic can enjoy in its faithfulness to the story while getting some excitement in what's to come in its sequel. In the end, Iron Man is a film that is entertaining and enjoyable while adding some substance to an overcrowded sea of mindless, uninspiring films that's coming in this summer blockbuster season. So until then, in the words of Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes aka War Machine, "next time baby".

Jon Favreau Films: (Made) - (Elf) - (Zathura) - Iron Man 2 - (Cowboys & Aliens)

Marvel Phase One Films: Hulk - (The Incredible Hulk) - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers (2012 film)

Marvel Phase 2 Films: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) - (Guardians of the Galaxy)

(C) thevoid99 2012

Y Tu Mama Tambien



Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and written by Alfonso and Carlos Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) is the story of two teenage boys who go on a road trip through Mexico with a Spanish woman in her late 20s. There, the young boys deal with the rules they have created as they fall for this woman as they all try to reach a secret beach. The film is a coming-of-age film of sorts set in 1999 Mexico where the political landscape was changing. With narration by Daniel Gimenez Cacho, the film stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Andreas Almeida, Ana Lopez Mercado, Maria Aura, and Maribel Verdu. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a dreamy yet powerful road drama from Alfonso Cuaron.

With their girlfriends Ana (Ana Lopez Mercado) and Cecilia (Maria Aura) leaving for a trip to Europe, their respective boyfriends in Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) and Julio Zapata (Gael Garcia Bernal) figure out what to do for the summer. Hanging out with their friend Saba (Andreas Almeida), the two have no idea what to do as they become bored until Tenoch’s sister is getting married as his father is a high-ranking government official. With the middle-class Julio also attending, the two meet up with a beautiful woman from Spain named Luisa (Maribel Verdu) whose novelist/professor husband Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina) is Tenoch’s cousin. After chatting with Luisa about a mysterious beach called la Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth), the two decide if they want to go to that beach.

After learning that Jano had been cheating on her, Luisa decides to go to the beach with Tenoch and Julio as they borrow Julio’s sister station wagon for this long road trip. There, Luisa learns about the boys’ manifesto that is filled with lots of rules as they drive through rural parts of Mexico as Luisa is still hurt over Jano’s confession. After the car’s radiator gets overheated as they stop in a town, the depressed Luisa would have sex with Tenoch to Julio’s confusion where makes a startling confession. Things start to get tense between the two friends as Luisa would also have sex with Julio where Tenoch would also make a confession driving a wedge between the two friends.

After Luisa eases the tension and taking over, the three finally land on a beach where they meet a fisherman named Chuy (Silverio Palacios) and his family who takes them to la Boca del Cielo where they hang out with his family and have a great time. There, the three would ultimately have the time of their lives while the two boys would face an uncertain future in the trip‘s aftermath.

The film is essentially a road drama where two teenage boys and an older woman travel through Mexico to go to a mysterious beach as they would deal with personal issues about themselves while the friendship of the boys is also tested by temptation and startling confessions. Throughout this coming-of-age journey through rural Mexico, there’s a lot that is happening around them told through a narrator who reveals bits about the lives of the characters as well as the surroundings where things are changing.

The screenplay that Alfonso and Carlos Cauron creates is a story that bends genres where it’s a coming-of-age film of sorts with elements of the road movie as well as a melodrama of sorts that concerns the character of Lucia who is dealing with a lot of things including her husband’s infidelity. It’s also a film about sex where Tenoch and Julio each have girlfriends but neither of them are very experienced as indicated by their many rules including their own sexual moments with Lucia. During this journey, the friendship between Tenoch and Julio starts to disintegrate because they each broke the rules that they and their other friends made. By the time they arrive at the beach and things seem to calm down between the three, there is an uncertainty over what will happen.

The screenplay also succeeds in not just creating characters that are very interesting as well as flawed but also manage to find a way to utilize the narration to be part of the story. Notably as it unveils some details into the lives of its characters while providing insight to the places the main characters encounter. Some of it involves a lot of the political changes that is surrounding Mexico as the film is set in 1999 as its penultimate scene reveals the end of the PRI party reign. Throughout the narration and the dialogue of the character, there is also an element where the Cuaron brothers take shots at the chauvinistic attitude towards homosexuality. Notably as Tenoch and Julio reveal that one of their friends is gay and they have a hard time dealing with it because homosexuality was sort of frowned upon in Mexico at that time. It’s a very complex and drawn-out script that does a lot while not straying into conventional ideas of drama.

Cuaron’s direction is truly entrancing in the way he presents the film through its wandering images and uncompromising ideas towards sex. Notably as the film opens with Tenoch and his girlfriend having sex as they make a vow to not stray into their relationship. Cuaron doesn’t shy away from the fact that the sex will be open and exposed though it doesn’t stray too far into explicit content. Plus, it’s presented with humor as there’s a scene of Tenoch and Julio masturbating on diving boards where a shot of semen is dropped onto the pool. It’s among the many uncompromising ideas Cuaron wants to display in his approach to sex as well as making it feel real.

Since the film is shot on location in various place of Mexico, there is a cinema verite style to the shoot as it includes a lot of hand-held camera work to get into some crowd scenes or smaller moments in the rural parts of Mexico to focus on something that is actually happening. Notably as the camera is always there to exemplify the beauty that is Mexico from its poorest areas to the rich parties such as Tenoch’s sister’s wedding where the Mexican president is present. Overall, Cuaron creates a truly delightful and hypnotic road film that bends various genres and gives a very uncompromising approach towards sex.

Cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki does amazing work with the film‘s rich cinematography that is filled with amazing natural lights for many of the film‘s daytime exterior shots and locations including the beach along with some gorgeous lighting schemes for some of its nighttime interior shots. Editor Alex Rodriguez, with Cuaron, does excellent work with the editing to play up some the rhythm of some of the film‘s sex scenes as well as hilarious comic montages involving Tenoch and Julio that doesn‘t delve into fast-cuts by emphasizing on a more methodical approach to the pacing. Production designers Marc Bedia and Miguel Angel Alvarez, with set decorator Roberto Loera and co-art director Diana Quiroz, do superb work with the set pieces such as the posh home of Tenoch‘s family to the middle-class home of Julio‘s family with some of the set pieces like a local ceremony Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa encounter.

Costume designer Gabriela Diaque does wonderful work with the costumes from the casual clothing of its characters to the gorgeous white dress that Luisa wears at the wedding party. Sound designer Ruy Garcia does fantastic work with the sound from the atmosphere of the parties to the intimate sounds of the beach locations the characters are at. Music supervisors Annette Fradera and Liza Richardson do brilliant work in creating a music soundtrack that mixes to various genres. From low-key ambient pieces from Brian Eno, Bran Van 3000, Miho Hatori, and Natalie Imbruglia to wild alternative Mexico music from CafĂ© Tacuba and Molotov with Dub Pistols. Along with music by Eagle Eye Cherry covering the Bee Gees and Senor Coconut covering Kraftwerk, there’s also ranchero music and a wonderful ballad by Marco Antonio Solis in one of the film’s key moments. Playing in the closing credits is the soaring Watermelon in Easter Hay by Frank Zappa.

The casting by Manuel Teil is incredible for the cast that is assembled as it features appearances from Emilio Echevarria as Tenoch’s dad, Diana Bracho as Tenoch’s mother, Juan Carlos Remolina as Luisa’s husband Jano, and Silverio Palacios as the Campos-loving fisherman Chuy. Other notable roles include Ana Lopez Mercado and Maria Aura as the respective girlfriends of Tenoch and Julio in Ana and Cecilia. The film’s funniest performance comes from Andreas Almeida as Tenoch and Julio’s stoner friend Saba who always likes to get high and be cool with the people.

Maribel Verdu is phenomenal as Luisa, the wife of Tenoch’s cousin who is dealing with her own existential issues as well as her husband’s infidelity as she goes on a trip to escape while teaching the young boys how to seduce women as it’s a very entrancing yet mesmerizing performance from the Spanish actress. Finally, there’s Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in outstanding performances in their respective roles of Julio and Tenoch. With Bernal as the middle class Julio and Luna as the more posh Tenoch, the two bring a lot of humor and energy to their characters as well as a sense of humility when the two betray each other. In the scenes they have with Verdu, the chemistry between the three is engaging and intoxicating in the way they play each other out as they all give very lively performances.

Y Tu Mama Tambien is marvelous yet evocative film from Alfonso Cuaron featuring top-notch performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdu. The film is definitely not just one of the best films to come out of Mexico but also one of the great international film treasures from the last decade. It’s a film that show Cuaron being fearless in his depiction towards sexuality without going too far as well as a very human drama about a road trip that would be unforgettable. In the end, Y Tu Mama Tambien is an extraordinarily rich and intoxicating film from Alfonso Cuaron.


© thevoid99 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pushing Hands



Directed by Ang Lee and written by Lee and James Schamus, Tui Shou (Pushing Hands) is the story of a tai chi instructor who emigrates to America to live with his son’s family in a New York suburb. There, he deals with his new surroundings as well as the growing differences between himself and his son. Starring Sihung Lung, Deb Snyder, and Bo Z. Wang. Tui Shou is a fascinating and heart-wrenching drama from Ang Lee.

After moving from Taiwan to America, Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung) is still trying to find his place living at the home of his son Alex (Bo Z. Wang). Though it’s been a month as his presence has been stressful for his novelist daughter-in-law Martha (Deb Snyder), Alex still believes that it is his duty to take care of his father while their son Jeremy (Haan Lee) enjoys his grandfather’s company. While Mr. Chu takes in a job to teach tai-chi to local Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants at a local community center. He stills feel lost though he is befriends the center’s cooking teacher Mrs. Chen (Lai Wang). When Martha is anxious over a review of her first novel that hasn’t been printed on the New York Times, she starts to have stomach cramps as Chu tries to ease her pain only to have her go to the hospital.

Though he’s able to connect with Mrs. Chen over their fond memories of Taiwan, he still feels lost as Martha returns to the hospital dealing with writer’s block where Chu decides to take a walk. When he doesn’t return, Alex freaks out as he tries to find his father only for Alex to wander off where Chu eventually returns with Alex drunk over everything that’s been happening. When Alex decides to have his father sent to an old folk’s home, a picnic with Mrs. Chen and her family has Chu realizing what Alex had been trying to do. Chu decides to leave on his own to Chinatown to start his own life only to deal with the fast new world of Chinese-Americans at a restaurant where he decides to make his stand.

The film is essentially about an old Taiwanese tai chi instructor who has a hard time dealing with his new surroundings as well as the culture shock he receives from his own son and American daughter-in-law. With only an elderly Taiwanese woman to connect with it, he is trying to deal with this new strange world as well as the world where it’s filled with Chinese and Taiwanese people where it still feels strange. The screenplay that Ang Lee and James Schamus creates isn’t just about culture shock but also about an old man struggling to adapt to this new world and the life that his son has. Particularly as he tries to find his role for this new world that is fast and ever-changing while his son struggles to take care of his father until it becomes too much to bear.

A lot of the film is told from the perspective of Mr. Chu while there’s also glimpses from Alex and Martha as they’re just a young couple struggling with his presence. Though Alex has work and other things to do, it’s Martha that is really annoyed by Chu’s presence though it’s really the fault for both her and Chu for not really putting any effort to try and communicate with each other despite not knowing each other’s languages. Chu is trying to believe that things will come to pass only to realize things aren’t as easy as it seems. Notably in the third act when he decides to leave home for a new life only to realize that the Chinese in Chinatown are much more problematic than his daughter-in-law. While there’s a few flaws in the story due to some of the melodrama that occurs involving Alex’s struggle with his role and Martha’s annoyance towards Chu that later has her feeling guilty. The screenplay succeeds in creating an engaging story about a man trying to find his place in a new world.

Ang Lee’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he lets the camera capture the tai-chi scenes as it’s ever moving in a slow yet precise manner to see how it’s done. With a lot of the compositions being straightforward, they do however say a lot in its simplistic framing. Notably the way the film opens as there’s barely any dialogue in the first seven minutes as it involves Mr. Chu and Martha just not saying anything and do their opening daily thing. Notably as there’s a scene from the outside of their house where she’s in one room typing and he’s at another room doing calligraphy all in the same frame.

Some of the film’s tai chi scenes where Lee wanted to display the kind of power Mr. Chu has is presented with a degree of style that is similar to martial arts film but in a more restrained manner. Lee also utilizes simple close-ups to display some of the healing power Chu’s tai chi has to see the differing results depending on the person. Along with some amazing shots of NYC, including Chinatown and a nearby town of NYC. Lee creates a truly rich debut film that would bear all of the hallmarks of his later work.

Cinematographer Lin Jong does nice work with the film‘s straightforward yet vibrant cinematography to capture some of the beauty of the daytime exterior and interior scenes along with some wonderful look for some of the nighttime Chinatown interior scenes. Editor Tim Squyres does excellent work with the film’s stylized editing in using rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s tai-chi demonstrations as well as dissolves and jump-cuts to play with some of the film’s rhythm. Production designer Scott Bradley and art director Michael Shaw do some fine work in the set pieces such as the Chinese community center that Mr. Chu and Mrs. Chen meet to the home of Alex and Martha that is filled with a few of Chu‘s things.

Costume designer Elizabeth Jenyon does pretty good work with the costumes from the more modern, casual clothing of Alex and Martha to the traditional Chinese wardrobe that Chu wears. Sound recordist Jeff Pullman does terrific work with the sound from the calm but tense feel of Alex‘s home to the more raucous atmosphere of the community center and restaurant that Chu works at later in the film. The film’s music score by Xiao-Song Qu is superb for its low-key yet electronic-ambient score to play up the drama along with some traditional yet serene Asian string music that pops up every now and then.

The casting by Harriet Bass, Jeff Berman, and Wendy Ettinger is excellent for the ensemble that is created as it includes small roles from Fanny de Luz as Martha’s real estate friend Linda, Hung-Chung Wang as the verbally-abusive restaurant owner that Chu works with late in the film, and Haan Lee as Alex and Martha’s son Jeremy. Deb Snyder is pretty good as the frustrated Martha although it’s a role that doesn’t have much depth while Bo Z. Wang is also good as Chu’s overwhelmed son Alex. Lai Wang is excellent as Mrs. Chen who befriends Chu as she seeks some solution to heal her ailing right arm while suspecting about why Alex and her daughter are trying to set her up with Chu.

Finally, there’s Sihung Lung in a marvelous performance as Mr. Chu. It’s a very restrained performance that allows Lung to portray a character trying to maintain a sense of dignity in a new world. There’s a bit of charm to the way Lung tries to deal with his surroundings and culture shock while he’s also this very quite bad-ass who proves that he is not the kind of guy to mess around with. It’s definitely an extraordinary performance from the late Chinese actor.

Tui Shou is a superb and compelling debut film from Ang Lee that features a remarkable performance from Sihung Lung. While it may not rank high with a lot of the films Lee would do later on, it is still an intriguing one for the way culture shock is depicted in the eyes of an old man. Notably as it also reveals the world of tai chi and its attributes to help find peace in a troubled world. In the end, Tui Shou is an excellent debut film from Ang Lee.


© thevoid99 2012

Great Expectations (1998 film)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/13/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.


Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations is the story of a young boy's encounter with an escaped convict as he would come of age when he becomes the playmate a rich, reclusive woman's daughter. He later becomes successful through a secret benefactor as he tries to woo the girl he knew as child. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and screenplay by Mitch Glazer, with additional work by Cuaron and narration written by an un-credited David Mamet. The film is a modern take on Dickens' story that is told through perspective of a man as he tries to court this cold-hearted woman he had known since childhood. Starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hank Azaria, Chris Cooper, Anne Bancroft, and Robert de Niro. The modern version of Great Expectations is a visually-lush but very clumsy adaptation from Alfonso Cuaron.

A young 10-year old boy named Finn (Jeremy Kissner) is drawing fishes in his Florida home where he encounters an escaped convict named Lustig (Robert de Niro) who is on the run. Lustig wants Finn to give him some things or else he'll kill him as Finn returns home with food, pills, and alcohol later that night as Finn later hides Lustig from the cops behind a buoy. Though Lustig would later be captured, the event would have a great impact on Finn's life as he returns home to his sister Maggie (Kim Dickens) and her kind husband Joe (Chris Cooper). When Joe decides to go to the tarnished Paradiso Perduto mansion for work, Finn goes with him where he takes a look into the house where he meets a young girl named Estella (Raquel Beaudene) who is the niece of the mansion's reclusive owner Miss Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft). Joe receives some money as Miss Dinsmoor calls Maggie wanting Finn to be his niece's playmate every Saturday. There, Finn is encouraged to do his drawings while taking dance lessons with Estella under Miss Dinsmoor's guidance.

Years later, Finn (Ethan Hawke) and Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) continue their time as Miss Dinsmoor suggests that Finn should accompany Estella to a party. Finn is excited but Estella isn't as the two ditch the party for a night out where Finn deals with her sudden cold behavior. After Estella leaves Florida, Finn is hurt as he gives up painting and help out Joe in the fishing trade until a Manhattan art representative named Jerry Ragno (Josh Mostel) has discovered his art and offers him a place in New York City to live and work. Finn isn't sure until an art dealer named Erica Thrall (Nell Campbell) discovers Finn's work through an anonymous benefactor as he takes the offer. Moving to NYC, Finn meets Thrall as he re-discovers his passion for art where he encounters Estella at Central Park where he learns she's engaged to a wealthy man named Walter Pane (Hank Azaria). Estella shows up at his apartment one day to pose for his work as Finn remains unsure if she's playing with his head. Though Finn manages to impress Ragno and Thrall, Walter also visits where he admits to having a hard time figuring Estella out. Finn decides to pursue her as things become more complicated through her cold behavior.

With Finn finally set to have his first art gallery presentation, he starts to seduced by success and his new lifestyle as he waits for Estella to arrive. Instead, Joe makes a visit where he feels lost in this new world as Finn tries to understand Joe's alienation while he wonders where Estella is. At Estella's apartment, he receives a surprise visit from Miss Dinsmoor who reveals that Estella is left as she feels responsible for the way Estella has behaved due to her own past as she had been left in the altar by a man years ago. Lost in his feelings for Estella, Finn meets a mysterious man from his past as he makes a big discovery about why he's successful forcing him to come to terms with his love for Estella.

The problem with most film adaptations of classic novels isn't just character omissions and missing storylines, but also the way it is presented, particularly on modern day adaptations. The film's biggest weakness is in Mitch Glazer's sup-par script, which really takes out a lot of the emotional depth and social aspect of Charles Dickens' novel in favor of something more appealing for an audience. Plus, the character development in some of the leads aren't as great and with the exception of the Lustig and Joe characters, they come across in a very unsympathetic way. The screenplay is probably the reason why Alfonso Cuaron has expressed some frustration towards the project. Instead of relying on its weak script, he had to rely on the film for its cinematic quality and lush, elegant cinematography of his longtime collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki.

Cuaron still does bring out some fine directing moments in the film's first thirty minutes involving the kids while having some fine dramatic scenes with Hawke, Paltrow, and the rest of the cast. Despite the script, Cuaron brings in a fine directing approach to the film as Lubezki shines with his approach to sunlight and the Floridian waters reflecting sun as well as his use of green colors and the sunny look of New York City as Lubezki is one of the best cinematographers in the past 10 years. Helping Cuaron and Lubezki on the film's gorgeous, dreamy visuals are production designer Tony Burrough and art director John Kasarda for its exotic, greenish look of Florida and the street, art world of New York City. Another brilliant element in its relation to art is the drawings and paintings by Francesco Clemente that are well drawn in a lovely style with its simple format of shapes and colors.

The film's music also plays well by its score from composer Patrick Doyle as it has a dramatic, dreamy tone with its string arrangements and orchestra. The film's soundtrack is as equally as strong with its diverse acts that include Tori Amos, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell (in his first solo recording after leaving Soundgarden), Pulp, Mono, Iggy Pop, and the Grateful Dead. The only weak spot in the soundtrack is the various versions of Besame Mucho where by the third play, it becomes really annoying.

While the smaller roles from Kim Dickens, Josh Mostel, Erica Thrall, and a surprisingly restrained performance from Hank Azaria are fine to watch in their small performances. The roles of the younger Finn and Estella played by Jeremy James Kissner and Raquel Beaudene are well-played, especially in their individual moments as they carry a fresh-faced innocence and chemistry that plays well with Kissner as the more innocent Finn and Beaudene as the cold Estella. Of the supporting cast, no one delivers a finer performance better than Chris Cooper as the loveable Joe. Cooper brings a charismatic performance of a man who isn't very bright but knows how to do the right thing and he comes off in a very sympathetic and loveable way as throughout the whole film, we get to love the guy even if he's a yokel.

While Robert De Niro doesn't deliver a groundbreaking performance in comparison to his many film roles, he was excellent as the convict Lustig as he starts off very mean but in a very sympathetic way. De Niro comes off as a man, who knows what he's done to land him in jail was wrong as he found something to live for from this young boy and De Niro brings a rare, fatherly-like performance from him as he shines early and later on in the film. Anne Bancroft delivers a fine yet bizarre performance as Miss Dinsmoor as she seems to have fun dancing to Besame Mucho a lot as she comes off in a very likeable way but as the film progresses and we learn of her flaws, there isn't any real sympathy to her in the end in the same way the novel and previous film adaptations had.

In the leads, Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, unfortunately don't carry the same chemistry that their young principle actors carried early on in the film. There's no real spark in the relationship and whenever they get together, it feels somewhat contrived as really, you have neither to pull for. Hawke is excellent by himself or with De Niro and Cooper while unfortunately when it comes to the subject of Paltrow's Estella, he comes off as this pathetic lovesick puppy. Paltrow is sexy in some of her scenes but overall; her character is clearly the most confusing, as we're not sure if she is really in love with Finn or just playing with him. In that context, her character really comes off as unlikable and unsympathetic as Paltrow doesn't give her character a really center in this uneven performance.

Alfonso Cuaron's version of Great Expectations is a good although lackluster film due to a very weak script and the underwhelming performances of Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. Despite some wonderful supporting work from Anne Bancroft, Chris Cooper, and Robert de Niro along with Emmanuel Lubezki's entrancing cinematography. It's a film that is more style than substance that tries to give Charles Dickens' novel a modern feel to appeal to a younger audience. Instead, it barely scrapes the surface of what Dickens had intended with his story. In the end, Great Expecations is a worthwhile but unremarkable film from Alfonso Cuaron.


(C) thevoid99 2012