Monday, 30 June 2008

Lions for Lambs

Movie Review: Lions for Lambs

Year of Release: 2007
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Robert Redford
Cast: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise

Plot outline: Injuries sustained by two special forces behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a senator, a journalist and a professor (IMDb).

This movie has a good director (his 1980 signature work Ordinary People won 4 Oscars - including Best Picture and Best Director, and his 1994 docudrama Quiz Show was nominated for 4 Oscars - including Best Picture and Best Director), a good cast and a good, solid, thought-provoking idea - "If you don't stand for something, you might fall for anything." But somehow the idea doesn't materialize into a real story that can really engage us on an emotional level. Robert Redford has always had a tendency to be preachy and in this movie he certainly is. Instead of realizing the idea into a real story, he only envisions a simulation of it: an ambitious, overzealous Republican senator (played by Tom Cruise) giving an interview to a skeptical, liberal journalist (played by Meryl Streep) detailing a new, brave strategy for victory in Afghanistan; two special forces ambushed on an Afghani ridge struggling to survive as Taliban forces close in; and a political science professor at a California university (played by himself) trying to reach a talented student to re-engage. A lot of lecturing about the idea, but not the real story itself.

My judgement: ** out of 4 stars

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Year of Release: 2007
Country of Origin: USA, UK
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman

Plot outline: After miserable years in exile for a crime he didn't commit, Benjamin Barker now Sweeney Todd returns to London and goes on a murderous rampage to satisfy his lust for revenge on those who've caused his years of pain. But not one man killed, nor ten thousands men can satisfy him (IMDb).

Based on Stephen Sondheim's Tony-Award winning musical of the same title - itself inspired by the 19th century legend of Sweeney Todd, this movie provides a smooth adaptation to its screen version. Johnny Depp like always perfectly fits the character he plays, a man torn apart by vengeance; while other supporting cast members give excellent performances, including Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen who only plays a small role. The directing is one of Tim Burton's best. The writing is highly effective. The setting and costume are beautifully Gothic. The cinematography is eerily stunning. The musical score is a joy to listen to from beginning to end. In a Greek tragedy sort of way, the end of the story - even though rather predictable - makes quite an impression to me. I like it!

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

No Country for Old Men

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

Year of Release: 2007
Country of Origin: USA
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald

Plot outline: Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande (IMDb).

People have different ideas about what the movie is all about. For me it is a metaphorical description of the nature of evil. The story centres on the villain, bad character named Anton Chigurh (played convincingly by Javier Bardem) who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. His last murder of the innocent character named Carla Jean Moss (played impressively by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald who nails a faultless Texan accent) proves the utmost insanity of his evil spirit. On the opposite side of the equation, we have the anti-villain, good character named Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played believably against type by Tommy Lee Jones who's up to now often typecasted into US Marshal Sam Gerard's roles) who knows all too well about this psychopathic killer and how overmatch this "all-out war" is for an aging sheriff like him. While in the middle, playing with the devil, we have our hero Llewelyn Moss (played very well by Josh Brolin who's up to now underrated) who thinks he can outwit the devil. The end of the movie that defiantly refuses to cater to the audience's desire for justice stresses the unpredictability of the outcome of "a coin toss" - will it be heads or tails? Call it, you've been calling it your entire life. Good directing, clear and sharp writing and top-notch performance by the cast make this movie the best choice of this year's Oscar for Best Picture.

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

To Each His Own

Movie Review: To Each His Own

Year of Release: 1946
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Cast: Olivia de Havilland, John Lund

Plot outline: During World War I, small-town girl Josephine Norris has an illegitimate son by an itinerant pilot. After a scheme to adopt him ends up giving him to another family, she devotes her life to loving him from afar (IMDb).

The story could have easily become melodramatic and tedious, but thanks to the script and the brilliant performance by Ms. de Havilland the pitfall is avoided. Good writing and good acting really do make a lot of difference. While the script keeps the spirit of the story high - right through the end of the movie - with smart and sharp dialogue, Ms. de Havilland - playing a double role as a young girl and a middle-aged woman - proves her acting agility as her character undergoes a gradual transformation from a foolish young girl to a fiercely independent woman. Without her superb acting the movie would not be half as good as it is. For this she earned her first Oscar for Best Actress.

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars