Showing posts from 2010

Circe by Madeline Miller (♦♦♦♦)

Granddaughter of Oceanus, daughter of Titan Helios and sea nymph Perseid, Circe was different from the start. While her siblings discovered their unique gifts very early on and gained their independence—either by claiming their inheritance, like Perses and Aëstes, or by marriage to a wealthy demigod, like Pasiphäe—, Circe remained among her family in the halls of the gods. Her love for young fisherman Glaucus changed everything. Circe used a potion to transform Glaucus into a worthy suitor. Glaucus, seeing his station changed, fell in love with one Circe’s cousins, a sea nymph named Scylla. Out of jealousy, Circe put a potion on Scylla’s bath and, unintendedly, transformed her into a monster. Circe’s confession forced Helios to go to see Zeus, for witchcraft is something that gods fear can tip the balance of power. Zeus declared an eternal banishment for Circe from the halls of the gods to the island of Aiaia.

Exile was not easy but, as Circe learned, it had its advantages; being away f…

Black Swan (♦♦♦♦♦)

Nina (Natalie Portman), a classic ballet dancer, has been chosen as the Queen Swan, that is, to interpret both the White and Black Swans in the new production of Swan Lake. Nina is perfect in the role of the White Swan: she is fragile, shy, obsessed with getting all moves perfect, in short, a good girl…But, does she have what it takes to be a Black Swan? The interpretation of the Black Swan requires a display of raw emotions that are strange to Nina, but the rivalry with a fellow ballerina named Lilly (Mila Kunis), makes her explore the darkest recesses of her mind.

This is a WOW kind of movie. There was a strange atmosphere at the theater when this movie ended; typically the film ends and everyone runs out to the hall, but after this movie everyone stayed on their seats, not talking, just there. This movie is devastating in more ways than one; the ending is definitive, but is also the way Nina’s psyche spirals downwards. Music, pace, everything conspires in this film to play tricks …

Dances with Wolves (♦♦♦♦)

Dances with Wolves is the name given by a Sioux tribe to John Dunbar, a Civil War lieutenant who gets assigned to guard a military post in the last American frontier. In the middle of nowhere, Dunbar befriends a wolf, which he nicknames Two Socks, and later befriends the neighboring Sioux tribe, falling in love with one of their adopted daughters and marrying her.

This movie is Kevin Costner’s directorial debut, and he surely chose a grand topic for it. Filmed almost in its entirety at outside locations, it features the vast magnificence of the American West. Dunbar’s friendship with the ever watching wolf is a testament of the endurance of the human spirit under trying circumstances. The movie treats the subject of the conquest of Indian territories with intelligence and finesse. There are no apparent stereotypes in this film: the white man has superiority in numbers, but the Indians are willing to meet them halfway. Unlike most movies about Indians, they’re not depicted as uncultur…

Kolya (Kolja), Czech (♦♦♦♦)

Fifty-five year old Franta Louka plays the cello at funerals to make ends meet. A gravedigger friend tells Louka of a Russian lady who is willing to pay a large sum of money to marry off her young niece so she can obtain Czech papers. The wedding takes place, but the bride illegally migrates to West Germany without telling Louka, leaving her five year-old son behind. The child, Kolya, ends up being cared by Louka, a lifelong bachelor with no experience in how to care for a child. The story takes place against the backdrop of socialist Czechoslovakia right before the fall of communism.

This movie is not meant to be funny; the humor is very subtle but it makes you laugh out loud nonetheless. The child is so cute, and his plight so believable that it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. I found so funny that Kolya learned how to draw coffins, because that’s what he got to see all the time while Louka worked, and the child started drawing other things as soon as he was exposed to different …

Nine (♦♦♦♦)

Nine is a Broadway musical brought to the big screen by director Rob Marshall (Chicago). It is based on the life and work of Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), and his relationship with the women who inspired his work, among them Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his wife, Carla (Penelope Cruz), his mistress, Claudia (Nicole Kidman), his muse and leading actress in most of his films, Lilli (Judi Dench), costume designer and closest friend, his mother (Sophia Loren), Sereghina (Fergie), the woman Guido and his friends used to pay for sexual advice when growing up, and Stephanie (Kate Hudson), the editor of Vogue magazine.

Each one of the main characters, namely Guido and the women, sing at least once; Marion Cotillard’s numbers are poignant due to the fragile state of the relationship between her and her husband. However, the most attractive and spirited singing number in the whole movie is sung by Fergie with Be Italian; she truly displays her talent with this piece. Sex…

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (♦♦♦♦)

American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) decide to spend a summer in Barcelona. There, they meet free spirited painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who proves to be more than either one of them can handle. After a brief affair in Oviedo, Vicky, who is engaged, falls in love with Juan Antonio but ends up marrying her fiancé. Cristina, on the other hand, has a longer love relationship with Juan Antonio and they live together for a while, until Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, re-appears in his life and Cristina must come to terms with living with them both.

This movie is like a breeze, very light and free flowing. The story flows easily, at times funny, but thoughtfully nonetheless. It is not a movie to overanalyze, just to enjoy. Penelope’s performance is worth your time. She was born to interpret the role of Maria Elena; she seems at ease both in English and Spanish, and even those dialogue transitions are funny. Even Javier Bardem …

Easy A (♦♦♦♦)

Olive Penderghast is a top high school student, invisible to the opposite sex, until the rumor that she has lost her virginity to a freshman college student. What starts as a lie is then magnified by gossip until the situation spirals out of control with almost all the males taking advantage of Olive’s new found reputation in one form or another. The attention that she gets soon weighs her down for she feels trapped in a web of lies.

It’s a magnificent and refreshing performance by Emma Stone. It is easy to see how a lie or even half truths can be twisted by others without any sense of the damage they cause. This is a cautionary tale on how to deal with evil gossip and rumors, be it in high school or anywhere else.

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (♦♦♦♦)

Growing up, Tyton owlets Soren and Kludd used to hear their father’s stories about the Guardians and their fight against the Pure Ones and imagined themselves as great soldiers. During an unsupervised flight practice, Soren and his brother Kludd are kidnapped, together with owls from every corner of the land, by envoys of Metal Beak and Narya. When a desert owlet demands he wants to go back to his family, Soren sides with him and as punishment he gets assigned to forced labor. Kludd, on the other hand, refuses to follow Soren and he is trained as a Pure One.

With the help of a much older and discontent owl, Soren and his friend manage to escape and go in search of the Guardians, who live beyond the sea. On their way, they learn how to fly, find new friends and finally meet the Guardians, among them Lize of Kiel, the bravest one and Soren’s hero. With the help of the Guardians, the owls held in captivity by Metal Beak and Narya are freed and Soren reunites with his family.

This is a s…


Superman: The Movie, 1978 (♦♦♦)
When planet Krypton is about to explode, Jorel (Marlon Brandon) and his wife put their baby son in a star-shaped spaceship and send him away towards planet Earth. The child lands on Earth already as a toddler. A middle-aged couple adopts him, and names him Clark Kent. He grows up in Smallville, until his eighteenth birthday, when his adopted father dies of a heart attack and Clark decides to leave Smallville and his adopted mother, and head north, all the way to the North Pole. The green crystal that Jorel inserted in the space ship, which contains Clark’s family history, he throws to the wind and lands on top of an iceberg that immediately replicates into an icicle pyramid. Inside there, Jorel appears as a hologram explaining Clark his provenance.

Clark (Christopher Reeve) moves to New York City, gets a job as a journalist at the Daily Planet, falls in love with a fellow journalist named Lois Lane, who doesn’t feel attracted to clumsy Clark. Then Lois …

Inception (♦♦♦)

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), the best dream extractor in the market, is put under test, unbeknownst to him, by Saito (Ken Watanabe), a powerful businessman, to recover secret documents that only he knows the location of. Cobb passes the test, but not on time to save himself from Cobol, a corporation that has put a price on his head. The real job for which Saito wants Cobb is to plant the idea of dissolving his company in the mind of business rival Robert Fischer Jr. Since it is easy to track the genesis of an idea, only few people have ever attempted inception, Cobb being one of them. Cobb accepts the job, with the promise that Mr. Saito is going to help him return to the U.S. from where he has been fleeing ever since Mal (Marion Cotillard), his wife, committed suicide and left a letter blaming him for it.

Since Mal has taken complete control of his dreams, Cobb, once a brilliant architect, has no choice than to recruit another architect for the mission. The help comes from Ariadne (Ell…

The Italian Job, 2003 (♦♦♦♦♦)

Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), a mastermind plotter, and John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), a gifted safecracker, joined by four other highly skilled thieves, execute a perfect heist in the picturesque city of Venice. What can possibly go wrong? Everything! Steve (Edward Norton), one of the gang members, double crosses the rest of them, walking out with a bounty of $35 million dollars worth in gold. He kills Bridger and assumes Charlie and the others are dead too, but that’s his first mistake. One year later, Charlie meets with the other three gang members and recruits Stella, John Bridger’s daughter, also a professional safecracker, to avenge Bridger’s death and recover the bounty. Easier said than done! However, Charlie and the others, thanks to Steve’s distrust of people, manage to carry out the heist as it was done in Venice.

Mini cooper races, major traffic jams, and good acting enhance the tension in this thriller. My heart kept pounding in my chest until the end. Great movie! …

Twilight Saga: Eclipse (♦♦♦♦)

In the third installment of the series, Bella is drawn closer to Edward and his vampire family as an army of newborns is getting ready to overtake Forts, Washington. Behind this army is the ever manipulative Victoria, the redheaded vampire who lost her lover James in Edward’s hands, who was trying to save Bella in the first movie of the series. The Volturi family is not doing anything to stop the attacks and ultimately give the Cullens an ultimatum to convert Bella or else. Jacob and his werewolves friends make a truce with the Cullens to defeat, together, the army of vampires. All the while, Edward proposes marriage to Bella, while Bella realizes that she has learned to also love Jacob.

This film is darker in tone than the first two; there are battle scenes and violent confrontations, but no gore, so I guess that makes it bearable. Good movie; I enjoyed it a lot even though I’m not a teenager, but I find the story refreshing and engaging. I also liked the first two installments in t…

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (♦♦♦)

The king of Persia sees a daring and courageous young orphan in the market and decides to adopt him as his son. As a young man, Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) helps his brothers to strike the holy city of Alamut in the search for treacherous invaders, but during the invasion, the beautiful princess Tamina, the guardian of the Sands of Time, tries to smuggle out a dagger that holds mysterious powers and the dagger ends out in Dastan’s possession.

When the king is poisoned with a robe that Dastan has presented as a gift, everyone assumes Dastan has committed treason so he flees to save his life. Princess Tamina joins him in his quest to clear his name and ultimately restore balance to the world through the frequent use of the magical dagger.

The story is somewhat boring, but lush scenarios and costumes, as well as good performances by Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina make this movie worth your time.

Knight and Day (♦♦♦)

At the airport, on her way to her sister’s wedding, June (Cameron Diaz) bumps twice into a handsome stranger (Roy, Tom Cruise). What are the odds? Supposedly, she can’t use the ticket that she just bought because the flight is full; however, she manages to get on board and realizes that there are only few people traveling. She strikes a conversation with Roy, decides to make her move on him, and that’s when things start to get strange and complicated. Several dead people and a crash landing later, she wakes up in her house as if nothing had happened, but everything starts to fall apart when federal agents appear to pick her up.

I do like Tom Cruise acting. I’m probably one of the few people who say that, but with this movie I would likely ask for a refund of my time and money, if those were allowed. What can I say about this film? It is all about explosions, chases, secret agents of even more secret agencies, all in the name of a battery that is “the biggest energy source since the s…

Charlie St. Cloud (♦♦♦♦)

Charlie St. Cloud, the titled character, ably interpreted by Zac Efron, is unable to let go of his dead little brother, even five years after the accident that took him away. In that accident, Charlie was brought from the dead by a paramedic who refused to let him go. Five years later, Charlie has pretty much given up on life, except for meeting his brother at sunset for baseball practice. When a young woman with similar life experiences starts getting too close, Charlie must decide whether to look ahead or stay in the past.
To be honest, this movie took me by surprise. I was expecting a so-so performance by Zac Efron considering his very pretty face, but with this film he proves he has acting chops. The movie delivered painful blows to my heart in more than one occasion, such as when the fatal accident took place. This is more than a love story or a ghost story; it is about facing life head-on and accepting that sometimes second chances are given for a reason. Lovely movie!

Eat Pray Love (♦♦♦♦)

Eat Pray Love (♦♦♦♦) is a thought provoking motion picture that despite causing a few chuckles does not try to be funny. It is a philosophical piece without being preachy. It makes you understand that life is meant to be lived simply and profoundly. In this film, writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) realizes that her life is unfulfilling and decides to get a divorce and travel to Italy, India and Bali in search for happiness. Along the way she meets people who help her become a more rounded person. Worth seen!

Favorite Foreign Movies – Part III

Curse of the Golden Flower (♦♦♦♦♦), Chinese
You know a big conspiracy is cooking when a woman is embroidering thousands of handkerchiefs to be sent out to the four corners of the kingdom.

Volver (♦♦♦♦♦), Spanish
Penelope Cruz shines as Raimunda in this Pedro Almodovar’s production. She sings and delivers an astounding performance that seems effortless. It is refreshing to see that the talent that made her set her eyes on Hollywood was there, even after incoherent movies such as Sahara. This film may also be grouped under the category “Endings that I Never Saw Coming”.

Indochine (♦♦♦♦)
This motion picture won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993. This is a sweeping epic delivering unforgettable performances by Catherine Deneuve (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Vincent Perez (Queen Margot). Set in French Indochine, it follows the story of a wealthy landowner (Deneuve) and her relationship with her adopted daughter. Jean Baptiste (Perez) is an officer in the French Navy, with…

Flawless (♦♦♦♦)

A British janitor (Michael Caine) of London Diamond Corp convinces an American female executive (Demi Moore) to carry out a heist in the very company where they both work. He is a disgruntled employee upset because the company refused to cover his wife’s medical expenses. She is one of the few female executives in 1960 Britain, passed over several times for promotion. Both of them seem to start up the heist with the same idea: to rob as many diamonds as can fit in a thermos; the robbery ends up being quite a surprise for the American when she discovers that all the diamonds the company had in store, have been stolen.
Great performances delivered by both Michael Caine and Demi Moore.

Ocean’s Eleven, 2001 (♦♦♦♦♦)

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) went to jail the time before last, his wife Tess (Julia Roberts) left him and went to work as a gallery curator for Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the owner of three of Vegas’ most famous casinos. Once out of jail, Danny assembles a team with the best and brightest of the thievery world and, on a boxing fight night, carries out a flawless heist on the Bellagio’s vault, which contains the riches of that and two other major casinos. Never mind that those casinos are controlled by no other than Terry Benedict, the man who is currently dating his wife, but maybe getting even makes the theft even more satisfying.

I loved the stylish heist in this movie, even more so because they didn’t have to kill anyone to get the money. The entire cast was charismatic and lovable. I dare to say they felt they were playing rather than working, reason why they went on to film two other motion pictures in the franchise. I didn’t like Ocean’s Twelve or Ocean’s Thirteen as m…

The Thomas Crown Affair, 1999 (♦♦♦♦♦)

Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) seemingly has it all: he is a powerful businessman, he is filthy rich, sexy, lives life to its fullest, but he lacks something…A little Monet painting hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, valued in hundreds of millions of dollars. So he sets his sight on getting the thing he covets the most, by stealing it, of course! After the heist, the local police detectives involved in the investigation get unwanted help from a female insurance bounty hunter (Rene Russo) who is Thomas Crown’s match in every way, which turns the case into a very exciting cat and mouse game.
This is easily one of my favorite movies; Brosnan is amazing as Thomas Crown, the sexy billionaire who orchestrates heists on the side. The heist is elegant, smooth even, and Rene Russo is spot on as his sexy lover/nemesis. Oh, if only more movies were as slick as this one!

Favorite Foreign Movies – Part II

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (♦♦♦♦), French
Beautiful umbrella store clerk Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) falls in love with Guy, an auto mechanic, and plans to wed as soon as possible, but their young love is cut short when he is drafted into the army and her mother forces Genevieve to marry a wealthy man.
Beautiful music by Michel Legrand and poignant storyline make this movie a classic! The ending is so emotional!

Yesterday (♦♦♦♦), Africa
Yesterday has been feeling ill for a while but has to cover a great distance on foot to visit a doctor in the nearest village. After incredible sacrifices, she finally sees a doctor who diagnoses her with AIDS. When she goes to the city to tell her husband—where he is working--that he is possibly infected as well, he beats her up monstrously believing she has been unfaithful. Months after, her husband comes back home when he starts feeling very ill with AIDS and he knows his end is near. Yesterday takes care of her dying husband, all the while tryin…

A Star is Born (♦♦♦♦)

Bad boy rocker John Norman falls in love with club singer Esther Hoffman, and decides to promote her talent, which makes her become a mega-singing sensation. They get married and go to live in isolation in the middle of nowhere, but their relationship soon becomes rocky when her success and his constant troubles threaten to break them apart.

The chemistry between Barbra Streissand and Kris Kristofferson is undeniable. It seems as if they had been having a real life affair at the time. It is always delightful to enjoy Barbra Streissand’s megatalent, though I had the sensation that I was watching Funny Girl all over again. This movie’s ending, as well as the way in which the couple’s relationship spirals downwards is slightly different than in Funny Girl, but the underlying plot is still the same. Good movie, though. I enjoyed it very much!

Sex and the City 2 (♦♦♦)

In this second installment, Carrie and the girls go to the “new” Middle East for a much needed vacation. This time they are juggling motherhood, marriage, aging and some of the stuff they never left behind, namely insecurities. Carrie is so insecure in the direction that her marriage with Mr. Big is taking, that she feels inclined to kiss Adrian! She never loved Adrian in first place! What’s that about?! Charlotte has a nanny, better looking and younger than she is, and who wears no bra! When does that happen in real life? Samantha stays true to her original self, except now she is a control freak with aging issues. Miranda and Steve seem more mismatched than ever. If they ever had any chemistry, it is gone by now.
I loved the series and the first movie, but I could have been OK if I hadn’t seen this one.

Movie: The Girl Who Played with Fire, Swedish, 2009 (♦♦♦♦)

A sex trade scandal involving prominent Swedish characters is the focus of the investigation of a female Ph D. candidate and her aspiring journalist male friend. Millennium Magazine decides to publish the story, but in the process of confronting some of the key players, Mikael Blomkvist finds the aspiring journalist and his friend murdered. The parallel murder of Lisbeth’s legal guardian with the same pistol, which is imprinted with Lisbeth’s fingerprints, leads the police to pinpoint Lisbeth as the main suspect for the triple murder. Mikael Blomkvist believes in Lisbeth’s innocence and won’t rest until he proves it. In the process, Lisbeth will face more violence coming from men wanting to kill her and will have to come to terms with events and people she had thought were gone for good.

This movie is also graphic, but less so than part one. The story is engaging and the acting is as convincing as it was in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In this second installment, some of the ke…

Temple Grandin (♦♦♦♦)

This movie made for HBO television, covers the topic of autism in a very tender way. Temple Grandin (Claire Danes in an Emmy winning performance), an autistic savant, is diagnosed with autism at age four. Learned to speak at age four thanks to her mother’s unwavering support and dedication; later on, a science teacher in middle and high school recognized her amazing ability to see things differently and encouraged her to develop her scientific mind. After spending a summer at her aunt’s ranch in Texas, she began to observe and understand cattle behavior, which led her to develop a machine that was able to simulate the effect that hugging have on most people. Temple went to college and had to fight against the misunderstandings associated with her condition, but graduated at the top of her class and went on to obtain a Master in Animal Science. Her articles on animal behavior and her inventions to improve the treatment of livestock to make the process as humane as possible have made h…

Favorite Foreign Movies – Part I

The Lives of Others (♦♦♦♦♦), German
This movie won an Oscar to the Best Foreign Language Film in 2007. Set in East Berlin in 1980, this is the most in-depth portray of everyday life in a communist country that I have ever seen, where even the most intimates moments were exposed by the vigilance of secret police corps.
East Germany’s Minister of Culture falls in lust with an actress, who is dating a successful playwright, and everything falls apart for the couple, for the Minister is willing to destroy their lives if he doesn’t get to bed this woman. For that purpose he enrolls the assistance of a Stasi case officer, who starts recording and listening to the couple’s every conversation to uncover counterrevolutionary activities, of course even independent thinking is a crime against the state in a communist regime. The story unfolds with tragic consequences as the couple does not appear to find a way out.
Watch this movie. You won’t regret it! Its ending will resonate with you.

Life i…

Favorite Church Movies

Primal Fear (♦♦♦♦♦)

When an altar boy (Ed Norton) is found splattered with blood, everyone assumes he is guilty of a priest’s death. His lawyer (Richard Gere), however, is convinced that he can win the case on the basis of multiple personalities disorder.
This movie may also be grouped under the category “Endings that I Never Saw Coming”. Ed Norton excels as usual, but this is probably his best performance ever. You won’t be able to forget this film once you see it!

The Third Miracle (♦♦♦♦♦)

A skeptical Catholic priest (Ed Harris) is sent to investigate two supposed miracles attributed to Helen O’Regan, a nominee for sainthood. Her daughter, who grew up bitter and estranged, has the opinion that Helen was only human, but the priest must prove otherwise; though unconvinced, he ends up believing in Helen’s divine powers when he meets an unlikely witness of her third, or I should say her first, miracle.

Goya’s Ghost (♦♦♦♦♦)
Spanish painter Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) is targeted …

Iron Man 2 (♦♦♦♦)

In this star-studded sequel, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is summoned by the U.S. Senate to testify regarding the use of his armed suit and subsequent surrender to the U.S. military as property of the American people. Tony refuses on the basis of his “successful privatization of world peace”, also alleging that most countries are, at best, ten or twenty years away from achieving his technology. Little does he know, that a Russian physicist with a forty years old family grudge is about to bring mayhem on Stark’s empire.

The cynic, dry sense of humor that was Stark’s trademark in the first movie has been kept intact, thank God! Lt. Commander James Rhodes is played here by Don Cheadle rather than Terrence Howard, but I would have liked the latter to preserve more of the original elements that made this film so successful. Gwyneth Paltrow is a nerve-wreck in this installment, a contrast to the take charge Pepper Potts of the first movie. Tony’s nemesis, Justin Hammer, CEO of Hammer Industri…

Favorite Movies with African Themes

Hotel Rwanda (♦♦♦♦♦)
Amidst the Rwandan genocide, a hotel manager gives refuge to about 1000 of his countrymen, women and children included, and ends up saving their lives.

I could not stop crying during this movie; I just couldn’t believe the Western world seemed so unmoved and oblivious to the suffering and massacre of thousands of people! If you are looking for a fun movie, then pass over this one, but if you’re willing to get a deeper look at contemporary conflicts around the world, then this movie is worth seen! This is by far, Don Cheadle’s best performance ever.

Blood Diamond (♦♦♦♦♦)
Blood Diamond is the term coined to identify a diamond extracted in conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, where even children are recruited as instruments of war. Refusing to participate in such activities may cost someone their limbs or even their lives. This is the topic of this movie in which a fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) stumbles upon a giant gem and hides it away to buy his and his family’s safe …