Showing posts from April, 2011

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…

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (♦♦♦♦♦)

Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) is a real estate executive with a heroin addiction and money troubles. Hank (Ethan Hawke, Training Day), Andy’s younger brother, also has pressing problems due to an overdue child support pension and the constant nagging of his ex-wife. When Andy proposes Hank to carry out a “job” that will solve their money troubles, Hank hesitantly signs in; little does he know that the job entails to rob their parents jewelry store in the suburbs. When Andy refuses to take physical part in the robbery, Hank brings along a friend, and from then on everything goes horribly wrong.

This is one powerful drama; it is gritty, it is dark and it is violent, but to the psyche. I have seen many good movies in my life, and this is certainly one of them. The direction by Sidney Lumet is superb and so is the acting by characters big and small. Seymour Hoffman’s performance is mind blowing, and so is Hawke’s, who usually gets those roles of the good, naïve guy who has…

Defense of the Realm (♦♦♦½)

A British MP is forced to resign after being exposed by the press in a scandal concerning his mistress, a call girl with links to the KGB and an alleged Soviet spy. After a fellow journalist dies from a suspicious heart attack, Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) gets involved in the story and discovers surprising events covered up by the highest spheres of the British government.

The plot of this political thriller is engaging, and despite the audience not knowing where the investigation is headed or how the dots are connected, one is a hostage of the screenplay for it is very good. The end is deeply satisfying after all the digging, but the movie has current resonance regarding issues of freedom of the press and national security regardless of the country where the story is based.

The Fabulous Baker Boys (♦♦♦♦)

Jack (Jeff Bridges, True Grit) and Frank Baker (Beau Bridges, The Good German) are a piano duo that has been playing small gigs for 15 years until their business begins to dwindle and they decide to hire a singer. They choose Susie Diamonds (Michelle Pfeiffer, White Oleander), a beautiful, former call girl with a smoky voice. From Susie’s hiring, the gigs start coming non-stop, but the growing attraction between Jack and Susie causes sparks to fly between the Baker brothers, which end up threatening their business relationship.

I really liked this movie. Michelle Pfeiffer’s singing impressed me; I liked her sultry voice. The acting was superb by Jeff, Beau Bridges and Pfeiffer. The lines were at times razor sharp, nonetheless funny. I laughed out loud in several occasions, particularly between the fights between both brothers.

Anytime is good to enjoy this movie.

Atonement (♦♦♦♦♦)

England, 1935.

Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland), a servant’s son, and Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice), are in love but have been avoiding each other’s company for the last few years. Then Robbie decides to go away to medical school and Cecilia is mad about it. When 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones), Cecilia’s younger sister, reads a steamy love letter that Robbie sent to Cecilia and then witnesses a sexual encounter between them, she believes Robbie capable of terrible things and guilty of a violent crime. Briony’s accusation will forever change the course of their lives.

I wanted to review this movie since I started this blog. I have seen it three times and every time it ends, I experience the same shock and emotions inherent to the story. The screenplay wouldn’t be as powerful without the wonderful acting of McAvoy, Knightley, Ronan, and later on of Romola Garai, as the young Briony and of Vanessa Redgrave, as the olde…

The Shadow of your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark (♦♦♦)

Olivia Morrow has only two weeks to live, so she has to decide whether to tell Dr. Monica Farrell, a woman she’s never met, who her real grandparents were. Monica’s grandmother, Catherine Kurner, was a nun, now in the midst of a beatification process by the Catholic Church. Alex Gannon, Monica’s grandfather, was a world-known doctor whose patents made he and his brother’s family rich. Dr. Gannon’s will provided that his money would go to his descendant, if there were any, but none became known during his lifetime. Now, the fact that Monica may claim what is rightfully hers has some people in the Gannon foundation very nervous, so much so that they’re willing to commit murder to prevent that from happening.

I thought this book was good, but somewhat predictable. Several years ago I read a book by the same author titled Daddy’s Little Girl and it shook me to the core. This one is not so; the plot drags somehow. The emerging love story refreshes the otherwise grim pace.

Very forgettable…

The Conspirator (♦♦♦♦)

This incisive drama directed by Robert Redford (Ordinary People), recounts the events leading to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by Confederate sympathizers, and the ensuing investigation to capture and bring to justice “all” the participants involved in the conspiracy.

Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy, Atonement), a young lawyer and Union Army captain during the Civil War, is entrusted by a Maryland Senator (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton) with the defense of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn, Forrest Gump), a woman who had run the boarding house where most of the conspirators met and plotted Lincoln’s assassination. Mary’s fate seems to be predetermined considering the public’s condemnation of the events and the Secretary of War’s (Kevin Kline, Dave) desire to set an example out of her to heal the nation. The trial takes place before a military tribunal, which seems inclined to condemn her from the beginning despite inconsistent testimonies suggesting that she may be inno…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Pt I (♦♦♦♦)

After the shocking events unfolded in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) leave Hogwarts and embark on a quest to find the Horcruxes in which Lord Voldemort has hidden part of his soul. They revisit places from Hermione’s childhood, trying to escape the grip that Voldemort allies have in the Ministry of Magic.

Most of the characters that we’ve come to know are in this movie, but some like Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter), and the Weasleys only get minutes, if not seconds of screen time. Hermione is still the one brainy third of the pack, and that comes very handy considering they have no clues of where to find the Horcruxes. Ron also gets less screen time due to him seemingly abandoning Harry and Hermione on their quest.

What I never liked too much about this franchise is that each movie has gotten increasingly darker in tone than its predecessor, but I…

Tangled (♦♦♦♦)

The queen is in labor but sick, so the kingdom’s doctors resort to the healing powers of a magical flower to get her well. The queen gives birth to princess Rapunzel (Mandy Moore). Then evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) kidnaps the princess--to use her mane as the fountain of youth--and keeps her locked in a tower deep in the forest. On the eve of Rapunzel’s eighteenth birthday, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a wanted thief, climbs up Rapunzel’s tower and she escapes with him to watch the annual flying lanterns.

This movie is charming family fun, and I can’t help but say it’s romantic as well. The music is catchy; I particularly enjoyed “Mother knows best”. I also liked that evil Mother Gothel wasn’t evil in the traditional Disney sense: she didn’t try to kill Rapunzel, though she imprisoned her against her will. In this more evolved evil character than most of Disney’s, Mother Gothel is highly manipulative and twisted, but not homicidal.

Great movie for the whole family! Not to be miss…

The Untouchables (♦♦♦♦)

US Treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves) moves to Chicago with his family in a mission to finish Al Capone’s reign of terror. With that purpose he enlists three more men, two of whom are stranger to the Chicago police department. The four of them trust no one and are dubbed “the untouchables”. But to end Capone’s reign, they must bend the rules, kill to avoid being killed, and ultimately bring Capone to justice on a famed technicality.

There are solid and magnificent performances in this motion picture. Kevin Costner is Eliot Ness. Andy Garcia stars as Stone, an aspiring police officer with a great shooting practice record. Sean Connery, in an Oscar-winning role, stars as Jimmy Malone, a tough policeman who knows a thing or two about a corrupt police force and what it takes to bring Capone to justice. Patricia Clarkson stars as Mrs. Ness, a small role, but much needed to provide balance in an otherwise gritty movie. Last, but not least, Robert De Niro stars as…

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer (♦♦♦♦)

Beecher White, a brokenhearted thirty year-old archivist with the National Archives, sees a second chance at love when his childhood crush, Clementine Kaye, reappears after almost fifteen years, asking for his help to track down her long lost father. Beecher is delighted to oblige, but the discovery of a two-century old book in a room frequented by the US president, along with the subsequent death of a friend, has Beecher wondering who is friend and who is foe, and most important yet, who is capable of committing murder and why.

Fast pace and fascinating historical details, dating back to the founding of our nation, are interwoven in this story to make this book a compelling read. The language is easy, but with plenty of powerful literary images. It takes four hundred plus pages to finish the book, but it’s captivating. I could hardly believe that the story takes place during a three day period. In its pages there are treats for everyone: history, intrigue, long-held secrets, madness…

The Switch (♦♦♦½)

Kassie (Jennifer Aniston, Derailed) is still single and getting old, so she decides to have a child on her own. Wally (Jason Bateman, Juno) is Kassie’s best friend, forever in love with her but unable to tell her. Kassie tells Wally that she wants to get pregnant and starts searching for a sperm donor. She meets a good looking one in Roland (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy), a married professor whose wife agrees to the donation. During Kassie’s impregnation party, Wally “hijacks” Roland’s sperm and switches it for his.

I have to say I liked this movie more than I expected. I enjoyed more the screen time shared by Jason Bateman and the kid than Aniston’s lines. I laughed out loud in several occasions and chuckled as well. There is good chemistry between Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston; he is so believable that I felt sorry for the guy having a hard time admitting that he was in love with his best friend.

It was overall a very pleasant movie experience.

The Lincoln Lawyer (♦♦♦½)

Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey, Amistad) is a defense attorney used to cut-and-dry cases usually involving recurring clients. Luck appears to smile at him when high profile client Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, Breach) secures his services. Roulet is being accused of assault to a prostitute, and claims he is innocent. When clues begin to pop up suggesting quite the opposite, Mick has to rethink his strategy to deal with Roulet and the case.

This is the battle of the beautiful. McConaughey and Phillippe are, and so is Josh Lucas (Life as We Know It), as the prosecutor, and Marisa Tomei (In the Bedroom), as Haller’s ex-wife and colleague. William H. Macy (Fargo), Michael Peña (Shooter) and John Leguizamo (Ice Age) also co-star.

This movie is intense almost from beginning to end. There are very few things more exciting than courtroom drama, and this film is deeply satisfying in that sense. I really liked the 360 degrees view of Haller in the courtroom. McConaughey plays one of his most…

Jane Eyre (♦♦♦♦)

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) grows up in a boarding house until she is old enough to procure a job. With her fine education, Jane becomes the governess at Thornfield, whose owner, Mr. Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender, Inglorious Basterds) falls in love with her, only he has a terrible secret. On Jane and Rochester’s wedding day, some truths are revealed, which drive Jane away from Thornfield.

I had previously watched Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 Jane Eyre; I rated that movie 5 stars. I also liked this Cary Fukunaga’s version. This film is dark, which normally characterizes period pieces, but it suits the mood of this movie rather well. Here there is a powerful secret, hidden in plain sight, protected by the house’s employees, so the darkness works like a metaphor. The music is ethereal. I enjoyed the spring romance (also a metaphor), and the chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender, which is undeniable.

I should remark that Mia Wasikowska’s performance really im…

Source Code (♦♦♦½)

This is the latest movie in a string of recent releases dealing with metaphysical topics such as Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, Sucker Punch and now Source Code.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs) has been given 8 minutes to access, with another man’s identity, a passenger train in Chicago, which is about to explode. In that lapse of time Stevens is expected to pinpoint the perpetrator and find the bomb. The finding of the author will allow authorities to stop other terrorist attacks from happening in downtown Chicago that same morning. With each recurring session without the desired results, Captain Stevens has more questions such as why he sees another man’s face when he looks into the mirror.

Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air) is in charge of the sessions, and has to deal with the pressure of explaining why Captain Stevens only has 8 minutes every time he returns to the train scene. Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone) co-stars as Christina,…

Red Riding Hood (♦♦♦)

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia) has been in love with Peter since childhood. So she is surprised when her parents (Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen) arrange her marriage to Henry. However, the day that they find out about the engagement, a family tragedy occurs when the wolf, that inhabits the nearby forest, takes Valerie’s sister’s life. To avenge her killing, the village’s men decide to hunt the wolf and kill him, but the wolf takes another life, this time of Henry’s father.

Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, Air Force One) is the villagers’ only hope. When he arrives things get more complicated for he reveals they’re dealing with a werewolf, who likely lives among them. Suspicion makes everyone uneasy, and soon enough, during a blood moon, the monster appears again to claim more lives.

There are great costumes in this movie; Valerie’s red cape looks stunning against the wintery landscape. The only resemblance this film has to the folk tale is when Valerie has a nightmare about her g…

Limitless (♦♦♦½)

Edward Morra (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) discovers endless possibilities when he takes an experimental drug that taps 100% of the brain’s potential. The catch is that he has been given only one pill. The next time he meets his supplier to get more, he runs into a murder scene. The pill has devastating side effects, but who cares! With the help of the drug, Edward writes a book in four days, learns several languages in less than a month, and becomes a financial guru. However, other users of the drug become an issue for Eddie when they make clear that they are willing to commit murder unless they can get a steady supply of the miraculous drug.

The camera work in this movie is very dynamic; so much so that it’s almost dizzying. I liked the different hues things would get depending if a character had taken the drug or not. I also enjoyed the script; it’s a very interesting story. The acting is good across the board; Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch) and Robert De Niro also co-star.

Sucker Punch (♦♦♦½)

Baby Doll (Emily Browning), Amber (Jamie Chung), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), are five girls secluded in an institution for the mentally insane. Most of them are orphans. Baby Doll was brought in by her abusive stepfather after she tried to kill him following a family tragedy, which unfolded to the beat of Sweet Dreams.

These five girls have been set aside to perform sensual dances and dispense favors for high rollers. The girls execute a plan to escape; with that purpose they have to collect useful items, battle real German soldiers, mythological monsters and deactivate a bomb on a high speed train, all while Baby Doll dances to the sound of techno music.

This movie is a more commercial Inception without the lecture. It is difficult to pinpoint the time when the story takes place, but it’s not needed. Since the opening notes of Sweet Dreams is one big rush of adrenaline until the closing credits. Beautiful makeup, sexy outfits and pl…