Skyfall

Picture1Columbia/MGM (2012) 143 min. PG-13

Director: Sam Mendes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade; based on characters created by Ian Fleming

Cinematography: Roger Deakins; Editing: Stewart Baird

Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

Costumes: Jany Temime; Score: Thomas Newman

Stars: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Judi Dench (M), Javier Bardem (Raoul Silva), Naomie Harris (Eve), Ralph Fiennes (Gareth Mallory), Ben Whishaw (Q), Bérénice Lim Marlohe (Sévérine), Albert Finney (Kincade), Ola Rapace (Patrice)

Celebrating the silver anniversary of James Bond on screen, Skyfall is a watershed film that chops the myth into bits and reshuffles the pieces. Reintroducing Miss Moneypenny and Q, and changing the old guard by eliminating Judi Dench’s M character (this is the actress’ final appearance in the role after seven films), replacing her with the equally arch Gareth Mallory of Ralph Fiennes, who played a part akin to Bond in 1999’s big screen version of The Avengers. Dench and Fiennes were destined to Bond together at least on this one project, their clipped Englishness clinking off each other like matching China tea sets. Clearly, Skyfall is simultaneously attempting to re-access the Bond series and reboot it.

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The Tree of Life

TOL posterFox Searchlight (2011) 139 min. PG-13

Director: Terrence Malick

Screenplay: Terrence Malick

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber & Mark Yoshikawa

Production Design: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jeanette Scott

Costumes: Jacqueline West

Score: Alexandre Desplat

Stars: Brad Pitt (Mr. O’Brien), Sean Penn (Jack), Jessica Chastain (Mrs. O’Brien), Hunter McCracken (Young Jack), Laramie Eppler (R.L.), Tye Sheridan (Steve), Fiona Shaw (Grandmother)

“Think of a tree, how it grows ‘round its roots. The branch breaks off, it don’t stop, but keeps reaching toward the light.” – The New World

Terrence Malick has always been an acquired taste. His movies are mood pieces paced to the cadence of internal monologues whispered rhetorically by his characters in hushed, reverential tones onscreen. Striving for more than the movie medium can encompass, he’s a visionary seeking to push past its restricting barriers to self-expression. When the man stays focused there’s no director better at vividly evoking the sentient, existential sensations of simple human perception. His movies pulsate with the vibrancy of life as we experience it at almost a subliminal level. They heighten our awareness in a way that makes us feel as if we were experiencing a movie fully awake and responsive for the first time.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dragon_tattoo_posterColumbia/MGM (2011) 158 min. R

Director: David Fincher

Screenplay: Steven Zaillian; based on the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth; Editing: Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall

Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: K.C. Fox

Costumes: Trish Summerville; Score: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Stars:  Daniel Craig (Mikael Blomkvist), Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander), Christopher Plummer (Henrik Vanger), Stellan Skarsgård (Martin Vanger), Steven Berkoff (Dirch Frode), Robin Wright (Erika Berger), Yorick van Wageningen (Nils Bjurman), Joely Richardson (Anita Vanger), Julian Sands (Young Henrik)

Sometimes I feel as though the only American horror stories that still seem worth telling anymore are remakes of Asian films such as The Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call, The Eye, Shutter, and Insidious, an American original which qualifies by default (it was directed by the Malaysian Chinese-born James Wan, who grew up in Australia). Upon seeing David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of 2011, I’m willing to make the same assertion for American remakes of unsettling Scandinavian psychological thrillers. The movie was based on the same source as the 2009 Swedish film directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace. Continue reading

Silver Linings Playbook

SLP posterThe Weinstein Co. (2012) 122 min. R

Director: David O. Russell

Screenplay: David O. Russell; based on The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi; Editing: Jay Cassidy & Crispin Struthers

Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler

Costumes: Mark Bridges

Score: Danny Elfman

Stars: Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany Maxwell), Robert De Niro (Pat Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores), Chris Tucker (Danny), John Ortiz (Ronnie), Julia Stiles (Veronica), Anupam Kher (Dr. Patel), Brea Bee (Nikki)

If laughter is the best medicine, then Silver Linings Playbook is the panacea for what’s been ailing kitschy romantic comedy of late. A first for him as far as I‘m aware, director David O. Russell’s foray into untried turf actually returns him to the darker, more acerbic edge of such earlier comedies as I Heart Huckabees and Spanking the Monkey. Likewise populated by existential oddballs and emotionally troubled outsiders, Russell, who usually writes his own scenarios, has translated Matthew Quick’s novel into a non-conformist romantic comedy about non-conformity. By which I mean it marches to its own drummer rather than trying to fit itself into the pat conventions of the genre. This movie is  a square peg in a round hole. Continue reading