Year One

Juno Temple

Juno Temple

To be honest, this is not the type of movie that I normally go out watching, and the low IMDB rating of 5.1/10 confirms the general opinion about the quality level of  “Year One”.

Nevertheless I love Jack Black‘s humor. And I was depressed.

But let me relate to you what I saw, as this movie is not that bad after all, and it has some good moments overall, keeping a good tempo all along. This is what I call “light entertainment”, so if you have two hours to kill and if you do not want to sit at a bar drinking beer, then you might as well see this movie.

It will cost you less, you will intake less calories, and you may even have some fun.

The storyline is about the adventures of Zed, a man of the year one, which here means the beginning of history as it was recorded in the Bible. This is the time of Abraham, comically portrayed by Hank Azaria, who also recently played another hilarious role from Antiquity in Night at the Museum.

This is the time when Cain (David Cross) kills Abel, when Abraham attempts to sacrifice his son Isaac to God (saved in extremis by Zed) and when Sodom and Gomorrah are still standing Cities, where lust and depravation are the norm.

Zed and is friend Oh (Michael Cera) are exiled from their village after Zed ate an apple from the “Tree of Knowledge”. Then starts an escapade that will lead them to Sodom in their attempt to rescue two enslaved girls from their village, Eema (Juno Temple ) and Maia (June Diane Raphael).

“Year One” is a big farce with a lot of comical scenes. For instance when Zed and Oh are captured, Oh is tied head down and he cannot avoid peeing on himself and on his face. Or when Jack Black tastes an excrement found on their way in order to determine who their enemies are.

A large part of the movie takes place in the City of Sodom. One colorful character is the effeminate High Priest played by Oliver Platt, who likes oily massages on his hairy torso. And the beautiful Olivia Wilde plays Princess Inanna who captivates Zed at first sight.

We also learn how Abraham invented circumcision and started by trying it on his son and friends. Bigots of the judeo-christian faith will not laugh much and may leave before the end, cursing and cussing. Why so serious? Let us just put things in place for once.

The message of the movie: Do not take stories from the Bible too seriously.

The taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Aunjanue Ellis

Aunjanue Ellis

Do you love John Travolta like me?

If you do, you will have a lot of fun watching his latest movie, “The taking of Pelham 1 2 3″. With co-star Denzel Washington, the pair of movie superstars  offer two hours of suspense in this thriller taking place in the New York subway.

This movie is a remake of a 1974 movie, both based on the novel of the same name by Morton FreedGood. In this remake directed by Tony Scott (Enemy of the State, Man on Fire), the story remains the same: hijackers take over a New York subway train and its passengers and request a ten million dollar ransom.

If the deadline of one hour is not met, one passenger will be killed every minute.

John Travolta plays “Ryder”, a Wall Street convict seeking revenge for his time in jail, while Denzel Washington is Garber, a demoted MTA official who happened to be there when the train was taken.

From start to end, the storyline centers around their dialogue and the unusual relation that they develop. An angered & desperate maniac who will go all the way to make his point, and a simple likable low-key family man who would not hurt a fly.

James Gandolfini plays the New York Mayor beautifully. He is the one with the responsibility to handle this difficult situation, while trying to preserve his own good image. John Turturro is the hostage negotiator, experienced and methodic.

Aunjanue Ellis plays Garber’s wife and she wants to make sure that he does not forget to bring a gallon of milk when he comes back (if still alive).

This is an action movie and there is a lot of it too, with nice special effects and an excellent camera work.

The message of the movie: if you know something no one else does, you can make a lot of money in the stock market.

Star Trek (2009)

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

As the most recognizable filmed sci-fi icon, no one remotely interested in the sci-fi genre can miss this new release of a Star Trek movie.

Interestingly (but fashionably correct), this is a prequel to the entire Star Trek series. As we learn about the youths of Captain Jim Kirk and Spock before they became Captain and First Officer of the Enterprise. Also how was Vulcan, Spock’s planet, destroyed.

All the other characters of the original series have their younger versions, and they look so familiar even 40 years since the first Star Trek.

Uhura, the young charming black American lady is played by Zoe Saldana. McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) all are perfect reminiscences of the Entreprise crew as we used to know them.

There is always a bad guy and he is played marvelously by Eric Bana as Nero. Rarely will you see such a good looking bad guy.

The story takes place in the year 2387. Ambassador Spock has the delicate mission to consume a dangerous supernova. He pilots a ship carrying some so-called “red matter” that can be used to create black holes. But before he completes his mission, the supernova has destroyed the planet Romulus. Romulus is one of the inhabited planets in the original Star Trek galaxy, and its inhabitants the Romulans are related to the Vulcans.

Captain Nero, one of the survivors of the Romulan race attempts to exact revenge on Spock, whom he blames for the destruction of his homeworld and its inhabitants. Both ships, however, are caught in the black hole’s event horizon (a boundary in spacetime, most often an area surrounding a black hole, beyond which time as we know it to be does not exist).

As you can imagine, the special effects are top-notch (but to be honest not at the level of Star Wars). The space adventure runs its course in a marvelous way. It really feels like space travel really exists.

One element of success in Star Trek has always been its acting and its dialogues, with conflicting characters and a good sense of humor. This aspect is very well kept, in particular the struggles between Captain Kirk and Spock. Spock (Zahary Quinto) is a very likable character as we are the witness of his constant battles for controlling his own emotions, despite very difficult personal circumstances. The younger version of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is also a perfect fit for the role, with all its bravado and courage.

A nice touch is the appearance of the true original Spock (now 78 years old) Leonard Nimoy, as an older Spock coming from the future.

Overall an excellent story and excellent actors and direction.

The message of the movie: let us try to control our emotions, or they will control us.

Departures

Kimiko Yo

Kimiko Yo

A very interesting Japanese movie.

This movie won an Oscar for the best foreign language film of 2008, as well as prizes in Japan.

I found “Departures” to be quite a refreshing movie. Refreshing from the usual Hollywood fast paced type production that has overwhelmed the Western market for a long time.

There is a mix of comical misunderstandings within a very serious subject, i.e. death. This is a slow paced movie with a lot of drama. No special effects or big budget, but an emphasis on the characters.

Daigo is a chronic screw-up who changes his career from an orchestra cellist to working for departures, as the orchestra is disbanded. He thought that “departure” was some sort of travel agency for which he applied through an ad, and little did he know that the company deals with encoffination, i.e. the ceremonial preparation of corpses for cremation.

Initially taken aback by the revelation that the job involves dealing with dead people, he slowly gets immersed in his new duties and progressively learns to master them to the level of an art reminiscent of flower arrangement. As it consists in cleaning and preparing the dead bodies in slow rituals.

He works with his taciturn boss Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his beautiful secretary Yuriko Kamimura (Kimiko Yo). The trio forms an unlikely morbid set.

The movie takes place for the most part in the countryside of Japan at and around the small town of Sakata, Yamagata. Beautiful pictures of this simple and ancestral lifestyle, entirely Japanese as foreigners do not wander in this area. Bathhouse, local houses or a river full of dying salmon in a mountain scenery.

Death is the central theme so if you are looking for a comedy this is not what I recommend, even though there is a constant sense of irony in most situations. But this is one of the saddest movie that I have seen recently, and the beautiful cello music accompanying the events is a good choice to make this sense of sadness even more powerful.

Another theme is the (estranged) father. Or his absence, as Daigo has not seen his in thirty years, since he left them with a waitress. This is sad as well because his father has left a strong mark in Daigo’s psyche, or rather what has become a scar now. He cannot even remember his father’s face.

But it is his father who made him study the cello while still a toddler, and hence he has had a profound influence on Daigo’s destiny despite his disappearance. Daigo still keeps a stone that his father gave him.

The message of the movie: parents have an immense influence on their children.

The Spirit

Eva Mendes

Eva Mendes

The Spirit is a Frank Miller adaptation of a DC Comics series started in the 40s.

It stars the beautiful Eva Mendes, and the not less beautiful Scarlett Johansson, alongside Samuel L. Jackson.

Frank Miller is a very unusual director and his movies are highly unique. Miller is a writer artist and film director, who originally wrote comic books, and that shows in his movies.

He directed the truly brilliant Sin City, where real footages were merged with a comic books overlay in a way never seen before.

He also produced 300, a movie  of splendid computer generated images mixed with real shots. “The Spirit” follows in the same vein, with the comic books fantasy look overwhelming each scene.

Unfortunately, The Spirit is a much weaker creation than the two other movies. My feeling is that one significant difference stems from the leading actor. In Sin City, Mickey Rourke was amazing as the villain turned hero, genuine, powerful and unstoppable. Mickey truly melted into the comic books images.

In 300, Gerard Butler similarly was the perfect actor for the role of an antique Spartan King who personified glory in War. A true hero and brilliant general defending his country at all cost.

But in The Spirit, Gabriel Macht was too weak an actor for the role. Certainly a fine actor, he nevertheless does not have the personality to represent a convincing masked vigilante fighting crime when the City sleeps, as the Spirit likes to do.

The story follows the general line of DC comics books, with one superhero fighting an equally powerful villain criminal. Here the villain is the person of the “Octopus” (Samuel L. Jackson), whose quest for immortality imperils the entire city. The Spirit is the hero with similarities to Batman, helping the police but staying in the shadows and always keeping his mask.

The Octopus is assisted by his accomplice Silken Floss (Scarlet Johansson) and a herd of easily disposable genetically engineered clones. The Spirit is helped by femme fatale Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) who was his sweet heart from his previous life.

The Spirit does not remember who he is and the truth will be revealed by his arch-nemesis the Octopus, but let us keep the suspense intact.

The message of the movie: Frank Miller makes really beautiful movies.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams

Ben Stiller is back with a sequel to his 2006 Box Office, “Night at the Museum“, which takes place in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this time.

For those of you who loved the first one, this movie is as good, if not better. This is a perfect movie to take your young children if you have any, as the ones around me kept on getting all excited. Or if not, you can bring your parents. This is a great family movie with lots of fun.

Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a Museum night guard who lives unbelievable adventures at night at the Museum, as the statues, human pieces and animals suddenly come to life.

In this sequel, Larry finds out that some of his nocturnal friends from the American Museum of Natural History are to be moved and stored in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.  Once there, they are attacked by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who is an ancient Great Pharaoh from Egypt.

They all battle for the “Tablet of Arkmenrah”, which can be used to open the gates of the underworld and unleash an army that could help Kahmunrah conquer the world.

Interesting characters abound. Kahmunrah hires Napoleon (Alain Chabat), Ivan the Terrible and Al Capone to help him open the Gate. On the other side, there is Abraham Lincoln,  Albert Einstein bobbleheads, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Attila the Hun and many more.

Last but not least, there is also Amelia Earhart, the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic, played by the beautiful Amy Adams. She rapidly falls in love with Larry.

This is a very fun comedy to watch. The dialogues are excellent, especially when the bad Pharaoh speaks. And the special effects make it look all too real. Sometimes the characters jump into a painting and the scene inside the painting becomes alive. Or in the scene in the National Air and Space Museum, Amelia flies an old double wing plane through the entire Museum. Fortunately, the capuchin monkey opens the door at the last second.

The message of the movie: it is fun to be a kid.

Terminator Salvation

Moon Bloodgood

Moon Bloodgood

Terminator Salvation stars Christian Bale as John Connor, Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, Moon Bloodgood as Lt. Blair Williams and Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor.

If will not hide that sci-fi is my favorite genre, I think the top logo makes it rather clear. And if I had to make a top ten sci-fi movie list, then “The Terminator” (1984) would probably make it. It find both the special effects and story line to be top of their class, and this is what makes most of a sci-fi movie.

This iconic movie more than deserves sequels. Terminator 2: Judgment day was almost as good as the first one. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, still good but a bit weaker. Now this fourth release Terminator Salvation is an improvement from the third one.

The sad thing is that we lost Arnold Schwarzenegger as he quit acting (action actors do not age well), but he appears in a small cameo in the movie, and that is excellent.

The best side of Terminator Salvation that all sci-fi fans and non fans will love is the special effects. There are robots in all sizes and shapes. The fast motorbikes, the giant human-shaped robots, the spaceships all are amazing.

The storyline focuses on the origin of the T-800 model of Terminators, which are cyborg-types of robots with human appearance made famous in the original Terminator. Skynet, the robotic ennemy of the human race, needs real human tissues in order to create these cyborgs. This is why they must capture human beings and this is what John Connor is trying to uncover.

Marcus Wright is the first ever cyborg. He seems to have appeared from nowhere, thinking that he is human. He was a prisoner on death row in 2003, and this is now 2018.  He meets the beautiful Ltd. Blair Williams after a heated battle against the robots, and she falls for him. But as he walks on a magnetic mine revealing his true robotic nature, he is captured by John Connor’s group.

He manages to escape and the question is which side of his human and  cybernetic nature will prevail to decide the fate of the human race in its war against the robots.

Overall an excellent science fiction movie. It was directed by McG who is not a very prominent director, but did a great job.

The message of the movie: “I will be back.”

Angels & Demons

Ayelet Zurer

Ayelet Zurer

Angels & Demons is a sequel to “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).

Both movies are inspired by Dan Brown’s novels. Technically “Angels & Demons” was written first, but it is “The Da Vinci Code”that put Dan Brown on the map of ultra bestsellers with 81 million copies sold so far.

Angels & Demons stars Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Ewan McGregor (Patrick McKenna), Ayelet Zurer (Vittoria Vetra) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Cardinal Strauss). Ron Howard directed both movies.

If you have seen “The Da Vinci Code“, then you know what to expect.

A mystery story, with top quality direction and acting. Just as is often the case for a second release, it is a bit weaker then the first one. But this is nevertheless an excellent movie, and the IMDB of 6.4/10 is rather severe and unjustified.

I find both Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor to be outstanding actors and I like all of their movies (am I biased then?). Ron Howard has an impeccable reputation. Dan Brown has demonstrated an exceptional skill to captivate readers and audience alike. So how bad could the movie be?

If there is a weakness in the movie and the book, it is that The Da Vinci Code is a much more complicated mystery with many more historical references and ramifications than Angels & Demons.

In both stories, Robert Langdon is a Harvard symbologist with the mission to solve a mystery involving the foundations of both Christianity and the Vatican itself. This encompasses finding the meaning of intricate symbolic clues that only someone with as profound a knowledge of the history of the Catholic Church as Robert Langdon can decipher.

In Angels & Demons”, a secret religious sect called the Illuminati is threatening to destroy the Vatican with a anti-matter nuclear device. Just as the Pope died and the Cardinals are gathered in Conclave to choose his successor.

The Illumanti was (or is still?) a sect promoting the discoveries of Science but the Vatican tried to exterminate its members  400 years ago. They had to stay underground all these years but they are now coming for their revenge, using Science to destroy the Vatican.

For those of you who like mysteries, history, beautiful pictures of Rome and the Vatican, you will not be disappointed.

The message of the movie: Visit Europe.

Two Days in Paris

Pacific Design Center

Julie Delpy

Yesterday, I rented “Two Days in Paris” from Netflix.

This is a 2007 film written, directed, produced and starring Julie Delpy. Even her parents in the movie are her real parents, and her boyfriend is her real ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg. It is an understatement that Julie impregnates the movie.

Even though this movie was well received including a nomination at the Cesar Awards, France, it only grossed around $14 million worldwide. The IMDB rating is a low 6.9/10.

Frankly, this movie is not for the general public.

OK, let us start with the story line. A young couple living in New York, she is French, he is American, visits Venice. On their way back by train from their ill-fated vacation, they spend two days in Paris in Marion’s (Julie Delpy) parent’s place. Jack (Adam Goldberg) discovers Paris as well as Marion’s parents and old friends, including many past lovers.

Culturally the interesting aspect of this movie is that the dialogues are half French (with English subtitles), half American English. The movie attempts to emphasize some of the cultural  differences between France and the United States, and succeeds to some degree. The dialogues in both tongues are of excellent quality.

For those who likes images from the City of Light, it is always nice to get reminiscences of Paris.

One of the nicest aspect of “Two days in Paris” is that it feels like two days in the life of real people, and not the fabricated adventures of some super-heroes speaking in strong short messages as is often seen nowadays. So it does not feel like a big production Hollywood type movie and it is refreshing.

The main theme of the dialogues is the constant arguing  going on in this couple. I do not remember any conversation where they agreed. It fact it reminded me of my wife and myself, so there must be some authenticity to achieve that. Not all couples are like that, in constant debate about all little and big things in life, but for the sad afflicted ones, they will recognize themselves.

Another theme that is not seen much in American movies but more so in European and French ones, is a heavy dosage of sexual allusions in the dialogues. In a party, a man starts a discussion with Jack with a reference to the way women shave their pubis in a small rectangular shape, nicknamed “ticket de metro”, i.e. subway ticket. And he says how this turns him off completely.

In another scene, Marion’s mother narrates her sexual adventures in the sixties. And it goes on and on. Her father in particular speaks in a disgusting way almost all the time.

It seems that Marion is still in contact with a myriad of ex-lovers. This adds to the sexual images and the tensions in the couple, making Jack feel even more estranged from his fiancee. This leads them to the question of knowing if they reached the love of their life or not.

There is a good dose of humor in “Two Days in Paris“. I loved all the scenes in taxis, where each time the driver demonstrated a typically French type of behavior.

The message of the movie: if you are in a couple, try to be nice to the other half.

Taken

a beautiful young actress

Famke Janssen

Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen star in “Taken“.

The movie has done very well in the box office, grossing $144 million domestically 4 months after release. The IMDB rating is 8.0/10, which is fair and puts it in the good movie category.

“Taken” is an action/thriller telling the story of a father whose daughter is kidnapped by Albanian girl traffickers.

Unfortunately for the traffickers, Liam Neeson aka Brian Mills is a retired CIA operatives from their Special Activities Division, called a “preventer”.

As you can imagine, the movie is action packed as it is going to take a lot of bullets, blood and wit for Liam to recover his daughter.

He must find her fast, very fast ,  as he is told that if he cannot locate her in the next 72 hours, she will have disapeared forever into the labyrinth of European prostitution.

The movie is centered on Liam Neeson’s quest for his daughter and it is unusual to see him play such a merciless hero, but his performance is excellent and he deserves A+. The beautiful Famke Janssen plays his ex-wife and mother of his daughter played by Maggie Grace. They certainly both do their part well, but the focus in on Liam Neeson and how he will be able to recover his daughter with nearly to clue to start with.

Yes, but he was a CIA operative, and he knows how to follow a track, however thin it can be. There is of lot of action and it somehow reminds me of “The Bourne Identity” series, which is my opinion is one of the best action/thriller of the past ten years. Without reaching this level, “Taken“will keep you riveted to the screen from start to end.

The character of Brian Mills is also very similar to Jack Bauer from the TV show “24“. But even more ruthless, as this is not just any mission, but a personal situation with his own daughter involved. And he takes NO prisoners.

Most of the movie takes place in Paris. If you like the French Capital, you may recognize some streets or neighborhoods.  The final scene takes place on a boat crusing the river Seine at night. Beautiful scenery of the noctural Seine quais. and bridges.

Pierre Morel who is a new director did an excellent job of directing the movie and you will never get bored while watching. Luc Besson produced and co-wrote the script, which explains the overall qualit and interest found in “Taken“.

The message of the movie: (except the obvious “Do not mess with a retired field CIA operative”): Prostitution and girl trafficking is a SERIOUS problem, not just in Europe, but worldwide.