The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: the production values in the second film as they were before (the consistency, result of the effort to treat the production as one throughout the whole series, pays out), but something else needs to be mentioned: the locations chosen are stunning. The pace on this film suffers a bit, partially because its condition of being a bridge between the beginning and the end of the overarching story; also, the extended cut has many lulls that enrich the world but slow the experience. Deserving a special note is how well executed was the character of Gollum: both the special effects and the voice acting by Andy Serkis are fantastic, and the character the strongest presence in the film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: film adaptations of stories from another media are tricky; by one hand, the story and characters are laid down already; by the other hand, they necessarily will clash with pre-existing mind’s eye images of the material. The task gets further complicated when the original material has the scope and following of Tolkien’s writing, and Peter Jackson’s choices will be different from most others’. Costume design, set decoration, make-up and visual effects are all up to that monumental task; the level of detail in all of them is incredible. The story (particularly in the extended cut) deals with a great amount of exposition; that’s how the story is laid down. It does, nevertheless, move along well, mixing well quiet moments between characters and action sequences; however, it needs to be mentioned that appreciation of the original material is a big part of the opinion.
Blue Is the Warmest Color: this film tells its story simply, purely, without artifices; it feels as a slice-of-life, where the viewer witness the characters relate to each other, change and evolve. Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a great performance, doing so much with so little; the camera being so tight in the faces, for the most part, limits what instruments the actors can use, but she, as well as Léa Seydoux, makes the best use of those. The choice of Abdellatif Kechiche to shoot this film mostly in close-ups (essentially removing the use of editing to punctuate the emotions of a scene) takes some time to get used to, but it puts the film squarely in the shoulders of the story and cast, therefore working beautifully.
The Royal Tenenbaums: this film is touching because, in its essence, it reminds of pretty much every familial relationship. The details differ (when don’t they, particularly when the world comes from the sorrowful mind of Wes Anderson), but the story resonates nevertheless. Gene Hackman is fabulous, creating a great, lovable scoundrel. Visually, this is unmistakably a Wes Anderson’s film: rich, detailed frames, complex camera movements. Also worth mentioning is the great use of music done throughout the whole film.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: some sequels are content in repeating the story of the original work with minor variations (these generally make for less attractive experiences); others continue (in an organic way) and expand the story and the world where it takes place. This film (at least to those not knowledgeable about the source material) starts as one of the first type, but morphs into the second; the story got richer and more emotionally involving. The discomfort with the concept remains (somewhat lessened compared to the first one), but dystopian societies are so for a reason; in fact, the curiosity about the backstory of this world and its inhabitants is piqued. Jennifer Lawrence is again a great presence in the cast, but the cast (with welcome additions of older actors) is all strong. Special note must given to the inventive costume design. The pace is somewhat uneven, but it’s an entertaining film.
Philomena: as it usually happens with fact-based stories, this is at the same time unbelievable and sadly believable. The screenplay smartly mixes comedy with the drama, but is unable to sidestep its bias (warranted or not) or to hide its manipulative tendencies. The best reason to watch it is the masterful presence of Judi Dench, who created a great character, well-rounded, flawed and very touching; Steve Coogan is better than adequate in a role that doesn’t require all that much. One quick note about Alexandre Desplat’s score: for the most part, it seemed the music was there to raise the suspense, a quirky choice.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Richard Burton creates a subtle, great portrait in this cold, unromantic yet thrilling (in a fashion) view of the world of espionage. The serpentine plot is rather interesting and well put together. Oswald Morris’ camera work is dynamic and elegant; the lighting is curiously hard. It certainly was a creative decision with director Martin Ritt: the characters, for the most part, are scrutinized and shown in very unflattering ways by the story; the aesthetic choice complements that idea. Solid film.
Aningaaq: A relatively little know fact about Gravity is that a short, a companion piece of sorts, was written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, Alfonso Cuarón’s son and a co-writer of Gravity. It’s a lovely piece. Enjoy!
Nebraska: beautiful little film. Quite well-written, this drama extracts the funny moments not by making fun of its characters, but by respecting them and being good-natured about their flaws, much like the way the main character, well-played by Will Forte, is. That is the source of the deep humanity of its simple story of complex, but wonderful, familial relationships. Bruce Dern is simply marvelous in the role, played with extreme simplicity and effectiveness; the whole cast is, in fact, strong. The black-and-white cinematography is soothing and feels perfect for this.
About Time: at its best moments, this film has a great sweetness to it; the relationships of the family members are all heart-tugging. This is familiar territory for Richard Curtis, even if this film is lighter on comedy than most of his fare; the cast is well-chosen and well-tuned. However, at its worst moments, it becomes preachy and (clearly) manipulative; worse than that, it does so inelegantly, abusing voice-overs instead of trusting the cast with a scene. Nevertheless, it’s a cute, touching story.