Sunday, March 09, 2014

"The Lego Movie" (2014) - Movie Review

How many times the formula of “The Lego Movie” has been made, remade and re-remade? An idea as Christopher Nolan in “Inception” said is like a virus and then flourishes into the minds of its resident and occupies the psyche till it is a reality. Such is the formula in the Hollywood world. Then again, it reincarnates into an imaginative, creative but most importantly an original presentation. That has happened in this universe of Legos by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The obsession and the fanciness of these pieces have not been personally enjoyed by this reviewer. I do not have a reference point on the intricacies of these pieces that are jointed into becoming the idea that sparks into a young mind. What I know is the buddy of mine in his late thirties who has three kids still is fascinated and buries himself in these. The age on the boxes is “suggested” as a character says. The toy my neighbour wanted to gift my six year old nephew was a small box of Lego set. The prevalence of it has surpassed generations and can only seem to propagate into the digital generation. The movie on the other hand has to stand the test of time given its pop culture references. It would become the nostalgia of this generation and they can relate to it in a fashion the next generation would not but still be enjoyed in the same fashion.

In an animation film like this, the voices does make an impact and gives a sense of inner giggle on these actors being ridiculous. As they are being ridiculous, their passion for fun and going out of the typecasts they have become emanates positively. That form of laughing at yourself and your works provides the surprise entertainment. Take Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius and how his majestic voice lends into something to believe in that character without any justification but then suddenly flips up in to being super silly? How about Liam Neeson, the actor who is sadly being typecast but effective in the genre of action thriller? You can believe him in the Bad Cop character but how he excels in voicing the Good Cop split personality? Then comes Will Ferrell as Lord Business fixating himself on the supposed “evil empire” his character fixates on? All these actors lend more than voices and takes the persona of the roles they have played and being associated with to provide the entertainment the parents will get when they bring their kids to this awesome film.

Chris Pratt has grown on me through the TV Series “Parks and Recreations” especially after he did odd supporting roles in “Moneyball” and “Zero Dark Thirty” which are quite unlike the personality he portrays in the TV Show. Here he is the central character Emmet, the day to day ordinary man with no family or friends. Lord/Miller team are no run of the mill directors to detail on the loneliness of this man and gets the act going instantly. The meet up with the cute girl Wyldstyle voiced by Elizabeth Banks followed by some serious Lego action kick start this film into adventure.

While Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell lay the foundation on the expectation, the real winner comes through Will Arnett’s Batman. As much as Christopher Nolan along with Christian Bale has thumped the success into the best trilogy of superheroes, the mocking of the Batman’s voice and Arnett’s natural voice matching it is absolutely hilarious. The references that accompanies that would please anyone who liked and disliked those films.

The only qualm I would have against this effective and entertaining film that has begun the 2014 on the right note is the initial action sequences that destructs in this world. It took sometime for this reviewer to follow the action initially but once it settles in, the ride is exactly how the praises have been by audiences and critics alike.

“The Lego Movie” hits every predictability of the plot. It has the ordinary hero, out of the league girl for the hero, the mentor that provides the wisdom and the supporting characters that are there to ridicule and then follow the hero (Remember “Kung Fu Panda”?). Yet as the movie I mentioned it resonates, it uses the world as the background and tells a story that comes off as the novel presentation. When you get to the see “Abyss” and the “Man Upstairs”, you truly are witnessing the precise usage of this universe. It goes further beyond it and gives a true emotional moment of fatherly bond and the generations these pieces have navigated and will be navigating. Unaware of the Lego world and all the elements that went along with it, I thoroughly immersed into that world, laughed out uncontrollably and slightly moved in the end as well. That is saying something and comes close to be compared to the animation successes of “Wall-E” and “Up”.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Her" (2013) - Movie Review

“Her” begins as a revolutionary new concept and it steers itself towards the eventual loss and pain. It does that with not alone pleasant cinematography rather an enriching experience which acts as film’s soothing subconscious. Then turns it around and evolves itself as its brilliant Artificial Intelligence OS 1. The relationship between the sweet and lonely man Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with his Operating System with Artificial Intelligence Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is doomed from the moment it germinates or is the logical gloom in me brings that?

Spike Jonze’s film is pure creativity and swims through planes of foundational human emotions. Beyond the superficiality and the connected world, having to love and being loved never have undergone groundbreaking metamorphosis over centuries. The forms have been different but in its grassroots, it has existed like the fossil remains it has left. The psychoanalysis of it have though has developed exponentially. The attempt to understand the irrationality in an emotion has resulted only in an aura of confusion. How about that for contradiction and oxymoron? Such is that this thing called love that we are mesmerized, behave as an adorable juvenile and overwhelmed by that hair rising stints of emotions. The idea that someone finds us desirable, attractive and as a person with a personality but incomparable to those traits is that one is capable of being loved. Spike Jonze encapsulates that idea and makes it an experience without the physicality. It is a long distance relationship that has no future of ever encountering the reality. Will be still be content with that idea of love? Does it suffice to feel that idea alone without the touch, hug and more than that?

Theodore works as a write in an LA company. He writes personal letters to people who cannot express themselves, basically a personal Hallmark. The opening shot of the film is him dictating his computer that writes a letter for a woman wishing her husband 50 year anniversary. The film begins with an irony of how someone who has been with 50 years of time with love of her life still need a proper annunciator.

Theodore is going through divorce and has cornered into a ball of deep sorrow. His friends and building mates Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher) are trying to find a new beginning for him. As he walks around moping drenched and soaked in his sorrow, he sees the ad for OS 1 which reminds on the reality of the virtual world that is clouding the soul of this planet. It installs and comes as the sexiest voice of Scarlett Johansson. Calls herself Samantha and connects instantaneously with Theodore. While Theodore is blown away by this technology, he has also embedded as every others in the society with an earpiece and guided mechanical voice. A voice with emotional gravity still throws him off but quickly that sinks and the habitualness nature of the modern human takes over impulsively.

I could not erase the face of Scarlett Johansson when I was hearing Samantha. I wish Jonze had used someone whom we did not know to truly see this new AI conscious being. Yet he succeeds in making the personality Theodore begins to fall for with the ease that confuses ourselves in the way we feel about her. She is witty, funny, a spectacular listener and of course super intelligent to organize Theodore’s mailboxes and files. Samantha sees the world through Theodore and Theodore is excited to show someone this world that is so novel and exciting to that person. She understands the theory of this life beyond any human in this planet but to see it and absorb it as an evolving conscious being as a baby is truly overwhelming. With such a high intelligence, the data is easy to process but to process what she begins to feel is “Her”.

Spike Jonze’s film is a statement, a discussion, a profound self aware analysis of human mind but most of all truly digs in to the soul of the human being. Joaquin Phoenix carries this film appearing almost on every frame and makes Theodore not a regular stereotypical introvert. He is sweet, nice and emotionally vulnerable but never fears to explore that vulnerability. He goes with the flow despite the logical demise of this relationship. Every moment we begin to think where his character is going to go, he sometimes does and sometimes does not but definitely makes it organic than a manipulative device most films handle these characters.

The beautiful thing about “Her” is how like its characters, it stumbles, learns, goes through familiar routes and takes unknown paths with a balance. It shows to say that despite these animal instincts and spontaneous emotional outbursts that leads to loss and hurt, the thriving need to attain that state of mind of love both alone and with another human being makes the film a living being. It reaches out the screen with flesh and blood. It caresses and takes our hand and makes us to feel its heart pumping absolute emotions with colourful creative presentation.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Nebraska" (2013) - Movie Review

I remember the description of a black and white photograph by my brother. It spurred after he saw portrait picture taken by either his friend or someone he appreciated. Though I did not see it, my brother painted that with the amazement he got out of the effect it had on him. It was a picture of an old man. While the details of the description has vanished, the residue of it is that he was astonished by the fact of how clear the colour contrast brought out the stubble on that old man. That detail has been in my head forever. I could never forget that image as it quantifies something nostalgic and poetic. The five o’clock shade while is an appealing attractiveness on men, it has a hidden sadness that is out there in the open. I liked that and in “Nebraska”, director Alexander Payne with his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brought it out through the lead actor Bruce Dern.

Payne’s penchant for chronicling the mind of a middle aged to old men continues in “Nebraska”. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a man at the end of his life is on a quest to claim his million dollar prize. You know those mails, the scam mail that provides a shady yet flamboyant certificate with your name imprinted on it. When I first received it back in the grad school days, I was taken aback for split second but immediately came to my senses. That half a second impulse for a young man’s mind is evident on the belief of an old man out of his times to trust that. But the times have changed and people have learned. Woody on the other hand is fixed on his mind to collect it.

His son David Grant (Will Forte) is sympathetic towards the old man. His brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) not so much as both of them had to live through the drunken life of Woody. Her mother is Kate Grant (June Squibb) has long past the point in their marriage to filter her thoughts. She cannot take Woody taking off of the house walk towards Lincoln, Nebraska from their town Billings, Montana. About 900 miles. Soon enough David humours the old man’s intention and begins to drive him. Dave needs a break from the breakup from his girlfriend. He is pondering the life he wants to set forth. He has lived with her for 2 years and she is questioning on the next step.

Woody does not make a good impression on us as he is meandering in his mind into nothing while sparsely communicating and of course stubborn enough to go on to claim his scam prize. Yet not stubborn enough to overrule his wife Kate when she pisses all over his family, or may be he thinks the same. The journey takes them back to his hometown Hawthone, Nebraska. Woody and his extended family are gathered around and the silence in the room is unbelievable. The best comedy is the worst silence at an awkward situation. Here the awkward situation is not about an obscene act or an uncomfortable family secret rather the collection of this bunch in a room unable to have a conversation. Rather they choose to not have one as they are content in their happy little world. The men who once were drunks and obnoxious have gone mellow despite though the drinking continues while the women know the dependency these clueless weathered men have on them. Given that, it is good to be silent.

David generally gives in on the old man’s venture as he sees as his life turning out to be. He has seen his father being a drunk enough to have a resolution to let go off alcohol. He wants a sense of what his father’s life meant to the man himself. He asks the psychoanalytic questions the generation after Woody have begun to ask and ask more of it that has turned from sense to confusion including yours truly. David begins to learn about his dad through other means. The people that took advantage of him and the one that truly seemed to have loved him. We learn how nice of a guy and how naive of a man he was and is. When the family gets together, it would in one form or other remind the viewers of their own. Woody does not hide his nature of the trip and people begin to believe the prize. Soon enough they are ready to dwindle him citing how they took care of him during his drunken days. The truth though defines Woody.

The melancholy is not alone in the yearning music of Mark Orton but in the vein of the film. Bruce Dern’s existence is the film. He wanders off most of the time and is in a blank state of mind from his face expression but he carries Woody in simple motions and stares. His illogic actions borders on senility and desperation but mainly for expression. But the scene stealer is June Squibb as his wife who comes to Hawthorne and goes to the cemetery for paying respect. The respect Grant’s dead family gets single handedly gives her the best scene in terms of dark humour and little bit of truth. In addition to that is the landscape of the nothingness in this state that never really had an invitation for the people of other state and country. Here it cuddles with these two characters standing and staring at that, a reflection every now and then on what has or will become of their lives. When I saw Hawthorne, it reminded of every other little town I have biked through including the mom and pop stores. Somehow the best infrastructure throughout US has decimated the originality in city planning. Now it exists only through the farms, old house and barns that are desolated.

“What will you do with the million dollars?” asks David and Woody wants a pick up truck and a compressor. We see the film through David who as his dad is a nice guy but is self aware of the vultures when he sees one. He reevaluates through his dad to find an analogy or a sign for his but he begins to understand the man selflessly. This is a film that is everything about nostalgia. It is also about the men who do not find words to express themselves and choose random unrelated distant actions that no one can understand or read. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are the last people to expect on a screen and have a chemistry. They do begin in that unknown note in the beginning. When the film begins to unfold, flow and drives to the end we realize that they have developed something great. The greatness of David as a son to show his love by simply letting Woody be the father. “Nebraska” is one of the year’s best films.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013) - Movie Review

What drives the Coen brothers to make a feature like “Inside Llewyn Davis” or any of their venture? They are uncompromising in their productions similar to the titular character of this film. Something really focussed and strong comes out of their films even if the viewer does not really enjoy it. There is a selfless appreciation for it and  then leave the theatre little bit confused of this conflicting reaction. If not anyone, at least this reviewer does most of the times.

They place Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis in the winter of 1961 at New York. An aspiring folk singer, Llewyn is homeless and penniless. He has friends that have become sick of him and there are friends whom he can abuse and erupt one night and still go back for shelter the next day. Llewyn is at the junction in his life as he approaches the breaking point on waiting for that break. His musical partner has committed suicide and he denies to stand behind or join up with another singer. His solo album does not appear to go anywhere especially with his not so helpful record label producer. I am trying to explain it like a plot but there is not any. I believe if you are the person who enjoys folks music and have been in the New York in those times or fascinated by it, it might be such a pleasure to see this fictional struggling artist stepping up stairs, ringing up people, walking through a canal like corridors and evading cold in his cheap jacket. If you are not, then it becomes all of those sans the appreciation for the music it is based on.

The songs of course are essential for a film like this and as much as I was not able to involve and immerse in to the music, it adds the melodic mood. The mood that can be pictured in a dark empty room with just enough light to shine on the ragged poet reading sad verses. He is the performer and the audience. “Inside Llewyn Davis” while has other characters, most of them cannot stand the sight of Llewyn when he is not playing while others are moderately kind and downright indifferent. Llewyn in his artistic spirit and arrogance have run these people to that state though he has shed those and carries the ashes of the burned ego in him.

Apart from his money problems, he has personal issue when his friend Jim’s (Justin Timberlake) wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) says she is pregnant. She regrets sleeping with this man and thoroughly hates him. Llewyn takes it and walks along the side paths of this dreadful city that appears to have no mercy towards him. He has learned to take abuse and there is nothing worse apparently than walking distraught and hopeless. Yet he sings majestically with poetic soul.

While sympathy looms over this character, there is an underlying tone that he is also part of the reason for the situation. True talented people believe giving their entire life to that talent. They see the completeness of their life is through making a living out of it. That appears to be their accomplishment, at least that is how it begins. The reality though begs to differ in that opinion. I cannot relate to the fact that someone who not only is gifted and knows they are gifted have the desire to fulfill that gift by making a life out of it. But to achieve greatness you have to risk everything. As we are watching Llewyn Davis going through the tough life of his, his only peaceful and true moments are when he is singing and playing his guitar. Rest of the time, his struggle is marked up with some dubious characters. Two such are Roland Turner (John Goodman) and Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who are taking him to Chicago in exchange for gas money. Llewyn is heading to meet the man who can let him play in one of his club that might be his last straw. The man out there (F. Murray Abraham) sees something in Llewyn and auditions him. He plays a song and you see the man staring at him moved certainly but gives him straight on what is the future.

And then there is the cat that was “thrown into it” for a plot as per the Coen brothers. It does become a parallel commentary as Llewyn accidentally lets it out from his professor friend Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) that becomes his assumed responsibility to take care of it. While personally not a cat lover myself, I would be as Davis would be running around to make sure it has its life taken care of and let it off as a responsibility at the first sight. Yet that is the only connection he begins to have with a living soul. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the film that can be daringly made by directors like the Coen brothers and walk off satisfying their artistic spirit. Strangely Llewyn wants something like that but unlike Coen brothers do not get to be successful.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013) - Movie Review

The hedonism of “The Wolf of Wall Street” becomes overwhelming within ten minutes of the film. For me it did not feel like a cautionary tale nor was it the glorification of the lifestyle that was operated by Jordan Belfort. Jordan Belfort, who was a stockbroker in the late 80s who ran his own empire, minted money, spent it on things that can be only seen to be believed. He snorts cocaine, pops pills, drinks gallons of alcohol, engages in consistent sexual encounters and combines all of it together, puts them in jar, shakes it up and drinks it up for breakfast. Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the sex and drug marathon in close and explicit detail by this man when he looted, cheated, robbed the people’s money with no regrets and smoked it out in thin air for the pleasure that knew no bounds.

There have been notable enough films and the real life debacle of Wall Street that has explained us the nature of this crooked business. This Wall Street world is run by people mainly spitting testosterone as they speak and that includes women as well. The crimes that goes unpunished and the day to day working class and middle class people suffering in their hands has become a trend. There are no blood in the hands directly on these suited and well dressed money mongers. They simply are smarter than the people they deceive to steal the money and make it their own. This has been done stylishly in “The Wall Street” and with flair and reality in the less known but highly effective “Boiler Room”. “The Wolf of Wall Street” does not go for moral lesson. It knows people are educated by it and goes on into the life that created out of it.

Jordan Belfort as the young man with ambition and drive wants to be a millionaire. That is the initial goal and that is mentioned once or twice earlier in the movie. After that there are no goals or ambitions. With the proper words of wisdom by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) his first boss in the Wall Street, he shoots for the stars while taking drugs, masturbating and having sex. His second man is Donny played by Jonah Hill is weird enough for his own good to question how Belfort drives a Jaguar and lives in the same building as him. As Jordan explains his last month’s earning of 72K, the choice seems obvious for Donny. “Everybody wants to be rich” says Jordan when he hires his friend and who does not like money? How much and how one manages defines them but that is the driving idea for his sleazy success.

The movie becomes the comedy it intends to be. And to be entertained by it, the victims are not shown. I believe even the film subconsciously or consciously portrays the attitude of the stockbroker who robs in the day through the telephone. For them, the other end of the line is a challenge to make the poor person a chump. It becomes a power game and the satisfaction of deceiving them makes them something better. Written by Terence Winter who has adapted it from the book of same name by Jordan Belfort, it is a display of depravity, debauchery and revelries our simple minds cannot even fathom.

Jordan comes as a god to the employees of his firm. He motivates them with pure passion and spits through every word as he wants them to know the energy spent on saying those marks the importance of it. The brunette middle class wife (Cristin Milioti) he came along to New York has been replaced by blonde bomb shell Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). If there is one better thing Jordan Belfort can do other than selling penny stocks and making money then that would be spending money. Now, one would not characterize them as the right thing to spend money but he spends it like there will be no tomorrow and there is no limit.

Leonardo DiCaprio surrenders to this character. He appears to have loaned his body, mind, spirit and soul to go into this universe of sex, drugs and other things that would be banned in Earth and remaining planets. As the film begins to show the rise of his empire, DiCaprio is DiCaprio and the show has been played many times before. When the life he begins to lead become limitless in resource and constraints, that is the point he transforms to this person who has absolute no inhibitions whatsoever. He commits  to the film and this role beyond belief. Along with Jonah Hill who is becoming a terrific supporting actor, the scene where he is drugged beyond the depth of the blackhole and has to get home which is a mile away in his Ferrari is the part that would be talked about for several decades to come.

What does Martin Scorsese intended out of this film? While there are scenarios that are in the shoulders of a director to be responsible in guiding his audience the just way, there are directors who treat their audience as adults to see the film outside of the screen. The film acts as an entertainer and it entertains for sure. The victims of the scam Jordan ran might not be entertained as the initial sequences wherein he sells the penny stock using the script he has taught his newly hired talent humiliates the victim. The film’s last act which is where the law comes to collect its due is even ridiculed on the extent of the punishment not fitting on the extensiveness of the crime. This is the modern day “Scarface” without guns. There is no tragedy and there is no part in the film where Scorsese makes you feel sympathetic towards this man. He merely observes and depicts what we as people are capable when given the resources are endless and how the society and the world aids it for any price.

As much as I admired, enjoyed and appreciated the film, there is a void in it. Maybe I was expecting more explanation on the reasons behind Belfort’s motivation to this pleasure and chaos. There are numerous characters in this film that are not mentioned in this review which carry so much credit for the job. There are crucial key scenes which is a true pleasure to watch on the screenplay and the spell of the actors are upon us. One such is Kyle Chandler’s Agent Patrick Denham being invited into the yacht of Jordan. The scene is laid out in fashion that we are wondering whether Agent Patrick will be bought or not by Jordan. Then there is the tension of whether Jordan is going to act stupid and give in unnecessary information to implicate. In between is the comedy that is buttered tastefully. In this amalgamation comes Martin Scorsese’s able hand to guide this film that shows the abysmal world of morality and human capability in pushing the envelope on encompassing themselves in the seas of pleasure without guilt and remorse. 

"American Hustle" (2013) - Movie Review

The opening scene of “American Hustle” goes for the jugular to stun the viewers to say something blunt despite the stupidity of the character’s desperate attempt to hide his loss of hair. That is to not entirely judge the characters impulsively. Well, they are what they appear to be but there is an iota of goodness in some of them. The man in the opening scene is Christian Bale as Irving Rosefield, a con artist trying the worst attempt to hide his baldness. From there it goes to Bradley Cooper’s FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, another desperate man with a bad hairdo. In between them is the dazzling Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser. If you think that this David O. Russell’s venture draws its circle of a story from purely these three as its center, then the performance surprises will keep you entertained more than you could expect.

On the surface and to certain inches below “American Hustle” is a con film but the niche of it is the balance of actors in their performances. The star power in each scene dismantles into the souls of these characters. There is never a second you begin to ponder the gravity each actors carry that are butting heads. The sense of the story encapsulates the viewers and the essence of the performances are sunk in as the belief of each of the actors in their roles with unadulterated confidence. It makes the movie not alone a fun ride but to appreciate the art of acting.

The late 70s and early 80s backdrop is not a prop rather a statement. The flashy fashion sense is over the top to put it mildly. It is almost a kind warning to the people who arrive at Irving and Sydney’s loan scam. If you are desperate to trust these people, then you cannot be more doomed than the 5000$ that will be lost with the hopes of getting a loan. Irving who is playing way beyond his league starting from being the lover of the stunning Sydney who poses as the UK high class lady with thorough connections, becomes the only best intentioned person. Christian Bale of course has made it his MO to lose and gain pounds for his role but out here he gains pounds but precisely putting a paunch. Then tops it off by donning a hairdo that makes Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” turn back. Bale is the person whom we can see as enjoying the roles he takes upon. There is a clear evidence when he takes up a part. Even the saddest of his characters have the tinge of the Bale’s happiness emanating in subtle senses. Here the moments Irving is at peace are short lived and the empathy we begin to create for this character tells the conviction of Bale’s performance.

Yet, the film is robbed beyond Christian Bale’s hardworks along with Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Reven by the young Jennifer Lawrence. She is the gorgeous but wonderfully annoying Rosalyn. She is married to Irving though the love has long gone and the manipulation is sky high through her son. The son Irving graciously adopted and loves. Irving wants to leave her but cares deeply for the kid. Lawrence’s involvement in the film comes later as Irving begins to befriend the Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Rennder) of New Jersey and his wife Dolly (Elisabeth Hohm). Lawrence’s Rosalyn shows off as the beauty who is stupid but as she begins to play her emotions through actions, the deviousness gnaws through the brain of the viewers on this vicious woman. And while that is happening, you begin to laugh on this carefully balanced act of innocence and wickedness. Her Rosalyn can get away with anything and Lawrence just scares the heck out of everyone and then makes us laugh out loud simultaneously.

Amy Adams has been stepping up several cornerstone roles right from her early days unique performance in the indie flick “Junebug”. Her Sydney is as complicated as Rosalyn but her drive is by having a place for her identity. Irving provides that and she falls for him. She is thoroughly disgruntled by the fact that the man would never leave Rosalyn and the kid for her. She becomes to play against him when they get entrapped by Agent Richie DiMaso. Sydney and Richie have a thing which is a thing that is confusing as hell to call it as a thing. Bradley Cooper has been like Tom Cruise for me which is that the man tries hard, real hard but he needs less effort than Cruise to bring out his differentiation in his roles. He was enjoyable and convincing in David O. Russell’s “The Silver Linings Playbook” and here he makes the clueless but driven DiMaso both to be made fun of and have a soft corner. We laugh at him, enjoy his celebration and sympathetic on his cluelessness in finding love.

Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K were the surprise performances for this reviewer. While Renner has proven his capability in “The Hurt Locker”, he has only followed it up with action based roles. Here as the Italian origin Mayor of New Jersey, he digs in and stays in the man. When his character says he cares for his people, we believe him as a man of his words than a politician. Louis C.K is the favourite comedian of yours truly and when I saw him as the boss of Richie DiMaso, I thought it would be a small role but it develops into something seriously funny in non-Louis way and then adds a layer to their dynamics despite how bad it is.

In all this is director David O. Russell who co-wrote this with Eric Warren Singer handling the power house of actors. Without giving away much, there is a scene with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and a cameo appearance in one room and I was thinking how easily I forgot the stars behind them and looked out for the tense moment it created. Therein lies the skill of the director who composed this feature with the heaviest ensemble cast and make us not realize a moment of their star presence. “American Hustle” in its entirety is not a con film rather a performance film and it shines through every minute of it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

"The Counselor" (2013) - Movie Review

Cormac McCarthy’s first original film screenplay and directed by Ridley Scott is a broken poetry and that is not a compliment. This is not a film shying away from its self awareness of its pretentious nature but it does not compensate it with signs of moderate intelligence and class which shows its head barely. The film is a desperate narration by its characters in one of the most uneven layers performed by overabundantly capable actors. It does not know whether it is a play from ancient literature or is the product of the elements from the current form of film making. Either way it fails. It gives a sense of watching lizard’s tail being cut off as it slithers and wallows into motionless being. It evokes a queasy feeling but that does not mean it strikes a nerve.

Pairing the masculine and stunning Michael Fassbender with the voluptuous sex goddess Penelope Cruz could be the iconic starting for a promising film but the feeling is short lived. It is not that they speak cryptically before the Counselor engages in pleasing his lover but it is the existence of such a discussion in a completely miscalculated scene. This marks the aberrant tone which reverberates through the rest of the film. The Counselor is presented as a confident man from the way he clothes, the place he lives but importantly the people he knows. One such is the tanned and inconclusive character Reiner portrayed by Javier Bardem. Reiner is a drug lord with plethora of wealth and appears to be a good friend. He has the snaky and unforgivably sexy Cameron Diaz as his lover Malkina. Malkina is not the trouble as an eye candy draining your wealth rather she is the trouble that would slit your throat while having an orgasm.

The only best part of the film is the manner in which the characters are clothed and costumed up. Each of the character are marked by their presence. We know what they are even before they begin to talk and the problem is that McCarthy with Scott decided that would be the only criteria to develop them. The rest is all a platform for them to meander in the discussions of death, violence, women, actions, acceptance and consequences. For audiences who are unaware of the works of Cormac McCarthy and are not exposed to the films that originated from his book would be bewildered by this spectacle of talented performers spewing irrelevant lines to one another. For audiences who are familiar with his works would be disappointed. The evidence of great writing and scenes are often seen but never climaxes into a profound moment as it thinks it does.

The problems this film has no bounds. The disconnected scenes are endless while the symbolism are tied along with it never culminates its purpose due to the writing. It begins with the truck that navigates through several territories through several hands over blood and defecation (the drug truck poses as a sewage truck). I admire a film that bases the plot in subtlety and enhances the philosophical element through the characters which has accepted them for who they are and are a level above in being a wise person to the characters that are drawn to that world. “The Counselor” assumes that and is spectacularly confident. It is an essential quality to be successful but here it is a discordant exchange of dialogues between people who talk with a resounding assurance. It is baffling to witness that.

I think the disappointment is more for this reviewer due to the intent from these talents in all departments. The film has already half sold it to people like me wherein the project is self explanatory when you enter it. Hence the disappointment is little more than any other audience because I am already there in this with evidence of the big names that appreciate the art of film making and it makes you look like a fool for having that faith. Having scathingly said things about this piece, I do have to say that all the actors commit beyond their capability. I would have too if I read McCarthy and Scott as the architectures of this film. Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameroon Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt along with other known actors follow this pied piper for their demise of their characters literally.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Captain Phillips" (2013) - Movie Review

Paul Greengrass can shorten the span of a long, progressive and nasty violent situation into short span of time without compromising the gravity of it. He can simultaneously provide the real time action in the utmost gritty realism it would have happened. The Bourne series are an example of former while “United 93” would be the latter. In “Captain Phillips” he picks up the pieces from both and provides an intense thriller. In all sense, if you retell the story by every minute and second, one can say that for majority of the part nothing is happening other than waiting on the next move but the tension of each of those is heightened by the not so known supporting crew with the able lead of Tom Hanks in the titular role.

The authenticity of story telling drawn upon from the account of a person is always a challenge to be precise. It is hard to come clean and claim victories over whole account of it. One can only hope that it captures the essence of it and not completely falter. I think I feel obligated to take a stand on what the film’s accuracy states. I am sure people can throw darts at it till the end of day. Hence any film that takes a stab at the retelling of true story can never satiate everyone. What is important as a film, is that whether it achieves the purpose it started out to and in that “Captain Phillips” almost succeeds.

If it was any other director approaching this story as thriller it sets out to be, they would waste no time in formalities and directly focus on the action. There will be convenient dropping of the cheesy relationships within the crew and with the Captain followed by several campy sacrifices Hollywood generally makes a mockery of. This is Paul Greengrass and even when he provides a tiny slit of view towards this man’s personal life, it is the apt amount set to tell just enough for the purpose of the film. When we see Phillips driving to airport with his wife (Catherine Keener), there is a relationship very strongly established even in the most mundane talks. The usual worries of working away and the couple stepping into empty nest phase. Similar take is done on the Somali pirates as they are demanded to head back to sea by their warlords. In that is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and he is driven but unguided. He recruits people and has a bad rapport with his colleague. That does not play much but the analogy of these two primary characters in the film is intriguing.

One thing is quite certain about the film is that we see Captain Phillips on his complete entirety through this crisis. He is as any boss not a popular guy amongst crew. He enforces the regular drills and moves on as any other day. I liked the way screenplay maneuvered through that. Greengrass does not boast the enormity of this ship’s journey. The ship Alabama embarks from its port in Oman like any other day. No grand importance is given on the system’s enormity but a regular feat. We see the monstrosity of this being but are only impressed by that than no aid by the director to make it a grandeur start.

It is Tom Hanks Vs the new comer Barkhad Abdi through the course of the film. They consistently dance around the possibility of some kind of relationship beginning to formulate between their characters but always fall short of it as it would have in the real life. What I was little let down is some kind of backstory between the two by their own words which happens very minimally without having any solid moments to see the nature of survival between them. Muse is showed ruthless but also sympathetic. He is a mercenary but there is a layer more to him which does not come off fully. While it seem like a fair move to keep the film purely on the situation than anything else, we are left with a tiny void.

“Captain Phillips” is a pure adrenaline thrill and Tom Hanks shoulders the role as usual making it look easy. The best performance of him comes in after the fact of the chaos than during it. That tells what kind of a performance actor Hanks is and how easily he fools us into thinking that he plays himself in a way. The emotional punch line for the film does not happen till that moment and when it does it emotes the pure and unadulterated truth about this entire story. That is where Paul Greengrass differentiates with thumping confidence amongst the other directors of this genre. He knows when to take the emotional part of a character out of the film and put in its purest form when needed. “Captain Phillips” is not a complete winner but it is one of the better films out there.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Gravity" (2013) - Movie Review

Watching “Gravity” reminded “Moon” which as this film deals with a human in space all alone but more than that, it struck similar tone with another brilliant film “The Grey”.  The survivors of the plane crash in “The Grey” while are on Earth can very well be called in a different element of space which is unforgiving and unpredictable as much as in the space in “Gravity”. As the wandering debris in “Gravity”, the wolves in “The Grey” are determined to get the gang of Liam Neeson out of their territory. Joe Carnahan’s film and Alfonso Cuaron’s portray this obvious but unnoticeable tenacity we have on the hope in desperate situations.

“Gravity” in a piece of paper has the simplest story. It could have been the destructive porn in the hands of Rolland Emmerich (whom I do like in “Independence Day” and with some guilt in “2012”) or Michael Bay (not much so as Emmerich), but Cuaron polishes in a way that resonates beyond a thriller. The imminent danger is real and felt that creeps in flesh and bones in every suspended moment in the space. With a breakneck duration of 90 minutes, “Gravity” is the kind of film that satiates a hardcore movie goer and a regular entertainment seeking crowd alike. The pay off for both are the same but to carry that knack is a work of a master.

By now all of you have heard the glorious nature of this film that has single handedly launched out of nowhere and took over the crowd. Hence when I sat down in the IMAX 3D this movie was supposed to be seen, I was cautious and open to it, a rare state of mind for any movie going experience now a day with trailers and media splashes. Yet as Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, the Mission Specialist alongside George Clooney’s veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski go through the first hit by the debris, I was definitely drawn in. Not be quick to judge and I moved on with the skepticism as how long they will be able to sustain this for the rest of the film. Then comes the second close call for the characters for which I was mesmerized on the intensity and when the third instant happens, I was overwhelmed. Hardly you would come across a person who would not use the word “intense” to describe “Gravity”.

There are three quintessential things of same magnitude that makes “Gravity” from a much simpler film of an astronaut’s struggle to survive in to a much larger play of thematic references and visual enigma. They are (1) Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (2) Sandra Bullock’s perfect performance and (3) the director Alfonso Cuaron. It is not a shocker on the effectiveness of Emmanuel Lubezki as he is the sought out cinematographer for Terrence Malick and seen his works in well known (Cuaron’s “Children of Men”, “The Tree of Life”) and not so well known features (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”). There is not enough adjectives and accolades I can dictate out here for his work other than the simplest statement that he puts us in space.

Then it is Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone whom we get to know a little bit of her past and details in very short span of time. To understand her we need George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, a man who is nothing but a charmer which easily draws from Clooney himself. Who else would you have out there in the space struggling for survival than the reassuring, comforting, charming and comical Clooney? Yet it is Bullock who claws us in with her terrifying feeling to both survive and give up at the same time. Much as John Ottway in “The Grey”, Dr. Stone has lost a loved one and there is not much left in life other than the deadly silence and darkness offered in the space. That seems to be comforting than what Earth has provided and had to offer if she makes out of this. Bullock is key in keeping this film humanized and at every struggle, the possibility of her life ending is very much so there because her character is in deep sadness and is a waking struggle to breathe up the existence and move on.

And finally the Captain of this space adventure who had the visual future to make it beyond a regular feat of thrill sequences of weaved in predicaments provides the proof that a story that appears pedestrian in its genesis can grow up into something not alone awe inspiring thrills but intellectually sound in its presentation. There is very little time for us to be allowed on the state of the protagonist but with Bullock’s performance and cinematographic excellence, the motivations or the lack there of from Dr. Stone is resounding and crystal in us.

Possible Spoiler - The only qualm I have was that it would have been resoundingly poetic and apt to finish the film right at the moment after Dr. Stone launches the shuttle back to Earth. It is the similar kind of finish that made “The Grey” or “Inception” into a great film. The spirit of the film would  have sustained beyond a known result. This is the third film after “Lincoln” and “The Dark Knight Rises” wherein not knowing the end would have made it to a much more enjoyable experience but as those films, I would not put it down just because of this reviewer’s preference. “Gravity” is one of the best films I have seen this year.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

"Timecrimes" (Language - Spanish) (2007) - Movie Review

“Timecrimes” is the kind of film that gives hopes to young filmmakers and moviegoers like me that complex science fiction is not at the mercy of money draining CGI special effects (while Christopher Nolans’ “Inception” and The Wachowski Brothers’ “The Matrix” benefit greatly but then again the foundation is what drives those). Rather it is at the minds of intelligent film makers much like Nacho Vigalondo out here who reminded to go back and rewatch “Primer”. That film was dauntless in treating its audience to figure out the puzzle they put forth and behaves providing a sense of solving a crossword. Mind you that it will be annoying to not finish the crossword but the fun though is there in those squares. Flexing your mind is healthy in the current trend of mindless fodder of butchered formula in films that bears to have the life span of a fly.

This Spanish film begins with Hector (Karra Elejalde) settling in his new home with his wife (Candela Fernandez) when he ogles with his binocular on the country side from his backyard. He sees a naked woman laying possibly unconscious or even dead and his curiosity takes him through the woods. While getting there close to her he gets stabbed by a man with red cloth on his face and begins to runaway ending up in a remote building. The building looks like a lab facility and he hears a voice in a walkie-talkie which leads him to the Scientist played by director Nacho Vigalondo in another building and asks Hector to hide in a machine. In a flash he wakes up out of the machine and the Scientist is amused to see Hector as he has never met him or did he remember putting him in the first place. Time travel of the experimental device happens to have landed Hector several hours earlier on the same day. What now?

The above start takes time to settle in and the events therefore on begs to be dissected piece by piece on what could Hector do or doing to get out of this loop. He is in a time paradox and event after event we either think he is acting absurd or dumb even. Yet I would hold reservation till the film arrives at its conclusion. There are flaws and holes you would try to take out of and I bet you begin to predict the plot. While “Primer” let the viewers take in the technicality findings on its own and unfurl the plot, “Timecrimes” is more about the audience begin to piece the puzzle one after another on what Hector will do when he begins to recalibrate the past to make it alter to pave way to the destiny of the day that has dragged him into one long day.

Beyond entertaining us with thoughtful and convoluted timelines and possibilities, the film begins to explore the idea of fate, destiny and freewill. The curiosity of traveling time and space has far become the fatal plot device in failed blockbusters. There have been few successful ones including the impressive “Looper” that acknowledged the fact of duplicates existing and still have a resolution in its own way. When there is another life  departed by time and space gets transported, the clash with that new life in another time still has the survival instinct and the person in future in the present bears no existence. “Timecrimes” does not tangles itself in the possibilities for the world but purely for the story to exist and becomes true to its nature of presentation.

Actor Karra Elejalde who comes off as the middle aged unimpressive man gets his day played again and again. We see a clear travel of experience that has posed on him and we see the difference not alone in his injuries and bruises but in the way his last travel out from the machine is presented when he spits out the water he was drenched in and goes business as usual. He has been through enough for one day and as he lay helpless at the end in his backyard at night with sirens at distant, there is a sense of relief and what this travels have turned him are faced with dark truth.

While I consistently questioned the actions Hector made right from the moment he ventures upon the woods to fill his curiosity and what not, the film begins to soak through us slowly and offers the exercise it is going through. The screenplay again by Nacho Vigalondo is tight and the debate continues in the mind but in the box of the time within which the movie happens, it makes sense. The only way the time paradox can be ended is with the non-existence of the anomaly created by the time machine. Yet the survival instinct of that person in that present does not get altered by the travel. Hence all wrong things are bound to happen unless they meander in to place wherein they have no bearing to meet their original or duplicate. Nacho knows the fight in humans to survive and stick to the life they have created. It works in “Timecrimes”.

"The World's End" (2013) - Movie Review

In a summer that has not motivated this reviewer to not seek upon any of the blockbuster and the one that was sought barely crossed the line of mediocre, “The World’s End” would have to be the first movie in a long time to be greatly expected for. As the third installment in the Cornetto trilogy (which not many people are aware including yours truly till the recent past), “The World’s End” is not at par with the love I have for “Hot Fuzz” and the surprising rise of talent in “Shaun of the Dead” is not because of complacent direction or haphazard writing. As how I lost interest in “Shaun of the Dead” in the third act when it becomes the full on zombie horror film it was paying homage to, “The World’s End” intentionally bodes of predictability in the first act.  I understood why it was done in the former and I do in the latter. Nevertheless it is funny to see Simon Pegg assembled along with his buddy Nick Frost and the added talents of Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine.

Just hearing the premise sounds fun. A man who clearly has not outgrown his high school days gathering his buddies from those great days wants to venture the Golden Mile (and yes, the capitals are intentional) for the run of 12 pubs and 12 pints of great ales. How magical the sound of it rings in any beer aficionados and alcoholics? This man is Gary King, dressed too well for a homeless person and too terrible for an average guy, we see him recite that night of serious drinking, mischief and debauchery only to not finish the Golden Mile in its entirety in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Director Edgar Wright gets right to the business because as Gary he cannot wait for this epic night to begin and successfully end.

This is where the predictability is, well, too predictable. With Gary’s penchant for influencing his friends, he even manages his best buddy who has quit drinking due to an unspeakable accident with Gary involved of course to partake as well. That is Nick Frost’s Andy. Along with Andy are Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine). They go back to their small quaint village (similar to “Hot Fuzz”) Newton Haven. Nothing phases Gary other than to finish this thing as though this is his only destiny and achievement.

“The World’s End” is signature Edgar Wright film with fast cut edits with amplifying the simplest actions. The pour of the ale in to the glass or the start of the car are elevated and our sensory are heightened as though there are great things in those movements. That split second joy and the smile to follow for the nature in which he used those exemplifies that a talented man is in action. The film begins to entangle into something entirely different which is the world is taken over by body snatching alien robots. There is no secrecy in that as Gary begins his first stunt of several with these humanoids. From that moment onwards, the film races to the end as Gary himself would like to.

As much as this would become a film wherein the filmmakers would enjoy involving copious amount of drinking, the care for the presentation is subtly evident. The film progresses and in any other film there is a cut from the time one begins to drink and the end wherein they are drunk or lightly buzzed. “The World’s End” might be the first film to take us through the progress of being sober to being drunk. The story itself takes that turn of things falling out of sky and things seem to be acceptable, doable and more importantly thoroughly enjoyable. Not even the great threat of beings from another planet taking over their small little town and the entire world phases them. They are panicked and unaware but as Gary keeps hurrying through pub after pub looking for one pint after another, the friends begin to give into the elated state these liquids put them through.

The stunt choreography is one to be mentioned which is interesting to see it handled with great clarity and entertainment for a comedy. There are no shaky cameras and what a welcome relief that is. The actors participating in those do it with so much conviction that we begin to believe these average folks kicking the butt of the alien robots with great technique, strength and agility. As the apocalypse ends and I was in wonderment of how they could finish it, the brilliant conversation with the supposed alien voice and Gary King is the best thing I have ever witnessed for a climax in a long time. It is witty, truthful and downright Edgar Wright. I would be in blunder for not mentioning the performance of Simon Pegg who plays Gary King both with spite and sympathy but also truly appreciate his comedic timing.

I cannot help but to wonder whether all this pubs are going to get its real life existence and how many pub crawl this is going to give birth. I am sure I will be starting one crawl though I would be done with pub number four. Anyone could have made a film about drinking heavily and great partying. For that fact, many have and few have succeeded. The brilliance in Wright is that he makes it a personal experience though drawing from the common foundation everyone have in their high school days or college days in my case. When we see “The World’s End”, we understand Gary’s motivation in a weird way. We remember those times of revelries when things like that are the things to live for. As adulthood phases through, one forgets those revelries in the name of maturity and rightfully so but time and again, you need that kick and the reminder on why we are here which is enjoy this existence. Yet Wright does not alone capitalize on that feeling but take it to spoof/homage he does with genres and here he once again brings those with timed perfection. Along with that, the running jokes throughout the film, the cameos and several other fun things I have not mentioned out here makes “The World’s End” one of the better summer films I have seen this year.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Before Midnight" (2013) - Movie Review

19 years after their first meet up, the situation Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are in is an eventuality. When I watched “Before Sunrise”, I was engulfed by the nature of romance presented in it. Richard Linklater with his actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy brought a dignity to the romance that quite often becomes a manipulative equipment in the serial rom-com directors. There was a realism shaded with the fantasy of such a possibility of a perfect romance.

Ignoring the realist in me, “Before Sunrise” is a sincere presentation of love at its genesis between two people. Did they have things in common? Obviously not but their nature to bounce off each other in a never ending conversation that blossoms better by the minute is a hope for the romantics. Then came “Before Sunset”, more potent with the material and more mature as the characters themselves, it brought a sense of great reality. It showed on the cusp of technology how Jesse and Celine should have exchanged numbers but 9 years have gone by only to lament on the lost love. Jesse unhappily married with a kid and the Celine in the constant find for true love end that film with a known end of a poetry. Here comes “Before Midnight”.

The film opens with Jesse sending his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off as they meander in the airport. Jesse tries to squeeze all his thoughts and emotions in those final moments to his son. In that moment, the deep guilt in him takes over from his son’s response. He comes out of the airport and drives with Celine and their twin daughters into the lands of Greece. If “Before Sunset” ended with a notion of happily ever after, “Before Midnight” is in the after part.

Jesse and Celine have become parents and are discussing how they are fumbling like every other parents. If their chemistry were electric in “Before Sunrise” and mature in “Before Sunset”, it is a combination of both in “Before Midnight”. Add a layer of marital nitpicking and craziness into it and we are in the series of films that takes relationship from its genesis to where it can lead to. Disaster, nourishment, quarrel, peace, sex and love. They discuss all those in their passionate naturalistic way, this time around with some friends. Jesse discusses his idea for next book with them and then at the dinner they share the stories, thoughts as its predecessors have carried. There are moments of pretentiousness and smugness in those but amongst them, it is the way but it really becomes something when Jesse and Celine discuss their trip over a fight. Those conversations becomes something else.

Hawke and Delpy have created true characters that has spanned almost two decades. Richard Linklater’s films are navigating through the time and the time that works on these people. It reminded me of two films. First was the documentary The Up Series wherein it meets up with bunch of people in real life every seven years to see where they are, what they have become and we compare their footage from the previous encounters. It is a video diary that shows the change in humans and how they morph or evolve into someone else but at the same time retain several of their core traits when they were seven years old. Hawke and Delpy bring those in these forty odd year old people who once were young and drenched in romance. The beauty is that they can bring those young ones back to reality when they scratch each other with words and what not.

The second film that came to my mind was Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” which showed the slow demise of a marriage over a night in a hotel room. Jesse and Celine have a similar night in this which takes a oddly close tone but the treatment is entirely different. As much as both films are so grounded on the behaviours of a couple that once were madly in love each other are hammered down by the realities of life, “Before Midnight” has these characters in much more subdued reality where these are no way close to the characters of Dean and Cindy in “Blue Valentine”. It just explains how different couple behave differently and how some survive those nights and some do not.

Late Roger Ebert consistently said this and I consistently mention this about films which is “movies do not change, people change”. When I watched “Before Sunrise”, I was in love with Celine. I see her now and I have different perspective of this woman. She is still drop dead gorgeous and infectiously honest and full of life but here she asks the tricky question “Would you have asked me to get down with you on the train with what I look now?” First of all, she is goddamn beautiful now and second of all, Jesse gives a typical guy response with the worst answer but there is no best answer either. I saw Celine for the first time being real because the questions, concerns and the struggles she deals with made her come out of the attraction and the only niceties I saw in her.  Jesse was still Jesse, may be because I am a man. I would love to see what a woman thinks of these films. May be she will shed some light on the shade I did not see in Jesse. May be she can be the girl I can ask to get down off the train with me to take a stroll in Vienna or in Paris or fight with me in Greece.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Defendor" (2005) - Movie Review

The attraction of nerds towards comic book and super heroes is direct correlation of how the fantasy world is a playground for being in control and do unrealistic actions. Like any other escapism, superheroes provide that realm and in “Kick-Ass” it came close for an ordinary person to suit up for misguided heroism with comic book splash on screen. “Defendor” was released half a decade before Matthew Vaughn’s film with rightly cast Woody Harrelson as the titular character.

Director Peter Stebbings said that none of the studios did not want to touch it while the actors and agents were all after it. Understandably so because the idea on paper would have been such a gold mine for an actor to sink deep and get concrete performance out of the troubled character of Arthur Poppington and his superhero Defendor. Arthur has problems, obviously. He had a bad childhood with a mother (Charlotte Sullivan) leaving him to his grandfather to take care. The film begins when Arthur as Defendor crosses paths with an undercover dirty cop Dooney (Elias Koteas) as he is ill treating a hooker Angel (Kat Dennings).

Arthur recites his story during a psychological evaluation to Dr. Parks (Sandra Oh). While he should have been apprehended for several times (most of them him ending up beaten to pulp), he is there for assaulting a nobody guy owning a dry cleaners. If you have half the sense of movie formula, this part is easily solvable. “Defendor” is driven to find the non-existent Captain Industry which he might have picked up from several of the non-popular comic books he shelters in the basement of the construction facility he works. He has great friends because Arthur is a good guy in heart. He is sweet to most of the people and one such is Paul Carter (Michael Kelly). Paul goes above and beyond in helping Arthur and the explanation we get at the end for his actions comes off haphazard and contrived.

“Defendor” exists in a half baked comic land. It has the cops, criminals and people who are real with problems that carries deadly consequences while the script treats it like a comic book without the elements of it. Stebbings attempts to draw parallel to the world we live in by plugging the comic book scenario of good versus evil. The evil empire of course exists and “Defendor” uses it while struggling to come in terms with the characters. What was Arthur doing before he met Angel? He is forty something adult and if he has been dealing with this vigilante character for all his life how come he managed to escape notice till now? Or if this is a recent trigger, why now?

Woody Harrelson is a capable and the right actor to provide the variations Arthur needs going from a naive and shy construction worker to a naive and more confidently sounding Defendor. The comedy in this story which is supposed to be dark ends as early as Defendor is caught by the cops at the start. Beyond that it is neither a sad and moving tale of a mentally affected man nor a full on mash up of superhero in real life. “Kick-Ass” took it to another level splashing blood and guts making it a R-rated comic book film which it was supposed to be. This earlier attempt on that suffers from identifying itself on where it wants to be.

Kat Dennings comes off as the damsel in distress while milking money for drugs from Arthur. Their relationship that develops into something meaningful are summated with nice background score and montage sequence. There in itself is the inability to create a relationship to convince us. Dennings beyond her efforts to present a character never convinces me as the druggie hooker. Here it is perfect on the work she puts out in Angel or Kat but there is an underlying problem in the way she carries herself that quite does not nail the character for me. Nevertheless she does her role dutifully.

Peter Stebbings film is neither terribly boring nor effortlessly dull but uneventful. The plot with a real drug lord Radovan Kristic (Alan C. Peterson) comes off more as an unnecessary distraction than an aid to the story. Harrelson’s presence with good supporting cast stumbles comfortably into predictable plot lines with an end to suck tears out of dry eyes. “Defendor” is absolutely a great material on paper or when you summate it with the premise and it does not fail but it does not succeed as well. It simply exists unresolved.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Shame" (2011) - Movie Review

The internal struggle in a human mind especially of men when provided with the director who precisely knows what he is handling dissects through an actor who precisely knows what he is being handed achieves excellence. Martin Scorsese knew when he handled Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Abel Ferrera knew when he handled Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and Werner Herzog knew when he handled Nicolas Cage in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”. Steve McQueen did it with Michael Fassbender in “Hunger” and he repeats it with the same actor in “Shame”, a character study that provides sadness as a state of mind.

Brandon Sullivan is the handsomest New Yorker any woman would not hesitate to smile and fall in his laps. His problem is the inability to connect with them. For a relationship to achieve its completeness, it cross overs the physicality and survives it and with Brandon that part is tainted with guilt. Not that any of us are spared of guilt when it comes to sex but Brandon’s goes beyond the moral guilt the norm of society has confined in open secrecy. Brandon is a sex addict.

How do you embrace a character like this? Michael Fassbender embodies this person with bare hands and wears the skin of this beautiful entity filled with regrets and melancholy. He is groomed not because he grooms himself but he is the kind of person who gets out of shower with sharp clothes, clean shaven and hair combed to perfection. Yet within that devastating confidence is the underlying sorrow and most importantly a shy man. He has made a place and status for himself in a company. He closes deals and is a regular compadre for his boss David (James Badge Dale). David tries too hard with woman because he knows it works on many. Brandon simply stands and notices. Beyond his natural charm and enigma, he appears to communicate what he can do to satisfy a woman sans words. It is a natural phenomenon to see him get a girl his boss tries to sleep.

Brandon is the man’s man which means all the men would beg to have his ease in getting women to bed. As much as he can woo a woman effortlessly, his needs or his addiction do not wait for the mating rituals. He pays for sex when he can and rest of the time he numbingly watches his laptop with moaning sounds. He masturbates in the middle of day in his office rest room. He is trapped and though it is hard for us men to get that, “Shame” is every bit painful and saddening of this man going through that motion of not being able to get a hold of things.

In this comes his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The chemistry both of this have speaks beyond words and emotions. It draws the history amongst these two which are nothing  but scars of painful memories. Sissy has a different kind of trouble. If Brandon is unable to find a simple connection with the opposite sex, Sissy is sucker for falling for every man she sleeps with. These two have an unspeakable past that are carried and performed with angst, love and tearing emotion by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

Brandon desperately tries to make a reach with his colleague Marianne (Nicole Beharie). They go on a date and the differences are imminent but the chemistry is evident. They have genuine conversation and he leaves the night without even kissing her but desiring for a second date. The very next day he tries to combine his addiction with connection.

Along with performances that are pure artistic excellence, Steve McQueen’s presentation is daringly beautiful. His first shot of Fassbender lying naked covered precisely his private parts might fool its audience only to be immediately presented the nature of material we will be dealt with. He treats nudity and sex as an essential part of the presentation wherein it carries a purpose in conveying the psychological and physiological presence a character or the scene has to say. In “Hunger”, he made art with feces on the wall in the most horrific prison and treated the material with a blunt honesty that can rip your skin apart. He brings the same to the polished and shiny city of New York. The glass windows showing copulation in open air as Brandon walks through wondering whether his actions can be looked less guilty. Or the gorgeous fellow passenger in a train that crosses her leg in such a way and smiles in a particularly suggestive fashion. McQueen sees the unseen and brings that out naked to our eyes.

McQueen fills the screen with shots that resonates mood of prolonging sadness and overflowing emotions. The jazz song by Mulligan’s Sissy is one such that echoes deep level of human psyche in the way she sings and the reaction she gets from Brandon. Before I began watching “Shame”, I had a predisposition that McQueen is going to treat sex as clinically as possible which he does but near the end when Brandon plunges into continuous orgy, he presents a person painfully satiating the inner itch and engulf himself in abysmal melancholy which is beyond something I would have ever expected. “Shame” takes the fundamental instinct of human emotion and makes us see it as an addiction which is hard to do wherein all men think is sex. He does that with a man who appears to have everything he needs but the emptiness he is left with every step of his action to quench his inner thirst is frighteningly awful.

Monday, May 06, 2013

"Iron Man 3" (2013) - Movie Review

After seeing what Shane Black can do with Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, it is a “duh” moment to see his name for “Iron Man 3”. Iron Man series are neither a hit nor a miss for me. It elevates just enough above mediocre to make it the summer blockbuster people would like to get a good deal for. Iron Man rides on Robert Downey Jr. who has effortlessly carried this franchise with his egomaniacal Tony Stark with crisp sarcasms and wit. He does not forgets to bring that out here.

Shane Black’s writing and directing brings the memories of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” though he is well known for Lethal Weapon which are faint in my memories. The film takes lot of inspiration from the style of “The Avengers” that did not hesitate to poke fun at its heroes and acknowledge the idiosyncrasies of them. With each of the Iron Man films, Stark improves his toys and makes it far more cooler and effective. I bought into it without qualms as the advancements we make in the simple things we see day to day are equivalent to what Tony goes. If a guy with that mind has time and money, it is nothing surprising to see him invent these machines that can do spectacular things with amazing ease and power.

Tony Stark is having an identity crisis. The encounter he had with the Aliens and the demigods in “The Avengers” are haunting. He cannot come to grasp the possibilities of these beings but more than that is his question of defining himself to the existence a.k.a mid life crisis. Now he had those in different fashion in previous films but here he has to go deeper and see what makes him who he is and how this armour has defined him as well. What is he without it? He does not get sleep and ends up advancing several prototypes in making it better and have more of it, just in case which comes quite handy in the end.

Before the first Iron Man and when Stark was a happy go lucky dude partying and picking up girls, he as any egocentric megalomaniac would do ignores a geeky scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that results in the sort of vengeance which is old school but how they arrive it is entertainingly novel. There is a new threat to US and it is Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Mandarin is obsessed with theatrics as he consistently transmits video threatening and intimating the next imminent attacks against the country. The reasoning is quite vague which is sufficiently convincing once we discover some twists. Mandarin wants to educate the Americans on humbling them. He does so by blowing stuff up with no evidence of any kind of device. Stark’s buddy and security fellow Happy Hogan (Job Favreau) follows up Killian’s accomplice to find it the hard way.

Shane Black fills the film with sharp humour through Downey Jr. While it was available in plenty in the previous two ventures, this one takes it on a good sense and extending it what Joss Whedon did. With the suit gone and dealing with his panic attack, it truly becomes a question of identifying himself as a person for Tony. There is never a dull moment and the real fun are these tiny characters which carry the sharp sense of humour only Downey Jr. had. The main fun in the film is the bond Tony creates with the kid Harley (Ty Simpkins) in Tennessee. He challenges Stark and bounces dialogues with him shoulder to shoulder and gets the win in the end. Their scenes are the most entertaining beyond the explosions and the crazy stunts.

The film’s effects and the stunts are choreographed with thought and care into it rather than overwhelm us with pure metal clanking. There are crucial clever decisions Stark makes that is more than an average super hero film would do. With Don Cheadle. Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce, “Iron Man 3” which centers specifically on the charms and comic timing of Robert Downey Jr. goes little further in becoming a complete film with them. Cheadle’s Colonel James Rhodes especially becomes a good punch line for Tony’s wits. Shane Black while does not take it to deeper sense does take it to territories that are done with serious nature which otherwise were left in the sidelines in previous films. The problems come off as real while Black keeps the good part of Iron Man series which are trademark one liners from Downey Jr. to its best. “Iron Man 3” is the perfect blockbuster film which rides slightly above the common fodder of super hero films but lays low below the greatness of The Batman Trilogy and gains the goodness of the fans to make it for what it is.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

"The Place Beyond the Pines" (2013) - Movie Review

Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” achieves success halfway in its duration and then over reaches for ambitious profundity that might have worked against an otherwise thematic portrait about the deep bond between fathers and their sons. Coming back after his most depressive and saddest film I have seen “Blue Valentine” this is a breath of fresh air taken for shift in the genre.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a man with penchant for tattoos that is self evident and has the dexterity in handling the motorcycles he rides. A stunt performer in state fairs, he is a wanderer. In one of his stops, he comes to learn that he is a father as a result of a fling a year back with Romina (Eva Mendes). His fatherly instincts for good or worse kicks in. He quits his job and becomes single minded in injecting himself to the lives of his son Jason and Romina. Gosling’s Luke resembles the unnamed Driver in “Drive” but Luke is more disturbed and short tempered than the calm and calculated Zen master in Nicolas Wending Refn’s film.

Romina has made a life with another man and she was still with him from what we could imply when she was with Luke. Her impulses are undefined which the film never addresses. She lives with Kofi (Mahershala Ali) and understandably objects the intrusion of Luke. Luke definitely has his way around in impressing Romina. His simple act of being there and beginning to discover the possibility of him in her and their son’s life is good enough for her.

Luke uncertain about his plans runs into the ever creepy Ben Mendelsohn as Robin. I always wonder how come a guy like Luke can act and exist the way he does but then I see Robin and Luke begins to become more real and present. There are actors who can quite consistently be typecasted and they prolifically provide multitude of characters in same plane with interesting flavours. Michael Shannon is one of those and Mendelsohn appear to have taken it. On one end he is the ever doozy Robin mesmerized by the driving skills of Luke. He appears to hire him just to hang out with him. Then we see the real intention of him. He recommends the bank robbery to use Luke’s skill. In his unstable devious existence, he is a pragmatic man. He knows when he needs to be out of the game. He is not devious as I say but simply sees it as a way of living. One you get away with something without bloodshed, your confidence only grows further.

The robbery sequences are done with the high octane energy without anything blowing up or being chased for eternity. It is quick and sudden as it would be in reality and becomes evident of the adrenaline in driving this. While money is the intent, for Luke and Robin, it is the rush. Money is just a bonus. Nevertheless, the survival comes in cash and they venture out successfully. Luke wants more which results in the crucial act of solo robbery going expectedly bad. This introduces to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) as the cop chasing down Luke.

The narration shifts to Avery at that point. Avery is the son of a judge (Harris Yulin) and is put on the spot light. That takes a turn of its own that gives Bradley Cooper sufficient amount to prove one more time that he is capable of handling himself in complex roles. Cianfrance film is the education in the paternity instinct that comes forth in us. As us adults act selfishly or unselfishly that results in the future and destiny of our offsprings. This is the job nobody have any clue of doing but are willing to go the length as it is quite crucial to leave the evidence of themselves and be judged by themselves for that. Not being a father, I can only draw distant judgments and conclusion but there is one thing that is clearer than a pristine stream of still water is the fact of how a child can change a man’s life in a dimension he never ever expected to have.

Cianfrance’s film is filled with mood and ambience. The rainy and flourishing vegetation of Schnectady, New York becomes the back ground. It goes through the town that does not carry the aesthetic sense of beauty the outskirts blooms. Unlike “Blue Valentine”, this film moves with consistent pace though that film required that to illustrate the demise of a marriage. Here it is about the psychological dilemma on the impulsive actions that has resulted in the consequences to be dealt with. There is Cooper’s Avery living with the encounter he had with Luke and the consequences of those along with his colleagues played by Ray Liotta. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper come through for the role and provide those close up shots of emotional breakdowns. The film goes to the next generation to focus of Luke’s and Avery’s sons played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen who play as effectively as Gosling and Cooper. This supposed material that is aimed in having a deeper value to the already made stronger case for this heroic bond. The result becomes a much contrived connection. That dampens the foundation built by the better part of the film. Cianfrance’s intention and the aim for going further with the concept cannot be claimed as something he did not execute properly but it overextends and becomes something unfitting in the whole scheme of things. “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a film that is the kind of follow up I am happy to expect from Cianfrance as there needs this range in a talented director who is ready to explore it uncompromisingly.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Roger Ebert"

Roger Ebert was more than an idol for me and I say that not because of the fact he inspired me to write regardless of my inability in the skill and art of writing. I say that because he taught me the greatest lesson in appreciation of film which is that it is fine to love a film your idol hated and it is fine to hate a film your idol loved. It sounds so simple and rational but when personal emotions are wound towards a certain film and you are flabbergasted to see a person who utmost respect and admire despise it which is earth shattering. Consistently reading Ebert’s commentary on the films despite the fact we had more films to our likings in common, there were some heart breaking moments of his scathing review.

He wrote easily 200-300 odd film reviews a year for the past forty years that motivated personally. While my writings have reduced, the passion is still there because of his reviews. His writings which I have read the past 6 years religiously carry the great character of being personal, to the point and most important of all, honest. The man truly embraced the nature of a film and relished every drop of the detail it had to offer. He made sure his readers got the reality of what they can expect from a film. While the viewer got the crux of a film, he also gave a cross section of who he is as a person and through that we came to understand the films he likes. Whether you agree or disagree, you learned something about the person out of his reviews.

His combination of “At the Movies” with Siskel is nothing short of a classic. That is the kind of discussion, argument and fight you would have with great company and those two brought that to the viewers in much more interactive, sharp, brief yet precise reviews of films. When they agreed and admired a film, their love was insurmountably beautiful and when they disagreed and disliked a film, they would spear each other with words that are razor sharped with devilish sarcasm and wit. Siskel’s death of course marked the shows turn of events but Richard Roeper gave his best in filling Siskel and more importantly allowed Ebert to be the wise man he became out of it. I have only seen the recordings of the shows but the change in the person as Ebert is like everyone of us through the process of aging and in his case consistently blossoming.

I never fathomed I would be writing to express myself about the demise of this prolific and passionate writer. Through reading his reviews, I was able to the time and effort that has made me into writing something remotely meaningful and pay my respects to this man who very simply put, loved films and had the simplest and effective tool of showing it. My ritual of checking Thursday morning on his website will be marked with an emptiness hereafter. There again he embraced the technological change that was presented from a man who evolved out of newspaper. He did not fight the age of internet and absorbed completely and used it to his effect. His writing branched out into blog inviting some angry and interesting posts inviting the same from his readers. His statement of “video game can never be an art” still draws so much tension and anger in that community but he laid down his point as best as he could. I disagree with him but he had the best and most interesting presentation in his writing which would be doing a surgery to a patient and the patient understands the need of such action. He brought in people to the table and fed the points and listened thereby prompting the discussion on disagreements.

I was always hoping ship some of the best films from my native language to him and see what he would think about it. It never happened and I never will know. This write up which can be construed as several things has no direction and I would even say has no agenda or purpose. When I heard the news through online chat from a friend of mine, a burst of sadness blanketed me. I have not known Roger Ebert personally and I am not the kind of person who generally gets moved by the death of any known person apart from humane empathy of a lost life but I have known this person through his writing. I have created an image, voice, mannerisms through that and the opinions through his show. Today I lost a friend, an ideal, an inspiring writer but most of all a fellow film admirer. I never got the opportunity to thank the man and this is the closest I can come to thanking you for inspiring, exposing to unknown and powerful films, teaching to disagree with passion and to love films as the way he did. Thank you Roger Ebert! Several great films will go unseen and missed being reviewed by you!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"A Short Film About Killing" (Language - Polish) (1988) - Movie Review

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “A Short Film About Killing” puts right in the middle of what the title says. Two lives are taken and we get excruciating detail of that. Released in 1988, this Polish film is not a comfortable film to watch. In the first half of the film there is a wanderer on the streets of Warsaw clearly not in his right state of mind. He seem to be having an agenda and is not sure whether he is going to be a victim or the perpetrator. Then there is the cab driver with utter disregard of consideration for others. Whether he is going to be the victim or perpetrator is unsure. Kieślowski wants you to keep guessing and when the act happens, while it is obviously brutal, it tells a great deal about ourselves.

Jan Tesarz plays the cab driver and we have encountered him in one way or other. It is not the fact that they were having a bad day but somehow in their mind it is clear that the consideration for others in a society is a waste of time and more importantly an overrated act. Their conscience seem to lie purely for themselves and even their next of kin might not be on their priority list. Tesarz plays this guy with ease and makes us feel to despise him with ease as well. Miroslaw Baka is the drifter. Lean and a clear concern in his eyes for the buried sorrow is evident. Kieślowski does not tell you what it is. In his own way he wants to test the water of anarchy. There is a scene where he slowly pushes a stone of the ledge that is above a busy road. He knows the consequence and he seem to get a thrill out of it.

While Kieślowski is chronicling the day’s life of these two people, there is another person in between them. Not at least in this day he is not but he will be in future. That is Krzysztof Globisz as Balicki, an aspiring lawyer attending his interview. This is all he prepared for. His passion overflows through his speech and the affinity he has towards the justice system is jubilant. He is with hopes and dreams of making a huge difference in the society and mainly the law he has studied, mastered and worships. He has to explain the reasoning for his zeal and he does not provide in great speeches rather in broken but meaningful explanation. Most of the times when someone is overwhelmed with that enormous admiration and humility of the profession they are aspiring, it ends up in fumbling words. Nevertheless he makes it out to be the lawyer.

Now to the first brutal exercise of the film. Herein the cab driver and Jacek the drifter are there. One of them kills the other. The intentions are unclear at that moment but that does not matter. All we know is that a life is being taken and the information we know of each is both important and trivial. Important due to the fact that those are the only things we know of them and as a viewer we are forced to make judgments on that. Trivial due to the fact that those are not good enough reasons for a life to be taken. Look at what Kieślowski does out here which is to begin the debate that whether there is ever a right reason to take a life in that predetermined fashion.

The second part of the film is the execution of the killer from the first part. Of course he is being represented by the passionate and compassionate lawyer Balicki. Sufficient time has passed by from the time of killing through the point where the decision has been made to execute the killer. Balicki is deeply disturbed and feels guilty of letting his client down. This is the worst failure wherein the resultant of Balicki’s effort is the loss of a life. Despite the judge assuring him that he did everything he could, there is nothing a soul would need that would calm itself down on this kind of burden.

Sławomir Idziak’s cinematography is not alone key to the film but is the innovative technique that would not have passed on for the times this film was shot and released. He not alone provides a sepia tone that adds nostalgic sense to all kind of simple pictures but he blurs and un-blurs the object in and out of focus that adds another layer to this film. The city is decaying in a way and the characters with it.

Kieślowski takes you through the systematic execution of the killer that is as brutal, visceral and questionable as the first half. The comparison is what makes the “A Short Film About Killing” such a morally effective film. The first part of the film becomes the judgment to make on the second part of the film. Is there a good justified kill especially when it is premeditated in such a fashion? There is no iota of doubt in the brutality and the beckoning punishment of that crime in the first act but Kieślowski and the passionate supporters of anti-death penalty question whether venturing similar act of brutality on the perpetrator makes it right to close the book on that chapter. Kieślowski of course leaves you with the thoughts and debate but the scenes leading up to both the killings are what makes this film something beyond a regular feat of vouching for one or the other.