Saturday, March 29, 2008

"21" (2008) - Movie Review

“21” has the scenes wherein it has the uniqueness of not having single uniqueness. A cute nerd and a hottie, then there is a charismatic father figure with couple of elements needed for the thrill they all seek. In this subgenre of intelligent thriller in a commercial formula, the plot is developed on a single line thrill factor. And in this case, it evolves from true events. A secretive club in MIT with brainiacs goes Las Vegas over the weekend to apply their math skills over the table. Very good premise and as a formula it has been tweaked nicely to start off but just as the young genius Ben Campbell’s (Jim Sturgess) character dissipates in the film, it departs from us consuming to its monotonous story telling.

Ben needs money to cover his Harvard Medical School. Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) finds him in his class where he shyly astounds with a solution of his own. He is surgical in handling a problem mathematically and from that assuming it to real life. He has two other nerds Miles (Josh Gad) and Cam (Sam Golzari) who ogle with painful desperation on the girls the frat guys have fun with in the MIT bar. Obviously Ben has to reject and then accept. Once that part is done, he needs to shine. He needs have an envious rival, Fisher (Jacob Pitts), the prettiest girl to romance upon Jill (Kate Bosworth), then two side kicks Choi (Aaron Yoo) and Kianna (Liza Lapira) for kicks. Rise and fall to the universal circle of life. There needs to be a clean cut to make for an ending to cover the bases. Are we sitting through a boring lecture?

Films like “21” are not Oscar Winners or art house projects but a crowd pleaser, especially a young crowd. It has the charming guy, an attractive lady, great cast of Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne to invite for disaster show. “21” keeps you worked up with its method of counting and how intuitively and intelligently Ben applies it across the casinos. I did not understand the pluses and minuses but that does not matter. Because it is not a sports film and that trumps the main thick plot the whole film was developed upon.

Spacey and Fishburne walk their roles, if that’s what it is been called. Believe me I look forward for films in commercial lanes because I like to be relaxed and nullify the angle to micromanage the characters once in a while during the films. So when entering a cinema hall for a film on that cadre, I wish to be in a serene place of illogical and baseless work of rules. But when “21” pulls me from the space to seriously consider the options of that in string of events testing my predictability skills, it annoys me. More than a boring film is a film which annoys you. Taunts you in the assumption of how brilliant they have been showing the film and how the entertaining values are all out there to please every one. That stand aggravates and accumulates in to look for the exit door as soon as the film is over. I have created this obligation to myself on not walking out of a film. “21” does not make me do that but immediately when it got over, I wish it made me to earlier.

"Stop-Loss" (2008) - Movie Review

The stop-loss policy in US military is the involuntary extension of a soldier’s term even after his/her successful term of service. It is been put to use heavily in the ongoing Iraq War. It is known to the soldiers when they sign the contract but is it ethical and lawful in the current war? Director Kimberly Price’s “Stop-Loss” is about a Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) who is stop-lossed and he does not want to go back. He wants to fight the system and his odyssey towards that supposed to form the core of the film. It does not though.

I for one learning about this policy have an opinion against it. It shakes the foundation of what we define as right. The film draws its stance from it and goes directionless immediately. The PTSD is known and horrific, but there is an inner deep meaning from a personal stand point. What it has done to them and how they perceive it should have been the angle Pierce should have taken. There is a young soldier under the wings of King, Tommy Bugess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who needs psychological help desperately; rather it is assumed to be taken on the leadership of King. How far can one go towards disaster like this? We are supplied half naked facts about the terror these soldiers go through.

There is a confrontation by King towards his superior Lt. Col. Boot Miller (Timothy Olyphant), a promising start of many discussions on this policy and as a whole the war from a soldier’s standpoint who has dedicated his service honourably and wants something from the country. What we see though is a road trip with improper planning and random judgments. Continuously we are fed the horrors in flashes and the weird reactions from these young men. Some want to go back to fight not able to withstand the normal life (which we never get to see much) and some like King wants out of it. It is clearly against war but tries to tell through an individual soldier’s basis on his duty and acknowledgment. A nice thought which fails to materialize much on its content.

This year marks the 5th anniversary for this war. Enemies are made up out of family man and defense becomes an offense for the occupiers. “In the Valley of Elah” is a film which from US soil told through a war veteran losing his son in the army. It had more dimension and performance much required for a script having subtle signals of anti war and ends up strongly as one. “Stop- Loss” has that as its slogan and has a purpose lost in it. The derangements of their minds are going nowhere but why is it no one really talking to them in the film? These men know the reality of being men and not being macho. They are angry and confused but not stupid.

Films like this are tough to review because the belief one has towards the war should not trump how the film really was. I support the views and cause of what director Pierce attempts to do but it is sad that it never reaches out beyond a point. In the end it ties a knot which is messed, unreal and loses its agenda. There is an unclear tension between King, his best friend Steve (Channing Tatum) and Steve’s fiancée Michelle (Abbie Cornish). Thankfully it does not turn into a triangle love story albeit that it does not add up to the story either. I wanted “Stop-Loss” to be a good if not great film and it needs a script rewritten to focus exactly what it wants to. Without that what is happening seems no sense as Steve says to King in the end.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Shortbus" (2006) - Movie Review

How often does any one confront their sexuality even to themselves? Director John Cameron Mitchell says in his interview that the films which are coming out now a day address sex in a negative tone and he wanted to take it and decorate it for what it really is made of. This is “Shortbus” which will not be enjoyable if confronting sexuality means tearing moral boundaries. But that’s the exact reason some one needs to watch it with an open mind. This is orgasmic, literally for a director visioning his artistic representation of sex laid on a flat clean surface of ultimate purity.

It is an audacious and positive approach towards a phenomenon which represents the very existence of human beings. It revolves around a sex therapist Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) who prefers to be called a couples counselor and never had an orgasm, a gay couple Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and his lover Jamie (Paul Dawson) who prefers to be called James and is in a depressive state, a dominatrix Jennifer Aniston (Lindsay Beamish) who prefers to be called Severin and a Voyeuristic Caleb (Peter Stickles) who loves the love shared by Jamie and James but prefers to be not noticed. How many are realistically something, prefer to be some other thing and looking for their missing pieces in life? The tangling intersection of these lives in a place called Shortbus forms the film. Shortbus is like a time capsule from the hippie culture of 60s. The person Justin Bond (playing himself) who operates this place aptly portrays as, “It’s just like the 60s. Only with less hope”.

There is art in nook and corner of this film. It is hypnotic in its portrayal of the scenes involving the characters figuring out their sexual and emotional relationship with each other. I am glad that they show nudity right at your face and glad that they did not shy away from the concept of showing the orgy scenes because those are the essence of the film. It takes the sexual aspects into something of a material which can be viewed with no prejudice, fear and truly for its nakedness. But it is not about sex. It is one of the clearest forms of emotions in place. Sex and love intersects in multiple shapes and sizes. It means a lot and some times interchangeable. People are afraid of love and sex. Both are fragile and freaky but importantly too valuable to lose. The horizon “Shortbus” shows sex with so much explicit content that they take out the factor off from our minds. We are into the “Shortbus”. We may not accept it or may be not yet ready to embrace it but are in level with it.

The story and characters were developed as a project. Auditioning tapes were called on with a website ad calling applications for showing sex as an art. Tons of tapes arrived and from there the film took its shapes as the documentary of the “making” tells us. New York City just before the dawn days before the black out is taken as the time period of the events happening in the film. There are power lags and it “browns out” (a term I came to know through this film) the lights in the environment every now and then reflecting the states of these people.

It is an independent film true to its form. There is no shock factor but an enlightening daylight in the darkness of human realm to shun and avoid to look at the most beautiful thing we are been brought upon in this world. The characters so open in their sexual relationship are so closed emotionally. And Sofia is searching for her orgasm unknown of the real problem with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker). It is ironic that she being sex therapist has this problem which is like a doctor with disease not having found the cure. Here though it is not a disease but a void in her sexual life. She has made it so big of a deal that it has become a story of a legend and myth for her. That makes it even more curious and intriguing for her. James is figuring out what he is made of to be loved. Or is he ready for love at all? Jamie and James bring Ceth (Jay Brannan) a cute guy to their relationship. Ceth has a moment with an old man Tobias (Alan Mandell) who used to be the Mayor which is truly magnificent.

An art film with heart, penis and vagina treated clinically and emotionally for what their property is. The introductory scenes to each character might completely turn off some one but it made me curious, laugh and also feel for the characters. Each of them inside the walls is naked, vulnerable and in a weird manner fake too. How they find their true nature is “Shortbus”.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"The Dinner Game" (Language - French) (1998) - Movie Review

There is a fine line to maintain for a comedy film to consume its abuse in ease and comfort. Amongst the spitting spikes of words of sarcasm and derailment over a character, it is a slim area to work upon to make it comedic and not assassinating one’s character or to numb us well ahead to accept it. A drama generally blossoms in a comedy when there is a unique friendship forms in between two unlikely people. It is François Pignon (Jacques Villeret) and Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte). I am not sure whether they become friends though. The reason is that Pierre and his friends address François Pignon as idiot so many times; we begin to believe in it and forget the kindness, naïve and consideration of that person.

Pierre Brochant is a rich publisher who gathers for dinner with his friends and their invitees every Wednesday. Every one needs to bring one invitee. It is a strange dinner wherein they hunt for “idiots” as they say and let them talk during the dinner. Then make fun of them behind their backs. A cruel game. Pierre with his tip from friend invites Pignon who makes model out of matches. His day job is working at Finance Ministry and with bubbling happiness unaware of the reason he is originally called upon goes to Pierre’s place and finds out that he is suffering from a back ache. Pierre calls off his dinner plans only to be bungled by the mishaps Pignon does with devotion and unrelenting trait to make Pierre’s crumbling life more miserable.

Is the joke on Pierre or Pignon? It is on both and I was not laughing. Pierre is the yuppie who has ego as the size of Mt. Everest and no evidence of consideration or kindness. The dinner game obviously is wrong, demeaning and psychotic. But by making Pignon do unbelievable acts of dumbness, the film turns out into justifying the dinner. It does not seem inadvertent but the suffering Pierre goes through of Pignon’s carelessness authenticates the action of Pierre. And do we need to enjoy the life dissipating for Pierre? Everything in the film in the name of fun abuses it. If there is a dark ending with no redemption from either side, it would have made me feel better, but there is confrontation and Pierre’s lessons learned philosophy arrives only to be trumped again by Pignon. That is the only joke which made some sense when both the parties are aware of each other’s opinion.

I was easily able to notice why it would have created a comedy riot purely on the basis of dialogue delivery. Knowing French would have made this funny for its timing of the actors. I observed it in the spontaneity and the reflex of each actor’s dialogues. The two leads comprising arrogant Pierre by Thierry and naïve dumb Pignon by Jacques carries a weird chemistry where they tango with imperfections in their characters. There is a friend of Pierre named Juste Leblanc played by Francis Huster. Leblanc is the former lover of Pierre’s wife from whom he thieved her. And he is forgiving and kind enough to visit Pierre. Huster is magnificent as a long friend forgiving and reuniting but it crumbles immediately when he laughs uncontrollably at the sufferings of Pierre. Both acting and comedy fails in those sequences.

Director Francis Veber provides a comedy with a character flaw in it. The humour is cruel and the characters are a dark combination of reality and fiction. Pignon is more fictional in the series of constant fiascos he gives out. And there is the five minutes in the end where he becomes in control of a situation and smart. This margin of fluctuation deteriorates furthermore the film’s trade of drama and comedy on dissecting a person’s integrity, kindness and naivety. Pierre is real and his redemption is opportunistic. “The Dinner Game” is hypocritical in its presentation. Either it should never have tried to explain itself of its dark comedy or choose a story with different characters. I remember “In the Company of Men” which is demonically comical. We see satire and dark humour in an evil form. It never shuns from its content. In “The Dinner Game” it tries to explain its nature and tone of it in the end which makes it all the more hurtful.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Schindler's List" (1993) - Movie Classics

Rarely have I shed tears in films. I have been moved and mingled in submission to a film but to get into the moment of the tragedy and desperation, it takes brutal realism and one man’s success in an enormous human failure, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) when he dissolves into tears in his departure to his saved Jews. He weeps for his failure to save more with his gold cufflinks or his car. He is a businessman who says his debacle of previous business lacked one thing, war. He sees it in Poland and grabs it. A business strategy of employing the Jews for less money becomes a life saving method for thousands. That is “Schindler’s List”, one of the emotionally moving and painful film I have seen.

The film is shot in black and white. And it is obvious than to question or think about the choice of it. I cannot imagine this film in colour. It would have been crippled by the modernity in it. In needs to be antique and the painful brutality cannot be watched in colour. The evacuation and massacres of the Ghetto raised questions of why would there be a recreation of this terror and inhumane act. But director Spielberg wants us to go through the ordeal, to feel the fragment of that humiliation and shame on humans. Grave stones becomes the road for their transportation, screams and shrieks are listened by the soldiers as call for execution, running away is a mere consolation for the complacency of attempting an effort and nudeness has numbed and becomes a usual spectacle. To put us right through the center of it and witness it for we get the sense of the fear and constant death the victims faced.

Three key players form the crux of this subtle orchestration. Two of them are the real caregivers who plan this; one of course is Schindler and other his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Other one is a ruthless psychopath who kills and sells the people as goods, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the Nazi Officer. Schindler is introduced as a neat dresser with an addiction to be the party man. He goes into a party room without any one noticing and within minutes, he makes friends and kisses their women. He is a true charmer. But he has been failing in business prospects. He sees Poland as the land of no competition, cheap labour and sumptuous orders of supplies. He starts an enamel ware company. He recruits Stern, a calm methodical man who is the robotic clerk of faithful adherence to his job. He is a man of indifference even in the desperate situation. He does not like or hate Schindler when he meets him. He starts pulling in people with fake cards. Schindler does not mind as it is profitable to him. But he knows the limit. Business runs prosperous for Schindler and then arrive Goeth.

Spielberg immediately runs these two men in parallel who are in the opposite end of the spectrum. Goeth asks to shoot a lady engineer who talks sense about the foundation of the construction. She tries to explain that she is doing her job and he says he is doing his. He is sincere in telling that it is not an excuse or explanation but a state of fact. But he appears to enjoy it and his victims are random. Beyond this merciless action is his tug of war of desiring a Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz).

Why Schindler a German and a member in Nazi Party suddenly become considerate and risk his life and fortune over them? An officer advice Schindler on being helpful and lovable towards Jewish women as this, “God forbid you ever get a real taste for Jewish skirt, there's no future in it. They don't have a future. That's not just good old fashioned Jew hating talk. It's policy now.” Hate is a policy and it is easy one too when war is happening. Yet Oskar cared and dismissed the policy. Not as a protester but as an intelligent businessman and clandestine ambassador. He used his superior’s underestimation of him to his advantage. He shared wines and cigarettes with Goeth to insert a line of proper wisdom which would have saved many the coming days.

The back ground score by John Williams with the violin solo by Itzhak Perlman is used only in crucial moments. Rest does not need it as it would steal the naked emotion in it. Most of the times the film appears as a documentary and it scare us. At the end when the survivors are addressed by Oskar, there are no applauses or tears. They are too tired to emote anything at all. The sadness and fear nullifies the gratitude and the voice to thank in words.

“Schindler’s List” is a celebration of human life and the greatest shame of humans. As much as hopeful it is in the end, it is a failure of humans. Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley give a performance which did not earn them Academy Awards but it has more than acting, it has a blend of their own emotions and perspectives into it. And Ralph Fiennes is scary and unpredictable. This is a heartbreaking and exhaustive film I have seen in a while.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"He Was a Quiet Man" (2007) - Movie Review

“He Was a Quiet Man” is a strong sentence which carries a lot in tragedies we see pretty regularly in open shoot outs by kids in schools and malls. Every one says the line who does not know the person well enough. It is not a kid but a man out here who is Bob Maconel (Christian Slater with a make over resembling Milton in “Office Space”). A man we see loading his gun to shoot some of his co-workers. He is deeply agitated, bullied by his fellow employees and isolated by his shyness.

In bits and pieces of seeing “Falling Down”, it has the much more similar character frustrated with his life and been pulled over the edge. We have already seen this person is the first impression we get. The cubicle environment has created a corporate claustrophobia and it is captured in the film. Bob says he has been requesting for a cubicle having windows and it cannot be more reflective of the current office spaces. It is a luxurious scale model of the prison. Yet people survive because on the hopes of seeing the evening to end and head home. Bob heads home and talks to his fish (voiced by John Gulager). He lives alone with neighbour’s’ subtle complain for not mowing his lawn. He needs help desperately.

His office sunshine is a cute and voluptuous knockout Venessa (Elisha Cuthbert). In his regular evening dilemma to shoot or not his fellow workers, some other person takes the first step. Bob shoots him and becomes a hero instantaneously. He gets promotion, being noticed and finally window personal office for himself. Unfortunately Venessa becomes quadriplegic surviving bullet wounds. He visits her and she puts on a strange request, to assist her in taking her life since she believes it is hopeless to live. They spend the night and they seem to like each other.

The progress of mood in the film migrates from a cold hearted aloof person to a happier ambience which makes us feel too good to be true. Bob thinks so too but in a different direction. The film’s official building is in the suburbia wherein it is clockwork of boring jobs from one place to another. Bob is a ticking bomb and it is tragic when there are people in a closed space to go unnoticed. It is sadder that surviving from school and college one can skip chances to really open up to some one. The opportunity though needs to be grabbed by the person themselves but how much of extending hands do they get? There is a thin line in stepping on toes and helping out. The film evokes that discussion among us yet it does not come full circle in terms of story.

After many of the questions of us are closely answered, it suddenly topples itself. The movie lifts high when the chemistry in between Bob and Venessa begins. And I would have been interested more scenes with their adjustments to their new life. Venessa finding herself from being a career obsessed go getter woman to realize life has more meaning. Similarly to focus on Bob’s agitation getting more attentiveness and less details on riddles. The tone of the film does not elevate that into an art experience.

Director/Writer Frank Cappello handles bright lights with a congesting darkness in an elevated building. It works considerably on Bob and Venessa and fails incredibly on the character of Mr. Shelby played by William H. Macy. There was lot much to be seen in between these two accidental fortunate/unfortunate people. I liked “He was a Quiet Man” for Slater’s good performance, Jeff Beal’s original score and the colour tone. And I disliked for its ending to leaves me completely clueless.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Revolver" (2005) - Movie Review

“Pulp Fiction” by Quentin Tarantino marks as time line for many film goers love for the new form of style and element in their art. “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” by Guy Ritchie is a similar landmark for me in the wake of vigorous film going days. “Revolver” which opened only in UK around 2005 with poor reviews opened very limited in December 2007 in US. Then it hit the DVD shelves and I have been eyeing for it to be viewed for say more than two years despite the warnings and disappointments critics showed. It is not disappointing but convoluted and unnecessarily complicated.

With his regular actor Jason Statham as Jake Green this time Ritchie ropes up Ray Liotta. The film happens in a city which reminds of Vegas because of its casinos and has gangster places we have seen previously in other films. It does now and then look like “Sin City”. Green is out after serving seven years of solitary confinement in prison narrates us his rules in any game which soon transpires in to his life. Two years later he is big in cash but wanted to slap the face on a Casino owner and his arch enemy Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta). He wins big in the king’s den and marked for death. Two openly ambiguous and unknown personalities emerge Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin) who we later come to know as loan sharks. They offer a deal with the dying and marked Green, (1) submit his financials to them without question and (2) follow their orders religiously. Initially he does not approve it believing in the conning game but eventually comes back after hearing his days are numbered to three due to a rare blood disease. It is topsy turvy land from there on.

Having set a trend for himself in the market for sleek crime and dark comedy, this is not one of the usual from Ritchie. It is dark and serious but we do not know whether we need to take it seriously. The film sets up on strenuously detailing us on the quotes and rules of the “game” which Green recites with considerable clarity. Are these clues for the puzzle of the film to be solved? Yes indeed. The pay off is everything in this film which plants on hints. Randomness and chaos are likeable when the director feeds the audience on experience than the believability. “Revolver” set to happen in fantasy world (at least that’s what I took it as) is shallow in its chaotic experience. There is a smugness emerging from the screen looking too low on us. And we are not impressed by it. I wanted to like the film, mainly to embrace the deeper concept Ritchie might try to say. As the credits rolled with sociological and psychological concept on ego, I wished it would have been shredded off to the bare minimum linear storyline with no ambiguity.

Understanding the film becomes a great exercise and I never was able grasp it completely. The base idea is clear but the journey is tedious and I repeat, unnecessary. Ritchie in an interview says to take it as an intellectual action film. Sounds gorgeous but in the sense it deflowered the script. When I watch this and the ending blooms on, there was considerable comparison for me with Arnofsky’s “The Fountain”, another painstaking film which grew as I watched the final moments again and again. I was not enthused on going back to “Revolver” to do the same. There is a significant distinction in the complications of both the films.

Technically very proficient and the fast-forward-rewind strategy of Ritchie is something I do not get bored of. There are trademark action scenes of Ritchie but everything falters under dubious script. One thing can be perceived as a positive note which is that Ritchie wants to advance into something more philosophical. And he appears to have the confidence in placing it in his similar styled crime and dark comedy genre which is his bedrock. But why does it have to be so cryptic? The film becomes a representation of the title character’s fight against his known and unknown enemies and it begins to fight us on our complete ignorance of the situation we are in.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Malcolm X" (1992) - Movie Review

Spike Lee has his heart on “Malcolm X” and we see it in the detailed and extensive show case of the running time it takes. It is 202 minutes long and how he did not compromise that with the studio reveals his passion and the eagerness to do the film on this controversial personality. Do not let the running time of the film discourage you rather it is indeed necessary like how “Once Upon a Time in America” needed for Sergio Leone and Oliver Stone needed for “JFK”. We need to see the upside, downside, darkness, lightness and everything about a human being who was bitterly eloquent man who believed in a life style of Islam and its values, his race and its cultural significance and wanted to come for a solution. His approach most of the time aggressive, fanatic, motivational and leave us confused too.

Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) is one of the notable and influential African American leaders during the fight for the rights of the Afro American people in America. The young Malcolm with his friend Shorty (Spike Lee) enjoys his days of youth in Boston clubs in the 40s. Racism has its claws of fear in his mind but he immediately is attracted to a white female, Sophia (Kate Vernon). In very few narrations in the film, he says how much he desired for a white woman. He lives a life of drugs and crime. He hustles along with a gangster in Harlem, West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo) and quickly falls flat in wrong terms with him to be chased for life. He gets caught with Shorty for robbery and gets imprisoned for eight to ten years. This is where his first transformation happens. Till that time, we see an angry young man as the product of the partial society but when he meets the self taught inmate Baines (Albert Hall) showing the path of Islam, he realizes that he is a waif meeting a guardian angel.

This is a strong film about a human being finding his path of life. He finds something close to his heart and sticks to it obsessively and rises up fast among the people. Lee opens the film with a speech from Malcolm and there is something wrong in it. We do not like the principles and the action he suggests to be taken. We start off not liking Malcolm X. At the end though, after one more transformation to address the actual cause, he becomes a human being who has traveled the life as any average person with more experiences than any of them. The end product of him realizing the path he took and the path he is now and the acceptance of the consequences make Malcolm X a person for discussion, inspiration and a wrong example too. The multifaceted characteristic of this influential man makes all this notable which would be normal for any other person. But he grasped a lot than them on his way to the destiny. He never hesitated to voice his opinions regardless how insensitive it is.

Not at the core of the revolutionary time period when the racial discrimination was at high, judging him might be misspoken in many ways. Lee wants us to and answers in the eulogy by Ossie Davis. I see this film not as a statement of the beliefs or the views of Lee or Malcolm X but a study of a person whose life has surprises regardless of the surroundings. Living the life as you are and setting expectations to you and others become a process of strong practice. The conflict though is that the belief turning into a fanaticism, an ego and the zest on thrusting the solution as the only solution pokes others too. The medium of handling it is aggression is what Malcolm preached. The dilemma of deriving the justice of right and wrong from an act of defense or a means to attain the position of being secure is a flimsy. Malcolm believed his position was strongly in the arena of righteousness in attaining the owning up of a secure land of freedom. Despite this, he never noticeably started or participated in a violent act. He demanded a land for his community with complete administration of philosophy that the Blacks and Whites can never live harmoniously. Such is the extremity that the principles he took on from his mentor Elijah Muhammad whom he worshipped naming Whites as devils. His eyes get opened by his wife, Betty (Angel Bassett). His conviction in that belief is enormous that betrayal and truth of darkness involved in it were impossible for him to accept.

Spike Lee has the hold on his material as he had in other movies “Do the Right Thing” and “Clockers”. He does not slip and his honesty in focusing on the rights and wrongs about Malcolm X is a tough trait to follow when the studio and the representation of him for his heritage shoulders extreme pressure. He is as many others are truly impressed by this man. I may not agree with the tactics and methods of Malcolm X but Spike Lee’s film make me like this personality as a regular person whom many might not have a chance to see. And with one of the greatest performance of his lifetime by Denzel Washignton, this is a classic film by Spike Lee.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Oldboy" (Language - Korean) (2003) - Movie Review

“Oldboy” did not shock me but left me confused. It did not exhaust me but I failed several times to see the person who jails a man Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi) in a room bearing similarity to a hotel room for fifteen years. The luring film begins as a vengeance story and ends as one but populates more discussions, interpretations and even lot of hate. This would disturb physically and mentally but strangely grows on you as the film is over. It resides and weighing the scenes I see a film maker’s obsession for dealing with psychology in a different dimension and some how failed or did not have the time to put us through the minds of the game player.

When we meet Oh Dae-Su and he narrates his story till on how he got on a roof top to a person on the verge of committing suicide, he is a well dressed animal. In his flash back we only know him as an obnoxious drunkard who is abducted and confined in a room minutes after talking to his daughter over the phone along with a friend Joo-Hwan (Dae-han Ji). The cell has the basic necessity and may be a luxury of Television. Entering as a stout man, with confinement unknown, he begins to train himself. He tries to scrap the walls to freedom. He learns his wife is been killed through the news channel and him being the killer. He is drugged by gas and he is been taken care of. He is fed fried dumplings for fifteen years which would prove his first clue on finding the culprit who is doing this to him. Just before he is about to escape, he is released. He has faint memory of being hypnotized. He is going to hunt and we know what he wants to do. Who would want to do this and why would they want to do this? This is a vengeance film but an unexpected one when the story unravels.

There is a hammer fighting scene which gives pains to our knuckles and brings tiredness to every muscle of ours. There is another torture scene which would make us flinch. But this is not a torture fest. And the scenes are not the ones where the torturer enjoys rather he has been hidden so long and so tired to wait for passiveness. He needs answers soon. He meets the expected stranger Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) who takes him to her apartment when he faints in her restaurant. And the rest cannot be a guessing game. There are cryptic clues given to him through a cell phone handed mysteriously. He follows it because he has no option. This is not a nail biting thriller but a cumulative accumulation of the patience generated by the speed of the film. The fifteen years is shown painstakingly with a boredom and trauma of a caged man.

The film style is marked for its uniqueness in narration and how rarely Dae-Su speaks. The rarest words are not shown coming from his mouth but through mystic narrations. But beyond these we know that there is a past which connects Dae-Su and the deeply affected person religiously planning a mechanism to put through him one after another unsolved mysteries leaving him with vague and void frustrations. We do not know the past and we do not know the Dae-Su before his freedom snapped off. When the truth is known, there is an acceptance from Dae-Su but when the story extends more, this is going to be beyond the realization of the truth. A real vengeance.

“Oldboy” did not affect me. It left me with topics to discuss but as a film the ammunition it was gearing up and said it is delivering had a noticeable flaw. If you have not seen the film, I would suggest skipping the remaining paragraph. Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) the person who has been playing this cruel game over Dae-Su is a psychopath, a rather artistic, intelligent and deranged one. I am not basing it on the incestuous relationship with his sister because that is a part of discussion the director brings upon which is intuitive and need to be done and thought on human behavioral. It is the enjoyment he has gone through with the vengeance which has flare of inconvincibility. He does not want a kill but a long stretched mental torture unimaginable affecting an innocent girl. Separating him as a character to study seems unnecessary and almost seems injustice. But the director exactly wants this. To incite this conversation is the aim out here. “Oldboy” has the style of the film happening in a different world but the emotions being brutally real makes it difficult to comprehend the fact of its realism. Do not get me wrong, I liked the film a lot for its catalytic characteristic to look at the moral and social values defined. I believed the existence of Dae-Su but not Woo-jin. In this strange and unforgiving unknown corner of the world, there might be estranged, unmerciful and cruelly insane Woo-jin but in “Oldboy” he does not.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Touching the Void" (Documentary) (2003) - Movie Review

Having just finished “Touching the Void” book, I was immensely curious to watch the film. The documentary based on the book by Joe Simpson tells his climb to the summit of Siula Grande in Peru with his fellow climber Simon Yates and how at one point Simpson was left alone with a broken leg in a situation where death appeared tasteful to quench upon. The book while overall a very good one made me tough to understand or picture the crevasse, cliffs, ridge and the moraines. Film is much more visual as it was supposed to and mainly re-enacting the journey (Simpson played by Brendan Mackey and Yates played by Nicholas Aaron) with Yates and Simpson narrating makes it to feel the immense and excruciating ordeal Simpson went with the guilt and pain Yates went through which can only be imagined by us.

In 1985, youth kicking the adrenaline in with 25 year old Simpson and 21 year Simon to literally hit and think sky as the limit. The intense virtue of brutal cold air and fall into depths of abyss in Siula Grande beckoned to conquer it for these two. They did conquer it with a life altering accident and survival. After seventeen years, they go through it again mainly Simpson on those impossible days where he licked death but pulled himself back to fight to stay alive. Making a “based on true events” would have fudged a lot of things and mainly the little possibility of the material being real would have gone to sheepishly entertaining which would be a sin. In the special features of the DVD, the part of “Return of Siula Grande” wherein Simpson and Yates went back, we see Simpson struggling to cope up to the reliving of that dreadful scenario and says, “You do not have even have the slightest idea of what I went through” and we know that, in every emotional accumulation we have had in our lives.

After reaching the summit while descending back, Simpson broke his leg by an unfortunate accident. And at that moment, both of them knew what it means, that is Simpson’s death is fixed and it is just a matter of time. Yates comes up with a thoughtful unbelievable idea of bucket the snow and lowering Simpson sitting in it. It works but situation arises which I would not even dream to be in where Yates was to virtually decide on whose life it is going to be. For years he has been criticized for his action but Joe till date supports him. To even raise a thought of judging Yates is unmerciful and completely off the limits. But it tells a lot of the human instincts in us. What would have happened if Simpson did not crawl through his life to the base camp hours before Yates and their friend Richard? It is unanswerable. Mountain climbing is deadly and both were aware of the fact. Both knew the risk and at the same time thought about the eventualities and consequences of the situation Simpson was in. It can be read in detail in the book from writings of Yates too.

The film is cold and sometimes hard to grasp. The book deals with the mind games and the feeling of completely defeated on Simpson when he was left to the darkness in the midst of unforgiving mountain. Film deals it the same with him giving the narration but the partial re-enactment takes a step further to shake up in the reality of the leg tuning its pain on to Simon while his mind is losing itself. The survival of this man can be looked as hope and never giving up. But it is a psychological and philosophical exploration in to the realms of death. And the honesty both Yates and Simpson along with Richard show unsettles us because it is foreign to many. We sometimes feel how insensitive and detached they can be. But when you enter into the den of dangers that is the mentality one can have to survive. One can try his/her best but when it comes to the decision of deciding on determining whom to live in a fraction of second, it is the human instinct to vouch for oneself.

Simpson opens the doors for every one on a chance to look one’s life. How miniscule and insignificant we can be made and how the drawn up dignity and self esteem goes in thin air. The honesty in writing by Simpson and faithfully making by director Kevin MacDonald gives a glimpse on how utterly vulnerable even the seasoned, trained and toughest can become. It also shows the endurance and determination of the defeated and helpless person to overcome the odds to keep on going in small but life changing steps towards light.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Never Back Down" (2008) - Movie Review

“Never Backs Down” comes at the time when Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games US” is out and creating controversies. “Funny Games US” is a shot by shot remake of the original Austrian film made in 1997. The reason I am mentioning is that, the controversial “Funny Games US” is Haneke’s statement towards American cinema feeding and making violence consumable as entertainment. Yes there are certainly films which do that but there are lot other good films which argue otherwise too. Everything has its mix and what Haneke is pinning upon may be on the block buster trend which I might concur. I have not seen either the original or the current one, and have not quite made up my mind yet to watch it. “Never Back Down” tries to analyze and sell violence balancing and falling on the charges of Haneke on American block busters.

It is said as modern Karate Kid with an angry high school kid Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) and the trainer Jean Roqua (Djimon Honsou). Jake thinks he is responsible for his father’s death and with Ryan (Cam Gigandet) the defending champ of the underground fight club instigating him to maintain the dominance over his territory, starts punching time. What I sometimes have trouble understanding is the director’s thinking of putting everything in and making it an obnoxious meal. The film is not obnoxious but shifts in momentum on where exactly it stands. Does it say fighting is unavoidable in a society like this or fighting is an emotional outlet for the anger residing in everyone? It is ironical when Ryan says in his ridiculously luxurious house party that the real deal is not the bikini teenage fantasy of American Pie but the fight matches because the film plays the “manly” version of “American Pie”. It has the girls but instead of comedy and sex, this is rage and violence.

Getting a PG-13 certification means lot less blood than it would actually be and be alive and walking after such a pounding. The kid needs listening and advice. His mother (Leslie Hope) blames Jake in subtle emotions for the death of her husband. There are very good scenes to address that how much anger comforts and gives a hiding place to face the actual problem. I was impressed with the simplistic and non-melodramatic scenes to give that. Director Jeff Wadlow is some one to watch out for in those aspects but trying to make it as a teenage romance in awkward formulaic manner spoils it.

There is a dilemma in the screen on judging the audience. Dealing delicately and sometimes openly on the treatment of violence and fight as an outlet, it takes a step or two back and becomes cautious on how much the audience would expect or want to discuss this. There is maturity and immaturity visible side by side in the film.

I always contemplate on when aggression/violence is a useful non-harming tool or do we breed and consume on it to keep us going physically or mentally throughout the life. The world we are living in is so dangerous than the stone age of wild natures because the rules are not clear out here. In Stone Age, ignorance and survival made them to be what they are or at least that’s what I can guess. In current society, trust issues are predominant and moral values are too high or low to depend on it. Survival is the key too but the knowledge of knowing the existence of stealth and open war on each other confuses us to do easy mistakes. Seeing “Never Back Down” and its underground fighting club questions on the rage each of us have to outlet ourselves. We need films, drinks and sometimes an open match to purge the raw emotion of hate deep inside of us. “Never Back Down” sometimes makes fierce and rage palatable falling on the Haneke’s accuses and sometimes hates it in voices of the trainer and Jake’s mother. If it would have been a cold approach towards it, I would have appreciated it for the constant lingering opinion towards the game of violence but this wants to make money too which confuses on where it stands and what it stands for. It becomes as I said earlier a macho version of “American Pie”.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Doomsday" (2008) - Movie Review

“Doomsday” has an interesting origin for its script, from an eleven year old (now thirteen) Colin Richard Wright who won a contest. It stops there. Director Neil Marshall’s inspiration and homage for films like “Mad Max” and “Escape from New York” is a mushy reproduction from the materials of the same, only slicker, bloodier and monotonous. It is sort of “Planet Terror” in “Grind House” and I did not like it either. The killing counts to infinity and fleshes are torn and yes, eaten too. And more thirst for blood continues.

How many times film industry wants to dip the earth partially or fully on the crude destruction of a virus? And why does it need to be grotesque and repulsive? Sickness is not beauty but it need not be gross either. The plague films disrupt the skin membranes and it has now become a universal law to follow it. Just before it turns into another zombie film, it poses as a futuristic thriller which indeed it is. Inspired from the character of Snake from “Escape from New York” originates Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), as a child she lost her mother in the infected land. She is of course a bad ass with no emotion due to the military exercises. The film’s futuristic society is merciless and no one to give love hugs. We do not need them. Thankfully ignored. Now have not we seen the same kind of female lead in “Resident Evil”? May be it is a homage to that film too.

A wall separates the virus affected region of Glasgow, Scotland and years have passed, more than thirty years. Time to venture again for finding the cure and hunting expedition begins led by Eden. Another unwritten rule of deadly virus cannot kill unexplainable immune people. No questions asked. Enter in to the zone of danger and people are directly imported from “Mad Max”. They are barbaric and inhuman. They thrive on eating human flesh which explains their low population. The new grunge hair styled leader of those is Sol (Craig Conway) is drinking a beer, I mean canned beer. As a beer loving person, in between insanely hunting for people, they brew and can it too? Thought for beer does not translate to thought for food. Typical drinking people like me but I do not eat meat. There are other blunders but alcohol caught my immediate attention. I do not care about how they drive their car with no gas supplies with thirty and odd years passed. I only care about beer and when you show that you better damn account for it.

There is a political game in this mess and I will let you find it for yourself, if you are a person looking for pure gory action without minding the attitude for being smooth and explanatory about the concept which never stands up. The thrills are fun and it is shot with class. I need to give them that when the chase happens and people die, the unsuspecting person is rescued and that is novel. I would also appreciate a unique approach of medieval styled people living hidden and isolated. But then it becomes “Gladiator” after a while. Another homage.

Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” is highly praised and I would like to see that but this is not his high point. There is no doubt that “Doomsday” would satiate the audience who expect R-rated action and thrills. And there is nothing wrong in that. When it tries to put a name for itself on the same cadre of films, it needs to be original not a remake or recycling to produce garbage. There need not be apocalypse to demonstrate the blood seeking hunters on the shelled world. It is used as a moral ground for having guiltless violence. In that case, explanations and political scenarios are unnecessary. And it is a surprise that the abandoned land does not have any one even resembling humans in emotional level. They are not zombies but they are the prop used as zombies in many films.

"Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who" (2008) - Movie Review

“Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” is a purely unadulterated comedy. It comes so much near to the 2007 classic animation “Ratatouille” and that is telling something. Not coming up to the par of that does not reduce this funny, thoughtful and fable comedy a bit in its standards because “Ratatouille” address even wider audience because it had that freedom. Adapting from Dr. Seuss’ book of the same name, its main audience are kids and directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino gets the perfect casting and their funny improvisations take the parents to a fun ride as well who will be accompanying their kids.

It is how an elephant named Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey) hears something in a speck wherein a town named Whoville exists with lots of creatures guided by the under appreciated Mayor (voiced by Steve Carell). Horton vows to safeguard the speck even against the threat of a self proclaimed ruler of the jungle, a Kangaroo (voiced by Carol Burnett). Rest is the adventure of Horton understanding the community of Whoville and the Mayor’s struggle to warn the city, and the whole nine yards.

As predictable the story moves on, it is the casting and the heavy character influences each bring in of themselves to these talking creatures distinguishes the “Horton Hears a Who!”. Take Carrey for example, we know it is Carrey and we are reminded of his annoyingly funny Ace Ventura but he is softer here in his own way. Like in real life, Carrey’s maturity is accompanied by his irresistible comic timing. He is the guy who can adapt his voice to an ant and make it the whimsically interesting character. The Horton he voices has an iconic cuteness and goodwill in the comments he makes. Carell then adds another dimension to his loser but amicable and affectionate Mayor of Whoville. But Seth Rogen as Horton’s rat buddy Morton is brilliant as any small character you have seen. And just when you think that Will Arnett blows our mind in his old out of the job evil comic vulture Vlad.

Animation films achieve its cinematic purpose when the voices are a mode of modulation at its best to suit the characters. True in its sense, this casting for voices invites more audience than expected for a kid’s film. The kids obviously will be fantasized and thrilled by the elephant saving the goodness of Whoville from the evil clutches of the people who want to destroy it. As an adult who will be aware of Carrey, Carell, Rogen and Arnett it changes itself into a great different entertainment for them. In “Ratatouille” it was aimed at an audience of higher age while the kid’s are enthralled by the rat but here it amalgamates and comes out without any slightest sense of border lining on adult jokes, it entertains.

To discuss the animation techniques is a pushed in obligation but that forms the soul which has come to a point we take it for granted. The computer graphics technology has made it look easy enough in bringing out quite a number of films to appear it that way. I have not read the book but the screenplay of Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul has added the new trends in the kid’s cartoon to it. The Japanese Anime parody is marvelous and I was laughing crazily for it.

I have rarely mentioned on which audience a film addresses because I believe everybody has the capability if they have the patience to see through the art in it. A kid’s film is not quite that way as the intended audience is generally clear enough. But the trend of embracing the parents who come along with them has been running from “Tom and Jerry” and “Bugs Bunny” days. Intelligent directors and soul play of current actors have made “Horton Hears a Who!” taking from those to build it beyond parents to any one. This is 2008’s impressive animation movie I have seen so far. A must see for the parents and kids too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"The Good Thief" (2002) - Movie Review

A down by luck heroin addicted thief plans one last job. Welcome to the heist movie. Bob (Nick Nolte) is the gamer and we are in for a mixed treat of too often smug and a rare satisfying conviction in end to wonder upon. Not due to how the heist particularly gets orchestrated but as a film how our opinion on film concludes collectively. It winks more often than necessary and that is not to cheat but to say that it does not promise anything than what it is showing. It is a strange film to gauge upon.

Artsy is a far fetched word for “The Good Thief” and character study is even more distant for its lead character. Bob has a passion for mathematics than on thieving. He introduces himself by educating the property of prime number to the people he meets and rescues. One such is a young girl too mature for her age or at least does a good job in faking it is Anne (Nutsa Kukhianidze). And another is his friend and foe Roger (Tchéky Karyo), a detective. Bob cleans up and openly advertises his secrecy of getting back on his cornerstone of excellence.

We have seen the plan, we have seen it to do by charming personalities, funny imposters and we see Bob as charming imposter. He reveals the operation to his fellow workers, Paulo (Saïd Taghmaoui) who idolizes him and his second in command Raoul (Gérard Darmon). Fake one heist and use it as a distraction for the main heist. So now that’s a fake for us as any moviegoer would conclude. This notion is the key point for the final blow.

Now for the problem. For starters, it will be the placid, blatantly attitude boasting and sometimes predictable conversation between every character almost. They recite thinking it as careless and to maintain a cool composure but it on the opposite pinches us on its flat delivery. Does it also perform a part in the fake game played by Bob? It is a bad one. This disconnects from us to not show or to make an effort to understand Bob, Anne or Paulo. Then the weird characters are put in place. Director Neil Jordon makes the film like the uninteresting dialogues I mentioned. Is it becoming a preposterous attempt on aesthetic value towards a heist film? It does not succeed.

But something happens as it is about to wrap up. The finale of the heist to be executed upon and that’s where the unimpressive Bob till that time makes an impressive cool comeback. I am still figuring out on some of the scoops in it but the editing, style and the performance of Nolte makes up for the entire film. The suspense does not blow our mind but the aesthetics attempted badly earlier comes to pitch perfect now. We know where it is going but not confident enough to believe it. Display of emotions in a gambling table is not good is what Bob says and may be we are concealing our celebration of the film on its good final act. We wait and we are in doubt. Jordon plays us good on this.

The soundtracks are funky and the tone of the film is murky. “The Good Thief” has a calm boasting personality about it. We are attracted and distracted of Bob. There are too many clichés too. It has an old man with a gentle heart, an attractive untrusting young girl and a youthful ambitious man performing a sidekick, and to top it off a con/heist film. It reminds of how many thieving films we have seen and when a movie lets you think like that, we get second thoughts about it. Bob is hazy but not lethargic and Nolte performs lethargically. We know the difference because he is that good in his material under the realms of the final act. The film for most of the part as the robbery pulls plays as a fake. It is a good concept but the fake should be intuitive and interesting in its script. Some may like the fake and love the ending. I disliked the fake and admired the original striking blow of perfection for its final ten minutes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"That Obscure Object of Desire" (Language - French/Spanish) (1977) - Movie Review

Director Luis Buñuel’s frustrated and confused observation about women has a tremendous influence on the film that he uses two different actresses to do the swindling and complicated character of Conchita (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina). What does she want or her representation of the women as such, what do they want? The middle aged Frenchman Mathieu (Fernando Rey) beats himself up in not knowing that as millions of men. This film is suspenseful, artistic, compulsive and erotic.

After a bucketful of water has been splashed over very young Conchita by the old Mathieu when she arrives at the train station, the fellow passengers give a questionable look. Mathieu is old and classy in appearance which makes the act even more curious. Knowing their curiosity, Mathieu offers to tell the story which we and the passengers believe to be true. Mathieu beyond his attires has a concealing face of suspicion with connivance and cheekiness. It is the automatic judgment of rich plus single old guy is equal to a nasty and perverted person. Mathieu is no saint but he loves Conchita devilishly. He wants to complete it by consummating but she resists. After several times she teases him and then snatches herself away we begin to feel sympathetic for the poor old man. But is he really loves her or just wants to make love to her? Conchita has the same doubt which is the only thing we observe about her. Rest is tangles of complications.

The narration is the move in the story telling to have it compelling. It need not be original but a story like this to be heard during a train journey can make any one convince and believe it. There is a shade of doubt in the veracity of the old man’s experience but the finishing sequences clear it away. As Conchita, the director too gives mixed signals to us on what to think of this story and characters. The tendency for us to believe that she is really in love is forecasted as different with directorial references of mouse getting trapped during an important agreement and the sack which is carried along at several instances by Mathieu along with other characters haunt us on what is this game played upon us? It is suspense but on the basis of emotion.

There are plenty of reasons for Conchita to attach herself to Mathieu for his money which is the obvious inference. She is poor, lonely, young and in a foreign country. He is old, rich and lonely. Good enough to patch up for convenience. And how gorgeous are these two women. Carole Bouquet has the smile of deception and invitation while Angela Molina looks naïve, bubbly and sensual. It takes two women to partially understand the unpredictable and unexplainable Conchita. There is an interesting segment when Angela Molina as Conchita asks Mathieu that if she loves him and her body belongs to him, why does having sex becomes the mark of it? The question is ridiculous and truthful in its virtue of its statement.

There is the loyal and faithful servant of Mathieu called Martin (I was not able to find the actor’s name). He is given as a symbolic and humanistic representation of Mathieu’s conscience or may be judgment in witty form. He tells old sayings and states the obvious with sarcasm and realism at appropriate times to rub salt on Mathieu’s defeated and cheated wounds. Same comes from one of the passengers, a psychology professor affected by dwarfism to guess Mathieu’s next action or the characters he meets. He forms the intelligent part of that crowd who is a one little step ahead of what is going to happen.

One wonders how difficult women are and how devastatingly they can hurt men. But men are sexually frustrated and unsatisfying jerks. May be that’s the reason the director chuckles on the male dominated society for such a long time in us taking sides with Mathieu. Why this female constantly tortures him by not offering herself to him is the lingering question after every step of the story is said to us. It scares, excites, enlightens and questions us in its excellent script.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"City by the Sea" (2002) - Movie Review

There is a strongest sense for humans to come into conclusion quite immediately. It is undeniably present in each one of us. A person who would have mastered the art of patience will have an instinct to finish off on a topic. What is this inner desire to tie a knot by our own means? Quietly in our living room we watch the daily brutalities over the TV and run a profile for ourselves over the killer or the victim. The media arranges this not as the form of information but as a reality judgment showing one family at a time. Such has become the basis of our living that our existentialism survives on the character operation on others. “City by the Sea” takes this to see the relationship in a family tainted by Vincent LaMarca’s (Robert De Niro) father who got executed for a baby been killed.

The sound of it is good enough to judge his entire generation. Such has been his child hood for Vincent that he becomes a cop and dedicates himself to it. Yet he fails as a father to his son, Joey (James Franco). Divorced, incapable of drawing himself in visiting his son in presence of security personnel he has been out of touch with him for a long time. The details are revealed to us as the story goes on. Joey is a junkie and a drug deal gone wrong ends him killing the local dealer who works for a drug king in the neighbourhood, Spyder (William Forsythe). Vincent eventually finds out his son is involved and he revisits his mistakes.

The city of Long Beach is taken as the prime center of the crimes happening. Director Michael Caton-Jones shows a desolated and looted city advertising its failure through the ruins of its buildings. Even though the actual city is not like this, Caton-Jones gives a small city begging for the crimes to happen. No one is on the street except dealers and junkies. It symbolically represents the abandonment Vincent undergone with his dad and then with his son. This is a not rushing thriller. This is not an emotionally charged piece of work either. The film is stoic because how the characters are undisturbed externally by the happenings. The confrontations are nothing short of reality but carry the weight of dramatic cinematic work. There is a balance in which we see these people manage to exist in a land of daily lives and the emotion required for a drama film.

Vincent with his experience as policeman knows what is going to come of it. He has distanced himself far from anything resembling affection. He lives above a lovely lady named Michelle (Frances McDormand) and both of them understand their needs pushing 40s. Vincent knows the emotional complexities in committing and the last thing is to be committed again for him. Michelle gets it but when the physicality is exhausted and while lying on the bed ogling at the ceiling beckons her to know this person by her side of the bed. “I don’t want to marry you but I just want to know you” is what she says. And she gets more than she asked for, complications in the past for Vincent.

The film has a characteristic maturity even in a junkie played particularly well by James Franco. We see him as a junkie and when he wanders in the first scene with a guitar to sell, it is pathetic, sad and also angry to see the influence of drugs on a good kid. Vincent can be genuinely careless about the possibilities of dangers to his son but he speaks sparsely open to any one including Michelle. So when he spills out his guts in the most crucial scene in the film, it needs De Niro to hit the target and find the note in what is over the top and what is satisfactorily abundant. De Niro as always delivers.

It is not an affecting thriller or emotional drama all the way. There is strangeness in this characterization and honesty in approach. It might not be colourful but so is our regular life. In “City by the Sea”, the calmness of the film attributes into a time frame which happens in couple of months or so. It forms up such that with a relaxed and set life of Vincent, there is something missing, something he has missed and something he should take up responsibility for.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"The Pledge" (2001) - Movie Review

Sean Penn’s “The Pledge” is an exemplary film making which shows how much of an artist he is in mastering the tone of melancholy and has become best in “Into the Wild”. The film is an adaptation from the novel of same name by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The lone warrior out here is Detective Jerry Black. In the first shots, he is clearly disoriented and speaks to himself. His dress has traces of falling down which we think is a small slip but his face with small wounds tells otherwise. He is a distressed man. The sun is high and Penn interlaces the shots of flying of birds into him. He is high in the clouds of losing himself. What had become of him?

Jerry Black witnesses his final terror in the job when he is six hours away from retirement. The crime is brutal and merciless. A young and innocent little girl is raped and murdered. He walks out from his own party and conveys the bad news to the parents, Margaret (Patricia Clarkson) and Duane Larsen (Michael O’Keefe). Margaret asks Jerry to promise her on catching the killer. He promises and she pushes to promise on his soul salvation. He does. And he loses it in the remaining part of the film.

Penn on his eye for the nature’s beauty invites it to the screen. Nicholson as the once glorious cop knows the time has come to see the door. He is appalled by the method of interrogation his fellow detective Stan (Aaron Eckhart) does to get the confession out of a Native American, Toby Wadenah (Benicio Del Toro). Every one is happy to have got the killer and too happy that he shoots himself later. Something bothers Black, weird feeling once in a while we would get when things does not seem right for no apparent reason. It is not a hunch for Black but a shoddy combination of getting out of the game and mainly his last days of peace. There is no shed of doubt he does it for the righteousness. Yet the selfishness in it is visible. To catch a merciless killer, personal hunger and opinion becomes more of a driving factor. And in Jerry it is a lot.

His queries of similar killings in the past decade reveal a pattern and a drawing of his victim tells a lot more. A tall giant man handing small porcupines to a little girl and he has a station wagon. With this he moves in to a nearby town. He buys a gas station. He does not lose his life rather he advances it. He meets up a single mom Lori (Robin Wright Penn) and her eight year old daughter Chrissy (Pauline Roberts). He is off to a great family life he never had. But he hears the words he wants to and sees the things he wants to which becomes an obsession. Penn does not overstate things out here but uses a cautious emotion. It is not blatant. Jerry a man fond of fishing subconsciously prepares bait for catching the killer. Yet it is not the sole purpose. He genuinely loves the kid and her mother.

“The Pledge” is an exercise over the inevitable insanity Jerry Black is going to. Not that he is wrong but his mind has exhausted in calming down and drenched down in the fear of a killer being free. This performance of Nicholson is sandwiched between his intolerable prick in “As Good as It Gets” and another retiree from a clockwork career in “About Schmidt”. Nicholson’s Black has the tiredness and feeling of being useless. Still he is driven by the voices from his last day at work. He has the maturity of accepting his cop days being over but at the same time the urge of being a cop for thirty years works him up.

People like Jerry Black who has the good intention get misread easily. And in the verge of the communication fallout they build up their trust in their head with themselves. These are the times doubting one digs out better things. Black loses that over being obsessive and forgets the original motto he started hunting for the killer. Talking so much about his quest for killer does not mean that the film is an exercise of nurturing the madness in him. Penn as he does “Into the Wild” depends more on the images than the dialogues. More on expressions than words. More on nature’s beauty than on the thrills. And completely sweeps us off in the implementation of using music as a substantial tool for his imagination. This is the film when at the end of it you come to know exactly how the director wanted the film to be and how immaculately he brings it to the screen.

"Spartan" (2004) - Movie Review

David Mamet’s “Spartan” understands and trusts the intelligence of audience to gauge the dire situation for themselves. Show than tell. The gravity of the situation and the operatives’ cold approach in pursuing the hunt for a girl named Laura Newton (Kristen Bell) lets it speak for the importance. Surgical in the story telling and still putting us in the dark of the real show runners, as serious the film gets, the fear is surmounted by the quickness of the agent Bobby (Val Kilmer) or Robert Scott. The name does not matter as it would not for a tight paced thriller to only know the target person. “Where is the Girl?” is the question Bobby chants as a mantra and when he asks that to a person tied under the rugged arms of his, he/she better tell it because he will not hesitate to snap their neck off.

I have got to admit that when I saw this film first time during a get together session, I did not like it. I should blame it on the constant distraction on the surroundings (which is understandable) and should not hold it against the film. I made myself to remember watching it again in the future and forgot. Grabbing the DVD from the store, my instincts proved worthy. Val Kilmer is a lone styled worker and it does not mean to work alone but be in a zone of operation only he can exist in without any issues with himself. He states the fact than to condescend cornering on his seniority or the effectiveness over his fellow officers or the rookie he trained and work with, Curtis (Derek Luke). His cold heart handling of the people to get to the objective shivers us. We distance ourselves from him but the skill and numbness he shows towards his job makes us think of the personalities in that line of work.

The investigation is not smooth and being to work with Secret Service, Bobby feels he is the perfect worker bee and does not want to get into the trouble of knowing the big picture. He is a robot. His characteristic of being hard and ruled in pursuit of the girl and since we see the happenings through his eyes, the neutrality of the story becomes precisely balanced. The dirty games behind it disappear and as him we too want to only retrieve the girl than to know the facts. In a general human reflection, the reasoning ties the final knot in knowing a story and Mamet’s sketch of this film erases those. We come back to the tone of it only when Bobby wants to know the truth and that too being more on the rescue than the totality of the event.

Often the term tight plot is used up. “Spartan” is more of a tight film. Watch how the scene of the first interrogation with a night watch agent Gaines (Stephen Culp) takes place. The calmness and stillness Kilmer holds on his face is shattered in a sudden outburst which is as much as true and as much as fake. His expressions are mathematically calculated that it is too perfect to be true. He sizes up his second encounter in extracting information from the girl’s boyfriend Michael Blake (Aaron Stanford). And how Mamet would have laid it out is as crucial as the two actors carry it out. There is nothing spectacular in the seriousness of the scene. Kilmer comes as a regular campus security guy to catch Blake in the act of breaking a post box. The next conversation is carried out on borderline by Kilmer and the body language of Stanford playing a miniscule part in the film. At one point there is the signal in the air in between these two. The boy knows that he is more than a security guard but plays it down to not open the Pandora’s Box and Kilmer’s Bobby wants him to know that. I might be over stating things but watch it out as it is the start of many such encounters but hardly have we time to grasp it due to rocket fast screenplay.

Thriller films provide a character study in bits and pieces. The mass of it might not be fully sufficient to know the characters but that’s what makes it suspenseful and unique. We still want to be surprised by what this guy is capable of. And that is been put to work very aptly and if I may add, quite dutifully by Mamet. There is no lecturing of truth, right, wrong, justice and that through as secretive are carried out without many words. A similar plot could have been typically handled in blowing up the magnanimity of the person disappeared quite early in other thriller movies but Mamet gauges that the current audience need not waste time in it. Because every one knows the enormity of it when the characters like Bobby are active and are in their best forms.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"10,000 B.C." (2008) - Movie Review

Long Long ago there was a time in Hollywood when stories need to be invented even it means to satiate the needs of the Block Buster audience. The clichés were disposed and there was at least a minimal effort to bring one point of a movie to show something unique, an attempt. Then there came the Computer Graphics, a novel way to look at things; grand, enormous and picture the impossible to possible. Soon it spread like disease and every one built something around it. Roland Emmerich made “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” using that technology giving and honestly telling that it is an entertainment flick. It was fun for a while but later the unanimity in trusting a good film prevailed. Then Emmerich brings “10,000 B.C.” and it sucks, big time.

Why would you want this to happen in 10,000 B.C.? To show the mammoths? Or to present the great mountainous feature? It is simply a rescue feature of a hero, in this case D’Leh (Steven Strait) of his love, Evolet (Camille Belle). Emmerich did not want to use the ancient languages and hence the advanced cave men speak English and some other African language on their journey towards retrieving their people. It was opted so as Emmerich thought that “it would not be emotionally engaging”. Is he joking? The only emotionally engaging thing would be the desperate pain to avoid sleeping over the lame predictability of this film.

I do like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” because there is something more than the situation, a little bit which constituted the quest on a very large scale. Mainly it had some humour on its path to rescue. All the people in this film state the obvious a zillion times. “Where can we find them?”, “Great Destiny”, “The One”, “The Warrior”, “We will fight together”, what is the issue with the screen writers and mainly the studio?

To light fire on our wounds is the irritating voice over. If Emmerich needs a husky and annoying voice to tell the story of nothing, it cannot get more pathetic and sad. The actors are dressed in mud and they have the shambled gears to be civilized. What is the purpose of these strange men looting from a small village? Why do they have to travel so long to steal couple of fleshes when they have their own civilization and the method to feed? In the midst of it, we hear the “prophecies” which are far worse in guessing. There is Old Woman, Old Wise Men, a blind man who has something to say and you cannot stop laughing on dubbing funny dialogues for it.

If the purpose of the film is a sheer captive-rescue adventure, it might work for some but if it is said to be a representation of the pre historic periods to know about the history, it is an abuse over it. The time period is used as a prop, in a very bad manner to continue the script. Some movies do not even deserve the wastage of words on it and “10,000 B.C.” wasted my grammatically damaged words for nothing.

"The Bank Job" (2008) - Movie Review

Jason Statham has created his territory to be the rugged criminal with a heart. With thick Stubbles and eyes sharp, he has the charm to be the perfect nice law breaker we have seen for a while. Of course the team of Ocean has their territory drawn out but Statham is pitch perfect for the role of Terry Leather, one of the main players in the actual robbery happened in Baker Street, London during 1971. He has been typecast and he challenges to suit the character every time with the familiarity to the audience in a good way.

For once the heist film takes itself very seriously. Of course it has to since it is been labeled as based on true story. And in the actual happenings lives would have been lost and damages would have been done. Clean getaways are only consolation and disaster is imminent. The comic is subtle as it can be seen in our regular life. And suddenly it is fast paced, tactfully handled to have the gravity of the situation sit on us but we do not get time to evaluate it as it would have been for the robbers. As systematic and clandestine is the approach of these thieves, the plans are exposed to the exact people they hide from, knowingly or unknowingly. It is not a well thought fall for bait but luck and some authority over the situation help some of these petty cadre in the criminal chain to survive their life, with a fortune.

And what is it with sexy ladies and heist? Saffron Burrows who has the concealed attitude and the subtle stubbornness in holding on what she wants proposes the plan to her undying love Terry who is now a family man with two kids. His down to the sink business and the threats from the debt collectors is an easy answer to that. He assembles his crew and for once the job is talked and executed right away. It is not extremely complicated. Lease a shop nearby the bank and dug a tunnel to the safety box vault. The work is flesh and blood. They do it and that becomes the easy part. Opening the safety boxes is the key to the secrets of the popular and the unpopular. The game of control happens and it somehow resolves too, greatly to our surprise.

Roger Donaldson who also directed and adapted the real life events of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the White House internal chess game in “Thirteen Days” runs the same kind of game but with slick and style. The film’s setting is 70’s and he uses the iconic figures for the era than the costumes or set design. And it is not a choice for him not to choose the placement of those figures rather the film needs it.

The film diverse in the location and happenings of multiple stories and as it should and is expected converge. In the midst though there is no character study and it is the plot and the editing. The story would have had very minimal chances of finding its way unless for the quick drop and the other stories which meets everything else in its places. It does not happen as a coincidence. It is not missed or a confused funny misplacement of the robbed money but the scandalous boxes which uncovers many faces and lights on the corruption on the system.

The film works and it works very well. The 110 minutes runs so fast and the robbery feels like happened a long time ago as the players are caught up in the dangers. Donaldson knows that the suspense or the thrill in the robbery itself has been exhausted or in this case is simple as for the edge of the seat entertainer parameter but real hard labour for the thieves. And he seizes the aftermath of it. When the robbers are happy and carefree as they would have been, we even with expected disaster forget that. Donaldson breaks the comfort level of nobody is going to get hurt like a rip off the band aid from the wound. Fast, painful and wakes you shockingly.

Friday, March 07, 2008

"The Aura" (Language - Spanish) (2005) - Movie Review

“The Aura” unfortunately the final feature of the late director Fabián Bielinsky impressed a lot more than the Oscar winning “No Country for Old Men” a similar type of crime drama where in the movement of the film becomes a melancholic yet scary entity in the story. In this film it is about a silent loner who dreams of doing a great clean robbery is in a very situation after a hunting ends as an accidental shooting of a guy. It is a methodical crime drama which never lets to know about this person apart from his passion for the job which too he rarely exposes in expressions.

Beielinsky either hides us in the thick bush of the woods hardly letting sun light or openly lets us into the barren suburbs. But the barren property has a carelessness for the things which are about to happen later in the film. The loner played again by Ricardo Darín is a taxidermist who joins his friend Sontag (Alejandro Awada) on a hunting trip. Before that with precise timing he explains to Sontag on how to loot the place they are about to get paid. He inscribes everything he sees and assembles those pieces to form a plan. According to him, there is a clean get out with zero calamities.

The IMDB says the character name as Espinoza played by Ricardo but hardly does it get mentioned or as in “Layer Cake” it is not something to be identified upon. His existence is merely by the witness of some of the people who got to talk with him, rarely. I think that’s the reason when he seizes into unconsciousness in many of his epileptic attack, Beielinsky chooses no one to notice him. Either the place he faints is devoid of human existence or people are too busy. The attack as expected happens in a crucial moment still managing to surprise us. The film uses it as a tool but also conceals it as a natural process.

The photography Checco Varese closes us with trees when the protagonist is clueless and opens up the blue sky with dry lands when he has a chance to be free and explore. It is amply supported by the music of Lucio Godoy. The momentary lapse from the realization of getting into an Epileptic attack and the actual attack, he calls it as the aura. A perfect moment wherein you are free of everything but completely out of control of yourself. It is a pain and pleasure. The film metaphorically represents the phenomenon to the character. As he accidentally kills a man, he panics but covers it up. Slowly when he learns the truth about the actual heist, he follows the notes, photos and voices left for the guy he shot. The killing vanishes and as him we too get into the plan. The money is irrelevant but without knowing what the plan is, his quest to solve it and mainly build it up becomes his new project. This soon catches on us.

It is a patient movie and that is how it should be. The DVD cover explanation gives it as a part character study and part crime drama but the character we study is a fantasy in real life of this strange lonely introspective person. We know nothing of him except for his obsession on doing a robbery. He is not a killer, nor a person of conscience. He is the average guy who visualizes in his thoughts of flying, shooting and the fantastic thrills of it. Logically he is aware of the terror yet he cannot stop himself from thinking about it. The situation this person stands on is the blend of his logic and fantasy. He surrenders to his instincts and takes it wherever it goes and adapts his story accordingly. Soon he gets mixed up with the actual players and he goes along with it.
It does not resolve nor do we learn something about the person or the film as such. It is simply the pleasure of the realistic dream we can delve. “No Country for Old Men” is considered master piece and experiencing this film makes me understand the people who call it a work of great art. The style of Coen brothers of course is enigmatic, mysterious and deadly but the time of its stay in my mind is limited. In “The Aura”, after a point we give up to understand this character because this is going on a ride which is a cinematic experience rather than a life lesson. “No Country for Old Men” tries that, may be a little too hard and abruptly stops.

"Nine Queens" (Language - Spanish) (2000) - Movie Review

Seasoned as we are with the heist films, the coming directors have begun to use that as a stepping stone for their films. The winding twists and turns to outnumber the guessing game of the viewers are jujitsu-ed. But in “Nine Queens” an Argentinean film directed by Fabián Bielinsky, as with any success for a film on twists, it takes us and immerses on the techniques and unexpected talent from the con artists rather than a motto on screwing the viewers. It has a flexible honesty in its central characters who knows each other cannot be trusted and nothing is true. But as with the business and the terms of con movies, the end comes on trusting the untrustworthy person to do the final job. It can be made up to come on that terms and becoming obvious written portion to implicate that but in “Nine Queens”, the events unfold with a coincidence of such a believability, we wake up from a dream and connect the dots. The answer is always simple and even silly for the most complicated problems.

It is one of those days where circumstances and situations are too hard to believe but it does happen. It is one such day for the young and naïve Juan (Gastón Pauls) to be saved by Marcos (Ricardo Darín) in a gas station trick done wrong. Marcos being a con and the open liar/impostor invites Juan for a one day partnership in running on his daily business. Juan being a con, brought up by his dad who was a con and Marcos in his eyes written “watch me screw you”, he thinks but as expected joins as his situation demands. He needs seventy grand to let his dad out and believes Marcos has the experience and skill to do it.

When we think Juan is a novice as Marcos does too, he trumps him/us with a truly smooth swindle to show his talents. The road walk continues as Marcos as a faithful teacher educates the liability and the business of being a con works. Marcos is a person who knows the work for its purity in one form, having no conscience. He is clear as crystal about it. Juan on the other hand has the innocence and the partial heart of doing the deed haunts him. They will be invited into a transfer which is too good to be true and an opportunity for the perfect distrust in any of the involving members. It happens in a hotel which becomes an environment in accordance of their work and also the mood to settle in as viewers. It is all closed doors with glossy outlook. Dirty things happen but the exterior is everything that matters to keep the business going. The exterior Marcos carries a weird integrity that he performs the con as professional as any one could imagine. His exposing and concealment of truth is as easy as tearing a paper. He exactly knows the consequences and at one point says to Juan, “It is easy to be a bastard but to be a real bastard….” He is a real bastard and bloody clean in the life of dirty work he leads on.

Explained earlier, the suspense or the ultimate trick is on the tables any moment but “Nine Queens” is not about that. As charming as these personalities are, they cannot con their way out always. They are stuck with impossibilities and give up too. And end of day as their character and the zeal of conning, their real personality is never known. They can be subtle charmers but exposed distrust. And Ricardo Darín is so honest in Marcos and so much we love this guy (as long as he messes with the life of others than us), he is one mean insensitive con artist. The honesty in that is dangerous for any one which includes him too.

What is with our passion towards these swindlers? Any one will be the last person to laugh or admire these two people’s personalities when our backs are stripped bare naked without our notice. In “Nine Queens”, they have a round about script to justify the deeds of the characters. When near the end, we think at this very moment it will be a satisfying end and we feel there need not be any suspense at all or we would not feel cheated if they did not give any, that’s the time director Fabián Bielinsky has completely succeeded.