Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Traitor" (2008) - Movie Review

There was a television series called “Sleeper Cell” which is about a terrorist cell in Los Angeles and a Muslim African American FBI agent infiltrates as an undercover. In addition to being a thrilling series, it dealt with the fanatics, believers and the FBI internal politics with a care and complications in extensive episodes. “Traitor” is a derived shorter version only that it travels across the globe and not as impressive as the series. It tries to muddle the line of what exactly the operation of infiltration and clandestine does in reality but sparsely does it make a thought provoking scenario.

Samir (Don Cheadle) a Sudan born and raised in US is an expert in explosives which is now making his niche in getting into a terrorist cell in Yemen. In the meanwhile FBI agent Clayton (Guy Pearce) is following Samir and linking the bombings at various places which detours the arrow symbol finally to America. It is not a pay off that Samir is working for US government as it has been a chore in films like “Traitor”.

No one can argue the murkiness of how many lives one has to take to achieve the so called stability and peace. And this has been presented in lot many films which cannot be argued either. For the trend of these films we have seen “Traitor” does a decent work on keeping the story moving and spreading bits and pieces of conflicted opinions on this scenario. But for the same fact, it does not take a different route either. All the key persons would have accumulated frequent flier miles for life time travel and the time span is never mentioned. People are teleported through screenplay without qualms around the world with pressed dress and suits.

I know that in a film which ventures on a thriller does not have so much space and time for its completeness but when a screenplay tries to be serious and tweak the argument, and then it would have to be more careful in what they are showing. Don Cheadle is one of the finest actors in Hollywood. A man with a performance caliber of diverse kind is more than the role asks for. As an undercover operative it is a casual sleep walk for him. In fact that kind of downplays the character a little. His softness does not load up for a fanatic. Samir can any day pass as a true believer but never an undercover agent posing to be a terrorist. Jeff Daniels hardly has a thing to say while Guy Pearce does his part of a good FBI agent well enough as the story allows him to be.

“Traitor” is not a bad movie but a routine film. If I can watch it back I will not be able to find many problems with it. It is the TV film which can be watched as a temporary time killer as your wife or girlfriend prepare to get dressed for going out. It would not bore you and keeps the momentum up and running. It tries to labour around what the methods are really doing to stop the terrorists. Do the agents and task force become like terrorists and get dissolved in the purpose and become fanatics as them? It is no surprise. Once the line of stealth is crossed, there is no difference. And “Traitor” is not the first film to say that.

The predictability is blatant. A kid watching his dad from balcony and the dad enters the car and closes the door. Guess what happens next. Similarly, Samir detonates a remote bomb in a US consulate and comes back to the terrorist head house where his face turns with disappointment when the death toll was a number he did not expect and then he reacts as it is very low to the lead. You know why he is really disappointed. And finally when the moment of all the suicide bombers are about to press the bomb. You know whether they would really result in the catastrophe. These are the scenes which makes “Traitor” a film wherein they are too politically correct and more than that does not want the viewers to feel bad in the end. The discussions are thin and inadequate. “Traitor” is a serious film for its concept and it should have taken it more than thought it did.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"This is England" (2006) - Movie Review

“This is England” is laid out on one another religion to be universally accepted, patriotism. On the outlook of that line and particularly the word, patriotism is often a positive notion of a perfect right thing in a much larger scale. What runs on the defense is a gray line of discussion but how does that bring about the rightness in an individual. In an objective stand out perspective, it is indeed a religion, a very righteous one as propagated and labeled. Guarding territory is different but against something is when things become murky. It does bring every one together in tough times but against some one, as hate rather than love amongst civil liberties and outlook. When that angers individuals to take up hatred as their weapon, a closer look by stripping down is the simple but powerful emotion of jealousy and void love rather than passion for country.

The story happens in 1983 where we see a 12 year old boy Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is in a state of being bullied around during the tough time of his life, losing his father in the Falklands War. Seeing his mom (Jo Hartley) remind him of the great days he had with his dad. He wants an outlet and that becomes through a skin head Woody (Joe Gilgun) whose posse is a representation not as political or racist force rather a culture of being the cool kids. In fact they have Milky (Andrew Shim) who is from Jamaican origins. Shaun likes to belong to something which is often the hunt for most people and especially for a kid.

We fear for the boy as Woody’s sympathy and care even though genuine has a face of a cult having history of hatred. Yet they go as a group and are the renegades in empty houses. They demolish the abandoned homes and that becomes the outlet for Shaun. So when Shaun is inducted into the group by shaving his head and getting the suspenders, his mom is shocked. But she comes by and complains about the haircut and not judge these kids. That is a subtle scene of fear, love and prejudice dangling in contemplation.

The real threat comes in the form of an older former member Combo (Stephen Graham) who has served three year in prison and Woody’s best friend. His entry into a fun filled party is scaring to hell and tells his sick taste for jokes. And he immediately dives in taking cat moves gracing on the subject of race in one of his story which unsettles the gang with Milky agitated. But here is the difference, Combo instantly apologizes and in fact makes the strongest persuasion through that incident in bringing the gang in uniting for Nationalism. And an interesting thing happens; Woody and most of his buddies walk out while Shaun with a personal confrontation about his dad by Combo makes him stay.

Shane Meadows is well aware of the various Neo Nazi films that have been successful and made its strong point. But this is about something bigger. As they say people call them with different names and honestly they are the “patriots” or fanatics in its true form. Yet it is the people collecting their feelings into something they cannot come up with a name and hence belong to something which closely resemble it. For Shaun it is anger and a brotherly manly affection he misses from his dad. Shaun is a fragile mind and state and more than that he is a confused kid. We are surprised by Combo. With his immediate buddy Woody completely rationalizing and backing off, it is threatening to doubt whether he is a sociopathic maniac trying to get the kick out of a clan providing those opportunity. He is not one and in the most emotional and enlightening part of the tale, we see how much it all is for the feeling of not having something the others have. If its his/her countrymen, it seems normal but if it is some one outside that irritates him and thinks they do not deserve so much love, opportunity and consideration.

Shane Meadows not only provides a story of the nationalist UK in 80s but a culture through it. Stephen Graham as Combo is intimidating but kind beyond imagination. He says to the 12 year old Turgoose’s Shaun that when he tried to take a swing at him, he saw himself. Indeed he does, a lost kid never getting the attention and affection he wanted. Graham and Turgoose give a performance which is a thin line to be despised and admired. They are truly the individuals the society churns up consumed by their confusion.

A nation’s army is a defensive force and men/women in it truly sacrifice everything for country. But those emotions build up something fanatical in the civilians who are not on the front guard. Essentially it is an ardent form of unity and a religion in the physicality of dirt and stones morphs into patriotism. In the end it is individual finding reasons and setting minds to have a purpose and a great factor of feeling good. Despite the great respect I have for the people who stand up to protect, is it really is what happening in current world? The art of defense is just a stand up scenario for stealth offense and tap a name on it as war against violence. Seeing those becomes the rooting factor for civilians waiting for that to blame on something larger than them to do their hatred against some one. “This is England” addresses the issue of that fanaticism hiding in every person.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Margot at the Wedding" (2007) - Movie Review

Noam Baumbach can sculpt a snob with perfection and in “The Squid and the Whale”, through Jeff Daniels he gave the claimed intellectualism of a writer and in “Margot at the Wedding”, it is through Nicole Kidman again a writer. Do writers consume themselves in their throne of intellectualism or the headstrong feeling having able to see through a character over paper makes them ubiquitous to give rights to be a control freak? While it is not a generalization he makes, it certainly is amusing to think like that of these characters. It was told that his screenplay for “The Squid and the Whale” came through his personal experience when his parents went through the hard labour of divorce, needless to say painful. And Kidman’s Margot takes note of her life happenings in a journal to put it in her book even if it involves breaking the confidence of her loved ones. She did so in one of her novels with her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) which brought Pauline’s first marriage down. Yet when she comes down for Pauline’s wedding, she likes it and it means so much to her. Margot does not know what she ought to think.

Baumbach wants to see the reality of a wedding with gloominess, without planning and the bright nature cheerfulness evaporated into the wintery weather and in people. Margot a well known writer after years of feud with her sister Pauline arrives with her son Claude (Zane Pais). Pauline and Margot had their hippie days and rough days with their dad. They have another sister Becky whom we never meet, mainly that she hates Margot. Margot is the obvious successful one in terms of finance and family, but her marriage is breaking down. She is in fact in town combining multiple things. One such is with Dick Koosman (Ciarán Hinds), a guy with his own ego boosted up when a woman’s is brought down. But he is not the story.

Margot is the bossy, judgmental and unmerciful high stand cousins one would have who believe strongly to know the absolute right things and they go to great extents to make others abide by it. She does not like Pauline’s fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black) who is the cool and funny uncle a family would have. They might be the creative soul but their motivation has a self explanatory conviction that they seem to be working hard on doing nothing with true sincerity on a couch. Black has been phenomenally improving in every film he has starred and has been able to widely come out of the obnoxious funny guy to a guy not only funny but has a true character in him. He is the most understandable part in this chaos and yet his Malcolm slips in relationship when it is crucial.

Seeing “Margot at the Wedding” is the assimilation of little frowns, lines, irritation and agony to form an avalanche, of course coming to the schedule of a life without solution. The string of relationship that is between our kin is never to be understood to its complete power. It is a puzzle which never gets solved or may be it does and then we break up until we find a new one to figure out. Margot genuinely wants good thing for Pauline but in her way. Pauline wants to trust and love Margot because they were in ties when the worse things happened to them as kids. Both are tangled in this mistrust and trust with each other and end up hurting too.

But look at the males in this film and it is not amazing that the women have figured out well out the behaviour pattern of us. They are next to accurate on most of the things but we still spring a surprise to them. Well, not really, if they guessed we will ogle at the next coming girl, we might ogle at the following next best girl in the line. We are programmed as that and it is a life long fight to over come the zeal of temptation with the rationality of the situation. And the rationality vanishes when women drive men to the limits of madness. Not their better half but through their better half. For Malcolm it is Margot and for Pauline it is Malcolm. I know only the person who saw the film might get that previous line but watch it to continue the debate of this paragraph.

Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh represents the epitome of sisterhood which exists in different forms but same level of naked jealousness, love and hate for each other in life. They tip toe around each other and provide the space in the performance but not in characters. With Jack Black and John Turturro in between they have got the best supporting performance for their respective characters.

In every person the division of thinking good and doing good contests among itself and the failure to react on appropriate action leaves with hate and guilt. Humans hardly have the capability to hate them and that results in reflecting on others. Margot is one such and suffers not alone within her but with every one surrounding. It is not visible of her love or caring to her sister, her son or her husband in the film but they seem to see it and through them we believe. Baumbach leaves the film which would be unconvincing and open for many but that is the beauty of the life as such. Some times a problem’s solution is to leave it as it be and reside in the patience of indifference.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993) - Movie Review

“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” was suggested, rather strongly recommended from my friend SK when I was in college. He watched it over the movie channel and he could not wait for me to see. Well, he could not wait and hence pretty much recited the story. I managed to watch it in fragments in those coming days. And a film is never complete until it is endured its duration in a viewer through its form of continuity and blend of happiness, sorrow or tragedy.

It of course is about Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) in a town called Endora. A town where an opening up of a burger joint is considered a “breath of fresh air” as the owner puts it in their grand opening day. Slowly but surely burying under the sands of corporate giants such as “Food Land” (Wal Mart for real world) is Lamson’s Grocery where he works. His mentally challenged brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is turning eighteen; his elder sister Amy (Laura Harrington) takes care of the house while his other sister Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) is in the midst of her teens. Every body’s life is grounded to this place because their mother (Darlene Cates) went into a shock of nothingness when their dad died. “She is a whale” he says to his friend Tucker (John C. Reily) and she is. They make their dinner table and move it to the couch to have family dinner. He runs an affair with a married woman (Mary Steenburgen) with an emotional vacancy. This is his life.

With sadness as the rock he carries, he is calm and smiles. He helps a kid to look his mom inside his house. He knows what others think of him and his family. He has stopped caring but inside his house he does. He cannot tolerate the suffocation of things happening as though nothing is wrong. He deals with it in silence and routine. Depp in his early years shows Gilbert Grape desperate for some one to confide and cry out loud yet he cannot have the luxury to crumble. His yearly ritual with his brother is to watch the caravans of traveler pass by. That is his buzz for the year of staying put in Endora. He has a war and he knows there are no enemies.

And DiCaprio as Arnie riding so close to the line of not able to see this boy go through his day but rightfully handled is a performance that earned his Oscar nomination. In the daily chores of Gilbert, we see him struggle through it but surely accepting it for its reality. He loses Arnie every time who climbs up the water tank when Gilbert glances for some relaxation. One such relaxation comes in the form of traveler Becky (Juliette Lewis) staying at Endora temporarily with her grandmother (Penelope Branning) to fix their car. She sees Gilbert which others have gotten used to. The simple selflessness he does it with much ease and peace with himself draws her to him. And the very sight of a traveler in his world is enough for him to talk with her. In the sense he does not talk much as he bottles up everything to him. He hardly has any emotion which we come to know later with Becky about his father.

And as Gilbert’s obese mother Darlene Cates slaps everything about the people’s stare on strangeness on external appearances. The human instinct is to stare at deviance but some one concentrating and getting entertained on it is a disgusting feeling to witness. While one self might not care about this, it is the pain of her/his loved ones enduring that and that hurts due to the failure to eradicate the problem.

Lasse Hallström direction is patient. The focus on the main characters is a common thing but to pop up the supporting roles in places to be graced upon is casual on a heavy film. It sees through a single man getting his weight on his shoulders increased day by day and he just smiles at the unmerciful act of life. But he has loving sisters, an affectionate mother and a brother who is a cute dictator of his emotions. In this family who gives everything towards a disabled brother brings laugh on the acceptance of one’s stature from other’s point of view and painfully heartbreaking in the people crushed by their limits of patience. A novel written by Peter Hedges is the one I want to read in order to see how well he wrote it to picture it over the screen.

"The Notebook" (2004) - Movie Review

In its face and charm, “The Notebook” is the sappy films we have watched over inherited, regenerated and reincarnated in forms never seem to exhaust produced ranging from worst to best. Romantic films are like impressing the right lady, never easy but when it strikes it cannot be more perfect, and most of the times failing too. “The Notebook” is not a riddle to be solved; in fact the film could be sleep walked in prediction and the so called revealing romance, but it falls right on places, simplified. Hence instead of turning into the melodramatic soap opera which “The Legends of the Fall” does, it moves fast, to the point and travels light.

In an elderly home Duke (James Garner) merrily starts his day and goes to read a book for another residing member, a lady (Gena Rowlands) who is suffering from senile dementia. In that story we meet bumbling youthful Noah (Ryan Gosling) going head over heels for Allie (Rachael McAdams). Then it is boy meets girl, girl likes boy, they are happy, and a break, you know the whole nine yards. It is not mathematical problem but a proven formula. Noah is crazy romantic and he immediately climbs up a Ferris wheel to hang on until Allie says yes to his request on going a date with him. Charming and stupid as it sounds, it indeed plays well which I would have hated in other films of such kind.

The simplicity of “The Notebook” takes precedence and avoids all the unnecessary known melodramatic involved in the process. In the narrating voice of James Garner, it runs like a fairy tale and ends with a natural tragedy which might be heavy for some. I was stoic to it since it never appealed to me as more realistic like many might observe. Director Nick Cassavetes might have looked at the novel written by Nicholas Sparks as a story said many times and want to eliminate the intricate part of most emotional points. Then he would have assembled the key plots into the twisting elements which of course get predicted too. But it is not overplayed and keeps it to terseness.

Throughout the world cinema, romantic films never seem to recede even for a small tenure. With universal acceptance and indulgence of love driving everything, the cook pot for it has been savoured with rich sweetness becoming unbearable delicacy done wrong in novel ways. Yet some get it right and perfectly with uniqueness as in “Say Anything” and “Before Sunrise” with its sequel “Before Sunset”. The emotions were same but the style and conversation were intelligent and gets to you. What “The Notebook” does is in no way relates to that. The story has been the survival boon for the box office to exploit on that season’s sappy romance. And in delivering something clear, cool and concise makes it watchable and a lot more approachable.

With small and effective support from Sam Sheppard, Joan Allen, David Thornton and James Marsden it is smooth and plays withdrawing themselves remaining as a novel said in abundance of melodrama. Sometimes that’s the simplistic beauty we would expect out of the romance films. It has the parents concerned about the future and command against Allie’s wishes. A film soaked of lost love and sympathetic nature over the left lover does not bore or impress until the end. When Allie returns giving in to her emotions on to see Noah as she puts it “whether he is OK” is every step of predictability on what is to happen. But in Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams we see the grown up kids who were madly in love with each other and constrained by their current circumstances. They say they are different and they say they are the same. It randomly wanders into the process of finding that moment to completely surrender to the overcoming emotions which in every step is wrong but that is what makes every one human by making them vulnerable to themselves.

As the old age scenes are played neatly again, the suspense is a fair chance of each possibility of either Lon or Noah for Allie but it is a good platform for it to lay the story. And in that passionate reading and dedication, we understand how much every one goes through for the labour of love. The film conveniently negates the small fights brings the heavy decisions and pain at right junctures. “The Notebook” is something I would have hated even if a mild step away was taken but it survived and made me like it instead. I might not be as moved as it expects but as a simple love story, it cannot be more perfect.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus" (Documentary) (2003) - Movie Review

In the glooms of the still river we go through the tree shadows filtering the sun and in a surreal motion of imagery we see a dog and a boy staring as some one would towards a stranger. It is blurry on the thoughts but clear on its picture accompanied by song “Still Waters” so appropriate, spelling it poetic is not the proper justice one does in a review. We see a lonely guitarist taking himself from the shores of that dense lake off to a car shop which the people in “Deliverance” would dare to go. There he rents a 1971 Chevy rusted, bolted but strong in pieces and drives us to the South. The guitarist is an artist named Jim White in this avant garde documentary look on the South of the US.

Southern US is a richly conservative, religious and seclusion of a kind many in the modern times have a fear to be associated. Jim White who grew up in Pentecostal family shares his experiences, visions and acknowledging terms he has come up with this culture really vibrant, rich and a lot scary too. His album “Wrong Eyed Jesus (The Mysterious Tale of How I shouted” became the search of this peculiar kind of music which made the director and a spectacular photographer Andrew Douglas to venture on this film.

We hear stories, a lot of stories from people in the interior depths of the South and every single story has god attached to it, admiringly, cautiously, fearfully and horrifically. It is a film about a culture. Some might like it, some might not and it is a solid head or tail situation if you are out there. Regardless of one’s beliefs, it is the ambience it poses. The photography becomes the element in providing that surreal nature of the world it gives upon. It is enchanting to see the people passionate about their belief in extreme ways. It is down right crazy and fearful many times but you see the people in it. And the tragedy, happiness and the life altering event that has moulded them. Seldom does one see the person behind the talk of religion. It is either an encompassing embrace or a disgust of lowering oneself to something politically wrong.

While looking at this culture is a strange experience, this feeling of being in a small town or group or religion is abundant in India or to be precise the least of India I have seen. You travel through the villages and the people in it. You ask the routes to a stranger. And you form a bond for that moment, friendliness unexplainable. The person of characters in each of those places becomes your memorabilia of your vacation, even the bad ones and especially the bad ones. United States of course would have that but not the strangeness one would get in India. You lose the communication within different cities and completely crossing states. It is tough but that is the fun in travelling. This part of US though is the talked about but not ventured upon thing to look on as a culture in an objective form.

The film has minimal scenes of small orchestration in the form of music video when the artists play their songs, which are not out of place and elevate something sensual hidden in these viscous frames. What does the film wants to see upon? Unlike any documentary it has no agenda of making you root for or against anything and especially to do something on a region which is seen and of course is a strongly Christian is something of an achievement. But it is not a documentary of the regular feat rather it is a feature film of its own realm. If Jim Jarmusch takes documentary, then this would be it.

Jim White converse in poems and the fable saying we have all been hearing. It sounds so much simple and so much truth in it. The people in the film and the region are mostly hardcore religious. And you wonder what the film is preaching and then it films inmates confessing of their boredom pushing them off limits. Andrew Douglas gives a region so negated in a form one would see it for what it is. Yes they are secluded and have a territory of their own and yes they are extreme on their beliefs and yes it is scary but what he gives though is that this is their way of dealing with their existence or in a more straight cut throat manner, boredom. Everyone does it and in city life it is the job we are tied and the luxuries of various past times. But even beyond that one questions constantly on their existence, the universal quest of humans to see what they are here for. Answers to look for and walls with dead end marks drive them crazy. Either you got to make terms with yourself on the life’s enjoyment or look up to the sky. “Searching for Wrong Eyed Jesus” is a look on those people looking at those skies in an angry manner but have a way of doing it to create an environment to have a unique feel of liveliness and an origin of art to it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Pineapple Express" (2008) - Movie Review

At the end of the “Pineapple Express”, the three hardcore stoners of the film the drug dealer Saul (James Franco), the customer Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and another drug dealer Red (Danny R. McBride) discuss the action stunts they have been into in the adventure they were and we wonder how it all happened in a film which did not take itself seriously. It is question on whether the action supports the comedy manifested by the main two buddies Saul and Dale who never have landed from the high spot they take from the weeds they smoke. At times very funny and many a times running on literally “running”, this would make a cult but does not last long when the guns are brought to finish the show.

The Apatow team with Seth Rogen penning the screenplay with Evan Goldberg (both wrote “Superbad” before this) smoke screens with so much weed that we little bit feel the float under. Dale is a man of many disguise not to cheat but to serve the subpoenas to people dodging to escape from it. He is a customer for Saul, a youngster passing his day time watching sitcoms and of course dealing drugs. He is naïve and friendly for the business and believes to have a friendship forming with Dale. Dale witnesses a murder one night smoking and runs off with so much attention that the killers drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and a corrupt cop Carol (Rosie Perez) come out. Now they do not know who it was but sure they find the joint the witness smoked. And that is Pineapple Express which Saul as the only dealer in the city. Chase and run and shoot.

Where was James Franco? If some one told me that this guy who did the role of Peter Parker’s best friend and nemesis of Spider Man is a comic, it would have been the last thing to hit me on the head. He is natural and as Saul the stoner, he is cherubic not stupid, high in a state one could not call it emotional or pure randomness. If the buddy genre is becoming old, Franco works it out his character in a glorious manner bringing more diversity to his abilities in future. Rogen does not need to strain much as he now has done so many forms of Dale Denton’s character in Apatow’s previous productions. But he knows where and what he is playing that even though it is hard to distinguish, there is a variation which makes a huge difference to be Dale Denton and not Ben Stone from “Knocked Up”.

As the second stoner movie of the year after “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”, I could imagine how smoking weed will be. Confused, dubious and as being drunk, completely dynamite on your judgment in opposite direction and some times that jolt of a reaction brings results of course in unpredictable ways. If the previous film I reviewed today “Bottle Shock” shows wine enthusiasts drinking it in an artful way, then Rogen smokes weed in the same manner that it brings a state of inhaling to us. If I am talking about how it would be then think about the film has it as a whole. It almost runs like weed propaganda. Now what is politically correct and making it legal is an altogether different debate and forum to be discussed about.

“Pineapple Express” is supposed to be said taking inspiration from buddy genre movies and wiki states the all time favourite of mine, “Midnight Run” which is a classic. When some one slip that kind of name, then I got to tell something on how much it does not even live up for the imagination of being compared. For one thing “Midnight Run” has two absolutely opposite characters unbearable to each other yet making it through the journey to reach the destination. It truly has a development in the bonding and a purpose of each other’s presence. This film does not have those and yet takes itself on the planes of seriousness at times which I honestly am not sure whether it is a comedy or drama. The male bonding routine Apatow has been doing in almost all of his films are beginning to lose its charm. Or may be it needs to be twisted and turned up into something else.

“Pineapple Express” definitely has its moments and when they hit it they hit big and bad. It almost makes you worthwhile to sit through for those but the action sequence overdoses unnecessarily and mainly not interesting to watch. It just gets messy and messy in the end that we slowly feel that we are getting sober from the good times. The worst is it turns to be a bad hangover.

"Bottle Shock" (2008) - Movie Review

Any art form suffers from an ego of the talent for its uniqueness and mainly an arrogance of monopoly claiming himself/herself/themselves the victorious of it. Doubting their talent is not the issue it poses. It is the blockage to any more good talent. Marking a territory within a small area makes them feel good being the single creator patting their back as the best. When it takes a more common form of collectiveness, it becomes a region, country, cult or anything which suits the purpose being the best. In “Bottle Shock” we see it was the case when in the 70s French wine were universally the only place for wine. Anything else from across the globe was discarded and considered a sin of standing together with the line of the elitist mode of French wine. Thank god it does not happen that much for films.

There is British wine expert Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) residing his shop in Paris and very much is confirmed living on a heaven of wines and there are no other possible tasting wine to match it. But he also needs to run a business which is only gets occupied by his neighbour American business owner Maurice (Dennis Farina) who does not stop on the possible chance for American wines making it up for French. Steven being a British is about class and as he puts it, sophistication. In the meanwhile there are the acres of vineyard with one of them being managed by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman). He has his hippie son Bo (Chris Pine) and his buddy Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) working for him. He is broke and he lays all his chances on his coming wine which he is detailing it to perfection, mounting immaculate to its place of origin.

Now you see what is happening, Steven and Jim collaborate to popularize the trend of wines, right? Not really. “Bottle Shock” is a mellow play without any signs of an effort to be great or even good. It allows its characters to develop and thankfully denies having plots for manipulating the script or the characters. There is the new hot throb in the form of intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) who of course is in the middle of these two young men but how subtle and peachy it is handled with ease is comforting. It of course ends in a “sports” film fashion because it has to and it did in real life. The melodramatic effects are eliminated and drama in its texture of a real life over the screen is maintained.

“Bottle Shock” intends to say is more than a single wine making it out there amongst the class of wine experts. It has Pullman and Rickman actually becoming a stereotype of their country. Pullman being the hard working American who does not stand to take an opinion from British who come all classy and down on the level of wines. Rickman of course has no tough time being the English. His compliments are the most egotistical and convincing a recipient of it might feel. But on the outside it gives that predominance and in reality it is the same road both the characters side on. While Jim says to Steven that he is limiting himself in this opinion, he himself does not come down when he has to make compromises and mainly a second chance. It is this thing which holds the scenes of Rickman and Pullman on a higher note than many other scenes.

A film becomes good when you sit through without restlessness and while not getting involved with the character, you still like to see how they are going to be. A great film though gets you involved and completely gets in the emotions and often putting the audience in the character’s position. “Bottle Shock” is a soothing good film where the characters are there for a reason and claim their place. It does not aim for high skies and yet it has the clarity in its story telling clear and mainly concise.

But “Bottle Shock” indeed has to be the way it has been said. Dramatizing it more would have only ruined. Avoidance of the film “Sideways” when a film involves a wine is near to impossible. Both the films have their central characters passionate for wine and connect them in the drama. What is noticeable in both the films are the handling of details yet not sidestepping the non-wine appreciators. It is no denial that wine enthusiasts will admire both the films a bit more than the regulars but it is the expressions and emotions for the drink through the characters which reels the real film. And “Bottle Shock” does that as smooth and sumptuous as the drink would do.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Tropic Thunder" (2008) - Movie Review

What run where the actors face and what happens beyond the boundaries of the screen has been a territory for shady glamour and glorified disasters as how the most of the entertainment industry itself depicts it. It has taken predominantly as a dark satire and “Tropic Thunder” not alone succeeds in it but also has characters within characters making sense than as spoof props. While self centered actors have been a known phenomenon, Robert Downey Jr. plays a dedicated method actor Kirk Lazarus with the sharpness he exhibited in “Iron Man”. He is so good in fitting a confident, adamant and authoritative character that he demands a respect and fear on audience. And how much more funny that can be.

The film follows a crew filming three big stars in a Vietnam War film. An action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) declining in his status after a failed box office film portraying a mentally challenged person as a chance of appealing to the critics has his hopes tied up on this film. His counter part Kirk, an Australian actor is full on in dominating him. Kirk is a zealous method actor who went through a medical procedure to portray an African American. The third wheel is Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) an unstable comedian. Along with them is a young upcoming rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and a dedicated geeky actor Kevin (Jay Baruchel) who is the only man with no issues. The film within the film’s director Damien (Steve Coogan) decides to put them in real jungle on the advice of the Vietnam veteran “Four Leaf” (Nick Nolte) only to be amongst the biggest drug lords.

Ben Stiller also directing the film marches confidently on satire with a sharp eye for seriousness with a great set of actors for the comedy. It does not spoof the war film and definitely does not to be those regular spoofs trying to mimic and fall flat. Instead it has performances buried under those funny faces. When one watches a drama film there is all the strain to follow the wrinkled emotions of an actor which nevertheless is a feat to pull off but in a comic film laughing lightens and dampens those performances under it. As always and as I have many times said, comic film performances and mainly films as such do not get credited as it supposed to. And in a film like “Tropic Thunder” it is paramount and anchors a script dependent on them.

What can be made about “Tropic Thunder”? What are the surprises it has to offer? For one is that we see a Tom Cruise let alone one could possibly have seen but never been imagined. Cruise playing an entertainment mogul does not express fun doing it but the exercising performance tells that he worked for a cameo so hard and it is hands down rioting. And add Mathew McConaughey to the list to get hard laid cameo casting done to perfection.

A mind seeing a film and especially one like mine which has laboriously watches one too many of them of course enjoying it will try to categorize. Categorize into existing and if not creating one. Every time a film comes and teaches it to not do it since it not alone circles the thought but also has a muddles the mind to pen down a review in my case. “Tropic Thunder” is one of those and I have a long way to go. In a comedy there are bland gaps in between laugh out loud moments. Those are considered inevitable and based on the scale of comic moments it gets the forgiveness. Hardly films make it through without one and it especially happens in the end. “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Knocked Up” and many other go through it as part of the process. While “Tropic Thunder” does not line up as the greatest comic film it does not go through those gaps either.

The art of film is a genuine work of team and an art made by a team amongst the politics of corporation, finance, ego and lot of external factors takes a breath to acknowledge it. The process which I can only imagine is an ordeal capable of faltering every step through it. “Tropic Thunder” cuts one part of it to make a funny film. Recently I saw comedy series called “Action” which ran one season a long time back. It had Jay Mohr as a producer trying hard to make his next film complete and mainly a box office. It is devilishly darkly comic in giving a Hollywood to wince at. This offers the same only that you do not wince much.

In the film “Knocked Up” the character of Paul Rudd says that life is an unfunny version of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Any sitcom can be substituted for that with the relationship or work in place of life. “Tropic Thunder” can be vice versa-ed on it. It is a funny version of a completely serious film industry.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Chennai 600028" (Language - Tamil) (2007) - Movie Review

More than the international game of cricket, the nativity and zeal come in for street or gully cricket. The competition in a child or a grown up child are imminent when it comes to the game of cricket. While Aamir Khan went to the roots of fiction through period in “Lagaan”, this form of cricket which originates with rules of getting out if some one hits on the window of a neighbour is where director Venkat Prabhu has found “Chennai 600028”. The cricket played in the film is a little above gully cricket and grounds below the professional cricket. Asides the rival nature among teams, this form is cornerstone for comedy because end of day it becomes a fun game mingling among the obsession of winning.

As the title says the pin code area for Visalakshi Thottam in the city of Chennai is the “Sharks” trying hard to win their arch nemesis “Rockers” from Raayapuram. With a year left for the grand gala tournament which Sharks have always lost to Rockers, we see the lives of these young men with a fun very new to the tamil films and an unnecessary drama and romance sequences routine for the same film industry. But even after a forty five minutes of a compromise made by the director for the term of “commercial” running among the film makers in the industry for years and years, it is a film made of comedy effortless but effective in its execution.

The film builds up on the characters which can be identified by almost every one who has played gully cricket in India. And those are every one. It has the funny guy who is poor in fielding, a confident batsman overconfident in his attitude and many other elements which would float around the memory lanes of the streets we have grown up. Even among the breaking of glass windows, the people in the neighbourhood represent themselves through their children in these games. Especially when it comes to the clash of teams, the anger becomes pride to support and cheer for their kids. And among those always lives a middle aged man Manohar (Ilavarasu) using his authority of age over the youngsters for a chance to play which he never was able to in his old times. These people become the symbol of a neighbourhood in pure aspect of cricket.

If Venkat Prabhu had the option of using sepia colour tone all through the film, then he would have relished that opportunity, but the duty of presentation withheld him from the very minimal scenes he decided to use normal tone of colour. While it suited the songs and some shots, a considerate decision of it would have spared eye strain a lot. The film’s sub plots of whatever (for lack of better term) are the “love” and “friendship” sequences in the middle holding the banner of “entertainment”. But if some one can had a hard time composing back ground score for a comedy film that had to be Yuvan Shankar Raja who in the thought of adding the mood for a joke spoils it with his score overacting. The songs while survives its tenure does not linger long enough for a repeat play except of course a jolly song “Jalsa” which has been choreographed playfully and cheerfully.

End of everything is how the tight rope walk of parody and simplicity in the humour the team brings in which makes it a good fun ride. In the initial hour of the film, it is all over the screen of how much the director had a passion for fun than for the making. In those honest moments it transpired that into a film of passion. The characters that bring those deliver it with the same sense of accomplishment but astonishingly go back into a bad acting in the next scene of drama. Hence the level of liking is a sinusoidal wave which evens out in the end.

In tamil film industry “attempts” are considered great than a good film. I have talked about the automatic forgiveness to a film compromising it for business factors but the current term for it is the “attempt” I have mentioned. “Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi” if not a good movie is a good attempt and for that people flag it high and proud. “Chennai 600028” is a good attempt and contrary to “Imsai Arasan…”, it is genuinely good movie only that it takes a tough route. As many say about Indian Cricket team and the character of Manohar says in the film, “Easy aah win panna vendiya match aah, kadaisi varaikkum vetti kku izhuthu jeyichaanuga”, which means “A game which should have been won quite easily was stretched unnecessarily till the end”, it runs for “Chennai 600028” too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"The Siege" (1998) - Movie Review

“The Siege” is the film which is hard to forget personally. Not because of its movie making but seeing it at home in India right before the September 11 attacks and unknown about the disaster, myself and my brother were thinking how terrifying it would be to have army in the city. After seven years, as a film it remains as one overly Hollywood-ized under the shady lights of true events forming a plot. It is not thrilling as it is meant to be and it sparsely gets up to talk about the rights which of course are amplified strong enough by the power voice of Denzel Washington as FBI Agent Anthony Hubbard.

New York City is put in complete disarray and chaos by series of bombs starting off with a tricky prank in a bus blowing blue paint with no casualties mounting up to bringing down the FBI head quarters to ground. Watching the blasts and after math was unsettling considering the reality which happened later. The investigation and the crooked display of how it is been handled by the fictional government is the film which falters way beyond than I remember viewed seven years by me in bits and pieces. Bruce Willis as Major William Devereaux wears a constant smirk of patriotic stupidity and the uptight conversations delivered as an exercise than from a character. Does military personnel are devoid of sense of humour or a slight smile on their face even in the mildest conversation involving work? How do they get by without smiling or a piece of compassion to their fellow mates or country men? If Arab Americans are told to be depicted as stereotypes, then Devereaux is a stereotype Hollywood military General whom no one likes.

There are crucial scenes which have made a mark on me and one of those will be Washington astonished by the simplified discussion of torture techniques Devereaux contemplates on exercising over a prisoner clearly deemed as innocent. It loses its moment right after it when a gun shot is heard as soon as Washington walks out the door. Why would they kill if they want to extract information? It is clearly a shot made for an effect of the blunder the army does in the name of saving lives. Unfortunately it is more ridiculous than it sounds when looked on the screen.

The film focuses on three faces comprising defense, offense and covert operations of United States government being the FBI, Army and CIA. Introducing herself as Elise comes Annette Benning who obviously seems to know more than Washington and less to reveal to any one including herself on the horrendous gullibility of her improper trust. Of course there is a back story for her behaviour which comes way too late than it should have been. What “The Siege” ignites though is the pre and post 9/11 followed by a war and how much it had which the current films on post 9/11 tries to tell. And the information and emotions are used off hand in a serious compromise for thrill.

Director Edward Zwick’s film has a pattern which seems to be predominant. It has the Hollywood action glorification with a perspective on issues really on hand. It is a flimsy side to go through as the compromise is critical. The art of balancing has been exemplified in many of his films and muddled in few films too. “The Siege” falls in the latter. The symbols of the polished cut out characters are too dramatic and procedural which puts doubt on the level of commitment Zwick had in talking about the problems of fear and discrimination.

I have believed that this film was good. The impact of the army people with equipments on the streets of New York City brought lot of questions and considerations during that time. It got written hard enough by the tragedy that followed the day. I watched it merely to see how it appeals now and it was not nearly as good or thought provoking as I used to think. Zwick’s “Glory” had problem of losing its charm in unnecessary dramatization. “The Siege” is no different.