Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Jesus Camp" (Documentary) (2006) - Movie Review

There is no narration, no direct questions or no specific black back ground interviews. In giving the evangelical fanaticism creeping into the children, this is as a documentary is the purest form it can ever take. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, “Jesus Camp” is a cheek to cheek watch on the beliefs fed into children of the evangelical family and the camp which is the nexus of the principles and doctrine stamped on the kids. It does not have a commentary or a view and lets us take the decision on it.

For many who are shocked to see the breeding up of Jesus medicine being marketed into the kids’ brain, most of the childhood and others I have seen is the fear of god. To eat, to bathe, to study (evolution too!) and to respect any one, the tool is that and the unknown presence did indeed work on most of us but eventually we did screw up our life anyways (Ok this is supposed to be funny and sarcastic. I have very minimal belief in my comedic writing that I am explaining it in braces). This film brought back those failed attempts by our well wishers. It felt different to not have narration or a voice to direct us in what to take or side on. It made me sense that how much of the documentary I have been watching fell for that, taking sides unknowingly. It is tough in documentaries to a perspective vehemently neutral and let the audience decide.

The camp’s organizer Becky Fisher, a big lady with excellent command over language and a strenuous belief in her mission and thoughts is not hailed as a villainous figure. Rather it views her as some one thoroughly drenched in the religion which is no way wrong but has this frightening vibe of spreading it in grabbing the throat and shaking us to swallow it. Every step in the film as it is taught to the kids on them being the next generation warriors and the holy saviours of this infected sin filled world, it is a step to step pyramid process a.k.a products like Amway. It is easy to dismiss people’s opinion on the non-listeners as be damned to hell. This is the lesson which kid’s are preached.

The thing which shocked me the most is not the full force of this camp but the deep into the skin belief the kid’s express and become in the process. It saddened me that their opportunity of free thinking gets so mashed up that their passion is made up by some one else. It is much like the conveyor belt routine most of the Indian students get into including me. Computer Science in twelfth grade to Bachelors in Computer or Eletronics Engineering to Masters in Electrical or Computer Engineering in US to a permanent Software Engineer, brain damage to life. While I have seen colleagues and friends of mine passionate towards it, some where the purpose of art or the creative part is not only destroyed but acknowledging or appreciating it has become scarce. The kids in “Jesus Camp” are destined to shun away the experiences and choices they ought to make.

This is neither a pro-religion nor anti-religion but a scary look at how the teachings and misled/confused adults can permanently damage life of kids. True is that some kids will find passion in this and go on trusting the spirit of the holy god and every thing they say but the choice of it was made for him/her. There might even be a stronger reason to stick with it since they have talked too much and they have believed too much in a thing which declared themselves as the superiors in the world in unifying every one under one religion.

“Jesus Camp” is a strong work from the directors and it advocates its side on judging the actions in the film over its making. It justifies its state in the free thinking and opportunity people are given. Choosing a religion or not, listening to death metal or Britney Spears, watching a film or painting a picture or any thing is a thought to be investigated and acted upon. The people in the film would have liked it (at least before the controversy and before Becky Fisher shut down the camp indefinitely) as it is a clear objective vision on the camp while the people against it will obviously be infuriated. But what I felt was scarier than I thought. For a moment, I was completely in to the realm of the speeches and activities given by them. If for a moment I can be brought under the control of something that I will never even think of, I would not be surprised if some day the kid in the film comes to me and gives a leaflet to join Christianity and even threatening me to some level.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" (2008) - Movie Review

“Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay”- Is there anything to be explained about the plot? The film as such its title does not shy from blatant stupidity and you do not go inside the theatre for making sense. If the predecessor of this film “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” put a strange smile on us towards the silliest and disgusting predicament positions these two titular characters get themselves into, then the second installment from this franchise stretches it farther and cruder than you can imagine. It is one of the raunchiest, stupidest and sometimes testing our limits in taking a joke further beyond in shocking us surprisingly works. It has the writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg of the first film directing this in the same style and crassness.

The film begins exactly where it left, in fact follows the time frame. The perennial stoners Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are gearing up to the hub of getting legally high town Amsterdam. Harold’s love interest Maria (Paula Garcés) is there and they do not want to waste no time in New Jersey. Immediately they drop and dig into the series of raunchy festival climbing on top of one after another. This time around it takes the post 9/11 fears and stereotype judgments many make and rides on it carefully and carelessly in tandem.

The thing which I liked about this silly film is that at various instances when they delve us in to the realm of stereotypical characters, they prickle the laugh through the judgments people fall for and immediately authenticates some of them as right ones with a twist. Hence it secures its base on all boundaries with an unsuitable reality and the manifestation of laughter through it.

It jokes around the torture tactics in Guantanamo Bay and carry the misrepresentation of the region and race. It stamps the nudity of it with the sole intention for what it is. It picks up all the illogical things ever been dreamt and those were not in to one big bowl of dirty humour, sarcasm and grossness. They even manage to squeeze in a lost lady bird for Kumar, Vanessa (Danneel Harris). And Neil Patrick Harris reprises himself in to an invented horny, high and unpredictable character again. How can you make a real life person produce a character of him without destroying any of the plots and little reality the film claims to have? I do not know but it is dead on.

A film very true to its genre never plans on answering any of the weirdest chain of events or character disappearing or even dying. It engulfs us totally into its world and we go along with it. When we see “Tom & Jerry” cartoons, we know the head smashing and the face turning into a plate is a harmless physical comedy. It is the same formula this film takes on. It knows its audience and knows its territory and has a ride on us every bit of it. There is cheesiness in the end but at that moment we are in it playing along with them.

John Cho and Kal Penn have fun as much as we have watching them carry on their characters with a comedic sincerity required of them. You can see them dropping a suppressed smile in their face when the funny sequences touch the limits of ridicule. If the film relies on their constant screen presence and the chemistry, it equals on to the supporting characters in idiotic situations to make theirs and our ride an entertaining one. The hillbilly sequence with Jon Reep and Missi Pyle is the classic example of that. Without their characters sticking to their stereotype amongst the oddity of their surroundings, it would have been a joke shooting everywhere the bad taste of it but it does not at all.

Some times it made me wonder how come it cleared the R-rating. Such is the extent they take the raunchiness that in between our laughs we are surprised by it. Many might be amazed that I am praising a film like this. I like any film which sticks to its genre and is honest in its attempt with an ambidextrous capability of handling both sensibility and insensibility. The talent of presenting a stupid comedy is not easy as it is a hit and miss category. There is no mediocre in this kind of film making and “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” has the same tone and idiocy the first one had placed right on the money.

"Deception" (2008) - Movie Review

There is groundbreaking predictability in the “Deception” and it gets under our skin more than usual because its first act boasts more than it should. The first act is the only proof that there was some work put on this and also the erotic scenes for what its worth. It is a brilliant effort by director Marcel Langenegger in trumping the cinematic clichés or half covered secrets and fully blown suspense. It almost spits on us in a crass desecrating virtue of total incompetence and disinterest in the mid section of it. More than it is a bad movie, it deceives (no pun intended) us in convincing to be a good film at the beginning.

A bored accountant amongst the overflow of numbers in his life is Jonathan (Ewan MacGregor) is impressed by the testosterone command and control a man named Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) poses. To make Ewan McGregor a math nerd, there are two steps (1) Gel the hair and make an uncomfortable combing so that the drip of the fluid might anytime fall off (2) Glasses and it should be gaudy in contemporary taste. That did not strike me when they show tears and glimpse of love potion in to the eyes of a mysterious girl named S (Michelle Williams). With a mix up of each other’s phone, Jonathan gets into the sex club wherein successful women mate with unemotional intimacy. No trouble, pure pleasure.

Soon Jonathan gets into bed with successful and extremely attractive women in the city. It is of course too good to be true and we begin to suspect whether Jonathan in the number craze has come up with a vivid figment of imagination. That would have been clichéd but it could have been an exploration of a man with a successful career been devoid of intimacy in his dry wandering. Even he does not have a permanent office due to the accounting auditing journey he goes through each company. Well, I am taking the film more seriously than it takes itself.

When there is a mention of physical material or issue repetitive in a posing secretive film, those are the cues to be picked upon for us to piece the picture blind folded. There is a Kevlar tennis racket, a leaky pipe line, a cell phone mixed up never gets the right owner and finally a toy duck for emotional suspense (I cannot believe I spelt that). It goes dumb, lethargic and irresponsible in the screenplay, editing and directing. It is a product of some worst uncared work in a much highly funded and highly cast film in recent times.

Honestly the outrage is the presence of better if not good movie making which did its purpose in the first act. I really was mesmerized by the shot astounding stature and control Jackman brings to the character. Aside the bad make over; McGregor’s instant and instinct urge to follow the call had myriads of hope rooted in the supposed erotic thriller. I guess it is the abuse they made to the film in the two halves evident of the carelessness they take on which raged me.

When you show no face of a dead body, it is the laziest effort to conceal suspense. “Deception” is not in anyway a sincere attempt in giving a good thriller or for that fact a solid character to be remembered upon. Going back the plot to even making sense of the discrepancies they make is not a qualified act for a moviegoer.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Housekeeping" (1987) (Ebertfest 2008) - Movie Review

Not a while back, which was yesterday I was happen to view the real story of a farmer John Peterson in the film “The Real Dirt on Farmer John”. In that his hippie culture and the diversified people he made himself friends and associates caused the community to outcast him. Here today in the film “Housekeeping” we see a cheerful free spirit been condemned upon not for unusual acquaintances but being her and in the mean time influencing her way of life to her elder niece.

The film with no particular time setting (even though the styles and costumes mention something of 50’s) is the reminiscence through a voice of girl Ruthy (Sara Walker) and her child hood with her sister Lucille (Andrea Burchill). At a tender age unaware of the rules and structure of society they are been taken by her mother Helen (Margot Pinvidic) to their grandmother’s place in a fictional place called Fingerbone, Idaho. She leaves them there and drowns herself with the car into the lake. They are then brought up by their grandmother and when she dies passed on to the next elderly relatives to come by. Soon they find it hard and call up the girl’s long lost Aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti). It is the limitless character of Sylvie and how she relates and been related to the girls becomes the “Housekeeping”.

The town is taken in major fashion of its presence over the life style this family goes through. When the girls meet their aunt, they are curious and excited because of a younger face and more importantly a possible history of their mother and father. Sylvie is the person of enormous cherubic energy. And it can take for her to smile and hurry the small things with happiness and cheer that it does not take any one long to love to be around her. She is like a vacation and it feels good but the society has not trained our life to be a vacation nor do we appreciate that as our life. For Sylvie it is and the girls being girls are thrilled by it.

They are not bound by grounding for wrong doing. They vanish amongst the woods and lakes for a week because Lucille does not feel like going to school. But soon the fun is gone because the thrill of escaping and operating clandestine is not present. Sylvie will not question or catch them to punish. In fact Sylvie wanders right beside them and does not even notice them. It is the girls fear seeing Sylvie walk up the train rails on a bridge they call her. And Sylvie being Sylvie innocently questions and beats herself up for thinking school does not leave early. The girls soon understand that cheating her is no fun.

The younger sister Lucille begins to shiver out of this fantasy land created by Sylvie. She is beginning to be embarrassed by her aunt’s action and lifestyle. She loves her sister and wants to mingle with the group and be accepted as any kid would want to. But Ruthy appreciates the life her aunt is leading and walks that path too. As an audience, even though Lucille act are considered heartless at instances, she is being concerned about her sister. Beyond the embarrassment she has created herself; the sociology of belonging in a community acts her to salvage Ruthy.

Ruthy though very much misses her sister and haunted by her acting as an outsider in the same house does not want to be rescued. Soon the sister departs. The part in which the avoidance of that little girl of her aunt and the elder sister is handled with such a brutal reality and tragedy that it reminded me of the conflicts I had with the room mates in my Masters. Living in a foreign land with financial and academic pressure, the house you live in is the last place you want the conflict. And if the ambience of peace and harmony is so much needed with a stranger in a strange land, it is no fault of any one to expect in having it with their family and loved ones.

Directed by Scottish director Bill Forsyth, this is a film about the relationships, society, its impact and the free spirited soul we may be fortunate to encounter. In fact Sylvie too begins to act “normal” due to the fear of losing Ruthy in the end. It is a tragedy with a comedy on the casual behaviour of Sylvie. Christine Lahti’s soulful representation of naïveté in Sylvie is a character that can never be disturbed in her stillness of purity of individuality and happiness in every little thing. And in novel presentation of Bill Forsyth (the story of course is adapted from the novel of the same name by Marilynne Robinson) with the trance serenity of the mountains, lakes and rail roads, we laugh and sympathize with the outcast spirit of Sylvie and Ruthy.

"The Band's Visit" (Language - English/Arabic/Hebrew) (2007) (Ebertfest 2008) - Movie Review

Strangers in a foreign land and they are strangers to the acquaintance, gatherings and new people. There is nothing kinetic about “The Band’s Visit” and there is nothing conclusive about it either, in a pure sense of the generic film terms defined. Rather it is kinetic in the body language and expressions. The reaction when a character says something or the glance or motion is the driving force in a considerably well paced film from the Israeli director Eran Kolirin.

Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra is the life line for its leader Lieutenant Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya (Sason Gabhai) and he stresses the name of the band with stubbornness even when he and his crew are in an estranged nowhere land in Israel. They are from Egypt scheduled to play in an Arab culture center in Petah Tiqva. A communication breakdown along with a flirtation by band’s young member Khaled (Saleh Bakri) lands them in another place called Beit Hatikva. Hence they are in a position to spend the night.

They are looked upon goofy due to their blue coloured attire. The town amounts to three people at first glance. A lonely restaurant owner Dina (Roni Elkabetz), Papi (Shlomi Avraham) who works there and the only regular customer Itzik (Rubi Muskovitz) and after a dubious welcome, Dina considerate enough and also to see a man of nicety in Tawfiq offers to help. Khaled and Tawfiq the opposites stay with her while some with Itzhik and rest in the restaurant. The awkwardness and the communication through it are taken the space of character study in the film.

The deserted town is a center stage. The people in it are drenched in the daily routine of nothingness are subconsciously are excited to see the band. Not an Israeli but total outsiders with a language barrier. Thankfully some of them who are in need of a listener or obligation manage with broken English. There is friction or almost an enmity between Tawfiq and Khaled. Tawfig an old timer cannot tolerate the indiscipline fun the youngster pursues. Khaled despises Tawfiq equally as the bureaucratic force in the band. But Khaled translates the moves and message of Dina to Tawfiq. They are obviously separated by principles and generation but the urge for a truce in disagreement is some where out there. Either party will not accept their defeat in ego.

While Dina takes out Tawfiq, Khaled being a womanizer convinces Papi to take him to the club. Papi in very minimal time knows the threat he is going to pose with a once in a blue moon date he gets. There is a sweet comic moment with Khaled ending up teaching the techniques in getting along with Papi’s girl. That is comedic, a bit of sadness on Papi and also the girl while Khaled’s selfless gesture comes in light. We see the interaction of the second in command in the band consistently been suppressed Simon (Khalifa Natour). He dines with two of his other band mates with the family of Itzik. There is a moment to cherish in sadness, melancholy and emptiness with him and the family represented by his music.

The film while sluggish in its movement is dry, bright and dull as the town. It has these people in certain expectation of the day to be exactly as it is business as usual and numb. The visit of the band may be the only time their life has a bit of change. It is not an exciting film but a perusal of a known painting. We seem to understand the colour and the representation. But as we spend some time with it, we begin to see the thickness of the borderlines and the intensity of colour used. It may not help in giving out extra meaning but closeness with it gets generated than before.

Roni Elkabetz as Dina is astonishingly lively. She carries a certain command. While the men in the band and her town mates have an air of separation with Tawfiq, she has no problem in taking him out of his comfort zone and is desperate fight to get some form of signal. There is a resolving moment in the end for both of them which as the smile of Tawfiq explains the actions of him and her.

Sasson Gabai as Tawfiq is the face of responsibility, nicety and discipline. He is an old timer who follows courtesy and accepting courtesy as a rule book. He is what the ladies would call the perfect gentleman but a man with a hard shell around him. Easing him up becomes an unattainable mission but Dina cracks it, may be a hairline. This film while did not grab me or move me with an emotion is a corky sullen comedy entertaining and artistic in its arena.

"Hulk" (2003) (Ebertfest 2008) - Movie Review

“Hulk” is an Ang Lee film. There is it, it is an Ang Lee film where there is a considerable attachment and personal empathy of him over this comic character. It is a super hero film which is not one, since the hero is evolving and at the end of it is more of a confused calamity than a saviour. He destroys government properties and causes havoc in the streets. He is more real than he should be and he is less real when he should not be. “Hulk” finally produces a mixed feeling of witnessing something new in this genre but could not quite get it or sinks in us.

It has aptly the hunk man Eric Bana as the nerd (which surprisingly is believable in a make over) been turned into a hidden monster by the obsession of genetic immunity of his father, a disturbed scientist David Banner (Paul Kersey) a young family man when Bruce is a kid. Something happens in his childhood with his father and mom Edith (Cara Buono) which will be revealed later, he grows up with adopted mother (Celia Weston). He follows his biological father’s footstep to become a scientist himself and works on very same research his father was obsessed about. He is said his parents were dead, which of course means they or at least one is not, a universal known fact in a film. The father now grown into a deranged old man is played by Nick Nolte bringing some of his sweaty weariness. Bruce begins to experience stuffs and accident with some anger is enough to invoke the green monster in him.

The film surprises us in taking its ample time to develop the chemical and genetic complexities. While it adds the substance to show the real time development of such a phenomenon through science terms, it begins to make us restless. Not that there is intelligent to follow about but the effort of mentioning it now and then almost becomes pompous on the film’s declaration of its reality. There is a deep buried memory in Bruce who has been bottled up and weirdly it mixes with his dad’s science project in his blood to react arbitrarily with dangerous consequences.

Have we been fine tuned by the super hero film genre that an approach which breaks or fair to say flexes the content of it to produce a character drama and action is repulsive and resistant to change? It might be but it withers away because Ang Lee with a rhythm he populates immediately from the title makes us come to speed. Things happening fast and clear alert us on its prospective super hero to come alive. As with the entire super hero who take some time to quite understand the strange reaction of their body and soul, Hulk undergoes that too but it is as confusing is to us as to him. Some times the audience should know the powers and causes of it before the character could even grasp it. This anticipation believe it or not nullifies our grand expectation or revealing those. We are in a position that CGI does not make us agape. “Hulk” is a slow process in understanding him which quite does not happen at all.

It is a fine film which takes us occupied and tied to our seats well before the final forty five minutes. Ang Lee so patient up to that point takes an unexpected jump almost ravaging us with the special effects and alas some blatant stupidity and silliness we would see in regular block buster junks. That includes the General Ross (Sam Elliott) shooting down the mountains to bury the monstrous Hulk and conveniently heads back with the mission accomplished face. How come did he forget the immortal damage he did right before that with tanks, bombs and what not on him?

The beautiful Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross cannot be more perfect for the role. She is talented in the scientific mumbo jumbo happening around and at the same time has the charm of a lover desperate to save him from others and himself. The character does what the character will do seeing an unpredictable and unstable giant. This is a film which is exhausting to know that it just started a scratch in a great sequel. While it is rather unfortunate that the film’s lead is not taken as a sequel in the “The Incredible Hulk”, it would be an experience to a concept approached by two personalities.

Ang Lee introducing the film said that Hulk is repressive character as himself. He talked about sexual repression and that obviously was not dealt in it. The reason for the repression is never explored in Bruce. Not that it happened as a child or it happened long time ago but it has got to do more than that. The scene inside the room when Bruce as a kid is watching the door outside befuddled is the pivotal plot which moves around the grown up Bruce but when the real events are unfurled, the expression misses and hence the film well made for most part stops right there.

"Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" (Language - Japanese) (1985) (Ebertfest 2008) - Movie Review

Can a biopic be transcendental in to a philosophical artistic ritual? It is possible in “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” because of the man Mishima himself and his works of theatrics and his inclination into the bushido code. The film directed by Paul Schrader is an honour and dedication to the author whose life work of writing is incorporated in dictating his maturity in growth both physically and mentally. It is a challenging film as it should be and is visually vibrant.

I have not heard about Mishima until I saw the film. It is mostly in Japanese which pertains to the nationality and native tongue of the character with a narration from Roy Schneider as the English voice of Mishima. The narrations are elemental to the film as it is a meditation of Mishima’s philosophies and his continuous contemplation on life, art, death and action. The film is systematically organized into four chapters and three of those combines the last few hours of Mishima with most of the each chapter comprising of his published book. The last chapter becomes his last mission.

This is tough film as it cross cuts into different periods and fundamentally into his books. Thus it takes a while to understand the surroundings. Schrader uses closed sets to represent a theatrical visualization and some flagrant colour codes to inform us. The production sets is a treat on collaborating the Japanese traditional decorations along with some contemporary styles. But the film is one man’s inner voice consistently analyzing and decoding the life’s formulation and the understanding of art and sword. The final episode thus aptly titled as “Harmony of Pen and Sword”.

How beautifully Mishima made his individual parts of traits into a character in the enacted book of his? The grown up Mishima is played by Ken Ogata, one of the powerful performances which blend in the leadership and influencing skills of a complex person along with a maturing personality all the way from his childhood. The question of his suicide which depicts the ritual of seppuku is the code of samurai and the film circulates on the trance epicenter of his mind on death as the mixture of art and action as it is put.

The film becomes a pure art form in the chapter wise presentation. In each of those it takes a subject, recreates a book and along with it the growth from a small boy to a man towards a military officer. “Beauty”, “Art” and “Action” are the matter of concentration which is dealt in the first three chapters. Not only does each chapter carry the aesthetic sense but it matures itself from vignette to vignette. Each associated book becomes a symbolic representation of Mishima’s life.

Schrader gives Mishima in complete objectivity one of the very rare properties in a biopic. I guess it is the strict rigour code of samurai itself. The bushido code as per my minimal understanding originates from the end, death. They fancy or visualize the ultimate end in a meditative form which is not suicidal but a perennial practice of peace and calm. This concept which of course looks enigmatic was surprisingly and shockingly followed with a finesse art. While this existence of philosophy was made a reasonably accepted and practiced term in the old Japanese culture, the modern era which marked its beginning of end is where Mishima stands. This code which is rarely mentioned openly plays as a subtle characteristic in the screenplay. The code which of course forms the basis of Mishima’s pursuit of life’s meaning is never said in a tone of preaching.

This film got to be watched couple of times and it is not easy to watch it once. It appeals and my guess would be its philosophical maturity with every viewing. Schrader gives a man and his mind rather than a series of events. A great man is represented by his belief, value and his adherence to it. Mishima wrote lot of books and his quest in finding a true meaning towards a destiny of death in the form of words and blood is philosophical suicide. He at any moment was not confused. His books became an outlet for his inner voice and its stages of manhood. I enjoyed this film and with multiple viewing I am sure would love it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (Documentary) (2005) (Ebertfest 2008) - Movie Review

The influence and the zeal of participating in an art form as the movie making are quite evident in John Peterson, the narrator and the writer of his film “The Real Dirt on Farmer John”. The film which puts forth his relationship with his farm inherited generations after generation may not be as celebrated and appreciated by me as against the people in the Ebert festival would say but there is bridge or amalgamation of the peace and love era giving birth to the system Peterson formed up with his field.

The documentary which has almost the entire life history of farmer John reminds of “The Up Series” which follows/following the life of different people from the age of seven. His mother Anna Peterson amazed by the surroundings bought an equipment which made this a possibility for John, a video camera. Being brought up in the era of late sixties, John along with responsibility of taking up the entire farm maintenance after his father died, explores the realm of art and creativity.

He is a hardcore Midwestern farmer when the hippie culture invaded. It inspires him too and with an enormous land available for themselves, you can take a guess of their existence in those times. They create art from the used up farm materials, dirt, iron, masks, dolls and what not. Flowers everywhere and in a conservative community as John’s when the cultures of free love (and still is) is a taboo or may be a punishable crime, the reputation is everything. The neighbours eyeing differently suspecting devil worship and the gossip running around nook and corner of the little town where some one enters a bar or restaurant knows every occupant out there, would be unimaginably tough.

The film which chronicles the hardships and the break up/long term relationship John has with the farm is literally a breath of fresh air. Far away lands and the sounds of insects minutely buzzing our ears when the story is narrated is not a usual spectacle in a documentary genre. It is about one man. Farmer John is a funny personality with a stale expression and often smugness comes along with it. May be it is the ordeal which has turned him to it but his emotions and attachments to the land is not unclear. In the first scene, he walks the mushy mud and grabs a lump of dirt. Then takes a bite out of it and does not flinch but says a succinct taste opinion on it. He loves the farm.

There is a stage characterization in this documentary which does not blend well. But when it is a form of expression of the person of interest, soon you realize or get accustomed to it. The writing is pure in words of calculated feelings John had/has over his family, farm, friends and himself. The story of John Peterson did not move me but made me wonder and also made aware of the fact that how much the essential ingredient of human existence is been negated and isolated.

India from where I come from is a farmer’s land; at least it used to be. The difficulty in the understanding of those naïve personality for whom ploughing, sowing and eating with the family is everything, the awareness of the unity in a big world which revolves around them has not penetrated in to them on understanding their real part in it. While they provide the food to move forward the next day of this corporate culture, the minds are not collaborated. The farmer’s children does not want to be a farmer, understandable but the option of other aspiring students are not given a novel opening or an opportunity to dig in and modernize in a natural way. Rather it is been shunned and looked down upon if some one decides to opt out of the corporate fulcrum of engineering and finance. The film is a door to be opened and widened for a bigger world of new generation in embracing and cultivating this phenomenon.

For that, the film is a revelation. As an avid film lover, the reality in the true events Peterson gives loses its sense in various instances. Nevertheless, there are funny moments when John’s rumour spreading neighbour explains his worries and concerns in a rather casual manner. And the final bug song John and his girl friend enacts with a video which can be laughed and sympathized upon tells a lot about this personality who allowed revolution in his farm. I like “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” for its value it carries than the way it was made.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" (2006) - Movie Review

Every return to a motherly place left long back is a time for confrontation and regrets. Beyond the happiness of the person spotted the road to be walked again, it is the footsteps which were left marked along as mistakes and memories. “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” is about people loving each other so much and how they overdo it to drive off each other. The space which is solemnly missed in one and the long for to be closer clashes amongst the laughs and smiles to culminate into an explosion by the surroundings.

Dito Montiel the writer of the book of same name wrote the screenplay and directed the film which is an indie flick relying on characters. It is his life’s commentary. There is a Monty in real life brought out with elegance by Chazz Palminteri, there is Antonio toughened in physique and beckons love from Dito. Antonio as a kid is played by Channing Tatum and later as an adult by Eric Roberts while Shila LaBeouf plays the kid Dito. Robert Downey Jr. walks down the lane of left out pieces of his past as the adult Dito. This is a film driven by these people in a neighbourhood flourishing with graffiti and rising tension in the territorial demarcation of dominance and violence.

The film characteristically begins with adult Dito saying about the book he successfully has written on his childhood life. He says so and so is going to die and it is not a plot revelation. It is not and it is not a plot as it is based on director’s story. His father Monty is sick and he goes back we come to know after many years. We move to 1986 as Dito and Antonio with their friend Nerf (Peter Tambakis) and Antonio’s brother Giuseppe (Adam Scarimblo) walk in the streets and taunt the girls. The girls like them even when Antonio is arrogant and acts like a prick. Dito is the sheltered boy of Antonio and when both enter the house of Dito, Monty is delighted. More than Dito, he respects and adores Antonio. The house sequence with Monty, Dito, Antonio and Dito’s mother Flori (Dianne Wiest) tells everything we want to know about them and their love for each other. It is casual and they understand the lingo.

All the films about the kid days have the adult characters complain on them but also when something goes wrong, they say they are just kids. How much of our actions in kid matters when we grow up? A lot and as an adult we comfort ourselves on the crazy times and stupid mistakes but making amends is something which rarely happens. Dito has to face it. He sees his friend Nerf (Scott Campbell) living with his mom while deciding his life never going to change. Seeing Dito and the place he left makes us to wonder the decision he took as the best one. It is as it is how the life takes on us but the way he leaves haunts him.

He loves his dad and he loves him too but in the midst of becoming their buddies he has forgotten to take up his role as needed and may be even demanded. Chazz Palminteri handles Monty with a casualness and charisma. He gels smoothly with kids than his own age. He believes that Antonio is the saviour for Dito. In heart he loves both of them equally but goes out of the way to embrace Antonio because the kid never gets it from his dad. And the loyalty to Monty by Antonio is reflected in protecting his son. More than a friend he takes him under his wings and a lot possessive too. He cannot stand the sight of the new kid Mike (Martin Compston) getting along well with Dito. He is threatened by his presence on the alien affection he brings on over Dito.

All the people are good in this film with the competition of loving each other becoming the bad consequences. The enormity of each other’s affection is immeasurable that a moment’s disrespectability of it marks a scar for life time. It takes a rude awakening to confront it. Blaming does not help and ego only dooms further misery. The child hood sweet hearts whom they taught will spend their life time together for Dito is played by lovely Melonie Diaz as kid and Rosario Dawson as adult. The meeting of Downey Jr. with Dawson is pitch perfect reflecting the flirtatious awkwardness with regret and guilt.

The suburb of Manhattan takes the yellowish tone of glowing sun making us sweat. In showing Dito’s child hood we learn the reeking violence existing in terms of simple street fight taking its form of deadly results. And in Antonio we see it masked by the affection. He does not even dare to show his true feelings for his blood brother Giuseppe. When people cannot communicate, they plunge in the random stupidity of punishing themselves. Love in relationships should not take a form in air but felt in the presence of each other. But sometimes talking out is the solution for understanding each other.

There is an addiction to a place we grew up in its boredom. The faces are same and everyday of rest of the life appears to be pale, dull and repetitive. It does not mean we hate the people but the similarity of every day scare us. The resemblance of that becomes a prison and hence run away from there for an adventurous excitement for remaining part of our life only to be stuck in a different prison. “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” is not a reminder of that place but the people who are separated by the misunderstandings and directionless love showered on their sons and daughters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Edmond" (2005) - Movie Review


If you are looking for the sense in the plot of “Edmond”, you shouldn’t. David Mamet’s play in 1982 takes its form over screen for that crazy night the title character Edmond (William H. Macy) hunts on in deep and drenched streets of debauchery, violence and emptiness. The plot is a tool for the philosophy and the boredom of human life. The existence and consequences are constantly questioned in the screenplay of Mamet. Directed by Stuart Gordon, “Edmond” is a ride which has ramblings and rejuvenation of soul side to side.

The dialogues are the elements of keen importance in a story of frustrated man. He repeats again and again that how much his 47 years of life has been numbed. Following a sign over a number “115” in various forms, he begins to undress the courtesy, commitments, compassion and consideration. That leads him to a fortune teller (Frances Bay). Based on that, his thinking makes to leave his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) as the first act towards expunging his emptiness. He hits a bar to get his lesson from a man (Joe Mantegna) sipping carefully his alcohol while pricking in a friendly gesture of discussion on the burden of life.

Edmond takes his body and soul in desperate determination of searching for sexual pleasure, of course for cheap. “It’s too much” he often says and he is a well paid man. This leads him further and further spiraling for feeling alive. He is beaten, robbed and humiliated but the hurt is not letting him down. It frustrates him but does not stop him to rethink his decisions. “American Beauty” had Lester Burham’s enlightenment in getting alive again through his pursuit towards the fantasy of sleeping with his daughter’s friend. Sexual goals become the evaluating tool to wiggle his senses in depression, frustration and inane presence.

Edmond is confused and wanted to have a clear understanding on the things happening in this world. We all do the thought and have a nice sometimes sound discussion over the monotonous events of our life and curse some, drink some and obviously return to the uneventful labour of the existence. Edmond has had enough. He takes it forward. He feels his skin and its control of power through a knife beating through a guy who tries to mug him. He is excited and the adrenaline rush lights his brain and may be even fry too. He walks in a restaurant and declares his desire to sleep with the waitress (Julia Stiles). Next thing he is in her apartment spitting his realizations. His eruption of revelation which gets the attention mellows down and gets out through the young girl. He is freed and he needs some one to listen, even if it is a spark of garbage fed as philosophy.

William H. Macy is the man for Edmond. He is geeky, neat, shy and bored. The weariness is in his eyes and the regular man in a managerial role beating in his head on his life, devoid of sensation is taken through by him into this complex man. It is a role of confused but not an insane. Macy has delivered perplexed individual many times at comfort but here the confusion misses and touches in whiskers with insanity. The film grins on us and we expect at any moment Edmond waking up in his own bed or desolated place and everything is a dream. Does Edmond want that too? The film asks us. The end is not the answer but there does not need to be one.

By any measure this is not a great film. It is a simple good film which smartly survives on its writing and the moody nightly streets of this relaxed chaos we all have encountered. The film is dark, comedic, satirical and philosophical but if it is reveling, it might not be. And it does not intend it to be. As Edmond flurries in short bursts of discovery on life, the moment is seized and we pleasure in that as him. But it leaves us muddled as it is been focused and accept the film as the play which carried its writing ingeniousness to keep us occupied in a peculiar way. “Edmond” might not be for every one but it sure is for me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (Documentary) (2008) - Movie Review

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” gets to its point of freedom of speech before bullying the concept of Darwinism. As a flag carrier Ben Stein with his dead stale face and some time subtle theatrics which is not subtle explores the possibility of alternative or may be a challenging theory opposing Darwinism exists and is being slaughtered to be buried. The film does indeed is pro-religion. As a documentary film director Nathan Frankowski does arrange the frames rightly in favour of its concept, giving an opportunity for an open discussion. It has caustic moments of exploitation and ridiculousness too.

The film can only purely been looked upon its contents and its preaching. The making is sumptuous for its philosophies. To deal it with fairness, I need to declare my beliefs on this issue, as such science and religion which is in strong focus of debate almost waging intellectual war as the film says. I am in between agnostic and atheist. The gray area is that I am making a move towards that. I am hardly focusing on not to embrace any religion. I am not against the people who have their faith as I would not be against any people who have their faith and ways to practice. I am against the wrongdoings in the name of it as millions of spokesperson, nation leaders, religious leaders and many many people making diplomatic statements would say. With that in clear the film does make you quench for answers and pop up questions. Can science and religion be interrelated or need to work together to discuss the possibility of Darwin’s concept being questioned/confirmed/altered? Yes, it can be. That is what the film’s end comes to. But the path is not good to be honest.

Atheists and scientists generally take an intellectual stand as they believe to see the unknown factor religious people take on superior power of their respective faith and religion. It is indeed true that Atheism is becoming a religion of itself. Professor Richard Dawkins who has defined the religiously created gods with a spite and he is put in the light how the film wants it to be, bad. There is a film about Larry Flynt, founder of the sex magazine “Hustler” in “People Vs. Larry Flynt” and his case of practicing his right to express even it means to offend some one. The position out here is no different than that. The mere controversy and hoopla it creates is the magnitude of its topic followed and argued and may be the greatest driving factor in discrimination and war, the religion. But religion advocates faith, hope, love and forgiveness as Stein asks Richard Dawkins too. True that it is in the discretion of one’s belief and his/her territory of events falling in effect due to that. The overlap of course is inevitable but how it is going to be solved, debated or disagreed or agrees to disagree? That is the challenge.

The film is the people suppressed due to their theories or the mentioning of the concept “Intelligent Design” which they do not much explain in detail. People’s jobs taken away, black listed, hated and despised for those theories. So the film tries to put forth the possibility of Darwin being wrong, how he may have been connected to Nazism, no concrete solid clear cut answer on “how” exactly the life form or began. The film misses its aim quite well in the midway. No one knows what precisely happened billions of billions years ago and even I have a theory for it. As they say, there need to be evidence to go about making an official release of it to may be taught in schools. The fear by many though as the dangers of religion, sects, differences and clashes segregating early in a human’s life. So the study is regulated but the concept should be discussed, no doubt if it opens up new doors to the avenue of finding the unknown.

I completely understand their argument that as flimsy Darwin’s concept are, it has become the base line for the fact and fantasy, it has been made into a rule book which in all possibility correct and the possibility of being wrong is highly unacceptable. The doctrine of that philosophy has evolved into a religion and as any religion has their fanatics, it has its own. The blunder of the film is that it really means to take sides on their belief rather than neutrally putting forth the discrepancies in the theories.

There is strong scent of the aggressiveness and condescending attitude in the approach as Michael Moore does it. Moore of course cleansed up most of it in “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “SiCKO” sparing the thoughts of concern than his rage for most of the time in those films. He too used a cheap stunt on late Charles Heston in “Bowling for Columbine”. The makers does similar thing. It cheaply uses the holocaust tragedy in an exploitative way to induce the dramatics it begins to thrive on. And yes after exploring the dens of the doom of the concentration camps, Stein says that this does not mean to equate Darwin responsible for the holocaust. It is a mere excuse for the horrendous tactics to exploit and by the time he says it, the damage has been done.

It is controversial discussion without any doubt and I do support that all things must be heard in methodical and objective perspective to offer a chance for questioning hard and fast theories, scientific or anything. The freedom of speech is in jeopardy rather than the concept. I have also riddled on the trust we put on the great scientists on blindly believing their expert opinion. As much as I can say I am moving towards non-believer in god/religion, I am a believer of relying and giving the fair chance of hearing the people right out. The film ends with a confronting interview with the film defined nemesis Richard Dawkins. Stein poses the following question which was posed by my colleague with whom I recently had a quite intriguing and interesting discussion over religion and god, “What happens when you die and there indeed is god?” Dawkins says a funny, interesting and insightful answer which he said to have been conveyed by a colleague/friend of his. I said, “Well, I am fine with facing the consequences”

"The Forbidden Kingdom" (2008) - Movie Review

Casting Jet Li and Jackie Chan in a kung fu film is like getting Al Pacino and Robert De Niro for a crime thriller (which of course is coming in “Righteous Kill”). It is a marked occasion in the kung fu film genre and for them to have a fight sequence is worthwhile for an unscrupulous film before viewing “The Forbidden Kingdom”. Sadly one of my child hood favourites Jackie’s venture with Jet Li went from bad to worse and worse to the unimaginable clichés.

When you run into a film of kung fu in general, it is a universal fact that the martial art is everything and story is to rope in those elemental displays of chaos with accuracy impossible to fathom. The perfection of clumsiness mastered by Jackie Chan is the trade mark fun factor. After Jackie ventured into Hollywood, his comedic capabilities in the stunts were put to nice use in the “Shanghai Noon” and “Rush Hour” franchise (of course “Rush Hour 3” is a disaster). Still the man in great kung fu films as “Police Story” series, “Miracle” (or sometimes called “Mr. Canton and Lady Rose”), “The Drunken Master”, “The Young Master”, “The Defender” and the modern “Who am I?” never was exposed in western world. I thought this is it and it crumbled.

I am not a big fan of Jet Li though because the fun Jackie brings to the screen would be completely missing in Jet Li’s style of fighting. But I like his pace and rapid movements of unbelievable swiftness and deadly factor. While Jet Li does find his arena of expertise in the stunt scenes in “The Forbidden Kingdom”, Jackie misses the tickle bone clumsy prop fighting. And when that gets in your way in a kung fu film, the rest falls apart with over the top predictability and the hate which slowly generates and summits in the end. It is a bad movie.

The film starts with a top of the mountain fight with Jet Li swinging his charms and thus the boy wakes up from his dream. That is Jason (Michael Angarano), a kid obsessed with kung fu movies. And it increased the expectation since as a kid I have always fantasized about the wonderland of harmless cool fighting. He is a regular visitor to a DVD store in China town owned by an old man named Hop played by Jackie.

In the midst of running away from the bullies who use him to steal the shop, he falls off with an old antique staff from the store. He wakes up in a strange land and henceforth he learns the legend of the Monkey King (Jet Li) through a drunkard Lu Yan (Jackie Chan). It is journey, fighting, teaching, some teenage romance, and then some more fighting. Now this is the perfect mix for the film you expect from Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but the fights fail and the charm Jackie brings in all his movies is missing.

Both the masters of martial arts have hearty moments of onscreen friendly enmity which does bring smiles to our face but does not last long. We are well aware of the fact that both the actors are not for serious acting but there are dialogues and acting which goes haywire on many occasions. I am not going to argue the logic of parallel universe existence and a little China existing with characters associated with the film understanding and speaking English at their ease. But these are the passing away mistakes in other movies of Chan and Li when the fights engross you.

And as the film neared its end, I really had confusion whether the makers are making a spoof of kung fu genre movies or are they seriously putting effort to make it worse. The locations are beautiful and the narration along with characters is fantasy land with boring dreams.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008) - Movie Review

Nicholas Stoller directed and Jason Segel written/starring film “Fogetting Sarah Marshall” is one another comedy spree from the Apatow Production. It is a further step towards the mastery Apatow and his crew has found in dusting up the new talents to shine over the screen. Jason Segel as the friend of Seth Rogen in “Knocked Up” represents the average strange men, Peter Bretter in this film. He is not fit, eats cereal in a giant basin and a couch potato. How is he dating a TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell)? He is a composer for her TV show “Crime Scene” (a weird hysterically funny spoof combining “CSI: Miami” and “Law and Order” franchise).

The film is full of sweet predictability and yes it is charming. It has the usual “evil” ex-girlfriend but she has a side of story too, it has the mellowing and unbelievably friendly rebound love interest in the form of hotel receptionist Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis) (by the way where are these girls?) and the bumpy ride to the good ending. In spite of all those rituals of romantic comedy, the film succeeds and I mean it stirs up the funny bone insanely as the story progresses. How Apatow and his people do it? The streak which started in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” has clearly defined unknown genre in a sugary comedy no one has ever attempted.

It is the characterization and quite evidently the supporting characters the film carries about. It has the doped up Paul Rudd as the surfing instructor Chuck, Bill Hader as Peter’s step brother Brian along with his wife Liz (Liz Cackowski), Jonah Hill as the Waiter and the new comer from UK Russell Brand as Sarah’s new boyfriend Aldous Snow the rockstar. Every body has a story under their belt and it not only makes us like them but we interact with them as friends. The fantasy land the film provides with a believable character reaches out considerably.

Sure it is raunchy at places and you get full frontal nudity of not Kristen Bell but Jason Segel. And they do not shy away to show it and I was pondering on this. For all this time, male nudity is associated with serious sexual scenes but for comedy this is new. I honestly do not know the intention but it surely made me laughing. Naked men are laughingly funny and that is strange and weird too. The film rides on weirdness in simple human emotions in the incommunicado of awkwardness among the broke up and present relationship. The human element in this film is amazingly vibrant.

Peter heartbroken after having many one night stands decides to go on a Hawaii trip to get over Sarah and there Sarah adding tortures to his emotions is with her new boyfriend Aldous. Aldous is a rockstar, has thick accent and insanely cooler. Peter cries a bucket an hour and self pities till the next room occupant complaints front desk. He intoxicates 24/7 and a little bit of him dies every time he sees her or imagines Sarah in bed with Aldous. He needs to move on and it is not easy.

As the film cruises till midway on some effortless jokes we have seen from this franchise, there is a considerable change of momentum amongst the character. The predictable scenario of Sarah beginning get jealous on Peter’s hanging out with Rachel and her realization of Aldous an openly polygamous attitude, we get to know her. When Peter comes back with the much expected anger at some point, she gives back her side of story. For once a romantic comedy deservingly treats the person who broke some one’s heart a peek of their view on the failed relationship. It is at that point “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” takes itself seriously when it really wants it to.

And the TV spoof knocks you out to tears due to laughing. William Baldwin imitating David Caruso from “CSI: Miami” is spot on. I hate “CSI: Miami” for the record and especially the stale expression from each character. Baldwin does it funny as intended and that is something I have always laughed about when Caruso does it seriously. Do sit a while when the credits role because you get to see Jason Bateman impress with another spoof of the show “Medium” (I believe) along with Kristen Bell. It is priceless.

This may be the first impressive comedy for the year and it is heartwarming to see Apatow production giving it the first. In Jason Segel every average loser/nice Joe sees a part of himself constantly being the goofy one always trying to be nice guy in turn having lot of issues of his own. His acting is smart and he walks the line of irritating, sympathetic and lovable in measured amount. In his writing the stamp of its production is present but his heart is visible in originality. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is another successful romantic comedy on the lines of “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” and it just keeps getting better and better.

"88 Minutes" (2007) - Movie Review

If not for Al Pacino, is there a chance for any one to have some kind of motivation to see this film having disaster written all over it in trailer? Nope, not at all, never, no one would. Jon Avnet directing this miserable film has decided to bend over back wards in the hideous attempt to fool us in finding the mysterious caller for Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) saying he has 88 minutes to live. How much more thrillers like this has the despicable logic for the killer in the end? They start with the suspense and then build over it. Hence coming up with strangest reasoning and the surmounting stupidity one after another.

The film’s start opens with a complete unawareness of Gramm’s character. Avnet wanted to make a fast pace thriller. The characterization and their concealment should be weaved into the plot wherein the negation is reasonable. Pacino’s Gramm tells the truth which honestly sounds more cover up than a true man would sound. Dr. Jack Gramm receives the call on the same day when a convict Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) to be executed. Gramm has been instrumental in psychoanalyzing him and the crime scene to give a convincing testimony to the jury nine years earlier.

Gramm is of course mistrusted because there is a killing of his student in a copycat style of Jon Forster. Suddenly things happen around him and for unreasonable reasons, he immediately suspects his students. And the cast is properly chosen to have the conniving smiles and the attempt to fool us starts. Did Gramm give a false testimony? Is the caller the real killer or is Jon Forster orchestrating this whole thing from death row? These legitimate questions are circled around and of course given in the end as the suspense and the bright laugh of director that he has deceived every one is guessing the killer.

I have had serious conversations with my friends about a notable good actor late Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil Cinema Industry who having the capability of taking up any role he wanted settled for very cheap parts in the insanely idiotic films possible. He is a wonderful actor who amongst the rigorous fans of his was compared to the great Marlon Brando. What makes these personalities hard working their life on the profession and art to not see the blatant irresponsibility a script might have? May be a courteous favour or plain dire financial constraints or whatever any one can come up with. But there are things which are bound as an obligation and Pacino has stepped over the line with “88 Minutes”. I love Al Pacino as many millions do but this seems to be out of bounds.

Many of the readers of my reviews are aware by now that I enjoy almost any kind of movie. “88 Minutes” is in no way boring and I am sure many might even find it fast paced. For me it defied the laws of logic umpteen times with no sense of regret or remorse. It is not that he is forbidden for formula movies but even in that there is a moment he seizes and declares his single most capability of elevating a film’s class to another level. “88 Minutes” is devoid of those moments and since I am done with blaming Pacino, it is in actuality the blunders of director Jon Avnet and he is going to reunite Pacino and Robert De Niro for the upcoming big feature “Righteous Kill”. And in all sincerity I pray for his redemption in it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Proof" (1991) - Movie Review

“Proof” deals the trust issues a blind man has starting as early as a child. His life a beckoned solitude and we do not quite really know what he is doing for living. Because there is nothing to attribute to his behaviour by what he does I believe that director Jocelyn Moorhouse negated that detail on purpose. The film immensely describes about Martin (Hugo Weaving) with a strange cruel relationship with his housekeeper Celia (Genevieve Picot) and his new friend, a young man Andy (Russell Crowe).

Martin is a neatly dressed man, thin and walks with his tall stature and a guiding stick all his life. “Seeing is to believe” is a saying which of course does not apply to Martin but he substitutes that with a strange habit, taking photographs. That is his record of a particular moment or a thing or a person captured and put on a hard paper for his long future reference. Later he finds some one to describe it, may be even after years. He believes there is a verification system in it, many may not lie. While some may not say exactly what it is, the truth is in the picture and that makes him satisfying.

His house-keeper Celia has been taking care of him for more than three years and her love towards Martin have been turned into a cruel torment that she has started to hate him to grab his attention. Martin on his part has his own philosophy for shunning away the people. He does not want to trust. She has turned much of a devious and cunning maid to find new methods to make Martin notice her. She is a loner too buried among the photographs of Martin. She believes that both being the loners are the perfect couple to complete each other’s miserable detached existence. Martin has used Celia to deal with his self pity. He believes that the only woman whom he continuously negates has a tendency to not leave him and that makes him to pity her, giving him the ultimate control.

Celia is shocked and threatened by Martin’s new friend in a nearby restaurant. Andy a happy go lucky youth has the open honesty and terseness Martin wants to describe his photographs. They instantly bond. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse provides wittiness in an unpredictable smart manner. Andy is curious and Martin opens up as he is at a point to trust a stranger. Andy methodically explains each photograph with veracity, candidness and clear. Martin loves it since he believes that his Mother (Heather Mitchell) has supplied him with false images to jail him in his thoughts and inside four walls.

This is a film with a dark value of love, trust and hate. Celia by Picot is unbelievably cruel. Her hate is questioned and condemned but she takes Martin to a theater for an experience he will not forget. At the same time, she black mails with a photo she took of him half naked to go out with him. Picot expresses the deep love she had and has to Martin by the degree of machinations she places over him on regular basis. She keeps objects in the middle of the room while she is leaving. And we understand her anger, because she has been humiliated and ignored blatantly for such a long time that the love she has transformed into reeking spite of bitterness. Picot is terrifying and cold who can be compared next to nurse Ratched played by Louise Fletcher in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

It is a complicated emotional work on three characters messing around with each other. More than love it is the trust which is shared and not shared by Martin in between these two people. Andy is the innocent being who gets beaten around by Celia to eliminate him out of the picture. The movie while taking the consideration of the blind man deals with an emotion not dealt before.

Weaving gives a clean and neat performance with an onscreen chemistry with a much younger Crowe at that time. The film has blurry dull tone with cold actions and comedic moments with equal magnitude for the story. It is neither an overly emotional nor a complete dark behaviour of personalities. We feel for all the three characters. We indeed do feel a strong distress for Celia and empathize with Martin and sympathize for Andy. Moorhouse with three characters with a back ground of emotions and not their work they do for living provides a drama and comedy of a revelation of emotions in a man deprived of sight and trust.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Gosford Park" (2001) - Movie Review

The class system depicted in the “Gosford Park” in 1930’s British is partially a compelling harmonious working of industrial process and crass slavery shined with classy mannerisms. A film with a screenplay as challenging as “Memento” in linear narration with a humungous casting and a brilliant camerawork may not be the best drama but as its representation is a strongly attired conservative smugness. Very high in the artistry of storytelling, the classification of servants and owners builds into a shield for us to care for emotional characters. But for a storytelling, precise in exploring the intricacies, gossips and scandals among the riches and their servants, it pierces than slicing the system through the behavioral patterns of humans, which of course is ironically unpredictable.

The film pushes the audience amongst the people inside a big house. The residing members of the house or hosts are Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), his rich wife Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) and their daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford). Of course there is a team of maids running the chores, reading the needs and preparing the dishes, clothes, foods and what not. They are the worker bees constantly pecking their work with the classic style invented particularly by the English. They work.

We are confused on exact identity of people. We are a stranger in a land of unspoken ethics and a chain of systematic rituals of well laid master-slave functionality. There are two outsiders like us, Mr. Weissman (Bob Balaban) and his servant Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). They are equally astonished but also secretly soak in to the hedonistic comfort these people demand for. The list of the cast and their part are learned through gossips. Director Robert Altman makes us listen through the hollow walls and talk among the laborious workers. Their life is surrounded by their masters and their existence is validated by their scandals, affairs, failures, success and death too.

Starting off as a drama and a clinical study of this conservativeness in its own cadre, it then subplots in plots and branches off to teeny tiny details which then comes useful to make some sense. But the murder mystery is not the film and when the event happens, as with the people in the house we too shed off the loss of a person and get on with the film as they do with their life. In the sense, the minimal awareness we get of the murdered person is nothing but contempt and spite of a boring life full of frustration. More than the person, the gossip is where we learn about him and we fall in to that scheme of small talks and big laughs of the inability of a man’s character.

There is couple of characters which not alone constitute the film’s advancement into a drama and thriller but really dissect and gives the perspective from either side. Ryan Phillipe as Henry Denton says that he is from Scotland but his accent is suspecting. He instantly makes a name among the servants gaining the praise and attention of Lady Sylvia. He gives an alternative view later in the film which is funny and sad. So much have this caste of social status laid upon generations and generations that the sect has imbibed into their nervous system. They respect and obey their masters but they cannot allow them in their posse. A strange discrimination.

Seeing this gathering reminded me of the South Indian marriages in India which sometimes happens in a big house but largely in a big marriage hall. Apart from the widened hall there are rooms with closed doors guarding the rants and cribs of the kin, cousins and friends. In these one or two days of celebrating the financial status and some human emotions, the prosperity of the gathering has its moments. In “Gosford Park” that moment never happens because the masters and servants have been like that for so long that this culmination of their rigorous work-reception routine pushes them to the limit which in turn reflects as a boredom of life. There is no affection or love in the entire film except in the end.

The screenplay of course won the Academy award for Julian Fellowes. Fellowes juggles with the characters while Altman with the cast. I am wondering whether there developed a class amongst the actors while filming. I would not be surprised if it had. The camera moving from the corners and the stairs through the darkness towards the light sometimes makes us gasp for breath due to the stretch of long walk. The film’s cold characters have an effect upon ourselves and we do not attach much to the film. There are secrets which thickens the plot and there are sexual taboos on those times happening in a rather open manner behind closed doors. But more than that the film is the stay we really go through among a chilling set of people who in their own class and trait cross the barriers in night and pose a complete façade of their existence in day light without any difficulty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Gattaca" (1997) - Movie Review

“Gattaca” is a science fiction film which does not compromise its concept, drama or the emotions for any thing a science fiction film would fall for. This is a faithful and loyal film about how much futuristic advancement humans can make and how much the sociological advances are equally crooked to be unfair. Thus is one Vincent Anton (Mason Gamble as a boy and Chad Christ as teen while adult Vincent as Ethan Hawke), a natural born child analyzed a 30.2 years probable life time with heavy heart condition plausibility. The term natural born comes because the film starts with the presumption on the genetic predictability the medical field has undergone that they can manufacture the best children, a grade A talented mind and the body to equal that challenge.

Being unfulfilled with a “damaged” child, his parents (Jayne Brook and Elias Koteas) go for the genetic perfect brother Anton (Vincent Nielson as a boy and William Lee Scott as teen Anton). Vincent’s child hood is surrounded by caution and fear while as a boy his dreams are belittled by his father. He aspires to be an astronaut, a job for the highly qualified genetically built people. Whatever the real potential and strengths one can exceed diminishes.

There is a limit to the potential and that is determined by the programming of the gene. A hair strand, saliva, blood, urine and innumerably minuscule dirt replicating each of us become the scaling factor for everything. This angers Vincent and he leaves his home to only find a more discriminating and degrading posse. He and others of his genetic nature are called “In-Valid” and put to menial work. He works as a janitor in the very same building Gattaca which he dreams of working as an astronaut.

The vicinity and the frustrating far fetched reach of it makes him go for alternatives. Through a “special” person (Tony Shalhoub), Vincent meets Jerome (Jude Law) the best in everything. He wants to lose his identity in fear of shame and ego. He is crippled now but his genes carry his potential. The identity swap starts and actually this is where the film starts. All the previous scenarios with a brilliant narrative run on to make us come to the pace. There is a swimming competition among the brothers which is not a melodramatic tool for hope and courage but a convincing plot to mark the nature of human kind of the same characteristics.

The film starts as any futuristic movies would begin with blue tinted shaded and polished neat furniture and surfaces to shine, perfectly arranged tables with contemporary fashions. More than that there is the dress code of rigorously business attired and all the people walking as a robot in a uniform fashion which turned me off. But director Andrew Nicol makes us believe in this future which does not have flying cars (rather all classic American cars) but a very high possibility in the genetic research. He takes that and pins on an identity drama and thriller. It talks about the extremity of a human and the social impairment and judgment the science brings on.

Vincent having acquired the samples of Jerome (which means blood and urine) goes for the interview. His urine is tested in a machine and says valid. The doctor who does that, Dr. Lamar (Xander Berkeley) says the interview is over. Today the ultimate say on a universally accepted and rejected philosophy or happenings is based on science. Religion and science are the opposing forces of each other trying to make and not make sense in between them. And here a religion gets born based on the scientific conclusions, “Valids” and “In-Valids”. How much incapable humans are to be without judgments and discriminations.

This is a sad film too in the character of Vincent who fights and goes through enormous pressure and physical pain of racing through his dream. It is an even sadder film when a Valid Jerome is consumed and ultimately gives up to the expectation of the world towards him. “Gattaca” cuts deeper in to the current society through a science fiction film which solidly uses the underlying factor of excellence in science to its plot points. There are nail biting scenes of intelligent thrill moments and as the style of the film, it gives a future very much in front of our eyes.

This is not the CGI fireworks or an enormous glance at a much confused and glamorous L.A or Chicago or New York. “Gattaca” does not even name the city it happens because the film does not need those. It has more human psychology and sociology to analyze than to glorify the modernity over a CGI aerial shot. It does not want to gaze us into the grandeur fantasy of glamour but a possible peek into our future and a shivering subtle comparison to the current society. Beyond that it gives the unfurling flag of human possibilities and limitless hope in this bleak society.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Kalifornia" (1993) - Movie Review

The fascination Hollywood has over the serial killers has been exploitative but has given great films too. The films range from melancholic study of them to plain horror. In “Kalifornia” I have no idea what the writer Tim Metcalfe and director Dominic Sena thought for the character of Early Grayce (Brad Pitt), a serial killer with a naïve and defenseless Adelle (Juliette Lewis) as his girl friend. It is grueling long and is not a piece of art to watch. It sure has the heart and soul of Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis for the role and it is bad for them to lose it over this film.

It is wildly and insanely consumable for a writer Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) to take along complete strangers Early and Adelle without even meeting them since he believes judgments to be the last and more over he is researching for his book on serial killers. He prefers the killers to be psychologically treated than to lawfully put them to rest. And he encounters one of course not aware of it to come to the lands of dilemma on his view towards a killer and the system’s treatment or his own.

It is profound on the opinions one has to seriously consider going through the hell and escaping it. The film does not get the hold of it when it has to be stopped from being a miserable creep journey especially when Brian’s girl friend Carrie (Michelle Forbes) from the start has bad feeling as any of us will have over tagging two strangers to a week long drive to California.

Even if we believe the plausibility of Brian fetching these two people not seeing face to face, the screenplay goes a long stretch on these characters. The back ground we know about Brian is minimal and his change of attitude towards the trip is surprising for us but frustrating on how much change he takes on from before the trip. He is soft spoken guy with less importance on the judgments we generally take on. He does not have doubts or suspicion after seeing Early and Adelle. He tells Carrie that to give them a chance. But it is more than a chance of danger, rather they would be totally incompatible people for a long drive aside the factor that Early kills people.

Pitt dissolves in to Early and is one of his toughest performances. He is a hunk and a control freak over women and well over many of his victims too. The question of why as it rings for Brian runs for us and the object of necessity is the only reasoning which comes up on his choosing the victims. Yet he kills one innocent gas station attendant for no reason and I mean completely no reason at all.

To follow him like a puppy dog is the Juliette Lewis perfectly cast for her stature and the innocence she sheds on her scenes. She chooses not to believe in the actions of Early. Duchovny and Forbes have nothing much to do than to let these two people do as they are made to become the focus of the film. But it is Brian who is supposed to be the chief inspector of his soul. It happens late in the film and is little too late.

The locations and photography with the haunting score is a beat to have a bleak look at this journey. It is not thrilling either as we are aware of the scenarios to be created. While Early shoots people insanely why he does not dispose Brian and Carrie when they identify him late in the film is a question of the character the writers developed. The desperate effort to prolong every single frame in to a running commentary of this killer and his supposed to be victims Brian and Carrie is not interesting either.

Dominic Sena went on to make “Gone in Sixty Seconds” and “Swordfish” a more commercial thriller with visual excellence on it and the origins are visible in this film. It is true that the answer to the reasoning of killings and capability of one to take another cannot be a written piece of paper or art or in film either. We all have opinions on desperate situations and clearly judge the people in the comforts of our location. Sena wants one of that people to put in that place and see what he does. Brian is that person but we see more of Early than him.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Smart People" (2008) - Movie Review

“Smart People” survives on lull moments and dull damaged characters. Dennis Quaid’s Lawrence Wetherhold, a self declared bloated with language and condescending intellectual reminds of Bernard Berkman from “The Squid and the Whale” (Hey, both have beards too!). He has a daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), a young female version of himself. A go getter and a convinced believer that she and her dad are the best damn elite people deserving everything. “Smart People” is not the catharsis of these estranged and dysfunctional personalities we have seen in many independent films but the realization of their problems which is reasonable and it works.

Lawrence a widower and a jerk is getting old and hardly have consideration for the people around him and their names. He is an English professor who has tasted more rejection in attempt of publishing his book. Added to that is the loss of his lovely wife and a long lasting smugness to make him one self pitied schmuck. He is not yet realized that he is been hated by every one because he is one such than that their intellectual quotient is negligible. Situation arises to make him dependent on his adopted brother (which he stresses) Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), a middle aged bum skipping home businesses as the main business. He meets a former student as his ER doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) of course he does not remember but sees an option for a change in his life.

Is city suburbs filled with dysfunctional family or is it the nonacceptance of the abnormality every one practice in their privacy? The little irritations and the uncomfortable physical contact in a queue or even with their own family are pondering factors for an independent film. Director Noam Murro does not handle it wrong in overdoing it nor does he repeats the formula independent film has succumbed to. It is a truthful attempt which has a low key in its character and makes us care for them.

The comedy is the pathetic smile we get on the clueless complacent characters. Ellen Page’s Vanessa reminds one more person of such character in another film. Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick in “Election” is that and whiles the ambitious go getter is common, there is a human substance in Vanessa. She has missed almost her entire adolescence in the hope of becoming a miniature Lawrence. She yearns for his approval and rightly gets it too but the problems arise when he has another person to concentrate.

There is a son in this mid life crisis, Paul (Chris Klein) having contempt on not getting dad’s recognition. His relationship with Lawrence though is much left to be evaporated as he has moved on from those years. But for Vanessa her life is what she has seen in her dad. And when he has some one else to spend time with, she is broken. Chuck loosens her up but with a consequence. Page again plays a character too mature for her age but handles it with an acting maturity. She never gets herself over the top of the character. Church and Quaid are the veterans out here who have their part to be the strange losers. Their scenes together are intentionally underrated as their relationship.

Essentially the film is about Vanessa and Lawrence dealing with their personality issues. One has crossed the point of control in his adult life and another is starting to follow the same path. Success, title and recognition drives these two people but rejection does not discourage them rather give themselves more reasons to be intelligently separated from rest of the society. They both get an outsider not enlightening by their words but giving rejection to think about. In the process we know the outsiders are equally lost but they are aware of their situation.

It is not a wholesome film because the characters are not wholesome. And it does not provide the character change some might want and expect. But a person like Lawrence does not change over a period of weeks. The film is the first step on their overcoming their self denial on their addiction to intellectualism. It is a slow process and the film is slow for its hour and half. Yet amongst its faint and fading tone of reality, “Smart People” has the heart, originality and the integrity to have their characters stay to their characters till the end. The difference in our mood from beginning and end is the hope we get out of the people.

"Street Kings" (2008) - Movie Review

The cops are corrupt and the system has been rotten to the level of no redemption or recuperation in the film “Street Kings”. This is a world defined by the cops been pressurized by the dealing of down trodden criminals. The nick second decisions of doing the right thing and coming clean out of a death hole is something only a cop might understand. “Street Kings” does not explain those and starts as an encounter specialist Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) who takes no prisoners (as tagline says). It shows the ugly righteousness the circle of the unit has created and the means to the greater good has now been officially raped. But “Street Kings” has no plans in causing the mental derailment of tipping the law to the correct side. It starts to ramp up the gun fight the cops in the film celebrate.

Can Keanu Reeves be any blander? He is the lead character piling up bodies in the name of saving the victims and he is pale and I mean pale. Not that it bodes cool factor rather it sucks away the energy and gravity the film puts on. He is been brought up and picked by his Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). There are other officers, who in the competition for grabbing names and getting medals are Clady (Jay Mohr), Santos (Amaury Nolasco) and another detective whose name I forgot (John Corbett).

In spite of that they have each other’s back mainly Ludlow’s. Ludlow’s ex-partner Washington (Terry Crews) has come off the darker side and been talking with Internal Affairs Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie). This ticks off Ludlow who begins to follow and bad things happen. It is an investigative glorification of the gun shoots in a very serious manner losing its value on its way. As with films of this kind, a distraught cop at the end of crossroads should have a young aspiring rookie to guide which is Diskant (Chris Evans).

It is tough to see Reeves not able to pull off Ludlow having in mind that he knocked off the role of Jack Traven in “Speed”. I have liked David Ayer’s screenplay in “Training Day” and his directorial debut in “Harsh Times”. Both have characters running along the line separating good and evil when clearly they were always on the path of doing exactly what they intended to. Ludlow is some one like that but what has been making him sleep better all these years is unknown. Whitaker as he had the devilish charm in “The Last King of Scotland” brings some of those to the character of Jack Wander. He is enjoying the rampage Ludlow delivers and he comforts in the end result even if it involves a planned encounter. His philosophy is undiscovered too.

End of day, “Street Kings” becomes the film which it desperately tries not to. It goes on about the darkness in the cop world but it also markets the gun factor and its style to support it. Which side the film is on? It is fine to be border lining but to send mixed signals in a film of violence and corruption, the endless pit of the system should be left to us on what to decide.

Dealing corruption and the outcome of it cannot be known better through real life honest cop Frank Serpico and the film “Serpico”. It does not answer anything rather tells a story plain and front for what it is. It has a positive outcome at the loss of one good cop’s life. “Street Kings” has double vision on approaching the content of corruption. At one time it behaves as honest as it can be and other time it sells off on the macho factor of gun fights and tough guy syndrome.

In “Harsh Times” we see an aspiring cop roaming and breathing the crime. His cold perspective on the crime and the cops is shivering. He drags his partner to a suicide ride. There Ayer plays on the fear of us. Even in the crookedness of that character we desire for him to survive. Keanu Reeves shoulders Ludlow to neither root for him (which is what the film wants) nor do we dislike him completely due to the fact that we know nothing of him. There is a moral calamity in the end which exposes the truth of the political/social games but the stamp is as an exploitative plot factor than a serious message.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Proof" (2005) - Movie Review

“Proof” is the kind of film which makes me think back to put the screenplay and editing to my choice and credit myself that it would have been better because the material is original and good. I also think Gwyneth Paltrow is miscast for the role of Catherine, the daughter of mentally deteriorating mathematical genius Robert (Anthony Hopkins). She is a mathematician too and at one point she is challenged for it by two characters which we second but the difference is I doubted it throughout the film because she does not convince me as a mathematician.

I totally believed a loving daughter who is grieving her father’s death, but a mathematician, nope. Now Jake Gyllenhaal as Hal, a former research student of Robert is a perfect geek whom I can any day believe in. He can be the nerd who is cool enough to impress a woman like Paltrow and still claim his geek standard. Anyways, “Proof” could have been a very good film and it falls short a couple of foot in reaching it.

The film is said in present and as in flashbacks of Catherine’s encounters with her mentally ill father who suddenly seems to be working again. At the start of the film we see both of them talking over Catherine’s birthday and cuts off to flashes of other sequences in past. And we cut back to the day before Robert’s funeral. She is imagining things and begins to doubt herself on her mental stability. To make things worse arrives in the form of her sister Claire (Hope Davis) from New York bringing New York along with her. Claire is the big sister ticking of check list items in a diary for things to do, even the emotional actions. The mechanical execution behind it is the rudeness to its maximum utility. But in her thoughts her calculation is to tally the accounts of goodwill, sacrifice and a true guilt.

The film which begins as the story of a mourning daughter to cope up with her proceedings turns into math game. We do not understand it as the involvement of it seems unnecessary and this is where I would have loved to have the story take the screenplay from start, going linear. The choice of flash back by director John Madden does have a distinguished insight on figuring out the character of Catherine but the puzzlement is more befuddling. It becomes tangential on the enormity this character. Madden wants us to wear the judgmental hat as a concerned Hal and Claire does but seeing through them is not the story but looking through the reality of Catherine is the core.

There is an emotional pay off which should move us and we should see Catherine shed off those doubts of instability. Out there, at that moment the prejudice we have created should shatter us all and drain us into the guilt and awe which Madden intends. It is moving but it does not hit the spot. Not that in any way misjudges the character. It is the failure of the screenplay to play a math game which was not required at all.

There is an aura of light even in the darkness of a scene and it places the movie in a plane realistic enough and imaginary too. There is a subtle cinematography which lights up the dungeon house into a temple of mathematical enlightenment. Hopkins has a scene with Paltrow wherein he is washed up by the invigorating control of mind he has achieved. He talks and walks with a man of complete sense and the doubtful eyes her daughter is laying upon. He steps back a few feet to confirm her acceptance. The character as said had a greater perspective and incredible aptitude to purge out his mind into mathematical equation and for him to stare in to the eyes of his daughter, the moment is both precious and sympathetic. And in Hopkins we find the Robert director Madden demands.

“Proof” is a good film and the complaints I have might skim through one’s mind. This movie has been adapted from a play written by David Auburn. The film does not seem to appear that it has been taken from a play. True that most of the actions happen in a closed section but the angle of the characters has the scope beyond that and Madden does use the cinematography and editing, the medium has a unique stamp on to make it for what it is. I was trying to think of an alternative actor for Paltrow and cannot come up with one. May be Madden was not able to come up with one either.