Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009) - Movie Review

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is just another predictable kid’s film with lessons to be learned and heroes to be hailed. Its titular character Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a retired thief of birds. He will mess with the meanest farmers nearby and thus endangering not alone his family but his entire underground clan of badgers, rabbits and well, foxes. The whole nine yards are covered and swooped along with emotional completion for the kids and adults per se. But none of it are the main theme and it is Wes Anderson relishing the chance to shape this stop-motion animated film with his trademark approach of back ground score and having that poetic dry sensibility to get those dialogues from the right characters at the most unpredictable scenario. This is kid’s movie of a different kind.

Wes Anderson as the best of the abilities of any unique director believes in his style more than anything. His previous films regardless of how horrendously panned by critics and how out of sync it would play, had something every artist aspires to be even at the mountain of fame and wealth hold, artistic integrity. This does not mean that Anderson shies away from the improvements and embracements of new techniques and subjects. Starting from “Bottle Rocket” which never won my heart but gained the respect tells about two characters in their element captured by the style of observant director. Followed by another not so appealing but an inventive “Rushmore”, he finally struck the chord with “The Royal Tennenbaums” and he did good. There was already becoming a stamp of his work as that of Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino. With “The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou” and a thoroughly impressive and emotional “The Darjeeling Limited”, Anderson now steps into a territory and a leap into the world of animation.

The works of him has never really used profanity as an excuse to inject quirkiness but presented with a simple obviousness from the characters. In his films, cuss words are used as subtle punctuation rather than an insecure attention seekers. And in a film based on children’s book and tricking the MPAA for a PG rating, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” does a bleep of the curse words with a right substitute - the word itself, “cuss”. For kids it becomes a funny word while the adults know what Anderson is giggling about his success.

What the voices of the wonderful actors does to this beautiful creative animation is nothing much to say than the picture itself. Martin Scorsese identified the director as one to be watched for when “Bottle Rocket” came out. Coming from a legend like that, he definitely should have seen the virtuoso the man beginning to build up. In Anderson’s films the people in them are unapologetic but insecure to great deal. It condenses the human condition but it is given without an ounce of presumptuousness or sappiness. There is a truth in their emotion. Whether it would be the sheer adamance and arrogance of Steve Zissou in “The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou” or the lost sons in the “The Darjeeling Limited”, they are a walking joke but they are also real in representing the human psychology.

Here it is a family man, Mr. Fox. Breaking the promise to his wife Felicity (voice of Meryl Streep) to never get into thieving, his mid life crisis puts him to get back in the game. He assembles a curious but slow Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) into stealing three unique products of three unpleasant farmers of the region. Mr. Fox wants to be awesome (who does not wants to be). His closed hole and few readers of the newspaper he writes does not fulfill his desire. Felicity wants a family and have a regular life with a dissatisfied and untalented kid Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman). An arrival of an athletic and skillful nephew of Felicity, Kristofferson (voice of Eric Chase Anderson) feeds the rivalry with Ash and whole lot of family mix, all coming from the natural mind Anderson.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” performs its three act with specific landmarks to advise us and even Felicity mentions how predictable this betrayal of Mr. Fox is. But what is next? The fight back and survival of him is not a surprise but the weaving of the writing and the timing of those provides spectacular fun. Bringing modern day references and the authentic dry comedy, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is one of the top contender of best films for this year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Pirate Radio" (2009) - Movie Review

The 60s flashbacks are nothing but rock and roll giving birth to the concealed and suppressed painted sins of the past. The hugging of peace and arts were more than ever and it got tighter to be suffocated or that is how most of the times movies attempting to swim through that time of sex, drugs and tapes (or records). “Pirate Radio” lives through those good times in a ship running a radio having good time. The good times are so much and too boasting that it becomes a bloated self righteous gloating with convenient cruelty and happiness hiding the formula film.

Not opening with the “inspired by true story” which it is not, “Pirate Radio” is a string of the best times a crew in this ship of fictional Radio Rock rebellious transmitters. It comprises of some good actors with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy and sparsely seen in American films Rhys Ifans. There are traditional characters in a fun team. A young chap aided/guided/betrayed in losing his virginity named Carl (Tom Sturridge), a big bloke having a way with the women is Dr. Dave (Nick Frost), an innocent DJ in love with the returning star Gavin (Rhys Ifans) and a rival of sort to him is The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman). They are all nice people, fun people and have the best days of their lives. Too bad we cannot share the same opinion with the film.

When the ship members are busy fornicating Saturdays and listening to awesome music, there is the villain for the film in the name of government. It is minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) who hates the existence of this radio station defaming the traditional and clean air in the UK. There are of course loyal fans who seem to gather around and listen to radio and do nothing else. These different montages of various sections of people dedicate their life to these voices beyond the skies.

Radio has been a great instrument long before the entire collection of one’s music library got comprised in their pockets. Yet the concept did not die and has been continued with annoying commercials with inventive DJs to oomph the experience of music hearing. Personally I do not hear to the radio as I leave myself to explore the new songs and form opinions of my own. But I have always heard the glory days of radio in “those” days through my mom. When cinema songs were forbidden by her father, she managed to sneak around to hear the few songs and loved for the voices of the DJs saying in their styles and tones. “Pirate Radio” undermines that tingly feeling and begins to enjoy the celebrity status of its DJs before we understand the medium’s importance in the days of limited entertainment in Television and Radio.

Now I should not stomp the movie to the ground because the movie’s intensive part is the songs of it and they rock precisely and dig along with its viewers. But what is this movie about? There are characters who already in a state where we know what they like and dislike. They do not have much of explanation to do other than obey their roles for the definition director Richard Curtis gave. The film is not lifeless but too much of unwanted life. It firmly believes too much on its material and takes a lot of it for granted. What we get is a star whose path is not revealed and simply asks to cheer and drool for the charisma. Does not work that way in this medium and in this genre.

Many cruel instances are turned into sweetness where in it is neither funny nor super serious. There is an innocent and adorable DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) who worships Gavin. He is one of the loners in the deck along with Carl, the lesbian (yes indeed!) chef Felicity (Katherine Parkinson) and newsreader John (Will Adamsdale). One fine day he gets married to the gorgeous Eleonore (January Jones). Too good to be true and it shatters predictably and little mercilessly. Then there is young first love of Carl sleeping with Dave and then coming back with a simple sorry and a kiss. Everything happens so easily and conveniently.

“Pirate Radio” is a slow show and it desperately wants to find comedy and cheerfulness in every small thing. It begins to be that cheery overenthusiastic kid every one come to hate just because, well too cheery and overenthusiastic for no good reason. The thing is the kid is very happy but not the others. In that case, the problem is with the others who cannot find their passion to be happy. In “Pirate Radio”, we paid the money to forget about that kid and we see for two hours and nine minutes. Not cool.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Ballast" (2008) - Movie Review

Ever wonder who lives in those departed rectangle houses by the highways? Why do they have two identical places, both visually sullen but carrying the separated depression within the shortest distance? May be it has a story what Lawrence (Michael J. Smith Sr.) has in “Ballast.” A man dissolved in the loss of his brother. He survived suicide and now he do not know what to do with left fragments of his so called existence. He sits in his house and just spends the day as it goes. His grievance is practicing nothing and running the sorrow in the mind repeatedly, as any one might do. This indie feature debut by Lance Hammer is a short film extended, without losing the charm of it.

How was Lawrence before the death of his brother Darrius? Was he practicing the same kind of silence and inertness? We do not know but the sense of his approach to sadness is all we get to see of him. He is so much devastated by his brother’s suicide, he cannot react to the shock. It takes a neighbour to come by and then he comes to his senses only to shoot himself in the chest. He survives and comes back to a home of loss. He stays and does nothing.

When Lawrence is grieving for his brother, there is James (JimMyron Ross), a kid falling to the system of drugs and fighting for survival in the streets. His mother Marlee (Tarra Riggs) does menial work and works hard to make ends meet. Lawrence and these two are related through Darrius. “Ballast” lets out information on need to know basis and it is done so with a slowness for the events.

This patient film does not have any music or amplified emotions. It acts upon the instances of every day life in a tough beaten outskirts of a small town. We never do see the small town. Lawrence and Darrius had a gas station on the highway and now Lawrence visits to get basic grocery to extend his uninteresting and unambitious life.

The bad acquaintance of James leads to the desperation from Marlee which is to move temporarily at her ex-husband’s remains of his last breath. From here on the relationship between these three is the most consolidated and realistic form of look given in the recent films. Hollywood has always portrayed African American characters to as much stereotyping as possible. Even in the best of the films, there is a hideous presumption and in “Ballast,” we for the first time come across a unique calm character who Lance Hammer introduces us to.

It is too bad that the film got itself cornered to the indie market. The movement of the story is not a textbook formula for independent films but it navigates days within scenes without losing the emotional continuity. Eventful days are sparse because the routine of life is like that. Lawrence, Marlee and James come to the eventual understanding of the family they got into. They had problems before which are told in one or two dialogues and confrontations but the intensity between them is enough to know that they hate each other.

“Ballast” smoothes into these hopelessness and nothingness of grief Lawrence has and when James as a kid looking for trouble barges in pointing gun at him, his instinct makes him to lift the hand but inside, he does not care much at all. Michael J. Smith Sr. a debutant gives one of the intense calm performance. He brings in the melancholy and the love his Lawrence has for his brother. This is one of those lost gems which now is there to be found.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"2012" (2009) - Movie Review

As much as director Roland Emmerich makes preposterous film which sometimes beckons a better word for the sham, he can be called as a passionate man to beautify a catastrophe. Sure he is not aiming for a moving human drama but he spends budgets that would solve world wide property on crumbling and crushing the Earth and its inhabitants effectively and pats himself on the back for a job well done.

Generally I shun away from the trailers but it is an itch. Knowing plot lines is bothering for a good movie going experience and for “2012” you should definitely know the plot line, which is that everything is going to burn down. The Earth as we know will undergo the phenomenon Emmerich and his cowriter Harald Kloser would cook up to get earth quake, volcano and Tsunami cover down in sequences for the nature to calm down before the cheesy fatty and melty ending.

In this destruction festival, John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt and Danny Glover would put on a brave face to the abysmal writing. They are on a suicide mission and they proudly take it as they did the money poured on to them. But let us pull aside the conscience and ethical machine for a second and see what does “2012” has to offer. It has the most breathtaking and hard worked graphics we have ever seen in the era of nothing but visual effects. For the calamity mother nature does, this is one hell of a show in the department of visual effects and Emmerich loves to draw scenarios for it.

The governments of countries around the world begin to observe the beginning of the expected fall of humanity in the current year. Those government officials ! Counting money and always in the business of hiding and playing under the radar. They succeed admirably while the great young scientist Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) will begin to steer this known fate for a little more prosperity in the end. Drama happens, action happens and lot of plump and badly uttered one liners happen.

Films like these have plots to finish up their glory road of creating such immense feat. How can you destroy Los Angeles, Washington DC and Las Vegas? Wait, how about great cities and landmarks all over the world? It should be chaotic but a coordination for the characters the audience rooting for. It should consist of major landmarks falling down and an aerial shot. There should be timely helps for novice pilots and calculated deaths to pave way for the broken romances to reunite. And believe it or not, it can be done badly over the atrocity of the mundane ritual or can be elated into making us getting played into it. “2012” rides on the border lines in between these two.

There is not a single shred of hesitation from my side that the film would draw the biggest box office collection and I do have to admit with some embarrassment that this two hours and thirty eight minutes show kept me occupied. It brought me down to its level rightly and played in the field it is best at. Well played Emmerich. You truly are a genius in this game. But I am too stubborn to give up the so called artistic obligation I crazily and selectively believe. And this time around I need it more than ever because I will lose my sanity over this.

Few years from now, there will be a time when I will be sick at home. I would have got cable by then and may be I still have a job. The job which allowed me to take day off from for the sickness. I am laying on the couch and there is nothing I can do. The day is dull which does not help the fever, cold and cough. I slowly extend my hand out of the blanket to the lifeless remote in the coffee table. And I switch on and cruise through the channels. By the greatness of the chance and probability, there is TBS shining through the screen for “2012.” It is a TV film and it should rightfully belong there buried in between thoughtful commercials having more humanity than “2012.”

"The Chaser" (Language - Korean) (2008) - Movie Review

“The Chaser” is the second South Korean film and the common element of a psychological trauma is very close. The first one was the very disturbing but beautifully crafted “Old Boy” whose ending I doubted. In “The Chaser,” it is alive every minute of its screen time. It has some spectacular chase scenes and gripping human element. It is visceral when the sociopathic serial killer attacks his victims but also makes him a simple man. But more than that is how a corrupt and inefficient police system works.

The film does the unexpected thing in a film about serial killer. The inhumane man Mi-Jin Kim (Yeong-hie Seo) gets caught by the police in the beginning fifteen minutes of the film. This does not mean that the rest of the film goes back in flashbacks nor is a close interrogation to extract details out of the man to find out the dozens of bodies. The film has weird twist to this whole sick game of a maniac, the flawed system and the traces of humanity getting caught in the middle of this.

Joong-ho (Yun-seok Kim) is a merciless pimp. He commands and bullies his routine boy Meat Head to distribute fliers. He notices that he is losing his commodity. While they are becoming Mi-Jin’s victims, Joong-ho suspects of a competition selling them. And one night he sends out sick Min-ji (Seo Yeong-hee) to the killer and his former job of being a cop kicks in to see that the client is where all his girls disappeared. In the crooked streets of Mangwoon district, he is waiting to get a text from Min-ji who now is in the house where the bathroom seems to be the last thing she is ever going to see. In circle of events, Mi-Jin crashes the car right on Joong-ho. Joong-ho immediately realizes the man and he is still in pursuit of the man who is wrecking his business. Soon they are in police custody and as Mi-Jin is locked up and the department is trying to get through the corruption, bureaucracy and politics, Min-ji is bleeding in the bathroom of a faint hope to survive so that she can see her little daughter (Kim Yoo-jeong).

What a ride the film takes its audience through. All the people who directly and indirectly halt, assist or blunder in finding Min-ji becomes a coin. With nothing planned, Mi-Jin admits that he killed people and gets beaten around by Joong-ho to pulp. He is not methodical or clever. He acts on his nature of being the killer he is. He is incapable when Joong-ho initially chases and beats him for ruining his business and in later part in the police office but he knows what buttons to push when it comes to terrorizing a woman. There is a female detective and despite her strong willed and unrelenting face, he gets to her. The actor playing this brings on a charm and face value but behaves without putting forth over the top craziness.

The hard and unlikeable Joong-ho while does not worry about the life of Min-ji unwillingly takes her daughter for the investigation and begins to find his remote sense of empathy and guilt to find this little girl’s daughter. The film directed by debutant director Hong-jin Na is nothing short of thrilling. It attacks the helplessness the audience begin to meet and as the system goes to a dead stop, it aims for the worse.

I watched this film in a screening by the movie club out here which generally has a discussion after. Many of them dwelled into the reasoning of “Why” to the perplexed mind of this killer. And I think with several speculations, the reasoning per se for this film is insignificant. There are minds and souls in the wanderings of this world which most of us are fortunate not to see. They exists as they are and as much as of a reasoning we give to have a cookie before dinner, these people give a reason for their acts to themselves. Pure evil in my opinion exists in the human form and in every one. The failure to grip the sanity is where we achieve upon. Some slip and remorse and others like Mi-Jin do not. Sometimes accepting that fact is better than to investigate the reasoning because at that juncture, it is futile.

“The Chaser” is a dark and smartly edited film with acting at its pinnacle from the two main characters. There are beautiful scenes when we watch the innocent little daughter of Min-ji crying in the passenger seat of Joong-ho’s car as rain pours down and when the camera goes through the stoned streets and rounds up on its characters. There are terrifying scenes when Min-ji lies helplessly in the bathroom floor and when the sad gruesome ending happens. This film as similar to how I came to adore “Gone, Baby, Gone” is one of the best thrillers I have seen recently.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Michael Jackson's This Is It" (Documentary) (2009) - Movie Review

On the wake of MTV sneaking its way in and before there was little knowledge of the rock in the far world of other side, in the tiny part of Madurai there were couple of crazy kids wondering how the hell this man could twist his legs and make the coolest dance moves ever witnessed. And there was MJ in the small video snippets and the smuggled concert footage which were treated like a great find. Soon the time passed and as the rock and roll grew and of course I grew up to explore various kinds of music, MJ took a break from the listening spree of mine. But now and then an occasional “Beat it” or moving “Earth Song” never failed to remind me of the artist’s masterpieces. Here in “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”, we get one final ride not of the perfected stage performance but the work through it and his rehearsals are immaculate as it would be.

Director Kenny Ortega designed and operated along with the man for the final series of shows. Dancers were auditioned, short films to become the back grounds were shot, pyrotechnics of mind blowing presentations were fired up and the greatest hits were sung and performed. Michael Jackson asked to shoot the rehearsals to improve himself. In an instance for the start of “Human Nature”, he practices with the keyboard artist and I could not find the difference in the simmering he is strenuous about but it makes a difference when they perform. The slightest of sounds and the miniscule adjustments he suggests in a passive anger and frustration adds a strange layer to this documentary.

The songs and choreography are always at top of the performance of MJ’s concerts. Many have come across and twisted their legs in ten different direction with the finesse and class but the steps Jackson did seem to have a pristine quality of originality and it attains that stature when he does those. The uniqueness of the voice and music as much goes to his dance moves which does not need a matching performance. Some marks and milestones needs to remain untouched.

The documentary is carefully put together. Opening with an interview of the selected dancers and each of them with the known emotional outburst say their pleasure of being with the man they grew up watching and being inspired. Their dreams shattered with being so close and not being completed adds to the tragedy of MJ, hailed for his music and marred by controversies, allegations and what nots.

Michael never really had any chance to see the common things most of us go through growing up. Been always in the lime light and unexposed to the life of being not noticeable is a privilege most of us do not realize. He has performed million different times with the spotless perfection and yet he practices like a mad man. Mentioning to the music artists, dancers and Ortega on what he wants and how he wants it. The aspiration to get it that close to sync it with the mind’s picture of the song and show, he goes repeatedly on the notes.

He complaints on the earpiece which he is getting used to but in the most gentle fashion. He is too soft but there is an aggression lying beneath. Ortega is careful when he deals with him as if there is an outburst he do not want to see from him. It is this tension which adds an eerie presence in between the songs. The documentary which has been accused for making money of course is for that but there is a sincerity for the audience it got produced for. The songs picked from the best and interweaves three different times it was shot. “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” as it mentions is for fans and it is the closest we could come for the real show he was planning before his unfortunate demise. If you are a fan growing up as I did, this would bring back those memories and if you are not, it is never too late.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Motorcycle Diaries" (Language - Spanish) (2004) - Movie Review

What future shaped and designed one of the protagonist in “The Motorcycle Diaries” is insignificant because the travel that sparked the path to the eventuality provides a nostalgic milestone to its audience. The youth that withers away like the burning threads to the explosion and the sparkles of fires last till they can to lead the curiosity to the eventuality of this journey. The journey these two friends take through the South America. Ernesto Guevera (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) are two men hoping to find something out of this long and tiring trip. The cliche of finding themselves is moot point but this unspoken and calm assured friendship between them makes “The Motorcycle Diaries” into a road movie of any two young men waiting for the waves of responsibility to hit them.

Ernesto has few months to complete his studies to become doctor and his biochemist friend Granado wants to have the tour of a life time. Both begin this journey on a vehicle which does not know balance and stability. They slide and lacerate their trousers and shirts and skins along the way. Sliding close to dirt and swallowing it in the sweet air of the country they cruise, these two men does not aspire for crazy stunts or find adventure stories. They are out there for a trip they do not know what to expect and take the days as they come by.

They run through the history’s left pieces. The nature in the background sometimes goes unnoticed with the characters wondering on the empty outlook. They meet people on their way and see the demarcation of the poor and segregation of the financially backwards. Since we know what happened to Ernesto, the stress on those emotions appear a little extra concentrated. But that is not director Walter Salles wants his audience to see the film as. It is about any regular people who decide to do a road trip. Fun, frolic and debauchery are expected and happens.

As they begin to the endless roads, Ernesto and Granado do not speak about their great expectations. There is the narration of Ernesto as letters to his mom. They travel the branches and roots of the Latin America which opens up the world they were shunned and sheltered away from. Being in the early twenties and doubtful of the function this world, these are typical humans in the edge of a transformation.

Why do we travel? To take a break, to meet new people, to forget the clockwork one endures through but the real travel is as cliche it may sound is the journey within each. To pertain to the core of a human being to reinvent, rethink and be in the space to be themselves, purely for themselves. In this a mind clears, shifts or goes into another plain of thought. When the world as they have been living calls back, some extend those thoughts to action in great aspect or some bury into the memories to be nostalgic of the once lived golden days. The future is open and time waits. Thus are these two men with dreams and their idealism met with doubts and injustice.

Going with the right people to the right places is paramount for a fulfilling trip. In this Ernesto and Granado appear to be of different nature. Ernesto is a shy young man while Granado at the doorsteps of big three “O” knows his way around women. They have medicine in common and a varying degree of expression towards the people suffering from poverty, segregation and difference of philosophy.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is a film about many things but it is prominent about the friendship between these two people. With a destiny to reach a point and nothing else, they do not talk much about their opinions on the system but understand the encounters shaping them. And when the time comes to depart, each knows what the other is going forward in their future endeavours. In the end, they show the real Granado looking at the flight taking off much similar to the one he bid goodbye to his friend when the trip got over several decades back. In his eyes, more than the nostalgia and a lost friend is the sigh of not able to see that friend in the times when innocence was still fresh in both of them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"State and Main" (2000) - Movie Review

David Mamet’s “State and Main” is the first film of him I have seen with the complete intention of a comedy movie. It draws similar to the Truffaut’s “Day for Night” but does not have underlying symbolism, messages and the truth behind this facade of scenes. It is again the breath in which Mamet can bring his people together and in that put together a plot connecting them. In that he has his writing as he always does and actors who come through like they always do for the man.

This film changes its mind to be satire, hard real life and Hollywood massage of truth. A film crew arrives in a small town where there is one doctor (Michael Higgins) to treat every one and they complaint of his inability to treat properly right to his face. They call him irrespective of that because he gets the things right in several tries. People are good eating their simple food in their centre diner and live for the event of scheduled nothingness.

In this David Mamet’s characters flow through. There is the director Walt Price (William H. Macy) rightfully managing his talent and yelling at his work force. The talent comprises of a macho actor Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin) on the look out for girls under the age of sixteen. To equally match the alpha male is the drama queen female lead Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker). Amongst these crazy bunch is the naive and sincere writer Joe White (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Mamet’s sympathy for the profession he built upon his career is obvious. And Hoffman’s Joe is a symbol of that purity the character keeps on talking about the content of his script.

Mamet’s version of life gone upside down in this calm town is a different take. The focus goes around the table and distributes itself evenly. William H. Macy as the director and David Paymer as producer are cut throat business men being who they are by the job they do. Walt can change tone, mood, voice and charm when he wants to. He is merciless to one of his assistant director while coils around to give an old lesson to his actor. He is the director who takes tough decision and erases and paints again his conscience as the road takes him.

The movie does not quite take off as it does in Mamet’s films. By the time we get some sword fights on words, it is quarter through the film. In this cut throat film, Mamet wanted some consolation of his soul he generally denies for the brutal reality. Here he manages to bring in a romance between the lovable writer and a local bookstore owner Annie (Rebecca Pidgeon). Both do not share flirty lines but serious discussion of the lines Joe is wrote and is writing for the film. There are kisses missed and a formula consummation to it. Whether Mamet is mocking the Hollywood formula or finding a place for himself to convince in the nicety the film decides to take upon is confusing. Either way, it sways away the movie from the sharpness of the writing.

“State and Main” has characters who are cruel to their colleagues and mean to their workforce. It also has the townspeople being themselves and having a little bit of action due to the movie crew they have brought into their little town. There are people with little agendas and too much expectation. Pot hole, second chance, purity and breasts will become common theme and running jokes in some impressive and some unnecessary ways.

This film coming from the writer giving birth to “Wag the Dog” goes soft for once. That film had a stronger tone in its content and did not hesitate to take a darker road in the end. As much as the satire was fun, it had a solidity in its story. “State and Main” is amusing and funny as it plans to be but has minds on different things than settling for a single agenda. It has multitude of characters and sub plots and lot of loose gravel to make it not so good ride.

"The Men Who Stare at Goats" (2009) - Movie Review

The extent in which US Army would compete against the Russians makes the veracity “The Men Who Stare Goats” highly possible. In its effort to weave a story into that absurdity is hope of high aspirations. Grant Heslov directed feature rather speaks that absurdity without a flinch of embarrassment or self conscious of how ridiculous it would appear to the others. But that is the point of it and the odd experience gets the viewer through the journey with some mild and good laughs.

George Clooney pushes his charm out of the circle the studio might try to get him caged. He undertakes roles which defies that good looks and sends out a message. One’s look is purely based on their personality than the physicality the nature birthed them into this earth. Lyn Cassady is the man Clooney plays. He is considered to be one of the best in the psychic soldiers the US Army trained in the eighties. He is the protégé of Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). The history of the First Earth Battalion, a hippie generation in the US Army is told through Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a journalist in the quest to prove something of his existence.

Wilton broken by his recent separation from his wife who left him for his editor ventures upon to the hot zone of Iraq in 2003. Unable to pass through the borders, he meets Cassady, a strange man looking nothing but suspicious. Wilton has heard the man’s name when he interviewed a local for his newspaper. When a journalist is in the hunt for a story, they need to observe than to react. Thus Wilton observed the craziness when the local explained about the establishment of so called “Jedi” warriors trained by the US Army. Wilton meets Cassady at a low point in his life and he begins to ride the journey for something crazy and thus promoting his valour to his wife.

The powers Cassady explains are facade to the real techniques. At one point Cassady asks Wilton to choke him. Wilton asks what he is going to do and the reply is mind interception. When Wilton tries to choke Cassady, the man twists the arm of the poor reporter but immediately asks whether he felt a hesitancy before the attempt. Wilton says he did. Wilton is ready to get into this madness.

As much as I would state that this out of the norm psychic technique is a farce, the characters in the movie apply some simple sense to that. The founder and head of the First Earth Battalion Bill is a Vietnam war veteran and when his army gets attacked by a young kid, the soldiers are ordered to fire and they do. Every one of them miss their target when the boy aims cleanly at Bill. Bill gets a revelation and a statistics to back him. Most of the soldiers fire their weapons at a target with no intent to kill. This kind of common sense makes the film’s audience to believe that these young soldiers believed that phenomenon too.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” has the satirical laugh out loud moments. The mind magic decisions Cassady makes results in a failure in the most unexpected manner. As much as the film is a surreal satire, Heslov sticks to the reality of the scenario. Small moments of human touch are spread across but in the end the film is little bit clueless as Cassady itself. Cassady claims to be reactivated and is in pursuit of a mission. The mission is never revealed and when it does in the Hollywood way, it is disappointing in small proportions.

Heslov basing his film on the book by Jon Ronson who investigated this unbelievable sector of command dedicated to psychic weaponry pulls in some serious talents. Apart from the unique Clooney, Jeff Briges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor act on the belief they have for this weird but potential material. I got a strange sense coming out of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”, which always happens when there is an indecisiveness on stamping a film to be good or bad.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" (Language - Hindi) (2005) - Movie Review

Someone in every Indian film industry should have a word with the upcoming directors about the genre of tragedy, sadness and drama. That it is not an emotion which needs to be thrust into the faces of the audience and end with a speech from its characters to achieve a moral closure. Jahnu Barua’s “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara” (“I did not kill Gandhi”) has the title right enough to grab attention and a fifteen minute short film material which makes its audience wait for an hour and fifteen minutes to get to it. Apart from that, it is a guide to the destruction in the horrendous Indian TV serials the crowd has been given with.

Professor Uttam Chaudhury (Anupham P. Kher) had a good middle class Indian life from the looks of the house with a daughter Trisha (Urmila Matondkar) working in an NGO and a son Ronu (Rajit Kapoor) working abroad. He is close with his daughter and he loves the language of Hindi and the literature to it. One fine day he accidentally goes into a class full of science students and begins explaining the Ramayana. He is at the jaws of the old age when people around him are joking on his forgetfulness than to be worried about it. His youngest son Karan (Addi) looks at him curiously for him to identify. The rude awakening comes when he calls for his wife to serve him food. She died year and half ago. He is into the dreadful spiral of succumbing to dementia.

Trisha an independent woman in her thirties and a boyfriend realizing his conservative parents at this time of disaster is perfect for further failures in this poor woman’s life. Trisha fights tooth and nail with her disintegrating father. Soon he erupts on little things and goes to smiles in seconds. Then it elevates in a meet-the-parents session with his daughter’s prospective in laws. And finally it comes down to the title when we lose the hope, not on the man but on the movie.

Slapping our faces with nothing but the step by step procedure of Uttam’s deterioration and Trisha’s wasteful attempts in explaining the reality to a man losing himself to the disease migrates to pester than tragedy. The old age dementia is not known to many and if some of you are wondering what it is, please go ahead and search the internet for a detailed explanation. It is a horrible disease where it is painful for the loved ones to lose their memory and the fragments of their life gets over without their realization. A film which portrayed that sadness and devastation is “Away from Her”, directed by Sarah Polley and acted wonderfully by Julie Christie as the affected individual and Gordon Pinsent as her spouse going through the ordeal.

Trisha as the devoted daughter is patient and is in denial too of the crumbling mind of her father. The men surrounding her act as this emotionless jerks and they become the villains in this drama. Trisha comes to a stage wherein everything gets away, the man she is supposedly in love with (which there is no semblance of) and a young brat of a brother who is afraid of this responsibility falling on him and consummates losing the job. What drives Trisha is the love for her father but her desperate attempts to salvage the dying brain is beaten with the power of tragedy practiced years by the Indian film industry.

Anupham Kher who is such a capable and talented actor bends over backwards to make this man come to reality. As a calm and educated professor, he charms but when the disease takes him over, director Jahnu Barua exploits on the man. Get Urmila Matondkar along for the ride and it is a cry festival from there on.

“Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara” does not stop out there but goes ahead for a long speech in the end by Uttam on the poor state of the country. Why would he out of the blues begin to vent on the sorry state of the country and the film taking a patriotic mode all of a sudden in a human drama? There is no indication of him being bothered by the India he lives in and the effects of such spoiling his life. For a hindi film running an hour and half with no songs, as much as I would like to appreciate it on the fact to concentrate on the story, Jahnu Barua’s film is nothing exciting and a melodrama at its worst.

Monday, November 02, 2009

"Goodbye Solo" (2008) - Movie Review

In Ramin Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo” unspoken words are louder than spoken. Rarely comes a film which takes a life for what it is, not adding anything but true emotions and a harsher reality in a more amicable way. Goodbyes despite the likes and dislikes happens regularly. Sometime it is change of place and sometimes it is loss of a soul. In “Goodbye Solo” one man decides to do the latter and another man is desperate to work him out of it, as much a stranger could do.

Inside a taxi cab is the driver Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané) laughing because of what his new passenger offered which we missed. Because not everyday an old man named Williams (Red West) boards, offers thousand dollars to drop him off at a place on a specific date. And if the place is an aloof mountain, it is alarm bells for someone ready to call it goods in the good old Earth. Williams is the man and he looks and silences himself as a man who has lived a life with nothing but regrets.

Solo is what we call an uncontrollable man of constant representation of life as such. He cannot be brought down by snubbing words and frowns from strangers. So when Williams says the last thing is to ask questions about his travel and mainly his life, Solo is not the one to give up. He is concerned and begins to make sure he collects this new friend of his whenever he calls for cab. Williams has 2-3 weeks till the day of known destiny he has chosen on the date of October 20th arrives. In between he goes to movies suggested by the boy issuing the tickets.

Apart from driving cabs, Solo lives with his wife and step daughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) and aspires to be a flight attendant. He would be a great attendant but the family life of his does not allow it. He has had enough to sacrifice his dreams and moves out as his wife adds up pressure. His friends are looking for danger and he ends up at the motel he found for Williams. Williams can drive anyone away with his attitude but Solo is not like that. They begin to exist in a same room and the friendship is unspoken as I said but it is very well present. The final acknowledgment becomes a sacrifice and trust put together.

“Goodbye Solo” is a solid independent film and it bores a sense of pragmatism in its content. The director Ramin Bahrani is very adamant on the natural state of his story. A taxi cab driver who loves talking with people and an old man in the stage of so much guilt and regret that he cannot bear the sight of disappointing one more human in his life. There is no voice of committing suicide but both Williams and Solo knows. A man vacating his apartment and comes off with two suitcase and closing his bank account has only one destiny.

The actors out here are again natural to their story. The actor who plays Solo in real life worked as a flight attendant for eight years. He appears to be a person gentle in his actions and seeing the toughness of his existence with a smile even the devil cannot shy away from. He always finds humour in the smallest things and makes it the moment to the people surrounding. We never see the face of the cab office dispatcher but he sweet talks her to get details to help his friend.

“Goodbye Solo” promises a friendship between these odd two characters. One Senegalese and the other an American. Their nationality has little to do with the story but defines them who they are. Red West embodies the character of the old hard American who has lived it hard in the wrong ways possible. The promise of this friendship in other films have been used well and always lets its audience leave the theatre happily of that culmination when it ends. Here the culmination happens in the wake of an unusual sadness. Yet there is a weird closure. While it may fool as this small indie movie, this is truly a work of a genius. Ramin Bahrani does not depend on the photography or music unless it comes natural in the daily life of his soulful characters. And in “Goodbye Solo” there are two and we will not forget them.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"Good Hair" (Documentary) (2009) - Movie Review

When I saw “Malcolm X”, the young Malcolm played by Denzel Washington applies a white waxy material on his curly hair and goes berserk when he is not able to find water to wash it off before it ruins and damages the hair and skin. The knowledge of some kind of beauty product is applied by most African American’s to straighten was common sense but the process and the burning sensation they go through was not. “Good Hair” enlightens more than that, a documentary starred and narrated by Chris Rock in the investigation and education of the hair of black people in US.

Almost every women in the black community and some men spend their fortune to straighten and mainly maintain the look of it. The film interviews the popular and famous in the show business experiencing their transition as much as the other women in their regular day to day life. I have not seen Chris Rock’s stand ups but few of his films he was in, his style is to yell and be loud which he accepts himself. Thankfully directed by Jeff Stinson, this film is serious about its content and uses humour to tell those than to amplify those.

The biological differences in different races is a puzzling idea but thinking scientifically somehow or other it relates to the weather and surviving capability of that part of the world. While I do not know the reasoning for the hair differences in that, the burning debate of what beauty is and how it gets cultured in any one from their childhood is a thought to ponder. Without any judgment and inhibition, I would say that a straight hair is appreciated and comes across as a suitable presentation in the current society. And it is a surprising fact that the appreciation of beauty varies in me looking at a non-straightened to straightened hair in black women. And hence it is no surprise that huge loads of money and time are spent in making it “beautiful.”

This movie has suspenses, surprises and without an agenda. That is a good documentary right out there. Chris Rock’s young daughter asked him why her hair is not so good. At such a young age, one realizes her hair is not good. Where did she get that idea? How did this concept of appreciable get into her brain? I guess those are the questions which prompted him to take a closer look at this ordeal, business and in a analogical sense, an addiction.

The movie’s main structure is this humungous hair styling convention of Bronner Brothers and Company and the five competitors to feature their talents in the business. It is a huge deal for them. Tanya, FJ, Derek James are black hairstylists working on their presentation. They are the best in the business and they know better about the black hair of the African American women. This battle of the band kind of deal is more than styling hair but to make it grandiose, entertaining and the art of styling the hair fast and perfect. Each have their own tactic but all are afraid of the favourite in the competition. That is Jason. He does no rehearsals than a mere botox procedure. He is cool and want to enjoy the competition. I will let you go and see the greatest surprise about Jason in the film though.

But “Good Hair” goes beyond the competition. There is the relaxing, the good old sodium hydroxide from the laboratory is the main ingredient. Rock goes and talks with a professor in chemistry. They soak a soda can in the solution and several hours does damages we do not want to know. But the women are willing to afford that risk. Then he goes on the procedure of “Weaves” which is stitch, pin or glue or whatever it takes to put a human hair to lengthen and style it. Where does this human hair comes from? That is the next surprise which made me take back to the tonsure times of mine back in India. Yes, you guessed it right. India not alone does the outsourcing but it exports the great processed shiny hair right from the belly of Lord Balaji in Tirupati. Millions every year deposit crores of money into the pit of the temple and give their offering of hair to the god. All these are taken to the lands of Chennai, processed and exported directly to Los Angeles selling thousands of dollars.

“Good Hair” is the documentary I have seen with a lighter tone yet with a gravity to the content. It is amusing in the facts it unravels. The look, the troubles and the people who go to great lengths in maintaining it. Many men cannot see it but their eyes ogle when a women with straight smooth hair walks by. But Rock reveals how women do not let their men touch their. Alas! “Good Hair” gives a crash course on the depths of the hair do these women go through right from the child hood and the industry it flourishes. The industry which has greater demand for Indian hair given off free in a temple. My nephew got tonsured very recently not in Tirupati though, otherwise who knows I would have seen his hair on a beautiful black women.