Friday, December 24, 2010

"Manmadhan Ambu" (Language - Tamil) (2010) - Movie Review

Intertwining a string of serious moments in to a never ending cycle of slap stick comedy has been no tough ride for Kamal Hassan and his team in ventures like “Sathi Leelavathi”, “Avvai Shanmugi” (whilst the lift of “Mrs. Doubtfire) and “Anbe Sivam”. The last I saw him was his disastrous single man campaign of shamelessly boasting his talents in the wrong way possible in “Dasavathaaram”. Now with “Manmadhan Ambu” it appears there is a sign of complacency not alone in the role he undertook but also in the story and screenplay he has written.

Directed by K.S. Ravikumar the film follows a cruise ship vacation around Europe by noted actor Ambu alias Nisha (Trisha Krishnan) along with her childhood friend Deepa (Sangeetha) and Deepa’s kids to escape from the media and think about her relationship with her paranoid and suspicious freak Madanagopal (R. Madhavan). Major R. Mannar (Kamal Haasan) is the private investigator assigned by Madanagopal to follow and activities of Nisha and his baseless claim of her secretive meeting with her lover. All is well for the no nonsense comedy the team is known for but the mood shifts into utter blandness to a wasted attempt of emotional exchange.

As the film begins and slowly sets up its first act, I was neither interested nor bored which is a typical first act wherein we get to know the nature of the characters. Madanagopal played by Madhavan is an annoying and spoiled momma’s boy who comes successfully dislikable for the audience. Madhavan in his drunken antics was the only consoling buffoonery coming in the mix of the heavily influenced inspiration from Crazy Mohan’s write up. It does not though surprise me that Madhavan pulls it comfortably as he did in his debut venture in “Alaipayuthey” something similar in getting vested on the qualms of married life.

I viewed “Anbe Sivam” hours before entering the theatre for “Manmadan Ambu” and in that he plays Nallasivam as Nallasivam and not as Kamal playing the role. Not that he realistically embodies and makes every inch of it into a different nature of a person. He plays Sivam as a form of himself who has accepted the mishaps and misfortunes in his life and owns a philosophy of surviving through self deprecating jokes and helping people selflessly. There is a sincerity to the man he played out there with some minor smugness but in Major’s character the smugness completely takes over. He steers the story to delve in to the tragic past of his died wife and gets a close up shot to cry in his stereotypical controlled sadness.

The best part of the film is the song “Neela Vanam” shot with a care for telling a flashback not alone with a soothing melancholy song but with a video having every stamp of originality. After enjoying that momentary glimpse of excellence I was wondering the absence of that thought and effort put in that one song in translating it for the entire film.

Kamal’s Major does not shape up to be a man neither to be sympathized nor a hero we would like to root for. The expected spur of romance from Ambu towards Major is a twist unnecessary. While both of them are reasonably afraid to death in telling their secret, when the secret is out, it appears nothing mattered. If that is the point of their genesis of a romantic relationship, then it did not do that either. While Kamal’s some of the films have been mediocre, his acting has been the bedrock for the worst of the ventures but in “Manmadan Ambu” it is creaking of the man’s attitude in being hailed as the top actor in the field. That spills out and affects the nature of his delivery and failing to convince that it is indeed a sad lonely helpless friend Major.

Adding to this mix are supporting roles from Sangeetha, Ramesh Aravind and Urvashi trusting the actor and succumbing to a lost cause. While the initial parts of the film were at least leading to something, the film takes a sudden turn into nonstop attempt in comedy. The routine in providing comedy of errors and dialogue banters becomes an exercise. I lost track of the plan the crew of unusual people comes to the worst set up for the string of confusion and mix up. “Manmadan Ambu” which would have been a fairly meager attempt in drama becomes into an annoyance in the end ultimately making every character unreachable for admiring their emotions nor to make fun of their antics in a praising fashion.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Vengeance" (English/Cantonese/French) (2009) - Movie Review


“Vengeance” like any other revenge film ends with a strange melancholy despite the objective its central character achieves. It has a sporadic sense of odd beauty and there are completely messed up lingering side by side. Its strangeness in the actors, material and the presentation makes it accessible at one time and then it suddenly suspends out in the air making the viewers wonder in confusion. Directed by Johnnie To, it has French rockstar Johnny Hallyday and Chinese actor Anthony Wong who gave a spell binding performance in the Infernal Affairs series.

His daughter’s family were targeted and Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday) promises revenge to his barely alive daughter. He is a stranger to this strange land. He does not know the language, does not have any idea on the purpose of the killings on his family but all he wants is revenge. He is losing memory too and like “Memento”, he keeps record of the people he meets and wants to kill. Johnny Hallyday fits the bill of the new man in a weird town as he did in my all time favourite French film “Man on the Train” but also falls behind in the acting.

He was the man with regrets and remorse in that French classic while here he is a clueless man going for everything to achieve his goal. With minimal clues from his daughter he sets out for finding the killers. There were three men and coincidentally he runs into three other hit men. They are not his targets but he witnesses them coming from his neighbouring room after he hears gunshots. They see each other and he walks by. He immediately offers help to the police who are investigating the murders and lets off the killer walk by too. He knows how to play this game. He gains the trust of these men and assigns them the job of hunting down his enemies.

The music by Lo Tayu runs its theme throughout the film which never gets monotonous. Costello and the men Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka-Tung) and Fat Lok (Lam Suet) becomes connected. In these cold hearted hit men, there strikes a chord. Costello after a while reveals that he used to be a hit man. Soon there are odd battle scenes of guns blazing and blood spatters from each of their bodies. The fights are all sometimes comic and sometimes stylish and most of the time random.

Johnnie To’s venture left me clueless as it had a unique presentation techniques on one end while on the other hand appeared disjointed. The emotions are stale and there is nothing much you can make of the characters. Kwai played by Anthony Wong has a presence more than the star value of Hallyday. He comes lean, stoic and with a style. He commands leadership among his men. Without any dialogue we know that Chu is his right hand man while Fat Lok is the side kick he plays around with. These three are rather taken by surprise by Costello. Being a complete stranger, they are pushed back by the daunting nature in which Costello approached them.

The film carries through most of it convincing us through these chaotic experience and arrives at a point where it should have called it a day. That moment is when Costello begins to completely lose his memory and wonders what revenge is. They leave him with their trusted friend (Michelle Ye) and that should have been it. Chu asks what does revenge mean when the man has forgotten everything and Kwai’s response should have brought up the credits. Johnnie To wanted closure in his film and thus the movie continues laboriously after that.

Granted “Vengeance” has an elegance in the madness of the story telling it takes on but Hallyday’s character never settles in. While the character himself does not gets the opportunity to settle in, the oddity in the movie has an expiration date which ends 20 minutes before the actual ending. I went along for the ride and had some moving and freaky moments in the film. Then it all tumbled down.

Johnny Hallyday has the facial structure that is simultaneously scary and powerful. It can bring the kindness with the slightest of smile and the eyes can kill you instantaneously. Yet the stale acting of Hallyday does not fit out here which was picture perfect in “Man on the Train”. Here it is out of place and Anthony Wong steals the show completely from the French rock star. Johnnie To uses special methods to feature the violence in the film with over the top gun fights and blood splatters like powder than liquid. With this kind of presentation “Vengeance” is both a good film and a badly featured one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Restrepo" (Documentary) (2010) - Movie Review

How much ever gruesome and realistic a war movie is made, at the end of it you know that it is a film and you move and separate yourself out of it. Yet it feels more guilty to write a review about it doing a futile effort on outreaching in the presumption of relating to it. While most of the films where the hardship, tragedy and brutality is nothing to even comment about it relating to, it is more like survivor’s guilt for a reviewer. “Restrepo” is the film one cannot get themselves out of it because it is on there, right there and you are there.

That last line of the previous paragraph have been said and written by this reviewer and many others about several films and this time around if there is a visceral way to mean it, I would. “Restrepo” is the documentary wherein Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington spent alongside the US soldiers in Afghanistan. More than alongside, they were within the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Batallion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The daring risk they undertook for this project to be put in the most active war zone puts me in disbelief on the passion they are towards whatever the things they are passionate about to do. It is uncomfortable for me to say that as their job.

The 2nd Platoon were placed in the Korangal valley in Eastern Afghanistan when they film begins. Being consistently fired on a daily basis they lost their friend PFC Juan “Doc” Restrepo. They advanced towards a vantage point supposedly occupied by the Taliban and set up their outpost. They called it Restrepo. They were stationed out there for a year dealing with the locals and deafened by the artilleries and what not.

“Restrepo” is a film that does not have a heavy purpose as most of the documentary might possibly have to begin with. As journalists Junger and Hetherington were to report the happenings of that year, their report translates into a film which does not get marred by an agenda. For a documentary to go without an agenda is a dare in itself but when the soldiers out there fight to live and sustain one another day, that is the only agenda in their broad scheme of things. The politics, values, emotions and the perspective of everything does not vanish but are buried beneath the ground they stand. Till they head back to the world wherein fear is not the daily cereal, there is nothing in terms of straight thought.

The soldiers in the platoon provide interview opening their soul in the hope of getting some sanity back in their civilian life. The film begins and shudders the notion of film from it when the vehicle they are driving in flat faces an explosion. While documentary itself is clear enough for being real, it does not gets more real until you see this. The soldiers giving interviews give the routines and key points. They talk about how they felt about the situation rather than their stands in war or strategy or mishaps. This does not mean that the war is free from it but this film is not about those.

Eastern Afghanistan is nothing short of beautiful and that makes this even more worse. The snow covered mountains and the lush green vegetation combined with serene water stream amongst the patchy frozen parts of its shore are something the cameras definitely are not bringing justice to it. I can imagine being there and feel the air of course without the smokes, blood and guns. Only a viewer comfortably placed at the palms of his home can see those. May be those soldiers saw those and had their peaceful moments if only for short span of time.

Not even for a moment we see any targets. The soldiers shoot the mountains with all they have got and then some to eradicate whoever and whatever are is out there. The Captain and Colonel have their monthly meeting with the valley elders to have some semblance of peace talks. The towns people see the soldiers as aliens which they are and they hide their helplessness. In between these terrorizing moments they have their offbeat jokes that are the memories they can relive of those days especially the one which involves a cow.

“Restrepo” is a true documentary which cannot get closer and provide a narrow slit of opportunity for the civilian souls the torture of fighting. Every soldier knows before they get on the process of enduring these ordeals and witnessing their buddies bleed out but even with all the information, I cannot possibly bring myself to be in that situation and feel it. If signed up and get posted there, what can I possibly do to protect myself and survive another day? I am sure all these soldiers thought about it and they go through with it. What kept them alive or the ones not is not the question of the film rather it makes ask yourself that. It does not ask sympathy or empathy but the awareness of such experience. “Restrepo” is one of the best documentaries I have seen.

Monday, December 06, 2010

"Triad Election" (Language - Cantonese) (2006) - Movie Review

“Triad Election” is merciless in its story telling. The whole tradition of honour, code and respect are bluntly removed and the ground truth of dog eat dog world is shown without any cover up, glossiness or glamour. The main player the movie portrays is Jimmy (Louis Koo) who is well dressed, terse in his speech and quite focussed on his immediate objectives. How crazy he can get those in focussing we learn as the film progresses. Johnnie To’s this film is a sequel to “Election” unseen by me which I am so curious to look forward to reviewing.

In the gangster community it is two years term for a leader. Leader gets the power and the driving factor of that power, money. Lok (Simon Yam) has successfully reigned and it is time for the election. Jimmy is an upcoming businessperson. He worked his way from pirated porn DVD business to real estate contracts. He has all the ambition to go legit and has no desire to run for the election. Then there is Kun (Gordon Lam), who cannot wait to get the throne. So the thing is simple, Kun can get his job and Jimmy can forget about the triad, Lok we do not know his objectives. So Jimmy can begin his aspiration for normal tycoon life. Ofcourse not.

Johnnie To knows that audience are waiting for the turn to get Jimmy into the race. We like Jimmy because he is the only member in this movie who has semblance of having a peaceful family life and hoping for a better tomorrow for his unborn children. Later in the film we would see how he unleashes his darkness and does it with a stale face. That not alone disgusts us but vigorously splashes a bucketful of icy cold water on our face to say that there is no good soul in this trade.

As much as the veterans of this crime business conduct it in the name of tradition, it is a hypocrisy on its supreme nature. When the film begins, a member of the community explains the reason for such a society to have conflict free and peaceful business ambience. It is an organism of itself and when there is power, there is greed and everything that goes with it. The people running for the election are capable of anything because they are all criminals. Another thing is the legitimacy they have created for generations by having such elections.

There are no smart strategy in dealing the problem of outrunning their opponents. It is pure and simple, kill them. Hence comes the bloodbath on both the sides. Jimmy hires a hit man and he does not respect or fear Jimmy. He comes with the clear agenda, you get the service for what you pay for. He can do unspeakable things and witness those but he needs more money. None of these men are not shown to have any kind of pleasure or fun. There are restaurants and clubs wherein women wander around and sing for the entertainment but no one is listening or seeing. This world is ruled by men.

The violence as much as I speak is not shown in gory details but the awareness are of it is nothing short of visceral horror. Why does Jimmy all of a sudden bursts with a motto to get his job done through any way possible? He does not like to be a gangster but he has to in this scenario to fulfill his dream of living in a serene hill and no one around apart from his lovely wife and children they are going to have. He sees this exercise clinically and assumes that somewhere in the close vicinity he can return to his dream.

“Triad Election” is a story of how criminals have no honour or rules. Their motivation beyond money and power is even not shown. We do not see them having fun or even cracking a joke. They are completely serious in every waking moment and somehow that has become their predetermined way of life. The story goes on to the obvious nature of Jimmy being the better player but in the end there is no celebration.

What I liked about Johnnie To’s film is his attraction and aversion towards this world. In a way he loves this genre with a passion for film making but at the same time he is repulsed by the true nature of these people. Hence as much as he goes for the cool shots and disturbing music to elevate the film aesthetically, he makes sure that there are no heroes, no villains or none to be happy for. It is a sad life and it will always be one till the end for all these people.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Homicide" (1991) - Movie Classics

David Mamet has his actors speak emotion than happen on their face. It is his strength, style and an elegance he employs in his work. An impeccable screenwriter directs the film which has its undercurrent, undertone and sneakiness of revelations default to a Mamet’s script. But there is more. What begins as a crime story gets Detective Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) into the roots he has not sweated to know and the underworld he gets exposed to scares the nature of the force imbibed in each of us. It absorbs him into the forgotten past and then gives right back at him and to the audience in the end to wonder what simple emotions can translate into deadly forces.

In the first scene we are capitulated by the execution of the writer and director. A thorough procedure in busting a criminal. There are no thrilling music or hurried pace of several cut shots. Pure action in these police officers who are nervous as heck reeking through their masked bodies. It opens up to the film wherein we learn that a murderer is on the run and FBI are off the case as they detonated a race war. Bobby and his partner Tim (William H. Macy) had run into this convict even before FBI assigned him as the most wanted man. He speaks up and that segues into a riling competition with a black official wherein Bob is called a kike. Tim goes ballistic and there establishes two things, one that Bobby is Jew and the other being Tim is a trustworthy partner and a friend.

Bob and Tim begin the case when they stumble upon another murder case where an old Jewish woman is shot dead in her store in a dangerous neighbourhood. Bob who assists a rookie on his first day is assigned the case as the son of the woman pulls strings to bring a Jew in solving the crime. Bob is frustrated as he is the golden boy in bringing the FBI wanted man Randolph to the cage. Against the advice of his boss, he begins juggling both with lesser concern for the old woman’s case.

Mamet is so focussed on his writing that the people stand there reciting his dialogues in the way he exactly wanted. They are not great on emotional empathy but damn they are good in tagging their fellow stars with precise timing. It would have been seen as a far lesser valued film for acting but I appreciate it for the actors to do what was told with a faith they can solidly rely on. Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy have been Mamet’s actors for a long time and both are capable and excellent performers. Yet they abide by the rules of the screenplay.

“Homicide” which is a traditional devoted version of Mamet’s writing has more than conning than usual. It has a man getting spurred on the underlying racial jokes, remarks he has dusted off gets confronted in an unusual way. In one of the most outrageous phone conversation of Bobby with Tim, he goes on ranting about the Jews with such a thorough study in stereotyping and mixing it with his helplessness of not being there for his high profile case. He does not notice that the granddaughter (Rebecca Pidgeon) of the deceased is right out there. She asks him, “Why do you hate yourself so much?”. She means his ethnicity, which defines him or wants him to be defined by the atrocities and ordeal they went through. That sparks his consciousness.

The film then takes whirlwind ride into the world of Zionist group and Bobby’s sudden shift to the old woman’s case while the high profile case takes back seat. He begins to invest and becomes increasingly convinced that he has been the man shedding off his roots and forgotten the real reason of his existence. Before he knows it, he is neck deep into a pile of unwanted storm he got himself into. What follows is a tragedy, a revelation and the brilliance of Mamet in syncing everything to a perfection.

In the generation of prolific and thorough screenwriters David Mamet is the reigning King. The plethora of work he gives out and the quality of each of those surprises me personally. The information he puts forth in his screenplay becomes the perfect rule book for operating the film. There appears no improvisations but plain simple magic of words becoming into people and the concept becoming the soul and with all there is a serene completion in the work of a master. This is David Mamet.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Morning Glory" (2010) - Movie Review

“Morning Glory” is the sort of film I would have easily dismissed to not see but a good recommendation from Roger Ebert (and I differ from his taste very many times on this genre) made all the difference in missing a very good film. Harrison Ford in his Indy flicks is known for his sarcasm and that shows in abundance in this film which has the kind of egotistical jerk Ford does it with a passive passionate vigour.

There is this traditional tale of workaholic woman discovering her work life balance disturbed way beyond repair and then the journey of her experience bringing her back to life before things go bad forever. Roger Michell’s film is no different. Apart from having talented cast of Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Patrick Wilson, it has a quasi real story to tell. Becky (Rachel McAdams) is the over achiever getting under appreciated in her work particularly when she gets canned from her very early morning show in New Jersey. She freaks out as her life is nothing but work. After several nicely edited scenes of Becky’s dry streak to give us the market sense of poor job opportunities, she lands at IBS, the movie’s fictional network which has the worst morning show in New York, Day Break.

Becky’s dream job might be to get in the Today’s Show at NBC but given her thirst for problem solving and crisis resolution at untimely hours, IBS job of her being the executive producer for Day Break is the ultimate dream position for her. She has an aging veteran Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) and a vacant co-anchor for her to fill as she created the vacancy. In comes the legendary iconic news reporter Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), another aging veteran alcoholic (movie does not emphasize on it as a sad note) who has forgotten to be social in his valour achievements in interviewing great leaders and capturing sensational real news.

Do I have to say that Mike dislikes the morning show and more so towards his co-anchor Colleen? Their banters (which Becky consistently asks Mike to do when the camera is rolling which he consistently ignores) are usual as in between to stars fighting for attention. Clearly Mike is the more annoying and antisocial cast of the two. He sees morning show with a disgust and especially being commanded by a late twenty producer is icing to the dreadful cake he wants to smash on the floor. Sprinkle the charming colleague Adam (Patrick Wilson) for Becky’s sanity hold of the reality, you get the formula which I would generally hate and prominently skip. But “Morning Glory” is better than that.

It has Rachel McAdams sincere to her bone in giving Becky as this insanely driven young woman desperate to reach for the skies. In her first day at the job she begins her first meeting with her cast and crew. Every one shoots their question without a chance for her to reply which is cinematically tacky and in another film she would have ran to her room and cried when a friendly veteran colleague would cheer her up to lead on. Not here. Becky replies with stunning clarity to everyone and does the killer blow in the end to her sleazy anchor (Not Mike).

Harrison Ford as Mike Pomeroy is another stereotype in these films that would have been miserably boring. Yet Ford makes it interesting. You would expect him to freak out when the show is on but he is passive. Passive to the core wherein him sitting out there is something he hates about the show. He does not blame him as he has been put forth in this position to not only be a witness to this ludicrous morning show but a participant in the catastrophe. He picks up the moderately serious news while leaving the other cheesy stories to Colleen. Colleen how much ever dramatic and narcissistic she is provides the much needed role to stabilize some existence in the lineup for their morning telecast of IBS.

Slowly and quite convincingly, “Morning Glory” begins to embrace us. It does not make Becky a complete sympathetic lone but a woman clouded by the ambition and has been pursuing it like a mad dog. Her realization of the life she is missing comes expectedly through Mike but how well Harrison Ford does it makes all the difference. Patrick Wilson and Jeff Goldblum whose roles are nothing more than obligatory provide more than that. They trigger at the right times in small notes which makes the whole song in to a different melody never heard before. In the end, “Morning Glory” comes off as not alone a heartwarming feel good film but a very deserving one.

P.S: Roger Michell directed two tremendous films before this - “Venus” and “Changing Lanes”. His “Enduring Love” is odd but a sincere film which might not be great yet a sure worth of a watch.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Megamind" (2010) - Movie Review

Villains can be cool and likable in a sinister appreciation. Like how universally scary and admirable we were towards Heath Ledger’s Joker or the crazy psychopath Hannibal by Anthony Hopkins. We do not want to be the victim but are glorified by their wicked smartness. Megamind is not one of those but he is not to be taken seriously either. I think that is the reason we can never see him as a super villain but then again it is a movie for kids. “Despicable Me” did a better job in framing that kind of questionable liking towards the main man who was a mean and antisocial character.

In the early days of James Bond battling his super villains, the thought of the villain winning over Bond did not even pass through. In fact that would be the same thing the writers would have had it too. What would happen when the evil succeeds? Indie movie maybe? I am kidding, the possibility of the bad winning was never the case in the films expected to be satiating entertainment value. It is not the same in the current trend, the story continues to see the end for some remote semblance of hope to leave the audience. What would be the purpose of villains if they killed their purpose? That is the best part about “Megamind”.

Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell) has had a rough child hood right from a bad space ride where he has been consistently let down by super hero Metroman (voice of Brad Pitt). In search of finding his purpose, he identifies that him being the outcast is to do bad and he puts his big blue head to the works. The battles begin and always the symbol of good as seen by the Metrocity prevails through Metroman. Megamind succeeds suddenly and perishes Metroman. Now what?

Megamind goes off in being super bad and with his minion (voice of David Cross) but as always without solid challenge, he is bored. He truly misses his enemy. Megamind and Metroman were the sides of a coin and now he is left imbalanced without his nemesis. For little fun, “Megamind” would woo its kid audience and the parents not being superbly uninterested. As a film, it should have had more to offer with a fairly good plot line.

Will Ferrell’s voice does a lot more than celebrity value to this confused individual. He is never unlikable rather cute in his dysfunctional behaviour. His entrances are cliched but fantastic in choosing great songs. His transformation into growing a heart is expectedly effortless. He begins to disguise himself as someone else and runs on dates with Roxanne Ritchi (voice of Tina Fey), a journalist he always held as hostage for Metroman to rescue. Their love is eventual but not the way they fall for it.

In animation film which has developed into stand shoulder to shoulder with mainstream films of critical acclaim and subject matter, it is no more cannot be hiding under kids. It needs more substance than ingenious animation. True that animation is the backbone for it to run but the brains has to be there and the feelings has to be flesh and bones. In “Megamind” it is a routine or step by step procedure advancing towards something we all know and expect in any animation film.

With great names behind those characters destined to be funny, the film lacks deep understanding of those characters. When the idea is elemental, it needs the fillers to be powerful along with it. In “Megamind”, it got the core idea good. When the movie super villain achieves what they want, what can they do? “Megamind” says they will become good out of boredom. I believe in the boredom part for sure.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Stone" (2010) - Movie Review

The background noise becomes an unnoticeable strong presence in “Stone”. It has a reference and it becomes the end but the idea of that making a larger significance in the life of the characters in the film makes it special. Advertised as the psychological game played by a convict over his correctional officer trying to weasel his way out of the prison Stone’s best thing is that you never know whether you are still being played. It transforms into a serious conversation after a point but still there is this iota of doubt lingering and as faith or belief, you leave with that from the theatre.

Edward Norton and Robert De Niro shared screen in a moderately impressive “The Score” nine years back and here they are here in a well deserving film for both of their calibre. More than Norton, De Niro takes up a challenging role he has not ventured in for a long time. Robert De Niro is Jack, the correctional officer in a marriage with nothing but bible reading and whisky. His wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy) tried to leave him a long time back but more than his threatening, his cowardice spurred more fear in Madylyn. She has stayed with him for forty-three years and there is tragedy and sympathy towards her but no surprise.

Jack has few weeks to go before he gets out of this job wherein all he has heard is the same thing. Then comes Stone (Edward Norton) with an interesting hair do and a typical attitude. Their conversations becomes smoothly riveting. Stone talks a lot and he wants out, desperately. Stone is in for being an arsonist but there is more to it. Jack goes over him as a usual case. He tries to understand his regret not because he wants to but only to satiate his job responsibility. Stone reads it perfectly and needs more on his side than his talk. He has a hand on outside. His wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) comes as this adorable angel and she would do anything for the man she loves.

This game of deception and seduction is the tool for a much larger demonstration of character study. Stone is a strange man with strange beliefs. He goes into the core of his being and as anyone with time to serve, he eyes upon religion. He reads through the predominant ones unimpressed and finally a pamphlet religion or cult gets his attention. It has those weird names curious enough to invite for a read but ludicrous enough to stay away from it. Stone immerses himself into it. He reads the book and his catharsis is the key to the movie. We begin guessing on this. Is he still in the game of messing with the boring and hating life of Jack or does he really sees himself as this man completely at peace? This act keeps us hanging and so it does towards Jack.

Jack as thoroughly expected falls for Lucetta. Lucetta is the kind of woman you cannot say no to because you might feel like denying a delicious candy to a sweet kid. More than the need for Jack to want her, it is the idea of him trying to please her makes her the perfect woman. Jack has been a bad husband and he does not even have a shred of regret or remorse about it. He does not love his wife. She is merely there for Jack to have this illusion of marriage to satisfy himself of that feeling to do something in this life as a part of process.

Every character in this film does things because they believe in their nature. They begin as an act and soon cannot continue that to follow who they are or may be it is still part of the game. Stone, Jack, Lucetta and Madylyn are not elements of a plot but people representing our feelings and reservations to this leading of life. Religion is used as a tool or more so as a character in between these people. It is not posed as good or bad and used for its nature as it does with the people in the film. That makes “Stone” something unique and stands out of the films coming out now a day.

While there is no reason to not expect the charms of Norton and De Niro doing their best, Milla Jovovich is the real winner in this film. Her beauty is explicitly mentioned and employed in making these people do things they want to out of their character. Jovovich is more than convincing in giving this basket case of a character who is absolutely stunning on the outside but comes with a baggage you do not want to hold. Ultimately John Curran’s film on the screenplay of Angus MacLachlan is the kind of film we have been missing a while which takes regular plots and makes a spin out of it to present not alone characters to ponder but to ponder ourselves of the very behaviour we go through in our life. “Stone” may not be fast paced or gripping or clever but it has a real property to it which is to make its audience take a look at themselves in the mirror and think purely for who they are.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Due Date" (2010) - Movie Review

While people may state the resemblance of “Due Date” to a much better film “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”, for me I would state it to anther film I adore. “Due Date” does not comes even close to the classic I would compare it to, “Midnight Run”. Todd Phillips after his humungous box office success and critically acclaimed comedy “The Hangover” comes back with the right pair. Who else could play a sophisticated jerk than Robert Downey, Jr. and who else could be the morbidly offbeat and unpredictably weird softy than Zach Galifianakis? Well, I could find a few name for the latter though.

“Due Date” is the road trip buddy comedy with good writing yet it flounders like a frustrated baby in the middle. Peter (Robert Downey, Jr.) is going back home to Los Angeles from Atlanta to his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) while the disaster ball Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) boards the same plane. With the eventual case of being thrown off board due to Ethan’s simple interaction with Peter, the two strangers are bound by the script to travel together and reach the Los Angeles at the right moment for the delivery.

So everyone agrees upon this plot and all are in for the road trip fun. Ethan as we learn is an aspiring actor who has just lost his father and is also a great fan of the sitcom “Two and Half Men”. Both Peter and Ethan are jerks of different kind. While Peter is sharp with judgments and betrayals, Ethan is a complete mess living in a disillusioned world amongst pot and his dog Sunny. Ethan’s destruction are physical up to accidentally killing someone in worst cases while Peter could learn a thing or two about being nice without condescension and ego.

The best thing about “Due Date” are these sinusoidal trend of being likable and hatable in between these two on several instances throughout the film. Is not that how we deal with people too? We have our worst moments and the best ones leaving us wondering how to judge them. Here it is all in the extremes. An annoying conversation in the plane with Ethan ends with the result of being into the no fly list for Peter while the same guy is also offered a lift by Ethan till Los Angeles. How he spends his major portion of money on pot is a different thing but the guy has a good heart.

The film takes a decently original spin on this often gone trip till it begins to manipulate accidents, jealousy and more accidents to make them take crazy exits to known places. Then comes the legendary drugged experience to make them be standing on the same plane for once in the entire trip. While there are considerably good portion of laughs, it almost seems like watching an old over watched film in a big screen.

Regardless of the niceties both show sparsely on each other, the damages outweighs that and suddenly during a drug trip they unite for Pinkfloyd classic song. And it feels like Todd Phillips wanted to get the things wrapped up and go home. Then the traditional plot flow chart of when things are super smooth and emotional, there comes the ultimate betrayal and the final summing up to all horrible things (which includes a deadly road accident, stealing border patrol car and their trailer, accidental shooting) comes to happy ending.

“Due Date” does what it has set out to be done. It has two actors very good at their act and a story to set them together despite its artificial instances. At the end we get good laughs out of their predicaments, miseries and horrendous mistakes and yet we leave without the remembrance that these two characters are genuinely formed a good bond in the end. Sometimes a good buddy comedy film achieves the greatness by those simple charms wherein we believe in their friendship. We begin to hope to be friends with them however dangerous and destructive they are. In “Due Date” we never want to be friends with either Ethan or Peter not because they are bad people but they do not exist in flesh and blood even in the two dimensional world of cinema.

"Buried" (2010) - Movie Review

If you think buried alive is hopeless then you should watch “Buried” to see the 95 minutes step by step metaphorical burying of hope of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds). It is an experiment, a good one and does not do it for the fun of it but has a character developing in the darkness and possible final moments of his life. Paul Conroy wakes up in a box, buried (duh!). He has is a zippo lighter, mobile phone and some other accessories he will get to find, have and acquire. His only friend and enemy will be the mobile phone with multimedia capability and the voices on the other end of the line. His turmoil will put us in more helplessness but also will be gripping.

Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, this is Ryan Reynolds all in experiment and he does it with complete commitment. The camera work by Eduard Grau works around the actor in the confined spaces and limitations. Reynolds is on every frame sans the time when he is devoid of light source. He is hurt, tired and running out of oxygen. More so he does not know where the heck he is. Who would want him buried and why? Slowly Paul in his few moments of short lived balance remembers that his convoy got hit by insurgents or Iraqis. He is not a soldier but a contract truck driver in Iraq for a corporation.

He finds the mobile and wonders whom to call. Who would you call? 911? Yes, he does that and everyone as expected are not able to make sense Paul’s predicament. He yells, screams, cries and begs. He gets transferred, put on hold, yelled at and told he is rude. He is screwed and there is nothing but the slow sense of getting dizzy and breathing his life out in a box in the middle of nowhere.

With such a bleak outlook towards the central character, “Buried” keeps you hooked. There are no flashbacks or any moment outside of the box. The limitation what Paul has is what we are shown. He has barely any place to move and the zippo is eating up the oxygen. He scrambles around and finally gets a call from the abductor asking 5 million and we understand the reason for providing a cell phone. Paul begins to call the US government and hopes to pay the ransom. In the midst of it is his employer calling to shatter one more news in the most unbelievable inhumanity in this scenario. It happens and I do not doubt people like that exist.

The strong suit of “Buried” is its attitude for not compromising. Your guessing game never ends till the credits rolls on what the hope Rodrigo Cortes is teasing us for. Ryan Reynolds gives a marathon of a performance, literally. He has the film to himself and it needs patience, consistency and endurance. He provides those. Though he does not come through as the gripping character one would hope for, he gives a human being and easily makes us to see ourselves in the coffin like him.

I remember a character in another film explaining that every human needs a measurable distance of space around themselves based on a survey or science. Claustrophobia is imminent in this situation and that dialogue reminded me of its gravity. We fight for space and territory and here there is no fight to be fought as the war is over before even it began. Paul does not give up. He calls his home and hopes to talk with his wife and son as the end appears to be soon.

The only distant resemblance of hope comes from an Englishman over the phone Dan Brenner (voice of Robert Paterson). He is the man the government has assigned for hostage situations like this. He consistently talks with Paul and provides snippets of subtle encouragement. Paul agonizes over him and does not believe him while Dan calmly tells him of other victims he managed to rescue. Paul half heartedly finds the only semblance of friend in Dan.

Despite the deepening and disturbing abyss of a scenario the film draws upon, it marginally stays on the entertainment mode which in any case is not wrong but sucks a little life out of this otherwise engrossing film. “Buried” should start making you feel miserable and helpless and should have ended in a more desolate place than that. It does but the affecting pain is over before you leave the theater. I cannot help but wonder why is that and I think Rodrigo Cortes despite his courageous attempt soft pedaled sub consciously. In no way I would hold that against the film. “Buried” should be watched purely for the way it makes you forget that a camera is rolling around the character. More than that to witness the director and Ryan Reynolds’ hard work.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Conviction" (2010) - Movie Review

There is nothing more terrible than serving a prison term for a crime one did not commit. The agony is incomparable and the frustration has no limits. All these happens in a place where there is nothing but time to think about this, prison. Sam Rockwell plays Kenny Waters, a man sentenced to life without parole for a murder he did not commit, at least his sister Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) thinks so. The film features two wonderful performances, both of which involves extreme care to make or break this. They make it.

Tony Goldwyn directs this film in one of those “based on a true story”. In 1980 a young woman Katharina Brow is murdered and Kenny is held responsible. Kenny is a wild man. He and his sister stuck with each other when their mother ran around leaving them to several foster homes. The result is two kids with strong bond. They disappeared into uninvited homes and mesmerized on the time between them. As much as their relation matured and stayed intact beyond the prion bars, their childhood has what shaped them to do whatever is necessary to save one from the holds of misfortune. Betty is determined to do that. Kenny gets guilty verdict in 1983 and is losing hope when Betty promises to get him out. Even it requires her to clear off GED, do law school.

Every time Betty meets Kenny, major part of it is breaking bad news or receiving one from Kenny’s hopeless prison life. Kenny begins to descent his slow death in two years when Betty got to give him hope. As long as she is working outside, that gives Kenny a reason to move forward. Betty unquestionably believes the innocence of Kenny even when the audience begins to doubt and her best friend (Minnie Driver). Betty has two wonderful boys doing their best for support but only before they give up or cannot match up to their mom’s determination. At one point in the film, the brothers put themselves in their mom’s shoes and ask themselves whether they would do the same for each other. Betty realizes what she has given up and for a moment goes out of her body and sees herself. She is blown away by her with a humility and scare.

“Conviction” is not a gripping thriller rather becomes a collective film. We question the clarity of the film when it strains the relationship between Betty and her husband without much reason but then the film has so much other things to ponder. We are not explained the toll this war takes on Betty’s marriage but it is only a matter of time and we shoo off our judgements. Every time we wander off in emotion there is always Sam Rockwell coming to remind us of the onus responsibility his sister has and how he draws not a sympathy but a painful empathy. That is scary. We are shuddered by his ordeal. The strangest thing they do not show the grueling prison life Kenny goes through. It is all in Rockwell’s performance. To go through prison is hell and to go through it unreasonably and be helpless about it needs an invention of another hell altogether. In Sam Rockwell’s performance in each milestone both good and bad, we cannot help but cry within ourselves of this man’s hopelessness. To say that to Kenny is the tough job Hilary Swank’s Betty has to do in real life. This is one tough woman and a brother with unimaginable endurance. He slips early but after that there is no going back.

Hilary Swank now officially claims to only take roles which challenges not in the film but also in real life. While she is not being type casted, there appears to be no other way out for her to be pursuing her career. What would be for Swank to play a supporting role? Here while Sam Rockwell does stand shoulder to shoulder and little above, the film is about Betty’s pursuit with all she has got. Swank is a commendable performing artist and there is no question about it. Take her dangerously daring role in “Boy’s Don’t Cry” or the colossal failure of Amelia Earhart in “Amelia”, she carries the mantle and does her best. Here as the Massachusetts resident and strong accented Betty, she does the role justice.

Tony Goldwyn does not go for high risks and plays it cautiously in surprises and endings. There needs to be a happy ending to this hard story even to the point that the post credit does not mention the tragedy of Kenny after the release. When I learned that I did not feel betrayed or felt manipulated. It is sad to know that but the film needs to be said in the way it was told and the triumph is necessary. Sometimes tragedy is no more about mood or emotion for a film, it becomes a matter of justice and in “Conviction” you get it, even if it is after couple of decades.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The Town" (2010) - Movie Review

“The Town” is a no nonsense story. It falls for the victim of trailer spoilers but there is nothing much to hide either. The genre of crime films based on Boston is more than a genre. As New York or Paris, Boston the city has these neighbourhood and the community becoming a breathing element in these films. What attracts them is the way they differentiate from the set of generalization US gets looked upon. Every one knows the colour, festival and the vibrant culture when one talks about India but the same does not apply to US or the perspective of a unique culture becomes absent. But there is immense amount of it, not in the same sense of magnitude and widespread yet in its own way, it shows out. The coast bears history and it resonates in the close knit community living in it.

We are given in opening information from the magazine quotations about the notorious nature of Charlestown. Nexus for the bank robbers and a place where brotherhood runs like a tattoo. They are good in what they do as this is the business carried on by generation with central operators like Fergie (Pete Postletwaite). Fergie has been running the crew of Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), James Couglin (Jeremy Renner), Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond (Owen Burke). They are no Ocean’s Eleven but they get the job done. In the opening scene, we see them in action. Blunt, focussed, dangerous and successful. This is the film wherein the central characters being bank robbers are made to be afraid instead of glorifying their knack in the profession. We are feared of them because they show their capability.

They take a hostage, bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and leave her on a beach. James is the sicko in the group of thieves. Doug is the smart one and a man struggling to leave the town and the profession, unsuccessfully. In the duty of following Claire to make sure they did not leave anything behind, as expected Doug gets involved. Doug is soft on guns too as he has not killed anyone, lest forget his shaky past of fighting and getting into trouble. While he knows what James is capable, he cannot leave behind the buddy who has been with him in thick and thin and the fact that he had a long time relationship with his drug addict sister Krista (Blake Lively).

Ben Affleck is a capable director which he proved in his debut “Gone, Baby, Gone”. Here he appears to like the script because it carries his hometown on the backdrop. There is no doubt that aids the film but at the same time I would love to see him direct outside of his comfort zone. As much as his lead man Doug is trying to leave the town, Affleck appears to not share that opinion with his films. Despite, “The Town” is a good film if not great.

The strong suit of “The Town” are the robberies. They are shot with some raw gritty atmosphere to really let the audience feel the heat of the robbery. It is not adrenaline but blunt force in the way of its execution. While James uses bullets whenever he breathes, the people and the surrounding in the Boston becomes of something more than a usual robbery scene. I believe this is the first time I have felt the energy in those actions without any sides and see it objectively. Not in the view of morality but purely as a spectator.

The film is not with suspenses. The rituals of the slightly better thief gets an opportunity to taste a relationship outside of his community are done with good support from Rebecca Hall and some clever writing from Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard and Ben Affleck. Jeremy Renner as the trigger happy friend with an appetite for temper and violence is the holding chamber for Doug.

I liked “The Town” for not fooling around with what it has. Affleck knows that what he has is a story with angles seen several times on several perspectives. He knows that his perspective has to be personal and thus his Boston background to the rescue. It works well and provides a story wherein good and bad are very clear and yet we root for the redeeming criminal doing his redemption in all wrong ways. And Affleck does not apologize for that in his film. He gives an ending which would have been poorly contrived out of necessity in other films while it has some strength to this one.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Red" (2010) - Movie Review

When a hit team to eliminate retired CIA black op Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) shatters his house without an iota of smartness in their attack plan, you know what you are in for. Bullets do not rain but flood. So does the cast. If you get the top talent in the business of serious film making and put them in a comedy action piece, you realize they want to do this film for fun. There is a dire need for unwinding film but still it has to live up. “Red” has veteran actors sleepwalking the roles and it is not that they are best at it but the film is an easy exercise and the fun gets a little routine and we see past the cast. It falls apart.

CIA agents especially the kind “Red” has are the best of the best as they survived the job and are alive. Frank as it turns out is alone and tears up his retirement cheque repeatedly to talk with a customer service agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Joe (Morgan Freeman) is spending his last days ogling young nurse’s back as he waits for the succumbing to liver cancer. John Malkovich as Marvin is the edgy paranoid freak constantly on vigilance to survive. Then the young chap from the CIA Cooper (Karl Urban) hunts for Frank. You get Helen Mirren at her most sexiest form with weapons and lipsticks. There will not be much blood as PG-13 made sure of it while there will be countless rounds of fires shot without thought or indecision all over the place.

“Red” is the film for my lazy Sunday evenings but I would feel terrible about it once I am done. It is like eating junk food till we choke and bleed our brains for that horrible mistake. Well, it is not quite as horrible though. “Red” does carry a charm because of its cast and especially to see Malkovich giving out a funny version of his devilishly twisted Mitch Leary from “In the line of Fire”. Freeman, Willis, Mirren and even the poor Brian Cox have nothing more to offer than their presence but then again that is all they have been asked.

I thought that the insanity of the bullet shooting has died. I am not saying the regular not shooting at a character but everywhere else. I am talking about the army of mannequins with guns shooting straight and sweeping on the object that obstructs them from their target. It is what makes major part of “Red”. It is not parody or homage or comedic. It is to set a tone and that I can take but to use it throughout the film is cheap.

Having good time at “Red” is the cloud of illusion. If you are looking to unwind and not care for the film, why do you want to go for a bad one? Why do not make a reasonable decision and pick something wherein there is a responsibility in film making rather than throwing away money in the assumption of enjoyment of their own? I think many will point out that I do this day in and day out while people go for “entertainment” but please do some justice to that taste of yours and give more credit to yourself. You owe it yourself.

I like fun, frolic and nonsense which takes itself seriously as a film. A film can be a chaotic circus show but it should see itself with something more than a business and accommodate its audience’s brain for some accomplishment of a film well done with full effort. “Red” has characters who speak of love and emotion which is hard to imagine. Take Marvin for example who appears not much is happening in his life other than consistently looking for helicopters and satellite trying to kill him. He has lost his mind and he comes ack to real world when violence requires him. The need for Frank to have a normal life purely becomes old age other than a reason for his connection to Sarah more than a group of romance trashy novels read.

Director Robert Schwentke got a cast that no one could ask for and it is not an obligating to provide a serious drama but use them of their full capability. The concept is the best part in this film wherein the killing machines have evolved into a phase of life that has termed them to rest and wait till they hit the ground. There are funny grandpa references (they dare not call Helen Mirren grandma!) but “Red” does not go beyond that in terms of character or comic relief.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Hereafter" (2010) - Movie Review

It is funny to read that Matt Damon described “Hereafter” as Clint Eastwood’s French film because that is exactly what I thought of it. This is not due to the fact that one part of the story happens in Paris to a character who is from France. This is a film which takes predictability, tearjerker, obvious plot conclusions into a relatable and comforting enjoyable experience. It does not toy around with your emotions in great deal but at the same time leaves with you a heavy heart. Clint Eastwood is an inspiring man and he keeps on pushing the envelope. After his mediocre “Invictus”, “Hereafter” is the film that could set up for a great next venture.

The film sees death and the small window of doubt and possibilities with great seriousness without religious blanket. It sees it as the experience of coming close to the white light and attain a sense of an emotional completeness. Death, even in the thought of me makes me want to cry, not the death of mine but of my near and dear. The thought of permanent departure is scarily sad and Eastwood instead of exploiting honours it in his film.

There are three stories connected by the phenomenon of death and the after effects of it. Cécile de France is the French journalist Marie Lelay, a Tsunami survivor. In her state of tipping the doors of death, she had a strange suspension out of reality. It meant something to her and she wants to pursue the meaning of it. There is Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) tightly wound twin brothers handling difficult situations to get out of from the claws of social service as her drunk mother (Lyndsey Marshal) is hardly in control to take care of them. Yet they all love each other happily in sober mornings.

Then there is George Lonegan (Matt Damon) a genuine psychic who is leading a life of simple man. We can only imagine the strain and problems his ability comes along with. He touches people’s hands and a sharp jolt similar to what Marie experienced provides a capability to listen to the dead. Now if that sounds artificial and skeptical, Eastwood makes it best. Coming from someone who does have much faith on the whole afterlife concept, you might want to go with an open mind. You will sure be delighted.

The phenomenon is simply a material than the contending point in the film. Three of these lives are of course interconnected and there will be the juncture in the film (which you already know by now when) wherein Damon’s character has to connect for the little boy Marcus. Despite all these, Eastwood’s film takes Peter Morgan’s screenplay and makes people out of them and provides a French environment in a San Francisco setting.

The interesting of the three stories is without a doubt George’s not because of the ability he got but the difficulty he has going through with it. His life has gone all wrong with this as his brother (Jay Mohr) clearly has made it a business venture in the past and eager to bring George from the hiatus. But George wants someone with whom he can have pleasant dinner and connect with the living one. He takes up Italian cooking and meets a charming and attractive young woman Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). Melanie is in there for a date and George is the eligible single man in the batch. We hope for an end to his solitude and have some companionship.

Marcus and Jason living in London are tough kids. Jason, the elder one is the smart and shrewd one while Marcus follows lovingly the decisions of his brother. In a tragic run of events Jason ends up dead and Marcus is set forth to foster parents. He is clearly alone and his look over brother has long gone. Death, they say provides little bit of peace when closure arrives. How can we explain closure to a kid like Marcus? Damon’s George provides that in the most astonishing and moving scene in the film.

“Hereafter” is not the greatest work of Eastwood but a unique and one of his best for sure. There is homage to the genre of French film making and as the genre itself, it is about the aura of the presentation and the simplicity of people’s character than the bigger agenda. What lies after death will be a doubt till you die and the film leaves it conveniently and deservingly so. This is the way I could tell a difference between a film falling for predictability and lethargic movie making from Clint Eastwood’s, when we hear the unabashedly used line “It is not a gift, it is a curse” in “Hereafter”, we relate and realize to the trouble and discomfort George Lonegan feels with a clarity shining through clear and clean.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (2010) - Movie Review

Oliver Stone in his subtle loud manner stomps his chest on how he was right couple of decades back about the financial system. You do not need a movie for that though, yet he did and here we are. The novelty of “Wall Street” was about the danger in this system that has crime with victims not so direct and done without guilt going unnoticed . No one listened and the crash in 2008 happened. The lesson will not be learned as the world has a better tendency to be addicted to gambling than reform on a large scale. Though it did turn around lot of people. But the truth is when things go normal, people go their way. I am not cynical but realistic on the chances of people changing in this game and hope I am blatantly wrong. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” sees the crash as a history lesson and in the meantime bring Michael Douglas to do Gordon Gekko. He does not shine in glory or cut through the cake but he is sleazier than he was the first time.

Gekko has served his time and is out selling books to make a living. His daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) has never forgiven him for not being there when her brother slowly died of drug addiction. With a very odd ironic obviousness, she is in love with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and he is a trader in investment bank. Jake’s boss Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is nearing his end as his final bail out request gets rejected by the US treasury by a strong influence of a Hedge fund manager Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Jake as anyone is intrigued by the charisma and the flair of Gekko. He caves in against Winnie’s wishes and begins to work with the man to avenge the suicide of his mentor Zabel.

As simple it sounds, the film does not invest completely itself in both the main story and the backdrop it is set. This is more than a backdrop as it is a beast which talks through the numbers through the walls of the Manhattan skyline. There are side stories which connect the dots in the scheme of things. Jake’s mom is the slice of the real estate greedy agents unable to understand the eventuality. The global disease of gambling is much more legally polished is sad. I believe the crash of 2008 did teach a lesson or more to wake up the people under the coma of this drug. The rush is the motivation and greed indeed is not so good.

The story grabs the attention of any reader while it left me detached. Jake is not greedy but channeled wrong in his vengeance and his deal with the devil is not so convincing. Apart from his fiancé's dad, the speech Gekko gives for book sale is not burning enough to believe this young man is thoroughly attracted to this veteran killer shark in the trade. Though we play along and as Stone showers us with graphs and numbers, there is no intimacy in accusations on the people who participated in this breakdown.

The idea is to show how the people in and around the financial hub refused to believe the slide and kept on with their gamble hoping everything to be won. Jake’s pet project of his ambition to invest in the fusion project for research and better world only makes it draw short of the distance it hoped to cover. That would have been the story I would have liked to see wherein though the first film shows greed, the market was not going down and is indeed prosperous. As much as annoying and unreasonable the character of Jake’s mom played by Susan Sarandon is, that is the facade people would have been under to talk themselves into going in for more and losing heavily.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is not a bad film. It has a very good plot, aggressive players in performers but a situation not being used well enough. For financial ignorant like me, it is the intention to dumb it down but the fact of it is that there is no clue in anyone in that is working out to understand this monster of a mess. Stone who did it sufficiently well enough in the first film does not have the power but has the skill to put together a film to pass by.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"The Social Network" (2010) - Movie Review

“The Social Network” is enthralling not alone due to its audience’s involvement in the Facebook but the character of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) unrelenting towards his success and taking anything, anyone and to anywhere. He is not cut throat but driven beyond control. He evaporates into thoughts and dreams and is making his baby Facebook as his personal war. A war towards his inability to claw the fact of being rejected. More so in being obsessively driven to the idea of being identified and belonging in an elite place in the Harvard University. The movie begins with it and setting up the story has not received such a precision on its character as it does out here.

David Fincher like Clint Eastwood is into respecting a story and screenplay rather than his style. They extract a style out of the words than to create and indicate their presence. It takes a magnanimity in them to do that. In “The Social Network” the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin dictates the terms and the editing Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall ties the knots. Linear narration can only make things uninteresting in this story. It is simple, Mark was already on to something with social networking and hijacked the idea of Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) to a level no one could imagine. The team of this film is not alone interested in the genesis of this movement but to read the man, men and the woman turned this thing around.

As it takes on the background on the legal stories and the origins of Facebook, we learn that Mark Zuckerberg is a creative programmer of great kind whose psyche revolves around source codes. He is unquestionably smart but consumed by the details of his own mind. One night of drinking marathon over an upsetting break up with his girl friend Erica (Rooney Mara) makes him vent out in his blog and then go on to post an online webpage to rate the hot girls. He does so by hacking the directories of the several residence houses in the campus and gets the photos of the female members. This particular scene is done like a chef cooking his best meal with a relish and spice to it. He does so with his best friend’s algorithm, with his permission. It crashes the network due to the traffic and then onto the notice of Cameron, Tyler and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The battle begins there.

This is a swift and profound story. Finding those two words in a sentence for describing a film does not come often and easy. Jesse Eisenberg is someone like Michael Cera always on the cards for becoming different forms of Eisenberg than the characters he plays. He plays a grown up version of Walk Berkman from “The Squid and the Whale” and it does not surprise me on how he nails it. He is not essentially a jerk but his motivation obstructs his right intentions of his character. He makes the deal with the devil within himself in the idea of achieving greater things or find a satiating experience in redeeming himself from the horrendous posting about his ex-girlfriend in his blog. His march towards making this phenomenon as a cleansing process in gaining acceptance only makes himself digs deeper and uglier.

This is not a film about making statements. Everything that we know about it are out there but it is the manner in which we see this college kids creating and playing with things bigger than anything this generation has seen. Being the power handlers in creating a participation linking everyone around the globe originates from simple human emotion. During that process, we are thoroughly entertained as well. There is emotional viewpoint and a fair one from the Zuckerberg’s lawyer’s junior (Rashida Jones) in seeing things as an outsider and insider. We see the flashy and impressive guy in Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) charismatic, suspicious and unreliable. And the other part of the suing personalities constantly being asked to adhere to the way they were brought up and the adamance in being gentleman by Cameron Winklevoss is naive, applaudable and in a strange way funny.

It is based on the book by Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” and thanks to David Fincher for not beginning the film as “Based on true story”. A fact deviates so much away from the here-say and this taking a literary and media form only adds to the mix. The angle on this man’s mind and his actions affecting people around him is fascinating despite the nature of the back stabbing and the betrayal that keeps on flowing repeatedly through the deposition and the birth and adulthood of the company is an indication that we feel and hurt in any form of communication.

Mark loses his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and then universally announce him being the jerk in the process. In everything of these, money is not the factor but the identity is at stake. To be unique and exclusive are the keywords used in filtering friendship. This attitude has taken a shape and form in Facebook and is successful because we are all guilty of it. Now we are obligated to “confirm” a friend of random requests through glances or friend of a friend or the main driving factor of hooking up. The relationship between online friends is the depth of a mouse click and it keeps thinning.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Language - Swedish) (2010) - Movie Review

It is strange that we cared more for finding the killer of the supposed murder of a girl in 60s in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” than the primary lead Lisbeth Salander’s (Noomi Rapace) framer in the sequel “The Girl Who Played with Fire”. Lisbeth returns from her outing away from Sweden and she can still freaking kick some ass. Noomi Rapace plays her with the same vigour and persistent from the first film in this Millennium Trilogy with “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”.

Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) had a memorable case and encounter with Lisbeth that he is not mad or disappointed when Lisbeth disappears for a year. He knows her pain behind those eyes and knows her withdrawal from social scene. Lisbeth keeps track of her perverted and rapist guardian Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) in tags. She hacks his mail and learns that he has ordered a tattoo removal service. Bad idea. She goes back to remind him the drill he remembered being recited with tied hands and gag on his mouth a year back from her. Things happen wherein not alone Nils meets a deadly end but a novice journalist Dag (Hans Christian Thulin) who was about to break a big story about sex trafficking gets killed along with his girlfriend. All three are done with the same gun with Salander’s fingerprint on it. She flees and Mikael tries to solve this frame job.

In most of these investigative films, there is a single source of view point towards these nail biting trail findings. The technique is to keep the screenplay focussed and not stray away and in these two films they digress from this method rather methodically. At least for major portion of these films, there are two people tracking the details and arriving at the same destination. There is no comparison of traditional methods though Mikael’s is something like that while Lisbeth’s is plays technology like a musical instrument.

Sometimes Hollywood submerge into the computer screens which does not look like any conventional Operating Systems but these films advertise and follow religiously the Macbook and its OS. How does Lisbeth hack other’s computers is a different deal but her process is clear and mainly believable as they take you to a screen you know and have seen. Despite these, “The Girl who Played with Fire” does not make you want Lisbeth to exonerate herself. Not that we do not care but we do not mind much about it.

The past of Lisbeth was slit open in the first film wherein she bathes a man in fire. Obvious guess of the man will be her dad. She had a rough life and not because of her Goth and antisocial behaviour but there is a wear in her face that are masked by a painted make up that do not belong. She smokes not with a style but with a despair. She has had it tough and the past does not leave her alone. She escaped from the claws of her cruel guardian but her childhood abuse has left her permanently damaged. That part of it is used as a tool to a plot than to characterize her for more examination.

Given all this, the film never stops to get breath. It keeps on moving and let us not settle ourselves with a cruise control plot. The information comes on without any problem and the fight for it keeps the clock ticking with justified duration. Another great part of this films is the supporting characters owning up to the task not in characterization but in physical endurance and kick ass abilities. Her lesbian lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) and Paulo Roberto (playing himself) give their best to the blond giant Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz). Ronald comes as the equivalent of James Bond villain Iron Jaw. The Iron Jaw would automatically bring my intestine to complete stop but this blond giant is merely reaction less and uninteresting villain.

I think I was left unsatisfied despite a reasonably well expedited and executed screenplay. In “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, I mentioned the unnecessary need for an explicit rape scene and hoped for a better justification in the sequels to invite and empathize in the dark world of Lisbeth. They do so but not for a character study rather a plot driving equipment. Nothing wrong with it but it fails to connect as the first film did. We are entertained but not moved.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Wall Street" (1987) - Movie Review

The success of “Wall Street” is the way in which it buys the audience into this scheme. It also succeeds in how it does not let them see the darkness of it so easily until the world crumbles under the young hero of this film Buddy Fox (Charlie Sheen). The system exists and has destroyed several and it continues to do so. The film happened in 1985 holds same till date in an ugly manner to be scared of. For someone devoid of the stocks, finance and the whole dirty nine yards of it, I got educated in the hazy way any one would be getting into this system by director Oliver Stone.

The movie follows the traditional three act screenplay and yet is not a cliche. It has the upcoming youth Buddy aspiring to be working with his hero Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Gekko played by Douglas cuts through the chase. As much as he is devious in his actions, there is an honesty when he is with Buddy. Buddy has been trying to get a meeting scheduled with Gekko for several days with no reply. Gekko does not have time for a small time broker in a firm doing research and suggesting it to their clients. Buddy finds the window of opportunity identifying the birthday of Gekko, his first insider information to the doors of facade of prizes. The second step is to succeed in the meeting by impressing Gekko and he sells his second insider information given by his dad (Martin Sheen) union leader for an airline company Blue Star. These two wealthy of information gets him onboard with his hero. The work begins.

Buddy rises and spikes high within quick span of time. Gekko sees him as the protege. The system itself is a broken system built on guesses and games. People like Gekko see this as the smart players in it. If gambling is legal, then why it is putting hard work to do best gambling is illegal? The idea of stocks and its buying and selling is far beyond my realm of comprehension but there is something uniquely sleazy about it. It spins a cranky machine and the work of it is not of much use other than the existence of the parts. The machine needs to be reconstructed or put to rest but Gekko are the people who provides band aid bad fixes to keep it running as it is their livelihood.

Buddy in his third act redemption questions Gekko “How much money is enough?”. With billions, millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars in play what is the eagerness to go after further more? If you have the money, you will find ways to spend it. One could say the expensive arts Gekko buys but that too he sees it as business and talks proudly on the money it elevated since he bought it. Gekko is there for the game and the adrenaline after a while. Money is morale boost than the value of it in the world. Gekko’s high is the Wall Street.

Oliver Stone provides an insight just enough to be wary of to the ignorant person like me out there. In a film wherein the corruption and scandal is so high, there are only few places there is mention of legality. In the end it ties the knot of the cause and effect but the working environment of this business conveniently provides a blanket on this criminal persecution. There is no stealing, no killing, no blood shed and pure transfer of information. Hence there is no crime. The crime scene is nothing but a regular day at work. This disguise it poses and the lives it ruins under it are shared but not shown. We see cleverness in Gekko and much appreciate rather disgusted by his manipulations. But that is how the stock works.

“Wall Street” is the entertaining thriller which should scare you because this is the world you live in and this is how you become numb and oblivious to the situation. Stone pokes that part of you and see how dangerous this can be in the big scheme of things. Companies destroyed, workers out of work and it becomes the genesis of a much bigger wider roots for greater crimes around the country. This he gives so with the balance of a young man disturbed by the glory and glamour of this profession.

Michael Douglas can be an easy player and he plays this man as a perfect egomaniac gloating every moment of his achievements. His narcissism is charismatic and attracts despite that. Charlie Sheen sits there and acts as the puppy Buddy being groomed, praised and disappointed. Martin Sheen does the right job of the ethical and righteous focus to this story. At the end of the film he says “Do not buy and sell, Create”. Too bad “Wall Street” is not famous for that line but for Gekko’s “Greed for the lack of better word, is good”. That tells so much about the world we live in.

P.S. : “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is in theatres and I hope (and eager) to see it soon enough.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The American" (2010) - Movie Review

“The American” takes a traditional assassin thriller and does nothing but put some art to it. It does not glorify the killing machine and the killer does not look for sympathy. He yearns for a calmness as any middle aged assassin would aspire for from what we have learned from the education of Hollywood killer films. If George Clooney claims to have selected this role based on the screenplay then I would have to seriously doubt his sense of observation as the screenplay cannot be more straightforward, simple and a bee line inappropriate in this story. I think he believed in the director and the meeting should have been in that place in Italy where the film happens. May be Anton Corbijn is a good marketing person or his casting director Beatrice Kruger is.

Jack or Edward (George Clooney) has no one to trust and he begins to hate this game. As the film opens an attempt is made on his life as he spends in the hidden snow land of Sweden. He flees to Italy and his employer Pavel (Johan Leysen) asks him to, you guessed it “lay low”. Jack does so in a little small hill town where the clouds can kiss its shadows and it is not the place Pavel mentioned. Edward/Jack does the usual, practicing target shots in a serene hidden place, make some connection with a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and develop romantic interest with a prostitute (Violente Placido). A typical assassin getaway.

There is an elegance in “The American” which in its used up plot has a charm and depth in the blankness of this killer. George Clooney is an interesting man. In his tempting sharp look, he has a deserving tiredness. His character is getting old for this business as any one would in any career. They would hit the point for some sanity and control. Clooney’s Jack is utterly devoid of permanent relationships. Trust is not the word which runs smooth in his line of work.

The man gets one last job and this is not to take a contract but to provide a perfect equipment for a sufficiently well versed new comer. The scenes with Mathilda (Thekla Reuten) are nothing short of tension. Both killers know that anytime they will turn on each from either of their employers. There is a particularly impressive scene wherein Edward takes her to his “happy” place for testing the rifle. There she turns her back and walks to place her target and Edward looks at her with a suspicion to pull the trigger which is so precise but dismisses. Then she lets him take a shot near her to gage the loudness and performance. This is a tango like no other in the emotions of these two people running through tension, calmness and tons of doubt.

Corbijn wants completion in the simplest act of a scene. He waits for the automatic door to be shut and an arrangement of bullets to be immaculate. I think Clooney wanted to make something new out of a worn out character. As the rule book for contract killers goes, one should not speak and Jack speaks sparsely yet he is able to make a connection with Clara the prostitute with statements speaking clearer than silence. Clara sees the mystery in him and thus the attraction is imminent. Also forgot the fact that it is George Clooney but she is devilishly beautiful.

“The American” could have been a fashion show of beautiful people but it makes them beautiful believable people with secrets and torment. Jack’s trouble is in the misery of his existence in being aloof, completely. As the adrenaline spiked down and the grey hairs caught up to him, he has truly understood the nature of living. As much as cold and brutal he has led his life when “The American” happens, his conscience has grown out.

Even in the soothing sceneries of the Italy achieved with a lovely cinematography by Martin Ruhe, there is a hand of simplicity. In the whole scheme of the film, this nature of being there and not becoming a great statement or trying to make one moulds this predictable twists into forgiving ones. We are not bothered by the end of this man but the story of his intrigues us. Death is at every corner in this stone road town and his day runs by with watchful eyes and restless walks. While his job demands this, for some reason I believe Jack did it without fear of death when he began his career and now he does with every bit of his heart.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Julia" (2008) - Movie Review

Tilda Swinton is Julia, an alcoholic wrapping her arms around wrong decisions one after another. She is totally out of control but somehow gets around making believe that everything is going to be merry and flowers in her la la land. She is not a ticking time bomb rather a series of explosion that never seem to stop. Tilda Swinton comes with loose dresses that have expired the youth in her and disheveled hair from random sexual encounters in her passed out drunken nights. She is audacious in taking up this role which does not invite dislike but a disgust.

In this reckless soul are some remote miniscule droplets of love. “Julia” will not be an exploration into that deep emotion. It will be the mine bombs she purposefully steps in. She gets fired as her sober time does not coincide with her office time. Her sponsor Mitch (Saul Rubinek) is concerned and given up. As her booze mania begins to bite and break the skin, she is into money trouble. Next thing you know she is listening to a fellow AA member Elena (Kate del Castillo) blabbering about her plan to kidnap her taken away son Tom (Aidan Gould). This is the sweet part which is to demand ransom from the kid’s paternal grandfather as he is loaded with money.

Julia reasonably stays away from Elena but the blood alcohol level beckons to differ in it. She not alone goes and scouts the location where the boy will be but double crosses Elena by taking the kidnap by herself. Before even she is aware of what she has gotten into, she takes Tom, ties him up and treats so bad that she does not deserve any kind of sympathy. This is a step by step exercise of disintegrating human being out of an addiction.

In “Goodfellas” we have seen Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill in the day of arrest goes on performing several tasks on being high on coke. Normal things become tedious, nerve wracking and ultimately tiring. Julia is a film which is an expansion of that day only that Julia’s day to day activities are not normal. She has no clue what to do with the kid, does not have a plan and never looks back on the predicament she is in. There is a voice inside her constantly telling the stupidity she is meditating but those are vented as shivers and sweats. Julia continues.

Tilda Swinton was a surprise winner for Academy Award for female supporting actor in “Michael Clayton”, a beloved movie of mine. Her character Karen Crowder was determined, composed and rehearses like a mad woman before she ventures out in the world of wolves. She is a wannabe wolf entering that dark arena and the nervousness she shows are taken in Julia. She has amplified that performance and gets into this female of self destruction. Swinton takes a dive as Harvey Keitel did in “Bad Lieutenant” and Mickey Rourke did in “The Wrestler”. When you put yourself out here like that, there is nothing but pure work of art and here she gets it in a despicable character.

Erick Zonca’s film also has other characters, the main one is Tom played by Aidan Gould, a kid who knows the situation, scared but not unknowing. Gould’s Tom realizes he is in a bad situation with a woman who is completely out of control. He tries to escape as expected and in the scattered idea of Julia, he is trapped. Julia on the other hand loses him often but retrieves him. This is the single most attempt in getting some co-ordinated action in her drunken spree.

So the end of “Julia” is not pleasant but there is redemption. Call it Stockholm Syndrome but these two characters begin to form a bond which traveled through mostly bitter experience. Tom has every reason to hate Julia but in those few days, he gets an irresponsible mother. The boy has been without a mother and Julia makes up for it. For Julia this is her final hope and disaster. There is no sweet story to follow after the end of the film but I am sure she would go for a prospective AA meeting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" (2010) - Movie Review

The outcome of the actor’s job is in the hands of several other people and the team lead of the film, the director. When they pack up to leave for their next job. When they see the film, it would be an experience of what they did became. Shock or happiness is upto them along with the audience. It is unveiling a machine and you are the one who designed the bolt. You do not know where it was about to go but you find it in the product. This most of them are aware but “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” is the one where director Edgar Wright seriously makes you think of it. The transitions from a scene to the next one is so random but so in line fitting like a perfect jig saw puzzle. Too bad it did not survive throughout the film. It withers.

Edgar Wright is the young blood from the pool of cool blood. He took on “Shaun of the Dead” his first spoof/homage to the horror genre. He has a knack of mocking and tributing in an ambidextrous fashion. It fizzled personally where he took things literally for dipping his hands to the bone and flesh of the horror. It left a distasteful feeling but horror in its gory form is something I have stayed away from which did that. In “Hot Fuzz” wherein Wright returned with action comedy spoof/homage that played so beautifully and when he did similar indulgence as in his horror venture, I was amazed, self indulged and noted it as one of the best films of the year. After those, it is obvious for him to take on the comic book and then of course merge in the fantasy of gaming world. The idea as always takes off to a kicking start but the key ingredient of what Simon Pegg and Nick Frost brought into those material cannot spring up high in Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

As the title says it is Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who has to take on the world of evil ex-es of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizbeth Winstead). Cera tries a little bit out of himself by being the adult he has been shunned off in other films. Not every one in the film are a fan of comics or the game world but Wright definitely is. I remember talking to a film maker in India who mentioned the key element in Hollywood movies which is the fact that the mood is brought right from when the studio names are displayed. It makes an intense difference and so we enter “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” with Universal theme played as gaming MIDI format. Sweet start.

Scott Pilgrim gives Michael Cera at least the liberty to cheat. He is desperate to feel good about himself and hence dates a high school Chinese girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He is trying to get over that brutal break up with his ex, now a popular rock star. He is the bassist in his band with his high school ex Kim (Alison Pill) as the drummer. So as you think how many ex Pilgrim has, in comes Ramona, who has a funky hair style and a careless outlook to give one sign and one sign only, trouble, baggage and past that is going to haunt her and in this case try to kill Scott.

The film plays like a game played by Edgar Wright. It has action sequences which after a long time is refreshing and fast with bloodless joy. Then it has the right usage of interlacing the sequences. A door in the midst of nowhere and I know it has been done some many time but in here it almost feels home. Like it belongs and participates in this game Wright plays out though not always. Those are high peaks you see and we are longing for some association to the characters than to see them as game characters.
The film which takes hints of the game world in to movies soon forgets the fact that the audience are watching this play. It begins to autoplay the levels. Even for someone who does not understand this world of arcade games and early greatness of simple target driven PC games, the usage of the props from that world becomes tedious. We neither like or dislike Scott Pilgrim and we certainly are not flattered by Ramona’s evil ex-es. They formulate great stunt sequences but there is no character to them to remember for who they are.

The music rocks at times and moves slowly to the pace the movie diminishes. The creative energy in the film is unquestionable. It blends in nicely and legibly to certain sequences and becomes an exercise in others. It is a victim of its own imagination. The medium it appreciates and infiltrates has to be background in this case unlike the director’s previous ventures. Gaming is a strange beast and it involves our participation than mere observation. In “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” it does not ask participation but the nature of it drives it to be. We are like a friend to Edgar Wright playing this new game and for half an hour we watch him play and then we want to play it but you cannot.