Saturday, January 30, 2010

"The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans" (2009) - Movie Review

Let me begin with saying that I loved Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film “Bad Lieutenant” with Harvey Keitel on a role he went all in. It is the presentation as much as the story of the crooked cop and in Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”,the story resembles the original but is way out in the presentation. As much as the difference that it is two uniquely different films with characters getting rejuvenated and revamped in distant path from both directors. Having cleared that, let me say that this is one of the freakiest, craziest and wackiest performance Nicolas Cage has ever given in a film and it so happens with the touch of Werner Herzog.

This post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is nothing but despair. In this despair lives Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) having prescribed Vicodine for his back pain. Six months later he is hooked up on codine and cocaine. He runs around with his shoulders tilted and is fluttering like a fly on a glass window. He is the best detective trusted by his Captain (Vondie Curtis-Hall) in leading a massacre of a family. And he is high on cocaine almost every waking hour and he is awake a lot.

Terrence is not alone living in a city with nothing but ruins, poverty and crime but is surrounded by it in his nearest and dearest. His girl friend is Frankie (Eva Mendes) and partner in crime for snorting and extorting her clients for cocaine. His step mother is a drunk (Jennifer Coolidge) and his dad (Tom Bower) is a recovering alcoholic. If this is insanity, he is on the run from so many things. He is betting against all the odds and his bookie is getting restless. This is a man living in hell and putting him through one.

Terrence is not alone a crooked cop but an unpredictable one. One minute he is arrests a convict single handedly by tactically going by neighbour’s back door and the other minute he is threatening a hot shot young couple making them to give him drugs and more than drugs from the girl. This is a bad eccentric man. In Abel Ferrara’s film, the cop was looking for some remote form of redemption in his hallucinations but Terrence is far beyond redemption and sees Iguanas creeping around his coffee table.

What can I say about the acting of Nicolas Cage in this film? He gives a performance like none other. If Harvey Keitel went far and beyond his ability to embrace the character of a wretched and disastrous soul, Cage invents new avenues to stick up his guy more ruthless and wickedly funny persona. Right from the mannerisms of walking and tensed up in situations like no other, Cage is mesmerizing. If any one could have pulled this, it is him. Some performance stay there and no one wonders what some other actors would have done. There are few of those like Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Daniel Day Lewis in “There will be Blood” and Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas”. The man adds one more to his collection.

I have watched couple of Werner Hezog’s films. The annoying “Stroszek” and the wonderful “Rescue Dawn”. Here he smacks the back of our heads and giggles. The movie by the end gets the audience into a cocaine trip and we are wondering whether the final minutes of happenings are real or crazy fantasy dream. That goes unsaid and left so appropriately.

There is a boggling question on the necessity of focusing a central character so corrupt, morally bankrupt and a dangerous threat to him and the surroundings. The film which so appears to be glorifying this act of continuous disruption and decadence is made a little amiable adding the beauty of the imagination. This kind of character is made bad and even in the final act of being cleansed by the social standards and by chance remains in the hell he built upon.

Nicolas Cage more so than his audacity to take up such a role makes a character completely hateful and yet entertaining in the process. We do not want to never ever be near the vicinity of Terrence but on screen his eccentricity is a form of cruel entertainment. Herzog perfectly captures those moments from the actor and provides a film of strange force acting upon its audience. “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans” is one of the best movies of 2009.

"Edge of Darkness" (2010) - Movie Review

Martin Campbell the series director of the television series the film “Edge of Darkness” takes it form from hesitates a moment near before the end of the film. The dilemma to take the direction of drama or shift tracks to the political inclination. This costs him the film to not ditch but to leave stale. This intense film bringing back Mel Gibson to the role he performs with the intensity he is known for does things right for most part.

Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) appears to be a reformed Porter from Mel Gibson’s previous movie “Payback”. He is not violently mean and dreadful as Porter but has a still face blocking the emotions inside. It never breaks but you know it is there. This brings Gibson at his best and his scenes are subtle electricity and sudden punch to earn our attention and appreciation. He is the father of Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic) coming home from her work as an Intern as she says. The night she arrives along with her health going deep end, she gets gun down by a stranger outside their home. Every one believes the target was Tom and the gunman misfired at her. Tom does not have an opinion.

This is the part I really liked about “Edge of Darkness” because it did not pose a father stubbornly believing in the conspiracy and going after it with rage. Tom Craven knows the futility of explaining his colleagues is a waste of time. Moreover he is still in muddle of the real killer and the motive. He goes through Emma’s belongings and the direction each of those points, he takes not as a fearless man but a man with clearly nothing to live for.

Then the story brings in the talented English actor Ray Winstone as Jedburgh, Mr. Clean for corporate and government mess ups. He for reasons not much clear decides to have word wars with Tom. They begin to talk in cryptic questions. Add the regular sleazy CEO of the company Emma worked for Danny Huston as Jack Bennett and it becomes from a thriller drama into a cliched thriller.

“Edge of Darkness” is not about the suspense of this suspicious company Northmoor but about Tom dealing his grief in his own accord. His revenge is about meditating on the path to get there. He is focussed and disturbed in the hunt of his daughter’s killers. He does not possess excellent physical skills apart from his excellent marksmanship in shooting. He has regular voices and visions of his daughter and converses to comfort himself for the loss. Another addition to the inability to show sorrow without dream sequences/hallucination.

There are sudden deaths which shakes us up and there are revelation we already have connected the dots. The vacillation in determining which way to continue this battle of a father in getting even with himself and lead on a life becomes the decider of whether “Edge of Darkness” is a strong drama contender or usual fodder of bland thrill ends. The compromise is neither exciting nor excruciatingly painful. It leaves us with the yearning that it could have been a lot better film.

The film moves on the shoulders of Mel Gibson and rightly so as the director Martin Campbell puts forth. Even with nothing more than smallest amount of detail we know about Tom, Gibson plays him with such an intensity that we are in the same mood and mentality as him. What required was a balance to that character either through a friend or a foe. That I believe was expected out of Jerdburgh but it does not form so. Making the government and greedy corporate executives as the shooting match is not fun to watch or is something the audience never saw before.

I have to say that the film gets the attention and it keeps moving on. It would suffice an average movie goer to be contended with the money they paid. But it is not a fulfillment of watching a complete film. It becomes as mentioned before a compromise and for people who are living their life with several of those does not need one more by paying to it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"The Spanish Prisoner" (1997) - Movie Review

David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner” leaves its audience with trust issues. The film in its entirety is a demonstration of a con game. The screen is filled with details and the simplistic action, response and eye slides has a reason to be there. Everything is out there yet nothing is revealed. Something is fishy but its main character Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) cannot put a finger on it. This is Mamet writing a play to prove the gullible nature of people in this paranoid city.

Joe and his co-developer George Lang (Ricky Jay) are featuring their invention called “The Process” which might benefit his company a great deal of fortune. This they do it in an island resort. Joe comes across a rich man Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin). Jimmy Dell is the rich man for which he is proud of and gentleman like Joe are always a great friend to have by. There are bread crumbs all over the place from the beginning of the story. Sudden attention seekers of a plane landing and video surveillance becomes suspicion machine for the viewers. The Process is the key and the company needs it and Joe has it. Thus begins the mind game.

This is purely a play which does not even have the slightest sense of being a film. Some times it hinders the pleasure of watching a film but some times the dialogue exchange as that of the play is right way to shoot it. The characters are always on the look out for information. Genuine emotions are hard to come by and sympathy can be a dangerous thing. Joe from being the prospective wealthy man for his work is suddenly in the mix of a setup. What and how that set up works is to view it.

Even in the trend of trust no one, there are simple exchanges of confidence while traveling and waiting in a public environment. Most of it are harmless conversation leading thankfully to nothing. But as a character says in the film “There are good people and bad people. We just ran into few”, we do not most of the time run into them. Yet they are the ones who runs into our lives. A con victim’s real loss is the ability to trust anyone after it. Made to look like a fool and been humiliated and stripped of the self esteem is the biggest cruelty in this ordeal. Mamet does not make it a big deal though.

In this con game, Joe as his name is an average Joe with a big fortune in his hand. He gets deceived and rapidly moves on to the descent he did not imagine. In the end he does not solve the riddle nor becomes the hero. He still remains as the gentleman with less trust on strangers. The culprits are in all shapes and forms. This is the victim’s view of an enjoyable Ocean’s Eleven con game.

As always the wordplay is the key in Mamet’s writing. Every one interrupts other’s sentences and string their view along those. They listen and cut faster in a conversation. It is almost a multiple personality disorder of one character. Of course in a screenplay, it is the writer’s interior personalities taking their form but in Mamet’s writings, it is obvious. They are different but when they speak, they have Mamet’s soul.

“The Spanish Prisoner” is an intelligent film and as much as anyone can guess the outcome, it pushes the doubts whenever it is possible. We are in the lookout for the next best detail to second guess the trajectory of the story, but the film plays the cards close its chest. It is not the greatest of Mamet’s presentation but it is surely an entertaining production.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Man Push Cart" (2005) - Movie Review

Ramin Bahrani’s “Chop Shop” showed a society away from the busy and overwhelming New York City. Before “Chop Shop” he made “Man Push Cart” and this may be the film which is shot in New York City which avoids all the glamour, vibrance and liveliness of the city. Of course there are few shots of Empire State building but those are mere significance of the location or the destination of the lead man’s travel, Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi). It is purely upon this Pakistani trying as many cart shops in the city to make ends meet and live with the little happiness they hope to achieve.

In the early darkness of the city ready to wake up, Ahmad commutes from Brooklyn to the city. He picks up his cart from the storage facility and pushes through the clunky heavy cart in the midst of blaring horns and vehicles ready to him. He steers through the inclined slopes and stops in a street. Regular customers come by for some bagels and hot coffee to kick their day off. He then packs up and treks through the mountainous roads to his depot. He comes back home which is barely allowing to take two steps from the center. This is his chore and in between he manages to sell pirated DVDs for some money and sometime for cigarettes.

Bahrani’s film wants to show the location but does not take is as a character as most film do or to be precise he shows the city for a different character of itself. There light decorations dying by the beaten face of Ahmad. There are busy people give their ten-seconds “how are you?” and move on. Ahmad keeps it to himself. He has not seen his son for over three months now as his mother-in-law does not allow him. He lost his dearly wife and the only thing to look forward is his morning job. Ahmad is in mourning and slowly giving up on the life he is leading.

There is nothing elegant or stylistic in Bahrani’s direction. Not even a casual smile passes around. It is a showcase of a realistic sadness in the lives of these immigrants doing menial work. Even the slightest signs of hope marks great celebration, not in them but with its audience. Ahmad meets up with Mohammad (Charles Daniel Sandoval) a young well to do man offering a painting job at his house and a concern for his fellow country man. But more than that he has seen Ahmad some where. Ahmad used to be a rock star back in the days.

“Man Push Cart” is not a story of a man’s improvement in his life nor it is utterly devastating to keep us in grief. It as a complete film is an even balance of sadness. The sadness is haunting and is not underlined. It runs through in the face of Ahmad. He meets another possible hope for recuperating his crumbling life through Noemi (Leticia Dolera). Noemi makes small talks and he helps her in his routine of getting cigarettes from her shop. But then again, things do not go as we hope.

The sorrow in the film is not contrived but an occurrence. I could not read much from the film other than a portrayal of lonely man going through his life as a punishment. He gets blamed by his in-laws for their daughter’s demise which we do not get to know. His young son has began to forget his father. Even with so much coming down upon him, he commutes and does his best to get things going.

Of Ramin Bahrani’s three films, “Man Push Cart” is the least favourite of mine but it is definitely not a bad film. Its content as such being the melancholy tune as it is, it affects the liking for the film from its audience. Yet, it is a film of pure honest emotion and for that I liked “Man Push Cart”.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"An Education" (2009) - Movie Review

There is a pondering question in the need for the education we take upon. Without the awareness of the reasoning, the path to a better prospect is through the school which opens the gates of these prestigious universities which appear as mantle of hope up high in the mountain of distraction and depletion of entertainment. Through this climbs every one adoring and wondering there will be a day when these pains and sacrifices will be worth it, but not every one stops in the middle and think why they are doing this. To have a better future is the axing answer coming from their respective parents but after that? Work in their veins and enjoyment vanishing through crowded streets beckons why they missed all those during their growing up. Is it all there to for this great offering of education? Jenny Miller (Carey Mulligan) thinks so too and her ideal life is to live in Paris, read books and be the art connoisseur of this existence of eventual end. Does not every one want the same?

In the early sixties of England suburbs lives Jenny Miller, a young talented and smart sixteen year old with her parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Seymour). Jack knows the steps to get his daughter in to Oxford University. Jenny is good in Cello and would love to play it but a hobby needs to be hobby says Jack. He is vigilant on his daughter’s study schedule while Marjorie knows that Jack is pushing the limit. Jack is a typical worried father and Marjorie compliments this parenting. The future has been destined for Jenny on this path. She aces the tests and it is only matter of time before she gets into this dream university.

In this comes David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming personality with a care for simple sentences to communicate and get his decisions done through others. He instantly is a hit with Jenny and goes a step further with impressing Jack and Marjorie. He takes Jenny to orchestra concerts and dines in fancy restaurants with his friend and partner Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s mistress Helen (Rosamund Pike). This life of glamour and hedonism blows away young Jenny. Even her anger to the con and stealing profession David and Danny is easily lulled. She is sucked in.

Out this emerges the question in her mind which is the challenging of the system of education she is going through. If enjoyment and prosperity is the goal of this education and if she can get it without the ordeal, what is wrong in it? She is so convincing in her argument that her favourite teacher Miss Stubs (Olivia Williams) and principal (Emma Thompson) have no answer. This is where the director Lone Scherfig owns us. We are speechless to those arguments.

Carey Mulligan as Jenny Miller does the incredible thing of making her appearance not reflect her character’s attempt to be grown up. Without any kind of crass or vulgarity, these two far apart people in ages come into loving one another. Yet their love is not convincing nor unbelievable. What happens is that it makes a logical sense in their relationship. However morally it does not seem right, we do think that they can co-exist in a long term relationship. Peter Sarsgaard an actor of immense liking to choose his films does a smooth role of being genuine in conning everything.

“An Education” is not a cautionary tale but advises on educating the reasoning behind these exams, tests and admissions to these holy places of institutions. End of day, many of the kids taking this line learns but the retentivity power of those is questionable. Except the few, the experience of going to school and understanding the idea as best they can comes down to the molding of personality.

Written by Nick Hornby, the film does not twist itself and tortures to bring in the drama. Rather it lets how a girl cannot contain herself in growing begins to see the world they dreams of. Everything in the merry land of high life seems worth it for the smallest mistakes and comfortable ignorance. But the life as it is does not bend those not because of karma. Not because of higher power but purely by the actions of other people banging on each other.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Big Fan" (2009) - Movie Review

If Sachin Tendulkar from the Indian cricket team much against his public image of being the modest, greatest and most humble player in the cricket history beats up a religious fan of his, what will happen? Not to the image of Tendulkar but think about the conflict his fan would go through. Whether he would remain a loyal fan or tear apart the posters in his room? This will explain the situation Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is in “Big Fan”

Paul is a self proclaimed crazy fan of the New York Giants football team. His main man is the quarter back Quintrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) and he is more than a hero. He is the nerve center for the team he would drain his blood for. Paul a mid thirty stocky guy works as a parking garage attendant, lives with his mom and always preparing to fire back in a late night radio show against his rival “Philadelphia Phil” his counterpart for the Philly Eagles football team. He is content with his life when his brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli) and sister are married and have the “regular” jobs. Paul’s Mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz) is wondering who can get through this guy.

His buddy Sal (Kevin Corrigan), the loyal sidekick of Paul spots Bishop in Staten Island and they begin to follow him. Paul is excited and after a quick stop in a mystery house, they enter a strip club. Both of them pay no attention to the walking naked beauties and like a shy man wondering how to approach a girl, they are breaking their heads to get a chance to say hi to their idol. Bishop who by this time is drunk and having a liking for being short tempered is pissed off hearing Sal and Paul followed him. This ends up in several punches over Paul. Paul gets serious concussion and is in a situation I mentioned earlier.

Paul is clear and is in so much love with his team and his denial frightens us. He knows what was done to him was clearly wrong yet he still supports the man and the team. His family is stunned and his brother, a lawyer who we would have seen in the local television ads does not want blood but money. When Paul wakes up after three days, he asks Sal what happened to the Sunday game. They got beaten to pulp by the opposing team. Reason, Bishop got suspended because of the incident. Now he personally feels responsible for his team’s demise in the game.

“Big Fan” does not want its central character to come to senses. A fan like Paul need an incident like that to put things in perspective but opposed to that, Paul takes this more personally as a fan to have caused this to get his star player ejected out of the team. Patton Oswalt known mainly for his stand up comedy and sitcom appearances gives a tough performance. Quite easily he could have been misjudged for his other persona to make him as a joke. Here he is a joke as a character.

People like Paul exists in every house hold. Either it is a game, politics or celebrity whom the people need for to believe in something. But no, that is a positive outlook, the fans who paints themselves and shriek to ruin their throats wants a substitute player for their dreams. The kind of dream they do not wanted to pursue as it requires grand hard work and born abilities to perform. Hence they attach too much of themselves to the star resulting in a worship so blindly that things encircle their idols.

Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, this is a touching story of a man giving up his entire self to a game he never plays but watches and talks about with utmost sincerity. The movie so methodical in its construction which moves forward with a character the audience expect to change. But his change is something else or there comes the scene where he cannot take it any more of everything to take vengeance of odd kind. He dresses up as an Eagles fan and goes to a Philadelphia bar where his radio rival hangs out. In that he finds the man and stands alongside hearing and cheering the Eagles. Oswalt shows some wonderful acting out there which makes me to reevaluate his whole stand up image. This is a performance of some feat.

The film which goes in the direction of the audience wanting Paul to change ends with a sadness and a mild state of confusion. Paul really likes his life. His mom is fed up because she wants him to lead a regular life. But Paul is content with his painless stale job, a game to celebrate, a chance to properly articulate his faithfulness and anger in a late night radio show followed by a regular masturbating session and talk endlessly about the team with his buddy Sal. He indeed is the biggest fan, whether we like it or not.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"A Serious Man" (2009) - Movie Review

Coen Brothers do it again with what their movies does to me, clueless yet admiring. “A Serious Man”, a venture like no other as their other films is not a film which can be said straightforward. Weird might be a putting it mildly. Entertaining would be putting it mildly too. It is a film like no other and they detach its viewer from its main character Lawrence Gopnik (Michael Stuhlberg) which they should as we cannot take so much happening in the drain for one man.

It begins with a Jewish folk tale and if that is odd, what follows that is something else. But several times I may say of this eccentricity, this is so much the life of any one leading the suburban life. The cars and costumes reflect the 60s but more than that is the radio transistor Larry’s son Danny (Aaron Wolff) has clearly marks the era. Larry, a professor in physics has his life as his derivations in the big black board. Troubles have stitched itself to Larry and no one listens or lets him complete his sentences.

His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) asks two divorce, a legal and a ritual one so that she can remarry Larry’s friend and widower Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), his tenure at the university is coming, a Korean student is bribing huge amounts of money to change his grade, his brother Arthur (Richard Kind) has been crashing at his house for months now with odd theorems and numerics in a book titled “The Mentaculus” and there are several other idiosyncrasies and mishaps which fall into the legs, laps and slaps our man’s face continuously.

Thinking these things as those random events happening to one single man, it is not. We somehow or other are into that patch of infinite bad things happening to us in finer detail. In such precision and cruelty which results in the existential, religious and philosophical questions. No one to answer and looking up helps but for Larry every one suggests which appear promising yet die soon in its usefulness. In this dark comedy, Coen brothers allows their viewers to think for Larry. May be in that process answer themselves of how each of us live to be silent than to confront the uncomfortableness. Obey the rules and hope things would become better and begin to change the state of mind to be massaged and getting used to the pain.

Roger Deakins is back with the Coens to give an angle us living through those moments would like to see ourselves filmed. A neighbour who mows Larry’s part of the property and he comes to look at both the end. There is a beauty to those two viewpoints seeing back of Larry’s head towards those invading lines of privacy and authority. Somebody is always mowing Larry’s property personally, professionally and religiously too.

I laughed out crazily on certain scenes and moved deeply when Larry cares for his brother Arthur. The people surrounding are either complaining or ignoring him. The rabbis whom Larry decides seek guidance on his crumbling life, are doing their best but we know that they are dodging the bullet. And it tells how intricately and closely knit are Jewish communities. Starting professors till lawyers, everybody knows everyone and react in a notable similar manner. But just as you begin to stereotype, as with any other, we are surprised.

“A Serious Man” focuses on many things and the one which I liked and noted was the way people take time to reach, respond, walk by and stare. In several independent films this has been pondered greatly but nothing has been so entertaining while doing it. I cannot even fathom on the rhythm these two observe to present to their audience who might enjoy it. An oddity which so much off a teeny tiny side step would disrupt the whole movie is in an immaculate balance.

As I was speechless by the way “No Country for Old Men” left me by its ending of bluntness, similar effect arrived in “A Serious Man” I began to think of that reaction. There has been films much I have adored and appreciated where it begins from one point and ends at another without a start and an end. But I see the difference from those and The Coens is that the latter throws it at our face without any warning or resolve. That takes guts but mainly an integrity for their love of film making.

"The Book of Eli" (2010) - Movie Review

Keeping aside the faith and believe of “The Book of Eli” aside, it gets you through. But are we beginning to settle low? I am not. Another post apocalyptic tale where humans have no chance other than to turn ugly savages and hunt each other like animals. It is a different reset button to the humanity wherein people becomes this dangerous untrustworthy people. They never learn from the cruelty that first brought them to that place. This is not cave man we are talking but the disaster generation failing to improvise on the left over modernized and high technology world to find some better platform to begin a start over. But “The Book of Eli” is not there to preach about the reason but the holy lord himself.

Denzel Washington is the silent man again with the tired but strong as an ox look. He travels around to and get to the west of country. The land is ruined, the sun is black and it is the dreadful post apocalypse. Nothing to smile about. No IT jobs, no problem with the computer, no McDonalds and every one is scavenging for everything. In comes the lonely man with a first generation iPod and cool shades, the nameless (of course he will be Eli). He is dangerous and deadly. Do not mess with him and he WILL kill you without mercy.

The “good” book is his master and he is journeying towards the West. He chose that because his inner voice said so and a book found by the same leads his path. As his thirty years have been boring walking around escaping road looters and plain fields, he comes to a town to charge up his battery for the only entertainment he gets to have. While going to the local bar, he of course gets into a fight to emerge victorious which gets the attention of the proclaimed villainous leader Carnegie (Gary Oldman). The man is looking for the very same book Eli is carrying around as his destiny. No further explanation and the fight, chase and the teaching of disciple as Mila Kunis as Solara finishes the film.

Carnegie believes that the goodness in this wretched society would be cleaned and develop a far more expansive township under his command through the preaching of the book Eli holds. Eli on the other hand has one purpose and that is to reach across the coast and deliver it to a place he has no idea of. Both of them commits more than sin and atrocities far more unimaginable. Eli at least does it so for his protection but does it with a sense of passion. Of course it appears so because the Hughes Brothers shot it so cool. With the right camera angle and fast stunt movements, the action is an artful dancing how much ever bloody it gets. Somehow the talented directors make it so or they know the appetite for violence of this generation deep inside them.

What lacks in “The Book of Eli” are the people. Their motivation does not seem documented in the script and in the world of deadly people, traps and scarcity of food is the exploration of humanity. And that does not mean the goodness or the sappy melodrama but the concept of faith and the belief Eli has which many would refuge for should turn into something else. The subtle clever revealing in the ending is a genuine twist with nothing to look forward though.

In the film making business long before every one has preferred the methodology to give an entertainer. Either it is exploitative or unrelentingly dramatic, the process has improved and refined over the years. When a studio signs up on scripts like these, the dollar eyes on the executives would pop up further more. The skill has been perfected and with millions been poured into the films, “The Book of Eli” gets the treatment it wants. But you have to credit the creators for putting those images properly and in appreciation.

Along with that though comes the unexplained modern suave costumes. Every one gets a cool shade, rugged clothes to suit them fair and clean and every one is a sharp shooter. The usual blunder by the villain to shoot his nemesis and not finish him is icing to the cake. But then add further silliness to the miracle is Eli being the unstoppable force, he can take that bullet on the bare chest and walk like a champ. Coming to the first line of this review, “The Book of Eli” might get you through but have we settled to sit through a movie as an ordeal than rejoice?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009) - Movie Review

Only Guy Ritchie would have Sherlock Holmes plan and lay out his method of eliminating the problem of not the puzzle but an enemy to attack him. In a method to his madness, Guy Ritchie takes the detective from the fictional past of the England to the screens and he does so entertainingly. With his previous film “RocknRolla” putting back to where he invested and grew on the film making, Ritchie takes a safe bet with “Sherlock Holmes” And with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, even when things go twisted, tangled and far fetched beyond the capability of one man for a machination like this, the movie moves on at its steady motion.

Holmes and his compadre Dr. Watson (Jude Law) arrests the black magic criminal Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) when the film begins. With smooth but deadly punches and moving through the bodies of his opponent, Holmes disrupts the human sacrifice Blackwood was undergoing which already took the lives of five innocent women. Now on the death row and to be hanged, Holmes has nothing else to do than to indulge in odd experiments one including using Watson’s harmless dog. With his best friend on the verge of getting engaged to one Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and Blackwood being hanged and buried, Holmes hopes for some changes. It happens when the grave of Blackwood is wide open and a witness mentioning the man being resurrected and walking healthily for further calamity to the people.

There is an unnoticeable restraint from the director in keeping the film fairly well under R-rated. Despite the destitute and darkened streets of London, Holmes and Watson are very close in yelling the f-words at each other which I would not have mind. But curse words are not needed for the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law. Downey Jr. is an obvious casting amidst his aging face but not the physique. He is witty and self admiringly sarcastic and condescending. We love that and Dr. Watson is not a big fan but there is this curiosity tying them up for solving the riddle in front of them.

In this mix is Sherlock’s love interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) been manipulated by a mystery face. The sword fight of lines between Holmes and Watson is more intriguing than when they discuss the smallest possible evidence to conclude on a person’s personality, history and demeanour. One such gets a glassful of wine on Holmes’ face. It comes from Mary, Watson’s girl friend seeming to more suspicious but thankfully not in the end.

Ritchie is clear on his work. He is cautious and knows that he is trials have quenched only his own thirst. For many, that would become their greatness and in Ritchie’s case it did not. Or rather he had a thorough sense of taking his own way even if it required complete neglect of his audience. “Revolver” almost ended him and he now identifies his strong suits which are his creative visuals. He loves the details in a fast moving scenes and brings to a stop and pause to create a vibrance in his viewers. “Sherlock Holmes” has many when it begins but soon understands its importance of story telling.

There of course is the revealing and explanation of the acts happened across through these events. It all is poured down in the climax and as much as the curiosity to know the solutions, it becomes a ritual. A not so interesting but still making sense ritual for the detective genre films. It does not undermines its audience’s intelligence but simply wants to be there for the custom of it.

This is a fresh look on a character well beloved and appreciated. It does not corrupts the fiction but rather applies a painting and perspective of its own. It maintains the core concept of Holmes and Watson but modernizes them to the eyes of the new generation. It is not an overwhelming film but a moderately entertaining one for the performance of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law along with the visual thrill of Ritchie.

"Invictus" (2009) - Movie Review

Clint Eastwood in his films lets the story take immense precedence over his styele of direction. He detaches himself as a director who has great love for the story and characters into skilled surgeon working on how to tell it the way unperturbed. His movies are objective on its people and the passion it takes on. In “Invictus”, it is a battle between the Clint Eastwood who admires the story and the man Nelson Mandela against director Clint Eastwood. The finality of the movie becomes a blankness. The aspiring content goes uninspired and the thrilling sporting moments goes without enthusiasm. With a wonderful performance from Morgan Freeman, Eastwood involves in the film and that disturbs the storytelling.

In the hope restored and an end to the apartheid, South Africa elects Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) as its President. Stepping into tensions starting right from his first day of office, Mandela is wondering how to tackle this cycle of hate and revenge. With crimes roofing up the country and economy on the drains, he goes to a rugby game and watches the country’s team Sprinkbok getting hammered and humiliated. More than that he notices that the blacks are supporting the opposing team. The start of the wrestling of this colour issue begins in the sport. He takes it.

Here is a great man and we know he is great. We also know what makes him great but what makes him human? He lives alone and family seem to be distant. A new bodyguard inadvertently asks about his family which puts him the state of sorrow. They were the path undiscovered. But this is not a biography of him. Matt Damon plays Springbok’s captain Francois Pienaar whom we never understand or learn more about of his personality nor his genuine view points on this change of environment around him. Even his skill or confidence (or growing confidence) over the game or how he inspires others from his short meetings with President are never revealed.

It is one of a classic tactic to weave in one’s sports interest into an anthem for unity and support in a climate very fruitful for destruction. While the Afrikaans love the game, the black see it as a reminder of the atrocity they were put through. Hence it becomes another battle to make the game popular which again is shown in small coaching camps the man makes the Springboks go through. A serious assumption Eastwood takes is that the audience know about the game. Granted that the Americans who breathe American Football does not need a crash course on rugby but the moments of thrill are stolen away. The strategy of the team or the greatness of their agility and courage come across in couple of slow motion shots with wounded face.

The passion of Eastwood in telling the story is really missing or he took it for granted that the audience would give into this true fairy tale. It is a little unbelievable of the fact that the man with experience almost incomparable takes not only a wrong step but genuinely forgets the necessity to treat this as a film to have a momentum and lot of flesh to its story. And with glorious actor as Morgan Freeman becoming Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon who cannot be a better role for the character drown and become a forgetful lines that were never there is discomforting and sad.

As I was thinking through the small pits the film had, the biggest one comes from the score and the abysmal bad choice of placing the cheesy songs in the midst. There is a deliberate attempt on overdoing the actual story with flowers, cakes, candles and the roses to be the merriest and happiest occasions of those dreadful times.

Last year Eastwood provided with two superb films “Changeling” and “Gran Torino”.Both so far apart in times and story but so close to the story telling it took forth. Of those two, “Changeling” went a little unnoticed which on hindsight is a far better film than the impressive film “Gran Torino”.In “Invictus” it becomes a weird rom-com of real life happenings. It dulls down the tough times the man wrestled and conquered and the over involved appreciation of the story erases the emotional actuality of the events.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"Up in the Air" (2009) - Movie Review

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) of “Up in the Air” is a distant resemblance and subtle antonym to Macon Leary of “The Accidental Tourist” Macon travels to places to write for suggesting how to not leave the place they came from in this new land and do the things and get the food. He packs with care and always ready for tragedy. His life is a silent dissipation of giving up on life without ever realizing it. Ryan Bingham likes his way of life. Nothing called home and everything left on the airports and hotels and rental cars, his philosophy is a careful methodical seclusion from the life of settling. Oh and yeah, he fires people for living.

Jason Reitman’s film as “Thank you for Smoking” takes a guy we definitely do not want to see in our professional life and makes us like him. While attaining experience gives a place to coat themselves in doing the toughest and worst job, Bingham seem to be born for it. Not that he enjoys firing but the challenge to give some kind of faint hope for the people he let go makes him fly those miles. There is only one ambition, a goal to aspire for since his desire for family life is zilch. That is something you got to find out for yourself. It explains a person driving themselves to some place, title or achievement and not knowing the post achievement of it. What is after that is the question many do not ponder or the moment itself becomes a confusion which they thought would be more of a confirmation of the life they led till that point.

There is no procedure he follows since it is unpredictable and things can turn real ugly than one can imagine. He studies the person as if he is going to hire them. He is never going to see any of them. He hands them a package which is a cup of water for a burning building. The man conveniently lives his life through this job. No ties, no bonds and nothing but smiling flight attendants and gleeful receptionists.

Reitman’s previous two films are known for its corkiness and witty dialogues. But more than that are the people he introduces us to. Each of them have a conscience and conflict level as that of people we encounter in daily life. The problems are same but the situations are unique in his films. And in each of those, there are characters we absolutely are made to like and love regardless of how flawed and wrongful they become. And in “Up in the Air”, Ryan Bingham condescends in every step of his actions and yet we sympathize him on his disappointments with full heart.

Airports carry a sense of lifestyle. I can associate the feeling towards it because I have done enough flight journeys to and fro India. While the chaos of the work till the last moment chokes you and in the drive to the airport the traffic makes sure to have a presence and remembrance of its capability, when I enter the gates of airport, it becomes real. The vacation becomes real. After going through the procedures and formalities of today’s security measures, all I am left is with thoughts and wonder on the thoughts of the other people. But those thoughts, how much ever worse and depressing it might be are glowing in this temporary plastic comfort zone. There is a likable devil in this transit. The same goes when we check in a hotel, a proper franchised no resort type of hotels. Bingham’s life is exactly like that. And he meets a woman who seem to be the last chance for him to get to the cycle of social normal life.

Vera Farmiga plays Alex, a female version of Bingham. In her performance in “Nothing but the Truth” she comes as a CIA agent exposed and she has that authority along with a softness. Here she makes her character with an immense confidence level that it cannot be more logical and perfect for these two people to form a life. In the midst of this is the new entry to the profession and a diligent aspiring young woman Natalie (Anna Kendrick). She is the new age and is a threat to Bingham’s life of aloofness. She impresses the boss man Craig (Jason Bateman) to employ a new method to fire people, right from their desks. Video chat it is and Ryan challenges resulting in Craig roping her with him to feel the real firing in person to employ in video firing.

And the three of them meet which becomes more clear on what Bingham should do and where his life is leading him. This is sweet tale telling and without any notice, we are brought to an unusual tough corner in the end. Out there Ryan in his assumed happy life realizes how lonely he really is. We are made to feel it. The feeling of coming out of that shell is the wake up call for him as it is for many. The lovely tale of firing people turns on an emotional level for Ryan and in any other film, we would have seen a glory romantic moment in the airport gate but here, well the people behave as they will. As much as George Clooney is charming, here his charisma occurs only when he is at work and till he meets Alex. After that the curse is lift and he begins to see the plain life he has persuaded himself to live with. Not aloud but he processes it internally and culminates in those Hollywood moment in front of a huge crowd. Do not fear though as you are not in one of those films. The movie works because of those final fifteen minutes and very much lives among us. Jason Reitman gives one of the best films of the year.

"Avatar" 3D (2009) - Movie Review

“Avatar” a film which has as been quoted and reiterated by many has the breakthrough technology in the motion picture industry of coming ages. Right before I left for vacation, I told the CGI pinnacle in the preposterous film “2012” and here they say nothing can be certain of calling anything a limitation in this field of operation. What James Cameron has achieved will open doors for a totally different kind of film experience. A hybrid of plays and films in a three dimensional world of unimaginable capability. Now, the film is a display of a technology and nothing more than that. Add my tiredness and couple of dozing (literally) scenes, you have got a film with a hollow spirit. This is “Avatar”, Cameron’s insanely expensive project which respects the technology but throws the concept of film making to the factory of predictability with no by product as the main product is well, nothing.

In those many far futures of the world is Pandora, a moon in the darkness of the space inviting the greedy corporates for the minerals which has a high value as that of the film’s distribution back in the Earth. Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, an ex-marine who has lost his leg been invited to take over for his twin brother in a project at this land. You would imagine there would be a twist using the twin brother concept, but no and there in the very first frame begins the amount of time and characters the movie could have survived without. Jake travels years and years as we enter Pandora along with him. This is imagination taking a wing and spreads far and far beyond the world Cameron uses in his film.

Cameron acknowledges the films parallel with “Dances with the Wolves” and that is unfair. Unfair to that good film which built characters more profound and conflicted than the digitally recreated Na’vi Avatars of Jake Sully and the clan he encounters in this glowing flora and fauna. The inhabitants of this green and colourful land does not constitute the indigenous Na’vi but some dragons and dragon horses and rhino dragon horses which can be controlled by the fibrous live materials protruding through the Na’vi’s hair ends to the animals they ride or control. There is a rare mention of the land these people try to protect from the humans by the Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine which is the possibility of neurobiological treasure it holds in more than the silly mineral dumbly named “unobtainium”

“Avatar” shames the predictability of “2012” and rivers through the money on these characters ranging from humans to Avatars to the indigenous population. It has a pointless villain in the name of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) with scars as medals and tough old built to reflect his appetite for war. He need no effort in convincing Jake Sully to be his inside informer in this diplomatic operations with the residing people. As Jake conveniently gets lost and acquires the relationship of a female Na’vi named Neyitri (Zoe Saldana), even its doom as a film is predictable.

It appears (from the one snippet review I managed to read of Roger Ebert) that the experience of “Avatar” is getting compared to “Star Wars” which I agree. Yet in the times when a leap as that in technology sufficed in satiating a moviegoer and a critic, the current environment and I will go ahead and say the spirit of movie making begs a little more than that. “Star Wars” as much cheesy and predictable it was, learns and stays within its limitation while this film takes itself more than it supposed to. Two hour and forty minutes feels like day and half for the movie to be over.

Taking into consideration the aspect of unique experience over empty screenplay, “Avatar” did not rank as “300” did with its niche of presentation. Equally in the mode of cruise control of the screenplay, “300” kept me bolted and did not take its seriousness too much. The blood lust and the flesh display turned out to be as it should be taken from the comic book genre of being so. It had a weird appeal of its cartoonish characters and stayed within the strips. “Avatar” has more aspirations than the corporate greedy head Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi).