Sunday, May 30, 2010

"MacGruber" (2010) - Movie Review

Is there a dignity in making a foul mouthed disgusting comedy? There is dignity in getting laughs from its audience no matter what pushing boundaries. That is “MacGruber”, a film made out of an SNL sketch. Reprising his role from the TV, Will Forte goes for it and there is no way in hell to stop him. With his sidekicks Vicki (Kristin Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe), he is going to pull stunts, rip throats, make idiotic moves and whenever he gets chance pull his pants down and offer to suck his way through to get back into his mission whatsoever.

The traditional action comedy belongs to the mid 80s which spilled over the top in late 90s. The action era spanned with some glorious entertainment and produced classics out of it few of the times. Then it pushed its luck too far to bring up disaster after disaster in pairing up great actors and fizzling into set patterns of boring jokes and cruise control plots. Couple of years ago Edgar Wright did something special with this genre by both spoofing and homaging it in a single event called “Hot Fuzz”. The genre has invited many spoofs and got it marginally right or terribly wrong. “MacGruber” falls in the former.

Val Kilmer surprises me even more than Nicolas Cage in his choices. He can do terrific acting and take risks like no other actors. Then he plunges out of the radar for couple of years in straight to DVD pictures and then gets to play a spoof villain in this comedy flick? He is Dieter Von Cunth, the arch enemy of this bad hair douche bag MacGruber. Val Kilmer’s character has only one use in the film for his surname used as the punch line for several references MacGruber uses.

I have to say there are stupidly hilarious moments where you are in disbelief of what just happened. One instance will be the involvement of a celery from a garbage can and the another involving MacGruber’s best stunt skills of ripping throats with bare hands. In both instances we are befuddled by the actions on the screen yet cannot help ourselves from laughing. The human mind’s funny bone sometimes is seriously twisted and jumps up from the dark now and then.

These recent times of comedy films will make itself in film history when they pushed their limits in explicit content and manage to emerge victorious in the laugh factory. Director Jorma Tacone’s “MacGruber” will become as reference for that time. It will no way be a cult but will become an image in the montage that will be prepared to show case this era.

Will Forte does some crazy things and he is a darn good in delivering straight faced dialogues which are pure and simple disgusting dumb things. MacGruber is told to be the deadliest force and legend along with several unusual credentials. His instincts are to save himself and always dresses Piper or Vicki as himself. Yet he jumps right ahead to take throats off. He is peculiar and that becomes the leverage for rambunctious moments for laughter.

Ryan Phillipe and Kristen Wiig do their best to support this weirdo. In spoof films with idolized undeserving heroes, their mistakes will result in unexpected heroic actions and there will be no one around them to clearly see through it or generally the film does not allow it. One good thing about “MacGruber” is the character of Ryan Phillipe’s Piper who time and again wrestles with full power with the man and knows the dangerous fool for what he is. Kristen Wiig’s Vicki is plainly adorable and a loyal teammate keeping the ego of the man to sky high.

The film goes far and far into the realm of foolish comedy and emerges half successful. The plot in these films are nothing but tag points and it is no wonder it does not hope to satiate that part of the movie making process. Hence it becomes a series of good SNL sketches and never attains to be a complete film. We witness the extent at which this guy will go in embarrassing himself in unexplainable and unpredictable way. I got through the film but it does not add up to become a fulfilling experience.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Robin Hood" (2010) - Movie Review

Does not Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott not aware that they are making a film which have no purpose to be told? May be they did and went through it anyway. In the business of film making, there will always be situations where things need to be done against one’s wishes. This is for Crowe and Scott. Not that they show their despise in their execution or performance rather the story itself does not have any kind of life to it. It is supposed to tell the origins of this beloved folklore character and the legend has not lived with great glory in many of the films which beckons the need for the genesis. Hence the film becomes unnecessary.

Robin Hood before becoming the man the stories were formed, was a warrior with best skills in archery in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). His real name is Robin Longstride as the film says and him with his buddies flees the war when he realizes that he has gone through enough with this crusade in the name of god. There will be plans of France invading the English and there will be traitors and Robin will be hunted and all that stuff.

The man is known for his characteristic of robbing which is a bad deed and distributing it to the poor. Such a fruitful territory to explore the reasoning he gives himself to do this and we never get to see that. True that the predecessor films would have explored those but this is where he got the idea from. There is one robbery in this film which happens out of necessity. After that when the film ends with him being outlaw, he automatically becomes this noble thief without any further explanation. He is a man seen wasted wars but the destitute in the society is a far reach until he sees it close enough and realizes the need to arise. Here he provides one speech on the notion of faint memory and his father’s word when he was a kid to become the sole flag bearer of rebel.

Russell Crowe is old but determined to work for this character. We like Robin only because he is Russell Crowe. The charm and charisma we have is for the actor rather than the protagonist. The film does no justification in portraying him for what he becomes. It is definitely magnificent to see Crowe dawning up the armour and the whole nine yards again for Ridley Scott. He can be the good man with rough heart just by those but it withers away after few minutes. The rest relies on the story and screenplay which is penned here by Brian Helgeland. Helgeland known for his writing skills does not come out shining.

Watching it I never felt the urge to know about Robin and the other characters surrounding him. He wanders with no goal and the goal he is given by a dying man is a plot request. He has to follow it to see Cate Blanchett as the widow Marion of that dying man. Cate Blanchett being who she is should not like this smelly man from the long journey. There is though an old father-in-law (Max von Sydow) after hearing the name of Robin identifies it from long time back to provide the history for the man. He asks Robin to be “upgrade” for his died son and bonus prize, marry Marion. You cannot say no to marrying Cate Blanchett and you never ever say no to a blind old man. Robin obliges.

I am not even going to bother explaining Robin’s clan and the vicious plans of Mark Strong as the bilingual Godfrey. Nor am I going to spend time on the young, arrogant and stupid son of Richard Lionheart, Prince John (Oscar Isaac). William Hurt, another capable actor spits out shouting dialogues through his beard and realizes there are no audience. Many other becomes fallen soldiers to this predictable show from a great director.

“Robin Hood” could have simply be an entertainer. It could have skinned out the miniscule need to be obligatory for detailing out the origins of this legend and gone with the usual stuff of arrow, graphics and pure war. But I guess it would have got slammed by me for the same reasons which brings back to the point I mentioned earlier of the need to make a film about this. “Robin Hood” is so out of energy and so out of passion.

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010) - Movie Review

If you are following Roger Ebert’s blog as I do, you would probably know about the battle he fronts regarding how video games can never be an art. While I understand his passion behind the argument, sometimes it surprises me the extent he goes to defend it with every inch of his life. I do not get to read the hate mail he might get in tons from the teenagers in gamers. I had my times to be addicted to this game in PC version and this will be the one that shattered me with gaming experience and Ebert forbid, I got the best artistic and entertaining experience from the game of “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”.

The game invented the acrobatic stunts. Suddenly what used to be a very simple 2D game at dawn of simple graphics, became more than keystrokes. It had the best sword stunts and mind boggling puzzles to solve. It had ambience like no other providing spectacular feel of being in that magical world with awe, surprise and scare. Adding to all of those, it had characters with the titular character Prince himself who gets the name of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the film and the Princess Farah who is Tamina (Gemma Arterton) in Mike Newell’s movie. It was a tough game which took myself and another friend to complete it. When the game got over, the final scene made it clear that this is no longer a game rather a soon to be art in itself.

Hence when the film version of this phenomenal experience comes, you know that bias is written all over it from this reviewer. But do not worry, I will swing by everything and make it worth the read. The film leaves the gargantuan ambience to the game but uses couple of instances to give that feel. The greatest strength of the film are the stunts replicated from its source. They add the parkour technic to the Prince and the chase scenes becomes what “District B13” did to its audience.

In the film, Prince Dastan’s orphan past is revealed and how the King of the Persia adopted this boy without royal blood for his courage. There are two elder brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) do not minding their adopted brother. Then Sir Ben Kingsley as the uncle and advisor Nizam is over casted in my opinion. Nevertheless the story begins with right fashion and dives on without a pause. We get to see that the Prince follows the saying of “Work while you work and play while you play” to his heart. He respects his brothers and appreciates the gracious nature in which he has received this fortunate family. But this is no family drama as obvious it can be. It is about the graphics, adventure and the stunts. It is there, there and there and fulfills every expectation of it in the first one and half hour. Then it exhausts itself and becomes a drag.

With that said, a gamer would not be satisfied because this is not a game. A movie goer will get what they want with those choreographed stunts and a plot that is not so predictable but not so unique either. A film critic might be looking for some more flesh of dimension in the characters but it is just enough to kindle the tension between the Prince and Princess and more than enough for the brotherhood and glory.

When is the last time we saw some good Arabian story? Not that I know of and here comes the rightly adapted film of the game. Director Mike Newell could have cut himself short on extending this film but the initial setting of the story and characters cannot be more perfect. It hits it marks and moves on swiftly and enigmatically as the Prince moves through the streets and buildings of this ancient city. Jake Gyllenhaal does some real good flexing of his muscles and swings through his swords. He gives the much needed subtle sarcasms and the boyish charm required for this first segment of what is going to be a series of films.

Much as the game trilogy, I am expecting the second one to be darker and more violent. But as this film, I am not sure whether the franchise will take that leap to be this R rated film. The best part about the game is that the ending could not have been more perfect. It left us longing but still fulfilled for getting that treatment from the creators quite unexpectedly. It is indeed foolish of me to expect the same in the film as the obligation to end with kissing lips and holding hands is what the summer blockbusters are all about. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” will entertain its audience but not surprise them as the game did.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"A Prophet" (Language - French/Arabic/Corsican) (2009) - Movie Review

A masterpiece is what “A Prophet” is. It has a central character Malik (Tahar Rahim) entering the worst place at the age of 19. He has no family or friends outside or inside this place called prison. He is there to exist and serve his sentence of six years. Then what? If nothing would have happened to him as the film shows, I am not sure what really he would achieve getting out. But there is something he would like to go back to the world for. The fresh smell of air and the simple existence of a society is the only thing he appear to linger for. When he leaves in the prison van to the place he has to call home for next few years, director Jacques Audiard shows his viewpoint between those grilled vehicle windows. Everything is that close of a reach and it is going away for a long time. He sees those wistfully.

We do not know what he is in for but we do know that most of his childhood were spent in Juvenile Center for Corrections. Now that he is old enough, he promotes to high school of prison. He comes and stays aloof. Does not speak up much and does not ask questions. When someone beats him up for his sneakers, he goes and beats them back only to be laid down again. He moves on. He does not appear to hold grudges. He only sees opportunities. That is his instinct and nature.

Two gangs in prison. The Corsican Mafia head Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) controls the den while the Arabs are the next major gang who do not have much power other than to belong with each other. Malik is an Arab by looks but he does not give a damn about it. That is the last thing he needs at this point of time. The Corsicans threatens him to take up the job of killing a transit inmate Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi). Reyeb is there to be a witness in a trial and henceforth the need to kill. Malik is a petty criminal from the looks of it and is scared straight to do the job. He gets training, intense and up close. The training is cruel, bloody but he has to do it. No other choice. Kill or be killed. The moment to that scene is one of very many that will chill the bones and generate the tension to the nerves.

We are not here to witness the redemption of Malik. He is a crook with a moderate conscience. The thing is he knows it is a game of survival. He does not plan and builds on the small opportunities he gets through. His mind works in such a way that anywhere and anytime there is a need to push the right coins, he does it without any difficulty. Audiard does not punctuate it and lets it flow because the clever and smart actions are the characteristics of Malik than the film. Before we know it, Malik becomes the main man for the audience to root for though there is every chance that he is going to go down. A man cannot be that successful and sharp minded forever and with every instance.

Malik does the job and does not become the immediate soldier of Cesar. Cesar and his crew treat him as a servant as he still is “Dirty Arab” to them. Malik knows that and keeps his head down. He does things and does not emotionally express his feelings. It is of no use and no one cares for it, even himself. His first victim Reyeb mentioned couple of things before he sliced him up. He says how it is important to read and how prison has schools. He takes up that advice and begins class. He befriends another Arab inmate Ryad (Adel Bencherif). Ryad get out of prison early and he becomes the only friend, family and accomplice for Malik.

Malik slowly works around Cesar and does not plot anything. A law rules Corsicans to transfer them out which leaves Cesar alone and vulnerable. Cesar still has power over guards but his personnel are down. Even then he promotes Malik but keeps him at bay. Malik learned Corsican and that helps him out. Serving three years now, he is eligible to leave the premise for a day. He becomes from errand boy to senior errand boy. When these happens, he works out another deal with a hash dealer and uses Ryad’s connection on the outside to begin his business. This progress will sneak up and we sit and wonder how this guy spins around everything and everyone without notice.

Tahar Rahim is a fabulous actor and his Malik never ever shows a sense of being cocky. He does not get arrogant nor does he associate himself to any group. When any one asks him whether he works for Cesar, he answers that he works for himself. That is the truth and he takes it to the heart. Surprisingly he speaks truth most of the time and hides the essential truth. He never lies and never fights back a confrontation. He gives in and let the opportunities roll around him when he grabs it with an impeccable timing.

"A Prophet” is not a simple prison crime story. It visually brings a raw form of the prison and then takes a surreal sequence of hallucination or dreamy state of Malik into such a careful art. Oh boy, I loved this film. This is what “The Godfather” or “Eastern Promises” versed itself with beauty, cruelty and bloodshed packing together. Then it makes it a poetry and takes the film into something else. This is one such and deservingly so to be placed in those high cadres of those mentioned great movies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"The Salton Sea" (2002) - Movie Classics

Val Kilmer arrived to the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” show and seeing him as a person outside of the films was new. He was shy and kept going off tangents interestingly in his answers. He was at times not looking at James Litman. He was not offensive or snobbish but he is a character of himself unlike what I imagined him to be. With most of the actors, there is their own personality which spills into each of the characters they portray. The way they smile or the mannerisms, even the slightest one sticks through. It is hard to get it wiped out. Even the greatest actors cannot avoid it and most of the times that might be one of the reason they are successful. They bring in a little bit of themselves. When I saw Val Kilmer as Val Kilmer on that stage, I realized how much of a true actor he really is in shedding and shredding every little piece of himself to be someone else. Here is Tom Van Allen or may be Danny Parker in this film. When you see this film, you will know what I am saying.

I saw “The Salton Sea” six or seven years back. It had a scene which went as the best memory of my previous roommate. The great “Kujo’s Big Heist” scene literally made him fall out of chair laughing. I am sure that no one else would find that funnier than we did. Before I go into detail, let me tell you something about the film. This is a story of a man taking a grief, guilt and revenge simultaneously. Kilmer’s character is with the group of junkies and shapes him up to be one of them. On other times he is a snitch ratting out hardcore drug sellers to this sneaky and slimy cops Gus Morgan (Doug Hutchison) and Al Garcetti (Anthony LaPaglia). And the small time he gets to spend with himself, he is Tom Van Allen.

Danny Parker has a past, tragic one of course. In one of those romantic trips to the land of nowhere, his wife (Chandra West) gets killed while he is wounded and watching helpless through a bullet hole of her demise. His inability to save her and the revenge he seeks are served with witty sarcasm and a noir Tarantino would have blown out all over. The director of the film D. J. Caruso takes a small portion of that director’s technique and invents his style along with it.

Kilmer’s character has gone through the drain of drug junkies for a long time in the hunt for his wife’s killer and he comes home occasionally to remind himself of who he is and was before Danny Parker. He keeps telling that he is Tom Van Allen and he is a trumpet player. He begins playing the instrument with a tune that carries a sadness and lamentation to make us weep for this guy. He has pushed himself through the wall hard enough and punished himself for the inability to save his love. Here he is clueless and lost unaware of how to get his revenge.

An opportunity invites him to have a proper set up with the killers to get his score evened and get a closure. For that he has to deal with the maddening and dangerous Pooh-Bear (Vincent D’Onofrio). Pooh-Bear has no nose and wears a funny rubber nose. He is not trying to be villain but he loves being the unstable personality. Kilmer as Danny Parker has a discussion of buying drugs and begins negotiating a price. In that scene, D’Onofrio begins describing the end which was of violent nature his previous dealer met with because of underestimating and showing signs of cheating the man. He effortlessly says it as an obvious thing. He informs that he placed that man’s head in a vice and took off his brain to store it. Throughout this scene, we know and is established that this splendid command and performance by D’Onofrio is what it makes it work. There is no doubt on that but look at Kilmer’s performance as the feared and scared man. He puts up an unnerving face to Pooh-Bear but is so communicative to his audience on the level of freaking out he is inside. The scene belongs to Vincent D’Onofrio but Val Kilmer makes it excel and gives a character for his audience to share the feeling with.

“The Salton Sea” is a comedy which travels through almost several territories and whenever it stays out there, it behaves that way as a nature than an exercise. It has a modern style which takes up inspiration from that time of film making and takes the best part about it than becoming a cheap imitation. Even its most hated characters are unpredictable and we are curious to know their fate, however bad it is going to be. And in Val Kilmer’s performance along with several others, it becomes those films which begs to be watched again.

Watching this film again and realizing that the director of this film went on to do some seriously stupid and horrific films frustrates me. Caruso shows such a depth in his presentation and seeing him make “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye” is a tragedy in itself. There are film makers true to their passion and they venture upon the bizarre and unconventional experimentations. Even if it is their worst attempt and offensive beyond imagination, we can disregard those based on their nature to be true to their making. Seeing those two studio backed blockbusters, it feels like he has made a bad deal. Whatever the scenario that put him to take those projects and do as studio asked him to, it should be over after two films. The director that made this film is a talented person and more than that is an honest presenter and an audacious venturer for his first feature film. Written by Tony Gayton, this film will be in the best films of the decade personally and will remind me of this once a creative director named D. J. Caruso. Hope he comes back.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Trucker" (2008) - Movie Review

My colleague’s opinion on the reason for several divorces in US is that people are too selfish. This generation has that firmly rooted because the idea of being selfish has been legitimized and part of it is good. In the traditional old days, the expectations were set with laid out method that was proven to be successful. It indeed was until the eventuality of the human mind to break through the fallacy of this cage. The trend now seems to be spiking or more to the fact of being comfortable to that independence which results in more lonely hearts. The female trucker in “Trucker” is a prime example of it.

Michelle Monaghan is trucker Diane. Stopping for breaks and sex, she has a set life. A neighbour and a long time friend Runner (Nathan Fillion) to flirt with and punch around and an extended independence of doing whatever the heck she wants has been her way for the past several years. Past is the tattoo you do not notice it until the mirror is held closer. For Diane it comes through Peter (Jimmy Bennett), her 11 year old son she abandoned along with her ex-husband Leonard (Benjamin Bratt) ten years back. Leonard has colon cancer and Diane has no choice than to take care of him.

The forgotten sons and daughters with their estranged and unknown parents have been a treat for screenwriters for a long long time. In this version, the female lead comes as the regular drink with a twist. Monaghan peels off her charm, beauty and smoothness to be the hard earning truck driver. Even after all that, she appears too beautiful and elegant to be a truck driver. The toll of the physical labour will be so immense that taking care of themselves becomes a painful labour. Despite that, Monaghan is truthful to her Diane and treats her with toughness and respect.

Peter is adamant as any 11 year old and the added anger of abandoning mother makes him to be the tough kid. There is the usual ride along with the unusual job and then the text book method of losing the kid and panicking are staged. The discovery of each other and the good moments between mother and son are staged too. But writer/director James Mottern adds these supporting characters and they point out the flaws and adamance in Diane.

Runner is played by Nathan Fillion and he gives the nicest guy. He is the best buddy Diane could ask for while she keeps tagging him along forever. Runner is married and both him and Diane are waiting for the moment to happen. James Mottern shapes Diane’s character through that possible moment to push for a change she has denied all through her trucker life. Fillion’s Runner adores and loves Diane but we do not know why he wants to cheat with a wife we see once. Regardless he becomes the true friend to draw the final straw for Diane to turn around her life.

“Trucker” in the old and dusted independent tradition holds the values of being steady and calm. It does not amplify any of the scenes and avoids lot of obligations. At the same time he withdraws himself and becomes cautious. Being his debut, he appears to care for his film safe enough but not beyond it. He has written a screenplay of a potential performance from a female lead dutifully done by Michelle Monaghan and a subtle happy ending taking it home for independent feature. He gets all of it without the riffraff but he strikes himself without a lasting impression.

“Trucker” is a gentle film being a cautionary tale of the independence taken more seriously than one needs to. Some point in every one’s life the act of selflessness happens through a family. It begins with sharing their life with someone apart from them and then losing completely their soul, body and mind to their offsprings. To take that plunge and the rapidity at which it hits them is nothing short of rude awakening. Some stay hating their decision but eventually settling for the future they never planned, some accept it immediately and move on while others restrain themselves from running into that situation in first place or worst walking out with life long regret. Diane gets a chance to wash off that regret but before that she has to feel it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Che" (Language - Spanish) (2008) - Movie Review

Che Guevera as equally and ironically presents as a complex person as any human being. An idealist consumes his life for the perfection that could never be achieved. Yet that is what makes them the glorified and the infamous. They are the aberrant in the chaotic society. Every one perceives this personality with different notions. Called as a murderer, terrorist and what not, Guevera is a symbol regardless of one’s opinion. A person choosing the method of violence, one would imagine any director would dissect the mind of this man in a biopic film. And any director given the independence to provide two films to expand on the details would go through the bits and pieces of information. Steven Soderbergh though is not any director.

In this two part film spanning together for 261 minutes, contains the most intense performance by Benicio Del Toro as the controversial icon and a series of scenes which gives an illusion of going nowhere but always on target about the persona. The first part begins with the invitation from Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir) to join forces for the Cuban revolution. Soderbergh even before going to the film provides a sense of geography. He lays out the map of Cuba and marks the territories and divisions which would become a legend to the audience watching the film. He does the same in Part Two withe map of South America. Che takes up the offer and the journey begins.

While the various steps of the revolution are set up and Che goes along serving his values as duties, Soderbergh takes through the interview of Lisa Howard (Julia Ormond) did with Che in 1964 when he was in US attending UN general assembly. This becomes a guide to Che’s commentary of the his life from March 1957 till the end of Cuban revolution in the Guerilla warfare alongside Castro. There is no reference of his personal life apart from Aleida (Catalina Sandino Moreno) becoming his city guide and eventually his second wife. Even their involvement or interest in each other is nothing different from his relationship with the every soldier in his column.

The film thus becomes a history lesson going up and close with Che’s column. He builds a society within the confines of the bushes. Being a doctor, he automatically becomes a medic and reaches out to the peasants nearby to render his services. Most of them have one common disease, malnutrition and hunger. When others around the fire pit perform amateur entertainment to their fellow soldiers, Che calmly on the distance reads a book and smiles noticing the small fun his compadres have.

It is a film with neither a participation nor a close observation on this man. It becomes detailed and clinical as a documentary. It does not pose it as any war and moves away from the controversial tones towards Che. It treats the man as he is while not becoming aware of it more than they want to. Che is shown as a personality with a strong belief on literacy. He is particular about his crew being able to read and write. When they are exhausted and starving for several days, he asks a soldier to bring his math book for some exercise.

Another fascination in this film is how much his asthma attack played an intense part in this struggle. Entering into the jungles and going towards meeting Castro’s group in Cuba, he barely is able to walk and rests for support on his rifle. In the Part Two, his health becomes a critical game changer when he forgets his medicine and suffer from it while slowing down the group. He beats himself up for that. Beyond these, he survived the war and the atrocious ambience the forest posed.

“Che” will not approach its viewer. Neither does it invite them. Steven Soderbergh does not take grandeur in approaching this film. It is not the pumped up emotional cum war drama every one would expect. Instead it makes you take the journey alongside the man without becoming his soldier. You see him discipline his crew and condition them for the worst while keeping his focus on the purpose. He is sarcastic, comical and when compassionate, he can melt any cold heart.

Clearly Part One has more energy than Part Two as the former is a success of the protagonist while later is a failure of the same. But both the films are approached with same sincerity by Soderbergh and Del Toro. Part Two in the end evokes unexpected sympathy from us. Throughout the films we are kept aside of knowing the man as a person or we feel that way and when he is ready to be executed, we are clouded by strangest sense of sadness. In the process of making us assume that we are distant from him, we were indeed exposed to his personal life which is his revolution and liberation itself.

The film takes the distant stand away on the issues and as Che himself never denies its participation in the violence. It goes through this stubborn personality in his march for matching his ideals to existence. It takes a sympathy to the personality in the end but any human being killed has to be sympathized when you get to know them. We do not feel for the tons of army men he kills because this is not a film about them but we are moved when he meets his end. And the way Soderbergh gives it is not exploitative rather sadly poetic.

It is a film to be patient and do not expect a goal out of this. There are no explanations. It is a statement and the aspiration to portray and depict it to the facts than kindle melodramatic grand exercise that generally comes forth in a biopic. The two films regardless of the time it takes sails through with combination of some strong flurried supporting actors and spectacular cinematography by Peter Andrews in the process. The great job of aligning these immense information in two films requires some properly laid out work in screenplay by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Ven based on the diaries by Che Guevera.

What does this man to me on personal level is the question every one asks at the end of these two films. He is inspiring and driven beyond I could imagine. He had so much character and at the same time had resorted to violence with such a self proclaimed justification. He is systematic and original and never has been misunderstood by any. I guess this expose of his character is the reason he appeals to many and contradicts in several of his actions. I think he exemplifies the dilemma of a regular person and chooses quickly on decision. He does not carry a regret or at least in Soderbergh’s version and becomes practical when essential. Regardless of the controversial position he holds in the history, he is as simple and straightforward as any next person and as complex in his actions as any next person. Soderbergh appreciates that aspect and provides a life in this epic presentation.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Language - Swedish) (2009) - Movie Review

The quest for the murder mystery has its absorbing power. It sucks in several individuals to mull over this faceless killer and leave them with broken families, faces and grisly images. Generally there is an underlying emotion, correlation and drive to these investigations and when the confrontation with the culprit happens, there it is, the result and the ultimate moment they thought they would never reach. Though most of the time they are in the victim’s chair and in fear. Everyone in the audience knows that there will be a saviour behind the curtains. Every thing is in there in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which is the first in the adaption of the Millennium trilogy novels by late Stieg Larsson.

“Zodiac” in 2007 by David Fincher followed the people obsessed with the task of finding the killer. The amount of work is colossal. Patience becomes the mantra and frustration becomes the side effect of it while constantly keeping the focus and wide awake eyes for details. The novels and films are evasive about the time spent by characters in uncovering the truth behind disappearances and the murder mystery. “Zodiac” precisely took that to miniscule details and laid it out. The life spent by a particular individual on this cause is immense and laborious. Mostly met with false leads and inconclusive results, it is an addiction.

Most of the mystery films except “Zodiac” did not do that but it depends on what the object of attention is. Here it wants to finish a meal and then desires for more. The film has a female lead with an untold dreary past and provides a complete thriller for a Sunday evening. Yet it does not has its investigative characters figured out completely. Hence there is a good chunk of thirty minutes which seems unnecessary but there are two other films to be seen after this and those might become the foundations for those. Either way, this reviewer is reviewing only this film and hence after the revelation we do not necessarily care for Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).

Mikael is a well known journalist and he gets framed by a big corporation. He gets guilty verdict for defamation and is scheduled to serve his sentence in six months. Meanwhile there is Vanger corporation representative runs a background analysis through Goth girl Lisbeth. Mikael gets hired by the CEO of Vanger corporation Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) for finding the killer of his brother’s daughter Harriet. The case has not been solved for forty years and Henrik is an old man dying to find where she disappeared and who made sure she disappears. He suspects everyone in his family who has everything to gain by killing Harriet. Mikael takes up the job while gets snooped by Lisbeth. You know what the purpose of this film is after this.

The director of the film Niels Arden Oplev has a firm grip of the film. And the appeal is the female lead by Noomi Rapace. If you are in a coffee shop and she walks in, you know to stay put. She might be a feared girl inside but her exterior is a statement to be wherever you are and keep your conversation to the coffee. Lisbeth is on probation with a dark past we gets glimpses of. Good that she has impressive hacking skills and a job to feed her passion. Even after she is done with the background check for Mikael, she is drawn into him. Maybe he is so clean that in the line of work she has to deal with the men she has seen and met with does not have a pretty picture. She hacks his computer and watches for activities. She wants him to be dirty so that she can move on with her belief that the men in this world are nothing but rotten perverts. Mikael proves otherwise and the curious case of Harriet gets her piercing wet. She dives in.

This film does not settle itself and the clues they find and crack are clever and quick. At least we do not sit along with them when they have to peruse through thousands and thousands of documents and photographs with details that does not carry a soothing light read. The film does most of the things right till the point they find the killer. Then it becomes obligatory. Any investigative hunt for a murderer is as good as in making them potential characters as well. In this the ritual of killer conversing with Mikael does not carry the fear, tension and psychological pounce the film had through out. We do not fear for the death of Mikael and that is a serious flaw in a thriller film.

Before Lisbeth joins forces with Mikael in the case, she has to deal with her deeply disturbed and twisted old new probation officer. He begins controlling her financial in return for sexual favours which gets nasty leading up to rape. Eventually Lisbeth gets her control but the point of that exercise in going for deep graphic detail does not attribute to the grand scheme of the film. It does not take a dive into the minds of Lisbeth and may be it will in the upcoming films but here it is not essential other than to root for Lisbeth to cause some serious damage to this horrific personality.

I will though recommend “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” because despite those details, it is a seriously entertaining murder mystery and its execution is best on the procedure than the findings. Noomi Rapace especially gives an ominous performance of Lisbeth. She is ready to spray terror over her attackers but has a tender inside which lasts fraction of a second. That is enough to get involved with Mikael. I am eager to see where this girl takes her journey on the second film. Maybe the extent in which Rapace put herself through in that unessential rape scene gets some justification in those.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"King of California" (2007) - Movie Review

Charlie (Michael Douglas) is worried about his existence but he is a man without the awareness of other’s existence around him. One such would be his daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) who has grown up without his help, especially in the past couple of years where he spent his time in a psychiatric facility. He has one goal after he came out which is to find a treasure. He firmly believes that it is buried underneath these suburbs of California and he is persuaded that he has decoded it out of an ancient Spanish explorer’s journal. In this film by writer/director Mike Cahill makes an independent film to get star cast.

Cahill provides little to no history on this father-daughter relationship but covers great regions to something witty at right spots between them. It is sometime unbelievable that Miranda has given up emotionally on her dad in these two years. Charlie though is capable of emptying that trust. For starters he has a bushy beard. No one can trust an old man buried in beards and has wicked smile with wide opened eyes. Adding the treasure hunt makes it easier for Miranda to give up on him. But this is not the first time he has found unique ways to disappoint her.

Charlie is not the kind of person that exist only in his own world and forget his surroundings. That is the beauty and comic factor in Michael Douglas’ performance which is that he very well knows the people and place around him. When he discovers that the treasure’s possible location is somewhere in the big store of Costco, he does not hesitate to place surveying equipment in the middle of clothes section and walk through eagerly following the measuring tape pointing to the target spot. After cornering a spot, he tells with excitement and frustration that of all the places this great treasure resides on the foot of Costco. He is a man knowing what he is doing, just that it is far beyond anyone could fathom about.

As Charlie steps up on his search of this mythical existence of treasure, Miranda is lured in. She has kept herself to the life she is leading by working long hours at McDonalds and keeping everything to herself. She does not have friends and the only dear thing she loves is the car she managed to buy with her hard earned money. She likes this way of life wherein she has grown responsible to take care of herself at the age when school matters the most. She is an example of a generation settling for simple jobs to run a meager life than an ambition.

For sometime now I have explained the irony in the formula coming up in the independent films. As any genre which has become a formula in this long tenure of film making, independent genre is fairly recent and hence it is getting into that mode of cruise control. Being a formula does not mean being unoriginal or a bad movie. Many of those run down genre has succeeded employing those cliches and predictability with some very good writing and some performances to believe in those writing. “King of California” is one such.

This is not to say that the film takes on its known route. It is indeed quite unpredictable when the clues Charlie leads on becomes more real as he gets closer and closer to his goal. The predictable factor is the bond that gets developed between Charlie and Miranda. People viewing this film are no naive personalities to expect a thrill ride of protagonist’s delusional treasure hunt. This is a character development and how they develop together into these two distanced people getting pulled in by this unbelievable hunt becomes this film. In Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood we see those people and begin to believe in them coming together and be that father and daughter.

Mike Cahill takes baby steps in his debut and puts up a firm foot with some good acting and light punctuated writing. We are swept away without the feeling of being dragged on into this ride. There is a pay off we can take ourselves out of this gold rush aim, Charlie pursues with Miranda. This is that kind of film wherein they can make death sweeter and tragedy a little more lighter. It is not dark comedy but an acceptable independent genre tragedy we come to find peace.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Paris, Texas" (1984) - Movie Classics

A film titled “Paris, Texas” is mystical enough for any film lover if they know any better but they would also begin to wonder whether they chose the wrong movie some forty minutes into it. Not because it lacks the momentum but it gets us irritated on this silent character (Harry Dean Stanton) in the beginning. Right from its aerial view of the southern Texas desert till its final frame of downtown Houston in the background, it is a film of something unlike any movies I have seen, because I have not seen the films of Wim Wenders.

This wandering nameless man is with full beard, sun burned, exhausted and dehydrated in the desert. He stumbles and knocks down unconscious in a gas station to be woken up a doctor. He does not speak. Not because he is not able to but he does not want to. Soon the doctor finds something on him which points to call a number. Walt (Dean Stockwell) is on the other end of the line surprised, shocked and unable to properly react after hearing the news. He informs his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) that his brother Travis is in some remote town in southern Texas. We are also informed that Travis disappeared on them four years back. And no he is not in the town of Paris, Texas.

Travis tests the patience of his brother Walt and his audience. He restrains from speaking and any form of body language. He completely shuts off communication and Walt is understanding about it. He carefully asks what happened and Travis simply is unresponsive. He does not stare away, rather looks right through the eye of Walt and leaves emotionless. Something has died inside of him and it is beyond anger, hate, sadness and least of all happiness. Walt does not know what to make of this.

Walt manages to get a response out of Travis finally and after that it is another battle to get him to LA. Walt and Anne has been taking care of Travis’ son Hunter (Hunter Carson) for the past four years. Travis meets him and reacts to him. Hunter is told the truth that Travis is his real father but he does not know the reaction to this situation. All these happen in our world, the world where drama is not something to be poetic about. Here the drama does not happen. The drama is simple, expected and very real.

In between all this, we are haunted and kept impatient on the secret of this four years which has pushed Travis to be wandering alone and walking dead in the unexpected part of the country. This is not a suspense and that is exactly director Wim Wenders tells when he keeps the film to this character being silent and denying all forms of explanation to those lost years from the face of the life he once had. Walt has almost given up hopes on finding Travis and Jane. Anne is worried that they need to part ways with Hunter whom they have raised as their own son. There is no drama in that either.

Anne informs Travis that Jane was in touch and sending money for Hunter which prompts him to leave again. He tells Hunter about his plans with whom he has reconnected in the beautiful unadulterated emotional way. Hunter is a smart kid and a prospective geek. He decides to join his dad. Somehow he seem to know that his family is not in LA. Not much tears needed to inform that to us. These are the effective serious but casual scene shifting Wenders gets into. Soon enough we do not care about the four years mystery and are totally focussed on this father-son journey and their hunt for Jane.

“Paris, Texas” then reaches out and hugs you very slowly and presses against itself. The warmth is tender, understanding and safe. This is a film which knows its audience like a mother towards her child. It lets them wander away and be restless. It does not tease rather keeps ignoring and conditioning with silent treatment. And when we understand what we are here for and whom we are caring for, it wraps under its presentation. The distinctive powerful guitar strings of Ry Cooder vanishes after that and emerges back during the last drive we see of Travis in the film.

Eventually Travis meets up with wife Jane played by Nastassja Kinski and in other films the situation of Jane would be a cliche that is asked to be sympathized. Wim Wenders makes it about the characters and not the surroundings. When Jane and Travis finally talk, the film lets out and goes into uneven emotional trips. Everything about Travis’ behaviour gets a new light and we do the most basic and quintessential act in a film, empathize with the characters.

Never even aware of Wim Wenders I began watching this film. I loved the manner in which the titular location is kept at bay of being visited and not happening at all. The performance of Harry Dean Stanton is as Travis, mystical. He appears dangerous when we first meet and then dissolves into this state of calmness, coldness and sudden flow of care. When he smiles, the whole world appear to be elated and his odd speeches on his parents is a poetry by itself. “Paris, Texas” begins as an experience then becomes an experiment and finally into an emotional lyric for Ry Cooder’s tangiest and cracking guitar strings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Sita Sings the Blues" (2008) - Movie Review

Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic has been told, retold, re-retold and imbibed in the minds of any Indian. Despite several films and stories on the books and comics, its expiry date in an Indian mind never arrives because more than a fable and moral policing document, it is an entertaining story. Purely treated as a fiction it has all the elements to fulfill a complete blockbuster. Do you need melodrama? Here ready to be bathed and drowned in the rivers of crying from Sita and immerse into the immense sentiments between Rama and his loved ones. Do you need action? Be vigilant to watch out for the bow and arrow fire works. Not satisfied, how about jumping monkeys and Hanuman as the strongest entity on the universe who kick Transformer’s butt out of this universe? There is no suspense though but who needs those in a blockbuster.

Beyond these entertaining values, people of India advise their offsprings to take the great teachings through the characters. Rama the protagonist, is portrayed as a monogamous man with a glorious personality of unquestionable obedience to his parents. Sita the female lead, devoted in every atom of her body to her husband Rama would tear herself into pieces to fulfill the duties of the traditional Indian woman. Lakshmana, the brother and side kick of Rama, is another 500% devotee of Rama. But honestly, this reviewer thinks Rama is a male chauvinistic jerk, Sita is dumb and unnecessarily melodramatic while Lakshmana is the only element in this equation to have some sanity, though he is insanely hot tempered. No one comes out and says it aloud, not at least on a silver screen. There might be contemporary discussion over this as I have with my friends but coming out and filming it to what it is with satire, spoof and modern approach needs guts, inspiration and imagination. Writer/Director Nina Paley has just those and provides the entertaining story with simple animation, easy conversational comedy and through songs of Annette Hanshaw.

Paley tells the story of Ramayana through three shadow puppets conversing the story flow, the possibility, some controversial moves of the characters and simply having fun with it. As it is told with spectacular Indian accents and animation to match it, there happens another story in parallel in the current day. Said to be autobiographical, it tells about Nina and Dave living in San Francisco. Chance gets Dave to Trivandram in India for work and for reasons unexplained happens to drain the love out of Dave for Nina. Their story runs with certain similarity in the emotions of Ramayana but an ending of course unlike the epic.

What does Nina Paley trying to achieve telling an epic which is nothing new to Indian audience? May be her angst over the characters and the philosophy and rules drawn out of it drove her to draw similarities in certain of her reaction to such situation. Or may be she wanted to have fun with it and meanwhile give a look, feel and voice which never even passes the distant corners of a creative mind observing this epic. Though this is not aimed at Indian audience alone, it will be a unique experience for the audience who might not be aware of this story and the history. They get the colours and songs which is so fascinating to them from this country. They also get something they can easily associate and laugh along the way through it.

Over and over there is creativity in story telling. Taking the faces from the traditional drawings of these characters and then mixing it with her own perception and turning it around for another spin of the characters, Paley keeps afresh the look and feel of this Sita. The blues songs begins surprises and delights us in this unthinkable atmosphere and situation. Then the choreography which goes for it brings out guffaws in the movements of these animated figures. After a while though, the arrow for tolerance shifted to “pushing it” region for the numerous songs and similar choreography. Except that part, “Sita Sings the Blues” keeps you tickled and guessing on further amusements it promises to provide.

Nina Paley had to go through several copyright issues since she used Hanshaw’s songs. Being a DRM free activist herself, she decided to distribute this film for free which is a true gift to the audience. It is available for free viewing in youtube. It is also available for download from her website ( in DVD format which is the mode this reviewer took. Hence I would personally ask the readers to reach out for this film online and let your friends, enemies and loved ones know about this beautiful film.

“Sita Sings the Blues” does not come out and slander this whole epic as someone might draw conclusion from this review. Most of it is personal viewpoint and the fact that the film takes similar tone brings it out strongly in me. Paley takes an ancient story so popular and heavily followed and taught fable into modern culture of liberated women and open minded men. In today’s world, Rama is not a hero rather a dangerous stereotype of Indian male who is insecure, doubtful and full of ego. Sita is not an exemplifying wife rather is melodramatic and blinded by traditions while having the unpredictability of women existing in this billion years of existence in universe. For me it is a brilliant satire, bold depiction, colourful imagination and an originality that begs for its viewers to spread the word around.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

"Paper Heart" (2009) - Movie Review

Charlene Yi has a personality beckoning attention. She has the goofiest glasses and an undone hair. She looks 16 but she really is 24. She plays herself in a mix of documentary and mockumentary in “Paper Heart” along with Michael Cera as a version of himself which becomes a sweet romantic tale and then a little longer than expected. It is a creative production and an almost realistic portrayal of a fair relationship springing between Charlene and Michael.

Charlene Yi is a musician and comedian. You might have seen her in some of Judd Apatow’s film as this Asian girl in the background. She does stand up which I was not aware of but in her “Tonight’s Show with Conan O’Brien”, her act said much about her style. Here she plays herself as someone not believing in the idea of love and the possibility of her not having it at any point in her life. It is not that she is stubborn rather she has a very convincing feeling that the particular emotion in her body is absent and incapable of occurring. Nicholas Jasenovec is the director who in turn is played by Jake Johnson in the film. He takes on the challenge of Charlene trying to find whether there exists love and how various people define and feel it.

The film takes the crew along with Yi on cross country journey. The reason to flee into different states is merely to get a diverse collection of people from various region to get a wide spread opinion on love. The movie works and in its quasi documentary and fiction it brings together Michael Cera and Charlene Yi in the possible scenario of liking each other and eventually the possibility of them being in love. Charlene though is not sure about it and that becomes the twist the film plans on for a long time.

Cera has been very successful in playing himself of various kind in most of his films. Except for “Youth in Revolt” which I missed and very much be the same, rest of his roles have always been Michael Cera with different name in a different situation than the character. It is what the directors wants and the story beckons. Soon I believe he might be in trouble of playing himself alone and losing among the alternatives. Here he is good as he has been. He meets Charlene Yi and both have a connection which is the shyness. Michael comes forth and takes the step to approach Yi and Yi cautiously takes it up. The scenes when they hangout are realistically romantic than many of the rom-coms generated as the byproduct of money and star cast.

In between their romance, Yi interviews several people from real life on their journey towards this mystical feeling. The very first one is Mike Modrak, a divorcee and he explains how he got married only at the age of 43 and then got divorced because they were not the same person after sometime. He also explains how his true real love was someone long time ago before he met his ex-wife. After that he tells a story which is shown as a puppet show by Yi and “Paper Heart” becomes a different film than many others which attempt and aspire to be. The film has several other stories said in that manner which does aim for cheap sweetness but a Michel Gondry way of inventiveness.

“Paper Heart” though gets slightly buzzed as the end approaches and begins to sway away a while. It eventually comes to the stop we knew and ends in its sweet manner of story telling. Jake Johnson playing the director is another key element in between Michael and Charlene. As an aspiring director, he is hoping to get a cinematic ending to his documentary and on a personal level a happy one. Here the film takes another bold approach of reacting to that attitude than going hysterical about it.

“Paper Heart” is a convincing mocku-documentary and it makes Michael Cera and Charlene Yi a couple we would believe in. With so many flurry of impossible and incorrigible rom-coms, films like these need to have wide spread reach for those audience who cannot alone lose themselves cuddling to their loved ones but also find a genuine film made in a creative and inventive way.

"Iron Man 2" (2010) - Movie Review

What can be more fun than to watch an adorable jerk going off on screen again. The performance coming from the actor capable of replicating several inner demons of himself, Robert Downey Jr. is again the reason the fans would like to see “Iron Man 2”. Tony Stark after satiating his ego of revealing his identity as the Iron Man at the end of the first part of this franchise comes back with more ego. He gets more help too from side kicks, villains and further arrogance in Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, his rival in business.

Nothing has changed in the way I came out of the theatres for both the Iron Man products. Clearly entertained and Robert Downey continuing his best keeps this film ticking and involving the audience. This is no “The Dark Knight” but it is not “The Incredible Hulk” either. It rattles between the obnoxious “Transformers” and a sensible characterization which evens out rather to the benefit of the critics and the audience. Jon Favreau now knows the working formula not in the story but in the casting and characters.

Favreau gets Don Cheadle substituting Terence Howard for Lt. Col. James Rhodes, Sam Rockwell as wannabe Stark in Justin Hammer, Scarlett Johannson as the underground operative for the upcoming Avengers initiative and none other than the threatening villain Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko. Gwyneth Paltrow runs along the caretaker/guide/friend and the CEO of Stark Industries as Pepper Potts. Amongst these we get heavy artillery, attitudes, sarcasms and some story we might not even care for.

After 6 months of boasting and achieving super power dominance around the globe to have peace, Stark has two battles to fight. One is to find a cure for his chest battery which is slowly poisoning him. When your body suit is capable of demolishing an entire army with fire power, there has to be some side effect and they call it Palladium poisoning. The other is to resist the government which is forcing him give the Iron Man suit. In between these comes Ivan Vanko for revenge and Justin Hammer for money and competition.

Oh, I forgot to mention Samuel L. Jackson coming in as and when the screenplay and Tony Stark needs to reinvent itself. Of all this star cast, only one emerges victorious and there is no surprise that it is Sam Rockwell. He is the perfect candidate for being the equivalent cocky arrogant bastard as that of Downey Jr. and if you are doubting it, just see him explain the weapons he has to provide for the US army. He is more than a salesperson out there. His character enjoys laying out those detailed information about each of the dangerous science project which are also precisely capable of doing that.

“Iron Man 2” is a big science project of a millionaire, again. I cannot find much difference between the first one and its sequel other than numerous talent cast. They bring their strengths with them to the film. Thankfully there are no annoying tensions of untold love pondered profoundly between Pepper and Stark but it has to end there which I was ready to accept. Don Cheadle is the perfect side kick for this uncontrollable man while Rourke does not have much than to have golden teeth and Russian mumblings.

Having noticed in the past few paragraphs, the reader would observe that more focus has been given to the cast than the story itself. That tells you what happened. Nothing wrong in a film being completely overwhelmed by the cast and done so effectively. “Iron Man 2” works precisely for that. The graphics are kept reasonable and the calamities, well it always comes when there is a war going on between demolishing robots among egocentric businesspersons.

Jon Favreau has got himself a great job. He knows the deal and he plays for the house. He chooses his players carefully and keeps them entertained with the tricks. Strangely enough he is very honest about those and explains that these are all obligatory steps. Sometimes as a critic you have to respect that honesty and enjoy the game. Most of the times you get burnt and deceived but in Favreau’s case, he works it out.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

"35 Shots of Rum" (Language - French/German) (2008) - Movie Review

Never I have seen a film so self aware of being in a movie and never I have seen a film so full of itself. This is “35 Shots of Rum” which needs a drink of its own to realize that slow passing and dull moments in life does not mean artistic film making. Vague in each of its characters, mood, dialogue and music, this film makes you question whether life is such a boring event. Such as it seems that of Lionel (Alex Descas), his daughter Josephine (Mati Diop). They are father and daughter living together and have been that way for a long time. What appears to be this silent warfare towards its audience of emanating the untold but deeply tied devotion of daughter towards father bleeds you of interest.

There lives two more residents in their apartment complex tied to this abysmal life of Lionel and Josephine. Noé (Gregoire Colin) is a lonely vagabond wandering through the globe and returns now and then to his apartment only for his fat cat. But it appears he has a thing for Josephine and vice versa. Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) is another lonesome character living in the same building and happen to have a motherly attachment towards Josephine and a liking for Lionel. The relationship between these characters are spread around like bread crumbs behind your couch and there are no clues. You figure it out some where at the end of the film when there is no choice than to tie these people up with the little known details and boredom. When Josephine kisses Noé, they better have something going on.

People stand, stare and torture us in their silences. Lionel does the best and he has a knack to smoke without passion or pain. Even when his friend Rene (Julieth Mars Toussaint) retires and breaks down, Lionel has nothing to offer than stand still and deliver a line out of no compassion. In these empty spaces they stare, they would hear ring bell or a movement of shadow which brings a smile to their lifeless face obsolete of any real emotion.

Is this the form of movie making I am not aware of or is it something I am sociopathic towards? Nothing can explain other than the dreadful lost time of my life towards this critically praised film. Directed by Claire Denis, this is supposed to be the love a father and daughter share and how much it takes for them to face the reality of letting go of each other to move on with their life. There is no question in those delivery but why would you go with such a hollow presentation that has happiness written with sad letters? Only Denis can answer.

When a film scores 97% in rotten tomatoes, there needs a time alone with yourself as a film critic to think whether I missed something or the artistic bone of patience has wore down in me. There cannot be more appreciation from this reviewer towards a film which takes a precious slow attempt in revealing the simplest of things in life. I cannot get tired of watching “Man on the Train” which has characters similar to that of this film but with a sense of its presence and an emotional factor so much in abundance without wrestling itself with melodrama. “35 Shots of Rum” becomes pretentious and its characters for whom we do not care irks us to move towards the end we desperately wait.

There are symbolism which I did not care for and the subtle humour I was not ready for. It has laser thin characters wandering around the depth of the photography and the wide spread amount of muteness not alone in the sound but in the story itself. It drips the energy out of you with its apathetic nature and in the end even when someone gives up their hopes up for learning the mythical meaning of this 35 shots of rum, I wish I had a drink before. May be then I would have realized within ten minutes into this film that the tilted judgment of alcohol would have saved me from losing the valuable time.

"The Class" (Language - French) (2008) - Movie Review

A teacher is hated, admired or treated as a simpleton by the students. The psychology of a kid in his/her high school days cannot be contained in a box. Everything appears opposing their ideas and clueless philosophies. Adverse and opposing reactions are the tool they carry around. Attitude, arrogance and disobedience are seen as a shield than one step closer to the future they would not want. While my existence was doubted in high school, I took a complete different tone during my college years. It was more than a rebel and it was an act of someone finding things for the first time. I missed the high school days to learn those and at college it all erupted. Though I do have to say that the best times of my life happened during those ruffian days. “The Class” would bring back those memories and we begin to feel for the teachers. I did.

In this semi-autobiographical story, François Marin (François Bégaudeau) is the French teacher working in the inner city public school. The students cannot get more diverse than this. Starting from Wei (Wei Huang) to Souleymane (Franck Keita), the room can hold hands and sing “We Are the World” but that is not going to happen. These are kids coming from the rough neighbourhood were violence, poverty and emotional distress are a regular sight. All those pour into these walls. It gushes towards the teacher, the person who cannot say much or more than that is that he/she work by the rules and the atmosphere these kid’s live in do not. Hence they become either easy targets or compassionate shell.

Director Laurent Cantet makes it as realistic as a film can be. There are no inspiring stories, not the Hollywood cheer leader style and there are no breakthrough method which gets Mr. Marin to connect with his kids. He is patient, soft and makes his class interesting. Not alone talking with the grammatical bore the language comes and needs but with the regular debates and entertaining projects he gives. But these are not the kids who will leave him soft.

Everything erupts around the class. Always a retaliation and the students never ever give up on talking back. Being a teacher is the toughest job to build up for. On one hand you have the ego of being the elder person and the expectancy to be respected. On the other hand you have the kids going ballistic on every thing and pushing all the right buttons to get the worst reaction possible. In between these, a teacher has to sense the atmosphere and do the right thing which is easier said. Mr. Marin is pushed into those territory every moment when he steps in his class. How can we educate a kid when they go to great lengths to refuse it? More than that how bad it makes you feel when they are instinctive and impulsive in those things and more egoistic than yourself?

“The Class” is a step by step process wherein the kids break Mr. Marin. These kids are brilliant when they work their magic. They are all given the project of writing a self-portrait. The project is given to express more than where they live and what they like but about their personality and what makes them tick. François wants to read their mind and get an honest opinion so he can justify himself of going further. Souleymane the least expected candidate for a novel idea comes up with intriguing photographs of his family and friends. Mr. Marin succeeds in it but fails miserably as we go on.

The students are nice and attentive when they are held by their teacher’s command in a subject. My disobedient times as a student in colleges were due to the lack of respect I had for the staffs. Majority of them were a fresh graduate and did not have a clue about the subject or keeping our attentions straight. It is not their fault, they needed a job and they got one easily through the college I went. But it changed once in a while. We remained silent despite not understanding a single word from a lecturer because her hard work was evident in her details of conducting a class.

What “The Class” becomes is a game of respect. The clashes of ego and beyond that comes the emotions and the reality outside of the school which never gets shown. Everything in the film happens in the school compound. The staff meetings, the issues of having a coffee maker and teachers breaking down. François is put in the spot when the time comes and he explodes. He insults couple of his kids and it leads to an an expected violence. The kids with so much potential throw away their future and you have no one to blame than the society. It cannot get more tragic and touger to be a school teacher in an inner city public school. It is where you see the students at the verge of becoming an adult and sealing themselves with the fate they might want at that moment but is a disaster for rest of their lives. The sad part of being the teacher apart from the miseries is to watch these kids go through with that and there is nothing in the world you can do about it. “The Class” is funny, witty, tragic and sadly realistic.

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Helvetica" (2007) - Movie Review

Not often do we sit by the couch and think about the air we breathe and the light that spears through the customary curtain in our living room. Not often do we adore and admire the shape of the letters than the content it carries. Gary Hustwit omits the meaning of a word and corners our eyes to see the shape, design and a poetry which goes into this universal font which goes right by our eyes day in and day out.

Hustwit exposes the community that does not come out when you read the ubiquitous presence of any word anywhere. Back in the olden days when printing and typing were the mode of expression of texts, the design began to formulate these diagrams for scrambled pieces for a completion. Helvetica was born in 1957 and no one knew the extreme nature of its pandemic spread.

A documentary which does not become an overflow of information and trivia, does not take much to show the font as we walk on the street or glare at any text. It has attained a monopoly in the designer arena leaving nothing much of a choice in picking something for a sign, poster or simple text. What is so mesmerizing about this font? What is the beauty these graphic designers of different generations qualm about the presence and deviation of this system of shaping a letter? All are there in “Helvitica”.

More of the films that becomes intimate with its viewers are the deep down buried forgotten incidents in them. For me this brought the time when PC was a big deal and the first one I lay my hands on got the chance for me to dig in the Windows 3.1. In that was the text editing tool where MS Word did not step in. The idea of so many fonts to choose from was an experience by itself. Soon enough I was beginning try the hundred different fonts on silliest texts. The medium through which I was able to do that was the generation in progress. And by now, as simple keyboards strokes with mouse clicks, the process is faster, smoother and precise. The ancient days of carving stones, steels to get a proper print has been erased by the technology.

This sudden growth is not despised by the community but they strongly say which I agree upon completely is that the technology makes it faster and easier on the process but the imagination comes through the artist. Through these different people we understand how the art of typefacing has its debates and arguments on this monster which has spread across the entire globe.

One part of community, the modernists marvel this font. The space in which it got designed and the clarity of that might not be amusing for certain audience. The designers speak that language and if you can be a recipient of that unexplainable and true feeling, “Helvitica” is the documentary you got to watch. The postmodernists are fed up with this over usage and they take order in it and spin around for chaotic beauty. Their conversations are nothing short of interesting.

“Helvitica” has some brilliant editing and carefully selected music to take us to a tour in an art gallery and a vacation of different kind in our living room. Before you know it, there is a hunt for the texts and the art involved in it. In the film we sparsely read rather look at the structure in which the alphabets are aligned, separated, conjoined and the sense of enigma in the wholeness of it.

I have been volunteering for a program wherein I have to teach the sixth graders the concept of global market place. Despite my insignificant knowledge of it, they provide a guidebook on the contents and activities planned for each session. The very first one was the explain the trade, imports and exports while the activity was to find simple items in and around your house to see the country that manufactures it. The hunt began and almost 99% I found was made in China. They were there all along these years and never noticed the enormity in which these all come from one country. After that I saw products made from China everywhere. Helvetica will be everywhere when you are done with this film.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

"Greenberg" (2007) - Movie Review

Noah Baumbach should have a radar for passive jerks. He can sense them of various kinds, sizes and shapes because in “Greenberg” he provides one more kind of this lost and uppity person. He resembles a little bit of Bernard Berkman from “The Squid and the Whale” and a tiny layer of Margot from “Margot at the Wedding” but he also has a taste for comic from the writing works of Baumbach in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. It does not have to be said more that the writing is impeccable. This is “Greenberg”.

Baumbach’s film will be in my best films of the year is about a mean man but an ability to be the nicest guy. He is self righteous but he is ready to put that down and lend a helping hand in odd times. It is the film wherein romance happens in ways you would not expect but makes you feel that it might happen to us and we would very well flip out like these two. That would be Florence (Greta Gerwig) and she is 25 coming out of a long relationship. Ben Stiller’s Roger Greenberg and Florence go on dating without dating or at least Roger goes through it in superb denial.

Greenberg is a New Yorker coming to Los Angeles to house sit his brother’s home while his brother and his family are on vacation. This is a long last home he has not visited for a while. He is also out of a nervous breakdown. He is rough on edges and a little bit inside. Florence and Greenberg meet at an important point in their lives. Florence is wondering how to move on after a break up in a long term relationship while Greenberg is scared to get into one at the age of 40.

He has taken a vow of doing nothing. Though he writes personal letters to editorials sighing his concerns over several corporates and its culture. He admirably succeeds in the nothing part until he begins to deal with his emotions. He has a loyal and trusting friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) whom he has not seen for several years. In their early days, Greenberg and Ivan with his buddies were an upcoming rock band ready to sign a record deal. Greenberg chose to decline it as it went against his principles. It will be the right time to bring back the uppity self righteous person for his principles.

While other band members made well for themselves, Ivan is going through a separation from a wife Greenberg does not like and is a computer personnel. Things have taken a different route for these two and this is the time to deal it. Baumbach uses Ben Stiller in a non-Ben Stiller way. Stiller while is a talented artist doing the same thing in different movies (especially in his “Tropic Thunder”), invents himself out of those stereotyping in “Greenberg”. He fits the odd characteristics Baumbach has over his main characters.

Florence finds Roger interesting. May be because she admires the honesty in him of not putting up with the system. Even if it is in the destructive way or may be she knows the deeply buried sporadic good and nice guy in him. Greta Gerwig not alone is convincing as the attractive but not completely well groomed 25 year old, rather makes sure that the oddity in her attraction towards Greenberg is smooth and unquestionable.

Visiting the city he grew up and living at his brother’s huge house which is a constant reminder of his own failure, the film has humour so home to Baumbach. There is a house party sequence wherein Roger gets high on several drugs and becomes hyperactive and mainly modestly honest. It is not used as a funny bone moment or a lethargic attempt to settle for an easy humour. It gets the set up for the perfect ending which leaves the audience with a smile to take home.

Noah Baumbach as Wes Anderson not alone creates original characters but repeats it with several layers and a different personality and importantly very real. We are the combination of multiple traits and most of the times the films decides a set list labelled on its characters. The completeness helps but the vacillation of the real human mind is Baumbach’s special territory. Here we laugh at/along with Roger and despise his calculated jackass behaviour but we are with him through this tenure truthfully and hope the best for him.

"Factotum" (2005) - Movie Review

“Factotum” is a misnomer for Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon), the low life of this film. He navigates from one job to another as a wave of changing mind than actually performing it. He is at the drain to be flushed out, not by the society but by himself. This film is about his attempt to push his envelope further down. Down and down, again and again. He succeeds in every step of his way, improvising effectively. This is not a pleasant person. He is a drunk, chain smoker, a spiteful character who is absent of any possible evidence of consideration to others and he does so by laboriously being insensitive in passive actions. He is writer’s dream which is to have a character to fathom, explore and explain to the readers of a book and the audience of a film.

It is adapted from the novel of the same name by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski is considered to be an expert writing about these kind of characters and the lives they lead. He himself is a one from the information I gather. Chinaski’s taste for irresponsibility is simply put in first scene. He drives a cooler truck without unplugging it from the socket and drinks at the delivery place leaving the ice to melt in the truck. Irresponsibility is going easy on Hank.

Hank writes, always. That is the purest form of work he ever does with passion, honesty and consideration. All for himself than a reader. Words are the only place he is justifiable and meaningful. Rest of his life is a planned and accepted disaster. May be that is his job for writing well. May be to experience it first hand. The experience of losing a soul within the body and rupture in the dirt and debauchery of the city.

Hank is also a great procrastinator. Now you may think that it comes with the package but no, he does it as an art. His procrastination goes through lifting his leg up to walk and even hold the cigarette in his hand. This is a man wanting to be Travis Bickle without the motivation to kill any one. It is impossible to let go of a character like this for someone like Matt Dillon. He takes it and does everything he possibly could. He succeeds and cherishes his role. Despite the critical and box office success there will be a work for a devoted actor to remember. When they find it, they hold on to it tightly and proudly. As much as “Factotum” might personally is a tough movie to judge, Matt Dillon can take his efforts and dedication to pull his character around with honour and pride.

“Factotum” begins with this man and ends with him where he started. He is though gone beneath everything above the Earth. This alcoholic finds a woman. This is Jan (Lili Taylor), another alcoholic. How they meet is unnecessary because they are meant to rot together. Hank moves in the day after they met and begins to continue his life style. He also gets a job in a bike warehouse. There he finds a friend of convenience. Manny (Fisher Stevens) and Hank share the passion for betting on a horse and they do well. For a while and thought Hank leads a life with money. He appears to be changed but he is not.

The film is a continuous stretch of Hank’s organized failures. It is not about hopelessness but it is about a writer’s twisted mind to go all the way to collect his material. He does not say it and the story does not hint it. This is a personal observation which the writer himself would deny it. He involves himself with this pathetic life. That can be the only reason for this man full of words and wisdom. He recites his writing to his viewer, saying how we pursue our life and frustrating while doing it.

Director Bent Hamer absorbs the material and appear to have worked each and every word of the material. The book happens in the 40s at the midst of World War - II but Hamer makes it for the sinking today for Hank and Jan. There are no solace, comfort or redemption. Despite these low moments and constant self destruction Hank does, “Factotum” begins with aspiration and ends with one too. It provides its point and the reason for its exercise in the end. It is a too devastating to realize the stretch of a writer’s honesty. That is both admiring and saddening. On one hand, Hank has provided his most honest writing by going through with this. On the other hand, he has become that person he writes about. He does not appear to enjoy the life he leads and does not aspire to shake out of it. Every smallest step towards it is immediately put off with a distractive booze.

“Factotum” is not a pleasing film. It made me unsettling and boring in the sandwiched layer of this wretched livelihood. The love or the supposed love Hank begins to have and finally associate with himself towards Jan becomes effortless to us in the end. He leaves us on a high note saying the most unexpected, unusual wise words for him and yet the most truthful. “If you try, go all the way. Otherwise do not even start”. Hank chooses the worst decision of leading this life. And he does not try but goes all the way. There is no turning back.