Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Flirting with Disaster" (1996) - Movie Review

Knowing a neurotic freaky person is different from seeing one. Seeing several of those is different from seeing one. The modern day life style for perfection, overflowing information and more than needed psychoanalysis has given birth to the true breed of dysfunctional family. In olden days, there was an order in this set problems of family but now the balance has been achieved and the chaos has henceforth in full fledged process. “Flirting with Disaster” witnesses many of those people we begin to care but crowds it up and we not really care about them anymore.

Mel Koplin (Ben Stiller), a new father aspiring to counteract this role in finding his biological parents. Do you know that feeling inside you which urges all the crazy cells in your body to go for something when you damn well know that the end result might not be what you are hoping for? Mel has taken a solid potion of it when the movie begins. His wife Nancy is played by Patricia Arquette, yes that blonde seductive and dangerous beauty plays her like a typical fresh mother. Not because of her edgy attitude but because of the way she lets her body flow unaware or not caring to be precise. Saying this might be the easiest judgment and conclusion I would have had but letting your body to go through such naked and explicit makes a woman free herself of the surroundings looking at her, at least for a while. And Arquette along with director David O. Russell makes that a point in their Nancy.

Mel has every one and everything going against him. The new baby without a name, his adopted parents Ed (George Segal) and Pearl (Mary Tyler Moore) going expectedly bonkers on him for his expedition and the tense and vulnerable adoption agency worker Tina (Tea Leoni) drive him through the air, road and inside of his brain. Mel is no clear minded himself. His need to find his roots after these years is a substitute for his fresh and blossoming problem of parenting. Nancy is supportive though is being slowly pushed to the boundaries of being annoyed and used.

“Flirting with Disaster” knows these people on the sledge and brings them one at a time. Seeing them do their things brings smiles out of the misery Mel is been put through. Mel and Nancy fly with Tina to San Diego to the mother (Celia Weston). They meet her and she is a nice enough woman embracing her son she gave away. They begin to share the commonality and the obligations to reflect the hereditary practices gets flowing. Soon it is realized that the woman is not really his mother and the computer did a mistake. Those damn machines of 90s. They always do that. Surviving the greatest awkward moment, they begin to travel towards Michigan to the supposed dad. You know where it is going from there on. May be but the idea is barge in these characters from varied places and put them to the mix in the pathetic situation of Mel and Nancy, and yes Tina too.

Everything goes fun and frolic and absorbing some sumptuous pleasure in these people’s pain. And David O. Russell wants more. He gets all the interesting characters we met in the first hour of the film and takes them to one spot where Mel’s actual and confirmed real parents are, (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin). A bad choice indeed and they champion that mistake till the credits. A film which smells so much abundance of independent movie making inviting good stars in this flick loses all its ticklish but real sense of comedy and pain with thorough rinse of out of the roof chaos.

There is Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Alan Alda and other talented names bringing riveting craziness to their American characters. Richard Jenkins and Josh Brolin on his early play this two cops that seemingly become increasingly a parallel to the married Nancy and Mel. Do not you just hate it when a film lets you down raising itself high and high and then finally not particularly shatter into pieces but simply fizzling it in the aim of achieving beyond borders of limitations? Well if you do not know, you will probably find it in “Flirting with Disaster”.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Hunger" (2008) - Movie Classic

You do not need to take a stand, side with the IRA or hate it or be neutral. You do not need to be sympathetic or hateful towards the cause. You do not have to know much of Bobby Sands played with a brutality and dangerous grit by Michael Fassbender. You do not have to like what he does, the perils he puts through and others in the name of the belief he bores. You do not have to look for meaning, poetry or sight for redemption in Steve McQueen’s “Hunger”. You just have to watch it because a movie like this comes once in a long time and it damn well deserves the attention regardless of what you think of anything.

It follows the final days of Bobby Sands in his 1981 hunger strike in Maze prison. Before deciding to go for the hunger strike, he and his fellow prisoners were on “no wash” strike. A new prisoner enters as room mate to Bobby Sands whose walls are pasted with feces and the man himself is covered in hair. In the long narrow corridors carrying these prison rooms becomes an arena for flooding urine from their cells, getting beaten by the prison officers and get smashed over the brick walls in the process. These are few of the violence. The real violence comes in the form self consuming putting them into the worst test of their body and mind.

Dialogues are sparse except a spellbinding 17 minute single shot scene between Bobby Sands and his priest (Liam Cunningham) which is the only time we hear his philosophies, explanation, determination, stubborn and the little left comedy in his destructing body. The length is there to not perturb the moment. The serenity of that scene has to be intact through the clouds of cigarette smokes. As though McQueen and the actors were containing a cracking glass of water, they hold it closely and tightly. It is not to show they can do it but to maintain the stillness and the aggressiveness in the conversation. It is the pivotal scene to put its viewers through the course of this man’s extreme belief for the rest of the film.

There needs a mind shuddering incident for people to act together. Emotional upheaval from mass of people comes forth of witnessing utter brutality. Sands chooses to do it to himself and feels so right about his decision to keep his course till his brain has shrunken enough to hallucinate and pass out of pain. The film is carefully constructed wherein the only talk between the prisoners and the officers are the slamming of those police sticks on their naked body. It is a one way talk from the officers by the way.

It is an obvious question to search for the reason to go in the details of this torture the protagonist put himself through. The reason is clear for the individual but not for the audience. We are not here to judge his decision or the sanity of it but to see there is something beyond the tale. There is a migration of those terrible violence and self destruction coming outside of the screen. It reaches out inside us to not alone disgust on this raw nature of pain but to realize that there is a pain which cannot be comprehended. The characters are not alone pitiful which they do not expect but there is something in the air along with their protest on contaminating it with their feces.

“Hunger” is not a pleasant film if you have not figured it by now. It has immense violence, very affecting in nature but it is also a film defining the extremities of human vigour in carrying out something. It is given like an impossible mountain climbing and the hardship to attain the peak. In most of these stunts for achievement, the trick is to come back alive while Bobby Sands knows where this road is going and that is indeed his peak. He has the set mind of a suicide bomber and the difference is that he is taking himself alone. Though he persuades his fellow prisoners to do the hunger strike along with him spanning it in gaps to counter for the death in the process. 9 more members died after him.

The scenes are extended from your normal attention span the Hollywood has dumbed down to. In the corridor after the urination protest, a guard cleans the floor. He splashes the detergent/disinfectant liquid throughout the corridor. Then he goes and begins cleaning it pushing it with the scrubbing floor brush. We see him do the entire floor and that particular part appeals to you on unexplainable levels. Is it a metaphor? Is it symbolism? It is nothing but a man cleaning the excreted human waste, yet there is more humanism and inhumanity in it. You will know what I mean when you see it.

“Hunger” is beyond the visual emotional drama and is Fassbender’s dangerous dedication to his character. In the final scenes of the known demise of his character, his body is nothing but degraded bones, his skins are nothing but sores and his mind is nothing but unfathomable determination. I cannot admire the hunger strike nor degrade it to the stupidity. It birthed igniting other people to enlist in the cause which again resulted in more violence. But this is not about the right and wrong of a belief. It is about a man caught up in it and ready to go all in slowly, surely, sacredly and stupidly in his own way. This is more than a visual dark poetry. This is the extremity of a human body and the limitlessness of the mind over it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Forgiven" (2006) - Movie Review

The indie film “Forgiven” is a good project film for writer/director/actor Paul Fitzegerald and it is a compliment. He has a tough story to say and have some brilliant unknown actors at his service. Every one delivers and the movie is a good film but does not entirely provides the effect of drama it began to venture. It is a sad story and a conflicting one too. In this considerably short feature film, it has a mood, ambience and people to be dissected but there is a layer which is missing. The layer of complete emotional closure. It does not play like a short story or a film which depends on the mood which throws it into the category of good try but no cigar.

District Attorney Peter Miles (Paul Fitzegerald) is the all American man in the town of Stuartsville. Sharp, clean, articulate and a natural charisma poses him as the ideal candidate for US Senate position. With wife Kate (Susan Floyd) and son Jake (Cooper Agar), job to do and a bible study to attend, he has everything going fine in his life. For death row inmate Ronald Bradler (Russell Hornsby) the man Peter convicted several years ago, it does not look good. His Attorney Jamie (Kate Jennings Grant) has given up hopes along with him and they are ready to put him to sleep. In the final moments, the call comes from the Governor to pardon him. He is free and Peter gets questions from every one. He is convinced Ronald is guilty while Ronald appears like a man in the wrong time and place.

There is no detailed mention of the crime other than a murder of a cop. Ronald has been inside the walls for several years to pound himself on the unfortunate events of his life. He is out and he has tough time adjusting to the unfairness of the system. He has been exonerated and yet he gets treated like a convict. His previous employer promised a job which he backed off. He is angry at the system and mainly the man who put him through this. Peter apart from dodging questions is questioning himself on the race card being used on his appeal for death penalty on three of his cases. All these runs fine and impressive in dealing it with a care than a melodrama.

Ronald’s pain is real and we along with others are startled on his disregard for the second chance he got. The reality is that we see him as a convict too. There is no necessity to explain his innocence but there is a space between his exoneration and his mistake of an act which goes vague and substantial enough. Having said that, the actor playing Ronald is nothing short of brilliant. Russell Hornsby gets the note so perfect with this man struggling inside and questioning the conscience and the system he is in. Even when the film does not do a terrific job of him doing the unthinkable in the end, he makes it believe it. He gives Ronald as this seriously disturbed man by the turn of events he did not start.

“Forgiven” touches on various topics to ponder. Death penalty, justice system and the existence of right and wrong. As the film spins out slowly to the tragedy we are now sure of, there is a new revelation which makes it even stronger on a definite loss. In the midst of the people choosing their decisions and acting on emotions, the people surrounding them are the absolute victim and in the case of Ronald and Peter it becomes their family in a very direct manner. Both men are tilted by a moment’s choice and live with it.

I did like “Forgiven” for the most part because it is a well done film and a film handling itself with the maturity and professionalism where most of the budding indie film misses. It was breath of fresh air to see this area of film industry taking things a little more public and large than simple family drama. It puts the topics on the table for the public debate and forks through the controversy in our daily life. Paul Fitzegerald is definitely an able film maker and an actor. Out here he is good but he can be really good which will be what I will be expecting in his next film.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Splice" (2010) - Movie Review

Creating a new life form lets the screenwriter loose on a wide ground not only to vividly stretch their imagination but to take bad advantage of that boundary to do anything they want without reason for explanation. Director Vincenzo Natali is not a science fiction film maker alone but also carries certain cleverness which I noticed in film “Cube”. “Splice” is not a conventional shock show. It does have some of those but it has a dense plot in hands and seriously raises some questions beyond ourselves as the answers gets murky and muddled, Natali dumps the film into traditional demise. Such a shame.

Geeky couple Clyde (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have opened the crazy doors into merging DNAs and creating new species. Why they create a new species? To churn out products for their funding corporate Newstead Pharma to have their glory medicinal miracle. Clyde and Elsa work themselves to death and they are good at it. They manage to create disgusting fleshy and blobby creatures Fred and Ginger. They are not the medical magic gone wrong story we are going to witness. When Clyde and Elsa propose the idea to merge human DNA into their newly formed species to unravel the medical utopia of a future, the boss woman (Simona Maicanescu) shuts the “splicing” project down demanding results. No more pet creation. Real product is the demand and the deadline will be sooner than they can think.

Elsa has a history, a family history, a crazy family history which we are not exposed to but enough to know to be scared. She keeps pushing the experiment, little by little and just has to nudge her companion Clyde to keep going. They work hard through days in seclusion from the team to combine a female DNA into the Fred/Ginger creature DNA. The resultant of these are unclear or not explained but where Vincenzo wants to take us is clear. The ethical, moral and the unexplainable values and stands we have to take in this story. It cannot be more unclear yet fascinating.

In “Mythbusters” TV series, I remember one of Adam Savage’s line “I reject reality and substitute my own” to explain his often playful ventures he does in the show. It applies to the disturbingly messed up Elsa. She knows the limits for this experiment and keeps on going convincing herself and Clyde on the way. First she asks for succeeding in the integration and storing of the DNA cells. Then when it is done, she wants to get it injected into Ovum to see whether they “actually” succeeded. When the growth is unusually fast, she is fine giving delivery and when the part human part something else comes out, she nurtures it like a mother. In all these events Clyde stands there letting it happen with very little protest.

“Splice” has to be credited for its intelligence in taking up this field to debate on the defined norms, philosophies, values and ethics. When people are commitment phobic and dare to even take the plunge in owning a pet, creating something which begins to develop emotions, interaction and affection takes it out of the science project. For Elsa it gets out of the science when the creature begins to respond to her coaxing motherly skills. Soon she names her Dren (Delphine ChanĂ©ac) and they begin to form a relationship which becomes creepy, scary and an end no one is going to like.

The party of interest in this film is Dren. She cannot speak even though she has a tongue. Her physique is different but sexy. She has an odd charm and springs the wacky nature of being a female. The changes she goes through in her body confuses her and she reacts to it. She gets a parenting with a hybrid (no pun intended) of a pet and a spoiled kid. Elsa dangerously gets close to this which in every step of it screams danger. Yet she takes it and the only member who can see it is Clyde and he stares and stands helpless succumbing to the overhauling success of decision making from Elsa.

The film then takes a dive into unknown territories which even it cannot understand. And that is a compliment. This is a realm which we cannot comprehend. The capability and the capacity of the power we could handle in putting out something totally non-existent in the nature is far more beyond than exposing the philosophical righteousness. This becomes about the responsibility in doing something of that caliber. Much like handling a super power energy source, this shakes the balance of today’s existing ecosystem. But maybe the new form will form an ecosystem of its own, though we humans will not be a part of it. That is the scary part the film stresses subtly.

“Splice” is unexpected in unraveling its story which is the best part about it. The scientists that are unimaginably intelligent, diligent and precise in their work are not the sharp tools when it comes to decisions. Elsa as an individual is a submissive psychotic woman while Clyde is simply a man. Elsa needs an emotional screwing while Clyde literally needs one. All works out in the worst way possible. Unfortunately for a film which makes the corporate talk about next phase, it does not take it to the next phase in being mature. It becomes the horror film where the creature attacks for no reason and soon it needs to be killed for the film to be ended.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Quiz Show" (1994) - Movie Review

Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show” is not alone the commentary on early day celebrity status attaining its eventual snow ball in the 1950s but it is that and many other things. Few of them being the admirations, adulations, erudition, betrayal, trust and ridiculous amount of money an average person could lay their hands on. This is the kind of film which understands the need to dig deeper than to religiously and uninterestingly follow the uncovering of a rigged game show. It goes to the human sociology and the psychology developed from this game show on early TV days.

Twenty-one was the game’s name. A quiz show which had the contestants battle in their intellectual ability playing week after week to keep on going for money, fame and the thrill. Based on true events, the film begins with Herb Stempel (John Turturo) being on a roll with his ability to topple his opponents and keep America noticing him. He epitomes the hope of an average citizen and that of the network by keeping his ratings up. The ratings though is slowly coming down and that means he needs to be booted out. The program’s sponsor Geritol Tonic thinks so and so does the chief broadcasting officer of the then NBC. They ask Herb to bow down and leave. More than that he is asked to flunk one of the easiest question for that time which is to name the film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955. It is one of Herb’s favourite film, “Marty”. It travels beyond flunking and into humiliation and embarrassment.

This is a display of likable and charming intellectuals than the regular slobs. The days for average Joe has declined with the not so great looking Herb. The able contestant and the charmer would be Charles Von Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of literary Professor Mark Von Doren (Paul Scofield) and the nephew of Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Carl Von Doren. He has the right background, the blonde hair, sharp physique and a smile that could bring down the audience. He has seen this show and comes there to audition for another quizzing show. Al Freedman (Hank Azaria) spots him and reports to the producer of Twenty-one, Dan Enright (David Paymer) who can see this stunning fellow oomph the show. Stempel would hit the ground to this man and then comes the real catch, the answers are provided for further games to develop a fan base for Charles. This is celebrity at works.

Charles initially hesitates on this foul play though at the wake of this new medium, there is a line of ethics that has not been clearly drawn. Movie media is fiction at works to woo its audience. It is formulated, developed and produced gaging the interest the people longed for. The entertainment is a clear business of giving what the people want in one form or another. How different is television? Television fiction drama is one thing but how does it play for game shows where real people entered to win something beyond their regular paycheck? The people were naive but roared for popular faces. Charles is asked a familiar question which startles him though he wins. Suddenly he is on the heights of jubilation, something other than the money has grabbed him which is the fame.

Charles becomes the face that America loves and soon he has no problem getting questions and answers well before the show. Though a thoroughly well educated man, as any son idolizing their father, he wants his approval, attention and celebration of him from his father. Charles father Mark is presented by Paul Scofield with an elegance and a suavity which gives snobs a high respect. Mark is right to the point and his humour is classy harmless sarcasm. He has expectation on his son to be a family man as academically he is happy with him. He does not care about the new status his son has achieved. Charles yearns for that to be noted more than his academics.

In this mix comes Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young and aspiring Harvard Law School graduate in to US Congress of Legislatives to probe on this quiz show. He finds Charles particularly charismatic than others might see him. They have a mutual respect for the intellectual ability they both share. Dick in a way adores this man but knows that he is not seeing everything. He begins his investigation and eventually runs into the disgruntled, humiliated and complaining Herb whom John Turturo depicts as an undeserving champion. This leads to finally unraveling the scheme.

Redford brings everything together and even gets Martin Scorsese as the tycoon of the Pharmaceuticals company Geritol to give short but powerful performance. He deals with more than the subject of celebrity. It goes to tell how the idea of corporation was well deep rooted to throw its simple naive principles under the bus and comes out more than clean and how it keeps repeating till date. Their appearance might be slimy but they rule the floor where every one stands. This is a drama constructing on its characters and finally releasing the ethical and moral fraudulent behaviour these contestants let them do to themselves and the millions others. The corporate runners know the evil as what its for and hence know the way to deal with it to themselves and in when they are in jeopardy. It is the everyday people facing the choice who assumes to be confused. They have already made the choice to go for the gain. When the lights are on and when there is more than money and approval at stake, the wake is imminent with terrible consequences. “Quiz Show” is an exercise on that bringing some splendid story telling and performances.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Babies" (2010) - Movie Review

Think about this, four babies from four different nation and director Thomas Balmes with his crew will capture the myriads of cute actions, steps, smiles, cries, anger and discoveries from these little precious human beings. This has got to be the best possible idea to come up with for a film, isn’t it? Much to the surprise of mine, “Babies” having several of those cuteness fizzles out like an amateur running a marathon. Beautiful and artful it is but there should be something more than that.

This 79 minutes long documentary does what I mentioned and focusses on these small creatures with their siblings, parents, animals and their surroundings. There is a contrast drawn upon the way each of these parents nourishing and parenting their flesh and blood. The much more far and impressive of these four will be seeing Ponijao grow up in Opuwo, Namibia. Born in the tribes, the infant is brought up not without care but more towards the basic harshness of the nature. That means crawling on the stoned surface and flies circulating him constantly. We are worried, sometimes shocked but the point of the matter is that somehow most part of it are how our ancestors without the birth of these luxuries and technology would have brought their kids. True that it exposes dangers bringing the mortality closer but seeing Ponijao and several others survive it informs about our basic natural instincts.

Seeing Ponijao been brought up in those tough environment, the next better environment would be for Bayar from Bayanchandmani, Mongolia. With scenic surroundings and cattle wandering around naturally mowing the grass, Bayar has some interesting qualms with his sibling. This will be followed by Mari in Tokyo, Japan and Hattie in San Francisco, USA. The names of the parents, siblings or any history of their education, work and lifestyle are not discussed. There are no interviews, dialogues or any text mentioning some information about the reason they chose these four or the objective of these close follow up. It is the objective of the film and it sufficiently keeps our interest levels on the curiosity of babies learning and understanding little things.

Later things goes where I got into the territory of being restless. I wanted to see more than babies doing cutesy stuff. It is not a necessity to have dialogues. We see the encounters of babies with the animals simultaneously and see their reactions. The animals are unaffected and withstand the naive tortures these infants impose. There is a commonality of the rivalry developing with their siblings. It ends there.

Regardless of the qualms I have, “Babies” does have some breathtaking shots of the nature and the nature of bringing up the babies in different parts of the globe. The film boldly takes the close up shots of feeding and the innocence at its work. The innocence, unawareness and seeing these miniature beings of our once long and forgotten memory is exciting. What is the thought that goes in their mind when they laugh at nothing? How emotions translate and how it is unbelievable to see their grasping ability. These are all the questions and amazement any one would have seeing any kid. They are the same seeing them in better photography and good music to accompany them.

“Babies” is the film where you cannot refuse your love. It is true because this is ultimate purity of human beings in action. There is something so clean, clinical and colourful about this process of growing up and in this film it is out there without a doubt. There is a time limit for everything, even the best of things and here they push their luck. Even with the very short 79 minutes, “Babies” begin to appear going on and on. We smile and chuckle at these adorable kids but soon enough we want to know them more and their surroundings even more.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

"The Contender" (2000) - Movie Review

Nothing has been so captivating and engrossing I have seen in the political thriller genre as I did in “The Contender”. It plays like a David Mamet film but it has a life of its own. Its characters speak out plain and upfront unlike in Mamet but has the edgy nature of the great writer’s works. It has performances that can rightly be called sharp even though it is a cheesy word for a reviewer. It stands firm on principles as “Nothing But the Truth” did couple of years back and I learned as I am writing this line that Rod Lurie is the writer/director for that masterpiece too. This comes so close and so millimeter far away from the great stance of classics but for personal reasons becomes a great film and not so great enough to call it the classic. Clear as mud isn’t it?

A heroic Governor (William Petersen) is the bright light of hope to fill the vacancy left so by the sudden death of a Vice President serving President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges). But the President chooses Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) and this does not sit well with the Member of Congress Shelly Runyon. That is Gary Oldman playing the balding curly haired unlikable congressman. The confirmation hearing becomes the battle ground for slaying Hanson because Runyon ran a digging expedition on Laine’s life. This reveals a graphic photographs of her having an orgy when she was nineteen as a part of a sorority initiation.

On the front it appears like this high tensioned hearing drama which it does have but not the back and forth argument in a court room drama. The drama is outside this hearing, inside the White House and the office rooms in Washington D.C. Joan Allen’s Laine holds her ground stating that she will not comment or talk about it to the press, to the world of men surrounding her including the President. This film thrills in the strategies the people move and talk. The idea of power and its greatest nature put in effect. Threats flying like a juicy cocktail and the pleasure on having that ability to do so. This is arrogance glorified because the characters are playing survival technics in politics. They cannot literally eat other but can tear apart with words and sneaky innuendoes. This is politics at its best.

Shelly Runyon does not want to elect her because in his opinion she is not qualified. He milks information from one of the President’s compadre that the second man for the job was Jack Hathaway, the Governor who jumped without hesitation towards a car splashing into the lake he was fishing. He begins his works and assembles the men. One of them is an aspirant and energetic young man Representative Webster (Christian Slater). He is driven, ideal and learning the dirty game under the experienced. Everyone is very well convinced of the nation’s best interest and the greater good of their philosophies being put to use. When one wants something that is against their ideals, and values they have to convince themselves of the righteousness in doing it. When you are in the business of politics as Runyon, you do a damn good job of convincing yourself. To convince others, it is a cake walk and to a budding politician, do not even talk about it!

Gary Oldman cannot be more spiteful and hateful. He cannot be more ruthless in generating such an unforgiving resentment from his audience to the character he plays. His Runyon is the perfect zest for the certainty he believes in. Joan Allen as his direct target provides one of the calm and focussed performance in her Senator Laine Hanson. Being the Governor’s daughter and fighting against that shadow and then following it with the fact of being the woman in the men’s world, she is a strong politician. She comes through as a great mother, wonderful political daughter and a gracious wife.

If there can be a film President who can embrace the celebrity status of the position and make the person look righteous at the same time, that can be Jeff Bridges. Here he is so in control of this President, not slipping away into dilemmas or long pauses. He knows what he is doing and he charms his people with that status. He constantly changes the menu for his food schedule giving orders at the last minute and makes himself an ordinary person in enjoying these simple pleasures of being in power. Sam Elliott as his right hand man Kermit is equally enigmatic, loyal and threatening by his side.

“The Contender” cannot stop itself from being this most astounding thriller in word games and battle. Yet when the show is about to over, there comes the speech from the President. I thought the film deserves an applause ending and hence it goes with the nature of the field its playing. It went on and then on a little and that marginal “on” with the final smiles and claps snapped the forgiveness I developed for that finale. It does not mean it is a bad scene but for me even though the falter is insignificant to an otherwise great film, it stood miles away from the film I was watching. I was in a miniscule disbelief. But this is terrific film making and on the principle advocacy of its commentary on this historically marred man’s world, “The Contender” is the right path to the roads of equality and standard.

"Get Him to the Greek" (2010) - Movie Review

You would think that Judd Apatow and his fraternity after creating this comedy genre/routine would burn out in this male bonding streak. You are wrong. Comes from the director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, Nicholas Stoller takes Aldous Snow from his film to “Get Him to the Greek”, another raunchy comedy flick the Apatow production has managed to come up successfully. It dips down to the bottom of traditional butt jokes and drug trips but comes out as film from this production house containing sweet moments and nice smile to end it with a heart.

Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) an English rock star has hit the rock bottom after his abysmal last album “African Child” claimed as the worst thing happen to Africa since Apartheid. Yes it is that bad. Hell broke lose after that and to top it off, his long time girl friend and collaborator Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) breaks up and takes away his child. In America is our chubby friend Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) living with his nurse girl friend Daphne (Elisabeth Moss). Their relationship appears to be day and night, I mean in the literal sense of the words. Aaron works as an executive in a record production company, a day job while Daphne is on night shifts.

Aaron’s boss Sergio (Sean Combs) is on the lookout for breakthrough ideas to revamp the music revenue. Our man suggest an idea to put up a ten year anniversary show of the declining rock star which flies good and bam! He is on plane to meet the on the edge rock star. Russell Brand’s snaky maneuver of his attire and behaviour on its own causes a strange nature of unsettling comedy. Still we can see how he can be magnetic to his fans. He is an alcoholic, drug addict, sex monger and forms every letter on the word decadence. This is a man off the ledge and floating in air to let the gravity do its job. Aaron is there to get him to the LA concert theatre before he falls off completely. Their journey becomes the running joke.

Stoller uses all the possible scenario the comedies made their mark on. I could not identify anything new in the set up but the characters are unique, likable and in the genuine lookout for love and care. Aaron left US after a terrible fight with Daphne and he thinks they are officially on the break. A bad catalyst like Snow is only there to ignite him to drunken debauchery. Aaron consistently tries to get the man to the flight and Snow goes through as if there is no urgency. He is carefree and lives in his world of sad, despair and alone numbness.

Reading the previous paragraph, you might mistake it to be an overly dark story of the rock star but it is true comedy in works. One’s desperate sadness becomes another’s comedy. Here Snow’s struggle with himself comes out as never ending party orgy and Aaron happens to be the driver for this madness. Result is a raunchy, sex filled, deservingly R-rated fun coming through as comforting heart warming ending to not become disgustingly cheesy. It places and plays itself honestly to categorize into the string of success this crew did in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

Aaron is psyched to meet his rock idol and Snow does not bully him or treat him with disrespect. He simply self destructs and Aaron has to pretend to love the worst album of his god to be the great. Their first mission is to land for the “Today’s Show” and perform a song. Snow wants to perform “African Child” while Aaron suggest one of his old classics. At the moment to perform, Snow reveals he has completely forgotten the lyrics for “African Child” and Aaron runs to find someone who might know the lyrics. See Snow has to choose “Clap” out of desperation rather than putting down his ego. In that scene, Aaron could have looked it up in his Internet phone but he runs on the streets and building to look for it. Even in that made up scene and a blatant mistake, Stoller makes it work through Russell Brand. And I was surprised by the way the songs worked with its horrible lyrics. I would not lie that I will be buying couple of songs from this film.

Talking about Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, they carry their character with respect and strange admiration. When Brand’s Snow asks the honest opinion of Hill’s Aaron on “African Child”, Hill lays it out. The reaction from Snow would be simple to go ballistic therein showing his stereotype persona of a celebrity. Instead Snow replies with the combination of anger and respect. It not alone brightens the day in a scene where formula comedy was written and highlights the nature of its characters. The same characters engage in a total chaotic unpredictable sex experiment in the end which only throws its audience out of their guessing game. You cannot figure out the reasoning for it and neither does its characters which becomes compromising in a good way. “Get Him to the Greek” gets it there, loud, funny and a little bit of sweetness in the end.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Girl on the Bridge" (Language - French) (1999) - Movie Review

Patrice Leconte’s “Girl on the Bridge” is not plot work. It is a story of two people meant to be together for their fortunes to turn good for once in their life. They are an unusual pair but it is no choice for them other than to be together. The faith over fate and luck is the driving force behind this film. It drives its audience to hope for the faith to come true in the end which it eventually does much to no one’s surprise. But it is the journey not the destination that gives a cinematic experience of Leconte’s presentation.

Adele (Vanessa Paradis) sadly tells her story to a group of people we are not shown. Not sure where and to whom she is confiding but her life story is the naivety and stupidity in full throttle. She left home for the first boy she could lay her eyes on and from there it has been jumping stones over the stream. What she has not realized is the chilly touch of the beautiful stream is the pleasure she is missing out. She says she has not lost anything as she has not had anything or anyone. To end this frustration which is neither extreme sadness nor a decisive depression, she stands on the ledge on a bridge busy enough to get a man (Daniel Auteuil) to converse. She survives and he recruits her. What is the job? We do not get to know for a while or we do not take the man seriously when he requests Adele to join him for his knife throwing business.

He is man who knows more than Adele knows herself. He can sense her in his sleep and far away. This is done with the literal instances of telepathy between him and her but it is more about the nature and law of attraction that exist. He knows it but treats it clinically while she does not understand it well enough. He saves her from further obvious tragedy of falling for men with warm smiles and cold hands. She cannot resists as it has become her addiction to follow the tragedy. Adele represents Leconte’s perspective towards the nature of women and many men will stand by him for that.

This is a movie about the wittiness of the script and the charm of the knife thrower Gabor and the infectious cuteness of Adele. Adele when we are introduced and before meeting Gabor has short hair with boredom in her eyes. Gabor takes her under his wings and begins to do a makeover. At the end of it, she blossoms of infinite aura tracking her wherever she goes and Vanessa Paradis is such a beauty that her character glows like sun in the twilight. Gabor is done with the maturity and command of Daniel Auteuil. He plays him with a man without expectation. He has given up on it and knowing Adele as he does with an impulse, she can walk out anytime and anywhere as many men did in her life.

The movie is completely shot in Black and White with immaculate cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou. It is an essay with flagrant description of its stage players and the props they use. Leconte did “Man on the Train” after this, one of my beloved films. I saw “Intimate Strangers” following that, another unpredictable work from the director. All these films have characters knowing their counterpart more than one would assume. As they go on, the bond only becomes stronger and trustful. Sometimes they would like to swap their life and sometimes they would like to simply listen and other times, they want to gaze the stars and rant about their lives. They can mesmerize you with it. All these films carry a poetry in pristine form of presentation and yet it appears to resemble an old nostalgic dusty photograph we all forgot long time ago.

Leconte makes a sexy film with throwing knives at the cutest girl. Gabor gets his skill to high perfection with challenges expanding with one performance after another. His newfound girl draws the same kind of unexplainable joy and terror as he does throwing knives at her. Both begin to suck that juice and go on from one country to another while testing their fortune at Casinos. They become the success they gave up hope upon. Still they are not completely happy with themselves. When they lose each other, even in their sorrow, they are charmingly sympathetic.

“Girl on the Bridge” will be those films drawing the most cheesiest form of romantic comedy, the great presence of chance, coincidence, luck and yet uses it with an apt sense of aestheticism. With its two magnetic lead actors, they provide a love story with comedy, magic and elegance. By the end of the film, despite your belief on fate and luck, you cannot resist the restlessness of these two people being apart.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"Protagonist" (Documentary) (2007) - Movie Review

Unconditional love for films comes when there is an impeccable evidence that it has spoken to you clearly and personally. Jessica Yu’s documentary “Protagonist” not only does that but humbles beyond you can accept. This is one of the best documentary I have seen and this is a film you deserve to watch for the sake of yourself. This is unbelievable film making with a study of humans through four characters and running parallel to the Euripidean dramatic structures. If you are wondering what it is, then do not worry because I had no clue about it either when I was watching the film. The only thing you need to know is to be open to the puppet show they put in which holds hands with the interviews and brings in a philosophical poetry to this film.

Jessica Yu chooses four men. Hans-Joachim Klein, Mark Salzman, Joe Loya and Mark Pierpont. Four men will tell their life stories and four men will put it in with great honesty, humility and audacity. These stories are moving, enlightening, comedic, inspiring and will reflect our own metamorphosis. Each of them have a rough past and the stages are given in the dramatic structures which brings smiles, goose pumps and sheer joy of getting everything right in this spectacular movie.

Hans-Joamchim Klein grew up seeing his Nazi father’s hate and a mother sent to a concentration camp as she was a Jew only to commit suicide. He has seen the horrific nature humanity can be on blindly abiding and idolizing the atrocious events on beliefs. He rebels and becomes a flag bearer for the movement of speaking up. He takes it up too far and before the time of realization, too much has happened and he can live only in regret and slow redemption. This is his story.

There is Mark Salzman growing up as physically small and fragile kid. Picked on by bullies, he needs a form of hope and self confidence. He finds it in martial art, the feel to be super human and be able to have that magical presence and respect. He forms a religion of his own through this and thrives to be the Zen he read about. He joins a martial arts school where the master is close to a mad man but is the one he aspires to be. He thoroughly enjoys it as he befriends the biggest bully in this process. But there is a corner to be turned and when he does that, everything changes. This is his story. I learned that Mark is the spouse of Jessica Yu which makes it an even bolder approach to her film and reflects on the great risk Mark took.

Joe Loya had a perfect life of joy till the age of seven. His mother died due to cancer after which his father loses his control. He becomes abusive towards his kids and Loya could not help himself or his kid brother. Growing up believing in the Christian lifestyle, these change him into a violent raging youth. Soon the lid is off and he becomes full fledged bank robber getting off on the high through rage. That becomes his life and his way of control. This is his story.

Mark Pierpont grew up as the odd man in his family. Being extremely sensitive, his friends and family saw him as this weird kid not belonging anywhere. His only relation became God and for that he sacrifices his identity. Or to be precise, erases and castrates his identity of being gay. Every thought about male attraction became his greatest failure and the only way to deal with it is to become the minister propagating Jesus, love and no to homosexuality. Soon he is the face for successful conversion from gay to being straight. Yet there is only so much one can hide from themselves This is his story.

These four men will navigate us through their troubles through their story. Their waking moments and the blindness, their love and the idea of love, their certainty and their loss of control are layered with a confident precision. While their life has traumatic experiences which many of us are fortunate to not go through, their lessons in identifying themselves cannot be more identical than ours. We are them and that is where we gel into their stories and become protagonist ourselves.

“Protagonist” uses the Greek play into these men’s interviews. That becomes a commentary of these stories. The beautiful structure in which Yu takes us through makes this a documentary of more emotional appeal than any other I have imagined. Seeing this film, I was reminded of Michael Apted’s Up documentaries. Apted’s film is about his life project of tracking a group of people in UK right from the age of 7 and revisiting their lives every seven years. The last film was “49 Up” and in that and every other previous films, we are moved and delighted by their growth towards life. There is reflection of it which baffles our mind of how we will be or we were like them continuously changing and learning things far and beyond. This film gets those in a single take.

Being moved in a documentary is more real than a fiction film. Hence in the fear of sounding harsh and mean I would say evoking sympathy to their characters in documentary is not a challenge because being human is to sympathize and empathize. I have greater appreciation for fiction film to bring that out as it needs work and effort. The reason is that the objective of both these mediums are vastly different. In “Protagonist”, Jessica Yu uses her documentary as an art project and into a human study and finally a self revelation. It works as a poetry, a story teller and life with such a love for its subject.

These four people are audacious in telling their story with passion and truth. Their pain and suffering to grow up in this world and to be accepted and exist becomes a tool to analyze our childhood. They spring to the ring with the topic of who we are and how we shape ourselves into this adult. The ripe and moldable age of youth beckons and demands a strong and firm answer. Once found, it becomes the matter of pride, ego and their purpose to live for. Soon the confrontation happens on the realities of those philosophies and values. Some keep on going with the arrogance and some learn the humility. These four men does the latter. This is a film which along with many other qualities slaps you with gentleness and humbles you, to yourself.