Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Julia" (2008) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 09, 2010

"The Memory of a Killer" (Language - Dutch) (2003) - Movie Review

“The Memory of a Killer” is the thriller you have seen but not with Jan Decleir in it. He does not do an extraordinary work or he makes it so easy on our eyes. A dying killer is not a good sign for any one because he has one more reason to go on his spree with his nothing to lose attitude. Jan Decleir’s Angelo Ledda is succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease and his change of mind in this case should have been more than a contract to kill a kid but it is never explained. We do not worry or carry that burden as Ledda carries it for us in his tiring eyes and dissipating brain.

While Alzheimer becomes the primary action for his change in life, it never really takes it full effect. Director Erik Van Looy worked on a tag line than a plot line. Nevertheless “The Memory of a Killer” moves as it has always in the cat and mouse thriller game and with a strange empathy towards the killer with no past. Retirement is not an option and age has only made him sensitive than the other way around his job demands.

The trick in the film is to escape those logics of his final redemption. He goes for a job in Antwerp and gets handed two assignments. One he successfully completes with some fragments of incompletion within his mind while the other he comes close to realize that he has to kill a child. To people who are not aware of the code the movie contract killers have is that they have a soft spot for kids. Our Angelo is no different and he takes it personally when someone else does the job he refused. He begins the vengeance.

There has to be a police as crime is still punishable by law. Vincke (Koen De Bouw) is the young man with empty house and slaughtered innocence from his job. The young girl Angelo missed and later completed by his employer is the one Vincke rescued from the claws of a sick father using her for prostitution. Vincke needs assurance and sanity for continuing his job though Koen De Bouw is super fresh and does not carry the ghosts with him. A single look at Jan Decleir and we do not want to know his past as it is written with burned bones in his grey hairs and sweaty face.

The attire Angelo chooses has something to say. He is aging but with style. He is sloppy in his works but he is a gamer lost interest in the game. A joking but perfect analogy is me driving the wrong way in a racing game because I am tired of it. Angelo does not go mad like that but approaches it methodically. His definition of crooks are really low level sick people and that is final deed to the dreadful life he has led. He is consumed by it and begins the hunt.

“The Memory of a Killer” offers little suspense and you do not complain. In Decleir’s performance there is not alone a presence but the simplicity of the killer he wants to be. All his jobs have been without background and he gets to go on a rampage of his choice in his magnum opus. He is a sociopath of a different kind. The goodness in his deepest heart are good for the audience but clinical for Vincke. Vincke has a smart and sharpshooter right hand man Verstuyft (Werner De Smedt). He is focussed with a blind dedication to the job as if a younger version of Decleir. But the film analyzes the similarities in Vincke and Angelo.

When there are two leads in a film, there needs a balance or more than that is a match. Vincke as a character and Koen De Bouw as an actor are no equal to Angelo the character and Jan Decleir the actor. They are not the same and they are not the difference we wish to analyze. They are simply two characters with one very strongly influencing its audience.

Still there is classic text book storytelling in this film. It is simple and does not boast of having a great one. It calmly dictates it and leaves the rest to its casts. Rest is bullets, blood and bodies. The culprits meet their fate and so does Angelo. There is a victory for the good as it should and we leave with a content heart. What it associates the memory of a killer is not the striking blow rather the killer being made into a slightly sympathetic character with no explanation other than his zest for killing the well defined bad guys makes us to be him for the period of film. That memory sticks.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Winter's Bone" (2010) - Movie Review

A place sculpts its people. Crossing boundaries and crossing frontiers will erase their sharp sword but the sheath remains as traces of that remains deeper than the bones and the subtly mixes itself in the blood. “Winter’s Bone” is a story of a place and how it shapes the people in it. They are not stereotypes but characters. They are not mocked but constitute a sense of scary stillness to the place they live. In this land which often follows a violent act with an act of kindness is Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a seventeen year old sister of two being made to an adult.

Debra Granik’s film is the kind of meditation you find in films which has immaculate details in creating an environment along with its character. Like the poetic films of “The Proposition”, “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford” and David Gordon Green’s southern films, Granik takes on the inner veins of Missouri. Though I have studied in this dense state, I dare not claim that I have the knowledge of the culture and the mood of that place. But Granik creates those with an authenticity that is true to the story it forms.

Ree has a sick mother unable to comprehend the reality around her. They just tell she is sick but she can listen and react to what she wants. May be Ree’s disappeared father Jessup’s meth labs have caused her to be that way. That brings to the driving sense for this film which is that Jessup has a court date to appear and has left the house and woods as a bond for his arrest. Now he is going to jump the date and thus the only source of comfort of having a place to stay is getting ripped off from Ree.

She has to find her dad. To do that she enquires, snoops and finally goes to places a seventeen year old does not allowed to be seen. Jessup’s brother Teardrop (John Hawkes) is not inviting of his niece. Teardrop is the collection of all the uncles we all feared as kid. With him around he creates trepidation in lazy movement of his. A face with marks, tattoos and scars that cannot be differentiated, he is not the one to mess with. There is a gun and magazine in place where keys are kept in his house. A mere start of sentence with “Listen” by Ree brings forth a sudden wrath that tells about the man he is. Then again his wife Victoria comes back with some wise advise and some cash for Ree to move on.

Wherever Ree goes, everyone knows the situation. There needs no explanation other than the fact that no one is there to provide the answer she wants. In between these on-the-edge situations Ree gets into we wonder was there even an affection that lived across her dad and the family? There is lot of pride in being a Dolly but abandoning a family for meth lab does not score brownie points for affection with your loved ones. Despite that Ree goes and stares and graces the shoes and clothes of her dad. She daunts and carries a determination in finding her dad dead or alive where risk does not even appear to be on the horizon for her.

There will be those who are denied the opportunity to be kids, teens or even the early part of irresponsible adulthood. Even in a family of strict upbringing, there exists an entry to an exit temporarily into the world unseen. There those kids become kids and in those we have seen people like Ree whose moments to those exits are dropping her young sister to the school. Looking at yearning on the opportunities that will be missed and her life stranded into the responsibility she never opted for. Being that kid and becoming that kid is brought in by Jennifer Lawrence. She does not enter a house with nothing but trouble not because of determination but the confidence in the ability to handle it. It does not scare her because she grew up around meth lab. She is smart around the people who are both deceiving and helping at the same time. When you have people like that there is nothing but your family keeping you inside the small sanity in the house of hers. When that is threatened to be taken away, there emerges those instincts she never knew of or shown of.

John Hawkes is the actor you would have seen as faceless sleazy man in films wherein all he has to do is exist with his devious presence. He is the guy who talks a lot and gets kicked with the support of audience for our action hero. He is also the man giving a complicated yet likable person in “Me You and Everyone We Know”. As Teardrop, the uncle of Ree, he has matured to a degree which have been denied to him in all other films. He is all what he has done in the stereotypic role I mentioned but here there is the conviction. He transitions into the unexpected life saver which is more than the hope you could hope for, even if he snorts coke now and then. That is the world Ree survives upon.

“Winter’s Bone” never denies and takes advantage of its environment for the sake of plot. The characters in here cannot be confirmed by me as real but in this film they cannot get more than that. If I stop by in a remote place of Missouri or drop in the outskirts in a town a colleague of mine comes from, I can see myself running into these people. I might get hit by Merab (Dale Dickey) with her cup, helped by strangers like Sonya (Shelley Waggener) and stared by Ree with her friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser). Debra Granik brings forth the territory which are foreign to Americans yet it is so American in simple subtle actions in the midst of imminent dangers. Seek this film is all I can say.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

"Raavanan" (Language - Tamil) (2010) - Movie Review

Mani Ratnam’s “Iruvar” is the one of the few films of his which tears up the skin a little on its characters. They carry the suave and sophistication of the director’s style and they obey to their senses and give out the people rather than a glossy outlook for a poster. “Raavanan” is the opposite of that where the nature in the background has more flesh and bones to it than the characters. This is director’s second venture into adapting an Indian ancient epic in to his version and modernizing. The first one was “Thalapathi” taking Mahabharatha as its core which fairly does justice to the cast and audience. “Raavanan” takes hints from Ramayana which in the end draws sympathy from us towards the capable actors.

The film begins with bangs and brutal murders. As police men are drawn into the traps of this ferocious unforgiving man Veeraiyya (Vikram), he collects his final prize Raagini (Aishwarya Rai) in the middle of nowhere who is having a leisurely boating trip. There begins the setups for the director’s illusion of poetic imagination to have cinematography of high technical skills but with inconsideration on the job he took of presenting a film. Raagini’s husband Dev (Prithiviraj) is the soft looking but terrorizing police officer obsessed in catching Veeraiyya than rescuing his wife. That should have been flesh to chew for proper entry into this proclaimed hero as this devious personality who has utter disrespect for the way his job is done. Instead we get into this remote camps he stays and Veeraiyya changing locations as and when he pleases.

After a long time you get to see yesteryear actors Prabhu and Karthik in thankless roles. Especially Karthik who made his entertaining presence in the director’s earlier film “Mounda Ragam” as this comical yet commanding personality. Karthik plays Forest Officer Gnaanaprakasam supposed to be Hanuman, the faithful monkey god in the epic. Mani Ratnam ventures into this abysmal loud reference of it by making Karthik jump from trees to buildings and unfunnily mimicking the police officers. Neither Dev or us are impressed by it but Dev has to as the story needs to be continue with Gnaanaprakasam. The officer is the maze solver in this luscious jungle and his capabilities are never exemplified.

If Karthik is for Dev then there is Prabhu for Veeraiyya as the titular character’s elder brother Singarasu. Prabhu as an actor can make any onscreen characters comfortable by his presence. Even in his ferocious character he can make an offbeat friend to Raagini and he does in a way. Then again Mani Ratnam is too interested in the falls and greenery. Prabhu along with Vikram’s Veeraiyya wanders around in the jungle while providing food and zero characterization.

Films which does not carry much sense in story are made into this masterpiece by poetic images. Such is where I would consider Mani Ratnam is at least capable of providing his works. His characters are too polished and become a mannequin than an unfinished yearning line in a poetry. Veeraiyya in his appearance and mannerisms is a man to be feared of and in this film’s case bored of. He rhymes unpopular rhythms to annoyance than scare Raagini. And let me start talking about Aishwarya Rai as Raagini yelling, screaming and wondering what the heck she is doing in a film like this. Here Raagini becomes this judgment towards this two characters. Thee is a pivotal scene wherein the director shows how feared she is in inside by her screaming in a land with blackness but beauty in it. That should have been a daring moment in this film industry to portray something like that yet it lacks the oomph to it. I could appreciate the effort but the execution is quarter baked.

Vikram got to reevaluate his choices at this point. His success in critically acclaimed films are supposed to encourage for similar roles than as a mass hero. While couple of them I would welcome to please those senses of senselessness, but it appears to be his mantra in the past years. Taking up this film would have been an obvious choice but to be left there as Veeraiya is the worst thing he could have asked for.

Characters come by for no reason and disappear as they wish. They serve no purpose other than to fill the screen of beauty in the unseen and untouched southern India. Prithivraj is the only actor who makes much of the little bone he got offered. He is calm, well groomed and carries a menace which we can believe. He is the perfect cast for the Rama’s character because in the way he appears and presents as the accepted hero. He is spotless in attire and action but there lies a creepy cunningness and doubt that the film should have been made surrounding him.

People hail Mani Ratnam for how he takes these ancient stories and applies it to the modern scenario. I would accept that for “Thalapathi” which made a psedo faithful adaptation. It worked because Mahabharatha has complex characters and situations wherein there is this swinging balance of right and wrong. Every one is a culprit in that story and hence when it got over to the director’s adaptation, it easily fit in. In “Ramayana”, the right and wrong are so clearly set from the way the story has been told. Rama is immaculate even when he is cruel in suspecting Sita. He is good looking, charming and supposed to obey parent’s command regardless of how ill conceived and stupid it would be. He is the example Indian men were asked to be. Raavanan is the embodiment of evil although he became the kind of man most of us are, tempted by the beauty and driven by emotions of his sister being humiliated. The indirect and convoluted point Mani Ratnam ineffectively makes is the analogy between these two and say that it is not as black and white as the epic puts forth. Or to be fair and precise on how the epic has been spread out to people. The director’s adaptation is a step by step grueling slow approach of how to waste time and talent of good actors and the technical expertise of his cinematographers.