Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Homicide" (1991) - Movie Classics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Morning Glory" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Megamind" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Stone" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Due Date" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Buried" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Conviction" (2010) - Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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