Monday, December 19, 2011

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011) - Movie Review

Mission Impossible series for this reviewer has become an enigma of action clusters with buried insignificant details. The first one perplexed the hell out of me, the second installment screamed stupidity, the third one carried itself sufficiently well and here comes the fourth one. Produced by Tom Cruise, he should really believe in this franchise and mainly he seems to have too much fun doing this. Suspending everything that remotely resembles logic which is how these films are expected to be watched, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” delivers nothing less and nothing more. Well, a lot more in terms of world wide travel and stunts gargantuan floating through the IMAX screens.

After personally taking up running in this beautiful 2011, I have great appreciation for the sprints Tom Cruise does through Ethan Hunt. Nothing like the sprints Francois Cluzet did in the French film “Tell No One”, nevertheless Cruise runs with style, vigour and carries the kinetic energy fueling this rocket with slams and bam that would leave anyone into bag of crumbled bones.

Cruise as Ethan Hunt is picked up from rescue mission by Agent Carter (Paula Patton) and promoted Benji (Simon Pegg). As this seems to be a routine in this franchise, it begins with an Agent getting killed and here is Lost famous star Josh Halloway as Agent Hanaway. Alas there are codes that were stolen from him by a devilish and beautiful blonde Sabine (Lea Seydoux) and there is a madman Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) ready to do the craziness expected out of these film’s antagonists. Regardless it paves way to some spectacular travel for Hunt and his team.

Joins Jeremy Renner as William Brandt to add to the testosterone for more than a handful of larger than life stunts that as much as illogical it appears makes you lose breath in the way of its execution. Starting from Josh Halloway’s jump on the back to shoot and land safely through the prison escape of Hunt towards the Kremlin high tech extraction and marching into poor Tom Wilkinson’s cameo in pitstop and to the spectacular skyscraper extravaganza in Dubai and then onto finish in India, this is nothing but an exhibition of splendid action sequences that are choreographed, performed, risked and edited with one thing in mind. Which is the primary philosophy in these blockbusters, to not let the audience pause and think. Before they could digest the mind boggling momentums of these high octane scenes, they are taken into one another piling it one after another. And in the end beyond the corniest dialogues and the predictable plots, what comes out is a happy customer for the money’s worth.

As a film snob, I would terribly object the last line of the previous paragraph but the film projects its aspiration right from the start. And knowing about the franchise, there is nothing short than what was delivered. Director Brad Bird who mesmerized with his animation “Ratatouille” jumps to something unexpected and is inviting further invitations for similar blockbusters. While action films like this are something that ought to be done like this, I would love for him to see venture out and expand his skills further in other genres.

Suppressing the movie jerk in me, I have to say I did enjoy “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. Say what may about Tom Cruise and say what may about his limited capability of stretching out characters in his stereotypical performances, the man works hard, real hard. And he goes out far and beyond sometimes to work some diverse characters or chooses projects that would conveniently put his acting skills to minimum and action skills to maximum while providing the stage for a better film. He did so in “Minority Report” and “The Last Samurai”. Here he is in this film, giving himself completely to the project he produced and going full on to tackle not alone brilliant stunts but to utter some terrible cliched and horrendous lines I would have hated in any other circumstances. Brad Bird tries to poke fun at those aware of its quality but it does not redeem those. Watch the film in IMAX because it is meant to be seen that way. I am not a big fan of 3D but I am terrifically thrilled for films that venture out for IMAX. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” clearly comes victorious in that and keeps you solidly entertained while numbing your senses and mind.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Bellflower" (2011) - Movie Review

“Bellflower” is a wonderful aspired mess. It has the images, the ideas and the uniqueness a movie maker is looked out for and gets it, almost. At the same time I think through the future to see this as the first in the many of an aspiring film maker who picks himself up in giving a complete film. The film has already attained critical acclaim for its look and feel raising it fast to the cult status but I think it has to go some way. I cannot wait what the writer/director and star of this film Evan Glodell is going to bring next but with all due respect for his creativity, this is an amateurish attempt with potential flaming out literally through the screen.

The film focuses on two friends Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) who seem to have no source of income but have diligence in building a flame thrower and a deadly car inspired from the film “Mad Max” and the love of their post apocalyptic chaotic world. Their daily routine involves waking among dirty clothes, riding through scrap metal store to pick up random hoses, valves and what not and then build from it. They substitute beer and liquor for water and they live life through the second. These two go to a bar where only people like them would go. No wonder they have a live cricket eating contest. There stands up a blonde with trouble tattooed on her right when we see her. She is Milly (Jesse Wiseman) who hits it off with Woodrow. There begins the end of a spectacularly failing love story.

The single most thing that keeps this film alive and kicking is Joel Hodge’s cinematography. Evan Glodell designed and built that instrument which captures colours in a manner which are so home to old films. When colour photographs came to origins which reminds me of 70s and when it is dusted through the times and weather, what we get is a nostalgia in colour. This gets transformed into every frame of “Bellflower”. You would have never seen fire and flame like this and it soothes and fluids through the eyes of its viewer. It is real and at the same time surreal. It is what makes this otherwise ordinarily messed up weird film into an experience.

Woodrow and Milly begin their date on an impromptu road trip to Texas in the hunt of dining at the most scariest and filthiest place they could think of. Through that journey blossoms instantaneous love. Woodrow as much a crazy and hipster as he can be is stunned by this beauty. She is impulsive, more than Woodrow has ever been. She takes the time in her hand, wraps it up and throws through the wind and inhales it in a heartbeat. She is deadly and delicious. She is the ultimate woman and the terrible one.

In between their blossoming love is the devoted friend Aiden. Amongst providing sumptuous alcohol, cigarettes and being the supportive partner in crime for blowing things through the air and on road, he is the best friend Woodrow could ask for. Milly’s best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) is another girl sprayed on emotions throughout and wondering when a broken heart would be there to be fixed. Soon the disaster happens as Milly breaks Woodrow’s heart in the worst possible manner. As Woodrow loses himself into the depression and slowly chews and swallows in dealing with the betrayal and heartbreak, the story spins out of control into chaos.

“Bellflower” is spotted with potential brilliance. It has the characters to be watchful for but has amateur actors walk through lethargically. For starters, Evan Glodell should have distanced himself from the acting department, at least for his debut. While he could very well be a good actor, he does not pull through on dialogue deliveries. What seems to be an attempt in being realistic and natural in these two falling love becomes a comedy of bad deliveries. It does not hurt the film but does not benefit it which would have made it a much better film.

I did not dislike the film nor did I like it. What I saw is an artist with a great crew showing his unique abilities in providing a film that has visuals and presentation style that has not been seen before. It is filled with poetry and odd impressive background scores that punches through the screen. There is no doubt that Evan Glodell is a film maker and the passion of giving something new is evident. What is missing is the completeness of it and having a coherent thought throughout the film than for the half of it. The next venture of Glodell should be focusing on that and I will be fluttering with excitement to see that.

"J. Edgar" (2011) - Movie Review

Clint Eastwood, that unrelenting director is a writer’s creator. He takes the material on the script and dictates what it has to say. There is not self indulgence, a style nor a narrative order to mark his signature in any of his films. It simply goes unseemly and amalgamates in to the presentation and comes out like any other good film. Even his moderately successful films have that characteristic and “J. Edgar” falls in to that as well.

John Edgar Hoover was the most powerful man to have an iron hand over the political and influential figures right from the moment he became the Director of the freshly found FBI. Played by Leonardo Di Caprio with the total dedication that is an essentiality on a biographical film, he conducts it to his best formed abilities. Written by Academy Award winning writer Dustin Lance Black who debuted strongly through “Milk”, it portrays a mysterious man coming to a world where he knew the militancy of the evolving world. He foresaw the criminal growth and the necessity to build an institution for inventive techniques to catch them, even if it required side stepping privacy and stomp on the grounds of blackmailing and hold leverage as the single tool to do what he thought of to be in the best interest of the country. As fanatics fool themselves in the guise of righteousness, Edgar is no different from those. Yet there is a story to be told on this hardened man with shadowed private life.

Eastwood gives a man who is so sure of his opinions and decisions. His certainty is followed by a fierce face and execution in delivery of his speech. He is a man judging everyone by the second and then goes onto make sure they are kept in track of their doing just so to sleep himself to peace of any iota of wrongdoing plausibly emerging in them, even in their thoughts. For a man who had nothing but trust issues, he trusts three people in his life. His mother Anna Marie (Judi Dench), his personal secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and his second in command Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

Apart from his mother, the other two marks his tremendous sense of judging a character on the nature of their loyalty to him. What they saw in this unemotional, distant, coercive and stubborn man is something we sparsely see in “J. Edgar”. The film goes through his dictation to several of his Agents who type his memoir that never got published. Then Eastwood inserts the alleging details, rumours and what not into making a film of laying down the man’s legacy both objectively and subjectively.

The problem with “J. Edgar” is the unavailability of what drives Edgar to be such a hard man to defend his country. How did patriotism birthed into him and how it became a fanatic obsession on securing his country at any cost? We meet him at the end of his career not willing to give up, even to old age and then recite his story more on his growth and struggles in building this bureau from ground up.

He goes out on date with Helen right after they meet because that is what men did and for a man who is full of ego, he takes rejection from Helen in the most amicable fashion. He then makes her his trustworthy secretary and the guardian of the private files he begins to accumulate on the figures of power. He kept those with malicious intentions of keeping himself the head of the bureau because he is the best man for the job as he has convinced himself of. And to conduct his business of absolute power onto obtaining information on citizens and on the lookout for terror and invasion, there is no way he is giving up on that. Paranoid was his best hobby.

Edgar is said to be gay and his subordinate second in hand Clyde played by Armie Hammer is the closest I could think of him being portrayed emotionally open. A mother who dictated his life to the inch was trustworthy but not emotionally available for the problems and frustrations he had to endure. Edgar as a person comes off as a man of the times. Concerned greatly about his image and his presentation, he made sure his authority remained and anyone who could question it got brushed off to the sides and behind the desks. The film reiterates those known facts than to not provide any insight on him.

The interesting part of the film are his visions of bringing technology and expertise to investigations. He brings handwriting experts, wood experts and whatever the current investigative television has taken into from technology and knowledge are provided the base in how Edgar saw several decades back. With enormous supporting cast, Edgar suffers from an emotionally vacant script which is surprising to have come from Dustin Lance Black whose debut of “Milk” was filled with it. If Eastwood went for a clinical approach in leaving the motivations of this stubborn man to interpretation and have a history lesson conducted, then it is played against his film. What ticked this complicated, arrogant, closeted, inventive and intelligent man and why it ticked him? We never get to find it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"The Disappearance of Alice Creed" (2009) - Movie Review

When has ever been a clean kidnapping in films? In “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, it begins with its perpetrators doing the chores of kidnapping, shopping for it, working for it and doing it in a fashion that can only be called creepy perfection. They do not speak to each other but then again what would they say? “Hey man, this is going to be so cool when we finish it that Ms. Alice Creed is going to love it!” Exactly!

Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston are the two kidnappers arranging the set up with such care and professionalism that if they could only put this thought on something else. Then again if you want to become millionaire overnight and are devious enough, you are stuck with few options. They get to it right away and the command Eddie’s character has on over Martin’s is not new but only Eddie Marsan can do that with a conviction. They indeed kidnap a young girl whom we do not see her face until they strip her naked and lay down in the bed they spread out to take pictures. They know what would cause not alone response but instantaneous one from her family to provide the ransom. This is Alice Creed played by Gemma Arterton.

Debutant director J Blakeson is a confident man and that is stompingly evident in each shot of this tightly packed film. We learn Eddie Marsan’s character is Vic and Martin Compston’s Danny. Danny is lean but not mean while Vic has those deadly eyes that is nothing short of pure killing. Then again Vic has an exact path of where this is going. He analyses each of these with great precision and executes them mercilessly. He is the professional in this business and Danny is new to this. He slaps around Danny to get some sense to him as he should. When you are knee deep in shit, you better keep going to cross it or you would die in it and it would be a stinking one.

The film of course reveals details as it goes along and in the event of accidental spoilers, please do not read further if you have not seen the film. Chances of holding a hostage situation under control deteriorates as the time expands. When a human factor is involved and you are not all the way in as Vic is, then you are eventually going to give in to the involvement with the victim and thereby exposing for failure in the merciless kidnapping. Such is the game and how easily J Blakeson makes us think and associate with the kidnappers is the first step of draw in he pulls on his audience.

In this game is Gemma Arterton, a terrific actress who as Charlotte Gainsburg in “Antichrist”, goes all through for the exercise. She lays there chained on hands and legs, laying naked and being humiliated. She has the toughest role in the film and she makes it all look easy. We are provided these snippets of details of the history these characters have. Almost next to nothing but strong enough to pursue the story forward thrillingly. And the beauty of it is as we are so caught up in the events and tension that happens in the apartment is that we are wide eyed only when Blakeson wants us to be on those details. Rest of the time, there are these small things that will not disappear that would get one of the characters in trouble. That damn bullet casing!

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is the kind of film that when it sparks the bombs one by one you are humoured and shocked by it. You circle around taking sides in between these characters and finally you have no idea where conscience took vacation in this 100 minutes. It sucks you in to the minds of these deadly people and you certainly know that Vic is the character who would not hesitate to kill Alice. But if you think Danny is the only man with iota of conscience in that apartment, think again.

I was constantly in anticipation of what is going to happen next as any thriller should be and it delivers those anticipation, not with bang but with exact measurements. In between doing so, it has these props and places that are accompanied with Marc Canham’s eerie score to exemplify that J Blakeson is the director to watch for who does not mess around when the screen play he has provides the punches that would knock you out, wake you up and knock you out again.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"The Ides of March" (2011) - Movie Review

Idealism is an irony for politics. It attracts its idealist and then paints a thick reality concocted with cynicism and disgust. Perfectionism is unachievable as human and yet we look for one. We look for a bigger version than us and we see in the people who would like to govern us. Riding against plethora of miniscule subjectivities and proclivities of the wide spread country of US, the campaign personnel shed day in and day out drenched in moves, plots and strategy to make their candidate look great and the opposition bad without saying so, it is where the execution happens bloodless. Such is so in George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” which has his men and women labouring hard to get a bigger version of themselves govern them.

George Clooney is Mike Morris and who else other than Clooney play someone so charming and idealistic with the shred of doubt and mysticism in them. He has Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) the campaign manager with a vibrant and astute young fellow in the name of Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling) running the show. Myers truly believes in his man and he stands for it. While the elephant of a doubt lurks on whether happens at all but there is always that hope and the confidence that the firm believers of ideals and prospect have that they ingest the idea of having found someone. They are not alone to look up to but clean and perfect to be the leader for every one else. While the imminent soul breaker does come, “The Ides of March” plays its card right with right calculated surprises that makes, breaks and changes its characters.

Ryan Gosling’s Steven Myers is dynamic, energetic, smart and knows his game. With his eyes reflecting several sleepless nights as the primaries for Democratic candidate is week’s away, he wanders carrying Morris on his sleeves and being the perfect right hand man for Paul. Gosling here miles away from his role from “Drive” is a talker and a thorough one. His eyes are threatening in the fear, angst, shock and disappointment when the time comes. He hardly smiles and when he does it takes effort in doing so unlike his unnamed driver in “Drive” that spills smiles when he is in love. Shouldering with Hoffman, Clooney and Paul Giamatti, he is the man for the job and he does so effortlessly.

“The Ides of March” focusses on the background we have to be there to believe it. Talk about fast paced environment which are thrown like boring uncreative lines for a company’s hiring advertisements and here you feel it in your nerve. Papers flying, people around and you assessing every word you speak and hear is a chilling plays for a young people with hopes high and prosperous. Such is Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) an intern working at Morris’ campaign who decides to make a move on Myers who of course obliges. She eases and understands in few words and drinks. Then there is the loving Marisa Tomei as the journalist Ida Horowicz knowing how to game information with the boys and play cold when she needs to.

I did mention about Paul Giamatti who is the opposition campaign manager and kindly make a note of glances and obligatory smile Hoffman’s Paul and Giamatti’s Tom sweat which explains everything the casting did right on picking those for those roles. Jeffrey Wright is Senator Thompson who will put an end to this primary by endorsing either of the candidates and both of them are fighting hard to get him. That is part of the plot in the film but the real thing comes down little bit later than that. Things unravel in twists that bring all the people who are made note in the setting filled with people to act and do things that becomes like a Mafia.

The people in the film curse as they please like a well placed word in a poem and you realize that in a day filled with careful statements and land mine conversations, when they are in closed doors, they go ballistics as to take a dip freely in the fresh waters of profanity. Clooney’s Morris is believable and shares a personal moment with his wife Cindy Morris (Jennifer Ehle) where we understand that the man respects and trusts his guts and values. Everything happens in the “The Ides of March” are not a plot placement for pulling the foundation at the end. While that happens, it happens as a strategy well placed and played making the game of politics an ugly one and a generation that are tired of cynicism but are in process of being imbibed with it. Yet they will not take no for an answer and they would go beyond their values to go for a better leader. That is exactly younger Paul Zara and Tom Duffy would have thought when they were thirty.

"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) - Movie Review

“Rebel without a Cause” is truly a film that belonged to the 50s and looses its current audience for being so. Film critic often repeats “movies do not change, people do” and it cannot be more clear on this one. The characters, actions and the interpretations vary widely enough to see a complete different film than what Nicholas Ray intended and what James Dean performed. Yet it has its core intact which tells about a generation on the cusp of having to want, feel and realize more than the previous generation who had so many worries financially and being mum that they were happy to be alive. It only has gotten further and further into generation and generation on pondering on their existence and the purpose of doing things and understanding the right thing and actually doing it.

James Dean is a teenager named Jim Stark though he looks like a college student. When we meet him as the credits are shown, he is drunk and laying on the ground playing with a disregarded doll. He is taken into juvenile police station where we also meet two other teenagers. One is Judy (Natalie Wood), clearly beseeching for dad’s affection. Then there is Plato played by Sal Mineo and man I would love to hear what the original viewers of this film thought about him. Each of them get to talk with Ray Fremick (Edward Platt) and we get where these kids are in their lives. When you hear “Why did you shoot the puppies” from Ray towards Plato, you know what you are getting into.

The introduction to these three characters at the juvenile division in the police provides a setting that you expect more of these troubled nights but Nicholas Ray has plans of things unfurling in next couple of days to learn lessons in hard way and wondering what is the teenage angst would result in. That we are still witnessing tells more about our evolving humans having a core that is beautiful and scary.

James Dean who was killed in an auto accident before the release of this film achieved iconic status through this film which has survived half a century and continues to keep going. He is throughly an actor of presence and that explains the status he achieved with very few films. He is dramatic and nowhere near as a great actor but there was the potential that would have matured to be as Marlon Brandon. Dying young is a terrible thing and we would never know what would have come off him as the times passed and films evolved.

Having the power of presence like Dean, one would not be surprised on why Plato is instantly in awe of his character Jim Stark. Jim is a kind teenager offering help, smile and snappy remarks. He offers his coat to Plato at the start which the disturbed kid does not accept but that act sticks to his soul. Soon we learn that Plato’s parents are nowhere to be there and it is his house keeper to take care of him. It is not the case for Jim who has as the norm states, loving parents. He has a car, stylish clothes to impress Judy and more but he wants his loving father to stand up for himself and then for Jim against a mother who is controlling and dismissive. This becomes the spur to the actions Jim makes in the rest of the film.

Jim’s father is played by Jim Backus with a borderline comic undertone. He is a weak man unable to maintain the heroic status Jim grew up with from his actions and dialogues. And Judy is a troubled young girl expecting the same kind of intimate affection from his father though she is becoming a woman now. Unable to express that part to his mother, she becomes a trouble of her own. She gangs up with fellow school bullies Buzz (Corey Allen) and others. The next day when Jim enters his first school day, the events lead to a tragedy.

“Rebel Without a Cause” while provides an insight into the times and the budding teenagers wanting more out of their life, it is stuck by the disconnect in the film making with the current audience. The moods and emotions shift randomly. One minute there is a loss of a life in a silly game and the other minute the couple are in love in an abandoned mansion. The greatest of all is the character of Plato. Plato played by Sal Mineo with a creepiness is disturbing and travels into the zones of derangement. While the interpretation of Plato wanting to be in a family seeing Jim and Judy as his parents, it cannot be denied that Plato is a homosexual having infatuations towards Jim. Whether this is the untold undertone Nicholas Ray went for is unknown but it cannot be more obvious. The film while does not hold up to the time is a landmark on the controversial nature of its material for that time and a life that was not fully lived in James Dean.

"Zardoz" (1974) - Movie Review

“Zardoz” was played as the B-movie in my film group but it is definitely not one. It does not fit the profile of B-movie which is it is so bad it is good but it is so bad that it is Bad. Directed by John Boorman after his success in “Deliverance”, he makes Sean Connery half naked for the entire film that has no purpose other than to provide a legendary ridiculous image results in google. It is a futuristic science fiction with no science and a fantasy film with soulless imagination. Its destination from the get go was nothing other than imminent doom and it achieves that slowly and painstakingly to its demise.

There is a huge stone head that flies and there is no mechanics behind it. It simply does. It has a loud speaker voice that no one should obey but humans have become insanely stupid and beastly that they would take anything. These are mainly men who are clothed with a thoroughly flashing red cloth to cover their genitals and two lines on their torso. Now why would they dress like that? Is it efficient and how did they get their clothes because from what we come to learn they are nothing but executors of remaining souls in this world? Well I am getting ahead of myself.

Anyhow, Sean Connery is Zed one of the executors who manages to get inside this stone head which takes him into another world. In the midst of the journey he also finds a man inside this head whom he kills for the purpose of killing. He lands in this world amongst the beautiful mountains and on the shores of a scenic serene lake. There he meets the people who talks cryptic, stoic and are boring as hell. Charlotte Rampling who is savagely beautiful in “The Verdict” is dressed exposing herself but in no way attractive. Boorman stylizes his cast to bare minimum in the most unsexiest manner possible. His intention to make this world uninteresting and indifferent succeeds though boring his audience.

The idea of Boorman though is unique and has so much opportunity for exploration dies in the minds of the creator. It becomes annoying and impatient through scenes that goes into the mindless and uncreative philosophies. What is Boorman trying out here? The imagination and recreation of this world is only beautiful in its scenery than the people. These souls live an uneventful life and they act bizarre. No explanation is given in the form one would understand or even remotely entertained.

As Zed enters this world he incorporates what is called a Tabernacle which is like a super computer advising on things and keeping these people immortals. They have psychic powers because Boorman makes them so. They can control Zed and bring him to his knees and make him do menial work that again is of no interest. So Charlotte Rampling is Consuella who is vehemently against in keeping Zed and wants him destroyed while his fellow immortals May (Sara Kestelman) and Friend (John Alderton) wants him for further study. Personally I did not give a damn.

There are films that explores into the arena of unexplainable and treats its viewers to the pleasures of strange world and bigger philosophies. That makes you forget and forgive the insanity and illogical actions. Boorman made a personal movie and it should have remained with himself alone. There is nothing but money and talent wasted. Nothing is funny nor sad nor anything. It is a film devoid of emotion and you create no sort of empathy or relation to the characters nor the environment.

“Zardoz” offers explanation in the end for Zed’s travel to this weird world through the stone head and the happenings on the current state of affairs which only becomes an exercise as if Boorman decided to put things in perspective for his audience. And as said earlier I did not give a damn. Bland as hell and pestering like a crazy girl friend, “Zardoz” goes into one of the top films I despise.

"50/50" (2011) - Movie Review

“50/50” is one of those films that has several moments of good film but fails to lift itself beyond what it set forth for. Not because of bad direction or unconvincing performance but it is just what it is. Some films are like that and sometimes you wonder why it did not become a better film than the goodness it already attained. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has risen to take varied roles and go with the flow. He has been noticed, picked up and has established himself as an actor having an eye for better film makers including his very own website that collages several creative minds. Here he plays as the protagonist diagnosed with cancer and waiting for the time to wrap up his time.

Levitt is Adam, a young man budding into the life of regular events of having a needy girl friend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and an annoying but best friend (Seth Rogen). He has morning runs, drive, coffee and work. A pain in his back sends him for tests where he is delivered the news with coldness and detachment from his doctor. The gravity of this situation does not translate well to me. May be due to the awareness of the plot, I was more interested in what he is going to do next than the news itself but it is director’s responsibility to not make that assumption and make it a moment the audience have not seen. May be this is where it dented the rest of the film.

Adam’s girl friend Rachael is nothing but unlikable. She is given an out by Adam after the news but who would get out when they are in that situation? Rachael begins to drive him to the clinic and distance him at the same time. While Adam and Rachael did not really have a good thing going before the news, the film goes towards the change in moods but gives up quite easily as Adam’s best buddy played by Seth Rogen as Kyle finds her cheating. Though we know that is exactly was going to happen as soon as you see Anna Kendrick as the novice therapist Katie for Adam. They are supposed to be together as per the screenplay right from the get go.

“50/50” suffers from emotional predictability despite its genuineness on the screen. Every one is trying around Adam to adjust to his situation in the awkward way and Adam is trying to accept his reality. What can you tell when a person is a walking funeral? Despite their success in the treatment, whenever someone hears cancer, that is that. Dying becomes so close and extremely real. Especially when a life fully not lived. Here is Adam a late twenties guy finding the things that might question or un-question his meaning of existence and he does not even get a chance to see those.

Seth Rogen plays Adam’s friend with fine nuance I would not have expected from the comedian. He is caring but he wants what he thinks is best for his buddy than Adam himself. Soon enough he becomes to use this sickness to get girls to date. You wonder throughout the film why Adam is even friends with Kyle but you also realize they are best friends despite what you see on the screen. People are like that and we see those in Kyle and Adam.

Then there is Angelica Houston as Adam’s mom taking care of her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. She is hysterical and frantic but which mother would not be when they know their kid has days to live? Houston’s character is typical mom and annoying but we also see her side as Kendrick’s Katie points out the obvious to Adam. Talking Katie and Adam, their moments are nice, genuine and unusually comfortable given their awkward situation. Yet in the end when things fall in place, it loses it.

I think too many things fall in place too quickly in “50/50”. There are lovely characters and easeful moments. Take it through the chemo sessions with Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer or the emotional moments with Angelica Houston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film has heart and soul. It carries itself through but this reviewer while liked the film did not go all way in pouring his heart.

In Indian films, cancer was always used as this haphazard tool for bringing sympathy from the audience to the central character. No one can be cold seeing a good looking person puke blood. Over the years I have seen personally and heard about the cold brutality of this disease, it does not let its victims continue the conscious life the films portray and also the nature of its brutal painful treatments and unimaginably hurt to watch someone go through it. Most films do not have that part except occasional chemotherapy effects of puking and weight loss but the physical pain of it is sparsely dealt as it would affect the flow of the story line. Yes that is one of those details in this scenario to be negated for the ease of moving on the film. “50/50” deals those with soft hands as needed as the pain is known and the loss is felt. I wish it had something more and if it means anything to you, do tell me.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

"Moneyball" (2011) - Movie Review

Almost all the time I have the regret of not having a perfect reply or a conversation or the right scenario set up for a likable outcome in decisions and results in my day to day events as it does in film scripts. Before you say the obvious and what you think, I am aware of that and despite that you wish as you always wish for the impossible. A transition, transformation or epiphany comes through a process of accumulation and assimilation of events and thoughts in actual life. Decisions made, mistakes redeemed and simply moving on happens like that and when a film reminds that and provides that in the end, you feel part of the movie and the merging of it with your life makes the experience, an experience. “Moneyball” provides that with a scene in the end when Billy Beane played by Brad Pitt has to make a decision.

I know the skeletal of the baseball game. I have the faintest idea of the teams, players, lingoes and everything that makes that game like any other sport to have a passionate, fanatic and entertaining fans. That might amplify the experience of “Moneyball” but it does not diminish the core fundamental of the film. Oakland Athletics are small team playing in a sport that is dictated by cash like any other sports. Billy Beane is the GM of the team begging like any other person in that situation would want, more money to spend and get some star players he just lost. He sits at the table with old boys putting forth their replacements providing their own projections than a facilitation for better players. Along with Billy we realize that he is sitting in a prehistoric era. Now we know but Billy amongst the crowd realizes it when he sees the game in the eye and extracts the brutality of it. Money wins, the game is unfair in coming to terms of having a fair advantage of building a team with others. He has to go back to the cave and come back with a computer to make miracle.

Brad Pitt is an actor who consistently surprises and has thoroughly branded himself. A brand of high expectations when he chooses a film to participate. He has consistently delivered and here he does it again. This is the kind of actor the film industry needs. You see these similar characteristic in Edward Norton, Christian Bale and now Ryan Gosling. Pitt out here was in the danger being mummified like Tom Cruise but he tore through it to create an identity beyond his looks. He goes for roles that clearly has an opportunity to see more sides of him. Here he is Billy Beane, subdued, calculated and as normal as you and me. His spur of anger is even methodical wherein it is unlike the character but you can empathize with the man.

Directed by Bennett Miller, it is a film I would greatly like for to be done for the game of cricket. I hope some aspiring film maker reads this and dig this gold mine of a territory for plethora of films to be made. The behind the scene of cricket would be nothing short of a crazy drama to riveting entertainment to a bloody thriller as the game is such that. Miller out here is out for a serene experience of a film in the most nerve wracking position the main players were in for. Beane is desperate for out of the box thinking and mainly seeing through it successfully. He reflects on his life where he got recruited right out of high school by the New York Mets to jump over education at Stanford on full scholarship. We understand that he as every one of us needs a win but Miller is not for the win as Beane.

There is something more than a game or a trophy or a record. Every avenue in the existence of the world needs an invention and a revolution. Here it is through the statistical analysis of putting a team together. It seems so simple and obvious that it surprises me that they never resorted to this idea in first place. The post game analysis for any sport goes into great detail on minute dissection and they do not use the same for selecting players? I think the politics goes deeper than the numbers.

“Moneyball” has Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, the key man Beane hires to believe in this methodology. The methodology of having objectivity over subjectivity. Hill unlike his all other roles comes off clean, shy but regardless charming. This pudgy guy with an economics degree from Yale adores the mathematics of the game than the game itself. His scenes with Brad Pitt are constructed with a chemistry that does not undermine his performance nor does boast Pitt’s. Seeing “Moneyball” I was reminded by another terrific backstage sports film “The Damned United” which eyes on a man blinded by his ego and there again is another pudgy man as his right hand man helping him to see come out of the fiasco in the end. Beane is though has his way of dealing things. He sees this as a business of play and the players are investments that will be cut off as the need arises. He stays away from them to make the firing process painless but it never is.

You can tell a film is being done with great professionalism and care when the supporting characters, every one of them get their screen time with great importance and precision. Philip Seymour Hoffman has nothing to prove but he does dutifully the role of Art Lowe as the coach unwilling to believe in Beane’s method and suggestion. Then is Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg wondering what this second chance is all about and is in fear of failing it. The small roles in one scene is all enough. Robin Wright as Beane’s ex-wife Sharon, Casey played with maturity and adorability by Kerris Dorsey and several others which you have to see. The writing is by Steve Zailian followed by Aaron Sorkin while the original story was formulated by Stan Chervin based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It is not uncommon to see several re-writes of a script and here the conversations and actions are casual in the seriousness. It is a director’s film and the writers sees through that it stays that way.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

"North by Northwest" (1959) - Movie Classic

What a smooth classic “North by Northwest” is? And to watch in my backyard projecting over a giant screen along with several people blanketed to survive the fall cold is something of an experience. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic drapes Cary Grant as the dashing advertising executive going for a spin into the old yet classic mistaken identity and web of conspiracies. Opening with titles shown with animation at its earliest and forming an iconic status to have those as one of its kind, the film assembles from a slow suspense into full fledged grandiose spectacle of ridiculously amazing stunts, locations and a finale that keeps you wondering how the heck they shot and how much the studio flooded their money on this venture.

Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill is a man of sleek, style and sarcasm. He is the man from that time where know Don Draper in Mad Men TV series drew inspiration to be Cary Grant. Men like Thornhill just need to be there for the women to fall all over him in a flash. What turns to be a regular business meeting, goes as it is until he gets up to telegram his mother and we learn why he wanted to make sure to keep her posted once we meet her. It is bad timing of him to get up at the same time when someone else is paged. Result, he gets kidnapped by two characters at gun point to Long Island. There he meets a classy but sneaky dude (James Mason) addressing our front man by the name of George Kaplan. Denying it does not help and they are going to get what they want out of Thornhill.

What comes after that is a series of adventure Thornhill did not sign up for. He gets forced drunk, drive drunk while escaping, enter UN, dodge people by wearing shades, catch train, board a bus, duck from a plane and finally cling onto faces of former Presidents of USA in Mount Rushmore. All this and I have not even mentioned about the ravishing and elegant Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendell who helps Thornhill in his train travel to escape authorities. And the intriguing dining scene where Eve invites him blatantly through dialogues that are outlandishly open but unusually subtle. They spend the night as we learn slowly the game Eve plays. Who is George Kaplan? Why is James Mason’s Phillip Vandamm wants him dead? This and more gets answered as expected in the classy way.

When you watch a Coen brothers’ film, you can see that every scene has been defined, well defined and has that stamp which is not distracting but adds value to it. Here is Hitchcock several decades before going through that exercise with precision on each of the camera angles and shots. Either it is the transitioning shot from outside of train focusing on the snaky curve of this locomotive to the inside of the vessel or the aerial shot in the middle of nowhere in Illinois as Thornhill waits for to be attacked in open ground, there is a definition and an explanation that brings the appreciation in its viewer of effort being put out there for their enjoyment and for the artistic fulfillment.

Cary Grant and his suit are with us for almost every short of the film and advices men to get better suits. And his delivery that borders on being stoic is where it should be when he is comfortable even in the most uncomfortable places and side steps into animated when a man being chased by planes would react and yet he is the coolest cucumber I have seen in few of the classics I have seen. He is devilishly handsome and when Eva Maria Saint’s Eve Kendell seduces him, while we doubt her intentions, there is no doubt for a woman to fall for this man. Their chemistry which is purely sexual somehow transforms in to genuine love out of nowhere when the end approaches.

The film blows money through the noses of the statues of Mount Rushmore and sprays currency out of the biplane that dust crops. The studio immensely trusted on the name of Hitchcock and he gave them what they wanted. The writing by Ernest Lehman is the main character despite the charm of Grant and sexy Saint. Wit and sarcasm from its characters in desperate situations are home to the films of that era and especially to the genre of film noir but here it slides in with a smoothness of butter and cream through Grant and others. The plot and set up that is so overblown in many cases somehow makes it out thoroughly entertaining. How did they think this would please audience and not poke holes onto their logic? It almost wants me to say that this is the birth of huge block busters though it had characters too unlike the metal clashing stupidity that is being spit out every other year.

“North by Northwest” has one of the coolest switch from an edge of seat literal cliffhanger to an immediate happy ending. Hitchcock seems to have had all the fun he could have till that point and after that it does not seem to matter to elongate on obligations. He goes for the kill in the danger of breaking traditions and ends it even before people could digest the crazy set they pulled for the finale. I think I enjoyed more than I expected mainly due to the fact it was seen in an environment it was meant to be seen. Big screen, open air theatre and surroundings of people who were enthralled by this time capsule of a film. What more one could ask for from a classic?

"Drive" (2011) - Movie Review

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is the lone assassin film disguised as an action flick. While in real life we would negate and discard them as the creeps with little to no communication, the film’s unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) is filled with mysticism that invites interest and intrigue in its viewers. He is not good but resembles one, he is not bad but again resembles one. He is tacit, clear and precise. The film brilliantly features the first scene to set his philosophy and skill. He is not a rash Hollywood infected driver rather the smartest one. He is damn good at his job and he is dutifully modest except when he is driving.

Having seen Refn’s debut “Pusher”, I can say that he is a director of characters moulding the film into their life. “Pusher” might be the film wherein you can feel the central character’s predicament with no escape whatsoever and see how he wanders outside of that in the every day life trying to fix it with deliberate awareness of the end. “Drive” is nothing like “Pusher” especially when it comes to the organization of the simplest story. It exploits to the fullest extent on the medium it is on and only takes the necessary reality or provides a guise of reality in the car stunts which we have been numbed by the CGI injection.

The Driver in the film knows the cars, knows LA and knows the ins and outs and everything in between. He part times as a getaway driver and gives five minutes to his clients a.k.a robbers, that is all he can give and they can be assured he would evade any cops, on the ground, up the air and through the darkness. He also part times as a stunt man for movies and works full time for his employer Shannon (Bryan Cranston) at his garage. Movies of lone expertsmen focusses on a life of nothingness devoid of emotions, friends and social semblance. Movies of that nature makes it a point to be very pertinent of that part of their life. “Drive” has it as a background as we know that this man lives in a zone within himself.

Yet every man is as human as the next one when the heart stops a beat for a beauty and an opportunity for a social life. Such comes as his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), mother of an adorable young boy Benicio (Kaden Leos). The establishment of their relation assumes the knowledge of the viewer of seeing several films. They cross path sharing an elevator. He is spectacularly handsome and she is an angel fallen from the sky. He sees her in the super market and chooses to skip the aisle away from her. He comes outside and hesitates, goes to help her smoking engine. Next scene he is carrying her groceries in the elevator with Benicio staring at him curiously. The viewers fill in the gap. That is the simplicity and the terseness of “Drive” which does not sweat on the details and at the same time does not disregard the emotional bond that develops between these two.

Look the font and design of the title - pink in colour reeking Los Angeles out of it with a 70ish outlook. It is a rare mix of glamour with stillness. Tension is in the background score of Cliff Martinez constantly reminding of the imminent violence that is going to be splattered across our face. The Driver is methodical and has a purpose in every action. Each action needs completion to the highest degree of perfection. His anger, sadness, agony, love, pain and acceptance are marked with an acknowledgment on his face. Ryan Gosling’s mystical character has a total of not more than 15-20 lines in the overall film but he uses his charm as a presence to his character. His voice appears as a monotone but has subtlety of emotions waving through it. He exactly knows what he is doing and the others don’t. That makes him deadly.

“Drive” is like the last year’s assassin film “The American” that laboriously goes through the slow ordeal of wait and patience in George Clooney’s silent killer. Both men are sad lonely people looking for love though the Driver in “Drive” has better trust over his love than the killer in “The American”. I think when you are an assassin like Clooney in that film, it comes with the package. Refn’s film is a meditation in completion and executes that philosophy of accepting life’s events for what it is and begin working through it that is imbibed by the central character.

As the story progresses into the eventual heist going wrong putting our man in the centre of blood, gore and utter violence, we are introduced to two mob bosses Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Pearlman). Bernie is suave, classy with the sneakiness but also is violent when he wants to be. He shares emotions and his job comes with that territory as well. He kills with anger most of the times and sometimes with an empathy. Albert Brooks provides the strong villain the film needs for the Driver to challenge upon and we know that Bernie is capable of being successful over the protagonist effortlessly.

“Drive” might disappoint someone going in with the expectation of R-rated action with car chases through one way rash driving and blowing up of unnecessary random vehicles. But if they open their mind to this film that very well knows that it is a film than anything else, they get exposed to the R-rated violence that is out there to present the characters and the extension of their behaviour into the ugliness of the inhumane. Refn gives an unusual flick that exemplifies the possibility for an artsy presentation of a genre known for being dumb and lacking creativity be prolific and inventive.

"Antichrist" (2009) - Movie Review

When “Antichrist” premiered in 2009 Cannes film festival and stirred controversy, I was crazy psyched to see the film mainly for the buzz. Then I learned the ordeal it put the audience through and heard what Willem Dafoe’s character gets brutal violence from Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character and what she puts herself through. I decided I am not going to see it and that was that. Couple of years later I start this film group and my fellow film aficionados suggest this for viewing for which I say no and they confront me of my unfairness. I succumb to the argument. And here it goes.

Knowing the extremity of this film, I have to say that I was constantly in anticipation of the horror than the actual flow of the film. That might have put a dent on viewing without reservations nevertheless Lars Von Trier's film is not for the faint hearted. It tells a story of a couple going through the mourning stages given in chapter form. In the "Prologue", we see their kid slowly walk up to the window and slip to his death while the couple are passionately making love. The film has immaculate cinematography with images capturing stillness in motion. Shot with high speed camera and an opera guiding that scene to its inevitable tragedy, you see a director wanting an art that is in between a timeless photograph and alive in motion. The current technology provides that for Lars Von Trier and he exploits it to great visuals like this.

The loss and the guilt haunts the "She" (Charlotte Gainsbourg) while her husband "He" (Willem Dafoe) sees it clinically, analyzing emotions and trying to deal it like a disease. Him being a therapist, he does the blunder of taking his wife as his patient and begins to "psychosoothe" her through exercises in accepting fear and letting her through the process of mourning. Sex that navigates through the life has pleasure, shame, guilt and love varying through it. It is complicated and complicates everything. Having lost the best part of your love while indulging in the act is an unimaginable terror. Both He and She are part of it and how can they overcome this terror? I think writing about it reveals the film’s finale of She putting He through that terror. May be that is her cleansing or an attempt in cleansing. She could have gone for suicide but she needs to feel the pain in the extreme nature and thereby arriving to the gory, visceral and unfathomable acts.

Segueing to the violent scenes, while they are what I described them, they are brief and saying it visceral might be putting it very mild. Violence with finest detail in films invigorate anger and disgust in me when is no sense for it to be out there. Especially when it is only out there to shock. And in “Antichrist” it "artistically" makes sense to have it but it is an excruciating exercise to prove a thought. Though that is how an artist goes through his/her work. Yet the process is not rewarding. I have to cite the example of seeing "The Holy Mountain" which with its bizarre and disturbing images was exhausting to sit through but the experience was unique in its wide sense and as mentioned earlier rewarding.

Von Trier initially specifies that the nature is evil and sinister. It is given through the couple’s visit to Eden, the ill cabin. As they go through talking about the process of grieving, we see Dafoe’s character transforms from being an understanding husband and an effective therapist to a righteous jerk and beginning to annoy the reeking logical conclusion he is anticipating of. Then comes the misogynistic ideas She did her research on her last visit with her son. A story in itself with characters having proper names would not have made this as controversial as it made it out to be. Assigning generic names to the character shows that Von Trier went above and beyond to say that they are representing their gender. “Antichrist” insinuates subtly and blatantly through the nature of being a man and being a woman.

I would not argue on the differences of nature between men and women. Clearly these two species despite being humans are so far apart biologically and psychologically. And in a world of men, women’s character gets dissected, analyzed and criticized to its nth miniscule sectors. Men are claimed to be simple, hollow and easy to understand it is the antonym for women. While we men are of course easy to unlock, I believe being human itself has its facets of complication and internal mechanics of mind bubbles out spurring surprises day in and day out. You can tell that from this creator itself who portrays a dark mind of his own onto the screen. To take a stand like that explicitly makes it outrageous to accept the concept of proclaiming women as inherently evil. Finally but not in the least bit less important, "Antichrist" gets daring performances by Willen Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg going through this ordeal and giving everything they have got. It is astounding and shocking to see their commitment to take up this project and journey through Von Trier's mad, twisted and dangerously dark mind.

Lady Vengeance (Language - Korean) (2005) - Movie Review

“Lady Vengeance” tells about the "kind hearted looking" girl Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae) who did her time in prison for 13 years for a crime she did not commit. Obvious enough she is out there to find the person responsible and get even. While the story is said in one sentence, it is a film with visual melancholic poetry and in the end becomes an odd comic commentary on how people driven by anger, loss, love and of course revenge resort to patient and shocking brutal violence and become realistically selfish and insensitive immediately thereafter. In all this is Lee Geum-ja working through her vengeance for several years and accumulating favours for her final blow.

This is the finale of the Vengeance trilogy director Park Chan-wook delivers. His “Oldboy” is one of a kind story that kept the viewer wondering what is the next violent twist this is going to unravel into. When it did its final blow, this reviewer was not convinced of the validity of the character’s action. Regardless, that is a film with cruelty doing sweet dances and stomps on the hearts and groins. Having that effect, “Lady Vengeance” by me was welcomed with caution and sudden explosion of blood and sickness. Strangely enough it goes through like a gentle stream in a fiery forest.

Park Chan-wook goes for some odd notes in flash back and narration. We see Lee Geum-ja accept her crime of killing a kid and goes through the process of guilt in the prison. With angelic appearance, she resorts for religion and then we see her transform into something else when she gets out. While we are aware of her innocence, there is still that iota of doubt lingering around in her sweet face which tells that there is more to it than her innocence. For her it is a cleansing process and it begins by cutting her finger off in front of the kid’s parents. Soon she makes visit to her fellow cell mates outside and begins to collect her favours. Sometimes it is a simple job or stay and sometimes to a stylish symbolic gun that needs close distance to finish its target. Oh yeah she wants to be close to this man and see his eyes in his last moment of death.

Much of the poeticism comes form the music by Choi Seung-hyun that adds the necessary surreal characteristic and keeps the audience be reminded on the sense of loss Lee Geum-ja carries. Park Chan-wook indulges his camera through the scenic views of a snowy town and then to some dark and deeply disturbing abandoned classrooms to show case his finale.

Overall the film dials down the explicit violence from "Oldboy" but retains the gravity of moral imbalance from it. I always resort to this excuse of being desensitized by putting myself through these films but I do have to say I watched “Drive” and “Antichrist” after this which confirms that I am indeed in the process of being desensitized. “Lady Vengeance” while meditates on the melancholy is quite simple on one thing and that is its title, vengeance.

We see the evil man Mr. Baek played by none other than Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik. He is the sick minded, vile and disturbing teacher. As Lee gets closer and closer to her moment, we learn that Mr. Baek has been watching her too. Throw a mix of estranged daughter of Lee into this and we begin to expect something usual but we are in for a surprise. Park Chan-wook sees revenge and accepts it in a brutal manner for his films. There in itself is the debate but unlike “Oldboy” his target out here is from bones through flesh and skin is a man of nothing but pure evil. He gives a clean go ahead for a conscience free killing. We still think we are going to expect something usual and again he puts in a surprising social experiment. Here we see the ugliness of humans unperturbed by the outcry of the vile nature inside of them.

“Lady Vengeance” is a poetic film and ends bloodily. The violence in it was more of a caricature than seriousness. While I was thoroughly affected, disturbed and disgusted by the ending of “Oldboy”, this film that portrays the rawness of human extremity in clean sense of them strangely did not affect me. I think Park Chan-wook’s comic presentation of the clean up of a murder and not going through the torture fest most of the horror film directors resort now a day made me to see this detached and undisturbed on the decay of human souls.

"Contagion" (2011) - Movie Review

“Contagion” might be one of the few in the disaster pre-apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic film that deals it with a clinical approach and engrosses with fast moving events through characters than seeing it as a world wide event. It does not panic as the disaster films do over through media, national monuments and wonders of the world rather allows itself in key departments of interest and concentrates the drama and thriller in those corners. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Contagion” has wide array of casts playing simple to major roles each carrying their weight to put together this heavy mass of a film that ticks for a time that never seem to end.

Said with a grim outlook as it is and hopelessness, the film is Sodebergh’s seamless mixture of stylish presentation with a clinical perspective. The first target of this lethal virus is Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning from her Hong Kong trip sick, coughing and ready to collapse. En route indulging in adultery too. Her husband Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) hurries up to the hospital with her dying instantaneously and then before he could even sense the shock, he gets back home to find his step son succumb to this virus. This is the beginning of a really bad day for the planet.

“Contagion” is interested in the reaction of the governing bodies around the world and the response to this pandemic. Who else other than the wise and controlled Laurence Fishburne could play Dr. Ellis Cheever as the head of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Here Fishburne brings the instant respect and trust from his stature beyond the undermining mustache. He panics inside his calmness and begins to work through his effective people. There is Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears who begins to venture to the field for setting perimeters and planning a facility. These details are done with a simplicity and the immediacy these bodies will begin to assimilate their resources having the underlying scare of what are they up against.

Soon as we encounter several of the players in this whole arena of panic and anarchy looming over not because it is a zombie invasion rather the basic nature to survive. In the mix of this are some diligent scientist taking risk and working to solve this being into finding a vaccine. Everything fails and as the outbreak reaches out there are opportunist venturing with a subtle cruelty, desperate folks trying everything they can to save a few and there are idealist losing their balance and crawl for answers. Hell lies in the empty street and absolute silence. The virus takes the world out there with a speed of spreading exponentially.

Talking about the speed of its expansion, we are told about the things that are performed by humans in a day touching materials, things and what not and then touching their face innumerable times to cause this spread. Every touch is a weapon and the fear of it is more ammunition than a loaded gun. Soon people believe everything and nothing. There is Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede waiting for a moment like this to break his conspiracy ideas from journalism into something more. The idea of being right and influencing people is a power one cannot get enough of. Such is Alan who prophesied through tons of his conspiracies into this one and there is a cure he believes to have identified called forsythia and people began to hunt for this unverified drug other than Alan live telecasting his intake through his blog. There will be people to follow and minds to believe. He though asks the right questions to the Dr. Cheever and tears the facade into reality. The world is crumbling and the governing bodies have no clue on what they are doing.

Soderbergh is a master in presenting reality with a classiness. His darkest depressing setting have a powerful magnetism. Here there are so many characters spun in the daily life of this deadly disease and making progress from genuine sacrifices, fear, sadness and pain. Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) is one such and while we have seen so many films that has a character using them as a lab rat for their discovery, Soderbergh makes it a mellow chanting of bad idea and makes it a serene experience in the process.

“Contagion” is not your ordinary bloody post apocalyptic movie. It is not interested in the chaos that are displayed through the media or people running around in famous spots as the world is reduced into snippets of world monuments and the crushing of it. It is interested in the people who would be directly dealing with it and then the people we will forget in the midst of our busy lives and those are none other than ourselves. He is a man of details and here he gives a clinical approach. That might detach the sensitivity and humanity element but it is every bit effective and keeps you glued. You might not be relieved or rewarded a cinematic finale but it has a sweet finish that is more cinematic and more real.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

"The Debt" (2011) - Movie Review

Kidnapping and holding someone during the transition from one place to another is prone to failure. You can avoid talking with them, hide emotions but when there is humanity involved even in the deadliest of spies, there is always doors for intrusion from a character devilish to kill with no mercy and exposure for the sane. Something like that happens in “The Debt” and it never materializes for a clever mind game by the Nazi doctor the three Mossad agents capture and the tangled relationship in between the agents achieves no fruition for a drama.

What works right for the film are the intense scenes on how Rachel Singer (Jessica Chastain) gets the information on the Nazi Doctor Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) and then orchestrates his kidnap along with her colleagues David (Sam Worthington) and commanding officer Stefan (Marton Csokas). The scenes are done with simple precision where we exactly know what is happening, at least most of the times which gets shuddered and blurred in the shaky cam craze that comes through in today’s thrillers.

The film goes back and forth between the 1997 old agents Rachel played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson as Stefan and Ciaran Hinds as David to their 1965 incident. I think the problem lies out there where I had hard time to transfer the emotions, pain and angst of Jessica Chastain’s Rachel to Helen Mirren’s. Granted that every one of us as a person change more than the physical appearance but the part that misses out here is that it does hold good that these two are same person and they have carried this secret despite the time it has travelled.

Rachel and David have romantic inclination as the rule dictates that women are attracted to mystical characters who keeps everything to themselves. The rules also dictate that women do crazy things when rejected by their love and the crazy thing here is Stefan. This triangle which bodes to be an underline becomes a side note. Rachel now old and divorced from Stefan has a daughter who has published a book on the heroics of her mom and dad along with David. In that it is said that Rachel killed the doctor in captive while attempting to escape making her a warrior and model figure for not alone her kid but also the country. There is obviously a notable secrecy in this version and that is the drive for the 1965 story.

This is the part I liked wherein half of their mission goes well and the transportation fumbles into taking their target as a prisoner. As they force feed the monster and give him nothing but food, the patience wears off. There is no way they can transport him out to Israel and they cannot go outside as the police are on the hunt. This is the beauty of the predicament where not alone does the cruel doctor is a captive but these three within their apartment. As Vogel laughs, mocks and frustrates David and Stefan in not eating, Rachel comes like calm angel with anger in her eyes. Vogel simply eats with no question but I believe he has seen a possibility for his escape. He has broken the other two and he knows the girl is his key piece. This game plays quite well as he breaks Rachel and soon enough David. Yet there is no weight to this process. There is a missing piece that never gets placed back. Even after knowing the truth about the dark shadows in the eyes of the old agents, we feel there is something else that is not being said. I think we are not convinced, at least I was not.

Directed by John Madden, this is a remake of Israeli film of the same name. In fairness to the director, it has all the elements the film needs to have. A tight screenplay where no scene seems to be put out of place but “The Debt” lacks weight of the relationship between these three characters. Whenever there is a possibility of a completion of a relationship, it gets pulled off by turn of events that could have happened a while later giving more chance to understand the dynamics of these ties.

Jessica Chastain comes out marginally victorious despite the disconnection with the Helen Mirren’s version. She sticks to this character almost to the end but falters when she engulfs the glory that comes along with the lie. Why would she succumb to that while David cannot? She is introduced as this strong woman deeply fearful inside trying to find meaning in the life but David is the only one who seem to have the guilt and regret. “The Debt” is not technically flawed but its screenplay unfairly omits certain parts to complete these people that makes it a better thriller but an unconvincing drama.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

"Tree of Life" (2011) - Movie Review

Terrence Malick’s ambitious and enormous film “Tree of Life” is as much beautiful to look at as staring at a beautiful gorgeous creature. The problem is at some point of time you want to reach out and make a communication with that creature to initiate an emotion or spark to continue on. “Tree of Life” has spits of sparks and man those are glorious to be enthralled upon but it quite over invites itself and becomes a drag. A film made with pure artistic integrity, Terrence Malick brings forth images that would dazzle the audience and put serenity in the bosom of organized aggression. Yet as much as one can admire it, we are lost in the minds of the director unable to hear or listen when the credits roll.

The comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is unavoidable as both deals with the span of the existence of the universe. Both treats the material with scathing honesty that incepts from the nerves of a creative mind on to the technological invention of art medium of cinema screen. As much as I adored, admired and applauded the work of Kubrick’s, I mentioned that I cannot sit through that film again. Malick’s venture might grow on me because as you begin to watch a film repeatedly, you begin to expect the great scenes and thereby forget the misses. Regardless this review would be the first viewing experience and what may come of tomorrow will be left to the time that advances without hindrance.

The film is not structured if you have not realized it by now. The film does not have a clear narration if you have not realized it by now. The film is not your regular movie even for an ardent movie goer, and you better realize if you are one. Malick works wonders with his cinematographer Ennamuel Lubezki. True that the technology has aided and assisted in bringing sharper images and crisp quality to the picture in these days but this film captures the picture like it is growing as the time goes by. When we visit places filled with nature’s plethora of blessing, the pictures does not do justice to that place and being there is what it really means to be. Malick’s eye through the camera gathers and violently pulls the experience out of that nature and shows it with tender and beauty. We are engulfed in a never ending poem changing scenes seamlessly.

It has actors too you know. It is a tale about relationship of a man and his boy, the boy and the man he has become, a mother and her boys and the brothers they grew up with. The man is Brad Pitt as Mr. O’brien though name does not mean a thing as I did not catch it at all. So goes for all the characters. Jessica Chastain is the mother and Sean Penn is the grown young boy. The relationship between each of the member becomes a portrait of the American family and in terms of core functionality representing human race in social existence.

The father is affectionate, a provider, tough, commanding and scathing when it comes to dinner table. He has expectations from his eldest son. He truly sees him as the extension of him. The mother is caring, angelic, tender and melancholic. She treats her kids with a compassion a mother can only have and provides the purity of affection in every step of the way. A father has his moments but when happy moments happen with her, it is true love. It brings a nostalgia in the viewer of those happy days. While we all know the nature of the bond between a father, a mother and their offspring, Malick makes it look like a news in a good way.

What is “Tree of Life” about? As a confused film aficionado would obscurely speculate I would say it is about everything. The life we live in, lived in and the future that might become. All the characters talk to god or nature in some form or another. There is confession, regrets, pain, mercy, care, trust and the everlasting love. It has family, togetherness and a representation of how different each of us are but how common the emotions we go through as growing up.

Despite these glorious emotions and relationships, by the time we hit the end roads of “Tree of Life”, we are left to be wandering not for conclusion but devoid of any more artistic appreciation of the poetry Malick keeps on writing. May be the beauty wears but by the end we are not exhausted rather left expecting more sooner. It does not overstay its invite but fails to carry on the moment it planted. It fails to connect us completely with the characters. While their memories are painted solid, it does not make us involve with them. They become a representation and remain so but not quite become unique enough to empathize with them. And I imagine adding more voices to those would have saved it but then again this is a man’s straight clear path to the work he wants to project. In that it succeeds but it does not quite carry the ache to a memorable likable scar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Holy Mountain" (1973) - Movie Review

Be careful what you wish for is all I could think when I was watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain”, a film suggested by a fellow film enthusiast in a weekly film group I have been having for the past month. This was picked under the category “Offbeat/Experimental” that I came up for the group and if I thought “Rubber” perfectly fit there, “The Holy Mountain” which was made almost forty years back redefines it with a spank on my ass. A film that is filled with psychedelic imagery comprising colours, structures, sets, blood, flesh, violence, nudity (a lot of it) and sex. An experiment that has odd elements and weird chemistries and absolute spellbinding reaction, this is a pure experience in every bit of its entirety.

Made in the early seventies oozing with peace and love, backed by the Beatles members, Alejandro Jodorowsky begins his film with a ceremony ending with two beautiful naked women tonsured and sitting symmetrically with a mystical man in the middle. If that does not set the tone of the film, I cannot think of what else would. From that backdrop we goto a deserted land where an almost naked man (Horacio Salinas) is lying there with flies covering his face and when I say covering his face, I mean in every inch of his face the creature creeps and fills in the gap. Then comes the group of naked kids and lifts him, puts him through the cross and throws stones at him. This is where I was not hoping this film would not go and it came in the first five minutes. Whenever a person sacrifices the innocence of a kid for the purpose of art, he/she loses respect from this reviewer. I am though speaking too soon as they are out there with an innocence the director wants to portray. Having survived an early scare, I was not foolish to think this was it as there were several other near misses that I wish Jodorowsky would have used his expressive creative ability in better form and presentation. Regardless, “The Holy Mountain” continued to baffle, astound, surprise, shock, humour, scare and outright take me for a ride I have never ridden before. This is a piece of work and I mean it.

The film is filled with symbolism, cynicism and revolutionary images. Watching after nearly forty years from its creation, it still has the power to shock any viewer. As this man begins to wander around the streets of the city and goes through the surrealistic and symbolistic world of Jodorowsky, we are exposed to the religion that gets sold, marketed, entertained and ridiculed. It is hailed and imbibed with phoniness. If you have not figured it by now the plot is nowhere. Dialogues are absolutely absent for the first thirty minutes and successive imageries of carnage and sex are casually thrown around to instigate and challenge the viewer to continue watching this film. As the film hurls through those and finally lands up where the wandering christ like man ends up in a tower that lowers down a hook with a bag of gold, we meet the person the film began with. He wears a black robe with a hat covering his face entirely.

He is revealed as he begins to speak to this hobo. This is where the film takes a turn for the best. Given as a god like figure, the man or alchemist as we come to know played by the director himself, begins to provide synopsis of the most powerful people in the current world the man needs to know. This is the part we are humoured and entertained. There is the industrialist mainly a cosmetics manufacturer, a toy manufacturer, president’s financial advisor, an architect, a weapons manufacturer, an art dealer and a police chief. Each of their background reflects the time the film was made and the perspectives most of the seventies contemporary folks had in mind. While the story continued through each of them, my thoughts ran the judgments of this director who was taking the much despised self righteous route most of over the edge hippie culture took. That kind of overenthusiastic hypocrisy is annoying but when Jodorowsky shows the art dealer’s art work and the “Pantheon Bar” where a man deludes himself of LSD and other crazy drug before the group ascends the Holy Mountain, I was impressed by the balance this mad director had in his film.

“The Holy Mountain” has the most stunning imageries. It has symbolism, surrealism, absurdity, contemporary art that would bring shame to the current art forms and the daring nature of experimental film making. Its creator had the most naked form of artistic integrity that he simply denies to accept to satisfy any kind of audience. Even the most fantastic and admired directors of all time are molded by the environment and limited by the ambience they grew and live upon. Alejandro Jodorowksy’s world is not that at all. He tears the screen and splashes it with imagination, weird disturbing ones and then tender beautiful ones. Then he paints poetry and laughs with his mockery.

Having praised, disappointed and offended in parts and pieces, this reviewer would not sit through this experience again. As much as there are spellbinding photography, location and oddity in this film, the taste of this reviewer comes into place. Fortunately or unfortunately I have a certain liking to a certain common feed of films that beckons multiple viewings. Few of those might be called as offbeat but nowhere near as that of “The Holy Mountain”. While I wish Jodorowksy chose other pictures, paintings and presentations for some of the depictions, he carried those with a certain sense of moral responsibility which I can acknowledge but not agree. “The Holy Mountain” can be said as a film that would shock and awe anyone forty years from now and that is a compliment and a caution at the same time.

Monday, August 08, 2011

"D.O.A." (1950) - Movie Classics

How can you not be excited and fascinated by the tagline “D.O.A.” poses? “A picture as excitingly different as its title!” Mark the exclamation and you know what I am talking about. There are few films I get really pumped and this one got me for two reasons. One is the aforementioned catchy line and the second one is the plot that reminded me of a terrible film “Crank”. With that I sat along with my friends of the film group I arranged to be immersed into the cheesy, oozing 50ish classic film noir filled with lovable bad acting, some cool shots of San Francisco and a sarcasm that cuts through like a samurai sword.

Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) walks into a police station to report about his own murder. Confusing, isn’t it? Now in the realms of trailer and wikipedia filled world one would know about this kind of hype and plot but in the 50s when advertisements were through cheesy tag lines and pure selling factor of a poster, this opening sequence would have brought everybody to be alert right away. The film immediately goes back to flashback as Frank is preparing for his vacation to San Francisco from his town of Banning, California. His secretary/girlfriend is Paula (Pamela Britton) as it has been time and again taught by several “Mad Men” episodes, secretaries = obvious affairs. She is annoying the crap out of him with affection and as my friend was saying in a bipolar fashion. The reason being his immediate vacation to San Francisco. He departs as a man from those times would irreverent towards a woman’s perspective and opinion.

As he checks in to the hotel there are random beautiful women walk by him and the back ground cue for it is next to silliness while also marks a sense of how the film makers want to be sure of the nature in which Frank was ogling these women. It is ridiculous to hear those crazy sounds of obvious comedy but also symbolize the period in which this was made. Frank begins his charade of finding debauchery through his fellow members of the hotel where they invite him to a club, a jazz club. The festivities and the scene of jazz is shot with brilliant nature. The artists involved are animated and are enjoying their performance while the crowd frenzies around the packed room with noise, cheer and disturbing dances. As Frank settles in a bar stool he shifts his perspective towards a lonely lady on the other side of the bar. He goes to her and leaves his drink. Bad idea. A simple switch a route of his drink by a strange person lands him to finish his night earlier as he wakes up feeling weird about himself. You know what happened to him. The film begins with a new thump on this mystery of who poisoned him. He has little time to leave as he confirms with couple of doctors.

The plot that follows would have to be too complex but the idea is for this web to provide varied location and shady characters. As Frank is wondering how to spend his final day(s), he wants to unravel the reasoning for his sure destiny. He is a man with nothing to lose and he goes gung-ho to get his answers. He picks up short clues, long roads and quick hideaways to find the person who did this to him.

Director Rudolph Mate draws a perfect noir with a right tinge of overblown drama from the writings of Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene. There is immediacy in the acting from Edmond O’brien and Pamela Britton in their romance which truly is made to be an annoyance rather than an expression for true love. And then there is wit and sarcasm dripping through the screen from O’brien’s Bigelow who goes through random places and run through the streets of San Francisco to get some answers and die in peace and regret.

Almost every character is filled with dark shades and Bigelow failing to listen to their entire story before hurrying up to the partially built up clue he made of is entertaining. To understand the original nature of dark wit in terrible time is when he goes to extract information from a photo studio. There as the owner of the studio is getting bribed for information, the man explains the nature in which he conducts business and see the response Bigelow is making which is nothing short of cynicism and dark humour. These are the scenes which makes “D.O.A.” come out of its known cheesiness.

“D.O.A.” has genuine funniness and the obvious silliness of the time in which the movie was made. Yet it carries the pure formulation of a classic noir threaded, knitted and decorated with care and perfection in its own way by not alone the director but from every bit of the actors in good and bad acting and dark shadows of cinematography by Ernest Laszlo through the crazy lines of its screen writers. And from this the film truly has evolved from the eyes of the viewers more than the makers themselves.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) - Movie Classics

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is that classic genre of thrilling films 70s and 80s were good at producing out. The characters in it are restless, casual and a charm that exhibits a characteristic of being both put up and natural. They had that going for him until the CGI took over the industry and brought this genre to its knees. That is the reason maybe when I watched “Payback” with my brother, it seemed nostalgic or more so original. Seeing this film draws me back to those films despite the minimal quantity of movies I have seen from this time.

Having seen the remade version of this with Tony Scott’s fast editing going through Denzel Washington and John Travolta having fun in playing these characters in the modern world of mediocrity, the original seemed fresher. This indeed is a methodical and cold nature in which a group of men led by a menacing Englishman Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) takes over the subway train Pelham One Two Three. This addressing of Mr. Blue later became Tarantino’s homage in his earlier film “Reservoir Dogs”. On a regular busy day in New York train network arrives these men and board at different points and take over the train. They corner themselves up and as much as we know that there is a plan of getaway from this trap, we are curious as to how.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Gerber giving tour to Tokyo Metro directors on the station they are successfully running. Gerber is everyday man, dreading the presence of foreigners at the same time courteous to show them around with cynicism and sarcasm. His colleagues are panicking on the situation they got into when Gerber gets into the mix with quick response. There are no dramatic back ground to accentuate the situation nor does there are crazy run around in the nerve center in head quarters. People panic but naturally and Gerber responds in a hurried calm fashion. He seem to have got the rhythm of Mr. Blue and vice versa that they both acclimatize quickly and begin the negotiation. Mr. Blue is on the upper hand. He has hostages and he needs money and he needs it immediately. He promises to kill one passenger per minute delay in the arrival of the money and he is damn serious about it.

The movie works with a pace creeping into the screen with conspicuously. Gerber communicates back and forth with the fellow Lieutenant Garber (Jerry Stiller) on the happenings outside and then to Mr. Blue. Directed by Joseph Sargent, the film takes the story outside of the train and command center onto the politics and the NYPD involved in the mix. The Mayor (Lee Wallace) who is being manipulated, bullied and nearly man handled by a strong and powerful Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) though he seem to be the man of making decisions. The desperate attempt of the policeman riding with the ransom money going through the busy streets of the city shown with a serious urgency and sudden vanishing of emotion in that whole scene. These are few of side plots that gets the film a tone and voice that is missing so much in the thriller genre involving action, pace and intelligence in current days.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is precise in its presentation and utterly serious about the stakes involved. Do not be fooled by the lack of back ground score or obvious dramatization because Mr. Blue is capable of anything and we see him when he executes with chilling clinical nature. Then again he is annoyed when a killing is done unnecessarily. For him there needs to be a purpose for an action and it should facilitate getting a point or to a means to the end, that includes killing. This surgical nature makes him a terror to the hostages around which brings to the hostages who behave, act and react to the situation calm followed by panic, confusion and eventually to submission.

The smartness of Gerber comes at the juncture when it matters. There is no way out when Mr. Blue places his demands and has the situation completely under his control. Gerber waits for the opportunity though he does not make it know. It is his nature and the instinct which kicks when he tackles the situation of money coming late to the station. He acts and saves lives with a flick of a switch. Dealt with a sincere film making, “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the classic the genre deserves. Films like this “Marathon Man” and “Three Days of Condor” reminds me how thriller was once upon a time.