Sunday, May 08, 2011

"Thor" (2011) - Movie Review

Seeing IMAX 3D for the first time in Peoria, “Thor” is something to watch for in that technology. What a treat! I along like several others have been against 3D and I still do believe that it eats away the core nature of a film a little bit but watching “Thor” in 3D and mainly through the beautiful technology of IMAX I think there are films that beckons to be viewed in this format. Yet the truth remains which is whatever the magnanimity the brilliance of science and technology might bring the art of telling a story has to be the crux of any movie going experience including a blockbuster like “Thor”.

Opening the gateway for ridiculous blockbuster films that serenaded the preview for this film, “Thor” is sometime better and most of the times mediocre road the superhero films tend to take. Thor is played by Chris Hemworth who has imbibed the gym within himself and shaped into a rock giant. He lives in this magical world of Asgard, far far far and far away from Earth and other “realms”. Here magic happens because, well it happens. No reason or explanation other than the fact that of it being the source for plethora of larger than universe action sequences and backdrops.

Thor is arrogant, cocky and immature as any superhero with crazy powers would be. His father is Anthony Hopkins as a one eyed Odin, King of Asgard. As Thor proudly walks to accept the Kingdom from his father the blue skinned monsters Frost Giants (sounds like a delicious delight from Diary Queen!) sneak into steal the WMD of their world called the Casket of Ancient Winters (sounds like a classic dessert in a fine dine restaurant). As the ferocious young warmongering mind of Thor takes his allies to teach the Frost Giants a lesson, he gets a lesson of his own from Odin to be banished to the Earth for breaking the peace and prosperity that exists between Asgard and Jotunheim.

That gets you to the origins of Thor coming to Earth. The film maker are not so curious about the world of Asgard which is filled with sparkling bridges, golden structures and powers that makes nuclear weapons a water gun. Of course they are worried more about the rambunctious and irresponsible giant kid. That is indeed the reason we as the audience are out there but little do they care on providing some form of idea on this magnificent world of Asgard. For instance what is the day to day life of an Asgardian? Or for that fact the Frost Giants whom at the end Thor realizes are another race with innocent lives? The ridicule from the readers on this reviewer is well aware but for a superhero film to be greater than the genre itself, you got to go above and beyond. Even the “Iron Man” which proves merely a thriller and funny than a great superhero films has some grip on its ambience and characters. “Thor” does have those but aims low on several occasions.

What redeems the film out of the mediocrity is the last act wherein our beloved hero begins to understand the nature of leadership, wisdom and sacrifice. The plot with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) provides a good revelation and his aspiration to please Odin makes complete sense in putting together this piece in nice order. The romance between Thor and the gorgeous young scientist Jane Foster played by Natalie Portman is there just enough to not become a distraction and exists for some sort of obligation which I am happy to fall for.

The build up of these Marvel comic characters to formulate the 2012 “The Avengers” paves way to bring S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and does so rightly. The real wonders of this film is the glorious backdrop of Asgard given by Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and the great team of graphics. It is grandiose and flawed but it is more about witnessing these structures that is both poetic, glossy, boisterous and magnetic. Take the Bifrost Bridge leading to the gateway of traveling to other realms and the road to it glitters like spongy diamonds.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” is considered and written by many critics as the right entry to the blockbuster and many claiming it to be a far better superhero film. True that it provides good entertainment and is an inch above the fiascos of this genre films. Apparently the standards of this genre has gone down considerably wherein people like Chris Nolan are the only ones taking it to phenomenal heights of realism, thrill and profundity. Ranking for what it is “Thor” is a fun film with some soul in its titular character but as a general scale for good films, it is average at its best.

Monday, May 02, 2011

"Leaves of Grass" (2010) - Movie Review

Odd needs a definition after seeing “Leaves of Grass”. A film that never comes under any convention and takes a ride that goes with total unpredictability at every step of its way and comes out with a mystique of its own. What did Edward Norton see when he read the script written by director Tim Blake Nelson? Is it the in depth philosophical references and the esoteric nature of Bill Kincaid or is it the simplicity in the pot headed Brady Kincaid who is as much as brilliant as his brother succumbing to the land he grew up? How could you approach a subject like this and produce a performance out of it? I believe that is where Edward Norton distinguishes himself in taking odd films in odd characters and rolls on with it. You might not possibly fall in love with it but you know you have never seen anything like this before.

Bill Kincaid and Brady Kincaid are identical twins living separate lives. Bill is a professor in philosophy and has a promising career awaiting in Harvard law school to frame his own course and content. What a pleasurable post it would be for a professor? Brady is living in Little Dixie, Oklahoma and has built the most sophisticated and pure form of modern agriculture through hydroponics for growing weed. He built up a hefty amount of debt from a drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss) in the process and he is given an option to either pay back or expand the business, neither of which he does not want to do. This brings to the turn of events to use his brother as a ridiculous alibi for his crazy plan.

There is a plot and there is no plot. There is significance and there is insignificance to its details. There is a poetry and garbage. There is confused mix of everything and you have no idea what you are getting into. The treatment of the material is organic. It has a simple set up and ordinary people behaving in their defined ordinary manner. Only here it is a pot headed grower is in his out of mind attempt to get out of this fix as he is expecting a baby. Seeing Billy and Brady you can say how each of them opted out to be who they wanted. Billy knew too much in the early high school years to get out of this place and be consumed by its eccentricity. Brady embraced it with full heart and is left with debt and troubles. Their mother (Susan Sarandon) brought them up influenced by the culture of 60s. Talk about dysfunctional family and you get a true to the bone enactment out here.

Billy is the sophisticated and feared professor. He is lured back to Oklahoma only to find out he is the coin in his brother’s plan. He meets a beautiful and smart woman Janet (Keri Russell) from his child hood and is charmed by her erudite in literature and philosophy. His life before this film would have been solid teaching with student crushing over his handsomeness and not able to afford any time for himself. Here he is forced to smoke pot and let loose to not dwell on those conventional drug trip but to let Janet to him. Despite the fear of his home town taking his life away, he is liberated and free in the tricky situation he was tricked in.

Brady is the other side of the coin and he is every bit of Billy in mind and soul but is completely messed up in making decisions. He loves his brother and his family. He takes life at its face value and takes it as it was given to him. His buddy Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) is loyal and this duo work in a weird sense of rhythm and understanding. They are what they are and nothing else. They are regular humans and every one is in their sanity but the choices and decisions define the uniqueness of failure and success. You would know which part Brady is.

I have so many questions for Tim Blake Nelson on what made him to write and direct this film. Resembling much of Coen brothers storytelling it still goes way away from them. Coen brothers in their films have a distant agenda of something. Either the mood or the way of life or simply the characters dissection in a surgical manner becomes their backbone. In “Leaves of Grass” it wanders with no purpose and here and there it lays the seeds of thoughts and profound realizations. It talks religion, god, existentialism, narcism, greed, desperation, betrayal, violence, hatred, comedy, tragedy, romance and everything in between.

The experience of watching “Leaves of Grass” is nothing short of weird and unique. It invites the viewer in the assumption of simple plot of mix up and then becomes into this monster of a chaos. People begin to do things unexpectedly expected and violence erupts from unknown corner. Tragedy cruises through with ease and all of a sudden you have no idea what you are watching. It might either irritate and confuse its audience or beckon for another viewing like this reviewer. The undertone of this film is subtle in unexplainable ways and I cannot possibly explain what made me like this film and what will make you not like this film. I think that is the beauty of this picture that stands there as a philosophical statement leaving its readers in a little confused state. It might be a germination that grows up into an epiphany or simply rot in the ground. Regardless, you will be infected.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

"Handsome Harry" (2009) - Movie Review

Before we go any further into the review of “Handsome Harry”, can I say how majestically handsome Jamey Sheridan is? No wonder they picked the man for the titular role of this smooth and classy film directed by Bette Gordon. It has a rare nature as the several scotches and wines the characters sip in the film. You know how it is going to taste but it is the joy of sipping it for real makes it something unique in this common occurrence.

Harry Sweeney is living in a small town and gets a call from an old navy buddy after thirty years he comfortably forgot. Tommy Kelly (Steve Buscemi) is dying and he needs to speak with Harry about the horrible night where the two along with their friends in the navy did to a guy named David Kagan. Harry begins his journey to meet his navy buddies who were there during that night nearly killing a man. This will be his search for forgiveness and you know where it all leads to. Nothing surprising out here yet there are actors and the mood Bette Gordon sets that goes like a smooth drink.

Harry played by Jamey Sheridan is unquestionably magnetic. Looking like a stallion he commands an upper hand even before he speaks but he is a regular man with regular moves and regular regrets. He begins meeting his friends and in that drunken night of hate and rage he questions who threw the armature on David’s arm and crush it. The night they want to forget gets a visitation for real and outside of their mind. This blast from the past is not a happy reunion.

Soon we learn the obvious nature of the act they bestowed upon the poor man. David made a pass on Harry and evil birthed upon him through this mob. I can still remember a dark incident from my past that involved similar situation and bunch of kids having no idea other than getting an opportunity to show their bravado beat a confused kid. I will be honest and say that I was disgusted about the kid to make a move on a guy but somewhere in that time I knew that the kid did not deserve that and now this film brings up those crazy past. Everyone has grown out of it and I cannot honestly say what they think about it but I can only be thankful that the kid did not get hurt as bad as David in the film. Rage and hate are such a violent thing that the damage of it can never be undone. Whatever the life everyone would lead that incident would be there and nothing can be done about it. Life still though goes on. Harry’s life and other’s did go on. Harry is a divorced man with a son he cannot talk openly to. Life does go on.

Harry visits Peter Rheems (John Savage) who instantly remembers Harry and is so excited and cannot wait to boast his success to him. He invites Harry to his new home with his wife Judy (Mariann Mayberry). There they share a drink and a memory. Peter tells the time they went to Acropolis and how several years back he went there again. He says how he began to think “Me now and Me then” and that part is one hell of a scene performed by John Savage with a nostalgia and decades of regret, pain and forgotten dreams in small sentences written by Nicholas T. Proferes.

Harry then visits William Porter (Aidan Quinn) a professor who has erased that past he served in the navy and denies any claims of that life he lived. Harry begs for twenty minutes and at the end of it William asks whether he wants to come for dinner and Harry replies that it appears twenty minutes is the life span of these reunions. He then sets off to meet Gebhardt (Titus Welliver) who is a born again Christian trying to forgive. He is too wise to know that the talk Harry is expecting and takes him to a golf course than a drink in his house. Their conversation reveals little bit more into the state of Harry. “Handsome Harry” has these one off sudden lines and mystic that brings past like a delicious rum. I keep referring this film to the sweet bitter taste of alcohol and you will understand once you see it.

Despite some wonderful acting, writing and the mood, the film does not go for the skyline. But this is the kind of film that would have been drowned into chaos with such an attempt and I can see the path Bette Gordon took. Seeing this I remember one of my favourite films “Broken Flowers” by Jim Jarmusch with Bill Murray trying to find the woman who mailed him a letter informing that he has a son and how his journey goes to the serious relationships he had in his womanizing life. There it was more about the enigmatic, funny and profound settings of the director and the end that made a strange emotion to its viewer. In “Handsome Harry” there is the open suspense of how Harry sees his life and the lies he decided to live upon. The end is polishing and suave. And I had nothing much more expected from this film yet there is a yearning. May be I was subconsciously expecting more from a film that knows its characters and the ambience. Either way check out the shining men reliving their dreaded past through handsome Harry.

"Easy A" (2010) - Movie Review

Seeing Emma Stone in “Superbad” for first time, all I could think of is how this is one another teenage actor that will be stereotyped in several upcoming films. She kicked off all those notions in “Zombieland” with a knack for working her beauty into timed comedy. Here in “Easy A” she takes the lead and goes through it like a veteran actor. A tale which would have been otherwise tamed into a teenage soap opera turns into a heartwarming comedy.

Emma Stone plays Olive (what an interesting name for a movie character) a high school girl looking for an identity. Despite her notable beauty she has somehow missed the train on popularity. Her best friend is Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) and Rhiannon appears to with Olive predominantly to look shiny amongst unpolished shoes. The film begins in what is a webcast by Olive confessing to her side of the story. She begins how a simple lie in escaping a camp trip with Rhiannon brought to the place she is. In a faint attempt to continue her reason for not going to the camp, Olive lies saying she went out with a guy and had a one night stand. This of course happens within closed doors of women’s room but an open one for gossips. Enter Marianne (Amanda Bynes) overhearing this conversation. How can I say her type with political correctness? I cannot. She is a Jesus freak.

Within hours the rumour mill churns this and spits out to several mile radius around the campus. Olive despite the lie begins to like this new formed attention. People know her name and the idea of being watched and noticed is a drug like no other. Ask the reality show participants. But the reputation is not something to thrive for and the gang of Marianne gets in a tiff with Olive that gets her in detention. There she meets up with her closeted friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) and that leads to amplifying the reputation to next level. Before she knows the formed lies spread phenomenally while the unformed truth circulates amongst other students who wants to be associated with Olive’s reputation. She becomes a prostitute for fake reputations.

Through these serious steps of life director Will Gluck cruises through like Disneyland. Emma Stone is his girl who can bode those guilt and declining self esteem into lovely humour. Of course there are some snippets of astounding supporting roles from Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s liberal, free, hippie and yuppie parents and Thomas Haden Church as Olive’s favourite English teacher Mr. Griffith. Along with Lisa Kudrow spraying some of her talented charm of goofy wicked humour to provide the greatly needed cast for this film.

Olive parallels this course of events taking inspiration from her reading exercise “The Scarlet Letter” and do not worry as they give a crash course towards this fast paced impatient FB generation that includes me. She stitches “A” in her new scintillating edgy costumes to symbolize her pursuit of standing tall in a high school society of ostracizing and judging their fellow students. That adds a good touch and may be even make some of the people to reach out for the literary work.

“Easy A” has all the flavouring of a boring romantic comedy but takes inspiration from the classics of John Hughes 80s teen comedies. It refers to it and fantasizes on those romantic actions of the boys in it. What more than a classic romance than John Cusack holding the boom box? John Hughes indeed has set the standards very high for the teen boys and there are not many to follow those. There is one like that though in “Easy A” and he is Todd (Penn Badgley) who is a gentleman passionately dressing up as ridiculous school mascots and has nothing but non-judgmental crush on Olive. Even beyond my cynical brain he comes out well.

Emma Stone is now consecutively proving that she can take sensible scripts where she is not alone used for a stereotype but a brain and humour that comes along with it. She can be cute, attractively obnoxious, silly, sexy and a dork with no trouble. That is saying something for someone portraying teenage beauties in several films. Will Gluck provides a better film in romantic comedies with a cautionary tale as Tina Fey did in “Mean Girls” of course with a kick and fun to it.