Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Midnight in Paris" (2011) - Movie Review

My best friend wishes he lived during the beat culture and when peace, love and free sex were the mantra. He should watch “Midnight in Paris” and can empathize with the main character of the film. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter trying to redeem his soul selling to Hollywood by writing a novel. He is in Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil absolutely adores Paris as it is close to his heart when great writers spent peaceful time in this creative catalyst of a town, Paris. Now here he is and he cannot stop praising the beauty of the streets and the cafe’s, the presence of these artists and literary geniuses in a different time. He is going to get more than he asked for.

Woody Allen churns out films every year and it seems that he has an eternal fountain of creative process working in his head. Including this film I have seen three of his works, all recent and the diversity and presentation is so far apart and yet so effective. In “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” he provided three women, one man and a kind of twisted romance in the most amicable fashion. Then he gets Larry David being pretty much his manifestation in “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” into a comedy and a statement of the culture and society. Here he comes with a pleasant journey into the heart of this beautiful city known to have nurtured the greatest of writers in the bosom’s of its cobble stoned streets and rainy bridges.

Gil cannot believe that he is in Paris and desperately seeks an empathizing soul to share his enthusiasm in landing out here. Inez is more to be interested in the showy and classily snobby pseudo literate geek Paul Bates (Michael Sheen) who reeks of shady condescension starting from the way he maintains his beard. Gil goes through this relationship in a denial being dominated and questioned by his future in-laws. In a much enjoyable wine drinking session he opts out of dance to walk through the streets drunk. He lands lost in a step way when the bell tolls to midnight. An antique car finds its way and there are cheery people get him inside the vehicle to continue on an adventure I was not ready and expect to happen.

What happens in that midnight of Paris and the upcoming nights will not be revealed out here in this review but all I can say is that it is a writer’s wet dream. Woody Allen obviously has a greater understanding of the feeling like any passionate artist would. While any of the creator’s work is semi-autobiographical leaving some form of themselves inside one or several characters and in this film Allen channels all his fantasy through Gil.

While I am not well informed or curious enough to explore those great writers of the times when they loitered the late nights of this city to expand and explain their creative significance to themselves, “Midnight in Paris” has Owen Wilson exuberant with the cheerfulness of a young kid fluttering around in the aim of immersing into this extraordinary adventure as a writer. And knowing the nature of these writers clearly would elevate the enjoyment level of this film to a different level, it never does hinder an ordinary film enthusiast to miss out on lot of things.

“Midnight in Paris” is the kind of film which puts the audience at ease and lets them relate with concept on the joy someone would have in a fantasy in a personal sense but casually. Owen Wilson gets joined in this festival with Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Alison Pill, Corey Stoll and Marion Cotillard. It becomes a homage, ode and a dream that of a writer in the perfect city for that to happen.

I have refrained myself considerably in this review to reveal next to nothing plot as I would like for the viewers to be surprised as I was and go with the flow as the film does. In the current movie going experience the idea of finding a film surprising has phenomenally reduced and for a film like this, it is more than required to conceal the plot revelation as there lies the complete joy of experiencing a film. It is not ground breaking but you will understand the importance of knowing it first hand when you see it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Super 8" (2011) - Movie Review

I remember the hazy memories of watching “Goonies” and the bits and pieces of “E.T” and it is not strange that those are brought back in me watching J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8”. Not alone he places the story in that era the films mentioned came out but also provides a sci-fi that has great kids adventuring through the little town of Lillian. With Kyle Chandler coming off from “Friday Night Lights” to give a composed performance not replicating Coach Taylor, “Super 8” becomes a nostalgic experience and an entertaining one.

There are perfect emotional setups as the films begins with Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) losing his mother to an accident and his father Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is the generation dad that had no contact with his son as his wife is the house manager. He is now a single dad lamenting his loss and being tough on the front. The relationship between Joe and Jack needs resolution. Then there is Joe’s best buddy and a passionate director at such a young age is Charles (Riley Griffiths). Joe is good for make up taking his artistic skills from his mother and Elle Fanning as Alice comes to the childhood crush to work on the summer film Charles is making.

The production unit begins their important scene on the railway station and it was enthusiastic to see Charles work his people up as a demanding good director. I wish I could be like him and make use of everything and anything around to add production value. But then again when a train derails, an unknown creature escapes and US Air Force swarms over this little town, Charles gets any director would dream of. A series of perfectly made unfortunate events for movie making!

This reviewer has long forgotten of a kid’s adventure story (yes, I have not yet seen the Harry Potter films) and to see it being shot with a shrewdness of Abrams makes up for that lost opportunities. So far Abrams has directed the box office hits “Mission Impossible III” and “Star Trek”, both of which were evident that these subject matter however cheesy and preposterous have been gets a life supporting system to wake it up. He surely seems to have mastered the art of adding human emotions into blockbuster mindlessness. There is just enough seriousness and gravity in his past films that it takes this fodder of Hollywood haphazard exercise into something meaningful. “Super 8” gets more of it than his previous two ventures.

Like M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” which I was not a big fan of, the film keeps this creature that gets loose of the air force train hidden and out of focus. Suddenly the dogs disappear and engines from all the cars vanish. Added to that the Sheriff of the town absconds leaving Jack in the middle of people’s complains in waves and the Air Force shutting him down of any information. In between he has to deal with his wife’s loss and with the man whose shift his wife took to succumb to the accident.

Noah Emmerich comes as the secretive and egomaniacal Colonel Nelec. Again it is so predictable of his character but Abrams somehow breathes life into these known people seen in previous films. The main strategy he employs is getting these gang of kids to be those kids looking for adventure and trying to make things bigger than them in the small little town. Then there is Elle Fanning coming with similar talent as that of her sister in a much mature and cute performance.

Yet it is Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, the goofy little fire mongering Zach Mills as Preston and the protagonist in Charles’ film Martin played by Gabriel Basso along with Ryan Lee’s Carey that take away this film from the hands of adults. They are at the genesis of teenage year exploring the limits and spurring rebelliousness. Their dorky character lands up in teaming within themselves and be in the midst amongst the greatest moments in the human history.

“Super 8” pays off emotionally that does not require Sam Mendes or Paul Thomas Anderson to be involved but is not vacant as that of Michael Bay. This balance it has with the precise amount of drama, loss, love, adventure and science fiction provides the smoothest ride for a very familiar road. Its stand against 3D definitely works in its favour and the IMAX helps out the larger than universe in a small town environment. And the kids make it all entertaining and “Super 8” will be played not far from future to be the perfect Sunday evening film.

Monday, June 06, 2011

"X-Men: First Class" (2011) - Movie Review

For all the above average mediocre fun the X-Men series have presented, Matthew Vaughn makes it up in “X- Men: First Class”. A thoroughly entertaining prequel in this series it takes a step above those in presenting James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto respectively in their young glory days and why they are the way they are.

As much as I would generally dislike the obligatory introduction scenes from the main characters’ child hood, Matthew Vaughn sets up that tone from these two main characters that become their core nature of their personality and grow with them unperturbed. Charles Xavier is a kid who graciously accepts a young girl Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) in his home as he realizes that he is not alone in being different. There is an ingrained sense of compassion in this person and he grows to be James McAvoy. Not so much for Erik, the young Magneto who is under the cruel torture of a Nazi doctor to move a coin by his power or Erik’s mom will be shot in front of him. Soon we realize the revenge transforming him to the man he will be. Despite the outcome in these two characters the film treats them as young men in the same predicament approaching it in different ways. Both become great friends learning wisdom and differences in them. Their bond makes this film a better one than the rest of the films in the series.

The film intelligently takes the historic incident to its plot and deviates it just enough. In the edge of cold war becoming a real war, the diabolic Dr. Schmidt who shaped Erik for who he is, is now Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and is in the process of launching his plan for world domination by invoking a nuclear war between USA and Russia. His beliefs in him being mutant and the idea of human’s predictable reaction of fear and hatred motivates this grand scheme of known plan. Erik is in the pursuit of knocking down the Nazis in hiding waiting for the opportunity to get even with Sebastian. Meanwhile Charles is at Oxford expanding his knowledge and living with his foster sister who is going through the angst of not being herself and unable to find a balance in her life.

After Charles and Erik meet up in confronting their common enemy, the strength of Charles is laid out and given how he models these mutants into using their power effectively and more importantly wisely. Charles is the ultimate good but also naive in the way the world is going to turn out on them. Erik knows the truth as he has witnessed the worst in the humans through the holocaust and cannot wipe out his cynicism towards these predictable personalities. Yet both of them join hands in working with the CIA to get Sebastian’s evil plans foil.

They begin to assemble a team of their own to battle the evil. The recruiting process not only provides fun to the audience but you can see how these two people are enthusiastic in finding these mutants hiding in plain sight. And there is a superb cameo who delivers the one “f” word allowed for a PG-13 efficiently. They find young kids on the cusp of being decimated into permanent identity crisis and rescue them. There is a CIA scientist with a large foot identified immediately by Charles and that is Hank (Nicholas Hoult) who empathizes with Raven. But Erik sees the struggle in Raven and always in the lookout for opportunities to remind her to accept herself for who she is. Easy for him to say being Michael Fassbender.

There is beyond a doubt some splendid work from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in providing these comic characters the very much needed characterization. While Fassbender is my personal favourite as he provided performance of a life time in “Hunger” and easily incorporates the young Magneto in this film, James McAvoy somehow excels him. McAvoy has always been the stereotypical nice guy including the bloody “Wanted” but here he exemplifies this noble character and balances him in between idealism and reality. The friendship between him and Erik is truly believable and when the time comes on choosing their path it is little heartbreaking to see these two depart. Knowing the eventual rivalry in the future, it reminds us how friendship can spring from different places and depart at the same.

Matthew Vaughn resurrects this lukewarm series into much more than it would have ever anticipated. While this is not the best comic book film, it is a much better film in providing actors believing in their role and the belief their characters hold. They do not become a caricature in a formulaic comic book film and enhances into something more. Matthew Vaughn’s screenplay alongside Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman have their moments of wisdom especially the Zen like advice Charles provides Erik in using his power to maximum and to perfection. While “X-Men: First Class” is no “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight”, it is definitely better than the overrated “Iron Man”.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

"Bridesmaids" (2011) - Movie Review

The world behind the curtain of the opposite sex may be is too scary for a man like me. I remember the shock of seeing the complaining session in “It’s Complicated” for five minutes and I get to see the full session in “Bridesmaids”. The whole film is a witness to a wreck methodically performed by Kristen Wiig as Annie. It is a funny film but somewhere in the middle I felt a little guilty for laughing at a character who clearly needs therapy. Despite the horror of seeing the craziness existing in the realm of women, “Bridesmaids” has the talented Wiig who co-wrote this film along with Annie Mumolo.

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is in her late thirties and is going through a rough patch in her life. She lost her bakery to the recession, became a sex buddy for an excessively confident and arrogant Jon Hamm and now has to sink herself into the misery of being the maid of honour for her best friend Lilian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. Lonely, broke and neurotic, she is trying to be happy for her friend and gets a rival who subtly and brilliantly orchestrates to snap the best friend job from Annie. That will be Helen (Rose Byrne).

The marketing campaign in making the title look like a women’s version of “The Hangover” is silly as it is mainly about Annie and her insecurities. The film is raunchy stretching its limits to shock people which is surprisingly funny and left me unscathed. What bothered me as the movie progressed was the temper tantrum and drama Annie begins to pull at every step of the way. While the feelings of her being down and dealing it are true and I am sure it depicts the part of women that I am not aware of, it was little disturbing to laugh at the emotional expense of a seriously messed up person. It goes from laughing to awe in crazy disappointment towards Annie.

Regardless “Bridesmaids” leaves you with some great laughs and some amazingly interesting male characters. Jon Hamm is hilarious as the jerk who simply wants a sexual relationship with Annie and nothing else. He is direct, blunt and a super ass about it too. And then there is Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) an Irishman being the nicest guy to Annie. Their scenes have more than chemistry if that makes sense. He is super macho person with such a humility. He firmly believes Annie’s skill as baker needs to be revamped and needs to be continued as a passion. He is gentle, sensible and not the obligatory man figure the standard rom-coms spits out.

Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig in few of the SNL sketches I have seen provided ample evidence that these women who would stretch beyond the realms and boundaries of what is expected out of women and men. Their physical comedies are a hoot and they go 300% on the job at hand. Here both of them respect that it is a different media and then ice their talents from SNL into perfect situations that require that talents. Kristen Wiig especially leaps from supporting comedic role to center stage giving some serious emotional performance on the way.

There are other bridesmaids beyond Annie and Helen. One that is equivalenced to Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover” is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, Lilian’s sister-in-law. Megan while is used as the object for fat jokes and total inappropriateness (beyond the regular stunts), her character gets redeemed when she punches a reality check into Annie on to her spiraling life of self pity and pathetic cry for sympathy. Ellie Kemper from “The Office” as Becca has little to nothing to do or punch lines to pull to keep us remembering her along with Wendi McLendon-Covey’s Rita as the mother ready to let loose.

Director Paul Feig embraces this side of women going all in and standing toe to toe with the men’s raunchiness is another door to further films that might or might not be better than this. The resolve for the happy ending is uncomplicated and the redemption for Annie is not overblown either. What the journey provides is some series of set ups for Annie to loose her screws steadily and in the meantime learn some life lessons on avoiding dramas.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (2011) - Movie Review

Johnny Depp is desperate to breathe life into this franchise and it is gasping for breath. When the extended and elongated two sequels that followed the first installment came, the graphics and the adventurous sea fights were the highlights for this reviewer. By this fourth time around there is not much to expect than series of Captain Jack Sparrow’s tilted walks, permanently inebriated speech patterns and lot of ocean to look forward to. Yet there is an obligation by this reviewer and thus I did so for this fourth installment.

The main star of the franchise is back for some more adventures, searches and confusions. They are in the hunt for the “Fountain of Youth” and why? Because to introduce two new characters with big names, Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz as Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and his supposed daughter Angelica who is also an ex-lover of our beloved Jack. Blackbeard has complete control over his ship and is a bad ass when it comes to sea in looting and plundering ships and wealth on his ways as would any pirate would aspire. As with magical powers comes predictions and prophecy. One such states that Blackbeard will be killed by a one legged man and hence the hunt to keep his heart beating.

Apart from my laziness in writing reviews lately, when I began writing this piece, all I could think of is what are the things that I can talk about to even say it is not good? That being said and the thrive to earn bazillion more dollars from this franchise, director Rob Marshall takes up the job from Gore Verbinski and does not go for the complexity his predecessor went for in these ventures. He understands this business concept and with cooperation from Johnny Depp as the major asset would fulfill any moviegoer that are looking for antics of Sparrow and some special effects fireworks.

Incidentally the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” was the very first film I watched in a theatre after I came to US. I was rudely introduced to the concept of not having intervals which I grew up with. This caused additional dislike towards the film but when I later watched on a relaxed weekend, it did its job. It had its tactical Johnny Depp working his character and making him repulsive, comic and unusually likable. After two more films, Captain Jack Sparrow is no longer those and has wore down considerably. Sometimes it does surprise me why would he even take up a venture like this as he has been quite intelligent though whimsical in his role selections.

There is a side romance plot between a mermaid and a missionary which does not have any kind of depth or even the glossy shallowness sometimes a better movie good do over. Ian McShane is purely here to have fun and I am sure he had lot of it but the movie became from an entertainment into an ordeal for me. I skipped “Fast Five” coming so close to watching it. It was a personal conscience playing and discouraging by not paying one more ticket for this intolerable festivals of sequels of chasing cars. Strangely it got so many good reviews. I now keep kicking myself why did not I watch that and skip this. I ended the previous film with the note “And every soul beckons this one be the end of this chain of Pirates of the Caribbean” and I seriously wish they do.