Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." (2011) - Movie Review

“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” is a big tease. Not that it promises through the good cast and fails it rather has well developed, well acted and well executed scenes put as a pit stop throughout the film giving hope and after hope and succumbing to dramatization. It is an independent rom-com for dummies and that is insulting to the audience in a way. The complex phenomenon of love is the center of this family drama that soars high and hits the bottom with sufficient ease is that there forms a rhythm that might be mistaken for consistency.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is the middle aged man formulated by the cookie cutter for suburban well to do person who forgot to be interesting. His wife Emily (Julianne Moore) asks for divorce in the middle of a dinner date and this unexpected outcome of a perfected boring marriage astonishes him. His reaction is to compress, suppress and tighten the hate, frustration and anger inside him only to come out through his eyes. The ugliness of this break up skips fast either through time or the film makes it appears so that Cal moves out and pantomimes in a club to himself on the man David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon) broke up his marriage. His sadness is taking control of him as he is desperately looking for a soul for empathy.

In comes Jacon (Ryan Gosling), a charming womanizer annoyed and little saddened by this adult hitting rock bottom with loudness that he offers to help, to relive the manhood he has lost long back. The make over begins and the film utilizes the comedy of this transformation. Gosling as usual is in control of his character who oozes and drips confidence as he walks by to take total control over the beautiful girls begging to be dominated. Carell as Call and as regular chump is of course startled and amazed of seeing the legend every one talks in films and books. You know where this is heading and it is exactly where it is going. Soon the roles reverse, the love finds, the meanings blossom, happiness and sadness looms and merry around as it is pleased by the screenplay of Dan Fogelman.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love.” is a good film and discusses the complexity of this emotion ever evolving and never getting old as the age progresses. In fact it is more important to rejuvenate the romance in a relationship especially life seems ordinary. Cal’s thirteen year old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love too with the seventeen year old high school girl Jessica Riley (Analeigh Tipton) who then is infatuated towards Cal. Robbie profusely expresses his love to her and of course Jessica squirms in uncomfortableness. Time and again the idea of “not giving up” for soul mate is brought up though it borders to stalking and creepiness.

Oh there is Emma Stone too as Hannah, the girl who likes the idea of a sweet man in her boyfriend to build a family than actually loving him. All these people are woven by the obviousness of the emotion and fighting to deal with it. While this sounds inviting and juicy enough for the people to be inherently dysfunctional when it comes to expressing their feelings, it dives in the unnecessary overblown drama. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have a good cast and a good story that gets the magic it needs but it seem to be obligated in satisfying the petty expectation of an audience looking for easy settlement through awkward speeches in a crowded place and series of punches and group fighting.

You know the film has more potential than it actually projects whenever Steve Carell and Julianne Moore talk about their son and when Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell have a reasonable adult moment in dealing with the tough situation concerning each of their characters. It seems to be the nature of the beast in the stupidity of romantic comedy for a scene staged for a huge group of people present to witness the drama happening in a family. Why is it such an important theme to have an audience during a personal moment? Out here Cal interrupts his son’s depressing speech in the graduation and makes it into a lecture in love. He could have done it in person instead the screenplay makes his son and himself to be unnecessarily emotional. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” has few moments which make up for the entire film but it is a talent wasted in vain. That is a shame.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Cowboys & Aliens" (2011) - Movie Review

“Cowboys & Aliens” is the second film wherein the ridiculousness and the popularity of the title outweighs the film itself. The first one is the obvious “Snakes on a Plane” unseen by me. Directed by “Iron Man” fame Jon Favreau, the film is exactly what it says and in that unabashed marketing ploy works in its favour, at least for the most part. Having Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Sam Rockwell does not hurt either though their talent can be well employed and spent on other reasonable and productive ventures.

My exposure to Western films happened lately and have been thoroughly enjoying them ever since. Even when Coen brothers “True Grit” went mumbled and unheard into the mouths of Jeff Bridges, the mere atmosphere of unforgiving sun, the unshaven men and the dirt that sticks inbetween those stubble creates a strange poetic attraction in to the darkness and resolute nature of these men’s unlawful and lawful missions of that time. Surely “Cowboys & Aliens” benefit from those with a thumping opening scene of Daniel Craig as the nameless man dismantling some resistance with power and blood.

Most of the Western begins with a nameless stranger entering a town and this one follows the suit. There is the mysticism to this usualness, the irony of that predictability is one such that has this genre running forever. I think I will never get bored of seeing it and so Jon Favreau already had me in the start. As we get to know the townspeople starting with the mysterious gal Olivia Wilde as Ella and Sam Rockwell as the do good and naive Doc, the plot gets to the eventuality intersecting Harrison Ford’s Colonel Woodrow and Daniel Craig’s nameless man getting the wanted man’s name of Jake.

When they are in the midst on the cusp of a gun fight breaking, in comes the flying machines from nowhere and strings people into their machine. Startled, confused and wondering what the heck is happening around them Jake’s metal bracelet becomes the defeating weapon they would come to depend on. As they begin to venture on to rescue the people that were captured by these aliens, the film goes through the regular fodder of a Western and brings in the aliens when there is a need for action and common enemies for these people.

With the previews and marketing campaigns in the current days, a film can generate a buzz purely by those techniques. Handled as a business venture, it has evolved into the nature of launching a product and selling it. Here the sell is half done with the obviousness of the name on what exactly to expect out of it. And with the previews, it reiterates the further obviousness and the audience bite into it. With so much given away the least expected is to fulfill those giveaways. The mind game of this slow revelation works in the favour of the film.

While we know that Daniel Craig can make one hell of a beat up and tough James Bond, here he toughens further and becomes the iron hand of a man in Jake. A man chiseled in his physique and determination through his eyes stands tall and different carrying the film’s stature. Harrison Ford comes in and joins it for the fun of it and shouts here and there to add some old school lessons in adventure and action. Throw in good natured Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde as the love interest for Jake, you have the recipe for a moderately successful entertainment.
The aliens are as usual mindless, disgusting, gooey and portrayed as nothing but beasts. How come they are so great at creating cutting edge technology far beyond the time and minds of the humans and shun away the nature to have a sense of negotiation? That is least of the concerns even in a serious science fiction film and in a film like “Cowboys & Aliens”, it does not really matter. All the audience are in need of a thrill and the motivation to plough through these creatures with no mercy and no guilt.

There are several films obvious enough in their title and previews and few of them go beyond the judgments and come out with clever entertainment. One such is “Zombieland” and you can see how the actors were having fun shooting it. Here as much as the campaign works, there seems to be not much fun going on nor does any kind of effort in terms of creativity to put an unexpected spin. It is not all fun but it is honest in what it plans to provide. It is like seeing a good salesperson work and sometimes despite the product is unnecessary and not useful personally, you buy for the hard work of the skills in the person. “Cowboys & Aliens” is that product.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011) - Movie Review

“Captain America: The First Avenger” has some thought process going into it. I can give it that but that is where it stops. Unlike the thoughtless comic hero films that are spitted out these days, Joe Johnston’s film has a character with a feel and punch to him. As a desperate man trying to prove himself that he can do more for the country than help load scrap metals in testing times of the World War II, Chris Evans is reduced my computer graphics into ultra skinny Steve Rogers. He never gives up and ultimately finds a scientist to give him a chance. He takes it and later becomes Captain America.

The title and the character name cannot be cheesier enough. It reeks and drips of patriotism on steroids but when the times are tough and there needs a symbol to get money in bonds, Uncle Sam can use some boost to get some funds and kill Nazis. Stanley Tucci comes as the good scientist who committed a mistake of injecting a super boosting serum to Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) creating super monster of an already developed monster under Hitler’s command. Hearing the accent of Hugo Weaving I was wondering whether Werner Herzog voiced for him to overcome the difficulty of overcoming an Australian accent. Alas, it is indeed Weaving imitating Herzog to the syllable. That it adds a certain madness and weight to his villainous Schmidt does not hurt the film.

Johnston as said earlier gets certain things right and adds sense to this otherwise mundane script. Growing off as being tamed and beaten by the bullies, Rogers gets a chance of a life time in becoming a warrior. A super soldier gaining stronger muscles in couple of minutes without hitting the gym and jump higher, run faster and act quickly. His astonishment should be nothing short of exuberant except he has to get in action right after he gains this power. Chris Evans is the perfect choice for Captain America but not sure whether he pulled of the puny little kid from Brooklyn. Despite the graphics shrinking him, Evans face gives off his original form in stature and acting. Evans is a cool cat in doing easy roles and pulling it off without trouble and he does suit in rightly so in the suit but cannot be Steve Rogers.

Marvel Studios is building and aligning these characters to provide the biggest bonanza of upcoming “The Avengers”. With numerous characters flooding that film, I cannot imagine Captain America getting much light over Iron Man and team. Yet I would be curious to watch that mainly because Joss Whedon is directing it and you never know Chris Evans can do as he surprised me a little bit pleasantly in the much neglected “Push”.

Now a day it is more about how much you can show in the expense report to publicize and market it. Joe Johnston’s film though has that report to brag about, all the action scenes are nothing short of mediocre. The film that builds up early characters in Stark Industries owner Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and bringing the story to the present time and world, fails to connect those characters to the audience. The need and angst for Steve Rogers to keep doing what he wants to do goes unnoticed. Not that any of this super hero films go for the details or layers of character but the work the writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely appeared to be interested in those and rather does not translate well on to the screen.

For the grandeur, hype and spending, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is indeed a sliver of cut above the rest of steady state exercise in the comic film industry. Whenever I see a good actor spewing cheesy lines with an expression of not enjoying that moment comes forth in a blockbuster, my soul dies little inside. And we have that in Tommy Lee Jones out here as Colonel Chester Phillips. Though he is not as pathetic and terrible as Dennis Quiad in “G. I. Joe”.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Army of Shadows" (Language - French) (1969) - Movie Review

“Army of Shadows” while seems like an aspiring film about the sleeper group against the Nazi regime misses its mark quite a bit and having made three years after the riveting and scarily realistic “The Battle of Algiers”, Jean-Pierre Melville’s supposed master piece loses us right from the start. It comes back to some spellbinding chilling moments in the end to scoop us off but the flaw of the overall film looms well enough to leave me unperturbed. Despite that, it does have an eerie mood in presenting these players behind the curtain depending solely on the secrecy and executing their plans.

The film begins with its primary character Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) being brought in the camp by French police marking the beginning of Nazi occupied France. Well mannered, stunningly elegant and suave is Philippe who instantly identifies the capable and the incapable in the camp. Before he could plan an escape with a fellow inmate, he is transferred where he improvises the situation to play in favour. We see the life outside he begins to pursue with his clan of soldiers hiding in the dark and living under constant threat of being betrayed and fall into the hands of German to be tortured and ultimately die a slow miserable death.

Melville’s film goes through the hardship with cold hands when they have to execute a traitor with no mercy whatsoever. So when the Nazi regime occupied it is like any other occupation and the need for resistance is self explanatory but the hardship and the detrimental sacrifice and violence these characters carryout goes with silence. What were they thinking when they are brought to the ditch of violence to fight for their freedom? Was their philosophy disturbed by this dreadful work and living in shadows? There are voice overs explaining the plans and the skill of their fellow soldiers but there seems to be a page torn from those monotonic recitations of the daily labour of fighting for freedom.

They recruit a young man Jean-Francois Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel) curious, talented and ultimately in for the thrills from the get go. He is specifically ensured that his family ties are limited. He has an elder brother living a meager life of surviving in this cruel regime. The film reveals a surprise of how much each member takes their secrecy to their heart which is when “Army of Shadows” got me upright. There we see a commitment unlike any other where tight lipped means what it means.

Slowly but surely we get to know each of the key parties involved in this resistance. There is Felix (Paul Crauchet) a trusted and effective right hand man for Gerdier. There is Mathilde (Simone Signoret) an iron lady with the smartness and bravery to carry on the onus of taking harsh decisions and desperate measures to see the feasibility and effectivity of a mission on the job. Her rescue mission to fetch Felix is one such where there is nothing but practicality. There are no heroic ventures but pure reality of executing a plan.

“Army of Shadows” could have skimmed off a major portion of the film and get right to the resistance’s actions. Not because it has lot happening but the precursor to arrive there does not add any value or point. I love a film when it drains the time and then rewards you with the need for doing so. There is a poem in a silence and the slowness in the way a mood is set and carried on. And I am sure that is the objective Melville went for. Unfortunately it evaporates the interest out of the viewer and by the time we get to the meat of the film, it has detached its view so far.

Every moment of this film reminded how great “The Battle of Algiers” was. It took its sweet time to establish its territory too but the raw nature in which the film slaps you is nothing short of brilliant. It provides the sense of human decay in the midst of struggle for higher purpose for the future of a country. What is wrong and right gets a shade in its true form and we are struggling to take the sides and justify the end, means and what not. “Army of Shadows” is the perfect title and it stands by it but it does not shed the light into the minds of its soldiers.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" (Documentary) (2011) - Movie Review

My first visual of Conan O’Brien was sometime during the grad school days when his late night show was going on in the background in a friend’s television and his comedic entry to the stage. His buffoonery entrance did not impress me rather annoyed a little bit. Then when I visited the NBC studio 3-4 years back, I saw his studio and for some reason triggered to follow his show. From there on I have been a straight up Conan fan. While I like Jay Leno’s act, Conan O’Brien has always been very grounded in his comedy. There is a simplicity to his jokes. And his attitude to acknowledge his falls makes it even more funnier which made me appreciate his comedy a lot more. He is phenomenal especially in his interaction with other people which fascinates me. He is the man he appears on the show. “Conan O’Brien” Can’t Stop” is the behind the scenes documentary of his “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” wherein we see him at his highs, lows and everything in between.

Being exited from the Tonight show seven months after he took over it caused him hurt, pain and anger. The exit money was tremendously huge but it is not about the money. What exactly went down rode along for days in the media and laughing war between the hosts. Now with nothing in prospect and the future of his career in question he begins the tour. The film begins with few interviews of the man but the real movie begins when the tickets for the tour sells off rapidly. The ultimate fun begins when the crew hits the air and road.

He is bitter and his props for fun, tease and taunt becomes the people around him. His personal assistant puts up with those mainly because she knows her boss is going through tough times and he is a good man outside of this. He is hilarious and an entertainer throughout his daily life. I was watching an entertainer in a show during my visit to Wisconsin Dells. An old guy with the talent for simple juggling and odd tricks, most of his act involved him talking giving a partial standup. I deduced this about the man that he is the entertainer not on the stage alone but in real life. That is him and this is not an act. So is Conan O’Brien. A man determined to make all his conversation a comedy, a one liner and to induce laughter in the person conversing with him and around him.

He mentions that right on the day of the last episode of the Tonight show, he began planning this tour. 44 shows around the country and he begins to breathe the show. We see him formulate an idea and conceptualize through the writers and perform with his full capability. He is nervous, tense and focussed right before the first dress rehearsal and exhausted after it. He lays on the couch drinking water after every show and we are drenched in his sweat. Then after five minutes he goes to meet the fans outside. Sign the sheet, take pictures while the camera falters due to the inability of the operator of the device. He holds the smile forever and heads back to the dressing room. He is frustrated and has a love/hate relationship with the tour and meeting the fans. He does not want to disappoint a fan and at the same time it dries him out and wonders why he has to do this.

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” is not so of a statement or propaganda on the man’s case and his disappointment with Leno and NBC. It contains the emotion towards it but it is more about the man living through the applause and thrill of standing in front of a crowd. This is his job and he has to do it. This is his drug and this is his cure. He does not care how good he is but feeds off the enjoyment of the audience. His audience is available 24 hours in and around him. That drives him to push through the day and wake up for a kick ass morning. That the title makes sure to deliver and movie backs it up with the evidence.

While this tour was happening, he was also in the process of selling his show to other station. The concept of uncertainty is troubling and I can tell it from experience. Not that world is going to fall apart but the bother remains. It is an itch that cannot scratched and it drives you to insanity. People deal with it in different ways while Conan did it with burying himself in work. His workaholism becomes his way of surviving the ordeal and he succeeded admirably. Directed by Rodman Flender, it is entertaining to see the man behind the stage, in the dressing room and his interaction with his crew. It is moving at times to see him aggravate himself and swallow through the anger. It is funny to see him picking up his colleagues and co-workers. One thing I would remember is I would never ask him to have a picture with me when I do meet him some point in my life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Horrible Bosses" (2011) - Movie Review

There cannot be a review which cannot mention Kevin Spacey reincarnating Buddy from “Swimming with Sharks”. I remember that film vividly like yesterday and I remember the scathing review I gave for it despite its terrific film making by George Huang. Here is Spacey again in similar role as though Buddy has grown older, meaner and violent in Dave Harken though this time around the comedy of it overcomes it.

“Horrible Bosses” is the one of the funniest films I have seen in a very long time. That does include “The Hangover” and why is three good beings deciding to kill their bosses for their evil nature tops that post debauchery clean up? It has more to do with the plethora of cast put forth by Seth Gordon. It has Jason Bateman as Nick Hendricks who can do the lovable normal comedic guy still chilling enough to provide a dark edge to it. There is Jason Sudekis as Kurt Buckman having the gift to charm ladies and simply pull of subtle references as he walks by carrying his SNL talents. And finally is Charlie Day from “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” playing the nicest guy Dale Arbus of three and the audience along with his buddies do think that he does not have a horrible boss in the voluptuous and seductress Jennifer Anniston as Dr. Julia Harris. With Colin Farrell transforming himself as both disgusting and ugly as Kurt’s new boss, this film comes up with surprising performances after “Tropic Thunder”.

So these three buddies have the horrific and evil managers making their life miserable and cornering them as much as they can to pop them out. The film is a perfect set up and there is not much of predictability rather than unexpected acts and random cats jumping around. The scenes with Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are nothing short of fun. It is not the regular combo wherein there is an always “stupid” character running around making mistakes while the others fall into that trap and complain and wonder about how horrid they can get in messing things up. Here everyone takes equal share of blunders in the most hilarious fashion and this is the best part, sticking to their characters.

Contrary to the Bateman fans who witnessed his performance through “Arrested Development”, I saw his capability in one of the worst films “Smokin’ Aces” as the sky high lawyer coming in for hardly five minutes and mesmerizing the screen with his performance. I would like to see more of that than the less of his normal avatars. In “Horrible Bosses”, while he does not pull a rabbit out, he is seamless with his co-stars working the magic along. Clearly the chemistry between Sudeikis and Bateman stands out but then again Charlie Day and Sudeikis rope each other sufficiently well. Thus providing a balance force between these two without even making the audience see through it. It works tremendously.

“Tropic Thunder” is the last film wherein I could not stop myself from laughing hard in a theater. There Robert Downey Jr. provided one of the best performances greater and tougher than a dramatic role that should have earned an Academy Award but sadly as it goes for comedy films, it was snubbed. While “Horrible Bosses” does not have great performances it has these numerous casts providing their best in the very short time. Take Jamie Foxx with the oddest and coolest invention of a name for a gangster in a film playing against and for stereotype. Jennifer Anniston going mean, ruthless and a sexual monster towards Charlie Day’s Dale is another treat. All of them mix and match in a way that appears like a lucky coincidences.

The writing by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein provides that platform that holds the film upright and endure it with the flavour of delicious comedy it was written with. I have always admired the idea of a comedian acknowledging their joke that did not work right in the act. Somehow there is a redeeming quality to it but more than that it paves way for the non-working joke segueing for a better joke. Thereby it also creates a bond between the person and the audience in enjoying it together. This technique I have only seen and observed in Conan O’Brien and rarely do I transfer that to films. “Horrible Bosses” has those acknowledging factor that gets the audience into the screen and have fun with the guys doing funny mistakes and working their way out in much dumber means.

“Horrible Bosses” might be termed as the run of the mill crude comedy and lined up with those in the past yet it has immense quality to it. It knows its jokes and the cast knows it better and put a spin on it where it clicks at all the right places. Despite the roundabout predictable nice ending, the film directed by Seth Gordon is absolute fun film and a wonderful collection for your film library.