Friday, November 09, 2012

"Skyfall" (2012) - Movie Review

One’s life has films as a tool to reminisce the traditions and nostalgia by shining light on to the screen scattering those pieces of memories. James Bond has been the fascination world wide and the pieces for me as a kid witnessing this secret agent who has the license to kill appeared to do absolutely nothing but use the gadgets he has been provided and enjoying while doing it by seducing the most beautiful women effortlessly has merely become a trend than admiration. As much as I was entertained watching this iconic agent use the smartest of tools at the most appropriate time, there has never been a sense of grit and value to this franchise as a representation as an art or even simply as a good film. I was too young to remember Sean Connery and too given up by the time Pierce Brosnan dazzled mildly in “The Golden Eye”. The Bond I saw was Roger Moore who was more as a sneaky agent than a man that needs character definition. The films that was made with him were a procedure that had few precise goals for the audience - entertain and fantasize. There has been no doubt that those films of his had an impact in the way I watch films but the migration from a fantasy to a well made film never happened till “Casino Royale”. Daniel Craig might be the best Bond I have seen and it was evident in it despite a lackluster presentation in “Quantum of Solace”. Now here comes “Skyfall” directed by one of my favourite director Sam Mendes that is unlike any of the Bond films and treats like a story than a rundown ritual.

“Skyfall” would be described by many of the critics as yours truly included as refreshing. Not in the way Daniel Craig presents himself nor in the way the action scenes are shot. It is the story that for once treats the agency and the head M (Judi Dench) as an entity making tough calls that resulted in burning the agents that sworn to protect the country. Many films has the tag line and a deep voice in trailer saying “this time it is personal” while “Skyfall” might be the first film to live by it and deliver it with such a conviction.

As the opening scene unravel the traditional action sequence that results in Bond getting shot, “Skyfall” assumes that audience are not dumb while simultaneously feeds their fantasy world of expectation in fast paced action sequences and quick movements in to the plot smoothly but not sneakily. M’s MI6 gets cyber attacked by the mystery man whose sole purpose is to disintegrate and challenge the leadership of her. Bond comes back from the dead to protect her and in the end it becomes a stand off that is unseen in Bond films.

With spectacular cinematography by Roger Deakins, Mendes pens the story of “Skyfall” with a thrill that is familiar and fresh. It is marginally inventive, subtly funny and always right to the point of moving forward. Before you know it, you are in the middle of a finale that sometime feels like to have more to it only to be ended in the right way it could possibly have been. It rarely has a gadget and the raw combat skill that made “Casino Royale” such an invigorating experience is back with some thematic and poetic shot by Sam Mendes along with Roger Deakins.

The elements of standard Bond presentations are all used. Ridiculously overblown stunt scenes only that in Mendes’ hands it becomes almost logical, breathtaking travel to far away lands and populated city of Shanghai only that it becomes a fight in the shadows and silhouettes Deakins’ cinematography that gets used in tense films that takes itself seriously. And then there is Javier Bardem as the rightful opponent for James Bond walks a fine line of not mimicking Heath Ledger and not becoming a complete joke. He is funny in a sense that we are equally disturbed and empathize with him. We understand his motivation for revenge and when he finally gets an opportunity to put down M, his action tells so much about the relation between them that we begin to sympathize. We are also worried what would become of our man who appear to follow similar path as Bardem’s Silva. Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harries provide the kind of support that are exposed and explained just enough for them to reappear to have more in future.

If “Casino Royale” provided the right opening for Daniel Craig establishing himself as the perfect choice for Bond, “Skyfall” has established a ground for something beyond the franchise has done for the past 50 years. It is mildly beginning to humanize this man and in the process pays homage to those tradition of fantasy and fascination that made this franchise something beyond a regular spy. The next movie is going to be very critical in picking up what “Skyfall” has left off. It either can go back to the old traditions or pick those up and invent something new for itself. Until then though, let us relish “Skyfall”.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Seven Psychopaths" (2012) - Movie Review

Every one aspires to pen a similar screenplay like Tarantino after he splashed the screen with odd discussions and cranky mishaps. There is so much obsession in writing for these sociopathic characters. The control and the powerful sarcasm that is like a stand up comedian but with fear peppered on them. These characters are like a drug to a writer. I know I penned my incomplete screenplay which was few pages with nothing but tough guys screaming, yelling and cursing in the most inventive way possible. Only now when I read it back, it sounds terrible. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is not. Not in a million years.

Even when the film begins, it has cameo by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg discussing the oddity of being shot in the eyeball. McDonagh’s film is bound to grow on you once you think about it and then see it again. Telling a story is telling someone else’s version of it which eventually got morphed into a story only resembling the semblance of truth. There is absolute creativity and there is inspiration from the things that happen around you. Marty (Colin Darrell) is a screenwriter who is in dire need of a screenplay. He drinks wine, beer, whisky and everything that has OH in it to bring in something out of the story he is seeing around. It becomes a story telling of a different kind.

“Seven Psychopaths” is everything the formulaic gangster/gritty/bloody/violent film the aspiring film makers begin to provide. It has the simplest things that would not matter to someone becoming the plot prop for bigger events. Here it is a cute little Shih Tzu dog. Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) steal dogs and return it to its owner in few days to get some money out of the deal. Christopher Walken is his accomplice Hans who is the kind old man returning the dog. In Los Angeles where there are high end luxurious pet hotels, this would definitely happen and there is a simple ransom job out here. Billy steals a Shih Tzu of a maniacal mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) that becomes the hunt for these three people and that is the plot in a single line.

If you believe that single line is all it driving this, you might be mistaken terribly. What McDonagh does is that he is spoofing all those films that have this kind of plot but spins it around in a fashion that is silly, clever, dark and in the end very moving. “Seven Psychopaths” has dry moments but comes about with some creative elements that is philosophical and stupid. It becomes the way the characters design the movie to be. I know it does not make much sense but believe me when I say that it is as close in comparison with one of my top ten films “Adaptation”.

To play this film and get these cast is the first perfect job. Getting Farrell, Rockwell, Harrelson and several others to partake in this is one thing but to extract this sort of performance from Christopher Walken is unlike any other. He is a gentle old man and then he has this undercurrent that he can snap any moment. We are in complete accord when he says he is not a man of violence but at the same time are on our toes when he is around these whacky crazy people. He fits in with them and yet he stays in the middle  with a solid head and keeps every one guessing simultaneously. Walken gives one of the most mature performance bringing his experience in this field and using his mannerisms and facial expression into this film. Tom Waits gives an intriguing cameo and be seated after the credits roll for a final impressive scene to finish it.

“Seven Psychopaths” had its dull times which appeared to try too hard and trying to bring the absurdity in the silliest things but when you look back from the end of the story, it makes all the more sense. There is an integrity Martin McDonagh’s script, direction and assembling those have in providing this. It constantly marches on towards an end and even one of the characters is so pumped up to get to the end scene, the shootout. It has become such a fascination in the upcoming films and Rockwell’s character symbolizes it.

McDonagh’s previous film “In Bruges” is another mastery in screenplay and brought odd decency in the darkest places of misdirected souls and concrete ones. He conducted that film with some heavy punctuation and you know that he does not shy away in introducing a complete new character right in the middle of the film and make them dictate the rest of story. The man has a command of his writing and here he appears to let loose but you begin to realize the creativity at its best. He begins the film to be taken over by the character. He performs himself as an actor through this sort of writing which was done immaculately in “Adaptation” and here it is done on a completely different style, still effective.

When the film ends with Walken narrating the Vietnamese character’s story, I was left with an odd sense of satisfaction, unexplained emotion and could not help but laugh at the same time. Here is a Writer and Director who provided a film that is a screenwriter’s dream and director’s aspiration for satisfying themselves but also provided an artistic presentation if you can follow what I am saying. In a film that has so much violence and is glorifying it at certain places also reveres the concept of peace, chaos and most importantly the art of storytelling. A touch of brilliance is evident in this and at the end of writing this, I am more in love with the film than I was while I was watching it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Lawless" (2012) - Movie Review

There is no wonder that John Hillcoat and Nick Cave got attracted to this story of Bondurant brothers who carried out their business of moonshine in the prohibition in Franklin County, Virginia. It has all the characters Hillcoat went for in his “The Proposition”, a violent poem. Yet “Lawless” is like a wrong rhythm for a great song. It times and fail on most of its duration and brings in characters that exist that are purely driven by words in a screenplay. In the process of providing another violent poetry, Hillcoat misses soul in this otherwise good film.

Forrest Bondurant is played by Tom Hardy and if he was muscular giant in “The Dark Knight Rises”, here is a gigantic mass of raw power and ruthlessness here. He is the eldest of the Bondurant reigning the business with his brother Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) the second in command for his muscle. The youngest and who is not built for this trade of violence is Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf). Jack narrates the story of how Forrest believes that he is immortal. For a man of such arrogance in philosophy, he is fairly calm. He splurges power without a shred of hesitation when it is required. They rule hard and Franklin County’s law officers are fine by it. 

In comes Special Deputy Charley Rakes played by Guy Pearce dressed up perfectly but everything about his face is turned to represent a vile creature. He does not seem to have an eyebrow and he parts his hair in the centre (more like he shaved it). To add to the madness is he applies black gel to it. His voice is like snake’s hiss amplified enough to get Heath Ledger’s Joker in the mix as well. As you can see Guy Pearce dedicates himself totally into this devious, vicious and psychopathic man yet the drive for his behaviour leaves you pondering.

Of course the drive is money for both Forrest Bondurant and Charley Rakes but both of them never really appear to spend it. At least Rakes does with his prostitutes and suits but Forrest appear to store it. Jack of course gets tired of being treated like a kid and wants to be up the league yet he does not have the guts to do it. “Lawless” begins with the premise and establishes it that Forrest Bondurant an indestructible man who does not bow down to anyone. His human side has a sliver of a chance when he hires Jessica Chastain’s Maggie, a dancer from Chicago as the waitress for his bar. 

As much as Hillcoat’s films are visceral and gory, there is a character or situation that carries the serenity and peace in this uncivilized world. In “The Proposition”, it was Emily Watson’s character and in “The Road”, it is the son. He has two angelic women at his disposal here with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska and their characters are either too silent or have powerless dialogues. Forrest’s character especially never becomes full. He is as cruel and sick as Charley Rakes but he is the kind who does not start a fight and back out of one either. He would bring hell to the people who wronged him in a way that is beyond unimaginable. The way he goes after the people who slit his throat is one such. That brings to the fact of how he endures throat slits, gun shot and Spanish flu to feel that he is immortal. I would have loved to see that side of perspective in a much more elaborate manner. 

I have to admire Shia LaBeouf for choosing this character as the kid really does want to make a name in the acting department. He plays his character with the childishness and his aspiration to live up to his brother and come above being bullied is the angle Hillcoat goes for that does not have the trajectory it shoots.

Yet the film’s single most display of soul comes through the first elongated burst of violent scene when Charley Rakes beats the crap out of Jack Bondurant. That scene while viewed as something of weakness in the Jack’s character brings out an emotion in us that is beyond just sympathy for the atrocity and gore caused to this helpless individual. We see inhumanity in a fashion that tingles our inner nerves of terror, sensation and empathy all at once. How does John Hillcoat with Nick Cave achieves it is what makes him a director I look forward to direct several films. Not like “Lawless” though.

"Argo" (2012) - Movie Review

“Argo” might be the proof that you can make a predictable uplifting story with same kind of character and integrity. Ben Affleck has proven that he is not one another actor aspiring to be a director. His “Gone, Baby, Gone” still grows on me with an ending that never settles down on the judgment and conscience while his moderate but effective “The Town” carries another sort of tension that comes out of a messy story into a finish that makes peace with itself and audience. “Argo” begins with all the characteristics of predictability. It sets up a story that is bound to be second guessed successfully but provides a feature that comes together in an end that is a well deserved crowd pleaser.

The film happens as the Iranian revolution in 1979 has these American people in the midst of terror. They are hiding from the numerous number of people on the streets of Tehran, Iran who are in the hunt for them. As the situation drags on for more than three months, the six who managed to escape from the American Embassy are literally in house arrest at the kind mercy of Canadian Ambassador. As the White House staff curses and conference among them, they bring in the CIA as consultants. Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck as Jack O’Donnell and Tony Mendez are those. As these were being laid out and carried on, it was nothing but a procedural to get to the actual rescue of these people. “Argo” was becoming the film I have seen and began to appear as something I would be unperturbed, unmoved or definitely be not thrilled. Affleck pulls a rabbit out of this film to alter my view.

Tony Mendez knows that this is a deadlock and the eventuality is that the Islamic Militants would find these people and kill them. Options are discussed which seem to be sensible but the place and time are not good. The conference discussions where Mendez shoots down the crazy ideas one by one, he is challenged whether he has a better idea. He does not. Yet as he watches Planet of the Apes simultaneously with his son on phone, he gets the eureka moment. I like how Affleck downplayed those ecstatic moments and keep the tone sufficiently realistic. At every step of this idea which sounds so ridiculous could be shot down and the sense is real. 

There are few films that gets benefitted by the fact that it is based on true story. There are very few films that uses those in a manner that is not exploitative but creates the sense of the situation. “Argo” is a perfect example of that. This is a day to day job for CIA and the way it is handled resembles one. Very little is made aware of Tony Mendez’s personal life and the little they do bring up in the end is more to close the emotional loop for the audience rather than to benefit to the film. He is a passionate person and his specialty in rescuing people makes more reason for that.

“Argo” has some great supporting cast as the real life rescuing needed as well. John Goodman plays John Chambers, Tony’s in for the Hollywood circle and Alan Arkin plays a fictional Hollywood producer and Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss Jack O’Donnell. All three are the ones that spurt out some great comic lines that is made to appear sufficiently easy but their delivery makes all the difference. Though the film’s pivotal turn into a film that is not alone here to plainly chronicle a formulaic uplifting story comes when Tony has to make a decision to go on with the mission or not. Of course he is going to put his life in line to save these people but these are uncertain situations with not a clean way out and in real life when orders are given, they were executed. That is a best example of a scene that has everything written out for the audience turns into a genuine nail biter. There is not stopping of the film from there on. To build up to that scene is where Affleck paces in a manner that is neither hurried not lackadaisical. As much as the initial set up scenes seems like a ritual, it builds the blocks for the climax that is one of most thrilling scenes I have seen in recent times.

I know many of the people wrote off Affleck as an actor let alone as a director. I know I did not think much of him beyond “Good Will Hunting”. And I was not jaded by the media chaos either but he came back critically with “Hollywoodland” and then before you know it, he unleashes a directorial debut like no other. Here he handles a story that would have been a mediocre presentation of a great rescue attempt into something else. He shows the character of director Clint Eastwood in making the screenplay dictate the story but he adds another touch of his effectivity to this. He knows the balance of pleasing all kinds of audience without compromising on integrity. That is a hard thing to master and he has already twice. Here he does it for the third time.

Monday, October 08, 2012

"Looper" (2012) - Movie Review

The future in “Looper” is how it will be in 30 years. I am quite sure about it. It has the element of realism in a manner that does not happen in recent science fiction films. As majority of them rely on gargantuan buildings and ridiculously high flying objects trafficked in a way that your mind would be mystified, mainly on the effect rather than the actuality. In “Looper”, we see a world which combines that technological advancement along with the things that would resemble the world today, the good, the bad and the worse. It respects the advancement in a futuristic world and the side of it which would continue as in today. It provides a perspective that is so obvious yet so easily neglected in other films.

“Looper” takes on the time travel which is the most desirable feat for several film makers and the one that begins with tons of holes in the screenplay as the concept itself is baffling enough. A film that did a confused justice to that department is Shane Caruth’s “Primer”. Till date I could not gather out the plot line in its entirety despite the fact that I was aided greatly by Wiki’s detailed explanation. Yet I have great admiration for Caruth’s attempt in providing his vision. This is Rian Johnson’s version but more so is a background than becoming the entire film.

In 2044 there exists a clan of men whose sole purpose is to kill someone from future. Time travel does not exist in 2044 but it does in 2074. Easy way to get rid of a body in the future is to eliminate the existence in that time hence porting them to the past and finishing off the disposal. Obviously there are several reasons for the time travel to be illegal and how the mob in future wants to walk over it for their purpose makes it self explanatory and if you think about it, its a clean process. This clan of men are led under Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is sent from future to manage this. The noticeable star in his group is young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Joe has been in this profession sufficiently enough to load up enough silvers (the currency that exists in future), get addicted to a drug that is through eye drops and smoke leisurely. He has set his future.

When the assassins open up their payment from the back of their victim, if it is placed with gold then they have just finished off their loop, meaning killed their future self. Hence they exactly know their life expectancy, enjoy that with fullest extend and end it merrily. Joe in his deepest instinct knows that and when the time comes, he counters his older version trick him. This is played by Bruce Willis. From this point the film takes on a thriller science fiction onto a character development of various angle. Apparently the future Joe has decided to not end of his life for the reasons we come to know and we are made aware of his agenda in 2044. Like anyone, he would like to make his future better.

“Looper” is the film since “Inception” that it deals its audience with respect and maturity. It plays with the time travel paradox and then leaves you spellbound to of course ruminate on the repercussions and logic, yet come out entertained and not cheated. One of the crucial thing in making the audience believe in the future they are portray is to the element of that world becoming a normal event for the characters. Even in that normalcy, they invent something out of the ordinary to push that envelope on the advancement. Look at how the country life and corn fields exist and at the same time the assassins carry the most sophisticated mobile phone. Notice how they introduce the concept of telekinetic power being nothing more than floating a coin and how it manifests into something else to aid the story. Rian Johnson makes it all of this so easy in a script that is so familiar in the world it generates.

Beyond this is the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is time and again proves that he can take roles that would bemuse you and excel in it comfortably. Here he has the most challenging role wherein he has to imbibe the mannerisms of Bruce Willis yet not mimic him. The balance he achieves in this is phenomenal and commendable.  Bruce Willis does his role like he can play it in his sleep. One thing for sure as one of my friends mentioned after the film, never mess with Bruce Willis. Emily Blunt gives another understated performance and makes the characters come together in a stand off that makes you think you have it figured out only to topple it off. Pierce Gagnon as the small boy Cid brings a sort of terror and adorability in a role that needs it at the right time with perfect execution.

“Looper” as much as it takes the film seriously also has fun with it. Jeff Daniels’ Abe discusses with the young Joe on providing information on the friend (Paul Dano) let off his future self to escape which plays an inside joke on Gordon-Levitt’s hipster style and at the same time keeps it grounded on the screenplay. That balance is impeccable and Rian Johnson achieves it effortlessly. I remember seeing Johnson’s debut in “Brick” with Gordon-Levitt as the high school boy investigating a murder in a neo-noir fashion. I was not able to react to the strangeness that film posed. I would love to see it now and can say that would enjoy it more. Then he came up with “The Brothers Bloom” which had a sense of style and execution in a con film that as much resembled Mamet’s movies stood apart in presentation. Here comes “Looper” a science fiction that is so far away from his previous ventures and he has mastered it with perfection. You will of course wonder and wander through plot and the possibilities of the flaws and holes in the logic. You very well might find one but the fact Rian Johnson pulled off time travel film without making it flounder while the film is happening while entertaining his audience and treating them like a grown person is nothing short of brilliance.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Premium Rush" (2012) - Movie Review

There are two great things that goes in favour of “Premium Rush” which in any other circumstances would have been a badly scripted and lazily written film. Those two things are the breathtaking speed the bike stunts are shot and Michael Shannon. While the first involved great dedication and death defying stunt artists along with lead man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon anchors the craziness in this corrupt and bizarre cop Bobby Monday. Together with director David Koepp not wasting a single moment to let the audience lose their attention span takes this film to something arresting and fun filled.

Levitt’s Wilee is a kid addicted to adrenaline running around New York City delivering envelopes that would mean nothing in a common scenario but becomes a game and thrill seeking in his hand. He has an old run down bike that is fixed gear and has no breaks. One speed, no stops. His braking mechanism twists my legs and ankles yet a pleasure to watch for. He is maniacal on the street being the genesis of hundred of different road accidents and rages. Himself and his clan of bikers are unanimously despised and yelled upon by taxi drivers, regular drivers, angry drivers, lazy drivers, pretty much any sort of drivers on the road. Add cops and mainly pedestrians to that list as well.

This is not about those people. This is about Wilee carrying something he will be in trouble for. One such is a ticket provided by Wilee’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa’s (Dania Ramirez) room mate Nima (Jamie Chung). What that ticket means are explained quite conveniently and without any brakes to the story in snippets of rewind in time. That is where the otherwise bad writing turns into a good story telling in the hands of David Koepp and his editors Derek Ambrosi and Jill Savitt. They never wait for a dull moment and keep the story moving at a pace that is good enough to keep track but never pauses to analyze the logic or reality of the story.

The resultant is an old fashioned thrilling entertainer with modern utilization of CGI and technology aiding good hands into the streets of New York City. The chases in the film are again not mundane either. There is a purpose for the chasers and the people they are chasing or running away from. While Michael Shannon’s Bobby Monday is out there to save himself for the gambling debt towards Wilee, there is Wilee’s competitor in the same courier company he works for, the chiseled muscular and maniacally athletic Manny (Wole Parks). There is a stellar competition in racing in between them which is a treat to watch. For once there is a part in the chase where the mechanical strength combined with the physical limitation towards gravity makes us gasp for breath.

Being a recent biker myself, while I could see the adrenaline rush and the thrill seeking Wilee goes for, I could not see myself going through the hoops to get that in the rush hour crazy traffic of New York City. That brings to the city itself which in every film it happens becomes an element and character of itself. Here I was reminded of the day walks I took through the city roaming through it amongst, towards and against the waves of people. Wilee cruises through them in his bike that is nothing short of shocking.

I talked Michael Shannon becoming a quintessential factor in salvaging this film that would have fallen abysmally into the clutches of bad cinema. The reason being is that he does not make Bobby Monday a simple minded single motto villain. He is a gambling addict and I very much doubt a drug addict as well. When we learn the predicament he is in and the origins we get a kick out of this whacky man. There are two scenes where he simply steals the entire film from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One is when he torturously interrogates Levitt’s Wilee for the ticket he is after and the second is his final scene. In a film that is driven purely by kinetic energy and mindless entertainment, Shannon shines through it bringing a trademark characteristic to it.

There are several things that are so bad in “Premium Rush” and one thing being the monotonic background score by David Sardy. What an unique opportunity to immerse one into the electronic techno energy these scenes beg for and got utilized in The Bourne Series and “Hanna” only to be wasted with no pulse pounding usage of tunes by Sardy out here. Yet in all these drawbacks you forgot those flaws and are thrilled through the hellish ride “Premium Rush” puts its audience in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Rampart" (2011) - Movie Review

“Rampart” is where you are surprised completely yet not shaken by it. Woody Harrelson gives one of those performances where an actor almost gives himself completely to the requests of a director as the belief in the script has driven them to extend themselves beyond the normal reach for performance. Like Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and of course Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas”, Harrelson provides himself completely to Oren Moverman’s “Rampart”. The result though is a film that provides a unique look and presentation is drawn down by its creativity. Hence as much as Moverman’s picture is versatile, skillful and raw, it fails to connect with its audience. Even in the wackiness of Nic Cage’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”, there was an element of comedy, bizarre and a surreal world in real life scenario evoking a strange sense of experience. “Rampart” is too serious to be taken lightly and too empty to have a connection to its central character.

Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is in the midst of the Rampart Scandal. He has earned the nick name of Date Rape Dave because he allegedly killed a serial date rapist. He lives with his two ex-wives who are sisters (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) with one daughter each. His dinner conversations involve asking each of them to sleep with him. When both rejects, he heads up to the high end bar to pick up woman, successfully of course. He is clean shaven, precisely dressed and is the man every woman wants to sleep with. Then he goes on the street and conducts himself in a chaotic self proclaimed justice. One such lands him beating a man almost to death that gets caught in a camera. His immersion into deep end begins there.

Moverman and his cinematographer Bobby Bukowski goes for the raw look that brings the face of Harrelson with biting his cigarette constantly and gnawing through it. The screen drips with golden tint that is more for an ugliness and brightness than glamour. Harrelson’s Brown has been in the department for 24 years and has conducted his business with connections and blue code of brotherhood. Now when the times are rough and the politics are playing its sweeping work, Brown is on the list and even then he pulls his strings from outside. One such is his dad’s friend, a retired police officer Hartshorn played by Ned Beaty. Their first meeting sets up the first unique shot for the film. We see Brown’s back of his head blocking Hartshorn’s face and then Hartshorn’s blocking Brown’s face. They go long back but when it comes to helping, it can only go so much without scratching each other’s back.

This is a slow demise of this police officer where the end is imminent and redemption is by far hiding and afraid to even sneak its face for this corrupt man. He has no consideration to anyone but he has no trouble attracting people. There is Robin Wright as the lawyer Linda he hooks up with in the bar he frequents. Both seem to know their kind but Brown has gone far too deep and it is a shock to see Linda hang on to this man as long as she does. 

Despite the impeccable acting of Harrelson, “Rampart” lacks the connection. Its humour only distances its character. There is no redeeming quality in this man that as the film progresses, it is a train wreck we want to look away but Harrelson is too mercurial to look away from. He is skinny, strong and the vein on his forehead is always popping up. He is scary, inconsiderate and loose cannon would be putting it very mildly. He appear to love his daughters though one of them has departed away from him mainly due to the domestic hanging bridge of a situation he has created. The sisters are done with him as the pressure of media, finance and of course the man himself causes them to kick him out. Alone, desperate and on the edge, he spends in the hotel drinking, popping pills he  threatened the pharmacist to give him wondering on the end he seem to not give in. He is ready to rob a big stake card game and ready to kill and threaten the witnesses. Ben Foster comes as this homeless person in couple of scenes and makes a mark in an unusual manner. Here is an actor who gave a dedicated role in Moverman’s “The Messenger” grows a beard, sits on a wheel chair on ragged clothes begging for drinks and cigarettes. And we see a homeless man doing that with a strange appreciation of pride in his own terms and gives an insanity of different kind.

“Rampart” is a presentation of pure corruption in action and the man’s chaos makes us to not have a firm ground on what is his motivation. He seem to enjoy the power but he does not come out and say it nor his actions provide that feeling. Is he a vigilante? Definitely not as he flexes the morality and justice as it benefits him more than anything. He appears not be a sociopath as he loves his children and wants to be liked at least. He has though all the sickening qualities in the most despicable manner. I think as much as Harrelson provides one of his best performances, the screenplay by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman stumble upon to create a base for the audience to either empathize, entertain or define to appreciate this unique presentation. “Rampart” is a good film and is an impressive one but it seem to have been succumbed by the purity of the presentation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Into the Abyss" (Documentary) (2011) - Movie Review

Metamorphosis is the word I would like to ponder after seeing Werner Herzog’s “Into the Abyss”. The transformation is continuous in the life of ours. We see the immaturity in every phase of our life and we transform with the hopes of bettering ourselves only to be stuck in a different form of immaturity. This never ending process for good or worse happens till death. During this process, people do good, bad, evil and despicable things. The process is simply there and there is so much out of control in this controlled universe and Herzog brings helplessness in a form a peace meal. There is nothing to fight if you accept the eventuality.

Michael Perry and Jason Burkett were convicted of a triple homicide that happened in the October of 2001. Michael Perry got the death row and is eight days away from his execution. Jason Burkett got life sentence. This film is about their guilt, innocence and everything in between. That is Herzog who lets the medium of documentary be what it is. In the purest form of documentary, Herzog is not trying project his understanding or make a statement of his. Whatever one derives from the film is his or her own. The statements and conclusions are their own as it for this reviewer. The man is there to document the victims, the perpetrators, the people that provides a perspective of this. He sees something important that has to be documented in this event of utter tragedy and hopelessness. There are things you might learn, things you would be disgusted, things and people you would hate, things you would cry and wonder the meaning of life. “Into the Abyss” might be the saddest film you will ever see and be enthralled in an experience of the appreciation you begin to have for the life you hold.

Herzog begins the film in the cemetery talking to a Reverend who is going to try his own way of providing peace to the man that will be executed in an hour. The cemetery he stands in front of are the burial grounds of the inmates who were executed and whose bodies were not collected by anyone. Names do not exist and all there is numbers on the tombstone. The Reverend is there to provide the best possible comfort he could to the life that is getting snatched away. We can see the appreciation he has for the life in front of him as the deaths he has seen and sees. We see similar reaction from a former death house team leader Fred Allen.

Michael Perry and Jason Burkett were convicted of murdering a fifty year old Sandra Stotler to steal a Camaro she had in her home. We are told or more so implied why the other two killing happened after that. Perry and Burkett were teenagers when this happened. Both have had a childhood that I cannot imagine or relate to. Nor will I try to imagine it as it is a futile attempt. Similar helplessness occurs when you see the sole survivor of the Stotler family who has lost everything. How can one have so much tragedy in their life and consistently be haunted by it? What kind of universal force we could blame for the misfortune as it might possibly shift some remote sense of pain or burden from her mind? Is not this the ripe time wherein one possibly question the existence of god and everything that arises out of it? All you see is the events of life unfurling itself with no reasons whatsoever.

“Into the Abyss” is a meditation in the chaos that opens up in front of our lives. Tragedy can hit anyone, anytime, anywhere without a warning and all we are left is bewildered human mind’s unwavering quest to find reasons and possibilities. The simplest disappointment brings so much question and investigation to what would have happened or could have been done to avoid that disappointment. Things simply happen and you bloody well deal with it and allow the time to deal with it. Despite all these statements nothing can prepare you or will assist you in going through something like that.

What we see in the brutality of an event is an odd curiosity for Werner Herzog. Do not get him wrong as he is the first person to gravitate on the obviousness and asks questions and states his opinion behind the camera with a shearing clarity and honesty. And for some reason the people he interviews seem to understand this man’s intent as they answer it without hesitation without shred of being offended. He truly has made his intentions so vividly and positively clear that this is more than trust. This film as much tells about this odd mood and philosophical meandering deepens into this man who is able to capture these people’s naked emotions with greatest honesty.

“Into the Abyss” is emotionally charged for obvious reasons but deeply involved for utterly different reasons. This is the kind of film that leaves you to be happy with your life and yet acknowledge the existence of such tragedy and survival of it. It is despair in dissection but provides hope in unusual places. The film gets aided with the eerie mystical score of Mark Degli Antoni which seem to speak the language of Herzog. Here is the man who is on the lookout for seeing the darkness in life for what it is and shed light to expose a different outlook to the audience that are unaffected at that moment. This is a form of film that goes beyond the bounds of criticism or to say whether it is good or bad or emotionally affecting. It is definitely the last one but still, this is beyond being a film. This is a poetry of chaos and order but more than it is a statement of life and death.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Margin Call" (2011) - Movie Review

There is death in the air throughout “Margin Call”. Nobody dies but there is death in the air. Nobody sheds a blood but there is absolute death in the air. This is the film that squeezes the desperation of the well dressed and the highly mannered individuals to a night that is equivalent to the despair what Martin Scorsese brought in “Taxi Driver” and “Bringing out the dead”. Writer/Director J. C. Chandor cuts a slice of the chunk that brought down the economy to its knees, beat it down the head till it bled through the skulls and seep through the canals of drained out future of several lives.

After seeing “Margin Call”, I went ahead to know more about the MBS (Mortage Backed Security) and tried to read more into the crash that caused the end of 2008 to be the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. My idea of the fiasco is that the bank and other big firms provided mortgage to people who cannot afford their homes and as the obvious happened, the ripple effect caused the market to crash and burn. That is the simplistic explanation I could give and when you begin reading any article in the Wiki, there is “complicated” on the first line it begins to explain. I honestly cannot quantify the details of that crash but there is a smart kid Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) who finds this debacle late at night in this unnamed firm in “Margin Call”. He tries explaining that to several executive heads that have long forgotten the numerics and science that has got them where they are. All we know is that the end has already happened and the burial needs to be performed.

The film begins with the firing of Peter Sullivan’s boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), the head of the risk management for that floor. Before he leaves he drops an assignment to Peter and tells him to watch out. The kid completes the work and the bells ring loud to assemble everyone who has missed this. From there on, there are performances that is nothing short of perfection. Every single character in this film is needed, essential and provides something I have not seen in a film for a while. A quintessential purpose of existence in a film. “Margin Call” is bold in dealing this material with a reality that evokes a strange kind of response in its audience. Here are the people who have earned millions in a year and are faced with the worst situation they were earning those money for. Their reaction is quick, merciless and follows the crude sense of Darwin’s survival. 

Kevin Spacey plays Sam Rogers, who has the most sense of righteousness in this ugliness. Yet you will learn how he has been defeated long before this to be the person his boss and friend John Tudd (Jeremy Irons) has become. There is Paul Bettany as Will Emerson, the golden boy for Sam Rogers who gives a quick spending summary of his 2 million dollars he earned in the past year. Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) is the division head that has risen to that level of authority and sneaky charm that absorbs this situation like he should and acts like he should. The junior most risk analyst in this whole game is Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley), a kid who acts realistic and pragmatic only to face the reality in closed corners. And finally there is Demi Moore as Sarah Robertson that played a primary role in firing Eric Dale, only to fight her survival with Jared and lick her wounds while doing it. These are performances they can be proud of. I have not seen such a precise and thorough performances in every scene of the film since Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton”.

“Margin Call” chronicles one firm’s spectacular realization of the screw up they ignored and act with extreme force overnight to save the billions the head people have already earned. The cinematography of Frank DeMarco captures New York with a sickening glamour. It is depressing even when its glowing as the night dims through this tragedy that is being brought upon the nation. But the main mood that gets painted is by the background score of Nathan Larson. He meditates the sombre of this film that has the strength to appreciate the saddening plays that gets executed.

This is brilliant film making. It is tragically seem to be very accurate. It is bluntly truthful in its depiction of these people that have nothing but saving themselves and looking good while doing it. There are no moralities nor does wisdom. All is being said is the mistakes and blunders that has led them to this. Every one knows that they deserve all this and they seem to acknowledge what has happened yet no one is apologetic. That is the scary situation of this global economical operation is that it is all numbers on thin air that gets dispersed, evaporated and created at will. There are no violent battle in this tragedy other than the very basis of the survival crumble under the people who depend on it, the rest of the people that try to live a moderate income and below that. That mood is what makes “Margin Call” deeply disturbing and terrifyingly honest.

Making a film about an event that happened couple of years ago is a huge risk as it is fresh in one’s memory. Yet J. C. Chandor goes for it because he saw the doom and gloom for a drama and thriller unlike no other. It ensembles a cast that somehow understood the element of the fiasco on a different level. No one overplays or underplays their character. Every body is smug but carefully play it with a care. Here are people who deserve no sympathy but we begin to have some especially towards Sam Rogers. Every one is so damn good with numbers. There is a breathtaking scene with Stanley Tucci’s Eric Dale summarizing the great work he once did. There is another scene where Jared Cohen and Sarah Robertson discuss their survival in an elevator with a janitor lady in between that is so merciless and effective. And then there is Sam Rogers and Peter Sullivan discussing the morning of the worst day in the firm’s history that carries an unique kind of an unimaginable axis of emotion. All these scenes are few that are superior than the over all superiority of the film itself. It is always a thrill and exuberance to see a film that achieves a level of perfection I have not seen in recent times. “Margin Call” is one of the best films of 2011.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"The Hunter" (2011) - Movie Review

“The Hunter” which could have easily been an unnecessary annoying slow turmoil of a mercenary in the hunt for a last existing Tasmanian Tiger, ends being a calm emotional journal of a lonely man. Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is that man who gets hired to hunt and bring blood, flesh and other samples of a one Tasmanian Tiger. He agrees without a question as it is not of his business. In the video archives taken in the early thirties, the animal looks like a cross between a wold and a hyena. No wonder they called it as Tasmanian Wolf from what Wiki says. This is not a film about someone consistently in the woods trying to outsmart this rare being into submission that methodically would kill. Instead it is the backdrop and the backbone, it is a repeating expression in a poem and finally becomes a unexplainable emotional response.

This Australian film directed by Daniel Nettheim lays out this tale without any kind of punctuation. It begins in a modern city and then moves instantaneously to the gorgeous Tasmania. With woods spread like ocean, Martin finds his temporary new home where he is greeted by a vocal and energetic kid Sass (Morgana Davies) and her brother Bike (Finn Woodlock). The house is a wreck with no power, dirty tub and nothing of an existence of a happy living. Their mother Lucy (Frances O’Connor) is grieving for the husband’s disappearance in the woods. To Martin this is not his concern. He tries to find a new place only to be met with resistance and hatred from the locals as they seem to believe he is with the environmentalists stopping the deforestation thereby making them jobless. Lucy’s husband Jarrah seem to have been the wrong books with the locals too.

One has to talk about the appearance of Willem Dafoe and the attire he goes along. Lean, seasoned and thoroughly chiseled is his body. He takes good care of his rugged beard and suits up with the hunting attire like a perfectly fitted glove. He has the most focussed look and when he gets into the woods setting up traps and waiting for the tiger to be trapped, he shows patience without even having to add intense scenes. The suspense though is there in seeing this mystical species, is underplayed purposefully. Except for one moment, there is no hurried motion or intense chases scenes. When it does happen, those are the spontaneous and effective 10 seconds of chase one would encounter.

“The Hunter” which begins as this dark tale of this lone mercenary trying to find an animal turns into him forming a connection with the family robbed of happiness. He slowly begins to take the role and responsibility of Jarrah. Bike especially seem to know what he is upto and provides clues silently through his drawings. Soon we realize that Jarrah was there for the same purpose. The company that has hired Martin are more driven to get this species. But those are plot points that does not become bigger than it has to. It causes bigger tragedies but are again played with a melancholy that never goes for melodrama.

Cinematography by Roberts Humphreys has some stellar shots of this magical place that gets sunbathed, snow showered and basked in mist to provide the kind of peaceful, sad yet beautiful poetry this film emulates. Daniel Nettheim wrote this screenplay based on the novel by the same name by Julia Leigh and I am more intrigued to read the book. Another story about a hunt comes to mind “The Ghost and the Darkness” which has nothing in common with this film apart from the hunt yet there is a mesmerizing scene of Val Kilmer’s character freezing by seeing this animal in front of him. There comes a moment in “The Hunter” and we see all the sides to Martin’s action. It does not comes contrived and we understand everything that follows it without a drop of unnecessary melodrama.

“The Hunter” is a movie that would take its time because the process needs to be real. It would appear that the actual hunt does not happen and I am sure any true hunter would agree the wait and patience that gets to that one single moment. The film does not bore us with that and shows the work of Willem Dafoe’s Martin precisely of what is required. And Dafoe brings forth this man with an authority that is neither arrogant nor cheesy. This man reacts for a true feeling and has stayed away I think more by choice. Here he tries to be like that but he gets in connecting with this family without his awareness. Before he or we know it, he has integrated himself into this nest. “The Hunter” does it all without a haste and in the meanwhile provides a peacefully collected with right thrills that ends melancholically.

"The Bourne Legacy" (2012) - Movie Review

The predominant success of the Bourne trilogy was the simplicity in the screenplay and the kinetic force in the stunts. Th simplicity in the screenplay is due to the motivation of Bourne who took every instant with a splurge of tiny plans. Those plans when went wrong sprung more of those kind keeping the predictability of his mind to us in unpredictable ways. We began to like for this amnesiac super hero who is initially looking for answers settles for love and then for vengeance and justice. We cared just enough for Jason Bourne played with conviction by Matt Damon. That was the real legacy of the Bourne series. Here comes “The Bourne Legacy” with a director who penned that trilogy and wrote/directed one of my all time movies in recent times “Michael Clayton”. 

There is no more Jason Bourne or his story happens parallel when this one unfurls. It must have been one busy hell of a week at CIA that they had to tackle this shit storm. Jeremy Renner is the central man in this film as he goes through a training exercise in Alaska when Bourne’s unraveling of Operation Blackbriar and Operation Treadstone hits the fan. That initiates cover up response which leads to Eric Byer (Edward Norton). Look how easily Norton convinces us that he is the man for the job and how easily he can place himself without any hesitation on eviscerating this program to its death. He is made to look old that falls poorly but he makes it up through his presence and delivery. A man who saw through this new program called Outcome need to be this authoritative, merciless and methodical.

Writer/Director Tony Gilroy is on the right track of making this film purely his own. He goes through the talking heads and exposes this world of people who knew the repercussions there were in and the moralities they decimated. These are the people like the one “Michael Clayton” knew the game and consequences but when the situation becomes real, they have to balance what they expected and what they have to deal with. In this film, there needed something more thorough performances and characters beyond Edward Norton to aid in those. Then again Gilroy is not going for the drama out here as he was in “Michael Clayton”. He wanted just enough drama to set the audience up for the much awaited stunt sequences this franchise is known for.

Many of the reviews complained that there is no reason for such a long and unclear first one hour. I was fine with the introduction and the circle of events surrounding those. I had no problem in following those and the people rolling out the dices with the known numbers to turn and fall, except one. The let down for me were the action sequences which were delivered with great effectivity in the series. The way the single man moves through his opponents be it bare knuckle combat or vehicular manipulation towards a busy streets of a totally unknown location, he would make it look with a rugged elegance and things become suddenly organic in the chaos he pulls through. That magic misses by a great margin in this installment.

Rachel Weisz is the tag along woman for Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross we come to know. She is the doctor who has detached herself from the subjects she has done analysis on this new scientific experimentation to enhance their physical ability and mental astuteness. Aaron needs his meds and the doctor is picked for the ride. That was another problem was that the chemistry between them falls through because of not much of a foundation in their attraction other than saving each other time to time. Jeremy Renner despite the fact takes up the job seriously and dutifully does not get screen time for proper emotional moment nor does the action sequences provide clear face of his length in which he goes through those.

Yet, the final nail in the coffin for me is the absence of a worthy opponents Bourne had. Here they pull up the next version of Aaron who comes to kill and he does not even get a decent opportunity on anything. He is good at jumping and climbing but the action was not executed properly. There were this small exchanges between Bourne and his opponents in previous films where they talk tersely and precisely just before the stunts. They formulated a shift in mood and a sense of rawness that when they pummeled Bourne or were being pummeled by him gave a new perspective. They become real people sculpted by this program into something else and are fighting for their existence as Bourne himself. That element is hugely missing.

There cannot be an escape from being not compared to the previous three films. I was drawn into the closed room drama Gilroy was taking me along and the correct amount of exposure to Aaron’s outdoor skills. I was looking for an encounter in the home territory with a stunt sequence that I could follow, see and enjoy. Instead the film immersed into the shaky camera that lacked all the energy it tries to impart into moving images of shoddy presentation which robs the experience I have thoroughly enjoyed in its predecessors. There is a sufficient hint for sequels, parallel-quels (yes, I coined that word) or prequels but I hope Gilroy writes and directs it and leaves the action to Paul Greengrass and team.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012) - Movie Review

While many wondered why reboot the Spiderman franchise in a decade, I was optimistic , one being director Marc Webb who provided “(500) Days of Summer” and second that Christopher Nolan rewrote the definition of reboot . Granted that Webb’s previous venture was a different genre, style and presentation but it marked something intelligent, creative and passion. While all of them are present in “The Amazing Spider-Man”, none of it come into complete fruition.

Sam Raimi’s film is still afresh in my memory and the movie does not re-invent itself. It needs a birth within, may be a clean sheet of genesis of this high school kid trying to enter this unfair world filled with crime and secrets. It is Andrew Garfield as the lean, flexible and troubled Peter Parker. He gets bullied, beaten and discarded. It is sometimes hard to believe Garfield gets pushed away but there is blonde beauty Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) who notices him just enough and lets him make the move.
Gwen works as an intern at Oscorp under Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Peter’s parents Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz) leave him with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) as they appear to flee from danger. Decade and half later, Pete is on the hunt for his curiosity on his parent’s disappearance through an old suit case. That leads to Dr. Connors to the eventual spider biting and skills development we have seen.

Yes, the graphics and stunts are immensely impressive. Yes, it is nail biting to see him hold the vehicles over the bridge and tackle The Lizard at the same time. Yet, none of those complete Webb’s presentation. There are several things I did like about the film which is how they treat Peter Parker as the confused teenage kid. His joy in learning the skills and putting his mind to use and his anger and guilt haunting him to swing through the sky scrapers.

Emma Stone is a perfect choice for Gwen Stacy who is the perfect equal necessary for Parker. She is strong willed and has some stinging lines that puts her someone as a necessary character than a pure love interest. Garfield makes a good Spiderman but not a convincing high schooler through Peter Parker. In Raimi’s version, Parker tries to balance school and night activity while here it comes and goes as it pleases.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a summer blockbuster and remains that way. It is a level above the mindless entertainment but level below for something far greater than the regular churns of super hero films. It has a sense of humour that needs further amplification but stays within as the studio might have brought its iron claw in rewriting the script. What ends up is an half hearted attempt that does not sweep us our feet and look forward for a sequel.

Rhys Ifans’ Connors is motivated due to a drug addiction rather than a philosophical or profound change in the perspective of giving something to the world. His Lizard while is powerful and beastly becomes just another thing to beat than to ponder on the motivation. Another supporting role that would have used some more time on the screen would be Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy who is hell bound in catching Spider-Man than the Lizard. The cops never likes someone who is outdoing their duties. Not everyone is Commissioner Gordon!

Of course there will be a sequel and I am not sure whether the same team returns but the hope would be to bring in a dimension that Raimi did not take. Why cannot be a darker turn and make a real birth of the boy into a man? Why cannot one be truly faithful to the comic and yet paint a much more deeper picture of these masked people whom in my child hood have seen as a symbol of pure good? That there are things in the real world that creeps into their superhero laws to sustain. I Nolan has set up a much higher scale for these kind of films.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Savages" (2012) - Movie Review

It is unsure what kind of film Oliver Stone wanted “Savages” to be. A tale of two young boys and their shared free love for their bonding girl or the twisted political turn of events on the border of US and Mexico that causes a game of power or is it simply the fun he can have in giving an action thriller with some intelligence peppered on it to tune the seriousness down on his regular presentations? I think he simply mashed everything up to provide an all round performance that constantly searches for a firm ground and never settling.

As Blake Lively through her character “O” begins the narration, I was in wonderment when was the last time I blatantly noticed that it was so out of a film and detached from it even before it began. May be it is the voice of Lively or the fact that it does not carry the intrigue generally these kind of narration begins. The idea is that the narrator has a strong presence as a character too but that falls flat as the magical aspect of “O” never really comes out beyond her beauty. Regardless she has the presence director Oliver Stone was going for which he easily gets. She is the Sun these two planets Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) circle around. They are in the business of superior brand of marijuana. What comes out of that is the story narrated with not so powerful voice of Lively.

This is a film about lot of bad people. Strike that, it is a film only about bad people. The only reason these three are even considered to be the slightest fade of goodness is that they are initiated and provoked. Then one cannot be naive about the ways of Chon, an ex-soldier who is the muscle in this business. Ben is the hippie who is happy to be the mind and peace of this development. Regardless both are not naive in the situation they are in. Ben has been outside of these chaos and Chon has kept it in the best interest to keep it that way. As the movie opens, this has been working good for them except now the Mexican Drug Cartel wants their product and share. Of course they do not want in and what results is the participants in this chaos to shed blood, shoot mercilessly and take what they want.

While the film is an effort to combine all elements of a good crime thriller with sufficient darkness to the presentation, it does not have the powerful writing it would have needed to dictate itself. It does carry the dark humour which I would have expected in immense from Benicio del Toro’s Cartel enforcer Lado. Nor does it have the absolute reality of the intricacies in this mess and the clever ideas these two come up to battle the most cruel people in their world. 

There are two notable performances that would have needed more screen time. That would be DEA Agent Dennis played by John Travolta with snaky sneakiness and the other is the aforementioned del Toro’s Lado. While Travolta’s DEA Agent is corrupt in so many ways and deflects a situation into an impulsive chess game, Toro’s Lado is pure evil. Both of them have one scene together where you see Agent Dennis playing the situation of him being dead into a methodical plan to benefit both him and Lado. “Savages” would have benefitted a ton from these two people.

In no way “Savages” is an under performed film. It has these three newcomers who are not intimidated by the roles they were given and going after it with great gravity. The film holds its ground and needed an rocket launching trigger in the screenplay. The writing by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and director Oliver Stone needed some devious conversations more than the unnecessary gore and violence Stone splashes on the screen.

Salma Hayek who is supposedly this powerful woman Elena creates no fear whatsoever  and merely comes off as a sexy bitch. Lively’s character projects nothing of her real pain or the past or the cunningness one would have expected. It is not that we have to root for someone in a film and definitely not here as all are quite firm on surviving in this cruel world. Take Ben who gets exposed to this world he knew he was in but never took the front lines. He is terrified by the violence but his shock and change are shushed away. His buddy Chon has seen it all and there are no heart to heart to see this supposed see no evil shattered in his friend. Oliver Stone had a good story out of the novel of the same name by Don Winslow but unfortunately it suffers from the weakness of a not so powerful screenplay. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) - Movie Review

Probably one of the most anticipated film in the past decade, “The Dark Knight Rises” is the film for which I prepared in refreshing viewing the predecessors in my backyard assembling my friends. Such is the love I have for this franchise by director Christopher Nolan who has constructed each of this piece with care for the art of cinema, logic and entertainment in perfect harmony. He extracted some of the best works from his supporting roles and the best in his last venture of late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”. The expectation as much as one can contain has only exponentially increased and as much as I shunned the pure brilliance of its predecessors, “The Dark Knight Rises” is quite tough to meet those standards. Yet Nolan has proven us wrong with “The Darkn Knight” that ousted “Batman Begins”. “The Dark Knight Rises” is a thorough good work from Nolan and his team, nevertheless it is a victim of a successes of its predecessors. 

The film that begins 8 years after the tragedy Joker has imparted, Gotham has survived without Batman. Thanks to the lie by Batman through Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) of Harvey Dent’s killings put on him that gave birth to Dent Act which has given ultimate control in removing criminals that has made Gotham a peaceful place. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives in Wayne Manor as a recluse limping through life and has been drowning in his sorrows of lost love. I would have liked to know the 8 years Bruce went through in convincing himself of being discarded and retired. Or may be not as the sight of depressed man going through life with no sense of purpose would be a separate film on itself. This is not a indie drama we are talking about as it is one of the most popular comic book heroes rejuvenated splendidly on the screen. But in Nolan’s world he exists much more real than anyone would have ever seen in a super hero film.

Bane is played by dangerously built up Tom Hardy whose facial reactions are nothing but eyes as the gas mask covers up his entire face. Sadly his eyes are not ferocious enough and the processed voice needs real close listening to understand. He begins a machination that characterizes the events in bringing Bruce out of his cave onto his Batcave. He suits up with the help of Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) and tries to battle the new evil as Bane. Bane’s purpose are solely driven by what Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) left in “Batman Begins”. Even that purpose is only told through the summary laid out by Alfred (Michael Caine) for Bruce. While Heath Ledger’s Joker cannot be beaten or matched up, Bane’s belief is not enunciated by himself. He appear to be mercenary and thus the match in the mind game does not equate well enough. Yet the sheer mass and power Tom Hardy brings in this giant is thoroughly entertaining. We believe in the force of this evil and he comes down on Batman effortlessly. There is a drive in bringing him down. Death is not an immediacy of punishment he is looking for his master’s life. He puts Bruce in a prison where hope is torture.

The end to the trilogy cannot be more elaborate. It cannot get bigger than this. And Christopher Nolan does not blow up buildings without a reason. The range of the stunts are brought on to the same gravity and reality “The Dark Knight” had. It does not go beyond it but retains it. When you watch this film with a foundation it lays on in the first hour and we sparsely see the masked hero, we are bombarded with plethora of characters that gets introduced and eliminated properly. There is Selina Kyle better known as Catwoman played by Anne Hathaway with a bite of humour and sliver of hope in change within. Then there is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who appears to be a proper solace for the lone man who has discarded any form of happiness. Finally there is up and coming officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who knows the man and the mask just by the way Wayne acts out. He is where Bruce was in “Batman Begins” trying to find justice and unable to cope with idealism being beat down by good people.

The best scenes are the ones with Alfred and Bruce. We see the old butler trying all he can to talk some sense in enjoying this small life Wayne has gotten. Caine and Bale have formed a bond through these characters right from “Batman Begins” and their scenes brings forth the much needed and justifiable emotional part the film needs and we truly sympathize with Alfred and through him towards Bruce Wayne. Yet the best of all scenes is the rejuvenation of the old and tiring Bruce Wayne finding meaning in existence and the will to fight in the hellish prison Bane put him through. This is the class of Christopher Nolan who brings epiphany for a character that we can relate and believe. When the magic happens and when we know the character is going to conquer his fears and come through stunningly, we are elated within in being convinced of that than a plot leverage to advance. The joy of the character’s success is organic in Nolan’s presentation. We know this will happen and we are with Bruce Wayne when he makes the leap.

The screenplay by the Nolan brothers is nothing short of complex. It intertwines these people and stitches them up with no idea how the end will be nevertheless keeping us appreciatively guessing. The humour is still there as sarcasm and condescension  oozes which are trademark to Nolan’s writing. In all this is the thumping score of Hans Zimmer riding solo without James Newton Howard and he brings the much needed hair rising experience in a scene filled with gravity or a stunt that requires the extra energy for the audience to root. Through the undergrounds, skyscrapers and chases is Wally Pfister with his cinematography taking us in the IMAX presentation that the film truly deserves.

“The Dark Knight Rises” on its own is a thoroughly entertaining, brilliantly acted, spectacularly choreographed and faithfully performed film. It suffers from the bright lights of the “The Dark Knight” and due to that I was mildly disappointed by the lack of fuel power the villain in this. Sometimes I wish to write a review for a film on different stages, on its new born form, slightly seasoned and in its nostalgic antique/art state. But what that actually means is that me as a person and the surroundings changing along with it and how it alters the way I see the film on different times, surroundings and expectations. While I do not want to do that for all the films, I would like to do for the films I thought I enjoyed but left with a small residue of dissatisfaction. A year from now, if I watch “The Dark Knight Rises”, I might enjoy it more or notice more of its flaws but for now all I can say is that Christopher Nolan has provided the best super hero films one could not possibly imagine and ended it with all his guns blazing gloriously. It is a fitting finale and he can be proud along with his team in pulling it off.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom" (2012) - Movie Review

I always wonder on the thoughts of a first time Wes Anderson viewer would think of with no idea whatsoever of this man’s preceding works. Will they laugh or look in confusion of the world he creates and the views he presents, the songs he chooses, the camera he horizontally and vertically moves or simply the characters that you will not find anywhere else? He has without any doubt created his own genre and has stuck with it. One would think that this genre would die and get repetitive but oddly enough Anderson seems to strike the same chord and produce different sounds. “Moonrise Kingdom” is no different.

In the deadpan treatment of a serious issue, “Moonrise Kingdom” presents two kids falling in love in the tenderness of innocence. One is Sam (Jared Gilman) and the other is Suzy (Kara Hayward). Suzy’s residence is where the film opens which resembles the old fairy tale home that is both beautiful and creepy at the same time. Here she lives with her parents Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) and three of her brothers. Walt and Laura are lawyers and there is nothing much happening between them. Suzy is glued to her binoculars awaiting for someone and something to come closer.

We see Sam’s empty tent rather than himself when his Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) finds out in his regular chores that Sam is missing. All this are in a small island that conveniently sets out the odd land of the director. The characters in their oddity are human underneath. While for initial viewers it might appear presumptuous and even preposterous to these people wander around with nothing but quirkiness, there is a sense in presenting them like this. There is a deep sudden seriousness that emerges out of them that pricks you in the heart when you least expect.

Sam is an orphan we come to know and Suzy met him a year earlier in a dressing room with her Raven costume. The striking question he directs at her tells everything about the desire and affect Suzy made on him. They are in love. They begin to write which has culminated in both of them abandoning their supposed home and venture out in the wilderness in the hopes of being together. They meet at distance at the far of the screen and get into work. There is no awkwardness or rather they direct it towards their escape plan. They begin to work together, assemble things, share things and in doing so does something most couple of in love fail to do, to connect.

The supporting roles are by Bruce Willis as Island Police Captain Sharp with Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman and a surprising Harvey Keitel in the midst of this. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton share the boy’s emotion as they seem to have grown up from him and confined to the needs of the social pressure even in the odd world of Wes Anderson. McDormand’s Laura and Sharp are in an affair which forms an emotional depression for Murray’s Walt. In the whole film, the most intimate Walt and Laura get are in their separate beds discussing their cases and finally their problems. Laura asks him to stop feeling for himself and Walt responds with a question and that just pierces through the brutality of the situation. 

“Moonrise Kingdom” is not as impressive as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” which I absolutely adored, loved, admired and was charmed. Wes Anderson’s navigation from PG to PG-13 has taken beautifully. The romance between these two demands great comparisons to best films in those category. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward show surprising maturity in handling Anderson’s weird presentation. They converse as kids but bring out their inner maturity sublimely. 

With his regular cinematographer Robert Yeoman, Anderson paints yellow and pink and bright brick red as he pleases. He navigates the camera to angles you are not used and yet very used to when it comes to his films. In his style it never becomes something one is trying hard rather than a way to accentuate his emotional presentation. Therein it never comes off phony or put up and becomes one and the same of any other great presentation. “Moonrise Kingdom” has all the bits and pieces of Anderson’s signature and weaves his childhood memories into it. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Everything Must Go" (2010) - Movie Review

There is sadness in every obnoxious comedian. That is the trend that very well existed in the film world when I grew up back in India. It might not necessarily be true but seeing Adam Sandler in “Punchdrunk Love” and now seeing Will Ferrell in “Everything Must Go”, one might begin to believe that because they embody that sadness with a look and form that makes it seem so easy to enact. 

Will Ferrell is Nick Halsey, a successful salesman who has slipped in his sobriety to lose his job and wife on the same day. You know how you talk yourself into things you will regret doing? I think it works terrifically well for alcoholics. Their misery feeds their addiction. We never see his wife and listen to Nick’s voicemails to her. She has been sober we learn and she just cannot move on with Nick’s drunkenness. Sexual encounter with another woman that caused his unemployment does not help in her staying either. As much as we hate her for leaving his stuff on the yard, changing the locks and freezing the bank account, there is a harsh justifications to those actions. May be that is why Nick is not all mad at his wife despite his rock bottom situation.

Nick begins his descent into chain drinking further and his days begin when the sprinklers turn on. Dan Rush’s film is a slow but thorough exercise in a man’s lowest point and it keeps getting lower. The rock bottom is not there when you know you have crossed it. Nick seem to have accepted this and the eventuality is death because there appears to be no turning back. Yet we see hope when the basic human instinct is to communicate and connect. Nick does with two people. One is a young boy Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) in the neighbourhood who has nothing but time to kill while the other is his new neighbour Samantha (Rebecca Hall).

In between these two Nick develops empathy rather than sympathy. Both of them sees through him yet keeps it cool. Nick has lot to offer. A successful man who made a good life for himself is slowly throwing away those. It is quite tough to do nothing especially when you are exposed like Nick is out in the yard as people watch and wonder. Kenny immediately goes further and enquires. Soon enough both of them begin to have a conversation. Samantha is pregnant and new to the area only to be left aloof by her husband. Nick sees through her which shows his ugly face in the end. Samantha is cautiously compassionate.

Such is most of the characters who wants to be help Nick but knows he is in deep dark place. One such is Delilah (Laura Dern), a high school girl who wrote something nice about Nick when he brushes through his year book. He decides to contact knowing the absurdity of it. She sees him and knows something is odd yet goes forward within the boundaries of her compassion. In the end they both leave with something in their heart.

“Everything Must Go” is the kind of film that does not drench in the sadness of its central character. We feel lightheaded in the despair he carries. We understand him as he understands himself of his situation and consequences of his actions. That is part that makes it a better film and most of all say lot about Ferrell’s ability in acting which is that he knows every step of the way of why he is in a rut. There is a constant acknowledgment in the way Nick presents himself in the few days we observe him after his worst day in his life.

I was reminded of one of my favourite films “The Station Agent” which has a central character living his life in sadness and isolation because of his appearance and of no fault of his. There we see another connection with a cheery guy who cannot leave him alone and a mother in grief needing a shoulder to rest. “Everything Must Go” while in no way is similar to the characters or the story line has the connections in common. It shines on the fundamental fact of humans to connect and move on if they want to by any way they can, even in the most depressing state.

The film meditates on the depression. The mannerisms Ferrell brings forth through Nick though casual and effortless makes not alone to see this man go into spiral but see his life draining in his eyes in giving up. It is a shame when you know the capability of these comedians in delivering impressive performances not completely embrace more than they should. Sandler gave up completely after his “Reigh Over Me” while people like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey went that mile. Now here is Ferrell who is every bit capable to providing serious roles and come out convincingly. His Anchorman 2 would be hilarious and I am sure he enjoys doing those but occasionally I would love to see him in roles like these.