Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Game Change" (2012) - Movie Review

I have been a stranger to the current affairs and always have considered myself to be an outsider in that part of the world. My daily updates of current affairs comes through reading Google news and other media news as “Conan”. Funnily enough, the 2008 Presidential election was the one I paid close attention to. While I was curious about the system of election created by “Recount”, the obvious attention came from the stunner of Vice President nominee by Republican camp runner Senator John McCain.

Coming from the same crew who brought “Recount”, “Game Change” goes through the chaos that happened behind the calamity. The choice of Sarah Palin and the eventual media craziness that followed through cannot be forgotten as it was the biggest display of real time entertainment in the ultimate seriousness of the election and in the midst of global economy crashing deeper than that. Written by Danny Strong off the book of same name by John Heileman and Mark Halperin, Jay Roach directs this with somewhat subdued version. He does not go for the theatrics as he did with “Recount”.

To choose someone to play Sarah Palin would be a challenge and to portray her without making her a complete joke but retaining the sense of it and grounded to reality would have been a tremendous challenge. Julianne Moore stands up for the challenge and quite spectacularly makes us not laugh on her impersonation as Tina Fey did in the SNL (that runs throughout the film as well), but make us see her as this person who is suddenly brought into the spotlight and flooded with fame and response overwhelming her.

The film is through the eyes of one of the campaign front line personnel Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson). They are the sharks in this open water and they can smell blood a mile away. Here they sense it through the threat Barrack Obama poses. He is of course immaculate in his speeches, thoroughly prepared and has the presence someone can be proud calling their leader. All those qualities attribute to a celebrity and that is exactly the race is. Schmidt and his colleagues Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) and speech writer Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) bring forth to John McCain (Ed Harris). McCain asks them to pick a player for their worries. Rick finds the woman.

After the 2008 election, I had the opportunity to read about John McCain through one of the essays of David Foster Wallace wherein he covered the Republican nomination primaries in 2001-2002. I developed a great respect for the man and here he is portrayed as the same who is quite vehement on his morales. Despite that politics plays its ugly games on you when desperation seeks in. They do not have the money as that of the Democratic party and they need a great stir monetarily and psychologically.

“Game Change” goes through most of its contents in recreating interviews which was out in public. Those are of course quintessential to this story but the back door scenes are where we really learn about Sarah Palin. She is a good looking and caring mother with great belief in the belief she holds dear. One would have imagined her yelling and jumping on the air for the opportunity but she is perturbed, collected and calm. Despite her naivety, she is so clear on the path she has been alloted. Schmidt is surprised by that. Yet at the same time, they know there is more to this woman. She is a wild card and importantly a gamble. They take that.

The film despite its good execution and definitely a fair treatment on the person and the situation lacks the punch “Recount” had. May be it is because I knew the drama that happened in this ruined the anticipation. Harrelson and Harris play a stellar supporting role but the clear winner of course is Moore as Palin. She makes her a full person rather than a caricature to be laughed on about, which we do but with a different perspective. The film follows the curve of this person who without a doubt created a stir and rode the wave. She is likable as everyday person. She loves her country and the god she believes in. She is devoted to her family and adores Alaska. She is instantly encouraged to heights and discouraged to deep end. What we see is a grown up woman going through the cycle of this unforgiving field of politics and behaving like a kid. Steve Schmidt and company take the heat as they should as they overlooked the process of vetting her and paid the price. They were more involved in turning around the buzz that they forgot about the real reason of the election despite the cynicism it has bode over the years. Deep underneath those reality show media and dirty games, there still is the great expectation of good leaders in the country that hails the freedom in its deepest sense.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Encounters at the End of the World" (Documentary) (2008) - Movie Review

This it the first documentary I have seen of Werner Herzog and his voice is something that livens up the experience. It is of course not the instant wiseness we respect and absorb as that of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones but it has something beyond that. It has got the true emotion and the truth of a man’s desperate need for looking out adventures, answers and mystic. This is Werner Herzog as a person curious like anyone among us venturing out those curiosity on to the horizon and beyond it. He is fascinated by the world he lands, the people he meets and he wants to share it.

An underwater picture from the South Pole by his friend has invited the interest in this daring man. He picks up the camera and ventures out with his minimalist crew with no idea whatsoever on coming up with a film. I am sure avid enthusiasts of nature and far side of the world would have sat through immense documentaries done with intense style offered by Discovery and National Geographic channel. And I am sure they would have been educated, learned, enthralled and even encouraged to visit that world. What is so different about Herzog’s presentation? Apart from his deep pronouncing explanations and honest gravity to those, he wanders across this world for everything it has to offer. Right from the point of being annoyed by the civilization of the McMurdo Station to the deep sounds the Seals make he gives a true pure experience of being in that place. Yet he never does completely confess his feelings. He states and moves on.

His stress on the scenarios, people and places are there as is. We see his interest towards it but cannot really deduce what his deep liking or dislike towards them. The man so out and clear on his voice is as mystic as the bright, cold and vast Antarctica. This is “Encounters at the End of the World” and it will not blow your mind but brings a serenity and a dimension you would not have met with.

The people out here are not the norms the society has uglily, truthfully and boringly defined. There are cooks who are scientists, florists who are linguists and there are people who simply fall outside the envelope of the conventional living. They spread their wings towards the deepness of the whiteness. There is a philosopher who operates forklifts and has a thing or two to say about the land. There is a lady who has seen enough adventures for several lifetimes and wants more of it. The people are crazy, daring, at peace and deeply in a non-stop meditation of life.

The film is the closest one can come in terms of living through the routines of McMurdo and the launching it gives towards the rest of the place. The one who cannot travel to this land and sit on their couches to look at the impossibility of the current life that bore down to those comfy locations. For a mystical film such as this, the poetry on it does not come of as easily I expected. There are spellbinding places the camera takes us through and we are in wonderment of the geography and the life in that unexplored and unknown. Yet the film is not that alone. It covers the humans in those places and the zeal each of them carry in focusing on the agenda they are in.

There is a scientist desperately seeking the meaning of sub-atomic particles. There is a man dedicated his life in knowing about Penguins and their odd behaviour of going towards a goal that pretty much would cause their death. There is zoologists, physicists, linguists and several of many experts in their field digging through this thick ground of ice for something beyond their life. The need to understand and to depart from the regularity of the world, these are the people define the future world in unpredictable manner. Their idea of partying seem to be more cool than one can ever attain or imagine. Think about playing a performance on top of a trailer in the bottom most part of the world.

“Encounters at the End of the World” is not your usual film or for that matter not even your usual documentary. There is no agenda and there is no propaganda. It exists in its purest form and leaves us thinking on these characters, possibilities and pondering through the minds of our own. It is philosophical yet simplistic. It is deep yet plays on the shallowness of great visual to provide the magnanimity of the life we have. While it might not make emotions with exuberance, it is a film unlike any other.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"A Separation" (Language - Persian) (2011) - Movie Review

I know many of my friends mention their reason to go see a film is to escape from the reality. I think they would not want to see “A Separation” because much like real life resolve is not the resolve we get in this film. What we get is a continuous process of ever failing attempt on being numb and be stale to words and actions. We cannot. I would though would love for my friends to see this film as it says so much about the art of film that is dripping with reality in pain, pleasure, ego and love.

The film begins with Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) in a court for divorce. The reason being Simin’s wish to leave the country while Nader cannot leave his Alzheimer’s affected father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). That is their disagreement which has gone enough for Simin to pull the plug. They still love each other and their 11 year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) is caught in between them as it is the terrible ordeal every kid goes through when the parents break up.

Nader is a modern man leading a comfortable middle class life working in a bank. He wants his kid to grow up to be strong and intelligent. He is a dedicated father doing his duty in guiding her daughter for betterment. He is a dedicated son wherein he is going through with this though he is in slow denial that his wife will be back. He is the man we begin rooting for and we see Simin in a bad light despite our empathy on her situation. She is caring for her daughter to have a better future and Iran seems to be not the place she would like that to be. Alzheimer’s is a deadly disease on torturing the loved ones on a daily basis. Nader’s father has no idea of his existence but he is there and we are crying along with Nader on this.

The film is not about their separation though that is the spine the film runs on. The real turmoil comes in when Nader hires a Razieh (Sareh Bayat) who comes with her cute and adorable daughter Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini) to take care of his father. Deeply religious and trying to make her living as we learn that her husband is struggling to find work, Razieh is going her own rough time. The first day for her does not go good as Nader’s father soils himself and she calls her religious advisor on whether to clean him or not. We are in wonderment of the deep rooted religion. This is not her hesitation in being uncomfortable with the situation but more about the repercussion of something written. Yet you will see her pain and reasons.

In this happens an incident which turns the whole situation into a complete different predicament. One would think that when bigger troubles and things fall in, it would bring the broken up couple to reconcile. Of course if it is an escaping film but not this. Nader is stubborn beyond his modern attitude. Then we are introduced to Razieh’s husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), a man who under normal circumstances has kind eyes and concerned look but when things go astray he loses temper as if that is his only way to deal with things. We learn his troubles in later stages of film. Razieh and Hodjat are struggling to make ends meet and in their ultimate goodness and dedication towards religion and belief cannot take their troubles anymore and begin to act out in unpredictable manner.

The beauty and sadness of Asghar Farhadi’s film is the nature of human in unexpected situations. We see the principled Nader lose his sight, we see devout Razieh doing unspeakable thing of leaving Nader’s dad unattended yet deeply human and we see Hodjat’s reason for his situation, we see Simin’s side of inability to have a common conversation with Nader and we see the children deeply affected by their parents’ set of actions. This is life at its worst and getting disintegrated right in front of our eyes. We cannot do much about it and we see the people not doing much about it. Despite their good natured actions, they consistently cheat and deceive themselves on the system of not accepting their fault and trying to proceed with a dialogue. And that does not make this reviewer any different as I could see me and anyone becoming like that and posed with the question of choosing the right thing to do and walking away from it. All of them does and that decision pushes the next generation to do that. We see the innocence lost in Termeh as she is asked to be in front of a judge twice and asked the most difficult questions.

“A Separation” consistently goes from one deadlock to another. The actors bring that tense and ordeal on to the screen with great command. This is a drama that unfolds step by step and you hope at every moment that these people would come to an amicable situation and see it floundering as reality grips its ugly claw over them. In the end all we are left is sadness and how unjust and potent when emotions combine with stubborn nature in anyone causing incredible pain we all endure. Yet we go ahead with our lives fighting through it taking actions and making decisions. Why do we do what we do? May be because we see the simple convincing moments of Nader with Termeh, Nader with his father, Termeh and Somayeh, Nader with his mother-in-law and the reasonability he has in the end with Razieh and Hodjat. And we do not see him share the same with Simin though we know how he loves her in the way male ego lets him to. “A Separation” has of course the cross section of two classes in Iran and we see the flurry of cars and traffic in it. Yet we can directly take the drama and put it anywhere in planet with similar results.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

"Puncture" (2011) - Movie Review

“Puncture” obviously reminded of “Michael Clayton” not alone due to the fact of a troubled lawyer and the big villain of giant corporation but also due to the dynamics of that lawyer amongst his other characters. George Clooney played Michael Clayton as the once successfully contented lawyer beginning to question his line of work and mainly getting tired of that work. He has a gambling problem and his family is disintegrated. His long time mentor and friend is in a spiral of self destruction. He does not have a good time during film. So is Chris Evans playing Michael David Weiss who almost plays Clayton in his young years only that Mike is a high functioning drug addict and we are not really sure of his drive beyond the drugs.

Directed by Wassen brothers, “Puncture” places its film based on a true story of two ambulance chasing lawyers Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) and Mike Weiss trying to get the newly invented syringe that could preempt tens of thousands lives yearly of accidental pricking by a contaminated needle. The guy who invented this is Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), an old and hard working Texas man. The film chronicles their effort to get their case around while being bullied and bludgeoned quite calmly and effectively by the United Medical Group. Their reason being the necessity to revamp the production and the cost that has to be incurred. Despite its ultimate safety, this causes them to deny any possible opportunity for Jeffrey to mass produce this.

Chris Evans is in the paths of what Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were. While he is not going blazing guns as them, he definitely gets type casted on the roles he gets and he does not get much to do with that either. Here he is taking his very first step towards trying something outside of his regular roles. This is the kind of role that would beg Nicolas Cage to go crazy on his toes to play and note that fact he sufficiently played a amped up druggie in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans” admirably. Evans does his best and I would say he works hard. He makes the man bleed through the emotions and we see him capable, miserable, desperate, brilliant and pathetic.

Paul and Mike gets to meet former nurse Vicky Rogers (Vinessa Shaw) a happy mother who got accidentally pricked by a contaminated needle at the start of film to get infected by AIDS. Now she is not seeking for big pay off rather get Dancort’s product to make a difference in several lives. Mike is clearly distracted yet absorbed by this story. He smells something huge and whether the drive for is to do good is unsure but he pursues it with an obsession. Paul is the sanity check in this partnership. A regular Joe trying to make ends meet with a baby on his way. Paul goes along as he follows his gut remembering the times and the reason they got into law school.

The film is not the kind of fast paced action in a law and order deal one would see. Yet it tries to have a conspiracy angle in mystery men and car following them around as they make noises. This film based on a true story has all the flavour of something great. It has the two main characters balancing this act of high octane drug use and the semblance of normalcy. Mike is not portrayed as a bad person but a druggie who forgets meetings, paying bills, basic cleanliness and what not. He is consistently shooting himself with cocaine, heroin, cigarettes, alcohol and pain killers to top it off. For a person who is putting his body through such an ordeal, he is in a terrific shape.

There is a wonderful scene where Mike in the sadness of being lonely of deservingly his wife leaving calls a number from a back of a newspaper titled “sex therapy”. Chris Evans thoroughly shows prospect in those scenarios. He brings the same when he is asked to remove himself from the case by a Senator. We see a lonely sad man hooked on to drugs and desperately trying to keep himself head above the water though not showing any sign of concerns for anything. We are completely unsure of his priorities beyond drugs but then again those are his only priorities.

“Puncture” is a good film that missed the train on a great opportunity. There is an element of human connection missing forth outside of Mike and Paul. There is the opponent lawyer Nathaniel Price played by Brett Cullen who plays him in a manner that dances on the line of sneaky and pragmatic. In the final scenes he has a candid discussion with Mike and I cannot believe how much of a great film this could have been. I enjoyed “Puncture” but I wanted to enjoy it beyond its capacity and there it missed a beat in one more strong character. Yet I would definitely recommend the film for Chris Evans and some good supporting performance with a solid founding screenplay and direction.