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.