Wednesday, November 06, 2013

"The Counselor" (2013) - Movie Review

Cormac McCarthy’s first original film screenplay and directed by Ridley Scott is a broken poetry and that is not a compliment. This is not a film shying away from its self awareness of its pretentious nature but it does not compensate it with signs of moderate intelligence and class which shows its head barely. The film is a desperate narration by its characters in one of the most uneven layers performed by overabundantly capable actors. It does not know whether it is a play from ancient literature or is the product of the elements from the current form of film making. Either way it fails. It gives a sense of watching lizard’s tail being cut off as it slithers and wallows into motionless being. It evokes a queasy feeling but that does not mean it strikes a nerve.

Pairing the masculine and stunning Michael Fassbender with the voluptuous sex goddess Penelope Cruz could be the iconic starting for a promising film but the feeling is short lived. It is not that they speak cryptically before the Counselor engages in pleasing his lover but it is the existence of such a discussion in a completely miscalculated scene. This marks the aberrant tone which reverberates through the rest of the film. The Counselor is presented as a confident man from the way he clothes, the place he lives but importantly the people he knows. One such is the tanned and inconclusive character Reiner portrayed by Javier Bardem. Reiner is a drug lord with plethora of wealth and appears to be a good friend. He has the snaky and unforgivably sexy Cameron Diaz as his lover Malkina. Malkina is not the trouble as an eye candy draining your wealth rather she is the trouble that would slit your throat while having an orgasm.

The only best part of the film is the manner in which the characters are clothed and costumed up. Each of the character are marked by their presence. We know what they are even before they begin to talk and the problem is that McCarthy with Scott decided that would be the only criteria to develop them. The rest is all a platform for them to meander in the discussions of death, violence, women, actions, acceptance and consequences. For audiences who are unaware of the works of Cormac McCarthy and are not exposed to the films that originated from his book would be bewildered by this spectacle of talented performers spewing irrelevant lines to one another. For audiences who are familiar with his works would be disappointed. The evidence of great writing and scenes are often seen but never climaxes into a profound moment as it thinks it does.

The problems this film has no bounds. The disconnected scenes are endless while the symbolism are tied along with it never culminates its purpose due to the writing. It begins with the truck that navigates through several territories through several hands over blood and defecation (the drug truck poses as a sewage truck). I admire a film that bases the plot in subtlety and enhances the philosophical element through the characters which has accepted them for who they are and are a level above in being a wise person to the characters that are drawn to that world. “The Counselor” assumes that and is spectacularly confident. It is an essential quality to be successful but here it is a discordant exchange of dialogues between people who talk with a resounding assurance. It is baffling to witness that.

I think the disappointment is more for this reviewer due to the intent from these talents in all departments. The film has already half sold it to people like me wherein the project is self explanatory when you enter it. Hence the disappointment is little more than any other audience because I am already there in this with evidence of the big names that appreciate the art of film making and it makes you look like a fool for having that faith. Having scathingly said things about this piece, I do have to say that all the actors commit beyond their capability. I would have too if I read McCarthy and Scott as the architectures of this film. Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameroon Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt along with other known actors follow this pied piper for their demise of their characters literally.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Captain Phillips" (2013) - Movie Review

Paul Greengrass can shorten the span of a long, progressive and nasty violent situation into short span of time without compromising the gravity of it. He can simultaneously provide the real time action in the utmost gritty realism it would have happened. The Bourne series are an example of former while “United 93” would be the latter. In “Captain Phillips” he picks up the pieces from both and provides an intense thriller. In all sense, if you retell the story by every minute and second, one can say that for majority of the part nothing is happening other than waiting on the next move but the tension of each of those is heightened by the not so known supporting crew with the able lead of Tom Hanks in the titular role.

The authenticity of story telling drawn upon from the account of a person is always a challenge to be precise. It is hard to come clean and claim victories over whole account of it. One can only hope that it captures the essence of it and not completely falter. I think I feel obligated to take a stand on what the film’s accuracy states. I am sure people can throw darts at it till the end of day. Hence any film that takes a stab at the retelling of true story can never satiate everyone. What is important as a film, is that whether it achieves the purpose it started out to and in that “Captain Phillips” almost succeeds.

If it was any other director approaching this story as thriller it sets out to be, they would waste no time in formalities and directly focus on the action. There will be convenient dropping of the cheesy relationships within the crew and with the Captain followed by several campy sacrifices Hollywood generally makes a mockery of. This is Paul Greengrass and even when he provides a tiny slit of view towards this man’s personal life, it is the apt amount set to tell just enough for the purpose of the film. When we see Phillips driving to airport with his wife (Catherine Keener), there is a relationship very strongly established even in the most mundane talks. The usual worries of working away and the couple stepping into empty nest phase. Similar take is done on the Somali pirates as they are demanded to head back to sea by their warlords. In that is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and he is driven but unguided. He recruits people and has a bad rapport with his colleague. That does not play much but the analogy of these two primary characters in the film is intriguing.

One thing is quite certain about the film is that we see Captain Phillips on his complete entirety through this crisis. He is as any boss not a popular guy amongst crew. He enforces the regular drills and moves on as any other day. I liked the way screenplay maneuvered through that. Greengrass does not boast the enormity of this ship’s journey. The ship Alabama embarks from its port in Oman like any other day. No grand importance is given on the system’s enormity but a regular feat. We see the monstrosity of this being but are only impressed by that than no aid by the director to make it a grandeur start.

It is Tom Hanks Vs the new comer Barkhad Abdi through the course of the film. They consistently dance around the possibility of some kind of relationship beginning to formulate between their characters but always fall short of it as it would have in the real life. What I was little let down is some kind of backstory between the two by their own words which happens very minimally without having any solid moments to see the nature of survival between them. Muse is showed ruthless but also sympathetic. He is a mercenary but there is a layer more to him which does not come off fully. While it seem like a fair move to keep the film purely on the situation than anything else, we are left with a tiny void.

“Captain Phillips” is a pure adrenaline thrill and Tom Hanks shoulders the role as usual making it look easy. The best performance of him comes in after the fact of the chaos than during it. That tells what kind of a performance actor Hanks is and how easily he fools us into thinking that he plays himself in a way. The emotional punch line for the film does not happen till that moment and when it does it emotes the pure and unadulterated truth about this entire story. That is where Paul Greengrass differentiates with thumping confidence amongst the other directors of this genre. He knows when to take the emotional part of a character out of the film and put in its purest form when needed. “Captain Phillips” is not a complete winner but it is one of the better films out there.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Gravity" (2013) - Movie Review

Watching “Gravity” reminded “Moon” which as this film deals with a human in space all alone but more than that, it struck similar tone with another brilliant film “The Grey”.  The survivors of the plane crash in “The Grey” while are on Earth can very well be called in a different element of space which is unforgiving and unpredictable as much as in the space in “Gravity”. As the wandering debris in “Gravity”, the wolves in “The Grey” are determined to get the gang of Liam Neeson out of their territory. Joe Carnahan’s film and Alfonso Cuaron’s portray this obvious but unnoticeable tenacity we have on the hope in desperate situations.

“Gravity” in a piece of paper has the simplest story. It could have been the destructive porn in the hands of Rolland Emmerich (whom I do like in “Independence Day” and with some guilt in “2012”) or Michael Bay (not much so as Emmerich), but Cuaron polishes in a way that resonates beyond a thriller. The imminent danger is real and felt that creeps in flesh and bones in every suspended moment in the space. With a breakneck duration of 90 minutes, “Gravity” is the kind of film that satiates a hardcore movie goer and a regular entertainment seeking crowd alike. The pay off for both are the same but to carry that knack is a work of a master.

By now all of you have heard the glorious nature of this film that has single handedly launched out of nowhere and took over the crowd. Hence when I sat down in the IMAX 3D this movie was supposed to be seen, I was cautious and open to it, a rare state of mind for any movie going experience now a day with trailers and media splashes. Yet as Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, the Mission Specialist alongside George Clooney’s veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski go through the first hit by the debris, I was definitely drawn in. Not be quick to judge and I moved on with the skepticism as how long they will be able to sustain this for the rest of the film. Then comes the second close call for the characters for which I was mesmerized on the intensity and when the third instant happens, I was overwhelmed. Hardly you would come across a person who would not use the word “intense” to describe “Gravity”.

There are three quintessential things of same magnitude that makes “Gravity” from a much simpler film of an astronaut’s struggle to survive in to a much larger play of thematic references and visual enigma. They are (1) Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (2) Sandra Bullock’s perfect performance and (3) the director Alfonso Cuaron. It is not a shocker on the effectiveness of Emmanuel Lubezki as he is the sought out cinematographer for Terrence Malick and seen his works in well known (Cuaron’s “Children of Men”, “The Tree of Life”) and not so well known features (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”). There is not enough adjectives and accolades I can dictate out here for his work other than the simplest statement that he puts us in space.

Then it is Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone whom we get to know a little bit of her past and details in very short span of time. To understand her we need George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, a man who is nothing but a charmer which easily draws from Clooney himself. Who else would you have out there in the space struggling for survival than the reassuring, comforting, charming and comical Clooney? Yet it is Bullock who claws us in with her terrifying feeling to both survive and give up at the same time. Much as John Ottway in “The Grey”, Dr. Stone has lost a loved one and there is not much left in life other than the deadly silence and darkness offered in the space. That seems to be comforting than what Earth has provided and had to offer if she makes out of this. Bullock is key in keeping this film humanized and at every struggle, the possibility of her life ending is very much so there because her character is in deep sadness and is a waking struggle to breathe up the existence and move on.

And finally the Captain of this space adventure who had the visual future to make it beyond a regular feat of thrill sequences of weaved in predicaments provides the proof that a story that appears pedestrian in its genesis can grow up into something not alone awe inspiring thrills but intellectually sound in its presentation. There is very little time for us to be allowed on the state of the protagonist but with Bullock’s performance and cinematographic excellence, the motivations or the lack there of from Dr. Stone is resounding and crystal in us.

Possible Spoiler - The only qualm I have was that it would have been resoundingly poetic and apt to finish the film right at the moment after Dr. Stone launches the shuttle back to Earth. It is the similar kind of finish that made “The Grey” or “Inception” into a great film. The spirit of the film would  have sustained beyond a known result. This is the third film after “Lincoln” and “The Dark Knight Rises” wherein not knowing the end would have made it to a much more enjoyable experience but as those films, I would not put it down just because of this reviewer’s preference. “Gravity” is one of the best films I have seen this year.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

"Timecrimes" (Language - Spanish) (2007) - Movie Review

“Timecrimes” is the kind of film that gives hopes to young filmmakers and moviegoers like me that complex science fiction is not at the mercy of money draining CGI special effects (while Christopher Nolans’ “Inception” and The Wachowski Brothers’ “The Matrix” benefit greatly but then again the foundation is what drives those). Rather it is at the minds of intelligent film makers much like Nacho Vigalondo out here who reminded to go back and rewatch “Primer”. That film was dauntless in treating its audience to figure out the puzzle they put forth and behaves providing a sense of solving a crossword. Mind you that it will be annoying to not finish the crossword but the fun though is there in those squares. Flexing your mind is healthy in the current trend of mindless fodder of butchered formula in films that bears to have the life span of a fly.

This Spanish film begins with Hector (Karra Elejalde) settling in his new home with his wife (Candela Fernandez) when he ogles with his binocular on the country side from his backyard. He sees a naked woman laying possibly unconscious or even dead and his curiosity takes him through the woods. While getting there close to her he gets stabbed by a man with red cloth on his face and begins to runaway ending up in a remote building. The building looks like a lab facility and he hears a voice in a walkie-talkie which leads him to the Scientist played by director Nacho Vigalondo in another building and asks Hector to hide in a machine. In a flash he wakes up out of the machine and the Scientist is amused to see Hector as he has never met him or did he remember putting him in the first place. Time travel of the experimental device happens to have landed Hector several hours earlier on the same day. What now?

The above start takes time to settle in and the events therefore on begs to be dissected piece by piece on what could Hector do or doing to get out of this loop. He is in a time paradox and event after event we either think he is acting absurd or dumb even. Yet I would hold reservation till the film arrives at its conclusion. There are flaws and holes you would try to take out of and I bet you begin to predict the plot. While “Primer” let the viewers take in the technicality findings on its own and unfurl the plot, “Timecrimes” is more about the audience begin to piece the puzzle one after another on what Hector will do when he begins to recalibrate the past to make it alter to pave way to the destiny of the day that has dragged him into one long day.

Beyond entertaining us with thoughtful and convoluted timelines and possibilities, the film begins to explore the idea of fate, destiny and freewill. The curiosity of traveling time and space has far become the fatal plot device in failed blockbusters. There have been few successful ones including the impressive “Looper” that acknowledged the fact of duplicates existing and still have a resolution in its own way. When there is another life  departed by time and space gets transported, the clash with that new life in another time still has the survival instinct and the person in future in the present bears no existence. “Timecrimes” does not tangles itself in the possibilities for the world but purely for the story to exist and becomes true to its nature of presentation.

Actor Karra Elejalde who comes off as the middle aged unimpressive man gets his day played again and again. We see a clear travel of experience that has posed on him and we see the difference not alone in his injuries and bruises but in the way his last travel out from the machine is presented when he spits out the water he was drenched in and goes business as usual. He has been through enough for one day and as he lay helpless at the end in his backyard at night with sirens at distant, there is a sense of relief and what this travels have turned him are faced with dark truth.

While I consistently questioned the actions Hector made right from the moment he ventures upon the woods to fill his curiosity and what not, the film begins to soak through us slowly and offers the exercise it is going through. The screenplay again by Nacho Vigalondo is tight and the debate continues in the mind but in the box of the time within which the movie happens, it makes sense. The only way the time paradox can be ended is with the non-existence of the anomaly created by the time machine. Yet the survival instinct of that person in that present does not get altered by the travel. Hence all wrong things are bound to happen unless they meander in to place wherein they have no bearing to meet their original or duplicate. Nacho knows the fight in humans to survive and stick to the life they have created. It works in “Timecrimes”.

"The World's End" (2013) - Movie Review

In a summer that has not motivated this reviewer to not seek upon any of the blockbuster and the one that was sought barely crossed the line of mediocre, “The World’s End” would have to be the first movie in a long time to be greatly expected for. As the third installment in the Cornetto trilogy (which not many people are aware including yours truly till the recent past), “The World’s End” is not at par with the love I have for “Hot Fuzz” and the surprising rise of talent in “Shaun of the Dead” is not because of complacent direction or haphazard writing. As how I lost interest in “Shaun of the Dead” in the third act when it becomes the full on zombie horror film it was paying homage to, “The World’s End” intentionally bodes of predictability in the first act.  I understood why it was done in the former and I do in the latter. Nevertheless it is funny to see Simon Pegg assembled along with his buddy Nick Frost and the added talents of Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine.

Just hearing the premise sounds fun. A man who clearly has not outgrown his high school days gathering his buddies from those great days wants to venture the Golden Mile (and yes, the capitals are intentional) for the run of 12 pubs and 12 pints of great ales. How magical the sound of it rings in any beer aficionados and alcoholics? This man is Gary King, dressed too well for a homeless person and too terrible for an average guy, we see him recite that night of serious drinking, mischief and debauchery only to not finish the Golden Mile in its entirety in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Director Edgar Wright gets right to the business because as Gary he cannot wait for this epic night to begin and successfully end.

This is where the predictability is, well, too predictable. With Gary’s penchant for influencing his friends, he even manages his best buddy who has quit drinking due to an unspeakable accident with Gary involved of course to partake as well. That is Nick Frost’s Andy. Along with Andy are Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine). They go back to their small quaint village (similar to “Hot Fuzz”) Newton Haven. Nothing phases Gary other than to finish this thing as though this is his only destiny and achievement.

“The World’s End” is signature Edgar Wright film with fast cut edits with amplifying the simplest actions. The pour of the ale in to the glass or the start of the car are elevated and our sensory are heightened as though there are great things in those movements. That split second joy and the smile to follow for the nature in which he used those exemplifies that a talented man is in action. The film begins to entangle into something entirely different which is the world is taken over by body snatching alien robots. There is no secrecy in that as Gary begins his first stunt of several with these humanoids. From that moment onwards, the film races to the end as Gary himself would like to.

As much as this would become a film wherein the filmmakers would enjoy involving copious amount of drinking, the care for the presentation is subtly evident. The film progresses and in any other film there is a cut from the time one begins to drink and the end wherein they are drunk or lightly buzzed. “The World’s End” might be the first film to take us through the progress of being sober to being drunk. The story itself takes that turn of things falling out of sky and things seem to be acceptable, doable and more importantly thoroughly enjoyable. Not even the great threat of beings from another planet taking over their small little town and the entire world phases them. They are panicked and unaware but as Gary keeps hurrying through pub after pub looking for one pint after another, the friends begin to give into the elated state these liquids put them through.

The stunt choreography is one to be mentioned which is interesting to see it handled with great clarity and entertainment for a comedy. There are no shaky cameras and what a welcome relief that is. The actors participating in those do it with so much conviction that we begin to believe these average folks kicking the butt of the alien robots with great technique, strength and agility. As the apocalypse ends and I was in wonderment of how they could finish it, the brilliant conversation with the supposed alien voice and Gary King is the best thing I have ever witnessed for a climax in a long time. It is witty, truthful and downright Edgar Wright. I would be in blunder for not mentioning the performance of Simon Pegg who plays Gary King both with spite and sympathy but also truly appreciate his comedic timing.

I cannot help but to wonder whether all this pubs are going to get its real life existence and how many pub crawl this is going to give birth. I am sure I will be starting one crawl though I would be done with pub number four. Anyone could have made a film about drinking heavily and great partying. For that fact, many have and few have succeeded. The brilliance in Wright is that he makes it a personal experience though drawing from the common foundation everyone have in their high school days or college days in my case. When we see “The World’s End”, we understand Gary’s motivation in a weird way. We remember those times of revelries when things like that are the things to live for. As adulthood phases through, one forgets those revelries in the name of maturity and rightfully so but time and again, you need that kick and the reminder on why we are here which is enjoy this existence. Yet Wright does not alone capitalize on that feeling but take it to spoof/homage he does with genres and here he once again brings those with timed perfection. Along with that, the running jokes throughout the film, the cameos and several other fun things I have not mentioned out here makes “The World’s End” one of the better summer films I have seen this year.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Before Midnight" (2013) - Movie Review

19 years after their first meet up, the situation Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are in is an eventuality. When I watched “Before Sunrise”, I was engulfed by the nature of romance presented in it. Richard Linklater with his actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy brought a dignity to the romance that quite often becomes a manipulative equipment in the serial rom-com directors. There was a realism shaded with the fantasy of such a possibility of a perfect romance.

Ignoring the realist in me, “Before Sunrise” is a sincere presentation of love at its genesis between two people. Did they have things in common? Obviously not but their nature to bounce off each other in a never ending conversation that blossoms better by the minute is a hope for the romantics. Then came “Before Sunset”, more potent with the material and more mature as the characters themselves, it brought a sense of great reality. It showed on the cusp of technology how Jesse and Celine should have exchanged numbers but 9 years have gone by only to lament on the lost love. Jesse unhappily married with a kid and the Celine in the constant find for true love end that film with a known end of a poetry. Here comes “Before Midnight”.

The film opens with Jesse sending his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off as they meander in the airport. Jesse tries to squeeze all his thoughts and emotions in those final moments to his son. In that moment, the deep guilt in him takes over from his son’s response. He comes out of the airport and drives with Celine and their twin daughters into the lands of Greece. If “Before Sunset” ended with a notion of happily ever after, “Before Midnight” is in the after part.

Jesse and Celine have become parents and are discussing how they are fumbling like every other parents. If their chemistry were electric in “Before Sunrise” and mature in “Before Sunset”, it is a combination of both in “Before Midnight”. Add a layer of marital nitpicking and craziness into it and we are in the series of films that takes relationship from its genesis to where it can lead to. Disaster, nourishment, quarrel, peace, sex and love. They discuss all those in their passionate naturalistic way, this time around with some friends. Jesse discusses his idea for next book with them and then at the dinner they share the stories, thoughts as its predecessors have carried. There are moments of pretentiousness and smugness in those but amongst them, it is the way but it really becomes something when Jesse and Celine discuss their trip over a fight. Those conversations becomes something else.

Hawke and Delpy have created true characters that has spanned almost two decades. Richard Linklater’s films are navigating through the time and the time that works on these people. It reminded me of two films. First was the documentary The Up Series wherein it meets up with bunch of people in real life every seven years to see where they are, what they have become and we compare their footage from the previous encounters. It is a video diary that shows the change in humans and how they morph or evolve into someone else but at the same time retain several of their core traits when they were seven years old. Hawke and Delpy bring those in these forty odd year old people who once were young and drenched in romance. The beauty is that they can bring those young ones back to reality when they scratch each other with words and what not.

The second film that came to my mind was Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” which showed the slow demise of a marriage over a night in a hotel room. Jesse and Celine have a similar night in this which takes a oddly close tone but the treatment is entirely different. As much as both films are so grounded on the behaviours of a couple that once were madly in love each other are hammered down by the realities of life, “Before Midnight” has these characters in much more subdued reality where these are no way close to the characters of Dean and Cindy in “Blue Valentine”. It just explains how different couple behave differently and how some survive those nights and some do not.

Late Roger Ebert consistently said this and I consistently mention this about films which is “movies do not change, people change”. When I watched “Before Sunrise”, I was in love with Celine. I see her now and I have different perspective of this woman. She is still drop dead gorgeous and infectiously honest and full of life but here she asks the tricky question “Would you have asked me to get down with you on the train with what I look now?” First of all, she is goddamn beautiful now and second of all, Jesse gives a typical guy response with the worst answer but there is no best answer either. I saw Celine for the first time being real because the questions, concerns and the struggles she deals with made her come out of the attraction and the only niceties I saw in her.  Jesse was still Jesse, may be because I am a man. I would love to see what a woman thinks of these films. May be she will shed some light on the shade I did not see in Jesse. May be she can be the girl I can ask to get down off the train with me to take a stroll in Vienna or in Paris or fight with me in Greece.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Defendor" (2005) - Movie Review

The attraction of nerds towards comic book and super heroes is direct correlation of how the fantasy world is a playground for being in control and do unrealistic actions. Like any other escapism, superheroes provide that realm and in “Kick-Ass” it came close for an ordinary person to suit up for misguided heroism with comic book splash on screen. “Defendor” was released half a decade before Matthew Vaughn’s film with rightly cast Woody Harrelson as the titular character.

Director Peter Stebbings said that none of the studios did not want to touch it while the actors and agents were all after it. Understandably so because the idea on paper would have been such a gold mine for an actor to sink deep and get concrete performance out of the troubled character of Arthur Poppington and his superhero Defendor. Arthur has problems, obviously. He had a bad childhood with a mother (Charlotte Sullivan) leaving him to his grandfather to take care. The film begins when Arthur as Defendor crosses paths with an undercover dirty cop Dooney (Elias Koteas) as he is ill treating a hooker Angel (Kat Dennings).

Arthur recites his story during a psychological evaluation to Dr. Parks (Sandra Oh). While he should have been apprehended for several times (most of them him ending up beaten to pulp), he is there for assaulting a nobody guy owning a dry cleaners. If you have half the sense of movie formula, this part is easily solvable. “Defendor” is driven to find the non-existent Captain Industry which he might have picked up from several of the non-popular comic books he shelters in the basement of the construction facility he works. He has great friends because Arthur is a good guy in heart. He is sweet to most of the people and one such is Paul Carter (Michael Kelly). Paul goes above and beyond in helping Arthur and the explanation we get at the end for his actions comes off haphazard and contrived.

“Defendor” exists in a half baked comic land. It has the cops, criminals and people who are real with problems that carries deadly consequences while the script treats it like a comic book without the elements of it. Stebbings attempts to draw parallel to the world we live in by plugging the comic book scenario of good versus evil. The evil empire of course exists and “Defendor” uses it while struggling to come in terms with the characters. What was Arthur doing before he met Angel? He is forty something adult and if he has been dealing with this vigilante character for all his life how come he managed to escape notice till now? Or if this is a recent trigger, why now?

Woody Harrelson is a capable and the right actor to provide the variations Arthur needs going from a naive and shy construction worker to a naive and more confidently sounding Defendor. The comedy in this story which is supposed to be dark ends as early as Defendor is caught by the cops at the start. Beyond that it is neither a sad and moving tale of a mentally affected man nor a full on mash up of superhero in real life. “Kick-Ass” took it to another level splashing blood and guts making it a R-rated comic book film which it was supposed to be. This earlier attempt on that suffers from identifying itself on where it wants to be.

Kat Dennings comes off as the damsel in distress while milking money for drugs from Arthur. Their relationship that develops into something meaningful are summated with nice background score and montage sequence. There in itself is the inability to create a relationship to convince us. Dennings beyond her efforts to present a character never convinces me as the druggie hooker. Here it is perfect on the work she puts out in Angel or Kat but there is an underlying problem in the way she carries herself that quite does not nail the character for me. Nevertheless she does her role dutifully.

Peter Stebbings film is neither terribly boring nor effortlessly dull but uneventful. The plot with a real drug lord Radovan Kristic (Alan C. Peterson) comes off more as an unnecessary distraction than an aid to the story. Harrelson’s presence with good supporting cast stumbles comfortably into predictable plot lines with an end to suck tears out of dry eyes. “Defendor” is absolutely a great material on paper or when you summate it with the premise and it does not fail but it does not succeed as well. It simply exists unresolved.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Shame" (2011) - Movie Review

The internal struggle in a human mind especially of men when provided with the director who precisely knows what he is handling dissects through an actor who precisely knows what he is being handed achieves excellence. Martin Scorsese knew when he handled Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Abel Ferrera knew when he handled Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” and Werner Herzog knew when he handled Nicolas Cage in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans”. Steve McQueen did it with Michael Fassbender in “Hunger” and he repeats it with the same actor in “Shame”, a character study that provides sadness as a state of mind.

Brandon Sullivan is the handsomest New Yorker any woman would not hesitate to smile and fall in his laps. His problem is the inability to connect with them. For a relationship to achieve its completeness, it cross overs the physicality and survives it and with Brandon that part is tainted with guilt. Not that any of us are spared of guilt when it comes to sex but Brandon’s goes beyond the moral guilt the norm of society has confined in open secrecy. Brandon is a sex addict.

How do you embrace a character like this? Michael Fassbender embodies this person with bare hands and wears the skin of this beautiful entity filled with regrets and melancholy. He is groomed not because he grooms himself but he is the kind of person who gets out of shower with sharp clothes, clean shaven and hair combed to perfection. Yet within that devastating confidence is the underlying sorrow and most importantly a shy man. He has made a place and status for himself in a company. He closes deals and is a regular compadre for his boss David (James Badge Dale). David tries too hard with woman because he knows it works on many. Brandon simply stands and notices. Beyond his natural charm and enigma, he appears to communicate what he can do to satisfy a woman sans words. It is a natural phenomenon to see him get a girl his boss tries to sleep.

Brandon is the man’s man which means all the men would beg to have his ease in getting women to bed. As much as he can woo a woman effortlessly, his needs or his addiction do not wait for the mating rituals. He pays for sex when he can and rest of the time he numbingly watches his laptop with moaning sounds. He masturbates in the middle of day in his office rest room. He is trapped and though it is hard for us men to get that, “Shame” is every bit painful and saddening of this man going through that motion of not being able to get a hold of things.

In this comes his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The chemistry both of this have speaks beyond words and emotions. It draws the history amongst these two which are nothing  but scars of painful memories. Sissy has a different kind of trouble. If Brandon is unable to find a simple connection with the opposite sex, Sissy is sucker for falling for every man she sleeps with. These two have an unspeakable past that are carried and performed with angst, love and tearing emotion by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

Brandon desperately tries to make a reach with his colleague Marianne (Nicole Beharie). They go on a date and the differences are imminent but the chemistry is evident. They have genuine conversation and he leaves the night without even kissing her but desiring for a second date. The very next day he tries to combine his addiction with connection.

Along with performances that are pure artistic excellence, Steve McQueen’s presentation is daringly beautiful. His first shot of Fassbender lying naked covered precisely his private parts might fool its audience only to be immediately presented the nature of material we will be dealt with. He treats nudity and sex as an essential part of the presentation wherein it carries a purpose in conveying the psychological and physiological presence a character or the scene has to say. In “Hunger”, he made art with feces on the wall in the most horrific prison and treated the material with a blunt honesty that can rip your skin apart. He brings the same to the polished and shiny city of New York. The glass windows showing copulation in open air as Brandon walks through wondering whether his actions can be looked less guilty. Or the gorgeous fellow passenger in a train that crosses her leg in such a way and smiles in a particularly suggestive fashion. McQueen sees the unseen and brings that out naked to our eyes.

McQueen fills the screen with shots that resonates mood of prolonging sadness and overflowing emotions. The jazz song by Mulligan’s Sissy is one such that echoes deep level of human psyche in the way she sings and the reaction she gets from Brandon. Before I began watching “Shame”, I had a predisposition that McQueen is going to treat sex as clinically as possible which he does but near the end when Brandon plunges into continuous orgy, he presents a person painfully satiating the inner itch and engulf himself in abysmal melancholy which is beyond something I would have ever expected. “Shame” takes the fundamental instinct of human emotion and makes us see it as an addiction which is hard to do wherein all men think is sex. He does that with a man who appears to have everything he needs but the emptiness he is left with every step of his action to quench his inner thirst is frighteningly awful.

Monday, May 06, 2013

"Iron Man 3" (2013) - Movie Review

After seeing what Shane Black can do with Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, it is a “duh” moment to see his name for “Iron Man 3”. Iron Man series are neither a hit nor a miss for me. It elevates just enough above mediocre to make it the summer blockbuster people would like to get a good deal for. Iron Man rides on Robert Downey Jr. who has effortlessly carried this franchise with his egomaniacal Tony Stark with crisp sarcasms and wit. He does not forgets to bring that out here.

Shane Black’s writing and directing brings the memories of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” though he is well known for Lethal Weapon which are faint in my memories. The film takes lot of inspiration from the style of “The Avengers” that did not hesitate to poke fun at its heroes and acknowledge the idiosyncrasies of them. With each of the Iron Man films, Stark improves his toys and makes it far more cooler and effective. I bought into it without qualms as the advancements we make in the simple things we see day to day are equivalent to what Tony goes. If a guy with that mind has time and money, it is nothing surprising to see him invent these machines that can do spectacular things with amazing ease and power.

Tony Stark is having an identity crisis. The encounter he had with the Aliens and the demigods in “The Avengers” are haunting. He cannot come to grasp the possibilities of these beings but more than that is his question of defining himself to the existence a.k.a mid life crisis. Now he had those in different fashion in previous films but here he has to go deeper and see what makes him who he is and how this armour has defined him as well. What is he without it? He does not get sleep and ends up advancing several prototypes in making it better and have more of it, just in case which comes quite handy in the end.

Before the first Iron Man and when Stark was a happy go lucky dude partying and picking up girls, he as any egocentric megalomaniac would do ignores a geeky scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that results in the sort of vengeance which is old school but how they arrive it is entertainingly novel. There is a new threat to US and it is Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Mandarin is obsessed with theatrics as he consistently transmits video threatening and intimating the next imminent attacks against the country. The reasoning is quite vague which is sufficiently convincing once we discover some twists. Mandarin wants to educate the Americans on humbling them. He does so by blowing stuff up with no evidence of any kind of device. Stark’s buddy and security fellow Happy Hogan (Job Favreau) follows up Killian’s accomplice to find it the hard way.

Shane Black fills the film with sharp humour through Downey Jr. While it was available in plenty in the previous two ventures, this one takes it on a good sense and extending it what Joss Whedon did. With the suit gone and dealing with his panic attack, it truly becomes a question of identifying himself as a person for Tony. There is never a dull moment and the real fun are these tiny characters which carry the sharp sense of humour only Downey Jr. had. The main fun in the film is the bond Tony creates with the kid Harley (Ty Simpkins) in Tennessee. He challenges Stark and bounces dialogues with him shoulder to shoulder and gets the win in the end. Their scenes are the most entertaining beyond the explosions and the crazy stunts.

The film’s effects and the stunts are choreographed with thought and care into it rather than overwhelm us with pure metal clanking. There are crucial clever decisions Stark makes that is more than an average super hero film would do. With Don Cheadle. Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce, “Iron Man 3” which centers specifically on the charms and comic timing of Robert Downey Jr. goes little further in becoming a complete film with them. Cheadle’s Colonel James Rhodes especially becomes a good punch line for Tony’s wits. Shane Black while does not take it to deeper sense does take it to territories that are done with serious nature which otherwise were left in the sidelines in previous films. The problems come off as real while Black keeps the good part of Iron Man series which are trademark one liners from Downey Jr. to its best. “Iron Man 3” is the perfect blockbuster film which rides slightly above the common fodder of super hero films but lays low below the greatness of The Batman Trilogy and gains the goodness of the fans to make it for what it is.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

"The Place Beyond the Pines" (2013) - Movie Review

Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” achieves success halfway in its duration and then over reaches for ambitious profundity that might have worked against an otherwise thematic portrait about the deep bond between fathers and their sons. Coming back after his most depressive and saddest film I have seen “Blue Valentine” this is a breath of fresh air taken for shift in the genre.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a man with penchant for tattoos that is self evident and has the dexterity in handling the motorcycles he rides. A stunt performer in state fairs, he is a wanderer. In one of his stops, he comes to learn that he is a father as a result of a fling a year back with Romina (Eva Mendes). His fatherly instincts for good or worse kicks in. He quits his job and becomes single minded in injecting himself to the lives of his son Jason and Romina. Gosling’s Luke resembles the unnamed Driver in “Drive” but Luke is more disturbed and short tempered than the calm and calculated Zen master in Nicolas Wending Refn’s film.

Romina has made a life with another man and she was still with him from what we could imply when she was with Luke. Her impulses are undefined which the film never addresses. She lives with Kofi (Mahershala Ali) and understandably objects the intrusion of Luke. Luke definitely has his way around in impressing Romina. His simple act of being there and beginning to discover the possibility of him in her and their son’s life is good enough for her.

Luke uncertain about his plans runs into the ever creepy Ben Mendelsohn as Robin. I always wonder how come a guy like Luke can act and exist the way he does but then I see Robin and Luke begins to become more real and present. There are actors who can quite consistently be typecasted and they prolifically provide multitude of characters in same plane with interesting flavours. Michael Shannon is one of those and Mendelsohn appear to have taken it. On one end he is the ever doozy Robin mesmerized by the driving skills of Luke. He appears to hire him just to hang out with him. Then we see the real intention of him. He recommends the bank robbery to use Luke’s skill. In his unstable devious existence, he is a pragmatic man. He knows when he needs to be out of the game. He is not devious as I say but simply sees it as a way of living. One you get away with something without bloodshed, your confidence only grows further.

The robbery sequences are done with the high octane energy without anything blowing up or being chased for eternity. It is quick and sudden as it would be in reality and becomes evident of the adrenaline in driving this. While money is the intent, for Luke and Robin, it is the rush. Money is just a bonus. Nevertheless, the survival comes in cash and they venture out successfully. Luke wants more which results in the crucial act of solo robbery going expectedly bad. This introduces to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) as the cop chasing down Luke.

The narration shifts to Avery at that point. Avery is the son of a judge (Harris Yulin) and is put on the spot light. That takes a turn of its own that gives Bradley Cooper sufficient amount to prove one more time that he is capable of handling himself in complex roles. Cianfrance film is the education in the paternity instinct that comes forth in us. As us adults act selfishly or unselfishly that results in the future and destiny of our offsprings. This is the job nobody have any clue of doing but are willing to go the length as it is quite crucial to leave the evidence of themselves and be judged by themselves for that. Not being a father, I can only draw distant judgments and conclusion but there is one thing that is clearer than a pristine stream of still water is the fact of how a child can change a man’s life in a dimension he never ever expected to have.

Cianfrance’s film is filled with mood and ambience. The rainy and flourishing vegetation of Schnectady, New York becomes the back ground. It goes through the town that does not carry the aesthetic sense of beauty the outskirts blooms. Unlike “Blue Valentine”, this film moves with consistent pace though that film required that to illustrate the demise of a marriage. Here it is about the psychological dilemma on the impulsive actions that has resulted in the consequences to be dealt with. There is Cooper’s Avery living with the encounter he had with Luke and the consequences of those along with his colleagues played by Ray Liotta. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper come through for the role and provide those close up shots of emotional breakdowns. The film goes to the next generation to focus of Luke’s and Avery’s sons played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen who play as effectively as Gosling and Cooper. This supposed material that is aimed in having a deeper value to the already made stronger case for this heroic bond. The result becomes a much contrived connection. That dampens the foundation built by the better part of the film. Cianfrance’s intention and the aim for going further with the concept cannot be claimed as something he did not execute properly but it overextends and becomes something unfitting in the whole scheme of things. “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a film that is the kind of follow up I am happy to expect from Cianfrance as there needs this range in a talented director who is ready to explore it uncompromisingly.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Roger Ebert"

Roger Ebert was more than an idol for me and I say that not because of the fact he inspired me to write regardless of my inability in the skill and art of writing. I say that because he taught me the greatest lesson in appreciation of film which is that it is fine to love a film your idol hated and it is fine to hate a film your idol loved. It sounds so simple and rational but when personal emotions are wound towards a certain film and you are flabbergasted to see a person who utmost respect and admire despise it which is earth shattering. Consistently reading Ebert’s commentary on the films despite the fact we had more films to our likings in common, there were some heart breaking moments of his scathing review.

He wrote easily 200-300 odd film reviews a year for the past forty years that motivated personally. While my writings have reduced, the passion is still there because of his reviews. His writings which I have read the past 6 years religiously carry the great character of being personal, to the point and most important of all, honest. The man truly embraced the nature of a film and relished every drop of the detail it had to offer. He made sure his readers got the reality of what they can expect from a film. While the viewer got the crux of a film, he also gave a cross section of who he is as a person and through that we came to understand the films he likes. Whether you agree or disagree, you learned something about the person out of his reviews.

His combination of “At the Movies” with Siskel is nothing short of a classic. That is the kind of discussion, argument and fight you would have with great company and those two brought that to the viewers in much more interactive, sharp, brief yet precise reviews of films. When they agreed and admired a film, their love was insurmountably beautiful and when they disagreed and disliked a film, they would spear each other with words that are razor sharped with devilish sarcasm and wit. Siskel’s death of course marked the shows turn of events but Richard Roeper gave his best in filling Siskel and more importantly allowed Ebert to be the wise man he became out of it. I have only seen the recordings of the shows but the change in the person as Ebert is like everyone of us through the process of aging and in his case consistently blossoming.

I never fathomed I would be writing to express myself about the demise of this prolific and passionate writer. Through reading his reviews, I was able to the time and effort that has made me into writing something remotely meaningful and pay my respects to this man who very simply put, loved films and had the simplest and effective tool of showing it. My ritual of checking Thursday morning on his website will be marked with an emptiness hereafter. There again he embraced the technological change that was presented from a man who evolved out of newspaper. He did not fight the age of internet and absorbed completely and used it to his effect. His writing branched out into blog inviting some angry and interesting posts inviting the same from his readers. His statement of “video game can never be an art” still draws so much tension and anger in that community but he laid down his point as best as he could. I disagree with him but he had the best and most interesting presentation in his writing which would be doing a surgery to a patient and the patient understands the need of such action. He brought in people to the table and fed the points and listened thereby prompting the discussion on disagreements.

I was always hoping ship some of the best films from my native language to him and see what he would think about it. It never happened and I never will know. This write up which can be construed as several things has no direction and I would even say has no agenda or purpose. When I heard the news through online chat from a friend of mine, a burst of sadness blanketed me. I have not known Roger Ebert personally and I am not the kind of person who generally gets moved by the death of any known person apart from humane empathy of a lost life but I have known this person through his writing. I have created an image, voice, mannerisms through that and the opinions through his show. Today I lost a friend, an ideal, an inspiring writer but most of all a fellow film admirer. I never got the opportunity to thank the man and this is the closest I can come to thanking you for inspiring, exposing to unknown and powerful films, teaching to disagree with passion and to love films as the way he did. Thank you Roger Ebert! Several great films will go unseen and missed being reviewed by you!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"A Short Film About Killing" (Language - Polish) (1988) - Movie Review

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “A Short Film About Killing” puts right in the middle of what the title says. Two lives are taken and we get excruciating detail of that. Released in 1988, this Polish film is not a comfortable film to watch. In the first half of the film there is a wanderer on the streets of Warsaw clearly not in his right state of mind. He seem to be having an agenda and is not sure whether he is going to be a victim or the perpetrator. Then there is the cab driver with utter disregard of consideration for others. Whether he is going to be the victim or perpetrator is unsure. Kieślowski wants you to keep guessing and when the act happens, while it is obviously brutal, it tells a great deal about ourselves.

Jan Tesarz plays the cab driver and we have encountered him in one way or other. It is not the fact that they were having a bad day but somehow in their mind it is clear that the consideration for others in a society is a waste of time and more importantly an overrated act. Their conscience seem to lie purely for themselves and even their next of kin might not be on their priority list. Tesarz plays this guy with ease and makes us feel to despise him with ease as well. Miroslaw Baka is the drifter. Lean and a clear concern in his eyes for the buried sorrow is evident. Kieślowski does not tell you what it is. In his own way he wants to test the water of anarchy. There is a scene where he slowly pushes a stone of the ledge that is above a busy road. He knows the consequence and he seem to get a thrill out of it.

While Kieślowski is chronicling the day’s life of these two people, there is another person in between them. Not at least in this day he is not but he will be in future. That is Krzysztof Globisz as Balicki, an aspiring lawyer attending his interview. This is all he prepared for. His passion overflows through his speech and the affinity he has towards the justice system is jubilant. He is with hopes and dreams of making a huge difference in the society and mainly the law he has studied, mastered and worships. He has to explain the reasoning for his zeal and he does not provide in great speeches rather in broken but meaningful explanation. Most of the times when someone is overwhelmed with that enormous admiration and humility of the profession they are aspiring, it ends up in fumbling words. Nevertheless he makes it out to be the lawyer.

Now to the first brutal exercise of the film. Herein the cab driver and Jacek the drifter are there. One of them kills the other. The intentions are unclear at that moment but that does not matter. All we know is that a life is being taken and the information we know of each is both important and trivial. Important due to the fact that those are the only things we know of them and as a viewer we are forced to make judgments on that. Trivial due to the fact that those are not good enough reasons for a life to be taken. Look at what Kieślowski does out here which is to begin the debate that whether there is ever a right reason to take a life in that predetermined fashion.

The second part of the film is the execution of the killer from the first part. Of course he is being represented by the passionate and compassionate lawyer Balicki. Sufficient time has passed by from the time of killing through the point where the decision has been made to execute the killer. Balicki is deeply disturbed and feels guilty of letting his client down. This is the worst failure wherein the resultant of Balicki’s effort is the loss of a life. Despite the judge assuring him that he did everything he could, there is nothing a soul would need that would calm itself down on this kind of burden.

Sławomir Idziak’s cinematography is not alone key to the film but is the innovative technique that would not have passed on for the times this film was shot and released. He not alone provides a sepia tone that adds nostalgic sense to all kind of simple pictures but he blurs and un-blurs the object in and out of focus that adds another layer to this film. The city is decaying in a way and the characters with it.

Kieślowski takes you through the systematic execution of the killer that is as brutal, visceral and questionable as the first half. The comparison is what makes the “A Short Film About Killing” such a morally effective film. The first part of the film becomes the judgment to make on the second part of the film. Is there a good justified kill especially when it is premeditated in such a fashion? There is no iota of doubt in the brutality and the beckoning punishment of that crime in the first act but Kieślowski and the passionate supporters of anti-death penalty question whether venturing similar act of brutality on the perpetrator makes it right to close the book on that chapter. Kieślowski of course leaves you with the thoughts and debate but the scenes leading up to both the killings are what makes this film something beyond a regular feat of vouching for one or the other.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Side Effects" (2013) - Movie Review

Steven Soderbergh can do a world of difference to a catatonic plot. The appreciation and respect Andrei Tarkovsky gets for his excruciating details for portraying the minutiae of regularity in emotions and events should properly and rightfully presented to this great director. The disappointment this reviewer had with Tarkovsky is known but I have an understanding for the people that admire that classic director. What I see in the simplistic yet punctuated grandeur of Soderbergh’s style might have been the similar experience those viewers perceive and endure to be satisfied. Steven Soderbergh said to have decided to retire from films, a decision he has consciously made in order to change direction to another form of art at the age of 50. This act in itself tells about a man who has a clarity in understanding of his objectives. I will miss his films but I sure hope he comes back sporadically.

Here is “Side Effects” that brightens the glossiness of the modernity and then dulls it by the brownish tin it bodes through its cinematography. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a sad woman and the recent release of her loving husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) from prison does not alleviate it either. After serving time for insider trading brought down the glorious life of Emily. She has managed to go through with that ordeal but the depression gets the better of her. One fine evening she hurriedly goes through and sincerely commits her first suicide attempt by driving directly into a wall. Enter psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who has the charm and kindness any psychiatric would beg to have. He reads into this clearly and persuades her to visit him on a deal that Emily visits him regularly. With the history of her depression with her previous psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seabert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), she agrees on that deal.

Emily is taken through the trial and error of the pills. Soderbergh gives a world where the understanding of human mind and emotions are unpredictable. To that the current trend of pharmaceuticals provides happiness with of course cost of the supposed side effects. Emily goes through multitude of these. While this is happening, Dr. Banks is in the process of enlisting new patients on another experimental drug. Through these Soderbergh provides a scary situation of how we rely on experts especially to achieve happiness and how those experts rely on trial methods and pharmaceuticals and fellow doctors to guide them. This while is no different from a treatment for a physiological problem is even more complicated than that. The modern miracle of science have made the study and behaviour through the mechanics of a human body accessible and solvable. Yet the mind is riddle of its own. “Side Effects” gives a chilling reality of this consistent unreliability in that and how the world of pharmaceuticals, psychiatry and the media circus around it.

Soderbergh goes deeper into this subject when Emily’s new prescription of Ablixa results in a fatality due to its side effects. This shakes the foundation of the life Dr. Banks has and suddenly rattles everything on the study of medication that are prescribed to treat mental illness. Just as you are exposed to this current affairs of psychological treatments, Soderbergh turns this into a thriller that you soon begin to doubt and become paranoid as Dr. Banks.

Jude Law follows his performance with the director following “Contagion” and he is the psychiatrist we would love to have. A trustworthy face and a kindness in his voice makes it all good even when he would provide the sweet nectar of death. His Dr. Banks navigates from a sensible doctor building a life with his family into a paranoid man determined to unlock the cause of the decline his patient has caused through the drug he prescribed. Rooney Mara plays the victim out here whom we are in constant sympathy and confusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily’s previous psychiatrist wears her hair and dress that comes off both as a strong woman who can shoo away any kind of accusation with perfect confidence with a calculated cruelty.

Soderbergh in his last feature film steers the film into various territory from the world of psychiatric drugs through media hype and into the paranoid finally settling on a psychological thriller that descends on a like a convincing riddle solving itself admirably. Under his alias Peter Andrews, Soderbergh brings his style virtuoso into play where there is a constant outer layer of mild colour tone to indicate his presence. I have constantly admired his work and even in the most mediocre genre you can see his work. To create and establish a class of one’s work without a presumptuous nature is an art by itself. Here he proves that again and provides a classic homage to the genre and shuddering us in the process of the world we live in where we swallow pills like a candy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013) - Movie Review

“A Good Day to Die Hard” stoops down to the abysmal category of film making that I have a new respect for its predecessor in the franchise “Live Free or Die Hard”. At least there was some effort in being coherent. John Moore’s take on this beloved action franchise is not alone bad film making but also a display of inefficiency and lack of any respect to the character this franchise created.

Bruce Willis has given sweat, blood and flesh to this series of films and here even he seems to not care of what he is outputting. Did they even glance through the screenplay by Skip Woods which has a characteristics of a slacker disrespecting the work he has been given or did they just read it during the scene and just that “well, it is too late now”? This is bad writing at best and the fact that it passed through several hands to make it thus far on to the full blown IMAX screen shows how much of a face value they attach to the franchise.

Die Hard series gets a free pass for several things because it delivers what is expected out of it and nothing more, nothing less. Or to be precise, more of blowing the heck out of every movable and immovable objects. Plus it gives Bruce Willis with his sarcastic, condescending and snarky personality that provides the sense of humour several action heroes crave for. Here there is not a single line in the entire film that has the semblance of John McLane we grew up with. Instead it comes imposed and impossible to bear moments with his son Jack McLane (Jai Courtney).

Yes, John gets his son as a side kick and of course they have to sort out their issues amongst gun fights, punches, Uranium and dumbest Russian villains. They plunder through the roads of Moscow, jump off a construction site, play with Uranium in Chernobyl and in between talk senselessly covered in mud, blood and several brutal lacerations. None of them inventive, none of them carry any kind of weight or humour whatsoever and none of them act.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” reminded me of the horrendous lines good actors had to utter in another action franchise “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and the comparison cannot be more on the same scale. Both had beloved characters running for long time now along with CGI aiding in great deal for the stunts and splendid choreography of those and both suffered from a terrible screenplay and even acting. Yet Mission Impossible survived by the way it moved through the choreography of those chase and stunt scenes. It had Tom Cruise giving everything he got physically to those that erased the ridiculousness on the other departments. It kept the momentum and kinetic energy working from start to finish with a razor thin storyline as this one yet coming out without disappointing its loyal viewers and fan base. John Moore’s film loses everything including the CGI pumped steroid boosted gun fights and explosions.

It is sad to see a great franchise wither miserably. I grew up watching this and I cannot forget how glued my whole family was watching the first Die Hard. We were in awe of McLane’s character struggling through with minimal gadgets against a band of bad guys. His force was raw and his tactics were suicidal. He kept us on the edge and kept going further in Die Harder and moderately in Die Hard with Vengeance which had its own quirks and flaws nevertheless keeping its trend going. It struggled and began to fade in Live Free or Die Hard and not it has come to die in a “A Good Day to Die Hard”.

"Kadal" (Language - Tamil) (2013) - Movie Review

There has never been an enjoyable experience of watching a Tamil film in US especially  from the ones with the actors and directors I have admired. Here is Maniratnam who has been officially and unnecessarily hailed as the best director of India comes with his new film “Kadal” (Sea). It is a reckless work of movie making. With cinematography by Rajiv Menon and music by A. R. Rahman being the two most standard outstanding factor in his films, this literally sinks in and takes its audience along with it to be drowned.

“Kadal” begins at a seminary where Sam Fernando (Arvind Swami) and Bergmans (Arjun) meet in the playground. Sam we come to know through the teasing of Bergmans is from a well to do family. Why he chose to be here is never answered, discussed or debated. Bergmans is a fine student and a funny one. He tries to make the best out of where he is as he optioned for seminary to escape the poverty his family is going through thereby supporting them as well. Sam does not speak or socialize nor does he even emote anything of a liking towards Christianity. He simply sits and tries to avoid Bergmans as he might be too much fun and temptation is the worst devil. Within five minutes into the film, Bergmans commits the supposed “sin” which is of flesh and Sam as a faithful servant of the “Lord” rats him out. While I can understand the obligation Sam has, he does not hear Bergmans out and Bergmans on the other hand erupts like a volcano vowing revenge of a cruel kind to Sam. Despite the lack of characterization or justification on the actions and consequences in between these two people, I was little excited to see where this is going to take me.

The movie shifts from there and takes us through the tough life of a prostitute’s son Thomas or Thommey who grows to be played by Gautham Karthik in the village near Nagerkoil (as I can guess with the slang). When we meet six or seven year old Thomas, he is lying on his dead mother followed mercilessly being buried by his supposed father or his mom’s client fisherman (Ponvannan) with the villagers. In this comes Father Sam Fernando to renew and rejuvenate the Church and there by Christianity. He encounters the tough grown young kid Thommey and has a touching scene when he records his voice in a tape recorder. Maniratnam even at that point of poor introduction gave hope. This above two paragraph happens in the first ten minutes and after that it is a display of disaster.

The film picks up the thirty year old trend of boy meets girl and falling for her instantaneously without any explanation. The girl out here is Thulasi Nair who is supposed to be the cute and bubbly childish character giving the sort of lost childhood to Thommey. Instead it falls off just as childishly and awkwardly as it can get. Thommey becomes the faithful follower of Father Sam and thereby fishes and makes a living from what I could grasp. Do not know where he sleeps, eats or rest but he merely is there to be a character in a paper.

Bergmans character comes into the story which becomes a terrible exercise in poor form of story telling. Soon enough it suddenly becomes the battle of good and evil. In between that is Thommey, the young and upcoming individual with life ahead of him. His deviation from the “good” to “evil” does not take much nor does it involve ground breaking second act. By the time intermission arrives, we have merely witnessed some good cinematography with some songs A. R. Rehman ventures out providing some sort of entertainment. Father Sam and Bergmans are to be seen as the pall bearers of good and evil respectively and their struggle should reveal the contemplation and confusion in the young Thommey. The concept is admirable but without giving it shape and scenes that justify and make us believe in those is where this film falters beyond proportion. Bergmans motivations are random and kills for simplest of reasons. Thommey once becomes his disciple kills people and repents later and even feels for his father dying in his arms who has humiliated, insulted, discarded and abused him right from as a kid. His sudden shift in emotions are found to be nowhere. The film is a collection of those moments that are unexplained and unfound to stand upon.
Then begins the arduous exercise of the extended fight and love stricken couple followed by revelations, followed by the extended climax that brings you down all the littlest hope you ever had in this film maker and more so in the industry. This 164 minutes of severe construction on how to make a bland, boring and blatantly bad film making saddens me further. While I do not consider Maniratnam as a great director, he is one of a kind in the mix of senseless entertainers in the Tamil film industry. I have thoroughly enjoyed his “Nayagan” despite its faithfulness to “The Godfather”, I have admired his comic sensibilities in “Thiruda Thiruda”, despite its senseless entertainment and I consider his “Iruvar” as his best film till date despite being hated by many. His last venture of “Ravanan” was equally disastrous and he follows it up with “Kadal”. I can only hope he picks himself and goes back to the roots of the film making he built his career on that involved more than stunning cinematography and soothing and inventive soundtracks. Before all the aforementioned films, he began his career with “Pagal Nilavu” which is a run of a mill story about rich man in a village causing atrocity for his own good. It had Murali, Revathi, Radhika and Sarath Babu, the usual suspects in these kind of films. It also had Satyaraj as villain adding to the predictability but he gives a dimension to this character who is evil but loving towards his family. It has an ending that ends in a forced suicide which was unheard of (of course contrived from “Uthiri Pookkal”). That is the Maniratnam we need now for a better film. 

"Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) - Movie Review

Does it make me a Debbie downer if I think the happy ending of “Silver Linings Playbook” is little too happy for an underplaying movie like it? May be I am drawn too much towards the depressing drama of its first half but this as any review of mine is a discovery process than a sudden judgment. Having put a pin on that thought, it has to be said that David O. Russell’s film depends on heavy weight performance and it is being delivered in the parts it is genuine and even when they are not themselves.

Jacki Weaver whom I just saw for first time as the vicious character of Smurf in “Animal Kingdom” flips back and does a lovable mother to Pat Jr. (Bradley Cooper) and a loving understanding wife to Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). It is welcomingly emotional almost to make up for the devious character she did in “Animal Kingdom”. When you compare characters played different films by an actor and believe in their characteristics, this is the kind of feeling you begin to realize. In “Silver Linings Playbook” she gets her son Pat out of the mental health facility after 8 months of treatment for his bipolar disorder. He broke down after his wife Nikki cheated on him which led to his outrage of beating her lover to pulp.

Pat returns to home where his father is not particularly proud of him and the community he left has rushed him to categorize him as the one to stay away. This though is not about his neighbours or his past work place but about his acceptance of a problem. He begins to strategize on getting his wife back. Except him everyone knows the impossibility of such a come back but as anyone caught in the web of emotional outpouring especially with Pat’s condition, he clings on. He sternly believes that will be his true completion of coming out of this slump.

Pat Sr. is bipolar as well with his OCD and strong superstition on placing things and situating people so that his NFL team Philadelphia Eagles would win games for him and profit him as well as he is bookmaking. Despite that he seem to have been let down by his son Pat. We learn why once we identify the oddity and the adamance of discarding advice and rejecting to take medications on treating his condition. He almost makes it a habit of waking his parents up in the middle of the night when he could not deal with a situation. One such is when his frustration in not able to find his wedding video that leads to a painful scene and watching Jacki Weaver’s Delores pulls your heart out.

This makes one wonder on how Delores appears to live with these men and work out a deal with herself to hope for happiness and stability in the family. There is love amongst these people and when Pat’s brother Jake (Shea Whigham) comes along we see the best of their times. I have to talk about Shea Whigham who has mostly come across as a creepy dude more of a side note in many films but here he radiates into a role that carries the oddity he has portrayed in other films but also a caring man for his family. If you do not know him that well, go and see “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans” where he plays as the rough and goofy customer to Eva Mendes’ character. Along with him are Chris Tucker as Pat’s best friend Danny and a talented Indian actor Anupam Kher playing Pat’s psychiatrist.

I have not even spoke about Jennifer Lawrence all this time given that her character is pivotal in the change of Pat’s acceptance and dealing with the problem. She is equally depressed as she has lost her husband and manages to have sex with random people to deal with it. She carries all the stereotypical nature for her character of being Goth, crazy and blunt but brings out a solidity in accepting it and owning it. She is completely comfortable with herself and when she sees Pat, she knows this is more than a ridiculous set up arranged by her brother-in-law Ronnie (John Ortiz) and her sister Veronica (Julia Stiles).

Bradley Cooper right from “Wedding Crashers” has tried to over come the pretty boy image and throughout that including “The Hangover”, he has not impressed this reviewer nothing extraordinary until “Limitless” where he transforms from a loafer to a thoroughly confident leader through a magic of a pill. Here he embraces this character whole heartedly and does not let the common nature of a complacent actor take over. There are nuances that are absorbed and presented. In between Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver along with Jennifer Lawrence, he is there and rises right from the first frame through last in giving layer after layer of depth to Patrizio Solitano.

“Silver Linings Playbook” written for the screen adapting the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick dabbles the idea that a dramatic dark emotional story can co-exist cinematically and realistically. I was completely drawn in as the relationships are exposed and emotions are unravelled in its purest form. The whole thing was flipped upside down once Pat gets into a fight in the highly expected New York Giants game to have a full cast confrontation back at his home. It explodes dramatically throwing me off guard and enters into the set up of expecting a nervous showdown of a bet to determine everything. It is a classic Hollywood rom-com ending that never has a place in a film like this. As I was wondering about Russell’s departure from a thoroughly dramatic film, slowly it began to work on me making me root for this couple, family and friends. As it becomes obvious and known, while as much as I can resist and was not happy about this handling, this family needs a hug like this, in their own way.

"Animal Kingdom" (2010) - Movie Review

“Animal Kingdom” moves like a snake lurking by a corner crawling towards the viewer and bites viciously in the end. It poses as gangster film but it is a study of dynamics in a family. A family which has acknowledged and accepted that their livelihood as crime. This like few of the Australian films I have seen relies on the mood rather than movement. It focuses on the inert nature of certain characters and draws a bombastic yet mellowed down caricature on others. “Animal Kingdom” would leave you wondering and pondering on this drama and the disturbing love that is painted in the end.

Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) is watching a game show as his mother is next to him overdosed on heroin. That results him left alone and to reach out to his grandmother her mother kept away from. He is taken into the family by his grandmother Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver). J introduces his uncles to the viewers and their relation to him and to one another. The most trusting and reliable is Barry “Baz” Brown (Joel Edgerton). Seeing him operate and exchange short conversations with J explains why J is comfortable with him. Then there is the paranoid Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) mostly due to using his own product which is cocaine. The youngest of them is Darren (Luke Ford) who is couple of years elder to the sixteen to seventeen year old J. They are either laying low or opted another crime profession other than armed robbery. The cops are onto them to avenge for their loss but the main man they are looking to kill is the eldest of them all, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). His uncles are under the spell of Smurf. We will ultimately come to know about Smurf who is the mother that cannot and will not let go her kids. The sons though want to be with her as the interdependency of this emotional bond has more than the usual connection. She has accepted them for exactly who they are but you will be surprised on it too when you understand the origins.

The story unfolds as through J we see the play the cops begin to ploy on these men. The cops want blood as these men have taken the armed robbery into a bloody battle with no regrets. They need Pope and we are not told why but once we meet him, the why becomes our expression of “no wonder”. Pope cannot be discarded purely as psychopathic. His mannerism give you the creeps. He is not alone cunning but project a weird nature of evil. He consistently asks Darren and J to talk with him about anything that is bothering them. There is no true extension of his service for them to confide in him rather we do not really know what he achieves even if they did take his offer. The way he would look at you and your friends or your girl friend would be something that would haunt in your sleep and bug you to death on when this man is going to act upon his impulse. We see how he looks and carries J’s girl friend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright) and that is all there to it on explaining him.

Soon the cops are tired of waiting in front of Baz’s house so that Pope would surface for them to hunt. They choose another route which triggers the set of events causing death in all form to the family. Pope begins to wage war on the cops which ends up in a bloody one unfurling in peculiar fashion. In between these events is J as a bystander or unsure of his role in this family. His closest semblance of normal family is Nicky’s but he ignores that and seems to be calmly attracted to that of Smurf’s. Does he want to be like them in terms of authority and power or does he simply thinks this is the best form of emotional payment he is going to get? He does not react or emote and we are left to absorb his actions.

There is Guy Pearce as Detective Nathan Leckie, a reasonable one who as much as knows that J is the link he needs to break to get Pope and his brothers, is also in sympathy towards this kid who has his life ahead. He appears to have genuine concern more so than his partner. J survives his interrogation but ultimately has nowhere to go when Pope does the unthinkable. When J has the lock to the brothers, that is where the film takes the twisted and effective turn through Smurf. As her sons are in trouble, she begins to act in a fashion that is industrious, methodical and downright evil. The scenes of her with their lawyer and with the narcotics detective Craig worked with begins to draw the unseen viciousness that we are not really surprised to see but are alarmed at the extent she is willing to take without hesitation. Jacki Weaver provides the kind of chills that is simply unexplainable. She is the woman who does not accept the aging process that gets to her appearance and paints her face with make up that gives a feeling of a deadly lioness. She will not let her sons suffer through this and the move she makes defines the film.

As the film end in a fashion which is bloody, it also finishes off to wonder what is going to happen of J and the rest of the family. In a way there is a personal justice but it only gives birth to another circle of wasted youth. David Michold appears to find a rhythm in this story which snails its pace but the initial hour is there to give the audience the raw nature of this family’s interaction and how they see and employ J. When the finality happens, we are not stung because it is sudden rather it is the strength of the venom that seeps its devilish form through our nerves and leaves us with the bitter taste of slow death. “Animal Kingdom” is the film whose thrill and drama is not in the action but in the way it serves it as a cold deadly dish.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

"Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) - Movie Review

The behaviour of obsession has a thin line of separation between insanity and determination. In this where Maya (Jessica Chastain) stands in “Zero Dark Thirty” is answered by how Osama Bin Laden was hunted and killed. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow carries this onus of handling this fresh off the pot story with her critical acclaim of “The Hurt Locker” fulfills it in her own accord. With such a story that can be withered down into overblown patriotism and righteousness, Bigelow finds a personal story than a political one. Yet it is so devoid of information on Maya.

The film chronicles the hunt but it is unlike one would expect. It is viewed through one woman’s single minded determination on finding this man. We see her as the young talent with nothing stopping her lands into the CIA force in a remote unknown location for interrogation with her colleague Dan (Jason Clarke). We see the water boarding in its true form that has been not dealt with any other film. Maya is queasy about this and one would expect her to be sympathetic or question this, Bigelow provides a stunning reality. She is there for the job and this is it. There is no right or wrong but the job that was assigned or ordered to her is done. If one perceives this as pro-torture, yes, the government at that point allowed this but blaming Bigelow for the portrayal seems silly.

The film unflinchingly takes this story into a raw docudrama not allowing emotions. It is an exercise for Maya. Is it a passion or does she enjoys the thrill? We do not know. All we know is she wants to reach the end of the investigation in pinning this man. There is no hint of her personal emotion in it. She goes through the details and begins to look for anything. Every word from the people they catch are analyzed, doubted, re-doubted and they take what they think and execute in a sense of gamble. In a way every move is a gamble. Fragments of information that are provided under extreme circumstances that carry nothing but desperation are used to link something or someone. It can only be imagined how many routes that they took and how many times they had to come back to the drawing board only to revamp the whole process to another ordeal.

In this film that exhausts you with the manner it navigates as there are smallest remains of human connection but rightfully so. The politics in this investigation are not punctuated on the procedure rather it punctuates on Maya’s restlessness. When Maya enters the team in Pakistan, there is a sense of the new bee acting too fast and too hasty for her role which is slightly shown in the smiling disapproval of her colleague Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) before it is discarded for the importance of the story. Then we come back again to see how the times have made them good friends. Things like those are what are surprisingly effective in giving minute semblance of humanity to the otherwise machine like Maya.

Jessica Chastain has been praised highly for her portrayal as Maya and in all honesty she does not have much to do than to follow the clinical script of Mark Boal. There is no denial in her pitch perfect performance but this film is about the details. You seem to see so many but are provided very little in term of information. The breaks they make which are again taken forward by presumptions, guesses and gamble are nothing short of the realism the actual events have unfurled. The way in which Maya figures out the idea of look alike brothers and how they narrow down the location of the compound but tracking cell phone signal are the high energetic scene which are grounded in reality.

The supporting roles are provided in snippets which spurs raw comedy. You cannot stop smirking when Mark Duplass as CIA analyst Steve sarcastically repeats what Maya told in her confidence in finding the location to a roomful of higher CIA directors. And how Chris Pratt as one of US Navy Seals explains his choice of music before he goes for the raid. Bigelow finds a unique tone in those characters that offers even a realistic touch to the sense of humour. Jason Clarke and Jessica Ehle are the predominant characters who are as Dan and Jessica respectively comes forth to the help of Maya when she needs it. Then there is Kyle Chandler as Joseph Bradley, CIA Islamabad Station Chief who is both appreciative and wary of Maya’s obsession.

But the completion of the film’s success is how the raid is presented. With the first person effect of greenish night vision goggle painted over the screen, that is the most thrilling action sequence I have seen in a long time. To the authenticity of the film on representing the actual events, all I can say is there is no proof or possibility of recreating this but in that 15 minutes of presentation, I was in and I was there and I was absorbed as a viewer on the believability of it.

In all this, Maya’s determination is rewarded and what can you make of it is of your own. I am glad this was not made into a political statement nor as an undercurrent for bigger things. It does but those are in background rather than front line material. Whether killing Bin Laden brought justice is something the film leaves you with or what did it bring Maya? It is a completion of a project in a different plane of emotion for her. For us looking for justice for the actions this man masterminded, we are confused because time does crazy things and you do not know how to react to this. For an exercise that is provided with very little emotion, it tells a lot when it ends with teardrops.

"Life of Pi" (2012) - Movie Review

It was quite difficult to escape my brother not mentioning about the book “Life of Pi” through my brother. It is ironical that this review follows my staunch stand against the separation of books and movies. In all fairness, this is only to point out the familiarity and the exposure of this reviewer to this material. “Life of Pi” directed by Ang Lee is a crowd pleasing film which like any crowd pleaser relies on its audience to forgive the minor flaws. For me those flaws bring this otherwise spellbinding film into well, movie with flaws.

“Life of Pi” is the kind of one liner that does not take much to invite a person into the movie theater. It narrates the great survival story of  a boy named Piscine Molitor Patel a.k.a Pi as he is trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger. This narration is provided by Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi to a curious writer. It truly is an intriguing story as it begins the Once upon a time... following it up rightfully with the details of profound curiosity than an obligatory screen write. I was pleasantly surprised as they did not hurry into the crux of the film. It begins with how his name brought nothing but ridicule and how he manages to sway away that successfully.

“Life of Pi” exemplifies the effectiveness of storytelling on how to make a one line interesting idea into an interesting film. Piscine curiously approaches belief and god in various forms through various religion with an openness that is neither naive or ignorant. Especially growing in a region like Tamil Nadu where questioning god or even furthering curiosity in any other religion besides the advice of their parents is new. In this environment is his father (Adil Hussain) who we initially suspect to be the run of the mill strict parent. Here though it is different. Despite his short screen presence he is an impressive character who comes off as the right combination of an arrogant atheist and pragmatic father. He is bemused by his son’s adoption of several religions but lets him be with snide remarks to prompt questions. He is appreciative of the nature that he has surrounded with through the Zoo he manages but knows his limits which he gruesomely teaches to Pi. Pi’s mom played by Tabu offers the right amount of sentimentality that requires the balance Pi needs in this family of an atheist dad and a religious mother.

Of course the success of “Life of Pi” relies heavily on the pristine visual effects that resides on the line of fantasy, reality and cartoonish. The stillness of ocean is one thing that resonates throughout the film. As Suraj Shara as Pi begins to wrestle this ferocious tiger Richard Parker, we are exposed as him on the possibility of the slightest attack of those huge paws to succumb in wounds and starvation. The CGI that was used in “Hugo” by Martin Scorsese reminds how well the master used it as a character. Ang Lee could not go on that context but he employs it as the right tool as that of a brilliant cinematography. That aids this film into the surreal yet realistic look.

Pi and his only companion Richard Parker begin to co-exist. There is a brilliant scene wherein Pi successfully evades Richard Parker from the life boat and then lets him realize how inter dependent they are. The monstrous being begins to acknowledge the fact. The animal and survival instinct kicks in both Pi and more so in Richard Parker. The part “Life of Pi” suffers is its constant meandering on trying to reach for the philosophical question on the existence, belief and trust in higher power. The way it is contrived in the end to choose for an answer weighs down a story that relies solely on the human endurance.

This reviewer despite his stand believes that a film that handles even the complete opposite of someone’s belief and perspective with a wiseness and natural inclination of the story loves it. Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” comes to mind where the central characters ability to see the other side of life brings him nothing but pain and trouble yet that becomes the connecting factor in the end. Ang Lee could have done this without any kind of obligation to answer or even deal with this in the end. It is a story about how you can find a firm and strong emotional bond with some being that is there to kill you in desperate situation. It does not require a physical balance to measure the weight of that emotion into something invisible or even for that fact logical. What begins to build up as a great film maintains the incredible nature of its presentation to its hold but unfurls it when it comes to conclude it. The best ending for these films are the open ended poetry it leaves incomplete. Ang Lee’s could have been one such.