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.