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.