Saturday, October 04, 2014

"Gone Girl" (2014) - Movie Review

As much as this reviewer is a great fan of David Fincher, “Gone Girl” is a film for the Coen brothers. It would have felt so home with those excellent directors that have the eye for a perfect crime in the most unusual characters. They will have the wicked sense of humour to be sitting at a corner devilishly grinning at those characters and audiences alike. But Fincher’s “Gone Girl” wants to be serious and I mean very serious and there is nothing wrong with that. It becomes fascinated by the twists and dramas it has in store that it forgets something elemental in the making of a crime thriller, the human complexities. Not in the redeeming way but in the complexities of us and the motives and drive that gear towards that insanity. 

How much more appropriate can a thriller story begin when the central character of the film Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) wants to split open his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) skull implying both the hate he has for her and would genuinely like to understand the psychology behind that face. This movie is out to set a twisted dark aura into the institution of marriage using the tools of thriller and commentary on society and media. It builds up and builds up good. Fincher plays with his audience right from the moment Nick walks in to a bar named “The Bar” and begins venting out to the bartender (Carrie Coon). From the friendly banter he has with her, we begin to build up a story for them, an obvious one. Then he enlightens us and not smile or put us down but says this is the way the mind assumes but boy how wrong can it be. That is the baseline the film should have been on. I forgot to notice that in the rest of the movie though.

On the fine morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife Amy disappears. He comes back home to a broken glass coffee table and immediately he suspects foul play. He calls the investigators and before the Sun can set down, the hunt is on. The pace at which the investigation progresses appeared little bit cinematic but having to be in the middle of the crime drama, this has to be expected. This is an out and out attempt on a Hitchcockian story telling. Nick appears little laid back and unnerved for someone whose spouse just disappeared and soon enough have the possibility of being hurt. Ben Affleck fits that bill quite good. He is indifferent in a way and that does not carry good signs for his prospects. There is of course a reason for it. The layers peel off to expose those. Nothing shocking or unexpected but explains his behaviour. The real twist comes in the middle.

The scenes flip between from the day of disappearance and Amy writing her diary. She details on the charm Nick pulled on her in the New York City through the early glory years. The early years of being together and finishing each other’s sentences. Then comes the disintegration in simple happenings. Then to be dragged on to the state of Missouri into Nick’s hometown. The film consistently begins to guide you through the perspective of marriage losing its glitter. Written by the author who wrote the novel as well, Writer Gillian Flynn reminds the audience on the days gone by. It suits the way initially to be aware of the timeline to show the media frenzy of picking up the idiocy in exploiting the fear and emotion of the public. But when the film becomes into a full on legitimate crime everything out in the open, it asks the audience to do the favour of filling the gap in an unnatural way, almost lethargic.

If one thing is glaring in the media in America, it is the blatant nature of how exploitative the news and the people covering it has become. Riding on the lines of not necessarily using the keywords to get them sued, it is a shameless display of the reality TV styled reporting. Not driven by facts and more so by the opinion, American public are full well aware of the atrocity that gets committed in the name of journalism. There is no comedy or satire to be made out of here but Fincher apparently thinks so. It is no news about the state of our news.

The essential miss of “Gone Girl” is the complexity of human mind. Granted that it is showed through the actions but the drive is through the mind. That mind is through the characters whom are seen as plot pushers than real people. When Nick explains his frustration of not able to understand the motivations of Amy, we ourselves are perplexed by it. When her story comes up untangled, there is still the air of insanity more than the statement on modern marriage. I have a real hard time believing on Nick and Amy played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike respectively to have sustained even couple of months let alone more than five years. There is no denial on how people can be more than what they seem to be but the establishment of these two people as a couple having those great years seem implausible. One has to watch “Blue Valentine” to see how two people are madly in love unable to be apart even for a second and then witness their disintegration through the years. We do not see their entire years but a day in their final stages of it is revealing enough.

Marriage or partnership is a poetic mess of complications. When two people merge and decide to share a life together, the emotional dependency and the lack there of makes or breaks it over a long period. Fincher approaches this material like a standard crime movie and nothing else. It has shades of statements but not the solid profundity to look at the pathetic nature of life and the cynicism. With random cast of Tyler Perry as Nick’s lawyer offering some sort of humour and Neil Patrick Harris’ Desi Collings who appear to be a real life non-comical creepy Barney in a more serious manner, “Gone Girl” offers small surprises without ever knocking you out to the ground. It lacks the passion it had in “The Social Network” nor does it offer a bleak void the consumerism has resulted in the modern world like “Fight Club”. It does not carry the intense nature of how a public image can bring any one down to their knees like Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” but more fascinatingly it surprised on the Hitchcockian twist. “Gone Girl” is a crime novel that appear to be a very polished presentation of a life time movie with some moody and seedy score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It has all the right cast, glow and components to make an effective psychological thriller but fails to capitulate on it from such a great director.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Lucy" (2014) - Movie Review

For a movie that claims on its central character’s increasing ability to access her brain function by the minute, the screenplay of “Lucy” absolutely would have needed the potent CPH4 drug the titular character absorbed. Time and again this reviewer has acknowledged that even in the most ludicrous plot presumption, there can be an intelligent and entertaining film. “Lucy”, written and directed by Luc Besson is a mastery in confusion and it is not a compliment. It neither becomes a philosophical/scientific prowess of life and its meaning nor does it become a mindless action film with style and intensity. 

Never have I seen Morgan Freeman appear so clueless in a film. Even in the most comically violent and blatantly silly “Wanted” it had him as a weird twist of a villain. He is Professor Norman explains his hypothesis on his take on existentialism with the single most brilliant tool provided to humans, mind. His lecture on it and the Q&A with attendants is one of the silliest scenes in many in this film.

By now anyone who have access to internet and cable know that Lucy played by Scarlett Johannson gets access to the entire brain. The film’s premise of the “10 percent myth” is shaky in itself but I went in for the ride with Besson as I love his “The Professional”. Not the same case out here as the film has brain of its own. Besson begins showing the ape with the background voice of Lucy beckoning on what us humans have made a world of with the minds we have got. I have to give it to Besson for setting the right tone. Lucy gets tricked by a goofy and shady character one would not trust from the get on into delivering a suitcase. As she gets into the hotel, the scene alternates between a cheetah hunting and Lucy eventually (and quite predictably) gets trapped into the hands of some really bad man. Luc Besson himself could have appeared on the side of the screen saying “Get it? Lucy is getting hunted. Are you sure you got it? Ok, just confirming”.

As much as I am dissing on this film, I also empathize rather sadly on what the thought process would have been behind this. If only there is a perfect amalgamation of entertainment a.k.a mindless action with spectacular larger than life philosophy but Luc Besson does not. Rather the film single handedly achieves in not providing no character to root for, not a single original line that distantly even resembles smart, crisp and inventive characteristics in it and finally do not provide any opportunity for the lead actors to have something to perform on.

There are movies after viewing have a tendency to be unknown on the way one feels about it. Sometimes it begins as a dislike and with time and replaying of certain memorable scenes, one begins to appreciate and becomes a spectacular film to them. There are movies which gets better with multiple viewing. “Lucy” falls in the category of (a) not remember a single scene you genuinely enjoyed and (b) the only scenes you even remember is to show how much you did not enjoy it and were rather disappointed and annoyed by it.

“Limitless” did a good spin of same kind wherein Bradley Cooper’s struggling character begin to acquire similar excellency in mind access that brings betterment to his life. It exploits that as a base but then adds some layer of how it is indeed a drug and the after effects of it. We care for that man and when he succeeds and witness who he has become, we are frightened by him. There is a connection to that personality. He becomes engaging in his arrogance but still develops a personality out of it. Lucy becomes a monotonic robot. She develops apathy and indifference after knowing everything and still has to ask a Professor on what to do. May be there is a statement out here but I lost interest by then.

Lucy’s flaws are not compensated by stunning action or poetic cinematography which most of the times becomes a redeeming factor in films like these. Talking about stunning action/poetic cinematography and larger than life concepts, the film parallels Lucy with Neo in “The Matrix”. And immediately thought how wonderful it would have been if Edgar Wright with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost did a spoof/homage to that great film? I would take out the brain of mine that I access 0% all the time (which also resulted in watching “Lucy”) and enjoy that film instead.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"The Spectacular Now" (2013) - Movie Review

The refreshing breeze of “The Spectacular Now” is that there is a high school where the kids are regular every day kids and does not bode an ominous shadow of depression. That has been the backbone of several good and bad films. And the fallen media now a day has made sure of that impression as well. Miles Teller as Sutter Keely is an ordinary kid with great skill for socialization. He is the friend everyone stutter to hangout and not in the overdrawn sense of it. He is not alone a good guy but a great company. He can have harmless fun with a little drink or two but more importantly he is always there to make someone better. Yet there is no one to see him through his problems nor does he let anyone to.

When the film opens he just got dumped by his girl friend Cassidy (Brie Larson) and is on the charade of executing expected things to wipe of his sorrow. He is recovering quick or want to be quick in moving on. Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) wakes him up in front of a random house. He wakes up from his plastering night of sorrow. Sutter becomes his normal self like a flip of a switch. Their relationship knowingly blossoms but director James Ponsoldt layers the charm that carried “Say Anything” and mixes it up with some real life drama.

One thing you would notice in the film is that how any of the characters are not made as bad people for the convenience of the script. Except Kyle Chandler’s character who comes as Sutter’s dad. Despite that even, when we see his actions and Sutter’s realization there is an honest truth to it. Sutter’s Dad knew what he wanted and he went for it because he could not take it anymore as the life did not wait for him. Not the life he wanted at least. Nor that it defines as an approved life of happiness. These are the slices of life “The Spectacular Now” takes on into a profoundness that is fairly simple in the viewer’s eyes.

Miles Teller appearances are as the next door kid but really carves a character out of Sutter. The denial or the defense mechanism Sutter poses to keep leading on with Aimee is enjoyably subtle. We wonder on the end game he has for Aimess as the eventual path of demise is blatant. Not because he is a bad kid but he is at the cross roads of what future lies ahead. He is happy in this world and he cannot deliver himself out of this comfortable womb. His introspection or the lack there of leads to drink more. One initially dismisses his problem with drinks on the discovery of alcohol as a kid but soon enough it is evident on that being his coping mechanism.

Sutter’s mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has protected him from the truth of his dad as any parent would. Their interaction in the film though minimal provides a backstory automatically. Actors like Miles Teller and Jennifer Jason Leigh establish that from simple lines in a script. Take Bob Odenkirk as Sutter’s boss in the clothing store. Teller and Odenkirk exactly have two scenes in the film with 3-4 lines in each of it. Yet the depth of their relationship is impregnated in the audience’s mind when they depart. Same with Sutter’s sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) or with his Math teacher (Andre Royo, the ever impressive “Bubbles” from the TV Series “The Wire”). All these are brilliant actors who with the right aid of writing and their performance make us understand Sutter more than he poses to be.

Sutter while does not have the greatest issue or the hardship in life has the regular issues that has clouded the society of several need for more in anything. Take it independence, relationship which results in heartbreak or emotional trauma. Nevertheless, it can germinate a different kind of beautiful relationship and experience out of it. How one come out of it defines and makes them a better person like any other situation or experiences in life. Sutter has his intervention and so does many kids of his age in this day. Director James Ponsoldt establishes those unintended yet properly placed notions in the film.

“The Spectacular Now” showcases Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (who again was impressive in “The Descendants”). It is also about the possibility and the simplicity of a film that can work through the mundaneness of the life it poses to be to into something beautiful. The interaction we go through in our life and the impression we want to make are the nature of our social existence. Even in the goodness of helping others we define our happiness. The complications of several wirings in our psyche beckons to wonder on why we are simultaneously an emotional being and seriously self aware and embarrassed about it. “The Spectacular Now” addresses it in the c’est la vie per se and gently brushes our inner mind into the complexities that can be simply untangled by the best of the people.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Edge of Tomorrow" (2014) - Movie Review

“Edge of Tomorrow” might be the most solid summer entertainer that has arrived in a long time in the past few years. When it is said “solid entertainer”, it does not translate into discarding the intelligence of its audience and pummel them with metal clanking CGI action idiocies. It means that it has sense, common sense and lot more respect for the people who are not only arrive to be entertained but also have a brain they can flex. This does not also translate into complex plot that are aimed at intense connoisseurs hunting for profound meaning that might not exist. It means that good entertainment can be made to appear as simple while unfurling a complex run of screenplay.

Director Doug Liman does keep the aliens as the wormy creature as it has always been portrayed. It is clunky, enormous and versatile in moving underground and underwater.  Yet they are an objective and they have selective power just enough to give the film the needed believability in its ice thin explanation. The world is slowly being taken over by these beings. As majority of Europe is taken over, there is hope in the new form of war suit. It provides the modern day soldier the tools to survive may be more than 5 minutes in the battlefield filled with these “mimics”. That is the first premise. Then “Edge of Tomorrow” builds on it and slowly we believe in the world Liman and his team creates.

In this world, is Major William Cage. After selling these suits to get more people to enroll for combat, Tom Cruise’s Cage and his sorry ass ends up at the dawn of “Operation Downfall” on the beaches of France. Unprepared and with certain death he manages to kill one mimic only to be doused in the blood of it. Alas he dies but he wakes up! He is the Army base at Heathrow Airport where his sorry ass was put. Of course one cannot stop thinking “Is it “Groundhog Day”?”. It would have been funny if Cage thought the same and referred it as well.

Here is where it is very important for the film to either make it or break it. It makes it. Despite Cage’s warning, everyone ends to their imminent demise in the beaches of France where the mimics with overhauling presence and preparation devastates their enemy. In this he sees a well known soldier he promoted during his marketing campaign for this war, Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). She saves her knowing what happened to her in his first run and she immediately asks him to see him when he wakes up. She knows more.

With fast but proper explanation the viewers are educated on the capability of Cage’s resetting time. There are flaws but there is no time to think. The only thinking is that there evolves a purpose for these characters and there is an end game for this war. As does this film. From there on, with a screenplay that has got the sense of handling repetition, writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth cuts through time keeping intensity intact for the film. As the character of Cage, they want to keep moving to the next level. Yes it is quite blatant in which the film resembles a video game but it resonates more so with the generation they are dealing with.

They bring up the detail when it is needed through Cage. When we go through a situation that the viewers are new, Cage is there to explain either it is actually the first time he is encountering or is it something he has understood and mastered. Cruise brings up the much needed frustration in his Cage who wants to move on to the next level but here it is more than a videogame of killing aliens. It is to make believe the key people to get his goal and move on in ending this war. In this comes Emily Blunt as effective as Tom Cruise and his Cage or rather more than them she takes the film forward. She marches on and leads the film through her character.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is the summer action film every year one hopes to see. It does the justification it has to in appeasing the critics and then entertains the heck out of the crowd seeking to be entertained. And mind you it uses the predictability and the cliche of a summer blockbuster. Yet it does not misuse and abuse it unabashedly. 

It is the crispness of the storytelling that excels. The unperturbed nature in which it takes the viewer on to similar situation and a brand new one are more than making it a blind mindless entertainment. It has fun during it and brings about a smile or a smirk in its viewers. The romance thankfully gets played not alone in a balanced manner but more believably. As the lead man in the “Groundhog Day”, Cage begins to form a bond, liking and a camaraderie in Rita. It manifests into something one calls love but this is more so about a companion he can wake up to and die again to save her and of course the planet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Take Shelter" (2011) - Movie Review

There is a conscious selection of wiping off the background score in certain scenes by director Jeff Nichols in “Take Shelter”. The scenes wherein in any other film would be accompanied at least by a slight mellow background score. Granted that it aids in the way it is executed but in “Take Shelter”, the absence of it casts the reality and the gravity. It truly unsettles its viewers. That moment becomes all of a sudden a documentary and that shivers its viewers. 

Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” is a mastery in the constant undertone of fear but its underlying agenda is something beyond bringing paranoia alone to its viewers. Curtis is played Michael Shannon, an actor in his mere presence has a stillness and a sliver of sublime terror. Yet when he works with his friend Dewart (Shea Wingham) and shares a beer after and when he learns sign language along with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and communicates with their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) who is deaf, he epitomes a content man with a happy family. In this comes these dreams. For a long time in the film he never says it is a nightmare rather only as dreams. 

The dreams of his begins with a storm often accompanied by a rain resembling motor oil. People terrorize him and things gets levitated. All of this are not the common fodder of factorized and uninspiring terrors the genre of horror films are spitting out these days. When Curtis wakes up gasping for breath, the raw nature of his body’s reaction tells how much real it felt for him. As anyone he does not make much of it in the first go. He sheds off and goes on his business of working at construction along with his buddy. He sits and sees her daughter play while eating breakfast. Then it happens again and the pain he inflicted in the dream continues during the day. He gets concerned.

Despite these he does not share it with his wife. Samantha is kept in the dark while she begins planning lunches and dinners. Slowly and surely Curtis begins to act on his dreams. It begins small and ends up building a huge storm shelter. He tries to get help but with the locality he is in, all he gets is a counselor. He knows the absurdity of it but cannot discard those. Mind is a powerful manipulator. He is afraid for his family both on the possibility of his mental health affecting them and his deadly apocalyptic storm becoming flesh and blood wiping them off. The dreams of Michael Shannon’s Curtis are vivid. It is more than vivid. It is visceral. 

As Curtis drives himself into this paranoia and madness, the life that was witnessed at the beginning of the film seem to be a distant past strung by a loose thread. The locality is midwest and that is the detail one needs to know as these places are prone to severe storms and tornado. Hence the fear of Curtis becomes all the more plausible. The small town the film happens also limits the capability of Curtis getting professional help without traveling to nearby city. His helplessness edges over as the film moves along.

Jeff Nichols’ directorial debut “Shotgun Stories” was a film that marches on the constant threat of something extremely horrific is about to happen without the violence. The violence in that film existed in the actors and their hate in their eyes. In “Take Shelter”, Michael Shannon (who was the lead in “Shotgun Stories”) embodies the man in the midst of something unexplainable while indispensable to the mind. He shows that suffering and turmoil simply by the way he moves. There are three to four shots of him in the breakfast table as his fear and paranoia increases. In each of those, the differences are subtle but it speaks volumes as he descends into depression. He translates the man’s progression into this inescapable situation with realistic simplicity.

“Take Shelter” poses to be on the mind playing terrible things on a person and how the imminent danger of the world we live can make it as plausible. As layers peel, it reveals to be about the relationship between Samantha and Curtis. As one wonders on why Curtis is not honest with his wife on these, it is obvious on the reaction and judgment he would get explaining this. Yet when she does come to know, the film changes and the it welcomes Jessica Chastain to prove why she is a capable actor to watch for and has proven since. But this film belongs to Michael Shannon and the brilliance of Jeff Nichols. It is a slow burn and culminates into an emotional payoff that is far more than a manipulation. And just when you thought you have seen the pinnacle, the director leaves you wondering in the end. The key though is to not question it but to understand the state of characters at that instant. That will be more powerful than the storm Curtis dreams about.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

"The Lego Movie" (2014) - Movie Review

How many times the formula of “The Lego Movie” has been made, remade and re-remade? An idea as Christopher Nolan in “Inception” said is like a virus and then flourishes into the minds of its resident and occupies the psyche till it is a reality. Such is the formula in the Hollywood world. Then again, it reincarnates into an imaginative, creative but most importantly an original presentation. That has happened in this universe of Legos by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The obsession and the fanciness of these pieces have not been personally enjoyed by this reviewer. I do not have a reference point on the intricacies of these pieces that are jointed into becoming the idea that sparks into a young mind. What I know is the buddy of mine in his late thirties who has three kids still is fascinated and buries himself in these. The age on the boxes is “suggested” as a character says. The toy my neighbour wanted to gift my six year old nephew was a small box of Lego set. The prevalence of it has surpassed generations and can only seem to propagate into the digital generation. The movie on the other hand has to stand the test of time given its pop culture references. It would become the nostalgia of this generation and they can relate to it in a fashion the next generation would not but still be enjoyed in the same fashion.

In an animation film like this, the voices does make an impact and gives a sense of inner giggle on these actors being ridiculous. As they are being ridiculous, their passion for fun and going out of the typecasts they have become emanates positively. That form of laughing at yourself and your works provides the surprise entertainment. Take Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius and how his majestic voice lends into something to believe in that character without any justification but then suddenly flips up in to being super silly? How about Liam Neeson, the actor who is sadly being typecast but effective in the genre of action thriller? You can believe him in the Bad Cop character but how he excels in voicing the Good Cop split personality? Then comes Will Ferrell as Lord Business fixating himself on the supposed “evil empire” his character fixates on? All these actors lend more than voices and takes the persona of the roles they have played and being associated with to provide the entertainment the parents will get when they bring their kids to this awesome film.

Chris Pratt has grown on me through the TV Series “Parks and Recreations” especially after he did odd supporting roles in “Moneyball” and “Zero Dark Thirty” which are quite unlike the personality he portrays in the TV Show. Here he is the central character Emmet, the day to day ordinary man with no family or friends. Lord/Miller team are no run of the mill directors to detail on the loneliness of this man and gets the act going instantly. The meet up with the cute girl Wyldstyle voiced by Elizabeth Banks followed by some serious Lego action kick start this film into adventure.

While Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell lay the foundation on the expectation, the real winner comes through Will Arnett’s Batman. As much as Christopher Nolan along with Christian Bale has thumped the success into the best trilogy of superheroes, the mocking of the Batman’s voice and Arnett’s natural voice matching it is absolutely hilarious. The references that accompanies that would please anyone who liked and disliked those films.

The only qualm I would have against this effective and entertaining film that has begun the 2014 on the right note is the initial action sequences that destructs in this world. It took sometime for this reviewer to follow the action initially but once it settles in, the ride is exactly how the praises have been by audiences and critics alike.

“The Lego Movie” hits every predictability of the plot. It has the ordinary hero, out of the league girl for the hero, the mentor that provides the wisdom and the supporting characters that are there to ridicule and then follow the hero (Remember “Kung Fu Panda”?). Yet as the movie I mentioned it resonates, it uses the world as the background and tells a story that comes off as the novel presentation. When you get to the see “Abyss” and the “Man Upstairs”, you truly are witnessing the precise usage of this universe. It goes further beyond it and gives a true emotional moment of fatherly bond and the generations these pieces have navigated and will be navigating. Unaware of the Lego world and all the elements that went along with it, I thoroughly immersed into that world, laughed out uncontrollably and slightly moved in the end as well. That is saying something and comes close to be compared to the animation successes of “Wall-E” and “Up”.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Her" (2013) - Movie Review

“Her” begins as a revolutionary new concept and it steers itself towards the eventual loss and pain. It does that with not alone pleasant cinematography rather an enriching experience which acts as film’s soothing subconscious. Then turns it around and evolves itself as its brilliant Artificial Intelligence OS 1. The relationship between the sweet and lonely man Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) with his Operating System with Artificial Intelligence Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is doomed from the moment it germinates or is the logical gloom in me brings that?

Spike Jonze’s film is pure creativity and swims through planes of foundational human emotions. Beyond the superficiality and the connected world, having to love and being loved never have undergone groundbreaking metamorphosis over centuries. The forms have been different but in its grassroots, it has existed like the fossil remains it has left. The psychoanalysis of it have though has developed exponentially. The attempt to understand the irrationality in an emotion has resulted only in an aura of confusion. How about that for contradiction and oxymoron? Such is that this thing called love that we are mesmerized, behave as an adorable juvenile and overwhelmed by that hair rising stints of emotions. The idea that someone finds us desirable, attractive and as a person with a personality but incomparable to those traits is that one is capable of being loved. Spike Jonze encapsulates that idea and makes it an experience without the physicality. It is a long distance relationship that has no future of ever encountering the reality. Will be still be content with that idea of love? Does it suffice to feel that idea alone without the touch, hug and more than that?

Theodore works as a write in an LA company. He writes personal letters to people who cannot express themselves, basically a personal Hallmark. The opening shot of the film is him dictating his computer that writes a letter for a woman wishing her husband 50 year anniversary. The film begins with an irony of how someone who has been with 50 years of time with love of her life still need a proper annunciator.

Theodore is going through divorce and has cornered into a ball of deep sorrow. His friends and building mates Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher) are trying to find a new beginning for him. As he walks around moping drenched and soaked in his sorrow, he sees the ad for OS 1 which reminds on the reality of the virtual world that is clouding the soul of this planet. It installs and comes as the sexiest voice of Scarlett Johansson. Calls herself Samantha and connects instantaneously with Theodore. While Theodore is blown away by this technology, he has also embedded as every others in the society with an earpiece and guided mechanical voice. A voice with emotional gravity still throws him off but quickly that sinks and the habitualness nature of the modern human takes over impulsively.

I could not erase the face of Scarlett Johansson when I was hearing Samantha. I wish Jonze had used someone whom we did not know to truly see this new AI conscious being. Yet he succeeds in making the personality Theodore begins to fall for with the ease that confuses ourselves in the way we feel about her. She is witty, funny, a spectacular listener and of course super intelligent to organize Theodore’s mailboxes and files. Samantha sees the world through Theodore and Theodore is excited to show someone this world that is so novel and exciting to that person. She understands the theory of this life beyond any human in this planet but to see it and absorb it as an evolving conscious being as a baby is truly overwhelming. With such a high intelligence, the data is easy to process but to process what she begins to feel is “Her”.

Spike Jonze’s film is a statement, a discussion, a profound self aware analysis of human mind but most of all truly digs in to the soul of the human being. Joaquin Phoenix carries this film appearing almost on every frame and makes Theodore not a regular stereotypical introvert. He is sweet, nice and emotionally vulnerable but never fears to explore that vulnerability. He goes with the flow despite the logical demise of this relationship. Every moment we begin to think where his character is going to go, he sometimes does and sometimes does not but definitely makes it organic than a manipulative device most films handle these characters.

The beautiful thing about “Her” is how like its characters, it stumbles, learns, goes through familiar routes and takes unknown paths with a balance. It shows to say that despite these animal instincts and spontaneous emotional outbursts that leads to loss and hurt, the thriving need to attain that state of mind of love both alone and with another human being makes the film a living being. It reaches out the screen with flesh and blood. It caresses and takes our hand and makes us to feel its heart pumping absolute emotions with colourful creative presentation.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Nebraska" (2013) - Movie Review

I remember the description of a black and white photograph by my brother. It spurred after he saw portrait picture taken by either his friend or someone he appreciated. Though I did not see it, my brother painted that with the amazement he got out of the effect it had on him. It was a picture of an old man. While the details of the description has vanished, the residue of it is that he was astonished by the fact of how clear the colour contrast brought out the stubble on that old man. That detail has been in my head forever. I could never forget that image as it quantifies something nostalgic and poetic. The five o’clock shade while is an appealing attractiveness on men, it has a hidden sadness that is out there in the open. I liked that and in “Nebraska”, director Alexander Payne with his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brought it out through the lead actor Bruce Dern.

Payne’s penchant for chronicling the mind of a middle aged to old men continues in “Nebraska”. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a man at the end of his life is on a quest to claim his million dollar prize. You know those mails, the scam mail that provides a shady yet flamboyant certificate with your name imprinted on it. When I first received it back in the grad school days, I was taken aback for split second but immediately came to my senses. That half a second impulse for a young man’s mind is evident on the belief of an old man out of his times to trust that. But the times have changed and people have learned. Woody on the other hand is fixed on his mind to collect it.

His son David Grant (Will Forte) is sympathetic towards the old man. His brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) not so much as both of them had to live through the drunken life of Woody. Her mother is Kate Grant (June Squibb) has long past the point in their marriage to filter her thoughts. She cannot take Woody taking off of the house walk towards Lincoln, Nebraska from their town Billings, Montana. About 900 miles. Soon enough David humours the old man’s intention and begins to drive him. Dave needs a break from the breakup from his girlfriend. He is pondering the life he wants to set forth. He has lived with her for 2 years and she is questioning on the next step.

Woody does not make a good impression on us as he is meandering in his mind into nothing while sparsely communicating and of course stubborn enough to go on to claim his scam prize. Yet not stubborn enough to overrule his wife Kate when she pisses all over his family, or may be he thinks the same. The journey takes them back to his hometown Hawthone, Nebraska. Woody and his extended family are gathered around and the silence in the room is unbelievable. The best comedy is the worst silence at an awkward situation. Here the awkward situation is not about an obscene act or an uncomfortable family secret rather the collection of this bunch in a room unable to have a conversation. Rather they choose to not have one as they are content in their happy little world. The men who once were drunks and obnoxious have gone mellow despite though the drinking continues while the women know the dependency these clueless weathered men have on them. Given that, it is good to be silent.

David generally gives in on the old man’s venture as he sees as his life turning out to be. He has seen his father being a drunk enough to have a resolution to let go off alcohol. He wants a sense of what his father’s life meant to the man himself. He asks the psychoanalytic questions the generation after Woody have begun to ask and ask more of it that has turned from sense to confusion including yours truly. David begins to learn about his dad through other means. The people that took advantage of him and the one that truly seemed to have loved him. We learn how nice of a guy and how naive of a man he was and is. When the family gets together, it would in one form or other remind the viewers of their own. Woody does not hide his nature of the trip and people begin to believe the prize. Soon enough they are ready to dwindle him citing how they took care of him during his drunken days. The truth though defines Woody.

The melancholy is not alone in the yearning music of Mark Orton but in the vein of the film. Bruce Dern’s existence is the film. He wanders off most of the time and is in a blank state of mind from his face expression but he carries Woody in simple motions and stares. His illogic actions borders on senility and desperation but mainly for expression. But the scene stealer is June Squibb as his wife who comes to Hawthorne and goes to the cemetery for paying respect. The respect Grant’s dead family gets single handedly gives her the best scene in terms of dark humour and little bit of truth. In addition to that is the landscape of the nothingness in this state that never really had an invitation for the people of other state and country. Here it cuddles with these two characters standing and staring at that, a reflection every now and then on what has or will become of their lives. When I saw Hawthorne, it reminded of every other little town I have biked through including the mom and pop stores. Somehow the best infrastructure throughout US has decimated the originality in city planning. Now it exists only through the farms, old house and barns that are desolated.

“What will you do with the million dollars?” asks David and Woody wants a pick up truck and a compressor. We see the film through David who as his dad is a nice guy but is self aware of the vultures when he sees one. He reevaluates through his dad to find an analogy or a sign for his but he begins to understand the man selflessly. This is a film that is everything about nostalgia. It is also about the men who do not find words to express themselves and choose random unrelated distant actions that no one can understand or read. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are the last people to expect on a screen and have a chemistry. They do begin in that unknown note in the beginning. When the film begins to unfold, flow and drives to the end we realize that they have developed something great. The greatness of David as a son to show his love by simply letting Woody be the father. “Nebraska” is one of the year’s best films.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013) - Movie Review

What drives the Coen brothers to make a feature like “Inside Llewyn Davis” or any of their venture? They are uncompromising in their productions similar to the titular character of this film. Something really focussed and strong comes out of their films even if the viewer does not really enjoy it. There is a selfless appreciation for it and  then leave the theatre little bit confused of this conflicting reaction. If not anyone, at least this reviewer does most of the times.

They place Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis in the winter of 1961 at New York. An aspiring folk singer, Llewyn is homeless and penniless. He has friends that have become sick of him and there are friends whom he can abuse and erupt one night and still go back for shelter the next day. Llewyn is at the junction in his life as he approaches the breaking point on waiting for that break. His musical partner has committed suicide and he denies to stand behind or join up with another singer. His solo album does not appear to go anywhere especially with his not so helpful record label producer. I am trying to explain it like a plot but there is not any. I believe if you are the person who enjoys folks music and have been in the New York in those times or fascinated by it, it might be such a pleasure to see this fictional struggling artist stepping up stairs, ringing up people, walking through a canal like corridors and evading cold in his cheap jacket. If you are not, then it becomes all of those sans the appreciation for the music it is based on.

The songs of course are essential for a film like this and as much as I was not able to involve and immerse in to the music, it adds the melodic mood. The mood that can be pictured in a dark empty room with just enough light to shine on the ragged poet reading sad verses. He is the performer and the audience. “Inside Llewyn Davis” while has other characters, most of them cannot stand the sight of Llewyn when he is not playing while others are moderately kind and downright indifferent. Llewyn in his artistic spirit and arrogance have run these people to that state though he has shed those and carries the ashes of the burned ego in him.

Apart from his money problems, he has personal issue when his friend Jim’s (Justin Timberlake) wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) says she is pregnant. She regrets sleeping with this man and thoroughly hates him. Llewyn takes it and walks along the side paths of this dreadful city that appears to have no mercy towards him. He has learned to take abuse and there is nothing worse apparently than walking distraught and hopeless. Yet he sings majestically with poetic soul.

While sympathy looms over this character, there is an underlying tone that he is also part of the reason for the situation. True talented people believe giving their entire life to that talent. They see the completeness of their life is through making a living out of it. That appears to be their accomplishment, at least that is how it begins. The reality though begs to differ in that opinion. I cannot relate to the fact that someone who not only is gifted and knows they are gifted have the desire to fulfill that gift by making a life out of it. But to achieve greatness you have to risk everything. As we are watching Llewyn Davis going through the tough life of his, his only peaceful and true moments are when he is singing and playing his guitar. Rest of the time, his struggle is marked up with some dubious characters. Two such are Roland Turner (John Goodman) and Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who are taking him to Chicago in exchange for gas money. Llewyn is heading to meet the man who can let him play in one of his club that might be his last straw. The man out there (F. Murray Abraham) sees something in Llewyn and auditions him. He plays a song and you see the man staring at him moved certainly but gives him straight on what is the future.

And then there is the cat that was “thrown into it” for a plot as per the Coen brothers. It does become a parallel commentary as Llewyn accidentally lets it out from his professor friend Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) that becomes his assumed responsibility to take care of it. While personally not a cat lover myself, I would be as Davis would be running around to make sure it has its life taken care of and let it off as a responsibility at the first sight. Yet that is the only connection he begins to have with a living soul. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the film that can be daringly made by directors like the Coen brothers and walk off satisfying their artistic spirit. Strangely Llewyn wants something like that but unlike Coen brothers do not get to be successful.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013) - Movie Review

The hedonism of “The Wolf of Wall Street” becomes overwhelming within ten minutes of the film. For me it did not feel like a cautionary tale nor was it the glorification of the lifestyle that was operated by Jordan Belfort. Jordan Belfort, who was a stockbroker in the late 80s who ran his own empire, minted money, spent it on things that can be only seen to be believed. He snorts cocaine, pops pills, drinks gallons of alcohol, engages in consistent sexual encounters and combines all of it together, puts them in jar, shakes it up and drinks it up for breakfast. Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the sex and drug marathon in close and explicit detail by this man when he looted, cheated, robbed the people’s money with no regrets and smoked it out in thin air for the pleasure that knew no bounds.

There have been notable enough films and the real life debacle of Wall Street that has explained us the nature of this crooked business. This Wall Street world is run by people mainly spitting testosterone as they speak and that includes women as well. The crimes that goes unpunished and the day to day working class and middle class people suffering in their hands has become a trend. There are no blood in the hands directly on these suited and well dressed money mongers. They simply are smarter than the people they deceive to steal the money and make it their own. This has been done stylishly in “The Wall Street” and with flair and reality in the less known but highly effective “Boiler Room”. “The Wolf of Wall Street” does not go for moral lesson. It knows people are educated by it and goes on into the life that created out of it.

Jordan Belfort as the young man with ambition and drive wants to be a millionaire. That is the initial goal and that is mentioned once or twice earlier in the movie. After that there are no goals or ambitions. With the proper words of wisdom by Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) his first boss in the Wall Street, he shoots for the stars while taking drugs, masturbating and having sex. His second man is Donny played by Jonah Hill is weird enough for his own good to question how Belfort drives a Jaguar and lives in the same building as him. As Jordan explains his last month’s earning of 72K, the choice seems obvious for Donny. “Everybody wants to be rich” says Jordan when he hires his friend and who does not like money? How much and how one manages defines them but that is the driving idea for his sleazy success.

The movie becomes the comedy it intends to be. And to be entertained by it, the victims are not shown. I believe even the film subconsciously or consciously portrays the attitude of the stockbroker who robs in the day through the telephone. For them, the other end of the line is a challenge to make the poor person a chump. It becomes a power game and the satisfaction of deceiving them makes them something better. Written by Terence Winter who has adapted it from the book of same name by Jordan Belfort, it is a display of depravity, debauchery and revelries our simple minds cannot even fathom.

Jordan comes as a god to the employees of his firm. He motivates them with pure passion and spits through every word as he wants them to know the energy spent on saying those marks the importance of it. The brunette middle class wife (Cristin Milioti) he came along to New York has been replaced by blonde bomb shell Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). If there is one better thing Jordan Belfort can do other than selling penny stocks and making money then that would be spending money. Now, one would not characterize them as the right thing to spend money but he spends it like there will be no tomorrow and there is no limit.

Leonardo DiCaprio surrenders to this character. He appears to have loaned his body, mind, spirit and soul to go into this universe of sex, drugs and other things that would be banned in Earth and remaining planets. As the film begins to show the rise of his empire, DiCaprio is DiCaprio and the show has been played many times before. When the life he begins to lead become limitless in resource and constraints, that is the point he transforms to this person who has absolute no inhibitions whatsoever. He commits  to the film and this role beyond belief. Along with Jonah Hill who is becoming a terrific supporting actor, the scene where he is drugged beyond the depth of the blackhole and has to get home which is a mile away in his Ferrari is the part that would be talked about for several decades to come.

What does Martin Scorsese intended out of this film? While there are scenarios that are in the shoulders of a director to be responsible in guiding his audience the just way, there are directors who treat their audience as adults to see the film outside of the screen. The film acts as an entertainer and it entertains for sure. The victims of the scam Jordan ran might not be entertained as the initial sequences wherein he sells the penny stock using the script he has taught his newly hired talent humiliates the victim. The film’s last act which is where the law comes to collect its due is even ridiculed on the extent of the punishment not fitting on the extensiveness of the crime. This is the modern day “Scarface” without guns. There is no tragedy and there is no part in the film where Scorsese makes you feel sympathetic towards this man. He merely observes and depicts what we as people are capable when given the resources are endless and how the society and the world aids it for any price.

As much as I admired, enjoyed and appreciated the film, there is a void in it. Maybe I was expecting more explanation on the reasons behind Belfort’s motivation to this pleasure and chaos. There are numerous characters in this film that are not mentioned in this review which carry so much credit for the job. There are crucial key scenes which is a true pleasure to watch on the screenplay and the spell of the actors are upon us. One such is Kyle Chandler’s Agent Patrick Denham being invited into the yacht of Jordan. The scene is laid out in fashion that we are wondering whether Agent Patrick will be bought or not by Jordan. Then there is the tension of whether Jordan is going to act stupid and give in unnecessary information to implicate. In between is the comedy that is buttered tastefully. In this amalgamation comes Martin Scorsese’s able hand to guide this film that shows the abysmal world of morality and human capability in pushing the envelope on encompassing themselves in the seas of pleasure without guilt and remorse. 

"American Hustle" (2013) - Movie Review

The opening scene of “American Hustle” goes for the jugular to stun the viewers to say something blunt despite the stupidity of the character’s desperate attempt to hide his loss of hair. That is to not entirely judge the characters impulsively. Well, they are what they appear to be but there is an iota of goodness in some of them. The man in the opening scene is Christian Bale as Irving Rosefield, a con artist trying the worst attempt to hide his baldness. From there it goes to Bradley Cooper’s FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, another desperate man with a bad hairdo. In between them is the dazzling Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser. If you think that this David O. Russell’s venture draws its circle of a story from purely these three as its center, then the performance surprises will keep you entertained more than you could expect.

On the surface and to certain inches below “American Hustle” is a con film but the niche of it is the balance of actors in their performances. The star power in each scene dismantles into the souls of these characters. There is never a second you begin to ponder the gravity each actors carry that are butting heads. The sense of the story encapsulates the viewers and the essence of the performances are sunk in as the belief of each of the actors in their roles with unadulterated confidence. It makes the movie not alone a fun ride but to appreciate the art of acting.

The late 70s and early 80s backdrop is not a prop rather a statement. The flashy fashion sense is over the top to put it mildly. It is almost a kind warning to the people who arrive at Irving and Sydney’s loan scam. If you are desperate to trust these people, then you cannot be more doomed than the 5000$ that will be lost with the hopes of getting a loan. Irving who is playing way beyond his league starting from being the lover of the stunning Sydney who poses as the UK high class lady with thorough connections, becomes the only best intentioned person. Christian Bale of course has made it his MO to lose and gain pounds for his role but out here he gains pounds but precisely putting a paunch. Then tops it off by donning a hairdo that makes Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” turn back. Bale is the person whom we can see as enjoying the roles he takes upon. There is a clear evidence when he takes up a part. Even the saddest of his characters have the tinge of the Bale’s happiness emanating in subtle senses. Here the moments Irving is at peace are short lived and the empathy we begin to create for this character tells the conviction of Bale’s performance.

Yet, the film is robbed beyond Christian Bale’s hardworks along with Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Reven by the young Jennifer Lawrence. She is the gorgeous but wonderfully annoying Rosalyn. She is married to Irving though the love has long gone and the manipulation is sky high through her son. The son Irving graciously adopted and loves. Irving wants to leave her but cares deeply for the kid. Lawrence’s involvement in the film comes later as Irving begins to befriend the Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Rennder) of New Jersey and his wife Dolly (Elisabeth Hohm). Lawrence’s Rosalyn shows off as the beauty who is stupid but as she begins to play her emotions through actions, the deviousness gnaws through the brain of the viewers on this vicious woman. And while that is happening, you begin to laugh on this carefully balanced act of innocence and wickedness. Her Rosalyn can get away with anything and Lawrence just scares the heck out of everyone and then makes us laugh out loud simultaneously.

Amy Adams has been stepping up several cornerstone roles right from her early days unique performance in the indie flick “Junebug”. Her Sydney is as complicated as Rosalyn but her drive is by having a place for her identity. Irving provides that and she falls for him. She is thoroughly disgruntled by the fact that the man would never leave Rosalyn and the kid for her. She becomes to play against him when they get entrapped by Agent Richie DiMaso. Sydney and Richie have a thing which is a thing that is confusing as hell to call it as a thing. Bradley Cooper has been like Tom Cruise for me which is that the man tries hard, real hard but he needs less effort than Cruise to bring out his differentiation in his roles. He was enjoyable and convincing in David O. Russell’s “The Silver Linings Playbook” and here he makes the clueless but driven DiMaso both to be made fun of and have a soft corner. We laugh at him, enjoy his celebration and sympathetic on his cluelessness in finding love.

Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K were the surprise performances for this reviewer. While Renner has proven his capability in “The Hurt Locker”, he has only followed it up with action based roles. Here as the Italian origin Mayor of New Jersey, he digs in and stays in the man. When his character says he cares for his people, we believe him as a man of his words than a politician. Louis C.K is the favourite comedian of yours truly and when I saw him as the boss of Richie DiMaso, I thought it would be a small role but it develops into something seriously funny in non-Louis way and then adds a layer to their dynamics despite how bad it is.

In all this is director David O. Russell who co-wrote this with Eric Warren Singer handling the power house of actors. Without giving away much, there is a scene with Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and a cameo appearance in one room and I was thinking how easily I forgot the stars behind them and looked out for the tense moment it created. Therein lies the skill of the director who composed this feature with the heaviest ensemble cast and make us not realize a moment of their star presence. “American Hustle” in its entirety is not a con film rather a performance film and it shines through every minute of it.