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.