Thursday, June 15, 2006

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST MOVIE REVIEW




















CAST: JAMES CAVIEZEL, MONICA BELLUCI, CLAUDIA GERRINI
DIRECTOR: MEL GIBSON
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
RUN TIME: 127 min.
GENRE: RELIGION, SPIRTUAL, DRAMA, BIBLICAL

After watching THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST me, my brother and my sister had this huge debate about the movie. They just didn’t accept the idea of the movie. How could Mel Gibson show all such violence and think that it is spiritual. They just didn’t agree to the movie’s notion of violence being the way to spirituality. Normally I tend to convince people with my point of view but here I couldn’t. And it wasn’t because either of us was right or wrong. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST has divided movie-goers throughout the world on its notion of religious faith and it will continue to do so. There is absolutely no doubt to the fact that it is one of the most controversial movies ever made.
Mel Gibson’s film is about the last twelve hours of the life of the Jesus of Nazareth. Everyone has read or heard what the Jesus taught and that he was crucified. Everyone knows that he sacrificed his life for the atonement of mankind’s sins. But THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST really made me understand what was the whole ordeal like for the Jesus. Mel Gibson is a deeply religious man and it is pretty evident here. He follows the Bible to the minutest possible detail. As a matter of fact Pope John Paul II himself blessed the movie.
I am not a Christian and I am not exactly an expert on the religion. But I sure have read the Holy Bible. And when I watched THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST I developed this great respect for the Christ. The movie doesn’t show the Jesus in one of those 50s and 60s Hollywood productions but portrays him as an enlightened soul driven by his passion. He is tempted on numerous occasions by the evil force but he never ever falls to those temptations. According to the Holy Bible the Jesus told his followers that the only way to God is through me. And you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood. The Holy Bible says that the Jesus sacrificed himself to wash away our sins. He endured all the pain in the world for the spiritual elevation of mankind. I knew all this before I saw THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. But the movie made me realize what this flesh and blood person actually achieved. I don’t know if he was human or if he was divine. But days after watching the movie, I just could not stop thinking about the Jesus’ conviction towards his passion. The movie actually made me realize what he actually achieved and the significance of all those passages in the Holy Bible. The Jesus sacrificing himself never really registered any actual significance in me. But THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST mad me realize the determination and his passion to accomplish it.
It is common knowledge that the ritual of sacrificing living beings be it a cow or a goat or in some cases babies has been prevalent throughout the world at some point or the other. I had read somewhere that the whole philosophy behind this ritual was not only to appease the one sitting above but the process of watching an innocent being have its life taken away from it for our sins. That would bear on our conscience and every time we tend to commit a sin the image of that innocent being would stop us from doing so. I am not supporting the ritual, no sane man ever would. But the philosophy behind the ritual does have a lot of weight. Whether the sins are so great so as to ask for the sacrifice of a living being is whole another point of debate.
And THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST does just that. I don’t know if mankind’s sins are so great that it demands for the sacrifice of a human being. But the Holy Bible does say that man has committed so many sins that he has gone a great distance away from God and that is the reason for all the sufferings on earth. The son of man has the onus on him to carry the burden of sins of mankind and to elevate us closer to the father. The Christ went through all that so that mankind watches that pure, enlightened soul go up the crucifix for them.
I am not sure I believe in all that mechanism of going to God, but after watching the movie I was amazed at the level of belief the Christ had. After all, the only thing that matters is faith.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST does what no amount of literature or musicals can do. It made me consider the life I have led in a new light. I don’t know if everything the Holy Bible says is true or not. But what struck me most was that here is a being who suffered because of our sins. Every whip stands for the sins mankind has committed. And maybe a little effort on our part could have him suffer lesser. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST makes us feel guilty.
As a movie, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is a flawless masterpiece. Everything, just about everything is nothing short of fantastic. It is one of those unique movies in history that achieve what they set out to do.
There can be no superlatives befitting enough for James Caviezel’s heroic portrayal of the Jesus. This is one of the great performances I have seen from an actor.
But discussing Mel Gibson’s movie on the basis of technique, its cinematography, and its performances or for that matter its direction would be doing a great disservice to it. The movie is of course exceptional in these and all other departments. The movie has raked in millions but that would totally off the point. Quantifying anything here would indeed be a great disrespect to the movie. And I am pretty sure that Mel Gibson didn’t make the movie for his personal gains. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is Mel Gibson’s idea, his religious convictions and about those of the Jesus. It is not one of those 50s and 60s biblical epics with handsome actors with great make up put up fake performances. It is not one of those where you come out happy and unaffected. Many people actually felt disturbed. And many people actually came weeping out of the movie. I don’t know if that is the correct response to the movie. But anybody who is experiencing a spiritual experience akin to a Sunday morning church gathering should better stay away.
Much of the controversy the movie has generated is deserved. But raising questions about the movies Anti-Semitic tone and its violent depiction (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is the most violent movie I have ever seen) are unjustified. The actual debate is about the belief and faith of the Christ and the Holy Bible. I still cannot accept the fact that mankind’s sins are so great that they warrant a human being’s sacrifice.
I cannot remember the last time when the title of a movie was more apt. The dictionary meaning of the passion in the present context is a musical or a painting depicting Jesus’ ordeal. Here it signifies the passion of the Jesus towards his beliefs. For me it also signifies the passion of Mel Gibson towards this movie. Mel Gibson wasn’t getting any body to finance THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST owing to its controversial subject and to the fact that it was entirely in Aramaic with English subtitles. In the end he funded the movie with $25 million of his own money.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST represents the cinematic art at its peak. Great works of art always are debatable. And that is why they are great. They arouse a debate. They ignite our minds and our souls. Many people would not agree with Mel Gibson’s idea of religion. But at least Mel Gibson has made them think about their beliefs. That in itself is a monumental achievement. Great works of art never were about technicalities. They are always about what they convey. And they never answer any questions. I always like my movies when they don’t answer questions.
It is one of the greatest pieces of work ever committed on celluloid. Great works of art are always hugely personal pieces and here it is no different. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is about the religious beliefs and passion of Mel Gibson. I did not even want to rate the movie because it is much beyond the realms of normal movies. It doesn’t deserve to be quantified in terms of its cinematic qualities. The movie’s ambition and vision are infinitely higher than monetary or critical gain and it achieves them.
When I now see the man in the beard I always think what he endured for us. I don’t think too many movies in history have achieved that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

THE OMEN MOVIE REVIEW






















CAST: LIEV SCHREIBER, JULIA STILES, MIA FARROW, PETE POSTLETHWAITE, SEAMUS DAVEY-FITZPATRICK
DIRECTOR: JOHN MOORE
RUNTIME: 110 min.
RATING: ***
GENRE: HORROR, THRILLER

Every other major movie to come out of Hollywood nowadays is either a sequel or a remake. We have already had one remake the previous month that bombed miserably.
But THE OMEN is a fresh breath of air and a shot in the arm for all remakes. The 1975 original wasn’t exactly a masterpiece but it is still one of the greatest horror movies ever made. The 2006 version is every bit as worthy as the original.
THE OMEN faithfully follows the screenplay of the original and in a way builds up on it. Those who haven’t seen the original, the Book of Revelation speaks of the birth of Anti-Christ. When the predictions come true one by one and a comet is seen over Europe just like the Star of Bethlehem when Jesus was born, Vatican is engulfed into a deep crisis. Meanwhile in Rome the U.S. ambassador Robert Thorne’s newborn son dies during the delivery. The hospital priest gives him another son to let his wife not suffer the news that she would never be able to conceive again. The son is named Damien. Thorne, who is the U.S. president’s godson, is made the ambassador to Great Britain after the one to take over the post dies in a bizarre accident. Strange things start happening once they move over to Great Britain. Thorne’s wife Katherine Thorn (Julia Stiles) starts getting strange thoughts about their son Damien. A certain priest Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) warns Thorne of the impending danger. Everything is leading up to what the Bible calls Armageddon.
The theme of the rise of Anti-Christ and how he plans to rule the world is basically political. The connection between the predictions and the actual events like 9/11 and the Asian Tsunami is a bit clumsy and hard to digest but still well intended. THE OMEN says that the Anti-Christ’s main weapon would be politics. In fact Napoleon and Hitler who won their world with politics and war are also referred to as Anti-Christs.
Still neither the original nor the remake is intelligent enough to be debated about. The strength of the original and the remake are purely technical. THE OMEN works mainly because of a fantastic plot and some pretty good direction. The background score is sufficiently creepy although it doesn’t match up to the tension that was created in the original. THE OMEN boasts of a rock solid pacing. The movie never rushes neither does it drags. The story is told with great lucidity. As a matter of fact THE OMEN is almost a frame by frame rework of the original and that is in a good vein. James Moore seems to be a great believer of remakes. His last movie, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, was also a remake. Moore is greatly influenced by the original so much so that the cemetery sequence is shot with the same lighting. He could have shot the sequence on location but instead chose to bring the same effect by shooting it in a studio setting. Although THE OMEN is a frame by frame remake, it still is a good movie. At least, it is a worthy relief from the numerous remakes of the Hong Kong movies that have little or no storyline to follow.
The performances are plain fantastic. With the notable exception of Liev Schreiber everyone comes up with wonderful performances.
This, I guess is Julia Stiles first foray into the horror genre and boy isn’t she good. She so convincingly portrays the belief that her character carries that her womb is some sort of a haven for evil. The beauty of her performance is that she seldom screams and still she makes for a thrilling scene.
Live Schreiber is very inert; much like Gregory Peck was 21 years ago. It is as if he is going through the motions of the movie. It is as if he is short of valuable supply of expressions. It is just that the direction and the background score that save his scenes from collapsing.
The supporting cast is wonderful. That is what you expect when you have trained British actors. Pete Postlethwaite (THE USUAL SUSPECTS), David Thewlis (THE NEW WORLD, THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and Michael Gambon (HARRY POTTER movies, GOSFORD PARK) give such fantastic performances that only add to the thrill of the experience.
But the two standout performers are the evil pair, Mia Farrow and young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien. Casting Mia Farrow as the evil governess is nothing short of a brilliant move considering the fact that it was she who gave birth to the Anti-Christ in the movie that first started it all, Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY. It is her eyes that are so sinister and menacing. The way she speaks itself exudes evil.
The kid is definitely creepy as hell. I don’t know where they brought him from but he sure knows what he’s doing. Both of these actors make for a marked improvement on the original.
THE OMEN is supremely confident in itself so much so that it doesn’t even care for cheap thrills. It faithfully follows its story with a fantastically stylish approach. That was one thing missing from the original. I don’t know how to put it but the flavor of horror that is on display is more of a royal kind. I would like to point out a couple of bird’s eye-view shots of the Robert Thorne and Keith Jennings traveling. They so much reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, the greatest horror movie ever made. I even liked the way John Moore uses the mental state of Katherine Thorn to go for sudden shocking moments that are sure to make you jump out of your seat.
I like my horror movies when there is religion interlaced with it. Of late the horror genre has gone the way of the B-grade slasher flicks. In fact there is more of violence then scary moments in modern horror movies. Maybe THE OMEN brings back the grace that was so much a part of this genre. THE OMEN was very good but it spawned really bad sequels. The real test for John Moore is when he makes the sequel to THE OMEN. The source material that time around won't be that good.

CAST AWAY MOVIE REVIEW















CAST: TOM HANKS, HELEN HUNT
DIRECTOR: ROBERT ZEMECKIS
RATING: ***1/2
RUNTIME: 143 min.
GENRE: DRAMA, ADVENTURE

What happens when you leave the best actor in the world to act out three quarters of a movie all by himself? The answer: CAST AWAY. Chuck Noland will never be the toughest character that Tom Hanks has played but it sure is another gem in his illustrious career. There are only a handful of actors in Hollywood who not only get into the depth of their characters but also know how to play it according to the needs of the film, none more so than Hanks. I have watched his each and every movie and I have never seen him in a single bad performance. He knows when to overplay or underplay a character.
CAST AWAY rides high purely because of one powerhouse from Tom Hanks. Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex systems engineer who values time like nothing else. He shares a beautiful married life with Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, TWISTER). Noland leaves on a job assignment on Christmas Eve but enroute his plane crashes somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Noland somehow survives and manages to float ashore to safety, thanks to a boat. The island he comes is absolutely marooned. And like Robinson Crusoe he is stuck in the middle of nowhere with a few Fed Ex packages. He starts his struggle to survive in a place where there is no civilization whatsoever. He also manages to find his Man Friday, a volleyball which he names Wilson.
There is nothing wrong with CAST AWAY per se. The direction is fine and the performances are just plain fantastic. It is just that there is nothing great about it. I always judge a movie by the potential the plot has. CAST AWAY had just a fantastic premise to elevate itself from an entertainer to one that is deeply rooted in psychology and spirituality. The best part of the movie is when Noland is marooned on the island. It is an absolute delight to watch Noland to go back in time to the start of civilization. He practically invents his basic needs with the resources he has. This is the part of the movie that is most innovative and thoroughly enjoyable. But the movie gets absolutely inert once he returns from the island. Whatever you feel is due to Hanks’ incredible performance. He just has this uncanny ability to lift seemingly average stuff and elevate it to something much deeper. He is the classic everyman with whom we all can identify with. But for its part, the movie doesn’t aim high enough. It goes for the easy and commercial way of entertaining audiences with the incredible survival story of Chuck Noland. All its attempts to give psychological or spiritual depths to the character seem so labored. Four years of living alone on a marooned island is sure to do something to a person. But whatever is there related to this is because of Hanks’ understanding of the character rather than the movie showing it. In the end CAST AWAY tries to throw in some tired message of hope through a Hanks monologue but it all seems so clichéd and plastic. Whatever weight that can be attributed to the end is solely because of Hanks. As I said, CAST AWAY is a perfect example of what a great actor can do to an inert movie. CAST AWAY even tries its hand at being romantic but fails miserably. The scene involving Noland and Kelly at the end just seems so uninspired. Even actors of the caliber of Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt cannot save the scene.
CAST AWAY is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is very entertaining. The movie does a fantastic job of going into great detail about the initial period of Noland’s stay at the island. The direction in the second act is brilliant enough to make us feel the passage of time when you are marooned on an island. Time doesn’t fly by buy drags. And watching that pieces of material come ashore and Noland making a sail out of it justifies the age-old saying-“God helps those who help themselves.”
But it is the third act that fails the movie and Tom Hanks. This has got to be one of the least inspired endings of a good movie in a long time. There is a serious lack of imagination here. The third act, I guess, is hardly of 20 minutes but it feels like ages. While watching Hanks on the island, I so wanted the movie to be something of a spiritual journey something like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The movie failed in doing that and it is really disappointing for this movie could have been so good. It would have been a memorable one that people 20 years down the line would still be amazed at. What they will only be amazed at is Hanks’ performance. I feel very sorry that this movie 10 years down the line will be cast away from people’s memory.

Monday, June 12, 2006

SAW MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: CARY ELWES, LEIGH WHANNELL DANNY GLOVER, MONICA POTTER, KEN LEUNG
DIRECTOR: JAMES WAN
RATING: ***1/2
RUN TIME: 102 min.
GENRE: THRILLER, SERIAL KILLER, SLASHER, HORROR

Slasher movies are very much the double edged blades their characters so often carry. On one side they are one of the easiest genres to make movies in with most of the products finding a market in the naïve younger audiences. And they are so often the soft target for critics for their lack of creativity, predictability and most of all their stupidity. Movies in this genre spawn sequels and remakes like money out of a mint. This is one genre I usually avoid because more often than not it is just cheap thrills that are on offer.
I had heard a lot about SAW and about its rounds at various film festivals from Sundance to Toronto. So I decided to give it a shot. And believe me this is one of the best movies to be made in this genre. You got to give it credit for its creativity and freshness. There is no silly running around of teenagers. There are no teenage school girls screaming at the top of their voices. This is a solid effort to make a movie that is a mix of SEVEN, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1975).
SAW opens with two people, Dr. Laurence Gordon (Cary Elwes, ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS, KISS THE GIRLS, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, HOT SHOTS) and Adam (Leigh Whannell), chained to pipes in one sick looking room. Their company is a bloody dead body, two pairs of saws, a tape, two audio cassettes and a handgun. They both are part of a sick game being played by a sociopath who is called “The Jigsaw Killer”. The Jigsaw Killer does not physically murder people. He puts his victims in situations where they have to choose between life and death. He plays games with his victims but his ultimate aim is to cure them of their disease, the disease of not being grateful enough for the blessings that life has bestowed upon them. As subjects of the game now, Dr. Gordon and Adam they both have to kill each other and whoever survives will go on to live. Moreover Dr. Gordon has to survive so that he could save what he values most in life, his wife and daughter. Detective David Tapp (Danny Glover, LETAHL WEAPON, PREDATOR 2) is a crazed detective who along with his partner Detective Steven Sing (Ken Leung) is heel bent upon solving the case of The Jigsaw Killer.
I tend to overlook this genre and SAW came as a solid piece of movie-making for me. I didn’t expect to get this level of film making from this genre which mostly has unimaginative sordid movies to offer. Most of the movies have plots that you can pick the end of in the first 15 minutes itself. But SAW boasts of a fantastic fractured screenplay that keeps you guessing till the very end. And no matter how many movies you have seen, the twist ending is going to shock you. The best thing about the movie is that it uses most of the grammar of movie making and still is absolutely till the very end. This is not a movie that is vying for major awards, this is a movie that is a pure escapist entertainer flick and is damn entertaining. I was more scared and terrified in the movie than most of the horror movies I have seen and that is something. Throughout the movie there is this impending danger that is just lurking around. The whole atmosphere of the movie is stark and gloomy just adding to the chill factor. One of the biggest strength of the movie is its actors. There aren’t any young one-expression wonders out here. Here is a bunch of solid actors who know exactly what their characters are and what they are supposed to do. SAW also has very well etched out characters that help in connecting with the characters. In fact I take great pleasure in writing that most of the thrill and horror is derived from the plight of the characters and the situations they are put into rather than gory and bloodshed. The interaction between Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell is just fantastic. This is where SAW scores over its numerous peers. Both the FINAL DESTINATION movies had stupid, violent scenes with bucketsful of blood, a great deal of limbs being chopped but that is just plain disgusting. That was a movie that makes for the lowest level of movie-making with absolute disregard for characters and just bloodshed to show on its grade card. Here you cringe for the character and that is some movie-making. I was just shocked when Dr. Gordon cuts one of his limbs in desperation not because of the violence in it but the sad desperate situation that he was put into.
This isn’t exactly the genre where you need to enlighten the audiences. It has a killer who seems to be incapable of committing mistakes. He is as strong as the director himself. He can’t put a foot wrong and has everything thought out. He just simply cannot be defeated. But whatever is shown is convincing. This has got to be the most brainy slasher movie of all time. It takes John Doe’s character out of SEVEN, gives him the intelligence of Hannibal Lecter, the strength of Jason and makes him its own. I was hooked into the movie for the whole of its running time and really felt for its characters. I was terrified during the movie and shocked at its ending for the very reason that I wasn’t expecting anything. What more do we want from a horror movie?
SAW is a fresh breath of air for all horror fans out there. It is by no means for the faint hearted. This is not a movie where you can take your girlfriends to. The acceptable level of violence now has been raised. This has got to be one of the most violent movies in recent times.
The biggest strength of the movie is James Wan. Because of him SAW never drags. Not for a single second are you let of the hook. He puts in fractured screenplay and still the movie never ever gets confusing. The plot sure has loopholes but it is dense enough to get convoluted. But that never happens hugely because of the kinetic direction of Wan. His style might be somewhat similar to David Fincher (SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM) but that should be considered in a positive sense.
The screenplay by Leigh Whannell (Adam) is quite intelligent enough to know exactly what to reveal, when to reveal and how to reveal to keep you in the game. And I daresay, I didn’t feel cheated after the suspense was broken.
I would recommend SAW as one of the finest horror movies in recent years. If at all you intend to get scared please refrain from all those remakes of Korean movies masquerading as horror and instead watch this innovative piece of work. This is a smart, twisted movie that is well on its way to be a cult classic.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ENEMY AT THE GATES MOVIE REVIEW
















CAST: JUDE LAW, ED HARRIS, JOSEPH FEINNES, RACHEL WEISZ
DIRECTOR: JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD
RUNTIME: 131 min.
RATING: **1/2
GENRE: WAR, WORLD WAR II, THRILLER, ACTION

ENEMY AT THE GATES is another resounding war disappointment after the super dud PEARL HARBOR. What is strikingly similar in these two movies is that they lose it when they try to make a TITANIC out of it.
ENEMY AT THE GATES is based on the great battle of Stalingrad which is often credited with turning the tide of the Second World War. In fact there is a fantastic book on the battle by the same name that has been authored by William Craig.
The movie follows the exploits of quite possibly the most hyped (over hyped) sniper in history, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) who is reported to have killed 225 German soldiers. It tries to chronicle the legendary duels between Zaitsev and the famed German sniper Major Erwin Konig (Ed Harris), who’s actual name was Heinz Thorvald. It sort of depicts the effect Zaitsev had on the demoralized Soviet soldiers and how he became a legend much in the mould of the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace.
What director Jean-Jacques Annaud (SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, THE BEAR) and screenwriter Alain Godard had with them was one bombshell of a material. The epic battle of Stalingrad, the rarely touched topic of the art that is sniping, the rousing tale of Vassili Zaitsev and the rarest of chances to show the Soviets as protagonists are pure dynamite if handles properly.
And needless to say, as it so often happens in Hollywood, everything has been muddled up and stupid inconsequential things have been given priority to make a rank bad movie.
First and foremost history doesn’t speak about any love interest of Vassili Zaitsev. I have always maintained that war is one genre where female involvement has to be kept to a minimum. It needlessly creates an extra angle that leads to little or no consequence and often wastes a movie. Think of all the great war movies- SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE THIN RED LINE, APOCALYPSE NOW, FULL METAL JACKET, PATHS OF GLORY, PLATOON and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Female characters have little or no part to play in these movies.
Now think of the worst and the most pretentious war movies- PEARL HARBOR, THE DEER HUNTER and CASULATIES OF WAR. All of them have a female character as their “crowning glory”.
I just cannot understand the rationality behind the screenplay of ENEMY AT THE GATES. Why so much footage is wasted over a stupid love angle that doesn’t’ work is beyond my comprehension. And to be frank the movie doesn’t work on that level either. It is a colossal failure both as a love story and as a study of friendship, thanks to some pathetic character development. There is so much to show in Zaitsev’s story right from sniping duels to the battle of Stalingrad. Instead the movie prefers to waste valuable time and footage over inert relations and hopeless melodrama.
In a time when Hollywood is coming up with such beautiful intelligent and multi-dimensional war movies like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE THIN RED LINE it is unbelievable how corny and clichéd everything is in ENEMY AT THE GATES. When Vassili asks Tania (Rachel Weisz) as to why she’s joining the sniper division she replies with age-old cliché-“My mom and dad were shot by the Germans.” And she rants on as to how it happened. Such stupid turns at evoking audiences’ sympathy, I daresay, will never work.
The whole turn of events involving Danilov turning against Zaitsev because of the love angle is so outrageously absurd that it makes you want to tear your hair apart for such a fantastic material is being wasted. And when he repents and gives his life is so stupidly clichéd. I don’t know how many times I have to use the word cliché but these movies deserve that. They are severely stricken with clichés. The whole angle of the relationship between Vassili and Danilov doesn’t work at any level.
As a result of all these useless meanderings of ENEMY AT THE GATES the main draw i.e. the sniping duel between Konig and Zaitsev is a drag. It begins on a good enough note but turns into something that is outlandishly stupid and low on I.Q. Any man with a little bit of logic and imagination could point out that the depictions of the duels are so stupid. In one of the lowest on I.Q. sniping sequences Major Konig is shown to have Vassili in his scope. But just then a German soldier comes in his way and tampers with all the dead bodies around. After he goes Konig loses him. How did the director think that anybody in the audience is ever going to buy such a stupid thing? I can bet all my money that even after 5 minutes of that scene every single soul in the theatre could exactly pin-point the location of Zaitsev. But not Konig. The sniping duels are not explained properly and leave a lot to the imagination.
Jude Law is absolutely ineffective as Zaitsev. He was a legend, a figure whose name probably inspired millions of soldiers to fight. So there needs to be an aura about him. Jude Law has no such quality in him and the screenplay doesn’t help him either. What was required was someone with the abilities of a Peter O Toole or Matt Damon who can get into the skin of the character. In fact Christian Bale would have been wonderful as well.
Rachel Weisz and Joseph Fiennes ate best average. I just want to know as to when Weisz can stop being a British woman. Everything about her is so plastic. And Joseph Fiennes performance is one by numbers. You ask him to be happy, he is happy, you ask him to be sad he will be sad. He does all that in the movie with no consistency to the character. But rather than being harsh on the actors it is fair to say that the fault rests with the atrocious screenplay. An actor can be only as good as the film. I guess there are only a few actors who can rise above the mediocrity of a movie and elevate it. But that would be too much to expect from this cast.
How often does it happen that the best performer in a bad movie is the villain. And it sure is a sign of huge problems when you feel for and root for a ruthless Nazi sniper. But Harris as is so often is fantastic. He has this uncanny ability to look the part whether it is his Academy award nominated turn as flight director Gene Kranz in APOLLO 13, the general in THE ROCK or the diseased husband in THE HOURS.
You can always tell the quality of the movie by the way it portrays its historical figures. The way Nikita Khrushchev is shown is really disappointing. For god sake give some depth to these characters. Just asking him to shout at the top of his voice is something really stupid. And yeah, Khrushchev was a lot taller than Bob Hoskins.
The movie leaves a lot to be desired in every principal element of movie-making. A couple of battle scenes are thrown here and there God knows for what reason. Maybe he wants to make sure that the audience still remembers that we are in the middle of World War II and not a love story. There is no purpose in the movie.
The battle of Stalingrad and Vassili Zaitsev deserve a lot better.

INSIDE MAN MOVIE REVIEW















CAST: DENZEL WASHINGTON, CLIVE OWEN, JODIE FOSTER, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, WILLEM DAFOE
DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE
RATING: ****
RUN TIME: 129 min.
GENRE: HEIST, THRILLER, COMEDY

After watching INSIDE MAN, you got to ask yourself this question-Why don’t Spike Lee and Denzel Washington team up more often? It is an explosion whenever they’re together. INSIDE MAN is arguably one of the finest movies of its genre. It is a supremely intelligent thriller with twists and turns that will keep you guessing till the very end. And much more than that, it is a glorious return to form of two of the finest talents in Hollywood.
This is a genre where things get outdated real fast. The plot and the modus operandi have to be exciting and the most important is the presentation. You give old wine in a new bottle and people are going to love it. And on top of that the payoff at the end needs to be worthy enough of the money and time spent.
The most wonderful thing is that INSIDE MAN knows that and gives us much more from a genre that more often than not is nothing more than plain fun. The movie starts off with Dalton (Clive Owen) monologue explaining the questions involved in a bank heist. He explains the “who”, “where”, “why” aspects of the heist and leaves the how to unfold with the movie. The object of their desire is the first branch of the Manhattan Trust Bank opened way back in 1948. Enter detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are the hostage negotiators of the NYPD. There’s also John Darius (Willem Dafoe) as the cop in charge of the situation. The owner of the bank is Mr. Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) who is more concerned then necessary because the bank is holding some secret of his. So enter a mysterious figure Madeline White (Jodie Foster) who does operations behind the scenes. She is an influential personality as she doesn’t even need to take an appointment with the mayor of New York City. The initial frame itself tells us that the heist has been a success. So, how?
There are glowing references to DOG DAY AFTERNOON here, the best and the definitive movie of this genre. The entire sequence of the arrival of the police, the press and everything involved is a straight tribute to the same scene in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Even Washington’s character tells Owen’s in reference to the latter’s demand for a bus and two jets-“You seen DOG DAY AFTERNOON. I know you are stalling.” And the scene of crime is also similar to the one in DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Then there is a reference to Clint Eastwood’s memorable one-liner from SUDDEN IMPACT
INSIDE MAN is supremely confident in its abilities that it even tells the outcome of the heist within the first reel- a success. And that is where we’re pulled in right inside INSIDE MAN. Watching the labyrinthine structure of the movie very much reminded me of THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Although the plot here isn’t nowhere as foolproof or intelligent, the treatment very much is. This is Spike Lee’s first wandering into commercial cinema and it is a revelation as to how this genius unleashes the movie. There’s the stamp of authority, a hallmark of great directors. He creates a maze of events where all the pieces of puzzles are right before you and you only need to put them in place. And it is truly amazing how despite every detail being right in front of our eyes, we are intrigued and glued to the unfolding of events.
I always love movies like these where the pleasure to be gained is not from spectacular effects or blasts but nice actors interact. This is one of the biggest casting coups in recent years and it is a pleasure. The greatest joy for me watching movies comes while watching fantastic actors perform well and enjoy themselves. As far as I am concerned there is no greater joy in movies than watching a director at the top of his game or an actor performing well. INSIDE MAN is just that. Watching Washington, Foster, and Owen interact is a treat to watch. In fact this is the first movie in which I have liked Owen. In his other movies he came as an inert actor with absolutely no understanding of the movie. He wasn’t at all up to the challenge in KING ARTHUR and was a total dud in DERAILED. But here he shows why he is so highly rated among people. I would like him to come up with more of such performances. It also helped that the character perfectly suited his deep baritone and his quite demeanor. I would have liked him to be the next James Bond. But let us see how that chapter unfolds.
Denzel Washington in a role that he can sleepwalk through is fantastic. It is something with these great actors that they bring something extra to seemingly normal roles. And as with the best of Denzel movies, he is the main draw here. He is the man as you might say. His character is not on any moral high ground and he shows that. Plus he is funny as hell. He is one of the most stylish actors to grace the screen and all that is put to good effect here. I don’t remember a single bad performance from him and when he is enjoying his character that enough is worth the price of the admission ticket.
Jodie Foster is sinister with her smile put to fantastic results. She has this knack of doing roles that would be male characters in other movies. I guess she is the only actress around who can claim that. There is absolutely no background for her character and not even an explanation as to what she is. And still she manages to pass the exact message to the audience that she is one not to be messed with.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is just plain fantastic in the supporting role detective. Christopher Plummer as the aging bank owner is good as always. But one thing that struck me here was that according to the story he has to be at least 85 years old, if not more. If you ask me he looks nowhere near that age. That was one thing that irked me throughout the movie.
The movie isn’t just another heist movie. The topics of race and social tension are floating as if Spike Lee wants us to remember that it is still his movie. There is the Sikh bank official and the matter of his turban, there’s a child’s video game where a Negro is killing another Negro. Spike Lee wants us to experience what would be a heist like in a post 9/11 world. And that is the beauty of INSIDE MAN. The bank being robbed isn’t some casino or some place with hi-tech gadgetry but a simple bank in your neighborhood. The feel of neighborhood is what makes it a bit special as was captured quite wonderfully in PHONE BOOTH.
The screenplay as I said not as intelligent as say THE USUAL SUSPECTS. But Russell Gewirtz work is brilliant in its own way. It is intellectual in its own right. There is no one-dimensionality to the characters. Although no one would classify the film as a noir-ish tale the characters resemble one. Every character is so beautifully etched. And despite this all it has the tension and grip of the best heist movies you have seen. The thrill aspect of the movie is not derived from fast paced action but from intelligent dialogues and the intention of the characters.
The end payoff was one which wasn’t particularly satisfactory but still INSIDE MAN is worth your time. It is in fact worth twice your time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- III MOVIE REVIEW





















CAST: TOM CRUISE, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, VING RHAMES, LAURENCE FISHBURNE
DIRECTOR: J.J. ABRAMS
RATING: **
RUNTIME: 126 min.
GENRE: ACTION, ESPIONAGE

In simple words, this summer’s first big movie and the latest installment of the Ethan Hunt vehicle is the worst in a progressively declining franchisee and a torturous experience on its own. No matter what level you judge the movie on, it comes out a cropper. As an action movie everything is so confusing and stupid that I just stopped paying attention to what was happening after all. And if you even dare to look into the logic and plausibility of the inane plot, well, you committing a cardinal sin on yourself.
MI-III now has Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in love with Julia (Michelle Monaghan). As usual he is no longer on the payroll of his IMF but accepts a mission to rescue a female field agent from the clutches of a cruel, super evil international dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
The female agent has a secret which she obviously passes on to Hunt before she dies by what is a charge that explodes in the brain (I have no idea as to why the agent was implanted with it. If the purpose was to retrieve the secret she had to be killed immediately and of course no need for such a spectacular killing. But asking such questions as I said would be a grave sin.). A secret weapon called Rabbit’s Foot is to be sold internationally by Davian and Hunt has to stop that. He does it by kidnapping Davian but things obviously aren’t this simple. There’s a mole (one such clichéd component has to be there in these movies) in IMF and this leads to a globe trotting mission where you’ll find yourself waiting for the end credits to roll on.
The main draws for such a low on I.Q. movie are the action sequences. And it is disappointing that this franchisee that has given us some pretty good action sequences is incredibly inert in that department. There is absolutely no clarity whatsoever as to what is happening. Things are just flying around and the camera is shaking like crazy. The keys to any memorable action sequence are its clarity and detailing. Be it the chase sequences in BULITT and TERMINATOR2: THE JUDGEMENT DAY or the action sequences in DIE HARD and FACE/OFF, you remember and it and watch it again and again because you know what is happening and you are completely aware of the situation. The audiences should be completely aware of all he variables involved. But as is the case today with most action movies everything is so loud and unclear. It is just an audiovisual assault on the concerned senses. It is as if we are being hammered on our heads for committing the sin of watching this movie.
The action sequences are severely plagues by lack of imagination and creativity, two traits largely present in both the earlier installments. The first one gave us the fantastic robbery scene and the next one gave us incredible bike sequences. But here there is no scene we could or should talk about. The robbing of the Rabbits foot in Shanghai was so absurd that for a brief moment I thought I was watching one of those SCARY MOVIEs. And as far as the reasoning out the sequence is concerned it is best if nothing much is said about it. The funniest aspect of the sequence is when the Rabbit’s Foot or whatever falls on to the road and Hunt is running after it. It is all so unintentionally funny yet they play the MI background score as if the world is just being saved.
The whole sequence of the kidnapping in Rome is one of the dumbest sequences I have had the misfortune of seeing in a long time. The people both behind and in front of the camera are under the illusion that they are providing great entertainment but all they are doing is torturing us. And there seems to be a gadget for every occasion and for any sort of predicament. I just couldn’t stop laughing both at the movie and my plight during the sequence where they make a mask with some stupid hi-tech gadget.
You know a movie is for toddlers or is incredibly dumb when it says “Berlin Germany” or “Rome Italy”. I felt offended when the movie was showing the names of the countries where these cities are in like Rome and Shanghai.
The worst part of the movie, and there are many for that matter is the climax. This has got to be one of the dullest and uninspired endings I have seen in a major summer action movie. For god sake, even the awful KING ARTHUR had a better ending. There is absolutely no inspiration in the execution. Clearly action is not J.J. Abrams forte.
As far as the plot and screenplay are concerned I don’t think so it took more than 10 days to conceive and write it. You could predict what is going to happen 10 scenes afterwards. And the supposedly twist ending that the director wanted to give us is the first thing you will know in the movie. It is a screenplay by numbers. There is periodic action, periodic romance, periodic welling up of Cruise and the most irritating aspect of it all- the desperate attempt on everybody’s part to be funny.
Everyone from Cruise to Ving Rhames is trying to pull of funny one-liners and becomes an assault to the senses. To be able to seem cool and be funny during action sequences the dialogues have to be rally witty, prime example being OCEAN ELEVEN and OCEAN TWELVE. And you got to have actors of the caliber of Pitt, Damon or Clooney who have a fantastic sense of humor. Cruise is one star who has absolutely no comic timing. I have seen him in various movies and he can never be funny. Apart from COLLATERAL which was more ironic than funny I can never remember he pulling off a funny one liner like say Clint Eastwood. It gets most absurd when Hunt’s wife is in danger and Hunt is escaping from the IMF headquarters but still finds the mind to put his speaker phone before a radio. It obviously cannot get ant stupid than this.
Tom Cruise is an absolute drag in this movie. His is a performance by numbers. He is incredibly bland in most of the scenes. And considering that he ah been playing this character for 3 movies now he is incredibly unimaginative and inert. I was under the impression that Cruise had finally risen up to face the challenges of real roles and characters after watching him perform incredibly well in MAGNOLIA and COLLATERAL. But with THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and now MI-III I could not have been more wrong. Even for a movie like this he could learn a thing or two from Matt Damon as to how to bring a certain level of depth style and intelligence to a character.
The others are average to below par. But the standout among all these ruins is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He brings an angle of evil reminiscent of the great Bond movies of the 60s and 70s. He is an absolute pleasure to watch. I was craving for more of his presence and less of Cruise. I was constantly finding myself rooting for him in every scene and when that happens in an action movie it is trouble.
In a time when people’s interest are more novelties than the same stuff and a certain Jason Bourne capturing more attention than both Bond and Hunt combined it is highly imperative that screenwriters and directors pay a lot more attention to novelties in both plot and action. Gone are the days when dumb action movies with lots of blasts would generate money. Audiences are going incredibly unforgiving as has happened with MI-III. You got to appreciate the audiences’ intelligence. That is why action movies like THE BOURNE IDENTITY and THE BOURNE SUPREMACY have been such huge successes. They are much more serious towards their subject matter and do not resort to cheap and clichéd antics to appease audiences.
There is nothing in MI-III. Watching it, I felt like I was being mentally abused. The only thing worth watching in this truckload of crap is Philip Seymour Hoffman. It would be much better if you instead rent a copy of CAPOTE.
Your mission if you choose to accept it is to run far away from MI-III. And as far as the self destruction part is concerned this franchisee has already pressed the button.

Friday, May 26, 2006

THE DA VINCI CODE MOVIE REVIEW

CAST: TOM HANKS, AUDREY TAUTOU, SIR IAN MCKELLEN, PAUL BETTANY, JEAN RENO, ALFRED MOLINA
DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD
RATING: ****
RUNTIME: 149 min.
GENRE: THRILLER, RELIGIOUS, CONSPIRACY

THE DA VINCI CODE has finally arrived. After a journey that has been one of the most controversial of all time, this mega-hyped thriller based on the record breaking worldwide bestseller by Dan Brown is finally here for the audiences to uncode it. So the big question on everybody lips- Is it worth the wait and the hype? The answer is YES. Of course it is not for the comic-book escapist crowd who are looking for a thrill a minute INDIANA JONES, NATIONAL TREASURE type ride. This is a movie very serious with its plot. Hell I want to ask the director and Sony Pictures as what they were thinking when they were releasing as a summer movie. This is not a dumb movie by any means as most summer movies are. And if you consider the literal quality and filmability of the source material this is an excellent effort. You can say that the movie drags in a few places. You can say that it is not exactly engrossing as the novel. But for that to happen the movie has to be dumbed down, derailed into a thriller with few details and a lot of action. Rather the movie faithfully follows the source material and doesn’t make the journey any easy. It in fact tries to cram together the entire details of the labyrinthine plot of the novel.
If you have been living on Mars or never read books the plot follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who is in Paris for the release of his new book. He is contacted by the Paris police department concerning the murder of a famous curator Jacques Sauniere. It turns out that Robert Langdon is the prime suspect on account of some message written by the deceased. And in his death there are puzzles that will lead to a great secret. He is unexpectedly helped by a clever French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who turns out to be the granddaughter of the Mr. Sauniere. As they both sort their way through the dense riddles they come across secrets that would shake the religious faith of Christianity to its very foundation. And they find out that they are in the middle of a war, a war that has going along for centuries, a war in which the stakes are high.
The movie is every bit as good and probably better than the novel. In fact Mr. Howard elevates the source material which is more of a pulp fiction with little care for style or character to a movie that has a lot of style and is more intelligent. In fact as leading film critic Roger Ebert said “Ron Howard is a better director than Dan Brown is a novelist”. The source material’s strength lies in the fact that it touches a subject that is so sensitive and has the ability to excite us. And it is the conspiracy monger in each one of us that secretly want it to be true. I guess had it not been for the subject the novel would have been just a mere paperback and I wouldn’t have been writing about a $125 million movie starring Tom Hanks.
Ron Howard’s movie faithfully follows the source material and elevates it to a level that the treatment of it gains respectability- a trait missing in the book. And therein lies its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. Ron Howard has compromised on the silly thrill-a-minute sequences of the book and has emphasized more on the subject matter. And it has got a lot of details. The movie is almost a lesson in History, a documentary on the controversial subject and is giving you complete information. This might not appease to a lot of movie as there are too many details. But audiences who love their movies with dense plots will find a lot of satisfaction.
The main strength of the source material is the puzzle-solving aspect of it. The hit and trial method, the constant racking of the brains of the principal characters is the main draw for the book because that is where we get involved. But that is the one aspect which is absolutely impossible to be filmed. It has been wisely taken out and that leaves the audience as more of a witness watching two people matching their wits rather than we getting involved.
I really appreciate the Mr. Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) for their effort to not dumb down or talk down the movie to the audience. It never tries to ease out the effort that is needed to get to the end of this labyrinthine puzzle. Every detail is given a lot of emphasis and thus its runtime which is a bit towards the longer side. At the end of it you rally feel like you have been on an adventure rather than the lame plots and treatment of some other movies like NATIONAL TREASURE.
There is a lot of emphasis on the characters considering the fact that the novel was absolutely devoid of it. In fact you end up feeling and sympathizing with the movie’s most fearful character Silas. Wisely inconsequential characters like Sophie’s brother have been weeded out of the plot. There are dimensions to the characters that never were etched out in the novel. And watching the visual images of Sir Leigh Teabing’s argument about the truth of THE LAST SUPPER is infinitely more satisfying that turning the pages of the paperback and searching about it on the web the next morning.
Mr. Howard, much like Oliver Stone in JFK uses special effects to display the arguments of the principal characters. This is where the beauty of the cinema as a medium comes to the fore and it scores over the novel.
But I would have liked Mr. Goldsman to be a little more innovative in his screenplay. Like the sequence where Robert and Sophie escape from the gunpoint of Remy, some action scenes especially leave a bit to be desired. A little bit of innovation here and there would have made it an absolutely flawless thriller. And they need not explain how Robert and Sophie escape from Sir Leigh Teabing’s plane at London. Frankly a good 10 minutes could have been edited with these needless explanations.
The movie’s weakest part is its background score. It is inert in many scenes and that is surprising because it is done by one of the very best in the business Hans Zimmer. It is only in the later stages does the background score catch up with the movie.
The performances are fantastic considering the cast that has to be one of the finest ensembles of talent in recent years.
Tom Hanks is good as we expect him to be. He never overplays himself. Best part about his performance is that it is more of an educated man’s performance. There is an urge to play such parts in a la Indiana Jones fashion with actors trying to be funny and witty. Nicolas Cage did that in NATIONAL TREASURE and was so damn irritating. But Tom Hanks maintains the intelligence and quite demeanor of such a learnt and clever person. He is one of the greatest actors ever and he can give depth even to a scarecrow.
And yeah, I absolutely loved his hairdo.
This is my second film of Audrey Tautou and I have garnered still more respect for her as an actress. She in fact matches Tom Hanks in her abilities to understand the character. She brings this mixture of intelligence and vulnerability to the character of Sophie. Both the actors understand that it is the plot here that is of essence and never try to overplay ever.
Paul Bettany is fantastic as Silas. He so easily portrays the struggle within him and his misguided love for god. He uses his eyes to great effect to portray his dark past and his desire to be accepted. Such roles could terribly go awry because of their susceptibility to getting clichéd. But on account of some nice writing and a fantastic performance you end up feeling for Silas. And that is one heck of an achievement.
The best performance in the movie is by Sir Ian Mckellen. But here is another winner that Akiva Goldsman has pulled off and another improvement over the book. The consistency in Sir Leigh Teabing's character was a major problem in the novel. but some fantastic acting and nice screenwriting make the character very consistent and in a strange way endearing. Sir Mckellen provides some laughs in a movie that is dead serious.
And in fact that is where THE DA VINCI CODE differs from other summer movies. It is not your typical summer action blockbuster with cheap thrills, witty characters, a car chase and a lot of action. It is much more concerned with plot and is very serious with its subject matter.
Ron Howard is one of the best directors we have. He will never give you a JFK but will never give you an ALEXANDER either. He makes very honest, unpretentious movie. His movies are pretty straightforward. He has done a fantastic job here to bring a book to life that was on all counts unfilmable. Books like THE GODFATHER, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and LORD OF THE RINGS are very easy to film because they are low on details and very well written. But THE DA VINCI CODE is similar to THE DAY OF THE JACKAL because there is so much detail to cover. And this is where I would like to congratulate Mr. Howard. He hasn’t dumbed down the movie but in fact maintained every detail like the movie adaptation of Frederick Forsyth classic. His visual treatment of the history is particularly engrossing and elevates it above the book.
But it is his effort to take a pragmatic approach to the subject that is the problem. The movie never offends anyone. It is in fact very scared of offending anyone like say JFK did it to the political system. The book was more of a ham-fisted approach that was heel bent on making the novel being accepted as a work of fact. But it is its ability to raise questions that was its one unique gift to the literary world. Every one debated about the topic. But the question is does the movie do the same. Yes it does but only to a lesser degree. It will have many newcomers go to the web and search for stuff. But it will ask them to take a more pragmatic approach and not take the movie as factual. This movie is a complex movie about religious beliefs and ideas that make up a religion. And seldom has such a movie garnered so much excitement.
It has to be commended for such a fantastic effort. I actually laughed out loud in the middle of the night when I read the climactic revelation of the Holy Grail in the book and the identity of Sophie. But I immensely enjoyed the visual depiction of it. In fact the last scene where Langdon bows before the location is image that is going to stay with you for a longtime. Robert Langdon kneeling before the true place of the resting place of Mary Magdalene's sarchophagus is very touching.
Once the entire buzz about the movie is gone the movie will be remembered as one of the better adaptations of a book and a very good, intelligent summer blockbuster. It is a flawed movie with it share of weaknesses. But when the task is so monumental it deserves to be praised to bring out such a worthy effort.
I guess the code has been decoded successfully.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

FULL METAL JACKET MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: MATTHEW MODINE, R. LEE ERMEY, ARLISS HOWARD, VINCENT D’ ONFRIO, ADAM BALDWIN, DORIAN HAREWOOD
DIRECTOR: STANLEY KUBRICK
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
RUNTIME: 116 min.
GENRE: WAR, ANTI-WAR, VIETNAM WAR, DRAMA, ESSENTIAL CINEMA

FULL METAL JACKET is not just another of those anti-Vietnam war movies. As a matter of fact it uses Vietnam as an example to raise questions both political and moral not only concerning Uncle Sam but every country that has invaded another country. Stanley Kubrick’s latest creation is every bit as good as the other great Vietnam War movies- PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW. In fact FULL METAL JACKET can be viewed as a bit of hybrid of these two movies. It carries the grounded ness and realistic approach of PLATOON but its imagery and the questions it asks are more along the lines of APOCALYPSE NOW.
FULL METAL JACKET is based on the book THE SHORTIMERS by Gustav Hasford. But it is common knowledge that Stanley Kubrick was never keen on seriously following the source material. He would borrow the idea and make it his own. He always used to maintain that both of them are two different mediums and deserve different treatment. It most famously happened with THE SHINING and it is quite apparent here as well.
FULL METAL JACKET does not have a plotline. The movie, as was the case with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, is told in two parts- one involving the training of the US Marine Corps and the second involving the Vietnam War.
Stanley Kubrick uses the training to drive home the point as to how innocent youngsters, some with a misplaced sense of machismo are turned into killing machines. They are trained as hell to be turned into “war machines asking for war”. They are trained to remove humanity from their souls. A generation and a country lost its innocence in this war. “Born to kill” is the motto of one of the principal characters. They are cursed at, they are howled at so that they become tough war machines who ask for war. This is wherein lies Kubrick’s critique of the world’s most powerful country’s policy. On one side we are evolving culturally progressing as a civilization and on the other we train people to become nothing but barbarians.
Kubrick is supremely clever with his material and he shows it with the screenplay. In a fantastic monologue involving the role of a sniper in warfare he uses the examples of infamous and notorious people who were darn good as snipers. His character Sgt. Hartman uses the example of Charles Whitman to inspire his trainees. The drill instructor asks his trainees to become as good as them. And these snipers, where did they learn their craft from- the US Marine Corps. Charles Whitman killed 15 people from a tower in Texas before he was shot dead by the police. And this is what the US Marine Corps have to become.
The second part is war. With graphic details as any war movie FULL METAL JACKET jumps up into an altogether different gear in this part. The action here is savage and it is not just to show violence on the screen as you would observe with most of the war movies today. It is in fact a depiction of the visual horrors of war, a means of conveying the dehumanizing process of war. Steven Spielberg later used the same technique albeit to a much greater effect in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The climactic sniper sequence is one of the very best war sequences ever filmed. Every frame has a purpose. The best part about the sequence and in fact the whole movie is not the visual depiction or its graphic detailing but how it stands as a metaphor for The Vietnam War -the Murder of Innocence. The revelation of the identity of the sniper who turns out to be an innocent looking girl stands for what happened in Vietnam. In fact the little girl stands for Vietnam. She underwent no Marine Corps training; she didn’t shout 10 times a day that she was a killer; she didn’t have “ Born To kill” written over her dress; she wasn’t yelled and cursed at. But she was motivated enough to kill 3 US Marines with 100% accuracy. This is where FULL METAL JACKET shares the philosophy of war with APOCALYPSE NOW and on a broader note with Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS. “Tough” Pvt. Joker with “Born to Kill” over his helmet cannot even kill a wounded little girl. It is because it so difficult to fight another person’s war. We tend to philosophize the situation because of the lack of motivation. There is a close-up here of Pvt. Joker’s face when he kills the girl. And the look on his face is not one of those ugly scowls he puts up in training when he is asked by his drill instructor to bring up his war-face. It is a stare that is his true war-time face. It is an expressionless shock that explains that these soldiers are never going to find peace again. No matter where they are the face of the girl or the face of Vietnam will forever haunt them.
The performance by the ensemble cast is brilliant. It is in fact a tribute to the genius of Stanley Kubrick. I have always maintained that it is up to the director to extract a performance from his actor and the latter are just set-pieces in his hands. Kubrick is always in control of his actors. Many great directors including Martin Scorsese give a lot more freedom to their actors. But Kubrick’s actors are always his tools. He extracts the exact precise expressions from his actors to drive home his point. Most of his movies are sarcastic and hence most of his characters aren’t exactly three-dimensional. But they have a character of their own. Kubrick’s characters, as is the case with the greatest of directors, are unique.
Special mention here for Lee Ermey for his portrayal of the drill instructor Sgt. Hartman. It is one heck of a brilliant performance. Lee Ermey actually served as a drill instructor and his experience shows here. His tongue-in-cheek performance with absolutely flawless turns in the monologues is a pleasure.
But the movie is all about the genius that is Stanley Kubrick. No director and I repeat no director is so brilliant and precise with his imagery. What takes 10 scenes for other directors to make a point is done in one shot by Kubrick. If there ever was a movie about irony this is it. Trained US Marines are killed by a single girl who would have barely undergone training. And insane killers are used to inspire the US Marines during their training.
The closing scene says it all about his ingenuity and about Vietnam.
It stands for the Vietnam fiasco in its entirety. Soldiers are shown walking away singing against a backdrop of burnt buildings. That was Vietnam. U.S. intervened in somebody else’s war to give them freedom and instead destroyed it and destroyed itself as well.
It is happening again, only at a different location.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

KILL BILL MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: UMA THRUMAN, DAVID CARRADINE, LUCY LIU, MICHAEL MADSEN, VIVICIA.A.FOX, DARYL HANNAH
DIRECTOR: QUENTIN TARANTINO
RATING: VOL1: ****
VOL2: ***
OVERALL: ***1/2

RUNTIME: VOL1: 111 min.
VOL2: 136 min.

GENRE: ACTION, KUNG-FU, WESTERN, REVENGE

I want to clear it right at the outset that KILL BILL VOL1 and KILL BILL VOL2 should not have been two volumes at all. I would beg to question the artistic judgment of Miramax studios and Quentin Tarantino with whose consent the single entity was sliced into two pieces right at the eleventh hour. This obviously leads to the conclusion that there are a lot of padding up scenes thrown in to make for cumulative 4 hours rather than 200 min. which the original piece was supposed to be. It would obviously not be taut, a hallmark of Quentin Tarantino movies. QT movies never slag. They have a very smooth flow matched only by James Cameron and off late by Manoj Night Shyamalan in their lucidity.
But still I chose to reserve my judgment till I saw both the volumes. So what follows is the review of the two movies as I saw them.

VOLUME 1:
VOL.1 as it says is Quentin Tarantino’s fourth film and this is his most unique of them all. RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN all dealt with a crime and were predominantly urban in nature. But KILL BILL VOL.1 is a comic book action movie, the sort of which never attempted by Hollywood. It is silly and gorgeous at the same time. VOL.1 is Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to the Kung-Fu movies and what a fine one at that.
As far as the plot is concerned there is precious little that exists in VOL.1 at least. Uma Thurman is Black Mamba aka The Bride as QT and Ms. Thurman would like to call the character. She is a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. But she and her would-be husband are gunned down in a chapel at El Paso for some reason that is supposed to be uncovered in VOL.2. She is also pregnant with a baby girl at the time of the massacre. The leader of the gang who goes by the name of Bill puts a bullet into her head and The Bride ends up in a coma for four years. She comes out of the coma after 4 years and goes on a rampage of revenge. How she does that is VOL1. and possibly a huge chunk of VOL.2 as well.
The story as is the case with all Quentin Tarantino movies is not told in linear fashion. It is in all non-linear not just to make the non-existent plot a bit more exciting or for any artistic reasons. I have always had the question in the back of my mind while watching these flashback movies that how can the narrator possibly know all those inner details. It happened in TITANIC and a lot of other movies. But the narration in KILL BILL VOL.1 is non-linear for precisely that reason I guess. Any doubt as to how the narrator knows all that is hence removed by it. That is where the genius of Quentin Tarantino as a story writer and screenwriter comes to the fore. That particular angle is always ignored in the name of movies.
But it is the presentation in VOL.1 that takes the cake. Violence was never so beautiful. The dialogues, rather the one-liners seem straight out of a superhero comic book, only that it is an adult superhero comic book with some offensive language.
Quentin Tarantino is a master at presenting seemingly regular plots in a novel, interesting way as only he can. He has this knack of paying attention to small details when most storytellers ignore them. His screenplays are one of a kind with fantastic dialogues and quotable one-liners. Although there aren’t too many of them in VOL.1 it still shows how smart Quentin Tarantino is at his game. And his nod to all kung-fu movies is a treat to watch. Most notable is Uma Thurman’s yellow costume that was worn famously by Bruce Lee. Tarantino also tries his hand at perfecting the long-tracking camera shot most notably used by Martin Scorsese. And it is quite safe to say that he more than succeeds in using it effectively.
But it is not all Quentin Tarantino that is there in the movie. It is not just smart direction and screenplay that hold this silly plot together. In fact the biggest strength of the movie is Uma Thurman. She has given us a lady superhero much like Sigourney Weaver gave us Ripley a couple of decades back. And the former is much cooler than the latter. A lot of actresses have tried their hands at playing such tough characters but they have either been failed by stupid direction or their own physical and acting flaws. But Ms. Thurman is supremely fit and is more than up for the masterful fight sequences. Ms. Thurman inhabits the role and lends a credibility and a personality to a role that otherwise would have been hackneyed and one dimensional in most other’s hands. It is believed that Ms. Thurman and Mr. Tarantino had conceived the character and the movie way back during the production of PULP FICTION. It might as well be true as Ms. Thurman knows the length and breadth of the character. Her body postures and her movements are swift and economical just like a trained martial acts actor.
Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver is menacing. She appears for just one sequence but creates quite an impression.
Lucy Liu as O-Ren-Ishi does a wonderful departure from her role in the CHARLIE’S ANGELS. She looks every bit a powerful boss. She plays the role of a typical villain with a kind of grace I have seldom seen.
A couple of scenes could have been edited to make the movie a bit tighter. And the Pussy Wagon idea should have been dropped because it looks cheap in a movie that is otherwise quite high principled. The plot itself is quite high principled and Tarantino should move away from overindulgence of this type.
The movie is one hell of an experience. Tarantino has an eye for style rivaled today only by Michael Mann. Of course Mann is subtler than Tarantino who is louder (not bad) like Sergio Leone. One of the sequences that involve the shot of O-Ren-Ishi and her bodyguards walking towards the camera towards a passage makes for one of the most stylish I have seen in recent years.
The background score is all Tarantino. It is a mixture of 70s songs but the use of them at specific points make for an incredible experience. Mr. Tarantino is one of the best exponents of background score and is right in the mould of Martin Scorsese.
I am eagerly waiting for VOL.2


VOLUME 2:
Now that I have seen VOL 2 I feel more convinced and vindicated than ever before that it should have been a singular movie. It would have definitely made for an experience never before witnessed in movie history. And VOL. 2 that is at once better and weaker of the two would have been one heel of a tribute to the westerns much like its predecessor was to the kung-fu movies.
Just imagine a 3-hour movie where the first half would be VOL.1 with all its kinetic energy- a fitting tribute to the kung-fu movies and the second half, a bit slower, more emphasis on characters and structurally similar to Leone’s westerns particularly ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
VOL.2 is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imaginations. Rather it is a good movie. But it is not a movie you would associate with Quentin Tarantino. The main point is that it could have been a memorable one had it been tighter and if I had my way, the second half of KILL BILL. You could point out scenes that have padded up the movie to make up for the extra one hour owing to the division. One can easily make out that it is this volume that would have experienced more time in the editing room had both the movies been a single entity.
And if is intended to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns I daresay that it is a very sorry one at that. It is quite good on its own but if you consider it as a tribute to the great Leone spaghetti westerns that Tarantino idolizes so much he has failed quite miserably.
VOL.2 begins with an Uma Thurman monologue that serves the purpose of reminding as to what happened in the previous volume. She continues on her roaring rampage of revenge and ends up killing Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and finally Bill. There is a final revelation that concerns Black Mamba’s daughter, her relationship with Bill and her real name. At the end of it they all account to nothing.
This volume in its entirety right down to its background score wants to be a tribute to Sergio Leone’s westerns. But all it ends up being is a tired copy of the elements that made a Leone movie special without any essence or soul. There are a lot of sequences that should have been given the scissors. Particularly the sequence with Michael Madsen in a bar does not fit with the whole saga’s structure. It would have been far better if Tarantino had given the Elle Driver character a similar footage and shown more of her confrontation with Tai Pei Mei. It would have given the movie a more sinister look and frankly speaking the Elle Driver character is infinitely more fun than the dull Budd. The sequences involving the burial of Uma Thurman could have been tighter.
But what the movie lacks in pace makes up for in emotion. There is immense depth of character. This movie is exceedingly emotional to a point where it gets melodramatic. The best part is the climax that has been exceptionally handled by Quentin Tarantino. In fact the last half hour of the movie is the best part of the movie. Most noteworthy is the sequence in which Ms. Thurman’s character comes to know that she is pregnant and a female assassin congratulates her. The whole conception of the scene has Tarantino’s written all over it.
Uma Thurman carries on from where she left in VOL.1. Needless to say she is incredible in the part. I would like her to get an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her turn in both the volumes.
Michael Madsen as Budd seems to be a sobered up version of Mr. Orange in RESERVOIR DOGS. His drooling dialogue delivery is a treat to watch. But his character isn’t and there lies the problem.
Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver is evil personified. She has more screen time compared to the first volume and she makes best use of it. I just couldn’t have enough of her. I sincerely feel that her turn at the school of Tai Pei Mei should also have been shown so that you could have more fun and more of Daryl Hannah as well.
But the star of VOL.2 is David Carradine. His Bill is more grayish than an out and out villain. He brings a touch of royalty and coolness to Bill. His explanation of the mythology of the comic book is just awesome. I hope he gets and Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Quentin Tarantino has this knack of picking up actors from wilderness. He did it with John Travolta in PULP FICTION and he has done it here again with David Carradine.
VOL.2 is the most volatile of all Quentin Tarantino movies. It is brilliant in passages with extremely dull in some. And the problem is all with the editing.
The screenplay is surprisingly not as smart as any of the other Quentin Tarantino movies. Sequences occur mainly to provide reasons for the earlier ones. After a stage the movie tends to become predictable. I just cannot help but harp over the fact no attention was paid to the Elle Driver character nor was there any detailing of the murder of Tai Pei Mei. It is only because of the last half hour that the movie holds itself and succeeds in making an impact.
Quentin Tarantino’s attempt at making a movie similar in structure to a Sergio Leone’s western, I am sorry to say has failed miserably. He uses background score from those movies including a lot of stuff of Ennio Morricone. As far as I can say, the movie intends to be similar to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. But VOL.2 just becomes a pale shadow of it without inheriting any soul from it. And yeah what was the whole point of showing a drag of a sequence that involved the conversation with Bill’s father.
I am just disappointed that the two movies should have been one. After watching VOL.1 I was really looking forward to VOL.2. But I was disappointed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

DERAILED MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: CLIVE OWEN, JENNIFER ANISTON, VINCENT CASSEL
DIRECTOR: MIKAEL HAFSTROM
RATING: *1/2
RUNTIME: 112 min
GENRE: THRILLER, DRAMA

DERAILED is the kind of movie that makes for the lowest kind. The performances are bland, the performances are downright absurd, the screenplay is pathetic and the direction is insipid. There is absolutely no reason to watch this movie.
The plot is as lame as they get. Chris (Clive Owen) is an executive in a large commercial making firm who accidentally happens to meet a beautiful woman Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who happens to be an executive in a financial firm, on a train. They get to know each other and bang they end up in a hotel committing adultery. Just then a mug comes in, strips them of their money, beats Chris down to unconsciousness and rapes Lucinda. It all doesn’t stop there. He asks for money leading to the supposedly thriller part of the movie. There is also a twist at the end of the movie which by now you might have already guessed. If the plot seems remotely thrilling the reader obviously belongs to a rare breed of people.
The performances are pathetic. I do not understand as to why all this fuss is being made about Clive Owen as an actor. I understand that he is a trained actor. But he is incredibly bland in all the roles I have seen him in and tends to repeat himself an awful lot. Jennifer Aniston is horribly miscast as the seductress. She is neither seducing nor does she looks in distress. As for Vincent Cassel as the mug he is incredibly irritating and a torture to the senses.
I do not understand the rationality behind making a movie out of such a ridiculous plot. On top of that the direction and the screenplay are downright pathetic. The whole scam or whatever is such a ridiculous idea that you feel like storming to the ticket counter and demanding a refund.
My idea is that the plot would have served perfectly well for a comedy rather than a drama. In fact a movie on the same subject and quite entertaining is BIRTHDAY GIRL starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin. That movie understood its subject matter and a made a neat movie out of it. And it had better actors than this one. Of course it had its share of problems when it turned into a thriller but that is a different matter altogether.
DERAILED is the kind of movie that with a far better plot would have found a place in the late 1980s with Michael Douglas in it. But in its present state there is no way in the world can such subjects make their presence felt let alone setting the box office on fire.

POSEIDON MOVIE REVIEW

CAST: KURT RUSSELL, JOSH LUCAS, EMMY ROSSUM, RICHARD DREYFUSS
DIRECTOR: WOLFGANG PETERSEN
RUN TIME:99 min
RATING: **
GENRE: DISASTER, SEA ADVENTURE, THRILLER

Watching a movie like POSEIDON is like mapping the events of a movie to a set of predefined rules. There seems to be a common guideline among these disaster movie-makers and they follow it religiously step by step.
Wolfgang Petersen is considered to be some sort of an expert at handling high sea adventures after DAS BOOT and THE PERFECT STORM. Hence he has been given the responsibility of re-making THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE-one of the great box office hits of the 1970s and one of the most famous disaster flicks.
To begin with, I am not exactly a big fan of the original nor do I agree with that type of film-making. It was campy and had its fair share of corny dialogues. So I wasn’t exactly expecting a classic from Mr. Petersen. So my guess is that we shouldn’t crucify Mr. Petersen for making POSEIDON. It is not exactly appalling as say PEARL HARBOR. But it is terribly formulaic and clichéd. It is as if the director is going through the motions. It is quite apparent that POSEIDON is not in anyway a dream project for Mr. Petersen as was KING KONG to Peter Jackson. Hence the movie is lackluster and totally uninspired. I am not quite sure if it will even generate any quick money at the box office for which it was made in the first place. Back in 1971 a disaster movie was a new thing and a high sea adventure would generate a lot of interest. But today when we are living in age of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies and THE MATRIX movies the bar is obviously set high. One really needs to put in a lot of effort to catch the eyes of the audience. You need to movie around the formulaic plot of the 1970s and come up with something of your own. You need to develop real believable characters and delve into the psychologies of them. In short you need to create an experience. Peter Jackson came up with KINK KONG which arguably is the finest remake ever made of a major studio hit. And unfortunately there is none of that in POSEIDON. Mr. Petersen’s characters are nothing but set-pieces. The plot and the screenplay are pathetically banal.
The plot or whatever there is of it involves a large sea vessel POSEIDON that is hit by a huge tidal wave at the stroke of midnight and turns it over its head. What follows is how a group of people get out of it.
The performances are average at best. Anyways I wasn’t expecting a lot from a cast that has one expression wonders like Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Emmy Rossum in it.
They are all playing characters that are poorly etched and developed. These characters change according to the sequence with absolutely no consistency. And how many times have we not seen a father-daughter-daughter’s lover angle in the movies? POSEIDON repeats everything we have already seen a zillion times.
When a movie is this bad the special effects become the main draw. When there is a non-existent plot, formulaic screenplay and average actors the only thing one waits for are some exciting special effects. And I would point out here that the special effects were especially disappointing. I was eagerly waiting for the huge killer wave to overturn POSEIDON. But the waves in Cecill De Mille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS back in 1956 were much better than this one. If you have $160 million at your disposal you have to show it on screen. Mr. Spielberg showed us every penny of the $125 million in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and so did Mr. Emmerich in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW with his $175 million. But Mr. Petersen has come up with absolutely no special effects we can remember. That for me is the movie’s weakest point.
Last but not the least, there is no aura about the vessel POSEIDON. In TITANIC when the vessel was sinking in itself represented a tragic sight. But the sinking of POSEIDON becomes as exciting as say the movies end credits. That is how you can describe the movie as – bland. You would not remember the next morning a thing about POSEIDON.

Monday, May 15, 2006

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM MOVIE REVIEW



CAST: ELLEN BURSTYN, JARED LETO, JENNIFER CONNELLY, MARLON WAYANS
DIRECTOR: DARREN ARONOFSKY
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
RUN TIME: 102 min
GENRE: THRILLER, DRAMA, DRUGS

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is one of the most nightmarish movies I have ever seen. It is director Darren Aronofsky’s second film following the unexpected art house success of his debut film PI. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is by far the most devastating movies made about drugs and its aftermath.
The movie follows the life of four characters- Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), her son Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marian Silver (Jennifer Connelly) and Harry’s partner Tyrone (Marlon Wayans).
Sara is a desperately lonely widow growing old and her only son is living away from her. She has absolutely no one to visit her. And like millions of Americans she is a TV addict and has this big dream of appearing on a favorite TV game show of hers.
Harry wants his derailed life to be back on track. He wants to lead a settled life with his girlfriend Marian and live in this dream house of his.
Marian on the other hand wants to be a fashion designer. She is desperately in love with Harry and shares his dream of living in that house.
Tyrone just wants to be well-off in life and to be able to be something in the eyes of his mother. His mother is his leading light.
And they all get into drugs chasing their dreams- the AMERICAN DREAM. And drugs eventually take precedence over all of them and consume them.
The performances are nothing short of brilliant. It is one of the best efforts I have had the pleasure of experiencing from an ensemble cast.
Jennifer Connelly has taken a brave step by accepting such a role. I cannot think of any mainstream actress save Naomi Watts taking on such a role. And she leaves no stone unturned in conveying the tragedy of Marian Silver’s life. Her degradation for money and food is nightmarish. The sequence depicting her orgy in front of a group of people clad in suits and ties is sure one horrific and tragic image.
Jared Leto’s depiction of a junkie dreaming things is quite heart breaking. And he carries along with him a wound in the latter part of the movie that has got to be the most ghoulish wound ever shown on screen.
But the best performance is by Ellen Burstyn. Her’s is an academy-award worthy performance. The expression of her anguish over her loneliness and her desire to be on the television is just so heartbreaking. Her Sara is a person consumed by loneliness. The only thing that makes up get up in the morning is the television show. The only thing that makes her washes the dishes is the hope someday that she will make it to the television show. The monologue of her sadness is a showcase of Ms. Burstyn’s talents.
The movie by all means belongs to Mr. Aronofsky. He is a director in the mould of a Martin Scorsese for his innovation and his love for his actors. He has made a masterpiece of a movie. He wants the audience no just to sit and watch the plight of these individuals from their seats. He wants the audiences to feel them. He has literally used the entire grammar of cinema to convey REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. There is camera-cuts, there is slow motion, there is fast forward motion (a la A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), there is dark imagery, there is intense close-ups and what not. He puts you smack in the middle of the miserable lives of these individuals. And the best part of it was there was no humor relief what so ever like TRAINSPOTTING which dealt with the same issue. It is just intense visceral portrayal of an addicted life. The structure of the movie itself renders an experience that is akin to one post addiction. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is hallucinatory in its imagery. And special mention is to be made of the camerawork by Mathew Libatique. The camera in the entire movie is one character moving among these individuals. It is always an instrument to convey as to what the character is feeling right from the intense close-up of Sara during her monologue to Marian’s numbness after she sells herself. Seldom have I seen camerawork so brilliant that you understand the heart and plight of the character without a single word spoken.
The editing by Jay Robinwitz is a revelation. The last fifteen minutes of camera cuts from one character to the other is not for the faint hearted. I can see a lot of people crying in those final moments.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is one of the best movies to be made in recent times. It is a masterpiece of movie-making with all the ingredients in the right place. But above all it is the most effective anti-drug campaign movie ever. After watching the movie I am not exactly sure which is more dangerous and intoxicating - the drugs or the great American dream each of these individulas are chasing.

Friday, May 12, 2006

MUNICH MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: ERIC BANA, DANIEL CRAIG, CIARAN HINDS, MATHIEU KASSOVITZ, HANS ZISCHLER, GEOFFREY RUSH
DIRECTOR: STEVEN SPIELBERG
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
RUNTIME: 164 min
GENRE: THRILLER, DRAMA, ESPIONAGE, POLITICAL, HISTORY

As I prepare to write my review of Mr. Spielberg’s latest project, I am listening to a BBC news report about the exchange of fire in the Gaza strip. According to reports 30 rockets have been fired in 30 minutes and the UN is expressing concern.
And that is the whole point of MUNICH- violence begets violence. It is not a conclusion that Steven Spielberg has discovered but an age-old truth never understood by mankind. Or is it that mankind just chooses to ignore this eternal truth. And as Israeli Prime Minister Ms. Golda Meir says in MUNICH-“Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromise with its own values. They want to destroy us”, scores of reasons are given for the use of violence. And to the perpetrators of violence, there never is a way out of the mess. This is the dilemma that MUNICH presents before us. Is there an end to this struggle, is there an end to this exchange of violence; be it for religion, be it for home or be it for something else. And it doesn’t provide you any answers either.
MUNICH is based on Vengeance: The True Story of An Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas which was itself a very controversial book in its time. The movie starts off with the Israeli athletes being taken hostage by the Black September members. There is a lot of actual footage shown here from the original incident. The athletes are killed and 9 of the kidnappers are gunned down by German police at the airport. The Israeli authorities decide on a swift reply by forming an assassination squad to eliminate the people who were behind Munich. A squad led by Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) and comprising of a bomb expert Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), Hans (Hanns Zischler), Steve (Daniel Craig) and Carl (Ciaran Hinds) is thrust the responsibility. What follows these events is the rest of the movie.
The performances by the ensemble cast are fantastic. Eric Bana transforms himself from simple family man to a violence-weary person who would never find peace with consummate ease. Each one of the characters is fantastically developed by screenwriters Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. This is what we have come to expect from a Spielberg movie of late. There is a multitude of characters but not one of them is neglected. There are very few directors who can claim that. Geoffrey Rush as the Mossad handler is quite good but tends to get a bit loud in some places. I had heard that Ben Kingsley was initially considered to play the character of Ephraim. My guess is that Ben Kingsley would have been better suited to the role.
Lynn Cohen as Golda Meir reminded me of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone.
But as is the case with most Spielberg movies, it is not the actors who are in-charge but the director. For most of his career Mr. Spielberg has made movies that are directorial pieces rather than performance pieces. And this time it is no different. The mark of the director is evident everywhere. He and his longtime partner Janusz Kaminski (Director of Photography) have given a touch of 70s touch to the movie. There is a grainy look to the movie. And you can see the sun shining on the spectacles here and there giving a feel of the old times. Janusz Kaminski lends a weary look to the movie and the hand held camera gives us a sense of urgency. The camera work looks straight out of a Scorsese movie rather than a Spielberg movie.
Spielberg has always been a master with imagery and here it is no different. SCHINDLER”S LIST was all black and white as he had to show a world of good and evil. Here is dealing with a world that is grey and he puts that on the screen.
MUNICH is in many ways a departure from a traditional Spielberg movie and is more in tune with a Kubrick movie minus the sarcasm and humor. And never does he impose upon the audience his point of view. There is no Oliver Stone like ham-fisted approach to impose upon the audience his view-point. It is more of a balanced approach letting the viewer decide for himself what to make of it. The same approach is made for the plot details as well as the bigger debate that the movie triggers. Some of the events in the movie are deliberately left ambiguous for the audience to come to their own conclusion. The world of intelligence and counter-terrorism is shadowy and most of the times there’s never definiteness to an incident.
The depiction of the assassinations is particularly impressive as expected. The Hitchcockian camera cuts in the telephone bomb assassination sequence is one of the most exciting scenes along with last year’s bus explosion scene in THE INTERPRETER in years. The depiction of Operation Spring of Youth in Beirut is very impressive although many experts have criticized it for its flaws. If you pay attention you could hear Ehud Barak, the future Prime Minister of Israel, introduce himself to the Mossad agents.
We can go on discussing the technical aspects of the movie but that would be a terrible diversion from the movie’s strongest point – its ability to cause debate.
MUNICH is Mr. Spielberg’s most ambitious venture to date. His movie is one of those that use the past to debate about the present. On one side we have the Sri Lankan army battling out the LTTE; on the other side we have the Arab “terrorists” and the west battle out each other. And we have the people in question- Israel and Palestine doing the same. But nobody seems to understand that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. MUNICH is not for Israel and Palestine only; it is for every country and every group whose solution is violence.
And often it is the common people and the people on ground who suffer. The happy couple in Olympia Hotel was innocent but they had to suffer when the bed bomb explodes. And the people who carry out this violence are not Ethan Hunts and James Bonds; they are every day men, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. As Michael Lonsdale (Papa) says in the movie-“We are tragic men, butcher’s hands, gentle souls.”
The movie is visceral in its impact. It is much more devastating in its effect than SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It is a firm contender for Spielberg’s best film. The effect is haunting and might not leave you for days.
But the question that might plague you after watching this movie is – “Is violence really needed? And what is home worth?”
As Louis says-“It costs but home always costs a lot.”