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.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

THE USUAL SUSPECTS MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: GABRIEL BYRNE, KEVIN SPACEY, KEVIN POLLACK, STEPHEN BALDWIN, BENICIO DEL TORO, CHAZZ PALMINTERI
DIRECTOR: BRYAN SINGER
RUN TIME: 110 min.
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
GENRE: THRILLER, SUSPENSE, ACTION, CRIME, FILM NOIR

THE USUAL SUPSECTS is one mind-bending gem of a thrilling masterpiece whose suspense I rate with the very best. This movie has given us one of the most famous characters of all time- Keyser Soze. The movie is so damn intelligent that it is scary. It is a maze of really complex and it demands our complete attention for the whole running time. I got to admit that I have watched this movie over and over again just to find a loophole. And I haven’t succeeded. The plot is one of the most complex I have ever come across and it is more so because of the intelligent screenplay. In fact it is one of those movies that demand a second viewing.
The movie starts off with Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) lying wounded on a boat. A mysterious figure by the name of Keyser Soze comes and shoots him.
It then moves to the District Attorney’s office from where we come to know that a boat supposedly containing $90 million worth of cocaine exploded killing close to 25 men. There are two survivors to the accident-one Hungarian lying in a local hospital in a coma and the other a cripple by the name of Verbal Kint who is in the District Attorney’s office. And a certain name pops up, Keyser Soze. What happened that night and who is Keyser Soze is the question?
I would not divulge any more of the plot as it would positively spoil the experience of watching such an intelligent movie.
The performances are brilliant.
Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint is masterful as always. He brings a cowardly aspect to Kint that few actors can bring so convincingly on the screen. Kevin spacey is the best actor today in Hollywood alongwith Tom Hanks and that shows. There is just the slightest touch of Spacey in his characters. Otherwise it is all the character.
Gabriel Byrne as Dean Keaton is stylish and commanding. He exudes this sense of authority that he seems to be a natural leader. His Keaton is brooding and smoky. And he is a powerhouse when it comes to the job.
Stephen Baldwin as McManus is quite good. He is quite menacing in his portrayal of his character.
Kevin Pollack as Hockney is wonderful. His portrayal of Hockney is so nonchalant that it is fun.
But the real pick is Benicio Del Toro mumbling his lines. His turn in the voice line up and his “flip ya for real” are incredibly enjoyable. He is a great actor, probably the best character actor around. Del Toro is one of those gifted actors whose eyes do a lot of talking. It always seems that there is so much inside him. Even if he just stands before the camera it works. And it is this sort of characteristics, as in his Fenster that he brings to the role that makes him a cut above the rest.

Chazz Palminteri is quite adequate as agent Kujan who is after Dean Keaton. I heard they were planning for Al Pacino to play the part. That would have been far better as he suited for this sort of role. Palminteri gets a little wooden at times. But he is still good.
Pete Postlethwaite as Kobayashi is menacing. His careful pronunciation of every word is a delight.
One of the most pleasing aspects of a movie is when the performances in the movie are good. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to the sheer delight at actors perform greatly and enjoy that too. No amount of special effects or spectacular car chases can beat that. And it is a pleasure to watch these actors perform with each other. It is quite visible on the screen that they are enjoying themselves.
But the movies winners are director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. They have written and made a film that takes for granted that its audiences are intelligent. Sometimes it seems that they have overestimated our intelligence. They have created such a complex maze of events that it sure gets confusing at times. If one loses his concentration even for one minute he is going to lose the plot. Isn’t that such a wonderful and refreshing thing to here when there is little or no plot in most movies?
It seems that Bryan Singer deliberately kept the emotional tone of the film to a minimal level so that the audiences watch the movie with their brains. And it sure does challenge our intelligence. It has got to be one of the best plots and screenplays ever written.
But it is not just the plot or the twist ending or the screenplay that are the only strong points on the part of the team. The movie is incredibly stylish. It is stylish in the Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson mould. The atmosphere is brooding. This movie is one of the best noirish tales ever told. It is shame that the film noir genre is not being exploited more often. This genre has given us some of the greatest movies and this sure is in line.
On a higher level this movie like RASHOMON questions the nature of the truth itself. In RASHOMON you are questioning the truth during the movie. But in THE USUAL SUPSECTS you are doing that while you are going back to your home and the next day when you keep putting together the pieces of the puzzle. You will ask yourself even after the second time you watch it “How much of that is true and how much is fictitious?” . In fact this movie not only demands a second viewing but repeated viewings. And i bet that your perception of what is the truth will keep changing.
Isn’t that wonderful. A movie that is incredibly enjoyable, stylish, wonderfully acted and most notably makes you think. How many movies are there those do all that?
THE USUAL SUPSECTS is one of the most brilliant movies I have ever had the pleasure of watching. You will seldom get more brains in a single movie than this. And I would bet that you are going to watch this movie again and again.
And one more thing. It has got one of the best movie posters ever. Attitude and style.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

VAN HELSING MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: HUGH JACKMAN, KATE BECKINSALE, RICHRD ROXBURGH
DIRECTOR: STEPHEN SOMMERS
RATING: *1/2
RUN TIME: 132 min.
GENRE: FANTASY, HORROR, ACTION

VAN HELSING is the first big summer release of this year. I was expecting a lot from this movie. It had Hugh Jackman who is particularly suited for such kind of characters. And there is Stephen Sommers at the helm of affairs whose THE MUMMY movies I enjoyed a lot.
But unfortunately the movie disappoints. And there is only one reason for it. It is the problem that plagues all summer action blockbusters nowadays and VAN HELSING is no different. There is little or no character development and the action is just non-stop. In fact the 2 hrs runtime seemed more like 1 hour. There is just action, action and more action. As a matter of fact there are hardly any slow motion sequences in the whole movie. Many movies are plagued by too much in their plot and hence they drag. But it is the contrary with VAN HELSING as was the case with THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. The problem is that it is incredibly fast. The plot at a supersonic speed not even giving time to the audience to digest what ahs transpired. The movie becomes a testament to the fact that light is faster than sound. There is just too much of action. The movie reaches a point where you just stop caring about what is happening.
I am particularly disappointed with the treatment of characters. Gabriel Van Helsing, Frankenstein and the Count Dracula are three of the most wonderful characters ever. But it is disappointing to the low levels these characters have been reduced to in the movie.
The way director Stephen Sommers was going with the Van Helsing character was very interesting. It is quite apparent that there was an effort to lend a dark, brooding characteristic to him much in the mould of Frank Miller’s Batman. But somehow that got lost in all the action and what remained was a caricature dishing out stupid one-liners and desperately trying to be cool. Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing does his best to bring something to the character much like his turn as Wolverine. But his efforts have been severely marred by pathetic character development.
Kate Beckinsale has absolutely zero screen presence. She is so ineffective that I can barely remember her character’s name. Particularly sticking to the eye was her ridiculous running. She obviously is unfit and that was quite visible. Her role in UNDERWORLD is similar and she has broken no new grounds.
Richard Roxburgh as Dracula is irritating. His presence along with his three wives is a brutal assault on the senses. They just keep shouting at the top of their voices making absolutely no sense.
The actions are good. But they are in no way memorable. Somebody please explain Mr. Sommers that a lot of special effects and a truck load full of action sequences don’t make a good movie. There is absolutely no creativity in the handling of these action scenes. Just a lot of them thrown around with a lot of money spent on them.
As in most of such movies the plot is non-existing. I cannot write even a single paragraph if somebody asks me to write the synopsis of the movie. It is just action, action and more action.
These are the movies that have discredited the summer action blockbuster fare. These are dumb movies and they should not be encouraged. Such movies have no character of their own apart from a few costly set-pieces thrown her and there.
The trick to a good movie is always its characters and how you handle them. Sadly most of the people at the helm of today’s summer action blockbusters are not realizing that.

KING ARTHUR MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: CLIVE OWEN, STELLAN SKARSGARD, KIERA KNIGHTLEY
DIRECTOR: ANTOINE FUQUARATIN: *
RUN TIME: 139 min.
GENRE: WAR ACTION, HISTORICAL, LEGEND, PERIOD PIECE

KING ARTHUR has got to be one of the worst pieces of cinema I have ever had the misfortune of watching. Even PEARL HARBOR, a movie I rate right at the bottom of the pile has a thing or two going for it. But KING ARTHUR is one of those rare pieces where I could find no plusses. I tried to will myself in sitting through the whole movie but I simply could not. I eventually had to do what I hate doing- rushing for the exit before the scheduled time.
The only thing I could give it credit for was the approach towards the characters. It was an attempt on the part of the director and the screenwriter to bring certain earthliness and a realistic edge to one of the most popular legendary figures. Again this attempt is not indigenous but inspired from BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR that chose to weed out that aspect of this genre.
But that is where all good things end. The performances are horrible to say the least. All the knights are growling for some unknown reason. And it is quite apparent that the actors involved are under the impression that they are giving the performances of a lifetime because the growls keep getting louder as the movie progresses.
Clive Owen as the title character is particularly disappointing. There’s absolutely no aura in his Arthur. He might be a very good and trained actor but it seems he has a long way to go. Watching him I was so sorely missing Russell Crowe. King Arthur is something we have grown on. He is legendary and larger-than-life. But Owen brings absolutely nothing to the role. His Arthur’s inner conflict is desperately showy. There was not a moment where he was convincing. It is certainly one of the blandest performances I have seen for a character that offers so much to play with.
I certainly would not like to talk about the other actors as it is akin to suffering a great deal of torture and then living to tell about it. I want to ask only one question-Did anyone including Kiera Knightley even care to get into their respective roles. Everyone was trying his level best to bring to us the most brutal form of cinematic torture. I couldn’t understand what the knights were growling about half the time.
The direction by Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY) is dumb to the lowest point possible. I particularly would like to mention the ice-breaking scene which brought the summer action blockbuster IQ level to an all time low. I just could not understand as to why the crack went towards the villains. Or maybe the movie doesn’t want us to think. Even the SCARY MOVIE franchisee boasts of more brains than this one.
And in most of such movies the saving grace is the spectacle and visuals. To my utter disappointment there isn’t ant. Just a lot of fireballs and horses and greenery and that is the setting all the time.
As far as the plot is concerned I couldn’t find any. Maybe it was working on some other remote level where I couldn’t catch it.
KING ARTHUR is bad to the worst possible level right in the league of BATMAN AND ROBIN.
You would be hard pressed to find worse and dumber movies than this one.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN MOVIE REVIEW




CAST: TOM HANKS, TOM SIZEMORE, EDWARD BURNS, MATT DAMON,
BARRY PEPPER, ADAM GOLDBERG
DIRECTOR: STEVEN SPIELBERG
RUN TIME: 170 min.
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
GENRE: WAR, DRAMA, HISTORICAL,WORLD WAR II

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN simply put is the most complete and multi-dimensional war movie ever made.
I have always maintained that traditionally there are two approaches to making a war movie- one where you get all political, philosophical, show war is hell and more often than not lose sight of all reality. These movies just beat you with their ham-fisted approach to impose upon you that “WAR IS HELL”. I would point out CASUALITIES OF WAR and THE DEER HUNTER as the worst of this kind.
The second approach is to get all gung-ho and heroic about it. Portraying soldiers as larger than life figures and again losing sight of reality is the way to go for these movies.
I personally fell that both of these approaches are wrong. These movies impose their viewpoint upon their audience rather than convincing them. And more often than not movies like these lose the whole point.
Now to the actual movie.
Mr. Spielberg along with screenwriter Robert Rodat and cameraman Janusz Kaminski have taken an approach to the war genre that is nothing short of brilliant. They have brought with all that a level of dignity that has been missing for a long long time.
The opening scene is itself one of the finest pieces of filmmaking ever put on celluloid. Whatever words are exchanged during the opening half an hour is simply lost in the visual assault on both the audiences’ minds and hearts. Simply put the opening sequence is plain horrifying. I can remember many war movies where the battle sequences become a spectacle and become more of an action sequence. You tend to enjoy those scenes. But that never happens here. I remember the numerous times I felt a sense of shock when I was first watching this scene. And all this for characters you don’t even now the names of. That has got to be plain genius.
The approach to this particular scene; the camerawork, the cinematography rather the whole direction is the most brilliant I have seen. I have heard a lot of D-Day war veterans’ accounts and I can positively say that it would have been more or less the same.
In a brilliant move, the people firing the bullets are never shown. The camera is hand-held and is just left smack in the middle of all the gun-firing. All this makes us feel we are right there in the middle of the invasion along with the Allied soldiers and not knowing where the bullets are coming from. For this scene alone the movie is a winner. I would just go on to say that this opening scene has got to be one of the finest things ever made for celluloid if not the finest.
The plot is pretty simple. It is supposed to be inspired by true events involving The Sullivan Brothers although it is not claimed anywhere. But there is a reference to the same in the movie.
A mother has lost 3 of here sons in the war and the fourth a James Francis Ryan, who was with the 101st airborne, is somewhere in France. A team comprising of 8 people led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and Sergeant Mike Horvath (Tom Sizemore) is sent to find James Ryan and send him back home to his mother.
There is Captain Miller who is held in awe by his crew. One line about him by Private Reiben (Edward Burns) is particularly good – “The captain has been made out of dead GIs body parts.” Nobody knows what the captain was before the war, not even the Sgt. Who has been with him since Kasserine. In fact they have a pool going on about him. All this is not just for entertainment but lends a depth to each of the characters that I have seldom seen in war movies. It is something akin to what Quentin Tarantino does where the characters always speak about something else that is totally unrelated to the scene and give it a touch of reality.
And there are members in the group especially Reiben who are totally against the mission. He always maintains that what is the math of sending 8 of us to save one guy. And he starts to despise Ryan when the mission starts to get fatal.
In a way that is the whole question of the movie-“what is the value of a person’s life?’
The movie could be made in the 50s or 50 years from now and still this question would be very relevant.
In a brilliant scene, Tom Hanks tells Tom Sizemore-“I have lost 94 men under my command. But that means that I have saved the lives of 10 times as many. And that is how you rationalize things.” Tom Sizemore replies-“This time the mission is a man”.
And as all great artists do, Mr. Spielberg never answers the question. He asks a relevant question and leaves it to you to decide.
In another memorable scene where Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) struggles to death, Spielberg hits the nail. The scene obviously seems inspired by a similar one in FULL METAL JACKET but is infinitely more powerful. I still sometimes get choked while watching the scene.
In the bookend war scene, a more traditional approach to war sequence is taken. The sequence looks like a footage straight out of a war documentary.
The performances are just brilliant. I have seldom seen such brilliant performances in the same movie by everyone. I just cannot remember a single bad performance. As far as I can remember only GOODFELLAS, L.A.CONFIDENTIAL and THE GODFATHER could rival SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in brilliance of performance of an ensemble cast.
Tom Hanks is brilliant as always. As we have come to expect from him now, he is Capt. John Miller. He brings authority, vulnerability, dignity and immense depth as only he can. He is one of the greatest actors of all time if not the greatest. His breakdown scene and where he discloses what he used to do before the war are brilliant. Even in the opening scene his reactions are just so good. His generosity for the co-stars in front of the camera is quite apparent. And that is why you tend to get so many good performances when there are other actors in his company. I am just in awe of this genius of an actor.
Tom Sizemore brings a touch of larger than life characteristic to his role. He is heroic in a way John Wayne should have been in THE LONGEST DAY.
Edward Burns is the one who took me by surprise. He was simply brilliant as Pvt. Reiben. His hatred for Ryan, his whole disappointment on the mission and his hidden reverence for the Captain is brilliantly portrayed by him.
Matt Damon as the character to be saved has got just enough of footage to pack a solid punch. But he is a great actor and great actors don’t need much time to leave their mark.
The character we would most identify with is Pvt. Upham (Jeremy Davies). In a way he represents what we would have undergone had we been in the situation. His shock, his vulnerability are both we can identify with.
As I had said the performances are brilliant. Much of it owes to awesome character development on the part of Mr. Spielberg and Robert Rodat. It is quite rare to feel all the characters in a movie and that is what just happens here.
For me this is Mr. Spielberg’s best movie ever. And that is something from a director who has given us some of the greatest movies of all time. His filmography may be quite easily the most enviable body of work ever. It is to war movies what THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS are to mafia movies, what PSYCHO is to thrillers and what 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is to sci-fictions. Everything he has done in the movie works.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is the greatest war movie ever made. In fact it is one of the greatest movies ever made. It is not just a war movie. It is much more. It has a depth that speaks about life as a whole. Watching the eight people, I could always identify them with people in corporate life. Captain Miller is the typical boss maintaining a stern exterior; Upham is the newcomer who is just in awe of the boss and many such things.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN doesn’t preach before you that war is hell. It just put you right in the middle of it and lets you judge for yourself. And it tells you- War is hell, war does make beasts out of men sometimes but please don’t judge the soldiers on that. These men fought for us in circumstances we never would like to know. I have a new found respect for a soldier and I salute to all those soldiers, both living and dead, who were on the beaches of Normandy on that fateful day in the mornings of June 6 1944. These people are the real heroes.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

TROY MOVIE REVIEW

CAST: BRAD PITT, ERIC BANA, ORLANDO BLOOM, PETER ‘O TOOLE, BRIAN COX,SEAN BEAN
DIRECTOR: WOLFGANG PETERSEN
RUN TIME: 163 min.
RATING: **1/2
GENRE: ACTION, WAR, MYTHOLOGY, EPIC

Since TROY was announced I just kept wondering that how such an epic like ILLIAD (THE ODYSSEY) could be encompassed into a single movie. Movies obviously have a constraint as far as the run time is concerned. I desperately wanted into it to be made in three parts like the LORD OF THE RINGS films as the Trojan horse story deserves that. But it was made in a 3 hrs movie. And the movie is at best average if not disappointing.
As expected the movie is handicapped from the very beginning because of its source material. ILLIAD is such a magnificent epic much in tune with the Hindu epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has so many diverse characters, so many sub-plots that it is just impossible to put it in 3 hrs. But Wolfgang Petersen has decided to put more emphasis on the war part, obviously obliged to the box-office. I am sorry to say but the movie is more of a loser than a winner.
The movie itself starts on an incredibly dumb note. Helen just gives a dumb excuse for her flirtation with the visiting Prince Paris and elopes with him. There is no character development in the movie. As in KING ARTHUR, the characters are caricatures. Now why does she do that is never dealt with? Just a line is given as a reason and the deed is done. In a way this is one of the main problems with today’s summer action blockbusters. Absolutely no emphasis is laid on the motivation and development of a character. A line is given just to explain the action and it is done. The source material has such wonderful and complex characters but here you don’t even care for them.
The plot needless to say is pretty straightforward. Helen of the Spartan kingdom runs away with Paris giving a stupid one-line as reason. The Spartan emperor King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) who just needs a reason to attack Troy launches a full scale invasion for what is hailed as the greatest war of all time. It involves all great mortal characters from Achilles (Brad Pitt) to Hector (Eric Bana) to King Prealm (Peter O Toole). The rest of the movie is action action and more action with little or no depth in character.
The movie’s strong points are obviously its action and set pieces. As we have come to expect from big studio endeavors as this a lot of money is thrown and they are really spectacular. The war scenes are spectacular. The sword fights, especially the one involving Hector and Achilles is quite good. The Trojan city is spectacular. But a small flaw just stuck there. The buildings in the Trojan city were as high as the horse itself. Now that was never the case during those times. Buildings hardly rose over 3 stories. But that can easily be neglected. You can easily see as to where all the money went. The bird’s eye view of the army invasion is quite spectacular. One thing I would like to note here is the obvious lift off of the beach invasion by the Myrmidons under Achilles from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The scene bears an uncanny resemblance to the now fames Omaha landing from that movie. But the TROY scene is nowhere as brilliant as the one in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Now this is where all good things end.
The acting department is at best average. Gone are the good old days of period epics like SPARTACUS, BEN HUR or the contemporary BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR. These movies owed their success to spectacle but a large part to the performances from the cast. Kirk Douglas gave in SPARTACUS what arguably was his best performance. RUSELL CROWE won an Academy Award for his Maximus in GLADIATOR.
But here the only notable performances are from Brad Pitt and Eric Bana. And trust me on this; it is not the actor’s fault. The blame fairly and squarely lies on the screenwriters and the directors for such bland character development. When actors like Peter O Toole and Brian Cox don’t fail to impress, it sure is an indication of disaster.
Brad Pitt tries his level best and succeeds to a level in bringing a touch of grounded ness to the role. There are many critics including Mr. Ebert who would say that actors playing mythological characters should act mythological. But I would beg to disagree on that part. In fact I am very much in favor of what Pitt and Bana were trying to do. The only problem was that they were let down by the script. One prime example is when Achilles has something of a debate about the status of gods with Hector’s cousin sister. He utters this incredibly dumb line- “Gods envy us because we are mortal. Every moment is the one to savor.” Pitt is desperately trying to make that dialogue believable but I couldn’t stop laughing on it. It is stuff like these that separate average movies from great movies, not spectacle.
Eric Bana is obviously going from strength to strength. He brings a raw power to his role, a sense of authority and nobility to the character of Hector. He is almost what we imagine Hector would look like.
But in the whole I am disappointed by the movie. Movies like this have no heart, no soul and no existence. What if $150 million were spent on it? There is not a single scene I would remember from it after even 1 week. The Trojan epic has such brilliant characters. But most of them have been wasted by giving them bit parts and most notably stupid dialogues. TROY is a prime example of what is wrong with Hollywood summer blockbusters today. VAN HELSING, KING ARTHUR, PEARL HARBOR all in the same category. It is high time somebody realize that the shelf life of a movie is very less now. If you don’t have good enough characters and a good plot, no matter what the story is, the movie would not run for too long.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY MOVIE REVIEW

CAST: MATT DAMON, FRANKA POTENTE, BRIAN COX, CHRIS COOPER, CLIVE OWEN
DIRECTOR: DOUG LIMAN
RATING: ****
RUN TIME: 119 min.
GENRE: ACTION, THRILLER, ESPIONAGE, ASSASINATION

One has got to say this; THE BOURNE IDENTITY is one of the most intelligent action movies to come out of Hollywood in this age where action movies mean a lot of explosions and real fast cars chasing each other in the streets of a city. James Bond movies have gone incredibly soft with little or no brain in them and the second installment of the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchisee is simply put dumb. In the middle of this came a “A New Breed Of Secret Agent” by the name of XXX. That movie set new standards for dumbness. And just when I thought that those good old fashioned thrillers have become extinct comes THE BOURNE IDENTITY. It is a nod to those good old action thrillers and much more.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY is based on late Robert Ludlum’s thriller by the same name. In fact Mr. Ludlum is the executive producer of the movie. But the plot has been greatly revised so as to look relevant in today’s times. At the same time the movie could be placed in the 60s and still would a piece that belongs to that generation. That is what I was amazed at. The movie could be placed in any decade and it would still look in tune with those times.
The movie starts off with a group of sailors in the Mediterranean Sea picking up a floating body. This was the part that was a bit of an eyesore. That was the problem with the novel as well. How could a living body float in the water without any gear to enable that? Anyways that was the plot and we just cannot think too much of it. Otherwise the whole movie would go for a toss.
The sailors pick up the body and treat him. It turns out that the person suffers from temporary amnesia and has just a Zurich Bank Account Number in his back. Now he has got to know who he is and why people are after him. That is the whole premise of THE BOURNE IDENTITY.
The performances are uniformly spectacular. This is what we can come to expect from a cast that boasts of so many seasoned performers.
Franka Potente (RUN LOLA RUN) as the Jason Bourne’s love interest is wonderful. She brings a strange mixture of vulnerability and smartness that I doubt many actresses could have achieved.
Chris Cooper (AMERICAN BEAUTY) as CIA agent Conklin is just perfect. Every time I see this actor, it amazes me. I have written time and again that actors like Cooper, William H Macy, Brian Cox don’t get the recognition they deserve. Cooper looks and performs like you imagine a weary old cold war soldier. This actor immerses himself in every character I watch him play and I have never seen any hangover of one part over the other.
Brian Cox (MANHUNTER) has precious little to play but he is authoritative as always. I still maintain that he was a better Hannibal Lektor as compared to Mr. Anthony Hopkins who was a bit showier. Cox beautifully slips into the part as we have come to expect of him.
The talent that has been wasted is that of Clive Owen. He has absolutely nothing to do apart from looking stern and straight behind his glasses. His character doesn’t even carry forward into the sequels. Anybody could have played that part.
But the kudos are for Matt Damon. He brings a depth to the character that few can bring. Matt Damon is one of the finest actors of this generation. He is right up there with the very best of his generation. In fact I would go on and say that when his time comes he would be one of the finest of all time. Not many actors could have brought such maturity and coolness to the role. Tom Cruise was at best average in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series. And that guy has been around for quite a while now. It was rumored that Brad Pitt was originally considered for the part. He would have been good, but nowhere as good as Damon. Damon has the unique gift of conveying without saying a single word. From the current crop I know only Christian Bale who can do that. Damon is cool, calculative and humane at the same time. Many actors in similar roles act by numbers. Mr. Brosnan would be a character by the scene. What I mean by that is that if the scene were emotional he would act emotional, if it were cool he act all stylish and cool regardless of his character. Such characters are nothing but caricatures. But no such mistakes by Damon. He is Jason Bourne. It is as if he was born to play Jason Bourne. And when you watch him in Ocean’s Eleven it all changes. He is a great actor and this is one astonishing performance from him.
The screenplay by Tony Gilroy (THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, PROOF OF LIFE) is quite a revelation for a summer action blockbuster. A-thrill-a-minute plot, awesome character development, and fast action really make this movie a joy ride. The dialogues are witty and intelligent without ever being theatrical or campy. Mr. Hunt and Mr. Bond, please make note.
Director Doug Liman (SWINGERS) has injected fresh blood into this genre. Spy thrillers were fast becoming outdated with little or no interest in the plot. But this makes no such movie. It is just like those good old spy thrillers Mr. Liman seems to have a problem with background scores as they seemed to be out of place with the action. But that is a small problem in what is otherwise a wonderful action movie. The action scenes are fast with a nod to martial arts, and the last shootout scene involving Bourne and The Professor is just out of the park. The action scenes are just what the plot and movie demand and not just for the sake of blowing up stuff.
It is just so cool that a dying genre has been infused with fresh blood. Jason Bourne is here to stay.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

THE SEIGE MOVIE REVIEW

CAST: DENZEL WASHINGTON, BRUCE WILLIS, ANNETTE BENING, TONY
SHALHOUB
DIRECTOR: EDWARD ZWICK
RUN TIME: 116 min.
RATING: ****
GENRE: Action, Political, Terrorist, Drama, Thriller

THE SEIGE has got to be one of the best movies ever to be made on the subject of terrorism. It deals with topics never ever dealt with before. 8 years since its release the plot and the movie seem to be a lot more relevant and profound.
The movie starts of with a bombing in Oklahoma City which is linked to a Middle East religious and extremist leader Sheikh Ahmed Bin Talal. He is then captured by a group of people apparently led by a man (character played by Bruce Willis whose role is ambiguous till more of the plot unfolds). This immediately is followed by a hoax hijacking of a bus in New York City where many of the passengers are sprayed upon by a blue paint. FBI agents Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub) are the ones in charge if it. Suspects are questioned, put into play and there enters NSA agent Elise Kraft ( Annette Benning) who for the most part seems to work against Tony Hubbard. The plot unfolds leading to a lot of terrorist bombings and the eventual rule of military on the streets of New York City. The forces are led by General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) who just goes on the rampage to find out the terrorists.
Any more of the plot from my side will lead to spoilers.
Now the review.
Technically the movie is a straight out winner on all fronts. The bombing scenes are just the in the right tone. It happens in many movies of this kind that the explosions become more of a spectacle than actually being a tragic event. And each of the explosions save for one evoke the desired reaction. In fact the first bombing of a New York City bus has got to be one of the finest explosion scenes in quite a few years. The siege of New York City by the army shows New York in a light never ever shown before. The explosion at Times Square just is horrific and tragic at the same time.
The movie raises a lot of questions. In a way that is the movie’s failing that it raises a lot of questions and gives too few answers. But for me personally, I prefer such movies. Movies which raise questions and then give the answers in the same 21/2 hrs seem dumb to me. This movie does what many movies don’t. It respects the intelligence of the audience. I am pretty sure that some people will get all the wrong notions about the community in question in the movie. But it is a bit of a controversial movie even if it wasn’t realized back then. The movie never ever is communal or racist and in fact finds the villains in our own backyard.
The performances are top-notch. Denzel Washington is what we have come to expect of him. He is a powerhouse in every scene. He never seems to be preachy while delivering a monologue. On the contrary he is always speaking his heart out. The scene immediately following the bus explosion finds Washington at the top of his game.
Annette Bening has a way of getting inside a character. It is no different here. She is sufficiently mysterious and double edged. She seems just like a pro that has seen a lot of action.
Tony Shalhoub is very good as the FBI agent with a Middle East background. He brings a sense of grounded ness to the role. Many similar characters in many such movies become so typical and end up becoming caricatures. But not this one. It is supporting actors like this that make a good movie. It is sad that they don’t always deserve the recognition that lead actors get.
But the performance of the movie for me is that of Bruce Willis’. He is powerful and authoritative. This is a new ground for him and he shows a side that was never ever seen before. It is so difficult to believe that this was the same guy who fought 6 terrorists in a building. His performance past the siege of NYC just reaches another level.
Director Edward Zwick (COURAGE UNDER FIRE, GLORY, LEGENDS OF THE FALL) has delivered another powerful movie. It is hard to find such brainy movies and this sure is one. The subjects it deals with are so sensitive. It sure does breach the line sometimes but that is movies are for. JFK did it, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE did it.
This is not the ultimate terrorist movie. But this is one movie that demands a second watching. It is intelligent and emotional at the same time. And it has got characters that you really care for. But more than that it deals with a topic that is burning hot today. It questions the government in charge of the democracy we are so proud of. As it says in the movie, the scenes are so familiar in other parts of the world. But what happens when it is our country. It just elaborates more on the question that was raised by Kevin Costner in JFK. And it correctly leaves the debate wide open rather than answering it.