Thursday, June 15, 2006
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 1:01 PM
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
CAST: LIEV SCHREIBER, JULIA STILES, MIA FARROW, PETE POSTLETHWAITE, SEAMUS DAVEY-FITZPATRICK
DIRECTOR: JOHN MOORE
RUNTIME: 110 min.
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 4:21 PM
CAST: TOM HANKS, HELEN HUNT
DIRECTOR: ROBERT ZEMECKIS
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 11:41 AM
Monday, June 12, 2006
CAST: CARY ELWES, LEIGH WHANNELL DANNY GLOVER, MONICA POTTER, KEN LEUNG
DIRECTOR: JAMES WAN
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 5:42 PM
Thursday, June 08, 2006
CAST: JUDE LAW, ED HARRIS, JOSEPH FEINNES, RACHEL WEISZ
DIRECTOR: JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD
RUNTIME: 131 min.
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 2:14 PM
CAST: DENZEL WASHINGTON, CLIVE OWEN, JODIE FOSTER, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, WILLEM DAFOE
DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 11:20 AM
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
CAST: TOM CRUISE, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, VING RHAMES, LAURENCE FISHBURNE
DIRECTOR: J.J. ABRAMS
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.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:45 PM