Sunday, February 11, 2007


RUNTIME: 138 min

I wish somebody burn that template for making romantic movies. That template supposedly has how one should act in a romantic comedy, how one should direct them so that they turn out all sugary sweet.
I mean, is there a hard and fast rule to act thus. What was Cameron Diaz doing looking all silly? Was it all supposed to be funny, because if that is the case, believe me it was more irritating that funny. This is my second movie in two days after the appalling DÉJÀ VU and THE HOLIDAY might as well have been titled DÉJÀ VU PART DEUX. There isn’t anything remotely, and I reiterate, remotely original here. There are some stupid attempts at making twists and turns here that would only surprise you if you have just visited Planet Earth and this is your first movie or you have short term memory loss in which case you wouldn’t care unless you scribble notes.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY had a sequence in a DVD store where Billy Crystal is hamming the various movies. There’s an exact replica of a scene here, even ending the same way, only not even remotely funny. There’re host of other sequences in this movie which you would surely have seen before, sequences like a guy standing with his door half closed glancing back occasionally as the girl who has unexpectedly turned at his doorstep is sharing her innermost feelings. This and much more are at abundance.
Lou Lumenick from the NY Post has so aptly said that complaining about THE HOLIDAY is as useless as railing against fruitcake. This is a mindless, corny movie that I wouldn’t recommend even to my female enemies.
THE HOLIDAY is about Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), a journalist in London, who is a die hard love addict and is madly in love with a colleague of hers, although he seems to have dumped her to marry someone else. She is distraught when she comes across an invitation from movie trailer maker Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) who is based in Los Angeles to swap houses for the holiday season. Winslet meets Black and Diaz meets Winslet’s brother Law and romance starts sprouting in the air. There’s some meaningless angle of a recluse screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) and him being felicitated at the Writer’s Guild Awards.
What was Kate Winslet doing here by the way? This is her first mainstream role after TITANIC and I can’t see any reason behind such an awful choice. Do not get under the impression that she is bad here. Kate Winslet is as fantastic as always. She is great and her greatness is on full display here. In fact, she’s the only reason why I have given 2 stars to this movie, she and a bit of Wallach. There’s absolutely nothing else to watch out for here.
Cameron Diaz has proven yet again that she knows as much about acting as Ed Wood, the man notoriously regarded as the worst director ever knew about direction. Her antics right at the start would make you want to punch her in the face, believe me, she’s that bad. And what’s more, she’s the central character. Diaz is horribly miscast, I mean she’s miscast in most movies where acting is a prerequisite.
Jude Law is at best average. He’s likeable in places but that would have more to do with his appearance and less to do with his performance.
The biggest miscast of all is Jack Black. What made anybody think that this guy can be a romantic lead and that too against a beauty like Kate Winslet? He is the single biggest weakness of THE HOLIDAY. Him making faces looks good in movies like THE SCHOOL OF ROCK but here, in a movie for grown ups, he looks as silly and stupid as Cameron Diaz. Black doesn’t have it in him to play serious characters and his weird faces put us off rather than entertain us.
There are numerous directorial and screenwriting elements that aren’t anyway far from problem here. First is the length. At 138 minutes, THE HOLIDAY feels like a big yawn. There would be a million sequences which make no sense at all, in fact, they put you off. In fact the story structure itself is a big flaw. Two love stories at the price of one is more loss than profit for the viewer. When we remotely feel any of the love stories, it immediately snaps to the other one and vice versa leaving us distraught. An hour into the swapping, I indulged in appreciating the beauty of Winslet rather than boring myself to death in a plot that contained nothing out of the corny and clichéd.
Second, I have no idea what was Eli Wallach’s angle there in the movie for. I mean, he’s quite good and in fact his chemistry with Winslet is better than the one between her and Black. But his angle is needless.
THE HOLIDAY tries to be funny by referencing to movies of the past but all that comes as terribly forced.
Director Nancy Meyers’ previous movie SOMETHING GOTTA GIVE, although a huge success had its share of problems with its sitcom like screenplay. It was veterans Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton who saved the movie and in fact made it work and more than watchable. Same for WHAT WOMEN WANT and actors of the caliber of Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. In fact, Gibson was so good that WHAT WOMEN WANT was a huge success. And frankly, the screenplay was better and far more intelligent. But here she has no actor of that caliber except for Kate Winslet and that is when the movie is at its strongest. Unfortunately, Winslet has a smaller screen time than I would have liked and other pathetic actors fill up the screen with their nonsense.
THE HOLIDAY would be engaging if this was your first romantic movie ever. Else, please refrain, unless you’re a Winslet fan in which case I would recommend it to wait for it come on TV.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


RUNTIME: 143 min.
RATING: ****

Africa is big on Hollywood’s list isn’t it? Whatever be the reasons, America’s biggest export has taken its responsibility to bring the plight of the Dark Continent to the world.
This latest movie from Edward Zwick (GLORY, COURAGE UNDER FIRE, THE SEIGE, THE LAST SAMURAI) stands right in line of previous ventures like HOTEL RWANDA, THE INTERPRETER, THE CONSTANT GARDNER, BEYOND BORDERS and a host of others where Africa has been smack in the middle of the spotlight.
The topic here is that of conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds because these diamonds have blood of innocent people on them. That is the message here. The diamonds that most of you are wearing on your fingers or as jewellery could have come right from Sierra Leone, with innocent blood on them.
Leonardo Di Caprio is Danny Archer, a former mercenary and now a diamond smuggler from erstwhile Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He is a man of low morality who smuggles diamond from the warlords in Sierra Leone and smuggles them to neighboring Liberia. When he comes to know that Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou, GLADIATOR, CONSTANTINE, THE ISLAND) has hidden a huge piece of the stone somewhere, he gets behind him to come in possession of it. But Solomon Vandy is a victim of the civil war, his family separated from him. What ensues is a somewhat complex moral tale that also involves American journalist Mandy Moore (Jennifer Connelly).
They say good intentions aren’t everything but you need to sow good intentions so that you could have good actions. Well it could not be truer in case of BLOOD DIAMOND. It is in more ways than one typical of Zwick’s movies so far. I for one have been a huge fan of him. Zwick’s movies always seem to tell something, they always have a message in them. And I love his style in that he packages his message in a very good “genre” movie. COURAGE UNDER FIRE was a movie in the RASHOMON mould but was a nice comment on heroism in war and in a larger context, pragmatism as an eternal truth. THE SEIGE was a fantastic comment on terrorism, but was also a good thriller. GLORY anyways is one of the most underrated movies of all time, arguably his greatest movie.
BLOOD DIAMOND sure has good intentions and follows it up with great execution for most part of it.
But the way it is, BLOOD DIAMOND is still one of the best movies of the years. The plot is dense, in fact it demands its viewers’’ complete attention for the first hour or so. Leonardo Di Caprio is nothing short of fantastic and has followed his incredible turn in Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED with an absolute winner. It is an understated performance, a brilliant portrayal of a person of complex integrity. He just justifies himself by saying-“This is Africa”. And that brings a devastating sense of fatalism to the proceedings. That’s where the movie drives home its point exceedingly well. You cannot help but think about the people there and life in that part of the world. We as people have been so incredibly fortunate with life when there are other people in some parts of the world who aren’t half as fortunate. The way innocent children are turned to killers is devastating. You would have read it in books and newspapers, you sure would have seen it on CNN but it is something else here. There’s gritty realism on display here, something which only HOTEL RWANDA could capture among all the movies on Africa. Yeah, there are characters with clichéd undertones, especially that of Captain Poison (David Harewood, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE), it still doesn’t in any way the movie’s strength. Djimon Hounsou is fantastic, but he tends to get a bit loud in places. Nevertheless, he’s absolutely powerful in places. Jennifer Connelly is her usual self, immediately letting us connect to a character. She just might be one of the more underappreciated actresses of our generation. BLOOD DIAMOND is as much a story of the realities of our times as it is a story of redemption, much like Zwick’s previous effort THE LAST SAMURAI. For most of its part, it really threads the complex morality of Danny fantastically well and ends it up quite satisfactorily as well.
But it falters when it tries to be too much. On one end it tells the plight of Africa where it stays at its absolute best. But once it starts concentrating on the romantic angle between Danny and Mandy it starts feeling long.
There was absolutely no need for them to have a relation. And when it tries to be a travel movie with Danny and Solomon go in search of the stone, it really loses its steam. There are a couple of useless sequences of Danny threatening Solomon that could have been altogether avoided, when these sequences have nothing new to tell. The movie also tends to over do its message thing. There’s an absolute stinker of a scene, where an old man they meet just blurts out for no reason-“Good that we don’t have oil”. It just sticks out and overindulgences like that are typical of Zwick. A little bit of editing on those ends could have made BLOOD DIAMOND into an absolute gem.
In many ways, Zwick’s BLOOD DIAMOND is a throwback to many message movies of the past where the prime characters form a triangle, one a cynic of questionable morality, one an idealist and the third a victim. Three combined form a classic combination for a message movie. Only that this one doesn’t gel its elements that well. At 143 minutes, it sure feels long in places. Nevertheless, it is one of 2006’s most important and best offerings, a movie well made and a message delivered really well.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


RUNTIME: 102 min.
RATING: ****

A ringside commentator is so excited at the start of the exhibition match between old Rocky Balboa and Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), that he yells –“I’m a fan of this guy. I was a child when he fought and I never thought that I would see him fighting.”
Well that pretty much summed me. I was probably 10 when I first saw ROCKY on TV, when he was already my favorite actor with his Rambo movies, and I just fell in love with him. The character is such a sweet guy, he’s so good. There were a lot of things that remained with me regarding Rocky- his jogging in the morning, his insecurity before the fight, the small girl that insults him and of course “Gonna fly” with Rocky climbing the stairs, which as a matter of fact is one of cinema’s iconic images.
The subsequent sequels were good entertainers but were far removed from the quintessential Rocky Balboa. There was a certain simplicity about the man and the story that made the original so special. And by the time I was done with the fifth installment, Rocky was a distant memory, only to be enjoyed by watching the original but an adulterated character nonetheless.
So when Sylvester Stallone declared that he’s making the final installment of his most popular character, it was for me the last nail in the coffin box for one of my favorite characters. But little did I know that deep inside me the Rocky fan was always alive, rooting for cinema’s favorite underdog. And when the movie started with “Gonna fly”, I gotta admit, I had goose bumps. Go ahead Rocky, make my day. I couldn’t believe that I would one day catch Rocky fighting on the big screen.
The plot, implausible as it may be, has the current heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon reviled by audiences for not fighting a legitimate challenger. He has lost his complete self respect. After watching an animated boxing match between boxers of different eras where Rocky is shown to knock out Mason, his managers come up with an ultimate publicity gimmick. They have Dixon invite Rocky Balboa for an exhibition match as his tribute to old champions.
Adrian has died. Rocky and his son Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimigla) are not exactly enjoying the best of relations, where the son is too “busy” to meet his father. So Rocky lets day pass one after another, living in past memories, especially of Adrian’s as he goes about telling boxing stories at his restaurant “Adrian’s”. He’s nothing to look forward to, searching for a meaning for his existence. He’s sad and lonely but has no one to talk to except Paulie (Burt Young), his longtime corner man, when he meets Marie (Geraldine Hughes) or Little Marie as he calls him, the same girl that insults him when he advises her against mixing with the wrong boys in the first film. In her he meets a similar person who’s as lonely as him, except that she has a son. And when he gets a chance to get toe to toe in the ring, he realizes that there’s something in him, in his “basement” that needs to come out.
ROCKY BALBOA isn’t only a boxing movie, just like the original. It is about Rocky, the character whom we’ve come to love immensely. In fact, for the first hour or so, boxing hardly takes center stage. It’s about believing in yourself, something what the original stood for. When a boxing expert comments that Rocky couldn’t stand before Dixon, it made me realize how insecure champions can be. You may have won lots of accolades but the one thing that will always stick out is one unnecessary piece of criticism.
The movie tends to get a little heavy-handed at times, with its take on life and stuff. But once Duke says –“Let’s start building some hurting bombs” and Bill Conti’s “Gonna fly” starts, you feel like standing up and whistling. Sad, that I don’t know how to, but I was clapping nonetheless.
In many ways the Rocky franchisee and Sly Stallone’s career have gone hand in hand. It was 1976 when Sylvester Stallone saw Chuck Wepner go the distance against Muhammad Ali and he had his screenplay ready in 10 days. What’s more the film was ready in a month at a shoestring budget and the rest is history.
Sylvester Stallone is tremendous. All those people who wrote him off as an actor could eat their words now. This is his best work in ages. The performance is so heartfelt. The character, his nobility, the warmth and groundedness are so much to the fore in Stallone.
ROCKY BALBOA may be flawed. I have given it 31/2 stars, but looking back at my review, I have just described a five star movie. Hell this isn’t a review in the first place; this is a die hard fan’s ode to one of his favorite characters. ROCKY BALBOA is one of the prime reasons we go to the movies in the first place. You cannot root for a character more than for Rocky. When the match starts and Rocky starts throwing “hurting bombs” at Dixon, I was swaying with him. Punch him Rocky; knock the bloody daylights out of him.
Forget II, III, IV and V. ROCKY BALBOA is the movie that’s the ultimate heir to ROCKY, the greatest underdog story of all time. What the heck, count those four in as well. There cannot be a better send off for Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa. I am still smiling and Bill Conti’s music is still in my ears.