Sunday, July 29, 2007

BREAKING AND ENTERING MOVIE REVIEW




















CAST: JUDE LAW, ROBIN WRIGHT PENN, JULIET BINOCHE, RAFI GAVRON, MARTIN FREEMAN, VERA FARMIGA, RAY WINSTONE
DIRECTOR: ANTHONY MINGHELLA
RUNTIME: 120 min.
RATING: ***
GENRE: FAMILY DRAMA, ROMANCE

Back in 1996, the Academy bestowed the Best Picture honors to a film I regard as the one of the most pretentious fluffs in cinema history. What seemed as a movie too deep for my younger self is clearly evident now to be a shallow undertaking. The very same pretension, so poetically, almost brings down this latest intentional tear-jerker set in London. And nobody else to blame but Anthony Minghella. He has built himself a reputation of making “chick flicks”, a reputation I don’t completely approve of. Amidst the teary ruckus of The English Patient (1996) and Cold Mountain (2003), he has made a good movie in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). But in his first original screenplay since 1991’s rather enjoyable Truly, Madly, Deeply Minghella has done only harm to his reputation.
Gone is the sweeping scope of his previous two romantic epics and in comes a relatively low-key simple drama. Set in the inner city district of King’s Cross in London, Breaking and Entering owes its title to Miro (Rafi Gavron), a teenage immigrant from Bosnia. Miro, who is a traceur, applies his abilities to fantastic effect by burgling architect Will Francis’ (Jude Law) office of its freshly supplied laptops. Will is leading a routine family life and is having an excuse for a romantic relationship with his wife Liv (Robin Wright Penn). Much of the distance that has crept between them owes its existence to the couple’s daughter who is suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and can’t sleep in the night. Will, tired of it all, decides to catch the burglars red handed. One night, when he follows Miro, he finds an unexpected turn in his life in the form of his single mother Amira (Juliet Binoche). He himself breaks and enters into her life, without knowing an iota of what to expect.
Scene for scene there is no fault per se, as with all Minghella movies. In fact, some sequences have enormous power; the emotions are conveyed beautifully, poignantly. But it is the overall product that is burdened with the smell of pretension. First, most of the turns of events lack a plausible reason; they just happen without any deal of spontaneity whatsoever. And that is a death ring for movies of this genre. The moment everything feels contrived, interest wanes rapidly. Will and Liv are supposed to be going through tough times but we never feel it, all we get is to hear the lines that are intended to tell us the same. How does Amira, a seemingly orthodox Bosnian Muslim woman fall in love with Will? The change of heart, the development of feelings is never captured. One moment they are strangers, the next moment they fall in love. Showing only the effects without a proper motivation kills the story. Moments as these make the movie very superficial.
Speaking of superficiality, another major problem plaguing the film is its use of metaphorical dialogues. Everybody is using metaphors; Will says to Liv once-“You seem to be behind a glass” or something to the same effect. Dialogues like these sound good, feel good in sweeping romantic tales, like Minghella’s previous two efforts. But here, in a simple drama, lines as these feel like one of those square pegs wanting to enter a round hole.
And added to it are the extremely unwise decisions on Minghella’s part to include racial discrimination, class differences and above all Vera Farmiga (The Departed, The Manchurian Candidate) as a hooker. Why was her character even in the movie in the first place? When Will’s partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) speaks of class, it stinks with shallowness. Ditto for the relatively subtler undertone of racial discrimination. These very elements would have been garnish had the basic story been structured well. But seldom have movies able to transpire the unpredictable, instinctive nature of human decisions on screen. Whenever it is done, a masterpiece is created (Magnolia) but whenever a movie fails to properly convey the motive of human emotions behind the decisions, it feels illogical. And when we, as audiences, pay the price of the admission ticket, we aren’t exactly forgiving. It is a pity.
The editing too, just like its story jumps to results. Things happen and then we realize they happened. We never anticipate them because there is no logical flow of things.
Not to mention that the movie is without its strengths. In fact, it is the best movie playing at the moment. Minghella is a fine director, and he makes fine movies, movies that are immensely literate and emotionally richer experiences than watching one of those stupid dead teenager movies or a useless horror flick (The Grudge2, movies that I deem fit enough to be reviewed). His movies are always substantial. In fact, of all the good bad directors, whose good bad movies I hate, Minghella’s movies are the best ones. Howsoever I dislike The English Patient I will be the first one to raise my hand up and vouch for it. Minghella, like all good directors is fantastic with actors. Here too, the performances are commendable. Juliet Binoche, as the single immigrant mother is the heart and soul of the movie. One of the great actresses of her generation, she carries some really unforgiving scenes on her own, and by means of her eyes and that beautiful face of hers conveys so much hidden pain. Robin Wright is good, not exactly brilliant. She seems tired. Jude Law, the principal character, the wheels on which the story flows is almost a letdown. His performance is good, better than most of the stuff he has been in lately, but nowhere near to what the part demanded. What seemed as a laid back style early in his career now seems lazy. Of late, everything he does seems to be the same as his previous turn, be it Alfie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Enemy at the Gates, Cold Mountain or The Holiday. Those sparkling eyes that sent a chill through our spine in Road to Perdition, his best performance to date, are lost somewhere. Law, please find them mate, you’re heck of an actor than the poor excuses for performances that you’re coming up with lately. Ray Winstone (The Departed, Sexy Beast), that wonderful actor delivers his short role with great aplomb. Breaking and Entering, for all its weaknesses which by the way are many, is a good enough motion picture, a movie I would definitely recommend to be watched. But with the expectations, the reservations that an Anthony Minghella film deserves. You are going to be emotionally exploitation and that, I believe is significantly better than exploitations of the other kind.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

WILD HOGS MOVIE REVIEW























CAST: JOHN TRAVOLTA, TIM ALLEN, WILLIAM H MACY, MARTIN LAWRENCE, MARISA TOMEI, RAY LIOTTA
DIRECTOR: WALT BECKER
RUNTIME: 100 min.
RATING: ZERO STARS
GENRE: COMEDY, BIKER

John Travolta, well some people just don’t learn. God sent Quentin Tarantino to resurrect his career through PULP FICTION but he has again managed to go back to the big genre of evil, mentally stunted movies. Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence, well garbage movies are familiar grounds for them. Marisa Tomei, well MY COUSIN VINNY now seems to be a glitch. But William Macy, oh dear, why in the world did you make this disgusting movie? You’re a great actor Bill and I’m a big fan of you. But oh dear, please don’t lend your stature to these sort of movies, movies that are an insult to one’s intelligence howsoever low it is on the IQ scale.
That WILD HOGS is a disgrace to every biker movie there has been including Mickey Rourke’s HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN goes without saying. A pathetic excuse for a comedy and in fact a movie is how WILD HOGS could be best described as. Four urbanites, three of whom are educated (benefit of doubt to the movie for Martin Lawrence’s character is a plumber of sorts) and it comes with such repulsive humor as this. Wasn’t this movie about the “fish out of water” theme, the fish being these urbanites who are fed up of the monotone of their daily lives. And how do these evil sharks make us laugh? By telling us jokes that involve faeces and lot of homophobic garbage. Weren’t these grown up individuals; what we have on our hands is a dentist (Tim Allen), a businessman (Travolta) and a software programmer (Macy). And between them all we have is a moronic sense of humor. A grand total of zero laughing moments are present in the entire movie. It was embarrassing, truly embarrassing to watch audiences greet this crude humor not only by laughing their guts out but clapping as well. Large parts of the humor involve a man’s naked body and the “lines” just keep coming in. Ridiculously predictable, I haven’t seen such idiotic humor in a major motion picture with A-list actors since MEET THE FOCKERS. Even those crude sitcoms have an infinitely better sense of humor and aesthetics. And as for the dramatic elements, it makes you cringe in your seat. There was at least a dozen times where I felt the need to throw something on those morons on screen.
When the hogs (pigs) start rambling about their lives and about who between the actual motorcycle gang and them is the real biker, it enters the torture zone. How did this stunted piece of junk garner around $200 million at the box office is beyond my comprehension.
Performances expectedly are woeful. Collectively, for a buddy picture, it scores another resounding ZERO for chemistry. Any which way you look at it, there’s no joy in the interaction whatsoever. John Travolta is a sore in the eye. It is great that he has an alternate career in flying. He would be a Good Samaritan if he could make that his only profession for the benefits are twin- not only would he be saved of his tired turns, we would be saved of some harrowing times too. Tim Allen, oh he couldn’t be worse than this. Even if he tried. As for Lawrence, he better pray for Michael Bay to come up with one of those Bad Boys flicks. Ray Liotta, why was he laughing in that GOODFELLAS way? Was it meant to be a nod? If it was, my bet is Scorsese wouldn’t take it too kindly. Anyways, he is way better than the central players. He at least seems the lone whiff of sanity in this retarded land. I don’t want to talk about William H Macy, it hurts. Is he so desperate for work; in fact are all of these A-list actors so desperate for work that they walked up for this? Come on, this is Walt Becker. VAN WILDER, anybody?
The biggest disgrace comes at the end in the form of this genre’s best known actor, Peter Fonda. EASYRIDER is given a lot of nods and all of them would make Wyatt and Billy turn in their grave. Peter Fonda, as he did in GHOSTRIDER, makes a guest appearance and rambles about who is the poser and who is the real deal. Very sad that between the Nicolas Cage starrer and this one here, the entire genre has been unintentionally abused.
At the end I was rooting for Jack (Ray Liotta) and his biker gang to beat the hell out of these four losers. How I wish the job was done, it would have been an infinitely better movie then. After all the bad guys are supposed to die at the end, isn’t it?
Travolta, you beauty, how generous of you to give us another motion picture “achievement” to be kept right besides BATTLEFIELD EARTH? I hope it is a parting gift.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF PHOENIX MOVIE REVIEW



















CAST: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, EMMA WATSON, RUPERT GRINT, IMELDA STAUNTON, MICHAEL GAMBON, GARY OLDMAN, HELENA BONHAM CARTER, RALPH FIENNES
DIRECTOR: DAVID YATES
RUNTIME: 138 min.
RATING: **
GENRE: FANTASY, ADVENTURE

First things first, this isn’t a comparison of the book vis-√†-vis the movie; I have read none of the books. And second things second, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is still the best of the series.
Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment in a series that has already pocketed more than $3.5 billion in worldwide sales is without a shred of doubt the weakest of them all and by a very long margin. What was the point of the whole movie? Was it supposed to be the making of an order, was it a pre-showdown or was it Harry Potter’s coming of age? The movie is neither and the only point it makes is that sequels, especially crass as these exist only to make that $3.5 into $4.5. Artistically, emotionally and dramatically stunted, this film has a lot of special effects but absolutely no magic or even something as trifle as a charm. There was a time not too long ago when we shared the wonder of those cute little kids when they first sat on their brooms, when the owls just filled the room with letters. That was charm you can’t buy with any amounts of money and unfortunately money is the only element on full display here.
Forget the plot; half the world knew the plot even before they started production and the other half, well let us just forget about us. The most important question is- What is the purpose of an adaptation? Is it just to bring the book to life? You don’t need to read the book to realize that all the adaptation involves is sections of what is supposedly an 800 page book welded together into a two hour movie. Forget the film and forget narration, not for a single moment does it appear that the writers or the director have paid any sort of attention to develop a scene. It doesn’t matter if sequences make little or no sense. Harry Potter is brought before the Ministry of Dark Arts for using a “Petronas” (forgive my spelling) charm in the presence of a muggle. Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) speaks some meaningless lines and suddenly Harry is cleared. Then again, when Harry is asked by a bunch of wannabe magic-warriors about proof regarding the return of Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes), he speaks some rubbish and abracadabra, everyone comes up and signs. The biggest, the most glaring sore to the eye is when Arthur Weasely (Mark Williams) is hurt and the makers don’t even have the decency to show Ron Weasely’s (Rupert Grint) reaction. Everyone seems to be so preoccupied with plot that nobody gives even an iota of thought to weaving a story. Making a movie, when it is laden with fantasy is all about how well you tell a story. And telling a story has little to do with following a plot. And on top of that, there is no humor. All this of course is hidden under a reason that is being marketed as the “darkest” tale in the series. Well it is dark because it is frighteningly boring.
I hate movies as these that are emotionally and artistically hollow yet perform cheap tricks to hide them. Why such pretension? The glaring example is a sequence involving Miss McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Dolores Umbridge where they are caught in an argument while walking over some steps. To show who holds the upper hand, they are made to go up and down the steps. That is cheap, that is really cheap. At every turn, there is a photograph moving or a strange animal cross the path. All these make for great background but here they’re an attempt to cover the shallowness of the movie.
The performances are uniformly crass; I cannot comprehend the inane reason why actors become loud and “dramatic” when it comes to fantasy movies. Emma Thomson in Prisoner of Azkaban, Imelda Staunton here as the wicked Dolores Umbridge, Helena Bonham Carter in her blink and miss turn, oh I even forgot the name of her character. The only two faces that bring any respectability to the proceedings are Gary Oldman and Michael Gambon. As for the three kids, I would like to borrow a line from Hermione Granger; they have got an acting range of a teaspoon. I absolutely loved them in the first two and their cuteness overshadowed their histrionic deficiencies. But here, full grown they are, all their talent is on full display. Daniel Radcliffe, probably the next Macaulay Culkin could do himself tons of favor if he could just rent out a copy of EMPIRE OF THE SUN and see his senior Brit and one time child actor Christian Bale perform and carry the entire movie on his tender shoulders.
As for the director David Yates, all I want to say is I dread at the very thought that he has been hired for the next installment as well.
The climax is awful and this is one problem I guess trickles down from the book. There is absolutely no pay off. All these guys talk about in the whole movie is some prophecy and as it turns out, it is the thing you have known all along. Plus we’re cheated out of some secrets that I guess are supposed to be revealed in the later movies regarding why Harry Potter’s and Voldermort’s fates are intertwined, why Potter survived the attack when he was a baby. The posters put Lord Voldermort and for anybody with any doubts, he isn’t there. Guess he is a marketing gimmick to keep everyone interested for as long as the franchisee runs.

Monday, July 09, 2007

VACANCY MOVIE REVIEW

















CAST: LUKE WILSON, KATE BECKINSALE, FRANK WHALEY
DIRECTOR: NIMROD ANTAL
RUNTIME: 80 min.
RATING: **1/2
GENRE: THRILLER, HORROR

I didn’t expect too much from the movie; I don’t especially expect too much from this genre these days either. And what ensued over the next hour and half wasn’t unpleasant either. It sure does come around as a promising premise but everything spirals into a series of silly plot turns that borders on insulting the intelligence, not mine but the creators’.
Horror thrillers no longer exist today. All we have at our disposal are movies like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remakes, the FINAL DESTINATION movies and the horrible HOSTEL which are not only dumb, they’re offensive. Offensive to the senses, offensive to the mind and most importantly a sin against cinema.
The first thing I would commend VACANCY and its makers for is their restraint from indulging in blood, gore and mind numbing violence. Instead they rely on old school tricks and something we know as likeable characters that is all but gone today. There is no needless sex neither is blood flying all over the place. It sure is assuring to watch people who have civilized tastes and I mean no offence to Eli Roth here. And good performances from both Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson sure do help matters.
Amy and David, right at the end of a failed marriage are on their way back when their vehicle breaks down. They manage to rent a room at a lonely inn smack in the middle of nowhere. Continuing their stay for the night at the motel, they come across snuff videos. On watching them, they realize that the snuff movies were made in the very same motel and they’re about to be part of it. The rest of it is escape.
The problem isn’t the premise. It is the execution. The movie does manage to be decently thrilling till about halfway. But once silly plot points come, everything goes awry. For starters, the villains or the psychos are least interesting. And at least in the last 20 minutes or so, it sure feels that VACANCY has overstayed its welcome. Then there’re the standard thrill techniques of sudden “boo” s and brief flashes of villains. They no longer scare you and that is something all horror makers need to get. And it works best when used sparsely and not as a stock technique. The climax left a lot to be desired. What felt as a brave decision by the makers later turned out to be another clich√©. Since this is a standard above average product from the horror thriller factory, I have an advise as far as the starting credits are concerned; they roll on indefinitely and Antal would have been better served if they started out with the story with the credits rolling.
Nevertheless, a solid effort. Not bad and surely not morally reprehensible. One word: serviceable.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

THE QUEEN MOVIE REVIEW

















CAST: HELEN MIRREN, MICHAEL SHEEN, JAMES CROMWELL, ROGER ALAM, ALEX JENNINGS
DIRECTOR: STEPHEN FREARS
RUNTIME: 103 min.
RATING: ***** (MASTERPIECE)
GENRE: DOCUDRAMA, BIOPIC

What a privilege to have been witness to such a wonderful motion picture. A cinematic triumph so tender, so gentle yet so powerful. This is the rarest of cinema; this is the reason why a motion picture is such an important medium of art, maybe the most important medium of art. I’m writing this review but I’m at a loss of words to describe it. I cannot explain in simple words how such an economic work can be so breathtakingly beautiful and powerful at the same time.
I have always had the least interest for the royal family except for of course, the “People’s Princess”. I always was one of the millions who looked on the Queen as a stoic bigot, a monarchy that has its days counting. THE QUEEN shatters that blissful ignorance and the collective celebrity worshipping mentality of the present times. And it doesn’t go the way with ham-fisted dialogues; it treads the path with utmost delicateness. It is a work of great intelligence and subtle intensity, every frame greatly observant of the varying moods. I’m at a loss of words at describing how affected I’m by this movie at the moment, but all I can say is this is one of the finest motion pictures I have seen. THE QUEEN represents cinema at its finest, at its peak- accessible to the lowest commonest denominator yet compromising nowhere on quality. I just cannot stress enough how wonderfully gentle and beautiful this movie was, and such a wonderful character study.
When a movie is this good, I lack the heart to divulge any more of the plot. Briefly put, THE QUEEN occurs during the most turbulent times in recent history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), the death of Princess Diana.
The most obvious thing to be lauded here, the one element that has won plaudits from every corner is Helen Mirren’s performance. The resemblance isn’t just skin deep, Mirren is the Queen right down to her soul. The toughest thing about playing a real life character isn’t just imitating the person; it is bringing a depth, bringing sensitivity to the portrayal and making the audience feel it. Mirren accomplishes much, much more. Not only she brings the “stoic bigot” to life, she still preserves the image of the Queen even in the “behind the scenes” sequences. The mysterious inner self is always present and that is the true masterwork by Mirren. Although the entire movie with each and every frame with Mirren in it is breathtaking, one sequence in particular brought a lump in my throat. The Queen, when arrives amongst the public to pay respects to Diana and finds all sorts of nasty comments is such an astonishing achievement not only in acting but the entire process of filmmaking as a whole. This will be the sequence that will always come to my mind when I think of this movie. Arguably one of the finest performances I have ever seen.
But that is not where the good performances end. Everyone is wonderful, wonderful in their roles. Michael Sheen’s is another wonderful performance. He so effectively captures the easy going personality of Tony Blair. Part of it owes to his previous effort at playing the same man in the TV drama THE DEAL but we would know him more from the UNDERWORLD movies. James Cromwell as Philip is fantastic too. In fact, the performances collectively are as good as any I have seen in recent times.
The script by Peter Morgan, who wrote another winner this year in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, is the primary source of the beautiful poignancy of the film. There’s precious little in the way of a plot to traverse but Morgan comes up with a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking screenplay, laced with witty moments. As for historical accuracy, I’m the last person to comment on it. But the proceedings sure have a feel of authenticity going for them, something that sure is a rarity.
I have always enjoyed Stephen Frears (HIGH FIDELITY, DANGEROUS LIAISONS, Mrs. HENDERSON PRESENTS) works but never have felt so completely blown away as I’m here. I cannot think of another director, especially an American one who could have handled the subject. Frears not only gives a new benchmark to the “docudrama” movies, he infuses the proceedings with the same dignity and intelligence as the subject in question. THE QUEEN could have so easily been a tabloid-gossip-event-chain. But in the hands of Frears and coupled with a fantastic script and intelligent performances, this is a reflection of where our sentiments as a mass lie. It isn’t good or bad, it is just two schools of thought. The Queen isn’t one who wears her heart on her sleeve and she definitely isn’t one to show emotions in public. She believes in duty before self. And then there are the present times where easily accessible leaders/celebrities are the ones sought by the mass, howsoever fake it may be. I just might know where Frears sentimentalities lie and that has lot to do with the sequence which involves Blair’s outburst over his staff’s criticism of the Queen. When the traumatic days are over, the Queen tells Blair about the fickle nature of the tabloids’ headlines. Frears sure had a thing or two to convey to Blair there.
The movie has made me question my ignorant support for Diana over her former in-laws. It has made me question the stereotype we all have of the Royal family. But more so, it made me think about the Royal family, an exercise that nothing has ever been able to compel me to perform.
The movie in many ways reminds me of the Cuban Missile crisis drama THIRTEEN DAYS. There’s something innately romantic about real life characters and especially world leaders being portrayed like regular people. And when it comes to the Royal family, it is much more than mere romantic. It is thought provoking, thanks to THE QUEEN.
Tell you what; I’ve already taken tickets for the show day after tomorrow. A movie as beautiful as this ought to be savored to the fullest possible.