Monday, August 27, 2007

RATATOUILLE MOVIE REVIEW












CAST (VOICES): PATTON OSWALT, IAN HOLM, LOU ROMANO, JANEANE GAROFALO, PETER O’TOOLE
DIRECTOR: BRAD BIRD
RUNTIME: 110 min.
RATING: *****
GENRE: COMEDY, ANIMATION

Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.
- Walt Disney

If there’s anyone truly, consistently worthy of the title “The Entertainers”, it has got to be the guys down at Pixar. The only word that comes to my mind when I think of them is genius. For over a decade now, not only have they produced the best animated feature films, they have produced the most ingenious, the most hilarious, the warmest, forget the adjectives, the best entertainers cinema has had to offer us.
Another Walt Disney quote comes to mind-
I do not like to repeat successes; I like to go on to other things.
In this age of endless sequels uniformly insignificant trying their level best to demean summer movies to the status of stupid meaningless fluff, Pixar have always come up with the goods, goods that are enchanting, goods that put a wide beaming smile on your face no matter who you are. Always innovative and for once giving you the rare feeling that you just might have underpaid for the entry ticket.
So what do the geniuses have on their menu this time around?
Remy (Patton Oswalt) the rat, carrying dreams of making it big in the culinary world finds its way to one of Paris’ prestigious restaurant Gusteau, the owner of which, the master chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) and Remy’s hero, has died of a shock after receiving a scathing review by the one and only of food critics Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). But how does a rodent, of all the creatures have its preparation be eaten by anyone? Well, that is what Pixar enthralls you with this time around, a tale about cooking and how “anyone can cook”.
There’s a sequence right in the climax, a sequence that so very richly deserved each and every clap it received. Anton Ego, the fearsome food critic whose very review, if bad, is death ring for any restaurant, is seated, eye-brows twirled all-ready to lambast Remy’s preparation. As he tastes the ratatouille, not a word is spoken but the image of a young Anton eating his mother’s food is served. And then, the pen, the dreaded pen, falls. That is classic animation, the power it wields, not only to narrate without a single word spoken but also to convey a wide range of emotions. The sequence is funny, I was clapping well after it was over, but it is heart-warming in its own sweet way, the way great animations touch us.
Needless to say, the animation sets a new bar, again. And honestly, I don’t expect anything lower from Pixar in that department. Paris in the night, with all its lights is breathtaking. There’s a chase sequence in the second-half that is right in the class of the best Tom & Gerry chases one could come up with. And all that, thanks to the visual geniuses down at Pixar. I’m might never get tired of calling them that.
The voice talents do not stand out and that isn’t a bad thing at all. All they do is support the film and elevate it unlike that of Shrek the Third where characters’ voice-nuances seem to have sent the main narration backseat. One voice does stand out; Peter O’Toole does come up with a memorable turn as the food critic. I guess Brad Bird intended just that.
Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), much like John Lasseter (the master behind Pixar’s Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bugs Life and Cars and executive producer here), is a film maker who truly understands the medium and its vast boundaries or the lack of it. His narration is always unpredictable, especially the way sequences unfold. The energy is always there, the warmth is always there and the story is always there. Plus, the visuals are spectacular, even though they’re limited most of the time within the confines of a kitchen.
For those who look into the top and bottom section of a movie review intending to catch the summary, Ratatouille is the best entertainer that has visited the screen this year. It does have its minor quibbles but I don’t even want to discuss them. Anyone feeling the bad after-taste of Shrek the Third would do well do try this gem of a dish (I’m terribly predictable with all my cooking metaphors; I could learn something from the film). I’m one of the biggest fans of Pixar’s products, I savor them. And for every Pixar film I say with eager anticipation, just like Anton Ego-“Surprise me”. And I know they’ll do a bang-up job at that.
By the way some of you might be wondering, what in the wide world is ratatouille? Well, I have never tasted the dish, hell I have never even laid my eyes on it though it is supposed to be a vegetable stew made with eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions and seasoned with herbs and garlic (source: http://www.answers.com/). Why am I telling you this? Maybe because I’m a little worked up in the tummy area after watching all those wonderful preparations. I am one of those who boast of a sub-zero CQ (Cooking Quotient), my friends once banished me from the kitchen. But next time I experiment on myself as a guinea pig, I’ll remember what Auguste Gusteau and the film has to say- “Anyone can cook.”

I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.
- Walt Disney
Pixar does both, time and time again. For the entire family.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

28 WEEKS LATER MOVIE REVIEW



















CAST: ROBERT CARLYLE, CATHERINE McCORMACK, ROSE BYRNE, IMOGEN POOTS, MACKINTOSH MUGGLETON
DIRECTOR: JUAN CARLOS FRESNADILLO
RUNTIME: 99 min.
RATING: ***1/2
GENRE: HORROR, SCI-FI, THRILLER

In the opening sequence, we’re introduced to Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), a couple, who’re living with a few people, fighting their life out by hiding in a practically unlit home. The Rage virus and its carriers are out there, somewhere; the struggle is for the hour. Just as they’re having their dinner, a boy knocks their door, desperately. Don opens the door and the child rushes in, strangely so Alice embraces him. I said to myself-“Lady, are you out of your mind. You don’t embrace any kid, this is 28 Weeks Later.” Alice and Don just exchange a glance, and we know, there’s more to that instinctive act than meets the eye.
But nothing is explained straightaway, surprisingly because I was under the impression that this was another of those sequels to a very creative film. As we are introduced to their son later, we realize that the kid in the opening scene resembles him. And all this done with a rare subtlety. That is when I sat up from my usual slouched position (standard for all expectedly dumb affairs) and said to myself-“I’m in good hands.
28 Days Later, released in 2002, shocked and endeared audiences world over giving the flagging zombie genre a much needed shot in the arm, plus bringing a whole new spin to it. It was brilliant, both as a horror thriller and a post-apocalyptic human drama driving home what sheer innovation could bring on the audiences’ plate and how good some of the UK filmmakers were (if at all it needed reiteration). And all that at a shoestring budget of $9.8 million.
So, does the over-working Hollywood sequel factory pass muster against Danny Boyle’s (Executive Producer here) original? Without a shred of doubt, it manages to stand and hold its own against its illustrious predecessor, on all counts, aided both by some amazing technical innovations and huge dollar influx. It sure suffers from a lack of originality as far as the script is concerned but whatever is put on screen is riveting, aesthetically tasteful and to my surprise comes across as rather intelligent. Reason? Two of them-fantastic direction and wonderful performances.
There isn’t anything exactly special by means of the plot. For starters, Catherine McCormack’s character is supposed to die in the opening act itself. Now, nobody here is remotely Hitchcock and nobody brought in McCormack for one sequence. She is a big name and she’ll eventually come back. Stuff like that could have been taken care off by the script by providing a good enough reason. Unfortunately, the reason is less of a reason and more of a plot-device.
Since the Rage virus has managed to wipe off London, a U.S. led NATO force (courtesy Hollywood’s involvement this time around) quarantines the entire London area. A secure zone is opened for the first of the residents to come back from the refugee camps. Among them are siblings Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) whose father Don is one of the few survivors. Through the means of some plot contrivances, some of them sticking out very ugly, the virus seeps into the secure zone and it is just running from then on. I bought each one of them but not one where Don passes into the military-medical area, nobody stopping him. That was just plain stupid; you’re supposed to have at least one man out on the door. Come on, even the dumbest flicks have some poor chap standing outside.
But those silly glitches in the plot aside, and believe me it is very easy to overlook them; the film is one of those rarities that you won’t find easily this year: a sequel that doesn’t leave you raging and running to the counter to demand your money back. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo must have done something really nice in Intacto (his only feature film before this) to have caught the eye of Danny Boyle and his partners Andrew Macdonald (Producer of 28 Days Later as well) and Alex Garland (Executive Producer here and the screenwriter for 28 Days Later) to helm the sequel. I have not seen his first feature film, but what I’ve seen here, he seems to have a bright future. Boasting of creativity worthy of Boyle, Fresnadillo, much like him doesn’t just go all out on the gore. A great emphasis is put on characters; the rare horror movie lately where I found myself caring for the characters. As is the case with the original, it runs along a very pleasant line of a human family drama and a sci-fi apocalyptic-horror scenario. Which of them is the backdrop is debatable and that is a debate I’m most pleased with. There’s a small element where I believe Fresnadillo scored over Boyle and that was in the way tension was created and the shock was provided to an ever-eager-to-jumpinseat audiences. Boyle wasn’t exactly original; there were times I could almost predict when the shock factor is coming in. But Fresnadillo’s horror doesn’t seem to rely on those shocks alone. They’re just garnish. All the variables are exposed early in the sequence, effectively taking out the “boo” moment. His real strategy is creating a sequence and let it take its own course and ending. There’re several moments that stand out- the snipers firing at everybody, the survivors trying to escape in a car and all of them are given a fresh treatment, not like those filmmakers who seem to be under the naïve impression that we have discovered horror movies only yesterday. Fresnadillo knows that and with quiet a generic material on his hands, plays his tricks. Most of them hit the mark for me.
The original had an unforgettable sequence, one of the sequences of this decade, where Cillian Murphy walks in a desolate London. This film does the very same, but with the London skyline. The view is unnerving. I will remember one sequence in particular here, one of the best tension filled sequences I have seen in a major horror film in a long time. At par in my book with the brilliant birthday party jump-in-your-seat alien sighting from Shyamalan’s Signs but completely unlike it, three characters are left in complete pitch black darkness with one of them guiding the other two by means of a sniper rifle night vision scope. All that is visible to us is the terrified faces of the two people.
Technically the film scores maximum marks. Although continuing on the same grainy look the original had, this has great many tricks of its own. Of special mention is the use of pitch black dark. Plus, thanks to the extra budget, there’re some cool sequences involving explosions through London. Then there’s one involving an aerial view of some gas spreading throughout the streets of London. The film uses these effects to further its story and not the other way round, and that is a very good and rare thing this year.
The performances are a major source of strength. Robert Carlyle is as good always. The film manages to pull off some of his sequences solely on the strength of his acting. The two kids are good too managing to make you care for them.
The ending, coupled with the writing, is what keep the movie from really being one of the horror movies of this decade. It still is, but marginally. That ill-advised epilogue in Paris came across as cheesy and another device to make a sequel. I’m not against sequels but don’t be so obvious. I so wish they should have ended it with the kid looking out of the chopper. That image would have been quiet impressionable. I’m disappointed that this film didn’t make as much money as some of the incredibly dumb Asia-influenced horror movies make these days. This is a good film, a rare cerebral horror film, bordering on memorable like its predecessor. But I wish they leave these films alone, the two make great companions (the DVD is coming home for sure). I don’t know what new road they’re going to take in the third one, if there is one. Will it be named 28 Months Later? For the sake of creativity and these two movies, I sure as hell hope not.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

TRANSFORMERS MOVIE REVIEW















CAST: SHIA LABEOUF, MEGAN FOX, JON VOIGHT, JOHN TURTURRO, JOSH DUHAMEL, MEGAN FOX
DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY
RUNTIME: 144 min.
RATING: **1/2
GENRE: ACTION

Believe it or not, there sure are some benefits of watching a Michael Bay movie, more so when you get early to the counter and buy the cheapest tickets. Sitting there, among numerous teenagers, and adults still to break the barrier into maturity, you get to feel so good about yourself. You realize that you no longer are that stupid teenager who laughs at a barrage of sex, urine and fart jokes. You also get to watch a lot of stuff blow up, bang bang, that bang recording a decibel reading barely within the higher limit of human audible limit. Good Bay realizes that, otherwise there would be dogs going crazy outside. If ever movies can be looked as a meter to record the intelligence quotient of a person and you want to test yourself, best is to check into one of them Michael Bay movies. If you still find yourself laughing and have your adrenaline pumping after the testosterone overflow on screen, tell yourself-“Still some way to go.”
I am not exactly one of those Bay haters; it is just that I despise his movies (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys II, The Island). But in Transformers, he finally seems to have found a material that can resist his carnage-creation (carnage = bad movies). Not that it is brilliant, not even remotely, but it is just that a combination of my sub-zero expectations, my thinking cap left with my car at the parking (Bay movies, special offer: No extra charges) and some cool special effects coupled with some wow moments (believe me, they are just moments the longest of them clocking at 5 seconds) made this one of the more enjoyable movies of this summer. On a scale, I enjoyed it more than Spiderman3, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix and Shrek the Third combined, the tent poles of this summer.
Don’t ask me about the plot, I pay slightly higher attention than Bay to that insignificant ingredient in the Bay world, which isn’t saying much. There’s something about some cube called AllSpark that is some sort of huge power (I would be grateful if somebody mailed me the power everyone’s behind) that has been supposedly hidden on Earth millions of years ago by an alien race i.e. transformers, the inhabitants of some planet called Cybertron. There’re the good transformers called Autobots that don’t want the cube to fall into the wrong hands i.e. the evil transformers or the Decepticons. They come to earth, both of them, to find it for the secret lies in the hand of one Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and then all hell breaks loose, which in Bay world means explosions, dumb characters running amuck and lots of loud noise.
Let us get done with the good stuff real fast, it won’t take long.
Some of the action moments are brilliantly done. They might be super-dumb but Bay movies sometimes know how to appeal to that male inside you. I admit, sometimes I enjoyed it this time too and maybe because it was nicely done. Trucks, monster ones, are something I’ll buy any day. Here, big trucks, tanks, cars, airplanes basically all that piece of equipment created by man (humans) that appeals to a man (males) is on full display. Plus the scenes of them roaring as a vehicle one moment and creaking into one of them cool oversized piece of robots is fun to watch. The transformers aren’t exactly great characters, but what the hell, you paid for a Bay movie not a James Cameron movie (that is why come early and get the cheapest tickets). They’re some real spectacular sequences of chase where in they turn from vehicles to robots, some real wow moments I spoke of earlier. The action sequences are the one and the only draw, though they aren’t exactly good. Most of them, as is the entire movie, shot with an epileptic camera where few things are clear. It is just carnage (any which way you look at it). But something about them felt so frustrating for they was the germ of some spectacular action sequences. But no one, both in the movie and the people who made it realized that there were more than a few opportunities of a spectacular car chase with lots of avenues to spend time and money on cool transformations and explosions. Especially one I remember correctly where in one evil transformer (kindly mail me the name) chasing the Bumblebee with Sam Witwicky inside transforms back into a police car and starts chasing. The sequence had terrific potential to be a special one but it just ends, with nothing on the plate. Alas, I exclaimed and added “Bay” to it.
It did take long.
The bad part, this is going to take even shorter. It is a Bay movie. What are you expecting, Terminator 2: Judgment Day? All the “virtues” are on full display. The dumbness factor is the usual. Plus the characters are so irritating, except for the central one of Sam. In the midst of it, one of the good transformers asks-“Parents are irritating, should I shoot them.” Replace parents with people there and you’ve my answer: a resounding Yes. At 144 minutes, Transformers is especially long. Needless parts dealing with boring teenage stuff with the story going nowhere and laced with embarrassing jokes keeps Transformers from really taking off, except for the climactic battle. Even the battle is less of a showdown and more of a letdown; nobody really cares about the battle between Megatron and Optimus Prime. One reason, averagely etched characters and another reason, that jarring camera that just leaves our heads spinning with headache. The action is more or less lost in translation. Performances, apart from LaBeouf’s are splendid opportunities for poking fun. Special mention for LaBeouf, this boy is good. His is the same part, cheesy, dumb and irritating in equal parts but he somehow manages to give a nice turn. Worst element of all is the background score. One word again will explain how ridiculous it and its usage is-Bay.
That is Transformers for you -stupid, cheesy, loud, unclear, long, boring, irritating, wild, exciting-in-parts, great action and would have been great action, all of it rolled into one. And if you follow my prescription of parking your brain, believe me, this is the most “summery” movie this summer (keep At World’s End out of the equation).
But I can’t help but wonder, what a good film maker would have done with it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

MOU GAAN DOU (INFERNAL AFFAIRS) MOVIE REVIEW
















CAST: ANDY LAU, TONY LEUNG, ANTHONY WONG CHAU-SANG, ERIC TSANG
DIRECTOR: WAI KEUNG LAU & SIU FAI MAK
RUNTIME: 98 min.
RATING: ****
GENRE: THRILLER, DRAMA, CRIME

The first thing that comes to my mind when I remember this gritty cop drama is the regret I felt during watching it, the regret on not having Mandarin as one of the languages I understood. I’m normally at peace with subtitles; I see a hell of lot of them. But this is a nail biting super-fast often too jammed up thriller that hardly gives you time to look down at the subtitles.
Released at a time when Hong Kong was supposedly reeling under a wave of unimaginative film-making, Mou Gaan Dou not only smashed the box office but developed a cult following of its own around the world. Nothing else is a bigger testament to the fact of the film’s success other than the singular fact that it spawned two sequels and a re-make helmed by none other than the great Martin Scorsese.
The plot, ah that is one thing of real marvel here. But rest assured, I wouldn’t divulge any of it, even though it is practically known everyplace. Thrillers as this are rare and I would want the viewer to experience it to the fullest and mirror the joy I earned on watching this gem of a film.
The word that comes to my mind while I intend to discuss the central theme is Irony. It reminds me of a certain image, a certain cinematic image from Hong Kong director John Woo’s action classic Face/Off. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, after their face transplants, are separated by a mirror-door in an action sequence. As they turn around to shoot each other, they pause for a brief moment looking at their reflections in the mirror, their reflections but not them. The reflections is what they hate, their existence. In a certain way, Mou Gaan Dou is just that. Both of them hate their individual disguise, one (Undercover cop Chan) looking for freedom and the other (Inspector Lau) looking for redemption. Their lives mirrored into the other’s existence, is the central theme of the movie.
The first word that comes to my mind while I intend to describe this movie is Efficiency. There have been few thrillers that so effortlessly thrill you, keep you right on the edge of your seat, get you acquainted with such rich characters yet manage to knock you with killer twists and pull a fast one on you. Endlessly inventive, this is not one of those films that are just that. It explores the psychology of being a mole like no other film. And all this within 98 minutes. Phew.
The performances are fantastic from the two leads, especially for an action movie. Andy Lau in a brilliant minimalist performance evokes considerable depth from his character. Tony Leung, although hampered by what I perceive as certain imperfections in the script (I’ll come to that later), conveys remarkably the passage of time and his weariness on the job. It is because of these performances that the film manages to capture a decade of events in 98 minutes without getting confusing. Eric Tsang is brilliant as the mob boss Sam, exuding the authority in every frame he is in. His is a scene stealing performance, sure, but not the ones that depend on excessive hamming and being over-the-top (Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman). A special mention to Anthony Wong who captures the moral center of the film, the man who is the most stable both literally and figuratively. Watching him, I was reminded of Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Father Bobby in Sleepers. Although not boasting of too much screen time, he still manages to express a remarkable moral integrity on screen.
The technical aspects are brilliant and especially the cinematography. It doesn’t copy the Michael Mann frame architecture but evokes the same gritty and polished feel. The glass buildings around on the roof top bring a poetic resonance of the two characters when they meet there, each one reflecting the other. But the film is brilliantly smart and never does “window dress” that act. It just keeps it in the background, rich and thought-provoking.
Strangely, for although it stands as a script brimming with intelligence and novelty (the cell phone and Morse code usage is something that I’ve never seen before), it is the very thing that I’m cross with to an extent. That and the direction. Mind that both these elements are executed with a dazzling efficiency. And in a strange way, these two elements that take us into the depths of these two characters are the ones that undermine its quest from remarkably good to the truly great. But there’re elements that often undermine the very thought process, the very theme that this movie stands for. Undercover cop Chan is shown, quiet often, to be at ease with the status quo of his life. The plot, brilliant, is what drives the movie and its characters when it should be the other way round. Often, in a movie as this, tension builds from the anticipation of what the characters would do. Brilliant examples of this are Reservoir Dogs and Donnie Brasco, although the latter is an inferior picture compared to this. You have established characters and given a seemingly edgy situation, it builds an extraordinary tension. Although Mou Gaan Dou is one of the fastest paced films I’ve seen, it is certainly not the best paced. We tend to understand the situation of the person through the lines they utter. On more than one occasion, the central characters utter lines that tell us of their status. I’m one of those who find such lines superfluous. Dialogues like these, which tell the state of mind, should not be a status reminder but a supporting element to the entire plot and the character’s actions. They then extend the gravity they are supposed to. A major character goes redemptive by means of a single dialogue. Although the makers can defend themselves that they had brought it out right at the start, that too is by means of a single dialogue.
The usage of female for window-dressing, as is quiet fantastically done in the film poster, is shallow. They’re entirely needless with no depth and the only purpose they serve is to advance the plot. In a way, the female usage represents the shortcomings I’m at cross with. Plus the ill-advised usage of flashbacks at important events highlighted with an easy-to-sentimentalize background score undermines the amazing leanness of this film. The film doesn’t deserve such cheap ingredients to make it “accessible”.
But my complaints shouldn’t divert, not for a moment, from the fact that this is one of the finest entries into the crime genre. I had such complaints because the film deserved them. It is so good. To pack so much clarity and so much entertainment in a 98-minute film is amazing enough.



What really stays in the mind is what would happen to Inspector Lau at the end, after the film. I know the sequels offer some answers but I would love to dwell on it in my own mind for some time before I get down to them. The film deserves that precious time of ours.

THE DEPARTED MOVIE REVIEW


















CAST: LEONARDO DI CAPRIO, MATT DAMON, JACK NICHOLSON, MARK WAHLBERG, MARTIN SHEEN, VERA FARMIGA, ALEC BALDWIN
DIRECTOR: MARTIN SCORSESE
RUNTIME: 151 min
RATING: *****
GENRE: CRIME, THRILLER, DRAMA

The most impossible thing to do after watching The Departed is to come up with another film that is better paced than this one. If anyone has any reservations regarding re-makes, watch this latest gem from Martin Scorsese. Returning to the grounds that he farms for bread and butter, he has created a picture for the sole purpose of entertaining yet manages to stamp his personality all over the film as only he can. Martin Scorsese is the most of personal film-makers. His first masterpiece, Mean Streets, was semi-autobiographic in nature. He creates fierce entertainers albeit not for everyone and especially not for the ones easily put off by violence. Not because he uses bucketsful of blood like Quentin Tarantino but he knows how to use it for maximum effect, sudden, short, sharp bursts that blow you away with images that linger in your mind for ever.
The Departed is easily the great man’s most easily accessible work to date. Re-made from the Hong Kong smash Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs), this one translates that lean, mean thriller into what is a crime epic, a drama that explores into the world that the original only hints at. In fact, this is a product better than the original, a re-interpretation that improves on the many aspects of the original’s shortcomings bringing along its own bag of tricks.
This is the rarest of those rare thrillers, where characters drive the plot, where each character signifying different shades of integrity, moral and otherwise, with respect to their environments develops the tension around. There’s mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who ‘produces’ the environment around him but is a pretender in his own right, a man who as opposed to telling lies hides the truth. William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a man who has been living in the vicinity of crime all his life, or in his own words ‘pretending’ to be a Costigan all his life. He is the moral centre of the film, the good person looking for redemption all his life, from his surroundings, from his relations, from himself. A man desperate to go to any lengths for achieving that even if that means continuing the pretension. And there is Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who is on the opposite end of the spectrum as Costigan. A man who so dazzlingly improvises to attune his environment to suit him. He is the perfect evil, a man whose evil knows no depths, a man devoid of any integrity except for the Colin-serving one. And their struggle to survive in this world full of pretenders is what drives this latest masterpiece from Martin Scorsese.
The script, adapted freely from Mou Gaan Dou is a revelation. William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) delivers a masterful script so full of clear twists and turns driven by amazingly deep characters that it already does half the job of creating a fantastic film. Quotable dialogues keep coming in thick and fast, not because they have a thousand swears punctuating them but because they are so smart and so funny. I was surprised to find Scorsese’s name missing from the credits for script for I naturally assumed that this smart dialogues could only be attributed to him (Goodfellas). Other than the emphasis of characters, there’re two masterstrokes that Monahan scores that firmly elevates this film from its original-1. The introduction of the Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) character and 2. The dissolution of the two needless female characters in the original to one Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) and characterizing her.
Coupled with the longtime associate of Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker the film boasts of an energy that few films can. Numerous sequences are thrown together at the audience, jumping from one to the other in a cycle slowly revealing themselves to the full emotional effect.
Combining the entertaining elements with the philosophical undertones, this is as smart as movies can come. Consistently funny but brutally intense in that unique Scorsese sort of way, the film always keeps in sight its central theme, that of redemption. The film in its entirety delves deeper into the original’s theme of irony. William Costigan wants to be an identifiable cop; Colin wants to lead his life of deception. Only Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam know Bill’s identity, the two people who’re his straw for the redemption he so much desires and they’re as much keen to extract the full payment for that. But Colin is looking for an opportunity, an opportunity to let go off the one man who knows his deception- Frank Costello. And between them is psychiatrist Madolyn who is caught up between the two pretenders, a sort of Face/Off-esque mirror between them. The twists just run deeper and deeper but the twisted characters are the ones that grab my imagination, for that is what elevates this film from being a simple thriller to a crime epic.
The performances, ah, that is a no-brainer. You put talent as rich as DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Sheen, Wahlberg, Baldwin in one room and you wonder about the performances. Of course this is one of the finest ensemble performances, right in the league of another crime masterpiece, L.A.Confidential. DiCaprio is edgy in a strange mixture of Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Charlie (Mean Streets). He is almost the antithesis of Henry Hill (Goodfellas). That guy, who grew in a criminal neighborhood too, said “As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” That is an ambition. I can almost see William Costigan look at Henry and smile at him, and himself too. He would have said to himself “Someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum of this world.” I have heard numerous comments that this is his first mature performance, that he always manages to turn in kid-ish performances. I don’t know what that junk supposedly means apart from that it represents the shallow nature of the comment. I first saw him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and was blown away with the maturity of that performance. He was great in Romeo and Juliet, was a worthy contender for an Academy award nomination for Best actor in Titanic, was better than the best (Tom Hanks) in Catch me if you can and gave one of the great performances of the decade in The Aviator, a performance that De Niro would be proud of. Nevertheless, his performance helps in elevating the movie to its heights. Jack Nicholson is the Tommy (Goodfellas) of this movie, the psycho-tragic evil man whose maniacal instincts are growing wilder by the day. His behemoth figure just fills up the screen and that most unique dialogue delivery of his just works wonders here. His radiating brilliance, along with Wahlberg, brings in fun and loads of them, something what every great crime movie brings in. Wahlberg is special, that fast-talking idiosyncrasy just takes the film several notches up on the entertainment scale whenever he is on screen. He is so good; you root for him to come on more. Ray Winstone, that wonderful British actor is fantastic as well as Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. Alec Baldwin himself has a tremendous screen presence and leaves a mark even though his role barely clocks five minutes. Martin Sheen, that epitome of moral integrity is so wonderful. He gives a performance worthy of the one his corresponding number (Anthony Wong) delivers in the original. The role was initially supposed to go to Robert De Niro but he was busy with The Good Shepherd. I wonder how that would have gone for the original character reminded me of him and his role in Sleepers. Vera Farmiga as the lone female is wonderful, as all Scorsese female leads are. I have always been amazed at how actresses look extra special and extra beautiful in a Scorsese movie. I’ve still to fall out of love with Lorraine Bracco; she looked so dazzling in Goodfellas. Farmiga is special, so very special to hold her own and leave a stamp amongst this plethora of talent. Especially in a sequence tailor made for DiCaprio, she comes out equals. It is the actors and the performances he extracts from them, always, that does half the trick for Martin Scorsese.
The performance of the movie, for me, is that of Matt Damon. The transformation of the corresponding character (Inspector Lau) felt unconvincing. The script made a work around and a masterful improvisation in that, by making him the evil center. And boy, isn’t he good. There is a nonchalance that exists in my definition of the Perfect Evil and Damon exudes that to the fullest. Damon is the most restrained of actors, a feature I hugely appreciate, and he does wonders with that. He always seems to be a mystery; there’s something unknown going behind that brain of his. Damon is a cerebral actor, like De Niro, and here he brings his talent to the fore. Revealing himself only at the last moments is something only someone as him could have pulled off.
That brings me to the direction, and to someone I appreciate the most in the world of cinema. I may be biased but that is me, I worship Martin Scorsese for the work he represents and the ideas he propagates. This is a fantastic show of talent by the master, pulling off an entertainer as Spielberg, pulling off a thriller as Hitchcock and a gangster film as Marty himself. But all I intend to say is this. The Departed is a movie Scorsese would have directed in his sleep. He has already made the definitive movie of the genre in Goodfellas. I wish, as the most ardent of his fans, for him to pursue the passionate streak in him. Scorsese makes films from his heart; he always exerts himself to the maximum, he always re-invents himself through his product. Although identified by the gangster genre, he has given movies that are much more than that. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, The Age of Innocence and The Aviator are all testament to this fact. And honestly, I wish he stopped making that gangster pictures and give me much more of The Aviator and Kundun, for he has always something passionate to say, something that is so profound. Cinema will always grow rich as he keeps directing but him pursuing new avenues would make it richer.
But there’re some minor quibbles here, since it is an entertainer primarily. The lady falling for the edgy man comes across as corny and terribly unconvincing. Plus, a drawback the movie shares with the original, owing to its breakneck pace is the passage of time that is never properly conveyed other than through dialogues. Jack Nicholson sometimes goes over-the-top and there’s an ill-advised sequence of his sexual endeavor that seems terribly out of place. But that comes with the baggage; Nicholson is a force of nature. With him on the set, you cannot always follow your rules. Plus he is so brilliant in the rest of the film. He brought a chill when he delivers his in-Costigan’s-face monologue. And “raaats”, that is pure Jack Nicholson. I wish, so much, Frank Costello would have been played by Daniel-Day Lewis, one of our finest actors and especially the way he played William “The Butcher” Cutting (one of the my greatest on-screen characters of all time). He would have been more than perfect for the part but I guess he wouldn’t have brought the booty in, something Nicholson readily commands. For me, Daniel-Day Lewis in and the movie would have been perfect.
The Departed is one of the finest entries into the crime genre and there is not a shred of doubt. But numerous forums debate which of the two-the original or the re-make is better. My verdict-the original isn’t inferior to the re-make but the re-make is superior to the original. The original was efficient but the re-make is brutal, more in tune with Scorsese’s personal viewpoint of life. At the end of it, I regret only one thing. Colin Sullivan shouldn’t have died, he should have lived on. Improvising Evil always wins, always. But that is me, and my view of things. As far as Marty is concerned, thou rat shalt depart and stay The Departed.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

SURF’S UP MOVIE REVIEW


















CAST (VOICES): SHIA LaBEOUF, JEFF BRIDGES, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, JAMES WOODS, JON HEDER
DIRECTOR: ASH BRANNON & CHRIS BUCK
RUNTIME: 85 min.
RATING: **
GENRE: ANIMATION, COMEDY

What’s black (&white) and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars? The answer: The Penguin. But this time around it stars in a one-trick wonder of a movie. Shot as a mockumentary, the film’s ingenuity rapidly fades as the film progresses. What is left with us at the end is a film that barely manages to take us a ferry, forget giving us the ride of our lives on one of those surfboards. Although much smarter than Sony Pictures Animation’s first foray Open Season, Surf’s Up seamlessly becomes a generic product despite starting off more than promisingly.
Apart from the ingenious approach, which by the way feels too sophisticated for children, there’s nothing in the movie that an adult would feel at home with. And even the approach is just that- a clever idea. It is never the creators’ intention to be true to that approach. There are a number of sequences that just don’t come by means of a documentary. Cliché-wise, Surf’s Up scores a resounding 10 out of a maximum of 10. Things happen just so easily and we’re never part of the ride either.
It is frustrating too for a movie that reportedly cost $120 million to make to see all those “imperfections”, “shaky hand held camera” and related tricks just to drive home the “documentary” feel. Why go to lengths to spend that entire amount is out of the realms of my comprehension. This is where I find myself cross with the creators. Rather than spending copious amounts on such cosmetic, shallow techniques why not spend some amount on the story. The story just feels lazy; the movie loses all steam during the half-time. The movie’s running time is a paltry 85 minutes but to make someone look at the watch sure is an indicator of the effort spent on the story. And whenever there is nothing to tell, there’s that documentary approach where inconsequential characters are shown being interviewed. It does seem a bit funny at the start but the same jokes just keep repeating, jokes that make us surf-bored rather than look for the surfing board. Another go-to is the sea waves. When nothing happens the sea- waves come in to pitch in some visuals.
The voice-over talents aren’t exactly special. Jeff Bridges sometimes is barely audible. He feels terribly tired and uninspired rather than “The Dude” laid back. Shia LaBeouf is good as Cody Maverick; in fact he is the best. But everyone suffers from a lack of genuinely witty one-liners. There is one-“Why don’t you head over to the snack bar and get yourself a big bowl of shut up?” but that is the only one I can remember. And all that when there were five writers credited for the job. There’s a reason why Pixar comes up with these animated masterpieces and it has a lot to do with the geniuses out there. Meanwhile, Surf’s Up is just another of those animated ones whose sole purpose is to unload you of some green. Just too smart for kids to get it and too unimaginative for adults to feel at home.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE REVIEW















CAST (VOICES): DAN CASTELLANETA, JULIE KAVNER, NANCY CARTWRIGHT, YEARDLEY SMITH, HARRY SHEARER, ALBERT BROOKS
DIRECTOR: DAVID SILVERMAN
RUNTIME: 87 min.
RATING: ****1/2
GENRE: ANIMATED, COMEDY

Eighteen years, eighteen seasons this show has run. Anybody who has been faithful to this show the entire time deserves a huge applause plus a hefty prize amount to go with that. I have never been much of a TV show man; I’m more of the kind that is into documentaries. They simply require too much investment of time, an element of my life I have always found myself to be short of. So unlike a lot of others from The Simpsons bandwagon, I had absolutely no idea what to expect other than the two facts that this is one of the biggest pop culture phenomenon and that Time once rated it the best TV show of all time. I had absolutely no frame of reference for I had not had time even to catch a single moment of The Simpsons.
So how good is it from the view point of a person who has absolutely no frame of reference? Keeping it crisp, it is the most times I have laughed in a movie since 1999 and it was Toy Story2. The Simpsons has got be the smartest and funniest animated movie since that animated classic. And the best part, it is no way for kids alone. It is PG-13 and the witty liners and moments are just unleashed at you, all guns blazing. The best comedies I have seen, and not just the animated ones, are those that make a joke and move on. They don’t drool over it. If it is funny, laugh, laugh out loud but at your own peril for the next joke is coming soon. I seldom find myself laugh out loud during a movie (at the intentional jokes); it is often just a smile. In fact, I can remember when I laughed out loud during a movie the last time and that was in March and the movie was Little Miss Sunshine. The Simpsons not only has these moments in abundance, it has them coming thick and fast. I said to myself during the movie- Boy you got to watch it again just to catch all the jokes you missed. The humor isn’t any way you would feel guilty about, it is genuinely smart humor. Although Homer Simpson meant in a different way when he said- I have begun to like you guys, I agree with the line. Quirky characters this lovable are hard to come by.
I hear the show in a way represents the United States, making fun of every aspect of their culture. It sure does in the movie but it touches all the easy targets. Come on, religion, sexual orientation, food habits, environmental issues aren’t exactly hard targets. It makes for immense fun with numerous quotable quotes but the satire isn’t exactly enlightening. Anyways, I commend the writers’, a whooping eleven of them, resistance to the temptation of including George Bush jokes. Thinking a bit out of the box, they instead had the GOP with Arnold Schwarzenegger replace Bush and repeat the exact scenario. And including Tom Hanks was cool too, his line even better- The US Government has lost its credibility so it’s borrowing some of mine.
The heart to any great comedy and especially one harboring any thoughts of being a satire is its writers. Including James L. Brooks and several others who had a hand in creating the series is a masterstroke. James Brooks and Albert Brooks, voice over for Russ Cargill are comic geniuses. And unlike the usual animation picture, I have heard that director David Silverman was involved in the project right from its screenwriting stage. That showed in the final product. The 2-D animation isn’t exactly cutting edge and I don’t believe it was supposed to be that way. It just seems to be an extension of the TV show on the big screen, an extended episode. Homer Simpson’s asks – “Why pay for something you can watch on TV for free?" I have got my side of the answer ready but I wonder what exactly is the fan who knows just about every supporting character thinking of this movie? But now, if the movie is anything to go by, I wonder if this is really the greatest TV show there is. It is a fantastic movie, and considering that and Eighteen years, must be one hell of a TV show too. Still.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

GANDHI, MY FATHER MOVIE REVIEW





















CAST: AKSHAYE KHANNA, DARSHAN JARIWALA, SHEFALI SHETTY
DIRECTOR: FEROZ ABBAS KHAN
RUNTIME: 128 min.
RATING: **
GENRE: DRAMA, HISTORY


The road to hell is paved by good intentions.
- Henry George Bohn (1796-1884)

I, from the bottom of my heart, believe that this Bohn quote is only half true when it comes to Gandhi, My Father. I would do so much as to stand up and fight whosoever accuses Feroz Abbas Khan of pretension. He has made a bad movie, agreed. He has made a stupefying bore, agreed. At time the movie is incomprehensible, agreed. But not pretension, a sin that almost every director in the Hindi film industry is guilty of. This is a part straight from his heart, right from the play Mahatma vs. Gandhi to his adaptation of his own play. And it is for that good intention alone that it deserves two stars. But as they say, good intentions don’t make a good movie. Director Feroz Khan wants to tell a poignant tale, a tale which every father and son would identify with. Sadly, the movie fails to connect at any level.
Let me give you a fair idea of how unfocussed this movie is, despite the lack of any songs (a feature I highly appreciated), despite running for a mere 128 minutes (a rarity among Hindi films). If the movie would have been titled Harilal, My Son it wouldn’t make any difference. If the movie would have been titled plain Gandhi it still wouldn’t have made any difference. The idea behind this project is ambitious but to channel that ambition is what makes a finely executed product. The scope is vast- the movie primarily intends to encompass the father-son relation at the same time wanting to present a hitherto untried earthly depiction of The Mahatma, a brief insight into the relationship that existed between The Mahatma and Kasturba and the vast backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle. It touches or at least it tries to touch each and every one of those points but fails miserably to do justice to any of them.
At the heart is the question- Did the son fail his ambitious father or did the father fail his simple-minded son? Actually this question is at the heart of the promos, the trailers, the news coverage and all the pre-release hype. The movie, as a matter of fact, doesn’t even portray a full blown portrayal of Harilal. All it manages to do, without even a shred of doubt is to portray Harilal as a straight forward loser who not only failed his father but failed himself and his wife. And it doesn’t do it the smart way; it does so because it pays scant attention to where the Harilal character is going or for that matter and character is going. All it manages to do is hop from one time frame to another without ever grasping the tenderness of the father-son relation. The relation is frustratingly cold and distant and not even for a moment does our heart ache. The beauty of capturing the chemistry is not just fine acting but capturing the moments, capturing the silence. All we get here is a number of soulless dialogues as to where the father-son relationship is towards. It is like a news report; somebody from the father-son-mother trio comes up and gives us either an update or heads up about what is latest on the relation. Not a single frame feels the pain.
There is a fundamental flaw in the movie, a flaw that crept in right during the adaptation stage. And that is a failure at some level to understand that what works for a play needn’t necessarily work for a feature film. Often what is needed is a thorough re-working of the entire product to suit to the needs of the new medium. Gandhi, My Father never, even for a moment feels like a feature film. Forget that there is a problem with the editing; in fact there is no editing. The entire film feels strangely episodic and I mean that in no good way. Two consecutive scenes put together do not make any sense. Each and every scene has birth, life and death of its own that has nothing to do with any previous scene. In fact, the screenplay itself must have been written in that manner for the flaw seems to have its root right during the conception. A film, to work at any level primarily needs fluidity. After all what is a film but the narration of a story? Feroz Khan seemed to miss this simple truth and that is a shame.
Another important trick the film might have missed is to show the father-son relation right from its origin. What really happened that made The Mahatma to come to South Africa and leave Harilal behind? What effect did that have on little Hari? That sure would have had some effect on a sixteen year old not to have ones parents right by his side. And why is The Mahatma against Hira’s marriage to Gulab? Many of these important questions, some of them fantastic tricks to bring the audiences on the same page are left entirely unanswered. Yet sequences that make absolutely no sense or have no business being in the movie are included. At least three lengthy sequences involving rituals are shown. And they serve no purpose other than to show customs and traditions. It felt sad, really sad. What a waste of talent?
The movie and Feroz Khan in particular seems to be obsessed with beautiful, ironic or poetic images. Be it the silhouette of The Mahatma and Kasturba sitting in front of the sea or The Mahatma and Hari meditating in the morning. These images work spectacularly well as a support element, not as the central strength because they never can be that. Yet the cinematography fails to capture the time, the period. When real black and white footage is intercut with color film sequences, they make the latter seem so ugly, so artificial. Towards the end when the partition is touched upon, the film so glaringly looks artificial against the black and white sequences. It was a major error for the characters from the color images seemed to be from a different period than the one depicted in the real footage. I do not intend to discuss any more the technical elements of the film for it would be talking beside the point.
Darshan Zariwala isn’t special as The Mahatma. He is good in parts but in some sequences he falls flat on his face, especially his monologue about the partition. Not for a moment does it seem he is Gandhi, he is always “acting” the part. And he made me quite conscious of the same. In some sequences his portrayal came across as cold, distant and cynical and not in a flattering way; in fact he reminded me of Tom Cruise’s Vincent (Collateral). Strange thing that was and very unfortunate too. Akshaye Khanna deserves a huge round of applause just for putting a straight face through a thankless screenplay. I don’t know what background he was given but the script doesn’t do any favors to his part. He turns in quiet a wonderful performance. Shefali Shetty (Satya) is another bravura performance solely because her task is even tougher than Akshaye’s. She tries her best to convey herself in every sequence she is in. I loath over-smart audiences cracking jokes during a screening. But here, I’m ashamed to admit that I enjoyed them, in fact I wanted them to come up with more of those. I don’t fault them at all, the movie is so boring. At a point during the movie, one audience member threw up his arms and exclaimed- “What the hell is happening?” Well, that single line pretty much sums up the entire experience for me. I feel sad, really for this could have been such a great thing. It had everything, absolutely everything except for one- proper application. The Mahatma deserves much, much better. We owe it to him.