Saturday, September 29, 2007

THE PAINTED VEIL MOVIE REVIEW


CAST: NAOMI WATTS, EDWARD NORTON, LIEV SCHREIBER, TOBY JONES, ANTHONY WONG, DIANA RIGG
DIRECTOR: JOHN CURRAN
RUNTIME: 125 min.
RATING: *****
GENRE: ROMANCE, DRAMA, PERIOD

Tough it is to find romance, romance in a film that isn’t only about it, romance between characters that we care for from our heart, romance that grows gradually as they learn each other, romance between people who serve the world, romance between two adults who know what love is all about. Tougher, when it is a period adaptations set during politically tumultuous times in foreign countries. Toughest, when the film might haunt you long after it ends.
This Somerset Maugham novel is a tough one for three reasons – 1. Characters don’t evolve or change, only the perspectives change 2. The tone is bleak, and it is not romantic even remotely 3. Maugham has never been too good at being picturesque, most of his “descriptive” words are excuses for the mystery of the Oriental – and to carve out such a delicate film rich with emotions, romantic and otherwise, is nothing short of an achievement. Set mostly in 1925 China, The Painted Veil treads multiple paths, paying varying degrees of attention but achieving almost uniformly spectacular results. At its heart (and how so apt is the phrase) though is the romantic tale between Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a bacteriologist and Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts). Kitty, spoilt from childhood and a disappointment to her mother, marries Walter who proposes after meeting her at a party. Though Walter loves her, Kitty sees him as a replacement to her father as a source for her spending. Walter is transferred to a government laboratory in Shanghai where Kitty meets a married British diplomat Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber) and falls into adultery. Walter comes to learn of it and gives her two choices – either to accompany him to a remote part of China under the scourge of cholera epidemic he has volunteered for or divorce on the condition that Charles promises to marry her. When he backs away, Kitty has no choice but to travel with her husband, both barely speaking to each other. As she sees him at work, her husband appears in a new light and the romance blossoms.
Though this is no comparison vis-à-vis the book (I’ve always believed that good films shouldn’t be obliged to their source material at all), the digression of the film from the book in the second half is interesting, and both have something important to say. The book, a wonderful read, doesn’t have any romance blossoming between Kitty (who doesn’t exactly remain the spoilt, selfish person) and Walter (who remains stoic towards her). The characters never evolve; in fact, the reader feels Maugham is desperate to shut the doors on any possibility of a romance which the characters so very much are begging for. Kitty Fane describes Walter with all the admirable qualities yet somehow to dispel the romantic notions spinning in our minds, Maugham inserts a line, with uncanny regularity, that conveys Kitty’s despair at not finding her husband lovable. I asked myself several times – “Dear, what else is love?” Walter volunteers in a bid to let her die in the plague and his last line suggests, he realizes it was wrong on his part. Maybe that was reality for Maugham and maybe he didn’t perceive Kitty has a foolish, ignorant person but almost an irredeemable shallow one who can never be strong enough to grow. Screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (his last screenplay for a theatrical release was Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia), perceives them with a marked difference. And he evolves them in a world markedly different from theirs, which to me felt more real. One might argue that it isn’t practical, at least not in the short timelines of the film. I don’t think so, a radically different world, a radically different culture, radically different circumstances change people. Kitty never was exposed to a world where one needs to care for others as well, where romantic pursuits is not the ultimate aim of life but just a cornerstone, where harsh realities her world can’t even fathom exist. And when she did, not only did she see her husband in a new life, she saw herself in a new life. What else do we mean when we say a person grows, all his life? And I believe, romance between two people who as Walter says in the film were silly enough to look for qualities in each other they never had is much more interesting than the lack of it between two who live in and are destined for the gloom.
Serving as a backdrop to the beautiful romance is a canvass of political turmoil, human tragedy and a cultural clash. The script is brilliant; I’m sure it just missed the bus on the Academy Award nominations. The narrative never stalls and it never feels hurried too. Taking measured steps, the film treads intelligently its paths, always painting the larger picture yet somehow managing to concentrate on the central relationship. It doesn’t pose ambiguous stands; it knows its own political and moral views and presents them assuredly. Are the Christian missionaries noble? The film doesn’t think so. Is the occupation justified? Of course not. Are Walter and his breed noble? Oh yes, they are. Yet the people don’t seem to understand their own good. Yet, how can they and how are they supposed to? The subtle nature of it all and its seeming ability to generate drama by presenting the seemingly clichéd in a spectacularly new way is amazing. The amah chants prayers at the window to ward off the evil spirit to which Kitty comments – “They are so superstitious”. To which her neighbor Mr. Waddington reacts – “She has lost her three children and her husband to the cholera. Can she be blamed?” It struck me; such huge personal losses question the faith of the best. Is it the fear that is so powerful or is her faith so strong, or is it her humanity that makes her pray for the well being of the two strange foreigners? The characters are etched with great care, even the unimportant ones like Kitty’s guard contributing immensely to the viewing experience. The dialogues contribute immensely too, just as emotionally infectious as reading a book. Kitty Fane remarks – “Since when did virtue make a woman fall in love?” And that speaks volumes of her.

The film is beautiful to look at; the locales are as romantic as the tale. Every frame seems to have been put together with utmost delicateness. The cinematography is brilliant, the colors so suggestive of nostalgia. The background score by Alexandre Desplat (Syriana, The Queen) is something that wouldn’t leave; it is adventurous in that romantic sort of way. It renders great strength to the film, giving it the Oriental touch, and underlining the delicateness of the film. And a lot of the credit goes to John Curran (We Don’t Live here Anymore) as well. To accomplish so much in so little a time, yet always conveying the emotions is brilliant. He paints everything, China, its people, the epidemic yet amongst all that manages to tell a sweeping romantic tale. Curran seems to have a great gift of storytelling to a degree few can boast of.
No words of praise would be enough for Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. The character could have been so easily common cliché-ridden, Norton infuses new life and pleasures us with the depths. Watts is like one of the beauties from a bygone age; she never seems to be melodramatic yet we always feel the pain within to no end. She with a broken heart says- “Do you absolutely despise me?” He replies, with nonchalance, with a cruelty yet with that blend of nobility that conveys his own broken heart – “No I despise myself, for loving you once.” The conversation, where the romance blooms in all its glory for the first time, is a revelation, a joy to watch. I wonder, what made Nyswaner not to set his story in modern day Africa and set up a platform for a political message of some sort too. I think that would have weakened the film considerably, putting unnecessary attention on the political backdrop. The Painted Veil explores the depths of human hearts, how we react to foreigners not who come with guns but who come with noble intentions and a microscope, how one might live in a life full of self-serving, how we are so susceptible to our judgment and our hopes at first sight. And it also speaks how truly romantic that old saying is – To err is human, to forgive is divine. I would say, to forgive is humanity. One of the best films of 2006.

Reviewer's note: I have since watched the film a second time and have realised that Walter Fane indeed wanted to kill Kitty. This knowledge was shared by both yet the romance blossomed makes me appreciate the characters, and thus the film further.

Friday, September 28, 2007

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION MOVIE REVIEW (ha-ha)
















CAST: MILLA JOVOVICH
DIRECTOR: RUSSELL MULCAHY
RUNTIME: 95 min.
RATING: *
GENRE: ACTION, THRILLER, HORROR

Review? Get outta here. You don’t pay 100 bucks for films like Resident Evil: Extinction and its creed for artistic pleasures or emotional involvement, do you? Come on, you know as well as I, that twinkle in your eye and that tongue waiting to drool all over the floor means something. Hope is it, to catch something nice, glimpse is it? (Nudge nudge, wink wink). Milla Jovovich, umm?
Zombie, no zombie, was it T-virus or Raccoon virus, or Raccoon city or whatever. I don’t have a clue. Sit back (only if the seat is thus) and slouch. Of course, the pleasure derived when a figure as petite as Jovovich kicks royal posterior is diminishing. How much more of Jovovich can one possibly take? Ultraviolet or Resident Evil, who cares? Ms. Jovovich in tights or in hot short pants, giving a stylish glance or too and that is what most teenage fanboys are after. It is all pretty much the same – watching someone else play your Max Payne for you. Only that, the one playing is Ms. Jovovich. If you’re the kind of person who bought the ticket to watch the game, boy, you could not possibly be in a more wrong place. But if you intend to just watch the person who is controlling Mr. Payne, well, you’re in for a rather decent treat. One question, what is the sunscreen lotion Ms. Jovovich was promoting, boy, wasn’t her face radiating. You got to feel for everyone else, the lotion seemed to be in short supply for everyone was having a rough time in the sun.
Confession: I’m not that big a fan of Ms. Jovovich and certainly not one of her fanboys. She is a fine actress for a model but Resident Evil is hardly a Shakespeare play. I actually was found here because my building had a power cut in the day. Though Ms. Jovovich is a nice idea on a rather barren day, I would much rather watch Rebecca Stamos play Mystique in one of those X-Men films.
Attention, fanboys: They showed a million Ms. Jovovichs incubating in the final scene, some result of a cloning process and all. Whatever. Point of the matter is that you can hope to watch UMJZFF next time around the production companies put together the money, though I hope not. Oh yeah, UMJZKF stands for United Milla Jovovichs Zombie (or whatever) Kicking Force. Okay, it was dumb and unimaginative. I dare, I double dare, I’ll come up with silly stuff as this for another one week. Come on, there isn’t only one virus in the film. And some of them are pretty contagious.
Attention, Ladies: Kindly beware the fanboys.
The film copies from a number of sources from Night of the Living Dead to Mad Max to The Birds and what not. That is not the point, though. The film copies as if audiences have started watching films this summer. That is not the point too. One question always baffles me though, just like the mystery of the universe. Don’t directors watch their films after making them? I mean, come on, even Forrest Gump knew he wasn’t smart. Why do these directors put laugh-out-loud emotional sequences is out of my comprehension? Don’t they realize, it feels like a cheetah wanting to camouflage itself among a herd of zebras. And that is not the point too. The point is actually that we now have a fair idea how the birds in the upcoming 2009 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds are going to look like. I honestly feel they really need to pay attention to the story as well. It is a tough act, to remake a great film as The Birds. And yeah, before I forget, there is one more point. Another awful, really awful sequel is coming from the Jerry Bruckheimer house. National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The trailer was enough, I can’t wait for it. The original was dumber, more irksome and considerably less funny than the best efforts of Mr. Bean. I watched it for 10 bucks (front row and all, long story) and still discovered we grossly overpaid for the admission. Boy, looking at those ridiculous serious faces of everyone in the trailer, I had a jolly good time. What the hell is Helen Mirren doing in it, by the way? Strange are the ways of money.
By the way just to be clear, absolutely crystal, Resident Evil: Extinction is pointless, baseless and needless (Fanboys wondering here, relax, it is not topless). In short, films can get worse but you need to stoop to Batman and Robin levels. Though it surely is achievable and mankind has proven it time and again, it is a tad difficult too.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM MOVIE REVIEW













CAST: MATT DAMON, JULIA STILES, JOAN ALLEN, DAVID STRATHAIRN, ALBERT FINNEY, SCOTT GLENN, EDGAR RAMIREZ
DIRECTOR: PAUL GREENGRASS
RATING: *****
RUNTIME: 111 min.
GENRE: ACTION, THRILLER

Three years, three full years I have waited for this. The only other film I have waited with more desperation is Batman Begins and now The Dark Knight. The Bourne films have been my films, the exact kind of films I have loved growing up, the exact kind of films I’ll always hold dearest to my heart – my dad’s action films with sprouts full of smartness. And it is worth more than the wait. To expect to have a better time with your friends at the movies this year is almost expecting the unexpected; I can’t imagine any blockbuster coming any close.
Join the three films together and what they essentially are is a chase-game, an extended chase-game where the first moves are made by all-powerful CIA only to be hit back in the face by the one and only, Jason Bourne. He does make some moves of his own too, but essentially he reacts, and he reacts with breathtaking force with no one, absolutely no one – including the CIA, its assets, or we audiences – having any idea about how fast and how hard he will bring back the move (fight) back to the doorstep. To measure up to this challenge, and to entertain us over three films, sometimes leaving us clueless, not confused, what the next move will be, to be constantly intelligent, to be constantly thrilling is not what happens every year, forget everyday. The Bourne films are special films, much like the best entertainers there have ever been, for each and every character is embedded in our mind. These are chase films, and especially the last one which is just unrelenting in its pace, yet the characters leave an indelible impression.
Not a frame is wasted here; this is literally an action-packed explosion. As an action vehicle this is hands down the best film of the series; The Bourne Ultimatum with its methodical frenetic pace literally tells the audience – keep up or shut up, enjoy the build up and the wrap up. And yeah, don’t slouch but sit up – and delivers the goods like no film this year that has the word “action” in the genre category. The action set-pieces are probably one of the best ever conceptualized, the viewer is always guessing but is never lost. Some of the chase sequences are preposterous in that how the hell Bourne can survive, yet it is presented in a realistic way. The film isn’t realistic; it is trying to give the impression that it is possible. The rule for Bourne is simple, if he is aware of a malevolent variable in the equation he will survive. All he needs to know is the variable. The variables are always known, or at least we are given the impression that we know, for that is how we react with a big “awe” when the super-intelligent knows-it-all Jason Bourne makes a move, not blinking an eye, not flinching once. As Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) says in The Bourne Supremacy, they don’t do random, there is always a purpose. There is a purpose why Jason Bourne takes off the clothes hanging on wires and covers his arms with them while he runs on rooftops, there is a reason why he buys a new mobile at Waterloo – they are all awe-inducing devices, giving the impression of supreme intelligence and a superlative presence of mind.
I wouldn’t want to give the plot away, not the least bit of it. Of course, there is no resemblance between Robert Ludlum’s novel and the film except for the title. One interesting thing: one of the main CIA assets in the film, Paz is played by Edgar Ramirez (Domino) and of course Jason Bourne’s rival in the novel is Carlos the Jackal, in real life Illich Ramirez. Coincidence probably. All that the story starts off right where Supremacy ends. Although an action picture, this film, unsurprisingly for the Bourne series has shown such remarkable intelligence and awareness, follows a plot that feels like an insider’s look of events we read only in the newspapers. A journalist is killed in a Moscow elevator and that is all we get to know. What happened behind? Probably, Jason Bourne. Of course, it isn’t Moscow that is under the gun but Central Intelligence Agency and an Operation called Blackbriar that, we learn, is an upgrade on Treadstone. The script, by Tony Gilroy who has penned all the previous Bourne films, is once again a straight winner. Other action films have the antagonists surprised by the hero’s smartness, here they expect it and yet he manages to stun them, and stun us. We know he is smart and he’ll come up something really intelligent and yet he outsmarts us, managing to give more than ten-films’ share of wow moments. The one-liners are smart and always belong to the film with so many smart characters. The one-liners aren’t just of the sake of it; they represent the smartness of the world of the Bourne films. No needless attempts at being funny are made; the film lets the situation do the trick. You know you have written a good story when people remember the characters, even the minor ones. Given a choice between the book and the film, I’ll choose the film for it not only has a better story but a greater degree of unpredictability.
And, at the heart of it all, as it always has been, is that wonderful actor Matt Damon. Jason Bourne is James Bond, John Rambo, all rolled into one, a guy who is frighteningly quick and smart and the films expect it, we expect it. He is a superhero under the disguise of human clothes, yet Damon manages to make that guy a real person. A person we care about, a person we feel with. To convey that, with the barest minimum of dialogues and not-so-expressive expressions is a feat in itself. This is minimalist acting at its very best, only a great actor can pull such a feat. He pulls off one-liners with consummate ease, and they don’t feel like them, they feel wholly natural. In the process he has created one of the great characters of modern cinema, a character as enigmatic as Harry Callahan. And it is not only him; each and every one of those high profile names – Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Julia Stiles – just demonstrate what quality actors can bring to a genre picture.
All of them inhabit this wonderfully smart world; everyone is extremely intelligent and the protagonist wins the game not because he is the only one who is smart but because he is the smartest. Believe me, James Bond will find the going extremely tough here, rather he doesn’t stand a chance.
Paul Greengrass makes a motion picture as brilliant as United 93 and follows it up with this one. Looking at him at work in Supremacy and here, it felt like a newer version of Sergio Leone who was mastering his art, mastering his method on the course of two films. He is making an action film, yet as in United 93, we feel the action is a mere backdrop for all the power games being played between people. The action is just incidental, just the means; the real struggle is going along someplace else which hasn’t been revealed yet. It is tough to individually praise a film’s departments; they are all individually brilliant but even more important is the fact is that they gel brilliantly together. All of them complement each other so well.
There is a lot of hoopla about the jerky camera movement in this film, and yes it does shake a lot. Coupled with the edits, there are a hell of a lot of edits, the film feels frenetic. Yet there is a method to the frenzy, as was the case with Supremacy. It feels everything – every move that is thought, every line that is uttered, every decision that is made – is made under the gun, on the edge. It makes the people feel smarter. It is a chaotic world, yet these people struggle for their survival and they thrive. Those who fail to think quick, in those shrunken timelines, are out of the game within no time. And that is the rule of the game in the world of Bourne films, not long overdrawn timelines like that of the Dollar trilogy where the tension is created by everyone being given ample time. And yes, as Darwin postulated, it is always a struggle for the fittest to survive. The world does stop, sometimes, to contemplate the death – of unnamed soldiers like Desh, of seeming traitors like Neil and of heroes like Jason Bourne. And it runs again, laden with the history of past. Some people struggle with it, others forget about it. Extreme Ways it is. Is it the end? I don’t know. They did end like it started, in the water with the silhouette. The silhouette that is Jason Bourne, the silhouette that his breed is in this world.
I don’t think we have seen the complete Nicky Parsons, she feels too manipulative and cold. And I don’t think Hirsch was exactly enlightening Jason Bourne, he was just smooth-talking him. It must have been a tried and tested talk, whenever the asset is under stress feed him that. There are a hell of a lot of open threads and they have been left dangling. And yet, it feels so complete. Is it the best of the series? I can’t say firmly. The first film was a make-no-bones intelligent genre film, the second one was a genre film breaking its way into something higher and the third is in ways a film that chooses to go the genre way hinting only at the higher aspirations. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing but I have had the time of my life with these Bourne films, probably the best three-set films I have seen, along with the Dollar trilogy and the Mad Max films. And if it is indeed the ending, I couldn’t have hoped for a more befitting one. And yeah, just so I didn’t happen to mention, it is hands down the entertainer of the year.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

HANNIBAL RISING MOVIE REVIEW














CAST: GASPARD ULLIEL, GONG LI, RHYS IFANS, DOMINIC WEST
DIRECTOR: PETER WEBBER
RATING: **
RUNTIME: 121 min.
GENRE: THRILLER

Having had rushed through the book, two and one-half hours it was, I didn’t even bother to buy it; rather, I, laden with guilt, ran through the pages, sometimes taking twenty of them at a time, in the bookstore itself. I had never liked the idea, Hannibal (novel) was awful, and this was just the curious cat self of mine that wanted to know the story. Once done, and I vanished into thin air, my guilt stopping me to go into the store for another one month.
And here I was, standing in the line at the ticket counter, my two selves fighting. I remembered all those Michael Bay films; I remembered all those hundred rupee bills that went out of my pocket for voluntary torture; I remembered Batman and Robin and the hundred rupee bills that went out of my dad’s pocket. And I wondered- How much worse can it get? And with that quite little air of self-assurance, head held high, I walked in.
And believe me, it isn’t that bad. Yes it is terrible, in fact, Thomas Harris has actually accomplished the impossible by coming up with a script that is even more ridiculous than the novel (whatever I read), one that is completely and utterly confused whether it is narrating a book or a story. The acting is campy beyond camp; the dialogues are walking the tightrope between cheesy and mawkish sentimentality – there’re actually dialogues like “Memories are like knives, they hurt”, whoa I exclaimed and found myself in splits – the story moves without any sense of narrative logic or focus, I found myself with that embarrassing what the hell is happening look quite a few times. Still, it is a good film, an embarrassingly good film with some laughs to be had. And somewhere there, among this serviceable unintended laugh-riot, is a nice little psychopathic version of Charles Bronsonesque Death Wish vengeance story. Go for the morning show, fifty bucks, and you won’t regret it one wee bit. Believe me, it is boring enough that you might even catch a comfy little nap and not miss too much of the plot points.
For those fortunate enough not to have read the book, our dear Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel, A Very Long Engagement) was born somewhere in Lithuania. He had a dear sister named Mischa and they were rendered parentless by a series of events during the German retreat in the face of Soviet invasion in 1944. A group of men from the Waffen-SS, six in number, hide inside the Lecter Castle, hunger-stricken. And when the situation worsens, they eat Mischa. Cut to eight years later, and our dear Dr. Lecter, now a teenager, is living in an orphanage with just flashes of his horrific past. Jason Bourne? Nah, he is way smarter. He has been supposedly rendered mute by his experiences. Wow. Who came up with that brilliant idea? Mute, huh? After killing a guard who taunts him, he escapes to his aunt’s place, one Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha), widowed by the Hiroshima bombing we learn. He is introduced to his other set of influences – ancestor worshipping, martial arts, flower arrangement. Another hilariously comical situation arises when a local butcher makes a rather vulgar pass on Ms. Murasaki and he ends up being killed by our dear Dr. Lecter. He places the severed head as an offering too. Another brilliant touch. He then, somehow, gets into a medicine school as its youngest ever student and after injecting himself with Sodium Thiopental, finally remembers everything. Boy, that was so easy. Why didn’t Jason Bourne try that, I wonder? And then, he gets after them all, revenge driving him, vendetta, kill ‘em all being the motto. Take from them everything. And then start the major share of the laughs. The acting gets, wow, real hammy. Gaspard Ulliel moves his head, from side to side, and tries to imitate Sir Hopkins. He also boasts of a hilariously stupid smirk. Believe me, it is funny to watch how someone can be so self-seriously ridiculous.
I saw him in that wonderful Jean-Pierre Jeunet picture A Very Long Engagement as Audrey Tautou’s lover and never, even in my widest imaginations, thought that he could be this bad. The lad is trying, and he is good, and he is hampered by an awful script and some pretty unimaginative slavishly-faithful-to-the-script direction, but there are instances where he alone does the trick. Everyone else chips in for bouts of laughter; Gong Li manages to put a straight face but even she is betrayed by the script.
The editing is a major worry. Sequences crash into each other shredding flow-logic to pieces. One moment Lecter is in medical school, another moment he is painting in his home, another moment he is in Ms. Murasaki’s house. I was wondering whether his paintings are at Ms. Murasaki’s place. Everything here has just one aim – jump from one plot point to another. Post-production, all they must have done is created a flowchart and done the cuts along those lines. No care for the dynamics of a scene, no care for the feelings of characters, no care for character development. One aim, cut for flowchart.
Note: I don’t want to talk about the direction for I can’t comprehend this level of decadence from a man who made that charming film Girl with a Pearl Earring.
I wonder, what made Harris title the book Hannibal Rising. Hey, this isn’t exactly Superman we’re talking about. One might argue, putting the Rising is in another psychopathic touch to that psychopathic world of Lecter and Harris’ novels. I don’t think so, and I don’t think so they even thought far for there is no conviction in this by-the-numbers tale. In their minds, not now but long ago in 1999 everything changed and Dr. Lecter metamorphosed into just another run-of-the-mill strange character, whose motivations aren’t his own but what would cater to the luridness that Sir Hopkins made them taste in The Silence of the Lambs. Nothing here is conviction, it is just cashing in. The script is awful. Every attempt they make to create the aura of a monster fails, falls flat on its face. Inspector Popil remarks-“He is a monster.” And it feels so hollow. The man before us is neither monstrous nor horrific, but funny he is, a degenerate who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. I wonder, how would He is a jester sound? Pretty funny to my ears and better than that Popil line. Hannibal Lecter of the first two Harris’ novels was a man who controlled his own mind; now he has turned into a character that is pretty common, a man controlled by the brain. And then, the awful plot-twist at the end. Out of place, it comes across as sadistic for all the wrong reasons, reasons that have to do with the writer feeling compelled to come up with something ludicrous to shock the audiences rather than the needs of the story and the character. And yeah, there is also a nice little sequence where the law of probability goes for a toss and the bullet zeroes onto a blade as thick as a six-inch ruler. I guess, in Harris mind, Lecter is a hero, a man who is favored by the gods too. On second thoughts, nah, nobody thought that far, not even for a moment. Hannibal, sadly, is neither Batman nor The Joker on the morality spectrum. He is somewhere in between, just like you, me and everyone else. And that is a shame. Somewhere buried in that script are the barest bones of a film that could have been a great tale for a new superhero, a vigilante, a start-of-the-year action picture that could have gone onto have some cult following and multiple DVD releases. But that is at least a dozen re-writes away. This Hannibal you see, believe me, he isn’t remotely that cold man from Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. He is some stupid pseudo-intellectual dude, frustrated by his past and out to get revenge.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT MOVIE REVIEW



















CAST: Does it matter? They didn’t know what they were doing anyhow.
DIRECTOR: GABRIEL RANGE
RATING: Out of my mortal and numerical capabilities.
RUNTIME: Clock said 90 min but my biological says something far more sinister.
GENRE: Supposed to be a thriller and a drama. How does “Broken Furniture” sound?

This morally bankrupt, dramatically lifeless and intellectually retarded film premiered at the Toronto film festival and won the International Critics Prize, for what is beyond the realms of my limited comprehensions, and managed to stir up a huge controversy resulting in bans of various intensities. Refused to be screened in two of America’s biggest cinema chains, Regal and Cinemark, the film faced screening difficulties in Japan too the reason being the inappropriateness of its translated title. The only thing I can congratulate the men behind, i.e. the producers (Simon Finch, Ed Guiney, Robin Gutch, Liza Marshall, Donall McCusker, Gabriel Range, Christina Varotsis) is for their success in stirring up this needless, ill-advised controversy, which I might add is very much the sole intention. Such films shouldn’t even be given one’s priceless attention, forget the individual reactions from United States senators including Ms. Hillary Clinton who commented- "I think it's despicable; I've never seen a movie so horrible in my life. I think it's absolutely outrageous. I mean, sure most people don't like Bush, but this is beyond bad. It's evil. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick." I agree Ms. Clinton but people in your esteemed position should not even bother to comment about such trash, a film akin to a moron running butt-naked into a football match to have his fifteen milliseconds of fame.
I had a unique interest in this project; this film came out about the same time last year I had written a story, the basic structure of a screenplay that has to deal with the assassination of a major political figure. Reading all the controversy and to my utter stupidity not caring to carefully read the reviews, I found myself buried under a lot of apprehension. Looking at the product, now that I’m long done with the script, I can’t help but laugh (I was laughing through the entire picture, for varied reasons though). And I’m relieved too.
I have often wondered; what gives some of these extremely average artists the license, what makes people whose very lives seem to be out of their control the right to talk heaps of garbage gift-wrapped as criticisms about things seemingly out of their limited comprehensions. Those who intend to do, do as we know and those who talk well, they just exercise their muscles and strain their brains. When true art criticizes power, it is an altogether different ballgame a one that is thought provoking like no other; this here is an insult to everyone involved. It is the in-thing; make hay while the sun shines, as I said, just like the naked man. Pointless exercise.
This pseudo-documentary (I have of lately tried to discourage the use of the term mockumentary) enacts fictitious events, like one of the History Channel documentaries, the assassination of U.S. President George Bush and its investigation. And just if thought this had something interesting here, forget about it, that’s the only trick they mustered. It almost feels as if Simon White and Range (co-screenwriters) watching Jfk, The History Channel documentary on Robert Kennedy’s assassination and came up with this idea to stir up some controversy. Poof, kill Bush. If you even have a passing interest in espionage thrillers and related documentaries on The History Channel and Discovery, everything here is big yawn.
Nothing here is remotely enlightening. The forensic expert, with all the expertise on phoning in he can muster, gives us “insightful” comment on fingerprints and how difficult it is to find one on guns. Of course, there’s no reason other than to sound detailed. Question: why not educate us about friction ridges, for you cannot possibly bore us any further? I was surprised they didn’t tell us more about the sniper rifle and try to bore us even more, just calling it an American made rifle (it seemed like an AR-15 to me). Then there’s a whole lot of world affairs rhetoric with Korea managing to make a guest appearance, they manage to show the missiles too. Reason: again, trying to be cool, politically informed. Everyone speaks unendingly with little to offer, the film drags needlessly. Anyone expecting an anatomy of an assassin will be disappointed, anyone expecting an anatomy of a manhunt will be disappointed, anyone expecting, especially, an anatomy of a kill will be disappointed, hell anyone expecting a decent political thriller will be disappointed. I was expecting, at least and perhaps foolishly, that they might tell us the method of the kill. But hey, that would need a commodity in short supply, something called the brains. As timidly as it can get, the exposure is that the Presidential plan was out in the hands of the assassin. And they’re looking for the culprit who sold it out. I exclaimed, that was expected.
One member sitting next to me, no offense to him, told to his friend on the other end of the mobile that this is a terrific film, a must watch film. My bewildered self wanted to ask him how was that but better sense prevailed. I failed to understand what was the film’s whole point, besides the obvious one that this is an exploitation film, like Cannibal Holocaust. Only that caters to audience with different tastes. Random images from Iraq are shown in another of the film’s numerous attempts at sensationalizing, whoa that is somebody’s misery and you’re making money out of it.

If the film wants to be an anti-war message, well there’s nothing remotely new here. If the film wants to show a state-of-affairs under siege, pressurized from multiple fronts then there’s nothing new there too, or for that matter nothing at all. Oswald might have been a good old fashioned patsy or for that matter Sirhan Sirhan too. Anyways that doesn’t have to do anything, even remotely, with Bush’s policies or for that matter GOP’s policies. Conspiracy theorists could argue that the men sentenced in May for the assassination of Zoran Djindjic were patsies too; patsies have always been there. All the film does is shout out loud the same old rhetoric shown far subtly in Inside Man and far poignantly in The Siege. I wonder what exact purpose is served by killing a real life person. Then there’s the desperate, ill-advised “he has a strong heart” attempt at creating a dramatic effect, probably inspired from the Reagan assassination. Larry Stafford (Brian Boland) generates a lot of unintended laughs when he tries to sentimentalize his failure. Suggestion: Kindly watch the National Geographic Channel on the Dogs in combat. The men there are bring tears to anybody.
This film isn’t brave, it is a coward. What would have been truly brave? Make the assassination a prologue and with a new President, say Dick Cheney, show what can be done in Iraq and the world as a whole. Show us what advice you have for that unfortunate part of the world. Or even braver, try and make a point that Bush is correct, his policy in Iraq is correct.
What would have been truly brave, truly intelligent- say what would a new President have done and how to stop the crisis. Or, convincing Bush is correct. But that is tough and light years beyond the capabilities of them. Everyone can shout “End the war”, but how does one do it? Everyone can pretend to be wise in hindsight but kindly try to advise before. Those men with power have responsibilities beyond most peoples’ comprehension. I’m not patronizing anybody here, but one shouldn’t make such shameful, morally reprehensible sensational comments just for the sake of limelight, an act that kills a living man forget the head of a state.
Neil Burger’s pseudo-documentary on the JFK assassination, Interview with the Assassin, although following a distantly similar line of sensationalism is thrilling. It always keeps us guessing, we’re constantly working our brains. Here, it is all dull. The filmmakers think that they have a twist-ending at their hands, it is more of a cheat and nobody could care less.
One thing, the film is technically good. The special effects of putting the people in, and shots comprising of real footage is, commendable. And I don’t want to dwell on it anymore. Watching the film, in the starting half an hour, I found myself confused sometimes whether to reflect the film in the political situation of the present or watching the phony melodrama being played out by the pseudo-interviews, try to feel the narration for it is a mystery and a stupid one at that. And then I realized, I was being exploited real badly. I could have watched real histories mysteries and learn and not even pay any price of the admission ticket. Those documentaries, catering to all genres some of them boasting of brilliant filmmaking and you feel one hour of your life well spent. I had been duped. And yeah, just so I didn’t happen to be clear the film crosses the line, sorry thunders past the line.
(I beg everybody to kindly follow the link here of award winning journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s website (http://www.sharmeenobaidfilms.com/) for this is real, not some sham exploitative pseudo-footage but powerful human stories, stories that are heart-breaking and dying to be heard by the world. CNN is currently airing her latest film, Lifting the Veil.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

DISTURBIA MOVIE REVIEW















CAST: SHIA LaBEOUF, CARRIE-ANNE MOSS, SARAH ROEMER, DAVID MORSE
DIRECTOR: D.J. CARUSO
RATING: ***
RUNTIME: 105 min.
GENRE: THRILLER

Imagine the backbencher in your ninth grade who was the unanimous leader of boys, smart, quite bright, outgoing and watched a lot of movies. He was the guy who always seemed to have a grown up sense of movies, a guy who could name films from the past five years as opposed to others who thought Jurassic Park was the greatest film ever made. Imagine that guy, who believed more violent cinema meant good but very lately learnt that the truth was the other way round. Imagine that guy in Planet ‘M’ laying his hands for the very first time on a copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window wondering what was so special about this Hitchcock dude. Imagine him watch it and although having not comprehended the beauty of it sending the distress code to the internet for full comprehension. And imagine him, fully ‘enlightened’ making up a story of his own laden with all the ‘specialties’ that all the hardworking film critics have to offer about Rear Window, to impress the girls in his class, and of course the boys too, for the leader’s chair is rocky. He finishes the tale and the audience can muster nothing more than a gasp, and after a while clap. A generation of teens, brought up on awful teen films is suddenly exposed to a thriller with almost no blood and yeah, they realize about a certain guy called Tom who has a weird habit of peeping. And he never does declare the inspiration for his tale, the source quite obvious to the teacher listening secretly and feeling conscious of her own voyeuristic behavior. Guess that is how I would describe this thriller what they call Disturbia, tension-filled quite a bit but ending in a ridiculous mess inspired more from the Jason movies. Is it worth the admission ticket? Of course. Are you going to remember it? Only if you started watching films this February.
More or less a dumbed down remake of Rear Window, as I happened to mention earlier, with a few details here and there with modern technology playing a big part, Disturbia manages to hold your attention but seldom manages to provoke the thought process. Any thematic richness the film boasts of is because of the premise, a wonder that will always be something that will cause a debate. Is voyeurism evil? Is a man, getting entertained by watching the lives of others, rather peeping into them and their privacy guilty of an unsound mental state? I don’t think so, for each and everyone of us would find ourselves guilty of the same at one or the other time in our lives. Yet we judge it otherwise. Anyways, this talk isn’t exactly deserved for this film. Since Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, voyeurism has found its way into numerous films most notably in masterpieces like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1988) and Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999). Disturbia here isn’t remotely special like any of these unless I repeat you’re a teenager for it is a nice little launching pad. But it isn’t dreadful like Brain De Palma’s Body Double (1984), which was in its own way was De Palma’s version of Rear Window. Anyways, I have never thought of De Palma very highly.
Kale (LaBeouf), a teenager who has recently lost his father in a car accident where he was driving, is depressed and isn’t doing well academically lands in more trouble, legal at that, as he smacks his teacher for making a reference to his father and is put under house arrest. Aided by his friend, Kale begins entertaining himself by watching his neighbors, especially a hot girl who has just moved in. As the news reports of a missing woman pours in, Kale gets increasingly suspicious about a neighbor of his who seems to have a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s.
This lad, LaBeouf is good and he deservedly is getting a lot of work. It has not been a month and this is the third film (Transformers, Surf’s Up) I’m watching him in. He certainly isn’t another of those dumb teenagers flocking the films, he is good and knows what he is doing.
It is a teenaged flick, the camerawork intends to or at least on paper put down a rule stating that the camera would present the POV of Kale (LaBeouf). But it does lax the rules down the road, increasingly zooming in when teenage arousing stuff is on display, namely the neighboring hot girl’s tryst with her swimming pool. At a crucial point in the relation between Kale and the hot girl Ashley (Sarah Roemer, The Grudge2), he just goes on with some cheesy observation about her that I’m sure the director came up with only when he came to shooting this sequence, and of course forgot about it later. For some inane reason beyond my comprehension, the mother Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix) seems to be more often that not out of the house considering that much of the film is in night and within the house. Anyways she would just peep in when she was needed. Not much stress is laid out on motivation for various acts but that is understood. Hey, at least I can write that this film has this problem. Most teenager thrillers today make me want to blow my brains out, only to eat it again, digest it and blow it again. And then repeat the process a hundred times for I need to be punished venturing into such flicks. This one, I repeat, is good.
The ending is a cop out, a shame considering the preceding film. Obviously director D.J. Caruso is under the impression that this is the best part, and the target audience will sure respond accordingly, but as a matter of fact it is immensely dumb and ridiculous to the point of being laughable. Anyways, he manages to keep the tension high. One thing that caught my attention though, there was this underlying current flowing concerning the insecurity of having a hot single mom. The hot girl Ashley mentions this too. I’m still not sure that it was handled tastefully or not. Ah forget about it, I guess I’ve better stuff to do.

Monday, September 10, 2007

CRASH MOVIE REVIEW























CAST: DON CHEADLE, MATT DILLON, SANDRA BULLOCK, BRENDAN FRASER, RYAN PHILIPPE
DIRECTOR: PAUL HAGGIS
RATING: **1/2
RUNTIME: 122 min.
GENRE: DRAMA

Crash is the perfect example of the sort of movies I look down on, movies that don’t have a story to tell but instead try to ‘preach’ under the pretense of an ‘important’ ‘message-oriented’ story, the kind of pretentious fluff I despise to the very core. Crash is supposed to be an intersection of people from different ethnic backgrounds interacting with each other over a day. Everyone abuses somebody and god almighty, even manages to undo the wrong doing within the very next day. Preposterous, hell yes. Manipulative, undeniably yes. Is it a good story, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination.
The film, under the disguise of dealing with human interaction, focuses solely on racial discrimination of all kinds amongst a multitude of cultures. Of course there is a black man, in fact there are more than one, but we also have participation from Mexicans and folks down from Middle East. And racial discrimination rules the day, almost encompassing every facet of the dynamics of the individual relations.
The filmmakers seem to be under the impression that they’re doing a great service by touching the subject. As a matter of fact what they do is take the easy way out, chicken out while touching the broken high tension wire. The film takes a politically correct stand, standing high and mighty up in the heaven and judging everybody by their discrimination counter. This isn’t humane by any means; all it does is tour us through a two-hour discourse of what is discrimination. And it isn’t compelling even for a moment. One doesn’t need to look beyond Taxi Driver to understand what it is to feel real passionately on the subject. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader had a compelling story on their hands and that in turn was etched out, by means of the real passion they had, into what is quite probably the defining movie on discrimination of any kind. And all this under the pretext of a human drama. Everyone speaks only one language here. And that language seems to only have words that have anything to do with racial discrimination. I don’t have the least bit idea of the culture we’re talking about here, but hey, discrimination is a universal thing. More so in a culturally diverse country as India where it exists in all forms and sizes. All I ask is three questions: does our species only have racial discrimination to offer? And isn’t it really unhealthy on the part of a film to speak unendingly to the point of numbing our senses with all the talk? And yeah, did everyone else miss the very precious element called subtlety?
It is quite obvious that Paul Haggis (screenwriter for Million Dollar Baby) isn’t exactly as good a director as he is a screenwriter. First he crams up his script with a million caricatures masquerading as characters. And then he lets them do the one important thing I hate in a film, characters just uttering script lines. There’re barely handful of moments where the situation feels real, rather genuine. Everything else seems staged, so artificial. Once you realize the shallow rules of the film, you can guess almost every move it makes. I wasn’t even half way when I had figured out the fate of Ryan Philippe and Sandra Bullock. And none of Haggis’ characters aren’t even the least bit compelling. As I said, they’re what they are, caricatures just delivering all the mumbo jumbo about racial hatred. Human dramas aren’t made on sheets of paper; the script is just a mere foundation. All it needs to be is sound. What you need is much more than that, great direction and class actors. Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu are perfect examples. Amorres Perros, 21 Grams and Babel these are deeply affecting, films that only narrate a deeply complex tale not confined within any boundaries but films that make you think even a couple of days after. What Haggis and his team have done is take the wrong approach, in my opinion. It seems they sat down one fine day and decided to make an ‘essential’ film by means of a ‘message’ movie. The points to be tackled were jotted down first and the characters were just fixtures, this character will speak thus. I’m not sure films work that way, you need to have a forceful story. Look at one of the best films of recent times, the Paul Thomas Anderson directed Magnolia. It is a beautiful film, a film with such wonderfully rich and diverse characters, just like Iñárritu’s films. Why look so far back, we’ve already have had a masterpiece, quiet probably the defining film in Syriana. And yeah, it is a ‘message-movie’ too just in case it mattered. Each individual story in ach of these films is rich and complex and every bit compelling and in some cases heart-breaking. I still sometimes find myself thinking about the characters especially that of the immigrant Pakistani father in Syriana. The film is haunting in ways that are more than one. But here, in Crash, not a single story is fleshed out. They’re all just devices and I guess no improvisation was done from the script to the film. And nothing is left for our imagination, absolutely nothing. The attempt is made to explain almost everything by means of dialogues; the girl finds time to shout to her mother that her father doesn’t have the cloak, for no particular reason Graham Waters’ (Don Cheadle) mother in the end puts him at blame for the loss of her second son. It feels very superficial, no doubt about it but it looks tame to for everyone seems to underestimate the audience. Maybe the actors weren’t just up to scratch.
If this film is any indicator, I’m not exactly looking forward to his next directorial venture.
Another drawback, average actors. Dillon is good, so is Don Cheadle. But Sandra Bullock is hardly an actress who is capable of justifying herself even if Martin Scorsese would direct her, forget her in an ensemble cast. Ditto for Thandie Newton and Brendan Fraser. Of course, it doesn’t help that none of the characters are fleshed out. But that is where fantastic actors come to the fore for that is what separates them from the average. And it is a shame that pretty average performances abound here.
The editing is a major cause of concern. Sequences cut into each other for a reason beyond my comprehension and the result, unnecessary diversion and hence release of the tension whenever the few times it is created. I found no logic in it other than that it was done purely by averages, just like those soap operas wherein each character is given screen time in turns. How else does one explain Cameron Thayer’s (Terence Howard) interaction with Officer Tom Hansen (Ryan Philippe) inter-cutting Farhad’s (Shaun Toub) interaction with Daniel (Michael Pena)? There’re numerous others and the overall effect of the film is one that of a serious lack of fluidity.
And then there’s the ending. Two trivial lady characters, one apparently from Japan and one African-American shout over their vehicles crashing into each other. It feels so ridiculous; as if the film is, at the end of it, brushing aside it all in humor, a poor sense of humor. There do exist critics of the Academy Awards and I’m not one of them. I respect them; they sure have made some arguable choices over the year they are more often than not the surest indicator of art and of entertainment. But if the year boasts of Syriana, Batman Begins, Munich and Brokeback Mountain selecting Crash as the Best Picture isn’t just a shame for the Awards and an award to an undeserving candidate but grossly unfair to the other contenders as well, some of them being nothing short of cinematic achievements. Sorry Academy, but this time around I’m with the detractors.