Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#92: Barney's Version

Paul Giamatti is one of those actors we can refer to as being very selective about their roles. With some actors it's by chance, with Paul it seems to be a matter of design. This is a man who can don a whole range of characters with ease. In age, appearance or diction, he can change gears effortlessly. As the villain in Shoot 'Em Up, he was menacing and as a divorced husband in Sideways. he could make you feel he was the most wronged man on planet earth. His performance as Barney Panofsky in this 2010 movie, adds another illustrious chapter in his acting career. So much so, you could very well believe that Giamatti goes by the middle name of versatility.

To summarize it in a line, Barney's Version is about a man who has been divorced thrice and his version of how his marriages played out. The three wives are played by Rachel Lefevre ( First two Twilight movies), the fabulous Minnie Driver and the extremely pretty Rosamund Pike. Set in Canada, the movie is an adaptation of a 1997 novel by Canadian author Mordecai Richler and is directed by Richard Lewis. With a completely character-driven plot, that surmises three different marriages, Barney's Version is a delicate masterpiece of emotions. Paul Giamatti's Barney loves his hockey, drinks like the proverbial fish and smokes cigars like his life depends on it. He can fall in love with another woman in an instant on his wedding day and it is this sort of rash impulsiveness with friends and family around him that takes the story forward.

Paul Giamatti dazzles in a performance that can make you laugh and cry and the same time. He does it so himself during a particular scene with such ease, the intensity is infectious. If you're a Sideways fan, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is an extension of his role as Ray Miles. Except if Ray Miles' character was layered and deep, Barney Panofsky is raw and in-your-face. Barney's father Izzy, played by Dustin Hoffman, is the second best thing about the movie. Izzy's love for his son can overlook any transgression. This particular relationship is the one that Barney falls back on in times of crisis and celebration. Dustin Hoffman's cameo is one sweet melody. Rosamund Pike does a commendable job in the company of these heavyweights. There is a consistent thread in her actions and manners from the time we see her till the end. As Barney's third wife, she makes him work really hard to win her affections but also loves him like there's no tomorrow.

Barney's Version is a very carefully put together piece of motion picture. There's an innate sensitivity in the movie that makes it go down as smooth as the finest 12-year old from the Isle of Jura. This is the kind of movie that once you get into a hall, it can make you forget everything else around you. So go ahead, rush to your nearest box-office and partake in Barney's life. Watch it without a care in the world, for that's how Barney would've wished it.

Rating: 7.6/10

Monday, March 28, 2011

#91: September

A loves B. B loves C and is good friends with A. A has a crush on C but C is a self-obsessed writer who can't care about A or B. This one sentence broadly captures the essence of two-thirds of all scripts Woody Allen has written in his lifetime. What still makes him special enough to have won more screenwriting Oscar nominations that any other in history, is his inventiveness in conjuring up a context for A, B and C that would be funnily unique. To cite a few examples, if there's a murder in it, it's a Manhattan Murder Mystery. If there's a tribute to Casablanca, it's a Play it again, Sam.. If it's about his shot on the concept of the seven-year itch in marriages, it's a Husbands and Wives.

And if it's about a daughter who is trying to emerge from the spotlight of a flamboyant actress mother, it's a September..

Made in the mid-1980's, a time when Woody Allen was at his most prolific self, the movie tells us the story of Lane (Mia Farrow), a middle-aged woman who is recovering from a depression of sorts. She is not able to decide what to do in life. The crush she had on her tenant Peter ( Sam Waterston) is not taking a more meaningful course and more importantly her mother, an ex-actress, wants to move into the very house Lane wants to sell. The story is pretty much based on the two days the mother visits Lane and the viewer is made aware of a deep seated romantic tension between Peter and Lane's best friend Steph (Dianne Wiest). All this happens without much dramatic license but through long-drawn but meaningul conversations between the characters. I couldn't help but wonder how low budget the movie must've been considering all the action happens in one location - Lane's house.

The structure of the movie is fairly simple and straightforward, much like your average play in the local theater. Unlike, your average Woody Allen movie though, this one doesn't have so much of humor as much as human emotions of love and longing being played out. Whether it's Peter, Lane or Steph, their quest is common- a good companion to call their own. It's a tailor made fit for Mia Farrow as she comes across a genuinely aggrieved lady who is trying to put the pieces of her life together. Elaine Stritch too puts in a convincing performances as the protagonist's mother with a devil-may-care attitude. Dianne Wiest, a Woody favorite doesn't put a foot wrong in the movie either. The ladies always crack it in Woody Allen movies and this one's no different. So what goes wrong in September? Nothing really but just like the movie doesn't have anthing to dislike upfront, it fails to provide anything exceptional to like either.

September is one of Woody's shortest movies and it seems to be a movie that could possibly have been made in a hurry. It might not be the hottest movie on the subject of adult relationships that he ever made but in spite of it's all-too familiar theme, it surely deserves it's place amongst all the other Woody Allen movies for it's sheer simplicity.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, March 26, 2011

#90: The Color of Money

If The Color of Money, in the year of it's release in 1986, were a company at a Stock Exchange waiting to be listed, the issue would've indubitably been oversubscribed. It bespoke of the return of Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman in a role he reprises 25 years later) from The Hustler and this time in the hands of a director no less accomplished than Martin Scorcese. Marty, by then, had established a formidable reputation and the pairing of Paul Newman with him at the helm of affairs would've surely set expectations at an ungainly high.

It is hard to write about The Color of Money without the background of The Hustler, an immensely arresting movie about the exploits of a temperamental but a gifted pool player Eddie Felson. 25 years later, Felson returns with a younger pool player Vincent (Tom Cruise) and this time he wants to make Vincent his protege because he sees in Vincent the gift he had has a player. The only problem is Vincent takes everything lightly in life except his girlfriend Carmen (Maria Elizabeth).

For Vincent, a game of pool and a game on a arcade machine are the one and the same, his intensity falling way short of what Felson wants it to be at. Differences arise in no time and the mentor and the reluctant disciple part ways even as Felson decides to return to competitive pool himself. The story is a bit wayward and though adapted from the book, I thought Martin Scorcese didn't make it very friendly for the screen. As a result, at no point does any one pursuit stand up to be counted. It's a little bit of everything and thus that familiar impact that Scorcese is such a master of creating, gets diluted.

Paul Newman actually got his first acting Oscar for this role but he has done far better in many other movies. A case in point being his soul-stirring performance in The Verdict. Tom Cruise's can't be counted as a performance at all and apart from the two there's little else. What the movie tries to do is really capitalize on Eddie Felson that we knew from the classic. What it ends up doing is making a poor sequel to the classic. For me, this will remain Scorcese's weakest movie not because he didn't have the right elements in it , but because he probably, just for once, didn't know what to make of it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

#89: Serving Sara

David Ronn and Jay Scherick are collaborative writers who have worked on projects like I Spy, National Security and the incomparable Norbit. There are good chances if I tell you that Serving Sara is also from their stable that you might not finish reading the review. Oops! So you get my drift.

Mathew Perry plays Joe who works as a legal notice server. His boss tends to think that Joe's colleague Tony (Vincent Pastore) is a far better worker than Joe so he assigns one last job to Joe to prove his worth. The job is to serve a divorce notice on Sara (Elizabeth Hurley) which sets Joe off on a series of (mis)adventures that eventually lead him to accomplishing the task. You can throw in a couple of cliches that will happen in a storyline like this and you would've got the plot of Serving Sara hook, line and sinker.

The movie opens in a convincing manner in which Joe is seen serving a notice on a mafia boss- the disappointing bit was that those opening five minutes are the only minutes worth anything in the movie. That's of course, if you set aside Elizabeth Hurley's dazzling looks in the film. Mind you, I said looks not acting. I am not sure if it's already too late for Mathew Perry in Hollywood but a man of such talent needs to start doing better roles in better movies. At 50, he might be standing at the cusp of a revival of his acting fortunes on the silver screen and he will do well to pick and choose his roles from here on.

Serving Sara is disappointing because it's yet another cliched romantic comedy. A cliche might still work if it has some good comic gags to go along with it. The movie fails terribly on that count too. Right now, I am thinking of one good reason why I could recommend this movie to you. It'll be a long wait, I guess. Oh wait, I got one- maybe if you're a die-hard fan of either Perry or Hurley. A fan so desperate you wouldn't mind your epitaph reading: 'Died while appreciating the subtler nuances of filmmaking in the iconic Serving Sara which included Mathew Perry putting his hand in a cow's arse even as Elizabeth Hurley walked around in a nice mini-skirt at a Texan ranch.'

Rating: 3.1/10

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#88: W

Bill Clinton had done enough in office to become one of the most talked about presidents in US history. Little did the world know that as he gave way to his successor George Bush Junior, he would be passing on the baton of not just his chair but that talk as well. What he also must've not known is the unusually high number of books that would be spawned off his successor's reign. One glimpse at this list on Wikipedia and if you're upto it, you can have an entire library devoted to just the man. Stubborn and idiotic- who doesn't like a combination like that ? So it was of little surprise that a filmmaker of Oliver Stone's repute decided to spearhead a biographical project about Dubya.

Written by Stanley Weiser, W looks at the life and times of Bush Jr. right from his childhood upto his departure from office. Unlike a lot of those books, the movie looks at the Bush the man in his entirety instead of Bush the president making it seem like a sincere narration from the horse's mouth. The good amount of time Stone devotes to Bush's days in college and Bush Sr.'s apparent preference towards his elder son Jeb go a long way in making the viewer come to terms with Dubya's stint as a President and some of the decisions he takes for the country. This is a man who has been so reviled in the public eye that the writer and director employ a smart move in not letting his years as President occupy the centerstage in the movie. This is the proverbial difference between W and the others of it's ilk.

Josh Brolin as W sinks into the role fast as the movie progresses. One can make out that it's not something that is coming naturally to him but he does considerably well to make this a memorable performance. A particular scene that has him answering tough questions from the media at a press conference is nothing short of stunning. The movie also has a stellar supporting cast in actors like James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss and Thandie Newton that keep the movie above frivolity.

In spite of the serious effort that W is, it lacks in what I would like to call a killer instinct. In it's attempt to play safe, it tends to become uni-dimensional at times, playing out just for the sake of it. When you're watching it, you get the feeling that W is going to stop short of becoming good drama. And that's the only thing that's bugging about this one. Everything else is just about right in W. Even the name has a nice ring to it, doesn't it ?

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, March 21, 2011

#87: Chloe

Chloe is a 2009 low-budget thriller directed by the indie filmmaker Atom Egoyan and written by Erin Cressida (The Secretary). The film is a remake of the 2003 French version Nathalie - a movie that barely made anyone take notice of it in the French circles. It's a wonder sometimes what makes people remake movies and remake ordinary movies at that.

Chloe stars Amanda Seyfried as Chloe - a prostitute who is paid money by homemaker Catherine ( Julianne Moore) to seduce her husband David (Liam Neeson). The unusual move was instigated in Catherine's mind when David couldn't make it to their home when she had planned a special surprise birthday party for him. David, who is a lecturer, is liberal with his charm towards his students and that is no news to Catherine. Adding fuel to this suspicion of hers that David is cheating on her, is a picture of David with a young student that she finds in his cellphone. The best she can think to confirm this suspicion is hire Chloe. In a similar situation, would you've rather done some groundwork on your own or sought a detective? I am guessing normal people would've. But not Catherine. Her step to hire Chloe seemed a bit extreme and since this deficient move forms the fulcrum of the story, I took some time to warm up to the movie

Fact of the matter is, even if you overlook this transgression, Chloe is just about watchable. It is strong in parts primarily because of the performances of Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore - one a suave, self-assured husband and the other a seemingly wronged and doubting wife. Amanda Seyfried isn't as sexy as a prostitute (who is out to seduce a smooth talker like Liam Neeson) should've been and was probably not the best choice for this role. She is too sugary to be hooker- her deceit always failing to come through as the conniving Chloe. There is a nice twist towards the climax that is fairly engaging in Chloe but the ending disappoints.

Chloe as a movie works like one of those waves we read back in school physics - replete with crests and troughs. It begins in a very promising manner, then loses it's grip, tries to rework and then falls flat towards the end. What should've been an upward graph thus is erratic and barely enjoyable. If your standards with movies are not too high as far as short movies go, this one being a crisp 94 minutes, you could pick this one up. If you let it go, you aren't missing much for sure.

Rating: 5.2/10

Friday, March 18, 2011

#86: The Kid

Senor Charles Spencer Chaplin, in the wake of World War I, first announced his arrival in 1914 with Kid Auto Races in Venice. Little did the world know at that time, that what it was witnessing would be the birth of a cinematic movement. A silent one at that yet so ethereal, it would delight cinema goers until the next couple of decades. The Kid is a movie made in 1921 much before Chaplin's more acclaimed works like Modern Times and City Lights had taken shape.

The Kid features Chaplin in his most famous avatar- the tramp. He comes across an infant on the footpath while he is well, tramping. The baby comes with a request written on a note that the finder of the baby should take care of it. With no such intention originally in mind, the tramp doesn't want to take the baby home. However, when a cop sees the tramp placing the baby near a dustbin, he is left with little choice but to act as if the baby is his own. Thus, begins a relationship between this hesitant father and an abandoned infant- a relationship that is at the root of the story of The Kid. We are then taken to a time five years later when the kid has grown up and the tramp is still, well tramping.

The comical gags in the first fifteen minutes are hilarious after which one knows that the movie is going to take a more sentimental turn. The Kid is the kind of movie where there is a right balance between emotion and comedy- each having it's own space, never cannibalizing each other. Jackie Coogan, as the five year old, is clearly following the brief handed by the master as he plays the lovable kid. Chaplin's turn is a bit unique in this movie by which I mean that he can pain your guts with his comic timing and as well as leave a lump in your throat at the same time. It is hard to understand how a man can get angry and cry and take the viewer with him in a cinematic moment in spite of the ridiculously funny outfit that he wears but I guess somewhere that is the sign of a great acting mind at work.

The Kid in the light of Chaplin's more glorious works might get overshadowed when people discuss his movies. By itself, it's still a complete movie- one that will be more than worth your time. At 69 minutes, it might be one of his shortest feature films in terms of duration but by no measure in terms of stature.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#85: Emotional Atyachar

A businessman (Mohit Ahlawat), a casino owner (Abhimanyu Singh), his girlfriend (Kalki Koechlin), two corrupt cops ( the formidable and familiar duo of Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey) and a gangster ( Ravi Kishan) come together in Emotional Atyachar . The movie released in 2010 had Akshay Shere at the directorial helm with writer Bhavini Bhede. Both Akshay and Bhavini are products of the RGV factory hence the context of crime in the story is not surprising. If anything, going by the movie, they've learnt not just the tricks of the trade but also the tenor of the trade in this genre.

The stories are all inter-related and leave a lasting impression because of their being rooted in reality. There are no extra-terrestrial twists in the the story and thus it works well from an audience's point of view. The dialogues by debutant Kartik Krishnan also go a long way towards this end. The narrative which keeps going back and forth is stitched intelligently and presents to the viewer a series of circumstances that makes for a memorable viewing. The performances though, apart from the ever reliable Ranvir-Vinay, leave a lot to be desired. Both Kalki and Mohit just about make the passable grade even as Ravi Kishan hams.

At 95 minutes, there's little that you could cut out from the movie. When it comes to a close it is does enough to be an example of a movie with good intentions and reasonable foresight. Emotional Atyachar is a crafty flick made by the sort of people who know and love their movies. It's not too far from being the desi version of Snatch. It never achieves that greatness but never shies away from taking a good shot at it either.

Rating: 6.8/10

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#84: Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore tries to grapple with a basic economic question of how much of capitalism is really good in a country with this 2009 documentary. What he tries to capture in essence through the documentary has been a matter of a long-standing debate between eminent thinkers of our times. How much of private investment should be allowed in nation-building is a subject too far wide and deep to be tackled in a movie little over two hours. Nevertheless, the attempt has been made with Capitalism: A Love Story.

It begins dramatically with Moore likening a bank robbery to a set of families being evicted from their homes due to failed loan repayments. With a swift flashback it then takes us back to the time where the seeds of capitalism first began to be ingrained. Thereafter, it flirts with two ndustries - healthcare and airlines to illustrate the ills that capitalism has brought upon us. So far so good.

The problem begins with a segment that tries to elicit from Christian priests what the church or how Jesus would've reacted to the profit making motives of businessmen these days. It's only after this that the movie comes to piecing together how selfish profit making initiatives actually have began to engulf the Wall Street executives in an inextricable web of greed and deceit. This should've been the main focus of the movie but by the time it gets to the point, the lengthy buildup takes the punch away from what Moore tries to convey- that the nation was taken for a ride by eminent Wall Street honchos and the government isn't doing a thing about it.

Capitalism: A Love Story begins well, nosedives in between and then recovers just about in time to stay afloat in your mind. If you're looking for a good documentary on the hows and whys of the recession, the Inside Job is a far better piece of cinema to stick to. But if you're not so much of a stickler this one is just for you.

Rating: 6.3/10

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#83: An ode to Frasier

A gentleman's gentleman, who wanted to be the Good Son
Frasier in '93 moved to Seattle from Boston
A man divorced, let it be known
A marriage, his third, he couldn't make his own

The grief multiplied, his son Freddie, four years old
would now stay with Lilith, his mother beautiful and bold
Just then Frasier's father Marty, a cop who was shot
Moved in with Frasier, a turn both liked not

Thus came Daphne, Marty's health worker
A girl pretty and naive like they have in Manchester
And then came Eddie, Marty's fox terrier,
who stared at Frasier, made him worrier.

Elliot Bay Towers now seemed full
But Frasier's mind was upset, his life was bull
And then came Niles, also Frasier's brother
A replica of Frasier, younger and snobbier

Notes of misery exchanged at Cafe Nervosa
My Coffee with Niles were always Sub Rosa
For next ten years, it was Crane versus Crane
In theater, opera and wine, they both were vain

KACL- the radio station had Roz, a producer
A friendship anew, she his equal in wit and humor
Life now seemed good for popular Frasier
Women too started coming near and easier

That is a nutshell, the seasons then unwind
These characters, by God, deserve kisses sweeter than wine
Two wonderful women and three Odd Men Out
Family and friends- that's all it's about

They Warred with Words, They Played our Song
'Tis a pity, they were only 11 years long
Here's Looking At You, this Affair is Not to Forget
My Dear Frasier collection, I'll behold you to Death

Alexander Pope, 'tis said, spoke about art
It raises the genius and mends the heart
Might he have seen Frasier that time ?
After all, it's the nectar of the Gods, a show so divine.

P.S. 1: 9 episode names have been referenced.
P.S. 2: Frasier's 2nd marriage is counted as the one where Diane leaves him at the altar.
P.S. 3: Alexander Pope quotation is from Season 4 episode - Three Dates and a Breakup
P.S. 4: Eddie is a Jack Russell Terrier but just wasn't fitting in well for a rhyme.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

#82: Juno

One thing you know about a Jason Reitman movie is that the opening credits will be nothing short of eye-catching. The same is the case with Juno, a movie he made in 2007 with a script written by Diablo Cody. It is said that while Cody was writing it, she did so with a cynical bent of mind because she thought the movie was never going to be made because of lack of a financial backing. As it turned out though, within a year of her writing the movie, she not only was the recipient of an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay but also became known as the writer of the movie that is till date the highest grossing movie from the house of Fox Searchlight Pictures. To bring a perspective with numbers on this, the movie was made on a budget on $6 Mn. It went on to make $231 Mn !

Juno is the story of Juno Macguff (Ellen Page), a 16-year-old street smart teenager who in a moment of passion ends up having sex with her friend from high-school Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). The romp unexpectedly leads to Juno becoming pregnant- a fact that would've been too much to deal with for an average school teenager. Not for Juno. With an uncanny composure she first decides to abort until hitting upon the idea that she can search for a couple who are looking to adopt. This little search leads her to the affluent Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner)- a barren couple who can't wait to adopt Juno's child. So far so good. Until out of nowehere Mark decides that he doesn't want to be with Vanessa anymore and doesn't want to become a father either. How Juno deals with this incident is the story of the movie.

The movie thrives because of Ellen Page. Her coolness quotient is what the story relies on. She is spontaneous, witty and has got a mind of her own. Considering that the girl plays guitar and knows her music inside out, you can picture her as the kind of girl the average guy dreams of dating in school. Her friend Paulie is a little clueless about how to handle Juno's pregnancy but not Juno. J.K. Simmons who plays Juno's Dad plays an unusually calm father who has to live with a girl as smart as Juno. He lets Juno have her way. It's his style of bringing her up and the father-daughter equation is the stuff of dreams for every kid growing up. Everything is so cool about the movie that the script sometimes makes you realize if the world we inhabit is as ideal. And that, I thought is the weakness of the movie. Things happen too easily and too quickly but that's not to take away from the smart lines in the movie that contribute to the movie's flair.

Juno is a good movie. It is compact and mostly funny. It deals with a topic as serious as teen pregnancy without making much noise. It deals it with it sensitively but never going over the top. All in all, it's worth a watch not just for those opening credits but because the rest of the movie is as good if not better.

Rating: 6.8/10

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#81: 7 Khoon Maaf

That Vishal Bhardwaj is an admirer of Ruskin Bond's work is not news. After all he had worked up an absolutely delightful adaptation of Bond's Blue Umbrella in 2005. Somewhere I suspect Vishal likes to adapt stories more than writing fresh material. His filmography will also indicate that his best works, Maqbool, Omkara and The Blue Umbrella have all been adaptations and so it's fair to say 7 Khoon Maaf, that released in February 2011, would've had some seriously high expectations to deal with given that it was based on Ruskin Bond's short story 'Susannah's Seven Husbands'.

The story can be given away in a sentence - a pretty lady kills her husbands- seven of them, one after another. The lady's name is Susannah also deferentially called 'Saheb' by her steadfastedly loyal caretakers. One of those caretakers' son is Arun (Vivaan Shah) the narrator of the story. The caretakers and Arun are the characters that remain common even as Saheb goes through one marriage after another in the hope of a normal marital life. A hope that's marred by traits of possesiveness, deceit and ruthlessness in her husbands- one of them even turning out to be a masochistic wife-beater. This is a movie where performances take second place and one in which the narrative is the real hero. A movie where 7 weddings had to be set and led to the wife being driven mad enough to murder each of her husbands could've taken really long but Vishal Bhardwaj's adept handling restricts the action to a very worthy two and a half hours. His tight screenplay is nothing less than a soothing symphony. Apart from the masterful composition, there's this sombre mood in the air of the movie that lends a poetic touch to the pleasure in the pain of 'Saheb'. So much so, her journey is as gratifying for a viewer as it is for her. The justification of the murders is not just plausible but also one that evokes empathy. The foot-tapping songs are used as instruments in character exposition- so typically Vishal and so typically apt.

Because the cameos by actors as varied as Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham and Naseeruddin Shah amongst others are short, there's only so much you can speak about their performances. The piece-de-resistance however is undoubtedly Annu Kapoor. As the sly, leering and sycophantic cop who is investigating one of the murders, his is a razor-sharp performance. Vivaan Shah impresses as the boy who nurses his childhood crush on 'Saheb' with an earnest performance. The kinds that's like the right amount of sugar in your coffee. And now on to Priyanka Chopra. Performances that age during the course of a movie need to work on counts other than just the makeup. While her role was enacted fairly well, what I thought was missing was the zing beyond the makeup when she was old. When she's telling us as a 65 year-old that 'this time she's going to drink blllooodd', she seems like a 65 year old only because we see her makeup.

There's just one and one flaw that exists in the story of 7 Khoon Maaf. I haven't read the original story so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment on whether it is something that Vishal inherited or omitted from the original story. If someday I happen to speak with him and I get an answer as to why that was that, if just this little question of mine gets answered satisfactorily, I would call this a brilliant movie.

As of now, for 7 Khoon Maaf I am going with an 'immensely satisfying experience'.

Rating: 7.2/10

Friday, March 11, 2011

#80: The Matador

There has to be such a thing as the 'Curse of James Bond'. It's almost certain that once you play James Bond on-screen you are not going to be remembered for much else. For instance, in my friends circle I am yet to meet anyone who can name a non-Bond movie that a Timothy Dalton or a Roger Moore has done. We know Daniel Craig more for Casino Royale than La4er Cake- a movie that's as good as any Bond movie can aspire to be. Sean Connery could be the only borderline exception to this and yet somehow the moment I think of Sean Connery I imagine the Dr. No poster in my head. Not so much The Untouchables or The Hunt for Red October. I can't judge by what Pierce Brosnan has done so far as to whether he's got the wrong end of the curse but what we can vouch for sure is that the man sure tries to keep his roles as different as possible.

The Matador is a movie that released in 2005- three years after Brosnan's last 007 role in Die Another Day. He plays hitman Julian Noble and over an innocuous conversation in the company of dos margaritas in Mexico makes friends with businessman Danny Wright at a bar (Greg Kinnear). Both men are on a mission- one to kill and one to close a deal. Julian is going through a mid-life crisis. He's made no friends over the past few years when he's globe trotting assassinating people and finds an emotional comfort in the company of Danny. Danny on the other hand has started a new business and is anxious about how it will pan out. The men seperate from the Mexico meeting and the next we see is Julian landing up at Danny's doorstep after a few months. This time he wants family man Danny's help for one last job. Will the plain jane Danny be his accomplice in a cold-blooded murder? One can't say whether The Matador makes the answer to that question interesting enough for a watch.

It is the kind of movie that is almost there. It is almost stylish and the performances by Kinnear and Brosnan almost make it worth it. Although, one must commend Brosnan for his casual killer turn. Kinnear, as the docile submissive friend, is only repeating what we've seen him in movies like As Good As it Gets before.

Writer-director Richard Shepard actually gets the right sort of ingredients in The Matador to get a cracker of a movie going but doesn't get the mix right. If you were to choose a good buddy-bonding-over-a-crime kind of movie, you have better choices out there. Leave aside QT here-that man is from another planet in this genre-I am thinking something like In Bruges. The problem with the Matador is that it can't decide for itself whether it wants to be a crime thriller or a comedy. In trying to achieve a balance of both, it manages neither. It's a respectable effort nonetheless. But it did lose on that chance to become an admirable one.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

#79: The Last Word

The Last Word is a 2008 romantic comedy written and directed by Geoffrey Haley. I like these guys who write and direct their own movies- there's something puritanical about this breed. For one, the reins of the movie lies completely with the original visionary of the story. Sabotage of any creative kind by any other person on the film set can hence be practically overruled. The writer wrote it and he directed it. Over the years men like Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Charlie Chaplin, Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa have brought great credit to this breed. Geoffrey Haley might be far from this elite list but suffice to say he has taken the first assured steps towards this end. Given that he has also been on camera and electrical department of movies such as The Hangover also means that he brings a wealth of experience to the table.

The movie is the story of Evan (Wes Bentley), an expert suicide-note writer and Charlotte (Winona Ryder), whose brother Matt's suicide note was written by Evan. In a chance meeting at Matt's burial, Evan and Charlotte get talking and Charlotte takes an instant liking to Evan. Reluctant at first, the quite and shy Evan gets drawn to the bubbly Charlotte after a couple of dates. In a harmless moment, Evan ends up lying to her that he had met Matt at Cornell. In the meantime Evan is also helping music composer Abel (Ray Romano) write his last words before he takes the death plunge. Through a screenplay that's as cheerful as depressing at times, Geoffrey Haley takes us a journey where the viewer is ultimately told as to whether Evan and Rachel continue their relationship and whether Abel ends up commiting suicide.

At 94 minutes the movie's pace is a breeze. This is a story about Evan the writer and what happens around him. Wes Bentley does well with his turn as the introvert Evan and sits easy in his role. While Winona Ryder has a soothing presence throughout with her pretty looks, Ray Romano's cameo is nothing short of brilliant. He has got lines after lines to keep you laughing. The fact that he is a depressed composer on the verge of taking his own life adds to the humor. His meetings with Wes Bentley border on the hilarious.

The Last Word is a delightfully easy movie to watch with a quirky ending. It takes something brave to not go down the tried and tested method of a romantic comedy and that quirky touch by Geoffrey Haley keeps the movie a notch above some of the run-of-the-mill stuff you get to see in movies like When in Rome and The Ugly Truth. A good romantic comedy should have an eye-pleasing couple, a comic actor who can come up with funny lines and an ending that should make it unique. My 'Last Word' in this review is that it delivers on all those three counts.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

#78: Angel-A

The fantasy genre has never been a favorite and it always takes an extra effort on my part to pick one up. But given that this was a Luc Besson movie, I didn't think it would be a compromise of any sort to select this one. After all Besson, a seasoned filmmaker with gems such as Leon and La Femme Nikita to his credit, was to me a filmmaker who knew how to mix substance with style.Angel-A was a movie he made in 2005, much after he had stamped his mark as someone who would be taken seriously around the globe. And so he thought perhaps this was the time to have some fun, be a bit casual with a story, take a few liberties with the script and see if he got away with it.

It's the story of Andre (Jamel Debbouze), a fraudster down on his luck and 50,000 Euros in debt and about to commit suicide. He runs into Angela (Rie Rasmussen), a tall blonde, who is also on the verge of taking her own life. The two start talking and there's a sense of camaraderie that builds as they walk through the streets of Paris devising ways to get rid of Andre's creditors. Andre's scepticism steadily wears out and Angela is able to help him rather easily. She infuses a sense of purpose in his life and can honestly pinpoint where he's going wrong in his dealings.

The problem with the movie is that after this first part is set up, you're expecting something to happen and the twist that comes across is not so much a twist as much as a mere insignificant detour towards the second half. If the movie begins on a scale of 10, it ends on a scale of 2. Debbouze as the weak-willed Andre fits the bill perfectly while Rasmussen seems to try too hard. Her definitive long legs contribute only so much to her acting and that doesn't carry the movie far. The black and white tinge of the movie, however, is trademark Besson and is a feast for the eyes in some of the scenes. His old collaborator D.O.P. Thierry Arbogast brings back some of the magic from Leon.

Angel-A is nowhere near Besson's best work. But he succeeds in maintaining a keen sense of anticipation in the viewer's mind about the next twist in the movie. It's another matter that the climax barely lives up to it all but Andre's helplessness merits attention and the drama around it nearly draws the curtains with an applause. Any other filmmaker would've screwed this up even further. Besson atleast takes the path of least damage and makes you believe that the time spent watching Angela-A wasn't entirely wasted.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

#77: Tees Maar Khan

A con movie is one of the most difficult genres to put together. Tees Maar Khan shows how easy it is to botch one up. And wait, this isn't even an original.

There's no doubt that this is the kind of movie that insults the intelligence of the average movie-goer. What's more aggravating is the thought that once you've entered the hall, how do you get back at the filmmakers?

I am happy for Akshay Kumar. A mediocre actor like him must keep knowing how much farther can he sink.

Shirish Kunder is that puny stain on a white sheet of paper that is so insignificant that it doesn't merit any attention but is so irritating to bear that you end up shredding the paper.

A few movies are bearable in fast forward. This is not one of those.

Sajid Khan used to do a show on DD Metro called 'Kehne mein Kya Harz hai?'. One of the segments used to show a scene in which an actor would be hamming away to glory. If Sajid Khan decided on a comeback for the show, this movie will give him enough material to air the show thrice a day, 52 weeks a year.

And here's the red cherry on this cake. Sheila ki Jawani is not a shade of Beedi jalai le or Munni Badnaan Hui. Any thoroughbred movie-goer will see the difference. Sheila... is a pompously marketed song that stuck in our heads because of a gyrating woman. Katrina Kaif was hotter in many songs before and after this. And apart from her, there was nothing in the song unlike the other two masterpieces.

Rating: 1/10 (Out of which .5 is for keeping the movie only at 2 hours 5 minutes on the DVD.)

Monday, March 07, 2011

#76: Out of the Past

The name is noir. Film noir.

A most undefinable yet an instantly recognizable genre. One that gets it's expression in low light, elusive women and bleak endings. Where mystery is a way of life and smart innocent men are chased for no fault. Like in The Maltese Falcon, there might be something invaluable to pursue or like in Chinatown there might be a massive cover up. Either way, the mysticism is meant to be gratifying. Out of the Past, a movie made in 1947, by Jacques Tourneur was the archetypical film noir of it's age and symbolized all the elements that go into making the movies of this genre, which if done well, are extremely absorbing to follow.

It begins sleepily with car mechanic Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and his girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston) daydreaming in a field in remote California. Just when it seems all's right with their world, we are soon made aware that Jeff used to be a private eye not so long ago and was involved in pursuing a lady called Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) at the behest of a client Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). Back then, Jeff's pursuits had given way to an ineseperable attraction towards Kathie - a fact Jeff tried best to keep away from Whit even as both Jeff and Kathie eloped to a faraway town to lead a life of happily ever after.

Fate strikes with the proverbial alternate plan when Whit's colleague, Joe lands up at the couple's doorstep in a hope to extract some money by blackmailing them. Kathie in a bid to thwart Joe ends up killing him. She flees before Jeff can gather his senses and leaves Jeff fending for himself as a murder accused. Jeff too flees from the scene of crime. Cut to present and Whit has not only tracked Jeff down but he has also called for him again. Will Jeff go to Whit? What could it be for? Will this lead to Kathie again? Will Jeff leave his current girlfriend for Kathie, a flame he stoked passionately in the past? Well, the name is noir. Film noir!

The genre can be so tantalizing, it can put sex to shame. And Out of the Past is as good as any in this genre. The plus point is clearly the story that comes across in multiple flashbacks and is narrated to us through Jeff's voice. The air of mystery is so generously engulfing Kathie, one has a hard time figuring if she is a femme fatale or a woman wronged. Writer Daniel Mainwaring, however reserves his best for the last, putting together a mean ending, one that's as ironic as stark. One that will fulfil your appetite as a viewer but still make you wish things could've turned differently for the characters.

Out of the Past is the kind of movie where the story is so perenially ahead of the characters actions that one can't pay much attention to 'how' an actor is performing. Because 'what' the character is doing assumes preeminence. And that is always a good thing. Let me just end this by saying, if film-noir is your thing, you must dig this 'Out of the Past'!

Rating: 7.4/10

Sunday, March 06, 2011

#75: Hamlet

I wonder if there might be any confirmed number to this but it is almost certain that Hamlet is the most favorite of Shakespearean plays that filmmakers have adapted on film over the years. So when acclaimed director Franco Zeffirelli decided to direct his own version of the play in 1990, he was merely reaffirming his affection for the complex story, just like many of his ilk. What he was also doing is following a tough act. After all, the 1948 adaptation by Laurence Olivier stands very tall amongst all Shakespearean movies. What must've worked in Zeffirelli's favor was the fact that he had previously adapted both The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet for the screen and thus wasn't unknown to the depth that a Shakespearean adaptation demands. And thus, he experiments with his Hamlet and gets away with it. And getting away is not always an escapist bad thing.

The movie stars Mel Gibson as the prince of Denmark who wants to avenge his father's death. He suspects his own uncle Claudius (Alan Bates) for the King's death. Claudius, on the other hand, quickly assumes the throne and doesn't waste any time in marrying Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Glenn Close). When his father appears as a ghost and lets Hamlet know about how he was killed by Claudius, Hamlet comes up with a nifty ploy that would either negate or confirm his suspicions once and for all. His obsession for revenge meanwhile takes his away from the love of his life Ophelia (Helena Bonham Carter). In a fit of rage, when Hamlet unknowingly ends up killing Ophelia's father Polonius, she becomes insane. When her brother Laertes (Nathaniel Parker) returns to the castle to find his sister dead, he places the responsibility of his sister's and father's death on Hamlet and demands revenge. The climax that culminates in a sword fight between Laertes and Hamlet is a befitting end to a story that has revenge as it's central theme.

Since the original play had too many layers of drama, Zifferelli chooses to focus only on the key plot points from the movie. Thus, Hamlet's rage bordering on insanity makes for most of the movie's focus. Mel Gibson is not the tragic brooding hero that a most faithful adaptation would've let us see. Instead, he is energetic and purposeful, at times even humorous. Gibson's intent comes across convincingly and in spite of his image as a happy-go-lucky action hero in the early 90s, his portrayal as the Prince of Denmark is solid. With the exception of Nathaniel Parker who seems to be uncomfortable in a role as important as Laertes, the rest of cast turns in equally strong performances.

Personally, I never liked Hamlet as much as some of the other works from the master's stable. This 1990 adaptation is the kind of movie you could pick up on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's mostly faithful, deviant in trickles but robust overall and hence very much worthy of that lazy Sunday afternoon. And if you're a movie lover, this would be a good reference point to see how Olivier's 1948 version and Brannagh's 1996 version are different

Rating: 6.7/10

Saturday, March 05, 2011

#74: The King's Speech

The greatest movies are those that have in them an interplay of relationship, a sort of give-and-take, between two characters. And greater the difference in the relative standing between the two characters, better the drama. It's the classic screenwriting tool. And David Seidler, the screenplay writer of The King's Speech, employs it to perfection while telling us the story of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a commoner, failed theater actor, speech therapist and King George VI (Colin Firth), the monarch of Britain.

In director Tom Hooper's (his previous movie was the excellent The Damned United) able hands, The King's Speech plays out as a movie that tells about their friendship and their differences. Every movie has a pursuit laid out for the protagonist and in this one all King George VI is trying to do is get rid of his stammer with Logue's help.Less than 3 minutes into the movie, we learn of the King's impediment in public speaking. And in another 3 minutes, Lionel Logue is introduced. It is such crisp writing that adorns The King's Speech- a film that narrates the events of the royal family from 1934 to 1936. This includes the passing away of King George V, the abdication of the throne by his elder son, the presence of Winston Churchill as a political figure and most importantly the role Lionel Logue played in the life of King George VI.

The movie is the closest a motion picture can come to being poetic. The scenes play out with such nonchalant minimalism, the effect lingers on after a dialogue has been uttered. Much of the film's substance stems from the relationship between Logue and George VI - reminiscent of the kind of conversations Jeeves and Wooster would be party to. Logue is Jeeves- suave with his manners, unmindful but not irreverent of royalty and unabashedly witty. Geoffrey Rush is a picture of composed elegance in his character. Even with his middle-class background, he doesn't hesitate to put the King in his rightful place and that becomes a source of great mirth for the viewers. It's a pity he ran into Christian Bale for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year. If he was second in the race, it wasn't by much.

Colin Firth, the reluctant heir to the throne, plays the King with the right amount of anxiety and assurance. As the doting husband and father he has everything in his life except that his job requires a great deal of public speaking and he can't. His performance will stay with you because he's the one person in the movie who goes through the maximum range of emotions. Dealing with his father's death, his brother's abdication and the cheeky Logue don't come easy to him. Uneasy does lie the head that wears the crown but it's sits brilliantly on Colin Firth, the actor. His verbal one-upmanship with Geoffrey Rush is laced with such witty gems, it would've made P.G Wodehouse proud. Helena Bonham Carter, as the caring wife plays the perfect foil to her husband. The movie stands out because even though this is about the most famous family in England, it is not about royalty- for that you must watch The Queen. A word on the photography, which is surprisingly kept dark and morose. This is a movie about hope and inspiration and many times, during the movie, I thought the lighting could've been better. In a particular scene over dinner, you will barely be able to see the faces of the attendees. Having said that, there's not much you could find fault with in the movie.

The King's Speech is a masterful rendition of a true story. It's elegance will thrill you, and it's simplicity will amuse you. And it's straddles these two disparate worlds with such ease, the movie will become a memorable experience for you. The movie does owe a lot to it's two shining stars, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who dazzle in their roles. Without them, the movie would've been still watchable, but I doubt if it would've been this compelling.

Rating: 7.7/10

P.S.: The story of how The King's Speech came about as a story makes for an interesting reading and you must look it up on Wiki if you liked the movie. Or actually even if you didn't.

Friday, March 04, 2011

#73: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the story of how a composer Peter (Jason Segel who has also written the script) comes to terms with breaking up with his more popular girlfriend, Sarah (Kristen Bell). Sarah is the star of a sexual crime TV show that seems to be a spoof of the popular series Criminal Minds.

Sarah dumps Peter for pop sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) and the two set off to Hawaii for a vacation. Peter who is in depression also ends up going to same resort in Hawaii to cheer himself up. He bumps into the couple and at first has great difficulty accepting his new single status. Sarah's relationship with the wild Aldous is a source of major grief and envy but that begins to change after he makes friends with the hotel receptionist Rachel (Mila Kunis). Lame right? Well, that would be a good place to start the movie review.

This is a movie that's scored 7.4 on Imdb and it is so much of a mystery to me, I even asked a couple of friends if I would be wrong in criticizing this one. Was there a stroke of genius that I missed. Apparently not, so here it is. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a crass, puerile and an abject comedy. Apart from Jason Segel who genuinely comes across as a depressed forlorn lover trying to recover from a bad relationship, there is no other redeeming feature in the movie. Having said that, it is best that Jason Segel stick to acting and not subject us to his pathetic writing. This is a comedy that doesn't have any smart lines that stand out nor any set-piece situations that make you laugh.

The movie's at best an average attempt at comedy. An attempt so weak it can demoralize a movie goer's faith in the comedy genre. It will shake your belief that a good comedy can be made with a small budget with no big stars. The surprising bit though is that apart from the so-called critical acclaim it garnered, the movie even made over a $100mn in box office. And to understand this, I intend to dig deeper as to how a movie so shallow can impress so many people. Maybe I could pitch this as a subject for Levitt and Dubner - the hows and whys of it.

In a way, the aptly titled Forgetting Sarah Marshall will take some forgetting. It leaves such a deep dent on the bedrock of logic, it will take another fact-finding mission from yours truly to seal this review but rest assured in the greater interest of the movie-going humanity, it will be done.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

#72: True Grit

The 2010 True Grit is a remake of the 1959 version that had won John Wayne his only Oscar. Both movies are adapted from the same Charles Portis novel that had at it's center a 14 year old setting out to seek revenge against her father's killer. The 2010 version of movie was nominated for 10 Oscar nominations this year and didn't win any.

With it's simple storyline, True Grit begins with a narration of how Mattie Ross' (Hailee Steinfeld) father was killed by an outlaw named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). With a singularly studious intent to nail Tom Chaney down, Mattie hires a grumpy old one-eyed U.S Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Rooster Cogburn is known for his violent approach and we're introduced to his ways in a courtroom scene where he is seen casually defending some of his recent killings. It is a tried and tested method of introducing a character and in no time we know that Cogburn has scant disregard for law and believes in dispensing justice with his gun more than anything else. This suits Mattie's quest. Enter LeBeouf (Matt Damon) who is a Texas ranger who also is on the heels of Chaney. The story is about the three setting off in Chaney's pursuits through the wild west.

It is commendable that the Coen Brothers take a most cliched storyline and turn it into a money-spinning movie. Except that the entire chase that should've been a highlight ends up being hollow. How Rooster and Mattie end up landing at the exact house where Chaney and team are supposed to come at night is flimsy. How out of all the brooks in the region Mattie goes up to the exact spot where Chaney is drinking water is another inexplicable twist.

Inspite of these basic flaws, there are three things that make True Grit an almost enjoyable watch- the first of them being Jeff Bridges' and Hailee Steinfeld's performances. As Rooster goes about his business to track down Chaney, his steadily building affection towards Mattie gives the movie a likeable dimension. Rooster's dont-give-a-damn attitude is stereotypically western but fun to watch. The second is Roger Deakins' cinematography which is extremely evocative. Images from the courtroom scene, the closing shot and the climax scene are extraordinarily done. The third is the climax as Rooster Cogburn single-handedly takes on 4 outlaws against the backdrop of a desolate terrain. It is gooood old western action in it's raw form and it is gooooood!

True Grit just happens to be a movie in which Coen Brothers' reputation precedes itself. The failing of the movie is in it's story that offers no new twist. The redemption comes does come in the form of the climax but it only just about hovers around greatness, never pushing the limit, never enthralling but still zesty enough to be an agreeable watch.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

#71: The Merchant of Venice

Michael Radford, the Oscar-nominated director for Il Postino, put together an adaptation of this classic Shakespearean play for film in 2004. Wikipedia lists this as the first full-length sound film adaptation of a Shakespeare play since most other versions were videotaped for television. What I can vouch for sure is that director Michael Redford keeps the dialogues very close to the actual material of the play thus giving it a very authentic 17th century feel with phrases such as 'Hear thee', 'inexecreable cur' amongst others. It would be fair to admit that if you studied in ICSE in India, the movie is a constant throwback to the Selina Publishers textbook of the play that you would've had in the X Std.

While The Merchant of Venice counts as a comedy in Shakespearean history, there is an unmistakeable layer of tragedy that strikes the two key characters in the play. In one of the first opening scenes we learn how Antonio (Jeremy Irons)is 'aweary of the world' and Shylock (Al Pacino), a moneylending jew is reviled on the street because of the nature of his trade. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) and Portia (Lynn Collins) complete the main cast. The humor in the play is derived from the quibbles between the supporting characters of Gratiano, Salerio and Lancelot. While the film is extremely faithful to the play's content, director Michael Redford makes a slight tweak in presenting the context of the play in the beginning of the movie. So we're told about how even in a city as liberal as Venice the Jews were looked down upon by Christians. Consequently, Shylock's action in extracting his pound of flesh while cruel, is given a strong and a justifiable reasoning of revenge.

This particular definition of context makes the movie rich in it's form. Al Pacino as Shylock delivers an outstanding performance. His mannerisms, motivations and his sense of humor are touched upon with such grace by Pacino's skills that the director's objective to present Shylock as a victim is effortlessly achieved. Al Pacino delivers nothing less than a spell of magic in the scene in which he asks a judge about the difference between a Christian and Jew. Jeremy Irons is the other noteworthy performer in the movie. Irons' brooding portrayal of Antonio is disarmingly simple and moving. Joseph Fiennes and Lynn Collins fail to impress in their roles except putting on the right costumes.

The story obviously has it's share of humor, drama and romance like any Shakespearean comedy but this movie is all about Al Pacino. Very early in the movie when Shylock cunningly tricks Antonio into signing an unusual bond, we know the plot is set. Al Pacino then elevates the viewing experience with his performance making this one well worth your time.

Rating: 6.8/10