Saturday, December 21, 2013

Blow-Up (1966)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Michelangelo Antonioni, Julio Cortazar, Edward Bond, Tonino Guerra
Cast:       David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

It is the swinging sixties and a successful fashion photographer in London finds something interesting to do as he inadvertently photographs a murder happening without realizing it. But does it really interest him as he drifts off again and again due to minor distractions.

The plot is a sideshow and the film is really about how isolated and detached the character is from the world around him. The murder should be something that would shook him up but all other characters in the film end up distracting him from the main event of the film and finally the body also disappears leaving us wondering whether he imagined the entire thing. The final scene with the mime actors, where he watches an imaginary tennis match and finally when the camera focus on his face we hear the sound of tennis balls being hit kind of suggests that it is a case of perception versus reality. He himself vanishes from the field as the credits roll out.

The film was Antonioni's first in English and is considered a landmark film with its explicit nature breaking the production code set by the industry. The film didn't get the  code approval but MGM released it anyways. The film's critical and box office success led the code to be abandoned in favour  of the MPAA film rating system.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The World at War (1973–1974 )

Producer: Jeremy Issacs
Narrated By: Laurence Olivier

The World At War is a 26 part British television documentary series about second world war which aired first in 1973. It took four years to be made and was at the time the most expensive series ever made at 900,000 British pounds. Adjusted for inflation it stands at around 12 million.

It takes much inspiration from 'The Great War', about first world war, which came out a decade earlier. Most of the story is told with the usage of archive footage but there is also some footage about how some of the places are presently as well as face to face interviews. They chose to interview people who were not that high up on the power list and also ordinary folks. The documentary was made with the information available during that time but later declassification of files meant that some important things like Alan Turing helping Britain to crack the German codes were missed. Another problem is that the things that happened on the Eastern front after 1943 are largely glossed over.

The major difference between the two world wars were that  in the first one the fronts in Europe, the Eastern and Western, ended up as stalemate for a long period of time whereas in second world war everything happened relatively quickly. It was great for me watching the series in terms of getting to know about the actual events as well as the motivation behind them, especially the Pearl Harbour and the nuclear bombing. In what was largely a civil war in continental Europe, it is curious that three outsiders in US, Russia & UK emerged as victors.

My stand on the nuclear bombing of Hirsohima and Nagasaki is that, it was kind of inevitable with US trying to protect its interest by having a stronger leverage during the negotiations with Russia for the post war world. In the end, the shock and brutality of the bombings have played a part in preventing its usage in a war scenario since then.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mad Dog and Glory (1993)

Director: John McNaughton
Writer:    Richard Price
Cast:       Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray, David Caruso

A  mob boss develops a friendship between a cop who saved his life and sends a woman to take care of him for a week. They fall in love and causes problems with the mob boss, played by Bill Murray.

Both Bill Murray and Robert De Niro play against their type in this film. De Niro was offered the role of mob boss but he opted for the Mad Dog because of its meekness. It is really a funny film with both the characters being very lonely individuals facing mid life crisis. The humor is subtle and the first sex scene between Mad Dog and Glory being the highlight. The plot is really contrived but it is really about the characters. It didn't do well at the box office and is still very underrated.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Limits of Control (2009)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer:    Jim Jarmusch
Cast:       Issach De Bankole, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal

A mysterious lone man in the process of completing a criminal job.

The film doesn't have any plot and is set in Spain, specifically in Madrid, Sevilla and Almeria. It can only be described as modern art since you are definitely left to interpret it any way you want. As can be seen from the works of directors who love film history, their latter films kind of reflect that. The title of the film can be seen as a reference to the limits under which the artists operate. For films it is the hunt for box office revenue because of which there are limits on how you express, what you express and the amount of freedom you have. This film with its unconventional methods, challenge this system and as is the case with truly path breaking art it will get recognized only later. 

In the last sequence of the film Bill Murray's character tells the lone man: 'You don't understand how the real world operates', to which he replies: 'I understand it subjectively'. When he asks how he got in there, he replies that he used his imagination. The above two dialogs can be used in its existential sense as well as how the film works. There are references to many other films and directors and the following dialog by Tilda Swinton's character reinforces the idea that it is about art:

Blonde: 'Are you interested in films, by any chance? I like really old films. You can really see what the world looked like, thirty, fifty, a hundred years ago. You know the clothes, the telephones, the trains, the way people smoked cigarettes, the little details of life. The best films are like dreams you're never sure you've really had. I have this image in my head of a room full of sand. And a bird flies towards me, and dips its wing into the sand. And I honestly have no idea whether this image came from a dream, or a film. Sometimes I like it in films when people just sit there, not saying anything.' 

It is certainly a film to watch but you will either hate it because of his pretentiousness or love it because of the challenge it is. The camerawork by Wong Kar Wai's frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle is stunning and the soundtrack by the bands Boris, Earth and Sunn also adds much to the film. These are the things to go by as there is very little dialog.  

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Third Man (1949)

Director: Carol Reed
Writers:  Graham Greene
Cast:       Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard

Pulp Novelist Holly Martins travel to postwar Vienna, a city divided and rife with racketeering, to find that his old friend who invited him died mysteriously in a car accident. He stays there to solve the mystery as everything is not as it seems to be.

The film is famous for its innovative cinematography, use of shadows and music. It is a British film and therefore it is more cynical than a traditional Hollywood film. The story is very unique considering the time it was made and I think several films have used a similar three way relationship: the innocent protagonist, distressed damsel and the mysterious third man that connects the former two.  It is essentially a classic love story set in a unique world and much of film was shot in Vienna itself which adds a lot to the film. It was also refreshing to see that plenty of dialogs were in foreign language and not accented English.

Rating: 4.5/5

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writers:  Jeff Wadlow, Mark Millar
Cast:       Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey

Kick-Ass teams up with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime as Hit-Girl goes into retirement. Meanwhile, Red Mist plots an act of revenge by assembling a team of super villains. He adopts the name of Motherfucker and Mother Russia is the best among his super villain set.

The film is just a crap sequel to the original one. Jeff Wadlow missed the point in a big way by interpreting that the first one was all about violence and swearing. What made it endearing was the Kick-Ass storyline with the Big Daddy-Hit Girl providing the unexpected excitement in small doses. The whole Hit-Girl having teenage trouble plot was cringe inducing.

The film is watchable because of the stunts in it and some few and far between laughs but on the whole it was a film that needn't be made.

Rating: 2/5  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Great War (1964)

Narrated By: Micheal Redgrave

The Great War is a 26 part documentary on the first world war and it was produced by BBC in association with the Imperial War Museum, CBC and ABC. Each episode is around 40 minutes long and video consist exclusively of archive footage. I was really surprised to find that this much amount of original footage was available.

The documentary goes into great detail especially about the motivation for all the major actors. The first world war, unlike the second one didn't have an obvious villain like Hitler and it was a case of treaties created upon insecurities leading to a war with a small trigger event, in this case Sarajevo. The turning points in the war, like Americans entering were purely due to economic reasons and the events in middle east were very interesting and not known to me.I really didn't have much idea about the World War One before watching this documentary.

The number of people killed is just staggering and the documentary really gives us a feel of the years of stagnation due to the Trench warfare in the Western front. I felt the documentary was a very non-partial account of the events even if the footage used were largely from the Allies side. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crusades (1995)

Directors: Alan Ereira, David Wallace
Writers:    Alan Ereira, Terry Jones
Narrated By: Terry Jones

In this four part BBC documentary TV series, Terry Jones (Monty Python) takes a look at the crusades in a black comedic way. The wars were essentially fueled by the Pope who had some territorial ambition, with the threat faced by the Byzantine emperor from the Turks uses as a pretext.

The first episode titled 'Pilgrims In Arms' shows why and how the crusading army was formed and how it was unlike other wars waged by the Europeans with the 'Holy' nature attributed to it. During that time Jerusalem was occupied by the Muslim Turks but the people from all religions lived there without any issues with Jews providing finance and Christians doing administrative work. The Byzantine emperor when he called for help was expecting a small army to defend Constantinople but what he got was an army of Barbarians who were on a war pilgrimage to the Holy City. He just let them pass through his City after getting their allegiance. Crusaders being very thick were not that well planned in terms of provisions and all that and so proceeded by pillaging the people and villages  they encountered. They really didn't discriminate between Christians and Muslims when it came to robbing, torturing and killing.

The second episode 'Jerusalem' covers their journey to Jerusalem, hardships and the lucky breaks they got along the way. Muslims were really not a uniform sect, but more of warring factions who were really not united against the crusaders. Compared to the barbaric nature of crusaders they were far more civilized and educated. 

In the third episode titled 'Jihad' Jones covers the response from Muslims as looked to a uniting leader to wage Jihad against the Crusaders. Slowly the Muslim world inspired by religious war mongering put aside their infighting against the common enemy and the leader Saladin was the figurehead. He is considered as very noble as many a times he protected the captured Christians from his own army. He recaptured Jerusalem and status-quo was maintained over there. Truce was reached between him and the crusade leader Baldwin in 1190s.

In the fourth episode titled 'Destruction' , after the death of Saladin, a new leader who had more in common with the crusaders in terms of brutality emerged to finally destroy the the barbarians from Europe. Islamic world recognized the Christians as the common enemy and this feeling has been ingrained in them since those times and is kind of the reversal of sides from the start of crusades. The world is still reeling from its effects.

The documentary is extremely funny with Terry Jones reenacting some of the events, the uniforms they wore etc. His cynicism about religion and the nuts who act upon it makes it more watchable compared to other normal history documentaries. It made me want to re-watch the film 'Kingdom of Heaven' which also features some of the characters like Saladin and the leper king Baldwin portrayed amazingly by Edward Norton.

Rating: 5/5

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Director: Declan Lowney
Writers:  Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Armando Ianucci
Cast:       Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Anna Maxwell Martin, Felicity Montagu

Alan Partridge is forced to be the negotiator when a sacked DJ with a shotgun takes over the radio station. The opportunity gives him some media attention which he is lapping up.

Unlike the TV series the film is kind of plot driven but the character remains true to his nature. Kind of missed the domestic Alan from the TV series and also  some of the characters from the TV series. Both Lyn and Micheal have minor roles. Like the TV series, I think it will get funnier on repeat viewings. That said it was a very good watch. Love the opening credits. 

See it you shit!!!

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Godfather: Part III (1990)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers:  Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Cast:      Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola, Eli Wallach

The film is set in 1979, where Micheal Corleone is a respected figure in the community as he almost completely moves away from the illegitimate businesses through which he had accumulated his wealth. Andy Garcia plays the role of his nephew from Sonny's mistress, who gradually moves up from the role of Micheal's muscle to become the next don.

The story establish a link between Micheal Corleone with the Vatican banking scandal and the short reign of pope John Paul One. It was inevitable for the film to be compared with its two predecessors and the bar is just too high for it to match. I found it to be an alright film when I saw it for the first time around five years back. On second watch I realize it is just not good enough on a standalone basis even. Whilst the first two were all about subtlety and about characters, this one is plot driven. And the plot is not very interesting and the operatic climax is just tedious. I think they tried to make the film stand on its own so that people who haven't watched the first two could also watch it. So you have got plenty of exposition which the first two films didn't do at all. There is just far too much dialog.

Godfather is all about the character Micheal Corleone  and in the third part, he is not recognizable from the character he had become by the end of part two. It can be explained that he changed again with age but the thing is he is not that interesting in the third film. The film got made because Coppola was again in financial trouble and the studio rushed the film to have a Christmas release instead of an Easter one. I really don't think it would have made too much difference to it as it was just a money making exercise. It is better not to watch it and stop after the part two.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers:  Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Cast:      Al Pacino, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasberg

The film's sequel part starts off in 1958 following Micheal Corleone as godfather who has his business settled in Nevada and as he consolidates his business he loses his family. The prequel part follows Robert De Niro playing the role of an young Vito Corleone charting his rise to the don and godfather.

The film was essentially made because Coppola didn't make much money from the first one and he didn't even want to direct it as he approached Martin Scorsese for it. Coppola was given a larger budget for it and they used the unused part from the book for the prequel part. Scorsese recommended Robert De Niro for the young Vito Corleone role and he portrayed it the way an young Marlon Brando would do. He won the academy award for the best supporting role.

I rate Godfather part 2, as a better film than the first one. The film is not at all cinematic and that is the beauty of it. You are not presented with any twists and we as an audience know what is coming all the way. The fact that Fredo Corleone was the traitor is revealed to the audience immediately whereas Michael is in the dark about it till the scene in Havana. It is just a character study on Michael Corleone  who wants to emulate his father as the protector of his family but ends up destroying it for his low tolerance  for disloyalty and paranoia.

Rating: 5/5 

The Godfather (1972)

Director: Frances Ford Coppola
Writers:  Mario Puzo, Frances Ford Coppola
Cast:       Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Cazale

The film Godfather depicts the transfer of power in an Italian mafia family from its aging patriarch, Don Vito Corleone, to his reluctant son Michael Corleone. The story spans across a time period of ten years and is set in New York post the second world war.

This was I think my fourth time watching The Godfather. The thing with it is that it feels odd watching as some scenes and themes that have been ripped off numerous times subsequently in various films. You have the bastardized version of the opening scene in Sarkar, the entire plot-line kind of getting ripped off in the clusterfuck that is Rajneeti and the cliched story of ultimately good mob boss who don't want to enter the drug business (malayalam film 'Irupatham Nootandu') which sets off all sorts of problems for his business. It is sad that you get reminded of these films when you watch the godfather and your experience is kind of tainted by it.

The film was initially offered to Sergio Leone, who didn't want to make it as he was himself trying to get 'Once Upon a time in America' made. It is amazing to think that the project was entrusted up on Frances Ford Coppola who at that time was by all means an unknown quantity when it comes to directing a big film. He had many conflicts with the studio Paramount during the making with the casting decisions of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino being contentious. He was on the verge of getting sacked almost the whole way through the making. Finally when the film was released it was a blockbuster critically as well as commercially. Stanley Kubrick considers it to be one of the best films of all times and the best cast as well.

To call Godfather a mafia film would be like calling Apocalypse Now a war film. It is much more than that. It is about the family and Micheal's transition from a young man who didn't want anything to do with his family's business to be the godfather himself. The final scene in which the door is closed on Kay's face as the underlings kisses the new godfather, Micheal's hands sums up the whole film. It is funny that he got nominated for academy awards only in the supporting category,due to which he boycotted the ceremony.

The film is well contained and one would think there was no need for a sequel/prequel to it but Coppola  followed it up with the part two which is my favorite out of the two. It is much darker and it also helps that nobody dared to steal scenes and plots from that film due to which it always feel fresher. Bewildering to think that Coppola manged to squeeze in the excellent 'The Conversation' between the godfather films over a period of three years.

Rating: 5/5

Friday, November 22, 2013

Down Terrace (2009)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers:  Ben Wheatley, Robin Hill
Cast:       Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin

The father and son of a crime family in Brighton gets out of jail and look to unmask the informant in their midst.

This Ben Wheatley's film debut and have dark humor running through for which his films are known for. The crime family is shown in a very realistic manner with no pomp unlike many other films and you have situations like a hit-man coming for a job with his three year old son because he couldn't find a sitter. It is really a genre film done differently and shot in just eight days.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Rules of Attraction (2002)

Director: Roger Avary
Writers:  Bret Easton Ellis, Roger Avary
Cast:       James Van Der Beek, Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel

A love triangle involving a drug dealer, a virgin and a bisexual classmate set in the backdrop of Camden college, students of which are over-privileged and spoiled. 

It is an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's (American Psycho) novel with the same name and it intends to show the depravity of the existence of these people who are contend with living life to the fullest with drugs and casual sex. While in other films of this genre, such a life is shown with plenty of humor and an element of coolness, this film is supposedly a very faithful adaptation of the novel which makes it a very dreary watch. It is like a Todd Solondz film but doesn't have enough dark humor to make it a real good watch.

Roger Avary, the director of this film, co-wrote both Reservoir Dogs, True Romance and Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kill List (2011)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers:  Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Cast:      Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer

After a botched up last job a Hitman is having domestic issues with his wife. He finally teams up with his friend and regular colleague to get back into work as they go on a journey in which they take out people in the list.

I watched the film without any prior knowledge about it and having only the title giving a little clue. Things given in the synopsis are kind of spoilers but I guess it is alright as the poster itself gives away more than it should. The film can be divided into three parts- domestic part, buddy road film act and the final weird horror act. Whether you enjoy it or not depends on your tolerance for getting the carpet pulled from underneath you. I loved it and reckon it is a fucking masterpiece, albeit a very disturbing one. It is like a Mike Leigh+Quentin Tarantino+David Lynch film rolled into one.

Rating: 5/5

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Writers:  Malik Bendjelloul, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman

The documentary feature the search for the mythical musician Rodriguez, whose music is etched into the minds of South Africans who were behind the iron curtain of the Apartheid Regime. They don't know anything about him other than he committed suicide on stage whilst performing.

The film is another proof for the dictum that 'Facts can be stranger than Fiction'. It is better to watch the film without any prior knowledge whatsoever. When the film reveals that he was dead at the beginning itself, I thought it is good that they got it out of the way immediately, like Herzog did in Grizzly Man. The twist that comes later doesn't cheapen the film. Rodriguez is from Detroit and the way Detroit (now bankrupt city) is depicted in it with his music as background adds to the mysticism.

The film won the Academy Award for best documentary last year. The documentary in the way the story is revealed is similar to Dear Zachary and Catfish both of which I really liked.  Some people have complained about the documentary not revealing that he was actually famous also in Australia and had done a concert there in the late 70s. I didn't find it disingenuous as the film is told from the perspective of South Africans who had no idea about him and his story during the Apartheid regime. 

Rodriguez did some tours in US after people got to know about him and his music through the documentary.

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, November 9, 2013

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Director: William Friedkin
Writers:  Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin
Cast:       William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, John Turturro

A fearless secret service agent is hellbent on bringing down a counterfeiter, who killed his partner, by any means.

As the opening credits rolls on you are reminded of where Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' was coming from with its font and thumping music. This film is representative of films from the 80s with its over the top style and cheesiness, but in a good way. In terms of how L.A is represented and its soundtracks it is similar to Drive but not in terms of the treatment. It is the other end of the axis. Very fun film to watch with the trademark Friedkin car chase also in there.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, November 8, 2013

După dealuri (Beyond the Hills) (2012)

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writers:  Cristian Mungiu, Tatiana Niculescu
Cast:       Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta

Voichita is living in a convent in a remote hill and a friend of hers from the orphanage in which she grew up comes to visit from Germany. They apparently had a sexual relationship at the orphanage and she wants to take her to Germany. The friend becomes increasingly agitated, as Voichita is quite happy with her life in the convent, and is taken to a hospital. She is again taken back to the convent upon promising of wanting a life as nun, but she again become violent upon which an exorcism is performed leading to her death. Voichita is confused with the whole ordeal and the Police arrest the priest who was the head of the convent.

This is the first feature length film from Mungiu after the excellent '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days'. Film is shot in ultra realistic way with excruciatingly slow pace and no background music. It all slowly builds up towards a philosophical climax in which there is no one to be blamed for the death. It is nice to contrast the film with Friedkin's 'The Exorcist'. Another great film to be put alongside other great films coming out as part of Romanian New Wave.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Team America: World Police (2004)

Director: Trey Parker
Writers:  Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
Cast:       Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Elle Russ

A Broadway actor is hired by Team America, which acts as the World Police, to foil a terrorist plot by infiltrating into their group through impersonation.

It is a film which takes pot shot at almost everything. It will offend both liberals and conservatives in equal measure. The film came out in 2004 when US was at war against Iraq using terrorism as a pretext. At the beginning of the film it is this angle that is in focus but as it goes on it starts taking pot shots at the liberals with the Film Actor's Guild (F.A.G) headed by Alec Baldwin at the center. Kim Jong Il is the villain as he invites leaders of all the countries to a peace conference with the aid of F.A.G and plans to blow up several places simultaneously. But the Team America foils his plans thereby in a sense justifying America's usual responsibility as World Police.

In my opinion it is better to take this film as a satire and spoof on big Hollywood action films as it mocks its cliches and stereotypes. You have an outsider joining a group where one character is seriously pissed off at him. He wins over the others and do a successful mission but the team as a whole fucks up. Dejected he leaves the group and the team suffers as a result. He comes back to save the team and the whole world as everything comes down to a ticking countdown in the villain's den. If it sounds very much like a typical Hollywood action film, don't be surprised. The film is extremely funny and very much politically incorrect.

The film uses puppets and the studio mistakenly gave the go ahead thinking it will be cheaper compared to doing it live action style. The creators, who are also behind the South Park Series, justified why they left out George Bush from the film by pointing out that everyone else is already making fun of him.

I will end with the film's epic monologue at the end:
Gary Johnston: We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong Il is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes: assholes that just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way. But the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is: they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate - and it takes a pussy to show them that. But sometimes, pussies can be so full of shit that they become assholes themselves... because pussies are an inch and half away from ass holes. I don't know much about this crazy, crazy world, but I do know this: If you don't let us fuck this asshole, we're going to have our dicks and pussies all covered in shit!

 Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Kings of Summer (2013)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writer:    Chris Galletta
Cast:       Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias

Three teenage boys decides to leave their house and spend their summer in the woods living off the nature. 

It is a coming off age comedy with exquisitely shot imagery. The humor the film is not the one you expect from American films which have become of a very frat nature lately. It is really a good little film from the first time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who screened it at the Sundance film festival and it went on to receive a limited release in US.

Rating: 4/5

Cruising (1980)

Director: William Friedkin
Writers:  William Friedkin, Gerald Walker
Cast:       Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen

A police detective goes undercover in the sleazy and underground gay subculture of NYC to catch a serial killer who is targeting gay men.

The film is based on the novel of same name by Gerald Walker. It doesn't have any humor at all and proceeds like a documentary. The film is more about Al Pacino's character's transformation through the investigation as he increasingly doubts his own sexual orientation. The film depicts it in a very ambiguous way whereas the novel supposedly was very explicit. The catching of serial killer becomes a sideshow and we are not even sure whether the one who is caught is the real serial killer at all as the evidence is there for only one murder. 

Whether you like the film or not would depend on the level of ambiguity you can tolerate. It faced numerous protests by numerous gay rights groups during its filming.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, November 4, 2013

Entourage (2004–2011)

Creator: Doug Ellin
Cast:      Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Conolly, Jerry Ferrara, Rhys Corio

The series follows the activities of a fictional up and coming Hollywood superstar Vincent Chase, and his close group of friends  whom he considers as family. It is loosely based on Mark Wahlberg and his entourage and the former served as the executive producer for the show which aired on HBO for 8 seasons. It is basically about male friendship set in Hollywood lifestyle where your fortunes can change very quickly. 

The idea for the show began when Wahlberg's assistant started filming him and his friend group  documentary style. For the TV show they had Vincent and his group as lads who grew up in Queens with them not having a criminal background unlike Wahlberg and his crew. Vincent lives in L.A with his struggling actor brother Johnny 'Drama' Chase, his childhood friend and manager Eric Murphy and Turtle who serves as his driver. Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold is Vincent's foul mouthed agent and is by far the best and the funniest character in the show. Jeremy Piven is having the time of his life with this character and this is the character for which the show will be remembered for. He is as legendary as Malcolm Tucker is in 'The Thick of It'.

Over the course of eight seasons we have Vincent Chase becoming a star with a James Cameroon directed blockbuster superhero film Aquaman, then he becomes almost broke with no new roles when a big budgeted self produced film bombs at box office, makes a comeback with a Martin Scorsese directed Great Gatsby, then again almost self destructs his career with cocaine addiction and finally in  season eight everything ends happily. As you can see it charts the career of a stereotyped Hollywood superstar, but in a very funny way. The first four seasons are the funniest among the eight and from the fifth season the series is a bit more on the drama side. The sixth and eighth season are pretty poor with all things going rather well for Vince and we are kind of fed up with all the relationships that are going on.

A film is getting made now with the story starting from six months after where it ended. Not sure about how it is going to be but I really don't think it is such a good idea. Doug Ellin will be directing it.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Killer Joe (2011)

Director: William Friedkin
Writer:    Tracy Letts
Cast:       Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon

A fucked up family decides to kill the family head's evil ex-wife in order to collect the insurance money. They contact Killer Joe to do the deed and he wants the daughter to be his retainer till he gets his money.

Film is a pitch black comedy set in rural Texas. Friedkin himself described it as a pitch 'black hole' comedy. Matthew McConaughey's title role reminded me of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, especially with the now famous 'K fry C' scene. Many people will find the films anarchic and dark humor bit hard to take but I really liked the film. I had so far seen only seen 'French Connection' and 'The Exorcist' from Friedkin's filmography. Planning to catch up with his older films.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trance (2013)

Director: Danny Boyle
Writers:  Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Cast:       James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel

James McAvoy is an art auctioneer who becomes mixed up with a criminal plot to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars. In the process he gets a head injury due to which he becomes amnesiac. He is taken to a hypnotist to make him remember where he hid the stolen painting.

The film is Danny Boyle having fun after his work on the Olympics opening ceremony. He is playing with genres and the cinematography and the soundtrack are both stunning as one would expect from a Boyle film. The twists and turns get tedious as the film rambles on towards its end. The viewer need to really pay attention to keep up with the plot convolution. The basic premise is very flimsy and there are plenty of plot holes. Its a good watch and nothing more.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, October 28, 2013

Shaitan (2011)

Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Writers:  Bejoy Nambiar, Megha Ramaswamy
Cast:       Kalki Koechlin, Shiv Pandit, Gulshan Devaiah

Five cokeheads decide to fake one of their own's kidnapping to bribe a police constable for covering up a hit-and-run accident. It becomes a media event with all of them presumed kidnapped and things turning ugly.

The film as a whole is a mess not necessarily in a bad way. The second half of the film works more like a commentary on the Indian news media circus and the Police. Plenty of stylish flourishes, some very good set-pieces  in what is essentially a tiresome film at over two hours. It would have maybe worked out better if they kept the dark humor tone over the entire period of the film.

Hit and Run thing is getting a bit cliched and lazy. They could have come up easily with something else like getting caught with dope or something.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Wire (2002–2008)

Creators: David Simon & Ed Burns
Cast:       Dominic West, John Doman, Wendell Pierce, Michael K. Williams, Idris Elba, Andre Royo, Sonja Sohn, Lance Reddick etc

Plenty of things have been told about 'The Wire', with it being unarguably the greatest TV drama series of all time. Like good films, during it run it had a limited audience and won very few awards and they made season by season without knowing for sure there will be another one. We are all lucky that HBO let it run for five seasons of total perfection. 

I saw it for the first time about 2-3 years back. I had seen the first episode and it took me a one year gap to get back into it. As many fans of Wire would testify it will take about three episodes to get into it. After that you will be like an addict who cannot wait to get his next fix. I started my re-watch again from season  one in April this year and finished the first three seasons in no time. Over the last two weeks I finished the last two seasons. It gets better on every watch as all good things usually does, with you noticing all the things that you missed on the first watch and marvel at the way in which the creators have carefully carved out characters who you might think playing just minor roles: Slim Charles, Bodie, Poot, Randy etc. As the joke goes-difference between 'The Wire' and a 'Tweet' is that the former has more than 140 characters. 

The shows creators are David Simon was a journalist with the Baltimore Sun and Ed Burns who was a Police detective. They manage to depict the reality of their city 'Baltimore' with all its problems and ultimately the main character of the series is the city itself. By the end of season five all the human characters get replaced by new people who take over their roles and for the city nothing really changes which is ultimately the message of the Wire. There is no happy ending or resolution. It just puts a mirror in front of the society. Even though drug scene in Baltimore is at the center of the series, whatever it depicts is applicable to many other parts of the world as it deals with corruption, bureaucracy, inequality, failure of institutions, cyclicality cynicism etc. Its all very 'Dickensian' if you know what I mean.

The realism with which it is made will make you feel like you are watching a docu-drama. It doesn't conform to the usual TV norms like ending episodes on a cliffhanger, resolved standalone episodes or explaining/reminding the viewers to actually connect the dots or making seasons stand on their own so that people can choose to watch it anytime at any point of the series. It has to be seen from the first episode to the last as it is just like a 60 hour film. David Simon followed a 'Fuck the Average viewer' policy while making it. Your intelligence is taken for granted and there is hardly any explaining done. The street drug lingo will take some time to get used to but it is not a significant obstacle. Hoppers, 5-O, Testers, G-Packs, Carrying weight, WMDs, Pandemic etc, don't worry: you'll get used to it yo.

                                                        ****SPOILER ALERT****

The First Season focus mainly on the Barksdale gang and the police effort in getting a wiretap going to nab the kingpin Avon Barksdale, who is the gangster type, and his associate Stringer Bell who is the brains behind the group. Stringer want to do things professionally without much bloodshed whereas Avon cares more about his reputation in the streets and the corners he holds. The characters like D'Angelo Barksdale, Bodie, Poot and Wallace who operates in the lower end of the food chain gives us a peak into how it is done at the street level.The series start with the killing of a citizen who was a witness against D'Angelo Barksdale in a murder case. Dominic West's Jimmy McNulty leaks this info to a judge who starts a shitstorm because of which a unit is formed under the leadership of Daniels played by Lance Reddick. Case gets a breakthrough when Omar Little (Michael K.Williams), who moonlights as a guy who robs the drug dealers, comes forward as a witness to the killing. The Barksdale gang is using codes through pagers for communication and Lester Freamon  (Clarke Peters) uses the wire to crack the code and finally to put Avon Barksdale behind bars. The first season primarily shows the ground level activities of both the Police and the drug dealers. We see that the both sides are just trying to do their job within the constraints they are operating in pursuing their own self-interest. They are just two sides of the same coin.

The Second Season of series take a serious deviation from the first by focusing on the plight of stevedores in the Baltimore city port. It examines the problems the blue collar people in the developed world are facing because of the globalization. Baltimore's port is one that suffered greatly because of increased trade between US and China as most of the cargo is handled by the ports in the west coast. The protagonist for the second season is Frank Sobotka who is the union leader for the stevedores. He is trying to improve the infrastructure of the port through lobbying. He is getting money for it by aiding smuggling of goods through his port. Problems start for him when a container turns up unclaimed with dead women who were meant to be sold as prostitutes. This causes attention to fall on their activities which included abetting smuggling of drugs into the country. The East Side drug lord Proposition Joe has the connect to these high quality drugs. Meanwhile Avon's territory of West Side is overseen now by Stringer Bell and he is struggling with poor quality drugs. Stringer starts sharing territory with Joe to get access to the higher quality drug behind Avon's back. We start conflicts developing between Avon and Stringer as Stringer uses Omar to thwart Avon's plans to get back the territory. Street level drug story is just a sideshow this season setting things up for the third season. It is more about the wholesale side of the operation through the ports and story is told through the travails of the Sobotka family. Many viewers had a problem with this but it is one of the most heart breaking story of the entire series told in a very powerful manner with all the inevitability surrounding it.

The Third Season starts to focus more on the upper section of the Police Department and the City Hall. We see that the unholy relation between the two is leading to short-termism, juking of stats and corruption in the Police Department. A new character, councilman Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillan), who has mayoral ambitions is introduced. Another new character is Major Bunny Colvin who is fed up with the futility of the 'War of Drugs'. He starts the project 'Hamsterdam', designated areas in which people can buy and sell drugs without fearing the police so that other parts of the city could be kept clean, without letting his superiors know. It is ultimately David Simon's opinion that the legalization of drugs is the only solution is shown through the Hamsterdam story arc. Why it is not possible is also shown as the politicians use the issue for point scoring even though they know it is perfectly feasible solution.

Meanwhile in the drug trade business Avon gets out of jail and a new gang led by Marlo Stanfield is starting to compete for territory in the west side. Rifts between Avon and Stringer continue to widen leading ultimately to Stringer's demise. As Avon says to Stringer he really was a character who ended up in the middle neither comfortable with the gangster bullshit nor the business side of things. Avon is nabbed again by the Police through a wiretap but the cycle just repeats as Marlo Stanfield takes his place as the Kingpin of the west side.

The Fourth Season takes a look at the school system showing how it fails the students who inevitably falls into the drug system. We are given the teachers' side of the story through the character of Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost) who is an ex-detective from the previous seasons. Colvin is also there, after getting chucked out from the Police, as a consultant for an educational research project wherein which to study the behavior they create a separate class for the troublemakers who are more or less the corner kids from the drug trade. We learn that the school system is also very similar to the police department with short-termism and juking of stats through the gaming of exams whose results decides the fate of the teachers and school.

Meanwhile in the drug trade business Marlo Stanfield establishes his dominance through his muscle Chis Partlow and 'Snoop' Pearson who executes people for him leaving the bodies in boxed up vacants. The rise is very bloody but the Police are not aware of it because of the lack of bodies. Marlo is not part of the co-op established between the drug gangs led by Proposition Joe. To induce him to the co-op Joe uses Omar to create trouble for Marlo. Finally Marlo joins the co-op and but one of their resupply is sabotaged by Omar who retires from the game and leaves the city. The bodies in the vacants are finally discovered by Bunk and Lester but they don't have enough evidence to convict anyone.

In the Democratic Mayoral race Tommy Carcetti is facing almost an impossible task being a White Candidate in city that is too Black. He chips away continuously at the Mayor's base and with plenty of good luck and chance (another witness killing which was just an accident) he manages an improbable victory. His story has great parallels to the Obama story. In the political side of things the fourth season ends on a high note with Carcetti promising plenty of things and grooming Daniels as his next Police Commissioner. It is apparently a 'New Day'.

The Fifth Season starts one year on from Carcetti's election to the office with the promised new day having not arrived. Meanwhile Carcetti has set his sights on next year's Maryland governor race. Police are facing extraordinary budget cuts because of the fiscal issues with the school system. This causes winding up of the Marlo investigation without any results which brings out again the rebellious nature of Jimmy McNulty who fakes some of the random killings of homeless guys as the work of a serial killer. This catches media attention and we are given a glimpse into the media through the office of the struggling newspaper 'The Baltimore Sun' where a journalist eager to rise through the ranks is faking stories and quotes. The attention gained by the serial killings give more people to McNulty to divert for real 'Police Work'. They are diverted to investigate and ultimately nab Marlo but the evidence is tainted. Finally a deal is cut so that Marlo walks free with the promise that he won't enter into the game again.

The whole media side of the story is an allegory to the Iraq War showing how easily they can be manipulated. When the fact that Jimmy faked the serial killings comes to light no action is immediately taken because Carcetti cannot afford it due to the Governor election. In the closing montage we are shown some of the characters taking the roles of the main characters like Omar, McNulty, Bubbles, Burrell etc to drive home the point that nothing really changes without the system getting changed.

The greatest thing about the wire is that it lacks sentimentality and is very realistic and pessimistic. As David Simon himself put it, 'It is a Treatise on the decline of the American Empire'. I gave an idea about the plot for all the seasons because they are necessary to show how the series continuously expands on things that they are taking a look at. There are plenty of characters I have not mentioned who are the life and blood of the show. Hats off to David Simon and HBO for creating the greatest television drama series of all time.

'Its all in the Game Yo, All in the game'.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell
Writers:  David O. Russell, Mathew Quick
Cast:       Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Bradley Cooper plays an ex-teacher who has returned to his home after being in a mental hospital for a while because of bipolar disorder and is trying to reconcile with his wife. He hooks up with Tiffany played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is also a neurotic struggling to cope after the death of her husband, to help him in his endeavor. It is not much of a stretch to imagine how it is gonna progress from there.

The plot is very formulaic and contrived but because of the characters in it the film is an interesting watch. Some of the story progression will certainly make you cringe. Least impressive film I have seen from David O. Russell.  Didn't really deserve the critical reception it got during the awards season but Jennifer Lawrence probably deserved her academy award. She is really a terrific talent.

The film was adapted from Mathew Quick's novel of the same name.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers:  David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Cast:      Henry Caville, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe

Well, it is the Superman origins story. The first half hour of the film is really crap but you cannot blame the filmmakers because they cannot deviate much from the basic superman story. Next one hour of the film, till superman meets Zod for the first time is the best portion of the film and it actually raised my hopes. Then it again turns crap with the action sequences being too long, boring and very Michael Bayish. Didn't understand why Lois Lane was asked to accompany superman to meet Zod.

The cast is good with all the main characters portrayed well and Michael Shannon stealing the show. It is a watchable film.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gravity (2013)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writers:  Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron
Cast:       Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

A medical engineer and an astronaut have to work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

The accident happens when a Russian missile accidentally hits one of its satellites and its debris hit other satellites creating a chain reaction with space debris cascading. This is a very real possibility and is known as 'Kessler Syndrome'. If it happens it will make it impossible to launch satellites and space exploration missions for decades. 

In the film after the first debris hit they have 90 minutes before it rotates back and hit them again. They have to get to a Chinese station to get a pod to get back to Earth. The film is visually and technically amazing with a very basic disaster story at its core. Don't know how much the 3D added to the whole thing unless I see it in 2D and the glasses are fucking annoying. However when the second time debris hit, 3D added something. George Clooney plays the typical George Clooney character. The film has been universally praised with people comparing it to 2001 and all that. In that sense it was a bit disappointing for me. Expositions really felt like expositions which is never a good thing. Cuaron should have given a bit more allowance for the intelligence of the audience. I also felt the whole dead child back-story for Ryan's character was not necessary and I didn't care much for her character either as the film went on.

All said and done it is still a stunning film and a great visual achievement unlike a certain film like 'Avatar' which I had to cringe my way through because of the cheesiness of the story. Should be watched on a big screen.

Rating: 4/5

United 93 (2006)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer:    Paul Greengrass
Cast:       David Alan Basche, Khalid Abdalla, Chrisitian Clemenson 

Real time account of what could have happened on United Flight 93, the only one which failed to reach the target among the 9-11 hijacked planes and crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Many of the air traffic control ground-staff are played by real people and the documentary style in which the film is made is perfect. No well known actors play any of the roles which makes it all the more real with no silly back stories given to any of the characters. The passengers behave as they should and they don't even know each others name as they try to get control of the plane. No patriotic bullshit is given as they are shown to act purely on survival instincts. The terrorists are also portrayed very well and the emotional state they are going through is shown without demonizing them. A gripping watch even if you know how it is gonna end.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger
Writers:  Leslie Dixon, Alan Glyn
Cast:       Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish

A struggling writer gets his hands on a drug which helps him to use the more than the usual 20% of his brain. He becomes a financial wizard but has to be mindful about the dangerous game he is playing.

It is an above average Hollywood thriller which is good for a one time watch. There was sufficient possibilities in it to make a great film out of it but as it stands it is just a good film with the usual Hollywoody ending. They have ended in it in such a way that sequels could be made and it is certainly a possibility with it doing very well at the box office. 

Basically a super hero origins story enhanced by some good actors and vibrant cinematography.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spaced (1999–2001)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers:  Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Cast:       Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Julia Deakin, Mark Heap

Two people Tim and Daisy, who meet accidentally in a restaurant, pretend to be a couple to live in the only apartment that they can afford.

It is basically the Cornetto Trilogy crew + Jessica Stevenson before they made it big in the British film industry. You can see all the elements that make Cornetto trilogy great in this TV series which was broadcast in Channel 4. It is different from other British comedies with plenty of references to scenes from famous Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, Shining, Matrix, One Flew Over Cuckoo's nest etc thrown in. It might not be as enjoyable for those who haven't seen these films.

A must watch for those who love Cornetto Trilogy. Just 14 episodes over two seasons.

Rating: 5/5