Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Director: Grant Heslov
Writers:  Peter Straughan, Jon Ronson (Book)
Cast:      George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey

A reporter desperate to get into Iraq meets a guy who claims to be a former member of US Army's New Earth Army, a unit which employs paranormal powers and Jedi tricks in their missions. What follows is a buddy road film where they are on a mission that ends up as redemptive journey during which they free up goats.

The film is based on Jon Ronson's book which is an account of investigation about the attempts made by the US army to employ psychic powers as weapon. Yeah, you read that right. The film's first half is really good with plenty of laughs in the quirky Coens' style. Although it has an incredible cast, the characters of Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey are not all that great. But Cassidy played by Clooney more than makes up for it. It is a good watch even though second half is kind of disappointing. Reminded me of 'Three Kings'.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, August 26, 2013

Primer (2004)

Director: Shane Carruth
Writer:    Shane Carruth
Cast:      Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden

Two engineers out of a four engineering entrepreneurs team discover a means to time travel accidentally. The trust between them gradually erodes with the paranoia that sets in about the safety of the device and the bluffing around about who will have more control over the fail safe box.

I saw it again as a primer to my planned re-watch of Carruth's second feature 'Upstream Color'. Primer was made under a budget of $7000 but it does not look cheap at all. The much of its dialog is technical jargon and it doesn't use much exposition at all apart from the narration. The film will be totally incomprehensible without the narration. It is a total mindfuck like the idea of time-travel itself and  the viewer is made to feel like what the characters themselves are experiencing. I really didn't get much of it even on second viewing and when you are twisting the plot around and as an audience if you are not totally getting it, you are made to feel like you are not intelligent enough. If it is thematic you can just use your own interpretation of it and be satisfied about it.

Primer is like an adult version of Inception and Carruth is much more versatile than Nolan himself. Primer is like a Nolan film in terms of plot convolution but with Upstream Color Carruth has proven that he can do thematic convolution in the David Lynch style. Hope he gets to make more films.

Rating: 4/5

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers:  Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cast:      Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton

Set in the roaring twenties, the film recounts the life of the millionaire Jay Gatsby through his neighbor Nick.

The film is shot in a visual style that one should expect from a Luhrmann film but it suits the story of this film which also depicts the excesses of the 1920s America. That said some of the camera shots are nauseating and is just there to justify the 3-D fad. I haven't read the book and I didn't feel the supposed greatness of the book through this film and so I guess the adaptation didn't do justice to it. Amid all the visual flair, didn't feel the actors apart form Edgerton were up to the mark in translating the characters onto the screen but some of it might be due to the script. The 'Old Sport' usage didn't seem natural to Gatsby but maybe that is intentional to show his poor background. The story is kind of melodramatic and it might have been better for them to concentrate more on the characters especially the narrator. Many people criticized the anachronistic music usage but I didn't have a problem with it. All in all it is a good watch but nothing more.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers:  Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Cast:      Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Nine years after Before Sunset, we meet Jesse and Celine in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting in Vienna and now they live together with two kids.

For the first time in the trilogy, we see them interacting with other characters and this portion of the film felt a bit forced. Then we see them going for a long walk to a hotel room where they talk and talk and the film just gets better and better. The first one Before Sunrise was great, second one Before Sunset was even better and this one is arguably the best. All the innocence and rosiness of the first two films is lost and this one depicts the harsh reality of staying in a relationship for a long time with kids. I don't know if they are going to bring out another one nine years from now but I really cannot see it without giving prominence to other characters. Like in the first two films, this one also ends with us wondering 'Will they, won't they'?

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, August 18, 2013

No (2012)

Director: Pablo Larrain
Writers:  Pedro Peirano, Antonio Skarmeta
Cast:      Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco
Language: Spanish

An ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile's 1988 referendum.

The film is shot using Sony's low definition 3/4 inch U-matic magnetic tapes which were widely used by television news channels in the 80s. This was done so as to mix the archive footage seamlessly with the film's material. Have to say it was a bold decision as it would have reduced the appeal of the film to generally more stupid kind of audience. It works really well for this film as one problem I always have with period films is that everything appears to be squeaky clean and shiny.

The acting is very understated especially from Bernal. The film doesn't appear to show that the ad-campaign was the primary reason for the result. One criticism it has faced is that it is kind of celebrating the fact that political campaigns are getting taken over by the marketing department as opposed to being a battle of ideologies. It is really naive to believe that large majority of people actually vote based on issues.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Stoker (2013)

Director: Chan-Wook Park
Writer:    Wentworth Miller
Cast:      Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

After India's father dies in an accident, her uncle Charlie who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She becomes increasingly infatuated with him even though she suspects he has some ulterior motives.

The film marks the English language debut of the Korean director Chan-wook Park who is known all over for his 'Vengeance Trilogy'. I am not a big fan of directors doing work in languages they are not comfortable with as many things don't translate well in the script. But Park pulls it off and the film is not dialog heavy which might have helped him. Like his other films it is very atmospheric and the cinematography and the sounds are out of this world. 

The film is based on a script by Wentworth Miller and has been going round in Hollywood circles for a long time. The film didn't do well at the box office and kind of got mixed reactions from the critics. It is to be expected when a film doesn't compromise on stuff. A must watch.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Act of Killing (2012)

Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn
Features:  Anwars Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto

A documentary that depicts the reenactment of the real-life mass-killings by former Indonesia death squad leaders in whatever cinematic styles they wish.

The film was made over six years from 2005-11. Werner Herzog served as the executive producer after seeing some preview shots. It doesn't deal with the politics of it but tries to show how ordinary men can do extraordinary things in the most sinister ways and lead a normal life if the society allow them to do so. They are still considered as heroes who excommunicated the communists. The film within the film is shot in a stylized and surreal way and by the end the protagonist kind of realize the horrors of what he had done. Plenty of people are put in ironic situations. It is really a very disturbing watch and further proof that real life can be far more stranger than fiction. A real life journey into the 'Heart of Darkness'.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Valhalla Rising (2009)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer:   Roy Jacobsen, Matthew Read, Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast:      Mads Mikkelsen, Alexander Morton, Stewart Porter

The film is set in 1000s AD, where One Eye, a silent warrior of great strength escapes from his captor along with a boy who was feeding him. A journey follows where they meet up with Christian vikings who are in search of Holy Land. They end up presumably in America and encounters Red Indians.

The subtext is left to the viewer to interpret and I guess it is about faith, religion and mythology. Refn had described it as something like a tale of Christianity Vs Mythology. Like in his last two films, Drive and Only God Forgives, a character plays a God like figure of extreme strength. Thing with these kind of films is that even if you don't get a complete or even vague ideas about what the director is trying to convey, whatever little you get is very rewarding. Just like solving a fucked up mental exercise. Essential viewing for a Refn fan and for others it is better to start with his other films before venturing into Valhalla Rising.

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Naked Lunch (1991)

Director: David Cronenberg
Writers:  William S. Burroughs, David Cronenberg
Cast:      Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm

An exterminator gets addicted to the substance he uses to kill bugs and accidentally murders his wife. He gets involved in a secret government program orchestrated by giant bugs in Africa.

The film is kind of an adaptation of the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name but depicts the drug induced process of the author writing the novel. The film is weird but it is a bit dry and too clean and is not as good a watch as other Cronenberg films. Still an interesting film with some black humor thrown in.

Rating: 2.5/5