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