Friday, September 28, 2012

Thaandavam (2012)

In the film's opening moments, a series of blasts rip through Central London. A news reporter calls it “the biggest terrorist attack in UK since 9/11”. It is followed by a scene highly reminiscent of Collateral, where a Cab driver drops a ride and waits for him to return. A body falls from the building on top of a waiting car. What was supposed to be a critical moment is savagely muffled by shamelessly hoping to get a laugh out of it. It's sad how entire scenes are built around one-liners which are tragically unfunny.  The entire film is filled with moments like these where the little bit of seriousness is chucked out a window by juxtaposing it with something absurd.

I didn’t buy the whole 'Echolocation' theory. Just to be sure, I took a look at the actual videos of visually challenged people who have practiced this technique. It may help the person to walk around and live independently but the kind of things the protagonist is able to perform is simply ridiculous. Had they at least set a framework regarding the activities he can and cannot do, it would have been easier to accept this. He runs, fights, kills just like normal people. What's more unbelievable is how MI6 agents are so inept, they cannot save themselves from a blind person. 

The premise is absurd as it is, without adding the whole gimmicky 'Echolocation' concept. Gimmicky is fast becoming my favorite word to describe Tamil films. All these writers are scavenging for one interesting plot point and then build an entire film around it using the same old, hackneyed elements. So an Indian scientist invents a bomb which cannot be traced by metal detectors. He designs a Do-It-Yourself 'flowchart' so any one learns to assemble the bomb. He is soon found dead under mysterious circumstances and this flowchart goes missing. There's so much bickering about how some operative in India is planning to send the flowchart to some International terrorist organization through Led Ex courier services. I mean, hello, whatever happened to email? When a blast of this magnitude has killed over a thousand people and MI6 is apparently involved in a major cover-up, is it too much to expect the ramifications to be mentioned? 

It is about time we had movies where flashbacks, however unnecessary, were more organically infused to the narrative. I believe I am not spoiling anything as almost all of this is pretty damn evident from the trailer. At relatively important junctures, we are made to watch a story about how he met his wife. She plays an ophthalmologist but is not even able to guess what her husband’s designation could be. Why would a person form South India go and work in Delhi Police as a sub-inspector?  They were hoping for it to be cute and all that, but meh. Though I must confess I thought a couple of scenes with Anushka were the most entertaining in the entire film. But the problem is that they didn't even belong there. Apart from bringing the actual plot to a complete standstill, the back-story added little depth to his motives. Even the revenge he is seeking is out of a misplaced sense of justice. 

Vikram is deeply sincere as always. He tries to bring a lot to his performance but is let down by the preposterousness surrounding him. The pacing is very slow and there's not an ounce of thrill to be found anywhere. The audience at my screening didn't clap or whistle even once and that's something you don't see happen for a film starring such a popular actor. Truth be told, there are hardly any moments where you fear for any of the characters. Amy Jackson and Anushka were rather decent in spite of playing characters that are not the brightest of bulb in the box. I’m not even going to get into how all the characters keep running into each other in the city of London. The twists are weak and you can see them coming from miles away. The actual revenge plot wouldn't have taken more than 30 minutes of runtime. Most of the scenes meander around the women in the film trying to fall for Vikram's character. It comes down to whether the film is entertaining and it is definitely not.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bernie (2012)

One thing that's most fascinating about Bernie is how people are capable of looking at law and justice in a different way when the victim is a much hated person and the perpetrator is someone they love. What Bernie did was clearly wrong, even if it was committed in the heat of the moment. It was weird and a little funny to see the residents of the town trying their best to offer a convincing reason for his actions. And it's not just them, even I didn't realize the gravity of his act because I simply couldn't take anymore of what was happening on screen. The killing happened at a point where I was completely bored and wondered why this film even got made. It's not just poor Bernie suffering at Mrs. Nugent's expense; I was having a terrible time myself. Something significant had to happen and quick.

Is an autopsy conducted even when old people die? If not, Bernie could have gotten away with it very easily. After all, he's in the Embalming business. He didn't for some reason but that doesn't make him a saint, does it?  He bought time by buying the love and admiration of people living in the town. He was already very popular, but just to be sure, he kept at it. But there's no regret until he gets caught. It's good that the film looked at its protagonist in an unbiased way.

The documentary-type narrative was interesting. The film relies on these third-person accounts to drive the story forward. This one particular woman was very funny as she laughed uncontrollably while her neighbor kept swearing a lot at Mrs.Nugent. It's a small town movie where everybody knows everyone. I usually love these kind of films but Bernie didn't work that well. It's not a bad movie. It surely gets a lot better after that one incident. It's just that it's not very entertaining. I wished there was more of Matthew McConaughey. There's this one line where he mispronounces Les Miserables as "Lez Mis-Ray-Bels", which I thought was pretty funny. Shirley MacLaine plays this old lady anyone would love to hate. I kept thinking how much the lovely Miss Kubelik had changed. The fact that the film is based on a true story only helps its cause. I probably would have dismissed the story had it not taken place for real.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saattai (2012)

I am not going to pretend like I didn't just have one of the worst times ever at the movies. I dislike the film so much I don't even feel like wasting any more time on it. Let me try my best to assess the film which has so little going for it. 

Dayalan, played by Samudirakani, is a high school physics teacher who gets transferred to a Government school which is on the verge of closure. The school's strength has declined considerably in the recent few years and results have hit an all-time low. A sense of apathy prevails among the teachers, who haven’t the slightest intention to set things right. Dayalan identifies the fundamental problems lie in the way the school is being run and offers to help. His good intentions are looked upon with pessimism by all the other teachers, with the Asst. Head Master going to the extent of calling him his sworn enemy for disturbing the status-quo. 

There’s no denying the film has good intentions; it tries to point out all the issues which plague a small town government school in India. But it fails at doing it with subtlety and comes across as tediously preachy. It very quickly overwhelms with its barrage of advises on how to understand students better. It turns Dayalan into a messiah of change by showing every other teacher in a very poor light. I hated how easily the film brings Dayalan out of the only morally-heavy sticky situation he was put in, by simply making some random teacher the culprit. 

We are fairly familiar with much of all the concerns the film raises. If the intention was to create awareness and bring some actual change, then I am afraid the film has no impact whatsoever. It is just another story of a teacher with lofty ambitions who ultimately wins the hearts of students and then some. Ultimately, the solutions it offers are either all too well known or highly romanticised. 

The only portions of the film I was personally able to relate to were the little mannerisms displayed by kids. For example, no matter how friendly a teacher is, kids never fail to pass comments about them. They don't mean any harm; it's just that they cannot help it. Another one was how kids convince themselves by calculating 'FLAMES' on the back of a note that the girl they fancy also has feelings for them. Unfortunately, such observations were few and far between. And certain scenes were too far-fetched even for a government school like this. There was too much crassness every time Tambi Ramiah showed up on screen. The way his character spits on students’ faces, bullies and beats up his own colleagues was inconceivable. For a film which tries to fake realism, elements like these unfortunately do the exact opposite.  

Watch this film if you suck as a parent/teacher and have no idea what to do with your kid/student. Watch it if you are easily amused. Watch it if you like to be yelled at. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Arbitrage (2012)

arbitrage: noun. The simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices.

There are some people whose life is defined by the work they do. So much so that it is hard to even imagine them considering retirement. Robert Miller is one such person. A globetrotting multimillionaire who just had his best business year and appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine, he is celebrating his 60th birthday on the eve of closing the deal of his life. He is clearly very ambitious, having established an empire out of nothing. There are two primary conflicts in his life, both of his own making. Robert lives his life just like he does his business, placing serious bets, pinning his everything on his actions. As the title suggests, he tries to balance his gains by playing the people around him. He attempts to accomplish the merger, while keeping everyone in the dark about his huge financial black-hole. As the film progresses, you realize how deep in trouble Robert is and what he is capable of to clear his name. He is basically cleaning up after his recently committed mistakes. 

Arbitrage, which couldn't have had a more suitable title, is set in a cold, high-stakes world where a wrong decision can result in losses to the tune of several hundred millions and a few lives. Working in a swanky New York office space by the day and socializing at the banquet hall of Ritz-Carlton by the night, these people's lives are filled with charity balls, tuxedos and fake smiles. This is a proper corporate thriller. It often reminded me of last year's terrific Margin Call. I had read a few parts of Ebert's review and also had an idea what the general reaction was. Everyone had noted how it was impossible for them to not root for Robert Miller. Add my name to the list of people who fell to his charm. It's not just his looks (Gere is actually playing a character two years younger than he is;) there's this genuine desperation in his actions. He apologizes a lot and always gets away.

He is really good with his wife. You can tell they are having a healthy sex life. She's what one would call the perfect 'mob wife'. She enjoys the riches, she knows what he does and she doesn't ask too many questions. He also has a European mistress because, hey, his status demands it. To keep his talent-less eye-candy happy, he splurges on her interests. His prodigal daughter and heir-apparent Brooke finds out about the financial irregularities, but never suspects her father. She looks up to him- her mentor. My other favorite character has got to be that of Jimmy Grant, played by Nate Parker. A lot depended on him with his actions having the potential to change Robert's life. When he is told that he is just a mere suspect, he retorts with, "Motherfucker, I am black!". That was quite funny. And a little sad.  

I wondered why such a good film failed to make any sort of a serious impact. It comes down to poor marketing, I guess. The film's poster is abysmal and uninviting; look at how plain boring it is. The background score is very atmospheric and had a slight tinge of The Social Network soundtrack. It is a very good film. Also, it even holds up pretty well on the second viewing.  

Charulatha (2012)

Every time an Indian film with a very novel premise comes along, we often come to know about some Asian original from which it shamelessly ripped off. I had no idea about its originality when I was watching this film. It was only when I was halfway through my review that my cynicism got the better of me. How can such a pathetically directed film lead to such an interesting turn of events? I googled and learnt that Charulatha is an official remake of a 2007 Thai film titled Alone.  Why am I not surprised.

Charulatha is a story of two conjoined sisters who are so close, they'd stay together even if they weren't stuck together by the waist. Love comes their way and a rift in their relationship follows. One of the twin dies and returns to haunt the other for failing to keep a promise. It has a very decent premise but it tries to do something it doesn't have the caliber to carry out properly- which is aspiring to be a horror film. As it painfully spends its time trying to scare us, it is unbearable to sit through.  Like many horror films, it heavily relies on loud background music and other sound effects to spook the audience. While even the worst films belonging to the genre manage to successfully scare us at least once in its run time, Charulatha fails miserably. It takes all the quintessential elements of the genre but does nothing new with it. There's one scene where Charu's in a bathtub and gets attacked by the spirit, another where she's alone in a lift, one with her walking around the house looking for her pet dog.. these are the scenes which we have seen many a times already. Forget novelty, it doesn't even succeed at replicating them well.

It's hard to look at horror films the same way after watching this year's mind-bending entertainer The Cabin in the Woods. That film managed to put every single horror film into context. This makes many of my qualms with Charulatha insignificant, as I have answers to all my questions but I am still mad at their usage of many genre-based cliches. For example, it makes no sense for Charu to continue to stay in that tacky house of hers after knowing very well that it is haunted. It is not even as if she is trapped there. She goes about her life but keeps returning to the damned place by the night. There's a fat kid and his fat sister who are the caretakers of the house who add no value to the story. Their attempts at humor fail miserably, further worsening the film's plight. Strangely there aren't any deaths in the film, though I kept hoping something would get to the fat kid. 

On one side, there's a psychiatrist trying to help rationalizing even the most unusual events. Then there's a benevolent black magician who goes around catching spirits with Deshi Deshi Basara Basara playing in the background. There's a subplot where he fetches a sacred stem from a tree-top which makes those Amman serials on Sun TV look as good as Rosemary's Baby. Everything that happens till this point is so atrocious that many people at my screening walked out. But then something happened near the end which put all the events into a context. It even makes you like the film a little bit, yet it doesn't change the fact that I just suffered for most of the runtime.

Them being Siamese twins is itself a mere gimmick. They did not appear to be sharing any vital organs and splitting them apart wouldn't have been fatal in any way. Yet the girls absurdly suffer being stuck together for more than twenty years! Charu's Mom is bed-ridden throughout and has nothing much to do except breathe heavily every time someone comes to visit her. She is visibly bored and happily dozes off at the end of all her scenes. Don't even get me started about the boyfriend.

Charulatha is not worth your money and time. Pick up a DVD of the Thai original instead.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sundarapandian (2012)

Yesterday, I called many of my friends and asked them if they'd like to accompany me to this movie but no one was interested. I told them they didn't have to pay for the ticket, but even that wasn't enough to convince them. The promos were completely misleading and actually gave no hint as to what the story was about. I expected it to be the usual formulaic masala action film set in a small town with knife-wielding, lungi-clad people fighting the hero for no good reason. Boy, was I wrong!

The story revolves around Sundarapandian, an unemployed graduate who spends most of his time with his friends at a Nair's tea shop. He tries to help one of his close friends in wooing the girl he fancies. This goes on for quite some time leading to a couple of funny incidents. With Naan Kadavul, I waited for it to open up and go beyond the sympathy shots of physically challenged beggars. The same thing happened here as I kept expecting the film to get past its love story and get into the usual action mode. And due to this false expectation, it came across as a non-starter, working its way around romance and comedy, which would ultimately amount to nothing in the larger story. Again, I was wrong. The entire first half is good at building the characters that at intermission, I suddenly realized I just witnessed the crux of the story with a lot more waiting to be built upon it.

Sasikumar has been instrumental in the formation of the genre we now refer to as CineMadurai. Like with his previous two films viz. Subramaniapuram and Nadodigal, the prominent aspect here is friendship and betrayal. His Sundarapandian is an inherently good-hearted person who doesn't think twice before helping someone who threatened to attack him only a moment ago. I noticed how his habitual behavior slowly changed from that of Rajnikanth, who he idolises, into something that was unique to him. The choices he makes and the reveals which happen towards the end only increase your respect towards the character.

The problems which all the characters face are not superficial but have deep moral undertones. Unlike most mass hero action films, the antagonists here cannot be color coded as black or even grey, for that matter. They all have strong motives developed due to situational crisis and misunderstandings. We have come to expect the Fathers in the Tamil films to be completely unreasonable, never listening to their children's wishes. So when we have rational parents taking sense for a change, it was hard not to be amazed. Certain aspects of the film even reminded me of Devar Magan and A Separation.

Just when you think it is about to get predictable, you are surprised when things take a turn avoiding cliches at every corner. It is very well written with tiny elements which initially appeared insignificant coming to play at a later stage (this doesn't happen often in Tamil films.) The dialogues are largely effective, be it light-hearted or emotional, never once sounding preachy. Many lines, most of them spoken by Soori, and mannerisms were genuinely funny. The acting was consistent throughout with almost everyone doing a decent job. The casting of Lakshmi Menon as the lead actress deserves a special mention. Surprisingly, the songs aren't bothersome and are used rather effectively. The climax was excellent and I had no idea how things would eventually pan out. It is a complete entertainer which had me hooked throughout. After all, this is the first time I applauded at the end of a Tamil film since Aaranya Kaandam. It is almost that good.

This industry is so starved for good films that we jump to laud every semi-decent effort that comes our way. That's not the case with this film. Sundarapandian gets too many things right- an unprecedented feat in Tamil cinema. Which is why I decided to write some more. I was wrong when I said the story revolves around Sundarapandian. I just realized how it has Archana at its center, with four men vying for her attention. Menon's acting is very good and this is just her first film. She is way more talented than all of those Bombay imports put together. This is how one writes a formidable female character.. not by making her wear a pair of stupid trousers.

The lead character is almost on par with that of Shakti from Devar Magan, played by Kamal Hassan. I think it is fair to say Shakti was a little selfish in the beginning- reckless and doesn't even take responsibility for a mistake he committed. Remember how he quickly blames Esakki for breaking the temple lock? There's a visibly clear transformation in him as we see the person he goes on to become. On the contrary, Sundarapandian has always been a gem of a person. A playful kin, a strict disciplinarian and the greatest of friends. It's the choices he makes close to the end that made me draw a parallel between him and Kamal's Shakti.

I always sensed a betrayal was in the offing. The tall guy must have been deeply hurt when he learnt Archana had feelings for Sundarapandian. It was a little unconvincing when he simply let him have his girl. This issue comes forth once again when Appu Kutty tells the tall guy that he's fighting for both of them. But Prabhakaran deftly manages to make us forget about this untied thread. So much so that when Sundarapandian asks the tall guy to accompany him when he goes to meet Vijay Sethupathi's character, I was sure he was going to die. The final reveal changed everything, didn't it? Was it a conscious attempt on the tall guy's part when he pushed Appu Kutty to his death? Was the instantaneous action so calculated that he knew Sundarapandian would own up, taking both of his known competitors out of the picture with a single hit? I don't think so. But the fact remains he is responsible and lets someone else take the fall for him.

"Kuthunavan nanban aa irundha sethalum kaatikoduka kudathu. Atthan da natpu." 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Headhunters (2011)

Roger is a successful headhunter working in the recruitment industry who moonlights as an art thief. He has a supermodel wife who he views as just another one of his costly art pieces- a trophy wife to make a statement about his masculinity. He's fearful of losing her, always keeping an eye when she is talking to men much taller than him. He makes himself feel better by screwing around with a woman who is in his league. In this drive of his to keep her content with material possessions, he goes a little too far.  

It is tightly written and should hold up well even on second viewing, though it doesn't require one. The problem with Headhunters, which is not even a problem to begin with, is that it wraps up so neatly. I have been spoilt by many recent thrillers where drawing our own interpretation is a necessity. Suddenly, the good time the film offers is not enough and I feel a tad underwhelmed when there's nothing to rack my brains with after it's over. 

Granted that Roger goes through a very bad time, but the end is almost too cheery and upbeat. It may work for people who were, like, totally rooting for him but I didn't even like the guy. Short guy with a huge complex.. heck, he should have been my champion of sorts. But there's something so repulsive about him that I didn't really what became of him. I even did a celebratory fist pump when Jaime Lannister fucked his wife. You keep going, bro!    

The film has that European feel to it. What is it that lends these films such an atmosphere that American films lack? I guess it's how there's equal amount of city and nature, whereas the typical American thriller plays out in a concrete jungle. There's nothing inwards to ponder over. It's all those twists and turns that keep it going. You can also tell that the film has been adapted from a book. There's a lot of dark humor with many twisted characters... the guy working for the domestic security company, the two identical fat cops, the dog which simply wouldn't stop coming back. Some of them must have had a much bigger role in the book. Nonetheless, it is a very well made film- fun and fast paced. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Detachment (2012)

I have always strongly felt teachers must abstain from physically punishing students and find other ways to get there. So when I see how disrespectful kids in America are, I was in two minds. This may be a big stereotype but I am sure there's no exaggeration in those images. Teaching is probably the most thankless profession in existence. Most kids go through this rebellious phase and teachers unfortunately find themselves on the receiving end. One can blame it all on bad parenting but the truth is there may not be a way to completely quell this teenage angst. Also, this may never go away. Our problems may change in form and magnitude but shall always remain. We tell our kids to be more understanding and then go out and commit the same mistakes they did. The chain continues.. only the setting changes.

The job is so relentlessly demanding that teachers are popping pills to hold on to their sanity. Shaking the kids out of their apathy and inching closer to them is the hardest thing a teacher has to do in order to make some progress. But they are spit on, threatened, verbally abused making them wishing it would end when the school-bell rings. Is this relevant only in this particular school, which has been on a steep academic descent? Does the film paint an unfair picture of the state of  high-school education in America?

Henry's belief about the vanity of everything that surrounds us is absolutely true. We are overwhelmed with so much junk that consuming it every time we breathe has become the natural state of order. This makes it necessary to read more and developing our own vibrant imagination. The environment of school can be both restricting and fulfilling. It can make or break a kid and the responsibility falls in the hands of the teacher. For example, the young girl with a talent who is unappreciated at home and made fun of at school. I assume Henry took an interest in Literature with a little help from his grandfather- an old man filled with regret over a mistake he knowingly committed a long time ago. Henry knows that it stole him of a proper childhood, but is still very forgiving.

I saw shades of Taxi Driver and Half Nelson for the obvious reasons. I am assuming the film is set in New York but the place has little significance. Watching Henry help a seemingly hopeless Erica, played by a girl who looked like a young Mena Suvari with an Emma Watson hairdo, filled me with so much hope and optimism. It must be hard having nobody around to care for you. I couldn't of course relate to these kids out of my own life experiences, but I felt for them nonetheless. Unlike Half Nelson, where Gosling's character's habit had serious repercussions, Henry is trying to do good while fighting his demons which are, shall we say, too personal to have any impact on the life of people around him. At the end, Henry comes out untainted, as a hero of sorts, but in a losing cause. I say that because the film ultimately offers no solution at the end of its haunting, emotionally affecting journey.  I must confess I didn't get the bleak last shot showing Henry teaching to an empty, dilapidated classroom. But everything he does comes across as a selfless, good-hearted gesture. Henry, the substitute teacher, is like a miracle worker going from school to school setting things right.

Coming from three dead-awful movies, I appreciated all the little things. I found the interactions which take place inside the classroom very interesting. It has a stellar star cast, but most of them felt under-used.  At the end of the month, the young Black kid's change of heart felt a little too sudden. Brody is even better than he was in The Pianist. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Paagan (2012)

I have a special liking for films which find an innovative way to tell its story. There's a fine line to walk here, where the audience has to be convinced the narrative technique used is indeed a novel artistic choice. Paagan tries to set itself apart by using a bicycle as the film's narrator, but this only comes across as a gimmick.

Subramani (Srikanth) is a money-minded youth living in Pollachi with his family. He shares a deep history with his bicycle, which his father received as dowry when he married his mother (Kovai Sarala). Since the story is narrated by the cycle, we are told just how very much it is fond of him and vice-versa. With the sole motive of making easy money, he borrows from just about everyone around him and invests in various 'projects', ultimately resulting in loss. Then he comes up with a 'bright' idea of marrying into a rich family to make his quick buck. He finds a girl named Mahalakshi (Janani Iyer) but things don't quite go according to plan for him. What follows is an atrociously boring, predictable realisation about the importance of hard-work in life and blah, blah, blah.

It's funny how everyone in Tamil films think it is always the girl's fault every time a relationship breaks down, no matter how big a jerk the guy was to her. His motives appeared alright when the film's tone was light-hearted. He may not have known she had a thing for him right from the age of ten, but there's no disputing the fact that it was his fault alone. So when Subramani's friends berated Mahalakshmi for not understanding his feelings, it drove me crazy. Another thing that got to me was how easily people fall in 'love' and jump to spend the rest of their life with a person they barely know.

One more recurring aspect in Indian films which I detest is how the lead characters are the center of attention in their respective friend circle. The characters act as if they know that they are playing the lead role in some movie. They are too self conscious about their importance in the scheme of things. Mahalakshmi treats her friends like pieces of dog-shit and they still keep buzzing around her. She slaps a girl for no reason whatsoever and, shockingly, that idiot classmate doesn't seem to mind it one bit. You get what I mean? The director may find it trivial but he is unknowingly shaping the character of his female lead as a belligerent asshole.  

Close to the end, there's this scene where all the characters keep running into each other. It is filled with so many coincidences that I threw up a bit in my mouth. Subramani's rise to success is unrealistic to say the least. In what appears to be no more than a year's time, he goes from being a roadside shopkeeper to owning a swanky bungalow and a Mercedes Benz. With all due respect, for a person who confesses to have failed his 10th grade examinations studying in a village school, he sure speaks some fluent English. He went to VETA, maybe?

There are more than a few loose ends left at the end of the film. As the story is recounted by the cycle, we see silhouette of a person attaching a bomb to it. Is it not important for us to know the identity of the person planning to kill Subramani? Can we at least know why this mysterious person is attempting to kill him? Among other things, this particular plot line made absolutely no sense. Also, the father, who once had his men chase Subramani around the town just for being in his daughter's life, was surprisingly okay when they finally got together. I mean, what the hell changed? The director is so confused at times, not fully realizing  plot points which initially must have been a part of the script. That's not how you chop down a lengthy movie! You start with the songs, like Mysskin did with his Mugamoodi. Most Tamil films suffer from a lengthy second half and the filmmakers simply won't learn from the mistakes committed by so many others before them.  

It was Janani Iyer who held my attention for much of the runtime. Those eyes! Srikanth was decent as well but I didn't once feel compelled to root for him while he struggled. Kovai Sarala is loud as ever. There are a few lines which may make you smile. The narration by the bicycle adds little to an otherwise banal story. The film would have been just as boring with or without this element. Kindly avoid.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jason Reitman's "Live Read"

Jason Reitman has been hosting a series of screenplay reading sessions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He casts popular actors of his choice in this "live read" and most of the acting is performed impromptu. The casting details are usually kept under wraps until a few hours before the show. I have been very fascinated by this new form of art and have followed it with interest. The series has been very successful and Reitman intends to cover more cities. Since I couldn't find a page with proper listing of all the shows and its cast, I decided to make one as I clearly have too much time on my hand.

BOOGIE NIGHTS (Toronto, September 6, 2013)

(Cast to be announced)


BREAKING BAD (July 23, 2013)

Chi McBride in the role of Hank (Dean Norris)
Ellie Kemper in the role of Marie (Betsy Brandt)
Annie Mumolo in the role of Skyler (Anna Gunn)
Mae Whitman in the role of Jesse (Aaron Paul)
Rainn Wilson in the role of Walter (Bryan Cranston)


THE USUAL SUSPECTS (March 21, 2013)

Chi McBride in the role of Kujan (Chazz Palminteri)
Mark Duplass in the role of Hockney (Kevin Pollack)
Nick Kroll in the role of Fenster (Benicio Del Toro)
Adam Brody in the role of McManus (Stephen Baldwin)
Jason Mantzoukas in the role of Baer (Giancarlo Esposito)
Mae Whitman in the role of Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite)


GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (February 21, 2013)

Robin Wright in the role of Ricky Roma (Al Pacino)
Mae Whitman in the role of John Williamson (Kevin Spacey)
Melanie Lynskey in the role of Aaronow (Alan Arkin)
Catherine O'Hara in the role of Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon)
Maria Bello in the role of Dave Moss (Ed Harris)
Carla Gugino in the role of Blake (Alec Baldwin)


HIS GIRL FRIDAY (January 17, 2013)

Anne Hathaway in the role of Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell)
Jason Bateman in the role of Walter Burns (Cary Grant)
Adam Scott in the role of Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy)
Mae Whitman in the role of Mollie Malloy (Helen Mack)
Nick Kroll in the role of The Mayor (Clarence Kolb)
Fred Willard in the role of Earl Williams (John Qualen)
Fred Savage as the Narrator (Special Guest Director)


GHOSTBUSTERS (December 13, 2012)

Seth Rogen in the role of Peter Venkman (Bill Murray)
Rainn Wilson in the role of Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)
Jack Black in the role of Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd)
Phil LaMarr in the role of Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson)
Kristen Bell in the role of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver)
Kevin Pollak in the role of Mayor of NYC (Larry King)
Kevin Pollak in the role of Walter Peck (Casey Kasem)
Mae Whitman in the role of receptionist Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts)
Paul Rust in the role of The Keymaster (Rick Moranis)
Paul Scheer takes care of the other speaking roles.


MANHATTAN (November 15, 2012)

Stephen Merchant in the role of Issac (Woody Allen)
Olivia Munn in the role of Mary (Diane Keaton)
Shailene Woodley in the role of Tracy (Mariel Hemingway)
Fred Savage in the role of Yale (Michael Murphy)
Erika Christensen in the role of Jill (Meryl Streep)
Mae Whitman in the role of Emily (Anne Byrne)
Jason Mantzoukas in the role of Dennis (Michael O’Donoghue)


BULL DURHAM (October 25, 2012)

David Koechner in the role of Larry (Robert Wuhl)
JK Simmons in the role of Skip (Trey Wilson)
Mae Whitman in the role of Millie (Jenny Robertson)
Jason Mantzoukas as Bobby (David Neidorf)
Johnny Simmons as Jimmy (William O'Leary)
Andy Samberg as Nuke (Tim Robbins)
Matthew Modine as Crash (Kevin Costner)


AMERICAN BEAUTY (Toronto, September 6, 2012)

Adam Driver in the role of Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley)
Sarah Gadon in the role of Angela (Mena Suvari)
Nick Kroll in the role of Buddy (Peter Gallagher)
Mae Whitman in the role of Jane (Thora Birch)
George Stroumboulopoulos in the role of Jim (Scott Bakula)
Paul Scheer in the role of Col Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper)


The season one ended with the special New York edition of The Apartment. Reitman had been busy filming Labor Day with Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire and Clark Gregg. The series is expected to continue next month. Last night, he announced on twitter about a special one-off American Beauty "Live Read" session at the Toronto International Film Festival. The cast is yet to be announced.

THE APARTMENT (New York, April 27, 2012)

Paul Rudd in the role of C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon)
Emma Stone in the role of Miss Kubelik (Shirley Temple)
James Woods in the role of Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)
Cara Buono in the role of Secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams)
Tom Cavanagh in the role of Senior  Exec. Dobisch (Ray Walston)
Greta Gerwig in the role of Phone operator Sylvia (Joan Shawlee)
Jason Sudeikis in the role of Senior Exec. Kirkeby (David Lewis)
David Wain in the role of Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen)


THE BIG LEBOWSKI (March 29, 2012)

Seth Rogen in the role of  The Dude (Jeff Bridges)
Jason Alexander in the role of Mr. Lebowski (David Huddleston)
Fred Savage in the role of Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Nick Kroll in the role of Jesus Quintana (John Turturro)
Nick Kroll in the role of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara)
Catherine (Reitman's sister) in the role of Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid)
Hank Azaria in the role of Donny (Steve Buscemi)
Christina Hendricks  in the role of  Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore)
Rainn Wilson in the role of Walter Sobchak (John Goodman)
Sam Elliott in the role of The Stranger (Sam Elliott)


RESERVOIR DOGS (February 16, 2012)

Cuba Gooding, Jr in the role of Mr. Orange (Tim Roth)
Anthony Mackie in the role of Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi)
Terrence Howard in the role of Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen)
Anthony Anderson in the role of Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn)
Chi McBride in the role of Joe (Laurence Tierney)
Common in the role of Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
Laurence Fishburne in the role of Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)


SHAMPOO (January 19, 2012)

JK Simmons in the role of Lester (Jack Warden)
Diane Lane in the role of Felicia (Lee Grant)
Kate Hudson in the role of Jill (Goldie Hawn)
Lena Dunham in the role of Lorna (Carrie Fisher)
Nick Kroll in the role of Johnny Pope (Tony Bill)
Olivia Wilde in the role of Jackie (Julie Christie)


THE PRINCESS BRIDE (December 15, 2011)

Patton Oswalt  in the role of  Vizzini (Wallace Shawn)
Nick Kroll  in the role of Count Rugen (Christopher Guest)
Kevin Pollak in the role of Miracle Max (Billy Crystal)
Mindy Kaling in the role of Buttercup (Robin Wright)
Bill Fagerbaake in the role of Fezzik (Andre the Giant)
Goran Visnjic in the role of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin)


THE APARTMENT (November 17, 2011)

Steve Carell  in the role of  C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon)
Natalie Portman  in the role of  Miss Kubelik (Shirley Temple)
Pierce Brosnan  in the role of  Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)
Mindy Kaling  in the role of  Secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams)
Ken Jeong  in the role of  Senior  Exec. Dobisch (Ray Walston)
Collette Wolfe  in the role of  Phone operator Sylvia (Joan Shawlee)
Nick Kroll in the role of Senior Exec. Kirkeby (David Lewis)
Jake Johnson  in the role of  Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen)


THE BREAKFAST CLUB (October 20, 2011)

Jennifer Garner in the role of Claire (Molly Ringwald)
James Van Der Beek in the role of Andy (Emilio Estevez)
Mindy Kaling in the role of Allison (Ally Sheedy)
Patton Oswalt in the role of Brian (Anthony Michael Hall)
Aaron Paul in the role of Bender (Judd Nelson)
J.K. Simmons in the role of Carl the janitor (John Kapelos)
Michael Chiklis in the role of Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Breaking Bad: greatest television show on air?

Jumping straight to the point: is Breaking Bad the greatest television show on air right now? An emphatic yes. I just saw the one of the finest episodes in the show's history. Had an episode of this quality been part of any other show, it would have been their best ever. But this show, especially the first part of the final season, has been so consistently epic that it hurts. There is only one word to describe how I felt during the last 50 minutes: fear. Fear of the obvious, fear of the unexpected. For a show which spread a year in the life of its characters across 5 seasons, it took the biggest time jump in this episode using a terrific montage. It's like those Rajnikanth songs where he becomes a zillionaire before the song ends. I always get a kick out of those. I sat with a knot in my chest, constantly dreading what was coming. This doesn't happen as often with any other show. 
Let's compare it with Mad Men - its most formidable competition. It's a classic apples and oranges scenario but I will collate them on the basis of what they mean to me. Both the shows air on AMC, and started six months apart with Mad Men being first. We have absolutely no idea which direction Mad Men would take. It has the liberty to choose and work around any major event or product of the 60s. We know for certain it will be on for at least two more seasons. Breaking Bad has always been heading towards one singular conclusion right from the moment Walt and Jesse cooked their first batch of Blue Meth. You look at the way things have turned out in the first 8 episodes of this season, you can tell they are trying to tie up all the loose ends. But it has enough methylamine in its tank to keep cooking many more batches. The same can be said for Dexter, a show I loathe right now, as getting caught in the end is imminent. I didn't bother to watch the recent most season but ranking the rest in terms of quality: 4>1>2>3>5. Breaking Bad's trajectory has been spectacular, getting better with each passing season. Mad Men has been great too and I cannot hold this against it. I cannot complain about its linearity as Draper's past has quite often come back to bite him. But here, the shit has hit the ceiling already; we are now walking through an uncharted territory. 

Splitting the final installment into two has become the new fad in Hollywood, where movies like Harry Potter have made twice the money by doing this. It's not the same with Breaking Bad. I could not have taken anymore of it in such quick succession. I have been overwhelmed episode after another, hitting every single elements of my emotional periodic table. Too much of a good thing only leads to OD. I look at how Walter has changed over the last few months and want him to get what's coming to him. Yet in the final minutes of the last episode, the promise of his new life made me want to overlook his actions. I was willing to forgive him for everything. After all, we have spent such a long time with him and once rooted for this underdog. If that's the kind of closure you yearn for, I recommend you turn off the video a minute before the end. Which is exactly why the split is truly a work of genius. There's so much to love here. I cannot wait for the ninth episode.