Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi is hardly the emotional tour de force it was made out to be. At the end of it, I was more puzzled by its bluntness in delivering the "message". The film's religious undertones, or in this case, not-so-under tones, had me wishing it were a little more subtle. There are too many in-your-face moments. No, the 3D is fine. I'm referring to conversations where subtlety is dispensed in favor of obviousness. For instance, there's this deeply thought provoking moment which had me thinking how differently we react to the deaths of an Orangutan and that of a fish, which got ruined with Pi saying,"Thank you Vishnu for coming to us in the form of this fish." 

In the house of faith, I live on the second floor in the room of doubt. I totally understand the necessity of having something to unconditionally believe in. Religion is a very good concept when looked upon as a way of life more than anything else. But it is imperative for followers to not be a sponge and absorb every last bit of nonsense. Talking about faith in a higher authority is never easy and trying to put the various faiths into a context and giving each its own share of space and reverence is some task. I am not able to make up my mind as to whether the film is philosophically ambitious or pretending to be one, hiding behind the skirt of dazzling pictures. 

More than anything, Life of Pi reminded me of Tim Burton's fantastic Big Fish. Pi is a fantasy film which asks you to believe. Not just believe it within the framework of a movie, but believe miracles can happen in the world we belong in. For me, the question is not whether I choose to believe. My problem is Pi bites more than it can chew. The things which happen over the course of 227 days may be hard to believe. But, if I say I do, what does it amount to? Does dressing a gritty cut-throat story in fantasy make it all the more believable? Is reality harder to digest? The concept of religion itself  wouldn't exist were it more rationalized? We need the fantasy. We want the enigma. We pretend we want to know the answers, but we are only too happy to live the puzzle. Maybe we can't handle the truth. Maybe I have no idea what I am talking about. 

I have always had trouble watching Indian actors in Hollywood films. They have this language handicap which I expect them to overcome in order to impress me. That happens very occasionally, and only in few select scenes when it does. Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi Patel, is uneven and there were moments where I wished Lee had dealt in silences. But full marks for his physical acting. I cannot imagine how tiring the whole task was. Irrfan Khan is good as the older Pi. I often saw shades of Irrfan in Suraj; or it could have been the other way round, I am not sure. The film's best performance, though, is given by a computer generated Tiger

A fellow reviewer had noted how it doesn't take one to believe in God to admire Life of Pi and how belief in Cinema would alone suffice.Well, the film sure is a towering achievement bringing to life a vision so unique. But the "message" may not be to everyone's liking. You can try to ignore it but it is present everywhere you look. The life lessons Pi gets as a kid from his Mother and Father, his subsequent loss of innocence come to play a role in his ordeal, but his journey of a lifetime felt too convenient. If I try to keep myself content with the tale of undying human spirit conquering all odds, I still have a better option in Cast Away to turn to. I never really felt compelled to root for Pi. Nothing soared anywhere inside me when his feet touched solid ground. Nothing really changed. A copy of Life of Pi will be a value addition to your bluray collection, giving your Avatar copy some much needed rest. That's all there is to it. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2 (2012)

Disclaimer: This reviewer confesses to have watched Twilight, and even read the book. He fast-forwarded through most parts of New Moon and never bothered to watch Eclipse and Breaking Dawn Part 1. That said, he is a great fan of the soundtracks. He has always maintained that he wouldn't watch the Twilight movies unless someone paid him to. That day has finally come. With very little knowledge about the plot of the previous three entries, he hopes you will appreciate this perspective. 

From my own experience and from the universal critical hatred, I have come to expect bad things from the Twilight movies.. very bad things. I have most successfully managed to avoid them till now. Breaking Dawn Part 2 brings to end a series that is as fiercely loved as it is hated. I walked in with very low expectations. I am happy the film didn't give me too many reasons to dislike it. 

The central conflict in Breaking Dawn is itself very thin. The Volturis, sort of a governing body for vampires, get the word that Cullens have a turned a little girl into a vampire. This, according to them, is an incredibly dangerous threat to the secrecy of their kind. Bella's new born is, in fact, a half-mortal, conceived when she was still a human. The little girl, with an awful portmanteau name Renesmee, grows six inches over a few weeks and her idiot, happily ignorant grandfather suspects nothing. You know what? Never mind with the plot. I don't fully understand it myself. Just bear in mind that the misinformed Volturis arrive at the doorstep of Cullens to set things right. 

There are many ways to end a love triangle, comprising two men and a woman. You can kill off a guy and hook up the remaining two. You can bring a new girl and make two pairs. Or you can hook two people up, let them have a baby and hitch her to the guy who remains solo. Yes, Breaking Dawn does exactly that! Trying to rationalize one of the most WTF plot lines in the history of WTF plot line, Jacob The Big Dog ultimately finds love in a hopeless place. He is said to have "imprinted" something on Bella and Edward's two day old baby, making her his bitch for life. As if trolls didn't have enough cud to chew on. 

The first hour involves Cullens recruiting Vampires and forming a private army to fight the Volturis. A freak show soon ensues, with weirdos from different corners of the world reaching out to offer their services. Any one who can tell their good movies apart from the bad ones is very much likely to roll his eyes dry. Right from the clunky dialogues to equally creative acting, most part of the movie is pure torture. But, wait, it's not all that bad. The whole part leading up to the final, climactic battle may be painfully boring, but what follows is deliciously fun. I am surprised how much enjoyable the whole sequence was. Michael Sheen's goofiness definitely added to the experience. And to top all that with a twist which I so did not see coming.. well played! 

I cannot promise you a good time, but Breaking Dawn is definitely an adaptation which will satisfy the fans. Avoid it if you can, but if the girlfriend is too persistent, just go. Sit through the first half; trust me it surely gets better. It is only a matter of time before Hollywood, tweenage girls and a few boys with weird taste in movies find themselves another franchise to collectively orgasm over. I am just thankful the series is over. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thuppakki (2012)

I have never been more excited to review a movie. Any movie. I attended a 4:30 AM screening- one of the earliest in the city. The infectious energy of die-hard fans screaming their lungs out kind of got to me. By the end of the movie, I found myself clapping my hands high over my head, screaming along with them, who had just witnessed their idol like never before. Thuppaki is easily one of the most entertaining Tamil films in a long, long time. In my opinion, it is Vijay's best film till date. 

The last Vijay film I saw on the big screen was Sachien, and it goes without saying that I have never really been a fan of his. Time and again, he has been criticized for not experimenting with his looks, and his character in general. In other words, he has always been playing himself in his movies. But with this film, Vijay breaks the mold and how. We don't associate the word 'cerebral' with the characters Vijay plays, but his Jagdish is convincingly intelligent. And for the first time, I saw the character instead of the mass hero that he is. He is exceedingly likable and belts out lines in Hindi like it is his second language. There are no quick answers in life, and Jagdish, too, takes his own time as he goes about solving this case. From taking sudden inspirations in the middle of a romantic moment to spending a night on a bench near Marine Drive, it is these elements that make his intelligence seem all the more believable. 

Murugadoss totally owns Mumbai, making a film that smoothly gliding over the language barrier. Setting a Tamil film entirely in another city has to be commended. After critical failures like Thaandavam, Billa 2 and Maattrraan, Thuppakki gives me hope that, one day, Tamil cinema will also be able to make an international film. But till then, national is good enough.  

Vidyut Jamwal's formidable antagonist, who remains unnamed, is instrumental to the film's success. He's not the villain we are used to- there aren't any daais and doois. He speaks in perfect English and confesses to knowing Tamil only konjam konjam. Running a widespread network of sleeper cells, his motives make perfect sense. His fight is not even against Jagadish in the first place. It so happens that their paths cross, before things eventually get personal. Breaking him mentally and physically, it is he who makes Jagadish appear stronger. 

The story is not just about Jagadish hunting down the operator of the sleeper cell network. It also involves his personal life- family, girlfriend etc. So every time the movie pauses for a lighter moment or a song sequence,  it is not cutting out of more pressing issues, but sculpting a different side to his character. Sreekar Prasad's editing does wonders to the film. The pacing is so good and the humor is so well infused into the narrative, it doesn't divert your attention from the primary issue. There's always this feeling that something bad can happen just about any time. There's this sprawling action sequence set across major locations in Mumbai that shows just how good the editing is.

Santosh Sivan's camera makes sweet, sweet love to the streets of Mumbai. Craft-wise, Thuppakki excels immensely. The writing is very smart and unpredictable. Even the clich├ęs are comforting. Also, the fights were choreographed  really well. 

Kajal Aggarwal's Nisha is a pataka. This film will do that to her what Ghajini did to Asin's career. She is gorgeous and acts well enough. Sathyan's presence is necessary but Jagadish's conversations with his character sort of simplifies the movie. The songs may just be okay, but Harris Jeyaraj's background score is surprisingly very effective.

It delivers on almost all the counts, and you cannot ask for more from a commercial film like this. There's little one could do to make this movie better, while retaining all the plot points. At a run-time of 170 minutes, it's a grand achievement how the film never has a dull moment. The armed forces of India couldn't ask for a better tribute. Jagadish is our very own James Bond and I don't see why we shouldn't have a sequel. Turn this into a franchise, I say! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Argo (2012)

On my way home after watching Argo, I kept thinking how the film probably wouldn't have made the same impact if it was not based on a real incident. That's the advantage when films are based on true stories. But on the flip side, retelling a story people may be familiar with has its own troubles. What makes Argo one of best films of the year thus far is that it offers a deeply involving story with edge of the seat thrills.

The task of getting the six hostages out of Iran is insurmountable as it is. But the odds keep stacking up against them, with problems springing up from the unlikeliest of places. Iranian children putting together shredded documents, a house maid you cannot fully trust, natives who have recently developed a general dislike for foreigners, a movie crew shooting thousand miles away in Hollywood.. obstacles never stop cropping up.

It may not exactly be about that, but it still is one of the best movies about the movie business. Lines like "I took a leak next to Beatty during the Golden Globes", "Groucho said that?!" and “You're worried about Khomeini? Try the WGA." were so naturally insidery. Perfectly complementing the tense tone of the film, the many nervous laughs, courtesy Arkin and Goodman, saved me from having a stroke.

In spite of guessing the outcome of this grand, absurd plan, I was thoroughly hooked. I don't remember the last time I was as nervous during a film's key moments. I sank so deep in my seat during an airplane scene, looking at the screen through webbed fingers.

The opening moments which juxtaposed shots with actual footage instantly reminded me of Oliver Stone's JFK. This film is a tribute to all the unsung heroes who audaciously carried out this ludicrous plan. It's all about trusting the judgments of others and putting every last bit of faith in them. This bit reminded me of Moneyball. 

Affleck has made a movie with something for everyone. He has finally left his beloved Boston behind, has ventured to make a truly international film. The closing images of the film note how this event and its follow up is still considered an example of what can be achieved with international cooperation. The film is politically charged, and is very unbiased when it comes to pointing fingers. For some reason, I found it very heartening to see Canada get the honours. It's a film filled with many heroes.

Skyfall (2012)

Disappointment. I have been a fan of Daniel Craig ever since I saw Casino Royale. I immediately considered him my favorite Bond, because the others, to me, have always appeared like a bunch of pussies with cool guns. I like the direction the series took and I am still glad to see where it ended with this latest film. It's just that I found Skyfall to be a not-so-intelligent film which rehashed most of the ideas recently dealt in Nolan's Batman trilogy.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opening sequence. When an action scene makes you duck, twitch and cower in your seat, you can tell that shit's tight. I am trying to recall the point where the movie stopped working for me and I think it was around the time Bardem appeared. After the whole build up they give him, he didn't quite live up to it when he finally appeared. Intentional or otherwise, the homoerotic tension was very weird. In spite of his Joker-like physical deformity, he was never really intimidating. It's not like he's not a formidable opponent for Bond. Also, I wasn't quite taken with his motives either.

I am not well familiar with old Bond films and my knowledge is mostly limited to the ones starring Craig. You can hold this against me if you want to, but I never thought there could be a character as useless as that portrayed by Gemma Arterton in QoS. Now I notice a pattern emerging. The scope of the Bond girl who eventually ends up dead is very limited. I don't know if this is a case of genre trapping but Berenice Marlohe's Severine follows in the illustrious footsteps, showing up in a completely dispensable role. All that foreplay lead to nothing.

I am disappointed and the tone of this review may appear too negative, but the movie is not all that bad. For one thing, there's a real clarity in the events taking place. Unlike QoS, which I still don't know for sure what it's about, Skyfall benefits from Mendes' confident direction. Too bad he was let down by a script that offers nothing new. Every little idea it dealt with have already been beaten to pulp in Nolan's Batman films. It was hard for me to not get reminded of League of Shadows when M talks about Bond and Silva growing up in the shadows. The "die a hero or live long enough.." position M finds herself in, the ageing hero filled with self-doubt that Bond is, Silva's capture and subsequent escape, a disk with information about all the secret agents, an ex-operative going rogue.. I don't know, it never felt novel. Due to all this mishmash, the entire conversation about the relevance of field agents in the digital age sort of got lost.

His relationship with M, which is at this story's core, surprisingly, had no effect on me. Deakins' cinematography is the only thing I wholeheartedly admired. Movie will probably play better on a second viewing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Film-Viewing Log: October

First Time Viewings: 
  1. The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford
  2. Boogie Nights
  3. Argo
  4. Looper
  5. Sideways
  6. Killing Them Softly
  7. Hard Eight
  8. Pizza
  9. On the Road
  10. Magic Mike
  11. Butter
  12. Cloud Atlas
  13. Seeking a Friend for the End of The World
  14. V/H/S
  15. Aarohanam
  16. The Brothers Bloom
  17. Maattrraan
  18. Damsels in Distress
  19. Rock of Ages
  20. Sembattai
  21. Sivangi
Re-watches
  1. Gone Baby Gone