Review: American Hustle

American hustle is the new film by David Russell. It stars Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and others. It is a delicious heist/con men movie, populated by characters that feel very real. One wonders, what a great movie this would have been if Russell had gone the entire way and made it only about the wonderful characters that he has created.

The movie is a fictionalized account of the ABSCAM incident that occured in America in the 70s. A covert operation to unearth corruption / scams by the FBI. We get to see this story through the eyes of two small time hustlers. The writing is superb and the acting is something special to behold. There are glimpses in the movie which allude to the eternal hustle of life that we lead. There is a strength of survival, a lust for life that is evident in the hustlers, there are lovely glimpses into the intricate plots that we/the characters weave inside while being confronted with the real choices in front of them. This finally is the strength of the movie. The glimpses that we get into human nature really.

   

As the movie ends, there is a bit of a clean wrap-up in terms of the plot, and somehow somewhere, the movie lost out on greatness. The ending could have elevated or messed it up, but in this movie, it ended up merely patching things up. A great movie to watch, but somewhere it lost out on memorability. Perhaps if we didn’t know who won in the end, it would have remained a hustle. Perhaps if we didn’t see every character attain his plot wise end, we would have made more connections than those that were presented to us. Perhaps.

However, some of the most delicious moments of acting can be savored, some beautiful characters can be watched through the course of this movie.

A lovely movie, ultimately forgettable perhaps, but still, worth a watch.

   

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Lincoln: 2013

Lincoln is a movie that follows the lines of many biopics. It has a central protagonist whose life we are tracing, and along the way we meet other characters who mainly illuminate the central protagonist. One of the better movies I have watched, Lincoln gives us all an experience of history, or rather historical times. Very articulate in its argument, this movie gave American English all kinds of possibilities. Many views were proposed opposed and presented with beautiful use of language (here I was thinking American English is all – y’all, how ya doin)

It was a professional team of actors, writers, directors and crew that brought us this and as such you are thankful for the experience. Because nobody slacked. Of course it is a bit too concentrated on Lincoln and his heroics (therefore it is called Lincoln and not The Amendment/The Bill or something) but one goes in expecting that to happen, after all we have watched many biopics before and we understand that a biopic is essentially just centered around one person and everything can be reduced to mere props. Lincoln does hold up here though, essentially due to the caliber of performances seen from the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and others.

Visually, it is a movie that remains faithful to the time and era it is based out of. There is hardly much visual storytelling but the beautifully shot movie, is  nonetheless delightful to watch.

 

Inglourious Basterds & True Grit: Review

Inglourious Basterds

Really! The gall of this man! And not in a good way.

Ingloruious Basterds, is a crazy film with some good actors. Christopher Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger give us some really enjoyable scenes. The beginning scene of Christopher Waltz is something so delicious that it can be bit into. Until the story and the writing lets them and us down, then it is a free for all. In a crazy plot filled with juvenile delusions and fantasies, one loses out on all the richness of complications. Here, every single character is good or bad, like a Comic book, the posturing is crazy and it is so cool that it bleeds (is that even a saying?)

As I have really passed the age where being ‘cool’ or not is really not a consideration anymore, this movie is like salt-less food. Difficult to swallow. I feel like saying, to Quentin Tarantino this – ‘Go try this on someone else’. He he. (But obviously he has, and it has worked on those, and everybody’s made tons of money except those who paid for it, but still, Quentin Tarantino, go sit in a corner and reflect. Better still, take a package tour around the world!)

True Grit

Do you know there is also a food called Grits, eaten mostly by the people that this movie is about? It was like that this movie, it was like eating grits (I believe a little bit like Upma, not the spicy variety). The movie is also made with a lot of grit, to stick to one plot and one plot alone throughout the movie takes a quiet kind of grit, the characters in this movie are also filled with a lot of grit, the cinematography is quietly gritty.

Truly, truly gritty 🙂 🙂

    

 

Review: Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi

This was my introduction to Ang Lee, more than Brokeback Mountain was. Probably because I wasn’t aware of Ang Lee while watching Brokeback Mountain. I found him to be a very gentle film maker. He takes you in his palms and for the rest of the movie, looks after you.

As such his gentleness and the beauty of the images he creates is something to be enjoyed. Even if the images don’t last with you for more than a day. But in the moment they are presented to you, they create tranquility. It was the same with his imagery of rural America.

What I missed was the complexity. To some extent, Brokeback Mountain, considering the subject matter of gay cowboys gave me that. But here, in spite of the book claiming to be spiritual, there was little to ponder over. The overtly simplistic narrative, with a punch line (that I incidentally didn’t get, a few friends had to explain at length) left me desiring for me. After all IMAX films on earth, sea and sky are quite spiritual too.

I always wonder, after seeing potrayals of India in foreign films, why Indians fail to get it right every single time. It is a beautiful 1970’s Pondicherry that we get to see here. With characters so real, that seem as if they are from one’s own memories. Tabu, is so wasted in Bolly/Tolly/Kolly woods. She shines, holds the camera and the screen, and plays. Irffan Khan in a strange role, is strange. He looks strange, speaks strangely and is in general strange. One of the best performances for me in the entire movie was by the two Japanese officials inspecting the cause of ship wreck. So apt.

I imagine Ang Lee to have been so exhausted with creating the magnificience on screen that he didn’t quite play with the content matter whatsoever. Instead relying entirely on the screenplay. And here, it probably falls short of greatness. Because the content seems old and classic like a Richard Bach book.

Some images

        

     

  

None of the photos are mine.

Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle: 2004, America

Many reasons for me to remember it here. One it has an Indian and a Korean as the main protagonists. Two is I fell off the chair laughing. And three is, I want to watch it again.

This is Harold and Kumar. You know who is who.

The movie has many levels of humor, some really clever takes and some pretty crude lines (much easier on the senses than say an American Pie though), goes to places where others might fear to tread (especially because it is Harold and Kumar, and not John and Dylan for example) and generally has a sense of humor that is apparently the hallmark of stoner comedies. It worked for me, so much so that I might try my hand at some other ‘stoner’ comedies. Not only do these two boys have a sense of timing, but the script does as well.

Racism is taken by its horns and put flat back on its ass or on a drugged Cheetah’s back (I don’t even know what it means, but staying true to the movie here). There are boobs, farts, weed and that Whitecastle burger (apparently the Whitecastle people made special burgers of soy for the strictly vegetarian Kal Penn for one of the shots in the movie). So good was this movie that it was a huge disappointment to watch Kal Penn in the Van Wilder sequel.. the Taj something something. Which for me epitomized the race joke gone wrong scenario. H & K go to Whitecastle however is wonderfully irreverent, hilarious  and smart.

This movie made stars out of its two leads, especially Kal Penn (real name Kalpen Modi) who went on to star in The Namesake by Mira Nair and that Van Wilder Taj….something.

       

Full Metal Jacket: 1987, America

To watch this film is to watch a brilliantly precise director create a work of art. And that piece of art would be a  Salvadore Dali in the guise of Andy Warhol. What struck me the most throughout the movie was the heightened sense of objectivity that ran through the entire length of the film, a matter of facted-ness that could perhaps be called a passionless endeavor by some, but really, an extremely contemporary take on war in general and the Vietnam war in particular.

It isn’t real by any means, and is clearly a crafted piece of work. We as an audience are so extremely well taken care of by Kubrick. The courtesy he extends us, by having worked on his script, direction to such a flawless extreme is tremendous.  The trust he reposes on us, in keeping the narrative entirely unprejudiced, is so relieving.

*spoilers*

Throughout the movie I kept thinking that this must be adapted from a novel, just because the cold and calculated objectivity that the subject matter has been handled with suggested it. Turns out it has been, and the novel itself was chosen because of its neutrality of tone. Its true that all one can see throughout the movie is Stanley Kubrick. He pervades the entire movie as if he was in every single frame. The plot really is simple, a journey of one marine from the time he joins it to the time he faces his first real experience in war/killing. The characterizations are simple, one of the guys is a smart ass private who ultimately joins journalism inside the corps, one other is an overweight, happy and simple guy who finally loses it (quite dramatically with eyeballs rolling backwards etc). The complexity is perhaps in the visuals which seem heavily pop artesque, and the overall picture that the film paints.

The movie itself is superbly crafted, with cold calculation, and the precision of a master painter with a brush.

             

Little Miss Sunshine (2006): America

If you accidentally tripped across the movie (like I did), then you would have been one amazed person getting out of the theatre with a broad and silly smile. If you are watching it after all the hype there are some solid stereotypes that you might find. After all, with a dysfunctional family from USA, we have quite literally seen it all. In that respect, having the little girl in there, who is as refreshing as a… well, a little girl, there is enough scope for the other stereotypes to swing around and come out winning.

The humor really catches on by the time you are right at the end of the movie and you are laughing out loud with great cackling sounds and cheering the whole team on. The look of the film on the whole is completely faithful to its story, setting etc, in that way an excellent job done and oh so nice to see. There are perhaps only a couple of visual metaphors to be found but they are quite powerful. And Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin are such a joy to watch.  The sister brother pair of Toni Colette and Steve Carell (in the film) bring a large amount of groundedness to a film that could have otherwise veered out into the absurd.

A great fun ride, with that right amount of thoughtfulness. Brings up issues of a contemporary suburban America, obesity, consumerism, competition and so on while not alienating you as an audience ever.

Has a slight whiff of The Royal Tenenbaums, just in case you need anything to swing by.

 

 

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Review

    

I am no comic book manic fan, nor am I a superhero worshiper. Superman, Spiderman, why even Shaktimaan passed me by without a whisper or a rhyme.

I don’t get excited by men saving the world from impending doom, and definitely not with strange costumes and stranger  gadgets. Although, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and the really old television series Night Rider did manage to give me the tingles and vague dreams of assisting the world with brilliant decisions. They however completely failed in making me want to watch more movies like the same. I like my heroes ordinary.

I am not completely averse to such movies, but this kind of imagined reality, this level of falseness simply fails to excite me. This demands an absurd level of suspension of disbelief.

After the movie I thought, so this then is American philosophy in a nut shell. Money, power, control. Everybody is fighting for it, some people are saving the world from it (technically they shouldn’t be Americans, but well). So this then is the world view of the most powerful nation on earth. I came out thinking, what an extremely short sighted vision does this movie have! All the dilemmas are of the here and now, which often time solves. The problems are ordinary. This is not a superhero movie but a training manual for the police force for every country. The very basic of good and evil. Fighting Crime 101.

Christopher Nolan is attributed to changing the face of Batman, with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and the third and the final installment (I think) The Dark Knight Rises. If one watches as many Korean 16 episode dramas as I do, one realizes very early on the problems of structure involved in an installment series. Where do you begin, where do you end, what happens in the middle, where do the story arcs of characters go, how do you always make it about life and death epic moral battles…  many hows wheres and hows. So therefore, as it happens in K dramas, there are always birth secrets, coming back from certain deaths, miraculous soul swaps, past list of traumas and even regular time travel. Because, finally what do you do for the time given to you? You make the characters hash and re-hash, live and die, fight and rejoice. But it does get oh so tiring.

Batman always does what Batman is wont to do. i.e save the world. This time from impending nuclear doom by mercenary terrorists who hijack a completely bland and complacent city with maybe one or two morally upright individuals, which to the large part is a silent spectator in this fight between evil and a tortured good. Actually the city is mass fodder, either to rejoice or to fight. Whatever anyone tells them to believe they believe. So they are fine that way. Consistent. I imagine if my existence could be charted on to the Gotham City chart, I would be that person who ran away when the good and the evil fought, but still however managed to come right in front of a tank and get his/her head blown apart. Such is a common man/woman’s fate. And these movies precisely target us I feel, because we would all love to be Batman/Catwoman instead. But really, who are we kidding.

Christian Bale, is one of those actors whose early characterization of a role has stayed so consistently in my mind that I will always see him as being slightly hungry, trapped and looking for escape. Anne Hathaway is an actress who always seems to do exactly what is required of her. Never going beyond. Marion Cotillard is such a presence on screen but sadly doesn’t get enough screen time to establish anything. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in a forever time wrap, a case of the Benjamin Button. So for me, even the movie was miscast. Damn.

Let me also dive into the politics of the movie. As far as I could discern it is essentially a white man’s tale. A boring one at that, but let’s set that aside for a bit. All the primary characters are white. But the underworld is filled with East, black and mexicanish looking people. East is of course humming with spiritual deepness even in pits of depravity. There are some empty gesture kind of characterizations towards the black american. I know I would have enjoyed the movie better if it was completely white with no allusions towards any kind of multi cultural presence in Gotham city. At least then, I could pretend in peace. Gender equation is balanced with Catwoman who is an empowered woman but also morally dodgy. But very capable. Everything aside, this is about a white man’s city and the tortured white man himself who is the only beacon of right and wrong. But maybe its my fault to expect anything really from a kitsch stylized super hero movie.

The movie apparently touches upon issues of capitalism, terrorism, anarchy etc. But I couldn’t see any valid interest in any of these. It was more about Batman’s tortured existence than anything else. His re-entry into the game. More about the wrongs that were done to certain individuals and how they then want to kill a whole lot of people because of those wrongs. Is it then nihilist? Maybe not because nihilism is hardly based on revenge. Or is it? And the un-necessary violence. Oh my dear god. Where is that country heading! If this is the content of its epic super hero movies!

A morally, historically, philosophically, humanically bankrupt story of individualism. I can sympathise a bit more with Ra.One. He was working within his super hero limitations.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007, American): Review

    

The Jane Austen Book club is adapted from the book by the same name by author Karen Joy Fowler. One of my favorites and I imagine many other people’s favorites is the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langdon. The reason why seems to be, that it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the novel. In a sense it is almost like pictorially reading the novel with pitch perfect casting and locations. So all the original joys to be found in the book, whatever they maybe, is retained in the watching of the series. Although this looks like an easy thing to accomplish many movies have failed in such an endeavor.

    

This film has a rather bookish feel to it. It is like reading a Jane Austen novel, except the context now is a set of women in Sacramento, America. While retaining a feel of the 18th century world of Jane Austen, this movie also manages to keep its Americanism alive and kicking, reminding one of movies like the Steel Magnolias, Reality Bites etc with their ensemble casts.

All of Austen’s novels are essentially about women. So it is here as well. A group of women decide to form a book club to finish all of Jane Austen’s novels. Here they discuss each character and the implications, similarities that it bears in their own lives. Each book reflects the state of affairs in at least one woman’s life. Thus also mirroring the 18th century worries in a 20th century life.

It is a good movie in many different ways, the ensemble cast is super, the writing is enjoyable and the movie is very participatory. I had a distinct feeling of being a part of that book club myself along with having a feeling of attending a critical review course on Jane Austen’s novels. All very interesting. The endings for each character also mirrors the many endings that Austen herself has given her varied array of characters.

A thoroughly modern and satisfying adaptation of Jane Austen. Much more so than the needlessly angsty adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2005 by Joe Wright (his other movie, Atonement was far superior).

 

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