Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

The Long Goodbye

For all practical purposes this is my last post in ScreenArt. A strong movie-bug may bite me and I may resume active blogging here, but I don't see that happening. I like movies, I've just lost the motivation to write about them. In fact, there is a ton of half-reviews in my drafts folder that will never see the light of the day. And in the recent past I've had to fight my inertia to finish a decent post about a movie. It shouldn't be like this, and I think it's best for me channelize my writing energy in one place, ScreenAct, my other blog.

I've been reading, seeing, listening and talking a lot about culture, religion, society, daily chores, economy, business, politics, international relations.... I'm by no means an expert on anything but I have my opinions and what other means to express them other than blogging. I'll write about movies too in ScreenAct, but instead of confining my thoughts to the world of cinema, I'll take off tangentially and try to explore how a scene or a dialogue or a theme complements or collides with the society. I'm going to try hard to make ScreenAct work, which means at least one post in 10 days and not just a filler post or a personal ramble but a solid collection of my thoughts on something happening right now. If you're interested you can follow me there by clicking here.

When I look back I'm neither proud nor embarrassed of my posts here. My reaction would be indifference if a tsunami washed up ScreenArt. Thanks to all those who've traveled with me. So long.

Slumdog Millionaire

One of the hardest things for me to digest in Indian movies catered to international audience is the English-speaking cast. From the man who pulls rickshaw to the boy who collects garbage speak, not Indianized, but a grammatically right version of the language. Although that added to the annoyance, the chief of the cinema's problems is it aims celebrate a Bollywood dream - this comes from a man who gave us 'Trainspotting' and '28 Days Later'; Danny Boyle has swung from one end of the spectrum to... a different monolith of mind-numbing drama with no shades - a shameless exercise in an overnight rags-to-riches story demonstrating a ludicrous love story.


Quantum of Solace

Going to a Bond cinema is like going to a magic show. I don't look at the magician's unused hand or his benignly silent assistant or the floorboard which might open up and gobble. I just look at the beautiful girl who's been pulled from the audience who's going to be toyed with. Nothing overwhelming, exhilarating or pulse-pounding but plain old entertainment value. When I step into the cinema hall, I'm allowing myself to be tricked into believing that even if a nuclear missile landed on Bond's back head he would some how survive it, dust off his clothes, adjust his shirt crease and walk away with his super sexy girl friend. But with the advent of Daniel Craig as James Bond, the equation has altered.

'Casino Royale' gave birth to Craig's Bond. He kills a couple of people, gets a double-O status, falls for a clerk from treasury, runs high on emotions and cries at the loss of his love. Well, for someone who's fed the franchise as a cool guy with an attitude, who hates to kill but does so because of his sense of duty, who enjoys bedding and then betraying the villain's foxy assistant, who quips gracious one-liners that make teen-girls want Bond and teen-boys want to be Bond, Daniel Craig sure quakes the earth. It has become a problem of expectations for me: Daniel Craig as a man who's lost his identity, savagely searching and destroying with ruthless efficiency, as observed by a couple of others, is proximate to Jason Bourne than James Bond.

Not just the characterization, but the narration and visual style seems heavily borrowed from the Bourne series. Super-small shots, intense chases, hand-and-leg street fighting, a plot that's not fully comprehensible, a villain whose motives and actions aren't fully explained … when I walked out of the theater I was as exhausted as Bond, at least he had a girl standing next to him. I just hope that when the character matures in the next two outings, Bond will be what one has known him to be. If there isn't a revival, for the magnificent job Craig does he deserves credit; but we'll call him something else, like John Doe and start restoring James Bond with the hunt for a new face.

The leading girl here, Olga Kurylenko isn't smooth skinned, (has a fire scar on her back) is unnaturally tanned for the movie (to look Bolivian where most of the story unfolds) and she doesn't bond with Bond. In other words, the sexy juice usually associated with Bond girls is sucked out in order to fit into a weak screenplay - an atrocious insult to the series. There's no Q, which means no high-tech gadgets that Bond gets to use. M, played by the immaculate Judi Dench is as good as she has been. I've always sensed an inexplicable sexual energy between Bond & M where M has always had an upper hand. Had she been 30 years younger, she would have ravaged Bond. And the wonderful French actor Amalric who plays the villain has been asked to put his acting gifts into a safe until post-production.

The less said about the story, the better. Either I didn't understand it or the writers/director have intentionally kept it that way in order to develop it in the next installment. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a celebrated environmentalist, seeks power by destabilizing destabilizable countries, replacing their governments with friendlies and taking control of their water resources. Why that? The movie didn't answer or I didn't get it. Bond, who's on a top gear pursuit of the men who killed Vesper, (rather caused her death because she killed herself) through a series of jumbled links is led to Greene and from there through a series of rushed and chopped story-telling to a secret organization of top-class villains called Quantum. What does Quantum do? Somebody please throw some light.

If the producers wanted a super-hero who would bleed when pricked they should create one instead of redefining one of the most successful secret agents in movie history.

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Oh boy, I don't where TNR hunts their cinema critics. Christopher Orr *imagine a teenage Tarzan breast-beating* totally rocks.

I'm hoping this long break from ScreenArt helps me not only refine but also restructure my skills not only as a writer but also as a viewer.

Will be back soon. Thanks for hanging in there.

The Bank Job

I've seen quite a few movies that deal with bank vault robbery. Once the contents are stolen the intelligence agencies get their balls rolling (no pun) and we're usually subjected to a cat and mouse game between the robbers and the intel. But what happens if the contents stolen belong to shady high profiles who want them to remain a secret. Of course none of them would go to police to give an itemized list asking for a fast recovery. They're going to find their own means of getting back what is lost. This movie, based on a true story that happened in London in 1971 is about corrupt cops and porn kingpins chasing an amateur gang that hits the jackpot with a bank vault robbery.

Terry Leather (Jason Statham) is a small time ex-con now running a used car shop, happily married with two kids. Martine Love, an old flame drops one day and offers a bank job. She says that the alarm system is deactivated and this might as well be an opportunity for a big league game. There's an ulterior motive that Terry doesn't know: Michael X, a self-claimed black Robinhood but actually a drug lord and a criminal of other sorts has photographs of a royal figure in compromising positions in one of those vaults and uses them as his immunity against prosecution. MI 6, the British secret intelligence service needs to get its hand on those photographs to press charges on Michael X and since they don't have a high-level clearance to directly get to his vault, they arrange for this heist.

I don't want to give away too many details about this high-class movie. For about first two thirds the director maintains a lightness that kept me engaged but also allowing me lay back a bit. But then the murder of a member of the heist sharply changes the tone - it's not a summer entertainer anymore, here's a serious story unfolding in unexpected way and I care about the characters. The underground businessmen are worried of their exposure, the crooked cops who've aided them all along are more worried, the good cops are helpless and the royal figures' decent image is at stake. The direction by Roger Donaldson is so fluent that one can sense the feelings and temperaments of each character without any effort at all.

For a crime drama there's a surprisingly good family scene in the movie. When Terry Leather gets home after the heist his wife slaps him with angst - not for his unlawful act but for an unfaithful act. There are only a handful of scenes that shows Terry with his family and in these few minutes the screenplay establishes how bound he is to his family. Now, that's rare for a movie that concentrates on a crime.

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Ilayaraja Again

There are never enough posts in praise of Raja. Recently, a flautist friend of mine sent a bunch of Raja's background scores to another flautist friend of mine - and there I was, a fool of music, in his CC like an add-on. The list is varied: Valli, Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, Nayagan, Aan Pavam, Guna... I've heard them all before and was still moved listening to them again. But the dark horse that blew me away was Aranmanai Kili. For a movie set in village starring Raj Kiran, you'd never expect such grand pieces. Especially there's one gem which starts with beautiful violin chorus with a western flavour and then suddenly there's a flute that peeks. And this flute piece, which just totally swept me away threatening to bring tears, has a touch of village nativity appropriate to the situation and it seems like a miracle that the two styles blended so perfectly to create what I heard. As it happens, the flute piece plays the pallavi of the song 'Raasave unnai vida matten'.

Listening to some pieces from Aan Pavam I was reminded of Raja's supreme reign in the 80s. He again does some magic with a violin & a flute, bringing me images of Pandian & Seetha running into each other. One piece greatly captures the soft romance, that there are times when the heart is just waiting ready to be given away. Most of the 'melody' these days just play at a slower tempo. He reminds us that a melody should touch you, even if the music rolls at the pace of 'Valayosai' from Sathya.

I'll finish this post with his work for Guna. I think this is one of Kamal's greatest performances (and I like the screenplay too). Listening to some of the BGMs for Guna, I was reminded of how Kamal's work has been accentuated by Raja over the years. Had Kamal been assocaited with a lesser musician in his prime, I'm sure the emotional punch Kamal dealt to the audience (talk about Mahanadhi) would have been greatly reduced. And I'm not only talking of Kamal's serious works. Michael Madana Kama Rajan has a great background track and Raja should be included in the comedy quotient that's usually only assigned to Kamal & Crazy Mohan. The movie would be definitely less funny without Raja.

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A secret society called Fraternity comprising a group of well trained assassins having super talents like curving a bullet and superior body-eye coordination that allows them to bend a few laws of human anatomy are assigned names of people whom they should kill. Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is pulled into the Fraternity after his father, a member of the secret society is killed by a renegade. The plot unfolds informing the viewers of the reason of Wesley's hiring and some politics inside the group.

Talk about loads of stylized action: Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy running on top of a metro train, James stranded on a busy street is scooped like ice cream into a car driven by Angelina, a car crashes - of all things into a train and later that train crashes - of all things down a narrow gorge, and finally you thought what role could rats play in an action movie, right? These aren't super ideas nor supremely choreographed but such sequences just keep my movie clock ticking and hence not allowing me to ask too many questions about the foundation of the story. The very essence of summer popcorn.

PS: Over the years I've become a fan of Morgan Freeman for magnificently personifying a gentleman in a great variety of roles. In one the scenes in the movie, he casually utters a swear word and that came as a jolt, not only to me, but to many in the hall who audibly gasped. I know that he's an actor and he's only delivering lines from a script. Still I have a feeling that he was asked to do something below his dignity.

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The Air I Breathe

Jieho Lee, the director aims to do an Inarittu. Though this is no 'Babel', the cast he has marshaled is a very good one. Dealing with interconnectedness and human emotions (there are four episodes titled hope, love, sorrow & pleasure) Lee exhibits his high ambitions and takes his story very seriously. Unfortunately, the stories aren't strong enough to tie the viewer to the characters.

Brendan Fraser's chapter is intriguing, one scene in particular: he is a hitman, but his success is attributed to his vision - he sees what's going to happen before it happens. This ability of his has drained all of his interest in living as he doesn't know what it means to be uncertain. Then comes a day when his vision fails and he gets badly beaten in a gang fight. He doesn't resist, he enjoys getting thrashed for it symbolizes the first day of the rest of his new life.

After the Sunset

The sun in the title is Pierce Brosnan & Salma Hayek, the lover thieves. After a high-profile crime they retire to, where else, someplace in the Caribbean Islands. And we must all think for a few minutes that the sun has set and we know that it really hasn't. Brosnan trades off his charm and built to fit a retired vacationing person. Hayek's dresses have cleavage cuts that are mathematically computed to reveal just about enough to tease the viewer.

The bulk of the story is about the drama between Woody Harrellson, a F.B.I agent and Pierce Brosnan when the former challenges the latter to steal a diamond of historic value guarded in a luxury yatch stationed in their island. Kill any logic nearby and you have a mediocre crime-caper-drama in your hands. Of course, there's a twist in the last 5 minutes and another one in the last two minutes - was not blown away by any means at the ingenuity of the screenplay, but I chuckled.

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So, Where is Subramaniapuram?

I saw a five-minute clipping of 'Subramaniapuram'. I don't know any of the faces. But the whiff is so strong. And then I saw the song 'Kangal Irandal' from the movie on Youtube. His get up was reminiscent of 'Sathya's Kamal and her beauty & mannerisms 'Sathya's Amala. The direction is so fluent, a little cinematic here & there, but I just simply loved. I last time I loved a song (music & picturization) on my first hearing was 'Urugudhe' from Veyil.

Can anyone update me on how the movie is, how its doing commercially?

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