Friday, February 25, 2005

Feb Wrap Up

1) Japanese Story (Directed by Sue Brooks):

This one is hard to judge because it is a movie not made for commercial success. Ofcourse, such a movie would garner critical attention but it is not a movie to judge, rave or slam down. The story is simple enough – Toni Collette (perfectly cast in her role) plays a hard working Aussie woman who is roped into giving a guided tour to a visiting Japanese client. Collette’s character is not happy with the idea of acting as a guide, but she has no choice – she has been told that the Japanese client might buy her software. Gotaro Tsunashima plays the Japanese client who is not interested in the company’s software but more interesting in seeing the Company’s real sites likes the mines, the desert, etc. While driving through the desert, a series of incidents occur but one of the incidents comes as a major shock. I don’t want to give it away but it is something that is not seen coming. And the way the incident happens makes one care for what is going on in the movie. This is not a happy movie, but it is a poetic tragedy. Worth seeing.

2) The Forgotten (Directed by Joseph Ruben): Rating 5/10

This one feels like an episode of X-files crossed with The Arrival (1996 movie directed by David Twohy) and spliced with ideas of Dark City and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, the movie ends up being boring and dull. The big failure is because the big suspense is given away too easily. The movie starts off with some suspense but while we are trying to think what is going on, we are shown exactly what the conspiracy is. And from then on, the movie goes through the motions. That being said, there are 3 brilliantly shot scenes while jolt the viewer – the visuals and the sudden action takes one by pure shock. Unfortunately, 3 scenes can’t save this movie. And what’s worse is that neither the director or writer are first time movie makers, but they make such poor mistakes that one normally attributes to a new film-maker – for example like making things too simplistic, not paying attention to details, etc.

3) Gong Fu (English title, Kung Fu Hassle, Directed by Stephen Chow):

Rating 8/10 overall
Visuals, Entertainment Value: 10/10

It is a hard act to follow an entertaining flick like Shaolin Soccer. And this is what actor/director/writer Stephen Chow had to do. And he does not disappoint. Gong Fu is highly entertaining with some brilliant fight sequences. The story is basic – The Axe Gang is a notorious band of thugs which terrorizes innocent people. But when the gang tries to demolish the residents of a certain pig sty community, they run into their match! The gang is duly defeated. So the gang turns to outside help to take revenge. Fight Fight. But oh what amazing fights. The first half of the movie is slow with enough time given to introduce us to all the characters and lay the foundations of the story. There is even a tender love story threaded in the movie. Unlike House of Flying daggers, the love story does not dominate the movie but stays one step behind the action. Pure Fun though!

4) Gadjo Dilo (Directed by Tony Gatlif): Rating 7/10

Tony Gatlif movies are not an acquired taste – either you like them or you don’t. If you don’t like them, then seeing more of his movies won’t change your view. Like most of his movies, this one centers around the Gypsy life, theme of alienation and is peppered with music/dance. The story is as usual wafer thin but in Gatlif’s movie, the story is not the driving force – it is always the music and the characters. This time the characters are interesting enough – Romain Duris plays the Frenchmen who travels to Romania to hunt down a singer whose music his dad loved; Rona Hartner (a Kate Winslet look alike) plays the passionate Gypsy who detests Belgians and Izidor Serban plays the hilarious villager who adopts the Frenchman for his own selfish interests. Themes of alienation and traveling to understand one’s father are explored further in Gatlif’s Exils (2004).

5) Harold and Kumar go to White Castle (Directed by Danny Leiner): Rating 5/10

A poor cross between American Pie and Dude Where’s My Car? Both those movies were funny. This one is not even though there are some decent funny elements. It tries to play the ethnic card but wastes it.

6) Shark Tale

I am the wrong person to judge these animation movies. Even though the animation is great and the dialogues funny, I find these movies pointless. As per the standard for all animation movies, there are countless pop culture references in this movie (some references clearly for adults). I have to admit portraying the sharks as a Godfather mafia was a funny idea. These movies try too hard to be funny and cute -- as a result they are huge commercial successes. Perfect fluff movie!
I do acknowledge the amazing amount of work that goes into making such movies but they are being made to fill a niche….

7) Shaun of the Dead (Directed by Edgar Wright): Rating 8/10

A really good spoof idea of comparing the Zombie concept to modern consumer culture! The movie stays true to the spirit of Zombie flicks (mindless creatures who moan and stagger around) but at the same time wraps a hilarious story around it. I liked the movie but after the first hour, I found it too dry and well, not funny anymore. Worth a watch though just for some of the ideas.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Io non ho paura

I am not scared (directed by Gabriele Salvatores, based on the novel by Niccolo Ammaniti):

Rating 10/10

This one is brillaint, touching and well, purely Italian. Set in Southern Italy in 1978, the story is about a small Italian village inhabited by only a few families. The story starts off with some of the village kids playing around a deserted house. One of the kids happens to come across a covered hole in the ground. When he lifts the cover off the hole, he sees a tiny leg in a corner. Shocked, he runs away. But the image of the leg lingers in his mind, and he duly returns the next day. This time he throws a rock near the leg, nothing happens. He turns around to pick up another rock but when he turns back, the rock is gone and so is the leg. As the boy peers his face into the hole, he is shocked to find a pale white boy come in front of him. Horrified, he runs away again. Who is the boy in the hole? The movie unfolds the story slowly yet beautifully.

Watching the movie, one can sense how the film will end, but Salvatores manages to hold our attention. Io Non Ho Paura is not at the same level as Salvatores's 1991 award winning Mediterraneo but is still a very good movie.

On the commercial movie path

1) Enigma (directed by Michael Apted) -- Rating 8/10

This is a pretty engaging movie about the English-German Cryptography battle during WWII. The movie shows how the English had to battle against time to break the German codes transmitted via the Enigma machine; the Enigma machine was considered unbreakable and believed to be the most perfect machine of its time.

The lead actor, Dougray Scott, is ok in his role. He does nothing special as he is given a very boxed incharacter -- genius code breaker who falls for a femme fatale, loses the woman, turns to alcohol, is washed up, hated by his superiors, is written off, and at the end of it all, saves the day. Kate Winslet does a good job in her different watered down look. But the real juicy role belongs to Jeremy Northam, a shady inspector who has all the airs of a classic Film Noir character -- mysterious and untrust worthy.

Overall a worthy watch.

2) Vanity Fair (directed by Mira Nair) -- Rating 7/10

Reese Witherspoon plays her role to perfection in this classic Thackeray novel adaptation -- herexpressions, dialogue delivery, etc are all well suited for the chirpy role of Becky Sharp.
That being said, all the supporting cast do indeed support her with a good performances.

The all women production and direction crew do make a worthy team but what bored me was the overall length of the movie. Given the movie had to work off a lengthy novel, one can't really blame the screenwriter/directorfor the tedious pace. But after the first hour, all the buzz dies down. And only near the endare things lit up again before ending on a Colorful note.

From the Arabic belly dance sequence and the beautiful Rajasthani shots, you can tell thatMira Nair was aching to add colour to this movie. And that she does, as there is quite a bit of colour present equally in between visuals of dark and gloomy London and Brussels.
It started off really good, ends pleasantly enough but in the mid hour was pointless, boringand seemed to crawl on for no reason.

3) Stepford Wives (directed by Frank Oz) -- Rating 6/10

The trailers do a poor job of giving away the key sequences of the movie. So I knew what the big twist was (since I never saw the original movie, I was not aware of the story). But the movie moves at a brisk pace of only 90 minutes. Almost everything in the trailers is shown by the first hour, but there is atleast one suprize by the end. The movie is never over the top nor too serious -- there are quite a few snide remarks made towards some of the current pop culture trends (internet, reality shows, men/women steroetypes) but they are made only inpassing (as opposed to harboring on each point, the remark is made and things move on to the next scene). I would have given the movie a higher rating were it not for some of the glaring technical problems regarding the true identity of the Stepford wives -- there are few scenes which contradict each other and it seems that the writer/director were too busy trying to make cute scenes that they failed to realize the ending exposes loop holes in some ofthe earlier sequences (how can the end and the ATM machine sequence co-exist?).

4) Human Nature (directed by Michel Gondry, written by Charlie Kaufman) -- Rating 7/10

Human Nature (2001) was released in between Kaufman's Adaptation (2002) and Being John Malkovich (1999). Hmmm...that sums if up, doesn't it? The movie starts off slow but then gets fairly entertaining before heading towards an interesting ending. The premise has been done before though -- humans come in contact with a person raised entirely in the jungle; this person knows nothing about societyand human behavious. So the people who found him go about trying to civilize this ape like person. There are some funny moments in this and some different ideas from the usual run of the mill movies.

5) A Touch of Pink (directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid) -- Rating 8/10

This was an enjoyable movie even though the story has been done in various shades before.
But this time the few differences are funny enough. Boy meets boy, boy loves boy
but boy can't openly declare his love because boy's mom won't understand, so boy lies about
his life, mom finds out, boy loses boy, but eventually everyone understands and boy lives
happily ever after with boy. Oh boy also has an imaginary friend who helps the boy in his
decisions. The humour is never over the top nor too cynical.

6) The Terminal (directed by Steven Spielberg) -- Rating 4/10

Yes, Steven Spielberg directed this movie. If any other director has made this movie, it would
have been trashed by all the critics. But because of Tom Hanks and the director's name,
the movie is praised. Agreed the sets are amazing -- the terminal sets look like a real airport
indeed. The germ of the story is interesting enough, a man is stranded in the terminal
because his country has ceased to exist during his fligh duration. But what happens afterwards requires one to suspend all belief. The movie is best described as a cross between a Disney movie and a Bollywood flick (minus the songs ofcourse).