Saturday, April 30, 2005

End of April notes

1) What’s Cooking (2000 movie, directed by Gurindher Chadha): Rating a solid 8/10

Thanksgiving movies are a genre in themselves but this one manages to stand on its own. How many thanksgiving movies exist out there whose main characters are portrayed as Latin, Vietnamese, African-American and Jewish? Chadha excels in such movies (like Bhaji on the Beach). She knows how to portray the tiny family problems while not blowing things out of proportion like she did in Bride and Prejudice. The movie shows the four families as having their own share of problems while preparing their variation of a traditional Turkey dinner, with the problems being typical teenage parental conflicts, parents difficulty in accepting their lesbian daughter, a father’s clash with his son over their political differences, a husband wanting his wife back after he had cheated on her, etc. Initially, the four families seem separate but slowly we realize that they are more closely tied than we are led to think. Well worth watching.

2) Mean Girls: Rating 8/10

High school movies often fall in a clichéd category, so it was refreshing to see a different take on high school problems. In this case, the story involves Lindsay Lohan playing a girl who has never been to a public school before. Her parents lived in South Africa where she was home schooled. So when they move back to America, she has to attend the regular high school. High school can be daunting as it is but for a complete newcomer, it can be a completely eye opening experience. So Lohan’s character soon learns the ropes on how to survive in the high school jungle and she comes to realize, her high school is not that different from the animal kingdom. A funny and sensible movie.

3) In Praise of Love (Directed by Jean-Luc Godard):

Simple review: I didn’t get this movie nor did I care to. It is quite abstract and trying to evoke sentiments of 1960’s cinema verite but it just does not translate. Interesting to note that the indie movie, Nobody Needs to Know, really tried to copy this Godard movie but that movie was not slightly more watchable because it limited its scope to one city.

4) The Ugliest Woman in the World (1999 Spanish movie directed by Miguel Bardem):

This one is not a bad flick to watch. The story is set in a future Spain but nothing about the story needs to be in the future. Lola was born as the ugliest baby in the world and made fun of constantly while growing up. Thanks to some plastic surgery and a certain experiment, she is transformed into the most beautiful woman in Spain, but there were some complications with the surgery. Those complications lead to her retreating to her old ugly self. Lola sets about killing women in brutal ways to achieve her dream of becoming Miss Spain.

5) Soul Plane: No need to rate this one.

It is worth some funny laughs but as a movie, it just does not translate.

6) Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: Rating 5/10 (even a 5 seems too high)

What is so great about this movie? I have no idea. Ok the idea is great – make a movie without ever leaving one’s apartment. Have all the actors act in front of a blue screen and add the rest later. And the fakeness of it all does show. Maybe that is the point, maybe we should really know that this is not all real. That being said, the movie has no life in the first hour or so. It is cold, soulless and just trudges along. The actors (Paltrow and Law) are both inept and can’t generate any interest in that first hour. All that changes when Angelina Jolie enter the movie. She sparks some life into the movie but her role is too limited to make the movie interesting.

There are shades of several movies in this one – The Rocketeer, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Spy Kids 2, Jurassic Park, etc. But the movie was just not interesting enough. Maybe it looks better in a theatre, but on DVD, it looks rather dull.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mid April Showings

1) Closer (Directed by Mike Nichols, with a brilliant screenplay by Patrick Marber):

Rating 9/10

This is a marvelous movie. The beauty of this movie lies with the screenplay. Sure the acting and direction are very very good but if it were not for the screenplay, the movie would not be as interesting. Unlike other movies which bore us with annoying details about a man and woman’s (or girl) daily happenings, this movie jumps around to only show us the relevant portions of their relationship. Jude Law meets Natalie Portman, and after a short conversation, the movie flashes forward in time when the two of them are officially a couple. We are not told what happened in that time period as we infer from their current behaviors. Law then meets Julia Roberts but she turns his down. In a joke, he sends Clive Owen to the same aquarium where Roberts goes (Jude Law meets Owen on an online chat site where Law pretends to be a woman; this scene is just hilarious). Roberts and Owen become a couple much to Law’s annoyance. The movie then moves onto some murky areas of affair, love and heartbreak, all the while retaining the flash forward method. And only when needed, the past incidents are spliced with the present in quick flashbacks. Well worth the watch.

On a side note: Interesting to compare Jude Law's character in this movie with his role in 'Alfie'. If Jude Law is to be the next bond, then it is good to see him get all his broken hearted roles out of the way. Neither Alfie or Closer ends on a happy note for his character.

2) Sideways (Directed by Alexander Payne, Novel by Rex Pickett): Rating 9/10

This is just a charming movie. I never ever expected it to be this good but it is. Part of my pre-conceived notions had to do with all the hype about the ‘wine’ tour and ‘wine’ talks in the movie. But the critics blew it out of proportion. The movie is NOT about a wine tour, but the wine only serves as a background in the lives of two troubled men – one a week away from getting married and the other struggling to get his novel published. Along the way, they meet two women and well sparks fly and emotions run high. Yet the two friends understand each other really well and try to look out for each other, in their own ways. Very well acted, especially by Thomas Haden Church (the groom). The first half of the movie is fast paced and funny with the second half being a bit slower.

3) Jisatsu Saakuru (Suicide Club) -- directed by Shino Sono. Rating 4/10

This is a huge let down; nothing worth seeing here! The opening scene was much talked about -- 54 high school girls jump off the track into the path of an oncoming train which mashes their bodies and spews blood in all directions. Why did the girls jump? And what is the mysterious package found by the train tracks? So we are lead to believe there is a mystery about this so called suicide club. A web site features red dots indicating the number of people who have died. And the mysterious package appears to be a rolled up chain of human skin, from people either dead or about to commit suicide. Unfortunately, the movie does not offer a proper answers to any question it throws our way. The entire mystery of the club even when partly revealed is well, plain dull. I kept thinking of ‘Battle Royale’ in some instances of this movie. In BR, the adults wanted to punish the children for being a trouble. But in this movie, the children try to get back at the adults simply because they feel the adults have ‘lost connection’ with their inner selves.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

April Thrills

1) Sin City (Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller).

Hmm. On one side are critics calling this the best movie of the year, best comic book translation ever, great film noir, etc. And on the other side are a few critics calling this a violent movie, with too much blood and degrading to women, etc.

The truth is in the middle. First off, the movie is not close to being as violent and bloody as some are making it out to be. The black and white does offset some of the violence, and then the really gory elements are implied not shown.

Ok, now to the good part! The movie is not a graphic novel adaptation; IT IS a living breathing graphic novel. Rodriquez has taken each panel of Miller’s three Sin City graphic novels and put them on screen. That is just an amazing accomplishment. The black & white with shades of colour, the impressive lighting are just marvelous! Colour against black and white was used much better in Pleasantville but it makes a mark in some places here.

So how good is this movie? It’s good but not that great. Why? Well for a graphic novel, the story lines are perfect. But in order to make a movie, one needs to cut down on the narration -- the first 20 minutes or so are packed with too much narration. But after the first 20 minutes or so, the movie settles in, and the story takes over; I even forgot to pay attention to the visuals because the characters the interleaving story was interesting.

The film noir elements are all there but where were the femme fatales? I hate to say it but none of the women were appealing at all. Ok, maybe except the brief cameo by Carla Gugino was good. And Jessica Alba was plain wasted.

Acting wise, all the leading men did a good job with Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke being the best. This movie has been compared to Pulp Fiction. That is a shame really! Because Sin City may be good but nowhere near as good as Pulp Fiction. And the guest appearance directed scene by Tarantino is nothing to shout about.

Elijah Wood is a great addition as the soul eating killer. His white shades against the black background look very very nice.

Overall Rating: It was worth watching but I was not bowled over as most other people.

2) Spartan (Directed by David Mamet)

I had such high hopes from this movie. David Mamet writes such interesting story lines (The Spanish Prisoner) and characters that I thought this would be an intriguing crime thriller. But I was seriously wrong. The movie starts off interesting but it goes off the rail after the 50 minute mark. After that everything looks fake with the ‘Dubai’ scenes being the worst; we can clearly tell everything in ‘Dubai’ is a set and the movie does nothing to hide that fact.

But once again, it amazes me that critics praised this movie. Seriously, it is not that complicated. The plot is so easy to see through that there is nothing to ponder about.

Overall Rating: Not worth watching.

3) The Bourne Supremacy

This was much better than I had expected. It is a fast paced thriller, which does run a little bit longer than it should have. The movie starts off in Goa and then winds it way past Naples, Berlin, Amsterdam, Moscow before ending up in New York. There are some long car chase scenes and extended periods of the movie contain no dialogue.

Overall rating: Much better than Spartan, even if the dialogues and scenarios seem clichéd.