Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So many movies....

Too many movies to talk about! 13 in total! So just a quick summary of what I thought of each one then.

Capote (Directed by Bennett Miller): Rating 9.5/10

I will start with the obvious: Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant playing Truman Capote. He is the movie really. But credit also goes to a powerful performance from Clifton Collins Jr. who plays Perry Smith, one of the murderers. One could feel the torment Capote suffered by his own actions (or subsequent inactions) as the movie progressed. I had wanted to see this movie for quite a while now and I am glad to have finally seen it!

Hustle & Flow (written and directed by Craig Brewer): Rating 10/10

I am tired of reading reviews about this movie which only praise Terrence Howard’s performance. Yes, Howard is brilliant but calling this his movie is unfair -- he is helped by a solid screenplay, hip music and great acting from his ensemble cast. The way all the characters are written is very fresh. Sure some are stereotypical but they are given chance to develop into something different. This was a movie which also showed how the creative process can sometimes work and we are privileged to some wicked music along the way. Loved it! In a minor way, I was reminded of the French movie, The Beat that my Heart Skipped in some sequences – both movies are about street hoodlums desperate to escape their life and in both cases, music provides an outlet.

The Edukators (Directed by Hans Weingartner): Rating 9/10

Excellent! This movie is a grown up child of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers . I had disliked Bertolucci’s movie but I quite liked this one. The movie shows both sides of youth rebellion – the system sucks and one must rebel against it. But what does one achieve after such a rebellion? Another worse system? Most likely! The movie ties up the free love movement of the 60’s with the cold hate of modern consumerism. Intelligent ideas are presented and the characters engage in lively debate. One can say that the movie does not really scratch the surface of the obvious ideas but most people never get beyond that first layer anyhow.

Imagine Me and You (written and directed by Ol Parker): Rating 6.5/10

A clean cut romantic comedy about two women falling for each other! Rachel spots Luce on her wedding day and fights with her feelings for her husband before finally giving into her love for Luce. There are some really funny witty parts but overall felt too clichéd and boring.

King Kong (directed by Peter Jackson): Rating 7/10

If I view the movie on face value then there is nothing worth raving about. Sure there are some great moments, especially those involving Kong and Naomi Watts, and Kong’s battles with the dinosaurs. Naomi Watts looks great really. Her make-up is perfect even when she is dragged through water, runs from a T-rex or through the jungle. She does a decent job of expressing herself but acting wise no one in this movie really stood out. Now if I were to see this as a political movie, then I would say that I quite liked it. The movie is about America really. It is about America’s fear of outsiders. It is about America’s greed in exploiting others for its own use. And when one is no longer usable, then that thing should be destroyed. Seriously, can’t a giant ape and his blond love be left in peace? Can’t the ape be left to have a romantic time skating with his blond lady? No need to negotiate with an outsider. Just send bombs and bullets and destroy the outsider.

A Fond Kiss (directed by Ken Loach): Rating 9/10

A pleasant surprise! I knew nothing about this movie and ended up liking this one quite a bit. In religiously charged Glasgow, a Scottish Pakistani man falls for an Irish Catholic woman. Unlike East is East and countless other Western Indian movies, this movie shows that it is not only the Indian culture which has problems with its kind marrying others from outside the culture (region, religion, etc) but even the Catholic religion imposes similar restrictions. What is a couple to do really?

8 Mile (2002 movie directed by Curtis Hanson): Rating 8/10

A really good movie! I waited this long to see it but it was worth the watch.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003 movie written & directed by Sylvain Chomet): Rating 9/10

A smart and enjoyable animation movie! The catchy title song is pleasant and blends in perfectly with the movie’s relaxed mood.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (directed by Sijie Dai): Rating 7.5/10

A decent movie about the change that a book can make in one’s life! Literature can open one’s eyes to the world outside and sometimes there is no turning back.

Melvin Goes to Dinner (2003 movie directed by Bob Odenkirk): Rating 8/10

Michael Blieden adapted his own stage play for this movie and it shows. The core of the movie feels like a theatrical play and it works. 4 friends, 2 men and 2 women, end up in conversations ranging from relationships, careers, ghosts, science, to whatever their fancy. Quite funny at times and absorbing!

Insomnia (2002 movie directed by Christopher Nolan): Rating 10/10

I didn’t want to see this Hollywood remake until I had seen the original Norwegian version but after waiting for a few years, I gave in and decided to give the Hollywood version a look. It is a excellent thriller with multiple layers and is expertly acted and coolly shot.

Road to Perdition (2002 movie directed by Sam Mendes): Rating 5.5/10

There was a reason why I didn’t see this movie when it first came out – it looked boring. But I had hoped that maybe I was wrong? Well as it turns out, my first instinct was correct. This is a terribly boring gangster movie where all the main characters look disinterested and are wrongly cast. The first 30 minutes were painful but I hoped that the incident around the 40 minute mark might shake the movie up. It did for a while until it became boring again. Yuck!

Cold Mountain (2003 movie directed by Anthony Minghella): Rating 5/10

In an ideal world, one should have enough time to properly judge and evaluate each movie. But this is not an ideal world. One does not have time to waste on awful movies which have nothing to offer. Such is the case with this horrible waste of a movie. I tried to watch it and eventually decided that I could not waste any more time on this one. But I still managed to fast forward and get a feel of it. A strong cast, a director with a reputation and still a boring flick!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Waiting for Happiness

Heremakono (2002 movie written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako): Rating 8.5/10

Sometimes the simplest movies are the ones which are a pleasure to watch. And oddly enough, watching the boring lives of people sometimes makes for an interesting movie. Such is the case of Waiting for Happiness , this simple movie from Mauritania. What is the story? There isn't one! In fact, the movie just shows us a slice of some people's lives living in a small town by the ocean. Not much happens there and at times, people die waiting for something to happen. The sun rises, they wake up, they wait, the sun sets, yet they still wait. And so on. This does not feel like a scripted movie. It feels as if Abderrahmane Sissako got permission to plunk his camera down in a little town and filmed the people in their daily routines. An excitable young boy who loves working and hooking electrical cables up, an aging old man who does not care anymore, a young man who spends too much time thinking and looking out of his window to see how many visitors the local prostitute gets, a mother who is worried that her son is not normal like other boys, a young girl who is taking singing lessons, a photo shop which sells dreams of life abroad, etc. The visuals of this town surrounded by the desert on one side, and the ocean on another are just beautiful. There is something poetic about observing a solitary figure walking through the vast desert.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Match Point. Game. Set and Match!

Match Point (written and directed by Woody Allen): Rating 10/10

I really want to say ‘I can’t believe this is a Woody Allen’ movie, but I can’t make such a statement because I have only seen a handful of his movies. And those were not even the best of his work, judging from what I have read. For some strange reason, despite all his previous duds, I was still eagerly waiting to see this movie though. And I had to wait a long time (almost 2 months) because my city only got this movie this past Friday. Was the wait worth it? A big Yes! This is a vintage movie. That being said, the movie requires patience. Because there is a lot of dialogue wrapped around a simple story. What is the story then? A Love story? Yes, in some ways. But I like to think of the story as being about greed. Yes there is passion thrown in there as well. And the movie does explore the differences between love and lust along the way but in the end, the only question that matters is how important is greed? Is it more important than love? Is it more powerful than a lustful blond bombshell? Ofcourse, a little luck goes a long way in ensuring that the means to greed are not blocked. I am not going to bother talking about the story because I walked into the movie not knowing the story. The only thing I will say is that the story is not that original as the idea was tackled a few years back in The Talented Mr. Ripley but this movie handles the question of greed a wee bit subtly. The acting is quite good and the screenplay is excellent. One comment about all the characters in the movie -- none of them are portrayed to be good people and are corrupt on some level. At no point does it seem that we are watching sweet innocent people. All the characters are calculating things for their own good and at times are not afraid to openly admit their needs.

Since Match Point is shot entirely in London with mostly British actors and British money (BBC) but directed by an American, the movie was going to be intensely scrutinized by the British critics. And from what I have read, they despised the movie. Their arguments are valid in a way – they felt the dialogues are poor, the British characters stereotypical, a lot of the well known Brit actors are wasted and the locales are very touristy. But since I am not British, I overlooked a lot of their problems. This may be an American’s simplification of a British landscape but given the story, it didn’t matter. The story could have been set in New York just as easily. Yes the dialogue is not as sophisticated as some British dramas but it was never meant to be. Given the context of the movie, the dialogue the characters speak does not have to be intelligent, it has to be convincing enough for them to satisfy their needs. And in some cases, those words are cold and sparse but those are all the words they need!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cakes, Penguins, Bears, Cars and Girls

What makes a good movie? So many ways to analyze a movie, so many ways to critique a movie but at the end of the day, one sure fire way to know what makes a good movie is if one genuinely likes it. Based on that likeness factor, I try to judge this week’s haul. There are a couple of highly praised movies but I just didn't like them. At times, I don't care about the objective state of a goes --

Layer Cake (Directed by Matthew Vaughn): Rating 9/10

I genuinely enjoyed this Brit gangster movie. Even though it is not on the same caliber as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels , it is well made and decently acted. Daniel Craig gives us a sample about what we can expect when he finally makes his Bond debut. In the movie, Craig plays a simple nameless gangster who believes his crimes are justified as being just ‘business’ (been there, seen that in several countless Asian gangster movies). But his character is not street smart enough to look at the whole picture and understand the hierarchy about how the drug business really works. Because of his naivety, we can see the careless mistakes this gangster is making and as the audience, we have a sense of where these mistakes will lead his character. Nonetheless, it is a watch-able movie if you are in the mood for this genre.

March of the Penguins (Directed by Luc Jacquet): Rating 10/10

WOW! All the people associated with this movie should be very proud of their work. This is a beautiful and eye opening work. We learn something new and are introduced to a world which we will never encounter personally. And the film-makers spent more than a year living in the harsh icy land of Antarctica to bring us this film. For that reason alone, they deserve all the praise and credits! As for the film itself, it looks at the annual Empire Penguins mating and march routine. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this is just a delightful and tragic story about what has to be one of the hardest parenting jobs out there.

Grizzly Man (Directed by Werner Herzog): Rating 7/10

This one is a tough documentary to judge. I first heard about this movie when it was doing the film festival circuits. The hype around this movie was huge. It was even sold out at the local film festival in my city and for one reason or another, I missed the regular theatrical screenings (after the festival) as well. So I had to make do with the DVD version. And I am glad I saw this on DVD because that gave me the chance to better assess this movie. But I don’t think it was a good idea to see this movie after I had seen March of the Penguins because my expectations were sky high. ..Penguins had given us a real insight into the strange yet beautiful animals so I expected a similar feat from Grizzly Man . That was my biggest mistake. Because this is not a movie about Grizzly bears but about a man who ‘believed’ he loved those creatures. I say ‘believed’ because after watching this movie, I am not convinced if the man in question really understood the bears. Werner Herzog does a pretty decent job of going through 100 hours of footage that Timothy Treadwell made about his Grizzly bear encounters over a span of 13 years. Ironically, Timothy was killed and eaten by the very creature he claimed to have loved. But despite Herzog’s best intentions, I didn’t find this to be an interesting documentary. This is not his fault because he didn’t shoot the original footage so he could only work with what he did. And some of the people he interviews are not the most interesting (not to take any names but one of Treadwell’s ex-girlfriends). Nor do I find any merit in listening to Treadwell hype himself up via his video diaries. It is clear that Treadwell was not doing anything to protect the bears even though he keeps repeating this several times. So why should I praise a documentary about a person who was clearly delusional? I don’t want to judge Treadwell but documentaries are usually an interesting film medium -- they sometimes help to shed light on uncovered topics but in this movie’s case, I didn’t find that to be the case. That being said, one scene really stands out from this movie. There was a scene when one of the bears is swimming. As the bear is heading towards the shore, Treadwell touches it slightly from behind. Suddenly the bear jerks backward in a reflexive manner expressing annoyance at having been disturbed. The bear’s reaction was a very human behaviour when we react at having been touched by a stranger. Treadwell never clued onto that cold behaviour from that bear or the several others he tried to befriend. He believed the creatures acknowledged him, and he himself wanted to become one of them. Some people do want to become someone (or something else) because they can’t stand the strange world they inhabit. But if movies were made about all such people, should we really stand up and praise all of them?

Breathless (1960 movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard): Rating 7.5/10

This movie is considered to be one of the classics of modern cinema! I am sure I would have felt differently about this movie if I had seen this back in 1960 and not in 2006. Because back in 1960, this movie would actually have been different! But in this day and age, I find it quite dull. Yes there are lots of interesting parts to this story about a French car thief and an American girl but overall, I was not that bowled over. In 1960, this movie’s pacing might have felt ‘breathless’ but nowadays even the most amateur movie can splice frames at a frantic pace.

Fat Girl (2001 movie Written and Directed by Catherine Breillat): Rating 6.5/10

You sometimes know what to expect when you are watching movies from certain directors. I had seen an earlier film by Catherine Breillat and read about her latest film Anatomy of Hell , so I prepared myself for the worst. Contrary to my preconceived notions, I didn’t find Fat Girl that shocking. It is brutally honest in its portrayal of teenage girls, sibling rivalry and boys but what annoyed me was the direction this movie took in the final 20 minutes. Surely there was a more effective way to end this movie? I felt like the Breillat didn't know how to end the story so she decided to end it with a bang just because...The movie focuses on the relationship between two sisters, a thin 15 year old and a fat 13 year old. The two already share a love-hate relationship when the older sister meets a young Italian boy. Mix sex with raging hormones and you have a complicated range of emotions. Like in other Breillat movies, the camera does not flinch but instead invites us to watch closely as the characters go about their lives. A bit too closely at times….