Sunday, March 19, 2006

V For Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue

Screenplay by: Andy and Larry Wachowski

Graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Rating: 6/10

What a mess! What a royal Hollywood mess! But then what can one expect when Hollywood takes a well written Graphic novel written by a Brit and turns it into a movie? With the exception of Sin City Hollywood has completely failed to understand the importance and depth of Graphic novels. Moore's From Hell was not such a bad screen adaptation but the Wachowski brothers have completely messed up Moore’s well written 'V for Vendetta'. I should have headed into the theatre with low expectations really. I mean seeing how the brothers turned their own brilliant Matrix movie into a disaster by making 2 brain dead sequels, how could they really have handled Moore’s intelligent story? This was a story which combined '1984', 'Fahrenheit 451', 'Brave New World' with various works of Literature and comic books and turned it into a grim futuristic tale. The story showed us how a government could use the threat of fear and war to strip its citizens of complete freedom and treat them like brain dead slaves. (Sound familiar? Well as it turns out a certain country is attempting to do that right now). The story was written in 1988 with the bleak future taking place in 1997-98. Considering we are now in 2006, the brothers had to move the timeline and they moved it to 2020. They changed the dialogues to include recent terror attacks in the U.S and U.K to further their story along. Fine, these changed aspects to the story are not that bad. But the problem is the screenplay is so un-inspired and makes for a boring movie. There are forced action sequences included in the story which have nothing to do with the original story. In fact, the final knife fight scenes try to evoke The Matrix sequences with the knife moving in slow motion through the air. The movie completely drops the ball in mentioning that in the bleak future, people are not allowed to read books, watch movies or even enjoy the pleasures of art. And then the token scenes of British people glued to their televisions watching the news unfold seem to be in very poor taste – they are straight out of mindless Hollywood action movies which include shots of a diverse group of people just to show that everyone is affected by the action events.

Another element from the brother's Matrix trilogy is included in this movie – Hugo Weaving. The impressionable voice of Agent Smith gives the voice of 'V' the central character of the movie. Half-way through V.. , it was impossible to not equate his talks with Evey (Natalie Portman’s character) to his speeches to Neo (Keanu Reeves in the Matrix) as his tone was identical. Natalie Portman is quite good in her role but her character is changed slightly from the novel. In the novel, Evey is a desperate 16 year old who is in need for money and tries to sell her body. On her first night, she is caught by the 'Finger Men' and that is when V comes to save her. In the movie, she is a professional who works in TV and is going dressed up for a dinner date when she is caught and encounters V. V manages to use her network Identity card to bypass security on a few occasions. But in the novel, V does not need an Identity card to bypass security – he breaks into the central computer system ('Fate') which controls all the British people and disrupts Britain’s network airwaves. Why was this change included? The argument could be that the change was needed to make the screenplay flow and mesh with the story but in the end, it does not.

But what if someone has not read the novel and sees the movie? Is the movie enjoyable then? On its own, the movie still ends up being a boring mess. The movie is caught in between trying to be a serious political revolution movie and an action Hollywood flick. It can't be both. Very few movies are like the first Matrix movie which combined intelligent ideas with action. There are so many intelligent ideas in V for Vendetta but they are presented in such a dry manner. Why does a movie which has powerful lines like 'You can kill a man but you can't kill an idea' and connects multiple story lines (Guy Fawkes and V, V's personal revenge) end up being so un-inspiring? A movie which asks people to wake up and start a revolution ends up putting one to sleep!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Water, Football, Sex and Junebug

Water (written and directed by Deepa Mehta): Rating 6/10

Yet another triology is complete but just like the disappointing conclusion of the ‘Revenge’ Trilogy by Chan-wook Park, Mehta’s ‘Element’ trilogy ends on a whimper. Water tackles the subject of Sati and injustice that women have to endure in the name of laws written in scriptures ages ago. The story has all the potential for a riveting absorbing movie but the end result is a boring drab movie. Technically the movie is good with the visuals giving a good sense of the surroundings. But the real flaws are in the make shift story and the terrible acting pairing of Lisa Ray and John Abraham. Lisa Ray is completely miscast as the young Sati because she still has trouble delivering Hindi diagloues and her expressions don’t even come close to the emotional complexity such a role requires. John Abraham can’t act but he can deliver dialogues. Acting is more than just saying a few lines. When Abraham speaks his few lines, there is no emotion on his face. In fact, there is no emotion whatsoever in this movie. The only spark of emotion is shown in a brief moment by Seema Biswas when she learns the young Chuyia has been sent into prostitution. But other than that, people just speak their lines. The best performance in the movie has to be the young Sarala who is very impressive as the young girl thrust into the life of a Sati.

What was the point of having the story set in 1938? There are Sati’s who exist today (at the end the movie informs us the number is 34 million) so why not tackle the story from the present and use the past as an arc to connect the two stories? Meaning show that nothing has changed from Gandhi’s time. It was absolutely wasteful to mention Gandhi in the movie without having a better etched out story. The movie is so clean, the sets so carefully constructed and everything so well laid out that the movie seems contrived and forced in order for us to go ‘wow such an intelligent movie’. In fact, reading some of the reviews in the Western World, I think Mehta has been able to fool most people. Just because someone makes a movie about a sensitive topic does not mean we should stand up and praise them. Deepa Mehta had to endure so much hardship just in order to complete this movie (her original set in Varanasi was destroyed by fundamentalists and she was forced to move the movie to Sri Lanka). I just wish she could have made a more powerful movie as opposed to giving us a cold emotionless 2 hour waste.

The Football Factory (directed by Nick Love): Rating 5/10

Hooliganism is a nasty part of British football and it tends to undermine the importance of the on-field game. In fact, the shallow North American press hardly ever reports on soccer but they never fail to highlight cases of soccer violence. There are plenty of books out there on soccer hooligans (‘Among the Thugs’ being a good example) and even more books written by former hooligans to give their side of the story. I have not read John King’s book on which this movie is based but I can safely assume that it would be a better read than this movie. The movie focuses on the Chelsea gang (or the ‘Firm’ as it is called in some quarters) and their rivalry with the Millwall gang. The gangs from both these London based soccer teams have had their share of historic fights and the movie tries to highlight some of those aspects. But all the movie shows is a bunch of people walking about, gathering in numbers from various sides and in the end, shouting and charging at the rival gang. Punches and kicks follow with bricks, bars and knieves added to the combat arsenal. There is not much to this movie with the usual lines used to explain the violence (‘What else is there to do on a Saturday’, ‘fights equal good buzz, etc). Plenty of drinks and drugs on tap, before the weekend festivities start. Like other movies, it shows the fighting gangs live for the weekend. They drudge through their week long jobs before getting their high from the kicks and punches game on the weekend. Yeah maybe that is all there is. But one does not need to see a 90 minute movie to know that.

Lie with Me (directed by Clément Virgo): Rating 4/10

Another movie which tries to portray sex as art and even blur the line with porn! What is the point of such a movie? This time it is a Canadian effort which tries to pass off sex as a sophisticated art movie and the end result was sold out shows at the Canadian Film Festival circuit in 2005. No point in looking for a story or character development in such a movie. A young woman likes to screw for fun. She wants to know if both love and great sex (lust) can be possible with one man. She eyes a man at a party. But they don’t jump for each other right away. He has a girlfriend. And she has to play around a bit. She teases him, sucks another man, and lets herself be taken knowing full well that she is being watched by him. His girlfriend on the other hand sees him watching her, so she replicates her acts onto him. All balanced out. Eventually, as expected the two of them hook up. Plenty of sex follows. And plenty of male frontal nude shots as well. She continues to wander about, her abstract thoughts used as a background voice-over narration. Confused and un-decided, they grow apart, come together, grow apart and end up together. But for how long? I don’t care to know. I have still not seen Last Tango in Paris in its entirety but I am sure this movie tries to capture some of its essence. But there are better ways to highlight the debate between love and lust. The French movie Secret Things was brilliant but Lie with Me is well off the mark. Not that this is the only art/sex/porn movie out there. From what I have read Michael Winterbottom’s 9 songs is another such recent movie.

Junebug (directed by Phil Morrison): Rating 8/10

After three strikes, a movie finally hits the mark. Junebug is a refreshing movie which shows the complexities about family relationships and even people in general. How do two people get along? Can two completely different people ever be happy together? Why are some men always in a perpetual angst mode? How do people connect with art? What is more important, work or family? Acting wise, the movie is spot on. The women in the movie are very well portrayed and range from house wives to career driven. The tension between a mother and a daughter in-law are also shown and the frosty relationships between two brothers are also portrayed. A very good movie!

Monday, March 13, 2006

95th Post

This turns out to be my 95th entry for this blog. Unfortunately, it is not a very polished entry but given the recent flood of movies that have been passing through my DVD, I can only find time to spare a few quick words.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (directed by Chan-wook Park)

The trilogy is complete but oddly I lost interest. It is a strange feeling really – you wait so long to see a movie and when you finally get a chance to see it, you find that you no longer care. That is the case I felt with ..Lady Vengeance. A long time ago I saw Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and really liked the movie -- that movie had started off slowly but took time to develop its characters and outline the story before plunging into a series of cuts and stabs to end on a bloody note. Then I saw Oldboy , a dark and wicked movie which started off interestingly and slowed down slightly in the middle before finishing off with a real hammer blow of an ending. So I eagerly waited for the final installment of the revenge trilogy. Now ..Lady Vengeance does take time to outline the characters and story but after the first 30 minutes or so, I lost all interest. I can’t explain it. Maybe this movie should have come before Oldboy ? Or maybe I just had moved on to other movies while waiting for this to finally get released? Or maybe I need to attempt to see this movie some time again in the future?

Mostly Martha (written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck): Rating 10/10

This 2001 movie is a perfect blend of cooking, acting and writing. Martha (played perfectly by Martina Gedeck) is a perfectionist when it comes to her kitchen. But this need for perfection makes her a control freak. Her patience and wit are duly tested when the care-free fun loving chef Mario (played amazingly by Sergio Castellitto) is hired to work alongside Martha. And when Martha’s sister is killed in a tragic accident, Martha has to look after her young niece Lina (Maxime Foerste). Not having experience dealing with kids, Martha struggles with Lina. But Mario is able to reach out to Lina and helps forge a bridge between Lina and Martha. A wonderful movie!

Lilya-4-ever (written & directed by Lukas Moodysson): Rating 9.5/10

An intense and chilling movie from the writer and director of 1998’s Show me Love (better know as F*** Åmål). Since I had loved his previous effort, I wanted to check out this 2002 movie as well. I am glad I did because it is an excellent effort. Story: Lilya’s mother takes off to the States and leaves her daughter to fend for herself in a cold former Russian republic (we are never told the exact name of the city or country but that does not matter). She says she will call for Lilya when things are settled but that is not how things turn out. Instead of moving to the states, 16 year old Lilya is left at the mercy of people who are looking to exploit and use her at every chance, right from her aunt to her boyfriend. Her only salvation is a 13 year old boy who is abused by his father and lives a solitary life. Their friendship is the only comforting and sane thing which holds both of them together. The movie could easily double as a docu-drama because of its Verité feel.

Best of Youth, Part I (directed by Marco Tullio Giordana): Rating 8.5/10

Broken up into two parts, each 3 hours long, Best of Youth requires an investment of one’s time. And as it turns out, it is a worthy investment. Initially, I was skeptical about having to spend so much time watching a movie but as it turns out, one hardly notices the time fly by. Simply put, it is a story about two brothers as they grow up from the 1960’s through to the 80’s (part I only). The movie focuses on the changing ideologies of the young men as they go through their lives, learning and experiencing new sensations along the way and maturing into independent adults. The brothers start off on the same path and gradually find themselves drifting from each other. Typical with most Italian movies, this one is complete with emotion, family, politics and love. What else is there? I am sufficiently interested to spend 3 more hours watching Part II.

The Life of Jesus (written & directed by Bruno Dumont): Rating 5.5/10

Sometimes a movie is what it is and reading too much into it is not worth the effort. La Vie de Jésus has won many awards but it is not half as complex as it made out to be. The story revolves around bored white French youngsters who have nothing to do in their little town. Their amusements range from driving around on their bikes and insulting an Arab family in the town. The movie predictably ends when the white racist French boys beat the crap out of the Arab kid. Yes the movie gives us a realistic glimpse into the boring life in a small town. Yes the movie does not shy away from the awkward racist situations but so what? Much better interesting movies exist out there on this very topic.

Igby goes down (2002 movie written & directed by Burr Steers): Rating 7.5/10

A coming of age movie jam packed with plenty of big star cameos. Not bad and enjoyable in parts.

Gangster No. 1 (2000 movie directed by Paul McGuigan): Rating – not worth it

Yawn! A British Gangster movie which is more talk than action. The constant voice over narration provided by Malcolm McDowell loses its appeal after a while and instead becomes annoying.

Napolean Dynamite (2004 movie directed by Jared Hess): Rating 8.5/10

A funny movie on par with Rushmore and Jon Heder’s interesting performance makes this one a fun movie to watch. The fact that Jon Heder is aptly supported by a quirky cast only adds to the movie’s enjoyment. Ofcourse, it is also possible to watch this movie without any emotion or interest as the humour is dry and offbeat.

Dot the I (2003 movie written & directed by Matthew Parkhill): Rating 9/10

I had never heard of this movie. But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Best to watch it without knowing the story! At times, the movie tries to be too clever for its own good but in the context, it works. The twists at the end are easy to pick up and not totally unexpected. It was also the first movie where I saw Gael García Bernal in a completely English speaking role and he does not disappoint.