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Avatar 3D December 19, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Cinema means different things to different people. For some, it is about the story. For some, it is about entertainment. For some, it is about technique. For me, it is about the imagination. It is about the effective translation of a vision. And ultimately, it is about the experience.

As far as imagination and experience goes, Avatar is an unparalleled accomplishment. Writer-Director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) creates a new world that makes the best use of the new technology that he has helped pioneer over the last decade. Pandora (the alien world created for this film) is a masterpiece that sells 3D like nothing ever has in the past.

After Titanic, Cameron once again takes a story with universal appeal  (not to mention the social relevance) and mounts it on a gigantic scale. Cameron immerses you in this new world and the technology is never really at the forefront (except in the logical part of your brain that might tell you it is make-believe). I didn’t really know how involved I was in the film till Pandora was attacked and the pain felt almost tangible.

With motion capture, it is always hard to assess an actor’s performance but it seems much easier with Avatar. Zoe Saldaña (Star Trek) is only seen in her Na’vi (the inhabitants of Pandora) form and stands out as Neytiri. Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) plays an able Jake Sully.

It goes without saying that this is an experience that no one should miss. If you are planning to watch this and you are not aware of the technology behind it, my sincere request would be to read a little bit about it to allow yourself to really appreciate a mammoth achievement in filmmaking. And try your best to watch it in IMAX 3D.

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State Of Play May 1, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Based on a six-part British television miniseries, this is a complex tale of corporate and political conspiracy. Set in Washington D.C., State of Play tells the story of a journalist, Cal McAffrey, investigating the death of a woman working for a Congressman, Stephen Collins, who also happens to be his friend and roommate from college. While it is made to seem like an accident at first, he and his associate, Della Frye, soon discover that it is a murder and that powerful people are involved. Now, he must uncover the story to save his friend and get over his guilt.

This film seems to be based on some really solid material. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who wrote The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (the writer-director of Michael Clayton, Duplicity) and Billy Ray (who co-wrote and directed Breach) is quite an asset. Though it is presented quite competently as a thriller, there is quite an interesting drama bustling underneath that layer. The film hints at some complex relationships without really delving into them. Sad, because they seemed quite potent. The journalistic setting of the film, quite reminiscent of films like All The President’s Men, is what allows it to be a thriller and it certainly makes the film all the more effective. For this part, director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) sets the stage from the very first scene for an engaging thriller and doesn’t let go till the end.

The film has a cast of brilliant actors. Apart from topliners Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, the film also features the likes of Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Bateman. With such a cast, this is a film that was difficult to really avoid. Crowe gets a meaty part and he sinks his teeth into it (and he is a better match for the part than Brad Pitt). Affleck is impressive too. McAdams has a really lovable persona and I’d love to see more of her in roles like these but Robin Wright Penn (soon to be seen without the Penn) is the one that springs a surprise in a role that has limited screen time. Mirren is always a pleasure to watch and she gets a little bit of scope to do her thing unlike, say, a National Treasure: Book of Secrets. I was also quite happy to see Bateman in a role that, for once, doesn’t seem to be an extension of his part in Arrested Development.

This is one of the more watchable thrillers in recent months, Watch it for the actors. Watch it if you enjoy thrillers. Watch it if you like tales of political intrigue.

Revolutionary Road March 9, 2009

Posted by Shujath in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Every now and then we always love asking ourselves that dreaded question “Is this what I really want to do my whole life?”. Especially if your work involves sitting behind a desk then this pesky question troubles you all the more often. Well, as everyone also knows the answer to that question doesn’t quite amount to the inspirational stories of a few select who “find their calling” in life nor to those people who actually believe/delude themselves that what they currently do is actually what they love to do. And then there are those who don’t give a damn about their “true calling” and steer through life as circumstances warrant.

Revolutionary Road is about a couple who end up epotimizing what can horribly go wrong when each of those answers are adopted at the wrong moment. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) seem to have reached a dead end once they move into the suburbs on the arrival of their first baby. Frank is constantly coplaining about his job, posing himself the same question mentioned above while April has nothing to look forward to in her new setting. As a panacea to both their problems, she comes up with the idea of giving everything up and moving to Paris (the place where Frank always wanted to go) and let Frank figure out what he ultimately wants to do while she finds a secretarial job. This rosy plan seems obviously impractical to everyone around except for the “lunatic Ph.D” guy who lauds them for having the guts to rise above their humdrum suburban existence. Frank and April seem to be ready to carry out their plan against all odds when something happens which calls into question everything which led them to this decision in the first place.

If you actually stepped into the movie after a considerable amount of time it would appear to you that Revolutionary Road is just a well made drama about marital discord and that is what you’ve probably heard about the movie too. But this film is much more than that. Although the setting seems to be somewhere in postwar fifties the problem it deals with is more relevant than ever today. The whole essence of the film is beautifully captured in its tagline – “How can you break free without breaking apart?” Frank and April’s answer to that question is well – disturbing to say the least.

The events on screen might seem a bit too theatrical but the powerhouse performances of DiCaprio and Winslet overwhelm everything else so absolutely that you can actually feel the whole thing happen right in front of you. Thomas Newman’s score makes it all the more haunting. Revolutionary Road is yet another amazing offering from Sam Mendes. Apart from being wonderfully unsettling, it is the only movie in a long time which actually made me think. Even if nothing of this excites you, still watch Revolutionary Road because it’s still one heck of a gripping drama even if you strip away the intellectual baggage.

Milk February 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to any public office, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk is the story of his life, his triumph, his activism and his unfortunate death.

Written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Paranoid Park), Milk is an affecting, moving film. The period and the gay rights movement are captured very well and the audience can sympathize with the problems of being openly gay during the period.

But this is ultimately the story of one man and Sean Penn portrays him brilliantly. I have witnessed a few of Penn’s performances before this one, but here he is a completely different person and you only see Harvey Milk after a while. The film also features admirable supporting turns from Josh Brolin (W, American Gangster), James Franco (Spider-Man 3, Pineapple Express) and Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer).

Apart from his political life, the film also tracks his personal life and relationships. This helps the audience relate to Milk as an ordinary person as opposed to a hero. It also helps the straight folks in the audience who do not have gay friends and do not understand how their lives function to find them to be just like everyone else.

Milk has a great story to tell and features a knockout performance from Sean Penn. It captures an important period in history of the gay rights movement and the fundamental problem of fighting for your rights has universal appeal. Watch it if the idea of a docudrama based on a real life personality appeals to you.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button February 19, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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David Fincher’s much talked about film has quite an intriguing premise. What would happen if someone had to live life backwards? Born as an old man, the film’s protagonist Benjamin Button grows younger as time progresses and the film tracks the major events in his journey from life to death. This is more or less a fictional biopic of a character based on fantasy.

A role such as Button’s requires an actor to adapt to old age as well as young, focus on body language and make the audience root for him. Brad Pitt does all this with aplomb though I fail to see how I could evaluate part of his performance without being able to differentiate between effects and reality. The other important character in the film that evolves with Button is his love interest, Daisy, admirably portrayed by Cate Blanchett. Another splendid actress, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading), plays the British woman who has an affair with Button in another interesting passage of his life. Despite the presence of such capable performers, the relatively unknown Taraji P Henson holds her own and grabs your attention as Button’s foster mother.

This is, without a shred of doubt, a very very well crafted film. With Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac) at the helm, you expect nothing less. There is a lot to love in this film. Most of all, the magnificent visual effects. You wonder throughout the film about how they managed to make Brad Pitt look the way he does in the film. The outstanding visuals are aided by the superlative production design (Donald Graham Burt) and cinematography (Claudio Miranda).

The hard work put into the making of this film translates beautifully onto the screen. There is so much in this film that one can recall vividly even after many days; whether it is his affair with British woman or his outing as a sailor or Daisy’s accident. However, visuals aren’t always enough. Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) weaves a competent screenplay but it lacks moments that would make it memorable. At the end of the film, I asked myself if it conveyed anything particularly insightful about life through the living in reverse device. Nothing stood out except the attempt to depict the similarities between the beginning and the end of life in both physical and mental terms.

The 166 minute film isn’t particularly entertaining in terms of humor and thrills. It clearly isn’t for everyone but where I was watching, silence prevailed and everyone seemed to be thoroughly involved. At times you couldn’t even chew your popcorn without distracting those around you. Despite the novel premise and the interesting life that Button leads, this film falls short of being great. Watch this if you would for the premise, visuals and effects.

Kidnap October 5, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Kidnap has two things going for it. The first one is director Sanjay Gadhvi, whose name is now recognized post the success of the Dhoom films. The second is Imran Khan, fresh from the success of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. While the latter proves to be the only watchable actor in the film, the former fails to deliver.

Sonia (Minissha Lamba) is a spoilt rich kid of divorced parents (Sanjay Dutt and Vidya Malvade). She is kidnapped just before her eighteenth birthday by Kabir (Imran Khan), who has a score to settle with her father. While Kabir’s motives remain a mystery, he sets the father some tough tasks to do in order to win his daughter back. The father succeeds in his tasks but can he get his daughter back and more importantly, what does Kabir want?

When the film starts off with an imaginatively done picture story of Kabir’s past, you think it won’t be bad but as soon as the title sequence ends, Minissha comes out of nowhere singing and dancing and you know its time to re-evaluate. I couldn’t stop laughing whenever Minissha showed up in yet another sexy outfit in the kidnapper’s den. And when Dutt finally sees his daughter after eight long years, he goes “You look so..” and pauses. The audience gasped “sexy” even before he could say “grown-up”.

The film is written by Shibani Bathija (Fanaa, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), which means that you need to expect some overdone emotional moments that could bring unexpected laughter. With Gadhvi in place as director, you can expect a combination of babes in short clothes (one bikini sequence is a must) followed or preceded by exciting action sequences and limited logic. But there are problems here. Bikinis and cleavage don’t make anyone sexy and Lamba fails to ooze any real sensuality and her performance mars the film to an extent. An even bigger issue is watching an aged and overweight Sanjay Dutt chasing trains, climbing buildings, dancing, romancing and running in slow motion. This brings down the film further.

Imran Khan doesn’t look menacing but he is quite believable as the kidnapper and the chase sequence that he features in is the only exciting action piece. Apart from him, the casting in this film is a disaster. Malvade (Chak De) looks and performs much better than a disappointing Lamba (Bachna Ae Haseeno) but you do cringe when she has to kiss a much much older looking Dutt. Dutt better do something about his weight because it is hard to watch him in anything that requires movement. When Lamba can be seventeen and Malvade can pass off as her mother, Hrithik Roshan or Abhishek Bachchan or someone in their age group could have played the father and maybe the action sequences could have been more believable.

Kidnap isn’t trying to be much more than a masala film but it goes wrong in many ways. The plot isn’t a bad one for such a film but the casting, performances, writing, dialogue and execution leave a lot to be desired.