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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.

Hancock July 5, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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I was conflicted before watching Hancock. Who wouldn’t want to watch the undeniably charismatic Will Smith playing a superhero (you even wonder why it didn’t happen earlier). However, the talk of reshoots followed by the lack of enthusiasm from critics brought down my interest level in the film. The makers maintained that the film did something very different with the superhero genre and I wasn’t so sure. So, I went in with lowered expectations. After watching the film, I can say that the makers weren’t fibbing.

Smith plays a superhero with a bad attitude and inept interpersonal skills. He helps people like all superheroes must but he has a drinking problem and a penchant for destroying public property. One day, the unpopular hero saves a publicist who wants to better the world. He sees the good in Hancock and tries to improve his image.

What I like about this film is that it feels unlike the comic book superhero movies that we have seen (and liked) in the past. It is not about a lovable superhero. It is not about saving the world. It is not heavy on action. It doesn’t even feel like it is set in a fantasy world. It is really a film that has humor, drama and some surprises.

Screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan are aiming to bridge genres but the attempt isn’t perfect. Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, The Rundown) renders a film that feels a bit disjointed (I will keep away from discussing some of the flaws to avoid spoilers). The film could have been better but it does entertain and I’d say it was worth the price of admission.

One of the primary reasons that it works is Will Smith. Smith is the perfect choice for this role because he is one of the few actors that can pull off a film in any genre. Though the film doesn’t allow you to love him all that much, he still is Will Smith and you can’t get enough of him. Charlize Theron (Monster, The Italian Job) and Jason Bateman (Juno, Arrested Development) are well cast and they manage to impress as well.

This film is a decent summer diversion but expectations can mar your experience. Just don’t think of it as a superhero movie. Think of it as a non-serious partly-dramatic entertainer headlined by Will Smith and you might enjoy it like I did.

Juno February 6, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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It has toured the festival circuit. It has been nominated for the Oscars in the Best Film, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay categories. Roger Ebert has picked it as his favorite this year. Rumored to be made for about $2.5 million, this indie film has crossed the 100 million mark at the domestic box office. Unanimous praise from the critics and the audience alike makes this one film that you don’t want to miss. And the praise is not unwarranted. I enjoyed this one much more than indie comedies of recent years like Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine.

2007 had already seen two comedies woven around unplanned pregnancies, Knocked Up and Waitress, both critically-acclaimed (I haven’t seen them yet). Juno also is centred around this theme. Juno is sixteen, in high school and pregnant from her first sexual encounter. She doesn’t want to believe it at first and then decides to get rid of the problem quickly. Not as easy as it seems and that makes her take a hard decision. The events that occur in that year of her life is what the film is about.

This simple film is not only a delight to watch but it also left me feeling happy at the end, making me want to watch it again, this time paying closer attention to any of the razor-sharp dialogue that I’d missed.

Young screenwriter Diablo Cody (who apparently was a stripper for a little while in her past before turning a blogger, which eventually led to her current occupation) possesses a great sense of humor and seems to have a gift for writing witty dialogue. This film is filled with such dialogue (I wonder if Cody talks like Juno) from characters who behave like normal people (and are a bit more practical than the average person). In between the moments that bring a smile, Cody’s script unfolds the characters, their quirks and their emotions and the film becomes more than just a bunch of laughs. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) brings his imagination to the equation and crafts a special film.

The film has some captivating performances. While I was watching this film, I felt like I was watching the characters and not the actors (familiar ones included). Ellen Page (Hard Candy) who plays Juno MacGuff is surely the best of the lot. Her rendering of Juno is not only believable but makes her extremely lovable by the end of the film. Page creates a charismatic Juno with her body language, dialogue delivery and expressions being spot on. Michael Cera (Superbad) is strong in an understated performance as Paulie Bleeker. It is easy to forget him in a film where everyone else gets to mouth humorous dialogue. Allison Janney and J K Simmons (Spiderman) are very effective and feature in some superb scenes. Jason Bateman (The Kingdom) delivers a first-rate performance and is quite believable as the wannabe rocker who is a bit of a mismatch with his wife and is reluctant to be a father. Jennifer Garner (Elektra) is earnest as the strait-laced woman who is desperate to become a mom. Olivia Thirlby as Juno’s friend Leah also manages to get noticed.

Special praise for the music of this film. The extremely unusual soundtrack has some catchy tunes with unique lyrics (All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar being my favorite) and the songs fit in perfectly with the tone of the film.

Though this film revolves around teenagers, this hardly has the elements common to most teen films and in general, avoids formula. The characters feel real and are played just right. The scenes are believable and make you feel connected even if you haven’t been around such people at all. The humor is intelligent and emanates from the dialogue as well as the situations. The laughs keep coming, the characters grow on you slowly and the experience strikes a chord deeper than you would expect and touches you even if you might not consciously realise it as it is happening.

I am glad Diablo Cody decided to became a screenwriter.

The Kingdom September 27, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Releasing tomorrow, The Kingdom has terrorism at its center and is set in Saudi Arabia (shot in Arizona and Abu Dhabi). A terrorist bombing in an American neighborhood in Saudi Arabia causes FBI agent Fleury (Jamie Foxx) and his team (Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to react passionately due to the death of a friend. Despite initial objections from higher officials, Fleury manages to get his team to Saudi Arabia to investigate the matter. His team is put in the hands of Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum) but their movements are restricted. Nevertheless, Fleury and his team, with ample support from Al-Ghazi, manage to ultimately nab the perpetrator of the terrorist act.

This film isn’t one for strong performances but the best one in the film comes from Ashraf Barhom who plays the Saudi Colonel. Jamie Foxx is likable. The rest of the cast is adequate but doesn’t have enough to do to make an impression though Jason Bateman gets some good one-liners.

The film starts off with the feel of a documentary and slowly transforms into a police procedural but finally ends up as a thriller. The screenplay by debutant Matthew Michael Carnahan (brother of Joe Carnahan who made Narc and Smokin’ Aces) is satisfactory for an action film but it is director Peter Berg (The Rundown) that does a smart job of bringing this to the screen. Though he manages to make an appealing film, the style that he uses to shoot the film is flawed. The hand-held camera seems to be making an impression on filmmakers. Paul Greengrass made superb use of it in United 93 and The Bourne Ultimatum and the impact was primarily because the style contributed to those films. Berg shows an example of overkill. He uses far too many jerks without any purpose. Also, there are innumerable close-ups when there is really nothing to observe.

Most people might not notice but this movie works on the audience like a jingoistic film even if there isn’t specific dialogue contributing to that aspect. It is mostly a one-sided look at the issues from an American perspective. It is really about four Americans going to a foreign land and succeeding against all odds in their mission of finding a terrorist leader with the help of one Saudi officer. An action film with an appealing setting that does require a suspension of disbelief. This film seems like that for most of its length but the last few minutes of the film redeem it to an extent. The makers do an about turn here leading to an ironic climax that delivers a significant message (that comes a bit too late to make an impression on everyone).

Despite a message in the last five minutes, this film is a conventional action thriller that keeps you engrossed even if you don’t care for the style. It also has its share of humor despite the grim subject. I believe audiences will enjoy this film as long as they don’t over analyze it and aren’t looking for a significant take on terrorism or politics.