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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.

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.