Monday, 24 November 2014

The Imitation Game 2014

Wow.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a pitch-perfect performance.
Good, tight script (admittedly with some convenient twists, that are not entirely factual).
Excellent direction and editing.

The story of a genius man, set against his most spectacular achievements, and ending on the injustices of society.

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the father of computer science, and the man responsible for breaking German ciphers that eventually led to the Allies winning WW2. The same man was persecuted for being gay and was eventually offered the 'solution' of chemical castration to avoid jail time. The greatest tragedy is actually that he received a 'royal pardon' for his illegal sexual preferences as late as 2013, 59 years after his suicide. How could it take the government this long to recognise Turing's work? And even worse, isn't a pardon more of an insult to his memory, rather than an acknowledgement of the atrocities committed against him in the 1950s?

Still, as a film, The Imitation Game is strong, interesting and very well-made with brilliant performances by all the actors. A must-watch!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Interstellar 2014

What an utter load of B***OCKS!

There are few films I hate with this much passion...Prometheus (2012) was one and now Interstellar joins the ranks.

The trailer wasn't half convincing, but Matthew McConnaughey (lately) and Christopher Nolan (for ever) don't make mistakes. So, I thought, at the very least this will be an entertaining film. WRONG!

The first hour is interesting, well-scripted, with good character build-up. It's the future and a former NASA pilot agrees to lead a mission to find a habitable planet, now that life on the "post-blight" Earth is less and less sustainable.

The second hour is infuriating, clich├ęd and full of terrible sermons about love. Basically Michael Caine's and Anne Hathaway's characters appear and spout the most inane lines for the next hour. Characters marked 'X' die, characters marked 'Y' turn out to be evil.

The third hour, besides being an hour too many, pretends that scientific theory can save the film by confusing the audience. All it does is get awfully boring and dull. By this time the audience is past caring and no number of beautifully crafted planets can save the contorted plot and the useless script. As the film nears completion, logic is flung out the window and ridiculous becomes insane.

Bad, bad, bad film!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Nightcrawler 2014

Penned and directed by Dan Gilroy, who wrote The Bourne Legacy (2012) before this, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. It's a story about a man down on his luck, who discovers an unusual way to make money through LA's crime journalism network. The entire film rests on Gyllenhaal's shoulders and this is one of his better performances. From his eagerness, to his obsession, from his need to please, to his need to control, he stays unpredictable and interesting through the film's twists and turns.

Despite the strong acting, and the engaging subject matter, Nightcrawler lacks something. As it draws to a close, you realise that the best part of it was the build-up and the film peaked too soon. After that, it has less and less to offer, even as it tries hard to expose us to the amoral society we are a part of.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Serena 2014

Susanne Bier directs this very tedious film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Based on a novel of the same name about a North Carolina timber businessman in the Depression era and his very ambitious wife, the film follows the growth and death of their relationship, and the effects of euphoria and despair on two people.

The problem here is that in some ways we see shades of There Will Be Blood (2007), but very quickly they disappear leaving behind an empty carcass of a film, devoid of depth. The main characters never once become likeable or even identifiable and never once are they compelling. Their motivations and reactions just don't make any sense. The film feels like a dead weight, which you can't wait to get out of - except it drags on for ever. A surprisingly bad offering from some stellar names.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

This Is Where I Leave you 2014

Dysfunctional families, cheating partners, desperate circumstances and a plethora of topics better left unsaid as they are part of the journey that is this sweet film - This Is Where I Leave You stars Jason Bateman and Tina Fey (both brilliant), Jane Fonda (unbelievably good), Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton (all very compelling) and many more.

There is no end to the different storylines and plot twists this film has, but at the end of the day, all it leaves you with is the warmth and comfort that family and friends, how ever dysfunctional, bring you. In that, and in the many other lessons learnt through the course of the film, it delivers its message well, and is at times almost profound. Nothing spectacular, but it allows for enough laughs, cringes and tears, for it to be a very successful specimen of its genre. Definitely worth the watch.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Pride 2014

The year is 1984. The place is Thatcher's Britain. While the lesbian and gay community campaigns for its rights in London, a whole other community of Welsh miners is on strike to demand its rights. Pride is based on the true incidents over a 12-month period where the LGBT community took to campaigning for the Welsh miners, who for the longest time did not embrace this support, and were ever so slowly, and only partially, won over. It is a story of strength and courage, of faith and friendship.

This is one of the sweetest films I have seen in a long time. While it takes turns to poke fun at the 'gays', the Welsh, the miners, the elderly, and everyone else, it manages to get the audience to laugh 'with them and not at them'. And without ever getting overly soppy, it tells a touching, emotional story. Masses of credit goes to the director, Matthew Warchus, and writer Stephen Beresford, for putting together a perfect package.

And every performance is excellent, whether it is by the comparatively lesser known Ben Schnetzer, Freddie Fox, Joseph Gilgun, George Mackay, Andrew Scott or the more famous Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.

In a year of some excellent British films, this is my absolute favourite. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Begin Again 2013

This is a rare moment for me - I've thoroughly enjoyed a Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo film, with newcomer Adam Levine. Begin Again is the story of singer-songwriter Gretta, who catches the attention of down-on-his-luck music executive Dan, when she performs in a heart-broken state in a local bar. And as he pursues her to work on an album, they become unlikely friends, learning about each other's lives, their loves and losses, while singing and recording all over New York City. 

There is nothing 'big' about this film. It's a simple story, with simple moments, but it grips and entertains all the way through, with some fun moments and an excellent soundtrack.

The supporting cast (Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Mos Def, CeeLo Green), and the characters they portray, are highly enjoyable. Mark Ruffalo as the drunk music producer is not doing anything new, but is quite endearing in any case. But it is Keira Knightley who is the biggest surprise in this film. Not only has she delivered a strong, natural performance, without overacting and over-effecting (as she usually does), she has sung most of the songs on the soundtrack - and has done a stellar job. This is my favourite soundtrack album of this year, with every song by Knightley and Levine an absolute delight.

This film is definitely worth a watch on a lazy weekend.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

12 Years a Slave 2013

I'm not known to mince words or withhold my opinions, especially when it comes to film. I don't believe in following the crowd and agreeing with the majority, only to avoid standing out. And yet, I have been guilty of doing exactly that when it comes to this film. My review of 12 Years a Slave, written last month, was a bit of a crowd pleaser. I pretty much wrote what was expected of me, rather than what I actually felt about it.

This is what I wrote:
Steve McQueen is an exceptionally talented man. This is the third feature film that he has directed and like the other two (Hunger 2008, Shame 2011), this one too is unrelenting and fearless in its content and focus. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was a musician and a free man till he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, the film charts the horrors that he witnessed and cruelty he experienced. There are scenes in the film which are almost unbearable to watch, but the camera never shies away and therefore the audience almost can not look away. Brilliantly directed, brilliantly acted (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt) and well-written - my only question was the importance of this story and why this was special. Northup almost never shows a sign of bravery - and in the end he does to another what was done to him. I understand that times were hard and heroes did not survive - but in that case why is Northup's story worth telling over so many others? Still, as a film, it's perfect!

It took an email from my esteemed friend PB that made me realise that I have, in fact, suppressed quite a few reactions to this film. So, while I still maintain that Nyong'o's and Fassbender's characters and performances were phenomenal, Ejiofor's character and performance had invoked a lot less emotion in me. I had found it difficult to stomach that Northup was living such a comfortable life pre-slavery that it could have been comparable to the lives of upper-class white folk. There were a lot of other details about the slaves and their very effected portrayals that had left me a bit cold. But Brad Pitt's almost holy character had annoyed me the most.

PB questions the historical accuracy of the piece - and classes it as Abolitionist Propaganda. This is not to deny at all the abhorrent inhumanity that was/is slavery. This is only to say that to illustrate a fair point, some truths may have been stretched beyond reality.

My personal tussle is more with the lack of interest I had in Northup's story. I fail to see why this film is important today. I fail to see why I should care about a man who really did not fight the system. He became somewhat part of the evil, to survive. And only after he was safe, did he raise his voice. However brutal and effective the torture scenes were, I still did not connect with the protagonist and I do not understand the relevance of his story today.

So, in fact I did not like 12 Years a Slave. And the main reason I felt compelled to say otherwise, was because it felt wrong to say that a film about slavery wasn't really all that important. I have the highest respect for Steve McQueen and this story was obviously closer to his heart than his previous films - but in choosing Northup's book, I think he has missed a trick. I wish he had chosen a more compelling story to offer his audience an insight into slavery and its ugliness.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street 2013

This film has created enough noise and received enough hype, without needing me to add my two-cents' worth. But I still will!

Wolf of Wall Street is the true story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker, who made millions from corrupt dealings and securities fraud, after he suffered an early career setback due to the 'Black Monday' crash in 1987. The story not only revolves around Jordan's very lucrative and illegal ventures, but also his very debauched lifestyle. Drugs, alcohol, sex - Jordan abused it all. He lived a crazed, decadent, over-the-top life, which simply could not go on. And yet it does.

This is a black comedy - and we are not meant to be judging him. There are no moral lessons to be learnt, truth does not prevail and the honest are not the victors. Belfort today is a motivational speaker and still makes millions - some of them from the royalties of his book that was turned into a motion picture, which has already won the lead actor a Golden Globe! There are lots of silver linings here, but unfortunately, none for the victims of the frauds. Like I said, the film has been delivered in a certain vein - of dark comedy - and it is to the writers' and director's credit that they have not tried to make this serious or moralising at any point. It continues in the same vein and is a refreshing success because of its integrity.

The star of the show, from the first frame to the last is Leonardo di Caprio.
I keep hearing how he has improved as an actor over the years, which upsets me greatly. Because to be honest, he hasn't improved over the years; he's always been brilliant. Five top-notch performances before Titanic (1997) and at least seven great performances since - he has only been type-cast as a pretty face that can't act, because of one blockbuster, technically-sound film that girlfriends forced boyfriends to watch. Let's stop blaming it all on him!
After a long, long time, I have seen di Caprio completely unleashed in this film. If Jordan had no boundaries, neither does Leo. He is completely uninhibited and wild in his portrayal. It's fascinating to watch him on screen and see him deliver a performance that does not falter or disappoint for even a moment.

This is the fifth time that Martin Scorsese and di Caprio have worked together - and each time it's been a very different character, a very different film. But this is possibly their best effort together since The Aviator (2004). Despite all the hype around the film, it actually is that good. The performances, the storytelling, the direction, the cinematography, the music - everything fits and works. At 180 minutes, this may seem like a big one to commit to, but time flies when you're having fun. And this is fun!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ranthology 2014 - Part:One

It's been a strange start to the year. I've seen film after film, with multiple nominations and hardly anything that seems to deserve the level of praise. Maybe I've lost the plot but here are my thoughts on some of the recent films:

American Hustle (2013) - With actors like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner leading the cast, my expectations were sky-high. On paper, this sounds like an extraordinary film. Instead, what I found was a haphazard, oddly-written film that constantly swerved from serious to comedy and didn't actually commit to either. Loosely based on a true story, it revolves around a sting operation orchestrated by FBI agent DiMaso (Cooper), who forces con-artists Rosenfeld (Bale) and Prosser (Adams) to expose politicians involved in illegal dealings, including Mayor Polito (Renner). Along the way, Rosenfeld's alcoholic and unpredictable wife (Lawrence) also gets involved and the plot thickens. To be fair, the actors have done an excellent job individually - but the words coming out of their mouths let down the talent in every scene. David O. Russell has always been a very hit and miss writer-director for me. While I found Three Kings (1999) and The Fighter (2010) almost flawless, I'm confounded by the popularity of the very mediocre I Heart Huckabees (2004) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). This film has joined the ranks of yet another potentially brilliant film, that really wasn't brilliant at all.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) - Such a pretty film; shame about the lack of a soul. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, this is the story of a dreamer, who constantly goes into a fantasy world to escape from the reality of his very normal life. When his work throws out a challenge, he unwittingly finds himself embroiled in an adventure far greater than any fantasy he could ever have conceived. Based on a 1939 short story of the same name, the Walter Mitty of this age accomplishes far more than the original dreamer character was ever meant to. The visuals are stunning and the transitions between reality and fantasy are absolutely flawless. But once again, it is the story and the writing in general that has let this film down. While trying to be the Life of Pi of 2013, it ends up being confused about whether it is a feel-good, 'believe in yourself' film or an out-and-out comedy - and ends up being neither.

12 Years a Slave (2013) - Amended and updated here on 9 March, 2014.

The Railway Man (2013) - Another true story; another historical film. This one is based on an autobiography by Eric Lomax, a British soldier, who was captured by the Japanese in World War II and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway with thousands of others. After he got caught with a radio he put together, he was tortured for days and the horrors from that period followed him through his later life. After much persuasion from his wife and his best friend, he embarked on a journey to find his captor and confront him. While this is a moving story and definitely a well-made film, with solid performances by Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard, the question I ask is the same as for the film above. Why is this story important enough to be made now? At the risk of being political, I wonder if it really has to take almost 7 decades to expose war crimes and the horrors of prison torture. If so, will the stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo get told in my lifetime? Probably not.

Grudge Match (2013) - Sylvester Stallone (aka Rocky Balboa) and Robert De Niro (aka Jake La Motta) team up in this film to play a pair of ageing boxers, who come out of retirement for one last match. This would have been such a fun film, if they hadn't decided to take themselves seriously. Which they did. So the film feels stale, forced and quite boring, to be honest. Really not worth the time.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) - Part of Tom Clancy's universe, this film is possibly one of the worst they have made so far. With an absolute lack of tension and suspense, with very awkward direction (Kenneth Branagh) and flat acting (Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh), this was one of the more boring films I saw at the cinema this year.

So some good, some bad, some average - but nothing that stood out so far.