Wednesday, November 28, 2012
CUTTING TO THE CHASE!
RECENT DVD RELEASES
GRADE: B +
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World
The Cabin In The Woods
God Bless America
Answers To Nothing
The Hidden Face
The Myth Of The American Sleepover
A Dangerous Method
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irfan Khan
Director: Ang Lee
Ang Lee's Life of Pi is like an almost exquisitely beautiful woman who has one noticeable flaw--and that is her Pinocchio nose. Which is another way of saying that the movie stretches too long. By about half an hour. The strength of the film, which is its breathtakingly stunning CGI, is also its weakness because it nearly reminds one of the early days of 3D, where it was all about the visual effects, with little substance to the story.
The story--such as it is--begins around a young, spiritually precocious boy named Pi Patel, (played by four different actors, including Suraj Sharma and Irfan Khan ) who investigates numerous traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam) and sees the commonality among them above the illusion of separateness many adherents of religion seem to be mired in. All paths lead to the one creator.
His longing to find God will serve Pi during the immense trial of his life, when he is cast away at sea after the freighter his family was traveling on sinks. (Gerard Depardieu has a cameo as a cook on the ship!) The family was en route from India to Canada to begin a new life--with numerous animals from the zoo they had previously run on board. Four of the animals survive, and end up in the lifeboat with Pi--a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. (Don't ask!) The tiger eventually dispatches the other animals in some graphically violent scenes Take heart that this is accomplished through CGI, though the technology has been perfected to the point where it is difficult to tell anymore what is real and what is an illusion, as the Moody Blues once said.
With just the lad and the tiger left alive, the struggle now shifts to Pi's attempt to effect some kind of truce with Richard Parker, so that hopefully they can both survive and reach dry land. But all this goes on for about an hour of film time, with the two of them battling the elements as well as each other. Which becomes anti-climactic because we already know the boy survives, as the story is being told in flashbacks by a middle-aged Pi Additionally, the film trailer shows Richard Parker walking along a sandy beach, so the suspense factor here is nil. It seems obvious that Life of Pi wants to be appreciated primarily for its technical achievements.
The one thing that is realistic about Life Of Pi is that the anthropomorphic fallacy is not in play here. We come away with the stern realization that wild animals are just that. Which is good. I hate those animated films that have talking lions dispensing human-like wisdom, or the TV commercial where these bears are doing what bears normally do in the woods, while extolling the softness of a particular brand of butt-wipe.
So point well taken.
And that means, parents, don't be taken in by this film's PG rating. There are extended scenes of graphic brute violence here, and the disturbing sound effects that go with it. I wouldn't take any child under the age of twelve to see it.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader, David Straithairn, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Historical Drama
I felt like Steven Spielberg's latest epic, Lincoln, was dragging a bit in the early stages because I'd gotten the impression from the previews that this was to be a sweeping drama--with battle scenes and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the womenfolk pining for their men away in the war. That's because I hadn't yet grasped that Lincoln was to be a film of limited scope. An intensely personal drama about the 16th president of the United States in the latter part of his second term in office, and his fight to get the thirteenth amendment to the constitution through congress--abolishing slavery once and for all.
Indeed, the appalling carnage of the Civil War is given scant attention. A brief battle scene in the beginning, and the aftermath of a battle near the end. But an artist knows just how much and what shade of a certain color to use, and Spielberg is an artist. Thus the spectre of the president riding through a battlefield with the myriad corpses of young men desultorily draped across one other is one of a number of goosebump-inducing scenes in the movie, and imparts to us the primary truth of any war--and that is its futility.
Not to imply that there isn't spectacle here. The spectacle is provided by the costume and makeup department, as much of the high drama in Lincoln occurs in the chambers of the House of Representatives, as the debate over what was arguably the most monumental decision that body has ever taken up for consideration rages. These dudes are nothing if not authentic looking, with their mutton-chop cheeks and hair down to there. (Makes me think about back in the day when an employer tried to get under my skin about my beard, implying that guys who wear beards are "hiding something." I'd have liked to have seen him say something like that to old Honest Abe. HE'D SQUASH YOU LIKE A BUG!)
There are more Oscar-worthy performances in Lincoln than you can shake a porkpie hat at. Daniel Day-Lewis melts and merges into the character of the president like butter on a hot baked potato. His Lincoln is an avuncular man who relates humorous anecdotes to get his point across, and sometimes to ingratiate himself with members of the opposite political party (the democrats) to sway them over to his side. Observing that backroom deals where someone is promised some kind of perk or promotion in exchange for his vote has always been going on in our government is sort of strangely...comforting.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and I wouldn't be surprised if Tommy Lee Jones--as representative Thaddeus Stevens--gets a nod for Best Supporting Actor.
Sally Field is also superb as the president's wife, though if the real Mary Todd Lincoln had been as comely as Ms. Field, I doubt that their relationship would have been quite as stormy as it was. A pretty face can go a long ways toward inducing a man to put up with a little craziness.
Lincoln is a film that serves to remind us that history has judged (and will judge) harshly those who attempt to deny basic human rights--be it based on race, gender, or sexual preference.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Genre: Drama / Sci-fi / Action-Adventure
The premise of Cloud Atlas--a sweeping, sprawling, romantic, ambitious, tour-de-force of a saga--is that souls are connected throughout their various physical incarnations by their deeds and misdeeds of the past, present and future.
That's what they call KARMA around these here parts, mister...poke a mule in the butt and you're likely to git a big kick out of it. (And that's called INSTANT karma!)
The film takes the scenic route (a bit under three hours) in illustrating the point, which is no big "aha" moment for anyone with a spiritual bent toward the east, but it might give Joe and Jane Sixpack some food for thought--if you could somehow kidnap them and pull them kicking and screaming out of the latest vampire movie, and promise that you will remove the duct tape from their mouths if they will only give a thoughtful film a chance.
There are six story lines featuring the same actors in multiple roles as different versions of themselves during various eras of history. The makeup artists had a field day, as some of the actors are unrecognizable as themselves unless you squint and look real close. I kept saying THIS guy looks so familiar...in a way...OMG--IT'S HUGH GRANT!
Tom Hanks and Halle Berry's characters, for example, interweave and get to hang out with each other wearing the "masks" of each incarnation as another personality. He plays a gangster, a primitive tribesman, and a doctor--among others; she is a 20th-century journalist, a Jewish-German woman, and a plantation slave.
I'm only going to touch the surface here...ain't going to describe each story line...it's better if you just wade into it, like I did, and be swept away on the tide of some brilliant film making from the team that brought you The Matrix. It's great excitement and fun, if you don't try to over think it and keep track of everything that is going on without getting overwhelmed--which you will be at times--and that's why a second and maybe even a third viewing of Cloud Atlas would undoubtedly reveal more nuance and meaning, if you want to take it that far.
Another theme of the movie pops up in the Darwinian mantra: The weak are meat and the strong shall eat. I guess this was a way of preparing us for some of the graphic violence that appears at certain junctures in Cloud Atlas--which was the only thing in the film that I began to question after a while. Just be forewarned that there is more blood spilled here than in your average slasher movie, though it never feels like it is there simply for its own sake.
What impressed me the most about Cloud Atlas was the feeling I got that everyone involved in this monumental endeavor--which, surprisingly, only took about a year to complete from the beginning of filming--was dedicated to the vision of making something truly noteworthy out of David Mitchell's ponderous 2004 novel.
On that level, they succeeded.
Grade: A -
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle
Director: Robert Zemeckis
There are the fortunate, and there are the unfortunate turns we take in life. There are fortunate and unfortunate turns in a film script as well--which can transform a movie into something truly special, or just standard run-of-the-mill fare. If you don't think too much about the unfortunate turn that you can see coming from a mile away (at least I could) in Flight, the latest Denzel Washington vehicle, it can be a pretty enjoyable ride on the way to its crash landing.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is this hotshot commercial pilot who flies a crippled airliner upside down in a hellacious storm and lands it in a cow pasture with nearly all the souls on board surviving to tell about it. But Whip has a dirty little secret. He's a drunk. (Think Captain Sullenberger on the sauce.) He was ripped when he boarded the aircraft, and he surreptitiously imbibed during the flight. His boozing didn't cause the plane's troubles--that was due to mechanical failure--but rules are rules and laws are laws, and after some edge-of-your-seat excitement at the beginning that puts us right in the cockpit as the aircraft pitches, tosses and turns, (and we get ready to toss our cookies) Flight becomes a tale of a man fleeing his own conscience, as he tries to keep his in-flight indiscretions from being discovered during an upcoming NTSB hearing. There to assist him in the cover-up are his lawyer, (Don Cheadle) an old friend and pilot's union rep, (Bruce Greenwood) and his drug connection, (John Goodman) whose job is to bring Whitaker out of his binge induced stupors with an occasional toot of cocaine.
There is a subplot involving a young addict (Kelly Reilly) who is there--near as I can tell--to provide some eye candy and female presence in what is otherwise a male dominated cast.
John Goodman absolutely steals (or hijacks) this movie, and it is worth the price of admission just to ingest his bodacious, wickedly funny portrayal of dope dealer Harling Mays, for whom it's all in a day's work.
It's a good thing too, because the climax of this film is as moralistic and predictable as any network TV cop or detective show. In making that turn for home, the movie takes the road usually traveled. There are more imaginative alternate endings that even I came up with in my wee little brain that would have given us more food for thought than the peanuts we were served on this Flight.
Grade: B -