Monday, June 24, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Udaan


This week's choice for "Movie of the Week" is one of a recent string of "topical" films to come out of Bollywood - "Udaan". Much like "Taare Zameen Par" and "3 Idiots", this film touches on India's problematic traditional notions of education and intelligence and the effects it has on younger generations. In this case, the story recounts the troubles of an artistically-minded young man named Rohan, who must endure the wrath of an oppressive father who wants him to become an engineer. Despite his knack and talent for writing, his father strictly forbids the pursuit of such a career.
As I mention "Taare Zameen Par" and "3 Idiots", it's important to note that although this film tackles important big social issues, it has much smaller ambitions. Those 2 films have much more robust storytelling (and are much richer films as a result), while "Udaan" is strikingly minimalist in comparison. It's a simple character study without much narrative drive, but it makes up for those flaws with a strong sense of tone and mood. This is achieved through some beautiful cinematography as well as a superb score from Amit Trivedi, a composer who continues to impress me. I actually admired this delicate focus on the lead character even if the plot is lacking.
The only issue I had with the film was the characterization of the father. Although well-acted, the character is frustratingly extreme. I'm fully aware of the existence of such stern parents, but I also believe there needs to be some grey area. As he's portrayed here however, it's all black and white. He's just an evil man, written like a caricature of a villain. Ronit Roy (who plays the father) is still impressive in the role and so is the rest of the cast. They all delivered accomplished, nuanced performances.
In the end, I wanted more from the story, but it's got enough positive attributes for me to still recommend it. It may not overtly "say" much, but its theme comes across clearly. It's a promising start for the directing career of Vikramaditya Motwane.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

ACTING SCHOOL: Al Pacino


This month's featured actor for the "LAMB Acting School 101" is Al Pacino and I can't think of anyone better suited for my usual "Best Scenes" treatment. Pacino has built his career largely on memorable scenes, making this one of the most difficult posts I've had to do for this blogathon. There are so many options! He has become one of my all-time favourites and I credit that to his unique ability to dig into his characters and absolutely crush a scene. It was hard to choose, but I eventually I decided on these:

Friday, June 21, 2013

#FF Man of Steel, A Single Man and more...


Much of the talk in the blogosphere this past week surrounded the latest blockbuster Man of Steel, generating quite varied responses. It feels like it has been reviewed to death at this point, but here are 2 more below in the links. Check em out along with other great reads from this week.

John shares his thoughts on Man of Steel, giving it a positive review.

Will and Rob reviewed Man of Steel for French Toast Sunday.

Andrew wrapped up his coverage of the Sydney Film Festival, listing his own personal awards for the films he watched.

Maria highlights the rich visual aesthetic of Tom Ford's A Single Man.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

OLDIE GOLDIES: Shane (1953)

This week on Oldie Goldies I highlight a classic Western - "Shane". This heartfelt film tells the story of a community of homesteaders struggling to protect their homes and land from a tyrannical rancher. The title character is a mysterious man who comes to help one family in particular. Although its production values may seem dated now, this is a solid adaptation of a deceptively complex novel. The film went on to earn 6 Oscar nominations, winning Best Cinematography alongside nods for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture and 2 nods for Best Supporting Actor (Brandon De Wilde and Jack Palance).

Monday, June 17, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Warm Bodies


The teen romance genre gets a somewhat unique twist with Jonathan Levine's latest film "Warm Bodies". The plot tells the story of a dystopian future where much of the population has been turned into zombies. These "walking dead" zombies have been separated from the living humans, to prevent the remainder of mankind from being eaten. While on a hunt for medical supplies, a girl named Julie and her companions are attacked by a group of zombies. One of them spares her life however and eventually they fall in love.
The film starts out being quite interesting, more for the stylistic choices than the screenplay. Specifically, I was initially drawn to the upbeat soundtrack and the cinematography. There are some great songs in there from artists like Bruce Springstreen, M83 and Bon Iver which keeps it light and fun, despite the macabre setting. The variation in the cinematography was also nicely done, adding an artistic touch. As we move towards the romance though, it quickly becomes obvious that the premise of the film doesn't make much sense. We've been conditioned to believe that love is a powerful force that transcends race, religion etc., but this feels like a stretch. Particularly when you consider the situation that causes the lovebirds to meet, it's implausible that a relationship would develop.
Despite this, Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult do a good job in the lead roles. Even though the romance seems unlikely, they manage to portray emotions that seemed genuine. Hoult admirably manages the difficult task of playing "dead", with much help from superb zombie makeup. Hitherto unknown Palmer was a nice surprise too, drawing you in with her intense eyes. She actually reminded me of a slightly more vivacious Kristen Stewart. I think we'll be seeing more of her in the future.
Even with the rough plot, it's an enjoyable film that wraps up quite nicely in the end. If you ignore the contrivances (there are numerous instances where the script breaks its own rules to propel the story), then I think you'll find something to like here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A ROTTEN TOMATO: Cosmopolis


Rats, a limousine, a haircut...what does it all mean? I'm still trying to figure it out after watching David Cronenberg's 2012 film "Cosmopolis". This confounding story follows a wealthy young man named Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattinson) who sets out on a journey in his limo in order to get a haircut. As he makes his way through the city, the film muses on the decay of society, the instability of world finance, distrubition of wealth and other pressing issues. It's somewhat open to interpretation though, so you have to pay close attention to gather any meaning from it all.
Indeed, the characters in the film speak using abstract dialogue that everyone but the audience understands. Yes, there's an identifiable narrative at the heart of it, but its clouded by what seems like two hours of metaphors, where nobody directly says what they mean. As a result, the viewer is kept at arm's length for most of its run time. It's really a shame, since I was ready to engage with its philosophical and social discourse.
The acting doesn't help either, as much of Pattinson's line delivery is painfully stilted, ignoring any semblance of naturalistic human interaction. The supporting cast fares much better, but their acting skill can't override the boring script. The writing and to a certain extent, the direction, hamper the effectiveness of the actors. For example, I would be better able to go with the flow, if there was some early establishment that this was some alternate universe. It certainly felt that way, but Cronenberg failed to establish an adequate sense of time and place in the first act. Furthermore, many of Packer's actions just seem so illogical.
"Cosmopolis" isn't a complete disaster though. Cronenberg's commitment to the film's unique style and atmosphere is admirable and compelling. Additionally, Paul Giamatti enters the fray in the film's final moments and steals the show. He gives an impassioned performance that feels like it was plucked from a better movie. It's the promise of what could have been, as the material he's given seems like a much more fascinating film. Unfortunately, we're left with this.

Friday, June 14, 2013

#FF Mixtapes, Courtoom Films and more...


Blogathon guru Andy (from Fandango Groovers Movie Blog) recently announced his latest blogathon called "Mixtape Movies", which I'm sure will be a big hit. Check out Andrew's (from A Fistful of Films) entry below among other great posts from the past week:

Andrew made some excellent choices with his "THE MOVIES" theme for the Mixtape Movies blogathon.

Alex also made a great list of "Top 10 Courtroom Films" for the Movie Mezzanine.

Mark reviewed one of the most inspiring movies ever - Dead Poets Society.

Tom reminds us of some overlooked films with his latest entry for his Six of the Best series - Films Without Oscars.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Tucker and Dale vs Evil


For various reasons I barely watched any movies this week, but thankfully I found a good one at the last minute - "Tucker and Dale vs Evil". This 2010 film tells the story of a pair of simple guys taking a vacation in the woods who encounter an unfortunate situation with some snobbish college kids. Due to their prejudices, said kids mistrust the harmless hillbillies (Tucker and Dale), thinking they are crazy murderers. One thing leads to another and they get into some unfortunate accidents.

Played as a horror spoof, it's quite a brilliant concept with the humour deriving from the consequences of silly miscommunication and sheer stupidity. For the most part, it lives up to its promise, delivering lots of gory fun. The script finds some clever beats along the way, without ever reaching greatness. I couldn't help feeling like the film would have benefited from being slightly more daring in its execution. It actually establishes some interesting themes about friendship, bigotry and general human behaviour but doesn't fully explore them. Much of that is due to some uneven acting from the group of college students. At times it seems like they struggled to understand the slightly ironic tone of the film. Particularly the group leader (played by Jesse Moss), who sometimes seemed to take the material too seriously. I felt like they needed to "go for broke" in the vein of other self-aware spoofs, but they seemed to lack the charisma to pull it off.

Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk more than make up for these shortcomings though, as they brilliantly juxtapose the madness with their simple-minded earnestness. Early in the film when Dale marvels at the splendour of the obviously dilapidated vacation cabin, it's instantly clear why the spoilt students are the "Evil" in the title. It pays off later, as the subsequent horror porn relies on the audience's vilification of surprisingly typical preppy college students. Therein lies much of what's so clever about the concept, as much of it feels very plausible. Specifically, they meet their demise simply based on their inability to be open-minded, caring human beings.

Overall, it's a very entertaining film, despite being slight in its ambitions. All told, it's still got enough pathos and humour to be ultimately satisfying.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

OLDIE GOLDIES: Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)

With Hit me with your best shot going on hiatus for June, I will be bringing some new Oldie Goldies posts for the rest of the month. The first film I would like to profile is the fascinating courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Murder". This film depicts a rape trial and is one of the most thorough and insightful portrayals of the judicial process. Coupled with sterling performances from its cast, this film is both informative and entertaining. It picked up 7 Oscar nominations - Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture and a pair of Supporting Actor nods for Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott.

Monday, June 3, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Death Proof


When you think about Quentin Tarantino's filmography, "Death Proof" is probably the last film that comes to mind. Even Tarantino himself has declared it his worst film to date. With all of this baggage, it's obvious that I came into the film with much apprehension. Indeed, I was initially ready to dismiss the film, but I eventually warmed up to it.
"Death Proof" is Tarantino at his most verbose, but unfortunately, he doesn't actually have anything meaningful to say in this instance. The plot here is simple - a madman is hellbent on using his "death proof" car to murder two groups of women. We aren't given any reasoning for this behaviour and its seems like these women are just random victims. As a result, the film does feel slightly gratuitous and off-putting, especially in the first half. The pair of attacks actually take up minimal screen time and in the interim we are subjected to mundane conversations between the unwitting women. These conversations have no bearing on the plot and it was a miracle that I managed to remain engaged. There's just something about Tarantino that produces interesting performances out of his actors, even when the dialogue is pointless.
As the first half comes to a violent close, my appreciation began to wane however. It started to feel like Tarantino was visualizing an undeveloped sick fantasy and forced it upon us. He does come cool things with the cinematography, but the plot left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the film takes a surprising and interesting turn as we meet our second set of women. The setup is similar, but the payoff is quite different. Without going into details I'll simply say that it's one of the most cathartic, thrilling endings that I have ever seen. Based on this alone, I was willing to forgive any screenwriting shortcomings that preceded it.
In the end, it was certainly far from Tarantino's best but I found it to be worthwhile viewing. If this is Tarantino's worst film then it's obvious that this man is a great filmmaker.