Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movie #118 The Fountain

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Movie #118 The Fountain

(2006, US, d. Darren Aronofsky)

The Fountain is a visually and thematically complex film that demands more than a full attention from the audience. Aronofsky treats the viewers very intelligently and employs only visual clues, limiting the oral signals, to convey his thoughts. The movie is set in three vastly different time spaces: 16th century Spain, present day America, and 2500 AD space. The characters, though different, are played by the same two leads: Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Jackman plays a man who is constantly on the search for the eternal Tree of Life, in some way or another to prolong the life or love between he and Weisz. A visual and orchestral treat, Aronofsky weaves an intricate and religious tale off of an old myth. After finishing the movie, it was hard to shake off the feeling that I hadn’t just witnessed visual poetry. It’s difficult to explain what the film was truly about and though I have my theories, I suggest you check this film out. It’s highly artistic, intelligent, beautiful, and contains Jackman’s best screen performance to date.

Movie #117 Casino

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 12:33 AM

Movie #117 Casino

(1995, US, d. Martin Scorcese)

Coming five years after the release of Goodfellas, Casino is as much an original film as it is a revisitation of thematic content, stylistic design, and character composition of the former. And therein lies the biggest problem with the film: I couldn’t help but get over the fact that everything that was done was done better in Goodfellas. The two main leads are played by the same actors and they both play less extreme versions of the characters they did in 1990. Joe Pesci’s voiceover introduction is actually line by line the exact one given to him in Goodfellas. Robert De Niro now plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein – still an understanding nice guy, but nevertheless significantly less intimidating. Employing the same formal documentary techniques as he did half decade earlier, Scorcese is still at his best in this complex crime drama about trust and the mob. However, there seemed more of a need to employ those techniques in the earlier film. The greatest achievement a film can accomplish, in my opinion, is when the style of the film is adopted to the theme of the piece. In Goodfellas, there was a need to adopt the style so as to separate the audience from the actions onscreen but here I didn’t sense that as much. The jump cuts, freeze frames, sudden voiceovers, and final scene camera stare all embellished the look of the movie but Goodfellas did that and then some. And granted they are about slightly different things, they both involve themselves in issues of trust and family. Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorcese, both who wrote both screenplays together, probably constructed this film as a companion piece with the same narrative structure following the sudden rise and slow, dramatic fall of its protagonists. And while I (obviously) think it wasn’t as good as their previous collaboration, Casino is still a very intriguing and driven film about the Las Vegas world and the secrets the desert around it holds. If you have three hours and a lot of testosterone to spare, check this out.

Movie #116 The House of the Devil

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Movie #116 The House of the Devil

(2009, US, d. Ti West)

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand all I can see is a suspenseful but repetitive movie with no use for its plot. On the other hand I see a movie that was constructed very specifically as an homage to the horror films of the early 1980’s. Every part of the movie – from the casting decisions to cinematography to costume designs to props to script to direction to marketing- is borrowed straight from aspects of late 70’s/early 80’s horror films. Now I’m not going to act like I’ve seen a lot of the movies they are paying respect to, but from the ones I have seen, I do believe they were better. It came off to me like West just wanted to rush through the screenplay writing process so he get could get started on actual production. Sure a lot of moments from the film reminded me of those from earlier ones but they just weren’t interesting enough. And rather than employing old pop culture to bring out nostalgia, it felt like a technique to just highlight the brilliance of its own filmmaking. And no is allowed to do that but Tarantino. But then again, as I reread each sentence I wrote thus far, I feel like I am being too harsh. The fact is they paid homage to these old films quite well. From a technical aspect, I would buy this movie. But from a story perspective (which is why I think it’s so hard to separate since I am considering story and homage the same thing), it’s not that hot.

Movie #115 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 8:19 PM

Movie #115 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

(2007, France, d. Julian Schnabel)

My initial reaction after seeing this film was disappointment because I had heard so much about it. But then after chewing on that for a couple days (yes my review is quite late), I came to the conclusion that this movie really was a gem in the anthology of French film. It tells the true story of then Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby and his sudden onset of the rare “locked-in syndome”. He becomes paralyzed from head to toe and must rely only on the blinking of his eyes to communicate. The first part of the film (a beautiful stylistic choice) is conducted in first-person, which means we see what he sees. When Bauby blinks, the camera goes black. It’s sort of an unsettling experience especially as Bauby’s discovery as to what happened to him also becomes our discovery. It is only when he begins to be reminded of certain keys to his past (Elle, the mother of his kids, his lover, his kids, his friends, etc…) that Schnabel adopts a third-person perspective. When Bauby finally stops pitying himself (which is fairly fast) he realizes the only two things left unparalyzed are his mind and imagination. From there he begins to use that imagination and creativity to color the world around him and paint a portrait of a place where he is still OK. During his trials, Bauby’s beautiful and dedicated speech therapist develops a system of his being able to convey his thoughts using only his eyes. She lists off the most common letters in order and he blinks when he hears the right one. He writes his autobiography like this and the title of that autobiography can’t help but make me think of Plato’s views on love. Love, according to Plato, can either “lift me up or bring me down”. The title of the autobiography: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Filled with a mesmerizing performance from the always dependable Mathieu Amalric, the film is not only a showcase to the incredible will of Jean-Dominique Bauby but also to the level of craft Julian Schnabel brings to the table.

Movie #114 Shadows

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Movie #114 Shadows

(1959, US, d. John Cassavetes)

This is not a film for the regular movie-goer, because placing myself in those shoes, I would consider this film to be quite boring. I must say that most of my enjoyment of this film came after I read the Criterion Collection packet. This was my first venture into a Cassavetes film and to be honest, I was nervous that I wasn’t going to like him. Shadows was made very interestingly: Rather than beginning with a regular script as most movies do, Cassavetes instead employed a sort of quasi-improvisational style to the piece. He held rehearsals with amateur actors and told them to use their characters to create a story about modern urban life. What it turned out to be was, in my opinion, one of the most insightful and genuine portraits of people, in general. It must have no doubt stemmed from his own career as an actor, but the amount of trust and dependance he places on the actors is immense. His theory is that the audience does not care for theatrics or technical brilliance. Rather they only care about characters and that’s what he tries to highlight in his films. Granted the 21st century has a put a small damper on his theory as every recent summer has contained its fair share of VFX-heavy and stylized pictures with zero character development, I think what he refers to are good films, not movies that make money. And good films always begin with good characters.

Movie #113 Knight and Day

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2011 at 11:37 PM

Movie #113 Knight and Day

(2010, US, d. James Mangold)

Why do people hate Tom Cruise? Can’t we just get over what he believes? Or how he acted one afternoon in 2004? Can’t we just appreciate him for what he is: an actor. And a pretty good one, too. I’ll admit it: Tom Cruise is my favorite actor. Do I think he’s the most talented? No. But what I think he brings to the table is a commitment, charm, enthusiasm, and star quality unrivaled by the professional actors around him. Knight and Day, though, was a flop even before it hit theaters. Surveys and pre-screenings all deemed the film a sure-to-be failure and according to these average Joe pundits the biggest liability: it’s star, Tom Cruise. Sure, going in to the film I am biased, but it’s hard for me to understand why everyone seems so attached to find flaws in this film. It’s pretty obvious to me in the first 4 minutes that this film does not even take itself seriously. It’s part fantasy. In the first half hour we see Cruise kill everyone aboard a plane, flirt with a girl, crash land a plane in the middle of an Appalachian farm, hijack a police motorbike, jump over a freeway ramp, blow up cars holding on to the roof of a terribly driven car while flirting with a girl, and jumping on-ramp to on-ramp as he saves the day. Yet everyone still seems to comment on the film’s unrealism. If you take this film for what it’s worth, I think it is one of the best rides of 2010. It’s funny, action-packed, and filled to the brim with moments of Cruise showing off all his superstar glamor. What’s not to love?

P.S. Mission Impossible 4 hits theaters December 16, 2011.

Movie #112 Get Him to the Greek

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Movie #112 Get Him to the Greek

(2010, US, d. Nicholas Stoller)

Here’s the thing with Judd Apatow movies. They’re all funny but no one can ever agree upon which one is the funniest. A lot of people think Knocked Up is his best, or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or Superbad is his best. There are even a few people who think it’s Funny People. I didn’t think Get Him to the Greek was all that great. Sure it was funny, but I thought it relied on the crude far more than its predecessors. Granted I should have expected this seeing as the star plays the sex-addicted and drug-addicted rock star as he did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But the film also lacked the same heart as the latter did. Apatow’s movies have always been praised because at the end of the day, they knew what they were about and they had their heart in the right place. But the ending for this film felt just a little contrived. But that said, I still thought this movie was hilarious. Aziz Ansari, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Jonah Hill all made the movie for me.

Movie #111 The Thomas Crown Affair

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Movie #111 The Thomas Crown Affair

(1968, US, d. Norman Jewison)

I don’t really know what to think of this one. I went in expecting a heist film but was instead given a rather tedious suspense film. Perhaps I’m calling it tedious because I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but for all effective purposes, I enjoyed the 1999 remake of this film much much more. Parts of this film were executed with lots of style. The opening bank heist, overseen by the rich Thomas Crown (played by Steve McQueen) for instance that implemented the (obviously) new split-screen editing style. Or the chess match between Crown and his lover/enemy Vicky (played by Faye Dunaway). But overall it was the lack of chemistry and intrigue that sank this film for me. In a lot of ways it reminded me both of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and the Jolie/Depp thriller The Tourist. This film’s opening heist is heavily borrowed from the former – people who barely know each other having to work on a ticking clock to conduct a heist, which throughout the film’s events begin to break down again. It reminded me of the latter in the sense that I just didn’t care. Like Jolie and Depp, there was no chemistry between the individually lovable McQueen and Dunaway. Second, the music choices were completely off and though usually I wouldn’t care as much, one of the film’s selling points is how modern and glamorous it was. The music needed to match that tone. Finally, it was just plain boring. Thomas Crown’s lifestyle is supposed to fast and exciting and though the film does include sequences where he just shows off his wealth, these sequences are about 5 minutes longer than they should be.Every scene dragged and though I wasn’t looking at my figurative watch every second, I did wonder how much longer the movie was going to take.

Movie #110 The American

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Movie #110 The American

(2010, US, d. Anton Corbijn)

Roger Ebert compared this film to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai in almost every sentence of his review. I read the review before I saw the film but now I wonder if I would have drawn the same conclusions myself since the similarities were at times painfully obvious. I’m not saying this was a remake or anything, but in a strange world, this could be considered a sort of extended character homage. If you’ve seen Le Samourai, you know what I mean when I say don’t expect to be thrilled out of your seat. Just like that, The American is not at all what it advertises itself to be: it is not really a thriller as it is an exploration of the atmosphere a few thrilling events will take place in. George Clooney plays Jack or Edward (we never find out which one is real, if one of them even is), an assassin and arms maker on the run after a startling (or disturbing) opening scene where snipers shoot at him and his lover in the middle of a European tundra. He trusts no one, trusts nothing, and constantly conducts his lifestyle in his own methodical and professional style. Borrowing a thought from Ebert, like any samourai, The American’s weakness is love, which Clooney finds in a beautiful prostitute. The American doesn’t really on theatrical effects to convey its message. On the contrary, most regular movie-goers would find this film boring. I would disagree. The beauty and smart of the film lies in the fact that anything can change at any moment. And things do change. If you’re paying close attention to the film, you’ll feel the tension rise as a single character (the prostitute Clara) calls Clooney by a name that causes a distrust throghout the whole film. But Clooney never acts like anything is getting to him. He is as stoic as Alain Delon and just as professional, too. By the end of the film, you can’t help but wonder whose story we were watching. We’ve observed Clooney, but realize at the end that we know nothing about him. What brought him here? Who was he before this? These are questions that were never answered, but also for which the answers were never clued. We can only wonder. Though close to 2 hours in its running time, The American is one of 2010’s best films, but not at all for what it is advertised to be.

Movie #109 Salt

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 7:08 AM

Movie #109 Salt

(2010, US, d. Phillip Noyce)

Ludicrous at every single moment of the film, it would seem as if this Angelina Jolie vehicle were doomed from the get-go. However, as fate would have it, I thought this movie was freaking awesome. It’s a nice relief to see movies that don’t rely on visual effects to conduct their action sequences. It’s obvious Angelina Jolie performed a lot of the stunts on her own here and they embellished the movie quite well. It borrowed a lot from the “Bourne” series but I thought they did that well, especially with the car chases. And the best part of the movie? It ends just when you want to see more. I’m not even kidding when I say I can’t wait for the sequel. Yes, the movie is stupid. Yes, there are at least 75 minor to major plot holes. Yes the bad guys do actually want to “destroy America”, kill the Russian president, assassinate the US President, and seize control of all American atomic bombs in one movie. But Angelina Jolie is still hot. And there’s nothing a bad guy can do to that.