Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movie #151 Exit Through the Gift Shop

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Movie #151 Exit Through the Gift Shop

(2010, US/UK, d. Banksy)

This, along with The Cove and Grizzly Man, makes the list of my top 3 favorite documentaries. And though a lot of hype surrounds this film for possibly being a hoax, I personally believe the story is simply too ridiculous and too fantastic to be made up, even by Banksy. It’s hard summarizing the film in a sentence but I’ll try: A “filmmaker” of sorts named Thierry Guetta attempts to make a film about street art and eventually captures the attention of the renowned Banksy, who decides that Guetta is a much more interesting subject and turns the camera on him. It’s a fantastic premise and the movie – which is now Banksy’s movie – becomes about Guetta, how he discovered the street art movement, how he followed then-unknown street artists, how he came to meet Banky, etc.. Capturing street art from its early movement to the present day, Exit Through the Gift Shop contains some truly awesome events captured on camera. For instance, we get to see a (blurred) Banksy place his Guantanamo Bay figure in Disneyland and subsequently have most of Disneyland shut down, we get to see Shepard Fairey at work, and we get to the see the first days of Invader as he placed his art around Paris. But the best thing of all that we get to witness is the overnight fame of Thierry Guetta. After Banksy takes a look at the “documentary” Guetta made, he tells Guetta to go do some small street art of his own, while unbeknownst to Guetta, Bansky would make his own film from Thierry’s footage. What happened next is unbelievable. We literally witness Guetta become a major modern art/street art player overnight. He refinances his home, mortgages, and everything – all to put into this one art show he envisions becoming the biggest in LA. Spending months with a staff creating surprisingly cool pieces, he gets a couple of quotes from Shepard Fairey and Banksy (both of whom felt uncomfortable giving them) and uses them for hype. His show ends up becoming the biggest thing in LA and by the time it’s over, he has made over 1 million dollars. And now the documentary is about something else  – “Is there cheap art?” “Is street art supposed to be studied?” “Is there unfair art?” “Can people actually recognize real art?” “What is art?” Though I haven’t seen the rest of Oscar nominated documentaries, considering the hype this one has, I’d be surprised if the Oscar went to anything else. Guys, please do check this out. Right now.

 

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Movie #150 Legally Blonde

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2011 at 7:36 AM

Movie #150 Legally Blonde

(2001, US, d. Robert Luketic)

It’s weird to praise an actress after a seemingly easy role like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, but I actually think it was quite a challenging role to play. On the surface, she’s your stereotypical sorority blonde. But beneath that, there is a yearning for dignity and respect that she carries throughout the film. Sometimes I can’t find the right words, so here is a better version of what I intended on saying, borrowed from a review of the film posted on the website “Anomolous Material”:

Compelling from start to finish, Witherspoon is a born comedian equally adept at verbal and physical comedy. She delivers her deadpan zingers with precise comic timing and elevates even the lamest lines of dialogue. She manages to be ditsy and goofy in personality, yet all her performances shine with an intelligence, and dignity underneath, making her on-screen transformation all the more believable. The only reason Legally Blonde works is because we are watching an intelligent actress play dumb –She is in on the jokes and laughing with us– and not the other way around, a lesson that Hollywood casting directors don’t seem to ever get.

The movie’s script itself is passable at best, the soundtrack filled with teenage girl songs, and even the talented supporting cast – including Selma Blair, the great Victor Garber, Luke Wilson, and Jennifer Coolidge –  never really settles into their stereotypical characters. The movie is painfully predictable and it is only thanks to Ms. Witherspoon that the cheesy one-liners are funny. Her performance is grounded in reality and filled with so much life you can’t help but cheer for her, for this painfully average story, and for this painfully girly script. And by doing so, it becomes better than average. In fact, as it was declared after its opening weekend, it becomes a sleeper hit.

Movie #149 Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 8:44 AM

Movie #149 Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

(1964, UK/US, d. Stanley Kubrick)

It’s easy to overlook the importance of this film. But Stanley Kubrick’s political satire is anything but ordinary. Considered by many to be among the first political satires, this Cold War examination is a brilliant film that pokes fun at nearly every aspect of the American bureaucratic system as well as the rationale of high-level Americans. Like any Stanley Kubrick film, there are many avenues of analysis and deservedly so, for Mr. Kubrick often put an incomparable amount of intellectual thought and care into his films. On one level, Dr. Strangelove is a response to the apocalyptic fears of the ’50s. Infusing a more humorous tone (contrasted with the similar Sidney Lumet film Fail-Safe), Kubrick points out how ridiculous the whole situation is. Ridiculous and yet still disarmingly fragile. On another level it can be read as a commentary on the relationship between man and machine. As USC Professor Rick Jewell stated, “As machine become more like man, man becomes more like machine”. In fact, the opening titles can be visually compared to a sex act between a fueling jet and the “fuel-ee” jet. On a similar note, the film can be read as an analysis on the male’s relationship to sex. Considering the fact that every name here in the film is one sexual term after another, Kubrick is possibly offering up the theory for the real reason of war: sex. Sex is what drives the male characters in the film (there is only one female), regardless of whether they explicitly state so. After all, it is the reason the characters are able to reach some sort of resolution near the end. But all that aside, Dr. Strangelove is a very funny film. Peter Sellers – playing three different roles – is brilliant, especially as the mysterious, maniacal ex-Nazi Dr. Strangelove. One of the thoughts I had while watching it was how similar it was to Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading, which featured similar themes, plot structure, and lack of any identifiable protagonist. In fact, one can consider it a sort of modern reprisal of the film. But that said, this Kubrick classic is a dense political satire, filled with allegory and humor – a rare feat in movie-making.

Movie #148 I Saw The Devil

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 6:11 AM

Movie #148 I Saw The Devil

(2011, Korea, d. Kim Ji-woon)

After a day of pondering, I still don’t know whether I hated this movie or loved it. A better statement, I don’t think I know whether to ridicule this movie or praise this movie. But before I get started, a couple of forewarnings: this is by far the most violent and gruesome movie I’ve ever seen. I think part of the movie’s perverted enjoyment comes from discovering what wild and inventive way to give pain the filmmakers have in store for the viewers next. Second, not having made my complete decision on the film, the following review may seem a bit paradoxical and hypocritical at times, but bear with me. The first 30 minutes or so of this 2 and a half hour film are beautifully set up. The entire audience was at the edge of their seats or purposively not when they were closing their eyes. But the biggest note here is that the scares weren’t cheap. Korea is home to my favorite national cinema and most of the films produced there in the last two decades just burst with originality and creativity. The first 30 minutes or so demonstrate this. An excellent revenge-flick set-up, I Saw The Devil introduces the viewers to one of the most wonderfully evil villains to grace the silver screen in movie history, and that’s saying a lot. The villain in question is played by Choi Min-Sik (most American viewers will recognize him as the protagonist in the popular Korean Park Chan-Wook film Oldboy – another revenge movie). Though I would have loved to see someone more genial play the devilish serial killer – someone like Song Kang-Ho, one of my favorite actors – do believe when I say I’m not complaining at all – Min-Sik was phenomenal. In one of the opening scenes alone, he murders a lonely woman on the road, beats her with a hammer, cuts up her body, beheads her with a guillotine, disposes of the body, and then sits on his bed and jams on the guitar. The guy is sadistic, perverted, inhumane, and literally without ANY redeemable quality. In fact, the only human quality he ever displays is shame but I think Satan can show that at times as well. One of the victims’ husband is a police officer, who decides to track down the killer. Without giving too much away, he feels like simple revenge wouldn’t suffice, considering the amount of damage the killer has inflicted on all his victims. So what he does is hurt him to the point of near-death, let him heal, hurt him again, let him heal, hurt, heal, etc.. The movie feels episodic in this sense. Every time you feel like the film is over, the protagonist lets Min-Sik go. It almost feels like an NC-17 version of the Road Runner. However, there are downfalls and the first is the violence its advertised for. While the violence was creative in its own sense, after the first 30 minutes, it was so excessive that it started becoming comical. I don’t know whether that laughter was due to being uncomfortable or it was the only way to express the disgust we were viewing, but everyone was cracking up. I don’t know if this was the intention of the filmmakers – to point out the ridiculous nature of revenge by highlighting the grotesque nature of it. By combining elements of satire and severe violence, we are forced to become objective viewers, not caught up in the action but rather just witnesses of it. The only downfall to this message: it was done before in the Park Chan-wook’s famous revenge trilogy. I could easily see this movie being labeled as “stupid” but I think there was an actual point to the film  – I don’t know if it was muddled up in the blood and crap and human meat food though (literally, they show those too). To add to the dilemma, both of the actors turn in phenomenal performances. Lee Byung-Hun and Choi Min-Sik are incredible, though again, I don’t know if the material was up to their level. The fight sequences (one in particular involving a moving car and a maniacal Min-Sik) are executed to a tee but the biggest question I’m still asking is “Does the movie deserve itself?” I don’t know if I’ll find that answer, but for now, if you can stomach the movie, check it out. It hits theaters soon.

Movie #147 Tootsie

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2011 at 2:15 AM

Movie #147 Tootsie

(1982, US, d. Sydney Pollock)

Often cited as an example in introductory screenwriting classes, Tootsie is a fine-tuned script executed to near perfection. In my opinion, this is one of the funniest movies ever made, just behind My Cousin Vinny, The Hangover, and a few other classics. It’s about an actor with an attitude (a recipe for disaster) named Michael Dorsey (played by Dustin Hoffman) who after being blacklisted by nearly every producer in New York City, decides to cross dress as a snarky middle-aged woman named Tootsie to get a part on a soap opera. Tootsie ends up becoming a national sensation, falls in love with another actress on set, is pursued by multiple men, etc… It’s a great set up but what’s even better is that every character is clear in his or her wants and needs. It’s my theory that no comedic joke will ever fall flat in a movie if the character who says the line is the only one in the entire film who can say it. Such is the case with this film. From Bill Murray’s artsy writer’s ego to the ancient but horny as ever Dr. John Van Horn to the completely emotionally unstable Sandy Lester to every other character in the film – every piece of dialogue belongs to only one person. Holstered by a very strong performance by Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie is the kind of film writers rave about, and rightfully so. It’s stuffed to the brim with great one-liners, situations, and revelations. It’s old age will prevent a lot of younger viewers to check this out, but apart from the ridiculous 80’s soundtrack, I suggest you watch this film. It’s really something.

Movie #146 The Karate Kid

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 3:22 AM

Movie #146 The Karate Kid

(2010, US/China, d. Harald Zwart)

I don’t know if it’s me going in with low expectations or the fact that I watched this at the perfect time, but this movie is really good. And I’m not just talking about in the crowd-pleasing sense, because most sports movies leave you with some sort of positive feeling. But the chemistry of all the elements in the film work so well that this film stands not in the shadow of its iconic predecessor, but completely on its own. Unlike most remakes, which almost rely on the originals for jokes or even support, this film might as well been called The Kung Fu Kid (which it was in China – those picky bastards) and started its own franchise. For example, most people know what I’m talking about when I say “Wax on, wax off”. However, instead of including that legendary sequence, the writers instead create their own similar experience, and that without giving too much away, involves a great payoff and a black jacket. Sold more as a vehicle for its up and coming young star Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith – you’ve probably heard of him), it’s very pleasantly surprising to see that the kid’s got talent. Not only that, he actually possesses something only a few major Hollywood performers possess today: presence. Though at the end of the film, while  it’s still a kid trying to evoke emotion and fall in love on cue (the only downside to the movie), no one should deny Smith has a presence that even overshadows his wonderful veteran screen parter, Jackie Chan. The two have such on-screen chemistry, it really grounds the movie in its believable characters and makes it fun and enjoyable to watch. And it’s nice to see Mr. Chan pull out his acting chops. I know for awhile, especially on press junkets, he’s been saying he wants to cry and do a drama, so I think this was a great compromise. Boosted by an energetic soundtrack, the biggest praise I can say for this film is that it deserves every scene. Though nearly 2 and 1/2 hours in its running time, no montage, no dramatic encounter, and no fight scene felt artificially placed in. Sequels are never good. I don’t expect this one’s to be. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited.

Movie #145 Atonement

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 10:58 PM

Movie #145 Atonement

(2007, US/UK, d. Joe Wright)

I think period pieces are overrated. A lot of the times, you choose 40’s England as a setting, get some great actors, put them in old clothes, have them deliver tense lines in a rich and upper-class dialect, and throw an artsy title in there and voila: an Academy Award nominated picture. But Atonement is different. It’s one of those period pieces that carries tension so well that you forget you’re watching dated events. It infuses “boring” upper-class antics with a non-linear style that carries throughout the film and constantly keeps you on your toes. Though the acting is good, it’s the direction here that really stands out. Joe Wright’s ultimate vision for Ian McEwan’s novel is inspired: it brings a life to the age-old story of the classic romance with a stylistic flair. There’s a 8 1/2 minute long-shot that I remember in particular. Involving 1000 real extras, no CGI, the camera follows Robbie (James McAvoy) as he walks through the aftermath of Dunkirk. A superbly rehearsed scene, when you watch this shot, your jaw will drop. I love long shots but they take a ton of work. The amount of work this must have taken is unimaginable. But that all said, there are two real stars of this film. The first is cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Probably the best photographed film of the year, the images alone express the entire emotion of the scene without a single piece of dialogue uttered. There are two distinct styles of the piece: the pre-war scenes and the war scenes. Both have a very unique and jaw-droppingly haunting look to it that even when compared to Robert Elswit’s There Will Be Blood, it’s a shame this film didn’t take the Oscar. Finally, Saoirse Ronan: the confused 12-year old who sets the entire movie in motion. Nominated for an Oscar, Ronan’s performance is touching, scary, and innocent all in one – she’s evil, but she’s an angel at the same time. And Ronan gets that across wonderfully. Guys, rent this movie. Now.

Movie #144 I’m Still Here

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 10:38 PM

Movie #144 I’m Still Here

(2010, US, d. Casey Afleck)

It would have been different if anyone took it seriously. It would have been SO different. But the problem of the movie doesn’t lie with the movie. It lies with us: the viewer, the entertained, the follower of gossip, the critic of stardom. If I had taken Joaquin Phoenix’s random change of career seriously, if I had taken his crazy antics seriously, and if I had taken that enormous beard seriously that – as wonderfully stated by Natalie Portman – made him look like “an Hasidic jew in a meth lab”, then maybe this movie would have done its job. But unfortunately, I didn’t. But for as much negative press this film garnered, I actually found a lot of redeeming factors about it. I didn’t get the whole aspect of the film, that according to its filmmakers, “explored celebrity, and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves”, but as an experience in general, I’m glad I watched this. I actually found it quite funny. There are parts that are disgusting and visceral, but even those are embroidered with a sense of satire. Phoenix, in my opinion, deserved to be at least included the awards circuit this year for having transformed himself for so long into this strange, strange, little man. I’m not going to try and convince people this film was any good though because frankly, it’s very easy to understand why one wouldn’t have liked it: A lot of the movie relies on the audience having the feeling that the events on the screen are real, and if that’s ruined, then there’s really not much left.

Movie #143 About Schmidt

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Movie #143 About Schmidt

(2002, US, d. Alexander Payne)

This movie made me lose faith in America – rather an American way of life. I’ve always had a certain strong hatred towards an aspect of American life and this film finally put the right words in my mouth. Here, Alexander Payne poetically brings to the screen a critique of the “American Formality”. Every piece of dialogue here is manufactured. Every character is manufactured. Every action is manufactured. It’s no wonder then why Warren Schmidt (played by Jack Nicholson) is a sad, sad old man who feels as if he’s never accomplished anything worthwhile in his life; never experienced anything real. At the opening of the film, he is retiring from his job, being replaced by a young hotshot. The hotshot’s speech is manufactured to a tee. The relationship between Warren and his daughter on the eve of her wedding is so manufactured it hurts. Even the relationship between Warren and his sponsored African child who he never meets is manufactured. Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne paint a picture of the ultimate American tragedy: the deconstruction of the American relationship. Not created by dramatic encounters or chance events, it is rather deconstructed by a lack of it. Why are we sad? Why do lonely people feel miserable? About Schmidt attempts to answer that question: it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we are programmed and taught to care the totally wrong way. And we are taught to respond to that faux care in the totally wrong way. And everybody goes through their life without having learned anything, and without having felt something. Thrown in this mess is Jack Nicholson, who manages to make a pathetic old man sympathetic. On paper, it would seem as if his character had no soul – no force but a loss of feeling. But Nicholson puts a loveability in this guy – something I don’t think we would have seen from anyone else. It’s hard to care for a meaningless person, because at the end of the day, Schmidt is one of those people. But Nicholson makes him unique. And what Payne as a director does beautifully is photograph America in contrast with his thematic content. Instead of picturing America as a bleak place, he photographs it with a sense of wonder and a sense of intimidating marvel. It is not a place that is messed up, it is a place where we have  messed up. Not totally, but in the way we sometimes behave. It makes me sad to feel this way but as much as I love the American way of life, it is flawed. But, as Payne would depict, there is obviously hope.

Movie #142 Notting Hill

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Movie #142 Notting Hill

(1999, UK, d. Roger Michell)

I didn’t feel like watching something noteworthy today. So I paid half-attention and settled on Notting Hill, a somewhat British romantic comedy with all the signs of having been made in the 90’s. The story is about a shopkeeper (played by Hugh Grant) who begins a romantic relationship with a famous actress (played by Julia Roberts). Thankfully, the British comedy that is present saves the movie from being totally unfunny. In fact, the humor not only saves the movie, but places it above most American rom-com material. Unfortunately, the other half still tries to cater to American audiences and doing so pitfalls the movie into a number of American cliches as well. On another note, I think Julia Roberts is fantastic in most movies but I can’t really stand her in this one. Her famous persona tries to come off as quiet and shy but in the film, seems bored and pathetic. Hugh Grant is Hugh Grant and everybody loves that. And despite all its cheesiness, with the quirky and hilarious supporting characters and foreseeable paradigm shifts, it does manage to be endearing.