Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movie #194 Mesrine: Killer Instinct

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 5:03 AM

Movie #194 Mesrine: Killer Instinct

(2008, France, d. Jean-Francois Richet)

Killer Instinct is the first part of a two-part gangster epic about notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine, based on an autobiography of the same name. Vincent Cassel plays Mesrine, the army-man turned public figure/gangster. Cassel plays Mesrine to a tee. He plays the role with the usual intensity of any Cassel performance, but here he manages to get the audience to sympathize with him. In a similar way we viewed Bonnie and Clyde from Bonnie & Clyde, for most of the film we are on Cassel’s side – not as much watching with awe as we are rooting for him to succeed. So in that way, it is more similar to the Arthur Penn film than it is to Scorcese’s earlier works, especially Goodfellas. We are first introduced to Mesrine as an army officer aiding in “forceful interrogations” during the French-Algerian War during the early 60’s. By the time he has tasted his first sense of power (coming from the shooting of an unarmed captive in the face), he will never be the same. Regular work doesn’t please him, so when his cousin asks him to help in some more “under the table” jobs, he accepts. From there, we watch as Mesrine climbs the ladders – in a sense. When he feels like he has learned enough, instead of trying to take over anything, he instead goes solo – another unique distinction from classic gangster film traits. He fails his marriage with his first wife – the only person he will probably genuinely love in the film (and in real life, I guess). From the objective perspective, Mesrine was a terrible person. When we finally come to think about how many people have been killed in the film, it’s ridiculous. But that’s also – purposively – the end of the film. Promising a part 2, Mesrine closes with a bang. Cassel shows no restraint as the fame-driven, attention-seeking “public enemy number one”. His fearless performance dictates the fearless Mesrine – not the other way around. At times a little episodic, in hindsight, I think the screenwriters were just trying to make a genuine effort to depict the man’s life honestly. I think it’s long due that Cassel gets his credit in mainstream Hollywood culture.

Movie #193 From One Film to Another

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 3:27 AM

Movie #193 From One Film to Another

(201-, France, d. Claude Lelouch)

Lelouch got me thinking early on in the film. In this autobiographical documentary, renowned art filmmaker Claude Lelouch recounts an experience he had in his teens “behind the Iron Curtain”. Observing the production of a Soviet film, he asked himself the question, “Who is the primary actor in a film? Is it the person or is it the camera?”. He came to his own theory that it was the camera, and to be honest, it’s a theory that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. I won’t go into the specifics of my own thoughts, but the point is that Lelouch began to view films differently and shoot them differently. This documentary basically follows the professional career of Lelouch from his teens to the present day. Directing countless films, we watch as Lelouch makes various decisions on set and narrate his own psychological states during the making. Though not as dense as I would have hoped it would be – especially for someone with his resume – From One Film to Another is interesting… enough: It kept the large audience’s attention the whole time. I find it difficult to write about this film too deeply particularly because it is not as profound or even thought-provoking as I would have hoped it would be. But the best thing about the film was that single nugget it provided me – the filmmaker. If the camera is the main actor, then what are the implications? Should the camera move according to the story? Does it, too, experience an arc? So, on a personal note, I loved the film. Though I think any casual viewer would try to look for more interesting forms of entertainment.

Movie #192 Dangerous Liasons

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 3:09 AM

Movie #192 Dangerous Liasons 

(1988, US, d. Stephen Frears)

About a quarter of the way through this film, I looked over at my friend I was watching the movie with and voiced my sudden realization. “This movie is all about a guy who wants to screw people”. Films set in 18th century England or France are often very difficult to get into, but I didn’t find that was the case with Liasons. In fact, it yanks you into the Shakespearean-like plot almost instantaneously. I won’t get into character names, because frankly, it would be just as confusing to you as it still is to me. John Malkovich, in a rare turn, plays the lead. More than that, he plays a “Casanova” of sorts – a player. A guy who will literally do anything to get into bed with as many women as possible. We are introduced to his character’s unrelenting nature early on. His want: to sleep with the strongest-willed Christian woman – not to make her denounce her views, but to watch as she goes against every single belief of hers to satisfy her own new lustful desires. Michelle Pfeiffer plays this Christian woman, and though I won’t mention whether or not Malkovich does, in fact, end up seducing her, she is by no means his only venture. At the same time, Malkovich pursues the engaged Uma Thurman, the elderly Glenn Close, and a bunch of extras. For some reason, we still find a way to sympathize with his character. Perhaps, it’s a male thing. Perhaps not. But maybe the Oscar-winning screenplay speaks for itself. Funny, smart, steamy, and romantic (to borrow a few Netflix keywords), Dangerous Liasons is surprisingly interesting. Though the arc at the end seems a little contrived and the last few scenes seem to be added just to gift-wrap the whole package, the movie does stand on its own despite it. It is a double-sided and a realistic look at the active life of a bachelor. Forget the stupid romantic-comedy flaws and set-ups. This movie feels legitimate when it asks the audience if it is, in fact, better to pursue a single life? Is it more fulfilling? But at what cost? Glenn Close’s character aptly states it in the beginning. To reveal that quote would be a tad unfair, so I won’t. Remade into the more popular Cruel Intentions, the film examines sex not as a goal, but as an arena for a battle of wits – provided wonderfully by Malkovich and Close.

Movie #191 Up

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 2:22 AM

Movie #191 Up

(2009, US, d. Pete Docter)

Pixar can’t really go wrong in this Movie a Day Challenge. The most consistent production company of all time (granted they only have ten or a few more films), Up is just another leap in the right direction. Containing some darker, melodramatic themes as compared to their previous works, this film is about an elderly man named Carl who decides he has nothing left to lose. So he does the one thing he’s never been able to do: go on an adventure for his deceased wife, whose one dream in life was to take a trip to a certain spot in South America. I know most of us have seen the film, but for the few people who haven’t, I don’t want to spoil too much. Up is considered by many to be the best Pixar film ever made. Though I would disagree, the claim does have strong merit. The first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, it’s a film with heart and soul, clever dialogue, and beautiful arcs. It does not cheat the audience to tears, but caresses them naturally. For proof of this, watch the first 8 minutes, one of the best montages in film history. The laughs come easy, especially for children, who will find a lot to gawk at in this colorful and adventurous ride through South America. Adults, however, can analyze this tormented character. Here is a man who has lost everything. His wife, his house, his livelihood, and his respect. Here is a man who at first comes off selfish, but is anything but that. More than anything, Up is a journey into the heart of this man – to discover what he loves and who he loves. It is a journey, aided by a young Boy Scout in a quest for a final badge on his vest, to rediscover that love. One of the most touching pictures in the last decade, don’t underestimate Up by its genre or target audience. It is as much of an adult film as it is a children’s one. But the best thing about it is that it doesn’t use sly, crude jokes to remind the audience it is for older people, too. It accomplishes this, rather, through character. And that is one rare feat for the animated film.

Movie #190 Zombieland

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Movie #190 Zombieland

(2009, US, d. Ruben Fleischer)

The highest grossing zombie film to date, Zombieland is funny, smart, and surprisingly, visually stimulating. It starts off with a bang. Narrated by Jesse Eisenberg, the opening sequence depicts certain rules his character has developed ever since the zombie apocalypse began. For example, always wear a seatbelt, never be the hero, cardio, etc The rules are numerous, but it is an effective screenwriting technique to explain the longevity of his weak and pathetic character. Woody Harrelson provides a great turn as “Tallahasee” (no one here provides their real name), a man who will let hell break lose to find some twinkies. As the two strike up a relationship, they meet “Wichita” and “Little Rock” (played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, respectively). They get into some shenanigans, form a group, meet Bill Murray, and fend for their lives. It’s a rather simplistic, somewhat episodic film, but it really moves forward through the chemistry of the characters and the wit of the dialogue. Eisenberg, who would go on to star in one of the best films of the decade (I am, of course, referring to The Social Network), is his usual self here – a better version of Michael Cera. Stone, who would also later provide the star-making performance in Easy A, is quite good here. Rumor has it Zombieland 2 is in the works. They better realize they should nail it in the writing. Because that’s where everything goes right here.

Movie #189 Outbreak

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Movie #189 Outbreak

(1995, US, d. Wolfgang Petersen)

Featuring an all-star cast, Outbreak is one hell of a scary film. For some reason, over the years I’ve realized my biggest fear is global disasters – basically, anything that has the potential to cripple large societies of people (obviously I would have to be involved). Outbreak does a great job of capitalizing on this fear of mine as well as a fear shared by millions of first-world citizens: that somewhere, deep in the middle of Africa exists a lethal virus capable of mutilating hard-working American citizens and bringing the safety and well-being of the country to a halt. Petersen’s film is an exceptional action-thriller. Edited well and acted magnificently (what else do you expect when you put Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, and Cuba Gooding Jr in the same room?), Outbreak is a film that also works well despite its sometimes unnecessary action-movie stunts. But what makes this film really work is not the action, but the characters. The film’s best asset is that it knows the movie is not about the virus but those fighting for it. Every character here feels real and feels three dimensional. A good venue for Petersen to show off the grandiose “schematics” he usually lays down in his films (minus the absolutely atrocious remake of Poseidon), Outbreak is not the movie that usually gets mentioned in any top film of the decade anthology, but in my opinion, deserves to be there. Sometimes horrifying in its depiction of the virus and in its effects, there is a particular sequence in the film that really stands out: Early in the film, we watch the virus travel from person to person in the fictional town of Cedar Creek, California. A kiss, a cough, a laugh and the movies are just a few keywords that highlight a really powerful montage that occurs in the first act. If you’re looking for a mainstream thriller, this one fits the bill.

Movie #188 Enter the Void

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 12:20 AM

Movie #188 Enter the Void

(2009, France, d. Gaspar Noe)

Noe’s previous film Irreversible is an incredibly taut film, and perhaps one of the best films I’ve reviewed in the past year. However, Enter the Void, despite all the positive attention it’s received, is not as good a film as it appears to be. I find it exceptionally difficult to write about Void because it is probably one of the most unique film-watching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. For this, I do suggest viewing the film. I can safely say there has never been a movie like it, tonally and visually. What Noe is able to accomplish emotionally and through editing and camera manipulation is absurd, in a totally good way. He has an incredible knack for impacting viewers with every image of his films and inserting his own, unique voice into every frame. And though I think I hated this film, in that regard, it is one of the better films I’ve seen this year. It is a masterpiece. It is well-thought out, well-acted, wonderfully directed, and most of all – a novel piece of filmmaking – a fresh injection of originality to prove there is still some of that drug going around. And most of all, it is visually relevant. My highest standard for a film is that its visuals clearly relate to the theme of the piece. Most movies never accomplish this. Noe here does so. But let me be clear: I hated the film. It was an effective film, in that it left me feeling completely naked and penetrable. The car ride back from the theaters it showed at in Santa Monica was strangely eerie. I didn’t want to say too much about the film and at the same time, couldn’t keep my mouth shut. What had I just seen? Enter the Void is the story/theory about life after life. When our drug-induced protagonist is shot by police in a restaurant bathroom for dealing, he begins to have an out-of-body experience. Up until his death, the movie was entirely POV – hiding its cuts through the character’s blinking of eyes. After his death, the camera steps back and views all the moments leading up to the killing from behind his head. From there, the Camera moves upward – as if from the skies, and watches the lives of everyone around the protagonist after the death. Is what we are watching real? Or is it simply a sign of DMT released upon death that causes one to hallucinate. In any regard, Enter the Void is a techno-infused spiritual journey to hell. Is it a story of reincarnation? Of redemption? Of hope? Or of chaos? I can’t answer that. And now that I’m writing this, it does come off like I enjoyed the film. But I hope you will excuse me this once in simply saying that I didn’t. Enter the Void is a masterwork – and strangely enough, feels like it is taking the same critical path as 2001: A Space Odyssey did when it came out. Perhaps this is the next 2001. I would be lying to you if I said that thought didn’t cross my mind a hundred times in the car ride back. Perhaps, the next time I speak of this film I will be raving about it. But the fact is, I didn’t like it. The disgustingly prolonged sex scenes, painfully realistic abortion sequences, strong incestual undercurrents and truly horrifying (albeit masterful) sound design simply proved too overwhelming for me. Perhaps that was the reason. But please, check this film out. At least watch the opening credits.

Movie #187 The Other Guys

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2011 at 11:57 PM

Movie #187 The Other Guys

(2010, US, d. Adam McKay)

I saw The Other Guys in theaters when it first came out, and though the film was a lot funnier the second time around, I think it was due to my significantly lowered expectations. Though McKay and Ferrell are a great team, it is not the casting here that it is the problem. And to be honest, the script isn’t even all that bad. Parts of it – including the life and untimely deaths of two cops (played wonderfully by Dwayne Johnson and Sam Jackson) are pure genius. It is the editing here that is the problem. Every set-up is botched, every punchline ruined, and every action scene cut way, way, way too much. I understand that the film is an action-comedy, but action-comedies need good action as well. The shots were all there, but editor Brent White, who has worked wonders on most of Apatow’s stuff and the previous McKay film Step Brothers, just falls apart here. The funniest joke of the film – the last time we see Johnson and Jackson’s police characters – was more jarring than hilarious. It was only funny thinking back on it, and that delayed reaction is due to its faulty editing. Apart from the editing, The Other Guys, despite its strangely positive reviews, doesn’t compare with many recent comedies. I chuckled a lot, sure, but that’s not really any sort of standard for a movie. Wahlberg, as usual, is only as good as the movie he’s in: Here, he is merely OK playing the perpetually angry cop who just wants to kick some ass. The relationship between Ferrell and Wahlberg is good, but it lacks the magical chemistry that a comedy needs to be considered great. Step Brothers had it. The Hangover had it. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had it. But The Other Guys only shows signs of possibly having it. In conclusion, a decent film, but nothing to write home about.

And can anyone explain to me what was going on with those ending credits?

Movie #186 Hot Tub Time Machine

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 at 3:23 AM

Movie #186 Hot Tub Time Machine

(2010, US, d. Steve Pink)

Steve Pink’s Hot Tub Time Machine is a rather smart exercise at the ridiculous and the raunchy. For me, the film is a lot smarter than it comes off to be. Rather than focusing on the BS plot or mechanics or narrative structure, the writers here have purposively disregarded everything and instead just try to come up with gag after gag – a decision that wasn’t made in last week’s comedy Bridesmaids. And though the characters are a little one-dimensional and their arcs are conventional, it’s the stupid crap they say here that sets them apart. Dumb and proud of it, Hot Tub Time Machine is actually quite an enjoyable film, something I wouldn’t say of many recent comedies. The biggest problem with the film, though, is the casting. Pink’s film could easily have been the next Hangover – the only problem is that everyone in it isn’t really that funny. Even Craig Robinson (Darrell from The Office), who has his moments, is just OK. Rob Corddry is your typical raunchy idiot, but I would have much preferred the character to be played by someone less conspicuous and self-aware about it – perhaps a Todd Packer (another Office reference). I didn’t care about the kid, and John Cusack is probably the worst person to put in this movie. He’s supposed to be the lovable, grounded lead character – not the quiet, pathetic person he came off as. If Pink were going for that, he should have just cast Matthew Perry for another mystical and magical learning adventure through time and space. It’s 17 Again and again. And let’s give the award for worst guest performance to Chevy Chase. I cringed every time the Community funny-man spoke. In fact, the only person in the film who stood out among the mediocrity is the long forgotten Crispin Glover, who gives a great turn as an armless bellhop. But apart from all this, Time Machine does work in the laughs. Though nothing compared to The Hangover or anything Apatow puts out these days, Time Machine, ironically enough, will be soon be forgotten, but if you’re in the mood, isn’t a terrible pick.

Movie #185 Company

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2011 at 9:58 PM

Movie #185 Company

(2002, India, d. Ram Gopal Varma)

“What. Was. That” read a Facebook status update of a classmate of mine after the screening of this film in “History of International Cinema”. It wasn’t a rare reaction; in fact, most of the people I spoke to were raving over the ridiculousness of the entire thing. However, when it comes to Indian cinema, there are always two ways of looking at it: from a Western perspective and from an Indian perspective. One has to keep in mind that mainstream Indian films aren’t being catered to mainstream Americans (at least when this film was made; now it’s shifting a LITTLE). Mainstream Indian audiences aren’t composed of college-educated, thinking audiences. Rather, they are catered to lower classes, who are searching for something much different than realism: escapism. Company, though marketed like an intelligent, underworld crime thriller, should be kept in its original context. It’s the story of Chandu (played by Vivek Oberoi) who – like any anti-hero in a gangster rise-and-fall story – is quickly initiated into a ruthless gang, but falls out afterwards, having to fight his way out. Malik (played by Ajay Devgan) is his don. Viewed in my class as mostly as intitation into Bollywood, this is not a classic film in any genre. It is not purely a crime film for Western audiences (it’s comedic interruptions and brief dance scenes take away from that) nor is is a classic Bollywood film. In fact, to Indian audiences, it was marketed as a smart, underworld crime thriller. I find it especially difficult to critique a film out of a culture I am so used to analyzing – the use of fish-eye lens may be a norm for action sequences across the Pacific, but here it is jarring. The overt use of editing and score fall into the same category. In terms of enjoyment, however, once the audience is able to step back and immerse into the Indian style of filmmaking, there is a lot of cool stuff here. Though Company will never be praised for its originality – it borrows far too much from Goodfellas and Scarface for that – it should be marked as a milestone in Indian cinema. Though not without its mainstream qualities, Company marks one of the first few steps the country has taken to appeal to a more realistic, intelligent, and worldwide audience. As a final note, don’t dismiss director Ram Gopal Varma from this directorial effort. One of India’s premiere auteurs, Varma’s most admirable quality is confidence to experiment with expectations and mainstream style.