Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movie #228 The Hangover: Part II

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2011 at 11:18 PM

Movie #228 The Hangover: Part II

(2011, US, d. Todd Phillips)

Sequel to one of the funniest films ever made (The Hangover), The Hangover: Part II is also one of those films that can be described in just a few words: worst movie of 2011. I’m serious. It’s one thing to make a bad movie; it’s another completely different thing to make a lazy movie. This film crosses no new boundaries (except for a geographical one) and enters no new terrain compared to the last one. Every joke is recycled, every line re-used, every bit as uninspired as the last. When you look at it as a whole, it’s one giant piece of garbage that literally relies on the success and humor of the original movie to land every joke in the sequel. Apart from re-using, the film also did a fairly fantastic job of butchering every single character we came to love in the first, save Phil’s (played by Bradley Cooper). Phil is still a prick, though I can’t imagine writing him was anything too difficult. The biggest massacre came through Stu’s (Ed Helms). Over the course of the night, the writers manage to completely destroy every piece of moral fiber of his the audience came to love, just for the sake of a joke. Even Alan isn’t that funny. Leaving the theater, you realize there are no lines you remember, nothing you can quote, and especially nothing you can remember genuinely laughing at.

Movie #227 Never Say Never

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2011 at 7:28 PM

Movie #227 Never Say Never

(2011, US, d. Jon Chu)

Okay, so before anyone just rails on me for having the audacity to watch the Justin Bieber movie, let me tell you why. First off, I have Netflix, so it’s not like I was paying for anything. And secondly, a lot of people whose opinions I trust cinematically told me this movie was actually quite good. And after watching the film, I have to say… the movie was great. One wouldn’t expect an MTV-like featurette expanded to almost 2 hours would make for good cinema, but here is the counter-argument: a very interesting and easy-to-watch and sometimes – dare I say it – electric film. Jon Chu’s 21st Century style of documentary filmmaking is a great balance to the film that chronicles the life of the most Internet-raised phenomenon in musical history. Never Say Never uses Bieber’s Madison Square Garden concert as a plot point to introduce us to his life and everyone around him. For someone who never really cared about Bieber except when it was easy to make fun of him, Never Say Never sort of slapped me in the face. First off, it actually works on a character study level. Since everything about Bieber and his life was chronicled through video from the moment of his birth and since Chu and his team do a fairly good job of sifting through all this material, we are actually witness to some interesting and personal stuff, not to mention how much of a musical prodigy baby Bieber was. Overall, it’s a fun ride, and one that has surprising depth.

Movie #226 Die Hard

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 11:38 PM

Movie #226 Die Hard

(1988, US, d. John McTiernan)

Often cited in screenwriting classes for its revolutionary structure, Die Hard in a modern context is nothing spectacular. It’s funny, sure. We have a ‘fish in new waters’ story with a like-able hero played by Bruce Willis. It’s funny and witty but we can – for the most part – predict where the story is going. However, that doesn’t change the importance of this film. For Die Hard  was one of the first films to introduce a new form of storytelling. Instead of “Man Trying to Accomplish Something VS Bad Guys”, we have “Man Trying to stop something VS Bad Guys”. This is the film that spawned countless rip-offs and homages, some that even made it quite big in the box office (Speed was pitched as “Die Hard on a bus”). With this ‘backwards’ structure, writers Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza were able to work in great characters and interesting set-ups, all of which pay off at the end. The action is satisfying and the performances, especially from Bruce Willis, in his star-making turn here as Detective John McClane, are wonderful. A Christmas gem at its finest (not kidding), Die Hard is a wonderful and enjoyable action flick.

Movie #225 Thor

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Movie #225 Thor

(2011, UK/US, d. Kenneth Branagh)

Thor is a film I walked in expecting to dislike. After all, any story that revolves around mythic characters and planets unknown to the human spectrum is difficult to get into, least of all root for. But Branagh’s work here is surprising in its effect, for not only did I enjoy this film, I also thought it made for quite good cinema. There are two elements that really sold the movie for me: the visuals and the performances. Harris Zambarloukos’ camerawork is nice, but it’s the art direction here that excels. The world we see is new, but it is also fantastic. It shimmers and shines in its glory and its magnitude to the point where the audience looks at one another and asks, “How did they do that?”. Surprisingly enough, therefore, it was not the scenes that take place on Earth that were as close to being as interesting as the scenes that took place in Asgard. Secondly, this is the sort of movie where if the actors don’t really believe in their characters and in their lines, then the whole thing can become campy very quickly. However, every performance here seems honest and believable. Granted, what do you expect when famed Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh assembles a cast? But still, for a tentpole summer flick, this movie has surprising depth. Chris Hemsworth, though, who plays the lead character of Thor, gives a truly star-making performance here. He’s funny, arrogant, smart, witty – but most of all, believable.

Movie #224 Kick-Ass

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Movie #224 Kick-Ass 

(2010, US, d. Matthew Vaughn)

Kick-Ass is a hard film to get into, but consciously so. It takes a genre we all know and love  – the superhero movie – and stomps on it until it bleeds to death and then attempts to recreate it through the broken bones and pieces of skin left. It’s a crude description, but one that really describes this film well. Kick-Ass is gory, incredibly inappropriate, highly violent, sexual, and extremely, extremely disturbing. But at the same time, it’s a feel-good film, a true knock-out, and an example of wonderful storytelling from director Matthew Vaughn. It’s shot and edited like a true comic book but its descriptions of comic book events are subverted by the horrifying real effects of comic book actions. In the first scene our protagonist suits up as his alter ego and attempts to stop a burglary, he is stabbed multiple times and then run over by a car, placing him in an ambulance and with a permanent disability. It is this disability, though, that he is able to exploit and become an even stronger superhero. Gaining the attention of the Internet population first, this superhero, named Kick-Ass, makes it very known he is out to stop crime. His first real test comes in the form of a local kingpin – also the father of a nerdy student who attends his high school, a classic comic archetype. Kick-Ass is loaded with non-stop action, explosions (buildings and people), deaths, and fighting – but possesses also a grotesque originality and perspective of the whole superhero genre. It feels a lot like roadkill. We know it’s disgusting, but we just can’t help but slow down and admire it’s beauty.

Movie #223 Stone

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 9:14 PM

Movie #223 Stone

(2010, US, d. John Curran)

There’s something about Stone that lingers with you a little after the movie is over. Perhaps it was because it takes a very overexploited and generally poorly produced genre and twists it into a thinking piece. Perhaps it is the standout performance of not the usually pitch-perfect Edward Norton, but the calm and collected Robert De Niro. Stone is a film that takes place mostly in the counselor’s office of a federal prison. De Niro plays Jack Mabry, a counselor who meets a criminal named “Stone” (played by Norton) who is doing everything in his power to get out of prison early. One of those things in his power is his wife: the seductive Lucetta Creeson (played by the incredibly sexy Milla Jovovich). This is the story of Lucetta and Jack as she begins to play every card in her book to lure him into bed, after which she plans on blackmailing Mabry into finding a way to release Stone. A sexual thriller at its core, Stone is a film that is also enveloped in the idea of morality and religion. Questions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ set in the Bible Belt of the United States are pondered here and they are done so unexpectedly effectively. Though it is a movie that fades from memory in the following weeks, Stone is a movie I still recommend to viewers who are looking for an actually thought-provoking sexual thriller in the age of films like Chloe and Basic Instinct 2.

Movie #222 Monsters Inc

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 9:03 PM

Movie #222 Monsters Inc

(2001, US, d. Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, David Silverman)

Another gem from the Pixar vault, Monsters Inc also happens to be my favorite animated film of all time. Forget the fact that its writing is impeccable, its jokes actually funny, the voice acting wonderful, and the visual effects (for the time) revolutionary, especially in regards to the hair on Sully. Monsters Inc is simply the most original animated film in years. I’ve always been a fan of new experiences and new stories – not just doing something well but doing something new well. To me Monsters Inc represents the forefront of the quest for originality. It’s lead characters are monsters who make a living providing energy to their monster town. The way they provide energy? Travelling from room to room, city to city, country to country, harnessing the screams of little children as they scare them at night before bed. The mechanics of this film will make your draw drop and if you haven’t seen it, I suggest watching it as soon as possible. It’s Pixar’s best film to date and a truly enjoyable ride.

Movie #221 Burn After Reading

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 6:45 PM

Movie #221 Burn After Reading

(2008, US, d. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

For some reason, this film always serves up inspiration for me as a filmmaker and me as a person. I’ve stolen more jokes from this film in the last two years than I have from anything else. It’s one of my favorite Coen Brothers film and it is a film that I feel is largely ignored in their complete anthology. It is a film so ridiculous and so absurd that must take itself that much more seriously. It is a film that is about absolutely nothing, yet feels as if it is a part of government espionage, international conspiracies, and mysterious murders. Essentially, it is a film about infidelity, but I won’t say more than that. The Coens serve up incredible, absurd dialogue and wacky, fun characters here: Brad Pitt is like you’ve never seen him before as a knuckle-headed personal trainer who doesn’t know the first thing about ransom. George Clooney is wonderful as the womanizing Treasure Department employee and so is Frances McDormand as the fitness instructor who just wants to look better. But it is John Malkovich here who is given the role of a lifetime. Uttering contagious lines with utmost perfection, Malkovich’s ex-CIA agent/author-want-to-be character provides the movie with that “X Factor” that will keep it alive for years, at least in my book. It’s hilarious, wacky, and sometimes intense – but only a testament to the wonderful skills of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Movie #220 Never Let Me Go

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 6:28 PM

Movie #220 Never Let Me Go

(2010, UK, d. Mark Romanek)

Never Let Me Go is one of the best films of 2010, one that I am sad I was not able to catch earlier. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as three ‘friends’ who must cope and try to put on a smile in a world that shows them no mercy and no love. It is a deeply harrowing and painful look at beautiful lives that were fated to terrible ends. The film takes place from the 1970’s to the 1990’s in a sort of parallel reality of our world (though I feel adding those words makes it seem too science-fictiony – It isn’t). It begins by depicting the youth of these three friends at a boarding school in England called Hailsham, where every student is basically being prepped for ‘donations’. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable revealing too much about the nature of these donations, and the purpose of their lives, since these were details that were not marketed on a mass scale. As the children become adults, Romanek studies the strength of a friendship under intense, personal hardships. It is a film that requires very little suspension of disbelief for being based on a science fiction premise. In fact, its depiction of the world is so real and so intricate, any doubts of suspending belief is buried under this incredibly human story of the will to live and love. Nothing is directly told to us, no relationship is spelled out, and little dialogue pushes the movie forward. It is a film about atmosphere, about subtext, about what people aren’t saying too each other that says it all. Never Let Me Go is a film that celebrates the validity of life and of love. It is a powerhouse of an art film that is anchored by the incredible, sadly not-Oscar-nominated performance of Carey Mulligan (in my opinion, her best performance yet). It is one of the best films on this MAD Challenge and I recommend it with highest praise.

Movie #219 The Da Vinci Code

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Movie #219 The Da Vinci Code

(2006, US, d. Ron Howard)

I like the choice of Ron Howard as director for this film. Here is a filmmaker who has proven himself over and over again to able to tell emotionally compelling stories and yet never quite gained the public attention of his counterparts (ie. Spielberg, Lucas, even Zemeckis). But I think he was able to handle this material better than most filmmakers could have done, and trust me: handling this adaptation of the worldwide bestseller of the same name isn’t an easy task. In fact, if there was one novel filmmakers should stay away from, it would be this. It bases its tension off historical facts that readers accumulate through long chapters of exposition or lengthy monologues of past kings and queens and battles, etc.. The Da Vinci Code, though, does a better-than-expected job of making things seem like they’re not exposition. It is not the filmmakers’ fault – simply the obstacle they must overcome in handling such a book. That said, to create tension on top of all this education Howard plans on providing is quite a feat, and there are some legitimately exciting sequences in this film. Tom Hanks plays the famed Harvard professor Robert Langdon with class and poise, just adding to his reputation of one of the best existing actors in Hollywood. Bolstered by wonderful performances by Ian McKellan and Jean Reno, the film is also a testament to making two dimensional supporting characters full of life and depth. Though nothing (and I mean nothing) as exciting as the novel, The Da Vinci Code is a serviceable supplement – rescued from the ashes of impossibility by writer Akiva Goldsman and director Ron Howard.