Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Movie #318 About a Boy

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2011 at 4:37 AM

Movie #318 About a Boy

(2002, UK, d. Paul Weitz)

About a Boy is the rare Hugh Grant film. And let me explain why. It’s the rare Hugh Grant film that doesn’t feel contrived. There is no set formula the filmmakers are trying to exploit because of some financial plan that guarantees a box office success. It is the rare High Grant film in that the moments seem honest and real. It’s not bookstore meets celebrity. Not a film over a scandalous diary. Not a movie about murder. Not a movie about love at Christmas. It’s just a movie about a guy who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone and a kid he happens to meet. It’s about a friendship. And nothing more than that. It’s also the rare Hugh Grant film in that we find we are watching a new character. Not the same old stuttering Grant we see in every picture, though he still stutters here. He seems to be a man of depth, of sadness, and perhaps of even loss. There is still that irreplaceable ‘cute factor’ but there is also complexity that shares its place. And that is a real compliment to director Chris Weitz, who was able to get that performance out of him. It’s finally the rare Grant movie that is truly moving, but that’s not entirely because of him. Anchored by a wonderful supporting cast including Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz, About a Boy has a big payoff, but it’s one of those films that deserve it – one of those films that feel real down to the song selection. It doesn’t feel like a sell-out, doesn’t feel catered to a hipster audience (500 Days of Summer, that’s you), and most of all, doesn’t feel fake. It’s a lovely movie. Go watch it.

Movie #317 John Q.

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2011 at 4:01 AM

Movie #317 John Q.

(2002, US, d. Nick Cassavetes)

It’s from the director of The Notebook. I mean “C’mon! How much legitimate action and honest thrill did you expect?” First off, I have to admit Denzel Washington rises far above the material he is presented with here. One of the finest actors working today, Washington takes the sentimental BS he is given here and forms his own – actually realistic – character here. It is the perfect mix of Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down with the everyday American father. Washington taps into that mentality with wonderful ease and incredible talent. For that alone, the movie should be commended. But apart from that really, John Q. is probably one of the most melodramatic, overly sentimental, and tap-you-over-the-head-so-many-times-with-the-moral-it-feels-like-a-Christian-movie sort of films. Sure it has its moments where you want to cheer for John Q, the father of a sick child who must hold a hospital at gunpoint in order for someone to give his kid a heart. Hell, even the log line has incredible potential. That sounds like a film I would love watching. But at the end of the day, despite its promise, John Q. falls into the terrible trap of being terribly written, manipulative, and a tear-jerker in all the wrong places. Plus the ending is completely whack. If you’re an emotional filmgoer, there’s nothing I say that will change your mind, but c’mon. I was talking to a friend today about the need to think with your head and not with your heart (because the latter is a liar sometimes). Use your mind and you’ll be turned off by this picture.

Movie #316 Die Another Day

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2011 at 1:11 AM

Movie #316 Die Another Day

(2002, UK, d. Lee Tamahori)

It’s good Brosnan left the series after this film. If this movie were a sign of things to come with him, the Bond franchise would have lost a serious amount of money, though watching it now feels very nostalgic – especially considering the amount of makeover the new Daniel Craig versions have done to the franchise. This is the James Bond we all know and grew to love. He’s the player, he’s the wise-ass, he’s the manipulative, he’s the cunning, he’s the tech-adept, and very athletic Mi-6 agent we’ve seen many times before. Nothing is new here, except perhaps a few more strands of gray on Pierce Brosnan’s head, some new locales, and a very sexy Halle Berry. The film takes us from North Korea, to Hong Kong, to Cuba, and finally to Iceland – where the evil mastermind – hell bent on taking over the world – bases his operations. It will also be of no surprise to discover that this villain is smart, sophisticated, and full of class. In short, he’s your regular Bond hero. The only thing director Tamahori has done with this film has updated it to a more modern sensibility – but perhaps he took it too far. Invisible car anyone? Also thrown is a strange sequence, even for a Bond film, in the beginning. Bond is captured by North Koreans and held there for 14 months, tortured all the while. Does the emotional weight of that play a role in the movie? Not really, but it does serve expositional purposes and it does have a really cool Madonna song playing in the background. All in all, there’s nothing new here. Though if you are a fan of this series, you’ll most easily walk out with a smile on your face.

Movie #315 The Interpreter

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2011 at 12:57 AM

Movie #315 The Interpreter

(2002, US, d. Sydney Pollack)

Sydney Pollack has made a lot of great movies in his day, but unfortunately this is not one of them. I’m not saying this film is bad; it just dances along the line of ‘decent’ and ‘uninteresting’ so well, it’s hard to tell the difference. And frankly, I don’t want to analyze whether or not I thought it was barely decent at all. It’s not worth it. First off, despite the electrifying opening (or how it must have been read on paper), Pollack never translates tension well to the screen. The opening scene – set in Africa and depicting a few unexpected murderers by employees of a country’s tyrant – is just dull. A scene like that is supposed to rivet the audience and want them demanding an answer to the mystery, but here it just sort of serves the purpose of boring exposition. It makes the audience feel lazy almost. As if we know we are going to get answers so we never really care to hurry anything up. Part of this is due to Pollack’s ever-slowing camera, which doesn’t help in most tense scenes – save a few. The camera is contemplative, thoughtful – the wrong thought process for a movie supposed to be an action/political thriller. Then we have Nicole Kidman, who comes off just as boring as her profession is: translating an African dialect into English at the UN. Stuff like this should be interesting. Pollack is able to gain access to a rare world captured on screen, but it’s just plain boring. Even veteran Sean Penn does little to light up the screen as the mopey detective investigating Kidman’s character. The plot lines are simple – I wouldn’t say predictable, but they do tread so overly treaded paths. It’s not a particularly terrible film; it just isn’t that good.

Movie #314 Office Space

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 at 2:04 AM

Movie #314 Office Space

(1999, US, d. Mike Judge)

I’m not going to lie. This film took a lot of me to like. But then I started to catch on and the laughs started rolling. This is one of those films that in order for you to enjoy, you sort of have to know what type of comedy to expect, otherwise things just won’t be funny. That’s my belief anyway. First of all, Office Space is a film about working as an employee in a faceless software company – something a lot of people, I’m sure, can relate to. It takes place in Northern California and deals with the basic frustration the employee goes through, willingly putting themselves at the mercy of bosses, ridiculous work, and the potentially personal-life-damaging career choices – though this film never explicitly states that. It’s a smart comedy – one that feels like you’re watching water boil. I mean that in a good way. You keep thinking the bubbles are going to start rushing to the top, but they never do. They just keep piling up, and piling up, and piling up, and piling up. It’s a film that showcases the power of offbeat humor, protagonists we don’t really care for, some really quirky characters, and strange lines. Throw that all into the regular and subjecting lives of these software company employees (again, something a lot of people put themselves int0), and you got Office Space, a wonderful mix of the mainstream and off-road. A film that mixes weird humor with regular events. A film that never dictates its moral, but gets it across. It’s a film about being subjected and being manipulated. It’s about a search for freedom. Mike Judge’s hilarious writing drive the film, but remember, know what you’re getting into. It’s not the sort of punchline mentality that drives most comedies these days. It’s smarter than that. And though it didn’t make the box office splash the filmmakers wanted it to, this cult hit still has the power to woo audiences more than 12 years later.

Movie #313 Toy Story 2

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 at 1:49 AM

Movie #313 Toy Story 2

(1999, US, d. John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich)

The rare Hollywood sequel that manages to squeeze in both heart, valuable thematic content, and relevance into itself, Toy Story 2 is more of an achievement marker for the filmmakers than the actual story about toys that can talk. It’s predecessor changed Hollywood and it’s very easy to develop the ‘more and bigger’ mentality when producing the sequel. Instead of making things bigger, instead the filmmakers just added more, but still stayed true. ‘More’ in this case refers to the number of new toys. But Lasseter and Unkrich knew that these cool toys would only be as valuable to story as they were to lives of the two people this series has always been about: Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen). They, in turn, take the first step in developing one of the finest trilogies ever made in Hollywood. It is a fun, enjoyable, sometimes even tear-inducing film. A montage near the third act revealing the backstory to one of the major new characters acts literally as a measure to how human we are. And while we’re on the subject of montages, Pixar has always been that company that understood their purpose: not to be cheap or take the easy way out, but rather to tell a story purely through visuals. Not so cool music can make it seem cooler, but because by telling it purely through visuals, a more powerful sequence can be developed. Toy Story 2 is a milestone not only for children’s movies but also for Hollywood sequels. Fun, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable for whatever age group watching, it’s a film with heart and love that isn’t easily forgotten.

Movie #312 Step Up 3D

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Movie #312 Step Up 3D

(2010, US, d. 2010)

Style over substance: the ultimate mantra of the modern filmmaker. When will storytellers part of the young generation realize it doesn’t take a well framed shot to tell a good story, it doesn’t take a cool effect to tell a story, it doesn’t take some new thing to captivate the audience. There has only ever been one thing to do that and that has been the infusion of character and plot. Nothing else. Nothing more. Up and coming director Jon Chu demonstrates this theory of mine with the horrendous, but visually stunning film Step Up 3D. To compare this film to a porno would probably be the most relevant comparison. Step Up 3D is like a porno. The plot lines are cheap, the acting terrible, the casting even worse (Who is this ‘Moose’ kid? Why is he even in this movie?), and the writing superficial to say the least. These are the scenes you want to watch for context but if you find yourself hitting the ‘fast-forward’ button, don’t blame yourself. It’s totally natural. We all want to get to the good stuff. Now the dance. That is freaking awesome. Demonstrating the same sort of visuals (just not as cool) as he did with the Bieber documentary Never Say Never, Chu’s camera is like magic, never stopping, never ceasing to amaze the audience with the crazy dance sequences that take up screen-time. For a sequel (a second one at that), the dancing feels new and invigorated with life, and that is definitely a compliment to the filmmakers… or at least the choreographers. It’s fun at least. But don’t watch it when you pay attention to something. I suggest the porn story lines over this.

Movie #311 Blood Work

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Movie #311 Blood Work

(2002, US, d. Clint Eastwood)

Blood Work has the appearance of being a suspense thriller that could be a lot better than it actually is. Though it’s refreshing to see this type of film now, in an era where the story about an older cop trying to solve a mystery would never be made. There were tons of these films back in the 90’s and early 2000’s: adult crime films. Where have they gone? But that amount of novelty aside, Blood Work is nothing too special. It follows all the cliches and conventions of these types of films: the cop is old, he’s seen a lot, but he’s about to retire. Just then, he’s faced with a case that’s way too personal for him to ignore. He takes it, and slowly uncovers it, but in order to do so, he must look back at his own life. And of course, the villain happens to be someone who we’ve all been given clues about but never actually really suspect…unless of course, we’ve seen enough of these films. Though it benefits again from an interesting plot line, some very tense moments that had inklings of the sort of tensions that abided in films like Zodiac and Memories of Murder, and a very strong pay off at the end regarding the content of the clues (you’ll understand if you watch it), Blood Work in the end suffers from the misfortune of treading the same material a lot of these films (even some that starred Mr. Eastwood) already have. But hey, it’s still a good movie.

Movie #310 The Ring

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 5:22 AM

Movie #310 The Ring

(2002, US, d. Gore Verbinski)

One of the defining horror films of our generation, The Ring, in my opinion, is also the film that marked the transition horror films would take from the traditional “R” rating to a more affordable PG-13 rating. This would allow their budgets to skyrocket, because of more sure filled seats in the theater. A blessing and a curse, this movement would not have been possible without the originality and success of The Ring. A lot of people don’t give this film the credit it deserves. For though it now possesses the cheap horror tricks audiences expect from any outing to a scary movie, The Ring is the film that patented them. It took cheap scares to a new level, infusing them with directorial ingenuity and visual explorations. It is a story that is at once intriguing, unique, and highly disturbing, and that makes for excellent cinema. Bolstered by the presence of then the bigger star Naomi Watts, The Ring also happens to be one of the scariest films you’ll watch with a PG-13 rating. But the real star of the entire piece is the visual storytelling. Using the camera as a storytelling technique is a rare feat and as cheap as it sounds, that is accomplished here. Through the right framing of shots, the right camera movement, and just right tad of visual effects enhancement, the quality of the picture is increased exponentially. It is a scary as hell sort of film, but everyone should watch it at least once. And then make a copy and pass it on.

Movie #309 My Big Fat Greek Wedding

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 5:11 AM

Movie #309 My Big Fat Greek Wedding

(2001, US, d. Joel Zwick)

One of my family’s favorite films, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a classy, fun, and funny PG-13 family film. It is the rare Hollywood (hit) flick that doesn’t star any big names, but still has an ensemble cast and even still manages to get people into the theaters. It is even more unlikely for it to succeed because the family at the core of the film is foreign and the culture is fundamentally different from the American one. But it is very similar to the Indian one, and that’s one of the main reasons I love watching this film with my family. It’s an interesting experience watching the lives of immigrants on screen and picking out the similarities you have with them. Though I’m making this explanation far longer than it should be, I’ll suffice it with this: My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a film that pokes fun at the extended family and all the quirks and nuances that come with them, and for that it’s a great film.  Well written and acted by newcomer Nia Vardalos (who never really managed to do anything significant after this film), Wedding also is a classic American story, and that’s why I think it applies to everyone. It’s the story of the average girl. The girl who can do much better than she thinks she can. It’s The Princess Diaries, except set in a large Greek and intrusive family. It’s a funny film, filled with subtle (and not so subtle) observations about family, love, and life. It also benefits from not having been put through the traditional Hollywood system machinery. Produced independently, it maintains the heart and soul a traditional independent film should have.