Aneesh Chaganty

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Place Beyond the Pines | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 at 8:40 PM


The Place Beyond the Pines

(2013, US, d. Derek Cianfrance)

A cross-generational epic far different from its trailers yet far better than any expectations I had, The Place Beyond the Pines is a moving, thrilling, and thought-provoking film from Blue Valentine writer/director Derek Cianfrance.

To give much of the plot away woud be a disservice to what Cianfrance tries to accomplish. Told through three separate, but intertwining stories, The Place Beyond the Pines chronicles the complex, violence-ridden personalities in the small town of Schenectady, New York as well as the consequences of those characters.

Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider who visits Schenectady on a carnival tour. To his surprise, he receives a visit from Romina (Eva Mendes) – a woman we’re led to assume Glanton had a fling with the last time he was in town. It’s unclear what Romina’s intentions are with the visit – especially considering that she has a new husband and a son – but Glanton can’t get her out of his mind.

The next day, Glanton quits the carnival business, his mind set on creating a stable life for Romina. Jealous of her husband’s ability to provide for her, and torn by Romina’s conflicting emotions, Glanton is swayed into a get-rich-quick scheme proposed by Robin (Barry Mendelsohn), a shady and highly amusing local: rob a bank. What follows are some of the most high-octane and heart-stopping action sequences even Hollywood pros would swoon over.

To get into more of Glanton’s story would be giving away too much; be wary of any reviews that do. From there on in the film, we’re introduced to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious police officer forced to face the consequences of a police incident at the beginning of his story arc. As he tries to move on past the event, a series of obstacles – both internal and external – block his path to moving on.

There are a few other surprises here as well, but I don’t want to get into them as much. The most you’ll get out of this movie will only come from knowing the least about it, which sort of puts me into an uncomfortable position. But enough about the plot.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a touching, sobering, hypnotic and beautifully photographed experience, more lyrical than formulaic. Don’t let the marketing campaign fool you: this is a quiet picture, but it’s a picture with a lot to say. About guilt. About absence. About fatherhood. About love.

Derek Cianfrance seizes full control of the camera’s motion, taking overused tricks and employing them slowly and effectively to increase tension and illuminate character. His wide, repetitive sweeping shots capture immense arrays of emotion, underscore the mirror-relationships of the three stories, all the while still staying true to the heart of the constantly evolving picture. In fact, for as poetic as this film is, there are enough plot-twists to keep a popcorn audience coming back for more.

Powerfully acted, intimately told, and painfully moving, The Place Beyond the Pines marks a significant milestone for Derek Cianfrance’s career. Transitioning from the scale of Blue Valentine to this isn’t easy, but he makes it look that way. I guess that’s what happens when you spend 30 drafts and 5 years on a script. In any case: keep a keen eye out for this film. 

As early as it is, I have a strong feeling this may end up at on the higher side of my Top 10 of the year list. It’s just that good.


Spring Breakers | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2013 at 2:17 AM


Spring Breakers

(2013, US, d. Harmony Korine)

Welcome to the overwhelming and hypnotic world of neon-lights, Florida beaches, unnerving techno soundtracks, booze, drugs, vandalism, sex, teens, parties, and violence. For many of us, that’s just too much to handle. But for the four young women at the center of this film, that’s just a week of Spring Break.

Spring Breakers is the new film from director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mister Lonely) and producer Megan Ellison (Zero Dark Thirty, The Master). Part social satire dipped in a lot of Natural Born Killers, Spring Breakers is the kind of film you’d expect Sofia Coppola to make had she been raised on nothing but Girls Gone Wild and Cops. Covered head to tail in top-40 tunes and uniquely edited to never actually let you sit back and just observe what’s going on, the film is quite a challenge to the average viewer. Yet despite the compliments the movie’s been receiving, don’t expect that to be a sign of whether you’re gonna like this movie. In fact, most of the people in the theater I saw the film with hated it. 

While the movie is nothing like what you’d expect from the teasers, this is a both a good thing and a bad thing. For those coming in to enjoy a glorified version of Girls Gone Wild: Spring Break Edition, enjoy the first 7 minutes; exit signs are located around you. For those coming in thinking they’re actually about to watch something really artistic and out there…try and enjoy the rest.

The biggest problem with Spring Breakers is that, despite what it achieves artistically (I’m not being sarcastic with that statement), it’s never actually enjoyable. It gets off to the right start, though. After a 5 minute montage of what everyone expects a wild college kid’s spring break to consist of on a Florida beach, we’re introduced to four childhood friends stuck on a lonely college campus in the middle of nowhere at the start of break. Meet Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) – the strangest girl-group we’ll probably meet on screen this year.

The group desperately wants to make it to the beaches of South Florida for break and join the throngs of wild kids their age. And let me be clear: these are not the kind of girls who act innocent and then end up having a wild time. Their dirty and extreme intentions, from the first few minutes, are excruciatingly clear. But the problem is: the girls don’t have enough money to get there. So what’s a few broads to do in that situation? Of course: just rob the patrons in a local restaurant! That should do the trick.

If almost feels like the end of the movie here, because once they’re in Florida, they’re having the time of their lives. You almost wish you could join them on the beaches, by the apartments, and in the ocean as they drink, laugh, snort, hook up, and accomplish every secret item on any spring breaker’s bucket list. But that’s when things start getting weird.

Meet Alien (James Franco), the “wangsta” stranger who bails out the four girls after they’re arrested for an afternoon of cocaine and debauchery. After getting over the initial hump of fear and suspicion when you first hang out with a cornrowed, silver-toothed gangster with a penchant for anything materialistic – no matter how violent the tool (we’ve all been there, right?), the girls soon discover that Alien embodies everything they’ve been taught to love. Soon, the girls (of the ones that remain) take one step after another, furthering themselves into the underbelly of South Florida crime- providing new meaning to what constitutes as “vacation”.

Spring Breakers is a unique character study – unafraid of not answering questions, but also of asking them in the first place. Rather, it simply depicts – with as much wide-eyed energy and color it can – the behaviors and desires of the modern young adult. In an interview at the ArcLight Hollywood Theater, director Harmony Korine dismissed any claims that he was trying to bring out any truth or “reality” with the film. Rather, his goal was to, in fact, make the film as “unreal” as possible.

Yet despite his own intentions, its difficult to not walk away from Korine’s film without garnering some meaning – especially when most of your leading cast has made a career out of being “good, Disney girls”. I have to admit: it is a a bit surreal watching Gomez and Hudgens commit every sin under the South Florida sun, make out with other women, and have a ball while they’re at it.

But here’s the honest truth: apart from the first 30 minutes (which includes an incredible one take shot involving a car circling a restaurant), I didn’t actually enjoy the movie. It was alienating, jarring, and tonally uncomfortable. At the end of the day, I happened to be just another one of those people who expected something far different than what actually came out.

But different doesn’t mean bad. In this case, it actually is worth a ton of worthwhile thought. And though commendable on its own right, I can’t imagine recommending Spring Breakers to anyone looking for a fun time at the movies.


Redbox Giveaway 2 | MAD Promotion

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2013 at 8:39 PM


Hey folks! 

I’m back with another Redbox giveaway. This time, however, it involves more than just emailing me!

Redbox has created – in the spirit of March Madness – a movie competition bracket. Click on the following link to participate:


It’s pretty simple: just vote on your favorite movies and see how your picks do. If you complete your bracket, you get a code for a free rental. It’s a Facebook game, so you’ll have to log in.

For terms and conditions of the challenge, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the game!



The Incredible Burt Wonderstone | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2013 at 8:08 PM


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

(2013, US, d. Don Scardino)

As geeky as it is to admit, magic tricks have always been a low-key passion of mine. With the right trick, the audience is left with the unique feeling of having just witnessed something paranormal while their minds struggle to find a rational explanation for those events. It’s a feeling of awe and wonder – both for the spectator and the magician.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone gets off on the right foot. For a second there, it actually convinces you that, at its core, the story is about capturing that magic. In the opening frame, we’re introduced to the elementary-school version of the title character (Mason Cook) as he runs away from bullies. It’s Burt’s birthday, and just like everyone at school, even his mother can’t make time for him. But in her place, Ms. Wonderstone leaves a present that will change Burt’s life forever: a magic kit created by the world-famous magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).

Soon after, Wonderstone is enveloped in the world of magic. At school, he is finally able to make his first friend: Anton Marvelton (played by Luke Vanek, one of the strangest-looking but amusing child actors to grace the screen in awhile). As Anton and Burt become best friends and more and more obsessed with magic, the film transitions to years later – where an adult Wonderstone and Marvelton (Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, respectively) awe an audience at their Las Vegas show.

Soon, we discover that the magic, however, has long worn off. Wonderstone and Marvelton are barely on speaking terms and Burt seems to have traded any fascination he had with magic for a masochistic, and agressive personality. Meanwhile, their age-old act is threatened when “street magician” and self-proclaimed “brain rapist” Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) enters the scene of Vegas magic shows. Sounds funny, right? Keep reading.

Wonderstone is eventually cast out of his gig, and begins the inevitable, formulaic journey of reconnecting with what made him love magic in the first place and appreciating those around him to finally stage his comeback.

It’s a role that screams “Carell”. Carell’s wonderful chemistry of aggression and egocentrism, knack for comedic timing, and intuition for character seems like the perfect ingredients for Wonderstone. But for some reason, Carell is the first one to misstep. Here, he feels stilted. His eyes wildly motion to the audience, trying to let the us know how much he doesn’t want to be in this movie and how much he knows it’s gonna suck. Unfortunately for the example, whether Carell had fully committed or not doesn’t change how mediocre this film was bound to turn out.

Sloppy editing, a formulaic script devoid of any heart, and uninspired direction work closely together to defeat the talents of its incredible cast. Even Olivia Wilde, who does nothing for the story but serve as eye candy and an easy screenwriting tool, couldn’t get my attention off how much better this film could have been. But boy, does she serve as eye candy!

Apart from the refreshing soundtrack (most of which was just taken from Spotify’s Top 100), Jim Carrey provides the only honest moments of comic relief. Though his scenes are few and sparse, Carrey steals the show with every line he’s given. Steve Gray, like Wonderstone, seems written for Carrey. But unlike Carell, Carrey is able to make it work – even whilst winking to the audience, acknowledging his own preposterousness.

At the end of the day, what disappoints me the most is that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is built on promising and unique foundations, but consciously tries to sabotage itself by rearranging its pieces into something that would fit the structure of a Hollywood film.

Unfortunately, unless you’re looking for some sparse laughs, the trick to this film is looking elsewhere.

Stoker | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2013 at 6:11 AM



(2013, US, d. Park Chan-wook)

I’ve been crazy about this movie ever since it was first announced Chan-wook would be making his first foray into Hollywood storytelling. Chan-wook, in my opinion, is one of the premier storytellers in the film industry, no matter the language of origin. His ability to tell B-stories and provide them shots of originality, adrenaline, and emotion is unparalleled  My only fear was that pretty soon, everyone would be on the Park Chan-wook bandwagon that I had been for so long.

Well, at least I know that won’t happen for awhile.

The biggest problem with Stoker is that it feels pointless. With such a rich, Hitchcockian premise, there were so many directions this movie could have effectively traveled, but this is not one of them. It almost feels as if Chan-wook is collapsing under the pressure of having to create an incredible, English-language debut film. Instead of focusing on his storytelling talents, Chan-wook seems more intent on creating endless tones of melancholy and characters that never feel like they’re doing anything but putting on a sour face and hiding a deep, dark secret.

Stoker begins during the funeral of a man we’re told is the father of high-schooler India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska). The last name is obviously derived from that of Bram Stoker, the novelist of Dracula. However, Stoker isn’t about vampires. Though there probably would be more exciting things to watch on the screen had there been a few of those in the movie. But back to the story.

After the funeral, India is introduced to someone she’s never met. She’s told this is her father’s brother: Charlie (played subtly by a very creepy Matthew Goode). As Uncle Charlie shows no plans of leaving the Stoker house anytime soon, India begins to discover more and more about Charlie’s past and current intentions, none of which bode well for the future of the family…and the safety of the townsfolk. 

Stoker spends a lot of time showering in the mood of its images. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung masterfully crafts images of emotion, tone, and symbolism, but as any good film can show, it takes masterful editing – both by the editor and every storyteller along the way – to piece those images into something greater than the sum of its parts. Stoker really never flies above that sum. It’s perfectly content to be what it is – refusing to ask the deeper questions about character and motivation.

Debut-writer Wentworth Miller (TV folk will remember him as the lead star of Fox’s Prison Break) crafts a tale very similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. And while there are many signs that point to Miller’s potential as a writer, this film will ever only be a minor debut of his.

Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney (in the smallest of roles) all try their best, but again, because of the film’s poor direction, everyone (including the usually better Wasikowska and Goode) come off as caricatures. 

Finally, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’ve seen this film before. Somewhere. And then I realized: these are the films I used to make when I was in early high school, before I knew what I was doing and when I thought gruesome deaths and slow introductions to characters who had sadistic pleasure with intense violence were the most interesting things to make a movie about.

Trust me. It’s not easy being this honest, especially since Chan-wook has always been the filmmaker I’ve aspired to become like. I can’t fault the guy for making a mistake. I just hope he learns from it and moves on. The world can only handle a movie like this once in a blue moon.

Wait…that’s a werewolf reference. Whatever. 


Snitch | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2013 at 5:14 PM



(2013, US, d. Ric Roman Waugh)

Sometimes, even January-release action movies have a way of surprising you. Take Snitch. From every poster, teaser, spot, or interview, Snitch comes off like a poor man’s version of last year’s Contraband. The ads feature a ripped Dwayne Johnson kicking ass, explosions, one-liners, and a “father save son” plot line that’s been recycled by Hollywood studios for years.

But then you actually see the movie, and all the trouble you went through of having to convince your friends to go to it because it was the only halfway-decent flick playing in theaters (sorry, Identity Thief) goes away. To be honest, I was a huge fan of this film, mostly because it was nothing like what I expected to be, and partly because it was actually kinda good.

Snitch tells the story of John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a divorced construction company owner, who learns in the beginning of the film that his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested. A brief opening scene has already introduced us to Jason and has given the details of his arrest: Jason nervously agrees to a favor – hold some drugs for a friend for a day until that friend can pick it up. When Jason receives the package, it turns out to have a DEA tracker placed on it, and pretty soon law enforcement has surrounded his house. Though Jason has never dealt drugs, his friend – who it turns out was already arrested at the time he made the request – was the one who set him up, in order to reduce his own sentence.

Jason, however, doesn’t want to turn anyone else in for a shorter sentence. So it’s pretty much praying at this point that Jason receives the minimum sentence he can, which is 10 years. When Matthews comes into the picture, we can see the guilt he carries with him on his face. He was never there for Jason growing up and hasn’t ever been, either. Matthews decides to do something about it.

Using his own connections, Matthews tracks down US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), a Congressional candidate running on a platform of strict anti-drug enforcement. Keeghan confides in him that, while there is nothing Jason can do now to reduce his sentence, if Matthews were to give information leading to the arrest of a higher drug dealer on the food chain, she could reduce Jason’s sentence to only a year. With the ghost backing of the DEA, Matthews begins to get into the world of drug trafficking.

By now, I’m hooked into the film. But it really wasn’t because of the content of it, but rather they way Waugh was executing it. Quiet, tense, and subtle, Snitch never allows its characters to drown underneath the heavy-handed plot or action. Rather, Waugh feels perfectly comfortable in letting performances evolve, breathe, and just marinate for 30 minutes before even introducing an element of action.

Minor spoiler: there’s one action scene in this entire film and it’s probably the most realistic vehicular derby scene I’ve witnessed in a very long time. The entire movie builds to it, and in any other movie, the scale of that kind of scene would be diminished so much, it would probably be placed in the opening 15 minutes of the movie. But in a movie like Snitch (believe me: I can’t believe I’m praising this movie, considering how bad I thought it was gonna be), it’d done right.

But it’s because Waugh pays close attention to his actors, to the tone, and to the material he clearly cares about (Waugh co-wrote the screenplay with Revolutionary Road scribe Justin Haythe), that he is able to transform this mainstream January release into an issue driven picture. 

This is the first time I’ve been able to call Dwayne Johnson an actor. He was subtle, carried the emotional weight of every scene on his shoulders, and listened to the actors and dialogue around him. But it’s not just Johnson that proved to be an exception. Film newcomer Jon Bernthal (from AMC’s The Walking Dead) turns in a power-house performance as a construction worked forced back into the drug business. What begins as a minor sub-plot and screenplay convenience to get Johnson a connection into the drug world turns into a complex and emotionally developed sub-plot, and it was probably the best surprise of the entire film. Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, and Michael Kenneth Williams all turn in fine supporting performances as well.

But at the end of the day, Snitch goes to Waugh’s credit. It’s hard to take something even studios see as a mindless, January release and turn it into a film of interest, real-life issue, genuine emotion, tension, and complex thematic content. And that’s exactly what he does here.