Friday, November 28, 2014

THIRD PERSON

Liam Nesson, Olivia Wilde,
Adrien Brody, James Franco,
Mila Kunis, Maria Bello,
Kim Basinger, Moran Atias

"Life can Change at the Turn of a Page"


Paul Haggis, the writer-director of the acclaimed multi-story film "Crash" is back with the same type of story telling. This time, it is three different stories which play out in Rome, New York and Paris. The tales seemingly share the common themes of dealing with the betrayal of trust, estranged relationships and the tragedy of losing a child.

Liam Neeson is a writer cooped up in a swanky hotel room in Paris trying to finish his second novel to prove that he isn't just a one book author. In Rome, Adrien Brody plays an unscrupulous businessman who steals designs from clients. He finds himself embroiled in a shady deal with a beautiful woman who may or may not be a con artist, herself. While Mila Kunis is cast as a former actress who now works as a chambermaid in a hotel in New York and is currently in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband. The three tales eventually cross over as certain characters overlap and their narratives merge.

But what worked in the Oscar winning "Crash", unfortunately does not apply in "Third Person". Although each of the stories have enough drama based on their merits and could actually be turned into a full length movie separately, it doesn't work as a whole.

There are a lot of deliberate yet confusing details which aren't fully explained in the course of the movie. You start to notice small yet very significant details which further add to the confusion. You begin to question yourself whether it was just you who noticed them or if it was purposely added for some reason. Such as a note which was written in one hotel room in Paris, ends up being read in another hotel room in New York.

The stellar cast gave credible performances even as the script is poorly executed. As the film rolled towards its very vague conclusion, I was already way too sleepy to actually force my brain cells to make some sense, any sense about the total nonsense that just unfolded.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort,
Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe

"They Don't Have Forever,
They Have Each Other"


Yet another best seller novel which was adapted into a movie. Both of which were much hyped and generated quite a frenzy from the fans. Of course, as usual I never read the book. I'm too cheap to buy books, I'm too lazy and/or I don't find the time to just stay put and read.

Having said that, neither am I, a person who goes for hyped up 'events'. Be it the newest restaurant that draws a long queue, or a novel that lands in the best seller lists. I would shun away from it - just because it is the latest trend and wait patiently till the hype subsides, then I make my move. Yet I keep myself informed and know all about the latest 'happenings' in town. 

"The Fault in Our Stars" as everyone knows is about two young adults with terminal cancer who fall in love. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is young, smart and quite witty and walks around with a portable oxygen tank which eases the flow into her respiratory system given that she has only one lung.  While Augustus or Gus (Ansel Elgort) is the typical charming boy next door type with a pleasant smile and you wouldn't know he has cancer unless you are shown his prosthetic leg.

They met at a cancer support group and even though Hazel was put off by Gus' attitude - they eventually realize they are mostly in the same wave length when it comes to their attitude towards life. They exude a certain level of maturity which gives them strength to accept their fate without dwelling on their illnesses. But rather focus on living their lives to the best of their abilities.

I have a feeling this common bond would have been more palpable in the pages of the novel because I hardly felt any chemistry between them in the film. Shailene Woodley was a revelation though and I like her comfy style of acting in her role as Hazel. She made Hazel, an endearing character. Unfortunately, I can't really say the same about Ansel Elgort. He needs to attend more acting workshops to add more depth and dimension to his portrayal.

Naturally any type of love story, be it tragic or not would draw in the crowds. I can see how such a plot would appeal to a wide spectrum of audience. But I'm now too sarcastic to get swayed merely by the love story angle. That is why I like the part where Hazel and Gus go to Amsterdam to meet their favorite yet reclusive author. The guy turns out to be quite a jerk but I think that unpleasant encounter was a good 'conflict' which contributed to the personal growth of the two leads.

I also like how Hazel and Gus were not cut out as tragic characters but as 'normal' people who just happen to be in the terminal phase of cancer. Not to make light of their illness but they handled the aspect of dying in an acceptable and non offensive manner. Certainly not dwelling on something they could not control but celebrating life in all its glory, something we should all emulate!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

TRANSCENDENCE

Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall,
Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman

"What if a New Intelligence was Born?"


Nowadays, Johnny Depp has evolved into either essaying roles of freaky yet unique characters or some normal guy stuck in a uniquely strange scenario. I guess the key word here is 'unique' and I understand for any actor it is imperative to delve into a role that will stand out from the numerous predictable ones.

It must be quite challenging for Johnny Depp specifically to always find roles which won't be, for lack of a better word, boring. I respect him for that and admire his guts since most of these roles although unique, per se, these movies don't really rake in the big bucks like blockbusters do.

In "Transcendence", he is cast as Dr. Will Caster, a technology expert at the forefront of artificial intelligence research. An advocacy which he and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) have passionately worked for ages. Their dream is to create an all knowing computer that has the personality of a human. Their work is abruptly cut short by an organization that opposes AI in any shape or form.

An incident occurs which puts Dr Caster's life in danger so before he dies, he decides to 'upload' his brain and his 'personality' into the computer. Upon his passing, Evelyn waits for the machine to wake up with Will's persona deeply embedded within its wired components. Behold! It works and it is presented through a computer monitor with a disembodied voice and Will's flickering face on screen.  It is quite freaky, creepy and everything that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight.

As the film progresses at a slow and very long pace, we soon find out just how dangerous it is to play God and the perils of technology overload. Much of the movie focuses on the interaction between Evelyn and Will through the screen.

You keep asking yourself is it really Will or just some hologram presence of an uploaded version of him. Can machines really feel or are they just programmed to 'feel'? Are we being slowly trained to be more machine-like as we become more and more dependent on technology? Or do we project our personality unto our gadgets?

Either way, it is a dangerous world to live in as social interaction is minimized or practically non existent. But the scarier thought is we don't need a film like "Transcendence" to show us the dangers as we are all currently hooked on being connected at all times. Other people don't re-wire our brains, it just happens as we live more of our lives online. We're slaves to convenience.

Personally, there is nothing wrong with this premise. We just need to know when to 'disconnect' and be truly present in the 'here' and the 'now'. Heh! Well look who's talking?! I get hives when there is no wifi connection at any establishment I visit even for 10 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

47 RONIN

Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada,
Ko Shibasaki, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa,
Rinko Kikuchi

"Seize Eternity"


After my sister had surgery, she couldn't move much so we had movie marathons. Perfect time to catch up on my long list of accumulated movies to watch.

First off is this fictional tale about a 18th century historical event in Japan in which a group of "ronin" (master-less samurai) avenged the honor of their dead Lord/Master. It is strictly forbidden for a ronin to seek revenge. But this group believed that their master was set up after he was accused of assaulting a court official. They planned and waited for one year before they set off to kill the one they hold accountable for the 'injustice'.

The event itself is still widely revered in modern day Japan as annually on the 14th of December, people hold a festival at the Sengakuji temple to commemorate it.

"47 Ronin" is clearly a fictional tale as it has a Caucasian dude named Kai (Keanu Reeves) known as the 'half-breed' who joins the 47 leaderless samurai. There is also a witchcraft element to the film which sets a fantasy tone amidst the beautiful backdrop of a small mountainous district. All of the characters, except of course for Reeves are portrayed by Japanese actors who all just happen to speak English, fluently. 

Yet it is also a vividly graphic reenactment of the events that led to the revenge. Good sword play skills are displayed in the cleverly choreographed fight scenes. The costume design from the wardrobe of the samurais to the kimono worn as well as the manner of styling their hair are all authentic and reminiscent of a long gone era in Japan's rich cultural history.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi, the leader of the Ronin was spot on. He has this certain quality to him which makes him perfect to be cast as a samurai. Although I have seen him in other movies in 'normal' roles and he excels in every performance. 

I, for one liked the film despite the fantasy element and the general cliches, such as having one white dude ostracized by an entire group in the beginning of the movie; then eventually proving himself to be a much welcomed part of the group. I know this concept is quite predictable in these sort of films. Hint: Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai".

Yet I believe the triumph of good vs evil and the strong need for revenge against an injustice always make good plot lines to bank on. Never mind that the 'act of vengeance' is highly prohibited in the bushido (samurai code of honor), the 47 Ronin knew the ultimate consequence for their behavior would be to commit ritual suicide which is known as seppuku. They accepted their fate with pride, honor and dignity.

So regardless of the historical inaccuracy, "47 Ronin" was one entertainingly good Samurai movie, imho!
 

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