Saturday, February 26, 2005

Salon.com screens Oscar nominated shorts...

...and I missed it!

Salon.com apparently got permission to screen the five Oscar nominated short films (including India's Little Terrorist) for a 24-hour viewing period which ended Friday midnight EST. This was probably everyone's only chance to see these little masterpieces. Pity!

More info on this link:
http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2005/02/25/shorts/index.html

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

India DOES have an entry to the Oscars!!!

...and it's a short film! Check out the details at rediff.com about Little Terrorist, which has been nominated for an Oscar under the category of Live Action Short Film. Here's the link:
http://us.rediff.com/movies/2005/feb/18terrorist.htm

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Constantine

Keanu Reeves goes through hell to...uh...

Comparison between Constantine and The Matrix movies is inevitable... so here's my take on that: they have both got (1) Keanu Reeves wearing a black trenchcoat doing stuff us ordinary humans couldn't dream about (in this one, he literally goes to hell for a short visit), (2) a story with a ton of mumbo-jumbo in it which would require months, if not years, of dedicated rersearch to unravel (I'm sure it all makes sense in the end!) and (3) a sort of deus-ex machina ending (to use one of Roger Ebert's favorite terms) to defuse a potentially impossible situation.

The premise of the movie is, however, quite promising and was one of the reasons I went to a sneak preview of it here (Other reasons include the fact that the aforementioned sneak preview was free (!) and the trailer was rather interesting). Anyway, here's how it goes: God and the Devil supposedly made a bet as to who between them can get a higher number of human souls; now, the rule was they aren't allowed to interfere with our lives directly, only sort of nudge us in some particular direction, which would earn us eternal bliss (in heaven) or eternal damnation (in, you guessed it, HELL), after we die of course. The actual "nudging" is done by their minions, angels, for God and demons, for the Devil.

So, where does Keanu Reeves come into all this. He plays John Constantine, a chain smoker, who has the gift to see these angels and demons walking among us and hopes to get into God's good graces by kicking wayward demon's asses back to hell. His life gets even more interesting when a police detective played by Rachel Weisz asks his help to prove that her dead sister did not committ suicide. (Did the Devil make her do it, then?)

With such a rich subject, you would expect things to explode off the screen, but, the movie, instead, makes the cardinal sin (its going straight to hell!) of taking its subject matter way-too-seriously and goes on to bombard us with a ton of pseudo-Christian hocus-pocus and unneeded, underdeveloped minor characters, that it loses its focus just as the plot "thickens" (Remind you of The Matrix-Reloaded and Revolutions, anyone?) The end product is an unevenly made supernatural thriller that isn't very super and doesn't thrill too much either.

Visually, however, the movie oozes style with some slick cinematography and camerwork that prevent it from looking tired. The plot also moves through a lot of different environments, sort of like a video game and each of them sport a different, interesting look. The special effects are awesome without ever dominating the movie, usually a good thing (but not so here with the people being as uninteresting as they are).

Constantine is based on a comic book and given the track record of comic books turned to movies, you really shouldn't be surprised by the lack of character development. Keanu Reeves' character is a 'been-there-seen-that' kind of guy which suits him perfectly as it means he hardly has to show any emotion ever. Rachel Weisz is very subdued throughout most of the movie - you never know what really drives her to be what she is; is she tough or vulnerable? Brave or stupid? The other characters...well, who really cares? What was needed here was more special effects, less mumbo-jumbo! That would have made this movie into another Matrix! Now, that would have been something!

NOTE: There was apparently a bonus ending to this movie, at the end of the credits, which I missed 'cos I didn't know about it (I read about it just today at imdb.com). Now, come on! That's not fair! There should really be a "bonus ending" alert in movies, kinda like "Parental guidance is advised" alerts. Can you really expect people to sit through minutes of mind-numbing credits rolling down in the tentative hope that there may be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel? No!

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sideways

Sideways is a poignant and humorous tale of two middle-aged buddies, Miles (Paul Giamatti), English teacher and wine-connoisseur, and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), an actor, going on a road-trip of California’s vineyards one week before Jack is getting married. Miles is the kind of person who can instantaneously kill the most swinging of parties; he’s a depressed, self-absorbed loser who’s unsure of where is life is heading. Jack is almost his alter-ego, a party animal, who wants one last week of freedom (read “sex”) before settling down into what promises to be a very opulent life.

In Miles and Jack, director Alexander Payne gives us two characters difficult to sympathize with, at least initially. Miles is not one of those interesting, lovable loser-types, the kind the audience roots for. He steals from his mother when he’s short of cash; he lies easily, gets drunk all the time and cannot stop talking about wine. Neither is Jack one of those lovable goofy guys whom everyone easily forgives with a shrug. He comes off as a selfish person, lucky to be where he is in life, seemingly prepared to throw it all away and hurt everyone around him, just to satisfy his cravings.

But our opinions begin to change as the week unfolds and we get to know the two better, especially Miles, who is the focus of the movie (Giamatti features in pretty much every scene). Miles goes around most of the time feeling like a heel, facing constant rejection and disappointment before eventually meeting Maya (Virginia Madsen), whose interest in him gives him some sense of redemption even though he is not sure he deserves it. Jack meanwhile has his dreams answered in Stephanie (Sandra Oh) who appears to be one of those hot, “easy” girls, just looking for a good time and just what the doctor ordered as far as he is concerned.

Even though we never really understand that Maya sees in Miles, their relationship helps bring out some of his nicer sides, especially as we contrast his behavior with Jack’s and, thus, begin to like him a little, kinda... In their first double date, Jack easily slips into infidelity with Stephanie, while Miles mumbles and fumbles his way through, unable to move from the subject of wine. Miles’ timidity compared to Jack’s temerity also provides a lot of the humor in the movie.

Overall, Giamatti gives a terrific performance as Miles here, a kind of depressed version of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty and it is quite surprising that he did not get a Best Actor nomination. Both Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church definitely deserve theirs though and the only reason that Sandra Oh didn’t get one is we don’t get to know her as much as Maya (Much of her action with Jack takes place off-screen).

NOTE: I spent quite some time wondering why the movie was titled "Sideways". While I can think of a lot of low-level metaphorical explanations, I've been unable to come up with anything satisfactory!

2 Comments:

Blogger Samanth said...

It's called "Sideways" because in American slang, "going sideways" means "getting drunk" - which Miles does a whole lot of in the film!

7:18 PM  
Blogger Santosh Sankar said...

Oh! Didn't know that! Danke!!!

7:58 PM  

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Aviator

Extolling the genius of Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes. Film-maker/Womanizer/Inventor/Aviator. Here was a life that was meant to be turned into a movie! Director Martin Scorsese’s take on this remarkable character focuses chronicles the golden period of his life when he revolutionized the aviation industry through his brilliant foresight and designs. With Leonardo DiCaprio delivering a stellar performance as the title character, this is a movie that truly inspires. Here was a man who, almost literally, aimed for the stars and DiCaprio makes us believe in him and root for him. His irrepressible enthusiasm rubs off on us as he successfully executes one bold decision after another, on his way to, among other things, breaking the flying speed record and building the world’s biggest airplane to date, out of wood!

Millionaire by the time he was eighteen after inheriting his father’s drill-bit industry, the Texas-born Hughes moved to Hollywood to make movies, not totally thrilled by the prospect of manufacturing drill-bits for the rest of his life! There he made “Hell’s Angels” in 1930, which at $3.8 million was the most expensive movie at that time. He followed this up with “Scarface” which was censored for its extreme violence and “The Outlaw” which attained notoriety for its focus on the sensational bosoms of its lead actress, Jane Russell.

Hughes also made news for the numerous women in his life, Hollywood starlets whom he couldn’t seem to get enough of. The movie focuses on the most prominent of these ladies, Katherine Hepburn, delightfully mimicked here by Cate Blanchett, and Ava Gardner, played with seductive appeal by Kate Beckinsale. Hughes’ relationship with Hepburn is particularly amusing with Hepburn’s loquacity overwhelming the usually audacious Hughes.

The movie also shows how Hughes’s severe Obsessive Compulsive Order (OCD) affected his life, making him a total recluse from public life for extended periods of time. DiCaprio gives a very touching portrayal of OCD here without succumbing to the temptation of overacting. Watch him in one scene where he cannot stop himself repeating a line over and over again – he is at once both shocked at what’s happening and disgusted with himself for being unable to control it.

Other notable performances include Alan Alda as a U.S. Senator in the pocket of Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin), Hughes’ competitor in the aviation industry. The always reliable John C. Reilly plays the harried Noah Dietrich who has to sort out the paperwork whenever Hughes decides to execute one of his seeming crazy ideas.

Scorsese is at his usual best here, impeccably guiding the movie through the vagaries of Hughes’ life without ever getting bogged down. Will this movie signal his first directing Oscar? Losing out in this category four times before, this prolific film-maker has also remarkably never delivered a Best Picture winner either. The Aviator may not be his greatest but deserves to win for sheer ambition, a hallmark of all of Scorsese’s works.

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