Friday, December 23, 2005

A jaw-dropping Kong and a bewtiching Narnia

No outright winner in this battle of the CGI beasties

"Get your hands off my girl!" So seems to be roaring Aslan from Narnia to King Kong

I went to Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson's King King with admittedly low expectations! Given the uninteresting trailer and the notion of going gooey-eyed at an unlikely interspecies romance between an even more unlikely giant gorilla and a beaut like Naomi Watts, boy, was I looking foward to spending a miserable 3 hours in the theater! And boy, was I wrong!

Kong is a rip-roaring adventure movie that gets every thing just right without ever feeling overdone or cliched! Just when you feel how awkward its going to be to watch anymore of the tender moments between Ann Darrow (Watts) and King Kong, we cut over to a sensational action sequence. Just when we can take no more of that darn Skull Island, back to New York we go! Ann is no slouch either; unlike most annoying movie ingenues who enjoy walking into danger and paralyzing with fear just when they need to get the hell away, she makes all the right moves, keeping her head in tense situations and hesistating for just the right amount of time when playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) arrives to rescue her from Kong! Bravo!

The story is pretty much the same as the 1933 original: fim crew goes to unknown island; lead actress captured by natives and laid out as sacrifice for big gorilla who instead falls in love, gets captured and shipped to New York, escapes, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building and gets killed by airforce planes! Jackson fills the gaps with mind-boggling special effects, including a sequence in a insect-filled pit that is the stuff of your worst nightmares! The best CGI is of course Kong himself, animated in much the same way as Gollum in LOTR was and using the same actor, Andy Serkis, for the process. The movie, however, wouldn't have been remotely the same without the services of Naomi Watts who seems to be able to bring such conviction to any role she plays (watch her in Mulholland Drive and 21 Grams) that its a wonder she's not drowning in Oscars (she does have an outside chance for this role)!

While Kong tries to overwhelm us with its technical wizardry, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe sort of nuzzles up to us using the charm of four British children, who are whisked off to the magical kingdom of Narnia located on the other side of the titular wardrobe. Narnia is ruled over by the evil White Witch, Jadis (a creepy Tilda Swanton) who has doomed the region to permanent winter with no Christmas (kinda how I feel about the weather here. Brrrrr!). The Pevensies, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, discover that it is their destiny to liberate Narnia from the witch's clutches (little rhyme there!) and in this quest they are helped by various magical creatures that include fauns, centaurs, talking beavers and most importantly, the all-knowing Lion king, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).

Similar to King Kong, Aslan is also completely CGI, though, however unfair it sounds, nowhere near the same level. While the latter is all but flawless, he is no match for the finesse of Kong, his worn, grizzled exterior, his pot belly and most of all his tragically human facial expressions. This is further exacerbated by the poor pacing in the middle portion of Narnia where not enough time is spent in developing the personality of Aslan; I remember more about the White Witch to be honest!

Where Narnia triumphs though is in the utter lovability of the children especially Georgie Henley as Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensies. There is a scene she has with a faun, Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), when she first enters Narnia, that hits a pitch perfect note of sweetness. William Moseley plays Peter, the eldest, with admirable earnestness as he tries to shoulder a burden he feels too young for. Then there is Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the bad egg in the family, who with his big eyes gives an exceptionally intense perforrmance as the traitor who betrays his family for some Turkish delight! All solid stuff!

Narnia ran into some controversy before its release here because of its none-too-implicit Christian subtext, so intended by the author of the books on which the movie is based, C.S. Lewis. The short answer to those who find this worrysome is this: The movie has as much Christianity in it as the book has and it will overwhelm the movie only if you want it to!


Blogger Anantha said...

dude, make sure you go watch Munich. I think it is a well made movie, though a bit long but very well shot.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Santosh Sankar said...

Hey, I just caught Munich a couple of days back. Really engrossing movie!

8:52 AM  

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Sunday, December 11, 2005


Where oil is power

Spot the good guy!

Stephen Gaghan's Syriana probably has the mother of all complicated plots I've ever seen in a movie. It can in some ways be considered the oily brother of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic which Gaghan wrote the screenplay for. While the latter was about the war on drugs, this one is about the war for oil, about what some people will do for oil and how oil is the black God of power in the world, whether we like it or not.

The movie revolves around four basic sub-plots each of which is connected to one or more of the others. An American oil company, Connex, which has just lost drilling rights in a Middle Eastern country to "the Chinese", wants to merge with another American company, Killen, which has just been awarded rights in Kazakhstan. A Washington attorney, Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by Connex to discover if there is anything shady about Killen that could affect the merger. Two Pakistani men, oil workers for Connex in the Middle East are laid off from their jobs due to the Chinese takeover, making them susceptible to extremist Islamic ideas.

Meanwhile, reform minded Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), the one who sold the drilling rights to the Chinese ("They were the highest bidder!", he mentions indignantly) finds American pressure is making his father, the Emir, pass the crown to his younger, pro-Western, brother. Matt Damon plays an energy analyst in Geneva whose son is drowned by accident during a party at the Emir's residence and finds his company awarded business opportunities as an apology, much to the chagrin of his wife who (rightly) feels that their son's life has been traded for money. Further, realizing that Damon shares his reformist notions, Prince Nasir hires him as a financial advisor.

And finally, finally, we come to George Clooney's character, Bob Barnes, a CIA agent whom you would find in the dictionary under the entry "grizzled veteran", finding himself sold out by his superiors after a botched assasination job on Prince Nasir. It is difficult to call Clooney the hero of this picture, though he is certainly the biggest name in there. In truth, there is no hero in this one, good seems to be a relative state, as the wanton hunger for oil supercedes every other consideration.

Clooney, though, clearly played his heart out for this role, reportedly gaining 30 pounds to become the beefy Barnes. This weight gain proved to be tragic during filming for him where repeated takes of a gruesome torture sequence caused him to injure his spine, requiring surgery and medication. While he certainly is at the very heart of the picture, it is Prince Nasir who IS the heart. His well-written role of an idealistic reformer with the odds stacked against him gives him plenty of good lines which he delivers like he belives in them! Look into his big round eyes and you WILL believe!

One of the movie's strong points is an amazing feel of realism. There is a great scene where some Pakistani oil workers are playing cricket and a god-awful batsman swings hard and misses each time! There is also a recurring theme of father-son relationships going bad, seeming to suggest the greed for oil undermines the most basic values. What is also suggested is the utter helplessness of the characters involved when the decisons are made by a higher power and disparate events are connected to each other in unimaginable ways; you become a pawn against your will and knowledge! The higher power could be the extremist leaders, the heads of oil companies or superiors at the CIA! Oil comes first; everything else is second. And that is the message of Syriana!

NOTE: I looked up the meaning of "Syriana" in an online encyclopedia and here is what came up:

Pax Syriana: (Latin for "Syrian peace", modelled after "Pax Romana" and "Pax Britannica") refers to a time of relative peace in Lebanon maintained by Syrian hegemony and enforced by the Syrian army. The term may also be used negatively to refer to Syria's imperialist ambitions in Lebanon.

I take it that in this movie it refers to illusions of propriety created by those working for oil-interests.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent and accurate review of the movie...although i have to say that in my opinion the hero of the movie was prince nasir with his determination to do what was right for his nation. and on some level bob attempted to redeem himself in the end...:)

8:47 PM  

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

ICC Update

November 28: End of India - South Africa ODI series

India pull of a convincing victory against Suid Afrika to draw the series 2 - 2 and take the ICC on an upswing again! Seeing as that India now begin a test series against the Lankans (which is off to a water-laden beginning), I will see if I can come up with a system to include Test matches and ODI's in the same chart. Till then, enjoy this nice indicator of India's inconsistency over the last two series!

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