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“A highly relevant urban tale that acknowledges reality and stylistically brings forth an actor’s struggle to reclaim his mastery “

Birdman (2014): Movie Review

‘Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’ was one film I was really excited to watch on the big screen, mostly because of the buzz around its camera and editing works, which I must say is brilliant. Through this black comedy, Alejandro Inarittu openly takes a swing at the superhero films and blockbusters which idolize and typecast most actors. The film (literally) revolves around Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), the star from the 80s (or early 90s) better known to all as ‘Birdman’ but now a diminishing actor, and his attempt to portray an adaptation of  a Raymond Carver story named ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ on the Broadway. It also invisibly cuts into his broken relationship with his ex-wife Sylvia (Anna Ryan), girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and daughter Sam (Emma Stone).

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" starring Riggin Thomson

(“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” starring Riggan Thomson)
Michael Keaton & Edward Norton

Throughout the film, Riggan encounters his ego in the form of ‘Birdman’ – the character/role that catapulted him into the limelight. This personification of his ego turns out to be the haunting villain in his life as well as the empowering force that drives him. Riggan does reflect on his obsession with his character during his years, which wrecked his family life and also displays his aversion towards it by fighting with it. Riggan, who now leads a fading career as an actor ambitiously forays into directing the play based on Carver’s short story. This venture is Riggan’s quest for relevancy and re-establishing his fame as an actor and ‘getting out of that feathered suit’ that has been holding him back. Michael Keaton should be praised for his classy performance and courage to take up this role, which playfully mocks his own career in a way. The fact that Keaton once played ‘Batman’, and that too in the 80s, adds an extra dimension to the film.

Edward Norton portrays Mike Shiner, an adept method actor who comes in as a replacement for another role in Riggan’s play. Shiner quickly gets in sync and settles down with the rest of the crew, but proving to be a competition for Riggan in terms of acting. Emma Stone plays Sam Thomson, Riggan’s daughter and also his assistant, an ex-junkie (who ‘seems’ to be recovering). Her explosive monologue on ‘relevancy’ to her father is one of the strongest scenes in the movie. Naomi Watts also displays her acting skills through Lesly – a passionate actress, who is about to make her first Broadway appearance. One unlikely but highly admirable performance was displayed by Zack (yes) Galifianakis, and I hope that he would take up such serious roles in future.

Its fascinating how composer Antonio Sanchez has glued in and brought out the feel of this film with scores made just using drums. The unexpected abruptness and groove in the score suits the satirical atmosphere of the film. There are certain scenes in which I felt an intentionally induced sync between the dialogues and the score (BIRDMAN: “Coffee” Scene). Cinematography is another integral component that makes this film unique. Emmanuel Lubezki who is one of the top cinematographers out there has skillfully maneuvered the camera covering scenes from the gloomy lit backstage to the vibrant and eruptive crowd at Times Square. Kudos to the editing department for making the whole movie appear like a single shot with intelligent cuts and, adding in an appropriate chroma that fills in the mood in every shot.

 BIRDMAN: “Coffee” Scene

‘Birdman’, in a nutshell, is an entertaining film that does justice to the art of film making. The script by Inarittu which he wrote with his successful co-writers from Biutiful (2010), has brought out an engaging and thoughtful exchange of dialogues that grips the audience at various levels. As a one line review, ‘Birdman’ is a highly relevant urban tale that acknowledges reality and stylistically brings forth an actor’s struggle to reclaim his mastery and redefine his persona by shedding those feathers that caged him. ‘Birdman’ does rise above most of the other films released last year and in Inarittu’s filmography.

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4-stars

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Like Kathryn Bigelow’s previous film, Hurt Locker; Zero Dark Thirty also goes by similar standards.  Zero Dark Thirty shows the decade long man-hunt for the almost invisible Osama Bin Laden. The film takes us along the life of Maya (Jessica Chastain), the CIA operative, who takes up the challenge, fights along, and lives through the mission for almost 10 years, to capture the ultimate villain, mankind has ever witnessed.

The golden globe nominated Mark Boal script has sectioned the film into different chapters. This has actually made the movement of time in the film rather smooth. It touches through almost all the significant attacks and events connected with Al Qaeda-the 9/11, the Marriott Hotel attack, the London attack, the attack of CIA base Camp Chapman, etc.

Jason Clarke who plays Dan in ZD30

The film opens with the title “September 11, 2001” in white, against a black background, as we hear radio/ telephonic conversations-news reports, warnings, people crying for help; indicative of the shear confusion and disaster that mankind was put to during the 9/11 attack.  The film then cuts to “The Saudi Group”, the much debated torture scenes of the film.

To comment on these scenes which allegedly show CIA’s inhuman methodology or call it, war tactics, against terrorism; in the context of the film, these scenes are inevitable, and rightfully require the treatment given by BIgelow and Boal. Jason Clarke, who plays Dan (Maya’s superior), gives the film a strong and stern start with his performance.

The film moves in line with CIA operative Maya’s corporate life; a dedicated, determined and smart woman, who has sacrificed her personal life for her job. She gets assigned in Afghanistan, for her first mission, in which she is part of a team, trailing the ultimate super-villain. She witnesses her first interrogation with prisoners(the torturing scenes), gets a taste of the life in this part of the world through her colleagues, and gets to know what it means to protect her homeland ; thus her character keeps growing stronger and bolder as the story moves on.

The interrogations lead them to their first piece of valuable evidence, a contact named Abu Ahmed, who has worked among the high ranks of Al Qaeda, an immediate messenger for Osama Bin Laden. The film progresses with the search for Abu Ahmed, who is reported to have been killed by one of his captured colleagues. Eventually it is revealed that it was his brother who was killed, and not Abu Ahmed. The CIA tracks him down in Pakistan, by hacking in telephonic conversations and locates his hideout in a heavily walled compound in Abbottabad. Later on through satellite surveillance, CIA finds that the compound inhabits more than one family.

The showdown

The last 30 minutes or so of the film is when they send in their U.S Navy SEAL team, to take out their target, after confirming Osama’s presence at the compound. These scenes are extra-ordinarily brilliant with POV-ish shots that put us right into the situation. The cinematography in these scenes is remarkable. The way in which cinematographer Greig Fraser, has handled these scenes in the dark with occasional torch light flashes and flash bangs, switching through night vision and intentional shaky shots can only be expressed as pure excellence.

“Possible Jackpot”. These words seal the mission and the film almost; and the film ends  with the scene in which Maya sits on a flight specially arranged for her return to America. Zero Dark Thirty also features a strong line of supporting cast- Hollywood heavyweight James Gadolfini in his pompous role of the CIA chief, and character actor Mark Strong, playing a superior officer at the CIA, Joel Edgerton, who is part of the U.S Navy SEAL team, Emmy winner Kyle Chandler and Edgar Ramirez also doing a good job.

Zero Dark Thirty is a frontrunner for almost every award out there. Jessica Chastain, who was one of the top performers last year, is busy collecting awards this time. The film has already garnered accolades from Washington, Boston Critics, National Board of Review, AFI Film award, 4 Golden Globe nominations (unfortunately winning only one out of it), and has been nominated for 5 BAFTA and Oscar Awards each.

Zero Dark Thirty is a one of a kind film. It could fall into a category, say, espionage-documentary-ish thriller. Bigelow has maintained the same tone and style as her previous works, and has made a point by moulding a strong woman character such as ‘Maya’, like what Jessica Chastain said in her acceptance speech at the Globes. Though the CIA has openly stated the film as factually insignificant, this film deserves praise for at least dramatizing it then.

4-stars

Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon Levitt

Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon Levitt

Time travel movies are always fascinating and equally confusing. Because, you see, while watching these movies, you’ll have to multi-multi task your brain. I think you got what I meant. You have to run as many algorithms in your head, as the film tries to deviate itself from a regular pop-corn flick, simultaneously. By the time you finish watching Looper, many things would have gone in a loop. Stay focused.

Rian Johnson, who wrote and also directed the film, shared in an interview, that he had initially developed it as a three page Short. Quite honestly, it should never have been a Short, and fortunately its shaped up as a 120 min entertainment. Thanks to the producers.

Looper is a futuristic sci-fi movie. It takes place in 2044. 30 years from this point, which is the ‘future’, time travel has been invented, but has been outlawed. ‘Loopers’ are the executioners, who execute people (in the present) sent from the future by criminal organization, and are part of a crime syndicate. The whole story unwinds, when Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) meets his future self, at his gunpoint, and has to close his loop (Closing the loop is when the Looper has to execute his future self, and by this, they officially complete their contract). Old Joe (Bruce Willis) reveals to Joe (Levitt) that he had come from the future, to kill the ‘Rainmaker’, a dictator who came from nowhere, and has ordered to close the loops of all Loopers, and who also killed his wife.

The acting department has done an outstanding job. Joseph-Gordon Levitt, yup, the cute-faced innocent looking lad in 500 Days of Summer, 50-50, etc. has proved that he could turn into a badass lead as well. He perfectly portrayed a younger version of Bruce Willis. I mean, especially during his conversation with Abe (Jeff Daniels), all those one word mumbling replies and all that look he gives, were classic Willis stuffs!  Actors such as Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels have done a decent job as well.

The screenplay by Rian Johnson, is undoubtedly what makes the film outstanding. He has chosen to take forward the story in a  narrative fashion, intelligently twisting the timeline. The way he incorporates the elements of love and affection – motherly love and the love between a husband and wife, makes this flick stand-out from other such time travel movies. Another plus point, is the score by Nathan Johnson. There was a video in which he explained, how he created the scores for the film; he had recorded live industrial and machine sounds for making the soundtracks. As a description, its kind of atmospheric, mechanical and has more of like an ambient style to it, creating the perfect heavenly or futuristic tone needed for the film.

Looper certainly deserves a spot among the top films of 2012. Looper had quite an average collection when it opened, but it certainly picked up from then on. Statistics reveal that it has now grossed above $150m which is not bad for a budget of $30m. Looper is a great thrilling time travel experience! Go get the DVDs now!

“Fast paced, brilliantly written and acted; one of the best series of the year, and Jeff Daniels is simply superb”

Aaron Sorkin has created yet another brilliant show. The Newsroom. The first 7 minutes of the very first episode, proved how this show was going to be a success. It had gone viral even before the show actually started. But before I jump in, let me do it by the ‘Newsroom’ way. (Try reading in Will McAvoy’s voice) Aaron Sorkin who wrote A Few Good Men, Moneyball and The Social Network (for which he got back-to-back nominations from the Academy and won for The Social Network), also created famous TV shows such as The West Wing and Sports Night. The reception of this show by the audience was thus not a surprise. It was cheered as Aaron Sorkin’s return to television. Entertainment Weekly has revealed that ‘The Newsroom’ delivered 2.1 million viewers in its debut run, just 0.1 million short of what The Game of Thrones had managed last year. IMDb gives it a good 8.8 mark, while, the Metascore has punished it with an average score of 57 from the critics, but an 8.4 from the users. It has generated 220k+ Facebook fans during its running period of just more than a month. In a nutshell, f*ck the ratings. Just go for it!

The Newsroom shows the behind-the-scene events in a news network agency called the Atlantis Cable News and focuses on star anchor Will McAvoy and his new team of producers. Sorkin has intelligently used real life events in the news, adding to the originality of the show. But whether the depiction of the whole ‘newsroom’ is realistic, is still a reasonable question. The essence of this show lies within the cast (besides Sorkin’s script). Jeff Daniels plays the lead role of Will McAvoy, a showbiz celebrity, the second most watched anchor on television, Emily Mortimer plays MacKenzie McHale who is hired as the Executive Producer for Atlantis Cable News’ (ACN) prime time show News Night, hosted by Will. The other characters in the series are the Associate Producers of ACN- Don (Thomas Sadoski), Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), Maggie (Alison Pill) and Neal (Dev Patel), to name the important ones, Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn)- a business analyst and anchor at ACN and then there is the boss – Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). The cameo roles by Jane Fonda (as Liona Lansing), Terry Crews (as Lonny Church) and David Krumholtz ( Dr. Jack Habib) are also worth mentioning.

To give you a basic picture, season one is a pulp made out of  drama, politics (yes, U.S. politics – so be aware about the basic stuffs about it), romance, and comedy. Trust me, you will certainly love the last part I just mentioned. There are moments where I LMAO! With every episode, the series gets more interesting. Its the complications among the characters- the issues between Mackenzie and Will, between Jim-Maggie and Maggie-Don, the scandals and allegations surrounding  a public figure such as Will, that takes the show forward. It also emphasizes on the devotion of the people at the newsroom towards their job, how they value life and the show gives a cool picture of their busy life- their times at the office, breaks at the bar, shots at night, etc.

Personally, I really enjoyed the show. You’ll get that ‘I wanna live in this world’ feeling after watching the show- especially with that title song on. It’s fast paced, and brilliantly written and acted; one of the best series of the year, and Jeff Daniels is simply superb. The way he takes the character- vibrant, eccentric (and yes, he does get high in one of the episodes- I mean Will McAvoy) and above all, the way he maintains his cool during tense situations, with a one liner. Emmys I believe, should be having him under their scope now. Wishing the best and looking forward to another great season next year. And btw, thanks HBO.

“An amalgamation of reality and  fairytale”

“Finding Neverland” is a wonderful film from the renowned director Marc Forster. It’s a film that brims with emotions, right from the beginning; An amalgamation of reality and  fairytale. It tells the story of the creator of Peter Pan, J.M Barrie, who lived in England during the 17th century. Johnny Depp plays the role of Barrie, who is a playwright. The film also has Kate Winslet playing Sylvia Davies, a widow struggling to bring up her four boys.
Barrie is a well known playwright in London, but who has been declining lately with his plays. At the beginning, the scene opens to the night at the theater, where his play is about to begin. Barrie who is worried about the response, never appears to welcome the audience, rather leaves it to Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), the theater owner. The opening scene is really spectacular, in the way it depicts the people, the theater and all the theatrical paraphernalia of that time. His play, attended by a high class audience of businessmen, artists, and other theater lovers, fails to impress again. The reason being his wild but childish imagination.

Barrie is married, but he lives a loner’s life -giving more priority to his work and plays, than spending time with his wife. One day Barrie meets a boy named Michael, while he was out in the park for a walk and before settling down to write. He eventually meets his mother Sylvia Davies and his three brothers George, Jack and Peter (a specially talented boy), who recognizes him immediately as the popular playwright in town. He performs a small play for them with his dog ‘Porthos’, at the park, just to amuse them. The director has shot these scenes in the most magical way!

Their relationship grows stronger. Barrie becomes more free and open when he spends time with them. The boys start experiencing merry moments like never before, after their father’s death. But this draws the attention of the people around, and Sylvia’s mother Mrs.Maurier (Julie Christie). Rumors start spreading wide, about Barrie and Sylvia, after Barrie takes the Davies family to his summer cottage. Well, even we can feel the tension between them. But Barrie pays no heed to them, and his mind and heart, involuntarily, gets devoted to this family with their every moment together. This leads to a rift in his personal life, with his wife. The Davies family also inspires him to write his next play, in which he includes the joyous kite flying experience, the pirate skit they enjoyed, and he uses the young lad Peter’s name for a character, in his play.

Sylvia, is often taken down by her illness. This is also another reason why Barrie feels for this family, and particularly the children. In fact, Barrie’s affection towards children and childhood are evident from his plays. Eventually her illness becomes chronic, and she’s on her sickbed. Barrie who is about to display his long toiled work, specially invites the Davies family to it, but Sylvia not being able to make it. Charles Frohman, the theater owner, though supportive, still has a hard time getting over the experience Barrie’s play gave to the audience the last time. But Barrie himself finds the solution to get the crowd in his hand, and asks Frohman to keep aside 25 seats in the theater randomly, for some special guests. It works out successfully!

The film has a tearful yet wondrous ending. Barrie takes Sylvia to Neverland, at the end of the film, the place where every child wants to be- with fairies flying around, cute animals playfully moving about, the most peaceful destination imaginable! The performances by Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Julie Christie are remarkable, but I’m a bit disappointed that Hoffman wasn’t given much room with his character to showcase his expertise. But the greater contribution to the film, came from the child actors, especially Freddie Highmore who played Peter.

This film is a masterpiece.

“A fairly solid thrilling experience, despite not meeting the hype”

Lately, I was going through a ‘Ridley Scott marathon’, having covered many of his films long ago, I just ensured that I watched some of those that I missed, so as to have a good assessment of his latest sci-fi alien slasher-ish Prometheus. Looking back at his 1979’s Alien, there are similarities that you can’t leave out regarding the storyline, and maybe even the characters as well.

Having gone through the slicky futuristic weylandindustries.com website, and the Prometheus clips that went viral, I really expected it to go over the top; unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be a neo-classic. Although, being below expectation, I must say; the movie certainly has many breath-taking moments and stunning visuals. Well, before I jump in, let me remind you, it’s mandatory that you watch Alien before heading for the line, or else you might even take it an absolute disaster.

The film has a great connection with the 70’s alien thriller. The whole story takes place in the future, but happens before the period in Alien. Prometheus is a space program commissioned by the Weyland Industries owned by Peter Weyland, which is leading an expedition to unravel the mystery behind the creation of man. Their intergalactic investigations are based on scriptures from different civilizations of the past on the Earth, which points to a planetary system similar to that of ours with a sun.

The crew consists of archaeologists, geologists, biologists, and the specially built android, David 8. The spaceship in this film is superior to that in Alien (which you might question by the end of this post) – the sophisticated, 3D holographic screens and maps akin to Iron Man’s, the freezers and dinner tables from Alien, a fully automated medpod for conducting surgeries, everything’s tip-top; the ultimate spaceship meant for exploration (lacks weaponry though, as it is meant for only scientific exploration). That’s well and good- you have the first impression, much like how we get a glimpse of the ship in Alien at the start of the film.

Upon reaching the destination (the moon of a planet), the team of experts led by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green), set for exploration into a cave (following signs of life), having scriptures, and mural-like-painting-like-things (coz it starts moving) on the walls and the giant human head sculpture; giving them clues of  human existence on the planet! These scenes are really chilling and nostalgic (Alien).

Under such a frightening background, a rift in the team is expected, and it goes by the cliché; and the separated group have their first encounter with alien life forms in these caves. And also, there’s another, 15-20 minutes of nerve-racking certified R sequences back in the ship, which is one of the highlights of the film. Noomi Rapace and her counterpart Logan Marshall-Green really drive the film forward, but the whole standard was raised by Michael Fassbender- perfectly fitting into his robotic role as ‘David’ . It also has brilliant support from Charlize Theron (Meredith Vickers, the ship commander), and Guy Pearce, acting out the multi-billionaire Peter Weyland and Idris Elba (Captain Janek) also doing a fine job.

The thing about the storyline is that, it was purely scripted for the franchise, The film’s climax paves way for the story in ‘Alien’, hence naturally it (Prometheus) is a prequel. And casting Guy Pearce for the role of the senile billionaire,when there are other great performers suiting the role, has more relevance as far as a franchise is concerned. Methinks there’s more on the way and probably a prequel to Prometheus starring Guy Pearce. May be!

Alright, so although the story goes by almost the same route and Ridley Scott just meeting the standards set by him 33 years ago, the cinematic experience doesn’t go dry and is backed by the post-modern techs available in cinema today, giving us epic stunning visuals and neatly supported by the bunch of A-listers. The hype might give Prometheus an edge over Madagascar 3, but Madagascar has a wider release. Its a tight race this weekend for the top spot.  I’d give it a rating of 3 stars upon 5, for a fairly solid thrilling experience, despite not meeting the hype.

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               “Luther is, by far, the best crime thriller drama series I’ve seen till now.”

First of all, my respects, BBC and the creator Neil Cross, for bringing out shows like Luther, MI-5, etc. These days there are tons of series out there spitting out the same ol cliched procedurals and investigations, but Luther could provide you the essential break, that you need. This series, has turned into one of my favorites, and has left me craving for the next season; and also Idris Elba’s scintillating performance as John Luther (I’ve seen his performances in some eps of  “The Wire”, and films such as Rock n Rolla) has lifted him up in my watch-list of actors .

I came to know about this show, after I watched the Globes (2010 and 2011), in which Elba was nominated (back-to-back) for Best Actor in a Mini-series or TV Movie and won it last year, for this role. The other thing that kept my interest in this show was that it was a Brit production. I really love British shows and films; they always have wonderful cinematography, and screenplay incorporating the culture in them and also, yu kno wo els-m talkin-abou – the accssnt.

Luther is an investigative crime drama thriller. But its not just about tracking the culprit; because in every episode, they find out who the criminal is, quickly enough; rather its more about Luther’s approach to solving them or capturing the culprit by law. The distinctive character of Luther is what makes him notorious within his department. He would use any method, which is ethical according to him, for justice. And this hunt for justice has affected his personal life; with an on-and-off relationship with his ex-wife Zoe Luther (Indira Varma).

Its not a one-man show, as you’d quite probably feel like now. He’s well assisted by his faithful team of coppers-Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh), Benny Silver (Michael Smiley), Erin Gray and headed by DSU Rose Teller (Sasika Reeves) and DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowely) in season 1 and 2 respectively.

Luther is a TV series that grows on you. The first season starts of by introducing to us, the extra-brilliant psychopath Alice Morgan, played by Ruth Wilson, who in my opinion was also a strong performer alongside Elba, throughout the first season. Alice Morgan actually keys together all the 6 episodes in season 1, and is kind of like a sub-plot in every episode. Every episode showcase brilliant character acting by the antagonists, taking forms of serial killers, psychos and smugglers.

The last 2 episodes of the first season were so emotional and edge-of-the-seat thrilling that they shaped the series completely, and gave it a unique identity from the rest. Characters such as Mark North, Zoe’s boyfriend, played by Paul McGann, gets more involved with the season end climax, with every episode.

The second season starts off, right from where it ended in the first. But to my dismay, it had only 4 episodes (but was compensated by more thrilling plots). Season 2 was a bit more intelligently plotted with new, evolved, highly skilled law offenders, and the season ender takes us to an unpredictable climax; too much adrenalin rush for a tv-series, I’d say, in a good sense.

I’m very much looking forward to the third season, which is on the making. Elba stated in an interview that the scripts for the third season had been completed, and it would have a challenging  rival for Luther. He also stated that, there are plans for a Luther film coming out after the third season.

Luther is, by far, the best crime thriller drama series I’ve seen till now. I absolutely enjoyed it.

(click to enlarge)