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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eat Pray Love (Released in 2010) - Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, James Franco

Eat Pray Love, previously named as “The virtues of life”, is a rom-com drama directed by Ryan Murphy, and is based on the book by the same name, written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Like the book, the movie is a memoir of the author and her exploits and experiences around the globe. Starring Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert, the author and protagonist, the movie starts with Liz leaving behind her husband, home and a successful job, because she feels lost and confused about what she wants in life. She steps out of her comfort zone and decides to travel the world for a year. In her journeys she meets people, each of whom contribute in her quest for self-discovery. The story begins in New York and travels all the way to Italy where she spends a few months eating, then to India, where she finds solace in prayers and Indonesia where she tries to find a balance in life and falls in love with a Brazilian businessman, played by Javier Bardem.
The movie is mostly on the same lines as the book. However, it does vary in rather frustrating aspects. Where, in the book Gilbert spends only a few pages on her divorce and wanting to travel, in the movie Gilbert spends a grueling 45 minutes in New York. Consequently the viewer is silently begging her to move ahead and get on the plane out of NYC.




Gilbert then goes to Italy where she indulges in pastas like they were going out of fashion. But, where in the book Gilbert tries to find herself and her identity in solitude, in the movie Gilbert is shown to be enjoying by socializing. From Italy, Gilbert moves to India where yet again, on the advice of someone else, she joins an ashram and tried to find strength and a sense of identity through prays. After 3 short months of inner reflection in India, she goes to Bali, Indonesia where she meets a Brazilian businessman - Javier Bardem and falls in love.
Julia Roberts does a wonderful job as a witty and exuberant Liz Gilbert. However, where it could be fun to spend a year travelling with Liz Gilbert, it isn’t much fun watching a 2 and a half hour long movie all about her and the good men thrown her way. The movie is all about Gilbert, her journey, her ambitions, and the good luck she has in finding decent men, most of whom she turns down or leaves. She funds her entire trip on an advance given to her by her publisher, who hopes a years’ worth of exploits will make a good read.
The cinematography is beautiful, with rich and exquisite landscapes shown throughout the film, especially towards the end in Bali. But the gigantic running time, tests the patience of even the most loyal viewer. Unfortunately, the movie is a long and dreary version of the book, with the spot light shining firmly on Liz Gilbert’s every whim and fancy. Worth a watch for Julia Robert fans, but be prepared to sit through the entire length of the movie, which could get tedious.

Eat Pray Love (Released in 2010) - Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, James Franco

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Larry Crowne (Released in 2011) - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts - Nothing exceptional

Larry Crowne is a romantic comedy movie which is produced and directed by Tom Hanks. The screenplay is written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos of the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame. However, most if not all of Nia Vardalos’ movies have been downhill since then. In spite of Tom Hanks’ direction, the movie has a total lack of excitement. In spite of a colourful star cast, the movie fails to make an impact.
Larry Crowne starts with the protagonist, the movie’s name sake-Tom Hanks, working at a U-Mart store, after having left the Navy. He finds out that instead of being praised for his work, he has been downsized on account of the fact that he does not have a college degree. Subsequently, Larry finds himself struggling with a lot of things. Having lost his job, he now struggles with mortgage payments and a lot of free time on his hands. He sells the SUV he can no longer afford and buys a scooter from his neighbor, played by Cedric the Entertainer.
Realizing he needs to get a college degree, he goes back to his local community college, and takes up 2 courses. One of them is Economics, which he excels in; and the other is Speech, taught by Mercedes Tainot, played by Julia Robert. Mercedes is shown to be struggling with an unhappy marriage to Dean, who was a writer, now turned self-proclaimed blogger, played by Brian Cranston.




The story timidly moves ahead with Larry now adjusting to college life surrounded by people who would be better suited in a Disney movie. Larry undergoes a life transformation with the help of Talia, played by Gugu Mbatha Raw and accepts her invitation to join her Motor Scooter Club - which is a tamer version of the motorbike gang. He even takes up a job at the local diner.
While enjoying a night out with the scooter club, Larry passes Mercedes waiting at a bus stop after her night with Dean goes horribly. He offers her a ride home, which she eventually accepts. On the way they spot Dean being pulled over for drunk driving. A romantic relationship develops between Larry and Mercedes, whose mood starts to improve as the screenplay makes her move away from her monstrous husband Dean.
The screenplay is predictable from here on, with every box being checked. Mercedes divorces Dean - Check! Mercedes and Larry develop a relationship - Check! Larry gets better in speech class and masters both courses - Check! Larry moving on to next semester, and pursuing a relationship with now divorced Mercedes - Check!
Another negative for this movie, is the rapid decline of importance given to a crucial issue, which is the impact of unemployment on the middle age population. After confronting serious issues of economic crises in the beginning, the movie just abandons any seriousness and progresses to more sugary fluffy stuff.
Overall the movie is not bad. It’s just very tepid, completely lacking conflict and drama. The screenplay is happy go lucky all around and very bland. Larry Crowne is a good decent guy who will have a good decent life overall. Watching this 100 minute movie is like watching a cake being baked, which isn’t exciting. You just want it to be over soon.

Larry Crowne (Released in 2011) - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts - Nothing exceptional

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mirror Mirror (Released in 2012) - Starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane

Mirror mirror is a comedy/ fantasy movie adaptation of the fairy tale Snow White, written by the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the movie has a huge star cast, including actors like Julia Roberts and Sean Bean. With rich cinematography and grand sets, every scene in the movie is a feast for the eyes. This is solely because of the direction given by Tarsem Singh, who is partial to bright and attractive costumes, with larger than life sets. Each scene bursts with colours and grandiose. But, even though the movie is a fresh and entertaining take on the fairy tale, it is not loyal to the original story. Keeping with modern times, the story line is written so as to be a bit more believable, unlike its predecessors.
The movie opens with a short narration by Roberts, explaining how she was married to the King of a vast kingdom, played by Sean Bean. Then one day the King enters the forest and doesn’t ever return, leaving the poor Queen to play stepmother to the Princess, and manage the kingdom and its subjects. But the princess, played by Lily Collins, has been made prisoner till she turns 18, at which time she escapes from the clutches of the Queen and finds a safe haven in the forest. Soon the Queen’s adviser, played rather amusingly by Nathan Lane, informs her that the kingdom is in deep financial crisis.
The movie shifts through an uncomfortable phase where Prince Charming stumbles into the kingdom, and the Queen plots to marry him, so as to use his riches to save the kingdom from financial ruin. The only problem is that she doesn’t even have the money to fund the royal ball, where she plans for them to fall in love.



Meanwhile Prince Charming, played by Armie Hammer has already crossed paths with Snow White in the forest. However, it isn’t the Prince but Snow who has been given a stronger character in the movie. So as to force the Prince to marry her, the Queen manages to slip him a love potion. What follows is an amusing half hour of “puppy” love, rectified only by Snow White and her band of rebellious dwarfs, thus saving the Prince.
Collins does a beautiful job as Snow White. But, it is Roberts who steals the show with her understated acting skills. What sets the movie apart from the original, is the fact that in this version, the evil queen never asks the question - “Whose the fairest of them all?”. But, her obsession with aging and fading beauty are expressed clearly in the movie. In spite of all the plus points in the movie, it still falls a bit flat in the chemistry and dialogue department. Especially the chemistry between the Queen and Snow White, or the Queen and the Prince fails to impress.
All in all, even though the visual appeal of the movie speaks volumes, the dialogues and basic chemistry leave a lot to be desired. Where the movie could have been crackling and explosive, it falls into the same repetitive pattern of the fairy tale it was adapted from.

Mirror Mirror (Released in 2012) - Starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane

Thursday, August 7, 2014

August: Osage County (Released in 2013) - A modest hit, the starring cast had too many acting experts

When you take a movie with such acting stars as Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc, then you know that the movie is going to be a big one. What else contributes to the sheer cast and sheen of a movie - well, how about 2 more facts. The first being that the movie was being produced by such people as George Clooney, and the Weinsteins. Further, the movie was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play (having the same name); all of these would be a recipe that would make a movie a superhit, both commercially and with critics. However, this 2013 had a mixed score - it did not make too much money and if there was praise from critics, there was also criticism by others. For a movie that tried to depict itself as a black drama comedy, there was criticism that there amount of comedy was less, and in fact, it was too dark. And if you have seen the movie, you would also consider this take of a dysfunctional family to be too dark. The movie was nominated for a number of awards, but apart from a few awards (not the Oscars), it remained nominated and did not win.




The movie is about the family (daughters and sister) of a man who has disappeared. Beverly Weston (played by Sam Shepard) is married to a strong willed lady Violet. Violet has cancer of the mouth, for which she is taking drugs to handle the pain, and at the same time, she is a literal pain for Beverly (who is an alcoholic himself). Her drugs and overall disposition ensures that she can be plain nasty at times. Meanwhile, Beverly has just hired a lady to take care of Violet; soon after, Beverly goes missing, and Violet calls her daughters and sister over for help to find Beverly. And that is where the main story progresses.
And the family is an odd mix. Her eldest daughter, Barbara (played by Julia Roberts), who can be equal to her mother in nastiness, is separated from her husband Bill, but for this time, comes along with Bill and her daughter Jean (14 year old). The middle daughter is Ivy lives nearby and is single. Her youngest daughter, Karen, also arrives there (along with a man who she claims is her fiancee, a sleazy businessman). And to complete the list of relatives, Violet's sister, Mattie Fae also arrives there with her husband, Charles, and soon after, their son "Little Charles" (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) arrives there. In the meantime, the Sheriff has declared that Beverly drowned in the lake, and a funeral is planned.
Once the funeral has happened, that is when the dysfunctional family shows the tensions and emotions within. Violet starts to become truthful and also brutal, and Barbara promptly shows that she is not less talented than Violet. The tension in Little Charles family also becomes clear, when Mattie Fae puts him down after he has sang a song for Ivy, and Charles promptly tells his wife that he will no longer tolerate her berating Little Charles, and they can get divorced on this ground. The tensions in the family keep on increasing, with some painful truths coming out, and family members leaving the house.

August: Osage County (Released in 2013) - A modest hit, the starring cast had too many acting experts

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cliffhanger (Released in 1993) - Action adventure on the mountains - Starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker

Gabriel Walker (Sylvester Stallone) is a mountain climber and rescue ranger, who is on a rescue mission to help an injured climber Hal with his girlfriend and partner Sarah (Michelle Joyner). Fastened with cables, Gabe is hanging out the side of a cliff, silhouetted against an amazing backdrop of jagged edged cliffs of the Rocky Mountains. The trio must now make an arduous slither across the valley to the waiting chopper, at four thousand feet! Hal makes it, and a visibly nervous Sarah takes to the cables to make her way across. The wind is picking up, and this could risk the rescue mission, Gabe tells Sarah not to look down, and she moves across the line. Suddenly, one of the clips gives way and she is hurtled downward, as she cries and tries to hold onto the flimsy support, Gabe hurries across, just as the cable give way - she grabs his forearm, unfortunately her glove slips and she falls to her death, as an angry Hal looks at Gabe with blame in his eyes.
Gabe looks up Jessie Deighan, the chopper pilot that day and his girlfriend, who is upset that Gabe took off after Sarah’s funeral instead of facing the consequences. Now he wants to leave the town and wishes that Jess would go along with him. She wants him to stop feeling guilty about what happened out on the ledge, logically questioning why Hal took an inexperienced Sarah with him in the first place, Gabe won’t have any of it, and continues to hold himself responsible for the mishap. Jess and Hal are called to another rescue mission - the boys who met Gabe are stranded on the ledge. Jess asks him to help - and he does, but a still angry Hal tries to throw Gabe off the cliff.




Elsewhere, bank money is being transported in flight, as the threat of burglary is high in armored vehicles and trains, treasury agents are getting ready for the flight. As he returns to town eight months after the incident, his truck is followed by admirers, who want him to climb The Tower (where the incident took place) with him - he politely refuses and sends them with a warning. It turns out that the distress call for rescue was a hoax and there is a band of robbers waiting to accost the treasury agents on their flight with the money. Ex military men are involved in daring air-to-air transfer mission to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars - unfortunately, their plan goes kaput as the suitcases with the currency fall into the mountain pass - they instead, rope in Hal and Gabe to help trace the treasure by faking an emergency.
Siding up with the thieves is Hal, who is hot on Gabe’s trail after the tragic death of his girlfriend Sarah, for which he holds Gabe responsible. A thriller all the way.
Directed by Renny Harlin, based on a premise by John Long (!) and with a screen play co written by Stallone, the film was praised by critics and audiences, although many were critical of the technical aspect of climbing shown in the film. The movie set a record for the highest aerial stunt which was performed at 15000 feet! A remake of the film was to be made in 2010, but yet remains under wraps. An average success, it was a change from most of Stallone’s army guy/tough cop roles.

Cliffhanger (Released in 1993) - Action adventure on the mountains - Starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Specialist (Released in 1994) - Fight between 2 specialists - Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods

Captain Ray Quick (Sylvester Stallone) and Colonel Ned Trent (James Woods) are explosive experts working for the CIA. Once partners, they worked for the CIA, but soon fell out over Trent’s lack of sensitive work ethics. In 1984, they are asked to take out a drug dealer in a heist; Ray was upset that Ned made an executive decision which resulted in the loss of life of a young child, even though it also killed a drug dealer. The Captain is of the opinion that children’s lives cannot be the collateral damage in policing. Colonel Trent and Ray come to blows over this and their partnership fall out.
After some years, Ray settles in Miami and is now working as a hit man. He is known as The Specialist as the explosives he plants do not harm innocent bystanders. His services are in great demand, yet he is extremely picky about the cases he takes. Most of the demands are made over the Internet, and one such person who contacts him is May Munro (Sharon Stone), he becomes her confidante and she discloses to him that her parents were killed by three men who work for Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts), incidentally, Trent heads security for Joe, his father. May persuades Ray to help her infiltrate Leon’s circle, he refuses and tries to talk her out of it - but she insists that she will go ahead irrespective of whether or not he helps her. May uses the alias Adrian Hastings.
The lower rung of the ladder in Leone’s organization is hit by police, which is when Trent uses his influence to get onto the bomb squad. Tomas on the other hand is attracted to May alias Adrian, who takes advantage of this new angle to their relationship to get closer to him. Ray kills two of the men May identified as her parents murderers - however, Ned gets suspicious and forces Adrian to side up with him, so that Ray’s cover is blown and he can also get even with his enemy from the past - he has sworn vengeance as the CIA asked Trent to quit.




Ray sets up a trap for Tomas, he is killed and since Adrian was with him at that time - everyone believes that she is dead, too. Joe Leon is livid, and spares Trent his life only so that he can sniff out his son’s murderer before the funeral. Ray and Ned are both under the impression that Adrian has also perished in the bomb blast - however, when he gets a message on the Internet and replies thinking its May - it turns out to be a hoax, for which Trent is responsible. A crestfallen Ray goes to attend May’s funeral, only to be pleasantly surprised that she is alive and well. Trent, also expecting this to be Adrian’s last rites, is in for a rude shock, when he sees that the body in the casket is someone else’s. Furious, Trent meets Adrian and she makes a feeble protest, lamely excusing herself - not one to be conned twice, Trent asks his sidekick to escort her out to his car - on the way out she goes to the restroom and calls Ray up to warn him.
The Captain wires the entire hotel room, and detonates it when Trent’s men enter. A persistent Ned is relieved that he can still have his revenge when the two are led into a much booby trapped building - however, he walks into one himself and is killed. The Specialist was the third highest grossing box office hit for Stallone in the ‘90s, and although audiences were disappointed with the lack of romance between two of the most desirable onscreen pairings - Stone and Stallone - yet, worldwide audiences also welcomed the new look sported by Ray aka Sly - clean and cool, not sporty or jungle maverick!

The Specialist (Released in 1994) - Fight between 2 specialists - Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods

Friday, July 25, 2014

Demolition Man (Released in 1993) - A corny futuristic movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne

Experimenting with different genres to exercise his talent (maybe) - Stallone’s Demolition Man is a sci-fi thriller, released in 1993 starring him as John Spartan, an LA cop nicknamed ‘Demolition Man’, for his reckless and destructive law enforcement work style. He is pitted against Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) who is evil to the core. In 1996, Spartan is set up by Phoenix in a case implicating him for the deaths of hostages in a bus, which was taken hostage by Phoenix. Spartan leads a Special Operations Unit which is unable to rescue the people, as result they all perish and he is sentenced to sixty years approximately, in prison.
This is where the movie takes off - in 2032. In that distant future, prisons are scientifically more advanced and sound ‘cryo prisons’; prison inmates are cryogenically frozen. A terrible natural catastrophe has struck LA, as a result of which much of the city is destroyed. A new one is formed in its stead - wherein erstwhile LA and San Diego are merged to form San Angeles, the city is in the capable hands of Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Nigel Hawthorne). What merges, other than the geographic territory, is also the criminal demographic, despite the fact that weapons are banned and every human desire is sanctioned by the SAPD.
Phoenix seizes the opportunity to escape during a prison hearing for parole - he is able to overpower the guards and prison warden without problems. He is the quintessential villain - physically strong with fighting prowess, multi lingual, with a superior understanding of futuristic sciences and heightened sensory skills. Given the largely pacific environment in San Angeles, the law enforcement agencies are incapable of dealing with the heightened menace of Phoenix. A veteran on the Force suggests that the ‘Demolition Man’ Spartan be resurrected to help capture Phoenix.




Unlike Phoenix, Spartan has adaptability issues and is unable to make a smooth transition from the cryo stage to part human-part machine creature. The actual face behind menacing Phoenix is actually Cocteau who aims to overpower the underground resistance called ‘Scraps’ and reign supreme over San Angeles. Spartan sees security footage of a conversation between Phoenix and Cocteau; the former is in a museum at the weapons exhibit, in a bid to arm himself. Sandra Bullock is Lenina Huxley, who is Stallone’s love interest in the film - awkward kisses are exchanged between the two as they remain in their robotic, machine state.
The culture represented in the film is truly surreal - no one dies of unnatural causes, there are no human activities that includes sex (great future there!), best aspect is that there is no poverty. There are no fast food joints, they were all ‘killed’ in the franchise wars - only Taco Bell survives (for overseas audiences, the equivalent was Pizza Hut, since it had more brand presence abroad). Every person is fitted with a microchip, which can be tracked by a central federal computer. What happens in the battle between Spartan and Phoenix, given that they cause mayhem all around during their fights ?
The film was well received by audiences, 64% audiences ruled in favor of the film, and Stallone was lauded for his performance, even Snipes gave a stellar performance as Phoenix. Rolling Stone magazine called it the ‘Frankenstein of action thrillers’ -directed by Marco Brambilla, it is his directorial debut.

Demolition Man (Released in 1993) - A corny futuristic movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne