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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Valentine's Day (Released in 2010) - Too many stars - Starring Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts

A 2010 superstar cast movie with a mind boggling array of famous actors, Valentine’s Day is a date movie, which follows the life of couples or couples-to-be on the 14th of February, in Los Angeles. The movie is directed by Gary Marshall and written by Katherine Fugate. Amongst the huge star cast, some of the names are Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Swift, Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifa, George Lopez, Patrick Dempsey, Anne Hathway, Jessica Beil, Topher Grace, Eric Dane and many many others. A grand total of 21 stars have acted in this movie.
To try and explain the various stories that intermingle and run parallel to each other in the movie is probably an insurmountable task, what with all 21 actors struggling for screen space and a story outline. In short, it follows couples of all ages and at all levels of their relationships. From an old married couple played by Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine, to an army officer (played by Julia Roberts) interacting with a businessman (played by Bradley Cooper), about coming home to meet the love of her life, the movie traces relations across all barriers.
It tries to tick mark all the boxes with regards to the age old formulas. Namely, a story about best friends, who do not realize they love each other, or a guy who thinks the girl who talks to him nicely actually loves him, or a girl loves a guy, only to find out that he is married, or strangers striking up a conversation, or a fifth graders first crush, or even a gay celebrity coming out of the closet. The movie tries to incorporate it all, which is not only confusing, but does not do justice to every story, as none of the stories are given enough screen time.




The characters vie for screen space. While the stories try to be different, there is just too much happening and too many actors. The movie feels like it is gridlocked, with every actor and his story jamming the other into place. With a traffic jam of famous faces, the movie feels less like a story and more like a shout out fest, where each actor that appears on screen can be called out for their token two minute presence.
There are so many actors in this movie that at least 3-4 more romantic movies and a few sitcoms could easily be made with the star cast ensemble of Valentine’s Day. Towards the end, each actors story is closed, with each couple reconciling in some way or the other for a “happy ending” on Valentine’s Day. Hiccups that have taken place along the way in many of the relationships which are showcased smooth themselves out and reunite the couples along the way.
The movie can be described as a one-time watch, as a date flick, but over and above that the movie is not only complicated to follow (what with way too many actors running about the silver screen) but also not very evolved-story and role wise. Or maybe there are just too many stories happening all at once.

Valentine's Day (Released in 2010) - Too many stars - Starring Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts

Duplicity (Released in 2009) - A comedy romantic thriller - Starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti

Duplicity is a 2009 romantic spy movie, starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Directed by Tony Gilroy, the movie follows two corporate spies, who are romantically involved and plot together to carry out an extremely complicated con, that too, without trusting the other completely.
Claire (played by Julia Roberts) is a CIA agent, while Ray (played by Clive Owen) is a MI6 agent. They meet for the first time in Dubai five years behind present time, and Claire steals classified documents from him, while he tries to seduce her, clearly not knowing her real identity.
Cut to present time, Equikorm and Burkett & Randle are shown to be 2 major cosmetic giants, each vying desperately to get the others secrets. Claire is working as an Equikorm agent in Burkett and Randle, and at an Equikorm event, she meets Ray who is working for Equikorm. After a little back and forth between them, it turns out that Ray is Claire’s handler, as he has taken to working with Equikorm.
The movie flashes back to three years from present day where the two meet in Rome, and Claire gives the same speech she gives in Equikorm to Ray, in present day. As it so happens, we learn that the two did not “just meet” in present day, but were planning to con the company they are working for and sell its secrets to the highest bidder. With Claire working undercover at Burkett and Randle, for Equikorm she finds out that there is some major innovation and development underway at Burkett, which Claire manages to procure by setting up another employee at Burkett and Randle.




While in Equikorm, Claire accuses Ray of stealing company secrets and when he is searched, they do find the formula on him. However, apparently, it was Claire’s plan all along and the two of them were only putting on an act. This is revealed when Ray meets Claire at the airport. There, they both have a moment of total honesty and confession, where both feel like the other one is the only person who understands them. Claire and Ray attempt to steal the multi-million dollar idea for curing baldness from Burkett and Randle and sell it to a Swiss company for $35 million. While all this is happening, the Swiss however claim that the idea being sold to them is a fake and the formula is a fraud.
The movie cuts back to ten days ago, to the Equikorm event, where Claire and Ray are in their room practicing, how the other would react at the news that Ray was Claire’s new handler at the party. The entire scene is supposedly recorded by a hidden microphone found in their hotel room. The microphone was placed there by Tully, the CEO of Burkett and Randle, who is shown to have known all along that the two - Ray and Claire are in cahoots with each other.
Another supposed member of Equikorm was actually working for Burkett and the person who allegedly was caught stealing a revolutionary new formula after being set up by Claire had never existed. All this was done solely to make Equikorm reveal that they did in fact have a revolutionary product. Till the very end, Claire and Ray feel like they are both playing each other, by having switched an actual revolutionary formula from Burkett, with a fake. However, only at the very end, when Tully sends the two a bottle of champagne do the two realize that they have been played all along.
The movie is entertaining, but when there are way too many complexities in the plot, it keeps the viewer from truly immersing themselves in it. What is fun though is the constant paring of dialogues between Claire and Ray, while maintaining a straight face and trying to read each other’s minds. The amazing technology showcased also does its bit to help make the corporate espionage all the more believable and entertaining.

Duplicity (Released in 2009) - A comedy romantic thriller - Starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fireflies in the Garden (Released in 2008) - Family Drama - Starring Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, and Julia Roberts

A 2008 drama film starring a multitude of characters, Fireflies in the Garden is a story about 3 generations of one family and their troubles. The movie is about the strained relations between a family, and an accident, which results in each member discovering something about each other. It is a little confusing when it plays back and forth between the past and present day of each character. With Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson, Hayden Panettiere as some of the big names in the movie, Fireflies in the Garden is set in present day, with frequent visits to the past to unearth secrets and reconcile a family, long since estranged.
The movie starts in the present day, with Lisa (played by Julia Roberts) and Charles (played by Willem Dafoe) travelling together for Lisa’s graduation, when an accident takes place and Lisa is killed, while Charles is injured. The family comprises of Lisa and Charles’ children, Michael (played by Ryan Reynolds and Cayden Boyd as the old and young versions respectively) and daughter Ryne (played by Shannon Lucio). Then there is Lisa’s much younger sister Jane (played by Emily Watson and Hayden Panettiere as the old and young versions respectively), and her son Christopher (played by Chase Ellison) and Leslie (played by Brooklyn Proulx). There is also Michael’s ex-wife Kelly (played by Carrie Ann-Moss).




The accident with which the movie starts off is a result of Christopher, Lisa’s nephew carelessly walking across the road. So as to avoid him, Charles has to swerve the car into a tree, which results in the death of Lisa. What follows is a constant switch between present day and flash back. Charles and Michael are shown to have a strained relation, which has grown worse over time. Charles as a father has always been a domineering figure who has earned the ill will of most of the family members.
As a result, the entire family together is like a nuclear bomb about to go off. With secrets being unearthed and family members boomeranging off each other constantly, one feels like they might self-combust. But, gradually with each truth that is learned the family grows closer together, with the eventual reconciliation of Michael and his father Charles.
The movie title is taken from the Robert Frost poem of a same name, which as a child Michael claims to be his own creation so as to embarrass his father in front of his friends. However, once he grows up he writes a novel with the same name – Fireflies in the Garden, which would have been a manuscript of his and Jane’s tough childhood because of Charles. But, when in the closing scenes, Michael walks in on the whole family viewing a family video, he is surprised by the happiness it captured, and decides to scrap the manuscript, and rekindle his relationship with his father.
Even though the movie keeps moving back and forth between past and present thereby getting a little confusing and hard to follow, the overall theme is interesting and an enjoyable watch, especially once you remember which actor plays which character.

Fireflies in the Garden (Released in 2008) - Family Drama - Starring Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, and Julia Roberts

Monday, September 8, 2014

Charlie Wilson's War (Released in 2007) - About the Afghanistan war - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Released in 2007, Charlie Wilson’s War is a comedy drama movie directed by Mike Nikolas and based on the real life story of Congressman Charlie Wilson. With Tom Hanks playing the part of Charlie Wilson, Julia Roberts playing Joanne Herring and Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing a CIA agent by the name of Gust Avrakotos, the movie is an entertaining watch, with unforced humor depicting the life and ways of notorious womanizer Charlie Wilson.
In 1980, U.S Representative Charlie Wilson, a bachelor and Democrat from Texas, is more interested in parties, women, cocaine and having a good time in general. His office is shown to be staffed by buxom women, all tripping over each other to please him. When he is finally pulled up for Congressional misconduct, it is his long-time friend and some-times lover Joanne Herring, (whom he has a soft spot for) who convinces him to utilize his time and energy into helping the poor war riddled country of Afghanistan.
Joanne Herring, having been a TV talk show host has contacts she utilizes to arrange a meeting between the Pakistani dictator General Zia and Charlie. They arrange for Charlie to go see the refugee camps which are in horrible condition. Charlie returns to the U.S wanting to do something to help the Afghanis fight off Russia. He meets a CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos who has been hunting for a congressman to help him fund their covert cause against Russia. Having found Charlie, Gust is pleased and together they form a good pair.




Charlie discusses the issue of wanting to supply arms to Afghanistan without the other party knowing that U.S had a hand in this operation. Gust knows just the Israeli who will help them supply Soviet made anti-aircraft missiles. However, with only a meager $5 million being supplied to Afghanistan by the U.S as aid, they can’t do anything. Finally having found some purpose, Charlie starts doing what he does best, i.e. hankering about the Congress for funds. He manages to raise a billion a year to support the Afghanis.
Eventually, because of his efforts, the secret funding, the personal diplomacy and a Texas belly dancer flown to Cairo, they manage to pull off a deal to help provide arms to Afghanistan which in turns makes them able to fight off the Soviet. In history this was later known as the Reagan Doctrine, as it was under Reagan’s Presidency. The U.S had started supporting other anti-communist efforts across the globe.
However, once Charlie decides to announce measures to help a post-soviet Afghanistan with the help of Gust, he finds that there is no response from the Congress. And even though he receives a major commendation from the U.S for his support in clandestine services, he is worried that his secret efforts could in the future have terrible consequences. Which is exactly what happened – the freedom fighters became what we now know and dread as the Taliban.
While Tom Hanks may initially not seem to be the apt choice to play the maverick Charlie Wilson, you soon realize that he is completely appropriate for the role. Tom Hanks can pull off Charlie Wilson’s gradual decline of interest in parties and girls, and as someone looking to do something meaningful which he would actually be good at. With 5 Golden Globe nominations, the movie is interesting with brilliant performances by suitably cast actors.

Charlie Wilson's War (Released in 2007) - About the Afghanistan war - Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ant Bully (Released in 2006) - Animation film - Voices by Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Paul Giamatti

Released in 2006, the Ant Bully is a computer animated movie produced by Tom Hanks. It is based on a children’s book of the same name. The movie has some big names who have lent their voice for the characters in the movie. These names include Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Paul Giamatti.
The movie is about a 10 year old kid named Lukas Nickle (voice of Zach Tyler), who gets beaten up by his neighborhood bullies all the time. To get his frustration out, he then goes about attacking an anthill in his backyard with a squirt gun. There then follows a close up of the colony of ants. Amongst them is the ant wizard, Zoc (voice given by Nicholas Cage), and his girlfriend Hova who is an ant nurse (voice given by Julia Roberts). The ants along with Zoc and Hova try to fight back, but Hova almost gets killed in the process. Finally, a very unhappy Zoc decides it’s time to teach the ant bully-Lucas a lesson.
He creates a potion which will reduce Lucas’s size to that of an ant’s. Meanwhile, Lukas’s parents head out of town, leaving him with his older sister and a crazy grandmother. Left on his own, Lukas gets convinced into doing a pest control job by Stan Beals (voice of Paul Giamatti), who makes Lukas sign a contract for the same.
Once the potion is made, Zoc and the other ants pour the potion into Lukas’s ear while he is asleep. Lukas wakes up to find that he has shrunk down to size and is inside the ant colony facing the Ant Queen (voice of Meryl Streep). Instead of killing him, she sentences him to hard labour. Much to Zoc’s surprise and mortification, Hova volunteers to help train Lukas. Lukas and Hova both learn a lot from each other.




Lukas grows to like the ants and their way of living. He then remembers that the Pest control guy would come to exterminate the ant hill soon. He tries to help the ants by calling the exterminator to cancel the contract. However, when his plan doesn’t work out and Zoc finds out that Lukas had taken Hova to help him, thereby placing her in danger, he accuses Lukas of treachery and tells him that he would never help him with a potion to get him back to human size.
A dejected Lukas goes away from the ant hill only to be eaten by a frog. Zoc realizes that Lukas wasn’t bad after all and that he misses the little kid. He sets out to help free Lukas and together with all the other ants, Lukas and Zoc manage to stop the attempts of Stan Beals, thus saving the Ant hill. Zoc returns Lukas to normal size, that too just in time, because Lukas’s parents have returned from their trip.
Lukas manages to defeat his neighborhood bully and get all the other guys to become his friends. The movie is an enjoyable watch and is clean family entertainment. An important aspect, in which this animation varies from the other animated movies about ants, is the fact that it places strong emphasis on helping one another in order for the entire society to grow. It focuses on doing things for the greater good rather than for one’s own personal motives.
The movie will seem derivative and lacking imagination to an adult audience. But as far as kids are concerned, it sends across an important message of working together towards collective progress and development.

Ant Bully (Released in 2006) - Animation film - Voices by Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Paul Giamatti

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Closer (Released in 2004) - A romantic drama - Starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen

Based on an award winning play of the same name, Closer is a romantic drama film directed by Mike Nicholas. The movie and the play are both modern day tragic versions of Mozart’s play Cosi fan tutte. With 4 central characters, played by Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, the movie received many awards and accolades including Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins. The movie plot follows the lives of 4 adults-Dan (played by Jude Law), Alice (played by Natalie Portman), Anna (played by Julia Roberts) and Larry (played by Clive Owen). The story outlines their relationships and the fascination they feel towards the game of “love”. They do not have any real love for their respective partners, and confess to cheating not because they feel guilty of it, but more so to hurt the other person. The story follows their “attempts” at sincere truthful relationships.
The movie starts with Dan and Alice walking across each other and catching each other’s eye. Harmless flirting follows, only to result in Alice getting knocked over by a taxi right in front of Dan. He rushes to help her and from there on, begins their relationship. Alice is shown to be a stripper from New York, who has come to England to get away from that life, and Dan is a struggling British Author. Cut to a year later, Dan has now written a book based on Alice, and has begun straying from their relationship. He meets Anna who is photographing Dan and his novel for publicity. He then goes about trying to convince Anna to get involved with him; she however turns down his advances after being confronted by Alice, who breaks down in front of Anna telling her she knows what Dan has been trying to do. Anna photographs Alice’s break down, to use it in her gallery opening later.




Some more time passes and Dan, who has been trying in vain to get Anna out of his head, now pretends to be her and starts a conversation online with a man named Larry. He makes Larry turn up at a place he knows Anna to frequent. Larry and Anna meet and Anna tells Larry he has been made a fool of, and that the man who must have hooked them up is Dan. Sometime later, Larry meets Alice at Anna’s photo exhibition. He recognizes her from one of the photos on the wall and knows she is with Dan. At the same venue, Dan convinces Anna to have an affair with him, in spite of both of them already having partners. She agrees, but half way through this affair, Larry and Anna marry. What follows is Dan’s and Anna’s submission of guilt to their respective partners.
Both couples break up as a result of this. Alice goes back to being a stripper, where she meets Larry. She goes by another name and no matter how many times Larry asks Alice her real name, she maintains that it is Jane Jones. Larry by then is all for revenge, he decides to get back at Dan, by making both - his present and ex-partner cheat on him. The end is all rather confusing, with total loss on all sides with regards to love and relationships. But, it leaves us wondering how much of their real selves did the four of them give in their respective relationships? Especially at the very end, when Dan is shown to be crossing the very street he did in the beginning of the movie, and he happens to see a name on a tile  dedicated to “Alice Ayers” who had saved 3 kids at the cost of her own life. And when Alice returns to the U.S, her passport shows her name as Jane Rachel Jones.  
It helps that all 4 speak articulately and enunciate well, especially in an era where actors tend to garble their dialogues. While they may be trying their hand at love and failing miserably (what with all the deception going around their private lives), their appearances and attitudes are sharp and classy. The movie is unique in its own way, especially in today’s insincere times. What makes it unique is how the characters go about pretending to be in love and talking about love, when they truly do not know what that is. Neither do they understand each other, nor do they understand who they are or what they want.

Closer (Released in 2004) - A romantic drama - Starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mona Lisa Smile (released in 2003) - Trying to empower women - Starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Directed by Mark Newell, Mona Lisa Smile is a 2003 drama film. With the title referring to Leonardo da Vinci’s work - The Mona Lisa, the movie is about a progressive feminist teacher, by the name of Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts) who leaves behind California and Berkley to teach “History of Art” at Wellesley College in 1953.
Wellesley College is shown to be a conservative woman’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts, where women are taught one thing and one thing only, and that is, how to stand behind her husband and be the perfect wife and mother. Among the students are Betty (played by Kirsten Dunst) whose mother is a trustee and has instilled ideas in Betty, of marrying any upward bound man no matter how morally corrupt he may be. Betty through her editorials in the college newspaper tries hard to discredit Katherine and claims that because of Katherine they are all heading towards communism.
Then there is Joan (played by Julia Styles) a girl who is smart enough to be accepted into Yale Law College, but perhaps not smart enough as she chooses marrying over going to study law. Giselle (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is known to be sexually advanced, and rumours claim she had slept with their young Italian professor. Lastly there is Constance (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) who is only concerned about her looks.




Amongst all this is Watson’s complicated love life as well. But, the movie is not about romance and each actor’s love angles. It’s more about each of the supporting star cast trying to find a way out of the gender mould created in that era. It is about Julia Roberts as Katherine and how even though she is the main lead, she does not over shadow any of the other characters, but merely acts as a conductor of change which takes place in the other actors.
The movie is about how free spirited young girls live and behave in a closed system, which with the arrival of Roberts is challenged and thrown open gradually. The girls begin find themselves, with Roberts’ guidance and beliefs. As a viewer you can’t help but identify with Katherine Watson and her students. Not for any other reason, but the fact that they are smart brave women.
Katherine is compelling as a teacher, to the extent that eventually all the girls look up to her and consider her their role model. She forces the students to look at the world through her eyes, and converts even the most difficult of them. She has been asked to return for the next term, because her course has gained immense popularity. But, she can only return if she promises to keep with the schools rules and regulations, which among other things prohibits her from having anything more than classroom subject related conversations with the girls.
In the end, Katherine is shown to have resigned and packed her bags, to travel through Europe. An enjoyable movie all in all, with vivid descriptions of what the 1950’s and 60’s were like in such conservative schools.

Mona Lisa Smile (released in 2003) - Trying to empower women - Starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal