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Monday, October 13, 2014

Flatliners (Released in 1990) - Medical and sci-fi thriller - Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners is a sci-fi thriller which was released in 1990. The movie is about 5 medical students who decide to play God, and find out what lies on the other side. Conducting dangerous experiments and trying to one up each other, the movie gradually shifts from sci-fi to drama. The 5 medical students are played by Kiefer Sutherland and his band of experimentalists, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Pratt and William Baldwin.
Being a medical student and learning to become a doctor, always leads to students trying to play God. After all, how can one look patients in the eye and tell them what to expect, if they themselves do not know. So, conducting an experiment to medically die and then be brought back to life sounds like an interesting theme for a movie.
The film begins with Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) a medical student, toying with the concept of afterlife. Having heard stories and experiences of what the “other side” is all about, Nelson tries and successfully convinces 4 of his classmates (Randy, Joe, Dave and Rachel) to take part in an extremely tricky and tremendously dangerous experiment with him. They each decide to flatline for a minute or so to see for themselves what lies on the other side.
Nelson goes first. Once dead, he sees the image of Billy Mahoney, a child he had bullied as a kid. Within a minute, his friends resuscitate him, but he does not go into the details of what he saw. Next to flatline is Joe (William Baldwin) who has an erotic afterlife vision. After him is Dave (Kevin Bacon) who has a vision of a girl, Winnie Hicks, whom he had bullied and taunted as a child.
What follows next, are hauntings. All 3 of them are haunted by the visions they saw in the afterlife. And worse, Nelson seems to be getting cuts and bruises on himself after every episode of Billy haunting him. Joe who is supposed to be married soon is haunted by the home videos he had filmed of his sexual encounters with women. And Dave is also haunted by Winnie. He keeps seeing her everywhere, taunting him. However, none of them tell the other what exactly it is they saw.
Rachel (Julia Roberts) insists on flatlining next. And finally the group caves in and allows her. Once she flatlines, she sees her father who had committed suicide when she was younger. They barely manage to get her back, as the electricity goes out when she is under. Once she is brought back, she keeps seeing visions of her father and is haunted by them, just like the others.




Gradually they all start to open up about their visions with one another. And Dave decides it is time to make amends. He tracks down Winnie, and apologizes to her. She accepts his apology and he feels a lot better. Nelson, who had come with Dave and was waiting back in the car, sees Billy running across the road and then next to him in the car. He is attacked by Billy with a pickaxe and is saved just in time by Dave, who tells him he was having a hallucination and was actually attacking himself with the pickaxe.
Next, Joe’s fiancé turns up unexpectedly and finds out about the home videos. She leaves him and Joe feels as if a weight has been lifted off him. Finally Nelson decides to take Randy and Joe to a grave site, which turns out to be that of Billy, the kid Nelson and his friends had accidentally killed as children. Nelson leaves saying it’s time to set things right.
Meanwhile, Rachel sees her father and finds out he was addicted to heroin. He apologizes to her and she feels like she can let go. Later, they all get a phone call from Nelson saying he is going to flatline again to make things right. They rush to help him and talk him out of this fool hardy plan, but arrive nearly 9 minutes after the phone call.
On the other side Nelson replays the entire accident that took place and somehow trades places with Billy. Billy forgives him, and in a last desperate when attempt Dave tries to resuscitate Nelson, he regains consciousness.
While the basic theme of the movie starts out as something interesting, the constant death and resuscitation becomes somewhat boring. To add to this, the visions experienced by the med students convert the film from a thriller to a horror movie. All the stars have done a brilliant job, showcasing the right mix of foolhardiness, fear and intensity. But, where the movie starts out with loads of interest, it soon falls into a mundane pattern; making the viewer wish the screenplay had been just a tad bit more thrilling and suspenseful.

Flatliners (Released in 1990) - Medical and sci-fi thriller - Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Steel Magnolias (Released in 1989) - Starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts

A 1989 drama/comedy movie, Steel Magnolias is a film about 6 women who take life’s troubles and hardships in their stride. Directed by Herbert Ross, the movie is an adaptation of Robert Harling’s 1987 play of the same name. It is a woman centric movie, displaying the dainty and delicate flower like women to be tough as steel.
The star cast includes Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley McLaine, Olympia Dukakis and Daryl Hannah as the 6 women who share the limelight in the movie. The inconsequential yet present male star cast includes Dylan McDermott, Sam Shepard, Tom Skerritt and Kevin J. O’Connor.
The movie opens with a beauty salon, run by Truvy Jones (played by Dolly Parton), who hired Annelle Dupuy (played by Daryl Hannah), a beauty school graduate. M’Lynn Eatenton (played by Sally Field) and her daughter Shelby (played by Julia Roberts) come into the salon to get themselves ready for Shelby’s wedding. One look at herself in the mirror, and Shelby faints. However, it is only because she has Type 1 diabetes. With a little orange juice in her system Shelby recovers. It is then that M’Lynn voices her concerns about how the doctors believe Shelby’s body will not be able to handle pregnancy.
Around afternoon, in walks Ouiser Boudreaux, (played by Shirley McLaine), who confronts Annelle about her past. Annelle confesses that her husband is a dangerous criminal and on the run from the police. Feeling sorry for her, Shelby invites her to the wedding, where Annelle lands up meeting Sam, who she later goes on to marry.




The movie skips a few months, and refocuses on these 6 women at Christmas time. M’Lynn and Shelby are back in town to celebrate Christmas and the news of Shelby’s pregnancy. However, M’Lynn is worried that this will only harm Shelby. Finally, convinced by everyone to relax and live happily in the moment, M’Lynn looks forward to Shelby’s delivery, which goes off smoothly.
However, a few months later, Shelby lands up in the hospital on account of kidney failure. M’Lynn donates one of her kidneys and Shelby’s operation is a success. Later, Annelle is to get married to Sam, who she had met at Shelby’s wedding. All the ladies plan a wedding shower for Annelle. Only Shelby can’t make it because of her job. But, after the shower, they find Shelby unconscious on her porch.
Rushed to the hospital, M’Lynn finds out that Shelby’s body rejected the kidney and Shelby has gone into a coma, from which she could never wake up. The family decides to pull Shelby off from Life Support. At Shelby’s funeral, M’Lynn breaks down and is consoled by the other women. Later, she somehow pulls herself together and focuses her energy in taking care of her grandson, Shelby’s child. A few months later, Annelle announces she is pregnant and requests M’Lynn to let her name her baby after Shelby. The movie ends with the birth of Annelle’s child on Easter.
While the male characters don’t really have much to do in the movie, the female leads shine through. This is essentially a woman’s movie, tracing their ups and downs. And even though there is a big tragedy in the end, the entire screenplay is filled with humorous one-liners, and showcases 6 women who are constantly funny and sarcastic. The tragic ending adds drama to the movie, especially with Sally Field’s heart wrenching monologue, where she feels a great injustice has been done. But, those tears soon change to laughter, with some predictable dramatic tricks.
While the movie is not super impactful, it does have its moments and overall is enjoyable. All the women perform brilliantly and that is the main focus of the movie. They all come together to create a world where they are always there for each other, through the good times and bad.

Steel Magnolias (Released in 1989) - Starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts

Monday, October 6, 2014

Blood Red (Released in 1989) - Starring Eric Roberts, Giancarlo Giannini, Burt Young, Lara Harris and Dennis Hopper

A 1989 period American Western drama is directed by Peter Masterson and shows the brother sister pair of Eric and Julia Roberts together on the silver screen for the first time. While the movie was shot in 1986, it was released in 1989. As a result, it was actually Julia Roberts’ first movie, even though it released after Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction. But it was also her first movie starring alongside her brother, already a well-known actor.
The movie is about a Sicilian family who migrates to America in the 1890’s and starts the winemaking business. The Sicilian family-the Collogeros and another winemaking family are shown to be living in California. They come into conflict with railroad baron, William Bradford Berrigan (Dennis Hopper), who is after their land to construct railroads through the wine plantation.
Sebastian Collogeros (Giancarlo Giannini) is the head of the Collogeros family. He has 2 children, siblings Marco (Eric Roberts) and Maria (Julia Roberts). Marco is shown to be no good, especially since he doesn’t care about the business or the dispute that has escalated between railroad owner William Bradford Berrigan and his family. He is in love with Angelica (Lara Harris), who is the daughter of a rival wine plantation owner.
However, things get heated and start to escalate into a full-fledged feud with guerilla warfare. Maria is witness to her father’s murder, who is tortured and killed in front of her by Berrigan’s thugs. Berrigan is desperate to get his hands on the land which cuts through the Collogeros’ wine plantation as also the land of some of the surrounding Sicilian families’ wine plantations.




After his father is murdered and matters reach a breaking point Marco decides to take the law into his own hands. He gathers his friends and plans a revolt against the railroad tycoon. He becomes an outlaw in the process, but manages to win over the other Sicilians from neighboring wine plantations, creating an army of sorts.
Blood Red is more a quasi-western movie with gun slingers and paybacks. While the movie may start off as a social drama which has a cause, it soon turns into a full-fledged western, complete with fistfights and gun plays. One of her first movies, Julia Roberts may have done a decent role, but there isn’t enough of a role given to her. She mostly stands around in the background looking pretty with hardly any dialogues. The script gives a stronger role to Eric Roberts, who is shown to be a one man army created to wreak havoc and get revenge for the murder of his father.
The movie did not do too well in the box office, but seems to have inspired many people to actually look up the history of railroads development in America. The only problem is its direction and focus. It starts off as a period drama broaching an important issue, but soon turns into a western solely running on revenge. As a result, the end is predictable and could have been better written. But, overall the movie is worth a watch.

Blood Red (Released in 1989) - Starring Eric Roberts, Giancarlo Giannini, Burt Young, Lara Harris and Dennis Hopper

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Satisfaction (Released in 1988) - Drama film - Starring Justine Bateman, Julia Roberts and Liam Neeson

This 1988 drama movie is about a nearly “all-girl” band and their exploits over one summer. Satisfaction is directed by Joan Freeman, and stars Justine Bateman, Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts among other actors. The movie traces the highs and lows of one summer high school graduation of an all-girl band named The Mystery, in Baltimore.
Jennie Lee (Justine Bateman) is the lead singer for the band. After their graduation ceremony, where Jennie was Valedictorian, the band plans to head to Florida, to audition for a gig where they could perform all summer at the beach. The other members of the band include Daryle (Julia Roberts) as bass guitarist, Mooch (Trini Alvarado) as the drummer, Billie (Britta Phillips) as guitarist, and Nicky (Scott Coffey) is taken on as the keyboardist after their original keyboardist takes off on them.
But, even before they can head to Florida, the band encounters troubles in the form of Jennie’s older brother, who is their caretaker. He refuses to take them to Florida, since he does not want Jennie to change her mind about college. Then, the band’s keyboardist ditches them last minute, after which they hire Nicky. Just as they sort things out and are about to leave, Mooch goes and insults a Gang member who in turn destroys the band’s van. So Mooch with Billie’s help steal the gang member’s personal van and claim that they borrowed a friend’s van.
After all the confusion is sorted (with the gang members still looking for their van), the band heads down to Florida. They arrive late at night to the nightclub where the auditions were to take place, and fear that they might be too late. Not wanting to call it quits, they head to the private residence of the nightclub owner, Martin Falcon (Liam Neeson). However, Falcon is nowhere to be seen. Instead they run into Hamlet, Falcon’s pet dog. A little comedy ensues, and Billie gets the dog to be friends with them.
When Falcon arrives home, there is a whole load of mis-communication, with Falcon mistaking them for thieves and the band pleading him to hear them out. Confusion cleared, Falcon figures out who they are, and the band realize that the auditions are in fact the following evening. Nowhere to stay and not a lot of money, the band manages to get Falcon to let them stay at the “room” which was to be kept for the winners of the audition.




After a crown pleasing audition, they manage to land the summer gig. However, instead of a happily ever after (at least for the summer) the band is faced with more troubles, ranging from not fitting in with the beach crowd to Billie feeling outside her comfort zone and Mooch refusing to take off her black leather jacket even though it is summer on the beach! The movie finds a romantic angle as each member in the band finds someone.
Falcon introduces Jennie to some agents, who could help the band expand their base, by letting them perform across Europe. Meanwhile, relations start to tense for all the band members. The night off the audition for the European agents things go array once again. While Jennie runs off after the performance, Mooch has to face the gang members, whose car she had stolen, as they finally track her down. Eventually, with a little help from Hamlet, the gang members are chased away and the band catches up with Jennie to find out what the European agents thought of them.
Jennie implies that they liked the band, but she turned down the offer. Miscommunication ensues and the band gets upset with her for turning down such an offer. However, they find out later through Nicky that the agents in fact only wanted Jennie, and she turned them down for the band. After a summer of fun and drama, the band finally heads back home. Overall, the movie is a typical teen drama with decent music and good actors. It is interesting for one watch, but quite predictable none the less.

Satisfaction (Released in 1988) - Drama film - Starring Justine Bateman, Julia Roberts and Liam Neeson

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mystic Pizza (Released in 1988) - A coming of age movie - Starring Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Lili Taylor

Released in 1988, Mystic Pizza is a coming of age film directed by Donald Pitrie. The movie follows the life of 3 girls, in the short span of time between high school and college. Even though life after high school and the movies made on it are more than a dozen, Mystic Pizza captures the spirit of anticipation and finding oneself so as to prepare for life ahead, with complete ease.
The 3 girls who steal the spotlight in the movie are 2 Portuguese-American sisters and friends, Kat and Daisy (played by Annabeth Gish and Julia Roberts), and their friend Jojo (played by Lili Taylor). The movie opens in a small resort town by the name of Mystic, Connecticut. We start the movie to find Jojo leaving her fiancé - Bill, (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) at the altar. She gets back with Bill, but is not ready to commit to marriage. Bill however puts his foot down and decides he does not believe in sex before marriage, leaving Jojo in a conundrum about whether her feelings are truly deep or just superficial.
Jojo, and Kat and Daisy are all shown to be working at a Pizzeria run by Leona, (played by Conchata Farrell) who is famous for her secret sauce. Meanwhile, Kat and Daisy may be sisters, but are quite opposite in every regard. While Kat has aspirations of perusing astronomy and will be going to Yale on a partial scholarship in the fall, Daisy is more laid back and wants to find love, through any means possible. Kat is the apple of her mother’s eye, while Daisy is more the black sheep.
Each of the girls gets their “temporary” Mr. Right only to have love blow up in their faces. While Kat maybe goal oriented, she is also naïve when it comes to love and idealism. She goes to babysit for 30 year old Tim (played by William Moses) an Anglo-American Yale graduate. Kat is mighty impressed by him, and starts to take a fancy to him, even though she knows he has a wife and child. She convinces herself that he would leave his wife.




Kat and Tim have intellectual conversations and both are impressed by the other, their idealism gradually turning to “love”, as Tim starts taking a liking to her, more because she is young and fresh, than because of her intellect. Meanwhile, Daisy is out one evening with her friends for a few drinks, when in walks Mr. Right. She is immediately attracted to his rich bad boy attitude, all the more, when he throws bulls eyes on the dart board after tequila shots. They start talking and she starts dating him.
The movie follows the 3 girls in their budding romance over a few months. Each love story turns sour, and teaches the girls a hard lesson. But, instead of making it preachy and overdramatic, the movie seems light and effortless. It does not try to force a point across but subtly keeps moving ahead. With the help of their “love interests”, the girls discover a lot about themselves and what they want in life. Rather than being a movie about girls in love, the movie is about how these girls discover their standards for love through the mistakes they make.
It is interesting to watch Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts and Lili Taylor work their magic in the movie. Even though the setting is that of a small resort town, the characters created are smart and react in wonderfully unexpected ways. The movie is refreshing and well executed, not leaving room for clichés.  While Mystic Pizza did not do very well in the box office when it released, it started getting a sort of cult following over the years, with a lot of other movies, sitcoms and songs making references to Mystic Pizza.

Mystic Pizza (Released in 1988) - A coming of age movie - Starring Annabeth Gish, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Lili Taylor

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