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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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Full Frontal (Released in 2002) - Disappointing movie - Starring Catherine Keener, David Duchovny, Julia Roberts, Mary McCormack, Brad Pitt

Released in 2002, Full Frontal is a blurry and confusing depiction of Hollywood. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie is far from what the audience expects. Trying to explain the lives of various Hollywood characters, the movie blurs the line between what is real and what is fiction, by having shot a movie in a movie! And if that didn’t get you confused enough the narration in the movie is nothing but ambiguous.
To muddle a complicated storyline further, the movie was shot in a record time of a month, that too on digital video with a Canon XL-1s. Starring Julia Roberts, Catherine Keener, Brad Pitt, David Duchovny, Mary McCormack and David Hyde Pierce, the film feels extremely amateurish. To the extent, that the actors’ professionalism seems to be it’s only saving grace.
A skilled director, known for his talents as a cinematographer, Steven Soderbergh has created a movie which resembles a piece of work submitted by a film school student. The digital camerawork, and utilization of only naturally available light sources, has given the movie a dull, dark and blotchy quality. The plot is a film inside another film, and added to this is a documentary about the “people” in the outside film.




The movie is about a journalist (played by Julia Roberts) who interviews the famous Blaire Underwood. Then there are Lee and Carl (played by Catherine Keener and David Hyde Pierce), who play a happily married couple. In some scenes Lee seems to be deranged and unstable, while in the next scene she seems to be having serious conversations with her sister - a masseuse, over lunch. Her sister Linda (played by McCormack) goes on to meet Gus (played by David Duchovny), a producer, who hires Linda for a massage, and is willing to pay her extra to help him relieve tension!
Linda seems to be in need of money, as she has to meet a guy who she met on the Internet. Meanwhile Carl gets fired from work and heads home to find that his dog has overdosed on hash brownies. The plot could not get more bizarre even if Soderbergh tried. It’s not only impossible but also impractical to try and sort out the scenes. Where some scenes are voice over narrations in a documentary, other scenes are dramatic works of fiction.
Most of the scenes look like improvisations done by the actors, with no sense of continuation. The scenes that are slightly enjoyable, like those of McCormack, are so because of the actor’s skills and not the director’s talents. The movie in a movie scenes are shot on glossy 35mm film. This only brings out the stark contrast between the scenes, and leaves the viewer yearning for more of the lush and glossy scenes in place of the digital ones.
It a huge lesson in humility, that a man with many a success to his name and immense directorial skills, has shot and directed such a huge let down. You leave the movie feeling not only confused, but glad that it is over.

Full Frontal (Released in 2002) - Disappointing movie - Starring Catherine Keener, David Duchovny, Julia Roberts, Mary McCormack, Brad Pitt

Ocean's Twelve (Released in 2004) - Successful sequel to con movie - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy García, Julia Roberts

The 2004 sequel to the world acclaimed multi starrer Ocean’s Eleven; Ocean’s Twelve is yet another super entertaining piece by Steven Soderbergh. Even as most movies with heist escapades end with the thieves or con men going into well-earned retirement, most sequels to such movies begin with how the dapper con men are forced to come out of retirement for one or the other reason and perform one more long con.
In Ocean’s Twelve, the reason for the flamboyant eleven being pulled out from enjoying their spoils is Terry Benedict, played by Andy Garcia – the man from whom Danny Ocean and his boys had stolen $160 million in the previous movie. Now Terry has managed to track down the eleven and has demanded that they return his money, plus interest worth $38 million, unless they want to be turned over to US Authorities. Terry personally goes to meet each and every one of the members and makes it clear to them that they have exactly 2 weeks to return his money.  
With time running out, the group decides to stage a heist in Europe to avoid further problems with the US Authorities. Danny is tipped off about the location of the first stock certificate ever published, by an informant named Matsui, played by Robbie Coltrane. However, their elaborate plans are foiled by another master thief who goes by the name of Night Fox. To make matters worse, Europol Detective Isabel Lahiri, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, is investigating the theft. Rusty (Brad Pitt) and her had a relationship a long time ago. She realizes that her conversations with him must have given him the idea of how to steal the certificate. She turns up unannounced at the group’s accommodations and warns them that she is on to them, and that they cannot hope to beat either the Night Fox, or his Mentor the mysterious LeMarc.
If the plot wasn’t already getting complicated, then here’s more. The Night Fox, who turns out to be Baron Francois Toulour, played by Vincent Cassel, a wealthy businessman, invites Danny to his mansion. After bragging to Danny about how he has been a step ahead of him the whole time, he goes on to crib about how he is offended that LeMarc doesn’t think of him - Toulour as the greatest thief ever. He challenges Danny to steal the famous Faberge Imperial Coronation Egg, and promises Danny that if he and his gang win, then he will pay off Danny’s debt to Terry Benedict.




Danny hires one more in his group, now making the count twelve. What follows is an elaborately planned heist, complete with holographic representations. However, when the plan goes haywire and half the members of Danny’s group are in prison, Linus (Matt Damon) creates a new plan which gets Tess Ocean involved. With cameo roles of not one but 2 actors – Bruce Willis playing himself and Julia Roberts (who is Tess in the movie) playing Julia Roberts for the Heist, the plot gets only more entertaining. Needless to say, Linus’s plan is foiled and now everyone lands up in jail.
Enter the FBI agent, played by Cherry Jones, who has come to extradite the group to the US. It turns out she is Linus’s mother and helps them get out of prison. But, if you are thinking even for a moment, that Ocean and his twelve con men did not get the Faberge egg, you are wrong. Not only do they get the egg, which is elaborately explained by Danny and Tess, in a narrative and flash back sequence, to Toulour, but they also managed to wipe the smug expression of Toulour’s face. Toulour as promised pays the money owed by Danny, to Terry Benedict and Danny promises to steer clear of Terry in the future.
In the end, Rusty takes Lahiri to a safe house that he claims was left to him by LeMarc, where she is reunited with her father, who turns out to be LeMarc himself. The final scene shows Rusty taking Lahiri to a private poker game where the entire group has reunited to enjoy themselves.
In the movie, it doesn’t matter what priceless treasure they stole or how they stole it. What matters is the behavior, dialogues and star power that each actor brings with him. With at least fifteen big names running around the silver screen enjoying themselves in panache and style, one can only wonder as to the number of actors starring in the next sequel. Also, where most movies highlight the implausibility of the script in a bad way, Ocean’s Twelve only makes you enjoy the unrealistic scenarios played out here. Soderbergh has as always done a wonderful job to highlight the strong points of the movie, namely the charm and smooth talking style of its actors like Clooney, Pitt and Catharine Zeta-Jones.
While some of the heists planned seem unrealistic, the movie is not so much about the heist, as it is about fun and frolic created by Soderbergh and his merry band of actors. Overall, Ocean’s Twelve is an entertaining movie which urges the viewer to root for the con men and their escapades.

Ocean's Twelve (Released in 2004) - Successful sequel to con movie - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andy García, Julia Roberts

Monday, September 1, 2014

Grand Champion (Released in 2004) - A family film - Starring Jacob Fisher, George Strait, Emma Roberts and Joey Lauren Adams

The 2004 released, multi-starrer Grand Champion is a comedy drama directed by Barry Tubb. The movie is almost entirely shot in Texas and has many cameo appearances from country music stars, such as George Strait, Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks), Robert Earl Keen and others. Among the star cast are Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts as well.
Grand Champion is about a twelve year old boy named Buddy and his pet calf Hokey. Buddy played by Jacob Fisher, lives with his single mother, Hallie, played by Joey Lauren Adams and sister, played by Emma Robert on a small ranch in Lone Star State. He adopts a calf and nick names him Hokey Pokey. Initially, the story is about the love that develops between Buddy and Hokey. When Buddy adopts Hokey, he is more of a pet than anything else, but soon he starts training the calf to become an award winning steer.
Slowly and steadily, Hokey grows up, groomed to become a prize winner. His friend Edgar, played by Cache Williams helps him to gather enough money to enter Hokey into the Grand Champion. People from all walks of life help Buddy accomplish this dream. Buddy and his family then pack all their stuff and head for the big city where the Grand Championship is being held. The competition is stiff, but eventually Hokey Pokey wins Grand Champion.




After winning the Grand Champion, Buddy is approached by Blandford International to buy the prize winning steer for a whopping $775,000. Buddy feels the money could help his family and send his sister and himself to college. So with a heavy heart he decides to sell Hokey to Mr. Blandford, played by Bruce Willis.
Later, however, when Buddy learns that Mr. Blandford plans to make barbeque out of Hokey the following weekend, he decides to rescue his four legged friend. Along with Edgar, Buddy hatches a plan to cow-nap the steer and save him from being killed. Once Hokey is rescued, the boys and Hokey are on the run. But, soon the runner up in the Grand Champion realizes that if Hokey doesn’t show up soon, then he would be named Grand Champion in Hokey’s place. Meanwhile, Mr. Blandford also will stop at nothing to recover his prized acquisition. What ensues is a toe tapping finish as everyone possible tries to help Buddy save Hokey.
Julia Roberts has a cameo role in this movie. She took up the role more as a support factor for her niece, Emma Roberts. The story line is simple and innocent. But the Country singers and big names like Roberts and Willis add more weight to the movie. Overall the movie is a fun enjoyable watch and is clean entertainment for the entire family.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Released in 2002) - Starring Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sam Rockwell, Rutger Hauer

The movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a biographical depiction of the book with the same name, which traces the life of famous game show host Chuck Barris. The movie is actor George Clooney’s directorial debut, proving without a doubt that Clooney is not just a good actor, but also a smart and curious guy. His interest in the life of Chuck Barris is understandable, especially because his own father was a game show host and he has seen that life from back stage.
Sam Rockwell plays the part of Chuck Barris and fits the role perfectly. The story, as based on the novel, begins with Chuck moving to Manhattan to become an NBC page, with hopeful dreams of making it big in television sooner than later. However, after being fired he moves to Philadelphia where he meets the cute Penny Pacino, played by Drew Barrymore, and eventually falls in love with her. He is approached by ABC productions to pitch a show called “The Dating Game”. However, when “Hootenanny” is chosen instead of his pilot, he is crushed.
Unhappy and drunken nights ensue. And after a skirmish at a bar, he is approached by CIA agent Jim Byrd, played by Clooney himself. He hires Chuck to work as an assassin for the CIA, and sends him to Mexico for a mission. He returns to find that his project – The Dating Game has been given a green light, and his girlfriend Penny has become somewhat of a hippie. The movie then traces Bariss’s life through different assignments throughout the globe, where he meets the lovely operative Patricia Watson, played by Julia Roberts, and later a German American agent named Keeler, played by Rutger Hauer. Keeler is shown to be captured by the KGB and released later during the West East spies’ exchange. But soon, a mole is discovered inside the CIA, and Keeler gets killed.
The movie simultaneously traces the success Chuck receives when he gets back home and is in production with new TV shows like “The Newlywed Game” and later “The Gong Show”, because of which he was a household name overnight, but also received immense criticism for having lowered the quality of American Television. Penny and Chuck move in together. Despite Penny’s attempts, Chuck has reservations at getting married.




Fame does unpleasant things to people, and Chuck Barris is shown to be yet another victim. When Byrd tells him about his parentage and the reason why he was hired by the CIA, Chuck begins to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, Byrd dies mysteriously. Chuck almost has a nervous breakdown on his show, after which he holes himself in his hotel room, from where Penny attempts unsuccessfully to convince him to return to California and get married.
Barris then tries to get his life back together. He confronts Patricia who is the mole and kills her. He moves back to California and marries Penny. During the wedding he confesses to her that he was a spy for the CIA. She only laughs, assuming incorrectly that he is joking. Finally, after many years, he is shown to be preparing for an interview for the film adaptation of his autobiography.
When asked whether he really was an assassin for the CIA, Barris refused to comment. But, eventually it doesn’t matter whether the story is true or not, as any autobiography becomes a piece of fiction, with the author subconsciously rewriting parts to appear heroic or blameless. Barris seems to blame himself for a lot, and thus he has an even greater need to appear heroic through his writings.
George Clooney has created a movie which does not only have an interesting script, but also is wonderful to look at, with two startling contrasts shown through the pop world of the 1960’s and 70’s and a cold spy world. Sam Rockwell has done an amazing job. All in all, it is a wonderful adaptation and depiction of the life of Chuck Barris. In spite of not having done superbly in the box office, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind still received respectful reviews.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Released in 2002) - Starring Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sam Rockwell, Rutger Hauer

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ocean's Eleven (Released in 2001) - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts

A remake of a 1960’s movie with the same name which starred Frank Sinatra and his Rat pack, Ocean’s Eleven is an American comedy about a group of guys who are brought together by Danny Ocean to plan a heist. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie is fun, entertaining and slick. It is a fine example of what happens when a serious accomplished director decides to venture into some “over the top” quirkiness.
The movie has an impressive star cast, with Danny Ocean being played by Mr. Smooth and Sauvé – George Clooney, and his better half Tess Ocean is played by one of the few actresses who can hold her own next to Clooney – Julia Roberts. Not to be left out, Ocean’s eleven include superstars like Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Elliott Gould and Turk Malloy.
The movie opens with Danny, who is fresh out of prison, and eager for a job. He gets in touch with his trusted sidekick, Rusty, played by Brad Pitt. Together they chalk up a plan to steal $ 160 million from not one but three casinos in Las Vegas, namely The Bellagio, The Mirage and The MGM Grand. They get together a team to help them with this job. The team comprises of a talented acrobat, con artists, a techie, a pick pocket, gifted mechanic and an electronics and surveillance expert.




Rubin, a senior con artist, played by Elliot Gould, is initially reluctant to help because he knows how tight casino security usually is. However, with a chance to get back at Terry Benedict, the Casino owner, played by Andy Garcia he jumps on board to finance the whole operation. While some of the members recon the casinos, the others get into making exact life size replicas of the casino vault floors.
On one of the recon missions, Rusty finds Tess Ocean walking with Terry Benedict, the guy they are about to rob. He confronts Danny and asks him whether this entire heist is about her. Danny replies that it is of course about her. It is about stealing from his ex- wife’s new boyfriend and trying to get her back in the process. However, George Clooney and Brad Pitt pull off, even a confrontation, with style.
When the plan is set and everything is in motion, as a viewer you feel like rooting for the con men. Not for any other reason but the sheer panache and flair with which they pull of a very detailed and intricate plan. In the end, Danny gets Tess back, by proving to her that Terry prizes his money more than he does her. Mind you, nothing is done simplistically in this movie. Every scene and every dialogue has a certain smooth talker style and élan which could only have been accomplished by Ted Griffin’s style of dialogues and screenplay.
As far as the heist goes, there have been movies with more fastidiously planned con jobs. But in Ocean’s Eleven, one does not go for the heist. They go for the super smooth dialogue delivery and an end which doesn’t involve a shootout, but a rather exquisitely planned heist which goes off exactly as Danny and his boys had planned – with finesse.
The movie is nothing like the usual Soderbergh movies, but it is an entertaining enjoyable watch never the less.

Ocean's Eleven (Released in 2001) - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, and Julia Roberts

America's Sweethearts (Released in 2001) - Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Directed by Joe Roth, America’s Sweetheart is a romantic comedy which feels like a recycled version of the 1952 hit – Singin’ in the Rain. The movie isn’t all bad, but since it has taken its inspiration from a classic, it falls short in comparison. Where Singin’ in the Rain was an effortless comedy, America’s Sweethearts lacks conviction and confidence. It side steps from cynicism and comedy, and attempts to give insights and truth.
With that said, one must applaud the acting skills of all the actors. Kiki and Gwen (played by Julia Roberts and Catherine Zita-Jones respectively) are shown to be sisters. Where Kiki is dumpy and overweight, Gwen is a Hollywood actress. Kiki has always played second fiddle to Gwen by being her assistant. The film is about movie publicist Lee Phillips (played by Billy Crystal) trying desperately to organize a press conference for a movie directed by the eccentric Hal Weidmann (played by Christopher Walker) who has refused to show Lee a single shot of the film, claiming he will do so directly at the Press Junket. The actors of this movie included Gwen and her now estranged partner Eddie.
With no idea what the movie is about, Lee sets out trying to reconcile Gwen and Eddie so that they attend the Junket and he can focus the conference on them rather than the movie. He tries to convince both to attend, which isn’t an easy task, considering the reason they hate each other is that Gwen was having an affair with Hector (played by Azaria) and Eddie has an emotional breakdown when he realizes this, thus landing himself in a “retreat”.




Finally when the two do agree to attend the Junket, what ensues is confusion and drama. Gwen forces Kiki to be the intermediary between herself and Eddie. Kiki is attracted to Eddie, and when Eddie sees how much weight Kiki has lost and how lovely she now looks, he takes to her. Eventually he realizes that it is Kiki and not Gwen who he has loved always.
Realizing this Lee tells Eddie to go ahead and tell Kiki, and end his relationship with Gwen. When Gwen finds out she tries to save her pride and career by manipulating Kiki and Eddie. However, Eddie sees through her behavior. Amidst all this, the mysterious movie directed by Weidmann is aired at the Junket and everyone realizes that the movie isn’t a movie but a reality film. In the film, Gwen is seen as a conniving manipulative selfish person who is having an affair with Hector. Eddie is the nice guy who starts getting paranoid about his wife.
Gwen is livid at this reality movie and tries to salvage what little pride she has left by announcing that she and Eddie are reconciling. However, Eddie stands up and declares his love for Kiki, who also stands up against her sister. The end is a bit feeble, with Eddie and Kiki leaving together after Kiki has been fired by Gwen, and Gwen trying to put up a brave front.
With a great star cast and amazing acting skills presented by each of them, where the story falls short is the storyline and screenplay which is all over the place. The end could and should have been rewritten. There are some amazing scenes. But they feel a little forced when you watch the movie as a whole.

America's Sweethearts (Released in 2001) - Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Mexican (released in 2001) - Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini - Carrying a cursed gun

The Mexican is a comedy/ road trip movie directed by Gore Verbinski of “The Ring” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame. With a screen play that could have easily turned the movie into a mushy romantic chick flick, the movie has taken a simple concept and made it fun, stylish and witty. With two blockbuster stars and a very entertaining support cast, the movie is enjoyable.
Since Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt are starring in the same movie, one would assume that the movie involves a romantic angle involving the two. But, that is not the case. Considering how badly Jerry and Samantha get along, played by Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts respectively, it is a good thing that they do not share a lot of screen space. The movie revolves around the offbeat relationship which develops between Samantha and Leroy, played by James Gandolfini.
The plot begins with Jerry and Samantha having problems. Samantha is tired of Jerry’s lack of commitment to their relationship and after he picks going to Mexico for yet another assignment, instead of going to Las Vegas with her as promised, she throws him out. From there on the storyline no longer ventures on the romantic side, but becomes rather quirky.
Jerry owes a Mafioso played by Gene Hackman. And it is this debt which he has to repay. Jerry takes up one last assignment for him. He has to trace a cursed gun called the Mexican through Mexico and deliver it back to the mafia. What follows is a thoroughfare of mishaps surrounding Jerry and the Mexican.




Meanwhile, Samantha decides to go to Vegas on her own, and on the way lands up getting kidnapped by Leroy, played by Gandolfini. The kidnapping seems to have taken place for simple reasons. But, those reasons start to get murkier and increasingly complicated as the movie progresses. However, there is a lot of psychological babble between the two, as they start to share their insights.
The screenplay keeps shifting between the misadventures of Samantha and Jerry. Jerry seems unable to pull himself out of the mess, created all because of the gun - the Mexican. He is obsessed with trying to get Samantha back, and hence keeps bungling everything up. Among the many entertaining features of the movie, there is Jerry’s obsession with trying to speak Spanish, by adding an “O” at the end of every English word, and real Mexicans taking him round in circles. The movie has brilliant dialogues, and the exchange between Samantha and Leroy are interesting on a totally different level.
Gandolfini’s character makes Julia Robert shine. The movie isn’t like any other gangster mafia movie. Nor is it romantic. What it is - is dark and hilarious. The story is not in your face, but witty and entertaining in spite of that. Each actor shines in his own role. If Julia and Brad had been paired together, there would have been no role for Gandolfini’s character and the result would have been just any other predictable story.
All in all, the movie is a must watch. But, to reiterate, don’t expect any mushy rom-com in this movie. Go for it, for nothing else but its understated appeal.

The Mexican (released in 2001) - Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini - Carrying a cursed gun

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