Monday, August 31, 2015

Ek Tha Tiger

Ek Tha Tiger - 132min – NR

My trip to India has turned me on to Indian cinema. I have seen three movies in the last few weeks and it just happens that all three are made by the same director. Kabir Kahn directed this film in 2012 and it looks like it’s his directorial debut. You can tell it’s a first film from some of the shots and the, at times, odd pacing of the film. I am very glad that he has progressed as a director and some of the choices he made in the other films he has done has defiantly shown improvement. There is more self-assuredness to the camera choices and how he set up the scenes.

Tiger (Salman Khan) is an agent for RAW the Indian equivalent of the CIA and he has to retrieve some information from an Indian scientist, Professor Kidwai (Roshan Seth) in Dublin. Tiger starts to make a move but gets distracted by the professor’s cleaning lady, Zoya (Katrina Kaif). He falls for her but she turns out to not only be a cleaning lady she works for Pakistani Intelligence and she is there to get the same information. They now have to make a choice between love or country.
Salman Khan is a mountain of a man and has the most charming demeanor, even when he is at his most bad-assed you still kind of feel like the nicest person in the world is kicking ass. Katrina Kaif is awesome on the screen and she is so talented but her fighting skills are not as refined as Kahn’s. When you see her fight, it defiantly looks like she is concentrating on trying very hard to make the punch look right. She is outstanding otherwise.

I wanted to spend time talking about the director. This is an interesting confluence of events that I have now seen three of his movies just by random chance. Watching them in reverse order gives you an interesting perspective on his progress as a director. The first one I saw was Bajrangi Bhajaan,which is his latest film about an Indian man getting a young mute Pakistani girl back home. It’s a great blend of music and action and emotional pull. You can read my review HERE.

Ek Tha Tiger defiantly feels like a first film. It has the length of a typical Indian film but most of that could be cut because of the over-use slow motion shots. He uses them with all the finesse of a toddler with a new noisy toy. There is a scene where we see a character knocks over an ash tray and it goes into super slow motion to show the slow fall of the cigarette butts and ash artistically floating to the floor. But nothing is happening aside from that. When that scene is used it means that something bad is about to happen when said slow motion object hits the floor or to demonstrate that the hero of the film can draw his weapon\subdue his bad guy all before the cigarette hits the floor. None of those things happened it was a wasted shot.

There were also an over-use of longing looks between the love interests. There seemed to be one too many reaction shots after Tiger and Zoya locked eyes. She locks eyes with him we see him return the look and it’s established. You could even add a touch of slow motion to these scenes to add weight to the scene but only just a touch. They are great looking but again it unnecessarily adds to the length of film.

After taking a look at where they could tighten up the shots they could reasonably cut this 132 minute film down to 100 min. This is a great example of the growth of a filmmaker I would recommend seeing all three of his film only to watch the progression of an artist.

What other movies also demonstrate the growth of a director? 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

This is the second instalement of the film version of the Maze Runner book series. See what I did there. This move takes place in a desert wasteland inhabited by zombies and survivors that are just as dangerous as the zombies. This two hour journey is a long slog through the setting to get to anything of story substance. On the bright side it is on par with the first one but the first got a meh from me.

This film picks up right after the kids are rescued from the clutches of W.C.K.D. Here’s some advice for potential bad guys out there looking to start up a nefarious organization don’t call yourself by an acronym that is synonymous with evil. There is little wonder that you can get these good kids to join you. They find out that things are not as they seem with their protectors so they have to make a break for it and try and survive out in the scorch.

We get more clues to what the reason for the mazes were and we also get more questions as well. As a second part it completely expands the story of move one with enough story elements to launch into a third movie. But the question is will we be engaged enough to get there? If anything this movie also stands as testament that if this world were to go through a similar event, I would be dead because I don’t run enough. Man they do an awful lot of running. Apocalypse rule #1 Cardio

This one was longer and for the time we didn’t get anything more than longer walking scenes. The walk across San Francisco Bay was tedious for the characters as well as the audience. The unusual circumstance that the first movie gave us is now devolved into a scorched earth setting and lacks the curiosity of the first film.

Despite the length, I still enjoyed the tension of some of the scenes. They have kept up the monster quota only this time it’s darker and more of the zombie variety known as cranks. In the range of zombies they are the running after you kind, but not as fast as 28 Days rage zombies but still fast and surprisingly agile with joints that are not working. The cranks have been infected with the flare virus and one bite will convert you unless you are lucky enough to have a natural immunity.

I have always been a fan of post apocalyptical setting and this one has all of the right elements. A ruined city inhabited by crank zombies. Scarce resources so you have to scavenge for anything you can use to survive. These settings and the constant action is fine but they are only set dressing unless you have a really good story to tell.

I would have liked to have seen more development between the characters.There is no time to actually get to know the characters so their choices seem to be just follow the beats of the plot. Death of a character should have more impact than just a nod. Betrayal should punch you in the stomach not wave at you from across the room. Because of the lack of development we only have time to process the action and never get to focus on the people that the action is happing to.

Will I go and see the third one? Yes, because I’m a movie nut and will see anything. However I will not be counting the days until its release. I may see it because it is showing next.
Is there a series that you have seen on screen and have been reluctantly going to see only because you have seen the first two?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Visit

The Visit – 94min – PG13

This film is a return to the thing that made M. Night Shyamalan famous: a great story told simply. Doing a micro budget film forces you to focus on only the essentials in the story. Mr. Shyamalan has some good stories. I learned a while back that when going to one of his films don’t try and guess where the story is going; just sit back and enjoy it as it unfolds. It’s a bit like going to see a magician and working out how the tricks are done when you watching the show. You miss the magic. Maybe I’m not the best person to review this film, I already have a high opinion of his work so yeah I am going to love it. It does nothing but make me enjoy his creativity more.  

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) spend a week with their estranged grandparents. Becca is a budding filmmaker and wants to document the trip. This leads us down a path that I have never cared for as a device. The main characters are shooting the footage. It’s not really a found footage per se but it’s chocked full of oddly staged scenes and shaky camera shots.  Using these devices, in my opinion, on a big budget film is a lazy story-telling tool. But on a micro budget, it’s understandable.

Beyond that, what really attracted me to the story is that the characters are genuine. The family is going through a separation and the kids are going away to give mom some time with the new man in her life. The kids have some time to examine the effects of their parents break-up, and we can see them working out their issues.

The pacing is very deliberate. Rising tension is relived by a touch of humor and the simple explanation that what they saw is very normal if you look at it from a certain point of view. This is another reason to enjoy this film with its understanding of human nature to accept reasonable explanations for things because the alternative would be too horrifying. Yet the horrifying is sitting right there waiting for you to recognize what you have been seeing all along. As it comes more and more into focus, the feeling is akin to that of the slow rise up the hill on a roller coaster. Click,click, click,click as you go up and crest the hill you can see the drop off and do nothing but go with it and hope that you survive out the other end.

I loved the symbolism in the film. It may be heavy handed but still done well. The characters surviving their ordeal and walking out into the rain as a baptism to their new lives touches the right notes. Unlike other films it doesn’t make victims of its characters who survive only to become creatures themselves or are horribly scarred for the rest of their lives.

The dialog has the flavor and touches of humor that have been missing from some of his previous work. You can tell that he has the story clearly in his mind and that translates to the screen perfectly. This has the same feel as the Sixth Sense. They both have similar themes: kids are stronger than we give them credit for and life can sometimes be scary but we get through it. 

I for one, am glad this film is doing well and that Mr. Shyamalan is telling stories again. I’m looking forward to the next one.  Are you? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

No Escape

No Escape – 93min – R

This is not a relaxing film. It stirs up tense moments on so many different political and familial levels. At times I was worried about the family and others worried about the filmmakers. Regardless of the tense moments it seems like a movie that is out of step with today’s understanding of the world. As a yellow light film it was riding right in the middle of good production value but poor story.

Jack (OwenWilson) and Annie Dwyer (Lake Bell) have moved their family to an East Asian Country for Jack’s new Job. They are far from their family and friends, complete strangers in a very dark landscape. Before they land, the government is overthrown in a bloody coup. The angry mob is out to kill the evil Americans who have come to exploit their water. The Dwyer family is running for their lives and get help from an ex secret agent, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan). He sacrifices himself for the family and they fight their way to the safety of Vietnam.

There was a very seedy feel to the story. The setting was generic Southeast Asian country and instead of focusing on any of the cultural richness of the region, it was a mishmash of prostitution, karaoke and old people living in squalor. There could have been just as much anger and rage by the people being exploited without making them out to be the worst people white people imagine about that area of the world. If anything it would have been more terrifying that a culturally rich country could have such violence amongst it.

The craft of filmmaking was great. The camera work and the scenes were well constructed to make you uncomfortable during the escape and the fighting. There are some good perspective shots that put you in the action and in the same hiding places. They also construct situations that will put you on edge. The scene where they have to ride a moped through a mob on the street in clothes they have taken off of people that have been killed by the angry mob is very tense. There was a moment that could have been better used. His bike falls over and he gets help picking it up by a guy who kind of recognizes him but doesn’t. It would have been better to have the guy who helps him is someone who he helped earlier. Say a man on the street is moving sacks of rice and Jack helps him pick up a few bags as he is going to the store for a newspaper.

The lack of blended storytelling makes this film seem very one dimensional. They have absolutely no depth to the characters or the plot. However the use of slow motion scenes and the angles used for some of the shots were great at inducing anxiety. I am not a fan of handheld shots, but in the chaos of a coup it does as designed and gives you a very uncomfortable feel. The pacing of the film is great you go from high action to quiet sneaking and back to high action, but it doesn’t remove any of the tension. Walking out of the film I was finally relaxed that it was over.

Ultimately this film will fall into obscurity and do nothing for the people who made it. The director (John Erick Dowdle) has a good eye for filmmaking but now needs to pair up with a great writer. What would be your dream team for a director and writer combo?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

As a formulaic summer blockbusters go, the latest installment in the MI series does a great job of bringing the goods. When I go and see this movie I am not looking for deep plots or a lot of character development. I come to a film like this to see the following: Tom Cruise channeling his inner Jackie Chan and doing some crazy stunts. Simon Pegg adding his pop culture nerdly flavor to the supporting role. Jeremy Renner looking fabulous as he brings the heat. Ving Rhames being the baddest hacking Motherfu(Hush your mouth).. Just talking about Ving. I enjoyed this movie immensely.

Ethan (Tom Cruise) gets attacked by the Syndicate, an organization like his, only bent on making the world a more chaotic place. He is the only one who knows for sure this organization exists and his department is being shut down because of the efforts of Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). The IMF agents are all being absorbed into the CIA. Ethan is on his own with no support from his country, but being disavowed is nothing new to him. He starts recruiting some trusted people and goes on the offensive.

I liked how this movie picks up right after the second movie. I don't know if they are going to do more but as an action fluff film they have the right mix. Other films go heavy on the humor and some just focus on causing the most damage scene after scene. This film has a good balance between building action scenes and story with just a few humorous spots to relieves the tension. The characters have had a lot of time to get comfortable in their skins and it shows on how easily they interact on screen.

The director (Christopher McQuarrie) really knows how to work with the action film elements. As writer and director, he can guide the action to be as he intended on the page. Some writers/directors need someone to bring them back after they have swerved too far off the path. McQuarrie doesn't seem to need this. His product is fresh and clean and an enjoyable journey. He first got my attention with his work as writer for The Usual Suspects. He has a great way of making the characters seem real. There is an honesty to his characters that is fun to watch.

Tom Cruise, regardless of his personal beliefs and associations, is a star. I have been guilty of making fun of the craziness that is his personal life but when we are in the theater and he is on screen he commands respect and can carry off the many performances that he takes on. He was miss-cast as Jack Reacher but still did a strong job as that version of the character.

Rumors hover over the next installment but they are going to have to tread carefully. You don't want to carry the fun on too long because when a franchise goes bad it just doesn't go a little bad it goes very, very bad. So far they are doing fine and I hope they continue with this streak, because gosh darn it, these moves are fun. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E

Proving yet again that Hollywood is out of ideas, we have another movie made form a TV show. I was never a fan of the TV show so I was only mildly interested, however Guy Ritchie is an outstanding storyteller and makes this formulaic TV story into something outstanding. This film highlights Ritchie's masterful skill at blending just the right amount of action with story and emotion. I appreciated the dedication to the vintage time period. it feels like if the filmmakers from the 60s had access to today’s technology, this would totally be a move they would have made.

Art thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is recruited by the CIA to work for them in exchange for not going to jail. He is partnered with a KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Arnie Hammer)  to find and stop a maniacal villain, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) from launching a nuclear weapon. With the help of a girl, Gaby (Alicia Vlkander) from East Berlin whose father is being held captive to work on the bomb. Together they work to save the world.

The setting is the cold war and they did a perfect job of fitting in with that time period. The costumes and set design are one thing, but the choice of font for subtitles blends in with that time period perfectly. They even took some of screen division elements from the TV show. You know the ones where we see one protagonist looking one way, and only on the top half of the screen and the other protagonist looking the other way occupying the bottom of the screen. They both split further and the bad guy is looking directly at the screen. The animated series Samurai Jack used this technique well.

I enjoyed the way that they sometimes back tracked on a scene, showing what is happening all at the same time. The end is a great example of this. We see events unfold from one point of view. Then we see them from a different character’s POV, and again from a different character. All of the events happened simultaneously but we are now seeing what everyone was doing right before the final outcome, with the scenes edited together without confusing the audience is a challenge. They did a great job of it.

I have yet to see Guy Ritchie movie that I didn't like. Unlike the other directors of today he seems to have gift for adding just the right amount of everything. He has a knack for pace and for blending all the elements together to make a highly entertaining film. His choice of performers is outstanding as well. The three stars of the film work really well together on screen. They have a great chemistry that makes it enjoyable to watch.

Armie Hammer's portrayal of Illya is perfect. He has the intensity of a hard Russian spy but enough subtle vulnerabilities that make him interesting. As the straight man to Solo's sense of humor he gives a lot of great material to play off of. Henry Cavil's Agent Solo is extremely American. Every line he delivers is like he is making an announcement at a pageant. Every line is dripping with roguish charm.

When I was a kid, I saw the show in reruns but it never held my interest, maybe now that I'm older I should give this series another look. Or maybe Guy Ritchie took a dull series and made it entertaining.

What TV shows did you look at in a different light after they were put on the big screen?