Sunday, March 25, 2007


RUNTIME: 107 min.

This stuff with remakes is getting eerie. We have a remake here (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) of a 70s low budgeted cult hit (THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)) that itself bought a lot of elements from a 70s classic (Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSW MASSACRE) that itself was an inspiration of sorts (Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO) and has already been remade (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)). Sounds confusing, isn’t it? Well, I bet there’s not a frame in THE HILLS HAVE EYES that could be called entirely original it still deserves a recommendation for both the hardcore horror fan and the casual viewer. This is not to say that the movie is brilliant or anything but that it is better than most of the trash served out these days.
Horror master Wes Craven has been involved in all the movies where the hills have eyes. He directed the original back in ’77, directed the sequel in 82, produced this one and has written the sequel to this remake, releasing in theatres across North America on 23rd March. Alexander Aja, the man behind the very well received HIGH TENSION, was I’ve heard handpicked by Craven to helm this effort. Apart from the reason that Craven liked HIGH TENSION, Aja got the chair after having admitting that Craven’s version was his all time favorite flick.
The plot is quiet generic. A family, out for a picnic ride in the west with their camper is the object of attention of the malevolent beings surrounding hills. A macho dad (Ted Levine), the typical prayer-warrior mother (Kathleen Quinlan), a seemingly unworthy son-in-law (Aaron Sanford), his wife, couple of spoilt teenagers and a couple of German shepherds, this is the Carter family for you. They’re naïve and adventurous enough to venture into seemingly uncharted territories of the wild, wild west where their camper meets an accident and breaks down. They do have company, of mutants, of course not remotely as nice as Wolverine or Cyclops, but terrible cannibalistic deranged human beings. The family isn’t dysfunctional as usually is the case but seems to gel quite well under pressure.
Aja is quite a man at building tension and he seems to be one of those guys who do not rely solely on violence and gore to horrify audiences. Although the entire premise is similar, Aja displays remarkable authority over proceedings and brings quite a bit of emotional strength. THE HILLS HAVE EYES stands almost as one of Leone’s spaghetti western with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre doing a commendable job in bringing the desert as an important character. In fact, for most of the first half, the searing heat of the desert is the one generating the tension and creating an atmosphere, one of thrill and horror. The work was so good, I was half expecting Clint Eastwood to walk out against Ennio Morricone’s score and shoot each of those mutants. Although horror fans are raving about Eli Roth (CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL) as the next big thing to the genre, I think it is an Aja or a John Wan who deserves it more. Roth barely generates any tension, leave alone horrify and his HOSTEL was the exact sort of movie I loathe.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES does pack in a bit of political rhetoric as well, stuff that was just hinted at in the original. The movie sure does try to make some sort of comment on nuclear tests, their after effects and America’s failed social program but Aja seems to go just a bit too far with that. Although the effort for political relevance does exist it sure isn’t the movie’s strength by any stretch of the imagination. It is the emotional core, although that sure is a result of standard horror clichés. There sure are formulaic mechanisms like dividing the group, sudden surge in background score, people running after their dogs, but it is all old wine in a new bottle. Not a moment of violence seems to be unnecessary s is the case nowadays. The movie runs fast although drags a bit towards the end. It gets a bit ridiculous during the climax when the now high now low intelligence quotient factor comes to the fore. The movie does rob itself of a trump card by disclosing the background of the cannibals and missing a chance at creating a mysterious element. But movies as these work when the transformation of someone from an innocent entity to the same grotesque level as their predator occurs, of course convincingly. THE HILLS HAVE EYES sure scores points here and does more than a good job at characterization, although I was unconvinced at the speed of transformation of a gun-thing democrat to an axe-wielding John Rambo.
Minor quibbles aside, THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one of the better horror movies of recent times, especially when compared to movies like HOSTEL and the zillion Asian horror remakes. It is thrilling, it is violent, it is bloody, it is gory, it is tried, it is tested, it is formulaic and it does a good job at incorporating the standard clichés. What more can you ask from horror movie?


RUNTIME: 101 min.
RATING: *****

Meet the most likeable dysfunctional family in recent history- The Hoovers. There’s dad Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) who has segregated the world into winners and losers and his own nine steps to being a winner is the eternal truth for him. There’s grandpa (Alan Arkin), a foul-mouthed, porno-heroin-addict. There’s son Dwayne (Paul Dano), a huge fan of Nietzsche and taken a vow of silence till he becomes an Air Force pilot. There’s Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), a man fresh from a suicide attempt after a failed love affair with a student, there’s the mama Sheryl (Toni Collette) who’s desperately holding everyone together, although does little cooking. And then there’s little Olive (Abigail Breslin) who dreams of being a beauty queen and has recently been runner-up in an under-10 beauty pageant contest. And all this family has for dinner it seems is products from KFC as mama isn’t a big fan of cooking. What happens when you put them all on a road trip to California to have Olive participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant on a mini bus that has a couple of gears missing, just like the family? A ride that is one of the most entertaining and heartwarming of recent years.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is one of the family movies in recent cinema history. It is strange that debut directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who until now have directed music videos and TV commercials, have taken such a conventional approach since directors with this sort of background usually have a taste for the flashy editing and skewed camera tricks. They do what good directors do in good comedies, let the characters develop and the humor will follow suit.
Speaking of which, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE isn’t a laugh out loud comedy, if you’re expecting one. This is one little gem that has a lot of substance going along with its humor, humor that is bordering on dark comedy. It really takes smart people at the helm for a movie, a feel-good movie, to include addiction, suicide and porn. What’s even more fantastic is the ending that remarkably feels upbeat when it is all about losing. It is not only the directors or the debut screenwriter Michael Arndt, who by the way quit his job as assistant to Matthew Broderick to write the screenplay, but the ensemble cast that gives remarkable performances. There’s Greg Kinnear who just dazzles me more with every movie. He is one of the best comic actors around, and what’s so remarkable is that with him it is never about laugh out loud humor. It is more of a character driven one, be it AS GOOD AS IT GETS or his small turn in YOU’VE GOT MAIL, the loser in THE MATADOR or in FAST FOOD NATION, Greg Kinnear is always a joy to watch. An actor upon whom you can rely blindly to give a subtle, heart warming performance always. There’s Toni Collette, one of the better actresses in around. She’s as effortless in comedies as in heavy dramas, remember THE HOURS? As in last year’s IN HER SHOES, she’s remarkable in every sequence she’s in. Alan Arkin won the Academy award for his turn and expectedly steals every scene he’s in. Paul Dano, although doesn’t utter a dialogue for most of the movie, is quite special. Then there’s little miss sunshine Abigail Breslin whom we first saw in Manoj Night Shayamalan’s SIGNS. Breslin displays a maturity in her performance that most actors her age do not possess. She’s never cute, but she sure is a darling. Be her curiosity about Uncle Frank’s suicide attempt or her quietly moving to her brother to get him to move along, Breslin is just plain wonderful. But the performance of the movie has to be from Steve Carrell. Bittersweet in tone, he brings in the most laughs and is the most heartrending. The tone is different to THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN and Carrell handles it fantastically well. He just follows the character and the humor follows suit. One of the best things I like in a movie is great actors interact. That is one thing I savor in movies and if you too share the trait, there’s no better movie in recent times than LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE won the Best picture and three other awards at the Sundance Film festival. And unlike most indie feel-good movies, it is a genuine crowd pleaser. Amidst all the humor the movie so effortlessly passes on its message. A family of losers in a world crazy with winning. A winner is a person who’s either monetarily fantastic or famous as a beauty queen. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE humors the winning crazy environment but never does it stall. A wonderful screenplay, it basically stresses on the human relations and lets the message take care of itself. And it is amazing that after the initial burst of satire and quirky one-liners, the movie settles into a nice gear where you gradually warm up to each of the characters. And by the end, I admit, I wanted to jump on to the stage and dance like crazy with the Hoovers. There’re quite a few laughs to be had, especially the mini-bus that needed to be pushed to 15 miles per hour before everyone jumped into it. The mini bus itself is a nice wonderful character.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is a movie not to be missed. Although it contains some profanity, this is the movie I recommend you to take each and every family member to. Movies as entertaining, as original, as smart and as warm as these seldom come. And when they come, we need to grab it with both hands, shouldn’t we? One of the most adorable feel good movies of recent times.

Monday, March 19, 2007


RUNTIME: 121 min.
RATING: ****

I remember as a first grader, my elder brother told me about a certain Idi Amin who was the leader of Uganda and his peculiar choice of food. I was so filled with fear; I was naïve to understand every other thing and for quite a while was in secret terror. Idi Amin was one of those villains, so perfectly evil, of course without any super powers. But he was very real and when I saw this huge figure on television one day, my fear went up a couple of notches.
Gone are those days, and Idi Amin, the tyrant who was responsible for killing 300,000 people during his brutal regime is dead as well. But THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, a movie with quite a misleading title, brought every bit of that terror back to me. The British learnt how unreliable Amin was, among the many traits he possessed. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND puts a human face, a first hand experience of what it would be like to be under an unreliable paranoid megalomaniac. Told through the eyes of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA), a newly graduated Scottish doctor who escapes to Uganda from his overbearing father, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is about the evil and tyrannical rule of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Nicholas arrives in Uganda right in the middle of tumultuous events where Amin is seizing power from his one time friend and the first President of Uganda Milton Obote. Nicholas, by chance happens to be nearby when Amin suffers a minor injury on his right hand. He impresses Amin and is made his personal physician and gradually his personal adviser. Nicholas initially enjoys the importance he is given but gradually begins to understand what Amin is really like, a dictator who would always rely more on his soldiers than on his advisors. His attempts to run away from this nightmare fail every time and he sees “enemies” of the regime disappearing all the time.
Although it would now come expected, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND rides high on a towering performance from Forest Whitaker. Whitaker gives arguably the best method acting performance since Christian Bale’s THE MACHINIST. He has an overbearing personality throughout and with the help of fantastic camerawork and great music score by Alex Heffes, creates a true chilling portrayal. The movie boasts of an unusually high energy, something quite rare in biopics. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND works more like a thriller and it based on the award-winning novel by Giles Foden, the movie never does lose pace. I never realized before that Whitaker had such a heavy voice but it is put to fantastic use here. Every time he’s on the screen and every time the camera zooms onto him, the effect is chilling, something which reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The movie could have very well gone the way of a PATTON or a GANDHI by drawing the character through political events but instead chooses to create intense sequences. Events like the air hijack at Entebbe and the expulsion of resident Asian traders only serve as a backdrop. Jack Nicholson was quite good in THE DEPARTED but my guess is he would have been more satisfying if he had gone Whitaker’s way.
Biopics often stand a good chance at the Academy awards; Philip Seymour Hoffman won it last year for his at times brilliant, at times quite over the top portrayal of Truman Capote. Whitaker doesn’t, even in a single shot, go over the top and his is a superbly balanced performance. This has to be one of the better choices of recent times for the Best Actor trophy.
Of course, the movie is not all Whitaker, though his performance very much overshadows every single thing except for the camerawork and superb score. McAvoy, most famous as Mr. Tumnus in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, is quite impressive, though the screenplay sure does let down here. It is the supporting cast where the movie isn’t as brilliant as compared to when the focus is on Amin. Garrigan is supposed to be guilty for his part in the evil of Amin but that is never convincingly shown. All we come to know of this is through characters uttering dialogues. The angle between him and Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) is absolutely bland. The main drawback of the movie is that it focuses to heavily on Amin, and it sure does deliver there. But the plot, which demands stress on Garrigan, does leave something to be desired.
This is MacDonald’s first feature film and he’s plain fantastic. He, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (DOGVILLE, 28 DAYS LATER), Alex Heffes superb background score and Whitaker’s whale of a performance make THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND one of the better political thrillers of recent times.


RUNTIME: 117 min.
RATING: *****

300, simply put, has reinvented the sword and sandal spectacles. Zack Snyder, who incidentally reinvented the zombie genre with his debut feature film DAWN OF THE DEAD, I’ve heard got the financers to shell the $70 million that the movie cost on one big statement- this will change the way sword and sandal spectacles are mad. And the best compliment I can come up with is that 300 does to this genre what SAVING PRIVATE RYAN did to the war movies. After the shameful addition of TROY and ALEXANDER to this genre, we finally have a movie that is more than worthy of being compared to such greats as SPARCATUS, BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR. Rather, 300 ought to be compared to THE MATRIX and TERMINATOR 2: THE JUDGMENT DAY because it provides terrific entertainment and will stand as one of the favorite guy movies.
Frank Miller was so influenced by THE 300 SPARTANS (1962), a movie more conventional to the movies of this genre, that he adapted the historical event into the award winning graphic novel 300. Based on the famed Battle of Thermopylae, one of the greatest last stands in history and the ultimate contributor behind the lore surrounding the Spartans, the graphic novel won huge acclaim. Zack Snyder, much like Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s SIN CITY, stays loyal to Miller’s vision. In fact, Snyder has stated that his ultimate aim was to bring Miller’s images on to the screen.
The plot is essentially simple. Xerses, the mighty ruler of Persia declares his intention of annexing the kingdom of Sparta. He intends to make them his slaves and in the process strengthen his claim to be the one true king of the world, and the god of all. But Spartans, led by Leonidas have other ideas and being slaves to some other ruler was not one of them. The result, the Battle of Thermopylae.
There’s a school of thought that perceive cinema essentially as a visual medium and there is another that see it as a narrative medium. 300 has just made the case for the former stronger without ever compromising on the latter. A movie sure should be visually stunning but beneath the entire spectacle it needs to have substance, some soul. Great spectacles like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, SPARCATUS, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, TERMINTOR 2: THE JUDGMENT DAY stand the test of time and repeated viewings only because of the soul they have. 300, much in the tradition of these movies, doesn’t rely on spectacle but brings to you the very of heart of a Spartan.
The in your face spectacularly over the top performances are a sheer joy to watch, especially that of Gerald Butler as King Leonidas. Laura Hayde, amongst all the masculinity and abs makes more than a mark. Credit in fact should go to the screenplay by Snyder that etches each and every character in your memory. The story could be simple minded, but when the characters are so distinguished and the movie so full of heart, it all is just trivial.
Zack Snyder is a visual genius. Each and every frame presents the 300 Spartans as larger than life superheroes. Each of these men could well walk down into Gotham city and help Batman fight crime. His imagery is absolutely spot on. I never thought I could say this but Zack Snyder has just showed me what I would put as aesthetic violence. I never knew those words could be used together but Snyder has just done that.
The battle sequences, the main draw of 300, are one of the best-filmed things ever, I mean ever, and that includes Battle of MinasTirith. I would not want to divulge anything more and rob you of one of cinema’s most spectacular experiences of modern times.
Some critics have gone to complain about the skin-deep reality of 300 and its erroneous historical viewpoint. 300 the movie, as has 300 the novel, has kept most of the facts correct. We sure could argue about the skewed representation of the Persians and Xerses and that it is the Spartan viewpoint we’re looking at but that would be beside the point. 300 isn’t history, it isn’t gunning to put its facts right. It is the Spartan lore we are being presented with the larger than life characters in a larger than life battle. Ephialtes, the traitor is hunch backed just to show his sorry life. The five ephors are shown diseased to bring out the dark soul they possess. This could as well be mythology with Zeus coming down from the heavens and reign hell on the Persians hordes. This is a celebration of bravery, of honor and of course Spartans. I think Miller could not have imagined a better adaptation of his work.
I repeat, 300 is an experience, the likes of which come very rarely and should not be missed. Few movies are so spectacularly rich and so full of heart. The last time that happened, we had ourselves the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. I don’t know how SPIDERMAN 3 and PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: AT WORLD’S END are going to top this one but boy aren’t I geared up for the summer. 300 is a movie the likes of which you have not seen before, I assure you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


RUNTIME: 117 min.
RATING: ***1/2

I don’t know whether the “Inspired by a True Story” was deliberate or not because what I have come across is “Based on a True Story” movies tend to be bland and bad. Taking the true story of Christopher Gardner as the inspiration, Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino has crafted a nice movie; rather one of the better movies around based on true stories and more importantly the father-son relationship. Although the shadow of Roberto Benigni’s masterpiece LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL does make its presence felt, this is a movie told straight from the heart. The movie sure does feel contrived in places but still it is heartfelt, thanks to a fantastic performance from Will Smith and the wonderful chemistry between him and his real life eight-year-old son Jaden Smith. As a matter of fact, many of the movie’s manipulative scenes are salvaged to a huge extent, thanks to the quite heartrending chemistry between them. The most remarkable thing I could say is that neither the relation nor the movie ever gets saccharine sweet or melodramatic. It remains remarkably grounded despite some quite outlandish sequences, a thing that reminded me very much of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, although based on a true premise plays out more like a fairy tale, a dark one and that is a good thing. It is the true story of a man barely making ends meet during the tumultuous economic period of the early Reagan era. Chris Gardner hasn’t paid his bills, his rent is pending, he has to pay his pending car tickets and he has to fulfill a contract that involves selling some medical machine, that as Gardner puts it is marginally better than the then existing X-ray machine. When his constantly nagging wife Linda (Thandie Newton) leaves him in the sole custody of his son, it is up to Gardner to come out of all the hard times that also involves living on the streets. He manages to get into a program for internship at a prestigious firm for brokers called Dean Witter. Although the future is bright if he gets a job, the stipend they pay is a pittance and Gardner has to go through every hardship there is, along with being a good father to his son.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS tries to be more profound than it actually is. The whole idea of the movie seems quite shallow. The moral of THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS as Gardner tells his son on a basketball field is that never to let anybody let you tell that you can’t pursue your dream. The message sure feels shallow. There have been a zillion better movies, notably some of the wonderful animated movies from Pixar and Walt Disney which have been doing the same thing in an infinitely more convincing manner. Plus the “Pursuit of happiness” is equivalent to Pursuit of richness which doesn’t sound too true in my book.
I am not a big fan of Smith but this has got to be his best performance, other than of course ALI. Smith has been nominated for the Academy award and he so mighty deserved it. His son, if this movie is anything to go by, sure is one to watch out for the future. Jaden Smith gives a fantastic performance. Thandie Newton is a sore in the eye. She in fact is the film’s weakest link. I was so put of by her that I almost wanted to get out of the theatre whenever she came on the screen. She tries to conjure all the expressions she has, which by the way are quite few, and gives a quiet pathetic performance. Thanks to the real Linda that she left Gardner and ended Thandie Newton’s role.
There’re quite a few put offs in the film. First is the unnecessary voiceover that no way witty feels forced. “This part of my life is running, this part is riding the bus” and all that nonsense is what seems quite okay at the outset but just keeps getting a bit onto your nerve. Then there’s the length. As a matter of fact, Muccino had himself a screenplay that could have been infinitely more effective with at least half an hour reduced. The journey seems real long, almost dreary with one setback after another. The eventual payoff, that although quite nicely done with Smith being quite fantastic is always expected. The movie would have been better off with one or two of the hardships kept for the “deleted scenes” section of the DVD.
Nevertheless, the father-son relation always keeps you warm. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS might have its intentions to inspire but I found the father son element more touching. There’re real poignant scenes that really break your heart and all that due to Will Smith and Jaden Smith. They keep everything so natural yet so emotionally warm.
Everything including the direction and the screenplay are quite predictable and fall in line as you expect but the thing that matters is it is all done earnestly. It is one of those feel good movies that sure makes you feel good. But the thing I appreciated the most was that although the movie has been highly fictionalized from Gardner’s story, it keeps far away from usual melodramas that Hollywood movies of these kind so decidedly contain. There isn’t a villain who is against Gardner and is plotting to impede him. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS pursues itself far from these pit holes and keeps whatever it is showing quite real. The movie does contain some sequences that shouldn’t be there. And Christopher Gardner has gone on to write his own book on THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS which I believe has more details after he gets his job. That I guess would be a better story but this one here isn’t too bad either. If not for anything else, watch it just for the father-son duo. They’ll melt your heart. And if they don’t, please consult a doctor.


RUNTIME: 131 min.
RATING: ****

DREAMGIRLS is an absolute blast, absolutely no two ways about it. DREAMGIRLS is I guess why Friday nights at the movies got invented in the first place. Take your friends, your family, your kids and have a real blast. It is dazzling, it is loud and you’ll have one helluva time. DREAMGIRLS is the sort of movie you’ll watch on a Friday evening and absolutely forget the next morning. But when you’re in it, you just are going to have pure, unabashed fun. In short it is an extravaganza.
DREAMGIRLS is based on the popular Broadway musical. The film adaptation that has been announced numerous times with singer actresses like Whitney Houston, Kelly Price supposed to be cast, has finally found daylight in this spectacular screenplay from writer director Bill Condon. Condon, as in his previous Academy Award winning musical CHICAGO keeps the energy levels pumping throughout.
DREAMGIRLS is the story of three aspiring singers who want to make it big in the world of showbiz. It is the pursuit of their dream and their realization of what it takes to have their wildest dreams fulfilled. The three “Dreamettes” Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles), Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) are discovered at a local singing competition by Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) who becomes their manager and quickly catapults them to fame. He puts them behind a popular singer James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy) and then when things go a bit rough with Early makes them their own band. They go on to become a sensation but at the cost of their friendship, and as they put it, their “Family”.
DREAMGIRLS is in two periods, one during the 60s when the group is at their very best with all the bonds intact. The other is during the 70s when things get rough. DREAMGIRLS maybe one of the most ferocious entertainers around but it touches the grim reality of the music industry. And it sure does sound relevant in the music industry in India where there is a new remake every morning. And all that is through the eyes of a few characters. It is amazing how the movie keeps the characters so rich and complex yet never does stop for a single character. It is an absolute gem of a screenplay from Condon.
Performance wise the movie is top notch. Eddie Murphy has never been better. He gives one rip-roaring performance but still manages to break your heart without ever getting melodramatic. Jamie Foxx, fresh from the debacle that was MIAMI VICE pitches in with a fantastic performance and so do Beyonce Knowles and Danny Glover. But the movie belongs to Jennifer Hudson. She does everything and just steals the thunder from everybody. Even if musicals aren’t your cup of tea just watch it for Hudson. She’s just way over the top and you will have a ball watching her.
DREAMGIRLS is an experience. The sets are dazzling, in fact this is the best visual musical, more so that Baz Lurhmann’s masterpiece MOULIN ROUGE!. But below all the visual glitter and glamour, there’s a real wonderful story with real wonderful characters that makes DREAMGIRLS so special. It is filled with musical numbers but Condon never skips a beat with either character development or plot. The movie runs along at a breakneck pace. The Academy award sure went to Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED but DREAMGIRLS sure was a frontrunner for that award.
DREAMGIRLS is I guess how a musical should be made. Bollywood, the supposed capital of musicals churn out soulless crap every other week. I guess everybody here has just lost the plot when it comes to making a musical.
All in all DREAMGIRLS is hugely recommended. Go and have an absolute blast.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


RUNTIME: 139 min.
RATING: **1/2

Mel Gibson has just overdone the violence bit. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was violent and it was mighty necessary to show Gibson’s point. BRAVEHEART wasn’t nearly as violent but still it was needed. But with APOCALYPTO, Gibson has created a meaningless, flaw-full depiction of the great Mayan civilization that it is a shame. The movie is well made and entertaining, fine, moves along at a respectable speed, all right and the last 45 minutes is quite visceral. But overall, it is nothing but truckloads full of garbage trash. What’s with his fetish for violence anyway? I mean even Martin Scorsese’s movies are violent but they have a point. And he never harps over the violence in his movies. The violence in Scorsese’s movies comes across as nonchalant. But in APOCALYPTO, with Gibson it is the ultimate aim. To show as much blood, as much gore possible.
The movie at the outset starts off with some statement as to how civilizations do not get destroyed on account of external forces but owe it to themselves. And if you even try of making sense of what that statement has in relation to the ensuing 135 minutes, well I’m sorry, all you’ll get is garbage. Gibson doesn’t ever show on screen that it is the Mayan civilization but he made it clear at numerous pre release interviews that APOCALYPTO alludes to the ills of the modern society and how one civilization tries to flourish at the expense of others. Quite an aim that, but frankly Gibson has missed the mark by a country mile.
First things first, I have read my history and nowhere does it say that the Mayans were outright butchers as the movie so gleefully portrays. They were one of the greatest civilizations ever. They were astronomers for crying out loud. And Mel Gibson has the courage to show a sequence where the protagonist Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is being sacrificed and is somehow saved when the sun is eclipsed and the people think that something divine has occurred. What sort of garbage cliché is that? And let me tell you for a fact. The Mayans could predict a solar eclipse a long time before it would occur. Gibson would have been better of not talking about which civilization he was depicting in the first place. That would have taken a lot of heat of him, especially when the Aztecs were relatively similar to what Gibson portrays. Otherwise he should have gone for Aztecs who used to sacrifice people. Mayans too I guess sacrificed people, but Gibson shows a goddamn killing field. How the hell is that supposed to explain things?
As a movie, APOCALYPTO is quite fantastically made. The period details, the Mayan city the make up, all the technical areas are spot on. Of course, you won’t be seeing too much of the Mayan city because all Gibson’s camera is looking for is blood, blood and more blood. It is sheer nonsense that there’s so much needless violence in the movie. And that gets even more painful when these needless acts overshadow parts of the movie that are no less than brilliant.
The plot is awfully simple and is more like FIRST BLOOD and MAD MAX. Quite frankly that was the treatment the movie deserved. I’m a huge fan of these two movies because of their simplicity. But APOCALYPTO takes the same sort of plot and tries to create a grand social commentary out of it. The story follows Jaguar Paw whose entire village is attacked by a war party led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and what follows is absolute carnage. But thanks to Mr. Gibson, rather than letting us feel the plight of the poor villagers, all we get to see is lots and lots of blood. Forget who’s killing whom; all you can see is blood. The men and women captured are taken to a city where there exists the great Mayan temple. A sacrificial ritual is in place and Gibson gleefully shows us at least a zillion heads. The point is that any director worth his salt would have wrapped the scene under 5 minutes but Mr. Gibson just takes exceptional satisfaction in showing more and more heads being slashed. I mean, Jigsaw would be put to shame before Gibson’s Mayans.
I never knew that Mayans were bloodthirsty savages as opposed to the books that taught me they were a great civilization. Anyway, Jaguar Paw somehow escapes and what follows is a pursuit amidst lot more of nonsense. There’s one particular scene bringing the title of the movie into significance when a girl prophesizes the decline of the civilization. Surprisingly Jaguar Paw is supposed to be somehow central to all of it but when the actual events transpire, they frankly turn out to be ridiculous. The events are not significant and all they play to is Gibson’s prophecy.
The film’s most poignant moment is when the mother fights her way out of the water and makes it with a child and believe it or not, a newborn. There’re sequences like these that bring Mel Gibson’s talent to the fore. Make no mistake; he’s quite a man behind the camera. He delivers what he intends to and that’s not what everybody can do. But what he aims for is in my humble opinion wrong. Gibson is a much better director but his sensibilities are all in the wrong place. His style of movie making is fine when it comes to personal projects as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST or non-political movies like BRAVEHEART. But he makes here a serious attempt at making some sort of socio-political commentary and he does nothing more than falling flat on his face. I was neither enlightened nor was I entertained. What transpired simply put was a regular action movie that honestly was over hyped. Gibson tries to bring some philosophy in place but nothing like that can gel with what he has shown.
APOCALYPTO does break new grounds over the commercial ability of the subtitled movies. What becomes now of foreign language movies is to be seen. The movie is enjoyable when seen with no political tones. I would even recommend it as a passable entertainer, of course to viewers who can take in the gore. But anyone who would try to connect his history would be committing a great sin. There’s zero historical accuracy here. I am not one of those who go for factually correct movies but when a movie is showing something wrong, please have a reason for it. Case in point: JFK. But APOCALYPTO has no reason for recommendation other than fans of action, violence and gore. This is HOSTEL in the 16th century.


RUNTIME: 132 min.

You got to give it to Clint Eastwood, if you haven’t yet; this man is 76 and is churning out quality movies that other directors half his age would dream of making in a lifetime. One thing to be said though, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS isn’t nearly as good as his two previous efforts, MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is interesting, admirable but quite frankly boring in parts. The movie sometimes gets so over the top, melodramatic that you lose all interest.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is based on the book of the same name by James Bradley and Ron Powers. It is based on the battle of Iwo Jima and more importantly deals with one of the iconic war images of all time- Joe Rosenthal’s image of soldiers hoisting the American flag on top of the highest point of Iwo Jima and deconstructing the myth behind that image. The image itself is shown in several bombastic US marine movies like A FEW GOOD MEN and this is where the reality kicks in to blast the myth.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS bears more resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece SAVING PRIVATE RYAN than any other movie of this genre. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS bears similarity to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN not just in the technical department with the war sequences; it also bears more than a passing resemblance in its theme as well. Spielberg initially had the adaptation of the book under DreamWorks but wasn’t particularly interested in the result but things worked after a meeting with Eastwood and he turned the executive producer. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was about ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is about the same and much more.
The war sequences are fantastic to say the least. That’s expected, considering the men behind the project, but they’re comparable to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’S Omaha beach invasion. Although not as visceral, they still knock a punch and come across as the best war images to be filmed since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE THIN RED LINE.
But the movie loses steam once it passes the initial battle. It tends to get heavy handed and at times unbearable to sit through. There’s sequence where strawberry is poured on some ice cream in the shape of Iwo Jima. First and foremost, images like these aren’t needed in the first place when your point is already made. And then Eastwood lets the camera stay on the image for a while. That is when you almost feel like raising you arms up and ask somebody to the roll the movie a bit faster.
Then there’s the movie’s weakest sequence, an alarming piece of absolutely clichéd film making from one of cinema’s jewels. The three soldiers who have been given the responsibility of selling war bonds back home and earn money to fund the great war, US navy corpsman John ‘Doc’ Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), US marine Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), Para marine of the US Marine Corps Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are supposed to recreate the hoisting on a dummy cliff in a stadium. In one unbearable sequence, as the three soldiers run atop, the movie keeps flashing forward and backward to the war memories of these soldiers. Not even the most sensitive person in the audience would feel the sequence; instead it feels like every step will take us on a boring round trip back into memory lane. And numerous characters are dispensed away at this juncture. I somehow got the notion that this was supposed to be the movies central sequence but it came across contrived, boring and unmoving.
The other major flaw is the proper introduction of the characters. There’s a sequence of the three soldiers who meet the parents of their fellow soldiers dead in the war and you need to listen to conversations about characters that you don’t remember at all. I remembered Hank, but who was Harlon and who the hell was Franklin. It is when these characters die that you tend to know them. That is one big flaw of the movie and it fails to make any sort of emotional attachment with the audience.
There’re needless sequences of Ira Hayes and his ancestry. Mention it once fine; mention it twice okay but it just keeps going on and on. There’s an absolutely needless sequence involving Hayes where he creates a broil on the street. It was absolutely needless and quite frankly put me off.
The screenplay by Paul Haggis (CRASH, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CASINO ROYALE) and William Broyle’s Jr. (CAST AWAY, THE POLAR EXPRESS, JARHEAD) is a major letdown. There’s too much of the crisscross motion between times- the movie tends to run in three different time zones and none of it is seamless. Frankly it is not the confusion that is a problem, it actually gets boring. The movie is strangely incoherent in some places for an Eastwood movie. Even the worst Eastwood movies like BLOODWORK are solid pieces as far as the plot goes. He also gives the background score which is one of the elements of the movie I truly admired.
Eastwood is great; it is disappointing because it comes from Eastwood. When it’s Eastwood, I expect nothing else. Had it been any other director, this would have been a feather in his cap. The movie’s good, very good and better than most motion pictures around including many nonsense war movies this year like FLYBOYS and in recent years, but it still is disappointing because it is Eastwood. There’re sequences of undeniable power and then there’re sequences that never should have made in front of our eyes.
The performances are fine, nothing special. Beach has the more histrionic potential role and he does a good job. Others are fine including Ryan Phillippe who impressed me the most.
The movie is 132 minutes long and it could have been shorter by at least 20 minutes. And the movie feels overlong when the needless after life of three central characters are shown, stuff that could easily be put in letters and be shown with 30 seconds against a black background or more importantly against the photographs of the real soldiers.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS seems to tell us some kind of startling revelation about heroism. I for one wasn’t startled neither was it a revelation. And the movie kept harping over and over again about the same theme about heroism.
If you care about wars and soldiers, please be seated when the end credits roll on. Eastwood’s rigorous attention to detail is on full display as we’re taken through a collection of still photographs. I was moved by the movie, not as much as expected, but these black and white stills were a zillion times more powerful then the preceding feature film.