Once - For Film Lovers, Music Lovers and Lovers

                              The movie musicals -- the old traditional ones -- were a victim of changing taste of movie-goers. May be the viewers didn't like the implausibility of characters and suddenly inexplicably bursting into a song. But "Once" (2006), a musical drama, is an attempt to provide a musical that works for a modern audience by grounding the situation in reality. Story-wise, it might be a simple boy-meets-girl love, but their courtship is physically chaste, musically passionate and deeply satisfying.

                         'Once' takes place in Dublin, Ireland, where the guy (Glen Hasard), who works in his father's (Bill Hodnett) vacuum repair shop, nurses a long-conceiving musical career dream by writing his own songs and singing them on the street for donations. The young man uses the breakup with his girlfriends as stuff for his songs. One day a pretty Czech immigrant girl (Marketa Irglova) hears his song on the street, gets impressed and strikes up a conversation with him.

                         She was selling roses to shoppers and asks him if he could repair her vacuum cleaner, but she is also an aspiring musician, and the film's sweetest moment happens then, when they sit down at a piano and gingerly perform a duet of one of his songs, their resonance growing as the song progresses until it appears they have performed together all their lives. The girl lives with her mother and daughter. Her husband is in Czech, who doesn't care about her or music. They relate more fully and meaningfully through the music they both adore and their friendship borders on romance but never dares crossing into it. Soon she convinces the guy and they draft other musicians for a marathon recording.

                       One thing we could adore in Once is the songs, and the way they are seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the understated romance. Like the old Hollywood musicals, the characters never break out into fantastical song and dance. In this movie, music is both an organic force and the result of great creative energy. All of the songs and music are performed and composed only by the leads, a rarity even for musicals.

                      Apart from the music and songs, the performances supply the charm. The visual stimuli that accompanies the songs of Hasard and Marketa is just mesmerizing. They both are natural and at ease with their roles and are just as affecting when they're talking as when they're singing. Hasard is an friend of director John Carney, who has had only one film role prior to "Once." Hasard recommended the 18-year old Marketa (in her first film appearance) for the girl's role, with whom he had recorded an album.Their uncoerced chemistry and the powerful emotions during the musicals is superb. 

                       Writer and director John Carney makes them slyly express their deepest emotions through music, as when the guy explains his broken-hearted past by brashly making up impromptu songs on his guitar while riding a bus. He is wise enough to keep his film far removed from anything resembling cliche. In a typical Hollywood film, the father would be a tough guy, the recording might provide a third-act conflict and the ending might be totally expected, but in Carney's direction there is none of that formulaic nonsense. Right from the start it is so nature an so pure. 

                    After the final credits were rolling, I realized that I never knew the names of the lead characters in"Once." They are never named in the film, which reflects both the specifics of their own bittersweet would-be romance and the universal nature of the story Carney is spinning through their music. There are unsteady shots and lots of thick indie film aesthetics, but the movie never feels anything less than heart-wrenchingly authentic. 

                            The magic of "Once" remains in experiencing it for yourself. 


Academy Award Winning Song : "Falling Slowly"

Once - IMDb

Masters of Cinema : Ang Lee

                            At the beginning of Ang Lee's "Ice Storm" (1997), one of the central characters, Paul Hood reflects on the nature of the family and its place in the world: "Your family is the void you emerge from and the place you return to when you die. And that's the paradox. The closer you are drawn back in, the deeper into the void you go." The paradoxical permanency of the family is a central tenet of Ang Lee's work. He has often referred to himself as 'a film-maker who does family dramas.' Critically and commercially successful both in the west and his native Taiwan, he is the only director to have two Golden Bear awards  and an Oscar, and is a popular presence at other film festivals around the world.

                         To date, Lee's films can be divided into two seemingly different types. Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, referred to by the director as his 'Father Knows Best' trilogy, were all Taiwanese co-productions. Combining social comedy and light drama, their success paved the way for his more larger budget, films like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon", "Hulk" and "Life of Pi." In contrast to his earlier work, "Sense and Sensibility", "The Ice Storm" and "Ride The Devil", occupy a territory that is termed as the "cinema of quality", part of that body of "classy" Hollywood movies that borrows its middlebrow legitimacy from its literary ancestry. The two periods of Lee's career share an interest in the potentially transgressive situations at the heart of family life, be it the simple act of leaving home or surviving on the unmerciful ocean, or the emotional ravages of civil war.

Society and Cultural Attitudes

                    Lee's films attempt to analyze the social order of each given society, whether based on ethnicity, sexuality, age or class, within the context of his own distinctive form of family drama. In interviews, Lee emphasizes the cultural diversity of his background, which has had a profound effect upon his work: "I talk English and turn around and speak Chinese to someone else. It's hard for us to look at a specific event from an American or a Chinese or even an Asian-American point of view. It's always a mixture."

                  Ang Lee's first three films use the collision of differing cultural attitudes to sexuality and age to expose the cracks in the veneer of the apparently stable family structure. The most example of this approach can be found in Eat Drink Man Woman. Lee's only film to be set in Taiwan, it centers on the seemingly traditional relationship between a widowed master chef and his three grown-up daughters. Tracing the breakdown of the Chu family as daughter leaves home to build a life or family of her own, the drama slowly builds up to the climactic family dinner where Mr Chu reveals a secret that irreversibly changes the future of the family, and each member's relationship with one another.

                Oscillating between domestic farce and a more serious rumination on the loss of the traditional values held by Mr Chu, the film ends with the recognition that each individual and his/her values are as important as those of the family. Eat Drink Man Woman follows Lee's first two films in using the traditional Chinese archetype of the father figure as the focal point of the drama. All three films scrupulously poised between celebrating and chastising our modernity for its loosening of the ties that bind.

               In Pushing Hands, the father travels from Taiwan to live in his son's house, but is eventually forced to find his own accommodation because the family ties which existed in his homeland are considered less important in America. Similarly, in The Wedding Banquet. Gao's parents return from New York to their home in Taiwan having reluctantly accepted their son's homosexuality. At the end of both films, there is note of regret that acknowledges what has been lost in order for modernity, and the new set of values accompanying it, to survive.

             Mr Chu's struggle to adapt to the changing world is echoed by Ben Hood, the central patriarchal figure in Lee and Schamus' adaptation of Rick Moody's "Ice Storm." The Hoods, a seemingly perfect image of the all-American family, gather together for Thanksgiving Dinne, and Ben announces that 'it's great that we can all be together', asking daughter Wendy to say grace. Instead, she offers a petulant criticism of her parents' values. One of the many scenes of domestic strife in the film, Wendy's comments chip away at her family's facade to reveal that the Hoods' have not been together for a very long time. Over the course of the weekend, this facade will crumble entirely. 

Crumbling Family Values

             The Ice Storm is a caustic account of 1970s' American society gone awry, focusing on two families, the Hoods and the Carvers. In exploring the generational differences between the characters, it looks back to themes raised in Lee's earlier films. However, the tone is more sombre, particularly in the way the film questions the adults' responsibility both for their own behavior, and for that of their children. Their apparent unwillingness to assume any responsibility has resulted in the increasing gulf between and within generations. Ultimately, it takes the death of a family member to rouse these characters from their emotional sleepwalking, only to realize that any hope of reconciliation has long passed. 

              Unlike the vivid colors on display in Lee's earlier films, The Ice Storm uses a muted palette to reinforce the repressed emotions of these characters. Lee also makes good use of editing to interrupt the passionless exchanges between Elena and Ben as they prepare the Thanksgiving meal. Cutting between their conversation, shots of frozen food and the minutiae of objects that populate their household, Lee emphasizes the lack of emotion between the couple whose feelings for each other are colder than the outside environment. Lee is also more disposed to absolve the characters of their actions, preferring to place the blame on society. 

               A strong conservative vein could also be identified in Lee's Sense and Sensibility. The film's preoccupation with patriarchal power and the role of the family certainly echoes the themes of his previous films, in which he had more involvement than this. This film is also significant for its phenomenal critical and commercial success, earning Emma Thompson an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1996 and paving the way for the funding of Lee's subsequent films, The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil. 

Complex Civil War Tale

               Based on Daniel Woodrell 'Woe to Live', Ride with the Devil is an account of the life of a German immigrant, Jake Roedel, as he travels with southern Bushwhackers during the American civil war, accompanied by Daniel Holt, a freed black slave. Whist not endorsing their racist attitudes, Lee adopts the perspective of the Confederate supporters, documenting the loss of tradition in the face of modernization, this time enforced by the Unionist government. Although thematically linked to Lee's earlier work, the film differs in its emphasis on the physical, as well as the emotional drama. 

               Moments of intimacy are inter-cut with epic battle scenes between Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers (the bands of Unionist irregulars). The world of Roedel and his friends is a microcosm of the large battle being waged across the fragmented nation. The fight for freedom is reduced to the ambitions and hopes of individual men and women: Jake's dream of a peaceful life; his love's desire for a family; and Daniel's search for his place in the world amidst the ravages of a bloody war. 

Lee's Blockbusters

                  Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Lee's Academy Award winning movie, once again deals with the conflict between freedom of expression and the restrictions enforced upon individuals by societal conventions and traditional values. His first Chinese language film since Ear Drink Man Woman, it tells the story of four warriors whose attempt to achieve happiness in their emotional lives are thwarted by their allegiance to the honor of their craft and the complexities of the moral codes binding them to their social status. Lee interweaves breathtaking fight sequences with scenes of domestic drama, appealing to both mainstream and art-house audiences. A phenomenal international success, it is one of Lee's most enjoyable films.

                   Lee's next feature was the oddest super-hero flick "Hulk", where he approached the decades-old Marvel Comics character as yet another wanderer in the void. Lee's hulk has a troubled psychology, which is also a driving force of the movie, as he copes with traumatic childhood memories, tries for a romance with fellow researcher Betty Ross, and wrestles with forbidden impulses that explode into reality when his alter ego takes over. The most appealing factor of "Hulk" is its visual style: crafty use of split screens, unexpected scene transitions, and hallucinatory images. 

Emotional Dramas

                  Lee's next, Brokeback Mountain is adapted from Annie Proulx' 1997 story. The movie takes us to the year 1963, where two jobbing farmhands (Gyllenhaal and Ledger) take a gig tending sheep on a remote mountain. During their work, which extends to months, they form a bond that extends to a sexual relationship, but once the job is finished they return to their daily lives. However, the attraction remains, and it haunts them over their life for the next two decades. Heath Ledger, in one of his best performance, gives us a full-scale portrait of a man who is so imprisoned by tradition and inhibition that he can never break out. His underplaying served as an acknowledgment that, for some men, there is pain too deep for words.

                In Brokeback Mountain, Lee once again showed us that he is up to the challenge of exploring the turmoil of individuals who yearn for a love that lasts. Under his direction, everything is pitch perfect -- from the opening scene outside the rancher's office where the two cowboys wait to hear about work, Ennis (Ledger) slumping shyly behind his cowboy hat, Jack (Jake Gyllenhal) leaning against his truck with an almost brazen friendliness, to the heartbreaking scene when Ennis visits Jack's boyhood room, the storyline is pulled forward by a palpable and excruciating feeling of yearning. Brokeback Mountain earned Ang Lee a Academy Award for direction.

                 Lee's, controversial (sex scenes in this period piece are extremely graphic) and leisurely paced "Lust Caution" is another tale of forbidden love, but instead of cowboys, the lovers this time are opponents in deadly game of espionage. The movie starts in the year 1942, in Shanghai, where a society woman walks into a cafe and makes a phone call. In an emotional flashback, we find out that she is Wong Chia Chi (Tang), a drama student turned spy on a secret mission to facilitate the assassination of Mr Yee (Leung), a hated collaborator. Lee takes us on the most intimate of journeys inside the moral alleyways of a twisted political system that devalues the individual, and that's what makes this character study so intense and suspenseful.

                     Taking Woodstock in 2009, a vibrant and sympathetic portrait of the counterculture’s most visible evocation of the power of peace, love, and music, was both a critical and commercial failure. the central story is based about the legendary Woodstock Music & Art Fair, but it is also saddled with lot of side stories, which makes it meandering and unfocused. 

Visual Masterpiece

                    Lee's latest offering, the unfilmable "Life of Pi", based on the Booker prize winning Yann Martel's novel remains as one of his best films. Life of Pi documents the survival of a shipwrecked teenager named Pi Patel, stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a starving Bengal tiger. Lee's first foray into 3-D technology bestows the movie with gloriously rendered images. Whether observing a swimmer from below or surging through an astonishing nighttime typhoon, this extraordinary quest of survival remains as a feast of imagery for viewers.  

                 After looking at Ang Lee's filmography, a question raises: "Is there anything Ang Lee can't do?" In his incredibly varied filmography, Lee has steadily steered films that where neither light weight entertainment nor an Oscar-bait. He is rightly referred as "the most mysterious talent at large in American cinema."

Ang Lee - Senses of Cinema

Life of Pi - Ang Lee's Visual Masterpiece

                         Hollywood has always applied special effects to have us believe in aliens, monsters and fantasy worlds. Ang Lee's exhilarating "Life of Pi" has a very simple goal. It wants us to show the jaw-dropping ocean world and to make us believe that the computer-generated Bengal tiger by the odd name of Richard Parker is real. When some critic says "You’ve never seen anything like this in a movie,” almost 90 percent of the time it remains a lie. That's not the case with "Life of Pi." Ang Lee and a team of CGI wizards has cracked the 3-D riddle in this visual banquet. 

                      Yann Martel's novel, "Life of Pi", like the recently released "Cloud Atlas", is considered to be one of the most unfilmable book. Three directors (Manoj Shymalan, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuaron) were previously attached to direct this movie, since its rights were optioned in 2002. The reason it remained unfilmable is obvious: Most of the action takes place on a 27-foot lifeboat inhabited by a teenage Indian boy and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. But after a long while, a right director (Ang Lee) came across the right project at just the right moment, and things so often discordant fall into perfect harmony. 

        The visual lushness of the movie starts from the opening shots of Pondicherry, India, a former French colony. The adult Pi (Irrfan Khan), in Canada, tells his remarkable story to a Canadian novelist (Rafe Spall). In Ponidcherry, we are introduced to young Pi (Suraj Sharma), whose name is short for "Piscene," but who changes it because it sounds too much like "pissing." His father Santosh Patel (Adil Hussain) and his mother (Tabu) operates a zoo. Pi also has a elder brother. The story gives us a brief primer of his early life and an exploration of his views of faith, a morphing philosophy that includes elements of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.

                  Pi simply wants to understand "God", so he picks various aspects of different religions to create his own iteration.When hard times hit, Pi's family decide to move to Canada and they travel on a ship, where the zoo's animal occupants, are packed aboard to sell in Canada.  The Japanese freighter turtles in a thunderstorm, leaving 17-year-old Pi the sole human survivor as he manages to climb into a lifeboat. In this astonishingly rendered sequence, he also has companions in his 27-foot long boat: an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and that tiger, Richard Parker. 

                  The predatory impulse and the survival instinct of Richard Parker devours the other three animals, except Pi. Then the film follows Pi and Parker making a hallucinatory and faithful trip, for months facing each other, conquering fear and happening upon unexpected wonder.

                Ang Lee, known for movies like 'Brokeback Mountain' , Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', has transported a literal crouching tiger to a work of entertainment for all-ages. He elegantly takes the viewer through Martel's philosophical line while also using excellently using every modern  cinematic tool. Lee also joins the auteurs like Cameron, Scorsese, in reinvigorating the craft of 3-D. He gainfully uses 3-D for its pop effect and also in more magical ways. The ocean sequences in 3-D promises a viewer an ample of charming effects -- the mountainous waves reaching out engulf the ship, the dawn's light in a becalmed ocean, the phosphorescent sea glows under moonbeams and the eye-tricking flying fish scene -- all these never distracts us from the overall experience. 

                   Cinematographer Claudio Miranda approaches the technical challenges with the same commitment of Lee. Filming in one of the world's largest auto-generating wave tank (with a capacity of 1.7 million gallons), they turn their visual restrictions into virtues. The camera bobs gently above and below the water's surface and always finds a compelling angles for the action. Screenwriter David Magee have extracted the book's inherently cinematic qualities. The only problem in the narrative -- which was not there in the novel -- is the more muted finale that doesn't have the powerful emotional punch it should. 

                  The state of the art special effects used to craft Richard Paker is nothing short of amazing. No one viewer can doubt that this is a living, breathing tiger. Even though, Richard Parker is an example of a  top-notch computer design, there are also other spectacular instances. For example, a whale that explodes skyward from the ocean during a scene of eerie, breathtaking beauty or the group of meerkats in floating island. 

                 Suraj Sharma, a non-professional actor, makes a terrifically engaging screen debut as Pi. He has underwent considerable weight fluctuations for the role, and he wonderfully manifests Pi's physical sufferings while maintaining a persuasive relationship with his four-legged co-star. Like the book, Pi in the end leaves us puzzling over what we’ve seen and heard, but never makes us doubt the expressive story he is telling. The ending serves as a provocation, about what we need to believe in order to adapt to our own everyday absurd circumstance of finite existence. 

               "Life of Pi" is a hard story to tell and market. But, Lee's artistic vision makes this relationship as interesting as one between two human beings and uses the lack of dialogue as a strength.I don't know whether this movie will make you believe in God, but  it will surely restore your faith in the divine magic of the movies.


Life of Pi - IMDb 

The Intouchables - A Poignant Feel-Good Story

                      The French drama "The Intouchables" starts with a caption which informs us that this movie is based on a true story. That thing scrawled across the screen might be for hard-hearted humans, so stop worrying about where the narrative diverges from the true story or about the degrees of factual veracity. It is considered a good film for a whole different reasons: uplifting, funny, heartwarming, etc. The movie offers a great hope for all people. It briefly brushes on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without pounding them to death. And, above all it has got a understated sweetness that is not to be taken for granted.

                         Intouchables was a huge box-office phenomenon in France, last year. It is hardly a game-changing movie, its sentimental, superficial and precisely what you expect. It also looks like the hybrid of Bucket List, Driving Miss Daisy and Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But, apart from all these expected themes, the movie is highly watchable because of its two excellent lead actors -- Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy.

         Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy aristocrat and lives in a big, luxurious house with his spoiled teenage daughter (Alba Gaia Bellugi) and members of his staff. As a paragliding accident, he is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a paragliding accident. He has gone through lot of caregivers, since his accident. In one of the interviews, Driss (Omar Sy) barrages impatiently into the room and asks Philippe to sign his form saying he applied for a job and was rejected so that he can receive unemployment benefits. Philippe feels refreshing to see a man with rebellious spirit, lack of pity and irreverent attitude. 

                He hires Driss as the caregiver and rest of the staffs are horrified at his decision. A friend of Philippe warns, “These street guys have no pity.” He replies “That’s what I want,”  “No pity.” Driss is a Senegalese immigrant with a criminal record for robbery. The first thing he does in Philippe's house is the act of stealing, a priceless Faberge egg that belonged to Philippe’s beloved late wife. But gradually, their horizons expand and a friendship begins to blossom, which is fueled by mutual respect, a love of fast cars, and musical diversity.  

                Cluzet's performance, considering the challenges posted by his role, is more than fantastic. He conveys every emotion from the shoulders up, and he does so very well. Since becoming paralyzed his character longs for thrills and adventure, and knows that a free spirit like Driss is the person who can provide them. On the other hand, Omar Sy's performance as Driss blows away all the flaws of this movie. His stunning physical presence, buoyant laughter, and dance moves are always an immense pleasure to watch. In the case of buddy comedies, the actors and their chemistry represents the foundation upon which all else is built. So, in that way both the leads are winners: they inhabit their character fully and interact with each other with genuine warmth. 

                 The Intouchables is written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakacheo. Their direction fills the film full of inspirational moments. The script opens the door to some interesting ideas about the informal, spontaneous, playful, and laughter-filled dimensions of care-giving, although the complexities of class conflict go largely unexplored here and there is also racial stereotyping. If for you, the social context matters little, if at all, the pleasures are similar -- two men learn that background, income and ability don’t define friendship.  

                  Despite its few shortcomings, "The Intouchables" is an excellent feel-good movie that must be felt to be believed.


The Intouchables - IMDb 
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4un38vk
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4un38vk
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir
It offers hope for all variety of hopeless people. It has a breakout star in Omar Sy. It touches on real-world problems like immigration and poverty without hammering them to death.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120601/ENT02/206010330#ixzz2D4ueDnir

Ruby Sparks - A Control Freak's Love

                          Who among us at one time or another wanted to have a dreamy ideal into existence? "Ruby Sparks", the new, smart love story takes that idea and expands it into a sophisticated and beguiling romantic fable. Despite being a romantic comedy, it isn't going to appeal to the audiences of conventional, formulaic romantic movies. Apart from the movie's philosophical issues, it's path is totally uncompromising. Ruby Sparks, even descends into darkness, a place where few romantic comedies dare to tread.

                           For writers, the hardest thing other than writing is not able to write. They always have the love-hate relationship with the craft. In Ruby Sparks, the central character is a writer, who is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. A writer is the apt choice for protagonist in this romcom, since male fantasies have, for centuries, complicated women's real lives through imposed and self-imposed expectations. 

     Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), as a novelist, has achieved fame and fortune at the early age of 19. The story takes place ten years later, where Calvin lives alone in a large house and keeps to himself most of the time.But Calvin couldn't write, he sits in his room, staring at a blank piece of paper, which he inserts daily into his typewriter (yes -- no computer for Calvin), waiting for that lightning in his mind. He also getting over a very bad break-up. Calvin most often stays in hibernate mode, with his dog and his only relationships with real persons are his brother (Chris Messina) and his therapist (Elliot Gould).

                 Calvin starts to dream about a young girl and his therapist encourages him to write about her. He takes the advice and names the girl Ruby (Zoe Kazan) and Calvin gives her certain characteristics. One fine morning, which is not a dream, Calvin wakes up to find Ruby in his apartment. At first he believes it as a dream, later fears that he is hallucinating and is one the verge of nervous breakdown when he realizes other people can see her too. When his brother confirms that she is a very real person, Calvin enjoys his good fortune. He can control her through her writing and can change her behaviors too. But of course, it is live and so everything comes to a mess, when Calvin returns to his old egocentric behavior.

                For struggling actress' in Hollywood, it is a common thing to write a screenplay, even though the results are rarely successful. But it's amazing to see a young actress like Zoe Kazan, write a startlingly assured first feature script. Kazan packs her punches, excellently loading the premise’s darker possibilities into a single last scene. Her script is inspired by the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea and the style of French New Wave, and she pulls off a deft balancing act. As Ruby, Kazan is likeable. She deftly conveys her character's emotional shifts, which gradually grow towards worrisome when Calvin increasingly becomes a puppet master. 

                As Calvin, Paul Dano, who might not seem the ideal choice for a leading man in romantic comedy, give us a fantastic low-key performance. He plays his neurotic character like the young Woody Allen and like the protagonist in a Wes Anderson movie. Dano and Kazan, like a couple in real life, play their parts with finesse, charm and energy. The supporting cast is full of well-known faces - Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould, Annette Benning - none of whom overacts or tries to upstage the leads. The husband and wife team of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, have last directed "Little Miss Sunshine", six years ago. They have expertly handled the direction part and has added deft touches to the ever-changing tones in the script. 

                 However, there are some tonal problems in the movie. As the typical high-testosterone brother of Calvin, Chris Messina, seems to have been the character stepped in from another movie and Steve Coogan as a novelist can’t decide whether he’s mentoring Calvin or competing with him. Few flaws aside, Ruby Sparks should be highly appreciated for not just staying as a romantic comedy.  The movie gets darker step by step, as Calvin comes to appreciate just how complete is his control over the character he’s created. This part of the story has a kind of ferocity that’s both incongruous and memorable and throws the rest of the movie out of whack.

               Creation is a difficult process for any great artists. "Ruby Sparks" graphs that positive progression making it so much more satisfying than the cut-rate romantic tale that it could have been. It has the distinction of being a pleasant interruption to the typical cacophony of a mindless block-buster. 


Ruby Sparks - IMDb

Tim Burton - Eccentric Visual Artist

                             'Eccentric', 'macabre', 'self-confessed loony': Tim Burton and his movies have often been characterized in similar terms. Specializing in quirky subjects, off-beat images and the darker side of popular culture, Burton has established himself as a strong visual stylist, bringing a fascination for the ghoulish to the screen with flair, emotion and a certain sentimentality.

                         Burton sometimes give the impression of having stumbled into the business of making movies by chance -- the result of a childhood spent watching monster movies and experimenting with Super 8, followed by some lucky breaks working at Disney in the studio's period of turmoil following its founder's death. And though his films are off-beat, Burton is very much part of the industry, directing the distinctive, commercially successful films including Bettlejuice, Batman, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. An unexpected player, he has worked as director, producer and consultant across fantasy genres, in animation and live-action camera, in cinema and television.

                      Moreover, Burton has made his mark with both relatively intimate pictures (Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood or Big Fish or Sweeney Todd or Frankenweenie) and blockbusters (Batman and its sequel or Alice in Wonderland). The critical success of Ed Wood or Big Fish, on the one hand, and the block buster or record-setting Alice in Wonderland, on the other hand, might suggest an opposition between personal and commercial projects -- a duality that has, of course, long been played out in writings around Hollywood.

Disney Venture

                     As a highly visual, indeed surreal, film-maker, it is perhaps no surprise that Burton began in animation, or that his time at Disney wasn't the most straightforward. He made two short films there: Vincent, which used puppets and stop-motion animation to grotesque effect, and the live-action Frankenweenie, in which a boy rewires his dead dog Sparky. Though not widely seen in theaters, both films made an impact in terms of Burton's career: attracting a small-scale critical buzz and industry interest. The extent to which Burton's visual sensibility is somehow part of, but out of kilter with, conventional expectations -- like the perverse Christmas toys manufactured by the residents if Halloween town in Burton's spectacular holiday fable 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (Henry Selick, 1993) -- was already evident in these early films.

                     Nightmare Before Christmas was bizarrely rated PG, whilst Batman was criticized as too scary for children. Given this edginess, there was certain irony in Burton's finding an unlikely home for Ed Wood, his biopic of the cult cross-dressing director, with Disney's Touchstone. Of course, Burton has already returned to Disney to produce 'Nightmare Before Christmas', a project based on ideas and images he had initially developed whilst working at the studio (ideas which Disney therefore owned).

Strives in Mainstream Cinema

                       Although gaining only limited distribution, Frankenweenie helped get Burton his first feature: directing Pee-Wee's Big Adventure for Warners. As a relatively low-budget vehicle, the film was hugely successful commercially. The movie was in some ways as much a showcase for Burton as its star. Centered on Pee-Wee's child-man persona, the film has trademark gadgets, fantastic sets and comical special effects. Burton followed it up with 'Beetlejuice', another fantasy/comedy which employed self-consciously cheesy special effects and a wry sense of humor, and was, once again, a big box-office hit.

                       Beetlejuice follows Adam and Barbara Maitland as they haunt their former dream home, calling on the services of the comically gruesome Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) to evict the yuppie family with whom they ultimately learn to co-exist. Winona Ryder's Lydia Deetz, feeling herself in tune with macabre, mediates between the film's different worlds. Lydia is one of a series of transitional figures in Burton's films. The easy use of effects, 'horror', comedy and sentiment -- and the profits -- finally convinced Warners to let Burton direct a major fantasy film in the shape of Batman.

The Cult Status

                     Even before Batman's status as the event movie of 1989, Burton has acquired a cult critical following, with general and specialist fantasy-film magazines hailing his distinctive style. Of course it is in parts because of his background in animation and his immersion in fantasy genres that the design and aspects of Burton's films receive as much popular critical attention as themes or stars. This facet of work seems particularly interesting when set against a prevailing perception of contemporary Hollywood as effects-driven -- the supposed triumph of spectacle over thematic complexity or character development.

                     On one hand, this might be said to tally with Burton's typical operation at one remove from scripting. Yet it is both the total sense of visual design -- the way in which, for example, effects are integrated into the film image -- and the plain weirdness of the characters that command attention in the best of his films. From Beetlejuice's sandworm to the complex characterization seen in Nightmare Before Christmas, there is also both a raw quality and a sense of technical experimentation with the possibilities of animation and visual effects.

                  Moreover the effects and imagery are firmly integrated within the fantasy world, as in the comic.grotesque transformations of Beetlejuice or, rather differently, Ichabod Crane's dreams in Sleepy Hollow. There is a sense of design in operation. Some of this is undoubtedly down to ongoing collaborative relationships -- not only regular face such as Johnny Depp, but also producer Denise Di Novi, composer Danny Elfman.

The Darker Batman

                 Batman's tone was markedly darker than the typical late 1980's blockbuster. The film avoids either camp or parodic humor (of the later to be seen in his Mars Attacks!). Instead the film's humor stems primarily from the peculiarities of the scenario and its characters, from the Joker and even from Batman himself: as Burton notes, "it's a guy dressing up as a bat and no matter what anyone says that's weird." the budget allowed the construction of elaborate sets, used to full effect within the film's overall atmospheric visuals. Gotham's urban space is recognizable yet clearly fantastic in its mix of Gothic and modernity. Both Batman and Batman Returns situate Keaton as a misfit rather than conventionally heroic, closer to the enemies he confronts (Joker, Catwoman, Penguin) than to the mainstream world of Gotham society.

                    Though Batman Returns was extremely successful, it was Burton's last outing with the material as director. Warners simply felt his style was too dark and weird for the franchise. It was the success of Batman movie that made funding for a more off-beat project like 'Edward Scissorhands' possible. And though Ed Wood was a very different sort of film, it offers a similar, highly polished B-movie feel, right from its elaborately crafted credit sequence, which whisks us through a Gothic house.

Burton's Themes and Images

                  Burton's images as eccentric and non-conformist couples an insistent antagonism towards the superficial appearance of normality and respectability with an interest in the freakish and weird in both every day life and popular culture. In turn his films embrace the truism of horror and fantasy fiction, that villains are more typically interesting -- certainly more complex -- than clean-cut heroes, bringing out in the process the sinister aspects of what passes for normal and potential beauty of what gets called weird. These themes are most explicitly visualized in Edward Scissorhands and literally embodied in the protagonist, whose half-finished physical state renders him an in-between, transitional figure.

                Themes of inclusion and exclusion are further mapped through the film's two worlds: suburbia, with its sunshine, color and social niceties, versus the Gothic of Edward's collapsing mansion on the edge of town. Edward's scissorhands allow him to create fantastical shape, but also render him dangerous; for cheerleader Kim (Winona Ryder), who narrates the story to her own granddaughter, Edward offers a sensitive contrast to her lumpen boyfriend. Ultimately, although the neighbor masses on the Gothic mansion in anger, the house isn't destroyed. In Frankenweenie (2012) the community realizes the error of its ways -- here it is simply deceived, with Edward and Kim returning to their two separate worlds. 

The outsider

                    The benign outsider is also central to -- Ed Wood, a character-driven ensemble piece that represented a significant departure for Burton. Structured around the friendship between and the washed-up, drug addicted horror star Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), Ed Wood celebrates an alternative film community in which social misfits are funny, but not played for laughs. Although framed by Wood's cult status as a 'bad film-maker', Depp plays Wood as an upbeat, optimistic figure, almost a visionary -- his ecstatic cinema, lit up by the cinema screen or by the act of directing, serving as one of the film's recurrent images. 

                The outsider makes his appearance in Big Fish (2003) too as Ed Bloom (Ewan McGregor), who displays his eccentric delight for life to perfection. Even though the movie retains Burton's trademark quirkiness, it is unlike many of his previous movies, since there is no cynicism here, and hardly any darkness. With "Big Fish", Burton once again offered us a much more optimistic tale of one man's ambitious adventures and travels in a world that's just not big enough for him.

Distinguishing Aspects of Burton

              What stands out most about Burton's films is the combination of technical experimentation and visual innovation with strongly emotive story-lines. Sentiment shifts the film away from being exercises in style, whilst  attention to design and visual flair prevents them from seeming too self-indulgent in their narratives of troubled male protagonists. Like other film-makers of his generation, Burton shows himself aware of cinema's past -- hence the allusions in films and interviews to Whales' Frankenstein, the Poe horror cycle and Expressionist imagery. Yet the films usually manage to avoid getting bogged down in either heavy-handed references or smug irony. While independent American cinema too often seems characterized by a purposeless irony, Burton's movies are both dark and weird and yet strangely sentimental: exercises in heart-warming horror. 

Tim Burton's  Early Short Animation Movie - Vincent (1982)


ParaNorman - A Stop-Motion Animation Packed with Wit and Imagination

                      "ParaNorman", the recent handcrafted wonder from the stop-motion artists at Laika Inc., draws on a deep affection for horror movies and a keen sense of spooky, snarly fun. British directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell recognize the natural affinity offered by horror movies to kids who don’t fit in, which is the best way to describe the film’s nominal hero, 11-year-old Norman Babcock. The movie through that kid's eyes explores the way people deal with the unknown, how we fear those who are different, and the manner in which ignorance and intolerance create prejudices that become entrenched.

         Young Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee), with his vertical hair and rectangular eyebrows, lives his home life surrounded by a harsh older sister (Anna Kendrick), a hot-tempered father (Jeff Garlin) and a loving but weary mother (Leslie Mann). Like the boy in "Sixth Sense", Norman sees ghost and converses with them. At home, his parents grumble at him for talking to his dead grandmother (Elaine Stritch). It takes a lot of time for Norman to walk to school. since he's so busy exchanging pleasantries with the ghosts that haunt his town named 'Blithe Hollow.' The town is the site of a famous witch hunt 300 years ago and now a tourist attraction.

                    Norman is regularly harassed by the school-bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but he finds a friend in the chubby and similarly persecuted Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who also offer a little advice to Norman: “You can’t stop bullying – it’s part of human nature.” One day, Norman's outcast, overgrown uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman), warns him about an ancient curse that will soon take effect, causing the dead to rise again. When his uncle's warning comes true it seems he’s the only person who can save the town from the spirit of a witch hanged 300 years ago. 

                  ParaNorman is a typical, classic-horror movie stuff -- the outcast having to protect the town and his tormentors. It sounds as a standard horror film. In some respects it is, but "ParaNorman" goes deeper than that with its issues of trust, betrayal, love and forgiveness. The movie has lot of Tim Burton-esque visuals, minus the potty humor -- except a scene featuring the demise of Norman's uncle. Butler (directorial debut) and Sam Fell (a veteran of stop-motion films) has directed the movie in a ingenious and wonderfully detailed way, though 'ParaNorman' is better in its imaginative horror than its slightly too-broad comic knockabout.  They both maintain a nice balance between the funny, the silly, the scary and the moving. Fell and Butler also gives us a few surprises, especially when it comes to the question of monsters and what makes them monstrous. 

                 Blithe Hollow's ram-shackled houses and the colonial-style architecture and the photography of William Eggleston, convey a striking sense of place. The story's surroundings provides an anchor for its more fantastic images, such as a witch's face looking malevolently down from the skies. Only the images in the third-act, especially climax -- a blinding-white vision -- sticks out from the rest of the film, albeit one compensated for by the sequence's sheer emotional force. Voice-works are first-rate, particularly Smit-McPhee's winning underdog turn.

                "ParaNorman" is not quite on the level of "Coraline" or Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas", but it is never less than entertaining. It cleverly mixes fun with some dark delights. 


ParaNorman - IMDb

Ted - Hilarious and Sometimes Outrageous

                            You may have come across a guy like Ted. He might be the high school friend who graduated with you 15 or 20 years ago. He is the guy who takes temporary residence on your couch with a bottle or the remote. He is the one who always has a great idea that would eventually bring trouble to you. Sometime, he also might be our special friend to rock things up, to prompt us that we’ve been stuck in a rut and need a new perspective. In Seth MacFarlane's "Ted", that special and annoying friend is a filthy-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear.

                            Ted is the debut feature film for writer-director Seth Macfarlane, who was the creator of animated TV show, “Family Guy," a traditional sitcom. Ted is not as ingenious or groundbreaking in ideas or humor as his small-screen work, but it displays his unique pop-culture sensibility. This could have been lot more satirical or hilarious, but there's also not quite enough material in the concept to fill a 100-plus movie. There are occasional bits of genius and great humor, which make it worth sitting through the dumb, and occasionally offensive, bits.

        Ted (voice provided by Seth MacFarlene) surfaces in 1985, suburban Boston on the day before Christmas. John Bennett (Brett Manley, Wahlberg is the grown-up version) is the outcast of that neighborhood with no friends. One day he wishes that the teddy Santa brought for Christmas would come to life. John's wish is granted overnight and Ted becomes his only friend. Ted also becomes a mega star making the rounds on the celebrity circuit. Then the story fast-forwards to 27 years. 

            Ted is immature but mature enough into smoking copious amounts of weed and chase after various woman. John is in a dead-end job in a car rental place. He is still aimless whose extended adolescence is enabled by his equally juvenile stuffed animal. Issues arise in living with a teddy bear -- chief among them is the waning patience of his smart girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). Lori insists that he should move on and break his bonds with Ted. They both can be buddies, but can no longer live in the same house. Ted moves out, finds a job in the supermarket, partying in the evening but John misses his good old buddy and is stuck in the middle. 

                If you have watched director MacFarlane's long running animated TV series "Family Guy” and its various iterations — you’ll know to expect cheerfully smutty gags. Seth's Ted just increases his usual verbal filth. Antisemitism, homophobia, bullied children, rape are a few of the targets of his shock jokes. It is remarkably offensive and the movie works not because of the funny gross-out jokes but because the two central relationships, between John and tough, tender Lori and between John and Ted, feel real — or real enough. MacFarlane scatters his gags and characters around that core. There are also some odd subplots, like the creepy bear-napper played by Giovanni Ribisi, which blocks the narrative from moving forward. 

                    The computer-generated animation for Ted is done marvelously, and MacFarlane's voice is a funny counterpoint to the sweet-looking toy. Ted is so well depicted that it's easy to forget he's a product of motion capture-driven special effects. Wahlberg plays John Bennett naturally and he displays more chemistry with his fuzzy teddy than with his human love interest. Mila Kunis does hold her own in an otherwise happily male-dominant movie. The screenplay, especially the third act, shortchanges Kunis' character by an unconvincing change of heart. 

                 Ted faces the same problem like any other comedy movie -- the inability to maintain comedic momentum over the full length of a movie. The plot is predictable, but the moments of inspired humor and the chemistry between a funny Wahlberg and his potty-mouthed bear is better than most A-list Hollywood pairings. "Ted" is the kind of guilty pleasure stuffed with so many slick cultural references and it's tough to catch them all, but it's fun trying. Ted's true genius is in the way its outlandish scenario is played so perfectly straight and it's best to simply forgive its bad behavior upfront. 


Ted - IMDb 

Lawless - Adequate but an Opportunity Wasted

                       Gangster classics from Hollywood in the 1930s were flooded with blood and booze, the stocks in trade of the fast-talking urban bootlegger. In those times, illegal liquor was the province of ambitious hoods fresh from the streets and a main theme for those films. The heroes of all those films wanted to get the governments of their backs, and follow their American dream, to provide liquor to masses. John Hilcoat's "Lawless" (2012) centers its story to that tradition and period. It offers sporadically involving account of bootlegging in Virginia in the early years of the Depression.

                         Lawless is adapted loosely from Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel "The Wettest County in the World," which is concerned about Matt's great-uncles' exploits in the rural Virginia liquor wars. The movie is full of half-hearted overtures and suffers from a moderate lack of focus during the final 30 minutes, but its cracking ensemble of actors, scenery and production design are the reasons to see it. 

         Lawless, set in the prohibition era, is the story of three Bondurant brothers, whose filling station and restaurant is really just a front for their successful moonshine (whiskey illegally distilled from a corn mash) operation. Howard (Jason Clarke), the eldest is a volatile and drunk veteran of the first world war. Forrest (Tom Hardy), the middle brother, is the brains and commanding leader of both business and family. Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest one, is an ambitious guy but physically limited one. Jack conspires with his genius friend Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and dreams of making it big on his own. Their idol is the local gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman). 

                   The Bondurant brothers' moonshine operation is threatened when a corrupt Chicago deputy named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) swoops into shut them down. Those who pay a hefty fee are allowed to continue bootlegging while those who don't are shut down, usually by barbaric means. The brothers, who don’t take well to outsiders moving in on their territory and dictating their business practices, refuses all the offers of Rakes, and their stubbornness instigates a war. 

                  Australian director John Hilcoat and writer Nick Cave has previously collaborated in the gristly outlaw movie, "The Proposition." Hilcoat's Proposition was strong in its convictions, whereas Lawless is fidgety and ungainly, a collection of firecracker scenes in search of a compelling story. The good things under his direction is the anti-romanticized history  in which the violence is more brutal and the characters are more deplorable. His direction never leaves out the violence. The film's violence is pitched just slightly above where you expect it to be, which keeps the audience unsteady and nervous. With the support of  cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, Hillcoat modulates to a palette dominated by muddy earth tones, with a gorgeous use of shadows, mist-wreathed forests, and snow-filled streets. 

                    Tom Hardy as Forrest simply dominates the cast. He is always towering and intense and impossible to stop watching. Through his amusing bearlike irritable grunts, he possesses a brooding, charismatic potential for violence. Jason Clarke is perfect as Howard, but his role seems unreliable or under-written. Shia LaBeouf, with the top billing, as Jack continues his effort to show that he can really do more serious roles, even though Hardy dominates the proceedings. 

                    Gary Oldman, in his cameo, as Banner is largely wasted, but he’s once again back to playing baddies, after his good-guy run of Sirius Black, Commissioner Gordon, and George Smiley. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasiwoska as the brother's love interest also has diminished screen space and their relationship is so skeletal that it generates almost nothing along in the nature of romantic tension. At the beginning Guy Pearce's Rakes looks like the perfect opposite to the brute, macho Forrest, but his character is later turned into a rote, ludicrous villain. 

                    The movie ends as expected and there's a sense that things are drawn out too much on the way to that moment. The inevitable climax is downplayed and is not as satisfying as it might be. These flaws reduces the compulsive watchability nature of Lawless. The period setting, beautiful cinematography and top-notch acting makes up for the reasons to watch Lawless. It is an uneven mix of impressively executed sequences, and it plays more like a fable than a true historical account.