Hitchcock - Not a Solid Tribute but Worth a Watch

                          Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (2012) might be a misleading title for this film. It could be named as 'Hitchcock - In the Making of Psycho', but that might have lead to confusion and look like an DVD supplemental feature or a documentary. Nevertheless the movie reveals a love story few of us know: the complicated and variable relationship of the great director and his wife, Alma Reville. It is a film buff's delight -- a dark yet glittery corner of Hollywood history given a “Hollywood” treatment.

                            The story takes place in the year 1959 where Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) was hot off the success of "North by Northwest." An interviewer asks "You're the most famous director in the history of this medium, but you're 60 years old, shouldn't you just quit while you're ahead?" But, he has no intentions about retiring, so does the studio heads. Hitch was looking for something fresh and different. And thus he comes upon Robert Bloch's "Psycho", a novel inspired by the true-life story of a Wisconsin serial killer. But even he -- the most famous director -- has trouble convincing the head of Paramount Pictures (Barney Balaban) to distribute the film until he offers to shoulder the $800,000 budget himself.

                        As he struggles to raise the money for Psycho he spars with studio executives and censors; suspects his long-suffering wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), of an affair with an writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston); and worries that he's going to lose. Along the way, we also get an perspective of how Psycho was made, including a behind-the-scenes perspective of the shower scene.

                           In the movie, Hitchcock is often visited by the spirit of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the killer who may have served as inspiration for novel, Psycho. The Ed Gein parts seems like pretentious filler, and detracts more than it adds to our understanding of genius. Most of the scenes repeats the same point that Hitchcock doesn’t understand women and would be lost without Alma. Also we don’t get a lot of looks at the actual production, mostly just Hitchcock worrying about it. First-time director Sacha Gervasi makes the most of the wit and the creativity that veteran actors Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren bring to their roles. His screenplay with McLaughlin suffers from the lack of a consistent tone. But at the same time it's a wise choice to give Mirren, a center stage in the circus of his near-nervous breakdown.

                              The writing part somehow doesn't allow Hopkins to shower us with a great performance, however he has enormous fun with playing Hitchcock and draws out words in the director’s famous delivery. One of the great moments occurs when Hopkins stands in the lobby (in the premiere of Psycho) and like an orchestra conductor waves his arms in sync with the music that is raising the dread of the audience as they respond to the horrific shower sequence where Janet Leigh's character meets her grim death. Mirren as Alma, first feels like a common character but grows as the picture goes on, and by the end, when she steps in to work uncredited as an editor whose shrewdness saves “Psycho” at the last minute, she stands for all the anonymous women in the history of art who made significant but unacknowledged contributions to their husband's creations. Scarlett Johansson competes to show Leigh as a thoughtful professional aware of the interpersonal pit-falls set by her director for his leading ladies. James D’Arcy as Perkins is very perfect. 

                              The scenes with the censor boards that threatens to keep the film out of theaters entirely for violating Hollywood’s production code is a neat illustration of how movies have changed. The more important thing to learn form that is  how a movie-maker could work around the censor and create the scariest scene ever put on film without once showing human flesh being damaged. For fans of Hitchcock this movie is a mandatory one to watch, even though we could have used a little something more.
                          "Hitchcock" has modest ambitions but is a fun to watch and its assessment of the woman who never got the credit she deserved is well done. 

Me and Orson Welles - Delightful Celebration of the Arts

                            Orson Welles -- the most significant artist to take the media as his medium -- is best known for his 1941 film, "Citizen Kane" -- considered by many as the pinnacle of motion-picture accomplishment and also known for his career difficulties and financial woes. Before all these, Welles towered over the world of stage plays. His 1937 triumphant Broadway debut was the black-shirt version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which echoed the rise of totalitarian regimes in Italy and Germany. Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles" (2008), based on the semi-fictional novel by Robert Kaplow, is set in New York City around the time of the opening of Welles' Mercury Theater.

                           When a actor portrays a real-life famous person, viewers usually have to make a mental adjustment. It takes a few minutes to get onto the actor's wavelength and enter into that character. But the British screen actor Christian McKay as Orson Welles moves beyond an impersonation into a full performance. We can look through the generosity, insecurity and the cruelty beyond Welles’ godlike oration.

         Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) is an ambitious, brash and naive New Jersey high school kid with Broadway dreams in his eyes. He is blessed with luck to stumble across Welles' Mercury Theatre as they’re preparing the modern-dress production of “Julius Caesar.’’ Richard was literally picked form the streets by Welles (Christian McKay) to play the minor role of Lucius -- who sings a lullaby to Brutus at the end of the play. He observes the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the theater and also comes across two famous actors  Joseph Cotton (James Tupper) and George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin).

                 Richard is also attracted towards production assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), a conspicuously smart and ambitious woman who sees her current job as a stepping stone to another with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. As the play develops, he learns something about performing and human nature—or at least about the nature of Orson Welles.

                 Director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise , Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) directs the film with his characteristic feeling for the particulars and nuances of human interaction and sensitivity toward youthful coming of age. The fictional characters and  invented portions makes up for a decent backstage drama and the movie really comes to life towards the end, when Linklater and his company recreate Welles’ Caesar. Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo's script makes the film more entertaining and lovers of cinema are bestowed with many esoteric details.

                  Linklater over many other Welles' films in one important aspect: the casting of Christian McKay as Welles. McKay perfectly captures his mannerisms, his pomposity and his patronizing manner. He radiates the charisma that made people stick with Welles no matter how ruthless he could be: stops every so often to improvise lyrical speeches, escapes out of crises by leaving human wreckage in his wake and pulls great art out of himself like a magician producing a bird from nowhere. There are various moments in the film, where you might feel that you had stumbled onto some remarkable found documentary of Welles in action. It is hard to picture Hannibal Lecter without remembering Anthony Hopkins, similarly "Me and Orson Welles" would be unthinkable as a film without McKay.

                  Efron is solid and actually acquits himself well as Richard. Efron's character in the movie is fictional, which provides an adequate frame for a much more interesting portrait of Welles and his era. The ending is a bit soft, which is burdened by an unnecessary subplot featuring Zoe Kazan as an aspiring writer. But that's just one minor flaw.

                   "Me and Orson Welles" is a movie primarily designed for those who are intrigued by theater or curious about Welles. Its potential viewers is restricted but those who fall under that demographic will be clearly impressed. If you are movie-lover, don't miss this exhilarating backstage drama about a man whose talent was almost as big as his ego.


Me and Orson Welles - IMDb 

Silver Linings Playbook - Emotionally Gripping Romantic Comedy

                           Optimists are the ones who look on the bright side of matters and have the resiliency to survive defeats and disappointments. They cling to that belief like a raft in a storm, until the negative events or temporary setbacks subsides. David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) is about one of those optimistic young man staggering in a sea of troubles. The film uses Oscar-worthy performers to distract us from the formulaic nature of the plot and we all might guess where this one is headed right from the start, but the trip is sheer pleasure and filled with surprising, strange detours.

        Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is a former high-school teacher with bi-polar disorder. His wife's affair with another teacher brings him to meltdown state. He gets admitted to a psychiatric hospital. When the movie starts, we see Pat discharged from the hospital by his mother (Jacki Weaver). Pat is not entirely devoid from the violent fits — he finishes Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and throws the book through a glass window because he’s angry over the sad ending — but he’s trying. Pat is also hell-bent to get his wife, Nikki back, even though she wants nothing to do with him.

                Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) also has his mood swings. He is a superstitious bookie and an obsessive fan of the Philadelphia Eagles; he's also been banned from the stadium for beating up supporters of opponents.At a fateful dinner party hosted by a friend, Pat meets up with sharp-tongued Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the recently widowed wife of a local cop. She has recently lost her job and is very unstable like Pat. They both strike up an unlikely friendship and Tiffany becomes the angel of his transformation. Pat's ex-wife is a friend of Tiffany's sister. He wants to get a letter to her (restraining order forbids him to meet Nikki) and Tiffany will help out if, in return, he agrees to be her partner in a dance competition. Once the deal is made, an unforeseen bond begins to form between them.
          "Silver Linings Playbook" has lot in common with director Russell's last film, "The Fighter", where the plot is closely knit about dysfunctional families living in white, working-class enclaves. The story line of both the movies sound conventional and sentimental, on paper, but Russell's way of creating such rich and detailed worlds makes the stories unfolding within those worlds seem almost tangential. the direction perfectly matches the characters’ inner turmoil as the camera pushes in and pulls out to reflect emotional ups and downs. Russell doesn’t try to break any thematic ground, and in other hands this same material, which climaxes with a high-stakes dance contest, might have made ended as a typical Hollywood vehicle, but Russell and his cast make it funny, credible, and meaningful. 
                 Bradley Cooper addresses Pat's idiosyncrasies with charm and ease. He shifts convincingly between the extremes of euphoria and menace. He ably fills the tumultuous central character, but Jennifer Lawrence owns the film from the moment she enters and shows unwearying range, from deadened silence to hope to rage. Katniss of 'Hunger Games' is nowhere visible in Lawrence, who's a full, sensual, messed-up woman here. SLP based upon on the novel by Matthew Quick demands a central female character aged between 27-29. So, even though Lawrence is playing beyond her actual age (22) you still feel the pain and confidence and determination that Tiffany bears.

                   It's great to see De Niro as as an angry, obsessive-compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fanatic, who is more engaged in this movie than he has in years. Unlike a typical comical macho dad, De Niro lets us see the raw neediness and vulnerability just beneath that well-defended exterior. The film is at its best in the football-watching scenes with overlapping dialogue and lovingly precise superstitious domestic details. Jacki Weaver radiates warmth and love as Pat's forgiving mother. Anupam Kher's Psychiatrist Patel embodies certain stereotypes but is good as one of the silver-liners. Chris Tucker is funniest as Pat's friend, who keeps breaking out of the psych ward.
                   "Silver Linings Playbook" isn't the best of this year's Oscar nominated movies -- the ending is familiar and untidy -- but there’s something romantic and likeable in Russell's portrait of family dysfunction. It may be 2012's best comedy movie with a strong, attractive cast and sharp dialogues. 


Beasts of the Southern Wild - A Gorgeous Slice of Americana

                      Usually when watching movies our eyes are either tired or cynical and so we are let to  see only what we’re used to seeing in a film, not what it’s possible to see. But there are some other movies which looks like an new land you’ve never seen before, or an old one you haven’t really paid attention to. Benh Zeitlin's passionate and unruly exploration of a rural backwoods patch of land called "the Bathtub" offers a travelogue across a wide delta, where people live in floating shacks, infused with a sense of chaos and calamity. The title "Beasts of Southern Wild" (2012) might make us believe that this is a big-budget monster movie, whereas this is Zeitlin's indie-minded dazzling accomplishment which celebrate the fire and force of a child's spirit, imagination, resilience. And make no mistake by having expectations on how movies -- especially this one -- are supposed to behave.

         Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), an African-American six year old girl, with an expressive face, is the narrator of this story. She lives with her charismatic and often distracted father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a  patch of land called "the Bathtub"(downstream from a pier protecting an industrial park). The people (multiracial) in 'Baththub' live in outrageous poverty and each has a shack on stilts filled with a record of things and junk accumulated over the years. Wink is scrambling to raise Hushpuppy with enough grit and survival skills to manage without him.  

                   She cooks her own food, looks after the dogs and a hog, all of whom, she ensures that can talk to her and also holds conversations with the absent mother who left the place some years before. When  'Bathtub' was hit by cyclones and the rains -- causing severe flooding -- Hushpuppy and her dad are persistent and they disobey the orders to evacuate. They survive the storm, but the floods comes even more devastation as the plants and animals die from the influx of salt water. Hushpuppy's father might be dying and he tries to impart his daughter with lessons of survival and defiance.

                  So, what's this movie is about? Beasts of the Southern Wild' is less about meaning than being, an experience. It is also not an argument about various environmental and political agendas, which are discerned in the story, but none is made decidedly obvious. Based on a play (by Lucy Alibar), the movie is an exercise in magic realism. Shooting on a 16-millimeter film and aided by ingenious cinematographer Ben Richardson, Mr. Zeitlin brings an intense, artistic approach to every frame of the film. The shoe-string budget works in favor of the movie, since it frees the filmmakers not only to make a movie that doesn’t just ignore the usual rules, but also invents its own grammar and style of storytelling. Director Zeitlin keeps all things laudably vague, using the search as poetic device and not a literal quest that will pay off with a comfortable Hollywood finale. 
                      Key to this movie's lyrical touch are the two astonishing performances by Wallis and Henry, two non-professional actors. Henry, who was a baker, was convincing as the unsentimental Wink. He brings a trustworthiness to Wink that was created from his having prevailed the hardships of Katrina. Quvenzhane Wallis as Huspuppy is a mystic with her noteworthy awareness of the world around her and her ability to embrace it with fearlessness. Hushpuppy carries the world on her shoulders, believing it to be so badly broken that only she can fix it, a nightmare we see in the form of marauding bisons — giant warthogs — that pursue her throughout the film. 
                    Audiences conditioned to the mainstream movies may have trouble responding to “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, which is hardly avant-garde, and its narrative is easy to check out. The movie's impact,  is sensory rather than cerebral. If you try to find the exact meaning,  you’ll be exhausted in minutes. It doesn’t always make much sense, but somehow the universe manages to fit together exactly right just as Hushpuppy says, in the film, it would. 
                   "Beasts of the Southern Wild" transports us to a peculiar, magical place and uncompromisingly celebrates the strange. This is not a routine Eco-doom film, rather an empowerment story. It is the best American Art-house movie of 2012. 

The Impossible - Tear-Jerking Portrayal of a Devastating Event

                             "The Impossible" (2012) from the impressive Spanish director J.A. Bayona ("The Orphanage") is a disaster movie. Not the Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay kind disaster movie, but a 'based-on-true-life' disaster movie set against the backdrop of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated large portions of coastal southern Asia and took more than 200,000 lives. Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" touched slightly upon this subject, but this is the first major feature film to center on the events of December 26, 2004. If you can bear sentiment, the movie serves as intense reminder of how frail, fleeting and precious life is.

                                The narrative structure of "The Impossible" is fairly straightforward, which first introduces the principal characters -- Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin). They are staying at a fancy resort in Thailand, a place close to the sea. When a tsunami with 98-foot-high waves hits shore all the guests, employees, and residents of the area are totally unprepared. Lucas, the elder son is separated from his family but miraculously makes contact with his mother, Maria who has been badly injured. 

                             After an physically and emotionally difficult journey they arrive at a crowded hospital where doctors worry about Maria's badly damaged leg. Maria insists him not to drain all his energy on her but to see what he can do to help other survivors. Meanwhile, Henry and the two younger boys remain at the ruins of the resort until rescue workers arrive to take them out. Henry is set to search for Maria and Lucas, while he sends the two younger ones to a shelter. 

                          "The Impossible" is a Spanish-made production but it has the design and work of Hollywood’s jauntiest studios. With a budget of $45 million and perfect as well as limited use of CGI, director Bayona  accomplishes astonishing verisimilitude in recreating the tsunami and its immediate aftermath. Apart from the well shot disaster scenes, Bayona also sets out to explore the psycho-social dynamics of the family members. Separated and seriously injured, this is not just a remarkable reuniting story, it also reaffirms their unshakable faith in each other, as well as in the thousands of strangers who were also victims of the catastrophe. Bayona has somehow won a noteworthy challenge, namely, in creating and then maintaining the right tone in balancing real-life, suspenseful horror with the triumph of the human spirit, without exploiting the natural disaster and without excessively glorifying the courage and sacrifice of the family members in facing the disaster.

                         Script writer Sergio Sanchez's decision to follow mother and son on their long nightmare trek, leaving the question of Henry and the two younger boys up in the air, rather than bouncing back and forth between the narratives looks very efficient and intriguing. As in all true-life stories the script has also taken a few liberties. Particularly the transformation of real people into a blondly British clan. But the changes have given more committed actors like Watts, McGregor and Tom Holland.The finale, which transpires in a hospital, overuses coincidence. The aim is to create enough suspense and tension, whereas the effect is more likely used in many many movies. A lot of viewers might complain that this movie is only about holidaying Westerners. If you have already seen the trailer, it is very clear that it was about one family - one out of thousands and how they found each other again, against all odds. On that devastating day, no one spoke or thought about race or color, but only how each person could help each other to get through it all together. So, it's best not to view this movie from the race angle. 

                        The technical skills of "The Impossible" is indisputable. This is the kind of movie where you notice things like cinematography, sound editing and limited injection of CGI. Naomi Watts is the right choice for Maria -- a character which requires her to display a steely coolness of the physician and the frayed urgency of a mother fighting to save her children. McGregor invests himself as Henry with uncommon conviction. A  heart-rending phone call to home may be McGregor’s finest piece of acting ever. Tom Holland's Lucas makes us feel his terror and anxiety and lament the terrible burden placed on him as he is thrust into adulthood. He powerfully shoulders the film, while Joslin and Pendergast prove honestly convincing in their smaller roles. 

                     With an stellar cast and excellent visuals, "The Impossible" puts a lump in one's throat. It is respectful of the enormity of the tragedy and  is something deeper than just another survival story. 


Argo - A Heartpounding and Historical "Fake Picture"

                           Iran, 1979: 52 American Embassy employees in Tehran were held captive for 444 days by followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini after Iran's afflicting longtime ruler, the shah, fled for asylum in the US. Six members of the 52 employees escaped and took secret refuge in the Canadian embassy, fearing for their lives while mobs raged outside and the military police searched everywhere for Americans in Tehran. The top-secret activities from the Canadian government and the CIA led to the rescue of six escaped Americans. But, how were they rescued when US citizens are the favorites for Ayatollah’s popular punishment of public be-headings in the square. After 18 years, in 1998, the details of rescue effort were declassified and "Argo" gives us the gripping story of how Hollywood helped to save those people. 

                    Six years before no one could have believed that, Ben Affleck -- not so good actor -- will become a good director.  With "Argo", Affleck demonstrates his behind-the-camera muscles in a location other than his native Boston, the setting of his previous directorial efforts Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010). Just when we thought that the political thriller genre is dying, Argo  jumps through every hoop the naysayer can set up. It is ingeniously written drama extracted from a fascinating, little-known chapter of recent history. It is also a rousing popcorn movie, which offers plenty of edge-of-the-seat thrills as well as funnier scenes than you’d ever imagine possible in the grim context of the Iran hostage crisis.

        When the angry militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran most of the embassy staff members hurried to destroy files, while six Americans slipped out a side door and found shelter in the residence of the brave Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). In U.S., a phone rings and a bearded Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) stirs into action.He is an extractor. Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), the CIA director calls him when there is a rescue situation. Though he's never left anyone behind, the difficulties have never been greater than they are in extracting these people from revolutionary Iran. The main obstacle is that there is no viable reason why a half-dozen Americans would be wandering Tehran in this political climate.

                   Mendez comes up with a audacious plan. With the aid of veteran Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Oscar winning make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), Tony sets up a production company for a cheesy sci-fi movie called Argo, secure a script and preliminary story board drawings, and con the Hollywood press into printing stories about the planned production before heading to Iran. Mendez's plan is to make the six Americans look like a Canadian movie crew who've been scouting locations in the Middle East for their sci-fi adventure film. 

                 Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez with a shaggy hair and beard gives a performance, which is curiously muted and shows little in the way of emotion. As a professional in a dangerous job that involves life and death, it's good that they hadn’t tried to cram in a long back-story involving his estranged wife and son to give him more color. Some may find Mendez, a bit too distant, but it works in terms of the story and the character. As  a director Affleck works the material for maximum impact, mainly by keeping the movie's tension at a constant pitch. The embassy take-over is shot with a documentary-like intensity, framing many of his shots to replicate well-known photographs from the era. His tonal shifts are so flawless, considering that this is only his third movie as a director. The violence is contained and the action sequences never overrides Affleck's sense of dramatic understatement.

                  Affleck is helped by the workman-like performances of his impressive supporting cast. He has also chosen low-profile actors for the six main roles, which is effective and they somehow resemble the real-life characters (closing-credits montage shows to what lengths Affleck has gone to re-create the real-life places and people of “Argo”). "Breaking Bad" fame Bryan Cranston brings a world-weary professionalism to his role of CIA director. Veteran actors Goodman and Alan Arkin play up the comedy as Hollywood insiders while also entitling them through their own willingness and personal sacrifice to use their finely tuned art in order to save lives, rather than make huge profits. Arkin deserves the Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as composite character Siegel. 

                   The stupendous script by Chris Terrio accounts an admirable mastery of vast details. It also averts from caricaturing the Iranian extremists or their beliefs. Rodrigo Prieto's 80's style cinematography prefers warm, natural colors even in the grayness of government offices. Argo was given a R-rating because of the few time use of f word (the f word is used as part of a running gag). Apart from this relatively inoffensive profanity, there is nothing "inappropriate" for teenagers. The film-makers should be praised for not compromising and making the minor cuts necessary to get a PG-13.   The film rewrites the real events in the climax part, but that change not only makes for a thrilling conclusion, it also suggests that Iranians were at least as smart as Mendez. 

                   With seven Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe for Best Drama Picture, "Argo" was one of the best films of 2012 and a sure-fire contender on Oscar night. It has a great narrative arc, artistic responsibility and entertainment value. It is a nail-biter of the highest order.


Argo - IMDb

Zero Dark Thirty - A Women's Perseverance

                            An all-American revenge movie. A typical Hollywood style thriller. A video game. A movie that gleefully employs torture. These are the words I had in mind before watching Kathryn Bigelow's decade-spinning docudrama on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But, her new movie "Zero Dark Thirty" is a thriller which rejects nearly every cliche one might expect from a Hollywood treatment of the subject. Though not close to the trip-wire tense of "The Hurt Locker" (Bigelow's previous venture), it is nonetheless an engrossing character study. 

                          Zero Dark Thirty is not full of surprises and twists. You know how it's gonna end: with the bullet-ridden body of Bin Laden. Whereas the suspense comes from the events leading to that moment. The movie depicts a nine-year period, from the early days of the war in Afghanistan to the midnight assault in a house in Abbottabad from which the movie takes its name. It opens in an haunting fashion, with a blank screen and  frantic phone calls from people trapped in the World Trade Center. Then, we are taken to a CIA camp where an AL-Qaeda operative is being tortured. Dan (Jason Clarke), the CIA agent has clearly been at this for a stretch, with a Arabic script tattooed along his forearm. Along with him we see Maya (Jessica Chastain), who looks like a girl in a smart black pantsuit and is clearly uncomfortable with the water-boarding and sexual humiliation that were common practice in the morally fuzzy rendition era. 

                        Later, Maya takes over Dan's role and she even proves capable of intimidating her boss, Special Agent Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler). After attacks all over Europe and many false leads, she links up a courier to the Al Qaeda leader and a compound in Pakistan. No one else believes her and it takes a lots of days to convince the government bureaucracy to buy in and eventually a raid is approved on the home in Pakistan. The last 35 minutes of the movie re-enacts the dead-of-night mission from the SEALs' point of view with heart-stopping efficiency. 

                       The movie has generated a heated debate on the intentions of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal regarding the scenes of torture. All of us might find the interrogation sequences difficult to watch, which is as it should be. They are not judging anything here, but just showing a process and leaving the rest up to us. The early scenes of torture somehow confronts Maya and ourselves equally. At first, we see her cringe at the actions of Dan, then she makes an inner decision and gets back to the work at hand, which for her isn’t about torture but everything that comes after. 

                       After these Bigelow and Boal slowly turn our attention from the den of horrors to a more routine landscape of CIA. They follow various leads, bribe a Saudi prince with a Lamborghini,and later a tip about Al-Qaeda courier. The script by Mark Boal takes the government's official account of the hunt and enhances it with the off-the-record details provided by many sources. The script trusts us to process all the information making us becoming part of the team as we watch, sharp-eyed, for the snippet that could become a breakthrough. The characters identifications are based upon the real-life people, but their names are changed. James Gandolfini portrays the CIA director, but he is never mentioned by name. The main character Maya is a semi-fictionalized parallel for a counterpart. 

Mark Boal and Bigelow
                   Bigelow's Hurt Locker previously dropped us close to to the blast radius, her Zero Dark Thirty gives us a different kind of sensory immersion. She takes us into the badly furnished offices where devoted public servants willingly sacrifice "normal" lives in the name of something bigger than themselves. Bigelow briefly visits the compound’s dead — including a husband and wife whose weeping children survive them — it’s a moment that quietly but firmly underscores the humanness of everybody involved. Greig Fraser's cinematography imbibes viewer's attention into the action without resorting to shaky camera work.

                      Jessica Chastain gives a sensational performance as Maya. Chastain looks pale and slight of stature with a strawberry blond hair, but she holds the screen with a feral intensity, an obsessive's self-possession. Maya is a rare on-screen character. She is a sturdy, powerful female character with the strength and presence to dominate in a traditional thriller genre, which mostly belongs to male. After Maya's accomplishment of her decade-long mission, Chastain finally allows emotion to come flooding in, and, director Bigelow leaves the meaning of it to us: Is it a relief for the vengeance she has served? Or state of desperation at how little has actually changed?

                       The running time clocks at 156 minutes, but it passes in the twinkling of an eye. "Zero Dark Thirty" neither glorifies torture nor celebrates the killing of Bin Laden, it's character study at people, who go on about their job, sometimes obsessively, until they get what they want. It's for all those who craves for the thrillers to be thought-provoking.


Zero Dark Thirty - IMDb

Seven Psychopaths - Offbeat, Hysterical Black Comedy

                                   Tommy: "Was it Dillinger who got shot through the eyeball or am I thinking of  somebody else."  Larry: "Moe Greene got shot through the eyeball in Godfather." Tommy: "Yeah, I am talking about in real life." 
                                   Tommy (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Larry (Michael Pitt) are the hit-men who are talking idly before waiting to shoot a girl through the eyeball. But, they are surprised when a man walks behind them and shoots them through their eyeballs. Yeah, we have seen this kind of world before -- the world of contemplations on foot massage and Royale with the Cheese. This is the world of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which has inspired countless good movies (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Go) to many over-cooked borderline unwatchable movies(The Revolver, Smokin' Aces etc). Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths" (2012) is one of those good movies set in the quirky crime world and like that above mentioned dialogues, it's all brutal good fun.
        Marty (Colin Farrell) is working on a script entitled "Seven Psychopaths." He has hit a writer's block and is suffering from drinking problems. Marty's problems with his girl friend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) is already simmering when we meet the unhappy couple. His friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell) is an jobless actor and he along with his calm partner Hans (Christopher Walken) are in the part-time business of dognapping. Billy  is desperate to collaborate on the project with Marty, if only the two can find a way to bridge their creative differences. Billy even places an ad in the newspapers calling all psychos to help with research.          

                When Billy and Hans are involved in the theft of a Shih Tzu belonging to a murderous crime boss, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). Charlie already has problems with his girl friend and there is also a shadowy assassin taking out his his men. When Charlie kills Hans' cancer-ridden Wife, Myra, mayhem arises and all the characters are caught up in an escalating, violent situation.

                  Director McDonagh made an excellent debut with "In Bruges" which has crept up in many guys favorite film lists, partly thanks to its quotability. The dog hostage situation offers an even funnier premise and every time when it appears that he has hit the dead-end, he off-roads the movie into a fresh territory. But, McDonagh's touches on bigger philosophical issues and afterlife are somehow unsatisfying. His conclusion simply seems to be cynical which points out that no one gets out of the world alive.  

McDonagh and Sam Rockwell
                    The film set up reminds us of "Adaptation", "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", where every movie cliche is followed by a footnote. Many dialogues satirizes the style of film-making in practice: “None of the animals die in the movie—just the women!” and when Marty identifies the seven psychos in his screenplay, Hans laments "You're the one that thought psychopaths were so interesting. They get tiresome after a while, don't you think?" The script is twisty and is refreshingly absurdist. Martin even self-satirizes himself, since his writing talents doesn't include the knack of writing female characters. Through Hans, he sort of provides a running commentary on the state of picture: “Your women characters are awful.” The script also looks more effective when things are kept simple–and moving.  The stand out is the unsettling hospital sequence involving a standoff between Harrelson and the fantastic Linda Bright Clay as Walken’s wife.

                   Colin Farrell looks so good in indie dramas than the hollow-point block-busters like Fright Night or Total Recall. With his communicating eyebrows, Farrell is amicably effective as Marty and delivers his best work since "In Bruges." He underplays as the token non-psychopath. Rockwell's performance as Billy is infectious, really great fun to watch. Walken has acted for nearly four decades and as Hans he once again proves that he is still a great scene-stealer. Walken gets an excellent moment with Harrelson’s gangster that’s as good as his confrontation as gangster with Dennis Hopper in True Romance. As Costello Harrelson brings the right mix of absurdity and humanity into the world of psychopathic crime. The movie also holds some darkly funny cameos from Tom Waits as the rabbit holding psychopath and Harry Dean Stanton.

                    Unlike In Bruges – which had delivered more substance – this flick never pretends to be anything but a perfectly cast darkly funny movie. The smart perceptions about lazy film-making still apply to this movie as much as to the most average shoot ’em up ones. May be not the best, but "Seven Psychopaths" with all its craziness, is sure is an entertaining one.


Seven Psychopaths - IMDb 

Django Unchained - Tarantino Unleashed

                       Exploitation movies is mainly a volatile combination of ingredients, which would send most ordinary filmmakers running for the hills, and if any of them was foolhardy enough to make such an attempt, there is an excellent chance that the results would land somewhere between the unwatchable and the unspeakable. However, there is one guy who has proven time and time again since he burst on the screen two decades ago that he can make bloody epics from all those cliches and that he is no ordinary film-maker. The film-maker is 'Quentin Tarantino' and with "Django Unchained" (2012) he has created a loud, darkly funny, weird, ridiculously profane spaghetti western. 

                           Tarantino never bothers himself or the audience with historical authenticity or grounding his tales in realistically recognizable political contexts. His unique vision is to recreate all sorts of pulp fictions that take place in familiar social setting, without bothering too much about facts or verisimilitude. Like his last picture -- the holocaust fantasia -- "Inglorious Basterds" he once again takes the blood-spattered historical events, this time putting down adventures in antebellum 'Candyland.' "Django Unchained" uncovers the slavery in the American south -- a theme that has been mostly absent in Hollywood films. It is subversive and at times outlandish and make no mistake, the 'D' might be silent in Django, but the movie isn't.

         The movie is set in 1858 Texas, where the group of slaves are marching in the wastelands. In the middle of a night, their marching is interrupted by a traveling German dentist-turned-bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He sets free the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to identify several of his former owners who are wanted dead or alive. Kill White guys? And get paid for it? Django is intrigued by the idea and soon becomes a partner in Schultz's business. Schultz also promises that he will help Django to free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) in Mississippi, after the Winter. 

               The winter turns out to be profitable for the bounty hunters and they set out to locate Hilda. They find out that she has been bought by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a third-generation slave owner who commands over the sprawling plantation known as Candy land. Schultz finds an excuse to be invited to the plantation and his act bamboozles everyone except Candie's self-loathing, black-hating house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). He doesn't believe a word of the visitors and is convinced that they are indeed up to something. What happens from this point on involves a number of unanticipated twists and moves along in a true Tarantino fashion. 

                Django is a name familiar to most of the spaghetti western fans. The Italian actor Franco Nero portrayed the protagonist Django, a gunslinger dragging a giant wooden coffin behind him.The 1966 Sergio Corbucci's classic western inspired no less than thirty knock-offs in its native Italy over the years. When Tarantino chose that title and its setting many probably assumed that it would prove to be a straightforward revenge film. But, Tarantino once again imprints his signature on a simple material by his sharp characterization and shifty tone, which is humorous, and even campy (intentionally so). The film is often hilarious and manages to incite humor from the most unlikely of sources. In one scene, Tarantino indulges the goofy spectacle of a bunch of Klansmen debating the difficulties of seeing through the eye-holes in their hoods.

                 Django Unchained's violence level might be deliriously over the top but Tarantino is also taking quite seriously the realities of slavery’s violence and dehumanization. Apart from the blood spattering gun-fights when it comes to slaves, such as when a runaway is torn apart by dogs or when two men are forced to fight to the death in a bout of “Mandingo Fighting,” Tarantino shows the violence in a simple manner suggesting the horrors rather than making them overt. In this regard he works contrary to his exploitation film-makers, pulling back when others might go in for the blood-and-guts close-up. For Tarantino’s fans (including myself) -- expecting his eccentric touch and idiosyncratic signature -- “Django Unchanined” more than enough delivers the goods. But, looking from a more detached perspective, I find the screenplay to be too lopsided, containing many verbose monologues, and witty but distracting dialogues, which explain why “Django Unchained” runs close to three hours.

                      Tarantino as always coaxes memorable performances from his A-list of actors. After his Oscar winning role in "Ray", Jamie Foxx proved himself as a dramatic actor but he hasn't been given much of roles to prove that point further. Here, Tarantino provides Foxx, a meaty role and he really relishes it. As Django, he is tough as nails, funny as hell and touchingly vulnerable. He also displays a warm chemistry with Christoph Waltz, who is once again excellent. As Schultz, he steals the show and recites Tarantino’s cleverer dialogue better than anyone. 

                  Di Caprio as the smooth-talking, hypocritical Calvin Candie -- in his first outright villainous role -- shines in every scene he is in. The true revelation of the movie's setting is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, a house slave in his 70s. Brilliantly performed by Jackson, Stephen has become institutionalized by time, and the small margin of power he wields with perverse pleasure over the other slaves. The character of Jackson shows the ugliest evocation of the horrors of racism and how they emanate from an indoctrinated attitude. 

                    Like all of the best pop art, Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is both seriously entertaining and seriously attentive, rattling the cage of race in America. This isn't the best of the director's films but this is a fine, accomplished effort, which forcibly reminds us that the recounting of history is as much about the bearing of the teller as it is about the content of the tale. 


Django Unchained - IMDb 

A Prophet - The Metamorphosis of a Young Prisoner

                             Do you believe in the corrective potential of prison life? If yes, I can guarantee that you will be plunged into despair by watching Jacques Audiard's gritty French prison thriller "A Prophet" (2010). The familiar tale of "prisoner learns the ropes" slices through various gangster cliches to hit raw nerve. It has a ring of truth, whether it's concentrating on the racial politics of the exercise yard, the prison economy where a life is worth a box of cigarettes, or the steady, strong undertow of intimidation that can turn a young inexperienced petty criminal into a remorseless killer. Film lovers will definitely love "A Prophet" not only for its numerous laurels -- including Grand Prix at Cannes -- but also for its most impressive performance of Tahir Rahim (his feature film debut). 

         The movie opens with Malik El Djebena(Tahir Rahim), a 19 year old trouble-maker entering a correctional facility. He is about to begin his six year sentence for attacking a law enforcement officer. He is a illiterate. He has no family or friends. Inside the prison, Malik's status as a loner makes him a easy prey for gangs. Even though he is an Arab, Malik was first sought out by a Corsican gang -- lead by a ruthless man Caesar (Niels Arestrup). Caesar compels him to kill another newcomer, Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi). If he does the job, he will have the gratitude of the Corsicans or else he will be killed. Malik prepares to murder Reyeb by sticking a razor in his mouth. He clumsily attacks Reyeb and, after much struggle, slices his jugular.

                 Now the Muslims find him a bit untrustworthy and the Corsicans call him a "dirty Arab." But, Malik soon gets embroiled into the thick of a power struggle that stretches beyond the walls of the prison - something he comes across firsthand during the movie's second half, when he has an opportunity to take single-day leaves for good behavior. 

                  The movie wholly belongs to Tahir Rahim, who as Malik gives a performance that grows in mystery and cool reserve scene by scene. He looks like a distant relation to "Godfather's" Michael Corleone and "Scarface's" Tony Montana. We see the wheels turning behind Rahim eyes — calculating the worst thing that can happen — a beating here, a little time in solitary there. We see a cunning plan, and his sense of tribe, growing with each move. If Pacino's performance is more internalized and low-key, Rahim's approach to the character is one of slow-burn intensity. Niels Arestrup, makes Cesar a crime lord both unnerving and fatherly. His eyes portrays the joys and sorrows and the final scene makes the once savage powerful man to an amazingly ordinary and pitiful.

                  Director Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain fills the film with colorful supporting players and vivid recreations of prison life. The movie works because Audiard doesn’t hit us over the head with moral lessons. He assumes that viewers, like Malik, can reap the essence of what’s important by watching and studying, and he keeps the movie's thematic material deeply interwoven into the narrative, which means he avoids declarations and speeches and obvious signs pointing to “what it all means.” When Malik walks through the security check in airport, he quietly opens his mouth, a natural instinct for a young man who has spent his formative years in the prison. It's these tiny moments, which serves as the representative of a film so comfortable in its intelligence and so assured in its style that every little detail counts.

                 "A Prophet" is ultimately a brilliant character study and what egresses at the end is something of an enigma: We’re not certain what to make of him and the choices he has made. That final shot, despairingly suggests that one can never truly escape prison life, or the monster it makes you.


A Prophet - IMDb