Reviews written by registered user
|15 reviews in total|
'Stay' makes the best use of scene transitions that I have ever seen. A
person exiting a train enters a room instead, while a walk down a
spiral staircase leads to a shadowy abyss where people disappear. It
all seems like a trick at first, a visual device for the attention
deficient, but gradually becomes a mechanism to reveal not just clues
about what might be happening but also serve a very important purpose.
These hints are presented to us in such a way that nearly everything
we've seen by the end has been indicative of what will be revealed.
Sold by the distributors as a shoddy winter horror film, the movie
however is that rare intelligent, cinematic jewel that can only be
described as an experience.
Our protagonist is Sam (Ewan McGregor) a university psychologist who takes up the case of Henry, (Ryan Gosling) a troubled campus student contemplating suicide. The manner in which Henry wants to go about committing his act is precise and planned; at midnight on the coming Saturday, he will shoot himself. His reasons are known entirely to him and his reluctance to cooperate makes him elusive to Sam's assistance. As a doctor, Sam must do everything within his abilities to prevent the situation from escalating, thus he embarks on a troubled quest to find reasons behind Henry's death wish, unveiling very strange things including but not limited to encounters with people apparently dead, being addressed by names not his own and even observing the same events multiple times (ala 'Groundhog day') raising suspicion of his own sanity while vaulting from one maddening situation to another. Living with his girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), a once suicidal artist doesn't help, though it allows him to gain firsthand insight into what such people might be going through.
Amidst these happenings are many arresting situations and these become a visual playground for the director, the highly accomplished Marc Forster, who uses them to his strengths. Along with scriptwriter David Benioff, and some very nifty editing, they create an unsettling world where small interconnecting clues pepper multiple scenes; a handful noticed by me, numerous others surely missed out. A clear example of this occurs in a sequence where Henry visits one of those giant indoor aquariums and stares at the fish while a couple behind him flash photographs as they suspiciously talk in a manner that indicates they might know him. In the very next scene, that same photograph of the aquarium appears, almost unnoticed on screen except by the most careful viewer, in the background inside the living room of the house that Sam and Lila share, and yet there is no way that that photograph could have gotten there. Or could it? The overall effect is visually disorienting, yet completely engrossing.
At the risk of sounding like I'm giving it all away, at one point we are made to think as if the two main characters are actually the same, a device utilized successfully in many recent films, but here it is actually used to throw us off balance. An easy trick in stories (and not necessarily movies) that defy belief or seem too incredulous is to conveniently reveal them to be dreams. How else do you explain a connection between people that simply cannot exist or an act within the tale that violates human ability and basic logic? By the time it reaches its concluding moments 'Stay' may make you think that perhaps you are about to witness just such a simplistic travesty, but the end is handled craftily and with a delicate poise that is unsettling and wholly immersive. I am not completely sure if I understood the conclusion the way it was meant to be understood, but by that point the films ambiguities and puzzles became for me its greatest pleasures.
Albert Brooks should look elsewhere to fulfill his quest of learning
what makes Muslims laugh. The approach of this film and its execution
are so heavily drenched in Western stereotypes about the people they
want to study, it's a surprise the title doesn't use the word 'Moslem'
instead of 'Muslim'.
Made in a sort of 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' manner, it has Brooks playing himself at a point in time when his career prospects are slim and decent roles are hard to come by. Luckily for him the white house and state department come knocking and Brooks is sent off to the subcontinent to write a report on what makes Muslims laugh. Forget that India is officially a secular nation (the movie reasons there are about 150 Muslims there) or that Al spends in all about 15 minutes in neighboring Pakistan (an Islamic country), the fact remains that nothing about this film, except a scant few one liners, is funny or amusing. The list of crimes it commits with regard to typecasting is enormous and unforgivable an office in the tech capital of the world has no computer, trendy young English speaking Indian women only wear sari's and the Pakistani's that meet Brooks look like bearded fundamentalists who smoke hashish- all of which shows great naiveté on the part of everyone involved with this misguided attempt, even if the irresponsible intent was to be tongue in cheek.
The method used by Albert Brooks to understand what is considered funny to these people is putting on a standup comedy show in both India and Pakistan, but this doesn't work too well. Was it ever considered by him that perhaps it isn't the understanding of the English language that prevents the Indian audience from finding him funny, but that all the gags are soaked in cultural references completely alien to them (Halloween, 'The Exorcist' etc.)? Or that the people being targeted aren't really aware of just what standup comedians really do. It becomes pretty clear that the movie is played for obvious lowbrow humor by displaying ignorance about its purpose that borders on being a sham and the real point is to milk the present hysteria about the people of the Muslim community and make some quick bucks in process via the mild publicity it has already received for its attention grabbing title. Give this one a pass.
As a documentary, this feature is not unique, in terms of direction or
the issues explored. Its fairly linear and standard stuff by all
measures. However, it manages to get together a large variety of
legends and popular figures from the comic book world including Stan
Lee, Kevin Smith, Will Eisner, Joe Quesada and many others for some
interesting insights into the industry itself.
Its also nicely narrated by Keith David (the voice of Spawn from the TV series), and presented (during the bookends) by Peta Wilson, so all of that gives it a nice insider feel. As expected, it starts from the 30's, exploring the so called, Golden Age of comics, through their heightened popularity during World War 2, their decline in the post war period, their renewal during the Silver Age, with the launch of Marvel, all the way to present day creation of Image comics.
I guess most major milestones were neatly looked into, including the creation of DC Comics, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, the revolution that Watchmen and Dark Knight returns brought in the 80's and how comic book as a medium has struggled and coped with the changing attitudes of its readers. A little more could have been done to sustain interest for non comic fans interested in watching this, since watching comic panes buzz by for 90 minutes does little to captivate, but for any fan of superhero comics, this is a must watch. Highly recommended.
A caveat for those of you who take their history lessons from the
movies; Troy is inaccurate and doesn't follow the epic poem 'Iliad'
entirely. But that isn't its biggest imperfection. That dishonor
belongs to the decision of placing its faith on the star studded cast
of Hollywood superstars, led by a stilted and constipated Brad Pitt.
The central story remains much the same as dictated by legend and documented by Homer. While on a peace mission to Greece, Paris (Orlando Bloom), prince of Troy, falls in love with and eventually sneaks away the King's wife, Helen (Diane Kruger), much to the dismay of his elder brother Hector (Eric Bana). Repercussions eventually arrive in the form of the Greek army invading the shores of Troy, led by Agamemnon (Brian Cox), apparently avenging his brother Menelaus' (Brendan Gleeson) loss of a wife, but having a grand scheme of domination all his own. He also despises yet requires the presence of rebel soldier Achilles (Pitt), who himself seeks fame and glory above all else.
As a war movie, 'Troy' offers lazy aerial shots of battles that have become all too common to viewers familiar with a certain trilogy from the last few years. Director Wolfgang Peterson is far more successful at placing his leads in one-on-one combats that show his deft usage of close camera work to provide raw scenes of carnage and brutality. Especially effective are two key battles that pit Paris against Menelaus and then later towards the climax, Achilles against Hector. The latter vibrates with energy and cackle absent in any of the other bigger set pieces.
As the pivotal character, Achilles' is overflowing with pride and arrogance that eventually spills and gives way to a dull and vexed figure who is difficult to like because Pitt's presence feels too contemporary. Unlike the then relatively unknown Russell Crowe in 'Gladiator', Pitt's star appearance hurts the film achieve a sense of the ancient that it strives for. Bana as Hector fares better, not only because his cause carries more resonance, but also because he successfully evokes the proper balance of heroism and righteousness. The cowardice of Paris, as played by Bloom, is here turned into a class act. For the little duration that he is on screen, Peter O'Toole as King Priam of Troy brings a dignified grace that only comes with age coupled with ability. A scene where he sneaks into Achilles' tent and pleads for the body of his son is powerful and shows a marked contrast between the capacities of the two.
The dialogue is clunky and attempts at making the story seem political, fraternal and confrontational all at the same time. The end is also too tidy and polished in setting the comeuppance of all the major players while James Horner's trumpet and vocal heavy score is a misfire and does little justice to the visuals. In the end Troy delivers less than it promises because it promises too much. And although there may be much to admire about Troy there is little to like about the central figure of Achilles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Heaven, a film by extraordinary German director Tom Tykwer ('Run Lola Run'), explores the vivid nature of crime, punishment, and oddly enough infatuations, and tries to, rather unsuccessfully, bind these themes in a twist of fate, that, upon later, inspection seems clumsily contrived.
In the opening scene we are introduced to Phillipa Paccard (Cate Blanchett), an English expatriate working as a teacher in Italy, putting together a home made close proximity bomb, intended to kill only one person in a high rise office building. We know this because after Paccard has placed the bomb in the office of her intended victim, she takes great care to make sure no one else is within range of it when it goes off. She also has no intention of getting away with her act, since she walks out of the building only to call up the Italian police and let them know who she is what she has done. In a twist of fate convenient for the screenplay, the bomb does goes off, but doesn't kill the man she had targeted but instead finds other innocents as its victims. Soon Phillipa finds herself behind bars at the office of the Carabinieri (the Italian military and national police) for a murder she did not intend, but did commit.
When she is eventually brought in front of the superiors at the Carabinieri for interrogation purposes, she refuses to speak in Italian, which we have already been shown in an earlier scene, she speaks fluently. This sets up an interesting predicament whereby the stenographer Fillipo (a very dole-eyed Giovanni Ribisi), agrees to be her translator as well, since he has ample knowledge of the English language. Eventually we find out, through the interrogation proceedings, that the man Blanchett's character intended to kill was responsible for the death of her husband, through drug overdose and has now found a new market in the form of young children at the school where she teaches. The movie wisely eschews any sentiment with regard to the war against drugs and is not a deliberating movie about its effects either. What follows is a tale of revenge, escape and finding love in the most uncertain of places and situations.
It's interesting to see the momentum between the two leads build, and we feel glad because we know where it is headed and most of all, because it is done so well. Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett, who have worked together earlier in Sam Raimi's 'The Gift', show what great rapport they have together. Because no one understands what she is saying, except Fillipo, we assume no one empathizes with her either. Indeed Fillipo takes this understanding to the extreme when he confesses to his father, who himself is also an officer at the Carabinieri, that he has fallen in love with Phillipa. As strange as it sounds, everything is kept under the curtain of plausibility, until the final act, which I shall discuss shortly.
Performance wise both Ribisi and Blanchett are in top form. However it is Ribisi here who is all the more surprising revealing a greater depth by taking on a part that is mostly in Italian. In fact almost three fifths of the movies lines are in Italian, which gives it the concentrated aura of a foreign film, with familiar faces. But don't let that put you off. Ribisi comes across as a person living in another more serene world, because this world doesn't suit his tastes. He speaks little, except when the situation calls for it, and often is lost deep in thought, contemplating. He stares at Blanchett, and watches her every movement carefully. Blanchett plays Phillipa as a person who believes in cause and consequences and doesn't want to escape punishment because she feels responsible for the crime that she committed. She starts out as a person caught in the abyss of hopelessness, and we witness her descent even further. A character such as this is seldom seen in films these days, and that is what seems so fresh about the screenplay.
The direction by Tom Tykwer is splendid in its innovation. The film is beautifully shot and moves with a pleasant momentum, never seeming to rush to let us know what happens next. Great views and vistas of the various Italian destinations are shown in stunningly detailed photography. Its deliberate pacing reminded me of another well directed movie from earlier that year 'Monsters Ball', in fact both share the same atmosphere of quite clairvoyance. However it's the last act that leaves one desiring more. It happens quite abruptly which is strange given the nature of films preceding parts. Nothing can be more frustrating than a story half told and finished off at its most intense moments. In truth the ending isn't deserving of 'Heaven'. That is the impression that I got after everything was over. At barely 100 minutes, a lot more could have been done to make clearer what was intended at the end. It simply left me both puzzled and asking for more, and since this wasn't intended as a thriller with a franchise of sequels to follow, that cannot be considered a compliment.
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