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As far as he can remember, Lloyd is all about movies. With a passion for writing, Lloyd likes nothing more than to tell potential viewers why a person should or shouldn't spend their time and money on the movie under review.
Get Hard (2015)
Low on taste and high on slur, Get Hard is frustratingly flaccid all the way.
With a title like that, writer/director Etan Cohen (not to be confused with the Coen Brothers) has a specific audience in mind. So it comes as no surprise that Get Hard not only aims below the belt, sexual innuendos are rampant alongside stereotypical gags on race, gender and sexual orientation. But if that's your thing, then you are exactly the type of audience Cohen hopes to make a buck off.
With the opening credits split into two frames, the insinuations are clear Crime and poverty stricken Black America mounted by Ivy league White America. You could say this is pretty much the main theme before it all starts tasting sour. In the big white corner is James King (Will Farrell), a Harvard educated corporate bigshot with a big slice of the big life. In the tiny black corner is Darnell (Kevin Hart), a car washer barely making ends meet. Their worlds collide when King faces incarceration for fraud and embezzlement. Now facing 10 years 'hard' time (one of several references to the title) King seeks out the only person he thinks can help him Darnell. Why? King assumes that a third of all black men will have been incarcerated in their lifetime. How? For the money, Darnell will groom King from a softy into a hardy. Hence the title Get Hard. Get it?
Thus begins this mashup between two former stand-up comedians, each armed with a barrage of one-liners that I suspect was once used during their heydays on NBC's Saturday Night Live. With the biggest gag being King's fear of getting raped in prison, Cohen's setup is the 30 days of preparation before King becomes an inmate. Although few of these jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, most go flat even before the punchline is thrown. Seasoned delivery from Ferrell and Hart aside, the problem lies in Cohen's gags that are both outdated as well as overdone. It's one thing to read these jokes on a subway ride after work, but absolutely horrendous when materialized on screen. It doesn't help either that almost every joke told has been done before, in addition to a formulaic story where everyone in the audience knows King is framed and by whom.
For all those who got a kick out of watching Farrell in Old School (I know I did), there's still a glimpse of that side splitting aptitude in him but Get Hard doesn't do much to get it out (think Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House). In comparison, Hart has more or less the edge here but falls victim too, to a sophomore effort from Cohen. Ultimately, it all comes down to taste. Even so, Get Hard is harsh on the ears and feeble on the brain, but frustratingly flaccid all the way.
Except for the charismatic performance of its lead actress, Insurgent is a two-bit attempt at building a mega-bucks franchise
Beginning with an intriguing metaphor that has society divided into five factions, 2014's Divergent looked to take YA films to the next level, but can it or will it ever match up to The Hunger Games franchise? Truth is, it doesn't matter. One sure-footed hero (or heroine) is all it takes to rattle iron-fisted tyranny. It's a stirring theme in the rising trend in YA films and by the looks of it, there's more to come. However, the real question we should be asking is if this sequel is necessary.
Insurgent, based on the second book in the science fiction series of young-adult novels by Veronica Roth, takes us back days after the events of the first film. Divergent director Neil Burger is replaced by Robert Schwentke and so are the screenwriters. It's too early to say if this was a bad move, and again, it doesn't matter. Here's why: Insurgent is basically a rehash of Divergent but with added visual effects and a bit more violence than expected in a YA film. In other words, if you've missed the first film, Schwentke brings you up to speed with the post-apocalyptic remains of a dystopian Chicago. Tris (Shailene Woodley) is haunted by the massacre of her parents. Along with her boyfriend and instructor Four (Theo James), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and fellow survivor Peter (Miles Teller), Tris must do all she can to outrun, outgun and ultimately outsmart forces sent by main antagonist Jeanine (Kate Winslet).
It would have sufficed to leave the setup as such, with a plot device treading towards the breakdown of society and the ensuing anarchy spreading on both sides. Instead, the story is penned with a lot of focus on irrelevant characters whose inclusion only serves to prolong the inevitable face-off between Tris and Jeanine. Naomi Watts plays one such character who simply doesn't add plausibility but somehow becomes the matriarch, much like Julianne Moore turned out to be in the third Hunger Games film. Even so, nothing can prepare you for the utter incoherence that forms the bulk of the story. But if you ever find yourself wondering what the heck is happening, just remember this In the first film, Tris was introduced as a multi-skilled teen with rebellious potential. In this film, Tris returns as a multi-skilled teen with rebellious potential. Did someone say rehash? In defense, one could say that Schwentke and his trio of screenwriters are setting things up for a third and fourth film, and that action and visual effects are a notch more rewarding than the previous film. True. With a rare twinkle of cosmic luminance in her eyes, one could also add that Woodley has a lot of raw talent and it shows, but unfortunately, it isn't enough to nourish a film with too many deficiencies. Only fans need apply.
As a welcome encore, this sequel continues to draw us in largely due to the incredible chemistry of its ensemble cast.
For all those who loved the first film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a welcome encore with a few surprises from the creators. With the entire cast returning, albeit with a few nifty additions, this time it's about second chances and why the journey matters more than the destination.
The downsides of aging are inevitable but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. We got that message from the first film - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Going back to Jaipur for this sequel, we find that our lovable British pensioners are thriving, happy with their retirement home and carrying out odd jobs to keep themselves active. Douglas (Bill Nighy) is now the local tour guide who knows as much about the city as his tourists, while Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a new interest in Indian fabrics. Their unconsummated infatuation is stretched even further in this film. Celia (Madge Hardcastle) is a man-eater on the prowl, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is open to promiscuity. As Muriel, Maggi Smith takes over the film's narrative duties from Dench while also assisting Sonny (Dev Patel) with the upkeep of the hotel. Meanwhile, the hotel is doing well and Sonny is looking to expand but continues to be a naïve entrepreneur. His foolhardy decisions don't sit well with fiancé Sunaina (Tina Desai) even as their marriage preparations are in order. In the midst of all the commotion, in walks Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) and sweeps everyone off their feet (including members of the audience). As the only American guest, Guy appears to be working on his first novel but Muriel's observation reveals that he may not be who he says he is. Even worse is the case of mistaken identity that could easily undermine the success of the titular hotel.
Returning screenwriter Ol Parker and director John Madden riddles the story with the bitter truth of aging while using every opportunity to bring back the warmth and charm of the first film. And just like the first film, each character is either tasked with making us laugh or reflect on why age is just a number. British actor Patel is at the forefront of the gags with a beefed up Indian accent and equipped with self-composed axioms that are both ridiculous and hysterical. It works in his favour as a comedian but veers off on a tangent during some of the more dramatic subplots involving his fiancé. But just when you think the story has reached a saturated lull, it picks up and then hurtles towards an explosive, ala Bollywood styled Dhinchak conclusion.
Comic timing, witty punctuations and the incredible chemistry of its ensemble cast more than makes up for occasional periods of hackneyed melodrama. Nighy and Gere will charm your socks off while Dench and Smith will strong-arm you into believing that younger and prettier is no match for older and wiser. More than anything, Parker's story reiterates that old age is not about waiting for twilight but in making every moment count before finally 'checking out'. And as with age, 'second best' can only mean a perceived frame of belief.
A Most Violent Year (2014)
Tightly wound, seamlessly assembled and expertly told, A Most Violent Year is a film that commands attention and respect.
Slowly stretch a rubber band between two fingers and you feel an invisible force building up on both ends. Now imagine drawing an arrow and holding that embryonic force for 125 minutes. Such is the exhaustive yet powerfully gripping nature of A Most Violent Year a microscopic character study that dissects morality down to its nucleus; and then some.
At the outset, I must admit that going in for this film, I was expecting something along the lines of a Francis Ford Coppola crime caper. Ostensibly, the title will do that to you but rather than calling it a curve ball, I'll just say it's writer-director J. C Chandor's swirl of a double edged boomerang. Set in the winter of 1981 New York, the titular year is an actual reference to the most violent year in the city's history. It's a thematically rich setting for an era that inspired some of the most memorable crime dramas in cinema history. A Most Violent Year has a lot of that flair but there exists a fine line between organized crime and the moral dilemma of protagonist Abel Morales (Oscar Issac). As a sort of conduit to biblical reference, Abel is hardworking and ethical, but also a hawkeyed businessman making headway in the heating oil industry. Having taken over the company from his father-in-law, a known mobster, Abel faces possible indictments from the District Attorney's office with reason to believe his business is involved in industry wide corruption. His bookkeeper wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) assures him they have nothing to worry about but Abel has bigger fish to fry. After a 40 percent down payment on an oil storage terminal, Abel has to come up with the remaining amount in a month or risk loosing his entire business. But then his supply trucks start getting hijacked, and Abel finds his integrity as a businessman tested. His options track down his aggressors lawfully, or allow his wife to call in mob intervention.
Part of what makes Chandor's screenplay an enduring force is Abel's unpredictable outcome in pursuing the American Dream. And while each predicament escalates into dangerous situations for his family and his business, you eagerly expect Abel to turn to the dark side, a side of him that we often see bubbling under the surface. But as it turns out, Abel has ice in his veins, thus stretching that rubber band even further. You never know when he will snap. Supplementing Chandor's throwback to the late 70s era of gangster films is Issac's choice in casting an uncanny resemblance to Al Pacino's looks, style, and disposition some 40 years ago. In a mesmerizing turn as a man with executable power, both latent and surging, Oscar Issac is simply phenomenal and a rising talent to watch out for. And although Issac is tasked with anchoring this original story, Chastain is equally commanding and versatile by exhibiting fiery pep as a mother, a wife, and a daughter with connections to the mafia. Together, their on screen chemistry is bizarre but strangely alluring when allowing us to mull over who wears the pants.
At the time of writing this review, A Most Violent Year has been snubbed for the 2015 Academy Awards. It's a shame considering how remarkably close this film is in style and atmosphere to some big titles from the likes of Coppola or Martin Scorsese. With deliberate pacing and drawn out conversations, this is not a 'bada-bing bada-boom' sort of crime drama, but as homage, or not, this film is only Chandor's third foray as a director and its exceptional quality is riveting enough for us (and the Academy) to stand up and take notice. All is Not lost, Mr. Chandor.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
A banal, pointless and chaotic attempt at telling a sci-fi fairytale, Jupiter Ascending is light years away from the starry heights it aims for.
Once upon a time, a pretty damsel was forced to clean toilets until she was swept away by Prince Charming. She lost her slipper, he found it, they lived happily ever after. Heard that story before? Well, here it is again, an inter-galactic space opera called Jupiter Ascending, only this time, Cindy has to sacrifice her eggs so that aliens can live forever. Or something like that.
Welcome to the world of the Wachowskis where a simple story has to be convoluted, contrived, and copious, just to illustrate even simpler metaphors in life. Brainchild of the Matrix films and Cloud Atlas, films about other worldly existence echoing real world choices, the Wachowskis stuff Jupiter Ascending with nonsensical psychobabble that converge into its preachy messages Aim for the stars and you might just land on the moon, and that time is a universal commodity. Problem is, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), is a starry eyed dreamer, but without any aspirations of being anything other than a janitor. As a Russian immigrant living with her family in Chicago, Jupiter's nonexistent life changes the day she is abducted by alien humanoids. Apparently, her genetic structure makes her a threat to an alien enterprise known as the Abrasax, alien royalty led by the evil Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and his siblings Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). Balem wants Jupiter dead but Titus and Kalique have their own agenda so they send Caine (Channing Tatum) to protect her. Caine is no prince charming, but as a half-wolf, half-human, half-albino, genetically modified warrior, who can smell foul play a galaxy away, Jupiter has half a chance of outwitting the Abrasax. And she loves dogs. Thus begins a razzle-dazzle, visually bombastic, non-stop action fairytale that goes on and on and on until you realise you've been had.
Sooner or later, and before the pyro-porn ending, you will also find yourself in increasing face-palm moments. For instance, by the time you look at your watch for the second time, Jupiter would have fallen from the skies several times, and each time she falls, Cain is there to rescue her. That's not just being tediously repetitive, it's downright bloatware filling up the running time. Neither are any of the actors worth mentioning, except that each is worse than the other. Kunis is definitely miscast and in over her head with nothing but dumb lines when her character isn't falling. Redmayne is perhaps the biggest disappointment as the villain, a role where he looks like Glenn Close from 101 Dalmatians and barely audible. It's a low blow considering his Oscar run in The Theory of Everything. As the only justifiable casting choice, Tatum has some inventive stunts during action scenes requiring Cain to fly around using jet propulsion boots. It's a nice touch and perhaps the only thing original in this film.
It won't take long for fans of the Wachowskis to accept that this film isn't about passion or a vision or anything resembling conventional storytelling. It's a film made for the heck of it where almost every bit of its $175 million production budget seems to favour visual effects that are frankly has-beens in a Michael Bay film. Add to that, ludicrous characters (a lizard henchman and an elephant that flies a spaceship?), an ill-conceived mythology alongside a struggling story and we are left with a colossal failure as large yet as insignificant as the titular planet. The Wachowskis on the other hand, have aimed for the stars but seem to have crash landed in a black hole. If only they had paid a little attention to Christopher Nolan.
American Sniper (2014)
Made with palm-sweating tension and based on a real life military sniper, this is Clint Eastwood's best war movie in a long time.
American Sniper is Clint Eastwood's second 2014 film (after Jersey Boys) and the best we have seen from this veteran film director in years. Contextually, this film looks and feels like 2008's Academy Award winning Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, but with Eastwood's deft storytelling, American Sniper is equally Entertaining and thrilling, yet dramatic and tragic, and wrung with palm-sweating tension throughout.
Based on memoirs of the highly decorated US military sniper, Chris Kyle, the film opens in Iraq in 2003, and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is in prone position on a rooftop, rifle in hand, and tasked with over watch as an infantry unit kick down doors in search of insurgents. He sees a woman and child approaching the unit but must make a split-second decision on whether they pose a threat to his fellow soldiers down below. His spotter reminds him that he could "fry" if he kills an innocent woman and child. His gut tells him otherwise. Just when his finger is wrapped around the trigger and ready to squeeze, we are taken back on a 25-minute flashback. We see him raised in a conservative Texan family, then through rigorous Navy SEAL training, and then courtship, marriage and parenthood. It's a vital segment that makes us want to care about him and the decision he is about to make. It is also where we learn Kyle's three main priorities God, Country, Family values that would go on to make him a "Legend".
It takes four tours of Iraq and 160 confirmed kills to earn that proclamation but we don't get to see as many kill shots. Between taut firefights in Iraq and coping with the anxiety of his wife (Sienna Miller) in Texas, we get hard-wired into Kyle's psyche thanks to a career-best performance from a bulked-up Bradley Cooper. After Academy Award nominations in Silver Linings Playbook and last year's American Hustle, Cooper is on a hat-trick and this is definitely a side of him we have never seen before. Miller, on the other hand, gets to portray the wife of a soldier and she delivers with seasoned skill, but these scenes are too few and short for a screenplay intended to venerate a war hero. And how it does! With about 90 percent of the screen time dedicated to Kyle, we are given a complex character study of an individual tasked with preserving or taking life. Unlike other war films where soldiers kill counterparts 'in the line of duty', Cooper's Kyle often finds himself wrestling with an almost obsessive compulsive disorder but one that ensures his wife and kids remain free and safe in the motherland. However, the ramifications are close behind. As much as Kyle is revered by his peers and commanding officers, the price on his head swells, and so does his reputation amongst insurgents as "The Devil of Ramdi".
In the wrong hands, American Sniper could have been misconstrued as American propaganda. Look no further than Peter Berg's The Kingdom, a right-wing hoopla that literally screams "us versus them". Instead, 84-year-old Eastwood shows restrain for political subletting, especially given recent headlines on the on-going "war on terror", by telling a well-knit story of courage, determination and patriotism. Not since his very own WWII double-feature, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Flags of Our Fathers (both in 2006), has Eastwood been so confident and controversial in an action film. Dusty, smoky, war torn Iraq feels authentic and that's before some frantic gunfights reserved for the many action sequences. While action scenes can get quite heavy and violent, at times it feels like a portion of a first-person-shooter video game. Then again, American Sniper is all about Chris Kyle, his POV, and why the US military could benefit from more soldiers like him. Towards the end, one scene has Kyle pull off a near impossible shot with utmost precision. It's one of several reasons why Kyle will always be known as "The deadliest sniper in US military history".
The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game is a near perfect biopic on Alan Turing, an unsung World War II hero and the father of modern computers.
Not many people knew who Alan Turing was, other than the fact that he was the father of modern computing and related artificial intelligence. As a biopic centered on Turing's crucial years, The Imitation Game is a stirring film behind his genius and why he remained an unsung World War II hero until recently.
Set between 1939 and 1945, but flanked by plot arcs set in the early 1920s and 1950s, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum gives us a glimpse into three phases in Turing's life, where each phase reveals a little more about who he was, what he did, and how he helped end World War II by as early as four years. The central aspect has Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) working with British Intelligence as a code breaker in London's Bletchley Park, the UK's Government Code and Cypher School. His job is to break and decipher what the Allies referred to as the unbreakable Enigma Code Germany's highly encrypted radio transmissions that allowed the Nazi war machine superior naval and aerial assault on vulnerable Allied positions. Assigned to a small group of code breakers including one female, Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), Turing is initially an outcast due to his reclusive and eccentric nature. With time running out, Turing eventually finds favour in his MI6 supervising officer Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) whose connections with Prime Minister Winston Churchill lands him enough resources to build a machine that has half a chance at breaking the Enigma code.
That World War II ended in Allied victory is retrospective of the final push between the Allied forces and Hitler's Third Reich. While cinema history is studded with countless war and action films encompassing this era, The Imitation Game, on the other hand, is not a war film and not a single bullet is fired by any of the characters. It is still a period piece and one that had to be told for at least two important reasons. In adapting from mathematician Andre Hodges' 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma, Debut screenwriter Graham Moore saves these reasons for the final thirty minutes of the story, thus limiting the story to a mere countdown spy-thriller, albeit well told in the hands of the director. After saving as many as 14 million lives, why wasn't Alan Turing a decorated hero? What were the real reasons leading up to his eventual suicide in 1954? And why was his memory granted posthumous honour but only in 2013? The answers are there, some of them shocking, but a little too late in the film which itself is about a story that is told a little too late.
Understandably, Turing's work within the supposedly non-existent MI6 was classified until recently. The fact that this film was made after the declassification of his contribution makes sense. That being said, the final reveal feels restrained and panders towards social commentary rather than taking the time to venerate a war hero. But if you overlook flaws in the story, including a hokey 'Eureka' scene when they finally break the code, The Imitation Game is still a good film with several tense moments; one of which is the juncture the team arrives at when they break the code. It's a startling moment in the film literally illustrating the power of knowledge as godly.
Thematically similar to the Academy Award winning A Beautiful Mind, with as many glowing reviews and the possibility of a parallel Oscar run, I conquer that The Imitation Game is well made and very well acted for a period piece. Cumberbatch anchors his role with absolute virtuoso in portraying Turing as an unlikable and egotistical individual with superior intelligence, while ultimately exposing his vulnerability as a misunderstood introvert. Together with Knightley, they make formidable pairing depicting interpersonal relationships that are equally charming and tragic. It is indeed a tragic story considering what Turing could have achieved for humanity, only to be utterly disregarded by what is supposedly modern civilization.
Birdman is a soulful satire that venerates cinema's artistic merits while simultaneously condemning it's contamination through commercialisation.
If you've noticed during previous telecasts of the Academy Awards, there's always a short spoof movie they play at the beginning of the event. It's a parody of the year's top films where Hollywood lampoons itself. They just love to be at the center of the joke as long as the joke is told by them. Directed, produced and co-written by unconventional Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G Iñárritu, Birdman, sub-titled Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is one such wholesome parody a pitch black satire where Hollywood makes roaring fun of Hollywood.
And it's a ton of fun from the very first scene where we see Michael Keaton levitating in his underwear. Setting off a chain of parodies is Keaton playing Riggan Thompson, a washed-up middle aged actor whose last blockbuster saw him playing the titular superhero in the 1992 sequel, "Birdman 3". Now 20 years on, he is desperately grasping for former glory by trying to reinvent himself as a theatre artist. As the director and producer of a Broadway play, Riggan has a few problems to tackle, starting with his alter ego, the growling and grotesque voice of Birdman (also Keaton) who taunts Riggan into insecurity and regret. These are bizarre sequences and we are left guessing whether Riggan is mentally unstable or possess supernatural abilities no one else knows about. His second problem is the passive-aggressive nature of his lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Known for his brilliant method acting but also infamously impulsive and abrasive, Norton is another caricature of himself as Shiner, an actor whose outbursts leads to a series of disasters on the play's preview nights. With the big opening night just around the corner, Riggan is left to overcome his final obstacle A New York Times theatre critic (Lindsay Duncun) who loathes Hollywood celebrities for commercialising and thus tainting what was once true art in theatre.
One of the main parodies of this multi-layered film is the fact that the current horde of superhero films from DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios didn't quite exist until Keaton kick-started the genre in 1989 by playing the titular superhero in Batman. It gets better. Keaton hasn't been in the limelight since his 1992 blockbuster sequel, Batman Returns, the same year Riggan peaked in his acting career. Coincidence? Not really. Such is the ingenuity of this film but Keaton and Norton aren't the only ones lampooned and we'll get to that later. Comprising of an ensemble cast, Iñárritu has plenty on offer and they all deliver in uniformity starting with Emma Stone as Riggan's feisty daughter and assistant, Zach Galfianakis as his best friend and manager, Naomi Watts as his lead actress on her first Broadway show, and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife and voice of reason.
Why Birdman will be an Academy Award magnet is obvious. Besides Keaton's comeback of the century and Norton's outstanding delivery, this film is theoretically a movie within a movie and thematically about an actor making a comeback. That's ample flattery to win over The Academy and precisely why The Artist went Oscar crazy in 2011. But irrespective of how this film fares at the 2015 Academy Awards, the real pull is how intensely immersive this film is in creativity, imagination, performance and technical excellence. After winning an Academy Award for last year's Gravity, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is back with more wizardry by shooting the entire film in one continuous take; Seamless digital binding, yes, but otherwise impossible to achieve conventionally. And bolstering the pace is some fantastic music from composer Antonio Sanchez who uses just percussion instruments with perfect timing.
That Iñárritu ends the film with ambiguity could be received with mixed reactions. Like Christopher Nolan before, Iñárritu leaves it open to interpretation and that's always a good thing when giving a film a long lasting impression. Thoroughly entertaining with endless hilarity, both slapstick and dark, Birdman plays on cinema's artistic merits while simultaneously condemning it's contamination through commercialisation. To this effect there's a mini action scene dedicated to the kind of profound stupidity found in a Michael Bay film. Another shot of a meteor plummeting to Earth speaks volumes about the death of stardom and the birth of insanity. If you look closely at the fire ball, you can almost see Bay's name on it.
High on social commentary but low on characterization, Dolphins is a film that grows on you over time.
In his first feature length film, Emirati director Walid Al Shehhi shows that his heart is in the right place with a film that looks to be ahead of its time. Using subtle and often poetic metaphors, Al Shehhi visualizes the social structure of the region through the moral dilemmas of its three main characters Saud and his divorced parents Fadel and Kawthar.
Set in Ras Al Khaimah over a period of twenty-four hours, we follow Saud as he tries to get his parents back together. Saud stays with his mother Kawthar who is out most of the time. Having been married and divorced at a young age, Kawthar feels her youth was snatched away. As a single mother, she expects to get married again and is seen texting potential suitors and visiting wedding boutiques. Saud does not approve of this but can't find it in himself to confront his mother directly. When he approaches his estranged father to do something about it, he gets turned away. His father Fadel works as an ambulance driver and finds recourse in his work. There's sadness in Fadel's eyes but we aren't sure if this is due to the nature of his work or due to his own personal demons, part of which includes ignoring calls from his son. Struggling with rejection, Saud and his friend Hilal head out to the seaside where their juvenile banter leads them on an adventure to encounter dolphins.
Dolphins is high on social commentary and even dares to foretell of the changing social structure in the UAE. It's a writing on the wall, especially since the cultural norms of the region have long withstood foreign contamination. While the message is clear, characterization leaves more to be desired. The actors playing Saud's parents are so uninspiring that we aren't given a chance to fully connect with them. Supporting characters like Hilal have nothing much to add to the story and I found myself getting annoyed, (as did Saud) as his only purpose was to ask silly questions. In oversight of the acting, I suspect the director was focused more on what the film says rather than how it is said. Scenes where Saud rides an unregistered (and probably unlicensed) quad bike are mirrored by real life images of youth with disregard for authority. Another scene showing Saud rebelling against his mother leads us to believe that respect for elders are on the decline. At the same time, when confronted by his father, Saud's body language is a lot more submissive.
If perceived as an experimental film, Dolphins succeeds, and so does Al Shehhi and the message that he has to convey. My initial reactions weren't as receptive but the fact that the film ends in ambiguity suggests the need for further thought. At best, this is a film that once you watch it, it grows on you over time.
In as much as it is serious, Force Majeure is equally funny, and always one step ahead as a devious satire on the age old gender clash.
Distinguished and rare, Force Majeure (originally titled Turist) is in a league of its own. It's the type of film you watch without the faintest notion that you are watching it with a silly grin on your face. The last time I experienced something like this (and I did have a silly grin) was while watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. Conceptually, it's almost the same a dark comedy disguised as deadpan drama.
With Force Majeure, the hotel here is an upscale ski resort in the French Alps. Cinematography is the first similarity and a huge tick mark in sheer visual splendour. Panoramic vistas of snow covered Alps are filled in several lingering frames. It's a picture perfect postcard and this is how Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund introduces us to a family of four that have just checked-in to the resort. They are photographed together in candid poses with smiles as bright as the scene behind them. This would also be the last time we see them smile. On the second day of their five day vacation, Östlund begins his satirical take on the literal as well as figurative meaning of the title. Using sonic explosions to induce artificial avalanches (to prevent snow piling to dangerous levels that could trigger a natural and catastrophic avalanche) the resort experiences a near-miss incident when one such 'controlled' avalanche occurs very close to where the family is having their lunch. It's a magnificent scene set at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the leeward side of a snow covered slope. We get a third-person perspective of nature's beauty, and simultaneously, her fury (in reference to the title's literal meaning). Acting on an impulse (the figurative meaning), the father saves himself, leaving his wife and kids in the path of the avalanche. The incident leaves everyone shaken but not as much as patriarch Tomas.
What follows is a complete disintegration of the psyche beginning with an escalating confrontation between Tomas and his wife Ebba and the umbilical disconnect it has on their children. With tensions rising between Tomas and Ebba, we dwell on their emotions, and one after the other, we get a peek into their inner most thoughts on duty, honesty, fidelity, and almost every other nuptial value from the bedroom to the kitchen sink. Meanwhile, Östlund stokes sparks into flames with more sonic detonations, a chance encounter with temptation and the arrival of another couple whose inclusion adds the icing to the fast freezing cake. Pun intended.
The humour in all this is hard to miss. But given the possibility that we might misinterpret what's transpiring between Tomas and Ebba, Östlund's already stunning cinematography has a secondary function as well, like Ebba's increasing frigidity depicted by more sonic booms, or Tomas' decreasing sense of freedom set against a random shot of bachelors going wild, and several other scenes of ostensible masterstrokes. Force Majeure is so well written, acted and filmed, that it's difficult to identify a high point and this is precisely why this film is so unpredictably challenging to watch. Even at the end of the film with the family returning home, Östlund begins the story again, this time in the opposite direction. Did I mention impulsive reactions can be unsettling?