Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Boxing Helena (1993)

It’s been a while since I saw a film so abysmally bad, I had a difficult time shaking off its terrible memories. “Boxing Helena” is a horribly written, terribly acted, sloppily directed film, by none other than Jennifer chambers Lynch, daughter of David Lynch.

There’s not much to talk about the plot. It doesn’t make much sense and lacks any kind of credibility whatsoever. Dr Nick Cavanagh (Julian Sands) is a rich and successful surgeon, obsessed with Helena (Sherilyn Fenn), a sexy femme fatale living not very far from his place. Apparently he had a small fling or one night stand with her once long ago which was a major disappointment…how exactly they knew each other isn’t entirely clear in the muddled dialog which is supposed to enlighten us about this fact.
Anyway so Cavanagh throws a party and invites all his friends/neighbours when he moves to his mother’s mansion-like house after her death. One of the invitees is of course, Helena who acts like a total bitch and completely neglects her host but manages to grab eyeballs as she dances in her underwear beneath a fountain in the garden in full public view of the guests at the party (seriously now…)! Cavanagh does try to make some contact with her in the party, but fails miserably, as she walks away with one of the other guests!

As fate would have it, the next morning she meets with a hit and run accident and Nick happens to be the only one around. Seizing the opportunity of severe injuries to her legs, Nick amputates both her legs and holds her captive in his home! But that’s not all…he nurses her and takes complete care of her but does it all secretly, not letting anyone know she is with him and even cuts all ties with the rest of the world, even with his job at the hospital.
All throughout the rest of the film, Nick keeps proclaiming his love for Helena while she continues to act like a bitch and keeps hurling insults and abuses at poor Nick who doesn’t hesitate to deprive her of the rest of her limbs one by one…..but continues to nurse her and “love” her!


In the midst of all this Cavanagh also has some vivid memories of his negligent, grumpy-looking sex-obsessed mother  (Meg Register) in her youth who keeps appearing naked in his brief hallucinations as he drifts away in his own world. It makes one wonder if she only appeared naked in front of Nick for him to not remember her any other way!

Barring a couple of frames, including the very first scene when Nick as a boy is shown lost in a party of his negligent parents (one of the guests even says “Marion never mentioned she had a son”) nothing in this film works! It is rife with situations that seem implausible and, at times, downright silly! Sherilyn Fenn who appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks series in the memorable and confident character of Audrey Horne, seems totally lost here. Why she acts like an ungrateful woman who keeps swearing and putting down her bed-partners is not entirely clear. Hence, the character and her acting seem forced. Bill Paxton appears briefly as her “fuck buddy” ‘cause he certainly doesn’t seem to be her steady boyfriend. He is made to look really tacky with some horrible sheer tight T-shirts and a hairstyle so obnoxious you would want to send him to a parlour immediately! And Paxton who is usually dependable with his acting is made to ham it up with some dialog and awkward mannerisms and acting that’s sure to make you cringe! But this is not limited to Bill Paxton. All the other actors behave in an atrociously unreal manner…. Including a very clearly embarrassed Art Garfunkel! What the hell was he doing in the film anyway! The icing on the cake is the awful acting from the lead actor Julian Sands and his love interest played by Betsy Clark, as they deliver their lines in an embarrassingly unnatural fashion; conversation that seems so “rehearsed”, fake and out-of-sync it is unbelievable! Even the camerawork is so goddamn shoddy with some irritating slow motion used to absolutely no effect.

One would expect the film to take some interesting turns as a saving grace with a plot like this that’s riddled with crassness, poor acting and annoying dialog, but Jennifer Chambers Lynch probably couldn’t think of a way to push the already unreal and stupid script any further and resorts to a very cheap, cop-out conclusion. Lynch tries to make up for the badness of the overall film by including some pseudo erotica with a couple of slo-mo sex scenes, one featuring Nicolette Scorsese and the other featuring Sherilyn Fenn herself. And what a way to ruin good memories of some great songs of the 80s and early 90s (Enigma’s “Sadeness” and “Woman in Chains” by Tears for Fears) by playing them in the background for these scenes!

While she looks super-hot in this film, it is a pity that Sherilyn Fenn who impressed us with her superb act in Twin Peaks the series couldn’t do much with her film career, this film in particular being a big black spot on her career that never much took off!

Jennifer should’ve show this film to her father David who surely would’ve rejected it outright and laughed at the slipshod handling of the proceedings! Talent clearly doesn’t run in the family in the Lynchs’ case. What a monumental waste!
 
2/10

Monday, June 20, 2011

Amadeus (1984)


The "Man", The "Music", The "Madness", The "Murder"(?), The "Motion Picture".....so goes the tagline....but we can add some more....the "Miracle", "Mozart" and last but not the least, "Milos" Forman! The man behind "Amadeus" goes all out in his attempt to "motion picture"-ise Peter Shaffer's play of the same name. The result is one of the most ambitious and dazzling period dramas, built on a grand scale...but is it as magnificent as it has been made out to be?! Well...almost!

Told through a series of flashbacks, (and shifting occasionally to the present) narrated by an old and decrepit Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), "Amadeus" tells the highly fictionalized story of 18th Century famous Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his supposed "rival" who loathed him... Antonio Salieri himself. Both great musicians of the time, yet, Mozart being Mozart seemed to outdo Salieri, one of the greatest composers of the time, making more conspicuous, Salieri's so-called (often by himself) "mediocrity"! Salieri, the court composer lived in his own sweet shell of ignorance about talent around him. Enter Mozart and things changed for Salieri as Mozart began to get in the good books of the Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) with his clearly superior command on music and his ability to create "magical" notes...just like that!


Salieri despised Mozart from the first sight of him! After all, who could imagine the great Mozart having a very dirty mind and an outrageously vulgar tongue and a highly annoying "obscene giggle", as Salieri puts it! And if that's not all..this is a man who is highly immodest and vain about his own music. He has absolutely no regard for other composers and thinks and even admits out loud that he is the greatest!


So thus it begins, the battle of the musicians, with Salieri admitting to be the "bad guy" in the entire state of affairs...how he wished to God that Mozart would vanish...out of Vienna..best, even back to Salzburg, his hometown! Salieri tries all the low-down schemes his evil mind could think of to hinder Mozart's progress and try and put him down.


The entire film chronicles these crafty ways of Salieri, his gradual loss of faith in God, for he believes, Mozart is literally "Amadeus", "the beloved of God", sent down by God himself to make Salieri aware of his "lack" of talent! And then there are the ups and downs in Mozart's life, his bloated ego, his alcoholism and his eventual demise....and amidst all this, is the miracle that is music!


That's right, music is one of the important aspects of this picture, since music drives many of the scenes in the film (apparently there are longer Opera sequences in "The Director's Cut" which I have seen). Mozart wrote some of the finest music on this planet and it shows in this film, with almost all of the music used being originally composed by Mozart. Of course for the film it was performed by Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. It is rather exhilarating to see and listen to the operas performed to the music of Mozart in this picture; the passion and the sheer spirit of it further elevated by the characters of Mozart and Salieri as they conduct these operas. The background score is not far behind, with some tremendous melodies being used in some key portions of the film that make the scenes come alive!


And then there is the acting! While the supporting actors are there and they do a decent job, this review will restrict itself to the two key players.


Tom Hulce, who plays Mozart, brings a kind of despicable quality to his character...and hell, it does take talent to make the audience loathe you at one stage with some very impish demeanor and then throw in surprises and make the audience want to reach out to you and embrace you! Tom Hulce scores big time with his extraordinary display of a multi-dimensional character, a passionate and gifted musician, ultimately let down by his own vanity!

 

And there is F. Murray Abraham, who is almost unrecognizable in his older avatar as Salieri in the scenes in the present in which he narrates the "tragic" story of his life to the priest, Father Vogler (Richard Frank)....And my goodness, how long has it been since I've seen a performance like that! What sheer grace to the performance, what an arresting screen presence and what outstanding theatrics...words are not enough to describe this larger than life performance that won Abraham the much coveted Academy Award! Just watching him mouth those cleverly written lines of dialog with his exuberantly passionate acting on display keep your eyes glued to the screen! What makes it even more commendable is how different the younger Salieri and his older self look and behave...adding so much depth to his character..but don't be fooled...it is the same actor indeed! This is a performance that has to be seen to be believed!

Which finally brings us to the film itself! Now I am the kind of man who is usually not in favour of screenwriters/filmmakers using artistic license and taking cinematic liberties with true stories featuring real life characters from history. But normally a few minor changes here and there are still acceptable. With "Amadeus", they transform everything into almost 80% fiction, which is a big disappointment! I mean, just because you want to make an interesting story with some "bite" which will pull the audiences in, you can't turn all the characters on their heads. The film shows that Salieri despised Mozart, whereas some evidence in the form of written letters suggests they shared a friendly relationship and Salieri didn't really hate Mozart. As a matter of fact he was in awe of him and admired him a lot. As for Mozart's behavioral traits, there is almost no evidence suggesting that he behaved like a clumsy idiot that he has been portrayed in the film! Just watch the film and you will be shocked to see that a much revered musician like Mozart would act and talk like an absolute clown with an atrocious sense of humour, ultimately rendering the character unrealistic! Why would you really look up to this man, an arrogant, vain musician, even if he makes some Godly music? I mean, you couldn't stand the man...hell, I don't blame Salieri! This of course leads to some comic relief throughout the film in the form of some other characters acting like buffoons, including Mozart's mother-in-law and even the Emperor says "well..there it is" and walks away even after this mother-in-law character faints on stage!


That said, the film succeeds in all other technical aspects, including cinematography, editing, great sets and costumes, attention to detail and the whole lavish spectacle that this motion picture is! Full points for capturing that era, that atmosphere, that Vienna..there is no question about it. Narrative-wise the pacing somewhat falters with the long opera scenes in the second half. But if you like the music and aren't averse to watching lengthy operas, you wouldn't feel the slack in pace.


But at the pinnacle of this whole venture, is the lead actor, F. Murray Abraham and the magic he performs on screen and holds us, the audience, spellbound with his mesmerizing Antonio Salieri act! I will mention this again....this is a performance that has to be seen to be believed! And if you just want one reason to watch "Amadeus", F. Murray Abraham is a reason big enough, because ultimately, in this case, the performance is much bigger than the film itself!



Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, June 13, 2011

Revolutionary Road (2008)


Films with subjects close to home, dealing with true to life, “real” domestic issues concerning a typical bourgeois family are very rare. Once in a while comes a well-made film in the form “Revolutionary Road”, written by Justin Haythe (based on the novel by Richard Yates) and directed by Sam Mendes.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio star (together for the first time after “Titanic”) in this sensitive drama, set in the 50s, that is capable of striking a chord with any married couple. So while the marriage could very well “look” happy: a perfect couple, a well paying job, a nice house, children, the works…and the “bigger picture” seems all hunky dory, can one possibly overlook the seemingly trifle issues, yet ones capable of snowballing into a crisis?

So Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) works as a sales person with Knox, a job he is clearly tired of and thinks it is simply dull! His father worked there too, incidentally, and Frank never dreamt he would have to step in his father’s shoes, but as fate would have it, Frank has ended up in almost the same position!  Perhaps out of this sheer boredom his life brings him, he begins to have the hots for a seemingly naïve young employee, Maureen (Zoe Kazan)….

Then there’s his wife April (Winslet) who always aspired to be an actress but with time, has failed miserably, so she attends to the family and helps around the house like a good housewife. However, she harbours this intense desire to support the family and do something on her own.
A distant memory of her husband mentioning Paris as an ideal place to be, triggers the birth of a brand new plan: to move to Paris where she can get a secretarial job while he can find where his passion lies and indulge in what his heart has always longed for.

Initially reluctant, Frank agrees and April happily starts planning. Are they able to fulfill their Parisian dream and live happily ever after?


“Revolutionary Road” embarks on a rather smooth road as far as story-telling is concerned and we are treated to a highly satisfying piece of cinema that unfolds subtly revealing some surprises on the way. All along its steady running time there is a lot of strong drama revolving around the two central characters that grasps our attention and we get fully engrossed as our hearts go out to the both of them. Once we find ourselves getting involved in their conflicting viewpoints, neither perspective seems out of place or “not right” and it is indeed a very interesting and challenging experience to look at the situation through the husband’s as well as the wife’s eyes! Married couples can instantly relate as they can very well find at least some percentage of an overlap in their own lives and those of the on-screen couple.

There are also some supporting characters like the friendly neighbours, the Campbells (David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn) and their realtor friend Helen Givings (Kathy Bates) and her family, especially her institutionalized son John (Michael Shannon)…all of them are intentionally written with that typical suburban characteristic and can uncannily come across as familiar! You could very well have neighbours like that or even could be them!

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet go all out with their tremendous, heartfelt performances. It is indeed a treat to watch them play these mature characters in a marriage, in comparison to the cheesy romantic couple they portrayed in Titanic. It is a pity neither of these performances were even nominated by the Academy (Apparently, Kate Winslet missed the nomination due to a technical reason regarding rules of nomination. The nomination as well as the award went in the favour of “The Reader” instead!).

Michael Shannon impresses as he delivers a memorable Oscar nominated performance as John, the somewhat mentally challenged mathematician whose mathematical abilities seem to have diminished owing to repeatedly administering electroconvulsive therapy!
Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Kathy Bates and Jay O. Sanders do well in their brief roles.
Zoe Kazan, the granddaughter of legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan is extremely cute beyond words, but she doesn’t get to do much except giggle when a tad tipsy and wake up in bed topless after a brief ‘session’ with Frank! One really wishes she was given a more meaty role.

Sam Mendes who debuted with one of the greatest American films, “American Beauty”, impresses with his directing skills after some “alright” attempts like “Jarhead” and “Road to Perdition”. Thomas Newman's score is aptly hypnotic and fits the mood perfectly.

Don’t forget to take a trip down “Revolutionary Road”. Rest assured, it is an entertaining as well as thought-provoking ride that is certainly worth your time.

Score: 8/10

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Bank Job (2008)


First up, do not be bogged down by the title..."The Bank Job" is not yet another done to death formula featuring the bank robbers' "one last heist before going clean, that has to go wrong"...something that you may have seen in countless pictures recently. If it is any consolation, this is quite possibly one of the most refreshingly original caper movies I've seen in recent times..quite different from the usual fare; what's more, it is based on the true story of the 1971 Baker Street Robbery of central London (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baker_Street_robbery).

It is kinda difficult to put down the plot synopsis of "The Bank Job" in words...I mean there is so much going on here, you hardly have time to blink. But I will make an attempt to state it in a nutshell (I hope).

1970: Somewhere in the Caribbean, a raunchy threesome act is being captured on camera by an unknown person.

1971: A militant gangster and a self-proclaimed black revolutionary and civil rights activist by the name of Michael X (Peter de Jersey) is operating freely and carrying on with his activities without fear of the metropolitan police, because he has a trump card under his sleeve which renders him untouchable. He claims to have scandalous pictures of a British Royal, Princess Margaret in compromising positions (possibly the aforementioned incident in the Caribbean?).

The pictures are believed to be hidden away in a safety deposit box in the vault of Lloyds Bank and it is the task of the MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5) to retrieve these pictures somehow and save themselves and the Royal family a lot of embarrassment. Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) a shrewd MI5 operative has been given the difficult task, which is to become "The Bank Job". Can he pull it off?

Parallel stories centering around one mobster by the name of Vogel (David Suchet) who keeps a record of all the corrupt cops he has to pay off to run his business, and a high class brothel owner Sonia (Sharon Maughan), whose clients include some top government officials somehow find a way into this chaotic situation!


One has to compliment director Roger Donaldson. He does a pretty solid job of handling the taut screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, one where there are so many characters involved, yet at no point are we confused about any particular character regarding his/her purpose in the film and the basis of his/her actions. It all plays out smoothly and the proceedings are clear enough, in spite of the razor sharp editing by John Gilbert. Things move at breakneck speed in this film and you don't have time to even blink or go in the kitchen to grab a drink or a snack. Right from the first frame, featuring T. Rex's "Get it on", "The Bank Job" sucks you into its rapid pulsating rhythm that never lets up and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like all British crime thrillers, this one is stylishly shot and with a slightly sepia tone (to get that "70s" feel perhaps?). But while at the outset it may seem to look like a "Lock Stock..." like crime thriller with a crime scenario juxtaposed with a dose of dark humour, so is not the case, as "The Bank Job" takes a pretty serious tone in the latter half.

The film picks up more steam in the latter half when 'the job' is on the verge of completion and is eventually discovered. It is here that things start to take an unexpected turn for everyone involved and they try their best to stay afloat in the whole matter. Thankfully none of the events or outcomes seem forced (well...maybe barring one or a couple at the most) or unconvincing and it all falls in place, leading us to a fairly satisfying ending. Some situations may seem a tad implausible, but then let's not forget that this is a true story and minor instances of cinematic liberties taken by the filmmakers are excusable in this kind of a film.

The actors..most of them do a decent job; Jason Statham does his job dependably well, but for some reason doesn't get the 70s look right, and looks just like he did in Transporter, with the addition of a week old stubble. Keeley Hawes is good too in a small role as Statham's wife. David Suchet, Saffron Burrows and Richard Lintern are just fine.

Check out "The Bank Job". It is a well-made, thrilling tale of sleaze, scandal and corruption and could very well be one of the finest caper films of recent times.

Recommended!

Rating: 8/10.