Archive for the New Releases Category

Monuments Men

Posted in New Releases with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by Roshan Mathew

Any movie with such a stellar cast seems like a shoo in at the box office. Come on, Matt Damon and George Clooney on the same screen will get me into the theatre. Add a hunt for beautiful art by the masters across Europe, while killing Nazis and you would think that is the stuff of movie heaven.

Directed by Clooney and co written with Brian Henslov, this movies cast includes John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett. A task force is formed under Stokes(Clooney), consisting of art historians(Damon), collectors, engineers and disgraced soldiers(Bonneville) to protect and return art that is being stolen or destroyed by the Nazis during the end of WW II. The story concentrates on the reconnaissance of a couple of pieces that some of the men has developed attachments to, mainly Michelangelo’s Madonna and child and the Altar piece from Ghent. The group loses some of their own which propels them forward to do as much as they can to save and restore these priceless pieces.

The script was very weak, with very little time spent on character development, that would help us feel empathy towards these characters. I felt a lack of passion about the art and the movie seemed more like an indulgence by Clooney to galavant across Europe with his best buds. Even Cate Blanchett, whom I have never seen deliver a bad performance, seems to be struggling to find some emotional foothold in the script. Her almost romance with Damon seems contrived and one in which both actors seem uncomfortable in the understanding that this is an unnecessary segue. Overall it seems like the whole cast and the studio signed on because of the Clooney charm. I love Clooney. As a celebrity, a humanitarian, an actor and most of his directorial ventures. This was a complete fail for me. The real monuments men’s story deserves to be read and admired.

Art lovers and Clooney/Damon lovers, I would wait for the movie to start showing on cable. Not even worth a DVD rental.


12 Years a Slave

Posted in Hollywood, New Releases with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2013 by Roshan Mathew

For me the 2013 Oscar season started with the gut wrenching Prisoners, the smart, funny Enough Said and now the unflinching powerhouse, 12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen. John Ridley would definitely garner a best adopted screenplay nomination and win, this year for his outstanding script. Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender seems to be a match made in movie heaven. McQueen’s movies always seem to me to be grappling with the different sides of human character and the darker side always seems to have a winning edge over the good. Michael Fassbender is the perfect conduit for this existential crisis. He has an aura of underlying menace in every look and smile, which makes for captivating scenes. And who doesn’t love a good-looking bad boy with a British accent?

Samuel Northup(Chiwetel Ejiofor)a free, African-American musician in 1841 New York. He is living a very comfortable middle class life with his wife and children. He accepts a job from two men to play violin in a circus and travels with them to Washington DC and enjoys an easy camaraderie with these two men who are from the same social stature, at least in the North East. Little does he know that his wine has been drugged and he finds himself shackled, in a dark room as a slave. His protestation has no effect, other than to increase the wrath of the slaver. He has his identity beat out of him and is forced to accept his new name Platt. Solomon’s past life is shown to us in a series of flashbacks as he is handed off from one master to another. His love for his family and unshakeable hope for freedom and life gets him through the next 12 years.

Solomon survives most of his masters by keeping his head down, observing and contributing only when necessary. In that process, he has to make choices that shames him because they are against everything he had the luxury of believing he stood for, as a free man. Qualities like integrity, defending the weak or even an individual character has to be hidden or compromised for his survival.

This movie is not an easy watch. It is a raw and visceral depiction of slavery. There is no respite for the viewer. We are made to watch, dwell and witness, the inhuman atrocities that the slaves were subjected to on a daily basis. It is almost a documentary in the way it approaches the depiction of Solomon’s story. Unflinching, raw depiction of slavery, as it existed, not the softened hollywood version of the truth. The director uses long, deliberate shots that keeps the focus on excruciatingly painful scenes for long periods of time. And it is these images that will leave indelible marks in your mind, long after the movie is done.

Solomon is shuttled from one master to another. Among all his masters, the one that he finds to be the hardest and the one he has to endure the longest, is Edwin Epps( Michael Fassbender). One of Solomon’s fellow slaves, is Patsey, to whom Epps takes a fancy. I found Epps relationship with Patsey very interesting to watch. Here is this drunk, effortlessly cruel slave owner, who revels in his role as the manager of his human “property”, who seems to be grappling with very conflicting feelings for his slave. His anger seems to stem from his disgust with himself, for loving, yes loving someone akin to an animal in his world. He cannot bear to beat Patsey as punishment, when she leaves the property to get some soap to wash herself, because Epps’s wife refuses to let her even wash in the hope that the stink will get her husband to stay away from ‘his Queen”. We see Epps grappling with this feelings for Patsey and his standing as a slave owner, who has had a slave disobey him. His resultant anger and disgust towards Patsey and himself, was the most difficult scene in the movie to watch.

The weakest link in this movie is Brad Pitt, who is also the executive producer. I have never considered him a good actor. He’s a star, not an actor. He is the messiah figure in the story, who comes in to rescue Solomon by writing to Solomon’s family about his kidnapping, which ultimately results in his freedom.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Solomon is an outstanding accomplishment for the actor and we will be hearing a lot from him in the coming months leading up to the Oscars. He played Solomon with the quiet defiance and disbelief that was essential for someone whose circumstances were turned upside down in a day. Fassbender gives a predictably great performance giving a lot of interesting dimensions to Epps. He does not make excuses for Epps being the person he is. He is ignorant and unapologetically cruel just like the thousands of slave owners around him in Louisiana.

The real stars of the movie is the real Solomon Northup and Steve McQueen. Solomon, for living and recording his story to bear witness to that black period in our history and Steve for bringing that story to life, without falling for a gimmicky, well polished, Hollywood depiction. The movie was story telling at its finest. Fast paced, emotional and above all real. I can’t help, but draw parallels with movies about the Holocaust. We have been very real,graphic and honest about depicting the horrible things that Nazi’s did to the Jews. But, I have not seen many instances of raw depiction of black slavery(might be my ignorance). McQueen with his visceral movie, forces us emotionally and physically to take a long hard look at our past, so that it is never ever repeated in the future.

Enough Said

Posted in Hollywood, New Releases with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by Roshan Mathew

I have to admit that I mostly wanted to see Enough said because I just couldn’t resist seeing James Gandolfini’s comforting teddy bear bulk once again on-screen. Even if he will be forever more be the mercurial Tony Soprano in my mind, I wanted to see him be someone different. Or I was just missing him on-screen…

It would be an insult to call Enough Said a romantic comedy. It is romantic and comic, but cannot be lumped into that genre(that thankfully seems to be dying) made famous by Nora Ephron and her saccharine sweet depiction of love and opportune coincidences.  Nicole Holofcener has given us a very grown up movie about real people, real relationships and the joy and pain that comes with it.

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced, at home masseuse who is getting ready to send her very normal for a teenager daughter off to college. She is slowly coming to the inevitable realization, that she has to make an effort to participate in her own life with the approach of her impending empty nest. She takes a chance on Albert(James Gandolfini) whom she met at a party. Albert is also a divorcee with a daughter going off to college at the same time as Eva’s.At the same time that she starts dating Albert, she gains a new client Marianne(Katherine Keener) whom she greatly admires for the way she conducts her bohemian  poet life with quite confidence and innate ease. Marianne and Eva becomes friends and this leads to the realization that the ex husband that Maianne bitches about constantly is Eva’s Albert. Eva continues her friendship with Marianne, while weasling the reasons of why Marianne divorced Albert. If Albert was not good enough for Marianne, why would he be good for Eva?

Before Eva comes to the realization that Albert is Marianne’s ex husband, Eva is completely happy in her relationship with Albert. She found him charming and funny and realizes that he could be the only person who really got her. Slowly Marianne’s views of Albert and his quirks start irking Eva and the relationship gets poisoned.

The movie is funny. But not in a Judd Apatow style mid-life crisis way. It just presents the reality of middle age and taking chances at that age, in a very genuine, emotional, funny way. The movie is full of real moments. There is no need for additional dramatic situations built into the script. A scene where Eva and her ex husband is at the airport, sending their daughter off to her new college life was heart wrenching. Not because, of any additional tear jerker situations or frames built-in, but because of the genuineness of  the situation. There are no closeups anyone’s teary faces. Just a scene as mundane as walking someone to a check in counter at the airport, but made poignant and heart wrenching just by the emotional super imposition of our own past and future grief and fears. All of us have at some point or other been in those shoes. Either as a parent or as a child, or both. It is these stripped down real moments, that makes this movie beautiful. The ending does not comprise of the inevitable conclusion of happily ever after, set to soaring climactic music, it is a just a conversation on a porch, just like it is usually is in real life. No drama, just life. Isn’t that enough?

Beautifully perceptive must see the movie with great performances all round. It was bitter-sweet to watch Gandolfini’s last performance. Now its time to revisit Tony Soprano.