Archive for October, 2013

Captain Phillips

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Captain Phillips
Release date: October 18, 2013 (India)
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Michael Chernus, David Warshofsky, Chris Mulkey, Mohamed Ali, Issak Farah Samatar, Omar Berdouni

This Captain Phillips review was supposed to be completed last week, but Somalian pirates kidnapped me! Okay, no, they didn’t. I slacked off, got into other commitments and couldn’t get back to typing it.

Captain Phillips is based upon the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. It’s a retelling of events that took place on one of Captain Richard Phillips’ voyages through the African waters. As the posters blaringly proclaim, it’s a biopic.

The film starts off with Phillips (Tom Hanks) being portrayed as a thorough family-man. Which is perhaps the only motivation for his subsequent conquests. He takes command of the MV Maersk Alabama at a port in Oman, with orders to sail its cargo through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa. He keeps writing emails to his wife from the ship, and on a watery morning he decides to order for a security drill to see if his fat, unfit crewmen can wear off the looming Somalian pirates.

The drill turns out to be a real life situation soon, as Phillips spots the two approaching skiffs. He fends off them at first, managing to outrun them. The next morning, a more powerful boat resumes on the hijacking mission, under Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) This time there’s no escaping for the American ship, the Somalians finally capture them and hope for a big ransom. The on-board crew work it smartly with their captain and get hold of Muse, but they are pirates, and as senior crew member John Cronan (Chris Mulkey) says, they aren’t the navy. The pirates just take away Phillips in a lifeboat and now that’s their trump card.

From there on, the US government orders for a safe recovery of the captain and the skinny Muse becomes the authoritative captain of the lifeboat who’s trying to gain as much leeway as possible with the Americans for the release of their captive. The Seals come, they go, they arrive again, they negotiate some and some more. Through all of this, there’s Phillips with his scrappy survival and no inspiration whatsoever for the viewer to cheer for him, except that he’s the protagonist. He’s benevolent yet there’s something amiss about him.

No subtext has been given to the attackers, but there’s not much to bear on the constant haggling and badgering between the two sides either. The film is exciting, from a closure standpoint. I was hooked only for him to get out. Captain Phillips isn’t enjoyable, and it’s not even meant to be. The absence of any kind of elicitation is more concerning than the survival story. Hanks and Abdi are both very strong in their parts. Issak Farah Samatar as the hotheaded Hufan proves to be good foil to the composed Muse.

The story’s interesting, it even compels you to be at the edge of your seat but it’s just a LITTLE superficial for me.

P.S. The last scene with Hanks’ bawling is extremely brilliant.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Shahid

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Shahid
Release date: October 18, 2013
Directed by: Hansal Mehta
Cast: Raj Kumar Yadav, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Baljinder Kaur, Prabhleen Sandhu, K K Menon, Prabal Panjabi, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vipin Sharma

Every time I read a “Based on a true story” disclaimer before the film starts, or even in trailers or on posters, my interest is pined and I may even Google about the person in question. Besides, I’d anticipate a certain level of justice to be done to the person’s story to an extent. Shahid is inspired from Shahid Azmi’s life, a person who faced the wrath of injustice only to value the importance of justice.

The film has a straightforward approach in terms of its storytelling and its narration as well. Crunched in a small Dongri apartment, Shahid (Raj Kumar) lives with his three brothers and mother. Out of his three brothers, Arif (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) is the oldest and he is Shahid’s confidant. The timeline stretches back to the January 1993 riots to give you the instant realistic creeps as crude violence jumps into your face at the very start.

In a fit of anger, or perhaps to salvage some lost dignity in his own eyes, Shahid joins a militia training camp in the snowy mountains of Kashmir. Soon he realizes he’s not cut out to be a religiously provoked militant, but he’s punished for being “poor and defenseless”, an unclear period of six years. While serving his time he finds his calling, influenced by another inmate, taking up law as a graduation major and putting it to use for fighting for the cause of implicated poor Muslim youngsters, or other persons of interest who are inherently innocent.

His journey makes him increasingly independent, as the organizations and people backing him constantly become worried about Shahid’s own well being in the face of recurring life threats from unknown mercenaries. The “other side” or the opposition is faceless and appreciably handled with the given mystique, as the actual motivations for Azmi’s murderers were never fully looked into. He was defending Faheem Ansari in his last case. The film refuses to focus on the various conspiracy theories and instead decides to tell an inspiring tale of courage and determination.

Raj Kumar’s performance is superlative. He is the bumbling teenager, caught in a web of darkness and the spontaneous firebrand in the courtroom; both with equal ease and conviction. His exchanges with Vipin Sharma, who is the public prosecutor in a case, are gems of unlikely familiarity. The insides of the Indian judiciary are depicted with careful precision, no garish benches, no outlandish glowing coats, just plastic chairs galore.

Again, Raj Kumar’s portrayal reaches other depths by the assistance of his support characters. Shahid’s brother Arif (Ayyub) turns tired of playing the go-to guy, Mariyam (Prabhleen Sandhu) is charmed by the dynamic lawyer’s honesty and eventually weary from his erratic work hours. His mother (Baljinder Kaur) displays the unsuspectingly feisty characteristics that every Indian woman surprises us with. The characters are given a fair treatment, and the actors in return give more than just a fair effort to the task.

Shot on location in Mumbai, there are the few cliched shots of the Haji Ali and the kabootarkhaana, yet they are passable. The cinematography is extensively handheld, which simply adds to the feel of small spaces inside Mumbai cramped houses. At a runtime length of two hours, Shahid (the film) is simplistically appealing and moving. It never wanders off the path and marches on with an underlining positive message even if the result is a known grim one. Perhaps, the best biopic of this year.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Gravity

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Gravity
Release date: October 11, 2013
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sanda Bullock, George Clooney, Paul Sharma

Alfonso Cuaron’s latest offering at the genre he possibly loves the most (Science fiction) or the audiences love him the most for, is Gravity. With just a space shuttle and a handful of onboard crew members, Gravity keeps drifting in space with its characters and what a drift it is!

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a Mission Specialist on her first ever intergalactic expedition along with Dr. Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) who’s on his final mission. It’s just the final walk before their return to earth, Stone is servicing a part of the spaceship, while Kowalsky is trying to break Anatoly’s record and Sherrif (Paul Sharma) is singing Mera Joota Hai Japaani. In constant touch with their Houston groundstation, they are informed of a Russian missile colliding with a defunct satellite to cause a chain reaction of collisions. Soon, communication breaks down.

The three of them are also affected by the propulsion of debris in the space. From a moment of “loving it” up there, because it’s so silent, to getting flung in an unending abyss with no gravity. The mood changes from lively to life threatening. The journey is now not anymore about planting a comm board for medical research, it’s about surviving and landing on Mother Earth alive. The screenplay then relies on simple and uncomplicated human emotions, breaking down the space talk and purely focusing on the protagonists’ insecure state of mind.

Cuaron along with his cinematographer Emmanuel Leubezki creates an excellent, enthralling picture of the extraterrestrial space by timely tracking the camera ranging between juxtaposing visuals of the blackhole-esque space and the surface of our planet on the horizon; going inside the character’s bodysuit and developing a different perspective reflecting helplessness and longing for any kind of human contact or the wish to hear an uncommon sound of a baby crying, or a barking dog.

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The screenplay is taut and never gets dull or uninteresting given the limited scope of fringe characters. Only the slight reference to a cheesy supernatural happening may get hard to swallow for a moment. The 3D is also perhaps the best you’ll ever see, it cannot be replaced with 2D photography and this is how the use of 3D should be justified in making any film on that canvas. (Yes, I wear 3D glasses over my usual vision glasses.)

Steven Price’s score emphasizes on the silence inside the vacuum and stays there in the background, doing its job and never tries to hijack what the characters are up to. Bullock’s facials aren’t played up until she loses the bodysuit in the second half. She fights fire, contemplates life and hopes against the impossible and even surrenders to fate just how a first timer Ryan would. Clooney’s Kowalsky is wired and entwined with his personal charm, providing for all the lightness in all the chaos.

Gravity may be the closest you’ll get to experience a perfect cinematic journey this year. In all its astronomical mumbo-jumbo (if you call it that) there’s an elementary story done good.

My rating: ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

Prisoners

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Prisoners
Release date: September 27, 2013 (India)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Erin Gerasimovich, Kyla Drew Simmons, Zoe Borde, Dylan Minnette, David Dastmalchian

On the day of Thanksgiving, the Dover family heads over to the Birch house for their traditional turkey. The Birch kids, Eliza (Zoe Borde) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) take the visiting Dover kids out around.  Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy start playing near a creepy RV, the older siblings pull them back into the house and suddenly Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) asks them to stay away from the basement (?)

The basic plot or the conflict surfaces within the first 25 minutes of this 150 minute long film. The two small girls, Anna and Joy disappear. Everyone starts looking for them and the creepy RV is nowhere to be seen anymore. Agent Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) has the cliche “never left a case unsolved” tag to him and he’s the assigned detective for these suspected kidnappings. He has a constant twitch, he has a neck tattoo and another on his arm and that’s why wears full-sleeved shirts with the collar button firmly in place.

The characters here develop according to the space provided to them by the narrative. Jackman’s Keller Dover is a grim carpenter who’s into hearing religious sermons whenever he can. His character’s wife Grace (Maria Bello) undergoes a paradigm shift in her personality when Anna remains untraceable. She talks of an unknown promise made to her by Keller and his rage mode aggravates. The story’s suspense of who-is-the-kidnapper or who-is-the-child-killer is interesting, but the use of other distracting potential suspects is unfounded at times.

Bob Taylor (David Dastmalchian), Father Patrick Dunn (Len Cariou), Holly Jones (Melissa Leo) and Alex Jones (Paul Dano) all fall into the bracket of possible links to lead to the solution of the case, and all except one flounder due to the writing. Even the eventual discovery of the abductor has no strong point in its balance for the reasoning behind all the continued crimes of the same pattern. To make people lose their faith– as the master conspirator confesses, faith as a whole quality is only restricted to Keller Dover and no one else. And how does he/she know that the victim’s parents believe in religion. Who knows, we have atheist parents too!

Prisoners purely succeeds from Gyllenhaal’s remarkable performance and Paul Dano’s puzzling act. The camera remains placed behind a wall at many times, often a separating line between the characters present to represent the difference. It gets repetitive after a while. Also, you get a good focused pure closeup of a tree trunk for a meaty 8 seconds. There’s a lot here, but the result is a tad disappointing.

My rating: *** (3 out of 5)

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