Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes embraces the spiritual side in this deserving Oscar winner

I realize that not everybody celebrates Easter, but in honor of the Easter holiday and what it means to Christians like myself I am going to celebrate a film that represents the very best of humanity and what better than the 3D live-action, special effects adventure drama - Life Of Pi.

Ang Lee's Life Of Pi is a sumptuous film that tells the story of an Indian boy named Pi (his name is actually longer - Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel acted superbly by newcomer Suraj Sharma) whose family after losing their lease for the land on which the zoo is (in Pondicherry, India) must sell all of the animals and start over. Their father owns the animals but the property is owned by the Indian government. He receives an offer to sell all of the animals in Canada, so he loads up his family on a boat and off they go to Canada. 

When the ship hits a storm and sinks the only survivors are Pi and a few animals most notably the very Bengal Tiger that his father had warned him about. "That tiger is not your friend. He is a wild animal and you two will never be friends, as he will kill you to survive." To prove his point the father brings in a goat and forces his entire family watch what the tiger does to the goat. From that point on Pi avoids the tiger, as you can imagine. 

The ship, as I said sinks and after it is all said and done who do you think is on the one and only life raft in the middle of the ocean? Yep, you guessed it. Now how do you survive on a raft with a tiger when there is no where to run or hide? 

Life Of Pi is visually stunning and Ang Lee has every shot beautifully framed. The colors jump off the screen and bring the film alive but Life Of Pi has another thing going for it; an intelligent script by Dave Magee based on the novel by Yann Martel. It is a script about forgiveness and spiritual awakenings. Pi starts out as a Hindu, then dabbles in Islam, until he becomes a Christian almost purely by accident. He is not a perfect person but he is smart, questions things and learn from his mistakes but above all he holds no animosity towards anyone even a Bengal Tiger. After all, the tiger is only doing what it is programmed to do. 

Life Of Pi seems to be a more personal film for Ang Lee as is to speak of a spiritual journey for himself, as well. Of this I know not, as I can only speculate. It just seems that way as I watched. This has the most positive approach to Christianity (or any religion)  that I can remember in a film in a long time. In Hollywood to day most Christians are represented as the most vile people on earth; child molesters, rapists, murderers, you name it. The Christian seems to be the culprit in the most reprehensible ways. 

In Life Of Pi, he is different. There is a scene when Pi finally stands up and calls on God, "What do you want of me? I am here and I am ready to be your vessel." I was blindsided. It is rare Christians are represented in such a heartfelt way. I have a hat tip to Ang Lee and the makers of Life Of Pi. This is a great film for all reasons. It is funny, moving, poignant and above all compassionate besides the acting is top notch, the music by Mychael Danna is astounding so is the magnificent almost true life like Richard Parker, the tiger. I went into Life Of Pi kind of dubious and came out awestruck. This is one of the years best films. Life Of Pi-**** out of 4

Friday, March 29, 2013

Random Randomness

An utterly random post this one! You see sometimes I just get silly for no reason I can pin down. Music, Movies or maybe the company of good friends in a good mood... whatever it is it's fun and all too rare. 

Too often the creatives live in tiny boxes and we get so used to staring at the walls of our own inventions and imposed limits that we forget that this isn't the whole big world. We pull down and bury ourselves in the work. 

Jump up! Hey, it's kind of cool out here with the silly people. Not as a steady, diet, maybe, but for a lark, it's... well, a lark. Get me lit enough and I'll stand on the back deck and sing Vivaldi or dance tango steps at bus stops. Heck, I don't even have to be drunk on alcohol to do it. Drunk on giddiness will do. 

While laughing my head off with a friend over dinner in a pub, noticed that the single geek at the table next over was trying not to stare at us. Poor thing: crouching over his laptop and annoyed that the girls at the next were laughing and talking about sex, music, art and beer.... Obviously the poor fella needed a few more beers himself....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lost in Space

Galactically stupid but campy Sci-Fi fun 

For those of you too young (or were unborn like me then) to remember, Lost in Space was a reeking bucket of kiddie TV bait perpetrated by one Irwin Allen - TV producer, director of disaster movies, and nerf brain that aired between 1965 and 1968. 

The TV series was actually a sci-fi adaptation of the Johann David Wyss novel The Swiss Family Robinson. Its premise was that NASA had built a spaceship capable of reaching a nearby star, and to man the first expedition it chose an all-American family - one that demonstrated no observable skills, training, or intelligence. 

As expected in a plot of this kind, their flight is thrown off course by Dr. Smith - stowaway, saboteur, and flaming queen. They crash-land on a planet of cardboard boulders, where they encounter a nonstop parade of ludicrous aliens, and where they accept Dr. Smith into their family, despite the fact that he tries to kill them all on a weekly basis. 

Despite the cheesy nature of the whole affair, I got sucked into it when a friend loaned me an DVD set of the entire 3 series. Watching it reminded me when I was young and crazy about spaceships, robots and laser guns. The first series is lotsa fun but somewhere in the second series, you get the feeling that somebody is yanking your chain, as the plot gets crazier and preposterous.

Amazingly, I don't think this show was supposed to be a comedy. At least not at first. Eventually, those helming the series went with the flow and let it slide deeper into dopiness, and today the show has definite camp value.

For those who cant lay their hands on the TV series, you can watch the 1998, Stephen Hopkins directed big budget remake instead- with the same title Lost in Space. New Line Cinema apparently put a lot of eggs into this basket, giving it a reported budget of $80 million and a premium cast that includes William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Matt LeBlanc, Heather Graham and Gary Oldman

In spite of being a OK box office success, you'll be judging if its a sci-fi action movie for laughs or a sci-fi life in peril drama you are watching. C'mon, the family-in-space idea is just too absurd to base a drama on. No matter how you snazz it up with top-drawer actors, expensive sets, and digital effects, the premise will and is still galactically stupid.

Anyway, I don't think many of us have better ways of waste our time so grab a popcorn, switch off your convictions and enjoy the show. No matter whether you watch the TV series or the Movie remake, its one hell of a campy sci-fi fun!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Self-aggrandizing Me, Myself & Movie Blogging

Vanity, Cinema reviews & iconoclasms

I have been seeing a rather unusual upward spike in my Blog Traffic this year. New visitors, loads of comments and plenty of new subscribers! So, if you’re new to this blog, here’s how it works. 

Along with my fellow bloggers in crime, I ramble on and on and say whatever comes into our head - mostly films, music, everyday life, etc but by and large its Cinema (or at least if you consider all the recent posts). I think Peter Weller’s “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” released in 1984 is a cult gem. Wait a minute, did I say Buckaroo Banzai? I know what you’re thinking. We should be crazy but then everyone has opinions about movies! 

Here’s how it started many years ago! I was moonshining for an indie men’s magazine based at Seattle, and I got invited to write a weekly movie/music review column to give it a little zing and color. Well, I gave it tonnes of vim & zing and my contribution was tremendously popular (honestly). 

In a country-wide poll, my movie review column was voted the best new thing in recent issues - better even than the hot busty babes in the center spreads. I’m usually a diffident humble sort of fellow, but I confess that I could immediately see column syndication, international recognition, a potential best selling book, and incalculable prosperity just ahead. 

Then, all of a sudden, in one of those tragic ironies of job life, I was booted out - a victim of editorial jealousy or my editor would want to believe ‘corporate downsizing’. Maybe as Scott ‘Dilbert’ Adams would say, I got “happy-sized.” 

My only consolation being, a lot of people who still had their jobs at the mag, some of them the inept editors responsible for ousting me, were (and probably still are) night after night stupidly bringing DVDs of horrid movies like Cop Out, Gigli, Alexander, Blood Rayne…and later saying to their spouses, “Sorry, honey, I guess that wasn’t a good choice - I do wish Websnacker still wrote that video column.” Poor dumb slobs. 

Meanwhile, my column enjoyed a short but happy revived life in the web edition of a popular but (now dead) ezine, until my old blog was born (now, that’s dead too)! Ok! Enough of the self-aggrandizement! 

Let’s just say the column has continued in different reincarnations including this blog – a way to reassure my loyal readers and a welcome to a whole new generation of film devotees with energizing blend of cinematic criticism and inspiring movie iconoclasm. Well, at least until I burn all my savings, close my current company and lose my web capabilities. 

And for those of you who don’t know what I mean about that movie iconoclasm stuff, I’ll give you an example. Here’s a scandalous declaration: This year's Oscars sucked and Spielberg’s Lincoln was a unnecessarily long, boring, bad movie and the stuff they made about Slavery in the US – utterly and historically untrue! 

There, I said it. Now, if you feel weak, bend over, puke and put your head between your knees or drink up a Red Bull, go to your nearest library and pick a good history book!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stop the Violence

Its the Women's Day today but do we really care ?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beautiful Girls (1996)

A Stunning Cast, Great Lines and Nothing More!

Ted Demme's comedy drama ensemble piece bears a superficial resemblance to Barry Levinson's 1982 film Diner, but it's nowhere near as entertaining. As in Diner, the main characters are young male buddies who behave with exceptional ignorance around women, but unlike the guys in Diner, these fellows have few redeeming charms. 

The focal character, played by Timothy Hutton, returns to his small hometown in the north for a high-school reunion, and he catches up with his old gang of working-class cronies who still live in the town. He's having trouble making the big commitment to his girlfriend, and he hopes to sort out his thoughts during his stay, but his old friends are so hopeless in their attitudes toward women that he gets no inspiration there. 

The only person he connects with is the perceptive 13-year- old girl next door. The realism of the small-town setting and the snow-plowing business was promising, but this film didn't convince me. For one thing, so much of the comedy is out of sync with the rest of the film. At one point, for instance, Rosie O'Donnell flies through a comic monologue about the unreality of magazine superwomen, a speech that's unprovoked and, for an otherwise realistic film, unbelievable. 

Similarly, one of Hutton's friends, played by Michael Rapaport, delivers a poetic monologue on supermodels that's a funny set piece, but it's incongruous in the larger context of the film, where he's an inarticulate Neanderthal. Making Hutton's father a zombie and his brother a moron was a one-joke cop-out that was distracting and unsatisfying. 

There are only a few moments when this movie really clicks. Mostly they come in the amusing conversations between Hutton and Natalie Portman, who steals the film as the young neighbor who is wise beyond her years. She teases him, flirts, psychoanalyzes, and draws him out about his love life through Socratic dialogue, until each becomes quietly smitten with the other. The acting of Portman in these scenes is positively magical, and I wanted so much to buy it, but her character is impossibly precocious, and her part is ultimately a bogus gimmick in a script whose inner workings, and failings, are too obvious. Also starring Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Lauren Holly, Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich and Pruitt Taylor Vince.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

End Of Watch (2012)

Possibly the Best LAPD Cop Movie in recent times

David Ayer's End Of Watch has been hailed as one of the best cop buddy movies of 2012.  And its indeed the right accolade for its much more than just another cop buddy film - intense, laced with grit, humor and shot in real life docu drama style. 

At the core of this film is respect for the people in uniform who take their life in their hands day after day and with each traffic stop, that could be their last. This applies to the good people in uniform the world over. A cop movie about honor, loyalty and the love of brothers literally but in this film two men not related but brothers all the same. 

End Of Watch tells the story of two LAPD patrol officers who stumble onto a house taken over by a Mexican drug cartel that has a horrifying discovery. This bust lands both officers on the hit list by the cartel. Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Pena) are the two officers and their banter which to my understanding had some parameters written by Ayer (Training Day) but that most of their dialogue was ad libbed and it comes out as sheer genius. 

Not only is the dialogue spoken realistically but whatever Ayer's contributions were also were effective - the two stars and Ayer know they do not have to oversell their material and they don't. So everything else that flows from this story seems so real and so intense you will be glued to your chair, eyes fixated on the screen. 

This is a terrific but BRUTAL film. It has been ranked as 6th all time with curse words that begin with F and the violence seems very accurate to what the police have to contend with. Not only is the acting by Gyllenhaal and Pena superb but even the Mexican gang (that is literally gunning for the cops) give an outstanding performance. 

The actors really seem right for their parts, more so than a lot of similar films bad guys. I mean, after all, these films are only as good as their bad guys. The good guys we KNOW have to be good. But for us to really care about the heroes we have to REALLY hate the bad guys, and you will positively HATE THEM. 

Trust me. David Ayer's End Of Watch is hardcore and is not for the squeamish but it is a fantastic look into a the days of lives by LAPD's finest and bravest. The film never puts one foot wrong and by the end of the film I defy anybody to watch the final scenes without getting at least a lump in your throat. A definite must watch movie! End Of Watch-**** out of 4. JohnnyTwoToes
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