Great Movies – The Damned United: Ambition, Friendship, Respect with some Football on the Side

Great Movies – The Damned United: Ambition, Friendship, Respect with some Football on the Side

The Damned United is a 2009 biographical sports drama film directed by Tom Hooper, written by Peter Morgan and stars Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, and Jim Broadbent. The film tells a largely fictional tale of Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day spell as the manager of Leeds United whilst recounting his rise to prominence to be deserving of the biggest job in the land.

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Instead of going on with my regular write-up, I’m going to try and explain my admiration for this film via the deep bond I have with 2 specific scenes in it.

Let’s start off as we almost always do with one of those folksy anecdotes I use to make sense of cinema. The world of pro-wrestling is built on the foundations of respect. The code dictates that you know your place in the company and always show respect to your fellow wrestlers. One of the ways to do this is, when you run into another wrestler backstage, you extend your hand to give out a handshake. It is a code strictly enforced and followed by all. I say this because this film has one of my favorite inciting incidents that kicks the plot into motion. The story is predicated on a handshake or lack thereof.

I’m a huge believer in honor codes and respecting your fellow man, no matter how high or low they are on the totem pole of social standing. The incident hits home for me and I get wrapped up in the story every time I see it happen.

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The next anecdote I have comes thanks to the most celebrated innovator from the world of racing, Enzo Ferrari. It is said that Ferrari believed that a race was won or lost even before the car’s engine turned on, on the race track. He valued the power of preparation and planning to such a high degree.

This sentiment is echoed in this film in an excellently executed scene. The moment of truth for Brian Clough where his years of preparation come to a head with his reverse fixture against Leeds United as the manager of Derby County. With a mountain of nerves and humiliation staring him in the face if things were to go wrong, Michael Sheen’s Brian Clough walks into his team’s dressing room with the calm reserved for only the best of snipers.

There is no rousing speech. There is no swelling music. Every single man in that room knows the task at hand and what they need to do to make themselves champions. A bunch of fired up footballers walks onto the pitch but Clough himself stays in his office throughout the duration of the match. The slow moving clock, the cheers of the audience, the score that accompanies the scene and Martin Sheen’s face which acts as a canvas of human emotion all combine to form those few seconds of cinematic excellence which captures the human experience to the finest degree. I FUCKING LOVE IT.

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I LOVE THIS MOVIE, loved it the first time I saw it. This might be the 15th time I’m rewatching it and I love it even more. The direction, the camera work, the character arcs, the high stakes, the relationship between the two leads, the joy of sport, the sheer destructive repercussions of ambition, the distinctly British feel the film possesses all meld in with my love of football and leave me speechless at every watch because I’m too busy cheering my nuts off.

One need not be a fan of football (I refuse to call it soccer) to like this film. As the best sci-fi films are never about the future but a commentary about the present, this film is not about football. It is about respect, ambition, rivalries and the power of friendship

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Great Movies – Whiplash: The Prices We Willingly Pay For What We Truly Want

Great Movies – Whiplash: The Prices We Willingly Pay For What We Truly Want

Whiplash is a 2014 drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. It stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The film depicts the progression of the relationship between an ambitious drummer and his aggressive instructor.

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Every time I rewatch this wonderful piece of cinema, a line from “The Prestige” comes to mind. Tesla (David Bowie) and Angier (Hugh Jackman) have a discussion wherein the latter asks the former to build him a cloning apparatus. Tesla asks Angier a specific question “Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?” to which Angier responds “Price is not an object.” Tesla, realizing Angier’s one track mind reiterates by saying “Perhaps not, but have you considered the *cost*?”. A cursory look at the aforementioned conversation accurately displays the primary theme this film is going for.

I’m riveted by this film every single time I watch it because I sit in my chair and ask myself, “Am I that guy who would risk it all and never be discouraged while trying to achieve greatness in something I’m passionate about?”. My personal thought process coalesces with the story unfolding on screen and it leaves me with curled up fingers, held up breath and unblinking eyes as the end credits roll. The film is a fantastic cinematic experience.

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There is not much I can say, that hasn’t already been said, about the performances, music, lighting, pacing, and direction. The shots are expertly crafted, the music is euphoric and poignant with everything else in between added in for good measure, for a film about “drumming” (which it is not), the film has an electric pace and the look, mood, and tone of the film only add to the overall aura of infallibility the film possesses. The acting is just so very good. So very very very very good. Expect for that “I’m upset” bit, so very very excellently good. God damn man. That is my absolute mixed fruit jam.

My only ding against the film would be the moderately week romance subplot. It seems quite out of place because it fails to match the tone of the film. I do concede that the film needed something to show Andrew’s near-psychotic levels of obsession with his craft demolishing every other human connection else in its path but I’d have liked to see something else depicting it or this subplot explored better. But, ’tis but a scratch on the champ’s face.

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I’d love nothing more than to settle in explaining every single facet and scene of this excellent film while writing a blog post which would equate to a thesis paper but I’d like more to not influence any reader’s thoughts. (I’d still suggest watching Lessons From The Screenplay’s video about Whiplash)

This film plays slightly differently every time I watch it owing to the fact that I’m not the same man at every rewatch. I’ve learned something new, I’ve grown as a person, my view of the world has been shifted ever so slightly and this film looks different, sounds different, plays differently but never fails to be excellent. Really really great cinema can do that.

I wish I could throw roses and the screen, clap loudly and say “Bravo” (like a opera watching dandy) on my next viewing.

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The Lost City of Z: Oscar Bait Released Too Late

The Lost City of Z: Oscar Bait Released Too Late

The Lost City of Z is a 2016 biographical drama film written and directed by James Gray. It stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmidand Franco Nero. The film gives the audience an account of the life of famed explorer Percy Fawcett and his attempts at finding The Lost City of Z deep in the Amazonian jungles.

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The Lost City of Z is one of those films every critic raves about but falls off the map just as quickly. It could be one of those films that release every Oscar season. It has all the hallmarks an Oscar bait movie could have: the writing is going to tight, the cinematography (by Darius Khnodji, love that guy) is going to be awesome, the direction is top notch, the performances are all good, it’s a biopic etc. you know how it is. It’s just that all that technical mastery cannot amount up to a truly memorable film when all is said and done. It’s not a bad film but I would be lying if I said it was a great one.

The story of the film is intriguing. I have read many a time that we as a species have lost a lot of our technical advances or have had to re-learn many things because our ancestors failed to keep written records/lost records due to wars, natural disasters etc. It is an idea that has fascinated me for the longest time. The film had me hooked before the plot actually kicked in. The film began and between being distracted by how starkly different good old Robert Pattinson looks and really getting into the first act of the film, I found myself losing interest in what was happening onscreen quite rapidly. Not a good sign.

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I would like to explain my mindset while watching this film by comparing it to the TV show House. House has a very specific formula to it (a reason for me losing interest with it), a fact long time viewers could vouch for. The 4 act TV script has very similar tropes it follows with almost every episode. Sick guy comes in, everyone diagnoses it crappily when House diagnoses it correctly, the sick guy gets worse and finally, he’s saved by House’s genius. This film suffers from a similar drawback.

Yes, this is a story of one man’s dream and how he intended to achieve it by any means necessary but the fatal flaw is that each of his attempts seems eerily similar to the first one. The law of diminishing returns states that these scenarios will soon end up being tedious and leave the audience tepid. The film, to its credit, tries it’s best to make these scenarios exciting but for me, there is a whole lot of been there done that within the film itself, let alone other movies.

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I can see where the critical praise for this film comes from. It is all about the technicality and craft involved with the production. I know people who like to shower praises on a film because of those internet-friendly buzz words like, but not limited to, deliberate pacing, beautifully shot, takes time with its storytelling, doesn’t have a million cuts, classic filmmaking sensibilities and so on. But, all those great parts do not make for a compelling whole. I could sit here and nod with the crowd but there comes a time in every man’s life where he needs to take a stand, this is mine.

Overly dramatic for a random internet review indeed but that out of left field statement has more dramatic weight than the film itself does on a whole. Quite the forgettable film even though it brims with a whole lot of quality for the simple reason that it fails to be arresting.

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A Death In The Gunj: Rises Above Its Plodding Pace To Deliver Moments of Excellence

A Death In The Gunj: Rises Above Its Plodding Pace To Deliver Moments of Excellence

A Death In The Gunj is a 2016 drama-thriller directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, written by Konkona Sen Sharma and Mukul Sharma and stars Vikrant Massey, Tillotama Shome, Gulshan Devaiah, Om Puri, Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Tanuja and Jim Sarbh. The film follows the lives of a family who go on a seemingly uneventful holiday to McCluskieganj.

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There are two schools of thought I had to look into while watching A Death In The Gunj. One side of me wanted to enjoy this movie for being a deliberately paced, character driven art film. The other end of me wanted to scream out at the tedious, plodding and pretentious mess this film was on the cusp of becoming. The film, miraculously, tows the line between being entertaining and sticking to its art house roots quite well.

The things I loved about this film are aspects which may stay with me and marinate in my mind for the foreseeable future. Vikrant Massey’s spellbinding performance as Shutu had me riveted from the first frame I spotted him in. The character is fantastically written and carried off with aplomb. Full marks to the man’s physical acting, his mannerisms, his facial emoting, and so many other little ticks that make the character who he is. I could have done without the “My Favorite Words From E” moment as it feels a bit too on the nose to add some quirks to a soon to be fully fleshed out character.

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All the other great parts of the film fall under the technical/filmmaking category. The film is gorgeously shot and every frame is lit perfectly. Be it candle lights, dark rooms or bright sunny days, the film’s mood and tone are carried across by how strong those technical aspects are. A shout out to the sound department. The foley work and ambient score are just magnificent and add much-required personality which sets the film apart from the herd while working as a showcase for Konkona Sen Sharma’s assured direction. Some of the shots in the film are expertly composed and one of the final shots of the film, which involves a tree, is not one I’ll forget soon.

On the flip side, the film’s drawbacks are its supporting characters and pace. This is not to say the actors aren’t doing their job well, far from it. I’d categorize these supporting characters are functional characters more than fully formed people. Yes, there are allusions to backstories for these people but their current state of affairs are not compelling enough to make me care. Ranvir Shorey’s “douchebag” character is cringeworthy at best and some choice words I’d rather not use at worst. Some of the dialogues they are given are stilted and function as exposition dumps which do not help the cause.

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The film suffers from weird ebbs and flows. There are these exceptionally tense scenes sandwiched between long stretches of nothingness. The film’s energy level dips constantly. A tighter edit and shorter scenes might have gone a long way in making this film a hugely more enjoyable experience.

That being addressed, I’d highly recommend this film to people and ask them to look at it from an insular perspective. The character work put into Shutu and how deftly his mental deterioration is handled impressed me to no end. I’d not go as far as to call his mental condition depression, as I’m clearly not qualified enough to make assumptions when the film doesn’t do it itself, but a deep dive into a young man’s much-damaged psyche executed with the slow-burn it deserves is commendable show of a first time director’s fortitude.

 

 

Wonder Woman: A Fantastic Film Sandwiched Between Some Generic Noise

Wonder Woman: A Fantastic Film Sandwiched Between Some Generic Noise

Wonder Woman is a 2017 superhero film directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs and stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen and Elena Anaya. The film follows the life of Diana, The Princess of Themyscira as she comes into the world of men to fulfill her goal of eliminating the God of War.

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Alright, before anyone lynches me, this is a really enjoyable film. I had a ball watching it with a couple of friends of mine and I’m proud so say I led the cheers in the cinema hall when Wonder Woman actually walks out onto the battlefield as “Wonder Woman.” Stuff like that makes me happy. The good parts of the film are more than obvious within the first half hour. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine elevate a rather generic plot to because of the charm they individually possess and the chemistry they share as a duo. One can easily buy the relationship between them. Dare I say, they are the most “real” couple of any of the films on the Marvel/DC slate. I genuinely cared about their journey as a duo and was affected by every twist and turn their characters encountered.

Some of the action sequences are truly epic. Yes, those scenes and the film at large do suffer from some poorly rendered CGI/green screen effects but being invested in the action might help one turn a blind eye to those moments of imperfection. The humor is very well done, a few of the supporting characters are very likable and most of all her theme music. WOW. Just WOW. I’ve been unable to get that music out of my head since Batman V. Superman. It is one the best superhero themes since Batman’s theme from The Dark Knight trilogy.

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The film’s major drop off points come with its initial character establishments and at the final conflict. There is an insufferable blandness with the first 15 minutes of the film. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen are criminally underused and so are the island full of Amazonian women. This wouldn’t bother me as much if the film left me with a good taste in my mouth at the closing exchanges.

The third act of this film begins with so much promise. There is an absolutely brilliant moment that alludes to a lot of character growth which is acted and directed perfectly. The story could have gone one of two ways from that point on and to my dismay, the story chose the wrong end of the stick. How the third act plays out is a microcosm of the film at large. Fantastic filmmaking and storytelling sandwiched between generic superhero tropes. There are elements of brilliance lost to noise. I’d have loved to see a more emotionally resonant ending to cap the film off but we go with what we have.

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The film also indulges in a long-standing frustration of mine which permeates many superhero films, a few examples being, Superman vs Doomsday, Superman vs Zod, Wonder Woman vs Ares, Star-Lord vs His Father, Scarlet Witch vs Vision, Iron Man vs Hulk and much more. The gripe being God-like characters punching each other in a cloud of noise and CGI wth no discernable meaning and an anti-climactic end. The power levels of those heroes/villains are never fully explained on a specific nor are their weaknesses. So, when a film says the character has attained a higher level of power, the audience has no frame of reference to use as said characters have been god-like all along. Also, killing a God should be impossible for obvious reasons. I’d say look to Dr. Strange on how to handle fighting Gods with aplomb.

My sliver of advice to any moviegoer would be to manage expectations while walking into watch this film. It is most definitely a good film with a lot of personality, charm, and effervescence while also falling prey to the many cliches that accompany films of this genre.

P.S. – A 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes is great to look at and all that but to use the website to your advantage and to gauge the actual quality of a film, check this little line under the tomatometer titled RATING. It gives you the actual decimal score of the film on a scale of 10, that might act as a more accurate representation of the film’s overall standard.

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Baywatch: Come For The Boobs and The Biceps, Stay For The Bullshit and Boredom

Baywatch: Come For The Boobs and The Biceps, Stay For The Bullshit and Boredom

Baywatch is a 2017 action comedy directed by Seth Gordon, written by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant and stars Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, David Hasselhoff, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach. The film follows the Baywatch crew as they attempt to stop a drug trading real estate baron from taking over the beach.

Look, I did not go into this movie expecting it to be a masterpiece in comedy. Frankly, I do not care about the hypersexualization of the men and women onscreen. We know what this movie is about and if we choose to be triggered by that, tough cookies for said trigger happy folk. The simplest problem with this film is that it’s not good. It’s not funny. it’s not compelling, it’s not entertaining, it’s just not good.

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You know what, I know that this is a stupid popcorn movie and I’m supposed to turn my brain off while watching it but I’ll ask the collective internet or the filmmakers themselves if they ever run into this essay, a question:

If there were packs of drugs washing up on the beach/in possession of beachgoers on a regular basis, why do we not inform the cops or the coast guard and have them on patrol? Could they not start an investigation themselves? It’s not like the Baywatch crew solved the case in a day. I’m sure the DEA would love to hear about this. People have been killed for lesser crimes.

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I’m just *deep breath* I don’t know what to say when 6 screenwriters sit at a table and this is the best they could come up with. This is the least compelling/entertaining role The Rock has even been in. He is just jock lifeguard guy who doles out big speeches with his big muscles and what else. Seriously, what is his character? I concede that he is not a “great” actor but he needs something to work with. Slapping him on your movie doesn’t make it good.

Zac Efron is the only person who has some sort of character arc no matter how flat it falls. Most everyone else is on the payroll to be eye candy. The three girls are extremely interchangeable. One sentence sums up all 3 “beautiful girls, who are nice and are “strong” female characters because they “save” lives”. And then comes the absolute worst character of the bunch, the comic relief “fat” guy.

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Now look, I’m not a good basketball player. I’m not tall enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not that guy. So would the Golden State Warriors draft me onto their team because I trialed for them every year without any significant improvement in my skill set? NO. I’m not worth the place on the team because I’m going to take a spot away from a truly worthy guy who put in years of hard work to learn the craft and to condition his body to match the cut-off limits the sport requires. This film pretends that “heart” is all you need to be a man who is tasked with saving lives on a daily basis. I mean, HOW? Don’t forget that the film teaches the perfectly real and relevant lesson that “if you do a good deed, you’ll be rewarded with a hot girl who’ll have sex with you”.

I’m sure I’ve got my point across by now. The film is a cheap ploy to wrangle money from a few horny people who don’t remember that they have access to free porn or True Detective (if you know, you know). Priyanka Chopra’s considerable talent is completely wasted, the source material is trash anyway and Alexandra Daddario’s magnetic eyes can only distract me so long from the steaming pile of poorly rendered CG garbage unfolding on-screen.

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The Rock: The Michael Bay Movie We Deserve

The Rock: The Michael Bay Movie We Deserve

The Rock is a 1996 action film directed by Michael Bay, written by David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, and Mark Rosner and stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn and William Forsythe. The film follows the story of an FBI chemist and a former SAS Captain as they attempt to stop a group of rogue US Marines from unleashing multiple rockets filled with VX gas on San Fransisco.

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So let’s address the elephant in the room. “Welcome to The Rock” is what Dwayne Johnson says when he brings a woman to his bedroom right?

Alright, moving along.

Once the end credits started to roll, I had but one thought. Why did I like this film as much as I did? I know the plot is preposterous. I know Nic Cage didn’t throw in a crazy Nic Cage performance (which would have made this movie infinitely more enjoyable). I know every action scene is cut to death, I know all that and much more. So, why didn’t I hate it? I zeroed in on an answer a second after I asked myself those questions. The answer is

*drum roll please*

I did not think of any of those things while watching the movie.

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As simple as that, the movie was so fantastically paced that I had no time to think about any of those issues. I was completely engaged starting minute 1. Ed Harris was busy chewing scenes up for breakfast and his motivations alone had me wired in. I was too busy taking that one breath of air in the segues that I dared not to take my eyes off the screen. What happened to this Michael Bay? Is it his doing that this film plays as well as it does or is the uncredited script rewrites done by Sorkin and Tarantino that make the film as compelling as it is? I truly don’t know nor do I care.

It is one of the very few big dumb action movies which is smart enough and dumb enough in equal measure that the tightrope act it does while not falling into either extreme makes it truly enjoyable popcorn schlock. The plot is simple. The actors suit their roles. Some of the scenes are tense as fuck. Strangely enough, there is a good deal of emotional resonance to it. And also, having a few shades of A Few Good Men make this film oddly relatable.

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I keep myself away from big action spectacles for the most part because I dread one simple thing. Most action films have downtime between scenes where the action and plot come to a grinding halt as the film goes out of its way to infuse its characters with some “traits”. And most of the time, the character development is not strong or interesting enough for me to care about it. I slowly sit back in my chair and think about the plot thus far and that is when I start deconstructing the film while watching its most boring moments. More often than not, said film eats itself alive and stops being compelling. A recent example of that very phenomenon would be Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2.

The Rock does no such thing. I knew what I was getting into. The film delivered action and thrills in spades. The character moments are deftly woven in with well-executed action sequences and most of all, the sheer kinetic energy propelling the plot makes me smile like an idiot child while watching the film. I know we’ve lost Michael Bay to studio mandated cash grabs but it is fun to reminisce about a time when he was one of our most promising action directors.

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