Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Wednesday

An Indian action-thriller where we follow the police over the course of a day chasing down a potential terrorist. In the morning, a call comes in from a man claiming to have planted several bombs throughout the city. One of these is in the police station, and when that one is found, the threat is real. The demand of the terrorist is the immediate release of 5 men serving time in prison who also have terrorist connections. The police chief and two of his trusted officers work throughout the day to insure the safety of the people of Mumbai. This film fills the typical no-nonsense form of Asian action thrillers. There is no time "wasted" developing character or background. Instead, there is a problem to be solved and we are working to solve it...quickly. The feel of the film is hasty, if not skittish. But in fact, based on the tension that the plot is building, this pacing actually accentuates the experience of watching the film. A bit like Speed or even Crank where the circumstances of the film and the style of direction build the tension. And at the same time, by the end you feel that you know a bit more about the characters than you would in any Hollywood action thriller. Somehow, it all gets in...
3 stars (out of 5)

The Social Network

This film has been getting good reviews and I just couldn't fathom why. It seemed like it would be in the same vein as the Jobs v. Gates film Pirates of Silicon Valley and all of its made-for-TV glory. And in some ways, it is. We get the story of the invention and development of Facebook and some of the back story on the main players (primarily Mark Zuckerberg). We get the tension between Zuckerberg and his co-founder Eduardo Saverin, his Harvard elitist enemies and basically the world. And we get a story of how a nerd is finally in charge of something cool and are left wondering if he really is seeing a long term view in building this thing, or whether he is just a nerd who can't deal with letting his coolness fade. I was engaged throughout this film and am really having a hard time point a finger to a specific reason. I guess I will attribute it to good acting and an engaging story that wasn't just paparazzi news.

One thing that I did find fascinating is the lack of a sympathetic protagonist. Instead, there were three distinct types of asses that drove the film. Zuckerberg, Sean Parker (of Napster fame) and the Harvard elite. Zuckerberg was an ass to most people, but I don't think he knew that he was. He was simply not engaged with the relational part of any relationship he had and was instead engaged with the intellectual gamesmanship that a relationship provided. This carried over into his business as well and I will call him the Intellectual Ass. Parker was portrayed as a "F--- the Man" ass who was really about being the "The Man 2.0". Everything revolves around "The Man 2.0" and he thinks he is so revolutionary that no one would confuse him with The Man, but it is painfully obvious that he is just a Narcissistic Ass. Finally, there are the Harvard elite asses. I use Harvard here because that was the role played in the film by the Winklevoss brothers (I have no particular gripe with Harvard). Their particular brand of ass-ness is based on inherited wealth and entitlement. They are in fact The Man, even as 20-something undergrads. All of this leads me to wonder if there is in fact a classification of asses. For example, is there an enneagram of asses, where different ass types have specific characteristics? I am sure there are and I am sure that the three named here are pretty common. It was just interesting to see three distinct types (Intellectual, Narcissistic and Elitist Ass) portrayed so clearly and distinctly in a single film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The story of Hypatia, the renown philosopher of Alexandria in the 300's A.D. Very fictionalized in that we don't really know what science or study she was able to complete. As such, creative license was given over to allow her to work out the motion of the planets as elliptical orbits some 1200 years before Kepler was able to do so. But the science/philosophy is a back story. Instead, this is a story of the developing political power of the Christians in a pagan world. As the Christians gain more momentum and popular support, they increasingly take control of the bureaucratic structures as well as the intellectual structures of Alexandrian society, leading to the famed burning of the library. Since this is obviously highly fictionalized, I am not sure about the historical basis. What I wonder is how true to fact the cultural portrayals are. In an ancient urban area, how much mob mentality and killing in the streets really happened? How violent and despicable were "the christians" really? I am sure quite (based on the history of the crusades and even 20th century events) but the imagery seemed to fall too neatly into my preconceived notions and for some reason did not ring authentic. Perhaps an authentic portrayal of ancient urban culture would sell even less tickets that Agora did as written. Overall, while I found this interesting and at times painful in its portrayal of the christians, I also found it too slow to develop and rather "made-for-TVish".
2 stars (out of 5)

Friday, October 22, 2010


Clint Eastwood is pretty much golden. I haven't seen anything that he is involved in go bad so this was a pretty good bet. In Hereafter we get three (of course) seemingly unconnected stories that eventually connect. In the beginning, this played like a tame version of the Final Destination series. Knowing that the Matt Damon character spoke with the dead, the first few scenes stressed me out as I was waiting for someone to die. Fortunately, knowing that there were only three unconnected stories let me relax shortly into the film. After that, we get an interesting view on the meaning of death and how different people deal with death. This is not exactly a film about grief and death, but instead it is an emotionally serious look at how people choose to decide what is important in life. The most enjoyable moment of this film was just an insignificant snippet in the last third. Damon is at a book reading and listening to his favorite audio book reader read from one of his favorite books. I think that as an actor, if you are asked to beam with joy, that might be kind of easy. Here Damon is asked to be on the verge of beaming, but his personality does not allow him to beam. A 20 second clip featuring Damon in a personal and pure state of joy, breaking out in just a twitch of a smile. Maybe not that important, but made the film for me.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

State of Play

A political thriller where the politician (Ben Affleck) and his friend the journalist (Russell Crowe) engage in a dance of protected sources, divided loyalties and the presumed search for the truth. Hellen Miren tosses off a solid turn as the benevolent editor giving her ace reporter some leeway and we find once again that the journalist is a better detective than the police could ever be. As far as a plot goes, a petty street thief is shot and killed (two to the chest) by a professional and a Congressman's chief researcher on an investigative committee commits suicide in front of a D.C. metro train. These completely unrelated deaths apparently aren't, and Russell Crowe follows them up to find who is the real killer, and what is the real interest (in terms of power and favor) on the congressional investigative committee his boyhood friend chairs. Well played and well written, but not astonishing. Perhaps because I haven't seen a lot good in awhile...
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I like a con film where everyone is working to out-con everyone else and you really aren't sure who is in on the scheme and who isn't. John C. Reilly stars here as a small time con-man who finds a new partner (somehow leaving his past partner without notice), is fighting with his sister and avoiding the cops while trying to sell a fake copy of rare currency to a collector. Of course, the rare currency sale is "the big score" and we watch it play out. We know all of this is happening and there are enough ambiguous clues to keep us jumping from one scenario to the next while working to predict the outcome. I always like to follow the money in watching these since somewhere there must be real money for someone to steal and things are no different here. This is not a big film with grand ambitions. Instead, it is a personal story of a guy, his sister (well played by the always good Maggie Gyllenhaal), desperation and the struggle to be realistic about life. Everybody is on target and in the end I was satisfied, looking back to the clues I missed to see how they could have pointed me in a different direction.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lust, Caution

Ang Lee presents an account of political intrigue and corruption in World War II Shanghai. With the Japanese in control of China, dissidents work to assassinate the Japanese sympathizers who use the occupation as a opportunity to gain power and wealth. I am not sure about his target audience, but Lee seems to be crossing genre's. On one hand, this is an excellent period drama, giving the viewer a vivid picture espionage among the wealthy in the occupied east. We get to see how passion and affection can sneak up on everyone, changing the course of decisions. I would compare this to an eastern version of Remains of the Day. On the other hand, Lee's decision to use sex as the manifestation of that passion will probably make this film inaccessible to many. The sex is not titillating, but a clear display of power. It is disturbing and, while likely realistic considering the circumstances, doesn't fulfill any viewing interest of the "period drama" crowd or the "gratuitous sex" crowd. Perhaps the reason why this film didn't do big box office numbers ... it couldn't find its audience. I wonder why Lee couldn't be more discreet, more suggestive with his passion. It seems that the affair would have been more powerful if hidden in the shadows or a blurry focused, dimly lit shot. Granted, the power differential of the characters would have been also hidden, but I think that the net benefit for the film would be an easier watch and larger audience for a generally quality film.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


There are enough films in this initially-divergent-multiple-plot-line-converging-into-single-story genre that they should have their own genre name. Here the ensemble cast pieces together several stories across both geography and time that eventually weave together into a whole. The theme here seems to be that each story develops around a tragic episode that is pretty much random or unavoidable. We see how people deal with tragedy in different ways and we see how relationships hold different value in each scenario. Unfortunately, the premise of each scenario is sufficiently contrived that I didn't buy in to this being a realistic possible sequence. For these films, in order for the stories to mean something as a whole, there must be a sense that the connection/sequence is possible and not just set up to manufacture tension individually to get a "greater" whole. Beautifully filmed and raising issues that are important to think about and discuss is a good beginning, but does not make a great film.
3 stars (out of 5)