Saturday, June 29, 2013

Magic Mike (2012)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer:    Reid Carolin
Cast:      Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Mathew McConaughey, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn

A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women and make easy money.

Film is basically a story told many times before but it puts it in a male stripping context. It is partly based on Channing Tatum's life as an 18 year old stripper in Tampa. Despite the cliches it is a very good watch especially because of the rawness with which it is acted. Channing Tatum is surprisingly good as the experienced mentor. The film did extremely well at the box office grossing around 167 million on a meagre 7 million budget.

Rating: 4/5

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer:   Callie Khouri
Cast:      Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, Michael Madsen

An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a '66 Thunderbird.

It is something you don't expect from Ridley Scott who generally makes ambitious sci-fi films and historic epics. Thelma and Lousie is essentially a road comedy with some caricatured characters, Hans Zimmer's music and fantastic visuals. Scott is said to have watched Terence Malick's 'Badlands' for inspiration and that  is reflected in the film. It also reminded me of Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino's 'True Romance'. It is certainly one of Scott's best film.

Rating: 4/5

Friday, June 28, 2013

Side Effects (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer:    Scott Z. Burns
Cast:       Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones

A young woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.

The film is a genre bender from Soderbergh in the sense that he is playing around with the audience's expectations. Film in the beginning looks like a typical Soderbergh film in the mould of Erin Brockovich and Contagion but with some twists, it transforms itself into a Noirish film. Soderbergh pulls the transition off neatly but maybe he could have avoided last portion of the the film were justice is served. Like all Soderbergh films, it looks neat and great but the plot is a bit outlandish to but it mildly. Still very fun to watch.

Rating: 3/5

21 Jump Street (2012)

Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writers:    Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill, Patrick Hasburgh, Stepehen J. Cannell
Cast:        Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum. Brie Larson

A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.

It starts of really well but gets very tedious in the middle. I also found Channing Tatum's acting to be a bit problematic. The film gets less cleverer as it goes  on.

Rating: 2.5/5

Sightseers (2012)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers:  Amy Jump, Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
Cast:      Alice Lowe,  Eileen Davies

Chris and his girlfriend Tina goes on a caravan trip and lose their temper.

It is supposed to be a pitch black comedy and I didn't find it very funny.

Rating: 2/5

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers:  Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder
Cast:      Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop which is going to affect all their lives.

The film is extremely ambitious in a godfather sort of way. It is like a mythic tragedy set in near contemporary times and is one which has divided its audience all round. Plot is extremely contrived but the performances are great and since one really don't know beforehand where it is going, it worked for me. Great followup to 'Blue Valentine' by Derek Cianfrance.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Easy Rider (1969)

Director: Dennis Hopper
Writers:  Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Cast:      Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson

Two counterculture bikers travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.

It is like a swan song for the hippie movement of the 60s. The film can be summed up in one conversation Jack Nicholson's  character has with Dennis Hopper's Billy in which they talk about individual freedom and even those who understand it but don't/cannot practice it is afraid and dangerous when he encounters someone who does. This is what they find out when they travel through the middle redneck America. Jack Nicholson is amazing in a screen chewing performance.

Real marijuana was used for the drug use scenes and the film can be considered as landmark for independent films.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation) (2011)

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer:   Asghar Farhadi
Cast:     Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi
Language: Persian

A married coupled is faced with a difficult decision- to improve their life by moving abroad or to stay in Iran looking after a deteriorating parent who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. This causes their temporary separation which leads to the hiring of a maid to look after the patient.

The film is captivating from the first scene and the ensemble cast received a much deserved acting award in the Berlin film festival. It also won the best foreign picture award at the academy awards. The story is universal and is not the usual one you would expect from an Iranian film. The film continuously surprised me with its subtlety and the room for interpretation the script is providing for the viewer. It is a masterpiece which deserved all the accolades it got during the awards season.

Rating: 5/5

Mauvais sang (The Night is Young) (Bad Blood) (1986)

Director: Leos Carax
Writer:    Leos Carax
Cast:      Denis Lavant, Juliette Bincohe, Julie Delpy, Michel Piccoli
Language: French


In Paris a new plague called STBO is affecting people who make love without emotional involvement. A serum has been developed and locked away. The film is about the heist in a Leos Carax way, which means it is a WTF film. 

The film is very ahead of its time with many of its visual style becoming prevalent later in the 90s. It reminded me of Wong Kar Wai films visually as well as quirkiness of its characters. We get a very young Denis Lavant  (25), Julie Delpy (19) and Juliette Binoche (21) in what is Leos Carax's second feature film, which is among what is described loosely as Trilogy of Love. Film has several laugh out loud moments and an exhilarating single tracking shot of Lavant running madly with David Bowie's 'Modern Love' as the background score. 

Seeked out this film after discovering Leos Carax through the excellent 'Holy Motors'.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pusher (1996)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers:  Jens Dahl, Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast:      Kim Bodnia, Zlatko Buric, Laura Drasbaek, Mads Mikkelsen
Language: Danish

A drug pusher grows increasingly desperate after a botched deal leaves him with a large debt to a ruthless drug lord.

It is Nicolas Winding Refn's debut feature and even though the plot sounds cliched, the way it is shot and the realistic nature of it makes it unique. While most films involving drug dealing involves with either top level guys or street level guys, this film is about a mid level pusher. The story is set over a week's time and the film really ends well making us wonder what his next step gonna be. It could have been made even more ambiguous by not showing what other characters are up to. That is the only shot in the film which does not involve Frank played by Kim Bodnia.

Didn't realize till late into the film that the skinhead character Tonny is played by the wonderful actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The French Connection (1971)

Director: William Friedkin
Writers:   Ernest Tidyman, Robin Moore
Cast:       Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider

A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection.

Film is made in documentary style with minimal dialog. Friedkin was influenced by the film 'Z' for this style. It is essentially a police procedural film and the first R rated film to win best picture at the academy awards. The film was adapted and fictionalized from the non-fiction book by Robin Moore with the same name. The real life counterpart of the French guy was later caught in France but not extradited.

Film was made based on a discussion with Howard Hawks whose daughter was living with Friedkin during that time. When asked about how he thought about Friedkin films, Hawks replied they were lousy and asked him to make the best chase of all time. That is how that chase came about.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers:  Richard LaGravenese, Scott Thorson, Alex Thorleifson
Cast:      Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula


Based on the autobiographical novel, the tempestuous 6-year relationship between Liberace and his (much younger) lover, Scott Thorson, is recounted.

The film was put forward to many studios who all balked out saying that it was too gay. It also faced delays because of Michael Douglas diagnosed with Stage IV Throat Cancer. Finally it was produced by and released on HBO last week. That makes it ineligible for the academy awards. It is supposed to be Soderbergh's last film before his break from films.

Film works well as a comedy with excellent performances from the two leads. Michael Douglas has been receiving much praise for his portrayal but Matt Damon's character and performance is not any less with it being the point of view character adapted from Scott Thorson's book. I didn't have any idea about the story beforehand apart from the IMDB synopsis.

Here is a link to Soderbergh's excellent talk on the sorry state of Hollywood: http://kottke.org/13/05/steven-soderbergh-the-state-of-cinema
Rating: 4/5

Of Time and the City (2008)

Director:   Terence Davies
Writer:      Terence Davies
Narration: Terence Davies

A filmmaker looks at the history and transformation of his birthplace, Liverpool, England.

It can called either as a documentary or a biography film and is an ode to Liverpool by Terence Davies. It depicts the transformation of the city of Liverpool in the post world war era and is told in sometimes angry and sometimes satirical way. It is put in the overall context of declining English empire and takes us through the phase of "Managed Decline" of Liverpool under Margaret fucking Thatcher and finally to the modern times.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Katalin Varga (2009)

Director: Peter Strickland
Writer:    Peter Strickland
Cast:      Hilda Peter, Norbert Tanko, Laszlo Matray
Language: Hungarian


In the beautiful, otherworldly Carpathian Mountains a woman is traveling with a small boy in a horse and cart, looking to punish those who once abused her.

The film is set in Hungarian speaking part of Romania. Don't ask me why Peter Strickland a British director would do that. Maybe the same reason why he set his second film, Berbarian Sound Studio, in Italy. Or maybe he wanted to set it in modern times and only in this Eastern European wilderness he could fit the lawlessness of the story.


The film's time period is not apparent till the character talks about mobile phone signals. It is an assured debut film completed at a meager 28k pounds. The money mostly came from an inheritance from his uncle. Whilst his second film is a genre bending horror masterpiece with a Lynchian twist, this one is a revenge flick that don't tread the usual path with its ending. Strickland is certainly a director to watch out for.


Rating: 3.5/5

Scarecrow (1973)

Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Writer:    Gary Michael White
Cast:      Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan

Max, an ex-con drifter with a penchant for brawling is amused by Lion, a homeless ex-sailor, and they partner up as they head east together.

It is a road film with an acting Tour de Force from Hackman and Pacino. There isn't much of a plot but it is still great on the back of the performances. A sequel is being planned but don't know how it will pan out with Hackman now retired.

Rating: 3.5/5