Sunday, January 29, 2012

The New Face of Animation

I must have been around 15 years old. My cousin who was 5 then, had a Monster's Inc.(2001) CD which he got as a gift on his birthday. When I sat down to watch that movie with him, I don't think I realized that it was First Animated Movie I was watching. I mean I saw countless cartoon shows while growing up but that was my First Animated Feature Length Film. And that adorable baby voice still gets me hooked every time I watch it since then. By now, I have seen quite a few animation movies. But for various reasons, very few of them have left any lasting mark like Monsters Inc. Probably, it set the bar pretty high. Most of animated movies are cartoons for children and families. Agreed that there targeted audience is kids, but good animated movie for me is one which can appeal to all age-groups, not just their target audience. That is where movies like Toy Story 3(2010), How to Train Your Dragon(2010) and Wall-E(2008) stood out to me.

However, quite recently I came across few movies which are animated but still are not meant specifically for Kids. Rather most of these movies will be completely inappropriate for them, but they still were animated movies. I think reason why movies appealed more to me than any regular animated movie is because here making it an animated movie was a matter of choice rather than necessity. Most of these films probably would have been equally effective if they were normal movies than animated movies. They used liberties the medium of animation gives to show something which might have been difficult to show otherwise. Experience of these movies is so profound that they force rethinking of animation. I am sure there are many more but from what I have seen, some of them are(Spoilers Ahead. If you haven't seen it and really want to see it, there may be spoilers for you in the description):

Waltz With Bashir(2008): Director Ari Folman's quasi-documentary movie about one night in September 1982, when Christian militia killed around 3000 Palestine refugees in the city of Beirut while Israeli soldiers guarded them. Ari Folman himself was one of the soldiers and that night changed his life forever. After 20 years, that night is still haunting him though now, all his memories are extremely foggy. Getting sick and tired of all those nightmares, he travels around the world to meet other soldiers who were with him that night. And slowly but surely whole night sprawls in front of him. From the very first frame, you know something horrible is going to happen and in the end, it does. However, that journey towards eventual end is much terrifying than actual end. The emotions, horror is so palpable that you are constantly afraid of what are you going to see next? Waltz talks about aftermath of war as much as it comments on war itself. It tries to convince us that war is hell, but it does in a way very few films have like Platoon(1986) and it also tells a haunting story of psychic burden a soldier can carry even decades after his involvement.    

Mary and Max(2009): It's a story of Friendship across two continents. Mary, living in Australia, does not have any friend at school and her mother is alcoholic. So she needs a friend but can not think of anyone in her vicinity who will be her friend. Hence she picks up a name from Manhattan telephone diary and sends a letter with Chocolate bar. It reaches Max Horowitz, morbidly obese, middle aged Jewish New yorker who also has asperger syndrome. Only apparent common thread between them is their love of The Noblets. And then we follow their lives, their ups and downs, for next 20 years. We see Mary getting married and then breaking that marriage up. We see Max going into asylum, controlling his weight and in the end, getting his dream job. However, all these years, they only have each other that support through thick and thin and they do not even meet each other. This film is an excellent example of what I said above: "here making it an animated movie was a matter of choice rather than necessity. Most of these films probably would have been equally effective if they were normal movies than animated movies". It is an animation feel that deals with bleak adult themes making it pretty much inappropriate for target audience of animation movies but still director Elliott's animation style gives it a lovely, handcraft feel.

Persepolis(2007): One more animation movie which is extremely inappropriate for children. Adapted from director Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphical novel, this movie created quite a row in the year it was released. It caught almost everyone's attention and garnered heap of praise for a daring attempt made. It's a coming of age story of an Iranian Girl during the time of Islamic Revolution. At very young age, she witnesses Iranian revolution in 1979 in which her family takes active part. However, pretty much only thing this revolution achieves is it passes the baton from one devil to another. So, her parents send her to Vienna for the chance of better future. With her experiences in Vienna, when she comes back, she finds that she and her motherland have changed a lot for their own good and she struggles to find the golden equilibrium. Animated by hand, these black-and-white drawings are really simple but powerful. Its wonderful to see, how much emotions have been put into them. Watching all the events that shaped the future of a country through her eyes, gives a perspective to those who know very little about Iran.

Grave of the Fireflies(1988): I have always been in the awe of what Hayao Miyazaki and Company have done with anime genre. This movie is just another example of it. Though not directed by Miyazaki himself, director Isao Takahata is co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Miyazaki. Of all the 4 movies here, this one possibly is closest to the stereotypical animation movies we see. However, this is one of the early films that handled themes animated films will usually not touch because it is a tragedy, moreover it handles the death of a child. Setsuko and Seita live in wartime Japan. Their father is in Navy and their mother falls a victim to the bombings in their city. They get shelter in one of the relative's house. But soon enough they become a burden and have to move out to the cave by the side of river. Seita can provide for little while but eventually Food becomes a scarce. And struggle to meet the ends take them both as a victim. It is an animation film but still it is one of the most heartfelt movies I have seen. It is full of many memorable scenes that melt your heart like Seita trapping air bubbles in wash rag and then releases it to Setsuko's delighted face, Setsuko and Seita gathering Fireflies to illuminate their cave in the night. It also uses silences to a great effect. It also shows a lot of Patience. Many shots are hold onto so that you can have time to digest, process what you are watching. Characters take time to establish them but then they make more impact. 

Got any more to recommend to me ??

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Descendants

Alexander Payne is one of the directors that I have come across a lot, more so recently because of the release of his latest movie in question here The Descendants(2011) but I haven't really seen any of his movies. I have been wanting to watch Election(1999) and Sideways(2004) for almost forever but still haven't watched them and About Schmidt(2002) never had that appeal to me. So, it so turned out that when I finally gotten around to watch The Descendants(2011), it was first Alexander Payne Movie I was watching. Returning after 7 years, Alexander Payne known for humane, humorous films has yet again given us extremely honest and genuine piece of art, not just in its direction but also in also in it's portrayal.

Our Descendant is Matt King, played by George Clooney. He is the sole trusty of 25,000 acres of virgin land on the Island of Kaua'i, passed down by his ancestors and which he and his extended family are planning to sell as Trust is going to lapse in few years and many members of his family are in dire need of money. Matt, like his father admirably has resisted an urge to use any money from this trust and lives solely on the money generated by his law practice. Complete story is based in Hawaii, paradise on earth. However, as Matt explains in the very beginning, does not make their lives any less suffer-able or their heartaches any less painful. Cause of his pain is his wife's accident in the motor boat which has rendered her in a comatose state. With his wife, Elizabeth, out of picture, he has to take charge of parenting his two daughters - 10 year old Scottie and 17 years old Alexandra. Problem is he has always been a 'Back-up Parent' in his own terms. Being a workaholic, he has left his wife to do the most of raising their daughters and now that he has to do it, has no freaking idea how? Scottie is a confused 10 year old who is trying to make sense of all this by ranting at school and Alex is doing all her teenager stuff - alcohol, drugs and attitude. So, these last few days of their mother's life as she is not likely to survive which hey have to spend together as family might be really difficult for them.

However, it is soon going to get steeper for Matt. After coming home, his oldest daughter Alex informs him of his wife's infidelity. Matt also learns that his wife was actually in love with the other guy and was thinking of separating from him. He later learns that the name of the guy is Bryan Speer, a local real estate agent who is vacationing on the island of Kuau'i. With this recent heart breaking news, he decides he has to see the guy his wife was going to leave him for. Not only this but he wants to look him into the eyes while telling him the terrible news of her accident. So, he and his daughters decide to take a trip to island and confront him.

If there is one thing that impressed me the most about The Descendants(2011), that is it never looses it's humour. It never goes over the top but at the same time there is always a faint edge it maintains throughout. Couple of occasions it impressed me the most. First, Clooney's Runs - one after Alex breaks him the news and another on Kuau'i beach after he spots Speer. I felt like telling him 'Run Clooney Run !! Run like a wind !!' And secondly in the end, when Judy Greer's character comes to meet Elizabeth. Both the scenes demand seriousness. However, on both the occasions some great direction by Payne makes both this scenes hilarious without loosing the seriousness of it. One more occasion where I feel like giving kudos to Payne's direction is Alex crying in swimming pool - probably this will be the image from this movie that will stay with me for quite some time. Well Done, Mr. Payne!! And for someone who has not even seen his family for a year, that ending was just perfect.

In the acting Department, even though most actors do justice to even the smallest part they play, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley run the show and with quite an authority. George Clooney looks like can not do anything wrong. With Ides of March(2011) earlier, he made a great impression as director. Here, he is brilliant in this lead role. He is been getting lot of attention from various awards and is almost certain to get nominated for Oscars. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins too though he should have tough competition from Brad Pitt (Moneyball(2011)) and Jean Dujardin(The Artist(2011)). Similarly, Shailene Woodley does an equally tremendous job of playing his older daughter Alex. I have never seen The Secret Life of the American Teenager but she does have a real talent. I wrote in my post about SAG Nominations that they missed a beat when they failed to nominate her in Supporting Actress role and I stand by it firmly. Though she does have a strong competition in the category from Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for The Help(2011), her Oscar nomination will definitely be justified. Apart from them many actors do justice to the smaller roles they play - Amara Miller as Scottie, Nick Krause as Sid and Robert Forster as Elizabeth's Father.

Even though I have not seen any other film by Alexander Payne, I believe what he is known for is making realistic characters. Well, that might just be the best attribute of The Descendants (2011). All the characters talk like normal people, they behave like normal people. They all have their flaws but the they have their moments as well. Best example of this is character of Sid. In first couple of scenes, he comes across as a stupid moron who can be used as a comic side relief at best. However, later with a scene of his discussion with George Clooney, Payne gives his character a much needed depth. All the characters are genuinely human and honest and that is why even Speer's character does not come as a villain. Even he is just another guy, maybe he did something wrong, but who doesn't? Of all the movies I have seen this year, with the exception of Martin Scorsese, there is no other director who deserves Oscar more than Alexander Payne for this. It is just nice to see a movie where all the characters have their hearts in the right place.

Rating(out of 5):

Thursday, January 19, 2012


For Last Few Days, I am going through Writer's Block or at least I think I am. It is actually Funny, since I do not consider myself a Writer in a strictest sense. And it is not even a block really since I have few ideas about what to write. I just do not feel like writing anything. Most of it, I attribute to imminent defense of my Masters degree. I will be done by Jan end but I don't want my blog to be completely dormant till then especially since I have picked up a little pace in last couple of months. All the nominations for awards should help. Come February, I have few plans to make it more interesting however, until then I am just trying to survive here. Talking of Awards, I have been trying to catch up as many award contender movies as possible. Of the once already released, I have seen quite many but Shame(2011), My week with Marilyn(2011) and The Artist(2011) remain to be the glaring pot holes. So, the other day, I saw Warrior(2011), a nice little sports movie for which Nick Nolte is gathering few nominations as a Supporting Actor.

Warrior(2011) is a story of 2 Brothers, Brandon played by Joel Edgarton who is a Physics Teacher in High School and really popular too and Tommy played by Tom Hardy, who has just returned home From Iraq. Nick Nolte plays their father, former Alcoholic Boxer Trainer who is recovering from his habit. Tommy and Brandon are fighters too, but have moved on with their life. After returning Tommy starts to train in the local gym where he hears about mixed martial arts tournament called Sparta which has a $5 million prize for Winner. He gets his father to train him for it and start preparing for it. On the other Hand, Brandon has a nice little Family - Wife and Two Daughters. However, he ends up in Cash Trouble to Re-Finance his house. Being a Fighter, He goes back to recreational fights in the Parking Lot of Club, which he realises pays much faster than his teaching job. So, he starts his training too and a rather unfortunate incidence with fellow boxer lands him in Sparta Tournament too, to much of his surprise, against his own brother.

As much as it looks like a Sports movie, It is much more about making a dysfunctional family work again. Growing up, Brandon and Tommy never had a real family because of their drunk father. Even Brandon eventually abandons Tommy and his mother in hope of a better life with his wife, when they oppose their marriage. It leaves their sick mother for Tommy to watch her die in his arms and it has left Tommy completely emotionally detached from his Family. Their father, who is recovering from his drinking habits, realizes that he was the reason why both his sons never had a childhood, they never had a life until they both looked elsewhere outside for it. And throughout the Movie, we see their father apologizing to both the brothers for doing this to them. But his mistakes of the past are too great for any of them to trust him ever again. Even when Tommy turns to him for his training, his only condition is to keep it strictly to the training.

Warrior follows a well known path, there are not any surprises in the story for you. The way movie plays out, almost until half time we do not know that Brandon and Tommy are brothers. But it eventually becomes imminent that at some point in the tournament, they will face each other. Even respective paths they follow till they face each other were anticipated too. Not only that, I was even anticipating the boxers they will face in the penultimate round and they did face them. However despite all these cliches, the reason Warrior works is because it invests a lot in characters. All the three characters the story is built around are extremely well built, have a lot of depth to them and are played beautifully by the respective actors. Nick Nolte is excellent as a Father recovering from his drinking habit. Nick Nolte brings all the emotions forward beautifully. I will be rooting for him to get nominated in Supporting Actor Category. Tom Hardy is excellent as well, as emotionally detached son. It is really great to see such a talented actor making use of his potential. However, Joel Edgarton is the real revelation here. His character goes through a lot of transformations and his portrayal of it is one of the principal reason why this film works for me. It is also good to see Jennifer Morrison getting to the big screen, even in a small role. 

So, even though storyline is similar to some of the movies in the past, Warrior(2011) is well written, directed and above all well acted emotional roller coaster that does keep you at the edge of your seat.

Rating(out of 5):


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reflection on Golden Globes

Golden Globes last night were mostly what everyone of us expected to be or at least I thought so. Few surprises - few pleasant, few unpleasant but mostly acceptable. Until today, many of us have talked a lot about who should have been nominated and who should not have been. Now that winners are announced, let me focus solely on nominees and Winners rather than complaining about who should have been here. So let me get down to business. These are some of the last night's winners from the categories I had something to say about.

Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
As expected. Not much more to say (See!! I am not complaining about Nick Nolte not being nominated.)

Best Television Series: Drama - Homeland
Soo happy for this. Homeland is Incredible for all the twists and turns in its very first season. I never saw any of those coming.
Best Original Score - Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
Since I haven't seen The Artist yet, I won't complain. Some of the other nominees were brilliant(Hugo and The Girl with Dragon Tattoo). So, I will assume that it is better than them. Many others fellow bloggers seem to think so as well.

Best Original Song - Madonna for 'Masterpiece' from W.E.

Best Actress: Comedy/Musical - Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)
There should not have been any doubt in anybody's mind that anyone else would have won this. And she did.

Best Supporting Actor in a Series or Mini-Series - Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
I am currently reading Third Book of the Series and Dinklage's Tyrion Lennister is by far my favorite character of the Series. After watching Game of Thrones 1st Season, every time I read, I picture him saying those lines. He is just made for this role.

Best Animated Feature - The Adventures of Tintin
I actually have not seen any of the nominees. But the other option was Rango and Jonney Depp is doing the same characters for many years that I am bored now. So, Good Job !!

Best Screenplay - Midnight in Paris
Many expected to The Artist to win. Not Me. I WANTED Midnight in Paris to Win. So, I am delighted to see it happen.

Best Foreign Language Film - A Separation
Makes me want to see this even more. It beat The Skin I Live In.

Best Actress, Television Series Drama - Claire Danes (Homeland)
Whoot !! Whoot !! Brilliant...Simply Brilliant !!

Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer (The Help)
I really don't have anything against Spencer. She did great in The Help. I just think Jessica Chastain or Shailene Woodley were just a tad better. (Again, No Carrey Mulligan but not complaining.)

Best Director - Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Wow. Even you thought that Hazanavicius had this in bag, Right? Me too. But I am happy for Scorsese. Hugo was brilliant. My no.2 of the Year!!

Best Actor: Comedy/Musical - Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Well...Almost No Contest here.

Best Actress: Drama - Meryl Streep (The Iron lady)
Nooo. It actually was a two way between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. But still Nooooo.....

Best Picture: Comedy or Musical - The Artist
Again. As Expected. Not that I am disappointed. I am really happy for The Artist even though I haven't seen it. Yet.

Best Actor: Drama - George Clooney (The Descendants
Brad Pitt was amazing and so is Michael Fessbander(as they say) but still it is completely expected. Did you listen to his speech afterwards ? I would have given him one more for that. He was brilliant in The Descendants too.

Best Picture: Drama - The Descendants
Either Hugo or The Descendants. I would not mind.
So, overall Very much what I expected them to be. What do you think ?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best of 2011

If I remember it correctly, First Movie released in 2011 that I saw was Harry Potter and Deathly Hollows Part 2, in July - almost the same time I started U, Me and Films. So considering the backlog of 6 and half months, I think I did good - finishing 2011 with close to 50 movies so far, including Documentaries. It isn't a big number Yes, but even though I know I still have a lot to catch up on, I don't think there is any point in post-phoning this post any further. Then there is usual issue of the release dates. So, I am considering all movies which got theatrical release in 2011, Film Festivals do not count. So I will start with the movies that I still haven't seen and from the word of it, might have made their in this list. Some of them are: Shame, Take Shelter, A Separation, The Artist, We Need to Talk about Kevin.

And you will realise that I have 2 movies at number 10. Actually, I was almost ready to publish this few days ago. Then, just yesterday, I saw The Descendents and it was so good that I had to put it here. So, since I had everything written, instead of taking something out, I have 2 movies at number 10. I know I am cheating here but Let us get into best of what I have seen:

10. Warrior: Warrior takes the beaten down path of many Sports movies before it. However, despite the cliches, the reason it works is because it focuses on what happens outside the ring to make what happens inside the ring more exciting. It invests richly in the characters so that we care about them. With Great performances from Tom Hardy, Joel Edgarton and Nick Nolte, Warrior is not the one to miss. Full review very soon.

10. The Guard: Though a little incomprehensible at times because of the Irish accent, it is a Beautiful little Irish Comedy. Brandon Gleeson is wonderful in it, rather only reason I saw this was his Golden Globe Nomination. I did not even knew about it then. But, it is totally worth it. Thank you very much for making my New Year's Eve.

9. Drive: Ryan Gosling is at his best in this nearly dialogue Free Performance. Albert Brooks and Carrey Mulligan also deliver equally great performances to aid Gosling. However, apart from the stunning performances, what makes this film a great visual experience is Nicolas Wending Refn's stylish direction from Gosling's Scorpion Jacket and 80's synth-pop soundtracks to hot pink titles and stunning cinematography.
8. The Skin I Live In: With this, Pedro Almodovar has officially become the Master of making me uncomfortable. Except Broken Embraces(2009), every Almodovar movie I have seen makes me so uncomfortable. But, that is no reason to deny the greatness of it. What makes it great is Antonio Banderas' excellent Portrayal of lead role, Elena Anaya's breathtaking beauty and concept which is far more haunting than you realize while watching it.

7. Beginners: It is easy to like or relate to Beginners if you are of certain age. I am NOT of that age but I still love it. Why? Maybe because it portrays relations beautifully, maybe because of those montages of different years or maybe because of Christopher Plummer's liveliness, Ewan McGregor's sadness and Melanie Laurent's quirkiness. But more than that, Beginners is about saying it is never late to begin something. Yes!! Definitely Yes!! That is why I like it.

6. Senna: Since my college days, when I started following Formula 1 racing, I have been always been in the awe of phenomenon that Ayerton Senna was. Even today, my heart sinks a little whenever someone mentions the race Senna was killed. It was great to know one of the idols of his time with this beautiful documentary, made completely through the archival footage. Sports fan in me could actually feel my pulses rising like I am watching an actual race.

5. Melancholia: Most accessible of Von Trier's Film is what it is called. I wouldn't really know, since it is the only one I have seen yet. But, I have never seen depression looking so beautiful and so harrowing with the dialogues like "Earth is an evil place. We don't need to grieve for it. No one will miss it". Kirsten Dunst embodies the depression to the perfection. First 8 and 1/2 minutes of imagery and that ending alone should warrant it's place here in this list.

4. The Descendants: My first thought after watching it - Run Clooney Run !! Run Like Wind !!. On a serious note, The Descendants is extremely honest and genuine piece of art, in its direction as well as in performances. Alexander Payne, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley deserve special mention for this. And for someone who hasn't even seen his family for one whole year, that last scene was just too perfect. Full review, very soon too.

3. Midnight in Paris: Traditionally, I have been very selective about Woody Allen. Though there are movies he made that I simply love(Match Point(2005) and Manhattan(1979)), I usually find him pretentious. However, in case of Midnight in Paris, I was intrigued right from when I heard about it first and thankfully, it was on par with my expectations. By the end of this nostalgic trip through the 1920's Paris, I was beaming with excitement. If nothing else, it is worth watching for the sight seeing of Paris. 

2. Hugo: When I watched Hugo, it was only because we did not have any other option. Since I saw first trailer, I was never excited about it basically because I hate 3-D(I have glasses, wearing that stupid goggle over them feels like someone is pulling my nose down). But by the end of it, I was taken by it mainly because Scorsese made it so personal, so nostalgic. And for a change, I loved the 3-D aspect of it too. Maybe, it just needed a master like Scorsese to handle it properly.

1. Incendies: One of the regional Indian writers I have admired once wrote that 'When you ask a question, it's not an Answer that we are looking for. But, it is satisfaction that comes with that answer. Answer which does not give you that satisfaction will be more unsatisfactory than the question itself.'  Incendies is going to linger in my mind for a long, long time because it does not give you that satisfaction. This movie has become an epitome of Shock for me. I was awestruck, dumbfounded.

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