Review: To The Wonder

Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder
Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder

Wonderland Beckons
Rating: *

Michael Cimino is known for his casual approach to movies. He dedicates time on the small things, gives more screen time for scenes which according to him are vital, and loves filming for more than 3 hours. But, the fact is, Cimino had a vision and fulfilled it. Whether it was the great Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate.

The only thing that separates Cimino from Terrence Malick is that Cimino’s films were never somber. They were full of life and you acknowledged it. You reacted to almost everything that happened in Deer Hunter. You were struck with grief when you witnessed the barbaric Russian Roulette games. You were a part of the grand wedding. You were humming “God Bless America” at the end of the movie. You don’t do the same with Malick’s films.

Malick has undergone tremendous change since Badlands, which is still my favourite Malick film. If you’ve heard about Tree of Life, you know what I’m talking about. To The Wonder is a desperate attempt to be another documentary shot by a Discovery Channel crew.

Malick may even be considered to be an evangelist. In Tree of Life, he preached existentialism and the nature of human soul. In To The Wonder, he preaches love in all of its forms. His quest to explain the beauty through long drawn shots of Oklahoma and midwestern United States as he patiently lets his characters walk into their roles. While Olga Kurylenko clearly is the star of the film, one can’t help notice Javier Bardem playing the deus ex machina – a priest undergoing a crisis of faith, who actually solves much of the film’s problems.

Ben Affleck is forever wooden, which is why I found it better when he’s not emoting much. I feel that Malick should only cast Jessica Chastain and either Brad Pitt or Sean Penn in his forthcoming ventures. When they emote, they do it without much fuss and it stands out. Rock solid. Watching Rachel McAdams try hard to emote her feelings felt like watching a game of charades.

To The Wonder may have been a 20 minute film if shot by a film student. It may have been a 150 page teen fiction if written by Nicholas Sparks, Or, it may have been a 90 minute memorable drama if directed by Woody Allen. In Malick’s hands, it’s an overly somber film that never lets the fat lady sing.

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Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr., Noomi Rapace and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Mind games of two level-headed geniuses

Rating: ***

Guy Ritchie’s sequel to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes doesn’t disappoint. It adds more depth to Holmes. Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, the film follows Holmes as he battles a Victorian megalomaniac who poses a bigger threat than Lord Blackwood did in the first film. Yet, Jared Harris’ Professor Moriarty is less convincing when compared to Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood. Swedish star, Noomi Rapace plays Simza, a Parisian fortune-telling gypsy who despite her entertaining sword fights doesn’t match up to Irene Adler from the first film.

While I initially chose not to compare the sequel and the prequel, I felt both films weren’t in the same level. While the first film was in the true Guy Ritchie essence, the second one becomes something that today’s influenced directors would do. Ritchie does dabble in eye candy CGI which he uses extensively in the penultimate forest battle that features Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law sprinting in slow motion as bullets and bombs graze past them, and splinters of wood erupt from the trees.

Ah! Bromance!

Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a fashion designer and a horticulturist. When did this bohemian detective ever become socially enthusiastic? And the scenes having him dress as a woman are mere gags. They don’t appeal much and when they do, they’re in lesser portions. One of the highlights of the first film, the bromance (brotherly romance) is least exploited.

Ritchie ensures upfront that this film is rather more serious when compared to the prequel. From tough fisticuffs to tougher gunfire, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is in its own way a good film. Running for two hours, the film doesn’t fail to entertain you. It’s just that you don’t get what the first film gave you – sheer delight.

I’m telling you again – this is a good film, and a darker sequel. 

Review: Midnight in Paris

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.

Allen’s finest since Annie Hall

Rating: ****

Every writer adores Paris. There’s something magical about the city. It’s mainly the history the place holds on to. The game changers of English literature lived there and feasted life. Woody Allen would have been a proud member if only he could travel back in time. Hence, he brings forth Midnight in Paris, a fantasy rom-com about a novelist-turned-screenwriter who visits Paris in the Golden Era.

“We’re on vacation here” announces his tired fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). But, Gil is in the Parisian trance and cannot bear the tirade she pulls on him. Her parents dislike him thoroughly. Her mother says “there’s a part of him missing” while her father blatantly announces “he’s weird.” During one of their dinners, Inez meets her old friend Paul Bates (Michael Sheen), who in Gil’s own words “is pseudo-analytical”. Indeed. Paul disagrees with the historical information given by a tour guide (played by French first lady Carla Bruni). He even rejects a correction Gil makes at a painting by Picasso.

Allen somehow brings the terse drama within the first fifteen minutes and then, he transports a drunken Gil to the 1920s, where he meets his idols, interacts with them, and changes the lives of a few. These idols include Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Tom Eliot and Salvador Dali. It’s wonderful that Allen has written these historical legends just the way they were. Scott was in love with Zelda and knew it was doomed. Hemingway was shaken by the First World War and spoke lines complete with verbal consistency and masculine presage.

There’s also Marion Cotillard playing Adriana, Picasso’s mistress, who from her introduction becomes the apple of Gil’s eye. Adrien Brody plays Spanish painter Salvador Dali who is introduced as the comic fix. He compares Gil’s failed romance with Inez to that of his fixation with painting rhinoceroses.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji bathes Paris in a rich golden hue which fits the 1920s with glowing lamps and lush art direction. Gil feels that Paris is best when it rains, and Inez directly opposes to it. No wonder they were doomed to break up!

There’s always a Woody Allen character in every film of his. Owen Wilson’s Gil is that character. From examining wine with a scientific approach to talking gibberish without a break,Wilson fits well in those Allen-esque costumes. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein is a treasure to watch.

Allen has been writing since 1965. He still strikes to me as the guy who can entertain audiences of any age. There’s that magic in Midnight in Paris that’s inevitable. I last felt it while watching Annie Hall.

There’s nothing to dislike in Midnight in Paris. It’s all about being hooked on to the narrative magic of Woody Allen.

Review: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Poster

Murder in London? Go to 221B Baker Street.

Rating: ****

Guy Ritchie is an auteur.His subtle use of black comedy becomes a large part of Sherlock Holmes. This film is perhaps not the best version of Sir Conan Doyle’s stories, but it is the quintessential Guy Ritchie film. Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes thinks faster than Daniel Craig’s James Bond.

Take the vital elements in it – Ironic mix of humor and violence (aka Black Comedy), lots of fist fights between the baddies and the good guys (Holmes, Dr. Watson and sometimes Irene Adler), ‘best buddies-get-emotional’ scenes (we’ve seen it in Snatch and heavily in RocknRolla) and most notably Ritchie’s favorite villain – Mark Strong. Moreover, Lord Blackwood’s famed Satanism seems to be a cover-up for his use of trickery and science in his most devious escape from death.

In prison, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) warns Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) that he will rise after death.

Downey gives you a more masculine version of Holmes and yes, he is charming enough to handle the humor. Jude Law’s Dr. John Watson is more likely the strongest character in the film, apart from the French-speaking baddie, Dredger. The funny thing is that Ritchie’s previous flicks never had a female lead (Thandie Newton in RocknRolla wasn’t the lead). Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler is a sublime performance. Here, Rachel’s portrayal of a beautiful but dangerous woman in Holmes’ life lacks the charm.

Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) and Holmes get into some serious trouble which leads to more and more action.

The second one, Kelly Reilly’s Mary Morstan who plays Watson’s love interest may be in for more than she knows. The advent of Mary on the scene sends Holmes into fits of petulance. Even when Watson booms “I’m marrying her Holmes!” he tries to avoid her shadow.

Holmes and the femme fatale Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) play a cat and mouse game in the film.

Sherlock Holmes happens in Victorian England. Hence, visual effects are a big boost to the film. Watch out for the Tower Bridge. It is the best any animator could do. Full marks to the costume design and art direction team, they really did their homework.

Sherlock Holmes is vastly entertaining with many enchanting visuals. However, it fails to reincarnate Sir Conan Doyle’s vision. Instead, it is Guy Ritchie’s commercial formula.