Monday, November 28, 2011


“You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country. But you can’t f*** the interns. They get you for that.”

That’s Rule #1 of Presidential elections, according to Stephen Meyers, an up-and-coming campaign manager (played by Ryan Gosling).  He’s successful, knows how the game works and is not green behind the ears. He knows that elections aren’t great, well-intentioned battles between highly competent people. It’s about hoping that the voters think the deep blue sea is worse than the devil. Everybody is a pawn on somebody’s game board.

The Ides of March charts the events preceding the American Democratic Party presidential primaries in Ohio and the valuable life lessons learnt by all the characters.  Off the bat, the most striking thing about the film is that Ryan is the new George Clooney. And George is the new Marlon Brando.  With a supporting cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Philip Seymour Hoffman) that played off each other brilliantly and did justice to the excellent dialogue, this film stayed true to its Thespian origin.  Rembrandt lighting and Alexandre Desplat’s moody, vintagey music between scenes gave the film an air of quiet drama.  If this extensive set-up hadn’t yielded any conspiratorial plots and skulduggery, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).

While it is tempting to see this film as the story of Gosling’s loss of innocence,  there’s more to it than meets the eye.  None of the characters are what they seem.  George Clooney while coming across as the dream candidate, who has everything working for him, learns a valuable lesson in the importance of discretion. Gosling is an old hand at political intrigue, but all it took was one charismatic man to make him wonder if, perhaps there was something to the whole ‘honour’ shtick after all. Evan Rachel Wood is just a lowly intern, but she’s also the daughter of a very powerful politician. She’s mature and sexually confident, but she’s also just 20 years old. The scenes with Wood and Gosling were sizzling with chemistry– he’s the boss, she’s just an intern but she’s the one who’s leading the waltz.  I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about Giamatti and Hoffman, who despite having comparably less screen time, carved memorable characters. But be warned, Hoffman: you are in imminent danger of getting typecasted as The Foul-mouthed and Dishevelled Politico.

George Clooney plays Mike Morris, a presidential candidate whose optimism and principles are infectious. But eventually, everybody disappoints without fail; we are not built to live up to others’ expectations.  Even the most admirable will fall, and take with them the last vestige of any idealism you may have ever had.

The thing about George is that, while he’s terribly handsome, smart, has crinkly eyes, etc, he just… Clooneys around, you know? It becomes hard to separate suave and sexy George from the suave and sexy character he’s supposed to be playing, barring some memorable films like Syriana (2005) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). If he’s keen on winning a Best Actor Oscar, he needs to be less suave and charm-oozy  (since the Academy is refusing to institute that Award for Best Clooney in a Motion Picture).  Fortunately, George pulls off Morris’ character very well. He’s the young, optimistic and honourable politician, reminiscent of JFK and Obama– the cool, hands-on kind of guy who’s in love with his wife. But under that charismatic veneer, he always seems too good to be true. Which, as you know, usually means that it isn’t true.

While one could find a number of minor things to quibble over, the film’s backbone is its simple plot, superb lines and the confidence with which it let the actors rather than events take centre stage.

I was somewhat disdainful of Stephen Meyer’s decisions; what else was he expecting from a politician, I remember wondering. In politics, isn’t everyday is the Ides of March? Is is a sign of how disillusioned we’ve become when we are smug (even relieved) about Mike Morris’ fallibility? If the film-makers’ aim was to show us what manner of creatures we’ve become, then by Clooney, this is a better film than I thought possible.

Monday, November 14, 2011


If you are anything like me, you read Tintin comics in your school/neighbourhood library and have hazy but extremely fond memories of the series.  You were probably thrilled to hear that a beloved bit of your childhood was being adapted to the big screen, with the formidable Peter Jackson-Steven Spielberg duo at the helm. Peter Jackson, the man who managed to silence one of the most vociferous (and astute) fan bases with his remarkable adaptation of the greatest book ever written, and Spielberg, who is practically an institution.  If you are anything like me, do not make the mistake of watching the The Adventures of Tintin with a rabid fanboy.
For the 3 people on the planet who have not heard of this comic book series, “The Adventures of Tintin” is about an alien explorer from the planet Zargon X, come to study humanity. He disguises himself as a dog, Snowy, and gallivants about the place with his sidekick, Tintin. He solves many mysteries and catches many bad guys, occasionally with Tintin’s help. The 2011 film adaptation combines some plot points from 3 comics, and is otherwise a completely new story (the blackest of sins, I was told).
I think it’s time we struck up a dirge for 3D films. Sure, there were some spectacular animated films that made glorious use of the 3D, but they seem to have regressed to that gimmicky, pre-Avatar era. Apart from 2 or 3 scenes (a superb sea battle and Tintin dodging traffic on a busy street come to mind), I watched the entire thing without glasses. Half the exciting murders and skulduggery in the Tintin universe happen at night, and once you have the glasses on, you can’t see a damn thing.  I must also mention that Captain Haddock’s animation and motion capture was awful. No animated character has looked as creepy, since the dead-eyed zombies ofThe Polar Express (2004). The animation was otherwise top class and even incredibly lifelike in parts: qualities that one has now come to expect from Weta Digital.

Now, onto the meat of the matter: how was the film?  Eminently watchable. This was not a lets-just-render-one-book-for-the-screen-and-smirk-all-the-way-to-the bank movie. The film-makers had a loftier goal: to stay true to the spirit of the series, but with a new plot. Suspense, adventure, Thomson/Thompson pratfalls and little clues for the viewer make for a most enjoyable film. They had lots of references to the comics without ever going overboard.  One particularly enjoyable moment was when Tintin gets his caricature drawn by a street artist and the audience collectively went, “Heh. Good one”.  Sure, some of the humour was a bit over the top (Haddock fuelling a plane with his whisky breath, or buildings merrily sailing away on a flood), but this sort of slapstick humour was expected. I mean, have you read a Tintin comic lately?
Fanboys on the other hand, there’s simply no pleasing them. This is known. If you do succeed in gaining their approval, rest assured that nobody else will watch that film because it will be mired in trivia and easter eggs. They will carry on about how the masthead of the Unicorn was three inches off, or how the wrong sort of ivy was growing on Marlinspike Hall. They forget that the magic of Tintin does not lie in its self-referential in-jokes or Sakharine’s backstory; it was the good, old-fashioned, almost fantastic tales of adventure and mystery that first made you fall in love with the series. It was like a travelogue for children, who then went and sailed the seas in their imaginary ships and bathed their bedroom floors in the blood of countless mad scientists and oil sheikhs. Fanboys be damned, this film lived up to its promise.
Although, I’ll give them this much: I wouldn’t have caught half the easter eggs if it hadn’t been for excited whispers of “That’s from Blue Lotus!” and “That vase in the corner is from Something of the something else” emanating from the next seat. Oddly endearing, even if you are resisting the urge to beat them with a bag of rotten oranges.
Bait the Fanboy
You will need:
1 bottle of tequila
1-2 fanboys (must be passionate about same TV show/cartoon/comic)
1 Comfortable armchair/couch
How to play:
1. Find 1 or 2 fanboys and engage them in conversation. Within 5 minutes they will have mentioned their comic/cartoon/TV show/movie of interest.
2. Tell him/her how much you love their subject of interest. This is to lull them into a false sense of security.
3. When they’re deep into a monologue about the cultural/artistic/social significance of pg. 15 of the third volume/season, interrupt them and say, “Yeah, and I really loved the movie adaptation. It was spot on!”
4. Sit back, and let them start talking. Every time they use the following words/phrases, drink 1 shot: “outrage”, “shallow”, “disregards established canon”, “misunderstood”, “did not stay true to the spirit”, “director of the film should be drawn and quartered”. Drink two shots for every time they use the word “travesty”.
5.  Enjoy the party and remember to keep yourself well hydrated!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SUPER 8 (2011)

The movie that Super 8 most obviously evokes is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – the idea of an alien creature coming into the lives of a group of young kids, and the ways in which the subsequent encounter alters their relationships. Considering that Spielberg is credited as producer, and the movie is directed by his much spoken about protégé, J.J. Abrams, this is not unexpected. What is surprising though, are the ways in which Super 8 manages to stand out on its own, away from the towering shadow of one of the greatest works of a master director.

What helps is that it is a homage about homage. The central group of child characters in Super 8are obsessed with the magic of the movies: there is the scene-scouting director (this is gold!), the obsessed-with-explosives SFX man, the powerful young actress, the queasy leading man, and our make-up artist protagonist. There is a wonderful moment where a film projector involuntarily interrupts an already tender scene between two characters, and the resultant projection elevates it to another level. The best scenes in this movie simply involve the kids playing off against each other, working up to creating an award-winning zombie movie with heart. Abrams is successful in supplying this movie with that very heart, and the fantastic first half gives us a lot to play with.

J.J. Abrams

The movie our young filmmakers are trying to create leads them to witness a massive train crash – where the train’s mysterious cargo escapes. Before they know it, the U.S. military is on the case, and strange occurrences start happening in the town. The dogs are missing, electronics have vanished, and soon people start following suit. There is a tremendous amount of tension built up with these early sequences, as we are left guessing about the nature of this creature.

The problem is, nothing can quite match up to what the imagination creates, and Abrams’ final revelation of the “monster” is somewhat underwhelming. Where the first half builds itself on charming character-play and thudding suspense, the second half veers into full-blown spectacle – and suffers as a result. The spectacle itself is well done, and the action sequences thrilling, but there is a somewhat discomfiting genre switch that is a bit hard to digest.

That said, Super 8 still works. This is, thanks to, in no small part, the excellent performances Abrams extracts from his young cast. Recall if you will, that E.T. featured a young Drew Barrymore; this movie has Dakota Fanning’s younger sister Elle Fanning, and in a scene that moves the characters within the movie to tears, she begins to steal the film. Our protagonist has a milder approach to his character that still remains quite endearing. Kyle Chandler as the father is not quite the sympathetic presence he was in Friday Night Lights, but I think he is partly let down by a poorly written character.

A final word on the movie-within-the-movie. Make sure you stay back for the credits; we get to watch the full version of the movie our young filmmakers have been working on. It is charming, faux-scary, and a pure blast of fun. Kind of like Super 8 itself, really.

(as published on