Molly’s Game – A Review

Image result for molly's gameAaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game. For his first directorial venture, Sorkin choses the explosive story of ex-Olympic class skier Molly Bloom and her high stakes poker game which brought everyone from Hollywood’s who’s to the billionaire wall street players around the table..

 

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom and the story follows her near fatal fall while skiing to when she moves to Los Angeles to take an off year before law-school. Alternating between waitressing and temping at a real-estate developer in LA Molly is invited to play hostess at an exclusive poker game. This whets her appetite for the life of high stakes poker. What follows is the meteoric rise and the subsequent dramatic fall of the “Poker Princess”. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Molly. She seems to be the embodiment of all of Sorkin women. She is equal parts emotionally fragile and stoic, at once resentful of all the people around her and at the same time acting as a sympathetic pit-boss when her players lose big or profess love to her. There are moments when you see glimpses of Maya from Zero Dark Thirty and that is a good thing. This movie is essentially a one woman show and Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie on her lithe shoulders.

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Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. Elba is a hot-shot newyork lawyer and a former prosecutor who reluctantly agrees to take Molly’s case. Elba while possessing a great screen presence seems to struggle while enunciating his dialogues. Elba’s delivery is not best suited for the rat-a-tat-tat dialogues of a Sorkin screenplay also known as Sorkin-isms. Unfortunately Elba makes a real mess of his screen time and is nearly unbearable.

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Sorkin is a phenomenal writer and has turned in some of my favourite screenplays both on television and cinema. The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. But none of these were directed by Sorkin, and that is where I think Sorkin needs to up his game. The script and screenplay seem to become overbearing with Chastain’s Molly essentially doing a voice-over for almost the entirety of the movie. While Chastain is a phenomenal actress, her voice over skills make the proceedings feel like a real drag. With a Sorkin script the build-up is lengthy and very wordy but the pay-offs are huge and eternally satisfying, here there is so much build up about the high stakes poker and the players involved but the payoff feels like a  let-down

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The big ticket item is the who’s who of Hollywood who came to play at bloom’s games and here it is an afterthought. The juiciest bits are left off the screen and the burden of carrying the story forward falls on Chastain entirely.

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Mildly entertaining due to the fantastic Jessica Chastain but almost excruciating due to Idris Elba and his inability to speak clearly Molly’s Game is a Bad Beat- a subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses. I expected more from Sorkin’s directorial debut.

Steve Jobs – A Review

 Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in and as Steve Jobs.  Supported by an ensemble cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlberg in a script by Aaron Sorkin this is the definitive Steve Jobs movie that we have been waiting for. By no means is this a flattering biopic at one of the 21st century’s most fascinating figures from the world of Technology. Equal parts genius and tyrant Jobs was an enigmatic figure who many credit to having revolutionalised the personal computing world.

Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given.  The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny.  Besides the physical similarities his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scene, you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ work wife does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. She plays the understanding yet exasperated partner to Jobs.  Winslet is assured a nomination as supporting actor and at this stage I am willing to bet that she takes home the gold. She is that good.   Jeff Daniels as John Scully the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power packed performance as well.

But the real star of the movie is Script writer Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work this movie is jam packed with Sorkinisms. To the uninitiated Sorkinisms is when a bunch of characters talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects yet everything seems to sound so profound. Yes many have disliked this very aspect of Sorkin’s writing but I couldn’t care less about them. I love it. It makes for an edge of seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom. Sorkin has written this movie in 3 acts. The first one at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of times magazine and how he fights the paternity law suit and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2 a machine he deems unworthy of his time and something that was a thing of the past. His relationship with Scully though has shades of a father-son dynamic where Jobs looks up to Scully.  Act 2 is after jobs has been fired from apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronizes Woz while still there is that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully though has changed and we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from apple.  This is 1988.  Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to reign in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about t. Finally we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again and this time Woz has the last word it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the story telling that is usually missing from a biopic.  Trying to capture the eccentricities of Steve Jobs they masterfully weave the fact that he was vegan into the narrative when Jobs and Scully are meeting for the first time when Jobs wants Scully to come on board as CEO. The story behind the apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing is dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. And the final scene where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her how he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn’t have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player aka the genesis of the IPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.

Daniel Pemberton’s understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never once seem to overpower the scenery. Alwin H Kuchler as the DOP brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna. It feels hurried and frenetic at the same time as it a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Birdman where the camera follows jobs through the various corridors and rooms as Jobs meets with and talks to the different characters.I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does not live up to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah but rather paints a picture of a brilliant yet arrogant and a mostly flawed individual. I think that is the best way to portray a man who was exactly that. Unless of course it was Steve Jobs who was making a movie about himself then he would present that in a slick packaging with millions would be foaming at the mouth to get a piece of. This is exceptional film making and a story telling that is second to none.

Sorkin Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time. I cannot wait to go back and watch this again.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

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B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

The Bling Ring – A Review

Sofia Coppola directs Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Israel Broussard in The Bling Ring based off the article published in the Vanity Fair Magazine about the series of burglaries that hit the Hollywood It set.

This movie serves as my introduction to Coppola whose work has been vastly admired and something that I have been meaning to get into but just haven’t been able to.  And on first viewing it is easy to dismiss The Bling Ring as a social commentary on the vapid celebrity driven culture that is currently plaguing America (and many others). But Coppola is a brilliant director who has created a layered movie with each character having being written so effortlessly and so accurately that it feels intimate the more you think about it.

The opening shot of Emma Watson going on a rant that if taken out of context would not be very different from those hilarious videos of the pageant queens stumbling through answers. But when that moment actually arrives in the movie you realize the portrait of a fragile young girl who has self-image issues and is trying to overcome those by seeking the attention in the worst possible ways.

Of the cast every single one of them is competent and does a fantastic job of being despicable young adults, Katie Chang as Rebecca the ring leader, Israel Broussard as Marc , Claire Julien as Chloe, Emma Watson as Nicki. Katie Chang reminds me of Ellen Paige from Hard Candy and that is a fantastic comparison to have.

The styling of these individuals is impeccable and seems to jump right off the pages of the magazines. And the scenes are framed beautifully. The late Harris Savides who previously captured the dark monotones of Zodiac and American Gangsters collaborates here with Christopher Blauvelt to ring a airy Californian vibe to the entire proceeding

I do have one gripe with the movie though – the scenes of robbery do get repetitive after the first two and maybe the third could have been shown through just the news clippings or could have been avoided completely till the final reveal when Nicki shares a prison cell with Lohan. The movie sticks closely to the article in Vanity Fair and I wish a little more time was spent on the characters outside of the nightclubs and the fancy dresses because they make for very interesting character studies.

I would highly recommend this movie as not only a social commentary on the cultural depravity that is ruining the youth with gossip sites and magazines and unhealthy body image  but also as a wonderful foray into psyche of the young people who have fallen prey to this madness.

 

 

The Great Gatsby – A Review

Baz Luhrmann returns to familiar territory of star-crossed lovers and this time the landscape shifts to 1920s New York. Reuniting with his Romeo Leonardo as The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann tries to breathe fresh life into this great american novel which I unfortunately have never read. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick, Joel Edgerton as Tom, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and an almost unrecognizable Isla Fisher as Myrtle.
Not being familiar with F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel I went in knowing only that it was set in the 1920s era of debauchery, that it was about two star crossed lovers and that it was in the voice of Nick Caraway and in this case Tobey Maguire (and that thought made me squeamish because I am not the biggest Maguire fan). But I happen to love Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice in movies and Carey Mulligan in my opinion is one of the best underrated actresses working today.
There are a lot of era-specific references with the Wall Street boom, the end of the prohibition, loose morals, the plight of the working class and the excesses of the rich. Fitzgerald’s story seems to have influenced many writers and stories to have come afterwards and since this was the first time I was seeing Gatsby I immediately thought of Don Draper when Gatsby’s roots are revealed.
Luhrmann is known for his over-the-top style when it comes to set decorations, choice of music and even the camera angles he chooses, these choices render some of the story elements coming across as jerky and incoherent. The first party which Tom whisks Nick away to is a fine example of the Luhrmann excess. Garish red interiors to a saxophone player on the fire escape to signature zooming in of the camera. The point of the scene was lost on me until the point when Maguire starts’ mouthing what I assume is the prose from the novel verbatim. While I marveled at the beauty of the prose and am compelled to pick up the novel for a read I have to dock a point from Luhrmann as it is a clear sign of weakness that he has to rely on the exact prose to convey the story.
The movie takes off after the second party with the introduction to Gatsby, with the fireworks in the background and a grand symphony to herald the on-screen reveal of DiCaprio as Gatsby. DiCaprio is an actor who doesn’t cease to surprise, he could just as easily have caved into what is Luhrmann’s over the top style and played Gatsby as the self-assured suave nouveau riche gentleman but what DiCaprio does is infuse a sense of earnestness and honesty to the character that is absolutely endearing. You see the cracks beneath the veneer and you see Gatsby second guessing and enquiring in the most earnest way if the party is to everyone’s liking but then again you are left second guessing yourself if this is a man who is so sure in his ways that this candor and modesty is an act to make the guest feel welcome. DiCaprio’s performance is enough to convey the eternal hopefulness that he lives by dreaming that Daisy will be his , it is not required for Maguire to tell us that “he is the most hopeful man I’ve ever come across”. I could sit here and extoll what a wonderful job DiCaprio does here and how he is reason enough to see the movie but then that would take up a lot more words than I intend to write for the review. Just take my word for it- he is the warmth of Jack (titanic), the paranoia of Howard(aviator) and the slightly unhinged Teddy (Shutter Island) all rolled into one fine package and he looks better than ever in a finely cut suit. And that scene at Nick’s place where Gatsby comes over for tea with Daisy is so awkward and charismatic that you are instantly on team-gatsby and willing for him to win daisy over.


Of the other cast Carey Mulligan is sufficiently coquettish and breathes life into the character of daisy which could have just as easily become a despicable character given her ambiguous overtures towards Gatsby and the eventual fateful climax. Tobey Maguire is annoying but not for all the usualy reasons I find him annoying – he is annoying because of Luhmann’s incompetencies he makes Tobey the medium through which major passages from the novel are spoon fed to the audience. Outside of that he is alright. Joel Edgerton has a caricature of a character to portray and he does so well but isn’t given a lot of room to grow. Elizabeth Debicki surprised me the most in the short amount of time she is allowed on screen as Jordan baker. Not only is she a statuesque beauty who commands screen presence like the leading ladies of the yesteryears but her almost wry confidence is very intriguing and she was the one character I wanted to know more about . Amitabh Bachchan makes a Hollywood debut that should have happened sooner considering his talent, here as the oily creepy jewish mobster Meyer Wolfsheim is effective in the very brief screen time, but sufficient to prove that he has a better accent than his daughter in law. I wish he gets a meatier role courtesy of The Great Gatsby.

With Gatsby Lurhmann’s tried to recreate the 1920s via the production design and the costumes and most of it checks all the boxes. Catherine martin is sure to be one of the names at the top of the list come award season for her work on both the costumes and production design. With Shawn Carter a.k.a. Jay Z acting as producer and also musical contributor introduces one hell of an OST that will also feature a few contenders. In my opinion the top three songs are Lana Del Ray’s “Young and beautiful”, Jack White’s “Love is blindness” and Florence Welsh’s “Over the love” . I could and have listened to LDR’s young and beautiful on a loop.


While not perfect The Great Gatsby is perfectly satisfying because of the hopeful earnestness of Leonardo DiCaprio. He is the hero you cheer for till the very end , when he looks up from the swimming pool as the phone rings hoping that it is daisy calling. Watch this great american novel come to life courtsey one of the greatest working actor today watch The Great Gatsby for Leonardo DiCaprio.