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.

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The Martian – A Review

Ridley Scott direct Matt Damon and an impressive ensemble of supporting cast of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Davis, Sebastian Stan in The Martian.

Based on the book by Andy Weir, screen writer Drew Goddard manages to keep the humor and sarcasm from the book and translates that to screen without making it sound cheesy or making light of the actual science involved. From story and screenplay point of view The Martian strikes a perfect balance of keeping the science real and still ensuring that casual moviegoers are not overwhelmed and ultimately disinterested. Comparisons calling this Apollo 13 meets Castaway aren’t far off the mark.

The story sees Mark Watney and his band of Astronauts exploring the inhospitable martian terrain when a storm looms ahead and the team is forced to return to the safety of the MAV and leave as the strength of storm was underestimated. Watney gets stranded and is assumed dead as the crew unwillingly decide to leave him behind and return to Hermes to embark on the journey back home. Turns out Watney isn’t dead but is left to his own devices as he tries to survive on the planet where nothing survives. Watney tries his hand at farming, foraging for the pathfinder and setting up a communication link back to earth using primitive techniques. Damon is perfectly cast as Watney as his dry humor and wry smile carry the entire movie on his shoulders. I could go on discussing the several hilarious scenarios he is faced with but it is best experienced first-hand on the big screen.

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The support cast is jam packed with talented names but there are so many that they are almost callously handled. Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA phones it in, there is no undercurrent of passion that we saw him demonstrate in The Newsroom. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor also seems badly written, Sean Bean as the guy who heads the mission to mars is also underwritten and his talents of dying in every movie he stars in are also criminally wasted. Donald Glover is stereotypical Nasa nerd. Benedict Wong and Kristen Wigg do a fine enough job but could have done so much more in trying to infuse more humor than they do. The only one from the support cast who left a lasting impression was Mackenzie Davis who is the first one to report that Mark Watney might actually still be alive on Mars. Jessica Chastain as the 80s disco music obsessed but cool and detached commander is also perfectly cast.

Supporting cast weakness aside, where The Martian triumphs is in its casting of Damon and his portrayal of the eternally optimistic Mark Watney who promises to “science the shit out of this” as he does everything possible to survive – I wish there was Eye of the Tiger playing in one of the scenes it would have been perfect but Hot Stuff and Fonz from Happy Days more than makes up for it. Technically the movie isn’t anything ground breaking in terms of the space-y visuals but it is adequate and does the job.

The movie shines for its light hearted and tongue in cheek look at the sci-fi which more often than not takes on a far too serious a tone and nothing against it but this one works just as well. And Matt Damon is brilliant. He reminds me of Soderberg’s underrated The Informant and that is a very very good thing. And the 80s music is a guilty pleasure so give me more disco any day of the week and I will be a happy bunny!

Interstellar – A Spoiler free Review

A Christopher Nolan movie is an event movie – it deserves tonnes of press and an even greater amount of hype and excitement as Nolan rarely disappoints. The man who single handedly revived the super-hero genre, the one who dabbled in magic and memory loss and dared peer inside our dreams is revered among cinephiles and for good reason. And when this man sets off on an inter-galactic voyage you simply strap in and join him for the ride on the biggest screen possible. To say I am a Nolan devotee would be a gross understatement. I have devoured every tidbit of information that came out while Nolan worked away on his space sojourn and Interstellar was the number 1 most anticipated movie for me for this year. I was back in 2010 when I was waiting with bated breath for Inception to unfold and for it to silence all Nolan critics and it did in spectacular fashion. Would Interstellar be able to continue Nolan’s winning streak or will the law of averages finally catch up with this auteur. Read on to find out more – there are no spoilers in this review

The story starts in the near future where science is all but forgotten, the school teach students that the Moon landing was a hoax perpetrated to bankrupt the Soviet Union and trained astronauts are left to plough the field for crop. This is the caretaker generation, struggling through dust clouds and crop blights to survive while staring extinction in the face. Through curiously encoded messages Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey and Murph played by Mackenzie Foy end up at NORAD a clandestine NASA mission run by the Nolan-regular Michael Caine playing Professor Brand. He asks Cooper – the best pilot they ever had- to join the mission along with his daughter Amelia played by Anne Hathaway, Romily played by David Gyassi and Doyle played by Wes Bentley. The mission is to follow 3 of the 12 previous astronauts who left our galaxy to travel through a mysterious wormhole to look for other planets which could be used to sustain human life.  No more story-wise, lest I risk the spoiling of the surprises that are in-store.

Nolan is a master of visuals. His association with Wally Pfisher was what elevated his movies to the next level. With Hoyte Van Hoytema donning the cinematographer’s hat I had a feeling we won’t be let down because he filmed the wonderful Her last year and made the future very accessible and believable. The visuals Van Hoytema creates of the inter-galactic voyage are stunning in their grandeur but as one wired article evidences they are also based on a very real scientific equations which Kip Thorne the theoretical physicist from Caltech collaborated on with the team behind interstellar. The wormhole, the blackhole, and the Endurance spacecraft passing alongside Saturn are all stunning in their detail and scale. Where the visuals however are let down are with the background score. Hans Zimmer who has provided very complementary scores for previous Nolan movies plays it too heavy handedly this time around. The loud klaxon based soundtrack takes away from the scene and makes it almost unbearable. A Clint Mansel or Alexandre Desplat score would have served Nolan better giving it the Kubrickian feel of using the classical compositions. With the thunderous riffs and booming drums of Zimmer the crescendos come quick and fast but there is no payoff visually or story wise .

Nolan had me scratching my head when he announced that Matthew McConaughey would be the lead actor in Interstellar and my worst fears have come to fruition. Every time Cooper opens his mouth to speak out comes the stoner cowboy drawl that will dull anyone to sleep. Half the time his words are illegible and the other half just unbearable. He is unbelievable as someone who understands and can hold a conversation about quantum physics and he puts in no efforts to the contrary either.  Anne Hathaway is still stuck being Fantine from Les Miserables and cannot seem to turn the tears out. If we had a whiny bio-physicist and a stoned out southerner to rely on to save the fate of humanity our chances look grim. Thats where the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain comes in – she is the only one that manages to come across as someone with a sane mind but her interaction with her brother played by Casey Affleck make little sense. But my biggest grief is with David Gyassi who plays fellow astronaut Romily who waits on board Endurance when Coop, Amelia and Doyle go to the planet of the Tsunami waves. He ages 22 years when they get back on the spacecraft and I for one instance thought he was just hamming it to tease Coop and Amelia on the passage of time but he wasn’t and he had really aged and he acts really weird too, walks with a slouch and sounds defeated. The whole effect is jarring and not entirely believable.

For a movie that is nearly 3 hours long there are key scenes which feel rushed and unresolved. The initiation of Cooper into the Save-the-humanity program, the travel to the different planets to find the data, the climax which holds the key to the human survival seem hurried and rough. If more time was spent on these, more technical aspects of what is essentially a sci-fi adventure it would have felt like the Nolan movie I have come to expect. Instead we spend an inordinately long time setting up the doomsday scenario in the first half with the dustbowl and the father daughter bond that will be Cooper’s driving force. Also once onboard the time spent whining about personal issues is almost juvenile and for Nolan standards unpardonable. Instead of Cooper and Amelia talking I would much prefer a lively chat between TRAS and CASE the two robots who are nods to HAL9000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey.

There is little doubt that this movie is not all that it could have been. A majority of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Matthew McConaughey who I hope Nolan never collaborates with ever again. But this is still a Nolan movie it is big on Ideas and huge on visual impact. For a director who dares to take such huge risks and break away from the formulaic big-budget franchise movies it deserves a watch. It won’t redefine the sci-fi genre in the way that 2001 did. But like Inception it is an idea that needs to be explored and discussed and it makes the most complicated science easily accessible and it makes you think. And I want Nolan to break the bank on this one so he can get back to the long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic.

Oscars turns 85! and there’s a big party!

Roll out the red carpet the most important little golden man approaches.  The day when I fume at the fact that Rajeev Masand gets to ask the most important questions to some of the most beautiful and talented women in the world – “who are you wearing!?” and he probably doesn’t know his Elli Saab from Lanvin! But besides the pageantry that is the pre-awards red-carpet the day is also special because the best in the business are awarded the honor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts (dubbed the Oscars)

Love them or Hate them over 1 billion people tune in to watch the Oscars and despite the number holding steady and growing substantially there is much brouhaha being made about how Oscar Awards are losing audience and relevance.  And various arguments were made that a trilogy like Nolan’s Batman would’ve brought in the required audience had It been nominated and awarded a few statuettes. SURPRISE no nominations for The Dark Knight Rises this year! Zilch! But not to worry Snow White and the Huntsman has got 2 Nominations and it will bring in some of the twi-hards.

Now that I have that out of my system lets look at the nominations and I’ll share my thoughts and predictions on who should win and who might win and would love to hear your take on the same!

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Amy Adams (The Master)

For past several years this has been the most fiercely fought category with some standout performances which have actually stolen the show.  In my opinion Adams was amazing in The Master and showed brilliant range matching PSH step for step but this is a lock for Anne Hathaway. It is an Oscar moment waiting to happen – Hathaway’s mom played Fantine on Broadway and now she reprises the role on the silver screen and delivers one the most powerful performances singing through tears that breaks your heart.

Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway – the world might hate her over-eagerness but I love her!
Who will Win: Anne Hathaway – seriously watch her sing “I dreamed a dream”. You can pretty much walk out of the movie after that song.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

A usually un-inspiring category has suddenly turned into the most talented one – PSH, De Niro (his best in years), Waltz and Tommy Lee Jones. All stellar in their own regard, and each of them delivering a performance which could easily win. A tough call

Who should Win: anyone but Alan Arkin
Who will Win: I’m tempted to say Tommy Lee Jones but with DDL it is easy to overlook Jones. And Waltz has been winning many leading up to this one. So I’m confused! But because I like Tarantino more than Spielberg I’m giving it to Waltz

Writing (Original Screenplay)
John Gatins (Flight)
Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

This took me by surprise – but I thought Zero Dark Thirty was Adapted from some Ex-Navy SEAL’s book.  But turns out Boal and Bigelow were working on the failed attempts at capturing Osama when the news broke that he was indeed killed and they realigned themselves and the outcome was Zero Dark Thirty. The only argument against ZD30 is Torture and Tarantino is the only real competition and his movies are more violent than both hurt locker and ZD30 put together.

Who Should Win: Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Tarantino.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Chris Terrio (Argo)
Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
David Magee (Life of Pi)

Argo and Life of Pi are favorite movies of the year but they are not backed by Weinstein.  Kushner is a well-respected playwright. An interesting category, which might eventually have a say in which movie takes home the best picture nod.

Who Should Win: Chris Terrio for Argo. The arguments that the end was exaggerated should be silenced by the fact that the story is adapted for dramatic effect!
Who Will Win: Russell for Silver Linings Playbook – the material while wonderful didn’t seem like it would’ve been difficult to adapt.

Cinematography
Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)
Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)
Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)
Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)
Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

Deakins was the only thing I liked about Skyfall – especially the last scene where the house is blown up and the fire reflects off the face of Craig. But Miranda cannot be denied this prize. He created one of the most visually stunning movies of the past decade (which includes Avatar).

Who Should Win: Claudio Miranda
Who Will Win: Claudio Miranda

Production Design
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

This is generally the domain of period or fantasy flicks and this year is no different.  I think this would be tossup between 19th century France vs. 19th century America.

Who Should Win: Lincoln
Who Will Win:  Lincoln

Film Editing
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

This also acts as a windsock for the final award and in that respect I think the editing should be a toss-up between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  Argo’s pacing was brilliant and the entertainment was edge of the seat. Supported by a brilliant script and screenplay ZD30 summarized the 10 year search in a compact and intense thriller.

Who Should Win: Argo
Who Will Win: Argo

Music (Original Score)
Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina)
Alexandre Desplat (Argo)
Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)
John Williams (Lincoln)
Thomas Newman (Skyfall)

I’m a huge Desplat and Newman fan and I loved Danna’s score for Life of Pi. Williams and Spielberg is a lethal combination most times.

Who Should Win: Mychael Danna
Who Will Win: It will be close but Thomas Newman might snag it.

Music (Original Song)
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
“Suddenly” from Les Miserables
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted
“Skyfall” from Skyfall

My patriotic leanings (and love for Zara Zara ) aside I don’t think Bombay Jayashree is going to win. The reason is simple. ADELE ! I cannot wait for her to perform Skyfall live and then to gush over like an over grown school girl about how she won in front of all these famous people. I love her and each time I watch her I get the “one-of-us” feeling even though her talent is definitely not “one-of-us”.

Who Should Win: Adele
Who Will Win: Adele

Animated Feature Film
Frankenweenie
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph
Paranorman
Brave

One of my favorite genres of movies! And despite pixar presence I don’t think Brave is going to win this one. Franekweenie saw the return of burton to his dark twisted humorous best. But Wreck-It Ralph should have this locked down. Brilliant from animation stand-point , a story that was entertaining and intelligent and Disney needs a win! Come on Disney!

Who Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Who Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph

Time for the big guns to roll out!  These are the four of the most coveted trophies being handed out.

Best Actress
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Naomi Watts shouldn’t even be on that list. I think Amour will take home the Best Foreign Language film easily. And the BAFTA outcome not withstanding I don’t think Riva will win this one. This is a 2 horse race between Chastain and Lawrence. I loved Lawrence and I think she is the future of Hollywood. She also has Harvey “The Hammer” Weinstein in her corner.  But Zero Dark Thirty was all about Jessica Chastain. If she is denied the honor then it is a shame. She was stellar! And to go from best sup as the bubbly blonde from The Help last year to ZD30’s Maya shows range that JLaw hasn’t shown yet.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Denzel Washington (Flight)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

When there is a Daniel Day Lewis movie coming out there shouldn’t even be nominations. He is quite simply one of the greatest living actors who goes to legendary lengths to get into the characters he portrays. His performance as Abraham Lincoln has everything the Academy loves, political biography, racial issues, foreign actor, and Daniel Day Lewis.  The others are remarkable performances in their own right but they are not Daniel Day Lewis.

Who Should Win: Daniel Day Lewis
Who Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis

Best Director
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Enough noise has already been made about Ben Affleck not being nominated and it is all justified. His was one of the best movies of the year and for him to not be nominated is nothing short of a crime. Of the ones nominated I’d happily let Lee have his second win for one of the most beautiful films of this year, that too a story which was proclaimed to be unfilmable.

Who Should Win: Ben Affleck.  Of the nominated it should be Ang Lee.
Who Will Win: David O Russell or Steven Spielberg.

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Lincoln
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Amour
Django Unchained
Argo

Notable absentees: The Dark Knight Rises. LOTR:ROTK was buried under awards for the end of the trilogy and while it was great and I don’t hate the fact that it won what it won I am miffed at the constant snub that Nolan gets for his work. And in my perfect utopian world Ben Affleck would go up on stage and announce “Oscars F*@K yourself”. But I doubt that it will happen.

My top five
Argo
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained

Who Should Win: Argo
Who Will Win: Argo

So there you have It –my predictions for the big categories – there are costumes, make up , sound mixing/editing  which while add to the final tally don’t interest me too much. I’ll be cheering and hollering like a lunatic and probably weeping with joy when ADELE performs (Oscar brings out the drama in me – more than usual) so let me know what you thought of the year 2012 at the movies!  Personally while there were some highlights I found the overall year a little underwhelming with a lot of the most anticipated movies not living up to the expectations.  Here is a momentous 2013!