Month: July 2010

Island of Lost Souls: Review for “Shutter Island”

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There are great directors, people that audiences would say “I would watch him direct an insurance commercial and I would still love it”. The reason that is, is that there are some directors whose panache and style and technique are so superior, that they can turn even the most banal programs or ads into art. Well, that may be a stretch, but it’s not too far off for one director of the famed Four Amigos, a group of auteurs composed of Oscar winners and visionaries. The four members are Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese. Each has made their mark on cinema somehow or another and they have all won an Oscar for best Director…well, except Star Wars helmer Lucas. But, the point is, the group will always have an audience of cinephiles.

Scorsese, having made incredibly important films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and having finally won his first Oscar in 2007 for The Departed, takes it a slight step down from high art to just a really good B-movie noir. But it doesn’t matter, really, because Scorsese owns the picture and controls every movement of the camera, making it better and smarter than almost any director could have done. The film is based on Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Set in 1954, Teddy Williams (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) head out to Shutter Island, where they investigate the disappearance of an inmate at the asylum known as Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Rachel Solando has gone missing, but Teddy feels something lies beneath, something far more sinister and deadly. Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is the brooding and creepy psychiatrist, with Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow) a suspicious doctor all the same. Williams eventually thinks he’s uncovered a conspiracy involving torture and experimental procedures performed on the patients, including mind control and lobotomies.

Not that it means much, but this noir epic of sorts is a fine film, made for the enjoyment of the audience without becoming too metaphorical. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Boston accent is kind of painful, and it sounded better in The Departed. But, what he lacked in Inception in terms of emotional believability, he has here in full amounts. A man who can’t let go of the past, this tortured soul is perfect for DiCaprio and he makes it believable and real without being melodramatic or fake.

The supporting cast is brilliant, with Michelle Williams playing Williams’s dead wife, Ruffalo as the partner, and Ben Kingsley playing a dark doctor .Ben Kingsley’s smooth intonation and calm enunciations make this role scary and even layered, giving him intellectual power and prowess.

The cinematography and score are the high points in the film. The sprawling shots slowly move like a slithering snake ready for attack. It is an attack in some way. An attack of the imagination and of the mind, pulling strings and bending light around your head. Twisty and tortuous, the film slithers throughout, confusing the audience and dissolving the fine line between reality and fantasy. Lingering shots of dead children and mauled Nazis flow across the screen, beautiful in a horrible and disgusting way. The flashbacks and dreamscapes add to the suspense and horror of the film. The score is a wonderful and powerful compilation of various classical pieces, some from John Adams and Ingram Marshall, which intensifies every moment on screen. Sometimes mildly cliché, but the moment is anticipated by the music, and it is well done.

Scorsese expertly crafts the film into a harrowing horror and a thrilling film. The camera flows, and DiCaprio plays a believable tortured soul. The plot is as twisty and shocking as the best Twilight Zone episode, but added is a sense of mystery and suspense created by a fantastic score. While it may not be high art, it makes for a fantastic psychological thriller.

Grade: B+

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: Review for Inception

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I think audiences need a little complexity in their films. I think lately, blockbusters are too simple, both in character depth and storyline. But Chris Nolan has always been opposed to such simplicity. He wrote and directed Memento, the most non-linear story told ever. I mean, for goodness sake, it was told backwards! And then there was Insomnia with Al Pacino and Robin Williams, a highly acclaimed film that was a remake of a Norwegian thriller. Complex and thrilling, the film grossed more than $100 million worldwide. And, of course, his two Batman films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, that changed the vigilante hero into a vigilante human. Giving Batman a flawed personality, we were introduced to him anew, and unlike any director had done so before, similarly like Martin Campbell rebooting James Bond.

And now Christopher Nolan has boggled minds all over again, with the trippiest and most complicated film I have seen in years. In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a thief who steals ideas form people’s dreams. When hired by a high powered business man, Saito (Ken Watanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima), Dom must perform a difficult task: Inception. A master at extraction, in other words stealing ideas from people’s dreams, inception involves planting the seed of an idea in someone’s mind. It has almost never worked.

He assembles a team of dream fighters: The Extractor/Inceptor, Dom; The Point Man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); The Architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page); The Forger, Eames (Tom Hardy, Bronson); The Chemist, Yusuf (Dileep Rao); and The Tourist, Saito. The film becomes more and more complex, with the Mark being Cilian Murphy, whose father was the head of a rival corporation.

Dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams. It’s almost completely ridiculous how complex the film is. But, in a way, it’s quite a fresh change for cinematic styles. You know, you have to pay astute attention to get it. Even with just having watched it once, it’s a good idea to see it twice until you make your final judgment.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in some sort of trend where he plays characters lousily that have serious emotional problems. They can’t let go of their past and it gets in the way of things they do. Previously, DiCaprio played Teddy Williams in Martin Scorsese’s thriller Shutter Island (Based on the novel by Denise Lehane). He is the weakness of the film, and character, no matter how emotionally damaged he is, lacks believability. And when the main character has such a deep past, it’s a wonder he doesn’t ruin the film completely. Just thank the rest of the cast.

The repartee between Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun, (500) Days of Summer) and Hardy is funny and quick, both sharp tongued characters and actors. Ellen Page plays the newbie on the team, and her character creates an odd bond with Dom. But she doesn’t create an overly melodramatic subplot making Dom an impossible love interest. Marion Cotillard plays Dom’s deceased wife, Mal, who appears as the Shade, the character always trying to manipulate and sabotage the job. Cotillard is a spectacular actress, always filling her roles with seriousness and emotion.

I commend Christopher Nolan on writing a brilliant script. It’s been years that something has wrung with both emotion and complexity. It’s a serious thriller, combining action and cerebral thriller, as well as emotional resonance to make one heck of a film. It’s visually arresting and stimulating, and you’ll walk out of the theater questioning your own reality.

Grade: B+

Hell in (Jimmy Choo) Heels: A Look at Anna Wintour in The September Issue and Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

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The Devil Wears Prada is one of my all-time favorite films. Perhaps because it treats the fashion industry with more respect than it is usually given in mainstream pop culture. Ormaybe because Anne Hathaway is charming as a naïve newcomer at a fashion magazine. Or perhaps because Emily Blunt is so scathingly funny as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, cold and kind of mean. Wait, I know exactly why. Because Meryl Streep is amazing in it.

In the adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s semi-autobiographical novel, Meryl Streep plays the editor-in-chief of a world renowned fashion magazine called Runway. Priestly is one of the most ruthless and deadly bosses in the business, so much so that people will walk out of elevators so she can have one of her own. But what makes Streep’s performance so mesmerizing and awesome is the fact that she doesn’t make it a caricature or joke. She plays it seriously, and even gives Priestly a heart and real emotion, something Weisberger failed to show in her novel.

In the documentary The September Issue, we follow Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, whom Weisberger based her devil on. But Wintour throughout the documentary proves she’s not nearly as evil as is thought. Icy, cold, and bitchy; yes, she is. But not heartless. She’s professional about everything, even though she does remain the commander in the office.The

doc, which chronicles the making of Vogue’s 2007 September issue, their biggest ever, also provides enlightenment on how Vogue is run. We meet Grace Coddington, a former model and now creative director at Vogue. She has true fire and passion. As she tries to save her babies throughout the issue, particularly her 1920’s tribute section, which looks absolutely gorgeous.

While Anna and Miranda may have paralleling histories and behaviors, the two are very different. The actual character of Miranda is a hyped up, evil joke used as revenge on Wintour, but Streep handles the role with grace and passion, making Miranda Priestly a much more interesting and complex character. In one scene, Andy (Anne Hathaway) walks in on Miranda, wiping her tears, and we see Miranda vulnerable, watching her as she asks Andy to try to cover up Miranda’s recent divorce plans with her husband. We are shown that she isn’t a career obsessed minion of evil; she’s a human, and moreover she’s a woman who loves her children and wants to protect them from the world of hurt she knows. But what’s misinterpreted as being work crazy is merely being acceptably devoted and passionate about your job. It’s the same with Anna Wintour, who, wearing those icy shades, has been called the Ice Queen. She’s passionate about work, but she’s professional. She’s doing her job; she’s not doing it to be spiteful.

The Devil Wears Prada is both a fun film to watch on a Sunday night, but also something that can be legitimately seen as a film as opposed to a movie or chick flick. The September Issue is an engrossing documentary that shows how beautiful fashion can be and how passionate people can be about their work. And both show audiences that fashion isn’t just the clothes you buy, but that it’s actual art.

The Devil Wears Prada: A-

The September Issue: B+

The Devil Wears Prada Trailer/Excerpt:

The September Issue trailer:

Fellini Fiasco: Review for “Nine”

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According to Wikipedia, Neorealism, or Italian Neorealism, is a style of art that is characterized by portraying the poor and working class families of characters and filmed on location. Sometimes using non processional actors, neorealism portrays everyday life of poverty and desperation. One of the most famous of the Neorealist directors, supposedly (though it doesn’t really make sense” is Federico Fellini. Fellini was famous for making brooding and dark films, like La Strada and La Dolce Vita. At a time in his life where he had reached a sort of “director’s block”, he made a shocking and groundbreaking surrealistic film called 8 ½, the numbers representing the number of movies he had made thus far; eight feature length films and the ½ for a short film.

The film, famous for showing trippy and fantastical dreamscapes, was adapted by Arthur Kopit into a musical called Nine (though, I think it should have been called Nine and a Half, considering the musical was a full length production), with the score by Maury Yeston. Originally starring Raul Julia, the first production was in 1982, and it was directed by Broadway legend Tommy Tune. In 2009, Oscar nominated director of the musical Chicago, Rob Marshall, adapted the musical to the screen with a “so-starry-it’ll-blind-you” cast.

Nine is a midlife crisis movie, illustrating famed Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) going through a troubled time, trying to direct a new film while he can’t even write the first page of the script. Meanwhile, the women in his life are shaking things up, with his wife Louisa (Marion Cotillard) fighting depression, his mistress Carla (Oscar nominated Penelope Cruz) whining about not being able to be with him at all times, his star and muse Claudia Jensen (Nicole Kidman) losing faith in his new film, and his mother (Sophia Loren) being all motherly, as well and sorting out his problems with his costume designer and confidant Lili La Fleur (Judi Dench). His life falls apart, and when he tries to turn to these women, it just gets worse. Think of it as Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women in musical form, but with the main man at the front of the film.

The visual design is the film’s strong point, of course, with the dazzling Rob Marshall doing a fine job, and Oscar winning costume designer Coleen Atwood doing what she does best: creating flashy and amazing pieces. The cinematography by Dion Beebe is top notch, and the overall cinematic style is gorgeous and luxurious, like Marshall’s previous work on Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. It flows through the musical numbers easily and smoothly.

Daniel Day-Lewis’s Italian accent sounds oddly thick and cumbersome, and halfway through the film, we’re still not used to it. But, it doesn’t exactly mar the performance much. His singing ability is quite average, and he tries to make it through numbers like “Guido’s Song” and “I Can’t Make This Movie”. I kind of wonder why Marshall didn’t cast Antonio Banderas, who played Contini in the Tony winning revival of Nine on Broadway.

Marion Cotillard gives a fine performance as his wounded wife, struggling with loving Guido while he’s off philandering. Her voice, however, is weak and not meant for this role, one that belts out “Take It All” as a “lover wronged” song. Her eyes are full of emotion and she has a genuine sense of loss and sadness, but it’s a musical role and the latter half of it is not good.

Penelope Cruz is Carla, Guido’s sexy mistress. Cruz is the best of the cast when it comes to singing unprofessionally, as she purrs her way through “A Call from the Vatican”, what sounds like Maury Yeston’s answer to “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago. While the song, full of blatant sexual references (as opposed to “Mama’s” being subtle innuendos), may sound sexy from Cruz’s soft vice, the song itself is actually quite bland and a little vulgar. Cruz spends most of her time in the time whining, and if we’re supposed to sympathize with Carla, it doesn’t work. Marshall tries his best to play up “mistresses have feelings too”, but why should she whine when Louisa is the most hurt?

Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, or Stacy Ferguson, does a terrific job in an underwritten, almost unused character; Saraghina, the whore from Guido’s childhood, and she storms through the screen singing “Be Italian”, easily the best number in the film. Sexy and sultry, she looks great and the choreography is awesome. But Saraghina only has that one little role.

The rest of the cast, in comparison with Cruz and Cotillard, are hardly in the film. Judi Dench is divine as Lili and she does a good job singing “Folies Bergères”, but it isn’t great. Kate Hudson plays a Vogue fashion reporter who hits on Guido constantly, and while she does a good job singing “Cinema Italiano”, the version that’s featured in the film sounds flat and boring. Check out the single version, that’s on iTunes. Sophia Loren is hardly in the film, making appearances here and there, acting motherly. You’d think they would have used her as much as possible, but they don’t. And Nicole Kidman is again hardly in the film, which is a disappointment. While she soulfully sings “Unusual Way”, it’s a bit unusual that the director didn’t manage to incorporate equal amount of screen time for all of his actresses.

Nine is quite obviously not as good as Chicago, simply because Nine isn’t that great to begin with. The score is average, and the story is better told by Fellini himself than someone else. The film 8 ½ broke the fourth wall in many ways, introducing new techniques and ways to look at art. But the musical can’t deal with that. It tries to be big and huge and have as many stars as possible, but it becomes top heavy and its storyline weighs it down. Overall, Nine is enough.

Grade: B-

Dry the Last Tear and Move On, by Asma Khan

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I asked a simple question

Hope in my eyes,

A dream in my heart,

All I was waiting for, was your answer


And that sent my world tumbling down

What could I do?        Challenging that answer was something that was out of the question.

I’m a daughter who doesn’t fight back, you see.       No after no after no.

It builds up inside.      Once in a while my heart        e    x    p    l    o    d    e    s.






But I have to put it back together.

It’s the only thing I can do.

I believe in living life to the fullest.

But you’re the ones who are forbidding me to live it at all.




I’m piecing it back together.  I won’t give up.  I’m going to find happiness.

There’s nothing that can bring me down.

I am determined to fill my life with love, with joy, with pulchritude.

To me, the meaning of it is not            breathing.

So many rules, so many boundaries.  Do you really think that having that many laws is a good thing?

Then you wonder why your daughter doesn’t tell.             Why so many daughters don’t tell.

Nothing can ever be in the open.


Sometimes, we just wish that they could live the life of another.

Have freedom at every corner

Not live the life of a sad mourner

Every door of my life is like a secret

An un-opened envelope

A well-written book.

Waiting to be




It’s all anyone wants.  To feel like you can fly away, and do anything your heart desires.  Make all of your dreams come true.

There are so many locks.

Unfortunately, you never open your eyes, because right in front of you

is the                            key.

Courtesy of Asma Khan.

See review here.