Vamshidhar Kommineni

November 26, 2006

Movie Review: Firewall

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 1:37 am

Rating: 3 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation
Link to IMDB

Harrison Ford is getting a little bit too old for these kinds of movies…Ford as action hero works in Fugitive, Air Force One and even Clear and Present Danger, but his time as one is coming to an end. He looks old, bored and like he’s going through the motions in this movie.

The plot is about a vice president of computer security for a Seattle based bank named Jack. A group of enterprising thieves (led by Paul Bettany) spend way too much time learning about Jack’s family; why the movie needed to spend time explaining the son’s peanut allergy is beyond me. I guess it’s supposed to chill me to the bone that they know so much about Jack’s family, but it mostly bored me. Having learned about his family, they kidnap it in order to force Jack to steal $10,000 from each of the banks top 10,000 accounts, totaling $100 million. How very considerate of these modern day Robin Hood gang to only steal from the rich. Some writer had a field day coming up with that plot point. Of course, computers being computers, things go haywire requiring Jack to come up with clever schemes involving fax machines and iPods.

The electronic shenanigans are followed by the requisite amount of grimacing from Ford, and of course it wouldn’t be an action movie if he didn’t turn things around in his favor and single handedly kill all his family’s captors to rescue them (even when the sensible thing would have been to wait for the cops to show up :).

The other interesting thing about this movie is how it rains in Seattle from the moment the kidnapping begins to the end of the scene out near Duvall. Pretty interesting choice by the director. Of course, the funny thing is that it rarely rains that hard in Seattle, and mostly just drizzles. But I’m happy, the movie furthers the secret agenda of all Seattleites to let outsiders believe that it rains all the time, so we can have the pristine Northwest to ourselves :)

Despite my criticism above, I gave the movie 3 stars because it is a competent thriller. Yes it is formulaic and at no point do you feel compelled by the story, but it does do everything right in terms of being a decent action movie. We shouldn’t be looking for explanations or logic in these kinds of movies, and it is a fun and not entirely unprofitable way to spend a couple of hours on the couch.

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November 25, 2006

Movie Review: Volver

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 10:37 pm

Rating: 4 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation
Link to IMDB

I watched this movie in the "LandMark Egyptian" theater, which plays Indie movies. It’s a surprisingly good theater with decent acoustics. I recommend that people in Seattle check it out (not least because they play a great selection of movies). Here is what Landmark’s says about the theater:

"1 Screen. Built in 1915. Operated by Landmark since 1989. The Egyptian Theatre is located on Capitol Hill near Downtown Seattle and features a wide array of independent film, foreign language cinema, documentaries and restored classics. It was originally built as a large Masonic Temple, with offices, a main auditorium, and a smaller auditorium. In the 1970s, the Masons used the large auditorium as a wrestling arena to earn extra money. In the early 1980s it became the home of the Seattle International Film Festival, at which point the founders of the Festival moved in and gave the theatre its current Egyptian décor. The Egyptian continues to host SIFF, the largest film festival in North America."

On to the movie itself. This is Pedro Almodovar’s latest movie (in Spanish, with English subtitles) and in my opinion one of his best so far. The movie deals with 4 women spread across 3 generations and a 5th whose life is entangled with the family. This is a movie about women. The one male actor of consequence in the movie (Paco, the husband of Raimunda, the main character in the movie) is killed early in the movie in a way I won’t reveal so as to not spoil the movie, and some part of the movie deals with the consequences of his killing and the cover up that follows. What strikes you though is how much Almodovar cares about women. The way he captures all the women in the movie, young and old clearly shows that.

Another thing that comes across really well is the depiction of life in the village. One wonders whether life in Spanish villages is still like this or whether this is an expression of the place Almodovar grew up in. The parallels to life in Indian families and Indian villages is also interesting (mostly my observation, I doubt the director is actually trying to draw any parallels)

There is much like to about this movie that is hard to put into words without giving too much away. It is a gentle movie full of feeling but delivered in a light-hearted way with plenty of humor and comedy. Many relationships between women are explored, including that between a dead mother and her children, mother and child in the face of difficulty, sisters that have a close bond, sisters that don’t and more.

Penelope Cruz plays the role of Raimunda, and is a refreshing surprise. Who knew she had acting chops? You certainly couldn’t tell from her slew of badly acted English movies. In this movie, she excels at her role and together with Carmen Maura produces a great movie. Blanca Portillo who plays Agustina also does a good job

Well worth watching either in the theater or on DVD.

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October 10, 2006

Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 12:04 am

Rating: 3.5 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation
Link to IMDB

Okay, I’ll confess that I watched this movie of my own volition. Mostly because I’ve always loved Jane Austen’s books (read most of them maybe 10-12 years ago). It’s amazing how her books written about two hundred years ago still translate so well to daily life today. Partly it’s because the books are lighthearted and follow the typical boy meets girl setup. Well, in the case of Pride & Prejudice, it’s more like "Boy meets girl. Girl misinterprets boy and hates him. Boy falls madly in love with girl and is thoroughly rebuffed. Many moons and good deeds (on the part of the long suffering boy) later, girl realizes folly and falls equally in love with boy…". But you get the idea :). The other part is because her character outlines are so good and writing style is so accessible that we immediately identify with the characters. She’s one of the few old age authors that I can read without getting tired of the style of prose. And Pride and Prejudice is easily my favorite novel written by her.

Enough about Austen though. This movie is the second major adaptation (and first movie) of Pride and Prejudice. The earlier one was a made for television series that was actually quite good. Probably the only thing that prevents this movie from getting the extra half star is that I still have the mental image of the earlier adaptation’s characters (particularly Colin Firth as Darcy who does a much better job than Matthew Macfadyen in this one). The earlier version was more faithful to the dialogue in the book, but mostly because it was also a lot longer at 5 hours compare to the 2 hrs of the movie. But the movie makers did a good job of preserving the original dialogue for the most important scenes. Keira Knightley fits with effortless ease into the role of Elizabeth Bennet and really makes the movie work. Judi Dench does a great cameo as Catherine de Bourg. I was also much impressed by the scene in the rain where Darcy and Elizabeth confront each other in anger. A liberty taken by the director (the original scene in the book was set in a house) that actually works quite well.

Well worth watching. And if you’re going to be forced into watching a romantic flick by your significant other, or want to watch one for that matter, this is much better fare than the modern crap (most of the plots of which are derived from Jane Austen novels anyway).

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September 4, 2006

Movie Review: Matchpoint

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 12:22 pm

Rating: 3.5 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation

Matchpoint is Woody Allen’s best movie to date this decade. He’s one of my favorite directors (definitely the one with the largest set of movies that I love). He made some great movies in the 90s (Sweet and Lowdown, Deconstructing Harry, Mighty Aphrodite, Bullets over Broadway) and of course the classic films from the 70s (Manhattan, Annie Hall). Recently, his movies have been panned by the critics (though I think Melinda and Melinda was pretty decent).

Matchpoint is a bit of a departure from the classic Woody Allen film. It’s set in London, away from the familiar set (and character) of New York. This changes the tone of the film quite a bit. Also, all of the movie’s music is opera music rather than the Allen staple of jazz.

The movie revolves around one man, Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his relationship with two women. A social climber who has worked hard to drag himself out of poverty, he hits the jackpot when a wealthy man’s daughter falls in love and marries him, leading to his rapid rise up the corporate ladder of his father in law’s company. But he can’t resist the siren call of Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), the ex-fiancee of his brother in law. The movie essentially builds this set of characters to the eventual, inevitable dilemma of Chris having to chose between his loving wife and a comfortable life and the tempestuous mistress. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it so say that it is well worth the movie rental.

Along the way Allen looks at the conflicting emotions faced by the three central characters in the movie. I think he does a great job illustrating the difference between the self made man and doting father (the father in law), the entitled son (the brother in law), the loving and simple, yet spoiled child (the wife), and the social climbers (both Chris and Nola, albeit in different ways). The movie doesn’t quite have the staple Allen character; the neurotic, low self esteem and goofy lead often played by the man himself. In some sense it actually plays more like a sophisticated and mature Neil LaBute film, than a Woody Allen film.

The female cast in this movie is brilliant. Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as the American seductress and failed actress illustrating the change in her mood and self esteem as she goes from fiance to a rich scion to the insecure, clingy mistress of a man much like herself. Emily Mortimer plays Chloe, the wife of Chris and does an admirable job of playing the loving, trusting, innocent wife who isn’t above letting Daddy buy her what she wants, including the "love of her life". Even Penelope Wilton in her short appearance as Chloe’s mother is well cast. The male actors on the other hand are a mixed bag. Brian Cox is a good actor and works well in the mode of Chloe’s father who wants to see his daughter have a happy life. Matthew Goode as Chloe’s brother only barely passes muster in his forgettable role. I would have given this movie 4 stars if not for Jonathan Rhys Meyers who I think is a misfit for this role. I was never really convinced by his acting nor do we feel much empathy for the character (not that he deserves much empathy).

Criticism aside, this is a fun movie to watch and well worth the time.

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August 20, 2006

Movie Review: Inside Man

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 11:27 pm

Rating: 2.5 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation

Inside Man is Spike Lee’s latest effort after the rather badly received She Hate Me (which I haven’t seen yet) and the slightly better received 25th Hour (which I’ve seen and would rate better than this movie). The basic premise of the movie is a bank heist which turns out to reveal layers of complexities about the motives of the bank robbers, the bank owner and other involved parties.

The movie is set in New York and is visually beautiful and stylish as most of Spike Lee’s movies are. He’s probably the only other director after Woody Allen in which the city of New York is an integral character in his movies. His love for the city shows in how he shoots different parts of it.

The movie starts off nicely enough with well executed action sequences and setting up what promises to be a suspenseful movie. Where the movie goes awry for me is in how long it takes to set up and reveal the true motives of everyone involved and how anti-climatic they turn out to be. It’s almost as if Spike Lee started off making a fast paced movie, then decided to stitch in another movie.

Another place where the movie fails is in utilizing it’s great cast of characters. Denzel Washington is obviously the star of the movie, but Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe and Jodie Foster (particularly Jodie Foster) are tragically under-used.

No movie of Spike Lee would be complete without the social commentary that accompanies it. There is commentary here in the form of depicting corruption in the city government of New York, racial prejudice, the willing collusion of immoral people with the Nazis among other things. But the gripping narrative that underscores his social commentary in his other movies is missing here and the message the movie conveys is lost amongst the noise

I don’t particularly like bashing Spike Lee. He made "Do The Right Thing" which I consider one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. For that effort alone, I’ll watch his past and future movies, if only to await the next masterpiece from him.

Movie Review Ratings System

Filed under: Movies — Vamshi @ 11:02 pm

I will post movie reviews of selected movies I see in the future. Helps my writing skills to try and construct a concise summary of the movie and a cogent argument for or against the movie. The reviews aren’t likely to be useful to many people, since I don’t watch all that many movies in the theater, generally preferring to watch them on DVD (from Netflix, naturally)

The movie reviewer that I most admire and agree with is Roger Ebert. So I’ll use his rating system which his site’s FAQ sums up as follows:
"Roger Ebert has used a four-star scale since the very beginning. So, the star ratings range from Zero stars (beneath contempt) to Four stars (first-rate)."

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