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Friday, December 19, 2014

PK

PK is out. And, understandably, it will be a big hit, whether the film is any good or not... But, how good is the movie anyways?

Here are some of the early reviews/

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When the same actor-director pair of the outstanding 3 Idiots comes together on celluloid, the expectations are huge. But that’s something both Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani have always known and they were expected to soar beyond them. However, their latest offering, PK, somehow doesn’t quite measure up to their own standards. It falls short on many levels. The film begins with an alien’s (Aamir Khan) landing on Earth. When his ‘remote’ (which would enable him to return to his planet) is stolen, he is stranded. On a new planet with people and diversities he doesn’t understand, he is also given a new name (PK), quite by circumstance. He soon meets news reporter Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) who is fascinated by PK’s novel take on things and people. As the bond between them grows, Jaggu promises to help PK in his mission to return to his planet. In this quest, how the two overcome cultural divides, religious taboos and a scheming God-man form the rest of the story.
MORE HERE/

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Rajkumar Hirani could easily be mistaken for that kindly neighbour in one's building, the sort who greets you in the lift with a warm smile and offers to help you with the grocery bags.

But mostly he's the genius generator of best-selling philosophies like jadoo ki jhappi, Gandhigiri and All izz well -- persistently seeking some good in a dark world through oddball protagonists driven by curiosity and a desire to repair defective mind-sets.

It's the foundation of all his features, be it Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots and, now, PK.

Somewhere through the frolic, in playing society's self-appointed conscience, Hirani has fallen in a monotonous, predictable rut.

In PK, he tackles the widespread evils of religion-dictated farce in this country, the bizarre rituals it entails whilst acknowledging the distinction of a divine presence from idol worship.

The Paresh Rawal-starrer OMG-Oh My God, a satire I quite relished -- in fact a tad more than PK -- raised similar concerns through hard-hitting rationality and an element of mythological fantasy.

Part comedy, part drama, PK opts to share its genre specification with science fiction.

To get across his point, Hirani appoints Aamir Khan to play PK, a freakier, flashier version of 3 Idiots' Rancho.

The actor, given his newfound comfort in the socially aware, is on the same wavelength as his director resulting in a performance that is flamboyant enough to make a splash.

One sees a lot more of him than is accustomed to in PK. While it's not pin-up material, it's refreshing to see a mainstream star in such an uninhibited space.

During the course of his quest to return home, filled with madcap discoveries regarding God, fashion, music, language (watch out for one hilarious achha scene), social etiquette and self-defence (who knew Hanuman stickers could come in so handy?), PK bumps into a pixie-hair television journalist Jaggu Sahni with daddy issues (Anushka Sharma) and they join forces to blow off the whistle on a flimflam Godman (Saurabh Shukla is a hoot).

Before arriving to the story's simplistic and lacklustre conclusion that points out to Hirani's chronic weakness -- too much sentimentality -- PK moves at a buoyant pace.

Save for the Aamir-Sanjay Dutt track, Tharki Chokro, which feels needless and punctures the narrative momentarily.
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PK (Aamir Khan) is not his name. In fact, he has no name. His clan doesn’t believe in alienating people on their name, caste, creed, language or religion. Sounds like the preamble of our Constitution? Well, this is the essence of director Rajkumar Hirani’s PK. And it is high on emotions and full of drama.

Who is PK then? Well, he is a humanitarian, who lives in the hearts of millions. See, I am trying to be as secretive as possible about his distinctiveness. Let’s join threads from the scene all of you have seen in the promos. Of course, the transistor scene. So, here is a guy with unblinking eyes, fluttering ears and toned muscles walking towards the most treacherous of places -- in the middle of a desert. He is in Rajasthan. This man is helpless against people who have no moral qualms in making the earth a worse place than what it already is. But he is a firm believer in all things good, and therefore keeps going and soon finds himself in the middle of a megacity -- Delhi, the national capital.

The second part of his adventures begins in Delhi -- He is intrigued by the rules and ways of this big city. PK explores the big bad world with charming innocence and a lot of wit. All of a sudden, he finds himself pitted against a widely followed godman Tapasvi Jee (Saurabh Shukla), and the only person he can trust in this ‘holy’ war is Jagat Janani (Anushka Sharma), a news reporter.

Let's leave the character details here and get down to the nitty-gritties of the theme.

First things first. What is the film about? PK is a man’s journey through the paradoxes of Indian society. He cannot understand the meaning of religion, or the rituals most people busy themselves with. He cannot differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim. He wonders why godmen ask for money. He disapproves the absurdities that make believers against believers. Think it is too much like Oh My God?
MORE HERE/

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After an entire year of being subjected to unalloyed trash generated by box office sharks that cannot see beyond their weekend collections, Bollywood enthusiasts who value their intelligence - and their hard-earned money - finally have reason to rejoice. PK is here.

Rajkumar Hirani's first film in five years is a warm, funny and piercingly provocative satire that should blow the blues away.

It is the kind of full-blooded but genteel entertainer that should get us all into just the right frame of mind to usher in Christmas and bid adieu to a year that has seen us celebrate ugly excess on all fronts with unseemly glee.

PK, buoyed by a magnificent script and outstanding acting all around, is an uplifting fantasy that springs a surprise at every turn but never overplays its hand.
It comes as close to storytelling perfection as any mainstream Hindi movie has done in living memory.

It has great songs, beautifully filmed musical set pieces, brilliant pacing and nary a moment that flags.

As a cinematic send-up on Gods true and fake, PK pulls no punches at all and speaks its mind like a carefree child that has just learnt to talk and make sense of the world.

But this hard-hitting critique of all that ails a nation that seems to have lost its human moorings and is in blind pursuit of false panaceas remains good-natured all the way through.

The screenplay by Hirani and Abhijat Joshi demands a degree of willing suspension of disbelief, especially when it comes to a few of the pivotal coincidences that drive the narrative.

The characters and the crucial dramatic and comic moments are, however, informed with such infectious warmth and beauty that nothing that the plot throws up is ever in danger of ringing overly false.
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After making 3 Idiots in 2009 it took five years for Rajkumar Hirani to find the right story to make a come back. Clearly he was making sure he only lives up to the sky high expectations and raises the bar once again.

In Munna Bhai MBBS he questioned the medical system, in Lage Raho Munna Bhai he introduced Gandhigiri and in 3 Idiots it was Rancho doing his own number and questioning the education system. Now Rajkumar Hirani takes on the much hyped Godmen in India. Yes the plot is similar to the 2012 release Oh My God in which Paresh Rawal's character questions God and Godmen. The similarity is just in the idea but Hirani's PK is another level all together.

Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) a journalist student in Belguim falls in love with Sarfaraz (Sushant Singh) from Pakistan. Her family back in New Delhi believes in a Hindu Godman who predicts that Sarfaraz will dump her which leads to some confusion and in no time a heartbroken Jaggu heads back home.

An alien has landed somewhere in Rajasthan and his locket which is his only way to return is stolen by a local. He has never seen humans in clothes and then starts the joyride as one by one the alien questions every manmade belief just like a child. After looking for his locket he is finally told that only God can help him whatever the problem may be.

His dressing and behaviour is weird so the name given to him is PK. He soon bumps into Jaggu on a Delhi metro while he is distributing pamphlets which say if anyone finds God they should contact PK. Jaggu who now works as a journalist in a news channels finds PK fascinating and follows him till she gets his story out. Initially hesitant Jaggu eventually decides to help PK. His locket is with a popular Godman and it's not going to be easy to get it back.

Aamir Khan this time in the title role is simply brilliant! From his physique to the language the actor has left no stone unturned to put in his best for this role. His expressions do most of the talking! I doubt any other star could have delivered the kind of performance Aamir does. Anushka Sharma has a fairly important role. She looks gorgeous and puts in sincere efforts to entertain. Sanjay Dutt who we see in parts is fabulous.
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The Homesman

Writes Andrew O'Hehir of Salon/

When the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in “The Homesman,” who calls himself George Briggs but may not be the most trustworthy source, tells Mary Bee Cuddy, the plucky frontierswoman played by Hilary Swank, that she’s “as plain as an old tin pail,” you may want to stop the movie and file a complaint. As Jones is well aware, he’s no beauty-pageant contestant himself, and Briggs is a grubby, unkempt character with a disreputable past, who resembles a hunk of gristle chewed and then spat out by a stray dog. But Jones, as always, knows what he’s doing. In only his second feature as a director, the laconic 68-year-old star has made a wrenching, relentless and anti-heroic western that stands among the year’s most powerful American films. Not everyone will like “The Homesman,” but if you see it you won’t soon forget it.

In its own unshowy way, “The Homesman” is a profoundly compassionate, subversive and tragic story about the unacknowledged sacrifices made by women throughout history, about the tenuous bonds of community and mutual obligation that make human life possible and about the thin, wavering line that separates civilization from anarchy. Like so many great stories told before, it recounts a dangerous voyage: Mary Bee and Briggs, a pair of social outsiders, must transport three women across the trackless prairie of the Nebraska Territory to the Missouri River, Iowa and the relative order of the existing United States. (No date is specified, but it has to be the late 1850s.) Why do these women have to go? Because they’ve snapped. They’re chained inside a wagon, a trio of frontier wives driven insane by the hardship, disease and loneliness of life in an unforgiving, wind-swept wilderness.

I’m not naive enough to believe that a movie with this subject matter and this setting will be a big hit or a major player in the Oscar race. But it should be, and in a curious way “The Homesman” fits into our contemporary cultural debate about sex, gender and the status of women. George Briggs may not be much of a feminist, but I think Jones now gets to claim that title if he wants it. Plain as a tin pail Mary Bee may be, but Jones (and Briggs too) understands that she, and not her male companion, is the true hero of “The Homesman.” (It’s only a tiny spoiler to say that the title refers to her, more than to Briggs.) She can plow, shoot and ride as well as any man in the territory, while still clinging to feminine dreams of domesticity, family and prosperity. If her struggle comes against insurmountable odds and points toward an ambiguous conclusion, such is America.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Sleep

Writes Andrew O'Hehir of Salon/

Like Ceylan’s last film, the slo-mo police drama “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (also amazing, but admittedly a more demanding a viewing experience), “Winter Sleep” is set along a kind of internal border within Turkey, where the nation’s educated, Westernized elite encounters deeply rooted traditional culture. Its central character – it would be a stretch to call him the hero – is a retired actor named Aydin, played by Haluk Bilginer, himself an eminent Turkish stage and screen actor who’s also done numerous roles in English (including five years on the British soap “EastEnders”). Aydin is a prominent landlord and hotel proprietor in a remote village of Cappadocia, the high plateau of central Anatolia that’s loaded with archaeological and geographical splendors and famous for its wild horses. He has a much younger wife named Nihal (the gorgeous Melisa Sözen) who has clearly fallen out of love with him, an embittered divorced sister named Necla (Demet Akbag), and an increasingly acrimonious relationship with an impoverished tenant family who haven’t paid their rent in months. Soak all of that in booze, snow, egotism and genteel decay, and it’s a combustible combination.

I described “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” as an episode of “CSI” transported to the Turkish outback and rewritten by Anton Chekhov, and while the influence was obvious it was a better guess than I realized. “Winter Sleep” is actually adapted from a story by Chekhov, who was obsessed by many of the same intertwined issues of class, caste, property and history that preoccupy Ceylan. While “Winter Sleep” never seems “political” in the narrow or most obvious sense, Aydin’s predicament has everything to do with Turkey’s peculiar status between East and West, hemmed in on one side by godless European amorality and on the other by the fiery sword of jihad. One of Aydin’s deadbeat tenants is an imam (Serhat Mustafa Kiliç), who is embarrassingly servile to Aydin’s face and then curses him behind his back. The imam’s brother, an unemployed ex-con named Ismail (Nejat Isler), is less hypocritical, and views Aydin and his wife with a sardonic, predatory intensity that points toward a shocking final confrontation.

It’s Ismail’s preteen son who provides the most obvious inciting incident, breaking Aydin’s windshield with a stone in an effort to avenge his father’s humiliation. But if that event didn’t send these people on a downward spiral, something else would have. There is also Aydin’s deepening suspicion that Nihal is having an affair, his thwarted desire to purchase and tame one of the region’s wild horses, and his attempt to forge a friendship with a visiting motocross biker who is spending a few days in the hotel. He has settled into the archetypal big-frog-small-pond-role as an eminent citizen of Nowheresville, airing his private grievances in a bitter newspaper column read by no one except his hostile sister, increasingly confronted with his unfulfilled dreams and his deepening unhappiness.
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Under the Skin

Writes Andrew O'Hehir of Salon/

If I tell you that Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the strangest and most disturbing science-fiction films of recent years, it’s a true statement that points you in entirely the wrong direction. If I add that the movie also involves Scarlett Johansson taking off her clothes on several occasions, I’m leading you into a trap almost as surely as Johansson’s character leads the men she picks up on the Glasgow streets. It’s almost as if Glazer, previously the director of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth” and a bunch of music videos for Blur, Radiohead and others, has given himself an assignment: Make a visionary, haunting and utterly distinctive sci-fi picture featuring naked ScarJo, and make it unbearably frustrating for anyone who’d be drawn to that description.

“Under the Skin” is a deliberately unfriendly and upsetting film that makes Lars von Trier look like Spielberg. It’s a critic’s darling if ever there was one, commercial Kryptonite made by someone who obviously has the chops to please the audience but doesn’t care to. If you’re one of those people who feels obscurely insulted by movies that resist the dominant paradigm of the entertainment industry – the three-act structure, the discount-store psychological realism, the quasi-medical delivery of “pleasure” and “satisfaction” – then prepare to get your knickers in a twist, as the people in this movie might say if you could understand them. “Under the Skin” has no characters in the normal sense, and only the barest, buried skeleton of a plot. What little dialogue the movie contains is muted, largely unnecessary and often delivered in Glaswegian dialect so thick that I imagine Londoners will struggle with it, while Americans will catch about every third word.

Indeed, the sporadic bits of talk in “Under the Skin” are sound rather than information. This might sound like an outrageous comparison, but it reminds me of the way Charlie Chaplin began to use sound in his films, once he finally realized he had to. This stark and intensely controlled film is the work of a powerful visual stylist and storyteller, one who looks like he belongs on the short list of directors who have carried the narrative methods of the silent era deep into modern cinema: Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Terrence Malick, Andrea Arnold. When Johansson’s nameless character – with her dark brown shag ‘do, fake fur coat and skin-tight jeans, she looks like a youngish single mom on the prowl – is surrounded by a gaggle of young women in a parking lot and carried along with them into a nightclub, we literally can’t understand a word they say to her. But it’s a remarkably pungent scene, capturing a mood, a setting and a predatory but confused character’s struggle to understand an alien environment.

Earlier, when Johansson picks up a roguishly handsome lad on the street while driving around in a panel truck, pretending to be lost, we hear their interchange but really don’t need to. The signals she’s sending have little or nothing to do with what comes out of her mouth, and she’s looking for a guy who responds to them in exactly the right way. She’s picky, but her criteria are never explained; sometimes she chats a guy up and moves on, and sometimes she gives him a lift, drops him off and keeps hunting. Sometimes, though, she takes him home and … but let’s stop there. Other reviews have already described the basic premise of “Under the Skin,” as far as we can make it out. Who or what is Johansson’s character? Well, you’ll get the basic idea right away, and let’s just say that “hunting” is definitely the right word. She has a confederate, a guy in leather on a motorbike who never speaks but seems to run errands for her, keep a lookout and clean up after her mistakes. We can only infer the nature of their relationship, but it’s not good news for you and me if we cross their paths.

One of the many startling things about “Under the Skin” is how complicated and distressing a story can be told with almost no dialogue and absolutely no explanation or back story. On one level this is a horrifying, surreal and possibly allegorical tale about male-female relationships and the link between sex and the death wish, and on another it’s a work of downscale British social realism where you can feel the damp and the cold, the dismal blocks of “council flats” (i.e., public housing) and the second-rate suburban houses. We experience the sometimes barren, sometimes beautiful Scottish landscape alongside Johansson’s character, whose adopted persona is that of a woman from England running some complicated family errand that’s gone awry. In one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, when Johansson appears to be struggling with the costs and consequences of her assumed human identity, Daniel Landin’s camera adopts her point of view, moving through the ordinary street life of Glasgow, all those shoppers and office workers and pubgoers unaware of the monster in their midst.
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The Babadook

Writes Glenn Kenny in RogerEbert.com/

I went into “The Babadook” under a kind of misapprehension. I’d heard a bit about the movie—it would have been difficult, as a working film reviewer to not have—but not orally, so I thought that the title was pronounced with a long “o” or even a sort of “u,” so it rhymed with “Luke,” or, more pertinently, an obscure Italian-American slang word that Robert De Niro uses in “Raging Bull,” that word being “mamaluke.” As in, “I look like a mamaluke.” “A WHAT?” “Like a mamaluke. Like the mamaluke of the year.” Under this misapprehension, I actually underestimated this horror movie, the debut feature written and directed by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent.

I was wrong. Both about the pronunciation of the title character—it’s a short double-“o,” as in “look” or “book”—and what it implied for the movie, which as it turned out, is, in my opinion, the finest and most genuinely provocative horror movie to emerge in this still very-new century. Both a relentless psychological thriller with heavy primal stuff on its mind and a full-throttle slam-bang scare-fest, it delivers raw sensation without insulting the intelligence the way the more sensationalist but also essentially trite pictures in the New Horror Paradigm along the lines of “Insidious” tend to do. This is strictly my opinion, I am quick to point out. So impressed was I by “The Babadook” that upon seeing it I tweeted that I thought it might be the first capital-G “Great” horror movie of the 21st Century and was almost immediately beset upon by a couple of guys who thought I was out of my mind. “The Babadook” was both a snoozefest and ridiculous, and superior films included “Sinister” and “The Conjuring.” Now I’m not sure that “ridiculous” is a word that ought to be applied to horror movies, especially if you’re implying by comparison that stuff like “Sinister” and “The Conjuring” is NOT ridiculous. It’s all ridiculous in a sense. What makes a difference is how purposeful the ridiculousness is made to seem.

In “The Babadook,” a sense of urgency establishes itself immediately in a nightmare scene in which Essie Davis’ Amelia is being rushed to the hospital…and this really is a nightmare scene. The urgency is over, the child she was being rushed to the hospital to deliver is now in early elementary school. And the father is dead, killed in an accident during that trip to the hospital. And the child, a little boy, is a pip. Samuel (the cherub-faced Noah Wiseman, giving one of the most amazing and intense child-actor performances I’ve ever seen) spends a lot of time playing games and concocting crude weapons with which to protect himself and his mum from imaginary enemies, and he’s at work on this project day and night, loudly. When his vigilance isn’t literally wreaking havoc on the small house within which he and Amelia live in near-isolation, Sam is a needy clinger who won’t let his mum sleep. He’s a terror at school and he very nearly kills another child, the daughter of Amelia’s sister Claire, whose patience with the increasingly frazzled Amelia is wearing thin. The situation’s a nasty mess, and Kent really makes the viewer resent little Sam about it, particularly after little Sam discovers a rather malevolent children’s book that warns of the evil household influence of a nasty man called, yes, The Babadook.
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An interview with this blogger, as a poet, in the Metro section of The Hindu, Chennai Edition, on December 8, 2014/

I am now a star/

Read the interview HERE/ http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/there-is-no-political-agenda-in-my-poetry/article6670846.ece

Nightcrawler

Writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon/

Nightcrawler,” the aptly titled directing debut of veteran Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy, may be a little too sleazy and knowing for its own good. After watching Jake Gyllenhaal’s intense and unsettling performance as a sociopathic TV news cameraman chasing the most gruesome late-night stories across Los Angeles, you may need a shower, a Valium and a triple shot of whiskey, without feeling entirely sure you want to wake up the next day. But while “Nightcrawler” plays first and foremost as a lurid, borderline-satirical thriller about a disturbed individual who pushes the disturbed logic of 21st-century media to its ultimate conclusion, Gilroy clearly has some larger questions in view, along with a cinematic legacy that includes “Taxi Driver,” “Network” and Michael Powell’s 1960 shocker “Peeping Tom,” a movie whose influence only continues to grow.

This movie is something of a family affair: Dan Gilroy’s older brother Tony, the director of “Michael Clayton” and “The Bourne Legacy,” helped produce this film (as did Gyllenhaal), and Dan’s twin brother, John Gilroy, is the editor. Admittedly we have a small sample size to work with, but the Gilroy trademark appears to be hard-edged, actor-driven genre films with a social conscience. Certainly what Dan Gilroy gets from Gyllenhaal here may be the best performance of a fascinating career. Since at least “Donnie Darko” Gyllenhaal has understood that he reads on-screen as obsessive, eccentric and overly intense. While those qualities can be rendered somewhat sympathetic — as in “Love and Other Drugs,” his underappreciated rom-com with Anne Hathaway — they’re often best suited to characters who seem detached and disordered, like the twitchy cop he played in “Prisoners” (pretty nearly the only thing that made that movie watchable).

Lou Bloom, the autodidact newshound of “Nightcrawler,” carries the misanthropy and pathology of the Gyllenhaal persona to new heights. Lou is a lank-haired, hollow-eyed person who has mastered the script of human communication, up to a point, without any sense of its underlying meaning. As the film begins he is unemployed, a scavenger and low-level thief scraping out a marginal living by his wits and a litany of business-school, self-help nostrums he has apparently learned from the Internet. (“I’ve made up my mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard worker. I set high goals. I have been told that I am persistent.”) As Lou might put it, when he finds out that you can make good money by being the first person with a video camera on the scene of a gruesome crime or gory accident, he is delighted to discover a career path so well suited to his skill set, core competencies and sense of personal initiative.

It would be grossly overstating the case to say that Lou is ever likable, but at least he seems pathetic, a Gollum-like alienated soul who has stumbled upon an occupation that may be distasteful but is not flat-out immoral or illegal. With his seductive night shots of L.A.’s freeways and boulevards — the cinematography is by ace Robert Elswit, who shoots Paul Thomas Anderson’s films — Gilroy lures us into a deceptive power relationship not unlike the one Lou strikes up with Nina, the hard-boiled TV producer played by Rene Russo (who is Gilroy’s wife). At first Nina feels the same mingled pity and distaste for Lou that we do. She’s a news professional with a stylish wardrobe and a helmet-like coiffure, focused on the ratings book and her benefits package; he’s a socially marginal loser with an evident personality disorder. But Nina also sees that Lou has the right sensibility for her bottom-feeding, sleazoid news broadcast, which thrives on stories about “crime creeping into the suburbs” – middle-class whites or Asians victimized by brown-skinned people – and “relatable” families dying in gruesome freeway crashes.

Furthermore, Nina and Lou both understand that the narrative of racial paranoia they’re spreading is profoundly untrue, however much it speaks to a divided city on a symbolic level. In one of their increasingly tense negotiating sessions, Lou observes that crime rates are dropping in L.A. (as in other major cities), which makes his fear-inducing, adrenaline-spiking footage an especially valuable commodity. No doubt this is an overly broad interpretation of a movie that’s mainly meant to mess with your mind, but I can’t resist: News shows like Nina’s, aimed at older, whiter viewers uncomfortable with social and demographic change, have become propaganda broadcasts that keep the public terrified and docile, even though there’s no Goebbels-like genius pulling the strings behind the scenes. (As the comments on every Salon story about the Ferguson shooting and related phenomena will demonstrate, racist crime paranoia is deeply ingrained on the Internet, even in an age of near-historic lows in violent crime.)
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Listen Up, Philip

Writes Glenn Kenny in RogerEbert.com/

In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to admit that I’ve been acquainted with this film’s writer/director, Alex Ross Perry, for longer than I can actually remember. That is to say, I met Mr. Perry when he worked as a clerk at the venerable, not to say legendary, multimedia emporium Mondo Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place, in the video section, and I visited said emporium quite frequently back in the day, and almost always after I’d gotten hammered at the nearby Grassroots Tavern. You get the idea. I’ve continued my acquaintance with the filmmaker in a non-hammered state of being, but we’re not super tight or anything. Cordially-friendly I think is the right term. I bring all this up not just in the interest of journalistic integrity but because it is rather likely that if “Listen Up Philip,” the distinctively funny and disconcerting new film by Alex, is your first exposure to his work, one question you might have on exiting is “What kind of person makes a movie like this?”

For one of the things that make “Listen Up Philip” so distinctive is the relentless unpleasantness of its lead character, young novelist Philip Lewis Friedman, played here with knuckle-bitten commitment by Jason Schwartzman. In the movie’s opening scene, Philip meets with an ex-girlfriend for lunch; he intends to give her the galleys of his latest novel, but when she shows up late, he browbeats her within an inch of her life. Having decided that abusiveness is personally liberating, he arranges a meet with an old college chum, who he abrasively condemns as a sellout. “What about our declaration of principles,” he whines, waving some paper in the guy’s face. “Remember this?” The punchline to the scene is that Philip’s erstwhile friend is in a wheelchair.
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Inherent Vice

Writes Xan Brooks in The Guardian/

America makes no sense to the denizens of Gordita Beach, California, down by the ocean at the edge of the world. It's the end of the 60s, the death of the age of Aquarius. Everybody here appears to have mislaid the plot. Paul Thomas Anderson's gloriously rambunctious Inherent Vice follows the fortunes of a stoner investigator who finds himself hopelessly lost in a case he can't solve. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is interviewing witnesses in a frenzy and scribbling "Paranoia Alert" in his detective's notepad. It's clear from the outset that he's going nowhere fast.

Inherent Vice, by contrast, turns out to be a ramshackle triumph; a colourful detour disguised as a crime caper, making antic hay from Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel. Anderson's yarn arrived at the New York film festival confidently billed as one of the prizes of the autumn season, buttressed by an all-star cast and exciting instant talk of Oscar glory. And yet Vice, for all its virtues, is too wild, baggy and disreputable to play well with Academy members - and this is surely for the best. The film's natural habitat is with the deadbeats and the dreamers, in a bygone California where hippie freak-ins bloom like wildflowers and a menu at the massage parlour advertises oral sex for $14.99. They should screen it in a pop-up cinema in a city park, with complimentary reefers and a henna tattoo.

Here comes Doc Sportello, sporting mutton-chop sideburns, a natty straw hat and a permanently glazed air. His duplicitous ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) has embroiled him in a missing person's case and he's fallen foul of Josh Brolin's straight-edge LA cop. A real estate tycoon has vanished and neo-Nazis are suspected. "Beware the Golden Fang", Doc is warned at one stage - but does the Golden Fang refer to a rock band, or a boat, or an Indo-Chinese heroin cartel? Who can say for certain? "It's real name isn't really the Golden Fang," explains Benicio Del Toro's lawyer in a conspiratorial whisper. Except that this, of course, leaves us none the wiser.
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Foxcatcher

writes Matt Zoller Seitz in RogerEbert.com/

"Foxcatcher" is a heartfelt, intelligent, deadly serious drama based on a real murder case in which a wealthy patron hired two wrestler brothers, tried to seduce and control one of them, and ended up murdering the other. Every frame of it is sincere. As cowritten by E. Max Frye ("Something Wild") and Dan Futterman ("Capote") and directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball"), it's also a throwback to a '70s style of commercial filmmaking. Much of it unfolds in long takes, in medium or long distance shots that draw attention to the environment around the characters, and there is minimal dramatic assistance (or intrusion) by music. Parts of it evoke films by the late Alan J. Pakula ("All the President's Men," "The Parallax View," "Comes a Horseman"), a master of understatement.

And yet in the end "Foxcatcher" proves impossible to embrace because of fundamental miscalculations in performance, direction and makeup, along with a certain clumsiness in the way that it tries to make some kind of grand statement about American values, or the lack thereof. If I had to make a list of movies I'm saddest about not having liked, this would rank near the top.

Its heart is a story of brotherly love and rivalry that turns sour, sordid, and ultimately tragic. Olympic wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) have a very deep bond, which we later discover was rooted in shared childhood trauma. They didn't just grow up together, they raised each other, with Dave serving as a surrogate father to Mark. When the story begins, Mark is already withering in his brother's shadow. Both won Olympic wrestling medals, but Dave is the more likable and functional of the two. He's made a career as a coach and settled down to raise a family. Mark is single, seemingly has no friends and no sex drive, and spends his free time in monklike solitude, eating Ramen noodles in his bachelor pad. The way Channing Tatum plays him (and in some cases regrettably overplays him) he's a cartoon caveman with a jutted-out chin, trundling around in sweats.

Then billionaire John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell) calls asking Mark to come out to Foxcatcher, his 800-acre Pennsylvania horse farm, and help him create a world-class training facility that'll prepare the U.S. Olympic team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark hops into a helicopter and quickly succumbs to the promise of lavish living quarters and a steady check. (In one of the film's many agonizingly true observations of how the rich exploit class-based ignorance, John asks Mark to name his price, Mark names an amount that John could probably fish from couch cushions, and John says yes as if bestowing a great favor.)
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