Tag Archives: Based On A True Story

Cinema-Maniac: Lone Survivor (2014) Movie Review

War films walk a thin line of being another action sub genre to propaganda promoting or discouraging the idea of war. The overall picture is what most of these films tend to get across forgetting the hardship endured by soldiers comrade or not are just as painful. “Lone Survivor” premise alone gives it enough ground to break the mold common to war films making it all the more disappointing that it’s just standard action movie.

Lone Survivor follows Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Before reaching the fifty-five minute mark the film failure to provide sufficient characterization is it biggest detractor. Simply applying the soldiers were married and had kids doesn’t automatically garner sympathy. We get no background on what each soldier specialize in or their ranking before and during their operation. Most of the dialogue in the first half of the film is military exposition (equipment not working, position of environment, examining battle conditions, you name it) with the occasional conversations relating to the soldiers personal lives. These few non work related conversations is the closest the film comes to making the soldiers appear as friends instead of coworkers. A shame as the film heavily plays on the idea that the soldiers have allot more history together than it actually bother to touch upon. The actual tragedy occurs pass the fifty-five minute mark derailing for a second half more interested in action than its soldiers. For the next thirty-five minutes get ready for a long stretch of action that replaces dialogue for constant gunfire. Structurally the film is fundamentally broken unable to balance story, tone, pacing, and characters in three acts. No matter at which point you skip into the film it’s story is so deadpan that nothing in between really needs your attention. Simple to the point that it doesn’t require much attention even if you sleep to the middle of it you can easily connect the pieces. This film biggest crime is not that it took a true story and turned it into an action film. No, it’s biggest crime is taking a true story and giving it a sense of fiction that tells the audience nothing about the soldiers who lost their lives and making it comes across as a product instead of an inspiring true story about soldiers who died and fought what they strongly believed in.

On the technical side there’s a hardly a thing wrong with “Lone Survivor”. Peter Berg falters when it comes to drama, but when it comes to action he delivers. On his part it was a good decision to make the lengthy battle in the middle of the film. Because of this in real time we get an understanding how dire the situation is for the soldiers fighting and slowly showing the ever growing scars on their bodies. Seeing the battle unfold is unrelenting with seemingly never ending gunfire even if the staging comes off as pure Hollywood given the amount pain the soldiers can take. When it comes to acting the main four which includes Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch are on equal grounds. If not for the poster (but mostly a bad editing decision) you wouldn’t be able to pick out the main character which works for the film intentions. Sadly because of the film shows in the beginning it kinda defeats what the actors did. Although that’s more to blame on Berg bad decision over the actors. The score is memorable reaching all the right notes to add emotions where the script failed to do so.

Lone Survivor ditches the human core of its story becoming a straightforward action movie. It’s structure is a mess with characterization taking a back seat to endless barrages of bullets. The intention to honor the men and their moral code are good, but the delivery of it is not what the story needed. If it weren’t for the fact that “Lone Survivor” was based on a true story this would have been labeled as another typical action movie.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Celluloid (2013) Movie Review

History and time are bound to lose or completely forget important pieces and people that had a hand in a major contribution. That sad truth also applies to films; for every classic film enthusiast know about, there is bound to dozens of hidden gems just as good or even superior that don’t share th-e same spotlight. In the case of “Celluloid” it’s a person by the name of J.C. Daniels who name was almost to history. J.C. Daniel life story is not a story that will fascinate film enthusiasts, but one that shares the passion for films as much the audience does.

Celluloid tells the story of J C Daniel, who made the first ever Malayalam film ‘Vigathakumaran’ in 1928, resulting in his exile and eventual downfall. Its linear narrative structure spends the first half chronicling the production of “Vigathakumaran” while the second half chronicles the aftermath of the film’s production. Tonally the two halves could have created an uneven shift, but is well handled that the tonal shift is not jarring. Its usage of humor in the first half is subtle always being the background while the true heart of the crew behind the film is on the forefront. You’ll get a detailed depiction of the film’s production and its aftermath alongside knowing the people who made it and their struggles during production. It’s as much a film about the making of “Vigathakumaran” as much as it is about life itself. Themes such as chasing difficult dreams, facing class discrimination, losing yourself in your art, your passion destroying you, and many relatable themes that are easy to connect with. The film never paints the film crew as ever being significant themselves, but seen as average people like the common film lover. Liking them for their passion and good spirit. As a standalone film it could be seen as a film about chasing dreams and as a biopic teaches the uninitiated about the “Father of Malayalam Cinema”. J.C. Daniel story is one film lovers will easily get behind. You have an youngster burning passion for the art of filmmaking wanting to make a film. His journey is fun, inspiring, and tragic. Much like a great film J.C. Daniel story becomes more than a film to watch and more of a reflection one’s similar passion towards their dreams filled with well developed characters and story that’s easy to identify with resonating to film lovers on a personal level.

Prithviraj Sukumaran comes up with a stupendous performance as the young and ambitious Daniel as well as the old, ailing and resigned version in later years. Looking and behaving like the actual J.C. Daniel capturing the psychological turmoil that Daniel goes through in the later years of his life with great competence. Mamta Mohandas, who essays the role of Daniel’s wife, gives a fine performance as the supportive and later suffering better-half. The innocence that spurts out of the corner of her lips as they stretch into a hesitant smile defines the person that Rosie must have been; unimaginably daring and yet immensely terrified. Sreejith Ravi and Century Jayaraj give commendable support as Daniel’s friends who aid him in making his dream come true. Chandni gives a stunning performance filled with naiveté, excitement, anxiety and genuine curiosity for this never-before-seen phenomenon called Cinema. Her innocence and wonder at her new surroundings practically leaps off the screen. Venu’s cinematography and art-direction by Suresh Kollam contribute a lot towards recreating the past in the best of manners. Editing by Rajagopal is also good. Anyhow, it’s the cinematography and the art-work that require special mention taking back into the audience back to Travancore of the late 1920s and late 1960s, thanks to the able support rendered by all technicians involved. M Jayachandran has come out with music that gives us an old-time feel. There may be some who’d vouch against songs in a bio-pic like this; but there is no point denying the fact that the songs do add to the appeal of the film as a popular and commercial venture that don’t hamper the flow in any way.

Celluloid is a passionate film about the art of filmmaking and a reminder how it could be a lost treasure. Touching upon the importance of preserving a film no matter if the majority hate it and giving respect to those who deserve it. It’s a film that will make you laugh, that will inspired, make you sad, and give a sense of accomplishment that an important figure wasn’t a mere footnote in history. No matter how insignificant his impact is known to the world the same could be apply us. However small our influence is those inspired by us will leave a big impact to strive for better things.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Fruitvale Station (2013) Movie Review

“Based on a true story” is not a reliable label for film in authenticity when it comes to the facts of any true story. Either over dramatizing or fictionalizing events in order to fit the framework of a film and get across whatever goal is set out for it. With this film essentially get what you get. A simple story that doesn’t delve too much in the person of interest life for dramatic purposes instead getting to know the person as a common everyday individual. Sure that doesn’t sound like allot to care for, but in reality sometimes you don’t need allot to go on for a true story to leave an impact.

Fruitvale Station tells the purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Characterization in any film is essential none more so than in biopics with a heavy empathizes of getting to know the person we’re following. Going against the norm of developing protagonist Oscar Grant III beyond what we’re given. It spends little time exploring his past focusing on what Grant was like on a daily basis. Traditionally a lack of character development would be a narrative drawback especially from someone who dissects the plot of every film he views, yet here it’s not a drawback. The film remembers Oscar Grant III was an actual person receiving most of his development through his action on his final day. His daily routine, his conversations, his life style, are all things shown as small moments in the film with no hint of any of it being a plot point. Because of how the film open we know where the story is headed thus making these moments powerful we know the outcome to Oscar life story. Becoming a tragedy that he’ll never be able to experience his routine like the ones we have of our own. Taking culture out of the picture and what you’re left with is a common individual. Not more so evident to remove itself from the common train of thought than once again through Oscar action. On the outside a Hollywood film would have immediately made Oscar Grant a hoodlum by way he dressed instead of his personality. By doing so the story aims out to defeat not just a label put on Oscar, but also remove idea that Oscar was extraordinary in any way. What comes across is nothing extraordinary, nothing dramatically heavy, nor even a traditional film narrative in that sense, but a day in the life of a regular person who like of all us can lose it at any time and the tragedy behind that.

Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant III with the true humanity and power necessary to make a character like this work. Jordan switch from sensitive father to hardened thug seamlessly. He is a layered soul in this film, on one hand a convict and a known offender, but on the other, a true human spirit, sometimes immature, sometimes contradictory, but invaluably loving and compassionate to his friends and family. Director Ryan Coogler makes Fruitvale Station more than a film or a basic dramatization, but an event in itself. He doesn’t sensationalize any particular aspect. Coogler’s maturity accentuates as he doesn’t make the accusation that Grant’s death was racial in any way. He leaves that up to us to decide. Yes, Oscar and his friends are black, and racial profiling certainly may have played a part in what happened. But the movie doesn’t exploit America’s racial tension. There are characters that deal drugs, but they aren’t depicted as violent, greedy thugs. Some are characters that are single mothers, but they aren’t bitter welfare queens whose lives are crumbling around them. Most of the scenes are captured as if the viewer is a voyeur, or a fly-on-the-wall, the scenes at the train station take on a special kind of observant focus. We are almost a passenger on this train, in an unblinking, but often foggy and unfocused view of a situation that gets out of hand and ends with a senseless death of an innocent man.

Fruitvale Station is a masterfully crafted biopic that while not as in depth as some might hope it to be gets across the person of interest as a common person and removing the culture from the equation. It’s a film that shows the true essence of enjoying the routine that is our life. In any tragedy sometimes all we get to know about a person is through a couple of sentences sending across a series of emotions. As simple as it might be its understanding on people transcends beyond its small scope.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Diana (2013) Review

“After an unexpected hiatus (holiday season, good friend moving to LA) it was about time I got back into writing reviews. An idea one of my friends also had as she (for some reason) checks my profile for my thoughts on films. Noticing I didn’t post anything for two weeks she decided to shoot me with her ray gun, take me to her spaceship, insert a bomb into my genitals, and set a timer for three hours. Telling me the only way to survive is to watch “Diana” and write a review in my limited time. Thus I did it and barely made it out alive. However, she refused to remove the bomb!”. Excerpt from the biography “Based on a true story”.

Diana follows the last two years of Princess Diana life secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan turning a life story into a very crummy romance film. Calling this film a biopic is the equivalent of saying the film “2012” is base on a true story. Problem number one with this film making the person of interest boring. As someone who knows nothing about the Princess of Wales this film shares no insight about her nor the people around her. Its reluctant to share anything even the most basic of understanding of who Diana is a person becomes lost to its audience. Now because of the structure of the film manipulative narrative Diana comes across as a one dimensional Gollum. Now going by written dialogue in the film Diana “Gets very excited by Hospitals”, “I’m a princess and I get what I want”, and wonders if “Did they publish the pictures of the kids with all their arms and legs blown off”. That’s some awful dialogue yes, but the rest of the writing is equally appalling. Not to forget exploitative beginning the film starting on the night of her death hammering the message that there is no return.

Earlier I said this is more of a crummy romance and I stand by that. For example, the film paints Diana was so swept off her feet that she ignored her children and her work. Doing charity work for the sake of good lips service. In any other fictional film if you have bad characters, underdeveloped elements, and sloppy narrative you simply get a bad piece of fiction. Not here as even if the events in the film did happen it feels false. In a movie that has the Dwayne Johnson Quartet (sadly Dwayne Johnson is nowhere in the film) you end up quitting finding any shred of truth that the film might share. Even its main focus on the romance is terribly written. Important events are glossed over, the romance is egotistical (ones a whiner and ones comes across as too clingy), and at no point allows us to see Diana the way the filmmaker intended us to see her. There’s a line in the film that goes “You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you. And when it’s over, reality is a bit flat. You’re very tire.”. That statement holds true to the film itself. You don’t experience the film, the film attempts destroy you and your perception of Diana in reality. Hoping in the end you’re too tired to search for the truth and accepts the false reality the film gives you.

Naomi Watts has little material to work from, the result being overuse of only a few mannerisms and speech characteristics. She delivers some awful, awful lines with a straight face. If anything the acting is best the thing about the film. All the performances are average, but at no point do they attempt to ham it up or go over the top with their performances. As for everything else it’s unnoticeable. The direction is on autopilot with no interesting shots being stuck in limbo and the film score is forgettable to the point the closing credits remind there was actually music in the film. Also, playing Beethoven 9th Symphony during heart surgery is not romantic.

Diana is a terrible romance film that I refuse to consider biopic. A biopic should tell us, show us, or give insight on the person of interest gaining some level of understanding that person in a new way something this film does not do. Instead “Diana” chooses to do the opposite capitalizing on someone death exploiting people’s feeling for the sake of cash. If that wasn’t the intention of the people involved in making this were it’s the feeling they get across.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: 12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

Slavery remains a troubling issue so much in fact that we feel more comfortable viewing dozen Holocaust films than a single film on slavery. It’s an certain period in human history no one is proud off and willingly attempt to prevent from ever occurring again. However, simply labeling this film with a single intention is saying very little of its true power. What many hailed as being the greatest film about slavery I dare say is an essential statement on humanity. It’s not just a film about slavery, but rather about the common man.

12 Years A Slave is set in antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Its biggest strength is being able to depict slavery how it is without feeling exploitative. This film always walks on a thin line of being one hanging, one whiplashing, one beating from being deemed tasteless. All the more praiseworthy when its difficult depiction is pulled off successfully. On paper it’s easy to sympathize for Solomon Northup just as a slave, but that was not the intention. Solomon is not just a free black man; he’s a common man, with common features, common dreams, sharing a common will for the desire to live in his harrowing endeavor. Sympathizing with Solomon for who he is and not what he became. Enduring as much as the human spirit could living and entrapped in a cruel world that coexist with his former one. Much like Solomon, we never forget the freedom we have while attempting not to lose the shred of humanity we have left as the world around become engulfed in seemingly never ending tragedies. We feel what Solomon feels and think what Solomon’s thinking. Reflecting upon Solomon with ourselves of how something like freedom no matter the world around you can be taken for granted.

Interpreted directly “12 Years A Slave” is a harrowing and even inspiring story. Beyond that interpretation are many metaphorical meanings both simplistic and in depth. The “N” word for example is not simply use as a profane word. Its first usage in the film is profoundly powerful. Perhaps for some it will be the first time ever truly understanding the strength behind this single word. Being able to reduce a loving father, skilled musician, husband, and highly intelligent human into an animal to be bought and sold. Another subtle use of metaphorical symbolism is a fiddle. What it represents is rather simple and difficult to miss. On the surface the fiddle represents freedom; however, music present another form of hidden expression. What you hear can be calmly and joyous while in context that piece of music being played comes across differently. As a form to remind slaves of their oppressive position, provide a small taste of freedom, or further reminds them of the consequences if attempting to run away. Music expresses many emotions and has the same power to conceal truth; it can be use to hide the ugly nature of the person’s intention or in this film as a form to defeat racism.

Steve McQueen direction is relentless and one of sheer brilliance. His decision in not telling the audience the passage of time directly is genius. Only giving audiences subtle visual clues on how long has time has past never eliminating the sameness of Solomon endeavor. Getting across that perhaps there is no end in sight in this dehumanizing time. Utilizing long, steady single shots to emphasize various emotions. When events on screen become their most horrifying and ugly is when his camera becomes the most unflinching. One powerful scene involves an excruciatingly long shot of a punished Solomon. When Solomon is hanging on the tree the other slaves go on with their business, seemingly oblivious to the man literally hanging in their midst, until one slave woman gives him a glass of water and meekly scurries away. Showing the true fear and power the slave owners possessed over them. Agonizing scenes like these can make audiences become increasingly uncomfortable in a situation we desire to be removed, but powerless and unable to realizing the outcome if we do. Capturing the rawest of human emotion feeling, thoughts, and seeing how Solomon views things. Even when it draws to a close were left to ponder the long forgotten thought of what does freedom mean to a free man?

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting excels with facial expressions you realize when he succumbed to his situation versus how he emotionally fought his sudden twist of fate. A mentally and physically challenging role becoming cold himself and attempting to conceal his own emotions completely understanding and sympathizing him. Spacing out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes at times with no spoken words. Ejiofor I’ll dare even say provides one of the best performances not just in his career, but in one of the best of the decade. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a slave owner yet he treats his slaves humanely. He makes you ask yourself if neutral people like him are good or bad for progress. Michael Fassbender is a raving dog one minute, and calmly ordering everyone to dance the next, he knows he can make these slaves do anything, they are toys to him, puppets. It is that controlled rage that makes his performance have an eerily threatening presence even when he’s not on screen. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the most devastating performances. She retains a level of innocence that only heightens the tragedy of her character. The cast is flawless no matter how small or big the role is.

12 Years A Slave is brutally honest and heart wrenching for a that does not chooses to play by traditional rules. It’s more than a film about slavery and more so a statement on humanity in its gloomiest state never losing sight of one’s self. For some it’ll be difficult to watch, but even harder to accept the honest truth that McQueen presented to the world. With all the hype surrounding “12 Years A Slave” it might be easy to forget that it’s a humble film. Truly deserving of its praise, but should be seen without the hype for it never presents itself to be bigger than life. Rather it presents itself honestly with good intentions and heartfelt emotions for many who can’t share a similar story.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Hunger (2008) Review

Certain places and people are given labels that define them. Those labels are not always accurate of what they represent. In prisons it is commonly associated that the prison guards are providing protection while the prisoners are a deadly force. While not the first nor the last film to challenge that notion it is a film you experience rather than simply seeing it.

Hunger is about Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. Like mentioned earlier Hunger is more of an experience than it is a traditional film. Minimal dialogue, a deliberate slow pace to build up an atmosphere, action speaking for emotion, and a non-traditional narrative. It shows very little of anything that occurs outside of prison working towards it purpose. Attempting to emulate the same isolation, dreary, and violent mood of the very harsh Maze prison its representing. Becoming able to get across characters psychology without much words. Slowly demoralizing the inhabitants both who are entrapped in it and those working there. Yet despite all of its desolate emotions a glimmer of hope is given resulting in a difficult viewing of Bobby Sands decaying body to serve a greater good. The hardest thing to stomach is not what the film does show, but rather what it doesn’t show. We’re introduced to a prison guard in the beginning of the film who becomes minor character. He’s never given an arc of any kind that shows his psychology or what drove him to commit his action. Another character introduced is newly incarcerated inmate Gillen whose vision of the prison never comes full circle. Gillen serves to present how one would first view the dreadful room that traps and consume sanity, but shifts in focus to follow another inmate forgetting his part of the story. Hunger does not say allot words which it makes up for how it chooses to express itself.

Steve McQueen is relentless and cold in his depiction of the Maze prison. His frequents use of one-point perspective and wide shots remain motionless for lengthy periods of time. This technique is wonderfully engrossing allowing to witness harmful treatment and environment detail for great lengths of time. Never do we see the outside of the prison, giving the viewer the impression that our characters have been locked away so long that they don’t know how the outside even looks like anymore. Becoming claustrophobic into isolationism where the sight of a cells smeared with feces becomes routine instead of seeming out of the ordinary. Another technique that McQueen uses is showing brief snippets of a scene, then cutting away, to let the viewer imagine how the rest will play out; but the key is that he never cuts too early, so that the viewer is left to imagine as to what is going on. Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Bobby Sands: to make his hunger strike credible the actor lost weight to the point of emaciation, and yet this physical portion of his role, appalling though it is, does not compare to the nonverbal language of his face while he ends his life.

Hunger narrative doesn’t match its atmospheric strength and focus, but visually captures the harsh reality of its environment. It’s as moving as it is depressing to see becoming routine seeing the true ugliness a person’s life can be reduced too. More than just film you view as Hunger is a dreary, but absorbing atmospheric experience.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Way Back (2011) Review

The Way Back doesn’t exactly belong in the “epic” film category when considering other superior epics. Other than that I liked the movie thanks to some great performances and camera work.

So Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India. The story is interesting, but were treated to a journey in which we see allot of talking and walking and not enough of what happens. This sometimes made feel bored watching it as I usually don’t expect to see people walking for like most of the movie. Luckily there are some obstacles to keep things from being boring, though these obstacles won’t be enough for some. While I enjoyed the overall story, I think it could have been taken into a better direction.

The performances are what make it worthwhile, especially Jim Sturgess who should be more famous. The cinematography is fantastic as the camera actually shows you that this is no easy journey and I have to praise the director for some beautiful shots in this movie. Other than that, I can’t say much else, beside that is doesn’t feel like an epic. You know what comes to mind when I think of epics, Lawrence of Arabia, Seven Samurai, 13 Assassins, and even There Will Be Blood all come to my mind and The Way Back really doesn’t come close to what I consider a true epic to be.

The Way Back is a good movie with a story that’ll get mixed reaction from different viewers with a notable performance from Jim Sturgess and great cinematography.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: 127 Hours (2010) Review

James Franco has quite the reputation, I mean first he did horrible job hosting the Oscar, second his acting got went unrecognized Rise of the Planet of the Apes as praised went to Andy Serkis, and third being he does a good job acting in 127 Hours, for the most part.

A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive. That’s basically the whole movie, expect for the last ten minutes. I wasn’t totally swept away by the plot as it really not that interesting at all, it felt like they dragged on martial for the movie.

Despite the story being a slight disappointment to me, everything else is good. James Franco does a great job carrying the weight of a whole movie on his shoulder and is executed greatly. I’m guessing it’s just me, but I didn’t have the same experience as everyone while watching this. I just thought it was a good movie, but apparently other call it horrifying and intense.

127 Hours is a good movie about survival with a slight disappointment from the story and a great performance from James Franco. This movie won’t move everyone the same way, but it still worth checking this one out.

8/10