Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November Quick Picks and Pans

Eega (aka: Makkhi) (2012) I’m not good at making New Year’s resolutions.  In the rare occasion when I make resolutions, I tend to not adhere to them.  At the beginning of the year, in the presence of my co-workers, I vowed to watch more Indian films (and yes, this was met with the requisite level of befuddlement you would expect).  Needless to say, I failed miserably, not because of a lack of source material, but quite the opposite.  I felt adrift in a rich sea of film history, in an oar-less rowboat without a compass.  This year was shaping up to prove another empty promise unfulfilled, when I decided to watch the Telegu film Eega – and what a title to start with.

Eega reminded me of The Fly, if that grim film had been re-imagined as a charming fantasy/ musical.  It starts out as a conventional love triangle story, but things quickly take a bizarre turn.  Nani (played by none other than Nani) is a young working class man, infatuated by Bindhu (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), the girl who lives across the street.  Sudeep (played by Sudeep – who else?), a rich corporate jerk, wants Nani as his conquest, and doesn’t want anyone standing in his way.  He murders Nani, but that’s not the end of the story.  Nani is reincarnated as a fly, and vows revenge against Sudeep, while looking for a way to convince Bindhu he’s alive.  Eega features fun musical numbers, inventive fly’s eye cinematography and computer-generated effects that serve, rather than hinder the story.  It’s the perfect movie to watch in a bad mood.  If this one doesn’t pick up your spirits, nothing will.

Rating: 4 stars.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming (as Makkhi).

The Secret of Kells (2009) This beautifully animated film by co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey is steeped in ancient Irish mythology and resembles the illustrations from a picture book.  It’s a triumph of enlightenment over savagery – when an abbey is threatened by Viking invaders, a young monk ventures outside the walls of his enclave to obtain ink for a magical book.  He befriends a mysterious girl living in the surrounding forest, who aids him on his quest.  The true highlight of this film is the gorgeous animation, which appears to take its inspiration from tapestries, old books and stained glass windows.  It’s a breath of fresh air for those accustomed to the Disney mold. 

Rating: 3 ½ stars.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

The Bay (2012) This found footage eco-horror film covers familiar territory, but seems fresh, thanks to Director Barry Levinson’s spirited take on the material.  An intrepid television news reporter (Kether Donohue) presents leaked footage from a disastrous July 4th weekend in a small Maryland coastal town.  As the result of pollution in the bay, people become hosts for gut-munching parasites.  Although a filmmaker of Levinson’s caliber could easily have cast well-known actors in the roles, he chose to use unfamiliar faces, which adds to the veracity of this better than average example of the sub-genre.  Of course, your enjoyment requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief.  A conceit of such movies is that the characters must keep shooting video, even when things get really bad.  At some point, you’ll probably still wonder why they wouldn’t drop the damn camera and run.

Rating: 3 ½ stars.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Room 237 (2012) Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 says more about human nature than it does about Stanley Kubrick’s masterful, albeit flawed interpretation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining.  The film consists of interviews with several devotees who have scrutinized the film backwards and forwards (literally, in one instance), to the point where patterns and recurrent themes emerge.  Room 237 takes you down the rabbit hole with their dubious theories, including: Kubrick’s supposed confession of his complicity with the U.S. government in faking the moon landing footage, the film’s hidden themes about genocide of Native Americans, or continuity errors that are really intentional statements.  I can’t help but feel Kubrick would have found these various interpretations laughable, which leads to the main problem with Room 237.  We never hear from film historians or individuals who worked with Kubrick to refute these theories.  As a result, we’re left with the uneasy feeling that the lunatics are running the asylum, and we’ve been led around in circles. 

Rating: 3 stars.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming.

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