Drive (movie review)

Finally! A movie that is able to convert a gritty subject and violent screenplay into an intense, brutal and poetic thriller. Drive is movie making as the art form it is supposed to be. Every scene is honest in it's storytelling as it is dreamy in it's execution. A sheer cloak of fantasy helping soften the blows of scenes that would otherwise rival Casino in their fetish for testing the boundaries of the human form to take punishment.

The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is the unnamed protagonist of the movie, who excels at cold-as-steel getaway driving. The movie begins with the Driver manning a souped up Chevy Impala, waiting outside a building where two masked robbers are committing a crime. What follows is a display of calculated urban run-away driving that is probably one of the best I have seen. It is not the high-speed variety like, say, the car chase in Ronin, but it is an equally heart-pounding cat and mouse variety - in the streets of downtown LA.

The Driver seems to have everything going for him, a part-time role as a movie stunt driver, a car mechanic and an emerging opportunity as a stock car racer. As luck would have it in these cases, he meets someone. A neighbor and her young kid, with whom he develops a genuine chemistry - softening an otherwise stark and empty life. When her husband unexpectedly returns from prison and is caught up with debts from his past, the Driver decides to help.

The second part of the movie is dedicated to the realization that in his desire to help, he had signed up for something that was deeper and more sinister than it had seemed. As he begins to peel the onion of the conspiracy, the Driver realizes that he may have to sacrifice everything to see the sequence of events through to their logical completion.

The scenes of Drive flow together beautifully. There is nothing static about any of them. Either the camera or the subject is always in motion, a sort of underlying sense of flow through the entire movie. In contrast dialogue is deliberately awkward, scenes wantonly go a tad too long. The resulting sense of discomfort makes every scene magnetic. Don't be surprised if you find yourself holding your breath after each sequence, or if you come out of the movie exhausted.

There aren't that many violent movies that can make a claim to be realistic yet fantastic at the same time. Drive comes close. There is just enough style between the violence on screen and the audience to take the edge off. But not so much that the message is lost. Even if you are squeamish about graphic movies, this might be the one you might want to take a chance on. And if you do not like it, you could just - Drive.

January 28, 2012

8 post-apocalyptic survival movies

A collection of movies dealing with life after a deadly epidemic. These are stories of grit, survival and the occasional heart-skipping scare. Includes some obvious choices and some obscure ones.


Despite feeling like a breathless tale from the mind of an super imaginative youngster, Pandorum manages to tell a tale of apocalypse, horror, bravery and hope. All the while masquerading as a scifi flick. For the majority of the movie, things happen. Characters come and go, violently. Story is revealed, twisted, hidden and revealed again. And there is a nice quest built into the movie that arcs across the storyline, making this feel, at times, like a space-age Indiana Jones episode.

Pandorum is a quintessential post-apocalytic movie, set in a space-ship at the end of human life on earth. In addition to a gritty bleak setting and scary creatures in the shadows, the movie explores the ability of the human race to survive - not matter how great the cost.


Carriers is one of the tamest Zombie movies, if you could even call it that. It is a slow and haunting exploration of survival after a viral apocalypse. Centered around two brothers, and their search for a childhood paradise, Carriers is both noble in it's honesty and profound in its selfishness. The undead of this movie are not animated corpses; instead they are pathetic survivalists united by their unwavering capacity to be infected without recourse.

Two brothers and their girl friends are escaping a world-wide epidemic of an infectious and deadly virus. Their path to survival is based on strict rules - to never come in contact with other infected people. No matter what happens and who the infected may be. When one of them becomes infected with the deadly virus, the resolve of the group in following the rules is painfully tested. It is a simple premise with a heart warming execution.

28 Days Later

What I am Legend is to New York City, 28 Days Later is to London and all of Great Britain. One of those sublime opportunities to see parts of UK completely uninhabited.

Animal rights activists attack a secret Government testing facility, releasing chimpanzees infected with a highly communicable viral disease. In a cruel twist of massive irony, this releases the deadly virus into the open ravaging UK over a period of 28 days, killing most people and leaving a few ravenously hungry for human flesh.

As with the rest of the movies on this list, the story is ultimately about survival - in all its myriad forms. And it is also a story of bravery, and valuing others more than one self.

28 Weeks Later

28 weeks later is the sequel to the more famous 2002 movie - 28 days later. As it turns out, during the initial disaster of the rage virus, Don and his wife Alice try to survive by locking themselves in their own house. When the infected attack and are able to overpower the defenses, Don escapes leaving Alice behind.

Six months after the infection, a NATO army has secured parts of London to set up base for uninfected English citizens to return and repopulate the country. Don and Alice's children return from their vacation in Spain, but escape the security perimeter to retrieve personal possessions from their home. To their surprise they discover a delirious but living Alice.

Their joy turns out to be short lived, as the virus seemingly is not fully extinct yet.

The Crazies

The Crazies is post-apocalyptic, not for the entire world but for an unfortunate town in Iowa, that receives a unexpected dose of toxins from a plane crash. As residents begin to turn into violent psychopaths, the Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) has to rally the survivors to fight, while trying to figure out what really went wrong.

The movie has elements of the expected Government conspiracy, nicely intertwined with human monsters and a quest for survival. By setting up the conflict between the innocent and powerless townsfolk and the big bad Government that only wants to weaponize deadly viruses, the stage is all too predictable. What makes the movie different is it's merciless cinematography. There are no long eulogies or subtle point making. Just a frenzied will to escape and survive.

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys is a scintillating science fiction story, of improbable actions and personal demons. But first and foremost, it is a post-apocalyptic survival movie. A man-made virus, released deliberately in several locations across the world, has destroyed a large part of human civilizations. The survivors have gone underground, but yearn to return to the surface. When they develop time-travel, such an opportunity presents itself.

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a disturbed prisoner, who is chosen to go back in time to just before the world-wide epidemic and track down the group calling itself "The Army of 12 Monkeys", which is believed to be responsible for the disaster. Cole survives multiple attempts at time travel and eventually reaches the correct time period; while his inner demons have grown more vociferous. As he begins to learn more about himself and the 12 monkeys, he also realizes that there is more to the mission than his briefing.

An atmospheric whodunit set against an inevitable mass extinction.

I am Legend

I am Legend is probably the most expected movie on this list. When a plague destroys most in New York and turns the rest into sunlight-hating blood-thirsty monsters, Robert Neville (Will Smith) and his faithful dog are determined to keep their sanity and lives. Following a strict survival regimen, they roam the eerily empty streets of the city during day, and retire to a fortified house to survive the night.

The plan seems to be working, giving Neville time to work on a vaccine for the infected. Till one day he is caught in a trap, sprung by the infected who are waiting in the shadows for darkness so they can get their hands on him. Even though unexpected help shows up in the form of a traveling Anna (Alice Braga), Neville has to decide between pursuing his tentative search for a vaccine and fighting for his humanity one last time.

This is not the first attempt at making the original book into a movie, but for those of you who have not read the book; the movie is not a bad way to start thinking about living alone in New York City.


After a devastating war between machines and humans, all humans are seemingly destroyed. A rag doll named 9 comes to life. After being attacked by a machine called the Beast, 9 meets others like him, numbered rag dolls that are able to survive the wrath of the machines by hiding and sneaking around.

When 2 is taken by the Beast, 9 organizes the remaining rag dolls on a daring and desperate attempt at rescue. As the rag dolls organize themselves and begin to fight the machines, they realize that they are also carrying precious cargo, that could hold the key to human salvation.

9 is a stylistic look at a post-apocalyptic life, without humans. But the rag dolls are, unbeknownst to them, more human than they realize.

Obvious omissions

The list is obviously missing two mainstream movie series - the Matrix trilogy and the Terminator quadrilogy. For obvious reasons - they are among the most well known movies of this genre and I'll not add much by including them to this list. You've either seen them, or this genre is probably not of much interest to you.

There you are - 8 movies with the best advice on what to do when the world ends tomorrow.

August 05, 2011

X-Men: First Class (movie review)

X-Men: First class is a fitting addition to the mutant franchise; a movie that is an enjoyable tale in itself, while filling in some of the back-story for the major characters in the earlier movies. While it does have some overly dramatic scenes, typical of comic adaptations, the script feels more like a regular science fiction movie. And that is a good thing, especially after the super-intense X-Men Origins. This episode of the saga feels young, fresh and enjoyable.

X-Men: First Class, covers the period in time when mutants were not generally known, and Charles Xavier and Magneto were still young men each coming to terms with their own destinies. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is born into a well to do family, and has finished his schooling in London, appropriately majoring in matters related to the mutation of the human genome. Growing up with a young and self-conscious Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) he has always known there were other mutants in the world, but regards it as little more than an academic exercise, until a fateful meeting with a CIA agent. Meanwhile, Magneto / Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) has grown up in a very different world. Living in Nazi concentration camps, and having a doctor take special interest in his abilities, Magneto has grown up with a deep-seated hatred for authority of all kinds and an acute awareness of his difference from all other humans.

When the doctor in the Nazi camp Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) turns out to be a mutant himself, with a goal to push the cold-war era US and Russia into a nuclear war, Magneto and Charles Xavier realize that working together is the only way to stop Dr. Shaw.

McAvoy is perfect as the intellectual Charles Xavier, whose naive charm eventually morphs into the hallmark smile of the character. This was one of the strongest characters in the movie, interpreted well from the character to be. Fassbender's Magneto is a distant second; there are aspects of the persona that shine through, but the magnetic persona of Ian McKellen is missing from his younger self. The remaining characters are interesting in their own right, not necessarily as a continuation of the series. Also the question about origins of X-Men technology is answered - much of it was researched on CIA dollar, during the cash-hungry cold war era. It does make ironic sense.

Being set during the Cuban missile crisis is presumptuous, even for an X-Men movie, but the script does a remarkable job of pulling it off. There are moments of anachronistic irregularity, but they pass quickly into the background. Stylistically, the movies borrows heavily from the original movies, including actual footage of a young Magneto in the concentration camps (from the first X-Men movie). The training session of the first class of mutants, is one of the more well done comic book looks in any movie.

Finally the movie is visually impressive. The initial part of the movie is heavy on the story, leading to the climax of bombs, explosions and two armies standing by.

As far as the mythos of the X-Men series goes, First Class is a crucial piece of the puzzle. With a story that deserves to be told, and a cast that is carefully chosen, there is not much that is wrong with the prequel-sequel. If mutation is something you looked forward to after the original X-Men, this is the movie you would do well not to miss.

July 02, 2011

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)

Movies about Mumbai are many. Mumbai Diaries (Dhobi Ghat), joins their ranks, not as a pretender but as a rightful contender in the list of intelligent and appealing movies from and about Mumbai. The movie follows four of Mumbai's citizens, each very different from the other, but all inevitably entwined together. The stories are heartfelt and human, thought provoking without being pedantic and in their own way eye-opening without being shocking.

Shai (Monica Dogra) is an investment banker, currently on sabbatical from work and has a penchant for photography. Arun (Aamir Khan) is a modern painter, successful, loner and possessive of his independence. Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra) is a new bride in the city, having accompanied her husband from the north of the country. She is making a video of herself and the city for her brother, who has never been to Mumbai. Finally there is Munna (Prateik Babbar), a hardworking "dhobi" from the infamous city slums, who dreams the quintessential dream, to one day become an actor in Bollywood.

The movie is a tale of relationships between the different characters. The most complicated is between Shai and Munna. Munna, a hardworking young man, is used to his place in the stratified socio-economic class system of modern Mumbai. Shai, with a predominantly western attitude towards social interactions, treats him very differently - first as a fellow human being, then as a true friend. This leaves a very confused Munna, seeking something more than friendship. Unbeknownst to him, his understanding of the nature of their relationship also holds the key to his personal redemption.

The relationship between Arun and Shai is, in a certain way, more typical yet just as intriguing. Born of a late night filled with too much alcohol, it waxes and wanes, drifting between rejection and obsession. In a certain way their dance reminds one the relationship between the western world and India - pointedly indifferent and sometimes fascinated.

Finally there is the particularly heart-wrenching journey of Yasmin, as seen by Arun through the un-mailed tapes he finds in his new apartment. The tapes start off with the happiness of a new bride in Mumbai, with its alluring lights and fascinating sights. And then as life settles in, and the realities start to take hold, the excitable child must grow up - no matter how big the cost.

Dhobi Ghat reaches no conclusions. It is a brief window into the workings of a modern Indian city, sometimes confused, sometimes unfair but mostly business as usual.

June 19, 2011


Restraint is a slow, low-budget, psychological thriller that punches way above it's weight class without seeming out of place. The setup was pretty good if not entirely plausible, and the ending was the weakest part of the movie. Yet, with a strong cast, the story keeps the audience well and truly involved right up until the end.

Ron (Travis Fimmel) and Dale (Teresa Palmer) are running from a double murder spree. In search of a hiding place, they stumble upon a mansion in the middle of nowhere, which is inhabited by an agoraphobic man Andrew (Stephen Moyer). What starts off as a house invasion and hostage scenario quickly turns interesting when Andrew offers Ron and Dale forty thousand dollars to leave him alive. The catch is that Dale has to impersonate Andrew's fiancee to withdraw the money from a bank.

At the risk of infuriating Ron, Andrew begins trying to turn Dale against her boyfriend. Slowly the allure of life in the well off society begins to contrast with that of a renegade accomplice, as Dale begins to question her life with Ron. As the high-stakes battle of power between Andrew and Ron comes to a head, Dale becomes the decisive factor.

Fimmel is brilliant as the unstable and reckless Ron. There is a sense of scary naivete about the character that is terrifying. Moyer is equally, if not more, brilliant as Ron's exact opposite. Outside of his fear of open spaces, Andrew is the cultured yet scheming man. In places he is decidedly creepier than Ron. In comparison Dale is the flaky one. Young, directionless, she seems to float towards strength - an idea reinforced by her transformation from brunette into blonde in the movie.

The remaining characters in the movie are just the backdrop for the unfolding story, and never really interfere with the narrative. In that sense the movie has a feeling of isolation. Even though there are some scenes shot outside of the huge mansion, it feels like the mansion was the only location in the movie. While it suffers from less expensive production values, Restraint is a cast-driven movie that is worth watching if you are into psychological thrillers.

June 18, 2011


"The end justifies the means, right?"

Insomnia feels like a movie you have seen before. Yet there is something compelling about this murder mystery set in the never ending Alaskan summer days, layered with naivety, dishonesty, and malice.

Under investigation by Internal Affairs, embattled cop Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have been sent to a small town in Alaska, to investigate the horrible death of a teenage girl. Situated by the Arctic Circle Nightmute Alaska is a place where the sun never sets during summer. In pursuit of the killer, Dormer accidentally shoots his partner, but due to a series of circumstances goes with the story that it was killer who shot Eckhart.

Dormer is then contacted by Walter Finch (Robin Williams), who not only confesses to the murder of the girl, but blackmails Dormer about knowing that he shot his partner. As Dormer struggles with lack of sleep, he finds himself being pulled deeper into a series of lies, deception and working with the killer to frame an innocent boy for the girl's murder. His only saving grace may be the young officer Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who is investigating the death of Eckhart and may hold the moral compass Dormer so desperately needs.

The story is interesting, but fairly commonplace. What makes the difference is the casting of Al Pacino and Robin Williams. With his stone faced expression, Pacino has the unusual knack of demonstrating a wide range of emotions - guilt, frustration, anger and compassion - all the while looking like he just woke up. Robin Williams is brilliant. There is an underlying steel to the local crime thriller writer that makes him way more creepier than one-hour photo ever did with the glasses and ginger hair. Swank is perfect as the starry eyed detective, that struggles with the idea that her idol may have been the guy that killed his own partner.

Christopher Nolan's screenplay is in no hurry. The camera switches between modes of intense character scrutiny, and wide, lazy panoramic shots that make you nostalgic about a place you have never been to. If Fargo was the initial purveyor of the snow covered desolate countryside, Insomnia took it up a notch by adding in the eternal sun. Through out the movie there is a distinct cloud cover, that adds a melancholy undertone, capturing the mood of the narrative.

Netflix had this in my suggested movies list for the longest time, and for some reason I never added this to the queue. I have been a tad skeptical of star-powered movies. But now that I have seen it, I am glad I did. Now I can sleep in peace.

June 10, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau is not the story of the Adjustment Bureau. It is not an allegory that tells you something you do not already know about free will. What it is, is a well-crafted tale that exalts free will, at the same time subtly disparaging it's impetuous nature. It is a character driven science fiction movie, whose approach to story telling is diametrically opposite to that of Inception.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a successful, brash politician who seems to be on the brink of winning a seat in the US Senate. On the day that he unexpectedly loses the election, he meets a beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). The two hit it off, like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, as David begins to fall for Elise, he comes face to face with a set of people who seem to hold the invisible strings of fate in their hands. Known as the Adjustment Bureau, they possess singular powers, are able to manipulate luck and are always in the background gently guiding the world according to what is known as "the plan". Because the plan prohibits David and Elise getting together, David finds himself facing insurmountable opposition to his being with her. Eventually David must decide if he can afford to defy those who hold the strings of fate, for what feels like the love of his life.

The bureau itself is both the star and the background of the movie. Represented by the field workers who are responsible for executing mundane tasks called for by the plan, the bureau feels like a vast, bumbling, benevolent bureaucracy. Of all the evil empires in the history of cinema, this is probably the closest that Hollywood got to a real evil empire. Where a single infraction does not get the protagonist an audience with the head of the organization and the clueless minions are the only real face of the villain.

As could be expected, the story also deals with the nature of free will and it's expression. The good thing is that it never gets too preachy. There are no sermons, just personal epiphanies. But what is really telling is when David realizes that his attraction for Elise may just be because an earlier version of the plan called for it. By choosing to ignore this, David shows free will as an expression of the now, unencumbered by its pedigree.

Emily Blunt is the most vibrant part of the movie, the rest of the characters are either politicians or men in black. Screenplay is quick and pacey. The effects are well done, but generally keep out of the way.

The Adjustment Bureau does not have much of a shelf life, I wouldn't watch it a second time. But for the time I did invest in it, it was a thoughtfully made movie that respected my time. And I had more than enough invested in the characters and their love story to stay interested throughout the movie. Don't worry about this being called a science fiction movie. It could be just as easily be labelled romance, without upsetting a lot of people. After all, it is your free will to do that.

June 07, 2011

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