True Grit

In an attempt to get ready for the Oscars this weekend, we decided to head over to a movie that had been on our "must-watch" list for a while. True Grit is a typical Coen brothers movie - one measure heart and one measure soul, and a whole lot of gorgeousness in between. The movie is a classic Western, sans cowboys and saloons. It is also a remake of a 1969 classic by the same name.

In a sense the story of True Grit has been told before - several times over. There is no dearth of vengeful movies set in the wild west. But True Grit is a story not from the point of view of the hero or the villain, but from the perspective of a plucky 14-year old girl, who decides to avenge the death of her father. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), plays the 14-year old, who upon learning of the death of her father in the hands of an outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), takes it upon herself to seek revenge. She tracks down and employs a reluctant U.S. Marshall - Rooster Cockburn (Jeff Bridges), then to the latter's utter dismay follows him on the hunt. They are joined in the pursuit by a Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who informs them of a price on Tom Chaney's head in his home state.

The characters in the movie are cast flawlessly. Mattie Ross is perhaps the most endearing and cheer-worthy 14-year old in a long time. There is a sense of naive clarity about her, that hold indomitably through out the movie. The role for Rooster Cockburn and LaBoeuf is as much to protect the Matty's naivete as it was to hunt down any wrongdoers.

No review of the movie would be complete without a talk about the dialogue. The words and dialects are, presumably, accurate for the time period, but that also makes following them a tad dense and difficult to follow. But the pace of the movie is leisurely enough that you are never worried that you are going to miss something significant.

Movie remakes, especially those by non-standard directors, are fraught with danger. One need only look at King Kong, to realize how a remake could trample on the soul of the original. I have not seen the original, but this movie feels so perfectly natural that one cannot help but imagine that the original would in no way have been diminished by the remake.

This is a Western. No two ways about it. From the horses, to the dialect, to the unkempt lawmen and the charming lawbreakers, it is a story from the wild-wild-west. But there is an unmistakable Coen brothers' stamp on it. Be prepared to not follow every dialogue, but everything else about the little girl's fight for justice will leave an indelible mark on your heart.

February 28, 2011

Watching my watching habits

About 5 months and close to 50 posts later, I figured I had enough reviews to take a statistical look at the movies and TV shows I watch. Sort of an "on the media" for this section of the site, if you will. Looking at two things for this. First is my tag counts for all my posts on this blog. Second is my list of rated movies on Netflix. (Getting to the Netflix rated movie list is thanks to this Greasemonkey script.)

To begin, what do I really watch? Here is how the genres play out. At first glance that looks surprisingly normal. Left to my own devices it would probably have read Weird - 90% and Science Fiction - 10%; but this on the other hand is remarkably balanced.

Science Fiction, naturally is up at the top because, well, have you seen the rest of this site? Like everyone else I cannot refuse a good thrill and Thriller is a joint leading genre. I watch a fair bit o' Horror. Beyond just the screams, that is the only genre I can watch without feeling guilty that I am watching something that the wife would also like to see. Drama and Comedy are a product of compromise - when I want to watch SciFi and the wife wants to watch a Romantic Comedy, we end up picking something from these two genres.

Conspicuously missing are a couple of extremes - romantic comedies that every guy has to watch (which will probably not be reviewed unless I strongly dislike them) and my own guilty pleasure - SyFy reruns of low-budget creature features. I guess it is a good thing they are not in here, because then the list would indeed look 90% weird & 10% everything else.

Moving on. I am not sure where the bias is - in our stringent movie selection process or in my awarding of stars. I would imagine more in the former. Nevertheless, if I count my number of movies with each rating, there is a definite bias towards the happy place. Other than a few, most movies we watch seem to be either really good or positively delightful. I had to get to the bottom of this - are the movies I select biased in themselves, or am I generally rating them too high?

So I did the same with the extracted ratings from Netflix. Unfortunately since Netflix only allows full stars, I had to "round up" my ratings on this blog as well. Comparing the two, it turns out, I am a happy rater. See the similarity between the titles I chose to rate with Netflix and the titles I chose to write about (does it really matter which is which?). That does it. This means there is a lot of opportunity to choose, view and review a lot more crappy movies that I have ever had. It is time to dust up the old snarky bone and sarcastic tooth.

Warning: going geeky. Finally the analysis big guns. Since I already had the data from Netflix, decide to slice and dice it to understand the quality of the movies I watch. This includes a total of 428 movie ratings. The size of the bubble is the number of movies watched in the genre. Horizontally it is the average rating. Genres to the right have a higher rating than those on the left. And the height represents the variance. Higher means a greater spread of ratings in that genre.

The bigger bubbles are bubbling to the top - the more movies I watch in a genre, the more variety in the ratings. Romance, sitting at the bottom left corner is consistently lowly rated. Television is the most highly rated - makes sense because the shows I would commit to on Netflix are going to be the more highly rated. The last comment relates to the cluster in the top middle of the chart. Comedy is a genre I am most ambivalent about, there is so much potential in the genre, but it consistently ranks low. Unlike a Drama, there are no outstanding Comedy movies or horrendous ones. Just consistently mediocre.

Phew. Giving data to a man with excel, is like running on a treadmill. There is a lot of activity, with very little actual work. Ditto with this post. To summarize, I am not as weird in my movie tastes as I like to think I am. I don't view or review enough crappy movies. And there aren't a lot of those awesome comedies anymore.

February 26, 2011

Exam

Exam shoots for somewhere between an HR recruitment video and a post-apocalyptic survival tale, managing to land somewhere in between. Released in 2008, Exam, is a skewed look at drive and determination in a world where survival of the fittest is more than just a catchphrase. There are characters and stereotypes that definitely work, but there are also moments where the movie comes across as more than a little amateurish.

Eight candidates vying for one of the most coveted role ever, are put in a room for their final exam. There is never enough explanation as to why the job is so important. There are hints to a world radically different from ours, but having the backgrounds of the characters shrouded in mystery, it is not easy to show compassion. Each is given a paper that purportedly contains the one question that required one answer, along with a set of rules including - don't spoil your paper, don't choose to leave the room and don't choose to contact the invigilator or the guard. Turning the paper over reveals it to be blank. Pretty much everything from then on is a clever albeit heavily contrived story that unfolds in real time on screen.

The entire movie takes place in a single room, a dull gray industrial looking enclosure. The movie has all of 10 actors - the 8 candidates plus the invigilator and a guard. In an interesting twist, none of the characters are named, instead they get colorful nicknames courtesy one of the candidates - White (Luke Mably), Chinese (Gemma Chan), Black (Chukwudi Iwuji), Brown (Jimi Mistry), Blond (Nathalie Cox), Dark (Adar Beck), Brunette (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Deaf (John Lloyd Fillingham). It is the characters, with more than a little technical help, help pull the movie together. Each stays true to a core, yet evolve to keep the proceedings interesting. After all the proceedings are little more than 8 nervous candidates talking to each other in a gray room.

The story is obviously inventive, but flat at times. The company that they were purportedly going to get the role of the assistant to the CEO for has a 20 billion turnover, and a market cap of 60 billion. In today's world that would barely make it to the top 500 companies. Not exactly a job to kill for. That said there are other redeeming wins for the movie, starting with the cinematography. The camera focus flits wonderfully from character to character, taking on a narrative of its own. The shot angles are always tight, never leaving a character out in the cold. The music too never misses a trick in keeping the bass on to keep the adrenalin going. It is the characters and the technical merits that pull their weight around a plot as thin as the blank paper with no question on it.

You will need to stretch the imagination cells for this one. But once you accept the possibility that you could conduct an interview of that sort without HR going ballistic on you, the movie is actually absorbing. With just a bit of violence and not too much yelling and screaming, it is a perfect thriller for sensitive company.

February 24, 2011

Udaan (flight)

Udaan (flight) is a story of the emancipation of a boy from the shackles of control and tyranny imposed by his pitiless father. The movie is sort of like Dazed and Confused, without the pot and with the corporal Dad replacing the more ethereal Man. It is a moving tale of misplaced anger, harsh discipline and of stubborn hope.

The story of Udaan, while monochromatic, is largely representative of the pressure felt by numerous youngsters across the country. It is a strange artifact, exacerbated by an unbridgeable generation gap between a world that grew up in the old India of suffocating struggles and the new world of freedom and cautious economic prosperity. When to this already incendiary mixture, you add in a single parent who is psychotic in requiring adherence to his way, and a son that has grown up on his own terms, it is a case of irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Something has to give way.

Rohan has been living in a residential school for the last eight years. Upon being suspended as a result of a caper gone wrong, he returns to his home town of Jamshedpur, and to his authoritarian dad, whom he had not met even once while away at school. He discovers that his dad had married and divorced while he was away, and consequently he has a step-brother of six years he never knew about. Dad then takes it upon himself to put Rohan on the path to a future of the former's liking. Showing no respect for Rohan's professed love for the arts, his Dad enrolls him in a vocational engineering course while forcing him to work at his factory.

Rohan struggles for acceptance and understanding, and coming up empty, begins his own form of passive aggression - staying out late and getting drunk and failing on purpose. Things come to a head when he discovers his little brother was beaten mercilessly after the latter's infractions at school.

The narrative of the movie is slow, and the scenes raw. Yet the rawness and simplicity of each scene is captivating in its own way. Scenes through out the movie have their own unmistakable visceral baggage - the principal's office, the train ride, the hazy mornings of a town, the uneven plaster of an affordable housing unit. All form a very authentic background for the unfolding story. The characters are gutsy, true and untempered. Background score is minimal.

In any minimalist movie, the characters are the brunt of the execution. In Udaan, the characters are righteously front and center. The three lead characters are cast and carried superbly. The self-righteous father is so true you cannot help hating him with a personal vengeance. Rohan and his brother have some of the most moving moments ever between newly discovered half-brothers. While there are moments that seem a bit far-fetched in character or story, for the most part everything is firmly grounded.

If you have not lived in India, this is a well made story of a dysfunctional family. But if you have ever lived in the country, this is a multi-layered experience you would do well to not miss.

February 23, 2011

No One Killed Jessica

No One Killed Jessica is part of a growing brave genre of India movies; movies based on a high profile real-life story, with a passably logical storyline. And included with the story are proven techniques of Bollywood movie-making. The movie clocks in about 60 minutes too long, is embellished with heart-wrenching music, is overly emotive and is edited to be absorbingly silken.

The movie is based on the 10-year saga that unfolded in India, the murder and subsequent drama associated with the trial of the accused. Taking on such a high profile story had its own pros and cons. For one most people in India were already aware of the ending - the story having been plastered on the front page for years on end. Also, one could easily run the risk of being blatant in their pandering. But then, midway through the trial everyone knew this was a story begging to have a movie made of. And so they did.

In the movie, Jessica was a celebrity bartender, who was in charge of drinks at a hip party with about 300 of the local high society in attendance. When an inebriated son of a minister shows up and discovers that the bar is all out of drinks, he whips his pistol out. And in a fit of rage shoots Jessica fatally. What follows is a tale of power, corruption and the misappropriation of the legal system. As witnesses turn hostile and key evidence goes missing, the once open and shut case seems ready be sold to the highest bidder. What follows, as they say, "happens only in India".

The movie is technically competent. There is a theatrical over-the-top component, but it is thankfully not too intrusive. The pace of storytelling barely gets faster than a stroll. But the speed of narrative is balanced by a type of silken, emotive editing that can not be found outside of the sub-continent. The music is well done, forming an appropriate component of the narrative. The characters are well drawn, and do stay true to their core. And the best part about watching it on Netflix, the liberal use of profanities which were not bleeped out.

If you are looking for a gritty crime drama like Gangajal, this is not quite it. Yes, there is an element of honesty in the proceedings, but it stops well short of being searing. Instead every time things go bad, you always have the feeling that good times are just around the corner. There is only one way to describe the movie; using an oxymoron. With your indulgence one could call it a hard-hitting feel-good thriller. And one would then approximately be spot on.

February 21, 2011

The Other End of the Line

All the characters of the movie, The Other End of the Line seem like they are stuck in a giant gob of molasses. They are insufferably slow, weighed down, extremely uncomfortable and rather surprised at the unlikely predicament they find themselves in. And the obvious discomfort translates into a cringe-inducing time for those of us in front of the screen.

There is good discomfort - cue Borat or Tosh.O. But the cringes from the other end of the line was purely unintended, brought on by an over-simplified story, shallow characters, profusion of cliches and a rather uninterested editor. The story does not look good, even on paper. Boy in US may have had his credit card stolen. Girl works for credit card's fraud department in India. Girl flies to US for date with Boy. Girl realizes error of her ways, returns to India. Boy flies to India and everyone lives happily ever after. Oh, and also Boy overcomes fear of commitment and crossing metaphorical bridges (or rivers, as the case may be).

The Boy is Granger Woodruff (Jesse Metcalfe) who works for a two-man ad agency on the verge of going under. The Girl is Priya Sethi (Shriya), a closet-rebel in the newly empowered middle-class of India. There are others characters in the movie, who are introduced as discarded as necessary for the set-pieces to progress, but really none of them are irreplaceable. Kit Hawsin (Larry Miller) is the comic relief, and hotelier client. Rajeev Sethi (Anupam Kher) is the stereotypical angry father of the Indian bride.

It is almost impossible to identify with any of the characters. Founded on a paper thin premise, the characters seem indifferent, almost hypnotically self-centered. The bubbly character out of a B-grade creature-feature has more personality - at least you know he is going to die horribly very soon. With nothing at stake, the story becomes a dispassionate series of flickering images without rhyme or reason.

Watch Shades of Ray you are in the mood for a cross-cultural love story. If you in the mood for the funnies, Ira and Abby may help. For this movie, however, it is better kept at the other end of the line.

February 20, 2011

Antibodies

What do you do when the director of a movie you recently reviewed on twitter decides to follow your tweets? Quite naturally you pander - shamelessly. Pander by trolling through his Filmography for your next movie review - Antibodies

Notwithstanding its confusing name, Antibodies is a bit like Silence of the Lambs meets Omen. It is a juxtaposition of good and evil, of faith and reason, of innocence and guilt, done against the backdrop of a man's fight with his inner demons. The movie starts off, veering wildly between the extremes. The story moves effortlessly between the past and the present, recounting the scars of horrific brutality. As time goes by the difference between the opposites seems to shrink, till at last it almost seems to teeter on the edge of a knife. And the shocking realization of the similarity of the extremes is what makes the movie pop.

When a serial killer Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) is apprehended in Berlin, a cop Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring) from a nearby rural village is determined to take the opportunity to look for closure on an unsolved murder. Things get interesting when the reticent murderer takes a fancy to Martens, and decides to speak only to him. As answers, turns to lies and taunts, Martens must fight the germ of doubt that is suddenly sown in his mind. When I put it that way, maybe the title of the movie does make sense.

The screenplay is engaging from the first screen to the last. The story itself is absorbing, but the plot twists themselves aren't quite that shocking. There are enough obvious red herrings in the run up that make you suspect your own suspicions. Like the mop of unruly hair on the innocent face of the protagonist's silent son. Really?

Cinematography is brilliant. The color palette is co-opted to intensify part of the story telling - sometimes too blatantly. The village is saturated and bright, while city shots are typically flat, with a bluish tone. Several scenes are shot with a shallow field of depth, adding to a sense of isolation. Editing is brutal, choosing rapid cuts as psychopath and cop go back and forth in their verbal sparring. Which also makes it a problem, if you don't understand German, because you can only barely keep up with reading the subtitles, let alone watching the rest of the screen.

Considering this is a movie about a serial killer, there is some violence; nothing gratuitous. It is subtitled, so you are probably going to miss part of the screenplay. The story isn't unbelievably original. But that is not what a thriller is about. It is about how the story is told. And it is told well. Like a vortex, it starts of slowly, but before you know it you are sucked right into the thick of things. Which is exactly how a thriller ought to be.

February 11, 2011

Lebanon

Lebanon

The hull of a M60 Patton tank is 22 feet long, 12 feet wide and carries a crew of four. About 250 square feet is able space for four people to lounge around. But if the crew are ill disciplined, inexperienced, drafted soldiers, who just want the war to be over - it makes the insides of the tank feel a lot smaller and more claustrophobic. Which is precisely the feeling conveyed by the movie Lebanon, which traces the first few days of the First Lebanon war of 1982. When the tank along with the small team of soldiers find themselves in a potentially deadly situation, it is up to a stern commander and blind luck to get them out.

The entire movie is shot from within the tank, and all action outside is filmed as seen from the tank's periscopes. The inside of the tank is grimy, oily and for the most part littered with cereal. The crew are ill disciplined and immature, to a degree that stretches credulity. The movie makes as much of a claim of representing a median soldier as Trainspotting does of representing a median addict. Both movies are allegorical, in the sense that they tend to visually depict the psychological. In that sense, Lebanon holds up a mirror to the murky, fear-ridden, bravado of the modern professional military.

Most of the action in the movie centers around the relationships between the commander of the tank and his crew, one of whom is an outspoken friend. Unable to assert his authority and incapable of providing direction, the crew are rendered virtually useless in conflict. Unable to contribute, the tank and crew find themselves mute spectators as war unfolds around them. When at last the burden of their own survival falls to them, the fact hits home that the cost of inaction is death.

The director (Samuel Moaz) is definitely making a political statement with the movie. The interviews in the DVD extras confirm as much. While there may be a political statement that needed to be made, there certainly is a philosophical one that is. The movie offers no great moments of victory or redemption; there are no heroes, no moments of realization, just survivors. It is through this aimless tale that the director seeks to elicit commentary upon the futility of war; an attempt he largely succeeds in.

Lebanon is not a war movie in the traditional sense. There are no objectives with insurmountable odds. It is a cog-in-the wheel look at the face of urban fighting. And after having recently watched Platoon and Apocalypse Now, nothing like Lebanon to strip war of all pretense at grandeur.

February 07, 2011

Pandorum

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.

Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) kick proceedings off as they wake up from hyper-sleep aboard a space ship, that is carrying the last remnants of humanity on its way to populate a alien planet called Tanis. One of the side effects of waking up from hyper-sleep is memory loss, and neither Bower nor Payton know where they are and what they should be doing. Realizing enough to know that power on the ship should be restored, Bower sets off to fix the reactor while Payton stay behind at the command center. Bower meets a few survivors from the ship, while discovering a new species of mutant creatures that have been feasting on the ship's cargo of humans.

While Bower is off trying to fix the ship, Payton has to deal with Gallo (Cam Gigandet), a survivor on the ship, who introduces the idea that Payton could be suffering from Pandorum, or space sickness, that causes intense hallucinations and warping of reality. Meanwhile Bower has to win the trust of other survivors and form fragile allegiances in order to re-start the reactor, without which the ship was going lose all power. All he learns and remembers during the re-starting of the reactor sets the movie up for it's final climax.

The story line seems chaotic at first, only hitting stride half way through. In hindsight, this goes rather well with the themes of disorientation and memory loss. The screenplay strikes a blue-tinged, metallic spaceship look, that complements the inside of a dying space ship. There are enough dark spaces, screeches, and slithery creature things to bring out the heebie jeebies.

Pandorum does a lot for a movie, but does it with unrelenting intensity and purpose. If you are a fan of intelligent horror movies, and do not mind some obvious story twists, this is the movie for you. If you were a fan of the Alien series, but wished there was more in the story department, then you should stop reading now and go rent this movie.

February 06, 2011

8 Movies shot in a single location

A collection of movies where action, as it may, is limited to a single set - a room, building or a boat. Each movie depends on narrative, characters and limited resources to tell the story instead of elaborate scenes or detailed costumes.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is a classic of the minimalistic genre of movie making. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the movie from 1957 follows the back-room deliberations of a jury asked to return the verdict of a young Spanish-American in what seems to be a open and shut murder case. The jury of 12 white, males seems ready to jump to a guilty verdict, when one lone dissenting voice speaks out for slightly more deliberative approach.

The movie may be dated and long, but it is intense and gripping all the way. As each juror is forced to confront his own character flaws and prejudices, the movie weaves through the emotional melodrama upon which rests the life of a young man. Henry Fonda stars in this engaging courtroom drama.

The Man from Earth

When I first watched The Man from Earth, I was shocked that a story like this would ever be considered for a movie. The simplistic nature of the storyline involving little more than groups of conversations, was more suited to a book instead of the big screen. But it is that seeming dissonance that involves and captures the imagination of the viewer.

At an impromptu farewell party for a professor, a group of friends are treated to a most fantastic story. The professor claims to have been alive for more than 14,000 years and proceeds to describe details of his life from centuries ago. Even in the face of intense scrutiny and dismay from his friends he refuses to recant the story. As details emerge, different members of the farewell party react differently as each person's core beliefs are challenged.

An engaging tale of world history, interspersed with drama and emotion in a fantastic tale.

Lebanon

The M60 Patton tank is 22 feet long, 12 feet wide and carries a crew of four. If the crew are ill disciplined, inexperienced, drafted soldiers, who just want the war to be over - it makes the insides of the tank feel a lot smaller and more claustrophobic. Which is precisely the feeling conveyed by the movie Lebanon, which traces the first few days of the First Lebanon war of 1982. When the tank along with the small group of soldiers find themselves in a potentially deadly situation, it is up to blind luck to get them out.

The entire movie is shot within the tank, and all action is filmed as seen from the tank's periscopes. The inside of the tank is grimy, oily and for the most part littered with cereal. The movie offers no great moments of victory or redemption; there are no heroes, just survivors. It is this aimless tale that seeks to elicit the futility of war; an attempt it largely succeeds in.

Buried

Buried is an intense thriller that entirely takes place, first shot to the last, in a wooden coffin buried under the sands of Iraq. Joining the rarefied ranks of movies set in a minimalist locations, Buried brings it to a whole new level. Shot entirely in the tight confines of a wooden box, the movie employs tricky cinematography, extreme closeups and uncomfortable sound effects to take the audience along into the suffocating underground.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a defense contractor who drives trucks for the US Army in Iraq. When his convoy is ambushed and many of his fellow drivers killed, Paul is knocked unconscious and taken hostage. He wakes up to find himself in a coffin underground, with a cell phone, a lighter, a knife and a flashlight. Racing against rapidly depleting oxygen levels and battery power in his phone, Paul has to figure out a way to contact the outside world and save himself. When the phone rings for a impossible ransom call, the only question is whether it is a blessing or a curse.

Cube

Cube is what Saw could have been, but for the latter's unbridled ego mania. Cube is the distilled essence of the rage against The Man, fed intravenously through the cold veins of a psychopath. Yet, it portrays itself, successfully, as a simple survival quest filled with paranoia, intrigue, double cross and murder. And the movie manages to do all that while being shot in the closed confines of the Cube.

The premise of the movie is inventive, and satisfyingly, never fully unravels itself. Six people, completely unrelated to each other, find themselves locked in a mechanical cube, 14 feet across. Soon they realize that there are other cubes next to each other, all inter connected through hatches. Some cubes are safe to enter, others are rigged to kill - instantly. With no way to obtain food or water, the group must navigate the cubes and find a way out, or die of thirst and hunger. But only if they can first come to trust one another.

Moon

Moon is one of those slow, understated mystery movies, that emphasizes the prime purpose of movies: storytelling above all else. Restricted to the stark and claustrophobic confines of a moon base, the movie traces the last days of solitary life for Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), as he gets ready to head back to Earth after his stint managing mining operations for a critical clean-energy resource found only on the Moon.

As Sam goes about completing his missions, he begins to see and hear things that are not supposed to be. He keeps this from the lone humanoid presence on the base, the robot GERTY (Kevin Spacey), to not let anything interfere with the reunification with his wife and child on Earth. But, an unfortunate accident with a Harvester sets in motion a series of events that brings him that much closer to coming back to Earth and that much farther from home.

A slow, yet riveting drama, millions of miles away from home.

Lifeboat

Lifeboat is a 1944 classic hit by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. It deals with the survivors of a ship from US to England during World War II, who are stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic. Fortunately, for the survivors, the U-boat that attacked them was sunk as well. Unfortunately, one of the survivors of the U-boat, is on the lifeboat with them.

The movie is a reminder of the poignant vagaries of war, and the damage sustained to the human spirit during conflict. It shows how different people react to life threatening circumstances. The mellow acceptance, the belligerent defiance, the calm endurance and the indefatigable lust for life and survival. It is a classic movie, be warned that not many brought up on modern fare can adapt to it instantly. But there is something about Hitchcock's style that makes his movies uniquely timeless.

Closet Land

Closet Land is an indie thriller, the story of an author of children's books who is accused of embedding political messages in her stories. She is abruptly taken from her home in the middle of the night, and locked in a large interrogation room with a sadistic interrogator. As the author overcomes her initial shock and comes to terms with the sheer depravity of what is about to befall her, the interrogator flits between the cruel and absurd. Most movie takes place as dialogue between the two characters - the evil incarnate and the naive innocent. Starting off like a stage play, the movie develops in sophistication, sadism and cinematic depth, reaching almost a poetic crescendo.

Madeleine Stowe as the author and Alan Rickman are brilliant. The story is somewhere between implausible and irrelevant. The movie seems experimental, almost like the childrens's book Close Land.

Edit: Bonus movies - beyond the original 8.

Exam shoots for somewhere between an HR recruitment video and a post-apocalyptic survival tale, managing to land somewhere in between. Released in 2008, Exam, is a skewed look at drive and determination in a world where survival of the fittest is more than just a catchphrase. There are characters and stereotypes that definitely work, but there are also moments where the movie comes across as more than a little amateurish.

Eight candidates vying for one of the most coveted role ever, are put in a room for their final exam. There is never enough explanation as to why the job is so important. There are hints to a world radically different from ours, but having the backgrounds of the characters shrouded in mystery, it is not easy to show compassion. Each is given a paper that purportedly contains the one question that required one answer, along with a set of rules including - don't spoil your paper, don't choose to leave the room and don't choose to contact the invigilator or the guard. Turning the paper over reveals it to be blank. Pretty much everything from then on is a clever albeit heavily contrived story that unfolds in real time on screen.


Some honorable mentions: even though these were not technically shot in a single location, the primary storyline is set in a single location.

Quarantine/[REC]

A whole apartment complex in the middle of L.A. is quarantined after a quick acting zombie-causing virus is discovered. And stuck in the apartment is a reporter and her cameraman, that have been tailing a squad of firefighters responding to an emergency in the building.

The majority of the movie is shot in the apartment complex, using just one camera, from the point of view of a trapped reporter and her cameraman.

127 hours

The movie is based on the real life story of an capable yet arrogant hiker, who is caught in a freak accident and pinned with his arm stuck under a heavy boulder, in a Utah canyon. What follows is an intense survival story, battling insurmountable odds.

The screenplay has several scenes shot outside of the canyon, but just for the setting, this movie definitely belongs to a single location.

Hard Candy

Before Juno became Juno, she was still Ellen Page and acted in a movie called Hard Candy. As a super-mature 14-year old Haley, she decides to meet a 32-year old photographer Jeff that she got to know on the Internet. Other than the initial part of the movie where the two meet in a coffee shop, the rest of the movie is shot in Jeff's house and they first chat together, and slowly a darker more sinister side of Haley is revealed.

The story may have holes large enough that you could drive, wait for it, a house through, but it is nevertheless a well made intense psychological thriller. Ellen Page brings to life a talkative, chirpy, partly believable sinister girl. Patrick Wilson as Jeff is creepy and then some. Shot from the point of view of the "victim", it is worth have this in a list of must-watch single-location movies.

Devil

What do you do when you are stuck in an elevator and one of those stuck in there with you is the Devil? You pray the light never goes out and the firefighters get there - fast. The movie is an inventive thriller, balancing a tale between theology and terror. It is one of those rare movies that stays well within itself to create a terrifying paranormal mystery that, for once, does not insult the audience's intelligence.

There are many things in the movie that worked. The story was spot on. There is a dark, brooding tone to the movie, brought on by an abundance of deep wind instruments in the soundtrack and visuals featuring a darker, desaturated look. Camera work is top notch too, successfully toeing the line of the narrative. The acting is a bit in the light side, and that is probably for the better. And yet, visually the movie is dominated by action outside the elevator, and doesn't quite fall into the category of movies shot in a single location.

Phone Booth

The middle of Manhattan doesn't jump to the top of confined locations - nevertheless the movie Phone Booth is an entertaining movie shot in a limited location in and around a phone booth. Like the movie Quarantine, the movie does include flash-backs and alternate scenes set in different locations, but it was successful as an attempt to marketing a minimalist movie to a mass audience. And more importantly it introduced us to Stu - the slimey, unfaithful, scumbag, PR executive that Colin Farrell got us all to hate.

If you haven't already heard, the movie revolves around Stu, and an unnamed psychotic killer with a sniper rifle that has him on the phone and in his sights. As police surround Stu, he has to communicate this fact to them, while hoping to salvage his marriage that the sniper seems to know everything about.

Das Boot

It is almost impossible to talk about a single location movie without Das Boot on the list. This was a tricky one, because the movie while definitely restricted to one location - a submarine in the middle of a World War, is largely shot more theatrically, and does not necessarily convey the cinematographic difficulty presented by the rest of the movies on this list.

Yet the gritty thriller is the rearguard, for this list, being an almost perfect movie of the battle for survival of a German U-Boat in WWII. The movie takes an alternate stage to view the action, conveying the same feelings of fear, loss and courage while challenging the conventional view of the "enemy". If there is one movie on the list you should have watched - it is this one.

February 01, 2011

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