Tag Archives: Academy Award

Life of Pi

6 Jun

life of pi

 

Director: Ang Lee

Writers: Yann Martel (novel), David Magee (screenplay)

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 127 minutes

 

I knew about the castaway Indian boy in the lifeboat with the Bengal tiger. I remembered the book by Yann Martel although I had never read it. The film trailer caught my eye, but I did not see Ang Lee’s Oscar winner at the cinema. Something held me back from the Life of Pi. I was partly worried about overdosing on cod philosophy and whimsy – too many quaint Indian proverbs, ruminations on God and the like. I also struggled with the idea that lifeboat plus boy plus tiger could hold my attention for 200 pages or for 2 hours. In hindsight, I was wrong.

The start to this film, that tracks the early days of lead character Pi, is quirky in that Jean-Pierre Jeunet way. Think Amelie of the East India Company and you’re almost there. It is sweetly innocent and well shot and acts as a nice preamble to the main event. We also get our first glimpse of the CGI animals that inhabit the zoo of Pi’s family and it is immediately clear that the computer designers and animators are on very rare form.

The CGI work in this film is what sets it apart. The huge number of programmers and technicians has collectively delivered a wonderful spectacle and a work of art. It is stunning to look at. The storm and the capsize of the cargo ship, that forces Pi on to that lifeboat, are breath-taking pieces of cinema. As 90% or more of the film was shot against blue screens, and in one large indoor tank, the goals of the film-makers seem reckless and yet their achievements are truly something to behold. There are many beautiful and fantastic shots in the film and the final ‘storm of God’ is both moving and draining (in keeping with Pi’s journey).

Whilst I was awed by the spectacle of Life of Pi and kept entertained by it, I have a few minor criticisms. There is definitely a lull in proceedings for ca. 20 minutes around half-way. Also, the 3D element, that requires contrived set-ups to be engineered whereby animals often jump towards camera, is annoying. I thoroughly enjoyed my 2D experience and do not understand why Ang Lee felt that he had to add 3D to the already complex mix.

Suraj Sharma playing Pi is wonderful. How he managed to act so convincingly against blue screens and on his own in that tank dumfounds me somewhat. He carries the film on his slim shoulders and along with the technicians makes you forget that the tiger and other animals are computer generated. It is another achievement in a rightly lauded film. The story is simple, probably a little too like an Aesop fable for its own good, but the eventual questions raised, about the importance of any form of belief, are actually handled with restraint. Unsurprisingly for an Ang Lee film this Life of Pi is a beautiful, charming and captivating piece of work.

Argo

17 Mar

Argo

 

Director: Ben Affleck

Writers: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Tony Mendez (book)

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes

 

 

What an amazing run Ben Affleck is on. From the desperate double-whammy of Daredevil and Gigli in 2003, he has transformed his status and gone on to conquer Hollywood. Argo completes a series of 3 high quality films as director following on from Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010). That Argo also won the best film Oscar in the latest La-La Land love-fest is a huge cherry on top.

Argo, as portrayed in this film, is a great story. It re-tells the Iranian hostage saga of 1979 from the perspective of the six US embassy staffers that escaped being taken hostage by hiding out at the Canadian embassy. Whilst their colleagues are paraded on TV with blindfolds and makeshift handcuffs, the six sit tight under the protective wing of brave Canadians and pray for government intervention. About 80 days into the crisis the CIA dream up a convoluted escape plan for them based on staging a fake sci-fi movie production inside Iran (with the title Argo).

Affleck plays the lead CIA operative Tony Mendez who is the one that goes into Tehran to bring out the six embassy workers. First he has to con Hollywood to set up the fake film and to that end he hires John Goodman (as Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers) and Alan Arkin (as producer Leslie Siegel). Those 2 actors are invariably great and both have a lot of fun with these cynical characters. In fact, the Hollywood late ‘70’s segue is handled well and delivers a few inside jokes and knowing laughs. That reverence and the positive role that Hollywood is shown to have played in rescuing the embassy staffers no doubt helped to win over the Oscar voters.

Besides great turns by Goodman and Arkin, and an effective, but strangely muted performance by Affleck, Argo benefits from moving along at a good pace. It is exciting when it should be and archive footage of the hostage crisis is deployed cleverly to add to the drama.

Finally, there are 2 important things that I have to say. The first is that the story of the six embassy escapees as retold by Affleck is not as accurate as it should be. Rather ironically, but not surprisingly, Hollywood has not let the truth get in the way of a good movie here. My second point is that I am amazed that Argo got the Oscar. This is a solid piece of entertainment, but it is a very weak ‘best film’. I enjoyed it, as most people will do, but this is workmanlike cinema and merits no more than decent box office receipts. Well done again to the comeback kid Affleck, but I found both Gone Baby Gone and The Town to be far superior.

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