Friday, August 30, 2013

The truth will set you free?

"We are peacekeepers who came to protect the innocent, but now prey upon them in the worst ways possible. We may be accused of thinking with our hearts instead of our heads, but we will have our humanity."

Corruption in a system is like cancer, once it spreads there is no way you can curb it. No matter how prestigious the organization or how noble its deed, once bitten by the corruption bug there is not much hope left. The Whistleblower (2001) is based on the true story of a woman named Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer and a divorced mother who accepts an offer to work as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia through the United Nations. Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) looks at this change as an opportunity to earn the much needed money and get away from the problems in her personal life but turns out that she just lands into a shocking world of inhumanity.

"So what? What are you going to do? Fire me again? You gonna arrest me?
I have diplomatic immunity. Isn't that what you all rely on around here?"
Bolkovac is sent to Bosnia to monitor the local police and help them follow procedures while handling cases. She discovers that the police don't really bother while dealing with the cases involving minorities which makes her fight for a victim, successfully. Her determination for justice earns her a better position as the head of department for gender affairs. With her new position she uncovers a dangerous racket involving human trafficking and corruption in the organization which seems to have been going on for a long time. The fact that it's based on a true story makes the events that unfold more intriguing. Bolkovac, hated by her corrupt subordinates finds it difficult to expose them as no one wants this to come out in the open. She has some support from a local cop but that isn't enough to fight against the top officials involved. However, that doesn't deter her from fighting against such injustice and corruption. Her only ambition is to rescue two girls who are forced into this and bring the culprits out in the open fighting against odds such as lack of support and the fear among those girls to testify against the guilty. This movie brings out the grueling reality of how despite  investing billions of dollars to rehabilitate and help broken nations, the people involved just add to the troubles. It is one woman's fight against the system which has faulted.

"During your training you will see that peace is harder won than war.
That every mornings hope is haunted by yesterday's nightmare."
Weisz has given a terrific performance as a divorced mother, committed to her job and her relentless quest for justice. To be very honest, this movie doesn't dig deep into the matter but it shows enough to expose the ugly deeds of the so-called peace keepers. It is on your face and a testimony of Bolkovac's struggle to fight against the organization she opted to work for. I wouldn't term this one as spectacular but it sure is a thought provoking script with a good outcome. Once again, the fact that it is based on true events gives it an edge and also arouses curiosity to know more about the ugly faces of the big "noble" organizations. The Whisteblower certainly blew a whistle here, one which you can't ignore. It's the voice of one truth against the many lies.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Addicted To Killing

Marshall: "Why do you fight it so hard, Earl?"
Mr. Earl Brooks: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time and enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen."

Mr. Brooks (2007) is a perfect example of a good thriller. Once in a while there comes a movie which restores my faith in intelligent thrillers and this is certainly one of them. Kevin Costner portrays Earl Brooks, a wealthy businessman, recently honored as Man of the Year by Portland Chamber of Commerce. He comes across as gentle and soft-spoken by nature, at least a part of him does. He shares his life with wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) and his thoughts with his menacing alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt). There is a shockingly dark personality behind Brooks' timid character as he is addicted to killing, a disorder which he can't conquer. He is a serial-killer,a thorough professional who leaves no trace after committing the crime. 

"Don't kid yourself, Earl. You're going to kill again."
Brooks gives in to his deadly temptation after controlling it for two years. After killing a young couple he decides to quit but gets blackmailed into doing it again by Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). Smith wants to witness a murder, a twisted desire which he can make come true by blackmailing Brooks. What follows is Brooks' fight against his sick addiction which is constantly fueled by Marshall's persistence and Smith's threats. The trio has detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) on their trail as they prepare to commit another murder. Atwood, while fighting her own demons is determined to bring the killer out in the open. Director Bruce Evans has done an amazing job with combining the two different characters of Brooks and Hurt into one. While Brooks struggles to control his addiction, Hurt is constantly encouraging him to give in to it. He is a nice guy (Brooks) with a bad conscience (Marshall). With the disease that he has, his worry of passing it on to his child turns real as Jane shows signs of following in his footsteps.

"She has what I have."
Kevin Costner playing a bad guy did sound strange at first but he has done a brilliant job. This is one of the best performances I've witnessed by him. William Hurt, who is non-existent to everyone but Costner is nothing but his deepest and darkest thoughts and he is also very impressive. They are wonderful together and have created a monster of a character in the form of Earl Brooks. Demi Moore is okay as an unfaltering detective who also has her own personal issues to deal with. However, the movie could have done with less of her personal woes in my opinion. Dane Cook adds to Brooks' struggle and he is decent in his role. What makes this movie unique are the roles of Costner and Hurt, they are the lifeline of the story and there is not a moment when their performance is lackluster. The idea of the character of Mr. Brooks is great and the execution is excellent. This is one thriller that definitely does not disappoint. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Miracles of hypnosis

Lasse Hallström is a quite an awesome director who manages to tell beautiful, almost liquid stories in a way that just takes you away like a river. Granted, he usually has very good groundwork of a novel to work from but still - a poor director can easily mess up a very good story.

This time it seems a bit more the other way around. The Hypnotist or Hypnotisören sounds like a very promising story which just doesn't manage to deliver. The story of a writer Lars Kepler was quite a successful bestseller in Sweden and just like the book, the movie also speaks of a detective Joona Linna, who pairs with a controversial hypnotist whose past has made him sort of a pariah in the psychological or medical world. A young woman and her parents are murdered by a killer who seems to be determined to wipe out the entire family. The only one who barely escapes their fate is the son who is now lying in the hospital. In order to save him from becoming the victim of the murderer and also to find the one surviving daughter who is not living with the family anymore. They are racing against time as the murderer is most likely looking for her as well.

The movie was Sweden's submission for Foreign Language Oscar consideration. Sweden is a country that is darker in itself, has many hidden corners that just call for murder mysteries. Perfect setting. The story seems compelling and might be a good one had Lasse and his screenwriter not tried to fit the entire 500 page book into 122 minutes. Because the movie touches an affair the hypnotist Erik had had before the present time and had left his marriage very vulnerable, the experiment treatment that made him a controversial subject and the complications that that brought into his life. It tries to show the struggles of Erik's wife, the shambles that was the victim's family and the history of the boy who is lying in the hospital. In the meantime it tries to present Joona Linna (who is a staple character of Kepler's books) as a bachelor who struggles in his personal life and yet still wants to try and have a relationship only to discover he cares about his work more. I am telling you, this is enough for a miniseries, two hours won't do. 

The ending is so bizarre that at one point (not to spoil anything - it's when some of the characters are running) I actually snorted out loud. Yes, it was ridiculous. With proper screenwriting editing this could be a good movie but it's just mildly entertaining. I haven't read the book so I can't judge it but looking at the cover on the right, it seems a lot more promising than the movie.

Often a movie can't do justice to the book but this time it just tried to be too much like the book, I guess, or tried to include every detail of the book. And the end result just doesn't do justice to the title. The amount of hypnosis in the movie is only enough for a taste. No more. Sweden, you could do better. So could you, Lasse.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Still Missing

Even from the description it sounds like Chevy Stevens got the idea for her book not so much from being a realtor herself but from once upon a time reading Fowles' magnificent The Collector. Her character, Annie O’Sullivan is a 32-year-old realtor, who was just hosting an unsuccessful open house, had a fight with her mom and was supposed to run and have dinner with her boyfriend. When she starts packing up, the last visitor for open house shows up and Annie is hoping to wrap up a good day. Except he isn't the charming customer he pretends to be.

The book is written through Annie's visits to her psychiatrist and you are not reading chapters but Annie's sessions. Annie tells the story of being a captive of a psycho for about a year. One of the few truly compelling things this book succeeded at was blending and intertwining the stories of then and now. Annie is back but her life is shattered as police continue the investigation to find out who the man who kidnapped her actually was.

Annie calls her captor The Freak, since he only introduced himself to her at the open house and she has strong suspicions he lied. Well, Annie is not a character you will particularly like. And she knows she's not very likable. That makes sense. But The Freak himself doesn't. He seemed slightly off all the time and not in an eerie, scary way. He wasn't consistent, he didn't seem so scary and he also didn't seem as messed up as Chevy was trying to make him seem. On top of Annie not being very sympathetic, she also has a very potty mouth but not so much like a badass and not in a cute or daring way but just in a "god, you're annoying" kind of way. Meaning that she also cannot express herself better than a college dropout could on a very good day.

"Oh, and in case you were wondering? No, I wasn’t always such a bitch."

Stevens ends the book with a twist and not a particularly good one. It seemed like she thought the psychological thriller she was weaving needed a mystery turnaround. It actually didn't. At least not such a predictable one. Which it was, if you followed the story closely. I don't really know what the deal with the author is but seems she's set on this shrink path, because from the looks of it, one of her other books is also written in "sessions", not chapters, and two of them have the same psychiatrist as a "leading lady" as Still Missing does. In case you were wondering, there is no notion that Stevens has any psychological or psychiatrical experience or background. In my opinion that shows.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cosmic Coincidence

"Take comfort in knowing
you never had a choice."
There is a chance that you might have come across a creepy taxi driver in the night and just wanted to reach your destination as soon as possible. On the other hand there is also a chance that a taxi driver might have encountered a scary passenger and just wanted to get rid of him at the earliest. Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) couldn't have ever imagined having Vincent (Tom Cruise) as his passenger who took him for a ride of his life. Collateral (2004) shows us how such situations can occur without any warning and once you get into them, there is hardly a way out.

Max has spent the last twelve years driving a cab and the same time dwelling on a dream to have his own company running limos. He is good at communication and perhaps bad at execution as the dream of having limos still lingers. However, he is friendly with the customers and it is noticeable as we see him flirt with Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a state prosecutor who ends up leaving her phone number without him even asking for it. Exit Annie, enter Vincent, Max's second passenger, a well-dressed grey haired man. He comes across as a silent type and a nice guy at first but there is something suspicious about him. He offers Max a deal and convinces him to drive him around five different locations through the night and drop him at the airport at dawn in exchange for $600. During their first stop a body lands on Max's cab after Vincent goes up a building to visit someone. It turns out that he is a contract killer hired to assassinate five witnesses who will testify for a high profile case. Max is helpless and has no option but to obey Vincent in order to save his own life. They continue with Vincent's job at different locations with the police working on nabbing them and it's not long before Max tries to get out of this situation but without much luck. He is forced to be a part of it till the end as he comes to know that Annie also gets involved in the situation. The movie managed to keep me engaged as this unorthodox combination of a cold blooded contract killer and a simple taxi driver move from one location to another.
"Since when was any of this negotiable?"
Cruise is wonderful as he plays a merciless contract killer with no regard to human life but at the same time is considerate enough to buy flowers for Max's mother who is in the hospital. Foxx is also superb with his acting and attracts sympathy for the situation that he lands into. A major part of this movie is focused on just the two of them and their conversations while they change locations. However, the plot doesn't convince in the sense that why would an experienced contract killer hire the same cab driver for all his killings during the night? What happens after that is undoubtedly entertaining though. Collateral is a more of a treat to watch because of the direction than its script. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Who is at Fault?

I'll start off quite bluntly. If the book has people who suffer from cancer, you will most likely be (expected to be) crying. If these people are children, you should be weeping. Because, of course, that's the only way a person with normal emotions would react. Except that when a book is riding on that wave for one reason only (to attract ratings, sales and oohs and aahs), I feel like someone is pulling a kitten by its tail and daring me not to react. "You have to, you have to."
I don't know John Green, nor have I read any of his (apparently very good) books up until now. I knew he had a blog and did funny videos but I've never watched those either. So my review is based on specifically this book alone. I have no other John Green work to compare it to.

For those who don't know, this book is young adult oriented, features Hazel whose cancer is apparently standing still after she was one of the five people to react to a fictitious drug and her tumors began shrinking. She still rolls a tank full of oxygen with her wherever she goes, including support group where she meets Augustus.

Apparently John Green worked in a children's hospital when he was 21 and has been trying to write a book about kids with cancer ever since. According to the mass reaction, he widely succeeded in bringing a piece of their world into ours. I have to admit that the ordeal these poor kids go through is horrible. The characters can make you laugh out loud at times and the book flies easily. But the problem is all the kids in the book are the same. They are all wise beyond their years, speak like your college philosophy professor and sometimes I am not sure if they themselves know what they're trying to say, tangled up in deep thoughts. Then he throws in video games to make them look like regular teenagers and can't possibly decide whether he wants to be moving, funny or philosophical. Maybe he thought he was successfully being all three. Not for me.

I would give this book three stars only because it gives an insight into the world of children with cancer. Everything else was very very out there. It is ultimately a book that was, in my opinion, written to be a movie. Which of course it will be
My Sister's Keeper was targeting the same tearjerking situation and still it was believable. I almost wish I liked this book more than I do because it makes me feel guilty that I don't. But I guess that's the fault of the stars, not John himself?
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