Gotye – A Peter Gabriel for the 21st century…and much more


Gotye’s video for Somebody That I Used to Know has received 264 million views on YouTube till date and that’s how I was first introduced to his music. For the first couple of minutes as I watched the video, I was focusing entirely on the visuals, but as the song reached its crescendo in the second half, it became clear that this video was getting views as much for the quality of the music as for the visuals.

So, after listening to this song in the car for nearly a month and now having the wife and kids hooked onto it as well, I figured it was time to check out the rest of the album, Making Mirrors.

The first thing that struck me was his unselfconscious vocal style, which takes unexpected but enjoyable twists and turns…sometimes soaring, sometimes diving, but always in tune.

I also loved the juxtaposition of rhythms and percussion, and the electronics gives many of the tracks a certain ‘dance hall energy’ while holding forth the promise of greater depth to be discovered over repeat listening sessions.

It’s tough to bracket the music into a single style. The opening riff from State of the Art could’ve come from a Bob Marley song. But then, songs like Smoke and Mirrors and Bronte sound like they could have come from a Peter Gabriel album (particularly 1986’s So) blended with elements of Kate Bush’s musical style from her 2005 Aerial double album.

Hopefully the 32 year old Belgian-born Australian (real name Wally De Backer) has not yet hit his peak and there will be lots more to look forward to in years to come.

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Barry Sonnenfeld on track to adapt DC Comics’ Metal Men?


Oh boy, this is the best news ever.

I just read on darkhorizons.com that Barry Sonnenfeld (director of the Men in Black franchise) is attached to bring DC Comics’ Metal Men to the big screen.

I first read a Metal Men comic when I was about 10 years old. I loved the group dynamics within the team and the whole idea of robots built from a specific metal, with the personalities and properties of said metal.

There was the leader Gold, the beautiful Platinum, super strong Iron, Mercury who could flow, Lead and Tin. They were created by the scientist Dr. Magnus.

I am hoping the movie is set in the kitschy ’60s like the original comic, sort of like a DC Comics version of the X-Men First Class movie.

Two Decades of Pair-ups: Chronicling the Denzel Washington formula


Last night I watched Denzel Washington’s latest action thriller, Safe House.

As Denzel’s character Tobin Frost matched wits with Ryan Reynolds’ young CIA agent Matt Weston, it struck me that there was something familiar about the on-screen dynamic between the two actors.

I went back in time and had a look at Denzel Washington movies over the past 20 years and realized that in 13 out of 27 movies that Denzel has acted in during this time, the dramatic tension has originated from Denzel being paired off with or paired off against another strong actor/ character. As a result, Denzel Washington has shared screen time with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. So, I thought it would be fun to chronicle how the ‘Denzel formula’ has evolved over the years with these 13 movies.

#1 and #2 – The trend began with a pair of Denzel movies both released in December 1993, Philadelphia and The Pelican Brief in which he was paired off with arguably the biggest male and female box office draws of the day, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, respectively. In both cases, Denzel played the supporting role or foil to the lead actor.

It must have become pretty clear to film makers that unlike many Hollywood actors who feel threatened when they have to share screen time with other strong actors, Denzel Washington actually seems to thrive on such scripts.

#3 – In 1995, he acted in the submarine thriller Crimson Tide and this time he was locked in a battle of wills against his own sub captain, played by one of the most powerful character actors of all time, Gene Hackman.

#4 – A couple of months later, Denzel returned to the screen in the scifi action film Virtuosity, where he had to match wits against an android carrying the synthesized personality of over 150 serial killers…the android was played by an up and coming actor named Russell Crowe. The movie was a flop and Denzel took a break from action-thrillers and started diversifying his roles, with films such as Courage Under Fire, The Preacher’s Wife and Spike Lee’s He Got Game.

#5 – In 1999, Denzel returned to the formula with The Bone Collector, this time paired off with Angelina Jolie who had just come to public attention a few months earlier with her award winning role in the TV movie Gia.

#6 – Two years later, in 2001, Denzel found himself playing his first anti-hero role in Training Day, one which won him his second Oscar. This time, Ethan Hawke was the good guy, but Denzel’s stature was so great that many people in the audience found themselves rooting for Denzel’s corrupt cop Detective Alonzo Harris.

He followed this up with another anti-hero role in the drama John Q, although this didn’t feature the ‘Denzel formula’ pair-off.

 

#7 – But, by 2004, Denzel was back to the formula in the highly publicized remake of The Manchurian Candidate, this time having to battle it out with none other than Meryl Streep, who played the twisted senator Eleanor Shaw.

#8 – In 2006, Spike Lee released what is perhaps his most commercial movie to date, Inside Man featuring a fascinating cat-and-mouse game between Denzel’s character Detective Keith Frazier and Clive Owen’s bank robber character Dalton Russell. This was Denzel’s third collaboration with Spike Lee.

#9 – Denzel returned to anti-hero territory in 2007 playing gangster Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott’s epic crime drama American Gangster. It was a reversal of 1995’s Virtuosity because this time it was Denzel being hunted down by Russell Crowe’s Detective Richie Roberts.

#10 and 11 – Denzel’s next two pair-up films were his fourth and fifth collaborations respectively with director Tony Scott. He was back to his good guy role in 2009 with a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, this time having to face down hostage taker John Travolta. In 2010, for a change there were no bad guys, only a runaway train, which Denzel had to stop in partnership with Chris Pine in Unstoppable.

#12 – In early 2010, Denzel appeared in the post-apocalyptic action-drama The Book of Eli, in a highly entertaining face-off against Gary Oldman’s character Carnegie.

#13 – And this brings me full circle to the starting point of this post, which is his latest pair-up in Safe House, returning to an anti-hero role for the third time and repeating the Training Day formula by being paired off against Ryan Reynolds’ rookie-type character.

Denzel will skip the formula in his next movie Flight, which sees a long-awaited return to live-action film making by director Robert Zemeckis, but the plot for his subsequent movie 2 Guns, coming out in 2013, certainly looks like another pair-up, this time with Mark Wahlberg. Clearly, in the last few years, as Denzel has taken on the role of senior citizen, his own screen actor counterparts appear to be getting younger. What is significant is that Denzel Washington has been equally successful in films like Courage Under Fire, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans and Man on Fire where he has carried the film as a stand-alone lead. Surely, this qualifies him as among the most versatile leading men/ character actors of the past two decades.

Prometheus – a religious pilgrimage for devotees of Alien


All the speculation about whether Prometheus is or isn’t a prequel to Alien, made for a delicious bit of anticipation which stretched out over months and months as fans dissected the trailer and those viral character videos.

Well, in the end all the coyness from Ridley Scott & co. was just a smokescreen; Prometheus is indeed a bona fide prequel to the three-decade-old space horror classic. Nevertheless, as Mr. Scott promised, this film explores the history of this universe, rather than revisit the Xenomorphs themselves. Also, as promised we finally get to know more about the ‘space jockey’!

Watching it this afternoon on IMAX 3D (worth paying the surcharge) was an intense, almost religious experience.

The production design and the cinematography are both outstanding. I am hoping that Dariusz Wolski will finally get an Oscar nomination for cinematography after years of bringing fantastical worlds to life – from Alex Proyas’ Dark City and The Crow to the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Sweeny Todd.

The world of Prometheus, particulary the spaceship and the people in it, looks cleaner and more antiseptic than the world of Alien set approximately 30 years later. Of course this could also be because the Prometheus is the flagship spacecraft of Weyland Corp. whereas the Nostromo, the Sulaco and other ships from the Alien movies are cargo or military ships with fewer amenities.

Unfortunately, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag, with some displaying illogical or downright irritating behaviour. But of course, if all movie characters acted logically, we wouldn’t have much of a plot, would we? Even so, the acting is top notch from all the key actors; most reviews focus on yet another amazing performance from Michael Fassbender, but the others – Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green – are all in equally fine form.

I also loved the way the movie takes time to settle into the narrative, rather than feeling rushed or obliged to take the audience on a roller coaster ride from the start. In fact, the downside perhaps is that there is no roller coaster ride. Scott is not trying to clone James Cameron’s Aliens, which exploded into non-stop action after the initial set-up.  Instead this is very much a unique entry in the series in terms of tone…with an epic, almost reverential feel to it. Unlike the previous films, the set-pieces here take place in a variety of places – inside the ship, on the surface of the planet and inside the alien structure.

I was actually disappointed when the film ended. I felt that the last act could have been given an additional 10 minutes or so, in order to create a more drawn out climax. And you walk out of the movie definitely looking forward to a sequel as Prometheus sets up plenty of questions and hypotheses which need to be answered. I hope Mr. Scott will retain control of the future path of the franchise and not allow it to go into spin-offs like Alien vs. Predator.

Definitely a must-see and I hope it will be financially successful (it cost about USD 130 million + marketing expenses, so will have to gross roughly twice that in order to break even), so that Fox will green-light the sequel.

New Django Unchained trailer – I love the film already


Quentin Tarentino’s upcoming Christmas release Django Unchained has just released its first trailer. I love it already!

I became a big fan of Christoph Waltz after Inglourious Basterds and Water for Elephants. I was afraid he would get lots of Hollywood roles as a bad guy after Basterds, so it’s nice to see that Tarentino is helping to reverse the type-casting this time around.

And Di Caprio looks like he is having a great time playing the hateful plantation owner Calvin Candie.

The one shot of blood spattering on the cotton holds out the promise of that there will be some more memorable imagery to add to Tarentino’s existing body of work.

Carlos – Portrait of a failed terrorist


I first came across ‘Carlos the Jackal’ in Robert Ludlum’s most famous novel, The Bourne Identity (published in 1980) which I read in my early teens. Ludlum successfully popularized the image of a suave, almost superhuman assassin with exotic and mysterious origins. Of course, by the time the novel came out, Carlos was already the face of political terrorism which had infected Europe through the ‘70s and was the subject of a biography titled Carlos: Portrait of a Terrorist published by veteran war correspondent Colin Smith in 1976.

Since then, Carlos has been featured or referenced in a number of books, movies, TV shows and documentaries.

The latest such production is the 3-part mini-series Carlos directed by French film critic turned writer-director Oliver Assayas and broadcast on Canal+ in 2010. The 3 episodes which add up to an intimidating 330 minutes, won the Golden Globe for Best Mini-series besides getting Assayas a Best Director nomination at the French Cesar Awards.

I particularly loved reading this interview with Assayas by American film critic Glenn Kenny (who was the editor of my dear departed favourite film magazine Premiere)

When I started watching Carlos, I was reminded of that other recent biopic of a Latin American revolutionary/ terrorist (depending on which side of the ideological and moral fence you belong to), Steven Soderbergh’s Che.

Of course, Assayas’ film making style is much more accessible and linear than Soderberg’s. Also, Che Guevara was considered by many to be a genuine revolutionary and freedom fighter, so it was possible for Soderbergh to portray Che’s character in a sympathetic, almost mythic tone. On the other hand, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez is a convicted criminal and terrorist and therefore Assayas has to adopt a more documentary-like storytelling style without idolizing the character.

The casting is perfect, with Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez charismatic and magnetic in the award-winning title role.  In an early scene, a finely muscled Carlos stands before a mirror in his apartment in Europe, naked, admiring himself like a modern day Narcissus as sets out confidently on his reign of terror. Towards the end of the episode, we again see a naked Carlos, but this time disheveled and pot-bellied, emerging from under a mosquito net while hiding out in a dirty apartment in Yemen. It is an impressive way to book-end his first 2 years as a terrorist. As a viewer, one is struck as much by the physical transformation of Edgar Ramirez the actor as by the change of fortunes of Carlos the terrorist.

The sets and outdoor locales are meticulously reconstructed to depict Europe and the Middle East of the ‘70s and ’80s. The editing and the camera work are not flashy, nevertheless, there are fun tricks like temporal jump cuts and changes in depth of field which make the viewing experience supremely rewarding.

What strikes me when I watch this film is the sheer absurdity of the situation in the ‘70s. The Palestinian and Socialist causes were able to influence a wide range of people in the Western world (and Japan) into taking up arms and helping to murder innocents…many of these so-called revolutionaries were artists, intellectuals and ideologists, naively and amateurishly hatching their plots in cafés (plastered ironically with posters of Che) across Europe. But the lax security environment of the ‘70s allowed them to get away with murder and mayhem in spite of their ineptitude.

The scenes in episode 2 depicting the infamous terrorist attack on the OPEC conference in Vienna are truly terrifying. The sense of fear of the hostages is palpable. Carlos comes across as a bit of a megalomaniac, as interested building his personal brand name (“My name is Carlos…you may have heard of me”, he says to the hostages in the OPEC conference room), as in fighting for the cause. At the end of the OPEC hostage operation, Carlos loses the support of the Palestinians and is forced to become a free agent, no longer operating in the service of an ideology, but as a mercenary backed by the Soviet Bloc.

Episode 3 starts with Carlos setting up base in Eastern Europe and ends with his capture. As the winds of change sweep the world towards the end of the ‘80s, Carlos loses the support of his sponsors and becomes a fugitive even among his own kind. He is tossed about like a hot potato across Easter Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He is eventually captured by the French secret service in Sudan…ignominiously carted away in his pajamas, while suffering severe pain following an operation on his testicles!

What is remarkable about Carlos the man is that he ‘achieved’ so much on such a large scale while still in his ‘20s. Although many of his operations were either bungled or failed to achieve the goal of his backers, his brazenness and force of personality helped him rise above his own shortcomings and become one of the most feared names in the world for almost two decades.

In some ways, one could say that Carlos is the typical life story of so many famous (or infamous) men, starting from the days of their belligerent youth to the peak of acclaim from their peers to their eventual neglect and decline, as the clock ticks past their sell-by date.