Life of Pi


Some days you feel like you can grab a tiger by the tail; other days not so much.

Some days you feel like you can grab a tiger by the tail; other days not so much.

(2012) Drama (20th Century Fox) Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall, Adil Hussein, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Tabu, Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli, Vibish Shivakumar, James Saito, Jun Naito, Andrea Di Stefano, Elie Alouf, Shravanthi Sainath. Directed by Ang Lee

 

Things happen. Whether it is for a reason or if they just happen has been a question that we have been trying to figure out since we could put a coherent thought together. In many ways, this is what is driving our entire faith versus reason argument that we seem to be engaged in as a culture.

Piscine Molitor Patel (Sharma) was born in Pondicherry, India, where the French once held sway. He was named for a swimming pool in France where the waters were remarkably clear and his swim-crazy uncle (with a body that can only be described as cartoonish) was remarkably fond of. Unfortunately, his school mates pronounce his first name as something that young boys are prone to doing in swimming pools (think about it) and he decides to shorten it to “Pi” and paves the way for it by memorizing the numerals of Pi to many, many decimals in turn impressing both students and teachers in his school.

Nothing about Pi’s life is ordinary. His father (Hussein) owns a zoo although he really know nothing about animals. It is up to Pi’s mother (Tabu), his brother Ravi (Shivakumar) and himself to tend the animals. Even so, Pi finds time to fall in love with Anandi (Sainath), which looks like it could be going somewhere.

Unfortunately, fate has a curveball in store for Pi. The zoo is failing and his father has decided to move the whole family (including the animals) to Canada to start a new life. Pi is devastated. He has no desire to leave but this is not anything within his control. After a tearful goodbye to Anandi (which he doesn’t remember, only spending that last day with her) he and his family board a Japanese cargo ship bound for Canada.

Once again, fate steps in with another game-changer. In the middle of a terrible storm, the ship sinks and everyone aboard drowns. Everyone, that is, except for Pi, an orangutan, a zebra and a hyena. Oh, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who find themselves marooned in a lifeboat. The law of the jungle prevails and the tiger kills and eats everything except for Pi who takes refuge on a makeshift raft made up of oars and life jackets. Richard Parker guards his territory well and as the boat and raft floats aimlessly in the Pacific, the odds that Pi and Parker will survive dwindle.

This is all told through a framing mechanism in which the adult Pi (Khan) relates the story to a writer (Spall) who was urged to hear the story from Pi’s uncle who remained in India. Pi is still affected by the emotions of his ordeal (breaking into tears at one point) but is remarkably sanguine about the whole ordeal which his uncle told the writer would make him believe in God. However, let’s just say that Pi may not be the most trustworthy narrator you can find.

This is as visually inventive and breathtaking a movie as you will see this year. Everything about it rings true but there is also a kind of fairy tale-like flavor to the story and even to the visuals, turning Pondicherry into an idyllic place, and a sea into a multiple personality disorder entity, alternately calm as glass with a cloud-streaked sky reflecting in it, to full of luminous green plankton and raging with storms. The water is a metaphor for life, changing when we least expect it and never into anything convenient.

The movie is based on a book that was widely considered unfilmable and it is to Lee’s credit that he found a way to make it work. However do keep in mind that the bulk of the action takes place on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with one human and one tiger. While it never gets boring, it can get slow.

Much about the film is fanciful and towards the end of the movie you are given a choice to make which essentially gives you the option of faith or reason. The movie heavily skews its own leanings towards one side and that might be offensive towards those who lean in the other direction. And while it is professed that Pi’s story will make you believe in God, quite frankly I don’t see it converting any atheists.

Still, it does lead you to ask some pretty deep questions as to the truth behind faith and reason. What is reality, after all, but our perception of it and what we perceive as fact and what we perceive as beyond our understanding can be tricky. The will to survive can’t be quantified or measured but it is undeniably there – yet a Bengal tiger that looks for all the world like a living, breathing animal can be completely computer generated. Is he any less real for that however? This is the kind of thing that used to give Aristotle headaches.

The good thing however is that you can give these thoughts whatever attention you believe they deserve or what you’re willing to give them. You can sit back and relax and take in the breathtaking images and let not a single stray thought invade your skull if so you choose. It’s all up to you. Now, there are those who won’t even consider seeing this without a single solitary star in the cast (Gerard Depardieu appears briefly as a ill-tempered ship’s cook but many Americans wouldn’t even consider the French Colossus in the same firmament of a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt), although several of the actors including Irffan Khan and Tabu are big stars in India. Still, that hasn’t been enough to really propel the film into stratospheric box office numbers which does give rise to the theory that Americans really don’t like movies that make them think. Ah well. Perhaps Lee should have figured out how to put a car chase in this one, or had the tiger fight the shark with machine guns and rocket launchers. And you wonder why our test scores suck.

REASONS TO GO: Beautifully shot. Deeper and more thought-provoking than the average Hollywood film.

REASONS TO STAY: Loses momentum at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the emotions depicted here are pretty rough. There are also some action sequences that are pretty scary.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Khan doesn’t appear in any scenes with the tiger, this is the second movie in 2012 he has appeared in with a character named Richard Parker, the first being The Amazing Spider-Man.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100. The critics definitely love this one..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Where the Wild Things Are

BENGAL TIGER LOVERS: Richard Parker, the tiger in the movie is mostly CGI – every scene in which he appears with Pi is CGI. However, real tigers were used in certain scenes early on in the film, as when the tiger was swimming for example.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Killing Them Softly

Journey 2: Mysterious Island


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

My name...is Michael Caine.

(2012) Family (New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman, Kristin Davis, Anna Colwell, Stephen Caudill, Branscombe Richmond, Walter Bankson. Directed by Brad Peyton

 

Jules Verne was one of the great science fiction writers of all-time. Among the things he presaged in his works included submarines and space travel. His books are some of the most beloved ever written. They’ve been made into movies many times over, some of them becoming classics of cinema as well (I’m looking at you, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).

This won’t be. In fact, there is almost nothing in common with Verne’s Mysterious Island other than the title and that they’re both set on an island. Billed as a sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (but only retaining Hutcherson from that cast), the movie starts out with Sean Anderson (Hutcherson) attempting to elude the police on his motorbike.

It turns out that the reason the cops were chasing him, other than for driving a motorbike, was that he’d broken into a satellite dish shack to boost the signal of a message he believes is from his grandfather, two years missing. Unfortunately, it’s in code so Sean can’t be sure.

Needless to say this doesn’t sit well with his mother (Davis, played by Jane Wheeler in the original) who has since remarried, to ex-Navy code breaker Hank (Johnson) who Sean is having trouble bonding with his well-muscled stepdad. That code breaking stint comes in handy as Hank helps Sean solve the code and locate Grandpa in the South Pacific. Sean is raring to go fetch.

However, like any sensible stepdad, he is willing to fly with his troubled stepson to Palau (close to where the signal originated from) to charter a helicopter to the island which apparently is in a stretch of ocean where nothing exists. Piloting the ‘copter is Gabato (Guzman), also known as plucky comedy relief and his comely daughter Kailani (Hudgens), also known as gratuitous tank top and Daisy Dukes wearer.

The four take off for the island that nobody thinks exists in a patch of ocean known for its extreme storms. Yeah, Hank’s parenting skills are right up there with the parents of Sparta; danger? Leave the weak ones in the snow to die.

Anyway, predictably the storms wreck the copter and the four are stranded on the island where elephants are the size of Chihuahuas and lizards are the size of city busses. After a run in with an angry mama lizard after a stroll through an egg field that the team of “Top Chef” could turn into an amazing omelet (complete with an attack from a grouchy lizard embryo), the castaways run into dear old Grandpa, Alexander Anderson (Caine) who has built himself a nice little treehouse and MacGyvered a radio out of a spoon and a watch…or something like that.

However, there’s a problem. The island is sinking and they have only a few days to get away before their real estate with an ocean view gets a whole lot closer to water – and on top of that those pesky Class 5 hurricanes (with fancy water spouts) are still hanging around the island. Their only hope may lie with a 150 year old vessel that may or may not exist.

Like the first movie, the environment is nearly all CGI as well as all of the critters both large and small. Given the tropical setting, it’s a little bit of “Lost” with a whole lot of Disney. While the mouse house isn’t responsible for any of this, there’s an element of theme park attraction here and in a good way. The movie has a sunny energy that takes your mind off of things for the hour and a half you’re watching it.

Much of the reason for that is Dwayne Johnson. He’s become a genuine movie star, elevating every movie he appears in, and this one is no exception. Johnson’s charm carries the movie – he even sings the old Sam Cooke chestnut “What a Wonderful World” while accompanying himself on the ukulele. Yes, the Rock sings. Deal with it.

Hutcherson hasn’t yet impressed me as a lead. He’s a bit on the wooden side and lacks the charisma to really take over a scene and make it his own and the colorless Hudgens generates no sparks with him. Caine plays a bit of the rascal here, which he does as well as anybody. His banter with Johnson make some of the movies best moments.

That said, the CGI can be a little weak and the conceit that the Island is the remains of Atlantis makes absolutely no sense – the island was supposed to be in the Atlantic ocean, not the South Pacific for one thing. Also, the set for Atlantis has a tile mural that says “Atlantis.” In English. Makes it look more like a Bahamian resort than an ancient civilization, dude.

Like the first movie, the intent is to go family first and adventure second. Therefore the critters – including giant bees, ants, centipedes and spiders – never feel too dangerous and the five never seem to be in too much danger. A little more tension might have made this a better movie.

Still it’s entertaining enough, with plenty of eye candy and lots of easy charm, mainly courtesy of Johnson. Like the movie’s predecessor it isn’t going to win a lot of kudos from Jules Verne’s fans but it is a movie likely to keep both young and old interested. Nothing wrong with that.

REASONS TO GO: Dwayne Johnson is at his best here and Caine is always reliable. Some fairly whimsical moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Weak CGI in places and a real lack of imagination in the Atlantis scenes. Tried too hard to be family-friendly and wound up missing a real sense of jeopardy.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scenes with critters that might be too frightening for the impressionable, as well as a couple of mildly bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Dwayne Johnson, who is the lead here, and Brendan Fraser, who was the lead in the first movie, played characters in The Mummy Returns and Caine played Captain Nemo (whose submarine the Nautilus makes an appearance here) in the 1997 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100. The reviews are fairly mixed but trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Journey to the Center of the Earth

JULES VERNE LOVERS: References three of his novels (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island and From the Earth to the Moon) as well as being the sequel to a movie loosely based on a fourth (Journey to the Center of the Earth). The author himself appears photographically on the walls of Sean’s bedroom.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Vow

Cast Away


Cast Away

Tom Hanks gets primitive.

(2000) Drama (DreamWorks/20th Century Fox) Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Chris Noth, Nick Searcy, Garret Davis, Vince Martin, Jenifer Lewis, Geoffrey Blake, Lari White, David Allen Brooks, Paul Sanchez, Peter von Berg, Dmitri S. Boudine, Semion Sudarikov. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

The poet said that no man is an island, but that is not so. In fact, every person is an island. We are not Borg either with the thoughts of millions in our heads; we are alone inside our skulls, and though we may share space and intimacy with others, at the end of the day it is ourselves we are alone with, no matter what the situation.

For Chuck Noland (Hanks), an executive and troubleshooter for FedEx, the situation is always chaos, perpetual motion on a stopwatch. He travels the world for FedEx, helping various branches become models of efficiency in processing packages for delivery. After a successful stint in Russia, he returns home to a well-deserved holiday break andan adoring girlfriend (Hunt) to whom he pops the question just as he is getting on a plane to put out another fire halfway around the world.

Life, according to John Lennon, is what happens when you’re making plans. In Noland’s case, life is a terrifying plane crash into a stormy sea. Noland eventually washes ashore on a deserted island, but unlike Gilligan and his crew, there are no huts, no supplies of food and no ingenious professors who can do anything except build a shortwave radio. The island is barren, a great big rock in the South Pacific.

After the initial shock, Noland slowly begins to realize that there will be no quick rescue. In certain Hollywood movies, Noland would be an ex-Army Ranger who can survive on a cantaloupe and a thimble for thirty days; in Cast Away, he has few survival skills other than an insatiable will to live, and a picture of his fiancée to motivate him. Chuck mustreinvent himself on a primitive level in order to survive; he must become food gatherer, fire bringer and water bearer. He must survive heat and storm, loneliness and depression, hunger and thirst. He also must survive a tooth that has been bothering him for months and threatens to get infected. He must learn to carry hope with him like a wallet, and fend off the madness slowly encroaching into his mind.

As time goes by, Noland is able to just get by, but even through his dementia he realizes that if he remains on the island he will eventually die. To avoid that, he begins devising a daring escape, using flotsam from the crash and other debris washed up by the sea.

The great majority of the movie takes place on the island. Most of the movie is just Hanks, without music or very much dialogue. Few actors could pull it off, but Hanks again gives an Oscar-nominated performance (the most recent one on his resume to date) that transcends traditional movie logic. If you described to a studio suit a movie with the situation just described, he would undoubtedly respond with have your people call his people, let’s do lunch and don’t let the door hit you in the drawers on the way out.

In this case, the director, Robert Zemeckis, and the star, Tom Hanks, had a certain amount of stroke (considering the previous time they teamed up they delivered Forrest Gump it isn’t hard to see why) and the two had the presence of mind to seek out DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg’s company, to co-distribute. They also had the might of 20th Century Fox behind them.

The results are an amazing movie, full of splendor, beauty and tension. Hanks is perfect in the role. If it were Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson on this beach, you’d expect them to survive. For Hanks, the modern equivalent of Jimmy Stewart, the boy next door is in real deep kimchee in this situation. The movie works because you believe it. During the escape sequence, when Noland’s companion, Wilson, parts, it is an extremely moving moment. Da Queen had a box of hankies for that one.

The movie takes place in three distinct sequences, and as has been noted elsewhere, constituted a break in filming while Hanks emaciated himself and Zemeckis went on to make What Lies Beneath. Our world is full of noise, frenetic motion, a busy cornucopia of career and personal life. The island is quiet, paced as the waves lapping against the shore. Time dilates into a distant memory here. Even the watch won’t work.

On a different level, however, the movie is about time and how we use it — and how it can be taken away from us. Time is a funny thing; it enslaves us, it is a brutal taskmaster but to a very real extent it defines us as well. It is about survival, what we can manage to accomplish in a desperate situation. It is about the island that is all of us. Some of us are rocky promontories in the Pacific; others are Oahu. Either works.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the first great movies of the 21st Century. Another Oscar-caliber performance from Hanks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The middle part of the film on the island has no music or dialogue which can be disconcerting for some.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some disturbing sequences here, particularly the plane crash and the body of the pilot arriving on the island.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Chuck Noland names his volleyball companion Wilson after the sporting goods manufacturer. Tom Hanks is married to Rita Wilson, and played a character named Kip Wilson in “Bosom Buddies.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a Charlie Rose interview with Hanks, as well as feature-length documentaries on real live survival situations (and how survival experts put writer William Broyles through a survival course) and on the island that was used to film the South Pacific sequences – both are extraordinarily interesting. These are, strangely enough, only available on the 2 Disc DVD edition; they are missing from the Blu-Ray edition which does have a trivia track if you’re into such things.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $429.6M on a $90M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: That Evening Sun