Friday, January 25, 2013

Rated D - Life of Pi

…in 3-D?  I guess just one D really is never enough!

Welcome Back to Rated D!

Namaste everyone!  This week I set out on an epic adventure, navigating the rough seas of traffic to see the new-ish film "Life of Pi".  SPOILER ALERT:  After a shipwreck over the Marianna Trench, a young man is stranded on a lifeboat with few supplies and a Bengal tiger.

I mentioned to a coworker that I was going to see this movie, to which she responded, “Have you read the book?  You won’t like it unless you read the book.” “Book about Pie,” I replied, “who wrote that?  Betty Crocker?”  I was immediately fired and thrown out of the building.  As security roughed me up and tossed me in the gutter, I couldn’t help but think about how many times I’ve heard variations of that: “You would’ve liked it if you read the book”… “Of course you didn’t get it, you didn’t read the book”… “You have to read the book to understand the ending”.  Sure, sometimes books make great movies, but the greatest ones are those that stand on their own.  In my opinion, movies should stand on their own and if the book it’s based on offers you some supplementary information, even better!  But the blame of a movie’s shortcomings should never be put upon the audience member for not having read the book first.  After all, no one had to read Jurassic Park to have a blast watching the movie and no one needed to read Twilight.  Period.

I usually don’t go to 3-D movies because they’re more expensive and because they’re terrible, but a few moments into this one, I actually kind of forgot about the awkward glasses I was wearing (as much as you can at least).  Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Hulk) wisely begins the film with a unique opening credit sequence that marvels at a menagerie of wild animals and captures the beauty and serenity of nature with his captivating 3-D lenses.  By the end of those several minutes, the usually jarring 3-D atmosphere felt as natural as most modern special effects which, to me, makes a world of difference in my viewing enjoyment.

Within moments we are introduced to a middle-aged man named Pi, played by Irrfan Khan (The Amazing Spider-Man, Slumdog Millionaire), who is being interviewed about his life by a struggling novelist, played by Rafe Spall (Prometheus, Anonymous).  It’s safe to say that there’s no need for a Spoiler Alert! and that Pi will survive his odyssey, but you as Khan’s tranquil Pi begins to spin his yarn, you care less about the suspense and wonder what we’re supposed to learn from his story.  After all, the writer has heard that Pi’s story could “make you believe in God”.

Periodically we check back in with Khan, who is excellent by the way, masterfully telling his story in a thoughtful, humble way, but most of the rest of the story is spent with the younger Pi, played by newcomer Suraj Sharma.  Pi, whose name is a reference to the ratio, develops his own belief system by cherry-picking from Hinduism, Catholicism, and Islam to get a better understanding of who God is much to the irritation of his father who believes in rationality and reasoning as his own religion.  Sharma, in literally his first role, shows plenty of talent and never loses the audience.  I did find myself wanting more from his performance, but he still impresses and by the end of the film it is a small complaint.  Eventually, after a lengthy stay in India gathering all the exposition we need for our journey, Pi and his family pack up their exotic animals and head for Canada in an attempt to avoid financial disaster.

What follows is a beautifully shot and surprisingly compelling story between a boy and a wild animal both versus and maybe communing with nature and maybe something more.  As if the spiritual symbolism and metaphors hadn’t already runneth over, we then actually watch Pi on an ark with the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  The special effects team and cinematographers deserve the praise they’ve already received for the work they’ve done here.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold by the preview, but the way they capture the seclusion of the lifeboat on a seemingly endless Pacific Ocean surrounded by stars, whales, clouds, waves, and even a magnificent floating island is almost impossible to describe.  But most of all, the primarily CGI co-star Richard Parker is so lifelike that at times you begin to assume “Oh, that’s why they cast an unknown actor!  It will be easy to cover up when he is eaten by the tiger!”  Seriously, it is an extremely impressive feat that nearly steals the spotlight.

Pi, and Richard Parker, face all sorts of obstacles and navigate one calamity to the next in their Job-esque trial.  And, what’s funny is, although we know he will survive it all and be telling us this story form the safety of his home in Canada, the story remains interesting.  That being said, “Life of Pi” isn’t completely without surprise, but don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending.  I’ll just say… at its core it’s a movie that aims to find peace from disaster, meaning from chaos, and hope from turmoil, and come on… who couldn’t use a little of that?  Cue the “More You Know” star…. Now!

D's Recommendation – 3.5 out of 5 – One of the Few Movies I Recommend in 3-D

Since We Went to See the Joffrey Ballet Last Night…
"Dancin!  Dancin!  Dancin!"
Movies featuring Dance

1.  All That Jazz (1979) – “It’s Showtime!” Celebrated Choreographer Bob Fosse co-wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical movie about a womanizing, drug abusing dancer.  Roy Scheider razzle dazzles ‘em, singing and dancing and having heart attacks, as the film switches from the stripped down, frustrating world of theater to flashy imaginary musical numbers.  Apparently Fosse was inspired to write a “musical about his death” after suffering his first heart attack and All That Irony wasn’t as catchy.

2.  A Chorus Line (1985) – “What I did for love!  This film adaptation of the long running musical wasn’t the greatest, but it wasn’t terrible either.  Just like the Pulitzer Prize winning stage show, the movie takes place over several hours of an intensely personal and emotionally exhausting audition process.  There’s nothing glaringly wrong with it, but some stories just work better live.

3.  Fame (2009) – “Lame!” So, up front, I’ve never seen the original, but that still doesn’t change the fact that this melodramatic waste was laughably terrible.  It lacks the honesty and vulnerability that made the other movies mentioned above so interesting and instead loads up on every overused stereotype in the theater handbook which makes everything artists do seem so trite and trivial… except for one dance number which I have to admit was pretty great.

4.  Center Stage (2000) – “Welcome to the Stage, Bi-otch!  Center Stage!  Ok, that might not be a quote from this movie.  In fact, I only saw this one because my high school drama teacher thought that spending three class periods could really teach us a thing or two about acting.  From what I remember, it’s got few surprises and plenty of harmless drama like a polished up, CW series turned movie.  Take that however you’d like.  

5.  Black Swan (2010) – “She’s Gone!” Either you’ll really like or really hate this bizarre trip down Mental Breakdown Lane.  Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her portrayal of a fragile ballerina who literally begins to lose her grip on reality while trying to become the best.  This story could easily have fallen over the edge and become unintentionally hilarious, but instead it becomes a psychological quasi-horror flick that’s hard not to watch…. In fairness, Natalie Portman could play a fragile janitor struggling to be the best and I’d still say she deserves an Oscar.

Rated DVD –
The Amazing Spider-Man-
My favorite review of this movie was something to the effect of “Maybe they just left out the ‘–ly bad’ as in ‘The Amazingly Bad Spider-Man’”.  Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not a hater because of some blind devotion to the Sam Raimi “Spider Man Trilogy” starring Tobey McGuire or because it was the same origin story.  Sure, I thought it was a little soon for a reboot, but then I actually started to get excited for a fresh take on the well-known super-hero.  Still, it didn’t do it for me.

There’s not much of an effort to tweak the main storyline (with the exception of some clunky set-up scenes that have nothing to do with this plot and are simply there for the inevitable sequels) and the script is neither cheesy fun nor sharp and clever.  And even though they are kind of bound to the origin story, action scenes like dangling cars off a bridge didn’t have to be repeated.  As if the poor script and predictable story weren’t bad enough, the special effects are inexcusably bad for such a big budget summer blockbuster.

Next Time on Rated D...
The Master or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – One’s nominated for several Oscar’s but I’m not really interested… the other is called “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”.  So it’s anybody’s guess…

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