When a film based on a Booker Prize-winning novel makes you wonder whether the book was as exquisite as the movie makes it out to be, it's hit the mark. When I read Yann Martel's Life of Pi 10 years ago, I found it borderline New Age, and dismissed its literary value in the confidence of my all-knowing teens. My opinion of the book may not be vastly different if I were to read it again, but Ang Lee's interpretation swept me into the story in a way the book didn't.
Lee works a new character into the script — the writer who interviews Pi decades after the adventure, whose response to Pi's narration is more believable than that of the insurance officials who play listeners in the book. The film pares the novel of its self-involved philosophical musings, and puts the remaining in the mouths of two incredibly talented actors — Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma.
The eagerness of the director to tell a story, and not simply relay it, is evident in the time he spends on setting the scene. The first half of the film wafts through Pi's early years, each allusion to daily routine in Pondicherry, a masterstroke in creating a vivid portrait of 1970s India. A Murphy Radio relays Emergency-related announcements; the cut of a blouse conveys the era. The crew must have had excellent researchers, because, try as I might, the only aspect of the film I found amiss — aside from the value of pi — was Tabu's incomprehensible Tamil. The country is saved from Hollywoodsy exotification, thanks to the ironic narrative voice both Khan and Sharma adopt.
The use of 3D in Life of Pi outdoes Hugo, and made me forget Avatar ever happened. The cinematography luxuriates in this completeness, allowing us to delight in the stillness of water, the break of dawn, ripples from a flung can, luminescent plankton in the night sea, the morphing of a picture-story into reality. We're drawn into the film, witnessing the loneliness of a boy, party to his dilemmas, and sinking into his mind as it progressively tilts toward derangement.
The screenplay is exquisite, staying with Pi as he loses strength and gains fortitude, as wisdom eats away at hope, as the fight to survive overcomes sentimentality. We relate to his "Excuse me" as he wades through clans of meerkats, his anthropomorphic betrayal when a four-legged companion plunges into the jungle without turning back. This isn't a story about seafaring, exotic zoos and carnivorous islands. It's a story about life, beautiful, misleading, dangerous, and kind.
The Verdict: Undoubtedly Ang Lee's best film, Life of Pi is a lesson in cinematic excellence.
A bizarre saga of incest
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and others
The only thing that hurts more than a terrible film that looks terrible is a terrible film that looks beautiful. In Breaking Dawn 2, we're drawn into the woods where the Cullen coven lives through an amalgam of scenery and body fluids that show us just how much of a mismatch the limp storyline and the superb camerawork make. We meet Bella Cullen née Swan (Kristen Stewart), whose creepy eyeballs apparently magnify her vision.
Those of us who suffered the misfortune of watching the first edition of this two-part finale to the three-part series that is Twilight know that Bella is a human who was turned into a vampire on the verge of death, courtesy vampire husband Edward (Robert Pattinson). For some reason, she's now stronger than he is. And we assume he's supportive of equality for women vampires, because he sports an irritating "awww" look on his face every time Bella drinks blood, wants to hunt, or attacks people or vampires.
Turning into a vampire is also evidently a form of birth control, so now Edward and Bella can go at it without fear of procreating. This makes the version screened at Indian cinemas a deal shorter than that which hit theatres in the rest of the world, I'm told. Thank God for small mercies. When they're not breaking furniture in the throes of carnal satiation and dashing through forests in pursuit of prey, they drink blood and play piano with a fuzzy joint family that could inspire Kyunki Vampire Bhi Kabhi Aurat Thi.
Their little daughter Reneesme (Mackenzie Foy) is the object of a paedophilic werewolf's attention, but the werewolf — who once fancied her mother — doubles as her protector, and calls her 'Nessie'. This serves as grounds for more rage for Bella, and elicits more "awww" from Edward, but everything goes back to normal with piano and blood. Till Irina (Maggie Grace) rats them out to the Volturi, headed by Aro (Michael Sheen).
What follows is a nauseating mix of more vampire romance, cringe-inducing dialogue, and a climax that's let down by a twist. Here's how the battle scene plays out. Think of any Indian movie from the Seventies. Replace Maa with Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli). Bingo. The filmmakers highlight their obliviousness to all things believable by taking us to an Egypt that has Devanagari signboards.
The Verdict: The haunting music of Alexandre Desplat, the brilliant performance of Michael Sheen, and the gorgeous landscape are out of place in this travesty of fantasy.