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Needs more than Cannibalism
Its easy to understand the pull of the full. You want to watch a film about a girl who becomes a cannibal.. the film is very well crafted and full of interesting images. The acting is very good and the camera work solid. But somewhere during the film you begin to question the purpose of this film- it is neither full-blown horror nor is it a deep character study of a girl who is grappling with the cannibal inside her. I say give me Hannibal Lector anytime!
27 Down (1974)
27 Down is as beautiful, truthful and evocative
27 Down is as beautiful, truthful and evocative as the trains of the Indian railways which serve as its almost constant backdrop. And it induces the same yearning, for that forgotten taste of tea in a earthen cup, a little stale, a little metallic, a little too sweet and just a little bit dusty. But the reasons why 27 Down, a debut film by Awtar Krishna Kaul, a young man of 28 , made 44 years ago has survived as a classic of Indian cinema, lie beyond the overwhelming nostalgia of trains.
Sanjay (M. K. Raina) was born on a train. For his birthplace, he mentions two places, much to the exasperation of the interviewer who is about to give him a job in the railways after Sanjays father has pulled a few strings. Sanjay is slightly adamant about it, the train was at an unknowable point in the vast labyrinth of railway tracks that span the country. This is his very minor rebellion against his father, who was a train driver and now wants his son to have a secure but dull job in the railways. He has very practical reasons for pushing his son in that direction, including perks like free coal that railway employees get to fire their mud ovens with at home.
The young director about whom very little information is available online, must be reflecting on his career path in some way through this film, being an art film director in the late 60s must have been a far more radical career choice than it is today. Even now if one speaks to the teachers in two of India's leading state run film schools you hear of how a large section of students have revolted at home and sought a kind of refuge at the film school in the promise of a career as an artist.
In an early scene in the film we see him as a child admiring a nude sculpture of Aphrodite and then we see him in a reputed art school in Bombay, a young man, away from his family. His father writes letters to him, offering him practical advice which we see Sanjay not heed, his mother has passed away and his father makes a big deal of acting protective. Somehow the director never foregrounds the artist in Sanjay, he is perhaps wary of making the film autobiographical ( Google does not know much about Avatar Kaul yet, but I shall find out one day and post an addendum to this review). When his father asks him to join the railways, Sanjay offers only half hearted resistance. He refers to his art education as " I want to complete my studies" to which his father says " You can do that along with your job too!". Sanjay is afraid to speak more clearly about his education, varnishing it as "studies". It is this strange tone of being unsure that defines the overall tone of the film for me.
This attitude of meek capitulation is most telling in his marriage to a village girl of his fathers choice. Sanjay is having a serious affair with a girl, Shalini (a de-glamourised Rakhee), who he has met on a train. Orphaned early, Shalini now works in Bombay as a clerk to support her grandfather and siblings who live in another city. Now think of Satyajit Rays Mahanagar made in 1962 which portrays a housewife working to support her family and the shame that her husband experiences. Shalini is doing the same but Avatar Krishna Kaul is gently putting our middle class morality in the dock, in a style that is equidistant from Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwick Ghakat and the formalist Mani Kaul.
27 Down is a singular voice in Indian cinema, not fully formed, hesitant to make its point but marshalling the power of the cinematic image to its advantage with a lot of passion, restraint and wonder. Along with his cameraman AK Bir, who was all of 22 years old and heavily influenced by Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers, they hold the hidden camera on crowded railway platforms and on moving trains and capture high contrast black and white images that evoke the romance of railways and the drudgery of travelling in a third class compartment, all at once.
There are also hints of Jiri Manzels 1968 masterpiece Closely Watched Trains, and the moment I finished watching 27 Down, I told myself – "This is our Closely Watched Trains". In a way 27 Down too is a film about the confusion of youth in a socio economic climate in limbo, and the loss of innocence when confronted with the forces of world. We see Sanjay wilt under pressure from his father, lying in a stupor on sleeper trains. When he senses that the train is passing over a bridge we hear him philosophise incoherently. The numerous bridges connect nothingness with nothingness and the train for him is running in a maddening never-ending loop. 27 Down refers to the train route – "Bombay to Varanasi", the holiest city for Hindus. Even though Sanjay takes that train he returns from Varanasi in spiritual despair .
This is a remarkably open film, a moving feast of images and moods, which will draw in viewers in its embrace. This was the only film that Awtar Krishna Kaul made and it adds up to much more than what many achieved in a lifetime.
Satyagraha, Arvind Kejriwal and the Delhi elections.
Satyagraha, Arvind Kejriwal and the Delhi elections.
Anna Hazare haazir hoon!OK, Anna is in the US on a lecture tour, and we will have to make do with Amitabh Bachchan playing him in Prakash Jha's new film Satyagraha. How Anna lost his mojo is one of the great mysteries of Indian politics but Satyagraha gives him a respectable exit. There is nothing wrong with dramatizing real life events and politics make for especially riveting cinema but maybe Prakash Jha thinks we don't watch the news. He starts the film with the spiraling cost of electricity and a call not to pay electricity bills which is exactly how Arvind Kejriwal launched his political party, the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP).He brings in a thinly veiled reference to the BJP which poses a moral dilemma to Ajay Devgan( Arvind Kejriwals proxy) since they cannot join hands with communal forces. When making Aarakhshan about job reservations, Mr Jha forgot to show the self immolation of Mr Rajiv Goswami, of anti Mandal commission fame, he makes amends by making a youth set himself on fire.When he wants to inject violence into a non violent movement he borrows from Attenborough's depiction of the Chauri Chura incident in Gandhi, when a few policemen we killed by an angry mob. The film also puts forth Arvind Kejriwals very solid rationale that politicians are engaging in a match fixing and don't expose each other because they are looting the country in partnership providing a compelling raison de entre for the AAP. Arvind Kejriwal needs to revive the Anna wave in the Delhi elections in November, and convince voters that both the BJP and Congress are equally corrupt.Now let us imagine for a moment that Mr Kejriwal is the producer of this film.He puts his entire kitty of election funds, say 25 crores into making this film.He quadruples the money in 1 year and has a film which is the best possible campaign video for him just 2 months before the polls.That would have been brilliant! But he is still a winner.Here is how: It will be seen all across India and especially by the voters in Delhi where Mr Kejriwal has a real chance at becoming the kingmaker.As India heads into its most divisive and interesting general elections in a long time, Satyagraha and Mr Kejriwal add a healthy dose of self righteousness into the mix which consists of pathetic dynastic politics and brazen corruption on one side and communal polarization on the other.Its difficult to predict a winner in that contest, but Satyagraha will conquer the box office and garner some votes for the AAP in the short run.I would have really loved this film, had the corrupt chief minister been a sweet, calm and corrupt old lady like Shiela Aunty. When this film is seen in single screen theaters by people who have been drawn in by the star appeal of Mr Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor it will serve as a powerful reminder of what happened two years ago since the memory of those events have already faded.The next general elections is an opportunity for the common man to speak with his vote.During the Anna movement he spoke with his voice on social media, but Facebook "likes" don't count when the votes are being counted.Satyagraha is an interesting experiment and surely a part of the political picture in the run up to the elections. Its an utterly tasteless piece of cinema but hopefully an eye opener for the common voter who is able to take out 3 hours from the grind of his life to watch a mindless song and dance film every weekend but spends election day catching up on his sleep.This is a landmark film in the sense that we are watching the birth of the political campaign film in India. So thats the political lowdown.And how does it stack up as a piece of entertainment, had it really been completely fictional etc. etc. as the disclaimers at the beginnings of films go? The direction is Satyagraha is non-existent. The big ticket actors strut the stage and mouth their lines, the sleepy cameraman rolls the camera with the scantest regard for the aesthetics, composition and lighting of the shot, the background score is completely uninspiring, the costumes jarring and the script full of clichés.Yes there are some good one liners in there but not enough to salvage the script.Any self respecting Hindi commercial film needs eye candy so Satyagraha starts with an item number and foregrounds Kareena frequently.He even makes Devgan shut her up during an argument with a smooch.That was a LOL moment for sure. If the idea is to entertain enlightened and aware audiences the film fails. Mr Prakash Jha who once made wonderful films like Damul before he went to Bollywood and made equally entertaining and solid social thrillers like Gangajal and Apaharan, has of late tried to occupy the niche of socially relevant cinema.His Aarakshan and Rajneeti tried to do that but were based on inherently weak scripts but were still much superior to Satyagraha.This is a downward spiral for Mr Jha.Hope he snaps out of it and goes back to his roots.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
A sensitive, closely observed and well crafted film!
Ilo Ilo tells a deceptively simple story with a lot of care and heart.The film is roughly set in the middle of the Asian financial crisis which also affected this small island nation.It tells of a friendship which grows between a young and rebellious boy who has just lost his beloved grandfather and his maid who arrives from Philippines to help his pregnant mother with her hectic schedule. The boys father loses his job and his mother juggles the tantrums of the brat and the increasing demands of her job which she needs to retain at all cost.
Ilo Ilo demonstrates that the role of a nanny and domestic servant is very special.The tightrope that both employer and employee walk in balancing "you are a paid servant" and " you are a part of the family" can be so tight and the casualties so subtle that we don't notice the injuries until much later.In a dramatic scene, the school bully teases Jialer that his maid does not actually love him, she is just doing a job for which she is paid.This infuriates Jailer who lunges at the bully in a fit of rage. The director says the film was based on his personal experiences and how he felt that its very cruel for parents to allow maids to become like surrogate mothers and suddenly sack the maid for some reason.This can be a huge emotional trauma for the child who is unable to appreciate the reasons.While the film does not indict the system of foreign domestic helpers, it frames its argument for considering the human cost involved in a gentle way.
The character of Teresa reminds us that those of us who were raised by nannies owe so much to them, and we often never acknowledge the debt fully.I completely admired the performance by Yan Yan Yeo who played Jailan's mother as the slightly humorless but ultimately kind woman.She navigates the role with the responsibility that the character must have felt, with her world crumbling around her in trying circumstances. Her performance is pitch perfect and I was amazed to know that her character was not conceived as being pregnant but after she was cast she became pregnant.She managed to convince the director to rewrite the role.Angela Bayani as the diminutive maid Teresa also delivers a stellar performance in a role that requires her to be vulnerable, strong, emotional, stoic and pragmatic at different points.Her chemistry with Jialer played by a very natural Koh Jia Ler is excellent and completely believable.
The beauty of this film emerges when we juxtapose its sombre sepia images with the glitz and glamour of present day Singapore.Needless to say the intimate and de-glamorized cinematography by French lensman Benoit Soler plays a big role in creating this magic.The humour is one of the strengths of the film and although I may not have understood all the jokes about growing up in Singapore, going by the reaction of the audience Mr Chen has been successful in his efforts.Yes I did go in with very high expectations and the film did not meet all of them but that should not take anything away from this sweet and intimate film.The quality of the craft is impeccable and there are no rough edges in the film which is remarkable for a debutant director.
I recently saw another period Singapore film – That Girl in Pinafore, which although not as elegant as Ilo Ilo tells an equally touching and boisterous tale of a group of teens being typical teens against the backdrop in xinyao music.These are the only two Singaporean films I have seen so far, but we foreigners who live in Singapore need to discover Singaporean cinema, which offers a window into its unique culture.
Anthony Chen is the new poster boy of the fledgling film industry of Singapore after winning the Camera d'or at Cannes this year.This is his first full length feature after making eight highly acclaimed short films. Ilo Ilo is certainly a glittering debut film and hopefully the first in a long and interesting career.It may be Singapore's first Cannes winner but there must have been better films which have not garnered this kind of limelight.One hopes that Ilo Ilo is a watershed moment in Singapore cinema.
Bhaag milkha bhaag (2013)
Run Run Run!
As I lifted my aching bums from the seat after watching this film the uppermost thought in my mind was a silent thank you to the guardian angels of cinema.After all if this is how we approach biopics I am so happy that Gandhi was made by a foreigner 30 years ago.If Bollywood had a shot at it, they would have made the Mahatma do garba and dandiya with Kasturba and his brave experiments with celibacy would have turned to sleaze.There would have been Zulu dancers during his South Africa phase, soulful ghazals when he visits Amritsar in the aftermath of Jalianwala Baag massacre and sufi songs when Hindu Muslim riots break out.There would also have been some Englishman raping a Indian girl and a sexy mujra in the court of a debauched Maharaja.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag tries to tell the story of India's greatest athlete in the only language that Bollywood understands – the musical.Indeed a sporty musical can be done very well as Lagaan demonstrated but this film simply does not have the material to carry off a handful of songs.It all begins at the Rome Olympics in 1960 where Milkha Singh comes fourth in a photo-finish despite being the world record holder and a favorite to win the race.The reason for his poor showing is a backward glance which according to the film is the massacre of his family during the partition coming back to haunt him.Nothing is further from the truth. Milkha Singh lost because he made a strategic blunder in running too fast during the first 250 meters and tried to slow down which cost him the race.That and his being in lane 5 which creates a blind spot and a disadvantage for a sprinter.So much for a biopic!
The film ends with a cricket match final.Now how can that be since this film is about athletics? I am lying of course, the director wisely reduces his race in Pakistan to a India Pakistan war as it happens in every Indo-Pak cricket match and ends the film on a jingoistic note! And yes we take a full three hours to reach this convoluted climax.
The story of Milkha Singh is a great story, his lost childhood, his parents murder during the partition, his rise to running glory, his infamous loss at the Rome Olympics which led to him hitting the bottle, his win in Pakistan and him turning down the Arjuna Award.But Mr Mehra finds it more important to dwell on his romance while growing up and his one night stand with a hot Australian girl during the Melbourne Olympics.A chiseled Farhan doing push ups at the beach with a buxum bikini clad blond lying on his back should be paisa wasool!
To the films credit the races are filmed with great finesse, the training sequences are epic, Farhan Akthar has a body to die for or to kill for and some of the incidents of his early life are very engrossing. Undoubtedly Farhan as Milkha is a casting coup and the effort he puts into becoming Milkha Singh translates into a superlative performance.The big budget is up on the screen, the attention to period detail is exquisite and Binod Pradhan's camera-work top notch. Pawan Malhotra is downright brilliant as his coach.There is this shot when Milkha Singh get taken over by the coach of the national team and Pawan Malhotra looks at him with an expression that is a mixture of pride and sadness, he is loosing his most talented protégée and is happy for him.That shot alone redeems this film.
Bhaag Milkha Bhag is a stellar example of a wasted opportunity, this could have been a good film if 70 minutes had been chopped and it could have been a great film if it had focused on Milkha Singh the man and athlete and not on Farhan Akhtar the alpha male with the body of a Greek God.Even after three hours of watching this film we are none the wiser about the profession of running or what it must have been like to be Milkha Singh in the first decade of India's independence or what the legacy of this great athlete is.
Bhaag Audience Bhaag!
A brave attempt but ultimately bloated and overwrought!
Once upon a time, eons back Doordarshan used to show 30 minute short stories and one of them was about an eccentric painter who wanted to paint a masterpiece.This he does on a stormy night when a severely ill young girl wagers her life on the last leaf on a plant outside her bedroom window not getting blown away.The painter paints a leaf which keeps her alive through the crucial night and perishes in the process.His masterpiece has saved a life.This was based on O'Henrys' short story "The Last Leaf".But that 30 minute treatment was a better idea than a full length Bollywood film.Consequently Lootera feels bloated and overwrought.
Vinay( Ranveer Singh) is a young handsome archaeologist who arrives at the home of the Zamindar( Barun Chanda) of Manikpur, West Bengal who dotes on his daughter Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha).He wants to dig around the the old family temple in search of a lost civilization.They fall in love but Vinay hides a secret which means their romance will be severely tested.If you have read the original short story you may know how it ends but the whole set up and the middle act is the handiwork of the writers.
Read full review on mostlycinema.com
The Lone Ranger (2013)
A big boring film!
Johnny Depp directed a film once.It was called The Brave and co-starred Marlon Brando along with Depp who played an impoverished American Indian, who agrees to make a snuff movie in exchange for money which will help his family.The film was never theatrically released but showed Mr. Depps commitment and love for the native American.He also claims some Cherokee roots on his great-grandmother side and its not difficult to imagine him gleefully take up the offer to play Tonto for his long-term Pirates franchise collaborator Gore Verbinksi. What Mr Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer were thinking is more intriguing though. As they plod along with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise they are in search of a new one for Disney.The Masked Man is the property they dug up, one that few cares about, which of course they planned to change.
Since they have made big films which have mountains of money they could get the green light and 250 million USD for this project.What we have is a full-fledged assault of special effects and elaborate set pieces that are only faintly amusing and that too fleetingly.I admit to being a Depp fan, he has built up a solid repertoire of off beat and sometimes downright quirky roles and his work with Tim Burton has always been a refreshing ride of wild creativity.Speaking of creativity this very director was positively brilliant in his last outing with Rango which was a near perfect animated film.
Here Armie Hammer plays John Reid, a very idealistic county prosecutor who in the outlandish but breathtaking opening sequence on a train, gets caught up in a jailbreak by gunslinger Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and rogue Comanche Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp) while returning from the city. Tonto and Reid team up to hunt down Butch and his gang through the desert with Tonto having his own agenda of avenging the wrongs done to his tribe.
The film uses a 1933 carnival exhibition in San Francisco as its framing device, where a young Lone Ranger fan encounters an ancient, nearly 100-year-old Tonto, now reduced to a sideshow freak.As Tonto recounts his tale to the boy, the film cuts back to his narration every 30 minutes or so, which does not help its comic action adventure tone or pacing at all.That Tonto is quite an eccentric should be a good thing and excuse for some really charming comedy but his antics with the dead bird on his head only make this movie more preposterous.At times, The Lone Ranger wants to be a tongue in cheek spoof on of the old TV series but muddies the waters with very macabre scenes (testing the limits of its PG13 rating) where Butch carves out and eats the heart of a victim or when Indians are massacred by U.S. soldiers brutally with a machine gun.
Arnie Hammer has the right look and charisma to play The Lone Ranger but by the time he makes up his mind to become the title character our interest in the film has been long dead .When he arrives at the "Hi -yo Silver" moment near the end of the film its a bit too late.Mr Depps performance as a very sober and mellow version of captain Jack Sparrow with an oversized burnt bird for headgear, which he keeps trying to feed seeds he digs up, is a bundle of contradictions.Surely the incoherence of his character owes more to the screenplay than to his acting skills.
Sitting through this movie you can quietly contemplate all the existential questions that may be haunting you or you can down a few thousand calories worth of popcorn and soda but all that glucose will not set your pulse racing.This film proves how big paychecks are creating films that force very talented people to make films like this which reduce movie watching to a chore.Some movie messes are tasty like chop suey but this one is concocted from very expensive but stale ingredients.I am betting grossing 500 million USD which this film needs to just break even will be a very uphill task.
Published on mostlycinema.com
White House Down (2013)
Its so bad that its good!!
Now Barrack Obama and family can watch the double bill in their personal movie theatre: Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, back to back.Two films within a span of 2 months about a deadly attack on the White House is too much of a coincidence and it is cause for delicious speculation what the Obamas would make of it. Olympus adopted a serious tone with the North Koreans as the bad guys while this film cheekily reduces it to a action comedy throwing in big budget special effects.
Roland Emmerich makes big budget disaster films, if you want to produce a film where an Armageddon is averted by a heroic American then this German is the go-to guy.This time his tone is very tongue in cheek, he gives us a film that refuses to take itself seriously and is downright campy is parts.His bad guys are hopeless parodies of bad guys and his good guys are goofy and ernest.There is not an ounce of credibility in the plot and the dialogues are downright cheesy.But this film is delicious in a "Its so bad that its good" way.
Read Full Review on mostlycinema.com
Flawed but engaging film!
Seeta aur Geeta meets Ram aur Shyam meets Don with shades of Karan Arjun for the final garnish, directed of course by that giant of a movie director who understood the need for escape in a cinema hall so well- Manmohan Desai, starring Amitabh Bachchan in a delicious double role! Well this is not quite that film but its title is very intriguing, Aurangzeb is the ultimate symbol we have of unbridled ambition and impatience getting the better of familial love.
Yashwardhan(Jackie Shroff) is the undisputed king of the underworld in the NCR and his legal front serves as the ruthless machinery for all real estate activity that happens there.His ambitious business development head is Nina(Amrita Singh) who has planted Ritu(Sasha Agah) in the life of Yashwardhan's loutish son Ajay's (Arjun Kapoor) life to ensure that he keeps snorting cocaine and getting into fights and stays away from the family business.Watching with frustration is DCP Ravikant (Rishi Kapoor) who wants a lions share of the dealings he facilitates along with his son Dev and nephew Arya(Prithwiraj Sukumaran). Yashwardhan is getting old and Ravi is getting impatient. Ravi gets the perfect opportunity when it emerges that his elder brother (Arya's father), who was expelled from the police force for killing Yashwardhan's wife and twin son Rakesh(identical to Ajay), actually hid them away as a second family.When he dies Ravi enlists Arya's help to swap Ajay with Rakesh and infiltrate Yashwardhan's operation. This premise is set up very quickly by the director and the rest of the film is a soap opera of intrigue, double crosses, murky land deals, vampish molls and implausible change of hearts. The material is vast, the twists and turns too many and the cinematic approach too timid and unimaginative.
That the film still hold up is due to the fact that there are far too many balls up in the air and the screen presence of some of the actors keep us interested in how the story will play out. There is no real feel for the language and nuances of the NCR, which has a culture all its own,Gurgaon is a phenomenon that this film fails to decode.The locations are uninspired, yes the ugly concrete jungle is on display but where is the world that it has encroached? The wisest choice the director makes is to rein in the length to a relatively crisp 140 minutes.
Rishi Kapoor as the nerve centre of the film gives a sincere performance as a very insincere man but is unable to make the leap from his sweater wearing, guitar strumming slightly potbellied heartthrob image to the ultimate baddie.Jackie Shroff brings screen presence but not much else to the film, Amrita Singh comes out of retirement to play a hammy stock character with too much concealer on her face. Sasha Agah as the archetypical gangsters moll, makes you cringe with her amateurish histrionics, the best moment comes as she does a backstroke in a tiny black bikini and thats saying a lot.Which brings us to Amitabh Bachchan, well Arjun Kapoor, you know what I mean.He has an arresting face but acting wise he is exactly where we left him in Isaqzaade. There are times when he is pitch perfect as the Mafiosi punk but as soon as the moment passes he is regresses into a gawky hunk unsure of his next move.
How I wish Anurag Kashyap or Vishal Bhardwaj or Tigmanshu Dhulia had helmed this film, it shows us in no uncertain terms why they are our best Bollywood directors.Even Ram Gopal Verma created magic with similar material in Satya and Sarkar. Auragzeb has its moments and overall momentum to be a competent entertainer. A tighter script, saucier dialogues, better performances and more feel for the material might have transformed this into a tour de force.
Published on mostlycinema.com
Trance is deliciously discombobulating!
Rembrandt's Sea of Galilee, Caravaggio's Nativity, Vermeer's The Concert,Modigliani's Woman with a Fan.What do these famous paintings have in common? They were all stolen and are out of sight but their beauty is still with us and fans the fire in art thieves to commit the kind of darings robberies that last happened in Rotterdam's Kunsthal art galley, a stones throw from where I once lived.In Trance, Danny Boyle takes us into a room full of these stolen masterpieces but that room only exists in a characters head. The stolen painting in question here is Francisco de Goya's Witches in the Air which is stolen from a crowded auction room in London immediately after it is sold for more than 25 million pounds.
The film opens with the heist sequence, narrated by junior auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) who was present in the room when it happened.We see David (Vincent Cassel) the classic French gangster leading his men and apparently succeeding. But what he has stolen is an empty frame, the painting has been cut out.We see Simon being tortured by David and it emerges that he was an accomplice, this being another inside job.But its not that simple, Simon suffers from a genuine case of amnesia and they hit upon the idea of using a hypnotherapist to ferret out his submerged memories.The hypnotherapist is Victoria (Rosario Dawson), an unlikely femme fatale but once she takes control of Simons brain we are all under her spell.What follows is a story of recovering not just the painting but memories in Simons brain.
All thrillers use what is called the McGuffin which is a say a jumbo diamond or some such contrivance which has no other use except for keeping the audiences interest alive.Danny Boyle's use of a famous painting by Goya somehow elevates the McGuffin to something that we care about.This of course brings to mind Abbas Kiarostami's film Certified Copy which posed the tantalizing question, in a rather oblique way, that if the Mona Lisa were destroyed along with all its images and only a single reproduction survived, will be value it as much? But thats another discussion, possibly another film.
Danny Boyle knows how to shoot a film, this one was shot in a break between preparations for the summer Olympic games opening and closing ceremonies which he orchestrated with great success.In Slumdog Millionaire he created a film which while deeply polarizing Indian audiences won hearts worldwide and a bagful of Oscars, while in 127 Hours he took us inside the mind of a man trapped in a cave and forced to make impossible choices. His ability to tell a story in a stylized and completely engrossing manner makes him one of the most original directors around.Here he plays mind games with a very steady hand, he mixes psychedelic images with a lot of reflections to build a chimera.
The editing by Jon Harris is superb, in just 101 he gives us a story packed with many masterful sequences are partly constructed using montage of unrelated images like helicopter shots of loopy flyovers buzzing with cars .The color palette Boyle chooses is a mix of saturated colors, muted tones and dark shadows.This film uses the ubiquitous and misused technique of Digital Intervention(DI), to its immense advantage.Every frame is stunning to look at and is set to a thumping soundtrack that builds suspense and indeed puts us into a kind of trance.
While Vincent Cassel has immense screen presence, his role makes him more of a spectator to what James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson are upto. Mr MacAvoy as the amnesia struck victim keeps us fooled throughout.But this is a Rosario Dawson show all the way.The film stands on the shoulders of her brave and mysterious performance, she is in complete control throughout.Ms Dawson is an actress who has not got the opportunities she deserves, here she capitalizes on the script and delivers a mind bending performance.The fleeting piece of graphic nudity from her in Trance is not gratuitous, far from it.It is this single audacious element alone that makes the film worth watching and the way it has been linked to the stolen paining is clever and satisfying.
Trance is deliciously discombobulating, we suspect that the characters are not what they seem but thats not the point at all.The plot may be slightly far fetched but within the boundaries of faint plausibility it keeps us engaged.This is not a film like Inception which demanded, a little arrogantly, multiple viewings to understand. Trance deserves a second viewing just to relish its images and immaculate craft, not to decode it further. Hollywood makes far too many thrillers which are far too mediocre without a trace of originality or worse they squander an original premise hammering it into a humdrum product.Here both the idea and treatment are immensely enjoyable.
Iron Man Three (2013)
Iron Man 3 is back in form..OK somewhat!
Tony Stark is the kind of billionaire inventor playboy genius that must make Richard Branson and Larry Ellison feel like under achievers or worse-downright wimpish. "I'm Tony Stark. I build neat stuff, got a great girl, and occasionally save the world," yeah, way cooler than Steve Jobs. The appearance of the Oracle brand in Iron Man 3 is perhaps Ellison making a donation to become part of the super alpha male club, because the guys who buy Oracle servers are not going to be swayed by this film.
The story starts off in the post The Avengers world, with Tony Stark having retreated to his workshop to create a plethora of suits.But all is not well in the world, there have been mysterious explosions which have a unique signature to them.The back story belongs to a science conference in 1999 when Stark ignored the entreaties of a partially disabled scientist Aldrich Killian(Guy pierce) to work with him and ended up creating a monster.While he was at it he also had a one night stand with an ace scientist Maya Henson (Rebecca Hall) and left her in the lurch.His life with his girlfriend Pepper Potts(Gwyneth Paltrow) is strained. He is going through a superhero midlife crisis, and a "what else is there to achieve, now that I am the CEO of Starks Corp. and his permanent girlfriend" emptiness in hers.Meanwhile the evil Aldrich meets Pepper and makes a presentation, taking her inside the hologram of human brain that will make the consultants at Bain and Co. sweat,trust me its sleek.But Pepper is not impressed, it sounds like evil science to her.
With this final rebuff all bets are off and Peppers bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) gets hurt in another mysterious blast.This snaps Stark back to his superhero mode and he calls for war with the new threat to humankind, Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an Asian looking anarchist, who by now is making global broadcasts about his intention to teach the world painful lessons. Aldrich has also harnessed a technology that can regenerate damaged human tissue and has cured himself.He is looking to commercialize his invention.The rest of the film continues to carry on the special effects feast with the Iron Man slugging it out with the evil Mandarin and Aldrich.Hell hath no fury like a scientist scorned.The director charms us in the middle act in a Spielberg kind of way by introducing the all American blond kid who helps Stark when he is down and out and gets a payback which will earn him a fortune on Ebay one day.
After the definitive cinematic death of Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, Hollywood seems to be taking a break from terrorists with long beards, in the recent Olympus has Fallen, Hollywood looks to North Korea for pure evil.Tragically real life seems to follow suit in Boston where at least outwardly the killers were white Caucasian men.Maybe next time around we will have a secret society of Russian oligarchs facing off with the Marvel crew.
While the novelty of the suit has worn off despite several reboots, Robert Downey Jr. is superb, this is still one of the most inspired casting calls in Hollywood Superhero history.Gwyneth Paltrow has just been named the most beautiful woman in the world by People magazine, much to the chagrin of feminists who hate her blond slender blue-eyed frame, delivers the goods as Iron Mans weak spot even though he neglects her for his workshop.She shakes off the damsel in distress image to emerge a worthy Mrs Iron Man. Guy Pierce is good as the evil Aldrich Killian but Ben Kingsley's Mandarin sets the screen on fire.His character neatly sidesteps the Fu Mancu stereotype and bears shades of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, in his worldview.
The first Iron Man film was supremely thrilling in combining special effects and a really original character brought to life by Downey.The second installment instead of building on the first went sideways, though not without its spectacular moments.The third installment which sees a change in the direction department with Shane Black replacing Jon Favreau, tries to go back to basics but the plot does not have the cohesion that the Iron Man 1 had.
This is far from a perfect film with more plot holes than there are chinks in the Iron Man's steel suit but a very entertaining and polished product.Its major weaknesses is the length, a full 131 minutes may be bang for the buck or a slight drag depending on whether you are a Marvel comics fanboy or a regular moviegoer. Made on a jumbo budget of USD 200 million, IM3 is worth your time and money for all the fireworks on display, nearly eclipsed by Downey and Ben Kingsley, at their sparkling best.
#Iron Man 3 seems to be a test case for Hollywood in China as it goes head to head with a small budget Chinese drama.The Chinese seem to be tired of the Hollywood pyrotechnics which is good news for all of us!
Io e te (2012)
The master is in great form and a mellow temperament !
Lorenzo(Jacopo Olmo Antinori) is just another teenager growing up in Rome but his mother does not think so.Like any modern teens he has issues, some of which stem from the fact that its his fathers second marriage. Lorenzo is seeing a shrink, looks like a man boy with a wispy stubble, piercing blue eyes and an unruly mop of curly hair.When he agrees to go on a school skiing trip his mother is ecstatic that he is becoming somewhat social.They go to a restaurant for a farewell meal and Lorenzo wonders aloud if the people think they are a couple since his mother looks quite young.Then he pops a hypothetical question- what if all of humanity were destroyed by a deadly virus and only he and his mother remained on the planet, could they consider making babies to keep mankind from becoming extinct? Well, Lorenzo is that kind of a guy and Bernardo Bertolucci is that kind of a director.
Me and You is the new film from this iconic and iconoclastic director.This is a small and intimate film where most of the action takes place in the basement of Lorezoes home, he decides to skip the skiing trip and hole up alone in the basement for some quality me time.He answers his moms calls and gives her updates from an imaginary ski resort.Soon he is joined by his step sister Olivia(Tea Falco) who is older and has bigger problems than him.She appears out of nowhere, realizes she has nowhere to go, and decides to stay in the basement with Lorenzo, much to his annoyance.Olivia is a talented visual artist gone haywire on drugs, she tries to cold turkey in his basement and meets her much older man friends.These two confront each other with hostility, get used to each other and become siblings in a sense.She even pretends to be his math teacher in a memorable impersonation.Since this is a Bertolucci film there is always electric sexual tension in the air and the possibility of incest. If you have seen his very controversial The Dreamers(2003), you know what I mean, but here he retreats to more innocent ground.
It's almost as if the basement is a vessel from which the gawky Lorenzo emerges transformed into a beautiful butterfly.The last shot will of course remind of Truffaut's 1959 classic The 400 Blows, but while that freeze frame was famously open and somewhat pessimistic, Me and You ends on a cheerful life affirming note. How does Bertolucci know so much about youth?Lorenzo is not an Internet junkie, he is more interested in music and observing ants.Thats pretty old fashioned one might think but in Olivia he gives us a character that is more 21st century (an already passé terminology), and her angst seems more a product of the unlimited freedom that young people enjoy and become victim of.
Bartolucci has made films like Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor and his ambitions have almost always been matched by his ability to capture the political spirit of the times.In The Dreamers, his sexuality and nudity drenched youth saga in the student revolution of Paris in 1968, he staged a scene near the Cinematheque Francais, capturing the protest over the ouster of its legendary founder Henri Langlois.But in Me and You, the politics is in the background and the basic humanity of two good young people struggling with life in the foreground.
By the end of the film we care for both Lorenzo and Olivia and they care for each other.These actors are wonderful, they are so convincing in their roles and are cast so perfectly that there is never a false note in this nearly two hour film about two people in a basement.Yes, perhaps the viewing is made better with this icons name stamped on the film, but had this been made by a young director he would surely have been commended for knowing the pulse of youth in modern day Italy. Bertolucci is 73 years old now and this is his first film in 10 years. The metamorphosis of Lorenzo and Bertolucci's mellowing make Me and You an act of reconciliation. The master is making his peace with the world.
A huge disappointment
I guess i was plain unlucky..this is my first Bela Tarr film and I found it virtually unmatchable .But I am not deterred and look fwd to watching his other later work.This film was an exercise in dullness at least for a non hungarian non European like me.The film has not aged well at all and his methods of shooting only extreme closeups was pretty headache inducing.Think Tarr was both lucky and talented to have found backers after this.The story of Angreas who is a musician and his dysfunctional life of playing the violin, working as a nurse and marrying a girl to get dumped by her in a difficult social environment could have been quite interesting but Tarr chooses to make it difficult for us. I was prepared for lack of story but not for a lack of interesting visuals.
Side Effects (2013)
Soderbergh's Swan Song!!
Side Effects revolves around the life of Emily (Rooney Mara) whose husband Martin (the bodalicious Channing Tatum) plucked her from behind a Manhattan bar and got her addicted to the high life of a Wall Street whiz kid.Then one fine day her world crumbled and Martin landed up in jail for insider trading and Emily on the couch of a shrink (Catherine Zeta Jones as Dr. Victoria Siebert) fighting a depression that felt like poisonous clouds rolling in. We meet her as a complete wreck when Martin comes out of jail and as he tries to piece his life back together, he finds Emily falling apart even more, she is now suicidal.Enter a smart suave Manhattan high street shrink. Dr Jonathan Banks(Jude Law) is far too ambitious for his own good.He tries to help Emily but finds himself in the eye of a storm when things don't go according to script.
Side Effects is deliciously bipolar, it morphs into a completely different film at the midway mark.Mr Soderbergh has a chameleon like ability to transform himself from art house auteur to blockbuster helmsman and here he stays within the idiom of a commercial film and yet changes his tone dramatically.He films his central characters intimately and in their transformation we understand how complex the human mind is and how manipulative can be our treatment of mental illness, of which we understand mighty little.I recently saw a TED talk where an expert described anti depressants as pouring a can of engine oil on the engine block when the car needs oil change.Some of it does finds it way to the right place in the brain but ultimately an understanding of depression as mere chemical imbalance in the brain is deeply flawed.
We see Dr. Banks slip a pill into the hands of his wife before a crucial job interview. He mouths lines like "Depression is the inability to imagine your future". In Contagion Mr Soderbergh gave us a world fighting with a deadly virus, this time he places the malady in the deepest recesses of our brain.He shows us a pervasive pill popping culture and then swiftly turns the tables on us, lest we lull ourselves into believing that we are in control of our faculties.
There are some elements of the plot that do feel stretched but these do not detract from the fun.Rooney Mara is superb, here she is photographed a lot in closeups which makes her face even more interesting.Jude Law is fully challenged in playing Dr Banks and walks the tightrope well. Mr.Soderbergh may be falling in love with Channing Tatum a little, he had cast him last year in Magic Mike where he played a male stripper.Tatum as male stripper was an eventuality but that it happened in a Steven Soderbergh film is interesting. As Martin he is slightly miscast, for an insider trading jock he looks brawny, lifeless and somewhat stupid.Zeta Jones is another Soderbergh regular, here her severe look somewhat trumps her performance.
Mr. Soderbergh has said he may be retiring and Side Effects my be his last theatrical release.He has finished a TV movie Behind the Candelabra which premieres on HBO sometime this year.He burst onto the filmmaking scene with his Sex, Lies and Videotape becoming the instant poster boy for American indies.He continued to work as an art house auteur for a few years before changing track with Out of Time.He has directed the wildly successful franchise of Oceans 11,12 and 13 and won Oscar for Traffic, one of my favorite films.But in the process he has not sold out to the blockbusters making small intimate films on digital like Bubbles and ambitious marathons like the two part Che.He even had the audacity to reinterpret Tarkovskiy's landmark Solyaris with a fair measure of success. His decision to quit directing and pursue painting and theatre reflect his restlessness and abundant artistic energy, not to speak of a complete lack of insecurity.He does not like to take "possessory credits" so there are no "A Steven Soderbergh film"s out there despite the fact that he does so much in a film including editing and cinematography, crediting himself under pseudonyms.
As a movie lover one can only wish him well and secretly wish for him to come out of retirement and give us some more.
Published on my site mostlycinema.com
Promised Land (2012)
Much more than an environment film!
Its easy to see Promised Land just as the trailers promise.Namely as a film about the environmental hazards of drilling for natural gas using a process called fracking ( hydraulic fracturing), that is not as harmless as its made out to be, and placing this neatly in a decaying small town in the agricultural heartland of America. Promised Land works at that level too, but more importantly it is the study of its protagonist Steve Butler, played by Matt Damon.Matt Damon and his co writers John Krasinski and Dave Eggers, have written a role which is ostensibly a corporate salesman for big oil but could easily have been a Wall Street trader coming to terms with the troubling reality of the financial world.
Steve Butler is the study of a man seriously out of depth, he is doing a job that he thought he was good at, but suddenly his modus operandi seems childish and outdated.Matt Damon does not reveal his moral core throughout, he continues to wear the amour of his flannel shirts, that he buys to blend in, before he gets to the job of converting the townspeople to sell out their future.Perhaps he has risen to his level of incompetence, a classic example of the Peter Principle.But in the hands of Gus Van Sant its not just about professionalism.He befriends a charming single woman in a bar, in a town like this its a miracle she exists.He turns his charm on her just like he does with his audience. His favorite trick is walking upto the front yard of a house and asking the kid who may be playing there,"Are you the owner of this place?'When the confused kid says, "No", he asks,"Then how come you are doing all the hard work?".That's a slam dunk.
But Steve this time has competition, a man more handsome, more charming and apparently smarter arrives out of nowhere, with a bunch of damning photographs which graphically illustrate the nightmare that the residents are about to wreck on themselves.He not only steals the town but also the girl.How Steve will deal with this double whammy is the neat resolution of the film.The resolution exists because filmmaking is a costly enterprise, but as we learn through the course of this film, reality is far more complicated than that.
He has a partner, Sue, played by Frances McDormand, who is the perfect choice for this role.She is tough and business-like and we see her cringe more than once as Steve turns into a bigger and bigger wreck.She is a travelling hockey mom, her sons baseball game is her only silver lining.She manages to remain sane because of this emotional anchor which Steve does not have.The reality of the environment debate is complicated and it needs a scientist to decode, played here by Hal Holbrook, who is able to do a more comprehensive job of using Google to figure it all out.And yet as he and Steve concur,ultimately its all about our consumption pattern that we are not willing to discuss, let alone change.The sad eyes of Halbrook see no hope, only sparks of revolt, which he provides with his research to the residents.
We start off in Promised Land by looking at Jason Bourne and then forget all about him.Perhaps this is part of what Damon was aiming for, to become an actor again rather than a one man action movie franchise.He succeeds to a very large extent.Francis McDormand is surely an American national treasure and her performance here is reason enough to see this film.The cinematography is deliberately fuzzy but maybe the goal is to make a pretty landscape look ugly and grainy, photographing the lush landscape and its wonderful actors in sharp focus would have made it a pretty picture, detracting from its weary tone.
The oeuvre of Gus Van Sant is full of pieces that study the American landscape from an intimate leftwing lens.From Milk which looked at a gay rights activist to Elephant, which quietly observed the Columbine shootings with a docudrama approach, his films try to decode the American ethos. Along the way he makes brave choices like reshooting Psycho shot by shot, a decision for which he has been much vilified, but his reasons for doing so as a serious director were commendable.Cinema is better off with experiments like those, never mind if they fail, or don't make people happy.
Promised Land remarkably reminds one of Peter Bagdanovich's classic 1971 film The Last Picture Show in its study of the collapse of the American dream.That film perhaps sets the stage for this one, all the young people have gone away to the city and those that remain must make frightening life choices.Its easy to see the poverty struck town as a microcosm of America and the title as a commentary on the shattered "Great American Dream" (surprisingly not trademarked yet).Mr Van Sant delivers a richly textures film that neatly sidesteps the environment question and places individual choices at its centre.
Published on my blog mostlycinema.com
The Gatekeepers (2012)
Riveting and Enlightening
The Gatekeepers is an Oscar nominated and much awarded documentary that brings together six former heads of Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon,Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin for a free ranging discussion. Shin Bet, better known as Shabak, is responsible for internal security of Israel and its head is one of the top decision makers in the government on security matters.Only he is known to the public by name and the rest of its members are nameless faceless men and women.This documentary is inspired by Fog of War featuring Robert MacNamara, talking about his insights as US Secretary of Defense.
I never thought that I would be captivated by six Israelis talking in Hebrew for 2 hours but all these six men talk with a candidness that is startling and completely engrossing.They sat at the decision making tables to which few journalists have access and knew how a continuous chain of Prime Ministers made the most difficult of decisions.They come across as hardened men whose sometimes brutal jobs gave them insights into the Palestinian problem that few have.For a layperson this documentary is an invaluable tool to gain an insight into the geopolitics of the Middle East and furthermore as a prism to look at the larger interconnected global picture.
In one remarkable segment Amy Ayalon recounts how the psychology of suicide bombers was laid bare to him in a meeting with a Palestinian delegation in Paris.He was told the Palestinians were finally winning when in fact the Israelis were completely crushing them.He was told the more we suffer the more you will loose.It is a philosophy that makes the looser the winner by placing the burden of the losers suffering on the conscience of the winner. Suicide bombings of the 9/11 type only push bigger powers into a corner by making them react in a disproportionate manner, ultimately causing grief to themselves as we have seen in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
This documentary is a very apt companion piece to Zero Dark Thirty which was a remarkable film with documentary elements and this one is a documentary with dramatic elements, the most striking being its editing to string out a story for the layperson from free flowing discussion with security agency bosses.In its own way this documentary also examines the role of bureaucrats and technocrats in the shaping of world events a case in point being the Radcliffe line which divides India and Pakistan. It was drawn by a bureaucrat with little local knowledge and announced after 15th August,1947 to avoid a carnage, which happened anyway.
This is also a commentary on democracy in an obtuse way, the varied actions of the different democratically elected Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Netanyahu, all represent the will of the people only to an extent.The current government led by Netanyahu has been elected not on a Palestine denominated plank but an economic one. It also introduces us to the men who are the Jewish counterparts of Islamic fundamentalists, they too have long beards and wear skull caps under which hang coiffured religio-chic locks of hair.Now does the US immigration folks separate them for random checks?Probably not.
Dror Moreh, the director. Another interesting thing is that while all of them had differing notions about their job while they were at it they seem to have converged onto the same point of view, namely the perusal of the two state solution combined with never ending dialogue and cessation of the settlement building activity that seems to have permanently deadlocked the peace process.
In a way The Gatekeepers also makes one think about the Kashmir problem which has nuclear powers on both sides yet are as unequal in their overall power as Israel and Palestine.Perhaps India's politicians are as much to blame as the Israelis for refusing to turn the consensus solution into reality, namely turning the LOC into the international boundary.The current generation of young Indians are completely unaware of the historical context of that problem and the legitimate concerns of the actual people involved. That one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, is something lost on most Indians, who only see Pakistan through the lens of propaganda.
The important question in this film is not the elusive political solution but the motivations behind the decision of these six men to face the camera.That Amy Ayalon became a minister in the government and a prominent left wing politician and persuaded the others to participate, must have played a role. So the whole film acquires a political taint, in the process becoming a voice of the Israeli left wing.This is a compromise I can live with.
As Obamas makes his maiden visit to Israel ( last time he skipped Israel while on his "apology tour"of the middle east) he has said, quite diplomatically, that he is more interested in listening to the parties than offering a solution. Perhaps as his inflight entertainment on Air Force One he could have benefited from watching The Gatekeepers.This film is not just for people who are stakeholders in the Middle East conflict, but an invaluable resource for everybody.But come to think of it we are all stakeholders in that centuries old conflict.
Published on my blog mostlycinema.com
Yi dai zong shi (2013)
Dazzling, stylish and worth waiting for!
What a beautiful film this is, there is not a single shot that does not ravish your senses.This is a Wong Kar Wai film about Ip Man, the almost mythical kung fu master who taught Bruce Lee for some time. Films on Ip Man have become a mini cottage industry but Wong Kar Wai looks at not just Ip but the culture that he grew up in and its stalwarts.Every once in a while a kung fu film breaks out of its confines of core Asian patronage and garners a worldwide fan following. Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yamou's The Hero became an international sensations,The Grandmaster should join that small list.
The Grandmaster has been in the making for more than 12 years and is Wong Kar Wai's labour of love.Here he collaborates with his favourite Tony Leung and castes him, rather improbably, as a kung fu master.The film looks at his early years till he set up his martial arts school in Hong Kong.We see him as a boy enrolling at a kung fu school in Foshan,China and become the last student of a legendary teacher. He gets his shot at fame when a famous grandmaster from north, Gong Yotian, who is retiring, comes south and wants to appoint a successor who will carry his tradition forward and integrate the north and south schools.The southerners choose Ip as their man but he must prove his mettle in front of the old master.They face off in an encounter that is all choreography and zero fighting.Ip man passes the acid test of being a man of ideas and not just skill.This is a wonderful scene which sets the tone that this will not be another action packed martial arts film.
Gong Er fights to honour her fathers name. The grandmasters daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi, in her last martial arts film!)has come with him and she has her own way of looking at things.She is hot blooded with a mind of her own and a unique penchant for interpreting her fathers words to drive her individuality.She challenges Ip to a dual and this sets up another amazing scene.They fight but it might as well be lovemaking.They float up in the air and circle each other like dancers more than fierce combatants.The memory of this dual will remain with them for a long time and Wong will show it to us again, this time with their noses brushing lightly.They part with great respect for each other.
Some of these scenes are staged in opulent gilded bordello's with elaborate opera performances. Ip's wife loves opera and he takes her to a bordello, and when Gong comes to meet her father and see his fight with Ip she asks him in wonder "Are you really going to take your daughter to a bordello?"He replies like the wise old master that he is.The winds of change in Chinese society were blowing long before the revolution.
The film follows the story of Gong and Ip as they go their separate ways. Both are challenged by life and face up to them in unique ways by digging into their roots of being disciplined kung fu students. Gong symbolizes female progress in a patriarchal society as well as the tragedy of eternal loss of knowledge because she vows never to teach her art after her father is betrayed by his protégée. This film was originally 4 hours long and Wong sacrifices a lot of detail to distill it into its current 130 mins length.As a result some strands of the narrative suffer, but each scene is so well constructed that we are willing to just soak in the atmosphere.
The master and his students, Bruce Lee was one of them. This is undoubtedly a new kind of martial arts film, that looks closely at the "art" part of martial art, something that has its roots in Confucius's way of ancient Chinese life. Wong is more interested in the roots of kung fu and its place in Chinese history, especially in the first half of the 20th century when China underwent an overwhelming political and social change.While Wong's characters yearn for each other he perhaps yearns for a Chinese way of life that has been lost in the relentless pursuit of economic prosperity. Xi Fei's great film Woman of the Scented Lake also captured this change in Chinese society by using an ambitious rural businesswoman as its lens.
The cinematography is sublime, each shot dazzles us with its perfection.The way Phillipe le Sourd photographs portraits is interesting, using very shallow focus with most of the screen dark.This builds a special intimacy with the characters and serves as a window into their noble souls.The background music is another Wong trademark and in this film too it amplifies and underscores the action with great sophistication. Shigeru Umebayashi is in good form here but he does not have the opportunities of In the Mood for Love kind of grandstanding.The Grandmaster is a film for every lover of cinema, not just for martial arts aficionados, and its a great way to discover the work of a Grandmaster of cinema who inspired the likes of Tarantino.Every artist is also a philosopher and so are Wong and Ip Man.
Warm Bodies (2013)
Subverting the genre ?Not quite..
Its summertime in America, OK not really, since large swathes of the country are still blanketed under snow, but for Hollywood its about blockbuster time.Its that time of the year when America must suffer another apocalypse, which of course means there must be a CGI-ed post apocalyptic America to gawk at, which gives the studios a raison d'être by offering us yet another spin on how America may bounce back again from the dead.The makers of this film take this notion very seriously indeed and they give us a Zombie romance where the undead become the unloved, as a tiny zombie shuffle towards redemption.
I saw a Twilight film once, (yes yes, I know), and to be honest, thought it was a perfectly entertaining film. And I totally understood the hysteria surrounding Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.While watching Warm Bodies I was completely fooled into believing I was watching Ms Stewart when it fact it was Ms Teresa Palmer, her clone.Now thats a cheap trick but then who cares.Warm Bodies is another riff on the Zombie genre and tries to be cash in on the current craze for paranormal romance, just the way Beautiful Creatures recently did.I walked out of that affront of a film but this one was a little more tolerable.
We start at square one, there has been a deadly epidemic and most Americans have turned Zombies, but this time there is a class divide, some are badder, the "bonies",erstwhile zombies, who against their better(ahem..) judgement have peeled away their unnecessary layers of skin and flesh to become lean mean killing machines.Now if you were a zombie, shuffling along slowly, seems a terrible handicap when hunting fitter humans for food, but zombies cant think, can they? Except to sniff out human flesh, and lunge for it? We will let this pass since this is a zombie film, remember? We see a zombie in a red hoodie who can't recall much about himself except the first alphabet of his name, R (Robert Pattinson maybe?). He has delusions of grandeur, he feels he has a heart and is capable of human emotions like befriending a fellow zombie.In this mix arrives Julie( lookalike alert!) and R eats her boyfriends brains, ingests his memories in the process, which will help him hook Julie.
Julies father is Grigio (John Malkowitch) who is the leader of the last surviving group of humans, armed to the hilt , he has the whole arsenal of NRAs(whose members must have turned zombie too) legacy at his disposal, so he cant complain, and is determined to blow every zombie brain off, that he can find.That will undoubtedly pose serious problems for Julie and R when they do fall in love.What Malkotcih is doing in this film beats me, making pocket money maybe, but undoubtedly his presence is likely to sell quite a few tickets but loose him a few fans in the process.
The makeup guys get the transition of the zombies to human just right, and so do the actors. Nicholas Hoult nearly pulls of a badly written role with his disciplined performance, the same cannot be said of Mr Malkowitch and Ms Palmer.Jonathan Levine has made a mixed bag of films which showcase his ambition but unfortunately he seems more preoccupied with become a saleable director than a good one. Warm Bodies tries to subvert the genre of zombie movies but in the process produces a film bereft of the charm required of a rom-com. The scenes between R and Julie have no chemistry and the sequences which set up their romance just do not add up to the imagination bending premise of a hot babe falling for a zombie who just killed her boyfriend. The scene where Julie reunites with her father is so devoid of emotion that it should alert us the director does not have his heart in the right place, unlike the zombies whose hearts are beginning to beat again.
Jonathan Levine, the director is certainly not dead, just hope he gets warmer.
Special Chabbis (2013)
A breath of fresh air from bollywood!
India should be bursting with original stories.But Bollywood remains wedded to the big fat wedding formula and its hackneyed variations.Of late, there is a tendency to present the same stories in new settings, using one of the many accents of Hindi, to add color to the dialogues.Such films tap into the need to hear and see "authentic" local characters going about the same business of giving us a typical Bollywood musical or gangster saga.That mob flicks are also musicals is a giant folly, a case in point the highly stylized Gangs of Wasseypore, which had excellent songs but they ideally belong outside the film,as a part of its marketing ecosystem.
Special 26 is directed by Neeraj Pandey who made the audience favorite A Wednesday. This time he makes a heist film based on the urban legend of fake CBI men raiding and walking away with black money in the mid 80's.Its a great idea, we need our own Oceans 11 and since India has a jumbo population he gives us Special 26, the more the merrier! In fact one of the characters PK Sharma (Anupam Kher) has a huge battalion of children, he tells the mastermind Ajay Singh(Akshay Kumar), that there was no TV in his time, a lame excuse to make babies for fun.And the condoms called Nirodh distributed by the government were melted down to make flip-flop's in a scam!
Pandey gets the India of the 80's right, down to the street scenes strewn with Maruti 800s and Premier Padmini's. When he briefly shifts the action to Kolkata he must have sighed with relief, not much has changed there.The movie begins with stock footage of a Republic Day parade, Rajiv Gandhi accompanied by a portly Giani Jail Singh and Narasimha Rao in white shoes. How I enjoyed those white shoes.In this wimpy political climate we see PK Sharma and Ajay Singh raid the bungalow of a minister, posing as CBI officers.They have two other accomplices and a few real police officers to lend credibility. The raid looks authentic, this was a good way for CBI and Income Tax officials to make money back then.My memory of a raid on my family came alive, but between us dear reader, we proved to be a waste of time for the IT guys.(Back then IT meant income tax)
PK Gupta is getting old and wants to retire.Like all good scamster's they want to melt away into the Dubai sunset with one final big job.Ajay too is tempted, lady love is teasing him in the form of Kajal Aggarwal.He is getting old too and wants some action, PK Guptaji has already produced a cricket team, and his bio clock is ticking.Meanwhile the cops who inadvertently assisted them in their raid on the minister are in trouble and Jimmy Sheirgil ,the inspector, wants to clear his name.He joins forces with CBI hotshot Waseem Khan played by Manoj Bajpai to track the gang down. Waseen Khan is brilliant and energetic.Watch him chase down a bad guy on his Lambretta.
Ajay thinks up a big one, a huge jewelry store in Mumbai. But wait a minute, why should the owner hand over all his ornaments just because a CBI team is raiding him.This is the exact reason why Tribhovandas Jewelers deny to this day that they were the victims of a heist.Films involve suspension of disbelief and we should happily do so here, the rewards are quite refreshing. Does this faux docudrama morph into a genuine heist film? I will leave it up to you to find out.
Special 26 loses pace occasionally due to the love angle and the songs which are its love children.There are a few genuine laughs here and the cast delivers a rock solid performances. The back stories of some of the other players should have been explored further as well as the genesis of this gang.How they find a target would have made for a wonderful subplot but sadly that strand is not explored here.Doing all that would mean sacrificing the holy songs.
The color palette of film, costumes, set design and background score all add up to a very well crafted film. The locations are atmospheric, no credit to the line producers of Kolkata though.There is a wonderful scene staged in front of a small Indian Airlines plane.Ajay and PK talk, people think he is a govt. big shot.There used to be this Vayudoot airlines run as a subsidiary of Indian Airlines,serving remote parts of the country, mostly to ferry government officials while the losses were absorbed by the Civil Aviation Ministry.To pull out one of those little planes is a masterstroke.And oh the golden age of Beetel land phones(manufactured by Sunil Mittal of Airtel), a single cellphone and the plot would collapse like a pack of cards.
Small and effective heist films have become international classics like the good old French Rififi(1955) which had a nail-biting 20 minute silent safe cracking sequence and the Argentinian film Nine Queens(2000) which has been remade many times.Special 26 is a very good film, and delivers an authentic 80's feel with an engaging plot. A fundamental rule of cinema is three good scenes, no bad scenes.Neeraj Pandey delivers more than three good scenes, several, in fact. Its 2 hours very well spent, the rest 30 minutes you can fiddle with your smart phone, take a leak, buy popcorn. Neeraj Pandey is one of our smartest directors and is improving with every film.Thats really exciting.
A stylish chamber piece .
This is a year when Hollywood goes shopping to South Korea.PSY's Ganganam Style is already an edifice of global pop culture and 2013 is the year when the top three Korean directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ji-woon make their Hollywood debut.Stoker is a sinister and a very stylish chamber piece from Park Chan-wook, bordering on the designer.The cast of characters is very small, just three lead characters who spend the whole film circling each other in a beautiful mansion decorated with a minimalist fastidiousness.Each shot is so carefully framed, you can imagine the exhaustion of the body doubles of the stars helping the camera department compose the shots to perfection.This is easily one of the more anticipated films of the year as it marks the English language debut of the man who made the Korean cult vengeance flick, Oldboy( currently ranked 84th on IMDb Top 250).
Stoker looks at a very rich family living in an unnamed American small town, where they are well known enough and hated enough for the 18 year old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), to be the butt of rude variation of her surname.Her father Richard, has just died on her 18th birthday, in a mysterious car accident, and she has withdrawn into a shell.Her mother Evelyn(Nichole Kidman), who felt shut of the lives of the hunting obsessed father daughter duo, is looking to kick start her love life again.On cue arrives Charles( Matthew Goode) the long lost adventurer and explorer younger brother of Richard. We first see him at the funeral, standing at a distance, silhouetted like a Hitchcockian figure.We know clearly that that man will not be good for the young India.
As the film progresses we see disturbing signs, Evelyn and Charles getting uncomfortably cosy,Charles being eerily sweet and accommodating to India, a housekeeper disappearing and an old Aunt who turns up to have a heart to heart with Evelyn, being thwarted.During the first 15 minutes of the film I was acutely aware of this being a motion picture, the camera was not unobtrusive but rather like the guiding hand of a confident director who knows his reputation supports his grandstanding.As the film progresses we get used to this very sexy slinky style and start getting involved with the characters.The plot treads timeworn material but the treatment is Mr Parks own.He gives us a shower scene that is chilling and disturbing and Charles quickly confirms our worst fears about him.What is interesting is his manner of doing what is expected of him.There is not a warm moment in the film.
While Goode is definitely a find, as much as an established actor can be found, and Ms Wasikowska is a young lady whose internal mechanics remain mostly impenetrable, it is Nichole Kidman, who is the real casting coup.As the very rich, bored and stilted Evelyn, she looks the part.The efforts of Ms Kidman to remain frozen in time, by the help of whatever cutting edge cosmetic science she has harnessed, translate on the screen into a designer soullessness that adds to the chilly remoteness of the film.
Stoker dwells quite a bit on the hunting rituals of India and her father and the consequences will no doubt add a tiny new dimension to the gun debate in USA where hunting is the holy cow that even Barrack Obama finds obligatory to endorse, by releasing pictures of himself with a smoking gun, aviators in place.It also creates a setting completely cut off from the rest of the dirty messy world and gives us characters who exist in a moral vacuum that drives them to commit ultraviolet acts without the least fear of consequences.
The cinematography is dazzling and the undoubted highlight of the film. Stoker contains some astonishing images which have been meticulously created, worthy of hanging on the wall as high art.Stoker is edited tightly and has some engaging cuts.The sound design, costumes and production design are impeccable and raise the craft of this film to a new level.The interiors of the mansion where the film is shot, is dressed with extraordinary attention to detail.This is the finesse I had expected from a recent film called Beautiful Creatures but in complete contrast to the title, the film tried to be cinematically ugly, driving me out of the theater midway through its mess.
This film takes off on the premise of "Shadow of Doubt" by Hitchcock and Mr Park says in a recent New York Times interview that he tries to bend the conventions of a genre and subvert the genre in the process.Here he makes a new kind of horror thriller.Surely fans of Oldboy had higher expectation of Stoker but Mr Park is content to pour old wine in a new designer bottle lovingly crafted by him.The product is smooth and indulgent and the arrival of Mr Park in Hollywood is good news for the fanboys.
The Croods (2013)
Missing story alert!
The Croods is a big budget animated film with an interesting premise in search of a story.It gives us a sequence after sequence of a cave-dweller family coming to terms with a a very fast changing world that challenges any notions of mortality that we may have about our homo- sapien forefathers.But then its an animated film and death proofness shall not be held against them. Heck! its not the case for any Die Hard film, so a bunch of animated characters have all the right to survive rough landings from zillion foot high cliffs.And since the primary audience for this latest Dreamwork's " product" is likely to be children accompanied by guilt ridden parents it can be safely assumed that all the cute slapstick action will hit home with its core tiny- tot audience.
As the cave painting inspired credits roll we are introduced via voice-over to the The Crood family led by a brawny father named Grug, who guards his flock with a fierce adherence to the laws of survival he has learned the hard way.It involves as less interaction with the outside world as possible, which means spending much time in a claustrophobic cave and killing all notions of curiosity, which killed not just the cat but most of his brethren. This goes against the nature of his vivacious daughter Eep who craves to see what lies outside the cave.The premise is as old as the hills and the Neanderthal man.Soon enough her wishes are answered and they find themselves catapulted into a world very different from the one they knew and they must survive and make up new rules along the way.As it turns out the only new rule they need, is that there are no rules, and they must use a part of the body they haven't paid much attention to thus far – namely the brain.Grug says he doesn't need brains and flexes his muscles to illustrate his hair brained point.
His foil in the new psychedelic, dangerous and seductively beautiful world is Guy, who is a young chap with the gumption of Tom Sawyyer and Huck Finn rolled into one, the type that young girls that cant help but fall in love with.Guy and his success in saving their fur covered behinds on countless occasions makes Grug jealous and insecure as the gang stumbles from one deadly animal attack to another.They will discover fire, grey matter and importantly shoes in the process.The cry of ecstasy that Eep lets out when she first wears a pair of boots tells us that in the very distant future a certain Mr Jimmy Choo will become a billionaire and male-kind's nemesis.The Croods examines its characters with the same nonchalance that Grug makes drawings on caves to illustrate his "put you head in a hole in the ground theories" and undoubtedly his doodles will not make art loves swoon like they do over the Bulls in the Altamira caves in Spain.The film limits itself to following the escapades of grumpy father, cutie pie daughter and cocky wise Guy at the expanse of the rest of the family and creates only unpredictable nature as the adversary.
The Croods is full of slapstick comedy and has none of the dialogues and word play that will amuse the accompanying adults.It has no story and little character development, not to speak of a background score that could have lifted the film up, when it threatens to sag under the weight of its animation showiness.Small children will love its a gag a minute format but older children, I suspect, will see through its severe limitations.The film has a star cast of big names doing voiceovers but I found none of the distinctiveness of Nicholas Cage in the voice of Grug. The animators do a competent job and the 3D effects are half decent in some sequences which makes the film intermittently bearable.
Built into this film is the somewhat tenuous message that not listening to parents can be rewarding and that parents tend to be somewhat behind the curve.While a sense of adventure and inventiveness is a invaluable lesson children need to learn, this film delivers it in a way that very young children can easily misconstrue.Ultimately from the perspective of a 5 year olds father, kids can watch Tom and Jerry at home on Cartoon Network and the economics of visiting the multiplex for The Croods just does not work out, if you build in the cost of the popcorn and soda and over three hours of time. I walked out feeling suckered by the marketing wizards behind The Croods. The characters here are sometimes cute but the film itself is mostly crude. Be selfish, let your kids sit this one out.
Published on my blog mostlycinema.com
The Sessions (2012)
Hot Hot Hot, if you know what I mean!!
Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) is completely paralyzed, his body was afflicted by severe polio at a young age and he lives inside an iron lung that helps him breathe.However, he retains all his five senses, and has a sixth one too. His face is very mobile and so is his penis.He was born and raised a Catholic and goes to church regularly.He has a picture of the Virgin Mary on his wall staring down at him and another postcard of her stuck to his metallic home.He is a poet and a college graduate.We see the video of his college graduation ceremony, he wheels himself in on an automated gurney to a standing ovation, an event covered by the local cable news.He is a small time celebrity with a big erection.
That's the basic set up of this true story about a severely disabled man's quest to find sexual fulfilment. He falls in love with his nurse,Amanda, after firing one that he does not like.This one is beautiful, sensitive and funny.Amanda cares for him tenderly and laughs at his jokes.One day he tells her that he loves her.She is shocked, perhaps to be confronted by the knowledge that she loves him too, but having a relationship with a guy like him will be a burden too much to bear.She leaves.Mark is frustrated.He tells his pastor, Father Brendan that he wants to have sex.William H Macy, with a mane of flowing hair and darting blue eyes is not the average priest. He knows Mark is special and treats him as such.He tells him to go for it (off the record,of course), even though fornication outside marriage is not exactly kosher.
Mark hires a sex surrogate on the advise of his sex therapist.She arrives.He thinks he knows the drill and before they start tells her the money is on the table. But oops, she is not a prostitute.She is a sex surrogate therapist, we will soon know the difference.Cheryl played by Helen Hunt is a professional.Its her job to set peoples sex life straight.Not by talking down to a body on a couch but by getting down and dirty.It must be a fascinating profession, or maybe its just another job.We see her making notes at home after each session.She has a family, a husband who adores her for what she does, he calls her a saint.She has a teenaged son too.Whether he knows what his mom does for a living we do not know, but I suspect he has been told.His parents are grown up people in a very special way.
A little note on sex surrogate therapists is in order here.They are professionals who are trained to work with people having difficulties in handling the physical aspects of sexuality. They work in conjugation with psychotherapists and it does involve sex along with teaching the patients a lot of things about their bodies.Its a profession in decline because of the stigma attached to it and for fear of HIV.
The key difference between a prostitute and a sex surrogate as Cheryl explains to Mark is that there is a limit to the number of sessions that they can have while a prostitute will be happy to keep on servicing a satisfied client indefinitely, in exchange for money.What happens during these sessions between Mark and Cherly, I will not describe. Not that I am shy or anything, but why spoil the fun.I use the word fun judiciously, because its far too easy to get solemn about disabled people, and we tend to overdo the respect part, to their detriment.Suffice it to say that there is plenty of pain and plenty of emotions on this ride.The director Ben Lewin cross cuts the sex therapy session with confessions in the church and pulls the "Thou shall not fornicate" rug from under the feet of a good many holier than thou people.Mark tells his priest he wants to "know a woman in the Biblical sense".
Mark O'Brien at one point says he wants to have real sex because he wants to write about it.It will make a good story, because sex sells.If Ben Lewin made this film for the same reason, so be it.He tells a good story very well, supported by first class performances. The nudity in this film is strangely cold, but the warmth of emotions is genuine.The Sessions handles the issues surrounding sex, love and "sexual love" with a directness that is refreshing.There is not one shy character in this film.
Mark O'Brien must have been an amazing man, a poem he composes expressing his emotions is sublime and reason enough to watch this film.In his first confession he tells Father Brendan that while his caregivers are bathing him he gets erections and sometimes ejaculates. All he feels then is shame.This very shame has been dealt with in a searing film called Shame by Steve McQueen.In that film the protagonist was an alpha male, addicted to sex in a very unhealthy way,and all he felt at the end of every vigorous session was shame.
Mark overcomes his shame to experience joy within his broken body and that sets him free to even experience love.The Sessions takes a very unlikely story and tells it with a lot of compassion and humor, taking down religious dogma along the way.He gives us people who are deeply religious and recognize that if indeed God made the sexual apparatus we are born with, it must be to be for frequent use and not just to be pulled out of the cupboard to make babies.
Governments, acting under pressure from a liberal young electorate, are at war with religions, on matters of homosexuality and contraception. God-men are fast losing their grip on the bodies of their followers.Our minds must follow.
Watch The Sessions, its Hot! ( just like my red shoes..)
Published on my website mostlycinema.com
La graine et le mulet (2007)
Exhausting and exhilarating
So how much do diapers cost? And what will be the cost of diapers for say a 2 year period till a child gets potty trained? And do the diaper manufacturers not ill serve mothers by making them so dry and absorbent that the kids refuse to start appreciating the alternative?And yes they serve as great shock absorbers when kids take a tumble.Calculators are pulled out and the math is done, 7200 Euros for one year, it emerges, a small fortune for struggling immigrants. All this detailed discussion is just one tiny piece from this big film directed by the emerging French auteur Abdellatif Kechiche.
The discussion is happening at a Sunday family lunch in the home of a Tunisian immigrant family in a small port city in southern France.Everybody is there, the three daughters, their husbands,children,two brothers and the formidable mother who has prepared her signature dish, fish couscous, except for the father. In a world becoming stubbornly cosmopolitan and westernized the scene of the family eating the couscous noisily, messily and with great relish is heartening. We see the father a little later as his two sons arrive at his squalid hotel room to give him a take away portion.He eats this with a quiet satisfaction. Rym(Hafsia Herzi),who is the young vivacious daughter of the beautiful middle-aged owner of the hotel with whom the father Slimane(Habib Boufares ) is having a relationship, which perhaps divided his family, shares the meal.The film centers around the efforts of an old and out of work Slimane to convert a rusty decrepit boat into a speciality couscous restaurant.In his efforts he will receive extraordinary support from both his families and many friends.
At he heart of the moral dialogue in the film is the profound decency of Slimane, his doggedness, his complete understanding of the compromises involved in being a struggling immigrant and his steadfast adherence to his duty.He knows his limitations and makes his life useful to his family at an old age, in ways that they acknowledge, when the easy thing for them would have been to sideline him from their lives.His daughters adore him and rally around him in his hard times.They clearly have theirs hearts in the right place.We see his first wife walking quite a distance to give a plate of the couscous to a homeless man.It reminded me of the custom in many Indian homes to reserve the first chapatti (indian Bread) for a cow and the last one for stray dogs. As a kid I was terrified of this chore of taking the chapattis to the stray animals but looking back I see it as a custom which built in compassion for animals in our daily life.
The acting which is uniformly superb by the leads Habib Boufares and Hafsia Herzi, as well as the supporting cast, is a collage of neorealist, formalist and melodramatic elements. Rym played the sensational Hefsia Herzi is the real surprise in the film.Her devotion to her mothers old companion, whom she treats with love and respect, and the lengths to which both her character and Ms Herzi go, bring immense joy to the film.Perhaps its her love which provides Slimane with the strength to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant on a boat.
In the extraordinarily detailed final sequence we see a performance of very sensuous belly dancing by the nubile Rym, as she tries desperately to hold the attention of the irritated restaurant guests who are tired of waiting for the main dish of couscous.As she performs the musicians who are mostly old men who stay at her mothers hotel, play for her as they would for a professional. This is also an interesting take on how old men look at young women who are obviously sexually attractive, this scene provides a very civilized and dignified answer.
The film has many long and fully fleshed out scenes, all of which are spectacular in themselves but when they are strung together in a film of this length, it begins to wear us down a bit.The film is raw – in content , tone, texture, performances, dialogue,locations and its use of a fluid hand-held digital camera format.Inside its rawness it hides pleasures as wholesome and nutritious as the fish couscous that lends the film its title, but I am afraid this film will end up dividing the audiences into those who completely immerse themselves in its voluptuousness and those who wish for a more economical and smooth treatment of this fertile material.Surely the director is aware of the perils of his strategy of not holding back, of showing us exactly what he wants to, and this makes this a very brave film.
The film is set in Sete, a slightly rundown but beautiful port city in southern France, that I used to make business trips to. Watching this film brought back pleasant memories of the Mediterranean sea that provides a constant backdrop to the film.The sea is what both separates and links Europe and Africa, historically the oppressor and the oppressed.
Does Mr Kechiche want to convey this group of immigrants as being the representative samples of the North African immigrants? We do not know. But as an intimate case study it will serve as an important artistic marker in Frances struggle to come to terms with its colonial past and the needs of a modern French society, in a post 9/11 world, to banish symbols of conservative Islamic beliefs such as the headscarf.Cinema cannot offer solutions, just mirrors, and this film is a finely embellished one.
First published on my blog mostlycinema.com
Anhey gorhey da daan (2011)
A gem of Indian Art house Cinema
Gurvinder Singh's Punjab is unlike what we have ever seen.Its very far removed from the yellow mustard fields with farmers doing the Bhangra. The mustard fields do crop up here, but only as a reference to a few stalks of mustard which have been denied to an old woman who works the whole day in the rich landlords cotton farms.She is accused of ruining the farm and comes home angry and bitter.She tells her husband that in the old days they used to give some mustard stalks away to the poor and get blessed in return.But this film is not about de-glamorizing Punjab.
Gurvinder Singh makes a film based on a 1976 novel by Gurdial Singh but the story of a low- caste family forever condemned to a life of hardship and marginalization remains fresh even today.Punjab is that shiny state where the green revolution made ordinary farmers very rich and industrialists much richer.I clearly remember a geography class in school when our teacher told us a big secret,"The farmers in Punjab have TV's and refrigerators, some even have cars".In the mid eighties of India when such things were not even ubiquitous among the urban middle class this was a big revelation.This was confirmed in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge where we were treated to an agrarian utopia which was only disturbed by a benign form of male chauvinism.
Anhe Ghore Da Daan bears the stamp of Mani Kaul who along with Kumar Sahani tried to start a formalist approach to cinema against an overwhelmingly Bollywoodised backdrop and punctuated by the Indian new wave of which Satyajit Ray was the standard bearer.Mani Kaul's teacher was Ritwick Ghatak but Kaul decided to make films very unlike his beloved teachers.Instead he turned to the French master Robert Bresson for inspiration and made the path breaking Uski Roti(1970) which left the audiences angry and alienated with its stubborn refusal to tell a story, communicating entirely with its measured images and mood.
Melu Singh at a Dhaba which is nothing like the ones that people in luxury cars stop at for a taste of Punjab. As the film begins we see a house being demolished.It belongs to a low-caste landless farm worker.The land on which it stood had been tilled by him for decades but the landlord has now sold it to an industrialist.An old man who lives with his wife and two young children watches the tragedy with sad haunted eyes.His face speaks for the whole community which has nowhere to turn to.They form a group and go to the upper caste village headman house where they are reminded of their place in society. In fact they belong to the lower castes that have won reservation in government jobs.None of the characters here have produced civil servants.There appears to be a further class divide among them, ever harder to surmount. When we see him first, the face of this old man(Mal Singh) lying on a cot, his long white hair not yet tied into a neat turban,with a blank distant look, tells a story that does not need a narrative.
We meet his two sons, living in the city apparently away from this class divide. Melu(Samuel John Sabastien) on which the film centers is a rickshaw puller, his backbreaking work is numbing him.His two fellow rickshaw pullers point out the meaninglessness of his life, he does not drink while they find succor in a bottle of hooch.There is a sequence of great cinematic power at the end where that liquor also does not work and the dream of a better life is completely shattered.All this is suggested not with dialogue which is very sparse here, but with visuals that the director and cinematographer(Satya Rai Nagpaul) create.The actors belong to the Bressonian school which believes in performances where the last trace of acting has been drained out and all we see is a real person in a situation.
This film manages to convey a multitude of issues while quietly observing a mundane slice of everyday life in the lowest echelons of Punjab society.His method is to transport us to a place and a situation and give us the time and space to interact with that reality.Mr Singh does not rush us, does not give us any message.He makes a film that is more a philosophical mediation on the medium of cinematic art than a story.That the cruel realities of the partition, crony capitalism, unequal growth, substance abuse, hopelessness and the absurdity of a caste divide are evident, is proof that if we observe these characters closely we will come head to head with these grim realities.
The faces of these women tell the story of centuries of oppression. Punjab was the worst affected after partition along with Bengal and an entire generation had to rebuild their life from scratch.The land reform that were carried out produced its own set of winners and losers. Today Punjab is one of the richest Indian states but like the rest of India it contains myriad realities.I visited the Golden Temple a few years back and despite being an atheist was struck by how serene and pure the place felt. Anhe Ghore Da Daan reminded me once again that no matter how noble the intentions of the founder of any religion, the practitioners remain solidly human and their interpretation of the religion a matter of convenient logic.This film soars much above its fertile material and is a genuine human document set to the music of supreme art of cinema. Satvinder Singh is a brave new voice of Indian cinema.
#The film is available on DVD in India in the Cinemas Of India series produced by NFDC.
@ The title of the film refers to the age old custom of asking for alms in the name of a blind horse during a lunar eclipse by members of the lower castes in Punjab.
Published on my blog mostlycinema.com
The Master (2012)
Mind-bending in its own way!
Hitchcock was once asked who he made movies for. He thought carefully and answered,"The critics". The Master was also made perhaps for the critics and most definitely for the director himself.By all accounts, it's a difficult work, providing no instant gratification to the moviegoer through its formidable 144 minutes. Most good films get by if the viewer is able to feel it, here we have a lot of thinking to do, the ideas embedded here do not reveal themselves upon casual scrutiny.A film about the founder of a cultish faith overwhelmingly modeled after L. Ron Hubbard, the controversial and mercuric founder of the Church of Scientology, and his relationship with a damaged war veteran is asking for pyrotechnics.But this film resolutely refuses to give us any. At 42, Paul Thomas Anderson is perhaps the most promising American auteur around and his small but uniformly outstanding body of work has an almost Terrence Malikian poetry to it.This is his most challenging and intellectual work yet.
While the producers have taken great pains to distance themselves from Scientology and L.Ron Hubbard, the character of Lancaster Dodd and his "Cause" is clearly derived from Hubbard. Interestingly Anderson slices Hubbard into three parts, Dodd the charismatic thinker, his cold ambitious wife Peggy and the scarred Freddie.We see Dodd and Freddie engaged with each other at various levels, on the surface as teacher and disciple, master and slave, father and son, mad scientist and guinea pig and ultimately child and toy. In the final scene we see Freddie in bed with a woman he has picked up in a pub.He recycles Dodds compliments, calling her the bravest woman he has met.Life has come a full circle, and a shiny new religion is born. It will grow stronger with time as the self doubts of its founder are forgotten and his charisma grows.
This film is an attempt to locate the genesis of a cult or a bona fide "religion" in a moment in American history.In doing so it adopts a dispassionate tone towards the birth of a new belief system, how its conjured up, fed to its early adopters, then to a wider set of people till it takes on a life of its own.The Master by choosing not to completely debunk religion makes a case for our inherent yearning for a spiritual belief system.While we are yet to fully come to terms with Christianity, Islam and Judaism and reconcile their differences, the personal stories of their founders have had the edge taken off them.Seen in another way its an oblique commentary on present day America, the cult of scientology is an extension of the cult of capitalism.
The cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. uses the obscure 65mm format which delivers a kind of creepy intimacy with the lead characters, theirs faces come alive in an unreal way on the big screen.The filmmakers also used antique lenses to add an extra element of optical voodoo. Note the way the camera tracks Freddie as he is chased by farm hands after the liquor distilled by him kills a man.It follows him as he runs for his life in the dusty brown cabbage fields and slowly begins to diverge away from him, placing him alone and vulnerable, in a brown dusty field.The American landscape on-screen has a John Ford timelessness to it.
As you sit transfixed in The Master you keep asking what is the point of all this, certainly not to entertain. But this act of asking is perhaps the point.Or we can watch The Wizard of Oz over and over again, if all we want is to be innocently entertained.
The Master provides an important piece in the inter-linkages of the best films of 2012. While The Master looks at the birth of a religion that has the trappings of a dangerous cult, Zero Dark Thirty looks at what happens when a mainstream religion which must have appeared to be a cult once begins to get marginalized again.It throws up a character like Osama Bin Laden who is a distant cousin of L.Ron Hubbard.Then we also have Argo which is linked to these films in looking at a group of people caught up in the crossfire between the West and the madness of an Ayatollah while Silver Linings Playbook looks at the sweet relationship between two mentally ill people, a truly sick version of which we get in The Master.Django Unchained as a slavery revenge fantasy also seems to be a part of the same American history in which we have Lincoln, which traces the abolition of slavery by examining the realpolitik that Abe Lincoln had to resort to.Life of Pi is the most overtly secular of all films and perhaps its message of survival and spirituality binds all these films the tightest.Beasts of the Southern Wild delivers big on a budget as tiny as its 6 year old heroine!
This was a good year for the movies no doubt, mostlycinema.com started this year ..now now.. I am behaving like The Master!
Extracted and Abridged from my blog mostlycinema.com