Pages

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best Films of 2005

I am not one for making best of the year movie lists. One can't really compare different kinds of movies which cover different genres and cultures. For example, it is not feasible to pit a Brazilian road movie against a comic book Hollywood movie. Still one can have their subjective views. So here are my personal biased views for which movies I enjoyed best in this year.

Note: a lot of movies that I liked this year were officially released in 2004 but I didn't get a hold of them until this year (like Closer and Sideways). So I am not including them in this list...

1) Hollywood movies: in no particular order

Brokeback Mountain
Batman Begins
Sin City
Crash
The Constant Gardener
Good Night, and Good Luck
Syriana

I liked parts of Lord of War and The Interpreter but both these movies were a bit contrived and cliched.

2) Canadian movies:

The Dark Hours
Memories Affectives (English title, Looking for Alexander)

3) Indian and Bollywood movies:

Amu
Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara
Black
Socha Na Tha
Sehar
Parineeta (despite the flawed ending scene, the breaking of the wall)
Paheli
Bluffmaster
Matrabhoomi (I know this was a 2003 movie but it got released in North America this year).


4) Other Foreign movies:

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures
Yes
3-Iron
L'Enfant
Mountain Patrol (Kekexili)
Sepet
Turtles Can Fly
Cache
Head-On
The Beat that my Heart Skipped


If I had to pick just one film as my absolute favourite of 2005, then it would have to be the Brazilian film Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures.

End of the year for those song and dance movies

It was yet another dismal year regarding Bollywood movies. The quality seems to be getting worse and worse. The one thing which stood out most was that more and more directors are freely copying Hollywood (old and new) movies. And starting in 2006, directors will not only remake old Bollywood movies, they will copy Korean and Hong Kong movies as well. 2005 was another year when Amitabh Bachchan made appearances in no less than 10 movies. It seems without him the movie industry does struggle. When he finally leaves the movies, alas, there won't be anyone to truly replace him. It was refreshing to see Nana Patekar make a comeback in a few movies with some sizzling roles. Kay Kay Menon was a welcome addition to the film industry as well. So here's a quick recap of the last batch of movies seen this year, starting from the worst:

1) Shaadi #1 (zero direction given by David Dhawan): Rating 0/10


This really was a terrible movie. Pathetic acting, no direction, crap script and with the exception of one song (Aayeshi), the music and songs were awful.


2) Mr. Ya Ms. (confused direction by Antara Mali and Sachin Puranik): Rating 1/10


Argh! A completely unwatchable copy of the 1991 Ellen Barkin movie Switch . The stupid background music & sounds get very annoying and over the top after the first few minutes. Antara Mali does a valiant effort to copy Barkin's performance but this one comes off as a very poor B grade movie. Could have been much better but everything just seems substandard.


3) Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena (written and mis-directed by Suparn Verma): Rating 3/10


Confidence was not the best Hollywood movie. And a copy of that can't be expected to make waves. This movie could still have been saved with better acting and a half decent script. Ofcourse, it would help if the director told his actors to do more rather than stand around and drink + smoke while saying their lines.


4) Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh (directed by Chandan Arora): Rating 6/10


Despite the poor rating, this one is much better than the average fare. Ofcourse, the reason this movie is worthwhile is because of Rajpal Yadav's acting. He is the thread that holds this movie packed with substandard acting. The pacing is really bad as the movie stalls and refuses to ever get moving.


5) Garam Masala (directed by Priyadarshan): Rating 6.5/10


What saves this movie is Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal's acting. Otherwise, the movie suffers from over-acting by John Abraham and no acting from the newcomer actresses. If the first 30 minutes were clipped off, this movie would have been a wicked case study in males (as lab rats). Why is the main male bringing on agony upon himself by being engaged to 4 women? The other men observe him and start to lie accordingly. If another male was brought in the apartment, he too would have started lying. Oh Asrani and Rajpal Yadav are good too.


6) Home Delivery (directed by Sujoy Ghosh): Rating 7/10


For all its problems, this movie is a breath of fresh air. It is different and atleast tries to have something to say. There are some needless subplots and the pacing is quite tiresome in the second half but it was much better than the rest of the crap out there. The imagery of Vivek Oberoi's character stuck in a glass box perfectly conveys the male sentiment when it comes to marriages and family commitments.


7) Bluffmaster (directed by Rohan Sippy): Rating 8/10


Compared to the rest of the Bollywood crap, this one shines like a diamond. Ofcourse, it is copied from The Sting and has shades of The Game in its ending. Excellent acting by Nane Patekar, a wicked soundtrack and some snappy dialogues make this an enjoyable watch. And for a change, an entire Bollywood movie shot in Mumbai! Mumbai looks gorgeous and so does Priyanka Chopra. Better use could have been made of Boman Irani..

Friday, December 30, 2005

War and Formulas

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (written & directed by Je-gyu Kang): Rating 6.5/10


Running at 140 minutes, this one is an epic. Unfortunately, the length also ruins what could have been a really good movie. The movie starts off in the present when the remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War are uncovered. A case of mistaken identity leads into the flashback story of two brothers who fought in the Korean War. When the war broke out, the brothers tried to leave the village with their family. As the two brothers are temporarily separated in the confusion, the younger brother, Jin-Seok, is forcefully drafted. And when the elder brother, Jin-Tae, tries to get him back, he finds himself drafted against his wishes as well. Even though there was a rule that only one male per family would be drafted, both brothers find themselves in the trenches. Jin-Tae wants to protect his innocent younger brother (Jin-Seok) and tries to make a deal with his superiors – if he volunteers for the most dangerous missions, he wants the superiors to send Jin-Seok home. But as it turns out, Jin-Tae is a real strong character and becomes a decorated hero. Jin-Seok can’t recognize his brother anymore; he sees a peace loving person transformed into a greedy bloody thirsty man. Jin-Seok is unsure of Jin-Tae’s motives on taking on the risky missions – is it personal glory or brotherly concern? And just when it seems the war will be over, the brothers find themselves in another complicated mess where they have to make some difficult choices again. This last drawn out hour really takes the movie off its rails. If the entire question of switching loyalties with North /South was not introduced, the movie might have been much more compelling.

Formula 17 (directed by Yin-jung Chen): Rating 6/10


Boy 1 sees hot Boy 2. Boy 1 is told by his friends that Boy 2 is out of his league. But amazingly, stud Boy 2 develops a liking for innocent Boy 1. So Boy 1 and Boy 2 hook up. But Boy 2 has commitment issues and breaks if off. Boy 1 is heart broken. And after a lot of sugar and syrup ooze through this colorfully shot movie, Boy 1 and Boy 2 end up together after Boy 1’s friends do some work. The movie is cute and funny in parts but it is essentially a predictable lovey-dovey movie with only boys (as opposed to the usual boy-girl flicks).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Munich


Directed by Steven Spielberg: Rating – sliding scale



Oh my God, what a great movie! Another masterpiece! Blah Blah…whenever a Spielberg movies comes out, critics fall over themselves to sing praises. Some do find faults but others go over the moon. But this time around, Spielberg got a lot of flack for making this movie from people who had never seen the movie or will probably never see the movie. And just like the nonsense surrounding The Passion by Mel Gibson, all the criticism is unfounded. So what is this movie about? Is this movie made like the director truly would have wanted to make it? Or this movie compromised at every step?

1972 Munich Oympics. Palestinian armed gunmen storm the Olympics ground, kill 2 Israeli athletes and take 9 other hostages. Eventually, they end up killing the 9 hostages. The world is shocked. Israel decides to respond strongly. So it hires a secret group which goes out and kills all the people behind the Munich Killings. That is what history has recorded more or less. What about the real story?

Munich starts off with archive footage which adds some realism to the movie. Then the movie focuses on the Israeli response in recruiting people to go kill the men behind the Munich killing. From that point on, the movie moves from one killing to another, showing us how the response was planned, how the group joked and tried to balance their lives against the violence they were committing. But the movie humanizes the Palestinian men behind the Munich killings. This is what critics of the movie will hate. How can the movie care about the Palestinian people? They believe those people should have no voice. Well Spielberg gives them a voice, even throws in some intelligent debate about freedom and the need for having a home. In one scene, the movie tries to show the complicated threads involved in the killings and how there might be multiple parties involved. The hunters will eventually become the hunted. And the hunted might become the hunters again. The cycle continues. Fine and dandy then!

There are two sides for every story. There have to be! A movie about such an incident can’t get away by simply supporting one side and ignoring the other. With that in mind, Spielberg does try to give both sides a fair share but the problem is a lot of scenes feel forced and compromised. Sometimes, it seems the movie is a sugar coated layer on top of the real hatred that lurks beneath. How are a lot of people on both sides so calm and just lovey dovey? Critics I am sure will talk about the movie’s complexity and depth but the problems is I didn’t seen any of that. The movie is as straight forward as they come. In order to make a truly gritty movie which takes on the issues head-on might require a non-Hollywood person; it might require an outsider who is uncompromising in making the movie. I keep thinking of Battle of Algiers and how it was a brilliant gritty movie. I keep thinking of Spielberg’s first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and how raw those scenes were. But Munich seems flossed up. It does not have the documentary feel that Syriana did nor does it have the rawness of Battle of Algiers. But maybe that is understandable. It is a Hollywood movie with a lot at stake. The fact that Spielberg made this movie has probably got enough people mad at him. I just hope that one day someone makes this movie the way it is meant to be made – raw, gritty and uncompromising. On a positive note, the movie does not feel like a Spielberg movie. At no point does it overdose on sappy emotion, at no point does it tug at our heart and wants us to shed a tear. I am still not sure how to rate this movie? I would give it a 7/10, maybe a maximum of an 8 (maybe…). It is better seen as an action thriller than a political movie. It still feels like a multiplex film with few tweaks made to reach out and create some awareness in the audience. Schindler’s List was quite amazing. However, Munich is not on that same wavelength. Not even close. Also, since the topic of violence creates more violence is something that I have seen in endless Asian political movies, I was not as awed by those statements. Ofcourse, on the flip side, I can’t remember too many American movies trying to show two sides of an issue and even showing that violence might not be the answer (gasp!). So this might be a step forward from Hollywood’s perspective? Oh, the running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes is a bit too long though.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Easy Riders, Taxi Drivers, Kids, Adults, Network execs, Ballet Dancers, Butchers and Thugs

Tons of movies to go through this time around! A few of the selections came from two Peter Biskind books – Down and Dirty Pictures and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Down and Dirty Pictures outlines the backroom drama regarding American Independent movies and their struggles with Miramax. While Easy Riders.. talks about the revolution of cinema in the 1970’s. So here are a few quick notes then:

Easy Rider (1969 movie directed by Dennis Hopper): Rating 8.5/10


Two men get on their bikes and ride across the American landscape to the crazy world of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who leads them to a commune, run into trouble with narrow minded small town folk and try a cocktail of drugs. The movie is as laid back as the title suggests and is believed to have changed people’s way of making movies. It is an interesting viewing and any other ending than the one shown really would not have had such an impact.

Taxi Driver (1976 movie directed by Martin Scorsese): Rating 9.0/10


Robert De Niro is perfect as Travis Bickle, an ex-marine who takes up a job as a taxi driver because he can’t sleep at nights. We never get to see Bickle’s past horrors but as the movie progresses, we get a sense of his inner demons; his character is beautifully etched out and we can sense he is about to explode. Jodie Foster was only 13-14 when she acted as a hooker in this movie. Some of the camera angles and shots are quite extraordinary. No wonder this movie is considered one of the classics.

Kids (1995 movie directed by Larry Clark): Rating 8/10


Is this really a movie or a documentary? The dialogues and the kids used give the movie a sense of realism that wouldn’t have been achieved by professional actors. This is not a pleasant happy movie. At no time do things get better for any of the kids but only worse. The kids live in a world of sex, drugs, alcohol and really have no plans for a future. The main character, Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) goal is to deflower as many young girls as possible. He gives zero seconds of thought to his actions or consequences. Same goes for the other characters in the movie. There are powerful first time performances from Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny as well. I liked this movie much better than Larry Clark’s 2002 Ken Park.

Safe (1995 movie written and directed by Todd Haynes): Rating 9/10


How can one interpret this movie? As one that makes a statement or one that tries to make a satire out of the statement it shows? I believe that the movie does indeed contain a statement but it also shows the satirical side of things as a smaller subset. I don’t believe it is a plain satire or a straight forward one making just a statement. On one hand, Safe is a chilling movie about the degradation of our environment and the human soul/ body; and on the other side, the movie takes a satirical look at how some people try to exploit the environmental issues for their benefit. Julianne Moore plays Carol White, a simple housewife. Carol is quite busy as she has taken up a lot of interior house projects. One day, she gets slightly sick. Her husband is not amused nor takes efforts to understand her symptoms. Slowly, her health worsens while her doctor believes Carol is fine. The doctor attributes her bad health to Carol’s new fruit diet and stress. One day, Carol comes across an ad which talks about the exact symptoms that she is feeling. When she goes to see an allergist in the ad, she finds that there are other people who have the same problems as her. The symptoms are categorized as human reactions to the millions of chemicals polluting the environment. Eventually, Carol checks into a wellness camp which seeks to treat people like her. This is a well made and well acted movie with the smart camera shots showing Carol’s isolation and her plight perfectly. Are the chemicals we dispense in the environment harmful to humans? Ofcourse they are. Do we know which ones are the worst for us? Yes and No. Will we curb the dangers of these chemicals in time? Not until the companies manufacturing the chemicals take the environment risks seriously. Have some advancements being made since this movie came out? Yes.

Far from Heaven (2002 movie written and directed by Todd Haynes): Rating 9/10


Yet another well made movie from Haynes. He manages to weave together two touchy topics in one story – racism and homosexuality. Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank (Dennis Quaid) are a model American Family (with two lovely children) who are well respected in their community. But when Cathy catches her husband kissing another man, her world is shook up. In our fragile state, she finds consolation in her gardener (Raymond played by Dennis Haysbert). But her friendship with Raymond causes alienation for Cathy. This is 1950’s America after all. And even her husband turns his back on her. So what is a woman to do? Conform and put on a smile or defy the standards? It would have been easy to pick one option and run with it but the movie does try to show that all the three main characters are indeed sensible people who continuously try to rationalize and make a logical decision. The ending doesn’t really give us a firm conclusion but given the context of the movie, it is indeed rational.

Network (1976 movie directed by Sidney Lumet): Rating 10/10


Wow. Nothing like a great surprise – you pick up a movie you never heard anything about and the movie ends up being just amazing. The entire premise of Network is fictional but there is clearly thought put into the writing by Paddy Chayefsky. The movie follows the newscast team of a fictional television station, UBS, and their struggles to keep up with the big 3 American TV networks. This movie makes a great combination with Good Night, and Good Luck. The acting is excellent all around, which accounts for the Oscar wins and nominations. And Faye Dunaway is electric!! She is intelligent, sexy and ruthless at the same time. Totally loved this movie!!!

The Company (directed by Robert Altman): Rating 5/10


Sometimes it is hard to watch a movie objectively – it is difficult to give an accurate rating when one simply wants to switch the movie off. I knew this was a ballet movie but since I have enjoyed other movies in this genre before, I decided to give it a viewing. Also, I sort of felt it would be interesting to see how Altman handled this script. In the end, I wish I had not seen this movie; it was a complete disappointment. Sure some of the ballet steps are indeed excellent but I just wasn’t interested. Altman’s style does indeed let us know some of the characters just by observing their interactions with other characters. Example, we really get a sense of Malcolm McDowell’s character by watching him try to control every aspect of his company’s production. The people dynamics shown in the movie were done very well but the rest of the framework around the characters was weak, atleast in my view.

Il Macellaio, (The Butcher, 1998 movie directed by Aurelio Grimaldi): Rating 4/10


Sometimes a title gives a lot away about a movie. So with a title like The Butcher, you know that the movie will revolve around a character with that profession. The movie starts off with an elite couple looking to adopt a child – we seem them going through a rigorous interview process. The husband is a famous music conductor who has to travel frequently to far off lands for his famous concerts. When the wife’s doctor recommends that she should include some meat into her mostly vegetarian diet, she visits her local butcher shop. The butcher is a ladies man who chats up all the women who come to his shop. But he does not smile to the wife. She in turn also looks at him coldly. Now, we have some seen some nude shots of the wife upto this point in the movie so we are prepared for what is to come. Sure enough, the movie teasingly makes its way to the sex scenes with the wife and butcher. And after the sex is over, the movie ends. That is about it.

The Deceivers (1998 movie directed by Nicholas Meyer, based on a John Masters novel): Rating 8/10


Pierce Brosnan and Shashi Kapoor in the same movie? Well that cast pairing made this an interesting pick. As it turns out, Shashi Kapoor’s role is only minor but that did not prevent this Merchant Ivory production from using his name on the covers. The movie tells the alleged real life tale of a British solider who uncovers the secret workings of Thugees, a cultish group who kill and rob travelers in the name of the Goddess, Kali. The name Thugs actually was derived from this Indian group (something which I didn’t know until I saw this movie). Are all the historical aspects shown in the movie true? I don’t think so. I am sure some aspects were cleaned up to give the British soldier, Willaim Savage, a lot more credit that history might have given. Brosnan does play his role really well and when he covers his face with mud, you actually forget you are looking at a future James Bond (in my case, I was looking at a former Bond before he became Bond). Saeed Jaffrey is also good as one of Kali’s followers. But Shashi Kapoor is a huge disappointment even in his tiny role. Yes this movie is pure fluff but I liked it; I actually bought into the story and found myself intrigued.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Syriana, Brazil, Bihar, Harlem, Venice and a Parisian apartment

With a tall order of locations, this week’s viewing provided a good range of movies. End result: a mixed bag of likes and dislikes.

Syriana (Directed by Stephen Gaghan): Rating a very solid 9/10 (or 8+)



Tell me something I don’t know! Seriously tell me something I don’t know. For the record, I don’t live in a world where my news comes from only one tv channel. I am lucky enough to live in a world where there are books which are not only interesting but intelligent. I also live in a world where there exists art which is not only meant for entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, what about movies? What the hell is the point of a movie? What purpose does a movie like Syriana serve? If one likes this movie, then it does not matter. If one hates this movie, it does not matter either. It does not matter if one sees this movie or not. This movie will not change a thing in the real world. In the real world, lies are openly told. People believe it because they don’t have a choice. Governments lie, corporations lie, so what? We have been told to shut up and turn a blind eye. And then come movies like these. People will call this the truth and people will call this propaganda but in the end, it won’t change a thing. At the end of the day, the only thing the average man can do is to watch movies which affirm their beliefs about the lies that they already know. Because you see the average person needs to drive a car everyday, the average person needs a bus or an airplane or other transportation which relies on energy. Energy which is generated by OIL! Yup bloody OIL! Black oil, money oozing oil! Oil! People are killed, governments are toppled, money changes hands, a few men get together and smoke some cigars, some drink and some get fat (and the fat is not only because of money), jobs are lost, jobs are gained, ships move, cars are blown up, technology fails and movies are made. Syriana has the look and feel of Traffic because Gaghan was the screenwriter of the 2000 award winning film. Syriana is more complicated than Traffic and it does not explain everything. Is it hard to follow? Not really. The movie jumps from location to location but it has no choice because the movie tries to cover all the essential angles – covert operations, corporation take-overs, corruption, rich rulers, good noble rulers who are trying to make a difference, the unemployed worker, the corruptor, the family man, etc. Everything is presented. There is no start and no end. We get a slice of the happenings in the crazy OIL world. We also get some very realistic portrayals of life in the lower rungs of the oil crazy world. Finally a movie which accurately shows the daily life of foreign workers in the compounds!

Syriana forms an interesting trilogy of movies in 2005 with The Constant Gardener and Lord of War being the other. Put all these movies together and some very hard facts come out in the open. But like I said earlier, it won’t change a thing! One of my favourite movies of the year!!! Yet I can’t give it a perfect rating. Why? Because I wanted more angles to be covered, I wanted more lies to be shown.

Behind the Sun (Directed by Walter Salles): Rating 8/10



Walter Salles is well known now – Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries are acclaimed movies. The Brazilian director really knows how to set the mood for South America. This time around, he shows Brazil as raw and hot as it is. Credit for that also goes to Walter Carvalho who shoots the movie beautifully. Do I just credit Carvalho (and not Salles also) for one of the best shot chase scenes I have seen? Two men running through a dried up tree field, one trying to kill the other and actually manages to do so. Running at break neck speed, the camera manages to not only keep pace but conveys the frantic chase of the prey and predator.

The setting: a hot Brazilian village. A family of four. Well there used to be more than 4. But the elder brother was killed by a rival family over land ownership. It is a constant family feud – one kills the other, then the other takes revenge and so on. Revenge is only taken on the one who committed the murder. No other members are killed. The kid (he has no given name) and his brother Tonio are caught in this family mess. Tonio is sick of his father’s revenge seeking ways but he has no choice. The kid is just starting to understand life. One day, two strangers drop by. The beautiful woman, Clara, gives the kid a picture book. His world starts to open, his imagination starts to form. Tonio falls for Clara. He seeks love but Tonio is a marked man. He killed and he will be killed next. Can he escape his fate? Anything is possible in the hot Brazilian sun. One story can be told yet another can happen!

Apaharan (Directed by Prakash Jha): Rating 7/10



Bihar – the hotbed of corrupt politics! Err, not corrupt but true politics -- politics of politics. Deals are made, parties are toppled and loyalties are switched. A new problem rears it ugly head in Bihar – kidnappings. Business men are kidnapped for money. The police don’t do a thing. Actually even if they wanted to, they can’t do a thing. Because the problem runs all the way from the top to the firmly rooted slums. I expected a much more gritty movie focused only on kidnappings. Yet the second half of the movie turns in the usual Company mould and ends up in a political match. And since it is Ajay Devgan involved, it does feels like a Company spin-off. Which is a shame really because Nana Patekar is quite amazing. Patekar seems to be back full time in movies now which is good news as he is one of the best Bollywood actors around. I had loved Jha’s previous movie Gangajaal which I thought was much more riveting than this effort (that also starred Ajay Devgan). And ofcourse, Jha has made classic films in the past like Mrityudand (Ayub Khan and Mohan Agashe reunite with Jha in Apaharan) and Hip, Hip Hurray. One thing is for sure – Prakash Jha knows his material really well. It is just that I was looking for a different kind of movie.

The Cotton Club (directed by Francis Ford Coppola): Rating 6.5/10



Harlem, 1928. Gangsters, jazz musicans, pretty women, drinks and tap dancing. It all takes place in the Cotton Club. Maybe if I saw this movie when it was released in 1984, I would have liked it better. But in this day and age of clichéd mobster movies (a genre that Coppola defined with his Godfather movies) and with the recent Chicago, watching the Cotton Club didn’t give me anything new. There was nothing fresh about it. The only interesting aspect was the ending sequence where stage performances and real scenes are mixed together so well that you can’t tell one from the other. Richard Gere does a little song in this one and you can tell the seeds of his Chicago singing routine were first laid here. A very young Diane Lane (she was 18-19 during the filming) can be found as can a young Nicolas Cage. Gregory Hines has a significant role, along with some tap dancing scenes (the impromptu tap dancing scenes performed in the movie are amazing). I was interested at the start but half-way through, I lost interest. You knew where this one was going.

The Merchant of Venice (Directed by Michael Radford): Rating 6/10



Sometimes too much Shakespeare is not a good thing! I remembered this story or so I thought I did. In reality, all I remembered was Bassanio (and his love for Portia), Antonio and Shylock with his demand of a pound of flesh. Was this the story? Or was the story about a Jew vs the Christian state? That is the version that gets flushed out in this adaptation. I can’t comment on this unless I go back and reread the story. That being said, when I saw the poster of the movie last year in London, I knew Al Pacino had to be playing the role of Shylock. And that he does perfectly. But I just didn’t care for this boring movie. Sure the sets (and costumes) look accurate, but that is not much of a feat really because some parts of Venice are so well preserved today that you can imagine how life was 300 years ago. Good acting overall but I just got tired of all the Jew vs Christian ideologies and all the mind games that Portia plays. Maybe some aspects in this story are outdated or maybe they are just not spoken out-loud anymore. Either way, I just didn’t care.

Not on the Lips (Directed by Alain Resnais): Rating 5/10



A French musical! If I had expected to see a French musical with Audrey Tautou, I wouldn’t have disliked this movie that much. I thought I was picking up a comedic film not a comedic musical. There is a big difference between the two.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Night and Gray

Good Night, and Good Luck (Directed by George Clooney): Rating 10/10



Fade to white. Cue microphone. The cigarette is lit. A puff of white smoke floats across the screen. And then the firm reassuring voice comes on the airways. What happens next? Well the news is reported, truth is told, facts are presented. What happens afterwards? Is it not obvious? -- the show is on the verge of being pulled because the truth can’t be presented! The audience don’t have time for politics, they want to be entertained. Moreover, what is the point of telling them everything? In times of national security, swift action must be taken. The evil people must be put away even when there is no evidence to put them away. Because the fate of the nation is at stake!

George Clooney directs an interesting story based on real incidents involving the CBS television station and Edward Murrow, an esteemed broadcaster. Murrow had no trouble in taking on controversial topics head on in pursuit of telling the truth. But things get nasty when he decides to reveal the lies of Senator McCarthy. Releasing such a movie in the present day will surely make this film an easy target for a large section of the American population. And likewise, another section of the public might embrace the movie for outlining the parallels that existed in America during the Cold War and present day. The movie is just around the 90 minute mark and it is a movie that you wish does not end really. It is engaging and interesting. The camera hardly leaves the broadcasting room and even when it does, it does not wander too far; it heads to the jazz bar that the tv crew frequently visit or the camera heads to the home of a married couple working for the station (Robert Downey Jr. in a small role). By keeping the locales limited, we are not side-tracked from the movie’s focus which is the battle that Murrow and his co-workers faced in broadcasting the truth. Not much insight is given to the main characters which is a good thing. Because we can judge for ourselves who these people are by observing them in action. The real star of the movie is clearly David Strathairn who is BRILLAINT as Edward Murrow. It is never an easy job to play real life characters but Strathairn does it perfectly. There are some other very powerful roles as well – Frank Langella is amazing as the manager who has to make a difficult choice about how his station is run; Ray Wise displays all the tragic emotions of Don Hollenbeck -- you can actually see Hollenbeck breaking down as he hears harsh words written about him in the media.

I was reminded of The Insider while watching this movie – that was a movie which dealt with another controversial issue CBS television tackled (the tobacco companies). Such movies have to make sure they get the facts right otherwise they would be crucified. But can any movie get the facts totally right? Good Night, and Good Luck avoids the problems of getting facts wrong by cleverly using archive footage to present its story. How can one argue when the lies are presently as they were told back in the 50’s?

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mera (Directed by Jahnu Barua): Rating 8/10



The human mind is the most complex thing in the universe. It has to be. Because it can not only analyze the real world, it can create imaginary worlds. And then sometimes, just for fun, it can mix both the real and imaginary world and create something else completely. When a person is young, they can reasonably have some control over their mind (one would hope). But the problems start when a person gets older. Then they start to lose control of their mind and that is when things really get out of hand. Can one stop such behaviour? And this is where all our science comes to a complete failure.

Anupam Kher plays a loving father. One fine day, he leaves home, goes to a university class and starts teaching. But when the students tell him he is in the wrong classroom, he feels embarrassed and leaves. Flash forward a couple of years. While having breakfast, he calls for his wife. When his daughter tells him that her mother died a year and a half ago, he is shocked. He can’t remember her death and he believes he only went to the wrong university classroom a day before. And slowly he starts forgetting even more things. Until one day, he proclaims that he can’t be forgiven because he killed Mahatma Gandhi. He is sorry for his crime. Despite everything, the daughter tries to keep a grip on things but even she starts to lose her mind. So what is the real story? Sanjay Chauhan has done a good job on penning together a very emotional yet intelligent movie. Even though the ending might seem a bit preachy, it seems to fit in the framework of the movie. Because it was Gandhi who said that if a person believes that the rest of the world is wrong while they are right, well he must be a fool instead. So sometimes if one believes they are guilty, it is easier to believe that everyone else is equally guilty. That lessens one’s guilt. Anupam Kher is perfect in his role, in fact too perfect. Urmila proves once again that she really thrives in these off-beat roles. Boman Irani is probably one of my favourite actors at the moment – he is so vibrant, so full of life that even when he has to deliver a few lines, he does it with ease. Even though the acting of the secondary actors is not upto par, this is still a very interesting movie. Movies like this prove that there are atleast some intelligent Hindi movies being made in India. We know that Bengali and South Indian movies have some character to them, but good Hindi movies are rare ever since Bollywood came to power.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Cup Finals and Kitchen Stories

Cup Final (Directed by Eran Riklis): Rating 6.5/10


Ah Football! How it brings different people together! Cohen is all set to attend the 1982 World Cup Final in Spain. He has his game tickets and can’t wait to attend matches of favourite Italian national team. But his plans are ruined when Israel invades Lebanon. Since Cohen is in the military, he has no choice but to head to the border and sit around, hoping to not get killed. And things get worse for him as he is kidnapped by a bunch of freedom fighters (who are fighting for Palestine’s cause). These people take Cohen and his friend hostage and move around the country, hoping to use the two captured men as bargaining tools when they reach Beirut. It turns out that two of the freedom fighters have some Italian blood in them and support the Italian national team. Even though Cup Final is a contrived movie, it feels sincere. It has the innocence shown in The Cup which was a movie about two Buddhist monk kids who go to great lengths to see the 1998 World Cup Final. As Cohen and his captors easily move across a war ravaged land, they manage to catch snippets of the World Cup and the Italian national team’s progress. And as expected the movie ends just as Italy thrashed W. Germany 3-1 to win the World Cup.

Kitchen Stories (Directed by Bent Hamer): Rating 8/10


After watching Bent Hamer’s Factotum at the London Film Festival, I was keen to see this 2003 award winning film that made the Norwegian director a known name. Kitchen Stories is a simple yet touching work. In order to better improve the kitchen lives of house wives, the Swedish Home Research Institute decides to investigate the kitchen habits of single men. So they send out a bunch of researchers to Norway. Each researcher will study the habits of a single male host (who volunteered and are awarded a toy horse in return for their troubles). The researchers will live in a trailer outside the host’s home and be free to walk into the host’s home at any time; he will sit on a high chair in the host’s kitchen and make notes about the single male’s walking patters, kitchen usage, etc. One strict rule is that the researcher should never interact with the host and not disturb his life in any possible way. The results of the experiment will be in jeopardy if the researcher is found to be talking with the host. But is it truly possible to understand someone merely by observing them? Isn’t it necessary to talk to someone to understand what they want? Folke is meant to objectively study Isak but Isak is a very difficult person to observe – for example, Isak turns off the kitchen light when his researcher is making notes, he hangs his wet laundry in the kitchen so that he can’t be observed. But slowly but surely, the two men begin to understand each other despite hardly speaking. And here lies in the beauty of the movie. Why bog down a film with dialogue when expressions can speak so much? Eventually they talk to each other and the two lonely men form a bond with each other. I quite liked this tender story. And Hamer does add a touch of subtle humor in this movie – he shows how people behave, how the Swedes and Norwegians view each other, etc.

Pianos, Karmic Cycles and a Joint Security Area

The Beat that My Heart Skipped (Directed by Jacques Audiard): Rating 9/10

The only reason I went to see this movie was because of Romain Duris and I was not disappointed. Duris is quite good as the reluctant gangster. He plays Thomas, a real estate enforcer who is brought into the business by his dad. Thomas and his gang hunt for open real estate property, take it over and then sell it for redevelopment. Sometimes they have to be tough and kick people out, but it is all part of their shady business. One day, Thomas runs into his old Piano teacher. His teacher always felt Thomas had potential and was Thomas’s mother’s teacher. He wonders if Thomas is keeping up with his training and after Thomas replies in the affirmative, his teachers asks him to come for an audition. That gets Thomas motivated and he finds a new zest in life. The music moves him and he believes that is his one chance to escape his current way of life. So does Thomas succeed? Well the movie is very realistic in its approach and manages to show an ending which is alternate to the two obvious options – one where Thomas succeeds in music and the other where he fails and returns to his old way of life. It is an engaging movie for sure.

Running on Karma (directed by Johnny To): Rating 7/10

The second half of the movie is not your typical Johnny To stuff but it works, somewhat. A beefed up male stripper is arrested by the cops. But as it turns out, this former martial arts monk has special powers – he can see people’s futures based on their karma, meaning he knows what will happen to someone based on that person’s former actions. The fake body suit on Andy Lau looks funny as first but after a while, you get used to it. The karmic angle to the second half of the flick is interesting enough but I wish the movie had gotten there earlier. Ofcourse, the required fights and chases are necessary in the first half. The transition between the two halves gives the feeling that Running on Karma is really two movies spliced together.

Joint Security Area (directed by Chan-wook Park): Rating 7.5/10

Long before there was the Revenge trilogy (OldBoy and the two Vengeance movies), Chan-wook Park actually worked on normal movies. Plain, simple stories with no chopping and cutting! This movie centers on a border check post between North and South Korea. A massacre has taken place and a neutral party consisting of Swiss and Swedish personnels is sent to investigate. It so happens that one of the Swiss investigators is a woman of Korean heritage who has never been to Korea before. As she works to peel the truth and tries to understand the accused and defender, she learns a little about her father as well. JSA is an interesting movie which highlights the absurdity of man made borders.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Green Butchers


The Green Butchers (written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen): Rating 7/10



Dark Comedy. Really dark. The title immediately reminded me of an episode of the Twilight Zone and even of Delicatessen. And sure enough, I was not far off. But to the director’s credit, he has penned down interesting characters but the movie was too predictable as it wind down towards the end. Two frustrated assistants (Svend, Bjarne) in a Butcher job want to open their own shop. So after breaking the bank, they put everything on the line and manage to open their shop. But no one comes. And one day, when the previous employer shows up, Svend serves him something he shouldn’t have. He panicked -- he didn’t think his marinade was good enough so he felt he needed a secret meat. And the secret meat becomes a hit. With that comes the problem of morality and Bjarne tries to straighten out Svend but Svend does not listen. Instead he rationalizes his own actions and the secret carving continues. In the end, despite all the wrong doings, things end well. Might be difficult to stomach but not a bad movie. The movie won quite a few awards and had I not seen similar things previously, I might have thought more of it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hitch-hiking around a Galaxy, Saving a Planet, Observing Secret Things while killing Shadows


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (directed by Garth Jennings): Rating 7/10



I quite enjoyed the 5 original books. So I was bit skeptical when I saw the movie trailer. Hence, I avoided the movie for a while. But having seen the movie, I am impressed -- it was not as bad as I had thought it to be. The first 20 minutes were painful to get through but after that, I didn’t mind it as much. And it does a decent job of retaining key material from the books and making it into an easy flowing movie.

Overall, I was let down by the flat acting of the main characters, like Martin Freeman (of the Brit Comedy the Office) playing Arthur Dent. In fact, the best character in the movie is not a human at all – Alan Rickman is hilarious in being the voice of Marvin, the ever so depressive robot. For example, Marvin gets depressed when he learns the spaceship’s computer does not like him.


Save the Green Planet (written and directed by Jun-hwan Jeong): Rating 6.5/10



So much potential, so many smart ideas but in the end, this 2003 Korean movie falls down under the heavy weight of its own doing. It is hard to pin down as a single genre – dark comedy, thriller, sci-fi and a torture flick like Saw all rolled into one. A man claims a chairman of a leading company is an alien. Fine, we are willing to go with his claim. So he kidnaps the chairman with the help of his girlfriend. He tortures the chairman, but we don’t see any proof of alien being. Could the narrator be insane? This is when the dark comedy starts to cross boundaries and head into darker undertones. So far so good. A side story develops when detectives try to trace the whereabouts of the chairman – arrogant useless detective vs know-it-all outcast detective. And sure enough there is a young detective from the useless group who worships the know it all. They work together and come close to solving the case. But then the know-it-all goes missing. Hmm…When the movie ventures into needless torture and drags on and on, it loses all the potential it had built up. And then the ending is not a surprise either because there were only two possible endings. We are left guessing which it might be and there are clues to trick us either way but the fact the movie takes 2 hours in reaching its conclusion, we know how it will end. I was reminded in parts of 1996’s The Arrival. However, that movie was clear in its intention.


Secret Things (written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau): Rating 9/10



Either you like it or you don’t. And I for one really liked this movie. The movie stars off with a naked woman on a couch. She goes on to pleasure herself. Are we the audience a voyeur into her private life? As the camera moves along, we realize that she is doing a stage show and there are other voyeurs around. Phew, we are safe to watch. For the time being atleast! The narrator, Sandrine, works behind the bar and introduces the naked woman as Nathalie. That night both women lose their jobs. Sandrine has no money and no place to stay, so Nathalie asks her to move in. The two of them become friends and based on Nathalie’s advice come up with a plan to get jobs and move up in the corporate world. The plan is to use their sexuality to manipulate the men into getting better jobs. It is a game. But what these women don’t realize is that no matter how manipulative and deceitful women can be, there is always a man who is more manipulative and corrupt than women. The two women meet their match in Christophe, a man who loves to uses his money to abuse his power. On top of that, Christophe does not blink when he crushes women or tramples on their soul. Is he the devil? Some scenes might indicate that. When the corporate game becomes complicated, I felt this was a modern version of Dangerous Liaisons with a twist ofcourse. Just a really well done movie! It was almost perfect but I felt some of the symbolism didn’t translate as well as the director might have hoped for (is the mysterious shadowy figure death? If so, then what is the reason behind some of the shot selections? Why was the shadowy figure in the stairs that night?).


Shadow Kill (written and directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan): Rating 8/10



Who is to pay for the sins of a hanged man? The people who sent him to the gallows or the executioner who pulls the lever? In the case of this movie, unfortunately, the hangman has to bear the sins of every hanging. At the start of the movie the executioner, Kaliyappan, is miserable. He can’t shake off the fact that the last person he hung was innocent. He drinks more to ease his pain. He wants to escape from his job but it is not easy. The King has appointed him and the Maharaja grants the executioner a lot of benefits. On top of that, there is the divine benefit from his job – the rope used to hang a man is burned and the ash is used to cure the village sick. Kaliyappan’s son wants to follow in the steps of Gandhi and is against hanging (the movie timeline is early 1940’s). His daughter has just come of age and will soon be a burden on the aging old man. As the time for another execution draws near, Kaliyappan drinks more. His body is burning with fever yet has to carry on with his job. He has to stay up for the night before the hanging but he can’t seem to do so. So the policemen at the jail tell him a story. And interestingly, the story is about a young girl who was raped and murdered. This is the final straw for Kaliyappan – his past guilt combined with thoughts of his family cause him to envision the narrated story from a different perspective.

As in other movies from Kerala, the lush green and the peaceful elements are captured on film. Which make it a striking contrast to the agony going through the hangman’s mind and soul. Not a bad movie. Interesting in some of the ironic ideas shown. I hope to see some of Adoor’s earlier movies. His previous works such as Rat Trap have won quite a few awards.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BFI’s 49th Annual London Film Festival

3 very different movies and yet all of them tied together by a single thread. I reveal that thread at the end of this posting. So here goes -- an American movie made by Norwegian funding, a Brazilian movie and a Mexican Independent film.

Factotum (directed by Bent Hamer): Rating 8/10


Matt Dillon plays Henry Chinaski, a character penned by Charles Bukowski. Whether the character is Bukowski’s alter ego is another matter altogether. Chinaski is a struggling writer. In between his struggles, he drifts from job to job, drinking, gambling, screwing, smoking and drinking even more along the way. Bent Hamer has done a good job of capturing Chinaski’s carefree character. In the first 10 minutes or so, I didn’t buy Matt Dillon’s acting. I thought he was faking it all. But then gradually he settled into his role more (or maybe I got used to seeing him play the character). There is some humour in the movie but at times the movie simply drifts along. Which is the way it is supposed to be! How else can you show such a character? You can’t make it completely dark nor can you make it complete fluff. You have to balance the two moods and Hamer has done that. The movie is shot nicely and the desolate American landscape fits perfectly within the movie. Marisa Tomei has a tiny insignificant role but it is Lili Taylor who has the major role as playing Chinaski’s on-off love interest. Overall, I liked the movie. And Bent Hamer seems like a very humble person and he was very sincere in talking about this project took place and the troubles he had getting funding.

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (directed by Marcelo Gomez): Rating 10/10


If there was a perfect afternoon movie, then this was it. In fact, this was such a cool relaxing movie that I forgot a planet existed outside of the theatre. This road movie is easily one of my favourite movies of the year! The story can’t be any more simpler – a German (Johann) resident has moved to Brazil and makes a living by driving across the vast Brazilian countryside selling Aspirin, a new medicine as per the film's setting in 1942. It would have been difficult for Johann to sell aspirin to people used to rejecting change but he comes up with a clever sales tactic of using the alluring cinematic medium to make his sales. Cinema, Asprins.. has shades of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Starmaker in this aspect. In Starmaker, the salesman was a cheat but in Gomez's film, Johann is not a cheat even though his methods portray him like a mercenary. Along the way, Johann picks up a local (Ranulpho) who wishes to leave his village life behind and head to Rio. The two become good friends and Ranulpho travels along with Johann by helping out as his assistant. But then the World war that Johann escaped from finds its way to Brazil and Johann has a difficult choice to make – to return to Europe or continue his free spirited way. The movie shows how different people’s idea of freedom varies and what makes one person happy can be torture for another.

The cinematography is beautiful. The over-exposed film really conveys the heat and brutality of the scorching sun. Brazil, a country which seems to go on forever as per Johann! Maybe I needed to see this movie in London during my own personal traveling journey to enjoy it. Who knows how I would have reacted if I had to see this movie in a crappy beat up art house theatre sitting in a broken seat with no leg or arm room? The Motorcycle Diaries was sold as something that it was not and I have a feeling some things in that movie were changed to sell it even more. But Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures is pure, raw and emotional. I truly loved it!!!!!!!!

Sangre (written and directed by Amat Escalante): Rating 6/10


Yes this is real cinema, as real as it gets. In fact, it is so real that you are left wondering why on earth you wasted a beautiful London night in the National Film Theatre watching this flick. Yes the venue was perfect, by the River Thames, near the bridge where trains left for Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Café’s, bookstores, fancy restaurants, a theatre next door and cinema showing fine movies. Well, almost fine! Ok, maybe I am being harsh on this movie. This is a festival movie after all. The camera asks us to observe the dull boring life of a couple. The wife works in a Sushi place in Mexico. The husband counts the number of visitors entering through the building doors. They go home, watch soap operas, have sex when the wife commands the husband do so, eat junk food, tacos, or whatever else is in their fridge. The camera lets us watch everything. At times, you wonder if we are being shown too much.

Right from the opening shot, we learn who is the boss in the house – in the first shot, the husband wakes up with blood on his forehead. As usual his wife, or more precisely his second wife, has hit him on the head again. The husband is so scared of her that he can’t ask his daughter from the first marriage to come stay with them. Needless to say, he has to hide his meetings with his daughter from his new wife. But it is clear that the daughter needs parental help. The father does not know how to react. And then something goes wrong. And it is at this point, that the movie goes off the rail as well. Would an average person have handled the situation as the father does in the movie? Who knows!

The camera work is perfect really. You truly feel you are in the room with the couple, or you are at the garbage dump when the city’s waste comes tumbling down as the tiny beetle car is parked in the foreground. However, in the end, I left the theatre untouched and unimpressed. In fact, I was so exhausted after sitting through this movie that I skipped out my final movie of the night, Citizen Dog.

Common Element

So what is the common element in all 3 movies? The concept that a certain Chelsea manager would call ‘voyeur’. The papers in London contained the stupid childish words of Jose Mourinho who called Arsenal’s manager a ‘voyeur’ just because he thought Wenger liked watching another football team play, or as Mourinho said, ‘Wenger likes watching other people’. Well Jose since you know it all, would you call me a ‘Voyeur’ for watching these 3 movies? Because these 3 movies lets us watch the lives of other people as they go about their daily business. That is what I thought while watching the festival. Heck all these movies are about watching the intimate aspects of other people’s life. What is art for one person is something disgusting for another! Anyway, I should not talk any further about that manager lest I be accused of being obsessed with him and his money backed team.

In the end, it was a truly memorable occasion to attend this festival. A truly professional and well run festival with classy venues!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And now for something completely different...

Dreams. What are they? Well I can tell you what they are based on what happened last week. Picture this…..soccer, books, movies, music, food, beer and sweet rain.

On a cold snowy Tuesday night, a young man gets on a plane. The plane can’t take off because of all the snow. After the plane is de-iced, it takes off for a magical land.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, the plane lands in the magic land. The young man has enough time to get off the plane, get to his hotel, take a shower, navigate the train system and reach paradise in the evening. What is paradise? I will tell you. It is Highbury, home of Arsenal Football club. A dream? Yes indeed.

Who would have thought that one day I would be able to watch my cherished football team play not one but two games. Dreams indeed! Sure it rained during the games, but so what? They won both games. I had perfect seats and could even be seen on tv during the telecast of one of the games (only in freeze frame, slow mode).

Would this be the ultimate dream? Yes it would have been enough. But there’s more…seriously, how can there be more?

In between the two games, the young man (err that’s me in case if it was not obvious) was fortunate enough to attend the last day of BFI’s 49th Annual London Film Festival (Thursday, Nov 3). I could have seen 4 movies but I opted for 3. Classy venues, classy festival!

1) 1:30 show at Odeon West in Leicester Square of Factotum. This Bent Hamer directed movie is based on a collection of Charles Bukowski’s stories. Matt Dillon stars as jack of all trades (or lack of any trades) – Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego. Not a bad flick. It accomplishes what it sets out to show, even though it is slow at times. The director was in attendance and he talked about how he got this movie funded (no major studios wanted to touch this movie, big surprise there), how Dillon was selected, etc.

After the movie I had a 30 minute gap before attending the next show in the upper theatre.

2) 3:30 show of Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures. This was my favourite movie of all three and easily one of my fav movies I have seen this year. I loved it. I will write more about this movie later. This was one of those movies that really make movies worth watching.

3) 6:30 pm show of Sangre at the National Film Theatre. This Mexican independent movie is probably more over-rated than anything. Sure it is pure cinema verite but really nothing special. After watching this movie, I decided to skip the late night show of the Thai movie, Citizen Dog.

Now before the movies, I had enough time to browse at the biggest bookstore in Europe – Waterstones at Piccadilly. I have visited this place before and it is just amazing. One could easily spend hours and hours. And even spend more buying books. Scary thought. And on Thu night, I was able to visit and spend a few hours in one of the best music stores out there – Virgin Music Store at Piccadilly.

On Friday, as if I was not having enough fun, I got to take a tour of the Arsenal football club. After which I visited Brick Lane and surfed for perfect Bangladeshi cuisine. I reached a bit too early for dinner but I was still able to find a near perfect Chicken Biryani dish.

On Saturday, I got to see another game and on top of that spend a beautiful night out in Leicester Square. I fell in love with this place back in 1999 and it still has that same magic. As an added bonus, I attended the opening weekend show of De battre mon coeur s'est arête (The Beat That my Heart Skipped). This award winning movie at the Berlin Film Festival has gotten rave reviews. But the real reason I wanted to see this movie was because of Romain Duris. He was perfect in Exils and is quite good here. I liked the movie overall but don’t think it is as perfect as it is made out to be. Nonetheless it is a good movie. Also, it is supposed to be a remake of the American movie, Fingers – something which I have not seen yet.

Anyway, it was a perfect 5 day trip. Dreams......... :)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

End of the month wrap-up.

Two completely different movies but I want to put them together because I believe there is one thread that ties them -- desire and lust. In the first movie, that thread is desire. And in the second movie’s case, it is lust. The males in both movies act based on desire and lust respectively and in the end their actions lead to destruction.


Ma mère (directed by Christophe Honoré): Rating 6/10



How do I rate this movie? The technical aspects of the movie are good but the movie is predictable, cold and emotionless. Or atleast I felt cold while watching it. Now I have seen some shocking movies before (Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence comes to mind), but nothing in this movie shocked me. Be it the incestuous scene between mother and son, the mother and son sharing a same lover, or some of the S&M bondage episodes. I watched it all unflinchingly, all the time wondering where this movie was really going.

The story: The son heads to the Canary Islands to visit his parents. Not on good terms with his father, the son shares a friendship with the mother. The father leaves on a trip shortly and dies. The mother (Isabelle Huppert) is not sad about her husband’s death and tells her son that she has not been good mother or a good wife. The son wants to hear none of that, he adores his mother. The mother can’t give up her wild partying ways which include sleeping with women (or even men), excessive drinking, forcing others to perform S&M while she watches, etc. In order to help her son cope with his boredom on the desert island, she gets him involved in her wild world. When she feels things have gone too far, she leaves. But not before, she asks a girl to look after the son. The son gets involved with the blond girl. The mother returns and is jealous. And well, the Oedipal theme is completed at the end of the movie.

Huppert looks like she is extending her role from 1998’s School of Flesh. The son is played by Louis Garrel who worked on this movie after The Dreamers. In Bertolucci’s over-rated movie, Garrel likes to fool around with his sister. And he seems to have taken things one step further in Ma mère. My problem is not the incest, it is the way the movie flows. There is one scene of richness when the winds kick up on the remote lonely deserts of the Canary Islands. But that is about it. The movie is lifeless other than that. In the DVD, there is an alternate ending. The order of one of the scenes is different in the alternate ending than in the final cut. I think, for a change, the alternate ending sequence would have been better. But even that would not have uplifted this dull movie.


Matrubhoomi (written and directed by Manish Jha): Rating 9/10



A nation without women? The title should really read ‘a village without women’. But I can understand director Manish Jha’s motive in labeling it as a nation without women. In the olden times, when a baby girl was born into a village, the men were not happy; they wanted a son, so they killed the baby girl. So after such continued traditions, a future arises when a series of villages are left with a unique situation – no more women around; no young girls or any adult women exist. Heck, there are no older women around either (not sure how that happened? Script oversight?). So the men are horny. Some pleasure themselves by watching poor quality porn, others relieve themselves in the barn and others watch a man dressed as a woman performing a nautanki show. Somehow the men find a way to continue living. When a priest comes across a girl by chance, he approaches the girl’s father for getting her married to his good friend. The good friend wants to marry the eldest of his 5 sons to the girl but the girl’s father objects, he rather have his daughter marry the decent looking youngest son as opposed to the eldest thug. After some monetary negotiations, the girl’s father agrees to get his daughter married to all 5 sons.

With the exception of the youngest brother (Sooraj played by Sushant Singh), the remaining brothers treat the girl (Kalki played by Tulip Joshi) as an object of sexual fulfillment. So they each take their turn humping her, getting her to do the house chores while not even bothering to talk to her. Meanwhile Sooraj is hated by his brothers because Kalki actually smiles and laughs with him and is cold with the others. So out of jealously, they kill Sooraj. This sparks off a series of incidents which leads to violence erupting in the village. There a lot of issues Manish Jha has presented in a excellent manner. On one level his movie is an angry look at the stupid behaviour of men and how narrow minded men can be. On another level, the movie examines how men justify their anger and ill behaviour because of women. Initially, when there were no women around, the men found a way to get along. They despised each other but they managed to not kill each other. But even the mere mention of a woman aroused anger, jealousy in the men. And when a woman was found, well each man acted as per his upbringing. It is so easy to blame one’s problems on another target. In a lot of cases, men find it easier to blame women for their problems rather than acknowledging that the problem is them itself. Same goes for the men in this movie. Most of them are uneducated morons. But yet they feel themselves superior to a woman. Lust is what drives them.

I think the last comment is most relevant. Modern Bollywood movies are still fueled by lust and almost all the young film-makers pack their movie with vulgar sexual images. The so called family film-maker like Karan Johar has shown more cleavage and ass shots in his movie than older film-makers. Overall, Jha has put together an interesting and well made movie.

3-Iron

Bin-jip (3-Iron, written and directed by Ki-duk Kim): Rating 9/10

There is a natural beauty to all of Ki-duk Kim’s films be it The Isle, Bad Guy and Spring, Summer…On the surface 3-Iron is a simple story – a young man breaks into people’s homes when they are away on vacation and spends a few hours or a night there, taking a shower, eating food or doing his laundry but never stealing anything. One day, he comes across a beautiful yet abused wife and falls for her. He decides to save her from her cruel husband. But things go wrong and the young man is thrown in prison and the wife is returned to the husband. In prison, the young man learns the art of becoming invisible by making his movements quick and devoid of any noise. He returns to the ‘real’ world to set things right again and reunite with his love.

The movie hardly contains any dialogue and it rightly does not need to. The visual images speak volumes that you forget you need dialogue. In fact, so much is conveyed by the actor’s expressions, the things they do and the way they react, that having dialogue would have ruined all the silence. Like the three movies mentioned above, I really liked this one.

2009: Lost Memories, The Office, FIFA Fever

2009: Lost Memories (directed by Si-myung Lee): Rating 6.0/10

The movie starts off with a failed assassination attempt in 1909 Harbin, China. But that failure leads to an alternate future in which Japan allied with the US to win World War II; a future in which WWII ended when atomic bombs were instead dropped on Berlin in 1945 and Japan took hold of Manchuria and Korea never got freedom. Fast forward to Japanese run Seoul in 2009 and to an incident where some terrorists hold innocent people hostage in a museum. The Japanese Police force, headed by two JBI agents, rescue the hostages and kill the terrorists. But not before one of the terrorists shouts to one of the Japanese cop of Korean origin that their group is trying to fight for an independent Korea. Sakamoto (Dong-Kun Jang) has always considered himself Japanese. But he is reminded of his Korean blood and chooses to examine his life and past. His exploration of the past helps him uncover the truth about his father and his own recurring visions of a woman. However, his probing comes at a price – he is suspended from the case and loses his friendship with his friend and police partner.

The first half of the movie is not bad but the second half ends up being too predictable. The acting is ok, nothing really stands out. The script has shades of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, a book about an alternate future in which America had lost the WWII to Germany and Japan. Overall, not that bad of a movie but not that great either.

The Office (Season Two of the British Comedy Series): Rating 9/10

I liked the first season of The Office but I have to admit, it was a bit difficult to watch. Now the reason it was difficult was because the comedy was so real, that it made one uncomfortable. I was reminded of Larry David’s antics in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a hilarious comedy but painful to watch because you know the main character, Larry David, is going to keep doing stupid embarrassing things. Likewise in The Office the main character, David Brent, (played to perfection by co-writer and co-director, Ricky Gervais) is so annoying, so clueless and so conceited that you are sometimes embarrassed to watch because you know he is going to say something stupid, do something even more idiotic. And on the same token, here lies the beauty of the show – it shows things so real, that they end up being funny.

With season One successfully out of the way, I finally got around to watching Season Two. And I truly enjoyed Season Two a lot more. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect from the characters. I knew what each character is like and how they have behaved, so I could enjoy what they were going through. The first two episodes (out of the total 6) are probably a bit uncomfortable because you could see the mishaps in advance, but nonetheless, it is well worth watching.

FIFA Fever (documentary celebrating 100 years of FIFA from 1904 – 2004): Rating 7/10

In celebration of 100 years of FIFA (federation of international football association), a two disc DVD was released which highlighted some of the best moments from all the soccer world cups from 1930 – 2002. Sounds like a great idea. But I was hugely disappointed with this DVD collection. This two DVD disc contains a lot of the memorable goals, saves, upsets, controversial moments and other aspects from the World Cups but it is all laid out in a very dull boring manner. A look at the beautiful game deserved a better treatment. Now, I believe the chapters are laid out such that they can be sold as tv episodes in 2006 but still, I was let down. The disc also gives some coverage to other FIFA tournaments as the Women’s World Cup, Futsal and the youth championships.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chocolate

Chocolate (mis-directed by Vivek Agnihotri): Rating Very Bad

Everyone stand up and applaud! Yet another new hip director makes his debut by ripping off an excellent Hollywood film, The Usual Suspects. For some bizarre reason, the story is set in London. And as usual the location has nothing to do with the story. The only reason for the foreign locale is the wow factor. Ofcourse, one must give credit where credit is due – Attar Singh Saini has beautifully captured the grey winter shades of London. And the music by Pritam Chakraborty is just wonderful. Ofcourse, the music videos don’t fully do justice to the music but that is another issue.

Vivek Agnihotri and Rohit Malhotra have tried to make a wee bit different story from the Hollywood version but by trying to capture the surprise ending, the two of them have left a lot of loop holes in the story. The original myth story of Keyser Söze is moved to Afghanistan and satan is called Murtaza Arzai (wrong spelling I believe) and the scenes of Arzai’s flashbacks show some class. But Agnihotri has messed everything else up.

And this movie once again proves that the Bollywood film industry is dominated by horny men who are obsessed with sex. Did the producer ask for the needless raunchy scenes or did the director feel they added some mass appeal to the movie? And getting a actresses to dress skimpy does not mean she will look appealing. The acting is terrible, except Arshad Warsi. Anil Kapoor is wasted and Irfan Khan’s role is just reduced to dullness. So many problems with this movie!

Last Life in the Universe, Mago

Last Life in the Universe (directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang):

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – this movie is beautifully shot! But when the cinematographer is Christopher Doyle, you don’t expect any less. The aussie born Doyle has been responsible for the visual beauty of films such as 2046, Dumplings (Fruit Chan’s movie in Three..Extremes), Hero, Chunking Express. And in Last Life.., the movie feels cool, pure and clean. Which is in fact the opposite of what we really should be feeling. Okay, the main character (Kenji) is very organized and keeps his apartment clean but he feels anything but that. He wants to commit suicide so he tries to hang himself. However, his attempt is thwarted by his brother’s visit. During his next suicide attempt (shooting himself), his brother shows up again. This time his brother has brought a fellow Yakuza, Takashi Miike. And when it’s Miike involved, we sort of expect what happens next. Bang Bang. The brother is dead. Kenji survives by killing the Yakuza. Shocked, bewildered, Kenji decides to head out to a bridge to kill himself by jumping off. A teenage girl who has had a fight with her sister over her flirting with men (one of the men she was flirting with was Kenji’s brother, which is the reason why Kenji’s brother was killed) ends up walking on the bridge. She sees Kenji and calls out to him from the other side. Their eyes meet for a few seconds before a car crashes into her. Kenji goes to visit her in the hospital but she does not survive. Kenji then forms a bond with the girl’s sister who is a completely different person from Kenji. Opposites attract? Yes, slowly but surely. Meanwhile, the Yakuza are on Kenji’s trail to avenge the murder of their colleague. A Japanese man in Bangkok, a local Thai woman! Confused, alienated, lost!

A visually gorgeous movie which is never dull despite its relaxed pace!

Mago (2002 movie directed by Hyeon-il Kang):

The movie opens with a shot of countless frogs on the road. Think Magnolia. And then a car (or cars) drives over the frogs. Blood all over. Cut to next shot. A man sitting on his computer, agonizing over the illusionary woman, Mago, that he has been chasing all his life. Who is Mago? She is the creator of the universe, the mother! What follows next are numerous shots of naked women taking place in Paradise, Eden. For a while I tried following this movie but eventually, I grew weary. A very abstract movie which tries to show how man’s destructive force towards nature and the planet have led to its decline. But there are more ways to get ones point across as opposed to having narrative while showing naked women on the screen. There a lot of good ideas here but they didn’t work in this format.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ginger and Cinnamon, Raja

Ginger and Cinnamon (directed by Daniele Luchetti): Rating 8/10

Normally I am not a big fan of movies which ooze with sugar and syrup. But every now and then, I enjoy such efforts. This Italian movie (original title: Dillo con parole mie) is a sort of coming age movie set in Greece. 14 year old Megghy does not want to go on her girl guides camping tour. Instead she wants to go Ios, the Greek Island of love where she wants to lose her virginity. So she tricks her aunt, Stefania, to take her to Ios. The aunt on the other hand has recently broken up with her boyfriend, Andrea. As chance would have it, Andrea is on the same island as well. And Megghy falls for Andrea and believes him to be the one. Stefania is unaware of all of this and tries to give her niece men advice. Meanwhile, on an island full of horny backpackers and tourists, who are either drinking, swimming, making out or doing ‘it’, something has to give. The movie is not that bad although it does drag on near the end. I suppose some sugar everything now and then is not that harmful. As Stefania keeps repeating in the movie ‘Chocolate makes you lose weight’.

Raja (written and directed by Jacques Doillon): Rating 9/10

Oh what complicated lives we lead! On top of that we make our relationships even more complicated. One can easily dismiss this movie as an old man trying to screw a younger woman. But it is much more complicated than that. The movie brings in the angle of slavery, imperialism, sex, power, money and survival into the mix. As a result, no conversation is that straight forward, no intention is that clear. Fred is a white French man living in Marrakesh. Raja is a young Moroccan woman working in his garden. Fred instantly likes Raja and wants her. He does not hide his approaches either. The two elderly women cooks and house help advice Fred to stay away from Raja. But Fred does not listen. He gives Raja a full time job in the house. Meanwhile Raja is thrilled – she freely takes gifts from Fred and the extra money she gets keeps her boyfriend happy. Raja’s brother is not happy with the arrangement – he wants Raja to get married to a policeman who will keep her happy and away from trouble. But when Fred meets the brother, he proposes something completely different – he tells Raja’s brother that he will pay for her marriage not to the policeman but to her boyfriend instead, provided the couple stay at his house. Huh? This is a slow movie which takes its time but it is also interesting because of the issues it brings about. Did the western imperialist powers behave in a similar way to the native women they met? Did they feel they can take anyone they like, use them and move onto the next woman? They knew money was a major bargaining tool they had, so they abused its power. On the other hand, women like Raja needed the money to sustain their family. So in turn the women used the men for their benefit. In the movie, Raja is as cunning as Neve Campbell in When Will I be Loved, but unlike Campbell’s character, Raja is more vulnerable.

Also, this movie is another example of festival foreign movies which are better enjoyed in the confines of one’s home as opposed to a movie theatre.

Buddy, Viva Laldjérie

1) Buddy (directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Lars Gudmestad): Rating 7/10

This 2003 Norwegian movie is a light hearted well meaning film. Kris and Geir are two billboard poster hangers who live the good life. Well according to them that is. They find ways to make their jobs exciting, either by jumping off buildings or doing some crazy stunts while Kris records everything on his digital camera. Kris’s blond girlfriend does not appreciate of his lifestyle. She wants him to do something with his life (think High Fidelity). She also wants him to take their relationship a bit more seriously. So when she gives him the keys to her apartment, well Kris is taken aback. On the advice of his best friend, Geir, Kris returns the keys back. Well the blond then dumps Kris and dates her boss. Kris is devastated but finds himself falling for the cute brunette who is their new room-mate (the three buddies Kris, Geir and Stin Inge share one apartment). At the same time, Kris becomes famous after his digital tapes are found by a TV exec who wants to make a reality show about Kris and his friends, sort of like a video diary. The show is a hit and the blond wants to be back with Kris. But Kris likes the brunette. And Kris does not have much time to make up his mind. Because the brunette is leaving the country to sail around the world with a male ‘friend’! The movie is much more entertaining than I am making it sound. But ofcourse it is predictable. None the less, a sugar coated movie that addresses two universal truths:

a) Sure blonds might be pretty to look at but at the end of the day a man will truly love a cute and caring woman (most likely a brunette, my apologies to all the cute and caring blondes out there).
b) men will always have a soft spot for the football (soccer, ofcourse) team they supported as a child.

2) Viva Laldjérie (written any directed by Nadir Moknèche): Rating 8/10

2004 was a stellar year for Lubna Azabal. Not only was she in the amazing Exils, she also starred in this interesting French-Algerian movie. Lubna plays Goucem, a modern Algerian woman who is trying to life a normal life while being surrounded by age old cultural stereotypes. She works in a photo shop by day and is a party girl by night. In between her flings with men she picks up, she is trying to hold a relationship with a married man. Will the married man ever embrace Goucem officially? Despite what others tell her, Goucem would like to believe she will move from being just a mistress to being a respected married woman. Meanwhile, Goucem’s open minded mother Papicha has her own set of problems. A former belly dancer, Papicha has to endure the fickle minded mentality surrounding her. And the third woman shown in this movie is Goucem’s neighbour, Fifi, a prostitute, who while being a necessity for certain men is also a source of their anger and disgust.

The movie is not that long but I felt it went on and on. On one hand I was lost in the story but on the other hand, nothing in the movie made me compelled to continue watching. Lubna is a very good actress though – her facial expressions and her beauty match the mood she is trying to convey.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Proof

Proof (directed by John Madden, based on a play by David Auburn): Rating 7/10

What happens when genius finally fades? A man who has a lot of intelligent ideas suddenly finds himself writing gibberish! Yes in most cases, old age is responsible. And in other cases, it is just a loss of the inner spark that drives a person. Proof tackles the question of mathematical genius, on how it develops, how it inspires and how it fades away. It is based on a play and I am sure that is where its strength is. As a movie, I didn’t feel it worked. It went on a single motion and never really lifted itself up. Yeah this is a good movie but nothing here grabbed me and made me care. Pi was brilliant. But that sought to explore another side of the math equation. In the end, Proof seems to be drag on a bit too long, even though the movie is around the 90 minute mark (99 minutes to be exact).

That being said, both the actresses are very good. Gwyneth Paltrow plays her role so well that you actually begin to believe she is losing her mind. Hope Davis is excellent as Paltrow’s sister – someone who has nothing in common with her sibling and is more organized and focused. And Anthony Hopkins is good as usual, which is one expects of him. Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be settling in Hollywood now. He had an average role in this movie but his bigger roles in Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead await. Ofcourse, Donnie Darko was still one of his best roles.

Like A History of Violence, I don’t believe this movie should have been shown in multiplexes. Yes I know the big theatres are trying to diversify but really a movie like Proof is not the way to do it.

Trio of Movies: Head-On, Hop, Inch'Allah Dimanche


1) Head-On (2004 movie written and directed by Fatih Akin): Rating 9.5/10

A drunk German/Turkish man slams his car into a wall. The experts believe he wanted to kill himself. So he is sent to an institution. There he meets a Turkish woman. The Turkish woman is there because she had attempted to kill herself as well. Seeing the newly admitted man is Turkish as well, she proposes marriage. Why? Because she needs to escape from her parents clutches. And her traditional parents won’t agree unless the groom is Turkish. But it won’t be a real marriage. They would fake it and live like room-mates. The man does not agree. But after a horrific attempt to kill herself, the man gives in and agrees to marry the woman. Their marriage is unusual and so is the honeymoon. The woman having been liberated goes around enjoying her new freedom – clubbing, drinking and screwing as many men as she can. After her repeated late night outs, her room-mate husband eventually gets jealous -- he is falling in love with her. But things take a turn for the worse and the man finds lands up in jail. The woman leaves Germany to return to Istanbul where her life takes yet another turn. Finally the man turns up in Turkey to seek out the love of this life. What happens next?

An interesting and well made movie! Both actors are very good. But the star of the movie has to be Sibel Kekilli who plays her role superbly – you can see her character transform through various stages in the movie.

2) Hop (2002 movie directed by Dominique Standaert): Rating 9/10

Who knew watching a soccer game could be worth so much trouble? Well it becomes even more difficult if you have to steal cable from your neighbour to watch the game! Justin and his father sit down to enjoy Belgium’s Euro 200 run. But Justin has stolen the signal from his neighbour’s cable and as a result, his neighbour’s game reception is very poor. So when the neighbour finds out that his cable signal is being hijacked, he is not happy. Needless to say, Justin and his dad don’t finish watching the game -- they are too busy running for their lives. As a result, they get separated. Justin’s dad is arrested and faces deportation. So Justin has to come up with a way to get his father back. Lucky for Justin, he lands up at the door of a revolutionary.

This is a charming light hearted movie which manages to tackle the serious issues in an easy going manner. Yes the script is a bit contrived but I really liked this sincere effort.

3) Inch'Allah Dimanche (written and directed by Yamina Benguigui): Rating 10/10

Perfection! That is the best word to describe this amazing movie which tackles the issue of immigration. In 1974 the French Government allowed the country’s Algerian workforce to bring their families to France. That resulted into a lot of Algerian women and children leaving their homeland to head to a different world. Adjusting to a new culture and country is never easy. And the task is made even more difficult when you have someone trying to shove old values down your throat. That is the problem that Zouina (played beautifully by Fejria Deliba) faces when she has to live with her husband and her traditional Algerian mother-in-law in France. The husband was living alone in France and does not seem to change his thinking or way of life after his mother, wife and children arrive in the country. In fact, he is too busy working to be bothered by household issues. In the meantime, the mother-in-law is trying to suffocate the wife with Algerian values without paying heed to the French surroundings. I know this may sound clichéd, but it is done so well. Unlike poor stereo-typed American-Indian movies which attacked the traditional parents, this movie strives to realistically show things as they are.

A History of Violence

A History of Violence (directed by David Cronenberg): Rating 8/10

Hmm, a difficult movie to judge! I had huge expectations of this movie, which is a reason I think I felt a wee bit letdown. Anyway, onto the story... For the sake of not giving away a lot, the movie can be broken down into a couple of levels: a western on one hand, and a mob movie on the other.

Western: A man with no name comes to a small town. He starts a family and lives a peaceful life. One day two bad men come to his café and threaten the staff. The Man with no name leaps to the rescue and shoots the two bad men. He becomes a town hero. But then one day, three men in black suits come visit him. One of them who has a scarred eye and face seems to insist on knowing the town hero. He claims that the Man with no name has a name after all. Hmm. Could it be true? Is there something more to this than meets the eye?

Mob Movie: So can the Man with no name be who the mob people say he is? The mob element conveniently forms the second half of the movie.

And on top of these visible levels is another level – survival. Yes the very question of survival of the fittest. This is what the movie is about in the end. Whoever has the power will prevail. And whoever has the gun will win. A Canadian director has directed a very American movie indeed. Yes in some cases, violence is the only means to a solution. But what if there was no mob element in the movie? How would things have turned up? We won’t know the answer to that because the movie is based on a graphic novel, meaning it was already tied to the story. For me I would have loved to see a darker movie and not something which was reduced to clichés because of the mob. And I thought William Hurt (he makes an appearance near the end) was terrible. I don’t think there should have been humor in this movie but there is. Maybe it was a way to sell the movie to multiplexes. But Mystic River has also played in these same theatres, so has 21 Grams. One of my problems with Dogville was the mob element in that movie. But the fact is that Dogville and History of Violence are in the end dictated by the mob elements – things turn up the way they do because of the mob. But I wish these movies had taken a different route. Things turn up the way they do because of people’s action. Using the mob simply lends an easy avenue to explain everything, it makes everything more acceptable. And at the end of the day, having a gun only blurs the line between thought and action. The movie goes back to the question that was asked in Bowling for Columbine regarding gun violence – are people safe because they have guns? Because no matter what, the bad guys will always have guns. So the good guys must have guns too.

Yes everyone should apparently have guns. We can then go around solving all problems like in the days of the Wild West. Yup. A History of Violence, Indeed!!!!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

2005 CIFF Wrap Up

Compared to last year’s festival, I only saw 14 movies this year. However, I skipped 3 complete days (either through choice or other commitments) so essentially I only saw the 14 movies over 7 days, which means an average of 2 movies per day. And last year, I saw 18 movies over 9 days (skipping only one day), so once again, an average of 2 movies per day.

Well in between the festival, I took time out for 2 offbeat movies which I include below. The 2 movies were part of a proposed SIFF, Sachin International Film Festival :)

Well on with the list:

1) Day 1, Friday, Sept 23:

The much awaited Water made its debut at a packed gala presentation but I opted for the less packed Amu. Shonali Bose wrote and directed this flick about the 1984 killing of Sikhs in Delhi following Indra Gandhi’s assassination. The story revolves around Kaju (played perfectly by Konkana Sen Sharma) visiting Delhi after a long stay in America. She is fascinated by India and wants to get in touch with her roots. But slowly, she uncovers more about her past than she had imagined. A well made movie which I quite liked.


Movie Rating: 9/10

2) Day 2, Sat, Sept 24: 4 movies on tap

a) Il Conformista (restored 1970 print of Bernardo Bertolucci)

Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel, The Conformist is a movie about sex, politics and more politics. More importantly, delighted to have seen a 35 mm print of this film.

b) Turtles Can Fly (2004 Kurdish movie by Bahman Ghobadi): Rating 9/10

A joint production between Iraq and Iran, this movie is another example of the disappearing line documentary and fiction. Movies like this feel so real that well that you can’t believe it is indeed fiction. The movie is set on the Iraqi-Turkish border on the eve of American’s invasion of Iraq. What happens when people are forced to leave their homes? What drama occurs when people are made to wait like refugees on the border? One reason why the movie leaves such a lasting impression is because it is shown from the point of view of children. Children who are forced to work as mines gatherers; they are paid on how many mines they can find. Children who are forced to bear the scars of wars committed by men who can’t comprehend humanity! Anyway, this was a movie I watched without reading anything about it before hand. That is the best way to watch this powerful movie.

c) L’ Enfant (The Child directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne): Rating 10 / 10

This Cannes winner is vintage cinema verite. We watch the lives of Bruno and Sofia as they try to make ends meet while supporting their newborn child. Bruno is a con artist who spends money as fast as he gathers it. So saving money for their newborn child is an alien concept to him. But he makes mistakes, learns from them and the camera is there capturing every moment, watching him.

d) Cellar (written and directed by Ben Hickernell)

Two men wake up in a cellar. They realize they are former friends who have not kept in touch for a long time. The only other relevant items in the cellar are canned foods and a gun with a single bullet. Why are they there? It sounds like Saw, but it isn’t. The movie's pace is slower than Saw and slackens midway through the film. Still, a decent first time effort.

3) Day 3, Sunday, Sept 25:

Skipped the festival for various reasons. Instead watching two movies from my personal collection of movies gathered from overseas.

a) Le Festin De La Mante (The Praying Mantis directed by Marc Levie): Rating 8/10

A simple erotic movie with no bloated story line or un-necessary dialogues! In fact, the images speak for themselves. Considering I had never heard of this little movie from Belgium, watching it was quite a surprise indeed. Sylvia (Lou Broclain) is a woman who is possessed by an evil force. When the evil force takes over she needs to find a prey to satisfy her inner demons.

b) Imagining Argentina (2003 movie directed by Christopher Hampton):

A good movie about the ‘disapperance’ of people during Argentina’s dictatorship during the 1970’s and 80’s. The movie stars Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson. One day Banderas comes home and his wife is not there. She was taken away. But as it turns out that Banderas has a gift to actually see people’s past and even the future. He is able to touch a person’s belonging and find out what happened to them. This way he helps other people learn the truth about their loved ones and even manages to find some clues to help locate his wife. For a movie that I had not heard of, this was decent.

4) Day 4, Monday, Sept 26: Back to the festival

a) Sidekick (directed by Blake Van de Graaf, written and funded by Michael Sparaga): Rating 7.5/10

A true Canadian independent movie! The film-makers were all there and were happy to see a well received reception of their movie’s World Premier. Made on a shoe-string budget, Sidekick is a charming story about a modern day super hero. Norman (Perry Mucci) lives an ordinary life. He is not taken seriously at work, and is laughed at. In his spare time, he lives in a comic book world. By chance, he notices a co-worker (Victor played by David Ingram) seems to possess extraordinary powers. So secretly he goes about spying on Victor and confirms his hunch. He wants to train Victor to fully realize his super powers and offers to become his sidekick. But little does he realize that Victor might not be the kind of super hero that wants to be trained. By independent Canadian movie standards, this is a very good effort which once again highlights the motto that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

b) Rhinoceros Eyes (Directed by Aaron Woodley): Rating 9/10

David Cronenberg’s nephew makes an impressive debut with this excellent effort. I noticed shades of Donnie Darko in this visually rich flick. Chep (Michael Pitt) works in a prop house. He works by himself in the back of the shop has no friends. His favourite pastime is to watch old Hollywood movies. The owner of the prop house and his friends are a class act (hilariously acted by all). When one day, a movie designer, Fran (Paige Turco) turns up looking for rare props, Chep falls in love. He will do anything to get the rare props she requires. Gradually his sense of reality disappears and the dark forces around him start to descend upon Chep.

Easily one of the best movies I have seen this year!

5) Day 5, Tuesday, Sept 27: Surprize.

After a lot of debating, I headed out to see The Syrian Bride and C.R.A.Z.Y. But due to print transport problems, The Syrian Bride didn’t make it to the country in time and was eventually rescheduled for Thursday at 4:15 pm. Instead I was treated to my second surprise of the festival.

a) Yes (directed by Sally Porter): Rating 9/10

I had wanted to see this movie but it was conflicting with other choices on Friday. Now I got to see this movie. And what a movie it is! The entire dialogue is in iambic pentameter, meaning it rhymes. At first, it seems a bit strange but once you get used to it, it flows easily. In the first frames we are introduced to the Cleaner (Shirley Henderson) who tells us about dirt particles and no matter how much we try, we can never be free of dirt. Then the movie dives into the lives of She (Joan Allen) and Anthony (Sam Neill) whose marriage is in trouble and they are only keeping up pretences. So Allen welcomes an affair with the charming seductive Lebanese man (Simon Abkarian). And the rest of the movie debates on the important questions – methaphysics, terrorism, love, racism, life and everything in between. All the while rhyming everything. Either one hates this movie or loves it. I for one, loved it!!!

b) C.R.A.Z.Y (directed by Jean-Marc Vallee): Rating 7/10

Winner of best Canadian feature at TIFF! A sold out show at CIFF and the audience loved it. However, I was disappointed. Yes this coming of age Quebec movie is good but it is nothing special. The movie charts the life of the Beaulieu family through three decades of changing time, different music and varied values. The title stands for the first letter of each of the 5 sons.

6) Day 6, Wednesday, Sept 28:

Another skipped day.

7) Day 7, Thursday, Sept 29:

a) Alles Auf Zucker! (Go for Zucker! Directed by Dani Levy): Rating 8/10

This movie beat out Downfall at the German movie awards in 2005. This is a well made light hearted movie about a class of German and Jewish cultures. A German man is forced to revisit his Jewish way of life in order to get a slice of his mother’s inheritance. Another condition of the will is that he has to make up with his brother, who lives a very traditional Jewish life. Funny overall.

b) Amarelo Manga (Mango Yellow, 2002 movie directed by Claudio Assis): Rating 7.5/10

A day in the life of Recife! I was introduced to this colourful Brazilian port city via Peter Robbs book, Death in Brazil. Even though this movie has nothing to do with the book, it presents an interesting set of characters. The movie starts and ends with the owner of Avenida Bar. Considering this is a first time effort shot on a budget of $250,000 dollars, it is a very commendable effort. We meet different people in this city and how messed up everything is in their life. After the half-way point, the movie loses its steam and gets plain boring. Nonetheless, a worthy effort.

8) Day 8, Friday, Sept 30:

a) Cache (Hidden directed by Michael Haneke): Rating 9.5/10

How does one describe this interesting movie? A simple movie on one level but manages to hide a lot underneath. One day a regular couple Anne and Georges (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) receive a 2 hour tape showing their house happenings. Who made this tape? Why did this person mail them the tape? Whatever the reason, this is something which unnerves the couple. And then again, they get another tape showing them leaving the house. The second tape comes with a childish drawing of a boy coughing up blood. They are afraid, but decide not to tell their teenage son. The police can’t do anything. And then the tapes become even more interesting.

On one level this movie is a thriller. On another level, the movie is about the class levels (or even race) that exist in France today. And then there is my favourite third level – this movie is an existential movie about a person’s guilt and memories. What tape? Is there a tape?

b) The Warrior (2001 movie directed by Asif Kapadia): Rating 7/10

The movie is visually gorgeous, with the desert and snow caps highlighting the moods of the warrior. Irfan Khan’s expressions are perfect; they had to be as there is not much dialogue.

9) Day 9, Saturday, Oct 1:

Another missed day.

10) Day 10, Sunday, Oct 2:

Grizzly Man was sold out and the line up for Horloge Biologique was a bit long. So instead I opted for the movie with no lineup – Protocols of Zion. This Marc Levin directed documentary tackles the myth surrounding Jews and that day in September, 2001. A very well made movie which shows the lengths and trouble people will go in their blind hatred of others. Another surprise of the festival!

Rating 8/10