Tuesday, August 30, 2005

End of the month -- Asian Flair

The line between documentaries and fiction is blurred sometimes and no more so than in the first two movies.

1) In This World (2002 movie directed by Michael Winterbottom): Rating 8/10

It starts off like a documentary, then switches to fiction mode and when it ends, you realize the story was based on true events. And the amazing cinematography, with appropriate close-ups makes you feel like you are a traveler in the film. The story is simple enough: a street smart boy agrees to lead another fellow Afghan refugee from Peshawar to London. Along the way, they cross into Iran (with some difficulty) and from there have to make it into Turkey, then catch the boat to Italy and then to London. But the journey is difficult and comes with its share of problems. Not much dialogue and that is appropriate, the visual images speak for themselves. Sometimes the editing feels off but I didn’t care – I was completely absorbed in this movie. A very good effort.

2) Mountain Patrol (original title, Kekexili, directed by Chuan Lu): Rating 9.5/10

WOW! Another movie based on a true story – the film shows the efforts of the Tibetan mountain patrol setup to prevent poaching of the endangered Tibetan Antelope. The poachers love hunting this animal because of the expensive price that the fur fetches. But the Tibetans want to protect the animal before it becomes extinct. The movie is from the point of view of a Chinese journalist who tags along with the patrol in search of the poachers. Visually this movie is beautiful. And the screenplay is very good as well. Once again, I was caught up in the movie. The patrol’s life is not easy and this movie captures the hardships in the lonely desolate stretch of land.

3) Les Fils Du Vent (Son of the Wind, directed by Julien Seri): Rating 4/10

I had such high hopes of this movie but was let down quite a bit. The movie starts off in Bangkok with an attempted high storey robbery. The two robbers don’t finish the job because the girl (with her brother being the other robber) changes her mind. But that missed chance puts them in trouble with the Yakuza. The scene switches to London with a game of high speed building jumping and chasing the ball (sorry I don’t know if there is a name for this game). The stunts are amazing, with the muscular athletes leaping off buildings with ease. They next travel to Bangkok where they help run a local gym. However, they run into problems with the local gang and indirectly with the Yakuza. Not much for plot but a lot of jumping up and down metal beams and some neat kicks. However, watching someone jumping up and down gets tiring after say 20 minutes or so. Especially if the jerky camera work gives you a headache. And the dragged out fight sequence in the end is pointless and has no place in the story. A missed chance to make a great movie here.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mid August shows

1) Bad Guy (2001 movie directed by Ki-duk Kim): Rating 8/10

A man sees a college girl sitting on a bench. He is infatuated with her. So he sits up close to her on the bench. She is uncomfortable and promptly gets up when her boyfriend approaches. But the guy steps up to the girl and forcibly kisses her. The boyfriend gets made and gets into a fight. The guy gets beat up the gathering police as well. He wants revenge. So by some carefully arranged events, the girl ends up in a prostitution house. Initially, the guy just watches her, does not touch her. When the girl finds out, she is upset as expected. But for some reason, a bond develops between the two.

It is an interesting movie which is nothing like the shocking posters of a nude girl on the cover. In fact, there is very little nudity in the movie. It is a slow paced movie which grows on you. Like his previous movie, the Isle, the movie shows a love relationship tainted by pain and torture.

2) Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder): Rating 9/10

The cold stare. That wicked cold stare which judges, which humiliates.
On a rainy day, an older German woman walks into a bar. The bar is playing Arabic music. And the mostly Arab occupants of the bar stare back at the woman. Ali goes up the woman and asks her for a dance. During the course of their conversation, they strike up a friendship. And Ali ends up sleeping with the woman. Their age gap and race division becomes the hot topic for the woman’s family, co-workers and social circle. She is isolated, stared at and humiliated. This is Germany in the 70’s when racial discrimination was very common. And Fassbinder has crafted a powerful yet simple movie. Punctuated by the long cold state! And the camera angles are just perfect.

3) Coupling – Season 2, 3 and 4:
Well the British comedy Coupling only last four seasons. In reality, the first three seasons were stellar with the fourth one not being on the same wavelength. One of the reasons why the first three seasons were good was because of Jeff Murdoch (played brilliantly by Richard Coyle). After Richard left in the fourth season, things were not the same. That being sad, it is still an excellent show. A cross between Friends and Sex and the City but much better! Because the series shows both sides of male-female relationships as opposed to a single sided approach (like Sex and the City).

Saturday, August 13, 2005

August Already

Well quite a few movies to discuss, including two charming love stories. But first off, I want to discuss two completely different movies, each with their fair share of problems.

1) Mangal Pandel – The Rising (mis-directed by Ketan Mehta): Rating 5.5/10

Aamir’s Khan first movie in almost 4 years is a huge waste of time! Why is this movie so bad? Well the lack of a screenplay reduces every frame to a misplaced scene. Then comes the absence of direction which results in extras and actors looking out of place. Then there is the poor acting (with the exception of Toby Stephens). The music is just so-so, the dances out of place. The cinematography is good but the editing is sub-standard. I don’t think any blame would lie with Sreekar Prasad (editor) if all the footage he got was just poor. Or should it?

A few example of the problems:

a) If one looks carefully, you can notice scenes in which the extras are looking either at the camera or are just moving their arms as if someone is shouting instructions at them.
b) The overly dramatic scenes. When Mangal rounds up every single villager and his troops to bring two flame torches each, do we expect that incident took a few seconds? Did the British simply stand around and wait to be surrounded by mashal holding Indians?
c) Lack of Continuity. Shots are just taken and put together. Each scene looks independent of the rest of the movie.
d) A battle is ranging on and Mangal has time to fight with his ex-friend Gordon?

I could go on....Calling this movie an epic and a great movie is an insult. Once again, Bollywood proves that despite having good production values, it can screw up. Amisha Patel and Rani Mukherji are un-needed wasteful characters who instead of adding something to the movie take something away. A hugely disappointing movie!!!

2) Downfall (Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel): Rating 7.5/10

This movie showing the last hours of Adolf Hitler has gotten universal acclaim. So it should. But that does not mean it is a perfect movie! Bruno Ganz has delivered a stellar performance as Adolf Hitler. Every scene with him is a perfect scene. But without him, the movie just seems dull. The movie shows how cut off from reality Hitler was in his bunker. He had no idea how bad his troops were doing yet kept on talking about victories and the future. When he finally learns of impending failure (coupled with betrayals by his own loyal generals), he commits suicide along with his wife Eva Braun and orders their bodies to be burned. This happens at the 2 hour mark of the movie. But the movie does not end there. It goes on for another 26 minutes showing what happens to some of the other characters and how the Germans finally surrender.

The fact that the movie goes on after Hitler’s death is a good thing. It tries to show how things in reality panned out. But I just wish that we had gotten to that point sooner. The initial 2 hours should only have focused on the happenings in the bunker and not shown the outside. Those outside shots are weak and add nothing to the movie. Those same shots would have had more impact had they only being shown after Hitler’s death. Anyway, that is what I felt. Technically the movie is very good. But I had problems with how everything was laid out. The first half of the movie had no flow. It was scenes put together, some Hitler scenes, then outside, then back in the bunker, etc. Yet everything was tied together after his death.


Just a few words about the above two unrelated movies…Mangal Pandey ends after its main character dies. Yet I felt this was wrong. The movie should have focused on the impact his hanging had on rest of the nation for a while longer. The movie should have gotten to his hanging sooner. Downfall lingers on after Hitler’s death yet I felt it should have ended after his death.

Onto the two love stories…

3) Sepet (Directed by Yasmin Ahmad): Rating 9/10

A charming love story from Malaysia! In fact, one of the freshest and interesting love stories in a very long time. A Chinese boy meets a young Malay girl, and well infatuation takes place. The boy slips his phone number among the vcds he sold to the girl. And she gives him a call, the two of them go out and their friendship develops. But the boy is involved with a local gangster’s sister. And after he gets the gangster’s sister pregnant, he is in trouble. Forced to look after the pregnant girl, his relationship breaks off with the Malay girl. There is no happy ending to this movie but the sweetness with which how all the relationship scenes are handled is very touching! Especially the ones with the Malay girl and her parents. A great effort!

4) Socha Na Tha (written and directed by Imtiaz Ali): Rating 9/10

After 2001’s Dil Chahta Hai, Bollywood gets it right again! It took a while but this love story is as good as Sepet. A boy is forced to meet a girl for marriage. Both boy and girl discuss their future lie elsewhere. The boy rejects the girl. However, feud develops between boy and girl’s families over how the rejection was done. Boy and girl continue to be friends and their friendship soon turns to love. But both sets of families are now against their love. On top of that, Boy is involved with another girl and ends up dragging her family into the mix. Three sets of families are tormented because of one boy. WOW! That is the baggage that comes with the institution that is marriage. And this movie gets it right.

On to other assorted pics…..

3) Ken Park (directed by Larry Clark and Ed Lachman): Rating 2/10

Dressing up a soft porn movie as an American Beauty is not my idea of art. American Beauty had some merit to it but seriously, if you are going to take the story of confused and coming of age teens, then put some effort into the screenplay. Adding nudity and sex scenes is not the answer. But this seems to be the way Larry Clark makes his movies.

4) Sarkar (lack of direction by Ram Gopal Varma): Rating 4/10

Once upon a time Ram Gopal Varma knew how to make a good movie. Now, he has no clue. Nor do any of his productions. Sure he has managed to remove songs from his movies but along with that, he has eliminated the need for a story as well. Good acting by Amitabh Bachchan in an otherwise pointless movie. And calling this as a tribute to The Godfather is just a joke. What amazes me is the positive reviews that RGV productions (including this movie) keep getting. Have these people not watched Satya or Company?

5) The Island (was there a director?): Rating 5/10

Somewhere buried in this movie is a decent story. But unfortunately that story is never developed and instead it is buried underneath all the car & building explosions. Movies like this give the sci-fi genre a bad name. The Island could have been an improvement on ideas that Gattaca and The Matrix proposed but….

6) Eros (trio of three films):

a) The Hand (directed by Wai Kar Wong): Rating 8/10

If I had not seen In the Mood for Love or 2046, I might have liked this movie a bit better. But truthfully even though the movie comes off as erotic, in the end, it is just not that great. A young tailor apprentice (Chen Chang) visits a prostitute (the beautiful Gong Li). The touch of her hand on his genitals convinces the boy that he wants to be a tailor. From then on, the boy also becomes the woman’s exclusive tailor. He hears her sleeping with other men but is never able to touch her. Yet their invisible touch is more sensual than all the men who have touched her.

b) Equilibrium (directed by Steven Soderberg): Rating 3/10

There is nothing to mention in this pointless effort of a movie.

c) The Dangerous Thread of Things (directed by Michelangelo Antonioni): Rating 2/10

Two naked woman. One confused man. More nudity. A beach. Boring!

7) Non Ti Muovere (Don’t Move, directed by Sergio Castellito): Rating 7/10

A technically good movie about one man’s affair! Correction. One man’s repeated rape of a woman which turns into an affair. A lot of positive comments for this movie revolve around Penelope Cruz’s acting. Sure her acting is good but what is the point?

8) Tokyo Raiders (2000 movie directed by Jingle Ma): Rating 5.5/10
A man does now show up for his wedding. The fiancée goes to his apartment to find out what happened to him. There she meets the apartment’s interior designer who is there to collect his unpaid bills. Together they head to Tokyo to find the missing man. There they are chased by thugs. But when a private investigator rescues them, he discloses a bigger conspiracy that the missing man was involved in. The usual flashy fights are there but an average movie overall.