Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Return of Recreational Movie watching

Having finished programming movies for the Asian Film Festival, I finally have the time to again watch movies subjectively. Here is a quick score-card of some recent talkies:
(note: because of restrictions with publishing in this blog, I can't use my html table and have to present the data in this ugly format)

Film : (Year, Director, Rating out of 10)
15 Park Avenue: (2005, Aparna Sen, 10)
Three Times : (2005, Hsiao-hsien Hou, 9)
Sitcom : (1998, François Ozon, 8.5)
The Weather Man : (2005, Gore Verbinski, 8)
Secuestro Express : (2005, Jonathan Jakubowicz, 8.5)
Goal! : (2005, Danny Cannon, 7.5)
The Statement : (2003, Norman Jewison, 6)
The 40 Year Old Virgin:(2005, Judd Apatow, 4)
Phantom of the Opera: (2004, Joel Schumacher, 6)
Marebito: (2004, Takashi Shimizu, 5)
Il Mare: (2001, Hyun-seung Lee, 6.5)
Myth: (2005, Stanley Tong, 6.5)
Bridget Jones,EOR: (2005, Beeban Kidron, 5.5)

15 Park Avenue was a movie that I was looking forward to for a while. And that was only because I had loved writer, director Aparna Sen’s last effort -- Mr and Mrs. Iyer. In my mind Mr and Mrs Iyer was a perfect Indian movie which did justice to the complex and diverse Indian landscape. So after a gap of almost 3 years, Sen returns with a stellar cast in 15 Park Avenue, bringing back her talented daughter Konkana and Rahul Bose from Iyer and adding talented veterans such as Shabana Azmi to the mix. In terms of a story, 15 Park is almost identical to Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mera. Both movies deal with a schizophrenic character and their turbulent familial relationship. But the most striking difference in the two movies is in the ending. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mera’s ending tries to find a solution and ends on a hopeful note. But 15 Park’s ending is open ended with no possibilities of an attempted solution. In reality, 15 Park’s ending reminded me of the final shot in the smart French film, Caché. Even though the two movies ending consisted of continuous shots, there is a not so subtle difference. In the last shot of Caché, the viewer has to look closely past the assembled crowd to make sense of a possible clue or something. But in 15 Park, the final shot is devoid of any crowd. As the final frame comes on the screen, the crowd has disappeared. We are shown a long shot of an empty street, with an empty house. The absence of any activity might be the clue, whereas in Caché, the activity in the final shot was the clue. My theory on 15 Park’s ending is probably as far fetched from any reasonable meaning but here goes – Shabana’s character teaches Quantum physics in the movie and that is where I believe lies the clue to the ending. If a character is searching for a non-existent address in a city, then what does it mean if the character finds that address? Does it mean that character has ceased to exist or has their character crossed a space-time warp into an alternate reality? But there is a problem with the space-time ending. Rahul Bose’s character cannot be present in two places at the same time, so if he is present at the fictional address then that means the ending signifies that the main character has ceased to exist. In Caché, the ending does not come as a surprise. This is because the entire movie is built on still images and long continuous shots. But 15 Park is based on conversations and chatter (both real and imaginary) throughout the movie and the ending signifies utter peace, complete silence. The silence is broken only for a few seconds when a boy walks by whistling but it is a peaceful noise. Other than that, all is silent. Finally, the voices can be heard no more!

I admit I didn’t know of Hsiao-hsien Hou until last year when I heard about Three Times. Now having seen that movie, I can understand why he has such a following. Three Times is a gorgeous movie. 2 actors, 3 different love stories in 3 different eras – 1911, 1966 and 2005. I found the 1911 segment the weakest but it is also very inventive. Hsiao-hsien Hou recreates the silent movie era complete with placards shown on screen after the characters talk. Instead of having the segment in black and white, Hsiao-hsien Hou opts for vibrant colours. I do wonder what affect having the segment in black and white would have had to the movie’s flow. Would it have broken the flow or would it have formed a bridge in between the semi-colorful 1966 opening segment and the grayish 2005 segment? But this is a minor niggly point in such beautifully shot movie. In all 3 segments the lovers communicate with written words. In 1966, they use hand written letters. 1911 features written scrolls and in 2005, the words are exchanged via SMS text messages. The end result is the same in all 3 methods – the need to communicate and express one’s feelings for the other. My favourite segment was the 1966 segment which clearly had the feel of a Wong Kar-Wai movie like Chunking Express or Days of Being Wild (only the first 20 minutes or so). I decided to get a few of Hsiao-hsien Hou’s older movies and once I am done those, I will put up a separate article on him.

The only reason I rented Sitcom was because of François Ozon. Ozon’s movies are so interesting (8 Women, 5 x 2, Swimming Pool) as they represent different facets of human emotions. And I was not disappointed with Sitcom. It is such a hilarious take on the complicated familial dynamics that it makes American Beauty look like a simple and plain movie. In Sitcom, we meet a somber quiet father, a bubbly aging mother, a quiet introvert son and a young vivacious daughter. Added to the mix are the rich maid and her black husband. And then there is the evil hamster who in reality is a personification of the evil father who is out to ruin the family. Not like the family need any help in messing things up for themselves. Presenting Exhibit A -- the son claims to be gay, the maid’s husband checks to see if the boy is really gay by kissing him (and other stuff unseen by the camera), the mother tries to make the son normal by sleeping with him, the daughter attempts to kill herself. Truly a sitcom with a twist!

The Weather Man – gloomy yet bright. Huh? As Bill Murray has perfected the dead pan look, Nicolas Cage seems to be right at home with the depressive aging man. The only question I have is whether weather men are paid as much as shown in the movie? (upwards of a million dollars).

Secuestro Express – Express Kidnappings in Caracas! I had expected this movie to be much worse but I ended up liking it. A well to do middle class couple get kidnapped for some fast cash but their kidnapping does not go as per plan. Nothing earth shattering about the movie but it moves at a brisk pace.

Goal – An American movie about Soccer! Is that a joke? And that too a rags to riches story about a Mexican kid who moves from LA to play for Newcastle United. No wonder this movie was ripped to shreds in the British Press. I seriously expected a typical clichéd Hollywood movie. And yes it is indeed clichéd. But after the first 20 minutes, I ended up liking it. It has a good heart and a few scenarios made the movie feel a bit genuine, like the digitally altered scenes and the Manager character. The digitally altered soccer crowd scenes looked good and having real players on display made it seem a little bit genuine; having a soccer manager clearly modeled after Arsène Wenger was something that I appreciated. If in real life Arsenal's manager, Wenger took on an unknown player such as Kolo Toure from the Ivory Coast only based on what his friend told him, then it is not that far fetched that in the movie Santiago could get a try out with Newcastle. Yeah it still sounds improbable but in the movie, it seemed to work. The movie is not a work of art but it is pure fun.

The other movies were mostly passable. 40 Year Old Virgin is boring and plain dull. My biggest problem with that movie was that the lead was horrible. If they had gotten Ben Stiller for the title role, they maybe the movie might have been better. Oddly, after finding the first 35 minutes horrible, I ended up not disliking the rest. Either I got used to the dullness or I was able to channel out the dumbness. Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason is identical to the first movie expect with different locales. The first movie was funny but the second one is not! The Jackie Chan movie Myth is essentially about a male Tomb Raider running around searching for famed treasures. The only newsworthy thing in the movie might be the quick topless shot of the Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat. She can’t act in a Bollywood movie and in Myth she actually manages to be worse. But she is finally able to display her topless front side to the camera whereas only her naked back makes it on Bollywood celluloid. Ofcourse, the typical stereotypical image of India is shown in the movie – a land of spirituality, sensuality, dancing women ready to shed their clothes off, snake charmers and cheating saints.

That’s a wrap!

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