Thursday, November 30, 2006

End of November wrap-up

Seven films ended this month’s movie watching. No specific criteria was used to pick the films but just an assorted collection of English and Foreign movies. Not a bad set in the end.

Roja (1992, directed by Mani Ratnam):

It took me almost 14 years to get around to watch this film. However, this was one of those movies that I knew so much about despite not having seen it. I had heard the songs, watched the music videos and had seen quite a few enough movie clips that I didn’t feel a need to see it. But I was repeatedly reminded that this movie had to be seen. I am glad for all those reminders because this is indeed a movie that has to be seen. When this film first came out, not many in Northern India had heard of A.R Rahman, Santosh Sivan, P.K Mishra or even Mani Ratnam. But Roja changed all that. Rahman’s music has truly reached the far corners of the world, past the Indian borders; P.K Mishra’s offbeat lyrics have generated a lot of musical hits; Santosh Sivan’s cinematography has garnered a few awards for him on the global scene and he also tried his venture at film directing both for independent and commercial films. And Mani Ratnam went onto make Bombay which truly shone the spotlight on him in Indian cinema.

But what of Roja? Somewhere in between the songs and the love story lies a beautiful political debate about a topic that the world ignored until 2001. Terrorism, Freedom fighters, militants and insurgents were terms that have existed for the longest time but the West (especially America) chose to not openly use such terms because it had no need to. Ethnic cleansing and proxy wars were conducted in Kashmir in the 1990’s with the aid of the Taliban but it went under the radar so to speak. While Roja got plenty of respect in India, no one really cared for it outside the country. An Indian plane was hijacked on the eve of 2000 and the hijackers demanded to be flown to Khandhar where they fled to safety after killing an innocent person on board. What did the world do? Nothing! India was left to clean up the mess while the rest of the world got drunk and celebrated the new century. And then more than a year later, 2 buildings fell and everything changed. Did everything change? Did terrorists not exist in Kashmir before that? Did a corrupt regime not support and train young "freedom fighters" to kill innocent people? The same corrupt regime became an ally in the "war on terror" after 2001 (or as Borat calls it "war of terror"). But I am getting off-tangent here. This film also contains another topic that the West will start exploring more via films in the upcoming years – kidnapping of innocent victims to demand release of terrorist prisoners. Roja shows how militants (freedom fighters, terrorists, whatever they are called) kidnap an innocent person (engineer) and use him as a bargaining chip to get their leader released in exchange. Back in 1993, it might have seemed unrealistic that the Indian government would release a terrorist in order to save an innocent person’s life but that is exactly what happened on the eve of 2000 when the families of the kidnapped plane victims urged the government to release the terrorists in exchange for their loved films.

What makes Roja incredibly interesting is that the film attempts to have a dialogue on the topic of jihad and whether violence is justified or not. An interesting scenario added in the film occurs when young kashmiri youth crossing the border into Pakistan to get training in the terrorist camps are gunned down by the Pakistani army by mistake. Was it really a mistake? Or was it another instance of the double-sided political game being played? The film ends on a note of slight optimism, but unfortunately, optimism is something not found when it comes to the Kashmir debate nowadays. One can’t change the course of events – proxy wars once started can’t be un-stopped. But atleast this film will stand as being one of the first few movies (since the 1990’s) to tackle a very common topic nowadays, although the effort slants a bit towards the commercial.

Note: the film suffers from poor dubbing. In order to make this film more accessible to the Indian market, it was dubbed in Hindi and leads to mangled dialogues in some scenes.

Premonition (2004, directed by Norio Tsuruta): Rating 6/10

Watching Japanese horror films post Ring and Ju-On is a mixed experience One tries to watch a different story yet one can’t help shake the sense of familiarity that exists in most frames. The same techniques, the impending doom that is about to unfold and a terrified face waiting to greet its victim. In this film, a newspaper has the ability to predict people’s death. The newspaper merely serves as a warning but if someone acts on the headlines and tries to change the future, they will end up in an infinite cycle of their worst nightmares.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (directed by Niels Mueller): Rating 9/10

This is Sean Penn’s film. He is an almost every frame and carries this film with his fine acting of a troubled person stuck in a corrupt and insane world.

Remember me, my love (2003, directed by Gabriele Muccino): Rating 8.5/10

A family of four yet each person is their own island. The father hates his career and life; the mother aspires to be an actor and wishes she never game up on her dreams after marriage; the teenage son is frustrated with not getting the girl he loves and the 18 year old daughter is willing to do anything to get on tv. A soap opera in one sense but yet, I was drawn to this film. Plenty of scenes capture the perfect loneliness that a family can go through and no matter what age a person is at, they still long for that innocent happiness they once knew they could have had.

Take the Lead (directed by Liz Friedlander): Rating 7.5/10

The trailers made this film look like two clichés in one – a high-school dance story combined with the element of an inspirational teacher helping troubled high school kids. But the trailers were wrong. The teacher is not a paid member of staff, he is someone from the community who volunteers his time to help the kids. The film is a fictional story based on the real life work of Pierre Dulaine (played by Antonio Banderas in the film) who believed that teaching ballroom dancing to kids will give them dignity and teach them how to respect other people. The film was fun to watch, even though it felt clichéd at times.

I Can’t Sleep(1994, directed by Claire Denis): Rating 9/10

This film deserves a longer write-up. Every frame contains enough action to give us an insight into the complicated racial & cosmopolitan Parisian life. Two brothers, one a struggling musician and the other a transvestite dancer, a newly arrived Lithuanian citizen and a series of murders! Yet Denis knows what to show and what we need to understand ourselves. Everything is not laid out for us but we have to decipher what is going on. And that is what makes this such a rich watching experience.

Little Jerusalem (directed by Karin Albou): Rating 8.5/10

Paris again, but a completely world from the one Denis focused on. This one deals with questions of philosophy, religion and the morality of sexual relations from a Jewish point of view. The philosophy is European (Kant’s need for routines) and the main character is caught between her love for philosophy and her need to live within her religious boundaries.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fast Food, Borat & Bond

Fast-Food Nation (directed by Richard Linklater): Rating 7/10

It is a bad sign when a free advance screening of a movie is not even close to half sold out. And that was the surprising scene on Tuesday, Nov 14 at the advance screening of Linklater’s latest flick. Why did the crowds stay away? The big multiplexes in my city didn’t even bother booking this film and the city’s art-house theatre was left to carry the burden of being the only theatre to open this movie on Friday, Nov 17th. So is this film that bad? Ofcourse not! It is definitely worth seeing just for the different ideas portrayed.

Linklater and Eric Schlosser have crafted a fictional story meant to show a slice of the hierarchy involved in the fast food chain. The lowest rung starts from the illegal workers (Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama) who come over from Mexico to work in the lowest paid jobs in the meat industry. We also meet the transporter and guide who help in the border crossing. Next up, is the meat packaging plant where people work in dismal conditions to service the stomachs of a hungry nation – cutting, dicing & chopping the animals herded in from the cattle range. We are also introduced to a cattle ranger (Kris Kristofferson) who provides his animals for the plant and even get a glimpse at the sly broker (Bruce Willis in an amusing cameo) between the plant and the rancher. The small town fast food chain and its young disillusioned teenage staff are shown along with the manager trying to sell the job as a career to the kids. The other kids (what is Avril Lavigne doing here?) who don’t work at the fast food chains but want to take action against an oppressive system are also given some air time. And there is even place for the one who got away -- Ethan Hawke plays a person who was lucky enough to leave the small town in search of a better life; he duly returns to tell his niece to follow her dream and eventually leave the town. And no film would be complete without the distinguished executives of the fast food chain. Greg Kinnear plays the marketing head in charge of coming up with the slogan and ideas for the next big burger.

This is a movie in fragments with multiple short-stories and each story having its own style different from the other segments. Overall, the film can be seen as a combination of satire, a political statement, serious drama, mocu-mentary and a coming of age film. I read in an interview that Linklater wanted to model the story after Traffic and you can see that in the overall film structure. However, Traffic had a consistent feel to every segment whereas Fast-Food Nation feels like different episodes put together. For example, take the Ethan Hawke segment. While his presence is refreshing in comparison to some of the other film segments, his character seems out of place. Hawke’s character seems to have flown straight out of the pages of other Linklater films such as Waking Life, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset where his character pretends to have pseudo-intelligent babble. What exactly is he doing in this movie? Just there as a favor to the director? Bruce Willis is fun to watch and he spouts some very interesting words but he is just a tiny fraction of the story. As are many other cameos and roles. I still believe all these different items could have worked together only if the movie had more energy to it. Every frame feels tired and exhausted. Eating fast-food does not fill one with much energy, so if the idea was to mimic the staleness of fast-food on celluloid, then the movie has accomplished its goal. But the problem is we have already seen how an absorbing movie can be made about fast-food -- Super Size Me may have been a documentary but it was far more interesting to watch than a fictional small town tale with global implications.

The film starts and ends with the Mexican border crossing, with the story going full circle as a younger generation of workers is shown to be entering the nation. Greg Kinnear’s character also starts and ends the movie, even though he disappears half-way through the film. Nothing wrong with that as his character has merely served his purpose and no longer needs to be there. One note about the killing assembly line at the film’s end. I am glad that Linklater put that scene in the movie. Even though the scene might not change anything regarding fast-food, it might make some people think about where their food really comes from. I find it amusing to see people getting shocked and disgusted at animals being slaughtered but no-one utters a peep when humans are tortured and mutilated both in real life and on screen.

Borat (Directed by Larry Charles): Rating -- Very Nice!

“Hello, my name Borat” By now, everyone has heard of Borat but not everyone likes him. But Borat probably does not give a goat’s ass if people don’t like him. His goal is not to be liked but simply to get a reaction from people. And his movie does just that. There is some slapstick comedy in the film but most of the humour is derived from little movement. In fact, the genius lies in Sacha Baron Cohen merely staying still and uttering just a few well chosen words. In other cases, a mere attempt to kiss or shake hands with men is enough to produce the desired effect. What is offensive to one person is humour to another! I have read how Borat offends “everyone”. Now that statement is true in the film’s context but in a larger context, it is not totally correct. Borat has carefully chosen the people he wants to offend and only targets a narrow category. I wish he had targeted more political people but maybe those were items that were left out on the editing table and are on the DVD instead? One of the funniest political sequences is the rodeo scene when he changes one word without the crowd fully understanding it (and even if they did catch the mistake, they might have attributed it to his bad English). Borat says that his nation supports the American president’s “war of terror” and the crowd applauds loudly. This was in Texas so it is clear the crowd were applauding the president’s agenda not Borat’s message.

Yes, this is a funny movie. But I am surprized to see how high the North American critics have rated this film. Normally, they question the logistics of each film scene but I have not seen that done for this movie. Maybe this movie is critic proof because there is no real story for the film but just scenes which serve as mere excuses for gags and laughs. The short length of the movie (84 min) also ensures that the humour comes fast and before the jokes get boring, the film ends gracefully.

Casino Royale (Directed by Martin Campbell): Rating 8/10

Yup, Bond is back! But with a new star, comes a new look and attitude. The classy look is replaced by a raw &rugged style. This is the start of the story so appropriately the new Bond is not up to speed regarding etiquette and diplomacy. He is reckless and even when he has been beaten fairly, he can’t accept defeat. For example, at the start of the movie, Bond is beaten for agility and pace by Sebastien Foucan’s character. Bond understands he can’t match his opponent’s flexible movements so he opts for effective, intelligent techniques and even brute force. But despite his best effort, he fails to catch his opponent. Instead of keeping quiet, he storms into the embassy and blows the entire place up. This gets him in trouble but that only galvanizes him into more action.

The film is written by 3 writers and at times it shows. The first segment is all action, the middle part the casino and gambling stage of the film and the last 30 minutes is sappy romance where Bond is at his most vulnerable. Paul Haggis in one of the writers and I am sure he had something to with exploring Bond & Vesper’s loneliness (such characters could find a tiny cameo inMillion Dollar Baby and Crash). But also, there is a tiny tip to Shakespeare as Vesper complains she can’t get rid of the blood from her hand (Lady Macbeth and foreshadowing both in one go?). A torture scene born from the remains of the chair sequence in Pulp Fiction and dark atmosphere of Saw is needless present but also contains fresh humour keeping in character with Daniel Craig’s brash attitude.

This is a different film from the previous Bond series where Pierce Brosnan played a charming Bond who didn’t get involved in physical violence. Daniel Craig is more suited to playing the tough guy who prefers to get his hands dirty and is willing to punch his way through trouble. And Bond has to deal with two women who are more than a match for him. Bond’s attitude is appropriately dealt by M’s razor sharp words (Judi Dench is perfect again) and Eva Green is a delightful edition as a Bond girl who is more brain than brawn. But the film’s long running time (2 hours, 20 min or so) adds a lot of un-necessary scenes which should have been left out on the editing table.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Soccer Film Festival

Since I have been busy programming movies for other film festivals this year, it was appropriate that my birthday gift was a personal film festival!! This wonderful surprise gift involved movies with soccer based themes. Instead of naming the wonderful individuals behind this gift, I will call them festival programmers :)

Initially, 7 movies were programmed to be screened over two days. But the astute festival programmers discovered that I had seen three of the films (Football Factory, Cup Final, The Goalkeeper’s anxiety at the penalty kick). So two more films (Fever Pitch, The Miracle at Bern) were added to expand the list to 6 films and stretch the film festival to 4 days. The programmers knew very little about soccer when they programmed this for me but their picks were very impressive. In fact, not only were different genres (drama, comedy, action) covered, but each movie showed how soccer ties in with the fabric of a society. On top of that, the selections covered all rungs of football, right from a boy kicking a ball for the first time to amateur & professional players leading up to the World Cup, the highest aspiration for football players. The three countries spotlighted by all the seven films were England, Germany (albeit West Germany) & Scotland.

This was a truly wonderful gift for which I am eternally grateful and I can safely say, I enjoyed every single film. So instead of rating each film, I will simply state its relevance to the beautiful game.

Day One: Wednesday, Nov 8, 2006

Fever Pitch (1997, directed by David Evans, based on Nick Hornby’s book)

It was appropriate the festival kicked off with this film. This is the original movie based on Nick Hornby’s wonderful book about an Arsenal fan. I had seen this movie a few years ago but back then I had not visited Highbury (Arsenal’s legendary old stadium). The book and film ends at the exact match when I first watched an Arsenal game – May 26, 1989 when Arsenal did the impossible and won the championship on the last day of the season against an unbeatable Liverpool team at Anfield. That game won me over and I became an Arsenal fan for good. Since then, I have exhibited some of the neurotic behaviour that Hornby (and his alter ego in the film, Colin Firth) went through while supporting Arsenal. In fact, most soccer fans (not only Arsenal fans) probably fall into the categories shown in the film – optimistic and always pessimistic. The optimistic ones always believe their team will win, no matter who the opposition. And the pessimistic believe that their team is capable of always screwing up even when their opposition is a non-league team.

This movie shows what it means to be a soccer fan and serves to highlight the difficulties men have in trying to make women understand what this game means. Plenty of soccer relevance in this film as the film shows school football, a frustrated coach, soccer vs women debates, amateur & professional football and the crazy life of a soccer fan. Also, the movie covers the dangers of all standing sections in English stadiums in the past, something which may have added to the flavour of the game in the old days but also led to some grave consequences (racism, abuse, death and fights). The all-seating arrangements that exist nowadays have made for more family-friendly game viewing. I sat in Highbury’s North end for my games in 2005, the same North end that was standing room only as shown in the film prior to 1990.

Day Two: Thursday, Nov 9, 2006

The Miracle of Bern (2003, directed by Sönke Wortmann)

A pleasant surprise! What made this viewing more enjoyable is the fact that I saw this movie after having read the wonderful book Tor! The story of German Football which lend validity to the film’s story of the 1954 World Cup. The book starts out on the morning of the 1954 World Cup final. When the first rain drops came down on a bright sunny day, the West German captain Fritz Walter knew his team would win the World Cup. This was because as the The Miracle of Bern shows the West German coach Sepp Herberger predicted that if the weather was sunny, then Hungary would win but if it rained, then the West Germans would take the Cup because a soggy pitch was Fritz Walter’s domain. And so it was….History will show that West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 to win their first every World Cup. But what was the real story behind that improbably victory? The Hungarian team of 1954 was one of the greatest teams in the history of this game yet they lost on a soggy rainy pitch to the West Germans despite thrashing them 8-3 earlier in the World Cup and leading 2-0 in the final. How could that have happened?

The film introduces a fictional element by showing part of the World Cup through the eyes of 11 year old Matthias who is on good terms with Helmut Rahn, the terrific winger who scored the winning goal in that 1954 final. Matthias looks up to Rahn as a father figure because Matthias has never met his own father. That is until Matthias’s father, Richard, returns after having spent 11 years in a Russian prison following the end of World War II. Richard is bitter from the war and is hostile towards Matthias since he never knew of his existence (he got no letters from home informing him of Matthias’ birth just after he left for Russia). Richard can no longer work in the coal mines and takes his anger out on his family. He even prevents Matthias from watching the World Cup games. Eventually, Richard comes around and teaches his son to improve his game and tries to drive him to the World Cup final because as it turns out, Matthias is Helmut Rahn’s lucky mascot (this is the film’s melodramatic fairy-tale element).

One of the neatest elements of the film is that instead of using archival footage, the filmmakers re-shot the 1954 final with similar replica jerseys and moves which led to all the goals. The movie is melodramatic and we know what the outcome will be, yet the movie’s emotional elements won me over. It shows the power of soccer to unite and bring people closer together, especially a father and a son. In that respect, this movie is similar to Fever Pitch which illustrated how the father introduced his son to the game. Miracle.. also has that dreamy quality that children undergo while trying to emulate their stars during street football games. From a historical point of view, the film also sheds light to Herberger’s famous quote “The ball is round. The game lasts ninety minutes. This much is fact. Everything else is theory.” We learn from the movie that these might not have been Herberger’s words and that he may have gotten them from the cleaning lady at the hotel. Fact or fiction?

Mean Machine (2001, directed by Barry Skolnick)

This was a remake of the original Hollywood film, The Longest Yard. Since I had not seen that film, I was able to enjoy this British prison soccer film without knowing the story. Ofcourse, it is easy to predict this film’s story from the outset but it still makes for fun watching. A large reason for that is Vinnie Jones who is perfectly cast for this role. Before appearing as a gangster in Guy Ritchie films, Vinnie Jones was best known for being a tough no-nonsense professional defender who made headlines (for all the right & wrong reasons) with teams such as Wimbledon and Chelsea. In the film, he plays an ex-professional footballer who is jailed for drunk driving. However, the reception he gets is chilly because he once infamously betrayed his English team by taking a bet to give away a penalty against the Germans (here is the German team again). What makes this story angle interesting and realistic is that in real life, one of Vinnie’s ex-team mates was charged for taking a bet to throw away a game.

Jones has the right look and attitude for this part and makes this an enjoyable watch. The film is packed with clichéd characters but the one who outdoes them all is Jason Statham’s character of ‘Monk’. Monk is locked up in solitary confinement because he killed 32 people by hand. He is crazy and unpredictable. Which is why he ends up being the prison soccer team’s goalkeeper! That is a true soccer joke as most real life goal-keepers are known to be either eccentric (Rene Higuita of Columbia), temperamental (Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann), bossy (Oliver Kahn) or plain philosophical (Albert Camus claimed to have learned more about life from being a goal-keeper). The big soccer match in the film is between the prison guards and the in-mates. No prizes for guessing who wins the game. But the game is not pretty football; it is tough and gritty (anti-Arsenal brand, or pro-Blackburn and pro-Bolton brand).

A lot of negative sides of the present day game are covered in this film – soccer gambling, cheating, bribing, irresponsive behavior from professional players (quite a few make the headlines nowadays for drunk driving), and negative on-field tactics. On the positive side, the film shows that a game of footie, no matter which location, can still give hope to people even if the audience is trapped in a jail cell, an office, a pub or a stadium.

Half-way through the festival

The next three films covered Scotland and soccer was only used as a sprinkling in these movies but it was an important part. It was a very good decision to program these three movies together as they had quite a few similar elements and gave a sharp picture of Scottish life.

Day Three: Friday, Nov 10, 2006

My Name is Joe (1998, directed by Ken Loach)

Soccer only truly features at the start of this film when Joe (played superbly by Peter Mullan) drives his soccer team for another amateur game. His team are plain terrible. In fact, they have only won one game in their entire history. But the lads have fun playing the game. It helps them forget their pain and suffering, be it poverty, domestic issues or even addictions. The team calls themselves West Germany (the German angle is evident here as well) and model themselves on the 1974 winning team. They can’t afford new soccer kits so half-way through the film, they steal a box full of shiny new yellow Brazilian jerseys. This petty crime lights up their faces and they find a new zest in continuing their losing streak..

What makes the limited soccer scenes so important is that they convey some of the reasons why men are drawn towards the game. Sometimes, the game offers an escape, just like any addiction. The game gives a chance for the men to bond, hang out, act childish and shut the rest of the world out (which includes their family as well). Besides the soocer angle, this is a powerful story of the recovering alcoholic Joe and his attempt to balance unemployment, love with Sarah (played by the equally impressive Louise Goodall) and trying to sort out issues with the local gangster. A wonderful film which shows how a little thing can provide hope and at the same time, one mistake can destroy everything.

The Acid House (1998, directed by Paul McGuigan)

Three short films make up this movie and all three interesting stories are written by Irvine Welsh.

1) The Granton Star Case: Boab is having a terrible day. He finds himself kicked out of his amateur soccer team and replaced by the new stud, Tambo. He returns home only to find out that his parents can’t stand him living with them anymore and kick him out of the house. He phones his girlfriend, hoping she will move in with him but she breaks up with him. And to top it off, he gets fired from his job. So what’s a lad to do? Drink down one’s worries with a pint ofcourse! While he is hating his life, he meets God in a pub. God explains that Boab has wasted his life and is nothing more than an insignificant bug. So to take revenge, God turns Boab into a bug (kafka, where are you?). The new bug goes about to satisfy himself by taking revenge on all the people who made his life miserable. At the end, he accomplishes his goal and as the camera heads towards the sky, we see Boab transformed back into a human. Will his life become better? Probably not, but I am sure he had fun in taking his revenge. Atleast, he will get his place back in the soccer team because he killed Tambo who was shagging his girlfriend.

2) The Soft Touch: This one is the most emotional of the lot and is the hardest to watch. Johnny is married to the flirtatious Catriona. Right from the outset, their marriage seems doomed. But Johnny is just too nice to notice. He takes care of their new born baby with the utmost of love while his wife could not care less. Trouble really starts when Larry moves upstairs to Johnny’s place and messes with Johnny’s life. First Larry takes Catriona away, makes love to her and makes Johnny listen downstairs. Next, Larry starts taking electricity, tv and other items from Johnny’s apartment. Johnny can’t do anything but he clings onto his baby daughter. Larry is a thug, but a soccer fan nonetheless. Watching him gives a face to those hooligans that have tarnished this game’s reputation. In a cruel scene, Larry kicks Johnny for fun, because he can. We watch helplessly as Johnny tries to live, just wishing he would do something about his situation. But what can he do? He is a soft person and that is the price he has to pay for his decency in a cruel, unforgiving society.

3) The Acid House: Coco is a soccer fan who in a bizarre drugged up night, exchanges souls with a newborn rich baby. After the switch, the new baby speaks profanities while Coco is left to act like a baby trapped in an adult body. In the final scene, the two exchange places in a pub packed with soccer fans. Just before the switch, Coco’s girlfriend tells Coco that soccer is only for people who don’t grow up and since he is an adult, he should not bother with the game. But right after the switch, Coco immediately starts jumping up and cheering with his soccer mates. An interesting way to end this short! It does play into the popular attitude that being a soccer fan is a childish activity and it is not proper behaviour for grown men to be drunk and cheer for a soccer team.

Wow. Three very different shorts which tackle themes of revenge, violence vs non-violence and pure drunken stupor! The first short is all about revenge – a devious mind can find ways to take revenge, even if the mind is trapped inside a fly’s body. The second short is the hardest to watch but it forms a perfect pairing with My Name is Joe and shows no matter what stand one takes against a thug, one might end up on the losing end. In My Name is Joe, Joe finds out that taking a forceful stand against gangsters only results in causing more damage and being trapped in more complex traps. Whereas in The Soft Touch, when Johnny takes no stand, he is pushed around and treated as non-existent. He might as well being the bug in The Granton Star Case. And the title short (The Acid House) is both funny and quirky at times (example: an adult in a baby’s body wanting to be breast fed) and overall marks a fitting end. All the main characters in the three shorts could have been following the same game (the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup) and yet each go about their life differently. Not all soccer fans are drunken hooligans or immature adults as the media shows. Some of them are, but the rest are average blokes just trying to watch a game.

And now for the finale!! Drum-roll….

Day Four: Saturday, Nov 11, 2006

Gregory's girl (1981, directed by Bill Forsyth)

Gregory is plain lazy and too laid back to care for anything. He plays as a striker for his school soccer team but has not scored a goal in over 8 games. Safe to say, his team have lost all those games. But Gregory is not concerned. He believes he is going through a slump and the goals will come. His coach is going crazy and decides to take action. He benches Gregory and goes in search for ‘new blood’ to provide spark for the team. The best candidate he gets is Dorothy, a girl. She points out that the coach never stated in his selection posters that a girl could not join the team. So the coach is forced to take Dorothy and installs Gregory as a goal-keeper. But that decision does not improve things because Gregory is a terrible goal-keeper. He can’t keep the ball out of the net and he acts even more immaturely when Dorothy scores a goal -- whenever she scores, boys from both teams try to give her a kiss. Gregory is in love with Dorothy but is too shy to do anything about it. He gets ample advice from his 10 year old sister, who acts more like a 14 year old. In the end, Gregory asks Dorothy out and she accepts. But she never shows up for their date. In fact, three of her friends show up in turns and he gets 3 separate dates out of it. Who will be Gregory’s girl? He himself does not know but by the end, he has learned a thing or two about himself as well. There is hope that he will mature and become a better adult and hopefully a better soccer player.

A perfect way to end this special festival! This light hearted coming of age movie marked a peaceful end to a festival that literally started on a fever pitch.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Devils, Candy, Unknown & Guilty Pleasures

Devils on the Doorstep (2000, directed by Jiang Wen): Rating 10/10

Vintage cinema! Pure cinematic Pleasure!! Besides the absorbing story, another amazing aspect about the film is its frantic pace. Pace and a Black & White film don’t always go together but in this case, it blends perfectly. It is true that the frantic pace in Godard’s b&w film Breathless was amazing to observe. Godard’s new film technique of jump cuts was revolutionary as it helped accelerate the movie’s action but no jump cuts are used in Jiang Wen’s film. Instead, each frame is jam-packed with so much action that at times, one is left reeling from trying to catch everything (and reading the subtitles at the same time adds another challenge). Also, it is refreshing to see an Asian director make a movie which exploits the fast pace of the Mandarin language as opposed to a recent slate of Asian art movies which skimp on dialogue and slow everything down which is contrary to the Asian pace of life.

The first 15 minutes of the movie are as follows: A villager (Dasan Ma) is passionately making love to his girlfriend when there is a knock on the door. A stranger holds a knife to Dasan’s head and forces him to keep two gunny bags until New Year’s Eve (5 days away). The stranger asks Dasan to interrogate the two hostages inside the bags – a Japanese solider and his Chinese translator. Dasan consults the village elders and friends about what to do with the two men as the fate of the village might depend on the situation.

The film is called a dark comedy and the first hour is indeed funny with some of the humour arising from mistranslation on the Chinese translator’s part to save the Japanese solider from getting killed. It is not hard to guess where this movie is heading and there could not have been any other possible ending even though one may secretly hope for a neutral/happy ending. Overall, this is a marvelous film that deserves to be seen.

Note: I will have to write a separate article praising the high quality of black and white films that I have seen this past year.

Hard Candy (directed by David Slade, written by Brian Nelson): Rating 9/10

It is best to watch this movie not knowing anything about the story, which is something that may be hard to do. Predator & Prey, but who is the prey and who really is the predator? A series of virtual internet meetings between a 14 year old girl and a 32 year old man eventually leads the two to finally hook up face-to-face. Then the fun really starts. A very good screenplay that never slackens and keeps things interesting just with the two actors and a house as a backdrop!

Unknown Pleasures (2002, directed by Jia ZhangKe): Rating 8/10

This is the 3rd Jia ZhangKe film that I have seen in the last month after Still Life and The World. There is no doubt about Jia’s talents as a director and his films are firmly grounded in the Chinese landscape making them a pleasure to watch. A simple story, minimal dialogue, long takes combined with silence are just some of elements which give us a chance to observe the rich characters in ZhangKe’s films. In this case, it is about everyday people going about their lives, trying to make money & find some happiness and pleasure in whatever little is available to them.

On a separate note: Jia ZhangKe’s love of films comes through in his work. In Unknown Pleasures a street thug is influenced by Tarantino’s opening sequence in Pulp Fiction and wants to rob a bank. In Still Life a young villager is influenced by Chow Yun Fat and tries to imitate Fat’s stylistic cinema actions (wearing shades, using burning money to light a cigarette).

And finally, a guilty pleasure….

Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (directed by Justin Lin)

What is the point of rating such a movie? It is a commercial movie through and through. The first film was decent enough to watch and it had Vin Diesel’s perfect attitude. I skipped the second film and was skeptical about the third film. But I have to admit, the third film is indeed fun to watch. There is not much to expect story wise but the ‘drift’ and car sequences are extremely well done (clearly a lot of effort has gone into making the breath taking car scenes). What is the story? Car chases, a young driver with attitude, a villain driver, a girl to win over, plenty of skimpily dressed girls hanging around fast cars! But sometimes, a light hearted fluff movie is needed just to cleanse the cinematic palate.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Death of a President

Directed by Gabriel Range: Rating 7/10

Hype & controversy but in the end, a timid and dry result! Here was a golden chance to make a sharp and witty documentary which held up a mirror to today’s society and projected a darker future, in the process making Orwell look like a true prophet. But in the end, we are left with a tame murder mystery, a sort of investigation into a fictional crime. Was that the intent? I have not read any interviews with the director so I can’t guess on his real intent in making this film. I can infer he wanted people to question some of the un-democratic policies that exist in the U.S Administration and how the government has used fear to push forward its own agenda and stripped citizens of basic freedom. Yes, this aspect of abusing power comes through in the movie but in a quiet muted way, almost as an afterthought. That being said, the first hour of the movie is indeed riveting as it shows the moments leading up to the president’s assassination. But from then on, the movie goes into a man hunt to find the sniper. I had seen a gripping American documentary The Trails of Darryl Hunt which covered the same man-hunt topic – a crime is committed, an innocent man is framed and sentenced despite lack of evidence because the authorities needed to catch someone but eventually the truth is revealed and justice is served, albeit more than two decades later. If the two films were compared head to head then Death of a President falls well short of The Trails of Darryl Hunt . Hence my disappointment with the last 30 minutes of the film!

Considering how much trouble Range must have faced in getting this movie made, one wishes he had made a powerful insightful movie. There are some plus points though -- the movie correctly assesses the North Korean threat and shows how Dick Cheney attempts to link the president’s assassination to Syria despite no evidence being present. This is clearly based on a true incident as the administration tried to link Iraq after a certain horrific terrorist attack 5 years ago. So it is not a stretch to think if another attack happened in the future, the administration would attempt similar tactics and go after an innocent state. If the real intent in making this film was to show how the US administration is capable of making an isolated incident appear to be a terrorist plot, then more energy should have been spent on this aspect. Overall, I think it was worth seeing this film but it is very disappointing to see so much potential thrown away.