Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bugs, Fast Cars & Mysterious Objects

Bug (2006, Director William Friedkin): Rating 9/10

Bug is a fascinating character study into a fragmented mind. Even though this is a topic that has been covered many times before, Bug takes a different approach. Other films about a fragmented mind such as Spider, Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Mara (I didn't kill Gandhi) or Woh Lamhe (Those Moments) looked at how an individual self destructed and collapsed. But Bug looks at how a fractured mind can influence other people -- as bugs can multiple and spread diseases, so can a person's poisonous ideas.

The movie is based on a stage play and that is evident by the tight quarters and the dialogue. In terms of acting, Ashley Judd has put in a riveting performance. We see her character, Agnes, go through a complete range of emotions. At the film's start Agnes is already on edge and a bit vulnerable. But as the film progresses, her character truly implodes.

Even though this is not an easy movie to watch nor is it happy, it makes for an engaging viewing. Credit for that must go to Friedkin, who has ensured that the camera only moves to what we need to see. While the majority of the movie is inside a motel room, there are moments when the camera hovers beautifully over the motel giving a sense of the isolation that Agnes and Peter (Michael Shannon in a very good performance) find themselves in.

Grand Prix (1966, Director John Frankenheimer): Rating 9/10

The true test of a great film is if it lasts the passage of time. In that regards, Grand Prix, a movie about the dangerous and complicated world of Formula-One racing, is still fresh and relevant almost four decades later. In fact, almost all of the scenarios regarding the racing sequences have occurred in one form or the other over the last year or so in the current Formula-One season.

I am not a full fledged Formula-One or car racing fan but I do admire the diverse personalities of the racers that exist. Since it is such a dangerous sport, a specific kind of characteristic is required to race these cars. In fact, just by looking at a particular car being driven, one can tell who the driver is based on their off the track manners.

Grand Prix gives us 4 very different characters as the rival racers:

-- We get the tough, no-nonsense Pete Aron (James Garner), a former American World Champion with plenty of racing experience.
-- Then we have the British driver, Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), who is driving to erase the ghost of his dead brother who was killed during a Grand Prix race.
-- The French driver, Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), is the ultimate realist (or even existentialist), a driver who questions the meaning of driving and even life itself.
-- Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato), the Italian, loves to drive fast cars and changes lovers frequently; he believes he is "immortal" and nothing can touch him.

Besides these interesting characters, the film also gives us a look at the different women in these men's lives. The entire relationship aspect gives this movie plenty of depth and makes it more than just a racing movie. Also of note is the calm and intelligent role for Toshirô Mifune (Seven Samurai to name just one of the many classic films) as the car owner who gives a second chance to Pete Aron.

The biggest strength of this movie are the breath-taking racing scenes. It is hard to believe how the film-makers managed to pull this off back in 1966. Using multiple cameras was not a common thing back then but they used almost 12 cameras at one point. We get helicopter shots, side road shots and footage from cameras mounted on cars. What is amazing is that the film crew managed to get real Formula-One and Formula-three cars with actual recorded sounds of F-1 gear changes and raced on the Grand Prix tracks for the film shoots. Such a thing would not be possible nowadays with restrictions from the different car companies. In the DVD interviews, James Garner mentioned that they were able to race their cars on the Monaco Grand Prix 15 minutes before the actual Formula-One race.

The Races -- Monaco & Monza:

The deadly oval track at Monza:

The women: Forced to go through agony at every race.

Post-race: The crowds are gone and the hero walks alone.


Mysterious Object at Noon (2000, Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul): Rating 8/10

Even though this is only the second Weerasethakul film I have seen, I can't help admire his easy flowing style. Tropical Malady (2004) was such a hauntingly beautiful film with one of the best cinematic moments I have seen in recent years (the shot of the tiger, staring, no glaring at us, the audience, was both scary and yet majestic). In Mysterious Object.. you can see Weerasethakul develop his style. Apichatpong started the film with a loose script but packed it with plenty of improvisations along the way. Weerasethakul held auditions for the movie and cast non-actors. Instead of feeding them lines, he asked the non-actors to narrate a story to the camera for many of the scenes. He then found a way to link these simple stories with mythical and even a sci-fi thread as he traveled deep into the Thai country side, away from the buzzing cities. When a movie is free flowing as this, how do you end it? Simple. You end the movie when the camera breaks down! Weerasethakul mentions in the DVD interview that the final scene is when their old camera finally gave way. And in reality, the camera could not have ended at a better time. The movie was close to hitting a dead wall with nothing more to reveal and just then, the lights go out.

No comments: