Pages

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The diver..

Man Utd vs Arsenal

When the opponent is Arsenal, then Wayne Rooney knows when to dive. Back in 2004, it was from his dive that Man Utd won a penalty to end Arsenal's 49 game unbeaten run. And on saturday, Rooney dove again to win a penalty, which he then scored to tie the game up.


As per the above picture, Rooney was already on his way to the ground before Almunia touched him. Almunia is to blame as well because there was no need for him to be so rash and he left himself no chance to pull his hands back. Rooney knew what he was doing. Even if Almunia had not touched him, Rooney would have fallen over Almunia's body and the penalty would still have been given. This is because when Man Utd are playing at home they get more penalties and decisions in their favour than any other team in the EPL.

And as usual, the other fouls that Man Utd players dished went unpunished and a clear penalty for Arsenal was also not called. A new season, yet the same ref bias. Eduardo gets charged by UEFA but Rooney will not be called out, never.

Friday, August 28, 2009

CIFF 2009 preview, part III

Asian hat-trick

Call if you need me (2009, Malaysia, James Lee)

A visually sharp film that combines the sensibilities of diverse film-makers such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Quentin Tarantino while still retaining a unique Malaysian flavour. Hou Hsiao-Hsien elevated a gangster film to an art form with Goodbye South Goodbye and James Lee does a very job in carrying on that tradition. Call if you Need me is about gangsters and kidnappings but there isn’t a single gun or drop of blood to be found on screen. All the violence is kept out of the frame and we are instead shown events that precede or succeed a violent act. In one instance, the gangsters surround a guy and are ready to beat him up but the next scene shows the victim playing cards with the gangsters. A few moments later, we learn that the guy is kidnapped and can’t go until the money he owes turns up so he is forced to pass the time by playing cards but you can sense his nervousness. Because there is no violence shown on screen, we can instead focus on the characters and their day to day lives, including their love interests and their choice of food and drugs.

The film also maintains a cool look and tempo similar to the cinema of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (especially Invisible Waves) thereby making it a perfect film for a nice summer day. Even though the topic is about gangsters, one never leaves the film with a bad taste and the film does not glorify the gangster’s lifestyle, something that Ram Gopal Varma consistently does in his work.

Rough Cut (2008, Korea, Hun Jang)

Rough Cut has taken some aspects of the extraordinary Korean film Dirty Carnival and gone in a different direction with good effect. Dirty Carnival showed how gangsters complained about movies not having authentic fight scenes and in order to correct things, a local gangster (Byeong-du) helped his old college friend (Min-ho) to make an authentic gangster film by giving pointers to the actors and fight instructors. In Rough Cut, a once popular action star asks a local gangster to play a villain in his movies so that the actor can save his career. The gangster, who always dreamed of being an actor himself, agrees provided that all the fight scenes in the film are real and not staged. The end result is a no holds barred on screen contest where even the film’s director has no idea if the end result would hold true to his original script.

Rough Cut is a very good film that puts a new spin on the traditional gangster genre. Kim Ki-duk's screenplay is different from anything he done before, and that includes the gangster film Bad Guy that he directed early in his career.

Daytime Drinking (2008, Korea, Noh Young-seok)

A delightful film that provides plenty of laughs with its sincere tale of love, friends, alcohol and good food. When I was not busy laughing, I was craving hot ramen noodles with cold beer just like the characters in the film. In recent years, most of the Korean films that have showed at film festivals have been big budget slick productions. So it is great to see an independent Korean film like Daytime Drinking doing the festival rounds.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Beautiful Game vs the Kicking Culture

The Champions League Draw -- A thing of beauty!



Group C is easily the toughest and the most interesting: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille & FC Zürich

The Milan vs Madrid game is one for the history books as the two most successful European Cup winning teams take to the field. Also, the game marks the return of Kaka to his former club. But Milan are not the team they once were so Marseille have a great chance to take second stop. On the other hand, fans of FC Zürich are in for a treat as they will witness their team take on some of the best players in the world.

Group A is the second toughest with the games between Bayern, Juventus and Bordeaux likely to be tight affairs. Maccabi might not be able to spoil the party but they will likely score some home goals.

Group E provides a bit of a challenge for Liverpool. On paper, Liverpool and Lyon appear to be favourites but Fiorentina might be able to ring a surprize. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can continue their CL luck from past years.

Group C rematches Chelsea with Porto for only the 100th time. Well it feels like the 100th time. Chelsea should easily win this group although Atletico Madrid need to show more consistency if they are to take second spot. What can APOEL do? They will certainly have a noisy home crowd behind them but their best chances of points are at home to Porto.

Group G appears to be a bit evenly balanced but Stuttgart and Seville should advance. Rangers have to secure an away win against one of these two if they want to take 2nd spot.

Reunion is the flavour in Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan

Both Eto'o and Zlatan face off against their old teams while Jose will surely be greeted with some boos at the Nou Camp. Both Barca and Inter should advance from this group with some ease, although Inter will drop points away from home.

Now to Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Beşiktaş, Wolfsburg.

Just like every season for the past decade, Man Utd get the easiest draw. Man Utd should easily win this group. And even if they are not playing well, they will still carve out a 1-0 or 2-0 win.

And finally, Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiacos, Standard de Liège

The second easiest group after Man Utd's. Even if Arsenal have injury problems, they should advance. The second spot is up for grabs but Olympiacos should take that. AZ Alkmaar can cause an upset or two.


The entire uproar over Eduardo's dive is insane. Yes diving and cheating are ruining the game but why were the British press not upset when Rooney or Steven Gerrard or Ryan Babel dove to earn a penalty? And why was nothing ever said about the multiple dives by Ronaldo in every game when he played for Man Utd? The answer is that the British press always protect their own players and any player who plays for Man Utd or Liverpool because these teams represent some sort of English identity. Arsenal don't get that treatment because of the huge number of foreign players they have.

Another frustrating aspect is that the British always turn a blind eye to the excessive number of fouls their players commit in every game. When Eduardo's leg was broken by Martin Taylor in Feb 2008 because of an awful inept tackle, the British press jumped to Taylor's defense. They didn't want to discuss why the game is being ruined by players like Taylor or the numerous incompetent players who ply their trade for Blackburn, Bolton or other teams with no skill. The British press consider excessive fouling and kicking as part of the game. This goes back to the old days when the British game was nothing but tackles and long balls. A perception in the English game prior to the 1990's was that foreign players were considered too weak to withstand the physical part of the game. It was believed that players had to be men enough to take the kicks, get up and carry on. And if a player complained about getting kicked too much? He was considered weak. These narrow views have changed slightly in the last two decades because of an influx of skillful foreigners who came into the English league and improved the overall style of the game. One can still find commentators refer to some players as having a “silky touch” yet not being physical enough.

The kicks are also incorrectly considered as showing "commitment". When Celtic’s players kicked Arsenal every chance they got, the only thing the commentators kept repeating was that Celtic’s players showed tremendous commitment. In Gianluca Vialli’s insightful book, The Italian Job, he examines the differences in Italian and English footballing cultures and management styles. In one section, Vialli mentions how English fans applaud a player attempting to run after a lost ball (meaning lost cause) and consider that attribute as part of a player’s commitment. They wrongly believe that “the player is giving it his all”. Whereas, in Italy fans consider that player as wasting his energy. Such false sense of commitment also applies to kicking in the English game. English managers often tell their players to “give it their all”, to “get stuck in”, etc. Now, each player will interpret these instructions as per their ability. And the inept players consider kicking and breaking another player’s leg as part of their commitment. The fact that their managers, the fans or the press don’t condemn such kicking only reinforces their belief that they are a worthy player.

One reason that Hleb left Arsenal was because he could not withstand the constant kicks he got. He was one of the most fouled players in England because of his ability to dribble and spin past players. Who knows if Ronaldo felt the same? He was one of the few players who spoke up Eduardo’s leg was broken. Maybe he feared the same treatment. Although it won’t happen, but it would be nice if all the foreign players left the English league. Then the British game can enjoy the Blackburn or Bolton style of “commitment” and “getting stuck-in” while the rest of the world can enjoy the beautiful game.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CIFF 2009 preview, part II

Euro Delight




My Only Sunshine (2009, Turkey, Reha Erdem)

My Only Sunshine has a beautiful visual language and is probably one of the best shot films of 2009. However, the film’s story is not as strong as that of Erdem’s previous feature, Times and Winds. Still, the stunning cinematography makes this film a treasure to cherish.

Link:Istanbul festival report.

Birdsong (2008, Spain, Albert Serra)

Serra’s leisurely paced film can either be a truly rewarding experience or a painful one. With high expectations from this feature, I let the gorgeous black and white images take over and went along for an absorbing ride. Once the absurdity of the character’s behavior became apparent, then watching them fumble their way through the desert was a humorous experience. It is essential to have the film in black and white because that allows one to pay attention to the characters and forget about the surroundings. This point is demonstrated by the documentary, Waiting for Sancho, where we get to see each locale in its original color and then can compare those shots to the black and white footage. If the film were not in black and white, then the rich colorful surroundings of Tenerife would have dwarfed the three main characters and the film would have lost its impact.

Can go Through Skin (2009, Holland, Esther Rots)

After a traumatic experience, Marieke leaves the city and moves to the country side to rebuild her life. But as per the title and the saying that some things can get under one’s skin, Marieke is unable to bury her past and alternates between fantasy and reality. The film leaves it up to the audience to decide what scenes are real and what are fabricated, although there are some clues as to which direction things are going. This is a stunning debut feature film by Esther Rots that lets the audience get inside the head of Marieke with a dazzling technical package (cinematography, editing) that contain tight close-ups of Marieke and objects directly in her line of sight, thereby giving us an idea of which objects trigger negative and fearful emotions in her. The sense of space that the camera uses is quite amazing and one can understand how Marieke’s environment is crushing her or when she is finally starting to breathe again.

Mid-August Lunch (2008, Italy, Gianni Di Gregorio)

Full credit to Gianni Di Gregorio for making such a delightful film about a topic that may not seem appealing on first glance (“middle aged man taking care of his mother”). Even more remarkable is the fact that Gianni Di Gregorio & producer Matteo Garrone’s previous venture was Gomorra (directed by Garrone and co-written by Di Gregorio). It seems that after working on a hard hitting gangster film, the best remedy for the duo was to pour their energy into this charming appetizing film which is likely to work up an appetite with the loving scenes of food preparation.

Sight & Sound’s interview with Gianni Di Gregorio.
Sight & Sound’s review of the film which gives away plot details.

Boy meets girl...but this is not a love story


500 Days of Summer (2009, USA, Mark Webb): 8/10

Love, Fate, Destiny. Words which are used quite a bit. Especially love. Many films claim to be a "love story" without ever understanding what love is. 500 Days of Summer doesn’t make that claim. In fact, the narrator at the film’s start makes it clear that "this is not a love story." So what is the film about then? Boy sees girl. Boy thinks he is in love with girl. Boy and Girl date. Girl still feels nothing. Boy is crushed, heart-broken. And then, only then, boy wakes up.

Some of the best "boy meets girl" tales are when a writer injects their personal experience into the mix. This is because valuable lessons are only learned when one is forced to look within for answers after a heart break. And sometimes, one needs time to understand what a coincidence means or what fate is really indicating. Sometimes meeting a person isn’t the end goal of fate, but that person is simply a marker which will ultimately point towards "the one". Such is the case in 500 Days of Summer.

And what comes after summer? Autumn, ofcourse!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

CIFF 2009 preview, part I

The full line-up for CIFF is out. This year marks the 10th anniversary of CIFF and the line-up is the strongest ever. A new competition category this year is the Mavericks. All 10 films in this category should be noteworthy but I can only comment on the 4 gems that I have seen.

Be Calm and Count to Seven (2009, Iran, Ramtin Lavafipour)

This stunning debut film can take one’s breath away with its poetic beauty. The opening scenes feature fast boats landing on the beach, followed immediately by burqa covered women running and unloading the goods off the boats and disappearing into the mud houses. We only learn later on in the film what the contents of those bags are but both the contents and act of smuggling are minor details. The most important aspect of this film is observing the way of life on a tiny beautiful island in the Persian Gulf.

If the character’s didn’t speak Farsi, then I would have placed this film to be shot in either Yemen or North Africa due to the setting in a fishing village by the ocean. In fact, the film reminded me most of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness because of the theme of characters waiting to cross the ocean to seek a better life. But this is a completely refreshing work that exudes life in every frame.

Everyone Else (2009, Germany, Maren Ade)

A fascinating look at how professional competition (architecture in the film's case) can put an already fragile relationship under more stress. The film has a slow start and at first it is not clear what the issues in the relationship are but gradually as we get to see more of the couple's behaviour, the problems become clearer and the film catches fire. But it is not an open inferno but a slow burn which eventually leads to an implosion and not an explosion. It is credit to Maren Ade that the film does not resort to melodrama but instead lets the body language of the actor's do most of the talking. The rawness and honesty of the couple’s relationship is unlike anything seen on film in the last decade.

Karaoke (2009, Malaysia, Chris Chong Chan Fui)

This beautifully shot film attains a level of beauty normally associated with the cinema of Thai film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Plus, the film’s structure of two inter-related parts has shades of Tropical Malady. One segment of Karaoke appropriately takes place inside a Karaoke bar and the other is in the beautiful Malaysian country side where the Karaoke videos are shot. There are two memorable moments where the camera moves freely and one can truly breathe in the atmosphere. The first such free movement comes in the opening 15 minutes of the film as the camera shows the diverse ethnic make-up of Malaysia by listening in on snippets of conversations taking place at the different tables. The different ethnic groups in Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian) don’t always get along and one can sense that distrust by the few observable moments at the film’s start. The second free movement takes place near the film’s end when the camera stops following a character and drifts into the jungle to show some truly mesmerizing sights.

Fish Eyes (2009, Korea/China, Zheng Wei)

Zheng Wei makes an impressive debut with this well shot film that does not burden the screen with needless dialogue. The minimalist style works to perfection here and this film is another example of the impressive Chinese films being made in the last few years. The film’s style evokes memories of another wonderful Chinese/Korean co-production, Grain in Ear, that showed at CIFF a few years ago.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quinglorious Tartare

Inglourious Basterds (2009, USA/Germany/France, Quentin Tarantino)

A WWII fantasy comedic drama in 5 chapters.

Chapter One: "Once Upon a time...in Nazi occupied France.."

Beautiful French country side. A French farmer. A german solider. French dialogues, english subtitles. Glass of milk. “Bravo”. Language switches to english. Where are they hiding? Rat-a-tat. Gun shots. One girl is allowed to escape.

Haaaaa...haaaa..the laugh of evil.

Chapter Two: Inglourious Basterds

Gang of men. Killing is all they do. But since Eli Roth is playing one of the men doing the killing, there has to be an element which will fit nicely within Roth’s Hostel films.

Chapter Three: German night in Paris

This chapter is dedicated entirely to the cinephile. Talk of German directors and even the propaganda cinema that existed under the Nazis. And a brief lesson to spoon feed audiences about nitrate film.

Chapter Four: Operation Kino

Mike Myers makes a brief appearance and delivers his few dialogues with the same dramatic pause that Austin Powers would. And a film critic character is introduced. Hmm.

Tavern in Nadine. Laughter. Das Boot filled with beer. All merry. But the accent throws things off. The film critic comes to the rescue but the lying can’t go on for too long. Gunshots. Rat-a-tat.

Chapter Five:

Lady in Red. Cue music. Revenge. Burn. Bullets.

Before fade to black: "I think this just might be my masterpiece".


Majority of the critics and Tarantino’s fans will probably nod their heads in agreement at those words. For the few critics who disagree, well Tarantino lets us know what fate he would like a film critic to get as per the example in his movie. And if there are audience members who don’t agree with Tarantino’s gospel, the fans boys will take care of them, as I found out when I dared to suggest that Tarantino should have edited Kill Bill 2 a bit more. The angry abuse I got suggested his fans believe that every scene he shoots is the greatest and all the dialogue in his film drips with intelligence. There is no doubt that Tarantino can write great snappy dialogue and he knows how to shoot a scene, but that does not mean that every scene should be present in his movie especially if it does not contribute to the overall structure of the film. Why are writers, be it short story, novel or screenplay, asked to re-write and edit repeatedly? Because abstract or intelligent ideas may be great on their own but sometimes they don’t contribute anything to the overall work. If every director was allowed to have all their favourite scenes in a film, then each film would be longer than 3 hours. But Tarantino is allowed a greater degree of self-indulgence than other film-makers. The harsh opening lines of this review for The Fall by Ed Gonzalez come to mind as an example. Gonzalez blasted Tarsem for being self-indulgent. Yet whatever Tarsem did fit within the framework of his film’s structure but his usage of exotic locales & props were slammed for being selfish. Tarantino does not do locales but uses his dialogue as a canvas for his inner ideas. Gonzalez does not have such harsh words for Basterds but his opening line from The Fall's review could easily apply here as there are plenty of self-indulgent scenes in Basterds (and in all Tarantino movies for that matter) which don’t fit within the film's framework.

The overall framework of Basterds is a beautiful French language film garnished with a bit of German and Italian. Tarantino should get a lot of credit for keeping his film mostly non-english as that gives it a wonderful atmosphere. And his overindulgent dialogues are toned down a bit thanks to Christoph Waltz, who does a brilliant job in expressing Tarantino’s words and is a delight to watch. Unfortunately at times the French film is almost squeezed over by a Kill Bill style movie complete with dramatic soundtrack, bold yellow titles, colorful background introduction of some characters and quick cuts to spoon feed audiences or to add humour. Brad Pitt is fun to watch but I wish there was a way to have Pitt’s character included within the framework of the French film and not be pushed aside along with Eli Roth in an almost separate segment, even if that segment is not longer than 30 minutes. The counter argument is that if this second style movie didn’t exist, then Basterds would have had trouble in getting marketed to North American audiences; the weaker english language film is probably needed to support the superior French language film otherwise the overall movie might have ended up in art house theaters and not in multiplexes.

Rating: 7.5/10

Even though Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds are original movies, they are works which are completely aware of other film genres and movies. Part of the joy in watching these films is to see how they build up on past films and incorporate newer elements while remaining completely unique and fresh. It wouldn’t surprize me if Tarantino will put his unique imprint on another genre next. But I am waiting to see if Tarantino will go back and make a unique genre free film again, a film free of the past.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

District 9: 1.8 million 'prawns' in a slum

District 9 (2009, South Africa/New Zealand, Neill Blomkamp): 10/10

District 9 is a rare thing -- an intelligent sci-fi alien film with plenty of political and social observations packaged as a fun summer movie.

Sci-fi aware

The film starts off with a voice-over explaining that an alien spaceship didn’t stop over New York City, but surprisingly came to a halt over Johannesburg. This is clearly a reference towards films like Independence Day or other Hollywood films which believe that aliens would somehow only stop over America.

The basis of some sci-fi movies in the past was that aliens were kept in Area 51 and government/military personnel used alien technology to develop weapons. District 9 also picks up on this idea and expands it to depict private military contractors wanting to harness the power of advanced alien weapons. Given the rise of private military contractors around the world, the film is properly updated.

Segregation, Refugees and border issues

The setting of the film in South Africa and the director’s interview has focused most of the attention on apartheid but District 9 achieves a lot more than that as it highlights the problem that refugees face in temporary camps when they cross a border. In the film, the alien population is forced to live in slums with substandard conditions, the same treatment that refugees who cross boundaries in Africa or Asia face. On top of that, the social hierarchy shown in the camps is modeled on real life people who take advantage of refugees living in camps.

Another interesting point is depicted by the character of the alien child born and raised in District 9. The alien child asks his father what their planet is like and wants to go home even though he has never seen his home planet. Scores of refugee children are born in camps far away from their home nations and hardly get a chance to ever return to their homeland. As a result, an entire generation (or two) of people have no concept of understanding their roots and have to depend on stories or the rare picture of their homeland (a hologram stands in for a photo in District 9).

The genesis of hatred and genocide

One key ingredient for genocide is when one group of people dehumanizes another group and considers the other group unworthy of living. In District 9 that concept is shown at face value as the tall, skinny and underfed aliens are the object of hatred of their neighbours. The sentiments of the people who live around District 9 indicates that if the South African government does not act to move the aliens, then something far more dangerous would likely take place.

Cruel humans

In a twist on the regular Hollywood alien film template, District 9 shows that if aliens did land on earth, then it would be humans who would do more harm to the aliens than the other way around. Given the messed up carnage that has taken place over the last few decades, it is entirely believable that humans would be far more evil when dealing with aliens. Once again, the film is appropriately updated.

Action...

There are some action sequences in the film but they are nicely integrated in the story and do not cause the film to halt for mindless 20 minutes of explosive situations. The finale action scene takes place in the same slums that the rest of the film is shot in thereby making the action scene an inevitable consequence of the forces brewing in the camps. Plus, the action scenes do not include any silly cuts to generate humour (like Spider Man 3 or even Dark Knight) but are completely focused on the task at hand.

Overall...

District 9 brilliantly proves that it is possible to make an intelligent action/sci-fi film without loud explosions or a brain dead script. If strong word of mouth enables the film to make more money, a sequel would follow. And the sequel will surely be called District 10.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Question: What happens when you put 1.8 million 'prawns' in a slum?

Answer: You get a brilliant film called District 9!!!


Just returned from the midnight screening of District 9 and I am very very impressed. Hollywood should take note on how to make a smart yet enjoyable movie. I hope this film does well than certain other Hollywood trash that has made oodles of cash this summer.

Will write more about the film in coming days but for now only one complaint about the movie's usage of subtitles. Whenever the black characters in District 9 speak perfectly audible english, their words are subtitled. Yet when the white characters speak English in a South African accent, then no subtitles. Although I have a feeling that this decision might be made by someone other than the director as I have seen similar usage in quite a few documentaries where there are subtitles when the non-white characters speak English.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public Enemies

A Michael Mann film is always an event to look forward to but I was more keen to see how the Sony F23 HD camera would be used to depict a 1930’s gangster film, a genre that does not offer too much in the way of story variance. The story of Public Enemies is mostly atypical of the genre -- gangsters rob banks and split the loot to spend the cash on women and drinks while the cops hire their best to hunt the outlaws down. A love interest and strong opposing characters complete the story. But still, within a confined template there are plenty of moments where time stops and one can enjoy the scene for what it is. There is one amazing scene where the wanted criminal John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) audaciously walks into the police station department that is planning his arrest. The bright sunlight shines on his face which bears a confident smirk and he causally lowers his sunglasses to examine the evidence gathered against him and even has a word with a few policemen who are listening to the baseball game on the radio. The natural sunlight and pacing of the scene may be at odds with the rest of the film’s dark look but this scene highlights Dillinger’s confident personality and need for fame, be it from the police or even the media, as some other scenes attest with close-up of his eyes.

Overall, Mann’s style and usage of the camera prevents the film from being another run of the mill Hollywood gangster flick. There are some moments where the film is alive as the rich images flood the screen (example: in some scenes, the gunfire literally sets the screen on fire). The close-ups combined with the speed of the camera give a documentary feel and one forgets that Public Enemies is a 1933 period film.

In previous Mann films such as Miami Vice, Collateral and The Insider, there were plenty of ‘cool’ scenes with either a bluish or greenish tint. In Public Enemies there isn’t any such bluish tinting but instead natural sunlight or minimal lighting is used to light up most scenes. The police station scene would qualify as the patent Mann cool scene in Public Enemies. Plus, Diana Krall’s beautiful voice lends a jazzy touch to the film.

Next up: I am curious to see how the Red Digital Camera’s usage would make District 9 different from other alien films.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Drafting a journey in pictures...



Graphic novels are certainly being used in brilliant and fascinating ways nowadays. Case in point, The Photographer. This is an interesting mix of real photos (black and white with one color picture), comic-book art and excerpts from a diary to convey the true story of Didier Lefevre who traveled to Afghanistan in 1986 to follow Doctors Without Borders. Didier's photos are rich and beautiful. And reading his travelogue/non-fiction work in the form of a graphic novel complete with his photos makes for a very rewarding experience.

note: one of the best pictures in the collection (page 74) is not available on the website and features Didier capturing a raft just leaving shore with two passengers and a donkey as passengers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

To Show or not to Show, that is the film festival question.

A screening of the film The 10 Conditions of Love ran into some problems at the Melbourne film festival:

Chinese government officials had demanded that Australia "immediately correct its wrongdoings" by canceling the screening and Ms. Kadeer’s visa. When those requests were ignored, the Chinese government threatened on Friday to sever Melbourne’s sister-city ties with the Chinese city of Tianjin.

Seven Chinese-language films from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were withdrawn, their directors saying the festival had become too politicized.


But that was not all.

Zhou Yu, a 24-year-old computer programmer from Nanjing, said he hacked into the festival’s Web site and defaced it with a Chinese flag to defend his country’s honor. "The government’s protests were useless," he said by e-mail. "It’s patriotic to use my own skills as a common citizen to fight back."

Mr. Zhou said that while he had not seen "The 10 Conditions of Love," he believed the film was factually inaccurate. “This movie distorts history, confuses and poisons people’s minds and impacts national unity,” he said. His actions have drawn widespread praise from many Chinese, although there seems to be little room for divergent views on the matter. On Kaixin, a popular social-networking Web site here, a recent poll asked visitors to weigh in on Mr. Zhou’s actions but gave only two choices: "support" and "super support."


Now, this guy had not seen the film but he felt justified in hacking into the festival site. And others who hacked into the site prevented access to all the other films showing at the festival. Clearly, none of those people have any idea into how much work goes into setting up a film festival.

Reading this brought back some memories:

1) In 2007, the Vancouver Film Festival was programmed to show Hu Jie's film Though I am Gone?. I had initially seen an entry for the film on VIFF's website but when I clicked on the film title, there was no info. I figured it was a typo and there was no such film. My belief was confirmed a few days later when the film disappeared from the festival's website and was not mentioned in the program. But I later learned that the film was indeed shown. Since I had originally seen the film title on the website, I know that the festival made sure there was no trace of the film to be found anywhere later on. Self censorship or induced censorship? or both?

2) In 2006, we were planning on showing Micha X. Peled's insightful documentary China Blue (about the jean making sweat shops in China) at our Asian film festival. But since we were a start-up film festival, we were looking for assistance from the Chinese consulate. We were told that if we showed China Blue, we would get no help from them. Now the film does not put China in a bad light but instead shows the Western corporations as greedy in forcing the Chinese companies to shave off a few cents from the cost of each jean. But still, the film was deemed inappropriate. My festival director somehow managed to get the film shown. Although his efforts were in vein as only 4 people came to see the film.

3) Also in the same Asian festival in 2006, the local Vietnamese community told us that they would not support us if we booked any films from Vietnam as they were against the government there.

The above were government related political decisions. But there are always other decisions which decide if a film is going to be shown or not:

4) In 2005, CIFF wanted to show Deepa Mehta's Water and were told by the distributor that the only way they could get the film was if they opened the festival with their movie. The festival was not planning on opening with that movie but in the end, they had to comply. Interestingly, Water also played on opening night at TIFF.

5) We had to pull a film from our Asian festival (2006) because the producer was holding out hopes that his film would get selected at TIFF. Since TIFF liked to have exclusive premiers, the producer feared that if his movie showed at our no name festival, it would ruin future chances of glory for the film. In a way, I understood that decision and even got an email from the director where he mentioned that he envisions a day where film-makers don't have to play political games for festival selections.

Getting a film to show at any film festival is never easy. There are many many hours of negotiations and programming that goes into getting a film to show. And even after the film is confirmed, further problems can arise due to prints not arriving on time or technical problems with the projector. I have had to get on stage to explain the technical difficulties with a film and have also refunded money to frustrated audience members due to a faulty projector. Neither was a fun task. But why would hackers care for any of this? So easy to bring a festival website down and ruin hours of volunteer work that people have done?

But hey, who watches movies at film festivals anyhow? :) Don't critics debate the merit of film festivals every year? So if the government didn't protest, maybe this film would have shown at the Melbourne festival and disappeared. But now, this is news. Sort of.

The bottom line is every film festival is always criticized every year, sometimes for the film it books and sometimes for the film it does not book. But no one dares to shout at a multiplex for continuing to show cinematic trash week in, week out. Hmmm..

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Solving problems, one bomb at a time

The Hurt Locker (2008, USA, Kathryn Bigelow): 9.5/10

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker isn’t a war movie even though it is set in a war zone. It is a film about problem solving, with the problems being either diffusing bombs or taking out enemy snipers. In fact, the best moments of the film are when the soldiers are shown in the middle of their problem solving exercises which require zen like concentration. The soldiers don’t have any time for pondering about the meaning of life or questioning the war’s motives or even to pause and stare at death head on; the dangerous situations require them to tune everything else out and only focus on the ticking bomb or enemy in the line of sight.

One of the film's best sequences takes place during a long and patiently shot sniper scene in the desert. The sequence shows how even a soldier’s breathing or heart beat could make him miss a long range target. Plus, the camera angles brilliantly show the scene from the sniper’s perspective and at no point does the camera switch over to a close up of the target. This technique allows one to get a sense of the difficulty in adjusting for the depth and range of the target and the concentration required. Normally, other films handle similar sniper scenes by first showing the good guys aiming for the enemy and then immediately having the next shot show a close up of the enemy being shot. As a result, one never gets a sense of the target’s range.

The Hurt Locker does incorporate other aspects of the soldier’s lives complete with macho games and punk rock music, things one has come to expect from films set in war zones. Thankfully the film does not waste too much time on the soldier’s drinking and whoring aspects which are supposed to take the edge off from the death defying tasks at hand. Not every thread is tied up in The Hurt Locker and that allows one to get a sense of the confusion and hazy information that the soldiers have to deal with, especially when the soldiers can’t speak the local language. There are some clues which allow the audience to identify some of the men who are observing and planning further bombings but overall, the film is not concerned with a typical Hollywood style happy ending where the enemy is rounded up at the end.

Easily one of the best films of the year and if this film is not nominated for a best feature in the 10 available slots at next year’s Academy awards, then there is something seriously wrong. I really doubt there are 10 better American movies than The Hurt Locker which are yet to be released in the next 4-5 months.

Third time unlucky...


About 4 years ago, Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha was a breath of fresh air in the over recycled Bollywood love story arena. While Socha Na Tha was a love triangle, it really stood apart from other such films in two ways -- firstly, by exploring the friendship aspect that precedes some relationships and secondly by showcasing how Indian marriages are really a union of two families. In Socha Na Tha one guy’s indecision about a girl throws three families in disarray and stress. The dialogues and characters were wonderfully etched out and avoided the stereotypes that most Bollywood films resort to.

And then came along Jab We Met in 2007.

I originally passed up on the film figuring it to be another love story. But after constant urging by family and friends, I gave in and was rewarded with a wonderful film. Kareena Kapoor’s acting and the witty dialogues livened up the film and made Jab We Met one of the best Bollywood films of 2007.

I hardly watch a film more than once but I enjoyed both Socha Na Tha & Jab We Met so much that I have seen each film atleast 3-4 times. So my expectations were a bit raised about Imtiaz Ali’s third feature Love Aaj Kal.

Since I had delayed seeing his first two films by a few months, I decided to tackle Love Aaj Kal right on opening night (July 31) just in case the third feature was on par with his previous efforts.

Unfortunately, Love Aaj Kal was a painful experience to endure and turned out to be two wasted hours. The film is about a guy’s indecision (Jai played by Saif Ali Khan) about marrying a girl (Meera played by Deepika Padukone) but unlike in Socha Na Tha, the guy does not have a second girl to make things difficult but has his career and life standing in the way. The story has some merit but it is executed very poorly. A few moments in the film do give a glimpse on how this could have been a better work but everything is treated in the lazy manner that plagues most Bollywood films -- careers are treated as excuses to shoot scenes in scenic locales, pointless songs crop up for no reason, technically poor framed shots which focus on un-necessary details thereby distracting from the principle focal points, etc.

It is clear that Love Aaj Kal has a bigger budget than Imtiaz Ali’s two previous efforts which were shot entirely in India -- Love Aaj Kal ventures to London & San Francisco besides having some moments in Calcutta and Delhi. And it appears that the bigger budget has come with the usual bad trademarks of Bollywood films shot abroad. I can only hope that Imtiaz Ali sets his next film in India and focuses more on the screenplay rather than flashy locales.