Saturday, July 23, 2005

Foreign Movie Galore..oh and two Canadian ones as well..

1) Coup De Torchon (1981 movie directed by Bertrand Tavernier): Rating 8/10

The English title of this interesting French movie is ‘Clean Slate’. And that is exactly what the main characters sets out to do – wipe all the corrupt people in his West African town and start fresh again. Tavernier adapted the story of this movie from an American novel by Jim Thompson called Pop. 1280. The story was moved from Southern American to a West African town. And it adapts perfectly. A corrupt police officer wanders around the town doing nothing to protect the black slaves from the rich white French residents. And then one day, he snaps. After a constant barrage of insults from the rich French elite, Lucien Cordier (played brilliantly by Philippe Noiret) starts killing people off one by one. Oh and thrown in the mix is Lucien’s affair with Rose (Isabelle Huppert) and Anne, the cute school teacher. Ofcourse, this is in between handling his wife and his strange brother in-law.

2) Knife in the Water (1962 movie directed by Roman Polanski): Rating 7/10

Roman Polanski’s first movie is a very interesting effort. With only three actors and a minimal production, Polanski manages to construct an interesting moral crime thriller. A well do couple is on their way to the lake. On the way, they pick up a young hitch-hiker. The husband invites the hitch-hiker on their boat journey over the lake. The husband pushes the young boy around and treats him like a servant. During a skirmish, the husband pushes the boy off the boat. Is the boy dead? No, but the husband thinks so.

The movie is decently acted and not bad at all.

3) British Comedy Series: Coupling, Season One – Rating 9/10

Hilarious. Watching season one of this Brit series was a fun experience. The series can best be described as ‘Friends’ meets ‘Sex and the City’. The series is clean but the jokes are much more adventurous than they would have been if this was an American tv series.

4) Un, deux, trios, soleil (1993 movie directed by Bertrand Blier): Rating 8/10

How do you rate a movie which is not linear and may all be a dream? None the less, this is one of the most original and interesting movies I have seen. The opening sequence goes something like this:

A young girl is eating bread and having her soup. Her mother constantly asks her daughter if the soup is to her liking. Finally, the girl gets tired of her mother’s nagging and leaves for school. But her mother chases the daughter down the streets and keeps harassing her. The mother attends the girl’s classes in place of her and sits down with all the kids. The teacher is surprised and when she inquires what the mother is doing there, she gets a nonsensical answer back. When the teacher leaves the class, she is chased by the school teenagers who try to rape her. The young girl comes to the teachers aid and gets a cop to pull over. When the cop is handling the kids, a bunch of 8-10 year olds drive away with the cops car. The cop shoots blindly and manages to hit one of the young kids. The other kids take the wounded boy to the cop’s home to see his wife. The cop’s wife removes her clothes and rubs the wounded boy on her naked body. After that, the boy is cured of his wound and fit again.

Sound crazy? It is. But once the movie settles in, you can describe the dream and real sequences and by the end things make much more sense. Hilarious performances by Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Grinberg, Olivier Martinez.

5) The Man Without a Past (2002 movie directed by Aki Kaurismaki): Rating 10/10

What a perfect movie! A man is traveling in a train with a single suitcase. When he gets off a station, he is beaten up by a bunch of thugs and his money and personal belongings are taken away. When he wakes up, the man does not know who he is or where he is. So he drifts around and tries to start his life again. He befriends another guy by the container yard near the lake (the poor people live in make shift houses made out of the metal containers). This is just a charming movie and yet it is both tragic and funny at the same time. Perfection!

6) Puteri Gunung Ledang (2004 Malay movie directed by Teong Hin Saw): Rating 6.5/10

This was my first Malaysian movie. The title roughly translates to ‘The Princess of Mount Ledang’. The love story (based on a Malay myth?) is quite simple but drags on for 145 minutes. A princess falls in love with a Malay warrior. However, a rival kingdom’s young king wants the princess for himself and sends the warrior to get the princess. The princess is hiding on top of Mount Ledang waiting for her true love – the warrior. In defiance to the young prince, the princess is willing to marry another rival kingdom’s king to save her kingdom from the clutches of the young king. Beautifully shot but the story is just too long to sustain continued interest.

7) Apaga Y Vamonos (Switch Off, a documentary by Manel Mayol): Rating 9/10

A riveting documentary on globalization and the evils of modern corporations! This time the arena is Chile and the problem is control of natural resources and water. 67% of Chile’s water supply is controlled by a Spanish company. How is such a thing possible? It is and this power control of nature is happening all over the world. Manel Mayol’s movie is engaging and chilling. The visuals are captured perfectly as well.

8) The Battle of Algiers (1965 movie directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, who also co-wrote the movie with Franco Solinas): Rating 11/10

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen! Period! Very few movies will ever come close to this realistic fiction movie which feels like a documentary. In fact, the first release of the movie had a note which stated that no documentary footage was used in this movie. Pontecorvo captures the feelings and sentiments of an oppressed people and their means to gain independence perfectly. This movie is more relevant today than any other movie. After 130 years of French control, the Algerian people are aching for freedom. So they start their mini revolution. Which leads to a counter reaction from the French who don’t want to leave the country. The situations escalate to a point of total collapse. And then everything is all quiet. For 2 years. After which the people start revolting again. Every scene, every dialogue in this movie is perfect. I had to shake my head and think that this movie was made in 1965 and not in the present day. WOW!

9) It’s all gone Pete Tong (Directed by Michael Dowse): Rating 7.5/10

Canadian (Calgary) Dowse’s second feature is a mocumentary like his first flick (Fubar).
This time Dowse takes the title name from a real life character, Pete Tong and even gives Pete Tong a tiny role in the movie. Pete Tong is a DJ in the Spanish island of Ibiza, a popular holiday spot for British people. In the movie, the main character Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) is a popular DJ in Ibiza. However, Frankie’s excess life style of music, drugs takes its toll on his ears – as in his is going deaf. He has only 20% of hearing left in one ear and eventually due to freak accident he goes completely deaf. After a long self imposed exile, Frankie returns. He finds a way to spin music again – he can feel the vibrations of the amps and read the graphs on his laptop. Along with the help of a Portuguese woman, Frankie learns to lip read as well. Once again, Frankie is the best. And then just like that, Frankie disappears.

It is a well done movie. The only complain is that it gets drabby in some parts but for a few stale scenes, it is fresh and original.

10) Fubar (Directed by Michael Dowse): Rating 6.5/10

Michael Dowse’s mocumentary on headbangers won rave reviews in Sundance and is a cult classic in its own right. The story surrounds two Calgary based headbangers who live their life to the fullest – rock and roll, drinking, fighting and smashing. A documentary film-maker (Gordon Skilling) decides to make a film about the two characters – Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul Spence). Either one loves this movie or one doesn’t. One can call it a mesh of Spinal-tap and Wayne’s World. It is a well done for a tiny of budget of $25,000. But I was not floored by it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Dogville takes a bite

1) Dogville (directed by Lars Von Trier): Rating 8.5/10

What a strange movie Dogville is! First off the three hour long movie is shot on a stage like fake set, with chalk lines outlining houses, boundaries, streets and even a dog. There are some doors, a bell, a curtain, a fake mountain, wooden beams depicting a coal mine, and a window or two. Once you get beyond the stage like atmosphere, you start sinking into the movie. That is unless you have left the theatre or switched the tv off already.
What is the story? The entire drama takes place in a fictitious tiny American town of Dogville, a town of about 15 people, where nothing ever happens. The coal mine was shut down long ago and the people go about their daily lives with mixed emotions. And then one day, Grace (Nicole Kidman) enters the town. She is on the run from a mobster and is given shelter by Tom Edison Junior (Paul Bettany). Tom takes a liking to Grace and manages to convince the rest of the town folk to let stay. At first, the town folk are hesitant, but eventually grow to like her. They find a use for her, and end up burdening her with extra work. And with time, the town folk start abusing Grace’s kindness to fulfill their own pleasures – the men find her as a sexual outlet, the women as a scorn of hate, etc. The entire human behaviour spectrum is shown in the cycle of the movie – at first the town folk fear the stranger, then they like the stranger and find a use for the stranger, then the use turns to misuse, and then they are back to fearing and disliking the stranger. Finally the stranger is considered more worthless than a dog and chained. All throughout the movie, Grace tries to remain calm and considers the town folk as human. Yet, when things finally reach a dead end, Grace unleashes her wrath.

So why is this movie so hated? Most American critics slammed this movie as being ‘anti-American’. That is the most absurd criticism of this movie as there is nothing Anti-American in this movie. This story could have taken place in any city in any country in the World. The raw emotions and human behavior in the story as so basic that they transcend national boundaries. The acting is what keeps this movie interesting. If the acting was not up to par, then this movie would have been painful to watch. What about the fake sets? Well after a while, it does not matter. The movie is like a theatre stage play, and the set design is not really much of an issue.

My real problem with the movie is the final 20 minutes. Near the end, when Grace finally meets the mobster again, the scene is so poorly written that it is a disappointment. If there was any scene which should have been strongest, it should have been that final confrontation. But for some reason, Von Trier brought out tired and boring dialogues for that scene. And the ending was not totally unexpected. There was no other direction the movie could have taken. My only other question is what if Grace was not on the run from a mobster? What is no mobster came back to get her? How would have she have survived? I think by using a gangster element in the story, Von Trier got out of answering a tough question. His movie might have been much more haunting if Grace was left to remain like a ‘dog’. None the less, this is a movie unlike any other.

2) Killer’s Kiss (1955 movie directed by Stanley Kubrick):

I was looking forward to seeing this movie but due to time restrictions I could not finish this film noir. The start didn’t look too bad but I will have to wait another day.

Some festival movies:

3) Noise (directed by Tony Spiridakis): Rating 8.5/10

This is a neat little independent thriller. A recently divorced woman (Trish Goff) moves into a quiet apartment complex to start a new life. However, she soon discovers that the only other person living in the building is quite a noisy neighbour. Her neighbour plays loud music beyond 4 am, and Joyce can’t get any sleep. So she goes up and leaves a note underneath the noisy neighbour’s door. The next day, the neighbour Charlotte (Ally Sheedy) pays Joyce a visit and apologizes. But after a little quiet, Charlotte returns to her old ways. Joyce starts going crazy, and tries to hatch a plan to quieten Charlotte. However, the plan backfires and Charlotte becomes more noisy. Charlotte takes revenge in getting Joyce fired from her job and combined with the noise, Joyce’s life starts falling apart. She takes to drinking and is heading for disaster, until a twist manages to turn things around. The end comes as a shock but given the dark undertone of this movie, it is not unexpected.

4) EMR (directed and written by James Erskine, Danny McCullough): Rating 7/10

An independent conspiracy theory movie from the UK! Adam is a conspiracy theory buff and one day finds his life turned upside down. He wakes up to find himself in Mexico with stitches on the side of his body (playing on the Kidney stolen myths) and after running around, faints and awakens back in London. He wakes up alternatively in San Francisco and London with no idea what is happening to him. The movie contains all the common urban myths and various conspiracy theories but the movie is not fast paced or very polished. Still it is worthy for a watch!

5) In the Shoes of the Dragon (Documentary directed by Hronn Sveinsdottir and Arni Sveinsson):

Rating: Technical quality of the movie (3/10), Movie Merit (9/10)

This is a wicked movie! Unfortunately I have to rate this differently. The movie has terrible cinematography and editing yet the underlying story is worthy. Hronn decides to enter Miss Iceland 2000 to show how fake beauty pageants are. She plans to film the entire thing but realizes it would be difficult to participate and make a movie at the same time. So she gets the help of Arni to handle the camera. However, neither people are professional film-makers and that shows in the camera work. That being said, the story behind Miss Iceland is very interesting. Hronn soon finds herself caught up in the contest and her personality changes right before the camera – she goes from an easy going person to a mean spirited person. Ofcourse, every person has mean parts to their personality but the movie shows how a competitive environment nourishes her evil side more than her sweetness. Overall, her expressions and vibrant personality make this a fun documentary.

Notes: Iceland is a country of less than 300,000 people (approx. 293,000) yet they have produced three Miss World’s in the last 4 decades. Claudia Schiffer is invited to crown Miss Iceland 2000 and the reigning Miss World from 1999 (Miss India) also makes an appearance.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Craziness in July

1) Crash (directed by Paul Haggis): Rating 10/10

Either you like this movie or despise it. But one can’t discount director and writer Paul Haggis’s attempt. Like Gurinder Chada’s What’s Cooking, Crash shows an ethnic side to Los Angeles. In Crash, Latin Americans, Koreans, Persians, White, Black collide and brush past each other as they make do with their daily hardships. One of the biggest criticism of this movie has to with the fact that virtually all the encounters are dipped in racism. Is that a right portrayal? Yes in the movie’s framework. The movie shows the stressful moments in various characters lives and when they are pushed against the wall, their anger and fears come to the forefront. And it is in these situations when racism rears its ugly head – when people try to use racist remarks to put the other person down.
The movie moves at a good pace and the acting is top notch. Loads of stars make little cameos and all the roles have an important place in the structure. Not to be missed!

2) One Night in Mongkok (Directed by Tung-Shing Yee): Rating 7/10

Mongkok is one of the most crowded areas in Hong Kong. The story starts off when two rival gangs clash and one of the gang leader’s son is killed. So the other leader wants revenge. A contract killer is hired (by a middle man) to finish the job. But this contract killer is from a small village and finds himself as a pawn in between the person who hired him and Hong Kong police who want to shut the violence down. Not a bad movie, but nothing spectacular either.

3) Oldboy (Directed by Chan-wook Park): Rating 9/10

A man is imprisoned in an apartment for 15 years without any reason or explanation. So when he gets out, he goes out to seek revenge on those put him there and those who tortured him on a day to day basis. The movie is not a violent revenge movie but has a story which plays out like a puzzle thriller (sure there are some fight scenes). And the reason for the imprisonment is completely unexpected and comes as a shock. Chan-wook Park’s follows up with another stellar movie like his earlier Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).

Note: Hollywood is remaking this movie next year. That is just plain pathetic. Why do they have to remake almost all the recent Asian hits? Have they really run out of ideas?

4) Three: Extremes (sequel to Three, a collection of 3 short films made back in 2002):

This time around, directors Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park and Fruit Chan serve up three short films. All three movies are shot/edited very well. But not all are equal.

a) ‘Box’ by Miike: The less said about this the better. Quite boring and weakest of all three segments. Disappointing by Miike’s standards but he does try different stuff every now and then.

b) ‘Dumplings’ by Chan: This one was apparently cut down from 90 minutes to a shorter version to fit in between the two other director’s movies. For a change, I thought a line had been crossed in this movie. Like a Twilight Zone episode, this one features a woman who serves up the best dumplings because of her secret ingredient – aborted human fetuses. Yup, that’s right. Apparently eating bits of these aborted fetus help preserve women’s skin and make them look young. So what was the line? The choice of the secret ingredient! Other sources on the net are praising the story but I don’t think the selection of the secret ingredient was a requirement for this movie or it helped in shaping the story.

c) ‘Cut’ by Park: This is the best of the lot. By a long shot! A famous director awakens to find himself tied to the wall. His wife is tied and tangled in a web of strings by her piano. The intruder offers the director a choice – either he kill a young girl or he will chop one of his wife’s fingers every 5 minutes. None of the gore is shown in this one but the acting from the intruder and director is very good here.

5) Fantastic Four (directed by Tim Story): Rating 7/10

This movie has been heavily trashed from all fronts. But despite all the movie’s faults – script problems, poor acting, technical inconsistencies, I enjoyed this flick. The characters of Human Torch (played with tons of enthusiasm by Chris Evans) and the Thing (Michael Chiklis) are the best played and acted characters of the lot. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is very poor and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) is only mildly better. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) looks the most polished but is made out to be clear villain, as opposed to giving him more substance. So I am probably the only person out there who is giving this movie such a high rating, but it was short and enjoyable. And I don’t this is the worst of the recent comic book movies – 2003’s Daredevil is still one of the worst. Ofcourse, I have not seen Catwoman or Elektra.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Singing in July

1) Parineeta (directed by Pradeep Sarkar): Rating 8/10

What does one do with the songs? With the exception of Sarfarosh (1999), I can’t conceive of giving a Bollywood movie a perfect rating if it has useless songs. And unfortunately, Parineeta does have some needless music numbers. That being said, the movie starts off amazingly. The crisp voice of Amitabh Bachchan (who else has such a voice?) introduces us to the vibrant city of Calcutta. The visuals are stunning in that opening sequence and all throughout the movie. The cinematography is spot on as the lens blur the characters we don’t want to see, and focus on the expressions we should be interested in.

The story is based on the 1930’s Calcutta novel which means that it is a love story about unrequited love and about upper class Indians laying around balancing their life between the leftovers of colonial India and modern India, while filling their time with some activity. In this case, the activity is music. Childhood friends Shekhar (Saif Ali) and Lolita (Vidya Balan) grow up to develop a very close and intimate understanding, and Lolita even helps to co-compose Shekhar’s music. But problems of jealousy arise when Shekhar’s father tries to get him married off to a rich girl and Girish (Sanjay Dutt) enters the frame. But surprisingly the ending is a happy one. All’s well that ends well.

The movie length is just 2 hours and 7 minutes but the few needless songs make it feel longer. The story is adapted to be set in the 1960’s but a few clothes are taken straight from modern day: did women wear short suits back in the 1960’s? I don’t think so. And Shekhar is showing wearing modern day sun shades and turtleneck sweaters. I know these are minor points but they stick out. The acting of all the main leads is very good with the only exception being the role of Shekhar’s mother.

Anyway much better than a typical Bollywood movie but not a perfect one though.

2) Les Choristes (The Chorus, directed by Christophe Barratier): Rating 7/10

The biggest problem with this movie is something which is not the movie’s fault – the story of a new teacher bringing the best out of an unmanageable bunch of kids has been used so much in Hollywood that it looks stale, even if the movie is in French. A teacher takes up a job in a boarding school where all the children are ill-disciplined and unruly. The school principle believes in an action-reaction method, meaning for every student’s violent action, there should be an equally violent reaction in return. The new teacher, Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) notices that this action-reaction approach will never solve the situation so he tries to reason with the students. He discovers that most students in his class have a talent for singing. So he takes up music again (he had vowed to forget music) to help find a way to better the students. The movie is very good on all fronts: acting, directing, music, editing, and cinematography. But the story didn’t appeal too much and after a while, it gets boring.