Monday, September 19, 2005

The Three Colours and Lord of War

Finally after thinking about it for years, I have managed to watch all three colour movies of Krzysztof Kieslowski: Bleu, Blanc and Rouge.

1) Bleu (1993 movie starring Juliette Binoche):

Binoche plays Julie Vignon, a woman who loses her husband and young daughter in a car accident. After surviving the accident, Binoche wants to distance herself from her past life and that of her husband’s profession, who was a famous musical composer. No matter how hard she tries, she finds herself getting drawn back to her husband’s music. Eventually, she learns that true ‘liberty’ can be found by not running away from her past but by embracing it.

Technically, this is a good movie. The soundtrack and the visuals are very good. The blue colour is present everywhere, and is used very effectively to portray Julie’s husband’s soul (atleast I thought so). However, despite the good acting, I didn’t enjoy this movie too much. The weakest of all three colour movies for me.

2) Blanc (1994 movie starring Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy):

Delpy wants to divorce her Polish husband because he can’t perform in bed. So coldly she throws him out of the house, cancels his bank cards and sticks the cops on him. The penniless and passportless husband, Karol Karol, smuggles himself back into Poland to return to his old life. But quickly, he gets the idea to become rich through a series of street smart transactions and manages to use his wealth to take revenge on his ex-wife.

This is the most light hearted of the three movies and probably the most accessible. Needless to say, I liked this one the best.

PS: If you blink, you might miss Binoche making a quick appearance in the court room.

3) Rouge (1995 movie starring Irène Jacob):

The trilogy is concluded with Rouge and the major actors from the previous two movies make an appearance in this one as well. A Swiss model runs over a dog and when she goes to return the dog to the owner, she discovers the owner’s strange hobby – spying on his neighbours. The owner is a retired judge who has nothing else to do in his life. Initially, Valentine is critical of the judge but the more she gets to know him, the more she understands him.

This is a pretty interesting movie which beautifully layers three different stories together. Despite the complexity of the story and the beautiful visuals, I didn’t enjoy this one that much. Probably because since 1994, I have seen a lot of good French movies which have handled relationships in a better manner.

Anyway, I have to tackle Kieslowski’s Decalouge sometime in the future.

4) Lord of War (written and directed by Andrew Niccol): Rating – anywhere from 6 to an 8

Just before the final credits roll, we are told this ‘movie is based on actual events’. Also, the interesting observation is made that the 5 biggest arm supplying nations in the world are also the 5 permanent members of the U.N. That being said, the movie is not a global political movie but instead it is about the life of an arms dealer, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage). The movie follows a similar pattern to other dealer movies, like Blow (drug dealing) – talk/about the first stages of the dealer’s life, show how the dealer got started, highlight some of his big transactions, throw in a love story with kids, a moral question, attempt to go clean and finally temptation to return back into the business for one final score. But despite all the formulas, I liked Lord of War a lot. One big reason is the voice-over narrative technique used. Yuri addresses the camera at the start and end of the movie. In between, he narrates aspects of his life, gives his views on gun/political issues and talks about his mistakes or shortcomings. But unlike High Fidelity, he does not address the camera directly. Instead, using voice over narratives, he informs us on the scene being shown and the political context. And Yuri makes it clear that at no point are we supposed to like him. He is just there to conduct business.

Another strong point of the movie is the few gutsy sequences used to show the evils of bullets (the opening credit sequence hits the point home). Instead of drilling us with sermons on the evils of guns, the movie lets us observe how guns effect life in third world countries. Also, there has been some good research done regarding the gun trade. For example, the gun trade dealings following the fall of the Soviet Union are accurate.

One of the negatives is that the movie predictably places Yuri in a lot of the typical hot spots of the 80’s and 90’s (Beirut, Ukraine, Colombia, Africa). Sure these were the places that were in most need of weapons at that point in time, but besides Africa, we are only given snippets of the other countries. One minor complain is that I wish the movie spent more time showing the political details instead of spending time on his life. Would the movie have been better if his wife/child subplot had not been included? Possibly!

Nonetheless, Niccol is a creative writer who stays a bit ahead of the times – in 1997 he wrote and directed Gattaca, a mix of 1984 and Brave New World; in 1998 he wrote The Truman Show, a movie made before the North American craze of Reality shows started; 2002 he wrote and directed S1m0ne, an interesting movie about a computer generated movie actress. On first instinct, I loved this movie and considered it one of the year’s best along with The Constant Gardener, Sin City and Batman Begins. But the more I thought about it, the more loop holes and problems I found with the story. So while I can’t give this movie a very high rating, I like its attempt. Despite not using any American dollars for the production, this is still a multiplex movie. It may not be a typical commercial movie but it still contains those contrived elements. Overall, a valiant effort like 2001’s Spy Game.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

European, Asian and North American flicks

1) A Very Long Engagement (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet) : Rating 9/10

Three years after Amélie, Jeunet is back with another movie and once again, Audrey Tautou is the charming lead. This beautifully shot movie tells Mathilde’s search for her fiancée who disappeared with 4 other prisoners in the trenches of WW1. Even though the setting is different, the movie oozes with the charm and wit of Amélie. This means that there are smart subplots and corny characters that are just a pleasure to watch. I am not sure if all these subplots were part of the original novel by Sébastien Japrisot or were added by the mind of Jeuent and his screenwriter Guillaume Laurant? The final result is a visual and narrative delight. Although I have to admit I felt the movie dragged on a bit near the end, but it is worth watching.

2) The Stranger (written and directed by Satyajit Ray): Rating 10/10

Vintage! Absolutely brilliant! That is how much I loved this movie. The last movie from Satyajit Ray is one of the best out there. One day a wife receives a letter that her long lost uncle is planning to pay a visit to her in Calcutta. She has not seen the uncle in 35 years and he was presumed to be missing. The husband is immediately suspicious of the uncle’s motives and asks his wife to be cautious. However, the extremely well traveled and intelligent uncle has stories to tell about his mysterious life. Utpal Dutt is brilliant as the long lost uncle and I have to admit, this is the first non-Hindi movie I have seen of his. One of the best movies I have ever seen! Wanderlust!!

3) The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972 movie directed by Wim Winders): Rating 7/10

The title is not properly translated in English. The goalie is not anxious or fearful of the penalty kick in this movie. In fact, he is indifferent. The movie starts and ends on a soccer field. At the start of the movie, a goalie is not in his net when the other team scores from a penalty kick. He does not seem worried or concerned. After the game, he wanders the streets of Vienna aimlessly. He picks up a movie theatre cashier. After spending the night with her, he causally proceeds to strangle her. But he is not in a hurry to get away. In fact, he heads to a small town and calmly reads the daily newspapers where he learns of the police’s investigation of the theatre girl’s murder. The police may be closing in on him but he spends time watching a local soccer game. And this is where the movie ends! I am hoping reading Peter Handke’s original novel might give me a better understanding of the story.

4) Chaos (original title Kaosu, 1999 movie directed by Hideo Nakata): Rating 6.5/10

In Between the two Ringu movies, Nakata directed this mystery thriller. A husband and wife have dinner at an expensive restaurant. When the husband is busy paying the bill, the wife walks out and disappears. The husband believes she has gone home but later that day, he receives a call from a man claiming to have kidnapped his wife. A few scenes later, we learn that the wife staged her own kidnapping to get money from her husband. And a few scenes later, as the story unfolds, we learn something else completely. Twists, turns and more twists. By the end, I just didn’t care anymore. And yes unlike Nakata’s other movies, this is not a scary movie. Just a slow paced thriller which takes its time to get to the truth.

5) When Will I Be Loved (written and directed by James Toback): Rating 8/10

Interesting! A movie that got slammed by critics turned out to be that bad. Neve Campbell plays Vera, a woman who lives an easy going life in New York. The movie starts off with her talking a shower and eventually jerking off with the shower handle. The next scenes are spliced equally of Vera and Ford (Fred Weller) who in their own ways are going about their day differently. Vera has a fling with a woman, has an interview for a university assistant position, while Ford has a foursome in Central Park and is trying to come up with a string of new projects to make money. This is the first stage of the movie. The second stage features Ford trying to convince his girlfriend Vera to sleep with a Count for money. Shades of Indecent Proposal. Vera agrees and goes onto have an interesting dialogue with the Count about money and relationships. She sleeps with him and in turn gets one million dollars. But she tells Ford that she didn’t get any money. Ford faces up with the Count, and through a strange Noirish twist, the movie ends. That would be the third stage. The movie clocks in under 80 minutes and there really is no un-necessary baggage in this flick. The dialogues are interesting enough and the last scene in the movie clearly conveys Vera’s attention.

So what do I really think of this movie? One thing is clear. Vera is not as dumb as we might think. Her angle is to constantly act in certain ways to understand the true nature of men. She clearly does not think much of men and is more happy in her dealings with women. Ford is clearly a hussler who would do anything to become rich.

6) Wicker Park (directed by Paul McGuigan): Rating 6/10

I have not seen the original French movie L’Appartement this movie is based on, but I can be sure that version would be far more interesting considering it starred Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluci. The biggest problem I had with Wicker Park was the pacing. It was too slow for the complexity of the story it wanted to convey. Before leaving overseas for a business trip, a man is in a restaurant meeting his clients and to-be-wife. He believes he sees a woman from his past. So he misses his overseas flight and tries to find this woman. Why did this woman (whom he loved tremendously) mysteriously disappear two years ago? Slowly the movie reveals the truth. Unfortunately the movie trailers give away this information, so I sort of knew what to expect. But since this movie is not a thriller like Single White Female (I was reminded of this movie in a few scenes of Wicker Park), it takes its time in arriving at the conclusion. The problem is I could not care when everything was said and done.

7) High Art (1998 movie written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko): Rating 7/10

Syd (Radha Mitchell), an assistant editor in a photography mag, has a problem with water leaking from the apartment above hers. So she decides to have a talk with her neighbour, Lucy (Ally Sheedy) about fixing the leak. It turns out that Lucy is a famous photographer who stopped working 10 years ago. Syd is enchanted by Lucy’s work and wants to help Lucy get work again. So she sets up a meeting with her bosses and Lucy. With time, Syd falls in love with Lucy and is drawn into Lucy’s lifestyle.

The story is not as simple as I just mentioned above. I neglected to mention Lucy’s circle of drug addict friends and her relationship with Greta, a German actresses who used to act in Fassbinder movies. The movie has an art house feel to it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Gardener, books and a missed chance

When you have a chance to fulfill a dream but you can't because you have other obligations, then how do you feel? Gutted in my case. I have just given up my Arsenal tickets because of other things. I was so close to getting a chance to see my fav. team play in their final year in the legendary Highbury stadium. Heck, even a beautiful flick like the Constant Gardener can't make up for that loss. No good book will help either.


The Constant Gardener (directed by Fernando Meirelles): Rating 9/10

A beautiful movie yet I can't consider it perfect. I have not read the original book by John Le Carre but this story feels more like a Graham Greene story. No other director could have taken Kenya and incorporated such a beautiful visual feel to it. Ofcourse Meirelles has his DOP from City of God, Cesar Charlone, to help him. And it shows. There are some scenes which look straight out of City of God (and in fact have no place in this movie, but that is a minor complain). And what is the story? A Love story wrapped around a political unveiling of the evils that western drug companies perform in Africa! A british diplomat working for the High Commision is in Kenya with his wife. The wife is an activist who wants to expose the evil of the drug companies there. The husband wants to stay away from all this mess and simply wants to look after his garden. To each his own. And when a tragedy results, the husband is forced to look at the ugly truth. He undergoes a change and understands what his wife wanted.

Acting wise, Ralph Fiennes does a good job as usual but Rachel Weisz is amazing. Her best role yet? Probably! Some of the other supporting roles have done a good job as well. Directing wise, I don't agree with all of Meirelles shot selections. His locale shots are perfect but his use of close-ups with handheld camera is what I had problems with. In some scenes, the close up didn't add anything. And the jerky handheld feel didn't give any more taste of reality to the movie either. In one scene, he drips the scene in too much dramatic background score for no reason. The chefs are busy cooking in the kitchen. Cue loud fast drums. The waiter takes a try of wine glasses out. End fast music. What was the point of that sudden loud scene in the movie? Nothing. Reminded me of City of God's opening scene. There are scenes of trains arriving with drum music which work in the movie but not that restaurant scene. Am I being too picky with a movie I really liked? Yes.

This is one of my favourite movies of the year yet I can't give it a 10!


Some books on last month's reading list:

1) Collected Prose: essays, autobiographical writings, true stories by Paul Auster.
In the last few months Auster has emerged as one of my favourite writers. He is guy who writes with talent and does not feel like a hack looking to make a quick book. His Book of Illusions, New York Trilogy were wonderful. So it was fun to read some of his essays about he got into writing, his struggles and just some true stories that he gathered.

2) Simon Winchester's Calcutta: Why is the title Simon Winchester's Calcutta?
Simon and his son have written 2 essays about what they feel about the complex city that is Calcutta. Other than that, the book contains essays and writings about the city from a collection of well knows writers (Tagore is there, ofcourse). I didn't finish all the collected writings but the father and son have a good job of outlining this city's interesting history.

3) Supercargo: A journey among ports
Thorton McCamish writes about his interesting trip around the world's mystic port cities. Read most of it and it is a good read. Another lonely planet publication like the Calcutta book above.

4) Companero: The life and death of Che Guevera
by Jorge G. Castaneda

A very well researched book about the myth that is Che. Not even close to finishing it, but I found myself spending time reading the chapters that are the most contradicting episodes in his life. Che's youth is well documented but his time in Congo and Bolivia are the shadowy sections.

5) Rio De Janeiro: Carnival under Fire
by Ruy Castro

Ah Rio! So much to talk about. Unfortunately, I ran out of time dealing with this one. Maybe some other month?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September -- Festival Time

Well the festival time has started and the fall movie line-up is on the verge of being ushered out. Venice
kicked things off this past weekend with a distinct Asian movie line-up. Up next are TIFF, CIFF, Edmonton and VIFF. So in order to prepare for the festivals, I need to finish some commercial viewings before that.

1) Paycheck (2003 movie directed by John Woo): Rating 7/10

I had never seen this movie earlier because I was warned off it by a number of people. It turns out not to be that bad of a movie as I was led to believe. Sure it is a pointless action movie but atleast it has a good idea. Since it is based on another Philip K.Dick story, the movie was sure to have an interesting story line. But as with other sci-fi movies, Hollywood just runs them into the ground. This year, The Island was another example of a good sci-fi idea gone bad. In Paycheck, Ben Affleck plays a reverse engineer who works for different companies and at the end of each contract, has his memory turfed to protect his employer's intellectual property. And then sure enough, something goes wrong. Or it appears to. Our hero has to work backwards with a handful of clues to determine what really happenned in his 3 year long contract?
The puzzle like nature of the clues are interesting enough but the movie has quite a number of boring action scenes which don't add anything to the movie and end up slowing the movie down.

None the less, a neat germ of an idea hidden here. If a country pre-emptively attacks another country thinking that country will one day attack them, then the attacking country in turn creates a situation where the defending country is forced to attack back. In reality, if things were left as is, then the defending country would never have attacked. Hmmm...

2) Sehar (2005 Bollywood movie directed by
Kabeer Kaushik): Rating 9/10

An honest cop taking on the local ganster is a favorite topic in Bolly movies. But if it is done well, like in Sehar's case, then the movie watching is an enriching experience. As it turns out like in the case of movies such as Hasil, Kurushetra, Shool, the directors do have a story to tell. And they tell it well. Backed by a well written script and amazing acting, Sehar is easily one of the best Indian movies of 2005. Arshad Warsi is perfect in his role as is Pankaj Kupar. The only weakpoint might be Sushant Singh as the young gang leader who wants to run things his own way. The movie shows the difficulty the police have in tracking down the illegal activities and highlights how the Lucknow branches had to be trained on how to deal with emerging technologies such as cellphones to deal with organized crime. The movie is set in 1998, at a time when cell phones were just hitting the Lucknow scene.

3) Dus (misdirected by Anubhav Sinha): Rating 6/10

As usual Anubhav Sinha has his weak directing skills stamped over an otherwise enjoyable movie. The poor script can't make up for the flashy setup up though. An international terrorist is hiding in Canada. And the Anti-terrorist branch of India has to track this man down and find out what big event is being planned for May 10. They had intercepted of a big plan to take place on the 10th from Algiers (in reality, Calgary is being passed off as Algiers, stupidity #1). Fair enough. But what takes place after that seems contrived and well just poorly scripted. None the less, I didn't mind all the fluff as much as I thought I would. The ending sequence is so poorly done that words can't describe. A crowd in a Calgary stadium is spliced with an European scene spliced with England's soccer game spliced with a fake computer generated background and on and on...Argh. The fact that I sat through the movie without wanting to fast forward it is a sign that it was better than average.

4) The Cooler (2003 movie directed by Wayne Kramer): Rating 7.5/10

Las Vegas movies neatly fall into various groups -- gangster and or/robberies, drunk + drug overdose or maybe quick fling + marriage. The Cooler does take a different approach by combining a Leaving Las Vegas story with a cultural generation gap theme. The end result feels that it is trying to hard to win the critics over. That was my gut instinct, movies like this are trying to hard to over-dramatize situations. Anyway, the love story between two opposites involves a 'cooler', Bernie, (William H.Macy) and a run-away-from-home-waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello). A 'cooler' is someone with a negative presence (it can be his touch or mere appearance) that he turns people's winning streakes into losing ones. Or so goes the superstition. Shelley (Alec Baldwin) believes in such techniques and forces his cooler to stick around. But when the cooler falls in love with Natalie and his luck changes, well, then Shelley has a problem. He bullies Natalie into leaving Bernie. At the same time, Shelley has to deal with keeping his casino running according to the pure old ways. He is being forced to go with the times and make the casino more family friendly for package tours. The acting is good all over, which is to be expected with the three main actors. But somehow I was not too overly in love with this movie partly because of all the Las Vegas run down themes being flashed around -- hollowness, depression, the town's greed aura, etc.

5) Cube 2: Hypercube (2002 directed by Andrzej Sekula): Rating 8/10

1997's Cube was an amazingly well directed and written movie by Canadian Vincenzo Natali. The movie had such a cult following that well, a sequel was deemed necessary. But the director from the original movie was not involved, so this was a first sign that somethign was wrong. Now ofcourse, a third Cube movie has been released. Will it stop here? I hope so. Anyway time to tackle Cube 2:

Despite all my preconceived notions, Cube 2 is not just a dumb sequel. It is a well thought-out script which stands on its own from the first movie. The director, Sekula, is also the DOP for the movie and that in this case turns out to be a good thing. He is responsible for some of the innovative camera shots, and the entire computer effects time has done a stellar job. I did notice a glitch in the sets near the end of the movie which kinda dampned things. You notice a person walking on the other side of the cube which breaks from the tension of the situation.
Just like the first movie, different people wake up in different rooms in a cube. They have no idea why they are there. So they try to find the pattern among all the cubes and try to escape. Unlike the first one, the performances in this movie are not that great. It could have to do with the fact that the actors were working against a green screen for a lot of the shots.

And for a change, there is a proper resolution in this one. In the ending we do get to set what the cube is all about and who created it. 60659!