Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best Films of 2005

I am not one for making best of the year movie lists. One can't really compare different kinds of movies which cover different genres and cultures. For example, it is not feasible to pit a Brazilian road movie against a comic book Hollywood movie. Still one can have their subjective views. So here are my personal biased views for which movies I enjoyed best in this year.

Note: a lot of movies that I liked this year were officially released in 2004 but I didn't get a hold of them until this year (like Closer and Sideways). So I am not including them in this list...

1) Hollywood movies: in no particular order

Brokeback Mountain
Batman Begins
Sin City
The Constant Gardener
Good Night, and Good Luck

I liked parts of Lord of War and The Interpreter but both these movies were a bit contrived and cliched.

2) Canadian movies:

The Dark Hours
Memories Affectives (English title, Looking for Alexander)

3) Indian and Bollywood movies:

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara
Socha Na Tha
Parineeta (despite the flawed ending scene, the breaking of the wall)
Matrabhoomi (I know this was a 2003 movie but it got released in North America this year).

4) Other Foreign movies:

Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures
Mountain Patrol (Kekexili)
Turtles Can Fly
The Beat that my Heart Skipped

If I had to pick just one film as my absolute favourite of 2005, then it would have to be the Brazilian film Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures.

End of the year for those song and dance movies

It was yet another dismal year regarding Bollywood movies. The quality seems to be getting worse and worse. The one thing which stood out most was that more and more directors are freely copying Hollywood (old and new) movies. And starting in 2006, directors will not only remake old Bollywood movies, they will copy Korean and Hong Kong movies as well. 2005 was another year when Amitabh Bachchan made appearances in no less than 10 movies. It seems without him the movie industry does struggle. When he finally leaves the movies, alas, there won't be anyone to truly replace him. It was refreshing to see Nana Patekar make a comeback in a few movies with some sizzling roles. Kay Kay Menon was a welcome addition to the film industry as well. So here's a quick recap of the last batch of movies seen this year, starting from the worst:

1) Shaadi #1 (zero direction given by David Dhawan): Rating 0/10

This really was a terrible movie. Pathetic acting, no direction, crap script and with the exception of one song (Aayeshi), the music and songs were awful.

2) Mr. Ya Ms. (confused direction by Antara Mali and Sachin Puranik): Rating 1/10

Argh! A completely unwatchable copy of the 1991 Ellen Barkin movie Switch . The stupid background music & sounds get very annoying and over the top after the first few minutes. Antara Mali does a valiant effort to copy Barkin's performance but this one comes off as a very poor B grade movie. Could have been much better but everything just seems substandard.

3) Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena (written and mis-directed by Suparn Verma): Rating 3/10

Confidence was not the best Hollywood movie. And a copy of that can't be expected to make waves. This movie could still have been saved with better acting and a half decent script. Ofcourse, it would help if the director told his actors to do more rather than stand around and drink + smoke while saying their lines.

4) Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh (directed by Chandan Arora): Rating 6/10

Despite the poor rating, this one is much better than the average fare. Ofcourse, the reason this movie is worthwhile is because of Rajpal Yadav's acting. He is the thread that holds this movie packed with substandard acting. The pacing is really bad as the movie stalls and refuses to ever get moving.

5) Garam Masala (directed by Priyadarshan): Rating 6.5/10

What saves this movie is Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal's acting. Otherwise, the movie suffers from over-acting by John Abraham and no acting from the newcomer actresses. If the first 30 minutes were clipped off, this movie would have been a wicked case study in males (as lab rats). Why is the main male bringing on agony upon himself by being engaged to 4 women? The other men observe him and start to lie accordingly. If another male was brought in the apartment, he too would have started lying. Oh Asrani and Rajpal Yadav are good too.

6) Home Delivery (directed by Sujoy Ghosh): Rating 7/10

For all its problems, this movie is a breath of fresh air. It is different and atleast tries to have something to say. There are some needless subplots and the pacing is quite tiresome in the second half but it was much better than the rest of the crap out there. The imagery of Vivek Oberoi's character stuck in a glass box perfectly conveys the male sentiment when it comes to marriages and family commitments.

7) Bluffmaster (directed by Rohan Sippy): Rating 8/10

Compared to the rest of the Bollywood crap, this one shines like a diamond. Ofcourse, it is copied from The Sting and has shades of The Game in its ending. Excellent acting by Nane Patekar, a wicked soundtrack and some snappy dialogues make this an enjoyable watch. And for a change, an entire Bollywood movie shot in Mumbai! Mumbai looks gorgeous and so does Priyanka Chopra. Better use could have been made of Boman Irani..

Friday, December 30, 2005

War and Formulas

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (written & directed by Je-gyu Kang): Rating 6.5/10

Running at 140 minutes, this one is an epic. Unfortunately, the length also ruins what could have been a really good movie. The movie starts off in the present when the remains of soldiers killed in the Korean War are uncovered. A case of mistaken identity leads into the flashback story of two brothers who fought in the Korean War. When the war broke out, the brothers tried to leave the village with their family. As the two brothers are temporarily separated in the confusion, the younger brother, Jin-Seok, is forcefully drafted. And when the elder brother, Jin-Tae, tries to get him back, he finds himself drafted against his wishes as well. Even though there was a rule that only one male per family would be drafted, both brothers find themselves in the trenches. Jin-Tae wants to protect his innocent younger brother (Jin-Seok) and tries to make a deal with his superiors – if he volunteers for the most dangerous missions, he wants the superiors to send Jin-Seok home. But as it turns out, Jin-Tae is a real strong character and becomes a decorated hero. Jin-Seok can’t recognize his brother anymore; he sees a peace loving person transformed into a greedy bloody thirsty man. Jin-Seok is unsure of Jin-Tae’s motives on taking on the risky missions – is it personal glory or brotherly concern? And just when it seems the war will be over, the brothers find themselves in another complicated mess where they have to make some difficult choices again. This last drawn out hour really takes the movie off its rails. If the entire question of switching loyalties with North /South was not introduced, the movie might have been much more compelling.

Formula 17 (directed by Yin-jung Chen): Rating 6/10

Boy 1 sees hot Boy 2. Boy 1 is told by his friends that Boy 2 is out of his league. But amazingly, stud Boy 2 develops a liking for innocent Boy 1. So Boy 1 and Boy 2 hook up. But Boy 2 has commitment issues and breaks if off. Boy 1 is heart broken. And after a lot of sugar and syrup ooze through this colorfully shot movie, Boy 1 and Boy 2 end up together after Boy 1’s friends do some work. The movie is cute and funny in parts but it is essentially a predictable lovey-dovey movie with only boys (as opposed to the usual boy-girl flicks).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Directed by Steven Spielberg: Rating – sliding scale

Oh my God, what a great movie! Another masterpiece! Blah Blah…whenever a Spielberg movies comes out, critics fall over themselves to sing praises. Some do find faults but others go over the moon. But this time around, Spielberg got a lot of flack for making this movie from people who had never seen the movie or will probably never see the movie. And just like the nonsense surrounding The Passion by Mel Gibson, all the criticism is unfounded. So what is this movie about? Is this movie made like the director truly would have wanted to make it? Or this movie compromised at every step?

1972 Munich Oympics. Palestinian armed gunmen storm the Olympics ground, kill 2 Israeli athletes and take 9 other hostages. Eventually, they end up killing the 9 hostages. The world is shocked. Israel decides to respond strongly. So it hires a secret group which goes out and kills all the people behind the Munich Killings. That is what history has recorded more or less. What about the real story?

Munich starts off with archive footage which adds some realism to the movie. Then the movie focuses on the Israeli response in recruiting people to go kill the men behind the Munich killing. From that point on, the movie moves from one killing to another, showing us how the response was planned, how the group joked and tried to balance their lives against the violence they were committing. But the movie humanizes the Palestinian men behind the Munich killings. This is what critics of the movie will hate. How can the movie care about the Palestinian people? They believe those people should have no voice. Well Spielberg gives them a voice, even throws in some intelligent debate about freedom and the need for having a home. In one scene, the movie tries to show the complicated threads involved in the killings and how there might be multiple parties involved. The hunters will eventually become the hunted. And the hunted might become the hunters again. The cycle continues. Fine and dandy then!

There are two sides for every story. There have to be! A movie about such an incident can’t get away by simply supporting one side and ignoring the other. With that in mind, Spielberg does try to give both sides a fair share but the problem is a lot of scenes feel forced and compromised. Sometimes, it seems the movie is a sugar coated layer on top of the real hatred that lurks beneath. How are a lot of people on both sides so calm and just lovey dovey? Critics I am sure will talk about the movie’s complexity and depth but the problems is I didn’t seen any of that. The movie is as straight forward as they come. In order to make a truly gritty movie which takes on the issues head-on might require a non-Hollywood person; it might require an outsider who is uncompromising in making the movie. I keep thinking of Battle of Algiers and how it was a brilliant gritty movie. I keep thinking of Spielberg’s first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and how raw those scenes were. But Munich seems flossed up. It does not have the documentary feel that Syriana did nor does it have the rawness of Battle of Algiers. But maybe that is understandable. It is a Hollywood movie with a lot at stake. The fact that Spielberg made this movie has probably got enough people mad at him. I just hope that one day someone makes this movie the way it is meant to be made – raw, gritty and uncompromising. On a positive note, the movie does not feel like a Spielberg movie. At no point does it overdose on sappy emotion, at no point does it tug at our heart and wants us to shed a tear. I am still not sure how to rate this movie? I would give it a 7/10, maybe a maximum of an 8 (maybe…). It is better seen as an action thriller than a political movie. It still feels like a multiplex film with few tweaks made to reach out and create some awareness in the audience. Schindler’s List was quite amazing. However, Munich is not on that same wavelength. Not even close. Also, since the topic of violence creates more violence is something that I have seen in endless Asian political movies, I was not as awed by those statements. Ofcourse, on the flip side, I can’t remember too many American movies trying to show two sides of an issue and even showing that violence might not be the answer (gasp!). So this might be a step forward from Hollywood’s perspective? Oh, the running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes is a bit too long though.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Easy Riders, Taxi Drivers, Kids, Adults, Network execs, Ballet Dancers, Butchers and Thugs

Tons of movies to go through this time around! A few of the selections came from two Peter Biskind books – Down and Dirty Pictures and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Down and Dirty Pictures outlines the backroom drama regarding American Independent movies and their struggles with Miramax. While Easy Riders.. talks about the revolution of cinema in the 1970’s. So here are a few quick notes then:

Easy Rider (1969 movie directed by Dennis Hopper): Rating 8.5/10

Two men get on their bikes and ride across the American landscape to the crazy world of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who leads them to a commune, run into trouble with narrow minded small town folk and try a cocktail of drugs. The movie is as laid back as the title suggests and is believed to have changed people’s way of making movies. It is an interesting viewing and any other ending than the one shown really would not have had such an impact.

Taxi Driver (1976 movie directed by Martin Scorsese): Rating 9.0/10

Robert De Niro is perfect as Travis Bickle, an ex-marine who takes up a job as a taxi driver because he can’t sleep at nights. We never get to see Bickle’s past horrors but as the movie progresses, we get a sense of his inner demons; his character is beautifully etched out and we can sense he is about to explode. Jodie Foster was only 13-14 when she acted as a hooker in this movie. Some of the camera angles and shots are quite extraordinary. No wonder this movie is considered one of the classics.

Kids (1995 movie directed by Larry Clark): Rating 8/10

Is this really a movie or a documentary? The dialogues and the kids used give the movie a sense of realism that wouldn’t have been achieved by professional actors. This is not a pleasant happy movie. At no time do things get better for any of the kids but only worse. The kids live in a world of sex, drugs, alcohol and really have no plans for a future. The main character, Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) goal is to deflower as many young girls as possible. He gives zero seconds of thought to his actions or consequences. Same goes for the other characters in the movie. There are powerful first time performances from Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny as well. I liked this movie much better than Larry Clark’s 2002 Ken Park.

Safe (1995 movie written and directed by Todd Haynes): Rating 9/10

How can one interpret this movie? As one that makes a statement or one that tries to make a satire out of the statement it shows? I believe that the movie does indeed contain a statement but it also shows the satirical side of things as a smaller subset. I don’t believe it is a plain satire or a straight forward one making just a statement. On one hand, Safe is a chilling movie about the degradation of our environment and the human soul/ body; and on the other side, the movie takes a satirical look at how some people try to exploit the environmental issues for their benefit. Julianne Moore plays Carol White, a simple housewife. Carol is quite busy as she has taken up a lot of interior house projects. One day, she gets slightly sick. Her husband is not amused nor takes efforts to understand her symptoms. Slowly, her health worsens while her doctor believes Carol is fine. The doctor attributes her bad health to Carol’s new fruit diet and stress. One day, Carol comes across an ad which talks about the exact symptoms that she is feeling. When she goes to see an allergist in the ad, she finds that there are other people who have the same problems as her. The symptoms are categorized as human reactions to the millions of chemicals polluting the environment. Eventually, Carol checks into a wellness camp which seeks to treat people like her. This is a well made and well acted movie with the smart camera shots showing Carol’s isolation and her plight perfectly. Are the chemicals we dispense in the environment harmful to humans? Ofcourse they are. Do we know which ones are the worst for us? Yes and No. Will we curb the dangers of these chemicals in time? Not until the companies manufacturing the chemicals take the environment risks seriously. Have some advancements being made since this movie came out? Yes.

Far from Heaven (2002 movie written and directed by Todd Haynes): Rating 9/10

Yet another well made movie from Haynes. He manages to weave together two touchy topics in one story – racism and homosexuality. Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank (Dennis Quaid) are a model American Family (with two lovely children) who are well respected in their community. But when Cathy catches her husband kissing another man, her world is shook up. In our fragile state, she finds consolation in her gardener (Raymond played by Dennis Haysbert). But her friendship with Raymond causes alienation for Cathy. This is 1950’s America after all. And even her husband turns his back on her. So what is a woman to do? Conform and put on a smile or defy the standards? It would have been easy to pick one option and run with it but the movie does try to show that all the three main characters are indeed sensible people who continuously try to rationalize and make a logical decision. The ending doesn’t really give us a firm conclusion but given the context of the movie, it is indeed rational.

Network (1976 movie directed by Sidney Lumet): Rating 10/10

Wow. Nothing like a great surprise – you pick up a movie you never heard anything about and the movie ends up being just amazing. The entire premise of Network is fictional but there is clearly thought put into the writing by Paddy Chayefsky. The movie follows the newscast team of a fictional television station, UBS, and their struggles to keep up with the big 3 American TV networks. This movie makes a great combination with Good Night, and Good Luck. The acting is excellent all around, which accounts for the Oscar wins and nominations. And Faye Dunaway is electric!! She is intelligent, sexy and ruthless at the same time. Totally loved this movie!!!

The Company (directed by Robert Altman): Rating 5/10

Sometimes it is hard to watch a movie objectively – it is difficult to give an accurate rating when one simply wants to switch the movie off. I knew this was a ballet movie but since I have enjoyed other movies in this genre before, I decided to give it a viewing. Also, I sort of felt it would be interesting to see how Altman handled this script. In the end, I wish I had not seen this movie; it was a complete disappointment. Sure some of the ballet steps are indeed excellent but I just wasn’t interested. Altman’s style does indeed let us know some of the characters just by observing their interactions with other characters. Example, we really get a sense of Malcolm McDowell’s character by watching him try to control every aspect of his company’s production. The people dynamics shown in the movie were done very well but the rest of the framework around the characters was weak, atleast in my view.

Il Macellaio, (The Butcher, 1998 movie directed by Aurelio Grimaldi): Rating 4/10

Sometimes a title gives a lot away about a movie. So with a title like The Butcher, you know that the movie will revolve around a character with that profession. The movie starts off with an elite couple looking to adopt a child – we seem them going through a rigorous interview process. The husband is a famous music conductor who has to travel frequently to far off lands for his famous concerts. When the wife’s doctor recommends that she should include some meat into her mostly vegetarian diet, she visits her local butcher shop. The butcher is a ladies man who chats up all the women who come to his shop. But he does not smile to the wife. She in turn also looks at him coldly. Now, we have some seen some nude shots of the wife upto this point in the movie so we are prepared for what is to come. Sure enough, the movie teasingly makes its way to the sex scenes with the wife and butcher. And after the sex is over, the movie ends. That is about it.

The Deceivers (1998 movie directed by Nicholas Meyer, based on a John Masters novel): Rating 8/10

Pierce Brosnan and Shashi Kapoor in the same movie? Well that cast pairing made this an interesting pick. As it turns out, Shashi Kapoor’s role is only minor but that did not prevent this Merchant Ivory production from using his name on the covers. The movie tells the alleged real life tale of a British solider who uncovers the secret workings of Thugees, a cultish group who kill and rob travelers in the name of the Goddess, Kali. The name Thugs actually was derived from this Indian group (something which I didn’t know until I saw this movie). Are all the historical aspects shown in the movie true? I don’t think so. I am sure some aspects were cleaned up to give the British soldier, Willaim Savage, a lot more credit that history might have given. Brosnan does play his role really well and when he covers his face with mud, you actually forget you are looking at a future James Bond (in my case, I was looking at a former Bond before he became Bond). Saeed Jaffrey is also good as one of Kali’s followers. But Shashi Kapoor is a huge disappointment even in his tiny role. Yes this movie is pure fluff but I liked it; I actually bought into the story and found myself intrigued.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Syriana, Brazil, Bihar, Harlem, Venice and a Parisian apartment

With a tall order of locations, this week’s viewing provided a good range of movies. End result: a mixed bag of likes and dislikes.

Syriana (Directed by Stephen Gaghan): Rating a very solid 9/10 (or 8+)

Tell me something I don’t know! Seriously tell me something I don’t know. For the record, I don’t live in a world where my news comes from only one tv channel. I am lucky enough to live in a world where there are books which are not only interesting but intelligent. I also live in a world where there exists art which is not only meant for entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, what about movies? What the hell is the point of a movie? What purpose does a movie like Syriana serve? If one likes this movie, then it does not matter. If one hates this movie, it does not matter either. It does not matter if one sees this movie or not. This movie will not change a thing in the real world. In the real world, lies are openly told. People believe it because they don’t have a choice. Governments lie, corporations lie, so what? We have been told to shut up and turn a blind eye. And then come movies like these. People will call this the truth and people will call this propaganda but in the end, it won’t change a thing. At the end of the day, the only thing the average man can do is to watch movies which affirm their beliefs about the lies that they already know. Because you see the average person needs to drive a car everyday, the average person needs a bus or an airplane or other transportation which relies on energy. Energy which is generated by OIL! Yup bloody OIL! Black oil, money oozing oil! Oil! People are killed, governments are toppled, money changes hands, a few men get together and smoke some cigars, some drink and some get fat (and the fat is not only because of money), jobs are lost, jobs are gained, ships move, cars are blown up, technology fails and movies are made. Syriana has the look and feel of Traffic because Gaghan was the screenwriter of the 2000 award winning film. Syriana is more complicated than Traffic and it does not explain everything. Is it hard to follow? Not really. The movie jumps from location to location but it has no choice because the movie tries to cover all the essential angles – covert operations, corporation take-overs, corruption, rich rulers, good noble rulers who are trying to make a difference, the unemployed worker, the corruptor, the family man, etc. Everything is presented. There is no start and no end. We get a slice of the happenings in the crazy OIL world. We also get some very realistic portrayals of life in the lower rungs of the oil crazy world. Finally a movie which accurately shows the daily life of foreign workers in the compounds!

Syriana forms an interesting trilogy of movies in 2005 with The Constant Gardener and Lord of War being the other. Put all these movies together and some very hard facts come out in the open. But like I said earlier, it won’t change a thing! One of my favourite movies of the year!!! Yet I can’t give it a perfect rating. Why? Because I wanted more angles to be covered, I wanted more lies to be shown.

Behind the Sun (Directed by Walter Salles): Rating 8/10

Walter Salles is well known now – Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries are acclaimed movies. The Brazilian director really knows how to set the mood for South America. This time around, he shows Brazil as raw and hot as it is. Credit for that also goes to Walter Carvalho who shoots the movie beautifully. Do I just credit Carvalho (and not Salles also) for one of the best shot chase scenes I have seen? Two men running through a dried up tree field, one trying to kill the other and actually manages to do so. Running at break neck speed, the camera manages to not only keep pace but conveys the frantic chase of the prey and predator.

The setting: a hot Brazilian village. A family of four. Well there used to be more than 4. But the elder brother was killed by a rival family over land ownership. It is a constant family feud – one kills the other, then the other takes revenge and so on. Revenge is only taken on the one who committed the murder. No other members are killed. The kid (he has no given name) and his brother Tonio are caught in this family mess. Tonio is sick of his father’s revenge seeking ways but he has no choice. The kid is just starting to understand life. One day, two strangers drop by. The beautiful woman, Clara, gives the kid a picture book. His world starts to open, his imagination starts to form. Tonio falls for Clara. He seeks love but Tonio is a marked man. He killed and he will be killed next. Can he escape his fate? Anything is possible in the hot Brazilian sun. One story can be told yet another can happen!

Apaharan (Directed by Prakash Jha): Rating 7/10

Bihar – the hotbed of corrupt politics! Err, not corrupt but true politics -- politics of politics. Deals are made, parties are toppled and loyalties are switched. A new problem rears it ugly head in Bihar – kidnappings. Business men are kidnapped for money. The police don’t do a thing. Actually even if they wanted to, they can’t do a thing. Because the problem runs all the way from the top to the firmly rooted slums. I expected a much more gritty movie focused only on kidnappings. Yet the second half of the movie turns in the usual Company mould and ends up in a political match. And since it is Ajay Devgan involved, it does feels like a Company spin-off. Which is a shame really because Nana Patekar is quite amazing. Patekar seems to be back full time in movies now which is good news as he is one of the best Bollywood actors around. I had loved Jha’s previous movie Gangajaal which I thought was much more riveting than this effort (that also starred Ajay Devgan). And ofcourse, Jha has made classic films in the past like Mrityudand (Ayub Khan and Mohan Agashe reunite with Jha in Apaharan) and Hip, Hip Hurray. One thing is for sure – Prakash Jha knows his material really well. It is just that I was looking for a different kind of movie.

The Cotton Club (directed by Francis Ford Coppola): Rating 6.5/10

Harlem, 1928. Gangsters, jazz musicans, pretty women, drinks and tap dancing. It all takes place in the Cotton Club. Maybe if I saw this movie when it was released in 1984, I would have liked it better. But in this day and age of clichéd mobster movies (a genre that Coppola defined with his Godfather movies) and with the recent Chicago, watching the Cotton Club didn’t give me anything new. There was nothing fresh about it. The only interesting aspect was the ending sequence where stage performances and real scenes are mixed together so well that you can’t tell one from the other. Richard Gere does a little song in this one and you can tell the seeds of his Chicago singing routine were first laid here. A very young Diane Lane (she was 18-19 during the filming) can be found as can a young Nicolas Cage. Gregory Hines has a significant role, along with some tap dancing scenes (the impromptu tap dancing scenes performed in the movie are amazing). I was interested at the start but half-way through, I lost interest. You knew where this one was going.

The Merchant of Venice (Directed by Michael Radford): Rating 6/10

Sometimes too much Shakespeare is not a good thing! I remembered this story or so I thought I did. In reality, all I remembered was Bassanio (and his love for Portia), Antonio and Shylock with his demand of a pound of flesh. Was this the story? Or was the story about a Jew vs the Christian state? That is the version that gets flushed out in this adaptation. I can’t comment on this unless I go back and reread the story. That being said, when I saw the poster of the movie last year in London, I knew Al Pacino had to be playing the role of Shylock. And that he does perfectly. But I just didn’t care for this boring movie. Sure the sets (and costumes) look accurate, but that is not much of a feat really because some parts of Venice are so well preserved today that you can imagine how life was 300 years ago. Good acting overall but I just got tired of all the Jew vs Christian ideologies and all the mind games that Portia plays. Maybe some aspects in this story are outdated or maybe they are just not spoken out-loud anymore. Either way, I just didn’t care.

Not on the Lips (Directed by Alain Resnais): Rating 5/10

A French musical! If I had expected to see a French musical with Audrey Tautou, I wouldn’t have disliked this movie that much. I thought I was picking up a comedic film not a comedic musical. There is a big difference between the two.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Night and Gray

Good Night, and Good Luck (Directed by George Clooney): Rating 10/10

Fade to white. Cue microphone. The cigarette is lit. A puff of white smoke floats across the screen. And then the firm reassuring voice comes on the airways. What happens next? Well the news is reported, truth is told, facts are presented. What happens afterwards? Is it not obvious? -- the show is on the verge of being pulled because the truth can’t be presented! The audience don’t have time for politics, they want to be entertained. Moreover, what is the point of telling them everything? In times of national security, swift action must be taken. The evil people must be put away even when there is no evidence to put them away. Because the fate of the nation is at stake!

George Clooney directs an interesting story based on real incidents involving the CBS television station and Edward Murrow, an esteemed broadcaster. Murrow had no trouble in taking on controversial topics head on in pursuit of telling the truth. But things get nasty when he decides to reveal the lies of Senator McCarthy. Releasing such a movie in the present day will surely make this film an easy target for a large section of the American population. And likewise, another section of the public might embrace the movie for outlining the parallels that existed in America during the Cold War and present day. The movie is just around the 90 minute mark and it is a movie that you wish does not end really. It is engaging and interesting. The camera hardly leaves the broadcasting room and even when it does, it does not wander too far; it heads to the jazz bar that the tv crew frequently visit or the camera heads to the home of a married couple working for the station (Robert Downey Jr. in a small role). By keeping the locales limited, we are not side-tracked from the movie’s focus which is the battle that Murrow and his co-workers faced in broadcasting the truth. Not much insight is given to the main characters which is a good thing. Because we can judge for ourselves who these people are by observing them in action. The real star of the movie is clearly David Strathairn who is BRILLAINT as Edward Murrow. It is never an easy job to play real life characters but Strathairn does it perfectly. There are some other very powerful roles as well – Frank Langella is amazing as the manager who has to make a difficult choice about how his station is run; Ray Wise displays all the tragic emotions of Don Hollenbeck -- you can actually see Hollenbeck breaking down as he hears harsh words written about him in the media.

I was reminded of The Insider while watching this movie – that was a movie which dealt with another controversial issue CBS television tackled (the tobacco companies). Such movies have to make sure they get the facts right otherwise they would be crucified. But can any movie get the facts totally right? Good Night, and Good Luck avoids the problems of getting facts wrong by cleverly using archive footage to present its story. How can one argue when the lies are presently as they were told back in the 50’s?

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mera (Directed by Jahnu Barua): Rating 8/10

The human mind is the most complex thing in the universe. It has to be. Because it can not only analyze the real world, it can create imaginary worlds. And then sometimes, just for fun, it can mix both the real and imaginary world and create something else completely. When a person is young, they can reasonably have some control over their mind (one would hope). But the problems start when a person gets older. Then they start to lose control of their mind and that is when things really get out of hand. Can one stop such behaviour? And this is where all our science comes to a complete failure.

Anupam Kher plays a loving father. One fine day, he leaves home, goes to a university class and starts teaching. But when the students tell him he is in the wrong classroom, he feels embarrassed and leaves. Flash forward a couple of years. While having breakfast, he calls for his wife. When his daughter tells him that her mother died a year and a half ago, he is shocked. He can’t remember her death and he believes he only went to the wrong university classroom a day before. And slowly he starts forgetting even more things. Until one day, he proclaims that he can’t be forgiven because he killed Mahatma Gandhi. He is sorry for his crime. Despite everything, the daughter tries to keep a grip on things but even she starts to lose her mind. So what is the real story? Sanjay Chauhan has done a good job on penning together a very emotional yet intelligent movie. Even though the ending might seem a bit preachy, it seems to fit in the framework of the movie. Because it was Gandhi who said that if a person believes that the rest of the world is wrong while they are right, well he must be a fool instead. So sometimes if one believes they are guilty, it is easier to believe that everyone else is equally guilty. That lessens one’s guilt. Anupam Kher is perfect in his role, in fact too perfect. Urmila proves once again that she really thrives in these off-beat roles. Boman Irani is probably one of my favourite actors at the moment – he is so vibrant, so full of life that even when he has to deliver a few lines, he does it with ease. Even though the acting of the secondary actors is not upto par, this is still a very interesting movie. Movies like this prove that there are atleast some intelligent Hindi movies being made in India. We know that Bengali and South Indian movies have some character to them, but good Hindi movies are rare ever since Bollywood came to power.