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.

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