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.


Pacze Moj said...

Nice write-up on Syriana, which I haven't seen... yet.

I disagree about Behind the Sun; it's well shot and edited, but I don't think it's magical enough to work as the parable it tries to be.

Sachin said...

Good to hear from you again Pacze.
Actually what got me hooked to Behind the Sun was the scenes when the little boy starts imagining and making stories up after he got a book. It showed how his imagination was forming. But I did feel in the end, his version of the story lacked some punch, it could have been more stronger.

If the movie was not shot as well, I might have slammed it as a revenge + coming of age movie..