Monday, January 30, 2006

End of the month wrap-up

Out of four movies that I saw in the last few days, three of them bored me to tears. So I won't be objective at all but as subjective as I can be. Here are the culprits:

Me and You and Everyone We Know (written and directed by Miranda July)

Phew! To say that I disliked this movie would be an understatement! In fact, I found this movie to be an utter waste of time. Now given that this movie has won tons of critical acclaim (Cannes included) and has made plenty of best 2005 movie lists, I just didn’t fancy it. Yes this is a completely unique and original movie. In fact, I found a lot of good things about this movie like the acting of the two kids and the father, the nice ending (where the little boy learns the truth about the noise in the morning) and the overall good dreamy feel to the movie. But what really annoyed me was the acting of Miranda July, who happens to be the movie’s writer and director. Yes her character is supposed to be like that, but everytime her character opened her mouth, I cringed. I watched the entire movie because I was still remotely interested. I found the opening 10 minutes the most annoying but I got settled to the overall mood of the movie after that. Because of the dreamy music, the movie can’t be taken seriously even though it portrays some serious issues. How can I describe it? Well take some parts of Larry Clark’s movies (a very tiny portion), add some essence of Todd Solondz’s Happiness , mix some American Beauty components and combine with plenty of scoops of sugar and churn mixture in a blender for a few hours. Serve the final product chilled with a touch of sunshine. End result: not my cup of juice!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (directed by Wes Anderson)

Now I don’t expect a Wes Anderson movie to be a laugh out humour fest nor do I expect his movies to be a dramatic tear jerker. Rushmore was interesting and The Royal Tenenbaums was brilliant. But The Life Aquatic is quite boring. Sure it is original and contains some very interesting characters but overall I could care less. After the 40 minute mark, I lost all interest. Now, there are some funny moments until the end but they are so spread out in a dull and dreary movie that it is hard to stay awake.

Tears of the Black Tiger (written and directed by Wisit Sasanatieng)

A colourful Thai Western! Sounds interesting and I am sure it is. But I guess I was no mood to watch a movie and had really lost all interest even before I had started this one. The only reason I wanted to watch this movie was because I had missed the director’s recent feature Citizen Dog in the London Film Festival. So I wanted to give this 2000 movie, which put the director on the map, a watch. It really puts a twist on the whole western genre and is funny with colorful backgrounds and visuals. But on some other day, this movie would have had more of my attention. The overdramatic colorful scenes reminded of one too many Bollywood movies and I just had to rush through this one.

Rize (directed by David LaChapelle)

This documentary starts out with the statement that none of the footage is speeded up. Which is a good thing to know because watching the energetic dances in this movie, one does wonder if it is all real? Can people be that flexible and move that fast? Ofcourse they can! Watching the brilliant moves is pure joy. But I was a bit let down when the movie tried to scratch the surface to bring the story behind the dance. I have seen a couple of really good documentaries in the last few years covering the gang aspects of life on the American streets that this movie just seemed to rehash the same elements. One can argue that the story of the dance can't be told without the gang element. Sure enough, but I wish those sections were presented in a better manner. Still this one is worth a watch because it opens one eye's to a different kind of 'clowning' life style.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jean Cocteau and Orpheus

Incredibly I had not seen any works of this legendary French film-maker until recently. And I managed to make up some ground by watching his Orphic trilogy -- The Blood of a Poet , Orpheus and The Testament of Orpheus .

Le Sang d'un poète was Cocteau’s first movie released in 1930. This is a very abstract movie along the lines of Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou which was released in 1929. The story of Cocteau’s first feature is broken into a few sections, each interesting in their own way. All the sections are sandwiched between an image of a falling chimney. The chimney is on the verge of collapsing at the start, and after all the sections are done, we see an image of the chimney as it finally falls down. The opening section lays the foundation for the next 3 episodes that follow. A painter erases a picture of a woman’s lips from his canvas. Next thing, he finds that her lips have imposed themselves on his palm. In order to get rid of the living, breathing lips, he covers his palm onto a statue’s lips. And just like that, he brings the statue to life. But the lips manage to spin things around for the painter and he finds himself plunged into a different world. The statue asks the painter to step through the mirror into another dimension. Even by today's technical film-making standards, the images in Cocteau's film are remarkable. The sequence of the painter walking through the mirror into another world is just done superbly.

Orphée (released in 1950) : Of the three movies, this is the most structured movie with a defined story. That being said, the story is not as simple as it seems but Cocteau wanted his audience to interpret the movie in their own way. The movie is loosely based on the Greek myth of Orphée who goes to the Underworld and asks his dead wife be returned to the earthly world. The wife is sent back with one condition – Orphée must never lay eyes on her again (directly or indirectly via a mirror) and if he breaks this condition, his wife would be sent back to the netherworld. While all this is going on, the princess of death falls in love with Orphée and wants to be with him. That complicates matters as she can’t spend her life with a mortal. So what is the resolution of all this? I don’t want to talk too much about the story because it is worth watching without knowing what happens. A lot of elements from The Blood of a Poet show up in this movie like the difficult walk through the Underworld, going into another dimension via the mirror, etc. Overall, this is an excellent movie!!!!

Le Testament d'Orphée, ou ne me demandez pas pourquoi! (released in 1959)

The title translates to ‘The Testament of Orpheus or Don’t ask me why’. This was Cocteau’s farewell to cinema and he signed off with this autobiographical movie which mixes elements from his real life and revisits characters from Orphée . The film consists of Cocteau thinking out-loud and it is fitting that he plays himself in the movie and is present in almost every frame of the film. Fellini's 8 1/2 comes to mind as The Testament of Orpheus progresses. There are discussions about science, time travel, art, death, life and everything else in between. Cocteau even gets into a debate with Heurtebise (one of the main characters from Orphée ) about what some elements from the movie Orphée meant. Throughout the movie, Cocteau is accompanied by his real life adopted son, Edouard Dermithe. Dermithe reprises his role of Cégeste from Orphée but this time he gets a better living role. One thing that comes up a few times in the movie is that Cocteau laments making Cégeste spend most of Orphée in the Underworld and in order to make up for that, he has made Cégeste accompany him on the real world in this movie. The film has a thoughtful pace but provides some very memorable images and scenes.

These three movies are very unique and one would be hard pressed to find such soul in modern movies. It is clear that Cocteau wanted cinema to be an expression of poetry (or art) and he detested how cinema was being reduced to a money making industry in the hands of ignorant producers. Given how things have advanced since 1960, it is clear that some of Cocteau's fears turned out right (he felt the money makers would shut art of the movies in place of brain dead entertainment). But even in the middle of such commercial junk that gets produced today, there are some real cinematic gems to be found. Sort of like a lotus growing in a pond of mud. Cocteau was that precious lotus who left us with a fine collection of rare images and words. A true poet, indeed!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Look at me, Witnesses, The Blue Angel

Comme une image (Look at me, directed by Agnès Jaoui): Rating 9.5/10

Director Agnès Jaoui knows how to make a beautiful movie. And she and co-star and co-writer, Jean-Pierre Bacri know how to write a realistic script. They did that in 2000’s The Taste of Others which is a movie I quite liked. In 2005, the two of them combined for this wonderful movie which won them best screenplay at the Cannes Festival. Yet again, Jaoui and Bacri show the complex relationships that exist between people which lead them to created complicated messes for themselves. The two of them know to how to integrate realistic everyday elements into their story. For example, there is a scene in which the wife (played by Jaoui herself) is sitting on a couch watching tv. Her husband shows up, is tired and tries to tell her his problems. She is feeling a bit cold so she takes a blanket and tries to get more comfortable. As the husband is busy sulking, she is busy trying to find the tv remote control which is buried somewhere beneath the blanket. That’s the scene, simple yet realistic.

Lolita (Marilou Berry) is preparing for a musical concert. As she continues to practice her vocals, she has to deal with the fact that her father, a famous writer (Étienne played by Bacri), does not pay enough attention to her. The father is busy with his life and is married to a much younger wife, Karine (Virginie Desarnauts, who sort of looks like Naomi Watts in parts). Then there is Sylvia (played by Jaoui) and Pierre (Laurent Grévill). Sylvia is a music teacher who is training Lolita. Pierre is a struggling writer who is hoping his third book will make it big. Sylvia is a huge fan of Étienne and when she finds out that Lolita is her daughter, her attitude changes. She is star-struck and agrees to spend more time with Lolita even though she often complained about Lolita to Pierre. As is the case with most French movies, you take a complicated bunch of characters and then throw them together in a French cottage outside the city and watch the sparks fly. There are a few other interesting characters thrown into the mix such as Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza) and Vincent (Grégoire Oestermann). A wonderful movie which makes for a pleasant afternoon watch!

Svjedoci (Witnesses, 2003 movie directed by Vinko Bresan): Rating 6/10

This Croatian movie made a name for itself at the European film festival circuit. It is told in Rashômon style. But despite the technique, the film is flat and never really seems to take off. Three young Croatian soldiers are planning to blow up their neighbours house. The neighbour was not expected to be home so the three are startled to find him present and one of them ends up shooting him. The three soldiers flee the incident and take a witness as a hostage. A police inspector and a crime reporter try to dig the truth up. This simple incident is told over and over from different angles, each time another layer of the story is added. But the problem is none of the additional information makes the movie interesting. There is nothing in this story which should really be hidden or presented in this manner. The movie clocks in slightly under 80 minutes and even that seems to be a bit long. Might have been more interesting as a compact 20 minute short film!

Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930 movie directed by Josef von Sternberg): Rating 8/10

This movie is considered a classic! More than the director, it seems that the actress Marlene Dietrich got more of a star billing after this movie. But seeing this 1930 movie in 2006 does not have the same effect. On top of that, the grainy VHS copy of this movie had poor subtitles (subtitles were missing in parts) and choppy sound. But I tried to overlook all that and tried to enjoy the movie as much as I could. That being said, it is an interesting character study. A strict professor (Prof. Immanuel Rath played by Emil Jannings) is tired of his students neglecting their studies for the alluring Lola (Dietrich), a dancer in the Blue Angel club. The students go watch her show after school and during the day, they pass her photos around in class. So Prof. Rath decides to go the club and give Lola hell. But he too is smitten by her charm. And he starts neglecting his job and daydreams about her. Lola decides to misuse the Prof. and agrees to marry him. The two of them leave their town and head for the road with the night club show troupe. But she threats him horribly and reduces him to nothing. On top of that, the professor is forced to play a clown in her traveling night shows. The professor withstands this for 5 years but when he is asked to be a clown in the Blue Angel club in front of his former colleagues and students, he can’t take it anymore. He hates his life and despises Lola. The fantasy has become a living nightmare.

The 4th Man, The Woman Next Door, Salò and Tokyo Drifter

The insane movie watching in the first month of the New Year continues. After this week, this excessive movie watching will hopefully stop. I have been watching movies faster than I can write about them.

The 4th Man (1983 movie directed by Paul Verhoeven): Rating 8/10

Long before Basic Instinct came along, Paul Verhoeven directed this gritty and interesting movie about a deadly femme. The movie is not subtle but packed with tons of symbols and foreshadowing, which makes it an enjoyable watch because the viewer is able to clue onto things much before the main character does. The opening scene lets us know straight away what is in store – a spider is shown trapping its insect victims. The scene is shown while the credits are rolling so initially I didn’t pay attention to how many victims the spider traps. But half way through the movie, I realized the number had to be 3. And sure enough, it was. And then the title of the movie makes sense, the 4th man refers to the 4th victim of the mysterious Christine Halsslag (played with utmost creepiness and coldness by Renée Soutendijk). Jeroen Krabbé plays a popular writer, Gerard Reve (same name as the author of the book on which this movie is based), who is invited to give a speech in a small town. Along the way, Reve encounters a series of bizarre incidents and even has some hallucinations (which turn out to be premonitions). But he dismisses all of this when he meets the chilly blond Christine. Reve falls for her immediately. In a drunken state, Reve comes across old home movies of Christine’s past husbands. At this point, the viewer is fully aware what fate could have befallen to her 3 ex-husbands. But Reve is lust crazy not only for Christine but for Christine’s new fling, Herman. Eventually, he does see the truth for what it is and tries to warn Herman lest one of them becomes the 4th man.

La Femme d'à côté (The Woman Next Door, 1981 movie directed by François Truffaut):
Rating 7.5/10

Gérard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant play two former lovers (Bernard and Mathilde respectively) who find themselves reacquainted by chance after 8 years or so. Both are now married and Bernard even has a little son. Initially, he tries to ignore Mathilde but eventually he falls for her again. Their fiery relationship boils over until it ends up in a public fight in front of all their families and friends. Just as things seem to be getting back to normal, the fire is lit once more for an explosive finale. The movie starts off interestingly but it gets a bit too predictable near the end. Not bad though.

Salò (1976 movie directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini): Rating an unwatchable 0/10

With all due respect to Pier Pasolini, no one should have to watch this movie! I never thought I would see a movie which would make movies like Tokyo Decadence and other shock Japanese/Korean movies appear like light hearty family movies. Now, I knew this would be graphic (words like 120 days of Sodom and Marquis de Sade gave that away) but I had no idea it would be so poorly done and be utterly boring. Pasolini wanted to make a political statement against the evils of Fascism with this. Fair enough, but could he not have made an interesting expose of the crimes that men, yes men, would stoop to for the sake of entertainment? The picture quality, the music and the editing were all choppy in my copy. And the acting is not that great either. Enough said.

Tokyo Drifter (1966 movie directed by Seijun Suzuki): Rating 7/10

Yakuza movies have come a long way since the 1960’s but a lot of the core ingredients can be found in this Suzuki movie – gangs making complicated deals, gangster trying to go clean, and the question of loyalty to name a few. In fact, this movie could be considered a precursor of sorts for the 90’s wave of Japanese crime movies. Two of the most interesting aspects of this movie are the usage of colour and music. The opening scene of black and white ends with a bright red colour image ( Sin City used the same technique with a bright red dress against black and white in the opening scene). And then there is the main character’s ever dependable blue suit. White snow, yellow backgrounds which change to red depending on the mood of the scene, etc all add to the visual appeal of the movie. The catchy title song adds to the movie’s appeal; the title song is repeated through the movie and the main character is found singing it as a monologue of sorts. However, other than these two aspects of colour and music, I found the movie slow and dull in parts. The story is straight forward -- a gangster and his boss are trying to go clean but they are sucked back into the business by a rival. This leads to killings and chases. Until, everything is resolved in the end. More or less…..

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Broken Flowers, 2046, 5 x 2, Enduring Love and Off the Map

I have seen a mixed bag of movies recently with one or two surprises like 5x2 . So here’s a quick summary of the 5 movies:

Broken Flowers (written and directed by Jim Jarmusch): Rating 9/10

Any Jim Jarmusch movie is worth a watch. And Bill Murray has now perfected his dead-pan look – he can look funny without moving a muscle or even lifting a finger. So as expected Murray is perfect in this movie as a former Don Juan (named Don Johnston) who one day gets a mysterious letter in a pink envelope from one of his former lovers telling him that his 19 year old son may come looking for him. Who sent this letter? Johnston does not care. But his neighbour, Winston (played hilariously by Jeffrey Wright) is obsessed with solving the mystery and makes Johnston drive across America visiting his 5 previous lovers from 20 years ago.

2046 (written and directed by Wai Kar Wong): Rating 9 / 10

The visual beauty of the film is one would expect from Wai Kar Wong and his usual cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The mood and music gave the movie a feel of In the Mood For Love which made sense as the movie is supposed to be a sequel.  Ziyi Zhang looks gorgeous (as usual) and there are bit roles from a trio of heroines from Wong’s previous movies – Gong Li, Faye Wong and of course Maggie Cheung. Tony Leung is perfect and it is quite enjoyable to see characters from one movie inhabiting another movie, like Leung’s and Ah Ping’s character (the annoying friend who is always seeking to land the hot woman).

5x2 (directed by François Ozon): Rating 9.5/10

Can sweet love go bad? Ofcourse, it can! And this movie uses 5 scenes to illustrate how the innocence of love can be shattered by time. The movie works backward in giving us glimpses into the lives of the couple in question (the brilliant Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stéphane Freiss play Marion and Gilles respectively). We first see Marion and Gilles going through their divorce, followed by a simple party scene where we can see the strains of their marriage in the open. The next three scenes involve their child birth, marriage and first love. This really is a well done movie which in a few scenes manages to show the complexity of relationships. There is a scene near the start, right after the couple are divorced, Gilles tries to force himself onto Marion. When she turns him down, Gilles attacks her. Facing the door and with her back towards Gilles, Marion sharply shouts out. Something about that scene really stood out for me. We could tell upto this point that Marion is a basically good person but she can’t take Gilles abuse anymore. As the movie moves on we learn that Gilles has his fears (whatever they are) and alienates Marion when she needs him most, like leaving her alone during the child birth. When this movie opened in my city, it didn’t last too long. No one went to see it. Which is a shame really because this movie is worth seeing! I have not seen Bergman’s Scenes of Marriage so I have to regard 5x2 as one of the best relationship movies out there. On an unrelated note, both the lead actors and Michael Lonsdale (who plays Marion’s father) had bit roles in Munich . Lonsdale played the impressive Papa in Spielberg’s movie.

Enduring Love (directed by Roger Michell): Rating 6/10

What a mess! An absolute mess! I am sure Ian McEwan’s novel is much more absorbing than this movie. Even though the movie starts out with one of the most unique opening scenes – a couple (played by the new Bond, Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton) head to an open field to have a picnic. They have their champagne glasses out when a hot air balloon suddenly lands behind them. A man falls out of the balloon’s basket and is trying to bring it to a stop while a little boy is helpless inside the basket. Joe (Daniel Craig) rushes to help the man and is immediately joined by a few other men who come in from different sides. The men manage to stop the balloon. But a gust of wind blows by and the balloon takes off with the men hanging onto the basket and an additional man hanging by the rope. As the balloon continues to rise, one man lets go of the basket. The others follow suit expect the man hanging onto the rope. Eventually, his grip loosens and he falls to his death. Now, there’s a whole range of possibilities as to where this movie could have gone. But it takes a turn towards the love crazy stalker angle with a difference – a man stalking another man. Jed (played by Rhys Ifans) believes that he and Joe shared a special love when the two of them prayed together for the dead man. Also, there are some subplots put in the movie only for the reason of trying to cover different elements of the novel but not for the benefit of the screenplay (one of the subplots was why did a man who was afraid of heights not let go of the balloon rope? And if never took risks in his life, why did he rush to help a complete stranger?). The movie is sharply shot but it could have been much more engaging.

Off the Map (2003 movie tenderly directed by Campbell Scott): Rating 8/10

What a surprise this movie was! I had never heard of this one but picked it up based on the interesting pairing of Joan Allen and Sam Elliot. The two of them play a couple (Arlene and Charley) who really live life off the map – they live in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere with no phone and no tv. The couple hunt for their own food and try to be as self-sufficient as possible. They have a young bright 12 year old daughter, Bo (played amazingly by Valentina de Angelis). Bo wants to leave her home when she grows up and move to the city to lead a normal life. She is very mature for her age and is tired of her parent’s unorthodox ways. One day, the couple gets a letter in the mail informing them they are being audited by the IRS. Arlene finds that odd as their annual household income is less than $5000 dollars. Moreover, Charley does not work and is continuously depressed. When the tax auditor shows up, Bo believes this is her ticket for freedom. But as it turns out, the auditor gets sick and ends up living in the household as well. Bo is infuriated at the adults around her and at times seems like the only mature person. The young Valentina is so perfectly cast -- you can see the intensity in her eyes and she really steals the movie with her strong lively performance. Joan Ackermann adapted her own play for this movie and Campbell Scott has done a good job of tenderly portraying the different characters as they go about their lives (odd yet simple) in New Mexico.

The Machinist

Directed by Brad Andersen, written by Scott Kosar: Rating 9/10

Making movies is a highly complex process. And The Machinist demonstrates that perfectly. After not finding any funding for the movie for almost 2 years, Andersen and Kosar found a Spanish producer. Which meant that Barcelona had to be made to look like L.A, and that involved carefully making changes in everyday filming like replacing Spanish licence plates with American ones, Spanish traffic signs with English language props, etc. But the most challenging aspect of the movie had to be to get the lead actor to look like 120 pounds. How can a male look that skinny? By not eating ofcourse! And that is exactly what Christian Bale did -- he didn’t eat for an extended length and ends up looking like the human skeleton that was required for this role.

The story has shades of other movies ( Fight Club mostly and Memento to a lesser extent) and keeps one guessing as to what is going on -- Trevor Reznik has not been able to sleep for a year. He works the graveyard shift as a machinist. He is losing weight on a daily basis. Slowly, he starts losing his mind as well. Incidentally, he starts getting paranoid at the same time as he meets Ivan. Who is the mysterious Ivan? Images get hazy as Trevor tries to stay awake to find out what really is going on.

Overall, I quite liked this movie. The build up was amazing and even though the ending was subdued, it was logical. The entire movie is wickedly shot with excellent production values. The gray and dark visuals combined with the eerie background score give the movie a dark feel, something straight out of a Kafka novel. As far as the locations go, I think in a few scenes, I could make out that the setting was not America at all (I think the subway trains was one), but I figured it might have been a small American town which had some European elements. But I didn’t imagine the entire movie was shot in Barcelona.

And despite all the hardwork and sacrifice by the new Batman, did this movie really find an audience in North America? No. Making movies is a really complex process? No, that is incorrect. Making good movies is a really complex process!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Z, Midaq Alley and Central Station

Z (1969 movie directed by Costa-Gavras): Rating 9.5/10

I tried reading the book by Vassili Vassilikos but I soon got tired. I was sure there was a wicked story buried in there but I didn’t make it past the initial pages. Instead I opted for the movie and I am glad I did. This is one of the best movies I have seen! Along with the Battle of Algiers , this is one of my favourite movies. And interestingly enough, like that movie, this one is in French and shot in Algiers as well. This is an excellent political movie which shows how quickly freedom can evaporate and how abuse of power can cripple the truth. A political leader is hit on the head and eventually dies. But proving his death was a murder turns out to be quite an ordeal. The movie moves at a quick pace and the footage is shot in a very realistic way, with nothing flashy or glossy. And in the end, despite all the truth being exposed, nothing is done. The lies continue and more lies are spun until the truth never seemed to exist in the first place. Sounds quite familiar to modern times! And if a movie can remain timeless, well that is just perfect.

Midaq Alley (1995 movie directed by Jorge Fons): Rating 6.5/10

It was never a good idea to watch a movie right after I finished watching Z because any movie would have been a let-down. And sure enough, Midaq Alley was a huge disappointment. The only reason I picked up this movie was because I wanted to see how Naguib Mahfouz’s book was adapted from Cairo to Mexico City. The story was generic enough that it would have been easy to adapt but I still wanted to see how it turned out. This movie was made quite a few years before Amores Perros and contains the same structure – one incident is shown, one story thread is followed, then the movie rewinds to that initial incident and follows another character’s thread. However, Amores Perros was brilliant and engaging, it focused on three central stories. Whereas Midaq Alley diverges too much from the original characters shown in the first scene and after a lengthy running time of 140 minutes, tries to tie everything together. By that point, I had lost interest. It contains decent acting (Salma Hayek is the only major star on the cover) and shot nicely.

Central Station (1998 movie directed by Walter Salles): Rating 7/10

Road movies are tricky, either you like them or you don’t. In a year where my favourite movie was a Brazilian road movie, Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures , I wanted to see how what I thought of this highly praised Salles movie. I knew the movie would be well shot because Walter Carvalho was the cinematographer. And sure enough, it is a visual delight. The technical aspects are all top notch (smooth editing) and the acting is very good. But I was not floored by this one. This one is much better than Salles’s Behind the Sun which I gave a higher rating because I actually cared for that movie. If one gets hooked emotionally by Central Station then one will love it. At the start of the movie, the credits mention that the movie is based on an idea by Walter Salles. As soon as I saw the letter writer character, my first instinct was that Salles got the idea from Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay where Irfan Khan plays a letter writer who takes money from people but never sends their letters. It was a minor character so I figured Salles expanded on that. Ofcourse, he adds a real story and more depth to a cheating letter writer’s character. Maybe if I had seen this some other day, I might have liked it a bit more.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

3 classics, a Bully and some Mango Souffle

The Last Picture Show (1971 movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich, written by Larry McMurtry): Rating 8/10

Ah life in a small town! It can be boring, painful and plain slow. Nothing seems to happen. The longing for ‘something’ makes people do crazy things. Crazy things lead to more crazy things and in the end increase the already piled up list of problems. If one has not lived in small town North America, all the characters and situations will seem boring. But things shown here are quite accurate (to some extent). In fact, the problems of small towns are indeed replicated in modern suburbia environments (a point well explored by American Beauty and various other movies). The Last Picture Show showcases young actors such Randy Quaid, Jeff Bridges and a very beautiful 20 year old Cybill Shepherd. The movie is sad, tragic but well worth the watch.

The Long Goodbye (1973 movie directed by Robert Altman): Rating 7/10

The detective, the unsolved crime, the femme fatale and a pile of dead bodies! A classic detective crime thriller! And considering this movie was made back in 1973, it built on the existing body of film noir movies and laid the groundwork for future genre thrillers. The best thing about the movie is Elliott Gould’s perfect portrayal of Philip Marlowe, a laid back detective who will calmly strike a light for his cigarette anywhere. Not a great movie but it definitely kept my interest.

Apocalypse Now (1979 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola)

Rating: A very subjective scale of 6 – 8

‘The Horror’, oh ‘the horror’! Amazingly I had never seen this classic movie until now. Considered to be one of the best movies ever made, this movie really gave Coppola a headache and thrust a financial burden on his shoulders. A dazzling cast directed by one of the leading film directors of his time-- What more can one ask for? I only opted watching the original 2 hour 30 min cut as opposed to the newly restored 3 hour + version. And I was severely disappointed. I had high expectations but in the end, I couldn’t care less. Some movies have to be watched in the right mood and I tried to keep an open mind for this one. Sure, it is beautifully shot, well acted and the music score compliments the movie but I just didn’t think it was that stellar. I really expected to be led into the heart of darkness so to speak but I didn’t think it was dark enough. Ofcourse, one’s imagination should fill in the details and not everything must be shown to the viewer but in this day and age of shock gruesome movies we get darkness served raw and cold to us.

Bully (2001 movie directed by Larry Clark): Rating 8.5 / 10

Now I found this movie to dark and chilling! Larry Clark really shook things up with Kids and here he raises the bar even more. Once again, he is not afraid to keep his camera focused on kids (too long sometimes) by showing us what they are doing (screwing or getting into trouble) and what they are thinking. The movie is based on a real life incident about a high school bully and his planned murder by his victims (friends and colleagues). There is probably a lot of improvisation done to the characters but the overall reported incidents might be true to some extent. A boy bullies his childhood friend, bosses people around, rapes a girl when he feels like yet pretends to be innocent in front of his parents. When his best friend can’t take it anymore, his girlfriend suggests killing the bully as the only option out. And this is where the fun and games stop. How the kids go about planning the murder and how they try to cope with their actions forms the rest of the movie. This movie is much more structured than Kids and is well made. It does show that in this day and age of suburban boredom and video game land, kids can’t fully comprehend the consequences of their actions and some of them can’t even differentiate between thought and action.

Mango Souffle (2002 movie directed by Mahesh Dattani): Rating 4/10

Good to know that Mahesh Dattani redeemed himself by making a good movie like Morning Raga in 2004 because Mango Souffle is plain awful. The story is not that bad really but what makes it painful to watch is the terrible acting; none of the leading actors have any expressions on their faces and they look wooden while delivering their lines. Dattani adapted his own play for this movie and I am sure the stage play was much more interesting. Ofcourse, this is not a regular topic you see on Indian cinema so it was good to see something different made. It is clear that the Dattani has taken pains to make this movie but why couldn’t he have made the actors act?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Love amongst Canadian Mountains

Brokeback Mountain (Directed by Ang Lee): Rating 10/10

Love -- that complicated simple painful joyful confusing emotion! So many love stories are made yearly yet few of them manage to capture the essence of love perfectly. But Brokeback Mountain gets it right. Perfectly right! The fact that the love shown on screen is between two men does not make a difference. Ang Lee has crafted such a perfect framework for a love story that even if the two main characters were a man and a woman, a boy and a girl or even two women, the movie’s core would still be the same. Now, if one does not get involved emotionally in this movie, then it won’t seem that great of a movie. One might still appreciate the beautiful cinematography and the excellent acting but the simple story might not seem too big of a deal. Sometimes the best movies are the ones with a very simple story. Different people might take different things away from this movie. And that is what good movies do -- each person should feel something different or get a different message. Love is complicated enough, love is painful enough that it seems bloody frustrating when ignorant people put restrictions on others. Why? Because of what they believe in! Why do they believe in such things? Because they were told to! Why were they told to? Because that is how things are supposed to be! Why? Because it is written! Why is it written so? Because it was spoken so! Why was it spoken so? Because that is how it is supposed to be, dammit!!!! Well I don’t agree that is how things are supposed to be but the world works on such beliefs.

When I had first heard or seen the trailers of this movie, I had my doubts – I felt the movie might be contrived for award season. But I still wanted to check it out. And I am very glad I did. I got hooked emotionally yet at no point did the movie feel contrived. Did the original story focus on the essence of love? Did Annie Proulx use two cowboys on purpose to show that love is such a powerful emotion that it can carve past the tough exteriors? Or did she want to truly show that love is the same, no matter the sex of the person involved? Whatever the original intentions, I really liked this onscreen adaptation.

It is interesting that my top 2 favourite movies this year have had an underlying theme of friendship between the two male leads. Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures was about friendship and seeking freedom; Brokeback is about friendship which turns to love; it is also about seeking freedom but of a different kind. One movie I saw in a film festival, one in a multiplex! Interesting year in movies!