Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who will tell me about the real Africa now?

There was no warning, no advance notice.
Jan 24: I was on the internet and my eyes drifted to the tragic headline which told me of Ryszard Kapuściński's death. Just like that. That was last week and I still can't believe that he has gone away. He was almost 75. He had plenty of work left in him, he had to have. Now, who will I turn to get the true description about Africa, a continent that Kapuściński visited endlessly. I have not found anyone else who described the continent so perfectly, so lucidly that I felt I was present there along with Kapuściński in that broken jeep trying to cross the border. I felt that I was sharing a beer with him just to fight the heat from killing us. He told us about the importance of silence (Soccer War). We ignore silence but it is during these periods of silence that real evil is lurking. Given recent crimes in Africa, one can't help think of Kapuściński's words. Under the covers of silence, genocide was being committed. And the world could only care for which movie star did what and whose marriage was being broken.

Kapuściński also understood the meaning of time in African life and how time there is not the same entity that hangs like a sword over the Western World. A few words from Shadows of the Sun (Vintage Canada):
"Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm (man acting, of course, with the consent of gods and ancestors).....Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it....The absolute opposite of time as it is understood in the European worldview....In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking, "When will the meeting take place?" makes no sense. You know the answer: "It will take place when people come."

His description of an entire city floating away in boxes (Angola in Another Day of Life) is unforgettable. Likewise, his insight into the collapse of the Soviet Union in Imperium is well worth reading. The Emperor (about Hallie Haile Selassie) and Shah of Shahs (last Shah of Iran) brought to life people that the media never fully understood.

As of 2006, I have all his 6 English translated books and each one of them is worth reading again, and again. Simply written, beautifully described, poetic infact. I just learned that another book by him will be released in early 2007 -- Travels with Herodotus. I can't wait for that one.

In the meantime, Africa marches on. Hollywood & the U.K have decided to cash in and are busy making movies about the continent. I have managed to see a few of them over the last year, but I have yet to see Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland. Regardless of how these movies are, I doubt if they will be able to match the brilliance of Kapuściński's words.

Thank you Mr. Kapuściński for giving me a look into the real Africa! Thank you for poetic words and your vivid images!!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Notes on recent films & emerging voices in Asian cinema

United 93 (Writer, Director: Paul Greengrass): Rating 9/10

I had avoided seeing this movie until now because I didn’t see a need for making a movie about the most televised event in recent history. Surely, an event that had gotten way too much press coverage and had resulted in more violence around the world didn’t need to be glorified by a movie? I held my belief despite all the positive film reviews. In the end, I changed my mind and I am glad I saw this film. The movie attempts to recreate that morning, first from the point of view in the air-traffic control center and then from events on United 93. The opening hour is spent mostly on the confusion in the air traffic control center when the two planes hit their target. The next 40-50 minutes showcase how an attempted hijacking of United 93 was thwarted. How true are the events shown in the movie? How accurate is the confusion in the air-traffic control center and army facility? We won’t know the true answer but that does not take away from this film’s efforts.

It is a gripping movie that moves at a fact pace. Shot in documentary style, the film does not attempt to judge or glorify anything. It tries to show events as they might have unfolded. And the fact that we know what is going to happen next only adds to the film’s tension. No matter what the reason, or which side is correct, killing of innocent people is not justified. Man is a devilish beast and if he continues his violent ways, then eventually everything will be destroyed. History might show events that started out with United 93 will eventually end with the future shown in Children of Men.

Calvaire, The Ordeal (Director, Fabrice Du Welz): Rating 8/10

I knew nothing of this movie when I picked it up. But what a film it is! The DVD cover is in bloody red indicating scenes of horror. However, the horror is not what I expected.

Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) is a traveling music performer who performs at a range of venues like senior homes. At a particular senior home, he attracts the affection of an elderly woman. He finds that inappropriate and quickly tries to leave when he finds that even the nurse there has feelings for him. On route through lonely and desolate Belgian country side, his vans breaks down. He finds Boris who takes him to Bartel’s Inn, about 3 km away. Boris’s words to Bartel are an indication of things to come. As opposed to merely saying that he has brought Bartel a tenant, Boris shouts "I have brought you someone." From then on starts Marc’s hell in a village populated by only older men. The movie is jam packed with odes and references to several films that director Fabrice clearly admires (Psycho to name just one). And the centre piece of all these references is Marc himself, a confused character who is hard to read. At the start of the film, he was the fancy of older women and then later on, in a mysterious village, he becomes the cause of feuding among the men. And the audience is left to wonder, why Marc is so helpless and weak at all this obvious insanity? De Welz has certainly made a unique first feature despite including quite a few horror film clichéd scenes.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Director, Adam McKay)

How can one rate this movie? It is one of those films that one either hates or one loves. But I seem to fall somewhere in the middle. I didn’t entirely dislike the film but was not convinced by everything shown. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are certainly creating a different kind of humour genre in Hollywood. On a positive side, their dry humour with a few touches of satire is refreshing to see compared to all the brain-dead clichéd Hollywood films. Overall, I enjoyed moments of the film and did laugh out loud at quite a few scenes. At other scenes I either smiled or shook my head at the stupidity of the situation. The introduction of Sacha Baron Cohen as the French driver adds to the film’s bizarre energy. Now I want to see a film with Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Sacha Baron Cohen and Adam Sandler! Rating 6/10

Emerging Voices in Asian cinema…

I was fortunate enough to preview these film as part of the Pan-Asian film festival.

Todo Todo Torres (Philippines, Director John Torres)

I was in Vancouver last year when John Torres picked up his prestigious “Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema” at VIFF. The series programmer Tony Rayns mentioned that Torres’s film proves that home video can be captivating to watch. John’s feature is certainly an interesting blend of home video footage, video diary entries and scripted film. It gives a glimpse into the turbulent life of Manila where teenage angst combined with a police state can lead to acts of terrorism.

The next 6 films are part of Andy Lau’s production company, Focus Films, which is trying to give new talent an opportunity to make movies.

After this our exile (Hong Kong, Director, Patrick Tam)

This was the best of the six films with a lot of raw emotion. The story dives into the life of a troubled couple and how their breaking marriage impacts their child. The wife eventually leaves the husband who is forced to look after the child. Unemployed and having to pay off his gambling debts, the father teaches his son to steal so as to survive. This leads to an emotional ending which I don't want to give away. I felt this film is 20-30 minutes longer than it should be, but the emotional ending gives a nice soothing feel for the movie. Also, the movie contains a beautiful passionate love scene between the father and his girl-friend which is tenderly shot (shades of Wai-Kar Wong).

Joni's Promise (Indonesia, Director Joko Anwar)

This is a cute romantic comedy about a film reel delivery man who is responsible for shuttling film reels in between theatres because each theatre can’t afford to rent its own print. It starts off nicely but after a while, the overdrawn idea wears thin and some substandard acting ruins the movie.

Mukhsin (Malaysia, Director, Yasmin Ahmad)

I have to admit that I am starting to like Yasmin Ahmad’s refreshing approach to families and love stories. I adored her 2005 film Sepet which was just wonderful. Mukhsin is not as good as Sepet but contains enough wonderful moments to warrant interest. Also, some of the some characters from Sepet can be found in Mukhsin , including a touching cameo from the love-struck Sepet couple. Also, the name Orked is used for the leading love interests in both films.

Rain Dogs (Malaysia, Director Yuhang Ho)

Yasmin Ahmad makes a starring role in this film which really feels inspired from Hou Hsiao-hsien's Goodbye South, Goodbye. It is a movie that requires quite a bit of patience as the pace is very relaxed.

Crazy Stone (Hong Kong, Director Hao Ning)

A gangster heist comedy that has taken its inspiration from quite a few Hollywood films like Snatch. Even though at times the acting feels substandard, it is a well shot film.

Love Conquers All (Holland/Malaysia, Director Tan Chui Mui)

Made with partial fund from Holland, this is another independent film that I felt tried to imitate HHH's style, especially in the closing scenes. The main story follows the love-affair of a young woman who falls for the wrong man, despite all the warning signs (which includes a story narrated by the man about a scam where men trap girls like her). Despite the slow start, there is always a shade of darkness underneath the film which starts to unfold when we realize that the woman’s affair has gone all wrong. And we watch her sink into trouble, slowly and slowly.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Visiting Britain in 2027 and 1997

Quite a cinematic treat this week with two very different yet compelling films. First up, one of the best films out there….

Children of Men (Director, Alfonso Cuarón): Rating 10/10

Vintage! Sublime! Brilliant! Raw! Pure Cinematic genius!!! The fact that this movie is not up for a best movie award is a disgrace. Seriously, one of the best films out there! Much has been written about the three Mexican directors dishing out their acclaimed American films in 2006. If there was to be a competition between the three, then Cuarón would win the contest hands down over Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Iñárritu (Babel). Ofcourse, I do acknowledge that Cuarón had the benefit of working off a novel whereas Del Toro dug deep within his imagination to produce the magical world in Pan’s Labyrinth. However, I felt the political side of Del Toro’s film was weak, even though it contained quite a few raw violent scenes, scenes where the camera refused to shrink from any nastiness.

Now, it is interesting that all three Mexican directors have made a political movie. Cuarón tackles the horrific future, Del Toro takes on a bloody past and Iñárritu attempts to show an uncertain present where any single isolated event can be used by a certain country as an excuse for war. However, it is the political nature depicted in Children of Men that prevails. This is because the movie takes the current chaos and projects it into a dark, disgusting, chaotic world where violence and fear rule. Now, 2027 Britain does look like something Orwell could have dreamt of – police are treating the fugees (refugees) as threats and have divided the city into zones, keeping the immigrants at bay. Ofcourse, this is a topic also envisioned by Luc Besson in District 13. Paris in 2010 has a lot in common with Britain in 2027 as per both these films. And that is not surprising. As immigration grows in both countries, so does the fear and distrust of the incoming visitors. On top of that, it is clear that the environment will be devastated in the future because certain people won’t stop driving their SUVs and gigantic gas guzzling vehicles. In addition, garbage will continue to accumulate because humans keep consuming and destroying the planet. The key difference in Children of Men from District 13 is that in the future, women can’t conceive kids. Scientists can’t explain this condition but as a result, no new babies were born anywhere in the world for 18 years. The human race is dying and the movie has a few newspaper clippings to give us an idea when the doomsday clock will start ticking.

I love every aspect of this film. It is raw and expertly directed and shot. Each scene is carefully paced and depicted – a chase, a riot, a killing, a guerilla fun fight, are just some scenes shot in a very realistic manner thanks to the pacing and thought put behind every frame. One could even classify some scenes as documentary footage (the brilliant tank warfare vs street rebel fight) as opposed to scripted action. This is how good this movie is. And the newspaper clippings stuck on the walls at the film’s start is a brilliant touch – one can try to look carefully to see how things will start to fall apart. For example, one clipping tells that Russia annihilates Kazakhstan with a nuclear bomb (Borat would not be amused) and one clip even mentions something about Beckham’s marriage (couldn’t read the full text but what is the future without a mention about this average soccer player?). The art direction is just amazing – one can smell the garbage, swallow the fumes and be repelled by the grayish atmosphere.

I know there are some other worthy movies not nominated for best film. But what annoys me is that a movie like Little Miss Sunshine gets nominated. Even though ..Sunshine was a good film, it was still a movie about a dysfunctional family. And that is just a clichéd topic that keeps getting rehashed every year, either as drama or dark comedy. On the other hand, Children of Men is about the power of imagination and manages to combine sci-fi and politics together. It shows a bleak dark future where there are no aliens and no flying cars but just human’s lust for power, garbage and a whole lot of fear.

The Queen (Director, Stephen Frears. Writer, Peter Morgan): Rating 9/10

Helen Mirren deserves all the praise and accolades that she is getting for this movie. This was probably the most difficult acting role that anyone could have signed up for but Mirren shines in every frame. Credit must also go to Peter Morgan for coming up with such a balanced script. Morgan apparently wrote the script first and then gave a draft to a few insiders to ensure that he got it right. The film shows the inside story about what happened in the Royal Family during the tragic week in August/September 1997 when the “people’s princess” Diana was tragically killed. It was a news item that shook the world and the film shows how the Queen handled the situation. Another interesting aspect in the film is the depiction of Tony Blair’s relationship with the Queen -- Blair (played by Michael Sheen) rose to fame during this turbulent week and won the public’s support with his reaction to Diana’s death. It is interesting to see a compassionate side of Blair in the movie and reflect that at one point, he actually listened to his public. Near the film’s end, there is a scene where the Queen warns Blair that one day he will be shunned by the very people who adore him. Not sure if that line was actually said but it is true given the current situation.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth

Writer & Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro

I can’t give a rating to this film because I missed the first 5-8 minutes of the film. Now it is completely my fault that I missed the start because I had underestimated how busy the theatre would be on a Sunday night. Now, on Friday Jan 19 three big movies finally opened in my city -- Pan’s Labyrinth,The Last King of Scotland and Letters from Iwo Juma. Only one theatre in the city (the local art house theatre) had both films playing at the same time for the early evening show -- Pan’s Labyrinth played at 7 pm and The Last King of Scotland played at 7:10 pm. Other than during the film festival, this art house theatre is hardly ever full on a sunday night so I casually walked in few minutes before 7 pm. But was I surprised!! The line-up was almost out the door with most people waiting to buy tickets for Last King…. I eventually got in the theatre around 7:10 pm regretting my stupidity to leave it this late. Considering so many people were waiting to see these two films, why on earth did these films not open earlier in the city? Why do North American multiplexes insist on showing brain dead films and are not willing to take a risk by opening more foreign films? Why the hell do we have to wait for the best films to only open during the Sept – Dec time frame? The awards dominate everything and that is annoying. But then again, what I am saying means nothing. Even if theatres showed foreign films, people would only choose certain kind. Sure Spanish, French, Italian and the odd action-Chinese film sometimes do well in multiplexes but I can bet certain other language films won’t have a great turnout unless they have a major award buzz around them. Anyone I am rambling on & complaining about lack of good movies being released in my city’s theatres on time. I should be lucky that atleast these films have opened in my city because not every city around North America has that luxury. Anyway, on to the film…

The film can be dividend in two components:
-- Spanish civil war in WWII
-- a magical fable taking place in a forest’s Labyrinth

The two components are linked by a little girl (Ofelia, brilliantly played by Ivana Baquero) who drifts between both worlds. How does one explain both worlds? The obvious explanation is the fable represents escapism for the little girl. In that sense, this film could be taken as a cinematic form of "magic realism", the term first used to label Latin Literature (but now has spread to other literature satisfying the criteria). Ofelia is show to collect fairy tale books and her innocence combined with her love for tales of princesses and make-believe could account for such an explanation. Also, her step father (Captain Vidal played wickedly by Sergi López) happens to be a cruel tyrant who needs no excuse to ruthlessly kill people. Vidal believes in upholding Franco’s leadership and is sent to the forest to crush the rebellion. So in order to escape the real life demon in her world, Ofelia rather escape to the magical world where a giant toad, a faun and a devilish creature are nothing to be feared off. Also, Ofelia has few friendly fairies to help her along in both the magical and real world -- in the real world, Ofelia sees her mother, Carmen and the house assistant Mercedes as her guardian angels.

I could not help think of Del Toro’s brilliant The Devil’s backbone while watching this as that film also combined make-believe, innocent children and the Spanish civil war. The fight between the army and rebels in Pan’s Labyrinth reminded me of the 2006 award-winning Mexican film El Violin -- parallels are found in how Mercedes and the doctor go to great length to help the rebels under Vidal’s nose. However, I am divided in my final verdict of Del Toro’s latest film. I loved the magical world and every scene there is deliciously shot. But Captain Vidal’s world is nothing new – a few shocking torture scenes that have been shown in more gory details in other films before (a little from Irréversible, a few other from Saw) and the army vs rebel conflict has been covered thoroughly in other Latin films as well. But can missing the first few minutes have made such a difference to my opinion? Can getting to the theatre late have changed my attitude? I guess I won’t know the full answer till I see the start again when this movie is released on DVD. In the meantime, I am more inclined to agree with Peter Bradshaw’s assessment rather than with the majority of critics on Metacritic who have given this movie full marks. Is this movie worthy of such a high rating? I don’t think so. But it is worth seeing though. Overall, I am really disappointed that movies like this and Babel have been given so much importance as both films are pretty straight-forward. Maybe I am not seeing all the Christian symbolism, references to Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland and Orpheus in Pan’s Labyrinth? But even if I spend a few hours deciphering every scene in the film, I don’t think I would change my opinion of this film. Unless the first few minutes started out as a fable…..

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Movie run continues……

The fast pace of movie watching continues. It seems I am on a rush to make up for the lack of titles seen last December by packing January with plenty of viewings. I have easily seem more than 10 movies in the last week with possibly more titles to come in the next few days. In the meantime, notes on 3 recent films:

Inside Man (Director, Spike Lee): Rating 7.5/10

On first glance, a commercial multiplex bank robbery film does not seem like a Spike Lee movie. But if one looks carefully at a few elements, then it does appear that only Spike Lee could have done such a work. For example, the scenes with the Sikh bank employee's rough treatment by the police would not have been inserted by any other director. But it had to be put in to show how ignorance still exists and people can’t understand who Sikhs are. One can argue for such ignorance in a small town but in a major city like New York, well that defies belief. But it does happen and I am glad Spike Lee inserted this tiny segment in his film along with a few other scenes about sensitive topics (racism, debate about violence related to video games).

The strongest aspect of the movie is the acting. All the actors are sharp and deliver perfect lines. The story on the other hand drags on longer than it should and even when it ends, it has not tied everything together, probably because it does not know how to. Initially, the film keeps one guessing and slowly gives out little pieces of information. But after a while, one really wishes that the film reaches closure. I have to say that this is the most unlikely bank robbery movie recently made. The trailers seemed to highlight the fact that there is more to this bank robbery so I kept looking for an alternative plot line. In the end, I was partly right in guessing what the robbery was about but the film takes it time reaching the end.

The only unsolved mystery for me is the choice of the fabulous Dil Se song ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ for the opening and closing credits. The song was a breath of fresh air when it was released in 1998 and the train-dance song is one of the most popular Bollywood numbers in recent years but what was it doing in this Spike Lee film? I have to admit the song seems more appropriate in the closing credits but seems out of place at the start. But hey, just like in Ghost World a foot thumping Bollywood number is not a bad way to start a film!

Touching the Void (Director, Kevin MacDonald): A very worthy watch!

I had heard so much about this film that it is a surprise that I left it this long to see it. The story is well known – two climbers survive a near-death ordeal in the Peruvian mountains. How the two survived is just an amazing fact. The film contains the survivors Joe and Simon narrating their details. Full credit must go for how this film is structured – it would have been really dull if the film was simply a ‘talking-head’ type of documentary with Joe and Simon simply telling their tale. But with the usage of re-enacted scenes with actors and real climbers, we truly get a sense of their amazing journey and the difficulty the terrain and weather posed. The glaciers look stunning and the dangers of ice/mountain climbing are very apparent. Where some people might see fear, others see adventure! It is really remarkable that the two survived to tell this tale. In an uncertain terrain like snow and ice covered mountains, there is a very fine line between survival and plunging to one’s doom. The well filmed visuals really give us a front row seat of what Joe and Simon went through.

Dolls (2002, Japan, Director Takeshi Kitano): Rating 7/10

Every now and then, Takeshi Kitano takes a break from his action/gangster films to make simple films. In 1991 he directed A Scene at the Sea and in 2002 he directed Dolls in the years between Brother (yakuza film) and 2003’s Zatoichi. Dolls is a tender and beautifully shot film centering on three separate tragic love stories. The movie starts with a Japanese puppet play before diving into the 3 stories. The strongest aspect of this film is the gorgeous cinematography with the red autumn leaves and snow symbolizing the two lover’s journey in one of the segments.

Babel and a Spanish Double

Babel: Rating 8/10
Director -- Alejandro González Iñárritu. Writer -- Guillermo Arriaga

Back in the summer of 2006, I really looked forward to this film. Having loved Amores Perros and 21 Grams, I had huge hopes for this movie. But after seeing the trailers, I had my doubts and stayed away from this film until this week. Now, only one theatre in the city is showing this movie and attendance has increased again thanks to the best picture award it got this week. But a lot of the people attending Thu night’s show (Jan 18) had no idea what to expect and safe to say, they were disappointed. There were even a few walk-outs.

This is a film that does not deserve to be seen in a multiplex because it demands complete silence. In a regular loud multiplex film, slight noises from the audience are dwarfed by the loud on screen volume. But Babel is not a loud film – it contains long periods of silence and very little dialogue. The visuals tell more of a story with subtitles conveying the rest of the story. With such periods of silences, every slight noise in the theatre can be heard – the chewing of the popcorn, an audience member dropping his pop on the floor, water running down the pipes in the adjoining bathroom, shuffling of feet. But even if I saw this film in complete silence, I still would have been disappointed. Here are some mental notes that flew threw my mind during this film:

-- Only the American couple in the film gets a happy American ending (something mentioned by the Japanese newscaster in the movie). The rest of the world is miserable and continues to suffer. In fact, other people have to suffer so that the Americans can prosper. Ofcourse, one could argue that the ending for the Japanese father-daughter finally has hope, but that is debatable.
-- The usage of multiple languages (Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and English) in this film works great because actors talking in their native language lend more authenticity.
-- My understanding was that the movie was supposed to show how the language barriers in the world led to confusion and caused problems (tower of babel). However, despite the multiple languages spoken in the movie, there are no language barriers in the characters way and I don’t think the film’s title is appropriate to the story.
-- The three stories are forcibly linked or appear to be. Amores Perros and 21 Grams felt more authentic. Can we now expect more of these Crash formula films in the future?
-- Great camera shots, especially the last shot of the Japanese girl and father. As they are hugging on their balcony, the camera moves away backwards and we slowly see the other buildings come into focus. Normally in other movies, the camera narrows into a single point as opposed to pulling away and displaying the wider background.
-- Guns kill people and guns in the hands of kids is a horrible formula. No matter what pro-gun people say. We only need to look at Central Africa for more examples.
-- As the world is more connected with cell phones and internet, fear and lies are easily propagated. In fact, media control in the hands of wrong people leads to incorrect news reports and conclusions. A single shooting in Morocco could have led to an American attack and eventual war. This is the present western attitude of shoot first, ask questions later.
-- One thing was interesting – in the end credits, we see the following:
“based on an original idea by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga “
What is that supposed to mean? Are the two trying to ensure no one tries to accuse them of stealing this story idea from a real incident?

Overall, I was hugely disappointed with this movie. Half-way through the 140 min movie, I told myself if I saw a shot of the clouded blue sky, I would know the director is trying too hard and sure enough, there is such a shot near the end of the movie. But I can’t understand why people call this film complex. Seriously, it is pretty straight forward. Yes, long periods of silence in movies allow us to contemplate each scene and think things through. But none of the stories in Babelare rich enough to require much thought. In addition, if the media reports are true then this is the last collaboration between Alejandro and Guillermo. That would be a real shame because they have had a good run together. Babel is the weakest of their three joint feature film efforts but still their powerful first two films were enough to warrant them attention.

Jealousy (1999, Spain, Director Vicente Aranda): Rating 7.5/10

It turns out that I had seen this film a few years ago, but I forgot when I rented this. It is a good watch nonetheless. A month before his marriage, Antonio discovers a picture of his bikini clad fiancée (Carmen) with a stud among a group of her friends. His jealous nature takes over him and he needs to find out who the stud is. And Antonio’s curiosity is only increased when all the people around him lie about the stud in the picture, After a brief break up with Carmen, the two make up and eventually marry. But Antonio is still not satisfied and his relentless pursuit of the truth drives Carmen mad. She is forced to reveal all to Antonio and after that, both of them need to get the stud, José, out of their system.

The film contains two very good expressive performances from Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (Carmen) & Daniel Giménez Cacho (Antonio). In fact, Daniel’s stern face and glaring eyes steal the show. There is an interesting camera angle when Carmen decides to tell Antonio the truth. We see her in the background but in the foreground, we only see Antonio’s left eye. Even with such an angled look at his face, we can clearly understand what is going on through his mind. But the story does start to wear down near the end and I had lost all interest by the final frame.

Lisbon (1999, Spain/Argentina, Director Antonio Hernández): Rating 6/10

Despite the presence of Sergi López and Carmen Maura, I could not be interested in this film. López plays a video cassette salesman who travels between Spain and Portugal. One day he finds a mysterious woman (played by Maura) who insists on being taken to Lisbon at whatever cost. In trying to help her, he finds himself in between her crazy family and her pursuit of her lover. An ok film with average acting but a short story stretched too long.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Notes on recent films

District 13 (Director, Pierre Morel): Rating 7/10

Luc Besson is an industry in himself. Over the last two decades, he has been responsible for some very interesting films and characters (Léon to name one), which have led to other copy cat films and series spin offs (Le Femme Nikita). But in the last few years, he has been doing more writing and producing a series of action packed films. The genre films come garnished with some touches that only Besson could do. The fast paced action scenes are centered around a typical good-evil-revenge story yet the unique characters and sometimes a few twists make most Besson films fun to watch. The same could be said for District 13 -- it is fast paced, with a pinch of humour, contains unique situations and is overall enjoyable. The film is set in Paris 2010, a city that has still not learned how to deal with its differences. Following the riots in 2005, the film shows a scenario in the future where the French government erects walls and separates the neighborhoods into districts. People know which district to stay away from. The interesting aspect of the film is the angle where the government admits its failure and comes up with a wicked plan to ‘cleanse’ the problem. Given the current world situation, this evil solution is entirely possible. In fact, a few countries have tried it in the past. The film also clocks in just over 80 minutes, ensuring that the lean-thin story does not overstay its welcome.

The House of Sand (Director, Andrucha Waddington): Rating 10/10

I must be a sucker for Brazilian films. I sometimes get hooked emotionally and can’t get the film out of my system. Such happened with Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, The Middle of the World and even Central Station. The simple stories of a journey combined with stunning landscapes seems to do me in. In the case of House of Sand the landscape could not be more poetic and isolated – white sanded desert surrounded by the ocean on one side. The rain fills the lagoons in the desert and threatens to erode away the houses standing on the sand. Ofcourse, when the wind kicks in, the sand becomes a force to deal with and it threatens to enter and take over a house. This battle of the house vs sand sounds like The Woman of the dunes but on the DVD interview, the director mentions he was inspired by a real life story of a Brazilian woman who tried to prevent the sand from taking over her house. And when she died, the sand moved in and swallowed up the house. In this film’s story, it too is women trying to fight with the sand.

The story opens in 1910, when a husband takes his pregnant wife, mother-in-law and a band of followers to live in the desolate white desert in Northern Brazil. However, through a series of incidents, the husband dies, the followers run away and the women are left to fend for themselves. Their first instinct is to get away but that proves to be a difficult task. When an opportunity to leave presents itself, the mother, Maria (Fernanda Montenegro) decides they should wait because her daughter Áurea (Fernanda Torres) will soon give birth. We next find the two women 8-9 years in the future, in 1919, the year of the Eclipse. Áurea has given birth to Maria who is now about 8 years old. Once again, Áurea carves an opportunity to escape but when returns home to fetch her mother and daughter, the sand has destructed their house leaving the mother dead. But young Maria has survived and the chance for escape goes. Eventually, Áurea grows old and at the start of World War II finds another chance to escape. This time however, she has found a reason to stay (love with Massu) and sends Maria off. Finally, Maria returns to find her mother in the year that man landed on the moon.

Besides the stunning landscape, the genius of this story is getting real life mother-daughter Fernanda Montenegro & Fernanda Torres to play multiple roles. Montenegro plays 3 roles – the mother, then she plays an older Áurea and finally she plays a 58 old year old Maria (Áurea’s daughter). Torres plays Áurea and a 28 year old Maria. This is a great move because it shows that no matter how much children are different from their parents, they reflect an aspect of their parents. In this case, the physical similarity is pitted against the stagnant desert and makes for a great character-study. In the end, when Maria returns and tells her mother, Áurea, that man has landed on the moon, Áurea asks what man has found on the moon. “Nothing” replies Maria, nothing except “sand”. We see a smile on an aging Áurea’s face and the camera than moves back to let us see the moon shining on the white desert, making the entire desert look like the moon’s surface. This really is a movie that if one is not in the mood for, they will not like. In fact, the first 10-15 minutes are probably the most dull but after that, the epic battle of sand vs humans takes over. Ofcourse, there is a raw sex scene thrown in the movie which changes the relationship between Áurea and her 8 year old daughter Maria and results in Maria growing up to be a wild passionate woman, willing to throw herself at anyone. In fact, it is that wild passionate side of Maria’s personality that gains her freedom from the desert.

Guru (Director, Mani Ratnam): Rating 8.5/10

Little more than 12 hours after I finished seeing House of Sand, I saw Mani Ratnam’s latest flick, the much anticipated Guru. The good thing is this Bollywood film does meet the expectations in some regards and even exceeds it in a way. When it comes to acting, no one could have expected such a fine performance from Abhishek Bachchan. This is clearly his film and he owns every frame. At the peak of his character, Guru’s, powerful speech, Abhishek’s voice sounds like his father’s. That is inevitable but one can’t help but think that it is Amitabh himself delivering those dialogues. Besides Abhishek, the rest of the cast rise to the occasion as well - -Aishwarya Rai has given one of her best performances in years, Madhavan has a short but strong role and Mithun is a real delight. Mithun Chakraborty is certainly aging gracefully and his tender yet principled role is an ideal foil to Guru’s cold ruthless capitalist ways.

A.R Rahman’s music is soothing, the visual are stunning (Istanbul and India look just beautiful). But my problem with this film is the same as I had with Rang De Basanti. There is something which still holds back certain Bollywood films from greatness. Both these films contain an underlying message that is misguided and feels wrong. In both films, the main character(s) are shown to be heroes yet they are misguided but the movie still glorifies them. In Rang De Basanti the youth clearly have the wrong idea but the story only fuels their naivety. Guru on the other hand is shown to be a clever businessman but he bends the rules too frequently. In return, he blames the government. Yet, he could have met the government’s needs while still expanding his company to reap profits. But I suppose the argument is that no company can ever grow at such a rapid pace without breaking some law – be it moral, ethical or even environmental. Even the judges in Guru can’t make their mind up if Guru is a thug or a genius. In my opinion, Guru is a capitalist thug. So should I slam the movie for that reason? Not really. But I have to take some points off for the needless Turkish cabaret song at the start of the film with Mallika Sherawat. Mallika can’t belly dance, in fact her extras did a far superior job than her. But the problem is the majority of the Indian male public does not care for her dancing ability and will be preoccupied with her other assests. Still, her cameo is one of the film’s weakest elements.

Dhoom 2 (did someone really direct this?): Rating 5/10

If the movie only had Abhiskek, Hrithik and Aishwarya in it and a few badly choreographed motorcycle and action scenes were removed, then this film would have been much better. Uday Chopra can’t act and is a waste in any film. Ofcourse, he had to be in this movie because he was in the first film and his brother is the film’s producer. He takes away enough negative points from this cocktail mix of Hollywood films.

Woh Lahme (Director, Mohit Suri): Rating 8/10

I am not sure how much of this film is based on fact and how much is fiction. Aspects are based on Mahesh Bhatt’s relationship with the once legendary Parveen Babi, but where is the line between fact and fiction? It is clear that some scenes in the film are about Mahesh wishing he had done more to help Parveen. It really was a sad fate to learn that the once hot starlet died a lonely death last year, with a full 2 days passing by before anyone knew of her death. Mohit Suri has done a great job of translating Mahesh’s tender story and giving it a powerful treatment. Both Kangana Ranaut & Shiney Ahuja are very good, with Kangana giving a tender performance of an actresses struggling to deal with her inner demons. While Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Mera dealt with a similar topic, Woh Lahme gives a horrific in the face view of what it is like to be trapped in a tormented mind. And on top of that, this film contains one of the best Bollywood songs I have heard in years – ‘Mujhe Pyar Hai’ and its remixed version are just too good to turn away from.

Zatracení, The Damned (Director, Dan Svátek): Rating 4.5/10

Nothing to praise about this low budget Czech film about an innocent prey caught smuggling heroin out of Thailand. The only redeeming aspect is the film within film aspect where a character tries to save his half-brother by putting together archive footage of his brother’s time in Thailand. The acting is substandard and even though the footage idea is interesting, it gets dull after a while.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Director, Richard Eyre: Rating 10/10

I knew nothing of this film except that it starred Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett when I got a free pass to attend an advance screening on Thursday, Jan 11. I eventually saw a few words from the tagline and learned that in the film a teacher has an affair with her high school student. That is all I knew when I walked into to see this movie. What an amazing surprise! This is a gem of film packed with raw emotions and riveting acting. This is Judi Dench’s movie through and through but Cate Blanchett plays her role convincingly -- one really believes her characters confusion. I don’t want to talk about the story as this movie is best seen without knowing anything about it. But one thing struck me as the story was portrayed. What really are scandals? Sure there are some scandals which are worth reporting about but in a lot of cases, the media appears to swoop down on an easy prey and enjoys the destruction of a defenseless individual. Example, one president lies about his affair with a woman and is crucified. Another president lies even more blatantly, orders the invasion of a country, occupies a country, helps his friends get richer, is responsible for the destruction of a nation, causes the world to be a more unstable place but is given a free ride by the media. No-one in the media crucifies him and people stand by quietly. Which is a worse scandal?

In modern society where much importance is given to film stars, it is no wonder that celebrity marriages and affairs are given front page coverage whereas real crimes are hidden behind closed doors. Now, the film is not about a scandal involving a celebrity but a mere student and a public school teacher. So one could say that this falls in the realm of public domain but everything is not that clear-cut. The movie is handled in such a way that one can’t get a feeling of any wrong doing on part of the elder teacher and the young student – both wanted something and they got it. Is that wrong? In terms of the law, yes. But if one looks at the relationship shown, then things seemed appropriate.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Asian flavours kick off 2007

There is something to be said for continuity. A trip to Asia marked the end of 2006 and the final film I saw as the year ended was the Korean flick The Host on Dec 31. So it shouldn't be a surprise that 3 Asian films were the first movies I saw this year. Of the three, one was a film that I wanted to see for more than 6 months, a second was a movie that I had heard about but was not eager to see and the third was a repeat viewing of a personal favourite from last year.

Invisible Waves (directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang): Rating 8.5/10

I had wanted to get this film for CIFF last year and attempted to get it for our upcoming Pan-Asian film festival this year but the producers never replied to our queries. So I was delighted to finally get a chance to see this film as it was released on DVD.

In the end, it is a worthy watch. Ofcourse, since Christopher Doyle shot the film, there were was never a question about the film's visual beauty. Just like Pen-Ek's previous film, Last Life in the Universe, Doyle has perfectly chosen an appropriate palette to match the story's somber mood. The story is that of revenge & murder yet the peaceful mood projected by the film makes one forget that. On that of that, Pen-Ek has ensured the film has no un-neccesary extras or dialogues. The only people one sees on screen are meant to be there. Streets, bars and ships are empty, devoid of any life whatsoever. As a result, we can spend our time focusing on only the characters on hand and drawing our own conclusions.

The main character, a chef (played by Asano Tadanobu), commits a murder hoping that is his ticket to freedom. However, a murder is never that easy. Especially, when the chef has made the mistake of shattering the invisible yet firm boundaries of trust and loyalty. After the chef has committed the murder, his boss, who had hired him for the kill, asks the chef to leave Macau for Phuket. But trouble follows the Chef onto the ship and eventually in Phuket. How the chef evades trouble and returns back for revenge forms the final hour of the story.

The peaceful background score and the earthy visual colors give the film a very dreamy feel. Even though the film drags on near the end, if one is sucked in by the leisurely mood, one won't notice the time ticking away. But if is not enchanted by the film's look, then the last 30 minutes might feel like the work of an over-indulgent self-absorbed director. Either way, there is something to be said for the style that Pen-Ek brings to his films and how Christopher Doyle perfectly manages to give the visual look to accomplish Pen-Ek's vision.

Just like in his previous film, Pen-Ek has chosen the Japanese actor Asano for the lead character. Asano is a worthy choice as the chef (Kyoji) because he only shows the barest emotion required of his character. Kyoji is calm before the murder, while he is having an affair, after the brutal killing and unfazed despite being mugged and beaten up in Phuket. All the characters fit with the film's framework. There is a tiny but interesting cameo for Eric Tsang who normally is found in Hong Kong gangster movies. In the end, while I liked this film, I am still not fully convinced this is a great work. It is certainly good but the deliberate omission of extra characters and background noise makes one feel that they are watching a very controlled film.

Exiled (directed by Johnny To): Rating 7.5/10

Macau. Two gangsters knock on a door. A woman opens the door. The men are looking for Wo. The woman informs them that no one by that name lives there and closes the door. A few minutes later, two more gangsters arrive asking the same question. Once again, the woman slams the door and the men leave. These two men run into the other two men waiting half a block down. They all know each other and not surprised to find themselves at this location. The woman looks nervously from her window while taking care of her baby. A few moments later, a truck packed with furniture appears. The driver is none other than Wo, who sees the four men but continues to drive on. He opens the door to his apartment, followed by one man from each of the pair. The three go upstairs. The apartment is mostly empty but Wo bends down to open the bottom drawer of a cupboard and takes out a gun. He starts to fill in the six bullets. The two men empty out 6 bullets from their multi-cartridge weapon so that they are all on level terms with 6 bullets each. Then the three face off, pointing the gun towards each other (the scene is inspired no doubt from Reservoir Dogs). A moment passes by, the wind blows through the apartment and then poetically, the bullets start flying. After the firing had ended, Wo’s wife enters telling Wo that the baby needs food. Wo looks towards the other two and asks if they can sit down and talk. But one of the men says that there is no furniture. The next few scenes can only take place in a Johnny To movie. The five men (Wo + the 4 gangsters) empty all the furniture from the truck, fix the place up, cook fresh food and all sit down together to have dinner.

It turns out all the men know each other -- two men were sent to kill Wo because he had tried to knock off the big boss and two other came to inform Wo out of loyalty. Eventually, the five men sit down and chat regarding Wo’s future. The next morning, the five go off in search of a final job. The rest of the movie is as stylish as most Johnny To films but unlike the Election series, these movies contain a bit of dry humor like that present in To’s P.T.U film. With a lot of the actors being the same from those movies, at times the movie feels like similarly covered ground. What sets this apart from past To films is the choice of Macau and the two stylish gun shoot out scenes, the second one being near the end. For kicks, a Red Bull can is tossed in the air while on the ground, the bullets fly. I have not seen the original Mission film which might have been a prequel for this film as it contained the same actors. If I had not seen enough Johnny To movies in the past, I might have liked this film more.

Khoshla Ka Ghosla (directed by Dibakar Banerjee): Rating 10/10

Very rarely do I see a movie more than once but I had see Khosla Ka Ghosla again, a film I consider as one of the best films of 2006. I had helped book this film for CIFF last year just on instinct that it might be a good movie given the star cast of Boman Irani and Anupam Kher. I barely knew the story and there were no reviews of the film as no one had seen it. The movie was to be released in India on September 22 and it showed at our festival on Monday, Sept 25. The word from India was very good on the opening weekend and that helped ease my worries. Still, I walked nervously into the theatre on Monday evening. I was still nervous during the film’s opening 15 minutes but gradually I eased into the film, got comfortable and duly loved the film.

But on this second viewing, I was able to give this film my undivided attention. And I loved the film even more. It is a perfect movie from all accounts. Not only is the story shockingly realistic, the dialogues are very true of a Punjabi family living in Delhi. One has to listen carefully to how the dialogues are delivered (the tone) and pay attention to the little expressions and acts of fidgeting that signify a character’s mental state (example: Anupam Kher’s discomfort at bringing home a bottle of alcohol). I can’t think of a finer North Indian movie that I have seen in the last decade than this one. The complete cast is excellent with Anupam Kher, Ranvir Shorey, Navin Nischol and Boman Irani giving vintage performances. Even though I have singled out these few actors, the entire ensemble cast & crew deserves credit for giving this story life (Jaideep Sahni wrote this gem).

Despite this movie’s virtues, I still can’t help but ask the question: who will watch this movie? Most Indians used to Bollywood song and dance films probably skipped this comedy as there are no songs, no melodrama (Even though, the soundtrack contains a very lively pulsating Punjabi dance number). And will this movie get distribution so non-Indians can get a chance to see this? I just hope that word gets out and people try to watch this film. The positive thing is a lot of the people I talked with in India last month loved it. I just hope more such Indian movies are made and get wider distribution. Along with Being Cyrus, Khosla Ka Ghosla is proof that good Indian movies can be made within a branch of the nonsense studio system with Bollywood actors. Both these worthy films were released in 2006 and both were works by first time directors. Boman Irani was the one common actor in both films and along with his performance in Lago Raho Munnabhai cemented his status as one of the best Indian actors working in the film industry today.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Best Films of 2006

It was a thoroughly satisfying personal film viewing year. I had more chances to watch festival films than previous years, while at the same time conducting personal film festivals (World Cup Film festival in the summer) or having theme festivals gifted to me (January 2006’s a tribute to Jean Cocteau and a Soccer Film festival for my birthday). In the last 10 years, I made the least trips to a multiplex this year and stayed away from quite a few hyped up Hollywood titles.

I can’t claim to pick an objective top ten as that is just impossible. So I compiled a short-list of all the movies that I loved watching this past year, from which I picked ten out. Overall, it was a truly rich year for movies and the diversity of the films is reflected in the choices. Just a note on the film selections: I only selected movies that I saw in 2006 because they were either released in the theatre this year (commercially or at a film festival) or released on DVD in 2006. Some movies in this list were released in film festivals last year but never made it out to Canada or to my city. Likewise, my favourite film of 2005 was a movie that was Brazil’s official entry to the Oscars in 2006 -- Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures was the finest film I had seen in 2005 thanks to the London Film Festival. However, that film won’t be out in most North American theatres until early 2007. Also, I separated the docs from the features. Each film title is followed by country name and director name in the bracket. So without further delay, here is the list:

Top Ten films of 2006 (in order of preference) :

1) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania, Cristi Puiu)
2) Dosar (India, Rituparno Ghosh)
3) El Violín (Mexico, Francisco Vargas Quevedo)
4) Tzameti (France/Georgia, Géla Babluani)
5) The Bet Collector (Philippines, Jeffrey Jeturian)
6) Khosla Ka Ghosla (India, Dibakar Banerjee)
7) The Descent (UK, Neil Marshall)
8) The Lives of Others (Germany, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck)
9) Election 2 (Hong Kong, Johnny To)
10) Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (South Korea, Park Chan-wook)

Remaining short-listed films (in no particular order):
Being Cyrus (India, Homi Adajania), Paradise Now (Palestine, Hany Abu-Assad), Still Life (China, Jia Zhangke), The King and the Clown (South Korea, Lee Jun-Ik), La Moustache (France, Emmanuel Carrère), A Scanner Darkly (USA, Richard Linklater), A Prairie Home Companion (USA, Robert Altman), Requiem (Germany, Hans-Christian Schmid), The Host (Korea, Bong Joon-ho)

Note on Jan 2: I forgot that Three Times (Taiwan, Hsiao-hsien Hou) should also be added to this year's short-list. I incorrectly thought that I had seen this film last year.

Top Docs of the year (in order of choice):

1) Iraq in Fragments (USA/Iraq, James Longley)
2) Bombay Calling (Canada, Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal)
3) Riding Solo to the Top of the World (India, Gaurav Jani)
4) Mystic Ball (Canada, Greg Hamilton)
5) Mo & Me (Kenya, Roger Mills)
6) The Trials of Darryl Hunt (USA, Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg)

Movies on a Plane and Dec 2006 Wrap-up

So after a year of watching mostly festival movies, it was perhaps appropriate that the year ended with a flux of commercial films and that too mostly Hollywood. I suppose a balance was restored with the wealth of rich movies seen throughout 2006 with commercial junk in Dec. Junk is necessary to make one appreciate the virtue of quality cinema. That being said, not all the commercial stuff was that bad. In order of viewing:

Dec 1 & Dec 2: Movies on a Plane
In the past, Emirates had a few movie channels for people in Economy class but this was the first time I got to enjoy their full movie library. Almost 120 movies to choose from. The good thing is I managed to see some movies that I wanted to see for a while but I also saw some forgetful stuff.

John Tucker Must Die: Rating 5/10

Not sure what possessed me to watch this as the first film. Nothing good to say about this. This is terrible even from the clichéd high school romance flicks standards.

An Inconvenient Truth: Rating 7.5/10

I ended up watching this film over two flights – London to Dubai & Dubai to New Delhi. It is a worthy watch in terms of the global warming content talked about. Although I wish this was made as an out and out documentary. A majority of the film is simply focusing on a lecture that Al Gore gave and no matter the importance of the material, the lecture does get a bit dry to watch. Nonetheless the message is grave and I am glad this film was made because despite all the evidence, people continue to ignore all the warning signs – For example, North Americans aren’t going to let go of their gigantic gas guzzling vehicles anytime soon. Hopefully, a movie and that too featuring Al Gore will give this topic more media time. Maybe the politicians will ignore the money from energy companies and think independently one day.

Little Miss Sunshine: Rating 8/10

I missed a few free screenings of this film in the summer and I delayed watching it on DVD. So stuck at a few thousand feet above the ground, I finally got the chance to watch it. It is a good movie even though I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sure, the acting is very good and the script packed with witty dialogues but the film is still following the pattern of recent dysfunctional American characters. I quite liked the ending when the family came together to celebrate their differences.

The Break-Up

I can’t rate this film as I never finished it. On the first flight, I got to the 40 minute mark when the video was shut down almost an hour in advance in preparation for landing. The second time around, I made it to the 70 minute mark but once again, the video was shut in preparation for landing. Ofcourse, I don’t consider it a loss not having finished this film. There are some very realistic couple clashes scenes in the film (for example, the argument about wanting to do dishes vs sitting in front of the tv) but other than those, it felt like a run of the mill flick.

A Prairie Home Companion: Rating 10/10

Robert Altman’s last film is a perfect ending to his career. My outlook of this film would have been different if I had seen this movie in the summer as I had originally planned as opposed to seeing it after the legendary director suddenly passed away a few months back. After his death, a news item reported that while shooting for this film, Altman knew he was sick. So I wonder how much that influenced him during this movie’s filming because death hangs over this film constantly. From the opening to the closing shot, the movie feels like a final work, a sign-off film. In each scene, death is hovering over the characters, waiting to usher them off-stage. Did Altman feel likewise about himself and his career? Now, if I had seen this film in the summer I would not have focused on this aspect of the story but now, I can’t avoid making this comparison. Whatever his mood, this was a perfect end to his career. Thank you Mr. Altman for this final treasure!

19 days went by before I saw another movie, a record in the last 4 years.

The Holiday: Rating 7/10

On the evening of Dec 21, I entered the Paragon Theatre in Bangkok’s Siam Square. It was the best movie theatre I had been in my life. How I wish, I had been able to see a movie worthy of the grandeur that this cinema offered. The Holiday was a typical feel good holiday movie that had shades of Love Actually suffering with a Bridget Jones hangover. Nonetheless, it was easy viewing which allowed me to slip back in my seat.

Curse of the Golden Flower (directed by Zhang Yimou): Rating 7.5/10

I didn’t have to wait long to see another film. This time, it was the KLCC complex theatre at the breath-taking Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 23rd. This is clearly one of the most breathing taking visual films of the year, however the paper thin story can’t hold up this big budget disaster. I am really beginning to miss Zhang’s lesser budget flicks (pre 2000) where he was able to focus on the story. I loved 2002’s Hero but 2004’s House of Flying Daggers suffered from a weak love story. Curse of the Golden Flower has a very impressive first hour but after that the movie ends up being a joke. The CGI armies are easy to pick-out, the action scenes laughable (B-movie almost) and the film continuity and editing is choppy. It seems little thought was given to the second half of the film and scenes were rushed so as to get the movie completed on time.

Bhagam Bhag(directed by Priyadarshan): Rating 5.5/10

After directing classy South Indian films, Priyadarshan entered Bollywood with a bang – 1997’s Virasat was one of the best movies the song & dance industry has seen in the last decade. Ofcourse, partial credit for that goes to Kamal Hassan who penned the original story for 1992’s Thevar Magan. After that stellar debut, Priyadarshan had a mixed bag of results before coming up with a gem of comedy in 2000’s Hera Pheri. Six years on, people still continue to talk about that movie with warmth and love. Ofcourse, that film also gave Priyadarshan and his screen-writer Neeraj Vora an opportunity to spawn off an alternate fast-paced comedy genre compared to the crude formula comedies of David Dhawan. Priyadarshan brought out the best of Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar as the two formed an intelligent comedic partnership as opposed to the antics of Govinda in Dhawan’s talkies. I always felt that Priyadarshan was making more intelligent versions of Govinda comedies and was waiting for him to direct Govinda alongside Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar. I finally got my wish and with some expectation I stepped into the theatre on Dec 27th at New Delhi’s PVR theatre.

Sure, there were some genuinely funny moments and it is clear that the best parts of the movie are those which involved clever, fast-paced dialogues in absurd situations. But when it comes to the story, the movie is a complete failure. It is too easy to find faults with the plot but atleast along the way, there are a few laughs to be had. Now, it might make sense for Priyadarshan and Neeraj Vora to only focus on a simpler story which could fully exploit the rich dialogues and crazy scenarios. Still, I didn’t mind seeing this movie just for the few funny moments. But I can’t help being disappointed at the overall effort. How can any director make such a joke of a film? Did David Dhawan walk onto the set and kidnap Priyadarshan and make this film? It certainly feels like it at times.

My Super Ex-girlfriend: Rating 6/10

I was expecting to access Emirates movie library on the two flights back on Dec 29th and Dec 30th. But I was to be disappointed as the type of flights I was in had the old entertainment system with only a handful of pre-selected movies showing on each seat’s personal tv screen. I only watched one movie and that too this average comedy which combined relationship problems with super hero powers. Yawn…

Everybody Says I’m Fine (2001, directed by Rahul Bose): Rating 6.5/10

I had wanted to see this movie for a while but I was never able to get hold of it. Getting a VCD/DVD in India proved difficult as well. So I was quite happy to find a VCD in Singapore. The film is nothing special, more like a good short extended to a feature length. Rehaan Engineer plays a Xen, a hair stylist who can hear people’s thoughts when cutting their hair. That concept does lead to an interesting film but overall, the movie suffers from problems with other independent Indian English movies – poor acting and average productions values.

The Host (directed by Bong Joon-ho): Rating 8.5/10

I finally managed to see this film on the last day of the year (Dec 31st). My expectations of the film were different. I expected that the monster in the film won’t be seen until the end or maybe not even seen at all. So I was quite surprised to see the crazy mutated creature 15 minutes into the movie. In that regard, the film feels like a throw back to the old Godzilla movies and the people running, screaming scenes are a testament to that. But Bong Joon-ho makes this a cut above the genre monster movies and focuses on the characters (a family of four) instead. Also, there are beautiful jabs at America and people’s lack of respect for nature and the environment. A nice way to end film viewing for 2006!