Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A brief comedic break

Before I tackle my second leg of David Lynch movies, I opted to buffer my senses with two commercial comedies -- the first went straight to DVD & video and the second operated with a significantly higher budget. Even though, both films are vastly different, they contain one underlying message -- people should read more! Otherwise, stupidity would set in, which leads to the first movie in question:

Idiocracy (2006, Director Mike Judge): Rating 7/10

I had never heard of this movie until a good friend recommended it a few weeks ago. And I have to admit, I am glad for the recommendation because it is a funny movie. The best part of Idiocracy is the story idea -- Mike Judge envisions a future society where the stupid vastly outnumber the intelligent. The problem starts in the present when all the intelligent couples are so busy with their lives that they delay having kids, while dumb jocks and trailer park men are busy impregnating countless partners. So if that dumb gene ratio is taken a few hundred years in the future, then the future turns out to be pretty idiotic.

A few glimpses of the bleak future -- garbage piled up to the skies; crops are dead; no one drinks water but only sugar drinks; the only items people read are entertainment magazines; local language is a mix of Hillbilly and inner city slang; corporations dominate everything (some big name stores even offer in-store college education); health-care is dismal; currency is severely devalued and the arts are dead. In fact, the most popular & biggest award winning film is called "Ass" and is a 90 minute long movie simply focussing on a man's ass. Phew! Okay, I have to admit, some parts of the movie are indeed scary because present day society exhibits similar stupid tendencies. But Mike Judge has taken present day dumbness and projected it to the worst possible scenario.

Not much to say about the acting in the movie -- with the exception of Luke Wilson, everyone is supposed to be dumb and easily play their part convincingly. There are some logic problems with the plot and some unanswered questions -- for example, everytime someone in the movie talked about the world, it was only in reference to America. I never did quite get if the entire planet was stupid or only America? What about Canada? Is it safe to dismiss this question by saying that in this instance, the movie follows Hollywood summer blockbuster logic -- America is the center of the world, other nations don't matter. Anyway, I did like the overall idea of the movie. And the movie's short length (just about 80 minutes) ensures that the jokes don't get too dull.

Night at the Museum (2006, Director Shawn Levy): Rating 7.5/10

I lasted this long without having seen this movie. But then again, looking at the dismal line-up of movies currently at the multiplex, this looked like the only movie which I could sit through. Going in, the trailers had already informed me what the movie was about and when to expect some of the funny moments. I knew there was no point in judging the story or the direction as finding faults would be too easy. So I sat back and enjoyed the movie as much as I could. Here were some positives:
a) Ricky Gervais has a funny cameo -- his character is a loose extension from The Office. An odd quirk to character is that he never finishes all his sentences and leaves words in mid-stream.
b) Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson are an amusing miniature duo.
c) Brad Garrett has some hilariously stupid lines as the voice of the Easter Island statue -- "Dum Dum want gum gum" and "Quiet. My Dum Dum wants to speak." Silly stuff.
d) The camera work is good and that should not be a surprize considering that Guillermo Navarro was behind the lens.

And the moral lesson shown in the movie is that if people read more books, they would be more aware of history and other cultures and would be better equipped to deal with all situations.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

German & French cinema

The latest viewing included 5 films, 3 from Germany and 2 from France. The directors were -- Werner Herzog (2 movies), Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Eric Rohmer & Claude Chabrol.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Herzog): Rating 9/10

I never saw a Herzog film until Grizzly Man came out in 2005/06. As it turned out, that was the wrong point to start watching his work. Not until I saw his first feature, the beautiful Signs of Life, did I understand the importance of Grizzly Man. And now having seen Herzog direct (a brave feat in itself) Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, do all the pieces start to fall in place. Now I can appreciate if there was anyone who had to make sense of Timothy Treadwell and his love of Grizzly bears, it had to be Herzog. A common thread in all these 3 Herzog films is that they are great character studies of men who are on the verge of insanity; these men who inhabited different time periods believe they are on the point of greatness, yet they often tip over the fine line that divides greatness from insanity. But Herzog also makes beautiful poetic films and all these movies have an easy going rhythm to them. He loves to let the camera discover magic by having long uninterrupted shots, and at times, leaving the camera running, just a little bit longer to discover that something extra.

The story of Aguirre is simple enough -- the Spanish head to Peru & Amazon to find the city of gold and riches -- "El Dorado". But the journey is packed with dangers -- the climate, unknown forest, native tribes lurking with their spears and poisonous darts. And when there is an internal mutiny among the group, well the outcome is obvious. Man vs Nature is not really a contest in non-Hollywood movies (Nature always wins) but (Man vs Man) vs Nature is even more of a bleak situation. But yet, Herzog has crafted a movie that is absorbing to watch. While the recent Apocalypto ends before the Spanish hit the New World shores, Aguirre.. gives us a closer look at Spanish attempts to penetrate the New World deeper. Aguirre (Kinski) wants to emulate the Spanish discovery of Mexico by carving out his own riches in the Amazon. He convinces his men and even a priest to drive further and further up the Amazon looking for gold. But when the men start dropping dead like flies, the remaining crew label Aguirre as a madman. But Aguirre does not care -- he is lost in his dreams even though in reality his raft is dominated by 400+ monkeys and all his men are dead. The final shots in the film are sheer beauty and as Herzog admits on the DVD commentary, those shots feel into his lap. He happened to come across 400 monkeys at the Peruvian airport, where they were about to be checked onto the plane. Herzog made a false health claim and managed to take away all 400 monkeys. He then placed them on the raft with Kinski and remained there only with his camera man, Thomas Mauch to film the drama. In the movie, when 50 or so monkeys jump from the raft and appear to be escaping in the river, they really are escaping. Herzog and Mauch just stood back and filmed the chaos unfold and what happens is something that scripted film can't ever do. Klaus Kinski is so emersed in his character that he improvises the scenes with the monkeys perfectly.

It is hard to believe that Herzog took all the actors and crew into the dangerous Amazon terrain back in the early 70's, with such a limited budget and managed to craft such a fine work. In that regard, this film is another example of a time when directors were strove to make movies not for commercial sake. Coppola was another director in the same decade who stuck past terrible weather and persevered to make Apocalypse Now.

The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974, Herzog): Rating 8/10

Kasper Hauser is in some ways similar to John Merrick (labeled Elephant Man in Lynch's film) -- both men are outcasts to a society which finds it amusing to watch and poke fun at the two men. Yet, both individuals could not be as physically different from each other. Kasper looks normal but since he was abandoned at birth and never raised in a proper family, he never learned the rules and words required to exist in a society. John Merrick was by birth considered a physical anomaly and not considered appropriate for society. As chance has it, both characters end up as circus attractions -- while Kasper is called a riddle, John is labeled as freak. But when both men are rescued and given proper education, the two turn out to be quite learned. As their minds are nourished with the arts, they start having vivid dreams -- Kasper's dreams involve far off places such as the Sahara and even the enchanting temples of Angkor War. However, just like in The Elephant Man, the men's past comes to haunt them and eventually leads to their demise. Like John Merrick, Kasper leaves the physical world in his sleep.

The opening credit sequence is a beautiful shot of the crop field swaying in the wind. There are a few other such picturesque shots found in the movie but in the end, the movie is about Kasper and society's rigid rules to mould every person in their shape.

Claire's Knee (1970, Rohmer): Rating 8.5/10

Oh the evil games men and women play! This story may have shades of Dangerous Liaisons all over it, but it is not as sinister. On a vacation, Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) encounters Aurora, an old friend. Aurora is writing a novel and wants Jerome to play a guinea-pig for her story's sake -- she wants Jerome to seduce the innocent 16 year old Laura. Jerome is a month away from getting married but after years of being with women, he has lost all interest in women -- sex does not interest him. So he attempts to play the game, but young Laura is not as nieve as she seems. She understands the game and in turn tries to make up her own rules with Jerome. Jerome is quite bored by the whole thing but when Claire (Laura' step-sister) arrives, he is intrigued. Claire already has a boyfriend but Jerome wants Claire to break up with her oaf of a lover. The end result is a complicated match of desires and feelings. The title hints to the body part that Jerome identifies as a weakness in Claire, and something he can use to gain her trust. Overall, an interesting character study of men and women, and the numerous emotions and feelings that relationships contain -- trust, jealousy, possession, freedom, friendship, love and physical desire.

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960, Chabrol): Rating 7/10

Are all men predators? Chabrol's 4th feature starts out by introducing us to a quiet motorcyclist -- he seems to be lurking and waiting for the women to appear. And when the woman do come out of the theatre, two loud predators emerge as well (Marcel & Albert). It is clear that Marcel and Albert are after women -- Marcel is the vocal smooth talking guy, while Albert is the quiet yet equally lustful man. They get in their car and chase two women -- Jane and Jacqueline. After they manage to get the two women in the car, they go out for dinner and a cabaret. All the while, the motorcyclist quietly follows. During the cabaret, the true animal nature of Marcel and Albert comes out. Jacqueline eventually gets away but Jane is left behind and Marcel & Albert have their way with her (even though it is not shown, it is hinted). The movie then focuses on Jane and Jacqueline's day to day life -- job, trips to the zoo, theatre and restaurant. Every now and then, we do see the motorcyclist following Jacqueline quietly. In the film's final third, when Marcel and Albert land up a public swimming pool and start bothering Jacqueline and Jane, the motorcyclist ends up saving the day by chasing them away. The quiet motorcyclist is Andre and he has been in love with Jacqueline all along but was waiting for the perfect opportunity to talk to her. The two engage in a romantic affair, all the while one question keeps coming up -- is Andre a good man or a predator as well?

There are some moments of pure cinematic energy to be found in this film, like the chaos & elegance of the cabaret sequence. But there are a handful of needless scenes which add nothing to the film. Overall, a dark and chilling look at the predatory nature of men -- can anyone really be trusted?

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972, Fassbinder): Rating 6/10

If Claire's Knee was about the game between men and women, this Fassbinder film is about the games that women play with each other, in work, society and in love. Petra Von Kant is an aging fashion designer who falls for a young 23 year old model. However, as the title indicates, there is no happiness for Petra Von Kant. During all her bitter episodes, Petra's secretary, co-designer and slave maid, Marlene, quietly watches. Marlene's eyes sometimes hint at her disbelief at some of Petra's choices but she quietly obeys everything she is told to do. The entire film takes place inside Petra's bedroom and was adapted by Fassbinder from a play by the same name. Interesting for some of the ideas about love and society, but overall, not very gripping.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cycle of Violence + Multiple Shades of Takeshi & Paris

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, Director Ken Loach): Rating 8.5/10

Ireland, 1920. British troops terrorize the local Irish boys. The Irish can't take the abuse anymore, so they start to fight back. The Irish want freedom and the British out. But the British are in no mood to leave, so they terrorize the locals with even greater force. And the cycle of violence continues. Then out of nowhere, a compromise is reached. The British take one tiny step back, allowing the Irish a little breathing room. But that little breathing room comes with its restrictions. Some Irish accept the tiny freedom, others want to continue fighting. Then the two divided Irish ideologies clash in a horrific way -- the two groups fight among themselves and even take over the role of their past British occupiers by killing their own friends. Repeat the same pattern with Bhagat Singh and India's fight of freedom or even with other battles of Independence (Battle of Algiers). It is the same pattern that is found all over the world. And when the occupiers finally leave a land, they leave their legacy of power behind. Locals step into to fill the void and kill each other to get their slice of freedom.

The second hour of Ken Loach's film is more powerful and absorbing than the first hour. Right off the bat, one has to get used to the bits of gaelic dialogue (without any subtitles) and the Irish way of life. But the story really gets interesting when the locals debate about the ways to get complete freedom from the British and then engage in cleansing their own to keep the facade of peace up, lest the British return back. "Divide and Conquer" -- The British knew their game really well! The engaging cinematography gives us a front row seat to the interesting political debates and even the horrific torture.

Gangster: A Love Story (2006, Director Anurag Basu): Rating 8/10

The only reason I am giving this film a high rating is because of its story, Shiney Ahuja's intense acting and the lovely visuals. Anurag Basu clearly has talent as a director but his screenplay needs more work. It seems he took Mahesh Bhatt's story and shot it as is, without working too much on a screenplay. To his credit, he has stripped the film of any irrelevant characters. The story takes a twist on the regular fairytale romantic triangle -- a gangster (Shiney) falls in a love with a woman (Kangana Ranaut) but endangers her life. A princess charming (played rather dully by Emraan Hashmi) comes to rescue her from the gangster's clutches. But things are not as easy as they seem. Shiney hardly says anything in the movie but his intense expressions steal the film. And when he does say a few words, he is brilliant. Kangana makes a decent debut and plays the drunk lover quite well, but her voice gets irritating as she narrates her life via flashbacks. Did Anurag not notice that it would have been better to use little dialogue in the flashbacks? Anyway, still a worthy watch. The emotional ending is just beautiful. Poetic!

Takeshis' (2005, Director Takeshi Kitano): Rating 6.5/10

One man but two names. When he directs a movie, it is Takeshi Kitano. But when he acts in a film, it is Beat Takeshi. Beat Takeshi has come in some very impressive acting roles (Zatôichi, Battle Royale) and Takeshi Kitano has directed a wide array of film genres -- from art (Dolls) to gangster/action flicks (Brother and Fireworks). So what was left? Well combining the two personas in one film ofcourse! So Takeshi Kitano directs both himself and his separate ego, Beat Takeshi in a film. The movie begins with Kitano the director running into Beat Takeshi, a struggling actor. Kitano wonders what his life would be if he was in Beat's place? His assistant remarks that just like the wanna-be actor, Kitano would struggle for parts and jobs. From them on, the film jumps into Beat's life and dreams. While Beat is stuggling for acting parts, he drifts into pseudo dreams about becoming the famous actor Beat Takeshi played by Takeshi Kitano. Characters from Kitano's previous films make tiny cameos along with framed shots from his older movies, like the beach scene from A Scene at the Sea. Takeshis' is an easy drifting film for about an hour but after that, it is reduced into a dull endless dream of bullets and gangsters.

Paris, je t'aime (2006, Multiple directors)

20 directors, 18 shorts about different Parisian neighbourhoods. What sounded like a good idea on paper ends up being a lackluster cinematic viewing. That being said, there are some interesting moments from all the directors but the end result does not translate completely. At least all the directors do a good job of covering various issues and aspects of Paris -- parking troubles, people watching, chance meetings, love at first sight, loneliness in the city of love, religion, immigrant issues, single working mothers, racism, violence, gay Paris, art & artists, mimes, subways, tourists, cafes, wine, divorce, red light district, music & sex. Some directors tackle topics familiar to them:
For example, after working as a cinematographer on countless Asian films, Christopher Doyle looks at the Asian side of Paris; Gurindher Chadha tackles a refreshing cross-cultural love story; the Coen brothers have a dull dark comedy with Steve Buscemi playing a cliched tourist whose fears come true in a subway; Gus Van Sant expands on art & gay themes in a very contrived short; Olivier Assayas picks up where he left of in Clean and directs a drug addicted Maggie Gyllenhaal; Wes Craven tackles a ghost story with a twist; Tom Tykwer shoots his love story as fast paced as his Run Lola Run. Then there are some surprizes as well:
-- Oliver Schmitz's well edited 5 minute short makes efficient use of flash-backs to recreate a stabbing and tackle immigrant struggles in Paris.
-- Alfonso Cuarón plays with the audience in a tiny and sweet segment starring Nick Nolte. When we first see Nick Nolte with a young woman, we think he is her lover. But we are surprized to find her as the young woman's father. However, in the next 30 seconds, we are given another surprize as to the reason for his first ever Parisian visit.
-- Vincenzo Natali directs a visually stunning and playful vampire love story yet his effort is at odds with the rest of the shorts. Natali shows a back-packing Elijah Wood lost in the haunted streets of Paris (cute touch having the Canadian flag on Wood's backpack).
-- Alexander Payne directs the final and the best short -- an American woman tourist comes to Paris for her vacation. Yet she is not impressed by the hype of Paris and finds herself lonely and unable to understand the local culture. But slowly, she finds beauty in just the most average looking park and eventually falls in love with the city.

Besides Alexander Payne, I enjoyed the words of Oliver Schmitz, Tom Tykwer, Gurindher Chadha, Alfonso Cuarón and even Vincenzo Natali. I also thought Gérard Depardieu & Frédéric Auburtin's directed effort of an American divorce in the Latin Quarter was interesting. I rather forget the works of Walter Salles, Doyle, Joel & Ethan Coen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

David Lynch

Director Profile: David Lynch

Waiting for Inland Empire. But it will be a long wait. I have given up on seeing this in a theatre but hopefully the DVD comes out by summer. In the meantime, I have decided to go back and watch all of Lynch's features & shorts so that I can be fully prepared to tackle Inland Empire. Another reason for going through all his cinematic effort is because even though I have heard of every single Lynch film, I have only seen a handful of his movies. So that record needed to be set straight.

Eraserhead (1977): Rating 9/10

A cinematic treasure!! A true measure of a film is that it transcends time and remains fresh no matter which decade it is watched in. It is hard to believe that Eraserhead was released almost 30 years ago. Even today, very few films can match the cinematic richness that David Lynch offered with this flick. This black and white film is one of those works that are tailor made for film studies courses -- hours can be spent discussing the lighting, the dreamy imagery, the haunting background score and the abundant symbolism. For example, the alien baby that Henry and his pseudo girlfriend have provides enough material for dissection -- the baby represents an alien creature who imposes on the life of this couple and alienates them further. That the baby looks like an alien only reinforces the idea. This is a film that needs to be watched with all the lights off and is a work that one can easily be lost in.

The Elephant Man (1980) : Rating 8/10

I still can't believe this is a David Lynch film. With the exception of the opening and closing scenes, the rest of the film is a linear humane story. On top of that, the locale is Victorian England, not America. However, this Black and White feature seems an appropriate follow-up to Eraserhead. Both The Elephant Man and Eraserhead start with images of birth -- in Eraserhead, we see an alien life form taking shape whereas in The Elephant Man, we see how a woman's child will be disfigured and take on the title of Elephant Man. The performances of Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are top-notch and the screenplay is highly touching. Even though the story is inspired by a real tale, the movie had shades of the The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Now, both this movie and Eraserhead contain elements that appear in other Lynch films, especially Mulholland Dr. -- the stage theatre and chilling dreams. On the stages of Eraserhead, I almost waited to hear the words "Silencio" echoed so hauntingly in Mulholland Dr.

Lost Highway (1997) : Rating 7.5/10

Out of the darkness and into the light! After 2 black and white films, the color of Lost Highway threw me off. Despite being initially blinded by the color, I could still see all the foundations for Mulholland Dr. in Lost Highway. I am glad that I saw this movie almost 10 years after it was made and after having seen the fascinating puzzle of Mulholland Dr. and the chilling terror of Caché. Because Lost Highway starts off like Caché did. In both films, a couple gets video-tapes where someone has recorded their home from the outside. However, in the Lost Highway the spy physically enters the couple's home and tapes them sleeping. However, in Caché, the spy does not physically enter the couple's home but penetrates the main character's psyche.

I was quite surprized to see that Lost Highway was slammed by critics. Ofcourse, those same critics then went on to praise Mulholland Dr.. And now, those same very critics have called Inland Empire a masterpiece. In that sense, maybe Lynch has completely developed his dreamy version of life in L.A that he started in Lost Highway? I won't be able to judge until I see Inland Empire. But I truly enjoyed Lost Highway. Ofcourse, I was trying to compare it with Mulholland Dr. and finding common ground. Both movies have ample puzzles and have mysteries which need to be unlocked. Lost Highway plays with the concept of time and space more than Mulholland Dr.; it is also more loose in terms of plot and has plenty of extra scenes that are thrown in for no real purpose. Whereas, everything in Mulholland Dr. was connected and wrapped up in one mysterious blue box! One negative of Lost Highway is that none of the performances stand out. There is no Naomi Watts to light up the screen!

In conclusion, it was a real pleasure to lock myself in David Lynch's world for 2 nights! I will revisit Blue Velvet and tackle Twin Peaks along with a few of his short films in upcoming weeks.

Part II of the profile -- The Straight Story, collected short films, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and Hotel Room.

Inland Empire.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Science of Sleep

No sooner was I lamenting the lack of good movies out there, appears this refreshing flick on DVD. The Science of Sleep picks up the pieces of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind and injects it with plenty of colour and creativity. Both these Michel Gondry movies stick a camera into a character's head but whereas Eternal Sunshine.. jumped into a character's past memories, The Science of Sleep is concerned with the present and dreamy thoughts which pass through a human brain. The end result is a highly original film that is riveting to watch. Even though I can't say that I enjoyed every frame of the movie, I could not take my eyes away from it. And in some cases, I had to go back and rewatch a sequence again.

The story revolves around Stéphane (Gael García Bernal). We get to see both his dull everyday real world and his colorful inner world, sometimes at the same time. Stéphane is an inventor and a highly creative person. His thoughts are far more imaginative than the mundane things he has to put up with in his daily life. Safe to say, he prefers his inner world. But when he falls for his neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), things get complicated. At first, Stéphanie finds Stéphane interesting but when she is not interested in a serious relationship, a rift occurs within Stéphane and he drifts towards the inner safe haven of his mind. Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky) and Hubert Selby Jr's wonderful novel Requiem for a Dream (also a film by Darren Aronofsky) explored similar ideas of people finding solace in their dreams but with different shades of darkness. Open Your Eyes was not entirely dark but Requiem for a dream was situated completely in the deep end and showed what happens when a person loses touch with reality and exists only in a constant dreaming state. The Science of Sleep tackles this completely differently, existing in a child-like innocent state between happiness and darkness. One truly feels sorry for Stéphane as his world starts to crumble around him and we can only hope that he can save himself.

(2006, Director Michel Gondry): Rating -- a very strong 8/10

March Blues

March 8, 2007:
Good football is dead. Arsenal, Barca, Lyon & Madrid are all out of the Champions League. With the exception of the Bundesliga & La Liga, all the other European league titles are almost decided. Yawn. Boring.
1-0 and 0-0 boring football is here to stay. As long as it can win games, ugly futbol will not go away. And as more and more money men invest in football teams, you can be sure that winning will become the only objective.

Just like box office numbers are killing good cinema, so is the business like approach to calcio. Thanks FIFA. Thanks really for selling the game out.

No real movies to watch. Multiplexes are gearing for summer releases, so no good movies will be out. Sure one can go watch manufactured fancy commercial movies too busy trying to be cool and pretending to be hip. Seriously, just because a director makes a slick movie about old genre titles does not make his film art. Entertaining, yes. But art, no!

Do we need art? Sure in little doses. But when there is nothing around, then what to do? Film festival season is far far away. Cannes does not count because it is not open for film fans.

CIFF and VIFF are far far away......

Books are the only saving grace. Sure, old classic movies can be rented to fix the addiction but when there is quality cinema in the world and one can't get to watch it, that is painful. North American Distribution really knows how to restrict real movie titles from making it out here. Hey, if it can't make money, then what is the point?

And if an independent theatre does book quality movies, no one goes to see them. People want fast and CGI-laced flicks not slow and picturesque cinema. Oh well, this feeling will pass too.

Maybe one day, beautiful futbal will triump. Mayone one day, real cinema will shine. In the meantime, thank God for those books.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Streets of India

It has been a slow week for movie watching as I have been busy catching up on my reading. But I managed to watch these two very different Indian films in between glimpses of La Liga futbal games.

Traffic Signal (2007, Director Madhur Bhandarkar): Rating 8/10

I was one of the few people who was not bowled over when Madhur's 2nd feature Chandini Bar earned rave reviews in 2001. In fact, I used that film as an example to point out the problems in Bollywood story-lines in my first on-line article published on rediff. Chandini Bar started off with an interesting concept of showing the lives of dance girls in Bombay's red-light district. However, once the camera left the bar, the movie fell into a typical cliched Bollywood gangster film which combined street gangs with politics. On the other hand, I was much impressed by Madhur's 2003 film Satta which throughly tackled the corrupt political games played by politicians. His last two films Page 3 and Corporate attempted to give us an inside look into Mumbai's celebrity and business world lives respectively. Although, both movies had plenty of merit, they suffered from poor acting and a dull screenplay. So having tackled Mumbai from the street level to the high-rise board-rooms, it was appropriate that Madhur completed the circle and returned back to the street level from where he made his name.

Traffic Signal portrays the lives of people who work at Mumbai's traffic light intersections. Bhandarkar interestingly shows how a giant profit making network operates/controls the street level beggars and workers who sell their goods on the street signals.Once a car stops at the traffic signal, the street workers job begins. The movie's first hour is absorbing as we observe the lies and cons that operate at the street level. But then the movie starts to get repetitive until it ends with a highly contrived ending -- safe to say, such an ending would never occur in the real Mumbai and feels like a happy Bollywood ending stamped on an other-wise non-Bollywood movie. There are some brilliant performances in this film -- Konkana Sen Sharma as the prostitute and Ranvir Shorey as the chillingly realistic drug addict. Konkana seems to have no problems with any role given to her and proves that she is comfortable in whatever language she speaks (Hindi, English, Bengali or Tamil) -- she is truly one of the best actresses in India. Like Page 3 and Corporate, Traffic Signal also suffers from some substandard acting when it comes to some of the secondary characters.

Overall, not a perfect film but still worth watching. And if one looks closely, one can see a Chandini Bar in the background at a traffic signal. In a sense, a Mumbai cinematic circle from 2001 to 2007 is complete for Madhur.

Strings (20056, Director Sanjay Jha): Rating 4/10

Good ideas on paper don't often translate into watch-able movies. Such is the case with this movie. Jha had an interesting idea alright -- to explore themes of love and faith against the background of the colorful and religious Kumbh Mela in India. The story does contain elements which could have produced powerful cinema. An Englishman (Warren Hastings played by Adam Bedi) comes to India to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and is keen to find out what made his grandfather love India. Warren is a confused lad who is easily influenced by others. On the other hand, Tanishta Chatterjee plays a priest's daughter who is grounded in her religious beliefs. However, her faith is tested when she sleeps with Warren. What could have been a great film ends up being a terribly painful watch. One of the big reasons for that is poor acting by all involved, especially Adam Bedi (Kabir Bedi's son) and Sandhya Mridul (actually overacting is the problem in Sandhya's case). The only thing that saves this movie is the gorgeous cinematography which captures the breath-taking scenes of the Kumbh Mela. However, the same great shots are repeatedly sliced in between different scenes of the movie and eventually lose their charm. Shooting a movie against the million+ crowd in Nasik must have a hard task but that can't be blamed for this movie's faults. Sanjay Jha did a much better job with his first film Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye which explored life in the Mumbai chawls.