Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Overview and best film candidates

Back in Jan 2008, I anticipated the following regarding my 2008 film watching:

1) I would be watching significantly less films than the 386 I saw back in 2007.
2) I would struggle to watch 'new' films released in 2008 and would not even have enough to draft a top 10 list.
3) I would be unable to find time to screen films for CIFF and might find it hard to watch even 10 films during the 10 day film festival.
4) I would not be able to attend VIFF.

Well it turns out that I was wrong on 3 counts. I was unable to make it to VIFF but my other expectations were quite wrong. And it is one of those cases that I am thankful that I was wrong.

So this is what happened with my #1-3 expectations.

1) I ended up watching 445 films in 2008, easily the highest number of films I have seen in a year in my life.
2) I also watched about 143 new films. These are either 2008 films or 2007/2006 films which were only released in my city this year.
3) I screened about 50 films over two months in the summer for CIFF and managed to take in 18 films during the festival.

The following are the candidates films from which my best of 2008 films will come from. It turns out that I have some difficult but fun choices to make to draft a year end best list.

  • Outsourced (2006, USA, John Jeffcoat)

  • The Detective (2007, Hong Kong, Oxide Pang Chun)

  • Cloverfield (2008, USA, Matt Reeves)

  • Halla Bol (2008, India, Rajkumar Santoshi)

  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, France/USA, Julian Schnabel)

  • There Will be Blood (2007, USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)

  • I Don't want to Sleep Alone (2007, Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang)

  • My Name is Anthony Gonsalves (2008, India, E. Niwas)

  • Sunday (2008, India, Rohit Shetty)

  • Mithya (2008, India, Rajat Kapoor)

  • Super Star (2008, India, Rohit Jugraj)

  • Bombay to Bangkok (2008, India, Nagesh Kukunoor)

  • Tashan (2008, India, Vijay Krishna Acharya)

  • Black & White (2008, India, Subhash Ghai)

  • Syndromes and a Century (2006, Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

  • 27 Dresses (2008, USA, Anne Fletcher)

  • Be Kind Rewind (2008, USA, Michel Gondry)

  • Rambo (2008, USA, Sylvester Stallone)

  • Touching Home (2008, USA, Miller Brothers)

  • 45 R.P.M (2008, Canada, Dave Schultz)

  • Tkaronto (2008, Canada, Shane Anthony Belcourt)

  • Of Golf and God (2008, Canada, Ryan Mains)

  • Silent Light (2007, Mexico, Carlos Reygadas)

  • The Dead Girl's Feast (2008, Brazil, Matheus Nachtergaele)

  • Drama/Mex (2006, Mexico, Gerardo Naranjo)

  • On War (2008, France, Bertrand Bonello)

  • Nonsense Revolution (2008, Canada, Ann Verrall)

  • Mommy is at the hairdresser (2008, Canada, Lea Pool)

  • Meet the Spartans (2008, USA, Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer)

  • Sirf (2008, India, Rajatesh Nayyar)

  • Race (2008, India, Abbas-Mastan)

  • Jannat (2008, India, Kunal Deshmukh)

  • Caramel (2007, Lebanon co-production, Nadine Labaki)

  • Anamika (2008, India, Anant Mahadevan)

  • Bhootnath (2008, India, Vivek Sharma)

  • Krazzy 4 (2008, India, Jaideep Sen)

  • Mr. Black Mr. White (2008, India, Deepak S. Shivdasani)

  • Khuda Ke Liye (2007, Pakistan, Shoaib Mansoor)

  • Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008, USA, Jon Hurwitz/Hayden Schlossberg)

  • Idiots and Angels (2008, USA, Bill Plympton)

  • Mechanical Love (2008, Denmark, Phie Ambo)

  • Junior (2008, Canada, Isabelle Lavigne/Stéphane Thibault)

  • Full Battle Rattle (2008, USA, Tony Gerber/Jesse Moss)

  • De Muze (2006, Holland, Ben van Lieshout)

  • My Life Inside (2008, Mexico, Lucía Gajá)

  • Continental: A film without guns (2008, Canada, Stéphane Lafleur)

  • Tricks (2007, Poland, Andrzej Jakimowski)

  • Modern Life (2008, France, Raymond Depardon)

  • Meadowlark (2008, USA, Taylor Greeson)

  • Seaview (2007, Ireland, Nicky Gogan/Paul Rowley)

  • Futro (2007, Poland, Tomaz Drozdowicz)

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008, India, Abbas Tyrewala)

  • Aamir (2008, India, Raj Kumar Gupta)

  • Kismat Konnection (2008, India, Aziz Mirza)

  • Sarkar Raj (2008, India, Ram Gopal Varma)

  • Mission Istaanbul (2008, India, Apoorva Lakhia)

  • Contract (2008, India, Ram Gopal Varma)

  • Vantage Point (2008, USA, Pete Travis)

  • Mere Baap Pehle Aap (2008, India, Priyadarshan)

  • Singh is Kinng (2008, India, Anees Bazmee)

  • De Taali (2008, India, E.Nivas)

  • Brick Lane (2007, UK, Sarah Gavron)

  • City of Men (2007, Brazil, Paulo Morelli)

  • Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008, India, Siddarth Anand)

  • Rock On (2008, India, Abhishek Kapoor)

  • Step Up 2: The Streets (2008, USA, Jon Chu)

  • My Blueberry Nights (2007, co-production, Wong Kar-wai)

  • Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008, India, Nishikant Kamat)

  • The Fall (2006, India/UK/USA, Tarsem)

  • Smart People (2008, USA, Noam Murro)

  • Speed Racer (2008, USA, Andy & Larry Wachowski)

  • Street Kings (2008, USA, David Ayer)

  • Alexandra (2007, Russia/France, Aleksandr Sokurov)

  • Children (2006, Iceland, Ragnar Bragason)

  • Parents (2007, Iceland, Ragnar Bragason)

  • Bobby (2008, USA, Emilio Estevez)

  • Used Parts (2007, Mexico, Aarón Fernández)

  • Let the Right One In (2008, Sweden, Tomas Alfredson)

  • I am from Titov Veles (2007, Macedonia, Teona Strugar Mitevska)

  • Wonderful Town (2007, Thailand, Aditya Assarat)

  • Paraiso Travel (2007, Colombia/USA, Simon Brand)

  • Gomorra (2008, Italy, Matteo Garrone)

  • Alice’s House (2007, Brazil, Chico Teixeira)

  • Time to Die (2007, Poland, Dorota Kedzierzawska)

  • One Week (2008, Canada, Michael McGowan)

  • The Grocer's Son (2007, France, Eric Guirado)

  • Driving to Zigzigland (2007, USA, Nicole Ballivian)

  • REC (2007, Spain, Jaume Balagueró/Paco Plaza)

  • The Band's Visit (2007, Israel, Eran Kolirin)

  • Corridor #8 (2008, Bulgaria, Boris Despodov)

  • Jar City (2006, Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur)

  • The Pope's Toilet (2007, Uruguay, César Charlone/Enrique Fernández)

  • Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008, India, Shyam Benegal)

  • Saas Bahu aur Sensex (2008, India, Shona Urvashi)

  • Sex and the City (2008, USA, Michael Patrick King)

  • Hijack (2008, India, Kunal Shivdasani)

  • The Love Guru (2008, USA, Marco Schnabel)

  • Margot at the Wedding (2007, USA, Noah Baumbach)

  • A Wednesday (2008, India, Neeraj Pandey)

  • Drona (2008, India, Goldie Behl)

  • Kidnap (2008, India, Sanjay Gadhvi)

  • Hello (2008, India, Atul Agnitori)

  • Chamku (2008, India, Kabeer Kaushik)

  • C Kkompany (2008, India, Sachin Yarda)

  • The Happening (2008, USA, M. Night Shyamalan)

  • Mukhbiir (2008, India, Mani Shankar)

  • The Savages (2007, USA, Tamara Jenkins)

  • Before the Rains (2008, India, Santosh Sivan)

  • Honeydripper (2007, USA, John Sayles)

  • Maan Gaye Mughall-e-Azam (2008, India, Sanjay Chel)

  • Iron Man (2008, USA, Jon Favreau)

  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008, USA, Nicholas Stoller)

  • You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008, USA, Dennis Dugan)

  • Tell No One (2008, France, Guillaume Canet)

  • JCVD (2008, France, Mabrouk El Mechri)

  • Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008, India, Dibakar Banerjee)

  • Dostana (2008, India, Tarun Mansukhani)

  • Get Smart (2008, USA, Peter Segal)

  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, USA, Steven Spielberg)

  • The Dark Knight (2008, USA, Christopher Nolan)

  • Wanted (2008, USA, Timur Bekmambetov)

  • Flight of the Red Balloon (2007, France, Hou Hsiao-hsien)

  • Quantum of Solace (2008, UK/USA, Marc Forster)

  • Fashion (2008, India, Madhur Bhandarkar)

  • In Bruges (2008, UK/USA, Martin McDonagh)

  • The Last Lear (2007, India, Rituparno Ghosh)

  • Golmaal Returns (2008, India, Rohit Shetty)

  • Jumper (2008, USA, Doug Liman)

  • The Visitor (2007, USA, Thomas McCarthy )

  • Yuvraaj (2008, India, Subhash Ghai)

  • Paranoid Park (2007, USA, Gus Van Sant)

  • Milk (2008, USA, Gus Van Sant)

  • Rachel Getting Married (2008, USA, Jonathan Demme)

  • EMI (2008, India, Saurav Kabra)

  • Mad Detective (2007, Hong Kong, Johnny To/Wai Ka-Fai)

  • War Inc (2008, USA, Joshua Seftel)

  • Kung Fu Panda (2008, USA, Mark Osborne/John Stevenson)

  • Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, UK, Mike Leigh)

  • Heroes (2008, India, Samir Karnik)

  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008, UK/USA, Danny Boyle/Loveleen Tandan)

  • Tropic Thunder (2008, USA, Ben Stiller)

  • WALL·E (2008, USA, Andrew Stanton)

  • Hancock (2008, USA, Peter Berg)

  • A Christmas Tale (2008, France, Arnaud Desplechin)

    Tuesday, December 30, 2008

    Bollywood: 2008 Best Film List

    Top 10 films

    1) Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (Dibakar Banerjee)

    Dibakar Banerjee's second feature is a rare thing -- an intelligent entertaining comedy! Plus Abhay Deol puts in a wicked performance while the little details in good old Delhi are captured perfectly.

    2) Rock On (Abhishek Kapoor)

    Dreams and friendships are easy to come by in one's youth but as one gets older both start to fade away when the everyday realities of job and money demands attention. Given those sentiments, Abhishek Kapoor does a fine job of capturing the essence of relationships in his second directorial feature [note: correction added. Thanks Nitesh]. Plus the excellent vocals of Farhan Akhtar and the touching performance of Arjun Rampal easily make this one of the best films of the year.

    3) Mumbai Meri Jaan (Nishikant Kamat)

    A heartwarming film about a few characters trying to deal with the aftermath of the Mumbai train blasts in 2006. The film starts off perfectly when a discussion over Zidane's sending off in the World Cup final turns into a debate about Muslim brotherhood and ends on a tender note with a minute of silence to the tune of Mohammed Rafi & Geeta Dutt's beautiful song yeh hai Bombay meri jaan..

    4) Mithya (Rajat Kapoor)

    Bollywood's talented gang of 4 (Rajat Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Ranvir Shorey & Vinay Pathak) rope in Naseeruddin Shah and Neha Dhupia in this highly creative adaptation of Kurosawa's Kagemusha. A dark descend into Mumbai's underworld and even the human soul.

    5) Mukhbiir (Mani Shankar)

    An interesting look at three hot beds of terrorism in India (North East, Hyderabad and Mumbai) through the eyes of an informer attempting to break into the gang's inner circle.

    6) Welcome to Sajjanpur (Shyam Benegal)

    Shyam Benegal's film is a breath of fresh air amid the congested Bollywood films set in the major cities. The films takes the story of a simplistic letter writer in an ordinary village and adds the complicated emotions of jealously yet still manages to render everything with an air of pureness and innocence hardly found in Indian cinema anymore.

    7) Chamku (Kabeer Kaushik)

    A Bihari revenge tale goes full circle with a stop-over in Mumbai.

    8) A. Wednesday (Neeraj Pandey)

    A gripping thriller about an innocent man taking revenge for the carnage that inflicted Mumbai in 2006.

    9) Dasvidaniya (Shashant Shah)

    The gang of 4 (Rajat Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Ranvir Shorey & Vinay Pathak) are back with Neha Dhupia. This time around Vinay Pathak gets to play two personas just like Ranvir Shorey did in Mithya. While Mithya was dark, Dasvidaniya is a bright shining light. The story of a man wanting to accomplish a few things before he dies may not be unique but the performances of all the secondary characters are quite strong. Plus the film maintains a pleasant tone throughout.

    10) Mere Baap Pehle Aap (Priyadarshan)

    A funny film about the role reversal that takes place between parents and their children as the parents age. Plus, the cute smile and expressions of Genelia D’Souza are a pleasure to watch.

    Some other memorable moments:

  • Aamir:Raj Kumar Gupta did an excellent job in adapting the story of Cavite to the Mumbai slums in his debut feature Aamir. A worthy film which raised some excellent observances about 'victims' and 'villains'.

  • Priyanka Chopra turned in the best female performance of the year in Fashion. Her transformation from a cheery aspiring model to a cold hearted fashion superstar was stellar.

  • One of the funniest cinematic moments of the year came in the film Dostana, a story about two straight guys (Kunal & Sameer) who pretend to be gay in order to share a Miami apartment. Sameer's mother (Kiron Kher) is shocked to learn that her son is gay but Neha (Priyanka Chopra) tries to comfort the mother by saying that "pyar aandha hota hai" (love is blind). To which the mother hilariously replies that love is not so blind that it can't differentiate between a boy and a girl. The dialogue "love is blind" is one of the most over-used dialogues in Bollywood films so it was refreshing to see how the writers managed to get some more mileage out of this over-used phrase.

  • And finally a song....

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na marked the debut of Aamir Khan's nephew Imran Khan. So it was fitting that Imran danced in a video that paid tribute to key aspects from three of his uncle's films over the last two decades. The song Paapu can't dance tipped a hat to the song Papa Kehte Hain from Aamir Khan's debut film Qayamat se Qayamat Tak, highlighted the spoiled rich kids shown in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and had the energy of the song Koye Kahe.. from Dil Chahta Hai. The video was infectious, cute and delightful. It was probably the only Bollywood video this year that I could not resist dancing to everytime it came on.

    Overall, it was a pretty good year in Bollywood as there were some outstanding films. Ofcourse, the disasters were much more than previous years forcing me to give zero rating for atleast 5 films and rating below 5/10 for quite a few more. But in order to enjoy the good films, one has to pass through the muddy waters of the awful ones.

    Friday, December 26, 2008

    Korean Cinema

    Almost all the films that I have come across from South Korea have been from 2000 onwards making my cinematic education with South Korean cinema only a recent one. Here is a list of South Korean directors whose films I have seen in the last few years:

    Park Chan-wook:

    Lady Vengeance (2005)
    Three...extremes (2005, final short Cut)
    Old Boy (2003)
    Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
    Joint Security Area (2000)

    Bong Joon-ho:

    The Host (2006)
    Memories of Murder (2003)

    Kim Ki-duk:

    Time (2006)
    The Bow (2005)
    3-Iron (2004)
    Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter..and Spring (2003)
    Bad Guy (2001)
    The Isle (2000)

    Single titles from other directors:

    Woman on the Beach (2006, Hong Sang-soo)
    Secret Sunshine (2007, Lee Chang-dong)
    Soo (2007, Sai Yoichi)
    The King and the Clown (2005, Lee Jun-ik)
    Save the Green Planet! (2003, Jang Joon-Hwan)
    My Sassy Girl (2001, Kwak Jae-young)
    Il Mare (2000, Lee Hyun-seung)
    Natural City (2003, Min Byung-chun)
    Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004, Kang Je-gyu)
    Repatriation (2003, Kim Dong-won)

    While it is much easier in my city to find older Japanese or Chinese films, tracking down South Korean films prior to the 1990’s is next to impossible. I put this difficulty down to only a local deficiency within North America and didn’t think much of it. But in Issue #34 of Film International Soo Jeong Ahn points out that this inability to know older Korean cinema extends to other parts of the world.

    Korean films made before the 1990s are largely unknown in the West. South Korean cinema has only very recently and very rapidly emerged onto the international cinematic stage....Within the global art-house circuit, older Korean films have been less acknowledged than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts. For instance, in Britain the prevailing image of Korean cinema is largely constituted of particular films made by contemporary Korean film-makers. Comparing Japan and Korea in a Guardian article, for example, the director of the Edinburgh International film festival, Hannah McGill, associated Japanese cinema with the ‘golden era of Kurosawa and Ozu in the 1950s’ while placing the golden age of Korean cinema in the ‘present’ (early 2000s) rather than the ‘past’. In Korea, however, the golden age is considered to be the period of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Soo Jeong Ahn’s article (Re-imagining the Past: Programming South Korean retrospectives at the Pusan International Film Festival) begins with a Q&A involving Bong Joon-ho which followed a French screening of his The Host. Even Bong Joon-ho points out classic Korean cinema did exist yet remains largely unknown.

    Q: In the past 10 years, Korean cinema has spread rapidly in France, where it is much loved by local audiences. Considering the fact that Korean cinematic history boasts no great master such as Kurosawa Akira in Japan, isn’t this global spotlight amazing?

    A: Have you ever wondered why classic Korean films have long been unknown in Europe? The absence of information about old Korean films may be attributable to Korea’s history. I don’t think the quality of Korean cinema at that period was inferior to other countries in East Asia. While Kurosawa was making films in Japan, there were quite a few film auteurs in Korea whose work was of an equally high standard.

    The purpose of the article by Soo Jeong Ahn is to discuss the political decisions behind the Pusan film festival in picking retrospectives of older Korean film-makers Kim Ki-Young and Shin Sang-Ok. Although, I am more interested in the fact that the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) is showing older Korean films than concerned with the motives why PIFF chose to select a particular director’s works. If PIFF continues to screen older Korean films, then there is a chance that in the future Korean retrospectives might even tour the World and even get released on DVD.

    A spotlight, finally...

    I wanted to throw a net out to see how many older Korean films I could capture. I was also looking for works from directors I was not familiar with. I came across the following films:

    Black Republic (1990, Park Kwang-su)
    City of Rising Sun (1999, Kim Sung-su)
    Dirty Carnival (2006, Ha Yu)
    The Restless (2006, Cho Dong-oh/Jo Dong-oh)
    Black House (2007, Shin Terra)

    While I managed to get films from different directors, most of the films were still new. Although getting a single title from 1990 seems to be a little achievement. But overall, I think getting older Korean films will be a work in progress.

    The films...

    Three of the films (Black Republic, City of Rising Sun & Dirty Carnival) involved a gangster element while The Restless was a martial art/sword fighting flick whereas Black House was a horror film.

    If I had turned the volume off Black Republic, I would have initially pegged the film as Chinese as the setting of an old mining town reminded me of the Chinese film Blind Shaft. But after the gangster element makes an entrance in the film, I would have guessed that Black Republic was inspired from old 1960’s Japanese films. In the end, Black Republic stands on its own but given my lack of familiarity with older Korean films, I fell back on cinematic examples from Korea’s neighbours to pin the film’s look and feel.

    The Restless features some amazing fight sequences and special effects. Unfortunately, the promising first 20-30 minute set-up involving good vs evil souls is sacrificed for the stunning visuals and eventually the story suffers. Black House is one of those horror films with many false endings. At the hour mark, the twist is revealed and the film could have ended yet it continues on towards a fitting resolution, which is provided about 25 minutes later. But the film does not end then and carries on for another 10 minutes. After which, when everything is finally resolved again, the film ends with the message that pure evil never really dies and appears to take on a new form.

    The pick of the films was the gripping Dirty Carnival. While the film starts off as a gangster flick, things get interesting when the gangster, Byeong-du, runs into his old school friend Min-ho. The two share memories in a cafe and head to a old reunion with other friends where Byeong-du meets his old school flame Hyeon-ju. The entire setup among the friends has shades of the reunion from Hong Sang-soo’s Women is the Future of Man and has a very easy flow to it. Min-ho wants to be a film-maker and is struggling to get a realistic script written about gangsters. Byeong-du offers to help Min-ho etch out realistic gangster characters for his film by offering advice and introducing Min-ho to other gangsters. Trusting in their friendship, Byeong-du confides about his real life killings to Min-ho only for Min-ho to include the exact real life murder scenarios in his film as opposed to creating a work of fiction. When Min-ho’s gangster film becomes a hit, Byeong-du is under pressure from his gang members and boss to kill Min-ho lest all the crimes of Byeong-du are revealed to the rival gangs. Byeong-du finds himself in a tough bind and struggles to maintain both his friendship with Min-ho and relationship with Hyeon-ju.

    Dirty Carnival breathes new life into the over-worked gangster genre by focussing more on the characters and their relationships. Even though there are some edgy and rough fight sequences involving bats and knives, they are put on the back burner when the film within a film element takes center stage. During key moments in the film the background score is similar to the music one finds on a merry-go round carousel signifying the cyclic nature of business in the gangster world -- round and round the crime business goes and when one gangster gets off the high horse, another is waiting to take his place. There is no time to rest because if one stops, then they will surely get knocked off and crushed.

    Ratings out of 10

    Dirty Carnival: 9
    Black Republic: 8
    Black House: 6.5
    The Restless: 6
    City of Rising Sun: 4

    Rachel Getting Married

    In theory a marriage should only be about two people taking vows to spend their lives together but in practice a marriage is a complicated undertaking because it involves the families of the couples, close friends and distance relatives. And since most family members have not seen each other for many months or even years, a marriage provides a reunion of sorts as well. And when a large number of family and friends are attending, organizing and planning a wedding ends up becoming a stressful event so it is not a surprize that family tensions easily boil over at the slightest conversation.

    Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding showed some of these complicated issues while depicting an Indian marriage in New Delhi. Thoughts of Mira Nair's film came to my mind while watching Rachel Getting Married because of the presence of some Indian elements in Rachel's American wedding, from the sari's the bridesmaid have to wear to the Indian food served at pre-wedding dinner (saag paneer, tandoori chicken and naan) to the garland around Rachel's groom (Sidney) and finally the Indian inspired blue Elephant wedding cake. But Rachel's wedding is inclusive of many cultural elements and it is an American marriage where Jazz and folk music feature equally side by side along with samba and even a bhangra beat.

    Even though everyone is gathered for Rachel's wedding, it is her younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) that the camera gets drawn to. Kym is returning home from rehab to attend the wedding and the consequences from her former substance addiction form the stress points in the family. And very early on, we get clues of the underlying tensions within the family. Sure enough, things do eventually boil over, followed by a minor calming period, before everything truly comes crashing down. Yet, despite the wreckage (emotional and physical), a recovery process starts again and we are left with hope that one day things will eventually get better.

    Monsoon Wedding, Rachel Getting Married and the Danish film The Celebration share a bond in using hand-held cameras to depict the drama that takes place when family members are gathered and how secrets and confessions are unfolded. The hand-held camera works very well in such films because the technique gives us an intimate look at familial discussions and lets us in on the complicated issues. In Rachel Getting Married the camera stays in the room when only the close family members are left to hash out their problems and attempt to come to terms with the past and in moments such as this the film achieves a verite feel as the expressions and emotions of the characters don't feel like scripted cinema at all.

    Overall, this is easily one of the best American films of the year and Anne Hathaway deserves all the praise she is getting as he puts in a stellar performance. Also, it is nice to see a film which is an accurate representation of the modern cultural diversity that exists in America, as opposed to seeing a film which features the same set of characters and cliched scenarios.

    Rating: 10/10

    Saturday, December 20, 2008

    Arsenal vs Liverpool, two friendly foes

    The league table shows that sunday’s game between Arsenal and Liverpool pits the 5th vs 1st place teams, with Arsenal trailing Liverpool by 8 points. A win for Arsenal and the gap would be reduced to 5 points but a defeat would open a 11 point gap between the two. While Liverpool have only lost one game this season and Arsenal have lost 5, the two share one common aspect this season -- both teams have recorded a home win against Man Utd and an away win to Chelsea.

    While there is a lot of stake given the current league season, an Arsenal vs Liverpool game does manage to encapsulate plenty of history. The first recorded game between the two took place all the way on October 28 1893, which Liverpool won 5-0, and since then the two have engaged in 168 league meetings and 202 overall encounters in all competitions. There have been many eye-catching match-ups between these two but here are some that have stood out in the last two decades.

    Anfield 1989: "It's up for grabs now.."

    Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Anfield has become the stuff of legends. In a way, Arsenal’s title win laid the foundations for further success through the 1990’s and even enabled Arsene Wenger to implement his philosophy with the aid of the 1989 title winning squad. On the other hand, Liverpool bounced back in the 1989/90 season to win the League but have not won the league title since then.

    2001 F.A Cup Final:

    Even though Arsenal’s team was strong on paper (Seamen, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Cole, Pires, Grimandi, Vieira, Ljungberg, Wiltord, Henry, subs used -- Parlour, Kanu, Bergkamp), the squad showed the same weakness that became an unfortunate symbol of Arsenal in the years since -- dominating the game, playing beautiful football, unable to finish chances and kill the game and conceding goals via set-pieces to lose. But there was a silver lining in Arsenal’s defeat as the team bounced back the following season to do the double (including going unbeaten away from home in the league) and managed to win consecutive F.A Cup titles. Also, Arsenal went on to win atleast a trophy in each of the next four seasons (including that unbeaten league season) while playing some champagne football.

    April 2004:
    That game, That goal! "Genius at work, his name's Thierry Henry"

    Yes soccer is a team game but if there was ever a moment a single player carried the expectations of an entire team and their fans, then Thierry Henry provided it at Highbury on April 9. Even though the 4-2 stunning Arsenal win didn’t mathematically secure the title, there was no doubt that Arsenal would win the 2003/04 League title. The next day even Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri admitted that his team would not be able to catch Arsenal, which they didn’t.

    Jan 2007:

    Arsenal knocked Liverpool out of both the F.A Cup and Carling Cup within three days with two completely different teams playing away to Anfield. Although, the young Arsenal squad’s stunning 6-3 win in the Carling Cup stands out as that was the only time any Arsenal squad has scored 6 goals away to Liverpool. Julio Baptista scored 4 goals and even had the luxury to miss a penalty. Even though both victories still didn’t get Arsenal a trophy that season but there was still much to cheer for three days.

    Liverpool 1-3 Arsenal: "oh he's done it again"
    Ah beauty at work for the first goal. Rosicky to Hleb back to Tomas and goooolaso!!!!!

    Last few seasons:

    The last time Arsenal did the league double over Liverpool was in the unbeaten league season of 2003/04. In the following three seasons, Arsenal and Liverpool have split home wins between them with Arsenal winning their home fixtures 3-1 (2004/05), 2-1 and 3-0 while Liverpool have won their home ties 2-1 (2004/05), 1-0 and 4-1. Arsenal met Liverpool 4 times last season, with three of the games ending 1-1. The 4th and final encounter also should have ended in a draw, 2-2, a result that would have ensured Arsenal’s progress in the Champions League. After Walcott’s fantastic run setup Adebayor for the easiest of tap-ins, someone should have shouted ‘Cut’ or ‘That’s a wrap’ to close the game out and leave Arsenal with a fairy tale ending. But the cameras kept on rolling and in an instant the fairy tale game turned into a nightmare for Arsenal. And just to emphasize the seriousness of the situation, Kolo Toure did his best imitation of an extra on an horror film set by etching panic all over his face. Curtains and fade to black.

    When Sunday Comes:

    There are plenty of reasons for Arsenal to record a win over Liverpool. Make up for last season’s disappointment, improve this season’s league standings and continue this season’s trend of winning games against the ‘big’ teams. It may be a biased opinion but it appears that Arsenal have more to gain from a win or more to lose from a defeat than Liverpool do. But that does not mean Liverpool will treat this fixture lightly. Whatever happens on Sunday, Rafael Benitez will surely be busy taking notes. Hopefully, the Arsenal players give him plenty to think and scribble about.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Drama, Emotion, Action..and Revenge

    The UEFA Champions League draw for the Round of 16 has opened the possibility of some mouth-watering intriguing match-ups.

    Chelsea FC (ENG) v Juventus (ITA)
    Villarreal CF (ESP) v Panathinaikos FC (GRE)
    Sporting Clube de Portugal (POR) v FC Bayern München (GER)
    Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP) v FC Porto (POR)
    Olympique Lyonnais (FRA) v FC Barcelona (ESP)
    Real Madrid CF (ESP) v Liverpool FC (ENG)
    Arsenal FC (ENG) v AS Roma (ITA)
    FC Internazionale Milano (ITA) v Manchester United FC (ENG)

    This is top-notch stuff. The kind of games that makes the World Cup pale in comparison.

    Chelsea v Juventus:
    Claudio Ranieri, now with Juventus, is reunited with Chelsea after he led them to a Champions League semi-final against Monaco back in 2004. Ranieri, who is one of the nicest managers in the game, was shown the door at Chelsea to make way for Jose Mourinho.

    Lyon v Barca:
    Droll....Two excellent European teams, packed with talent, go at it. As far as attacking football goes, this is the match to look forward to.

    Real Madrid v Liverpool:
    Rafael Benitez returns to his home city of Madrid. Plus if Fernando Torres is fit for Liverpool, then he will truly relish the match against Madrid as Torres used to be the captain and beating heart for Atletico Madrid, Real's fierce neighbours.

    Arsenal v Roma:
    If Totti is out for Roma, then this tie is evenly balanced but with Totti around, Arsenal will have their hands full. On paper, Roma have the better team and are strong in every position because they have more depth than the current injury ridden Arsenal squad. But Arsenal do have some game breakers in their midst, provided they keep injury free.

    Inter v Man Utd:
    Love it! Jose gets to pit battles with Alex Ferguson again. Finally, Man Utd get a real test in the Champions League.

    The drama starts on Feb 24, 2009!

    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Mexican Cinema

    Alfonso Cuarón director: Remember what Claude Chabrol said: ‘There is no wave, there is only the ocean.’ I am not purely interested in ‘Mexican cinema’, I am interested in cinema. And when you start using these words like ‘wave’, it’s a way of creating an identity for certain films, but it also becomes an aspect of marketing. You know, the common identity of the films people are describing as part of this ‘Mexican wave’ is that they are cinema. And that is the reason these films are seen everywhere and why they have been embraced everywhere. But people are also disregarding Mexican film-makers who have been making films for the last thirty years - people like Arturo Ripstein. You have to remember that there have been lots of Mexican film directors, but that doesn’t make a ‘wave’ - it’s not as if we have all shared a particular aesthetic. Quote 1

    When I stumbled across three Mexican films, Amores Perros, Y tu mamá también and The Devil’s Backbone, in quick succession sometime in 2001, I never considered the films as part of a “New Wave of Mexican Cinema”. The trio were completely different films that just happened to come out of Mexico. But I can imagine that it was a convenient tag to help classify things. For example, recently after three films from Romania (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest & 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days) made a splash on the film festival circuit in successive years, the media immediately called it the “New Romanian wave”. Three films is still too early to label a movement, plus there is no reason to believe the Romanian film directors were collaborating together for a conscious movement. Even though Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu are friends who have either helped edit or given helpful suggestions to each other's works, they are still three independent directors who are making high quality cinema yet they were/are lumped together under one label.

    Hugo Rodriguez director: Let’s not forget that Mexico has a long film-making tradition, which started almost at the same time as the international film industry was born. We have films that date back to the early 1900s, and the historical relationship with Hollywood has meant that our technicians are highly trained. Quote 2

    Thankfully old Mexican films are being made available in North America via new DVD releases and it will certainly help in getting a feel for Mexico’s rich cinematic history.

    But taking a look from the early days of Mexican cinema...

    1) The 1930's plus the Revolution period

    Fernando de Fuentes began his career as a cinema manager, and would later use his experience in this regard to challenge the existing exhibition monopoly of the 1940s. He became arguably the most important figure in the Mexican cinema of the 1930s because his trilogy of films about the Revolution: El prisionere trece (1933), El compadre Mendoza (1933) and Vamonos con Pancho Villa (1934). Quote 3

    I have only seen El compadre Mendoza of Fernando de Fuentes’s works and it is an engaging film that beautifully integrates a friendship tale with the complicated dynamics of a revolution. In a way, the talk of revolution is deeply associated with the image of Mexico. Even a film like Ocean’s Thirteen couldn’t resist stoking the fire of revolution in a Mexican setting. In a humorous segment of Ocean’s Thirteen, the ‘twins’ are sent to a Mexican dice making plant but they end up stirring things up over Tequila and talk of Zapata resulting in the workers shutting the plant down.

    2) The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema or ‘El Cine de Oro’ -- 1940’s through to 60’s

    Luis Buñuel’s Mexican films fall within this time period as well.

    Emerging at the tail end of ‘Cine de Oro’ period, the director [Buñuel] arguably provides a lineage with the subsequent ‘Grupo Nuevo Cine’, and - through his unsentimental consideration of themes of poverty and social injustice, allied with his formal experimentation and ability to work creatively with limited resources -- to the prominent Mexican directors who would emerge on the cusp of the twenty-first century. Quote 4

    3) The Re-emergence plus ties with Hollywood

    Mexican cinema seems to have suffered in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. But near the end of the 80’s and start of the 1990's, Mexican cinema regained its footing with renewed vigor.

    After years of drought, the early 1990s witnessed the feature-film debuts of several directors who would thereafter become international names. A new generation was on the brink of making itself heard, and these directors were conscious that something of a break from the past would be necessary if they were to assert their own identities. Quote 5

    Some of the more famous directors whose names are associated with the re-emergence in the early 1990’s are Carlos Carrera, Alfonso Cuarón and Alfonso Arau.

    Alfonso Arau’s Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate) made international headlines and also gave Mexican culture plenty of attention as well considering the story focuses on the richness of Mexican food. In fact, Like Water for Chocolate was probably the first Mexican film I ever saw in my life. I had enjoyed reading the sensual novel and was drawn to the film to see how much of the passion could be recreated. After gaining success on the home front, Arau next ventured to Hollywood for A Walk in the Clouds.

    The geographical closeness to America certainly enabled a lot of movement between Mexican cinema and Hollywood for some directors. Even though Alfonso Cuarón made his cinematic start with the Mexican film Love in the Time of Hysteria, he moved across the border to direct The Little Princess and Great Expectations. I first caught up with Cuarón's work with the visually imaginative Great Expectations, a film that I lined up to see on opening day back in January 1998. The film was a bit of a let down but the soundtrack was mesmerizing and the visuals completely alluring.

    Guillermo del Toro has also moved successfully back and worth between Mexico and USA. It appears that after making a commercial Hollywood film, he returns back to Mexico to create a powerful Spanish language film. After making his feature film debut with Cronos in 1993 he ventured to Hollywood with Mimic before returning for The Devil’s Backbone followed by enjoyable comic book ventures in Blade 2 and Hellboy before his award winning Pan’s Labyrinth. And this year, del Toro was behind the second installment of Hellboy II: The Golden Army

    And then there is the case of Robert Rodriguez. Born in the U.S, he traveled to Mexico to shoot his now famous El Mariachi on a shoe-string budget before returning to Hollywood for a sequel of sorts with the stunning Desperado. And the Antonio Banderas guitar swinging gun fighting film also introduced North American audiences to the seductive Salma Hayek. Rodriguez has been prominent in Hollywood since 1995 but he did pay a brief ode to Mexico in 2003 with the final chapter in his Mariachi trilogy Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a film with some charm but still in need for more chopping.

    The Mexican tie with Hollywood certainly got more attention in 2007 when the films Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón), Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro ) and Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu) were earning spots in critics year end best film lists.

    4) 2000 onwards: New faces and new visions

    Carlos Reygadas arrived on the international film festival circuit with his visually stunning Japon in 2002. Reygadas has certainly added a different flavour to the vision of Mexico from that presented by Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Reygadas has shown a different side of Mexico in his films, like featuring the peaceful countryside in Japon, the rich Mexican suburbs in Battle in Heaven or a German Mennonite community in Silent Light. Carlos also has had a prominent influence on Amat Escalante and helped produce Escalante’s debut film Sangre in 2005. I came across Sangre at the London Film Festival back in 2005 and unfortunately I happened to see the film at the wrong time in my cinematic journey. While I loved some sequences of Sangre (some scenes that have still stayed with me, like the shot of the garbage landfill), I was not that impressed with the film. Now, after having seen Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven I can fully appreciate Sangre as both films form a worthy double bill and present a fresh look into Mexican life from the eyes of characters who would hardly grace the camera of most film productions.

    While talking about Iñárritu’s three features, one can’t ignore the writing talents of Guillermo Arriaga. It is unfortunate to read that Iñárritu and Arriaga won’t collaborate on further films but Arriaga’s writing style manages to beautifully capture the essence of Mexican life. I have enjoyed reading his two novels A Sweet Smell of Death and The Night Buffalo while Arriaga’s moving script for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada captures the tender complications of moving across the US border to start a new life.

    Some other interesting Mexican films that I have seen in the last two years such as Used Parts (Aarón Fernández Lesur), Drama/Mex (Gerardo Naranjo) and Bad Habits (Simón Bross) suggest that there is indeed a positive future for Mexican films, beyond the works of the well known directors.

    Films chosen as part of Spotlight

    I wanted to pick a film from each major time period of Mexico’s cinematic journey and in that regard I came across the following five titles:

    The Woman of the Port (1934, Arcady Boytler/Raphael J. Sevilla): 7.5/10
    Aventurera (1950, Alberto Gout): 7/10
    A Woman Without love (1952, Luis Buñuel): 8/10
    The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960, Rogelio A. González): 9/10
    No One Writes to the Colonel (1999, Arturo Ripstein): 6/10

    Instead of picking the well known Mexican films by Buñuel, I opted for A Woman Without Love. While the love affair story may not be that ground breaking but Buñuel’s direction ensures that the film does not become too melodramatic and instead conveys a compassionate tale of sacrifices that true love has to endure.

    Both the leading women in The Woman of the Port and Aventurera find themselves forced into prostitution due to circumstances. In The Woman of the Port, Rosia turns to the trade after her cheating lover kills her father. But the film saves a nasty twist in the end, something that sheds an even darker light on an already tragic tale. In Aventurera, Elena is forced into prostitution after her dreams of a better life in the big city are shattered by a trusted family friend. But Elena discovers her inner strength and is able to extract revenge, albeit by playing an emotional game of chess.

    The most disappointing film turned out to be Arturo Ripstein’s No One Writes to the Colonel, a film based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel. On the flip-side, the true gem of the lot turned out to be The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales, a wicked dark comedy with a delicious twist in the end. The film features plenty of imaginative camera angles, combined with a very witty story that does not shy from dragging its characters through the mud.

    Reference for all quotes used: The Faber book of Mexican cinema by Jason Wood.

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Films for the Press only...

    The 5 Best Drama Golden Globe nominated films are:

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Reader
    Revolutionary Road
    Slumdog Millionaire

    The number of these films opening up for wide Canadian theatrical distribution by mid-December is.....

    drum roll.....

    0. Zero.

    None of them will be in theaters across Canada until Friday, Dec 19, when Slumdog Millionaire will make an appearance. Sorry, opening a film in one theater in Toronto does not count for Canada. I believe Revolutionary Road, the final of the 5, won't open until mid Jan 2009. On the other hand, all the 5 nominated Comedy/Musical films have opened in Canada or are already in cinemas:

    Burn After Reading
    In Bruges
    Mamma Mia!
    Vicky Cristina Barcelona

    This is what happens almost every year. The serious films wait until the final week of December to open in just one theater somewhere in the US, while the rest of North America has to wait to see them until mid-January of the following year. Ofcourse, that is still better than the case for the 5 Foreign nominated films:

    Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
    Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick
    Il y a longtemps que je t'aime
    Waltz with Bashir

    These might not open in theaters until 4-6 months into the next year or might not even get a theatrical run. Luckily, I have seen Gomorra via the film festival circuit and that was the only way people around the World would have seen the gripping Italian flick. In a way, the film festival circuits still continue to serve as an alternative distribution network, not only for foreign films but even some Hollywood ones.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    The Dark Knight

    A bank robbery. A lone man, with a hunched back, a bag in one hand and a mask in another.

    During the robbery, the robbers start killing each other. A robber points the gun towards his fellow robber, the Joker, and wonders if the Joker is instructed to kill him as well.

    “No, no, no. I kill the bus driver.” As the Joker looks at his watch.

    “Bus Driver. What bus driver?”

    Bus smashes through the door, right on time, and the robber falls and gets killed with a piece of wood and some shattered glass. In fact, the robber falls to the ground even before the piece of wood comes at him. But all a quick cut. Chop. Chop.

    Very impressive planning though. What if the robber had merely shot the Joker and not bothered to ask a question? All a matter of chance really. Heads, tails, flip a coin.

    Planning. Scheming. Mobsters. Enter the Joker with a proposition.

    “I’m gonna make this pencil disappear.”

    “Ta-da. It’s..It’s gone”. Fast cut. In slow motion, there is no pencil but as the mobster falls to the ground, a dark pencil like object appears stuck to his eye.

    So what is the grand plan?

    “It’s simple. We, uh, kill the Batman.”

    “You wanna know how I got these scars.” No, not really. But I am sure you are going to tell me, over and over.

    ”Why so serious”? Silence.

    Killings. Explosions. Terror. Chaos. No planning but random acts of terror. The Joker is the new terrorist of Gotham. Although, if the acts of terror are actually random then why are there clues as to the next victim or even the next location?

    The girl gets captured in the fund raiser.

    “Let her go”. says the Batman.

    “Very poor choice of words.” Indeed.

    Revenge. Fast action. Bat mobile self-destructs. But look slowly. As a man in a parked car attempts to look at his teeth in his side view mirror, the mirror gets taken out by a speeding Batman on his bike. Then there are two kids pretending to fire an imaginary machine gun at some parked cars. The cars then explode and one can detect awe and surprize in the kids eye. These two humor scenes are an ode to Spider Man 3, scenes one would find in any bad Hollywood summer movie but here they are presented in a “dark” movie. Even though the scenes halt the tension and expose the film for what it is really is. But shhhh...listen.

    More explosions. Bullets. Blast. The Capture. Mission accomplished. The arrest and then the interrogation with the terrorist, err the Joker.

    “No, complete me.”

    No. The war is not over. Corruption. And the terrorist’s henchmen carry out their plan. Insurgency?

    “You see, I’m a guy of simple taste.” “I enjoy...dynamite..and gun powder...and gasoline. And you know the thing that they have in common? They’re cheap.”

    Is gasoline that cheap? Not what the papers were saying a few months ago. Ok, ok cheaper than guns. But shhh...Money burning. A new boss is in town.

    “Beautiful. Unethical. Dangerous. You’ve turned every cell phone in Gotham into a microphone.”

    Spying. Power. Resignation. “null-key encryption.” Audio match. What kind of software would be able to get a direct match with live streaming audio data from millions of cell phones against one audio sample? No idea that the Batman was an expert computer programmer as well.

    Ethics, choice -- criminals vs innocent citizens. “Social-experiment”. Turn all good into evil or merely pull off the mask of innocence to expose the savage animal that lurks within everyone? Two-face. Fallen white knight Harvey Dent. And even bigger apparent fall of the Dark Knight. The Batman has to take the blame, all for the greater good. Dent was a Hero. Must preserve people’s faith. You see, the ordinary citizens have no hope so they need to believe. Otherwise, they might not believe in anything. So they must be fed lies, white lies, so that they can continue to believe in their white knight.

    Oh the hype. The greatness. There is so much greatness here that even the contrived script events are not noticeable. The cuts are so fast that that one does not notice the few nods to B-grade Hollywood films. Ah so much greatness. The film moves from act of terror to another. Lights, ok, fine no lights. Camera and action, lots of it. Just another Hollywood summer blockbuster, shot better and shrouded in darkness. Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker, Christian Bale seems to get a deep cold everytime he puts on the Bat Suit, Maggie Gyllenhaal does a great impression of Katie Holmes and Aaron Eckhart takes his No Smoking lobbying role and turns it into a lobbying for justice role before his character seeks solace in evil. A few phrases here and there about ethics and chaos and a story about jewels in Burma. Burn the forest. Smoke him out. And can’t forget those scars?

    “You wanna know how I got these scars.” Spare me.

    Rating: 7/10

    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    Oye second hit film oye!!

    Dibakar Banerjee made a stunning feature film debut in 2006 with the wonderful Khosla Ka Ghosla. Khosla.. was a rare cinematic commodity -- an intelligent comedy! No slapstick, no vulgarity and no toilet humor, something most comedies, especially Bollywood flicks, often resort to. And Khosla.. also managed another remarkable feat in capturing the essence of New Delhi perfectly -- accents, behavior of people, attitudes, routines and even the housing scams. New Delhi hardly gets any screen attention in Indian films or even foreign films shot in India, so it was refreshing to see a director and writer (Jaideep Sahni) do justice to the complicated urban jungle that is Delhi.

    So after a wonderful debut, could Dibakar’s second feature Oye Lucky Lucky Oye repeat the magic again?

    The answer is a firm YES! Oye Lucky Lucky Oye is not only intelligent and funny but it once again captures the lifestyle of Delhi perfectly. The film does contain a tag that it is inspired by real life events and given the story of a small time robber, it is believable that someone could have managed so many burglaries.

    Oye Lucky.. is the story of Lucky, a small time crook played by Abhay Deol. Lucky does not rob for money but more for fun.

    Eventually, Lucky gets addicted to stealing. When he is bored or can’t fall asleep, he goes on a robbing binge, stealing everything from cars, jewelry to a pet dog or even a stuffed toy. Lucky does not use a gun for stealing but simply his confident attitude. In one outrageous example, he walks into a man’s house in broad daylight past the security guard, gets a car key from the house, greets the home owner’s grandmother and orders the security guard to help him keep a tv in the car and drives off, stealing both the car and tv.

    The secret to his success is his ability to either charm people or emit such confidence that no one can think of him as a robber. Portraying such a confident character is not an easy task but Abhay Deol pulls it off brilliantly. Even though Abhay has picked some very interesting Bollywood roles in the past such as in Socha na Tha (his debut feature), Ek Chalis ke Local, Honeymoon Travels & Manorama Six Feet Under, his acting left a bit to be desired. But in Oye Lucky he is flawless in his dialogue delivery and body language.

    Dibakar does justice to the little Delhiite details, like the way coffee is made. Only in Delhi homes have I seen coffee made by repeatedly stirring some ground coffee with sugar and a bit of milk until the entire mixture is a whipped up syrupy mixture. The characters in Oye Lucky.. speak and behave in perfect Delhi manners, although the film does focus mostly on the Punjabi characters. Plus shooting the film in local Delhi spots simply adds to the film’s realistic feel.

    There are some additional casting decisions that enhance the film’s appeal. For example, Paresh Rawal plays three different un-related characters.

    1) He plays Lucky’s father when Lucky is 15 years old.

    2) He plays a local thug leader, Gogi, for whom Lucky steals.

    3) And finally, he plays an ‘honest’ man, Dr. Handa, who cons Lucky out of money, albeit in a loving manner.

    Rawal is wonderful in all three roles and using him in two additional roles is appropriate because both Gogi and Dr. Handa form a fatherly figure for Lucky. While Lucky rebelled against his real father, he forms a good bond with Gogi before eventually turning against him. Lucky is so taken by Dr. Handa that he ignores the fact that Handa and his wife (Archana Puran Singh at her best) are clearly extracting money from him. In the end, he is betrayed by Handa and the fatherly figure that he liked most turns out to be the most ruthless.

    Then there is Lucky’s love interest, Sonal (Neetu Chandra). She is exactly the kind of everyday girl that one could find in any Delhi street and her casting is just icing on the cake.

    And similar to his first film Khosla, Dibakar uses a very catchy Punjabi number (the title song) as a background score.

    Overall, very impressed with this film. Enjoyed every minute of it and didn’t want it to end. Easily one of the best films to have come out of Bollywood in 2008.

    Rating: 10/10

    Official Film website

    Friday, December 05, 2008


    In theory it appeared to be a great idea -- Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a washed out action hero struggling to make ends meet, reflecting on his career, all the while speaking in his native tongue. That was enough to get me intrigued. I stayed away from reading the story and chose to have the film speak for itself. But unfortunately, it only appears to have been a great idea on paper. When translated to the screen, something does appear to be missing. Although the film does hold a lot of promise and contains enough to make it worthwhile, it truly feels like a missed opportunity for something better, something greater even.

    Mabrouk El Mechri’s feature begins in brilliant fashion. Van Damme is shooting a scene for an action film, doing what action heroes do best, but at the end of the take he appears to be tired. That is when he approaches his Asian director and tells him that he can’t do action scenes in one take anymore as he is “47 years old”. But the Asian director wants none of it and continues to throw darts at a Hollywood target poster. The director’s translator conveys the words to Van Damme along with a jibe about John Woo and Hollywood. The John Woo reference is brought up again later on in the film by a few Van Damme fans who believe that if it were not for “the man from Brussels” John Woo would still be “shooting with pigeons” in Hong Kong. The best part of the film is such film jokes which poke fun both at Van Damme and even at the action film industry in general, such as how Steven Seagal beat Van Damme to a part because he agreed to cut off his pony tail. The film is sprinkled with these jokes and balances the serious moments delicately along with the lighter side of things.

    Immediately after the opening scenes, we witness how Van Damme is involved in a custody battle for his daughter, an issue that forms the crux of the actor’s pain. After stopping for a brief photo and autograph session with some fans, Van Damme heads to the post office when some gun shots are heard. We see his face through the broken window asking the local cop to get away, but the cop assumes that Van Damme is the one holding hostages at the post office. The media jump on this story and his action fans gather around the post office to support their hero. There are some clues given to who is doing the actual hold up, but the film then does a rewind of sorts and shows the post office scenes from a different point of view, explaining how Van Damme became a hostage himself. While some of these scenes were useful, the film’s momentum is actually halted by explaining things unnecessarily in detail as there is enough for the audience to gather on their own. Still, the hostage situation brings its own mix of humor and reflection; humor when one of the robbers turns out to be a big Van Damme fan and asks his hero to demo some karate kicks while Van Damme reflects on his own life and what he has accomplished. In an interesting sequence, Van Damme is lifted high above the ground and addresses the audience directly, exposing himself via his honest confessions.

    JCVD does raise some interesting points about perceptions of actors and even the film industry in general. Van Damme is frustrated to be getting the same cliched parts, playing the action hero in the nth sequel of a meaningless film, and blames some directors for ruining his career. Mabrouk El Mechri’s film does show that Jean-Claude can indeed act and offers much more than brainless action roles he plays over and over, so why is he not getting offered anything else? By playing himself in the film and given some of the dialogues, the film does have a autobiographical feel to it, but there are also some cuts which allude to the film within a film nature of JCVD. Even though the film only has a running time of 96 minutes, it would have been much stronger had another 10 minutes being trimmed. Still, overall it was refreshing to see a director integrate humor, action and tender emotions and allow Jean-Claude Van Damme to open up and use his face and expressions, and leave his muscles on the side.

    Rating: 7.5/10

    Thursday, December 04, 2008

    Black Friday Revisited

    'Are you aware that there are sixty crore Hindus in India? Can you finish them all? Do you think that the United Nations will keep quiet? What about India’s mentor, Russia?'

    The discussion continued, occasionally very heated, as various options were raised.

    Shaikh Ahmed spoke up eventually. 'But can't we scare the Indian government and the Hindus into submission? The best thing to do will be to turn the tables on the Hindus. If we can intimidate Hindus in such a manner that in the future they will not in their wildest dreams try to subjugate the Muslims..'

    This thought seemed to appeal to all present, and heads began to bob in agreement. Taufiq clapped his hands and said it was a superb idea. But once again silence descended on the room.

    Tiger spoke up. 'Bombay is the pride of India, its financial nerve centre. It is also the place where Muslims suffered the most during the riots. Why not display our might and power there? Any attack on Bombay will have international repercussions. The government will be shaken. The world leaders will be shocked. Let us plan to take over Bombay. We can capture Mantralaya, the municipal corporation building and the airport, hold political leaders hostage and cripple the economy. We will draw international attention to the downtrodden Muslims of the country. We will...'

    Dossa, who sounded impatient and irritated, interrupted, 'But how can you do it? From where will the money come?'

    'Money is no problem,' Taufiq interjected. 'But do you think it can do done successfully?'

    'With proper planning the CIA has toppled governments and taken over countries. We have to only disrupt one city. I already have a network. We need to fine-tune it further and rope in some committed young people to execute the job,' Tiger said.

    Suddenly the room was electrified. The glum faces lit up. The discussion grew animated.

    -- pages 38-39, Black Friday: The True story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts by S. Hussain Zaidi.

    The above words could have taken place a few months ago but they were spoken almost 16 years ago in December 1992 as highlighted by S. Hussain’s extremely well researched and engaging book, Black Friday. The planning of a terrorist operation in Bombay, executed by multiple bombings on March 12 1993, was fueled by the violence that took place in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid mosque demolition.

    The Babri Masjid at Ayodhya had been a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims for over five hundred years, since the time when Babur’s general Mir Bagi had destroyed a temple there in 1528 to build a mosque he named after his master. For many Hindus the mosque was reputed to be built at the birthplace of Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, and hence a sacred site. The antiquity of the mosque had given it similar sanctity for many Muslims.

    Things were at relative peace until the existence of the Masjid was used by some right wing Hindu political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to further their cause. The BJP wanted to demolish the Masjid and construct a temple in its place. The mosque was demolished on December 6 1992 and unleashed a wave of riots and violence across the country. "The worst incidents took place in Bombay, Ahmedabad, Banaras and Jaipur. There was widespread violence in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Bidar, and Gulbarga."

    The demolition of the mosque caused a lot of anger in the Muslim world and directly led to the bombings on March 12, 1993. Black Friday (both the film and book) shows that even though there were outside forces who were involved in the planning of the bombing, none of it would have been possible without the smuggling underworld network established by Dawood Ibrahim & Tiger Memon.

    There were initial steps in the complex operation: first, to secure the arms and armaments and transport them to Bombay, and second, to recruit Muslim youths from Bombay and train them to cary out the bombings.

    The weapons, including AK-56s, RDX and grenades, were smuggled into Bombay via the same complex network used for smuggling goods, so that meant local thugs and corrupt policemen were in on the take. Although, most people involved in the smuggling of the RDX had no idea what was being smuggled. Some were satisfied with the answer that the goods were something to avenge the blood of their Muslim brothers while others quietly looked the other way.

    The golden aphorism of the underworld is that anything that is known to more than two people is no longer a secret. There are hundreds of informers or khabris in Bombay. They straddle the two worlds of the underworld gangs and the law enforcement agencies.

    Almost all the people recruited or involved only knew that Tiger Memon was involved in the planning; they had no idea of the foreign groups who poured money into the operation. Tiger conducted the planning meetings himself and was responsible for the initial list of the targets as per Badshah Khan’s confession:

    Tiger bhai announced that the targets had been selected and finalized. 'The first targets are the Air-India building at Nariman Point; the Bharat Petroleum oil refinery at Chembur; the share market at Fort; and the gold market at Zaveri Bazaar. Then there are five five-star hotels: the Sea Rock, the two Centaurs, Oberoi Sheraton and Taj Mahal; the top film theatres: the Metro, Regal, Excelsior, Sterling and Plaza; Shiv Sena Bhavan at Dadar; the BMC building at VT; Sahar International Airport; the RPO at Worli; and Mantralaya.'

    The final list was shortened after one terrorist recruit was caught by the police. Fearing that he might reveal the operation to the police, Tiger Memon decided to carry out the attack within three days of the recruit’s arrest. Anurag Kashyap’s film version of Black Friday actually begins with the arrest of this recruit. In the end, few targets such as the oil refinery were dropped because of the difficulty in planning for the quick attack (the book highlights the planning in detail). It was shocking to read that the Taj, Oberoi and the Metro cinema were in that initial list as all three locations were targeted last week.

    As for the training, the book does an excellent job in showing how the recruits were transported across India to Dubai and eventually to Pakistan where they were trained on how to use the Kalashnikovs and the RDX, among other weapons. A lot of the training details are rendered first hand from the confession of Badshah Khan. One can only imagine that similar camps were used this time around to train the terrorists.

    One of the most remarkable aspects of the book is documenting the investigation process that resulted in the aftermath of the bombings. Because of the clues left around (the Maruti van with weapons and RDX, the unexploded scooters), police were able to quickly get some leads and chase some names down. Although, the entire process of convicting the criminals took months, with the court trial lasting almost 13 years. In fact, the release of Anurag Kashyap’s film version of Black Friday was delayed by the Indian courts for almost two years because they felt his film would influence the bombing trial.

    The film

    In January 2007, Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday was finally released. Although it is hard to know how many people in India saw it. In North America, the film got a limited release and was easily missed. Only 5 reviews are listed on Metacritic. Although, Matt Zoller Seitz included the film as his #1 best film of 2007. Kirk Honeycutt's review was very positive:

    Anurag Kashyap's "Black Friday" is a superb and devastating piece of cinema that with justification can be compared favorably to Gillo Pontocorvo's classic "The Battle of Algiers" in its dispassionate yet sweeping journalistic inquiry into cataclysmic social and political events. While the events described may seem remote to some American viewers, our current encounter with modern-day terrorism gives "Black Friday" a clarion immediacy.

    Kirk is right about the relevance of the film, although I do believe the film’s structure might make people feel distanced from the film, as highlighted by the review of Variety’s Derek Elley who commented that the "well-cast pic will appeal to specialized auds already tuned into the subject-matter but has limited theatrical chances offshore."

    The film is not easy to watch as it does not spoon feed elements for the audience but good cinema does require or even demands its audience to pay attention. Even though Black Friday does throw around a dizzying amount of names and characters, one can still grasp the overall framework of the terrorist operations by watching the film without reading the book. Although reading the book enhances the experience as it allows one to navigate the topography of the film, meaning one can easily place each character and each dialogue in context. In fact, I found myself knowing exactly who each character was and their relevance to the case just by observing the scene. In that regard, the film does an excellent job of extracting enough detail from the book.

    The film stands brilliantly on its own as it a case study of how terrorist operations are planned, executed and even investigated by the police. Plus, we get an insight into how terrorists go about recruiting young men and even training them. Even though the film is firmly rooted in the Bombay blasts, one can imagine similar structure and planning has gone on with other terrorist activities around the world.

    Black Friday answers many questions about international terrorism:

  • Where does the money for terrorist activities come from? -- In case of the Bombay attacks, it was a combination of international terrorist organizations, many of them who had no previous connections to India. The organizations were able to pool money for the sole purpose of revenge.

  • How are men recruited for terrorist activities? -- Angry young men are found willing to die for their cause via local connections. If the recruits are local men, all the better because they know the terrain the best.

  • Where do the weapons come from? -- Money is one thing but getting weapons is the key. In the book and film, it is clearly shown that the guns and grenades were obtained from Pakistan. Investigation revealed that the grenades used were manufactured from an old Austrian machine bought by Pakistan in the 1970s.

  • How are the recruits trained? -- There are only a few places on the planet where young terrorists can be trained. It is essential to find a place where the government will not interfere when loud bombs and machine gun fire takes place in isolated country-sides or mountains. The films shows the training sites to be in Pakistan, but Afghanistan would apply equally.

  • How are weapons smuggled in the country? -- No outside force can cause havoc in a city without local help. In the case of the Bombay blasts in 1993, it was the local network established by Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon that allowed the weapons to make their way into the country.

  • Kashyap’s film is not only relevant but also responsible in trying to objectively show the events without taking sides. We see how the terrorists plan their operation while also seeing how the police can abuse their power in the goal of finding the truth. There is one element that Kashyap has included in the film to illustrate this point. Devoting a few minutes to the case of Rajesh Rajkumar Khurana adds nothing to the overall terrorist plan but it shows how an innocent man was wrongly arrested and intimidated. Khurana spent only a night in jail but during that night, some of the local police men showed that they were willing to rape arrested women to get information. Khurana was taunted that if he did not provide information, his wife would suffer the same fate. The next day after Khurana was released, he went home and shot his family, including his wife, their 3 year old son and 2 year old daughter, and drove them in a car, before shooting himself. Khurana was completely innocent, a fact later admitted by the police. This segment forms one of the most haunting scenes in the film. What goes through a man’s mind that he shoots his young children and calmly puts them in a car before taking his own life? In another instance in the film, inspector Rakesh Maria (Kay Kay Menon) is asked by a reporter about the human rights violation in arresting innocents. Maria responds by saying that what about the human right violations of the innocents that were blown by the bombs? The film shows the difficulty of working within law and order to find justice but also raises questions of ethics and honesty.

    A running time of 150 minutes may appear long but considering how much material the film covers, it is easily understandable. When I first saw the film almost two years ago, I found the film quite engaging and even included it in my top films of 2007. Although, I had found myself questioning the length of certain segments, for example why so much time was spent on showing Badshah Khan’s journey across India, Bombay-Delhi-Rampur (Uttar Pradesh)-Jaipur & Tonk (Rajasthan) to Calcutta. Reading the book now, I can understand the relevance of including every scene in the movie. Badshah Khan was the only arrested terrorist that gave a detailed account of the training, planning and execution. Without his testimony, a lot of the elements might not have fit into place for the investigation. And the film shows that the length of time spent by him traveling across India only increased his frustration and convinced him to testify to the police.

    Technically, the film is perfect as the camera angles are smart and switch perfectly between close-ups (only showing the eyes of certain characters in some situations) and long shots. In fact, at times there is so much action packed in a single frame that one cannot remove their eyes from the action. Plenty of scenes are filmed with amazing realism that one forgets that this is scripted cinema. The arguments between Badshah Khan and his gang come to mind when Khan learns that his passport has been burned. The camera spends enough time on the action as we see the argument swell up, almost boil over and then cool down. Kashyap also includes actual documentary footage of the attacks, speeches and even the demolition of the mosque seamlessly within his film.

    Overall comments:

    Dismissing the film by saying that it only applies to audiences who are familiar with the Bombay blast trial is akin to saying that the Godfather films are only of interest to people who know about the American Italian mafia or that Gomorra will only make sense for audiences who have read about the Naples Mafia or that Johnny To’s Election films are meant for audiences familiar with the Hong Kong Triads. Black Friday is much more than just a study of the Bombay Blasts; it is unlike any other film to come out of the cinematic world in the last decade. It is a precious cinematic treasure that is an essential guide to understanding the dynamics of global terrorism.

    Black Friday (2005, Anurag Kashyap): 10/10
    Note: all quotes are taken from S. Hussain Zaidi’s insightful book.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    In addition.....

    Amitabh Bachchan's blog contains his thoughts regarding the ongoing standoff in Mumbai. It is understanding to see the roles played by Mumbai blogs, including those by actors such as Aamir and Amitabh, in getting information out and even thoughts/feelings. Unfortunately, the biggest questions remain unanswered: who are the young men with guns? And which fat men brainwashed them to head fearlessly into Mumbai?

    They came by sea and then they went about their sick plan. While the real leaders of this situation sit somewhere safe, eating and getting fat. Are they getting fat on mutton kebabs or are they getting fat on curries? Are they having naans with their meat? And what kind is the naan? These questions may seem strange but the answers would indicate where the masterminds are sitting at.

    Oh Mumbai

    Not again. Not again Mumbai....

    If a city could be given a voice, then given what has happened over the last two decades, Mumbai's angry scream would resonate around the world and render everyone deaf. I can't imagine any other city in the world that has had to endure such sustained nonsense, over and over..and in the name of what? No one knows.

    In 1993 it was the Stock Market, in 2006 it was the trains and in between them, the local markets, cinemas, etc were all hit. As always innocents were killed. Now high end hotels, a cafe and another cinema, plus the train station again. On and on...

    If the pictures are true, then it was young kids who went on a killing rampage and are still at large. Why? There is no why. Just like in David Fincher's Fight Club, when the young men go out of control and start causing damage without any cause or even a leader guiding them. Out of boredom, out of misguided cause.

    Interestingly, there were 3 Bollywood films (Mumbai Meri Jaan, A Wednesday, Mukhbiir) released this year that tried to deal with the horror of the 2006 attack and another with terrorism (Aamir) in general. In all these 4 films, there was a happy ending, ofcourse. Bollywood films usually end on a happy note. They have to because in reality a city like Mumbai isn't left to stay happy for too long. Someone usually comes along and tries to dampen the city's spirit. The city as always is left to clean up and move on.

  • Aamir Khan has a blog entry regarding this madness.

  • Mumbai Met blogs with their coverage

  • Reuters on the use of blogs for news coverage.
  • Monday, November 24, 2008

    Vintage Canadian Cinema

    The Calgary Cinematheque hosted an outstanding film series this past weekend -- Pushing Boundaries: Independent Canadian Cinema of the Sixties & Seventies. The four films shown were:

    A Married Couple (1969, Director Allan King)
    High (1967, Director Larry Kent)
    Montreal Main (1972, Director Frank Vitale)
    Rubber Gun (1977, Director Allan Moyle)

    The series was hosted and moderated by film critic Geoff Pevere, in the presence of all the four directors. There was a brief introduction both by Geoff and the film director in question before each screening and a very informative Q & A session afterwards. I would have loved to attend all four films but thankfully I managed to catch two of the groundbreaking masterpieces.

    A Marriage in collapse

    A Married Couple is an excellent case study of the difficulties a relationship poses for couples sharing the same living space. By observing the lives of a married couple, we can see the struggles and compromises that take place when two people share the same space and how things can start to go wrong. Even though the material is isolated to just one couple in late 1960's Toronto, the genius of Allan King has ensured that the topics displayed on screen can apply to virtually any marriage over the last few decades.

    In making the film, Allan sought out couples whose marriage was in trouble but as he mentioned in the Q & A session afterwards, most of the couples he found were "boring". It so happened that the couple Allan was staying with (Billy Edwards and his wife Antoinette) agreed to allow themselves to be filmed so as to save their marriage. Allan was never in the room because he felt his presence would have influenced the couple, so he left his cameraman Richard Leiterman and soundman Christian Wangler with the couple and their 3 year old son, Bogart, for about ten weeks of filming. In the end, they collected more than 70 hours of footage and Allan worked with the editor after each day's shoot. The end result is a brilliant piece of verite film-making. No acting or fake emotions but raw feelings of anger, hurt and disappointment. Allan called this film an "actuality" as opposed to reality film-making.

    It is such a complex matter when two people decide to share their lives under one roof as demonstrated by how small arguments can spiral into a full blown war. Of course, most small arguments are never about one issue. Each argument is an accumulation of past incidents and events. An example in the film illustrates this problem when Antoinette mentions to Billy that she is fed up with him leaving his shoes lying around the house. The argument that results shows that the real problem is not about the shoes but about each person not taking share of their daily responsibilities.

    Allan King felt that the movie was a two way projector where even the audience projected their feelings onto the screen. In an initial Toronto screening, some audience members identified with Billy while others sided with Antoinette. Allan mentioned a particular example from the film that caused a differing perception in the audience. In one argument, Billy pushes Antoinette out of the house and slams the door. Allan mentioned that some people were sure they saw Billy hit Antoinette but that was not the case. In reality, he was afraid of her and when he pushed her out, he had a worried look on his face as quickly tried to slam the door lest she retaliate back. It was clear from the footage in the film, before and after the scene, that Antoinette was the stronger of the two and it was Billy who was more afraid of her.

    Overall, a true gem of a film! Incredible!!!!

    Rating: 10/10

    Verite again, but on the streets of Montreal

    Frank Vitale's Montreal Main is a living breathing work of art. As Frank mentioned, he didn't have a script with dialogues but just had a framework of the story with some scenes outlined; he knew how he wanted the scenes framed and shot, something that interested him more than coming up with the dialogues. Frank's friends and the other actors improvised the dialogues for a film that was shot on and off, sometimes shooting only a scene per day, for about 15 days. In order to get funding for the film, Frank shot most of the movie on video as a demo. Only after the movie got some money ($25,000 CAD) was the beautiful original score added and a 16 mm camera used to re-shoot the film.

    In terms of a story, the film follows Frank (played by Frank Vitale), Bozo (Allan Moyle) and their friends around on their daily exploits in Montreal. The key cinematic thread involves Frank's attraction to a teenage boy (Johnny), whom he befriends and hangs out with. The friendship causes problems not only among Frank's circle of friends but also with Johnny's parents. While nothing sexual is depicted regarding their friendship, the film tests the boundaries of society's acceptance of relationships.

    The film takes place in a vibrant energetic English speaking art community in Montreal. Frank and Allan Moyle were part of the community and Allan even made a sequel (Rubber Gun which followed Montreal Main's screening) using the same characters. As the community consisted of various artists (painters, writers), it is natural that Montreal Main has an artistic feel to it and flows along beautifully. There are some amazing camera shots in the film with a very open yet poetic ending shot which features faces of customers at a hot dog/arcade shop.

    The Q & A session was particularly enriching as both Frank and Allan expressed differing reactions on seeing the film again and looking back at its creation. Allan felt the movie's topic gave him the creeps while Frank talked about the emotional aspects of the film, citing how now as a father he has trouble seeing the character Frank abandon Johnny in the film near the end. The open ending can either be seen as hopeful in that Johnny is ok or can be taken to mean that Johnny is lost forever.

    Rating: 9/10


    Canadian Cinema hardly has a cinematic presence in this country. It is hard to believe that are many countries like Canada where local films struggle to get distribution and theatrical releases. So it was particularly refreshing to see that despite the near invisible presence, Canadian cinema in the past produced such amazing films. Frank Vitale mentioned that he has been surprised to see that Montreal Main has been getting a revival in the past 2-3 years with even a DVD release out in the market. I really hope that more Canadian gems can be found and atleast released on DVD. Great cinema is always welcome!