Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not so great movies

There is a hilarious article in the Guardian by Joe Queenan as he attempts to define a criteria for the worst movies of all time.

In his own words:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met.
  • For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful.

  • Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls.

  • Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating.

  • Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton.

  • Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is?

  • Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again.

  • There is one other requirement for a movie to be considered one of the worst ever: it must keep getting worse. By this, I mean that it not only must keep getting worse while you are watching it, but it must, upon subsequent viewings, seem even worse than the last time you saw it.

  • I normally try to steer away from so called bad movies but every now and then for whatever reasons, I force myself to watch a few not so pleasant movies. In that regards, almost all the bad movies I have seen have forced me to add this criteria:
  • The movie is so bad that it makes for a hilarious viewing.

  • Ofcourse, no one intends to make a bad movie. Most films start out with good intentions but then things go wrong. On the plus side, bad films are good case studies on how to not do things. Also, often good movies spring up from the graves of bad movies. The re-launched Batman series is a perfect example of this. Each subsequent Batman movie kept getting worse until rock bottom was reached with Batman & Robin. Out of the ashes from that disaster rose a slick and smart Batman Begins in 2005.

    Over the last two months, these are the worst rated movies on my viewed list: Ghost Rider, London, Sunday, 300, Ali G Indahouse, My Name is Anthony Gonsalves, 30 Days of Night.
    But these are just personal tastes. I found 300 to be a laughably bad movie but currently the average rating for the film stands at 8/10 as per 164,552 votes. Moreover, I know a lot of people who love the movie. I loved the look and feel of 30 Days of Night but everything else frustrated me. Even though the Bollywood film Sunday is quite bad, it provided me with plenty of genuine laughs. Same goes with the Ali G movie -- bad but there were some very funny moments. I honestly have nothing good to say about Ghost Rider.

    Although I have a funny story regarding My Name is Anthony Gonsalves. I tried watching this Bollywood movie but after 20 minutes or so, I had to turn it off. A few days later, I was at a party where my friend was asking for some new film recommendations. A fairly polite guy heard us and told my friend that he had to see My Name is Anthony Gonsalves. He turned to me and asked if I had seen it? I replied that I had not finished it as I found it a bit dull. The guy and his wife had such a shocked look on their face as both of them loved the movie and must have thought that I had poor taste in films. When I got back home, I tried to finish the movie. And the film only kept getting worse and worse, satisfying part of Queenan's final criteria. The biggest disappointment regarding this movie is that it is not made by a new director but by E. Niwas who at the tender age of 23 directed a masterful movie (Shool) back in 1999. Unfortunately, his subsequent efforts have been not as good and My Name is Anthony Gonsalves is the latest in a string of substandard fare.

    Maybe once I am done all my regular film spotlights this year, I should try to put together a bad film festival where I try to see the worst of the worst. It will be painful but it should be worth a few laughs.

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    To sum it all up...

    How best to describe the two overall results of "Super Sunday" part II in the clash of the top 4 in the English Premier League?

    Well the forces of evil prevailed once again. The storm troopers have marched on as Manchester United registered another win over their rivals Liverpool and Chelsea scored a 2-1 win against mis-firing Arsenal to jump into second place. Liverpool now have an awful record against Man Utd under Rafa Benitez: out of the 8 league games played between the two, Liverpool have 7 losses, one 0-0 draw and have managed only one goal in these 8 games (and that too an own goal from O'Shea, a Man Utd player) while letting in 11 goals (6 of those have been scored by Man Utd defenders thanks to bad defending by Liverpool).

    Of course, the perception of good vs evil is entirely based on one's point of view. Where I see evil, others see good. The truth is that Arsenal have only picked up just one win in their last 6 league games, and are winless in the last 5 games. They are not good enough to win the title, even though injuries and a horrible tackle on Eduardo changed their season. The injuries are valid reasons but they are also excuses. Despite having some of the best technical players in Europe, the players have not shown the mental strength to cope with the pressures placed upon them. When the going got tough, all the top Arsenal players just folded.

    On the other hand, no one is apparently good enough to win the title in Spain. Real Madrid have only 3 wins and 7 defeats in their last 10 games in all competitions, including two losses in the Champions League and 5 league defeats including today's 3-2 home loss to Valencia. Despite their poor form, they are still 4 points clear at the top because Barcelona aren't that sharp enough to win the league. The Spanish Liga can be defined by the overall poor quality this season with no team consistent enough to charge for the title. Real Madrid might still win the title even if they lost every game from now up to the end of the season because Barcelona and other teams always find a way to make life difficult for themselves.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Danger, with or without the sun

    Let there be light

    "When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so when I was six I did" Max, Pi

    What does staring too much at the sun do? In the film Sunshine, it convinces one character to conclude that he had a conversation with God. And that God instructed him to stop the human space mission to save the dying sun. If the space crew did not accomplish their mission and blast the sun into a new life, it would ultimately result in mankind perishing in complete frozen cold weather.

    No light

    In the vampire film, 30 Days of Night, the light is only shown at the film's start and end. Shortly after the film's start, darkness slowly descends. And with that, evil takes over. The vampires in the film do not speak English but there is one instance that the leader of the pack speaks a few words in English. In that scene, a young girl is pleading for her life and utters, "Please, God". To which the vampire leader replies "God? No God".

    Science vs Religion

    Even though both Sunshine and 30 Days of Night belong to different genres, it is interesting that the mention of God is made in both films. On the surface, it is tempting to assume the excessive light in Sunshine means the presence of God and that the darkness in 30 Days of Night signifies the absence of God. But the mention of God is more tied to the two film's core.

    The story in Sunshine is about using scientific principles to alter the fate of mankind which brings up the debate between science and religion. If science can save mankind, then where does religion stand? And the debate about how religion fits in with the crew's mission is uttered by more than one character in Sunshine. So the character in the film wants to follow the natural order of things and believes that life should end as God intended it. Mankind should not interfere.

    I only paid attention to the concept of God in vampire films while watching the brilliant Abel Ferrara film Addiction. In Addiction we meet an existentialist vampire who quotes Nietzsche and does not believe in God. In a sense, the vampire's disbelief in God makes sense. A vampire by nature is a walking dead person. If someone cannot die, then why would they believe in religion, whose foundation is centered around the concept of birth, death and life after death. So if a person cannot die, then their existence is validated more by existentialism than by conventional religious beliefs. Appropriately, in Addiction the main character who gets bitten by a vampire only finds salvation when she gives herself over to religion; her belief in God saves her from a lifetime of disbelief. The vampires in 30 Days of Night are more sinister than the ones in Addiction but they still subscribe to the same existentialist belief. They have no need to believe in God as they move from town to town, feeding on the weak religion believing humans.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    Euro 2008 Films & Results

    Film Festival Rules & Guidelines

    Final Standings of all the 4 Groups with the following format:

    Country, Film: Rating out of 10

    Group A:
    Portugal, Bad Blood: 8
    Switzerland, The Boat is Full: 8

    Czech Republic, Zelary:7.5
    Turkey, Harem Suare:7

    Both Portugal and Switzerland earned 8 points and as per the tie breaker, Portugal takes first place by a margin of 4 (acting, direction, cinematography and production values) - 3 (acting, direction, story).

    Average group rating: 7.6

    Group B:
    Poland, Edi: 9
    Germany, Good bye Lenin: 8.5

    Austria, Antares: 8
    Croatia, Sorry for Kung Fu: 7

    Average group rating: 8.1

    Group C:
    Romania, 12:08 East of Bucharest: 9
    France, Angel-A: 7.5

    Holland, Interview: 7
    Italy, Summer Night: 5.5

    Average group rating: 7.3

    Group D:
    Spain, Torremolinos 73: 9
    Greece, Rouleman: 7

    Russia, DayWatch: 6
    Sweden, Thriller a Cruel Picture: 6

    Both Russia and Sweden earned 6 points. As per the tie-breaker, Russia takes 3rd place over Sweden by a margin of 5-0.

    Average group rating: 7

    Second Round -- Quarter Finals, Semi's and Final:

    As per the Euro 2008 draw, the Quarter-Finals would line up as such:

    Quarter Final 1: Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B
    Quarter Final 2: Winner Group B vs Runner-up Group A
    Quarter Final 3: Winner Group C vs Runner-up Group D
    Quarter Final 4: Winner Group D vs Runner-up Group C

    As per the group standings, the following are the film match-ups.
    QF 1: Portugal (Bad Blood) vs Germany (Good bye Lenin)
    QF 2: Switzerland (The Boat is Full) vs Poland (Edi)
    QF 3: Romania (12:08 East of Bucharest) vs Greece (Rouleman)
    QF 4: Spain (Torremolinos 73) vs France (Angel-A)

    QF 1: Portugal 2 (Direction, Cinematography) - 4 Germany (Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography)
    QF 2: Switzerland 1 (Acting) - 4 Poland (Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography)
    QF 3: Romania 4 (Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography) - 0 Greece
    QF 4: Spain 4 (Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography) - 3 France (Story, Cinematography, Production Values)


    Winner of QF 1 vs Winner of QF 2: Germany vs Poland
    Winner of QF 3 vs Winner of QF4: Romania vs Spain

    SF 1: Germany 2 (Acting, Story) - 4 Poland (Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography)
    SF 2: Romania 3 (Acting, Story, Direction) - 2 Spain (Story, Cinematography)

    Final: Poland vs Romania

    Score: Poland 3 (Acting, Story, Cinematography) - 3 Romania (Acting, Story, Direction)

    This one was a tough choice. The Polish film Edi got me hooked emotionally, whereas 12:08 East of Bucharest made me laugh. In the end by a slight slight margin, I have to give the nod to the Romanian film.

    Winner: Romania (12:08 East of Bucharest)

    Film Selections & Comments:

    With the exception of Portugal and Turkey, I got all my first picks for the films. For Portugal, I really wanted to get a Pedro Costa movie. But Pedro Costa films are hard to come by and I am not sure how much more luck I would have had in the next 2-3 months, so I went for my second pick of Bad Blood. My original Turkish pick was Climates by Nuri Bilge Ceylan but for some bizarre reason that movie is still not available for rent in Canada although it can be bought via the internet. Since I had already seen 15 of the 16 films, I decided to go with my second pick of Harem suare to complete the film festival line-up.

    The average rating of all 16 films comes to 7.5/10. That is not bad considering the random nature of the film selections. I don't want to read too much into some of the low ratings as in most cases, I tried to choose unknown films. For example, the Greek film Rouleman still does not have any entry on although the film's director Panos Karkanevatos has a few films listed on the website. As a result of the unknown picks, there were a few pleasant surprises. The Polish film Edi and the Spanish entry Torremolinos 73 were real treats. Although, I knew about about 12:08 East of Bucharest, I was still surprized at how funny it was. It was a simple and delightful film.

    Also, I was pleasantly surprized by the quality of the two co-host nations films -- Austria and Switzerland. The Swiss film The Boat is Full was an interesting film and showed the Swiss might not have been 100% neutral during World War II. The Austrian film Antares is best described as a cross between the works of Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days and Import/Export) and Dekalog. In reality, I was hoping to get a film with a more upbeat vision of Austrian life than that shown in Seidl's works but as it turned out Götz Spielmann's Antares is carved from the same block as Seidl's films.

    Initially, I had hoped to have completed watching all the movies closer to the start of the soccer tournament, but now I will have a better chance to focus on the games themselves and compare the soccer results with the films performances.

    Only 83 days until the tournament kicks off on June 7 with the Swiss taking on Czech Republic and Portugal vs Turkey.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Euro 2008 Film Festival: Group A, Turkey

    Film Festival Rules & Guidelines
    Film selected (Year, Director): Harem suaré (1999, Ferzan Ozpetek)
    Rating: 7/10
    Rules compliance: I have seen a previous film by Ferzan Ozpetek, so the selection is not compliant with picking something from a new director.
    Relevance to Soccer: Collecting and hoarding people

    Through most of the 1980's, European soccer clubs had a foreign player quota and could only feature two players from an international nation. In the late 80's, that rule was loosened slightly and teams could field upto 3 foreign players. AC Milan led the way by fielding the three Dutchmen (Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard) who led them to domestic and European glory. Then in the early 1990's, the rules were changed once again and any European team could have upto 6 foreign players on their books but could only play 3 for a given game (that included the starting 11 players + 5 substitutes). Once again, Milan signed a bunch of talented players such as Boban, Dejan Savićević, Marcel Desailly and Jean Pierre Papin (at that time he was one of Europe's leading goal scorers) . Since Milan could only play 3 of their superstars, the remaining 3 sat in the stands unused. Other teams complained that Milan were hoarding the best players in the world and preventing them from displaying their talents week in and week out.

    By the mid 1990's, European soccer changed once again in that teams could sign as many players from within the European Union nations without any quotas(thanks to the Bosman court ruling). The only quota applied to players from outside Europe. As a result, teams from most European leagues started buying the best young talent other European nations. And when the European Cup was modified into the Champions League, the top European teams were playing atleast 2 games a week (one league game on the weekend and a European game in mid-week). These extra games required these teams to buy atleast 2 quality players for each position. Teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan started attracting some of the biggest names in the game, only for half of their star players to sit on the bench, waiting for their chance. As it stands in the current game, the top teams from England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany have a galaxy of star players, most of whom only get a game when the regular first team players are injured or suspended. But given that these teams play more than 50 games a season, they need to have a big squad, because injuries could hamper the first team. However, there are plenty of other teams which could benefit from just a few of these star players. Sometimes, the big teams loan out their players to other teams so that they can get regular match practice. But in most cases, the talented players keep waiting for their chance.

    One of the definitions of a harem is when a king has multiple wives or lovers. However, the king won't require all the women at any given time. When the king gets tired of his regular lover, he picks another younger woman, until he gets tired of her. Still, the king maintains a collection of women around just in case.

    The Turkish film Harem suaré is about such a situation where the Sultan maintains a harem of women. However, only a few lucky women get the honor of becoming the Sultan's regular lover or even spending a night with him. Naturally, the competition among the women is fierce to get into the Sultan's chambers. I found this situation similar to modern soccer teams where multiple talented players are eager to make the first team. Most of these young players train every day, hoping to one day impress the first team boss. Some players only get one chance but fail to impress and find themselves shut out of the club. In Harem suaré, we meet a young woman Safiye (Marie Gillain) who has been patiently waiting her turn to become the Sultan's chosen one. However, as chance would have it, a younger woman arrives threatening her position. Safiye's situation is made difficult due to the changing political climate in the Ottoman Empire, as a young Turkish revolution threatens to break the Sultan's hold on power.

    So what can all the young women do while waiting for the Sultan to notice them? Some of them take on side lovers, like Safiye. This is akin to soccer players getting loaned out to other teams, who can appreciate their talents. And as it often happens in soccer, the loaned out player finds himself much happier in his new team and prefers to leave the top European team because he can get a regular game at this new team. Safiye also finds more happiness in the arms of another man, as opposed to waiting for the Sultan to make up his mind.

    Final shots:

    Harem suaré is structured in terms of two flashback stories. In the inner story when the narrator finishes her tale, she mentions that as per the rules of story telling & God's instructions, one should distribute three apples upon the story's conclusion -- one for the narrator, one for the listener and the final apple for the heroes of the story.

    In the film's final shots, the camera zooms in on a table where the narrator and listener sat at the film's start for the principle flashback tale. Both of them have left the table but only 3 apples are left to signify the rules of the story telling. As the camera gets closer to this beautiful shot of the apples, I realized that this final shot of the film is also the final shot of my 16 film Euro 2008 Film Festival.

    I can't think of a more beautiful way for this film and also for my film festival to end. The stories have been told. Everyone has gone. Cinematic food for thought! Fade to Black!!!!

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Euro 2008 Film Festival: Group D, Spain

    Film Festival Rules & Guidelines

    Film selected (Year, Director): Torremolinos 73 (2003, Pablo Berger)
    Rating: 9/10
    Rules compliance: All rules met
    Relevance to Soccer: Changing tactics, sexy football

    As the game continues to change, a team must also adapt and change their tactics otherwise they will start losing games and no longer be a force. The same goes for some salesmen as well. Eventually, they reach a point of saturation with their sales and have to resort to different tactics to make new sales and attract different customers.

    The Spanish film Torremolinos 73 starts off when an encyclopedia salesman (Alfred played by Javier Cámara) is told that he needs to adapt to the changing economy as consumers are no longer interested in buying door to door encyclopedias.

    However, the solution offered by his boss is a little risky and involves the salesmen selling "reproduction encyclopedias" which examine the different reproduction habits of European cultures. The encyclopedias are to accompanied with a Super 8 video of the salesman copulating with his wife/girlfriend.

    Whenever a new soccer manager gets hired by a soccer team, he often promises "sexy football". A decade ago, Ruud Gullit promised to bring "sexy football" for Newcastle only to fail in his promises. When Avram Grant took over Chelsea last year, he promised an entertaining brand of football, something more sexier than adopted previously by Chelsea. But so far it has proved that the talk of sexy football was mere talk. In soccer, there are no prizes for playing sexy football and so the harsh realities of winning games mean that Chelsea are still playing the regular boring football which is working for them.

    Even though playing sexy won't win prizes in soccer, in real life sex does sell. This is something that Alfredo and his wife Carmen (Candela Peña) find out. Initially, Alfredo is reluctant about the Super 8 videos but the financial benefits are too much to turn down. He relishes his opportunity and turns into a full fledged ace film director and is not shy to different different camera angles to shoot his wife with.

    Eventually he writes his first film script and wants to make a film like Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

    Alfredo's addiction with film reminded me how the main character in the Polish film Camera Buff took to film. In Camera Buff, Filip eventually learns the compromises that one has to make while making movies. In Torremolinos 73, Alfredo also learns how to make some concessions for the sake of art, even if that means suppressing his principles and even putting his feelings for his wife aside. While Camera Buff bordered more on the serious side, Torremolinos 73 is a hilarious film with some great lines and perfect expressive performances from all the characters.

    Euro 2008 Film Festival: Group A, Portugal

    Film Festival Rules & Guidelines
    Film selected (Year, Director): Coisa Ruim (2006, Tiago Guedes/Frederico Serra)
    Rating: 8/10
    Rules compliance: All rules met
    Relevance to Soccer: Physiological horror

    The modern game is packed with sinister tackles, challenges which can put the talented players out of the game for extended periods of time. One recent example came on Feb 23, 2008 when Birmingham's Martin Taylor took out one of Europe's best goal-scorers in Arsenal's Eduardo. Taylor had no intent of playing the ball and clearly went out to injure Eduardo. Since the tackle came just a few minutes into the game, it underlined the tactics that Birmingham wanted to adopt against the free flowing football of Arsenal.

    It is hard to know when the game turned sinister but one clearly documented incident of violent play took place in the 1962 World Cup in a match between the hosts Chile and Italy. The incident is known as The Battle of Santiago because the game riddled was with kicks. 4 years later in the 1966 World Cup, Portugal and Hungary adopted a policy of kicking Pele at every opportunity in order to stop the talented Brazilian in his tracks. Pele was injured and Brazil, the defending champions, were knocked out early from the World Cup. The incident left a bad taste in Pele's mouth and he almost left the game in disgust but thankfully he returned to lead Brazil to the 1970 World Cup. In those early days, the football authorities had no idea how to respond to this new wave of violent play and players got away with kicks.

    After almost a decade of decent football from the mid 1990's to early 2000's, it seems the game has gotten a little bit sinister again in the last few years. And once again, it appears that the footballing authorities are incapable of handling sinister kicks as plenty of talented players have to suffer the opposing players studs on their bodies. Eduardo's injury should have been a wake-up call but the incident has been brushed off in England as part of the game.

    The horror tackles not only inflict a physical injury but leave the injured player physiologically affected as well. If an injured player is fortunate to make a full recovery, it will still take some time for him to be able to play freely again. He might change his game to avoid tackles and might even back away from certain physical challenges for fear of the consequences. A player has to rely on their mental strength to overcome their fear of tackles and get back to pre-injury form again.

    The horror film genre can be divided into two categories -- physical horror and physiological horror. By physical horror, I mean movies which depict plenty of gore, chopping, hacking and mutilation. Whereas, physiological horror takes place when a film tries to use subtle means to induce fear in the audience by tailoring the background music and the introduction of long shots with plenty of silent moments to soak in the danger. I have elements of the Japanese film Dark Water and The Grudge in mind as two examples. In both movies, shots of an empty apartment hallway become sinister because we know at any moment we might witness a supernatural entity but the waiting only increases the dread. More often, physiological horror films stays longer with a person rather than a mere physical horror film.

    Despite what the following poster may seem to indicate,

    the Portuguese film Bad Blood falls into the physiological horror category. There are no shots of gore or blood and most of the horror comes from the anticipation of something sinister, which never does arrive.

    The story involves a family that inherits an isolated estate home in the countryside. With the aid of some clues we know there are ghosts that linger around the house. The story of ghosts visiting a country estate home is not that original as plenty of past films have shown that the ghosts are present because of unfinished business. However, Bad Blood is still a well made film which attempts to include elements of religion and debates of country life into the mix.


    In this scene while the younger son is out of the house playing soccer, he witnesses the ghosts that visit him often.

    When I first saw the following picture, I was reminded of the creature from Pan's Labyrinth.

    The camera then pulls back to reveal back that the creature is an octopus. Horror depicted as art!

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Euro 2008 Film Festival: Group C, Italy

    Film Festival Rules & Guidelines

    Film selected (Year, Director): Summer Night (1986, Lina Wertmüller)
    Rating: 5.5/10
    Rules compliance: All rules met
    Relevance to Soccer: Spying vs Scouting out players/teams

    scout: To spy on or explore carefully in order to obtain information

    It is a common sight to see soccer managers in opposing team's soccer stadiums watching their rivals in action. Usually one finds a soccer manager in attendance a week or two before his team will play their opponents. The opposing team are usually aware of the rival manager's presence and there are no secrets regarding his attending the game. Such acts are put under 'scouting' an opponent out and are an excepted part of the game. Regardless of the definition of 'scouting', I believe there is a fine line between 'scouting' and 'spying'. I would consider 'spying' as attempting to extract information without the rivals knowledge. But given how some teams manage to sign young players from under their rivals nose, I think this dividing line between 'scouting' and 'spying' is getting blurred each season. And with the huge amounts of money available in the modern game, the ruthless need to find talent is only going to eventually turn 'scouting' fully into 'spying'.

    The Italian film Summer Night deals firmly with spies. In the story, a rich woman hires a network of spies to kidnap a gangster and keep him hostage. She wants to teach the gangster a lesson and through torture plans to extract some information & retrieve all the money he has stolen from her friends.

    Although the gangster is a hostage, his treatment gets better as the film moves along. Gradually his chains are loosened to a point where he can derive sexual pleasure while feasting on gourmet meals.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Liverpool Icons

    Two of Liverpool's most famous icons are The Beatles and Anfield. So it was nice to see that in a film (Across the Universe) containing the Beatles music, there is an attempt to show an Anfield poster in Jude's (Jim Sturgess) room.

    But Jude has more important issues to worry about other than soccer. In his life love, war and politics take priority over soccer. And in turn, these other aspects provide him with more misery. If Jude were still around, then he certainly would have been happy with events that took place in Milan today.

    Tuesday, March 11:
    Liverpool FC booked their place into the Quarter-finals of the Champions league with a 1-0 win away to Inter Milan, winning the tie 3-0 on aggregate.

    pic: Getty Images, Soccernet

    There will now be 4 English teams in the final 8 of Europe's top competition.

    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    After Euros, back to Asian Cinema

    I am almost done watching the 16 films for my Euro 2008 Film Festival. After that, I want to tackle Asian Cinema again as it has been almost a year since I last focused exclusively on Asian films. Ideally, one day I would like to pair the Asian soccer tournament with a matching film festival but it would be very difficult for me to find all the films of the nations taking part. For example, these were the 16 teams that took part in 2007's Asian Cup, which was won by Iraq:

    Group A: Iraq, Australia, Thailand, Oman
    Group B: Japan, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Qatar
    Group C: Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Malaysia
    Group D: Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Indonesia, Bahrain

    I would have no luck in getting films from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar or UAE. Until a few years ago, there were no films being made in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and some of the other Middle East nations. But that is changing now. In the last 2 years, a film from Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait have been made. So far these films have only have been confined to a handful of screenings in the Middle East and have not traveled outside the region (although there was a report of a Cannes screening for the Saudi film).

    When it comes to Asian cinema, it is easier to find films from India, Hong Kong, Japan, Iran, China, South Korea and Taiwan. Although there are plenty of other Asian countries who produce quality films, their films are unfortunately harder to track down. In recent years, thanks to film festivals, I have been fortunate to have viewed films from Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and even Iraq (just one film, Ehlaam). But I would like to sample more films from these other Asian countries.

    So the Asian Cinema spotlight would be an attempt to find films from as many Asian countries as possible, while also tracking down some newer films from the more established Asian film nations.

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Second time no longer a charm

    When I saw Grindhouse last year in the theater, I admired Tarantino's Death Proof a whole lot more than Planet Terror. Even though I got tired by some of the over-smart blah blah in Death Proof, I liked it enough to give it a rating of 9/10.

    So I wanted to see how the addition of the missing reels and some extra scenes would change Death Proof. But I think some films are best seen only once. It was not fun to sit through this movie a second time because I could not move past the blah blah and over-smart dialogues. Definitely not a fun experience. So my rating for the film after a second viewing would drop down to 7/10.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Friendship & Human nature in Arriaga's world

    The Films:

    Like most people, I first heard of Guillermo Arriaga after the film Amores Perros came out in 2001. Even though most of my memories about the film are around the powerful images of the angry dogs, the horrific car crash and the breakdown of the beautiful model, I admired the well written story by Arriaga. Normally, when a film does well the director gets all the credit. But every so often, a film's story and screenplay leave such a resonating mark that the film's writer also ends up getting attention. And that is the case with Arriaga who has shared the limelight with his collaborations with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Their partnership has become legendary as the two went onto more acclaim with 21 Grams and Babel. Which is why it is unfortunate to hear that the two will not be working together again and Babel was their last collaboration.

    After the strong images of Amores Perros, my memories about the duo's next film 21 Grams centered on the story itself. I do remember the intimate motel scenes quite a bit but I remember the characters misery more. Also, the film's title referring to the apparent weight of the human soul was also something that stayed with me. For me, Babel was the weakest film out of the three works. Although there was plenty to enjoy in the film, the film didn't feel as smooth as the previous two works.

    But Arriaga also worked on other films besides the three with Iñárritu. 2005's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was one such movie where Arriaga's script was directed by Tommy Lee Jones. I only recently saw this movie and absolutely feel in love with the tender story of friendship and dreams. The friendship shown in the movie is about principles and honor while the characters attempt to dream of a better life (especially Melquiades) to help cope with their daily struggles. Tommy Lee Jones has perfectly captured all the sensibilities that Arriaga's story was meant to convey and directs a balanced film. I could not help think about No Country for Old Men while watching The Three Burials... The stories of both films are quite different but the presence of Tommy Lee Jones and the fact that both movies filmed were filmed in Texas with a touch of Mexican elements made me think of No Country... It would be unfair to compare the two movies but if I had to, I much prefer the compassionate poetry of The Three Burials.. over the precise polished coldness of the Coen Brothers work.

    The Novel:

    In late 2005, while browsing through a bookstore in London, I came across a book by Arriaga: The Sweet Smell of Death. At that point, I had no idea that Arriaga wrote novels. The book's cover confirmed that the novel was indeed by the screenwriter of Amores Perros and 21 Grams. I bought the book immediately because my past experience in traveling through London has shown that plenty of books available in England were not to be found in North America. This was confirmed after I returned home where none of the three books by Arriaga were available in North America yet in late 2005.

    Even though The Sweet Smell of Death is a quick read at 160 pages, it is a well written story that stays long after one has finished it. The core of the novel is around a murder that takes place in a small Mexican town. The novel does not attempt to solve the murder but instead shows how this one action polarizes events in the town. Different people deal with death in their own manner. Some are introspective and attempt to understand the meaning of a murder while others thirst for blood. The book shows events regarding the latter and depicts how people's quest for revenge blinds out reason and logic. And given how in this day and age where revenge is the driving force between international politics, the book's simple story struck a powerful chord.

    I recently finished reading another of Arriaga's novels -- The Night Buffalo. The book is slightly longer than The Sweet Smell of Death at 228 pages and deals with death in a different manner. While The Sweet Smell.. showed the outward reactions that occurred after a murder took place, The Night Buffalo is more concerned with the inward behaviour of its character. And it is this flawed inward behavior by an individual that triggers the internal breakdown in other people around him, further resulting in a chain of external reactions. While the books deals with suicide and its after effects, it is also concerned with the values of friendship and human relationships. Even though The Night Buffalo is a quick read, it leaves plenty think about. While reading the novel, I could not help think of William Friedkin's powerful film Bug which also took place mostly in a motel like The Night Buffalo and also shares a thread dealing with paranoia. Plus The Night Buffalo invites the reader to understand the main character on their own terms. The novel's narrator Manuel leads us through the story in a matter of fact manner but we can't agree with all his decisions and actions. So while following Manuel commit strange acts, we can't help think that we are being taken for a ride or maybe there is something wrong with Manuel, something that he is not even aware of himself.

    If one had to try to examine a common theme in Arriaga's works, friendship would be something that stands out along with his attempts to understand the complex human psyche. His two novels are rich works that are rendered in a simple easy to follow manner that make it accessible to everyone.

    The Interview:

    I knew of The Night Buffalo before I came across this excellent and insightful interview with Arriaga at the Evening Post. The interview between Michael Guillen and Arriaga is so alive and buzzing with such energy that I was inspired to read my second Arriaga novel. In the end, I am glad I read The Night Buffalo, a work that I have not been able to stop thinking about long after I finished reading it.

    Also, Michael's interview does a great job in looking beyond the theme of the novel and is able to capture the essence behind Arriaga's works.

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Thriller in Milan

    AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal

    Arsenal completely outplayed and dominated the defending European Champions in the San Siro. A truly deserved win!!!

    Cesc with the first goal, evoking shades of the wonder goal he scored against Juventus in 2006:
    ©Getty Images @ Uefa

    and Adebayor with the second, after great work from Theo Walcott.

    pic from

    Off to the Quarter-Finals now, which will start on April 1/2.

    Sunday, March 02, 2008

    Humor amid chiseled abs

    300 (2007, USA, Director Zack Snyder)

    I avoided watching 300 when it was released in 2007 because I didn't expect much from the film. The trailers gave a sampling of the rich computer generated visuals while I figured the rest of the movie would be more slicing, dicing and chopping. Well, I finally decided to forgo my low expectations and give the film a viewing. In a way I am glad I saw the film because otherwise I would have missed the following:

  • Freaks and more freaks:

  • 300 does a great job of collecting more freaks than found in some alien movies. And although the 'bad' guys contained more freaks, it was good to see the film-makers ensure that the 'good' guys also contained some abnormal characters.

  • Plenty of humour:

  • I had no idea that 300 was such a hilarious watch. Right from the first frame, the film provided as much humour as a B grade movie with plenty of bad acting, comical dialogues and more bad acting. I don't believe Frank Miller's graphic novel was meant to be this funny. But Zack Snyder ensured that 300 felt like a spoof film. I suppose given how many cold hearted dark films came out in 2007, Snyder felt that his film should provide some light hearted humor despite its darkish tones.

  • Great Character study:

  • It was fascinating to watch the powerful well built men strut around but bogged down by insecurity. The insecure feelings were best personified by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who needed to utter "SPARTA" every chance he got lest he forget who he was or where his roots lay. Also, it was interesting to observe the sheer arrogance of the SPARTANS. Even the Spartan narrator could not resist making fun of the Acadians who were risking their life to help their fellow Spartans. That is because the Spartans considered all other men weak and puny. I suppose only real men do not have any chest hair.

  • Degrading the enemy:

  • Had I not seen the film, I would have missed the humiliating extent to which the 'enemy' was depicted. I would have missed how the powerful king Xerxes was shown as a transvestite, further ensuring that Leonidas would never give up to such an unmanly person.

    Overall, I would have missed such a great example of B grade cinema.

    Rating: 4/10

    Note: Having watched 300, I am dreading what Zack Snyder will do to the intelligent graphic novel Watchmen. Alan Moore's Watchmen is a fascinating story which is packed with multiple complicated layers of politics & relationships. However, I am afraid that Snyder might only extract a tiny portion of the story and film that for the 2009 film version.