Friday, February 28, 2014

Veep (Season One)

Creator: Armando Ianucci
Cast:      Julia Louis-Drefyus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons

Julia Louis-Drefyus stars as Selina Meyer, the Vice President of United states, in this HBO series which kind of depicts what it would be like to have someone like Sarah Palin being just a heart beat away from becoming the most powerful person on Earth. It is not an imitation of Sarah Palin, like 'Game Change' was, but takes inspiration from the possibility of someone with that level of intelligence being in such a position.

The obvious comparison is to be made with Armando Ianucci's BBC series 'The Thick Of It', which is apparently my favorite comedy television series of all time. Veep is also shot in a similar way and concentrates largely on Vice President's office whereas in the BBC one it was the fictional office of  DOSAC. Almost all the main characters like Malcolm Tucker, Ollie, Glenn, The Minister have a counterpart in Veep but their importance to the show is different at least in the first season. Whereas the Spin Doctor Malcolm Tucker was at the center of the show in Thick Of It, it is the Veep in  Veep. This is one reason why show is not as good and the inner competition between her immediate staff is not as intense or as cringy as it was in the British one. Also the quotability is less. It is still a very good show and is miles better than most of what comes out as comedy from American TV.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Director: John Hughes
Writer:    John Hughes
Cast:       Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Gleason, Ally Sheedy

Five high school students, each fitting to the different stereotypes, have to spend a Saturday  in detention. Over the course of the day they discover that they have much more in common than they thought.

It is a great coming off age comedy-drama film from the 80s. Rob Reiner's 'Stand By Me' was about childhood friendships while this one is about five students who would never be seen together unless dictated by the circumstances. Film begins as a pure comedy and gradually develops into  the more serious  matters. That journey is provoked by the character Bender's (Judd Nelson) ramblings in not a subtle way. There is a poignant scene towards the end where the nerdy guy Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) asks them come Monday whether they will still be friends, and it is something I think everyone can relate to having been part of a particular circle of high school friends where strangers are not welcome. The ending is a bit Hollywoodish but it is a great film nevertheless. 

I will end with the final letter that they send to the teacher as part of their detention:
Brian Johnson: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...
Andrew Clark: ...and an athlete...
Allison Reynolds: ...and a basket case...
Claire Standish: ...a princess...
John Bender: ...and a criminal...
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?... Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cet obscur objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire) (1977)

Director: Luis Bunuel
Writers:  Luis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carriere, Pierre Louys
Cast:      Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Angela Molina
Language: French/Spanish

The film tells the story of an aging French man Mathieu who falls in love with a young Spanish woman Conchita who repeatedly frustrates his romantic and sexual desires. It is set in Spain and France against the backdrop of terrorist insurgency. The story is shown as a flashback told by Mathieu  to his fellow passengers during a train ride from Seville to Madrid.

There are two actresses playing the role of Conchita with them switching throughout the film and even during the middle of some scenes. Bunuel suggested this idea playfully to the producer after the filming was halted due to an actress leaving the film.The relation between Mathieu and Conchita is very manipulative and it isn't clear who is manipulating who. One should wonder about the truthfulness with which Mathieu is narrating the story to his fellow passengers because he seems to get a lot of sympathy from them even though from what is shown to us he doesn't warrant it.

This was Luis Bunuel's last film and many directors tend to dabble with films about films and storytelling towards the latter part of their careers. This is one such film.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers:   Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael, Arthur Schnitzler
Cast:       Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack

A New-York doctor Bill Halford (Tom Cruise) is shocked to hear that his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) had fantasized about having an affair with a naval officer when they were on holiday. He leaves home after getting a call about the death of a female friend's father and proceed to have a sexually charged adventurous night. First the friend make a pass on him, then he has an encounter with a prostitute which almost leads to sex and finally he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society. 

Then real life couple Cruise-Kidman, are playing two people in a relationship that is getting a bit sterile like all relationships do at some point of time. The cocky and naive doctor's role is perfect for Cruise. Their relationship survives the ordeal that they go through over the course of the film but Bill appears to be still naive at the end of it as he insists on promising to stay together forever. It seems that Kubrick is also entering the Haneke territory by poking fun at Bill's bourgeoisie lifestyle with which Alice is obviously bored. This is also emphasized with the pity he shows towards his medical school dropout friend who is a pianist now and his admiration towards the rich socialite friend Ziegler (Pollack). 

Even though all the events depicted in the film appear straight-forward with the exposition that Ziegler gives to Bill in the latter part of the film, one could really question whether all those things  really happened. He has his encounter with the prostitute at 12 midnight after which he goes to meet the pianist. He then proceeds to get the costume for the secret meeting and he is back at home by 4 in the morning. A lot of things are supposed to have happened in just under four hours.

I had seen the film around three years back and have been meaning to revisit it for some time. I really liked it first time round but even so I was taken aback by the visual beauty of the film. Kubrick was inspired by Kieslowski's 'Three Colors Trilogy' and has tried to fit in the colors of rainbow in almost all the frames. Sounds are also amazing and especially the chants during the orgy scene. It was really cool to see that Stanley fucking Kubrick used some malayalam poetry in the orgy scene. The creepy venetian masks captures the foreboding and weirdness of the whole affair. 

Eyes Wide Shut is in the Guinness World Records for longest constant movie shoot at 15 months. Kubrick died five days after presenting the final cut to the studio. 

Rating: 5/5

Monday, February 24, 2014

Zabriskie Point (1970)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Michelangelo Antonioni, Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe
Cast:       Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Paul Fix

The film is set in late 60s' America's counterculture movement and is the second in Antonioni's group of films that were part of his three English films contract with Carlo Ponti. It begins with documentary style footage of a revolutionary student gathering followed by scenes of a student protest in which a cop is killed. The protagonist Mark  is suspected for the shooting and even as he casually strolls round Los Angeles, he ends up stealing a private plane from an airport and makes his way to the desert. In the desert he meets Daria, an anthropology student, who is helping a property developer build a housing project in the desert where you can get away from the crowded city life and enjoy a rugged but comfortable lifestyle. They together gets on her car and drives to the Zabriskie Point, Death Valley. There they fool around talking and ultimately have sex in the sand. They then go back to the plane, repaint it Hippy psychedelic style and Mark decides to take it back to the city. He is shot dead when he lands and Daria gets to her Boss's lavish desert home where he is in discussion about the property development. In her grief she decides to turn back even as she imagines the home to be blown up from various angles. The scene is similar to the earlier sex scene in the sand where various other imaginary people are shown to be having fun in the sand.

The film is an indictment of American way of life and development with no sense of humor. Mark represents the carefree youth of the counterculture movement while Daria is someone who got over it by being pragmatic and at the same time being conflicted about it. The film was a huge commercial and critical failure but is now considered as a cult favorite. I just wish it was a bit more subtle in its treatment. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Room 237 (2012)

Director: Rodney Ascher

A documentary showing several people's interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film 'The Shining'.

The interpretations include the Indian genocide on which the modern America is built, Jewish Genocide by the Nazis and the fake moon landing. The overlook hotel was built on an Indian burial ground and there are plenty of Indian artifacts and clues given in the film film to say for sure that it is a theme tackled by Kubrick in this film. He apparently had a team sent to the original hotel who stayed there for three months and took several photographs and did a  great deal of research on Colorado's history. The Jewish genocide theory is built mainly due to the repeated appearance of number 42 in the film. The film shows the lengths to which these people go to interpret 'The Shining'. One guy is said to have screened the film backwards and forwards to see how the image superimpose over each other and interpret what Stanley is offering. That just is too much and I don't think even Kubrick would have gone that far too give clues. The third moon landing theory is based on the Apollo 11 T-shirt worn by Daney and the popular conspiracy theory that Kubrick shot the fake moon landing footage and he is trying to convey this secret through this film. Also the manager of hotel has a resemblance to JFK. Out of the three theories the last one is the most crackpot one.

It doesn't matter whether the director consciously intended any of these stuff in his film. We as audience are free to interpret it anyways we want especially when the film is coming from a man with an IQ of 200. I liked the part where they show how Stanley Kubrick deviated from Stephen King's source material and have a yellow VW instead of red one and later on the film a red VW is shown wrecked, a big 'Fuck You' from Kubrick to King.

'The Shining' is an interesting film to compare Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Kubrick was inspired by Lynch's debut feature 'Eraserhead' while making this film. Also the posters of 'Elephant Man' is shown side by side with that of the Shining in Eyes Wide Shut. David Lynch deals exclusively with what is inside our minds whereas Kubrick shows great interest in dealing with History and Current Affairs at an elevated arty level. I consider them as my favorite two filmmakers but when it comes to surreal I prefer David Lynch's no holds barred approach. Kubrick is just unique, having made masterpieces in almost all the genres.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Banshee (2013– Season One)

Creators: David Schickler, Jonathan Tropper
Cast:       Antony Starr, Ulrich Thomsen, Ivana Milicevic, Hoon Lee, Rus Blackwell, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Lilli Simmons, Frankie Faison

 An ex-con and master thief assumes the identity of a sheriff in a small town Banshee after coming out from prison serving a 15 year sentence.

Banshee is part of the original programming from Time Warner channel Cinemax, which can be seen as an HBO sister channel. It usually targets male audience with action films and soft-core programming. The series Banshee caters to this audience with an interesting story, lots of violence and sex scenes. It is like a well made B-movie. First half of the season is really good with the plot details revealed very gradually and the story line of conflicted bad guy Kai Proctor and the Amish storyline keeping everything interesting. In the latter half of the season, it becomes too cliched and the stunt scenes are too tiresome. I don't think I will be watching the second season as there is just too much of disbelief to be suspended. It would have been interesting if they had done it like a western.

Good to see Burrell from wire in it with the quote from bible: 'This is a clusterfuck of epic proportions.'

Rating: 3/5

Friday, February 21, 2014

Exotica (1994)

Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer:    Atom Egoyan
Cast:       Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar, Mia Kirshner

A Canadian tax officer Francis frequents the strip club 'Exotica' only to spend time with Christina, a stripper dressed as a school girl. Christina's ex-boyfriend is the DJ for the club and there is another character Thomas, an exotic per shop owner, whose books Francis is auditing. After his time at the strip club Francis is seen taking a school girl to her house and paying her for baby/house sitting. The reason for Franics' odd behavior is revealed gradually over the course of the film.

This is the first Atom Egoyan film I have come across after getting recommendations from the good old Liverpool forum that I frequent, RAWK. It is a Canadian mood piece made on tiny budget. It was interesting to see Hindi music being used in the strip club and one stripper named after 'Kali'. Looking forward to discover what Atom Egoyan has to offer further as I delve into his filmography.

Rating: 4.5/5


Thursday, February 20, 2014

L'amico di famiglia (The Family Friend) (2006)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writer:    Paolo Sorrentino
Cast:       Giacomo Rizzo, Laura Chiatti, Luigi Angelillo
Language: Italian

Geremia 'Kind of Heart' De Geremei is a sleazy moneylender who lives in a shabby house with his bedridden mother. He can do psychoanalysis on his customers based on his knowledge from reading 'Readers Digest' and believes goodies die young. He falls in love with a girl whose marriage he funds.

It is another great film from Paolo Sorrentino who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film directors. He can make the mundane look stylish with thumping music and great camerawork. The film ends along predictable lines when Geremia forgets his risk management rules but it is a great watch. 

Rating: 4/5 

The Player (1992)

Director: Robert Altman
Writer:    Michael Tolkin
Cast:       Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Peter Gallaghar

Tim Robbins plays the role of Griffin Mill, a Hollywood studio executive, who is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected. He proceeds to find out the identity of the writer leading to a bad outcome.

The film starts with a masterfully done seven minutes long  single take in which some of the characters laments about the MTV era fast cuts that are prevalent now in films. It follows several groups of people coming in and out of the scene. Rob Altman always had problems with the studio system with his films doing badly at box office despite critical success. He had largely worked outside the system and this film is one he made within the system poking fun at it. It has a strange vibe to it with the paranoia exhibited by the protagonist and many other characters who will be very comfortable in a Lynchian or a Coen universe. The comedy is really dark and of particular relevance these days as the studio system has gone even further down the drain with shitty remakes and franchises. 

There are around sixty actors making cameo appearances playing themselves. It was also good to see Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold) playing a studio exec.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Weekend (1967)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Writer:    Jean-Luc Godard
Cast:        Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Kalfon
Language: French

A French bourgeois couple's weekend trip to visit and kill wife's parents, in order to get the inheritance, turns into a never ending series of traffic jams, revolution and cannibalism. As the husband says during the film: ''What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people'.

When it came out, the film must have been refreshingly clever with its self aware in-jokes with the audience but now it is just tiresome with only three four memorable scenes as its saving grace. There is one big monologue about the origins of class struggle from the beginning of tribes to the modern world, Nazism and hypocrisy of the imperial powers when it comes to their own cruelty. I hadn't seen a Godard film in a while and haven't seen any of his non sixties films. 67 is around the time his films supposedly became not good and he made plenty of films after this. I am in two minds as to whether I should see his later films and this film didn't do me any favors in making up my mind.

Rating: 2.5/5

High Fidelity (2000)

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers:  Nick Hornby, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, Scott Rosenberg
Cast:       John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black

Rob, a record store owner who is fond of listing out his top fives on everything, recounts his top five breakups including the one in progress.

It is an adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel with the same name but location shifted to Chicago in stead of London. I have been meaning to read this, having bought a second hand one, but didn't get to it. Decided to watch the film after seeing Frears' 'Philomena' recently. The film is full of clever dialogs driven through narration and even has Bruce Springsteen making a cameo appearance. Performance by John Cusack is really good as he is totally immersed into the role as a snob who is not all that into what others feel even as he struggles to understand why he always ends up getting dumped. After recounting his top five breakups he proceeds to call each one of them up in a 'What does it all mean?' quest as Charlie, the number four, puts it. 

The film is predictable as romatic comedies go, with them getting back together again but the whole point is what happens between the beginning and end. It   is a very good watch but I would have liked it to be set in London itself.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Philomena (2013)

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers:  Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Cast:       Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clerk

A jobless political spin doctor picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her around fifty years ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in an Irish catholic convent.

The film is based on true events with Steve Coogan playing the role of former BBC journalist and spin-doctor Martin Sixsmith. It was great to see Coogan playing a normal kind of role in a drama, albeit with a great deal of humor. Like his character says cynically at one point when he first hears about the story, it is a human interest story for 'vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people'. This self awareness helps the film in not ending up as a melodrama largely because of Steve Coogan's script and the performances by the two leads. It also plays up on the odd couple road movie genre sensibilities with Martin Sixsmith being a posh Oxford-educated cynical atheist and Philomena, a religious and naive Irish old woman that many could relate to their mother/grand-mother. It is a very good watch that largely plays by the genre rules.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Il divo: La spettacolare vita di Giulio Andreotti (2008)

Director:Paolo Sorrentino
Writer:   Paolo Sorrentino
Cast:      Tony Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti

The story of Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, who has served as Prime Minsiter of Italy seven times since the restoration on democracy in 1946. The film depicts the period from Andreotti's seventh election in 1992, his failed bid for presidency, the Tangentopoli bribe scandal and his trial in 95 regarding his connections to mafia.

The film is done stylishly with great soundtrack as one would expect from a Sorrentino film. But it is difficult to keep up with the various characters and their relationship with Tony Servillo's character. It is not a huge problem as it is mainly about this character and deciphering what is going on in his head, like the journalist reports in the final scene of the film. It is good watch but I might have to revisit it to appreciate it more.

Rating: 3/5


House of Cards (2014) (TV Series- Season 2)

Created By: Beau Willimon
Cast:           Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Michael Gill

In season two, Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is sworn in as Vice President and he has to deal with the fallout from season one initially as well as a trade war with China, which he engineered to increase his influence over the white house.

All the episodes were released simultaneously yesterday and I have binge-watched them like Netflix wants them to be. One of the main characteristics of the series is Underwood breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience. In the first episode he doesn't do it till the last scene where he goes: '... and in case you thought I had forgotten you, welcome back', which I thought was excellent and had me smiling for some time. I had some reservations about the implausibility of some of the drastic actions taken by Underwood in the first season and we get some of it early on this season with some glaring plot-holes. But the sense of dread that it creates works well in the first half of the season after which it takes a shift to concentrate on Underwood's maneuvers to become the President of the United States. The season is much more darker and more believable as Underwood is not always in control of the situation. The story is set in the present and its great to have the current topics like China's currency war and issues with Japan over the Senkaku islands being used in the plot. Overall it is a very good watch whilst not achieving a status of greatness. Two of the episodes were directed by Jodie Foster and Robin Wright.

The characters Mr and Mrs. Underwood and Doug Stamper continue to be my favorites from the series but one will feel sympathy only for Doug. The character Edward Meechum is also great and he even ends up having a 'Menage a trois' with Mr and Mrs. Underwood. Doug ends up in a limbo at the end of season two and I hope he is alright.

Everyone in the team has signed up for season three and it will be released this time next year. Looking forward to see what Francis Underwood, The President's battles would be.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sin Nombre (2009)

Director: Cary Fukunaga
Writer:    Cary Fukunaga
Cast:       Paulina Gaitan, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Leonardo Alonso
Language: Spanish

An Honduran teenager Sayra is making a trip to cross the US border through Mexico on a train along with her father, and her fate gets mixed up with a gangster boy who is marked to die.

This is Director/Cinematographer Cary Fukunaga's feature film debut and I decided to watch it after discovering him through HBO's 'True Detective' which is amazing by the way. It is an adventure road/rail film done in a gritty manner capturing the harrowing experience of illegals trying to reach the US. It is shot beautifully without compromising the situation it is depicting. The performances of main characters are very understated and it is a very good watch. The initial half hour of the film where they show the initiation of a boy into the gang with shitty hand gestures was a bit iffy. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Writers:  Johan Heldenbergh, Mieke Dobbels, Carl Joos, Felix Van Groeningen
Cast:       Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse
Language: Flemish

Elise and Didier plays the role of a country music singing couple who fall in love at first sight. Their relationship is tested by the illness of their daughter and her subsequent death.

The story told straight forward would seem like a manipulative tearjerker. What makes the film special is the way it is edited with the timelines jumping all over the place. Film begins with a scene from the hospital with their child and soon cuts to the time where they meet for the first time and so on. The way they individually deal with their daughter's death is fundamentally in conflict, with him being an atheist and she being a realist theist. There is also an American theme running through the film with them living a life in farm cowboy style with country music as their passion. Footage of September 11, war  on terrorism and Bush's veto of Stem Cell research are shown to highlight the fact that film is about the conflicts in dealing with sorrow from an atheist/theist stand point. Didier sees the veto on stem cell research, because of religious sentiments, as the cause for her daughter's death whilst Elise finds solace in religion with the belief that there is something after death. It doesn't help the situation when Didier keeps on confronting the issue from his on view-point and finally ends up with her attempting suicide.

The film has been nominated for academy awards under the foreign film category. I have so far seen three out of the five and rate them in the order: 'The Great Beauty', 'The Hunt' and 'The Broken Circle Breakdown'. It is not surprise that all the three films are far superior to the ten films that have been nominated for best picture.

Rating: 4.5/5  

The Counselor (2013)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer:   Cormac McCarthy
Cast:       Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz

The Counselor is out of his element after a drug deal he enters into go unintentionally bad and he is blamed for it.

This is Cormac McCarthy's first made for film script and it deals with themes like greed, its consequences and death. The film received highly unfavorable reviews and was a disaster at box office. Still I had hopes for it when I watched because of the talent involved and the fact that Fassbender and Pitt usually chooses their films well. I was not disappointed. Its the best film Ridley Scott has done for years. Biggest problem people have with the film I think is the un-likability of its characters. I don't understand why one feels the need to have a character to sympathize for. Closest we have are Fassbender's 'The Counselor' and Brad Pitt's world weary middle-man. Cameron Diaz plays the role of super-villain but its another role in the mold of Anton Chigurh from 'No Country For Old Men', but done differently. There are several set-piece scenes especially involving deaths and the famous 'Cameron Diaz fucking the car scene'. As the film goes on it enters into the surreal with philosophical discussion going on between 'The Counselor' and characters who just have a single scene in the film.

Some of the conversations are a bit forced especially at the beginning of the film but it improves as it goes on. The plot details are irrelevant and the film is like a Shakespearean tragedy. I will definitely watch it again.

Edit (3.12.2018): Re-watched it. Underrated. Extended cut it was this time round. 

Rating: 4/5

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writer:    Noah Baumbach
Cast:       Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg

Film is about two young boys dealing with the divorce of their intellectual parents set in the 80s. I wondered why the film was set in 80s and it is so because it is based on director Noah Baumbach's experience in his childhood.

Noah Baumbach is a constant collaborator in Wes Anderson films and you can see the same kind of quirkiness in this film. The adult bits in the seemingly family friendly atmosphere is amped up more than in a Wes Anderson film. Over the course of the film, the parents don't grow with them continuing to behave in a thoughtless manner even as the children mature. The brutally honest matter of fact way in which things are explained to the kids is very funny. 

Unlike 'Frances Ha', some of the references thrown in doesn't come off well, especially the one to Godard's 'A bout de Souffle' at the end. Loved seeing 'Blue Velvet' in there.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Director: Charlie Kaugman
Writer:    Charlie Kaufman
Cast:       Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams

A theater director, who is having trouble with the women in his life and is constantly worrying about his impending death, sets out to create a life-size replica of New-York city inside a warehouse as part of his play which he thinks will be his legacy.

I had seen the film sometime back and didn't get it at all even though I was aware that it was something great. I decided to watch it again after the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's sad death. His character is named Caden Cotard after the 'Cotard Delusion' where one is worried about their own death and believes their organs are missing or decaying. His wife is also an artist and she leaves him taking their child with her.She goes on to become very successful and the canvas for her paintings become smaller and smaller whereas Caden's project becomes bigger and bigger in scope. Throughout all this, the passage of time is very confusing for Caden as well as the audience. He goes on to cast artists playing his own acquaintances as the play becomes play within play ad infinitum. Towards the end he casts an old lady, who was playing the role of cleaning women, as himself. She directs the characters at a funeral scene with the priest giving a speech about life and death and how nobody is watching anybody and life is just a miniscule fraction of a second compared to the cosmic timescale. Everyone tries to do something and leave a mark but it is just futile. This speech is like an expositionary device for Kaufman to reach his audience. 

Saw a Charlie Kaufman interview where he compares theater and films and says that a play is always a unique experience for the audience as it is acted out live and no two rendition of the play will be the same. He wants to recreate the same through his films by it being different when you see it again after sometime over the course of which you would have changed and thus the perception of the film would also change. Hollywood will never be receptive to his ideas and lets just hope he is able to get funding for the ambitious ideas he has in mind.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, February 3, 2014

La Notte (1961)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flainano, Tonino Guerra
Cast:       Marcelo Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti

A day in the life of an openly unfaithful married couple whose relationship is obviously deteriorating.

Mastroianni plays the role of Giovanni, a successful writer with a newly released book, married to a rich lady played by Jeanne Moreau (Lidia). Lidia is insecure about her own intellectual capacity when compared with Giovanni's and doesn't love him anymore. She is bored with her bourgeoisie way of life and doesn't enjoy herself with the company of high society. We see them going to a party hosted by a rich man and the second half of film consists entirely of that. Lidia eggs Giovanni onto Valentina played by Monica Vitti. Lidia herself finds it impossible to be unfaithful to her husband and everything is very complicated. We as audience are to figure out what is going on in their minds and it is very challenging but a rewarding experience.

It is interesting to compare Antonioni's work with that of Michael Haneke's. Urban alienation is a theme that is commonly handled by both of these directors. Haneke usually take a stand offish approach to his characters and jolt the audience with the extraordinary actions taken by them. Antonioni takes the audience into his characters' moods whom largely remains alienated. La Notte is the second film in what is dubbed as Michelangelo Antonioni's 'Alienation Trilogy. The other two being L'Avventura and L'Eclisse. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rounders (1998)

Director: John Dahl
Writers:  David Levien, Brian Koppelman
Cast:      Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich

Matt Damon plays a reformed poker player who must return to playing big stakes poker to pay off his friend's debt to loan sharks.

It is another cliched role for Matt Damon playing a character who is really good at something but wary of using it (Goodwill Hunting, Bourne series). What makes the film unique is the understated way in which the set piece games are shown. John Malkovich chews up the screen in his role as Teddy KGB. It is really a very simple film which feels like more than the sum of its parts because of the great cast. 

It didn't do well when it was released but has become some sort of a cult classic among poker enthusiasts since it doesn't dump down the game like in 'Casino Royale'. It is a good one time watch.

Rating: 3/5

L'Avventura (1960)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:  Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra
Cast:       Monica Vitti, Gabriele Ferzetti, Lea Massari

Anna, who is conflicted about the relationship she has with her lover Sandro, disappears during a boating trip. Her lover and he best friend (Claudia played by Monica Vitti) become attracted to each other as they try to find her.

The story sounds like a cliched one but the way the film is made makes it very good. There are plenty of scenes where nothing really happens in terms of plot but a lot happens underneath the surface. When it was screened first at Cannes, it got booed because of which Antonioni and Monica Viiti fled the theater. On the subsequent screening it was received well and it went on to win the Jury Prize. 

The film is primarily about the guilt that Claudia feels in having a relationship with her best friend's lover. Whether Anna died or just ran away is not made clear in the film and her shadow looms over Claudia throughout the film. What makes the film great are the random sequences that are there throughout the film capturing the moodiness of the characters. In the last sequence of the film, Claudia catches Sandro cheating on her and I thought it was really an unnecessary turn for the film. But it makes up for it by showing the way Claudia reacts finally by consoling Sandro and thereby feeling less weight from her own guilt.

Rating: 5/5