Friday, August 29, 2014

Dear Antonioni (1997)

Director: Gianni Massironi
Features: Michelangelo Antonioni, Chrsitine Boisson, Alain Cunny, David Hemmings, Monica Vitti

It is a TV documentary which was made at around the time of Antonioni's comeback with 'Beyond the Clouds' after taking a long hiatus post a stroke which left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak in 1985. It takes a look at his entire filmography  up to that point with some of the artists he worked with reading extract's from a letter that was sent to Antonioni by some philosopher I think. It also has archival footage of various interviews given by Antonioni.

Antonioni is not a director who gets associated with the neo-realist movement in Italian cinema. He had made a short documentary in 1943 called Gente del Po (People of the Po valley), which was filmed in 1943 when Italy was still under fascism and got released in 1947. It is cited as the start of neo-realist movement even though Antonioni didn't direct any feature films in that particular genre. I haven't seen any of his films made before 1960 even though 'Cronaca di un amore ' and 'Il Grido ' have been on my watch-list for sometime.

Antonioni is most famous for the films he made in 1960s starting with the thematic Trilogy of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse all of which I have seen. All of them follows characters who belongs to the bourgeoisie class into which Antonioni was also born into. Loneliness, unhappiness, purposelessness, urban alienation are the themes that are common in all the films of Antonioni that I have seen. One might presume that if he is handling the same things in all his films it might feel repetitive and boring. That is not the case since the way he presents them are very different and the themes he handle are universal in nature but presented always in a subtle way. In the documentary his film making is compared with that of Hitchcock who always keep the audience guessing by hiding things for a significant duration his films but everything gets tied off nicely by the time closing credits roll. Antonioni does the opposite by hiding nothing but everything remains open-ended as we have to gleam meanings from the images that he conjures up and it is no surprise that Antonioni was also a very good painter. Hitchcock films will give you great thrills when you watch it but Antonioni ones will stay with you even after you leave from the cinemas. Both of these styles have their own merits but as you grow up (age wise as well as cinematic knowledge wise), it is the Antonioni type of films that interests you more. It was interesting to see Hitchcock being describes as a realist filmmaker in the sense that everything is made clear to the audience whereas Antonioni is a modern filmmaker characterized by the open-endedness and ambiguities.

The alienation trilogy was followed up with Red Desert which was his first film in colour and I have not seen it yet. Antonioni signed up with the producer Carlo Ponti to direct three films in English to be released by MGM. It resulted in Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. Jack Nicholson starring 'The Passenger' in which he plays a TV reporter who is running away from his past is my favorite Antonioni film. I found all the six films I have seen of him so far to be great and he is certainly up there very high in my favorite directors list if I were to make one.

The documentary is a great watch for those who are big fans of Michelangelo Antonioni. Might be useless if you are not familiar with his work

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The World's End (2013)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers:  Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Cast:       Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Rossamund Pike, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsen, Pierce Brosnan

Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival. Four of them were leading a normal bourgeoisie lifestyle while their leader from 20 years back, Gary King (Simon Pegg) is now washed up and he sees them doing the bar crawl that they couldn't complete on the first attempt will change things for the better in his life. 

When I saw it first time, I rated it a 5/5 but I guess it was the result of me wanting it to be better than it was after having watched it as soon as I could. It is not a bad film by any means but is significantly of lesser standard compared to the other two in Cornetto Trilogy- Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Guess it was me behaving like Gary King in this film and displaying some selective memory. Shaun of the Dead had zombies while Hot Fuzz had vilgilante elders against two buddy cops. The World's End  is kind of a post apocalyptic film in which humans are turned to alien controlled blanks.  The change in the tone of the film is quite abrupt which can be quite unhinging for those who are uninitiated. Also the chemistry between the main characters is not quite as good as it was in the other two basically because there are more of them. 

In terms of filming style also it is quite different because the other two are famous for their rapid editing style with most of the cuts lasting less than a few seconds but The World's end have plenty of long cut scenes. The typical Cornetto Trilogy signatures like fence jumping, murderous twin and the cornetto itself makes their appearances and latter comes up pretty late in the film. Overall the film is pretty good watch but is not nearly as great as the other two films. It is kind of the same feeling the Gary King's friends have towards him. It just feels like a rushed job now.

Rating: 3.5/5

Moebius (2013)

Director: Kim Ki-duk
Writer:    Kim Ki-duk
Cast:       Jae-hyeon Jo, Eun-woo Lee, Young-ju Seo
Language: Korean?

The film centers around a family consisting of a father, mother, their son and the father's much younger mistress. The mother and son finds about the father's infidelity. The psychotic mother tries to cut off her husband's penis but when foiled she proceeds to cut her son's dick off. She leaves them and the father feeling guilty and solidarity towards his son, surgically removes his penis. The film then follows them experimenting with their situation as it kind of become a menage-a-quatre. To nobody's surprise you have to bring the Freudian influence and call it a drama dealing with Freudian castration anxiety and the phallic stage of development with a dose of Oedipus complex.

Its been a while since I have seen a Kim Ki-duk film. Moebius along with Pieta has been sitting in my hard disk for a while and I didn't get around to watching them since I was not sure about the subtitle. Turns out that it didn't need a subtitle because the film is entirely unspoken and I think there is not even a background score. I saw an article today in Dailybeast describing it as the most fucked up film of the year and that is all the trigger I needed to finally end up watching it. It certainly lived up to the expectations.

Generally Kim Ki-duk films are disturbing but great one-time watches. All of them have sequences that are very difficult to watch but Moebius takes it to a different level because the film is full of them. Despite this, like most of the other Kim Ki-dum films, it is an extremely black- black comedy. You can't help but laugh at some of the turns that the story takes even as Kim Ki-duk answers the questions one might have about this situation regarding urination, ejaculation etc one by one. I don't know how scientific and accurate his portrayal is but it certainly is interesting enough. I didn't realize that Eun-woo Lee herself played the roles of both the wife and the mistress. She certainly looked very different. Noticed one scene which certainly was a homage to 3-Iron.

It is certainly not recommended for faint-hearted people. But if you are fan of Kim Ki-duk then it is certainly worth checking out. The fact that there are no dialogs make it even more powerful. Kim Ki-duk was in Kerala last year for the Kerala film festival. Wonder whether this was screened in it. Probably not because it was even banned initially in South Korea but later the censor board gave it the go ahead.

Rating: 3.5/5

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers:   Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Cast:       Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton

Exceptional London cop Nicholas Angel is involuntarily transferred to a quaint English village and paired with a witless new partner. While on a beat, Nicholas suspects a sinister conspiracy is afoot with the residents who are paranoid about losing their village Sanford's status as the model village of England.

I have not seen Point Break, Bad Boys 2 (Switching off after 10 minutes of Michael Bay's shitfest don't count) or even Lethal Weapon. In fact I don't think I have seen any of the buddy cop films (More than 100 of them) that they have researched to make this film. It is an elaborate spoof on the genre but it probably is better than most of the films that they are referencing even when it comes to the action sequences. That is what makes Edgar Wright's films great. They don't hate the genre that they are making fun of and so, the film turns out to be immensely watchable even if you don't particularly like those kind of films. That is why Hot Fuzz if a great film whilst 'The Other Guys' is just a watchable film. 

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg started with this project citing the fact that there have never been a British buddy cop film. The lack of gun culture in England might be one of the reason. They get around this issue by having them seize a shitload of firearms from a villager. The scene with Nicholas Angel fully armed and mounded up on a horse patrolling the village, Western Style is a great sequence. The extended ending sequence after everything is taken care of is also intentional from the director since it is something  that is common among the buddy cop films with one partner's life left hanging for a while but he doesn't quite die and all is well with the world. It is interesting that this film's violence is much more graphic than most of the action films and some people might get put off by it. But in my opinion the comedy and action has the right balance and even the action scenes are very much on the funny side.

I think this is the most well-made film out of the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz & World's End- if you are brain-dead and didn't know that). I will put World' End on a slightly lower standing relative the other two even though I loved it also when I saw it. I have to revisit it again to fully make up my mind. Edgar Wright was working on the studio backed Marvel film 'Ant-Man' but has been pushed out due to creative differences. I don't know why they would even hire him for that in the first place if they didn't know what kind of film he makes. They should have just watched 'Scott Pilgrim Vs the World' which was a big budget disaster at the box office despite being a great film (Hardly surprising). In a way I am glad he got pushed out because I don't care much for the comic book/graphic novel adaptations (Sin City, Scott Pilgirm & Kick-Ass exempted) anyway and it seems Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg will be teaming up again for another fresh trilogy over the next ten years. Hopefully Nick Frost will be also on board.

Bring the noise!!!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Long Goodbye (1973)

Director: Robert Altman
Writers:  Leigh Brackett, Raymond Chandler (Novel)
Cast:       Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden

"I have two friends in the world. One is a cat. The other is a murderer". Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife.

The film is an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel with the same name. The time period was updated from 1950 to 1970s Hollywood and there were some significant changes to the original story when it was adapted to the screen, especially the ending. Philip Marlowe in the film is a throwback to older times where loyalty counted for something. In the time period the film is set in, Marlowe is kind of anachronistic being surrounded by people who are selfish and are out there only for themselves. The very first scene of the film establishes the character with him going out at three in the morning to get his cat the exact brand of cat food that it eats. Ultimately, it is loyalty that dictates how he reacts at the end when he pieces it all together to find out that he was just used. 

Even without the last sequence of the film, which is more of an exposition, I was able to kind of piece it all together except the money part. In that sense they could have done without the last act which is a significant change from the book, but it is in keeping with the loyalty theme of the film. The gangster Marty Augustine and his shenanigans were not there in the book but it is a worthy addition, in spite of the confusion it creates, because it is really brilliant. It kind of reminded me of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

It is another one of those films that I discovered through RAWK where a discussion on Polanski's 'Chinatown' was going on and 'The Long Goodbye' was cited as a superior version of it and it came ahead of it. I can see that argument. I love Chinatown but it now kind of feels like a bigger budget and more star studded version of the long goodbye. Elliott Gould is brilliant as Philip Marlowe and I also enjoyed Sterling Hayden as the drunk writer, Roger Wade.

Robert Altman usually makes film that are at least two and hours long but this one comes under two hours and it is a neo-noir classic. He is certainly someone who has influenced a lot of the directors who came after him as well many of his peers.If you are a fan of film noir or you liked Chinatown, then it is a must watch film.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

അര്‍ത്ഥം (Artham) (1989)

Director: Sathyan Anthikad
Writers:  Venu Nagavally, Subha (Story)
Cast:       Mammootty, Sreeinvasan, Murali, Saranya Ponvannan, Jayaram

The story begins with Narendran (Mammotty) writing a suicide letter in which he states that he is an extremely happy person and his decision to commit suicide is just like stopping singing when the voice is still good. As he lies waiting in a railway track he finds out that another person Janardhanan (Jayaram) is also doing the same because he committed a murder. Narendran decides to take responsibility for the murder since Janardhanan's whole family is dependent on him and he gets a life sentence for his troubles. Janardhanan, still feeling guilty, brings a megalomaniac lawyer (Sreenivasan) into picture to appeal for a reduced sentence which Narendran flatly refuses. Meanwhile Janardhanan gets murdered which gets covered up as suicide. While in jail Narendran writes a Novel under the pen-name of 'Ben Narendran' which gets him the state literature award. The advocate and a journalist arranges for his parole during which he starts investigating into Janardhanan's murder.

I kind of wrote the entire plot since the synopsis was not available in IMDB. As I read back the plot written above, it sounds very cheesy but it is anything but because of the treatment. It is based on Tamil detective novel 'Ethir Katru' by Subha which was also made into a film with the same name in Tamil but it came out after Artham. Mammootty is perfect for the role of Ben Narendran and there is no better actor in Malayalam to portray characters for which we are meant to feel a lot of respect. I always thought Sreenivasan had written the script for this film but it turns out that it was by Venu Nagavally who is not exactly known for achieving perfection in his films (Lal Salaam being the exception). I have always liked Sathyan Anthikad's agianst the type crime thrillers that he did before 2000 like Kalikallam, Artham and Pingami. He is largely known for his social commentary comedies and I don't know whether Artham did well in box office and I wouldn't be surprised if it indeed was a flop.Still there is comedy throughout the film with plenty of memorable small roles from the likes of Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Mamukkoya and Philomena. But it is not comedy for comedy's sake which is what differentiates the great Malayalam films from the yesteryears from the shit that masquerades as comedy from recent times.

It is also interesting that Padmarajan's 'Season' also came out in the same year. I really thought that Season had influenced Artham but it couldn't have. Both the films have really cool characters as protagonists with the narration in Season being its standout feature. I don't remember whether narration had a large part to play in Kalikkalam to still cling on to my Season influence on Sathyan Anthikad theory. Anyway Artham is a must watch film and I think I have seen it about 3-4 times so far.

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, August 18, 2014

Elephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer:    Gus Van Sant
Cast:       Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

The film begin as a Gus Van Sant project based on the 1999 Columbine high school massacre but eventually the idea of giving a factual account was dropped. Usually in these kind of films will have us follow either those who do the shooting to give a background on why they did it or follow follow some of those who are affected by it in a deep way with some survival account. Gus Van Sant deliberately doesn't do either of these things and that exactly I think is the only thing he does with this film. Film starts following several set of students though nothing substantial is happening in any of their lives that particular day. As I was getting bored with those deliberately long tracking shots of people going through their routine, the director does a time flipping with which we realize that he is showing what all these guys were doing leading up to the event for which we the audience are prepared for. It is also done in a matter of fact way not exactly giving us a big pay-off when it all comes together. As if he thinks what he doing is too subtle for some viewers, he drives his point deeply by introducing a character Benny during the shootout who is helping others and looking out curiously for the killers only to be shot dead unceremoniously. The ending is also like this with the eventual death of the killer not shown. It is like an exercise on playing with the audience expectations which is good for a single time viewing but that is about it.

The title of the film could be referring to the story several blind men trying to describe an elephant depending on which part they are touching. The title was given as a reference to the BBC short film of the same name, directed by Alan Clarke. In fact Alan Clarke's title was a reference to the phrase 'Elephant in the Room'. Both these interpretations work well for this film anyway. What struck me while watching it was how good the school was in terms of the facilities that they provide for the students. It is a far cry from the situation that we have in Kerala where school means just a bunch of rooms in a building with benches and desks and children getting taught subjects they are not particularly interested in but take it anyways for the job market or to climb the social ladder. It is really a sad fucking situation. If I were to choose subjects for my plus two now, it would be History, Economics and Philosophy.

The other two recent films that deal with similar subject matter have been 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' and 'The Dirties'. The former one concentrates primarily on the killer's mother and it is kind of a continuation of the age old debate of Nature Vs Nurture. 'The Dirties' follow the activities of the killer who is also a cinephile and it deals with the issue of bullying. Both of these films are great and in Elephant there is not much of a point that the director is making which exactly is its point. Only thing I can think of is the easy availability of guns in USA where it seems you can get semi-automatic guns home-delivered. Film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes which might be just a case of French people taking the mickey of US of A. Farenheit 911 also won it if my memory serves me correctly.

It is a deliberately cold film and is a good one time watch but one feels that the director is just trying too hard to be clever which kind of prevents it from being a great one for me.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Русский ковчег (Russian Ark) (2002)

Director: Aleksander Sokurov
Writers:  Boris Khaimsky, Anatoli Nikiforov, Aleksander Sokurov
Cast:      Sergey Dreyden, Mariya Kuznetsova, Leonid Mozgovoy
Language: Russian

2000 cast members, 3 orchestras, 33 rooms, 300 years, ALL IN ONE TAKE of 96 minutes.

A 19th century French aristocrat, notorious for his scathing memoirs about life in Russia, travels through the Russian State Hermitage Museum and encounters historical figures from the last 200+ years. The French Aristocrat who serves as the narrator's guide is based on Marquis de Custine, who visited Russia in 1839 and wrote a book about his visit, La Russia en 1839. The only thing we know about the narrator is that he died in some terrible accident and is now a ghost who is invisible to all others except 'The European' guide. While Noah's Ark carried specimen for sustaining all forms of animal life in planet, the Russian Ark carries pieces of Russian history and culture from this 300 year span and as is evident from some of the conversations in the film culture is very important to human civilization. It is something that should be allowed freely to evolve as more and more people let go off things like religion, nationalism etc, the culture is an essential thing that occupy people's mind as well as helping them develop their own thinking. 

I have always thought Russian culture, at least when it comes to literature, is considered as among the richest in the world after the middle ages. When it comes to cinema as well, although I have experience of watching only Trakovsky films first hand, Russian ones are considered as revolutionary. But in this film, the European laments that Russia under Czarist regime during his times didn't cultivate originality and made its artists make copies of sculptures found in places like Vatican. The narrator is from the recent times since he makes a comment about the revolution that lasted for seventy years which can only be about Russia under the socialists after the Bolshevik revolution. In this era also there was significant restrictions on artistic freedom and one can feel this film is also made under such restrictions. The collapse of USSR didn't make way for Western style capitalist democracy but it rather ushered in Crony Capitalism which made Oil Oligarchs under an autocratic democracy if you can call it that.  The final ball room sequence end with all the people making way to the door to what presumably is a Bolshevik Russia. This happens with the narrator bidding goodbye to 'The European' which is nod towards Russia's revolution which made it veer further away from Europe unlike other revolutions like in France which turned them into Capitalist democracies.

The film was shot using digital camera with a hard disk that could record 100 minutes worth of footage. It was completed in the third attempt with the first two takes stopped due to technical glitches. It is a landmark film in cinema history and a must watch.

Rating: 5/5

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes
Writer:    John Hughes
Cast:       Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara

A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the principal thinks of that.

I think all of us have done it: faking sickness to skip a day from school. But most of us will be happy staying in the bed but Ferris Bueller has other ideas. This is the ninth sick leave he has taken and he wants to make it count. He takes his girlfriend and his best friend to Chicago city in a Ferrari that is treasured by his friend's father. His principal is out there to bust him so that the other students don't follow his lead and Ferris' meddling elder sister (highly relatable) is also on his case. What follows is a love letter to Chicago and also a message for us all to follow in our lives from Ferris himself: 'Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!'

It is a film that gets referenced a lot in popular culture and it is another one for which I have to thank RAWK. I saw it mentioned sometime back but opted to watch John Hughes 'Breakfast Club' instead as it had better ratings. I saw it referenced again today when I was going through RAWK's funniest posts, in which this gem from the legendary 'Grifter' was there:

"Purchase Next trousers to match purple Jasper Conran shirt. Bensons in shirt pocket. Enter club. Drink Stella. Loiter on periphary of dance-floor. Dance on your own like a bevied twat to some shite Techno anthem. Spot a portly tart looking left out bacause her mates are prettier. Lie and tell her she's prettier than her mates. Buy her Breezer. Zoom by Fat Larry's band. Press erect knob into her thigh during slowy. Share kebab outside. Bum in the park. Exchange love bites if you reside in Dewsbury. Marry. Make a casette of her favourite songs as a present for her because you're a c*nt. Live a life of misery and deleting browsing history. Rent lock-up garage. Dissolve wife in steel drum of acid in garage. Appeal on TV blubbing for her to return. Apply to enter Mastermind , specialist subject the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Die." 

Even though the film is from the 80s it really felt like a 90s film with the goofy soundtrack and technical flourishes. Some people might be put off by the sudden philosophical turn that it takes with the Cameron character (Ferris' best friend) deciding to let go off his fear and take a stand against his bourgeoisie parents. I didn't mind that since the character is developed well towards it from the beginning itself. Ferris is the cool kid that we all know from the school without any care in the world. He constantly breaks the fourth wall explaining his methods to us. The end credits is also great and watch till it ends because there is a small scene after that. I really wanted the film to go on.

It is certainly one of the best comedy in the coming-of-age genre. There are plenty of memorable scenes like 'Anyone, anyone-supply side economics lecture', attendance, end credits itself etc. It will leave you smiling long after you have finished watching  it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, August 15, 2014

Zodiac (2007)

Director: David Fincher
Writers:  James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith
Cast:       Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.

A San Fransisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac killer.

I saw the film for the first time some 4-5 years back and thought it was Fincher's best work. I stand by that claim. Many of his films like Se7en does rely on the shock factor which makes them not that interesting on rewatches. Zodiac is the complete opposite with it being a slow burner and still having several edge of the seat scenes. That basement scene was terrifying even this time round even though I knew what was going to happen. The three principal characters the cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), the crimes reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and the investigating officer David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) become obsessed with the case and the film is also about how the case affected these people. It is mainly based on Robert Graysmith's book and Fincher ordered further re-writes to the script when he came on board since they were kind of implicating a man posthumously  for the murders. Even more research was done and further interviews were conducted with some of the people that were shown in the film. 

The initial cut of the film was over three hours long and some of the cuts were made on Fincher using music popular from those times to show the passage of time between the events. Instead they used writings to indicate the transition. Still one four year passage is shown by reading news headlines from those times against a blank screen. Films concerning news organizations have always been some of my all time favorites like All the President's Men, Insider and Network. The newspaper office scenes in Zodiac would remind one off All The President's Men.

If I were to rank Fincher's films based on what I have seen the order would be:

1) Zodiac
2) Fight Club
3) Se7en
4) Social Network
5) Game 
6) The Panic Room

Zodiac is certainly the best film showcasing his directorial talent but Fight Club is the best representation of his style. 2007 was certainly a great year for films with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood going head to head for most of the awards.

Rating: 5/5

The Fisher King (1991)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer:    Richard LaGravenese
Cast:       Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer

A modern day tale about the search for love, sanity, Ethel Merman and the holy grail.

Jeff Bridges plays the role of a radio DJ, Jack,  who inadvertently prompts someone to carry out a massacre in a New York bar. His career goes downhill and is staying now with his girlfriend who owns a video store. He meets a mad homeless man (Robin Williams) whose wife was murdered in that massacre and is now in search for holy grail. What follows is a story of redemption as they help each other in finding happiness which is their holy grail. The title refers to the Arthurian legend, the Fisher King, who is the latest in a long line charged with keeping the Holy Grail. The film's version of the legend is as follows:

Parry: It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty.

The film if you go just by plot is very melodramatic but when put in a Gilliam universe it is something else. The scenes involving the red knight stands out. It has got a feel good ending which you don't expect from a Gilliam film and it is much more of a mainstream film by his standards. The performances by all the four main characters are excellent. Jeff Bridges is certainly very underrated and underused but he still managed to get an academy award with 'Crazy Heart'. Robin Williams is in a typical role of his but in a much more substantial film than his usual children's films. Still my favorite performance of his is the against the type professor in 'Good Will Hunting' for which he received his Oscar. Jumanji was also a favorite film of mine during my childhood even though I was kind of half terrified by it.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Outsiders (1983)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers:  Kathleen Rowell, S.E. Hinton
Cast:       C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise

A town is split between the wealthy South Zone gang called 'The Socials' and the poor North Zone gang called 'The Greasers'. When two poor greasers are attacked by the socs, one of them kills ones of the attackers setting out the chain of events depicted in the film.

This was Coppola's second film after the big budget 'Apocalypse Now' which made him almost bankrupt. It was made back to back with 'Rumble Fish' which also featured many of the actors and was shot in the same locations. It is an odd little film with a very different atmosphere to it. It is not gritty as one would think considering the background of its characters but that might be due to the fact that the main two characters that we follow are teenagers. Essential message of the film is for the Ponyboy kid to Stay Gold and move up the social classes by pursuing his studies. In some sense these two teenagers are much more mature than their older gang members. Stevie Wonder did the 'Stay Gold' song and much of the soundtrack consists of Elvis Presley tracks. 'Out of Limits' by 'The Marketts' is used in an important scene and I had a dejavu moment when it came up being very familiar with it form 'Pulp Fiction'. That scene with blood spreading all over the screen would remind you of the Grindhouse also. 

In places like India where people take religion, caste etc to divide and gang up, in developed world the social class is the differentiator. With so much talk about gentrification and inequality in recent times, the film might find resonance for many. It is not a perfect film but is among the better ones I have seen dealing with teenage angst. Haven't seen 'Rebel without a cause' mind.

Rating: 3.5/5


A Time to Kill (1996)

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writers:  John  Grisham, Akiva Goldsman
Cast:       Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey

A young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, sparking a rebirth of KKK. 

Film is an adaptation of John Grisham's novel by the same name and it is one of the better adaptations of his novels to the screen. Apart from this I have seen 'The Rainmaker', 'The Pelican Brief' and 'The Firm' and not surprisingly Rainmaker is the best directed one out of these which is not surprising since it is a Coppola film. The only novel out of these that I have read is 'The Firm' which I think was recommended to me by my good friend Kieve (or was it 'Silence of the Lambs'). 

The film is around two and hours long and I didn't mind its length since it is not just concentrating purely on the court trial. Joel Schumacher is not a grade A director and you are not expecting a cinematic masterpiece from him but what you get is a solid enough film which is a good one-time watch. Film was a commercial success and it got some criticisms due to what some people would perceive as glorification of vigilantism. I don't understand these glorifying accusations that people make against films in general. I can understand it when people are talking about children's films but as an adult you are supposed to be able to form opinions and the films just need to make you think about all these dilemmas if at all it is supposed to make you think. What it made me think about is the American jury system with which I have always been uncomfortable with. Is it better to rely on a judge like we do in India and hope that the institution don't get corrupted or have s system like in US where you rely on a citizen jury knowing that everyone is prone to biases and many irrational things cloud our judgement.

'A Time to Kill' and 'Dazed & Confused' are cited as McConaughey's better works before he hit his McConaissance. He is playing another one of his stereotypical heavily accented man from redneck part of America. But I have to say his best performance in a lawyer role would be in Richard Linklater's 'Bernie'.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer:    Martin McDonagh
Cast:       Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson

A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.

This was my second watch of the film after having been slightly disappointed when I saw it for the first time with a mindset to compare it with Martin McDonagh's debut feature, 'In Bruges'. Film is an unhinging mess leaving you wondering many times 'What the Shih Tzu??'. The screenwriter played by Colin Farrell is named Martin, which is a nod to the writer/director himself and he is writing a script for a film titled 'Seven Psychopaths'. There are characters talking about the story within the film things like how the final stand-off scene will be and how the animals don't get hurt and so on. Sam Rockwell is as annoying to us as he is to his friends and I think it is intentional. 

It is not as good as 'In Bruges' and I don't think Martin McDonagh is too comfortable with the American setting of the film. It has plenty of good sequences especially relating to the different psychopaths in the fictional story within the story but I don't think the film as a whole is as good as the sum of its parts. I have the same feeling as when I saw it for the first time, it is more than good but not great. It is kind of an inferior version of 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. Mickey Rourke was supposed to play the Woody Harrelson character initially but dropped out due to differences with McDonagh. I think it could have been better with Mickey Rourke if he were to bring some more menace into the character like Ralph Fiennes did in 'In Bruges'. Then again people would have accused McDonagh of repeating the same character.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Short Cuts (1993)

Director: Robert Altman
Writers:  Robert Altman, Raymond Carver, Frank Barhydt
Cast:      Andie McDowell, Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Lemmon, Jennifer Jason Leigh

The day-to-day lives of a number of suburban Los Angeles residents.

I recently read someone describing Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia' as Short Cuts without all its heart. I kind of see why he described it in such a way because Short Cuts is much more raw whereas Magnolia looks a bit too polished and contrived with characters that we don't relate to as much. I think I have read PT Anderson citing Altman as a big influence on him and like the frog rain in Magnolia there is a similar earth quake sequence in Short Cuts but it doesn't amount to much which is kind of exactly the film going for. The characters in it comes from all social classes and not much stress is given to connecting them to a single big event. You just have to figure out how they are all related and it takes its time to establish that. I think this is so far the earliest film I have seen with the multiple characters multiple storyline angle I have seen, at least in English. Coming from a master director like Robert Altman, it is a masterpiece in this genre.  The themes explored is the whole artificiality of urban life in LA, alienation, meanness of modern society which many people cannot comes to terms with (unrealistic fuckers).

Film is three hours long but doesn't feel like it. My favorite Altman film so far but haven't seen Nashville yet.

Rating: 5/5

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II (2013)

Director: Lars Von Trier
Writer:    Lars Von Trier
Cast:       Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Willem Dafore, Shia Lebeouf

The continuation of Joe's sexually dictated life delves into darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman's care.

From what I understand these two volume versions of the film were not personally edited by Lars Von Trier from the five and half hours of the footage he had and there will be full single version release of the film in 2014 which could be the director's cut. The second volume is significantly darker and less funny than the previous one with lots of violence involved. It can be very difficult to watch and overall the theme that he is exploring seems to be hypocrisy evident by the conversation the protagonists have regarding democratic societies in which word like negros are frowned upon whereas it essentially contradicts its ideal of people exercising their choice. Many of the same actions like a parent leaving their children for their sex life is done by characters of both genders and the film points out that depending on their gender our reaction towards it differs. This kind hypocrisy is being talked about at the end but in my opinion most of it is a by-product of our evolutionary past and we are predisposed to follow them. Film's last scene brings this fact to the viewers by having the Seligman character, who is portrayed as an asexual intellectual, making sexual advances towards Joe telling her that she has fucked thousands of men and this would make no difference to her.

Volume one is significantly better but this one is also good. Pretty early on in volume two, Charlotte Gainsbourg herself starts portraying her flashback character instead of Stacy Martin which I thought was Lardone in a seamless way. If I were to rank Lars Von Trier's depression trilogy, the order would be Melancholia, Nymphomaniac and then Antichrist at a distant third.

Rating: 3.5/5  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Airplane! (1980)

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Writers:    Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Cast:         Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen

An airplane crew takes ill. Surely the only person capable of landing the plane is an ex-pilot afraid to fly (PTSD). But don't call him Shirley.

This was my second watch of this film and it is a parody on disaster films evident by the opening credits which plays on Jaws. The humor is kind of unique and might not be up everyone's alley but I enjoyed it. It is the kind of humor that one might use to wind people up and for example: 

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

 It references many films and there is one long routine on Saturday Night Fever with an elaborate song and party sequence. Reminded me of 'Hot Fuzz' which also uses overly lone scenes just to make its point. I think for those who grew up with this film might have it as one of their favorite comedy films but those who came later might not enjoy it as much. It is certainly worth a watch and there are plenty of things in the background that one might miss on the first watch. 'Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue'.

Roger Murdock: Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Victor Basta: Request vector, over.
Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324.
Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over!
Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over.
Tower voice: Over.
Captain Oveur: Roger.
Tower voice: Roger, over!

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We Own the Night (2007)

Director: James Gray
Writer:    James Gray
Cast:       Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eve Mendes

A New York nightclub manager tries to save his brother and father (they are cops) from Russian mafia hit men.

So while flicking through my collection to decide on which film to watch today I ended up with this one  about which I had no idea and don't know how it ended up in my watch-list. I just decided to watch it anyways since Joaquin Phoenix is in it and since the director's name was not listed during the opening credits, I still had no clue about the film. Turns out it was from James Gray and I acquired the film because Martin Scorsese in some article mentioned his name along with the likes of Alexander Payne and Paul Thomas Anderson. Lets just say I have no idea why he ended up in that list based on watching this film. Maybe his other recent film 'The Immigrant', which has been getting some good reviews, will justify his inclusion. 

The cast looks great in 'We Own the Night' but they cannot save it from being more than just a watchable film because the story develops in such an unconvincing manner. Seemed like all the actors were also unconvinced by it and they kind of sleepwalk through it especially Mark Wahlberg. Joaquin Phoenix tries to justify his participation in the film but is let down by the script and the director. Film is set in 1988 New York and the title comes from the motto of NYPD's Street Crimes Unit. Apart from two good action sequences it is frankly a forgettable film.

Rating: 2/5

Sorcerer (1977)

Director: William Friedkin
Writers:  Walon Green, Georges Arnaud
Cast:       Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amiduo

Four unfortunate men from different parts of the globe living in exile in South America agree to risk their lives transporting gallons of nitroglycerin across dangerous South American jungle. 

South American road films are always a good watch when it comes from very good directors. Motorcycle Diaries, Aguirre: Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo are some that I really love. Sorcerer is more close to Fitzcarraldo than the other two which are more philosophical or political in nature. In Fitzcarraldo, Kinsky is motivated by an uplifting cause, but in Sorcerer motivation for the characters is the desperate nature of their situation. The first half of the film is an elaborate foreplay (reminded me of 13 Assassins) which trots across Mexico, Jerusalem, Paris and New Jersey showing us small back-stories for the four characters. Their exiled life in Porvenir, a remote village in South America is hellish and when they are offered this suicidal job for good money, they show no hesitation in taking it. The 218 miles journey is treacherous as one would expect and there are many set-pieces to be had. They are really breathtaking despite the fact that you are expecting those kind of stuff. Even the trucks have a certain character and the title of the film comes from one of them. The matter of fact ending of the film is also great stressing the fact that we humans are not in control of our situation. The last scene is very predictable but is done in a cool way. That guy really looks like Graeme Souness.

Film was a big budget disaster at box office and it also got poor critical reception. It got released close to Star Wars and that is cited as a reason for its poor theatrical run. This is also marked as the turning point at which the studio system veered a great deal towards the block-buster kind of films. Sorcerer now holds a cult status and many of the critics who criticized it when it got relased have changed their tune. In this era of CGI shitfest where films rarely make us feel excited by action/adventure, Sorcerer is a great watch since you know that these guys did it for real rather than getting hung in front of a green screen. Friedkin has also been linked to directing an episode of True Detective Season-2 and he will be perfect. Hope he does the whole season.

Rating: 4/5