Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#149: Cars 2

A favorite animation movie list, unlike others, isn't necessarily a choice that's defined by what critics said about it, not measured by how well it fared at the box-office and it's never judged by how it performed at the Oscars or Cannes. It is so because the genre of animation brings out the child in us who is happy with the candy that's served to him. It doesn't matter then, if better candies exist elsewhere in other galaxies. As long as that particular candy is sweet, it works.

Be it the fantastic Lion King, the ethereal Finding Nemo or the hilarious Ice Age, there are loyalists of these movies lurking around who can get into a room and debate until kingdom come about how each of these was the best animation ever. For me, that movie was Cars. When I first saw it in 2006, I was filled with such an overwhelming empathy for Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson, that I very much doubted if any other animation could ever move me so much. So when the sequel came out this year, there I was on Friday night on June 24th as the poster says above, in the middle row, with my 3-D glasses in tow.

At first, Cars 2 doesn't seem like a successor but a spin-off. Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) is a genius spy at work with the fanciest gadgets in his car and is out to find out what the evil Professor Zundapp is upto. Espionage in a sequel of a movie that was all about cars and racing seemed disconnected at first but as the story progresses, you see the McQueen (Owen Wilson) crew and you experience as much of relief as joie de vivre because of the familiar brand of humor. McQueen, in a parallel story track meanwhile, is out to prove that using eco-friendly fuel is the way ahead even for racing cars. To prove that to the rest of the cynical world, he enters a World Grand Prix race contesting against Francesco Bernoulli, played by John Turturro who is splendid in a delightful little cameo. And there comes Tow-mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the crass but loveable tow truck who in fact is the main protagonist in this edition. The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly McMissile. Caine has the best lines and his scenes are sheer joy. This is what a star appearance is meant to be, to evoke the oohs and aahs and McMissile has it all. The animation itself in the movie is a notch above Cars and where the movie lacked in emotional appeal, it made up with the breathtaking visuals-a scene with the Queen of England enjoying the race taking the top honors.

With some incredible action sequences thrown in for good measure Cars 2 is every bit as enjoyable as the first edition. It's not as touching but surely as entertaining. Yes, the story by John Lasseter (A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 & 3, Cars) is a bit more complex and that makes the redemption-of-the-underdog theme, something that works seamlessly for this genre, redundant towards the end but as a whole the movie delivers the laughs and those emotional tugs that make Pixar the definitive animation house in Hollywood. Don't miss it, this is the movie where the money spent, even on popcorn, is also worth it.

Rating: 7.6/10
P.S.: No great shakes in 3-D by the way, 2-D would be as enjoyable !

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#148: Decalogue II

(To read the first in this series, click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain

Gist: A man fights for his survival in a hospital against a rare disease. His wife loves him but doesn't necessarily wants to see him alive.

Script: An intricate interplay of relationships served beautifully- the best of the series.

Acting: The movie's centerpiece is a most compelling performance by the doctor
played by veteran Polish actor Alexander Bardini. His lonely existence is only brightened by recounting stories of his past with his maid and in his patient's wife, Dorota (Krystyna Janda) he finds a reason to look forward to his days. His acting prowess is unmatched as he goes about his daily routine without any excitement and yet finds enough purpose in trying to ascertain if the concerned patient will survive or die.

Technical craft: I'll have to say here that I was so engrossed in the story that I didn't really notice anything either supreme or ordinary enough to point out.

Piece de resistance moments: Numerous. Listing some of them would end up serving as spoilers hence reserving a few but the first conversation between the wife and the doctor and the last dialogue of the movie is memorable to a fault.

In a nutshell: Decalogue II shows us exactly why the series is revered so highly as a movie. Its morally binding situations that the protagonists find themselves in pulls us towards them and leaves an impact on us. The chapter is not just the cream of the crop as far as Decalogue is concerned but this segment perhaps can even claim to be the brightest star of Kieslowski's glittering career. If there's one Kieslowski movie you should watch before dying, this is it.

Decalogue Rating: 10/10

P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

#147: Decalogue I

(For the first in this series, please click here)

Chapter: I am thy Lord God

Gist: A beautiful portrayal of a father-son relationship

Script: Thumbs up. It's an O' Henry kind of a story unfolding on-screen.

Acting: One of the few decalogues where the characters don't have much emotional baggage. The son's gay abandon is a glimpse into a bright childhood nurtured by a doting father. Their camaraderie is reminiscent of the times we couldn't take a step without our father's approval.

Technical craft: Some great touches in the outdoor shots of the snow covered lake.

Piece de resistance moments: The chess match and the climax- the latter without any spoken dialogue and yet powerful enough to jolt you.

In a nutshell: A masterpiece of a chapter.

Decalogue Rating: 9/10

P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

#146: Decalogue V

(To read the first in this series, click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not kill

Gist: A ruthless murder takes place. The hows, whys and the closure of it.

Script: Plain but not without it's moments.

Acting: Suited for the occasion. Whether it's Piotr,(Krzysztof Globisz), the lawyer or Jacek Łazar (Miroslaw Baka), the murderer, their intent and execution were in sync with their characterization.

Technical craft: The movie is a canvas for Slawomir Idziak, the DOP who paints the screen grim and depressing, much suiting the overall feel of the story. The opening scenes especially stand out for the dark foreboding that the images convey. This is also one of the chapters where the movie is simultaneously running two story tracks until they converge at one point- an effective storytelling technique that heightens the drama.

Piece de resistance moments: The opening shots and the murder scene in that order. Both unforgettably directed.

In a nutshell: Decalogue V has a message that's conveyed so subtly that it's hard to miss. It poses a question about our civil society without getting into a deep debate- whether a people become better with enforcement of capital punishment. It doesn't provide any answers but goads you into thinking about it.

Decalogue Rating: 7/10

P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

#145: Decalogue III

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Honor the Sabbath

Gist: Ewa (Maria Pakulni) visits her ex-lover Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) on Christmas eve to ask for help, as her husband has gone missing.

Script: Simple and flawless.

Acting: Both the lead actor and actress touch the right sentiments and do justice to the core of their characters. As ex-lovers uniting on a Christmas night, there's a romantic melancholy in their chemistry. They talk about the past, reason out things and wish well for the other - all along making it as real as it could get.

Technical craft: Tightly knit on counts of cinematography, editing and background score. Since the story is unfolding on a Christmas night, there's also a lot of attention to details in setting the context for the scenes.

Piece de resistance moments: Some movies don't have those singularly unforgettable moments and yet as a whole leave an imprint. This is one of those.

In a nutshell: Decalogue III is a wonderful story about two ex-lovers who have moved on with their lives and meet on a Christmas night three years later. Its neat execution of a simple story makes it one of the best from the Decalogue quiver.

Decalogue Rating: 8/10

P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#144: Decalogue VII

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not steal.

Gist: A young mother, Majka, escapes with her child from her own home. The catch being, because Majka bore the child when she was 16, her parents didn't reveal the baby to be Majka's child, instead making the world believe the child was Majka's sister.

Script: If you overlook the small matter of attention to details as to:
a.) How did Majka's Mom escape being noticed as not being pregnant and suddenly having a child and
b.) How did Majka's neighbors/ friends not notice her pregnancy, the script comes across as a touching story laden with sensitivities involved in the relationship between a mother and her child.

Acting: Quite good, especially Majka's mother who treated Majka's kid like her own and in her love for the kid doesn't shower the same affection for Maika herself.

Technical craft: No standout moments but can't point fingers on anything either.

Piece de resistance moments: The last scene. All Majka wanted to do is love her own child and she couldn't and the scene without any dialogue encapsulates the movie with one deft touch.

In a nutshell: Decalogue VII pushes all the right buttons but not hard enough to leave an impact. This chapter is par for the course.

Decalogue Rating:
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Monday, June 20, 2011

#143: Decalogue IV

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Honor thy mother and father.

Gist: A young college student, whose mother passed away years ago, stumbles upon a letter that's meant to to be opened after her father's death. After much deliberation she decides to open it.

Script: The story brings about a strong aura of mystery once the letter is found in the first 15 minutes. For the remaining time, it struggles to live up to it's buildup.

Acting: This is a chapter that has lengthy interactions between two characters- the daughter (Adriana Biedrzynska) and her father (Janusz Kajos). While the acting is quite acceptable especially the father's, the situation could've been a springboard for excellence in performance but that peak never showed up.

Technical craft: Cannot think of any one aspect that stood out. Will have to perhaps say the direction of the scenes involving those lengthy dialogues. It needs extreme skill to keep the movie going with just a still camera and two characters mouthing intense dialogues and Kieslowski shows why he is a master in those scenes minimal to look at but wrought with emotion.

Piece de resistance moments: Indisputably, the ending. It's a moment that will jolt you towards the end.

In a nutshell: Decalogue IV begins well but soon loses steam. It's tends to drag on towards the latter half but does recover to make it in time for a soulful comeback for the ending.

Decalogue Rating: 2/10
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

#142: Decalogue VI

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not commit adultery

Gist: A young and educated 19 year-old is infatuated with his attractive neighbor. Will she give into his prying methods ?

Script: It works because it's quite relatable for most part. All of us at some point have got infatuated with someone elder than us and nothing really comes of it. Kieslowski and Piesciwicz bring that sometimes-crazy-sometimes-idiotic streak of childhood fantasy alive with this story.

Acting: Remarkably well done by Tomek, the 19-year old (Olaf Lubazenko), who can't take eyes off his 30 year-old sultry neighbor, Magda. His silly attraction that he mistakes for love is the stuff all those who have been teenagers once in their lifetime can identify with. It is also not very often in a Decalogue that a character is really happy but when Tomek is, his performance is such, you will be.

Technical craft: The telescopic view of Magda's room from Tomek's distant room is a critical part of the movie and the way those scenes have been shot by DOP Witold Adamek make you feel as if you're the intruder. Another nice addition by the director is the addition of the character of Tomek's friend's mother. Would the story have lost anything without her ? No. But does the character heighten what you eventually feel for Tomek later in the story ? Yes.

I will confirm this but this also seems to be a chapter where maximum characters from other stories make an appearance.

Piece de resistance moments: It has to be the overhead shot of Tomek with the cans of milk. I am not going into the details of it but suffice to say, it is one of my favorite moments in the Decalogue. And, of course, the scene with Magda and Tomek in her apartment- erotic minimalism at it's peak.

In a nutshell: Surely worth the time. To quote Dylan, 'Don't think twice, it's alllll righhht ! "

Decalogue Rating: 4/10
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

#141: Decalogue X

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods

Gist: Two sons, Jerry and Artur, chance upon their dead father's valuable stamp collection that's worth millions. Except they don't know what to do with it.

Script: A wonderful story of two brothers who come together after the departure of their father. Their disparate lifestyles converge into a small apartment where their father died. It's a story with quite a few highs and lows and that keeps you cued right into the soul of the movie.

Acting: Commendable. The brothers are different from each other, While Jerry is the elder statesman with a settled family and job, Artur is the vocalist of the popular local rock band, Death City. They were never attached to their father yet through his stamp collection come to respect him for his dedication. The character transformation is stark and brought out beautifully by the lead actors Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr.

Technical craft: The story has shades of humor and irony and hence the typical extreme Kieslowski closeups take a back seat, giving way to mid-close and long shots. It suits the story as does a rebellious song first up that works as a neat device giving inroads about Artur's character.

Piece de resistance moments:
Artur's confession outside a hospital and Jerry's reaction and subsequently, the ending- a memorable and touching moment between the brothers.

In a nutshell: Decalogue X is one of those stories that would be a stimulating initiation for anyone who is yet to watch a Decalogue. . It's steady and sure-footed pace coupled with a robust script makes it an enjoyable watch.

Decalogue Rating: 6/10
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

#140: Decalogue VIII

(To read the first in this series, please click here.)

Chapter: Thou shalt not bear false witness

Gist: A young Jewish girl, who in the midst of war was first promised help by a Catholic family in Warsaw and then refused, returns to meet the family 40 odd years later.

Script: Moderately effective.

Acting: A rare chapter where both the acting leads are women. Both understated in their approach but the elder lady Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska) communicated better than Elzibieta (Teresa Marczewska). Both women were dealing with heavy duty emotions and yet one could somehow sense Zofia's pain better.

Technical craft: Staid and safe. Not much experimentation and no background score either.

Piece de resistance moments:
Zofia's realisation that Elzbieta is narrating the former's own story in class is a wonderful moment. Zofia's reaction without saying a word expresses quite a lot.
The intertwining of two other stories within this- once through a character and once through a narration.

In a nutshell: Decalogue VIII has a very high emotional baggage quotient and sometimes it suffers under its own weight. It's strength is Zofia and her explanation of her actions yet it would still be one among the bottom 3 of Dekalog stories.

Decalogue Rating: 3/10
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

#139: Decalogue IX

Beginning with Decalogue IX and at the behest of a friend, yours truly is beginning a a series of 10 reviews on Decalogue- the movie that Stanley Kubrick once mentioned as the only masterpiece he had seen in his lifetime. I was thinking if I should pack all in one but that didn't seem such a good idea. After all, Kieslowski even made two films on two of those chapters and one would have to review them independently. Besides, each of the chapters have enough of a kernel that should be looked at individually. I am going to use a standard template for each of these so that the inevitable comparisons become easier for a reader and this serves as a ready reckoner for anyone who wants to sample a Decalogue or discuss each of these individually.

To facilitate such a comparison, instead of my standard rating, I will rank each of the ten chapters in ascending order of preference, so the least likeable one will get 1 out of 10 and so on. Before we get on with it, should you like to read up a bit on what the Decalogue was all about, this will be a good place to start.

Chapter: Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's wife.

Gist: An impotent man suspects his wife of cheating on him. What does he do about it and how does it affect their relationship.

Script: Linear, no surprises, lacked an impact towards the end.

Acting: Intense and effective, especially that of Roman (Piotr Machalica), the husband. We see the movie from his point of view. His wife (Ewa Błaszczyk) plays an effective second fiddle and their depiction of their relationship is such that it easily enables us to connect with their problems.

Technical craft: Piotr Sobociński, the DOP had pulled out all stops in Trois Couleurs:Rouge and made a beauty out of it. Its not a fair comparison but there were no magical moments in this one. That goes for the editing too. The grim background score on the other hand did accentuate the drama.

Piece de resistance moments: None.

In a nutshell: Decalogue IX has an interesting premise and loses no time in establishing it. It's lacunae however lies in a tepid storyline that falls short in engaging you as a viewer. In my opinion, this will goes down as the weakest link of the lot.

Decalogue Rating: 1/10
P.S: Rating here implies a relative rank compared to the other 9 chapters and not an absolute rank in itself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#138: Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful is a touching story about a happy-go-lucky Italian waiter, Guido (Roberto Benigni) whose ultimate ambition in life is to get married to a local school teacher Dora (Nicoletta Braschi). The movie begins in Azurro in 1939, at the cusp of World War II and a somewhat flimsy funny first twenty minutes tell you nothing of the tragedy that awaits Guido.

The movie then cuts to a few years later when we see Guido happily married and managing a book store with his son Giosue. You know something wrong is in the offing when two German soldiers ask Guido to come to the police station in broad daylight. Guido being Guido walks off with a smile on his face even managing to make his son laugh while he's being taken captive by the soldiers. Guido's jewish origins mean that he along with his son will be taken to a concentration camp. That's when the movie's serious tenor hits you because you realize that Guido's ideal family life is going to get uprooted right in front of your eyes. Whether Guido and his son can survive the travails of the camp is the essence of Life is Beautiful.

Roberto Benigni resorts to a slapstick brand of humor in the pre-war segment of the movie and while the idea must've been to bring us level with the character of Guido, it is a segment you're least likely to be impressed with. The movie acquires it's wings only after Guido is sent to the prison camp after which it is very much a one-man show with Benigni carrying the movie on his shoulders. In Benigni's handling of this delicate situation with his quirky sense of humor, even as the father and son are on the heels of being executed, lies the movie's charm. For his performance Benigni went on to receive a Best Actor Oscar thus becoming the only second person after Laurence Olivier to direct himself to a Best Actor.

Vikramaditya Motwane mentioned in an interview that a humorous World War II movie called Underground would change the way he would look at movies forever and that it was far superior to Life is Beautiful. In all fairness, until the end, this is an average-war movie and you know you've seen better when it comes to human stories. For there are numerous routes filmmakers have taken to depict human stories based around World War-II. For instance, Schindler's List takes one of compassion, and The Pianist takes one of survival. I am yet to see Underground and cannot comment on the specific comparison yet, it's still fair to say that Life is Beautiful will leave it's mark for it's poignancy. Maybe the fact that this isn't a true story reduces the dramatic tension but Life is Beautiful for sure would comfortabtly make any 'B' list of top ten war movies.

Rating: 6.9/10

Monday, June 13, 2011

#137: Battleship Potemkin

Made in 1925 by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, Battleship Potemkin is often hailed as the greatest propaganda film of all time. With that sort of a known background, there inevitably seeps in a weight of expectations before any potential movie viewer. Maybe, it is not such a good thing because more often than not, the expectations then tend to have a field day while the actual movie is on.

While that almost summed up my experience of watching Battleship Potemkin, there were a few redeeming moments as well. It begins with a flagrant opposition by the crew members of the ship who refuse to eat the sub-standard meat that is served aboard the ship. A mutiny ensues and the simple problem becomes a symbol of protest against the ruling regime. The regime reacts with an iron hand and orders a mass killing to stave off the protestors. This brings to life on-screen one of the most iconic images in the history of cinema - the Odessa steps sequence, a depiction of the regime's dictatorial ways that will jolt you with it's naked brutality.

What will also amaze you about the movie is the number of people who are shown in the movie- an enormous amount of sailors on-board to begin with, and then even more protestors and then even more number of people being shot in the Odessa steps. When you see them along with the artillery and vessels, you know that the movie might've been a magnum opus in it's day. Coupled with an ending that's as much surprising as relieving, Battleship Potemkin does become a decent watch by the time it concludes at a short 62 minutes. Thus becoming the kind of movie, that looks good on your movie-viewing resume, but you know little else about what to do with it.

Rating: 6.2/10

Saturday, June 11, 2011

#136: Shaitan

Anurag Kashyap has a reputation in Bollywood of being an indie filmmaker. It is said he used to struggle with submitting his scripts to production houses and in a moment of desperation even gave away the script of Satya at a throwaway price. That phase taught him that in Bollywood people didn't value scripts as much as star power. 12 years later, it is only befitting that it is Anurag Kashyap who gives a break to another promising talent, Bejoy Nambiar, who was also struggling to get a financier for Shaitan

Shaitan begins aimlessly and takes time to establish the main premise of the movie- a staged kidnapping by five friends of one of their own. With a cast of mostly newcomers, the movie makes up for it's dreary start with a series of action-packed sequences. Once Rajeev Khandelwal, a suspended cop is assigned to track down the kidnappers, the story acquires a frenetic pace. The five friends who all seem to be in their early twenties are spoilt brats who only believe in frittering away their time on drugs and alcohol. The point of their debauchery is established very early in the movie and yet the writers- Bejoy and Megha- stretch it to occupy the first twenty minutes. But just when you think it is getting boring, a road accident turns the lives of these youngsters upside down. It was inevitable that Rajeev Khandelwal and Kalki leave their mark in a movie full of debutant actors and actresses. Neil Bhoopalam has done himself a good turn as well, while the others did enough to hold attention.

The one thing that seems to have worked for Shaitan well is that this seems to be a movie where the technical guys seemed to be having fun in the background. So whether it's the short five minute flashback about the life of Shomu (Rajat Barmecha), Khandelwal's chase through a slum or the incredibly vibrant soundtrack- each of units of filmmaking involved- the stunt director, the composer, the sound team and the cinematographer- have functioned like units of a well-oiled machine. I don't know what to refer this as but that teamwork shows. The editing is equally fluid and no praise is enough for the soundtrack. There were times in the movie you'll wish there was more of it. Sample the rendition of Hawa Hawaai, Khoya Khoya Chand, the song on the opening credits or even Nasha, each more appealing than the other. Where Shaitan comes a bit of a cropper is the realism part of it. Five friends working together but acting so stupidly was a little hard to digest and just like the beginning, the ending (not the climax), was a stretch as well. At least a third of the theater had emptied even before the rolling credits started to appear.

Having said that, Shaitan is an impressive debut by a promising talent. It has a certain edginess that is fresh and more importantly, all the spunk in the movie is not without substance. Don't give this one a miss, it's one of the few good ones we've had this year.

Rating: 6.8/10

Thursday, June 09, 2011

#135: Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone- in Hindi we would say,' bas naam hi kaafi hain... '

The man who became synonymous with an entire genre in filmdom beginning in the 60s, the man who gave us Clint Eastwood in his most raw form and the man whose style till this day has inspired many a filmmaker. But few know that he was also the man who once refused an offer to direct The Godfather.. Somewhere within him, there must've been something really strong that wanted to make amends for that decision. Because nothing else explains the lengths to which Leone went to make Once Upon a Time in America. Auditioning over 200 actors for the role of one character, employing the services of 7 screen-writers and working on a script that initially was 317 pages long, are manifestations of maniacal standards, however perfection-seeking, an auteur might be. And Leone didn't rest after having made it, because he continued to fight the system to showcase the movie in it's original form of 229 minutes. He didn't quite have his way and that devastated him. He never made another movie but suffice to say, maybe, in the fitness of things, he did reserve his best for the last.

Once Upon... is a story of a group of four boys growing up in the mid 30s in New York against the backdrop of suburban crime. The story that had as many as 8 writers including Leone is adapted from the novel 'The Hoods'- a semi-autobiographical account by a gangster called Harry Grey and it traces the life of protagonist Noodles (De Niro) right from the 30s till the mid 60s. The first thing that will strike you about the movie is the look and feel of the America of the 30s. Whether it is the iconic Manhattan bridge shot as in the poster above or the scene where De Niro stares into nothingness after getting out of a car, it's a movie that will make you believe it could've been shot by a poet -there's such rhyme in these scenes. The languid air in a crime drama doesn't seem logical but cinematographer Donni Colli obviously knew better.

And no sooner have those soothing images permeated your senses, that you start falling for the characters and soon enough you make a choice- a hero who you want to see winning by the end of the movie. Will it be the ruthless and the manipulative Max (James Woods) or the quiet and cold but soft-hearted Noodles. Or are you veering towards the staunchly ambitious Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern). The movie's flashback narration keeps those questions ticking in your mind as to what awaits your hero towards the end. Is there something that the character in the movie already knows in the present that you don't ? Such absorbing fare is laid out over the course of this epic, that it's hard to not feel sad once the movie's over. The performance of De Niro is akin to that of a statesman leading his people towards a cause- bristling with confidence underneath but devoid of flamboyance. That, is James Woods' signature for his Max. With their contrasting styles, they squabble time and again, but never lose the big picture to keep the money ticking in. It's a friendship that's to be envied and it's also too good to last and that provides the story the requisite dramatic tension to keep the movie well afloat in spite of it's lengthy duration.

With any Leone movie, you know you're going to get your money's worth with the background score and Once Upon... is no different. With Ennio Morrocone, Leone once again has got a mesmerizing soundtrack that will tease and haunt you with it's insolence for it's terse and limited but extremely well-knitted with the on-screen action.

Once Upon a Time in America was perhaps Leone's statement to Hollywood that he could direct a crime film as well as he could a western. His struggles to have the movie released with it's original duration of close to 4 hours is well-documented and it's a travesty of sorts that the movie gained it's much deserved acclaim in the United States only after the release of it's DVD. This is a movie that needs to be revered for it's stellar form, for telling us a human story about a hardened criminal who wanted to reform, for reminding us that the bad will always fall by the wayside and most importantly but simply that a great story will always make a great film.

Rating: 7.8/10

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

#134: Just Go With It

Dennis Dugan is a long-time Sandler collaborator and together they've worked on six projects thus far. But not one of them has been as predictably flat and disappointing as their latest offering Just Go With It. It will be even more upsetting, if you're a Sandler fan, because the team that so far had given some good movies such as Big Daddy or Grown-Ups, falls so below their standard, it will shake your very faith in the duo's output for the future.

The poster indicates that this is a love triangle. Knowing it is a Sandler movie, you know it's all going to turn out fine in the end, so the only reason to watch this movie would be to see the journey that the protagonist undertakes towards the climax. And when the lead actress is someone as high-profile as Jennifer Aniston, a viewer is not taking too much liberty with his/her assumption that this will be a good ride. But with Just Go With It, you got to forget the ride because the story's so lame, it doesn't even as much take-off. We are referring to a love-triangle here and in the normal course of things we might've had a strong and sharp temptress. Here the other woman in Sandler's life is Brooklyn Decker- better known as Andy Roddick's girlfriend to the rest of the world. And that might be her only achievement in life, if the only substance she brings to the table of acting is a neat cleavage with a stony face.

To add to that, the quality of comedy that has been showcased is nothing but puerile. The lines are not funny and the gags are a shocker- among which are included a vet trying to bring a half-dead sheep to life and a gay man picking a coconut from the floor by jamming it under his a***. The next time I see the names Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling in the screenwriting credits in a movie's trailer, rest assured yours truly won't even venture to the city where their movie might release. What's even more shocking is that an actress of Nicole Kidman's calibre, plays a part that must rank as of the most insignificantly shameful turns by an A-list actress in a movie.

The Adam Sandler I knew from school had a style of his own. He wore loose clothes, never tried too hard for a line to come off, kept the humor quick and simple and only occasionally flirted with vulgarity. With Just Go With It, he tries to make a statement, that in a world where comic standards are falling by the day, he is not far behind in the race. The result is an abject movie that is so bad, it will take some healing for Sandler fans like us to overcome this battering.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, June 06, 2011


There are far too many remarkable things about Adaptation to fill an entire post with trivia of how it came about but foremost among them is the fact that this is perhaps the only movie of it's kind where the screenwriter of the movie
a.) is the protagonist of the movie
b.) and what the screenwriter goes through in the movie is what he went through in real life while adapting this very script from a book called The Orchid Thief.

A variant of a circular reference to reality if you life.

The movie begins with an aim to be about flowers- something that had never been done before in Hollywood. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), the protagonist finds it incredibly difficult to put together something that he's happy with for the on-screen adaptation from the said book. What's even more unnerving for him is that in the same time, his twin-brother Donald has put together a pulp thriller script that has been sold for millions while Charlie is more than struggling with his writer's block. Charlie thinks meeting with the author Susan Orleans (Meryl Streep) might be a step in the right direction but is tongue-tied to discuss anything with her and in a scene laced with shocking reticence, the asocial Charlie lets that opportunity pass him by. As Charlie sifts through Susan's book, we're introduced to yet another arresting character, John Laroche (Chris Cooper), the subject of the book himself, who with his charm and knowledge of flowers seemed to have impressed Susan while she was writing The Orchid Thief..

The story moves back and forth from Charlie Kaufman's present reality in the movie to the flashback of Susan's and Chris' trysts. This is typical of Charlie Kaufman, the writer in real life, who has shown his forte in this style of writing that involves a non-linear narration, with stellar previous movies such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I must confess here, I am having to read my sentences time and again to make sure if all this is reading right and one can only imagine how mind-boggling it must've been for Kaufman to write this keeping himself as the center of all the action. In director Spike Jonze though, Kaufman seems to have found a partner equally whacky enough to pull this one through. While Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, round up a commendable support act, Nicolas Cage shines in his double role act. Whether it's the brooding and boring Charlie Kaufman or his antibody- the flippant and flamboyant Donald Kaufman, Cage pulls off both acts like it's a walk in the park. It would be only fair to say that this till date has been his best performance ever, even ahead of Leaving Las Vegas. What might've worked even better in the movie is perhaps a slightly less-dramatized climax towards the end that results in a couple of murders out of nowhere.

I've heard movies being mentioned as character-driven or plot-driven in the past. What Charlie Kaufman renders in Adaptation is a neat blend of both and, for once, one can say that this is an indulgent screenwriter's movie. Whether you're studying screenwriting or practicing it, Adaptation will have some pleasant surprises for you. Suffice to say that, it is an education- don't miss this class.

Rating: 7.7/10

Saturday, June 04, 2011

#132: Last Tango in Paris

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Actors: Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider

Story: Brando's wife commits suicide which throws his life upside down. One day, walking through the streets he comes across a young woman in an apartment she was hoping to rent. Without warning, he starts having sex with her.

Then: He meets with her again and has sex with her again.

Then: He keeps doing it as an outlet for his frustration of losing his wife. They make a connection, more her than he and one day suddenly they breakup.

Does it work? : If you take away the sex-served-on-toast-for-stranger part, Brando impresses you with his strong portrayal of a husband in shock and longing for his wife.

What else?: It's one of those movies, you might have to take a punt on- works for some, doesn't work for some.

Why should you watch?: To know what happened when the man who made The Last Emperor worked with The Godfather

What do I lose if I don't watch it: The answer to the question above. Nothing else.

Rating: 6.3/10

Thursday, June 02, 2011

#131: Seven Samurai

It's daunting to review a Kurosawa movie. It is to pass a judgement on a filmmaker, who many illustrious predecessors and contemporaries, hail as one of the greatest ever. And it is even more worrisome to commence writing about a movie that has been declared a timeless classic by far more worthy judges. It is hence with a pinch of caution that I proceed to write this one.

The Seven Samurai is one of the first movies to employ a cinematic theme of assembling a team to defeat an enemy. Made in 1954, not only was the movie Kurosawa's magnum opus in terms of budget but also in terms of the techniques utilized to film and the number of cast members. Kurosawa's usual suspects Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura play two of those seven samurai called upon by a set of farmers in a village to thwart an impending attack by bandits. The rest as they is history.

The Seven Samurai has an extremely long narrative (207 minutes) and because our generation grew up watching crisper action movies like The Magnificent Seven, it might draw on your reserves of patience. But that apart the typical Kurosawa touch in the picture perfect frames, the electric energy of the actors- especially Mifune's, the sage-like command of Shimura and the daringly stark action sequences work well in unison for you to realise, that this is a piece of art unfolding in front of you. You know a protagonist is in trouble in a Kurosawa movie when it's raining incessantly and there's plenty of it in this one. Taking a cue from Kurosawa, many filmmakers, have employed this as a cinematic tool to connote escalating tension. Mifune's comic interludes provide the much needed relief in a movie that at it's heart is a simple but serious good versus evil story. As the seventh samurai, Mifune's story is also the one that you will empathize with the most while Shimura's stoic characterization of a warrior is an unrivalled gem.

Personally, among Kurosawa movies, I would rank a Stray Dog or a Yojimbo and certainly a Rashomon ahead of Seven Samurai. The other three that I've mentioned here are extremely sharp in their screenplay as not a moment is wasted as far as justice to the storyline is concerned. In this one, I thought a couple of sub-plots needlessly took away from the main thread of the story, making it a touch too long and melodramatic. A person I was recently discussing the movie with said without a moment's hesitation, "I think Sholay is better than the Seven Samurai.".

Even before I could summon up the words, I found myself nodding in agreement.

Rating: 6.6/10

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

#130: Greenberg

A 40-year old ex-musician, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) from New York suffers a mental breakdown and is recuperating. While his brother Phil leaves for Vietnam on a holiday, Phil invites Roger to stay over at his place in LA. Roger, a carpenter now, is a moody man who can immerse himself with music. He even used to have a band but because he stuck to his principles of not wanting to yield control over his music, the band lost out on a record contract. The band members went their seperate ways and Roger became a carpenter. Greenberg begins with such promise, it is hard not to expect a peach of a movie.

Instead what we get is a half-baked character in Roger who at one hand is pretty comfortable with kissing his brother's assistant (Greta Gerwig) who he has hardly met and at the same time is asocial enough to not like attending parties or calling people on their birthdays. It is such inconsistency that runs through the movie so frequently that you should be forgiven for wanting to give up midway. Once the premise for the movie is set, you find yourself asking the question that inevitably sounds the death-knell of a memorable movie viewing experience - "Where is this going?"

Ben Stiller plays Roger with an earnest streak but the character is too short of substance for Stiller to leave a mark. Greta Gerwig plays a girl who is just off a long relationship and is still scarred by the breakup. Rhys Ifans has a 10-year old kid and seems to be the one guy who is most comfortable with his present. Yet, the time he is around Roger, he is morose. It seems all the lead characters have a demon they're resisting from within but because the definition of the genesis of their struggles is kept vague, the redemption does little to lift your emotions.

Greenberg is the very kind of pain that some of the characters try to portray they're struggling with. It tries to do with a Sideways kind of treatment- the protagonist's past being made bare for the viewers through conversations in the present. It could've been a great move for Ben Stiller to come up trumps in the role of Roger Greenberg in a movie like this- a story that veered towards a drama instead of a comedy. Instead, it turned out to be the kind of movie, that even at a reasonable 107 minutes, becomes a trying experience, watchable only if you're a Stiller devotee.

Rating: 5.2/10