Thursday, March 26, 2009

"A Wednesday" (Language - Hindi) (2008) - Movie Review

“A Wednesday” does not pose an inconspicuous act when the unnamed middle aged man (Naseeruddin Shah) asks the police commissioner Police Rathod (Anupam Kher) to assemble four terrorist in exchange for the location of the bombs he planted in the city of Mumbai. It in its first act has the smug and attitude of a hindi film high on pedestal but it also does not loiter on it too much. If it could have skimmed a little more and maintained its crap free script right from the start, it could very well would have been a solid thriller and of course the need for explanation for the acts in end. The speech is not a message but an outcry from a Mumbai citizen on the shadow of fear the person has to live through.

A simpleton in appearance is this mystery man. He sips his home made coffee at the terrace of an under constructed building. He carries a bag of grocery and promptly gets a call from his wife to get rice pudding. This can be seen as a boast or smirk from another actor but with Naseeruddin Shah we see an average guy in appearance with dangerous motives inside. If the film survives on its best part it is because of this man. While the dialogues are an edge to this when the audience are emotionally sucked in both instinctively and obligatorily, there should not be a spoil sport played by over done acting.

Bollywood with its cheap affairs and Hollywood with its very cheap affairs have made completely aware of the routines by Indian Police, FBI, CIA, RAW and all the security organization in their searching procedures. So if director Neeraj Pandey could have avoided that unnecessary whole nine yard of showing the sniffing dogs and numerous security personnel searching the public places, we would have reached the better ending faster. My admiration for “The Bourne..” series is great but damn that film for showing its team tapping the keyboards to pieces. Damn it for getting the top in the line big screen television and one of a kind cool animation to blow up the terrorists in their cool get up. Damn the Indian films for taking that as the mark of suavity and weigh a film based on number of gadgets used by the characters in the film. But no no, damn the stereotype hacker and the worse characterization to flash the oomph factor. Do they really have to have a very young kid, college drop out, stupid hat, calling babe over the phone and irresponsibility written all over his bad acting necessary for a hacker?

When Jimmy Shergill as the icy cold terrorizing cop Arif Khan is introduced, it did not smell fishy but terribly nauseating for the expected made up one liners. But Pandey had senses in using that characterization to keep him silent most of the time which gives him one point for not fooling around for sleek and style. Then we get an immaculate police force for our commissioner and every one of them do not care about the bomb they are going to dismantle. Apart from doubting their sincerity, they should be scared crazy but they walk in as Captain Vijaykanth in our tamil films ready to kick ass.

Of course I knew the whole plan of our mystery man on bringing the terrorists. But I guess the director knew about audience guessing it too. May be that is the reason he asked the over the top music by Sanjoy Chowdhury to play it down when the supposed suspense is revealed. The best part of the film is the final thirty minutes without any interruption. Even the cliched encounter of one of the terrorist with our Arif Khan made a little sense with the right amount of cinematic element.

The reason “A Wednesday” appeals enormously to every one because of the voice of the citizens coming aloud from a character in the end. The fear is real and mainly as said the fear has become a part of the process to cope upon. I remember when I was in Bangalore last July-August, there were series of bombs all over the city. We cancelled the plans to go out and stay put. The next day after hearing from many people it is fine to come out, we took a ride. It was business as usual. We were not sure whether to be happy about the way city came back to its sense so fast or to be depressingly sad on how well that has become a part of the daily life in a resident. It was a mixed feeling.

Is there a solution to this atrocity and the permanent scare amongst the people? We can blame zillions of ideologies, people, organization, irresponsibility and of course the common people. As in the film “Knowing” the character says “Sh*t Happens”. It is tragic, heartbreaking and unjust. If there is a solution, it would have been in action and visible enough too. “A Wednesday” does not attempt for a solution but a strong emotion coming at the right time in the film. I would have liked to sit and talk with this mystery man a little more, but then again that is what keeps him interesting and empathetic. The best part of this whole deal is when he is honest about his actions and delivers the quintessential answer for the question put forth by Rathod on “for what religion he is doing this”. He replies “I am doing it for myself” and gets away without any selfish and insanity attached to it. That is where “A Wednesday” takes itself seriously and becomes a better film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Man on the Train" (Language - French) (2002) - Movie Classics

Patrice Leconte’s “Man on the Train” is a silent symphony of yearnings and longings. It is one of those french films which has a class without condescension. It lives on a throne but does not boast on its richness. It is in its abundance of subtleties manufactures the tenderness amongst tough men and the courage in the sublime. The parallel in two person’s life of opposite styles of existence which sometimes reeks of loudness than silence does not murk this feature of such a study. It has two men envying the other. The small steps in their irreversible lives are documented in this lovely film, “Man on the Train”.

In a town where night life is a stroll in a pharmacy store comes a stranger (Johnny Hallyday). He asks for aspirin and coming out realizes he needs water. Another customer (Jean Rochefort) invites him to his house. Does some one do that to a stranger? We realize that the old man Manesquier has his reasons to do that. Nothing underlying but coming Saturday he goes for a major surgery. He has lived a life of routine. Immovable and the boring routine of normalcy has left him to the rusted property his mother gave him and the students who has lost interest in poetry. He talks as though silence would make him cry. In comes the stranger who does not ask questions, does not refuse help and carries a silence and loneliness close to his heart. Both are yet startled by each other. The stranger departs and returns with a closed hotel. The old man says he knew and the stranger does not get angry or annoyed of him telling that before. Each understand the purpose of that. Manesquier did not want to impose and the stranger the same but both are glad in their own way.

The stranger named Milan has come with guns. He wears a leather jacket with an eye that looks with a command and electricity. He has a purpose for his visit. Manesquier does not ask but knows it. He wears Milan’s jacket and plays cowboy in front of mirror, then smiling content with a little embarrassment and awkwardness at his own presence. When this is happening, Milan meets up with his accomplices and scouts a local bank for a Saturday hold up. Each men at their wrinkled skin forming another fold as the day goes stand at an uncertain future. Last wishes are not said but done as though saying it would bring the tragedy to reality.

We live a life of unfulfilled dreams and regrets in the blinks. The art that never took off, the instrument that was never played, the game that was never mastered and the women (the end is intentional). Instead there sprouts experts at jobs they never loved, commuters of the road sinking an inch with the marching of the crowd and return back without a millimeter of sidestep to the locked door in to the safety of boredom. The thrive to be secure has driven the lives into the claws of washed up stability. While that is been done, there is an awe in the concept of “The Matrix” because there is a desperate cry for freeing up from an event bigger than the whole world. That is the only way these shackled chains of routine can be powdered. There needs a reason big enough beyond the world to do something outrageous. That is the adventure life Manesquier seem to have missed and longs. He fantasizes a bank hold up where he has been a customer for forty years. Of course he would do it without any blood sheds because the guilt would eat up the adrenaline fun. His heart still beats faster hearing new sounds at his house and asks his gardener why he is not used to his visit even after twenty years. He has dined in a restaurant for thirty years and has put up with the ruffians who visit now and then. Look the time frame Leconte poses through the character who says to himself on the regularity he has learned to live and accept.

Milan a curt man also unleashes the sword of naked truth sporadically. He is often restless but begins to be amused and amazed at the loudness of Manesquier’s talks and the calmness of the his house, job and silence. He sees the book, piano and the invisible cracks in the wall. He has lived through a duffle bag and wandered through the country. Women on the go and guns to marry, his legs are tired of boots and beckons slippers. Manesquier gifts him one and tells it does not suit him but Milan does not care. He understands Manesquier’s frustration while Manesquier empathizes the same with him. Leconte does not waste scenes in flash back but relies on these two actors. Their bond which develops with few words ends in an eye flash of fantasy fulfilled in a moment of unrealism.

“Man on the Train” which in my first viewing three to four years back began as something of an action film and ended with the same yearning the characters get. Years passed and now it instigates the same. The music of Pascal Esteve is one of the weirdest score I have heard and also one of the most nostalgic and classy too. When we first hear it as Milan sits in the train, we are puzzled by this odd rhythm. It sounds as a discord of tunes but then it forms a shape of everything these characters go through. Brotherhood, loneliness, adventure, care and longings forever.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Knowing" (2009) - Movie Review

“Knowing” is the science fiction film we have been missing so far. When the death of the genre was ironically cremated by the overloading of CGI and less effort on telling the story, the hope was lost. At least on personal level I gave up that there is not going to be another awestruck films what the classic sci-fi came up with “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and of course the Spielberg ventures. And Nicolas Cage is a strange actor who does couple of trashiest films possible like “Bangkok Dangerous” and “National Treasure” sequel and then surprises with “Lord of War” and “The Weatherman”. So when the publicity rolled down for this film with him in the lead, it instantly fell into the former category of worst films. But this is one of the most visually visceral with a PG-13 rating and a story of pure science fiction saw through successfully till the end by director Alex Proyas.

In the year of 1959 as the typical Hollywood scare kid tactics comes Lucinda (Lara Robinson). She writes crazy numbers and that is put in a time capsule buried in front of a school marking its establishment. After fifty years, it is unearthed and the number sheet lands in the hands of Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) the son of MIT Astrophysicist John (Nicolas Cage), a man who has lost his wife to a fire incident a year back. Now he lives coping with his geeky son and hitting the bottle while delving into the sorrow and peace to the music of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (a detail I was able to acquire from a nice reviewer in iTunes). The same Beethoven’s music comes to a dark poetic drive in the end.

Numbers are a disciplined form of poetry. A poetry which seems methodical and defeating the free flow of art but it is one of the greatest mystical and crystalline vision from the human. Numbers attract logic people to prove the illogic and vice versa by the illogic to convince themselves of the sanity they have. And it also attracts bad scripts and thus worst films. Here being the man of science, John finds the connection and it seems too good to be true. His principles and beliefs are disturbed. All the sequence of numbers gives the date and death toll for the past fifty years. Three have not happened and John wants to do something about it. He sees the hotel fire accident which killed his wife in the numbers too. His drive becomes more to prevent these catastrophes.

Thankfully and very very immensely thankfully this is not in it entirety used as a play ground for thrill rides and CGI rains. While of course it uses the CGI effects, its attention to the story remains unperturbed. John continuously and laboriously watches the television to see any disaster events matching the prediction. Failing to see it, he thinks to realize his errancy and goes to pick up his kid from school when he gets stuck in traffic. While leaving apologetic message to a friend and a colleague he got mad at for ridiculing his story, he realizes the unaccounted number to be something else. He is in the spot of the disaster and the disaster which happens in front of him blows your mind but terrorize the hell out of the viewers. In a single shot, we see John being inches away from the happening and then goes into the chaotic scenery of people suffering from burns. He is in to the core of hell in those moments and we are put through that ordeal. A magnitude of such accident happens in a subway which is another scene giving chills.

“Knowing” does not hold suspense. The “whisperers” the kids hearing and seeing does not need any explanation. If anything the sci-fi genre has taught us, it is to identify the human like characters to be not human at all. It is not a ghost story but a horror film in the imminent events of calamity that could cause annihilation with a reason if you want to. As the film goes into its stages of explaining the happenings, a moment of small words leaves it completely better and best from not going in details about the predictions. It becomes immaterial at that point.

We live the life thriving for purpose and reasons. Does “Knowing” advocates theism or atheism? Honestly it does the politically correct in a very convincing fashion of being agnostic. But that is the integrity of the script wherein labeling and deciding is not possible with such a small particle in the cosmic being of us. Nothing becomes the best answer to the existence. It resolves everything. The meaning and purpose are defined by the emotional discovery we make through the life. Many have it in different forms in the most appreciative and of course the most sickest way possible too. The hunt for the reason can only take some one to a certain distance to keep them going but beyond that, it is all left to the moment, the precise perfect single second of our existence which might instantly dismissed in fractions and disposed permanently.

Hope as bright and cheesy it sounds is also as “Red” in “The Shawshank Redemption” says is a dangerous thing. You do not drive yourself into insanity but stay peaceful within the realms of one’s mind. But again how one’s mind will be judged and there we go again into this infinite circles of thoughts till we expire it. “Knowing” does not say much but makes you wonder of these possibilities. It also does not relish in the mad and stupid chaos of the whole world. It centers around on its primary character who seem to be a good blend of nice traits. A scientist with a pastor father and who has seen loved one departed from him. His journey into preventing and finding answers are thrilling, terrorizing, puzzling and with an answer of no answer. Fate, becomes a unsubstantiated reason and evidence for the beliefs one holds but also an information one do not want to know if supplied. Its existence helps in moving on for the one’s who has lost something immeasurable out of no fault of their own but it is also something that keeps one from not moving on of the general crowd who see it as a purpose of life. The last film which made me think so much into complex sentences was “The Fountain”. And “Knowing” brings more than that reaching wider audience and was a great movie experience in the genre of science fiction for me.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Duplicity" (2009) - Movie Review

Any con film is a test for a screen writer. Because the writer knows the game and instead of hurrying up in telling it fast, it needs an uncanny way of putting it such that it segues. As the trick of magic in “The Prestige”, it is a play of fooling wherein the audience needs to be enthralled to be fooled and laugh with the ingenuity of the magician. Concealment is allowed if it is put in such away that we are not insulted by it. “The Sting”, “Ocean’s Eleven” are a play of those and win its audience with a great cheer and applause. “Duplicity” is not a great cheer but a smart con film which would have sounded as the twist of the twists on paper. It always lets us know when we want us to know and finally when the rug is pulled under may be we are not as thrilled as they want us to be. Still it is charming. Why? Because it has two dazzling players for its tango and their chemistry and the paranoid doubts filled in their relationship makes it lovable. Diplomatically mushy but lovable.

Two spies have fronted a con far ahead and deep in the undergrounds of the corporate battle front, which is between two CEOs ready to kill each other. One being Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and the other Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti). The enmity of them has come to hands and knees as the title roles up with their super slo-mo fight, that we get it without bullying, sarcastic and raunchy cussing at each other, they wrestle. Their business strategy is of such secrecy and clandestinity that they hire ex-spies to get their security tight and sink below the levels of cheapness beyond our imagination. They monitor, track, steal, divert and do ultimately the sickest imagination possible without bloodshed in this case. Gilroy is pretty careful in that aspect to not migrate to his previous film “Michael Clayton”.

The spies are played by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. Their first meet ended in bed while the other drugged to get the information. Remember they are spies. While we think about Owen’s Ray being sloppy, we would understand why he followed his instincts and cross the line of spy rules once they formulate plans and sustain their relationship as the film furthers. The acts are revealed step by step going back in time to piece the puzzle so that we only know the information we need for say the next twenty minutes and then comes the next flash back. Like this it keeps us on bay not irritably.

Obviously the plot is convoluted and one can hardly imagine the turmoil, coincidences and the time machine they would have needed to foresee their plan perfectly. The formula for the con film is make it bite its own tail many times and of course make sure the audience do not realize it. The thing about “Duplicity” is the cleverness of the twists. While I called most of it, I loved where they were going. It is like unpacking a gift which you know and love to have. In that the script works sweetly and we deliciously slip in to the sips of balanced concoction of smirks and plays.

Each while being in the plan together working as a team always encircle with trust issues. Both acknowledge it but it is like a constant thought process which they cannot stop. This acknowledgment only worsens as it gives a free pass to stretch out the extreme plausibilities of one screwing over the other. Each are afraid of cheating in their con and still the test of it gets them all along through the end. Their nature of the trust in the shambles and liking them after it reveal how much they want each other, or may be this is a game to get the final lot by themselves. You never know.

Clive Owen does something different. Not in acting but in shaving regularly for once in his films. Julia Roberts does her usual thing which is to dominate the screen and her other half with star power. But Clive Owen would be the only one to withstand it like the manliness he is known for. He takes the hit and falls ground with a hard smile and gets up with mud stubble to take the lady back to his place. This affinity gets the spark going on between these couple forming the story.

Tony Gilroy has the last laugh though. He would have been a contended film maker seeing his work. But why the feel of being enjoyed and not completely fulfilled encompasses us. The finishing which is the rug pull off is totally suspense, not cheating and no cheap tricks. It is a clean pull and we buy into it. We never look back but why there is a sigh that it could have been a little better. May be we have always seen the winners ahead and want the players out of the con safe. May be the reflection of the star images have make us to root for the couple in winning their fortune and live happily ever after. They do win but a film like this have always played the material gain over emotional. Gilroy wants that to cross barriers and it does. You will like it for sure but whether it would be the memorable fun ride needs sometime to think over.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"I Love You, Man" (2009) - Movie Review

Is it like a gold mine discovered by the clan of Apatow in finding the genre of seasoning of tune forking the bond between two straight men? Looks like it because the genre is hitting it right on target every time. While Apatow has nothing to do with this film, his fraternity buddies Paul Rudd and Jason Segel add their flavour to make “I Love You, Man” not only a great comedy but also a tender seriousness very much the blood and soul to its story. Paul Rudd comes off as the coolest guy ever in all the films he has been in and it is hard to believe to see his Peter Klaven in this film to have no male friends. But soon enough we understand the zero chemistry he has with his fellow men and despite his coolness in giving comic lines, his character is a man of random words.

There was a reference from a reviewer I cannot remember for “Knocked Up” saying to have the front men characters played by Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen in that film to get a room to be irritated by them. I found it odd of the reviewer because there is no men in the world who would not have empathized with those characters. And for once there is a genre for men, straight and gay. How better can it get? The talent which goes unrecognized in these comedy flicks is their finesse in following a formula and still coming out creative and artful as it can be. That surprises me every single time.

Our man Peter Klaven just got engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones) and the series of events of his depravity in having male friends puts him to the hunt for a best man. The opportunity to make it the crudest and most exploitative scenario goes smooth, funny and feel sympathetic towards Peter. He is getting set up for “man”date by his mom (Jane Kurtin), his gay brother (Andy Samberg) and his fiance which goes unsuccessful. He has a great time with his mom’s choice Doug (Thomas Lennon) only to be french kissed in the end. His brother sets up his gym colleague Lonnie (Joe Lo Trugillo) who is up all over Peter’s face and has an odd high pitched annoying voice. His fiance’s friend Denise (Jamie Pressly) tries to make her jerk of a husband Barry (Jon Favreau) to hang out with Peter. That turns out to be the worst when a drinking challenge drains Barry with Peter’s puke.

Peter a realtor arranges an open house for the “Hulk” man Lou Ferrigno’s house where he bumps into Jason Segel’s Sidney Fife. He is the most laid back character you could find but still alive and kicking in his cool sort of way. He is honest and says his real venture into this posh house is to get free food and pick up single divorced women. He calls on immaculately on a client of Peter’s who precisely times his art of fart. Peter is impressed and one thing leads to another, they begin to hang out with each other.

Peter has no problem in gelling with the women around. He feels home out there and never panics a heart beat. And the initial conversations he tries to strike with men and then with Sidney is not only funny but you can feel the awkwardness in a way how one would associate with a regular schmuck who goes speechless with women. Here he blabbers continuously. Ends every conversation trying to come up with something cool and blurts not only the most uncool thing ever but makes no sense whatsoever in it

Soon he begins to venture out a ride he seem to have missed out in his life. He jams up music session and drools over each other in a concert of their favourite band “Rush” while Peter pretty much ignores Zooey. The whole nine yards of that wave is nothing to be newly encountered but the Rudd and Segel combination is intense and is hysterically funny.

Segel’s Sidney is not only easy going but brings the best and unseen character in Peter. He makes Peter loosen up and also draws a rule very much open and acknowledging of the bond they have. We have seen this in “Superbad”, “Knocked Up” and traces in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and here it is clear and open on the table of taking the whole perspective of male friendship with a great affection. Comedy films are also tough to review as it is easy to lose yourself and forget about putting the judgmental hat. You lose opinions and have fun completely. While deep drama and emotional films have their feat of their own, comedy films makes you care less and irresponsible for that time. “I Love You, Man” does that and at the same time live the characters to like and care for them. That makes this the first funniest film for the year and it is purely entertaining.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Iraq in Fragments" (Documentary) (2006) - Movie Review

The land of different nations interviewed by few in a documentary is a narrow view but it is at least a view. People from various nations question the culture, trend, practice, philosophy with curiosity and assume an image. I always get an uncomfortable feeling that the projection I make of my country is seen through the opinions of mine. It is not the representation of that and that bothers me. It is unavoidable because a single person’s experience is limited, hearsay and of course does not encompass an enormous nation. Thus is with every other country but this flavour of diverse is mistakenly seen not available in US. While it is true that the variation is incomparable but the strata of culture is there in this country. I am digressing, anyways a documentary is as such though and with the trend of war, betrayal, chaos and injustice from the front of American towards Iraq came in many films. Some were brilliant, others mediocre and now it has become tiring. But “Iraq in Fragments” which came in 2006 can be said as a very true attempt in giving an Iraq in breadth and ground reality.

Yes it has people complaining how the tyranny of Saddam has been replaced by Bush’s insolent positioning of troops and force but that is the emotion floating around that nation. Also it is not used as a tag line of exploitation and arrogance. The film is split into three parts. Each part has a narration by a resident. In two of the segments it follows them around while in the “Sadr’s South” it is the environment of the place. The differences in approach of the chaos and problems from diverse citizens. It is a religious nation as most around the world are and the concept of god takes its form to the perspective of the facilitator to get their opinions across for their advantage, both good and bad.

Longley’s camera work is more than a strength to the film. It becomes a soul. It has filters and tints added for the clarity and effects but does not suck out the naturalness of its locations and situations. Either it is a protest or following a little boy around the school or capturing the plume of black smoke masking the ray of light from the sun at dusk, the imageries of those are quite stupendous. Thus is the editing and the theme of the music.

It uses the narration from the people to avoid any sort of disconnect in obtaining as much truth one could possibly get out of this wide variety of places, people and politics. In the first segment we see a little boy named Mohammed. He is eleven and is working in a mechanic shop run by a father figure, the owner. The man whoops him and teases and embarrasses when the boy is not studying well. While it would be seen insensitive and shocking to American viewers, I could relate to it quite well. Because the fear in the elders that the chance to condition and correct a kid need to be done at any cost. And that is truly effective to give a picture of the future of a degraded and destitute to them and point it out pinching their senses. Despite that the boy says he loves the man and works and studies under his guidance. Having that as the main story, the film goes behind him in the streets with shambled buildings and chaotic setting. It is congested and the people are filled with anger, frustration and in many cases a big sigh of representing their loss of hope.

The second segment is terrorizing, powerful and gives the layer of the Iraq which is at the edge of waging a war and they do carry out in certain ways. There are group of people who believe in the civil disobedience and proper election to prove their governance to the Americans and win that way. Others under a leader are ready to be kindled, lured into the destruction and violence where they need some one to shower their anger. This contrast becomes the segment with chilling images again not exploiting but giving what is happening in the country.

The third segment follows the Kurdish area and a family producing bricks and herding sheeps for their living. The spring is hiding in the corner and the change in the weather becomes another beauty for the camera of Longley. All the three segments carry a great thing among the films which come out focusing on this country. It for once looks at the people in a way very equally without making them sympathetic. We empathize with their frustration but the difference among them is a problem existing in many nations especially in India. While they loathe the America’s nosy attitude, they have their own problems to figure out before they get to real roots. Watching the country suffer in many ways and listening to the supposedly leaders, the raged citizens and the noble bystanders, the song of REM played again and again, “Living Well is the Best Revenge”.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"10 Items or Less" (2006) - Movie Review

The odds of a Hollywood big shot like Morgan Freeman meeting a regular store clerk in a grocery shop are far less and far less is the interaction they have. Keeping aside the cynicism “10 Items or Less” is a simpleton film. It is that easy drive on a Wednesday afternoon. While the busy bees drool the cubicle cages and the empty lanes are packed with housewives in Walmart super centers, the roads are sparsely filled with an air of reeking laziness but an odd sense of relaxation too. That is the day the nameless character played by Morgan Freeman and Scarlet by Paz Vega take a small drive around the suburbs of LA.

A known veteran actor rides along with a fairly young and casual man Packy (Jonah Hill) on a typical van suiting a low budget film. That scene is the most important for the film which follows through as it becomes the tone for rest of the film. While Packy clearly digs the actor and the actor who loves his job kind of acknowledges it. He has not worked in four years and wobbles on committing to this project for an young director, the cousin of Packy. Whether Freeman plays himself does come up but he definitely takes the trait associated with him to this film. Packy plays a cassette which is an audio book with a very similar voice to Freeman. The actor denies he did it and does with a good reason. See he is the voice of “The Shawshank Redemption” and he tells how the reader in the audio fails the content and rhythm. He does a sample and it is a spoof, a parody, a tribute and a brilliant comic moment to kick off the film.

While being dropped off in a neighbourhood he has no idea of, he enters the grocery shop and begins to capture the characters he see for the film. He sees a disgruntled but smart and fast clerk on the 10 Items or Less lane. She knows she is too good for the job and vents her frustration on this menial job towards the customer. She looks at the basket and taps fast on the old and breaking cash counter to come up with a number. If she has miscalculated, she can always get them to buy a milk. This obviously attracts the actor and he begins to converse. She knows who he is and with a couple of nice observations and free judgments he makes, Scarlet the clerk while not giving the strings begins to continue the conversation.

The actor is a man befriending everyone and becoming every one. He is smooth talker and a friendly man. He accepts the remaining stardom he has and not really proud of a block buster again using the Freeman real life actor in this. There was a time when he did multiple of films of similar nature with Ashley Judd and they use it for the script. Everywhere he stops by at the video section of a gas station or stores, he sees his film in discounts and two for one sale. He hides them behind. Having knowing the philosophies of life, he has not seen a thing on the real world. He stares at awe at a Target store and does not have a clue whom to call when left in the grocery shop. He is a man of every one with not knowing any one deep enough. He has been too busy enacting other characters that he missed their real feelings towards him. Yet he says to have managed a good marriage with kids but cannot find the beat in his string of long gap in his career.

The regular toughness of the livelihood becomes the story of this film. Both are in troubled world of not too much happening and the missing drive to get things done. The actor sticks in to study her and in a way likes her as he says that he sees him in her. That is not the formula line of a fatherly figure but a serious observation of a seasoned actor and a problem existing in the young crowd of coming days including me. Thirty is a big deal and the decline of mental age is so steep. Whether it is the life finishing off seeing way more things than necessary or the early acceptance of the death of youth before even it gets started are few reasons I could think of. Scarlet represents that generation though she is in more financially backed down situation than the norm crowd. But financial constraint is just a part of the problem. The real problem is the miscellaneous expenses we put to tally the account. That expense is the waste of the precious time life provides for us.

I make it sound way more serious film than it actually is. It is a very light hearted and casual film which was shot in 15 days. It has a formula which becomes a far better film by the acting of Freeman and Vega. It becomes a much better film in the writing and direction of Brad Silberling. The working charm of “10 Items or Less” is that it sees life very seriously but also takes it lightly as it comes. It is comforting, careful and correct in its depiction beyond its cinematic routines and doubtful coincidences.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Taxi Driver" (1976) - A Classic, A Cult.....A Dissection

The very membrane of the “Taxi Driver” which stood in itself during the first viewing for me is when Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle takes Betsy played by Cybill Shepherd to a porn film for their date. While porn as such depicts explicitness, the images Betsy and we see are quite explicit for that genre or Scorsese makes us feel so because we can then clearly see the shock Betsy goes through of this unexpected assault on her psychological comfort. And Bickle quite surprised by her shock while apologizing also is disappointed in the one he thought is different. Beyond that “Taxi Driver” in my memory resided as a good film, something stood out and appealed but I dusted it out without pursuing it. I remember this instance because I never verbally said or written about it until when a friend asked why would some one take their date for a porn film. That part existed out of reality in that per se was his argument or the point director tried to make which made no sense to him. At that instant I tried to express the purpose of it. It is similar to how I would suggest or like some one close to me witness something I enjoyed deeply and personally. Bickle expected the same to Betsy. Granted that his taste are beyond defined adhered normalcy and it does not seem usual but the plane of that sequence is to understand that nature in him, not to scrutinize his actions. And after couple of statements from each side, I forgot about it. Now after three to four years later, I found a special edition two disc DVD some days back. I bought it and it slept in the shelf for a while. Yesterday I saw the film. Obviously more impressed and tremendously wondered by it, today seeing all the special features and hearing the makers speak, I could not stop writing this piece.

What is the essence of “Taxi Driver”? Why are we bothered sharing the lonely surreal but very much real ride Travis Bickle goes through into this awful display of debauchery, corruption, violence and a much troubled frustration in the injustice and wrongness in the streets of New York? What gives the moral righteousness for Travis to carry out his missions? Do we like him or does the writer Paul Schrader with De Niro and Scorsese wants us to like him or may be not like him? This series of questions are not questions but an empathy arising watching the film. There is no justification in the reaction of Bickle nor does it resolve to a happy ending. It is a film of an emotion, a statement, an agony and more than the environment is the psychology of an young person trapped by his own loneliness. As said in the interviews, Scorsese wanted to make a film because he identified with Bickle and so did Schrader the creator of this man and so did De Niro who got absorbed into this film. They thought it was personal, unique and something they would be considered a freak or an outsider just as Bickle is thought to be. And many were touched because the pain is common, the frustration is universal and the terrible ordeal of the mind putting that through is uncanny in “Taxi Driver”.

The man enlists to drive the odd hour shift because he cannot sleep. We see him as a striking young man and he has come back from a war. Whether the reflection of his thoughts towards the society is something due to it is not mentioned but it should be a essential factor in moulding his opinions and perceptions and of course his sanity. He is disgusted by the roads he drives on. And I came to know through some real drives interview in the special features that the 70’s New York Streets were bad as the film says. Travis poses a calm face with a smile which charms, scares and worries us in various circumstances. He says he does not care about the customers he picks. It does not alter or weigh anything of a significance in his scale of balance towards right and wrong but deep within it does affect him. His bottled up anger only gets on worse day by day as the clock work gets to him. His treatment for insomnia has worsened his day life. He meanders inside his tiny apartment and works out in great detail in his journal of his encounters with his mind. He puts up plans for proving a point not to any one but himself. That in his laid down rules of morals, code and conduct, he is doing something. In that devilish stature he knows a little sense of reality around him but no one to look around for. And he desperately seeks out in a completely disconnected way to one of his colleague “Wizard” played by Peter Boyle. Wizard knows the unsettling feeling but without any clarity ball parks on tackling it for which Bickle response with sarcasm, defeat and disappointment. But Wizard does not take offense and as a defense and justification uses his limitations of being a cab driver and not knowing the worldly philosophies stopping him to correct and aid the distorting vision of him.

In this man’s life comes the angle of perfection, Betsy. She has arranged her hair wherein every string of the golden line is visible and moves in motion of dance step. And when the wind whirls through it, there is no definition and boundaries for that trance. Such is the beauty of a woman that our lead man sees a speciality in her. We see her as the lead woman for external appearances while Bickle uses that to judge her. We judge her with reservations. Yet Betsy is a lovely lady with an eye that can see and question you demanding the pristine nature of the inner self and also pose a charm and control over the opposite sex. Bickle mesmerizes her when he steps in to the campaign office she works and invites for a coffee and a pie. She asks Why? In other films wherein it would have been a formula of the most effective romantic liners, Scorsese chooses something else through this man. He translates himself towards her. The solitary aura that exists in him also exists in her as he says. She might not be that but gets interested and pulled in by this bold statement. She is mystified more than attracted.

While the film speaks unsound commentary on its audience, there is nothing to be concrete upon. This is not a film with a start and an end. Technically, yes it does have a beginning and an ending but the end is not really a way to finish off things or to close the coffin or leave the audience feel good. The ending is something for the limitation of the medium. The character’s one part of his enormous life is given for that period of time, that too in pieces with a care for visual and a great appreciation for art. With music and glows and shines and shadows, it becomes a cross section for that hundred minutes or so of a person’s life. What is the real experience is the post dissection and to hear the makers talk about it. Not that it explains a lot but we understand their stand to create this character as much as we identify our perception towards that in our kind of way. In that acknowledgment though in different perspectives and separate situations and opinions, it is good to be with company. Such is the pain and suffering that it can always use a friend or two to cope up. And this display of one’s solitude and vexation does not make us alone in the lonely journey. This unspoken conversation within ourself while reflected in hallucinations and multiple interpretations in many other films, puts a pin without any description and explanation in this film. While we cannot exactly say the experience, we know what ticked the writer, director and the actor. That is something unexpected for the makers and in a great way to its audience.

The whole film looked through the glasses of Bickle carries an honesty and truth in his perception. Not his opinions but on the veracity of his depiction as per the detail. He is constantly haunted and put in through the trauma of spending the days in his room alone while at nights go through the torment of witnessing the filth all over again. His desperation to seek out somebody is only partial attempt as he does not want to alter his view. His view towards this darkness and inconsolable condition of the city and his drive to do something. That drive he thinks might be stopped by reaching to some one. May be that is the reason he uses his loneliness as a shield on others. He wants to stay pure and continue his destiny and be in control of his actions and consequences.

His failure to continue with Betsy turns around to create some sort of angst towards the Senator she is campaigning for. Again the question of Why comes in. Why does he want to assassinate a man he does not know of? This is the part of his narration he does not talk about to the audience. May be he sees him as the corruptor of his relationship with Betsy or may be he thinks giving a jolt to the next man standing in line for presidency a state of the streets. Whatever it is he gathers so much ammunition which again forms a great scene with the arms dealer (Steven Prince). It could have been a simple gun transaction but how the dealer sells his stuff and while finishing off asks for other products he has to offer laying down the drugs no one heard of. Bickle is sickened by that too.

Like this he wants to save some one from some where and that next act becomes a runaway kid Iris (the young Jodie Foster) exploited as prostitute by a pimp named Sport played by Harvey Keitel. Sport and Iris of course have a strange relationship but luring a twelve year old who has left the family does not need big techniques. She has accepted this life and questions back what kind of righteousness does Bickle carries when he wants to save her. Bickle in the first scene tells in a sarcastic yet true note to his employer about his driving record, “as clean as my conscience”. A man with such a clarity on his state even if it is unstable gives it right back to Iris.

“Taxi Driver” has every scene having something to say. Either about its protagonist or about the strange passengers he takes on. The director Scorsese himself plays a spying husband finding out the affair his wife is having. His audience in that case is Travis but he converses for the most part because he is disappointed, angry and wants to keep him steady by talking. The film works on little suspense like how the character and their purpose is in the short while they come by.

This is that film which has everything complete, perfect and synchronous in all the departments. The music by Bernard Hermann, cinematography by Michael Chapman and editing by Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro are a wonderful piece of element in its places in the film. And the final shoot down carries a special mention to the special effects by Tony Parmelee. Which comes to that blood bath carrying so much intensity, gore and something of a performance this character needs playing it like a requiem. In its times, the colours of the blood were desaturated in order to pass the R-rating. That brought me a question on the violence, humiliation, torture and the extremities that goes through in showing in an art. Do we need such a revisit to the darkened places of humanity? Of course we do to either carry the energy of that situation or the gravity and fierce nature to that instant but more importantly for the emotion of the art to be in terms of its material. So how far one goes with it? The shots in “Taxi Driver” even to the current gorefest seems overboard yet powerful and needed. I guess it is up to the viewer to gauge it and there is a limit in which one can take it. The concern is for the crew especially the actors doing those. In the proceeds of depicting something inhuman to say how brutal it is, there is a severe possibility of the same happening to the people involved defeating its purpose. That line is not standard and can only goes with the self defined social or personal responsibility of the film maker. The art though is free and unrestricted. The viewers have the authority to view or not to view it.

This is a film which connects the solitary part of the system and in a person’s life or part of their life during this time frame of it. It definitely is not about taking sides or finding the path or offering solution. It is about the empathy it generates. The empathy on this man suffering from that and has developed a shunning mechanism to stay serene and truthful to himself. He continues that path of losing it and acts upon it. And the irony of his actions perceived by others like media in the end is a tragicomedy of its own. If he would have been caught in the attempt of assassinating the Senator, he would have been in the same headlines under different spectrum of title and the same thing followed as second mission earns him something else. He is still the same person with no solace and sleep. He still wanders around like a man on the edge. With the shoot outs and suicide bombers on various states and countries around the world in current times, my brother recently sent an article on CNN which seeing this film beckons to ask more on the futile question of “Why”. The existence of so many Bickle as such in characters are few but in the psychology of us are the same. The sanity to keep it in our control and move out of that phase to see something more beautiful and fulfilling in some form or other makes us reasonable human. In “Taxi Driver” we see that passed phase or a dangerous fantasy never carried out or to be rational and human about the consequence in this man. The only consolation in the story is not him named hero or his alive and well status in the end. The consolation is most of us do not act upon that and we feel a little sane and greatly relieved by it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Let the Right One In" (2008) - Movie Review

Movies like “Let the Right One In” triumphs because of the composure it brings along to a story which in reality would have so much flaw and plot holes in it. It is a calm, very calm film meditating on the unrelenting force of survival and incapability of control over it. It then takes its focus towards the society inbreeding the violence very early at the age when kids aggravate their bullying into something else. Then it plays an unusual tone of relationship between a twelve year old boy and another twelve year looking girl to mould into something else without a single bit of perversion or uncomfortableness. Staying still and unnerving, “Let the Right One In” is a film which entertains you purely on its making and mood than anything else.

This Swedish film focuses on a wintery town. A young tame boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives with his mother. While he invades his anger alone in his room in an act of retaliation towards being humiliated and bullied by his classmate Conny (Patrik Rydmark) earlier at his school, he sees a neighbour move in. An old man (Per Ragnar) comes with a young girl (Lina Leandersson). Soon Oskar and the young girl meet at the apartment playing yard and begin to converse to defy their loneliness. Thus begins a strange journey for these two of them.

See the girl comes out only in the night and her caretaker goes out and tries to bring blood for her. All becomes clear without any explicit dialogues that she is not human. Only later in the film does the confirmation from Oskar towards her reveals that she is a vampire. She also says she is not a girl to Oskar. In the icy cold winter wherein the trees have given up their leaves to stay still and not perturb the eerie silence, the film is a movement in its essence of an unfazed image . Nothing sudden happens even with really tense moments when the young girl whose name is Eli hunts out of survival to quench her blood thirst.

It is not a film about horror or thriller as the immediate nature to connect vampire and blood to the genre usually does. It is a film of a surrounding wherein a vampire becomes a better friend than one’s human class mates. Despite being to kill and survive, Eli seem to not even try to resist in attacking Oskar. There seems to be a connection out there itself without any sense of affection in words and physicality. These two who are actually kids are posed as mature beings but in their little world of limited sensibility.

If Eli works with such an abnormal perfection, it is the casting of the little girl Lina Leandersson. She has grown up eyes but tiny in her appearance. She has eerie appearance but a subtle unusual beauty for her age. We see an aging and tired being but also a kid gave up trying to grow up. It is that which makes us like this blood seeking character. It is also because of that there is a complete cuteness when Eli and Oskar talk out of going steady and having a chance with each other.

What is also a little bit of downfall is the sense of the real to life depiction not suiting the material in hand. Is it because there is an absolute impossibility of a vampire film made to exist in the life we lead? Was there any super natural film which attempted to co-exist with our daily life? Thinking hard and wild, it is tough to recollect any film in that realm at all. I believe it is the inability to see this unknown and unseen pair of actuality with the fiction having to hold hands. And that appears a little out of place.

From the novel of same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist who also penned the screenplay for the film, it is a tale of untold rhythms. I was not enthralled but very silently entertained. In the music and pictures of this chilly weather and unique characters, we see humanity, inhumanity, animal instinct and a stretch of love which would have gone wrong in so many ways by stepping aside in tiniest proportion.

“Let the Right One In” does not have a purpose. It is a short story arriving at its will to its center line piece of these two beings finding solace with each other. Convincing plot, untied knots becomes unnecessary when there is a whole lot exploration and aesthetic beauty left to be seen in rest of the film. In that we forget the logic and are tickled by the sweetness of the script and the sympathy it creates on this tragic character of Eli. While we become to accept the nature of Eli in killing humans, we could not come to conclusion on these bullying kids going beyond imagination to cause trouble to their class mate. May be we are separating too much and placing and thinking too high of us to expect something brutal. May be we are all vampires inside ready to suck in the meager humanity residing in prospective weakened souls. May be we have become to find our Oskar and live with an understanding called love. It sounds too cheesy but it is the only connection with our sanity among beasts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Synecdoche, New York" (2008) - Movie Review

The confusing and often boring but weirdly intuitive Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” brought a question beyond his reality of screenplay, which is this “how in the hell did he manage to explain this script to his cast and crew to create and complete it?”. When some one sits to watch a film by Charlie Kaufman they can be assured to be inside a person’s head, literally. Into the words, creativity and bizarre world of metaphors and bundled inside an imaginative land of eccentricity exists an odd beat for profound meaning of life. It exemplifies paradox and deflowers the virginity of our shelled thoughts. And it also leaves you frustrated, clueless and in “Synecdoche, New York”, detached and non-emotional.

In the regular trends of the lead characters in Kaufman’s story, we see a below average Joe hating himself for his inability to be attractive while heightening his muse in arts and literature. The man here is Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He is with his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and four year old daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein). He is a play director and we can see how these two people fell in love and got married. We can also see how distant and deteriorating their relationship is getting. Both are losing each other but Adele is moving faster out of Cotard’s life. Cotard is constantly flirted by a box office ticket issuer Hazel (Samantha Morton) and his lead actress Claire (Michelle Williams) looks up to him which is only an inch away from infatuation. With that we enter into the story of Caden and soon as expected, the reality is kissed goodbye and the twisted and creative universe of Kaufman fills us.

The work of this man is a complex brainiac into the action with ease of moving characters and plots as he pleases without any trouble. He is an art geek. All his works are a puzzle waiting to be solved. Even if you do not solve it there is a pleasure of reading the puzzle and awed by a solution existing for it. In “Synecdoche, New York” I was often uninterested but there is a twitch in me wondering the complexity of this story. It is the same feeling I had for “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” only more related and attached than this film.

What exactly did this film lose in me that the other previous ventures struck me with a bold of lightning? The awe of the imagination was there in this film but there is a void in relating to the central character. Caden Cotard is a constantly changing persona with a consistent self pity and loneliness. He loathes his inability to act and when he wants to, it has long gone. Hence he screws up the current life and worsens the life which never cared for him. He does it again and again and again which becomes a painful exercise and we come to be annoyed by him. There is no need for sympathy as he himself does it uncontrollably.

As the initial sequences have some semblance to the reality and for a minute you wonder what happened to Kaufman, we are invited to the giant warehouse where Caden begins to recreate his master piece of a play. That play is the recreation of his life and that life begins to sprout into infinite pieces and representations of further world within world. End of it there has been enough characters created and in that exponential other characters are recreated. The process is cumbersome and thinking about solving only makes you more befuddled.
Given that the film is a disappointment from this favourite writer of mine, the film would leave its mark in melancholy and sadness. In the end as the lead man’s walk towards his life are changed by people and then he becomes a character in his own play, it is clear that everyone is everyone and everyone can also become no one in losing their identity. That feeling of solitary in a crowded house scares a bit in the little person hiding inside a door in us.

It is a visually imaginative exploration. It is another exercise of Kaufman’s test of sanity in an ever changing scenario. In “Being John Malovich”, “Adaptation.” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, the lead men are deeply in circle of thought process in figuring their life. Each are also disgusted about it and sympathize beyond imagination towards them being the sore loser. In those three there was a kind of connection you could make with them in a positive manner in the end. Caden Cotard becomes a man who seems to never die and gets on our nerves slowly but surely throughout the film. “Synecdoche, New York” is a wonderful creative failure. This is the kind of film which makes you go back and forth. I call it wonderful and creative but failure in some sort of a word I put myself to make it complete. A statement to suffice the purpose of this review. But the film as unreachable it seems has an invisible invitation for a second view. Whether I would take it or not would not be a failure of its content but a slacking from my side. Someday I might take that invitation, till then it remains an unsatisfied film.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"The Hidden Fortress" (Language - Japanese) (1958) - Movie Review

One of the most slowest and boring film I have seen of Akira Kurosawa is “The Hidden Fortress”. By the time it gets to the center piece of its story we are half asleep. With two most annoying and lifeless characters jumping out of the moral stories in our child hood books, it felt like there is no end. While it is the slowest of my favourite director’s film, it is also one of the most arduous effort put on by the actors and the crew to shoot it. With a continuous trekking on terrains with stones rolling and carrying weights of immense proportion and constantly falling over the rough roads, this would have taken a big toll on the whole crew of this film.

It follows two peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) being unpropitious in the nook and corner they turn. They are navigating back to their hometown Hayakawa after they get mistaken as the enemy survivors by their own clan and then making them to bury the dead bodies. Tired and frustrated they travel back. With the soldiers of Yamana one of the three major forces in the area, they are again doubted as the enemies, Akizuki. Down by their luck and driven by greed, they run with their heels hitting their backs to the woods, mountains and rivers.

They see that there is a reward for finding the only remaining heir of the Akizuki Clan Princess Yuki and that makes them dream of getting her and claiming some money they have completely lost in coming to the war they missed. And their luck turns out a little bit to their favour. They find a gold being hidden in one of the stick they picked up for their cooking. They drool and break every stick around the vicinity with vain. Soon they are followed by a strange man from the woods and they are tricked into his schemes. That man turns out to be the General Rokurota Makabe (Toshirô Mifune) the guardian of the young and tom boyish Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara). The rest becomes their journey in crossing the border carrying 200 pieces of gold.

By the time the peasants meet Rokurota which is where the real story happens, it feels like ages have passed. The two peasants are basically greedy to the bone and their friendship toggles between risks and fights they face. Their bond purely is driven through the aggravation towards wealth. Now showing their greed does not require much effort but Kurosawa goes to great pains to show their fundamental character been corrupted. The reason for that looks like he wants to present the entire class of common people into those wherein the Princess gets chance to see it. They whine, cry, moan, scold and are sufficiently cunning to carry out their clandestine operations met with immediate failure followed by their shameless running back to the General for protection. The characters as expected to be annoying gets on your nerves and you do not want to see them anymore.

Now the slimiest character in the element of those are strengthened by General Rokurota Makabe and Princess Yuki. Not because they are valiant and prudent. It is purely due to their calmness (which the Princess is advised to be to escape notice) and not pester us. The adventure gets muddied with the slow movements and the manual labour they undertake brings strain to the audience on carrying that loads by themselves. But the disappointment personally would be the wise man attitude which does not get portrayed well in this film of Kurosawa.

Yet the technicality of the film is matchless. With great shots of wide spread landscape and the cross angled camera views of the steep slopes of the mountains with river of stones are some prime exemplifying techniques Kurosawa regularly does with his films. And the spear fight between the General and his favourite enemy from the opposition General Hyoe Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita) is a spectacular choreography to watch for.

“The Hidden Fortress” is a monumental disaster. It works with actors who have proven their skills in many other ventures of Kurosawa. The letdown is the screenplay which generally is the cornerstone of his films. It becomes an excruciating exercise to watch through the snail paced film which drags itself down and slow till we are completely given up to watch further at all.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

"Bringing Out the Dead" (1999) - Movie Review

New York City, wet streets, insomniac, junkies, dirts from the ditches, surreal characters, blooming lights and Martin Scorsese, now you have the recipe for a beautiful film even if it parallels his other movies. This got a bonus with Nicolas Cage as the burning out paramedic Frank Pierce servicing the bodies of the destitute, careless and plainly irresponsible people in “Bringing Out the Dead”, movie adapted from the novel of the same name by Joe Connelly. Sweeten that deal with a screenplay by Paul Schrader. There are only next to nothing possibility of this film being even a little bit bad. This is umpteenth time Scorsese is giving something perfect.

In the three nights of marching into the roads of hell, Frank Pierce gathers himself to face his ghosts. One prominent face haunts him forever and it is getting very frequent. A while ago he was not able to save a girl named Rose (Cynthia Roman). Why of all many dying people does Rose stand out? It might be because that is where he questioned his competency for his job. He gets guilt get into him turning into fear. He is having a tough time sleeping, eating but not drinking though which is the only thing keeping him see the dark roads.

In this span of three nights he partners up with three colleagues. Larry (John Goodman), Marcus (Ving Rhames) and Tom (Tom Sizemore). All three projecting this job in different directions of their own but definitely adding the eccentricity driven by it. Each are on their heels trying to lighten up this cleaning job of dirty mess. The atmosphere of the ER is suffocating. The gates to the salvation i.e. treatment is guarded by a mean and hard man Griss (Afemo Omilami) while the hospital fills up like an open cup on a pouring solid rain. It is waiting to break loose any moment but somehow the ship sails through. How does one work in this place and go home for a nice meal and a sleep? There is the admitting nurse who makes it a definite point to ask why they should treat a drug addict, a suicide-monger, drunkard and every craziest thing one could get them into. When they openly attempt to abuse and annihilate their body and soul, what is the need for its retrieval from the mouths of death? Insensitive to ask this question, may be but wait till you see the film and you can empathize with their feeling.

Only Scorsese can admire the beauty of this wretched situations into a glimpse of aesthetics and art. Not that he glorifies it or exploits it but finds a rhythm to get disgusted by the situation but appreciative of what the director portrays out of it. In that hard line stands Scorsese wondering his perspective and how the audience perceive through it. Who better can play this trembling and destructing character Frank other than Nicolas Cage. He is droopy with the prominent dark circles below his eyes. Any moment he is ready to fall on his knees and hit the ground on his face accepting the force of gravity to lay him to rest. He carries the weight of the beings he has saved, lost and the one talks in front of him. He begins the day on the surface of the water and steps down towards slow and accepting drowning. Yet beyond this consideration we see him to be capable of handling himself. Any other character we would have wanted that person to get help but not Frank. Not because he is a medic but in those visions of calmness and chaos, there is an assurance of knowing everything and dealing it.

With the stamp on selection of songs and scores, “Bringing Out the Dead” of course runs parallel to the lonely cab nights by Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”. And from the same screen writer it sees the New York City’s neighbourhood seething agony, pain and frustration into many but cannot embody that control over it. They put that feeling through characters in their films. We laugh at the miseries of these body savers while laugh more when they refer patients with their way of jokes. Will I be thrilled to hear those when my loved ones or me being in the bed? Not before, but now, I guess I can and smile about it.

Frank Pierce begins to extend himself to a patient’s daughter Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette). She is the daughter who has not spoken with her father, the patient for three years. And her conflicts with the life and death towards altering views and situations is another dimension Frank seem to thoroughly know but likes to hear from her this time around. Amongst the surplus faces of Rose in the pedestrians and victims, Frank slowly but clearly seeing the brink of his sanity. We are so in sense of his ordeal that when a drug man offers a pill to help Frank relax, we want him to take it. We need him to get a sleep some how because he needs it and deserves it or may be we might not want him losing it over our cardiac arrest.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

"Watchmen" (2009) - Movie Review

More and more as we near to the cynicism of our existence, there is a road away from the facade we have created and shelled for the daily sanity of livelihood. And the art forms taking their philosophical perspective on this complexity of the characters in human, the truth seems to be unbearable. May be the potency of that information might stall the steps we take in the day or may be we are not matured and in a constant denial to see through the facts and live with it. Whatever it is, the comic book films are no more comic and it has evolved in to a reality of fiction created by it. “Watchmen” is one such. While I was caught unguarded when the plot unfolds in the end, it took a long time to reach there and I mean a long time. I would have liked to see it in parts, sequel or as one of the early developmental suggestion of having a miniseries. Nevertheless director Zack Snyder takes upon the challenge and completes it despite that it barely reaches the scale of good in my mind.

It is the 80s and President Nixon (Robert Wisden) is there along with this clan of super heroes. There are many and they have generations. They have changed names and evolved through the time. The time where most of them have retired and the rest servicing openly and some finding peace in their normalcy. A veteran from the early generations of these super heroes is “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and he gets thrown out of his apartment by a darkened face to meet his demise. This triggers another vigilante and cold hearted compadre Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley) to investigate the murder and thus introducing us to the clan. Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) a techie geek retired, the ultra super power Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and his girl friend Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) working for the US government in helping to stand tall in the face of Soviet’s threat and Adrian (Mathew Goode) a revealed super hero who has made a fortune for himself and works for alternate energy along with Dr. Manhattan.

What is unique about “Watchmen” is that it starts where the happy ending of super hero films leave. It begins with the failures of them in humans and their own struggle in giving a damn for a better world. They have lived long enough to see the atrocities in the streets hiding in the alleys with piled up sins oozing the venom in to the sewage of the city. It has disgusted them enough to retire or become the dark force. A force which does not believe in the defined law and the moral obligation for forgiveness. But that force has divided into psychopaths like The Comedian and the agonized blood seeker as Rorschach. Then of course there is Dr. Manhattan with the ability of being the god and wonders whether he really needs to care for the human kind.

This all sets up to be a nice and novel story to be listened and wondered upon. It does but then it begins to crawl in to the slow motions and makes us think unnecessarily. They lose the grip and falters into the attempt of poetically made scenes unmoving. Part of the problem are the numerous characters with each of their back stories going back couple of decades. Understandably every one needs their time but how much it is going to aid in making this film good? And in that they were not aware of the old saying “Be careful what you wish for”. They get complex situations and characters and they get them plethora of it to make them sweat.

I was of course interested in the developments of every character especially Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan. And the third view in the end makes it perfect. Rorschach while kills without hesitation when he sees a criminal is also conducted by his own rules of conscience. Dr. Manhattan on the other hand is a detached practical philosopher doing things without any single shred of purpose. He sees humans as spoiled brats and the kids who are always looking for some one to clean up their mess and console their guilty filled innocent face. He is not fed up but has seen that and does not want to waste his time on why because questioning nature is a one with no answer.

Before I went to the film, I have been hearing from couple of my colleagues who have read the comic book that the ending is “the” thing for “Watchmen”. They were worried that it would be bent, butchered and morphed for a wide audience under the hands of Hollywood business practices in its creativity. If there is a different ending than this, I sure would like to see that because this ending rescues a gloriously sinking film. And if something can top that, I will be in front of the line. Snyder has worked hard and words does not need to confirm that. Yet there is no way to reach across the aisle to hold hands with the “Watchmen”. I salute its uniqueness but projecting it all in one film is a poor choice of medium for such a wide story and characters.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"The Bad Sleep Well" (Language - Japanese) (1960) - Movie Classics

There is an absolute stillness of statement in Kurosawa’s films. He always is very certain about what he is about to present and is unflinchingly brutal about it. Does not blink and the film looks like as though the whole crew shot it without taking a single break. That is the clarity you get when you watch this historic movie icon in his works. “The Bad Sleep Well” may be the darkest film I have seen of Kurosawa. It does not even meander the territory of cynicism for its shadiness because it would then implicate a tinge of doubt of being proven otherwise. But no, he wants us to know in this film that his motive is to give a clinical and sterile truth of the existing reality. That is the existence of pure evil.

And talking of evil, what other place than to venture the tricky region of corporate arena to get its underlying origins. Trimmed haircut, cleanly shaven with suits, shoes and ties, the post war Japan in the sixties seem to be the evolving battleground of private business getting its hands dirty in complete coherence with their conscience in its purest nature of beast’s den. While it is unfair to generalize the corporate reign, it is a field of comfortable devilishness. If there is a way to do a bad deed with a complete understanding of the circumstances for something good of course to them, then there is a job title for it.

And it is mostly the head of the kingdom and they take pride in their decisions when such acts of unmerciful corruption takes place. Such is Iwobachi (Masayuki Mori), an old and seasoned corporate criminal. We are invited in to the wedding reception of Iwobachi’s daughter Yoshiko (for some reason the actor’s name is not mentioned in imdb’s casts list) with Koichi Nishi (Toshirō Mifune). It reeks of uncomfortableness as the press is piling up to see the corruption between Iwobachi’s Public Corporation and his bidding scandal scheme with Dairyu Construction stages by their arrest in the function. Adding to that is the judgment and prejudice upon Nishi’s marriage to Yoshiko who is physically disabled and Nishi’s intention seen as an ulterior motive to boost up his career in the corporation. Nishi does have an ulterior motive which becomes the axis of this story.

This time around Kurosawa has couple of classic shots and lets the bigger part of his film takes precedence over his aesthetic preference. But those shots are impeccable. The one being the disturbed and terrified accomplice in Public Corporation’s corruption Shirai (Kô Nishimura) walking down the street seeing Wada ( Kamatari Fujiwara) from the lights of a car behind him. Wada is the class of people the general public is. Wada is a loyal and good soul but does not stand for the conscience and goes along with the scheme in fear and obedience to his masters. While he sees his boss’s machinations and cruelty, he cannot see past that they are capable of worse things than that. He becomes the man standing in the middle as of us between the worst of the kind in human, Iwobachi and a man seeking justice employing tactics of his own, Nishi.

Every single day and every single moment there happens the most horrific inhumane things in this world. Blasts, shootings, slicing people off and when violence is not enough, there is always humiliation and mutilation of human souls. But in the personal daily life of one, there is a momentary grievance and we continue the chores of the minutes we pass. I am not here for the inaction of those because honestly that is all can be done when we have far away detached ourselves physically from those situations. But the worst part about it is the failure to acknowledge of that part of us existing in its purest form in many others, evil. Evil to me is not the opposite of good but a characteristic of an animal. Nature’s work in action and there is no consolation for it. There is no facade of the miniscule possibility of love and care in it. Sure it does but it all vanishes in a jiffy when the main characteristic in their brains take over. It is not the pessimism but the transparency of seeing things of what they are. True that I do not want to see it and for that case no one wants to see it and when they see it, these philosophical ramblings are going to evaporate. Yet in the clearest of setting and brightest of minds, there is a greatest blunder in us not to notice that plain simple truth. You can see it in “The Bad Sleep Well”.

Now I go back to a film which I laid my wrath upon which executed a spirit of human in pieces without any redemption, “The Beijing Bicycle”. In that there is a clear indication of the harsh reality and I minced it in my review. After talking so much about the darkest nature of us in preceding paragraphs, what is the difference in this film to have the same concept being accepted and praised while in the other it was shot down and butchered? I believe that is the effect of Kurosawa taking an invisible wise figure stand in his films. In “The Beijing Bicycle” that seems to be in absence. A missing of such a character to make us swallow that bitter pill and that made it an unpleasant experience.

In Kurosawa’s films there is a stand of Zen way in his preaching. We do not infer not even an ounce of condescension or arrogance but sweetly hear rustic adages towards the simplicities and complexities of the lives we lead. The story telling in his pictures bode the property of our grandfathers and grandmothers at their peak of experience and old age sharing some wisdom not for us to change but to tell it as a piece to remember. We make our own mistakes and when the realization comes it is engraved as a lesson with the power of their words. Kurosawa does so in “The Bad Sleep Well” and it is for you to hear it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"12:08 East of Bucharest" (Language - Romanian) (2006) - Movie Review

The only question which came up throughout the film of “12:08 East of Bucharest” in me was “Do I really care?” This supposedly claimed dead pan comedy of the distracted realism of the history is never for a moment carries a value of conspicuous care for the characters in its film. The questioning of how a historical event for a country translates to little towns and the people in it is an interesting topic to ponder upon but does it need to be so flat and does it have to suck so bad in its effort of not even vaguely connect ing with its viewers? Whatever the underlying political commentary this film says to be, it is buried beyond recognition for me.

This Romanian film lights up in an ironic fashion showing the street lights of the small town Vaslui going off in a sequence. Up gets up three characters for the day of the 16th anniversary of Romanian Revolution where the Communist regime was overthrown by the revolutionaries. For that small town is the TV station owner and anchor Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban) phoning hard to find some one for his show that afternoon. His dingy little TV show for that town remembers the nation’s time sixteen years back by inviting two people who were there on the day December 22nd. Virgil wants to bring up the question whether the Romanian Revolution happened in this small town. To arrive at the show, we see the uneventful banality of these three characters.

Virgil is a rich man involved with his anchor and tries to discipline a distant daughter. And there ends his personal life. The other is Professor Manescu (Ion Sapdaru) a drunkard and due to that a known loaner. He is the guest in the show who will be grilled by Virgil’s half baked annoying journalistic comments and by viewers calling in to say how much of a liar he is to say be present in the Town Square protesting on that day. I can understand that the people does not want to be bare stripped of them for not representing the heroism and the patriotism blindly expected. The other character is an old man Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu). He now and then yells the reality of the town and the facade of a concept of being freed and the importance of revolution as such.

Now I read a comment posted by a viewer in imdb for this film saying that one needs to be a Romanian to understand this film and to grasp the inside jokes. I would definitely agree with that as I can see very many films in my native language failing to translate to suffice its minimal satisfaction in any other language. But I was able to see what the film was trying to do and how desperately it was failing on that. The subtleties of characters linked by events and the mere reason of being the small town are noticeable but honestly did not intrigue me enough to care about it.

I know a colleague of mine at work who is one of those people “seeing movies for entertainment” say an interesting point which is if the film does not make one care of what is happening next, that film sucks. Very valid and blunt point. Sometimes of course there are films which take its time to arrive at the cruciality of its plot to make it worthwhile but I can see where he is coming from. This film would drain the care to watch further. I was asking myself the question of why do I need to keep watching this?

The acting is mediocre and the comedy, well there seem to be an assumption of its humour being good acts self conscious too on it. These three characters have their share of personal problems. Especially Manescu who promises his wife to bring back his full wage only before loaning a bottle for his day and paying off his debt. Now he goes back to a Chinese guy he insults when he is drunk for more money. His life is in the ditches and he finds motivation to come and claim his stand on that day for his freedom. People do not agree with that though.

Corneliu Porumboiu’s film drained the energy out of me. Being a Romanian would sure make me understand it more but will it be a better film than the one I just watched? I can only assume but I would not give that benefit of doubt to this stale and uninteresting film.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) - Movie Review

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” has an odd clarity. It is a series of events which clearly seem to have very little emotional value and yet we come to like these two brats. Because of Paul Newman and Robert Redford who create these outlaws and killers into some one we can hang around and drink with. And also their victims shown in the film are the one who attacks them. Even if it is for the right reason, we know that if those people get to know these two they would be good friends. In fact we meet couple of them who are faithful to their job but also like these fellas. They are the friendly neighbourhood outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and Sundance Kid (Robert Redford).

Directed by George Roy Hill, it is a western and loves the nature. It carries among the vast wide lands with nothing but rail roads inviting to be robbed. It ventures through the deserts where the trails of horses are gone the second it lifts its leg. It streams through the dense jungles and gushing waterfalls. But before that you got to climb the rocky terrain. This is a film which adores its outdoors and makes them a major element in its story. Escaping through these places are our two men.

Conveniently mentioned as “most of what follows is true”, this is a picture of course getting mesmerized by its two charismatic characters. Whether the real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid were really this fun is something no one will ever know but the men Newman and Redford creates are nice lads with an itch to rob. They rob banks and trains and spend it immediately. They have been addicted to this routine for some time and in one of the takings, they are surprised by a bunch of law men. They run and run but they are constantly followed without any tiny bit of tiring from their trackers. They employ several methods to distract and try to lose them but this time around there seems to be no escape. That run is like any other chase. Time consuming and totally suspenseful, it is the first draw by the film to invite the viewers into it.

Sundance has a woman Etta (Katherine Ross) whom Cassidy loves but only to a limit by both of them. Sundance knows it and allows it as he knows his buddy and his woman well. They become a trio in the second half of the film. From thousands of places, Cassidy opts for the country of Bolivia because he has read, heard and understood that mines are surplus and money is easy to be snatched off. Sundance a good shot knows his friend is smart but not as smart as he says. Yet there is no option and the trio go to the land of the South which becomes an interesting venture in the land they do not speak the language. We also witness a funny robbery with a problem in communication.

There is no hurry in the action nor in the characters we come to slowly like. Butch played by Newman is the subtle and sarcastic man. Newman flies with the air of friendship and casualness all around him. Redford speaks less but is lovable because of his trust over his partner. They both of course click. The great thing of the comic timing in between these two is the surprise simple revelations in the crucial times. As them we form certain traits as their part of life to be taken for granted and when that comes to be the quintessential thing to save their life, we burst into simple laughter.

Watching the film, I might be lying if I say it as the best film made and a classic to be cherished. I liked the film a lot but there is an oddity to the nature in which it surrounds the story amongst its characters. There is no attempt to even treat the friendship not with melodrama but not even a simple drama. In fact that is how it should have been treated . Despite that we believe on the trust these two men have over each other. And that scarcity may have also put some blank thoughts in reaching towards the film.

But it is a classic for different reasons in my opinion. It is classic for its presentation and the music by Burt Bacharach to align the scenes. It has colour tone usage appropriate and carefully employed in not overemphasizing it. And it is a classic because Newman and Redford are plainly adorable. They are the outlaws as a kid one would read about and shelf their morality for a while. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a rare film. Might not be the single most greatest film of all time but clearly has marked its era and no one can deny its existence in the novelty and unique presentation of its times.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"2009 Oscar Short Films"

Short films come and go as forgotten gems which does not reach any audience in most cases. When the distribution is so worse for the regular common feature films made these days it is no wonder that these films go unnoticed. Thankfully in the teeny tiny big village (yes I said it) of Peoria has opened a teeny tiny Indie theater (www.peoriatheater.com). I was extremely happy to see “Waltz with Bashir” on a slightly bigger screen than my television and that too early not waiting for the DVD release. To a great surprise they are viewing currently the 2009 Oscar nominated short films along with “Waltz with Bashir” for a week. With glee I went and all the five of those were wonderful. Succinct and sweet. A great viewing pleasure.

When I had cable and managed to see IFC channel, there were a series of beautiful short films which made greater mark than many other feature films. They become the stepping stone for a better picture by the budding directors and the crew. I cannot forget the afternoon I watched a series of films in a friend’s house. In that was the terrifically funny and sweet movie directed by Craig Hammill called “Cleats of Imminent Doom”. If you get a chance do watch it. In the meanwhile let me go through the five nominated films (in order of viewing).

Auf der Strecke (On the Line)

Directed by Reto Caffi, this german film tells about a security guard in love with a clerk in a book shop. He monitors the live video feed and when she leaves the office, he joins along for the train ride, a routine he has been following for a while. In one such ride he sees her with another guy and things begin to go a little uncomfortable for our man. In the coming series of events, he happens to make a choice which becomes his immense guilt and hates himself for the rest of the film. Shot most in the mall environment and train rides, both surrounded with strangers this is a film which works on the mood than the unfolding of the story.

New Boy

Directed by Steph Green, this is that cute film which also reaches beyond its bubbly characteristics to say something more. It is about a quick school session with nine year olds and an African boy getting into the class and how he perceives the changed environment and the violence he has seen projecting on his new class mates. It has very matured acting from the kids. It does not overdoes it with sugary ending. It is the simplest film of the five and is the one which while accommodating wide audience gets its cinematic view too.

Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Directed by Jochen Alexander Freydank, this german film is about a mother’s search for her missing child at the dawn of the Holocaust. Her Jew neighbours are taken away and their son David is a good friend of her son Heinrich. She tells them they are going to “Toyland” and the boy makes his plan to getaway with them. The film is told in parts by flash back and then to the current situation. As I was watching the film, the thought went once again of the Holocaust films being done enough but as I always answer it with “if it is made good, it can be done”, this films is good.

Grisen (The Pig)

This Danish film directed by Dorthe Warnø Høgh (I am wondering how it is pronounced), is a perfect indie short film. An old man comes to the hospital for an operation to remove an abscess from his rectum. He comes alone for not giving trouble to her busy girl Mona. As he goes through the procedure and examinations in his room, he sees an unusual art of a pig jumping to a small lake with an expression of smile. He sees it as a comforting thing and makes it his guardian angel through this ordeal. But when another patient comes in with his family, the art work is taken away and our old man gets upset. It is then a nice little fight we would have seen in public places which then finds it resolve (of course little times).

Manon sur le bitume (Manon on the Asphalt)

From french directors Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont comes this narration from a girl named Manon who we see lying on the road after meeting with an accident. She lays there thinking about her possible death and how her friends and family would go about her demise. And in doing that she goes over her love she begins to yearn. It also makes you see that every passed moment might be the last and got to be enjoyed while it lasts. It glows with the characteristics of a french film and that is a good thing.

There it is, the five films working magic. All the films had background scores and soundtracks with beautiful precision and leaves you wanting more. I would suggest all these five films to every one and would strongly ask any one living in Peoria to use this opportunity to see these films running for a week in Peoria Theater.