Saturday, 16 February 2019

Gully Boy [2019]

While nearly all music genres have had strong representations in cinema – from biopics and documentaries to dramas and musicals – hip-hop and rap have been relatively underrepresented. Hence, while watching Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, the strongest reference point that I readily recollected was the visceral, gripping and intensely personal Eminem vehicle 8 Mile which was based on the hip-hop icon’s own life. Though, purportedly, it’s loosely based on two Indian street rappers, some resemblances to the gritty Curtis Hanson film were quite evident, even if they’re only coincidental given the very essence of what this music genre and culture represent, viz. expression of rebelliousness by social outsiders. The movie’s focus is Murad (Ranveer Singh), a young resident of Bombay’s Dharavi ghetto; his father (Vijay Raaz) is an angry, disillusioned man who’s just brought home a second wife; his friends are street loafers, and includes a guy (Vijay Varma) peddling in drugs and stolen cars; he’s in a relationship with his spunky, feisty childhood lover (Alia Bhatt), a medical student belonging to extremely conservative parents. Murad’s life seems destined to be stuck in a rut of despair and silent acceptance, but all changes when he befriends MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi), who mentors him out of his diffidence and provides the catalyst to vent his talent for rap poetry on alienation, angst and dreams. The film comprises of some terrific compositions – ‘Apna Time Ayega’, ‘Azaadi’, ‘Doori’, etc.; fine performances – Varma was especially knockout; and moody atmosphere. However, that said, it isn’t provocative, discomfiting, subversive or politically upfront enough, fails to do away with stereotypical narrative tropes, and Ranveer, despite his slow-burning act, appeared way older than his character.

Author: Zoya Akhtar
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Musical
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The White Sheik [1952]

Fellini’s roots in Italian Neorealism – he co-wrote the script for the first film in Rossellini’s masterful ‘War Trilogy’, Rome, Open City, and served as Assistance Director to the second film in that, Paisan, as part of his apprenticeship – are eminently apparent in his brilliant pre-La Dolce Vita oeuvre (I Vitelloni, La Strada, Il Bidone, Nights of Cabiria); however, his distinctive voice, motifs and stylistic preferences – deliberately overblown imagery, realism fused with fantasies, ebullient humour, etc. – were discernible too. The same held true even in his first solo directorial venture, The White Sheik, which, as cinephiles would find most fascinating, was jointly written with his great contemporary Antonioni. The film covers a couple of days in the lives of a newly-wed couple - Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), a gauche, glum-faced man with a nervous disposition, and his cherubic, naïve young wife Wanda (Brunella Bovo) – who’ve come to Rome for their honeymoon; however, given the ludicrously packed itinerary chalked out by Ivan, which includes making a good impression on his uncle (Ugo Attanasio) who has a great hold in the Vatican and meeting the Pope, this might be the dullest honeymoon imaginable. His obsessive plans, however, are put in a tizzy when Wanda, a bleary-eyed fan of the titular hero of a soap opera, gets lost during her quest to meet the gregarious and utterly unreliable actor (Alberto Sordi) who plays the part. The whimsical film beautifully scored by Nino Rota, despite its simplicity and straightforwardness, comprised of a number of quintessential “Felliniesque” tropes, including a fantastical movie-shoot sequence led by an excitable filmmaker, a comically inept suicide attempt, and a memorable cameo by Fellini’s wife, the inimitable Giulietta Masina.

Director: Federico Fellini
Genre: Comedy/Urban Comedy
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Driver [1978]

While classic 40s and 50s Noirs, along with French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville, remain the ultimate benchmarks for existential thrillers, a singularly compelling breed of lean, muscular, taciturn and ambiguous action-thrillers with existential undertones made their presences felt in 70s American (and British) cinema, the likes of which include Sorcerer, Bullitt, The French Connection, Get Carter, Point Blank, etc. Walter Hill’s 2nd directorial venture The Driver – the 2017 film Baby Driver was possibly a direct homage to it – was an interesting, albeit lesser-known, example of that breed. To leave no one in doubt regarding its characters’ ambiguities, Hill turned them into abstractions and left their names unsaid – the eponymous Driver (Ryan O’Neal), a poker-faced loner who’s a master at getaways for heists and holdups, thanks to his insane driving skills, and for which he’s the go-to man for criminals; his key adversary is the Detective (Bruce Dern), a cocky, arrogant cop who’s obsessed with catching the former in the act, and hatches an utterly illegal plan by enlisting a gang of felons in order to get his man; and the Player (Isabelle Adjani), an enigmatic drop-dead beaut, who could’ve put the plug on the Driver, but becomes an ally to him instead for curious reasons of her own. The minimalist, stripped-down, and lustily photographed film (Phillip Lathrop) boasts of a number of spectacular car-chase sequences shot across LA – it begins with a kinetic nocturnal escape, and has another near its climax where the Driver plays the chaser instead; and not to forget, a flamboyant garage sequence where, in a rare fit of passive-aggressive outburst, he destroys a dashing Rolls on being asked justify his paycheck.

Director: Walter Hill
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Post-Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Playtime [1967]

With Playtime – the 3rd in his 4-film series, following Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, and preceding Trafic – the mercurial French maverick Jacques Tati created his grandest masterpiece while also jeopardizing his filmmaking career in the process. In this dazzling and insanely uncompromising existential and cinematic, Tati concocted a trenchant, darkly funny and subtly lamenting satire on the absurdist extent of the irrepressible invasion of technology, urbanization and modernity into our lives. The resulting work, achieved through elaborately conceived and exorbitantly expensive sets known as ‘Tativille’ (which caused severe budget overruns and production delays), painted a dystopian picture of a near-future Paris. The ravishingly photographed film – shot in muted color palettes and making exquisite use of reflections and visual deceptions – begins with an extraordinary low-key section with Tati’s indelible and bemused protagonist, Hulot, trapped in a maze-like, hyper-modernist all-glass office space trying, in futility, to get in touch with the man (Georges Montant) he’s come to meet. However that, and a couple of subsequent idiosyncratic sections apart – wandering across a bizarre Trade Exhibition, and getting invited into a ludicrously impersonal studio apartment of an old friend – Hulot became almost a side-character in the fabulous restaurant sequence that comprised nearly the entire second half. An upscale restaurant, which isn’t really ready for its opening night, formed the melting pot for all the key characters introduced in prior sequences – including a wide-eyed tourist (Barbara Dennek) who wants to capture the real joys of Paris and who Hulot develops a soft spot for – as it spectacularly falls apart, albeit oblivious to the gregarious and intoxicated patrons swirling in mad anarchy, and provided for an array of hilarious and ingenious gags.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of the film can be found here.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Avant-Garde Film
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Mon Oncle [1958]

The French visual stylist, satirist and comic genius Jacques Tati’s memorable film persona Monsieur Hulot – a gentle, eccentric, gauche, flummoxed, bumbling, perpetually distracted and anachronistic man with an overcoat, pipe, bent posture and distinctive walk – made his first appearance in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, though its seeds were already there in Jour de Fête. However, it was in Mon Oncle that Tati’s signature satirizing of an increasingly modernized and impersonal urban milieu, and associated existential incongruities, reached its most fabulous expression – in terms of hilarious and undeniably ingenuous gags and set-pieces, as well as sharp jabs at our getting irrevocably trapped by fancy gadgets, automations, connected homes and in turn not just being stripped of the little pleasures, but also, ironically, losing one’s freedom too. Hulot is the titular uncle of Gérard (Alain Bécourt), a mischievous kid, who lives with his parents – the father (Jean-Pierre Zola) is a senior executive at a huge firm manufacturing plastic pipes, while the mother (Adrienne Servantie) is obsessed with their “smart home” – in Villa Arpel, a hyper-modern, outrageously pretentious and surreal-looking rectangular concrete-and-glass edifice. The Arpels and their idiosyncratic neighbours’ outlandish lives formed droll contradictions to the crumbling, absurd-looking house where Hulot resides and the adjoining chaotic, messy and overcrowded neighbourhood peopled with quirky, carefree folks – a street sweeper who does everything but that, an obese grocer whose decrepit car if over-filled with old instruments, street brawls being settled over drinks in the local tavern, kids having fun by distracting passers-by, etc. The neurotic irreverence of Hulot, who shares a heartwarming relation with Gérard, starts putting into disarray the Arpels’ absurdly meticulous existence, which formed a key tenet of this farcical, colourful and whimsical gem.

p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of this film can be found here.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Slapstick
Language: French
Country: France