Monday, 30 June 2008
Watching Once felt like a breath of fresh air for the simple reason that I didn’t have to be immersed in complex character studies, disturbing plot developments, and cynical humour in the quest for watching a good movie. A serendipitous and heart-warming tale of two gentle, lovelorn individuals and how they affect each other’s lives profoundly – he is a talented Irish songwriter who composes pieces of love and loss but never dreams beyond playing on the pavements of Dublin; she is a Czech immigrant who sells flowers and plays the piano during lunch time at a music shop because she can’t afford to buy one – the documentary-style musical is a charming piece of work. Devoid of any artsy pretentiousness and made on a shoe-string budget, Once strikes a chord (make that C Sharp) because of its simple, heart-felt portrayal of human emotions and of course, some truly well-composed songs. Given the storyline, it was tailor made for a dark, acid tale of self-destruction, or for that matter, a maudlin tear-jerker and sappy melodrama; hence the simplicity, understated humanity and the platonic friendship contained herein, but ripped off any overt sentimentalism or bitterness, is all the more touching, and I must add, appreciable.
Director: John Carney
Genre: Musical Drama/Romantic Drama
Some of the finest movie directors have had sterling film debuts – Satyajit Ray, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles are excellent cases in point. Sydney Lumet too entered this exclusive pantheon with 12 Angry Men, a terrific deglamourized court room story and human drama. The movie concerns the debate between twelve average New Yorkers – jurors in this case – who have been entrusted by the court to provide their verdict regarding an alleged murder committed by a young Puerto Rican boy. Principally a dialogue-driven movie, 12 Angry Men peeps into the mores, psyches and lines of thought of the jury members as they argue, and argue some more, to ascertain the guilt or lack thereof of the boy. The jurors are angry not because they are hostile or irascible fellows; rather because apart from one of the members (Henry Fonda) everyone else has a reason to put the boy to the gallows – for reasons ranging from personal redemption to social prejudice, from overdependence on cold logic to severe apathy, from one-upmanship to a desire to get over with the arduous process with minimum involvement. The mindsets of the jurors and their conflicts have been made more stark and uncomfortable by the claustrophobic atmosphere and torrid weather. Great method acting, water-tight script and taut in-you-face direction have made this Lumet feature a memorable and thought-provoking classic.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Drama/Courtroom Drama/Psychological Drama
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Sexuality, repressed and otherwise, has been the central theme in most of the renowned (and I daresay, controversial) Italian maestro Barnardo Bertolucci’s movies. And it is nowhere better expressed, or for that matter more graphically depicted, than in The Last Tango in Paris, which ranks along with The Conformist as his two most famous works. A complex examination of the relationship between two distinctly different individuals united by chance as well as convenience, the movie boasts of fine performances by its two leads – a world-weary middle-aged American globetrotter who has recently lost his wife (in the champion hands of the great Marlon Brando, the role has attained a surreal, philosophical level), and a young French lady tired of her superficial relationship with her eccentric fiancé. Thanks to the director’s sensitive treatment and evocative photography, even the graphic nudity and strong sexual content seems simultaneously mundane and artistic. At the end of the day, the various parts of this deeply philosophical movie have added up to produce a marvelous deconstruction of the human psyche, the conflict between physical attachment and spiritual detachment, and the various paradoxes that define existence.
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Genre: Drama/Erotic Drama/Psychological Drama
Saturday, 28 June 2008
David Cronenberg’s follow-up to A History of Violence is a sequel of sorts to the heavily acclaimed film. Though Eastern Promises does indeed fail to live up to the masterpiece, it is a very good movie nonetheless. Where the former was a near surreal poetry on violence, the latter is unflinching and at times near operatic in its brutal force. The tragic death of a young pregnant mother in
Director: David Cronenberg
Genre: Crime Thriller/Gangster Movie/Action
This one has got to be the most underrated film of Steven Spielberg. Though starring
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller/Post-Noir/Tech Noir/Action
Blood Simple was the movie that introduced the film aficionados to the genius and unpredictability of the Coen brothers, and their dangerously captivating world – a dark, murky place where all rules of normality have gone completely haywire, and where things have a splendid knack of going horribly wrong at the slightest opportunity. A neonoir, with an almost lazy yet beautifully paced plot– a Coens’ speciality – filled with all their quirkiness, bizarre morality plays, ironies, and of course a copious amount of betrayal, double and triple dealings, and murders. The trivial tale of a husband hiring a private eye to murder his wife who is cheating on him, turns out to be a delicious treatise on the famous Murphy’s Law – if things can go wrong, they will. The movie, as in all their subsequent films, is littered with a great cast of character actors from the slippery and unscrupulous private eye to the opportunist wife cum quasi-femme fatale to the cuckolded and burning-for-revenge husband. [This happens to be my 50th film review. Way to go]
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Genre: Post-Noir/Crime Thriller/Private Eye
Friday, 27 June 2008
This was the movie that introduced the world to the devilish genius of the former video library clerk, Quentin Tarantino. And the fact that the Reservoir Dogs is an exceedingly fresh and original story that creeps under your skin right from the very first shot comprising of criminals, psychopaths, and masterminds, sitting in a café and discussing about something as inane as whether tips are necessary, is enough to convince you that you are onto something special. And then when you end up watching a crime thriller which doesn’t show the crime in the first place but what happens before and after it, told in no particular order, you realize that you have entered the quirky, mesmerizing world of Mr. Tarantino. The ensemble cast, as in his next feature Pulp Fiction, is unforgettable, comprising of such brilliant character actors like Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and of course, the eccentric Tarantino himself. Every single Tarantino signature is there – unbelievably cool dialogues that can be so misleading for the uninitiated, deliberately bizarre plot twists, a wacky sense of humour, graphic violence and profanity, and a visual experience that is so captivating that it lingers with you for a very long time.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Genre: Crime Thriller, Gangster Movie, Ensemble Film, Black Comedy
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing happens to be one of the most deeply disturbing movies that one can hope to come across, and that, along with its explicit and controversial content, I feel are the strongest reasons for near anonymity of an otherwise extremely ambitious and well made movie. Set in
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Erotic Thriller/Mystery
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Though one of his most underrated effort, Interview was perhaps a demonstration of the iconoclastic and anti-establishmentarian Mrinal Sen at his sublime best. There is nothing apolitical or evasive about any of this Marxist Bengali intellectual. The pseudo-documentary style feature is about an educated Calcuttan youth – ambitious, elitist and apolitical – preparing for an interview at a British firm, at a time when the anti-bourgeois Naxalite revolution is slowly reaching its zenith in the city. The movie catalogues how he goes about trying to get to the interview for the cherished job and an entry into the world of capitalism where the sharks rule, and how that journey turns out to be more than he bargained for. Ranjit Mallik, as the candidate, has given a smart and captivating depiction of the transformation that was but inevitable (considering that this is a Mrinal Sen feature). Even though as a viewer I was given more than a few hints as to the climax, but when it finally did arrive, the shock upon seeing the protagonist, throwing a stone at the European-dress clad mannequin, felt so unanticipated, that I reeled from the sort of blow that only this fiery auteur can concoct time and again.
Director: Mrinal Sen
Genre: Urban Drama/Political Drama/Social Satire/Slice of Life/Black Comedy
Monday, 23 June 2008
My Own Private Idaho is perhaps the crowning achievement of Gus Van Sant, maker of some of the finest independent films in
Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Road Movie/Buddy Film
One of the most loved movies in film history, Mike Nichols’ seminal work The Graduate bears testimony to a popular saying that good works of art need not be obscure – they might as well be popular and easily appreciable. A brilliantly composed social satire, laced with humour (both deadpan and otherwise) and restrained melodrama, this is certainly one of the finest coming-of-age stories told in motion pictures. The movie made a star out of a young Dustin Hoffman as he became the embodiment of a generation of confused young men trying to make a sense out of their lives. His developing a huge crush for and getting involved in a dangerous affair with an older, married lady Mrs. Robinson (played wonderfully by Anne Bankroft) who happens to be the wife of a close friend of his father, and his subsequent falling in love with her daughter thus earning the spite of the older Robinson lady, makes for hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable viewing. Simon & Garfunkel’s timeless songs “Sounds of Silence” – which happens to be one of my all-time favourites, and “Mrs. Robinson” have also played huge roles in heightening the movie’s lasting impact in popular culture.
Director: Mike Nichols
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Coming of Age/Social Satire/Comedy Drama
Sunday, 22 June 2008
One of the most enjoyable and loved movies ever made, this Segio Leone masterpiece is his brilliant tribute to the quintessential Ammerican genre of the Westerns – what with its arid and bleak landscapes infested with gold-digging gun-slingers and crack-shots. This also happens to be the final chapter of Leone’s outstanding thematically linked “Dollars” Trilogy. An astonishing tale of fortune hunting, set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, the movie pits three completely contrasting characters against each other – the Good (the iconic Clint Eastwood’s most famous role as the laconic, enigmatic loner – the Man With No Name), the Bad (Lee Van Cleef in the role of a sinister and scheming “Man of the Law”), and the Ugly (Eli Wallach, as a foul-mouthed opportunist, in what is easily the most fascinating character of the movie). This Spaghetti Western (known so because in a beautiful variation of the more morally upright Western movies, here the heroes are deliciously amoral) has everything that there can be – stylish direction, unforgettable characters, stunning visuals, Ennio Moricone’s haunting score that has entered movie lore, fabulous gunfights, great dialogues punched with wit and humour, and an explosive climax.
Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western/Spaghetti Western/Epic
Directed by Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter is a sweeping deconstruction of a tragic event that has shattered the idyllic peace of a quaint village in
Director: Atom Egoyan
Genre: Drama/Rural Drama/Ensemble Film/Psychological Drama
Saturday, 21 June 2008
This dark psychological drama is a claustrophobic, bleak and extremely disturbing depiction of the darker side of love, and consequently not for the lovers of mushy romantic comedies or tear-jerkers. The tale of an unlikely love affair between a free spirited, ambitious, cynical wannabe film director and a beautiful superstar movie actress who is otherwise an extremely fragile, volatile girl slowly spiraling into the murky, obsessive world of paranoia, hallucination and manic depression (schizophrenia), is captivating and devastating at the same time. This is one of those love stories that has its moments but is destined to be doomed. Shiny Ahuja, though shaky in the first half, has delivered an intense performance in the second, but the stage really belonged to Kangana Ranaut whose delicate portrayal of the lonely superstar actress and seductive damsel (girl-woman) in distress and disarray – a role that she loves playing – is as enthralling as it is disturbing (though over the top at times, she can be forgiven considering this deeply demanding role is only her sophomoric effort). The direction is taut and emotionally binding, while the music amplifies the devastating bleakness of the movie.
Director: Mohit Suri
Genre: Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama/Showbiz Drama
Friday, 20 June 2008
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - a bitter, off-beat drama, was not just a terrific work of art, it was also a watershed movie in Jack Nicholson’s career as it established him as the finest actor of his generation and one of the two or three greatest ever. Nicholson starred as a classic anti-hero who gets himself admitted in a mental asylum to escape prison. The movie follows the attempts of this anti-establishmentarian free-spirit trying to inspire his fellow inmates to rise against the authoritarian Nurse Ratched, and enjoy life and its various delirious moments, with heart-rending and eventually devastating consequences. A deeply disturbing and an immensely touching movie, it is a subtle satire and a profound commentary on the mores, norms and hypocrisies of our society, where dormancy is expected while rebelliousness is dealt with an iron fist. The unforgettable performances by the actors was brilliantly led by the inimitable, wacky and immensely powerful front-man Nicholson. The deep humanism of the story and the unforgettable climax, too, played their parts in making it the timeless classic that it most certainly is.
Director: Milos Forman
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Tragi-Comedy/Anti-Establishment Movie
Thursday, 19 June 2008
The maverick Korean director Park Chan-Wook has created poetry out of extreme violence and bizarre misfortune in this uniquely visceral movie. The shock therapy dished out is unmistakable. Oldboy tells the mind-boggling and utterly discomforting tale of a simple-minded buffoon Oh Dae-su, who, for apparently no reason is put into solitary confinement for 15 years. When he was least expecting, he is released and given 5 days to uncover the truth. An explosive tale of punishment, vengeance and redemption, the movie is as visually implosive as it is intellectually stimulating. The dénouement is so unanticipated and shocking that it would leave even the most hard-core movie viewers numbed out of their senses. The sudden bursts of histrionics are wonderfully balanced with deadpan humour by the lead actor. The psycho-analytical study of a simple man’s transformation into a mad and ruthless avenger is disquietingly perfect in this dark, riveting thriller. The sheer audacity and technical virtuosity of the director are palpable in every single sequence.
To read a detailed review by me on the complete Vengeance Trilogy, click here.
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Genre: Psychological Drama/Psychological Thriller/Action/Romantic Drama
Country: South Korea
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Renowned Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai’s sequel of sorts to his celebrated Chungking Express, Fallen Angels is a surreal, psychedelic ride through garish blaze of neon-lit avenues and by-lanes of nocturnal
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Urban Drama/Existential Drama/Romantic Drama/Crime Drama
Language: Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin)
Country: China (Hong Kong)
Despite being one of the most underrated works of the quirky Coen brothers, The Man Who Wasn't There is a compelling movie nonetheless. The first thing that one might realize about this film is that it is perhaps the most sedate effort of the eccentric brother duo. Yet, a few minutes into the monochrome movie and you’ll notice that every Coen signature is there – a terrific narrative, a refreshingly original storyline, heady dose of blackmail, deceit and murder, wry, black humour coupled with dark, noirish elements, the bleak amorality, plethora of some of the most ingenuous twists, brilliantly etched characters, great camera angles, and of course the subtle, mesmeric irony in the anti-climax. Every actor, be it
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Crime Drama/Post Noir/Black Comedy/Americana
When I say Taxi Driver is the best movie of Martin Scorsese, that is something, considering the fascinating body of work that Scorsese – who, along with Coppola, was the greatest American film maker of his generation and one of the greatest ever – possesses. The story of a war veteran, who is trapped in his soulless existence, is as contemporary as it is primitive. The claustrophobic point-of-view of the insomniac taxi driver, who literally drives through the filth and decadence of society, takes us directly into the mind of this severely alienated person and his unbridled rage, who feels it is his sole responsibility to cleanse New York – which is almost as important a character in this movie as the protagonist, and in that parlance, the world, of its garbage and scum – hypocrisy, lies, double standards et al. Robert de Nero, as the cabbie cum violent social vigilante cum anarchist, delivers a characteristic bravura performance by bringing to life Tavis Bickle – one of the most complex characters in celluloid history, while Scorsese shows with his silent scream bursting though seams that there are directorial dynamism and masterworks that only a genius like him can accomplish with such facile ease, in this defining movie of American and world cinema history.
Director: Martin Scorcese
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Psychological Drama
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Gus Van Sant returned to the independent low-budget auteur-driven filming of his earlier days with this surreal deconstruction of a tragedy that seems to have become a part of the American way of living. The movie follows, like an impersonal observer, a few stray, mundane high school students. Everything seems to be normal until two of the lot decide to get even with the oh-so-cruel society, in a manner similar to the shocking Columbine High School disaster. Matters are compounded by easy access to guns, severely detached existence of the two boys about to do the unthinkable, and an ever-lingering presence of violence just below the veneer of civility. By refusing to provide any easy answer or taking any side, or for that matter by leaving the thin line between what’s good and what’s not for the viewers to fathom, the content has been made even more unsettling by this bold, unconventional movie.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Experimental Film/Ensemble Film
Monday, 16 June 2008
Punch Drunk Love is the tale of “boy meets girl, boy nearly looses girl, boy wins girl back and lives happily ever after”. Unfortunately for viewers fed on a daily diet of rom-coms, and fortunately for movie lovers like me, the movie’s similarity with conventional romantic comedies ends here (and might I add, with spectacular consequences). Regarded by some as the best work of one of the finest directors of his generation – Paul Thomas Anderson, and certainly his quirkiest, this wildly idiosyncratic and deliriously comic movie chronicles how a moment of severe indiscretion and his unlikely plunge into love allows Barry, a severely hen-pecked guy with serious personality disorders, to finally be his own man. Adam Sandler has turned a sort of role that he has played all his life into something delightfully unique. The director (who also wrote the screenplay for the movie) is of course largely responsible for the marvelous character sketch; music has also been well used to further the weird tonality of the film. As one critic has aptly put it, it is a romantic comedy on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t have provided a better single sentence description of this “romantic comedy” turned upside down.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Comedy Drama
The second and the best movie of Deepa Mehta’s controversial “elements” trilogy (preceded by Fire, and followed by Water), 1947 Earth is a cinematically stunning portrayal of the ugly civil riots during partition in
Director: Deepa Mehta
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Coming-of-Age/Romantic Drama/Religious Drama/Epic/Period Film
Sunday, 15 June 2008
Based on the autobiographical chronicles of the legendary Leftist revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevera, this heartfelt and vibrant biopic deftly tells how Ernesto, a medical student, became Che, the icon of guerilla warfare. The road movie follows the historic motorcycle trip, undertaken by Che and his best friend Alberto Granado, on a vintage chopper, from their native
Director: Walter Salles Jr.
Genre: Drama/Road Movie/Buddy Film/Coming-of-Age/Docu-Fiction/Biopic
The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) are known to make the quirkiest movies known to mankind. The rules imposed upon directors by the studio system and cash registers do not apply to their movies. Their dare, brilliance and sardonic sense of humour (very black one at that) reached crescendo in
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Genre: Crime Drama/Black Comedy/Americana
Saturday, 14 June 2008
There’s a saying in music circles that if one has ever heard music, he must have heard Beethoven, Beetles and Dylan. This surreal, quirky, stylized (and I daresay, heavily cerebral) movie is a convoluted biopic of the poet, the preacher, the philosopher, the songwriter, the protest singer, the rebel, the outlaw, and the unparalleled voice of a generation, who all went by the name of Bob Dylan. Instead of just following the life of Dylan, this offbeat movie has captured his various alter-egos (six brilliant performances have brought an assorted, albeit eclectic, stages of Dylan and his times) and has portrayed his thoughts and ideas. The movie, which is so European in its feel and execution, and so not American, is as irreverent, iconoclastic, ground-breaking and anti-establishmentarian as the great man himself was (and still is). Great performances by the ensemble cast (including Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, etc), backed by a terrific soundtrack peppered with the quintessential voice and words of the celebrated troubadour, have made watching this otherwise difficult movie a unique and exhilarating experience.
Director: Todd Haynes
Genre: Drama/Biopic/Avant-Garde/Experimental/Musical Drama