Thursday, 31 December 2009
Antichrist might not be Lars von Trier’s best movie, but it might just be the one he would like to be remembered by. This movie has world cinema’s enfant terrible at his most unapologetically and unflinchingly provocative – a movie that has divided the house right down the middle. Technically the movie belongs in the horror genre; but any work by the Danish provocateur never really sticks to any genre conventions, in the same way that he gives the feather to the fact that moralists love to scorn him, as here, for his disturbing, often shocking, and at times even outrageous display of explicit sexual content, violence, nihilism, and misogyny (the latter, quite inappropriately, always seems to be stuck to his movies). Yet, for all its detractors, the movie is also an audacious, angry, disturbing wildly inventive, and even deeply poetic exposition and unraveling of the darkest corners of the human psyche. In fact, the movie’s prologue, shot in slow-mo black-and-whites, was to me filmmaking at its most ravishingly beautiful and devastating. Charlotte Gainsbourg, as a woman inconsolably grieving her infant son’s death, and William Defoe, as a psychotherapist and her not-so-grieving husband who takes his wife on as his patient, are fearless and brilliant. As a reviewer rightly put it, Antichrist is a movie that is to be experienced rather than explained. And that, had Alfred Hitchcock been alive, he would have loved to make this movie himself.
Director: Lars von Trier
Genre: Horror/Psychological Drama/Religious Drama
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
The refreshingly offbeat movie Barking Dogs Never Bite, by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, has all those thematic and stylistic aspects, quirks and trademark tar-black black humour that would reach memorable heights three years later in his Memories of Murder. Like the latter, this darkly funny movie managed to make me laugh and cringe simultaneously by gleefully throwing sharp, pointed jabs at the darker aspects of human nature and society. With an aptly discordant yet snazzy Jazz soundtrack as accompaniment, the movie presents the ordinary-as-hell lives of a dog-hating university lecturer married to a nagging wife and hoping to someday find enough money to bribe his way to a long overdue promotion, and a neurotic young girl who spends all her days doing tidbits of community service in the hope that someday it’ll earn her fame and recognition. The director, through his whimsical comic placements, ironies and searing observations, has made these two otherwise utterly mundane characters – in essence fringe personas of the society – unique, distinctive and utterly commendable through generous interjections of idiosyncrasies in their personalities and in their interactions. And like Ameros Perros, I'd strongly advise dog lovers & PETA activists to stay away from this one too.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire
Country: South Korea
Sunday, 27 December 2009
Pedro Almodovar, who is oftentimes referred to as a women’s director, has for once made a movie for their male counterparts with Talk to Her. Almodovar certainly knows how to turn a tale of offbeat, curious relationships into a stirring, even haunting ode to love, longing and loneliness. The movie follows the development of an unlikely friendship between a male nurse and a journalist – the former in silent unidirectional love with a comatose patient he is taking care of with singular devotion and the latter in a burgeoning relationship with a famous female bullfighter which comes to a screeching halt when she gets maimed on one not-so-lucky day at office. The movie is difficult to explain, especially in the kind of concise reviews that I write, as it is less about what transpires on screen vis-à-vis what goes within, unsaid and implied. Hence, though we may be able to seemingly distinguish between the real and surreal, the two, in essence, blend and get juxtaposed quite fluidly, thus creating a dream-like world, albeit comprising of undeniably physical people. The acting is natural without going overboard, thus ensuring that the complex emotional quotient at interplay between the characters manages to be powerful in its silent impacts. And thanks to the classical structure of the movie, the pathos in the characters and their interactions are all the more somber and perceptible.
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Psychological Drama
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Black Comedy/Ensemble Film
Monday, 21 December 2009
Despite returning from a long hiatus – 12 years to be precise since he made Titanic, James Cameron has yet again shown his unsurpassed ability in making larger-than-life blockbusters with Avatar, a project that had been gestating for quite a long time. The movie is of epic proportions, and it screams to be seen (and preferably in 3-D), though it should not be taken as seriously as the director perhaps intended it to be. Cameron certainly hasn’t forgotten how to enrapture his audience, even though the visual extravaganza and technical virtuosity of the, well, preposterous end product, surpassed its intellectual or artistic merit or the pseudo-emotional content by a very long distance. This Matrix-meets-Last of the Mohicans-meets-Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World-meets-Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Avatar, which is about power-hungry plutocrats trying to colonize a far-off plant named Pandora and its indigenous inhabitants called the Na’vi, and which could easily be seen as a political allegory to George Bush’s annexing of Iraq for oil, albeit in the name of ‘war against terrorism’, is a stupendous spectacle that one will enjoy despite its wafer-thin plot and shallow script.
Director: James Cameron
Saturday, 19 December 2009
The epithets that might closely define Fatih Akin’s Head-On are, in my opinion, grimy, brooding and bare-assed. Akin completely stripped off any sugar-coatings while displaying human frailties and loneliness at their rawest and most naked – both literally and otherwise. The movie concerns the unlikely emotional connect that develops between two severely self-destructive Turkish immigrants residing in Germany – Cahit, an angst-ridden, hard-drinking 40-something widower living in a state of perpetual disarray, and Sibel, a suicidal young girl whose free, rebellious spirit is at complete odds with her restrictive and conservative family – both roles passionately and fearlessly performed. Despite its content of intense emotions, the movie never plays out as either sentimental or exploitative; rather, it is disturbing, downbeat, provocative and unabashedly erotic. In fact, by using a Turkish folk-song as a motif and to loosely divide the movie into various chapters, it seemed to me structurally quite similar to Lars von Triar’s devastating masterpiece Breaking the Waves. And by mixing punk and grunge rock tracks with exotic Turkish numbers in the score, Akin has managed to be unflinchingly brutal yet surprisingly humane in nearly every frame of the movie.
Director: Fatih Akin
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romance
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
The Squid and the Whale is one of the most incisive looks into the breaking-down of a marriage and its various repercussions. Yet, despite the topic being a ready-made recipe for a deadly serious tone, or a pungent black comedy for that matter, Noah Baumbach managed to do the near impossible by seamlessly traversing a fine middle ground. The prime reason for his being able to do that, and in managing to infuse sensitivity and humanism and not just sharp wit, might be the semi-autobiographical nature of the story – the director’s parents too went through a similarly acrimonious divorce proceeding when he was in his teens. The movie revolves around the gradual disintigration in the marital relationship of an erudite once-famous writer and his wife, who, to his dismay, has grown in popularity as a budding writer (they are the intellectual equivalents of an aristocrat and a nouveau riche, respectively), and the damaging effects on their two kids – a teenager who has taken after his intellectually-inclined father, and a 12-year old who, declaring himself a “philistine”, (not so subtly) sides with his mother. The standout performance in the movie belongs to the surprisingly brilliant Jeff Daniels, while the kids and the ever reliable Laura Linney, too, are quite exceptional. The movie also boasts of an exquisite pop-soundtrack.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Directors: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: Hong Kong (China)
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Dardenne brothers’ The Son is a difficult movie to classify, and hence assess in a few words as I do here. A complex and quietly unsettling character study, the movie is about revenge and catharsis – only that, like Revanche, the revenge never happens, and the catharsis is muted to the point of silent implosion. Oliver Gourment, a regular in the Belgian siblings’ movies, has given a deeply layered and restrained, yet undeniably breathtaking performance as Oliver, a middle-aged and laconic carpentry instructor who, incidentally or accidentally, comes in contact with a young apprentice who in turn, many years back, was responsible for his son’s death. The fist half of the movie is about his growing albeit fidgety obsession with the boy, while the second lies in his trying to come to peace with his own mind, once and for all. The camera movement, which continually follows Oliver from his back, makes watching the movie a deeply disorienting and onerous experience; yet, strangely, it paves way to a feel of immediacy and passive attachment to the withdrawn protagonist who might not have been as accessible to the viewers otherwise. This arthouse movie might thus be relentlessly bleak, disquieting and demanding, but the end product is a powerful, layered and enriching work of art laced with grim realism, religious symbolisms and metaphors.
Director: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Coming-of-Age
Country: UK (Scotland)
Monday, 23 November 2009
Hit List, Sandip Ray’s first foray outside “Feluda” movies (adapted from stories written by his late father Satyajit Ray) since the wonderful Nishijapon, has yielded, at best, mixed results. The movie was touted as a thriller, and it opens quite spectacularly with a murder that is almost Hitchcockian in its fine buildup. However, it would be more prudent to consider the movie as a psychological drama reminiscent of lowbrow film noirs – yeah, those iconic low-angle shots are there in plenty. The executive director of an advertising agency, on unraveling a corrupt deal by four colleagues of his, get bumped off and his body disposed such that his death looks like a case of drunken driving. However, as the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, his lovely wife (played with surprising élan by Koel Mallick), who is bloody pissed off, decides to get even-steven with the scot-free culprits. The acting is decent throughout if not spectacular; Saheb Chatterjee was especially impressive, though Dhritiman Chatterjee, in my opinion, was wasted. Perhaps a whodunit structure might have worked better as the similarly styled (though far superior) Shubho Mahurat, by Rituparno Ghosh, did. Agreed, the movie didn’t manage to match our high expectations – in that sense it’s a disappointment. However, despite a few loopholes here and there, I wouldn’t be so highbrow as to call it a failure.
Director: Sandip Ray
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Mystery
Thursday, 19 November 2009
An expansion of the fifth episode of his legendary ten-part miniseries Decalogue, Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing is based on the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. I have seen my fair share of disconcerting movies, but rarely one as incredibly dark or as immensely disturbing as this one. Like its companion piece A Short Film About Love, the movie's basic premise is simple – a young, mysterious and eerily psychotic drifter , for no apparent reason or provocation, brutally murders a middle-aged cab driver, and thus ends up getting sentenced to death and executed by the Polish state despite a valiant attempt by a young, idealistic and neophyte lawyer. The movie starts off with the shocking and deeply foreboding images of dead rats and a cat hanging by the neck – a brilliant yet subtle indication of the story ahead; thus, by the time we have been introduced to the three main players of the story, we know they are on a collision course (though not necessarily destructive). Kieslowski took a direct stance against capital punishment here. However, one doesn’t really have to endorse his strong socio-political views in order to appreciate the thematic relevance, artistic excellence and technical virtuosity of this powerful movie.
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Crime Drama
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
El Crimen Del Padre Amaro is on a topic that is as complex as it is controversial. The movie concerns with the subject of the fundamentalist and sanctimonious nature of religious (here, Christian) pastors and priests, and this, despite the hypocrisy, corruption, power politics and moral decadence within the Catholic Church. Mexican superstar Gael Garcia Bernal has starred as a young priest who is sent to a small ultra-religious town as part of his training. There he falls for the nubile daughter of a lady, who in turn is having a secret affair with the ageing Padre under whose tutelage he has been placed. The director certainly had the guts to tackle such a subject head-on without diluting any of its contents. However, where considerable subtlety and a more matured storytelling was of utmost essence, the director opted for an overtly brazen approach to ensure that his polemic doesn’t get lost on his viewers. Thus, even though the movie was reasonably engaging to watch, and the social milieu of Mexico too was quite well captured, for me it failed to be the thought-provoking movie capable of creating a lasting impression that I’d eagerly hoped it would be. The acting, too, was mostly amateurish, with the exception of a handful of the older members of the cast.
Director: Carlos Carrera
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Director: Peter Strickland
Genre: Drama/Revenge Movie
A few critics have accused Danish filmmaker Nils Malmros' Aching Hearts to be a mere recreation of his most famous work Trees of Knowledge. I haven’t watched the former movie, and hence (or perhaps, in spite of that), I found Aching Hearts, which I watched at the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival, to have the credibility to stand on its own. The movie, about a group of adolescent, high school students in 60’s
Director: Nils Malmros
Genre: Drama/Coming-of-Age/Romance/Teenage Drama
Thursday, 12 November 2009
-->Spanish director Victor Erice, like his American counterpart Terrence Mallick, is a deeply enigmatic filmmaker (he has made just three movies in his entire career!). However, for me, the similarity doesn’t end there; his legendary debut feature The Spirit of the Beehive, through its incredible visual beauty, ravishing silhouettes, dreamy landscapes, sparse dialogues and languid pacing, heavily reminded me of Mallick’s spellbinding first film
Director: Victor Erice
Genre: Drama/Surreal Drama/Fantasy
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Compiled into a behind-the-scenes kind of documentary from over 100 hours of footage filmed during rehearsal sessions for his last planned world tour, This Is It perhaps comprises of the last few popularly released shots of Michael Jackson prior to his shocking death. At that particular stage of his life, he was presumably no more than a battered man driven, in his personal life, to the edge of sanity and nearly his last penny. Yet we see MJ literally belying his failing health and age through undiminished passion and strive for perfectionism. The fact that a person like him, who has been doing shows since he was a kid, getting so engrossed in the rehearsals and ensuring that every nuance and angle of the upcoming shows are covered to the last detail, is truly something to behold and applaud. Of course, we also get glimpses of the creepier side of his complex persona from time to time, like when he explains with graphic detail how the sound is hurting his “inner ear”. But, despite all our preconceived notions of the man, he comes off as a rather mild-mannered and soft-spoken individual, and a self-appointed Messiah of sorts. What was also interesting to note was his being surrounded by a bunch of sycophants trying really hard to please MJ with their overtly servile behaviour, and genuflecting to his every whim. The “film noir” sequences and MJ dancing to his enormously popular numbers were also fun.
Director: Kenny Ortega
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
An expansion of the sixth chapter of his legendary Decalogue miniseries, Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love, though on paper a cinematic recreation of the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”, is far more profound than that. It is a poetic and emotionally enthralling exploration of themes ranging from voyeurism and teenage obsession to loneliness and unrequited love. The crisply timed and leisurely paced movie is about a young, shy and mild-mannered postal office worker and closet Peeping Tom, Tomak, who spies on the love life of an older lady, Magda, through his telescope, and has eventually fallen in love with her. His infatuation towards the sexually active and philandering Magda has grown to silent worship. However, his world comes crashing down with devastating repercussions when she lets him know in the most blatant way possible that she believes there’s no such thing as Platonic love – all that really matters is the act of making love. The evocatively photographed and scored movie is as hauntingly beautiful as it is emotionally powerful, despite its beak exterior. The understated psychological depth of the movie (the silent yearning for love in an increasingly cold urban jungle) would later be propelled to stratospheric heights in his masterwork Three Colors.
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Romance
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Director: Milos Forman
Genre: Comedy/Political Satire/Social Satire/Black Comedy
Country: Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia)
Thursday, 22 October 2009
German filmmaker Christian Petzold’s Jerichow is a modern-day variation of James M. Cain’s classic pulp fiction The Postman Always Rings Twice, albeit minus the hardboiled content that gave the source material its iconic status. The movie is about a penniless, laconic war veteran who, through a string of coincidences, gets employed by a reasonably wealthy middle-aged Turkish man (performed with great effectiveness by Hilmi Sozer) married to a bored, philandering, blonde adulteress screaming to get laid. The movie has been pictured without the kind of stylizations or disorienting camera angles that defined film noirs; rather, it is grim in tone and filled with dramatic realism and socio-political insights that belie the genre’s archetypal conventions. Further, even in the movie’s fatalist climax, there is more an element of absurdism than the kind of bleak nihilism that typified classic noirs. The movie is certainly not without its flaws – some of the plot contrivances seem too obvious, and the drifter’s character has not been as well delineated as the other two protagonists, for instance. However, having said that, this deceptively simple fable and revisionist neo-noir does deserve to be paid attention to.
Director: Christian Petzold
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Producers of A Hard Day’s Night, in all probability, had one thing alone in mind when they conceptualized the movie – to cash in on the intense hysteria and mass frenzy surrounding the Fab Four. But, in the surprisingly jaunty hands of Richard Lester, the movie turned into a freewheeling, satirical and humorous cult classic, combining the peppy feel of early Beatles music with French Nouvelle Vague filming sensibilities. And in its circuitous, whimsical and delightfully irreverent portrayal of a fictitious day in the lives of the four iconic Liverpudlians – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr), all playing themselves, the movie managed to present a definitive zeitgeist of a time that has since been immortalized with the moniker Beatlemania. Shot in dazzling black-and-whites and based on a madcap script with an abundance of self-deprecating humour, the movie is filled with idiosyncratic characters like Paul’s amusingly eccentric granddad, comical managers, and an uptight TV producer. The movie is peppered with such legendary songs like the title track “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “She Love You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)”, among others. A fascinating blend of avant-garde narrative, brilliant (and at times, surreal) music videos, and cinema verite techniques, the movie, made in the form of a mockumentary, feels remarkably fresh even after nearly five decades of its release.
Director: Richard Lester
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Showbiz Comedy/Musical
Monday, 12 October 2009
Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Director: Klaus Haro