Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Memories of Murder [2003]

Memories of Murder is a rarity in that despite being a ‘based-on-real-events’ movie, it has still managed to go beyond the mere facts on which it is based. A very well made policier – it is about South Korea’s first recorded case of a serial killer – the movie meticulously follows two foe-turned-friends cops – a veteran, sardonic street-smart officer for whom end justifies the means, and a smart young rookie who dares to be different – trying to get hold of the slippery culprit. However, the actual tracking process fades in comparison to the gradual transformation of the characters revealed through deft change in mood and tone of the narrative. Despite the seriousness of the plot, the director has never shied from including darkly comic moments of near absurdist proportions at various instances of the fluid structure. One of the most striking aspects of the movie lies in its exceptional cinematography – the lush, panoramic outdoor shots have been perfectly juxtaposed with the decrepit squalor of the interiors. Never afraid of depicting the nastier sides of crime investigation, this wonderfully enacted movie has managed to pull surprises at nearly every turn of its crisp length.

Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Genre: Crime Drama/Black Comedy/Mystery
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Terminator [1984] & Terminator 2: Judgement Day [1991]

In between the assembly line of mindless, glossy Hollywood sci-fi flicks with SFX worth millions and actual content not worth more than a dime, once in a while we get to experience movies as audacious in ideation, as thrilling in content and as terrific in execution as the first two Terminator movies (the low-budget cult Terminator and its gargantuan blockbuster sequel Terminator II – Judgement Day). With their spine-chilling tales of cyborgs sent back in time to kill (and protect) Sarah Connor who would give birth to the future leader of the resistance against world domination by robots, and the teenage video-game punk John Connor who would actually lead the struggle, respectively, the movies present terrifying, apocalyptic futures where the world is reduced to killing fields dominated by cold ruthless machines. Containing jaw-dropping special effects way ahead of their times, fantastic plots, spectacular action sequences that have become ingrained in every movie-goers’ minds, and themes that doomsday sci-fi writers have always been predicting, the movies also introduced the world to a new superstar in the form of the Austrian hunk Arnold Schwarzenegger. Linda Hamilton is especially memorable as the sexy, muscular mom striving to save her son. Dialogues like “I’ll be back” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby” are stuff that legends are made of. The fact that these two iconic James Cameron classics are still as popular among movie lovers as they were when they were released, and that they have inspired a whole generation of inferior imitations, is a testimony to their place in the pantheon of the most ground-breaking and trendsetting movies ever made.

Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action/Science Fiction
Language: English
Country: US

Terminator Salvation [2009]

We now know what the world will look like once the Judgement Day has arrived – cold and heartless like this movie by McG, director of the Charlie’s Angels series. To be honest, the movie isn’t really bad per se, only that it falls way below the kind of expectations that this particular franchise makes the audiences harbour. John Connor, played by Christian Bale (still suffering from an overdose of Batman hangover), has finally taken over the mantle of resistance against the machines unleashed by Skynet – but it’s a battle whose losing side he seems to be a part of. And then arrives a mysterious former death row inmate who might not really be what he seems. As a standalone movie it is a decent popcorn summer blockbuster – the dystopian future, presented through steel-gray washed cinematography, looks well etched out. However, but for one moment of inspiration (watch the movie and you’ll know which), the action sequences and the special effects are just about decent without ever being jaw-dropping or spectacular. On the whole, the only real good thing that probably came out of it is that it made me want to revisit the iconic first two movies of the series.

Director: McG
Genre: Action/Science Fiction
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Broken Flowers [2005]

Broken Flowers, whose simple exterior belies its profound depth, is a contemplative dramedy from indie legend Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch once stated that he is rather “interested in the non-dramatic moments in life”; this low-key comedy managed to emphasize essentially that. Starring Bill Murray, the uncrowned king of deadpan emoting, the movie is about a rich, bored and emotionally detached middle-aged man, who one fine day, after his latest girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leaves him, is informed by an anonymous letter that he has a son. That, and his neighbour’s coercive persistence, forces him to look up all his old flames to determine who might be the mother of his son. The quasi-mystery nature of the plot, however, is in complete to what the movie actually is – right from its minimalist composition to its subtle character study of a man who was once a modern day Casanova (his name Don Johnston is a play on Don Juan) – after all he had to be one in order to successfully woo a stunner like Sharon Stone, that too in her prime. This is a nice movie that has relied more on silences than on words to communicate the various shades of Murray’s character to us.

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Social Satire/Psychological Drama/Road Movie
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Darjeeling Limited [2007]

The Darjeeling Limited is the kind of movie the world wouldn’t rant over, yet this underrated gem from Wes Anderson has the strange ability to endear itself to the viewers without much of a hullabaloo. Nearly every aspect of the movie – direction, acting, screenplay, story, music, characters et al – may be described by the epithet ‘quirky’ or any of its synonyms. The film is about three semi-lunatic brothers – played superbly by Owen Wilson (he is especially brilliant), Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman – belonging to one hell of a dysfunctional family, taking a trip across India to bridge their love-hate relationships, and to undergo some sort of quasi-spiritual awakening. The delectably comic script, with terrific aid from the equally mad-cap style of camera work, managed to make this a bittersweet, humorous, whimsical, colourful, satirical and intelligent comedy, with a subtle layer of poignancy just beneath the surface. And the most interesting aspect about the movie is that, its background score is filled with, among others, music from various Satyajit Ray movies (for those uninitiated, barring his first few films, music for most of his movies were composed by the great man himself).

Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Road Movie
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Layer Cake [2004]

If I were to describe Layer Cake in one sentence, it would have to be ‘Guy Ritchie movie minus the black comedy’. Given that it was made by the guy who has produced all of Ritchie’s movies, that's understandable I guess. Of course that doesn’t mean this Brit thriller isn’t good; rather it’s far from it, it’s a pretty darn engaging piece of work all right. Set in the high-flying dog-eat-dog underworld of drug marketeers, this is as stylized a film as it is mind-bending, what with its labyrinthine plot filled with double-crosses and twists galore. And at the centre of the plot is a cool, suave, soft-spoken middleman, expertly played by Daniel Craig, who has decided to quit while he is on top (no pun intended). And, to put it mildly, that’s when the trouble starts – after all he is in the kind of business where nobody gets out alive, even if he has the smarts for it. Sleek, fast, snazzy and entertaining – this is the kind of movie you’d enjoy watching, but not the kind you’d like to ruminate over a drink. The photography is good and the background songs are well chosen. Watch the movie with an empty mind, and you might even end up enjoying it.

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Gangster Movie
Language: English
Country: UK

Monday, 15 June 2009

No Country for Old Men [2007]

No Country for Old Men, a bleak, disturbing and brooding thriller, nearly managed to outclass Fargo, the Coens’ greatest movie – it is that good! When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam War veteran and a man straight out of wild west, stumbles upon 2 million dollars of dirty drug money, he unwittingly sets off a chain reaction whose repercussions sets him on an insane collision course with Anton Chigurh (James Bardem), a laconic psychopath – a relentless force of insurmountable evil who deposes his victims with a hydraulic cattle gun with cold, chilling efficiency. Meanwhile, Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an old-timer, laments at the uncontrollable escalation of violence engulfing human society. Spectacular photography, aided by near deathly silence and a terrific screenplay, managed to make this dark, gripping thriller a disquieting meditation on the inescapable nature of fate, and a good versus evil tale of biblical proportions. The acting of the superbly chosen cast is spectacular throughout – a quintessential aspect of Coens’ movies; Bardem is especially awesome as one of the scariest screen villains I've ever seen. Multiple viewing, by the way, is absolutely essential to appreciate the devastating power of this cinematic masterpiece.

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Genre: Thriller/Crime Drama/Americana
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Waltz With Bashir (Vals Im Bashir) [2008]

Persepolis and Waltz With Bashir, released one year apart, provided the perfect one-two sucker punch to those who strongly believed animation movies are only for kids. While being told over a drink by an old friend of a recurring nightmare, Ari Folman, the movie’s director, suddenly realizes that memories of his military service during Israel’s war with Lebanon in 1982 are sketchy at best. Made in the form of a semi-documentary, what follows is a recapitulation of the disturbing events in an attempt to recover his lost memory. Right from the stunning opening sequence of 26 vicious dogs running through the streets, till the grim climax (though, in my opinion, the actual war footage could have been done without), the movie never ceases to enthrall. The arresting visuals – brilliant, heavily stylized artwork accentuated by bright, mesmerizing palettes – managed to juxtapose with amazing ease a sense of immediacy (of the on-field violence) with striking hallucinatory imagery (as a reaction to the characters’ memories of those events). The haunting and deeply surrealistic narrative has been superbly aided by an equally effective soundtrack. Waltz With Bashir is a truly unique and unforgettable piece of work.

Director: Ari Folman
Genre: Animation/Docu-Fiction/War Drama/Psychological Drama/Avant-Garde/Experimental
Language: Hebrew
Country: Israel

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Good Shepherd [2006]

Directed by the legendary Robert De Niro, The Good Shepherd is an epic espionage movie, though very unlike most of its ilk. Through the eyes, life and personal choices of Edward Wilson – a mild mannered, quiet and intelligent man who makes the journey from being a poetry student at Yale to head of counter-intelligence at CIA, and through elaborate use of flashbacks to let us know how he became what he became, we are presented with a deglamourized picture of the murky and severely lonely world of covert operations. And in the process we are also told how OSS during World War II gradually evolved into CIA during the Cold War. The movie boasts of an all-star cast – Angelina Jolie, John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Willian Hurt et al, and even the likes of De Niro’s old buddy Joe Pesci and De Niro himself in cameos; however the low-key approach of the script never allows them to be spectacular or to grab attention. Through exceptionally detailed in its recreation of a lost era and Matt Damon’s precision portrayal of the emotionally distant protagonist, the movie managed to go places where most cloak-and-dagger movies fail to. However, given a choice, I would pick De Niro the actor over De Niro the director on any given day.

Director: Robert De Niro
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Spy Film/Epic
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, 8 June 2009

Wonder Boys [2000]

Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, an immensely enjoyable light-hearted dramedy, is completely antithetical to the ones sandwiching it – the terrific modern noir L.A. Confidential and the brutal underground hip-hop flick 8 Mile. Though filled with characters with completely messed up personal lives – a shaggy middle-aged professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) going through a severe case of writer’s block, a young student (Tobey Maguire) who happens to be a compulsive liar and a closet prodigy, a PYT (Katie Holmes) besotted with Grady, an editor (Robert Downey Jr.) who’s career depends on Grady completing his much awaited book, and the university Chancellor (Frances McDormand) going through mid-life crisis and in an extra-marital affair with Grady – and told over a particularly messed up weekend, the movie, however, is far from being one itself. Douglas, as a cynical but otherwise likeable individual whose only way seems to downhill, is the most impressive among its well-rounded cast. Filled with sharp wit, wry humour and bittersweet moments, the quirky movie deserves wider appreciation than it has received. And the OST, by the way, boasts of a great original number by Bob Dylan - played during the beginning as well as end credits.

Director: Curtis Hanson
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Coming of Age
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Anatomy of Hell [2003]

Directed by militant feminist Catherine Breillat, Anatomy of Hell doesn’t really deserve a review (by a professional, or as in my case, otherwise), even though the French lady has earned a certain reputation for her dare where tackling controversial subjects and depicting explicit content are concerned. Fat Girl, for instance, was a reasonably compelling watch. With Anatomy of Hell, however, she didn’t just blur the thin line between art and pornography, she crossed it with some distance to spare. The meeting of a bored lady and a misogynist gay guy, who she has paid to “watch” her, over a period of four nights, turned into a fest of one-upmanship where pretentious pseudo-philosophical rambling is concerned. It was in fact difficult for me to decide which was more intolerable – the director’s tawdry sermonizing (indeed, feminism has got to be a leading contender for the worst of all ‘ism’-s) or the nauseous flesh parade that would put even a porn director to shame.

Director: Catherine Breillat
Genre: Drama/Erotic Drama/Feminist Movie/Experimental
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Big Lebowski [1998]

The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers’ followup to their greatest masterpiece, Fargo, was a movie as markedly different from its predecessor as there can be – the kind of parallax shift they repeated later with No Country for Old Men and Burn after Reading. The movie can be considered a cornerstone for the kind of unapologetic irreverence and humour they have become legendary for. When Jeff Lebowski, perhaps the biggest slacker in the whole of Los Angeles, and who prefers to be called by the epithet “The Dude", is visited upon by a couple of thugs, one of whom relieves upon his rug, what ensues is a madcap comedy with a serpentine plot that is as skewed and hilarious as its utterly wacky characters. Jeff Bridges as the eponymous bum-cum-stoner, and John Goodman as his gleefully neurotic bowling buddy, headed a terrific support cast, including the likes of the histrionic tycoon David Huddleston, the comically unctuous Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the "vaginal" painter Julianne Moore, the exceedingly demure Steve Buscemi and the impossibly profane John Turturro, to provide a memorably idiosyncratic ride through mistaken identity, double crosses, embezzlement, kidnapping and the porn industry. Watch out for a surrealistic song-and-dance sequence on, know what, bowling!

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Crime Comedy/Buddy Film
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Gomorrah [2008]

One of the highest rated Italian movies of last year, Gomorrah is a bleak, stark and an unflinching look into the crime-ridden underbelly of the Province of Naples. Through five loosely connected stories – a teenager getting seduced by the crime culture around him; two neurotic guys thinking they are beyond the Mafia’s reach; a haute couture tailor trying to earn some extra money by working with a Chinese cloth manufacturer; a young guy getting acquainted with some harsh reality while working for his boss whose business it is to dump toxic industrial wastes; and a money runner trying to survive the clan wars around him – the director has provided a detailed documentary-style exposé of the Camorra, one of the most feared organised crime syndicates of Italy. Filled with grim realism, the movie has a neorealist feel about it, with its mostly outdoor shoots, natural lighting, characters enacted with spontaneity that gives a non-professional feel to the performances, and a complete lack of any high drama, showmanship or ostentation. Viewers might find it slow and difficult, but this deglamourized gangster movie is a fine no-nonsense work all right.

Director: Matteo Garrone
Genre: Crime Drama/Gangster Drama/Slice of Life/Ensemble Film/Docu-Fiction
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Monday, 1 June 2009

Delicatessen [1991]

A post-apocalyptic world where humans have taken to cannibalism for survival, is tailor-made for a gore filled horror flick. Instead what we have here is a darkly comic fantasy fable filled with bizarre visual beauty, and a fascinating work on absurdism (in a way, cinematic version of nonsense verse) – aspects which earned it cult status. The first feature film of French wunderkinds Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Delicatessen is a fairy tale turned on its head. The entire story is set at a dank, derelict and dilapidated building, owned by a comically monstrous butcher, and filled with some of the most grotesque characters one can hope to see. And in this morbidly outlandish world develops a strangely touching romance between the gauche daughter of the butcher and a former circus clown (smartly played by Domique Pinon) who everyone wants to, well, eat. Like in Jeunet’s future solo films Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, it is filled with surreal imagery, pitch black humour, subtle pathos and enthralling visual beauty. The movie also boasts of one of the most brilliantly choreographed sequences that I've seen – watch the movie and you’ll immediately know which scene I’m referring to.

Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro
Genre: Black Comedy/Fantasy/Absurdist Comedy/Avant-Garde/Experimental/Cult Movie
Language: French
Country: France