Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Ice Storm [1997]


A searing deconstruction of the American suburbia, Ang Lee’s much acclaimed The Ice Storm has as its company such disconsolate expositions on dysfunction and malaise as the likes of American Beauty and Little Children. Though not as relentlessly dark as the latter two, the film is no less distressing or, well, wintry. Set during one particularly cold Thanksgiving weekend in the 70’s in the wealthy suburbs of New York City, the film has at its centre an affluent family that is genial and civil on the outside, but crumbling from inside. The father (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with his attractive but frosty neighbour (Sigourney Weaver), the frigid mother (Joan Allen) is suffering from existential crises of her own, their daughter (Christiana Ricci) has become overtly promiscuous with their neighbour’s son (Elijah Wood) and his brother and emotionally detached, while their son (Tobey Maguire), one of the few characters deserving the audience’s sympathy and the movie’s mouthpiece, has fallen for a girl (Katie Holmes) who doesn’t seem to reciprocate his feelings. The film is replete with ironies, not least of all being, as this web of infidelity, rebelliousness and desperation is unfolding, threatening to rip the family apart, the Watergate Scandal is quietly playing in the background. The film, that forms a fine zeitgeist of the times portrayed, is exceptionally well performed by its ensemble cast, with the young brigade of Ricci, Maguire and Wood being especially brilliant.








Director: Ang Lee
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Rushmore [1998]


Wes Anderson, one of the most highly regarded American filmmakers working today, garnered a lot of acclaim with his debut Indie feature Bottle Rocket. But it was his sophomore effort Rushmore that put him firmly and squarely on the world map. Co-written with college buddy Owen Wilson, the movie, like his other films, is quirky, irreverent, idiosyncratic and darkly funny, with latent yet palpable layers of humanism firmly embedded in the otherwise whimsical coming-of-age tale. Jason Schwartzman played the role of Max, a 15-year old student at an exclusive school called Rushmore who is exceptionally active in a horde of extra-curricular activities but for academics, to perfection. He meets, and falls heads-over-heels with the beautiful but emotionally debilitated first-grade teacher Miss Cross (lovingly portrayed by Olivia Williams). Meanwhile, an eccentric but world-weary business tycoon called Mr. Blume (played quite brilliantly by the amazing as always Bill Murray), who Max has befriended, also finds himself falling for the lady, thus setting the three for a collision course that eventually brings the them out of their self-made “little boxes”, as Pete Seeger would have said, and closer both to themselves and to each other. The combination of the breezy, unpredictable narrative, the dry and off-balancing wit and surprising emotional depth of the script, the colourful visuals and the excellent 60’s and 70’s pop soundtrack have all joined forces to make this offbeat film a cult classic among movie lovers.









Director: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy Drama/Black Comedy/Coming-of-Age
Language: English
Country: US

Friday, 28 May 2010

Ganashatru (An Enemy of the People) [1989]


Ganashatru, --> literally ‘An Enemy of the People’, was master auteur Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of the legendary play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen. Ray’s health was deteriorating alarmingly during this time and he was compelled to have a pacemaker placed in him. Consequently, the shooting was confined mostly to interiors. Having said that, though the film is considered among Ray’s lesser works, it was a pretty tight, engaging and competent film nonetheless – such is the quality of Ray’s oeuvre. The film, set in a small, peaceful town near Calcutta, has at its forefront the age-hold struggle between faith and science. Ashoke Gupta, a revered doctor who, while investigating a series of jaundice cases, becomes convinced that the ‘holy water’ being provided by a popular temple is the cause of those cases. And that sets him on collision course with his self-serving younger brother, who also happens to be the Mayor of the town, and who is absolutely opposed to Ashoke’s wanting to educate the people of it either through a newspaper article or ia public speaking. The film, which has a reasonably satisfying climax, is solidly performed by a motley crew of such respected actors like (Ray favourite and regular) Soumitra Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Mamata Shankar, Dipankar Dey et al.









Director: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Drama/Social Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Dead Reckoning [1947]


Dead Reckoning has the kind of dialogues, plot and feel to it that it could very well have been straight out of a Raymond Chandler story. And incidentally or accidentally, the principal protagonist, a not-so-subtle variation of Phillip Marlowe, was enacted by none other than Humphrey Bogart himself. Bogart, excellent as always in the kind of role perhaps only he could enact, starred as Rip Murdock, a cynical war hero who gets mired in a complex web of intrigue, blackmail, deceit, double crosses and murder, when he starts investigating, against the wishes of a powerful mobster and owner of a sleazy gambling joint, the mysterious disappearance of his army buddy. In the process he gets acquainted with, among others, a beautiful heartbreaker, former crooner and lethal femme fatale Coral aka "Dusty", very well performed by Lizabeth Scott (some feel, wrongly in my opinion, that she was nothing more than a stand-in for Lauren Bacall). The film is replete with shady thugs, and a slew of utterly memorable hardboiled dialogues and wisecracks that Bogart made absolutely his own. The labyrinthine and fatalist plot is very well structured and paced as to keep one glued right till the finale that reminded me a lot about how Out of the Past ended.








Director: John Cromwell
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Gangster/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, 24 May 2010

In Cold Blood [1967]


Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood is a stylish dramatisation of the renowned non-fiction novel of the same name by Truman Capote. Though essentially made to cash in on the book’s fame, and hence made so as to closely follow the book’s structuring of the events, it has nonetheless managed to stand on its own as a work of merit and calibre. Brilliantly photographed in expressionistic black-and-whites, mostly employing claustrophobic visuals and low-angle shots, and backed by a memorable jazz-styled score, the movie bears close resemblance to classic era film noirs in terms of mood and atmospherics, though it doesn’t really qualify as one. For the uninitiated, the movie chronicles the real-life event of two delinquent crackerjack youths, Dick and Perry (extremely well acted by the respective leads), killing respectable rancher Herbert Clutter and his family in cold blood for a meager sum of money, and how they are successful pursued by the homicide cop Alvin Dewey Jr. and sent to the gallows to meet their fates. The voiceovers near the finale seemed a bit jarring and hence should have been avoided. However, that apart, the movie managed to be not just gripping, but even quite breathtaking at times.








Director: Richard Brooks
Genre: Crime Drama/Docu-fiction
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Asukh (Malaise) [1999]


The stretch from his debut feature Hirer Angti and roughly culminating with Utsab and Shubho Mahurat – his finest works till date, saw Bengali auteur Rituparno Ghosh at his most dizzying best, and Asukh released right at the middle of this immensely creative phase of his career. The film follows parallel narratives. The present shows Rohini (marvelously portrayed by Debashree Roy), a popular actress but an emotionally vulnerable lady addicted to sleeping pills, trying to cope with her mother’s illness, which ends up triggering a subtle schism with her father (yet another stellar performance by veteran thespian Soumitra Chatterjee). Flashbacks, meanwhile, show the slow disintegration of her relationship with her fiancé because of his increasing closeness with a younger upcoming actress, which in many ways ends up defining her present vulnerability, suspicious disposition and a perpetual feeling of betrayal which gets extended to include her father as well. An intense, brooding and thoroughly brilliant character study, Ghosh managed to capture the nuances of Rohini’s relationships and her internal turmoil through exceptional use of Tagore’s poems. The leisurely paced film is marvelously scored and photographed.







Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Femme Fatale [2002]


If you ever want to see the cinematic expression of “style over substance”, Femme Fatale is the movie to watch. In fact, but for Brian De Palma’s presence, this was a movie tailor-made for a trashy direct-to-video thriller that wouldn’t have attracted even a cursory glance from anyone. Palma must have had one hell of a fun time making this unabashedly stylish neo-noir, what with split screens, outlandish plot developments, snazzy craftsmanship and carefree indulgence into “cool factor”, so much so that the inane pulpy plot, wafer-thin characterizations and bizarre coincidences somehow do not come into way of the wholesome entertainment the movie provides. The movie starts off with the famous climax scene from Billy Wilder’s classic noir Double Indemnity. The plot is so gleefully byzantine and well, ludicrous, that I won’t even go into that; suffice it to say, the film abounds in amoral characters, double (even triple) crosses and enough of sleazefest to make this one of your guilty pleasures. Rebecca Romjin is smoking hot as a deliriously twisted femme fatale and her emotionally broken doppelganger, while Antonio Banderas’ turn as a down-and-out paparazzo is a really funny watch. It has at times been referred to as the lunatic and brazen half-brother of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and why not?








Director: Brian De Palma
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Mystery/Post-Noir
Language: English/French
Country: US

In July (Im Juli) [2000]


In July is at complete odds with such deadly serious movies like Head-On and The Edge of Heaven that Fatih Akin is renowned for. The only commonality it has with his body of work is where capturing both German and Turkish diaspora and people goes; otherwise, the film seems something of an aberration. A light-hearted, whimsical and charming rom-com and a breezy road movie, it is filled with simple character sketches and idiosyncratic scenarios, is shot in resplendent colours, and is bereft of any socio-political commentary. A shy German teacher (Moritz Blebitreu), convinced that the pretty Turkish girl he has befriended by chance is the girl he’s destined to be with, plunges head long into an adventure road trip that doesn’t just require him to do stuff beyond his wildest imaginations, but also brings him closer to the girl who indirectly kick-started this odyssey of his. And this girl, a good-natured Bohemian lady who’s been holding a candle for him for long, also happens to be, through a stroke of coincidence, his partner in his crazy journey from Hamburg, across Europe, to Istanbul, silently wishing he realizes her feelings for him. Look out for an interesting cameo by the director as a corrupt Romanian border police.








Director: Fatih Akin
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Road Movie
Language: German
Country: Germany

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A Serious Man [2009]


A Serious Man might not be the Coen brothers’ best film – that title is still a fight-out between Fargo and No Country for Old Men, but it is one of their most matured works, and might even be their most heartfelt movie till date. It abounds in malaise, hopelessness, infidelity, delinquency, despair, bigotry and a dysfunctional family, and is replete with the kind of absurdism, ironies and nihilism that are, well, quintessentially Coen-esque; further, the jet-black humour might at times even tear through your skin and leave you wincing. Yet, this suburbia tale of a Jewish physics professor, whose life comes crumbling down in the week preceding his son’s Bar Mitzvahs – his wife announcing her affair with his pompous colleague and emotionally arm-twisting him to move out of his own house, dealing with his unemployed brother, his son having serious disciplinary issues at school, his irritable daughter stealing his money in order to get a nose job, his chances of tenure at the university being sabotaged by an anonymous miscreant, sharing dope with his voluptuous neighbour and having to tolerate a series of ludicrous and idiosyncratic rabbis – felt, in an odd way, a very personal film for the duo. The acting is pitch perfect throughout, with Michael Stuhlbarg’s being the standout performance as the sympathetic family man (a rarity in the Coens’ oeuvre) at the wrong end of a series of deadpan cosmic jokes.









Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Cooler [2003]


The Cooler is about casinos, money and luck (or rather the lack of it); but more than anything else it is a warm-hearted movie on love, and how it can flourish and survive even in a world as cold as Las Vegas. Bernie is a loser, if there ever was one. His luck is so rotten that he has been hired in Shangri-La, run in the old-fashioned way by its owner Shelly, as a “cooler” – his job is to rub off his bad luck onto anyone who is on a winning spree. And then he meets Natalie, a cocktail waitress at the casino, and as they fall in love, his luck suddenly starts changing for the better. There isn’t anything new that the story has to offer. In fact, at times it even veers towards been-there-seen-that territory. But what ultimately has made this movie watchable, hell, likeable, is the truly memorable acting. William H. Macy as the good-natured but tragically lonesome loser, Maria Bello as the outwardly seductive but inwardly fragile “lady luck”, and especially Alec Baldwin as the tough son-of-a-gun who loves his casino to death and runs it like a Scorsese-style mobster, but with a heart somewhere deep within, have given some of the best performances of their distinguished careers. The characters of this impressive, if fanciful, little indie, too, have been well etched and realised.








Director: Wayne Kramer
Genre: Drama/Romance/Gangster
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Cries and Whispers [1972]


In Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s timeless classic Anand, Amitabh Bachchan’s character quoted, “Death, you are a poem.” In Cries and Whispers, Swedish master Ingmar Bergman created a solemn and melancholic yet spellbinding poetry on the otherwise morbid subject of death. The frail Agnes, who is afflicted with cancer, in on deathbed at her palatial manor house, and her continual suffering forms the unlikely bridge between her estranged sisters – the suicidal and tortured Karin, and the shallow and cold Maria. Meanwhile Agnes is taken care of by her motherly maid, Anna, with undying love and devotion. All the three ladies serving the whimpering and dying Agnes, have had unpleasant brushes with death, and lead deeply scarred existences, though carefully masked by misleading, sociable veneers. Intense grief, pain, sexual repression and skeletons in one’s closet form the principal themes of this tragic, albeit lushly beautiful, human drama. Though visually enthralling – expressionistic compositions, colours and imageries play far greater roles than mere words, the film can be emotionally distressing for most viewers, and the slow pacing is as unsparing as it gets. This deeply personal tale benefited from a great cast, with especially stupendous and devastating performances by Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullman and Harriet Andersson.








Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Family Drama
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Friday, 14 May 2010

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]


If there’s one movie that has come to define the madness of war, it would have to be Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War-era masterpiece Dr. Strangelove. A brilliant political satire and a bitingly funny black comedy, the movie remains a fascinating caricature of the then frosty US-Soviet, and perhaps the closest that cinema came to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The film chronicles a nuclear catastrophe brought upon by a crazy US General (Sterling Hayden), who, convinced that the Americans’ “precious bodily fluids” are being polluted, has authorized nuclear attack on the Soviets, sending the Pentagon into frenzy. The US President, while trying to placate his “Ruskie” counterpart, comes to know of a “doomsday device” built by them to automatically destroy the planet if they are attacked. The movie painted with hilarious effect the insanity and paranoia surrounding the era, and forms a nightmarish vision of what might happen if “the wrong man presses the wrong button”; yet, in an odd way, it was also a moving testament of human stupidity. Shot in glorious black-and-whites, it boasts of a slew of stellar performances – at foremost lies the astounding Peter Sellers in three distinct roles (an uptight British Captain, the effeminate US President and ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove); George C. Scott too was simply superb as a Commie-hating General, and so too was Slim Pickens who, as a Bomber pilot, got to be part of one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.










Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Political Satire/War
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Once Upon A Time in the West [1968]


Once Upon A Time in the West has been called by many as Sergio Leone’s greatest masterpiece. Though I wouldn’t go that far (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly still remains my favourite), I must however concede that this would rank among his most ambitious ventures. Like Once Upon A Time in America, this too is appropriately named as it chronicles the demise of the West and forms a love letter to the iconic American frontier. When a family residing in the ironically named locale called Sweet Water is brutally slain by the vicious Frank (played brilliantly against his type by Henry Fonda) and his gang, an enigmatic loner forever playing an eerie tone on his harmonica and an unstoppable gunfighter (Charles Bronson) and an oddball but equally capable outlaw (Jason Robards) take it upon themselves to protect the newly arrived bride (Claudia Cardinale) of the dead head of the family and her piece of land. Virtually given a carte blanche by the producers, Leone turned the elegiac film into mythic proportions. As with all his films, the harsh and unforgiving landscapes have been majestically captured, the Ennio Moricone score, though not his best, nonetheless elevated the epic to the next level, and the languorous pacing helps the film to grow on the viewers. Arguably the most fascinating part of the film, though, is the elaborate and the absolutely riveting opening sequence.








Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western/Spaghetti Western/Revisionist Wester
Language: English/Italian
Country: Italy

The Square [2008]


Though directed by stuntman turned first-time feature filmmaker Nash Edgerton, and written by his brother and bit actor turned first-time screenwriter Joel Edgerton, the Aussie film The Square is surprisingly assured debuts for both. Substituting the current trend for labyrinthine and ultra-violent plots among neo-noirs, the movie’s straightforward storyline feels something out of the blue, and pleasantly so. A modern day recreation of such classic noirs as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, the film is about how a young and ambitious housewife, wanting to add to some spice to her dull life, compels a married construction engineer, who’s having a torrid affair on the sly with her, to rob the stash of money belonging to her lowlife husband. As in nearly always the case with extra-marital couples planning to get rich quick and easy, things go horrible wrong as a chain of unfortunate coincidences lead their lives irrevocably downhill, in the process championing the gleefully nihilistic Murphy’s Law. The film, which has received exquisite treatment in terms of atmospheric photography and tight editing, is bleak and times even borderline absurdist, culminating in an ironic finale. The acting, unfortunately, isn’t very impressive, barring Claire van der Boom as the pretty femme fatale.







Director: Nash Edgerton
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Post Noir
Language: English
Country: Australia

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Seventh Seal [1957]


Seventh Seal, a landmark art movie, is often considered Swedish master Ingmar Bergman’s greatest masterpiece, which, mind you, is a huge qualification for a movie! The grim, austere and allegorical film was less a cinematic achievement and more a philosophical treatise for which moving images happened to be nothing more than a medium of intellectual expression. At the centre of this treatise lies Antonius Block, a medieval era knight returning home from the Crusades. The bloodshed, brutality, poverty and human suffering that he has seen has made him deeply disillusioned; further, with plague wrecking havoc among the god-fearing populace, his existential crisis and angst knows no bounds. While on his way home, in a concept endlessly referenced, imitated and parodied, he encounters Death who he challenges to a game of chess. Sardonic and mischievous, Death’s presence is a complete contrast to the morose Block’s. The movie ends with the iconic “Dance of Death” sequence, captured in stark silhouettes. However, all said and done, this is a very heavy movie laden with religious symbolisms, philosophical overtones and spiritual commentary, thus requiring an enlightened mind even to appreciate the film, leave alone falling in love with it. And, in my very humble opinion, it hasn't aged very well either.








Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Iron Man 2 [2010]


Jon Favreau’s sequel to his Iron Man is an equally romping, big-budget summer blockbuster, but without the breath of fresh air that made the first part such fun to watch. I’m not saying that Iron Man 2 isn’t a fun watch per se. Hell, it sure keeps one tied to his seat for the duration of its running length, but never provides the kind of wacky enjoyment that the earlier film showered in abundance. The problem with the movie lies in an over-abundance of half-cooked subplots – Tony Stark getting to know his father, the political fallout of his armour suit, Stark failing to maintain his sanity amid all the hullaballoo, dirty rivalry with a fellow tycoon, and of course, reluctant collision with his Russian nemesis in a revisit to the cold war era. Further, the movie has also criminally under utilized such actors as Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson. Apart from Robert Downey Jr.’s crackling performance as the egotistic, narcissistic billionaire genius, the few other noteworthy aspects of the movie are the reasonable humour quotient, Sam Rockwell’s ludicrous little jig before presenting his innovations, director Jon Favreau’s comic turn reminiscent of his similarly hilarious role in the Friends series and the ACDC soundtrack.









Director: Jon Favreau
Genre: Action/Super Hero Film/Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Language: English
Country: US

The Girl Who Played With Fire [2009]


Sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this adaptation of the second book of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy starts off where the former movie ended. The plot is straightforward – as Mikael Bloomkvist, the co-editor of the investigative tabloid Millenium, gets interested in an exposé of human trafficking incidents, a series of murders start occurring across Stockholm implicating the emotionally scarred computer whiz Lisbeth Salander. The two start investigating their leads, ending up uncovering a dark chapter from the mysterious Lisbeth’s past. As a standalone film it is reasonably alright – it is fast-paced, has its share of thrills, twists and, ahem, sizzling moments, and the acting of Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace are impressive. But standalone film this is not, and so given that it is a follow-up to a brilliant psychological thriller, the current film feels like a major disappointment. In place of the marvelous pacing, grim atmospherics, terrific plot progression and thoroughly engaging character dynamics, all you have here is a half-baked script, thinly drawn characters and an over-edited run-of-the-mill thriller.









Director: Daniel Alfredson
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Sweet Smell of Success [1957]


Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success would easily rank alongside Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. and Ace in the Hole as one of the blackest, nastiest and most acerbic film noirs ever made. The film lays naked the narcissism, greed and corruption-filled world of the powerful gossip columnists and PR men of New York. This incredibly photographed movie, where the Big Apple is portrayed as a seedy, ominous and claustrophobic urban jungle courtesy oblique camera angles and disorienting visuals, boasts of two stupendous performances. Burt Lancaster has given a volcanic turn as a cynical, malicious and misanthropic showbiz columnist J.J. Hunsecker who doesn’t think twice before trampling on other people’s lives, while Tony Curtis is equally electrifying as Sidney Falco, a parasitic and sycophantic press agent who'd sell his mother to have his news in J.J.'s columns. Emile G. Meyer, too, is brilliant as an evil, malevolent cop. The protagonists abound in apathy, deceit and complete lack of scruples as J.J. makes the fawning Falco destroy the life and career of a guitarist who has shown the temerity of dating his sister. This bleak, nihilistic and arsenic-filled depiction of the sleaze and intoxicating allure of power and money, also boasts of an absolutely terrific, at times even devastating, jazz score, that managed to further accentuate the tone and mood of this relentlessly dark and disturbing film.








Director: Alexander MacKendrick
Genre: Film Noir/Drama/Urban Drama/Showbiz Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Belle de Jour [1967]


Belle de Jour might or might not be Spanish provocateur Luis Bunuel’s finest film, but it remains without any semblance of doubt his most famous work. A satire on social fabric and human behaviour, the movie blurred the not-so-thin line between bourgeois affluence and elegance on one hand, and depravity and moral decadence on the other. Catherine Deneuve, like her character in Polanski’s Repulsion, is a frigid girl-woman whose fragile and soft demeanour masks and not sure of what she really wants; only that in a not-so-subtle variation, she takes a radically different approach to give vent to her internal fantasies and frustrations. Thus, while by day she is Severine, a beautiful and wealthy newly married lady suffering from ennui, by, err, afternoon, she becomes “belle de jour”, a high-society toy or bimbo for closet perverts. Despite the suggestive storyline, the movie never veers towards anything saucy or exploitative. Instead, the movie, which freely alternates between reality and supposed reality, is a sly take on alienation, forbidden pleasures, and the intense human desire of being what one is not by acting out, either in person or through elaborate dream sequences, one’s most lurid fantasies. Bunuel held us a puzzle that is Catherine’s unfathomable mind and took great pleasure in not unscrambling it for us – that, for me, is the defining feature of this film.








Director: Luis Bunuel
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Social Satire
Language: French
Country: France

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Criss Cross [1949]


Made a couple of years after his masterpiece The Killers, Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross bears a number of resemblances with the former – ranging from plot and structure to tone and mood. Though it doesn’t touch the flawless brilliance of the former, it happens to be a damn good piece of film noir alright. At the heart of the movie lies the doomed romance between Steve, working as an armoured-truck driver, and his former wife Anna, who’s now the girl of a notorious gangster. The three form an uneasy company as Steve hatches an impromptu, unheard of heist plan. But complications ensue in the form of distrust, betrayal and double cross, and the film ends with one of the bleakest climaxes that one could hope for. Burt Lancaster is devastating in the role of the tragic hero, while Yvonne De Carlo, though never as duplicitous as Ava Gardener’s Kitty Collins, is also good as the incredibly beautiful and self-serving femme fatale. The most unforgettable part of this grim, fatalist and downbeat movie, for me, is the stunningly composed sequence where love-lorn Steve finally gets to see Anna, dancing in the seedy drinking hole he frequents, with complete abandon, against some terrific jazz music being played by a band – that scene just tore my heart apart.








Director: Robert Siodmak
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Heist Movie
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Straw Dogs [1971]


Straw Dogs polarized its audience upon its release; four decades hence, it still hasn’t lost that ability – that shows how relevant and topical the movie is to the current times as it was during the Vietnam War era. Considered the finest non-Western from Sam Peckinpah, Straw Dogs is a deeply disturbing meditation on the vicious cycle of violence that is intrinsic to human nature and society. Dustin Hoffman, in one of the most remarkable roles of his distinguished career, plays David Summer, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered and nerdish American mathematician, who has relocated with her wife to a small Cornish village where she was born, in order to escape the commotion back home in the US. The promiscuous nature and overt sexuality of Amy (played brilliantly by Susan George), heightened by her boredom, attract the attention of the young men working for David, and soon enough the film enters harrowing territory that is both powerful and distressing in its stark and relentless portrayal of primal human instincts. David’s inevitable journey from deliberate avoidance of to headlong plunge into masculinity and animalistic violence is thus as nerve-racking as it is liberating, quite akin to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Aided by the eerie score and jittery editing, this visceral Sam Peckinpah classic remains one of the most explosive and provocative films ever made.








Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Drama/Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Crime Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Dekalog (The Decalogue) [1989]



-->Polish master’s Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog, one of the most staggering masterpieces ever brought to screen, would rank, along with the likes of R. W. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, among the most ambitious cinematic achievements. Comprising of ten one-hour films made for television, each representing a pronouncement from the Ten Commandments, Dekalog paints intimate, richly layered and thoroughly enriching portraits of Polish society through the microcosm of an apartment block which forms the backdrop for the stories. The series encompasses themes ranging from personal crises, ethical dilemmas and the political history of Poland to even the role of filmmakers, and covers such topics as technology, parent-child complex, infidelity, voyeurism, new found wealth, etc. In fact love, or lack thereof, human loneliness, cosmic conundrums and ironies of everyday life are some of the recurring as well as underlying motifs of the deeply philosophical project. Since Kieslowski was an agnostic himself, religious symbolisms never take the front seat; rather, they are subtly alluded to at most, as the various devastatingly human stories unfold before us. Music forms a vital aspect of the series, and has been used with astounding effect to create and accentuate the moods and tones specific to each parts. Hauntingly beautiful, profoundly moving and brilliantly enacted, Dekalog is cinema of the very highest order. Dekalog 5 & 6 were later expanded into A Short Film About Love and the A Short Film About Killing, respectively.



Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Existential Drama/Romance/Black Comedy/TV Series/Omnibus Film
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bob le Flambeur [1956]


Jean Pierre-Melville’s Bob le Flambeur was both a nostalgic tribute to American film noirs that were nearing the end of their classic era, and an early trendsetter (or pioneer) for the Nouvelle Vague movement that was about to begin. Thus it managed to be the perfect bridge between the doom and fatalism typified by the former, and the kind of style and iconoclasm brought in by the latter. The film has at its centre the eponymous Bob the Gambler (played with imperious panache by Roger Duchesne), a compulsive down-on-his-luck gambler of aristocratic lineage and who lives within a strictly defined moral code, who decides to earn some quick buck by robbing a huge casino. He gets hold of the perfect crew and devises the perfect plan, only to go haywire thanks to human frailties and bad luck. But a sudden resurgence of fortune and some quick banter later, we are provided a delicious and memorable finale in keeping with the kind of charm, style and swagger of our protagonist. The film, shot in glorious black-and-whites, boasts of a very fine cast, especially Isabel Corey who plays a coquettish nymphet whose age (she was barely 16 then!) belied her wholesome body and precocious sexuality. The light-hearted and immensely enjoyable caper was also a celebration of Montmarte and the sinful night life of Paris.






Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Genre: Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Gangster Movie/Caper
Language: French
Country: France