Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Night Buffalo (El Bufalo de la Noche) [2006]

Directed by Jorge Hernandez Aldana, and adapted by Guillermo Arriaga from his own novel, The Night Buffalo has earned the wrath of movie goers because of its complex construction, lack of likeable characters, its refusal to explicitly apprise us of the characters’ motives, and its overall “arthouse” sensibilities. Yet, these are essentially the reasons that made me like this movie, apart from appreciating the amount of maturity in Mexican New Wave cinema. This dark, brooding and existential urban drama about the complicated relationship between a young couple who are set on the course towards self-destruction and ultimately redemption, upon the death of a schizophrenic guy integrally related to both their lives. Diego Luna, one of the most admired actors in Mexico today, is compelling as the protagonist, with the entire story being presented through his point-of-view. The film is heavy on its erotic content, and the entire cast, right from the lovely young girl who is the centre of all trouble, so to speak, to the dead friend’s mourning sister, has given unabashed, devastatingly real and extremely competent performances. Excellent photography and leisurely pacing have both played their parts in making this a haunting, albeit an utterly downbeat and disturbing tale of love gone awry and self-discovery.

Director: Jorge Hernandez Aldana
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama/Mystery

Language: Spanish

Country: Mexico

Friday, 29 October 2010

Dabangg [2010]

Dabangg has everything necessary for it to qualify as a classic bad movie, only that it really isn’t a classic bad movie per se. Allow me to elaborate. Set in the rural badlands of Uttar Pradesh, the film appears on first glance akin to the kind of pulpy 80’s and 90’s Hindi movies that would comprise of over-the-top action and machismo, and littered with overtly “filmy” dialogues; but dig deep and you realize that it is, in essence, a parody of the same. At the centre of the film lies the larger-than-life character of Chulbul Pandey (played with memorable swagger by Salman Khan), a corrupt cop with devil-may-care attitude, but with his heart in the right place. This Indianised version of Spaghetti Westerns is a heady concoction of family melodrama, farce, impossible plot constructions, cheesy romance, below-the-belt humour and Matrix­-style action, with a few song-and-dance sequences thrown in. What I found most likeable about the film was that, its satirical intentions are very subtle, without an ounce of snootiness whatsoever. Thus, like Grindhouse, it is the kind of film that the first-row crowd of theatres would be bowled over by, the ones whose days of fun collided with watching “masala” blockbusters would find it a walk down the memory lanes, and the more discerning viewers would have loads of fun while also appreciating what the film actually represents.

Director: Abhinav Kashyap
Genre: Action/Comedy
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Rudo y Cursi: The Sexual and Socio-Political Relationship of the Mexican New Wave

(Cinemascope thanks guest contributor Ms. Camiele White for this brilliant article - this time on a particular facet and dimension of the Mexican New Wave that she finds immensely fascinating)

At the turn of the new millennium, there arose a new wave of Mexican filmmaking that was part sexual exploration, part socio-political commentary. From this social revolution came the likes of some Mexico’s most vocal and most successful directors, screenwriters, and actors, none more popular than Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Selma Hayek.

First, a look at the dynamic bonds that bring Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal together onscreen. Within the confines of exploring the ravaging of one’s homeland with conflict, each film that the twosome stars in carries a very distinct message: growth through exploration. It’s this desire to explore, to branch out of a life clouded with the sterility of monotony, which has highlighted some of the most beautiful films of the Mexican New Wave --an artistic Renaissance -- and, indeed, all film of the early 2000s. Together they have managed to bring a very mature and holistic understanding to film. Taking a page from Walt Whitman --“the poet is political”-- the Mexican New Wave ushered in an era in which the poet, and indeed the artist, is political, sexual, and outspoken.

Though both Luna and Bernal found themselves taking separate paths to their cinematic greatness, it’s what they managed to produce together that captured my heart. From the moment I saw the both of them onscreen I was entranced by the organic way in which they managed to bring each other up. Y Tu Mamá También is a film that highlights as much of the political as the sexual as the homoerotic. It was a film predicated on the idea of discovery and exploration. Indeed, many of the films that would follow in either actor’s catalogue seemed to emphasise the natural maturity of mind and body through the trial and error of exploration. Y Tu Mamá También, however, was more than a film that followed the lives of two very innocently devious boys to their sexual manhood. The film managed to explore the richness and complexity of a country that before had been seen as something of an “other” by those conveniently located across the Rio Grande.

In the midst of economic and political turmoil developing in the rural countryside of Mexico, Luna’s and Bernal’s characters --Tenoch and Julio, respectively-- are engaged in a summer road trip masquerading as nothing more than a way the two best friends can spend the summer while their girlfriends are away in Europe. The opening sequence, in which Tenoch and his girlfriend are having what can only be described as amazing sex, expels any suggestions that the film is the stereotypical commentary on the life of an average Mexican kid. After the first climax, Tenoch entreats his lover to promise that she won’t sleep with any Italians while she’s in Europe. They make a solemn pact to not have sex with anyone else while she’s away before they embrace for a second round of teen ecstasy. In the first 10 minutes of the film, the audience is put head first and hands on into the relationships of the two boys --first with their girlfriends then with an older woman, who is masterfully played by Spanish actress Maribel Verdú-- as well as the intimacy shared by the two boys.

The first inclination of their inherent homoerotic relationship stems from a scene in which they’re self-pleasuring on the diving boards of a country club and reach ecstasy at the same time whilst regaling themselves of the fantastic women that parade around in their fantasies while their girlfriends are away. The film continues to bring new meaning to intimacy as one scene after the next you’re confronted with unbridled bouts of sexual exploration. First round: Tenoch, as he walks in on Verdú’s character, Luisa, crying to herself. She propositions him to drop the towel around his waist after he’s taken a shower and further provokes him with her mature purr: Comerme.” For the sake of the piece, I’ll let you find out what the means. Next, Julio has his moment with Luisa as Tenoch is driving the car. Luisa wastes no time closing the degrees of separation between the boys even more as she crawls into the backseat and onto Julio’s lap. It’s a game of temptation, commitment, and trust. At each road stop, the trio are forced closer and closer together until the climactic ending scene that sees a culmination of their summer of growth. After engaging in a sensual three-way dance, they go back to their room. There’s no music, the lighting is foul, but somehow incredibly soft, and the tentativeness of each participant is felt so palpably through the camera that you can reach out and swear you were touching erotica. First Tenoch begins with a kiss, and then Luisa engages the scene even further. While Luisa is pleasuring Tenoch, she also manages to involve Julio, who is standing eye to eye with his dearest friend. The two share their intimacy unabashedly and without holding back. Their kisses are slow, deep, and as natural as breathing.

While the film itself is a revelation of sexual self-expression, it’s a testament to the relationship shared by Luna and Bernal. Even more so, it speaks to the maturity and gritty beauty inherent in films stemming from the Mexican New Wave. Films like Y Tu Mamá También, Frida, and Rudo y Cursi touch on very taboo themes that still seem to make the very fabric of Hollywood shake. Frida takes the life and times of provocative surrealist artist, Frida Kahlo, and explores her own understanding of human touch and folly. Kahlo, portrayed with style and grace by Selma Hayek, is a creature of unbridled sexual and political passion. She’s a lily among so many red roses; a woman among the blushing school girls that deigned to walk in her laboured footsteps. Also staring Diego Luna, Frida was a marvel of its time and remains one of the most incredible biographical films released in the past 20 years. As a woman of outspoken passion, Kahlo created art that was ripped completely from the walking corpse of humanity and painted with the very blood that coursed with vitriol through her veins. Never apologetic, never shy, Kahlo stood up to the deliberate nature of mortality and continued to fight with fists clenched and mouth open, giving colour to the darkness, darkness to the naively optimistic. The film was painted in as many layers as Kahlo’s Lo Que el Agua Me Dio, often referencing (and using) many of the paintings for which Kahlo is so lauded. The language was frank (though, in English); the images were severe; the nature of Kahlo’s life was both violently turbulent and as beautiful and delicate as butterfly wings.

More than anything else, Frida was magnificent in its ability to paint the layers that run rampant through Mexico. It’s a film that was shot with exceptional care and attention to detail --from the cracks of every ancient building, to the smell and life of the flora and fauna, to the texture of the walls. The film manages to encapsulate the very turbulent times of the 30s and 40s and interweave a complex human narrative devoid of any political inclinations. Actively part of the Communist party, Kahlo was never shy about her understanding of government; however, her insight into the human experience is what warranted the film to be heralded as one of pure landscape --beautiful, natural, raw, erotic, and twisted as the crooked spine of snake.

It’s beauty, plain and simple, that drives the Mexican New Wave. It’s biggest proponents, and indeed, most active members, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Selma Hayek, (and let’s not forget to mention Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón), brought a perspective that while at times being rudo were never as easily thought of as cursi. Rudo (“rude”) because these films dare to push back on a society that ignores the grossly complex and dirty. It curses, bites, kicks, and makes love to every aspect of the human experience. Cursi (meaning , roughly, “tacky”), perhaps because there is so much beauty. But there’s nothing more natural than exploring the amalgamation of pain and triumph. With these paragons of human life at the forefront of the Mexican New Wave, it’s no wonder in my mind that so much of the film industry in its neighbouring country has been left standing still.

I have a keen interest in all things that shed light and colour in this dark and, at times, uninspiring world. I love film, all film --ranging from Japanese and Korean horror, to nonsensical action films. The one qualification is that it must, must entertain me. As much as I love watching film, I love even more to write about it. Right now, I get my jabberjaw jollies writing about Halloween Costumes. If you want to give me a buzz, I can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail [dot] com.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection

This boxset release from the venerated house of Warner Bros., is exactly what its name says. It’s truly an essential collection that every Humphrey Bogart aficionado, hell, every cinephile worth his salt, would love to lay his hands on. At its barest essence, this collection comprises of 24 Bogart movies (6 cases, with each containing 2 double-sided dvd’s), including some of the most enduring classic Hollywood and film noir classics like Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, Sierra Madre, Key Largo, Big Sleep, They Drive By Night, To Have and Have Not, Dark Passage, etc., along with some of his lesser known films like, The Petrified Forest, Marked Woman, All Through the Night, etc. The movies cover over a decade's relationship between the actor and the studio. But, in effect, its more than just that. The elegant, pristine-white box-set comes with a beautiful hardbound booklet whose glossy plates contain synopses of each of the films and a plethora of excellent pictures. Wait, it ain’t over yet. The set also has in it some of the press-releases, memos and letters (including one written by the great man himself) which are worth their weights in gold, as well as, strikingly attractive reprints (on colour plates) of the original posters of some of the films. If these were not enough, the set comes with a bonus documentary feature called The Brothers Warner. The studio should be applauded for coming out with this collector’s item.

p.s. I would like to thank Warner Bros. for contacting me and sending across this boxset in order for me to review it here at my blog.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

T-Men [ 1947]

T-Men was the movie that catapulted Anthony Mann to the forefront of American directors in terms of recognition. Made in the form of a pseudo-documentary, it evokes memories of another classic noir made around the same time, Jules Dassin’s The Naked City. Narrated through a very matter-of-fact voiceover, and based on real events, the film is about an elaborate operation wherein two Treasury agents go undercover in order to infiltrate into, and in turn expose and bring to justice, a counterfeiting ring. In the process it managed to capture how corruption had seeped into the nooks and corners of post-War American society. Dennis O’Brian starred as one of the two agents who must stay one step ahead of the bad guys at all times, as in a job like this even a minor false move can be the difference between staying alive and getting killed. Though featuring a host of fine plot devices, the movie, like Mann’s next feature Raw Deal, is less about its structural aspects, and more about its style and mood, amplified by the exceptional use of shadows and camera angles. The film has its fair share of memorable moments, but what easily stands out is the ultra-violent scene where a two-bit underworld schemer is killed in cold blood in a steam bath. Even though it might not be a great movie per se, it still remains an essential B-noir and a gripping tale of “duty before self”.

Director: Anthony Mann
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ghulam [1998]

Amir Khan is considered as the rare thinking man’s actor, unlike most of his contemporaries in the Bombay film industry. And Ghulam, along with the likes of 1947 Earth and Akele Hum Akele Tum, in my opinion, has the actor at his finest. An adaptation of the Elia Kazan classic On the Waterfront, Khan here renders the role of the drifter-turned-rebel earlier memorably played by Marlon Brando. He is an amateur boxer whose elder brother works as a henchman for the local mobster. However, when he inadvertently becomes an accomplice to the murder of his fiancé’s brother, a chain of events is kick-started by his deep sense of guilt, ultimately culminating in the terrific showdown between him and the goon. The movie boasts of a trio of startling performance, not least of all being the stupendous turn by Khan. Rajit Kapoor, as his weak elder brother, and Sharat Saxena, as the movie’s antagonist, too, are very good. The gut-wrenching climax scene aside (for which Khan apparently went a whole week without a bath), the film comprises of another famous sequence, the one where the protagonist runs towards a train in a game of machismo. The most affecting portions of the film, however, are the flashback sequences which have, in more ways than one, shaped the destiny of both our hero and his elder brother.

Director: Vikram Bhatt
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Gangster Movie
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Raw Deal [1948]

Iconic B-noir Raw Deal shines as a bright light in perennial Hollywood outsider Anthony Mann’s oeuvre, despite being a hyper-violent ride. What could have been a run-of-the-mill genre movie, turned into a thing of beauty thanks to Mann’s bravura style and flair. Made right after his T-Men, Raw Deal is on one hand a revenge film with Joe Sullivan (played effectively by the lumbering Dennis O’Keefe) escaping from prison in order to get even with a sadistic gangster who double-crossed him, while on the other it is a curiously charged tale of ménage à trois between Sullivan, his obsessed fiancé and a dangerously beautiful legal aide who he develops the kicks for. More than the plot, the movie relies on heavy stylizations, what with terrific usage of expressionistic photography replete with chiaroscuro, canted camera angles and an overall moody cinematography. That, coupled with a script that is peppered with smart dialogues, a palpable undercurrent of loneliness and carnal desires, and a deep sense of doom and fatalism pervading nearly every scene (thanks in large parts to the haunting voiceover accompanied with an equally haunting, albeit minimalistic, soundtrack), made this relentlessly bleak, strangely poetic and utterly magnetic film a truly fascinating watch.

p.s. And there goes my 400th film review at Cinemascope. And what better way to get there than with the kind of films (read: film noirs) that makes my love for the medium keep growing.

Director: Anthony Mann
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Romantic Noir
Language: English
Country: US