Saturday, 28 May 2011

Playtime [1967]

If Mr. Hulot’s Holiday was a refreshing comedy and Mon Oncle a lovely concoction of comedy and mild satire, Playtime, the third film in Tati’s brilliant Monsieur Hulot series, was a raging satire of the highest order – a cringing body blow against incessant automation and ultra-modernization. Unlike in the previous two films, the Paris we all know of is completely invisible here; instead what we have is a gray, wan, drab and utterly impersonal urban jungle of glass, steel and gadgets, and a never-ending stream of automobiles. And in this immensely dreary post-modern world, Hulot seems to be comically and anachronistically out of place – a nostalgic symbol of a lost era. The film is filled with some terrific gags and set-pieces, with the runaway winners being an elaborate, carnivalesque sequence at an upscale, recently refurbished restaurant, and one of the most unforgettable traffic jams ever recorded on screen. Its greatest achievement is that, despite being filled with blistering satire and sulphureous ironies, the message is never in-your-face, as they have been beautifully masqueraded through amazing wit and humour. Sadly for us cinephiles, because of its ambitious scale and radical scope, this movie nearly destroyed Tati’s career as a filmmaker par excellence.

Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Social Satire/Urban Comedy
Language: French
Country: France

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Charlie Wilson's War [2007]

While a lot of movies are being made these days which have their basis on Islamic terrorism, Charlie Wilson’s War concentrated on what gave rise to this global phenomenon. And unlike most movies tackling subjects “based on actual events”, this wickedly funny Mike Nichols movie, adapted from a bestselling novel of the same name, has been imbued with dark humour, sarcasm, political incorrectness, lightness of tone and an overall freewheeling quality, without ever losing sight of its biting political commentary. The film traces how the eponymous Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a womanizing and hard-drinking Texan congressman, propelled by the persuasiveness of a wealthy, rabid Houston socialite (Julia Roberts), and with more than a little help from a CIA loose cannon (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), helps Afghan freedom fighters in doing a Vietnam by defeating the mighty Soviet army, which inadvertently ends up providing the springboard for the catastrophic rise of the Talibans. Tom Hanks, cast against his type, is good as the sexist and powerful politician who loves his booze and his babes (look out for a sprightly turn by Amy Adams as his pretty secretary), while Hoffman is brilliant as always as a gruff, moody, cynical and utterly non-conformist Company veteran.

Director: Mike Nichols
Genre: Political Satire/Political Drama/Docu-Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Monday, 23 May 2011

Ikiru [1952]

One usually tends to associate Akira Kurosawa with such staggering samurai epics as The Seven Samurai and Ran, among many others. Ikiru, despite not being archetypal in that sense, nonetheless remains as prescient, tragic, emotionally affecting and enthralling, as Kurosawa’s other masterpieces. Kenji Watanabe is a stoic and intensely lonely government bureaucrat living a drab existence; he’s been doing his job detachedly for the past 30 years, and is hopelessly fond of his son (despite it never being reciprocated). He’s woken out of this stupor upon being diagnosed with terminal illness, and his uneventful life suddenly goes berserk. Initially he starts doing things he never did in his life, like taking an announced leave from his workplace, and plunging into the hedonism of Tokyo’s nightlife. However, with only a few months left in his life, he decides to do something that will leave behind his legacy, however small, in the world. This deeply humanistic film, filled with heartbreaking pathos, remains an astounding thesis on existential crisis, societal hypocrisy and one man’s quest to find the meaning of his life. It is littered with sequences that would leave permanent imprints on ones’ mind, like the one where the inebriated Kenji breaks into a soulful song at a bar. Ikiru benefited immensely by Takashi Shimura’s devastating performance – his acting is a near-treatise on how to portray complex emotions merely through facial expressions, eyes and body language.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama
Language: Japanese
Countries: Japan

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Purple Rose of Cairo [1985]

The Purple Rose of Cairo must have been close to Woody Allen on account of it being a lovely homage to the joy of watching cinema. Cecelia (played memorably by Mia Farrow) is leading a drab existence, what with trying to survive in Depression Era America, losing her job, and being married to a brutish husband – all compounded by the fact that she’s a meek and docile person. So, in order to escape from her dreary life, she spends hours in movie theatres. While watching the eponymous movie – a screwball comedy – one of the film’s characters (played to perfection by Jeff Daniels) literally jumps out of the screen and run away with her. What follows is a series of immensely hilarious sequences, with the film’s other characters not being able to continue with their acts, while the movie’s director, producer and actors running helter-skelter to get hold of the renegade character. However, despite all the funny gags, a deep sense of melancholia pervades through the film, made all the more sad when Cecelia is forced to crash-land back to her glum existence after the guy who actually played the character (played again by Jeff Daniels) does a neat double cross on her in order to rescue his career. Though it falls short in terms of the intellectual content vis-à-vis Woody’s other renowned works, this bittersweet fantasy-comedy with its whimsical content remains an important part of his vaunted cannon nonetheless.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Romantic Comedy/Fantasy/Media Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Thor [2011]

Why is it that all Aliens/Gods in Thor are white Caucasian hunks who speak English with American accents and always make their landings on earth somewhere in the US? Even if I understand these given that it is an American movie based on an American comic-strip, there’s something more profound that I failed to appreciate. Why is it that, despite being so advanced vis-à-vis the human race in terms of knowledge and ability, the Asgard-s still rely on horses for day-to-day conveyance, and haven’t managed to get monarchy and dictatorship abolished? To cut a long story short, I found the movie as brainless as the characters that populate it. Thor, an arrogant hammer-wielding alien/god, and heir to the Asgard throne, is abolished to the earth by his ageing father, where he befriends a pretty astrophysicist (who, as Rogert Ebert has pointed out, is more of a storm-chaser & UFO-hunter), while also fights his father’s enemy (why wasn’t I surprised that Thor’s younger brother turns out to be the villain?). The film is filled with clichéd dialogues, juvenile sense of humour, predictable plot, and utterly unimaginative action sequences that are not worth watching – leave alone in 3D. It was also really perplexing to see such accomplished actors like Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard agreeing to play such wafer-thin, one-dimensional characters… perhaps the pay packets were really good.

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Genre: Action/Fantasy/Adventure
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Force of Evil [1948]

Film noirs are famous for blurring the lines between good and evil – there are no classical “heroes” in the dark world of noirs. Force of Evil, though not as well-known as some of its peers, remains a stunning film noir nonetheless for its bleak, gripping, bitter and seedy depiction of life in post War-Big Apple, and an excellent apotheosis of the above truism. John Garfield, in the best role of his career, provided a tour-de-force performance as Joe Morse, a cynical, corrupt, self-serving and gold-digging lawyer who works for the numbers racket. He has come up with a brilliant plan that, by playing on people’s superstitions, will help in making the operation of mobster Ben Tucker (Morse’s employer) legal, while also earning him his first million-dollars in the process. However, the only catch of his ploy turns out to be his good-natured elder brother. And, as is common in this world of grime and greed, when things start going wrong, they do so in spectacularly devastating fashion, bringing about his nerve-racking fall from grace. His only salvation turns out to be a naïve young girl who he finds himself falling for. Ironically, the careers of director Abraham Polonsky and Garfield too suffered misfortunes soon after the movie’s release for their suspected Leftist leanings.

Director: Abraham Polonsky
Genre: Crime Drama/Film Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Martin [1978]

George Romero is considered the father of zombie flicks courtesy his iconic debut film Night of the Living Dead in particular and his “Living Dead” series in general. But, as happens in such case, the other works of such filmmakers tend to get lost – case in point, his pseudo-vampire film Martin. The shoddy look of this ultra-low-budget film and its moments of grisly violence might be off-putting to some, more so given its subject matter; but one shouldn’t be misled as this remains an interesting, intriguing and intelligent reworking of the vampire sub-genre. It’s protagonist is a shy and quiet young guy – the eponymous Martin. However, contrary to his demeanour, and as pointed out in the chilling opening sequence, he has a bizarre fetish for blood, maybe even necrophilia. Consequently one would imagine he’s a vampire. However, unlike those belonging to that mythical clan, he doesn’t satisfy any of the criteria that have come to define vampires, viz. being afraid of the cross, avoiding sunlight, possessing super-human strength, etc. That said, his uncle, in whose house (located in a dilapidated small town) he takes lodging, refuses to believe in Martin’s logic that there’s no such thing as “magic”, and this ultimately leads to a shocking finale. The movie is completely bereft of any stylization or artificially infused thrill-quotient; its matter of fact tone, leisurely pace and seedy picturisation are hence responsible for its nightmarish and haunting qualities.

Director: George A. Romero
Genre: Horror/Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: US