Saturday 28 February 2009

Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek) [2002]

Mani Ratnam sure loves making movies on the backdrop of troubled times and places – Roja & Dil Se (religious extremism in Kashmir and the North-East, respectively), Bombay (Bombay riots), Yuva (a modern day Naxal-type student movement reminiscent of 1970’s Calcutta). Kannathil Muthamittal, interestingly my first Tamil movie viewing with subtitles instead of with Hindi-dubbing, has LTTE as its backdrop. Though this blog is strictly for cinema, I must state that it was quite obvious from the movie on which side the director’s sympathy lies, and I found that a tad disturbing not just because they turn children into gun-toting warriors and women into suicide bombers, but also because they were responsible for the assassination of an Indian prime minister. But political views aside, I couldn’t help but develop quite a liking for this otherwise gem of a movie. A small girl and her adopted parents’ quest to find the girl’s real mother takes them into the heart of the violent struggle between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. The movie is very well enacted. Madhavan is spot on as the angry-young-man but loving father; the strikingly beautiful Simran, too, is quite good as an emotionally torn mother. But the real star of the movie, undoubtedly, is the little girl who is hell-bent to find her mother – her surprisingly mature performance belies her age and has played an integral role in making this intense movie a strong commentary on the futility of violence and bloodshed, and the need to harbour love.

Director: Mani Ratnam
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Political Drama
Language: Tamil
Country: India

Wednesday 25 February 2009

RocknRolla [2008]

Marriage to Madonna might have been exciting for his libido (lets face it, who wouldn’t want to bed Madonna?), but it was undoubtedly a bad time for Guy Ritchie’s career. After an incredible debut with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the world was his oyster. With RocknRolla he has returned to his comfort zone of Brit gangster action/black comedy, and I must add, with a bang. The plot concerns a shady land deal in London that has left every criminal in town, from the big sharks to the small-timers, scrambling to grab his share. Revealing any more of the labyrinthine plot wouldn't just be futile, but would also be criminal as it is filled with delicious twists and double (make that multiple) crosses all the way. Though at times it appears to be a toned down version of Lock, Stock…, it is nonetheless an extremely entertaining work thanks to its breezy hyperkinetic narrative, awesome background score, wacky characters, and bizarrely funny sense of humour. Simply put, the movie, Ritchie's best since the mind-bending Snath, is as entertaining and Tarantino-ian a ride as it gets.

Director: Guy Ritchie
Genre: Action/
Comedy/Crime Caper/Gangster
Language: English
Country: UK

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Valkyrie [2008]

Valkyrie is exactly what it aspires to be – an engaging Hollywood blockbuster and a well-researched docu-fiction – and it succeeds on both counts quite handsomely. The movie recounts the spectacular attempt at assassinating Adolf Hitler and coup d’etat to take control of the Fuhrer’s infamous Third Reich during the fag end of the Second World War. Starring Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, a fearless man and architect of the brilliant, albeit doomed, plot, and a host of respected character actors as co-conspirators in this act of high treason and bravery, the movie boasts of smooth storyline, sharp editing, and slick production designs. Agreed, in trying to recreate the elaborate chain of events from its inception to aftermath, the movie doesn’t serve more than as an entertaining vehicle and good history lesson; it never attempts to explore the psychological complexities of Stauffenberg – he is no more than a tragic hero. But then, thankfully, it was also careful enough to avoid falling in the been-there-seen-that trap of jingoistic Nazi-bashing war movies. Hence, in short, this is a movie that is to be watched and enjoyed, but not pondered upon too deeply.

Director: Bryan Singer
Genre: Political Thriller/War/Docu-Fiction/Biopic
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 23 February 2009

Delhi 6 [2009]

Rang De Basanti the whole of India was looking forward to Rakesh Mehra’s next venture; Rang De Basanti never touched greatness, but what made it special was the director’s clarity of vision and his intent to speak his mind and not please his audience. Delhi 6 (a reference to Delhi's famous Chandni Chowk area), unfortunately, is the very antithesis of the former in its blatant desire to endear itself to its viewers. In an inferior variation of Swades, the movie chronicles an NRI’s return to India out of compulsion only to end up falling in love with the place, the locals, the culture, and not surprisingly, a girl (the lovely Sonam Kapoor). That said the movie is not all bad, it has its moments. The first half – a vibrant splash of colours, images, and the various idiosyncrasies that define a place – is filled with both nostalgia and mild satire, and left me craving for more. The director, however, undid all the good work with a forcefully contrived, overtly didactic, and hopelessly clichéd second half that left me unfulfilled. I was also severely disappointed in that very
few scenes were shot on actual locations. Rehman’s energetic score and Abhishek Bachchan’s smart performance were the only saving graces.

Director: Rakesh Omprakash Mehra
Genre: Drama/Social Satire/Slice of Life/Ensemble Film
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Friday 20 February 2009

In Bruges [2008]

How often do we get to see two hit men sightseeing medieval architecture along the cobbled streets of the quaint Belgian town of Bruges? Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this interesting British movie called In Bruges. The best aspect for this movie, I felt, lay in its ability to transcend genres despite seemingly being tailor-made to be a genre movie; the sardonically witty script managed to stray beyond the confines of both thrillers and situational comedies. Waiting for a call from their boss (Ralph Fiennes in a darkly funny role), the two hit men never seem to agree on anything and yet form a strangely beautiful camaraderie. Collin Farrell as a profane and impish assassin and Brendan Gleeson (in a terrific performance) as his fatherly art-loving partner, make a memorable pair. The movie, through the serio-comic exploits of the three men, black humour, moments of great emotional depth, and thrilling cat-and-mouse sequences, has the ability to endear itself to the viewers. And whatever might Farrell’s character repeatedly say, Bruges certainly DOES NOT “suck”.

Director: Martin McDonagh
Genre: Black Comedy/Action/Buddy Film
Language: English
Country: UK

Thursday 19 February 2009

Naboer (Next Door) [2005]

My introduction to Norwegian cinema turned out to a fairly pleasant one. There’s, however, a catch here – the movie isn’t pleasant where its content is concerned and hence not for lily-livered people. Naboer is an extremely disturbing thriller with high shock quotient, which reminded me of such unsettling movies like Das Experiment and Bad Timing. And, like the former, it has an exceedingly fast narrative, while, like the latter, it has touched upon controversial elements during its well concocted climax. Revealing any plot contents would be criminal on my part; so all I’ll say is that the movie is about a guy who, after a not so pleasant last visit by his former girlfriend, befriends two mysterious hot ladies who reside in an apartment adjacent to his. Filled with extreme violence and littered with brilliant twists, Naboer is a dark, taut and original movie and an engrossing ride through deadly seduction and paranoia. At slightly over 1 hour the movie might be small in length, but suffice it to say that it is quite heavy on the nerves, though in an exciting kind of way.

Director: Pal Sletaune
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: Norwegian
Country: Norway

Wednesday 18 February 2009

City of God (Cidade De Deus) [2002]

Watching City of God it was easy to realize where the chief inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire lay; add love and game show angles and shift the location from Rio de Janeiro to Mumbai, and voila, you have the pseudo-masterpiece from Danny Boyle. This debut feature of Fernando Meirelles, an intoxicating and undeniably powerful film, is a violent saga of the crime-ridden underbelly of the swanky metropolis of Brazil. The story is told over the course of a decade through the eyes of a young turk named Rocket who is growing up in an environ tailor-made to produce criminals – be it like the psychotic Lil’ Ze or like his far more humane comrade-in-arm – who are destined to face violent comeuppance. Rocket, however, realizes early in his life that crime isn’t his cup of tea, and decides to become a photographer and capture the events instead of being part of them. Boasting of brilliantly natural performances from the cast of non-professional actors, a dizzying narrative, visuals that are breathtaking in their raw beauty, and technical virtuosity, the movie is a rare tour de force.

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Genre: Crime Drama/Urban Drama/Gangster Movie/Biopic/Docu-fiction/Coming of Age
Language: Spanish
Country: Brazil

Monday 16 February 2009

Out of the Past [1947]

Film noir enthusiasts often agree that if one movie were to be selected to define the genre, it would have to be Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past. As a critic so succinctly put it, “With its doomed anti-hero, conniving villain, sardonic script, moody black-and-white photography, and icy femme fatale”, Out of the Past “is essential film noir.” World-weary former gumshoe, now running a gas store in a small town and settled in a stable relationship with a local girl, finds the hard way (in a manner quite akin to A History of Violence) that one can not really shake off one’s dark past, as he gets thrown into a web of deceit, double crosses and murder. Robert Mitchum, in one of his earlier starring roles, is quite magnificent as the tragic anti-hero; Kirk Douglas’ turn as an unctuous and creepy gangster is a terrific indicator of his volatile energy and a great precursor to his amazing performance in An Ace in the Hole. The pivot for the plot, though, is the beautiful Jane Greer, whose femme fatale in the garb of a damsel in distress takes the two guys for a ride and makes big-time suckers out of them. Though quite surprisingly for a film noir the narrative isn’t in the first person (except in the extremely well crafted flashback sequence), cynical and hard-edged dialogues, the taut and twisting storyline and an inexorably gloomy atmosphere, nonetheless, have made this brilliantly photographed classic a seminal and quintessential case study for this iconic genre.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Romance/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Dev D [2009]

Platonic love is passé; today’s Devdas watches porn, snorts coke, gulps Vodka and gets laid. Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D is as much a love story as Burn after Reading was a spy movie. This is an irreverent, madcap, and psychedelic ride through the kind of quirky filmmaking championed by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Bros. The classic tale of doomed romance and the destruction inflicted upon himself by a tragic hero has attained darkly funny and remarkably visceral proportions in the non-conformist hands of the maverick director. The visuals have been brilliantly juxtaposed with the inner-workings of the protagonist’s mind and the complex chemistry he shares with his childhood sweetheart and a hooker, and would remind one of such “addictive” movies as Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream on one hand, and Christopher Doyle’s iconic montages in Wong Kar-Wai films on the other. The acting is quite good, especially with Abhay Deol putting in a remarkably restrained performance in a role that was tailor-made for histrionics. The real star of the movie, however, is the awesome funk-rock soundtrack the kind of which has rarely, if ever, been heard in Hindi movies. The auteur (yes, he can be called one) deserves kudos for having the guts to make a no-holes-barred, kick-ass movie like this; my friends and I had a blast watching it as I’m sure he had while making it. And those of you who feel that Karan Johar is the greatest filmmaker in Bombay today, I'm sure you already know that you aren't really fit to watch Dev D.

Director: Anurag Kashyap
Genre: Black Comedy/Urban Drama/Psychedelic Drama/Romance/Experimental Film
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Tuesday 10 February 2009

The Third Man [1949]

Carol Reed’s The Third Man isn’t just famous for being a definitive example of film noir, but also for the charismatic presence of Orson Welles as the cynical and delectably amoral antagonist. Further, despite film noirs being, in essence, an American enterprise, a number of great noir movies have been made in other countries as well; case in point – the two Nouvelle Vague masterpieces, Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player. The Third Man, similarly, is a British classic, though it never aimed to be a genre-bending film like its French counterparts. The story, aided by a tremendous background score and an equally captivating cinematography, revolves around an American pulp fiction novelist, who arrives in post-War Vienna to find that his best friend Harry Lime has been accidentally killed. However, the deeper he delves into the apparently simple hit-and-run case, the murkier the situation starts getting, finally culminating into the now legendary climax in the dank and labyrinthine underground sewer. What finally emerges is a heavily atmospheric tale littered with such iconic ingredients as decrepit city, dark alleys, half-truths, black marketers, damsel in distress et al.

Note: My recent review of the film can be found here.

Director: Carol Reed
Genre: Film Noir/Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Language: English
Country: UK

Monday 9 February 2009

Persepolis [2007]

Directed by Marjane Satrapi, adapted from an acclaimed graphic novel of the same name written by her, and based on the fascinating life of the director/graphic novelist herself, Persepolis is an animated movie the kind of which I have never seen before. The general populace has come to expect popular animation movies to be bittersweet comedies; in that perspective Persepolis hasn’t just broken the mould, it has achieved something markedly revolutionary. Narrated through the POV of a girl growing up in the turbulent and regressive times of the violent Islamic revolution in Iran, this is a dark, intensely psychological, and surreal coming-of-age tale of the rebellious, free-spirited, outspoken and at times neurotic girl, who has seem ’em all – deeply idealistic socialist ideologies inspired from then Soviet Union, moral policing of Islamic fundamentalism, and the ultra-liberal world of Europe. Told through stark black and white imageries that instantly manage to captivate the viewers, a very personal narrative filled with deep humanism as well as acerbic satire, and freely peppered with nods to pop-culture, this is an irreverent and genre-bending work that should be remembered as a cornerstone for animation films.

Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Genre: Animation/Biopic/Psychological Drama/Political Satire/Social Satire/Avant-Garde/Experimental
Language: French
Country: France

Saturday 7 February 2009

Kharij (The Case is Closed) [1982]

Directed by Mrinal Sen, Kharij is a decent examination of middle-class mentalities. However, despite the firebrand person that he is, Khraij quite surprisingly lacks on the “angst” front; instead, the movie is far more sombre and unassuming in tone and execution than his more acclaimed works like Interview, Padatik, Calcutta 71, Chalchitra, etc. The film follows a simple middle-class nuclear family (Anjan Dutt and Mamata Shankar), whose lives get thrown into turmoil of scandalous proportions when their young servant-boy accidentally dies. The grave situation forms the fulcrum for pointed insights into the prevalent hypocrisies and parochial mindsets of these otherwise well-natured members of the bourgeoisie. The greatest shock to them, in fact, arrives when the boy’s father accepts the situation with silent albeit sad resignation. Though grappling with a pertinent issue, the movie unfortunately fails in inflicting the kind of body blow Sen is known for. Consequently, despite being very well enacted and well received, I somehow felt simply going through the motions while watching it.

Director: Mrinal Sen
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Family Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Bengali
County: India

Thursday 5 February 2009

Laura [1944]

Even though this was made when film noir was still evolving, Otto Preminger’s Laura was not just a great pioneer but also a terrific case study of the hallowed American genre. Despite the fact that at the time of its making the movie was embroiled in controversy, the final output was as brilliant and magnetic a piece of work as you’ll get. The dark tale of an alleged murder of the enigmatic titular character, whose portrait the detective gets infatuated with (revealing anymore would be criminal on my part), provides a fascinating dissection of the inherent ambiguities and the seedy side of the human character, and rabid decadence of the then post-war society. The pacing is brisk, and the narrative is gripping and decidedly claustrophobic – laden with lust, sexual undercurrent, guilt, jealousy, deception, betrayal and crime. The screenplay is laced with pungent cynicism, brought forth thanks to the memorable hard-boiled dialogues, while the rich black-and-white cinematography is classic-Noir with its mesmerizing interplay between light and shadows.

Director: Otto Preminger
Genre: Film Noir/Mystery/Detective Movie/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 1 February 2009

Antaheen (The Endless Wait) [2009]

Aniruddha Roy Choudhury’s sophomore feature following the success he reaped with Anuranan, Antaheen is a tale of unspoken words and underplayed emotions that define relationships as well as loneliness. This visually gorgeous movie isn’t just pleasing to the eyes thanks to its fluid camera work, and music to the ears thanks to some well composed songs, but also in a way soothing for the nerves – not just for its instantly likeable characters, but also for the fact that the narration has been paced such that it grows on the viewers. Despite its wafer-thin story, the plot developments, though seemingly inconsequential, do form an organic part of the bigger picture for the simple reason that, in a character-driven movie, every incident plays a part in revealing layers of the characters. The biggest strength as well as the greatest weakness of the movie (depending on how you see it), quite like Anuranan, is the immense romanticism that defines not just the mood of the story but also the principal protagonists. For me, though, it worked because it managed to strike a chord despite the cynic that I am. Minor aberrations like surrogate advertising of apart, the movie managed to develop well rounded characters, draw restrained performances by its lead actors – Rahul Bose, Radhika Apte, Aparna Sen and Kalyan Roy, and ensure that we really look forward to the director’s next venture.

Director: Aniruddha Roy Choudhury
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Romantic Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Luck By Chance [2009]

Directorial debut of Zoya Akhtar, Luck By Chance is an insider’s look at the glitzy and high-flying, albeit fiercely self-centered and lonely, world of cinema – which Shahrukh Khan, playing himself, wickedly refers to as an ‘insane cocktail’. Though it doesn’t mount a deeply cynical sucker punch like Sunset Boulevard, or has the immensely enjoyable satirical undertones of Singin’ in the Rain,
or is a disconcerting surreal exploration like 8 ½, or is tour de force down memory lane like the book Dream Factory (by Harold Robbins), Luck by Chance is, nonetheless, an honest contender in that it has managed to take pointed jabs and remain in the mainstream domain at the same time. Filmmaker-turned-actor Farhan Akhtar, in the layered role of a struggling young actor who, one fine day, lands the leading role in a movie, has explored his brooding persona well – he knows this is a world where one must not have ethical concerns with realpolitik, and thus is quite happy to do what he must and not what he should. Konkona Sen Sharma, on the other hand, represents the other side of the spectrum – she is destined to be on the fringe forever. Though the editing feels a tad wanting at times, the movie more than makes up with its great script which has ensured that the characters are human and three-dimensional despite being brazen caricatures.

Director: Zoya Akhtar
Genre: Drama/Showbiz Drama
Language: Hindi
Country: India