Wednesday 29 April 2009

La Femme Nikita (Nikita) [1990]

La Femme Nikita might be the movie Luc Besson is most widely remembered by, and also one of the key features of the Cinema du look movement, its in-your-face stylizations, bizarre plot developments and over the top action sequences made this glossy French flick a no-brainer for me. The movie is about Nikita, a gauche and violent junkie, who is transformed into a sexy, lethal assassin. The movie is pumped with a heavy dose of adrenaline with testosterone-fuelled scenes that were supposed to be visually exuberant, but turned out to be no more than cringe inducing. Had the director kept it simple, it might have been two hours of fun; unfortunately, he introduced a lot of psycho-babble and pseudo-character developments that weren't commensurate with the ludicrously hyper-violent tone of the movie. What Besson perhaps didn’t realize in the first place was that, given the kind of disgusting character he chalked out for Nikita in the first third of the movie, viewers would never view her pangs of conscience and complex moral dilemma in the remaining two-thirds with empathy or understanding. Perhaps the only saving grace of the movie, apart from its slick look, was Jean Reno’s memorable cameo as a laconic ‘cleaner’ – his mere presence added a layer of dark humour in this otherwise callous and inane post-noir.

Director: Luc Besson
Genre: Thriller/Action/Spy Movie
Language: French

Country: France

Sunday 26 April 2009

Thelma and Louise [1991]

Thelma and Louise, in the great tradition of revisionist genre movies, did exactly what Ridley Scott perhaps intended – by having two working-class women as its protagonists instead of rugged, disillusioned men, it forever demythologized the very masculine concept of “hitting the road”. In that sense, it may be put on par with Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s classic revisionist Western that erased the elements of romanticism from the much loved all-American genre. Geena Davis, as an overtly naïve housewife who is treated like a piece of furniture by her supercilious husband, and Susan Sarandon, as a free-spirited lady with a loving if commitment-phobic fiancé (played with casual élan by Michael Madsen), form the eponymous all-girl couple who hit the road on a beaut of a beast – a Thunderbird convertible – to get away from ’em all. However, what was supposed to be a few days of fun and freedom turns ugly, and the two find themselves on the run from the law. Spectacular panoramic photography, snazzy soundtracks, smart screenplay that ensures smooth yet memorable development of the two principal characters, a scintillating car chase sequence, and an unforgettable climax (the final freeze frame is one for the ages), completely masked the somewhat B-grade look of the film and the not so inspired turns by the two ladies. Watch out for Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic cop and a young Brad Pitt as a glibly opportunistic small-time crook.

Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Road Movie/Buddy Film
Language: English
Country: US

Chowrasta (Crossroads of Love) [2009]

Anjan Dutt’s latest directorial venture Chowrasta revolves around a place that is very close to his heart – a place that featured regularly in his songs when he was a troubadour. Darjeeling may have been the source of inspiration for Dutt, however this nostalgic take on the queen of Indian hill stations ends up concentrating more on her squalor than her beauty, perhaps because Dutt failed to find the Darjeeling that is forever captured in his memory. Consequently, the movie has ended up being a very hazy and ambiguous portrayal of the place and her people. The characters are thus either embittered and lost souls, or like the narrator (a reflection of the director himself, and played with a lot of passion by Victor Bannerjee), incarcerated in a time freeze. The post-production seemed unpolished, and some of the subplots have been weakly done. And though Dutt’s previous movies like Bow Barracks Forever, Bong Connection and Chalo, Lets Go, all boasted of excellent soundtracks, this one disappoints on that count too. Perhaps the only contribution of the movie lay in making me want to visit Darjeeling once again, and feel the poetry on lost love and lost times (told through voiceovers) while enraptured by the majestic Kanchenjungha through early morning mist.

Director: Anjan Dutt
Genre: Drama/Ensemble Film/Romance
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Sunday 19 April 2009

Gulaal (Vermilion) [2009]

Gulaal is an angry film filled with angry characters; however, even though there’s no denying the movie’s latent (though not completely tapped) force, it somehow failed to make me share its anger. The movie starts off explosively, with Kay Kay Menon in the process of giving a seditious speech to radicalized men to enforce his vision of having a separate state for the Rajputs – a clan revered for its battlefield bravery. Yet, the same passion didn’t get carried over till the end, thus diluting the strong political and nihilistic themes of the movie. The acting in general was very good, with the strongest performance being that of Abhimanyu Singh whose powerful portrayal of a guy steeped in vitality and deep contempt for the world around him, and who lives in a psychedelic neon-lit bar, was utterly memorable. And like Dev D, the background score and cinematography, too, are extremely impressive. The downturns, however, are the somewhat scrappy editing that made me loose track of the plot more than once, lack of development of a couple of characters which had great potentials otherwise, and a weak turn by the chief protagonist of the story (which becomes all the more glaring thanks to the terrific support cast). Gulaal had greatness written all over it; unfortunately all it ends up being is no more than just a satisfying watch.

Director: Anurag Kashyap
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Existential Drama/Gangster Movie
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Saturday 18 April 2009

Bad Education (La Mala Educación) [2004]

This is my first foray into Pedro Almodóvars work, and I feel I couldn’t have chosen for a better introduction to the celebrated Spanish auteur’s world. In parts a film noir, in parts a poetic tale of broken friendships and fractured love, and in parts an irreverent, complex and cerebral observation of the darker forces of human nature, Bad Education is a work that befits the filmmaker’s stature. The film has the highly talented Mexican actor Gael García Bernal as a struggling actor who, one fine day, meets his childhood friend, a famous director, and presents a semi-autobiographical story that he’s written; he also expresses his keen interest in playing the part of the central protagonist – a cross-dressing guy. This simple beginning, however, starts growing graver and more disconcerting with every passing frame as the director delves into themes ranging from loss of innocence and faith to identity crisis and dangerous love. Though, to put it mildly, homosexuality isn’t my favourite subject, Almodovar’s powerful narrative skills, combined with his ability to up the ante with brushstrokes from a colourful palette and yet reinforce the moody atmosphere with apt soundtracks, made watching the movie a captivating experience for me. The acting and characterizations, too, are superb and do complete justice to the twisting plot.

p.s. This happens to be my 200th film review here. Let me raise a small toast to that... Cheers!

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Neo-Noir/Mystery
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Monday 13 April 2009

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex [2008]

70’s were a decade marked by protests and political unrest throughout the world. But very few cities witnessed the kind of spontaneous and violent uprisings that happened on the streets of Calcutta and West Berlin. Like the Naxalite movement in Calcutta, the one in Berlin, too, had the intoxicating Leftist doctrines of Mao and Che Guevara as its basis, started principally as a student movement against ‘American Imperialism’, rapidly took the form of urban guerrilla warfare, and was met with an iron fist (with police action, at times, being hard to distinguish from those of the 'terrorists'). Der Baader Meinhof Komplex, based on the spectacular rise and fall of the notorious Red Army Faction (RAF), is a detailed and energetic chronicling of this dark time in German history. Though the runtime could have been reduced, especially in the last third of the movie, it hardly matters much thanks to the kinetic screenplay, thumping soundtrack, and for being a colourful and engrossing representation of the zeitgeist of the turbulent times. The volatile Moritz Bleibtreu and the beautiful Martina Gedeck, two of German cinema’s most recognized faces, have given terrific performances as two of the key players of the radical group. The director’s assured depiction of the array of events, without ever taking sides, has made for engaging viewing and a fine historical account, at the same time. And the moral ambiguity in its fatalistic ending has ensured a long after life for the movie.

Director: Uli Edel
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Docu-fiction/Epic
Language: German
Country: Germany

Sunday 12 April 2009

Blood and Wine [1996]

If you were led to think that Bob Rafelson, who made the remarkable anti-establishmentarian movie Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson, created magic with the legendary thespian twenty-five years later with Blood and Wine, you would be left disappointed… I was. A thriller as straightforward as it can get, the movie is about a jewel theft gone awry and, with each trying to get a slice of everyone else, how that ends up nearly destroying everyone around. With hardly any likeable characters, and a climax that doesn’t appear very smart despite, presumably, the director’s best efforts, the movie might keep you glued with its intense and taut buildup, but will cease to be on your mind once the end credits have rolled. Perhaps one of the few reasons that might be there to watch the movie lies in the volcanic presence of, you guessed it, Jack Nicholson – he is in his elements as an embittered, cynical, violent and near-broke wine merchant. The best scenes in the movie, in fact, are the ones involving his volatile and fragile friendship-of-convenience with a near-psychotic and dying hustler, played with élan by Michael Caine.

Director: Bob Rafelson
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Heist Movie
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 9 April 2009

Badlands (1973)

Terrence Malick made his debut feature Badlands on a shoestring budget; yet, as many before him (e.g. Satyajit Ray) and since (e.g. Jim Jarmusch) have proved, a great work of art depends only so much on the thickness of the producer’s wallet. One of the finest depictions of how crime lurks in every nook and corner of human society, the movie has two absolutely mundane characters become partners in crime as they leave a trail of bodies from the idyllic South Dakota to the “badlands of Montana.” The movie’s sparse treatment, backed by a haunting score, suffused a deep poetic realism in the tale of ennui and casual violence, and made the movie a lyrical ode to the aimless journey of the two lost souls and their killing spree which turned them into icons. Both Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek (who also happens to be the story’s narrator) managed to put in natural performances. The most definitive aspect of this movie, in fact, lay in its lush photography. The stunning yet bleak panoramic visuals of the vast barren spaces in the Midwest didn’t just make for a near hypnotic viewing experience, but also made the theme that much more fatalistic, disturbing, complex.

Director: Terrence Malick
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Existential Drama/Road Movie/Americana
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 5 April 2009

Smritimedur (Pleasant Remembrances) [2009]

I went to watch Smritimedur with a friend, despite not knowing anything about the movie, for the simple reason that it was being played at one of the screens of Nandan, a movie theatre enormously respected among Calcuttans for being a bastion of good, non-mainstream movies. However, the powers that be perhaps decided to play a prank on us – or was it belated ‘April Fool’ ? – by screening a classic bad movie like Smritimedur. The basic skeleton of the movie might elicit interest – a cynical guy, who has recently fallen out of love, gets drawn into a relationship with a mysterious older lady while on a trip to North Bengal. Unfortunately, every single aspect of the plot’s execution was hopelessly pathetic – the pseudo-philosophical tone, the trashy dialogues, the inane characterizations, the ludicrous comic interludes, the B-grade song-and-dance sequences, the tele-film look, and the third-grade acting (if you can call that acting, that is). The only hope for us lay in leering at the bootylicious Sreelekha Mitra – for those who aren’t aware of this luscious lady, suffice it to say, if I start speaking about her, I might end up seriously offending the cyber police. The final nail on the coffin, regrettably, was that even her buxom presence couldn’t shield us from the atrocities aimed at us by the movie’s horrendous cast and crew.

Director: Sunit Bhattacharya
Genre: Drama/Romance
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Friday 3 April 2009

Bound [1996]

On first glance Bound might appear to be a typically cheap, sleazy, low-budget film with lots of sex and violence, and with a plot that could have easily been a straight lift off a James Hadley Chase pulp paperback novella – a classic B-movie if you will. But surprisingly, this also happens to be the debut feature of the Wachowski brothers, whose later (and far more recognized) movies like Matrix and V for Vendetta bear little, if any, resemblance to this tense, moody and low-key crime thriller. A characteristically volatile turn by Joe Pontoliano, smoking hot onscreen chemistry between the two female leads (yeah, you read that right), and a gripping albeit familiar plot concerning lust, betrayal and murder, coupled with smart direction, have made this a neo-noir to look out for. The movie drips with style and is deliciously naughty. In fact, it might make you want to watch Blood Simple once again, the terrific debut feature of another great sibling team – the Coen brothers. By the way, if anyone asks me to recommend a few ‘guilty pleasure’ movies, this one might well make the cut.

Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski, aka the Wachowski Brothers
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Neo-Noir/Gangster
Language: English
Country: US