Sunday 31 May 2009

Madly Bengali [2009]

Anjan Dutt, one of my favourite troubadours, has finally become his own man as a filmmaker, and in glorious fashion. Bow Barracks Forever was good film albeit for a niche audience; Bong Connection and Chalo, Lets Go showed promise, but didn’t really deliver as much. With Madly Bengali he has created a movie that is as much filled with nostalgia as it is with humour. The movie is broken into 4 chapters, with each dedicated, in turns, to one the four members of the eponymous Bengali rock band – Pablo, Benzy, Neon and Baaji, struggling to make music in a world full of noise. Though distinct in character and background, and each with a baggage of his own, they however are united by friendship and their common passion for music. Set against themes ranging from marital problems and religion to juvenile sex and drug abuse, the movie indeed manages to capture the pulse of today’s Kolkata. The songs composed by Neel Dutt, the director’s son, are absolutely terrific - ranging from edgy to elegiac, more so given that music is essentially what the movie is all about. And whenever the beautiful vignettes of the city made me a tad sentimental, the awesome screenplay, replete with dry humour as well as good situational comedy, had me laughing like a maniac. The director himself has played a pivotal role as a drifter who becomes the band’s manager-cum-mentor. Lew Hilt, as a former musician and the owner of a dilapidated garage where the band jams, Chandan Sen, as a foul-mouthed local goon, and Saswata Chatterjee, as an alcoholic father, are really good in the acting department. The movie has its negatives, I agree, but the positives outweigh them handsomely, making this a far more definitive chronicle of the underground rock culture in India vis-à-vis the Hindi flick Rock On.

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

Saturday 30 May 2009

In the Cut [2003]

If you ever want to witness an archetypal example of an actor/actress playing against type, watch this erotic thriller by Jane Campion. Meg Ryan, forever typecast as the cute girl next door in such enormously popular romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail and French Kiss, shed her clean girl image and inhibitions in this dark atmospheric cat-and-mouse tale set in New York, starring as a beautiful English teacher who gets entangled in a relationship with a mysterious homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating a series of brutal murders in her neighbourhood. The forty-something Meg Ryan didn’t just bare her luscious ageless body in the graphic nude scenes, but also her soul in her bravura turn as a severely lonely, emotionally fragile woman who experiences sexual liberation for the first time in her life during her torrid affair with a younger man, amid the suspicion, squalor and violence in her surroundings. The tone of this moody thriller might appear ambiguous for many, the characterization of Ruffalo’s cop not chiseled very well, and the constant blurring in and out of images a tad irritating, but superb turns by the two leads and the digressive narration of an otherwise straightforward plot managed to make for an interesting viewing.

Director: Jane Campion
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Detective Movie/Mystery/Erotic Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday 26 May 2009

My Blueberry Nights [2007]

My Blueberry Nights, the latest from acclaimed Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai (i.e. if you don’t take into account the redux version of his Ashes of Time), is his first movie with English as the spoken language. Grammy winner Norah Jones starred as heartbroken young woman who sets off on a cross-country road journey across the US, and in the process befriends a motley of distinctive characters – an introverted café owner (Jude Law) who serves her blueberry pie for free, a lovelorn cop who has taken to alcohol to get over the memories of her ravishing albeit philandering wife (Rachel Weisz), and a cocky but fragile compulsive gambler with demons of her own (played exquisitely by Natalie Portman). The movie has all the hallmarks of the director – dazzling visual beauty, existentialist theme, rambling narrative, an array of lost souls, and a beautiful soundtrack that kept growing on me. However despite all his signature touches and the soothing flow, it somehow lacked that extra spark present in his masterpieces like Chungking Express and 2046. Consequently, I liked the movie, but it failed to stay with me.

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Drama/Romantic Drama/Existentialist Drama/Road Movie
Language: English
Country: China (Hong Kong)

Monday 25 May 2009

The International [2009]

We saw the latest from Tom Run Lola Run Tykwer, The International, at a theatre with poor sound quality. This proved to be doubly unfortunate because, in contrast to what we had presumed, it is a verbose thriller with an exceedingly meandering plot. On first glance, the tale of a super-rich bank playing the role of a vital keg in promoting international terrorism and chaos might seem straight out of a Robert Ludlum thriller, and hence ticket to a perfect summer popcorn-churner. Perhaps precisely for that reason, the director tried raising the movie a couple of notches above the daily diet of slick thrillers by adding complex layers of corruption, deceit and conspiracies – that too on a mega-global scale. Unfortunately much of it failed to make sense, and to top that it failed to thrill as well, apart from the bloody Guggenheim shootout scene that is. Naomi Watts, who is compelling as always in the role of an asst. DA, and the polished vistas of places ranging from Berlin to Milan to New York City to Istanbul, are perhaps among the few positives for the movie. Clive Owen, though an Interpol agent, never really seemed capable of kicking the bad guys’ asses, and the loose script too didn’t help Tykwer’s ambitious causes.

Director: Tom Tykwer
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 21 May 2009

Touch of Evil [1958]

Often considered the last great film noir (going by the classical definition of the genre), Touch of Evil is a nightmarish ride through the dark realms of society as well as the human mind. The movie opens with its legendary opening sequence – and source of endless ‘inspirations’ – a long take tracking a car fitted with a timed bomb, from its planting to its explosion. The iconic first three minutes was enough to make this Orson Welles classic a breathtaking and a disturbing movie. What follows, both literally and figuratively, is a game unto death between an honest Mexican cop (Charlton Heston in a largely forgettable role) and the local American police chief (Orson Welles). Janet Leigh, as Heston’s gorgeous wife, in a role that preceded her iconic turn as the infamous “shower scene” lady in Psycho, was at her seductive best. The movie, however, fairly and squarely belonged to Welles. Not only did he present a glimpse into what hell might look like – augmented by the incredibly dark atmosphere, serpentine narrative and oblique camera angles that seemed to penetrate right into the psyche of the characters, but also, as the sleazy, grotesque, corrupt and scheming Captain Hank Quinlan – a screen villain like few others – he gave a performance even more sinister and magnetic than his memorable turn in The Third Man. Though it was callously edited, and massacred in the process, by the studio, fortunately for us cinephiles the noir masterpiece has been restored to the version that Welles perhaps had envisioned while making it.

Director: Orson Welles
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 14 May 2009

Milk [2008]

American Indie auteur Gus Van Sant and actor par excellence Sean Penn have joined hands to bring to screen the last few years of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in the United States. Though an underdog story at heart, Milk has managed to rise beyond the clichés and pitfalls that most such movies fall prey to. In Van Sant’s expert yet sympathetic hands, it hasn’t just remained the heroic albeit tragic final eight years of Milk’s life – from his relocation from NYC to Frisco to find greater meaning to his mundane life, to his assassination at the hands of a political rival – but also a holistic look at the socio-politics of the gay rights movement as well as the bigotry, hypocrisy and downright prejudices that had always plagued the lives of Milk and his ilk. As one might expect, the movie is an out and out Sean Penn vehicle – his nuanced, heartfelt portrayal of an average middle-aged closet gay who makes a spectacular transitions into a larger than life figure is brilliant. He has received apt support from James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin. Though I would have loved to see a more rounded character development for Milk since no man, however revered, can be devoid of shades of gray, this poignant old-fashioned biopic, nonetheless, has managed to effectively capture the zeitgeist of the turbulent 70’s.

Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Biopic/Epic
Language: English
Country: US

Tuesday 12 May 2009

The Chaser (Choo-gyeok-ja) [2008]

First feature of Na Hong-Jin, The Chaser is a compelling thriller that nearly any debutant director would happily have in his resume, more so if he’s a Korean given the gut-wrenching plot and onscreen violence. The director must have taken a leaf out of Park Chan-Wook’s masterful Vengeance Trilogy while making this psychological cat-and-mouse struggle between a former cop turned pimp and a dangerous psychopath who’s proving to be a thorn in the former business (murdering prostitutes belonging to his stable, i.e.). Interestingly, the ex-cop doesn’t just have to run against time to catch the elusive serial killer, he also has to fight nearly insurmountable obstacles in the form of ludicrous bureaucratic hassles as well as the strained relationship with his former colleagues. True to its name, the movie has some tremendous chase sequences through various dimly lit narrow by-lanes of Seoul. Unabashedly violent and extremely addictive, the movie is sure to have one glued to the screen till its bloody climax. Taut screenplay, impressive acting and glossy production values have made this a dark, frantic, gripping and an utterly watchable flick.

Director: Na Hong-Jin
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Serial Killer Movie/Cop Movie/Mystery
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Sunday 10 May 2009

Ashes of Time Redux [1994, 2008]

Given the grand production design, intoxicating visual beauty and the amount of trouble that besieged its making, Ashes of Time might very well be the movie that Hong Kong maestro Wong Kar-Wai might want to be remembered by. Though perhaps not his best work, vis-à-vis Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love, this epic martial arts movie is a visual feast and a brooding meditation on heartbreak, loneliness and the inescapable and treacherous nature of memory. It is as far removed from other HK movies typically belonging to this genre as perhaps Emir Kusturica’s Underground was from other war movies. In fact, the movie may be considered as a companion piece to the auteur’s 2046, structurally as well as thematically. Employing multiple voiceovers and a Byzantine narrative that has done away with the chronology of time, this is an expressionistic, surreal and deeply melancholic exploration of existentialism and unrequited love – arguably two of Wong Kar-Wai’s favourite motifs. Christopher Doyle’s mesmerizing cinematography (digitally rendered even more gorgeous in the Redux version) and the haunting soundtrack have added to the incredible beauty of this moody, lyrical and sensuous tale of lost souls. The movie comprises of the 'who’s who' of the Hong Kong film industry, including Leslie Cheung, both the Tony Leung’s, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin and Carina Lau, among others.

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Drama/Romance/Adventure/Existentialist Drama/Martial Arts Movie/Epic
Language: Cantonese
Country: China (Hong Kong)

Cross Connection (2009)

Cross Connection is a movie that would easily appeal to Generation Y (the term ‘Gen X’ is both an overused and an anachronistic term where today’s ‘youth’ is concerned). This is a fun love quadrangle about the interconnected romantic follies and foibles of 4 young people – an outspoken danseuse who’s confused about matters relating to the heart (Rimjhim Mitra), a Bohemian guy who dabbles in poetry (Ritwik Chakraborty), an ambitious young man fast rising the corporate ladder (Abit Chatterjee) and an alluring PYT who any guy would easily fall for (Payel Sarkar - she's really cute). Though the movie drags in the last 20 minutes and some of the plot developments are a tad juvenile, it is an enjoyable watch nonetheless that’ll keep you laughing for most of its length with its situational comedy and sexcapades. Saswata Chatterjee, as a cynical and wisecracking man, has perhaps the most interesting role in the movie. Vignettes of Kolkata in the first half of the movie have been well captured. The music by Neel Dutt, too, is quite good with the two nostalgic Anjan Dutt numbers easily the worth the price of the ticket. Cross Connection is in a way an Indian outlook to Sex and the City.

Directors: Abhijit Guha & Sudeshna Roy
Genre: Comedy/Situational Comedy/Romantic Comedy/Sex Comedy

Language: Bengali

Country: India

Friday 8 May 2009

The Savages [2007]

American Indie director Tamara Jenkin’s first movie in 7 years, The Savages is based on a deceptively simple and a seemingly drab premise – a pair of siblings coming together to take care of their aged father suffering from dementia. But with two of America’s most respected actors playing the emotionally fragile siblings – Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, things can never really go wrong. Hoffman’s intellectual ‘brother’ and Linney’s ‘sister’ who aspires to reach the same pedestal, have brought to screen a ravaging relationship, seethed in jealousy, insecurity and a bagful of personal issues trying to burst through manicured seams. And when they finally let their guards down and start speaking their minds, you know the proverbial shit has truly hit the walls, err fan (watch the movie, and you’ll get the pun). The script, which is compassionate and disturbing in equal measures, lent an extra spark to the compelling performances. Even though the first half of the movie is filled with some eye-candy montages (the saturated colours and locales deliberately made to look like movie sets are reminiscent of similar sequences in The Notorious Bettie Page), the tale of human mortality, broken relationships and fractured dreams is anything but a date movie.

Director: Tamara Jenkins
Genre: Drama/Family Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 2 May 2009

Kanchenjungha [1962]

For his first feature film in colour, Bengali auteur Satyajit Ray chose the quaint and idyllic town of Darjeeling as the backdrop for the story. Members of a wealthy and educated Bengali family are on vacation at the beautiful Himalayan hill station. However, in contrast to the picturesque locales (exquisitely shot by Subrata Mitra), unspoken ideological schisms between the rich family patriarch (commandingly played by Chabi Biswas) and members of the younger generation, latent familial problems otherwise hidden from the eyes of the society, and the age-old struggle between ‘marriage of convenience’ and ‘marriage of choice’, play out against the changing faces of nature over the course of one day. Languorously paced, the movie might appear slow to some. However, it might have been deliberately so paced by Ray to gradually reveal the conflicts between the various characters, and juxtapose that with the decidedly ironic interplay between sunshine and mist that, in many ways, manage to define the mood of the story. The movie ends with a glorious view of Kanchenjungha, and the various problems too seem to have been resolved for the moment, but it is anybody’s guess as to what awaits them when they return to the daily of humdrums of Calcutta.

Director: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Ensemble Film
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Frost/Nixon [2008]

Frost/Nixon could easily be the most distinctive movie that Ron Howard has made in his career thus far. It is far removed from his earlier movies like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, or perhaps not. A movie based on ‘actual events’ can be tricky. Thankfully, this fictionalized retelling of the electrifying 1977 interview of deposed American President Richard Nixon by British television guy David Frost, has managed to rise above the clichés and constraints that docu-fictions are more often than not seem to be governed by. The best aspect of this movie, like Queen (which, too, had Michael Sheen playing a ‘real’ character – Tony Blair there, as compared to Frost here), is that the director didn’t place history lessons over delving deep into the minds of the protagonists. And interestingly, on either occasion, the respective directors chose to have the more dramatic historical events as backdrops – the infamous Watergate Scandal and the tragic death of Princess Diana, respectively – masterstrokes, one might even say. A verbose and intense movie like this relies heavily on the actors, and the impressive cast, led by a towering, nuanced and a thoroughly brilliant turn by Frank Langella, certainly made the director’s job a lot easier than one might have imagined.

Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Psychological Drama/Docu-Fiction
Language: English
Country: US