Saturday 31 July 2010

Radio Days [1987]

Radio Days is Woody Allen’s fond remembrance of the times when listening to the radio was not just part of pop-culture, but was also a national pastime for those who could afford it. Though a trip down memory lane, Allen ensured that the movie never veers into the territory of melodrama; instead, it is whimsical, littered with sharp humour and filled with the kind of warm-hearted nostalgia that is bittersweet but never sappy. The coming-of-age tale, narrated by Allen, is set during World War II, and has as its protagonist a neurotic boy, an obvious representation of the director himself, growing up in a neurotic middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. On one hand the episodic film shows how his family, his friends and in turn he himself are all glued to their favourite radio shows, while on the other we get to experience behind-the-scenes peek into the dysfunctional lives of the radio-stars who were otherwise the pop icons of the radio era. The film has no direct plot per se, instead it cross-cuts between the two strikingly dissimilar diaspora – the average blue-collar Americans and the schlocky uptown stars; and the two are bridged by a young and ambitious cigarette girl (played hilariously by Mia Farrow), albeit with a horrible accent, who dreams of making it big in the then glamorous world of radio stardom. The film boasts of a fine soundtrack commensurate with its theme.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Ensemble Film/Coming-of-Age
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 25 July 2010

The Conformist (Il Conformista) [1970]

Bernardo Bertolucci stretched the limits of social and moral conventions, and literally played with fire, in movies like The Last Tango in Paris and The Dreamers. On the contrary, in The Conformist, the movie that won him international acclaim and that probably remains his most famous movie till date, his provocateur nature was far more subtle – the provocations were more through the story’s ideation and the characters’ gestures, than through explicit images. Marcello, who willingly conforms to the implicit demands of the society around him, agrees to the orders of the Nazi high command in Italy to undertake a mission in Paris to assassinate his former mentor who is now a political dissident. The relationships that he shares with, and the tantalizing tango that he participates in with his mentor, his mentor’s beautiful wife, his blind friend (cum sympathizer of fascism), and his young and naïve wife, do not just make for complex character study, but also in many ways a powerful commentary on the rise of the horrific movement in Italy and other European countries post World War I. The film boasts of staggering cinematography what with its exquisite camera work, expressionistic photography, rich colour compositions and a heavy usage of stylizations. That, along with the lilting background score reinforces the inherent sense of melancholy and ambiguity that pervades every frame of the movie.

Director: Bernardo Bartolucci
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Political Drama
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

Saturday 17 July 2010

Detour [1945]

Edgar G. Ulmer’s B-Noir classic Detour had one of the most alluring and “noirish” premises of all noir films, and that’s saying a lot given the number of incredible masterpieces belonging to this distinctive school of 40’s and 50’s American filmmaking. Roberts, a washed out honky-tonk player, while hitchhiking his way from New York to Los Angeles to meet his girlfriend, is given a ride by a friendly gambler. However, when he suddenly drops dead for no reason, Roberts gets rid of the body and starts driving the car impersonating as the dead man. But luck runs only so far for him as he inadvertently offers ride to a mysterious wild-cat of a lady who suddenly blurts out, “What did you do with the body?”, and blackmails him into trying to rob the dead gambler’s rich, aged father. As any noir-lover worth his two cents would know, things can only go downhill thereon for our hapless protagonist. Shot in a mere 6 days, the movie’s collar-grabbing storyboard was unfortunately largely undone by the largely unimpressive performances of its two leads. The shabby production design too hurts the eyes, though they do add to the inherent sleaziness of the proceedings. What thus really gets the interest going is the sense of fatalism that pervades nearly every single frame right till the bleak climax – the film, like every noir worth watching, remains an apotheosis of Murky’s Law and the kind of irony it embodies.

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Genre: Crime Drama/Film Noir/Road Movie
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 15 July 2010

Notes on a Scandal [2006]

With Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, two of the most acclaimed actresses of their times, taking centre-stage in Notes on a Scandal, you expect sparks to fly; and know what, they do at times since they both have such meaty roles that most actresses would give a limb or two for. Yet, for all the powerhouse acting it boasts of, the movie has been let down by the script that is nowhere commensurate with the dark and complex tale of lust, jealousy, betrayal and revenge. The movie is about Barbara, an elderly domineering history teacher, who gets emotionally obsessed with Sheba, the new art teacher in school. However, as their friendship starts developing, complications ensue when she learns of Sheba’s surreptitious and adulterous affair with a minor student who is as old as her daughter. Backed by the ominous voiceover of Judi Dench, the movie starts off well immediately catching hold of our attention. Though the film manages to remain reasonably compelling right till the end, that’s principally thanks to the two leads. The main flaw with the film lies in its inability to fully convince us why the two ladies are doing what they are doing, on account of the director’s failing in unraveling the working of their minds. Thus, at the end of the day, the film is a disturbing, if not a very profound, exploration of bitterness, insecurity and moral dilemma.

Director: Richard Eyre
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: UK

Monday 12 July 2010

Manhattan [1979]

Manhattan was Woody Allen’s ode to the romance, the neurosis and the vibrancy of his beloved New York city, things that have turned the metropolis into a myth of sorts among artists and urban intellectuals, and ranks among his most definitive films. The movie stars Allen as a divorced stand-up comedian who is fed up with his brainless TV appearances, and hopes to make it as a writer with far more profundity than his day job demands. He is living with a teenage girl, but finds himself getting attracted to a fellow Manhattan resident (the terrific Diane Keaton) whose cerebral exterior masks a confused interior. Though touted as a romantic comedy, the movie is filled with the kind of subtle nihilism, wry cynicism and self-deprecating humour that is quintessential Allen and far removed from the conventions popularly associated with the genre. Yet, deep within, the film is also filled with nostalgia and melancholy, marvelously captured by the quotable dialogues, lilting soundtrack, and delightful black-and-white photography – the sensuous vignettes of the city’s landmarks are breathtaking. Released just two years after his masterly Annie Hall, this complex, existential seriocomic examination of intellectual and personal dissatisfaction and artistic ennui, typified by the memorable set of New Yorkers, continues to enthrall viewers and remains, along with the former, a seminal film of the decade.

Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Existential Comedy/Urban Comedy/Romance
Language: English
Country: US

Friday 9 July 2010

Some Like It Hot [1959]

Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot was such a brilliant comedy that it continues to provide undiluted, wholesome fun even to this date. But what made it even more interesting is that, it was such a diametrically opposite work vis-à-vis such disturbing and acerbic portraits of human society as in his iconic films noirs like Sunset Blvd., Ace in the Hole and Double Indemnity! Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis starred in the film as two down-and-out musician buddies who, while on the run from a dreaded Chicago mobster during the Prohibition-era, cross-dress as females and seek refuge in an all-girl music band at Florida. The band’s lead-singer happens to be Marleyn Monroe, who, with her innocent face and devil’s body captures their imaginations, and Curtis starts seducing her by impersonating as the owner of the Shell Company. Meanwhile, a wealthy old ‘mama’s boy’ grows fond of Lemmon and starts wooing him (her) with hilarious vigour. The chemistry between Lemmon and Curtis were tremendous, as were their individual performances. And Monroe, as the dumb but voluptuous girl, brought to life perhaps the most iconic role of her career. The movie’s fun, frolic and romping charm, through one hilarious set-piece after another, would have even the most serious person peeling with laughter; and thus, it remains one of the most evergreen classics of American cinema.

Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: US