Wednesday 25 August 2010

1900 (Novecento) [1976]

Whoever thought Bertolucci’s films couldn’t get any more controversial and scandalous post-Last Tango in Paris, were given sharp taps on their knuckles in his very next film, viz. 1900. A master class to some and a disappointing mixed bag to others, this gargantuan epic (the film’s original cut, which I was fortunate to have watched, runs over 5 hours) divided the critics right down the middle. This cinematic equivalent of bidungsroman has at its forefront two protagonists – the amorous Alfredo, a wealthy landlord’s son, and communist-minded Olmo, born to a family of poor farmers, conceived on the same day at the turn of the 20th century. Though friends as kids, the two go on to share a complicated relationship as they take divergent routes as adults; and through them the director has presented a captivating picture of Italy’s chequered and volatile history over the nest half a century or so. Breathtakingly photographed and accompanied by Ennio Moricone’s glorious soundtrack, the film has its fair share of spectacular highs and avoidable lows – a film of this staggering length always runs the risk of turning out disjointed, yet it also had the luxury of having a leisurely paced narrative suiting the film’s epic scope. It boasts of an all-star cast, with Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu giving fine turns as the two protagonists. The best piece of acting, however, came courtesy the thunderous performances from two seasoned American warhorses – Burt Lancaster and Sterling Hayden. Donald Sunderland, too, was good in his disturbing, if not entirely believable, character.

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Epic/Ensemble Film
Language: Italian
Country: Italian

Sunday 22 August 2010

Inception [2010]

-->Christopher Nolan is that rare director who manages to grip the high-brow (intelligentsia) as well as the low-brow (popcorn churners) with elan. And Inception couldn’t really have been made by anyone but him. One of the smartest thrillers to have hit the screen in recent times, the film has managed to combine mindbender of a plot (a Nolan specialty really), breathtaking narrative speed, and stunning visual effects, into a scintillating and ingenious package. Leonardo Di Caprio, fresh out of his terrific and psychologically complex turn in Shutter Island, is once again attention-worthy as he goes about stealing ideas from people’s dreams, though he himself is trapped in an unrelenting memory warp. So when he is offered the audacious task of implanting an idea into a billionaire’s mind, it gives him the chance for retribution like nothing else. As he, along with his team, moves from one dream layer to another, we are served a plethora of spectacular moment, leaving us dazed and agape with wonderment. Though it might not be as devilishly brilliant as his earlier Memento, it sure is an extremely compelling piece of work that engages both viscerally and intellectually.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday 14 August 2010

Brick [2005]

Brick is a modern day noir with a plot so labyrinthine that it might very well give Raymond Chandler’s pulp fictions a run for money. And since we are not accustomed to have young people without any creases on their faces as noir protagonists or private dicks, the director’s decision to base the story in a high school setting, peopled almost completely with teenagers, reeks with audacity. However, or perhaps because of the high school setting, the film didn’t have the kind of pulpy feel to it that the plot desperately needed to have, nor did the characters appear aligned to the film’s theme – they seemed too shallow and too young to be believable. The plot concerns a young loner, who, while investigating his ex-girlfriend’s death, infiltrates a local drug cartel and exposes those responsible for her gruesome murder. The film is dark, comprises of a well-paced narrative, and boasts of two fine performances by the actors in the respective roles of the laconic protagonist and the mysterious femme fatale. Unfortunately, because of the reasons mentioned above, and the overtly complicated plot, the movie never managed to engage my senses as much as I would have liked.

Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 9 August 2010

The Naked City [1948]

Jules Dassin is principally known as the maker of Night and the City and Rififi – two of the most influential film noirs. The Naked City (made before he was subjected to witch-hunting for his Leftist leanings), though not as universally well-known as the other two, nevertheless ranks nearly at par with them. Memorably narrated by Mark Hellinger, also the movie’s producer, the film painted a simultaneously grim and lyrical picture of New York City through its chronicling of one of the eight million stories that play their parts in defining the concrete jungle aptly termed as the “naked city”. Shot completely on location using the then-novel cinema verite technique, this top class noir was, on one hand, a relentlessly compelling crime drama and police procedural that twists and turns and ends in a spectacular chase scene culminating at the Williamsburg Bridge, while on the other, it was a fascinating account of the kind of moral dubiousness and detachment that typified post-War American society. The film has at its centre a veteran cop, whose world-weary cynicism, sardonic wit, hard to please nature and razor-sharp mind, made him quite akin to the legendary gumshoes in hardboiled literature, as well as, the perfect spokesperson for the movie’s matter-of-fact themes and those sordid times.

Director: Jules Dassin
Genre: Crime Drama/Film Noir/Urban Drama
Language: English
Country: US