Sunday 31 July 2011

I Saw the Devil [2010]

The Koreans sure know how to make a darn good revenge movie. Kim Jee-Woon, who along with the likes of Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho, ranks as one of the most sought after filmmakers working in the country today, has made another interesting entry to that club. The film begins memorably with a petite and vulnerable young lady being brutally murdered by a mysterious vicious-looking drifter (Choi Min-Sik). The girl’s fiancé (Lee Nyung-Hun), who’s a highly skilled special agent, vows to avenge for the murder, and thus ensues a fascinating game of punches and counter-punches between the two blood-thirsty men and a wildly topsy-turvy ride through hell. With each passing moment the movie becomes more and more violent and crazy like the continually upping of the tempo of an orchestra, so much so that it was severely censored for its extreme violence and shocking climax; suffice it to say, the film is not meant for the chicken-hearted. In fact, by the time the movie ends it becomes nearly impossible to differentiate between the “good guy” and the “bad guy”, and therein lies the success of any good revenge thriller. The film boasts of memorable performances by the two men – Choi’s turn as the deliriously vile psychopath was absolutely stupendous, and formed the perfect complement to Lee’s laconic and seemingly placid cop. Interestingly both these actors had already been part of superb vengeance flicks – Oldboy and A Bittersweet Life, respectively.

Director: Kim Jee-Woon
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Thursday 28 July 2011

Sherlock Holmes [2009]

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes continues to remain one of the most enduring literary creations and perhaps the single most famous sleuth ever created in the world of literature. The legendary resident of 221B Baker Street has been adapted to cinema and TV numerous times, but never has he received such a wacky image makeover as in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Here, not only does Holmes have superior intellectual and deductive abilities, he is also a martial arts expert, and he requires all his faculties at full force to combat his antagonist. Robert Downey Jr., who seems to be “in the zone” so to speak, has given a sterling performance as the arrogant, cynical and brilliant Holmes, while Jude Law is decent enough as Dr. Watson. The film’s art-direction is excellent, especially in its recreation of Victorian-era London. Though it has a serpentine plot and delivers a number of twists on its way, it essentially remains a quintessential illustration of “style over substance”; at the end of the day, though immensely entertaining and darkly funny, the same can not be said about its impact or lasting value.

Director: Guy Ritchie
Genre: Thriller/Action/Mystery
Language: English
Country: UK

Thursday 21 July 2011

The Big Clock [1948]

A number of makers of film noirs had a special fascination with the journalism industry it seems. However, though in The Big Clock, the protagonist works for a media corporation owned by the film’s scheming and megalomaniac antagonist, unlike Ace in the Hole or Sweet Smell of Success, its focus was not to provide a searing critique of the industry; rather, what the movie remains in essence is a superb and ingenious thriller. The film boasts of a labyrinthine plot that would require pages to fully describe, so suffice it to say, it’s about a guy who ends up leading a murder investigation with the irony being that the guy who’s been narrowed down as the prime suspect is he himself. He therefore doesn’t just need to conduct a parallel investigation of his own to find the real criminal, but also must stay one step ahead of those part of the investigation team. The brilliant script filled the deliriously convoluted cat-and-mouse storyline with great suspense buildup coupled with exemplary pacing, thus providing us with a nail-biting, thrill-a-minute ride. Ray Milland was excellent as a good man caught in a hellish situation, but the show-stealer performance was given by Charles Laughton – his turn as the tyrannical and power-wielding media mogul with a bizarre fascination for watches, was tour de force stuff to say the least.

Director: John Farrow
Genre: Thriller/Film Noir
Language: English
Country: US

Fire in Babylon [2010]

West Indies during the 70’s and 80’s dominated cricket like rarely any team has in not just cricket but team-sports in general. The team was led by the imperturbable Clive Lloyd and boasted of some great batsmen, led by the imperious Sir Viv Richards. But at the heart of the team lied its battery of some of the most devastating fast-bowlers the game has seen - Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts et al. Thus Fire in Babylon, which chronicles the rise of this all-conquering side, is a goldmine for any cricket aficionado; but, like any good documentary, it has managed to be much more than that. The documentary has covered a slew of socio-political topics, including the likes of how a group of small island-countries (Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, etc.), despite their different cultural backgrounds, had a commonality in the form of the severe oppression faced by their forefathers. Thus, when their juggernaut begun, it transcended the confines of the sport and became something far bigger than just victories on the field. The film comprises of a number of impassioned interviews, and has been regularly punctuated by fine reggae tracks. Though the film could have done with a few more match footages, but that for me was just a minor glitch in this otherwise well-researched and very well made film on one of the most incredible success stories of modern sports.

Director: Stevan Riley
Genre: Documentary/Sport Documentary
Language: English
Country: UK

Sunday 17 July 2011

Midnight Cowboy [1969]

Midnight Cowboy, British filmmaker John Schlesinger’s first foray across the Atlantic Ocean, remains a cornerstone in American cinema. It became a part of the country’s collective conscience and the voice of a generation for its brilliant portrayal of angst, lost hopes. loneliness, decadence and urban alienation. Joe Buck (John Voigt), a naïve Texan with dreams in his eyes, arrives at New York to earn easy bucks as a gigolo. It doesn’t take long for his dreams to vaporize, but he ends up getting an endearing friend in Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a chain-smoking fellow-hustler afflicted with tuberculosis, whose American Dreams had been shattered long back. Their squalid and desperate existences form a fascinating counterpoint to the razzle-dazzle and lure of the Big Apple, the metropolis where all the two drifters strive for is to survive another day. Yet, for all its then-controversial depiction of drugs and sex, the film has a deep sense of pain and poignancy at its core, beautifully brought forth through the unforgettable friendship of the two outsiders. Dustin Hoffman, who had kick-started his career with The Graduate, gave a breathtaking performance as the tragic modern-day Tramp. The then-unknown John Voigt too shined as the film’s placid anti-hero. The excellent script and freewheeling structure, combined with arresting camerawork and sounds, added to the movie’s elevation into the pantheon of great films on friendship and bohemianism.

Director: John Schlesinger
Genre: Urban Drama/Buddy Film/Avante-Garde Film
Language: English
Country: US