Tuesday 31 January 2012

Open Your Eyes [1997]

Dreams, lucid or otherwise, make for darn interesting films, and the Spanish tech-noir (if it can really be qualified as one) Open Your Eyes sure remains a pretty good elucidation of that. This oddly compelling movie, boasting of a highly ingenious plot, is about Cesar (Eduardo Noriega), a young, handsome and insanely rich playboy whose life could very well form the dictionary definition for hedonism. However two incidents, in rapid succession drastically change his life – he finds himself falling for Sofia (Panelope Cruz), the pretty and charming date of his best friend, despite having just met her, and soon after that he meets with a debilitating car crash thanks to a jealous former lover of his that leaves his face horribly scarred. But then, are these all for real, or are they simply the figments of his imagination? Revealing anything more of the unpredictable storyline would be criminal on my front, so let me resist the temptation for doing so. Suffice it to say, this is a topsy-turvy ride and quite an interesting concoction of psychological drama, romance, mystery and science-fiction. Okay, the film isn’t the masterpiece that its fans have made it out to be – the acting is just about average, some of the plot twists could have been better dealt with, the psychological interplay between the protagonist and his friend ought to have been delved more deeply into, among others. But, that said, there’s no denying the fact this is one hell of an entertaining and engaging ride that deserves a watch – if not for anything, at least for the wildly original idea it has been based on. The film got an American remake in the form of Vanilla Sky which I plan to revisit and review sometime soon.

Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Sci-Fi/Romance/Mystery/Fantasy
Language: Spanish
Country: Spain

Sunday 29 January 2012

Play It Again, Sam [1972]

Play It Again, Sam remains a quintessential Woody Allen film, what with it being populated with neurotic characters, its impish and sardonic take on love and relationships, and its self-deprecating humour. Yet, quite ironically, this wasn’t directed by Allen; it’s another matter though that whoever has seen his movies would know that only Woody, and no one else, could have written the script – and that he most certainly did by adapting from his own stage play. The movie is about the quirky relationship and consequent emotional travails faced by Allan Felix (Woody Allen), a film writer, upon his divorce. He is such a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart that the actor has become something of an alter-ego for him, guiding him through his various personal issues and turmoils. During his incessant and hilarious quest to find a fiancé he eventually falls in love with Linda (Diane Keaton), the lonely wife of his workaholic best friend Dick (Tony Roberts). The film’s title, which is a reference to Casablanca, is interestingly one of the most misquoted movie lines – the iconic final scene of the classic is screened during the opening credits and is wonderfully recreated during its climax. Though the slapstick content could have been toned down a bit (the only proof that the movie wasn’t directed by Woody himself), this does remain consistently funny and immensely enjoyable. Interestingly, Annie Hall, arguably Woody’s greatest masterpiece along with Manhattan, could be considered a companion piece to it as it showed what would perhaps have followed had Allan and Linda got married at the end.

Director: Herbert Ross
Genre: Comedy/Romantic Comedy/Social Satire
Language: English
Country: US

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [2011]

Post the success of the Swedish thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted from the bestselling Swedish novel of the same name written by the late Steig Larsson, it was a given that this would get remade in the US as well. Expectations were high since David Fincher took charge of the remake, and one must concede it has turned out to be a well-made and engaging thriller. The labyrinthine plot concerns how Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced but dogged journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a socially inept but brilliant computer hacker, team up to unearth a 40-year old mystery (the inexplicable disappearance of a then 16-year old girl) and a whole lot of murky secrets surrounding a famous business family. Fincher has always been known for the visual treatment and technical prowess of his films, and these facets are very much present here too. The film has also been paced well in order to ensure that the story moves forward at a near-breakneck speed, while also allowing the development of vital character dynamics and key plot angles. However, that said, I would have preferred had Fincher transplanted the story to the American context and added a more palpable stamp of his directorial touch, instead of merely going for a frame-by-frame remake of the Swedish original. He could have perhaps taken a lesson out of Let Me In, Matt Reeves’ brilliant remake of another highly acclaimed Swedish film, Let the Right One In. On the acting front, Craig has done a commendable job, while Mara, though quite good, couldn’t really match, leave alone outdo, Noomi Rapace’s unforgettable embodiment of Lisbeth’s character in the Swedish version.

Director: David Fincher
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday 26 January 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [2011]

Acclaimed Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest offering might seem a murder mystery as per its premise, but upon watching it I realized it’s anything but one. Though presented in the garb of a meticulous police procedural, this is, in essence, a meditation on the dichotomies of human nature, a commentary on the socio-political milieu of the Turkish society, and a wonderfully captured odyssey that is as much physical as it is psychological. Based within a span of a day, the movie starts off with a handcuff-bound criminal, who has already confessed to a murder, being taken around by the cops through the Turkish wilderness in order to locate the place where the dead man’s body has been buried. Soon enough we are introduced to the three world-weary principal characters of the storyline whose innermost psyches and carefully wrapped dark impulses have been finely delineated – a police detective (Yilmaz Erdogan), a public prosecutor (Taner Birsel), and a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner). The film is deliberately paced and is extremely verbose in nature; consequently, one might find it to be a challenging watch. However, if one manages to glean through the seemingly irrelevant conversations, one would find this to be a surprisingly perceptive, darkly comic and brilliantly enacted film for the way the director has subtly managed to capture the various layers and mindsets of the characters. Ceylan’s love for breathtaking outdoor shots would be well known to anyone who has seen his earlier movies like Uzak, Climates, etc., and that trend has continued here too, as we are presented with such extremely well-framed compositions that have made it a visual treat.

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Police Procedural/Road Movie
Language: Turkish
Country: Turkey

Moneyball [2011]

Bennett Miller had shown incredible maturity as a filmmaker with his debut film Capote. Consequently it was but natural that Moneyball was greeted with considerable anticipation, more so for the fact that, this, which is only his second movie, has been made a whopping six years after the first. Adapted from a best-selling non-fiction, the movie is about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a washed out former player who, as the GM of just another pushover team, ends up reshaping the scouting process in big-league baseball. In this unconventional journey of his he gets a partner in the form of an Ivy League Economics grad, and the two, to the severe discontentment of all those around them, use analytical tools as opposed to intuition while signing players for their team. And the result of this radical approach turned out to be nothing short of a landmark. One reviewer aptly summed up the film with the words that, one needn’t be a baseball enthusiast to appreciate this movie, and I couldn’t agree more with that as I’m a classic example of a person who had a nice time watching it despite never having followed the game. The reason for that is actually quite simple – it is not so much about the game as what happens behind the scenes, and hence could have been equally relevant had the game in question had been, say, football (soccer), cricket or any other big-budget team sports. The film is leisurely paced and is largely devoid of any spectacular buildups or scintillating moments; it is, rather, quietly engaging thanks to the subtlety in the script and the understated nature of its emotional content. Brad Pitt is spot-on as the unassuming protagonist with the courage to deviate from the tried and tested path. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, however, might have been in the film only for old-times’ sake as his role didn’t really need to be graced by a powerful thespian like him.


Director: Bennett Miller
Genre: Drama/Sports Drama/Biopic
Language: English
Country: US