Wednesday 29 February 2012

Small Town Murder Songs [2010]

Small Town Murder Songs has been referred to as “Coenesque” – whoever said that must have done so with Fargo in mind; however, the only similarities that I found between the two films were – the rural setting, the moody photography, and the presence of Peter Stormare in the cast (albeit on opposite sides of the law, and with a much bigger speaking part in this one). But, where the the Coens’ masterpiece was ironic and darkly funny, this is as serious a film as it gets. Set in a sparsely populated locale in Ontario, this dark and sombre Canadian film is a deliberately paced mood-piece on Christian themes of guilt and retribution. When the disrobed body of a woman’s corpse is found in the bushes, it throws the entire town, hitherto not affected by incidents of violent crimes, into a state of chaos – and the person who is most affected is a devout, middle-aged cop (powerfully played by Peter Stormare) who is convinced that the guy his former girlfriend is living with is the murderer. Caught in a dicey tangle between his ultra-religious fiancé and his ravishing former girlfriend he is obviously still attracted to, he starts imploding from within that could very well lead to catastrophes for him – both personally and professionally. The film’s soundtrack comprises of an excellent collection of gospel/folk songs. However, as most would agree, the director ought to have spent more time in further developing the characters, the various dynamics and the intricacies of the storyline.

Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Genre: Crime Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: English
Country: Canada

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The Artist [2011]

The Artist might appear to some as merely a pastiche of silent American cinema, but in essence it is more than just that – it is an audacious experiment with form and style, an homage to a long-lost era where movies were more “universal”, a commentary on the general lack of staying power of silent screen dramatic works (as opposed to comedic/satirical works by the likes of Chaplin and Keaton which will always be lapped up by viewers), the dramatic upheavals brought on by the unleashing of talkies by Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer and the need for adaptability and smartness that this transition demanded, and of course, the director’s unabashed display of love for motion pictures in general. Made in the tradition of silent, black-and-white films of the pre-sound era, it chronicles the fall from grace of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent screen idol, upon the ushering in of sound (a fate that many faced then) – in a last ditch attempt at impressing his fast-receding fans he pumps in his own money into a mega-project which, quite inevitably, sinks at the box-office and takes him down along with it; and the simultaneous rise in stardom of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) who experienced her first ‘two minutes of fame’ courtesy Valentin. Dujardin has provided a memorable turn as the heartthrob whose fortunes experience a dramatic reversal – the character’s natural charm, charisma and suavity get slowly eroded to reveal his inner vulnerability, which he portrayed with élan and incredible ease. With the arrival of sound musicals were bound to follow – this is hinted at by making fine use of Dujardin’s uncanny resemblance with Gene Kelly through a wonderfully choreographed tap-dance sequence before the wickedly ingenious final scene.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Showbiz Comedy/Romance
Language: Silent
Country: France

Chupke Chupke [1975]

Hrishikesh Mukherjee was one of the most loved makers of ‘Middle of the Road’ movies that appealed to and left impressions on a large proportion of viewers. He made a number of serious dramas as well as delightful comedies during his lifetime – Chupke Chupke, a remake of the immensely popular Bengali film Chhadmabeshi, remains to this day one of his most endearing and loved comedies. The plot deals with Parimal Tripathi (Dharmendra), a Professor of Botany, who’s got newly married to Sulekha Chaturvedi (Sharmila Tagore), enacting the role of a smart-ass chauffeur who speaks chaste Hindi while meeting Raghavendra, Sulekha’s brother-in-law (Om Prakash) who she is in awe of; meanwhile, Parimal’s friend Sukumar Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan), a Professor of English, is sent to the scene as Parimal, but things turn dicey when Sukumar tries to impress Vasudha (Jaya Bachchan), the sister-in-law of Prashant (Asrani), a common friend of Parimal and Sukumar, only to find out that she is a student of botany and hence would like to take lessons in botany from him. The interactions between Parimal and Raghavendra were hilarious, as were the misconceptions that arose among those in the dark as regards to this prank and the ensuing confusions. Keshto Mukherjee, too, provided some 'laughing out loud' moments with his drunken act. The acting was uniformly good, though it did become tad over-the-top on a few occasions. Further, the script stretched the practical joke more than it perhaps should have, as a result what was light-hearted humour for most parts started appearing on the meaner side (with respect to those on whom the pranks were being played) by the last leg of the film. On the whole, the film, interspersed with a few nice songs, was a really fun and entertaining watch.

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Genre: Comedy/Family Comedy/Urban Comedy
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Monday 27 February 2012

Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein [1964]

Kishore Kumar is mostly remembered by the Indian populace as a singer and a comedy actor, but he donned other hats too on a few occasions. This versatile genius performed a staggering number of roles in Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein – his credits in the film include direction, story, acting (albeit in a serious role), music direction and playback singing! The movie begun on an interesting note – a man returns from the army to find that his wife and father have died in an accident while his young son has lost his voice as a result of the ensuing shock; uninterested in settling down in the village any more, he moves out in the hope of getting his son cured. Despite this serious premise most of what followed, unfortunately, can only be qualified as standard fare. Kishore and his real-life son Amit Kumar did a fine job in sensitively portraying the father-son duo, while Supriya Chowdhury was also noteworthy as a rich but compassionate ‘zamindar’ in whose home they take shelter while on the way to the city. However, most of the remaining characters aren’t worth speaking about – in fact, had the antagonists not been introduced into the story, I might have liked the film more. The movie boasts of a few wonderful songs which, for me, were its hallmarks. An anecdote worth mentioning about this movie is, Satyajit Ray apparently watched and was pleasantly surprised by it (they had a long-standing friendship) as he’d never expected Kishore, known mostly for his comic flair and irreverence, to choose such a serious theme for his film.

Director: Kishore Kumar
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Romance/Musical
Language: Hindi
Country: India

Safe House [2012]

Nearly all Hollywood action-thrillers make valiant efforts to appear different from and divergent to their countless contemporaries, yet the end products, in most cases, give us a sense of déjà vu while watching them – the same holds true for Safe House as well. But one good thing about this film is that, the director never attempted in portraying it as something it is not, viz. cerebral or high-brow or artsy. This is an out and out plot-based film where the storyline concerns with Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent and caretaker of a ‘safe house’ in Cape Town, who gets a high-profile visitor in the form of Tobin Frost, a highly resourceful former CIA guy who has been on the ‘Most Wanted’ list of most spy agencies around the world. However, as in most spy thrillers, nothing is as it seems – consequently, we soon find Frost on the run courtesy a gang of mercenaries who are after him, and Matt too joins the hot pursuit in a desperate attempt to prove his worth to the powers that be. The film boasts of a number of spectacular action sequences and set-pieces to keep the popcorn churners entertained, and the grainy photography has lent a here-and-now feel to the proceedings. Denzel Washington is eminently watchable, as he always is, as a mysterious rogue operative. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds is a complete letdown, as are the predictable and overused storyline and plot angles.

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Genre: Action/Spy Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 26 February 2012

Ride the High Country [1962]

Sam Peckinpah was forever interested in the interplay and the dynamics between the Wild West of the ‘good old days’ and the impending arrival of civilization. Ride the High Country, his second feature direction and the one that brought him worldwide fame, kick-started this tryst with his pet theme, as also his obsession with characters residing at the edge of the society and meditations on violence and death. Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), a former outlaw and an ageing lawman takes, the perilous job of transporting gold from a mining town in Sierra Nevada to a bank; he gets Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), an old pal of his and his former deputy when he was a Sheriff, to join him in this job. Steve is a man of integrity who is committed to make an honest living even if that means accepting poverty and humiliation, but Gil, who too is somehow eking out a survival of sorts, has other plans in mind as he still longs for the thrills and gunfights of the olden days. Meanwhile two more characters – a young brash guy that Gil has brought along, and the lovely but naïve daughter of a highly religious man – complicate the journey even further for Steve. Though the astounding vitality and debilitating violence present in his later movies (and most notably in his magnum opus The Wild Bunch) is not palpable here – this was more on the serene and quieter side, it still managed to be quite involving thanks to its wonderful photography, its string of amoral character, and the wonderfully composed climax that harks upon the fast receding Wild West days of the old while showing the two ageing protagonists’ intense desire to travel back in time while settling scores.

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Western/Revisionist Western/Action
Language: English
Country: US