Saturday 31 May 2014

Fading Gigolo [2013]

Fading Gigolo, the 5th directorial venture of actor John Turturro, is that rare film that Woody acted in but didn’t write or direct. One might, in fact, easily confuse it with a Woody film – it has unconventional take on love and sex, it has jokes on Jews, it managed to be bit of a love letter to New York, and, in line with Woody’s preferred genre, it is a humorous and idiosyncratic dramedy. Murray (Allen) is an ageing bookstore owner whose store has become antiquated as no one buys rare books anymore, and hence is forced to close shop, while Fiovorante (Turturro) is his long-time assistant and friend who’s forced to change job at middle-age. When his wealthy dermatologist (Sharon Stone, ravishing even at 55) expresses her intent to have a ménage à trois with her saucy girlfriend and a man he might know, Murray recommends Fiovorante’s name. And thus begins the bizarre alternate lives of the two where the former pimps the latter using hilarious monikers in order to cater to rich, bored and sexually demanding ladies looking for pleasure on the sly, and earn a quick buck in the process. Things turn really crazy when Fiovorante starts falling for his latest client Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a shy, recently widowed Jewish lady, resulting in Murray earning the wrath of a devout Jewish cop (Liev Schreiber) who’s been in love with her for ages. Despite the outrageous nature of the plot, the film’s tone was mostly gentle, charming and whimsical throughout its length, with melancholia and laughs alternating one another. Woody was at his quintessential best, delivering satiric one-liners and witticisms only the way he can.

Director: John Turturro
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Romance/Buddy Film
Language: English/Hebrew
Country: US

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Pawnbroker [1964]

The Pawnbroker, Lumet’s adaptation of Edward Wallant’s novel, belongs to the elite list of films on the Halocaust that didn't trivialize, sensationalize or sentimentalize the dark episode. Brooding, downbeat and deeply discomfiting, helped in no small measures by exquisite aesthetics, rising tempo, and a marvelous lead performance, the film painted a powerful portrayal of the harrowing memories of WWII. Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger), a gruff, cynical and taciturn middle-aged loner, runs a small pawn-broking shop at East Harlem in New York, where he treats his customers with disdain. He’s also forever inflicted with the debilitating memories of the devastation suffered by his family and fellow Jews at Auschwitz, and on account of that he lives in a graveyard of isolation and bitterness, completely bereft of any faith on god and mankind. Four disparate developments, meanwhile, act as key drivers as the film is taken to a nightmarish finale – Jusus (Brock Peters), a Puerto Rican who works as an apprentice at his shop, frustrated with lack of attention received, plans for armed burglary with local hoodlums; Sol learns, through Jesus’ fiancée, that the racketeer who uses the shop as a cover, also runs a prostitution arm; he’s having an affair on the sly with a fellow-Holocaust survivor who’d lost her husband in the camps; and, a kindly but naïve social worker (Geraldine Fitzgerald) tries in vain to befriend Sol. The film comprised of fabulous B/W photography, replete with excellent usage of camera angles, shadows, framing, zooms and innovative flashbacks, to evoke the moody atmosphere and oppressive nature of memory, terrific jazz-based score, and Steiger’s powerful portrayal of the protagonist’s scarred psyche, inner turmoil, anger and implosion.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Sunday 25 May 2014

Sabrina [1954]

Coming after the likes of Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole and Stalag 17, the three films that Wilder made prior to this, Sabrina might seem like a bolt from the blue. As opposed to the dark, cynical and pessimistic tones of the three previous films, particularly the 1st two, Sabrina was humorous, charming, romantic and thoroughly delectable. It did have gray undertones in terms of its satire and underlying commentaries on social stratification and capitalistic pursuits; but it was a light-hearted fare on the whole filled with comic interludes, witty wisecracks and a heartwarming ending. The titular Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), the pretty, young and naïve daughter of a chauffeur (John Williams), has always been in love with the dandy and fun-loving playboy David (William Holden), the younger son of the wealthy retired industrialist Oliver Larrabee (Walter Hampden), who her father works for. Linus (Humphrey Bogart), the workaholic elder son, manages the industrial empire he has inherited, and his life runs like an atomic clock. When Sabrina undergoes an image makeover in Paris, David falls heads over heels with her; however, since, that is a bad business proposal, Linus starts courting her with the hope of getting David married off to a more suitable candidate, but, as can be guessed, he starts falling for her as she starts bringing out the sentimental person concealed inside his seemingly implacable, commerce-minded exterior. Filled with a host of memorable moments – some comedic, while others melancholic – this highly enjoyable ride was made even more appealing by Bogart’s excellent turn as a tough man with a soft core, Hepburn’s lovable presence and easy charm, and the comic timings of Holden and Hampden. 

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

Saturday 24 May 2014

Shabdo (Sound) [2013]

Shabdo is bound to evoke memories of the British film Berberian Sound Studio that released a year before and the brilliant De Palma thriller Blow Out, though, from tonal and stylistic standpoints they were all very different films. Like the latter films, it had at its epicenter a Foley artist and sound designer who is enraptured by the minutest sounds around him and is completely obsessed with his work and world. Tarak (Ritwick Chakraborty) is in the profession of creating ambient sound for movies, and he is very good at his job. However, as a result of his immersive nature, his mind has started losing grip of the real word and conversations. It was presented through 2 parallel narrative strands – while one focused on him, his work, his marital and familial life, and the increasing concerns of his loving wife (Raima Sen) as he’s always in a state of absent mindedness, the other focused on a doctor (Churni Ganguly) who is hell-bent on curing Tarak and bringing him back to the real world. The former strand was easily the better of the two – Ritwick’s intense and layered performance was nicely complemented by the brooding tone, moody photography, juxtaposition of real with reel, evocation of his claustrophobic world, and deliberate pacing; Raima, too, fit in very well in her character’s silent frustrations. Unfortunately, the latter strand spoilt the mood and dampened the good work – it was often preachy and resorted to over-explanations; Churni’s performance was incorrigibly over-dramatic, while Srijit Mukherji’s, who played the role of a director, was wooden. Hence, in the end, it ended up being a film worth noting but held back for not using the scissors more appropriately.

Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Genre: Drama/Medical Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Thursday 22 May 2014

Intimidation [1960]

Kurahara’s Intimidation was diametrically different – generically, thematically and stylistically – from the 2 other films by this filmmaker during his studio days that I’ve seen, viz. Black Sun and The Warped Ones. This taut, bleak, tense, fatalistic and low-budget Nikkatsu Noir, at a brisk running time of 65 minutes, was made right along the lines of classic American noirs. Takita (Nobuo Kaneko), the seemingly much loved assistant manager of a bank, has been promoted to the head office. However, as is eventually revealed, that was on account of his opportunistic marriage to the bank president’s daughter and various scams he participated in during his job. His old buddy Nakaike (Akira Nishimura) is a classic example of a loser – he never managed to rise up the ladder, he is regularly trampled upon by all like a doormat, he was in love with the lady Takita eventually married while ditching Nakaike’s sister in the process, and, much to the chagrin of his frustrated sister, he’s resigned to his life as a perennial loser. After the end of the lavish farewell party thrown in Takita’s honour, he receives a quiet visit from a shady and mysterious blackmailer who produces proofs of his misdeeds and asks for 3 million Yen to keep silent; fearing everything to lose, he decides to rob the bank and have Nakaike as the scape-goat. As can be expected, neither does everything go as per plan, nor does everything seems as it is, thus leading to a mean and unexpected climax. Bad memories, wrong judgements and fatal confrontations were the order of the day in this engaging little film, filled with B/W chiaroscuro and decent performances.

Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Post-Noir
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan