Sunday 24 May 2015

While We're Young [2014]

Baumbach’s While We’re Young is a cynical dramedy centered around the mid-life crises and growing ennui of a 40-something New York couple. The ironic dichotomy surrounding the suppressed desire of Gen X to swap places with Gen Y on account of the latter’s carefree living and spontaneity, while simultaneously being judgemental about their moral choices commensurate with internet age, along with the debate on evaluating art by the process of creating it, made for interesting discussion points. Josh (Ben Stiller), a documentary filmmaker, and his vivacious wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are suffering from relationship issues. Josh, who had earned attention with his first film, has been struggling for a decade with his ambitious work on a leftist intellectual, and that, coupled by their being childless, have started taking toll on their marital well-being; Josh’s complicated relationship with his father-in-law (Charles Grodin), a once renowned documentarian, is also not helping. One fine day they become acquainted with aspiring documentary filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his spunky wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), and despite the initial distance, they soon find themselves being drawn towards the young couple and drifting towards a very different sort of lifestyle and choices. However, as is eventually revealed, the meeting might have been planned rather than incidental, thus throwing them into a crisis, and forcing them to relook at their ideas of art, marriage and life. Assured turns by Stiller and Watts, generational conflicts and the shifting camaraderie made this a noteworthy seriocomic effort, even if the urge to spelt out things that could have been left unsaid, and plot contrivances, prevented it from being a more nuanced and accomplished work.

Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Comedy Drama/Social Satire/Marriage Drama
Language: English
Country: US

Monday 18 May 2015

Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) [1974]

It is at times difficult to believe that Ray adapted stories starring his immensely popular literary creation Pradosh C. Mitter aka Feluda only twice, given their lasting pop-cultural imprints in the urban Bengali milieu – barring Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, no other film by him garnered more popularity and repeat telecasts than Sonar Kella, made 6 years after he began this franchise, and Joi Baba Felunath, made 4 years later. Mukul (Kushal Chakraborty), a young boy haunted by images purportedly from his previous life, is taken to Rajasthan by parapsychologist Dr. Hajra (Shailen Mukherjee) for academic reasons; however, two notorious crooks – the sly Amiyanath (Ajoy Banerjee) and the thuggish Mandar (Kamu Mukherjee) – smell possibilities of hidden treasure, and decide to join to further their nefarious interests. Smelling chances of foul play Mukul’s father engages the 21 Rajani Sen Road residing sleuth (Soumitra Chatterjee), who Ray had created on his own image and representative of the Bengali ideal, and so he, along with his nephew-cum-sidekick Topshe (Siddhartha Chatterjee), embarks on a trip to protect the kid, and what ensues is a tale filled with thrills, mystery and scintillating adventure. On the way he makes the acquaintance of Lal Mohan Ganguly (Santosh Dutta), a writer of popular fiction using the pseudonym of Jatayu, who would become a life-long friend and companion of the PI. Great narrative pacing ensured an engrossing watch while also investing time on etching characters, building suspense and capturing the flavours of Rajasthan. The wit and humour that the script was imbued with, along with fine turns by the cast, interesting tidbits and the iconic Feluda tune that Ray composed further added to its engagement quotient.

Director: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Detective Movie/Adventure
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Thursday 14 May 2015

Weekend Stories [1996-1997]

In his magnum opus Weekend Stories, reminiscent of Kieslowski’s Decalogue, Zanussi provided a masterful exploration of moral dilemmas and spiritual crises in everyday existence, through 8 thematically connected made-for-TV episodes. Set in post-Communist Poland, memories and remnants from recent past, and socio-economic volte face towards materialism, formed a key aspect, thus making this perceptive, evocative and reflective work a political and a personal exercise, with strong undercurrents of Catholicism. In A Woman’s Business, an emotionally fractured lady (Joanna Szczepkowska) attempts to find closure for the wrongs done 15 years back by a callous government official (Magdalena Zawadzka); Little Faith chronicled the crisis of faith experienced by a rationalist man (Maciej Orlos) and his highly religious wife (Dorota Segda) as they await the medical test results of their son; Soul Sings narrated the conflict faced by a struggling opera singer (Jacek Laszczkowski) when asked for help by his elderly neighbour that might put his professional breakthrough at risk; in Deceptive Charm, a university teacher (Maciej Robakiewicz), propelled by his dissatisfied wife (Katarzyna Herman), faces the lure of quick financial gains when offered employment by a wealthy degenerate (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz); Unwritten Law illustrated the moral pangs experienced by a married young chauffeur (Piotr Szwedes) after he succumbs to the seduction by his attractive employer (Krystyna Janda), upon witnessing her ruthless opportunism; in The Last Circle, a renowned but ageing ballet dancer (Daniel Olbrychski) faces the tussle between cold professionalism and conscience when reluctantly united after many years with his beautiful ex-wife (Olga Sawicka); Dilatory Line portrayed how suspicions of his fiancée’s (Monika Kwiatkowska) affair with his colleague takes precedence over the professional judgements of a TV producer (Bartosz Opania); and The Hidden Treasure presented an aged former aristocrat’s (Maja Komorowska) homecoming to reclaim certain family belongings. Diverse psyches and emotions – vengeance, greed, lust, obsession, jealousy, forgiveness, narcissism, humility, ethics, abandonment and compassion – were exquisitely used in painting layered portraits of contemporary Polish life, with the irreparable scars of history serving as a brooding backdrop, in this compelling, luminously photographed mosaic.

Director: Krzysztof Zanussi
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Psychological Drama/TV Miniseries
Language: Polish
Country: Poland

Sunday 10 May 2015

Pan's Labyrinth [2006]

In his thematic sequel to Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro crafted a fabulous concoction of Spanish Civil War violence and a dark fairy tale, while evocatively portraying a child’s lost innocence and futile attempts at escapism. At once brutal, gut-wrenching and melancholic, the genre-bending film – mix of war drama, gothic horror and fantasy – was a powerful exploration of grim realities in the form of atrocities, death and personal loss through the eyes of a young, lonely and vulnerable girl with a fecund mind. In the real world, 10-year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her ailing mother (Ariadna Gil) to a war-ravaged outpost under the command of her new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a ruthless military man hell-bent on crushing the guerilla rebels operating from the forests; meanwhile, in the metaphysical realm, she is approached by a faun who informs her that she’s the lost princess of the underworld, and that she needs to perform three dangerous tasks in order to regain her place and acquire immortality. The cherubic Baquero was unforgettable as the tale’s sole light in the midst of turmoil and unspeakable horrors, while López was evil incarnate whose chauvinism, lust for power and loyalty towards Franco’s ideals was matched by his infinite capacity for cruelty; Maribel Verdú as Mercedes, Vidal’s housekeeper spying for the rebels who becomes Ofelia’s sole friend, and Álex Angulo as an anti-fascist Doctor who’s surreptitiously providing medicines for the rebels, added layers of humanism to the proceedings. The mesmerizing visual designs, cinematography and SFX were essential to the film’s magic realism, grotesque imagery and graphic novel stylistics, and the incredibly haunting score made the experience all the more poignant.

Note: My earlier review of this film can be found here.

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Genre: Drama/War Drama/Fantasy
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico

Saturday 9 May 2015

Lord of the Flies [1963]

Peter Brook’s largely faithful interpretation of William Golding’s classic novel of the same name, viz. Lord of the Flies, was a dreary and allegorical tale that emphasized upon an intrinsic and ironic dichotomy in human behavior – the want for order and the desire for anarchy. Featuring only pre-pubescent kids to drive home the point, they represented human instincts closer to their primitive states, before the process of acculturation has completely set in. Upon an airplane accident, a motley group of all-male school kids gets stranded in an unknown and uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere. The crisis scenario of a group of cocooned individuals suddenly placed in the wilderness having to fend for themselves bring forth their survival instincts, exacerbated by the animal impulses of chaos, lust for power and propensity for violence. The film starts with the benevolent and level-headed Ralph (James Aubrey) being identified as the ring leader for the group. However, the aggressive and power-crazy Jack (Tom Chapin), serving as the lead hunter, has plans for a forced disruption of the power structure based on brute strength and brazen aggression. He and his gang of blinded sycophants begin by tormenting Ralphs’s loyal, intelligent, sensible, didactic, asthmatic and bespectacled sidekick Piggy (Hugh Edwards), but gradually things start taking a more sinister turn, and before long they go completely awry and messy, until a forced restoration of balance takes place through external intervention. The transition from innocence and uncertainty to wild hedonism and lunacy was captured through a naturalistic, documentary-like style and manner, and this ensured that the themes do not become too overhanded and in-your-face, while retaining the ability to provoke and disturb.

Director: Peter Brook
Genre: Drama/Adventure
Language: English
Country: UK