Movies seen in 2008:
21 (2008): §§§§§ (5 on 10)
Pretty much by-the-numbers but reasonably entertaining fare based on true events about a group of MIT geniuses with their teacher-cum-mastermind taking over Las Vegas casinos bigtime by counting cards at blackjack table. The main character’s (a supergeek >< close to getting into Harvard Med School but desperately short of booty) intentions, dilemmas, motivations and actions are painted with stark black and white hues with cliche after cliche piled to give a familiar cosy lesson of growing up and realisation of the-stuff-what-really-matters-in-life, but all of it somewhat works and although you pinch your bum gone numb after a 2 hour morality lecture, it makes for good natured, harmless popcorn-cola entertainment. And yes, it made me refresh another card game. Which is sort of handy. So no love lost.
12 Monkeys (1995): §§§§§§§ (7 on 10)
Though jaded and uninspiring visually (which is rather surprising considering it comes from Terry Gilliam), this is another worthy addition to cerebral science fiction which sports a cracker of a script, applaudable performances from Willis and Pitt and such intelligent dialogue as very seldom heard in movies now. Great characterisation and idea-wise some great sequences. A prisoner of a now-surviving-in-underground-humans in future being sent back in time to find the virus that wiped it all and led to dominion of chief cities by animals has its moments. After time-travelling first to 1990 in an asylum where a panel of psychiatrists disbelieve him (obviously) and meeting a scientist’s insane son (an uproarious Pitt) to then going back to WW1 times only to get shot and then finally to 1996 with his now-ex-psychiatrist lady who slowly gets convinced its not really all going on in Willis’ head and he really is someone from future, its convoluted because it should be, not because it can be. Its a pity that her timing coincides with Willis’ believing he’s nothing but a goner, and all this saving the world thing is going on in his head; anyways it finally turns out they are unable to stop the inevitable disaster (Willis’ was having pre-visions of the climactic airport scene throughout and besides being a brave denouement resolution wise for the genre, it also lays to rest any incongruities that could have been brought about by the Butterfly Effect). In film’s own words, its a depiction of what’s known as “Cassandra complex” in which sometimes knowledge of the future comes with the impotence of not being able to avert it. But yea, the lackadaisical visuals (its similar to the more recent Children of Men in that it reconstructs a grimy apocalyptic future but with near-zilch slickness) meant it took me many fragmented viewings to get into this, but am glad I pressed on. It is a quality film.
2 Days in Paris (2007): §§§§§§§§§ (9 on 10)
An exceedingly assured, poignant and honest slice-of-life love story about a middle aged couple (a young French woman and an American guy) and what transpires in their 2 day detour to Paris which happens to be the girl’s home city. The slow revelations about her past relationships through walks and wine parties with bizarrely eccentric guys and the overall openness about sex and intimacy topics in family and in the French land freaks out the hypochondriac guy no end. To say nothing of putting up with the verbal duels that the girl keeps on having with mum, minicab drivers, exes who are almost-paedophiles and a dad who scratches cars parked on pavements with his keys, bathrooms with moulds, condoms that are too small, and organic French grocery markets where skinned piglets and rabbit tongues are in the open. Its not any surprise he gets a bit freaked out and a little paranoid about the girl’s proximity to the guys around as the language barrier and a diametrically opposite way of everyday social protocol make things really tough.
But since, its a slice of life dramedy, the differences the couple have, the misunderstandings and all–they get resolved like they always do; when you have two people with a same world view, sense of humour, who’re all heart and who’re genuinely exasperated by the whole shabang of the “break-up”, it does come together in the end, or does it? Eternal Love or compromise in the end then?
There’s Delpy’s awesomely sincere monologue with all things that exasperate her-from the endless photo-clicking on night outs and sightseeing (is that jibe timely or what for us facebook addicts!) to when she confesses to the audience how there comes a point in time when you don’t want to start all over again, and how she’s still puzzled by how people can go from loving each other madly to nothing at all. Midway through, her difference of opinion with Jack about how she’s friends with her ex-es play on the same note, the neuroticism of this character resonated resoundingly with me. It is immensely sincere and as I said before, very assured a debut where the director has the audience by the collar and knows her characters inside out. Delpy’s totally adorable and so caring, so unpretentious and so unflinchingly French, your heart goes out to her despite all her eccentricities. The conversation romcom is cute, keenly observed, and the lead characters are consistently spontaneous. The most interesting part is, even though you as a viewer hear Delpy’s monologue all the way through and the perspective totally switch to her in the final pivotal scene, it is as much an Adam Goldberg’s movie as besides everything else, it is a movie about cross-cultural relationships and unsubtitled, your identification to his viewpoint and the stuff that ticks him off as an English-speaking person is instant. Its a little gem of a movie, totally in line with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset about what its really like to be in a relationship. Atleast for me.
3:10 to Yuma (2007): §§§§§§§§§ (9.5 on 10)
Never in this lifetime would I have believed to like a Western so much, until I watched this one. Its an absolutely fantastic Western drama with a bewitching background score and supremo performances by Bale, Crowe and the whole ensemble. It works so well because its more of a character driven drama where a prisoner plays off his captors by more of his verbal acrobatics and smooth tongue than his christ-engraved pistol. He would probe where they stand, try to buy them off, and then in the final act, give in to the bond shared by a family-man-but-no-hero rancher and his eager-for-a-role-model elder son. Or does he? The final act absolutely seals it in my all time favourites, as Crowe performs with class, wit and totally tuned-in emotion. And no-one does the quiet suffering and pent-up angry male as Bale. Very interesting supporting characters too (Ben Foster in the career-defining sidekick role) , and just overall, a very mobile movie that doesn’t bore for a second (this whole trek to catch the 3:10 to Yuma really keeps things going and simmering). Fabulous morality play that totally redeemed Mangold as a director for me. Very enjoyable and not at all disposable. Compulsive viewing.
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (Romanian) (2008): §§§§§§§§ (8.5 on 10)
I watched this one back in January with crappy subtitles and despite the fact that I was still absolutely able to tap into this story of two friends, one of whom is raring to have an abortion, in late 80s Romania, means somewhere someone got a lot of things right. And that someone is the director and the casting director who cast Anamaria-the girl who gives an absolutely winning performance as a wholly sacrificing friend who arranges and does everything for her friend’s abortion. The everyman heroism that her character has, and the values that it embodies-of friendship, trust, compassion, and most of all sacrifice at the cost of her own life is very heart-wrenching, and hits you much after the movie’s ended. Soon after her character is raped (to make up for the total sum of money for the abortionist), she has to hurry to her boyfriend’s mother’s birthday party, and there’s this one scene where she sits at the dining table with all the “educated” and classist elders who, like most elders invariably do, chide away her generation as being pampered, and how people from simple families don’t deserve allotments etc, and this girl’s stoic composure even as her eyes sway with frustration, anger and shock of what transpired barely an hour back, is a scene to behold. And then there’s the whole sequence with the abortionist itself, its a winningly written, directed and performed scene where the 2 hapless girls try to convince the abortionist they’ll pay the full dues for the abortion. Its probably one of the most tension filled, personal conversation I’ve seen, and the movie’s ability to capture the human pathos in so much honesty makes it worthy of all the accolades. The style is very minimalist and realistic and in noway does the extraneous setting of Romania intrudes overtly (except for every official’s callous attitude and obsession with IDs–both very Indian attitudes). But a very humane movie, all in all. A grim and unflinching watch!
Movies I saw in 2007 titled 0-9:
300 (2007): §§§§§§§§ (8 on 10)
What happens when you mate contemporary video-game production design with swords, shields, crowns, sandals, kings and wars? You have something as thrilling and as sensorily overwhelming as 300. Stylish to the core, bordering on homoeroticism and sporting a thumping score, the movie’s charm is in the combat scenes where every move of the choreographed action can be enjoyed in slow motion. Besides being ultrastylish, the two plus two storyline is equally compelling to watch for its simplicity and unambiguity, something of a rarity in these post-modern times. The preposterousness of the politics of the “committee of the wizened and the learned” who wouldn’t send backup to its courageous ruler simply because he’s taken 300 of the best human killing machines as the queen struggles to get her point across in that uproariously written speech has a deft contemporary sensibility about it and the delineation of black and white is so clear and powerful, it has your attention. Its filled with those old-school scenes of unambiguous emotions when courageous people are fighting in outworldly circumstances: like that somewhat cliched wail of a mighty old warrior who sees his son decapitated in plain sight–its wonderfully simple in its virtuosity. But perhaps more than anything else, its the no-holds-barred and fight-till-I-drop spirit of the brave Spartans that you take away long after the movie’s finished. Honour and valour never had such an unquestioning ode from the otherwise bloated, tired war movie genre where attention to detail usually detracts from the heart and core. Let’s thank Zack Snyder for making us all feel like we were holding shields and spears ourselves when it was only popcorn and coke. And Gerald Butler too, for making us believe in every syllable of “Hail Sparta!”
25th Hour (2002): §§§§§§§§§ (9 on 10)
Simply put, this is Spike Lee at his best. The director turns even a seemingly turgid premise of a drug addict gone introspective on his last day of freedom before a seven year jail term into a story that’s so sincere and so humane, its spell-binding. Boasting of virtuoso performances from Edward Norton (watch him swear at everything that New York stands for in front of a mirror or pleading his best mates to pulp his face or the final 30 minutes as he drives away with his dad to the prison is the stuff great cinema’s made of), Barry Pepper, Brian Cox and Philip Seymour Hoffman, a background score that’s fresh and haunting and characterisations plus sequences so sincere and real, you can’t get them out of your head. Manipulativeness is replaced by languid geniality which might make the first half a tad difficult to get into, but stay put and if you are a sucker for nostalgia in real life, you’d be rooting for everyone and everything this movie stands for. The story arc is fantastic, you won’t be able to guess the next thing happening and you’d be surprised how honestly it captures a man’s desire for redemption and that “one more chance” in life.
My commentary hasn’t finished yet, by the looks of my log though,
Scenes that stood out for me: 4 most noteworthy:
1. Ed’s outburst in the bathroom mirror where he monologues away to his reflection how pissed he really is with everyone and everything that’s New York.
2. Then, the scene where Ed demands his friend Barry to make him ugly. The whole unflinching sequence right from he’s pulped by his friend, to the way he swaggers away into his girlfriend’s arms, l remember secretly sobbing through it all. Just thereafter, his dad Brian Cox telling him to drive away to prison while his girlfriend goes to the fridge for ice cubes-it felt REAL, so real I thought I was hallucinating.
3. Finally, his dad’s monologue of how Ed could just run away and start afresh (which is very interesting a tag-on because without it the movie would have been very visceral if a tad too depressing. With that monologue and Ed’s dream tagged on, the picture of hope painted towards the really emotionally heavy fag-end of the movie really turns up the mood and yes, the final shot of ed sleeping on his windscreen is open to interpretation (are they actually making a run? Is he dreaming?). Any which way, its an inspiring and deeply affecting movie (90% so because the characters are so lovingly sketched).. its almost like you become one with ed’s character towards the latter half (since he really is a good man) and you really don’t want him behind the bars and you’ve so enjoyed every moment on screen with him.
4. The random subplot of Hoffman’s character’s affair with a student, not only is a fab attention diverter and relief tactic, but also makes the whole movie filled with one more old-school home truth- a geeky friend who accompanies them to the bar, is the butt of most of their jokes but is the 1st one to shoulder his pulped friend on a shoulder, this movie really is just all heart.
Loved the background score throughout (Spike’s got an achilles heel for Indian music–I like that, even though at times it sits awkwardly for me atleast, but overall, the experiment pays off where the score never intrudes/manipulates the viewer. And it is a film that’s going to shine brighter with a second viewing as u then for sure know what’s going to happen to Ed. Its his last day before he goes to prison (boy, the scene in the bar where he breaks down in front of his best mate is class), there’ll be nostalgia for 1st-time suckers of this movie like me, and boy its gonna be worth it. So looking forward to another watch.
Probably the best book adaptation I have seen and a resounding reminder that Spike Lee really knows his movies, his humour and his action. Class!
13 Conversations about One Thing (2001): §§§§§§ (6 on 10)
A drifting, maudlin, multiple-stories-interjecting around a common theme movie that supposedly talks about happiness. Supposedly being the operative word. The soporific and sleep-inducing background score aside, it is a very organic and real movie with some really believable performances (Especially Alan Arkin who rocks as the boss who’s pissed at an employee with a perpetual smile on face…haha). Only problem being that it probably takes itself a little too seriously and there’s a slight stink of pretension in one of the story arcs of this girl who breaks into a moronic lecture about looking at the life’s bright side even in the face of cold unpredictability (she’s just been bumped by a car when she was walking down the road holding the ironed shirt of an architect she works for and even after the accident, she buys a new shirt and goes back to return it only to be confronted by the sod who suspects she’s stolen his watch).
And then there’s Matthew McCaunahey’s character who in his sanctimonious mode after winning a case is lecturing everyone how he’s worked it all out and he’s so lucky and more such blah blah to Arkin and then just when he thinks he rules the world he bumps a girl on the road. And his world falls apart as he hides his crime and his whole belief on how justice prevails in the world is shaken. Its reasonably well done.
The last story arc is about this professor who enters an affair with a fellow teacher but on the day when he gets to know that its going nowhere since the hubby’s found out, his rebuking a keen student sends the latter off the rooftop really amplifies how even the littlest things we do or say can have such an effect on another person’s state of mind. Actually I like this movie more as I write about it but then some movies are deceptive like that. Awesome on paper, mediocre on screen. Still, its a middlingly atmospheric movie with good performances that says nothing exceptionally new but for its believability begs one watch maybe.
28 Weeks Later (2007):§§§§§§§ (7 on 10)
I had absolutely given up on zombie movies now. Until this movie. It managed to somewhat freak even a zombie-immunised soul like me with some nicely staged action sequences, good quality acting, exhaustingly different camera techniques to spook one out (the torchlight, the night camera, the tracker… hell every camera and lens kind is experimented with), its pretty ambitious, but really the storyline’s got zero credibility (oh stop the moaning I should!) and what spirals the whole movie off is two kids purposely doing a stupid thing (like they do in these horror flicks, it is such a regular thing, I should stop bemoaning its existence as well. Bah!).
Scenes that rocked it: The helicopter-chopping-zombie scene, the chase sequence where the people are chased trapped in a volvo through increasingly smoke-infested london streets, then the scene where all the mortals are trapped in the parking lot and a zombie enters and starts off a snowball of biting each other… quickly thereafter the orders for military to eliminate everyone-zombie or not.
So yea, its a stretch, but the one time watch was quite entertaining and the attention to detail in creating a mood was laudable at times. And more than anything, it was good enough to be one of the few creditworthy sequels that lived up to the now-modern-cult-classic original (Boyle’s 28 Days Later), and I am waiting for the sequel in the making. Hail the big studios turning every little germ of an idea that gets their money back into a money-milking franchise of diminishing creative returns. I hope this one-in-the-making proves me wrong, although I highly doubt it.
36 Chowringhee Lane (Bengali) (1981): §§§§§ (5 on 10)
An Aparna Sen-directed movie of which I really had heard about quite a lot. Underwhelming and ho-hum by the end of it all I have to say. So an old teacher in an old-age home has been estranged by her daughters (married and gone off abroad) and an erstwhile student who bumps into her takes advantage of her by using her home as a sod-pad tricking all the way through the poor lady into thinking that him and his partner really care for her. By the end of it, the couple move on to better pastures forgetting about the old lady (as it happens in life). I won’t deny that the issues handled here are real (the loneliness that envelopes the old age, of people moving on and the place of the spoken word in the contemporary sensibility) but somehow I wasn’t impressed by the Shakespearen style acting and the bookish dialogue. The dialogue and the acting’s very mannered, almost as if every actor’s learned the British and Scottish colloquialisms and figure of speeches the day before. I also thought the whole movie was ham-handed, patronising and manipulative, which is a surprise since its an arthouse classic; but it is what it is: too theatrical to touch me in any way.
Moving on to the first alphabet now!