Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July Blind Spot: Jalsaghar(The Music Room)

Couple of years ago when I was doing my Masters in US, one of my university friends was kind enough to lend me his copy of Apu trilogy. This was my first and so far only excursion into cinematic world of Satyajit Ray, probably the only Indian director with a worldwide fame and following. Considering how successful that experiment went, (it certainly was a success, so much so that Pather Panchali(1955) sits prettily in my personal ‘Top 100’) it is rather sad that I never saw any of his other films since. So I put one of his films on this year’s blind spot list, since that is what this list is for – to get rid of such blemishes.

Even though it is directed by Satyajit Ray, considering this is a Bengali film, this film also provides me a unique opportunity. Usually films I choose for this list are those which are supposed to have been seen my most people. So I try not to get into plot details and other usual suspects of review. But I would be very surprised if many of those who frequent this place would have seen this movie. So, for a change, I get to frame this post as a traditional review.

Jalsaghar(1958) or The Music Room, as it is known internationally, is a story of Biswambhar Roy, a last of his kind landlord which means he is basically a royalty in areas surrounding vast pieces of lands he owns. It also used to mean that everyone leaving in that area would depend on him for their livelihood but his estate is in dilapidated state. He has inherited lands that are being depleted by river nearby and there is not much he can do about it. So he has the title and even respect of the people that comes with it but no perquisites that usually follow.

But his status in the community means he has to live pompous life his ancestors did, even if it is only to put up a show for others and pinnacle of his ostentation is his music room. His music room is where he would invite some of the best artists - singers, dancers, musicians - to put up a show for him and would invite most important people around to accompany him. Even being a part of this group would mean your entry in landlord's innermost circle and indication of your elevated social status.

Only problem here, however, is Biswambhar Roy's estate is running on fumes and can not really afford all this extravagance. He even has to sell family jewels of Roy family that have been passed on for generations to pay for initiation ceremony of his son but even this doesn't deter him from his flamboyance. His wife tries to open his eyes but there is no other way he can live by and in the end, he succumbs to illusion of his grandeur, leaving his his last two remaining servants helpless witnesses of this event. His manager, who handles all his financial business and other things related to his lands, is solemn, worried where this might lead to while his man servant is almost giddy to see his master back to his old ways months after. [SPOILER]What he doesn't realize is this is candle burning brightest before extinguishing[SPOILER END].

Jalsaghar was Satyajit Ray's only third film; he made it between second and third installment of Apu trilogy. But, even though this was obvious right from Pather Panchali, sensibilities of this film are of a seasoned film maker. Premise of changing times and someone who once prospered in it failing to adapt to these times is not exactly novel. But what makes it work despite being the same old story is Satyajit Ray's handling with a knack of seasoned storyteller. He knows what he is going for, how he wants to get there and he does so right on the money.

He highlights hollowness of Roy's lifestyle from very first frame. His idiosyncratic behaviour to keep up with it and cling on to stupid notions of his false status only make him more miserable and Ray does not flinch from showing this. But he doesn't make him spineless which makes it much more interesting character; someone I genuinely cared for despite being rather vain. He is not without his values, however vain they might be and not without his qualities either, however crazy they might be especially under the given circumstances.

Chhabi Biswas, playing protagonist Biswambhar Roy, makes it even more impressive with great range he puts on display here - from someone who is lordly from head to toe, riding his beautiful horse Moti to a hollow shell of that man we see in the very first scene with no idea of time and date. His ease and command with which he slips into persona of Biswambhar Roy also played major role in making me sympathetic towards him, despite all his glaring faults.

While Roy is seeing the last days of his fading glory, Ray makes this story even more contrasting by adding character of Mohit Ganguly, son of userer leaving nearby, and making him a rising star. Roy constantly feels threatened by him as quite possibly he is looking to replace him. There are quite a few confrontational scenes between the two in film and almost every single one of them would find its place on highlight reel. Ganguly, being a self made man still not used to be a part of dignified society around him, is like a new kid on playing ground; always uncomfortable around Roy. And Roy, possibly because he himself not comfortable with his rise, constantly trying to cross him.

And finally, Indian classical music that is featured so richly in this film. I have to admit one thing though - however deplorable this guy might be, he certainly had a good taste in music. If you have any liking towards this kind of music, three concerts featured in this film alone are more than enough to make Jalsaghar worth a watch. Having artists from all over perform at your doorsteps like this, used to be a kingly habit of the class that Roy is last remnant. And Ray doesn't use them only to as a showcase of classical music but makes them very much integral parts of whole narrative. I feel really happy after getting back on Ray bandwagon with this film but this time I really hope my next stop won't be after another two years.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wrapping it up: June

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. On to the movies of then...

June



United 93(2006): The fact that this was the earliest Best Director nominated film I had not seen proved to be one final push I needed to check this off my watch list and if I wasn't a fan of Greengrass' direction after Captain Phillips(2013) last year, I certainly am now. People usually call The Social Network(2010) a real 'Director's film' and while I love absolutely everything about TSN, if you ask me - I would point you to this one! And hey, Olivia Thirby, was that... you?



Mutiny on the Bounty(1935): When it comes to films based on real life events, I have special respect for those who dare to show things like they were rather than dramatizing them to land more punch.This film deserves that. They easily could have dramatized actually mutiny much more or cut aftermath of it. Charles Laughton deserves special mention for his amazing performance as Captain Bligh. But what I really want to know about it is this - How does a film win Best picture and nothing else?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962): Off course I had heard quite a lot about rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis which gave all the more dimensions to this film and knew few things about Crawford because of some references to Mommie Dearest(1981) but this is a first movie I have seen her in. As good as she is in this, it was all about Bette Davis though. I have seen her in few other films and she is always good but here she is crazy good. And I never saw final reveal coming which adds so much to whole story.

Atlantic City(1980): So I had never seen a Louis Malle film before in my life and then I saw two in a week. This was first of the two. Burt Lancaster, in whichever role and in whichever film I have seen him in, has always stolen a film for me. Once again, he was as clinical as ever though this time Susan Sarandon was able to match him. I always forget how good an actress she is until I see her in one.

Au revoir, les enfants(1987): Second of Malle double feature and this month's Blind Spot. Malle's treatment of this film is not what you might expect from a movie on such topic. We are more used to sensory overloads that attack you from every possible angle and make you cry bucketful. Malle underplays every single scene in this film and still makes it equally devastating by the end. And very young Irene Jacob pops up which is never a bad thing. More here.

Bloody Sunday(2002): Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle gets all the credit for this one though me having seen United 93 this month and having loved it played a part in it as well. I was quite eager to get to another of Greengrass' work and his post gave me the right push. I feel like I am doing a disservice to many fantastic actors in Greengrass' films because they do a great job of portraying his vision with authenticity but once again, I think it is his direction that shines the most here.

25th Hour(2002): So Spike Lee can make a movie without bringing racial elements into it after all. I know there is Inside Man(2006) as well and then last year's Oldboy(2013) but this one is far better than either of them. In fact, this might be my favourite of his though I have hardly seen about 5. Also, I never knew David Benioff had any sort of writing career before GoT. I say this because screenplay was one of the stronger suits of this film. And I can not not mention Barry Pepper. He was a beast!



The Queen(2006): As I have explained my situation with getting through the rest of Best Picture winners before, I have also shortlisted 5 films that were nominated for Best Picture in last 15 years that I haven't seen. For some reason, getting through this list isn't much different and I thank God, rather I thank Helen Mirren, for not making this any worse. She was absolutely exquisite in that role though I was rather surprised by the time period Frears chose to highlight Queen Elizabeth.

Blazing Saddles(1974): When I was 9, I watched certain western comedy which, by now, I only remember bits and pieces of. For the past few years, I have been trying to figure out which one was it and my search for it brought me to this one this month. Well, it wasn't the one I was looking for but at least it was a good western comedy. Last 15 minutes of it were a bit too much for me but that is the risk you have to take with comedies. You never know what will stick. And I really enjoyed rest of it to hold any serious grudge against it.

Key Largo(1948): I have been holding this one off for far too long. John Huston at the helm, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall with him. In addition, Edward G. Robinson whom, I will be honest, I have not seen except in Double Indemnity(1944). What's not to like? It is a John Huston film all right and all the key players are good at their jobs but it was Edward G. Robinson who took the cake. I loved his viciousness of manner and calmness of demeanor and effortless transition from one to another.







The Grand Budapest Hotel(2014): It was like some strange mixture of live action and stop motion which probably would have looked much better if it was either of the two all the way through. It was all pretty and sweet and cute, even most of the cameos were really good but that does get old after a while and it lacked any foundation to fall back on. So even at 100 minutes of its length, it already was rather repetitive, laughable and even inconsequential. If not for consistent acting throughout, this would have been insufferable.

The Age of Innocence(1993): I never expected Martin Scorsese to make a movie like this but I guess not only did he make it, he did what seems quite out of his wheelhouse quite well must be one of the reasons he is Martin Scorsese. Though I wish I had more good things to say about this film. I liked it reasonably enough but for no fault of its own, I can not say I loved it. It's just that I am getting rather tired of period pieces, especially of upper class and their uptight manners and ways.

Mrs. Miniver(1942): I did not love it but felt it was decent enough. My only problem was it never looked like Miniver family had much at stake. Even though there is a war going on and they were involved with it in a way, it was rather casual. It was never brought into their house; up until last half hour or so that is which certainly up the ante. All in all, I am glad to have nother one of the list and thankfully, it wasn't much of a task. Oh, and, did I give you the count? This one is 73rd. 14 more to go now.

Woman of the Year(1942): Except for the fact that this is a story from a woman's point of view where we must have had multiple similar stories from a man's POV, I fail to see any novelty in this film. I don't really have much criticism to offer, except that it was rather run of the mill story, but I don't have many praises for it either. Real highpoint for it was Hepburn butchering Tracy's kitchen in the last scene. I kept expecting him to break into some sort of moral lecture. Is it my fault that he does so in every film I have seen him in?







Robocop(2014): There was about half an hour just before the end that made it somewhat worth it because otherwise only word that kept coming to my mind for the rest of it was - bloated. Direction and script will have to bear major blame for it as it felt like everyone started off thinking we are going to make a great film but had no idea how. I mean, for all it's worth, it was released in February aka Studio Dumpster and it even doesn't know that. Who takes itself that seriously in February?

Total Count: 15. 15 First Time Watches and 0 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 102. 95 First Time Watches and 7 Re-watches.

Once again, not the most productive month even by my current low standards but I certainly saw few good ones. Actually, I don't think I have had a 4 and 1/2 starred film in few months. There were couple of surprises as well. Some I have been keeping for too long that paid off like 25th Hour and United 93 and some I had no idea and turned out to be quite awesome like Black Sunday. All in all, I am quite satisfied at this lot even though it is a short haul.

So, how was your month? Did you see anything interesting? What do you think of the movies I saw? Any favorites?

Friday, June 27, 2014

June Blind Spot: Au revoir, les enfants

For various reasons, World War II has been a topic that fascinates me a lot and it continues to do so to this day, even after reading many books and seeing films covering multiple facets of this monstrous event. WWII was a kind of event that tested everyone it touched to the limit of their existence. I believe the way we respond in the event of great adversity is what really defines us as humans and this event offered many such opportunities. I am usually game for anything that involves WWII but if it is anything as revered as Au revoir, les enfants(1987), it validates my inclusion in Blind spot list.

Though it didn’t go down exactly as we see in the film and almost certainly not with Malle at the center of it, Louis Malle, who directed this film, witnessed events this film is based on first hand. Three Jewish students and one Jewish teacher were captured from Roman Catholic boarding school Malle was attending when he was 11 and sent to concentration camps along with their head master who suffered for harbouring them. His fateful last words while being led away by officers, “Au revoir, les infants! À bientôt!”, make for title of this film.

This is a film about budding friendship between two boys which gets clipped under very sad circumstances. This is story of Julien Quentin and Jean Bonnet in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Bonnet is a sort of recluse, even more so since he is new to Julien’s Catholic boarding school.  Julien isn’t the most popular guy either but at least he is comfortable with most everyone else. Bonnet goes through the same old routine that I imagine every person trying to break into close-knit group like boarding school can be has to go through. But slowly, he and Julien get closer and become very good friends; only to have to face dire consequences of it.

Maybe I am more like Julien in that way but to me, it wasn’t obvious from the start that Bonnet is a Jew hiding from getting captured. I mean, it was obvious that something was wrong by the way he is introduced but not what exactly. Julien never knows difference between a Jew and a gentile either. If I had not known what this film is about, it really would have been a big surprise for me too to figure it out. What’s more surprising for me is throughout the film, no one actually directly tells us so either. That is until Nazis come knocking on school doors looking for them. It becomes all obvious then!

For first half or so, this movie is about an outsider trying to fit in as best as he can and finding an unlikely friend in someone who never really became an insider despite being part of that world. A Jew in hiding, Nazi occupied France or 1944 have nothing to do with any of that. Two boys form a tenuous relationship at first which only gets stronger and stronger with every experience they share. And then doubt creeps in. Julien finds out Bonnet is not his friend’s real name. He sees him praying one night and that adds to it. I am not sure if he ever puts two and two together, maybe he does based on the way he looks at Bonnet in the restaurant, but once again Malle is content with ambiguity.

Among all this ambiguity, however, there is one moment which is as clear as sunlight. Even though Malle has said that actual events did not transpire exactly like he showed in a film, this is a moment that will haunt you for the rest of your life. When German soldiers get into their class asking for certain Jean Kipplestein, Julien remembers that name to be his friend's and with boyish curiosity tries to steal a glance at him past Nazi officer. Immediate gasp left my lips. That one look of curiosity blows Bonnet's cover and leads him to his eventual death. Like every other emotion that Malle keeps in check, he never makes this film about over bearing guilt of unknowingly sending someone to gallows but that's what hangs over it in the end. 

Malle never goes for over sentimentality. Even in the end when Nazis knock on school door, where he had every chance of being melodramatic, he keeps melodrama in check. I don’t want to take any cheap shot at Spielberg or Schindler’s List(1993) because I love that film and even think it’s better than this one but I do want to mention it if only for stark emotional contrast in the way they handle similar situation and still make it just as devastating. Schindler's List is a relentless, full-on attack on your emotions that turns you into a blabbering mess. You don't even realize the effect Au revoir, les enfants has on you almost till the last moment when those fateful words are uttered. It totally stumped me but only response it got out of me was a "Wow!" and sigh.

Malle himself considers this to be his most important film. It most certainly his most personal and given the subject at hand and, even more importantly, almost autobiographical nature of this incident, there should not be any doubt about that. I haven’t seen most of Malle’s work; in fact only Atlantic City(1980) which I saw only a couple of days before this one. But given the reputation of rest of his work, this might even be his best one and that is not a slight in the slightest.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wrapping it up: May

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. Not much to add here so lets get to the movies of this month...

May



Departures(2008): I had never heard of this film for a long time and I probably never would've if I didn't go digging into Best Foreign Film winners list but I am so glad I did because this is a beautiful film. It's about a rather unpleasant business - a guy working as encoffineer, preparing dead for funerals and it easily could have been very sad or disturbing. But most of it is rather funny and all of it is a delicate and touching story. I kept on thinking that something will go wrong or might get weird at some point but it was so beautifully handled that it warmed my heart.

Day for Night(1973): I haven't been a big fan of either Godard or Trauffaut. Godard is bit better; at least there are couple I can say I like. As for Trauffaut, I have only seen three but I found even getting through two of them to be a task. Things they do never seemed anything more than gimmicky to me. And first film I see them going back to almost conventional film making is one I like almost unconditionally. Lot of people consider it to be the best film about films. Well, it is no 8 1/2(1963) but it is still a damn fine competition. And Jacqueline Bisset looks divine!

Do the Right Thing(1989): I haven't seen many of Spike Lee's films but his films come with a specific agenda and he tries too hard to shove it down our throat. This one is bit different because here he only gives us a perspective. That's the best thing you can do - leave a viewer with perspective and let him take choose a side. Another thing I like here is Sal is a nuanced, well developed character. Probably the most developed and that makes what goes down even more troubling. I respect this film for making me introspect many such things.

In a Lonely Place(1950): I have never seen a Nicholas Ray film before but I have a reason for it - I usually have problem liking stories with despicable lead, however good story might be. And his movies are known to be sympathetic of his troubled leads. This film, which I had heard a lot about and hence was anticipating it quite highly, however, proved to be an exception. Probably because it never sugarcoats how troubled Bogart's Dixon Steele is. And mystery that comes with is what makes it worth it.

End of Watch(2013): I came back from a wedding that day and didn't want to watch anything overly dramatic. I chose this because from what I knew, this felt like a lighter choice. I was completely wrong but I loved this one. So I am happy, I finally saw it. Right from the way it is shot, it is very different and I loved the path this story takes. Both Gyllenhaal and Pena make it even better and if anyone doesn't already know or has forgotten, let me remind everyone. Anna Kendrick. She. Is. Awesome!



Highway(2014)(Hindi): Randeep Hooda isn't bad, certainly not as bad as I thought he would be but lets admit - this was Alia Bhatt show. She looked really good in 2 States(2014) promos as well but there is no chance in seven hells that I am going anywhere near that film. So I will be content with judging her from this. She fell short in the most important couple of scenes at the end, yes, but I think she did a good job for the rest of it. And this is just her 2nd movie, man! Who knows, maybe one day with little more experience, she will even own those scenes as well.

Safety Last(1923): This month's Blind Spot. As I mentioned in the post, Lloyd is the last of classic comedians I was exposed to. About year and half ago was the first time I heard his mention in relation to Safety Last and that iconic climb of Bolton building in the end. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it got over. It's just 70 minutes long and secondly, even though Mark Harris does mention this in his documentary, I was rather surprised by how much time it gives to that climb.

Nashville(1975): I have seen a few Altman films by now to know about his style of large ensemble pieces and multiple overlapping story lines. There is no doubt that he can handle them really well and he does it here as well. I like what he does with this one, handling multiple aspect of this city at once - political, musical, personal - from multiple point of views. But I still feel like I haven't really 'got' this. I am not sure if there is supposed to be something common, other than Nashville off course, that brings them together. Is there anything Altman trying to tell us?

Paris, je t'aime(2006): I have been meaning to watch this one for too long. My only real complaint is they were too short; some because I really wanted to see more of and some because I felt like nothing happened at all. Gurinder Chadda, Coen Brothers, Wes Craven, Cuaron and Isabel Coixet fall in first, Bruno Podalydes, Christopher Doyle, Vincent Natalie and Chomet in second. But the real star was Margo Martindale. Sure, Payne deserves part of credit but what she was able to do just with her eyes was incredible!

The Counterfeiters(2007): Another one of films I had not even heard of until I picked it up watch from Best Foreign Film winners list. Another reason I chose this over others was I always feel like I haven't seen many German films. It's rather strange - I probably have seen most of the notable ones and there are many more languages I have seen less films in than German, I am sure, but for some reason I always like that about German films. None other! It was a good film to check out from both the lists, that's for sure.

Ninotchka(1939): Billy Wilder is one of my absolute favourite directors and obviously most of it is due to his astute writing. Since he considered Ernst Lubitsch to be his Guru in that area, I was pretty excited to watch some of Lubitsch's own movies. I did go for one of his best films or well-known films to start off but he did not disappoint me. Having Wilder himself with him writing for him might have helped as well. It was little simplistic perhaps but it is such a beautiful and heartfelt story.

All That Jazz(1979): First of Bob Fosse's duo I wish check off the list. I chose this over Cabaret(1972) just because it won Palme d'Or and Cannes was this month. It was really good. Sure, lot of them appeared in second half but at least earlier, most numbers were blended so well, I didn't even realize it was a musical. Second half dragged a lot once it starts going down or it would have been a bracket higher. I don't know anything about Fosse himself but I like that despite being such a dick, at least he can be so self critical.

A Serious Man(2009): Have you ever liked a film but hated every single character in it? It might be Coen Brothers doing their thing and doing it quite well but I think I just did. Coens have always at there best when they are handling dark comediy but this is completely another level of it. There was not a single character in this film that I wouldn't love to beat the living shit out of, including Larry Gopnik, but I think this polarizing reaction is what Coens must be going for because they never try to dial it down for even 1 minute. 

 

A Place in the Sun(1951): After watching An American in Paris(1951) last month, I checked out it's competition this month and though I had problems with this one as well, there is no denying that this was far superior than less than ordinary Best Picture winner. I liked it quite a bit but my only problem with the film was it felt like running on little below full throttle. Every time it seemed like reaching its peak, it would lose its steam and settle on idling mode. I usually love Liz Taylor but she mostly felt like wasted here.

Cheap Thrills(2014): I actually do not have a whole lot to say about this film. It seems to be sort of medium budget indie film that started with an idea that looked great. It keeps on climbing till the end and that part was interesting enough though it did gross me halfway through. And when it does aim for the peak in the end but for some reason, it didn't really hit me hard enough, or at all for that matter. The 3 pointer buzzer beater to win it all was just an air ball for me. NBA Playoffs are going on right now. So I think you will allow me that reference.

Out of Sight(1998): There are many things I liked about this film, like great chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez that hardly anyone ever talks about, and there is only one thing that I have problem with but it kept me bugging throughout this film. I have problem with sort of minimalist presentation of this film. I am pretty sure that is exactly what Soderbergh was going for as I was reminded of Haywire(2011) time and again but it kept me taking out of the film. Anyone will tell you that's never a good thing!

Godzilla(2014): It was exactly what I expected it to be. I wasn't expecting story to make whole lot of sense. Hell, even to have someone that resembles it would asking be a lot. I wasn't expecting any high class acting, though Elizabeth Olsen did stand out especially against Aaron Taylor Johnson who looked like he had no clue why he's there, or much else for that matter. All I wanted was none of it to suck too hard and a visual treat. Some thrills would be nice too! And it delivered all of that. Last big fight was so bitching, I loved it!

 

The Lego Movie(2014): The only thing I can say about this film, I guess, is it so wasn't for me. I never got into this movie for even a second. Checking your watch every two minutes gets really boring after a while. I know there are many people who liked this movie a lot, all age groups alike and it got lot of praise at the tile of its release but it was too childish and superficial for my taste. I literally started rolling my eyes in first 5 minutes and it only got worse; so much that there was serious danger of it being first film I walked out on.

Total Count: 18. 18 First Time Watches and 0 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 87. 80 First Time Watches and 7 Re-watches.

Considering it was another hectic month away fro this blog, I am quite happy with the tally for this month. If it was anything, it was a month of themed weekends. Almost all the weekends of this month, I went on small binges with some theme in mind. First, I saw three 2014 films in a week. Next week was Best Foreign film Oscar winners which, with inclusion of Departures and Day for Night, was definitely the most successful of all binges. Third was rather unsuccessful but I was planning on watching Palme d'Or winners because of the Cannes film festival that took place this month but all I managed was All That Jazz. I gave up on watching Underground(1995) after couple of attempts were interrupted multiple times.

So, how was your month? Did you see anything interesting? What do you think of the movies I saw? Any favorites?
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