Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wrapping it up: September

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings... 

This was one of the best months I have had. I have always been choosy about which film I want to watch and when but my selection this month was very last minute. Usually that would mean less than spectacular results and that makes me even more surprised because, against all odds, I rated three films 4 and 1/2 stars this month. I am usually quite liberal when rating movies but I have a strict policy of allowing extravagance of 5 stars to only 10 films at a time. So considering this, these three films below have achieved even bigger feat. If not for my personal quirk, they easily could have been perfect. Let us get on to the movies of this month.


Splendor in the Grass(1961): Sometimes you just don't know which movie will connect with you and why? This was case with me for this Elia Kazan vehicle. I never thought I will like this film so much but I was really taken by the maturity with which Kazan handles this subject and transformation both the leads go through. And my respect grew even further by the way he chose to end this film. We are so used to neat endings that it was really refreshing to see someone saying life isn't always perfect. Sometimes you just have to roll with it and make most of what you get. 

Kandahar(2001): This was one of the hardest to watch films for me. And what makes it even more frustrating is there is no resolution at the end of it. None of Iranian films I have seen are entertainers but this is much more hard hitting than anything else I have seen. Makhmalbaf made it such a personal story that I was never able to take my eyes off it, even when I repeatedly wanted to. I think what he was trying to do in this film was to make a case for humanity even in the most adverse situation and in my books this is a glorious success.

Cafe de Flore(2011): I'd like to repeat What I said above for Splendor in the Grass - I never thought I'd love it as much as I did. It reminds me so much of The Broken Circle Breakdown(2013) last year. It is just as heartbreaking and intense, both have shocking ends, both handle parallel narratives really well and both have strong ties to music. The way this film jumps between two stories and connect them to each other is absolutely amazing. If I had seen this in 2011, it easily would have made my top 5 which shouldn't surprise you because Broken Circle was my number 2 last year. 

Awakenings(1990): This was one of the films I wanted to check out last month but couldn't fit in. Having two heavyweights in Robert De Niro and Robin Williams was definitely the biggest pull of this film. And biggest takeaway from this film should be - you should appreciate small things in life more. I am sure it sounds very corny when it is said in such a way but I guess that was biggest success of this film - making it look so natural. Another proof that despite primarily being known as comedian, Robin Williams was a very good dramatic actor.

Cabaret(1972): Even though I wanted to scratch this film off my watch list, I have been wary of watching it given its musical format and loud nature. And All that Jazz(1979) from same director and with similar structure lost me in the last third. But I ended up enjoying this one a lot. Yes, it is loud and very musical-y but I think it has a structure to support its need. Plus, Liza Minnelli was absolutely amazing. Since it won most of its Oscars over The Godfather(1972), I also my doubts about quality of this film. But now I can see that it actually was a worthy contender for most of its wins. 

Monsieur Lazhar(2011): To tell you the truth, this movie doesn't really go anywhere. By the end of it, they haven't found any solution to most of the problems of either Bachir or his students. But it was told so beautifully that it didn't really matter to me. We learn so much about them that I would've loved to spend more time with them and that's success of this film. Another one is handling subject of real trauma or even being human without ever getting preachy. That is a very fine line that this movie treads so perfectly.

La Vie en Rose(2007): Obviously main draw for watching this film was Marion Cotillard's Oscar winning turn. I have seen very few Best Actress winners but even then this was one of the most glaring omissions from the list which I am more than happy to check off. Even more so since Cotillard did not disappoint at all. She really was a force to reckon with. The way he embodies Edith Piaf, even the physical transformation she goes through over the years, was astounding. Truly, a site to behold!

Shahid(2012)(Hindi): Despite having heard a lot of good things about this film, it took me its consideration for this year's Oscar submission to see this film. I am not sure why it's being considered now because it was properly released here in 2012 and even won Nationals for it. But I am really happy to see movies like this being made in Indian industry. What struck me most about this is how measured everything about this film is. Hansal Mehta never overdoes anything. And he does that with a cast of virtual unknowns though Rajkumar Rao, playing titular role, is household name now; but that was because he won National for this role.

Brief Encounter(1945): This month's Blind Spot. Everyone I know who has seen this film has given glowing review to this film. To tell you the truth, that might have put my expectations a little too high for it to match but I still liked it a lot. And it was nice to see a movie from David Lean's early British period, a man I have only known for making grand, sweeping epics. It was also great to see Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, both I've never seen anywhere else, who aren't traditionally beautiful couple but make it work solely based on their chemistry.

Skyfall(2013)(Re-watch): This is third time I am watching this which is at least three times more than any other Bond film I have seen except Casino Royale(2006). My DVD cover has a quote - it continues stripped down approach introduced in CR, taking even further Bond's transformation from kiss-kiss-bang-bang action figure to full-fledged character. Maybe that is why these two are the only Bond films I've seen multiple times. Plus Roger Deakins. I would always be in awe of what this man has done with Skyfall. Simply marvelous!

Mardaani(2014): 2014 can be called a year of female roles for Bollywood. It's already had multiple films driven by its leading ladies. Mardaani was a completely Rani Mukherjee vehicle and she does deliver here. This films has been generally praised but I don't understand some of the criticism it has received. I have my problems with it - I think this was a bollywoodised version of this story which would have been better served without it. But I don't have problem with involving Shivani Roy's personal life. Neither do I have problem with villain's Breaking Bad(2008) fascination. He hardly mentions it twice in whole film anyway.

How to Train Your Dragon 2(2014): When it comes to animated films, they don't always fall on the right side of me. As for Dreamworks, I don't think there is a single film that I can say I actually like. Well, that's except HTTYD including first part. I like first one much more but this was good enough successor. They should have given Valka more to do once they all get together as her introduction is very grand but payoff isn't much worth. Otherwise it has all the traits that make first one so good.

Coherence(2014): I rarely get a chance to see micro budgeted films like this but that is also one of the reasons I tend to like them more. You have to respect the way they make it worth your time despite all the limitations and this one was certainly worth every minute. I loved the concept of it and I loved its execution even more. I am especially in love with its ending - a sort of nudge that it isn't over yet. And cast - certainly the biggest highlight of this film with Emily Baldoni as its lead.

My Night with Maud(1969): To tell you the truth, I am really not sure why this film is considered so great? I was never bored and I can appreciate that Rohmer kept multiple long conversations thrughout this film interesting. We all know how difficult that can be but none of it really piqued my interest. Maybe because none of their topics were of any particular interest tome. Maybe I will find it fascinating after I grow little older. I am ready to give it that chance because it didn't put me to sleep either.

Chef(2014): I have not seen all the films Favreau has directed but looking at his filmography, I seriously have no idea where this movie came from. Well, wherever it came from, I am quite glad he did this because it is such a beautiful and personal film. It feels very honest and everyone in it, including Emjay Anthony who was a highlight for me, play their role with remarkable ease and sincerity. Apparently Favreau acquired culinary skills required for this role and it helps. Also, music he uses in the background throughout the film is very catchy.

Locke(2014): As good as this film is, I am really much more fascinated by the way this film was shot. Apparently, Hardy shot this film over 6 nights filming twice every night as it was shot in a single take. I didn't know about it earlier but while watching it, it actually felt like they are filming it in real time. It was like being in a passenger seat of that life changing one and half hour drive with Ivan Locke. Lots of props to Tom Hardy to go through this and do it so well. He is really amazing in it.

Tootsie(1982): Even though it was one of the funniest films I have seen, I would have liked it much more if it had some more laugh out loud moments. I loved many bits in it but just when I thought they should press their foot on the gas, it slowed down. More than once! I guess he was trying to maintain balance between funny and romantic and sweet. And I shuld be really ashamed to not have recognized Jessica Lange. I mean, she pretty much hasn't changed in the past 20 years but it took me whole film to recognize it's her.

Belle(2014): I don't have many things to hold against Belle but at the same time I don't have much to praise it. It's a well made film with a important story that should be told but I never really got into it. One of the major reasons for it could be my general apathy I have garnered over the past few years for British period pieces. It's not about movies but I find it very stiff and, in many cases, boring. So despite quite good intentions of everyone involved, including Tom Wilkinson, it just never got my complete attention.

Playtime(1967): After this film, I think I am pretty much done with Tati. I might watch Mon Oncle(1958) eventually but that would be for the sake completion. That's it! I saw Mr. Hulot's Holiday(1953) earlier and had pretty similar experience. My main beef with his films is that they are pointless. Maybe I am slave to the format but this films are two whole hours of NOTHING! I could have understood them being five minute skits but watching this for two whole hours was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life! Clearly, it's not for me.

Total Count: 19. 18 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 151. 142 First Time Watches and 9 Re-watches.

This was my first full month at new job and looking at the number of movies, I can safely say that I have settled down in this new schedule now and have even found a way to squeeze movies in it. I couldn't let almost 2 and half hours I spend traveling go waste, can I? It is not the most ideal way of watching movies but at least I get to watch them. I try not to watch CGI heavy films since I am on smaller screens and so far this has been a fruitful experience. But looking at the number of posts, I clearly haven't found a way to squeeze my writing into it yet. But this is just first month. I am hopeful everything will be much more normal in October.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

August Blind Spot: L'enfant

Dardennes Brothers are one of the directors who have garnered quite a reputation for themselves over the years. I became more and more aware of them as I got more into foreign cinema and their films became part of my ever growing watch list. I was under the impression that I have never seen any of their films and hence wanted to include one on this year's Blind spot list to give myself a start. I chose L'enfant(2005) because, with one of their two Palme d'Or, it seems to be their most revered film. I have been meaning to check out more Palme d'Or winners as well. Two birds in one stone, I thought. As it turns out, they directed The Kid with a Bike(2011) which I saw last year. So this wasn't really my first Dardennes film but regardless it was a worthy choice.

Like most other directors, most revered directors anyway, Dardenne brothers have their own style and their own formula and, from what I know, most of their films follow that track. Based on this, my first thought was what makes them so special if they are essentially making the same film again and again? What I can say right now is it’s their ability to tell what looks like same story from outside from different perspective and their ability to make us viewers relate with characters. And I felt it even more in reference to the character of Bruno in this film because saying that he is a despicable character is putting it very mildly. He is just about worst father that ever existed on the surface of this earth.

First of all, Bruno is an extremely irresponsible and deplorable guy from the start. He doesn’t even have a house and he almost scoffs at a notion of having a regular job. He lives either in a shelter or in his shack by the river. Sonia does have a small apartment rented but Bruno even sublets that to someone else when she is in a hospital for her delivery. As for job, Bruno has a 14 year old assistant who helps him do petty crimes like stealing. If you already hate him, I can't really blame you but there is much more to come yet. I haven't even started. Elephant in the room here is Bruno selling their 9 day old son in black market. I don't think this would count as a spoiler because if you one thing about this movie it would be that but even that isn't all.

L’enfant is almost like a checklist for all their trademark elements. Their films usually feature characters struggling to make their ends meet. Here, with no real prospects, Sonia and Bruno pretty much live on her welfare money and his stealing money. They do not use any score. There was none here but to tell you the truth, they didn’t really need it. They tell their stories so well that I really didn’t notice any lack of score until it was brought to my attention half way through. Handheld cameras are prevalent. Leading characters are seen in every scene. You do get either Sonia or Bruno is ‘every’ scene. And I think Bruno, played by Jeremie Renier – one of Dardennes’ regulars, is in every scene except first couple of them where Sonia is looking for him. And, in words of IMDb, they usually end with one character giving a helping hand to another - that's Sonia finally going to meet Bruno in jail. All check.

Bruno doesn't have many redeeming qualities. After he has sold their son, he shamelessly sells his pram as well and there is not even a hint of distress seen in his actions. [SPOILER ALERT] Sonia faints after hearing this news and involves police in this. After seeing that, he somehow manages to get that child back but not because he felt bad for it. It's because Sonia might make authorities pick him up.[SPOILER END] I really wouldn’t mind if someone skinned him and left him hanging to dry. About the only responsible thing he does throughout this film in taking blame for stealing a purse in the end. Otherwise he is an extremely horrible and irresponsible person throughout. 

You usually feel for someone you are rooting for in their bad times. Making you feel for someone you almost hate and want to see punished as hard as humanely possible needs something special and, by the end, L’enfant had done that; Dardenne brothers did that with just one image. As much as I hated Bruno, and as I said earlier I really despised him, note on which they chose to end this film still gave me hope that there might still be some future for Bruno and Sonia together. There still might be some hope for Bruno to account for something. I think it really needed it and they could not have said it better in thousand words.

Since it revolves around Bruno and Sonia and has at least one of them on screen all the time, naturally Renier and Deborah Francois hold key for its success. Personally, I liked Francois more because her character goes through bigger emotional arc with initial elation and hope of new life with arrival of their child to bitter disappointment to eventual makeup after Bruno comes around. However, there would be no denying that Renier is more important to success of this film. It is designed in such a way that you are sympathetic towards Sonia and despise Bruno and I would think it would be difficult to make viewers hate you than to make them sympathize with you.

But real hero of L'enfant is neither Bruno nor Sonia. It's the script written by Dardenne brothers themselves. It is so well written, so well paced that it almost always succeeds in getting exact response it was aiming for from us viewers. I obviously do not have in depth knowledge of their style. So I am going to go to someone I know bit more and someone who I think has one think in common with them - Christopher Nolan. I could be completely wrong about it but I think, like Nolan, their films almost always have some great performances. But what it boils down to is their direction and writing that makes them so great. In hands of lesser directors, these films and even performances couldn't be as good as they are. That makes me real excited to tackle rest of their films!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wrapping it up: August

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. For the first ever, neither have I written a Blind Spot entry for this month yet nor did I publish this post on last day of respective month after keeping that tradition for more than two and half years. But more on that later. Let me get to films I saw last month first...


L'enfant(2005): This month's Blind Spot. I was under impression that this would be my first Dardennes film. It was one of the reasons I added it to this year's list. I realised it later that I have seen The Kid with a Bike(2011) which is a Dardennes' film as well. First thing I realised after watching this is this film can be a check list for Dardennes. Hand held camera - check, lower class characters struggling to make ends meet - check, father-son relationship - check, no score - check. Made me even more excited for Two Days, One Night(2014).

The Immigrant(2014): It feels like we have been waiting for this film for like forever. In most cases, it would mean this film is doomed in one way or the other. You can say that for this film as well since it did not get much of a theater run and went to VOD pretty soon. I don't know numbers but distribution wise I don't think this is a good sign. At least, it wasn't doomed quality wise. It has a stellar cast and they have deliver stellar performances. You can say it's too serious but given the subject matter, I don't see any other way.

Ida(2014): For past few months, I haven't watched many foreign films. For some reason, I don't feel like watching them anymore. I am already in 2014 mode in the middle of the year, which I usually get into somewhere around end. I seriously hope this is just a passing phase because turning my back on so many great films would be an absolute shame. I am hoping films like this will help me get back on that horse. And better the quality of these films, more they help. Ida was a great help. Best thing about it was the quietness with which it presents even the most dramatic moments of film.

Un Coeur en Hiver(1992): Quick show of hands. How many people here know any such film exists. I don't care if you haven't seen it; raise your hand even if you know this film exists. If not for Josh, even I wouldn't. But it is one of those lesser known gems that I am so happy to have seen it. There are so many great films this one reminded me of but most of all - In the Mood for Love(2000) because of suppressed sexuality of leads, unforgettable music in the film and exquisite looking Emmanuelle Beart.

Dead Poets Society(1989): After the shitty news we all got this month, this was mandatory! Robin Williams was probably 1st Hollywood star I knew by name. Jumanji(1995) was one of my childhood favourites and I used to watch it over and over. This was one of his legendary roles I had not seen and I had to correct this. To tell you the truth, there is no reason why this film should work? It's sappy to the core. But it does! Perfectly. And given that everyone loves it, it is not just an emotional response to recent tragedy.

Edge of Tomorrow(2014): Now this is my kind of blockbuster! Lot of people loved a lot of different blockbusters released this summer. I was cold on most of them but this was totally my type of film. This was Groundhog Day(1993) with human existence at stake and I think they pulled it off very nicely. But I hate the fact that I need a film to remind me that Emily Blunt is a great, versatile actress. I really hope with Into the Woods(2014) later this year, she gets recognition she has been deserving off for years.

Mildred Pierce(1945): I can't be sure but I don't think I have seen a movie in which I've hated almost every single character like I did in this one. Don't get me wrong - I completely understand that's exactly what director was going for and I like it as a film, especially Joan Crawford, but first thing I will remember about this film in future will be I hated everyone in this film, not that I liked Crawford's performance. To be fair, I didn't actually hate Mildred but she definitely frustrated me.

Queen(2014)(Hindi): Bollywood is going through a female empowerment phase this year. I mean, there are many female centric films released this year and they are even doing quite well at box office. Queen released early this year was probably the first of this year's lot. Kangana Ranaut, lead of this film who is really good in it, is going through a reincarnation of her career and this role has helped her a lot. I liked the concept and most of its execution. If not for Amsterdam leg, which I thought dragged a lot and was very cliché; I would rate it even higher.

X-Men: Days of Future Past(2014): So I spend whole summer watching films people praise and rolling my eyes over how did they like this? And then I see two blockbusters in a month I like. I still won't call it a great film or anything but it delivered on everything I would expect from summer blockbuster. It is possible that since I have seen almost all X-Men movies before, I was into it but I didn't have any major problem with it. Plus, it has a great cast of new and old which certainly helps elevate it a notch up.

Don't Look Now(1973): This film bleeped on my radar since Talaash(2012). I would have called it one of the best horror films, since even though it did not genuinely scare me, it did create create a great environment and constantly kept me at the edge of my seat wondering what is going to happen next, if only I understood that ending. I am still not sure what really happen there - it just dropped suddenly, out of no where. But Julie Christie - I have only seen 4 or 5 of her performances but I love every single one of them. That's really something!

Veronica Mars(2014): I knew this wouldn't be 'One of the best of the year' type films but I quite liked series despite some of its flaws. So this was one of my most anticipated of the year films. I wouldn't say I am very disappointed because my expectations were in check from start but it still could have been better. My main problem was everyone looked rusty including Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas. Case involved was definitely best part about it but there were too many distractions from it which worked in series format but never really paid off here.

Suddenly, Last Summer(1959): I am very surprised that it took so long for me to know there is a movie featuring both Katherine Hepburn and Liz Taylor together. But as soon as I knew about it, I didn't waste any more time getting my hands on it. As much as I was excited to see two of the best actresses together, best thing I can say about this film is I am still trying to wrap my head around it. I literally have no idea what to make of this film, especially of that ending despite really great acting by both Taylor, Hepburn as well as Montgomery Clift.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier(2014): I feel like this movie is a complete fanboy material. I constantly felt like watching a typical high budget South Indian masala movie which needs, sorry, demands unequivocal suspension of any disbelief. Only good thing about it is because of high production value, it makes even the most ridiculous thing look damn good. Call it my chronic disability but I have never been able to enjoy that sort of thing. That is exactly why I can never watch those south Indian films, neither can I get into any Salman Khan movie. This was no better.

Happy Christmas(2014): I watched this film primarily for Anna Kendrick and while she isn't bad in it, my primary takeaway from it would be Joe Swanberg's son. If you have seen this film, you'd know how amazing that kid is. However, reason why I would rate it so low is screenplay. It never went anywhere. I don't feel like any of the characters went through any transformation or we learnt anything different about them that we didn't know in first 5 minutes of it. It just starts and ends without giving us pretty much anything. 

Draft Day(2014): I watch American football. I understand the game but even then I will not say that I understand process of their draft and that fascinates me. So this movie was quite interesting to me; you can even say I was target audience for it. But extremely predictable and over sentimental nature of it made it an opportunity lost. You always, always know where this is going to go and what any character going to do long before anyone in this film actually makes any decision. That makes it a boring watch after a while.

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

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 132. 124 First Time Watches and 8 Re-watches.

So the reason I was only able to watch 15 films this month and couldn't do Blind Spot post and this post in time is new job I started today. Because of that, I spent my last month at old job doing KTs and transferring all other responsibilities. Plus, juggling all pre-joining requirements at this job turned out much more taxing than I thought it would. So, blogging took back step, though I do hope to have my blind spot entry up by this weekend. I have already seen the film.

Now good thing about this job is it will pay me hell lot more than previous one used to and, since I wouldn't be job searching anymore, would allow me to devote my free time to do things that I want to do - like watch more films. :). Bad thing is it will take almost 12 hours of my day straight up. Even worse is the fact that about 2 and half of those will be spent traveling. I need to find productive ways to utilize that time or else I am not going to get anything done! Lets see how this goes.

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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