Friday, August 31, 2012

Wrapping it Up: August

For Multiple reasons, this month has been an extra-ordinary month. I did a lot of things that I probably have never done in my life before but always meant to. Let me try and list down why?

1. This is definitely the most most prolific month I have had and by far. I don't think I have ever watched for than 30 movie in a month and this time I went over 35. Off course, main reason behind it is half of them are hardly an hour long and half of remaining are in the range of 70-80 minutes. But, even then it is a LOT.

2. 7 pre-1930 Silent movies. I have seen few Laurel-Hardy movies that I do not remember the names of. If we discount them, till the start of this month there was only 1 movie that would fit in this criterion - The Gold Rush(1925). This probably was the most learning experience of my life and I have Tyler to thank for that.

3. Even if I discount all just about hour long documentaries, all of them courtesy of whole 30 for 30 being available on Netflix, and count only feature-length ones, I saw 8 documentaries. Again, not a really big number but what makes it great is a fact that I doubt if I have seen 8 documentaries in my life before. Let alone in a month.

4. 4 Hindi movies in a month. Well, this definitely isn't the first time I am doing this but it surely is after a long time that I have seen 4 in a month. At least 3 years.

So, Here is what I did see this month.


Escape From Alcatraz(1979): I haven't done my research here but it looks like The Shawshank Redemption(1994) might have taken some inspiration from this and maybe not as much as Shawshank, this does succeed to a lot of extent. But, even for a movie that takes place inside a prison and most important plot development happens mainly during the night, it was so dark I had to take special effort to understand what's happening here. However, my main problem is for a maximum security prison, I felt like they got out rather easily. 

Hoop Dreams(1994): I had heard a lot about this movie before. So, I kinda had enough anticipations from it. But, unfortunately I didn't really feel much for it. It also felt like too long, even more because I wasn't much into it. I have to give him credit for covering a lot of important points in their life during those years but there were points where I lost my interest in either of the story. 

No Crossover: Trial of Allen Iverson(2010): From the same movie-maker who did Hoop Dreams, another documentary about basketball players. Concentrating on Iverson and how his trial affected everyone in the area of Hampton, this works much better because it goes into every aspect of that incident and from every possible source. Being only 82 minutes also helped, I guess. 

June 17th, 1994(2010): After watching couple of documentaries from ESPN's 30 For 30 series, I have been meaning to watch others for quite some time now. Unfortunately, I couldn't find those I was most interested in anywhere. So the fact that Netflix just released all this episodes on Instant watch is a very good sign for me. 

Without Bias(2009): Being a Celtics fan myself, I have heard a lot about how different Celtics would have been during 90s had Len Bias joined mighty 1986 Celtics, considered as one of the best teams in sports. However, this focused on repercussions of his death from a lot of different angels and as a movie, I am glad that they did that. 

Rashomon(1950)(Re-watch) : Not only it is my favorite Kurosawa but also one of my all-time favorites. After doing this post on Notorious(1946), I decided to continue writing about some of my favorite movies. This post is second in hopefully many more to come. 

Four Days in October(2010): Even though I have been an avid sports fan(I follow like 6 different sports over the year), I am not into Baseball at all. However being in heart of Red Sox nation for over two years, I wasn't impervious to Red Sox and Curse of Babe Ruth. This Story of how they beat Yankees in ALCS from down 3-0 scored purely on adrenaline rush it gave me, despite the lack of any knowledge of the game.

Bullitt(1968): Again it's Steve McQueen doing his thing and doing it well but I saw this for San Francisco and this post and it has plenty of both, Steve McQueen and San Francisco. That one chase in the middle through streets of San Francisco is like these streets are just made for it. However, Robert Vaughn's Chalmers was just as good and Jacqueline Bisset's British accent too.

Unmatched(2010): Like Cricket, I don't even remember when did I start following Tennis. Even as a kid, I remember watching Pate Sampras dominating Wimbledon's, all the antics of Andre Agassi, Steffi Graph and Monica Seles screaming at each other. So, this whole story of lifelong friendship between two of the greats - Martina Navaratilova and Chris Evert - wasn't new to me. But it felt good to kind of refresh my memory.

The Real Rocky(2011)Story of Chuck Wepner who became famous for two reasons - one, for apparently no reason at all, Mohammad Ali chose him to defend his heavyweight title against and two, Sylvester Stallone attended that game and it gave him the idea of making Rocky(1976) based on that. We will probably never know who really used who but this is the story of his life and his court case against Stallone for copyright issues. 

Sunrise: Song of Two Humans(1927): As I said above if you can discount all the Chaplin's and Laurel-Hardy's I saw as a kid, this might well be my first silent movie. It is innocent, it was pure, it was like one of those bed-time stories and to tell you the truth, knowing that it's from 1927, 'And they leaved happily ever after' was all I expecting and I got exactly that ans SO MUCH more. 

Mohammad and Larry(2010): I have no idea why but despite being part of 30 for 30 which aired in 2009-10, it is listed as an 1980 documentary. Though I am no expert, this must be the most humiliating fight in Mohammad Ali's career. It was nice to see him being Ali though, going into the fight against everyone's advice or wish, just because he can and he wanted to. 

Mother India(1957)(Hindi): I seriously do not remember the last time I saw an old Hindi movie, must have been years and I am glad I did for this post. For some reason, I had an impression of this being much more cry fest and melodramatic than it is. However, after watching it I might even consider it to be one of my favorites. 

The 16th Man(2010): Documentary version of Invictus(2009) about South African Rugby team's victory in world Cup of 1995 and the role Nelson Mandela played in it to inspire them and going forward to use this event to unite their country together. It's actually incredibly moving and very well done. Morgan Freeman as narrator also helps. 

Upkar(1967)(Hindi): I specifically chose this movie for this post here so that I will have a reason to see it. I have been procrastinating it for a long time and as it turns out for a good reason. This movie looks like it was made as a reason to promote government policies and I have to praise it for such an attempt but unfortunately, there is not much to recommend beyond that here. 

Once Brothers(2010): When I saw whole 30 For 30 on Netflix, this was one documentary that I have been waiting to see and I am really happy that without any doubt, this is THE Best of all 30 For 30 documentaries I have seen and I have seen almost a dozen of them by now. This is story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic and their World Champion Yugoslavian Basketball Team and how their friendship suffered due to the civil war in their country which put these two friends in enemy camps. 

Nosferatu(1922): I am sure that I can find 100 flaws in this movie but I can not overlook the fact that it was released in 1927 and considering this fact, this movie is just Great !! On top of that, though I wasn't really scared(I very rarely get scared in movies), I had goosebumps on multiple occasions and that is much more than what I can say about whole lot of modern so-called scary movies. And BTW, this is the oldest movie I have seen. Ever. 

Battleship Potemkin(1925): Whatever I said above. When I first read the short description of it on Netflix, I was more intrigued as to how will Eisenstein make a silent movie on this subject and as I suspected, this one felt much more like a documentary than movie and though most of the scenes were way longer than they should have been, still 1925. So, I am not complaining. 

Invasion of Body Snatchers(1978): When it comes to scary movies, I am starting to think that there is something genetically wrong in me. Whenever natural reaction is to be scared, I am either bored or disgusted. Now this movie is not a bad movie at all. It is well made, I even think it is a decent enough idea but all the time, I was staring at screen like someone made me sit there and watch it as a punishment. 

Marion Jones: Press Pause(2010): One good thing about it is I had no idea what Mario Jones was up to after he submitted all her medals. Now, I do. But bad thing is I still have no idea what the director was aiming for here. I don't know. To me, it looked like he did it for the sake of it, with no real aim or direction which is sad because at least from this documentary, it feels like Jones deserves more.

Man on Wire(2008): So after so many 30 for 30 episodes, I finally got to a real documentary for a little change and an Oscar winning, no less. Incredible story of Phillipe Petit's daring routine of tightrope walking between Twin Towers of WTC in 1974. I swear if someone told me something like this happened, I would have called him a liar and yet here I am watching this. And Phillipe even looked sane, I mean kinda.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams(2010): Chauvet caves in southern France holds some of the oldest known pictorial representation of any kind to human. Given their importance culturally as well as anthropologically, these caves are sealed to preserve their natural beauty but Werner Herzog somehow got nod to document them and show them to the world. It is really fascinating to see those painting were made 32000 years ago given how fresh they look and how detailed they are.

The General(1926): My first ever Bustor Keaton and it was pure bliss. I loved that it had a proper format, it has a story, starting and end. There are lot of small things that work well and he had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions but what's even better is they are really effective to bring the whole film together. His timing was superb throughout and soundtrack was amazing. 

Sherlock Jr.(1924): This second venture with Bustor Keaton actually didn't work as well as The General basically because plot felt too weak, too much coincidental. Even The General had quite a few coincidental moments to evoke laughter but the point is they didn't seem to be forced. Keaton is usually compared with Chaplin and I know he had his hits and misses as well. For me, this was a miss. 

Fire In Babylon(2010): For over a year, since I heard about this documentary, I have been meaning to see it. I never saw any of them play but I know about dominance of West Indian cricket for almost two decades. Likes of Greenidge, Haynes, Lloyd, Richards and their bowlers Garner, Andy Roberts, Holding and Croft were great individually but put together and they became just invincible and remained unbeaten for 15 years. 15 Years ! 

Good Night, and Good Luck(2005)(Re-watch): Sometimes people surprise me with their reactions about some movies. Good Night, and Good Luck is one such example when one of my friends called it 'weird'. I know that people can have very different opinion about certain movie but weird is not the word I will ever associate with this movie and hence here I am, defending it. 

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance(2002): I still don't know if there is a hero or villain or at least anti hero, someone we are suppose to root for, in this movie. It looked like it shifted it's focus somewhere in the middle and ended up on neither of the ends. Also, maybe it is my fault but after a while, I got tired of not knowing what is going on screen all the time. We usually understand it few scenes after but it got under my skin. 

The U(2009): Story of Rise and fall of University of Miami Football team over 80s and 90s. They became prominent players on national scale in early 80s from nowhere to win their first National Championship in 1983 and won 3 more championships in next 10 years. However, since then it was going down. It is no doubt that they were really good but to tell you the truth, with their attitude like that I just did not care where they land.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance(2005): For multiple reasons, I think this is the best of Park's vengeance trilogy. For once, I think Oldboy(2003) is one crazy movie and you can even say that it's a better film but I don't have much more to say on it and you know my opinion on Mr. Vengeance above. It is a pretty straight forward revenge story in comparison to other two but Lady Vengeance has a much better format to it. 

Bombay to Goa(1972)(Rewatch)(Hindi): There are so many reasons not to like this movie. It is actually stupid, bit too slap-sticky, hasn't aged well and too amateur technically. But, by God, give me this over so many other so called comedy movies and there are only 2 reasons - 1. Mehmood 2. Array of side characters. 

Shanghai(2012)(Hindi): I have a little problem with first 10 minutes and last 5 minutes of it. Otherwise, I think it is great movie or at least movie with great ambition. Central cast of Abhay Deol, Kalki and Emraan Hashmi works really well. It takes some time to get into the groove and some of the characters didn't really work for me. Also, I don't really like the ending but altogether I am glad the Hindi Industry is making such movies. 

The Phantom of the Opera(1925): Again it amazes me that such a film was made in 1925. What interests me the most is Phantom and its Make-up. It is hideous and I believe it is exactly what it meant to be. I have not read this book but I am reading 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' right now and ever since this movie, it has helped me imagine the titular character more vividly. I am not really sure if that is a good thing or bad. 

The Dictator(2012): When I saw its first trailer, I will tell you that I really laughed. Second trailer made me doubt my stand and hence I didn't actively seek it out. But when I did see it I was mildly amused. It sure is the most extremely offensive, racist, sexist and filled with Sasha Baron Cohen's ridiculous and disturbing sense of humour. But there were few moments that saved it from being 'worst movie ever'.  

Little Children(2006): I have been meaning to see this and I am glad that I caught in very last day of being on On-Demand. For almost whole time, it reminded me of Babel(2006) in a sense that there is nothing really good that happens in any character's life. They both have some good performances in them but I don't think I want to watch something like that on screen. At least, most characters come to their senses in the end here.

The Thin Blue Line(1988): The best or worst thing about this documentary is not how atrocious and narrow-minded approach Police had towards Randall Adams and had an innocent man convicted of crime he did not commit, but in my opinion it is a fact that Errol Morris did this documentary while Adams was still serving the sentence for this and got him acquitted because of the evidence he uncovered in it. He is a real hero to me.

The Darjeeling Limited(2007): My First Wes Anderson movie and you know what my very first thought after watching it was? Wes Anderson should make Hindi movies. There were so many things here that didn't make a lot of sense to me but it rides on its emotional quotient and I was having fun watching it. So I didn't mind either - That's like 80-90% of Hindi movies for you. I was also happy with the India we see in it.

Metropolis(1927): This is the 7th silent movie I have seen this month and I probably could not have chosen better way to end this epic month because this movie is Epicness personified. It is so grand on every single scale that considering it was made in 1927, it is as hard as building pyramids. If I made list of 10 movies for sight and sound poll, I will definitely include this movie in it. More on that in my next post.

Total Count:37. 34 First Time Watches and 3 Re-watches.

2012 YTD Count

Total Count: 219. 206 First Time Watches and 13 Re-watches.

Phew! That was a great month. I usually do the split of modern-classics and English or Foreign movies. But I don't really see the point here. At the start of this month, I didn't have anything planned for this month. But I am actually glad that I did go all out on Documentaries and silent movies because I had too many queued up and I had to do something like this to get started with them. Off course, everything else suffered. I only finished season 5 of The Sopranos and those last few episodes of Twin Peaks I was so excited for? still haven't seen them.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Good Night and Good Luck(2005)

It has been quite a while since this happened. Few weeks ago, I was with some of my friends and we were talking about movies as we always do. I don't remember how but it came on to Good Night, and Good Luck(2005). It has been more than a year since I saw this movie but since it involved history and politics, two things I am usually interested in, I could remember it vividly and hence I was the one defending that movie. Not that others thought of it as a bad movie but most of us were neutral, some of us haven't even seen it or heard of it. However, one opinion that struck me the most that one of us saying that this movie is so 'weird'. Now, I have seen a lot of movies that I call weird myself. So, I do not have a problem with terminology but I don't think Good Night, and Good Luck qualifies as one of them. If you say that you don't like Black and white movies or political movies, you are missing some great stuff but at least I can understand your reasoning. I seriously do not understand how is this movie weird ? So, here I am writing about it and defending it after having seen it over a year ago because I still think it is a genuinely good movie.

Due to the crippling fear of Communism during 40 and 50s, Senator Joseph McCarthy, then elected member from the state of Wisconsin went on record to say that some of the registered, trained communists have infiltrated United States and are working as Soviet Spy in federal government and elsewhere. He was never able to prove his accusations against any one but he sure sensationalized it. Worst part of the whole ordeal was no one would come forward and defend or even reject his claims for the simple reason of being called communists or at least sympathizers themselves. One of the most important, well-known and respected people to attack the senator for his methods was CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow. Good Night, and Good Luck, a catch phrase Murrow used to end his documentary series See it Now with, is a story of stand Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly took against Senator McCarthy and helped exposing him as a hoax. It all starts with case of Milo Radulovich where he was told either to leave US Air Force or severe any bonds with his father and his sister because his father read some Serbian newspaper and hence is a communist. To make the matters worse, it was claimed that no one in the air force thought it necessary to substantiate these charges with hard truth and he was asked to leave even without giving him a chance to defend himself. When Murrow and Friendly decide to report this, they have to take a decision because this means that they either have to go all in and take the senator or stay outside. When they decide to plunge in, battle ensues. Good Night, and Good Luck starts of and also ends with a beautiful speech by Edward Murrow about the disparity between actual responsibility of Television and then current state of it which just goes on to suggest the integrity of his character, same integrity with which he took on McCarthy not because he wanted to but because it needed to be done.

After Radulovich case, they decide to make McCarthy himself stand in witness box by attacking his own statements and views. They let his own words speak for themselves, just pointing out any factual errors whenever they occur. They also offer him a chance of rebuttal on their own show, if he wishes to. [SPOILER]After few weeks McCarthy does reply but instead of trying to prove himself right, he rather goes on to try and disapprove Murrow by calling him communist sympathizer himself. It is obvious that McCarthy is at the end of his rope and any further hopes he had are soon discarded with Air Force re-instating Radulovich and with US army as well starting its own hearing against McCarthy. Soon after senate voted to censor him[SPOILER END]. With compact run-time 0f 93 minutes, director Clooney almost never sways away from the case at hand. Almost 90% of the movie is in CBS office and most of the time everyone is talking about nothing but business. Even most of the side stories either fit in with the narrative or are there to underline their dedication to job at hand like Murrow agreeing to host celebrity interview show 'Person to Person' to make up for lack of sponsors for 'See it Now' because of their controversial coverage of McCarthy. One side story which has pretty much nothing to do with what's going on around is the one involving fellow CBS reporters Joe and Shirley but it involved Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson and literally takes total 1-2 minutes of screen time. So, I won't be complaining. I love the way they decide in a minute when their secret comes out, as if they knew all along that some day they will be sitting there, in that position and know exactly what to do.

In the acting department, it is through and through Murrow vehicle and David Strathairn does a great justice to it. There may not be any flashy moments of his brilliance but instead he gives us a solid performance for all the 90-odd minutes he is on the screen. When he is on screen going after McCarthy, he looks like a man possessed with a single goal of pursuing the truth, same goal that prompts him to launch an attack on sorry state of television, for being too complacent in the banquet in his own honor - he just HAS to tell the truth. But when he is interviewing celebrities for show that is forced on him, you can also see that he doesn't belong there. There are quite a few supporting roles, George Clooney(Fred), Robert Downey Jr.(Joe), Ray Wise(Don Hollenback) or Jeff Daniels(Sig) that do not have much scope but help in keeping the whole thing tight. However, couple of roles that left their impression on me despite their limited screen time are Patricia Clarkson as Shirley - she is so effortless, so natural in her role that she makes Downey Jr. look tight and Frank Langella as Network Executive William Paley who has to keep check on them and look beyond their need to do public service. As a director, George Clooney has impressed me a lot. Just like last year's The Ides of March(2011), another movie with a political background which should not come as a surprise looking at his own active involvement in politics, he makes it tight, well executed and well-acted. There is no doubt that he is a damn fine actor and I haven't seen the other movies under his belt yet but if these two are any indication he may well turn out to be an equally fine director too. He not only perfectly captures the buzz of TV studio 60 years ago, couple of things that he does different in this movie work out brilliantly - Use of black and white cinematography and using archived footage for McCarthy instead of casting someone which somehow makes it much more relevant and adds a lot of Gravity to it. Once again, I am not the one to comment on use of music and I don't even know if any of them used here were any relevant but use of music is rather peculiar here in a way that every piece of music that we hear is sung on screen.

Even though the events depicted in this movie take place almost 60 years ago and besides my friend calling it weird, one of the reasons I am doing this post today is what Murrow stood for in it is still relevant today. I don't think almost anywhere in the world, television media is what Murrow wanted it to be but I am more concerned about my own country, given the current state of Indian politics with a caricature of a government at its helm. In Murrow's own words "We are currently healthy, fat, comfortable and complacent" and it needs to change. It's time we all need to pull another Edward R. Murrow !

Rating(out of 5):

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

10 Favorite Movies Set in San Francisco

I have been in US since August 2009. Most of you would probably know that I was doing my Masters until earlier this year. After finishing my masters, I moved to San Francisco Bay area in last 2-3 months. Cities like Boston and New York certainly have their own identity and place in films but personally I was always attracted more towards San Francisco, probably because of its distinct architecture and road structure which comes from city based on top of multiple hills. Now wondering through the streets of this city, I always wonder if I have seen this place somewhere. So, instead of just wondering about these movies I decided to make a list of my favorite movies set in city of San Francisco. Considering this list is as much about San Francisco as much about movies, I have given some relevance to how prominently city of San Francisco features in it as well. As a result, though I prefer Harold and Maude(1971) or Guess Who is Coming to Dinner(1967) to some of the movies in the list, they do not have enough San Francisco in them to make this list or The Birds(1963) since Bodega Bay isn't exactly San Francisco. Oh, and The Maltese Falcon(1941) totally would have made the list if I didn't confuse it with The Big Sleep(1946). Imagine my surprise when I realized there is no Lauren Bacall in The Maltese Falcon(Me: Are you freaking kidding me? I HAVE SEEN IT! oh, that was The Big Sleep? Nooo or maybe it was) Let's get to it then.

NOTE: Some potential Spoilers in the description of movies. If you haven't seen the movie and don't want it spoiled, skip the description part.
Lombard Street, San Francisco

10. The Graduate(1967): I might have put it way high up in the list but seriously I remember only 3 things about this movie - 1. Mrs. Robinson's Legs 2. "Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me" 3. That final shot of Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross in bus and as iconic as these 3 things are I felt it rather unfair to judge whole movie on it. I promise I will re-watch it soon though.

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes(2011): I probably was one of the very few people last year who didn't fell in love with this movie instantly. Actually, there are very few things I liked about it. One of them is Andy Serkis, who was brilliant off course and epic final battle between Apes and Humans on Golden Gate bridge and they are enough to warrant this place in this list.

8. The Rock(1996): If you asked me few years back when I was back in India and wasn't watching as many movie as now, I would have put this movie much higher up in the list. Those were the days when Michael Bay wasn't synonymous to shit and he made movies I could stand. I have seen so many more movies now but The Rock is still rock-solid, especially after being there, on eerie Alcatraz.

7. Dirty Harry(1971): I haven't seen all the other Dirty Harry movies yet but still I have enough reasons to put this movie in this list. Reason 1: Its Dirty Harry. Reason 2: Its Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. It is normal to wonder 'So, this is where Clint Eastwood was standing' while visiting Golden Gate National Recreation area where Harry finds the body of the girl buried, right ?

6. Bullitt(1968): Again, do you need any more reason than Steve McQueen? If you do, incidentally I have one. That Car chase through the streets of San Francisco. Believe me, they made those streets like that so that one day, Steve McQueen can chase bad guys on it just like that. I am not even joking. Well, and does Jacqueline Bisset's British accent qualify for a reason ? I am kinda sucker for that too.

5. Milk(2008): Not only this story of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official, is shot in San Francisco almost in it's entirety(even when they show he is in NYC, those shots were actually shot in San Francisco), Gus Van Sant shot lot of it on actual location like Milk's apartment is where Milk actually lived in Lower Haight or his camera shop is where his actual shop was.

4. Zodiac(2007): I usually have tough time defending this movie because even I hate the fact that they never find out who the real killer is but you can't blame Fincher for whatever actually happened in reality and besides that I love almost everything about this movie - tension building with every murder, case consuming everything in lives of Downey Jr. and Gyllenhaal's characters and finally, nagging question of whether Allen was Zodiac and if not then who was ?  
3. The Game(1997): Back-to-back Fincher here. Throughout this movie Michael Douglas runs all over San Francisco like crazy. But when Sean Penn accuses Douglas that he is the one doing all this, he is with CRS and they fight on those stairs - call me crazy but - probably that was the first time I thought, 'I love this place! I would love to go to this city some day'.

2. The Conversation(1974): Because of the three other heavyweights Coppola directed in the same decade I feel like The Conversation sometimes never gets the due credit. This movie deserves its place in any list, if for nothing else, for one scene at the very end of movie where Gene Hackman tears his own apartment down. Brilliant !! Heavily influenced by Antonini's Blowup(1966), it is a fascinating character study of Gene Hackman's character Harry Caul, San Francisco based surveillance expert.

1. Vertigo(1958): As I think back probably this along with The Game, as I said above, were two movies that got me interested in San Francisco. The other day, we took a cruise tour of the bay and our tour guide took us right under the Golden Gate Bridge, close to Fort Point where Kim Novak jumps into water and Jimmy Stewart saves her. Probably I was the only one to get that reference but that kinda made me happy.

So, here is my list. Did I miss anything ?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Celebrating Indian Independence Day: Movie Style

15th August 1947 was the day when India got its Independence from British Rule for almost 150 years. Today marks the 66th Independence Day of India. This calls for the celebration and this being a movie blog, I am going to celebrate it with movies. Growing up, I always associated this day with 3 things - Flag hoisting in my school/college, National parade on Vijay Path in New Delhi and our own small celebration at home with something special for Lunch. I would get up bright and early, get ready and go to school for the flag hoisting at around 6.30 - 7, be back at home in an hour and sit in front of the TV for parade. Even now, these are the two things that I miss most about Independence day. Not that any of it has stopped, I just don't get time to do that any more and that is the reason that even though I am celebrating this whole day with movies that will tell something about various aspects of Indian Pride, our so-called coverage still starts at 10:00 AM which shall give you the time to attend them both and goes on till the midnight. There are movies here which talk about some of the legends who sacrificed their life for the freedom of their country, their are movie which comment on social and economical culture of India, also there are movies which narrate how we fought with our enemies - external or internal. So let me wish all Indian anywhere on earth Happy Independence Day! and take your leave with a hope that you will like these movies just as much as I do.

10:00 AM: Sarfarosh(1999)
This movie has a rare distinction of being only movie I have seen thrice in a single day. It's just that good ! First of all, in 1999 and for that matter even now, it is kinda rare that a real story - in this case, smuggling of arms across Indian borders - takes precedence over a love story. Secondly, besides being an insanely quotable(couple of my cousins gave up on watching this movie with me, because I kept on saying those dialogues with the movie) and one of the personal favorites, in my opinion there are very few movies which have such a great acting talent on display. Their is no doubt that Aamir Khan and Nassiruddin Shah in two main roles are at their best but their is an army of supporting cast - Mukesh Rishi, Akhilendra Mishra, Govind Namdev, Ahmad Khan, Makrand Deshpande - that elevate the whole movie to another level. For a movie that essentially works on your feelings, there is a very real chance that it can get cheesy or preachy. Sarfarosh never does. Not only on this day but even on any other day, this movie remains a Must Watch in my books.

I am actually happy that I finally saw this movie after procrastinating this forever. To tell you the truth, I kept on pushing it because I thought it would be much more cry-fest than it is. However, it is so much more than anything I expected. I am really glad that I finally saw it because I think it might even become one of my favorites. Now, this - story of a woman who fights against pretty much everything, just so as to give her children better life - is also not really patriotic but is considered such, I am guessing, mainly because of the title. However, despite that I am including it in line-up mainly because it has so much of sub-text in it about socio-economical culture of India, especially during early 20th century. It is very 50s but also very strongly Indian. You will probably not even hear about half the things that happen in this movie, anywhere outside India. It also isn't the only movie which comments on social issues and almost all of them take similar path but it certainly is the most popular because of being first Indian movie to be nominated for Oscars. It has a run time of very close to three hours but strangely it doesn't feel so long, more so since it is a melodramatic movie based on social issues. I will agree that once both her sons grow up, it takes a little more time than it should to reach the eventual ending but it didn't really bother me.

4:00 PM: Upkar
When you talk about patriotic movies, ask any Indian and one name that is guaranteed to be mentioned is Manoj Kumar, also known as Bharat Kumar as his character would be almost always named 'Bharat'. He did a lot of movies that can be easily included in the list like Kranti(1981) and Purab aur Pacchim(1970) but the reason I chose over others is I needed a reason to watch it again just to confirm if I had seen this before or not. After watching it, I am going to stick with my decision because this story of Bharat who is actually farmer but joins an army because of Famility dispute with his step-brother looks like it wasn't made for commercial purpose but to promote government policies like get farmers back to their villages, increase popularity of military forces among public, increase literacy and family planning etc.
7:00 PM: Border(1997)
Another movie I am going to stick with. I was thinking of going for Haqeeqat(1964) because even though I have seen it, it is so long ago that the only thing I remember about it is 'E Mere Watan Ke Logo' and this would be my chance to refresh my memory. But that doesn't mean Border is any inferior. Moreover, Haqeeqat is about 1962 war which India lost and Border is about 1971 war which we won and since this is a celebration, all the more reason for it. This is based on True events though not everything that happens in this movie is true. This is story of battle at Longewala where 120 Indian soldiers stood up against army of 2000-strong for whole night and bring home a great victory for their country. In all fairness, I will be hard-pressed to tell you something from this movie that stands out but somehow, as a whole, this movie works wonderfully well.
Back when I saw Huger(2008) for the first time, first thing it reminded me of was Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh was a revolutionary in pre-independence India. In 1930, he surrendered himself to gain more political support for his cause. While in jail waiting for the result of multiple charges he was facing, along with many of his fellow revolutionaries, he went on a Hunger strike for 116 days. Though not as polarizing as Bobby Sands and his IRA hunger strike, even this group endured a lot during this time of test of both their body and character. Bhagat Singh was eventually hanged on 23rd March 1931 along with Rajguru and Sukhdev. He was 23 years old. Not only because it is important to remember people like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who gave India its freedom but also because it is largely accurate and exemplary piece of movie-making with tremendous performance by Ajay Devgan in titular role of Bhagat Singh, this movie more than deserves to be seen on such a day of National pride.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rashomon and its Take on Morality

Anyone who has little more than just a passing knowledge of movies will at least know who Akira Kurosawa is. With Shakespearean interpretations which have a strong connection to Japanese culture and tradition, he has left his indelible mark in the history of World Cinema. My introduction to his work like many others I am sure, happened with Seven Samurai(1954) - movie that has inspired more movies than any other. However, now after watching more than dozen of his movies, first movie that I associate with his name in my mind is not Seven Samurai but Rashomon(1950). After watching it for the first time couple of years ago, it has not only become my favorite Kurosawa movie but also one of my all-time favorites. While writing this post about Notorious(1946) last month, I realized that I have never written anything about most of my all-time favorite movies. I can only hope that this second post about some of my favorite movies in just one of many more to come. What I hope to do with Rashomon here is to discuss about all aspects of this movie that I can fathom, in as much detail as I can. Though I will try to provide spoiler alerts whenever possible, if you haven't seen this yet, please proceed with caution.

It is raining heavily outside. A priest and a woodcutter are sitting under the city gate of Rashomon. They both seem to be in utter disbelief over something they have just witnessed. After some time, a peasant joins them to save himself from heavy rain. When he overhears their conversations, he becomes interested in whatever these two are talking about. Woodcutter agrees to tell him the whole story, hoping he can make some sense out of it. They both have just come from courthouse where they appeared as witnesses in a murder case of Samurai woodcutter found few days ago. On same day, priest also passed by the same Samurai and his wife. At the same time, another person has apprehended very famous bandit Tajomaru who takes full responsibility of Samurai's murder and gives his own account of the complete incident. After some time, police find missing wife of dead Samurai hiding in some temple. When she is presented in front of court, even she gives her own but completely different story from Tajomaru. Because of the discrepancy in the two stories, court decides to take dead Samurai's opinion into account as well and is summoned through a medium. However, instead of making this case any easier, he tells a story nothing like first two we know of. To make the matters even more worse, after telling everything woodcutter agrees that he actually lied in the court so that he doesn't have to get involved more than he already is. He agrees that when he reached there, Samurai wasn't dead as he told in the court but when he reached they were all there and alive. Now, he tells another version of the same incident which takes even different route. After all this twists and turns, we finally come to the end which takes another small turn, almost insignificant with respect to all the stories we have had. But, in my opinion that is one of the best endings ever in Cinema because it gives us a hope that maybe at the end of the tunnel but at least there IS a ray of light, it finally makes the whole story worth enduring.

[You can consider pretty much whole paragraph Spoileriphic] According to Tajomaru, he was fascinated by the beauty of Samurai's wife and hatched up a plan to kidnap her. After he cunningly separates Samurai from her and binds him to a tree, he comes back to take her. However, at that instant, he can see real love and affection for him in her eyes which Tajomaru cannot stand and decides to belittle him in her eyes. He takes her to the Samurai and takes advantage of her in front of his eyes. However, most amazing thing is after initial resilience, even she seems to give-in to him. When Tajomaru turns to leave, since her honour has been shed away, she demands that only one of them can stay alive and hence, according to Tajomaru, he killed her husband in a duel after that in order to save her honour. When Wife is asked to tell her story, she says that Tajomaru ran away with wicked smile on his face after exploiting her. When she got up and ran to her husband, she did not see any remorse or anger in his eyes. He was staring right at her with completely blank eyes. She took them as he was blaming her for everything, she could not stand it at all and fainted after offering him her dagger to finish her off. When she woke up, her dagger was in his chest and there was nobody else anywhere in the vicinity. When summoned through a medium, Samurai tells that after Tajomaru violated her, he convinced her that running away with him is the only right thing to do now to which she even agreed but she asked him to kill the Samurai before leaving. This demand she made even surprised Tajomaru and he flipped on her but she managed to run away. After Tajomaru cut his ropes, he killed himself because he didn't see any meaning in life. When woodcutter tells the story he says that he saw Tajomaru on his knees begging to woman to marry her. She says her husband is the one who should decide it but her husband completely discards her on an account of being with two men. When she tells them both to man-up, they both feel ashamed of themselves and though eventually fight, they are so afraid of even toughing each other but somehow Tajomaru kills Samurai.

With Rashomon, Kurosawa doesn't expect viewers to get all Sherlock Holmes and figure out whose story is true. [SPOILER] After all, it is indicated that Woodcutter's story in the end is true, even though he doesn't tell the whole truth which leads to final scene [SPOILER END]. What he is really trying to tell us is how everyone tries to save their own pride, their ego. Tajomaru, Samurai and his wife, they all admit that they killed Samurai themselves but each one comes up with different reason for it to make them look respectable. Tajomaru tells that he killed Samurai but only to save lady's honour. Samurai says that he killed himself because his wife didn't leave him any other option whereas his wife agrees that she killed her own husband but because she could not stand a look of utter shame in her husband's eyes. Every single one of them feels guilty because of what has actually happened but, even when going into the ground, they want to go with their collar straight. [SPOILER]Even woodcutter who we assume finally reveals unbiased and honest truth, turns out is just telling the convenient part of the story and not the whole story[SPOILER END]. By giving us this multiple versions of reality, Kurosawa challenges our own perspective to look at everything through the glasses of our own ego. Through peasant's character he constantly questions the existence of anything purely good and by the end , even we start to believe him. It's like what peasant says just before woodcutter begins to tell his story 'Such horror stories are common now-a-days. I even hear that a demon here in Rashomon fled in fear of ferocity of men'. This contrast in the background is what makes its ending stand out even more because you have been questioning the very existence of humanity thus far, at every step of the way and in the end, we get some hope that there still might be some good left in the world.

Based on a short story 'In a Grove' by Ryunosuge Akutagawa, this movie is very 50's, very Japanese. Most of the acting is very loud, most actions can be almost incomprehensible to an outsider, even their sword fights are very unrehearsed, raw like a parody. But if you have any knowledge Japanese culture or Japanese cinema, you would know them to be occupational hazards. However, given that it was made in 1950, it can be considered revolutionary in many departments, especially technical. Use of lights and shadows, close-ups and long shots helps to build up the atmosphere brilliantly. Use of multiple camera angles to shoot the same location also helps. However, most important thing it does is it uses different perspective for each story it creates alternative reality for the same incident. All the three characters have distinctly different roles to play in different stories and bunch of actors who became Kurosawa regulars since this movie do great job in it. But by doing this, he makes it more difficult for viewers to decide which face is real and which is a mask ? All this is what makes Rashomon a true classic and must watch for anyone remotely serious about movies.

Rating(out of 5):

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