Friday, November 30, 2012

Wrapping it Up: November

Lets get to the business right away. Once again, Reminder. Movies are clubbed as per my ratings out of 5 stars.



Jaane Bhi do Yaaron(1983)(Hindi)(Re-watch): Not only it is one of the best ensemble casts in the Hindi film industry, it is one of the monumental films in the history of Indian cinema. Period. And I really don't think any Indian will argue with that. It is that great, I am telling you. After all, there is a reason why we included it Ryan's Bollywood Syllabus. More Here.

English Vinglish (2012)(Hindi): You have no idea how much joy this gives me to rate a new release, sort of mainstream Hindi movie so high, especially if you know my constant complaint about the quality of Indian movies in past few years. This year has been quite different though. So, English Vinglish. You know why I think it is so good? Because it is imperfect, it is realistic. Even in the end when Sridevi speaks, she speaks in broken English. It isn't a glossed over version of reality that we are used to and it is so good to see on screen without any embellishments.

The Lady Vanishes(1938):  For some reason that I always thought that Hitchcock's used his famous MacGuffin plot only in Psycho(1960) but it turns out, it's just the most famous one because here it is - in one of early movies, still in British phase. In reality, there is nothing different about this than any other Hitchcock movie. It is a very typical mystery movie than Hitchcock did so often but in typical Hitchcock way, it still leaves with its impression on you.

Compliance(2012): Real problem with movies like this one which tend to evoke strong emotional response from the viewer is it becomes very difficult to judge it objectively. Whatever happens in this movie is absolutely incomprehensible from outside and I really do not get why not just say NO. But still, it was an incredible experience, very well acted and directed and even though subject matter implies typical viewer response, executing it perfectly as it is done here, also counts for a lot. I still can not believe that this really happened, to an extent they show in a movie.

Funny Games(1997): Yes, I felt like punishing myself. Severe one at that, with Compliance just the day before. Again, it makes it so real that it is really difficult to sit back and objectively rate the positives and negatives of it. Unlike Compliance however, I did not have a problem believing that something like this can happen. No one in the world deserves that I am sure, but maybe because it was such a bat-shit crazy that I can probably believe that something like this can happen.

The Deep Blue Sea(2012): That's one for Rachel Weisz. In the 1955 original, Vivien Leigh played the lead and I have to say, I imagine she would be really great in such role. Strong, passionate but so vulnerable. Rachel Weisz was so great in this role that now, I really want to see what Vivien Leigh did with her part. It did remind me a lot of In the Mood For Love(2000) and even though it won't match it, aspiring to be as good is enough for me. 

Arbitrage(2012): The other day, I was watching The Actors roundtable on The Hollywood Reporter and Richard Gere was there talking about his role. He said that some of his friends hated him for playing that character because he is scumbag but still they wanted him to come out good of all and I remember feeling something very similar. As for his acting, he was a revelation actually specially after Chicago, which I saw couple days earlier, where his character was probably main reason why I didn't care much about that movie.

Brave(2012): I hardly remember a movie that I enjoyed so much. I know it is not without its flaws and some of them may be even big but it's an animated movie and I enjoyed it so much. I loved all their Scottish accents, her father and three little brothers, loved Merida's relationship with her mother and the way they captured small things so right and in the end, that look on Merida's face when she puts that tapestry on her mother as the Sun comes up. Just killed it.

Skyfall(2012): I am not too big on bond but I am loving this gritty, serious Bond so far. Casino Royale(2006) is my favorite Bond movie from what I have seen but this one looks just as incredible. Incredible performances from Javier Bardem and Judy Dench which I am pretty sure will make it worth a repeat watch and I will reserve my judgement as to which one is better until then. But in the meantime, let me join everyone singing praises of Roger Deakins. He deserves every bit of it.

Clueless(1995): I said above that I hardly enjoyed any movie as much as I enjoyed Brave and then I saw this. Alicia Silverstone was on fire here. I mean she was kinda stupid but gloriously, awesomely stupid. I LOVED everything she did, her dialogues, her big incomprehensible words. Everything. There were quite a few amazing dialogues in it("I thought they declared piece in Middle East") but "Why? Do I look like I know what I am talking about ?" really takes the cake. Oh and I did not recognize Brittany Murphy At All.

A Royal Affair(2012): Only my second foreign film in a theater, first being The Intouchables(2012). As it turns out, both are garnering a lot of buzz with a prospective nominations and even as favourites to win. Though personally I prefer The Intouchables over this one a little, I really wouldn't mind either of them winning. Either way, that would be the first time I would have seen Foreign Film winner before it won. More Here.

Cloud Atlas(2012): Going in, I knew that I will have to watch it again to really get it but I guess, all I wanted to was re-watching it not because I have to but because I want to. Now I am sure that I will happily re-watch it many many more times. I would have loved it for its audacity alone as Sheer scope of this movie is mind boggling but what made it work for me was despite it, it didn't feel oblique. As a matter of fact, there was a lot of heart in it.

Raising Arizona(1987): Someone once told me that if you want to get into Coen Brother's filmography, Raising Arizona should be kept almost at the end. I understand why now but it is such a crime to keep someone away from such a gem? I understand that the majority of this movie is stupid but it is gloriously stupid. I mean I have never seen anything like this. I seriously didn't ever recognize half of the actors. Holly Hunter, John Goodman and even Nicolas Cage. God, they look so different !! I totally didn't recognize them.

Hard Eight(1996): PTA's first feature length film. As I said in this post, this is his weakest film in my opinion but given that it's PTA, that still means this is pretty good, especially in the acting department with the likes of Phillip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson. Importance of this film to me is things like tight storyline, great acting ensemble, use of lights and camera feature so prominently even in his first movie.

Punch-Drunk Love(2002): And with this I can check P.T. Anderson off. After Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson, now I have seen every single movie he has done as well. I don't know if anyone else ever felt this, but to me this movie felt much more like Wes Anderson than PTA, even his music. Maybe, it's just me.

Sound of My Voice(2012): To tell you the truth, there is a lot that I liked in this movie including Brit Marling. I liked most of the characters, I liked how they developed their story, I liked all the proceedings in their cult meetings - it really made me believe them as a cult and I loved their ending. But I had a couple of problems, both of them very basic to the story which I just couldn't shake off and that is why it looses some points despite all the praise. More here.

Killer Joe(2012): It was brutal, it was relentless and it was extremely well acted. Matthew McConaughey was unbelievably remarkable in it, even more so in by now infamous chicken-leg scene. His reaction there is almost impossible to put in words and Juno Temple deserves special mention as well. But there was something in that whole setting that I really can not point out was little off for me and that end just didn't make much sense to me.

Headhunters(2011): It was so great to see Nicolaj Coster-Waldau in this film. I don't know how big of a star he is in Scandinavia but he kills it in Game of Thrones every time and I don't think he has a notable part in any English movie as yet. Movie as a whole was actually great but it looked a little too well planned to me, especially in the given circumstances.

The Wrong Man(1956): Another movie where Hitchcock played a lot with his camera and I love that and as far as I know, this is the only true story Hitchcock did. In the end however, this true story nature was my biggest problem. I understand that he just depicted what happened in real life but the way case ends, sub-story with his wife and how that ends - none of this really makes it worthy on-screen story. Sad and unfortunate but not interesting.

Lawless(2012): I am at a complete loss of words here. I have absolutely no idea how I feel about this movie. It wasn't bad but it was mostly 'meh'. In every aspect of this movie, I don't think there was anything that I really didn't like or felt disappointed about - except maybe there was a lot of wasted potential - but there isn't anything particular I liked about it either. It was just 'meh'.

Salaam Bombay(1988):  This movie reminded me too much of Babel(2006) because if we are looking artistically, both these movies are great. They are very realistic, hard-hitting and have no half measures about it. But after watching Babel, I really wanted just to kill myself. I mean, I am not saying that every movie MUST have happy ending but give me some hope, at least that light at the end of the tunnel or not make me wanna die. Is that too much to ask?

Barfi!(2012)(Hindi): India's official submission to Oscars this year. Most promising thing about it was superb performances from the three leads. Ranbir Kapoor has been on a binge lately and he continues to deliver here too and Ileana D'Cruz in her Hindi debut is stunningly gorgeous and so subtle. But by Priyanka Chopra was by far the best of them. If not for the last 30-40 minutes of cry-fest and all the copying from 10 different movies, I easily would have rated it way higher.


OMG Oh My God(2012)(Hindi): Looking at the premise of this movie, I had a pretty bad feeling that it is going to be a disaster. My only hope was that Paresh Rawal was in it who has also worked in original play. It definitely wasn't a disaster I thought it will be and to its credit raised a lot of valid points throughout and I was even ready to buy into Akshay Kumar's role. However, I would have loved it a lot more if it didn't go so much over the top every so often.

Chicago(2002): Now that I have seen it, I can say that I have seen all the Best Picture Winners in my Lifetime. All the musical parts in it were actually quite great but I got bored with all the drama in it. All three female characters were pretty good but I had issues with both the notable male characters. Richard Gere was the main culprit who took the drama too overboard for me and John C. Reilly, I had no idea why was he even in the movie? That was an utterly laughable, complete caricature of a character.

Our Hospitality(1923): It started off with hitting all the right notes. In the first 15-20 minutes itself, there were more than one occasion where I laughed out loud. However, it didn't keep my interest for it's complete length. I still don't have any complaint against Buster Keaton but after a little while, most of the gags became too silly, too slapstick-y if that's the word. I don't know. Maybe The General(1926) set the standards a little too high for me.

Giant(1951): It is generally described as an epic, sprawling tale of Texas rancher and his family. I mean yes, it was epic in terms of scale of a movie and even sprawling but unfortunately, that's it !! It did not do anything to me emotionally. Even Elizabeth Taylor couldn't save this movie for me. James Dean was only highlight of the movie but it was too long and lackluster for anyone to save it.

Alice(1990): So, first of all, Mia Farrow is replacement for Woody Allen's usual character in this one right? Lady Allen, can we call her? because she basically even talks like him. I have had my problems with his character, but I was OK with this but then the absurdities started. I really didn't understand what was with that Dr. Wang character? Why was he making her disappear? Where did Alec Baldwin come from? and love potion? really? What is this, Harry Potter?

Lockout(2012): At the ens of the year, people usually list worst 10 movies of the year. I take pride in the fact that I have avoided all them successfully. This year, that may not be the case because I have seen Lockout. I absolutely, positively and completely believe that you CAN NOT find 10 movies terrible than Lockout. It is way over-ambitious but incredibly stupid and worse than that takes itself too seriously. It was an overacting fest. I am telling you, every single penny spent on it is utter waste. It still gets two stars for Guy Pierce, who had few good lines and some good setting which it's story wasted completely BTW.

Total Count:28. 27 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watches .

2012 YTD Count
Total Count: 301. 283 First Time Watches and 18 Re-watches.

So if you noticed, I crossed 300 mark this month. One goal achieved! Next is 300 First Time Watches, which if I continue at this rate, should be achievable. But no promises since this is not a Homework. If I get there, we will see. However, as I continue clearing up backlog of 2012 movies, this next month looks like is gonna be fun. We will get all the nominations for various guilds and globes as well. Award season has officially started with Indie Spirit awards this season but I did not pay much attention to it basically because I am not sure what works and what doesn't according to their definition. It's weird. But I will probably do something on SAG and Globe noms, probably together like last year since they are being announced a day apart. And then get ready for the Oscars. There are still so many more movies to watch.

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Royal Affair

I have always been kind of a History buff. I love almost anything and everything about it, especially if it involves any political aspects. There is so much to know, there is so much to learn from there. For my money, I think the second world war is the most fascinating period in history of mankind. Almost every other thing happening in the world right now, you can trace back their origins to something that happened in World War II - directly or indirectly. Even in cinema, there is so much material based on holocaust, almost overdoing it, it has almost become a genre of its own. However one aspect of cinema that is usually associated with History and still gets lukewarm response from me is Period pieces. To tell you the truth, it is mostly because most of them only take the setting from the certain period and more often than not are a work of fiction than actual true historical events. Even if there is a smidgeon of a truth to them, I am still attracted to them. Such was the case of A Royal Affair(2012). Not that it only tells the part of the true story as apparently most of it stays to the history but I had no idea if it's a true story or fictional. I was drawn to it only because of the Oscar buzz surrounding it and incidentally, it was playing in a theater near me. This is only the second occasion of me watching a foreign movie in a theater - other being The Intouchables(2012) - and again, incidentally, both seem to be locking horns against each other in the Oscar race.

Set in 18th Century Denmark, A Royal Affair(2012) is a story of Caroline Mathilde who served as Queen of Denmark and Norway for 6 years, from 1766 to 1772 until she was arrested and sent into exile amidst allegations of affair between her and Johann Struensee. Struensee started of as a personal physician to the King but became very important figure, virtually running the country for two years prior to his arrest. It starts with her arrival from England after her marriage to Christian VII of Denmark. As she finds out right after their marriage, Christian is ill mentally. They got off on the wrong foot as Christian's stepmother makes him believe that Caroline is everything he is not and will eventually take his place. This rift between them keeps on growing because of his aggressive behaviour towards her and her indifference towards him. Doctor Struensee comes into the picture on King's tour of Europe when he falls ill and court starts looking for a personal physician for him. He gets this job not based on his qualification but first because of the referral from Count Rantzau and Brant and then because King finds him interesting. Rantzau and Brandt have lost their place in Royal court since Christian became the King as Bernstoff, who became most powerful minister in King Christian's court, did not like them and they expect to be re-instated to their position in return of this favour to Struensee. Struensee is a man of progressive thinking, a man of enlightenment as he calls himself and they are considered as an enemy since they oppose the medieval thinking with strong emphasis of faith and religion. However, Struensee and King hit off immediately and start spending a lot of time together. Struensee is seen as a bad influence initially as after his appointment Christian starts firing people who have been with him since his childhood like his tutor and people blame him for that.

Struensee uses his influence in a lot of good ways - he tells King to improve his relationship with Queen, he encourages Christian to put his ideas in court and most importantly, keep his craziness in check. Even queen doesn't have a much high of an opinion of him at first. But as she gets to know him better, they get acquainted to each other with the help of common interests like Books and Horse riding and Voltaire. She likes the man of enlightenment in him who is speaks of things she is been told not to. Around him, she can be an intellectual that she was accustomed to or was known for in England but never had a chance to be in Sweden because of censorship and King's behaviour. He cements his position further as a faithful adviser in eyes of both King and Queen, this time by using his doctor degree, when he successfully vaccinates Prince Frederick. With incidences like this, Queen and Struensee get closer and closer and then dances and illicit meetings turn acquaintance into friendship, friendship into fascination and then into full-blown titular affair. In the mean time, Struensee becomes much more influential on King too. With some other free-thinkers like him with Christian and Caroline together, they try to bring some reforms. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't until one day in one crazy moment, Christian dissolves the existing cabinet and replaces Bernstoff with Struensee. What follows is rule of reform to bring Denmark out of stone age mindsets, off course until relationship between Carolina and Struensee threatens it all.

Over the last week, I have caught up with all the Oscar roundtables released at 'The Hollywood Reporter'. First one was the writer's roundtable where, among other things, they talked about the responsibility films have in terms of telling a story certain way. 'The Office' fame John Krasinski talked about manipulating audience to believe something being incredibly dangerous. There is something similar I noticed distinctly about A Royal Affair that it never leads you as a viewer to believe anything. It puts everything on the table and let you be the judge to choose our own side. It doesn't glorify anyone and at the same time, does not villainize anyone either by being overtly critical. Each of the three leads are being presented from all the angles, good or bad. Another thing that I really liked about it is, even though it's named A Royal Affair, it doesn't dwell too much only on affair part and gives a well rounded view of everything that lead to the eventual end, politically as well as socially. I loved that it spends time introducing the characters, building them and circumstances around them so that nothing seems forced, out of the blue or superficial but at the same time never looses its pace. It takes a lot of maturity on director and writer Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg's part to show such constraint in a script that could have gone either ways. Similar restraint shows in the acting as well as each of the three leads give a powerful performances. After Casino Royale(2006), Oscar nominated After The Wedding(2006) and this year's The Hunt(2012), Mads Mikkelsen must be the most recognizable name from the cast. He is brilliant in the central role of Struensee - very intense and passionate for his cause. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard making his feature debut as Mad King Christian in all of his crazyness turns in a very captivating and spontaneous performance. However, the biggest highlight for me was Alicia Vikander as Queen Carolin - very controlled, restrained but nuanced, subtle and above all very royal. Off course, to add to the whole feel it does contains all the usual props for a period piece like beautiful sets, stunning locations, make-up and big, flowy costumes.

As I said above, along with The Intouchables, it is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination and even though it is still little premature to be talking about winning right now, it is one of the front runners in foreign film category. Now I do prefer The Intouchables a little over this one but I will be perfectly fine if either of the two wins. At least then, I would have seen the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner before winning its Oscar. Well, that's the First !!
Rating(out of 5):

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bollywood Essentials: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron(1983)

Last week, on the occasion of Diwali, Ryan McNeil at The Matinee unveiled his Bollywood Syllabus that yours truly and Nikhat designed for him. Ryan has never seen a Hindi movie and after his previous anime syllabus, when he showed interest in doing something similar with Hindi movies, we jumped on it and this is what we think will help him at least get acquainted with Hindi Cinema. I am really excited to see how this panes out, hopefully he will actually like some of the movies from the list and more than anything else, he will enjoy watching them. When I thought about doing this Bollywood Essential post, I wanted to do something from the list and then I remembered that one of the movies in the list in being re-released this very month in its digitally remastered format. So, it's time for me to talk about cult-classic film from 1983, certainly one of the best comedies made in Hindi film industry - Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron(1983). 

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron opens up with opening of Beauty Photo Studio operated by two photographers, Sudhir and Vinod. They have been waiting for more than couple of hours for their guests and none have arrived so far. The problem is, nearby there is another studio opening which is much bigger and is stealing all their thunder. This studio is set-up by Ashok and his girlfriend Priya, who work for one of the biggest and most powerful but also equally corrupt builders in the city, Taneja. Taneja has asked them to set it up so that they can keep an eye on office of activist magazine Khabardar, right across the street from them. Run by its editor Shobha Sen, Khabardar has been trying for a long time to expose Taneja and his corrupt ways that have taken him to the current position. After knowing about the photo studio set-up, Shobha tries to hire Sudhir and Vinod to run her own sting operation on Taneja. Sudhir and Vinod are very straight forward kind of people that want to have their small photo studio and run it but they have a habit of running into their own trap every single time, without fail. They are kind of goofy, little stupid but are good at their jobs. Taneja has internal setting with municipal commissioner D'Mello which allows him to get all the permits for everything he wants the way he wants. He also gets all major contracts for the city as well as. As Sudhir and Vinod's first assignment for Khabardar, Shobha asks them to take few photos of D'Mello's meeting with Taneja. After meeting them, she realizes that both are incredibly stupid but at least they get their work done and she probably can use their goofiness for her own good. So, she offers them another job which is a little more dangerous - they somehow have to break into D'Mello's guest house where Taneja is going to meet him to get his 4 tenders for the fly-over's passed. She also expects a lot of money to exchange hands.

However, Taneja isn't the only one who has big dreams and is ready to get his hands wet in an attempt to achieve them. Among others, these is Ahuja - Taneja's main business rival. There is a very well thought contrast in the characters of Taneja and Ahuja suggesting the face you put on for everyone does not make you a person you are - Taneja is very sophisticated, soft spoken person who comes off as a otherwise likable whereas Ahuja is a drunkard, brutish even in his manner of speaking and a hooligan. Even though they are so much different, their final goal is same and even Ahuja knows that the only way to get his hands on any of those contracts passes through D'Mello's pocket. Unfortunately for D'Mello though, Ahuja pops up at his house at the same time Taneja is there to get D'Mello's signature. That night, they both realize that D'Mello is playing them both, basically to get more money. They decide to meet at another place to sort out their differences so that third person can not take advantage of it. While they are discussing this, they are told that neither of them has got those contracts as someone else has already signed them. Now that they have been double-crossed, Taneja decides that he has to take care of D'Mello. Sudhir and Vinod are following Taneja everywhere, even when they thing it is too dangerous for them. Shobha knows that they are more interested in her than her job and uses it brilliantly with everything she's got to coax them into doing anything she wants. However they discover something way out of their league completely inadvertently and what follows is a race of truth against power, integrity against money. Keep an eye out for the final chase sequence though as it is unforgettable, especially Mahabharat farce which is officially my 'most watched scene ever'.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was much more like a passion product for most of the involved. Most of the cast and crew were just out of their respective degrees from National School of Drama in New Delhi or some other film school and none of them had any sort of stable career by then. Lot of actors didn't even take any money to work in it, they did it as a stepping stone for their career. In hindsight, it feels like a miracle to see so many well known faces of the industry together in a film as in 30 years since this movie, many of the actors have reached different heights in their respective careers. With likes of Nasseruddin Shan, Om Puri, Sathish Shah, Pankaj Kapoor and Satish Kaushik, this is probably the best ensemble of the character actors Hindi cinema has to offer and despite that, director Kundan Shah made this movie in a budget of 725,000 INR. Now-a-days, movies have marketing budget that is 10 times bigger than that. Even the look and feel of this movie tells you that it is a low budget movie but what they lack with money, they compensate it with passion. Now this whole movie is played out as a dark comedy, a satire on deeply rooted corruption in almost every stream - in bureaucracy, business, media or even politics. One thing that I frequently go back to defend this movie is Monty Python and any of their movies. Their movies usually play like an all out farce but have a strong social commentary that goes with it. With a lot of over the top acting and many unbelievable situations like appearance and disappearance of coffin, characters feel like almost caricatures of themselves. Shobha seems like only person that knows what she is doing but as in Monty Python, that is pretty much intention here.

Every character in the movie is a parody of something similar that does exist in a real world, none of which is too subtle or even too smart, maybe a little too parodied for some. However at the heart of all this stupidity and parody is very serious introspection of society and its ways which holds surprisingly true even after almost 30 years since its release. As I explained above in case of Taneja and Ahuja, all the characters are well-thought. Script takes various turns, some of which may feel extraneous but even the small events have something more to say than meets the eye. Take scene under the bridge where a cop takes Sudhir and Vinod's ticket money from them for no reason for example or their fight with Shobha in the end. All in all, it is a remarkably timeless take on very human quality of greed or self-importance against moral or ethical standards.
Rating(out of 5):

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