Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wrapping It Up: October

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. Did you see I have added one more tab in Menu bar at the top? Features! Even though I don't have any defined schedule for any of my features, I call them semi-regular for a reason, I have been slowly adding entries into them over the past year. I think it is time they get their own space now. I am thinking about starting another feature very soon as well and when I do, you'll be able to see it there too. Please take a look and let me know how it looks. With that, why don't we just get to the wrap up of this month?


Close-Up(1990): Like everyone else, I have been fascinated with Iranian cinema for a while, especially after Mark Cousins talking extensively about them but I finally got to them very recently. Actual premise of it was surely chief selling point of it but I loved the execution of it as well. Actual people re-enacting their own parts, him filming during the actual trial is all fascinating but what I love the most about it was Kiarostami's camera staying away from making any judgements. It is amazing to see those moments unadulterated.

Sunshine(2007): My favourite Danny Boyle so far and I have seen most of his acclaimed works. That sure means I like Sunshine a lot but it also means that I don't like some of his other 'revered' movies as much. I like the way it takes you right into the action immediately and never leaves from there. I am not sure about the math of those last 19 hours or about the motivation of the antagonist but I loved everything up to that point and I am going to give it a chance again before passing any judgement on the last third.

True Romance(1993): I haven't seen a whole lot of Tony Scott movies but from this has a much more Tarantino vibe to it than anything else. All the violence, swearing and even the overall style of the film definitely is from QT school of film making. I kind of guessed where this this movie will go and it did, right down to the tee but 'How' it reaches there was so much more interesting than 'where'. Just like any of his other films. And what a cast! What A Cast!! There are so many of great actors that pop up, do their part and die but ss good as Slater and Arquette are, they are the ones keeping this movie interesting.

Frankenstein(1931): This month's Halloween special blind spot. I don't think you can do much better than a classic iconic horror movie for Halloween. But after watching it, I also don't think you can do much better than Frankenstein. It is a classic that not only holds up really well but I think is even more relevant today than it was when they made it. And it holds up not only story-wise but even production wise. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how unlike any other film I have seen from that period it was.

State of Play(2009)(Re-watch): I won't go as far as calling this am underrated masterpiece or anything but I do think it is an underrated movie. Even back in 2009 when I first saw it, I felt like being thrown into thick of it from the very first shot. In first half hour, our plate is full with political conspiracies, human drama and multiple other issues is just glosses over and then it goes stagnant for quite some time.When it picks up, however, it does make it worth your time, especially the subtle twists in the last few minutes. Even though in general I do love political thrillers, those last 15-20 minutes reminded me of why I like this one.

Stray Dog(1949): Another one of gems from Kurosawa. This is 17th Kurosawa film I have seen and the more I watch, the more I believe that this guy never made a bad film. Most of his films early in his career that is pre-Rashomon(1950) are probably unknown to us but 5 films I saw from that period, including this one, are as good, if not better than many, as any of his post work. Except for the soldier with PTSD angle, the way Yusa's story unfolds reminds me of classic Bollywood and I mean it in the most admiring way because classic Bollywood produced a lot of meaningful cinema. This would still be one of the best though.

The Player(1992): Before going in, all I knew about it was it's filled with Hollywood inside jokes and off course, that glorious opening long shot. Even though that is absolutely true and I loved that, best part of it was it wasn't just content with being a farce on Hollywood. It had such an interesting and strong narrative of it's own that it easily could have done without all that. The end kind of rubbed me in the wrong way but I have to admit, watching who's who pop up out of nowhere was so much fun.

Stoker(2013): Did anyone else find it strange that her name is India? I mean, I wasn't bothered but it was just weird I Guess. It's a typical park film, dark and eerie with cold, whimsical characters. Kept reminding me of his own Thirst(2009) because I was even expecting him to reveal they are vampires at one point. Beautifully shot and sound editing really caught my ear. Wasikowska was great, Goode was very creepy. I was able to forecast quite a bit of it but it still kept me interested. I am not sure why would she go after Sheriff in the end though?

The Changeling(1980): I did not see many but this is one of the horror movies I saw for this month of Halloween. My pull for this movie was to watch George C. Scott in one of his post-Patton(1970) roles but I found more to like here than that. As Steve said in the comments of this post, I love the minimalistic approach of this movie. Not only Horror elements of it are still believable, I like how it takes its time developing the story and even making some sense of it away from them.

The White Ribbon(2009): In a typical Haneke fashion, I know that I have seen this movie now but I am not sure if I have understood it. The note on which it ends kind of left me with a feeling that few strange things did happen but what's the big deal? since (Possible Spoiler!) nobody ever knew what actually happened or who did it? It sort of feels like cheating but knowing Haneke, that might be the exact thing he was going for. You never know! It sure kept me into it for whole two and half hours though.

Winter Light(1962): Second of the Bergman's Silence Trilogy. I think you have to be in a certain mindset to sit down and watch his films. I wasn't but I still had a very typical Bergman reaction to it. In a way that I did like in parts but I don't think I have understood it enough or could relate to most of it enough to actually pass any definitive judgements about it. It is still a mystery to me. All I can say is it definitely isn't one of his more accessible films and I definitely like the first one, Through a Glass Darkly(1961), better.

All the King's Men(1949): There is absolutely nothing I can fault this film for actually. It had a decent script, Crawford, McCambridge and even Joanne Dru were really good in their roles and it held its banners high almost throughout. It's just that I've seen too many films that follow the same trajectory for any character to make me care for them any more and it followed that trajectory point by point. My only real disappointment was John Ireland who was so stoic, he reminded me of Tobey McGuire and that is never a good thing.

Bringing Up Baby(1938): I don't like slapsticks. I know this is not any slapstick but 'the' slapstick film but believe me, this is best I can do. Because of Katherine Hepburn, I was warming up to it a bit. I don't think it is coincidental that only two slapstick movies I can stand star her. If not for that police station sequence in the end, I might have rated it little higher but that brought me back to my usual reaction while watching them: repeating 'Why the hell are they doing this?' through my teeth while stomping my feet and clenching my fists. 

The Ice Storm(1997): After going through a bit of good streak, this is second Ang Lee movie in a row that has left me kind of underwhelmed. The adult drama and their issues of infidelity made quite sense and I think I would've liked it more if it was just about that. But I wasn't sold on any of the kid's storylines. I am not even sure about why was it set in 1973 as except for the couple of Nixon references, which it could have done without, I don't think there was anything specific to the time period. If there was, it went completely unnoticed by me.

A Man for All Seasons(1966): I have absolutely no idea what to say about this movie. This is my 64th Best Picture Winner of 86 so far and there certainly have been worse films than this one to win that award. There are a couple of good preformances and script mostly concentrates on the issue at hand but this film is so vapid that I am finding it difficult to accept this as the best of the year despite knowing very well that Oscar is far from being synonymous with best. You better get used to that because I have a feeling at least 12 of remaining 22 will also fall in line.

Mission: Impossible III(2006)(Re-watch): It is certainly not MI-1 or even 4 but it is not 2 either. What an epiphany, right? Well the thing is until I am watching one of first 3 MI movies, they all blend into each other for me. When I catch them somewhere, I remember them vividly enough. I can distinguish the fourth because it is latest and I still remember watching it in the theater. In the not-so-vivid moments, this is the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Vatican. That's it!

A Passage to India(1984): I feel bad about talking down the last film of one of the Great directors but this film probably commits the biggest crime any film can - it lacks any ambition. I heard someone describe David Lean's last film as a drawing on a vast canvas with tiny strokes and that might be the best way to describe it. In its setting, in scope it has potential to be that epic Lean knows how to deliver but it's story, characters and even it's execution continually fails it. I don't think there are many films I feel so apathetic about every character in it.

The Peacemakers(1997): Pretty standard, run of the mill political action thriller. It is so run-of-the-mill that I probably shouldn't even use the word thriller about it. What's so thrilling about the routine, right? It is so run-of the mill that it didn't need talented people like Nicole Kidman and George Clooney even though it was before they became George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. And the worst thing is they didn't even look at each other romantically. What's use of having two of the most beautiful and handsome people on earth in a film and doing nothing? That's a wastin'!

Snakes on a Plane(2006): The shit you watch on TV! But I will be perfectly honest here. It was way better than I expected. Off course, I expected it to be some kind of horror B-movie shitfest. So topping it wasn't that difficult but I have to give the credit, however little, where it is due. As ridiculous it sounds from outside, oh! it is ridiculous in many aspects, it had few genuine moments in it. What else do you want? It IS a B-grade thriller with Samuel Jackson after all.

Suspiria(1977): Every so often, you wait to watch certain classic for a log time and when you get to them, you never understand what it made it such a classic? Well, I certainly 'understand' what made Suspiria such a classic. I just don't think it is deserving of such a title. There are multiple problems with the story, acting is too loud, direction takes it on the path that I don't really care about. Sure it 'Looks' pretty and incessant soundtrack does something but I don't think that makes for a classic.

2 Fast 2 Furious(2003): Yup. Never seen it before. I might be rating it just 2 and 1/2 stars, which is actually quite low by my standards but I quite enjoyed it. Real trick, once again, is not expecting anything. I wasn't expecting story to make any sense or even to exist, for any characters to root for or developing some sort of structure or anything really. I knew it would dumb, fun, action movie and it was just that. What can I complain about then?

Total Count: 21. 19 First Time Watches and 2 Re-watches .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 218. 199 First Time Watches and 19 Re-watches.

It wasn't as happening month of Halloween as last year but I did manage to watch some horror films, including the Blind Spot entry. Apart from that, there is Diwali coming up next week and right after Diwali, I am starting a new job. I don't know if it will affect my blogging in any way yet. I don't think it will drastically, at least immediately, but I will keep you posted as even I just will have to wait and see.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October Blind Spot: Frankenstein

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
I don’t think it needs any other reason than because it is Frankenstein. The reason I chose Frankenstein(1931) is, believe it or not but, I had never known this story up until recently despite being a lauded literary classic. Extent of my knowledge went so far as knowing a scientist creates some monster. That's it! For the longest time, I was under the impression that name of the monster is Frankenstein because, frankly, that does sound rather sinister name. So I thought this might be a good chance not just to check out one of the most iconic horror films in movie history but also to get acquainted to this piece of classic literature. And off course, there can’t be a more apt time of the year than Halloween for this, right?

So, what is the story about?
Henry Frankenstein is a young scientist obsessed with being a God. He wants to create life and has spent months in isolation working on his machine he believes will create life. We first meet him in a graveyard, along with his deformed assistant Frits, making rounds of cremation grounds and gallows looking for human parts to assemble complete human body to revive. Back home, his fiancée Elizabeth is worried about him and seeks help of his former teacher and mentor Dr. Waldman. Along with Victor Moritz, friend of both Henry and Elizabeth, they go to his laboratory to put some sense into him. There they witness Henry bring a monstrous, grotesque body he has composed form various stolen parts back to life. Initially Henry is extremely happy with the results but soon, because of series of misunderstandings, his monster turns on them. Henry realizes his mistake and even agrees to destroy his own creation but he underestimates the monster he has brought to life and wrecks havoc.

I am pretty sure everyone knows the story in general because I don’t think there are many more specimen like me out there. Not only have I never read Mary Shelley’s book, I had no idea what the story was until I saw this couple of nights ago. Since then I did a little research about the book and it seems that movie took a lot of freedom in interpreting the story in its own way. It not only prunes various characters and storylines but also makes it much lighter in terms of price Dr. Frankenstein has to pay for his creation. It even adds few things here and there. I would not know if it is for better or for worse until I read the book but I did like what I saw.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
It satisfied me on various levels. First of all being a 1931 movie, I immediately assumed it to be a silent film. Imagine my surprise as the master of ceremony takes the stage to warn us about the horrors coming our way and he actually talks. Then there is also the matter of this unprecedented introduction. Agreed that I haven’t seen most of Frankenstein’s brother classic monster movies but I have never heard of such introduction before and it definitely got me right into the mood for a horror movie. Score!

Once again, being a 1931 movie, when you sit yourself down to watch it you have certain expectations from it. You expect to see a lot of stagey, loud emoting. Much more emphasis is on actually showing every strand of emotion than just hinting at it. I don’t mean to downplay that because it’s something you have to leave with in movies from that period. I have become used to it by now and, as I just said, even accept it as a trademark of the period. While this movie does have its share of such moments, frequency of it and scale is on much lower side. It makes it much easier to get into this movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how much modern it looked in its presentation.

Last and certainly most important thing is Boris Karloff and his monster. Though it is considered an iconic horror film, it can hardly be scary after more than 80 years. We have seen far too much now to be scared of it. But mere presence of Karloff with that equally iconic makeup is still quite enough to send some shivers down your spine. However what makes this performance worth mentioning here is this isn’t just one-dimensional monster. Even if we look at that one encounter with Maria, it manages to make him look somewhat human in his own way with that. It ends with disastrous results for both Maria and the monster but showing him being able to connect is definitely worth praise.

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
Not only because this is one of the most iconic horror movies but also because of the various motifs it manages to touch upon I think this classic story, which has managed to stay in the discussion for well over a century, certainly deserves the label essential. From very early stage of our existence, our desire, our need to push our own boundaries, explore new grounds has brought us where we are. However right now, when our lives are more than ever governed by the technology, is the need for us to know where to stop. With the monster’s encounter with Maria that I alluded to earlier, it also brings forth the question of whether it was our incompetence in understanding him, nurturing him into our own civilization is what brings out his monstrosities; another warning against conquering the unknowns.

Frankenstein is an ideal example of man crossing his boundaries to be someone he doesn’t fully grasp and obviously to most dire results. Henry Frankenstein is obsessed with being God and his desire to create life is what brings this calamity on him as well as others. Over the years, we have had fair share of movies warning us about it but this could be one of the pioneers. Also, It must have taken some guts to take such an acclaimed piece of literature and put his own spin on that, hopefully without loosing the gist of original. James Whale not only dared to do that but did it well and the fact that it holds so well after so many years and is still so true is a real testament to its timelessness.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
I have only seen The Phantom of the Opera(1925) and Nosferatu(1922) of all the classic monster horror movies I alluded to earlier. If these three films are any indication, I will like to try my hand at some more of that genre. Maybe The Mummy(1932) for more Boris Karloff or Dracula(1931), another equally iconic movie with equally iconic monster Bela Lugosi as well a classic piece of literature and maybe even The Wolf Man(1941). Being black and white horror movies, I don’t know when will I really get to them but I certainly would like to try some of them. Hopefully soon, at least before next Halloween.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

October Horror: Mini Reviews

As is the convention, October means Horror movies and even though that is not exactly my forte, like last year, I wanted to take this opportunity to strike out some names off my watch-list. Below are mini reviews of some of the horror films I saw this month. I guess I will watch few more in the 10 days to come including my Blind Spot this month but it seems like you will have to read about them in the monthly wrap up post. Let’s get to it then!

The Changeling(1980): George C. Scott is one of those people who have impressed me in every single role I have seen him in. Arguably, I have only seen his legendary stuff in pre-Patton(1970) era but with that he has become a name that I am instantly drawn to regardless of much else in the movie. I would have easily been satisfied by that but that’s not the only pedigree this movie came with. It also came highly recommended as one of the best Horror movies and I decided to give it a go on the occasion of this month. After losing his daughter and wife in freakish car accident composer John Russell, played by George C. Scott, is slowly returning back to his normal life. He moves to Washington State to teach and rents out an old mansion to find some peace. Soon he experiences some paranormal activities in the house and as he digs deeper, with the help of Claire Norman who helped him finding this house, uncovers a terrible secret guarded heavily for more than half a century by very powerful person.

It certainly did impress me with its traditional horror elements but what elevates its status a bit more in my eyes are the non-Horror aspects of it. As a non-horror fan, I find most of the horror movies fixate on the gory stuff unnecessarily leaving most of the basic film stuff unattended. Story is usually non present or at best can be expressed in couple of lines, characters tend to do inexplicable things that even a 4-year old would not otherwise. Where The Changeling scores is in being a decent film even when it’s not a horror film. In John Russell and Claire Norman trying to find out the reasons for paranormal experiences in his house, it gives us a good background story and takes some time and pain to explore it and moreover to come to an intelligent, satisfying conclusion. It starts off and also ends on traditional horror notes but in between the two, it provides an engaging human story which works almost like a detective work. Even with the horror elements, it mostly stays away from relying on effects and does more with atmosphere which makes them work even after more than 30 years. Decent story, good performances and horror elements that can do their thing even today definitely made it a worthy watch for me this October.
Rating(out of 5):

Suspiria(1977): Now to the elephant in the room, Suspiria, my first ever Argento film. I often try to challenge myself and watch something that I normally wouldn’t. These horror mini marathons in October are part of that exercise as I rarely go out of my way to watch a horror movie for the rest of the year. I look at it as a part of my growth as a film lover. However unfortunately, more often than not it turns into me hating on a classic. I had been meaning to take a look at some of his films almost since last Halloween and off course, what could be better than starting off with one of his most famous films right? Apparently a lot, because I seriously could not get into this film. At All. Sorry everyone but so not my cup of tea. Everyone in the film was weird, creepy and loud. Way too loud. Everything is needlessly spooky, suspicious and most of what happens is without any reasonable justification; a random sequence of events that just happen to involve the same characters. I guess a lot of these things are done purposefully, maybe because of the limitations of the era or to give it more jarring look and feel but either way, it took me out of the film time and again.

Even though I knew Suspiria by reputation it turns out that I really did not know anything about it because I had no idea it had anything to do with ballet school or even Germany. However that does pose a small problem for me because I don’t know if I missed something but it doesn’t really use that setting. For all you know, it could have been set in any girl’s hostel in Africa somewhere and it would still work fine. There are few other details as well that we are privy to but don’t really add anything to the story. Like Olga vanishes completely after her brief spell early or Daniel’s dog randomly starts killing people. Were we suppose to forget that happened and move on? Probably one of the reasons why I don’t like horror movies particularly is because I don’t give them a free pass on everything else as long as they fulfill the scary requirements. I still look into them some kind of sensible story, character development as story progresses and most horror movies fall short on these bars. And most of them don’t really scare me. They make me jump once or twice but nothing further. Suspiria created similar sense of dread with its score, surrounding and bright colored sets but after a while it gets so heavy-handed that I was completely turned off by it. Sorry, I Guess!
Rating(out of 5):
Sunshine(2007): I know this is probably not the most conventional horror film, much more on the lines of a thriller but if we can include TheThing(1982), I think there is no reason why not include this one as well. And for my money, The Thing is one of the best horror films I have seen. Like Ang Lee, Danny Boyle is another director praised for venturing into different genre with his every film. This is him primarily trying his hand in sci-fi. I have kind of love-hate relationship with the director. I don’t have a very high opinion of two of his most revered films, Trainspoting(1996) or Slumdog Millionaire(2008) but 28 Days Later...(2002) and 127 Hours(2010) are saving graces. Considering all this, I wasn’t really enthused about it going in but I have to say that this is my favourite Boyle so far.

Set 50 years into the future, our Sun in beginning to die. A team of 8 astronauts is set on the mission to reignite Sun and save mankind from extinction. Seven years ago, similar team underwent similar mission but they failed. So this is our last hope. On their way to Sun, they pick up signals from previous ship on the mission and decide to take a detour and look for them. As you would expect this is where things start getting south but as I did not expect it to, it kept me on my toes almost throughout its length. Right from the expository voice over narration at the start, it takes a deep, serious tone which slowly becomes menacing by the end. There is a sense of dread, of looming storm from the start which added a lot to it. Though not as drastic a change as 28 Days Later..., in the last 30—40 minutes even Sunshine turns into something else entirely. Parts of it didn’t make much sense to me and can be construed as weak link but it had scored enough brownie points by then and maybe it will make a little more sense on re-watch. Gorgeous shots of Sun, well acted, well written story and ability to keep me engaged till the very end is what makes this my favourite Boyle.
Rating(out of 5):
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