Wednesday, December 10, 2014

September Blind Spot: Brief Encounter

Do you know a movie that anyone who has seen it praises unconditionally but you still don't hear whole lot of buzz around them otherwise? I mean, we all know movies that we think are under appreciated but this is taking it to the next level. I think my film for this month, Brief Encounter(1945), is one such film. I know lot of people who think world of this film. I should rather say it like this - I have never seen anyone say anything remotely bad about this film. But somehow this film has successfully eluded me thus far. I decided I wasn't going to let it go any further this year and finally put it on this list. And here we are, in the month of September, I have finally seen it!

Brief Encounter is about an affair of two sensible, happily married people with perfect families who wouldn't even think about cheating on their spouses, that is, until they meet each other. Even their meeting is a chance meeting. Laura is a housewife and spends her Wednesdays shopping and Alec is a doctor who spends his subbing for a friend. Their paths cross at a Milford railway station where they catch trains in opposite directions every week. They meet for the first time in waiting room where he helps her get something out of her eye. Over the next couple of weeks their paths cross again on few occasions and two very easily strike up rather innocent friendship at first. However, as they start spending more and more time with each other watching movies and sharing lunches, even they don't realize when it turns into a full blown affair.

It opens with Laura and Alec parting their ways. It is one of those scenes where both Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard say a lot without actually saying much; probably even the best of the lot. Rest of the film plays out inside Laura's head where she imagines she is telling everything about this encounter to her husband. This is a rather interesting tool since it makes us privy to all the information first hand, from Laura's own perspective. It tells us things that we otherwise would only guess like at every step of the way, both Laura and Alec knew what they are doing will have serious repercussions and still kept going with it. In their own words, they decide not to see other a thousand times over the week but still end up together every Wednesday.

Neither Celia Johnson nor Trevor Howard are particularly attractive or traditionally beautiful. But this story is not driven by their physical attraction and it is a very welcome change. We don't get many films like that. What drives this story is their innocuous desire to get out of the ordinary, to do something different from their routine life and once ball gets rolling, no one really knows how to stop it or whether they really want it to stop it. What makes it work is chemistry of Johnson and Howard, compact script and direction. And it is directed by David Lean in his early period of British films. When someone says David Lean, films that I associate this name with are his sprawling epic films like Lawrence of Arabia(1962), Doctor Zhivago(1965) or even A Passage to India(1984)(even though I wasn't the biggest fan of it). It was nice to see him making such a personal film with equal finesse.

However as much as I like it, and I do feel very strange saying this but, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed and this is completely my own fault. When I think back on it, I can only think of good things about this movie but never being really wowed by it. I have seen many people giving this film glowing review. While I sat down to watch this one, even I was expecting to be swept off my feet a la In the Mood for Love(1999). What I forgot was it impressed me so much was because I had no expectations at all from it; I didn't even know it then! Here I already was expecting a masterpiece here and now even a really good film seems like a letdown. I told you, I have no one else but myself to blame.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Wrapping It Up: October

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. Let us get on to the movies of this month...


Saving Private Ryan(1998)(Re-watch): I have seen this one quite a few times already but this was probably the longest between my two watches. It is one of those movies that every time I see, I find someone knew I didn't know was in this film. This time it was Paul Giamatti who I completely forgot was in it. But it still awes me as much it did the first time I saw it. Yes, it's little too on the nose sometimes, like that ending, but that's Spielberg for you. And there is more than enough pathos in it to help me turn a blind eye towards such moments. And it makes me want to see The Thin Red Line(1998) again even more.

Haider(2014)(Hindi): Third installment of Vishal Bharadwaj's Shakespeare adaptations trilogy. What Bharadwaj has succeeded in doing in this trilogy is translate these stories beautifully to Indian backgrounds while keeping Shakespearean core of each intact. Bismil song in this film which replaces play in Hamlet, re-enacting his father's death, is prime example of this. He has achieved same effect with something intrinsically Indian and, if you ask me, that was easily the best part of the whole film. Bharadwaj has always been one of my favorite Indian directors and he once again demonstrates why.

Infernal Affairs(2002): The Departed(2006) is one of my favourite films. If I am not wrong, it was my first Scorsese film and still remains to be the best piece of ensemble acting I have seen. Infernal Affairs had been on my watch list since knowing Scorsese adapted his film from this one. Now I can see that The Departed had a solid base to build on. This one here is very smart film. It is relentless and equally well acted. However, best thing I can say about it is it's still an exhilarating watch despite knowing what's coming next.

La Haine(1995): Have you ever had a lingering feeling that something terrible is going to happen? You keep on thinking it's about to for a long time and it never does and then you let your guard fall for a second and it hits you right then. That was me watching La Haine. Given the way it starts, at every turn I kept expecting something terrible to befall. It never did, not really and just when I thought nothing would happen now - BOOM! It's such a beautiful film though - B&W, episodic, great flow, very natural acting, little abstract but always palpable.

Nowhere in Africa(2001): This is one of those films that if it had not won Foreign film Oscar, forget about watching it, I wouldn't have even known about this. I don't know about how it was received in 2001 but if feels like a kind of movie that not many people would know about. My first impression of this film was this is sort of Out of Africa(1985), because it is based in Africa, + Days of Heaven(1978) because of look and feel of this film. Only difference is I was indifferent at best towards either of these films and I liked this one quite a bit.

City Lights(2014)(Hindi): Not to be confused with Chaplin classic, this is a Hindi movie released earlier this year with same name. I saw this after watching Shahid(2012) last month which was first collaboration of actor-director combo of Rajkumar Rao and Hansal Mehta and was very much revered critically as well. It reminded me of Babel(2006) because just like it, nothing remotely nice happens to anyone in this film. As a movie lover, I can appreciate it on many levels but it really gets overbearing after a while. I don't think I'll came back to it anytime soon.

Dracula(1931): As has been my tradition, if you can call something I have done twice in a row a tradition, I chose a classic horror as this month's blind spot entry in honor of Halloween. This might come as a surprise but I have been mostly uninitialized to this piece of classic literature. There must be countless versions of it now but I have seen Nosferatu(1922) and that is as far as my initiation to this world goes. And what could be better place to start than this classic. What I can say is for a film made in 1931, it works remarkably well today.

A Most Wanted Man(2014): Since last year, I was very interested in watching this film just based on political nature of its plot and I am very glad that it didn't disappoint. If you don't like political thrillers you might find this one sleep inducing because this is a sort of film that runs on single speed, never picks up except in the end. But they have always interested me. And it still hurts to see PSH on screen, even more so because he is amazing in this film. The way he just lets it go in the last seen is really something, especially since he is so controlled otherwise.

The Last Temptation of Christ(1988): This was first of 3 films almost three hour long films I saw in a week. Other two were 2 films right below. Curious thing with Last Temptation is on one hand, I am really intrigued by the path it takes after Jesus' crucifixion(I am guessing that is where all the controversy surrounding it was). And on the other, other biblical aspects of his life - him turning water into wine, resurrecting dead person - really turned me off. And at the risk of starting another controversy, I don't think I would've like him at that time. He was too ostentatious.

Spartacus(1960): This was another example of a film that I would be much more in love with had it been about an hour less in run time. I was never bored while watching it, on the other hand I appreciate quite a few things in it, but I seriously cannot comprehend why does it had to be as long as it was. There really was not enough content in it to justify that length. I know Kubrick was just a for-hire vehicle here but I have this problem with some of his most acclaimed works as well - they are almost twice as long as they have any business to be.

Heaven's Gate(1980): One of the notoriously famous film for all the wrong reasons. I didn't really like it much but I found it to be better than I expected based on its status as one of the worst flops of cinema. I might sound like a broken record here but my biggest problem with this was it's run time. Any film with a run time 0f over 200 minutes will have its dull period but in this case, it was almost first full hour where I was never sure of what the hell is happening. It sort of picks up later on but damage is already done. 

King Kong(1933): Just like Dracula above, I think this also works remarkably well for a film made in 31. Early in the film King Kong looks like created from animations we did as kids - flipping through pages a of book very fast but it settled as movie went along. I had seen Peter Jackson version before so I had some idea of what whole thing was. However, King Kong here is much more plain villain. You feel quite sad for him in Jackson version. Plus, Denham is much more of an asshole in that version. Here I can defend him pretty much all the way through.

Nightmare on Elm Street(1984): For the past three years, I have been making some effort to acquaint myself with some of the horror films prevalent in pop culture. You can safely assume that I don't watch horror films for the rest of the year. So in October, I spend some time with them for Halloween. This was my first exposure to Freddy's world and I have to say that despite being very '80s, which in my case is not the best thing you want to be, I quite enjoyed this. I may not run to it but I think I'll be down for another trip down this lane.

Thor 2: The Dark World(2013): I always feel that Thor is the most neglected superhero of Marvel universe. Maybe that goes somewhere in the back of my mind as well because I had very less expectations of this one despite Thor(2011) being one of the better superhero films of recent years. Thor 2 exceeded my expectations as well. Now, it's not doing anything extra ordinary here. I guess rather than what it does, more important is what it does not do. It doesn't overdo anything and that made it very enjoyable to me.

The Great Beauty(2013): It could be the time and place I saw this film at but I went through a lot of conflicting emotions while watching this film. On one hand, there were moments in this film that I could really connect with while on the other I felt it too opulent, too frivolous and vacuous. But Jep Gambardella knows this very well; in fact showing how empty their lives are is the main point of this film and it does so eloquently. Knowing all this I should appreciate it a lot but then again, I had to fight to keep my eyes open the whole time.

Night Moves(2014): I think I can take slow movies. Or maybe I should say they don't bore me just because they are slow. I have seen and enjoyed a few to confirm. I understand that keeping your patience with it and still be able to appreciate it can be difficult but I can appreciate a movie taking its time to say what it wants to say. In this case, however, I wasn't sure what it was trying to say or it lost somewhere in the way that I didn't really care where was it going. Either way, not a movie I can say I liked for what it is. 

Army of Darkness(1992): Last of the horror movies I saw this month and unfortunately the worst one. I can appreciate self deprecating aspects of it because it would have been almost impossible to take it seriously but it was little too out there; too much of rolling the eyes. The way it makes fun of itself or jabs at many horror tropes etc. kept it interesting but there was only so much of it I could bare. I think I would have liked this more as a pure comedy than horror+comedy. Still, not the worst horror film I have seen.

A Christmas Story(1983): This is one of those movies I never would've seen, forget seeing - I never would've known, had it not been in IMDb top 250 list(Spare me your highbrow frown. Yes, I still do watch films just because they are in this list. I only have 6 more to see and I would like to say I've seen them all soon). If I had seen it a child, I think this has all the ingredients to be my favourite film. It's really sweet and cute but to tell you the truth now, with its language and looks and stupid voice-over throughout, it is too kiddies stuff.

Lucy(2014): I heard so many good things about this film that one of my major regrets in the past few months was I missed this film during its theatrical run. By luck, I got a chance to correct that but now I so wish I hadn't. This was a colossal waste of time, money and anything else that I cared to invest in it. I didn't expect much from Besson anyways but this is one of the stupidest, consistently over the top films I have seen in a long time. Even just 90 minutes of this film felt like an eternity.

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

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 170. 160 First Time Watches and 10 Re-watches.

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