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?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wrapping it up: September

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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