Friday, May 31, 2013

Wrapping It Up: May

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. I have a few things to say but that can only be said after we get through this month's crop first. So, shall we?


The Long Goodbye(1973): Even though I have seen The Big Sleep(1946) before, I had no idea that Philip Marlowe we see in both movies is such an iconic character. I even didn't know it was the same character. I also haven't seen any Altman film except Gosford Park(2001). So essentially, this was kind of my initiation to a lot of things. Thankfully, it was worth every minute of it. And Elliot Gould - is it weird that my first reaction after seeing him was 'WTF, it's Jack Geller!'?

Monty Python and Holy Grail(1975)(Re-watch): Because why not? OK, I will tell you the truth. On one of the weekends, I had about half an hour to kill. Since I had nothing better to do, I went on YouTube to pass that time and after sometime found myself searching for the Monty Python clips. I soon realized once I opened those gates, there was no stopping and I ended up watching the whole film. As ridiculous as they are, I'll be damned if there is something as entertaining as them bunch.

WALL-E(2008)(Re-watch): My favorite Pixar. I had not seen it since the first time I saw it which must be back in 2009. So it so well overdue for re-watch anyways. Being my favourite Pixar, it also served as a great addition to my 'favourites' series which definitely could use some animated flavour. As I've stated here, I do see it falling a little bit in my Top 100 but it is still a great movie and it did give me couple of things that I probably missed out on first watch.

Paris, Texas(1984): One of the prettiest and loveliest movies I have seen. It's kind of slow and at various points, I had no idea where will it go next from there but it never lost me. And that last conversation between Travis and Jane. Wow! I have never seen anything so beautiful and at the same time so heartbreaking. Absolutely loved it! Even though I saw some great movies for this post, this one was easily my favourite of the three.

Sarfarosh(1999)(Re-watch): I don't remember the last time I saw this movie but it is one movie that can give Lord of the Rings trilogy a run for its money as my most watched film(No, I am not keeping track. Gave that up long ago!). It's a movie that I can practically recite from start to end and it was good to revise it once more and see how sharp they are after a big gap. I don't want to give up too much because it will be topic of next 'Bollywood Essentials' but the couple of facts I stated here and bracket I've put it should give you some rough idea.

Undefeated(2011): If you don't know I love the hell out of Friday Night Lights(2006), easily one of my favourite serials. When this documentary won the Oscar last year, I remember some people calling Bill Courtney in it 'a real life Coach Taylor'. That's a damn high praise to live up to and I'll be damned if it doesn't. If this guy is really what they show in the documentary, he is one of the biggest heroes I have even heard of. Hats off to Coach Courtney! and everything he has done for these kids, for this community. 

Z(1969): Thanks to Hulu and Criterion which had the bunch of Palme d'Or winners free for streaming on their site, till the end of Cannes film festival this month. I had heard quite a lot about this movie and I am happy that it delivered to its promise. Its an extremely fascinating and intricate political thriller which makes even more impact because of the bold and very frank nature of its commentary. Best part of it was despite being such a multilayer story, it is been made remarkably easy to understand and follow.

Taste of Cherry(1997): Another one of Palme d'Or winners I saw thanks to Hulu and Criterion. It's one of those that will probably keep on improving as you think more about them. I haven't seen many Iranin films but they seem to have a very unique feel about them and this was no exception. It rarely uses any background music, relies heavily on dialogues and visuals. Plus, it is in no hurry to reach where is wants to go. I liked this film but it took me some time to get used to all this. More here.

Sarkar(2005)(Re-watch): Indian films often get slapped around for copying Hollywood films blatantly. While a lot of it is usually true and you'll even find me taking an occasional shot, I usually fall back to this movie as an example of doing it rightly. While it is obvious that it is very similar to The Godfather(1972), Ramgopal Varma did many things right here. First and foremost, he gave the credit where it's due so that no one comes back screaming plagiarism. Two, he added something of his own to it while keeping the sole intact and third and probably most important thing, he made a Good Film.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948): This month's Blind Spot film. It has truly been a blind spot of mine for the longest time and I am really glad to have it crossed off the list. I am really happy with the way this series has been going so far. It's been only 5 months and when I made the list, I did take this into consideration but even then, having every one of them deliver to their promise is nice. As for this film, it was worth every minute of it, if only for Humphrey Bogart. As raw as it gets.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley(2006): I am pretty sure that if it didn't win Palme d'Or in 2006, forget about watching this movie, I would not have even heard about it for a long time. And I'm really glad I did. Being a little bit of a History buff, even more interested in Irish Independence fight, it had that natural allure to me the minute I read about it. Even though it focuses primarily on two brothers, through them it goes through Irish war of Independence as well as the civil war following it. Look for the complete review in the next few days.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000): Ang Lee's swooping Martial drama is credited for introducing the world to Wu-Xia films. It naturally earned him a spot on my mini Wu-Xia marathon. Even though it did not help much to brush off my inhibitions against wire work, it still was the best of three films I saw. When characters weren't flying at the top of the roofs, I actually liked their fighting skills and techniques. They also showed me that these films can be about something other than just high-flying.

Breaking the Waves(1996): Knowing that it is von Trier, I was little apprehensive getting into this film but within first half an hour or so I was sure that if nothing else, I will at least have seen one terrific performance. Emily Watson was just that good, with her accent and soft voice, all her talks with God and her mood changes. Just Brilliant! If it wasn't for its 150+ minutes of run-time, I probably would've said that about film as well but it's never good for such a slow-pace film to be so long.

Stagecoach(1939): Criterion summarizes this films as 'the film that revolutionized the western, elevating it from B-movie to A-list and establishing the genre as we know it today'. I knew it kind of launched John Wayne as an A-lister but for one movie to transform a complete genre like that is extraordinary and I am sure Stagecoach is deserving of that praise as a movie. It only takes about 5 minutes of total run-time for an event that we have been gearing up for the whole time but by that time, it does go through a whole lot and those 5 minutes really are worth it, if only for how they are shot.

The Place Beyond the Pines(2013): This would probably be the best movie of this year I have seen so far, which isn't much since there are only 6 total I have seen but still I really liked this movie, especially for the great acting all around. If not for the whole Ray Liotta sub-plot, I would've rated it even higher. I didn't think that part was inferior to the rest of the movie in any way but if you are not going to use it anywhere afterwards, I don't understand the need of it to be there. Imagine a 110 minute movie without that whole story. It is still pretty much the same.

Barton Fink(1991): I am kinda at loss of words as to what to say about this movie since I don't think I have placed all the pieces of this puzzle together. I Loved Turturro and Goodman in their respective roles. I was under the impression that I had the grasp of whole thing until the last 10 minutes happened. What was with the fire? Also I didn't get what was with the frame on the wall of Barton's room. If either of these things were suppose to point towards something, it was completely lost on me.

Croupier(1998): Nice little gem I had not heard much about but it's always nice to be surprised by movies like this. I had it in my Netflix queue because of Clive Owen, who is absolutely perfect in that titular role. Owen is kind of made for these roles; these smart, exquisite men of action, the kind Ryan Gosling does mostly now-a-days. It's good to see a movie knowing it's limits and staying within it. On top of that, it had a smart story topped with couple of beautiful twists that I never saw coming. 

A Matter of Life and Death(1946): My third Powell and Pressburger and all their usual tropes are here as well in abundance. However what attracted me more in this film was an interesting concept. I also loved the way they develop the story in two different worlds parallely using the laws of that world. Pairing of David Niven and Kim Hunter is really great and could easily be one of my favourite pairs. However third act of the movie comes crashing down everything they have build by then and gets into too much melodrama.

Hero(2002): I probably should count this as a re-watch because I remember having seen it a while ago. Only question is did I see the whole movie or just some parts of it? and I honestly don't remember. I also have no idea why did I feel like doing a Wu-Xia mini marathon out of nowhere but I did and this was the start of it. Not the best I saw but not the worst either. More about all the three films I saw here.

House of Flying Dagger(2004): Despite best Zhang Ziyi performance out of three films I saw in quick succession, this was the weakest film of all three. Being from the same director as Hero, there were quite a few similarities between the two. However, even though Hero had most over the top fights which is where I usually turn out of the movie, it also benefited more from the second half twists than this.

Side Effects(2013): My first English movie of 2013! Can you believe it? I am not even kidding. There is nothing about this film that I did not like particularly. I thought the story was interesting, most of the actors involved did a good job and it was good to see Jude law not playing a despicable character, though he does roam into that territory for a while. But for some reason, nothing in this movie has left any lasting remark on me. It just passed.

Iron Man 3(2013): If Christopher Nolan isn't directing it, all I expect from any superhero movie is to entertain me and I think Robert Downy Jr. can do that in his sleep. If I haven't said it earlier, it is absolutely remarkable the way he has embodied this character. It is just impossible to separate them from each other(Something for you to think about, Marvel Studios!). And they had Ben Kingsley in that role. Simply Amazing! Yes, it does go a little out of hand with like 200 Iron Men and stuff but damn, if it wasn't a great fun movie.

Thunderball(1965): After watching a couple of earlier Bond films last month, now everything seems like a formula. There is a new mission, new villain and new girls but skeleton remains the same. New people pretty much just take the places of old people. Also, given that it is Bond, you have to make some obvious assumptions. If you are ready to do all that then you might like Thunderball because it was a rather enjoyable movie, a mindless action flick.

A League of their Own(1992): I haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness(2013) yet but I've heard about all the hoopla about one Alice Eve 'shot'. If that scene was termed sexist then this movie should be called 'sexist movie made ever'. I'm usually very lenient complaining about sexism, racism and all the other -ism. For me to notice something, it has to be something big and there was so much in this film, I stopped counting after a while. I don't understand baseball. So most of the technicalities of game were lost on me. Only thing I really liked was the ending.

Solaris(1972): I am just as surprised as anyone else to see this movie in this bracket. But man, it really frustrated me! My first Tarkovskiy and if this is any indication, this relationship is off to a bumpy start. For the majority of it, nothing made any sense to me at all. When I did understand it in some parts, they did not connect to each other. I hated the protagonist, Kris, who looked same at his most exulted and dire worst and his voice put me right to sleep. Whole dubbing of the film seemed like floating over the print, like two had nothing in common but somehow just their timings matched. Last 15 minutes gave some explanation but by god, I had checked out of it long before. I'll probably have to see it multiple times to make any sense out of it but at this instant, I have no intention of watching it ever again.

Total Count: 25. 20 First Time Watches and 4 Re-watches .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 110. 100 First Time Watches and 10 Re-watches.

Largely due to the last two weekends of May which I pretty much spent completely in watching movies, I have finally broken the barrier of 21 movies/month that I had quite nicely settled in in last few months. Not only did I watch more movies than recent months, surprisingly overall quality of these movies was much better too. Quite a few movies I saw this month turned out to be much better than I expected. Even a movie like Croupier which I didn't expect much from successfully surprised me. Another unusual thing I did this month is re-watching 4 movies and 3 of them were just because I felt like watching them again. Usually, most of my re-watches are only for helping me write about them but this time I got out of that rut too.

Come June, U, Me and Films will complete 2 years. For a movie blog that has been running for almost two years, amount for full-fledged movie reviews I have written is abominable. I am going to try and change that a little this month. In that attempt, I have decided to give all my features a rest for this month. All you'll see on this blog for the month of June is Reviews. I have one almost done, I will also get to another right after this. I don't know how many will I do, I don't know all the movies I'll write about but they will be here soon. I promise!

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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May Blind Spot: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

This month’s selection is another movie that I have been meaning to check off the list for quite a long time, especially considering it is a classic with such a high reputation. I was on the verge of going in the favour of Andei Rublev(1966), considering it was free on Hulu till this weekend. However, it’s three and half hour length scared me a little. I have never seen a Trakovsky film before. So before plunging myself into his world with one of the longest movies I have seen, I went for another film as a test drive – Solaris(1972). Unfortunately that failed miserably and detracted me further from it. I’ll get to it but just not this month. This month it has to be John Huston’s Western classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948).

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
At the start of the year, when I was compiling this format for the Blind Spot posts I would do, I often wondered if as an answer to these questions I can just say – I don’t know, everyone says it is. I am pretty sure the reason I included this film in the list is because I have never heard anything other than praises for this movie. I literally have no other reason at all. So essentially what I am saying to this question is I don’t know, everyone says it is! I guess I will find out if I CAN say so.

So, what is the story about?
Two Americans, Fred C. Dobbs and Curtin, looking for a job in Tampico, Mexico meet one day by chance. After getting swindled for 2 weeks of hard work and no money, they return to one of the flophouses to seek cheap shelter. Here they listen to Howard talking to few other men about his adventures in gold digging. Next day, they beat their money out of the guy who cheated them and decide to get Howard’s help in trying their own luck in prospecting for gold. All three of them invest pretty much everything they have to have some decent chance of finding their own fortune. Dobbs even puts his money from the lottery he wins unexpectedly just as they are about to leave. As they head out into the wilds, Dobbs and Curtin soon learn that this whole prospecting game is not as easy as they thought it would be. They are also very lucky to have experienced Howard with them because just as they are about to give up the whole idea of finding any gold thanks to Howard and his experienced eyes they, quite literally, stumble upon their Gold mine. Back in the flophouse, Dobbs was very quick to ridicule Howard for saying he has seen what gold can do to a man. As they set up their shop on the Sierra Madre Mountain and the pile of gold collected starts to grow, ironically, Dobbs becomes the first one to give in to his paranoia and distrust of others. He starts imagining Curtin and Howard being in cahoots to swindle him of his share; he demands higher share as he put up major share of the cash to get them started even though they all agreed to split everything in equal parts. As much the other two try to put up with his mental instabilities, only way Dobbs can spiral from there is downwards. What follows is unflinching story of how fast moralities can go down in a gutter once man gives in to his greed and his insecurities to their inevitable ending.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
What did I think of it? I loved it in almost every single aspect of it. Humphrey Bogart is excellent in as raw a performance as you would see from anybody. His downward spiral once he sets his eyes on gold is spectacularly pathetic and downright scary, as if he is setting an example of everything you should not be. It’s really great to see someone like Bogart, essentially a leading man and at least in my experience someone we are used to see as a voice of reason or someone who can do no wrong, shining as something diametrically opposite. And then on the complete opposite end of spectrum, is old, grizzled Howard, played by director John Huston’s father Walter Huston in his Oscar winning role. He is experienced in the ways of the world, with everything that comes as a part of prospecting. He is very enthusiastic, level-headed and as both Dobbs and Curtin soon realize, their greatest asset. He has probably seen people go down this path many times before and is much more equipped to handle that. Curtin, played by Tim Holt, is the third leg of this tent and probably the one that changes the least over the course of their expedition. He gets rather overshadowed by the other two performances but there is nothing there to fault him for. It’s this contrast between the three of them that highlights all the drama even more.

However, besides all this praise for it, there are couple of things I do want to mention here. None of them are complaints necessarily because in no way any of them bring the movie down as a whole. But still I think they are worth mentioning. First, I saw Stagecoach about a week ago which was released in 1939. This is 9 years after that but even then, the way fights were shot was so much better in Stagecoach and when I am talking about fights, I am not talking about the brawl in cantina but on the train. You would expect them to get better in 9 years, wouldn’t you? Second, again not necessarily a strike against the film but I don’t remember if there is even one female speaking part in the entire film. Being a western and majority of it spent on the top of certain mountain looking for gold, I certainly understand the male dominance but not even a single speaking character is rather surprising.

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
Now this is a question worth answering, especially considering my egregiously ignorant answer to the first question. Well, there can be no two ways about it. It’s amazing, superb, fantastic. Add however many adjectives you want here because it is a near perfect film. It is very easy to see now why it is regarded as one of the best classics. John Huston won an Oscar for both Direction and Writing. I don’t know much about his competition that year but I’ve got no complaints about either. Off course, it is acting that shines the most in this film. But as great as Bogart and Walter Huston are in their respective roles, I think John Huston’s screenplay deserves equal credit for painting these characters so vividly with so contrasting styles but rich emotions and his directing for invoking those emotions in these characters. What makes The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a classic of such a high reputation even after so many years is combination of high quality acting, directing and writing. It sure is a ‘Must Watch’ movie for any film enthusiast.

Fun fact: My experience of being in US over the last four years has taught me that many people think that we, Indians, talk fast. Over this period, many times I’ve been told to slow down a little. There might be some truth to it but next time someone tells me that, I am going to tell him to go and watch this film and specifically watch Walter Huston in the scene where they first find the traces of gold on Sierra Madre. If you think I am fast, go and watch that.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
This is another occasion I will have to little vague about. Most of the entries I chose for this list were chosen as some kind of gateway for me. In few cases it was a genre I wasn’t well versed with, in some cases a director or in some cases entire industry. This movie was chosen based on its own legacy, which doesn’t leave me much room for me to dive deeper into. However if there is a Blind Spot somewhere here worth exploring, it’s John Huston. I have seen The Maltese Falcon(1941) and The African Queen(1951) but I am not well-versed with his career. In the future, I will make sure to actively seek out some of his other notable titles.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

'1001 Movies' Mini Reviews - Cannes Festival Winners Edition

One of the biggest events of the year when it comes to movies, Cannes Film Festival, started on 15th May. Even though Sidney Lumet disregards it as ‘nothing but glorified sales convention’ in his book, for many of us it is still a big deal. At least we get an idea of what to expect from many films that we are waiting eagerly for. During the time of the festival, Criterion made a bunch of their films that made splash in Cannes in the past, free for streaming on Hulu. Having many of them on my watch list for some time, I decided to make maximum of this opportunity and here we are, with the ‘Palme d’Or Winners’ edition of ‘1001 Movies’ mini reviews.

Z(1969): Politics and History are the two things that have always fascinated me. Costa-Gavras’ political drama Z, based on a book by Vasilis Vasilikos, brings these two topics together and hence has been on my watch-list for quite some time. It is very difficult to sum up Z in few sentences without giving up too much about it. Or it is difficult to sum it up in few sentences that will sound as fascinating as movie is. I probably can round it in single sentence – it is a story of murder and subsequent trial of a leader of left-wing party in the right-wing military led country. If you don’t have problem with watching politically motivated movies and that doesn’t entice you, you’ll have to take my word that every second of it was in fact intriguing. Also, what happens is probably less important than how and why? Story has many layers to it and works on multiple fronts that, as a viewer, you have to keep track of. At the same time, there are so many characters we are introduced to and so many events that happen at a very brisk pace. But, not having read the book I do not know if it the story or screenplay that I should credit, it is told in such a way that it never gets confusing. All the events line-up perfectly, all the characters get enough time to leave their impression.

Another interesting thing about it was the way it changes the protagonist in the middle of it. At the start whole focus is in Z, this charismatic leader played by Yves Montand, and various problems their organisation faces arranging the event he is in the town for, the death threat he receives and eventually the attack on him which results in his death. Enter Jean-Louise Trintignant, playing a magistrate specially brought in to investigate this case and from that point onwards, whole focus shifts on him. I am not sure if I have seen this anywhere else. Film carefully tries to avoid any reference to any particular country or place. We never get the name of any country or city everything is happening. Someone more familiar with Greece may deduce it based on the names mentioned or judiciary and military system in work, if that is a good indicator. I can’t. But if you know certain facts about this movie and the events it portrays, you can certainly see so many hidden clues pointing to the obvious. The events depicted in this movie are based upon the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. Everything about Lambrakis’ background, events that led to this attack, the manner in which it was carried out and the aftermath of this event matches with what we see. Also the fact that Z means 'He Lives' in ancient Greek also points towards Greece. However despite being inflammatory, everything is portrayed with remarkable candour. If you can stand 127 minutes worth of political cat-and-mouse chase, this movie is must for you.

Rating(out of 5):

Taste of Cherry(1997): When I saw Certified Copy(2010), that was the first time I heard of Abbas Kiarostami. Since then I’ve seen his name constantly making rounds through various sources though I never saw any of the movies he did apart from that. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Certified Copy, there were quite a few of his films that interested me. But I never got around to any of them until this weekend when I saw that criterion had Taste of Cherry streaming for free on Hulu, being previous Palme d’Or winner. This was a curious film. In fact, all the three films I saw for this post were curious. Taste of Cherry is about a middle-aged man, Mr. Badii, who has determined that there is nothing in his life worth leaving for and therefore wishes to die. He has already decided how he wants to kill himself; he has even picked up a spot for his own grave. All he needs is someone to bury him after he is dead. In his truck, he drives around the various parts of city in search of someone who is alone so that he won’t go on telling anyone and is willing to help him. This is pretty much what the whole movie is about and majority of it, almost 90%, takes place while he is driving in his truck.

Until last 5 minutes of the film, it doesn’t use any kind of background music. All the sounds we here are natural sounds coming from various things in the surrounding. It can be birds, people talking around or machines running in the vicinity but they are all actual sounds direct from the source. I have only seen a couple of other Iranian films but I’ve noticed the similar trait in them as well which gives it a very different, curious feel. In this case, this complete lack of music helps add to his desperation, his loneliness, his lack of any interest in anything. Desolate landscapes of cement factory only add to this void. It is interesting to realise that as the old man tries to get him to live with his tale of cherries, talking about all the pure, beautiful things in this world worth leaving for, background changes from barren desert to trees and bustling city alleys probably suggesting there is still a faint hope he might change his heart. I have never seen Homayoun Ershadi, playing the lead role of Mr. Badii, in anything else but like Michael Shannon in Take Shelter(2011), he has a natural look on his face that goes long way in convincing us of his problems. I don’t know if all the actors from this movie are trained actors or not but in any case, there is something in their natural disposition that adds a lot to the overall mood of this movie. And then there is that ending; but to tell you the truth it was such a fascinating journey, I was perfectly content with not knowing. I was rather happy to leave it open-ended.

Rating(out of 5):

Paris, Texas(1984): For some reason I was under the impression that this is a time-travel movie. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out it wasn’t. I swear I was devastated. Paris, Texas is a very personal story of Travis, a lost man who walked out on his wife and son four years ago. When he first see him, he is somewhere in the middle on Mohave Desert in Texas. He runs out of water and so he goes into a bar nearby. As it turns out, that bar is closed down for some time and he soon collapses out of exhaustion in that bar. When he wakes up, he is in the hospital and doctor informs him that he has already called his brother to let him know about Travis. His brother, Walt, owns a billboard business in L.A. and he, even though surprised to know Travis’ whereabouts after four years, rushes as soon as he can to reach this middle of nowhere. By the time he reaches there, Travis has taken off again but he soon finds him somewhere off the road and they start their journey back home. Travis has stopped talking; he doesn’t eat or sleep at night. Walt tries to break his defenses off one by one and by the time they got back home, he is pretty much back to his old self. With his footing back and Walt and Anne’s, his wife, encouragement, he starts working on getting his life back together that he left four years ago.

Like Taste of Cherry, Paris, Texas is a movie in no hurry to reach anywhere though it does not mean it is an uneventful journey. Couple of times, I even doubted if it meant to go somewhere because I had no idea where can it lead to from that point for a while but Wenders directs this ship masterfully. In many ways, slow pace of this movie allows everything to make its full impact. It allows you to settle down, process everything you see on screen and form your own notions. It allows you to be the part of their world, understand all the characters. Visual beauty of this film also aids us, the viewers, to enter this world. However what impressed me the most is not the visual beauty. It is such a beautiful film, not just in its look but also in its tone, in its feel. There are many very personal but beatific moments in the film like Travis and his son Hunter looking at the old photographs or whole family watching an old super-8 film of the family trip they took before Travis disappeared. However, nothing is as beautiful and sad, as deeply moving as the final conversation between Jane and Travis. It’s his catharsis, his moment to repent for the life he has given to Jane and Hunter. If that doesn’t move you, you might even be made of stone.

Rating(out of 5):
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