Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wrapping it Up: June

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. This was the month this blog completed two full years, thanks to the support of everyone who visited this place. This was also the month that I wrote 4 reviews in; something which I had never done before. Lets have a look at what this month brought in terms of movie watching.


The Hours(2002): Can you think of three more versatile and talented actresses than Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore working in 2002? Given the wealth of talent involved, I should have seen this movie long before. Off course, the best part of it is seeing the three leads do their thing but to the film maker's credit, three stories in three different places in three different times was much easier to understand and follow than you'd expect. Also, they got all the setting of the respective time and place just right. My full review here.

Anatomy of a Murder(1959): Another movie I have been meaning to see for a long time. Much like majority of people, courtroom dramas excite me. Before getting into it, 160 minutes of its length was a little concern for me but once I got in, it really breezed by. That is one testament to Otto Preminger that he was doing it right. Plus great characters, intriguing script and even better acting kept me interested till the very end. Hopefully, I will have a full review up soon.

The Breakfast Club(1985): This month's Blind Spot film. Now that he has made two really good teenage movies, I can safely say that John Hughes really knew how to make them. There might be few other movies that I enjoyed more than this one but what made this one special was the character development of all the 5 people and probably even more importantly, the way these characters are still relatable, so many years after and to someone like me who has spent his school years thousands of miles away.

Boyz N the Hood(1991): I had heard quite a few good things about this movie. However even then, I was really surprised by the way this movie got to me. Even though it wasn't exactly a cultural shock, I have not seen many of those typical Black films, the kind that Spike Lee usually makes. I don't know how the rest of the crop would be but if this is any testament of the lot, I would love to check out few more like this.

Jurassic Park(1993)(Re-watch): Last film of the month and first and only re-watch of the month. Ever since they released it again in 3D earlier this year, I have been meaning to watch it again because I haven't watched it since I first saw it 18-19 years ago, whenever it was released in Indian cinemas. Well, we didn't see it in 3D but at least we caught up with it again. I didn't remember much of it but I can guarantee that it is just as awesome as it was 20 years ago. Spielberg's magic is really at full display here.

Capote(2005): I have so many conflicting thoughts about this that I am not even sure if rating it makes any sense. PSH Was truly awesome as Capote and so was Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith. But I truly and utterly detested Capote as a person. If they intended it, then they succeeded in bucketfuls. He was just using everyone, everyone around him to achieve something for himself, to make himself feel gloated. I have never seen such a pathetic, self-centered person before. Even when he cries while watching them hang, his tears seemed like a crocodile's tears to me.

Upstream Colour(2013): I went into this knowing that this is going to be a huge mindfuck and without having seen Primer(2004). I still haven't seen Primer and this film was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. So there are quite a few things in this film that I have not yet understood. I am not even sure if I will get it as and when I watch it again but still it is the best 2013 film I have seen as of yet. My full review here.

Margin Call(2011): Second film in three days which I loved despite not understanding everything that goes on in it. I agree that even though I have some idea of the situation we see in the film, lot of the technical or more accurately financial jargon about the proceedings of that one night went over my head. But it was all very intriguing, especially when it involved everyone from top to bottom on the company ladder and the way they handle it.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford(2007): I am pretty sure this mouthful of a title is the longest title I have ever seen and I had quite a curious reaction to it as well. There is nothing I did not like about it. Its rather slow and long but I didn't have any real problem with it. I liked the story and characters and most of the acting was really great. But somehow I did not really connect with any character. I didn't 'not' like it but I didn't particularly like it either.

Autumn Sonata(1978): Apart from being an only collaboration of Bergman, Ingmar with Bergman, Ingrid, it also had an added advantage of watching two great actresses together - Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Plus, Ingrid Bergman would be speaking in Swedish(For some reason, I was really excited for that). Film definitely did not disappoint but being a Bergman film, it will need much more ruminating over it. Considering the phenomenal job both the ladies did, I only expect it to get better as I think more about it.

Big Fish(2003): I haven't seen much of Tim Burton films. 2 of his films that I really wanted to watch were this one and Ed Wood(1994). There was lot to like about it but it still left me little bit wondering. I loved the part after Will finds out about Spectre and wanted little bit more of that part. All of his father's fantastical stories were amusing but became little bit too weird after a while. It would have been great if we'd spent more time in their realities which for me was the most touching part. 

Drunken Angel(1948): As far as I know this film marks Akira Kurosawa's first union with two of his longtime associates, Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. It wasn't very long ago that Kurosawa's image in my mind was this director who makes legendary Samurai movies. With every passing film I watch, that image fades away a little and his position as one of my favourite director cements further. By now, I am used to Japanese movies in '40s and '50s. However this was the first time ever I felt distracted by how dated it looked.

Shotgun Stories(2007): Jeff Nichols's first feature film and his 1st collaboration with Michael Shannon. I had heard many good things about it. It's another slow burn, just like Take Shelter(2011). Shannon is again really good and so is the rest of the cast though I don't know anyone. In reality, probably the story like this would end just as does in the movie but unfortunately, my only problem was it felt kind of anti-climatic for a movie. You expect a movie to pick up where this just ends.

Stranger Than Fiction(2006): I loved the idea it is based on. I think there was a lot of potential in it to be something different but they quite failed in the execution. I usually hate Will Ferrell in almost everything. For a change, he was quite good in this normal role. Even the rest of the supporting cast worked well for me but story never grabbed me as I thought it would. It kept going from one cliche to another. So though I enjoyed it, it really didn't stand out from the rest.

Sita Sings the Blues(2008): Now that I have seen it, I can totally see people crying heresy over use of Ramayan this film; especially considering the religious atmosphere in India. But at the same time I also think people who have never been exposed to Ramayan might form false opinions about it. Personally I think they got many things wrong but I could still enjoy the whole thing without bringing Religion into it. Loved Animations and Paley's quirky style. Second half was very repetitive though, there were about 4 songs with Sita crying aloud 'Why did he leave me?'

Kolya(1996): I had this movie in my queue for the longest time and I kept procrastinating it for no apparent reason. When I finally saw it, it was exactly as I expected. Maybe, a little too much as I expected. With a central character of a 5 year old kid, there was no way this would be a regrettable experience. But it followed the beaten down path to the T. The kid did a great job and so did the rest of cast. What really happened was I could see the every damn turn in the story from two miles back.

Warm Bodies(2013): I don't have many problems with this film. I was never turned off by it. For a love story, even though it didn't do anything particularly out of ordinary, it also never felt cliched. But I wasn't particularly enamored by it. Like everyone else, I was intrigued by the Zombie Love Story aspect of this film but I think it is more of a love story which just features a Zombie. I mean, I think this Zombie love story aspect doesn't go much deeper into the plot. It is rather superficial.

Shootout at Wadala(2013): When I saw Lumet's Find Me Guilty(2006) couple of years back, I quite liked it as a movie. However I was conflicted as to what exactly am I suppose to feel about Diesel's character. After all, he is a proven convict, an anti-social member of the society. Why should I be sympathetic about him? This movie had similar problem. I like many things about this movie, most of all John Abrahm's commitment to the role. But I am not sure why should I care about a gangster like Manya Surve.

Airport(1970): I actually like this movie more than the rating would imply. I like the way it keeps on building up right up to the end. I like how we are introduced to the whole bunch of characters and the way they are developed that we end up caring for them by the end. Both the lead characters are actually ditching up their respective spouses and going with someone else they love but we still like them. But for a disaster movie, I think there was very less of an actual disaster in it. I would've rated it at least half a star higher if they amped it up a notch.

Superman Returns(2006): I had not seen any of the Superman movies before. So this was kind of my trade off for not going to see Man of Steel(2013). My real problem with this movie was it just existed. It wasn't terribly bad so that I would hate it. But it wasn't much good either for me to like it. There was a potential in it to be good; some good performances, not bad story but it seemed like it never aspired to be great. It was just happy to exist, to be mediocre. Sometimes, that's even worse than being bad film.

The Adventures of Tintin(2011): I have never seen anything related to Tintin before. I haven't read the strip much either. I remember, back in 2011, it was quite a divisive movie and unfortunately I ended up on the bad side of this debate. I think for the people who thought it was a good movie, nostalgia was a big factor that worked in their favour. I had no such connection and to tell you the truth, I pretty much hated this film. The action, scenarios and even the characters, almost nothing really worked for me.

Race 2(2013)(Hindi): Officially, this is the worst rating I have given to any film on this blog. I knew perfectly well what was I walking into and I got exactly that. So it delivered to its promise there and I am still rating it so low. Only reason I am doing that is I went on the IMDb page for this film and of multiple genres listed for this movie, Comedy isn't one. WHAT? How can it not be? I mean, you can't possibly make a funnier movie than this even if you try to. Monty Pythons aren't as funny as this. Come On!!

A Good Day to Die Hard(2013): I have absolutely no idea why would I even bother to see this movie. After the first one, I have never cared about any of them and I thoroughly and utterly hated the fourth one. But I did and the result was exactly as you'd imagine. Let me tell you that I am a terrible gamer. So when I play something like NFS, rather than even trying to get to the destination within the time limit, I try to cause as much destruction as possible. I am absolutely sure that is exactly the same strategy director used for this movie.

Total Count: 23. 22 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watch .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 133. 122 First Time Watches and 11 Re-watches.

23 movie month isn't bad at all. If you look at my average of first half of this year, it is actually just a bit over it. But to tell you the truth, if it wasn't for The Story of Film: An Odyssey(2011) and couple of seasons of Damages(2007), it might have been even more. The Story of Film actually did turn out to be quite an odyssey. Despite some of my reservations against it and Mark Harris' accent, it was really a great learning experience. Not only did I learn a lot of things about many aspects of movie-making, it also added so many titles to my already fat watchlist. As per my reservations, even though I watch a lot of movies all over the world or at least try to, I think he was a little too anti-Hollywood. Not that I am Hollywood's biggest supporter or anything; I even agree with some of the things he talks about. But despite all its fault, it is the biggest industry in the world. It hasn't reached there by doing everything wrong. Whatever may be its problems, you HAVE to give Hollywood a credit where it is due. I don't think Harris does.

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June Blind Spot: The Breakfast Club

Without any real intention or even a reason, past two weeks have turned into a mini-break from this blog. I even promised I am not going anywhere in the last post. Sometimes you have to concentrate on your other life. I do have it you know, at least some of it. It wasn't like I didn't have any time to see anything at all in last two weeks but I used most of what I had watching The Story of Film: An Odyssey(2011). However I wasn't going to give up on two of my monthly features. That will cover the next two posts and I will try and see if I can squeeze in a review in between them. Starting off with the Blind Spot entry for this month, John Hughes' The Breakfast Club(1985).

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
80s never was a decade I get excited about. In fact, I have often said that it is my least favourite decade for the movies and still stick to it. I know there are a lot of iconic films made in '80s which people still praise a lot(Indiana Jones, Blade Runner(1982)) but unfortunately, a lot of them don't really work for me. The problem is they aren't bad movies, it's just that they are too 80s if you know what I mean. However in a true spirit of a movie buff, I constantly challenge my own perception of it in hope of finding something that will stick with me and a good thing is I have found few films that I really like. Take Paris, Texas(1984) for example, which I saw just last month. So when I made this list back in December, this is exactly what I had in mind - I was looking for a typical '80s movie which is almost universally praised. Hughes' teenage drama The Breakfast Club which many people consider to be 'the best teenage movie ever' took the cake.

So, what is the story about?
Five High school students have been summoned in a library on Saturday for a detention by their principal. All he wants them to do is write in no less than 1000 words who they think they are and what they have done to deserve this Saturday detention. Off course, the 5 people that have to spend 8 hours together, doing pretty much nothing, are from 5 completely different factions in school. You will probably not find a more diverse group in a typical American high school even if you try. In their own words, they are a Brain or a geek, an athlete, a criminal or a habitual trouble maker, a basket case or a socially outcast and a a Princess or a rich, pretty snob. It starts off as you would expect it to start off, with calling each other names, trying to show others how bad they are. However as they spend more time with each other and even get to know each other, they realize how similar they are. As they slowly open up to each other and tell their stories, they realize what people perceive them are the masks they have put on but deep down inside, they are pretty much the same. They have similar likes, similar dislikes. Most importantly, they all try really hard to keep their respective masks on even though they are all suffocating inside them.

In ways that I don't think any of them would have imagined before coming in, this detention helps them see real themselves, brings out a side of them that they wouldn't be necessarily comfortable with otherwise and also see beyond what naked eye can see in other person and respect them for what they are. In the end, 5 of them ask Brian or brain to write the letter Mr. Vernon asked them to write on their behalf. We see two versions of this letter, one at the start and another at the end. These two versions or the way second version changes from the initial one is the real indication of what they all taught each other during the 8 hours they spent together, unwillingly and on a Saturday detention.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
A little over year ago, I spent couple of weeks watching only '80s movies. I had just realized that not only was the amount of movies from the decade I had seen was abysmally low, I didn't care for much of what I had seen. That was the start of my 80s aversion. First film that reassured me there is still some hope for me was Ferris Bueller's Day Off(1986); another teenage movie by John Hughes. Having heard a lot of praise about Sixteen Candles(1984), I would say that one thing John Hughes can do really well is teenage drama. He really gets the pulse of this movie right, grabs it very early and never lets it go. What works best is not only all the 5 lead characters are interesting, each of them has a distinct and well drawn arch. They have their own identities and despite they all change by the end, they don't assume each others roles. They are still the same person they were at the start; maybe just like the better version of themselves. Another thing a non-American me appreciated about this film was being able to see people I went to high school with, in them. Off course, in our case, there would be a little different stereotypes but being able to identify with them, something that I can not say about some of the other teenage films I have seen, makes The Breakfast Club a little more universal.

I did have couple of small problems with it like once John is locked up in a closet, he comes back to library through vent but afterwards Claire comes in through the door? How did she even know where was he? Another thing is, I probably can attribute this to my Bollywood honed instincts, after first 15 minutes or so I knew that if there are any couples by the end, they will be Claire-John and Andrew-Allison. So that part didn't surprise me. But I know that I am really nitpicking here. None of these points hamper your enjoyment of the movie in any way. So, I wouldn't worry much about them. I have no idea what the titles refers to though. What am I missing?

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
What will essentially decide if this film is... essential is if I agree with those who call this 'Best teenage movie ever'. I think it is a good film. I think it is one of the best teenage movies I have seen and is worth every minute of its time. Is it essential? Time will decide. I have seen it just this weekend and I will have some mulling to do before answering this question with any certainty but it does have the potential to be. Another problem with calling it an essential is I am not entirely sure what makes a good teenage film? Dazed and Confused(1993) was something I had very lukewarm reaction to but apparently it gets a lot of things right about kids that age. Not being the product of American school system, my relation or response as an outsider looking in is distant at best. As I have stated before, The Breakfast Club definitely gets bonus points for making the characters relatable to even an outsider like me but that also makes choosing what is right and wrong little bit tricky. If I can answer that, deciding whether it is essential or not will be lot easier.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Well, it does a couple of things good for me. First and foremost, it keeps my faith alive that despite being my least favourite decade '80s still can surprise me. It can still have movies that I will like. That will help me keep exploring for more titles. It also reassures John Hughes' status as 'King of Teens' and gives me couple of more titles from his repertoire that I can look forward to.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

U, Me and Films is 2 Today!

Two years ago on this day, on 13th June 2011, after preparing myself for about a month, I finally summed up the courage to click on 'Publish' button for the very first post on this blog. I wrote in general about what do films mean to me? What’s their place in my life? And about what do I intend to do with this place? Looking back to it now, I feel embarrassed about whatever I wrote but happy to have done that and so much more. It is amazing to see how far I have come in these past two years and how much this blog has helped me to grow as a cinephile and in some ways, maybe even as a person.

Back then when I started it, I had no idea how long will I be doing it? I started it because I had some time to spare and wanted to do something related to films. After finding couple of blogs that concentrated on films, I immediately knew that is exactly what I wanted. But the problem was not having written anything ever before and if I am to do something, I wanted to it properly. I took some time to prepare, a month I talked about earlier, tried to write something and see if it's readable. After testing some posts on my roommates, I jumped in and have managed to stay afloat for the past two years. So, all things considered, it ain't that bad right?

Off course, none of this would have been possible without each and every one of you reading this post. People like you, who have read these posts or any of the posts in past two years, commented on them, interacted and encouraged me on this or other platforms like Twitter are the chief source of inspiration for me to continue writing all this time and I wish to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart. Hopefully, this has been just as wonderful journey for you as it has been for me. (Don’t worry! Even if it sounds like a Goodbye speech, it isn’t. Unless something unforeseeable happens, I am not going anywhere in near future. :))

On this occasion, I have managed to revise my Top 100 list. You can see it here or on the menu bar above. I hadn't updated it since I published it first in March 2012, so there was a lot to update. I have 21 new films that I have seen since then added to the list and almost twice as many films that have gone either up or down from their previous position. I would have loved to find some space for the films like Chinatown(1974), The Maltese Falcon(1941) and Taxi Driver(1976) that have grown on me since the last time I made this list. They didn't make it, not because I don't like them enough but because I wanted to watch them once more before getting this list done and unfortunately, I could not find time for it. I wanted to update 'A Life in Movies' page as well as I am pretty sure my choices now will be drastically different. But once again, life intervened! I will try to update that as soon as possible though.

Thank you once again for your support and hopefully you will keep coming back for more. Let me know if you like the updated list in the comments. Cheers!!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Upstream Color

I don’t remember the first time became aware that there is a film called Primer(2004) but it definitely wasn’t a while ago. I still haven’t seen it myself but it is in my Netflix queue and from what I have heard, I am definitely excited to have a look. I am just waiting for the right time. Apparently it is not something you watch casually. Shane Carruth, Write, Director and Star of the film, made quite a reputation for himself from it. When he released his second film, Upstream Colour(2013) about a month ago, he once again got everyone talking about it. I don’t know if it was or will be playing in any theaters around me but last week it was made available on Netflix Instant. And instead of waiting for big screen release which may or may not happen any time soon and for Primer to watch first, I decided to give it a try.

You’ll have to bear with me in this because there will be a lot ‘I don’t understand exactly what happened but something like…’ since Upstream Colour is that kind of film. If you know anything about Shane Carruth, if you have seen Primer or have heard about it, you would have some idea about that. In the beginning, we see a man working on making something from the plants or specifically worms in the roots of the plants. It looks like he is making some kind of drink with the worms in it. We see two kids. One of them gives other one a drink that is filtered by a filter with a worm in it. When the other boy drinks it, he imitates every move first boy makes perfectly with his eyes closed. I made two assumptions here; first, this kid grows up to be the guy we saw earlier and second, that drink probably has some hallucinatory effects.

Next, we see this guy lurking around suspiciously trying to find someone. His eyes fall on a young woman Kris, as we know it later, alone, perfect victim for him. He dopes her with his potion and from that point onwards, she is like under his spell. This proves my second assumption and I had to be content with 1 of the two since there was no way to prove the former. She makes her do a lot of weird things but essentially takes her money and leaves her be. When she wakes up, she does not remember what happened to her. She loses her job because she just vanished without saying anything, all her savings are gone, even the house she leaves in isn’t hers anymore. Basically her life as she knew it isn’t what it was and she has no idea how.

One day she meets a young lawyer, Jeff played by Carruth himself, on train. Jeff takes a liking to her the very first time they meet and even though Kris in completely unresponsive initially, keeps coming after her for a while. She lets her defenses down eventually and two of them start spending a lot of time together. As we get to know him better, we realize that even Jeff has fair share of his own problems. Even though he does a good job of hiding it, he is just as broken inside as Kris is. Rest of the film is about fighting their demons and if possible, getting to a solution, to the closure. If you have read someone say that this is one movie that everyone should experience for themselves, they are absolutely right. For that reason, I want to say as little of the plot as I can but at the same I think that I can give you as much as possible of the plot and for the exact same reason you would still find many things of your own when you would sit down for it. If you think I have given a lot of plot details here, I assure you there is much more that happens on screen for you to see and more importantly, to feel.

I have been watching The Story of Film: An Odyssey(2011) on Netflix over the last week. I still haven’t finished it but I am almost done. If you have seen it, you would know that narrator Mark Cousins talks continuously about films that tried to work beyond the boundaries of the medium in it. I am sure that Mark Cousins would love this film because I think this is the farthest you can get from conventional cinema without rejecting the format completely; something he loves dearly. It uses hand-held camera which reflects a lot of movements and majority of the film is shot in close-up. It uses deep focus, weird camera angles, harsh lighting and very few dialogues. There is rather more emphasis on the various sounds you hear in the background than dialogue. In lot of places story moves forward without using any dialogues and when there are dialogues, they are usually delivered very flat and you don’t always see the person talking on 

At various points, there are sequences that you don’t understand exactly or don’t really get the point of. Like just after Jeff and Kris meet, we see both Jeff and Kris behaving like they are still under spell and at the same time their perpetrator is recording some of his weird sound bites or what I think of as Groundhog Day(1993) memorial sequence of some couple going over the same fight again and again. I don’t think that any of these sequences were necessary because quite frankly I have no idea what was it for except [SPOILER ALERT] telling us that there were others like Kris[SPOILER END]. But I just went with it hoping that it would pay off some time later because it looked intriguing and helped in making the film more mysterious, not that it needed any.

I still haven’t understood a lot of things about this movie, most importantly last 5 minutes of this movie. I don’t know what exactly was the perpetrator doing? Why was he doing whatever he was doing? I didn’t understand where the name of the movie comes from though I am guessing it has something to do with those flowers they find in the stream. But… but I am neither disappointed nor annoyed by the ambiguous ending (Can I call it ambiguous even if it’s just because I did not understand it?). I am rather intrigued by it which to me is a success of the film – not alienating your viewer. I would be willing to give it few more chances and see if I can get few things more next time.

Upstream Colour does not follow most of the conventions, neither does it spoon feeds the viewer about its mystery and it’s very open about it. If you have seen Primer, you know that you’ll have to see this film multiple times and even then you may not understand it completely and Carruth doesn’t try to sugar-coat that either. However despite everything, I still believe it is an experience worth sitting through. Just keep your patience, try to understand as much as you can and who knows? It just might pay off!

Rating(out of 5):
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