Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wrapping It Up: July

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. It was a curious month, especially considering everything that was going on behind the scene. I would have expected to have a serious dip in the number but I have done much, much better. I will let you know little bit more about that sometime next week. For now, let us get into the month that was, in terms of my movie-watching.


The Son's Room(2001): The first time I even heard of this movie was during Cannes earlier this year when I just browsed through previous Palme d'Or winners. I will be honest that the subject of family dealing with the loss of their son is not exactly a new topic. We have seen this done before but what's good about this film is the poignancy with which the topic is handled. It was great seeing the whole family being there for each other while processing the grief in their own way. But for some reason, the daughter made more impression on me than either of the parents.

Midnight Cowboy(1969): For the longest time, this was the last Best Picture winner I had not seen. Not any more, though we don't have to go far back to find the next in line - Oliver(1968) and I have my reasons to believe it will be a while before that changes. As my introduction to John Voight was through his many supporting stints in the recent years, idea of him in the lead in the movie hasn't quite sunk in yet. His character was pretty dumb but he was excellent. However, as good as he was, Dustin Hoffman was even better.

The Grapes of Wrath(1940): John Steinback has been one of the authors I have been meaning to read for the longest time. But as it happens, I got around to see the movie first. I think I can take respite in the fact that at least it was a good movie, sad but good and I think we can take some comfort in the family had something going right for them by the end, even though they had to part with one of them.

Reds(1981): Sweeping epic in every sense of the word. Even at 3+ hours of its length, the biggest success to me was I never got bored. Throughout 3 hours of it, there was something interesting going on that kept me into it. I would have loved to see who's who of all the people talking about Reed and Bryant but I actually liked that documentary-like background of it. And Diane Keaton. I am not a big admirer of Annie Hall(1977) but even those who are will probably agree that she's better here. That was a beast of a performance!

Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988): Why aren't there more movies like this? I don't really know if this tanked completely at the box office or something else happened that prevented making more such movies but I thought this blend of animation and live-action was rather genius. Overall story of film was more like children films with some dark tones to it. They might be able to improve on that but I really would love to see more films like this.

Spring Breakers(2013): I'll be honest that despite getting many rave reviews from fellow bloggers, I was little apprehensive of How I will like it? I have never seen a Harmony Korine film before and from trailers, it looked like sleazy, stylized, sexed-up version with no real content. It was all that but I liked it went to places that I never thought such a movie would and the darker it became, more I liked it. And I have heard many people talking about James Franco who was good but to me, the real standout was Ashley Benson.

This Is England(2006): I had seen few people talk about this movie a long while ago but going into this, I had no idea what I was in for. Even while watching the film, I had no idea where it was coming from and where it was going? but I don't mean it as a complaint. It takes so many different turns that I never expected and I like it about this film. Another thing different about this film was Protagonists in such films have non-functioning families but Shaun had a loving and caring mother.

Che Part One and Part Two(2008): I usually try not to bring politics into this blog but talking about a movie like this one without bringing your own political inclinations into it is almost impossible. I think this is a good film and it should at least be appreciated by almost everyone for the effort both Soderbergh and Del Toro put into it to make it and look really authentic. Beyond that, whether you like it or not will most probably depend upon political views and your ability to put them aside while watching a piece of art. Full review of both films here.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow(1963): Granted, I have seen only a couple of Vittorio De Sica films but when I see his name on the screen, I expect nothing good to happen to any characters. With that impression in my mind, this movie was the biggest surprise I can get. De Sica making a Comedy? and then you get to the very first story which is wackiest story you would see. They were all quite funny and of course, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni can do very little wrong.

Andrei Rublev(1966): I feel almost stupid for rating this. It is absolutely insignificant - rating I mean. Only certain thing I can say about it is after watching Solaris(1972) last month and almost hating it, I found a lot to like in this film. Apart from that, I am still processing it. There are so many dots here that I haven't connected yet that I feel stupid talking about it but it was my Blind Spot film for this month. So, more here.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani(2013)(Hindi): A very typical Bollywood film but it was very fun movie to watch. Walking into a Dharma Production movie, you should know what you are signing up for and as long as it doesn't make me groan in disgust every once in a while, I am fine with it. But in reality, I actually got something more - few catchy songs and all 4 leads giving fine performances, including Deepika Padukone. I never hated her but I think this is her first memorable performance.

Pi(1998): Even though it is a very first feature film Darren Arofonsky ever did, it was last of his film I saw. If I can find some of his shorts somewhere, I would love to profile him sometime soon. With extreme close-ups, jarring imagery, constant cuts, rotating camera and loud, high pitch background music, it has that typical Arofonsky feel to it. It is a good start to his already great career but it is just that - a start. He not only perfected his craft in later films but also got better actors, something this movie dearly lacked.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928): After loving the hell out of The General(1926), first Buster Keaton I saw, I was still looking for a next one I like as the next two I saw were kind of a miss for me. I don't know if I can count this as a hit as the last 15 minutes of tornado were kind of absurd and a little over the top but it did have its moments even within those last minuted like him getting over that wooden fence. As usual, Keaton's timing was awesome and it definitely gave me some great laughs. That should count for something as well.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles(1987): I first heard about it after seeing Due Date(2010) which is essentially a remake of it. But if I have to compare the two, I liked this much way more mainly because of the trouble-makes character. All I ever wanted to do to Gilfianakis was to punch him in the face as hard as I can. Here, I liked John Candy's character. Sure he has a loud mouth, sure he got them into trouble all the time but I can understand Steve Martin going back to help him. And off course, Steve Martin.

Haywire(2012)(Re-watch): Because Gina Carano is bad-ass in it and that is all the reason you should need to watch this one. I don't remember if I noticed it the first time I saw it, I must have because it is the very first thing you notice but, her fights are beautifully shot and Carano takes full swing every time to land them square on the body. Every single blow Channing Tatum or Michael Fassbender or anyone else received, I swear I never would have recovered from any of those. 

Shane(1953): The reason I saw this movie was because I know many people consider it as one of the great westerns. I went through some reviews and articles about it after watching the film and I am sorry to say that I don't understand what is great about this film? I am not saying this is a bad film. No, not by any stretch of imagination. It just wasn't Great. Maybe, once again, it is that Bollywood upbringing but every turn that story took, it was obvious to me that it was going there. Again, it's not a bad movie but it isn't great as everyone else seems to think.

My Left Foot(1989): Once again, DDL proved a force to be reckoned with. I really don't have anything against his performance but usually, after a film where someone like Christy Brown wins in life against all the odds, you really feel it for the person. I didn't, for him. Maybe it's a cynic in me, maybe I wasn't in the right place but I don't think I like this character very much. His mother, now that's a character I would love to see a film of.

The Thief of Bagdad(1924): Another silent film I saw because of its mention in The Story of Film(2011) but will have more of a historical importance to me than anything else. Sure, in terms of its Grandeur, Set Designs and visual effects were exemplary for its time. However even by the silent film standards, I don't think acting was and Douglas Fairbanks himself was the worst culprit of it. Story was like a bedtime story for children which essentially it is and I really doubt if anyone would say "Thou Dog! What torments can we devise for thee!"

Intolerance(1916): You can pretty much paste first four lines above here as well. I appreciate its place in history of film and understand why it deserves it but as a film, I have lot of problems with it. First of all, did we really 'need' 4 stories? and like 75 characters in each story? Only Game of Thrones(2011) has more characters than that and he introduced them all in first 10 minutes. I was so confused who's who and from which story for a long time. Also after watching couple of D.W. Griffith's movies, I feel like he is Michael Moore of silent films. His films always have only one side.

Faust(1926): I didn't plan it that way but it is my fifth silent film of the month. And please don't think I hate silents based on the dismal ratings I have given here. Actually, there are quite a few silents I really, really love. It just happens that I didn't this month. Faust started decently and I can also somewhat get on-board with part since the innocent girl's entry but about one hour in-between was a disaster. Plus, every single character in the film was miserable. I understand the reason here but historically, I am not very fond of such movies.

Birth of a Nation(1915): So I finally understand why people hate this film so much now. Up until the Civil War portion of it, I found myself defending a lot of things in this movie but then it just went down from there. I agree that in terms of movie history, it is a monumental film. For a 1915 film, it must be the most technologically advanced but in terms of its content, it's laughably atrocious. Only genuinely good thing I can say about this film is it set the oldest film I have seen clock back by 8 years.

The Trial(1962): I am not very well-versed with either Welles' work or Franz Kafka novels but to me, this film was like one of those connect the dot puzzles where if you do, you have a nice picture. Only problem here was we were only given the dots and were not allowed to connect them to see the complete picture. Like work of modern art, you have the most bizarre, most abstract structure in front of you and are expected to marvel at its beauty. I can appreciate few things about them but I don't understand a damn thing.

Barbarella(1968): I have never seen anything like this before. I rarely see any B-Grade movies and after watching this, I realized why. I mean it is a fun film in a way, if you can take pleasure in your sufferings. Characters are stupid, acting is laughably bad, effects on which this film rests heavily are extremely dated and once again are laughable at best and story - let us not even talk about it. If you really want to deluge yourself with some stupid, campy, B-grade cheesiness, knock yourself out.

Agent Vinod(2012)(Hindi): This movie is what happens when one of the worst screenplays you can imagine gets into the hands on an equally incompetent director. Forget about the audience, it never looked like the director himself is taking the movie seriously. For an action movie that aims to make a big splash, even action sequences throughout this movie were really phony. I don't have much problem with any of the actors involved but the material itself was so bad, I am sure even the career-best performances from everyone involved wouldn't have saved this film.

Total Count: 25. 24 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watch .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 158. 146 First Time Watches and 12 Re-watches.

This is actually the best month I have had this year. And to think that I expected it to be the worst quite frankly. I am also beginning to think that I am being rather harsh of rating the films because this is second month in a row where there is no film over 4 stars and quite a few below 2 start, which to me is pretty much a grace rating. But it is what it is!

There are two highlights of this month. One, this being such a prolific month despite my expectations being complete opposite and two, number of silent films I watched despite me being 'meh' on most of them. I think it was August last year when I sat down and finally watched my first silent film and went on to watch 6 more in that same month. I don't think I saw many more since then. But after hearing about a lot of them on The Story of Film(2011) and seeing a lot them available on Netflix for streaming, I went on another mini-binge. I won't call any of them my favourites but I was happy to have seen them at last.

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

July Blind Spot: Andrei Rublev

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
Because of one man at the helm – Andrey Tarkovskiy. About a year ago, I saw a Russian film, The Return(2003), by director Andrey Zvyaginstev. I liked it and I even wrote a post about it but about half way through the movie I realised that it was my first Russian film ever.  When I looked around for some more movie names, one that kept popping up in the discussion was Tarkovskiy. So while doing the list, I decided to cater to this particularly large blind spot by putting Andrei Rublev(1966) on the list and if Hulu didn’t have Solaris(1972) available for free, this was to be my initiation to this great director.

So, what is the story about?
Let me first come very clean and say that I had no prior knowledge of Andrei Rublev either as a person or as a painter. According to Wikipedia, he is considered as the greatest Russian medieval painter of orthodox icons and frescos. Andrei Rublev is a story of his life but since there is very little that is known about him and even littler that can be actually ascertained, it is said to be only loosely based on it. According to IMDb, there are multiple versions of it with varying lengths ranging from 145 minutes to whooping 205. One I saw was smack in the middle, with 175 minutes of runtime. Film is divided into two distinct parts and each of the part is further divided into total 7 chapters, epilogue and prologue which have absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself.

First part contains four chapters which mainly introduce us to Rublev and various facets of his personality such as his faith, his philosophy of life and his perception of Russian people or even humanity in general. These four chapters are almost like four short films with few common characters. I am sure they can even work well as stand-alone shorts or rather they will work well as stand-alone shorts because when seen together they lack some cohesiveness or a sense of progression of story. Take the third chapter called The Feast, 1408 for example. It covers an encounter Andrei and his fellow monks have with a nudist, pagan group. The story makes perfect sense for 20-odd minutes it lasts for but has absolutely no connection to anything before or after.

As we enter the second half, the remaining three chapters have much more to glue them together plus in a typical mainstream way, there is a lot of action that goes on as well. Tatars invade, Rublev is forced to fight, be violent and it affects him deeply. After a gap of many years, he returns to the monastery but stops painting; he even stops talking for many years, until in the final chapter he witnesses a casting of a huge bell and turns his life back around to produce many of his great works that he is known for even now.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
I believe I have seen my fair share of art-house films. I know they are not necessarily spelled out for you. Andrei Rublev doesn’t go easy on you either. There are many philosophical discussions about the way of life and religion and their beliefs. But with no background whatsoever of either Tarkovskiy or Rublev, I found it hard to connect with them. First part especially isn’t really much accessible. Second half has some link between the chapters, is more dramatic and hence comparatively, much more accessible. However while judging the film overall, even I don’t know if I will be able to say I liked it or not right now. Since I am following this general pattern for all the Blind Spot entries this year, I'll stick to it but everything I’ll say below is more like my observations. Only thing I know for certain is despite the predominantly negative tone of these notes, it kept me interested for all the three hours of it and I sure liked it much more than Solaris(1972), my first exposure to Tarkovskiy films. I think the more I’ll know about Tarkovskiy and this film, the more I will be able to comprehend it and form some opinion of it. Right now, my impression is too malleable.

- I am not sure if it is the editing or the way they are shot, but lot of scenes segue into one other. Like in one scene you have Forma and Rublev talking about Forma and in the next, Theophanes the Greek and Rublev talking about talking their faith on Russian people and in humanity in general, or lack of it. Two conversations have no matching point but the later starts almost like a natural progression of previous scene.

- Another think that strikes me is completely non-heroic introduction of Andrei Rublev. Whatever may be the type of the film; we are usually told upfront, maybe by the way frame is set or by the background music or even by his own actions, that he is the protagonist when we first see the character. We’ll be mainly following him for the next three hours. There is almost 10 minutes of film between the first time we see Rublev and first time we are told he is Andrei Rublev.

- It has no sense of location to it and I guess it doesn’t even matter. At the start of each chapter, it gives you the year we are in and that is all we get to give us sense of timing as well. With no background of the subject and lack of either time or location, Andrei Rublev works rather as a series of disjointed vignettes of various events, jumping off one to the next in chronological order, in one man’s life. Whether this is a sensible thing or a folly is up to the individual.

Trinity - One of Rublev's Masterpieces
After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
To tell you the truth, I don’t think I am in the least bit qualified to answer this question. I am finding myself very inadequate to comment on such a revered masterpiece by one of the most respected directors of World Cinema, especially in Art-House cinema, for the same reason you won’t find me commenting on another giant that often, Ingmar Bergman, even though I have seen about dozen of his films – I don’t think I have understood them enough to add something to the discussion. Is it essential? Well, for anyone remotely interested in art-house cinema, Tarkovskiy certainly is and being one of his most well-known masterpieces, that should in turn qualify Rublev as essential as well. So, basically yes, it is an essential film in every sense of the word given that you know what you are signing up for.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Putting this film onto the list was all about opening new doors, getting more exposure in Russian cinema as well as in Tarkoskiy’s filmography. If we discount couple of Eisenstein’s silent films, two films I talked about in the introduction are only Russian films I had seen prior to this. Given the fact that I hated Solaris, even though it isn’t one of the most accessible films I have seen, Andrei Rublev reassures enough me to look for more of his work. It will also encourage me to look for some more Russian notable directors like Aleksandr Sokurov to dig into their filmographies as well. Hopefully, I will get a chance to dig deeper into them soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bollywood Essentials: Sarfarosh(1999)

We all have movies that we watch over and over, so many times that we can practically keep them on mute and fill in for the actors. No? Come on, I am sure it’s not just me. They may not be your favourite movies necessarily, just something you can watch anytime. You can call them comfort movies that you can just slide into the player and let them work their magic or sick day movies that maybe make you feel a little better. You don’t even have to see them from start. They can just turn up randomly while browsing through the channels and you can pick it up from wherever it is. LOTR trilogy is one such movie for me(Yes. For me, it is One Movie). I have no idea how many times I have seen it and how many more times will I see it. I just stopped counting after 15. It is quite possibly the movie I have seen most. But if there is one movie that can go head to head against it, it is probably Sarfarosh(1999).

Director John Mathew Matthan’s debut film Sarfarosh is a story of drug and arms trafficking across the India-Pakistan border from the point of view of Assistant Police Commissioner Ajaysingh Rathode, who is in-charge of the case. Young, dynamic and idealistic Ajay has a history with terrorism. Few years ago, his father tried to testify against some terrorist group in a case that involved one of his colleagues. To prevent him from doing that, they kill Ajay’s older brother, kidnap his father and cut his tongue out. He joins police force to take revenge on them.

When a Naxalite group with a leader called Veeran attacks a bus and brutally guns down everyone in it in the remote areas of Chandrapur forest, a special team with Rathod at the helm is assembled to investigate how did sophisticated weapons like AK47 reached in these remote areas? Initial investigation points towards a local leader Bala Thakur who immediately runs away to his supplier, Sultan, in Mumbai, the minute police come knocking at his door. In Mumbai, Ajay is great admirer of Ghazal singer Gulfam Hassan and after getting introduced to him through a mutual friend, forms a great friendship with him. Working on the case with the help of another officer, Inspector Salim, with a great network of informers, Ajay and his team try to reach to the bottom of this case and as it turns out, Gulfam Hassan becomes much more than just a friend for Ajay.

Sarfarosh has one of the best screenplays I have seen. Everything, every single piece of nugget you see on screen has some role to play. Mathew Matthan connects everything together to form a beautifully woven piece with Spielbergian accuracy. Every character, every sub-plot has a crystal clear role and they serve it with due diligence. He didn’t shy away from making blood splatter on screen but the most daring thing script does is, to the best of my knowledge, it was the first film to ever point its figure directly to our neighbouring nation for the problems across the border, their maligning intent and it’s reach very high up the order. If there is any chink in this armour, it is that most of the characters or at least the important ones are primarily either black or white. Whatever shades of grey appear in either heroes or villains are more like occupational hazards. But neither did I realize this up until very recently nor does it take away anything from the greatness of this film.

Having a love story as a part of film’s narrative is kind of a must in Indian films. Even if we can easily do without them, film makers tend to find some way to make them an important plot point of the story, sometimes even making for a disastrous output. Of course, John Mathew Matthan could not do without romantic subplot for our protagonist completely but he finds a way to use that to add another layer on the narrative. More importantly, he keeps it as a secondary storyline and never lets this peer-pressure subplot of love story smoulder the soul of whole film. In ‘90s where sweeping love stories were at their peak, this film once again stands out to me in that regard.

I have mentioned before that I have seen Sarfarosh countless many times. One of the reasons it still works after so many watches is, of course, brilliant screenplay and direction I talked about. But it is also has an incredible ensemble cast and endlessly quotable dialogues. Ajay Rathod, played by Aamir Khan and Gulfam Hassan, played by Naseeruddin Shah, are two most important characters. If you know anything about Hindi industry, you will identify them as the two of the best actors currently working and they both are at the top of their form in their respective roles. It won't be what it is without either of them but in my opinion, what really takes the cake is whole bunch of amazing performances and characters from the rest of cast.

Insp. Salim, Ajay’s Second in command, played by Mukesh Rishi, Mirchi Seth, Gulfam Hassan’s right hand man for all his illegal activities, played by Akhilendra Mishra and Veeran, naxalite leader whose attack snowballs into this avalanche that end up taking everyone down, played by Govind Namdev, are the standouts of this amazing cast. Richness of this cast runs so deep that I can write pages about them without even mentioning two main characters and words that come out of their mouths are principal reason to make even the part-timers memorable. Take Fatka, a small-time police informer, Mala, a bar dancer or police inspector in Chandrapur who pop up for an occasional scene here and there but leave with some of the best lines of film. If you haven’t noticed, I have come this far without mentioning the lead actress Seema, played by Sonali Bendre. I don’t have anything against this character or this actress. Even she does her job of providing a romantic relief well and in a way, helps Ajay find a vital clue that shakes the stagnant case. It’s just that there is so much more to admire that their love story takes a back seat.

I have so many fond memories of watching Sarfarosh. It is the only movie I have seen thrice in a single day. It is the movie two of my cousins refused to watch it with me because I wouldn’t shut up repeating the dialogues after. Considering it is such a sincere, realistic take on something very serious, it might sound weird to call this a comfort movie. But I really love this movie and I am happy while seeing it, even if someone is getting whacked on screen. After having seen it so many times, I know exactly what’s coming next and I still find myself as excited as the first time I saw it. And I also know that I will watch it again, and again and again, probably with the same excitement every time.

Rating(out of 5):

Previous Essentials:
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