Monday, September 30, 2013

Wrapping it up: September

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. As you will go down to the list of movies I saw this month, don't be surprised to see a lot of very high rated movies. I mean, it does happen usually but now even more than usual. Because just before leaving States, I bought myself a stock and by stock I mean more than 150 films. Off course, most of these films are the ones I wanted to see either because of the mass appeal or critical acclaim. So for the next few months, don't be surprised if you see a lot of great first-timers for me. Just warning you. So lets get to it then.


Broadcast News(1987): For some reason.... no, scratch that. For many reasons I felt like I haven't felt while watching any movie in quite a while and it is such a great feeling. Within first half hour, I was beaming with smile about everything in it and I knew that I was going to like this movie right then and there. Now, after having seen it, I know I was right. I know that I am going to watch it again and again many times and I feel like I will have something more to like in it every time I watch it. It is such a personal, such a beautiful film. I am cursing myself for not having seen it sooner.

The Hunt(2013): Once again, it's Mads Mikkelsen reigns Supreme but there is so much more to admire about this film. When I heard about the topic, my biggest worry was how would they justify a 5 year old talking about something like this and yes, they handled it really well. I think the reason this story works so well is at no point, it tries to pin someone down. There are many characters in this film that do horrible things but every single one of them has a solid reason to do so and in their shoes, they are absolutely right about it. It's amazing how things turn out some time. And I LOVE the note it ends on. It's SO perfect.

Zombieland(2009)(Re-watch): From its narrative approach to its stylistic elements, from making a zombie comedy to calling the characters by the city names, there is so much in it that just should not have worked but this movie is still such a delight. I love Emma Stone and can watch pretty much anything she is in but she is absolutely perfect in that role and so is Abigail Breslin. Eisenberg can be little annoying but that is exactly why his character works. But Woody Harrelson has to be the biggest delight of this perfect cast. He is pure fun to watch.

The Conjuring(2013): Typically, I am not a Horror fan but I tries this because of the high praise from various bloggers and I have to say they were right. Total scenario of this film is pretty basic but it wins in the execution. What it does right is, like many other horror films, it didn't try to startle the viewer. It was actually scaring me. Every time you see something scary, it is kind of introduced for a second first and then it goes to its full scale horror. So you know something is going to hit you but then it hits you and hits hard!!

Sweet Smell of Success(1957): Tony Curtis' slimy, disgusting press agent is probably the biggest spectacle on screen. But from the acting POV, I was leaning more towards relentlessly unscrupulous Lancaster for one reason - I absolutely despised Falco; I know I am supposed to but we are supposed to hate Hunsecker as well and I didn't. I was more fascinated by the length he was ready to go to. This one further cements my belief of 1957 as the Best year in cinematic history. I already have 9 extremely solid entries from this year and this one takes it into double digits.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind(1984): It is so apt that success of this film resulted in the formation of Studio Ghibli because this movie is everything you ever expected from a Ghibli movie. As I said in the Miyazaki Profile post, it is as if this is a Test case for everything we have now come to expect from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films(young but dynamic female protagonist, initially threatening but redeemable antagonist, strong environmentalist vibe) and it is astonishing how wonderfully well it works even after 30 years of its release.

The Dark Knight Rises(2012)(Re-watch): My first viewing since I saw it in the theaters. Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway are still awesome, Bane's voice wasn't that much of a distraction anymore (but that could be subtitles). Many little things in the story make a little more sense this time but there are still few things that I could have done without. But the biggest thing that hasn't changed is I still don't give a shit if it is the worst film in the whole world (It's not, by leagues). I Love It! Deal with it.

The Silent Duel(1949): I remember watching High and Low(1963) a little over a year ago. That was my first Kurosawa film not set in the Samurai period. I already recognised him as one of the greatest directors ever but this opened a whole different avenue for me. I have seen many films set in contemporary period now and Kurosawa has almost never disappointed me yet. As for this film, it was very different to watch otherwise very animated Toshiro Mifune being the quiet, reserved person but he sure made it worth it.

From Here to Eternity(1953): I am slowly going through Best Picture winners that I haven't seen yet. I know 3 or 4 that I am looking forward to but most of the rest feel like Homework. So it is always great to see a surprise package like this making this homework worth it. Gentleman's Agreement(1947) did something similar last year. It had a great cast with everyone doing a notable jobs in their roles but once again, Burt Lancaster made me notice him. Either he knew how to choose a meatier role or he knew a knack to make them meatier. Either way, its commendable.

In the Name of the Father(1993): I have seen my fair share of IRA related movies and in some ways or the rather, every one of them has moved me; even outraged me. But I don't think I have felt anything this much. If we are comparing two films, I will say Hunger(2008) is a better movie but even that didn't feel so much. And as great as Daniel Day-Lewis is in this film(and I think he is even better than his Oscar-winning performance in My Left Foot(1989)), it was Pete Postlethwaite who was scene-stealer. My heart went out to him every time he was on screen.

The Searchers(1956): Movie that has been referred as 'The Best Western made ever' was this month's Blind Spot Entry. I don't know much about westerns but I think I will prefer couple of others I have seen over this. Racism involved in it has probably been the most talked about topic in this and if you read here, I have tried to weigh in as well. It may look like I am supporting racism in it but what I wanted to say was he might be trying to show us how people used to think then. I am no Ford expert but I won't find him guilty yet either.

A Man and a Woman(1966): Reminded me of One Fine Day(1996). I have had troubled relationship with French 'New Wave-y' films. I think of most of them as gimmicks that may or may not work for anyone. I am not sure if this counts as a new wave film but if it does, it is probably the one I liked most. There are still many gimmicks in it that I don't think are necessarily needed but most of them worked for me. Aimee Anouk is yet another in the line of many stunning beauties in French films but yet again, she was able to support it with her very mature performance.

Whisper of the Heart(1995): There are many films under the banner of Studio Ghibli but are not directed by Miyazaki that I haven't seen. Even though he did not direct it, he did work on the screenplay and it is such a sweet film. There is no fantasy element in it but once again, it is a coming of age story of a young girl who challenges herself to prove her worth. I would have rated it even higher but I had few problems with middle school students confessing their love and proposing to each other. 

In the Heat of the Night(1967): Yet another Best Picture winner of the list. Both Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger were stellar in their performances and the mystery of the killer kept me engaged. But looking at the basic plot, I expected the stakes to be higher and I can't shake off the feeling that they played it too safe. Though it never was superficial, screenplay looked like it was caught in two minds whether to concentrate more on Racism or on murder investigation at hand and in the process, couldn't get deeper into neither.

Somewhere(2010): One of the topics that I have often wondered about is should we allow an ending to ruin the whole movie experience? I have often been guilty of it myself but I swear, I try not to. It's just that sometimes it's not possible, like in this case. I LOVED Elle Fanning in this, I loved the way it portrayed their loneliness. You could see that in their eyes even in the moments they are enjoying the most, knowing that this is ephemeral. But that ending has left such a bad taste in my mouth.

The Castle of Cagliostro(1979): Hayao Miyazaki has made himself quite a reputation in the past few decades. This is the first film he ever directed and in a grand tradition of my Profiles posts, it was the last of his films I saw. It's a good film but the thing is Miyazaki directed it and now, that we know him so well, I've come to expect certain things from his film and it's nothing like that. Does that make it a bad film? Definitely not but it definitely would've been better with his signature traits.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey(2012)(Re-watch): I LOVE LOTR and I really want to like this too. I even like a lot of things about this film but I still don't understand why Peter Jackson had to add so many extraneous bits to it. I had the same problem when I saw it first, I was wondering same thing this time as well and they won't go away until next two movies come out and give those characters a valid reason to belong where none of them do. Please, Peter Jackson. Help me like you!

Hulk(2003): I have always been confused about which of the two Hulk movies is directed by Ang Lee. After watching this, I was almost sure it was the other one. I have only seen half of his films but this has got to be the least favourite, by far. Pairing of Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly is probably the best thing about this film and it actually works pretty well as well. Lee's direction isn't bad but it isn't anything notable either and that rarely happens. Even script lacked the punch and end result proved lackluster at best. 

The Incredible Hulk(2008): If the Bana-Connelly pair was the best thing about Lee's Hulk, Edward Norton - Liv Tyler pairing was the worst thing about this Hulk. Not that everything else is any better but Liv Tyler's rigidness makes them look Oscar-worthy. I usually like Norton but even he is very monotonous here. Idea of giving Hulk an adversary by making yet another but evil Hulk is such a washed-up trick. Maybe they could have saved it by executing it better but it just consistently goes over the top. Maybe he was lesser of all evils but I kind of liked Tim Roth.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park II(1997): I might have seen it in parts before but it definitely was my first viewing from start to end. I don't know how I didn't see it before but now that I have seen it I am wondering what made me sit down and watch it this time? At least once the two teams get together and shit hits the fan, things got somewhat better. It was otherwise so bland, so predictable. Even the way the scenes were set up was a clear indication of whats to come next. That's lazy!

Total Count: 20. 17 First Time Watches and 3 Re-watches .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 197. 180 First Time Watches and 17 Re-watches.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September Blind Spot: The Searchers

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
Probably the most well-known, most critically revered film of John Ford-John Wayne combo. Considered as one of the best Westerns by many including AFI and Entertainment Weekly, The Searchers(1956) has also been a frequent site in Sight and Sound lists and even went as high as no.7 in 2012's poll. Also the fact that I have heard so much about racism in it that I kind of felt compelled to give it a watch. Not that it needed any more but you know, as they say, sometimes any publicity is good publicity.

So, what is the story about?
Ethan Edwards is a Civil war veteran who fought for the confederate states. In one of the most legendary opening scenes, he comes home to his Brother's ranch 4 years after the end of war in hope of finding a family and settling down with them. However just a few days after his return, Comanche Indians raid their house, kill his brother, brother's wife and their son and kidnap two of young nieces. Rest of the film follows him looking for them for years to follow, initially with a group of Rangers and then with his 1/8th Indian nephew Martin. Most intriguing aspect of The Searchers to me was Racism involved in it. I know a lot of people hate the brazenness of John Wayne's character's hatred towards Indians. I am usually quite oblivious of such things but since I was aware of it beforehand, I definitely felt it too but maybe it is my Indian sentimentality where the whole system is based on the cast system, I am not sure if I feel the pang that deep.

Maybe it doesn't have to be Indians but his hatred of Debbie's abductors was essential to his character and to story. It added new dimensions to both Ethan's character and to the story which incidentally is what I loved the most about them both. Ethan is angry, revengeful and once his search gets in a full swing, there is a distinct feeling that he is more interested in avenging his brother's family than finding her. Maybe it is his deep hatred of Indians that fuels that revenge in him and drives his continual search for many years but it was very much integral part of the story. Even the otherwise likable character like Laurie seems to support, if not participate, in his hatred which I think is because she accepts as a part of life. Maybe Ford wanted to show exactly how deep this was rooted in the everyday life of Americans then as his way of condoning racism.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
As I mentioned before, I had heard a lot about it's opening scene and I have to say that cinematographically, opening and the closing scene were both stunning. The ending worked really well even from the context of movie as well. By then we have seen Ethan as this loner, sullen, hard-boiled guy. He spends many years of his life tirelessly looking for his niece, Debbie but as more time passes and it becomes clear that she has spent that time with Indians, his deep hatred for Indians slowly seems to be seeping into his search. Second half of the story does a good job of giving this moral ambiguity to his search. It almost seems like he wants to find her so that he can kill her for being with Indians. But, in one of the most weird scenes I have ever seen (I have no idea what to make of the way he holds Natalie Wood high-up), he also proves his humane side albeit ephemeral as the ending seems to suggest his relapse to his stoic nature.

As for the opening, I found it very distracting. Stunning to look at, especially the very first shot of camera looking from inside of house at the sprawling old west outside with John Wayne walking across the vast prairie towards the house, but unfortunately void of much else. everyone in his family, except his brother, felt way over the top like they are trying way too hard to impress and it wasn't just their acting, even the background score in the first 15-20 minutes felt was very forced, over dramatic. And on top of that, it introduced more characters that I downright hated in the movie throughout. Fortunately it got better as movie progressed; maybe because I got used to it a bit or maybe because Ford eased up on few things.

From the acting point of view, John Wayne was perfect for his role. Even though he was center of attraction for most of the film and even though I have seen him in similar roles before, his effortlessness in bringing all the transformations of his character to life was definitely praiseworthy. However, the character that impressed me the most was Vera Miles' Laurie. She did have a kind of flashy character but she actually lit up during her limited screen-time. Watching her do her thing was real treat for me. I was also excited to see Natalie Wood as I have never seen her in any movie before. And even though whole story revolves around her character, we only see her on-screen in about four scenes.

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
The more Westerns I watch, the more confused I get as to what to make of them. I still haven't seen too many and I certainly haven't hated any of those I have seen; on the other hand I quite like many of them. So it certainly isn't like I don't like the genre. But for some reason, I don't go from one western to other eagerly either; the way I do for other genres, maybe for something like anime or noirs. Being touted as 'One of the Best', I was certainly hoping for The Searchers to help me form an opinion on westerns as Genre. Unfortunately, I am not quite sure as yet. On the outset, it certainly doesn't look like it drastically changed my opinion.

Once again, I don't dislike it. I haven't seen many John Ford films but looking through his filmography, it seems that he had a lot to say about period in which Indians(i.e. native Americans) and Americans fought incessantly. As a film I think it is still a good film but the only aspect of this film I think is legendary is cinematography. John Ford was no stranger to Monument Park in Utah which forms the old Texas in the film and yet again he captures the breathtaking beauty of those landscapes beautifully. But if someone asks me for a recommendation to watch a western, I will rather go with fist John Wayne - John Ford collaboration Stagecoach(1939) which incidentally was also shot in Monument Park and High Noon(1952) or if it counts, yet another Wayne - Ford combo The Man who Shot Liberty Valance(1962) and even Dollar Trilogy if spaghetti westerns count.
Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Once again, this wasn't much about opening new unventured avenues but about filling up certain gaps. There must be literally hundreds of lists that The Searchers is part of. It just felt weird that I still haven't seen it, every time I encountered that name. It was about time to check it off. I would love to say that I will like to watch more John Ford films(counting this, I have only seen four) but the man has 144 directorial credits on his IMDb profile. That is Crazy! Though I will still try to watch some more of his Western, maybe the ones he did with John Wayne as 2 of the 3 films I noted above are, after all, films of this legendary combo. Just don't ask me When?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Profile of a Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Earlier this month, Hayao Miyazaki took the stage at the Venice Film Festival after the screening of his latest film The Wind Rises(2013) to announce his retirement. Miyazaki is no stranger to retirements; he was in a semi-retirement after Princess Mononoke(1997) but then returned with wonderful and his most successful film, Spirited Away(2001) then back into retirement only to resurface in 2004. However this time he says he is serious. Only time will tell us if he is but if at all he is, that is indeed a sad news, especially for someone like me who has always been in love with his films and Studio Ghibli for many years. Miyazaki is one of the most well-known and respected directors in the world of animation and has left his unmistakable print on the medium in more than three decades of his career as a director. I am taking this opportunity to look back on his career, in the usual style of these posts, with the help of every film he has directed. Let me make few things clear first; this is a profile of a ‘Director’. So I am only looking at the films he directed and I am looking at only his feature films. I would’ve loved to include his shorts as well as they are just as wonderful but I just couldn’t get hold of all of them. With that, let’s get right into it.

The Castle of Cagliostro(1979): Miyazaki had been working in various departments of an animated studio for almost two decades. He even had directed episodes of couple of TV serials but this marks the first time he put on the director’s cap for a feature film. Coincidentally, this was the last of his films I saw. As a film, there is nothing quite wrong with it per say. This is actually quite a decent film; albeit a little amateurish in both story as well as in animation. It’s just that it is such an odd-man-out from Miyazaki’s filmography. Every film he did since then contains many very specific things that everyone now kind of expects from any Miyazaki film, or any Ghibli film in general, and Cagliostro is void of every single one of them. These traits definitely make his films richer in context and more layered and the lack of them doesn’t necessarily imply inferiority but it is kind of distracting, especially when you know the director so well. Grade: B.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind(1984): Success of this film made way for creation of Studio Ghibli next year. Even though this wasn’t under studio’s banner, it fits perfectly into that cannon. We have Nausicaa, a young, dynamic female protagonist that loves everything in the world she lives in and as bad the things get, has a confidence that it can still be saved and does everything she can to save it. We have Kushana, an antagonist to start with but with redeeming qualities and Asbel, Nausicaa’s male counterpart who helps her in getting the things right. Story is strongly influenced by Japanese philosophy and motifs like commercial greed and their disastrous effects on the environment play very important part in it. It can be very warm and fuzzy when needed but also gets very dark as the things get worse. In a way, it was a test case for everything we know Studio Ghibli for now as all these features play very important part in every single film he directed and help form their own identity. And it works so wonderfully well even after almost 30 years. Grade: A

Laputa: Castle in the Sky(1986): In 1985, along with fellow animator Isao Takahata(who later went on to direct wonderful and heart wrenching Grave of the Fireflies(1988)) and producer Yasuyoshi Tokuma, he started his own animation production company, Studio Ghibli. Castle in the Sky became the first film produced under that banner. If you ask me to pick a film to introduce someone to Miyazaki and Ghibli, I will pick this one. It is very sweet, easy to get into and unlike some other films, is not too dark or violent but still leaves you with a great message. There is something wonderful about Sheeta and Pazu and their friendship that always warms my heart. In a typical Miyazaki fashion, these are kids wise beyond their years but they haven’t lost their innocence. And that iron robot at the end is just the cherry on the top. As a matter of fact, this is my favourite film Miyazaki directed. One of the motifs of his films has always been morally ambiguous antagonist with various redeeming qualities. This is one of the only two films of Miyazaki to have a clear villainous character; other being The Castle of Cagliostro. Grade: A

My Neighbour Totoro(1988): Many of his other films might have been bigger critical or financial successes but I don’t think you can find a more beloved or popular character than Totoro in this film. Most of his characters are inspired by the Japanese philosophy. Totoro, however, is created completely from his own imagination and is based on his own childhood experiences. Miyazaki also created Cat bus for this movie which I am quite sure is more popular than some of his movies. Another character that I dearly love is Mei; she is just the cutest little thing you will ever see. Unfortunately, I don’t have the highest opinion of the film in general as I think it gets a little too sweet after a while but I am eagerly waiting for an opportunity to introduce this film to my 4-year old niece. However I will agree that the darkness of this film is deceptive, very well hidden under all the cuteness and can point to more serious themes if you want to look at it that way. Grade: B+

Kiki’s Delivery Service(1989): Another film that can serve as a good entry point for Ghibli newbie’s is this coming-of-age story of a young girl about developing her confidence but is little lighter and less ambitious than Laputa. However let me tell you that of his ‘lighter works’(Totoro, Kiki, Ponyo and maybe even Porco Rosso), I like Kiki the most. In yet another typical Miyazaki way, plot of his film itself is principle point of attraction – a 13-year-old girl has to leave her house and spend one year away as a mandatory part of her witch training before becoming a full-fledged witch. That just gets me instantly interested and I haven’t even mentioned Jiji yet. If not for last 15-20 minutes of this movie; where I think it loses its focus a little in an attempt to give Kiki one final, big task before she can pass her test; I really like this film. Miyazaki’s father was the director of Miyazaki Airplanes which produced rudders for the fighter planes during World War II. Miyazaki seems to have developed quite a fascination for aviation since his early years as it features quite prominently, in some form or the other, in many of his films including Kiki flying on her broom. Grade: B+

Porco Rosso(1992): Miyazaki also wrote every single one of the films he directed and in many cases also created Manga strips for them. Porco Rosso is one such film. In many ways, even this is quite a deviation from what we have come to expect from Miyazaki movies. Even though Fio can fit as a typical Miyazaki heroine, protagonist of this film is not a young female – Fio - but an adult male – Porco , a WWI pilot in 1930’s Italy transformed into an anthropomorphic pig who now works as a bounty hunter. It also lacks the usual environmentalist tone of his films and is more about the code of honour. Once again, it is the final few minutes of this movie – the duel between Porco and Curtis – that diminish my overall opinion of it. Grade: B-

Princess Mononoke(1997): This film has a distinction of introducing Miyazaki to the western world. I don’t belong to that world anymore but it was my introduction to him and to Ghibli as well; a start of love affair that has lasted since. I haven’t even mentioned the best thing about Miyazaki’s films that make them dearer to me than many other modern animated movies and that is they are traditionally animated. Even though this was the first film that Miyazaki used some kind of CGI for, he is believed to have drawn 80,000 drawings for this film himself. There is something about those drawings that makes them so much more relatable and personal and I love that way more than CGI. Mononoke is no doubt a great film with amazing characters and wonderful message; a natural double feature with Nausicaa but it is also much darker, more violent(one aspect of anime films that I am not most fond of though I will have more to say about it a little later). It also is the first animated film to win the Japanese Academy Awards and was the highest grossing film ever in Japan then. Grade: A-

Spirited Away(2001): I watched both Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away in pretty quick succession back in 2010 and that 1-2 punch quite literally knocked me. I really hoped to re-watch both before this post as I haven’t seen them since but unfortunately, couldn’t fit it in. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember every single detail of either of the film but I definitely remember liking this one better than the former. The fact that I can remember this way more than Mononoke even after watching both in quick succession also supports my claim. I am usually an advocate of making a little denser, intelligent kids film and majority of Miyazaki’s films are perfect example and off course, the hand-drawn animations in it make them more likable to me. Phenomenal financial success of this film also indicated that even people are ready to embrace them. Spirited Away not only promptly became the highest grossing Japanese film then and is his most financially successful film to date but went ahead and also became first anime film ever to win an Oscar for the best animated film. Grade: A

Howl’s Moving Castle(2004): Miyazaki came out of his second semi-retirement after the original director of this film, Mamoru Hosoda, passed away suddenly to make most violent movie from his filmography but also earned his second nomination for the Best Animated Film of the year. I have noticed it on various occasions that, mainly in anime movies, I am turned off by excessively violence because most of them tend to lose their focus once all the fighting ensues. Maybe it’s my Ghibli-toned sensitivities that play major part in it but many people consider Akira(1988) as one of the best anime movies ever and I really couldn’t get into that movie. Same thing happened with Paprika(2006) when things start getting stranger and stranger. I will say that Howl wasn’t that bad an experience but I wasn’t much emamoured by all the destruction in it either. Grade: B

Ponyo(2008): After Porco and Cagliostro, this is Miyazaki's third film with Male lead. This is my least favourite of all his films and unfortunately not because one of them had to be. I actually found it to be quite childish, something I never thought I will say about a Miyazaki film. I liked Sosuke enough and his house on the cliff was amazing but I really couldn't get into it once the effects of Ponyo's metamorphosis start materializing. It goes without saying that I am really excited for The Wind Rises(2013) but I am happy that he is directing it because I really don't want his last film to be my least favourite film. I really hope I like it too. Grade: C

Woody Allen

Saturday, September 14, 2013

City Lights or How Chaplin made me Cry!

The first time ever I put a Top 100 list on this blog was sometime in March 2012, little less than a month after I got into LAMB. Since the start of this year, I have been meaning to update that list and I finally found an opportune time for it on the second anniversary of this blog in June 2013. A lot changed over the year. Countless many films jumped up or down in the list, many I saw last year made into it for the first time and as a result, some of the earlier entries had to make way for them. However the one that made the biggest lip was Chaplin’s City Lights(1931) which I only saw for the first time last year. It found its way straight into my Top 10 films of all time. I had not added an entry to my ‘Favourites’ feature since I updated the list and so when I thought about doing so, it only felt right talking about one that the biggest splash in that update.

Like all his other films, City Lights is about Chaplin’s tramp and two more people in his life – a wealthy man who tries to kill himself in his drunken stupor but tramp somehow manages to save him and a sweet but blind flower selling girl that mistakenly takes him as a wealthy man. After getting to know her a bit, he comes to know that an operation can save bring her eyesight back. The catch is if she gets her eyes back, she would know that he is not a wealthy man she thinks he is and that may change her feelings for him but on the other hand, she will remain blind. But off course, he sets out to get that money she will need for it and in a typical Chaplin fashion, his path is filled with many gigs. On the other hand, wealthy man he saves feels quite indebted to him for saving his life but seems to forget everything as he gets sober. His butler also seems very suspicious of tramp and his motives and keeps on trying to get him out of the house. This on-and-off nature of their relationship makes for some hilarious moments.

Starting from the very first scene of tramp sleeping on the statue to be publicly inaugurated in the city square to one of the most well-known endings in the history of cinema, City Lights is full of iconic moments that even those who haven’t seen the film might know about. I am sure we all also remember the boxing fight he gets himself into to get the money for girl’s operation or the restaurant scene during one of the drunken spells of his wealthy friend. Scenes like these are filled with many small gigs that he does to perfection and almost certainly, to hilarious results.

I have grown up watching Chaplin; though most of them were shorts or I only saw parts of them, so it felt like shorts. I only got to his feature length films in 2011 but unlike many other of his contemporary comedians, I was at least introduced to him and his work very early in my life. Laurel-Hardy are the only others I can say the same about. I still haven’t seen anything of Harold Lloyd’s or Jacques Tati’s work though films like Safety Last(1923) or Playtime(1967) and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday(1953) are pretty high up on my watch-list. And although I inducted myself to Keaton and Marx Brothers right around the time I got into Chaplin films, I didn’t even know about them until I started this blog. So as much as I love Keaton and others, Chaplin will always hold a dear place in my heart and the more of his films I watch, the more he cements that position.

Chaplin, even though relies heavily on the physical comedy aspect of his films, transcends further than that. There is always something more, something deeper in his films than the obvious comedy we see on the screen. In Modern Times(1936), he comments on the human life getting more and more dependent on machines which is even more relevant now than it was then. In The Great Dictator(1940), while making fun of Hitler and Nazism, he also gives a message about humanity. In The Kid(1921), there is this beautiful father-son relationship at its center. In City Lights, it is unadulterated and undemanding Love.

His tramp, even though almost always at the lowest pedestal of the food chain, is always about hope, about giving, about being more humane. I don’t think it is more apparent anywhere else than it is in City Lights where he gives pretty much everything he can; he gets into the boxing ring, he gets a job in garage, he even goes to jail; just to help out this blind, flower-seller that he loves but who doesn’t even recognize him when he stands in front of her after all this. And this is the prefect segway for me to break into something I love the most about this film.

I rarely cry at the movies. I don’t even remember the last time I did. I don’t mean to brag or flaunt my 'Man' Card but it assures that when I do, the film leaves its impression on me. Bicycle Thieves(1948) did and so did Grave of the Fireflies(1988). Result? Both are very high up in my Top 100. City Lights did too and it also makes the list but there is something even more beautiful about it which makes it even more special. I have always been sucker for the moments that can make you laugh and cry at the same time and this film offers one such moment.

There are moments that warm your heart but what makes some of them extra special is when one sneaky tear slips from the corner of your eye and rolls onto your chick. There is danger in them either being too cheesy or falling flat but when someone gets it right, it works wonders like that last scene when the dejected tramp slowly walks away from the girl. It gets everything Just right. But then she finally recognizes her benefactor and that tear manages to break off the boundaries and roll down. I have seen this film 3 times and it happened every. single. time. Even writing about this right now makes me go “Awwww”. That scene is everything good, nice, pure and innocent about this world personified in one moment. It could very well be my favourite onscreen moment ever. It will never, ever get old for me.

Until Vertigo(1958) took the top seed in the last year's Sight and Sound list displacing Citizen Kane(1941), City Lights was the only movie ever to top that list besides Kane. Over the years, it has gone down up to #50 but is till one of the best films made ever. Personally, with so many iconic scenes and favourite moments, it is not only my favourite Chaplin but also favourite silent film of all time.

Rating(out of 5):

Past Favorites:
Bicycle Thieves(1948)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wrapping It Up: August

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. My very first from Wrap-Up post from India, from home. This is the 20th Wrap Up post I am doing and for the first time I was in real danger of missing the deadline; not because I had too much on my plate but because India got me sick. I probably shouldn't blame it on her though because every time I move to new city, I always fall sick early on. But it looks like I am going to make it despite. Yay Me!! and here we go!


Junebug(2005): I haven't seen Man of Steel(2013) yet but except that, I have seen every film Amy Adams did since Enchanted(2007). Variety of the roles she plays contributes heavily in making her my favourite working actress today. Junebug was a vital blind spot from her repertoire and I chose to watch it to end my movie drought of 10 days. Believe me, it was every second worth it and much more. I love Adams in everything she does but this is got to be her best performance and by far. She was just amazing in that role.

Darling(1965): I haven't seen Julia Christie in many roles but from whatever I know of her, I never would have imagined her in such a role. But that's an indicative of her potential that she fit right into that role. This Diana Scott was a very well written character as well. She's a seductress, she is very materialistic but she is always very subtle and always validates herself for her own sake. This was completely her vehicle and she did an amazing job off course; she had to, to beat Julie Andrews for that Oscar.

Mud(2013): First of my in-flight trio and definitely the best one I saw. I haven't seen many 2013 movies yet but it is very well possible that this is the best one I have seen so far. It was a beautifully woven story. I love the way it shows Ellis' struggle to understand the meaning of love, commitment through multiple relationships around him. He seems to be grasping for the last straw as everything around him goes on crumbling. Kudos to Tye Sheridan for bringing all those emotions out.

Blancanieves(2013): Another in-flight movie I saw. If we are strictly talking about a movie, I think Mud will linger with me a while longer but this was definitely the movie that surprised me the most. I had certain expectation from Mud and it delivered to it. I had no idea what to expect from this one and this Snow White story with a spin, set in a Spanish Bullfighting world, presented in style of 1920's silent film turned out to be a beautiful, beautiful film.

The Lion King(1994): This month's Blind Spot which was second animated movie from the Disney's canon in the line-up this year. It proved once again that the warmth, the beauty, the relatability of hand drawn animation enamours me very easily. My four year old niece saw me watching this and she kept saying I shouldn't be watching it because it's a kids movie and I am not a kid. One day I'll tell her there is so much to like in this one for anyone, any age. That's what makes it great. More here.

Barfi!(2012)(Hindi)(Re-watch): It is still a fun film to watch second time around. It has its heart in the right place, there are lot of moments that work just well and has all the three lead performances that I still like. If it wasn't for all the bits copied blatantly from all over the place, I would have loved to praise it unequivocally. And the bigger problem is whatever he took from Chaplin and Keaton and others is so easily recognizable, it is not even possible to turn a blind eye towards it.

Side By Side(2012): Looking at the speed with which the whole industry is changing towards digital, this was the most opportune time for this documentary. Personally, I still lean a bit towards actual film but mine is not an informed opinion and the most convincing argument I can make for it is nostalgia. But it was nice to see so many greats of the industry weighing on this issue. I find it hard to take Keanu Reeves much seriously but to his credit, he did a great job especially giving the viewer all the facts without taking any sides.

Magic Mike(2012): I don't remember exactly when was the first time I saw Step Up(2006) but I definitely know that I never thought the guy doing that would ever go ahead and do this or anything else he has done in last year or two. It really is amazing to see how far Channing Tatum has come since then. I also remember Cody Horn made lot of headlines, good and bad, for her performance. I didn't find anything wrong with her performance.

Ride with the Devil(1999): I have been going through Ang Lee's filmography one by one over the past few months. We all know about his more flashy films but the films that have surprised me the most are his little known films like The Wedding Banquet(1993). Like some of his lesser known films, this civil war drama is not the flashiest of the movies but actually quite a good human story. He got Tobey Maguire to change emotions on his face - that's about the biggest compliment I can give to any film.

Jumanji(1995)(Re-watch): This is a childhood favourite ever since I saw it first. I remember watching it on VHS when I was 12. I also remember that I saw it with few other school friends in the house of one of them. I have seen it many times since then but this was after a long, long time. Almost 15 years and it is still so much fun. I know it isn't a particularly great film one can say and even I see the flaws in it now. But I still love it as much as I did as a kid and most probably will continue to.

The Kid(1921): This might be the only movie in which someone runs away from Tramp scared. It is usually the other way around, right? It's Chaplin's first feature length and it's short and sweet but says what it has to very clearly. Now after so many years, Chaplin's direction of Jackie Coogan is a stuff of legends and you can definitely see that on the screen. Loved the kid and the way he is completely in with the tramp in all of his schemes though it could have been as good as Chaplin's best works if it didn't loose a little in half an hour or so.

Ishaqzaade(2012)(Hindi):I have been strangely attracted to this film ever since last year for no reason other than it made it to TIFF. I finally saw it this month on Television and I am still strangely fascinated. It's not that we have never had films with the Ishaqzaade's ending but it's just that I never, for a moment, expected this one to go where it did. I was absolutely sure that somehow they will make it to be a typical 'And they lived happily ever after' saga but it kept on surprising me. And so did Parineeti Chopra. Hopefully she will fulfill the promise she has shown.

Raanjhanaa(2013)(Hindi): Second Hindi movie of the month(actually, this is the first one I saw) that surprised me. But more than that, this movie confused me. What happens to Abhay Deol surprised me and got me excited to see where they will take it from there but everything after that just confused. For the whole second half, I don't see any explanation of why everyone is doing what they are doing and it was frustrating after a while. If and when I watch it again, it might bet better but right now, second half is all over the place in my opinion.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag(2013)(Hindi): To tell you the truth, I had only one problem with the film - it's length. It is a descent film that has it's heart in the right place and does good justice to one of the legendary athletes of India - Milkha Singh. Farhan Akhtar in the titular role does great job, especially given his commitment for his role. But there is no reason for this film to be more than 3 hours long. Even sitting in the theater watching it, I must have counted 30 minutes worth of film that easily could have been cut.

Oblivion(2013): It was actually pretty good film. Definitely better than I expected but I doubt if I expected anything at all from this one. Probably that helped the most, having next to nothing expectations from it. It started slowly and took me some time to get into this one(I can also blame this on our speakers who decided not to work properly on their own that day) but once it did, it kept on getting more and more interesting and fortunately didn't disappoint in the end.

The Grandmaster(2013):Third and least favourite of my in-flight trio on my way home. Interestingly in the last couple of weeks, I have read couple of articles about how Weinstein company dumbed this movie down by cutting few scenes in it for the feat of average American finding it obscure. Now I don't know which print I saw. Visually, it was every bit gorgeous as you can expect from Wong Kar Wai. But narratively, I am still confounded by it. I am still not sure who played Tony Leung's wife(For half the film, I was under impression Zhang Ziyi is), who was that Razor fella? Where did he come from and where did he go?

Despicable Me(2010): I know, I know the second one is already out but I can't watch it unless I watch the first one, can I? It is a typical animated film that I don't really care for. It's not a bad film per say, it is sweet and cute and all that but it's a film probably anyone little older will be able to see through and I hate that. The usual defense is it is an animated film. It is intended for kids and I agree but it doesn't have to be Just For Kids. If you put a little more effort into it, something good can come even out of this. 

Premium Rush(2012): As an action movie, I am ready to give it good marks. There was actually a lot in it that got my adrenalin pumping. But other than that, it was very average popcorn flick that I can forget quicker than the taste of popcorn I was eating while watching it. Michael Shannon did a decent job with his role but to tell you the truth, it felt like a wasted talent than anything else. There wasn't much in the story to glue me to my seat or to take it seriously and feel threatened by it.

The Croods(2013): I saw this for Emma Stone because she is amazing and I can pretty much watch anything with her in it. It turns out, not Anything! Despite it being an animated movie, I thought she was still good in it as her voice is her most distinguished trait but story sucked big time. I was kind of amused early on, which is why I continued on but I started rolling my eyes pretty soon and by the end, my right eyeball was in the leftmost corner of my left eye and left one in the rightmost corner of right eye. Hey, it's an animated movie! Anything can happen. 

Total Count: 19. 17 First Time Watches and 2 Re-watches .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 177. 163 First Time Watches and 14 Re-watches.

19 movies is not much but not too bad a month either, especially considering Junebug was my first movie in almost 10 days. I haven't counted the movies I saw in bits and pieces throughout the month on TV but I have seen so many partially that if I could count two half movies as one, I would probably go beyond 30(I know that's cheating) and most of them were re-watches. So that number would also be little more respectable than paltry 14 in 8 months(Yup, that's me! Last tear that number was 22. So considering that, I am almost well up to speed).

As per me getting back to blogging, I am still not so sure. I am a kind of person who NEEDS to plan ahead and haven't done that for the past two months. Only thing I can assure you right now is, once again, there will be a Blind Spot post and Wrap Up post(That, I have planned well in advance!) and hopefully, I will pop up in between a couple of times just enough to keep you people interested in this place. Let us see how that goes!

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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