Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wrapping it up: November

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. I started a new job this month and at one point it threatened to derail my monthly viewings. To some extent even succeeded in it, even forced me to stay 2 and 1/2 weeks away from this blog. But then, there were weekends! You will see that this is the month that I am shifting gears to get into 2013 mode, the one I hope to remain in for most of the next few months. We will see how that goes but this is how this month went!


The Dark Knight(2008)(Re-watch): Every time I watch it, it brings back the memories of first time I watched it. This time I watched it for n-th time and still I like it as much as I did the first time; only difference is I didn't understand everything that went down then, now I know all the dialogues by heart. I am still in awe of neck-breaking speed of this film but I had never seen anything so relentless, something that would have me grasping for breath then. This was one of the first films of Chris Nolan I saw and one of the films that had a lot of influence in making me a cinephile I am today.

Before Midnight(2013): The trilogy is finally complete. I remember being not convinced about it when they announced they are going ahead with this but I am glad to be proven wrong. There is so much to talk about here. I LOVED Delpy's Bimbo and all I could think of during that dinner conversation, which by far was the best scene I have seen this year, was how many cameras did he have on? It is phenomenal. I know a lot of people didn't want to see the most romanticized couple fighting and tearing each other down to pieces. I am not sure if I was either but I guess, C'est la vie. I kind of like the fact that they went there.  

Stories We Tell(2013): I have known about this movie for more than a year now but I still can not believe Polley made such a movie. Not only the subject matter is so different, so personal, the way she treats this whole thing is amazingly professional. I love the fact that despite being such an integral part of this movie, time and again she sort of steps into the filmmaker's shoes and let everyone else take the stage. The kind of reactions she's been able to get out of everyone from her family is simply astonishing. More here.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller(1971): After watching The Long Goodbye(1973), Altman has become third director that I am making a deliberate effort to see more of. First two being Ang Lee and Akira Kurosawa. I am not sure how deep I will go in his filmography but these are still early days - this is only the 4th film I have seen. Julie Christy continues to amaze me by the incredible diversity of her roles and so did Beatty in his sort of dumb, spineless character. But one thing I'll never forget is the way Altman orchestrated that entire final sequence. All that snow and multiple things happening at the same time; the way he shot it was mesmerizing!

Quiz Show(1994): I am not exactly sure but this might be the first non-Coen brother film that I have seen John Turturo in or at least first one I worth remembering(Looking at you, Transformers(2007)). It might have been a big scandal in the '50s but I think now we kind of expect everything to be fixed. It might just be the cynic in me and I don't want to take anything away from the film because I thought it was really good but everything is run like a business now a days. Nobody wants to leave anything to chance. Look at Hollywood!

The Bling Ring(2013): I think I like this film a lot more than the overall consensus. I like that it shows the materialistic nature of lives of those involved. I like the way it pokes fun at the celebrity culture that is so much prevalent now and shows the dirty side of it despite all the glitz and glamour surrounding it and who else to show it than one of Hollywood's own royalties? Lack of depth to it was main complaint about it but given the shallowness of those involved, it does justice to them. The ending is once again a bit jarring but I can live with that.

Gravity(2013): I know I am extremely late to the party but I am glad that at least I got to see it in the theater. Everyone who said that this is as close to being in space as we can get is absolutely right. Lubezki's work is absolute genius, something we have never seen before. Even in the acting department it's uniformly solid. But, unfortunately, even those who said script has issues are right as well and some of them, I am thinking of certain someone's death in particular, are pretty egregious. I'll never call it a bad film, in fact I think it has a good chance of making into my top 10 of the year, but more I think about these issues, little less I like the film.

Much Ado About Nothing(2013): I have also seen the Branagh-Thompson 1993 version a year ago. While I loved it otherwise, I had two problems with it - language felt laborious and off course, Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington were little ridiculous half-brothers. Like, duh! For some reason, this time around I had fun with that same language. Off course, it looked absolutely delightful in black and white. Amy Acker was stunning, dare I say even better than Thompson. Everyone else fit perfectly in their parts as well and Nathan Filion! Always nice to see familiar faces pop up.

West Side Story(1961): 65th Best Picture Winner knocked off the list. I didn't know much about it except it was about two gangs fighting against each other and involved a love story. Maybe it was just an opening sequence or maybe it just took some time to settle but I did not get into it right away; though by the end it certainly lured me in. It was charming, delightful and by the end even heart-wrenching. Maybe I did know it being a Romeo and Juliet adaptation but I forgot all about it until Anita delivers a message. I think the best compliment I can give it is knowing that did not make it any less sad.

Bombay Talkies(2013)(Hindi): Anthology film released earlier this year to celebrate 100 years on Indian cinema. It brought 4 contemporary directors together, each directing about 30 minute short about the way cinema influences our day-to-day lives. I LOVED one of the shorts, another one was really good as well. Didn't really cared for the third and fourth was actually good; I just didn't think it had much to do with what these films were supposed to do. I am hoping to write a regular post on it so you'll have to wait to find out which is which.

World War Z(2013): You might sense a little bit of theme here with a bunch films I saw this month that I had no initial interest in watching but I did because of strong word of mouth. First of all, I was really surprised how quickly it jumps into the whole shitstorm. Within first two minutes, zombie apocalypse has already begun and it keeps on going deeper and deeper. And it might the CGI but those zombies were running super-fast. Even though it was a little down-beat, I also admire the fact that it didn't end with the traditional ending.

This is the End(2013): I kind of do not believe I am saying this myself but I actually liked this film a lot more than I thought I would. Off course, I had zero expectations from it since I have no particular interest in anyone of those involved. I only saw it because I needed something lighter to see and this popped up in my mind. Surprisingly I found it quite hilarious despite all its stupidities! What I liked about it is it knows how ridiculous this whole thing is and never makes any attempt to hide it.

Madras Cafe(2013)(Hindi): I don't know why people did not like this film much. It's not great by any stretch of imagination and there were various departments of it that I would have liked to be more polished. It certainly could have been better but it worked well enough for me, maybe because I usually like political thrillers. The only real problem I have with the film is it starts off with the protagonist feeling he could have saved former PM and after watching it, I really have no idea what else he could have done.

Man of Steel(2013): Because of the involvement of two of my favourite people - Amy Adams and Christopher Nolan - I knew it was only a matter of when will I see it; never will I? For those two, I wanted to like it but unfortunately, I have to agree with the two most frequent complaints about it. One, it is too grim and I kind of don't see the reason for it. Second, it is far too long. Snyder really should have cut solid half hour of it, majority of it could have been from the final battle. 

Pacific Rim(2013): Despite hearing some pretty good comments about it, I did not have a lot of expectations about this film. From the trailers, it looked like more or less like a Michael Bay film. It was certainly more than that but I had few problems with it. I will admit that it was very entertaining, technically brilliant, no complaints there but I think there was not much in it besides that. There was nothing new about story, very predictable, it had all the typical characters you can ask for in such kind of movie, nothing special about acting. A Standard popcorn action entertainer. More here.

War of the Worlds(2005): Don't you feel like there is a little too much of happenstances going around in it? I mean, tripod keeps hitting just about 2 feet behind him in the entire sequence in its first appearance. They close the door just second after fire leaps in their room. I know it happens in every single film but wasn't this a little too much? Because the same thing kept on repeating over and over for whole two hours. How can any person be so damn lucky? And, yes!! I can recognize Morgan Freemon's voice.

Now You See Me(2013): I will freely admit that I wasn't one of those who easily guessed what was happening in it and could see he ending from afar but the reason wasn't because I was watching too closely. It was because I was tuned out of it way earlier than that. It was one of the 10 films I said I was most excited for at the start of the year and it could be the one I am most disappointed by of those 10. It looked something like The Prestige(2006) but extremely superficial script and sub-par acting killed it for me. 

Barry Lyndon(1975): Blind Spot entry for this month. I usually do not write about the movies I don't like. There is already a lot of negativity on the internet, I don't need to contribute my bit to it. The most I will do is here, in this post. When I decided to participate in the blind spot series at the start of this year, one of my concerns was this - what if I didn't like a film and have to write about it? For the first 10 months I somehow managed to avoid falling in that trap. However that streak has been broken. More here

Total Count: 18. 17 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watches .

2013 YTD Count
Total Count: 236. 216 First Time Watches and 20 Re-watches.

I started documenting my movie watching with these wrap up posts in February 2012. Since I have been doing this, this month is slowest of them but only by a couple of films. This is so for number of reasons I stated in the last wrap up post and I have every reason to believe this month wouldn't be much different. It wouldn't be one of the slowest though; if I plan properly I might be able to get to the usual pace of about 21 films. It all depends on how much time do I get on weekends!

When it comes to watching new releases, I was never the one to go to theater every week to catch them but I had a decent start to the year this time but my move back to India kind of messed up with my pace in the last 3 months or so. At he start of this month, I was at completely unacceptable 23 films for the year. I am hoping to reach at least somewhere around last year's tally of 70 films before doing the best of the year lists in early March. For that, I have to start early and play a little catch up with 2013 now. With clocking dozen 2013 films this month, I am hoping it will get me there eventually.

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November Blind Spot: Barry Lyndon

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
Once again because of the person behind the camera, calling Action! Mr. Stanley Kubrick, widely regarded as one of the best directors film industry has ever produced. After Bergman and Tarkovskiy earlier this year and Ozu to follow next month, director being the principle reason of inclusion in this line-up has been a standing theme of this year's blind spots. I like some of Kubrick's films, even love a couple but in general I am not the biggest fan of his work. So I always need an extra push to check some of his films that I haven't yet and I think this series can be just that. 

So, what is the story about?
Barry Lyndon(1975) is a story of Redmond Barry, son of a lawyer, who leaves with his mother under the patronage of his uncle after death of his father in duel. After receiving quite an encouragement from his uncle's daughter, Nora, he duly falls in love with her. She plays with him for a while and after finding someone wealthier, someone with better prospects leaves him for that guy. Blinded by her love, he challenges her new lover, kills him in duel and has to run away from police. After running away, he enlists himself in army, fights a seven-year war for England, gets bored after a while, runs away, gets caught by a Prussian captain, enlists back into Prussian army, saves life of captain who caught him and starts working for police after war is over. His first assignment is to spy on an Irish person but he becomes a double agent and runs away with this guy. Two of them form an unusual bond and wander around, swindling people of heir money in gambling. One of the days, he sets his eyes on Lady Lyndon, beautiful, wealthy wife of old, sickly Sir Charles Lyndon. Lord Lyndon dies soon after and obviously Barry assumes his position as soon as he can and starts spending 'perfectly good family fortune' on his ambition and spendthrift attitude. Did I bore you already? Imagine watching it for 3 hours...

This is unlike any other film Kubrick has done. He is often praised for venturing into different genres, which this movie can be another example of, but even then you will always see some sort of social commentary in them. He is usually extremely critical of the society and showcases it in most acerbic way possible. There is nothing of that sort here. Considering almost unbearably over critical aspect of his films is my principal problem with him(I lose all my shit over soldiers singing Mickey Mouse Club title song in Full Metal Jacket(1987) at the end), you would think I will be much more receptive of this film. What we get here is the worst kind of labourious, uninteresting bore for over three hours. If there was some sort of social commentary somewhere in there, it was lost completely on me in my boredom.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
It is rather unfortunate that I have to begin here with negativity but the only thing more unfortunate than that is I don't have anything particularly positive to say about Barry Lyndon. My biggest problem with this film is I can't even say I hated it. Not because I found some redeeming qualities in otherwise dull movie but because even to hate a movie, you have to have felt something. I don't think there are many things I was so apathetic about. Even in the most dramatic, most climatic moments of the film like the final duel between Lord Bullingdon and Barry Lyndon or Bryan falling off the horse, my only thought was 'Get Over With It!'. It is long, it is tedious, it is monotonous and altogether boring. In all the 185 minutes of this film, there must be 100 odd characters that come and go on the screen and there was none, none I had any interest whatsoever in.

Like many other of his films, Kubrick seems to have spend a lot of time on creating a certain look and feel of the movie. Even here, cinematography is one aspect I can sort of get behind. Kubrick's camera seems to reveal in every second of this film, even in the most unnecessary, over drawn moments. However what it does basically is slows down the pace of the movie to trickle. It is so slow that it drowns even the most surprising moments of the film. Kubrick must have been meticulous about the make-up, costume and hair designing of this film as well and it certainly shows. However I thought them, especially make-up, to be overdone. So much so that I found most of the side characters to be almost caricature of real characters. Unnecessarily over-the-top portrayal by those involved has to bear equal blame in this. Unless you find a way to make it particularly interesting, like in Goodfellas(1990), voice-over narration usually dampens the film for me and here it does so quite efficiently.

As I have said before, for one reason or the other, I have always had problems with Kubrick. This guy never seems to catch a break with me. To put it bluntly, I think a lot of people like him because you are supposed to like him. If you don't, there is something wrong with you. Maybe there is, maybe I am such a novice, which I accept anyways, that I don't understand the greatness of whatever it is front of my eyes but I don't think of Stanley Kubrick when I think of my favourite directors. And not because there are other more worthy choices, which in my opinion there certainly are, but because I genuinely have problem with some of his most revered works. However how can I form an informed opinion about anything without being informed? So I take it as my duty to watch all his films and I swear I enter every one of them with hope that this will be the one to make me his devoted follower like most other informed folks. Well, this certainly wasn't to be the one!

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
If at all Barry Lyndon is anything, it is homework. Nothing more than that. There is absolutely nothing in this movie to make it stand out from the rest and somehow make it an 'essential' watch. Unless you are a perfectionist and want to watch every film of someone involved in this film or enjoy boring yourself with an absolute lackluster of a film, there is nothing in this film for anyone here. Considering the status of Kubrick in the industry, most film lovers are bound to stumble to it eventually and I don't want to be the one to keep others away from this. It's just that I don't think anyone needs to be in any hurry to watch this. You can always find better ways to waste 3 hours of your life on something else. Anything would do!

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
If there was an unnecessary question ever, it is this one. No, it does not and even if it did, I certainly don't want to open them. I still haven't seen 3 of Kubrick's films, Spartacus(1960), Lolita(1962) and Killer's Kiss(1955), 4 if you count Fear and Desire(1953) and I know I will get to them at some point but they do not owe anything to this film. I would have watched them anyways. If at all it had any effect, it would be to detract me further.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Breaking Emotions: Tears and Surprise

Mettel Ray has started new blogathon – Breaking Emotions – on her blog. Blogathon is already in its third week and you can read all about it here. In my 2 and half week slump this month I missed the first set of emotions and this Monday she also gave 3rd set to everyone. I, however, am going to do the post about the emotions given by her in second week – Tears and Surprise. 

I think it is obvious that all these entries will be spoiler heavy but still, you’ve been warned.

I don’t want to flaunt my Man card or anything but I rarely cry in the movies. However that makes the moment when I do very special. Here are my 3 choices of films that made me cry.

1. Finding Neverland(2004): I haven’t seen this film in over 5 years and many details of it are now blurry in my mind but I have seen this film multiple times in college and there was one moment in it that I got teary eyed every time I saw it. After Peter’s mother Sylvia, played by Kate Winslet, dies, there is a conversation between J.M. Barrie and Peter somewhere on the park bench where they talk about what happens to the people after they are dead. Just the way Freddie Highmore’s lips move in that scene, like a fish out of water, always used to get me.

2. Grave of the Fireflies(1988): Over the course of these two years this has become my favourite animated movie ever but I still refuse to watch it again because of the mess I was after first time. I can include the whole film but if I have to choose one scene, I will go to the one that gives the film its title. Setsuko and Seita have both abandoned their aunt’s house and are leaving in the cave. Up to this point, movie is very serious tonally. With Seita making the water bubbles and catching the fireflies, this is probably the first time where we get a little respite from that seriousness. But that is the very scene that affects me the most because in the very first scene we know the eventual fate of both Setsuko and Seita. Knowing that this might be the last moment she gets to be the child she deserves to be and tenderness with which that whole scene is handled makes it almost impossible to hold my tears.

3. City Lights(1931): That’s a shoe-in entry for me and for a change these are the tears of joy; absolute, unabated joy. I don’t even think I have to tell anyone which scene I am talking about. That is the smallest, purest, tenderest and beautifullest(I can go on for quite a while) moment in the history of cinema that gets the biggest reaction out of me. There is nothing else in this world that makes my heart warmer than the look on both Tramp and Girl’s face in that moment. Nothing!

Now, on to the Surprise which interestingly was even harder to choose. Couple of months ago, I ranted that it has become increasingly difficult over he last year or so for a film to wow me. Maybe it is the matter of watching 300+ movies/year for last two years but it is even rarer than me crying in a film and hence, obviously, even more rewarding when it does. All the three moments below are the epitome of "What the FXXX just happened?"

1. The Usual Suspects(1995): This is a grand daddy of all the cinematic surprises. The moment Kevin Spacey stops, looks back, breaks off his limp and quietly starts walking normally again might be the first moment ever I said What the FUXX just happened? out loud. This is another film highly due for a rewatch, so much that I actually do not remember anything other than the final scene, but that moment is etched into my memory forever. I may not have understood everything that was going down in the film but I definitely got the end because I remember I have never jumped so much in my seat any other time.

2. The Departed(2006): Like many others, I am sure, I principally remember Scorsese's best picture winner for it's phenomenal ensemble cast. But there is no denying the power of its extremely clever and fast paced screenplay. It is one of the movies you have to take time out to breathe. In the end as people start dying swiftly, there is one death that merits a special mention. Leonardo DiCaprio's. I NEVER saw that coming. What's even more surprising is not only it happens, it happens so suddenly that you almost take a moment to notice it actually happened. Probably that's the reason it's so effective.

3. There Will be Blood(2007): This is my 2nd favourite movie of all time and the scene in question does play significant role in making it that but I will let our director friend Alex Withrow describe this one for me simply because I can hardly do any better.
Bowling alley.  Eating steak off the floor like a dog.  Drainage.  Milkshakes.  False prophets.  Third revelations.  Blowing pin.  Heavy breathing.  “...Mr. Daniel?”
“…I’m finished.”
Not hardly, Mr. Plainview.  Not hardly.

That's it from me but you can see all the other great entries by many other amazing bloggers here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Catching up with 2013 Mini- Reviews: Part One

Before Midnight(2013): One of the best trilogies of our times is finally complete! Off course, we don't know if Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke will stop after this third installment. Hell, till this time last year I doubt if I knew there will be this third installment. I remember when the news broke that they are already working on this one, my first reaction was Why? Off course, I loved the first two and coming out of nowhere, this third movie seemed like nothing but a bad idea. Fortunately, Linklater-Delpy-Hawke trio proved everyone wrong. Not only did they prove everyone wrong, I guess now people will be much more receptive of any further installments if there are any. I ain't asking for them but I know I will be if they are up for it.

At the end of Before Sunset(2004), Jesse misses his plane and stays with Celine. Nine years after, they are not only still together but also have beautiful twin daughters. It opens with Jesse dropping his son, from his first wife, off at the airport. They are spending their summer somewhere in Greece at one of Jesse's writer friend's house. Once again, we spend a day of their life with them and once again we get plenty of long takes and beautiful conversations. As a matter of fact, I think I can make a strong case for the dinner table scene as not only the best scene of the whole trilogy but even one of the best ever. Delpy's bimbo herself would win half the battle. And then there is Natalia's story to cap it off. The only difference is this time, having spent nine years together, their whirlwind, perfect romance is through it's spring and is moving more towards its autumn. Conversations here are more about how the other one is suffocating them in this relationship. Sometimes it is just a cordial nudging, teasing while at one point it even transforms into full-blown storm. 

It's obviously hard to see what many of us perceive as the ideal, almost ethereal romance going through these very earthly phases but, if truth be told, I like the fact that they dared to go there. And not only did they go there but they did it convincingly. Sure we can go on playing the blame game, which as a matter of fact both Celine and Jesse do plenty of, but what I liked about it is it exposes both the sides. On many occasions, I found myself leaning back and forth during their fight. And in the end we have a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, if we get another film, they are still together. I really, really hope they are!
Rating(out of 5):
Pacific Rim(2013): Yet another film that I had my doubts about when I first heard about it. I will be honest; from the trailer it looked like another Michael Bay vehicle with all the technology and showiness and not much anything else. Sure, it had Del Toro at the helm but you never know. Well, it was definitely better than that. I like the fact that it tries to go against the norm. For starters, Kaijus come from underground; not the biggest of the difference but hey, nobody thought of that before. Their first strike comes down at San Francisco. Once again, it is still in US but at least not New York and when was the last time someone mentioned Manilla in a disaster film? I was happy for all that but unfortunately, that ends here. 

Everything later on is pretty generic. It sets up the whole film in first 5 minutes with most generic voice over narration. As a typical disaster film, it gets over emotional at the end trying to make a big statement. It has all the typical characters, follows certain pattern and even overthrows logic for making a spectacle of it all. But fortunately, despite all that, it isn’t a crappy film. Even if it is just a spectacle, it is a good spectacle. Actually, it is a good action film. Technology used is brilliant, visuals are stunning, fights are amazing and both Kaijus and Jaegers are designed with great care eye for the detail. There is almost no dull moment in the film and as the movie progresses, even though very predictable and unnecessarily emotional, fights only get bigger and bigger in scale. Even though none of the actors was bad, I don't think they had much to do here. I remember Rinko Kikuchi being the big deal at the time of its release. She is quite good as well but except for the fact that she was a woman who had something to do other than being a love interest, I didn't think there was anything different to her character than all the others in the movie. Overall, I think Pacific Rim was worth watching for its technical feat but on the narrative side, it definitely could have been much better.
Rating(out of 5):
Stories We Tell(2013): I have been a fan of Sarah Polley’s work for a few years now. In the early months of this blog, I watched The Sweet Hereafter(1997) which affected me dearly. In fact, it was the first ever review I wrote. Ian Holm’s harrowing portrait of this guilt ridden lawyer was certainly the main reason for it but Polley’s Nicole, the only survivor of the accident, made quite an impression on me. Then Away From Her(2006), which believe it or not also introduced me to wonderful Julie Christy, and last year’s Take This Waltz(2012) further cemented her position. But even then I don’t think I ever expected something like this from her. Well, I didn’t expect something like this from anyone but here I am. Not only watching it but also writing about it.

Since it made its first screening in last year’s TIFF, Stories We Tell has been on my radar. I have tried to keep my distance but despite my best effort, I was exposed to certain facts about it prior to watching it. [SPOILER ALERT] I knew it revealed that Michael Polley is not her biological father. It even told who is her real father[SPOILER END]. So I thought I would be ready for it when it comes. To my utter surprise, it still sneaked up on me and even more surprisingly; this prior knowledge did not ruin the whole thing for me. What I did feel throughout the film but some sort of voyeuristic guilt, like watching something I am not supposed to and despite knowing that full well, can't take my eyes off because it is so fascinating. I still can’t believe she made a film out of something so personal and here is the whole family talking so candidly about it. Candidly! That’s a word of prime importance here as, despite everything, none of the family seems to be engaging much in the blame game. I am sure there are many families with similar stories out there but what impressed me the most about this documentary was the maturity with which this family handles the whole situation and how Polley presents it exploring every facet of the story.

This whole story is about perspectives. Like Rashomon(1950), this film is trying to tell us how the story changes according to who is telling the story? what are his affiliations and motives to be involved in this story? As Polley says towards end that to get the whole story, she felt it necessary to include everyone that played part in this story or was affected by it. It’s fascinating to watch every person associated with the story has his own version of it. At the end, it drags a bit longer than necessary but other than that I don't believe there are many films that made me think about so many things before.
Rating(out of 5): 

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