Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wrapping it up: July

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. Lets not waste any time with pleasantries here. Let me get straight to what we are here for. To the movies of this month...


Memories of Murder(2003): Granted, I don't know a whole lot about Korean cinema but I must have seen about 15-20 films, most of them acclaimed at International stage for some or the other reason. Most of them are really good in their own fucked up way but I think this has to be the best one of them all. This is an extremely frustrating movie in a way Zodiac(2007) was but just like it, a really good one. I was feeling every up and down of their investigation in my gut. I am also glad that this was my 100th new to me movie of the year.

Touch of Evil(1958): I haven't seen many Orsen Welles films. Only 2 before this one but I like this one more than other two put together and that includes Citizen Kane(1941). I loved how it sets up the whole story in first 5 minutes and loved how it unfolds till the end and how despicable Hank Quinlan gets by the end even more. It is one of those films I needed a happy ending to because I hated Quinlan completely. I couldn't have bared a thought of him getting away with everything.  

Under the Skin(2014): I feel like I appreciated this one lot more than I actually liked it and that is despite me liking it well enough. I haven't seen most of Jonathan Glazer's work but looking at it from outside, they don't look easily accessible. Neither is this one. I would say that this was one of the best movie watching experiences I had. While it was quite different and still kept me interested till the end, there were many things in the film that I wasn't exactly sure of. Maybe that is the biggest allure of this film.

Nymphomaniac: Vol I(2014): With the notable exception of probably only Shame(2011), I usually can not see beyond sexually oriented films as anything but. Nymphomaniac was another exception. Like most of von Trier's films, it was slow and rather monotonous narratively but for once it felt like von Trier's extremism was put to good use here as it felt about so much more than just sex. It was about love, loss, loneliness and lust. And Stacy Martin gets naked A LOT but is absolute revelation.

Jalsaghar(1958): This month's Blind Spot and my re-introduction to Satyajit Ray's filmography after I saw Apu trilogy about two years ago. First two installments of Apu Trilogy were first two films Ray ever did and this one was third. It is really hard to believe that when you see how well thought, how well crafted all this movies are. Why wouldn't he make a film if he had such a clear vision of what he wanted? I am not sure if we will know answer to that question but we can only consider ourselves lucky that he did. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes(2014): I am actually very torn on this one and I fully expect this rating to drop as the year goes by. On one hand, I think this is a great blockbuster mainly for its technical achievement but at the same time, it also feels very stifled by being a mere blockbuster. It feels like it had chance at greatness, if they worked a bit on making screenplay a little less cliched. It looked great on screen to see them get there but I always knew where this was going.

Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani(2013)(Hindi)(Re-watch): Lets just take a moment to contemplate scarcity of the situation here. I have not only re-watched a film, it is a Hindi film. Last time that happened must have been back in... I don't even remember. But this film, for me, is a living proof of you don't have to be out of the box to make it good. This tells me that you can still take a same old story and make it worth audiences' time. All that matters is doing it well and Ayan Mukharjee proved once again that he certainly can.

Bad Neighbours(2014): I will freely admit that I was not much excited for this film. I am not the biggest fan of Seth Rogen, I really think that Rose Byrne is much better than comedies she keeps appearing in and neither Franco Jr. nor Zac Efron have any traction for me. I only saw this because a lot of people liked it and surprisingly, I quite enjoyed it. It was exactly what I expected it to be but thankfully, it never went overboard or even get corny, though I could have done without Jimmy and Paula's overacting. 

You're Next(2011): It was one of those films you randomly put on and keep on watching just because you feel like it. Even this is quite a rarity for me but not as rare as recent Bollywood film re-watch. I wasn't feeling much while the family stuff was happening around. It felt rather contrived. But once they got to killings, aka part where most films feel same old again, it became quite awesome. And now we know that Sharni Vinson can dance and fight. Hopefully, she will soon get to serious acting.

Batman(1989): This is first Batman film I have seen outside of Nolan trilogy. So I am sorry if I unfairly compare all Batman films to them but that's literally the only reference point I have. I wouldn't say I loved this film but there was almost nothing about this film that I didn't like. It is very '90s but I don't see there was any other way to it. It isn't great either but I blame Nolan for getting my expectations sky high. And I also see where Nolan got his inspiration for a lot of The Dark Knight(2008) Stuff. 

The Dirty Picture(2011)(Hindi): Like Dawn, I haven't really decided whether to like this one or hate it. It can go either way. There is some sort of rawness to this film which, if done purposely is a good thing but, I am not exactly sure is there consciously. My biggest problem is Emraan Hashmi's acting in this film is better than Nasseruddin Shah's. That would require an exceptionally incompetent director. Vidya Balan, on the other hand, was absolutely on fire, though she made me uncomfortable at various times.

Divergent(2014): In my opinion, biggest hurdle this movie had to face was to get out of it's identity as other The Hunger Games(2012) because as much as someone might want to deny it, it is obvious that this is an attempt to reap the fruits of recent YA craze. Frankly, I am sure book might have a lot more background to set up this dystopian world properly which would be crucial to get you interested and it is not a bad film but this doesn't offer much beyond usual. And ending feels really rushed.

The Amazing Spider Man 2(2014): Despite being a sequel of a franchise that didn't really need a revival so soon, I was down for this one from start for two reasons. One, I quite liked first one and more importantly, second, Emma Stone. I think biggest problem with this film is its mediocrity from start to end. It is not really bad but it is really not good either and sometimes that's worst thing you can do. There were aspects of it that I liked but most of it never went anywhere interesting. Plus that ending means I have no reason at all to look forward to third one.

The Double(2014): I can take weird movies. I can go on watching them even if I have no idea what's happening in it. I didn't know what was happening in Under the Skin most of the time but I not only kept watching it, I gave it 4 stars above. But it loses me when I get bored of it in between and in that sense Richard Ayoade's latest lost me completely around half way line. I was so out of it that when the climatic moment came, I didn't care for it at all. I don't even remember it less than 10 days after watching it.

The Raid 2: Barandal(2014): I really did not care for it. It had few decent fights but it was more gory, cringe worthy than exciting for my taste. I think first one worked much better because of it's hand fights that wowed me. What wowed me here was incompetence of all the actors involved. Gareth Evans goes way over the top way too often and while I can give him credit for finding disturbingly creative ways to hack people into pieces, all it really did was turn me off. Plus, first had at least believable presence of story. This one is wafer thin at best.

Total Count: 15. 14 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watch.

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 117. 109 First Time Watches and 8 Re-watches.

For no apparent reason, I went on mini-binge of watching 2014 movies this month. It is mostly because some of them are late to get here and some released earlier this year are available otherwise. I am still surprised by how much I liked Nymphomaniac and I have only seen 18 so far but it is leading the pack currently. I want to part 2 as soon as I can, while part 1 is still fresh in my mind. Otherwise, it would be business as usual.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July Blind Spot: Jalsaghar(The Music Room)

Couple of years ago when I was doing my Masters in US, one of my university friends was kind enough to lend me his copy of Apu trilogy. This was my first and so far only excursion into cinematic world of Satyajit Ray, probably the only Indian director with a worldwide fame and following. Considering how successful that experiment went, (it certainly was a success, so much so that Pather Panchali(1955) sits prettily in my personal ‘Top 100’) it is rather sad that I never saw any of his other films since. So I put one of his films on this year’s blind spot list, since that is what this list is for – to get rid of such blemishes.

Even though it is directed by Satyajit Ray, considering this is a Bengali film, this film also provides me a unique opportunity. Usually films I choose for this list are those which are supposed to have been seen my most people. So I try not to get into plot details and other usual suspects of review. But I would be very surprised if many of those who frequent this place would have seen this movie. So, for a change, I get to frame this post as a traditional review.

Jalsaghar(1958) or The Music Room, as it is known internationally, is a story of Biswambhar Roy, a last of his kind landlord which means he is basically a royalty in areas surrounding vast pieces of lands he owns. It also used to mean that everyone leaving in that area would depend on him for their livelihood but his estate is in dilapidated state. He has inherited lands that are being depleted by river nearby and there is not much he can do about it. So he has the title and even respect of the people that comes with it but no perquisites that usually follow.

But his status in the community means he has to live pompous life his ancestors did, even if it is only to put up a show for others and pinnacle of his ostentation is his music room. His music room is where he would invite some of the best artists - singers, dancers, musicians - to put up a show for him and would invite most important people around to accompany him. Even being a part of this group would mean your entry in landlord's innermost circle and indication of your elevated social status.

Only problem here, however, is Biswambhar Roy's estate is running on fumes and can not really afford all this extravagance. He even has to sell family jewels of Roy family that have been passed on for generations to pay for initiation ceremony of his son but even this doesn't deter him from his flamboyance. His wife tries to open his eyes but there is no other way he can live by and in the end, he succumbs to illusion of his grandeur, leaving his his last two remaining servants helpless witnesses of this event. His manager, who handles all his financial business and other things related to his lands, is solemn, worried where this might lead to while his man servant is almost giddy to see his master back to his old ways months after. [SPOILER]What he doesn't realize is this is candle burning brightest before extinguishing[SPOILER END].

Jalsaghar was Satyajit Ray's only third film; he made it between second and third installment of Apu trilogy. But, even though this was obvious right from Pather Panchali, sensibilities of this film are of a seasoned film maker. Premise of changing times and someone who once prospered in it failing to adapt to these times is not exactly novel. But what makes it work despite being the same old story is Satyajit Ray's handling with a knack of seasoned storyteller. He knows what he is going for, how he wants to get there and he does so right on the money.

He highlights hollowness of Roy's lifestyle from very first frame. His idiosyncratic behaviour to keep up with it and cling on to stupid notions of his false status only make him more miserable and Ray does not flinch from showing this. But he doesn't make him spineless which makes it much more interesting character; someone I genuinely cared for despite being rather vain. He is not without his values, however vain they might be and not without his qualities either, however crazy they might be especially under the given circumstances.

Chhabi Biswas, playing protagonist Biswambhar Roy, makes it even more impressive with great range he puts on display here - from someone who is lordly from head to toe, riding his beautiful horse Moti to a hollow shell of that man we see in the very first scene with no idea of time and date. His ease and command with which he slips into persona of Biswambhar Roy also played major role in making me sympathetic towards him, despite all his glaring faults.

While Roy is seeing the last days of his fading glory, Ray makes this story even more contrasting by adding character of Mohit Ganguly, son of userer leaving nearby, and making him a rising star. Roy constantly feels threatened by him as quite possibly he is looking to replace him. There are quite a few confrontational scenes between the two in film and almost every single one of them would find its place on highlight reel. Ganguly, being a self made man still not used to be a part of dignified society around him, is like a new kid on playing ground; always uncomfortable around Roy. And Roy, possibly because he himself not comfortable with his rise, constantly trying to cross him.

And finally, Indian classical music that is featured so richly in this film. I have to admit one thing though - however deplorable this guy might be, he certainly had a good taste in music. If you have any liking towards this kind of music, three concerts featured in this film alone are more than enough to make Jalsaghar worth a watch. Having artists from all over perform at your doorsteps like this, used to be a kingly habit of the class that Roy is last remnant. And Ray doesn't use them only to as a showcase of classical music but makes them very much integral parts of whole narrative. I feel really happy after getting back on Ray bandwagon with this film but this time I really hope my next stop won't be after another two years.
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