Saturday, July 31, 2010

UNTHINKABLE (2010)

Apt to its title it’s really UNTHINKABLE or if you wish just separate the two words UNABLE (to) THINK. It’s mind-blowing film, an engaging, intense and shocking drama. Getting heard few rough patches of story from one of friend’s recommendation I thought it would be another version of ‘A Wednesday’ from Hollywood. Thank God, I’m wrong. Though subject is the same, the theme and treatment of this film raise many pertinent questions about what is right and what is wrong or maybe drawing us towards a situation where who’s right and who’s wrong is distorted truth.

The film opens with a video recording footage of an American Muslim man Yusuf aka Steven Arthur Younger claiming that he planted three nuclear bombs in different cities of States. Within few minutes he surrendered himself voluntarily knowing its dire aftermath. FBI’s special agent Helen is involved to interrogate under weird and sadist specialist military interrogator named H. There’s huge dichotomy between methods and attitudes of these two interrogators where one is ethical and believes in negotiation, the other is diabolic face and believes in severe physical and mental torture to get the information. After severe torture and emotional scratching he opens the mouth and made two unique demands to the President. Now they have few hours left and he confesses them that it’s a hoax...is it really? I need not spoil film more here onwards.

Along with giving tension filled intense drama of one and half hour and showing two poles apart personalities of interrogators, the director pinpointed many questionable things from Middle East policy of US to the reasonable demands made by fearless face of grave fanatic. At one point of interrogation H said- “The winner gets to take the moral high ground because they get to write the history books.” Absolutely true statement but the serious question is Does winning with power sum it all? The question is not whether there’s another bomb ticking out in the end but the question is who and what corrupt the mind of whom? Who’s the real perpetrator here? What will happen to those kids who’ve faced the ugliest face of humanity? Perhaps dealing with unthinkable one too becomes unthinkable.

Back in action is Samuel Jackson in one of his power pack performance as cruel interrogator H…he’s just cold blooded psychopathic interrogator you’ve ever seen on screen. He’s finely supported by Carrie Anne Moss and Michael Sheen. Director Gregor Jordan and writers Oren Moverman & Peter Woodward surely deserve two thumbs up.

Highly recommended for those who haven’t seen it…One of the best and impressive Hollywood film of this year.

Ratings-8/10

Friday, July 30, 2010

WITNESS FOR PROSECUTION (1957)

Undoubtedly one of the remarkable courtroom drama and mystery adaptations of Agatha Christie’s stage success by none other than the director who perhaps got the maximum number of Oscar nominations as Best Director during two golden decades of Hollywood.

Billy Wilder opens the film with light hearted fun where we witness an overweight old lawyer resuming his office accompanied by too caring and nagging nurse. Against her will he catches up with the murder case just to smoke cigar and employs another lawyer but soon the case takes interesting turn when victim’s strange German wife appears and gave vague and strange answers quite confusing to defend the case. The challenge propelled the old lawyer and he applies all his might to win the case. But unlike other courtroom drama the punch of the film comes in final ten minutes when he won the case. It’s a brilliant twist with poetic justice.

Wilder kept the sophisticated British humor running even in the courtroom parallel to the intriguing trial. Charles Laughton’s gave his most memorable performance as one of the most admirable lawyer keeping alive the spark of brilliant sense of humor and in one of the most intriguing character of her career Marlene Dietrich is just impeccable to watch. Wilder again scores his mastery over medium proving why he remained successful in more than one genre.

Ratings-8.5/10

Thursday, July 29, 2010

BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

One of the most talked about films of 60’s Hollywood, loaded with striking dark humor, graphic violence and bold treatment which created much hue and cry at the time of its release. The film is loosely based on real life pair of 30s depression era of America discounting the romantic angles between lead pair. One has to watch it for shocking depiction of violence and the brilliant chemistry between Faye Dunaway in her debut act as Bonnie and Warren Beatty as Clyde. Considering her breakthrough film Dunaway is just awesome and strikingly bold in her performance. She’s undoubtedly one of the greatest blonde Hollywood actress of 70s. Gene Hackman is simply memorable in a short role for his “Don’t sell that cow” gag which he shared more than once on screen.

Director Arthur Penn romanticized the robbery in the first half as light hearted adventure especially when bunch of other three guys joined the team including Clyde’s brother and his nagging and yelling wife who later became a loose thread for the sniffing cop. But the fun is soon overshadowed by disturbing violence as cops secretly attacked them at night costing the life of Clyde’s brother and blinded his wife. The fate of lead pair soon resulted in grim and shocking finale when law ends their loose adventure. The influence of Godard’s early new wave films is clearly visible where style rules over plot. But Penn and Beatty made a groundbreaking film considering its time; made few years before 70’s great trendsetters Coppola and Scorsese. The last unexpected and unceasing gunfire shootout is great shocker even today and it surely influenced Coppola depicting the car shootout scene of ‘The Godfather’.

Ratings-8.5/10

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)

One of the perfectly written-directed and acted films of Hitchcock abstained from any usual star power of glamour. Its ambiguous character study surrounded by doubt and trouble. Hitchcock showed the doubtful side of the man to the audience from the very beginning but the character of the film starts doubting him much after an hour has been passed. But still he kept our fingers crossed about the true face of the guest Uncle Charlie. Hitchcock plays with the theme of doubts on multiple levels without showing any sort of murder or crime on the screen; the whole drama happens around an average middle class American family of a small town. The denouement of all doubtful objects i.e.-ring, newspaper column, the use of light and shadows in photography and the ambivalent suspense fixed in the double layers of single personality is something so amazing.

I start liking Joseph Cotten more and more after every next film I’m watching. He’s such a natural and elegant actor too unlikely to match stylish and handsome ruling movie stars of that era but in acting he overshadowed many of them. It’s quite unusual to watch him here as sophisticated villain unlike his gentlemen roles in ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’.

One of Hitchcock’s own favorite movie.

Ratings-8/10


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

“How could I know that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”

An archetypal film noir by Billy Wilder is the tale of desperate and seductive femme fatale’s bait, leading a young insurance agent into a plot to murder her husband claiming fabricated train accident to get the benefit of double indemnity clause of policy. Told in a flashback, the story leads to fatal and dark ending. Wilder used voice over narrative technique which he later used in all his dark dramas- ‘The Lost Weekend’ and ‘Sunset Blvd’.

Both leading pair and partners in crime-Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are just perfect. For MacMurray perhaps it’s one of the best of his career. There’s great supporting act by Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keys, Fred’s friend cum boss. Though it didn’t win any award out of its seven nominations in all major categories, it’s crackling film with sharp dialogues, dark characterization and striking camerawork showing decadent and scheming atmosphere. I would enjoy it better, if I hadn’t seen Bhatt camp’s Bipasha-John Abraham starrer ‘Jism’, an absolute rip off of this brilliant classic.

Ratings-8/10

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

THE THIRD MAN (1949)

Carol Reed’s ‘The Third Man’ is technically a milestone film in many ways and that’s why its entry is permanently locked in one of the best film noir ever made. There’s no doubt that Reed achieved remarkable result on every front- Graham Greene for writing original screenplay, brilliant casting and performances, flawless and gritty editing and extraordinary camerawork.

Movie begins with Holly Martins, a penniless American pulp novelist came to visit his old friend Harry who’s going to offer him a job. Surprisingly after arrival he came to know that Lime got dead by accident just few minutes ago and he was a big racketeer. He met a stranger claiming Lime’s friend, a young theater actress who visited the funeral and soon investigated that there’s three men who witnessed the accident and had seen Harry dying. He knew the two men but the third man remains a big mystery.

I think Joseph Cottten is one of the finest genuine and natural actor of that era. He’s finely supported by Trevor Howard and Italian actress Alida Valli and above all surprising short role by none other than Master himself. Orson Walles’ much awaited entry in the film came much after passing an hour. And he appears just like a flash of ghost and suddenly escapes. And mind it, it’s sort of entry which the man like him deserved. Though he’s having just few minutes screen presence in the entire film, he made Harry Lime one of the crackling characters you have ever seen. It’s revealing to know that great ‘cuckoo clock’ speech of Lime was penned by Welles himself.

Cinematographer Robert Krasker’s achieved extraordinary feat here. His camera captured the essence and mood of the urban nightmarish, sinister and corrupt world of post-war Vienna plagued by black market racketeers in classic Neo-Realist sort of B&W frames. It’s dark world of full of fear and upheaval. I’ve never ever seen the city roads, streets, ruined gothic buildings including the underground sewage of the nocturnal cityscapes captured at original locations in any other film noir so integrally. The film has some of the great slanting and low/ground angle shots; watch the way he shot mysterious shadow on walls. Camerawork here is absolutely the subject of reference material for the students of cinematography. Infact in camera work more than Reed, the film looks more like Welles film. Kasker deservingly won Oscar for it. Zither music played on guitar by Anton Karas is another inseparable part of the film. All these elements won it Best Film trophy at Cannes same year.

One of the best noir of all time.

Ratings-10/10

Monday, July 26, 2010

NOTORIOUS (1946)

Though not may be Hitchcock’s greatest, it’s a fine classic worth viewing once. The plot involved American agent and secret Nazi syndicate. Soon after her German father convicted for treason Alicia is approached by US agent Devlin. He led her into a secret plan to spy on her father’s syndicate friends. Alicia’s romantic obsession with quite cynical Devlin involves her in trouble and trauma.

One must watch the film for enormously beautiful Ingrid Bergman. She’s having one of the most heavenly faces and this is absolutely her movie; she overshadowed even Cary Grant paired with her here. She’s quite effortless in her act compared to Grant. Besides Grant didn’t have much to perform here except being catalyst; showing his grinning face, sharing kisses and help her out in the end. Claude Rains as Nazi Sebastian is impressive.

Hitchcock’s long fixation with Freudian elements is visible in his earlier films. Here he represented Oedipus complex between Sebastian and his old mother reminds me the mysterious old lady in ‘Rebecca’. Hitchcock’s trademark tension lies here in a sequence showing lifting the key of the room where Uranium ore is hidden in wine bottle. Movie ends surprisingly and too abruptly without any sort of climax; contradictory in Hitchcock films except his unconventional ‘The Birds’.

Ratings-7/10

Sunday, July 25, 2010

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)

“When I start out to make a fool of myself there’s very little can stop me. If I’d known where it would end, I’d have never let anything start, if I’d been in my right mind. But once I seen her, I was not in my right mind, for quite some time.”

The film opens with brilliant opening line, leading us into a complex and involving mystery film made by Master Orson Welles. Welles wrote a brilliant screenplay out of Sherwood King’s pulp novel and made an impressive thriller. A sailor named Michael O’Hara (played by Welles) is hired as crewman on the luxury yacht of the wealthy lawyer but crippled man named Banister (Everett Sloane). His femme fatale wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth) knew O’Hara as once seduced by her charm he saved her once from trouble. Now they are on cruise and O’Hara no longer remain untouched by ravishing Elsa. Here enters a stranger named Grisby who offered O’Hara the proposition to kill him. Its complicated, bizarre world full of deception, fraud and murder where the innocent hero led into a big mess.

Though courtroom drama seems quite amusing, the film has brilliant climax where characters have shootout in a hall of mirrors shattering their multiple images; showing us the auteur stamp. Despite Orwell’s touch, goddess like charm of Rita Hayworth and gritty finale, the movie failed at box office. Needless to say that the film has breathtaking camera work with Welles favorite low angles including few deep focus shots too. Welles was just wonderful using the background as a kind of comment on the foreground. The film ends with another wonderful line corresponding to the one on the beginning- “Everybody is somebody’s fool. The only way to stay out of trouble is to grow old.”

Recommended to Welles fans or even those who love to watch film noir.

Ratings-8/10

Saturday, July 24, 2010

RIFIFI (French) (1955)

“Modern heist movie was invented in Paris in 1955 by Jules Dassin, with ‘Rififi’ and in 1956 by Jean Pierre Melville, with ‘Bob le Flambeur.”
- Roger Ebert

In Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi’ there’s around 30 minutes engrossing jewel heist sequence of safecracking ever filmed on screen since invention of Motion pictures; it’s without a single word or background score which made me feel that it’s the Baap of all heist films came after this. Infact Dassin has constructed it so meticulously that it’s said that Paris Police briefly banned the film because they feared it was instructional guide for unthinkable robbery. It earned him Best Director trophy at Cannes in 1955.

This is my first Dassin film and he’s outstanding revelation for me; and I thought Melville is the only Master of great film noires. Everything here is pitch perfect- screenplay, casting, performances, dialogues, sets and few real locations of Paris. Dassin built his whole film from beginning to end with crispy breathless tension with brilliant B&W cinematography showing everything one demands from great noire. Suspense, brutality and dark humor fixed with an alcoholic middle aged Master with band of smart ass professionals, Poker game, night club, cabaret, cleavage showing damsels, Italian mob boss, heist, kidnapping, revenge etc. etc.

Infact prior to heist sequence he crafted the whole framework showing his detailing which range from close observation of affairs on the road and street noted with precise timing, fool proof planning by making duplicate main door key to dysfunction the foolproof alarm with something out of our mind. Watch the way they used hammer with soft guard and umbrella in the hole is just awesome ideas!!
Francois Trauffaut called ‘Rififi’ the best film noire he’d ever seen(on the wrost crime novels he he’d ever read!) and after watching it I have to absolutely agree with his opinion.

The film has stellar performance by Jean Servais as Tony which can give any of Bogart classics a tough fight. The rest of supporting actors especially Jo, Mario, Grutter and above all the safecracker Cesar played by no other than Dassin stamped it as great film. It gives me the feeling of watching ‘Casablanca’ of film noire.

Undoubtedly the best and brilliant heist film of all-time.

Ratings-10/10



Friday, July 23, 2010

SALT (2010)

Another run on the mill secret agent film touching the age old cold war fixation between US-Russia where the director wanted to baffle the audience about the true identity of Evelyn Salt with dose of routine Hollywood action and thrill. Unfortunately the film fails to deliver both. It’s so simple thing to know that lead heroine of Hollywood film always held US flag high, no matter you show her involved in two political assassinations. It’s too predictable affair from the very beginning.

Angelina Jolie delivered adrenaline pumping actions earlier in ‘Tomb Rider series’ and last time in ‘Wanted’. But this time she seems quite aged and tired and besides showing futile thrills of chase, car-crashes isn’t called great action in my opinion. Don’t expect another ‘Wanted’ here; it’s far better film than watching this headache.

Quite pathetic and mediocre action film.

Ratings-6/10

BELLE DE JOUR (French) (1967)

The beauty and the brain breed the masterpiece…the beauty here is Catherine Deneuve (perhaps never seems so erotic on screen!) and the brain is Luis Bunuel- the pioneer of surrealism in cinematic medium.

A young, beautiful and sophisticated housewife fed up with her boring and unexcited life craves for sexual adventures. Initially guided by curiosity and impulsion she visits the clandestine world of whorehouse. She’s shy and nervous but she broke the ice and from the next day it becomes her routine afternoon affair in absence of her husband. Unlike other sluts it’s not money which dragged her into this, so what’s that? Well Bunuel is the master who boldly showed the inner craters of irresistible dark subconscious we hide in our framed social zoo.

Severine is the woman with childhood abuse as showing in few seconds frame, seeking pleasure from physical abuse (masochism) and carried away by her wild sexual fantasies handled here showing gorgeous Cathrine Deneuve as erotic Severine. When surrealism deals with sex, it may go beyond the limits to fill visuals with explicit sex but Bunuel without indulging in erotic skin show crafted frames with quite restraint and yet shot classy Deneuve so aesthetically showing us her pair of legs and back and cleverly avoiding the parts the male gaze seeks highest attention. Perhaps instinct like sex dwell more in imagination and fantasy than anything else!

As a prostitute Severine has to favor strange visitors ranging from professor to criminals with their bizarre unfulfilled fetish and cravings of sexual adventures. With stalking and furious admirers in tow, her double life runs the risk of being exposed. Bunuel boldly attempts to blur the seemingly thick demarcating line between depravity and dignity. The ending is quite confusing and complex left open to viewers’ imagination. The clue is to pay your eyes and ears to the initial stagecoach nightmare again.

Bold and Brilliant Masterpiece from the Papa of surrealism.

Ratings-8.5/10

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

HIDALGO (2004)

Filled with heroic action adventure, fine special effects and stunning camerawork, Hidalgo is the story of horse by the same name and his rider Frank Hopkins. With his fading past glory, he was invited to participate in 3000 miles race across the Arabian desert, pitted with Arabian stallions and villainous competitors pursuing the rich prize money. Our hero not only won the race but also saves the Sheikh’s damsel daughter in distress.

The film is entertaining in parts but overall it seems like a fairy tale where the great American cowboy hailed high over Arabian rivals. The villain or natural obstructions lacking strong hold, editing is shoddy making film so predictable entertainer. Aged Omar Shariff suits in the role of Sheikh and Viggo Mortenson is what Branden Fraser in ‘The Mummy’ enterprise. Don’t expect fine acting, intriguing plot and all; its film made for those who seek paisa vasool entertainment lasting longer than two hours.

Ratings-6.5/10

THE JAMES DEAN STORY (Documentary) (1957)

The documentary was made soon after his untimely death, looks at Jimmy Dean’s life through use of still photographs, few footages and introspective interviews with many of the people involved in his short life.

There are many queer things documentary shared with us. Here are few rushes- The public who went to see premier of ‘Giant’ released posthumously gave him standing ovation each time he appeared on the screen. He seems to express some of the things they couldn’t find words for- whether its restlessness, despair, rage, rebel, hope, loneliness or waywardness which kept growing on his face. His personal loneliness reflected in his paintings…dreamt about his lost mother in childhood, for him sleep was waste of time, he was afraid of loneliness, he loved to be on stage just to pretend that he’s somebody else, his craze for speed and racing and most intimate piece of paper ‘The complete man’s three needs’ that he cut and kept in his purse as proud possession. The needs are for love and security, the need for creative expression and the need for recognition and self esteem and needless to say he achieved all of them at very young age.

Very rarely any actor’s eyes gave me the same intensity as Dean. There’s something so mysterious, impulsive and yet charming thing in his eyes whether one watch any of his three films. Needless to say that Dean is immortal legend, the craze he brought to generation dying young unequalled by none. The film is dedicated to the legend all his admiring fans. Its film paid fine metaphoric tribute to Dean -He flew so high that he almost vanished…everyone begging to come back and they saw the dead seagull on the shore.

Must for all Dean fans.

Ratings- 7.5/10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CREATION (2009)

Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ has been called the biggest single idea in the history of thought. The film is personal story of this genius, his trauma and an emotional journey prior to the publication of the book. Imagine a time when sharing his research was regarded as the biggest blasphemy for him. It’s quite a thing to know that unlike many misinterpretations, he neither believed in redundancy of the almighty nor agreed that the science is at war with religion. On the contrary he himself believed that we live in a society and it’s a society bound together by the church.

It’s not a film about how Darwin had gathered the ideas for the evolution theory or how he came to conclusion and all that but a very personal and private account of Darwin as human being; as a family man. It’s a film about the disturbed state of mind he’s passing through in his personal life prior to the publication of his book. The loss of religious faith at personal level is a slow and fragile process for him but the most intimate loss is death of his dearest and curious daughter Annie at very tender age. It’s heartbreaking moment which shook his faith in God. His unwell health making him physically weaker and he’s in limbo to publish his observations. Perhaps it’s a battle too personal to win or lose!

Many scenes make us think- i.e- the scene where he visits church offering prayer with his family rationalizing the words uttered by priest. Its well made film by director Jon Amiel but it would be more better if he would led us more into his speculations shared with his kids in few scenes. His telling stories to his inquisitive and rational daughter are something I crave more and more in the film, especially one with baby orang utan jenny. The second half becomes quite dark when hallucinations and memory of his daughter highlight the drama. It’s quite digression but the film concluded with subtle positive ending and it’s refined moments witnessing the unification of husband and wife shedding all their inherent guilt complex.

One has to watch the film for its aesthetic cinematography too. Paul Bettany as Darwin is one of the brilliant unnoticed performances of the last year, Martha West as Annie and Jennifer Connelly as Darwin’s wife are worthy to mention for their fine supporting act.

Ratings-7.5/10

Sunday, July 18, 2010

NETWORK (1976)

“Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now there’s a whole and entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel! The ultimate revelation! This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamn force in the whole godless world…Television is not the truth. Television is goddamn amusement park. ”
- Peter Finch in his Oscar winning act as ‘Howard Beale’


Sydney Lumet is the master of in depth drama made with terrific script and intense characters that made us felt permanent mark in most of his films and this is another gem of the movie that he made. Its father of all films critiquing today’s TRP mongering Television journalism. By all means it’s a social reforming cinema raising many pertinent questions; the most direct one to us as the viewers who sit and watch this nonsense bullshit at primetime enabling them to be parasite of our daily lives.

I bow my head to Sidney Lumet and screenplay writer Paddy Chayefsky for bringing such a powerful and most intimate drama of the time perhaps more relevant to today’s time than the time of its release. It questioned the very authenticity of today’s television news when news network becomes just another profit mongering business governed by big sharks of market. It leads to rivalry of ratings war between channels where mad ambitious humanoid heads are supposed to make a concocted special series on an available footage, senior reporters are told to weave the stories around that seems like investigative journalism summing up news as means of entertainment!…who cares damn about authenticity and reliability!!!

An aging frustrated reporter of UBS Howard Beale on live TV confessed in mad frenzy that he’s going to commit a public suicide at the end of the week and the big heads of TV make it a big news show turning an individual’s personal frustration and hysteria into a dummy face of prophetic messiah for the audience. And next we witness the rise and the fall of the face of the prophet became the scapegoat to the bottomless horror of media.

Watch the scene stealer Peter Finch as Howard Beale with his uncontrolled mad intensity in live show addressing the viewers- “First get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out and yell- I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! ... I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” And next we see the things ran frenzy at windows at night yelling and repeating Howard’s prophetic words. It’s great Sidney Lumet moment! Lumet took the best of all brilliant cast- William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. The film has tough rivals at Oscar that year- ‘Taxi Driver’, “All the President’s Men’ and ‘Rocky’. Though it managed to win Best Actor- Peter Finch (though De Niro deserved it too for immortal Travis Bickle, Finch is just too intense to resist even with his limited screen presence), Best Actress- Faye Dunaway (undoubtedly great actress of 70s) and absolutely deserving trophy of Best Screenplay- Paddy Chayefsky. Its script and powerful screenplay like this which proves why screenplay writing is called the mother of the filmmaking.

Another Masterpiece of Sydney Lumet. Don’t miss it at any cost.

Ratings- 10/10

Saturday, July 17, 2010

EL TOPO (Spanish) (1970)

“If you’re great, ‘El Topo’ is a great picture, if you are limited; ‘El Topo’ is limited.”
- A. Jodorowsky


Alejandro Jodorowsky is ‘El Topo’ is as revelation for me as watching Fellini’s ‘8 ½’ and Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for the first time. It’s a revolutionary film and though I’m limited I must say it’s a great film. El Topo is cult western and perhaps the one and only of its kind in depiction of disturbing images of sex and violence juxtaposed with impregnable symbols of existentialism. Though having many elements of spaghetti western, it crossed the line in terms of bringing innovations both in form and content in western filmmaking. Some critics coined a special term for it- ‘Acid Western’-a western where protagonist is like an existentialist hero and plot with inherent allegorical references.

The film is about the journey of violent gunfighter's quest for enlightenment. As movie progresses we witness the quest and journey of the protagonist towards enlightenment. Here’s plot synopsis if anyone interested-
The gunfighter El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky himself as an actor) and his young son ride through a desert to a village, whose inhabitants have been massacred. They witnessed severe massacre in nearby village. El Topo rescues a woman named Mara, who leads him on a mission to find and defeat the four master gunmen of the desert. Leaving his son with a group of monks, they complete the mission, accompanied by a mysterious woman in black. The women leave El Topo wounded in the desert, where he is found by a clan of deformed people who take him to the remote cavern where they live. Awakening years later, he goes with a dwarf woman to a nearby town, promising to dig a tunnel through which the cave-dwellers can escape. They find the town run by a vicious sheriff and home to a bizarre religious cult. El Topo's son, now a man, is a monk in the town. The completion of the tunnel leads El Topo, the townspeople, and the cave-dwellers to a bloody and tragic end.

Combined with various biblical and eastern religious allegories, the film has many disturbing surreal scenes featuring graphic nudity and violence. Jodorowsky reconstructed the whole film layer by layer and give it surreal and spiritual height never attempted before or after in Western genre. The four cult masters, deformed men in drums, dwarf lady, an almost naked blind man and his power, the bloody duel shootout scene, sex in the desert sand, dead rabbits and duel shootout aiming heart and head, the goat crucified as Christ, the odd background music, the redemption and the chaotic ending…I bet you have never seen something mind-blowing like this! The way he gave the whole film seedy, rustic, deglamorise look with bizarre ideas and frames deserves standing ovation.

Ratings-10/10

Friday, July 16, 2010

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

Ego on the nose heroine, gentleman dandy heroes and fabrication of social snobbery with farce of class mannerism are the things of bygone era. Well its quite dramatic film where social satire mixed with sophisticated romance and comedy of manners. But the highlight of the film is having company of Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart directed by George Cukor. I don’t like Cary Grant much but young James Stewart is a man to watch to witness this nostalgic Hollywood.

Stewart is writer cum reporter came to write a cover story of vanity damsel Hepburn’s another wedding with the presence of her new fiancĂ© and ex hubby (Grant). Under the spell of intoxication she just carried away too far by the charm of Stewart, now it’s a wedding moment and she’s in big dilemma. We’ve watched this drama ample number of times but Hepburn remains an admirable actress; in the garb of her anger and arrogance and failed marriage she’s simply a beautiful lady who didn’t receive true love. The fine reason to watch is wonderful chemistry between Stewart and Hepburn.

Ratings-6.5/10

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LE CERCLE ROUGE (French) (1970)

Among French New Wave cinema’s many auteurs, Jean-Pierre Melville stands as distinct case who continue making some of the classic film noires with touch of his own. Undoubtedly he’s French Master of film noires. His heroes are solitary outsiders of society having equal amount of enigmatic personality and stylish charm of their own.His accurate attention to place, objects, and character spoke much through camera than anything else; this is his signature style.

We come to witness two criminal stories running parallel and yet in separate ways as film opens. A professional and just released criminal from prison meets a run away fugitive by fate in a strange and interesting manner. One is professional, the other is amateur. They get another professional aimer to kick an offered big task. And next thing we witness is- the brilliant and breathtaking jewel heist ever filmed with such a meticulous and minute detail. But hey wait…I forget to tell you that there’s one more professional involved too; this time a smart cop who knows how to manipulate one criminal to catch his target prey. The cop’s acute professionalism shows us fine investigation and surveillance reminding me Fritz Lang’s classic ‘M’.

One can apply as many adjectives as one prefers to French screen legend Alain Delon. He is methodical, mythical, macho, sexy, suave, attitudinal, cool etc. etc. Delon has immortal charm of his own unmatchable as his French contemporary Belmondo. Delon is as legendary to French cinema as James Dean is to American cinema. Both had exquisite pair of eyes. Watch his chiseled screen presence in Melville’s another brilliant- ‘Le Samourai’. There’s almost fine performances by all actors including Yves Montand.

Melville had brilliant camera sense and his stalwart cinematographer Henri Decae knew very well what to reveal and what to hide in his vibrant colorful frames which makes his films slow but compelling watch. The stylish and arresting use of long focused shots, extreme close ups or capturing two different things from single angle became inspirational for many big directors ranging from Leone to Coppola and John Woo to Tanrantino. The essence of Melville films lies in its style and beauty; very rarely a filmmaker can make such an aesthetic crime film excluding gory violence of any sorts.

This is my third Melville film after ‘Le Samourai’ and ‘Army of Shadows’ and I wish I can explore more and more of him…so desperate to catch his early classic ‘Bob the Gambler’.

Own the DVD.

Ratings-10/10

Sunday, July 11, 2010

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are Hollywood icons of silent era. Don has fame, money and fans favoring his screen image. Once he accidentally meets an aspiring young actress Kathy who unlike others doesn’t carry away by his screen charm. “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” she said to the star. She affected the charmer. On the other hand studio and producer are worried by invention of talkies as Warner Bros. going soon to release ‘The Jazz Singer’ (the first talkie ever made). Ultimately studio started making its first musical talkie saved by Kathy as voice over of dumb Lina.

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was made when musicals ruled Hollywood but it’s not just run on the mill musical. It’s a film about making motion pictures and there’s film within film. In light hearted manner it very cleverly pinpointed the early problems faced in Hollywood with invention of talkies. The preview show of the talkie in the film shows the audience making mockery of that early phase of talkie. Watch those phonetic experts teaching dumb actress how to pronounce some common words. The audience laughing out loudly when introduced with sudden verbosity of sound at platter with quite indistinct recording, out of synchronization dialogue and star tantrums. Its period of transition from silent to talkie where song-music-dance comes to rescue and became an integral part of cinema than dialogues in early phase.

Needless to say that the film has some classic songs but its secondary compared to captivating powerhouse foot tapping dance energy of legendary Gene Kelly who not only acted, choreographed and co-directed the whole film. This is my second Kelly film after ‘An American in Paris’ and I must say that he’s graceful artist and an auteur as far as dance and choreography is concerned. Whatever Chaplin is to silent cinema, he’s to dance and musicals of early 50s. Nobody can dance foot tapping pantomime like him. He’s wonderfully accompanied by brilliant Donald O’Conner (watch his wonderful performance in ‘Make ‘em laugh’) and sweet dame Debbie Reynolds…amazing chemistry between trio filled it with life. All song-dance numbers are classic including the title track performed by Kelly and his prop umbrella, it’s the cinematic moment to witness and the father of all rain songs.

It’s a spectacular film absolutely made for big screen- vibrant colorful frames, beautiful studio sets and fine vintage dressing. There’s bit of everything for everyone here- song, dance, drama, romance, comedy and above all witty and humorous one-liners coated with aphorisms …the fun is so genuine unlike today’s films trying to tickle you with futile attempts. The most hilarious scene is one where director is experimenting first time to record sound of Lina with hidden microphone during shooting and mistakes and retakes ultimately ended with a big laughter.

Quite disheartening to know that when released it neither received well at box office nor won any Oscars. Like many great films, later it turns out as ‘King of all Musicals’ by critics and audience. Priceless and magical experience of the classic Hollywood…its films like these which uplifted the status of ‘musical’ as genre. Must watch for all classic lovers.

Ratings-8/10

Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE APARTMENT (1960)

“If you are going to tell people the truth, be funny or they will kill you.” - Billy Wilder

An insurance clerk gets ahead in profession winning favors of his seniors and boss to get promotion.
The key to success is his apartment that he offers to them to cater their extra marital affairs. Poor fellow’s apartment is so occupied that he has to sleep outside in the park!!! Jack Lemmon’s C C. Baxter is an everyday common man who wanted quick success in corporate world and archetype who knows how to manipulate human weakness of seniors. In the beginning we look him as a slavish clerk trapped in fix to win favorable promotion but as the film progressed we see his other humanitarian face.

More than comedy Billy Wilder’s this film is satire on society’s mad rush to get material success either by hook or crook and it is as relevant today as in 1960. Its fine drama where comedy is concocted with something which scratches at the right place. Though I haven’t seen much of Jack Lemmon, I’m impressed by his act here. Shirley MacLaine is as average as in any films. Though wilder didn’t get deserving trophy as a director in ‘Sunset Boulevard’, he bagged three trophies at Oscar for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Director Anurag Basu lifted the whole plot of the film in his much appreciated ‘Metro’. Remember Sharman-Kangana-Kay Kay Menon part… and I thought Basu was original!!!

Ratings-7.5/10

Monday, July 5, 2010

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

“I am big… its pictures that got small.”
- Norma Desmond

Glamour…fame…fans…they all fade slowly and steadily in place called HOLLYWOOD.
Two thumbs up for Billy Wilder and absolutely brilliant Gloria Swanson for this scathing satire on fading reel/real life of screen idol and her fame which no longer remain same. It’s an in depth look of silent era’s aging Hollywood star and her fading career and empty life. Norma Desmond is still living in her grim huge mention, basking in the world of lost glory with her proud and fake arrogance. She’s still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of her lost career and plain crazy about one subject: her celluloid self image. She has a stalwart servant and surprisingly her first husband at her disposal who feeds her lies and lies about her fan following and let her remain cozy to her hallucination of greatest stardom. Until she meets a strange script writer and fall in love with him.

Wilder shows us the dark face of screen and fickleness of profession that trades in the world of pipe dreaming. Remembering an equally tragic play by Eugene O’Neill named ‘Iceman Cometh’. Its too dark tragedy and more melodramatic than any other Wilder films so far. The climax is shatteringly tragic as Joe showed her the face of ugly reality and her fake pretence. It’s outstandingly brilliant tragic end- the star is not dead but he’s not alive any longer. She’s still star in her own madness facing crime reporters’ camera as returning to studio again. What a tragedy!!

The casting of Gloria Swanson was pitch perfect as in real life too she’s silent star of 20’s bygone era then and had no film on her platter when Wilder approached her. And still it’s this film why the world will remember her forever. Watch her in the last ten minutes of the film where she marked her permanent stamp…a pipe dreaming lady unable to face the reality amid the most shocking tragedy of her life. A great cinematic moment indeed!!! William Holden is Wilder regular and he too delivered perfectly controlled act. Surprise of the package is to see three legendary filmmakers as actors in the film- Erich Von Stroheim in great supporting role, Cecile B. DeMile in brief but significant role and my favorite silent icon Buster Keaton in cameo as himself (playing cards at table in a single scene). It’s ironic to know that though nominated for eleven categories at Oscar including best actress, best actor, best supporting actor and best director, it won only consolation prize sort of three awards in best writing, best music and best art direction.

Well I have seen many Hollywood classics but when it’s time to narrate the drama nobody comes nearer to Billy Wilder. He’s not only great Hollywood director but brilliant screenplay writer too; making his dramas as compelling and interesting as his noires and romantic comedies. His companionship with Brackett gave us great films- ‘Double Indemnity’, ‘The Lost Weekend’ and the last is this masterpiece. Wonder why they stopped working together after this; another Hollywood mystery maybe!

Wilder’s Masterpiece and perhaps the best film Hollywood made on Hollywood.

Ratings-9/10

PS- I equally love Guru Dutt’s take on Hindi film industry’s fading director in ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’. Do catch it too if you haven’t. It’s equally as tragic and as great as this one.


INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

What’s original and classic will remain so forever. Giant alien pods starts taking the form of any human body sweeping the town into hysteria. The changes in appearance or personality are not visible but it makes one free from all emotions and life simply becomes an instinct to survive. It’s a contagious and the only way one can survive is to stay awake. A smart and brave doctor and his beloved are struggling to save themselves noticing the madness surrounded all around. But can they remain so?

Don Siegal’s this original cult sci-fi film was later remade by Brian De Palma and gave birth to many of its clone versions with slight changes, the recent example is Nicole Kidman starrer ‘Invasion’. With least or no special effects, lower budget production and average cast Siegal had made a compelling film, perhaps way ahead of its time. He maintained both suspense in the beginning and thrill in the later part making it compelling watch. What’s first seems like a psychological thriller later turns out as sci-fi thriller. The end remains open when we see frustrated Doctor keeps yelling in front of camera- ‘You’re next’.

Recommended to all classic fans.

Ratings-8/10

Sunday, July 4, 2010

VAARANAM AAYIRAM (Tamil) (2008)

A young major on mission got the news about his father’s death, he didn’t abort the mission and next we are drawn to the flashback of his relationship with the most intimate person of his life- his daddy, who remains inspiration in all walks of his life. Director Gautam Menon’s this film is a tribute to his father but it shares the bonding that touches all of us. Menon hasn’t glorified the character of father and let it remain resembling with any common father of middle class family trying to keep his family as happy as possible. The admirable things do not necessarily small or big one but memorable one. The intention and theme is noble but Menon’s main flaw lies in loose screenplay and script making film melodrama most of the time.

It’s difficult double role to carry for Suriya playing both father and son but he is full of confidence and energy and throughout the film he maintained both characters along with his crowd pulling charming star appeal. He has to play multiple parts of a common man’s life- lover, husband and a caring father with all commercial ingredients of dance, romance, action, comedy and drama and he’s carrying all these so comfortably like a seasoned player.

Menon is technically topnotch director and stylistically his films have Hollywood kind of touch in production, art direction to camerawork but what’s big flaw is that he stretches his filma repetitively too far for full three hours; giving you dragging feel. Harris Jayraj’s almost all compositions for the film are fine melodies. He’s wonderful guitarist and couple of his solo playing in background adds fine touch to certain romantic scenes.

Watch it for talented Suriya.

Ratings-7/10

Friday, July 2, 2010

DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978)

Very rarely we come across such a beautiful film which just sweeps all our heart to the different ground from beginning to end. Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven is visually poetry or a beautiful piece of artistic expression; certainly higher than just a film watching experience. Undoubtedly Malick is rare breed of filmmaker whom I like to term as ‘the gifted naturalist’. Watching his films are like going into the lap of nature without any preconceived notions where we witness the colors and moods of the characters lives running parallel to the nature. Here the nature is the strongest character both as healer and destroyer capturing the essence of human nature with pictorial landscape.

Written by Malick and narrated by a teenage young girl mature in her observations, it’s a journey of complex love triangle between three characters. The rivalry to win the heart of lady stuck between two lovers; the ownership over someone who does not wish to be owned. Perhaps more than loving her owning her is quite contrary to their natural order. Without any sort of heavy or emotional dialogues Malick made a love story with ‘most heard silence’ focused on characters expressions and fixed images depth in meaning.

Watch the symbols too- the unwanted harmful bugs and fire in the field runs parallel with frustration in life, the house of landowner farmer dominates the frame is perhaps the sign of human progress in the Promised Land. The message of the film is quite clearly followed in one of the lines uttered by the girl, “Nobody is perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just got half devil and half angel in you.” If we think deeper it suggests that heaven and hell lies not elsewhere but in our heart and soul. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard are permanently indebted to Malick for being the part of their most valuable and memorable film of their entire career. What’s adding more value to film is another gold score by legendary Ennio Morricone and Nestor Almendros is God himself at camera showing you the world of nature and human from his eyes. I’m quite desperate to see his other works.

A new permanent entry in my favorite films list.

Ratings-10/10

Thursday, July 1, 2010

THE NEW WORLD (2005)

A few directors know what to do with silence or whisper…subtle emotions don’t require words for expression. But to represent and create same on screen is too difficult task to accomplish. Even at the expense of few minus points in writing and deviation in theme, Director Terrence Malick made us felt those sublime emotions with minimum words, natural sounds and visuals and sometimes by mere silence. Story unfolds the time of early seventeenth century in Virginia where Natives balanced the natural law until ships of England landed on shore. Its story about the promised land of America- ‘The New World’ for them but what’s new and promised possession for them was old home for natives. So who inherit the land of God? History always weighs in favor of power and colonial empire.

Though Malick hasn’t given any blockbuster hit in his career, his influence is terrific as a brilliant filmmaker. Even while watching, it seems that James Cameron has referred this film for sure and lifted (‘influenced’ would be euphemism!) many things to make ‘Avatar’; it’s all here-the sublime love between a native chief’s daughter and an outsider white man, along with portrayal of white man’s attachment with natives’ natural order of life and mysterious Mother Nature and above all the theme of savage natives Vs civilized white men.

Malick cast real native Indians for the film to give the authenticity to the film. Juxtaposition of natural selfless world with wicked selfish and greedy civilized world is reflected so sublimely from the protagonist’s point of view and the transformation it brings to him seems so convincing in the first half; until this point the film is extraordinary experience. The drawback in the film is that Malick went too subjective treating the love story in the later half with strange entry of Chritian Bale in the plot. It would have been more refine experience to cherish if the theme of the film didn’t shift its focus in the last one hour and made it too predictable and emotionally manipulative. Perhaps this is sole reason why it got mixed review from audience and critics.

For me Colin Farrel is an average actor but here he has given one of the restraint performances of his career. Q’orianka Kilcher is revelation for all of us. Narration is direct, minimalist; simple and off course moving. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is award deserving and so is James Horner’s one more haunting score.

Watch it for subtle emotions…watch it for its visual beauty and depth. No one can deny that Malick is artist and nature never seems so natural as in his films.

Ratings-7.5/10