Monday, September 29, 2008

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman
Director: Mike Leigh
Runtime: 114 min.
Rating: ****
Genre: Comedy, Drama

        I wonder if it is tough being carefree, tough not concealing yourself under commonly approved social behavior and just being what you truly are, tough being enthusiastic, talkative and very open to one and all around, tough being a creature of remarkably high energy and sprit levels, and after all that being a girl. I say girl, because if you’re all of the above I’m not sure you’re eligible to be called a woman or a lady. Hey, I’m not the one making the rules out here, so leave me. I say tough, because it is so easy and often so convenient, traditionally, to assume such a person to be flirtatious and maybe even impudent. I’m not sure I had any answers, but I sure had observations and certain inferences based on them, and I believe Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky meets those observations with alarming accuracy. I’m not sure what to make of that.
        Having gone through a considerable number of opinions on the film, and if I were to believe my own reactions, I’m not sure there has been a more misunderstood film in recent memory. Happy-Go-Lucky is being likened to that enchanting Audrey Tautou film Amelie and I’m not sure that is entirely true, and neither am I on the verdict that the Sally Hawkins’ character, Poppy, is supposed to be charming. Isn’t charming the stuff of dreams, of cinema? Like Ingrid Bergman, or Amy Adams who would spellbind us with their radiance. How many times have we met someone like that in life? My score’s a zero, and I can vouch the same for some of the folks I know. Rather, I believe Poppy is supposed to represent a more gravitating reality than the trivializing verdict being passed on her performance. And Sally Hawkins, I believe, knows that. Let me give you a fair idea about Poppy, and the people around her, before we dwell deeper because this episodic film is ultimately about three sets of people – Poppy, the world around her, and us the audience. I believe a fair description ought to involve a discussion on all the three. And in doing so if I happen to share with you a few episodes I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt the film because it doesn’t have a plot. It is essentially an extract, and I have this feeling inside of me that says what transpires in the film hasn’t happened to Poppy for the first time in her life.
        Poppy is floating like a feather through life not caring where to the breeze might carry her next. She is 30, a teacher at a primary school, lives with her flatmate of ten years, is very single, and usually spends the weekends boozing and dancing. She has traveled the world, at least a sizable part of it in Thailand and Vietnam, and maybe a few more neighboring countries of the continent. She loves the trampoline. She is reluctant to grow up, as in acquiring the tried and tested ways of the world, yet I believe she craves for the same albeit in a manner she prefers. She has a smiling face for everyone (so much so that The Joker might get a complex), she hurls a couple of “Hi”s across the road and waves her hand while she’s cycling and looking around, maybe for familiar faces. She walks into a small bookstore, half-pulls out a book titled The Road to Reality and exclaims that it is a place not worth going to. She meanders further inside, peeks at the busy shop owner who is probably registering new arrivals on to his database, and she attempts to strike a conversation. For no particular reason. He doesn’t pay much attention, she walks further inside running her eyes through the tiles on the shelves, she walks towards the children section, rummages through a book or two, and on her way out tries to strike yet another conversation with the owner. And this time it feels she’s trespassing, and he shoots of a glance that asks her basically to bugger off. She gets the message and she walks away.
        Consider her behavior on the first day of her driving lesson. Even for her usual exuberant self, she’s way over the top in her pursuit to ratchet up a nice and warm relationship with her teacher. To absolutely bludgeon the ice that exists between any two strangers. Remember she’s a teacher herself. The instructor, a grouchy man named Scott (Eddie Marsan), uses a more heavy handed way to teach. It is a long, and a quite brilliant stretch of sequences, as we see Scott being irritated and annoyed by Poppy’s naïve and often foolish attempts at congeniality. A person of her stature ought to no better, I believe, and here’s where the film walks off into a paradox, and here’s is something that I would prefer to be discussed later. It is probably the film’s most important moment and one that needs to be given most attention to what’s being said and how it is being said.
        Scott makes for the second set of people, the ones around Poppy. And here too, there’s a slight segregation. Forgive me such a convoluted take, but bear with me, and I believe I would be able to unwind for you. Even more so if you choose to watch the film which I recommend you to. Not because you would like it, but because there is much to be learned the way film examines you and that doesn’t happen all that often. So, returning to the segregation, there’re three kinds of people at work in the film around Poppy – (i) strangers who’re peeked into by Poppy and react in the obvious and often necessary manner by getting annoyed, for e.g. the book shop owner, (ii) the people who know her quite well, who understand her and they are the ones who unabashedly love her, for obvious reasons, and (iii) the ones who’re mildly affected by her, and mistake her for being flirtatious. I would leave you to decide which is which.
        That is why I say I’m not sure Poppy was supposed to be charming, or someone instantly likeable. I believe the casting of Sally Hawkins is the correct one. I was often annoyed, much annoyed, not by her overall buoyancy, for that is her right, but by her incessant attempts to peek into and, if possible, tingle other people’s lives. That is why I say charming is exactly the opposite of what the film intends to achieve. If someone as divine and as magical as Amy Adams were to walk into a store and out of nowhere decided to peek into me, I am not sure I would be able to resist the twinkle in the eyes. Nor would many. Hawkins on the other hand brings a deal of annoying edge to it, thus making it all the more real. Sometimes, someone gets on our nerves with their exuberance, someone we don’t know. Poppy is irritating, more so early on in the film, because she is supposed to.
        The manner in which audience react to her is often mirrored by the strangers in the film. We’re all judgmental in nature, and we’re all prone to easy assessments of a personality, often without much examination, and often with great error. The film could be a great examination of discerning audiences all the more, because we tend to over analyze and often, look too deep into something that doesn’t need to. For instance what do I make of her missing jewels (Yes, I know she dropped it off at her new boyfriend’s apartment, but she could have worn it just the same), and that the first time she wears anything different than her usual attire is during the final few moments. Or do I need to make anything of it? Believe me, I’m not letting the bleak outlook of Leigh’s previous films affect me one bit.
        I would have resigned citing my cynical nature as a reason but then here’s where the film throws at us a googly. The paradox I mentioned before. It is that she has traveled the world, that she knows its ways, that she understands people, that she isn’t naïve. I’m not sure I found that easy to digest, because if that were the case, Poppy ought to have known better in several scenarios. I think she must have come across another Scott in her life. I wonder if her tryst with traveling was necessary to be included. I mean, do happy-go-lucky people actually have to travel and ‘know’ the ‘truth’ about the world before they learn the world around them. Such people are what they are and they always have been that way. It hasn’t occurred to them one fine day. I believe the traveling thing is a bit of a contrivance. Being cheerful and happy gets along just fine with naivety. I mean, shouldn’t happiness be blissful? I don’t know.
        And there in lay another layer to the film. To Poppy. She peeks into other people’s lives. She decides to sit with a tramp and listen to him while she’s walking back home in the middle of the night. Why does she feel the need to be a rescuer? Is she lonely, emotionally, that she wants to such more people inside the vacuum she is in? Is there a certain degree of haughtiness, a certain level of self-righteousness in her emotional outlook to life that leads her to believe that she ought to make everyone around her feel exactly the way she perceives life? Why doesn’t she just get along enjoying her own world, and stop being an emotional vigilante?
        And I can only wonder. Because that is where I stopped feeling for and with the character, and merely understood her. I believe I know a certain Poppy in real life, back from office. She is chirpy, she is warm and she’s one of my favorite people at the moment. She doesn’t strive to spread happiness around, but it is merely her very presence that does the trick. She is oblivious, and in a way she’s naïve. I respect her for that. She is misunderstood, often tragically so, and I wish I could help it. Maybe, it is because of her I could understand Happy-Go-Lucky, and I ought to thank her for that. And I pray to God she doesn’t change, not even a bit, but only grow.



Note: Happy-Go-Lucky might either be one of the most brilliant examinations of this decade or it might just be a very good film. And in both cases, I’m sitting on the fence because I have no idea. I feel safe here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

THE FALL: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, Jeetu Verma, Justine Waddell
Director: Tarsem
Runtime: 117 min.
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama

        I do not know how else to put it but to say that you might not have seen anything quite like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, for the simple reason there doesn’t exist another one. It is one of the most astounding films I have ever seen. While you’re inside its many worlds, both real and imagined, you would be swept away in a journey across millions of miles that feels like a motion picture experience that is as much about revealing itself as it is about exploring the farthest realms of cinema. Its ambition is so breathtakingly immense, its images so divinely pure, its emotions so profoundly moving right now it feels like the monolith I have been waiting for since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only time will tell that. I do not know how to describe it, as a reviewer, and no words might be able to convey to you even remotely the epic grandeur and the exhilarating beauty that is inside this film. I’m sure I’ll fall terribly flat yet I’ll give it a try. A film that has been made over four years and gifts us with images imagined and collected from around the world with a child’s inhibited wonder to them does inspire me.
        I’ll tread through my review carefully and divulge details sparingly. If you find the review overloaded with adjectives, that is for two reasons – (i) this film deserves every one of them and many more, and (ii) I’ll not speak too much except for performing the services of describing to you what the film is all about, and will probably save myself for a year-end essay on this great film. I wish everybody watches it, for their own sake, and see the richness of the world that has been imagined and created by this very fine filmmaker.
        It is a tale set in Los Angeles, somewhere before 1920 for sure, because the film supplies us with images from Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. which was released in 1924. The logic that drives my assumption will clear itself to you once you see the film. In a hospital, in two different wards, are a little girl of five named Alexandria who has been admitted after she fractured her left arm, and a silent film stuntman named Roy who might have crippled his legs during a dangerous horse-jump sequence. Roy is a man devastated, and we only learn the reasons for his despair later, which I will leave you to figure out. He is contemplating morphine, loads of them, so that he can end everything while asleep. Alexandria, by chance, runs into him. They start talking, and he, the movie-man starts telling her a story, trying to feed her mind with a fantastical tale. She is hooked.
        Little kids understand a whole lot more than what we give them credit for. Their imagination charts across territories so swiftly and they are so impressionable at their little age that modern films need to feed them with the most wildly imaginative tales. The little kids can absorb a lot more than us, they can feel a significantly wider and different range of images than us, images whose hidden power is often lost on us grown ups who simply care to appreciate its scenic beauty. This girl here, Alexandria, a sprightly little miracle, doesn’t understand many words, is of Indian origin, and speaks English as five year olds new to the language speak. She moves about wards absorbing the wonder of every little detail the world around has to offer. She is played by Catinca Untaru, a five year old actress from Romania, and she is the heart of this film. She is the heart of its beauty, and it will be days before her innocent charm will leave you. She is so beautiful that the very sight of her fires up one’s imaginations. I’m not sure there’s going to be another performance like hers all year.
        I have read reviews that have complained endlessly about the lack of a narrative, about the perfunctory nature of the tale. I believe that is an incorrect inference from a rather correct observation. The Fall doesn’t serve a narrative as much as it serves the very art of narration. What is a story but the sum total of influences upon one’s mind? A yarn is personal in nature, and the narrator ascribes personal attributes to it. What we see on the screen doesn’t exist just for the sake of it, or the beauty of it. The fantastical tale, constructed and narrated by the tired adult mind of Roy, and imagined by the widely effervescent mind of Alexandria is probably the most interesting exploration of the art of cinematic narration since Alain Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad. There’re many words that Roy uses instinctively, and that do find mention in the limited vocabulary of little Alexandria. That doesn’t perturb her one bit, and she fills the spaces with her impressions and her imaginations. She doesn’t always buy into the romanticism which Roy seems to blend along with his tales. Little kids imagine worlds not from some other planet, but from around them. There’s a devastatingly poignant scene during the later part of the film. Pay attention to the words spoken. Pay attention to how they’re spoken. Pay attention to the images conjured up. You’ll then realize who is narrating and who is listening. It is one of the great scenes of modern times, a profoundly moving and insightful observation on the relationship between the filmmaker and his audience.
        The conjurer behind this miracle is Tarsem Singh, or as he likes to call himself, Tarsem. He made that Jennifer Lopez psychological thriller The Cell all those years ago, and though I haven’t seen that film, the impression that I usually get from people who have is that it is a visual deluge that all but wipes the story clean off the slate. I can’t say much about that film, except to say that in The Fall Tarsem has created one of the great masterpieces of cinema. He has made this film over four years, trotting across the globe and scouting locations whilst he traveled to shoot his music videos and television commercials. It is impossible to imagine, in today’s time, that there isn’t even a shred of computer generated imagery, and that every sight in it is real (I can vouch for Agra and Jodhpur). But the true splendor doesn’t lie in the awesome spectacles, it lay in those little moments that capture little Catinca weaving those very images. Tarsem does what few filmmakers have ever been able to do when it comes to their most personal projects – he indulges in it and he takes in us alongwith him. And this here is the film he always wanted to make. What a great vision. And rightly so, the tone of The Fall cannot be trapped into one single note. It is audacious, it is romantic, it is ecstatic, it is goofy and it is tragic and overwhelmingly so. It is as great a film there has been this year, and yes, that includes one of my favorite films The Dark Knight. The Fall feels like one of the most stunning achievements for cinema and one of its most beautiful creations, and here I assure you, there cannot be and there will not be a better film this year. This is a film you and your kid ought to watch. Together.


Note: Roger Ebert has penned a remarkable essay paying tribute to Tarsem. Follow the below link –
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080603/PEOPLE/868926055

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MAMMA MIA! : MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Meryl Streep. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Runtime: 108 min.
Rating: Zero Stars
Genre: Musical, Comedy

        Mamma Mia! made me realize two things – one, that God looks over me for sure, and two, I pretty much deserved what I got. A nasty little incident happened just before I was to present my stub over to the usher – I couldn’t find it. Never happened before, ever, because I keep them like little gold coins. But I just couldn’t find it, and thanks for the good folks down at the theatre they asked me to enter if at all I remembered the seat number. I did, and to my utter peril which I realized only later. I was stupid enough not to walk away when God had presented me the chance, and 108 min. later, I felt like a changed man with a radically altered perception. I’m not sure if you present me with a longer time frame but Mamma Mia! is pretty much the most arduous, the most anguishing and certainly the worst time I had at the movies if you care to take the past one year into account. I believe I have to give Sawaariya another chance. I believe I might have been needlessly cruel to that poor little film.
        I got to admit it here, I’m not sure I’m the guy for Mamma Mia! and neither have I ever heard ABBA. So for an audience member like me, with absolutely no frame of reference, the density and the sheer number of the ABBA songs feel as if they have been vomited on to us. Speaking of which, I wonder if these are the very songs that catapulted that Swedish pop group to the top of the charts during the 70s. I mean, the corny lyrics only seem to believe in rhyming. Never mind, I have never heard them and I won’t pass judgment. I guess they’re one of those pop culture milestones folks like me will never really get but seem to be cherished by millions of fans worldwide.
        A few ABBA songs might have been classified as needless noise that is mildly foot-tapping, but anything feels uphill in Mamma Mia! And anyways, I couldn’t really pay much attention to most of them. I might have, had the film given me a chance, and stop all that pretense that they are enjoying themselves, that they are all drenched and drunk and reveling in their blissful moment of romance with all that jumping and prancing going around. There’s needless antics and forced shrieking. For a musical to be enjoyable, there needs to be a spontaneous burst of energy, one that rubs onto us and one that cannot be designed but can only come from the core of the heart. A musical can never be designed, and Mamma Mia! feels like one. If we wonder what the film is attempting to do, we do not need to look too far behind into the past to see one of the most gorgeous and affable musicals in Enchanted. It is energetic, it is magical, and as I mentioned in my review of that film, you could sit through the entire length of it with a spectra wide smile. There was Amy Adams in there, and between the star power of Streep, Brosnan Skarsgård and Firth they cannot manage even a fraction of her grace or her charm. It doesn’t even matter that not one of the cast-members here feels comfortable singing, and taking into consideration the great talents at their disposal, the film is cruel to them by just not giving them enough meat to have a bite at.
        There’s no plot, except for the premise that a daughter needs to know who her dad is. And if there’s one you might find it difficult to get it out of me even if you care to place a gun on my head. I do not have much of an idea about the stage version either, but it seems the general idea was to have an excuse to include as many ABBA songs as possible into a narrative feebler than a bubble of soap under the length of a regular feature film. It would be spectacular if someone would be kind enough to take the trouble and tell me if all the songs ABBA have ever come with are in there. Thanks in advance. Back to the vomit, er, film.
        This is a film that doesn’t know songs or doesn’t know music. It doesn’t have a sense of choreography and how to frame them. Baz Luhrmann cites Indian films as great influences when he filmed Moulin Rouge and it showed in the impeccable nature of its construction. There’s a lot to be learnt from our films what needs to be done and what needn’t be, but then Mamma Mia! doesn’t have much of an interest there. Its idea of fun usually centers around sex. The jokes pretty much focus on the male and female genitalia. And sex. It is like an island filled with people with their general development arrested in their sixth grade. Usually, I am not too harsh on such jokes, and do not grade them as demented, but my temper has its limits and I’m most enraged when a film blinds me with a flash of Skarsgård’s tattooed butt cheeks. Speaking of which, I find it all very disturbing that Firth is in there alongwith Skarsgård in that boat during that flash and Firth’s character later reveals himself to be gay, especially when the film is rated fit to be watched by the entire family. And if that wasn’t enough, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski make you want to slit your throat unleashing one terrible joke after another (I grew up. Then grow back down again). And this just isn’t the only one, there’re a motherlode of those, and most of them concerning sexual innuendo. There was such hue and cry over The Dark Knight and its nonexistent violent content. That might be nothing compared to what this film accomplishes by its vulgar tone deserving of utter contempt, and I advice you not to take your little children with their impressionable minds to this film, they might have horrifying nights and they will not forgive you.
        Mamma Mia! might have been a film beyond criticism, though not in its present form. It is exploitative cinema of a different nature and if one were to neglect the means, it is no better than all the torture porn doing the rounds. Maybe a shade inferior, because many of those films are technically sound. This one is just plain shoddy in every which sense. There’s no sense of cutting, the actors aren’t exactly in possession of vocals that are worthy of mention on a resume, and often the artificial background sticks out sorely as a bit of amateurish exercise in photoshopping. The women chirp not because the characters demand thus but because someone thinks it is funny and lovable. Rather, it feels greatly annoying. The only thing the film seems to have gotten right is an aerial shot of the Greek island which is gorgeous. I loathe using the term ‘chick-flick’, and I believe it is derogatory. But whatever films the term refers to in general and whatever genre-trappings in particular, the characters in them would surely storm out of Mamma Mia! shouting out it is too contrived, too stupid and too mushy for their taste. A disgrace to their kind. And I would’ve agreed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

RIGHTEOUS KILL: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, 50 Cent
Director: Jon Avnet
Runtime: 100 min.
Rating: 1/2*
Genre: Thriller, Drama

        Just this other day, out of nowhere, I had a most sudden urge to revisit Good Night, and Good Luck. A film as carefully and as perfectly composed for its actors as there has been in recent memory. A film that might be used to study how camera angles, frames and editing could greatly enhance the nature of the performances. It might be wrong of me to ask a film as technically untidy and confused as Righteous Kill to compare itself to George Clooney’s brilliant film, but it could have learnt a thing or two how to be kind towards its actors and how to add and not to subtract from what they have to offer. Of course, it is a different matter altogether that the principal actors here do not have much to offer, and it seems their art has long left them. Pacino might show a flash or two pulling off some of those tricks he has learned over the years, but nothing here he does is character. It is all Pacino, and you might accept whatever he offers if you’re likely to be thrilled by what can only be called antics. I kind of do, sometimes, and this time I didn’t at all. As for Robert De Niro, I would be ready to offer a treat to anybody or everybody who has an explanation for that frustrated furrowed eyebrows expression on his face he has been carrying for the past decade or so. I have been having real difficulty pining down what it means for it seems to turn up every which where irrespective of the film he is in (The image attached might be of some help). I think he is bored, and frankly so are we. He might be one of my favorite actors, but right now he might give Nicolas Cage a run for his money in fakery.
        The bad news is that isn’t the only problem with Righteous Kill, and I believe if one were to jot down all the problems plaguing it he might as well take a shot at writing a book on how bad movies get made out of a decent idea. This is probably the worst kind of bad movie, the kind which even fails to be memorably bad. I wonder if there’s even a single shot in the film that merits mention. Had it not been for the two names highlighting this project I guess we would have heard of this as a straight to DVD title. And it marks two straight weeks at the movies where I have guessed the suspense within the first ten minutes. How sad is that?
        De Niro and Pacino play two cops, Detective Turk and Detective Rooster respectively, who have been friends for life. The film starts off with the incriminating evidence on Turk – him confessing to a video camera how he has righteously killed 14 criminals who have escaped the punishment of the law. He starts recounting his tale which essentially involves the police force investigating a serial killing case where the murderer kills these dangerous criminals and leaves poems in their vicinity. Now, the way the film begins, you would surely realize within the first quarter of an hour or so the serial killer is anybody but Turk, simply because the film is trying to be too savvy, too flashy, and too clever. It isn’t. It isn’t even smart enough to be able to misdirect the audience, and attempt that comes from that direction feels as if the film considers us dumb enough to look towards the sky in unison when it raises its fingers to point towards a non-existent dinosaur. Yes, the plot is that ludicrous. Nobody seems to have taken the time to understand the idea and structure it into a cohesive plot, because there isn’t one. All we get is brazen adolescent dialog that seems to care a lot for sex, and for that reason alone Carla Gugino’s character (Forensics expert Karen Corelli) seems to exist in the film) – to be the object of physical affection of every which cop in the force in general, and Detective Turk in particular. The film seems to find a lot of time to be devoted to conversation regarding Karen’s wanton lustful desires, and it just exists in the film for no particular reason.
        The problem with Righteous Kill is that it is too influenced. It wants to be Heat, it wants to be a morality play and it wants to be a whole lot of stuff. The problem is it doesn’t realize that it doesn’t have even a single person, and all of the characters in there are chunks assorted from different cop/thriller films. They are given lines to speak, and they do, but there’s no conviction no depth. It is all empty, just like the brains and the heart of the film. The film’s adolescent tendencies reflect on every which turn, be it the developments or be its themes. It depends too much on misdirection when it obviously doesn’t have any meat on its plate. What’s more repulsive are its attempts to hammer us with the fact that Turk is our guy, when we so obviously realize he isn’t. Furthermore, we know who it is. Look at the climax and see how the film turns the tables from an earlier film. Watching it, I felt empty too.
        Later, alone in the parking lot I closed my eyes to relive one of the greatest moments ever committed to cinema – the climactic moment of Michael Mann’s Heat. Neil and Vincent hold hands, and Elliot Goldenthal’s divine music fills the entire space around us. And my heart broke watching two of my favorite actors in such pathetic a condition in this film. Someone tell them I miss those times. They owe us that. They owe themselves that.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A WEDNESDAY: MOVIE REVIEW




Cast: Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, Jimmy Shergill, Aamir Bashir, Deepal Shaw
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Runtime: 100 min.
Rating: **1/2
Genre: Thriller

        Ten minutes into the film and an outline of the shallow intricacies of this film laid itself threadbare before me. There’s precious little in those early moments that perform any function by way of plot, and a lot of padding up is done under the pretext of introducing to us the characters. Rather the players, because calling this bunch characters would be a designation most undeserving. And at least with one of them the film intends to portray a symbol rather than somebody in actual flesh and blood. That it does later, by means of a tale that is most perfunctory is a shame.
        Never mind, and it was all fine and dandy. What surprised me most though was not the success of my predictions regarding the plot in general, and the twist in particular, but the speed in which my subconscious movie senses responded to – (i) the loud and flashy camera movements that are deputed the job of capturing five minutes worth of city life rush, (ii) the obligatory attempts at character depth, and (iii) the ‘scripted’ dialogue ‘delivered’ by actors, many of them coming out woefully stilted. Observation (ii) fascinates me the most, and I guess this was the primary reason why everything from then on betrayed the inherent dishonesty of the film. I call it sophisticated stock, by which I mean these elements are pulled right out of that drawer when the need of the hour is to deliver a thriller garbed under the pretense of essential cinema. The Pune Mirror critic Mayank Shekar, in a rather unjust and deeply flawed negative review, gets one point bang on target. And that is, why so serious? Precisely. My belief has always been that a film ought to be proud in fulfilling the terms of its genre, it ought to work first as a product of that genre, and then entertain ambitions of soaring high and mighty. A Wednesday might harbor thoughts of presenting a radically different perspective to Aamir, one of my favorite films of the year. But this one is nowhere near, not in style, not in tone, not in content i.e. not in what and not in how.
        The premise is a simple race against the clock, though the clock doesn’t play that big a part. An unnamed terrorist (Naseeruddin Shah) has planted five bombs across Mumbai, he rings up the Commissioner Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher) and demands four captured terrorists be assembled at a place of his choice. He calls up the media too, providing them snippets of information so that they could linger around without knowing the big picture. In there are two cops, Jai Singh and Arif Khan (yup, the good cop bad cop routine), played respectively by Aamir Bashir, who seems to be the only guy enjoying himself and Jimmy Shergill, who appears to have put on some weight since I have last seen him. There’s the reporter Deepal Shaw, played by Naina Roy, and I would wish somebody suggest to her in the earliest that acting isn’t her true calling, any which she looks at it. Oh yeah, there’s my favorite too, a stock character sticking himself out right from one of the top shelves – the teenage college drop out hacker. I can only congratulate him for being even more of a pain to the senses than Justin Long was in last year’s awful Live Free or Die Hard.
        Allow me to return to those three items I mentioned above, and elaborate myself on them. The film opens with random shots of various facets of Mumbai, and they seem to be vestigial bits and pieces pasted together to serve an obligation. The object, or objective, of such shots is to observe. Plain and simple. This one performs it as an exercise, with no conviction, no feeling, and our interest is drawn more towards the incessant cutting and the zooms and pans. As a matter of fact, I would claim with the utmost confidence that some of those clips were repeated late on. It is all the more sinful considering what the film is aspiring to be, which you’ll realize if you opt to watch it.
        I guess we ought to cut the picture some slack here, and judge it for a while upon what it is for most of its running time. That is, a thriller, and A Wednesday is serviceable enough considering that the screenplay has been literally stretched to the story’s absolute limit of elasticity. At 100 minutes it flirts perilously close to overstaying its welcome, but the film maintains a steady pace inspite of going nowhere. The score, an energetic blend of drums and temple bells, is the key here and it keeps many a scene from sagging. The whole affair is terribly predictable though, and that could be considered a crime since this is a thriller. Aamir Bashir gets a tip regarding the construction site from where the terrorist is calling the shots, and there is a sequence of a few minutes that is edited in a way so as to generate tension by cutting between Bashir climbing the steps and the terrorist hearing some noise. It is a pathetically false moment, one that just doesn’t work, and the filmmaker ought to realize that we as the audience know the terrorist isn’t going to be apprehended so soon.
        There’re great many such problems that the film indulges itself in, in the name of a thriller, and they all stem from one basic error – the script just isn’t meaty enough. Had there been more developments, the above sequence could have easily been chucked out. I believe the film was written with the ending in mind, and what it delivers at the climax might very well rouse you if you enjoyed Raj Kumar Santoshi for his brazen dialogues. I though savored his films more for their on and off intensity rather than their wafer-thin themes. And here, I was sorely disappointed, not in the least by its predictability, but because I consider the entire thing a mistake. A very big mistake. A Wednesday wants to work as a story but it is treading the path of an idea. And that idea sucks and spoils the joy from the rest of the film. There isn’t much style, for style is a derivative of strong characters, and here they are all walking ideas. Everything here feels oddly fake, and when the commissioner delivers a line emphasizing more on the sentence than what it is about, that ought to have rung the alarm bells. The sentence I’m talking about is in the middle of the film, when the commissioner is speaking to the reporter, and though I do not remember it verbatim, it contains a rather uncomfortable usage of ‘bloody’. Dialogues themselves do not ooze style, or nuance, they need to be ingrained inside a character plausible enough and rich enough to use it. I wonder how good the film might have been if it went along as a racy and meaty thriller with frenetic developments and then trusted its audience to learn its themes. I would respect such a film.
        A friend whose opinion I respect most pinged me in the middle of the night on Saturday and with great excitement asked me if I had seen the film. I had obviously not, and by today morning he had already seen it twice. That was reason enough for me to rush to the movie with great haste, and now I wonder why. I wish to discuss with him, maybe over a long night, or maybe not because A Wednesday doesn’t have anything in it that will sustain it for more than ten minutes in any discussion or debate. Everything about it is pretense, as I said shallow pretense. It intends to employ the mechanics of a thriller, to pursue an ulterior political/social agenda, and that is fundamentally impossible without a fleshed out story. Here it has just an idea. There isn’t much fun when there obviously should have been. And don’t get me wrong here for any reason, but this is that immature film that throws at the audience muted curse words just to ‘entertain’ them. My fellow audiences laughed and cheered when an important character late in the film shouted out two of them, or maybe the same one twice, and I wondered if this was the idea of style and fun. I vividly remember audiences cheering Omkaara too, and I have to figure out exactly what is so rousing about something you hear every now and then. And if at all a curse word has to be used to generate a chuckle or two, it ought to be never the center of the joke, but be somewhere in the periphery (See, not everybody is Samuel L. Jackson). And let us not get into the twist.

Monday, September 01, 2008

WALL-E: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast (Voices): Ben Burtt (Wall-E), Elissa Knight (EVE)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Runtime: 98 min.
Rating: *****
Genre: Animation, Comedy

        I still am wondering, who they had in mind when Wall-E was created with those wide round big eyes, with that large head over a narrow neck. Was it that anxious edgy Woody Allen? Or was it Buster Keaton? The unanimated way in which Wall-E goes about his daily life reminded me of the robotic Keaton in Sherlock Jr., and the way the plot went uphill and then down, even The General. There’s goofy Chaplin in there too, running out the advances of the world ala Modern Times, the center of the pandemonium every which where he sets foot. Maybe it is all of them, imbibing from an era of purity long gone. You remember that final scene in City Lights, where the tramp and the flower girl meet each other? In its moments of silence, when no plot impedes it, when there is just Wall-E and Eve on the screen, this animated gem reaches such dizzying heights of simple earthly beauty.
        There’s a plot. How I wish there wasn’t one. I felt a struggle in there, between a relatively complex Pixar concoction, and the magical simplicity of silent nothing. The film starts on the former, and there’s precious little by way of human dialogue as Wall-E, acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class, goes about his programmed directive – mashing junk into cubes and arranging a skyline out of their piles. The earth is littered with toxic waste, and has been long deserted by humans. This, of course, we learn from a banner. Wall-E says nothing, he rolls along doing his job with great sincerity, and alongside collects odds and ends from the trash he doesn’t comprehend but which he finds fascinating. There’s a cigarette lighter, there’s a fork and there’s a huge swiveling rack of them. Of course, there’re his spares too. In the night, when there’s nothing to do, Wall-E watches a video of Hello Dolly! on an i-pod and wishes he wasn’t so alone, and lonely. He isn’t completely alone out there, though. He has a neat little pet in a sprightly little cockroach, and when Wall-E accidentally steps on him we cringe in our seats and find ourselves shocked. And when Wall-E discovers no harm has been done, there’s a reaction muttered which I wouldn’t dare spell out here and would rather find it safer to say it found an echo that instinctively drew out of an audience roughly two-hundred in strength. Including me. Only later did I realize that it was a roach I was so worried about, and I usually am a prowling vigilante of the dark when it comes to them, my favored weapon being a spray. Never mind, Pixar does that trick again, and again. The roach here, just as the rat in Pixar’s previous creation, isn’t something that has been morphed to appeal to our tastes. It is brown and glistening, just as I find them in the night, with that very shape and yet that roach in here is cute. And yeah, just as in the night, this one here doesn’t say a word.
        That’s a great ambition Pixar has been vying for of late. To make something as close to life as possible, without any adulterations or obvious props to make them likable, but to instead create a visual imagery that appeals to us within an instant. Like those silent films did it all those years ago. Those films knew just when to show the placard and when to let the viewer understand it by himself. Often, a dialogue at the wrong time shatters the scene, shatters the atmosphere and leaves the bad taste of a false artificial note. Going by the number of silent films I have seen, I believe, in terms of ratio they got it right more often. Of course, don’t quote me on this anywhere.
        Wall-E, for a large part of its initial hour is more or less a silent film. And that, in our age, is doubly challenging. But of course, this is Pixar we’re talking about and they create such evocative images Chaplin and Keaton would have been proud of. Maybe, even jealous of. The only word we hear the robot say is various renditions of ‘aw’ and for a minute it seems the word awe was born here, for here, in all its forms and glory.
        And then, the Gods up there soften up on him and send him company. It is Eve, but the way Wall-E pronounces it is incredibly more romantic. This is where we become part of blissful magic. There’s wit, there’s emotion and all of it done without much dialogue. This is narrative ingenuity, and the clarity brought in me a sense of exhilaration I have rarely felt of late. Of a certain anticipation, that this would be a terrific silent film. One which isn’t because it is trying to force upon us a gimmick, but is one because it needs to be one.
        And then, the plot arrives.
        And Wall-E, turns into more standard fare. And by standard, I mean the usual levels of Pixar, which is still pretty decent. I wouldn’t divulge too much here, and as a matter of fact I do not need to in order to make my point. And I have two, here. One, as I have already mentioned, Wall-E would have made for a great silent film. Yes, I agree, I’m arguing for something which the film isn’t. But what if the film went the full distance? Yes the story we get is immensely fun, but did we really need it. The way I see it, this is Pixar’s most hammer-laden film to date. That is fine when it comes to lesser animated fare like Happy Feet, because they can’t afford much ingenuity by way of content. And here is my second, I wonder if we really need messages concerning humanity from Pixar. Maybe yes for you, but maybe no for me. At least not when proceedings drop down by a notch or two. See, there’s obviously a whole lot of potential here, places where the film could have gone, places that would have absorbed us right into the core of that magic. Where it goes though is where humans are stereotyped, and I wouldn’t want to get into the details. Not that I would argue with the imagination on hand, and the whole construction of the satire is hilarious. Every which way. I was probably laughing the loudest when Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra finally thrust the human into action. Maybe, as Cronenberg says, all stereotypes turn out to be true and the signs are that the one shown here pretty well might.
        Still, I felt proceedings to be a little heavy-handed. Maybe because, it is Pixar, and alongwith a few they’re the only ones who’re taking the medium forward. Both technically and narratively. And I have this resident feeling inside that just keeps blurting out whenever it is I think of Wall-E – opportunity missed. Was it? I guess, and I could be wrong. Once the majority of the plot unravels, events in Wall-E move a little too swiftly, with a little too much pace and with a little too much obligation. This contrast, between the gentle and poetic sweep of the first half-hour and the force of the later part is the struggle I felt and I felt kind of jarred. There definitely isn’t a blend here, and the film felt like sawed off into two parts.
        I know now how audiences must have felt when they watched City Lights. Probably what we feel during those moments between Wall-E and Evaaa is something similar, and probably more awe-inspiring and touching, for we don’t usually get to have such simple visual imagery laid out for us. And such heartfelt characters. It doesn’t matter most of them are robots, and most of them do not talk.
        Is it Pixar’s greatest creation? Thanks, but I’ll give that question a pass. How could one choose between steaming hot Chole Bhature, a lavish Biryani or say, Ratatouille. Aha, you knew that was coming, didn’t you? Look, the Toy Story movies are something very, very close to my heart, yet I wouldn’t be able to choose between these films. They say Cars is the weakest of all Pixar’s creations and I savored it thrice on the big screen, and quite a lot of times on DVD. I have no idea about Wall-E, but I know I’m going again tonight. And yeah, if I wasn’t clear, count me in for the November release of the DVD too.
        Look, I’m not one of those who is a sucker for anything remotely animated thrown at me. Apart from the first two Shrek films, which I thought were good, I’m not sure Hollywood has come up with even a single animated film of note to date in this decade. Maybe yes, The Polar Express. Films as mediocre as those Ice Age films, or that awful Panda doing kung-fu is a testament to the fact that animated divisions of big studios look upon animation as a genre. What they release is products, to cater to the kids in a very specific way i.e. laughs and get the money back. What Pixar and great animators like Hayao Miyazaki are striving for is expression, and for them animation is a medium. A medium that is infinitely more powerful and wide-reaching than its cousin cinema itself. With Wall-E animation, both as a medium of artistic expression and a source of genuine and rich entertainment, has taken a very significant stride forward. I wonder though, could it have been a leap?


Note: If you’re a fan of Pixar you would want to buy this wonderful new book titled The Pixar Touch, an insightful read into the makings of this organization. You would want to grab the DVD too which is releasing in North America on November 18th. Going by the track record, there ought not to be much, if any, delay in the release here.

WANTED: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Runtime: 110 min.
Rating: Zero Stars
Genre: Action, Comedy

        I hated this movie. I hated, hated, hated, and hated this movie. I absolutely hated this movie. I absolutely hated every pretentious mindless heartless senseless tasteless minute of this movie.
        Wow, there you go! Some of that feels vented out. Let us get started by saying that if Bourne and the Jackal were to sit over a couple of beers and watch this film on a rented DVD in some obscure hotel room in some remote destination somewhere in Europe, I think they might have laughed it off with utter disdain. But they might afford being kind of cold, and I am not. This isn’t funny, this isn’t entertainment and this definitely isn’t action. At least, not from the scope I’m looking things at.
        Curving bullets is a nice idea, and nice ideas are always welcome. But they have a half-life of probably five minutes, maybe ten, and beyond that they start to get on the nerves. And beyond they jump over them, and then stamp all over mashing them to pulp. Other than curving bullets and slow-motions action sequences involving flying cars attempting somersaults, there isn’t much in this 110 minute assault. I was resisting, and I had the strong urge to leave, but something inside steeled itself. I willed myself through the film, as if enduring it would accomplish a grand feat for me worthy of a recounting on a later date. I seriously think it was a bad idea.
        There is no plot, and that excuse they’re parading seems to have been written as they went along. I’ll bet there wasn’t a story when production started, and what they have at the end of it is something that has a memory span of five seconds. Every which way. It doesn’t believe in anything, and all the moral talk is as hollow as the gun barrels on display. Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is a disgruntled office bee who seeks meaning to his life. He is contacted by The Fraternity (seriously?) that lays out his true identity in front of him, i.e. he’s the son of their best assassin who has just been executed by a rogue member. The rogue, going by the name of Cross is killing of the members one by one. Gibson is trained to deal with Cross, and herein I got confused. Once trained Gibson is asked to be an assassin just like the others. What about the deal with Cross? He isn’t killing anybody no more? Don’t look at me, and don’t look at the film either. They don’t have the answers themselves. I think they got the plot from that loom too. Maybe an error while decoding.
        The film derives its pleasure from its scenes of physical punishment, which frankly aren’t going anywhere apart from displaying a whole lot of blood and sounding off a whole lot of the f-word. This is like the fantasy of a crazy child where everybody seeks thrill in hurting the other. For no particular reason. The film’s moral compass isn’t off the track because it does not have one. The Fraternity claim they do it for the greater good, for saving thousands but you know that is a whole lot of horsedung when a train full of passengers are thrown down a gorge just for something as trivial as a moment of thrill. The most disgusting part is that it isn’t even memorable. It is just things falling down, or flying or blowing up.
        A few months ago, one of my friends pinged me in the middle of the night and asked me how Wanted was. She is in California, and I guess the film was being shown in her university. I hadn’t watched it, but going by the trailer it was a no-brainer that this one was mindless. I conveyed, she saw, and she echoed my prediction. A few days later, she went in and saw The Dark Knight, and she was plain blown away. I went in there to the movies with some kind of weird experimental frame of mind, and the central specimen felt to be The Dark Knight. Part of me wondered how would it hold up on a thirteenth viewing and the rest was wondering how truly phenomenal is its action when compared to an all-out boom-boom exercise as Wanted. The former thrilled me, yet again, the action sequences gripped me, yet again. The latter bored me, and at halftime my yawns were running neck and neck with the bullets that were fired. Everything here feels so predictable, so thoroughly lacking in energy of any form. There is no pace whatsoever, and occasionally my watch seemed to be in need of a battery replacement. This isn’t stunts for action-junkies; this is one for the pretenders who would wince handling the real deal. Probably the entire film has been shot on a computer. It wasn’t fun at all. It was pain.
        This is a cruel and oppressive film, one that is stupid enough in its retarded fetishes not to comprehend it. This is the kind of low-IQ film that must have watched Fight Club and thought, wow, this Durden guy must be cool. This is the kind of adolescent exercise that thinks blasting off the f-word ought to be considered stylish. I wasn’t entertained, I felt assaulted. Smug in its hollow overdone style, the ending has Gibson ask us – What the f*** have you done lately? Well, I wasted 110 minutes of my life assaulting myself.