Sunday, January 31, 2010
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Runtime: 125 min. (citation needed)
Verdict: A fascinating psychological exploration, and about the roots of the film-noir genre.
Genre: Thriller, Romance, Drama, Crime
(Note: I realize that a comprehensive review to Mr. Chaubey’s film and its methods are impossible without discussing the details of the plot, which surely might spoil the nature of the film experience. Ishqiya is quite a motion picture, one you should watch, and then if needed you would better come across and read the review. So, yes, consider this a spoiler alert. You’ve been warned.)
A cynical tone. The femme fatale.
If we choose to assemble fans of the noir genre and, in our eagerness to define it, ask them to submit two attributes each, I suspect the consensus would surround the two mentioned above. What is cynicism but an inability to trust? And what is the femme fatale but an object that physically manifests this cynicism and thus the inability to trust. Why do we find it so difficult to trust? Even in our daily worlds. I find that aspect of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull so profound, where he chooses his object of mistrust to be a blonde and then demonstrates all the way how this inability to trust doesn’t lay on the object but in the cynical mind of the male. And then he goes onto reveal why. I believe, dear reader, inability to trust, of any nature so to speak, has its roots in the low self-confidence, an inferiority complex, an insecurity we have for that particular facet of our lives. Jake La Motta was insecure about his manhood. Such insecurity, such a complex, I suspect is the cause of the origins of the noir genre in its earliest forms.
And that is what Mr. Bhardwaj seems to be exploring in his films too, most of them different examples of the noir genre. Consider Omkaara, and the seed of mistrust that the father sows in the titular character, right at the start. Omkaara doesn’t care of it then, or it doesn’t ever show in that steely-resolved face of Mr. Devgan, but he does ultimately. And that is because, deep beneath, there is a fundamental insecurity inside of him. It is all the more apparent in the stammering good-brother in Kaminey. Mr. Bhardwaj consciously develops his female characters in a gaze of uncertainty, only to turn the tables and reveal the deep-seated insecurities of the male characters that are echoed within us. For the most part in Kaminey, we never trust the integrity of Ms. Chopra’s, for she is a liar, and we so conveniently assume if she is lying she must be upto something sinister, only to reveal later that the lies were wrong means to gain a sweet end. Somehow these women end up morally upstaging their male counterparts, who in the end come across as silly and small people.
Such is the nature of Mr. Chaubey’s Ishqiya, and if I discuss a part of Mr. Bhardwaj’s work, it is because I suspect the relationship between the two goes way beyond a director-screenwriter equation. You see, Mr. Chaubey has been a screenwriter for most of Mr. Bhardwaj’s films, and if the both swap seats only to cause the former’s debut film as a director, I guess it doesn’t necessarily change much, except for that Mr. Chaubey seems to be a far better visual stylist than Mr. Bhardwaj. Or let us say one more to my liking, because he seems to have a penchant for still camera, which as we gradually realize is precisely placed on almost every occasion. Yes, there’re moments when an edit feels inadvisable, or obligatory, but let us just say it is nothing compared to the film’s ultimate misgiving, which is no less than a blunder (I shall discuss it later) and choose to ignore this one completely. The script is fine, laced with the rural caste-political situation of Bihar I have only heard from friends of mine, and something I shall one day explore. It is quite apparent that the film has lived its world.
So, Ishqiya is about two conmen Babban (Mr. Warsi) and Khalujaan (Mr. Shah), who get conned. Consider it all like a little con-game, where the con isn’t what you think it should be, and the stakes are way higher than what you think they are. The two guys are on the run for some sort of amount stolen, and on their way across the Nepal border they seek shelter at a woman’s residence, Krishna (Ms. Balan) by name. In the film’s opening act, where Krishna and her ganglord-politician husband Varma, involved in a sweet and warm romance, but still we sense a tension between them. A tension more from the husband’s perspective. A tension that conveys that all is not transparent between them two. And then, the house explodes. We learn later the husband was killed. The cause: gas cylinder, though the opening act clearly shows that the cylinder was empty.
And here I invoke once again that most profound of all tenets of filmmaking – A good film is not about what it’s about but how it’s about it. Thank you Mr. Ebert. Ishqiya, if we choose to see it that way, is a con-game in itself, on the two conmen within it, and in turn us. Babban and Khalujaan are made to believe they are the principal characters, that the movie is about them and the little games their hearts are playing. The two conmen practice their romance in the openness of the world, in tea stalls, in buses, on sea beaches. But we ignore how the film opens. The film, by following their perspective and using that to gauge the vague mysteries of Krishna, is cleverly pulling a con on us.
And look at one of the ending scenes, which ought to have been the final moment, and which would have actually made the con complete if it chose to end it my way. The action is outside, and the two principal characters, the husband and the wife are once again cut off from it, lost in their own world, those two back to being the only variables of an equation. I am reminded of Bertolucci’s masterpiece Last Tango in Paris. The real love, the real sex, the real unison isn’t out there in those adulterous affairs, isn’t in those brothels but is between a husband and his wife, and for that matter a wife and her husband. Them two within the four walls, the only variables of an equation, and it is something deeply sacred that instantly trivializes the lovey-dovey escapades of the outside world. It trivializes and even indulges in borderline contempt of what we were thinking and suspecting. The film for the most part seems playful and jovial. That is because the supposed love-games, or the titular Ishqiya of the two conmen is just that. We, Babban and Khalujaan were suspecting the morality. The woman revealed something entirely different and didn’t even bother to spit on our faces. She is a woman of great pride, a woman of great self respect, a woman of great ego, and a woman who placed her love and her entire trust on a person. And that trust has been betrayed. Anyone other and the wife wouldn’t even have bothered. But here’s someone who she loves with her heart and soul. This was a matter that was between the husband and the wife, and the husband chose to trust the outside world and pull a con on her. You should imagine the enormity of the dent that has been made on her ego, and hence on her love. The two scenes are one of the most gloriously choreographed and set sequences. Confined and cut-off.
The two conmen represent the world. When one of them two realize the incomprehensible depths of a husband-wife relationship, we echo it too. I sat with my better half, and her friend, and both of them were giggling for the entire run of the film. Until the final scene and the final revelation came upon. I was stunned too, so to speak. That revelation, that twist, is miles beyond darkness. It is a depth that people deep in love would understand, or sense. Not the college-boy-Twilight-RomeoandJuliet-esque romance, but the ones at the heart of such egoistical films as The Painted Veil and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. That ending completely shatters the idyllic tone, and reins in something that feels quite intense. A twist not just of plot, but a twist in tone. We three, I suspect did too, but we might be too simple-minded to completely understand, or for that matter acknowledge it.
Yet, the film indulges in a blunder and spoils that scene by involving the outer-world. There are explosions and bombs and gunfire and all the necessary ingredients to spoil the entire scene irreparably. How I wish Ishqiya ended there and then, and if needed an obligatory frame where the two conmen and the world with them stands amazed at the emotion that caused the second blast. That would’ve needed courage, and it would be too much to condemn the film on that respect, considering the box-office response that would be affected by such an ending. I wonder unconvinced, and I suspect my version of Ishqiya would have played out brilliantly, and I stand here open for arguments.
Oh, one last thing. It is better we stop all this blah about Indian-Tarantino and stuff. In this game of showing off our cinematic knowledge (where we hail Mr. Guy Ritchie in the same breath as Mr. Tarantino, which is itself a reflection of a serious lack of understanding) we’re spoiling it for the coming generation. Those poor chaps deserve more than false knowledge and empty scholarly activity. One of the great crimes of cinema study is to draw off and point empty cinematic references, which enriches nobody. A referential study is to greatly undermine the power of the image. Mentioning it is fine, but to make that your sole point is a bit of empty cinematic masturbation. And even if you are caught masturbating, mention something truly worth the effort. Not just names like Tarantino, Rodriguez and Guy Ritchie.
And yes, Ishqiya might be a great film, but I wonder how much of it is dependent on the con, i.e. the twist. A major part of its audience manipulation lies in its clever usage of perspectives, careful handing out of information and then pulling the rug. Now that we already know, would Ishqiya still hold that same strength? I do not know. I do not even know if that is a parameter to hold to judge the film since it is clearly intended as a mystery and a suspense thriller. And it is structured as quite a brilliant one, with clever clues placed everywhere. We never guess why the old woman seeks a matchbox, and we never wonder why there are so many gas cylinders, but we do sense that the gas cylinders need to add upto something. Ishqiya is a masterful thriller. And stunned I was. And I know that being stunned is the intended reaction. If you were, consider the film worked brilliantly.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarondon
Director: Peter Jackson
Runtime: 135 min.
Verdict: Unwatchable. Boring. And of course, morally and emotionally hollow. A contemptible film.
Genre: Drama, Thriller
If there’s one thing that causes me to be greatly relieved, one thing that is good about Mr. Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, it is that I no longer am worried about the nature of the upcoming Tolkien adaptation The Hobbit. I had squirmed when Mr. Del Toro was attached to the project, a filmmaker who vomits visuals onto the screen rather than create. And I no longer worry for Mr. Jackson displays here his immense talent for throwing up absolutely needless imagery gift-wrapped as imagination. That it is emotionally diluting and is morally demeaning is a matter I suspect even Mr. Jackson is unaware of.
A little girl is murdered, and I suspect raped too. She is a girl of 12 or 14, and is played by Ms. Ronan. She narrates the story from heaven, and from whatever I watched of the film (44 min. + skimmed through the rest in 15 min.), she doesn’t betray one aspect of the crime committed on her. The film quite ridiculously and quite conveniently shirks the tough part by asking her little narrator to be so inexplicably unaware of it. What’s more, for a moment or two, she is even unaware she’s dead. Look this is not a 6-year old we’re speaking of, this is someone who would read poetry, is naturally perceptive (photography is her hobby), and is old enough to have a serious crush on a school senior.
So, for all his supposed imagination, how does Mr. Jackson deal with the crime? By an unimaginative cut. And then wrapping it in faux-art metaphorical imagery. The victim and the murdering psychopath (Mr. Tucci) sit in a little underground cabin, the former growingly aware of the latter’s ah-not-so-insidious intentions, and she makes a quick run for the exit. And cut. And when we cut back we see the little girl running across the fields and on the roads amidst what is supposed to be a surreal world. Remember Silent Hill? If you do, then try not to praise Mr. Jackson for his imaginative prowess. She runs and runs and runs, and runs with the blowing wind. She watches her dad (Mr. Wahlberg) and calls out and he doesn’t reply and she is dumbstruck and she runs into the house and there’s no one and she runs upstairs screaming and she’s her murderer naked in the bathtub. And she “disintegrates” from existence (the facts are that the crime involves rape, murder and body-chopping). You see, the movie is too precious and too artistic to simply be matter-of-fact about its tragedy and its grief, and instead indulges in throwing at us the same events in what is intended to be visual poetry.
And from then on, Mr. Jackson simply provides us obligatory footage of heaven, all colored in blinding yellow. He goes about it with such literal hamfistedness that it is impossible to feel anything. The father, in one of his displays of immense grief, breaks the ship-in-a-bottle models he created, and what we see in the little girl’s personal heaven is large ships-in-bottles coming to the shore and breaking. And here’s where I believe the supposed imaginative prowess of Mr. Jackson is found wanting. You see, The Lovely Bones, to put it simply, is about the healing of grief and for a family to come to terms with the tragedy. It is a matter of time, it is a matter of vacancy, it is a matter of space. It is a matter of filling up the space. The film is too indulgent in patting itself over every “strikingly beautiful image” that it absolutely has no idea how to go about it all. The film, for the large part, is framed too close for us to feel anything, and it often edits itself with the intentions of a thriller. I ask, why to waste time showing us the crime in the first place? We know she’s already dead. We know it is all inevitable. Why not just pluck the little girl out of the family’s life one fine day? But the film, ineffective as it is, needs to show that for us to gain the evil nature of the crime, and I’ve no firm idea what is gained out of it. On a cursory glance, the film might appear to be from the little girl’s perspective, but look closer, and it is about the peace of the family. That is what the little girl’s concerned about.
The Lovely Bones is completely unaware of that and it spends loads of needless time with the criminal and the crime. Now consider this dear reader. What if we had no idea of the criminal? We had no idea who he was. He was no more than a face and a fact. That he murdered the little girl. Consider the film from the family’s perspective being channeled out by the narrator. How profound the predicament might have been? When would the family have gained peace? When the criminal is nabbed? When he is brought to justice? When he’s dead? Or will love find them, just like that? I ask you these questions because the film pretends it is not vengeful in nature, because it ends with the family coming to peace on its own upon love. You know, the film wants to portray a sense of forgiving and a sense of large-heartedness. And that is something utterly despicable. Why? Because the film obligatorily chooses to kill its criminal by a stroke of fate, a justice from the heavens. Ultimately the film wants revenge. That is when the girl shall have peace. That is when the family will have peace. Then why pretend? You might as well go down the Death Wish route. At least, it is being truthful.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 4:23 PM
Friday, January 15, 2010
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride
Director: Jason Reitman
Runtime: 110 min.
Verdict: Mr. Reitman picks up one bit of truth from a book, and envelopes it in a whole lot of barely baked social statements.
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
I’m pretty confused, but if a montage of people reacting to being fired is absolutely ineffective and feels most artificial and amateurishly filmed, does that position the film morally higher than, say a film, where two soldiers walk up to families and give them the news of the death of their closed one in Iraq and each of those scenes ends up more devastating than the one before. I’m not really sure, you see, because I couldn’t stop laughing while the opening montage played out in Up in the Air and the assortment of real people and actors recited what seemed like carefully conceived situations of firings. It was all so completely inane, I almost felt Mr. Reitman was intending the scenes to be somewhat similar in tone to little kids being handed out their low grades and reminders to call their parents. You know, you have a person played by stand-up Mr. Galifianakis, and there is the Clooney character ridiculing his post-firing behavior by generalizing it. And frankly, I didn’t mind one bit for at that moment it seemed Mr. Reitman intended it that way, and I was instead enjoying it.
And I was wrong. The scenes were supposed to be serious. Up in the Air was supposed to be the American Beauty of this decade, somehow making a profound statement on the nature of America, and how lives are lived. And how is that? By establishing the ultimate event of our times, the recession, that rocked the common man and his dreams. As a backdrop. A dramatic one at that, where behaviors are generalized. And going nowhere with it, except to make broad statements about life and family. You should see the ending montage, When Harry Met Sally-style, where the same folks speak about their lives post recession, and the value of their families. It is embarrassingly corny. Oh no, not just that. It is dead smack in the middle of kitschy-land. So bad, it is condescending, and pretentious. I mean, what kind of a film would generalize a trauma and make dramatic statements out of it. The Messengers, for all its mediocrity, was at least respectful enough of the families to make the individual scenes specific. And more importantly, how hard is it to sell family and love to us? We are all alone here, some of us even lonely, yearning for the moment where someone’s eyes staring right into your soul and the whole world goes quiet just for a second. I know, it is cheesy, but you almost bought it didn’t you. Still the film cannot sell it.
By the way, that cheesy definition of love and relationship and blah is the idea Mr. Ryan Bingham (Mr. Clooney), a professional at firing people. He does others’ dirty job. He is a janitor. He is the economy world’s assassin. That makes him cold, and distant, and just to ensure we get the cause and effect, he is a loner too. He belongs to nobody and no place. He does have a couple of sisters, but they don’t see much of him either. He belongs to the skies, to the airlines, to hotel suites, and to offices in need of downsizing. His philosophy is a variation of from Heat – do not carry too much baggage. He intends to live alone and have no attachments.
But you see, dear reader, that is just the exterior. The bullshit we feed ourselves while we wait for the right person to come along. It is a façade we build for ourselves, a façade of lies that hides the utter vulnerability of our wait, and as time piles layer upon layer, we start believing in that façade of ours as a mode to keep ourselves from cracking down. And although that façade might be thick, it is so feeble it is often just a little moment that completely melts it down. Such a person is Ryan, and he is 34 or something, and he meets Alex (Ms. Farmiga), who if we choose to put it simply, is the male variation of Ryan. They meet, and share a casual relation, and the arc you shall see is predictable and convenient. And when I use the words predictable and convenient, I use them as compliments, for most of what is around is that concerns itself with the matters of the heart are indeed that. And then, Mr. Reitman pulls out a gotcha moment, about which I shall only say that it is completely false and utterly bullshit.
Come to think of it, that is the nature of Up in the Air. It is one truth (Ryan Bingham, courtesy Mr. Clooney’s brilliant starry turn) surrounded by a whole lot of amateurish jabs at relevance and reality. Make no mistake, Mr. Reitman is a supremely talented hack, not given to the more obvious pitfalls of middlebrow sentiments, but a hack nonetheless who takes a more twisted route to achieve similar ends. The fluid and neat editing of the opening montage combined with beautiful pans depicts quiet brilliantly the comfort level of Bingham with this nomadic lifestyle where other people suck is just a case in point. Yet, Mr. Reitman feels the need to overstate his point, and ends the scene with Bingham verbalizing what the preceding imagery has already stated.
The film though is a triumph of acting, and it alone carries some of the film’s lesser scenes. Consider for example the obligatory nature of writing where the family is walking out of the rehearsal dinner, and some stranger so conveniently walks by mentioning there is a box left inside so that Alex could be removed just to let the family trio have a moment to themselves. Such a sequence betrays the shallow nature of the filmmaking, and had Mr. Reitman not chosen the perspective of the whole family, and instead started the shot from Alex’s perspective, the scene would have gained that much more truth. It is in these little moments that the compassionate nature of a film and its filmmaker is revealed, these little moments that make that lasting impression. Or consider when Jim gets cold feet, and Mr. Reitman tries to conceal the absolute ineptness by concealing it behind some kind of humor. Even if you convince yourself that Jim was looking for one line, as Ryan has been looking all along, the scene still reeks with artifice. Yet Mr. Clooney carries it through, with that vulnerability that reminds one of James Stewart. What’s more they even sound the same. Mr. Reitman populates his films with talkers and Mr. Clooney and Ms. Farmiga are two of the most naturally brilliant line-deliverers we have.
Still, Up in the Air, much like Mr. Reitman’s previous two films is jolly good fun while it lasts. If only you would not mind the intermittent dosages of pseudo-profoundness. I hear that the source novel had no such backdrop. I’m not sure, but if that were true, I believe Up in the Air has made a big mistake by attempting to lock itself within these times. Ten years from now, and nobody will even understand why those strangers were distracting us away from the tale of Ryan Bingham.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:38 AM
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
Director: Guy Ritchie
Runtime: 128 min.
Verdict: A passable detective tale, but an engrossing and surprisingly emotional thriller.
Genre: Crime, Action, Thriller
Let us first establish the facts. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was no more than an exposition device and was so enjoyable for that very reason. Of course, if you really apply any logic to it all, there would be only one way left for you not to call it all preposterous – that to assume the obvious, the obvious being that it was Holmes himself who grandly designed the whole crime. Some of the deductions were plain ridiculous, and their reverse engineered existence was quite blatantly apparent. Yet it is all good fun, you know, like The Hardy Boys for high school, and not exactly a benchmark of literature. You pick them up again, now, and you would find yourself hard-pressed to finish most of his adventures. Such is their nature, and their only feature worthy of any literary note was their subtly haunting atmosphere, which suggested deep within us the plausibility of the occult and the supernatural. And when Holmes brought forth his expositions, they almost felt revelations.
But why am I getting the feeling I’m degrading the literary, or even the cinematic value of expositions? The thing is, I’ve always been against expositions, but only about their artistic merit. Not about the entertainment and satisfaction they provide. You see, dear reader, an exposition is as gratuitous as a sex scene. Fun if done well and placed at the right time, but boring when it just hangs in there obstructing the flow of a narrative. Even though I believe that if your script feels the need to explicitly elucidate the nature and cause and chronology of a crime or plot then you need to scratch it all and re-write (The Matrix Reloaded, one of the worst examples of expository dialog), there sure as hell is a definite place and time for exposition, for if employed wisely this narrative device allows you to draw upon a wider array of themes while at the same time involving and gratifying the audience’s attention. And that definite place would be the detective film. Case in example: Byomkesh Bakshi. A great fun of it was the detective unwinding the coil. Come to think of it, it is the quality of the exposition that is the ultimate measure of the effectiveness of the detective film.
And thus, we put Sherlock Holmes against its exposition, and the result is it just about passes muster. Mr. Ritchie, as you would realize dear reader, is no more than a good scriptwriter with a penchant for flashy camerawork. His visual style serves no other purpose other than to lend a shallow bravado, so that it conceals his lack of any genuine visual skills. A simple test: Rake up the best filmmakers you can think of and along with Mr. Ritchie, ask them to shoot the morning traffic. I double dare you, Mr. Ritchie would be one who would need some kind of dialog to make his video engaging on any level. Of course, I wouldn’t know about the others you chose. Hitchcock once said – “If it's a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” As is the case with most of his theories, this holds most true for the detective film.
What was Hitchcock suggesting here? It is the establishment of facts. And this is where Mr. Ritchie (surprisingly not one of the scriptwriters here) loses it to a great degree. The details of the crime just do not stick for the exposition to work. Mr. Ritchie quiet unimaginatively translates these details onto the screen, capturing them in a quiet literal fashion. He goes through a scene of crime, and where in the books Dr. Watson’s narration provided for some sort of subjective details, which the final exposition drew leverage from by interpreting the same in Holmes’ astonishingly logical way, here those details scanned through the perspective of the film (narrator) just do not linger long enough to register any sort of impact on our memory. Mr. Ritchie just lets his camera roll, intercutting each object with a momentary flashback as seen through the eyes of Holmes, and it just doesn’t add up to anything. More importantly Sherlock Holmes doesn’t create a necessary enough diversion to engage us and make us believe, you know, in the presence of something mythical. The facts of the case just feel so inertly recited. That might have to do with the pace of the film, the medium-shot framing and relatively quick cutting, which doesn’t let us soak the atmosphere. Mind you, Mr. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, as we assumed so conveniently and as it now turns out so wrongly, is quite faithful in tone to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision of the detective. Mr. Ritchie only spices up the action part, but in his endeavor to rein in elements and the feel of an action film, he loses the serenity and calmness so integral to a detective case. A film ought to take up all the necessary time in establishing the scene of a crime. We need to look no further than Michael Mann’s Manhunter, a crime masterpiece, and how carefully he establishes the first scene of crime, and lets it install itself firmly in our memory. It is never the quantity of the events that matter; it is the details in them that define a case. Sherlock Holmes, just keeps ratcheting along, and that might cause it to be a lesser detective tale.
But it works, as a buddy film, as an engaging thriller, as blockbuster entertainment, and even as a charming romantic tale. Mr. Downey Jr. is one of our great actors, and he pulls a few straight faces from Tropic Thunder, and makes Sherlock Holmes all his own. I might not know of another actor who is so at home at being so witty, and one of the tricks Mr. Downey Jr. employs is the blank stare he throws, while unassumingly unleashing wisecracks or expositions. All work, because of him. He makes Holmes not a cold calculating rational machine, but someone capable of feelings. And when the time comes for the crime to affect Holmes personally, it contains a surprising amount of emotion to it. The principal characters – Dr. Watson (Mr. Law), Irene Adler (Ms. McAdams), Lestrade (Mr. Marsan) – are felt so strongly because they are played by good actors. There might not be telling chemistry between Mr. Law and Mr. Downey Jr., ala Pitt-Clooney, but their interplay has a subtle richness to it, which I hope is fleshed out more in the eventual sequel.
Mr. Ritchie’s London is obligatorily gray, and glum, and it is somewhat atmospheric. The one visual trick of note he employs is Holmes foretelling of how and where he would beat an opponent, and the kind of damage it would cause. It is a neat trick, especially because the film departs from the safe vantage point of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels (Dr. Watson), and takes up the more challenging perspective of Sherlock Holmes. It doesn’t work enough, but it still could produce fascinating results if employed in the right manner. By the way, why am I remembering Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow? Never mind.
Ah, I forget, the case, er, the plot. Lord Blackwood (Mr. Strong), a proponent of black magic, who has killed over five people, has risen from the grave. And he is out to change the world. Figure the rest out for yourself. You know why? Because next time out, Holmes is against Moriarty. Oh, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Just a suggestion: bring someone worthy enough to hold his own against the utter genius of Mr. Downey Jr. Brad Pitt, eh? I tell you, it has to be a star.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:15 PM
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Cast: Bin Won, Ku Jin, Hye-ja Kim
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Runtime: 128 min.
Verdict: Depends on how much you enjoy a pack of lies. I mean, a wonderfully lied package.
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
I don’t know, but what’s the surname here? I mean, do I call him Mr. Bong, like one of those thick accented smug 007 villains. Or is it Mr. Joon-Ho? A real silly point to be caught up on don’t you think? Still I prefer to be Elliot Carver for the day. And a note upfront for scanners: Mr. Bong is not a Bengali. He is a wonderful filmmaker from that most wonderful of all film industries – Korean – and I am still discovering the beauty of it. Give me a year.
Mr. Bong made the great Memories of a Murder, a wonderfully documented work of fiction. So fictional there are elements in it so hackneyed that they smack of the filmmaker’s helplessness when cornered by his plot, the only way out being the village idiot being run down by a train. That village idiot makes an entry again here, with his mother, and the whole pack of the filmmaker’s tricks in what is an utterly deceitful yet completely engrossing film. There is nothing in Mother that is true on the surface. I suspect it is a deeply cynical film, though the evidence at first might seem strongly against the contrary. Such is the nature of the formalism at hand that it entrances you with its beauty and freshness. In its freshness, there is nothing but the techniques of the long forgotten old school. Mr. Bong sure as hell knows how to lead his actors and choreograph them around a lie. They have little mannerisms, and they are surrounded by the familiarity of everyday sounds. Chitchats, or the rustling of shoes, or the air floating around calmly. Yes, a certain calmness abounds Mr. Bong’s films. And that his mise-en-scene during the initial establishing phase comprises wholly of slow pans and still-shots tells me that he likes this calmness, for this calmness is a lie. It is just the upper crest of a sick and venal society. On a glance it is all just ordinary. That is the world.
And in this world, Mr. Bong introduces another of his bizarre worlds of fiction. They exist amongst us, these people, but we never know them. In Memories of a Murder, we never met them, but we met his pursuers. Here we meet a mother and a son, the son a case of some kind of amnesia and hence retarded, and the mother a poor woman an acupressure expert. She has pins on her for everything. Even for making babies. I don’t know how that works. Can it make me look like Jacques Kallis? Oh dear, me and my fantasies. Never mind.
The son falls in a trap, and in this seemingly innocent town where a homicide is some kind of bi-annual event, he is accused of murdering a girl. The dead body is up there, not buried, but hanging on the terrace. It is a strange sight, and certainly one of the strangest in my time at the movies. It is not calling attention to itself, like one of them ghastly scenes in say Se7en, but in its simplicity, it is alarming. A dead girl body hanging over the terrace. It is one of the images of cinema 2009, bringing a tipping point of sorts within Mother. And here in Mr. Bong unleashes his audacity, and camp, altogether changing the established panorama. A moment of thrill, a moment of purpose, to uncover a possible suspect, and he chooses to underscore it with a trumpet. He as well might have summoned the drums and we would have loved it all even more. Such is the nature of Mr. Bong’s work – a fictional and thrilling world set in an ordinary world. The problem is, he doesn’t do much with it, except indulge in the revelation of the bizarre, which seems more artificial and less, you see, disconcerting. If you ask me to believe the schoolgirl even had to have sex with the homeless junk-picker, I would say that the disbelief is being suspended by its fingernails. It still is disturbing, because of the superlative performances, but the trickery and blatant lack of information is somewhat of an inferior choice if you ask me.
Ah perspective! That is what disappoints me, as Mr. Bong so conveniently switches from subjective to objective just to plain trick us. He doesn’t place clues, and instead resorts to hiding of information, and that too for lesser ends. If the means are mediocre, it takes the richness away from the ends. The ends seem hollow, all built up within Mr. Bong’s mind, and as Michael Sicinski says, an oedipal response to Memento. Be it known reader that the latter was entirely subjective, and hence for the most part wasn’t trickery at all.
Consider for example a pivotal moment in the plot, and what a mediocre choice of editing Mr. Bong resorts, completely betraying his lack of faith in us. The retard, drunk to his bones, is following the young school girl late in the night. He says to her something rude. She walks into a dark recess. He looks at it, and walks away. Out comes a stone, aimed at the retard, and the scene cuts. Later in the film, the scene plays again, but this time beefed up with more information. That is wrong. If Mr. Bong had chosen to tell us what the girl said, and then employed his edit, only to learn alongwith the film what the words in it cause, it would have been applause-worthy. And I believe it wouldn’t have diminished any of the plot’s intrigue.
That is the sort of formal choice that leads me to believe Mr. Bong is not as good a scriptwriter as he is a filmmaker. Here is a mother-son relationship, which in the hands of David Cronenberg, would have been gradually peeled away. Not Mr. Bong, and he resorts to sudden bursts of events, or in this case memories, to reveal the nature of the relationship. He doesn’t peel it away, he merely slices it away in one broad stroke. Reader, you might be wondering if I would choose to be a little bit clearer with my metaphors. I would love to oblige, and what I mean by slicing is that Mr. Bong resorts to strokes of convenience. Yet, he is the keenest eye for relationships. Not for a moment do any of the relationships here seem anything but real. In the end though, it is all strangely bizarre. The sort of fictional bizarre I prefer. You know, the Lynchian bizarre is some kind of academic/theoretical mumbo-jumbo that is just calling too flashy for my taste. Mr. Bong instead his sublimely poetic, and in his calm aesthetics, there is something that still makes it all believable. At least on a visual level, and even on the sensory side of things. Even a foreshadowing through the blood on the slicer (whose blood it is -> who committed the crime) seems not to abuse our intelligence. When the mother pulls out the pin and injects it into her thigh, and dances, you can’t help being sad and slightly disoriented. That means this is a master craftsman we are looking at here.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 2:45 AM
Monday, January 04, 2010
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer
Director: Werner Herzog
Runtime: 116 min.
Verdict: An absolute waste of time.
Genre: Crime, Comedy, Thriller, Drama
I thought I had missed something. But I had apparently not. And reader, neither is this a mad film, nor is it about madness. It might be about looney behavior, but we get those all the time. For starters, there is not one thing that is established/discovered/learnt about the titular character in the opening fifteen minutes that is not there in the entire picture. The script is nothing but a repetitive exercise in asking the protagonist, one Sergeant Terence McDonagh (Mr. Cage) to display the mannerisms of a nutcase. Sad part is, they are mannerisms pulled right out the Lunacy-101 manual. You know, like say a weird thing with a straight face, and then cap it with a loud laugh. Or pull out a yawn in between a line just to show he is relaxed. Or twitch your nose. Twitch your eyebrows. Or raise your pitch from time to time. It is a performance Mr. Cage has been faking pretty much in every other movie since, well, I don’t know when. And as for all those critics hailing it as the right-actor-in-the-right-role masterstroke, I believe they should endeavor to more informed and less hyperbolic film criticism. There is an actor called Tom Hardy, and there is a movie called Bronson, which is the real deal. The real madness. Here is an actor who has let it go, and not just put on a performance read out of a manual.
And as for Mr. Herzog, his film is dancing on the surface. There is no subtext, no second layer, nothing in the image that is to be felt, and everything only to be seen. He brags and smacks with perspective shots from a crocodile and a couple of iguanas, and a dancing soul gracing the scene of a shootout, and although these might be impressive, they don’t have any lasting impact. You see, that is the problem I have always had with Herzog the narrator. His images are quite often too literal for their own good, often causing to affect the life of the image. As a documentarian, when he is capturing, this is the very trait that lends him the awesomeness. And that is precisely what lets him down in feature films. He has made a funny film about a mad cop, and neither is the movie funny, nor does it seems it knows madness other than an academic definition of it. It is caught up between a perfunctory plot, and the unnecessary attention to it only gets in the way of spending quality explorative time with the titular lieutenant. Everything about the film is mechanical, and written, and nothing’s organic. The supposedly bad lieutenant is amoral, but he is amoral only in a patterned sort of way. He never assumes a life of his own, expect for a set of characteristics. There isn’t a single character that is even remotely interesting. Not the two-bit gangsters, not the sidekick cops, not the girl, not the dad, not the kid, not anybody. And if that was all intended, I believe, the film at least owed us an interesting bad lieutenant. It is a joke, intended as a big joke, a big weird joke, and that is all there is to it. It comes out though as a big unfunny joke. It is not risky. It is not fearless. It is not dark. It is just being calculative like that other film this year – Observe and Report. The ending is just silly. The lieutenant doesn’t change the entire film, not from moment one to moment last, but the script presents the epilogue as some sort of revelation. And if you think you have seen it before, remember Yashwant Lohar? Or remember Martin Riggs? Ah, Mel Gibson! Now there is an actor who can be, well, cranky. And give you the creeps. It is in those eyes and that scary smile.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:02 PM
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Cast: Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, R. Madhavan, Boman Irani, Kareena Kapoor
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Runtime: 180 min. (citation needed)
Verdict: Ha-ha. Ha-ha. Ha-ha. Meh.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Mr. Hirani is a filmmaker I used to hate, for he represented utter mediocrity of choices, and a preachy attitude that did nothing but rehash morals out of Aesop’s fables. I used to be disappointed for he supposedly represented our example of a brilliant filmmaker, when all he could manage drama and plot resolution barely one level above that of a regular television soap. But then, I don’t anymore. You see, we all are wrong here. You reading about this movie, and discussing it as some serious work of art, here and everywhere else, and me criticizing it with a straight face. Who is right? I speak to my better half, and explain my reservations about Hirani and his immoral choices. She exhales, and says, much like Hitchcock did many years ago – It is just a movie. And that is what it is. Mr. Hirani is not an artist, and certainly not the wise and enlightening filmmaker everyone has made him out to be. And if that were the case, David Dhawan stands right next to Stanley Kubrick.
So I reconcile, and as I enter 3 Idiots, a movie which I was sure I would hate, and which I now don’t mind at all. Mr. Hirani is simply anti-establishment. He doesn’t understand that his film is contradicting itself, and neither should we mind that at all. You see, dear reader, on one hand we say that competition and race is all bad, and is more importantly unhealthy. And this is supposed to be the competition that everybody is running in. On the other we say, winners do things differently. I don’t know, but aren’t we saying the same thing differently. To put it simply, Mr. Hirani is advocating the radical thinking of a winner while advocating against competition. It is stupid to whine against competition. It is like advocating for a socialist system just because you aren’t good enough to get the dough. What is 3 Idiots advocating but the pursuing of one’s talent? And what’s talent but the winning formula to success? But never mind.
3 Idiots at the end of the day is a funny film with a heart. There is a nice little buddy film, with likable characters, right down to the small ones (Millimeter), and that is always pleasant. Yes, I find the right word dear reader to describe the film – pleasant. A pat on my back please. Thank you very much. Coming back, the film is irreverent in a calculated measure too. And don’t bother if you have heard 70 percent of the jokes elsewhere, through mails, through anecdotal quips, through text messages, and what not. You know, like the stuff with pencil in space. Many of those. And the ending delivery sequence is utterly ridiculous. There’s a YouTube video and it is the film’s funniest moment, though I know not if it was intentional. The fact is Mr. Hirani is terrible with scenes of serious drama, and what his solution is keep punching with funny liners. As I say in my review of Funny People, humor has always been a defense mechanism, or in this case, a neat little diversion to keep you busy. The dramatic scenes just don’t stick.
But why am I still discussing it seriously? Is there anything to be learnt from this film? Not really. We already know humor works in Hindi films. Be it this, or be it No Entry, although the latter, mind you dear reader, holds no pretensions of enlightening you, and is instead cheerfully irreverent. What else? Ah yes, Mr. Khan does look old. The stuff below his eyes that I suspect has been done during post processing is patchy, and makes his eyes look weird. Apart from that? Oh yeah, that envy we still hold for the class topper. God do we fantasize stuff. And that Mr. Hirani has found a golden goose in that Munnabhai character. You see, after Munnabhai and Munnabhai Reloaded, this is Munnabhai Revolutions. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 12:45 AM
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Cast: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Judd Apatow
Runtime: 132 min.
Verdict: As dramatic a film with funny people can ever get. And boy, it is funny. And dramatic. And true.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
I don’t know, but there’s something about funny folks that has always struck me as, well, interesting. Humor, most times, is just a pretense. A sort of defense mechanism to walk your way out of an uncomfortable situation. You don’t ever want to be caught with your pants down, right? I mean figuratively. I believe I have experienced it from a lot of funny folks I have encountered. I have seen, the funnier the person, the larger is the façade, the deeper the outer shell. Underneath, I suspect, lay a little child desperate to open out and share his deepest insecurities. And humor is always what he finds. The only little channel. A funny man is not averse to make a fool out of himself. And people laugh. Because it is all a joke. Is it the case that the funnier the person the more desperate the cry for help? I don’t know, but the sad clown is such a big cliché. From time immemorial. I think there is a deeper truth to it.
Mr. Apatow is our leading funny filmmaker. Mr. Rogen, one of my favorite funny men. Mr. Sandler, I don’t like his films, but I do know there is an intelligent and a good actor somewhere there. Mr. Schwartzman, I don’t know, but his little unassuming figure reminds me of Buster Keaton. He is sweet, and his very sight, sort of a cross between a sorry figure and an instantly likable one, is gold dust for any sort of gag. Mr. Hill, well, I can only say I love him. He is a flawless comic performer. In all his films, there is not a funny line that he has said and I haven’t laughed. I think he’s brilliant. Folks, these are comic geniuses we’re talking about. Well, with the exception of Mr. Sandler.
And the thing is, Mr. Apatow doesn’t make a funny film out of them. To make one would be like cakewalk. These guys do it all the time. If the past few years are anything to go by, they seem to do it at will. Instead they endeavor to make a real film about real people, and probably inch their way closer to what makes that funny bone to tick so vigorously. What is sarcasm but a cerebral way to show-off? Don’t ever believe a liberal funny man, because a liberal funny man makes sense only as an oxymoron. Funny people judge, judge others and judge themselves, and often fall into a vicious cycle of self-hate and self-pamper. It is all complicated, a hugely convoluted inner machinery, and the only way it all makes sense is by making jokes left right and center. Jokes on others, jokes on the government, jokes on the media, and just so to keep the balance of political correctness, jokes on one’s own self. They run into a corner, and they fight their way out through jokes. Such is the nature of the folks within Funny People. These are good people mind you, victims of their own self.
There is a wonderfully written scene that highlights this predicament. George Simmons (Mr. Sandler), a movie megastar of woeful comedies, has been contracted with terminal illness. George is a lonely man. An aspiring stand-up, Ira Wright (Mr. Rogen), is helping him during these last days, writing gigs for him as they perform their last shows. They come to the doctor, who it seems hails from the eastern part of Europe. He looks like Bjorn Borg and the movie knows that too. He delivers the bad news about George’s condition. Look at their reaction. George expects something good to happen, but what he is disappointed. There is no miracle happening. You should see how he deals with the uncomfortable situation, by turning against the doctor and his accent, and bludgeoning him with jokes after jokes. Movie and cultural references galore. It is funny on the exterior, and upon reflection, sad on the interior. It is so sad it is obvious. You should see the words exchanged during their second meeting, the doctor and George. It is all quite remarkable.
There are good performances throughout. Right from start to finish. You deliver actors into real situations and let them improvise, and you get brilliant stuff. True stuff. Why? Because actors are people too, you know. They are at their best when they don’t need to act it out. As I always say, one of movie-going’s great pleasures is to watch actors interact. This is such a film, right down to the two little kids, who happen to be Ms. Mann’s own daughters. They are sweet, you know, and my guess is they felt it was just another day at home. That is the sort of atmosphere Mr. Apatow has built for what might be his most ambitious film. It is one of those movies that make you feel good, not in an artificial manner, but because you have just been in touch with good folks. That has always been the essence of Mr. Apatow’s films, the belief in our goodness, and he doesn’t need to construct a contrast (read Amon Goethe) to highlight it. Because, you see, that belief doesn’t come through craft. It comes from within, and in the Apatow universe, everybody is a good man. A little kid at heart. Just that they have themselves to deal with. You see that final scene between Simmons and Ira, across the table? In another film, there would be an obligatory hug and stuff. In an Apatow film, they just understand. The good doctor understands. The friends understand. Ira understands. Simmons understands. And often in our life, we understand too. We don’t need the words then, and neither do we pay attention to them. That is when that funny façade melts away. I don’t know, dear reader, but I am reminded of those great final moments of interaction between Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Oh boy, we tragic guys. Butcher’s hands, gentle souls.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 5:08 PM
Cast: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone
Director: Oren Moverman
Runtime: 105 min.
Verdict: Thoroughly uninteresting except for the question of filmmaking morality
I wouldn’t have ever reviewed this thoroughly mediocre film had it not been for the scenes involving the grief-stricken families that William Montgomery (Mr. Foster) and Tony Stone (Mr. Harrelson) visit and disclose the news of the death of their dear in the Iraq war. That is their profession and the film deals with their lives. It is a road film, I guess, and a buddy film, and it works on neither of the levels. That would be because of the hyper-histrionics of Mr. Foster, who I was might impressed with in 3:10 to Yuma, and who here thoroughly disappoints with a mechanically-driven grim dialog delivery. And because there is nothing in the script nor the movie that creates anything interesting between the two, always pulling stuff about war we have already seen a million times. Stuff like war anecdotes. Stuff like them being absolute socially inept nutcases. I don’t know. Mr. Harrelson does a fine job though. He has consistently been one of our most interesting actors.
What interests me about the film though are the scenes, where the two follow the standard operating procedure of breaking the news to the unfortunate families. The scenes are filmed just about brilliantly, with a hand-held camera, and except for Mr. Buscemi, they are all unknown actors playing the part. Within the opening hour there are at least five or six such families and all of them offer different reactions, each moving, and each tragic. And herein lays my question – When does filmmaking stop about being good filmmaking, and as my friend Srikanth asks, becomes a moral choice? I think the scenes are deeply effective, all of them, but with six of them packed neatly within the first hour, aren’t they the film’s money shots. Especially when the rest of it is completely uninteresting, and as a viewer, I had to fast forward the film to the next grief scene. They were all turning out to be like well done car-chases, each one of them surprising. Does that make the film gratuitous, because hey, there is a sex scene right at the start, that shows a lot of posterior, and I couldn’t really make any sense out of its inclusion.
The film neatly edits these scenes, alternating between the reactions of the two principal actors, who react with wonderful emotion (anybody would), and the painful display of the grief of the families. Fathers, mothers, girlfriends. You know, the film has got the entire range. I think that is deeply immoral. To rake up money and applauds out of grief is I guess a tad immoral. You want evidence? See the last shot, and for that matter every shot between Montgomery and Olivia (Ms. Morton), which evoke nothing except for the question as to when they will, you know, indulge in the good old-fashioned in-out. And the film ends on that note, both walking into her house, after having so neatly explained each other in the previous scenes to absolve the film and themselves of anything. Did I say I hate that?
Posted by Satish Naidu at 9:45 AM
Friday, January 01, 2010
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (voice)
Director: Duncan Jones
Runtime: 97 min.
Verdict: And here comes finally a science fiction that doesn’t overdress itself. This is Taxi Driver written by Ray Bradbury. A masterpiece.
Genre: Sci-fi, Drama
A friend of mine, Srikanth, who discusses films here with such immense insight, writes to me in his mail, which I quote here verbatim –
"Take the most powerful scene where Rockwell discovers the truth on earth. It's a shattering moment. Rockwell cries. Jones should have lingered on his face. Instead, he cuts to the exteriors, to the shot of the space vehicle staring at moon. One could say that his image was "telling" us something about loneliness. But his soundtrack contradicts him by trying to evoke. Rockwell can do that scene so well. Jones misses the opportunity. "
I watched Moon, a graceful film with such purity of heart, and goodness. This is a movie unlike most movies these days, movies that revel not in the art of story but in the craft of story-telling. I shall not describe to you any of it dear reader, for there are events in the movie that on paper might seem surprising, or as the Hollywood terminology holds, they might come across as twists in the tale. Moon isn’t concerned with pyro-techniques, not interested in impressing by shocking you. It is matter-of-fact, because it is good at heart, and because it is a compassionate film, and because it merely wants to understand the human condition at its core. As Thomas Wolfe said –
The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.
As I address Srikanth, I also address you reader, when I say the pain in the film is unbearable. I cried, and I cried. I cried like a little baby. Loneliness might be the most painful human emotion. But as I believe, there is one thing that I fear more, infinitely more. That is your life being snatched away from you. That your memory being stamped invalid. That your life considered a joke. I don’t know, but is there anything more painful? That is one of the reasons we fear death right?
The moment Srikanth talks about is when Sam Bell (Mr. Rockwell) speaks to his daughter, and finds a truth about himself. Sam is an astronaut working on the moon base for an energy company that is harvesting solar energy and hurling it across to Earth through Helium fueled cells. This is the future, you see, a future where energy is no longer a problem. Sam is on a three-year contract, and the fantastic news for this man stranded on this island away from his lovely wife Tess (Ms. Dominique McElligott) and his little daughter Eve is that is long stay is just two weeks away from completion and that he’s about to go home. The stay has been so long, and so lonely he is even seeing apparitions. I don’t know but I guess cabin fever can be caused even by living with your own self. And he meets an accident.
You see, dear reader, Sam is waiting for this to happen for three years. He has a sweet little picture of his wife next to his bed. His wall is covered with pictures of his two darlings. Imagine an accident that might cause to extend your stay, when every moment you long so dearly for your life. It is unbearable, when the events unfold, one after the other after the other, and when Sam speaks to his daughter and learns a truth about himself, you almost say it along with him – That's enough. I cried. It was impossible to hold the tears. And here the film so compassionately moves away from Sam, not choosing to be a voyeur and watch him break down so inconsolably in this most tender of moments, but displaying a large heart and cutting away into one of the most gloriously evoking shots of the year. It is a 90-degree anti-clockwise turn, and as Sam weeps, the film turning around Sam’s space-truck brings into view the home – Earth. Never in the movies have I felt the beauty of Earth captured so poignantly within a single frame. There it is Srikanth, and I guess if the film is working for you as Mr. Jones intends, I believe it is the absolutely correct shot. Mr. Rockwell can do the scene by himself, as he does in the entire film, but it is a moment where it is better to leave Sam all alone.
So, where are we now? That is the words Moon opens to. It is directed by Mr. Duncan Jones, who makes such an immensely brilliant film as his debut effort that I am reminded of Christopher Nolan. What’s more, this might be Christopher Nolan channeling out a Taxi Driver and a Philip Dick story. Mr. Jones is the son of Mr. David Bowie who, amongst many other roles, played Nikola Tesla in Mr. Nolan’s sci-fi masterpiece The Prestige. Yes reader, The Prestige amongst many other things, is a wonderfully subtle science fiction, for what is science fiction but one of literature’s most engrossing ways to ponder, theorize and understand the human condition. Moon is another one, and a great one too. I think though, the connection runs deeper, way deeper. I see Moon, and I surely observe an inspiration for the events at hand, for Nolan caused Tesla to invent something that might have established as the starting point, and suggested Sam Bell’s (Mr. Rockwell) predicament. But I also realize, in hindsight, that the very architecture might have been inspired too. I speak not in the terms of the three-act structure, for comparisons that way are futile and meaningless. It is just that what The Prestige presents as shocking twists, Moon presents as events. With great calmness, and nonchalance, I might add. Many critics might commit the mistake of overselling these twists. Moon is one of those superior narratives, where the story always takes precedence over storytelling. Of course, I leave it to you reader to choose which is the game you prefer – (i) a story told smoothly with no prejudice towards any special set of events, or, (ii) a story that is unfolded before you with great many pyro-techniques. I believe, the craft of unfolding a story is the genius of a few (Christopher Nolan, Alfred Hitchcock) but the art of narrating a story not with an eye towards cleverness but with a heart that feels with every word is not the prerogative of any. It could come from anybody, as long as the person feels the story. I think that is richer.
And as for the connections to The Prestige, narrative-wise, all I would want to suggest is the echoes that bounce off the principal characters, and us. We know Alfred Borden, who we knew was one, and who we later realized was two. And we know Rupert Angier. Sam Bell follows the Borden cycle for a while only to find himself to be Angier. But the significant echo comes in what The Prestige was about – the nature of an illusion. Moon is that illusion. It is so brilliantly structured, that we alongwith Sam Bell, have no idea of the time-frame we are dealing with. And in this structure is what certifies Moon as a real deal when it comes to sci-fi. It is about a man living in space, but it is also about the time he is spending, and how time is relative. We have no idea the unit of time that passes by between events. Consider for example the opening few moments as the credits run by, and we meet Sam, first energetic, then gradually growing weaker and weaker. What are we seeing? Are these clues? I don’t know. Sam wakes up from the accident, and neither we nor Sam know what the order of time that has passed is. Minutes run into hours run into weeks run into months run into lifetimes. It is all a lonely place, cut off from the world, and what we and Sam have been robbed off is the earth’s perspective of time. That we gain that reference only as we enter the Earth’s orbit, is a testament to the quality of the filmmaking, and the perfection of the ending.
Part of that illusion is Gerty, arguably the best robot since Kubrick’s HAL. HAL was cold, HAL was distant, and HAL was a reflection of Kubrick’s cynicism. Not Mr. Jones, and not Gerty. With its emotions being spelled through standard emoticons, Gerty is one of the great movie characters. Not too surprising is the fact that Kevin Spacey, one of our great living actors, voices it. There’s something soothing about Mr. Spacey’s voice, not patronizing but affectionate. There is a whole lot of ambiguity one might feel about Gerty’s intentions, but they would be ambiguous only if considered as a machine’s action. HAL was ambiguous because Kubrick had designed it as a machine. Mr. Jones calibrates Gerty as a human, with all the goodness. I think the individual names give the intentions away. One of the great scenes in the film is when Gerty sheds a tear through an emoticon. It is a heartrending moment, filmed and scored tenderly.
At the heart of it all though is Mr. Rockwell. It is not a performance that would have audiences stand up and clap (Tom Hanks in Cast Away), but it is a deeper and greater performance. One that elevates the narrative without drawing any attention away from it. Of all the performances where an actor is left by himself, this has to rank quite high in the list. Mr. Rockwell has to deal with a lot, and he makes every moment deeply felt. It is the hallmark of a great performance, like that of De Niro in Taxi Driver or Christian Bale in The Machinist, when little moments of the character, little gestures, little twitches of the eye, words spoken, come to you days after watching it. Mr. Jones frames it all so beautifully too. He shows the pain and the suffering that is crashing down on Sam, and when it becomes unbearable, he wisely moves away.
It is a little film, but it is profound and gentle. It is not a message film, like so many high-minded conformist stuff out there, but a perspective film. Through its protagonist it is angry. If there is a sequel you could call it a revenge story. It is a film not about big CGI, but simple old school camera techniques and miniature sets. But mostly, Moon is about us, fractured through time. How we envy our happy times, and wish to be lost in them. How, at the end of the day, we are all good. Reader, much like westerns, I might be a sucker of science fictions. As in, good science fictions. But I still feel no hesitancy in declaring Moon my favorite movie of the year that has just gone by. I think you should watch it, for many years later, it might be regarded a classic. And Duncan Jones is a name you should watch out for. His next movie, IMDb says, is a science fiction called Source Code, written by that hugely talented Billy Ray. How bloody exciting is that!