Russians are coming russians are coming
Classics, Comedy, English Movies, Satire

‘The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming’ directed by Norman Jewison

russians-are-coming-dvdcover This is a movie that you will not hear of easily and after watching it, you would wonder why…

This is about as good a political comic satire as you would get. True, the acting is woody and over the top at times but the storyline is funny and the over the top action seems appropriate for the mood of the movie.

A Russian sub runs aground off the coast of America, on a small New England island town, when the commander of the sub tries to get a closer look of his ‘enemy land’. Not wanting to create an international incident, a nine man contingent is sent to the island in order to secure a motorboat to help draw out the sub.

And that is when the fun starts…in spite of the best efforts (may I say comical) of the Russians to make themselves blend in, suddenly the island is in the throes of an irrepressible rumour – The Russians haverussiansposter invaded!!!

The movie panders to stereotypes, both of Russian and American, in order to bring out the humour but it works quite well. As is quite obvious, the story is about how rumour feeds off itself and how panic spreads by the mere repetition of the rumour. The sight of the hapless and bewildered Russians trying to make sense of it all in face of them being branded as the steamrolling invading force is incredibly funny. The American gung-ho style of meeting the invader head on becomes funny when they actually start to search all over the island for the enemy who were supposedly all over the place…

russians4 There is obviously a message in the movie, if you care to look for it – as to how stereotyping and propaganda creates caricatures of people whom who we consider as enemy. But the message is so obvious that you sit back and enjoy the comical satire and you wonder how the poor Russian are ever going to get out of this one!!!

Alan Arkin is the best character in the movie – the over-confident second in command who feels his English is top notch (the scene where he teaches emergency words to his colleagues is simply hilarious). He is the translator and the coolest brain in the sub.

I think that the thing to be considered is that when the movie was top10warcomedies_10 released, in 1966, the cold war was at its absolute peak, the time when Dylan was singing “Let me die in my footsteps” (about the government generated scare of Russian annihilation). This movie is about how senseless all the propaganda is and that, to me, is a brave statement to make. And the best way to make a statement like that is by humour.

That, this movie does brilliantly…




Drama, English Movies, Satire

Igby Goes Down directed by Burr Steers

20070423064402191 If ever you wanted to see Holden Caufield on the screen, this movie is it…

Some purists feel horrified at the fact that someone has taken the classic and turned into a modern story. I, however, feel that art must renew itself periodically, otherwise it atrophies. Especially when the portrayal is as beautiful and sensitive as this one…

Igby (Keiran Culkin) inhabits a world where he sees hypocrisy and duplicity everywhere. He is close to his father who now lives in a mental asylum and he hates everything else…Its a world that is coming of age but is already repelled by what he sees is the result of coming of age…

The story follows Igby as he stumbles from one relation to another, all the while keeping his humour and sarcasm up while he is gettingigby goes down SPLASH scarred…and his sarcasm really makes you go splits most of the times!!!

The movie is populated by memorable characters, from his elder  brother Ollie (Ryan Phillippe), a manipulative smooth talker, Mimi (Susan Sarandon), their mother who is a complex book all by herself, Rachel (Amanda Peet), the vulnerable mistress of his godfather D.H. Banes (Jeff Goldblum), who in turn is the classical alpha-male and Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), the hippie love interest, who in a fit of conformity betrays Igby.

08542-1 The acting by Culkin, however, to me, is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is his character and his acting that holds the fibre of the story together. He is someone who is sensitive and highly vulnerable but who hides it all behind a mask of sarcasm and callousness. The times when his vulnerability comes forth makes for some of the most memorable moments in the movie. His leave-taking was one of the most poignant parts of the movie, especially the scene with his father…

A quirky, sensitive movie about people who are branded outsiders, by themselves and by others. As I said, Holden Caulfield in modern day New York…

Watch this and you would take away memorable characters, great acting and a wonderful bittersweet feeling…



English Movies, Popular, Satire

Wag the Dog directed by Barry Levinson

wag_the_dog_ver3 A delightful movie about spin doctors and how they can be shaping our reality right as we breathe. And it is so funny and mind boggling that you fear that its true!!!For isn’t truth stranger than movies?

This movie is a cult-classic. And you soon see why…

The first lines of this movie sets the tone for what you realize is going to be quite a different movie – Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. What if the tail is smarter than the dog? It would be the tail wagging the dog!!!

The American president’s re-election campaign has run into serious trouble with a sexual misconduct allegation that is just about to burst the dam. So what would you do? You would call the spin doctors of course. And what would they do? Obviously create a world-shaking crisis that would over-shadow everything else and induce a panic-stricken population to rally behind its hero president (if you create it, you can defuse it – especially if its a fake event)

And the man behind the creation of the event – Robert De Niro. Who 66279-004-C54F3A8Ebetter to portray a man who is amoralistic and who does his spin doctoring as an everyday job. But since this is a truly magnificent event, who would he employ? Hollywood of course!!! in the shape of Dustin Hoffman. Its a world of people untroubled by the ethical  dilemma of any sorts – the only worry is of logistics. Truth and justice are words that would be met with quizzical stares by people here – people who run our world of policies and information.

So a war is manufactured and sleeper cells in news agencies are activated and modern information democracy does what it does best – create a blinkered dictatorship of news.

Problems arise and are solved and with each solution, you begin to gain more insight into how the world might really be working!!!

007418_25 Its funny but not hilarious. Its funny in a very terrifying sort of way, a combination of words that can be understood only when you are through watching the movie. And the feeling only grows towards the end…

But there are these moments when you realize that the movie makers are really telling a stark truth couched in a satire. You see shades of the American administration strategies over the years (The Bush years especially are pre-empted by this movie). And then something that was the coup-de-tat for me – the two spinners (De Niro and Hoffman) talking about arranging the Nobel Peace Prize for the President. I did a literal double take. Well, Obama’s advisors sure see the movies!!!!

A movie like few other. A movie that needs to be seen to be believed.

One thing is for sure. You will not be unaffected by this one.


English Movies, Satire

Capricorn one directed by Peter Hyams

capricorn-one Its truly a surprise that this is not more well known. Its one of the most exciting movie that I have seen – thought-provoking, good storyline, good narrative, great scenes, some superb action sequences. It might have been made in 1977 but what it portrays is even more relevant today than it was then.

The movie is about a mission to Mars sent by NASA, except that the crew does not actually go very far from the surface of the earth. In fact they are put in a movie-studio in a military base – as actors. And the whole Mars landing is faked. The reason for the plot and how its carried is captured well. However, a chink in the planning shows up in the form of a suspicious employee and he chances to be friends with an incorrigible reporter. Thus begins an investigation which the powerful ‘they’ try to thwart by any means necessary. A chain reaction starts which quickly becomes life-threatening.

The movie quickly moves into action mode near the last quarter when it becomes a horror story for the three astronauts. The flight and the chase (and capture) scenes are truly well done considering the cinematography technology available at that time. The story is well paced with the best bit saved for the last half hour. The story itself is taut and moves quickly.

Though compared to modern standards, it looks a bit unpolished but that is only when we compare it technologically. In terms of a story which is relevant and in terms of the kernel of truth that it puts out in the form of a fictional story, its bang in the league of ‘Wag the Dog’. Bothcapricornone1 in term of the bold concept as in the tautness of the script where you will find dark humour and grimness in equal measure.

The basic premise is this – Can a government pull of a huge hoax like this? The answer is in the movie itself – Yes. With the technology available even then and with a few clever manipulation by movie technicians, even the Moon landing could have been faked!!! In fact I found the reference to this movie from the Fox documentary on the fake moon landing theory. I must say, I was a believer after I saw the documentary. This movie just made it seem much more plausible.

A keeper for sure. And a movie that really ought to be much more well known.

Fantasy, Satire, World Cinema

District 9 directed by Neill Blomkamp

district9 One of the best science fiction movies that I have seen. The reason I loved it was because it had the same philosophy as the best tales of science fiction. Peel away the surface and you find a story that speaks not of tomorrow, but of today. The science fiction genre is just a tool to tell an attention grabbing, engaging story.

The movie is told partly in the form of a documentary that seems to talk about some event in the near past (something extraordinary happened, we understand, something not ‘approved’). And partly, the movie is told in real time. The premise is that an alien mother ship got stranded over the top of Johannesburg. The human expectations of finding something exciting (either salvation or doom) in the event (haven’t we all hoped for witnessing contact with extra-terrestrials?) is soon dashed when they find malnourished and ETs, decidedly disgusting in appearance on the ship who seem to be disoriented and directionless. They are ‘rehabilitated’ in refugee camps that soon becomes a cordoned off area, an apartheid zone – as clashes increase between humans and ETs. Zones become earmarked as ‘ETs not allowed’ or ‘humans only’ that does not take too much of an imagination to realize as being a spin off from the apartheid signs of ‘Whites only’ and so on.

As the ETs begin to try and get rights for themselves, protests are triggered all over the city with calls for removing the settlement. That is when a private MNC (MNU) comes to the scene to ostensibly help in removal of the ETs and plan their rehabilitation on the outskirts. However they have an ulterior motive, which soon becomes apparent and forms the core of the story. As the rehabilitation drive begins, our district_ninestory begins…

It’s a rollercoaster of a movie that can be seen as a action thriller at one level. For me, it never flagged in its pace. Till the end, you keep on guessing how it can end and if it can end happily. I loved the ending by the way. Lets the movie end with a yearning.

But what is really great about this movie is that it raises a lot of issues –  political and social without ever becoming in the least bit preachy. There are no speeches or highly aware individual. That most of are really pawns and can only do and understand so much is what the movie brings out. Small things shown in the movie make a big difference in the whole viewing experience – like the discrimination against the ETs that comes so naturally, the derogatory nicknaming of the ETs by the humans as ‘prawns’ based on their appearance, the involvement of private armies of large corporations (makes you think of Iraq), the dilemma of acceptance of people (in this case – species) who look and act differently, the unlikely brotherhood that can develop between people when they finally understand each other. All things that you can relate to easily.

district9-440x486 And because the ETs and the humans differ so markedly in appearance and language makes the ‘message’ of the movie even more apparent. And when the ETs show traits like love, sorrow and loyalty, which ironically ‘humanizes’ them, well, you understand what the movie is all about

It’s a movie that people who love a good story told differently will enjoy. It has a certain grim humour about it that goes with the mood of the movie. I love the movie for what it said but I loved it more for the way it said it.


Drama, English Movies, Satire

Jarhead directed by Sam Mendes

jarhead A movie that is more in the spirit of ‘Apocalypse Now’ than say ‘Saving Private Ryan’ –in fact, a sequence of the former movie is shown within the movie itself. The best scenes, the most savage scenes of this movie are the ones in which there is no fighting going on…the hell that war is, is brought out by the silent memorials to violence, the intense boredom punctuated by self-destructive behaviour, the fact that soldiers are obvious pawns in larger geo-politic games, the burning oil wells that gets us close to a vision of hell on earth. Perhaps the most emblematic scene in the whole movie is when at the end, when war is declared over, Jake Gyllenhaal says with in a rueful voice “And I didn’t get to fire my gun once”.

There are many ways in which you can watch this movie. At many levels, this is an anti-war movie. the pointlessness of the war and its violence is brought out powerfully. The effect that a gung-ho, macho culture inculcated in the marines, has on their perspective (especially their blood-lust) is another indication of the anti-war theme. The scenes of the civilian massacre and the scene of the corpse and the horse amidst the burning oil wells are terrifying in their power to kill the sense of that anyone can have regarding the ‘glory’ of war.

At another level, however, this is a movie about the psychological effect that the war has on men fighting it. Operating in a Kafkaesque world, they undergo behaviour changes, show signs of nascent insanity and constantly fight depression against their helplessjarhead-20051104113257330-000ness exacerbated by the breakdown of their personal relationships (and some of the breakdowns can be pretty brutal). You get a sense of their world as you  absorb the environment in the movie.

The good thing about the movie is that you don’t get bored. The movie intelligently provides the other view of the war – a war that is fought more by politicians than by soldiers, where a marine is a mere pawn to be moved across a vast desert chessboard…

A powerful movie with no over the top dialogues or scenes. The dialogues in fact are minimal which tends to increase the effect of the environment.

The feeling that you are left with in the end is captured perfectly by the voice over of Jake Gyllenhaal at the end – “all wars are different, all wars are the same”

Action, English Movies, Popular, Satire

Inglourious Basterds directed by Quentin Tarantino

watch-inglorious-bastards-online A quirky film with signature Tarantino plastered all over it. It is quirky, irreverent, absolutely non-formulaic, action packed both in terms of dialogue and actual physical action. And it takes a fictional look at World War II, a view that is sardonic, funny, taut and serious all at the same time. It takes a very talented person to make a scene seem all four at the same time. And by god, it has been pulled off.

The title takes its name from a group of Jewish-American guerrilla group that forms to give the Nazis a taste of their own medicine (entirely fictional of course). Except as we see, they become not much different from the Nazis themselves. When the baseball bat swings and smashes the skull of the Nazi officer kneeling, you are jolted into realization that the Allies were about as brutal as the frequently excoriated Nazis (for those who need facts to back this up – look up Dresden bombing). Especially when the Nazi officer refused to betray his comrades and replied a few seconds earlier to the question asked as to his reason for getting the Knight’s cross – “For Bravery”. And the next thing you know is the Allied soldier killing a kneeling unarmed man. It can present quite a paradigm shift.

The movie progresses via ‘chapters’, which take up different threads of the main story at different points of time, with the final chapter typing up all the stories. Much of the stories are made up of extended dialogues, the tautness of which never flags, even when the conversation is between just two people for over 15 minutes. The camera work and a sense of danger and possibility of sudden violence ingloriuous-basterds-affiches-L-4 keeps you on the edge. The German officer Hand Landa played by Christoph Waltz is both terrifying and charming to a high degree (and his presence overshadows everyone else, including Brad Pitt). His conversations with different people in the movie are truly memorable for their undertone of menace.

The setting, the story, the premise is highly fictional of course. This is no history lesson by a long shot. But you don’t go into this movie thinking of military logic. Nazis could not have been vanquished as stupidly as shown here (the climax though is a bit too much to take and for me, did take away some of the quality of the movie). But then, this is supposed to be a movie that you go along with the flow and enjoy the action unfolding on the screen.

It’s a hell of a ride!!!