Drama, English Movies

Gran Torino directed by Clint Eastwood

gran-torino1 You really have to wonder where these movies come from. Who would have thought that the cult western hero, the ‘Dirty Harry’, would turn out to be one of the most exciting directors who could churn out one masterpiece after another…

Gran Torino is supposed to be the last film that he would star in himself. So while you are watching it, take a good eyeful of the legend as he delivers a flawless performance…

Like his other movies, this movie too has its share of unlikely heroes. Heroes who are not heroes because they can shoot from the hip, but heroes because they rise a notch above the normal humdrum when needed…

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a widowed Korean war veteran who is  bitter about almost everything – especially his family, clergy, his neighbours…and is also a cynical racist…

But life, as in all Eastwood’s movies, makes sure that nothing remains the same and no one remains how they seem to be…

Pretty soon, his life changes as the next-door girl befriends him, whosefilm_gran-torino brother had previously tried to steal Walt’s ‘Gran Torino’ as part of a gang initiation. He also slowly develops a fond relationship with the brother…

But life is never perfect, especially when everything seems to be going so well…The gang which had tried to initiate the brother, with its ego bruised now, begins to wreck the lives of Walt’s new found friends…

And how does Walt, the erstwhile legend of the wild west, counter this gang? You would be surprised. And that is where you are witness to the genius that is Eastwood…

In time, the climax would probably become of the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema…you realize that you have been holding your breath as Walt stands before the gang till the climax…

One thing about the movie that would not strike the viewer before seeing it and having heard the story is the humour. Walter has the dry cynical humour that you can absolutely associate with him. His grrr is absolutely outstanding. There is humour gran_torino_3in so many of the scenes but they never jar with the theme or the core of the movie. This humour is surely one of the things that makes this movie stand-out. It brings flesh and character to Walt. In fact, without the humour, the character would seem phoney…

And a review of this movie cannot finish without reviewing the way Eastwood looks in the movie. The wizened, cynical, gritty, tough guy who can take on street gangs but has private demons – this character was tailor made for Eastwood. He is a man whom you would turn for advice and surprisingly for his age, for brute strength. He has the look of a guy who has been toughened by what he has experienced in life and who battles his memories in private…and this look and his guttural voice is what carries the whole movie on its shoulder…the movie is made with one man in mind…

Watch this movie for well, everything…from the dialogues, the plot, the characters, the ending and yes, especially Eastwood…

A movie that would stay with you for a long time…and so will the song at the end of the movie…

And you would wonder…Slumdog won the Oscar over this???

 

 

 

Advertisements
Standard
shakespeare Bill Bryson
Book Review, Historical, Non-Fiction

Shakespeare written by Bill Bryson

bill_bryson_shakespeare Bill Bryson is the official Mr Know-it-all. And here he comes up with a book on Shakespeare, a man who generates as much controversy about himself as he does praise for his work…

Now, a book that tries to bring the Bard forward as a historical figure would suffer from a serious problem – the book cant be more than a few pages long!!! There is almost no authentic historical records of the man, save for a few fragmentary information – court records and such…

What the book does well is in bringing both humour and historical background to the theme. Bryson has a catchy style of writing and that helps the subject along as there is not much material to put flesh on the characters of the era.

We are introduced to the world that Shakespeare inhabited – a world of growing English imperialism, the golden age of Elizabeth and the golden age of English theatre but a world where life expectancy hovered around the mid-thirties, where plague was the scrouge that was all too common and the world in general was a place where you would sooner die of starvation than of any wars, which were all too frequent as well…

As Bryson notes wryly, the greatest achievement of Shakespeare wasshakespeare91 not that he wrote his plays but that he survived at all!!!

Great men are as much a product of their talents as much as they are of their times, usually even more so…Shakespeare born a hundred years earlier or later would have in all probability died an unknown death – previously due to lack of any avenues to show his talents, later due to the closure of all theatres owing a wave of fundamentalism (Puritanism). Shakespeare was indeed lucky…

In more ways than one, as we see. Many of the works of his contemporaries are now lost, men who were considered at par or greater in talent than Shakespeare in his time. His work was preserved by the diligent efforts of two men to whom history owes profound thanks.

We are taken on a tour of Shakespeares life, from his childhood to adulthood to his death. The problem is that much of its conjecture and not hard facts. Record keeping was a science that developed after the Bard’s days. We dont know how he really looked like (there are conflicting portraits), we dont know how he spent his days, what his likes and dislikes were, whom he really married, what his relationships were, his influence in his works, his views on the things around him – nothing to put a shape to him. We dont really even know in what orders his plays were written!!! We do know however that Shakespeare and his friends were terrific plagiarists!!!

globe With all that handicaps, its a wonder that Bryson is able to hold our attention for so long. Except for a brief part of the book, near the end part where the book drags under the weight of excessive details, the book is interesting. You get a feel of the world that produced the ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ and you get an idea what kind of a man Shakespeare might have been…

‘Romeo and Juliet’ was dismissed as too melodramatic in its time by some critics. History is kind to those whose work survive!!! Bryson also devotes time to talk about some of the fanatical researchers, thanks to whom we know what little we know of the Bard.

As for the controversies, Bryson is a believer and hence a defender of the faith. So dont expect an objective argument. That comes at the very end of the book and is not the central theme, so Bryson is obviously confident that the man existed in all his glory.

So, if you are not looking to get the meat of the controversy, and just looking to have a good tale told to you, a tale that reads like a historical mystery, then go for this book.

Its an enjoyable read…Bryson scores again!!!

Standard
the_fall_movie tarsem singh
Drama, English Movies

The Fall (2008) directed by Tarsem Singh

I had to write 2008 with the name of the movie because there are five movies of that name, starting from the 60’s…

the_fall_movie_poster The first thing that strikes you about the movie is the imagery and the colours used…even if you watch the movie on mute, you would enjoy the breathtaking play of colours and the incredible scenery – the film has been shot at some of the most visually appealing locations in the world. Each shot of the movie literally drips richness in colour…

The story? Its a story that is as much magical as it is real. Roy Walker is a stuntman nursing more than a physical hurt (which has seemingly left him paralyzed) and his only aim in life is to find a way to kill himself. Enter Alexandria, a young girl with a broken arm (from a fall, hence the name), who is one of the most endearing child artiste that I have seen. Roy starts to tell her a story, a story that becomes magical, with the tale incorporating pthe_fall_movieeople around them as superheroes and villains.

We gradually realize that Roy has another motive for telling the tales –  he wants her to get pills which he can use to kill himself. Accidents and deaths occur…But amidst all this, the story goes on…in the end, the story begins to reflect the real life emotions of the teller – love, betrayals, bravery…

There is nothing more that I can write more on the movie by way of the story. Its woven so beautifully with images and sounds that unless you are watching it, no words in black and white would make sense. The story and with it the movie makes sense when you are watching it. If its not a complete experience, its nothing…

the-fall This is a movie that can be seen as much as for the sheer artistry of the camera as for the wonderful story – a story that is at the end about surviving and triumphing against despair and the sheer power of tales. And watch it for Catinca Untaru who plays Alexandra.

I can promise you this – you wont come away unfeeling from this movie. You just cant ignore it…

the_fall_movie_image__3_ 2008_the_fall_005

the_fall_movie_image_lee_pace 2008_the_fall_006

 

 

Standard
ran kurosawa
World Cinema

Ran directed by Akira Kurosawa

ran01rv6 One is usually very careful when writing a review of a movie that you have heard of for years and which is generally considered a masterpiece. You are already prejudiced by what has been written and spoken of before by people who have supposed superiority on these matters…

I however, have tried to see this as objectively as possible, trying to drive out of my mind that it is a Kurosawa film i am seeing. Its not easy but i try anyway…

Its a film that is inspired by King Lear – in this case the story of the fall of a fearsome but ageing warlord (Hidetora Ichimonji) who gives up power and divides it among his sons. However he soon finds himself an outcast and at the receiving end of the ambitions of his two sons (he banishes the third, Saburo, when he opposes the plan of division). Humiliation and indignity follows…

He soon finds himself alone, defeated in treachery, his bodyguard killedcastleburnranev4 and is himself not killed because he is considered insane. Beset by horrors of the ghosts of his past actions, the fearsome warlord at the start of the movie becomes a helpless senile invalid, who regains his sanity at times only to fear the unseen ghosts around him and relapsing into the gibbering safety of insanity.

However the third son comes back to claim his father and take him back, thereby triggering a war of intrigue, which in the end results in the complete destruction of the Ichimonji family.

But what is a Kurosawa film if not constantly grey in its outlook. There are no black and white characters. The cruel becomes victims of cruelty, the betrayer is betrayed, the victim of yesterday mimics the oppressor. There is no moral absolute.

“Who is to be pitied?” is something that you wonder by the time the movie ends…the ones who are being carried to the pyre, the one who is ran2 left alone and helpless on the fort top or the one is who executed after her revenge is complete…and then you realize the answer is in the movie itself – this is the just the way it is or as the jester says – “Man is born to cry…when he has cried enough, he dies”…

There are some wonderfully complex characters – Lady Kaede, Kyoami and Hidetora himself, who gave flesh to the story, the theme of which is as old as ambition itself.

And what is a Kurosawa samurai film without the action? The film dwells on the increasing power of firearms, which in turn heralded the ran01 end of face to face combat and which foreshadowed the end of the Samurai as the  master of the field. As the climax showed, it doesn't matter who you are, as a peasant with a gun can kill you from afar. War, itself, as a force that destroys everything is something that is shown again and again – in action, in words and in parables…and the action sequences are incredible even by today’s computerized cinematic standards…

 

 

Standard
Drama, English Movies, Thriller

Zero day directed by Ben Coccio

Zero_Day_film Very similar to ‘Elephant’ in the manner of shooting the movie – in this case with the help of handheld cameras, Zero day is an eerie take on the Columbine High school massacre. The resemblance is made closer by the fact that the two gunmen even look similar to the original student-gunmen – Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris

When you read about the manner in which Dylan and Eric planned the attack – making video documentaries about their firearms, practicing shooting, making a farewell video etc, you find that this movie is faithful in its reproduction of the events. And it can be frightening in its detailing and in the complete dispassion of the two boys towards their actions.

Eric and Dylan filmlist.zeroday

Of course, movies made on this tragedy try to understand what the ‘reasons’ might have been, the reasons which compel two otherwise ‘fortunate’  students to undertake a cold-blooded massacre. Various reasons have been thrown up – from bully culture and social alienation to violent video games and music.

Where this movie stands out is clear portrayal of ‘no reason’. Andre and Cal (the Eric and Dylan of this movie) point out quite clearly that they just have to do it – to wake people up and to make a point against society, a society that they hate, a society that they would force to take notice of them.

A hate, that you realize, which has gone so deep that it has ceased to factor as a reason. All that is left is a blind lashing out at the world around them – a world they find to be unsuitable for them and which they have the ability to blow up – with easily available firearms.

The videos capture this zeroday3dichotomous world that Andre and Cal live in. Part of apparently happy family which take them out on picnics and give them gifts on birthdays and enough freedom to do what they want. Yet, right under everyone’s noses seethes this anger which after its explosion seems almost inexplicable.

Zero day does not do a psychological study of the possible causes but only mention them vaguely in passing. What it does do is show the outward signs – the double lives, the casualness about which Cal and Andre talk about deaths (including their own), the megalomaniac craving of their taking part in an earth shattering event, the rationalizations.

What you, the viewer is left with at the end is a sense of the utter photo_02_hiresalienation of the two, who despite all the dangers they represent, seem lost and vulnerable. You dont get the reason why (but then you are not  supposed to) but you do understand why Manson, in his interview to Michael Moore (in ‘Bowling for Columbine’) said, when asked what he would ask the two gunmen, replied “"I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, which is what no one did."

This is a movie that makes you think and leaves you with no answer but only with a sense of how lives are wasted simply because we choose not to look or wake up in time. Cal and Andre seem to tell us just that by their actions.

Standard
Romulus my father
Drama, English Movies

Romulus, My Father directed by Richard Roxburgh

final.indd This is one of the movies, in the middle of which, you realize, the book on which this is based has to be great. But the movie itself seems to be a little disjointed and lacks the punch to make a big impact.

Everything about this movie just seems to be on the cusp of being great, except they invariably seem to miss the mark somehow. You wait for the punch. It never comes. The acting is good but not great. The story told has its powerful moments but you somehow feel that something has been missed, some thread not connected…

This movie is an adaptation of the book “Romulus, My Father” written by Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita, about his father and his attempts to raise his son (Raimond) agaisnt all adversity – including a increasingly unstable wife, betrayals, economic ruin and mental illness. In the midst of all this, Raimond is exposed to varied experiences and grows up much beyond his years, experiences including caring for a half-sister who is eventually abandoned, watching his mother become a stranger, caring for himself when he becomes all alone.

It is a touching story of survival and of the human spirit conquering allromulus-my-father-5 obstacles. Except, as I said, before, you feel that something vital has been lost in translation. Even the great acting by Kodi Smit-McPhee (who plays the child Raimond) and good performances by Eric Bana and Marton Csokas are not enough to lift the movie.  You just don’t seem to connect emotionally, though at many times, you get close to it…that’s the whole problem with the movie. You want to like it, but it you just about cant…

One thing for sure, it has whet my appetite to read the book. Should be a good read…

 

Standard
bang bang you are dead
Drama, English Movies

Bang Bang You’re Dead directed by Guy Ferland

2003820009939811262_rs This is an honest and brutal look at the culture that breeds the tragedy like Columbine. This movie shows that when we mourn the tragedy, we should mourn not only the victim of the shooting but also the one who shot them. Which is difficult. Which is where the story that is told in the movie comes like a paradigm shift.

Its not that movies about ones who shoot have not been made. But somehow, I have always found them to portray them as either stereotyped isolated, depressed, video-game addicted teenagers who take out their angst or perversely they have been portrayed as somehow ‘cool’.

This one is different. This one shows what happens behind the curtains, so to say, which makes them take up the gun and kill without thought for the consequences (or inspite of them). It is easy to stereotype what we don’t understand and what we fear. This movie tries to break it and is largely successful.

Trevor (played by an intense Ben Foster) is a student who is reviled and feared since he threatened to blow up the football team – except the bomb he used was an intentional dud. As the story progresses, we unravel why he turned from a model student into a loner who is 24660372 described by the student community as dangerous and who is feared by the parents of the students who see him behind every conspiracy…all symptoms of an unknown fear…

The reasons is the an alienation born out of a culture that demands conformance to a certain clique or sub-group. If you don’t belong, you would be a loner. Which is when you may get bullied or worse. The  result are seething teenagers with no outlet except the obvious one…

The climax of the movie is well made, when Trevor plays Josh in the play “Bang Bang you’re dead”, whose life is eerily similar except Josh goes over the line and Trevor doesn’t…which is what people forgot…

The ending is idealistic as well, since its very seldom that the system that is portrayed in the movie, gives the troubled teenagers a chance to be understood..but a teacher like Val Duncan is also idealistic, whicrbang_bang_youre_deadh is not to say that it doesn’t happen. Though I found the positive ending appealing.

At the end I was heavily reminded of something that Marilyn Manson said in the documentary “Bowling for Columbine” when asked what he would have said to the teenagers who perpetrated the massacre at Columbine. He said “I would have listened to them…something no one did”

Listening is what this movie teaches us…listen…

Standard