captain phillips
Drama, English Movies, Recently Posted

Captain Phillips – Subtle, gripping and surprisingly poignant

Captain Richard Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people

Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America

Captain_Phillips_poster Initially, I admit, I was a bit reluctant to watch the movie. For a couple of reasons – post the complex and sensitive ‘Syriana’, it has been tough work   finding a portrayal that was is not either a self-pitying American version of white man’s burden or an out and out macho version of how American military goes about its business. Though thankfully, movies like Rambo have moved out of fashion. Secondly, the theme seemed like one where there will be quite a bit of action – though with Tom Hanks in there, I was sure it wont be of the Bruce Willis and Nakatomi Tower variety. More like the cat and mouse variety, I reckoned

Well, I can say that I feel lucky that I was persuaded to watch Captain Phillips. In its short running time, it was gripping and surprisingly subtle, with the best acting, probably, not coming from Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips but Barkhad Abdi playing Muse, the Somali pirate captain. At the end, it leaves with you with a feeling of having watched a well made, well balanced movie. It also leaves you with an ache you cant shake off. Continue reading

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Book Review, Recently Posted, Science fiction

Old Man and the Wasteland written by Nick Cole

 

"Can you let go of what is gone? I think at first I felt that I could not go on. The things I lost were too painful and I could not imagine a life without them. I remember feeling awful. All the time. But I cannot remember when I changed. When I thought of salvage. When I thought of what was today, and not of what had been or what was lost "

 

Old Man and the wasteland by Nick cole

 

What happens when you take Hemingway's age old classic about an old man fighting alone against nature and adapt it to a dystopian future? You get "The Old Man and the Wasteland"

In the hands of Nick Cole, this is a story that you just cannot put down…

In an future only a generation away, an apocalyptic war, most probably nuclear, has laid waste to everything. Everything that man takes pride in – his creations of steel and brick, his civilization, the technologies, communication systems all have been destroyed and what is worse – has faded away to forgetfulness. People in the book actually marvel looking at freeways and flyovers – wondering whether its their own species who had built them.

All that is left now for scattered survivors to do is scavenge. Things that people a generation ago took for granted – steel, tinned food, worked metals, electronic parts, batteries have now become more precious than gold ever was. A man's worth is measured in how much scavenging he can do. A man's reputation is built on the value of the scavenge he can bring back. The hunter-gatherer turning full circle to scavenger..

Nick Cole brings alive this frightening world. The reader is never told directly what has happened and why things became the way they did. We are just put bang in the middle of the reality, the present. Everything is told from the perspective of the old man, who is trying to survive in the terrifying present reality while still holding on to vestiges of a very different past, fast fading. All we get are flashbacks from the memories of the old man, a common young man at the time of the apocalyptic disaster. The horrors and the helplessness of the time when everything familiar and comforting – society, government, geography, technology broke down, never to come back, is told to us in short flashes of memories. These are memories that still haunt the Old Man but he has learnt to live with them and even use them for scavenging. We are left to piece together what might have happened. And because he is one of the last people around who still remembers something of the life before, the reader is able to relate to him more.

Its a world that is beautifully created, if beautiful is a word we can use for a desolate dystopian world. Man has reverted back to his primitive ways, in the background of crumbling skyscrapers. This is a world that can lend itself to many clichés, but in the hands of Nick Cole, this is a breathing, living world with nameless horrors lurking at every corner.

The old man, like in the Hemingway classic, has a point to prove. To himself and to the world. That he still has it in him – to be useful. That he is not cursed to failure. The old man in "Old man and the sea" took to the sea. Here the Old man takes to the wasteland.

And the Old man takes with him his favourite book – a tattered much used "Old Man and the Sea", a story that is his most prized possession, a story that he hopes he would be able to fully narrate to his granddaughter one day.

Through the Old Man, we see the world as it has become. As he pushes further than anyone from his village has ever gone, he meets a world that has completely broken down in half a century. From the motel owner to the savage band of cannibals right down to the end where a soldier had made his last stand, the old man goes and sees and we see with him, a world that seems familiar as if in a slow nightmare. The reader, along with the old man, struggles to retain their senses. The powerful writing of Nick Cole ensure that we constantly stay on the precipice. The small parallel story of the wolves pack pursuing the Old Man and the last stand of the pack's leader is a nice touch – giving a sense of universal struggle for survival

A bit of an unusual ending does take away some of the perfection of the story but its a small blip. Overall, as the ending ends in a happy one (though I would have preferred a more open ended ending), you put down this book wanting more of the Old Man. Nick Cole has created a character that will stay with you a long time – a everyday man caught in an alien world trying to make the best of what he has. I think we would all relate to that at some level. And that is the triumph of the book – "The Old Man and the Wasteland" is a familiar book in an utterly unfamiliar world.

Highly recommended!

 

 

"I want to tell my granddaughter the lesson of the book. The lesson that they can beat you, but they cannot defeat you. I must tell her that. "

Btw, I have to thank Amazon and its Kindle for the book. This is not a book that you can get in a bookshop easily and certainly not at a price of $0.99! The low price enables experimentation with new authors and then you realize that there is huge choice of good stories out there, independent of what publishing houses promote.

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Drama, English Movies

Silent Night directed by Rodney Gibbons

 silentnight (1) This movie, for me, is like “Dogpound shuffle”, a gem almost completely unknown generally. A movie that I saw on TV on a delightful channel called Hallmark (which stopped being aired long time back) way back in middle school and a movie that I craved seeing ever since. Internet finally came to my rescue and I was finally able to get it on my hard drive…
 
There is a certain appeal about movies that play out in a room or a house and dont use outside locales (the best case in point being “The Man from Earth”). That is because you have to rely on intelligent and taut scripting and need to have completely fleshed out characters to hold attention. You more or less rely completely on conversation to make the story.
 
Right from the first frame, you realize that this is going to be a dramatic movie. The scene of  Elisabeth Vincken (Linda Hamilton) trudging on the snowy wastes of a forest tugging along her son Fritz Vincken (the narrator), the landscape littered with wrecked tanks and dead soldiers, makes you take notice…

It is 1944 and Elisabeth Vincken is a German mother with a young son  who goes upto the family log cabin in the forest, which you realize is the theatre of the Battle of the Bulge, ostensibly to get to a safer place. But she has a deeper reason, which is revealed later…

 

 

 

 

 

The drama starts when their cabin is invaded first by three American soldiers, one of whom is seriously injured, followed soon after by three Germans. Events take such a turn (which it would be a spoiler to reveal!) that Elisabeth comes into a position where she is able to broker a temporary truce between the two parties so that they l9eave their weapons outside. It is naturally an absurd position to be in, in the middle of World War II and the soldiers are naturally incredulous at the situation but as it happens, it is something that they decide to abide by…for the moment…and they settle down to celebrate a very unusual Christmas
 
This is when the movie really comes into its own. The characters are so life-like that you begin to understand the personalities of each within a few minutes. The situations are realistic and makes the story move along at a clip. Mutual suspicion (after all you are supposed to be killing each other!!!) slowly starts turning into curiosity and later even grudging warmth.
 
The basic attraction about the movie cannot be understood unless the movie is watched since its all in the dialogues and the reactions of the different characters thrown together in this unusual situation. The Silent_pop1 atmosphere is always laden with taut tension (with the threat of things getting out of hand any time) and nervous camaraderie as everyone, over the course of the night, begins to understand a little bit of the other.
 
The whole story is about something very basic about human nature – we are as easy to be at each others throat as to be sitting around a table eating together, a paradox. And this simple fact is beautifully captured. At the end, after a dramatic ending, you wonder whether thats not the best way to defuse all wars – make them all sit around a table for dinner!! And yes, I loved the ending – completely went with what you would have expected from each of the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, if you were wondering at the outlandish situation (as i did), you would be pleasantly surprised to know that it is in fact a completely true story!!! This is one of those “happens only during wars” kind of story…and the fact that it is true makes it all the more compelling.
 
 
This is one gem of a movie that is difficult to find but it is one that is for keeps. Somehow my movie library seems complete with this…
 
Silent_pop5

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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…

 

 

 

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World Cinema

Fateless (Sorstalanság) directed by Lajos Koltai

Fateless_poster_405x571 A Holocaust movie based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, who wrote the screenplay…

Before I started this, I felt that I have had enough of Holocaust movies . For anyone who has been fed on Hollywood fare for a long time, a natural impulse is to compare any concentration camp movie to Schlinder’s List, which, as I have realized in time to be melodramatic and a one-sided portrayal (Hollywood would make us feel that only Jews died in the camps). The overdoing of the topic has unfortunately given license to Israelites to claim the mantle of victims – so that they can do to Palestinians what Hitler did to them.

But a few minutes into the movie, you realize that it is different. It has a quietness to it, almost an indifference to it, as if you are watching it from a distance. There are no gunshots, hectic action or any bravado. It populated by people who don't really know what's going to happen next, who feel that nothing terrible can really happen, believing in their own luck and following the herd – something that is all too human and completely real. The father is called for labour camp and is given a farewell dinner. No one can really fathom where he is going, beyond a vague notion of dread.

This is a movie that is almost a quiet reflection of how people behavefateless during times of unimaginable horror – survival by any means for those who are caught in hell and denial by those on the outside.

For me, the most beautiful part of the movie is the last quarter, when our protagonist comes back to his homeland, a home that has changed and not only due to the bombed out buildings. The movie before this is about how different people try to survive – some by ruthlessly practical, some by having a dream (like walking on the streets he has left behind), some by turning to religion and some by compromising. Morality and ethics, construct of a peaceful society ceases to exist in the face of extermination at any moment. In the midst, flashes of humanity sometimes sparks, if only for a few moments…

fateless-6 The last part brings to mind the last part of “All quiet on the western front”. A person who has suffered something that is beyond understanding, realizes that outsiders can be curious, be in denial or be sympathetic, all without ever understanding. The outsider expects explanations in normal day-to-day terms, which the insider is incapable and ultimately unwilling to provide.

György realizes that he has to come to terms with it himself and has to try to find a ‘future’, as he is advised by all those who keep saying that its ‘all over now’. Everyone wants him (and by reflection themselves) to forget what has happened and look ahead. The fate of the victims and survivors…

What you take away from this movie is the feeling that there is no point in pointing fingers at those who ran the camps. We are betrayed as much by our own people (the camp overseers, the policemen whofateless2 rounded up the Jews were all compatriots) as much by the invader. The greatest criminal is the art of forgetting that is perfected once the crisis is over.

The film is shot in beautiful chrome and has some stunning camera-work. There are not as much words spoken as emotions generated by the lights and shadows. You realize that sometimes words are truly insufficient to make the  mind grasp – we are left with only visuals that can penetrate.

A narrative that is a commentary on how we grapple with something we don't understand and which we are then unwilling to remember, unless we mythologize and glorify.

The drowned and the saved sometimes share similar fates…

 

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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…

 

 

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waltz with bashir
World Cinema

Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman

thumb_waltz_with_bashir1-1 How do you show war – with all its lunacy, its waste, its human cost  both for the victors and the survivors? You can try to be visceral and make a heroic story of it – like “Saving Private Ryan”, but that leaves you feeling a bit hollow, as if the complete tale has not  been told. You can try to juxtapose grim action and dark poetic – like “Thin Red Line”, which leaves a deep impression but its too real and too visible. The best visual masterpiece that combines everything that can be said is to my mind “Apocalypse Now”.

But once you see “Waltz with Bashir”, you realize the handicaps and the restrictions that a purely human actor oriented war movie puts on the creative narrative. War is a hazy thing when it passes – for both sides and both make up memories to explain the events. War is too traumatic for objective storytelling. Those scarred by it would take refuge in their minds and colour the events so that they can move on.

This is why you need a medium of storytelling that allows you to bewaltz-with-bashir-2 (1) fluid and can give dimensions to a story that a camera focussed on a human being can’t.

“Waltz with Bashir” is the director Ari Folman’s attempt to come to terms with his own past, to exorcise his own ghosts. He served in the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) during the 1982 Lebanon War which saw the horrific massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The story begins with Ari’s colleague complaining to him about a recurring nightmare that he has which has to do with his experience in the war. To his surprise, Ari cant remember anything about his own experience. Its as if its completely been erased from his memory.

So begins his quest for finding the truth – what really happened. And piece by piece he begins to unravel the facts until finally he comes face to face with the horrific realization of what his recurring vision means. Its a journey that lets the viewer go along with Ari as he goes around the world to dig inside his own mind. It never lets you get ahead, with the result that you find out at the same time as Ari…

waltz-with-bashir4 I started this post by talking about the dynamism of the medium. I don’t think story would have the same impact if it had human actors and shot on camera. It would have seemed too real. The magic of this movie is that it could move seamlessly between visions and reality thus giving a surreal feel to the story. The violence and the madness depicted in animation gives a deceptive look of lesser intensity until the scene explodes with savage intensity. Seeing an animated scene that has its roots in reality can be quite disconcerting, hence the magic. The scene where the soldier dances a mad waltz to the tune of his gun firing in front of the fresco of Bashir could not have been replicated so effectively by a human actor. It would have seemed too fantastic. Here it fit the pattern. The last devastating truth, the wails has the danger of being clichéd in a normal cinema. Here they tear at you…

The final minutes of actual footage of the massacre gives a jolt to the viewer. It was the best ending that could have been given to the movie. In the end, reality does matter. And the people actually died, whether we show with human actors or whether on the computer.

I liked the honesty of the movie. Some people have called it simplistic waltzbashir_450x250 and even propagandist in its politics. The first part is true, to the extent that it did not look into the politics and confined itself to the human cost. It is after all, a man’s search for meaning. As for the latter accusation, perhaps they didnt hear the reference to the SS in the movie. Its good to see an Israeli movie referring to Israeli action akin to that of an SS. The candour is refreshing.

There are many reasons to watch this movie – for its brilliant storytelling, for the innovative medium, for its exquisite imagery and for a great journey into the mind of those who get stuck in war. But maybe you would want to watch it for the what it tries to tell…

 

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