Monday, July 21, 2014

Movie Review | Boyhood

As I was watching the final reels of Boyhood (a scene where Mason, an 18 year boy, is packing his belongings and preparing to leave his mother to study in college), I saw a middle aged lady sitting in front of me wiping her tears. Moments later, I was doing the same. We both were feeling heartbroken at the same scene, albiet for different reasons. The lady must have been reminded of the time when her son or daughter left to study or work, whereas, I was feeling nostalgic of the time when I left my home, my parents to pursue higher education. The situation's same, but the perspectives, different. And that's what is so strikingly magical about Boyhood. It doesn't matter if you are somebody's son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. You will come out affected, even changed, as you watch the film from a perspective you choose to. 

Boyhood, more than just a film, is an observance. An observance of a 6 years old boy growing up to become an 18 years old adult. An observance of what a mother has to go through to raise children. An observance of what a father means to his children and vice-versa. An observance of a family and their struggles, their joys, their sorrows. Basically, an observance of a life or rather, lives.

Filmed over a period of 12 consecutive years, Boyhood is the longest shot film in history of cinema. And the results are magical to say the least. You see all the main characters age in front of your eyes in a span of 3 hours. (Not what you are used to seeing in movies where a child actor is employed to play hero's younger self. Here, both the younger and older selves are played by the same actor(s)) To be honest, any amount of words will fall short of describing the beauty, the tenderness, the epic-ness of Boyhood.  A film so deft in its design, and so fluid in its rendering, that after a while you might have to keep reminding yourself that what you are watching is a fictional family's life captured on cinema, and not the reality of life itself.

Boyhood follows the story of a family whose youngest member, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is the central character (He is 6 when the story opens and 18 when it ends), though the film is not only about him. The film is also about his sister who herself grows from 8 to 20. It's also about his mother Olivia (Patrcia Arquette) and her struggles with career, men, and raising 2 children. Finally, it's also about his father (Ethan Hawke) who has divorced his mother and comes every once in a while, to spend some fun time with him and his sister. 

While all of this may appear routine or mundane to you, it is surprisingly the real strength of Boyhood. It relies on deriving beauty, joy and emotion out of the ordinary lives of people and not from any heightened act of drama (bread and butter for most of the movies). It's fascinating to see how from scene to scene, not only are there changes in physicality of characters, but also you will notice the transformation in their fashion, hairstyle, taste in music, and in general, perspectives about life.

It doesn’t matter which country, city or neighborhood you grew up in, you will associate yourself with Mason; and the twinkle in his eyes; and the countless hopes and dreams in them, unmarred by the cynicism of the world around him. Though, as Mason becomes an adult, you realize, Mason is different from what most of us are. As we grow into adults, most of us, somewhere, somehow, get lost in the transition. But, not Mason. He doesn’t let the cynicism around him affect his world view.  As his teen girlfriend put it “You are weird”. Most of us will try to run away from that identity. But, not Mason. His teacher warns him that his passion of photography isn’t going to take him anywhere. Most of us will pay heed to the advise and relent. But, not Mason. He decides to follow his heart. Perhaps, this is the biggest life lesson out of Boyhood: Don’t let the world around affect the dreams that you saw as a child, as a boy, as a girl. 

But having said that, DON'T lead yourself into believing that Boyhood is just about a young boy's dreams and ambitions. It's so much more than that. Boyhood is also a fond reminder of the bygone years of uninhibited joy, unwavering optimism and bubbling innocence, when we lived a free-spirited life unadulterated by the responsibilities and worries that plague adulthood. Believe it or not, but Boyhood is as much about parenthood as it is about boyhood or girlhood. If anything, it might actually be a more cathartic experience for parents to watch this film. To see your child grow up, learn from you and everything around, stumble and then get up and then finally, to see him/her depart on a journey of his/her own, could be both painful and prideful. In the end of it all, Boyhood is about growing up: be it a child growing up to become an adult, or, parents growing up to meet the needs of children and vice-versa. 

With Boyhood, covering so many spectrums of life, it's befitting that it has turned out be a film that also has wide array of emotions in it. So, it is affecting one moment, and uplifting, the very next; it's sad one moment, and funny, the very next. One scene where the father tries to explain his teen daughter about sex and contraceptives is particularly hilarious. Then, in a gorgeously shot scene on the streets of Austin, Mason and his girlfriend roam around carelessly, and then wait for sunrise on a terrace, is very reminiscent of Before Sunrise. I can go on and on, but it's an experience that needs to be savored first hand. 

It’s pretty evident Richard Linklater, the director, sees himself in Mason. He ventured into making films pretty young not caring much about education or a degree. I am sure, he would have faced challenges around him not very dissimilar to Mason –  working single mother, migrating from one city to another and a dissuading society. And there are stamps of him throughout the film especially in the long conversations that he has become so masterful at -- not surprisingly, considering he has Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight on his resume. Though, while in Before series of films he captures moments in time, separated 9 years from one another, in Boyhood he lets the time flow over the course of 12 years. And time, will itself do justice to this film, when several years from now, it will be referred to as Linklater's masterpiece. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Movie Review | Highway

Imtiaz Ali, before Highway, was only 4 films old, yet there's a brand of cinema he is associated with. A more right statement would be that he has become a brand in himself. So, I am sure people who went in to watch Highway -- including myself -- had certain expectations set beforehand. And I am also sure that all of those went in, came out surprised. 

Highway, a story of the beauty and a beast, without doubt is a significant departure from Imtiaz Ali's previous films in ways more than one: absence of an indecisive romantic lead, long use of silences, innovative use of camera, sparse use of songs. Even the grim, melancholic treatment of story itself is a far cry from the usual exuberance that his films emanate. Though this shouldn't be taken as criticism in any way. If anything, it's commendable of him taking this audacious route of trying something different when he knew that he is perfectly capable of making a money-minting film if he wanted to -- it rarely happens that Bollywood director relinquishes his or her stronghold to try something outrageously different. 

Having said that, I also wonder if being bold and courageous is enough ? Highway, as much as it is devoid of any of the typical commercial Bollywood affairs, it also (surprisingly) lacks in the writing department -- Imtiaz Ali's strongest suit in his previous films. Imtiaz is such a genius with his writing that he can be as good with his unspoken words (Rockstar) as he can with the profuseness of it (Jab We Met) but in Highway, the words -- said or unsaid -- fail to leave a lasting impact. The silences in the film, even though artistically and boldly attempted, don't have the rich nuance that it clearly tries to achieve, which in effect is mainly due to a weakly carried over plot of a beautiful, rich girl falling for a cantankerous gangster for no apparent reason (unless she is suffering from Stockholm syndrome). I am sure there're stuff that Imitiaz left on the paper, which explains why there are gaps in the story that he wants us to fill but unfortunately, there wasn't much on the table to begin with. 

I am not exactly sure if Alia Bhatt's character Veera suffers from Stockholm syndrome, but I am quite sure that Alia Bhatt herself suffers from "Geet syndrome" in the film especially in the light hearted scenes where her acting starkingly resembles that of Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met. Having said that, she is quite impressive in intense scenes. Her pre-climactic monologue is the high-point of both the film and her acting. Randeep Hooda is reasonably good in an one note character of the kidnapper. I wish, the director could have given him more to chew upon. Cinematography of Anil Mehta, as always, is exceptional and so is the sound design by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. 

All in all, high marks to Imtiaz for his singularly brave attempt. Unfortunately, that attempt falls just short of the quality that I was looking for. 

Pusher (2012)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Trailer Watch | Birdman

Anyone who follows my blog closely would know that I am a big fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Amerros Perros, Babel) and also that I have been keenly anticipating his next film Birdman (featured in my most anticipated film of 2014 which you can check here). Well, it turns out, my eager anticipation was not without any reason. If one goes by the below trailer, this is going to be more crazy and funny than what I had anticipated. Inarritu has till now only made dark, intense films -- all of them successfully. Comedy is a new territory for him, and he is certainly looking to explore it in a manner that is very non-formulaic and out-of-box. Combine that with an incredibly talented cast of Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and the crafty camerawork of Emmaneul Lubezki -- last year's Oscar winner and expectations go through the roof. Anyway, enough of my adulation.. check the trailer below and judge for yourself .. 

And by the way, keep an eye on this film for scoring multiple Oscar nominations. At least Best Actor for Michael Keaton looks guaranteed. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Movie Review | The Fault in Our Stars

On the face of it, The Fault in Our Stars may look like one of those countless young adults (YA) films that come and go without even slightest iota of impact. Yes, it's based on two young adults, but the similarities end there. It's a lot smarter and a lot wittier than what you would expect a YA film to be. I would go a step ahead and say it shouldn't be even refereed to as a YA film since it requires much more emotional intelligence to fully understand its nuances. I would rather classify it as a coming of age film, more on the lines of two excellent films -- The Spectacular Now and The Perks of Being Wallflower -- that have come in last couple of years. Yes, The Fault in Our Stars isn't as subtly emotional as the other two films, rather it holds emotions on its sleeves; whether to its own advantage or detriment, will depend on how you want to look at it. There's little to no doubt that the story plays more on fantastical terms where you have to believe the characters for what they are, and any effort to relate them to the world you know, might only bear disappointment. With that said, its a film that has a lot to say about life in general, outside the overtly sentimental love story at its center. But then, even though this film about two cancer-stricken adolescent teens in love with each other is extremely sad and heartbreaking to watch, strangely and to its merit, the film will leave you more hopeful and optimistic about life. And that, my readers, is the greatest quality of this beautifully crafted film, apart from one other great quality about which, I elaborate below.. 

That grimace on her inherently exuberant face, that pain in those pretty doe eyes, that smile accompanied by a stream of trickling tears, that vulnerability in her shy mannerisms and that tenderness of her husky voice, are all what make Shailene Woodley's Hazel Grace such a tragically beautiful character. The credit for making this film and this character immensely watchable should go to Shailene Woodley's adroitness as much as its creator John Green's deft writing. The story of two terminally ill adolescents who fall in love with each other could have gone anywhere, mostly in wrong places, but Shailene and Ansel Elgort (as extremely likeable Augustus Waters) ensure that the heart of the film remains at where it's supposed to -- as imagined by Green and the screenwriters. 

It rarely happens that a film so intentionally sentimental actually achieves its purpose. It will be difficult to hold on to your tears as you watch the film. I would suggest, don't even try. Let it flow. And as one of the characters says in the film "The world isn't a wish-granting factory", don't wish the film to be perfect on every count. Feel it, rather than watch it and you won't come out disappointed.