Monday, October 27, 2014

Movie Review | Birdman

Having loved/liked every film that Alejandro González Iñárritu has made till date, it was but obvious that I was awaiting Birdman with childlike enthusiasm and eagerness. One fine day about a decade back, I had stumbled upon Amores Perros, Iñárritu's debut film, and was blown away by its rawness and the rest as they say, was history. 21 GramsBabel, Biutiful; film after film he kept impressing me, though, I have to confess, my fondness of his films was on a declining curve (I loved 21 Grams, and just about liked Biutiful). Not to mention the fact that all his films were similarly themed -- based on human suffering, in general -- and were showing signs of weariness. So, when it was announced that he was doing a dark comedy next in the form of Birdman, it immediately re-kindled my expectations and re-energized my hopes of seeing something uniquely entertaining that I had known Iñárritu for.

Birdman is about Riggan Thomson, who once played the superhero Birdman, but now is in washed-up state, and wants to reinvent his career by directing and starring a play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The play is produced by Riggan's best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and stars Riggan's girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict, is also part of the production as Riggan's assistant. But in the days leading up to play, the lead actor of the play gets injured and is replaced by a famous method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who himself is supercilious and high-headed. As the rehearsals carry on, Riggan is faced by one challenge after another; but primarily he has a difficult time adjusting with Mike who taunts him, and shatters his inflated ego. Whether he's able to recover or goes further down into the slump is what you have to see in this darkly humorous and satirical tale.

Bristling and bursting with raw energy, Birdman plays around with the art of movie-making as you know it, and gives a new dimension to it. It surprises, challenges, and dazzles; sometimes all at once. It is zany, exhilarating, and an experience that you, in all likelihood, would have never had at cinemas. A caustic, and darkly funny look at the instant fame culture and celebrityhood in this day and age of facebook and twitter, it mocks at those who are prisoners of their own image.  But that's not all. Birdman -- if you can guess from its title -- is sharply critical of the comic-book movies, and their makers/actors, who have abandoned  any real creative and artistic endeavorment for the sake of quick and easy money and fame.

Iñárritu and his maverick cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezky (Oscar winner last year for Gravity) create a sort of magic by which the whole movie from start to finish appears to be one single take. The camera, in Birdman, is a character in itself, flowing seamlessly with the story, wherein, sometimes it acts as the point of view for us, the audiences, and at other times, it appears to be residing inside the head of the characters -- mostly Riggan's. To add to this whole effect of razzle-dazzle, the background score is solely made up of drums, again completely synchronized with the story and its several moods (Note: I didn't use the word scene since technically there's only one). Irrespective of the techniques that were used to create this effect, the results are astounding (and in all likelihood it will be rewarded with Best Cinematography & Best Original Score come Oscar time).

As much as Birdman is a technical marvel, it would have been rendered a soulless piece of beauty without the extraordinary work of its actors. There isn't a single frame where actors miss a beat, as if they are not acting, but rather performing to the tunes of  synchronized rhythm of an orchestra. And the leader to this group of chameleons is Michael Keaton, who in his career best turn as confused, frustrated, egotistical washed-up actor is thrilling to watch. Edward Norton, who plays his nemesis, is equally good, if not better. It is unfortunate that we had to wait so long to see both of these great actors in something that truly justifies their talent. Among the actresses, who don't have as much to do as their male counterparts, Naomi Watts is brilliant and shows again why she, at 46, still remains one of the most sought-after actresses for high-prestige films in Hollywood. Arguably, she steals every scene (alas, there aren't many) she is in. Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough are all good. 

Whether it be the innovative use of camera and music, or the stupendous performance of its actors, or just as a completely different movie-viewing experience, Birdman gives you several reasons to not miss it. So, in spite of a climax that might leave you slightly befuddled -- I found it interestingly complex  -- I highly recommend this once-in-decades cinematic experience.  

Looper (2012)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Movie Review | Haider

After making two excellent films (Maqbool, Omkara) based on Shakespeare's plays, Vishal Bhardwaj takes a third shot at it, and this time he adapts what is considered as Shakespeare's greatest play, Hamlet. Adapting a Shakespeare play into a film is a difficult task in itself, but then trying to give the play an Indian perspective -- a Kashmiri perspective to be precise -- becomes doubly challenging. With Maqbool and Omakara, Bhardwaj managed to retain the essence of the respective Shakespearian plays, while he wiggled room for what were inherently stories rooted in Indian hinterlands. The craftsman that Bhardwaj is, and the depth that Shakespeare's plays carry, it's no co-incidence, both Maqbool and Omkara are his best works till date.  So the expectations with Haider automatically surge, but does Bhardwaj manages to weave the magic third time ?

Like in any Shakespearian tragedy, Hamlet (and Haider) has a deeply flawed character at its center, who is plagued by a deep sense grief and a desire for revenge. Vishal Bahrdwaj, and his screenwriting partner (Basharat Peer, a Kashmiri journalist) intelligently utilize Kashmir as their backdrop, which allows them to make a socio-political commentary on the past (and present) mishaps in Kashmir while simultaneously telling a tale of grief and guilt. A tale that unequivocally represents pointlessness of violence and utter futility of revenge. 

Haider is a faithful adaption of Hamlet for the most part: a grief-stricken, revenge-seeking protagonist, a conniving uncle, a repentant mother, but it does veer off its source material in the last act (roughly last half-an-hour) and that's also where the film looses most of its charm. After that point the film becomes a routine Bollywood fare with unnecessary melodrama. The idea to create a shocking ending is actually quite un-shocking, and rather trite for a film that mostly was brave in its choices before that. A 30 minutes shorter film with a Shakespearian ending would have been rather a more satisfactory watch. Though, I won't take anything good away from Haider. It's a film that would remain with you for hours after you have finished watching it, and most importantly, it raises the right questions, many of which people were too afraid to even talk about. It's a film that is technically brilliant with some of the best cinematography you will see all year, and a score that's as beautiful as it is unusual. 

It helps to have a Kashmiri writer in the ranks because otherwise dialogues won't have as perfect as it is in the film. Though, I had few issues with how modern the characters sounded at times for a 1995 Kashmir. Acting wise, without doubt, Kay Kay Menon and Tabu are way and beyond the picks of the lot. Both bring their A-game to the table, and results are outstanding. Especially Menon, in a part that seemed tailer made for Irrfan Khan, is just exceptional. Shahid Kapoor, even though great in a couple of scenes, is limited by his character's aloofness and his own acting limitedness. 

Overall, Haider might fall a little short in convincingly bringing Hamlet to screen, though as a socio-political commentary it more than achieves its purpose. It's hard-hitting and eye-opening. A film with such bold political message is obviously going to ruffle few feathers. And purpose of art sometimes is exactly that : To wake people from up slumber. On that count alone, Haider is a must-watch. Whether you like the message of the film or not is immaterial as long as you recognize the argument behind that message. 

The Other Son (2012)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Movie Review | Gone Girl

David Fincher, in a career spanning more than two decades, has yet to make a bad film. His favorite genre, if there's one, has got to be thriller. Though, the most wonderful aspect about his film-making is that his subjects or matters of interest are different with every film, even if, the style quite similar -- a hallmark of great director. One might argue that he has made quite a few films on psychopath killers (Seven, Zodiac, The Girl with Dragon Tattoo), but on close observation you will realize his films are not about killers per se, but rather the characteristics and behavior they exhibit. And in the process he tries to tackle something more elemental that everyone can connect with. In the same vein, even though Gone Girl arguably is about a (suspected) killer, Fincher's interest is not as much as in the killing as everything around it. 

An anatomy of two Ms: Marriage and Media, Gone Girl is a piece of work that speaks volumes about the current state of society we live in, where every marriage is expected to be -- many a time pretended to be -- perfect, and every out-of-ordinary event is a perfect bait for media hyperbole.  Riddled with dark humor, Gone Girl mocks the denigrated state of media, and the manner in which they manipulate beliefs, and the rush they are in to pass on judgement. The film also brings up the harsh realities of courtship and marriage: During courtship phase, one tends to show only most attractive aspect of oneself to partners, but after marriage, eventually, that mask comes off, and one finds out who he/she is really with. Therefore, I believe that even if on the face of it Gone Girl appears to be a tale of secrets, actually it's a tale of trust: How much trust do you have in marriage, and more importantly how much do you know your partner.

Gone Girl begins when on the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Did Nick kill his wife ? And if not, why is Amy missing ? And what are the secrets that characters of the film are withholding ? You will find yourself asking these questions as the film proceeds, though, it gets crazier and messier as you approach the end. I won't say Gone Girl is a nail-biting or edge-of-the-thriller in the veins of Zodiac or Seven, but it will keep you engrossed as your loyalties will shift from one character to another. And there in lies the beauty of Gone Girl. There're no heroes in the film. There are only characters with shades of gray. Characters, who you will find difficult to trust, just the way they find difficult to trust each other. There are also moments that might make you gasp, especially the one in the third act, which is also where the film looses the realism that it has so diligently manages to build till then. From then on, you are not as invested in the characters as you were at the beginning of the film. 

Adapted from the novel of the same name, Gone Girl punches above the weight of what's on paper. With some starkly memorable visuals, haunting score, and a perfect casting, Fincher manages to create something that will linger in your memory long after the credits have rolled. Fincher has always been a sensory director who likes to have a strong visual style, which is quite obvious in the mood that cinematography -- and even score -- lends to the film. And equally strong are performances from all the actors in the film. This is easily Ben Affleck's career best work. When you see Affleck playing Nick, you can't think of anyone who could have played it better. Having himself been a target of media many a times, he knows his character well enough. Playing the female lead, Rosamund Pike is truly a revelation. It helps that she has such piercing, beautiful eyes perfect for playing Amy. Her career will surely receive a big boost after this. Not to forget the Oscar nomination that she's more or less lock for. 

Overall, even if Gone Girl may not reach the insurmountable heights of some of his previous films, it still reeks with Fincher's talent and motive. It's a film that will give rise to many debates inside households, and outside. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Movie Review | Mary Kom

In one of the scenes in Mary Kom, Priyanka's Mary Kom says "kabhi kisi ko itna bhi mat darao ki darr hi khatam ho jaye". I couldn't suppress my chuckle. 

"Is there Salman Khan hiding somewhere behind ?" I said to myself. 

Mary Kom is a film that exemplifies what is wrong with Indian cinema. The greed (or the fear) of box-office success has made Indian film-makers wimpy and myopic, so much so that even an inspiring real life-story couldn't shake them out of their comfortable bubble that they have been living in. So, what do they do: stuff the film with over the top dialogues, slow-motion action scenes accompanied by loud music and a happy ending. And lo and behold, you have a hit film. 

Hopelessly relentless in its hope to make senseless look sensitive, and fake look believable, Mary Kom is not just bad film-making, it's also a shamelessly corrupt attempt at filling up the money-coffers by (pretense of) showcasing a life of struggle and courage. It's one thing to take up an inspiring story to make a film out of it, and another, to actually make it look believable without going overboard or schmaltzy. At a time when masala films rule the roost in Bollywood and among audiences, it was only a matter of time when reality based films would also start getting treated with tinted glass of escapism, however ill-conceived it may look, sound or feel. It's not that I don't enjoy watching escapist cinema. It's just that I don't like watching respected real life figures distorted into caricatures. 

Oh, did you think that's this is one of those times when Bollywood gets serious ? Forget it. Mary Kom is no different from the countless Salman films you might have seen in recent years: bombastic, self-congratulatory, reality-effacing, and effortlessly dumb. Not only that, Mary Kom is replete with scenes that made me cringe in my seat. The scenes that have played so many times in hindi films before that instead of making a hero out of Mary Kom, they actually somehow belittle her gallantry

Making a biopic in itself is no easy task, and when sports is thrown into the mix, it becomes doubly difficult. Pulling off sporting events realistically has to be one of the most, if not the most, challenging tasks in film-making, because audiences already know what a sports event looks like on-screen. To my mind except Chak De India and Lagaan, no Indian film has done it convincingly. Paan Singh Tomar did pull off the biopic part exceptionally well, but the portrayal of the racing events left a lot to be desired. So, just like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag last year, Mary Kom relies heavily on histrionics -- most of the times unnecessary -- of its character, forcefully created situations, an out-of-nowhere to-be-perceived villain. While Bhaag Milkha Bhaag at least carried a great leading turn by Farhan Akktar, Mary Kom has a miscast Priyanka Chopra, who more often than not, looks too glamorous for the part (Please note, I wrote "glamorous" and not "beautiful". Mary Kom is beautiful but not glamorous). Not to mention, her all over the place North-Eastern accent is off-putting. I am sure makers could have found someone from north-east to play Mary Kom, if they wanted to, but then, that's a little too much to expect -- of course, any small actor wouldn't have set the cash registers ringing -- and anyway, who cares about authenticity. Right ? 

At the end of the day, film-making is not a charity business. And neither, good intentions guarantee a good film. Had that been the case, every Mahatma Gandhi film would be a masterpiece and every Hitler film, a piece of trash. So, just because Mary Kom is such an inspiring figure who has overcome countless obstacles to bring glory for the country and herself, doesn't mean Mary Kom, the film, gets a free pass. The only good thing about Mary Kom is that its a female-led film, which is a rarity in Indian cinema. But then, good intentions are one thing and artistic merits, another. Though, it seems the only intention of Mary Kom is to make money; which surely it will. 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trailer Watch | Birdman

When I prepared my most anticipated list of film for 2014 [Read HERE], Birdman was at No. 6. Not surprisingly, after two phenomenal trailers (including this one), it has shot up to be my 'the' most anticipated film of the year. Anyone who follows my blog closely would know that I am a big fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Amerros Perros, Babel). 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 for Gravity) at his behest, Inarritu is looking to explore black comedy in a way that no one else has done before. And to top it all, the reports that the whole film is one single-shot long has left me salivating.

Anyway, enough of my adulation.. enjoy below the outlandishly delicious trailer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Trailer Watch | Interstellar

If the first trailer was a peek into the epic-ness of Interstellar, this trailer offers just a little more than a glimpse. Having read the screenplay of the film, I can certainly say, Nolan is holding his cards very close to his chest. While, the first trailer didn't show anything significant about the interstellar travel, this trailer does. But still, I would say, it's not even tip of the iceberg. In actuality, Interstellar deals with themes of food crisis, global warming, bond between human & nature. And as far as the science-fiction element of the film is concerned, it delves into interstellar travel, artificial intelligence, and also, time travel. Apart from all of these, what is so very markedly different about Interstellar than any other science-fiction film is that at the end of it all, it's a very deeply humanistic and moving story that will surely melt you into tears – something that you don’t usually associate with Christopher Nolan.

Watch the red-hot trailer below ..