Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Warning: Movie Reviews, again!

I haven’t posted anything for nearly a month now. Among other things this post serves to keep this blog alive. Long movie reviews take time and patience to write and read and I’ve watched quite a few movies in the past ten days that are equally deserving of individual reviews so short one-minute reviews are probably the best idea. In chronological order, these are the movies I’ve seen since the semester began:

1. City of God (Brazilian)
Not only is this a ‘great’ movie fully deserving of its place in the IMDb Top 10, it is also an immensely entertaining film. It combines great technique and camera work with a brilliant non-linear storyline and the locations (presumably genuine) and actors that neither look like filmstars nor are make this an authentic and fresh product.
An aside to this is something that I’ve been meaning to devote a post to for some time now. The omnipresent narrator guides us through a major portion of the movie. This is something that violates classic filmmaking principles. Logically, a film should not have to depend on a narrator and should be able to make use of its ability to communicate through sound as well as visuals. However, just as many great and well-regarded films make heavy use of the narrator as don’t. The Shawshank Redemption, Amelie, Adaptation (which put the idea in my head), even Double Indemnity are examples of the former. The Godfather(s), Casablanca and innumerable good films don’t.

2. The Godfather Part 2
RGV needs to switch off his cell phones, shut down his Flop Factory, sit down for three hours and watch this film to understand what ‘understatement’ means. The Godfather is calm and quiet in almost all his interactions with others because he knows, and everyone else knows, the extent of his power. His calm is not benign. Pacino never leaves anyone in doubt unlike Bacchchan in Sarkar who tried to be everything from Benign Uncle to alternately Doting and Anguished Father to Outraged Grandfather to that enduring Bollywood figure – the Principled Don and became nothing more than Amitabh Bachchan looking like himself in yet another new movie.

3. Run Lola Run (German)
Undoubtedly a fast paced and entertaining movie but I expected better from this film that I had heard good things about. The plot was interesting (Lola needs to get a huge sum of money (100 grand, I think) in the next twenty minutes or her boyfriend is toast) as was the treatment but I didn’t like the structure too much. I expected brilliance and was disappointed with mere cleverness. Nevertheless, good fun. The small running time doesn’t hurt either.
It really is all about expectations in the end. The best gift you can give a friend is convincing him/her before he/she is about to watch a movie that it’s going to disappoint him/her.

4. Omkara (H)
A good Hindi film after a really long time (although Krrish did have its redeeming moments after a painful first half). Actually, this isn’t a ‘Hindi’ film at all. The dialect is rustic and abrasive and while the dialogues and the language lend authenticity to the film they also make the film slightly hard to understand. The overall plot is simple enough and the correspondences with minor incidents and names in the original play are drawn out beautifully. Saif Ali Khan has the best role and shines, you realize very late that Konkana Sen is doing a brilliant job as well, Ajay Devgan does well too and his dialogue delivery is especially brilliant, Kareena Kapoor looks perfect for the role and acts well to boot. The frequent swearing is going to harm the film’s BO prospects but I was happy to see a rare mainstream movie actually going the whole hog with invective. Way to go!

5. The Guns of Navarone
A movie that illustrates the benefits of adapting books to film. The plot is gripping, the dialogues snappy, the men manly and the women courageous, the Allies brave and good humoured, the Germans partial to torture and Veritaserum and the pacing sufficiently fast to keep the viewer interested even if not on tenderhooks. For a movie that must be at least three decades old it hasn’t dated too badly at all.

6. Dog Day Afternoon
For some unknown reason I thought Al Pacino played himself in the movie, and since he could only have been playing himself if he was famous enough it followed that it was an old Al that starred in this movie. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see a young Al (it’s a 1974 movie, I believe, around the time The Godfather was being made) play one half of a bank robber twosome with the actor who played his brother in The Godfather(s). The movie is an account of the robbery that goes wrong and turns into a hostage crisis, and it is especially astute in its account of the media’s role and the mob’s reactions. A famous scene when Pacino comes out and rouses the mob with cries of “Attica! Attica!” is electrifying. For the cultural significance of ‘Attica’, go here. Everyone acts well and though the movie does sag a bit in the middle, it again picks up towards the end. Closeups of Pacino when he’s talking into the phone with his (male) ‘wife’ are admirable for the sheer power of his performance.

7. Amelie (French)
I expected this film to be sweet, perhaps sentimental, a feel-good lesson on the beauty of life. Perhaps I expected too much. I found this movie a total bore, and struggled through the middle, even going to sleep halfway through it. Audrey Tatou is cute, but she’s not Audrey Hepburn. What’s more, she tries too hard with her silly hairstyle and girl-woman dresses and her permanent wide-eyed ingénue look. Lagaan was better.
A related point is that Amelie depends heavily on narration, especially in the first half. Normally one would prefer subtitled foreign language movies but this is a special movie that I’d much rather see dubbed in English because that leaves time to see the movie and not just read it.

8. 12 Angry Men
Wonderful study in the use of dialogue and mannerisms to make a film gripping. Apart from three minutes at either end of the movie, all the action takes place in one room (with the exception of perhaps a minute of interaction between Henry Fonda and a callous juror in the adjoining washroom… only talk) and yet this movie never drags. For a B/W movie with this unconventional setting to maintain a high level of interest of the viewer is an achievement. Fonda is good, as are all the other actors, without exception. This movie however owes the maximum to its screenwriter who has done a fabulous job. Most jurors have their personal prejudices and idiosyncrasies but rarely do they become complete clichés. The reason of Fonda and the way he brings the group around make it a demonstration of the qualities that a good team leader must possess.

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