Friday, July 17, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

When Dumbledore tells Harry 'I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable'; we get what he means. In the same way, when screenwriter Steve Kloves leaves out certain crucial parts of Harry Potter's sixth outing, we get it. The Half Blood Prince, for the first time, is not a standalone film. It is more of a gearing up to the next two films which Warner Brothers are stretching the saga to to add to the 4.5 billion dollars which the previous five films have already made.

The first and most noticeable difference with the previous films is that this one starts off almost like a continuation of the previous. We see a battered and bruised Harry standing by Dumbledore's side in front of flashing cameras after the attack at the Department of Mysteries from The Order of The Phoenix. The opening sequence is a flash which shows us the slow invasion of the Death Eaters into the Muggle-world. A whoosh of dark clouds leaves the Muggles staring till three Death Eaters swoop into Diagon Alley and carry on to collapsing the Millennium Bridge into the Thames. And then a stroke of genius added by the makers to show us the mixing of a wizard and a Muggle. The introduction, although well-made is a bit rushed.

Somewhere down the line, in the first hour of the film, the grip on the initial setting of the film is lost. It gives way to childish rom-com, rather than mature adolescent behavior. The introduction of the character of Lavender Brown, though important, shifts the mood of the film. It seems almost as if director David Yates set out to make a comedy film with chills and suspense. There are way too many comic scenes in the film for it to develop into something more important, which it is. Half Blood Prince, like Prisoner of Azkaban, is a major step in the saga that is Harry Potter. This acknowledgement is not really there.

However, the best thing about Half Blood Prince is that, unlike most of the other Potter films, with the exception of Prisoner of Azkaban, it does not look like a Harry Potter film. The addition of certain sequences, like the attack by the Death Eaters on The Burrow, add to the brilliance of the suspense of the film. That sequence stands out as one of the most innovative and gripping scenes made in any Harry Potter film yet. There are no unnecessary additions. Quidditch is back, although its inclusion is only for comic relief. No added scenes with visual effects, something that went on to ruin the almost perfect climax of Order of the Phoenix.

The acting in this one is top notch. The fact that this film is meant to be a drama is indicated through the acting. No mention for the lead here. Radcliffe disappoints immensely. His place is taken by Tom Felton. His portrayal of Draco Malfoy is bang-on. He leaves nothing behind in expression and detail. This was needed, given the importance of his character for this part. You can see his burden reflected on his brow. The two actors who play the young Riddle are also worthy of mention. Both Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane are sleek, and evil. The addition of Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn is also a treat to behold as is the slithery presence of Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman.

This film, also for the first time since Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban, pays attention to detail. The detail in Mr. Weasley's garage house. The immense detailing of the Room of Requirement. However there is perhaps too much detailing on the growing up of the trio. As we witness Felton's Draco slowly developing into a young man, we witness Radcliffe's Harry develop into something that can be only be called an old boy. The necessity of showing the characters growing up is essential, just the method in which it has been tackled for the trio is pitiful. One understands the brilliance of Hermione shooting canaries at Ron in the book. To include the same in the film to show us something as important as coming of age is a gross error. The cross drawn is however, brilliant, when we see Malfoy heading towards the Room of Requirement down a dark corridor with students snogging in a corner.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a big step forward towards the conclusion that is the Deathly Hallows. Why it is being split into two parts is made evident from this adaptation. It leaves a lot to be explained. For every reader and viewer of the Harry Potter series it is clear that one will not entirely understand great chunks of the film unless one reads the book. Keeping that in mind, Half Blood Prince is a pretty good film, just not a worthy adaptation maybe.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Dreamers.

I have seen one Bertolucci film prior to this. Stealing Beauty. A film I do not remember much of because its been a while since I've seen it. I do not well know what kind of a film-maker Bernardo Bertolucci is. Going through his filmography one notices strokes of genius, often unrecognized it seems, often unaccepted, leading us to the conclusion that he probably isn't for all and sundry. Then again, who is?

After watching The Dreamers, one notices a particularly heavy amount of things which direct to the reasons why Bertolucci's vision as a director might not suit everyone. However, The Dreamers is such a film that one cant quite think about not liking. There is something exceptionally enchanting about the way Bertolucci tackles his characters, his plot, his sights and sounds, his montage. Something impeccable about his piece. The Dreamers, set in the backdrop of the Paris student riots of the late 60's, is, through most of its length, oblivious to whatever is going on. The characters are such. Obliviousness is a very integral point in the film. As is fantasy.

The Dreamers is a film that is obsessed with films. The classics. The Godard's and the Nicholas Ray's. The Truffaut's and the Hawks'. The Chaplin's and the Keaton's. In fact, it is so obsessed with certain films of the past that a portion of the film are these films. The characters are the characters who were. The dialogues are the dialogues that were. It is in no way paying homage to these films. Its characters are individuals who live in a life of the films gone by, still remembered for their genius. A genius so brilliant that maybe for a certain amount of time, they make you oblivious of what you are or are not surrounded by. Obliviousness is The Dreamers, hence Bertolucci changes the name The Holy Innocents from Adair's novel to The Dreamers.

The lead of the film is an American boy. An exchange student in Paris, there to learn their language, a fan of the film art, spending a predominating amount of time at the Cinemateque Francaise. He says "the first time I saw a movie at the Cinemateque Francais I thought 'Only the French.. only the French would house a cinema inside a palace". The Dreamers spends its first few minutes establishing the French Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950's and 1960's influenced by the Classical Hollywood cinema and the Italian Neo Realism. Once done, we are immersed into the lives of the twins (played by Eva Green and Louis Garrel), and Matthew the American (played by Michael Pitt).

To introduce one to the element of fantasy, one is never given any sort of hint of the world of the twins outside the walls of their house. Twins, of the opposite sex, conjoined at the shoulder. An impossibility. Yet we see marks on the shoulder's of either of them. How that might be possible or what that might be hinting at is unknown. They share a love that is, at first sight, incestuous. At least that is the image we first get through the eyes of Matthew, who is the voyeur.

Matthew likes sneaking around, being secretive. He is at first a bit unsure of his new friends. He notices their every move. The incomprehensibility of the closeness the twins share with one another, the touch of the father on the daughter's waist, often lead us to believe different things. Maybe even things that aren't there at all. It's either all too real and unbelievable to think about, or its not there at all. A mere power that voyeurism has. To mislead the viewer into thinking something that might not even be present. They seem a bit odd. Matthew urinates in the basin, with the tap on. Recall Godard's A bout de Souffle, where Jean-Paul Belmondo's Michel inquires as to whether he can urinate in Patricia's (Jean Seberg's) basin.

There are numerous marks of classic film characters in Isabelle, Theo and Matthew. To make a note of all of them would require an entire report. They play the guessing game, acting out sequences from their favorite films and asking the others to guess. Failure often leads to drastic, unthinkable penalties. In a way Matthew acts as the twins' window into the world outside. The world around them. Changing the Keaton' and the Chaplin's to the Hendrix' and the Claptons'. Introducing them to certain realities which they have so far been ignorant about. "We do not watch television. We are purists" says Isabelle. Matthew echoes what their father had once told them. That one cannot change the world before realizing that one is a part of it. One cannot stand outside looking in.

Bertolucci, through his genius, makes you smell a gas leak through what he shows us. He makes you feel the pain of sex in all its expression. He makes you forget anything else that you might be thinking and drowns you in his vision. A vision which cannot be delved into too deeply for one must understand that there are certain things which are better left ununderstood. You might just spoil it by trying to analyze it too much. From a director who decides to keep an accidental scene of a woman's hair catching fire as an indication of wilder things to come, The Dreamers is cinema in its own way. The same way that Godard said about Nicholas Ray being cinema, which Theo tells Matthew on their first meeting.

It takes the maker less than a second to take you out of this enchanted world, having its own emotional orgy, oblivious of all its surroundings, and throw you into the turmoil of the riots. In a flash, the love that existed is forgotten, taken over by a sudden burst of emotion, of purpose. It is about a near-perfect threesome of two scrumptous French's and one American who, in a way, flips there world upside down for a period of time. I cannot comprehend things about this piece, and in a way I do not want to. It's better taken the way it is.
Dont think too much, you might just end up discovering beauty.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is a 2006 American film written, directed, and based on author and musician Dito Montiel's 2001 memoir of the same name. It his directorial debut and it describes his youth in Astoria, New York, during the 1980's. The film won numerous awards at the Sundance Film Festival of 2006 including Best Director and the Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast.

A Guide.. is a coming of age film based on the life of young Dito Montiel; the troubles he faced growing up in a neighbourhood gone all wrong. It is based on the people he knew. His father (played by Chazz Palminteri), who does not want him to go away to the big city and leave his family behind; his friends Antonio, Nerf, Giuseppe, and Mike two of whom look him up 15 years after he leaves his hometown to bring him back so that he can help his sick father. His girlfriend, Laurie, who always tries to get him to face reality as a man. Most of all it is about how these people around him changed him, made him the man he became.

The film is technically a marvel, switching between the present and flashbacks of the 1980's. The technique used in certain sequences are praiseworthy. Remembrance is often difficult, and there are sometimes numerous shots of the same scene, where the same words are spoken by the characters, acting for the mind of Dito who is trying to recall certain moments in his life which he cant remember perfectly. That added to the sights and sounds of a 1980's hood acts as a very sweet, clean rendition of Dito's life. The entire sequence where the characters talk to the viewers, saying whatever it is that is going through their minds, is a gem to look at, making a journey out of the film and into out own lives.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Dito Montiel and Shia Labeouf plays his younger self. Both, honest to the character. The acting is overall very good; with Channing Tatum who plays the young Antonio, Dito's best friend through his younger years, who looks out for him and is trusted by his father; and Anthony DeSando, playing Frank, the gay dog-walker deserving special mention.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is a true memoir. Very honest. An honesty that shines through what it actually is; a film. The play of anger and words between Dito and his father are engrossing. One can relate to the points of view of each of the two. One trying to start a new life outside his neighborhood. away from the futility he faces everyday; the other wanting his son to stay at home, not leave behind his family to escape his own troubles, to bear with it, to fix it, in order to stay with his family and friends who care for him. There are numerous priceless moments in the film. The train rides Dito takes with his Irish friend Mike. The time he spent with his girlfriend Laurie (played by Melanie Diaz, and later by Rosario Dawson). The street-walking he enjoyed, and the gang-rivalry he faced with his friends (the priceless closing credits). Frank, the dog-walker with his obsession with Job from The Bible, and the the manner in which he tries to help Dito and Mike get out and in to the big city.

A Guide.. is a lesson, just like its name. It is a lesson in figuring out who the people in ones life truly matter. The name, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, instead of My. The film talks to you, teaches you things, making it beautiful. It is about love, family, loyalty, rivalry, friendship, knowing when to stay in, and when to get out, knowing who, in the end, you can trust. It is abandonment, and later going back, to realize the mistakes one made, the people who mattered. It is about coming of age, and realizing who one's real saints are.

One could stare out of a train window alone and watch the world flash past; or one could stare out of that same train window with someone, someone special, and talk about the world flashing past.
Sometimes the only way forward, is back.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


(I would like to go on record and state that this is an informal review.)

Director A.R. Murugadoss's 2005 Tamil film Ghajini takes inspiration from Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed cult film, Memento; and George Cuckor's 1960 musical comedy, Let's Make Love. Director A.R. Murugadoss's 2008 Hindi film Ghajini takes inspiration from the same, and is also a direct Hindi retelling of his former, Tamil, Ghajini. Why remake a Tamil film in Hindi? And why make it as similar as possible to the Tamil inspiration? So much so, that even majority of the cast is the same. I'll tell you why. It is simply because the Tamil Ghajini was a runaway hit in Kollywood. Before continuing to read the rest of this review, I want the reader to take a deep breath and think again about reading this piece.

A.R. Murugadoss's Ghajini is a three hour film. It's story revolves around Sanjay Singhania (played by Aamir Khan), the chairman of Air Voice, a world-famous mobile phone company; his love at first sight, Kalpana (played by Asin, whose title magically remains unspoken throughout the entire length of the film. Yes, even on the news she is referred to as Miss Kalpana. By god, methinks she does not even have a last name); Ghajini Dharmatma (played by Pradeep Rawat), the man responsible for murdering Kalpana, and also for hitting Sanjay on his head with a steel pipe, causing him to suffer from anterograde amnesia.

A.R. Murugadoss' hindi film Ghajini, also stars Jiah Khan (from Ram Gopal Varma's Nishabd, remember? The one with the long face. Yes), playing the role of Sunita. Sunita is the innocent college girl who merely wants to study Sanjay Singhania's case, she has an accent (sometimes. Other times it magically disappears), she dances at the college programme, she is a third year medical student, and she entangles herself in (does not accidentaly get entagled in) the entire mess. Sunita also warns Ghajini, making him aware of Sanjay's desire to kill him. She also wants Ghajini not to mention her name if the need comes because 'mera college mein laphda ho jayega'. However, later, having smiled and awed at Sanjay's love story she decides to change sides and help Sanjay instead.

Does not make any sense? Don't worry, dear reader, it is not meant to make any sense whatsoever. Just like Kalpana's helping every person she finds on the road, making her the epitome of all goodness in the world, but left alone at a time of need, to be warned only by Constable Vaijyanti of the hospital (who does not seem to have the brains to call the police to aid the damsel in distress) that 'woh goonde apke murder plan kar rahe the. Aur woh aapke ghar mein chhupe hue hain', Ghajini ceases to mean anything. After a mere few minutes into the film, you simply don't care. How does no one recognize the chairman of a top mobile phone company? Why is the photograph we see of Sanjay on the computer CGI? Why does the villain not kill the witness of the crime when he has the chance to? Only a few tiny details the makers might have missed. Not very significant at all.

From start to finish, A.K. Murugadoss's hindi film Ghajini never makes any sense whatsoever. Straight from the police officer (played horribly by Riyaz Khan) taking the aid of the bus conductor who had written down the calculation of the ticket change on the tiny bus ticket (how did that bus ticket get there anyways? And under a cupboard too?), to him being set free from the confines of a cupboard after Heaven-knows-how-long, only to restlessly make his way to the fridge to drink some water (I mean, does he not need to go to the bathroom instead?). Then of course there is Ghajini himself. Why call the film Ghajini? The villain is not the main point of the story, nor is the person playing his part well. He does not deserve such importance. He is some kind of a doctor who is always surrounded by South Indian goons (He is South Indian himself too, I guess); he also knows who is actually trying to kill him but still he kills everyone who is actually not trying to kill him; and after Sanjay, single-handedly demolishes 30-odd goons of his without shedding a single drop of sweat, he calls out to him 'Aa gaya? Ab tu dekh. TU DEKH!' What's the point? Oh wait. There isn't one.

The part that Ghajini concentrates on is what the point is not. The love story of Sanjay and Kalpana is given almost half the screen time. So therefore, Ghajini is actually a love story. But wait. It is not. It's a revenge story. But wait. That can't be. Through most of the film Aamir acts like a madman, not a man who is seeking sweet revenge. That is something that Guy Pearce had calmly done in Memento. Oh yes, it seems A.K. Murugadoss had forgotten that little detail. One must not make the hero of the film insane for it does not help the viewer relate to his loss or whatever. Must remember your film studies classes, Mr. Director. All you seemed to be concerned about is recording the noise of shattering glass and steel pipes hitting human heads. Oh wait. You've made a blunder there too. The human head is not made of steel. So when you hit the human head with a steel pipe, the sound that is made is not tthang! That's the sound a steel pipe hitting another steel pipe makes. What happened, Mr. Director? Lost all your notes? Shame-shame.

The worst thing is, Ghajini is horribly miscast. No sympathies to the man playing Ghajini (he sucks. This is an informal review remember?). The role of Aamir Khan should have been played by Rajnikanth. Ghajini has Rajnikanth written all over it (A.R. Murugadoss is South Indian, I believe. So is everyone else in this film, I guess. Except the 'sometime' accent Miss Jiah Khan). You can just imagine Rajnikanth beating up all those goons, making there heads turn 180degress and walking ahead without a scratch, making his way to the main villain. Once there he goes 'Yanna Rascala. Mind it!' No offence to Aamir Khan. He has bulked up nicely for this role, but it just isn't him. It does not involve much acting. All he does is scream and shout and beat people up. Asin is given the duty of making the viewers laugh, which she does cheaply, speaking of things like cchaddi's and khujli. Plus she comes nowhere near to being as captivating as Anushka Sharma was in RNBDJ. Jiah Khan is just there, spilling over her cleavage, acting like the good girl who does not want any laphda, and dancing to some stupid song that goes lattoo lattoo lattoo. Main uspe aye la la la la.

One more thing. I do not get the reviews I have read of this film. The supposedly outstanding critics of Indian cinema have given this film 4 and 4.5 stars out of 5. In that case, films like Good Boy Bad Boy and Race and Tashan are our joy. Let us forget everything and send these films to the great Film Festivals of the world. Ghajini is the boiling point. It is three hours of torture. Even the songs aren't good enough, not to mention uncalled for. The best bit comes at the end, with a two minute panning of camera between Aamir and Asin, concluding with a beautiful shot of Aamir staring into a magically formed valley. It's pretty, and also, it's the end of the film. I simply cannot write anymore about this sorry excuse of a film without abusing. I'm sorry.

Must see. Just for how bad it is.
Highly recommended for people who are willing to pay for self-torture.