Reviewing ‘Les Miserables’ Oscar Winning Tom Hooper Film Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe

Anne Hathaway at the 83rd Academy Awards

Anne Hathaway Shines (actually she dies) as Fantine in Les Miserables (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Grade: B

Summary: Moments of Beauty Weighed Down By Excess Baggage of Singing and Dancing, Most of Which You Can’t Even Remember

(note: my sincere apologies to the poets on this site. The poem below is terrible… but of course, I don’t really care as its a review)

I’ve never heard so much singing, from any musical I’ve seen

That’s both a blessing and a curse, in this tale of Jean Valjean.

Though this film’s on French Revolution, I never cared what they were fighting for

Didn’t bother to read the intertitles, which said where Jean went, where he was

And for this I can’t be really blamed, the music tired me out completely

Song after song o’er every frame, continued till like eternity!

Each and every sentence is sung, and there’s a background score running

Persistently o’er every note, till it well exceeds saturation!

Take for example the scene where Javert, Jean Valjean’s enemy is seen

Contemplating his moral actions, we hear the waves of the sea                                    (please bear with me)

This could’ve sufficed in conveying – his dilemma, his situation

But sound mixer Simon Hayes, adds a score that’s a distraction

This happens in many other scenes, where non-diegetic score was unnecessary;

It could’ve been used in crucial scenes, only when it was really needed

But there were times it was used well, that is when it created constancy!

Like the sound that’s heard when Jean appears first, is later heard in another scene.

But one wonders why the fuck, did the camera shake and cut so much

It could at times drive you nuts; you wonder a butcher’s knife was used to cut the scenes?

And sometimes it was just awkward – the camera on the character’s faces

Linger on for prolonged moments, in mid-shots as they bellowed out phrases!

Although I can’t deny the great moments, like when the rebels congregate to fight

And the song of comradeship is heard, proudly sung, just sounding right!

Also when different sounds overlap, to create a distinct melody

In which different characters sing their plights, it really harmonizes neatly!

I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s French novel… neither have I seen the musical

I thought the tale of Jean and Javert, was touching and very lyrical!

There are just so many themes here… so much commentary of that time;

We see people’s attitude change, from helplessness to courage bright!

(*hopeless case of rhyming, please forgive)

But when music dominates, you somewhat ignore important details;

You can’t feel how music works, to lift its characters’ from the reality’s bleakness!

Now the film’s about Jean Valjean, the prisoner’s who was punished

For nineteen years for stealing bread; so after his sentencing is finished

He was released by Javert on parole. He wanders all around the town

Seeking shelter and refuge, but the unfortunate is driven out

Until a clergyman offers food. Valjean being desperate

Steals the silver but is caught; the priest forgives him and lets him take

All the booty, but with this sermon

That he shall use the possessions, to become a better person;

And with this our hero Valjean, becomes a mayor years later

Until he meets his nemesis, who at first doesn’t remember him

But Javert soon comes to know, after Jean reveals his identity

And leaves the town with Fantine’s daughter, the little Cosette.

Fantine was a worker at his place, an unmarried woman with a child

And for this she was kicked out, and had to seek to prostitution

Until Jean came and took her away, but she alas couldn’t be saved.

And so Valjean, he escapes, with her daughter Cosette into seclusion…

But Javert and Jean would cross paths, years later when a revolt out breaks!

(Horrible anastrophe, please forgive… again)

So now we talk about the cast, about Hugh, Crowe and Anne Hathaway

Hugh puts on a protector act, similar to what he does always

But as his Jean grows old, there are some special moments we like;

Though Crowe can act, he can’t sing well – he trumpets like a baby elephant!

Poor, poor Anne Hathaway, fighting all the forces acting against her

Gives out the most amazing act, more complex than any other character

In the little time she gets, she performs worthy of an Oscar!

And her song ‘I dreamed a dream’, seems stuck in my bloody head

But unfortunately, there’s no other song I can recollect!

Review of Oscar Winning Austrian Film ‘Amour’ Starring Oscar Nominated Emmanuelle Riva along with Jean-Louis Trintignant

English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...

Michael Hanake, the director of Amour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grade: A

Summary: Amour is poetry at its purest; the piano melody you hear in the film piercingly plays out the poignancy and the profound silence sings the symphony of pathos on one of the most popular theme in poetry or literature – death of a loved one.

Occasionally in Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ you hear the piano piercingly play out the poignancy of its characters. The film is about two retired music teachers but you hardly hear music; instead there is profound silence, a symphony in itself but of pathos that you find devouring the characters. What you yearn for is to hear the voices of Anne and George, happy sounds that leap up at times, like in a scene where a paralyzed Anne attempts to sing along with her husband, who gives her speech therapy, but is only able to coo ‘Dance, Dance!…’ in French. What breaks your heart is watching Anne, an accomplished piano player, unable to continue her lifelong passion – music. Not for a moment are you indifferent to ‘Amour’; you become a part of the couple’s home, which is where almost the entire film is shot, and get such a close access to all the hardships they face that you become more than just an audience member – you feel what they feel. None of the scenes in Amour are phony even though many scenes may seem familiar, and the film is more about “bereavement of a loved one” than it is about “growing old” and anyone who has read Byron or Poe knows that the former is the most popular theme in poetry and literature. And Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is poetry at its purest.

Amour doesn’t begin in silence; in fact the first thing you hear in the opening is a door being broken down by firemen to enter the couple’s now desolate house. The camera tracks a person as he moves around the rooms of the house before reaching the bedroom, where he finds the lifeless body of Anne adorned with flowers. After the scene fades out, you see the entire movie in flashback beginning with the Georges and Anne taking seats in the concert where Anne’s former pupil is playing. After the couple exits the hall, Anne’s pupil Alexandre greets them; here again the camera only moves to track Alexandre walking to the couple. The camera stays immobile during the next few scenes, allowing us to watch them the way we think of our ‘grandparents’; think about it, you’ll always have a picture of the two old people together who pass the remaining years of their lives silently, undisturbed.

It is only when Georges calls out Anne (the first time we hear her name in the film) and she doesn’t respond that the camera cuts to a closer shot of Georges –you realize as Georges does that something’s wrong. After Anne is admitted to the hospital, a mistake in the surgery paralyses the right side of her body. She makes Georges promise not to take her to the hospital or nursing home, despite their daughter Eva’s insistence, and so is taken care at home by her husband and a temporary nurse. Anne is sharp and curt to Georges whenever he tries helping her as she hates being treated ‘as a cripple’ (in one scene, she tells him “not to watch her turn the pages of her book as she’s still sane”) but as her condition deteriorates, she is unable to perform basic functions and has to be helped for everything. Her speech, memory, everything fades away slowly until the inevitable moment, which although we did anticipate still remains a touchingly unexpected one because it comes so suddenly.

We get very familiarized with the décor in the couple’s home, the array of books and files in their living room, the white lamps, the red curtain, the red carpet, the piano, the paintings etc because the camera wants us to be connected with the space. There’s even a strongly effective montage sequence of the different rooms and later of the paintings that hang in the rooms. Imagine just how Anne’s life, one ripe and lively, slowly ebbed into dismalness here as her home and later her bedroom became her only world, and without Georges’ unconditional presence and love, even this world’s little happiness would’ve been taken away.

My late grandmother spent the last six years of her life bedridden, suffering from cancer, osteoporosis and dementia, and there was nothing that could be done except give her as much care as possible. Unfortunately, her husband had already died twenty years ago and there was no one who could, in those six painful years, give her love and care that her late husband, despite his weakness, would’ve given had he been alive. I’m sure the characters in ‘Amour’ would be very familiar to many people who’ve seen their parents or grandparents in their final days (and so some people complain that the film is predictable), but Amour is a film that truthfully, touchingly, poignantly and heartbreakingly lowers its curtain upon the fading days of a being. I watched my grandmother lay there silently as long, unending days of pain eroded her life slowly, and I couldn’t do anything but watch her fade. I didn’t have the nerves to ease her pain, although the pillow just lay there…

 

My Review for Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Love, Sex & Dhokha’ (love, sex and betrayal), a 2010 Bollywood Film

Love Sex aur Dhokha

Love Sex aur Dhokha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Rating: BBB

Summary: Dibakar Banerjee uses non-sequential narrative and documentary-like hyper-realistic visual effect in Love, Sex aur Dhokha to drive his point home; there are multiple messages in the movie but everything is understated, and what you get is something far better than what you expected

For the first time I actually felt that the Censor Board should’ve censored a sequence in a film, and I’m surprised it isn’t a Hollywood film which has that moment (we leave out the X-rated movies), but a Bollywood movie by Dibakar Banerjee. This moment comes quite soon in Love Sex aur Dhokha, his third venture, and it does not have anything to do with sexual content. There is nothing wrong or immoral in showing simulated sexual content featuring two adults because it’s natural and obviously legal to have sex in real life. But violence is something that’s against the law, and Dibakar’s movie features a gross and distasteful fictional act of violence which when shown through a handheld low-quality camera that too in green light at nighttime makes you feel you’re watching snuff. A snuff film is one that depicts actual murder without special effects; here heads roll as an axe severs them and there’s sound of meat cleavers chopping body parts. The camera just lies at a distance from the point of action –there are no cuts and only little non-diegetic sound (i.e. background score). You’re at this point in the film squirming in your seat, making your mind whether to walk out or not but then the story moves on, thankfully to another place.

I am befuddled by the Indian Censor Board’s absurd decision to ask Banerjee to alter a reference to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Community (replaced by an arcane term ‘Special Case’ –really, by removing references YOU look like the ones who have a problem with scheduled caste/scheduled tribe people and don’t want them in your movies!) and shorten a lovemaking sequence (watching a blurred image in an original DVD of the film throws you off balance. You aren’t able to see the way the character is able to see the image in the film – and that stinks!) but happily retain a hyper-realistic murder act. I personally would’ve asked Dibakar to cut it midway to the next scene, leaving at least something to the viewer’s imagination. Well, apart from that, I was pretty happy with Love Sex aur Dhokha, which adopts a non-sequential narrative and a bold and sensational documentary-like visual style to drive its point home. There are plenty of social and cultural messages to find about the modern Indian lifestyle driven and destroyed by materialistic ambitions, and Banerjee allows us to intrude their world and experience it up-close through handheld recordings, security cameras and hidden cameras.

Love, Sex aur Dhoka is divided into three segments, and though each word in the title corresponds to the respective segments, you still a bit of everything in all the segments. The first segment involves the Great Indian Love Story between Rahul, an aspiring film director and Shruti, the lead actress in his low-budget film. What’s interesting here is how Banerjee shows neither Rahul nor Shruti as talented at what they are doing; in fact, Rahul’s film is beyond dreadful while Shruti’s acting is pathetic. The movie they make is again a ‘love story’ inspired by the quintessential romantic films of Shahrukh Khan; again Dibakar makes a smart move here: while Rahul’s name is the same as the name of Shahrukh in many of his films, the name Shruti is different from the usual ‘Simran’ whom we associate Shahrukh’s ‘Rahul’ with. So very often this Rahul mistakenly addresses Shruti as ‘Simran’, as if he can’t distinguish between film and reality. He manages to cast Shruti’s arrogant, thick-headed dad as a character so that he would allow Shruti to continue acting in the film. In doing so, he makes a lot of compromises which includes adding an irrelevant cheap dance sequence in his film. When Shruti’s marriage is fixed with a Canadian-Indian, Rahul and Shruti decide to elope which is ironic because that’s how the plot in their film originally progressed before Shruti’s father forced Rahul to alter it.  The second segment uses security cameras, as opposed to the handheld DSLR cameras used in segment one; here, Adarsh (played by Raj Kumar Yadav) is dapper young man who hangs out all day at his friend’s store and doesn’t make an effort in getting a job for himself so that he can pay off his dues. When he misses his chance with one of the store girls, he decides to try his luck on a second one, but this time his intentions are maleficent –encouraged by his friend, the store owner’s son, he tries to lure the girl Rashmi into making love with him, so that he can record secretly an MMS tape and sell it for thousands of cash. The trouble here is that he actually begins to fall in love with her, and so it’s Adarsh himself who can curb the immoral act from happening. The third segment involves a sting investigation reporter Prabhat whose bad luck of failed operations may change, after he saves young girl named Mrignaina (played by Arya Banerjee) from committing suicide and gets to know that a pop singer Loki asks for sexual favors in return of featuring girls in his music videos. The two join hands to conduct a sting operation on Loki and hence its hidden cameras which is used throughout the segment.

English: Raj Kumar Yadav

 Raj Kumar Yadav plays Adarsh in LSD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Segment 2 is the best of the three segments as we the security cameras provide a depth in the field, allowing us to see a number of actions going on at a time, like when the customers at the store also become spectators to the action going on. The humor provided by the bumbling watchman relieves us from the yucky murder that we witness before. Another complaint I have with segment one is that the actors who play lead actors in Rahul’s film ‘act’ out the role far too much: it felt like their characters themselves knew they had to act badly, which isn’t the case with most C-grade films, where the funny part is that the actors don’t realize how actually awful they are.  Dibakar could’ve used eyes as another ‘camera’ (basically a first person perspective) to capture those rare and genuine moments of unfiltered love, so that we could see a more explicit contrast between camera perspective and first-person perspective. But then, there are so many possibilities in film-making so my suggestion is only one of the many many possibilities which can be used in such films.

The characters are very engaging, but don’t expect any profound dialogs from the characters because they aren’t meant to be. They talk like most common youngsters talk in India, and they’re shallow in so many ways. But it is their shallowness, their misguidedness, their contemptible egos which interests Dibakar and inspires him, supports him in (am using this phrase again) driving its point home. My only advice: don’t watch the film expecting to be titillated, and do try figure out from your side what Dibakar’s trying to say. If you do try, you’ll end up learning or realizing a few things.

 

 

A Shorter Review of ‘Angels In America’ A Golden Globe And Emmy Winning TV Movie Starring Oscar Winners Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson

Angels in America (TV miniseries)

Angels in America (TV miniseries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grade: A 

Summary: Angels In America was Written At a Time When Kushner was Discovering Himself in America. His Play is Worth Your Time Too, Specially When Made and Performed With Such Brilliance

There is much multiplicity in Angels in America, all of which may be difficult to decipher in the worthiness and wordiness of Tony Kushner‘s Pulitzer winning script. There are political, theological and cultural allusions that are expressed in lengthy dialogs, sermons, monologues etc that you may find hard to allocate to the purpose of the play. What is simpler to understand is the questions about morality, musings about death, isolation and betrayal, problems of identity crisis and the universal feelings of love, compassion, empathy, responsibility, unity and impermanence. You constantly witness characters questioning their beliefs, breaking down, losing their sanity, finding a revelation and then living with hope that they find their true place and purpose in the ever-evolving life.

Prior Walter is an openly gay man who’s the first in the film to be inflicted by the disease. His Jewish gay partner Louis, who already has a track record of abnegating responsibility, slowly distances himself from his lover despite loving him dearly. Prior accuses Louis of not believing truly in what he preaches, and finds support in his best friend and ex-lover Belize and the hospital nurse. He also begins to experience startlingly realistic hallucinations where he encounters unknown people, ghosts and angels, who proclaim that he is a Prophet who can cure the world’s miseries if he wishes. Another man Joe, a Conservative Mormon lawyer begins discovering his second skin when he realizes that his coldness towards his wife stems from his repressed homosexuality, which he had always ignored as it went against his religious beliefs. His wife Harper, as a result of emotional isolation and fears, lives in comfort and friendship of imaginary friends who, akin Prior’s hallucinatory encounters, give answers to the questions that remain vague or unanswered in reality. Joe’s mother,aptly referred to as ‘Mother Pitt’ is an ordinary Mormon wife who, although is upset by her son’s revelation, finds that her womanhood innately shows the qualities of empathy and compassion to be more flexible towards changes around her.

Joe’s mentor is Roy Cohn, the famous Conservative Jewish lawyer who strongly shows anti-communist and racist attitudes and ignores moral and ethical issues in doing what he believes is right for US. The contemptible, churlish, unconscionable brute is another victim of AIDS, which he contracted through sexual relations with men; yet Roy does not believe he is a homosexual, terming the tag only for those ‘whom nobody knows and who know nobody’. His confrontation with his past sins materializes in the form of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a Jewish woman whom Roy had convicted using undue power for espionage.

Distance, death, desertion and isolation are recurring themes in Angels in America. The opening monologue of the rabbi itself is an example of distance: we see Louis and Prior sitting together a few rows behind the other members of their family as the rabbi is sermonizing at Louis’ grandmother’s funeral about the brave woman’s voyage to America. The two gay men are separated from the rest for their homosexuality while the Rabbi expresses his conservative view on religion. There is a haunting image about death some scenes later when Louis broaches the subject of desertion to the rabbi: after the conversation, we see an extremely long shot/view of the almost unending graveyard, with numberless black gravestones. Mike Nichols, the TV movie‘s director makes his camera float into and away from the subjects, and poetically captures the magic realism of the story. The colors in the film also capture the character’s emotion or essence, and sometimes you may see the whole image going startlingly red or brilliantly blue or find a major color dominating the background, like a dull yellow background around Mother Pitt when she arrives home and gets a call about her daughter–law or shades of green on Mother Pitt and Prior during their conversation at the hospital. There is, in short, a lot we get to see, and I haven’t come to burning ghosts of Prior’s ancestors and his shared dream with Harper yet! Despite the complexities and the multitudinous implications in the play, you are always connected to the humanness of the characters and excellent. Highly engaging performances.

Angels in America runs for six hours, but I have no problem seeing it again. There are things I know I’ve missed, meanings still not fully understood, questions still running in my mind, characters whose brilliance I haven’t fully relished. It’s really a play written which seems to have be written when the playwright himself was exploring USA, and all his ideas explode into Angels in America. It’s well worth your time.

 

The Complete Review of 2003 TV Movie ‘Angels In America’ The Golden Globe And Emmy Award Winning Mike Nichols Magnum Opus Starring Oscar Winners Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep

Angels in America (TV miniseries)

Angels in America (TV miniseries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Grade: A

 

Summary: Angels In America Was Perhaps Written at a Time When Kushner Himself Was Discovering His Identity In The United States of America. His Play Is Both Worthy Of Acclaim and Wordy to Take It All In At Once. But The Pill Here Is Mike Nichols and an Extraordinary Cast, who Make The Film Well Worth Your Time

 

There is much multiplicity in Angels in America, all of which may be difficult to decipher in the worthiness and wordiness of Tony Kushner‘s Pulitzer winning script. There are political, theological and cultural allusions that are expressed in lengthy dialogues, sermons, monologues etc that you may find hard to allocate to the purpose of the play. What is simpler to understand is the questions about morality, musings about death, isolation and betrayal, problems of identity crisis and the universal feelings of love, compassion, empathy, responsibility, unity and impermanence. You constantly witness characters questioning their beliefs, breaking down, losing their sanity, finding a revelation and then living with hope that they find their true place and purpose in the ever-evolving life. And Kushner’s play is hardly didactic in tone, and neither does he express it in clean, profanity-free words: characters curse and abuse, resort to racial and profane epithets, vituperate the angels, ghosts and even God (of course, much of the exchanges are quite humorous) to obtain answers to complex existential issues that haunt humans, and that especially became important during the 80s when the AIDS broke out like plague in the US but had no form of treatment available to most patients.

 

Under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, a majorly Conservative rule prevailed  in United States of America in the 80s which many people recognise as the ‘Reagan era’. While I have little knowledge of those times, I can easily understand what those years must’ve been for homosexuals because we still find Conservatives to be the only guys who oppose any liberty given to them towards free and equal citizen status. Angels in America shows that AIDS then was given little attention because of the observation that most patients suffering from it were homosexuals or people indulging in sexual activities with others of same sex. The respite (not cure) from the disease was only given to people of important status while the rest ‘silently faded away’ as they ‘mattered little’ or they ‘brought it upon themselves’.

 

Prior Walter is an openly gay man who’s the first in the film to be inflicted by the disease. His Jewish gay partner Louis, who already has a track record of abnegating responsibility, slowly distances himself from his lover despite loving him dearly. Prior accuses Louis of not believing truly in what he preaches, and finds support in his best friend and ex-lover Belize and the hospital nurse. He also begins to experience seemingly realistic hallucinations where he encounters unknown people, ghosts and angels, who proclaim that he is a Prophet who can cure the world’s miseries if he wishes. Another man Joe, a Conservative Mormon lawyer begins discovering his second skin when he realizes that his coldness towards his wife stems from his repressed homosexuality, which he had always ignored as it went against his religious beliefs. His wife Harper, as a result of emotional isolation and fears, lives in comfort and friendship of imaginary friends who, akin Prior’s hallucinatory encounters, give answers to the questions that remain vague or unanswered in reality. Joe’s mother,aptly referred to as ‘Mother Pitt’ is an ordinary Mormon wife who, although is upset by her son’s revelation, finds that her womanhood innately shows the qualities of empathy and compassion to be more flexible towards changes around her.

Tony Kushner and Angels in America's 20th Anni...

The Brilliant Tony Kushner -First Angels In America, Now Lincoln (Photo credit: commonwealth.club)

Joe’s mentor is Roy Cohn, the famous Conservative Jewish lawyer who strongly shows anti-communist and racist attitudes and ignores moral and ethical issues in doing what he believes is right for US. The contemptible, churlish, unconscionable brute is another victim of AIDS, which he contracted through sexual relations with men; yet Roy does not believe he is a homosexual, terming the tag only for those ‘whom nobody knows and who know nobody’. His confrontation with his past sins materializes in the form of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, a Jewish woman whom Roy had convicted using undue power for espionage.

 

Distance, death, desertion and isolation are recurring themes in Angels in America. The opening monologue of the rabbi itself is an example of distance: we see Louis and Prior sitting together a few rows behind the other members of their family as the rabbi is sermonizing at Louis’ grandmother’s funeral about the brave woman’s voyage to America. The two gay men are separated from the rest for their homosexuality while the Rabbi expresses his conservative view on religion. There is a haunting image about death some scenes later when Louis broaches the subject of desertion to the rabbi: after the conversation, we see an extremely long shot/view of the almost unending graveyard, with numberless black gravestones. Mike Nichols, the TV movie‘s director makes his camera float into and away from the subjects, and poetically captures the magic realism of the story. The colors in the film also capture the character’s emotion or essence, and sometimes you may see the whole image going startlingly red or brilliantly blue or find a major color dominating the background, like a dull yellow background around Mother Pitt when she arrives home and gets a call about her daughter–law or shades of green on Mother Pitt and Prior during their conversation at the hospital. There is, in short, a lot we get to see, and I haven’t come to burning ghosts of Prior’s ancestors and his shared dream with Harper yet!

 

Despite the complexities and the multitudinous implications in the play, you are always connected to the humanness of the characters. Yes, you may not believe that some of the characters can speak the dialogues that Kushner has given them to say, as they sound too big and important to come from common minds, yet you cannot ignore how deeply he explores universal topics to tell us who our real angels on earth are how we humans can make the world a better place.

Al Pacino as Roy Cohn in Angels in America

Al Pacino as Roy Cohn in Angels in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pacino is at his strongest and is the strongest of the cast here, making us feel a little sympathetic towards his character Roy’s horrible suffering while loathing almost every shameless ideology of the jerk. You’d think ‘What kind of enlightenment will this bastard gain from his suffering? Just die already!’, and indeed he’s just as repellent in hospital as he was outside and we never expect the man to change completely, but we see a sort of relation grow between him and people whom he usually wouldn’t even look at, people like Belize (a black homosexual, that’s two things to piss Roy off already). Do expect to hear plenty of racial slurs in their scenes together.

 

While Pacino has only one character to handle, Streep has three (if you include the Angel of Australia, four) characters to handle; one is the Rabbi, the second is Mother Pitt and the third is Ethel Rosenberg. Meryl’s rabbi has been given a complex characterization, and you are barely aware of ‘her’ presence in the rabbi and I’m saying this because when you know someone’s playing a particular character, you start hunting for the actor in the character and this never happens here. And her voice is perfect for a rabbi (plus,she’s part Jewish) who like priests, gurus and spiritual leader have a dulcet, persuasive tone that can make any person stop, listen and sometimes even fall for a belief that may be untrue or anachronistic. Her ‘Mother Pitt’ is the best of the characters, and her scenes with Prior (watch out the part when she tells that it isn’t good to make assumptions about somebody) are brilliant and touching. Meryl has her funny moments too in the scene with the homeless man as Mother Pitt and probably all her scenes with Roy as the ghost of Ethel. Emma Thompson is really smart here because she doesn’t give the archetypal version of an angel, and that gives her scenes the ambiguity that very-real looking dreams have: you never know whether it really happened or not!

English: Patrick Wilson at the film premiere o...

Patrick Wilson – Our Conflicted Joe(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apart from three acting Tysons, we see plenty of other talented and young (though one close up of Emma Thomson as the angel and you have a pretty pointy sandcastle in your pants… Seriously, how did she look so young and hot in the scene?) actors not just filling up but taking full control of their scenes (ironically playing out-of-control characters). Justin Kirk as Prior is sick as hell, he’s funny as hell, he’s funny as sick and quite a queen indeed! Ben Shenkman plays his partner Louis, and unlike stereotypical gay men who are shown to have an unending passion for fancy clothes and gossip, Shenkman’s Louis is more like Mitchell from Modern family; he wears average joe clothes, can’t tell the difference between purple and mauve (as his friend Belize points out), loves (and I mean ‘loves’) talking politics and bashing conservatives (common hatred among gays though) and yes, Louis’ peculiarity, loves abandoning people: first his grandmother whom he hadn’t seen in ten years, then Prior and then… We’ll keep that in the closet for now. Shenkman has to act like a jerk but not be a jerk and he succeeds at doing that. Patrick Wilson’s Joe has in some ways the most difficult role of playing a thoroughly conflicted Republican Mormon married attorney who is a repressed homosexual and he doesn’t really get the most charming resolution, and Patrick is really good. Both Mary Louise and especially Jeffrey Wright have acted well, the latter having to show different traits and shades (in his scenes with his pals and those with Roy) so as to remain engaging.

Angels in America runs for six hours, but I have no problem seeing it again. There are things I know I’ve missed, meanings still not fully understood, questions still running in my mind, characters whose brilliance I haven’t fully relished. It’s really a play written which seems to have be written when the playwright himself was exploring USA, and all his ideas explode into Angels in America. It’s well worth your time.

Reviewing Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar Winning ‘Django Unchained’, Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio

English: Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the Cés...

Quentin Tarantino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grade: A

Summary: Tarantino radically reboots, redesigns and redefines Spaghetti Western, rising above plot conventions with risible humor, rambunctious violence and trademark Tarantino-ism

Quentin Tarantino redefines and refurbishes Western Spaghetti genre with ‘Django Unchained‘ the same manner in which he reinforced his Tarantino-ism into ‘Kill Bill‘ thereby redefining Japanese and Hong Kong martial art films, and so in short in both the cases -he kills it (in a good way, that is)! Django Unchained’s plot is hardly novel and Tarantino adheres dutifully to the forms and conventions of the Western genre -even the pre-Civil war backdrop is peripheral in narrating what is basically a revenge saga; I saw Django as the male counterpart of Bride/Beatrix from Kill Bill and Django’s relation with Schultz being similar to Vincent and Jules’ in Pulp Fiction (a diehard Tarantino fan would easily spot more).

But Quentin’s endeavors are much more than ‘recycling or rehashing) -who else shows such panache, such boldness, such passion, such balls to even touch these antique genres and give them such a subversive and transgressive shake they come out brand new as though Quentin was the pioneer of these genres and not those directors who made the movie which inspired the maverick in the first place? Django Unchained, though not as aesthetically and emotionally satisfying as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, is still one hell of a genre-redefining movie which like most Tarantino movies, makes you feel cool and awesome in the end.

The director/scriptwriter never really cared for complex themes (but he could construct his narrative expertly, making the plots seem much more complex than they actually are) and Django Unchained is no exception as a single sentence will be enough to describe what the film’s about: ‘Django, with Dr.Schulz’s help, tries to get his wife back and extract his revenge on those who separated his wife from him’. Now that sounds enough, right? No wait -let’s just change the ‘tries to’ to ‘will do anything to’ -oh yes, that sounds like ‘Tarantino’ film now! Django, played by Jamie Fox, is a slave during the pre-Civil war period who is set free by a German dentist and bounty hunter going by the name of Mr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who appears so overwhelmed during his award speeches it’s a marvel to watch him playing such nonchalant, crafty characters). The German bounty hunter teams up with Django in tracking down (and in all cases, taken down quite brutally) wrongdoers and hunting down the Brittle Brothers who had once owned Django and his wife Broomhilda von Shaft. When the two realize that Broomhilda is in possession of a dangerously and deviously profligate plantation owner Candie (a deadly portrayal by Leonardo DiCaprio), both try to rescue her by duping Candie. But Candie has his own right-hand man, the terrifying senior house slave Stephen (Samuel Jackson, whose appearance caused an excited frenzy among the audiences) who can smell something fishy in Mr. Schultz and Django’s offer and tries to find out whether the slave trade offer is what they have come for.

It does not require rocket-science to figure out how Django Unchained will progress; after every bounty kill, you have a conversation between Django and Mr. Schultz about what do, where to head next, Django’s wife, German folklore etc, mostly taking place at nighttime in lonely rocky areas. And every segment takes longer to end than the previous one until the climax, so the longest duration is spent on the Candie segment. The weapon used is either a shotgun or rifle (you see the insides spluttering out) and a whip in one flashback sequence, but the violence is only marginal compared to Tarantino brings once the Candie segment begins. Then you get a disturbing and sadistic fights, shooting and more shooting –and Tarantino keeps the camera very close to the action so you can get to see blood splashing out as bullets pierce bodies.

Critics have a great number of reasons to attack a movie like this, but they don’t and the reason for this is same that we heard from Tarantino himself in his smug Oscar acceptance speech: “My films have great characters”. I’d add ‘and great conversations on topics you would hardly hear in conventional movies’. Who would have thought that keeping a seven-ten minute sequence of Candie monologuing with a skull (like Hamlet) of the previous head slave, about blacks remaining slaves because of the higher composition of ‘servile’ matter in their brain, would be one of the most memorable sequences from the film? Had any other director read this sequence in the script, he would’ve most probably laughed at it. But Tarantino is one who knows how to make these sequences work, and so he gives us such a depraved and egregious character like Candie to mouth the words that we instantly find it believable.

Both ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘Lincoln’ closely deal with black empowerment, but in Lincoln you only get to see a white man do everything for his black brothers. Tarantino wants the blacks to get their share of revenge, and so he uses the Western genre to directly give a black the chance to win for his brothers. Where else would you get Western where the hero and his love are black? The radical soundtrack, steering from a traditional African sound to country music to modern hip hop, is an indication that you will always get the unexpected from a guy like Tarantino.

English: Christoph Waltz on the red carpet of ...

2 Time Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unchained is not emotionally as gripping as Kill Bill, and one reason may be that the protagonist here is a male slave who has seen so much wrong that he is almost apathetic to an extent. But I did feel that Foxx took more time to get in character than Kerry Washington, who’s far more convincing as the beaten-and-broken Broomhilda. You love how subtly Christoph Waltz conveys his character’s tension inwardly when Candie learns of his plan, trying his best not to show his weakness yet you hear is usually-confident voice drop to a whisper. DiCaprio has the mien of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and mind of Alex from Clockwork Orange, and the actor’s detractors who complain that he’s acting in the same manner in his recent roles will shut up after watching Candie (unless they want Candie to batter their skulls!).

Django Unchained’s a little too long and some scenes stretch out too much (like the handshake scene between Schultz and Candie): Tony Kushner’s script is a tad more worthy of the Oscar than Tarantino’s. Yet Tarantino is one director from whom you’ll always expect the unexpected, and Django is one badass motherf**ker film.

Capturing Lincoln – Or the First Sixteen Minutes Minutes That I Missed on My First Viewing

Just managed to catch the first sixteen minutes of Lincoln which I had missed on my first viewing. Spielberg does begin Lincoln with an unflinchingly macabre scene of war which is not all that bloody yet very bleak because of the low lighting and rain effect. There is a shot where a soldier’s face is shown trampled under the leg of an enemy but because of heavy rains flooding  the battle arena, his face becomes invisible to us and it is left to our imagination that he must have drowned.

The scene is then seamlessly shifted to a head shot of a black soldier speaking to Lincoln. While he seems to be a little hesitant in expressing his thoughts, his younger, more tenacious companion brings up the matter of including black soldiers in the higher ranks of the army. Throughout the scene, only the back of Lincoln’s head is seen until he asks the soldier what he would do after the war ends. It is then that we get a first glance of Lincoln’s sculpted face. As the soldiers are talking two white soldiers enter the scene and one acts a little kiddish when he asks Lincoln what his height is (reminded me of that ridiculous question asked by a reporter to Daniel Day Lewis after he won an Oscar: ‘Did you enjoy wearing a beard?’). Then we hear the two white soldiers alternatively reciting the famous Gettysburg address till they are summoned by the army. As the black soldiers join them, the young one speaks the last part of the speech before heading off to the rest of the army. This entire portion from the entry of the two white soldiers to the fade-out does seem a tad stagy but fortunately not too distracting.

We are next announced about Lincoln’s party getting re-elected and the civil war still continuing. Then is a scene between Lincoln and his wife Mary, and we can easily sense Mary’s uxorial concern towards Lincoln by the way the camera pans at her face whenever she speaks and then cuts to the next shot of Lincoln in the foreground calmly answering her while she seems at a distance (wide-angle shots), still worried about him. Mary warns him not to take up the thirteenth amendment in Parliament as it was ‘bound to be rejected’ and is more concerned about his well-being and security (we hear that an assassination attempt has already taken place). Lincoln leaves the room and goes to his youngest son who asks him when his elder brother was coming back; Lincoln tells him grievingly that his brother would not come back.

The scene shifts to Lincoln giving a small speech before leaving with his political aides to discuss about the thirteenth amendment. As Lincoln along with two party members is taken in a carriage, one of them warns Lincoln about the high probably of the bill getting rejected for lack of votes in the Parliament. The conversation continues in the office where they are accosted by two people who show support for Lincoln’s proposal.

Interesting to note how subtly Spielberg uses the camera to highlight the different relations Lincoln has with his soldiers, his wife and with the party members. Except the little screen time given to show soldiers battling, the way Abraham Lincoln is introduced (his first interaction with black soldiers which highlights the empathy he shares with them) reminds me of the introduction of Queen Elizabeth 2 in The Queen: The Queen interacts with a painter while getting her portrait done where she asks him whether he had voted for Tony Blair to which the latter replies in the negative for the reason that he still cherished old values and was against the reformations that Blair promised to bring in England. The Queen is pleased with his reply obviously, being a conservative thinker herself. I think even the 2010 film King’s Speech (about George VI) had a similar style of introducing the purpose of the film i.e. doing something about King George’s fear of public speaking. There is a similarity is the way most biopics begin; they all highlight the most important trait about the person which is manifested in the way he/she handles the circumstance that is to be faced soon in the movie.

More Oscar Nominated Films to be reviewed soon (I know the word ‘Oscar nominated‘ might put off some who consider the Oscars to be overrated, but no one would care if I put ‘the NYFCC award winner …’ (which I’m very excited about) so please bear with the frequent reference to ‘Oscar’!)