Film Louvre Treasures: United 93 Review

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Summary: . The final moments of the film are very tough to stomach, and it’s possibly one of the most brilliant endings I’ve seen in films. I shed man tears.

Rating: AAA / 100%

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Khalid AbdallaChristian ClemensonCheyenne Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Sarmed al-Samarrai,
David Alan Basche

Journalist turned director Paul Greengrass, best known among fans for his Bourne trilogy, has been repeatedly accused of overusing jump cuts and shaky effects on handheld cameras, his beloved device for shooting both high-voltage action and drama sequences. Bourne Supremacy would cut every 1.9 seconds, while Bourne Ultimatum, the final installment featuring Matt Damon, wouldn’t hold continuity beyond 2 seconds on an average. Mr. Greengrass also loved to shape up his things with ‘squinty’ zooms (he focuses on the person speaking and then zooms in immediately as if the camera is pricking its ears to listen along) and unsteady motion that perhaps broke a hefty amount of traditional continuity rules – film classicists were not amused. After Damon bid goodbye to Bourne post Ultimatum, Greengrass followed suit and cast the actor in his next film Green Zone, a war thriller based on the non-fiction book Imperial Life in Emerald City by journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Despite some glowing reviews (Roger finally embraced Greengrass’ style unconditionally and awarded the movie the maximum 4 stars), the film proved disappointing at the box office.

Fast-forward to 2013: Greengrass’ Captain Phillips starring two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is performing superbly at the box office. Again, the director chooses to cover a real life event; this time, it’s the 2009 abduction of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips by Somalian pirates. The film has been acclaimed not just for its verisimilitude and the performances but also for developing the Somalian pirates into three-dimensional characters instead of stereotypical caricatures. A lot would probably say it’s his best effort yet, and the film is top notch in staging the entire event realistically. It’s far better than the Bourne Series, but between Supremacy and Ultimatum, Greengrass made another movie called United 93, which had a good run at the box office and was a critical darling. I caught this movie on television today, and boy oh boy, its brilliant! If I were told to pick one film that defines Paul Greengrass’ contribution to cinema, my choice shall be United 93. The final moments of the film are very tough to stomach, and it’s possibly one of the most brilliant endings I’ve seen in films. I shed man tears.

The situation is grave here. It’s September 11th , 2001, a date that needs no introduction. Two flights crashed into World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon. The fourth, United 93, crashed into a field near the Diamond T. Mine in Pennsylvania near Shanksville. That didn’t go according to the terrorists’ plan – they were heading either to the White House or the Capitol Building. So how did they end up missing their target when the other three hijacking went according to plan? The entire credit goes to the courageous force comprising of thirty three passengers and seven crew members. I tear up again thinking about the final shot in the film – it’s still lingering in my mind. Those brave forty men and women knew the chances of survival were minimal. All they could do was avert a portentous disaster that could result in more deaths – they gave up their lives to save the people who would’ve been killed had the plane crashed into a building. To have this magnitude of selflessness while hoping for the better is something that makes these people heroes forever in our hearts. And Greengrass is a hero for steering clear of any false sincerity or earnestness that usually hampers films dealing in subjects of great cultural, social, political and historical significance. He shoots it straight, and gets it right. Perfect.

While Captain Phillips slowly shifted focus from Captain Phillips and the hijacking pirates to the Navy’s attempts to rescue them, United 93 covers greatly the Federal Avatiation Admistration’s unsuccessful attempts to avert the disasters for the first hour or so. There are tough decisions to be made in situations like this. National Operatives Manager has to decide whether to shut down all the airspace in the United States or not – a billion dollar matter. He is suggested to shoot down the aircraft – a matter of human lives. The radar shows flights diverting from original course and congesting the entire air traffic. The word ‘hijack’ pops up now and then, along with signals that flights are to crash. The World Trade Center goes down first, and the FFA watches in horror on large screens. Then the Pentagon goes down. There is panic. Another flight – United 93 goes off-course and shouts of help are heard in radio transmissions. Its soon realized this flight could go down anytime. While shooting these scenes, the camera seems to be as curious and involved as the actors and the spectators. Greengrass includes a number of profile shots with characters looking upset or shocked, but he isn’t a director to stop too long to ‘capture the beauty of every moment’. Instead, he surges forth with the action – stopping the camera may be a mark of falseness to him, perhaps.

Then he shifts to the passengers’ ordeal once the terrorists take over the flight, killing the pilot and co-pilot and injuring a

Director Paul Greengrass at the Bourne Ultimat...

Paul Greengrass is one of the best modern filmmakers; his work as a journalist in the past is evident in the stories he picks to film(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

passenger. Two take charge of the cockpit, while the other two keep the passengers in check. Similar to United 93, the passengers here have some advantages over the two terrorists: they can speak English, they make calls to their loved ones, and then they decide to do something. The terrorists too have their strengths: the communication between them cannot be understood by the passengers, one wields a knife while a bomb is strapped to the other, and they are in control of the cockpit. Their names are Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Saeed al-Ghamdi and Ahmed al-Nami – Muslims. None of the passengers mention Al Queda, the terrorist organization responsible for most attacks on humanity. Greengrass wisely chooses to convey the difference in religions obliquely through utterances of ‘Allah O Akbar’ from the terrorists and ‘Jesus Christ’ from passengers. My only quibble here is that unlike Captain Phillips, United 93 doesn’t elaborate on the terrorists’ motives or their state of mind: this is perhaps deliberately done to act as a prelude to the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that soon caught up in the States. Greengrass avoids subtitles for many of their dialogues, which further helps in raising the level of tension.

He has an ensemble to help in creating a highly convincing scenario of panic and fear. This isn’t a one man show, and Greengrass allows the camera to freely move among the passengers. The actors here act as naturally as if they were sitting on a real plane. The same thing is seen in case of the headquarters of FAA, and it’s obvious Paul and his cast has worked really hard to create a feeling of documentary realism. This makes why it becomes intensely difficult for us to watch the final moments – a heartbreakingly wonderful display of fortitude, mettle and heroism, but alas, without a happy ending.

Film Louvre Treasures – Singin in the Rain

Note: In ‘Treasures’, I shall review some of the films I’ve already watched. These films have in some way or the other become a part of me and my appreciation has grown for them with every watch.

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Here, I review Singin in the Rain, a Gene Kelly, Stanley Doden Film Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, R.F. Simpson, Cyd Charisse.

The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain was on television probably four years ago. I remember having called it ‘the best movie I had ever seen’. I immediately rented a DVD and watched it five times in the next two days, each time loving it all the more. I watched it with my grandmother and my nine year old cousin and they loved it too; my cousin found Gene Kelly’s dialogue ‘You reptile!’ so funny he repeats this line whenever I mention about the film. Four years have passed and I still remember the hooks of all the incredibly catchy songs. I’ve also done my service by recommending this film to anyone who may have a liking for old musicals or who is depressed in some way or the other; I wouldn’t do this usually because most musicals, old or new, have failed to blow me away the way Singin’ in the Rain has.

Finally, I got my hands on the Collector’s Edition of Singin’ in the Rain a few days ago and lent it to my cousin for some days. She saw it with her mom and said, on returning the DVD, that both enjoyed the movie immensely. This is a kind of film that can be asked to check if a person is human: a) Yes, I enjoyed Singin’ in the Rain, for confirming you belong to the human race and b) No, I didn’t enjoy Singin’ in the Rain, for sending you back to the planet you came from. So I gave this movie another watch, this time on my home-theater. Would I sing along with the same enthusiasm I had for it four years ago? I would… I would.

Even elaborate notes in my diary, which pointed the revealing mistakes I overlooked in my previous viewing, did not impact my fondness towards the film, which is so great I wanted to hug this darling film in my arms once again. Mr. Roger Ebert, while placing this film in his list of ‘Great Movies’, remarked that the ten minute spectacular Broadway Ballet sequence before the film’s climax didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the film, but also mentioned that he knew of MGM’s trend to include a lengthy song and dance piece in their earlier musicals. I

English: Portrait of Cyd Charisse from Singin'...

Cyd Charisse from Singin’ in the Rain  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

too was about to write this sequence off when it began, yet by the end I felt Broadway Ballet was the perfect moment to represent the spirit of Singin’ in The Rain. And why would I not want this sequence when it features ethereal dance goddess Cyd Charisse who’s probably the hottest thing ever for connoisseurs of women. She represents the unattainable in Hollywood, who shuns anyone incapable of satisfying her material needs, including our hero. Yet, our hero has gotta dance no matter how bad times are. He only has to keep ‘Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain!’ and life will surely get better.

Another reason why Singin’ in the Rain is so highly regarded is that we learn quite a bit about Hollywood in the late twenties, when silent films began dwindling in numbers after the influx of talking pictures. From a historical perspective, we learn about the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood which, as mentioned in the book Oxford History of World Cinema, had ‘a green bronze pagoda roof towering some ninety feet above the entrance that mimicked an oriental temple. Inside a sunburst pendant chandelier hung sixty feet above two thousand seats in a flame red auditorium with accents of jade, gold and classic antique Chinese reproductions’ (most modern multiplexes look like shanty houses in comparison). This is the place where lavish premieres were held, where entertainment reporters (since the term ‘paparazzi’ wasn’t invented until La Dolce Vita released in the sixties) waited in anticipation of celebrities who arrive one after the other in expensive cars, and where fans cheered their lungs out whenever their idols waved at them.

Cropped screenshot of Jean Hagen from the trai...

Jean Hagen as self-centered diva Lina Lamont Singin’ in the Rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, leading silent film actors, arrive at the beginning of Singin’ in the Rain to the premier of their film ‘Royal Rascal’ at the Chinese theatre. The Hollywood reporter who interviews them wants to hear how Don and Lina became the most desirable couple, and when Don starts talking about his best pal Cosmo and tries introducing him to the audience outside, (Cosmo’s standing behind the reporter, sadly ignored), the reporter taps Cosmo’s hand as though signaling him to stay out and that she only wants Don to speak about himself and Lina. And so our Royal rascal narrates the rosiest picture of his past where ‘dignity mattered’ to him the most; of course we’re able to see he’s bluffing entirely, only to satisfy the gossip-hungry tabloids. In reality, Don and Cosmo played in cheap motels and vaudevilles, sneaked into B-grade films and remained without employment too, until Don, who’s fit as a fiddle and ready for film, got a chance to work as a stunt hero in Roscoe Dexter’s movies and was offered by R.F. Simpson, producer of Monumental pictures, to act opposite leading lady Lina Lamont. Cosmo, on the other hand, provided orchestration for Dexter’s films (in those days, an orchestra would be present at the filming, playing along with the action) and remained in Don’s shadow.

The ‘love’ between Don and Lina is also entirely fictional, as everybody on the set knows that Don hates the repugnant, bossy, vain, screechy pain-in-the butt Lina, who ‘can neither sing, neither dance, neither act. Triple trouble’ (I beg to differ. Lina did seem to act well at least in her silent films); a delusional Lina meanwhile believes Don is her man only because fan magazines suggest so. Lina’s voice is so grating she’s urged by the studio to remain silent during premieres and let Don do the talking. But with the success of talkie film Jazz Singer, both Lamont and Lockwood are compelled to learn how to talk in movies for their next talking picture Duelling Cavalier, taking diction classes which make up for some of the most hilarious sequences;  poor Lina pronounces ‘can’t stand’  as ‘caaayn’t staaynd’ every single time.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

Gene Kelly and girls in Singin’ in the Rain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our hero is smitten with small time stage actress Kathy Selden, after he lands up in her car while escaping his fans. While their first meeting doesn’t really go that well (beautiful girl Kathy disparages Don’s pictures as ‘dumb shows’, while ravishing rascal Don teases her ‘pretentious loftiness’. Later, at a party, she aims a cake at him, which misses and hits Lina right in the kisser), Don nevertheless cannot forget about her and later meets and courts her, crooning the lovely number ‘You were meant for me’. When the preview of Duelling Cavalier turns out to be a disaster, Kathy and Cosmo cheer Don up with the infectiously hummable ‘Good Morning’ and suggest him to turn Dueling Cavalier into a musical, naming it ‘Dancing Cavalier’ instead. They also decide to use Kathy’s voice for Lamont, without informing the latter that her voice will be dubbed. The problem arises when narcissistic and manipulative Lena finds out their plan and threatens to sue Simpson and take over his production unless her demands are met (which is to sign a long term contract with Seldon to use her as a dubbing artist for Lamont so that she herself would never get her chance to shine).

While a couple of recent musicals with lofty ambitions and complicated cinematography (Les Miserables) haven’t exactly done well critically, Singin’ in the Rain remains everybody’s beloved for its relatively simplistic approach to make us laugh, cry, sing and dance and love. The camera either swoops in our out and its usually dissolves which transition to the next scene, and I prefer this to the jerky movements in Les Miserables. The writers don’t hesitate in letting us know what happens behind the screens, but never let the film turn into a depressing downer, an approach most directors would choose today. There’s the fake publicity tactic, sucking up and the usual envy among actors, especially the ladies; its Zelda, a cast member who looked disgruntled in an earlier scene where Simpson singles her out for her performance, who lets Lena know that Kathy’s dubbing her. Yet the music remains cheerful, upbeat and the dancing extremely lissome; Singin’ in the Rain is above all a sexy film.

Gene Kelly dancing while singing the title son...

The Crowning Achievement is the Title Song “Singin’ in the Rain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best spotlight moment in the film would be the ‘Singin in the Rain’ sequence with Gene Kelly; the song is one of the most mellifluous compositions ever written. Would I keep this song as the guiding motto throughout my life? I would… I would.

Review of Nine, a 2009 musical Directed by Rob Marshall and Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie

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Nine (wikipedia)

Summary:  Nine has characters who represent characters of another film (Fellini‘s 8 1/2)  but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions

About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of ‘harrassment of women by their NRI husbands’, written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecesary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn’t deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question ‘What am I supposed to feel here?’ crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is ‘filmed’.

I have not seen Fellini’s autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert’s advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman’s ‘ideal woman’ character and Daniel Day Lewis’ ‘detached persona looking for a centre’, which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

A smiling man wearing a grey hat with piping above the band, and a tan Western style shirt, stands in an office, posing for the camera.

Daniel Day Lewis Plays Guido Contini in Nine

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting ‘Marina Abramović’s – The Artist is Present’ exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don’t really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they’re given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini’s often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether ‘he has nothing to speak about’, Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie ‘Italia’ does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There’s angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini’s mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except ‘Cinema Italiano’ which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it’s got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly’s super-duper-brilliant ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine aren’t memorable. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to ‘sell a performance’; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly.  And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the ‘performance element’ that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that ‘she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli’s performances’; watch ‘Mamma Mia’ and you’ll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain’t that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That’s a tragedy.

Review of Hugo, an Oscar Winning 2011 Film By Martin Scorsese, Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen

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Hugo (wikipedia)

GRADE: AA / 90%

 Summary: Martin Scorsese is a magician who loves making movies, and each and every minute of Hugo is a testament to this; with his arms outstretched, he invites us to be hypnotized by his timeless creation, a cinematic ode to films

Cast:

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle
Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès / Papa Georges
Sacha Baron Cohen as Inspector Gustave
Helen McCrory as Jeanne d’Alcy / Mama Jeanne
Michael Stuhlbarg as René Tabard
Jude Law as Hugo’s father
Ray Winstone as Claude Cabret
Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse
Emily Mortimer as Lisette
Frances de la Tour as Madame Emile
Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick

Martin Scorsese is a magician who loves making movies, and each and every minute of Hugo is a testament to this; with his arms outstretched, he invites us to be hypnotized by his timeless creation, a cinematic ode to films – a medium that shall carry on so long as we dream, so long as our spirit for adventure doesn’t die and our purpose of life remains strong.

Broken is the life of Georges Méliès, a man, a magician celebrated once for his innovative contributions to film, and only can Hugo Cabret being back happiness to his defeated existence; it is Scorsese who colors their lives with wit, with charm, with humor, with a tinge of sadness but most importantly, with hope.

Hugo is a visually brilliant film, a Scorsese’s vision of Paris, and you soon fall in love with its characters, their lives, their desires, their dreams. It is an ode to cinema, and yet it remains entirely Scorsese’s and that is what makes it new and fresh.

‘Time is everything’ chimes Hugo’s uncle Claude, a drunken lout, as he brings Hugo to train station Gare Montparnasse’s clock-tower where he mends clocks; Hugo’s father has just died in a fire accident, and his son, now orphaned, is taught by Uncle Claude how to mend clocks. We see of Uncle Claude no more, its only Hugo and his little, secret life inside the enormous castle of a clock-tower. Scorsese opens the film with turning clock wheels dissolving into Parisian streets, then gives us a scintillating glimpse of Paris like we’ve never seen before, before taking us down to Gare Montparnasse station, moving along the station life and rising to the clock face but closing in near number five, where we see finally see Hugo’s eyes.

Hugo controls time, the station time to be exact, and so long as the clock functions fine, he remains safe. His only hurdle outside is the station inspector, a hard-hearted monomaniac whose sole purpose is to catch hold of orphaned children loitering in the station and send them off to orphanage. Through the dial, he watches the movement outside – the amusing courtship between café owner Madame Emile and newsstand owner Monsieur Frick, flower lady Lisette’s morning greetings to passersby, the station-master’s watchful eye and toymaker Georges’ tiny shop. He’s particularly keen about Georges’ shop because he steals toy parts whenever Georges dozes off to sleep; he needs these parts to fix ‘Automaton’, a mechanical man Hugo’s father left behind unrepaired. Automaton, when fixed, will write down something and Hugo believes it would be a message from his late father.

Martin Scorsese at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festi...

Martin Scorsese – the man, the magician (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But while attempting to steal some parts one day, he’s caught by Georges. The toymaker threatens to alert the station-inspector unless Hugo reveals to him why he is stealing toy parts. When Hugo remains defiantly silent, Georges peruses the diary he’s holding and mysteriously utters ‘Ghosts!’ before taking away the diary from him and declaring to burn it. Before Hugo can persuade him to return the diary, the station-inspector Gustave and his Doberman Pinscher give him a chase. Hugo escapes, but now has to find a way to get the diary back; he follows Georges to his home one day and beckons his goddaughter Isabelle to meet him.

The two little explorers embark on an adventure to get the book back and find the key that would make Automaton work. In doing so, they discover something they’d never even dreamed of – toymaker and Isabelle’s godparent Georges is the man behind pioneering movies like ‘A Trip to the Moon’; yes, he is indeed THE Georges Méliès, but he’s defeated and lost all his former glory. And he’s dead, according to Rene Tabard’s book on film history, but that’s until Rene meets Hugo and Isabelle in the public library, and things soon begin to change, for everyone.

Along the way, we learn how cinema began and just how important it was for the makers. Even today, you have filmmakers complaining that the glory days of film are over. Even Scorsese’s film, as good as a film can get, still could hardly match up to collections of the Transformers movie released in the same year. The truth is, so long as you have love what you’re doing and haven’t lost the burning desire to do it, you’ll live a happy life and be proud of what you’ve accomplished. And Scorsese should take a bow for creating Hugo.

Wouldn’t have been such a delight without its wonderful cast – Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz, who are expressive and believable, especially Moretz. The wrong casting would’ve made Hugo and Isabelle snotty and annoyingly precocious children, but Asa and Chloe play it right. Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic delight as Gustave while Ben Kingsley is convincing as the crabby Georges and touching in his later scenes. The DVD comes with a special feature that includes the making of Hugo, and you get a good insight on what these actors felt working with a man, a magician like Scorsese who loves making movies.

Review of Bridges of Madison County, A Clint Eastwood FIlm Starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep

GRADE: BB / 60% 

Cover of "The Bridges of Madison County D...

Cover via Amazon

Summary: A decent film worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep, provided one is willing to endure some contrived writing, middling supporting performances and weak framing device

“Robert, I want you to come” Francesca says with an almost pleading tone over the telephone, thus initiating the four-day amour between her and Robert, a travelling photographer on a short trip to Iowa. It is an adventure for Francesca, who considers herself a common Iowan housewife without a liking for change. She is anything but common, as Robert tells her in another scene, otherwise she wouldn’t have said those words; Francesca fully knew what she was doing, yet she on her own accord went ahead. How long her relationship could last with Robert didn’t matter to her then; what mattered was that she could find pure happiness with this man, a state she hadn’t felt in years.

This adventure gradually becomes a spiritual journey for the unhappy housewife, gradually unraveling the mysteries of life and love. But the leap to a spiritual journey requires a renunciation from her adventure; otherwise the love shared between Francesca and Robert would culminate in nothing more than a liaison. And so, Bridges of Madison County does away with the pretty Hollywood ending and still, everything does end up well for everybody.

A thoughtful message indeed, but what troubles is that Bridges of Madison County is that it often makes us feel as though we’re watching a typical lifetime film whose sole intent is to make big moral observations whenever and wherever possible. So the scenes are often plagued with ‘that moment when there’s momentarily silence after which a character speaks something big’ – it often is found just before a scene ends. And while Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, our Robert and Francesca, do try not to allow this film to slip into a silly melodrama, the clichéd material sometimes becomes overwhelming for the two. The two other actors playing Francesca grown-up children do not help either, almost making it look as though two separate films of different caliber – the better one with Streep and Eastwood, of course, were spliced together.

Bridges of Madison County begins with Francesca’s children Caroline and Michael arriving at their recently deceased mother’s Iowa home for settlement of her estate. Both the children are married and both are unhappy with their marriages and yet they’ve neither cheated on their spouses nor have they thought of a divorce. Michael does have a valid reason for being mad at his wife though, because she says the darndest things at the most inappropriate time; just when Michael is handed the keys of Francesca’s safety deposit box, she offhandedly jokes that Francesca could’ve left millions in the box for her children. No, it isn’t a Hitchcock story so forget the millions; instead what’s found in the box is an old camera, pictures and letters. Caroline begins reading one of the letters and learns that her mother had written a love letter once to a man named Robert. She talks to Michael in private and the two begin reading the letters after asking Michael’s wife and the accompanying lawyer to leave. There’s a silly line spoken by Caroline when she opens a magazine which has a picture of Robert Kincaid with the name mentioned clearly on the left; she assumes “This must be Robert Kincaid” even when the names clearly visible to even the audience’s eye.

Français : Clint Eastwood au Festival de Canne...

Français : Clint Eastwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Letters reveal that Francesca deliberately kept the items for her children so they may know her secret and not consider her a mad raving woman for requesting in her will to cremate her body and throw the ashes near Roseman Covered Bridge, which Robert used to visit along with Francesca to shoot photographs for National Geographic. At first, both Michael and Caroline are disgusted but as they hear Francesca’s story, first through her letters and then through her diaries, they realize how these four days profoundly affected their mother’s attitude (positively) towards life, and they slowly begin empathizing with her and introspect on their own outlooks towards life and marriage.

Annie Corley and Victor Slezak, playing Caroline and Michael respectively, give stilted and forgettable performances. Slezak especially fails with his ‘Chandler’ look from Friends that can hardly be taken seriously. They’re not completely at fault, as the framing device (kids reading mother’s letters with such unwholesome curiosity it feels as though they’ve been given a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray) is weakly implemented; there’s a poorly shot scene when Michael wants to know why his mother didn’t leave the family and Caroline and he immediately turn their heads towards their mother’s diary and then look at each other. The scene makes you wonder why a great filmmaker like Eastwood couldn’t think of a better way of taking us back and forth in time.

It’s the elders who steal the show. While Eastwood brings a gentle and very likeable charm to his Robert, Streep goes way beyond everybody else in embodying Francesca. She’s an encyclopedia of body language and came show passion by degrees. Watch the initial scenes where she keeps rubbing her hands and moving a little backwards as she’s speaking to Robert, a usual sign for initial discomfort while talking to strangers. Later, when she’s closer to Robert and meets him at the bridge, the two shake hands and we see Meryl use both her hands to greet him (keeping one of top of other), usually done while greeting more warmly. A very erotic moment doesn’t involve sex but happens when Francesca simply adjusts Robert’s collar and places her hand on his shoulder; you know Streep’s worked her magic by watching Eastwood’s expressions.

Bridges of Madison County is a decent film that’s worth watching once for Eastwood and twice for Streep. But one should be willing to endure some contrived writing, middling supporting performances and weak framing device.

 

 Review of Argo, The Oscar Winning 2012 Film Directed By Ben Affleck, Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Alda

Argo2012Poster.jpg

Argo Poster (Wikipedia)

GRADE: AA / 90%

Summary: Argo Allows You To Breath In Every Moment Of The Film And At The Same Time Leaves You Breathless With Excitement. Its Two Hours Of Pure Rush Without Ever Feeling Rushed

Argo is a kind of film which allows you to breathe in every moment of the story as it builds and at the same time leaves you breathless with the blazing tension and excitement. There isn’t a moment of ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘-like self-consciousness in its direction and cinematography and neither is Argo surfeit with dialogues like Lincoln – the film is purely two hours of rush that not for a moment feels rushed. I deliberately chose to watch Argo after the eight other nominees for Best Picture as it would be easier for me to decide whether or not it deserved the acclaim and accolades. After watching Argo I understand why the film won – it has this winning formula that 2010’s Oscar-snubbed Social Network and Christopher Nolan‘s ‘Inception’ had: it keeps you hooked every second every minute of its appropriate 2 hour runtime. You are never distracted, and not for a moment do you twiddle or purposelessly text on your stupid cell-phones.

Talking about cell-phones, Argo is a film where telephones play such an important motif because the film is set in late seventies, a time when cell-phones were still in its infancy. In fact, in Argo’s case, lives are at the stake of telephones and there’s a climatic, teeth-grinding moment that’ll make you feel two things: 1) “Wow, we’re so lucky we have cell-phones these days!” and 2) “Dang! You could get away with such stuff in those days!”. What stuff? Well, just pretending you are a Canadian shooting a ludicrous sci-fi film in Iran with the real purpose of rescuing six fugitives who also need to play along by posing as the film’s crew in order to flee the country (and ah, you all are Americans by the way). Sounds crazy right? Well, then you might go fuck yourself!

This scenario actually happened in 1979 when Tony Mendez, an American exfiltration expert rescued six American fugitives who secretly encamped at the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador in Iran after escaping an invasion of the American Embassy by Iranian revolutionaries. Our bearded hero (played by a usually clean-shaven Ben Affleck, who should sport this look in more films for it suits him for serious subject-matter films) is called to a meeting where the other members seem unwelcoming towards him and yet can’t help but follow his idea, not finding any better-of-the-worst idea. Tony at first pitches a rather unviable plan but soon rejects it and instead chooses the fake Hollywood film shooting plan after being inspired by a clip from Planet of the Apes, catching it during a conversation with his son. For executing this ‘Are You Serious!’ mission, he gets in touch with Oscar-winning make-up artist John Chambers and producer Lester Siegel who agree to produce, promote and most importantly (for this film) storyboard this movie. Tony poses as the film’s director to Hollywood so he can get easy sanction to go to Iran for shooting, get permission from the Cultural department in Iran to ‘shoot at locations’ and then call the film off and leave, taking along with him the six refugees who shall pretend to be the film’s crew, having with them fake Canadian passports handed by Mendez. To these six refugees, Tony doesn’t reveal his true name until he consciously discloses his identity to two of them to gain their trust. If Tony succeeds, it’s not just USA, Canada and CIA who are celebrating, but also Hollywood which could make all this happened, the best part being that Argo the movie actually never happened.

Some of the things that happened and maybe still happen in the world surprise us, and one scene that stunned me comes later in Argo where Iranian children are used to meticulously reassemble the shredded documents which would reveal the identities of the six American refugees. What didn’t surprise me much however was the benefits a ‘film’ related tag can give you at any place; just mentioning you come from the film-industry grants you some immunity or respite in USA, in Iran or any other place. There’s an interesting scene in the film where the quack crew is accompanied by a member of Iranian Cultural Affairs to location scout at the bazaar and the latter asks fake director, now played by one of the six refugees, whether the film was about a Canadian woman’s romance with Iran’s culture and its people. That’s precisely the kind of movies you see today which aim at sensitizing different cultures and breaking cultural barriers; my point here being that Hollywood can really help achieve that. The climax is another moment where the character’s fake film credentials really work for them, and it’s a treat to watch such an implausible thing actually working.

Argo isn’t a performance-driven movie but a story-driven film, but the presence of Ben Affleck, also the film’s director and producer, as the lead protagonist works best because he’s like George Clooney, not hogging each frame to show how well he can act but to give his dutiful services to a greatly written and directed film. There are no standouts here, and I wasn’t expecting for any but the script is a winner and it pulls in everyone to draw out their characters well enough without over- complicating them. Alan Arkin as Lester Liegel has the film’s best line and he may probably be remembered for that line only. If you catch that movie and don’t know what the line is, then you can go fuck yourself!

Review of Oscar Nominated ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ A Benh Zeitlin Film Starring Quvenzane Wallis and Dwight Henry (also includes a criticism of Cole Smithey’s review of the film)

Grade: A

Summary: You are amazed by how Quvenzane, a six year old understood her character and the film’s message better than Cole Smithey, the self-proclaimed ‘smartest film critic in the world’. The film captures a community’s unyielding spirit of self-sustaining survival that needs more heart than sense to empathize with.

Here’s a link to Cole Smithey’s scathing review: http://www.colesmithey.com/capsules/2012/11/beasts-of-the-southern-wild.html

Cole Smithey can freely proclaim himself to be the ‘smartest film critic in the world’, but he has surely got ‘The Beasts of the Southern Wild’ review entirely wrong. He seems to watch it from the point of view of a pragmatist, a surgeon, a social worker, a rescue volunteer, a cynic; he criticizes the relationship between Hushpuppy, the six-year old kid and her father Wink, calling it abusive. He also condemns the film’s ‘message’ that a kid will be more responsible only when she faces life-threatening situations. He doesn’t realize that Hushpuppy’s journey is a ‘way of life’ for her and her people. To him, Hushpuppy’s father is an abusive man who shouldn’t be allowed to rear a child, and maybe he awaited a moment where Hushpuppy would ‘run away’ from her father and ‘gain freedom’. Smithey wrote his review with a narrow-minded outlook – the ‘it’s not right because it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to’ view. He doesn’t look from the viewpoint of the Bathtub community where Hushpuppy and her father belong, but as an outsider who just assumes them to be a bunch of unlettered idiots who reject any outside help or guidance. Maybe Mr. Smithey should visit the Sentinelese tribe once and ask them to cooperate.

Beasts of the Southern Wild does not look at the practicality of the situation; if you look at it that way, you’ll think that the Bathtub community did a mistake by acting uncooperative and hostile with the rescue workers and doctors who try helping them after the community’s houses gets ravaged by a violent storm. What it wants you to see is the togetherness of the community, whose members are like an extended family of both blacks and whites. How can an educated be so ignorant that he misses the entire point of the film which states its point so lucidly and unassumingly? You don’t go to Beasts of the Southern Wild and watch it with your own prejudices on what is right and what’s not: you go and watch it to understand these people, how their mind works and how their heart beats. That’s when you’ll get something out of it.

Hushpuppy, the tiny but tough girl with an indomitable spirit lives with her reckless but hardly abusive father Wink (two very uncommon names and no, they’re not nicknames) in a cluttered shack; both father and daughter have delimited their spaces, and Hushpuppy spends most of her day with her pets. It’s not really a healthy relationship but that doesn’t mean it remains the same throughout. As their secluded community is impacted by a storm, Hushpuppy and her father act more protective of and close to one other, with the latter teaching his daughter how to weather the unfavorable conditions by staying strong (by ‘beasting’ the crab i.e. smash it open and suck out the juice, and catching fish with bare hands) while the former proving her mettle by braving the winds and overcoming the adversities.

Hushpuppy has a very deep understanding of the world for her age, and if she were a real person, she’d probably be the female counterpart of Obama when she’d grow up. Most of what you hear from her is spoken through narration, and Quvenzane Wallis, the girl playing her sounds miraculously sincere with not one false note ringing from her (only a deadly scream!). It’s as if she understood clearly what her character was thinking, and how this little kid could understand Hushpuppy so completely is astonishing. The man who plays her dad is Dwight Henry, a baker turned actor who also interprets his character perfectly; a tad harsher and we wouldn’t have sympathized with his Wink. Wait for their poignant final scene together: it defines brilliant and natural acting. But what’s even more impressive is how the ensemble, a raggedly motley of  white trash and black families acts like they’ve known each other for years.

Benh Zeitlin, the film’s director opted shooting the film on 16mm with crude cuts (instead of 35mm used today) and so you shouldn’t expect polished filmmaking; but the roughness is what makes the film even better. You may find some things to be unappetizing, like a shot of a dead animal’s intestines, or raw flesh being eaten by the characters or a fish being clobbered. But all this ‘shoddiness’ and ‘dirtiness’ define the environment in and circumstances under which the film’s characters live. The magic realism in the film isn’t as expansive and satisfactory as it is in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, but one should know that while Life of Pi was based on a Booker Prize winning novel, Beasts has been adapted from Lucy Aliber’s less-known one-act play. And to bring this play to screen in his debut attempt, that too with a cast of mostly inexperienced actors, Benh Zeitlin is THE man, or still better, ‘DA BEAST’!

Reviewing Oscar Nominated Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master’, starring Philip Seymor Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

English: Director Paul Thomas Anderson in New ...

Director Paul Thomas Anderson  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

GRADE: BBB

 

Summary: It’s themes don’t resonate as clearly as those in his earlier film ‘Magnolia’,  but there’s still the wonderment of watching Paul create this complex audio-visual experience and the brilliant cast of course which makes this a satisfying experience

Lancaster Dodd, who is addressed as ‘The Master’ by the followers of ‘The Cause’, a philosophical sect led by him does not know the ultimate secret to all world problems himself. He does seem to have a vague idea about it, but his understanding seems garbled and vacillating; in one scene, he erupts at one of his followers for questioning a change he makes in his newly published book. He seems to get closer and closer to his answers while ‘curing’ Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who is sex obsessed and suffers from alcoholism and aggression. Freddie almost seems like Dodd’s alter ego who seems to display the feelings that Dodd restrains from, so while Dodd scolds Freddie whenever he displaces his anger towards those who criticize Dodd’s beliefs, I do think a part of him wants to do exactly that but cannot for the obvious reason that it would tarnish his reputation. So when Dodd says to his family in one scene that it is The Cause that needs Freddie more than Freddie needing The Cause, he implicitly means that it is he himself who needs Freddie.

 

Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and writer of 2012s multiple Oscar nominated ‘The Master’ does not know about Dodd The Master’s ultimate goal either. So there’s not a single moment in the movie where the Master reveals his ultimate purpose of curing Freddie; instead what Anderson tries to create is this little world of ‘The Cause’ which gains momentum right after the Second World War, and tries to create another form of escapism/diversion (whichever seems more suitable) from the real world. For Dodd, to get a person like Freddie is like jackpot because he’s a man who’s just escaped war and does not have a proper ground for himself – to push him back to reality all of a sudden is traumatic for a guy like him. So he’s the right person who truly needs The Cause’s help, not those people who believe the Cause can do miracles like curing leukemia by recalling past lives. As Dodd proceeds to help Freddie, there is a sense of disillusionment in Dodd and his belief that he can cure everything. I felt Anderson was trying to convey this in his film, but themes and symbolisms don’t connect with us easily as they did in his earlier film ‘Magnolia’ or the brilliant Jason Reitman movie ‘Up in the Air’. You’ll have to break your head to find these meanings, and so the reaction given by late critic Roger Ebert “But what is the film trying to communicate?” is expected and justified.

 

I personally think that this film will be easier to grasp by those who’ve been a part of some religious or philosophical group/cult in their lives. I had a short stint with an organization myself, and I can say that Paul clearly has done his research about the way such organizations work or the things that people experience there. People who want to wash off their past deeds or are haunted by some past memory usually are easily enamored when they find a temporary relief to their pains; Freddie’s grief of leaving his love Doris for war is placated during his first session with Dodd. Such people soon find themselves closely associated with the leader and during the period learning about the leader’s own vulnerabilities; Freddie defends Dodd against anyone who’s critical about him, including beating up a skeptic, fighting the police who come to arrest Dodd, and later assaulting Dodd’s publisher. And one fine day, they are ready to leave because they’ve got what they wanted and need no more.

 

Joaquin Phoenix getting interviewed at the pre...

Joaquin Phoenix who has a penchant for playing the eccentric: from I’m Still Here to The Master (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul also casts a wonderful ensemble who builds up complex characters: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Dodd, a highly ambitious man with noble intentions, in a way that evokes empathy towards his vision despite not believing some of the ‘curing methods’ that he practices. Joaquin Phoenix gives Freddie a complex characterization, which includes narrow eyes, a hunched back and a bony appearance. When he’s dirty, he’s as dirty as one can get, when he’s angry, he’s a raging animal you’d want to stay away from and when he’s vulnerable, he tears at your heart. Amy Adams plays Peggy, Dodd’s strong, supportive and pregnant wife the way you’d expect Amy Adams to play her, but yes her face conveys a lot in some of the scenes, like the one where her character looks concernedly at a drunken Freddie from the corner as others are singing and dancing.

 

But the best thing about The Master is the brilliantly complex audio visual orchestra created by Paul: he’s such an expert at blending onscreen, off-screen sounds and background score with image, flashbacks, dreams that this movie is a must-see for all filmmakers and enthusiasts. Even with the sheer beauty of the image, the colors and the sounds, its themes may not resonate the same way for everyone, so it’s either ‘You follow them or you don’t’.

 

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!

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.