Twenty First: A Film Festival By Faculty of Fine Arts Nema-Ye Nazdik (Close Up) by Abbas Kiarostami

Link To Event Coverage on 6th December here: http://ourvadodara.in/twenty-first-film-festival-faculty-fine-arts-ms-university-6th-december-2013-nema-ye-nazdik-close-abbas-kiarostami

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.

Review of The President is Coming, a 2009 Hinglish Film By Kunal Roy Kapoor, Starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ira Dubey, Shernaz Patel, Anand Tiwari, Namit Das

GRADE: CC / 40% The President is coming.jpg

Summary: Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in ‘The President is Coming’ are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other’s faces offensive that they put you off so much, you’d wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up.

Cast

Konkona Sen Sharma as Maya Roy
Shernaz Patel as Samantha Patel
Shivani Tanksale as Ritu Johnson
Anand Tiwari as Kapil Dev
Namit Das as Ramesh S.
Vivek Gomber as Rohit Seth
Satchit Puranik as Ajay Karlekar
Ira Dubey as Archana Kapoor

 

Imran Rasheed as Mohammed Aslam (Security guard)

 

When we were kids, we played a popular game called ‘Simon says’. In this game, one kid from the group became ‘Simon’ and issued instructions to the rest of the group, like ‘Simon says sit’ or ‘Simon says jump’. The person who failed to perform the action immediately lost the game and sat out until the winner was declared. The six contestants who compete in a reality show that offers the winner a chance of the lifetime to shake hands with President George Bush (now former President, of course) are so hare-brained and crotchety they’d all fail in first round of a Simon Says game, forget making the list of NDTV’s top entrepreneurs (as the film states. The only way this can be justifiable is if NDTV is equally harebrained) or worse, representing India to greet a President. It isn’t just the contestant choice that’s ridiculous but the selection committee itself which includes two unhinged women who conduct a series of absurd tasks in elimination rounds. It’s really a stretch to believe that the US consulate would these circus freaks to work for them, who seem fitter as inmates of a mental asylum. The only reality shows that fits the bill for these cartoons is the garish ‘Timeout with Imam’, the Indian ‘reality show’ (though it’s obviously scripted) that’s currently polluting MTV India. For those unfamiliar with the show, think Spencer Pratt & Heidi Montag.

Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in ‘The President is Coming’ are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other’s faces offensive that they put you off so much, you’d wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up. These aren’t likable caricatures, like Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Meryl Streep’s wonderful Camilla Bowner in ‘Web Therapy’, whose verbal darts during their repartees are sharp but don’t hurt. In ‘The President is Coming’, the characters want to draw blood every time they open their mouths. At one point, a guy asks a girl ‘Are you a slut?… A whore?’ (later, it is found that the girl had recorded a sex-tape with another male contestant in the past) like he’s asking about weather. Even the wicked Barney Stinson from comedy series How I Met Your Mother would’ve been more tactful.

There are seven contenders fighting for the title of ‘The Most offensive character’ in the film. Let’s begin with the host Samantha Patel, a bossy uptight always-Miss-Right anchor who dons Barkha Dutt’s bob cut. There’s hardly a moment where we don’t see her putting down her timid protégé Ritu Johnson and telling her who has the last word. She’s later found to be a kleptomaniac stealing cutlery and statues from the location of the reality show. It’s surprising that this character, who wants to remain in the spotlight always, doesn’t ask the reality-show’s camera-man (who’s off-screen, holding the camera, through which we view all the action) for close-ups, or come too close to the camera only to block others from view.

(L-R) Anand Tiwari, Konkana Sen Sharma, Ira Dubey

The six contestants include Maya Roy, an author who loves the works of Ernest Hemingway, except she thinks she’s better. A strong-minded forward-thinking divorcee, she is irked by the misogynistic, homophobic, antediluvian thinking of co-contestant Ajay Karlekar, a Hindutva social worker who believes he and George Bush share the same qualities (he’s got that right, at least). She is also very shrewd, using contestants’ weaknesses to get them eliminated. One victim is South Indian Ramesh S., a closeted homosexual who is learns all the rules of straight-flirtation but never gets them right. Then there is billionaire’s daughter and budding entrepreneur Archana, a scatterbrained brown skin Paris Hilton without the puppies, and Rohit Seth, an accent trainer running the unimaginatively named ‘Speak easy’; this is the couple that was involved in the sex tape scandal. The guy who asks her whether she’s a slut is Kapil Dev Dholakia, a stockbroker who can speak stocks and shares very easily but nothing else. When asked what the capital of US is, he replies ‘Dow Jones’. The film gives this painful guy a sweet revenge by dressing him up as Madonna in the Round ‘American Masquerade’.

You just can’t choose some who calls Osama Bin Laden as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as one of the top six contestants of any quiz based reality show, especially one where the winner meets Mr. Bush. One just can’t be so ignorant, so offensive and so ludicrous unless paid handsomely by the TV to act this way. There’s also some obvious blunders for which no explanations are provided. Firstly, where’s the entire crew that’s shooting the event? Are we to believe one that there’s only person shooting AND operating the boom mic (a device to capture sound. Oftentimes makes special appearance in films due to careless editing) and there’s no security except one mousy watchman? And why would one character reveal a maleficent hidden agenda in front of TV cams and security cams? All these annoyances and blunders rob the spotlight from moments of mild delight.

Ernest Hemingway once said ‘The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it’. Anuvab Pal may not even make it to the long list of such writers. His film reeks.

Site links to Shows Referred in Review:

The President is Coming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi30SReUUMw

Timeout with Imam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dpgw5iARk-o

Cadbury Bournville Commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChY610zS94g

Meryl Streep Web Therapy:

1) Aversion Therapy: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-aversion-therapy.html

2) The Healing Touch: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-healing-touch.html

3) Reverse Psychology: http://www.lstudio.com/web-therapy/camilla-bowner-reverse-psychology.html

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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 Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ Starring Triple Oscar Winner Daniel Day Lewis Along-with Veteran Actors Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones

Last night Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as Be...

Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar Winning Turn As Abraham Lincoln(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Summary: Steven’s Lincoln is an Important Film Made and Played With Such Seriousness You Feel Proud To Be A Part Of The Experience

 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ is so dignified and composed in depicting the endeavor of the Sixteenth President of United States that you feel proud to witness the victory achieved by its characters. It is a movie which makes you want to get up on your feet at the end and stand in silence for two minutes as a mark of tribute to Mr. President. Steven Spielberg makes his film keeping in mind that it isn’t snazzy camera editing and unusual angles that will supply the strength that this film requires, but the careful and thorough understanding and execution of its central themes with the help of a perfect cast. Spielberg had an array of options to alter the cinematography of his film to make it more fast-paced and create tension using swifter camera movements, but he does not use innovative techniques because he knows that it wouldn’t work here. He wants us to listen closely to every spoken and unspoken word and feel the crucial significance of the subject matter.

 

There are heavy dialogues involving constitutional amendments, slavery, Euclid’s principle etc and we can choose to skip all this and concentrate on the popcorn in our hands or pay attention, and when we do the latter we rejoice along with the film’s characters when victory is attained. There was a ‘groupie’ of youngsters who left the hall when Mr. Lincoln was gravely pondering about some matter in the first half, and I was relieved those idiots left because they were obviously little interested in the subject and would certainly not have found a reason to celebrate later. I, on the other hand missed about fifteen minutes in the beginning and yet found myself extremely engrossed by every word of dialogue spoken by brilliant actors in Lincoln, and later got to share their joy and victory as if it was I who had attained emancipation.

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Ab Lincoln – A Man Of Great Importance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The groupie that left the hall had possibly bunked their college lecture or got to know that it was Spielberg’s film or had glanced at the online ratings for Lincoln. I do not think they truly what the subject matter was and just came in thinking that they were going to see Lincoln jumping off a building evading knife-wielding Democrats. Lincoln’s actual concern is the pursuit to find a solution to end the Civil war and pass the 13th amendment for abolishment of slavery in the Constitution. President Abraham Lincoln is the central instrument in bringing an end to both the crisis and the unjust legislation, but what we realize here is that it isn’t an aggressive, outspoken and impractical Lincoln who’s leading the party but an extremely sensible, persuasive, down-to-earth and astute (sometimes crafty too) Lincoln who’s responsible for orchestrating the historical events.

 

He is very much like the director of a play, staying behind-the-scenes to let his party do the battle for him in the parliament while formulating the most carefully planned strategy to achieve enough support for success. Not once do we see him personally countering the Democrats but hear his voice through the voices of his supporters, which includes radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens who brings in the blunt and fiery force that Lincoln outwardly lacks. The movie hardly takes us to the scene of the actual war (we only get to see the gory aftermath), instead choosing to concentrate on the political battlefield between Democrats and Republicans in finding a solution to the war. We also get glimpses from Lincoln’s personal life: his relationship with his strong-willed yet intensely caring wife Mary and some touching moments involving Lincoln and his youngest son Tad. And yes there is Lincoln’s elder son Robert but the character is very forgettable because of Josh Gordon Levitt’s underdeveloped interpretation of him.

 

In one of the scenes involving Lincoln and Robert, Lincoln remarks that he does not believe in people who prophesize too much; yet when the voting for the thirteenth amendment ends, we see Lincoln celebrating his victory embracing Tad in his office. This moment very subtly shows that Lincoln himself has predicted how his son’s future shall be (one with relatively less inequality). This is just one of the many beautiful moments that brilliantly justify the themes of equality, freedom, courage, perseverance, heroism and compassion. Nothing (at least to me who is more open-minded to optimistic resolutions) to me sounded preachy or maudlin partly because Tony Kushner pens the script so well, allowing us to have moments of great fun with Thaddeus’ irresistible zingers and the entire voting session with its twists and turns.

 

And more importantly it is the cast that makes us root for the movie’s characters. Just listening to Daniel Day Lewis’ calm yet extremely effective vocal delivery made me accept him as the President of the United States. Lewis is also supported by the camera work which circles around him and his audience (to whom he is directing something or just telling a story –a profound story) till it slowly pans and zooms into his face and we are all ears to him. The most astonishing part was how Lewis showed Lincoln’s gradual aging through a slight crackle in his voice and an avuncular sparkle in his eyes that many older people, especially grandfathers have. While Sally supports Lewis effortlessly in her scenes, it is Tommy Lee Jones who nails Thaddeus so well that we are just as emotionally involved with his character as we are with Lewis’.

Cropped image of Steven Spielberg

Joan Rivers Calls Spielberg’s Lincoln Boring… Perhaps He Should Make A Sequel Of E.T. Casting Rivers as You-Know-What (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comedienne Joan Rivers said on her show she ‘found Lincoln so boring, although the movie had everything’; well, I think Rivers envied Thaddeus’ character because he gave her still competition in repartee. I believe an important subject or person should be treated with highest seriousness and regard, and Spielberg does exactly that. ‘If you want fluff, go watch a Katherine Heigl movie!’… I know I’ve begun sounding like Thaddeus Stevens now, but why I shouldn’t when I believe in Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’.

 

Grade: AA

 

 

Why ‘A Movie’ Challenges You, the Viewer? – Interpreting Bruce Conner’s 1958 Short

‘A Movie’ is an anti-film and its aim is to generate an emotional mood and an intellectual response among its audience members – the title itself is upside down in one frame, as if it is telling the audience how different the experience is going to be. Some expressions I would use are: ‘amazed’, ‘awed’, ‘shaken’, ‘curious’, ‘involved’, ‘challenged’. Take the last expression, for instance. What is so challenging about ‘A Movie’? It runs for not more than twelve minutes, looks very dated and is mostly prepared out of ready-made footage through the simple process of splicing. Its opening credits don’t bother to exclude info meant for the projectionist, and most of the time one feels as if Bruce Conners the director was suffering from some mental disorder, because he kept inserting ‘The End’ and ‘A Movie’ repeatedly in the course of the film. One uses the word challenged when faced with some material that manages to alter or re-inspect his/her perception, and it generally is kept for material that knows what it is doing. Bruce Conners’ first attempt, however schizophrenic, certainly knows what it is doing, and that is simply why it matters.

I think whenever you are spoon-fed with data especially in documentaries, you don’t really think much about it after the end credits. Informative data is more for students interested in the subject – Al Gore’s documentary will have more environmentalists in the audience, and Lisa Simpson… What casts a deeper imprint are works that lead you along a path, but do not reveal everything to you, and ‘A Movie’ does this. Facts are not what the film bombards you with, but rather visuals that bring within you some form of reaction. You may be baffled, amazed, repulsed, confused etc but you have a reaction, and you dig deeper to know what really caused that reaction. I shall dissect ‘A Movie’ in order to let you know why I experienced the aforementioned expressions.

The film starts with the title and the year of release. The title itself raises some curiosity as to what the movie is about. Then comes the director’s name BRUCE CONNERS in a font size that almost takes up the entire frame. In the background is music apt for epic films. We soon realize that the director’s name is to be reckoned with since it takes a very long time to clear the screen. Why the delay? I thought it was to stress that the film is a one-man effort and therefore we had to assume he was the editor, producer, sound mixer etc. After that vanishes, we get bizarre visuals that are generally seen by the projectionist and would’ve been kept out in any other film. Why keep that? Maybe to say this will not look like a well polished film. We also see, in blurry font ‘End of Part Four’, after which begins the countdown from twelve to four, interrupted by a shot of a woman undressing, and then finishing the countdown and then saying ‘THE END’! I felt the director wanted to say “Please, don’t see any further. I’ve given you what you came for! After this there’s very little that’s entertaining!”

The movie begins with horses galloping, either ridden by Indians or cowboys or carriage driven. The animals are moving at a fast pace with cinematic music in the background. I thought this was to say how different men have been using same animal in similar ways as a locomotive down the years – first the Indians, then cowboys and then people inside carriages. The next shot is of a rampaging elephant from behind, and later come four wheeled vehicles, mostly cars that race dangerously. The horse and the elephant have four legs and the car has four tires, and all run on land – so we keep this thread in mind. Slowly come the crashes that are accompanied by slightly forewarning sounds in the background. The last crash is the worst, and we see ‘THE END’ again, maybe to say that ‘this seems like the end but it isn’t’.

The third segment is longer, starting with Polynesian women carrying huge things on their heads, then tightrope walkers balancing dangerously. There’s something falling from the sky but I couldn’t make out what it was. After this, there’s the puzzling moment where a naval soldier seems to view a bikini-clad girl through the periscope in the submarine and he signals to blow her up, creating a sexual pun according to many viewers. Maybe also to address violence against women, but that seems unlikely. There are shots of miniature cycles and scooters, plus shots of two-wheeler vehicles racing. The music is serious and low throughout. Segment four may clear some of the confusions risen. It consists of shots of African tribes starving in some shots and killing an elephant in another, lots many crashes and accidents, natural disasters, and terrible moments of dead bodies on display. By now you’ve seen man destroying himself using almost everything he has, and he isn’t even bothered by killing the same animals he used as locomotive before. Questions arising: ‘Are we to take this just as a movie?’ and ‘When will this end?”.

Finally, the scuba diving scene without any end credits. I immediately thought of the lost city of Atlantis. The destructive man may have no choice but to find a solution below. The film itself wants us to dig deeper, and find out what started all this and what can be done now. It may also allude to getting ‘pearls’ only after getting deeper – probably to say we should watch the film again to get closer to its implicit messages. This is why I used the word ‘challenged’.

Reviewing ‘Life Of Pi’ – Winner Of Best Director At 85th Oscar Awards

Life of Pi

Life of Pi (Photo credit: GBPublic_PR)

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SUMMARY: Ang Lee‘s Task of Adapting Life of Pi to Big Screen is as Mighty as The Ocean Itself, But Lee Won’t Stop Till He Reaches Shore. He completes His Task With Outstanding Success

My first recommendation to any adult would be to watch this film alone- not with their noisy friends, or meddlesome children. The reason for this is simple – in order to totally submit oneself to the visual and spiritual experience delivered by the movie, one has to remain alone, just as Pi does for over two hundred days, being the only human stranded on the lifeboat. I believe this experience cannot be savored when one’s emotional response is dictated by the collective feeling of the group (just imagine sitting there holding back your tears because you do not want your friends to snicker at you. In spite of going alone, I was disturbed a couple of times by some people who were wowed by the lion ( it’s a tiger, for god’s sake!), so I’m glad I didn’t bring anyone with me who would have surely robbed me of the delight and wonderment that Life of Pi delivers.

The story of Pi’s journey of a lifetime begins with a enchantingly dreamy opening sequence showing animals, birds and reptiles of many kinds at a zoo. What’s so astonishing about this sequence is that you are so lost admiring the beauty of the animals shown without narration but with a soulful Indian classical music score that you pay no attention to the opening credits until the name of Ang Lee pops up more prominently at the end.

The first Pi that we see is probably in his forties and has already completed his journey long back. On his uncle’s insistence, he shares his life story with a writer. As the older Pi narrates his story, the camera inter-cuts between the present time and Pi’s childhood through fluid dissolves and morphs. We get to know why Pi is called Pi – a queer name for an Indian kid; we can make out that Pi is one curious boy who believes in exploring religion and spirituality and has a deep affinity to animals. A pivotal incident in his early days involving Richard Parker changes his attitude towards life and other matters that were consequential to him before. His family decides to move to Canada on a Japanese ship along with the zoo animals; an unexpected storm hits them on their journey and only Pi manages to hold on to the life boat… along with an injured zebra, a friendly orangutan, a cantankerous hyena and the mighty Richard Parker. What follows then is a deeply mesmerizing tale of courage, will to survive, perseverance, realization and ultimately – hope, which is what the world needs right now, hope.

Life of Pi is full of deep and important themes, and I can say, based on the experience I had in the theater, that more than three fourth of the audience were either i) oblivious to the metaphorical allusions or ii) not interested enough to get them. If you give adequate attention to the movie, you shall realize how important the element of water is the film; the swimming pool scene with Pi’s uncle, Piscine being named after the pool and the entire journey taking place in the ocean – all three incidents have the element of water in common. Why does Pi look closely at the ocean water and see his life flash before him? Is it a commentary of how fate works? What about the journey of Richard Parker and Pi? Is it only to show the relation between man and animal? Pi fears Parker and distances himself from his fear, only to confront and later conquer his fear (i.e. Parker) but not by destroying Parker but by developing an understanding with him (his fear). What does Pi gain from this journey?

Hope is the word I get whenever I search for answers, and isn’t hope required in this world, especially when you lose everything? And hasn’t this message been reiterated so many times after 7/11 and the financial crisis in USA? Obama‘s inaugural address when he was elected for the first time stressed on hope, films such as 127 hours channelize hope. It isn’t a surprise that Life of Pi has come this year and is doing well at the box office – people want films that carry the message of hope. And, I think Life of Pi teaches that you can get hope provided you have the will to survive and resist the temptation of an enclosed existence.

There are some standout scenes in Life of Pi which includes the opening scene, the storm scene, the moment Pi looks into the water wondering what Richard is looking intently at and the second storm scene. The third scene from above is especially noteworthy because of the way Ang Lee has filmed it – after the camera takes us underwater to get a view of Pi’s vision, it goes back to show Pi’s reaction for a second, and then, for about two seconds,cuts to the face of Richard Parker looking at him.This was one unforgettable moment that shook me completely. I’ve mentioned the second storm scene as a notable one as it gives us some minutes to reflect on whatever has happened in the film, and this is the point people should think instead of answering their cell phone calls ( person next to me).

Irfan Khan so honestly conveyed his sadness towards the end with not more than a teardrop. I really wished Suraj Sharma could do that instead of feigning grief by simply quivering his lips mechanically, speaking without conveying a sense of terrible isolation and not understanding fully the relevance of his character in the film. In many scenes, his eyes do not give us anything and he says important lines without hinting the subtext beneath them. It’s still a good job considering he has no prior acting experience.

Reviewing ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ – David O. Russell’s Oscar Nominated Work

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Baby Mama in...

Robert Deniro plays Pat Sr. In Silver Linings Playbook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Summary: Cooper Plays Pat With Such Believability We Begin Pitying His Character, So Much That We Are Left Dissatisfied With The Resolution The Film Offers Him

There is a thin line of difference between ‘eccentric’ and ‘unstable’: Pat Solitano, a victim of bi-polar disorder behaved more unstable than eccentric or quirky, and so I pitied him instead of loving him. Bradley Cooper has Pat’s uncontrollable anxiety down to a tee and he plays his character with great sincerity because of which we sympathize with him all the more. Silver Lining Playbook’s humor seemed more dark than quirky in the first half, and when the director David O. Russell brings in the screwball comedy post intermission, I was a tad disappointed because I was looking forward to a better resolution for Pat’s dilemma. Maybe Cooper should have performed his character with less believability and more stylization, and then I may have laughed with him all along. But since the actor plays every moment of his character with utmost sincerity and believability, I could not laugh at his actions and behavior before intermission. I pitied him, I prayed for him, I had a lump in my throat when he began screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night, but I did not laugh much.

I was howling with laughter when Tom Ewell played Richard Sherman in Seven Year Itch. I almost fell off my couch watching Billy Wilder and Tony Curtis play two impersonators in Some like It Hot. I fell in love with screwball romantic comedies like Awful Truth and Send Me No Flowers. In none of the films did the protagonists invoke pity right from scene one. Maybe Cooper, despite his impressive efforts, isn’t the right choice for a genre like this. His co-star Jennifer Lawrence is ideally cast though because we do not sympathize with her in the beginning; she plays her part in a manner where we gradually fall in love with her eccentricities and then care for her when it seems she won’t achieve her desire. This imbalance Cooper creates manifests strongly in the second half when the situation goes berserk – that is when the artificiality sickens us instead of charming us and our interest in the characters and the plot dwindles right up to the very end.

Silver Lining Playbook has a winsome premise involving bi-polar disorder patient Pat’s release from mental institution and subsequent endeavor by him to ignore all negativity and set his life back on track keeping the motto ‘Excelsior!’ in mind. Pat’s main objective is to get his wife Nikki back, who refuses to meet him and has a restraining order against him after he almost beat her paramour to death after the two were caught making love in the shower. He is not encouraged by his parents to do so and so when he gets to know that his friend’s wife’s younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) can help him by delivering messages to Nikki, he becomes friends with her. But Tiffany has her own problems – suffering from depression ever since her husband died, she spent a long time having sex with almost all her co-workers (women included) at her job until she was kicked out. Even now, she is extremely impulsive and volatile and she only agrees to deliver Pat’s letter to Nikki if he partners her for a dance competition. Pat’s father on the other hand suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and he spends his entire time gambling on football team Philadelphia Eagles after losing his job so that he can buy a new restaurant with the money he gets. Things take a surprising turn when Pat Sr., who believes his son is the luck factor for his winning streak, loses his bet money and it coincides with Pat Jr.’s scuffle at the game; Pat Sr. then decides to parlay with his rival where if i) Eagles wins against Dallas and ii) Pat Jr. and Tiffany get a minimum 5 points in their dance competition, then the family shall recover all the money lost on the first bet.

Frankly, the entire football segment with Pat, his elder brother and the American-Indians, and the parlay segment were lame. A big issue I had was the inclusion of Pat’s brother in the movie, who served little purpose than to slight his sibling whenever he could and then react to his father’s parlay. I was slightly disquieted the moment Tiffany said ‘dance with me’ but that was nothing compared to the disappointment I felt watching every character break loose and trying to sound as if they really cared about that silly ‘parlay’. The part where Tiffany wakes in during the fight and starts reproaching Pat for skipping rehearsals would’ve suited the old films mentioned in the first paragraph, but doesn’t look good in this film. Everything after the parlay scene went downhill, and although it was funny to see the how the events turned up, I was yet dissatisfied by the resolution provided to Cooper’s character in the film.

In supporting roles are Jackie Weaver, Robert De Niro, Anupam Kher and Chris Tucker. Jackie Weaver speaks more with her eyes and makes it clear that she loves her family to death despite all their oddities. Robert De Niro is perfectly fine except he sounded (only sounded) weirdly like Tommy Wiseau from the disastrous 2003 film The Room at times and that distracted me. Anupam Kher in the role of Pat’s therapist Dr. Cliff Patel is alright, but I was stunned when how his character responded to the parlay situation at Pat’s home. Chris Tucker is very likable and very funny as the hair-obsessed buddy of Patrick. David O Russell maintains the quick-shifting pace throughout using cuts, zooms and hand-held camera. Yet, on the basis of the impression I got from the first half and the changing impression I got after interval, I was left unconvinced whether Pat had really attained his silver lining.