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Added Later: I have expanded the list to include some more personal favorites that I happened to watch and re watch recently. The new additions are numbers 6, 7, 9, 15 and 22. Hope they make quality addition to the list.
Jayantabhai Ki Luv Story (2013)
A distasteful Rip-Off of a genuinely good Film
This is a scene by scene (even most of the dialogs are mere translation) of the amazingly good Korean film "My Dear Desperado" (2010) and as the creators don't acknowledge the original it is ultimately a product of piracy. While the original movie is delightfully funny and moving, the Indian remake is a watered down, amateurishly stupid version. Vivek Oberoi is miscast and has limited range, Neha Sharma is beautiful but lacks spontaneity. Surprisingly the original Korean film comes closer to Indian ethos than this Mumbai based rip. The director has tried to force certain original settings and sequences in to Indian context and it comes as forced and unreal. The script writer's only original contribution seems to be insertion of some forgettable song and dance sequences in to the story.
Watching the Korean original with English subtitles is highly recommended.
Fujoshi kanojo. (2009)
This is a very mediocre film that wants to be seen as something worthwhile. The storyline does touch on some interesting things like the whole Otaku subculture but ultimately falls flat. Characters are not explored and underdeveloped. While it does have a reasonably good first 30 minutes or so, things go quickly downhill. The whole second half feels forced and disjointed. As a love story it is empty and hollow. The feelings it depicts and showcases are in fact, not love at all. The girl especially, comes across as egocentric, mean and ultimately a freak. The exact opposite of what the storytellers wanted to convey.
El páramo (2011)
Good film making with average source material
El Paramo (The Squad) is neat little film coming out of Colombia. It is extraordinary in many ways. Coming from a non-prolific film industry, it falls within the extremely small sub-genre of military horror films. Although to be fair, it is really a psychological thriller. The writer/director Jaime Osorio Marquez handles the story well for a novice film maker. Constraints of low budget are hard to spot, largely due to superb on location filming. The director appreciably discards the urge to let things over the top and follows a minimalist approach. In many ways El Paramo is a minimalist film. The storyline itself is bare minimum and so are the dialogs. Acting is largely good again not requiring much from the actors. A notable exception is the actor Andrés Castañeda (he plays sarge), who hams in a few intense scenes required of him. May be the minimalist approach itself is the biggest flaw of the film. With absolutely no storyline to hold things together, nobody has anything much to do. The basic premise itself, of a tightly knit group of soldiers encountering the unknown and the eventual break down of all form of cohesiveness, is hardly new. The basic storyline is surprisingly similar to The Bunker (2001)by Rob Green and also has shades of South Korean films The Guard Post GP506 (2008) and R-Point (2004) by Kong Su-Chang. Osorio Marquez's film making craft however is inferior to none. He handles the mood building well, aided by a suitably spooky soundtrack. The misty desaturated colours help set the tone. The overall pace may be a tad bit slow and since nothing much happens along the way, the eventual feeling is not satisfying. A lack of a tangible outside threat means that the squad members are ultimately fighting their internal demons. The director gives a hint of the underlying tensions in the opening scenes as well. That part however, is underplayed by the script giving scant background to the viewers. The director obviously fights the urge to provide quick and cheap thrills to the audience and instead chooses to build the tension up gradually through the interplay of the squad members and reaching a crescendo when all military discipline breaks down ultimately. The problem is that the characters themselves are not well developed, and initially it is difficult to differentiate between them due to the desaturated colour tones and overall white gray background of mud and fog. Watching them run around in circles helplessly and turn against each other is a slow painstaking process, something not enjoyable to all. In the bottom line, El Paramo is certainly quality film making. It scores big on atmospherics, photography, sound design and production value especially considering the limited budget. The script is weak however, and is now getting predictable.
Enter Nowhere (2011)
Interesting Little Film
This is an interesting little film. Little because the production budget looks tiny and in total there are no more than 8 or so characters overall! It starts off as a typical cabin in the woods scenario and sure enough soon walks in a man with an axe. But before you can get ready for the gore to begin the story takes a different turn. Maybe not so different but the overall tone develops in to a psychological thriller scenario and although the twist isn't something to write home about, its certainly unexpected. The director drops many small hints as to what is going on and later they become funny reminders.
Not epic film making but an entertaining story that is short and tight. Production value is low due to the budget and has some amateurish cgi. Acting is so so and in particular Katherine Waterston overacts in her scenes. Overall a neat little story that is both entertaining and immediately forgettable.
Catch .44 (2011)
Contrived and wasted
This film ends up wasting each and every strength it begins with. It has a solid cast with Whitaker and Willis, a good looking female lead (Akerman) and a somewhat interesting premise. Things become bad pretty quickly though. Dialog heavy pieces are stretched too long and contribute little towards character development. In fact one can simply fast forward through them (there is a lot of urge to do that) and still completely understand the movie. Nonlinear editing can be an engaging tool in the hands of the right story teller, here it feels simply unnecessary. The director wants to emulate a certain style of film making; his craft however, is inadequate. The film ends up looking like a Tarantino wannabe contrived affair. Forest Whitaker unsurprisingly commands a captivating screen presence, which leaves us slightly puzzled as to why he agreed to be a part of this mess. Bruce Willis has an almost cameo appearance and gives a stock performance. Malin Akerman looks beautiful and has the screen presence of a star. But then that's about it.
Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Keeps you expecting something better
It's difficult to understand why this film was made. And I don't mean that as a commentary on the overall quality of the movie at all. Yes it is a pretty straightforward serial killer/crime drama containing average (and some below average) piece of acting. At the end of the movie however, the question remains, why was this made? If the purpose was to introduce us to the geography of the fields, there are better mediums to do that. If the purpose was to tell a gripping tale of mystery and suspense, that doesn't happen either. If it wanted to make us empathize with the very real plight of detective work in grim everyday condition, it doesn't go there. And lastly if the purpose was to throw some light on the case itself or to enable us to identify with the horrors that the victims faced, the movie simply ignores it. So, why was this film made? The story is told listlessly, almost as if the director has no interest in telling it. Sam Worthington is a cliché of hothead cop characters and the good cop bad cop routine he plays out with Jeffery Dean Morgan adds nothing to the cinematic experience. The character of Chloë Grace Moretz tries too hard to portray the role written for in the script. At the end she comes out as irritating, something I am sure the director did not intended to portray. It's not her fault though, her skill is flawless, she simply doesn't know what she is doing and why. Jessica Chastain looks beautiful and handles her limited role quiet well. That is not to say that this film is bad, it is just so average in everything it does that it all boils down to the purpose of making it.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
A good action film
Kathryn Bigelow is a good director, in the sense that she has made some good action and thriller films. I can still feel the adrenalin rush of "Point Break" which I saw as a kid.
In "Hurt Locker" she delivers a rather good war film. It's tight (though a bit too long in parts) well acted and has the kind of finishing expected from an A grade Hollywood product. It certainly compares very well to other Iraq War movies in terms of budget and content. It also goes easy on the moral aspects that we have come to expect from war movies. The fact that it has won multiple Oscars is a testament to the overall quality of the film.
But despite all the Oscar hype, it remains a good war action film and nothing more than that. I am sure there were many better pictures made in 2009 on various subject matters that deserved the Best Picture Oscar much more than this film. I certainly find no problems with the awards for sound, editing etc as it indeed is a very technically sound film. But there is certainly nothing extraordinary about this movie. The story and plot is just an excuse to show the main players acting out their roles. Character development is also minimal. For all its technical brilliance it is poorly researched, especially in the way it portrays a US Army EOD team operating. Tension is primarily created by bringing in big name actors like Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pierce and then kill them swiftly. A kind of 'shock and awe' on the part of the director. The overall tone of the lead character as an action junkie who gets bored at home doing routine tasks like shopping, takes this film in the realms of a US Army recruitment video.
The message from the Oscars is pretty clear, US public needs reassurances that their Army is doing well in their current campaigns and Hurt Locker provides just that.
Dorothy Mills (2008)
Clichéd and Pretentious
I decided to watch Dorothy Mills after going through a number of very positive reviews on IMDb, and I must say, ended up totally disappointed. The whole experience also goes to say a lot about IMDb ratings.
What starts as a moody psychological/supernatural thriller quickly descends into clichés and predictability with a lot of atmospherics compensating for little or no story to tell. The principal character of a psychiatrist suffering from a personal loss is done to death and, Carice Van Houten, though undoubtedly very beautiful doesn't provide any depth to it. Jenn Murray (as Dorothy Mills) has obvious talent, as she switches effortlessly between the multiple characters, proving to be the only star of the show. The character of Dorothy Mills herself however is full of clichés. A multiple personality disorder patient, who also happens to be possessed, seems absurd and too convenient. The director also fails to handle the underlying suspense of the story relying on many unnecessary scenes like the car crash in the beginning to add to the suspense while in effect taking it away. The appearance of the three teenagers threatening the psychiatrist etc is similarly unnecessary and useless to the story (So, the spirits of three teenagers possess Dorothy and also manifest themselves on the roads etc and to the Carice Van Houten character? Get real!). The whole idea of the islanders hiding something is too obvious from the start and so is Dorothy's predicament after the scenes depicting her contacting spirits. After that the story follows a downhill course to a silly ending where the "sinners" (rapists and possible murderers) are "banished" from the island.
Or maybe it is just a very mediocre Film with a bit of atmospherics etc for some entertainment value, the unusually high rating on IMDb though, only pumps up expectations which it certainly fails to meet.
Black Rain (1989)
Iconic Cop Film and Much More
Black Rain is not just a masterpiece of cop fiction/action thriller but is also an iconic film that Hollywood produces from time to time. A technical marvel from Ridley Scott, that is excellent on setting, mood, lighting, editing and presentation. The overall mood of the film is enhanced by the intense musical score from Hans Zimmer which perfectly combines the gritty feel of the 1980s action genre with some nice keyboard styles so typical of the times.
The story is a rather simple 'Buddy Cop' tale on the surface, but what it truly showcases is an encompassing picture of human will and grit. It is primarily the story of a man (in this case a cop) stuck in an alien almost surreal environment that was Japan in 1980s,and how he realizes on his own grit and determination to do what he came to do there. The setting of Japan as a surreal, myriad industrial wasteland is reflective of the confusion in America about Japan in that period of time. A Japan that was modern, highly industrialized, technological superpower on one hand but also one where society was breaking up and suicides were a all time high. But most of all a Japan that was dark, brooding and mostly still insular myth to America.
The main character of dysfunctional, substance abusing and insubordinate but effective cop may not be original and indeed is less so today, the difference however, lies in the gritty portrayals like Bulitt, Dirty Harry, and Die Hard that stands out and remains with us for a long time, and Michael Douglas in Black Rain matches the same. The character of authority ridden and restrained Japanese cop by Ken Takakura is dynamically opposite of Douglas. Their coming together at the end reflects the fact that people may be culturally different, but age old values of human determination, grit and honor surpasses racial or geographical boundaries and separates the doers from watchers.
All in all a very nice Movie that in many ways will always be representative of the hard and edgy action films of the 1980s. A genre that has sadly been replaced today by tech heavy self important films featuring caricatured leads.
Death Proof (2007)
A heady mix of high octane and psychopathic road rage
This heady mix of high octane induced psychopathic road rage, presented in a carefully created aged low budget trash movie format, works very well. Since I am from India I had no knowledge of the grind house movie culture, however the aged feel of the film and its deliberate B grade format was instantly recognizable. To me it looks like a tribute to the prolific and horrendous bunch of flicks which have entertained a generation and are an important part of our lives.
The anti climax at the end where the "prey" get their revenge on the "hunter" was a sort of anti thesis of the whole genre.
High performance automobile with their raw unrefined engine whines, open country, some beautiful girls, nice music and the Tarantino touch makes this one click.