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218 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Ah-ga-ssi (2016)
9/10
A Fiercely Anti-Patriarchal Period Romance Thriller
23 December 2016
Subverting the trope of feminine subservience and the male gaze, Park Chan-Wook's latest thriller is fiercely anti-patriarchal. Inspired from Sarah Waters' contemporary romance novel set in Victorian-era Britain, Park transports his story to 1930's Japanese-occupied Korea. Parallels can be seen between subjugation of women by men and that of Korea by Japan; clash of culture, class and identity. It exposes and condemns the bare-faced misogyny brought upon by class and culture. Being a tale about deception, Park makes sure that we are one of its casualties as well (through its efficient narrative structure); nothing is as it seems. I repeat, 'Nothing'. Each of the four main characters are pursuing a vision of freedom that can be achieved only through a lie; the story explores the tension between the authentic self and the facade that individuals create, and that society imposes from without.

The tradition of men eroticising the female body (and even lesbian sex) for their own personal fantasies has existed for ages now - whether it's books, films, paintings, manga, any kind of art - and pornography in general (shunga is referenced in the film); Park highlights this, then lets the female protagonists explore their sexuality for their own pleasure, not anyone else's. One wouldn't have expected Mr. Park, known for his exquisite revenge thrillers, would give us the best romance film of the year (not to say this isn't a revenge thriller as well). It's essentially the story of two women who are victims of their circumstances and finally find solace in each other. The female characters may appear duplicitous, but actually, they subvert the expectations of the people around who constantly underestimate their wit and sexuality.

The gorgeous visuals, the compulsive attention to detail and crisp editing get you hooked from the very first scene. Loved the efficient and subtle use of humour at apt instances; absurdist humour underlines even the most tragic and violent moments. The casting couldn't have been better; both the actresses are stunning, and captivating in their performances. Their characters are so thoroughly developed, and the sex scenes are highly erotic and sensual. Park masterfully constructs his narrative, dividing the film into three segments, each with its own narrator, sub plot and con. Even when previous moments are visited, they are done from a different angle or vantage point, thus altering our perspective literally. I love how the film's climax literally ends with a climax, with the two women reveling in the silly freedom of acting out a pornographic cliché mentioned earlier in the film. Ultimately, the movie is about embracing one's true self, and the liberation of mind and body. It's Park's most uplifting film yet.
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8/10
A timely wartime political thriller.
17 June 2016
A well-paced and ably-directed timely film that explores the legal, political and ethical dilemmas surrounding the almost impossible but necessary military decision-making process of drone use against terrorists, and the innocent civilians whose lives are affected by it. The best thing about the film, when it comes to wartime political thrillers like this, is that it isn't preachy and shows the sequence of events in way that doesn't dictate what's to be thought or felt. It raises a lot of important questions and lets our mind do the pondering. Certainly Director Gavin Hood's best work yet; combines the humanism of 'Tsotsi' and political intrigue of 'Rendition', and uses his experience and prowess on a well-written story to give us 'Eye in the Sky' (which is a brilliant name, by the way).

The hilarious but important political bureaucracy and the focus on the life of one young civilian sometimes seem to be milked too much, but those aspects certainly help us see the entire situation in a broader light. The film doesn't focus on numbers; it focuses on the responsibility and accountability of casualties each individual (in the decision-making process) is willing to take when two unpleasant outcomes are presented before them. And as Stephen Holden from 'The New York Times' points out, it's "unpredictable human behavior (that) repeatedly threatens an operation of astounding technological sophistication."

The detailed art design, the voyeuristic camera angles and shots, the thumping background score and well-timed silences, and crisp editing - all of these aspects play a big role in creating the feel of the film and pull us into its high-stakes environment. Since most of the film involves communication among people from different agencies, it wouldn't have been effective without the impeccable cast that it has, especially Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, in his final live-action role; he certainly does get a memorable ending line, "Never tell a soldier that he doesn't know the cost of war."
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Sense8 (2015–2018)
8/10
Season 1 - Transcends time and place, and teaches us the benefits of universal brotherhood.
28 May 2016
Brilliant concept and superb execution. The theme may seem similar to shows like 'Heroes', but other than the fact that it's about various people from across the world and a person/organization is trying to use/kill them, the show is quite different; it explores the characters with unique and much needed depth, which most sci-fi shows fail to do.

When I first heard that The Wachowskis are making a sci-fi-TV show, I was already intrigued. And Netflix caters to binge-watchers like me who like watching their seasons in one go; I literally finished watching the series in a day. In a bird's eye view, it's about eight people from various parts of the world who are telepathically connected to each other, but the underlying theme is about the universal trait of empathy and brotherhood; I really loved the concept. How we humans, from various places and generations, can help each other by sharing our knowledge and by mutual understanding. I've always loved The Wachowskis' work because they always take sci-fi or larger than life themes to talk about general and universal subjects, and inspire and encourage people in so many ways.

And the way sex and sexuality is portrayed in this show was exquisite; it offers a buffet of characters with various sexualities. This and 'Orphan Black' are the two sci-fi shows who do this most efficiently. All the characters are fascinating and have proper depth, and the actors portraying them are excellent as well, except perhaps Tina Desai's Kala - whether it's her average acting or her weak storyline, it's the least interesting and affecting of the eight. Doona Bae was my favourite, though; every scene she is in just has a captivating touch to it, especially the fight sequences, which are spectacularly choreographed, shot and edited. The sumptuous group sex scene from episode six was sensuous and spectacular; it's one the most erotic and well-shot sex scenes I've seen on TV. It reminded me a little of the crowd sex scene from Tom Tykwer's (who directs few episodes, but not this one) 'Perfume', but this one was much more intimate and passionate. And I loved the sequence from end of episode 10 where the all sensates remember the way they were born; just wow! The various places, the various ways and how the moment had an influence on the passions in each of their lives... just amazing. It was well conceived, mesmerisingly shot and the symphony playing in the background just added to the impact.

The background score throughout the series is quite good. The opening credits sequence is one of the best among TV shows. When the series started, being a world cinema fan, I didn't like that all the characters spoke English, no matter which place they belonged to; it somehow made them seem less convincing. But I can understand why that decision might have been made. Maybe it was easier to direct that way, but to choose a universal language to transcend boundaries seemed like an intelligent choice. Since the sensates understand each other no matter which language they speak, it puts us in their shoes and removes the language barrier. And that way, it can even reach a wider audience, who might find subtitles for half the show quite annoying. So ultimately I was okay with it.

Looking forward to the later seasons.
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8/10
An intriguing portrait of modern-day master-servant relationship.
28 May 2016
Half of the themes are similar to the Singaporean film 'Ilo Ilo', but this one tries to explore the social divide from a different and intriguing angle, with the ever-present dos and don'ts of a master-servant relationship guiding the thoughts and actions of the protagonists. Our lead protagonist Val works as a maid/nanny at a rich household, taking care of the only son there. Because of Val's differences with her ex, she's been estranged from her daughter for 10 years; the daughter was being looked after by Val's sister or friend (unclear), with the money sent by Val every month. The irony being the fact that she's like a 'second mother' to both the children she deeply cares for.

The film is essentially a critique of the vicious cycle of work, estrangement and pain which the lower class subjects itself to, almost always in vain, hoping to break out of the cycle and trying to etch a better life for their offspring. And overall, the film doesn't exude an overtly serious tone; it has a lot of witty, funny moments and observations now and then. The story is seemingly simple, but the affection with which the characters are explored is what makes it enchanting. When one is inside a bubble (here, the household), with all the rules and norms that come along with it, seemingly trivial actions can create quite a ruckus, and hence the tension that lingers. The rich couple do make a show of affection and warmth, but later incidents highlight their true motivations; Barbara does it mainly to alleviate her liberal guilt, and Carlos because he has a soft spot for Jessica.

The acting from everyone involved is quite brilliant, especially our flawless lead, Regina Casé; she gives us a unique and memorable motherly character. Her tender and loving relationship with Fabinho (the one she's looked after as a nanny for over 10 years) is inspiring and moving; it goes on to highlight the odd way she treats her own daughter later, all a result of assumed preassigned/predestined privileges. This combined with the fluid and long shots help us be a part of this claustrophobic bubble. The last scene is quite well-structured and heart-warming; it utilizes elements from the rest of the film and creates a ray of hope. I wish sequels were made for films like these... where we can check up on the characters after a decade or two.
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Breathless (1960)
8/10
Godard's audacious debut - An interesting genre-bender.
28 May 2016
Jean-Luc Godard's audacious debut is one of the films that started the French New Wave, and it has most of the directors from the New Wave associated with it - with the script written by François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette appearing in a cameo as the dead man on the street. Even director Jean-Pierre Melville, whose reporting style and use of real locations had a big influence on the New Wave, appears in a short scene where he's an author being interviewed by Patricia and other reporters.

Though not his best, Godard's 'Breathless' is his most famous and discussed film. Even after 50 years, it hasn't lost its vitality; it's interpreted in so many different ways. We all know that most of these New Wave directors (formerly critics at 'Cahiers du Cinema') wanted to shift away from the style and rules of Classic Hollywood, which most of the mainstream French films had adapted over the years. Godard tries to break these conventions and tries experimenting with various aspects of the film. Firstly, he casts Jean-Paul Belmondo, with his punched nose and unconventional looks (though quite charming), and Jean Seberg in a boy-cut tomboyish role, introducing her wearing a T-shirt and selling newspapers on the street (an intriguing and memorable intro). With regard to Patricia's character, though intended or not, the film did have quite a feminist undertone (much different from the female characters portrayed at the time). Other than this, the film mainly comprises of random conversations and a meandering plot. All these elements went on to reinvent Modern Cinema.

Godard believed that most of the mainstream films tried to seduce people with their fictional reality, tried to entertain them and make them forget the worries of their daily life; he said that's how capitalist systems kept their people happy and content. He wanted to defy establishment and authority, both in terms of film and politics; though this film is not as Marxist as his later films, it's certainly quite anarchist in nature and his contempt for capitalism is clearly visible. Just like Patricia wonders, "I don't know if I'm unhappy because I'm not free, or if I'm not free because I'm unhappy." With random jump-cuts in a single scene or characters looking/talking to the camera, Godard constantly reminds the viewer that they're watching a work of fiction, thus making us watch the film in a different light, evoking a higher level of consciousness and compelling us to interpret the film's intended meaning. He wanted to stress that none of it was real, and that the director has complete control of what's being shown on screen. The film circles-in twice (in the style of film noir), once pointing to almost nothing conspicuous (to draw the attention outside of the film), and the next time when Godard himself appears in a cameo as the informer, thus ingeniously highlighting the fact that it's Godard (the director) who's controlling the plot from within and outside of the film. Even when Michel shoots the policeman, the scene is shown in such a haphazard and unusual way; the scene is as detached from the event as the protagonist, highlighting the moral jumps he takes in the situation.

Though the New Wave directors were tired of the rigid style of Classic Hollywood, they were big admirers of Film Noir. Even in this film, Godard pays homage to it in various ways, whether it's the way Michel's admires and imitates Humphrey Bogart or the random circle-ins. Michel informs his identity with the tough-guy persona of Bogart's films, and the tragedy is that even when he decides/tries to escape such a life and identity, he's still pushed along the tragic fate of characters in such crime thrillers; he's stuck within it, there's no escape. And if we analyse both our characters, we realize they have none of the usual characteristics of a film hero or anti-hero; they are quite self-obsessed, amoral, aimless, so absorbed in the world of art (Michel in cinema, Patricia in literature), yet so oblivious to the world around them. Godard tries to highlight the absurdity of life without a political, philosophical or moral commitment.

The final scene is as alluring and mysterious as the rest of the film. Whether it's the statement that's said or the gesture of tracing the lips - both being carried forward and reinterpreted by different members in its chain of action.

Overall, let me state that 'Breathless' isn't a great film by itself; it's not even close to the brilliance and emotional resonance of Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" or Resnais' "Hiroshima Mon Amour", New Wave works which released the previous year. Other than a few captivating scenes and dialogues, most of the film is dull and boring; I wonder how dragging the original two-and-a-half-hour runtime might have been like. But the film is important for two reasons - the way it experimented with the format opened up new possibilities in cinematic storytelling, and it's the kind of film which offers such interesting interpretations and opportunities for discussion with other cinephiles.
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Fargo (1996)
8/10
A quirky crime-comedy which has much more to offer than what meets the eye.
19 May 2016
The ordinariness of the characters in this film are so carefully crafted, and if the scenes are carefully analysed in the light of all the information, the characters are really not simple and black/white as they seem. The Coen Brothers, being brought up in Minnesota, critique the Minnesota Nice nature - people with their plain and warm exterior with folksy speaking style, but not so empathetic or well-wishing from within; the characters are as cold and distant as the letters of the film title because the characters are as emotionally isolated as story's vast empty landscape. The accent and snow, the white and distant environment, all these things accentuate the feel of the living conditions and community of northern US. I can't testify to the accuracy of the time and place, but the Coens surely give us an intriguing character study.

The film takes quite a few witty jabs at capitalism and consumerism; it explores people's (here, especially Americans') obsession with fast food, television and cars. The realistic dialogues and quirkiness do make the characters stand out, like all Coen Brothers films. Many might say Marge Gunderson is the only character with good morals, but she isn't as pure as she seems. Marge, though an interesting character who defies prescribed gender roles and becomes our lead protagonist (though she enters only after one-third the film), she is as emotionally distant as the rest, as evidenced from her murder-scene inspection and ending ride with one of the kidnappers. Her routine life and by-the-book procedure, combined with her husband's not-so- sophisticated paintings about ducks and the decor of their house, exemplify the fact how they are a regular couple in a consumerist web so blissfully content in their simplicity and mediocrity.

Expectation vs what's given to us. From the opening title where it says that this is based on a true story and events are shown as it occurred, a certain expectation is set. The Coens take advantage of this liberty and tell the story in the most unusual but interesting way. But they subvert these expectations by slowly inserting scenes that people couldn't have known (if the events are being shown as they occurred). But this helps us understand the characters much better. (We now know that almost the entire thing is fictional, other than, maybe, the murder that inspired them.) The Coens do this throughout the film. Two other good examples come from the scene where Marge meets her Asian friend from college. Compared to the ways Asians are traditionally portrayed in films, Mike really stood out - not at all a clichéd, accented Asian guy, but an emotionally unstable lonely guy who still stays with his parents in his 30s. And the story he tells Marge about his life, we immediately lap it all up, just like Marge does, not realising that the story had the exact plot details from 'Love Story'. The Coens surely take other such jabs at American pop culture. It's not what you expect from a true-story-based crime thriller. It's not what you expect from a comedy. Coen Brother films never usually fit into a single genre, and the unusual blend of crime and humour makes the film stand out.

And without Roger Deakins, the film wouldn't look the way it does. That parking lot scene has been praised and analysed to death by now. And yes, it's a spectacular shot and has so much to say. The acting from everyone in the cast is terrific, especially Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and William H. Macy. Macy gives us such a unique and memorably loathsome character - an apathetic, selfish and cowardly hypocrite, always maintaining such a cheery facade. But he represents the frustrations felt by the pawns in the capitalist system, rarely able to earn or save much to be financially or emotionally satisfied. Hence, his various schemes to collect enough money, run away and start a new comfortable life.

Though just a little less than 100 minutes, the film has been assembled with such attention to detail and innovation that it can be analysed and understood in so many different ways. It's not something that seems so great in the first view itself, but the more you see it or think about it, the more it lingers in your mind. Clever to end the film with the words "Two more months", since we know it might be a reference to the end of winter when the snow might melt and reveal the suitcase to a passerby.
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The Last Panthers (2015– )
7/10
Intelligent and Insightful. Hope it marks the beginning of a new era of international co- produced multilingual shows.
27 April 2016
Starts with an old-fashioned diamond heist, but then the series dives deep into the lives of its three lead protagonists and explores the links between crime, war and finance. The characters have enough depth, and the cinematography and music are brilliant. But it somehow fails to build enough tension with ammo of information it has. The various circumstances blur the line between professional and personal in the lives of these characters. Overall, it's intelligent and insightful, and really uncovers the kind of world which perpetuates crime and creates criminals. The series is clear in its message - Intended or not, with or without a choice, once you find yourself entangled in a web of crime, there's rarely a happy or non-violent outcome... unless, of course, you're one of the rich people bankrolling it. The diverse perspective on morality was welcome and commendable; it puts us in the shoes of various characters, and kind of makes the whole journey thought-provoking.

Was really intrigued by the connection of real-life instances relating to the 'The Pink Panthers' and the Bosnian War. And really glad that the rise of Eastern European shows and peoples' interest in them led to an international co-production of a trilingual crime thriller. The casting is brilliant; couldn't have asked for better one. Hope it marks the beginning of a new era of internationally co-produced multilingual shows.
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9/10
Poignant and devastating, and is bound to leave a scar on one's soul.
31 August 2015
The film opens with the character Fabian having a heated discussion with two of his lecturers. He tries to elaborate on his philosophies on life and society, how eradication of bad (evil) elements is the only way to progress. From his conversations with his law school friends, we understand that he has left college due to depression and discontent in life, his disillusionment with his country, whose history is marred by betrayals and unpunished crimes. His upbringing and behaviour makes us realise he's a sociopath, feeling distant from almost everything around. Trying to put his theory into practice, he murders an unsympathetic moneylender, and unavoidably (unplanned), her daughter as well.

Loosely based on Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment', Lav Diaz's four-hour saga explores how a certain crime affects the lives of three individuals - highly intelligent but depressed Fabian who commits the murder, poor and good-hearted Joaquin who's wrongly convicted of the murder, and Eliza (Joaquin's wife) who now has to work endlessly in order to take care of her two kids and Joaquin's sister. The guilt consumes Fabian and drives him to insanity; though he evades getting caught, he feels his soul is corrupted forever. Joaquin maintains his innocence and incorruptible goodness, hoping it results in eventual justice. And Eliza keeps on persevering in the face of injustice, and carries on with her life in eternal despair. Thus, in the three characters we see hope, despair, and the lack of both.

Mostly taken in long takes, with no close-ups or background music, Lav Diaz immerses us into the lives of these three people, with scenes mostly covering their routine activities or conversations. Even without the usual sentimental gimmicks, Diaz gives us his pessimistic and heartbreaking worldview, where life is punctuated with inequality and injustice. I wouldn't exclude a single minute from the movie's 250-minute runtime (which many viewers complain about) because the film progresses at the right pace, giving us enough time to contemplate on the themes surrounding the story - existence, evil (its presence, and whether to destroy the source of it, or evil itself), crime, blame, morality, conscience, injustice, perseverance, hope, universal love and fate; without contemplation and debate (internal or otherwise), watching this film would be wasted potential. For example, blame; who or what should Eliza blame for their situation? The justice system which wrongly but swiftly convicts her husband, or their lawyer who inefficiently pleaded their case, or the murderer who ran away from the scene, or the moneylender herself for being so unscrupulous that her husband attacked her earlier, or the accident which caused the moneylender to have a vicious grip on their lives, or herself for stopping her husband to work abroad before all this mess? So, who is she supposed to be angry at?

With spectacular setting and talented actors (especially, the talented Miss Angeli Bayani), Director Lav Diaz efficiently weaves an sweeping and symmetric tale, in which all the elements make complete sense by the end. No matter how much or what I write, it couldn't possibly illustrate the film's complete worth. Ultimately, 'Norte' is poignant and devastating, and is bound to leave a scar on one's soul.
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Gattaca (1997)
7/10
Interesting Sci-fi Parable about Destiny
30 August 2015
In a near-future eugenics-based world, where one's genetic superiority defines their ease of success in society, Andrew Niccol's 'Gattaca' explores the story of two men who have been affected by it; too much was expected of one and he succumbs to pressure, and nothing much was expected of the other and he tries to go against those expectations to achieve his dream. In this hypothetical gene-discriminatory society, the film's essential theme is of one's value and destiny; whether we define it or someone/something does, ultimately, it's upto us.

The casting is good, and the acting is commendable. Though it's a science-fiction film, it didn't need any special effects to explore its themes; it made use of the well-designed sets and captivatingly-coloured cinematography.

The ideas explored in the film are intriguing and thought-provoking, but other than the lead character Vincent, whose description would take five sentences, other characters' descriptions would take just one. Especially, Irene (Uma Thurman), of whom we get to know nothing. Most of the movie is a cat and mouse chase, with characters dancing around the lines of morals and ethics, not that it wasn't entertaining.

Overall, it's a film which is firm in its stand against discrimination, and inspires people to against all odds to fulfill their passion; an interesting sci-fi parable about destiny.
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Funny Games (1997)
8/10
Brilliant film; Pushes the viewer to an extreme.
30 August 2015
Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games' is the kind of film which splits viewers into two extremes. And no matter what people think of it, there's no denying that it's a brilliantly made film, and in my opinion, it's really clear in its point.

In the movie, we see two robbers/killers disguised as well-seeming gentlemen, who invade the house of a three-member family to torture and play "funny" games with them. And it's never clearly explored why they do all this, and that's the main point Haneke makes - "senseless violence". I'm not against every kind of violence depicted in various forms of art and media, and I don't think Haneke is as well. If the violence is explored in detail, serves a purpose, depicted in context, and not just as a random or stylized act in an action or slasher film, I'm okay with it. And as a rebuke to such violence, Haneke tests us by subjecting us to a movie with almost no plot and unexplained violence. He remade this film in 2007 for an English-speaking audience; I wish someone remakes this film in countries like India, where any sort of violence is okay on screen, but anything related to sex is still so censored.

Through the film, Haneke has an interesting dialogue with the viewer. The way Paul (on the the young men) winks at the viewers or asks them questions, catching one in a voyeuristic trance of violence and making one question the reason for their presence there, was really interesting. Whether it's just to see where the story goes, or to explore the true intentions of the two men, or to see if the family makes out safely after killing the two sadistic torturers, I actually found myself thinking these questions from time to time. And despite all that, Haneke plays with his viewers in exactly the same way the two men do with the hostage family, except maybe, the former has a purpose. Quite a few escape opportunities or situational clues are shown for us to assume them to be of some importance, but they are snatched away one by one and revealed to be red herrings.

The acting is really good. Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Muhe are incredible as the helpless couple, Frank Giering is commendable as the chubby and childlike Peter, and Arno Frisch is amazing as the calm, cold-hearted and sadistic Paul; he's so good that there numerous moments that provoke us to punch him on the face, or even kill him. And that's when I realized that the film, maybe, also tries to test our own morals and ask "What constitutes as a justifiable reason to kill someone?"
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