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Ek Thi Daayan (2013)
Tries hard to scare
Ek Thi Daayan is a horror film that talks of witchcraft, spells, midnight, and all those routine things every third horror movie talks of. Yet, the second quarter of the film is interesting where Konkona Sen Sharma's Daayan pretends to be the good hearted woman on the outside and the little boy's naive investigations constantly contradicting her nature.
Perhaps the biggest asset of the film is its background score by Clinton Cerejo which elevates the film from the inane and obtuse horror film it should have been. Vishal Bharadwaj's songs hinder the movie's flow, particularly the one at the party in the second-half. His story and screenplay is puerile.
Konkona Sen Sharma and Vishesh Tiwari are the only actors memorable. Emran Hashmi doesn't live up to the zest and energy created by Tiwari. The very talented Kalki Kochlein is wasted in an insignificant role.
Cinematographer Saurabh Goswami tries using heavy contrast lighting to create an eerie atmosphere but the rather dark look doesn't scare. Director Kannan Iyer is equipped with a stupid story and he makes the best out of it. I couldn't sit through the second half and haven't completed the movie but what I saw was more than enough to judge it.
Swades: We, the People (2004)
Too preachy and feel-good for my taste
Agreed Swades has a decent performance by Sharukh Khan and an engaging cinematography but the film is too preachy. It just splatters the message too loudly and involves the characters in melodramatic, over and artificially emotional situations. Also, the lead character is depicted as strong-willed, which is good, but is just over-ambitious and sentimental in an unreal manner.
Starting with the good things, the cinematography is just splendid. A very deserving national award win. I had a poor quality print but the excellence of the cinematographer was very evident. Music by A. R. Rahman fits the film well. The songs just go by a rhythm and never delve from the mood they begin with.
The story seemed ludicrous. The whole affair tries hard to contrast life in villages from the life in cities. The lead character, Mohan, steps in, realizes that he is more needed there, and then tries to take the situation in control all by himself. He does succeed partially in an impalpable manner. Basically, such a film shouldn't have been a one-hero story. For the general audience, considering the 8+ rating, it is possible that they ignored the mediocrity for the sentimental patriotism. The story doesn't have enough weight to pull off the three hour plus running time. After Mohan gets back to NASA in the second half, all the clichés employed so far make it really easy to predict the rest of the film. The last half hour is easily skippable unless the viewer is looking for some overdone emotions passed off as patriotism.
Sharukh Khan gives a very decent performance though I never really understood all the acclaim he receives for this role. He is good as the plain, ordinary, intelligent man but fails miserable in the scenes of light entertainment and resorts to his usual mannerisms and style. Gayatri Joshi oozes talent and charm. Kishori Balal is one good reason to watch the film.
Ashutosh Gowariker misses the target. Although his intentions are noble, the film fails to materialize them. Instead it becomes a preachy, melodramatic, fairy-tale like sentimental mess that tries to emotionally connect with the audience using clichés I simply hate watching.
The topsy-turvy tale of a star is not thrilling enough
Iti Mrinalini starts with an aging yester-year star who tries to rejuvenate her career. She succeeds in it, although is betrayed by her co-star. On the verge of killing herself, she recollects he entire career chronologically.
Aparna Sen is a good director no doubt but she fails miserably in the acting department. She makes Mrinalini a sobbing mess with no depth and complexity in her regrets. Hopefully, the film focuses less on her and more on her flashback, where the marvellous Konkona Sen Sharma takes over as Mrinalini.
The flashback, supposed to be the key plot of the story is good in parts. Her rise to fame is what the film shows very well. Generally, such biopics tend to focus more on the downfall but Iti Mrinalini depicts her rise with as much finesse. Rajat Kapoor, though very less impactful than he generally is, lends adequate support. Once Mrinalini establishes her career, the film shifts to her personal life and her relationship with her daughter. Slow paced, the film is tiresome to watch in the second-half. Already knowing what's to happen next, the film gets uninteresting.
Once Konkona's part is done with, Aparna Sen again returns and narrates how she made a comeback. The long conversation between her and the co- star seems very artificial. The untimed jumps between English and Bengali made no sense at all. And the reason she gives to abandon her career is outright gibberish and hilarious.
Konkona Sen Sharma elevates the film a lot from what it would have been. Yet, with a really shallow, one dimensional script, she has no scope but to be melodramatic and manipulated. The camera-work is brilliant but technically, the film is poor. In-film cinematographer, Ranvir Shorey, springs a pleasant surprise.
Iti Mrinalini is a film with right intentions but the execution should have been a lot better. The screenplay is the major weak point of the film.
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
An interesting film with towering performances by Hathway and DeWitt
Rachel Getting Married is a very interesting film. It reminded me a lot of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Contributing to it is Declan Quinn's similarly styled cinematography, albeit without the rich Indian colours.
Johnathan Demme and Quinn's style of shooting is a daring attempt and attracts mixed reactions but I personally liked it. The camera is not as shaky as some reviewers claimed. Wherever the camera turned, the actors were ready with their acts and in character. The whole thing must have been a good exercise for the whole cast and crew.
Rachel Getting Married, on the pretense of Rachel's marriage, explores a dysfunctional family. It is full of interesting characters. Starting with Rachel who is the happy-go-lucky girl who has found his dream man and fights all odds to make her wedding memorable. Then there's the most complex character in the film Kym who is a former addict, living in a rehab and comes home for the wedding. She is insecure about her position in the family, which she believes is degrading due to her absence. In the fit of her own problems, she makes others' lives unhappy as well.
There's this loving dad who cares for both the daughter's but Kym's tantrums and Rachel's adamance is something he is unable to handle. The separated mother who still loves her children but refuses to compromise and budge in her marriage only enhances the film's interest factor.
The story and screenplay gives a third-person perspective. The characters are explored from various angles. We get to see various facades of Hathway's Kym from different perspectives. Frankly, I skipped all the musical numbers in the film, mainly the long one in the end which I believe could have been toned down. Anne Hathway proves once again how much range she has and tackles the difficult Kym with maturity and gives us a very contrasting image of her. Kym is unlikeable but Hathway still makes her likable. Her speech at the dinner rehearsal is one such scene. Then, she makes her selfish side understandable. She cries when cornered and questioned making Kym helpless and seeking support of her family. She surely regrets her addiction and is a changed woman now and wants her family to believe she is normal. All her frustration over her father's constant monitoring and not being the maid of honour gels very well with her performance.
Rosemarie DeWitt is given an equally difficult role with a slightly lesser screen time. She loves Kym even under the tense circumstances but her own problems and worries make her scream and taunt Kym. She is the only character who actually tries hard to keep the family together but Kym becomes such a pain in the ass that she loses temper. DeWitt handles all these with subtlety and a pleasant face. Hathway and DeWitt's scene in the end with their mother (another superb performance by Debra Wringer) is key to our understanding of their problems. All the three ladies put forward their side of the story and it is left to us to understand their fate.
As their father, Bill Irwin is a treat to watch. His one scene where he tries taking control of the situation when DeWitt confronts Hathway about a bitter truth mid-way but breaks down is enough to appreciate his performance in the film. Johnathan Demme impresses just by his unique way to present the film. Also, there is no recorded background score for the film which was amusing. Rachel Getting Married is one of his finest works.
With so many interesting characters, a sensitive story to tell, Rachel Getting Married is entertaining and amusing. I go with a 7 only for the musical numbers that act as roadblocks. Else it is a 9.
The Art of Getting By (2011)
Good visuals and good performances make a good time pass film
With nothing to watch one evening, I happened to stumble across this little film called The Art of Getting By and I fairly enjoyed watching it. Now I don't expect much from 'such' films, if you know what I mean, and this film doesn't disappoint.
The story is of a complicated teenager who has much better things in mind to appreciate than doing mindless homework. Then comes the very straight-forward, clichéd heroine who is plain ordinary and falls for this extra ordinary guy. They share some moments and then enters another older hero and now the heroine shifts attention.
The cinematography is a saving grace. It makes the film a lot tolerable. So is the music. Story and screenplay is kept as free from excess drama as possible and the editing is good too. Emma Roberts the best performance of all in an ordinary role. She keeps her character just that way and that is why she is the best. And also, she looks very beautiful. Freddie Highmore is perfectly cast but his performance mainly suffers from his shaky character. Rest of the cast is adequate and forgettable.
Director Gavin Weisen surely had some serious character stuff in mind but the story never fully develops into something but instead goes round and round over some done-to-death situations.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Starts on a highly promising note but falters later
House of Sand and Fog is superb film dealing with two unlikeable characters, their awkward fight over property and their struggle to jump to better their lives quickly. Armed with a dramatic screenplay, powerhouse performances and a beautiful score and cinematography, House of Sand and Fog gets interesting as it proceeds and sucks the viewer in like quicksand.
But somewhere around three quarters into the film, an out-of-nowhere twist spoils the entire show!
Beginning with the concept and story it is excellent. The film takes twists in unimaginable ways (only to get too unimaginable towards the end). Screenplay is well-written. The meetings of the two lead characters is properly timed and creates awkward tension through the dialogues and situation. Their motives are loud and clear which makes their actions understandable. The rising action picks up quickly and maintains throughout.
Roger Deakins' cinematography and James Horner's score are enchanting and help a lot in putting the film together. Vadim Perelman has a firm vision and cuts to the proper frames at the right time and uses montages effectively. Even with everything in its favour, the end simply spoils the whole show.
Ben Kingsley is extremely unlikeable as Col. Behrani. Perhaps the most selfish lead ever and Kingsley takes it to his full advantage. Technically, his performance is outstanding. He is the Arab immigrant Col. Massoud Amir Behrani. And on the emotional side, he relates us to himself with his mean looks and selfish motives. Yet, he seems appropriate and right at places. Kingsley perfectly ironies himself. Jennifer Connelly desperation and helplessness is uncomfortable to watch. Kathy's loud screams, silent humiliation and plunging depression bought to life brilliantly by Connelly constitute her terrific interpretation of the character. Ron Eldard turns from helpful to vicious to helpless as the film progresses seamlessly. Shoreh Aghdashloo makes Nadi very mysterious and equally helpless. Blindly following her husband, she becomes a victim of fate towards the end and draws out most sympathy of all.
House of Sand and Fog gets the story, treatment and mood right. It is worth watching for that but the conclusion draws mixed feelings, negative in my case.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Dated yet entertaining and touching
Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette is very 80s and dated to watch today. The topics touched may seem out-of-context at places but considering the year it was made, 1985, it is a very well made bold attempt to explore multiple social issues in a very entertaining manner.
Set in a lower-middle class Pakistani immigrant family, the film explores the sky-high ambitions of the youngest member, Omar. As we take part in his journey, we witness bashing of 'Pakis' by the white 'punks', his relation with an old English friend Johnny, drug trafficking, inter- racial relationships and a lot more. The film touches all of this without taking them too personally of giving one of them primary importance. It shows what is there, with the audience left to interpret them.
Hanif Qureshi's screenplay is a hidden gem. Although the film can get slow at times, but the screenplay perfectly travels through the multiple happenings at various places. The characters also develop very well, especially Johnny and Naseer. The only Academy nomination for him is well deserved. The film also benefits a lot from Frears' direction, which keeps the film's low-key atmosphere intact. Supporting him very well is Oliver Stapleton's cinematography which is very average, maybe due to the budget, but gets the mood right. Camera-work is excellent by the way.
The actors are left to enhance the rest and they nail it. Saeed Jaffrey, Daniel Day- Lewis, Rita Wolf are in top-forms in their significant supporting roles. Day-Lewis is especially good even when he speaks very little throughout. Gordon Warnecke displays the right amount of wit, ambition, charm and desperation. Roshan Seth is lovable. His interaction with Jaffrey in the end is one of the best moments in the film. It's wonderful to see them together.
It's really hard to criticize this film as every aspect is very good. A very well put together independent film from the 80s that launched the careers of Day-Lewis and Frears.
The Dirty Picture (2011)
The title says it all!
The trailers and the buzz around the film is quite misleading. The film is not very dirty in its content nor are the dialogues very vulgar. They are just plain corny throughout. Also claimed is Vidya Balan's best performance to be her best. Well, maybe, but is the performance truly the best? Not likely. Of the year at least? Not at all.
The Dirty Picture is a very very average film at best. It is not at all entertaining and tries hard to be serious about its subject matter. Milan Luthria certainly missed the mark this time. His Once Upon A Time in Mumbai was very moving, entertaining and far more interesting. Despite having a strong lead, and the great Naseeruddin Shah, this film never truly delivers what it promises entertainment.
Alright, Oh La La is one of the best filmed songs of the decade, if not the best, but that's about it. Watch it on youtube and forget the film is what I suggest. The film never develops the character of Balan completely and doesn't allow her to breathe in one state either. The screenplay is very rushed at times and very lame otherwise, more so in the second half. Her rise to stardom is not at all convincing from what is shown but Balan definitely makes it believable. Her whipping scene is very stupid but Balan makes that watchable. Same goes to her downfall, all that song and dance with Shakila and the suicide in the end. The film never examines her life properly. It just rushes through the scenes with Balan faking an attitude while deeply lamenting within.
Vidya Balan, in my opinion, has a very limited range. There is a few set of characters she can play and I would certainly not cast her for Silk Smitha. Smitha was a sensation, she had it in her eyes Balan doesn't. Yet, Balan thoroughly enjoys herself on her ride to stardom and entertains somewhat. But she gets many scenes wrong. The award scene, perhaps the biggest scene in the film, being one of them. Balan looks extremely sad and extremely maniac when required to but never fully blends them, something that her character does according to me. Naseeruddin Shah gets it somewhat right and annoyed me very bad, just as he was supposed to. Tushar Kapoor and Emran Hashmi seem very forced.
The Dirty Picture is one the whole best avoided coz it is just another dirty (read horrible) picture.
The Remains of the Day (1993)
A subtle insight into flawed characters
There are a few films that stand out due to their simplicity. Amour was one of those this year. The Remains of the Day falls into the same category. Helmed by James Ivory, known for his moving period pieces, the film stands a few notches above all his previous achievements.
I am an ardent Merchant-Ivory fan and Howards End is one of the most exquisitely pictured films and deeply moving within its seemingly shallow screenplay and characters. Remains of the Day is no less an achievement in its exploration of a bunch of flawed characters whose acts are easy to criticize but understanding their inhibitions and regrets, very difficult.
Much of the story takes place within a huge country-mansion called Darlington Hall, owned by the pro-Nazi gentleman, Lord Darlington. Mr Stevens is the head butler for the mansion and takes great pride in his excellence and capabilities. And then comes Miss Kenton, only to criticize him first, and then fall in love with him. Not as simple, Mr Stevens gives duties preference and what turns out is a tale of regret of choices and complications in the definition of duty.
To sum up a long story short, The Remains of the Day is a fantastic film and is more pertinent to modern-day audience. With World War II and rise of Nazism in backdrop, it beautifully explores the lives of people who are more indirectly affected by the changing political scenario. Deep within, it is essentially a story of unrequited love with not a single scene of romance! The film has so much to tell, so much happening that one cannot assimilate the film entirely at once. While the romantic angle takes preference in the final reels, the under-currents of success in career and regret over decisions is loud and clear.
Agreed most artists associated with the film have limited range James Ivory, Pierce-Roberts, Prawer Jhabvala, Emma Thompson and to an extent Anthony Hopkins. But what wonderfully they utilize their range, churning out gold within their repertoire. James Ivory's direction is outstanding at places and stays above 'very good' throughout. He builds up the tension so well during the conference is just an example of how good the direction is. Rightly noted in Wikipedia, the film touches a lot of themes and each of them translate smoothly onto the screen all thanks to Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins rise above the story and direction and give truly heart-felt performances. Their interactions are the best scenes of the film. Especially the one where she is crying within and he blabbers about their routine the next day and the one where she sobs on the floor. I will not reveal what he does in the latter scene for it would be a spoiler but Hopkins is so much in his character that his actions in that scene are easy to empathize although evil in the traditional sense. The scenes of their brief rendezvous after twenty years are truly unwatchable. The film is very depressing and ends without showing any hope of a better future for the characters.
Tony Peirce-Roberts' cinematography is strictly functional and nothing compared to his work in Howards End. Every actor gives his very best in the film. Performances, direction and screenplay are of the highest order. The Remains of the Day captures the very essence of its title, thoroughly justifying it, etches out really flawed characters and brings them alive.
21 Grams (2003)
Mind-blowing in the first watch ; Pointless in the second
We have often seen non-linear narrative being used by film-makers to keep a major link in the story hidden or to simply delight the audience. If we thought Pulp Fiction used it most exhaustively, then we are wrong. Here is a film by the Academy Award nominated Mexian director Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu which shows us the extremes of non-linear narrative. Generally, it is in the form of characters narrating flashbacks or some other reason explained within the plot. But 21 Grams, much like Pulp Fiction, jumps to any point in the storyline without any situation favoring it within the film.
It is a very strange film. Not that I do not like experimentation but that I have had mixed reactions to the film. I was totally blown away by it the first time but my reaction cooled down heavily on subsequent viewing. I guess the problem with the film is that once you know what has happened i.e. solved the 'jigsaw' puzzle, the whole film seems pointless and boring. When I saw the first time, I couldn't understand what was going on till the first forty minutes, which is a lot of time, and then the film gradually grew on me. But once I knew the story, the film didn't interest me very much.
The film opens with Cristina sleeping and Paul smoking next to her. It sets off the sad, depressive nature of the film but this particular scene is explored fully almost an hour and a half later. The first ten minutes are a straight put-off. It seems like random scenes of joy and sadness and repentance. It is only during the scene where Jack tells his wife about the accident (thirty minutes into the film) that things begin to get clear and interest is generated.
The whole film is a jigsaw puzzle where you must match the scenes with the rest. The next scene may come five minutes later or even thirty minutes later. This is interesting the first time. Now why did Inaritu and Arriaga opt for this complex narrative structure? Possibly because they wanted the audience to understand the horrors of tragedy from a different perspective. The rapid jump to future and past between the present keeps us reminded of their happy times and also their tribulations following the loss. But the problem is that the characters never develop with the story. At least the two principal characters of Paul and Jack remain mostly the same throughout. It is only Cristina who shows growth and possibly leads a better life towards the end of the story (not the end of the film!).
Also, Paul is one of the most hateful characters ever written. His motives are self-centered and he is not grateful to his wife, Mary, who helps him the most. He instead gets romantically involved with his heart donor's wife, Cristina, and is the main cause for the tragic end of himself and Jack. Sean Penn is a superb actor and makes Paul convincing but I could never ever feel for Paul's condition. Rather, Naomi Watts makes the most out of the meaty character she is given Cristina. Her quite, subtle moments of grief and lament are the most touching scenes of the film. Her reaction when Paul tells her that he has her husband's heart is gut-wrenching. Watts displays a wide range of emotions in the film from joy to grief to anger and hatred. The film is a perfect vehicle for her and she was deservedly nominated for the academy award (which she would have won if Charlize's Monster wasn't there). Only the non-linear order of her scenes plays against her and she is never given a complete chance to transition from one mood to another thoroughly. Melissa Leo leaves tremendous impact in her brief appearances across the narrative.
People have generally complained about the distracting cinematography but I was quite impressed with the dense white used in certain scenes. Yes, the blue-green lighting doesn't work much but Cristina's home and the motel scenes were very well done. The hand-held camera doesn't distract much as it is quite steady, at least more that it was in Rachel Getting Married. The background score by Gustavo Santaolalla is exquisite. One of the most fabulous scores I have ever heard.
21 Grams is worth watching for its innovative screenplay. But only if the story was more convincing and a proper end was thought of, the film would have been a classic. The whole cast deserves praise for top-notch acting, by the way.