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Batman Begins (2005)
A thriller with a superhero
To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to this movie - the promos looked dull and the memory of "Batman and Robin" still lingers... but what a pleasant surprise! This is not a traditional "superhero" movie. Rather, it plays like a character-driven thriller/adventure that just happens to be about a superhero.
I was surprised at how real and logical (within the context of the movie) they kept everything. There was a rawness to this movie that worked really well. And I'm completely on board with the two decisions that have drawn some criticism - the new Batmobile, and the raspy "Batman voice". This is not the cool, wisecracking, understated Batman of yore - this is a hurt, angry, driven guy whose motivation is crystal clear by the time he dons the batsuit. And for the first time, we have an ambiguous, frightening Batman. I can see why criminals would run from this creature.
A word about the cast - Christian Bale is an inspired choice, Michael Caine brings a much-needed dose of warmth and humor to the enterprise, and Morgan Freeman classes up pretty much anything he's in. Katie Holmes was miscast - would have preferred to see one of the L&O girls (Stephanie March?) in the role. Can't wait to see who they pick as the Joker for the sequel.
Expected very little from it - so was pleasantly surprised. Vidya Balan makes an impressive debut (she looks like a composite of Madhuri and Taboo) in spite of her mannered performance. Saif is good, as usual, and a much-improved Sanjay Dutt (he doesn't really have much to do so he can't spoil it) round out the main cast. The music is very hummable, without being particularly memorable. I was a bit puzzled about the decision to set the movie in the early 60s as opposed to the 20s (in which the novel was set)or the present day, but the sets and costumes do look great so no complaints. There is a welcome trend in Hindi movies to try and make period films look more authentic, and Parineeta continues it. A painless way to spend a couple of hours - although I've seen some websites that have the length at 170 min so they may have edited it for US release.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I first saw this movie on a scratchy VHS almost twenty years ago (I was 10). Liked it (sort of-enjoyed the battle scenes and the train blowing up), but didn't understand why my dad was so crazy about it.
The next time was on laserdisc (remember those?) almost 10 years ago and I was hooked. I finally got it - the conflict, the performances, the music, the dialogue - all mesmerising.
But it was only in 2002, when I saw the 40th-anniversary reissue on 70mm that I was completely blown away seeing the scale, the enormity of Lean's accomplishment. There were scenes that gave me goosepimples (the opening credits, the cut from the matchstick to the desert sunrise, "nothing is written" - others too numerous to mention).
The point of this rather rambling review is this - a movie that can evoke such passion in its admirers stands by itself, beyond reviews or criticism. If you haven't seen it yet I envy you, because you get to experience it for the first time.
Swades: We, the People (2004)
In two minds
This movie could have been so much more... there were some scenes that were absolutely stunning, others that would look stupid in a school play.
I had severe problems with 1. The inconsistent pacing (try watching a 3.5 hr movie without a break in a cold theater after a large Coke). The first half rambled on endlessly without songs. Then, just as the second half seemed to acquire momentum, a song would come along to slow things down. 2. The dialogue, which plumbed new depths of imbecility and obviousness in some scenes (whereas others were extremely well-written). 3. The fact that the film raises so many more questions than it resolves. Which is not necessarily a bad thing by itself but the issues were raised haphazardly and without structure.
But, the movie has been made with obvious passion and sincerity by people who feel strongly about the problems facing India. The cast (including, surprise! Shahrukh) deliver good performances and the music is eminently hummable. I'd rather watch a failure like this (and it is a failure, even though I gave it a 7) than 90% of the bilge that Bollywood produces.